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The conscription lottery during the Vietnam War | PHOTOS

The conscription lottery during the Vietnam War | PHOTOS Aussie Mateship: Eleven of the 15 together at Singleton army base in 1968.
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Fourteen of the boys at Singleton army base in 1968.

The boys at Singleton army base in 1968.

The 50-year reunion at Hexham Bowling Club.

The men and wives/partners at the 50-year reunion at Hexham Bowling Club.

TweetFacebookStarched CollarsThe mendid their ownwashing and ironing. Starched collars were standard. It was a world of polished boots, badges and belt buckles, along witharmy greens, berets and slouch hats.

Some of the men had come from thelong-haired surf culture. They had to conform tocrew cuts andshort back and sides.They had to shave each morning. At night, there were no goodnight kisses fromgirlfriends.

Their dietchanged. They were now eating in an army mess hall. Cooked meals from mum were missed. In the field,army ration packs weretheir sourceofnourishment.

The menwere given lectures on the enemy, shown documentaries on discipline andtaught how to react to anambush.

When boot camp was over, the men mostly went their separate ways. About half ended up servingin Vietnam.Others were assigned toduties at home. The Army had alot of work to do in Australia to keep the soldiers supplied in Vietnam.Who went to Vietnam and who didn’t was another kind of lottery.

Peter Kearns, of Warners Bay, was one of those who went.

“One of the fellows from Maitland was shot in the hand. He came home early.All of us who went, particularly the infantry fellows, were fairly traumatised becausewhen we killedthe enemy we were also supposed to bury them. Thiswas somewhat traumatic for a 21-year-old,” Peter said.

“Mostly you were worried about your mates. You had to stay awake at night. We were two hours on guard at night and four hours off. You were more worried about falling asleep and letting your mates down on sentry duty and the enemy coming to your mates. You were switched on all the time. It was very tiring and sometimes water was short and it was very hot. Fortunately they picked the fellows who were fittest.”

Dedicated SoldiersPeter said many of the soldiershad fathers in the Second World War.

“We thought if dad and grandfather did it, we’d do it too. It was really a waste of time. We just followed the Americans like we’re still doing now.We were just naive kids trying to be heroes.We did what the governmenttold us. Like men in all wars, you think you’re 10 feet tall and bulletproof and it’s a hell of an adventure until the shit hits the fanand you realise it’s not like the movies.

“But all of us were pretty dedicated soldiers. Most Australian soldiers throughout the years have been. We were very proud.”

As for the anniversary at Hexham, it was a time for recognising the importance of mateship and the value of the Australianway of life.

Records show 63,735 national servicemen served in the Army, of which 15,381 were deployed to Vietnam. About 200 were killed.

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