The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience is a traveling exhibition that mainly tells the story of Australia’s involvement in the First World War, but also has some additional information about the Australian armed forces involvement in subsequent operations. The latter is restricted to information panels, videos and here in Perth, a Bushmaster provided by one of the local Army Reserve units, the 10th Light Horse.
The bulk of the displays follow a chronological timeline spanning the period just before the outbreak of World War 1 until armistice in 1918, with visitors using an audio guide, which provides contextual information to supplement the items on display.
As can be expected with a traveling exhibition aimed at a general audience, the bulk of the stuff being presented consists of photographs, ephemera and didactic information panels along with (mostly) smaller items that are easy to transport and display. The exhibits are well displayed though and visitors pass through trench-like passageways as they move from one section to the next. For Western Australian leg of the tour most of the items originate from the Australian War Memorial collection but also include artifacts from the Army Museum of Western Australia as each stage of the tour includes a local ‘flavour’ curating stories from the area visited.
Entry is free, although bookings have to be made prior to visiting and entry is controlled to ensure that all attendees have an audio guide. The audio is quite good providing context and automatically updating to reflect where ever the visitor is standing at any given point during their visit. It also provides for an option to have additional information about certain exhibits sent via email should something be of interest.
Overall, whilst I was slightly disappointed by the lack of post WW1 display items, it was quite an enjoyable visit and I think that I will drop by again for another look before the show moves to its next location.
Some of the more desirable of the WW2 era US Navy Submarine Combat Patrol badges are those made by the West Australian company of Sheridan in Perth. This company made USN submariner badges to supply the large US submarine fleet operating out of Fremantle during the war.
Recently, incomplete strikes of the Sheridan type1 badge have been appearing on eBay. Concerned that these may be ‘finished’ and aged then sold as originals to collectors I bought one for comparison to my original badge and also contacted the seller. He told me that he is the grandson of a former USN submariner and he had these made by Sheridan around ten years ago. According to him, the die was quite fragile and incomplete which is why the badges have not been sheared-cut from the sterling sheet. This also explains why the detail is not as sharp and defined when viewed next to an original example. This is particularly noticeable on the reverse and the difference can be clearly seen around the lettering of the hallmark and ‘silver’ stamp. It should be noted that, John, the guy who had these restrikes made has never attempted to sell them as anything other than restrikes/reproductions, but it will be worthwhile for collectors to make note of the differences shown in my picture for future reference.
Whilst many people think that these are a Special Air Service wing, because of its shape and similarity to the design of the brass stamped British tropical dress SAS wing. It is in fact a Royal Australian Navy parachutist wing although there is an SAS connection.
It was introduced in 1994 as the Australian Navy ‘Special Duties’ parachutist qualification for the sailors (primarily clearance divers) who had passed the SAS selection and counter terrorist training cycle in order to serve as part of the TAG (Tactical Assault Group) which at that time was part of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment. Within months of its introduction it was decided that there was sufficient water ops capability within SASR and the requirement to include the CD’s as part of the TAG was removed, making the insignia virtually obsolete overnight as no more sailors would be likely to qualify for it.
Sailors who have NOT completed the SAS selection and CT training cycle are awarded the standard RAN parachutist wing upon completion of their para training. This includes the Clearance Divers who now form part of the east coast based TAG-E which is structured around the Sydney based 2 Commando Regiment. Only sailors who have completed the SAS selection and CT training are entitled to wear the SDU parachutist wing.
Collectors should note that no cloth or bullion wings of either of the RAN para wings variations are authorised, nor are they worn. They are fantasy/fake items, made for collectors.
These Australian SAS parachutist wings are amongst the most prized in my collection for a couple of reasons. Apart from their scarcity, they were given to me by Andy Russell who was serving in the SAS at the time and on 16 February 2002 unfortunately became the first Australian to be killed in Afghanistan, when the LRPV vehicle he was travelling in struck a mine. He left behind his wife Kylie and Leisa, his two-week-old daughter whom he had never met. Lest we forget!
Andy gave me the wings in late 1998 not long after he returned from a deployment to Kuwait as part of a US led coalition known as Operation DESERT THUNDER. Contrary to popular myth, this was the first operational deployment by an Australian Special Air Service Regiment unit to the region. No Australian SAS troops had taken part in the first Gulf War although some of the Navy clearance divers of CDT4 who conducted important operations in and around the coast of Kuwait during that conflict had served as sailors in the water operations element of the SAS counter terrorist squadron prior to 1994. In the aftermath of the war, the United Nations sent UN Special Commission inspection teams to Iraq to monitor their weapons program and check for evidence of WMD’s. Two SAS signallers from 152 Signal Squadron, corporal’s Mal V. and Mark S. formed part of one of these teams in 1993 but that was the extent of the Australian SAS involvement with Iraq and the region up until that point.
Then, in late 1997 Iraq began to deny entry to these teams and in response, a coalition led by the USA formed with the initial intention of mounting air strikes to enforce compliance. In February 1998, the Australian Government announced that it had responded to a request from the USA to participate in the coalition. Part of that response included elements of 1 SAS Squadron (A and B troops along with their integrated 1 Sig troop from 152). The squadron was bolstered by the attachment of a troop from the NZ SAS, which formed D troop. This ANZAC SAS force set up camp at a large Kuwaiti air base known as Ali Al Salem.
The squadron’s roll was primarily to undertake combat search and rescue missions (CSAR) into Iraq to rescue downed aircrew and other coalition personnel. A secondary mission was to undertake tactical surveillance and response operations on the Kuwait- Iraq border and a third role was to provide a quick response force (QRF) capability to respond to small scale Iraqi raids. Familiarisation and preparatory training began immediately but two weeks after arriving, the UN struck a deal with Saddam Hussein and the planned air strikes were put on hold. The operation was renamed Operation DESERT SPRING and preparations continued until May when the squadron was reduced to a troop and then returned to Australia in early June.
At the time, Andy Russell was serving in A troop, which was 1 Squadron’s air operations / freefall troop. Whilst deployed to Kuwait, the troop had 20 sets of these ‘desertised’ SAS wings made up by a US army tailor. The wings were never meant to be worn, nor would they ever be permitted to do so. They were sold/distributed within the troop as a memento of the deployment and like many of the sub unit patches so often seen, inject cash into the troop ‘goffa fund’ which was used to buy soft drinks, beer etc for troop functions.
With only twenty examples made, it is definitely one of the rarest Australian SAS badges, but for me, they are even more special having come from a friend who was doing what he loved best, but taken before his time.
11:00 hrs, 18 August 1966. Nui Dat, South Vietnam.
Delta Company from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (D Coy, 6RAR), comprising 105 Australian infantrymen and 3 New Zealand Forward Artillery Observation party gunners from 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery step off from the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) base at Nui Dat to commence Operation VENDETTA. Each soldier is carrying 3 x 20 round magazines and another 60 rounds in boxes in their packs. Each M60 machine gun team carries 5 x 100 round belts and another 5 x 100 round belts in their packs.
The company-sized patrol, under the command of Major Harry Smith, is part of a response to a mortar and recoilless rifle (RCL) attack on the 1 ATF base in the early hours of the previous morning. D Coy is tasked to relieve B Coy, 6RAR, who had just discovered a dug in position for about 20 men plus signs of a 75ml RCL that had fired at the base. For most of the company this was just another patrol, nothing special apart from missing out on a concert being held at the base by Little Patti and Col Joyce that evening.
Just before 16:00hrs in the rubber plantation at Long Tan they made contact with the enemy. For the next three and a half hours, in an area no larger than two football fields and in a blinding monsoon thunderstorm, the men of D Coy fought off an enemy force that outnumbered them 26 to 1. By the end of the battle, 16 members of D Coy lay dead and 23 were wounded. Two more (one from D Coy and one Armoured Corps soldier from the relieving force carried aboard 3tp 1 APC Squadron) would die from their wounds. Four other Aussies from the relieving force, three from A Coy, and one from B Coy were wounded.
Of the 2650+ NVA regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas who were on the battlefield 245 bodies were counted on the battlefield and 3 were captured. However during Operation MARSDEN in late 1969, Australian forces captured a Viet Cong dispensary that had a casualty list attributed to the battle at Long Tan. That list identified 878 as KIA/Missing/Died of Wounds and approximately 1500 wounded in action. It was a significant defeat for the NVA and VC forces whose stated aim was to lure an Australian battalion out of the task force base to destroy them, then attack the base at Nui Dat itself. Instead, the battle severely weakened the enemy in Phuoc Tuy province and they never again posed a serious threat to the Nui Dat base.
In May 1968, US President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded D Coy, 6RAR the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) “For Extraordinary Heroism”. This prompted plans by 6RAR BHQ to build a memorial in Vietnam during their second tour of Vietnam, which commenced in May 1969. The cross was built in the battalion lines at Nui Dat out of concrete by pioneers from 6RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion’s Assault Pioneer Platoon and was overseen by Sgt Allan McLean. It was suspended under a RAAF UH1H helicopter and flown to the site of the battle in the Long Tan rubber plantation, where it was erected and dedicated in memory of the fallen by 6 RAR-NZ Anzac Battalion on the 18th of August 1969, the third anniversary of the battle. In 1987, Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke also announced that the 18th of August, Long Tan day, would also be known as Vietnam Veterans Day. The site at Long Tan remains one of only two foreign war memorials permitted in Vietnam, the other being French at Dien Bien Phu.
Sometime after the war the cross was removed, reportedly by a Catholic farmer for his father’s grave and a replica was constructed by the local population at Xa Long Tan and placed on the site. The original cross was subsequently found by an Australian researcher and placed on display at the Dong Nai museum (Nguyen Ai Quoc Street [Dong Nai Province Square] Tan Phong Ward , Bien Hoa City, Dong Nai Province, Vietnam). The replica cross remains on the battlefield site and special permission must be sought to visit the memorial.
In July 2012, the cross was sent to Australia, on loan to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It was put on public display on the 17th of August and will remain in Australia until April 2013 before being returned to Vietnam. For many veterans of the battle it will be the first time they have seen the original cross as they never returned to Vietnam after their tour ended in June 1967.
Accounts of the Battle of Long Tan
There are numerous excellent on-line accounts of the battle of Long Tan. If you would like to do further reading, I recommend checking out the OC of D Coy, 6 RAR, Harry Smith’s page, Bob Buick, who was the platoon sergeant of 11 Platoon at the battle, Terry Burstall’s (who was a private in D Coy during the battle) research into the enemy’s perspective, with further information being found at the Australian Government’s official Vietnam War page and the 6 RAR Association website. An ABC regional radio interview with Albany farmer and Long Tan veteran, Harley Webb is also worth listening to for a personal account of the battle.
In August 2006, on the 40th anniversary of the battle, Martin Walsh of Red Dune Films, in conjunction with FOXTEL premiered this excellent documentary of the battle. Narrated by Sam Worthington and running for an hour and forty one minutes it provides an excellent account of the battle through the experiences of the participants. It is definitely worth taking the time to check it out.
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