Note; other reviews were done by the NZ Herald, RSA Review and the Australian Women’s Weekly (NZ Edition).
Yet another book on Vietnam, I thought. It will probably be the same as many others but with the stories, as they grow older, will have gained more embellishments than the last time they were wheeled out so that we will have the 1 KIA becoming 10 KIA and the like. I soon found out how wrong I was. “A Soldier’s View of the Vietnam War” is just such a superb book. Whilst its genesis was to produce a ‘reunion book’ dreamt up by Bill Te Awa, this ‘must have’ book has turned into something far greater than what was initially envisaged and must now stand forever as one of the more accurate and compelling stories of New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
There are just so many positive stories told in this book that have been so well illustrated by the personal photographs of those soldiers who had ‘been there and done that’. It is these soldier stories and their photographs that make this book. Page after page I read of the honesty and sincerity of these men from V4 who have told their stories. I also read of the aroha they had – and still have for each other; the compassion they have and the deep-seated camaraderie that still exists within this ‘band of fine warriors’. It’s also a sad story for it tells the stories of the deaths of Don, Jack, Jerry, Mo, Murray, Pete and Stan. May they rest in peace. It tells the story of heroes – all 191 of them as listed in the Company Nominal Roll. It is also a story of those men from V4 who were awarded medals for bravery – Brian, Tom and William. And there were so many men whose stories that are so well recorded in this book who must have been so close to also gaining special recognition, such as Olly (with the number of bullet and shrapnel holes in him it must mean he constantly leaks!); Ray Symons for his outstanding performance on Operation Waipounamu), and even “The General” along with my old mate Len. All are so well reported on. The book also tells the story of other special people who contributed to this Company. One in particular stands out and I have no hesitation in yelling her name from the top of my voice. It was that “Angel in White” – Sister Pam Miley. Pam nursed me when I returned injured from Vietnam so I know personally just how much an “Angel” she is.
Whilst this book is all about V4 Company and their service in South Vietnam during their “364 days and a wakey”, plus a little about their training in New Zealand and then in Malaysia and about their return to Singapore and their subsequent reunions, much of what is written could quite easily have been the story of any of the other New Zealand rifle companies who also performed with distinction in that most difficult and “dirty” war. But well done V4 and well done the V4 Editorial Committee for your efforts. You have done well.
“A Soldier’s View of the Vietnam War” needs to be on the shelf of every public and school library in New Zealand for it is a testament of the tremendous efforts that these brave Kiwis gave in the pursuit of peace in Vietnam. The book is available from the National Army Museum Gift Shop for $69.95 plus postage within NZ of $7.50.
Colonel (Rtd) Ray Seymour, MBE, JP enlisted into the Army in 1963 and retired after 50 years service in 2013. He served twice in Vietnam; first with Victor Company and then with Whisky Company. On both deployments he was a Section Commander.
In 2003 he researched and presented a report to Parliament’s Select Committee on Health on the use of herbicide spray in Phuoc Tuy Province.
His last six years of service saw him as the Director and CEO of the National Army Museum.
Ray is a prolific book reviewer having submitted well over 100 reviews in the last few years. His interests, naturally, are in military history.
He is now retired and spends much of his time researching military history for individuals, museums and other organisations.
[V Coy, 6th Royal Australian Regiment/New Zealand (ANZAC) Battalion]
Victor 4 was a rifle company of the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1RNZIR), created specifically to serve in South Vietnam as part of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF). The company served for twelve months (364 and a wakey) from May 1969 to May 1970 as a rifle company in 6 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion and was then disbanded. This book is their story.
It is big, glossy and crammed with photos, stories and information – it is, in a word, magnificent.
I applaud the editorial committee; within an easy to follow format they have let the men of Victor 4 tell their tales in their own words – and what tales they are. While the horror and tragedy of war is graphically described, all is not just doom and gloom. The courage and commitment of these young Kiwi soldiers is apparent throughout and their irrepressible mischievous sense of humour shines from every page. The reader is introduced to the sights, sounds and smells of Asia in both wet and dry seasons and the ‘everyday life’ of New Zealand soldiers in this controversial war is particularly well portrayed.
I was impressed by the honest ‘tell it how it was’ stories – even non-pc truths are revealed. That the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) was unreliable and almost certainly infiltrated by the VC (Vietcong) was agreed by everyone who had anything to do with them, but even now this is seldom mentioned. In November 1969 an ARVN unit allowed – nay, assisted – the VC to ambush a detachment of Victor 4 that was operating with them. Paddy Smith spells it out. (pp 170-180).
Every NZ rifle company that went to Vietnam considered itself the best and that is right and proper. But we are not talking competition here – we are listening to stories any one of us who served there might have told. The details will differ but the impact is the same. Kiwi veterans of the Vietnam War owe a debt to Victor 4 – they have told our stories for us and they have told them well.
Although the point is not belaboured, poignant contributions from members of the company who subsequently suffered physically or emotionally as a result of their service in Vietnam have been included. And I tip my hat to Bev Ramsay for her candid story about ‘the girls we left behind us’ – what we asked of them is beyond belief.
The New Zealand Army is a very small family – we all know each other perhaps too well. I served with many of the men of Victor 4 both before and after their Vietnam tour and the fact that they did their duty well and enhanced the international reputation of our Nation does not surprise. It was, however, gratifying to have the politicians finally recognise that fact a few years ago.
Victor 4 has produced a book of great historical value. I plan to give one to each of my grandchildren; “Tell your kids that this is what their great-granddad did!” The detail may vary, but the guts of it smells the same.
Soldiers of Victor 4, I salute you!
(grubby Assault Pioneer with Victor 2)
Warrant Officer Class One (retired) Dave Hayward, MBE, MSM, RNZIR served for 33 years in New Zealand’s Army. He retired as the Sergeant Major of the Army, the most senior warrant officer appointment. He saw active service in Malaya during the ‘Emergency’, in Borneo during ‘Confrontation’ and in South Vietnam. In Vietnam he commanded the Assault Pioneer Detachment with Victor 2 Company.
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