I have mailed the attached letter to the Director of the Australian War Memorial setting out major concerns regarding their decision to NOT include a Centurion tank in the proposed Post-1945 Conflict Display - Vietnam Gallery. You will see that the letter is cc copied to our 3 Heavy Hitters who also live here in Canberra.
The reason given is space. I do not agree with that contention and as you will see from the letter I believe we have a case to argue.
They intend to have an APC form part of the display to represent 3 Cav's role. I was told that seeing the APCs were over there there longer, they took precedence over the tank. My response to that was length of service was not a relevant consideration -it was the contribution of both types of AFV!!! I also told them that to excise 50% of the RAAC contribution was to destroy 50% of our involvement and treat it as if it never happened.
I am eternally grateful to Bruce Cameron and John Scales for their wise counsel and input, as I forwarded themn the original draft for proofing in relation to accuracy and relevance. Both gentlemen are very happy with its contents.
I also agree with Bruce thhat we should leave the official stuff to be done by Gen O' Donnell and the other cc addressees at their level with the AWM Director.
For those of you who don't know what happened, there was a stakeholders meeting last Friday. Only by the grace of God had John Scales attended in his capacity as the local AATTV Rep (1st tour) only to find no RAAC Reps there!! He was horrified as was Bruce and I, and we were not happy Jan!!! I fired off some emails to the AWM and we now have a seat at the table.
As John said we are in danger of the display being swamped by every other bugger and being left out in the cold.
Put simply gents, we were ambushed and we lost ground. We now need to re-take and hold that ground.
John Brooker: My sincere thanks for granting me delegated authority in relation to this process. I will do my level best.
I intend - with Bruce's agreement - to speak with him first before attending any meeting in order that we are singing from the same sheet of music. I consider Bruce - given his current involvement in his magnum opus on the Regt, to be essentially the member pre-eminent in 1AR knowledge and history.
John Muir: John if you are not travelling, I would appreciate greatly your input regarding 3 Cav - I thtink your knowledge harking back to your days at Tactics Wing will be invaluable.
Libby Stewart from the AWM and I spoke late today - she appears to be of the view that the decision to not put in a tank (by senior management) is virtually a fait accompli. I said "my instructions are to fight you tooth and nail on this issue."
Libby informed me that she was aware the game was afoot as Mike Cecil told her that the cat was already among the pigeons.
The AWM's Director is on leave this week and obviously will not ses my letter until next week. Libby has suggested we hold off meeting with her until her boss reads the letter and se what comes out of it. I'm happy with that and I have agreed to get some of the Canberra gang together - she would love to have an informal chat with us -
I have agreed to that and have suggested we wait a couple of weeks.
Given that Jock Moffat is taking some leave at the end of this week, (and I'll be relying on Jock a lot also), I'll try and set up a meeting for some time bewteen 5 and 14 August (off the top of the head).
Gavan & Trevor: Chaps, I'll post the letter on the SITREP, BB and 1 AR Assn's forums shortly. If there is a drama with me getting it on the sites - you'll bemonitoring I know - I'd be grateful if you could keep a weather eye on it and if necessary post it from your end.
I intend posting it under the header SAVE THE TANK.
Quite simply, without being facetious, we Cavalry blokes need to mount a combined operation to save the tank.
That's all I have for you now.
Noel Mc Laughlin
Major General S. Gower AM (Ret’d)
Australian War Memorial
PO Box 345
c.c. Lieutenant General L.G. O’Donnell AC RAAC (Ret’d)
Representative Honorary Colonel
Royal Australian Armoured Corps
Lieutenant General H. J. Coates AC MBE RAAC (Ret’d)
Major General R. A Powell AM RAAC (Ret’d)
Patron, 1st Armoured Regiment Association
Re: The Post-1945 Conflicts Display – Vietnam Gallery
I am a practising Veterans’ Advocate and have represented veterans and their widows at the Veterans’ Review Board (VRB) since 1986 and at the AAT in the Veterans’ Division since 1996.
I am a Life Member of the RSL and am also a member of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment (Vietnam) Association. I served two tours of duty in South Vietnam with A Sqn and B Sqn 3rd Cavalry Regiment, both as a National Serviceman and as a Regular Soldier.
My purpose in writing to you is that I now find myself compelled to apply my advocacy skills in an entirely different forum, that of the proposed post-1945 display, more specifically, that which relates to the Vietnam conflict.
On Saturday 16 July 2005, I was informed that a stakeholders meeting in respect of the abovenamed display had been held on 15 July. Amazingly, no representative from either of the two RAAC units that served in Vietnam were invited. Given that the consultative process is still in its infancy, I am confident this oversight will be addressed prior to any future meetings.
That said, this letter is submitted to you on behalf of over 2000 RAAC veterans who served in Vietnam.
I am very honoured and delighted to hear that an M113A1 APC will form part of the display to acknowledge the contribution by my Unit (3rd cavalry Regiment) to the War throughout the entire period my Unit was in Vietnam.
I am also horrified and not a little distressed to be informed that the display will not feature a Centurion Main Battle Tank to acknowledge the contribution by the 1st Armoured Regiment during that conflict.
Whilst I accept that space is at a premium and that it is not possible to accommodate all facets of any conflict, the decision to not include the bridge of HMAS Brisbane and a portion of a RAAF Caribou aircraft is considered to be prudent in all the circumstances.
The decision however, to exclude a tank based on the issue of space allocation, is one that I believe needs to be reconsidered and I base my contention on the following facts:
• The RAAC represented just 4% of the total manpower of the standing Army during the Vietnam War.
• The contribution by both Tank and Cavalry units far exceeded their size as a proportion of the Army.
• The tanks represented 50% of the RAAC’s effort in Vietnam.
• The tanks played a very decisive part in numerous contacts and major battles.
• The conflict in which we were engaged was essentially a land war and was fought by the primary Arms Corps of the Australian Army, including Armour;
• Along with other Arms Corps, tanks and cavalry were involved in significant engagements such as Tet, Coral/Balmoral, Binh Ba, Operations Hammersley and Overlord – just to name a few.
• A tank has featured in an internal display within the War Memorial in the past and there is a precedence for that to continue in any future display.
It is common ground that the guns of the Royal Australian Artillery fired courageously in support of infantry and saved many lives. It is fitting for a gun to be on display. As a former Gunner officer and Vietnam veteran in your own right, I acknowledge your very well-developed appreciation of the live-saving role performed by the Artillery on countless occasions, as well as that of the same role performed by the tanks of 1st Armoured Regiment.
The Centurion tanks of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps accompanied infantry and provided close fire support during assaults on enemy positions. They, too, saved many lives and it is equally fitting that one be on display. The Royal Australian Regiment will undoubtedly support this stance, as they have with the APCs of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. On numerous occasions, Centurion tanks more than amply demonstrated Armour’s three characteristics – mobility, flexibility and firepower, and earned unstinting praise and long-lasting appreciation for their close fire support to troops in dire need.
The decision to exclude a tank from the new display resonates very deeply with myself and my 2000-odd colleagues. It is contended that any attempt to substitute a tank with mere photographs will not do justice to the RAAC’s contribution. Put simply, the decision does the crews of these vehicles a terrible injustice in seeing their efforts reflected in a photo display.
It follows that the decision to exclude a tank, in effect severs 50% of the RAAC’s contribution in Vietnam and has in fact operated to de minimis the Regiment’s and the RAAC’s role.
Such a decision only reinforces the quite reasonable perception that for all their magnificent efforts and sacrifices, the tank crews of 1st Armoured Regiment may as well not have even been there – it is as if they did not exist in the first place – which further serves to fuel feelings of disenfranchisement and alienation - feelings that many veterans still harbour today. That is a travesty.
As the 105mm Howitzer was the principal weapon of the Artillery; the GPMG and SLR the principal weapons of the Infantry, so too were the Centurion tank and APC the principal AFVs used by the RAAC in Vietnam. It is my submission that the tank should be accorded an equal place of honour next to the APC of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment in any display.
At present, access to the RAAC Vietnam Memorial located at the School of Armour is impeded given the ramping-up of security at all defence establishments which acts as a fetter to veterans taking their families to see what they worked, lived and fought in.
Consequently, the War Memorial is quite rightly the ultimate place of homage for veterans to visit.
It is the central point of the Australian psyche particularly with respect to our military heritage.
It is to this very holy of holies, that veterans and their families make their pilgrimage.
The link between veterans and the War Memorial is more than spiritual, it is also deeply emotional, tangible and physical. All roads lead to the War Memorial.
To that end, the physical manifestation of what tank crew veterans did during their tours of duty in Vietnam is a matter of critical importance in helping to maintain and strengthen the bond and growing interest by the public, in the service and sacrifices of all of our veterans – a fact that is seen at all Dawn Services and ANZAC Day marches.
It is also seen as aiding RAAC veterans to achieve some form of closure and to exorcise the demons that plague so many of them, to finally see a real and tangible demonstration that their service really meant something.
In essence, the decision to exclude a tank, is considered to be unconscionable and indefensible. I urge you Sir, in the strongest possible terms, to give full and careful thought to having this decision reconsidered. Save the tank.
I remain confident that common sense will prevail and that the matter will be resolved with dignity and honour.
Consistent with our Unit mottoes, I and my colleagues remain Prepared and stand Resolute on this issue.
Noel Mc Laughlin OAM MBA
For and on behalf of all RAAC veterans who served, suffered and died.
18 July, 2005