Barry Vicary – founding member of the NSAA
Welcome to the Victorian Branch of the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia Inc. The catalyst for the beginnings of what is now known as the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia, came about when an ex Nasho Barry Vicary, along with two of his mates, sitting at a park bench on the range, in Toowoomba Qld, decided to form an organization.
Barry’s idea was to fight for the benefits those men who didn’t serve in Vietnam had been denied any of what was given to those who served in Vietnam. Of the 60 thousand plus that were conscripted around 15 thousand of those served overseas. The main objective of the organization is to provide welfare to its members. The organization has grown from that small start in Qld, to now having branches in every State and Territory.
Not long after the organization had got off the ground Barry was approached by a chap who told him that he was conscripted in the fifty’s and asked if he could join the organization. This was when it was discovered that there was a conscription between 1951 and 1959 were all males, around 250 thousand, at the age of 18 were called up to do 90 day recruit training, mostly at Puckapunyal Military base in Victoria. From there they went on to serve in Citizens Military Force for approximately 3 years (it varied with the type of service), in either the Navy, Army or Airforce.
In 2009 the brand new National Servicemen’s Memorial was built at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, The memorial is set in a wonderful garden
National Service Memorial and Courtyard
The formal courtyard and fountain are dedicated to all Australian National Servicemen (over 290,000 in total) and in memory of those who died. National servicemen were conscripted between 1951 and 1972, including some who served in the Vietnam War.
This memorial represents the wishes of veterans themselves. The idea of a memorial fountain originated with the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia. The Association worked closely with the Australian War Memorial (AWM), raising funds, consulting stakeholders and providing advice on the design. Significantly, Johnson Pilton Walker’s (JPW) design was approved by National Service associations throughout Australia. Few changes to the original design were requested, an indication that early consultation and a clear brief enabled the designers to create an appropriate response.
The National Service Memorial and Courtyard is tucked immediately east of the main war memorial building, transforming an area formerly used for bus parking and circulation. The formal courtyard consists of a symmetrical cruciform arrangement of paving, seating and grass areas leading to a low memorial fountain.
The courtyard seeks to function as an intimate space for quiet, individual reflection as well as a ceremonial space for commemorative events – for example, the dedication ceremony, attended by over 3,000 people. To achieve this flexibility, the space has a double enclosure: the whole courtyard area is bounded by box hedges on three sides at human height and an inner row of low hedges and seating surrounds the fountain at its centre. These proportions and repeated geometries mediate between the imposing backdrop of the existing memorial building, the adjacent open space of the new cafe, the gravel forecourt on the other side, and the relatively modest size of the fountain itself. The formal geometry is consistent with the architecture surrounding it, successfully linking the new memorial to its context. Three asymmetrically sited trees (Eucalyptus pauciflora) give relief to this formality and tie the courtyard to its broader landscape setting of nearby eucalyptus lawns and the backdrop of Mount Ainslie. Materials were selected to be in sympathy with the context too, with bronze, sandstone, granite and pencil pines all referencing existing architecture and memorials on site.
The centerpiece fountain uses an uncluttered geometry of triangle, circle and square, so iconic it has been used as the image for a commemorative fifty cent coin. The high quality and attention to detail evident here befit the site and setting (especially since its integrated design merges object and space). From a distance, the fountain sits quietly at the centre of the courtyard: low, heavy, solid, human scale. As one approaches, the sound of the water intensifies, spilling over from a bronze vessel into the polished granite base on which it appears to float. Water wells up invisibly from within and overflows, a slow, constant source pushing to the surface and emptying away in a forceful gravitational cascade. The water flow has been visually and acoustically perfected: a bronze bead was a prototype and refined to achieve a stream of water at the exact desired angle, the volume of water and a hidden echo chamber of granite designed to create the right acoustic environment. Computerized operation allows for the adjustment of water levels as needed. On a practical level, the fountain uses recycled water and has been designed to remain attractive even if water restrictions make it necessary to have no water flow at all.
In the context of the intensification of the Cold War in Europe, Communist insurgency and success in South-East Asia, and the declaration of war in Korea, the Menzies government sponsored the National Service Act 1951. The legislation provided for the compulsory call-up of males turning 18 on or after 1 November 1950, for service training of 176 days. Trainees were required to remain on the Reserve of the Commonwealth Military Forces (CMF) for five years from initial call up. Men could nominate the service in which they wished to be trained. Those nominating the Navy or the Air Force were considered only if they volunteered for service outside Australia. The first call-up notice was issued on 12 April 1951.
Between 1951 and 1959 over 500,000 men registered, 52 intakes were organised and some 227,000 men were trained.
In 1957 National Service with the Navy and the Air Force was discontinued. Registration remained compulsory but the intake to the Army was cut to almost a third (12,000 trainees) by instituting a ballot for selection. On 24 November 1959 Cabinet decided that National Service call-ups should be terminated and that arrangements for the January 1960 intake would be cancelled.
National Service, 1965–72
A scheme of selective National Service
On 5 November 1964, Cabinet decided to introduce a compulsory selective National Service scheme. In announcing this decision to Parliament, Prime Minister Robert Menzies referred to ‘aggressive Communism’ developments in Asia, such as ‘recent Indonesian policies and actions’ and a ‘deterioration in our strategic position’, as being influential in the decision being reached (see Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 25th Parliament, 1st Session, pp. 2517–2724). The Government had concluded that Australia had inadequate Defence manpower and aimed to increase the strength of the Army to 33,000 by the end of 1966 by introducing national service.
The National Service Act 1964, passed on 24 November, required 20 year old males, if selected, to serve in the Army for a period of twenty four months of continuous service (reduced to eighteen months in 1971), followed by three years in the Reserve. The Defence Act was amended in May 1965 to provide that conscripts could be obliged to serve overseas, and in March 1966, Prime Minister Holt announced that National Servicemen would be sent to Vietnam to fight in units of the Australian Regular Army.
Between 1965 and December 1972 over 800,000 men registered for National Service. Some 63,000 were conscripted and over 19,000 served in Vietnam. Although registration was compulsory a process of selection by ballot determined who would be called up. Two ballots were conducted each year. The ballots selected several dates in the selected period and all males with corresponding birthdays were called up for national service. The ballot was conducted using a lottery barrel and marbles representing birthdays. The barrel and marbles are held in the National Office, Canberra, in series MP1357/63.
Opposition to conscription
From 1966 opposition to conscription swelled and was often enmeshed with opposition to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Evasion of national service was not uncommon. Some cases were prosecuted harshly leading to much publicity. National Service was a significant issue in the Federal election campaigns of 1966, 1969 and 1972. The Australian Labor Party consistently opposed it and was committed to recalling troops from Vietnam.
With the election of an ALP government in December 1972, Prime Minister Whitlam announced the end of peace time conscription as one of his government’s first administrative decisions. Those National Servicemen who did not wish to complete their term of service were discharged immediately. The National Service Act was amended in 1973 to abolish the obligation to undertake National Service.
Courtesy of National Archives of Australia Canberra