50 Year National Service reunion and remembrance

50 Year National Service Reunion and Remembrance

Over the weekend of 13th to 16th October 2017, former National Servicemen of 23 Platoon, E Company, 1 Recruit Training Battalion, Kapooka will return to Parkes to hold our annual reunion.

We will be attending a 50th anniversary of the completion of the first and major stage of our 2-year National Service obligation and commemorating our two comrades who paid the supreme sacrifice in Vietnam 50 years ago.

With the outbreak of the Vietnam War and involvement in the Indonesian Confrontation in Malaysia, recruiting was insufficient and the Menzies Government introduced the National Service Act 1964. 

This scheme was for 2-years’ full time service in the Army for men aged 20 selected by a birthday ballot. The Navy and Air Force did not use National Service. More than 804,000 20-year-olds registered in the eight years national service operated between its reintroduction in 1965 and its abolition by the Whitlam government in December 1972.  

Of the total registrants, 63,735 were called up for military service under the infamous lottery system and 17,424 were sent to Vietnam. The other 46,311 served in support units in Australia, Malaysia, Borneo and Papua-New Guinea.

The first lottery was conducted for men born between January 1, 1945 and June 30, 1965 and 4200 selected. This was broken into two intakes of 2100, the first in July 1965 and the second in September 1965 and undertook basic training at either 1 RTB Kapooka or 2 RTB Puckapunyal for 12-weeks.

Following basic training we were allocated to Corps for Corps training before being posted to our units to complete the balance of our 2-year full time service. We were in the second intake of the first National Service ballot.

Records show that Selective Service was initiated after the ballot by culling out the least healthy, the failure rate in 1965 was 51.2 per cent on medical grounds.

The platoon was formed on September 29, 1965 from 61 National Servicemen at Silver City, Kapooka, and housed in old rusty World War II Nissen huts. We were each issued a 7.62mm self-loading rifle (SLR), an Owen Gun (OMC), a bayonet, training grenades, clothes and uniforms. We were needled, vaccinated, probed and psyched.

We marched, ran, jumped, exercised and climbed to become physically fit and were progressively brainwashed to stamp out individualism and to obey orders without question or choice and to live with other men even if they did not like them.

We were verbally abused and learned a raft of new swear words and were physically abused, though not in a major way.

We learned reliance on our mates and the value of camaraderie.

Our two senior NCO’s were veterans of the South West Pacific Campaigns of World War II and Korea and, while most other Platoon had recently graduated inexperienced officers, our NCO’s taught us battlefield survival skills rather than parade marching and, like all other soldiers, we were taught the fundamentals of efficiently killing, wounding and maiming our fellow man without being killed, wounded and maimed ourselves.  

We learned that the commandment – Thou shall not kill was wrong and was now Thou shall not commit murder.

We were law abiding 20-year-olds who were turned into professional killers.

We learned that we were not an individual but simply a part of the larger entity and had our freedom removed, much as would occur in an open prison. We were severely traumatised by the whole process, but at the time, this was not recognised. Nonetheless we survived and mostly flourished, and went from callow youths to men in a short few weeks.

At the end of 12 weeks we were allocated to the various Corps for Corps training, with most going to the infantry and artillery. After corps training we were allocated to our units for the remainder of our National Service obligation. Around 30 per cent saw service in Vietnam with their units or as reinforcements.

In 1967 two of our comrades were killed in Vietnam.

Parkes National Serviceman, 2782783 Private Douglas Roy James Powter Dougie was posted to D Company 6 RAR as a reinforcement.

Dougie was participating in Operation Tamborine between the town of Dat Do and the Suoi Tre River when, on the morning of February 6, 1967, a tragic accident occurred when artillery fire from 161 New Zealand Field Battery, deploying from Fire Support Base Lance, fell on D Company’s location killing three and wounding 14. Dougie was mortally wounded and died the next day, February 7, 1967, from his wounds.

Lismore National Serviceman, 2782555 Sapper Glen Trevor (Trever) Bartholomew was posted, as a reinforcement, to 1 Field Squadron (1 FD SQN) were he was a tunnel rat, recovered bodies and defused mines.

In the early hours of Thursday, May 18, 1967 Glen was accidentally shot and killed at the Horseshoe, a volcanic hill and Firebase, 8 kilometres south east of Nui Dat.

23 Platoon will be holding a meet and greet on Friday, October 13 at the Parkes Service Club and, on Saturday, have a bus tour around Parkes and to Ben Hall’s grave and where he was shot.

On Saturday evening we will be attending a formal military style dinner at the Parkes Services Club where we will remember our service to Australia and to remember our two fallen comrades.

On Sunday we will go to Dougie Powter’s grave in the Church of England section of Parkes Cemetery and conduct a commemoration ceremony for both our departed comrades. We invite all veterans and the people of Parkes to join us.

Terry Knowles, reunion coordinator