Burnett to host Long Tan veterans for Anzac Day
EIGHT veterans of the Battle of Long Tan will be in the region for the South Burnett's Anzac Day commemorations.
They will join cast and crew of Danger Close, a movie about the battle that will be filmed at a paulownia plantation outside Wooroolin in three weeks.
Among the guests will be Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith, the Officer Commander of D Company, 6th Battalion, which bore the brunt of the fighting during the infamous battle.
"We're coming out on the Tuesday night, going to the Dawn Service at Kingaroy and going to the main service at Wooroolin at 11am,” Lt Col Smith said.
"We've been invited by the council to meet the local people and have a look at the plantation which is very similar to a rubber tree plantation.
"That's where they are going to make most of the movie.”
Lt Col Smith dedicated the better part of his life to the Australia Defence Force after he was called up for National Service in 1952 and enlisted as a private soon after.
He saw active service in Malaya and had been in the army for 14 years by the time Australians were called to serve in Vietnam.
The Battle of Long Tan is a point of both pride and sorrow for Lt Col Smith.
"It was a disaster, like Gallipoli,” he said.
"We were not told there were regiments of the enemy out there even though the information was available at the headquarters. We went out looking for 30-40 enemy Viet Cong who had shelled the task force base and we ran into four regiments of about 2000 soldiers all up.
"We were lucky that we were widely disbursed and they didn't know what they were up against,” Lt Col Smith said.
In the lead up to the battle the Australian Signals Intelligence had been tracking enemy movements north of Nui Dat but patrols had failed to locate the enemy. On August 16, 1966, the enemy started shelling the Australia's forward position. Two days later Lt Col Smith and his men moved to engage them.
They walked into an ambush and were saved by extensive bombardment by a combined force of New Zealand, American and Australian artilery units.
"We fired 3500 artillery rounds at the enemy and that kept them quiet but it's terrible that they lost an awful lot of men,” Lt Col Smith said.
He lost 17 of his men and in years that followed he has been open in his criticism of decisions made on day by staff at headquarters.
"After Long Tan there was no such thing as a debrief into what went on and why it went on,” he said.
"It wasn't until after the secrecy period in 1996 that we learnt the Brigadier didn't want to indicate that his soldiers knew the enemy was out there otherwise the enemy would know we had possession of intelligence knowing their movements.
"That to me is absolute rubbish, but that was the excuse given.”
Since the battle a number of soldiers wrote books about their experience but wasn't until 2004 the Lt Col Smith and the other platoon commanders leant their voice to record.
"We wrote a book called Long Tan by the Commanders,” Lt Col Smith said.
It is this tome that producer Martin Walsh has used for the basis of his movie.
Tuesday night will be the first time Lt Col Smith and his fellow veterans will meet the actors set to play them, including Vikings star Travis Fimmel, who will portray Lt Col Smith.
Fimmel will also travel to Wooroolin for Anzac Day.
Lt Col said he won't be involved with the movie nor will he coach Fimmel.
"I'm not going to give him any advice whatsoever, I'm not going to tell him what to do. The producers can do all that,” he said.
"It's a movie and bit of Hollywoodisation, I'm sure they'll throw in a bit of glamour.”