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A Centenary of Service:
Vietnam War

This issue commemorating Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War is the third in a series focusing on conflicts since World War I. Perhaps the most significant Australian engagement of the war was the Battle of Long Tan, which took place on 18 August 1966. Eighteen Australian and at least 245 Viet Cong soldiers lost their lives.

The Vietnam War (1955-75) was fought between communist North Vietnam, which sought to unify the country after partition following the First Indochina War (1946-54), and South Vietnam, which was backed by anti-communist USA. Australia entered the war in 1962 to help USA and its allies stem the spread of communism, initially sending 30 military advisers. In 1965, Australia sent a battalion, and, in 1966, a task force. Australian troops did not withdraw until 1971; it was to be our longest conflict of the 20th century.

Stamp - In the field

In the field

This stamp features a well-known photograph of Australian servicemen in the field. It was taken by Michael Coleridge on 26 August 1967 and shows members of 5 Platoon, B Company, 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR), just north of the village of Phuoc Hai, beside the road leading to Dat Do. United States Army Iroquois helicopters are landing to take them back to Nui Dat after completion of Operation Ulmarra, the cordon and search by 7RAR of the village of Phuoc Hai. Operation Ulmarra was part of Operation Atherton, conducted by 2RAR /NZ (Anzac) (The Anzac Battalion comprising 2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment and a component from the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment) and 7RAR. This iconic image is etched on the Vietnam memorial on Anzac Parade, Canberra, which was dedicated in October 1992.

Stamp - Long Tan Cross

Long Tan Cross

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, which occurred in a rubber plantation in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam, on 18 August 1966. It was a decisive victory for the soldiers of the 1st Australian Task Force, who were outnumbered by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese units by 108 to between 1,500 and 2,500. Eighteen Australians lost their lives and 24 were wounded. An estimated 245 Viet Cong soldiers were killed. The battle was one of the most significant conflicts of the Vietnam War.

In the foreground of the stamp is the Long Tan Cross. This memorial was erected by the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment on 18 August 1969 to mark the site of the Battle of Long Tan. The cross was removed following the communist victory in 1975 but it was recovered and, in 1984, was placed on display in the Dong Nai Province Museum. The cross weighs more than 100 kilograms and stands just under two metres high. A replica memorial cross was erected on the battlefield in the 1980s.

The background photograph was taken by photojournalist Denis Stanley Gibbons AM during the dedication ceremony on 18 August 1969. In attendance were members of D Company, 6th Battalion RAR.

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Stamp - Aid and Recreation

Aid and Recreation

Australian troops undertook civil action during the war, including medical and dental aid, construction work, agricultural assistance and education to the Vietnamese people. By mid-1967 these activities were conducted by a Civil Affairs Unit. Part of the Australian military’s strategy was to “win the hearts and minds” of the South Vietnamese villagers who assisted the Viet Cong with food and shelter. Australian army personnel visited about 15 villages each week. They distributed clothing and household goods, provided health and dental care, constructed windmills, water-reticulation schemes, school and community buildings, and set up agricultural and animal husbandry ventures.

They also conducted English-language lessons and sports activities. The army delivered some 253 aid projects between 1967 and 1971. The main image in the stamp was taken by Philip John Errington at Binh Ba, South Vietnam, in February 1971. It shows Corporal Paul Hanley, a medic with the Mobile Advisory and Training Team (MATT) treating the infected foot of a Vietnamese child.

In order to boost morale, many Australian entertainers performed for the troops in Vietnam. The background photograph shows popular television personality Patti McGrath entertaining troops of the 1st Australian Task Force near the Task Force airstrip in 1967.

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Stamp - Opposition and Withdrawal

Opposition and Withdrawal

The National Service Scheme, in which many young Australian men were called up for compulsory combat duty in Vietnam, was widely opposed. Anti-conscription organisations included Save Our Sons (SOS), founded in 1965. By 1970 and 1971 our involvement in the war was the cause of widespread social and political dissent, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets of major cities in moratorium marches. Increasingly, it was apparent that this was a war that could not be won. In August 1971, Prime Minister McMahon announced that troops would be withdrawn at the end of the year. Some logistics personnel and the last Caribou aircraft left early in 1972. Australia’s participation in active combat was over.

The stamp depicts members of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) walking across the tarmac on 18 December 1972, after their withdrawal from Vietnam. Also shown is the Vietnam Campaign Medal, awarded by the South Vietnamese government to foreign military personnel for service in Vietnam. The background photograph shows a youth peace protest against the Vietnam War on the streets of Sydney, 9 May 1970.

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Stamp - Commemoration

Commemoration

For decades, many Vietnam veterans felt vilified by the Australian public for their participation in the war. However, in recent years there has been increasing acknowledgement and respect for their brave service and sacrifice. Vietnam Veterans’ Day, celebrated every year on 18 August throughout Australia, commemorates the Battle of Long Tan and all those who served during the Vietnam War.

The stamp depicts two proud Vietnam veterans. On the right is John Methven OAM, former National President of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, who served with 7 Battalion RAR in 1967–68. On the left is Doug Arnold, who joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1967 at the age of 17. He served in Vietnam as Ordinary Seaman on the HMAS Yarra and on HMAS Parramatta as an Able Seaman Marine Engineer.

The photograph in the background shows Australian servicemen marching through Sydney in 1966, following their return from active duty in Vietnam.

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