Lt Col. Neil C Smith AM: Still they continued to die bravely in South Africa.
[Black and white head-and-shoulders photograph of a man dressed in a dinner shirt and jacket. With onscreen text: Fred Kilpatrick – the first to fall.]
Lt Col Smith: Fred Kilpatrick, he was a school teacher from Sydney, he was shot through the jaw near a place called Slingers Fontaine in January 1900 and lingered painfully in the bitter cold overnight before he died the next day. I’ve read the reports of the lads who found him the next day and then carted him back to camp and did what they could before he succumbed. During the night Fred Kilpatrick, lying there in agony, had scratched into the dirt with his pocketknife ‘cold’, alone in the darkness on the veldt. Fred Kilpatrick is part of the Anzac legend like all the others.
John Ebenezer Davies was from Adelaide. He served in the Boer War as well and he fell also, in January 1902. Like many other elusive Diggers he’s not on any listing of those who served in South Africa. This is because officialdom continues to make no real effort to identify those 25,000 Australians who served in South Africa between 1899 and 1902.
[Onscreen slide shows a black-and-white drawing of hundreds of Australian Lighthorsemen winding down a hill to traverse a river. A single horseman stands atop the hill overseeing the march. With onscreen text: South Africa 1901. Colonial troops crossing a river in the Transvaal, South Africa.]
Lt Col Smith: Rather, they rely heavily on a publication complied in 1911 and which is fraught with errors and emissions. That’s Murray’s for those of you who have an interest in the Boer War. Murray’s is very corrupt, through no fault of poor old Colonel Murray – it was the printers, from what I can gather. For example, in Murray’s you’ll find that there’s an entry there for a fellow and whatever that entry says, perhaps he was wounded, promoted, or something like that, that entry actually refers to the next fellow down and it’s like that through the book. That’s the sort of corruption I’m talking about there and that’s still the basic tool that people use to identify people who served in the Boer War. Crazy, because there is a surprising amount of material on the Boer War held in Australia and clearly lots more held in London. Here, in Australia, most is to be found at NAA on microfilm and includes such gems as embarkation rolls, nominal rolls, shipping details, pay records, medal rolls, you name it. It continues to surprise me, quite honestly, that these resources on the Boer War, held by NAA just around the corner, are so seldom used. Additonally, NAA has digitised, and you’re probably more familiar with them, has digitised a great many of the dossiers, the out-of-station papers from the Boer War, but most of them pertain to chaps who enlisted after Federation.
Skipping several decades. Since the two world wars there have been many more conflicts in which Australians have answered the call; sometimes, such as these folk, accompanied by their loved ones, accompanied by their families.
[Sepia photograph of three women in floral dresses seated amongst seven soldiers. Two tables stand before them, on top of which stand glasses, some of which appear to hold beer. Most are smiling, it is a relaxed scene. With onscreen text: BCOF Japan 1946 – 1952. Warrant Officer Don Boyd (Tallest standing) with family and friends, British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) Japan circa 1947.]
Lt Col Smith: We should consider those who served in the occupation forces in Japan in 1945 and 1952, such as these folk here, who belonged to what was called BCOF, the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. We should consider among the BCOF folk men like George medal winner – the George medal’s a bit like the Victoria Cross but not in the face of the enemy; it’s for great courageous acts. So, George medal winner Corporal Ron Sewell; Sewell died trying to save others during bomb disposal operations in Japan after the war in 1947.
The men and the women of BCOF of the occupation forces have fought long and hard for appropriate recognition. Indeed they continue to do so legally as I speak. Apart from my recent book, there is still no official nominal roll for these Australians. In other words, officialdom doesn’t even know who was there and that makes any argument for appropriate recognition and compensation an uphill battle right from the very start.
Yet again in Korea, between 1950 and 1953, we gave freely of our manhood in what was not really a declared war; rather, as they still call it, a United Nations police action. Some fought on the battlefields of Kapyong and [indistinct] in South Korea where the fighting rivalled any other combat in which Australians have ever been involved for its verbosity and its intensity.
[Photograph of group of men with onscreen text: The Korean War 1950-1953 Men of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment who fought in the battle of Kapyong, Korea April 1951.]
Lt Col Smith: As always in war, sickness not only among civilians but amongst military folk as well took a terrible toll. We might remember this man George Madden, also decorated with a George medal, who was captured by the Chinese communists and despite torture, starvation and sickness resisted his captors till the very end.
[Photograph of George Madden with onscreen text: George Madden Private George Madden. Captured at Kapyong. Died of starvation and ill treatment while a Prisoner of War of the Chinese in 1951.]
Lt Col Smith: Happily, all Korean War veterans are listed in a DVA, Department of Veterans Affairs nominal roll. Just be careful, when one says all are listed on the nominal roll that’s never quite right because particularly with nominal rolls like the Korean War and the Vietnam War, there was always the option for those who were to be listed, how they would find out I don’t know, but if they did find out before it was released and promulgated, it was an option for them to say, ‘No, I don’t want my name put up’. But whatever the figure is 99.9 folk should be on these nominal rolls such as the Korean one that I just mentioned.
Lt Col Smith: Moving on, then, the struggle to thwart the perceived threat of communism in our region. The Malayan emergency really our longest continuous war, although we seem to be fond of calling several wars our longest war of late.
[Slide with text: Mostly Unsung. Australia And The Commonwealth In The Malaya Emergency 1948-60. Lieutenant Colonel Neil C. Smith, AM Melbourne 1978. Malaya Emergency 1948-1960. Australian’s longest conflict. ‘Mostly Unsung’ provides the sole Army nominal roll of those who served.]
Lt Col Smith: I heard on the news last night, too, Afghanistan being our longest war. I don’t know, I’ll have to get my calendar out, but if it wasn’t, it was pretty darn close.
The Malayan emergency. Consider the pipeline ambush in Malaya in 1956 where Geoff Fritz, another Melbourne boy, fired three magazines from his Owens submachine at the attacking CTs, the communist terrorists …
[Photograph of soldiers in forested area. Onscreen text: Fighting the CT’s 1956. A patrol from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment heads out in the hunt for Communist Terrorists in Malaya.]
Lt Col Smith: … and he did this despite being mortally wounded in the stomach himself.
Now the only visibility, again like Beecoff, the only visibility of these soldiers who served in this conflict is in work that I’ve done in the past called mostly [indistinct]. No official lists of these people.
Covert operations – many people overlook this – covert operations in Borneo during confrontation with Indonesia in the 1960s.
[Poster with photograph of soldiers wading through water carrying their rifles. Onscreen text: Nothing short of war with the Australian Army in Borneo 1962-66. N.C. Smith. Indonesian Confrontation 1962-1966. The sole nominal roll for those Australian Military Forces personnel who served during Indonesian Confrontation.]
Lt Col Smith: Here in Sarawak, Victorian-born Vic Richards was badly hit with machine-gunfire by Indonesian troops and he lingered for several days before dying. You recall me saying ‘covert’ a moment ago; of course most of the operations in which we were involved in Indonesia were actually behind enemy lines. In fact the lads went across and they left their letters behind, their dog tags, the whole box and dice. It was a very covert operation so I guess that’s why we don’t hear too much about it even to this day. And certainly apart from my work, such as this one here, again there is no official nominal roll for those Australians who fought in this region in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Echoes from the past. In Vietnam, like Balmoral, Coral, Long Tan; names familiar even today in many Australian households.
[Photo of soldiers on the ground with boxes of supplies and another soldier disembarking from an RAAF helicopter. Onscreen text: Vietnam 1962-1973. A RAAF ‘Huey’ helicopter resupplies Australian Diggers.]
Lt Col Smith: We still don’t seem to be quite sure how many Australians served in that long and divisive conflict. Only about four or five years ago the Central Army Records Office, I would work there and I would see this team of people going through doing an audit if you like, of all of the records there for post-1945 soldiers, and as a result of that audit they found another 4,000, so maybe there’s still a few more elusive Diggers floating around from Vietnam.
Now most personal dossiers for the men and women who served after World War II are held by CARO, the Central Records Office located in Victoria Barracks just down the way. Some are also held, particularly or obviously for the navy and the air force, at the Service Offices as it’s called, in Canberra. Many navy records, post-World War II, are also digitised with NAA, although post-1970 you might strike out because the information starts to diminish quite rapidly after 1970 because that’s when the navy switched across fairly seriously to putting their personnel records on computer and sadly we can expect more of that.
Of course there is a DVA, the official nominal roll once again which I mentioned a moment ago, although I have it on good authority and take this on board, I have it on good authority that the maintenance of this roll, the Vietnam Veterans nominal roll and especially the World War II nominal roll, are posing serious problems. They ain’t got no money, they can’t maintain them and the IT, information technology, is such that they just can’t keep up with it.
Now the losses though significant in Vietnam were not as heavy as the world wars or even the Boer War. Nonetheless regular and conscription, sorry conscript troops – we haven’t said anything about conscript troops even though I don’t really have the time, although I would be happy to talk about it later to you – regular and conscript troops gave their all. Now one man, Bob Jackson, seen here from Greta, was a member of my own battalion, the 8th.
[Photograph of Bob Jackson. Onscreen text: Bob Jackson. Corporal Bob Jackson. The RSL in Greta NW at the time considered Vietnam was not a ‘real war’ and would not allow Jackson to be buried in the RSL Section of the cemetery.]
Lt Col Smith: He was amongst many killed in a series of mine explosions in the Long Hi hills on the 28th of February 1970 on what we called Black Saturday.
Mick Berrigan, another Digger, he was hit in the head by shrapnel in Nui Dat, the main camp in Vietnam as it was, in 1967 while fighting in Vietnam.
[Photograph of soldiers on parade. Onscreen text: Diggers in Vietnam 1970. Men of the 8th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment on final parade before leaving Vietnam.]
Lt Col Smith: He lingered, he lived the rest of his life, the next 40-something years, 45 years of his life he lived in a wheelchair. He died only I think last year, about a year or 18 months ago.
Did it stop then? No. It didn’t stop then. The first Gulf War, Somalia, Iraq, Timor and notably the current conflict in Afghanistan. Mercifully the Australian losses have been slight in the 35 or more peacekeeping operations in which we’ve been involved since 1945, and we were first involved in peacekeeping, UN operations, a bit like Afghanistan, Bosnia and Namibia, those sort of places.
[Photograph of soldiers. Onscreen text: 1945 and Peace. Army, Navy and Air Force veterans of World War Two. Members of Australia’s Z Special Unit in 1945.]
Lt Col Smith: We were first involved in ’45, ’46 in present day Indonesia.
So what do we have after all of that?
[Photograph of soldier. Onscreen text: Arthur Millar. Arthur Miller, a World War One Digger. Much can be discerned from his uniform, badges and accoutrements.]
Lt Col Smith: Well on Anzac Day especially we have a flood tide of memories. There are thoughts and feelings of the great wars and so many since. Of courage, or pride, of heroism, of self-sacrifice …
[Photograph of nurse. Onscreen text: Janey Lempriere. Janey Lempriere. Australian Army Nursing Service in the Boer War and World War One. Note Queen’s South Africa medal.]
Lt Col Smith: … of waste, loss, pain and sorrow and the ultimate question, why? The bleak conclusion is that the beast resides within all humankind and our prospects of ending conflict in the world therefore are as good as ridding ourselves of the playground bully.
The English military historian and philosopher Basil Liddell Hart wisely said, ‘If you want peace, understand war’ and this is where the family genealogist, the researcher, the historian, the military analyst, you and I enter the scene and start the process of discovery, of understanding, of remembering.
The first step in remembering our servicemen and women is to identify them and record their service for all to see. And I deal with researchers virtually every day and so often they haven’t really identified their man or woman. It’s not very often, till you get that regimental number which I mentioned before, that you can really start the process rolling. Every day I research and uncover the service of our veterans for family members, historians and others.
[Pphotograph of soldier. Onscreen text: Bert Nunn. Bert Nunn. A World War Two Digger. Much can be concluded from what he is wearing.]
Lt Col Smith: I can attest to the fact that there is a growing thirst to find the reasons behind our proud and rich military heritage, and that’s what I do: I help people search and understand their Australian and British ancestors with a military background. And every soul in this room has got one tucked away somewhere and I know that it is a quest really to find out what it is that makes us tick.
The first place to find many of the reasons for our rich heritage of course is in the myriad of official and other records containing stories of individual Australians, all too frequently sadly in time of war.
[Newspaper cutting with three photos showing a grandfather with his ten descendants of various ages. Onscreen text: Ten descendants in khaki. Military descendants. We all have them.]
Lt Col Smith: It is they who make up the soul of our Anzac heritage and they who made inroads into crafting our national and sometimes our family identity.
My plea to the families and friends of our veterans is therefore garner your family’s military history. Seek it out and learn to understand it; even a basic understanding of military terminology, abbreviations, ranks, anachronisms will help immensely. Learn what can be gained by simply knowing a soldier’s regimental number. I wish I had a quid for every time I’ve spoken to somebody and they’d say ‘Uncle Joe served in World War I and I don’t know who he was or where he went or anything.’ ‘Have you got his medals?’ ‘Oh yes, I’ve got his medals.’ ‘Did you look around the edge or on the back of them?’ ‘No.’ Because once you do that it becomes apparent you’ve confirmed that fellow. You’re on the track to finding out substantial information on him. It will have his regimental number, it will have his regiment which is more of a British term than an Australian one, it will have his regiment or his unit as we would say. And we are really, really fortunate in Australia, because unlike the Brits and many other countries, our medals to this day have always been issued with a chap or a lady’s at least regimental number and full name.
Note the official numbers impressed on the many lapel badges issued to veterans, and not only veterans but to their next of kin, their wife, their mother. There’s a whole range I could say, there’s probably 30-odd of these sorts of lapel badges, like ‘returned from active service’ badges and ‘female’s relatives’ badges and all sorts of other things. All, most of which, have an official number on the back, most of which can be researched through the National Archives of Australia-held registers here in Melbourne.
There’s lots of things for you to think about, but the rewards from such endeavours will far outweigh, in my view – going to cross swords with some family historians here – but they will far outweigh snippets from the more conventional genealogy records. And you can do more: write down, record grandad’s anecdotes from France and Flanders; read his diary.
[Photo of a page from a handwritten diary. Onscreen text: Diaries and letters. Match them with photographs plus personnel and operational records to get the complete story.]
Lt Col Smith: Match the detail against his service papers and related operational records. By operational records in this sense I’m meaning records associated with his unit war diary or maybe even recommendations for honours and awards. They’re usually not found on the fellow’s service records found as digitised records within NAA. Learn what it was really like in the mud and the carnage of France and Flanders. Understand more about what was probably the most formative chapter in his or her life. You can do more.
[Photograph of army recruits. Onscreen text: Army Recruits at Puckapunyal. The uniforms suggest men called up during the National Service Scheme of 1951-1959.]
Lt Col Smith: Make sure dad annotates his photographs of the cheerful, fresh-faced boys at the training depots at places like Royal Park and Caulfield, many of whom never came back. Ask him about the experiences of national service. Many people don’t realise we’ve had national service on four different occasions in Australia, notably in the living memory of most here, notably during the Vietnam period ’65 to ’73, but also between ’51 and ’59 and on other occasions as well. Just because a fellow was conscripted under one of these schemes and did not go on active services doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t a fat, juicy dossier waiting for you to find. So track your family history and movements through your uncle’s Australian Imperial Force pay records or maybe his repatriation department dossiers. Now the sufferings recorded in these dossiers long after discharge can make you weep.
[Photograph of a man on horseback. Onscreen text: Trooper Sloan Bolton from Geelong. A decorated double amputee and Charger at Beersheba. This man’s Repatriation Department dossier details a life of suffering and otherwise unknown glimpses of his Army experiences.]
Lt Col Smith: And this fellow Sloan Bolton was a train driver from Geelong; young fellow, lovely wife Elsie, they had several children. He participated in the Charge of Bersheba on the 31st of October, 1917 and he is notable because he completed the charge and then galloped into the town and came across a German and some Turks pulling a gun on a member and he went up, belted the German officer over the head wearing his tin helmet, knocked him off his horse. He did all sorts of wonderful things and was awarded a distinguished conduct medal for his gallantry; that’s fine.
Several months later, Sloan continued with the Lighthorse and he advanced towards Damascus and the ultimate taking of Damascus and at a place called Bald Hills in May of 1918 he was hit badly by the Turks and had both of his legs mangled; both of them were subsequently amputated and he was shipped back home a hero with his distinguished conduct medal and the rest of it.
That’s all wonderful, but then when you start to read the story of the ensuing decades in his repatriation dossier, it gives you detail which you will never see in a war diary or in a service record. Some from his own mouth because in these sort of circumstances you find on the repat records, that the soldier will recount incidents in his service which are not recorded on the official records. Let me assure you of that. But to read records such as Sloan Bolton’s, who finally died in 1947, to read his record and see the distress that he and his family suffered almost of a weekly basis, begging for a few cents for example comes to mind, begging for a few shillings for the trip from Geelong to Caulfield so that he had his stumps trimmed. It’s heart rendering stuff and you don’t get a lot of that in the normal service record.
So follow family movements and milestones, but also by examining pay and allotment records. People dismiss this, but if you’re a family historian, a genealogist, and you’re trying to find the nuts and bolts of your family, consider the service record by all means. But if you really want to track the family and find out for example who he was getting married to, who he was allotting money to, his wife, maybe a girlfriend, that sort of stuff, changes in addresses – you’ll get that in the pay and allotment records. You will often get material in those sort of records which you simply will not get in a service record.
You perhaps appreciate that certainly in World War I the army, if you said that you were married, the army just took a certain amount of money from you and gave it to the missus. A lot of blokes in those days didn’t like that: ‘If my missus is going to get money, I’m going to give it to her, not the army.’ So you may be surprised to find that your fellow’s marital status doesn’t quite match up on his enlistment paper, that could be the reason why he’s keeping it quiet, but he won’t keep it quiet in his pay records because he wants money to go to that address and perhaps that lady.
Cherish your brother’s medals and their faded ribbons from Korea, in World War II and Vietnam, such as indicated on this group of medals.
[Photograph of various war medals. Onscreen text: A life time of service. Medals usually provide essential research details and summarise a Digger’s military career at a glance.]
Lt Col Smith: Cherish them long after he’s gone. Find out why he was awarded the coveted mention in despatches or other honour. This fellow for example is on your extreme left, the ribbon, the medal set, has got a distinguished conduct medal. If you go to the operational records held at the Australian War Memorial, not usually on an administrative service record, you will very often get a most gripping tale associated with the recommendation for that particular honour or award, because quite often you will not get those details on a service dossier, regardless of the period.
Keep your uncle’s old letters and photos from Palestine or from Saigon, it doesn’t matter where.
[Photograph of a stack of photographs. Onscreen text: Photographs. Many military records contain identity photographs of your Digger.]
Lt Col Smith: Seek out your brother’s service papers through National Archives of Australia. Seek out your brother’s service papers from his national service days at camps like Puckapunyal and make sure the medals have been claimed. If you need I’ve got a number here if anybody wants to find out about that subject. I did 24 years in the army; honestly I’ve been given more medals since I left the army than when I was serving. Every five minutes we seem to be dishing out a medal for something for some other reason. That’s not for me to dispute why, but that’s the reality of what’s happening; so very often you’ll find that your fellow will be entitled to medals which have come out in more recent years, certainly from World War II on.
Keep your grandson’s emails, got to keep up with this, keep your grandson’s emails from Baghdad. Download and at least copy, hardcopy and annotate, for goodness sake annotate, some of the photos from your daughter’s service in East Timor. Each is important; each is a part of the history and the fabric of us all. Each reduces the potential for more elusive Diggers in the future. Do this so that your family and future generations will know why it is that some anniversaries bring a tear to our eye, or why it is that we gather on occasions such as dawn on the 25th of April every year.
[Slide shows a Rising Sun badge. Onscreen text: The Rising Sun badge.]
Lt Col Smith: And as those sort of times, Anzac mornings and others, break here in beautiful, peaceful Melbourne, Sydney, Perth or wherever: remember our veterans who have passed on and say to them, ‘Sleep now and be at peace in the arms of your creator. Your memory, indeed your story is safe with you and I.’
[Logos for the State Library of Victoria and State Government of Victoria appear in white on a black screen]