AS YOU WERE...
Fifty-five years ago in 1951 Australia re-introduced National Service for the Navy, Army and Air Force to boost manpower in the face of world-wide and regional threats.
The immediate ones were the Malayan insurgency and the Korean War. By the time conscription ended in 1972, a total of 287,000 young men had been called up. Of them 212 were to die in action in Borneo and Vietnam.
The Navy had been using creative methods of ‘recruiting’ men – such as the Press Gang - since the time of Henry the VIII. National Service made it universal and a total of 6,800 sailors did their training in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, in the Fleet Air Arm and on ships of the fleet. Navy Nashos earned the Australian Service Medal on ships such as the aircraft carrier, HMAS Vengeance in Korean waters.
Queensland Vice-President, Alex Garlin, was a Navy Nasho who trained at HMAS Flinders near Melbourne. The tally band on his cap bears NS in brackets.
The Navy prided itself as the Senior Service and strongly guarded its traditions. Discipline was tough and conditions, even on shore, could be spartan. Nashos slept in hammocks and after basic training were assigned to specialist sections such as gunnery.
Former Governor General, Bill Hayden, from Ipswich, recalled his National Service training at HMAS Cerberus, near Melbourne, particularly the wind that blew straight from the Antarctic. Yet, he was sorry when it ended and like the majority of Nashos looks back on his service with pride. In this photo at Cerberus, those holes in the wall behind Alex Garlin were the natural air-conditioning. Inset is the Vengeance in the Inland Sea of Japan in 1954 during which Alex was a crew member. Overseas service was automatic for Navy and Air Force Nashos, but Army Nashos were asked to volunteer – most did.
The Army began the task of turning raw recruits into fighting men through the creation of training battalions in every State. A total of 198,000 soldiers went through a tough six months basic instruction, completed in the CMF, which would have been followed by corps training had the Korean War continued.
The day began with reveille at 6a.m. Summer and Winter and ended with lights out at 9p.m. It was tough and highly demanding, ,physically and mentally.
In between drill, weapons training and field-craft, there were lectures, inspections, sentry duty, parades and the never-ending washing, ironing and mending of uniforms, cleaning of weapons, blancoing of webbing and polishing of brass. In some States, long-established camps provided reasonable amenities but others such as Wacol put the basic into training.
Accommodation included marquees, Quonset huts and plywood huts. However, they were within the standards of their time and Nashos took it in their stride. Later, refugees were to complain that these camps did not offer individual rooms, built-in bathrooms and air-conditioning!
For many young men in all three Services, it was their first time away from home and their first taste of communal living. They had a lot to learn in a very short time from the basics of washing, ironing and mending their own clothing to the handling of more heavy weaponry such as rifles, sub-machine guns, machine guns, mortars, artillery, hand-grenades, naval guns, bombs and tanks than any Police special weapons squad. They learned their trade quickly and competently and weapons expertise and safety remains ingrained to this day.
They also learnt to be resourceful in the handling of vehicles, ships, aircraft, guns and heavy equipment, particularly in the field. In 1955, near Noosa, this Staghound came to grief in soft sand and had to be towed out. The area today is heavily built up and residents still find unexploded ordnance on what were artillery and mortar ranges.
Inside the huts or barracks, everything was laid out the Service way and kept that way. They had to learn the Services’ fold for sheets and blankets, how to sling a hammock and the correct place for towels, footwear, weapons and even chairs. To help them remember there were eagle-eyed officers and NCOs to dish out extra duty. Note the .303 leaning against the locker beside the second bed on the right.
Everything was supplied, as it would have been in wartime, but that didn’t guarantee it was brand new or that it even fitted. Many of the .303 rifles were from World War One and most of the clothing was left over from World War Two – at a time when the Services had changed to the FN Self Loading Rifle or SLR and the Army to jungle greens. This short-sightedness cost the Services and the Reserves many potential recruits.
Most Nashos were recruit seamen, privates or aircraftsmen but in the Army a few were marked out and made NCOs. In the Vietnam call-up about 1500 were trained as second Lieutenants.at Scheyville, in Sydney.
Drill Training was exacting and a top turnout was expected and enforced. Nashos from all three Services were good enough to be used on Vice-Regal and Royal visits. This Guard was for the Governor-General, Field Marshal Sir William Slim, the tough commander of the Burma theatre in World War Two. He praised their turnout and drill.
This Guard, at Ingleburn, drilled was for the 1952 Royal visit but it was cancelled when the King died. . Note the Winter uniforms – no cosy heating in the huts.
The Services didn’t forget the inner man and if the food was not of cordon bleu standard, it was filling and Nashos were young and hungry enough not to notice too much. There was always Mum for a food parcel.
Other items could be bought at the canteen.
Officially no alcohol though – it was barred by law lest Nashos fall prey to the demon drink. However, the Navy and Air Force tended to turn a blind eye and in the Army, it was a bit late for some who proved creative in seeking out temptation.
Just to make sure, the early Army intakes wore white epaulettes on their shoulders as can be seen in this photograph of the interior of the Everyman’s Hut and its equivalents at Wacol.
They could get a cup of coffee, some reading material and a place to write a letter home to Mum or the girlfriend. This building is preserved at the Wacol Heritage Precinct.
There were 23,500 Air Force Nashos. Some made it to the coveted status of pilot or air crew. The main training units in Queensland were at Amberley Air Force Base, near Brisbane and at Garbutt, at Townsville. Other RAAF Nashos trained at Archerfield in Brisbane and in Toowoomba. Bill Chadwick – later Private Secretary to the Queensland Premier - sits in the cockpit of a Lincoln bomber at Amberley.
RAAF Nashos flew or worked on a variety of aircraft including Lincoln bombers, DC-3s, Canberra bombers and Vampire and Sabre jets.
Many worked on aircraft that flew through the atomic bomb blasts at Monte Bello Island in Western Australia and at Maralinga in South Australia in the 1950s. Navy and Army Nashos also were stationed in the blast areas or worked on vehicles used during the tests and are still seeking compensation for cancer and other effects.
However, as in the other two Services, RAAF discipline was strict and the Blue Orchids learnt weapons handling and drill to the same high standard. The first National Service march through Brisbane in 1951 was a joint Army-Air Force parade, but the RAAF later held its own parades through the city and formed Honour Guards.
A plaque honouring the 3,200 RAAF Nashos who did their training at Amberley Air Force Base, near Ipswich, was unveiled on September 17, 2006.
Because the Korean War ended in a ceasefire, 1950s Nashos did not see action. But those of the 1960s scheme did and of them 212 were to die on active service. The Vietnam call-up was for two years and after basic training, the Nashos were integrated into regular Army units. Eventually, they formed just under half the strength of the nine Battalions that served in Borneo and Vietnam..
Except for the SLRs, not much appears to have changed in the basic training.
The call up was smaller and continued the ballot introduced in the first scheme in 1957. Training was carried out at Singleton, Kapooka and Puckapunyal. Like first scheme Nashos, they became proficient in a wide variety of skills including infantry, artillery, transport, logistics, signals and amphibious craft.
But the reality changed and Nashos were involved in action in Borneo and then Vietnam. Of the 66,000 called up, about 15,000 served in war zones and the rest in support units in Australia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
There was a price and 212 Nashos paid it in action where two died in Borneo during Confrontation against Indonesian forces and another 210 died in Vietnam. About 1500 were wounded.
They integrated into regular units and eventually formed just under half the strength of the force in Vietnam.
The Nashos discharged their duty honourably and well and earned the praise of their commanders and fellow soldiers.
Some were officers such as 1731113 2nd /Lieutenant John Fraser of the Gold Coast, who was killed by a Viet Cong mine while leading his platoon in action on 24 March 1968 with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.
Lt.Fraser was one of the 1500 National Servicemen who were selected for officer training at Scheyville in Sydney. Their instructors included men such as Keith Payne VC who later served with Nashos in combat in Vietnam.
Another Nasho officer who went on to high office in civilian life was former deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer who also commanded Nashos in Vietnam.
The greatest single loss of National Servicemen occurred in Vietnam in the pivotal battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966. Of the 18 Australians who died in action, 11 were National Servicemen in D Coy of 6RAR. They were sent out to look for Viet Cong who were mortaring the Australian base at Nui Dat and encountered an estimated battalion of battle-hardened North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas. The fighting took place in a monsoonal downpour, with the Australians calling down artillery on their own positions until reinforcements arrived. The enemy lost an estimated 250-500 dead. They never attacked in such force again.
The Nashos set a tradition of their own demonstrating, as at Kokoda, that all Diggers are as one in action.