Danger Close

Danger Close Long Tan Movie Vietnam War Travis Fimmel Australian Army 1966

I had the opportunity to attend a special screening of Danger Close – The Battle of Long Tan last night with some Vietnam veterans (including my father) and other members of the Australian Defence Force. They actually had a counsellor there just in case, and now I understand why – it was quite the experience.

Long Tan is the best-known battle Australia (and New Zealand) fought in the Vietnam War, but I was still amazed both by the quality of the movie, and the actors in it. The “face” of the movie is Major Harry Smith, played by Travis Fimmel, of Vikings fame.

In the 1960s my father was an armoured personnel carrier driver stationed in Nui Dat, which is the base under attack in the movie. He later fought another major battle only a few kilometres from the base: Binh Ba, which had its fiftieth anniversary this year.

It was amazing to see people my father knows portrayed on the big screen, and to know people who consulted on the film.

I would strongly recommend this movie, as long as you’re prepared for it. It’s very confronting, and that much sadder because none of it is fiction.

Long Tan Cross

Because I live in Canberra and have a former military father (and love history!), I spend quite a lot of time at the Australian War Memorial.

I went with my father today, half because of the occasion (one hundred years since the First World War ended) – to see the thousands and thousands of handmade poppies in the garden out the front (today was the last day for the exhibition), and half because I’m currently working on the memoirs of a Military Cross-winning Vietnam veteran (my father’s commander in the war), and he was heavily involved in the Long Tan dedication ceremony.

Long Tan is by far the most famous (infamous?) battle in Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, and my father knows people in the iconic photograph.

The cross arrived at the War Memorial not all that long ago, and this is the first time I’ve seen it in its special new room. Unfortunately that room – as they tried to make it a quiet place for reflection – is practically hidden, and I think most visitors will miss it…


The Week: 13th – 19th August

What a week. I am very busy at the moment.

In the world? We’ve had about 120 bushfires in the region in the past few days. To people who deny climate change: it’s WINTER here. Canberra’s kangaroo plague is getting worse (also due to climate change!). Then there was another terror attack in London, and that horrendous bridge collapse in Genoa…

Then there was the shock death of Soviet gymnastics star Yelena Shushunova. She was the 1988 Olympic Champion and a five-time World Champion. I still have video tapes of her. She died so young that one of the gymnasts she trained with still competes.

Happy Birthday to the National Library!

Enlighten Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney 11th March 2017 National Library of Australia Canberra Women's History Reflection Night

Out Now: Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears by John McNamee

Pie Comic by John McNamee Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears

On this day: the Australian Women’s Army Service was formed

Awas_in_wa_1943Northam, West Australia. 1943-04-20. The Minister for the Australian Army, the Honourable F.M. Forde, inspecting personnel of the Australian Women's Army Service at the We

Vietnam Veterans Day

Binh Ba 1 - Copy

One Year Ago


On this day: the Australian Women’s Army Service was formed

AWASwithOwengunsAWAS with Owen guns. Members of the Australian Women’s Army Service being instructed in the use of the Owen gun at Belmont in Queensland.

Instructions in the use of the Owen gun. Belmont, Queensland. X

The Australian Women’s Army Service, created to release more men into forward positions in the military during the Second World War, was formed on the 13th of August, 1941.

AWAS_-_poster Australian Women's Army Service Recruitment poster

Recruitment Poster

Lae, New Guinea, 25 December 1945. The Right Honourable J.B. Chifley talking to Sergeant Pritchard, AWAS, the only woman interpreter of Japanese in the Australian Army.

Sergeant Pritchard (right), the only Japanese translator in the Australian Army. X

The AWAS was preceded by the Women’s Australian National Service in 1940, where women proved they were capable of performing traditionally male roles.

Awas_in_wa_1943Northam, West Australia. 1943-04-20. The Minister for the Australian Army, the Honourable F.M. Forde, inspecting personnel of the Australian Women's Army Service at the We

The Minister for the Australian Army, the Honourable F.M. Forde, with AWAS members in Western Australia in 1943.

24 026 women were enlisted over the course of the war, and several hundred served in New Guinea.

The AWAS was disbanded in 1947.

On this day: the Battle of Amiens

In Times Gone By...

The iconic Battle of Amiens, later to be known as the opening chapter of the Hundred Days Offensive that ended the First World War, took place from the 8th to the 12th of August, 1918.

This painting, by Australian official war artist Will Longstaff, is titled 8th August, 1918. It shows a column of German prisoners of war heading in one direction, while horse-drawn artillery heads in the other.

The painting can be found in the collection of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

8th August, 1918 (oil-on-linen, 107 cm x 274 cm, 1918-1919) by Will Longstaff, Australian official war artist. Depicts a scene during the Battle of Amiens. The view is towards the west,

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Battle of Long Tan Cross in Canberra

We went to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra today to see the Long Tan cross. My Vietnam veteran father stood there a while looking at it before announcing that he’d seen the cross lots of times before. Apparently they used to drive past it all the time in Vietnam!

So… anticlimax there!

It also turns out that one of the men in the famous Long Tan photo that’s everywhere at the War Memorial was one of my father’s friends during the war. He is closest to the cross, on the left of the picture.

It was such a beautiful, sunny, warm day in Canberra, and the War Memorial is a great place. We detoured to see the two most recent Victoria Cross medals too – won by Special Forces soldiers Mark Donaldson and Benjamin Roberts-Smith.

Australian Special Forces Soldier Killed

Another Australian Special Forces soldier has been killed in Afghanistan.

What makes this (as yet unnamed) man so incredible (as though being a Special Forces soldier wasn’t enough!) is that he was in the Army for twenty-two years, and had spent seventeen of them in the elite SAS. I can’t even imagine what kind of person it would take to not only make it into the SAS, but to maintain such a high standard for nearly two decades.

Very sad.

AN AUSTRALIAN soldier has been killed in Afghanistan after being shot in the chest by insurgents.

Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, said the 40-year-old special forces soldier – who he described as “a soldier’s soldier” – was killed during an operation in the Chora Valley region of Oruzgan province yesterday morning, local Afghan time.

The experienced soldier, who was on his seventh tour of duty to Afghanistan, was shot during an engagement with insurgents while on a mission with Afghan National Security Forces to target an insurgent commander.

General Hurley said the patrol’s advanced first aid officer provided immediate assistance and continued attempts to resuscitate him until he was evacuated to a medical facility in Tarin Kowt.

“Despite best attempts by all, attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful,” he said.

The soldier’s family were told overnight of his death, and have asked that at this stage, his personal details not be released.

General Hurley said the soldier enlisted in the Army in 1990, and  then joined the Perth-based Special Air Service Regiment – the SAS – in  1995.

“His colleagues describe him as a highly professional  operator who earned great respect within the special operations  community over many years of service,” he said.

“On behalf of the  Army and the Defence community I extend my deepest sympathy to the  soldier’s family, his comrades and his mates.

“I know that these  words can not ease the overwhelming grief they feel today but I hope  they can find comfort in the knowledge that this soldier served his  country with pride and with distinction.”

It is Australia’s 33rd fatality in Afghanistan since 2001.

General Hurley said while “every combat death” was deeply felt by all members across Defence, “our men and women remain committed to our mission in Afghanistan”.

“This man was a soldier’s soldier and I know that the members of the special operations task group will ensure his service and sacrifice will not be forgotten,” he said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was with General David Hurley at  Larrakeyah Barracks in Darwin to make the sad announcement, said the  loss of another Australian soldier was “a dreadful blow for our nation”.

“And  I know Australians today will stop, will pause, will reflect and will  mark with respect the loss of this brave soldier and will honour his  service and his sacrifice,” she said.

The PM said she understood “many” Australians would again question Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.

“To Australians, I want to say this: this is a tragic and incredibly difficult day,” she said.

“We  are all absorbing tragic news. But this tragic incident is part of what  we are doing in Afghanistan because that mission is so important to our  Australian nation.

“We went there to make sure that Afghanistan  would not continue to be a safe haven for terrorists. That continues to  be our mission which has a defined purpose and a defined timeline so we  will continue our mission in Afghanistan even as we grieve this loss.”