18th Febuary 2023
As November 2023 closes in, marking sixty years since the enactment of the National Service Act 1964 requiring 20-year-old males, if selected by the scientific birth date marble out-of-the-barrel method, to serve in the army for two years reduced to eighteen months in 1971, followed by three years in the Army reserve.
During the period of National Service, one hundred and thirty-four serving Victoria Police Constables were conscripted.
Fifty-two of that number served overseas in war zones, predominantly in Vietnam.
The remainder served with Australia in multiple tasks, principally in the Provost Corp, now called Military Police, part of the Joint Military Police Unit.
There were a number of issues confronting these Police that were grossly unfair.
As soon as a serving member announced he had been called up, many police locations treated them with disdain as they would be one member down. Replacements were not provided, no matter how many Police on a Station were called up.
“It’s all right for you swanning off in the army for two years while we carry you.”
Somehow that was the fault of the Nasho.
There was no support for the members called up other than to continue to work their roster until enlistment day.
That many had to work at violent anti -Vietnam War demonstrations, it did not occur to the Police administration of the time to make any considerations given what the members were about to embark on. National Service with the real prospect of being sent to the Vietnam War Zone as fifty-two were.
We were given enough time to hand in our baton and handcuffs the day before we reported to the Army Swan Street barracks to commence our Military Service.
At least the administration was consistent – they never made contact during the Nasho’s Service, and when they returned, it was a repeat of when they left.
‘Where have you been – on leave?’
The vast majority of National Servicemen had their army pay made up to their civilian level but not the State of Victoria. Sir Arthur Rylah, the then Chief Secretary and Deputy Premier of Victoria turned down that request.
To add insult, the National Servicemen were required to maintain their Police uniforms for the duration of their army service; at their cost, their uniform allowance was stopped.
They were also disadvantaged by their superannuation.
Not only were payments taken out of their Army pay during conscription, but then on return had to back pay contributions due to salary increments in Police pay whilst absent. As a result, many National Servicemen were placed under financial stress.
The Vietnam War was very unpopular with a certain vocal cohort who demonstrated relentlessly and violently, and many of us were straight back on the front line when we returned.
With all that, the National Servicemen generally completed their police careers, many attaining high ranks and very successful careers serving the State.
But none of them was bitter.
The one thing that was irksome to the National Servicemen was they were never acknowledged as a group by Victoria Police. However, Chief Commissioner Shane Patton APM corrected this after sixty years.
The Service at the Police Chapel to dedicate an Honour Board for those Police members was held on the 18th of February, 2023.
The Community Advocacy Alliance (CAA) Saluting their Service project team played a pivotal role in the design and facilitation of the Service.
The Honour Board unveiled and dedicated at the Service is now installed in the foyer of “C’ Block at the Academy.
With support from the ADF, the spectacle exceeded the expectations of the seventy-plus Veterans and widows of Veterans and their families who attended and were entertained by the military and police vehicle displays, including a Divisional Van and a flyover by aircraft, both from that era.
The five-hundred guests were treated to a service full of the ceremony that only organisations like the ADF and the Police can display. The speeches were poignant, as was the presentation of the Police and military colours. The military bugler sounding the last post was particularly moving and contributed to the overall effectiveness of the planning for the event. Something many of the Veterans has commented on post the event.
From the feedback from Veterans, the Service well exceeded their expectations, with many saying they are very glad to have made an effort, particularly to hear the Chief Commissioner deliver an apology for the treatment of the National Servicemen by past police administrations.
Veterans who want to visit the Academy and view the Board now in situ can contact the CAA to make arrangements.
A selection of pictures can be viewed at https://beachg.wixsite.com/vicpolvietnam/main-slide-show