Australia and the Vietnam War

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Overview

Private Graham Griffiths of Westmead, Sydney, NSW was called up in the first intake of national servicemen. He joined 5RAR on 8 May 1966 and travelled to Vietnam with the first combined 'nasho' and regulars combat unit on 12 May 1966. [AWM CUN/66/0432/VN]

Private Graham Griffiths of Westmead, Sydney, NSW was called up in the first intake of national servicemen. He joined 5RAR on 8 May 1966 and travelled to Vietnam with the first combined 'nasho' and regulars combat unit on 12 May 1966. [AWM CUN/66/0432/VN]

Australia’s national service scheme was introduced in 1964, and although it was not brought in to enable Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War, large numbers of people believed this to have been the case. Opposition to the scheme, which grew increasingly widespread once national servicemen began to be sent to Vietnam, became the catalyst for broader opposition to the war.

[From the Riley and Ephemera Collection, Vietnam War. Moratorium. Vic., poster collection] [From the Riley and Ephemera Collection, 'Vietnam War. Undated', poster collection]

During the early years of the war, when Australia’s contribution was limited to members of the regular Army, the public were largely disinterested. Only when the commitment increased to include national servicemen, and particularly after the 1968 Tet Offensive, did widespread opposition to Australia’s participation in the war develop. After 1968 both the United States and Australia began to withdraw combat troops from Vietnam, the period of major protest in Australia – the moratorium marches of the early 1970s – occurred at a time when Australia was disengaging from the war.

Anti-war groups existed in Australia long before the war became widely unpopular. Organisations such as Save Our Sons and Youth Campaign Against Conscription were at the vanguard of the protest movement fighting, in the early days, a lonely campaign against Australia’s involvement in a war that had yet to attract widespread opposition.

The Birthday Ballot

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If the birth date of a twenty-year-old man was drawn in the ballot, he was liable to do two years continuous full-time service in the regular army, followed by three years part-time service in the Army Reserve. The full-time service could include combat duties in Vietnam. more…

Moratoriums and Opposition

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By 1969 those who opposed the war had increased in number and become sufficiently well organised to coordinate Australia-wide mass protests known as Moratorium marches. Involvement in anti-war activities politicised many previously disinterested Australians. more…

‘Save Our Sons’

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Most members of SOS were middle-class and middle-aged women whose sons were old enough to be subject to national service. SOS organised petitions, approached MPs and engaged in a variety of protests, from silent vigils in public places of commemoration to handing out anti-conscription leaflets. more…


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Newspaper clipping The first marble was drawn from the barrel in the National Service ballot on 10 March 1965 in Melbourne. [The Canberra Times, 11 March 1965]

Video Icon

View video of Interview with Conscripted Gunner John Kinsela, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.2454

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View video of Interview with Sabine Erika, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.2529

Interview Icon

Audio of Trooper Peter Maxwell Nicholson, 1st Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron, served in Vietnam during 1966 – 1967. Major Lance Logan interviewed him about his experiences as a National Serviceman in Vietnam. [AWM S03481]