Think Piece – Never Forget Our Service

Source: Barry Presgrave, OAM, JP, LFAIES

Never Forget Our Service is the planned theme for the National Servicemen’s Association Memorial Gardens being developed at South Australia’s state headquarters in Surrey Road, Keswick. The establishment of the Memorial Gardens will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 2nd ‘Birthday Ballot’ National Service scheme intake in 1965, where 20 year old males were conscripted, serving 2 years in the Australian Armed Forces. From 1965 to 1972 many served in Vietnam, Borneo, Malaysia and New Guinea, with the remainder serving in support roles in Australia.

This year’s 50th anniversary will include a service at the Australian War Memorial’s National Service Memorial in Canberra on Tuesday 30 June. The memorial service will be attended by the Governor General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, AK MC (Retd). Many former National Servicemen and their families will travel to Canberra to attend the service and to reflect and catch-up with old friends.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Australia was faced by global and regional conflicts that again raised the idea of a National Service program on a large scale.

The Communist insurgencies in Malaya and Vietnam, Communist North Korea’s invasion of South Korea in 1950, the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956, confrontation with Indonesia in Borneo in 1963 and the Vietnam War (1962-1975), confirmed the requirement for a strategy of military readiness, similar to the militia training put in place prior to World War 1 and the establishment of the Citizens Military Forces in World War 2.  In the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war hung over the entire world. This was indeed a time of preparing our country for the worst.

The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, coupled with the Malayan Emergency and the Viet Minh uprising against the French in Vietnam, appeared to threaten Australia directly. Recruiting for the Regular Armed Services provided insufficient numbers so the Menzies Government re-introduced conscription. The legislation had bi-partisan political support. National Service was undertaken in the Australian tradition (since Federation in 1901) where volunteer forces deployed overseas were backed by a pool of basically trained men within the Naval Reserve, Citizens Military Forces (CMF) and Citizens Air Force (CAF).

In the first National Service Scheme from 1951–59, National Servicemen could nominate a service preference. In practice, however, most were allocated to units near their homes. The Navy and Air Force gave preference to families of former personnel or members of Cadet units with overseas service for both being automatic.

A major change to the Army was that if war occurred, National Servicemen were given the option, at call-up, to volunteer for service anywhere overseas. Most ‘Nashos’ did volunteer with further corps training then provided. World War 2 militia had been restricted to service in Australia and territories in the south-west Pacific. When the Korean armistice was signed in 1953 and no new direct threat developed during that decade, the basic role of National Servicemen became that of Reservists.

Some 287,000 young Australian men were called up between 1951 and 1972 in the two separate National Service schemes requiring compulsory training. Of these 212 died on active duty in Vietnam and Borneo. In this Anzac Centenary year and on the eve of the 50th anniversary of those young men who were conscripted, we are compelled to reflect on where we would be had Australia not taken this step and been prepared in this way.

This Anzac Day I was privileged to lead our state branch in the march in Adelaide. I wore the medals of my younger brother, Lt. Col David Presgrave, ex 9RAR – a professional soldier who lost his battle with cancer last year, attributed to his service in Vietnam.

Other years I have also worn the medals of my late father, Lt Col E.C. (Jack) Presgrave, who many National Servicemen would remember as the Camp Commandant at Keswick Barracks, whom they would have met when sworn in to serve their country.

As we prepare to establish the Memorial Garden to all National Servicemen at our headquarters in Keswick, I ask that all ex-service personnel and those who are members of ex-service organisations, consider purchasing an engraved paver to form the memorial pathway within the gardens, to ensure we ‘never forget their service’.

Barry Presgrave, OAM, JP, LFAIES; is a former National Serviceman, Army Reservist (Captain) and active member of the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia. 
Barry was conscripted in 1956 under the first National Service scheme and trained at Woodside. He went on to serve for 32 years in the CMF /Army Reserve with the 27th Battalion (a SA Scottish Regiment); the 4th Military Police Company and the Adelaide University Regiment.  Barry was a Detective Chief Inspector with SAPOL for 35 years, serving in many areas including both uniform and crime command.  He was the inaugural National Serviceman’s Association President and long serving State President for South Australia. Barry is currently the National Membership and Public Officer as well as being a member of the National Council.

Caption: Barry Presgrave leading the South Australian branch of the National Servicemen's Association at the Anzac Day March, Adelaide, 2015.