Band of the 5th Battalion the Royal Australian Regiment
5rar band
 



 
australian infantryman's combat badge
band of the 5th battalion royal australian regiment


By Colonel John Warr, DSO, (Dec)
Commanding Officer, 5RAR
South Vietnam 1966-67.
 
Colonel John Arthur Warr CO 5RAR 1965-1967

On the 1st of March 1965, the Fifth Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, was raised at Holsworthy NSW, from members of the First Battalion. Two months later the First Battalion was committed to operations in Bien Hoa Province in Vietnam.

In January 1966, 5RAR was brought to full strength with over 300 national servicemen and 200 regular soldiers who had all completed their basic training. It was generally accepted by the members of the battalion at that time that 5RAR would replace 1RAR in Vietnam when it completed its service there in May 1966. It was about three months from that time until 5RAR was in action in Vietnam.

During this time of preparing for active service, the 25 members of the band were required to meet the training requirements of the Battalion to work six days a week, often from early morning until late at night. This training included field craft, weapon training, mines and booby traps, night movement, lectures on Vietnamese history, culture and customs, exercises in the mountains at Gospers, special training at The Jungle Training centre at Cunungra Queensland and familiarization in helicopter movement.

In addition to this training, the band members spent considerable time on first aid, musical training and playing as5rar band in recital at nui dat a band on special occasions. The pressure of these constant activities and the encouragement and firmness of leadership of Bob Taylor and the Drum Major, Ken Benson began the bonding together of this special team within the Battalion.

On the 8th of March 1966, the Australian Government announced an increase of the Australian Forces in Vietnam to a task force of 4,500 men, based on 5RAR and 6RAR and supporting arms. This was the first official announcement that 5RAR would serve in Vietnam.

Early in April 1966, the band performed publicly for the first time when the Battalion carried out the ceremony of Beating the Retreat at Holsworthy. A few days later, the band led the battalion when it marched through Sydney as part of 1 Australian Task Force before departing for Vietnam.

During April and May, the Battalion moved to Vung Tau, either by aircraft or by the troopship carrier HMAS Sydney, after which it had about three weeks to acclimatize and complete helicopter and other special training.

At this time a close friendship developed between 5RAR and the American 68 US Aviation Company, which had been providing helicopter training for the battalion. The friendship was further cemented when a dinner was arranged for members of the 68th ( known as Top Tigers ) at which the band played the regimental march of the 68th, "Those Daring Young Men in Their Flying Machines" and other appropriate tunes. From that time onward the 68th would do anything possible to provide maximum possible support to 5RAR.

From the time he joined the Battalion, Bob Taylor had been thinking about a Regimental March for 5RAR and he had concluded that the most appropriate was "Dominique". He arranged the music then suggested to the CO that Dominique be accepted as the Regimental March. Colonel Warr was not convinced as he had never heard the tune. Bob Taylor, with the support of Major Max Carroll, the Operations Officer, then proposed that the band play Dominique and two other marches for the 800 men of the battalion who would be asked to vote for the march they thought would the best. Dominique received an overwhelming vote from all ranks and so it became the march of the 'Tiger Battalion'.

By early 1966, The Viet Cong had established two main force regiments, 274 and 275 Regiments, each of three battalions in the north east and north west of Phuoc Tuy Province. These forces were in addition to the Provincial Battalion D445 and numerous village guerrilla platoons. Almost all of the province of Phuoc Tuy, except for the major towns of Xuyen Moc, Duc Thanh and the provincial capital Baria were controlled by the Viet Cong and even these towns had been heavily infiltrated by the Viet Cong. The total number of Viet Cong in the province at that time was estimated to be 4,800. They were well armed, knew the country in detail, received considerable support either willingly or by coercion from the local people and they had the ability to merge with the people so that it was often impossible for the Australians to determine exactly who were enemy and who were not. The support received by the Viet Cong from the local people made it easy for them to know of the movement of our forces, which could be easily seen and reported.

It was into this situation that 5RAR was launched in May 1966 in 'Operation Hardihood', which aimed to clear Nui Dat for the establishment of the Australian Task Force. During the next eleven months, 5RAR conducted 23 battalion sized operations and in between such operations no less then one company was always outside the base area. Because, on operations, the bandsmen were deployed with one of them as a stretcher bearer to each platoon, they contain all the collective experience of all the enemy contacts and incidents, some of which resulted in battle casualties. The total casualties the battalion during 1966-67 were 25 killed in action or died of wounds and 79 wounded in action. The band's own causalties included Private Michael Poole killed in action, three wounded in action, including the Drum Major Ken Benson while acting as CSM B Company, in addition to three members evacuated to Australia as a result of serious accidents and illnesses.

Whenever the battalion returned to its base after an operation, the band would immediately reform and play in company lines as a morale booster in the base area when the situation permitted, the band played Retreat in the evenings and everyone appreciated the significance of this ceremony. A major problem facing the task force in 1966 was that, in Phuoc Tuy Province the Viet Cong had been able to replace Government control with their own administration in most villages and hamlets. This had been achieved by creating a cadre in each village. These cadres were composed of dedicated communists, whose task was to discredit the Government, indoctrinate the villagers with communist propaganda and build an organization to support the Viet Cong in the field with food, medical aid, recruits and money. The methods used by the cadres to obtain the co-operation and support of the villagers was brutal and effective. The head men, school teachers and local administrators were either eliminated or their families killed or tortured if they failed to co-operate. The cadres also recruited young men and women into the Viet Cong forces and provided labour when required. It was clear that, if the village cadres were eliminated and the people were protected from the influence of the Viet Cong, the major advantages enjoyed by the Viet Cong would disappear, if they were unable to use the villages as operational bases. The Viet Cong would be isolated from the people and their military effectiveness reduced as their ability to obtain food, taxes and intelligence decreased. In addition, the Viet Cong would not be able to visit their homes and families and their morale would be reduced accordingly. It was therefore decided that, as the first step in returning Phuoc Tuy Province to the control of the Government of South Vietnam, the village cadres must be eliminated. 5RAR therefore developed techniques to cordon and search villages to find the cadre members. These techniques required a night approach march to the selected village then surround and seal off the village before any of its inhabitants could leave. The people were then removed from the village and questioned by Government officials. During this interrogation period, medical and dental aid was provided for the people and food was distributed. In order to create the best possible atmosphere for these activities, the band played appropriate music.

The bandsmen were required to accompany their platoons as stretcher bearers during the night approach march and then, when the questioning of the villagers commenced, they would assemble at a designated area and resume their role as bandsmen. Their band instruments, music, chairs etc would be brought forward either by APC or trucks or helicopters if necessary. While the musical activities of the band were well received by the villagers they suggested that they would appreciate hearing their own Vietnamese tunes rather then our western music. Bob Taylor then set to work immediately to prepare the necessary music for the band by the time for the next cordon and search in two weeks. The band was playing the tunes requested by the villagers.

5rar band in recital on the horseshoe

The total effect on the villagers of these cordon and search operations was quite noticeable and the band played an increasingly important role in winning the hearts and minds of the people. In addition, during the cordon and search operations, the band would usually intersperse its playing with assistance to the medical civil aid program.

In the seven months period, July 1966 to February 1967, 5RAR carried out nine village cordon and search operations which resulted in 14 Viet Cong killed, five wounded and 224 prisoners.

On several occasions, the band, at short notice, provided protection for disabled APCs at night and also provided ambush parties. The band was also required, like every other platoon, to provide clearing patrols around the base and sentries every night. Several times, Bob Taylor commanded a rifle platoon or acted as CSM of a rifle company. Ken Benson while acting as CSM B Company in February was wounded in action which resulted in his evacuation to Australia.

The 5RAR Band was the only effective service band in Vietnam and it was always in demand to play at church and memorial services and parades for presentation of awards. It gave concerts at the US 36th Evacuation hospital, 2 Field Ambulance RAAMC, 1/83 US Artillery Battery, A Battery 2/35 US Artillery Battery, the 805 Transport Company, the American Rest and Recreation Centre at Vung Tau and at a Fourth of July celebration at Ba Ria for American Advisers. These concerts were of great value in cementing the good relations which had been established with American units. In addition, appropriate music was provided for the Task Force on such occasions as the visit of Marshall Ky and General Johnson, the US Army Chief of Staff. When 5RAR returned to Australia in April 1967, the band, in spite of its own casualties, was able to lead the Battalion in a parade through Sydney.

During service in Vietnam in 1966-67, Corporal Peter Fraser was awarded the Military Medal (MM) and Private Laurie Lewis was 'Mentioned in Dispatches' (MID), for bravery for treating casualties under fire. There is no doubt that a number of members of 5RAR owe their lives to the immediate aid given them, usually under difficult circumstances, by members of the Band. The 5RAR Band demonstrated clearly that in operations, the value of the band of an infantry battalion, when used to its fullest potential, is out of all proportion to its numbers.

The Band Members

Band Master
Bob Taylor



Cornets
Norm Sims, Norm Harris, Jock Bouse,
Ted Gadd, Garry Phillips, Frank Baker,
Bill McIntyre, Ken Edmunds and Geoff Lowe.



Tenor Horns
Mick Poole, Barry Pemberton, Mick Dwyer
and Laurie Lewis, MID



Baritones
Jack Curtis and Paul Maloney



Trombone
Geoff Reid



Euphoniums
Charlie Johnson and Nev Graham



Tubas
Peter Tuck, Peter Lapko and Geoff Lowe



Percussion
Ken Benson, Ron Shoebridge
and John Nyhuis



Alto Saxophone
Peter Fraser MM

 

private mick poole

This page is dedicated to  Pte Mick Poole, Bandsman and Stretcher Bearer, killed in action on the 21st of February 1967.

Lest We Forget

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