ON THEIR WAY: The first National Service call-up notice was issued on April 12, 1951, which makes these young men possibly the first to go to Wacol for training.
ON THEIR WAY: The first National Service call-up notice was issued on April 12, 1951, which makes these young men possibly the first to go to Wacol for training. John Telfer

Defence and division in the days of National Service

MOTIVATION for this story was brought about by two 66-year-old photographs that were sent to me by a reader.

The photographs evoke memories of the past in Warwick, when many young men were sent to Wacol Army Barracks in Brisbane to undertake 176 days of National Service Training.

One photograph shows a group of 23 young men stretching their legs at the Gap, before proceeding to Wacol on August 10, 1951, to become one of the first National Service Intakes in Queensland.

These young men would eventually become members of No. 16 Platoon, "C" Company of 11 National Service Training Battalion

National Service Training in Australia came about as a result of the political turmoil in Europe and South-East Asia after the end of the Second World War.

Factors of concern to the Menzies Government were the Cold War, the wars of National Liberation in South East-Asia and Indonesia, and the Korean War.

With all this conflict in Australia's region Prime Minister Robert Menzies introduced the National Service Act of 1951.

This Act gave the government the power to call up young men who had turned 18 years of age on, or after, November 1, 1950.

They would receive 176 days of training, then go on to the Army Reserve list or join the Citizens Military Force for five years. They could opt to do Navy or Airforce training.

The first call-up notice was issued on April 12, 1951, which makes these photos possibly the original group to go to Wacol for training.

Between 1951 and 1959, 500,000 young men registered for National Training, and over that time there were 52 intakes and over 227,000 were trained.

There were exemptions for the medically unfit, conscientious objection, or for compassionate family circumstances.

 

Between 1951 and 1959, 500,000 young men Registered for National Training, and over that time there was 52 intakes and over 227,000 were trained.
Between 1951 and 1959, 500,000 young men Registered for National Training, and over that time there was 52 intakes and over 227,000 were trained. John Telfer

Owing to the massive cost of the scheme, however, the government ended it in 1959.

Australia's Foreign Policy was again tested during the conflict in Vietnam and calls for a reintroduction of the National Service Scheme took place when Australia, (and this created many an argument), honoured the South- East Asia Treaty Organisation, and sent a team of Army advisors for service in Vietnam.

Prime Minister Harold Holt who took over from Robert Menzies, encouraged Australia's participation with his "All the way with LBJ" speech, which committed a larger Australian presence to the Vietnam conflict.

On November 5, 1964, the government introduced a more selective form of National Service under the National Service Act 1964 to counter what they deemed as threats to the nation's security with the Communist Viet Cong active in Vietnam, and the present concerns in the north, with President Sukarno's Confrontation of Malaysia, and inadequate defence manpower.

It was hoped to have 33,000 in the services by 1966.

The National Service Act of 1964 committed all 20-year-old men to register for National Service.

A ballot system was introduced and if your number came up you were required to undertake training. This time it was for 24 months of continuous training and on completion, on to the reserve list for three years.

Options were available for service in the RAAF and Royal Australian Navy.

Between 1965 and December 1972, 800,000 registered for National Service with 63,000 conscripted and 19,000 serving in Vietnam

The Vietnam conflict raised many concerns for the Australian population with many opposing the government's decision in 1966 to send conscripts (National Servicemen) for overseas service in Vietnam.

Street marches and demonstrations took place with many left-wing groups against America's involvement in Vietnam.

Prime Minister Holt announced that National Servicemen could serve overseas in Vietnam with the Regular Army troops deployed there.

This went against Labor Party policy which historically was against conscription from the 1916 crises right up to Prime Minister John Curtin's legislation that committed conscripts to serve overseas in the Second World War, but with the concession that it only be in the South-West Pacific region.

The ALP fought the government in every federal election from 1966 to 1972 on the conscription issue of sending these National Servicemen to fight in Vietnam. It was a very divided nation on the issue.

However, in 1972, Gough Whitlam won office for the ALP under his "It's Time" campaign and, keeping his election promise, withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam in 1973.

The new Whitlam Administration amended the National Service Act to abolish any obligation to undertake National Service Training.

The question of National Service and conscription has been in conflict for over 100 years of Australia's history, and still provokes many an argument for and against this policy.

Many people today question the government's policy on overseas involvement in conflicts that are not necessarily in Australia's interest.

However, Australia is committed to its defence treaties with SEATO and the American Alliance known as ANZUS, since our original Mother Country, Great Britain, has been more in involved in Europe.

Australia's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan also raises many questions with the threat from ISIS and of bringing their promised terrorism to this country.

Perhaps the motto of the RSSAILA has some truth to it when they say: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

Finally, the photos displayed should provoke many memories of those National Service days, and hopefully, some in the photos who are still with us today will come forward to claim a copy, or just acknowledge their presence.

I am sure many relatives of these Warwick boys are still around with the stories told of those wonderful days which brought about that spirit of Digger mateship.


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