First Day for the First Intake of 'Nashos' - July 1, 1965
Just a 'Nasho'
A wound spring, ’twas uncoiling,
Pressure cooker near boiling,
Propaganda began bubbling out;
Paranoid about invasions,
Xenophobic to Asians,
Phantom ‘Commies’ lurking about.
So in response to this fear,
1964 ’twas that year,
‘The Ordained’ sought power once more;
Ideas and policies near deplete,
Their melting pot needing heat,
Time for another crazy war.
An obvious conclusion,
From Robert Menzies’ delusion,
At the end of his long list of Acts;
’Twas place the U.S. in our debt,
And stop that Red menace threat,
At home and overseas in its tracks.
On others came a reliance,
With the ANZUS alliance,
And joining SEATO, an eight nation force;
Riding ‘all the way’ on a wave,
A promise Harold Holt gave,
To President Johnson of course.
A variety of guises,
At first only Advisers,
One Battalion, then Five joined by Six;
A slow build-up un-detected,
Real agenda protected,
Another one of their dirty tricks.
‘Pollies’ lied and conspired,
Unfair quota required,
Resulting in division and friction;
Passed without hesitation,
Introduced new legislation,
And called it ‘Selective Conscription’.
A strange lottery was drawn,
Based on the day you were born,
So only a lucky few could win;
Resistance meant gaol,
Anyone 20 and male,
Could soon be on their list and sucked in.
Just 2 years from his life,
Excluding those with a wife,
In National Service, we’d now have to go;
Separated out from the crowd,
Dressed up in greens we’d be proud,
Although tagged as just a ‘Nash-o’.
* * *
With no pending elections,
Old ‘pollies’ made these selections,
Like hyenas or scavenging vultures;
Many deals done, there’s no doubt,
Just cannon fodder picked out,
From this country’s then mix of white cultures.
And now as everyone knows,
Excluded were their sons and those,
In control of most of the wealth;
So all of these would miss out,
And if such power one’s without,
An option was having ‘poor health’.
Others obtaining exemption,
With religious redemption,
Or a ‘Uni’ was a popular hide;
Many parents inspired,
Their sons to enrol, so conspired,
Deferments replacing their pride.
Only a select group admitted,
Enquiries became quite extensive;
All the ‘elite’ were included,
Working class all excluded,
Education then being expensive.
Personal health reports faked,
Indulged ‘rich kids’ escaped,
Required quota from mainly the poor;
‘Duty first’ served as lures,
For free overseas tours,
In a ‘conflict’ and not a ‘real’ war.
Of eight hundred thousand, ’twas plenty,
Total of youths turning 20,
Eight percent, with no vote at all;
And so today it would seem,
This fraction left as the cream,
Stood up and didn’t run from the call.
Yet, all innocence replaced,
By reality soon faced,
A heavy burden, placed on each back;
Well-trained, in a job to be done,
In hunting and use of a gun,
Searching for strangers, dressed mainly in black.
Taught and brainwashed by the Right,
All ‘goodies’ hats appear white,
And black ‘baddies’ all comrades of Ho’s;
So in army regalia,
We were now serving Australia,
Proud, although only ‘Nasho-s’.
* * *
’Twas claimed our presence then needed,
And a small nation had pleaded,
Much later the truth ’twas revealed;
Many of the lies and deceit,
Exposed with the final defeat,
Had been well covered up and concealed.
Conscription dragged on and on,
And when that era had gone,
Hundreds were to suffer great pain;
Those tears of parents still flow,
And as we today all now know,
It seems all for nought and in vain.
Meanwhile, here, demonstrations,
Agenda set by organisations,
Like S.O.S., over seven odd years;
“Help! Save Our Sons!” they kept crying,
“From pointless fighting and dying!”
Yet it just fell on old mens’ deaf ears.
Conscripts, crammed up real tight,
Travelled in troop trains all night,
Out into the dark unknown;
Arrived at an RTB camp,
Extremes of hot, cold, dry and damp,
First time ever away from their home.
Sent to Kapooka or ‘Pucka’,
Ate cafeteria ‘tucker’,
And also learned how to fight;
Engaged in biased ‘debates’,
Taught about enemies and mates,
That war was wrong, yet really all right.
Into our minds quite intrusive,
Instructors entered abusive,
Recruits stripped of past self-esteem;
As mere political cogs,
We were simply young army sprogs,
Caught up in this military machine.
Some had preferred to enlist,
Others had chosen to resist,
Some disappeared or even gaoled;
Some hastily walked wedding aisles,
Many ‘doctored’ their files,
And so were medically failed.
Into the Army went the rest,
Just like those old sailors ‘gang-pressed’,
Slurred as ‘compulsory heroes’;
Being at first kept apart,
’Twas made quite clear, right from the start,
We weren’t ‘regs’, but only ‘Nasho-s’.
* * *
’Twas back in July ’65,
When this personnel drive,
Expanded mainly the Infantry Corps;
Taught and practiced each basic skill,
How to live and ways how to kill,
Just how to survive in a war.
Reveille each day before dawn,
Our ‘long’ shaggy hair roughly shorn,
‘Short back and sides’, the standard style;
Some N.C.Os cloned and detested,
Street protesters arrested,
‘Ex-civvies’ conditioned, meanwhile.
Many needles injected,
Against diseases protected,
Compliance or charges instead;
Daily P.T. instruction,
Military Law introduction,
In lectures each night before bed.
On geographical locations,
Current Asian situations,
Any discussion, really a sham;
Officers up on the dais,
Indoctrinating with bias,
We were destined for South Vietnam.
Stripping weapons right down,
Even fired the odd rifle round,
Learned saluting and precision drill;
In a general consensus,
After the Padre convinced us,
In some cases, ’twas O.K. to kill.
Initially, all of these strangers,
Underwent metamorphic changes,
Spun, in an enclosed cocoon;
Prior structures demolished,
Emerging visibly spit-polished,
‘Prepared’ to join a platoon.
Young minds and bodies selected,
Now fine-tuned and perfected,
The foundations on show had been laid;
Lined up in one of those scenes,
One thousand robot machines,
For the very first Pass Out Parade.
Our army no longer depleted,
Each intake’s training completed,
After just twelve weeks or so;
Off to Holsworthy or Townsville,
And a few out to Scheyville,
All carried the tag of ‘Nash-o’.
* * *
In military camps, nine more months,
Or out on those bush phantom hunts,
Without even barely a break;
In places of unknown names,
Tactics honed in war games,
Until done without a mistake.
In a drought of V.B. and Fosters,
In the jungles at Gospers,
And up on Mt. Royal out west;
A parade in Sydney at last,
Our infantry unit marched passed,
After Canungra’s final real test.
An old newspaper cutting,
Reveals us all proudly strutting,
And also those wild city scenes;
From rooftops, ticker-tape snowing,
And coloured streamers were flowing,
Caught in slouch hats, rifles and greens.
Little sign of protests back then,
Against these ‘boys’ turned to men,
Mainly their praises, that day were sung;
Frequent comments came from the crowd:
“Good on ya lads!”, screamed out loud,
And: “My God! Aren’t they all very young!”
Parents and friends were all there,
Standing in that cold late night air,
At an airport from where we would fly;
Widespread bravado in place,
Fixed upon each smiling face,
A kiss, handshake, stare and goodbye.
Yet, to outsiders, at the time,
Seemed we were committing some crime,
That we had something sneaky to hide;
Out from Richmond at midnight,
Departed our lonely plane flight,
Where the hell was their national pride.
First year had quickly flown passed,
In fact had gone really fast,
’Twas claimed we were ‘ready to go’;
A contingent travelled by ship,
Relaxed on ‘The Sydney’ that trip,
All fit for the up-coming show.
In tropical heat and monsoons,
Acclimatised on sand dunes,
Just prior to seeking our foes;
We were now mates together,
It no longer mattered whether,
We were either ‘Regs’ or ‘Nasho-s’.
* * *
On Vung Tau’s back beach, assembled,
Like a swarm of insects resembled,
‘Chopper’ blades spinning, preparing for flight;
On this first ‘op’ occasion,
‘The Tigers’ airborne invasion,
Silhouettes in the dawn’s golden light.
Sections of seven men per machine,
Camouflaged khaki and green,
Some soldiers packed tight on the floors;
As they lifted off from these sands,
Clutching hats and rifles in hands,
Dangling legs out open side doors.
And etched, on some leaders’ faces,
Obvious eagerness traces,
A chance now, to boost a career;
Whilst young stepping-stone conscripts,
Seeking neither stripes nor brass ‘pips’,
Had one aim to survive through that year.
Up, cutting air over paddies,
In search of Vietnamese ‘baddies’,
Wave after wave carrying ‘grunts’;
Their immediate main goal,
North 30 Ks to a knoll,
Home in a rubber plantation twelve months.
After first hitting the ground,
And then fanning out, all around,
Their task ’twas to search and destroy;
Soon fulfilling that role,
Adding to the ‘body-count’ toll,
Since each was a famed ‘Uc-dai-loi’.
On this operation, six weeks,
Camped near the fork of two creeks,
Dusk brought a hail of hot lead;
First of two hundred or more,
Conscripts in that dirty war,
Errol Noack was shot and lay dead.
It now seems so abhorrent,
How ‘pollies’ signed each death warrant,
Assuring us that they’ll be our last;
One old man of many, all these years,
Abandoned, alone with photos and tears,
A shameful page from out of our past.
Writers of honour and glory,
Often misconstrue that full story,
Gloss over truth, each one of them knows;
With a slight twist of the facts,
Some hitch a free ride on their backs,
A price paid by many ‘Nasho-s’.
* * *
Most conscripts stayed low in ranks,
No recognition nor thanks,
Serving mainly, as a lowly ‘grunt’;
A few pawns coaxed or compelled,
I.Q. and like values they held,
To becoming a ‘Louie’ out front.
A small reward for each bloke,
Exact amount just a joke,
Seven dollars, constituted their pay;
And one more in addition,
With a ‘no choice’ clause condition,
‘Danger Money’, a bonus per day.
From back home they received,
Love letters from girls they believed,
Yet some just started: ... “My Dear John,
Please try hard to understand,
I've met this nice peace-loving man,
I now think that your war’s dirty and wrong!”
A standard tour of twelve months,
’Twas usually only done once,
Horror was common in that war;
Nothing could be done about that,
For these young men in a trap,
Like their fathers, thirty years before.
And when ’twas completed at last,
Dismissed after two years had passed,
No: “Thank you!” ... not even a word;
Back home free, yet discarded,
By some as a misfit regarded,
Of counselling then ’twas unheard.
Greeted back at work with a grin:
“Welcome home my boy! ... Come on in!”
“Congratulations!” ... and ... “Well done!”
“Now you understand, don't you lad?
That old job has gone that you had!
Because I had a business to run!”
In response, he answered an ‘ad’,
Hours O.K. and pay not too bad,
Yet, ‘The Man’ said: “Yeah, so what?
We're not obliged nor in debt,
No preference now to a ‘vet’,
Like ’twas to the previous lot!”
On leaving a hospital ward,
Fronted ‘The Repat’ Review Board,
Re: his shattered mind and ego;
Medical reports all inspected,
Appeal for a pension rejected,
After all, he was just a ‘Nash-o’!
* * *
I’m reminded often, at times,
Those falsely accused of war crimes,
All innocent, fit and so young;
Smiling faces, hiding fears,
Group pressure applied from their peers,
Entrapped by the task to be done.
Remembering monsoonal rain,
Jungle patrols, sometimes in vain,
Lack of sleep and cruel bloody sights;
A section of mates down to seven,
And all the times when heaven,
’Twas simply just to lay down at nights.
I see bandoleers, gluey mud,
Dirty bandages, dried blood,
Floppy bush hats, annoying red dust;
Star pickets and barbed wire,
Being pinned down, under fire,
And those green cans, now turned to rust.
Mortars and ‘arty’ overhead,
Scores of wounded, dying and dead,
Their lives snuffed-out before time;
Any future denied each,
A mature age they’d not reach,
All sadly cut down in their prime.
My three sons claim I am old,
I appear different, I’m told,
Images compared to the past;
In an attempt to make sense,
To see both sides of the fence,
There are questions to be answered and asked.
And so what of those ‘pollies’,
Who had committed these follies,
All of that waste, grief and the pain?
I appeal to you readers,
Can we control our own leaders,
To prevent it ever happening again?
Out in the bush, in my home,
Just like a hermit, all alone,
It’s here I try in vain to forget;
Plastic politicians and signs,
Hypocrites, ‘choppers’ and mines,
And a time referred to as Tet.
Yet, for me, the legend’s no myth,
So on each April, 25th,
Off to that march, I must go;
Because on that special date,
I recall the odd special mate,
Although I, was just a ‘Nash-o’.
Just a 'Nasho'
To counter the perceived threat to Australia from a phantom ‘Yellow Peril’, National Service (military conscription) was announced by the Menzies Liberal/Country Party Government in November 1964. It came into effect in mid-1965. Selection was by birthday ballot and was restricted to 20 year old males. Those selected were called up for two years full time service and then placed on a three year reserve list, should they be further required.
It is a matter of contention (in some quarters at least) as to whether the lower socio-economic members of society were disadvantaged by the scheme. A close examination of the pre-selection backgrounds of all those conscripts who were killed (The Weekend Australian, October 1992) would indeed confirm that there was an in-built bias against the economically disadvantaged. Prior to 1972 tertiary education was not free and therefore remained in the main, the province of the wealthy.
Deferments for study and extended education overseas were thus not an option for the working class and poor. Favourable medical records could be and were used to avoid service (see Geoff Simms’ admissions p.112-114 for example in his book A Real Mate, ABC Enterprises, 1991 - also here p.17 of Introduction). Others successfully used marriage, homosexuality, drug addiction, criminal histories, religious conviction, apprenticeships, poor health and low I.Q. as avenues, genuine or feigned, for rejection or avoidance. Others simply disappeared or didn’t register. In those pre-computer/ID card days, it was not too difficult to keep a low profile. A few chose gaol as an option. Meanwhile, others took their place.
Between 1965-1972, of the 804,286 twenty year old Australian males who did register their names, 63,790 were called-up and of these 17,424 served in Vietnam ... all were allocated to the army. Of these, 200 were killed and 1,279 wounded. Sickness and other disabilities plague many more, even today. Many others have since died from war related illness, some having committed suicide.
“The conscription ballot is a lottery of death!” - Arthur Caldwell, 1966
“There’s a wall 10 miles high and 50 miles thick between those who went and those
who didn’t, and that wall is never going to come down ... It was inconceivable that the
nation could be at war and tens of thousands of men ... [of the same age] ... might connive
to avoid it, knowing all the while that other young men of similar promise and with equally lofty dreams of the future risked living [those futures] in darkness, in a wheelchair or ... …. in the next minute.”
- Robert Timberg in The Nightingale’s Song, 1996.
♪♪ Years went by, we were average guys ... playing life by a ‘rule of thumb’;
Till ‘The Man’ came on the T.V ... talkin’ about war like he wanted one.
He said: ‘Everybody line up ... backs to the wall ... till ya num-ber’s ... called!
Ya gotta go and be a ... HE-R-O!
I got a new game, for all you boys … It’s war without a choice!’
Com-puls-ory ... H-E-R-OES!
Just tryin’ to make it home! … Just try and make it home! ♪♪
- from the song Compulsory Heroes, by the band 1927.