Lest we forget – Anzac Day 25 April 2018
In the time of the Vietnam War, the North East Leader a Messenger Newspaper photographed handsome Private Don Goodcliffe of Tea Tree Gully while on active service, on page 3 of the edition dated 3 April 1968.
Australia committed a contingent of 60,000 personnel to fight alongside the South Vietnamese and American forces in Vietnam from 1962 to 1972, with the aim of suppressing the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Communism in Asia. The Viet Cong (or National Liberation Front – NLF), a common front aided by the North, engaged in guerrilla warfare against anti-communist forces. The Viet Cong fought to unify Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh’s Ho’s Lao Dong (Worker’s Party).
Men fought mainly in the army but navy and air force personnel and some civilians also served in the long conflict. Women went to Vietnam working as nurses in the military, as civilians working with the Red Cross and as journalists. There were also Australian Embassy female staff and entertainers.
In 1964 the Australian Government led by Robert Menzies had reintroduced conscription through a National Service Scheme. If you were a male aged 20, you had to register with the Department of Labour and National Service and your name could be randomly selected for national service by your date of birth. This was basically a scheme to increase the number of military personnel the Government could send overseas to 40,000. If you were unlucky enough to be selected, it was likely you were going to fight in Vietnam (https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/conscription/vietnam). Just about everybody would have known somebody who was conscripted, sometimes even a brother or a friend. Australians who resisted the draft were jailed.
The North East Leader makes reference to Operation Pinnaroo in the caption accompanying the photograph of Don Goodcliffe and the Vietnamese interpreter. The Long Hải Hills where Private Goodcliffe was deployed are situated near Long Hải, in the Long Điền District of the Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province in Vietnam.
Unfortunately, in 1967 Brigadier Stuart Graham had ordered Australian forces to plant 21000 M16 mines throughout the hills. The deployment of the mines was supposed to form a barrier to stop the Viet Cong from gaining access to and infiltrating nearby villages in the vicinity of the Australian army task force base at Nui Dat. The Australian troops failed to adequately defend this rugged territory, which was full of thick scrub. The Viet Cong seized control off the Long Hail hills. Their recruits dug a network of tunnels to store supplies and establish a military stronghold from which to plan and stage attacks. Viet Cong troops had learned to reposition the mines and use them against the enemy.
Operation Pinnarro led by Brigadier Hughes in early 1968 was terrible. It was designed to be a reconnaissance and attack mission, to destroy the Viet Cong’s military installation along Long Hai. However, the Viet Cong had anticipated the Australian attack. They did not even need to shoot the Australian soldiers. 15 Australians were killed and 33 wounded by walking in the terrain. 42 allied soldiers were also killed and 175 were wounded. And of course the mines did not just disappear. We have no statistics to tell us how many local Vietnamese people had their lives ruined by encounters with the land mines (http://vietnamswans.com/revisiting-the-long-hai-hills-43-years-later/) More Australians would die or be maimed by the time our forces withdrew from Long Hail and left Vietnam.
By 1969 many people believed that Australians should not be fighting in Vietnam with the United States and that it was a conflict that could not be won. Rallies in the streets against the War and conscription became violent and protesters were arrested. The antiwar sentiment was so strong among the Australian public that our troops who had bravely served in horrific conditions in Vietnam were reviled and they were abused upon their return to Australia. 521 Australians died as a result of the Vietnam War (496 of these were from the Australian Army) and over 3,000 were wounded.
Since Don Goodcliffe’s name is not listed on the Australian War Memorial site among the fallen, we may assume that he came home. In 1997, the Australian Government signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction which is also known as the Ottawa Agreement.
To find out about Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, logon to these sites:
Australian War Memorial website: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/event/vietnam
Read one veteran’s account of Operation Pinnaroo: http://lachlanirvine.tripod.com/lifestory/id5.html