8 Pl C Coy 1st Tour
On the wall just inside the foyer of my old High
school there is a small brass plaque dedicated
to the memory of a former student.
In 1962 Les Farren and I were classmates
completing year 12 at Northcote High School. Les
was an only child living with his parents in
Reservoir. In those days we did not have
computers, mobile phones, colour TV or credit
cards. Rock and Roll was raging, Elvis was King
and the Beatles were about to rocket to the top
Another Northcote High school student, Normie
Rowe, was singing with a group at Rock ‘n Roll
dances in local halls on Saturday nights.
(Normie was later to be conscripted for national
service and served in Vietnam in the Armoured
My father was a milkman and we had only just
sold our Northcote dairy a few years earlier
where we delivered milk by horse and cart.
I finished school at the end of 1962. Early in
1963 I started a job as a claims clerk at the
Union Insurance Society of Canton, in a small
company office in Queen St, Melbourne. Les got a
job with the Bank. We lost contact after leaving
school. The rest of 1963 and 1964 life consisted
of parties, Balls, Dinner-Dances, 21st
birthdays, holidays fishing at Rosebud and
playing football and basketball with local
teams. Life was good and simple still living at
home with Mum and Dad and my 4 brothers.
Early in 1965, the then Liberal Government
announced the introduction of a scheme requiring
all young men about to turn 20 to register for
conscription into the Army for two years
National Service training.
The method of selection to be via a ballot of
birth dates. If your birthday was drawn we were
required to pass a medical examination. Having
passed the medical we would then spend the next
two years in the Army.
2345 ... my birthday. The 2nd of March 1945 was
one of the birthdays selected. Les was also
‘lucky’ enough to have his birth date drawn out
of the barrel.
On the 30th June 1965 Les and I were part of the
first intake of Nasho’s sent to Puckapunyal to
do our 3 months basic training. After completing
basic training we were given a choice of which
area of the military we would like to join for
the duration of our 2 years service. Because the
strength of Army Infantry battalions was very
low at the time most of us were posted to the
infantry regardless of what our preferences
We were posted to Holsworthy Army barracks in
NSW, to join the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian
Regiment where we were to do our Infantry
training. I only saw Les once while we were
training with the Battalion in Holsworthy. He
was in D Company and I was in C Company and we
each tended to stick with our immediate platoon
and company groups.
Infantry training consisted of countless
military exercises in mountainous bush terrain,
a training exercise at Wewak in New Guinea and a
month at the Army Jungle training centre in
Canungra where we honed our skills for warfare.
At this time, the 1st Battalion of the Royal
Australian Regiment consisting entirely of
volunteer regular soldiers, were serving in
Vietnam as a unit with the American Forces.
We expected that our Battalion, 5 RAR, would be
the next Battalion to be sent to Vietnam to
replace One Battalion. We were unsure however
being such a political contentious decision,
whether conscripts would be sent or even be
given an opportunity to choose whether we wanted
to go or not. Anyway in April 1966 the Liberal
government officially announced that our
Battalion, the Fifth Battalion, Nashos included,
would be going to Vietnam at the end of April
1966. We were all given pre-embarkation leave in
early April to share precious time with family
and loved ones before we were to spend at least
a year overseas in a seemingly faraway foreign
Without the presence of family or civilian
friends, my platoon, 8 Platoon Charlie Company
flew out of Richmond Air Base, NSW, to Vietnam
in the early hours on 28th April 1966.
We were the first Australian Army unit
consisting of Nasho’s to enter the Vietnam War.
The remaining members of C Company and the
Transport Platoon arrived in Vietnam a couple of
weeks later on board
Sydney, formerly an aircraft carrier but now
a troop carrier. It was later affectionately
known as ‘The Vung Tau Ferry’ owing to the many
trips it would make ferrying troops and supplies
to and from Vietnam over the duration of the
The Battalion commenced the first of many
operations of the war when we were transported
by Iroquois Helicopters from Vung Tau to an area
near Nui Dat.
Our task was to clear the enemy from an area
consisting of rubber plantation, scrub and paddy
fields. This area of
was to eventually be Australian task force
headquarters and our base camp for the duration
of the war. I went to Vietnam with the job of
being one of 3 machine gunners in the platoon.
The machine gun was the main firepower in an
infantry section. Our job was to give instant
covering fire when a contact occurred with the
enemy while the rest of the section or platoon
moved into position to attack or take cover.
Les was a rifleman with 10 Platoon D Company.
It was during this first operation that the
first Australian National Serviceman was killed
during an enemy contact. He was Errol Noack a 21
year old from South Australia.
Over the next few months we continued countless
patrols, Operations which would last days or
weeks involving the occasional skirmish.
We also commenced setting up defences for our
base camp. So if we were not out ‘touring the
countryside’ setting up ambush positions, doing
search and destroy operations or village cordon
and searches, we would be digging weapon pits,
constructing bunkers, putting up perimeter wire,
erecting tents or filling sand bags. There was
no such thing as a full uninterrupted night’s
If we were out on patrols or operations we would
have to do our piquet or guard duty in pairs,
manning the perimeter guns trying to be forever
In mid June 1966 our platoon was heading out of
camp through the gap in the perimeter wire, we
passed D company coming back into camp after a
stint in the bush. It was then that one of the D
company blokes told me that Les Farren had been
killed a few days earlier on 10th June 1966, 19
days before his 21st birthday. He suffered
massive shrapnel wounds to his lower body area
and died in the arms of the company medic. Les
was the first Victorian National Serviceman
killed in Vietnam.
I completed 380 days service in Vietnam and
returned home with the Battalion on 12th May
1967 to a heroes welcome. I was discharged from
the Army on 30th June 1967 having finished my
two years as a Nasho.
I am now 66 years old and it has been another
lifetime since I was in Vietnam. I have 4 sons
and a daughter. My youngest son is in year 10 at
my old high school. I am frequently at the
school again as a parent attending
parent-teacher meetings and other parental
duties. The walls of the school hallways are
adorned with a variety of honour boards listing
sporting and academic achievers as well as a
variety of historic photographs and an array of
artwork. Just inside the front entrance on the
wall of the foyer is a small brass plaque that
has the inscription ‘Dedicated to the memory of
Leslie T Farren, Student of this school, killed
in action, June 10th 1966, in South Vietnam’.
I wonder whether the present day students even
notice that small plaque or will they ever know
the life it represents. The life of former
student, a brave soldier, a friend, a Nasho.
Over the last few years on Vietnam Veterans' Day
I have slipped into the school foyer and placed
a small floral tribute under the plaque in
remembrance of my former classmate.
Les had such a short life for a Nasho but a
lifelong remembered by those who served with
David Bryan (aka Stretch), 8 Platoon C Company
Private Leslie Thomas Farren, 5RAR
Roll of Honour
Video clips and article of the
Memorial Plaque Ceremony to Les
This short story, by Stretch, was entered in the
2011 ‘The Victorian Veterans Community Story
Writing and Art Competition’ and received an
5RAR Association newsletter Tiger Tales
April 2012 edition)
ONCE WE WERE SOLDIERS