“NASHO GONE BAD” – from Conscript to Professional Soldier, and beyond!
by Murray Gough (1970-75 and beyond)
How could a keen and energetic young teacher in NSW become conscripted for service into the Army, and why would he “sign-on” to become a regular soldier rather than return to teaching???
Background – the National Service Act
In many ways the Australian National Service Act of 1964 precipitated events and outcomes far beyond those imagined from its initial expectation for supplying troops to overseas service commitments. In announcing this decision to Parliament, Prime Minister Robert Menzies referred to ‘aggressive Communism’, developments in Asia such as ‘recent Indonesian policies and actions’ and ‘deterioration in our strategic position’ as being influential in the decision being reached (see Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 25th Parliament, 1st Session, pp. 2517–2724). Popular belief holds that the scheme was conceived specifically for Vietnam. Although untrue, the close timing of its introduction and Australia’s growing commitment to the “American War” (so named by North Vietnam) made it seem so to many people. In late 1964 the Government had yet to decide on increases to the number of Australian troops in Vietnam and was, in fact, more concerned about the regional implications of the Confrontation between Malaya and Indonesia, particularly the potential for the unrest to spill over the border into Papua New Guinea for which Australia had defence responsibility. With the growing war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s, the Confrontation between Malaya and Indonesia, and support for the defence of the Territory of PNG, the Government’s policy was to recruit widely to boost the Australian Armed Forces, either directly through the army, or indirectly through the other armed services. The Defence Act (1964) required 20-year-old males to serve in the Army for a period of twenty-four months of continuous service (reduced to eighteen months in 1971) followed by three years in the Reserve. The Defence Act had been amended in May 1965 to include a provision stating that conscripts could be obliged to serve overseas. In March 1966 Prime Minister Harold Holt announced that National Servicemen would be sent to Vietnam to fight in units of the Australian Regular Army. Although registration was compulsory, a process of selection by ballot determined who would be called up. Two ballots were conducted each year. The ballots included several dates within the selected period and all males with corresponding birthdays were called up for national service. The “birthday ballot” was conducted using a lottery barrel and marbles, each marble representing a birth date. Between 1965 and December 1972 over 800,000 men registered for National Service. Some 63,000 were conscripted during that period with over 19,000 serving in Vietnam and PNG. Conscription was terminated by the Whitlam Labor Government in December 1972 – one of the first key policy decisions implemented by the new newly elected Government.
Under the policy of conscription, male members of the Australian community who approached the age of 20 years were informed that they had “won the lottery” and their birth date had been drawn, resulting in compulsory enlistment in the Australian Army. There were many who opted out of this situation by joining the Australian Armed forces in some other capacity, e.g. Air Force, Navy or one of the several Reserve Forces. And again there were those who registered as “Conscientious Objectors” having been verified by a District Court Magistrate. The latter, nevertheless, weren’t excluded from military service and when they were inducted, they were variously harassed by the recruit training staff (mostly war veterans) and victimised throughout their two year period. A serious clash of cultures saw these scrupulous and well-meaning national servicemen demeaned at every opportunity by those who thought their military experience and training regime was paramount!
So, those who were inducted as “Nashos” consisted of a diverse cross-section of the Australian socio-economic landscape, ranging from labourers to lawyers, criminals to scientists, salesmen to accountants, and from rough-riding station hands to teachers. It is the latter category that remains the subject of this account. Although not outwardly conscientious objectors, those inducted from professions (such as teachers) held a more worldly, pluralist view of the place of the military in society and often challenged their instructional staff on the underpinning philosophy and ethics surrounding engagement in war, albeit often in a humorous or satirical fashion.
Induction and Training
As the Teacher-in-Charge of a remote one teacher school in NSW, Murray Gough learnt of his impending fate as a “Nasho” in 1968. As his family was from a long line of soldiers, dating back to his great uncle (SGT Alfred Flood), killed at the Battle of Beersheba in 1917, and his uncle (SSGT Richard Gough) receiving a Mentioned-in-Despatches (MID) in PNG in 1942, he was resigned to doing ‘service for his country’. However, the NSW Dept of Education intervened and insisted he serve out his “return of service” to fulfil his ‘bond obligation’ beginning in 1969 to 1970. This meant that the Department could post and re-post their young teacher wherever and wherever they wished, resulting in positions at three different schools over two years; eventually releasing him for Commonwealth service with the Australian Army on 2nd February 1970. Murray had learnt that the status of a young man in government service was “not of his doing”, meaning that his fate was governed by the whim of bureaucrats; a lesson that he would correct in years to come!
He was bid a fond farewell from civilian life when his family deposited him to Eastern Command, Watsons Bay (Sydney) in February 1970. From there he joined the 19th Intake of National Service at Kapooka, NSW. His platoon did not comprise only “Nashos” but also included around 50% of Australian Regular Army (ARA) recruits. Here he experienced the clash of cultures first hand. The ARA recruits included a lopsided mixture of genuine young men who wanted to join the Army for service overseas but were heavily overshadowed by many in the platoon from the State Court system, an option provided in lieu of going to gaol for their crimes. Their penitentiary was to be the Army! And the “Nashos” were soon to learn about the diverse range of ethics and mores that were exhibited by this strange mixture of youths in the next few months. Nevertheless, the total brain-washing of the system for training the recruits soon galvanised the platoon into a force ready for fighting, and all graduated (mostly) as soldiers with the esteemed rank of Private.
During this time the ‘Nashos” were given several options for undertaking their service, particularly the teachers. They could elect to be further trained at the short course Officer Training Unit (OTU) at Scheyville NSW (after undergoing a rigorous selection program); they could elect to be sent to Papua New Guinea as Instructors; or they could elect to undergo language training as interpreters. As a result of these options, the RAAEC “Nashos” went their various ways, with some undertaking additional Corps training with the Infantry. In Murray’s case, he served the next three months at Singleton NSW where he became an infantry soldier. Of note was that one of his platoon members from Wagga (who had been a conscientious objector) changed his category and became an infanteer! (More about this story later.) Both opted for service in South Vietnam and were successful. Little known in the history of the Vietnam War was that there was a contingent of RAAEC personnel in both the Logistics Support Group at Vung Tau (a teaching section) and positions at the Australian Task Force at Nui Dat (the 1ATF Education Officer and officer staff at 1ACAU civil affairs advisors); to be described later.
After six months of rigorous training as a recruit and a soldier, Murray celebrated his 21st birthday by graduating from Singleton and was then posted as a Temporary Instructor at OTU Scheyville. Whilst there, he decided to develop further skillsets though formal course (promotion) training as a Sergeant, and he completed two of the mandatory requirements. The non-commissioned staff at OTU had correctly advised him to do so, as he was to become a Temporary Sergeant (as did all RAAEC Nashos) on march-in to his next posting in South Vietnam. At this time he also attended Battle Readiness training for three weeks at Canungra QLD. So by the time 2nd November 1970 arrived, the date of embarkation on a QANTAS flight to Saigon, he was more than ready to take on an operational role in the Australian Army, and anything the Viet Cong wanted to throw his way. Strangely though, he was in reality still ‘only a teacher’ and posted to a teaching section in a war zone, as part of a Logistics Support Group, far from the combat Units.
The role of the teaching section was varied, but also highly challenging in many ways. The Captain (OC ARA), two Lieutenants (ARA), one Warrant Officer (ARA, only filled once before 1970), three Sergeants (all Nashos) and an administration Corporal/Sergeant (ARA) dealt with a variety of officers and soldiers, and local civilian staff employed by the Army. Work related to the range of education courses offered by the ARA for promotion (AACE & SGCE attendance and SGCE by distance), resettlement advice for those returning and leaving the service, and English as a Foreign Language courses for Vietnamese (based on an American Syllabus). The primary challenge involved in the work undertaken by the teaching section was dealing with (especially) combat soldiers who attended the courses. These soldiers had been extricated from their Units to attend the education promotion courses as part of their “rest in country” and as a diversion from their normal duties. The psychological preparedness of a new Nasho to deal with this situation was both confronting and daunting, and the new member relied heavily on those who were already there. Fortunately, the Education Section staff were progressively rotated to ensure that an ongoing transfer of skills and experience occurred. Most RAAEC members spent 12 months in this Section.
Murray Gough, unusually, spent five months at the section and nearly seven months at Nui Dat, HQ 1st Australian Task Force. The 1ATF work as Education Officer was extraordinary. The rank designation for the incumbent was either as a Lieutenant or Warrant Officer. So how come Sergeant Gough got the gig?? During his first five months at Vung Tau, he completed his third promotion course as a Sergeant and had assumed that substantive rank. As there was a vacancy for the Warrant Officer position, the promotion was his (temporary rank) … provided that he signed on to the ARA.
So, his options were … remain as a Nasho teaching at Vung Tau, leave the Army after two years and go back to teaching in NSW where he had been “pushed around” … OR … sign on in the ARA, get promoted and earn more $$$ than any other Warrant Officer Class Two in the ARA (or a teacher in NSW), get an exciting job at “The Dat”, and choose his next posting (including PNG or Singapore) after return from Vietnam!!! No brainer really … so fate took its course, and he arrived at Nui Dat taking over from Lieutenant David Carpenter. The work there was largely independent and unsupervised; the only reporting was to the OC in Vung Tau on an irregular basis. The OC HQ Company at the Task Force had no interest in the Education Officer, apart from administration of the position. So the duties performed resembled no other posting!
The key roles of education and resettlement were performed as well as the conduct of an occasional short AACE course and counselling of soldiers returning for re-settlement. However even the location of the education officer’s office was unusual; in a recreation set of rooms called the Pearson Centre, where the key attraction was a burger and drinks café run by local Vietnamese and cohabited by the Salvation Army Officer. The key function of the officer was to be “out and about” that meant visiting all the combat units to seek out those who were entitled to resettlement and education advice. Units visited included: the Royal Australian Regiment Battalions (especially for Nasho infantrymen), the Artillery Batteries stationed at Nui Dat and “The Horseshoe”, the Cavalry Units, the RAEME and Engineers Units as well as Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) Units scattered around Phuoc Tuy province. The mode of transport was either by driving his own Landrover or by catching one of the plentiful UH1H “Huey” choppers. Over and above this, he undertook other roles such as assisting in the ‘hearts and minds’ campaign that involved arranging volleyball and soccer games with local villages and towns. These involved arranging the games through the Civil Affairs or Psychological Operations Units that had some interest in the area. For example a truck full of Australian soldiers from a designated Unit, or from a mixture of HQ soldiers would arrive at a village and have an ad-hoc game of volleyball (with Australian Army Intelligence Corps interpreters in place to assess village participation and “information” gathering). On a grander scale, the Civil Affairs Unit (with Murray as the coordinator and player) arranged a provincial soccer match at Baria (the largest local town) to “show the Australian Flag”. The match was attended by key provincial and military figures, and was both popular and successful.
More unusually, the education officer participated in tactical reconnaissance flights in Kiowa helicopters with the Reconnaissance Squadron skimming along narrow water routes and “active grid-squares” to determine Viet Cong movement. Other patrols were conducted at dawn on board Pilatus Porter aircraft. He also was an observer with PsyOps chopper flights, “sniffer patrols”, that uncovered local troop concentrations. He also went to the American Special Forces base at the Long Hai Mountains in a HQ liaison capacity (establishing better Australian-American cooperation). Atop a heavily armoured American tank, Murray acted as an observer on a resupply mission to American/Australian troops en route to the Xuan Moc outpost. This was a particularly dangerous activity as the supplies and ammunition in the convoy were a much-wanted target. There were a few nasty occasions “outside the wire” – the most notable was when Murray came under fire from the Viet Cong at the Xuan Loc AATTV compound – this was handled by the South Vietnamese under the cool direction of the Adviser. Perhaps the most intimidating experience was during a return visit to play another game of volleyball at a local village. The Australians had been informed that previous officials were unavailable to talk to but, in reality, they had been eliminated by the Viet Cong for cooperating with the Australian Army (on a previous visit).
During the Nui Dat posting, WO2 Gough contracted suspected malarial fever and was rushed to 1 Australian Field Hospital in Vung Tau. In fact it was a life-threatening case of glandular fever that luckily was cured within 8 days. However, the time spent in the hospital revealed the highly confronting side of war casualties, from broken and lost limbs in nearby hospital beds to the viewing of “dust-off” choppers emerging (usually at night) from nearby combat zones. The images of battered bloody bodies, holed with gunshots and claymore pellets that peel back the flesh, along with morphine-induced crazy smiles, coupled with the improbable likelihood of survival are always difficult to erase from the memory! Nevertheless, Sergeant-Major Gough returned to Nui Dat, completed his tour of duty and, with the major Task Force Units, was evacuated in November 1971 to Vung Tau for return to Australia on board the HMAS Sydney aircraft carrier, “The Vung Tau Ferry”. Nui Dat was formally closed in December 1972 and was taken over by the North Vietnamese Army main fighting regiments.
Return to Australia
Returning to Sydney, Murray’s birthplace, was not a happy experience. As the aircraft carrier sailed peacefully into Port Jackson on a beautiful summer’s morning, the veterans could not imagine the furore they were about to witness. Apart from the welcome by friends and family at Circular Quay, the returning servicemen were not popular figures at a time when the Anti-Vietnam Moratorium, and reaction to the American Mi-Lei Massacre, was at its height. Sadly the troops that marched down George Street were jeered (by protestor elements) and the Guard Commander pelted with paint and called a “child-killer”! This was a low point in Australian history that has taken many years to recover from. Many veterans have never recovered from either the war, or this treatment by their “fellow Australians”. In WO2 Gough’s case, the remedy was self-evident – return to overseas service to escape the backlash.
Sadly during the first week back he met with his conscientious-objector-turned infantryman mate. They had dinner one night and compared experiences. Private Smith (name withheld) was totally shell-shocked and a real mess, having been a Forward Scout during his 12 months deployment with his Infantry Battalion. He had undergone close quarters operations against the Viet Cong in the paddy fields, rubber plantations and jungle, and experienced the futility of losing comrades and seeing them maimed and disfigured. Murray wasn’t a lot better, having endured wide-ranging experiences and pressures of different sorts. The red wine was good, and both were pleased to leave Vietnam far behind! Smith was to leave the Army and escape to the solitude of his parents’ WA property; Gough was to take another path. (They’ve never subsequently met).
Re-Commitment to Overseas Service
So after a week’s leave he presented himself to HQ Eastern Command and officially applied for a posting to either Singapore or PNG. Unfortunately, in early 1972, the Australian Defence Force military presence in Singapore had come to a conclusion, and as a result (not surprisingly) … Gough got the PNG gig! There were two other short postings before going to PNG including a return to OTU Scheyville, an obvious choice for a few months. Interestingly, some longer term staff members were amazed that Private Gough had returned as Warrant Officer Gough after 12 months’ absence! Subsequently, in 1972, he had another posting as a member of the Methods of Employment Research and Investigation Team (MERIT) where he was one of the few RAAEC Officers actively engaged in the formation of what was to become the Army (Vocational) Training System.
Papua New Guinea
On arrival in Port Moresby, he was pleasantly surprised at the extent of the RAAEC presence and far-flung responsibilities across the PNG territory. A key feature of the RAAEC portfolio was to educate and train the PNG Defence Force in its capacity to defend against communism on its western border and insurgents on its littoral. He held two positions: HQ WO2 at Murray Barracks, but also working at Goldie River and Taurama Barracks; and WO2 Instructor at the newly formed PNG Defence College (Army, Air Force, Navy & Police) at Igam Barracks Lae, replacing the Military Cadet School (ARMY). The key role of the Australians in 1972-1975 was to prepare the PNG Defence Force for Self-Government. The RAAEC presence in the many years before that time paved the way for that eventuality.
As a Warrant Officer, he was given the enviable position of supervision of all RAAEC Sergeants at Murray Barracks (and ex-officio in PNG). He recognised what they had been through to assume these positions and roles, and was always delighted at their professionalism, despite what they had been exposed to during Army “training”. They were not a tolerant lot (of military discipline) but coped marvellously. As part of his professional role, WO2 Gough visited all outposts during his 1972-1974 posting, meeting most Nasho Sergeants. Of special note was his visit to Wewak, where arguably the last Nasho Sergeant (Martin Forbes) was posted. Also of note was the RAAEC Wau-Bulldog Track Expedition that involved a select few Nasho Sergeants joining with Major David Muffet, his son, a local Librarian, WO2 Gough and two PNG infantrymen to retrace the WW2 road. The account of this 2 week journey has been documented in a book by Colin Freeman (to be summarised in a subsequent Nasho website article).
On an informal basis Murray was always one to create the necessity for Nasho drinks at the “Snake Pit” or attend functions and golf days (he reduced his handicap to 3 at Lae Golf Course). It was during one of these social occasions (and previously in Vietnam by the ARA Admin SGT) that he was given the label … “Nasho Gone BAD”!!! The term refers to someone who was not really true to the cause of a national serviceman … that is … to do your time in the Army, then return to a “normal” existence in civilian life! After the turmoil of Vietnam and its aftermath, and subsequently meeting with such a pleasant and welcoming group of Nashos in PNG, Murray respected, and still enjoys the label.
Murray served a total of 23 years in the Australian Army, ten years non-commissioned as a substantive WO2 (no WO1 positions were available, thanks to Kevin Olivieri!!!), and 13 years as an officer attaining the substantive rank of Major (few LTCOL positions were available in a shrinking force). Posting locations after PNG were: Task Force Townsville, SASR Swanbourne WA (both chosen because they were far from mainstream Australia), RMC Duntroon Canberra, Australian Defence Force Academy, on exchange to the Navy at HMAS Cerberus (Management School and Navy Training System), and lastly to RMC Duntroon as the Training Development Officer.
In 1997-1998 he wrote his Masters’ thesis (University of NSW) on the degrading and uninformed Australian Literature created during, and for two decades post the Vietnam War. The thesis condemned both the Australian presence in Vietnam, its trivialisation through the literature at that time and criticised the lack of literary professionalism in not recognising the significance of the role of Australians in the Vietnam War.
He has been in business as a management consultant since then and is currently Managing Director of a successful Consultancy Company and Registered Training Organisation in Canberra. He doesn’t attend military functions of any kind, except for the Dawn Service on ANZAC Day.