SAS trooper Don Barnby’s Vietnam kit in the Australian War Memorial collection.
I took the above photograph back in 2018 when I flew across to Canberra to check out the Australian Special Forces exhibition, From the Shadows. This photograph shows a display in the Vietnam War section of the 1945 to Today Galleries that features items belonging to Australian SAS trooper Don Barnby during his service with 2 SAS Squadron in South Vietnam in 1971. Using the AWM’s collection search facility uncovers a trove of material related to his service, some of which is shown below.
Donald Richard Barnby was born in Brewarrina, NSW on 8 April 1950 and joined the Australian Regular Army aged 17 in May 1967. After completing basic training at Kapooka in New South Wales, Barnby was allocated to the Royal Australian Ordnance Corps and after completing his initial employment training was posted to 2 Base Ordnance at Moorebank, NSW. Frustrated by not having a combat role, Barnby volunteered for service with the Special Air Service Regiment. After completing the selection and reinforcement cycle, including Military Free-Fall parachuting, Barnby became part of F Troop of 2 Squadron.
From 17 February to 10 October 1971, Trooper Barnby deployed to South Vietnam as a member of Patol Two Five, F Troop, 2 Squadron, SASR. This was 2 Squadron’s second tour of Vietnam and the last of SASR’s involvement in the conflict. Based out of the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy Province, the squadron conducted clandestine reconnaissance and offensive operations against the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong.
After returning from his tour, Don Barnby decided to leave the Army in early 1973 and joined the Australian Capital Territory Police Force, which later became the Australian Federal Police (AFP). He served in numerous roles during his police career including as a United Nations Australian Civilian Police Officer (UN AUSTCIVPOL), with the AFP 1st UN Police Contingent, deployed to East Timor on behalf of the United Nations and responsible for organising the independence referendum in August 1999. His story is recounted in detail in an interview that features on the AWM’s podcast series, Life on the Line. The podcast is worth listening to as Don goes into some detail about his tour, the equipment he carried and other aspects of this service.
Nui Dat. SAS Hill, South Vietnam. 1971-04-08. Members of patrol Two Five, ‘F’ Troop, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service (SAS) at Nadzab LZ after returning from their second patrol. The patrol of nine days was from 30 March until 8 May 1971. Left to right, back row: Corporal Ian Rasmussen (patrol 2IC), Trooper Don Barnby (patrol signaller), Trooper Dennis Bird (patrol scout), 2nd Lieutenant Brian Russell (patrol commander). Front row: Trooper Bill Nisbett (rifleman), John Deakin (USN-SEAL attached). AWM Accession Number: P00966.084
Trooper Don Barnby a Member of Two Five patrol, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment on SAS Hill, Nui Dat, South Vietnam immediately prior to moving out on patrol. AWM Accession Number: P00966.047
In addition to the photographs that Don Barnby took whilst in Vietnam, searching the collection database also shows many of the individual items in the display, with the descriptions providing valuable additional information. Click on the smaller photos below to enlarge and read caption the details.
Composite webbing set : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: A composite webbing set, consisting of standard US pattern waist belt, metal buckle and ‘H’ harness suspender. The suspender has been modified with the addition of five nylon webbing M79 40 mm grenade pouches, cut from a US Air Force survival vest, which are attached vertically down each front suspender strap. A blackened round brass press button secures each grenade pouch cover. Worn at the back of the belt is a large Australian 1937 Pattern basic canvas pouch and a British 1944 Pattern water bottle and carrier. In place of the standard Australian issue basic pouches at the front are twin US Special Forces M16 5.56 mm magazine pouches and two compass pouches, one containing insect repellent. Attached to the 1937 Pattern pouch is another compass pouch, containing another insect repellent container and inside the pouch is a field dressing. The webbing set has been hand camouflaged by adding random blotches of green and black paint. A US issue plastic M6 bayonet scabbard is also attached. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.005
ERDL camouflage trousers : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Pair of ERDL camouflaged Ripstop trousers, fitted with olive green plastic buttons. A pair of slash pockets are fitted at the hips. The trousers have a waist band with four belt loops and a concealed button fly closure. The trousers feature a concealed map pocket, with button opening on each thigh. The bottom of each trouser leg has an internal loop of fabric to blouse the trousers. The Ripstop material in the trousers includes nylon threads cross hatched through the cotton base fabric. History / Summary This distinctive camouflage is the ERDL pattern which was developed by the United States Army at the Engineer Research & Development Laboratories (ERDL) in 1948, and was first issued to US special operations units and the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) operating in South Vietnam from early 1967. This ERDL variation is also known as the brown based ‘highland’ or ‘wet season’ type. AWM Accession Number: REL29666.002
US tropical pattern gloves : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description Two right hand, olive green, US issued tropical gloves with the tops of all fingers removed. Two thirds of the top surface of the gloves is made from an olive green nylon mesh, with the index finger being entirely covered with Nomex. This Nomex extends up the entire length of the upper glove to the cuff. The palms of the gloves are made from a worn Nomex material. The stitching for one of the glove’s right thumb is slightly frayed, and has come undone, with the other one entirely missing. The glove with the missing thumb also has a blue-green coloured number 9 hand written midway along the top of the glove above the index finger. This glove is also of a slightly lighter coloured olive green colour than the other. Around the cuff of the gloves is zig-zag stitching which slightly blouses the gloves. History / Summary These gloves were modified and worn on operations, to help protect the wearer’s hands from the harsh conditions of the jungle and when using weapons. They also provided a form of camouflage for the exposed hands of the wearer, Trooper Don Barnby. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.004
United States experimental tropical pattern boots : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Pair of experimental United States Army tropical boots. The black leather nose caps of both boots are heavily worn, exposing raw leather. The heel of each boot is also black leather. The body and tongue of each boot consists of olive green nylon. A large metal and black nylon zip secures the boots. A vertical lacing system is a feature of the boots, incorporating eighteen metal eyelets per boot and black nylon cord. There are a pair of circular brass eyelets on the inside arch of each boot, for removing excess water. The soles of both boots are black rubber which are worn from use. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.003
Wrist compass : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Wrist mounted magnetic compass, finished in medium green aluminium and fitted with a worn olive green nylon wrist strap. The compass has degrees etched into the edge of the rotating dial and mils indicators every 10 mils etched into the body. A small arrow is etched into the top of the compass body, next to the wrist strap. An index pointer consisting of a pair of 2 mm high vertical lines, separated by a small 1 mm diameter dot are stamped into the rotating dial. An orienting arrow and parallel orienting lines, marked in red, are fitted to the base of the compass on a rotating housing. The wrist strap has seven 2 mm diameter metal bounded holes centrally placed for adjusting the size. An indent with remnants of an unknown blue-green substance (possibly verdigris) is on the fourth hole. This indent corresponds with the wrist band metal buckle. The wrist band is fitted with a pair of horizontally arranged 5 mm diameter bands for securing the excess wrist band length. One of these horizontal bands is adjustable along the wrist band and the other, in a lesser condition, is stitched to the buckle arrangement. History / Summary Infantry and Special Forces troops on operations, need to carry a wide range of equipment such as navigational aids to successfully conduct their patrols. It is critical that these objects are as light and as compact as possible to save valuable space and weight. This commercially available self wrist compass is an example of this attitude; recent advice notes that these Silva compasses were purchased and supplied by the the American CISO (Counter Insurgency Support Office). AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.009
Plastic travel tooth brush : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Two piece plastic travel tooth brush and container. The protective container is slightly warped and cracked in places and is made from teal coloured plastic. One side of the container has etched ‘STAN[illegible]E’ and below, separated by a thin ridge is ‘TRAVEL TOOTHBRUSH’. A pair of 1 mm diameter holes are fitted to the end of the container to allow water to leave the container when closed. A shortened white plastic toothbrush, complete with worn yellowed plastic bristles, fits into the protective container leaving the handle exposed. This shortened toothbrush can then inserted into the open end of the container, forming a full length toothbrush. Remnants of toothpaste appear to still be attached to the toothbrush, handle and interior surfaces of the container. History / Summary: Infantry and Special Forces troops on operations need to carry a wide range of personal objects to maintain themselves on patrols. It is critical that these objects are as light and as compact as possible to save valuable space and weight for their military equipment and weapons. This commercially available self contained travelling toothbrush is an example of this attitude. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.010
Two sticks of camouflage cream : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: A pair of personal camouflage cream sticks made from an unknown substance, one black and one green. Both sticks are covered in a clear cellophane wrapper, the green camouflage cream stick also has a gold coloured foil paper wrapper covering 4/5 of the length. The black camouflage cream stick has been used heavily and has some of the black cream exposed at one end. History / Summary: This pair of camouflage cream sticks were used by Trooper Don Barnby while serving in South Vietnam in 1971 with 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). Virtually all SASR members camouflaged their exposed skin (face, ears and neck in particular) before and during patrols. These sticks are examples of contemporary camouflage creams carried on SASR patrols in the late Vietnam war period. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.011
Marker panel : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Bright pink plastic marker panel, fitted with six aluminium reinforced eyelets. A piece of olive drab nylon cord, folded in half, is secured through each of the eyelets. There are no manufacturers markings on the marker panel. History / Summary: Marker panels were used during the Vietnam War for a multitude of purposes, such as indicating Landing Zones (LZs) for helicopters, for marking positions of friendly forces to aircraft providing observation or fire support. They can also come in other bright colours such as bright yellow or orange. This particular marker panel was used in Vietnam by Trooper Don Barnby. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.008
In addition to the links and mentioned above, there are also curated online collectionsand the Australian War Memorial blog which includes a fascinating selection of articles from the AWM’s historians, curators, librarians and exhibition team that covers Australian military history, recent acquisitions, events and exhibitions. There is more than enough material to keep one engrossed for days and I found that once I started looking new avenues of exploration just kept on opening up. It is an incredible resource, even if you cannot visit in person.
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