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A Digger’s Words

I was a few years old when my family moved to Kangaroo Island as soldiers settlers, first to the Parndana “Camp” for two years before moving to our farm. By memory up to 50 families lived in the camp at any one time, and by the mid 1960s most of the farmers on the island were returned WW2 servicemen.

We buried one of the old diggers last Saturday. Only two remain alive.

None of the diggers would talk much about the war, but I am sure there were thousands of unwritten stories, now forever lost. So when a digger talks, I am the first to listen. Their words aren’t lost on me.

And so it is with Brigadier George Mansford (retired), who gave the ANZAC address in Cairns this year. I have kindly been given permission to republish his talk, as well as present two poems by Mr Mansfield.

They are indeed, a digger’s words.

ANZAC address 2023: Saint Mary’s College, Cairns

Australia, in the 50s was alarmed at the spread of communism in our region.

North Korea had invaded South Korea. Malaya, as it was in 1948, a British Colony, was under threat by increasing insurgent attacks from established bases in its vast jungles. Alarms bells were still ringing when Communist Forces defeated the French Army in Indo China and as a result, Vietnam was split into North and South with an already growing infrastructure of communist insurgency in an infant democratic South Vietnam.

In Australia, its small military contingency to Korea had no sooner commenced its return to Australia when we were committed to assist in troubled Malaya and soon after, South Vietnam as well. Then arrived a further commitment to counter Indonesian confrontation in Borneo. Thus with such threats in our region, and an over committed small Armed Forces, conscription by ballot for two years’ service including overseas service was introduced in 1965.

I was there in Enoggera Barracks, Brisbane, when the first Conscripts became the nucleus of a new infantry battalion, It was certainly not an easy Unit task to be ready to fight in such a short time frame, however our young soldiers, both regular and conscripts were magnificent and clearly a clear reflection of those ANZACs’ who had trained in the same barracks before joining the entire force sailing for Gallipoli.

History also records that our young soldiers were at war before the battalion’s first birthday and fought many a bloody battle which included battles such as Long Tan and Bribie Island.

They were not alone, many thousands of young and not so young men and women served in Vietnam and there were so many unwanted knocks on the door by sad faced messengers with terrible news that a loved one was badly wounded or worse still, had been killed in action.

A classic example of sacrifice was demonstrated by a young married couple, two battlers with an infant son recently born, had a sad record of family sacrifice. The soldier’s father serving in England during WW2 was posted missing while on air operations over Germany. His wife’s father, a soldier, was reported missing in action in the Pacific 1942. Then another war (Vietnam) and the wife with the arrival of an unwanted knock on the door became a widow with the news her husband, a Regular Army Warrant Officer soldier, had been killed in action in Vietnam.

The characteristics of our soldiers in the Vietnam era were no different to wars before them and those that followed Always pride in who they were, what they were, and where they came from. Always was their humour, no matter how grim or demanding the circumstances. They were always as one, defiant, determined and resolute. Forever yearning to be home, in their beloved land down under.

Much of their time was spent in the seemingly endless green dense jungles, swamps, rubber plantations and rice fields.

No matter where, danger was so often just around the corner, be it fleeting clashes with small groups of enemy or outnumbered and under heavy fire at close range from a well camouflaged bunker system, not forgetting the heavy use of mines and booby traps where the weight or tug of a foot would trigger terrible injuries and so often death.

Not too far away, after evacuation by helicopters, were the dedicated and devoted beloved young Florence Nightingales, ready to receive and treat such terrible bloody wounds and comfort very troubled minds.

Not surprising, our troops quickly became much disciplined and battle-hardened veterans. They demonstrated personal and collective courage and, in my view, unquestionably their most powerful armour was their trust, caring, sharing and strong faith in each other, and immense regimental and national pride. There is much our politicians could readily learn from such soldiers’ selfless deeds and constant demonstration of unity from all walks of life, regardless of race, colour, or religion and always the belief; we are as one.

You, our students of today are our leaders of tomorrow in all levels of society. You can best honour all of our fallen by your conduct and example to those generations who will follow and mark it well, it will be an obligation of trust and honour, no matter your disappointments, trials and ordeals yet to be confronted.

Like my two young comrades in uniform with me today, hopefully your time will be forever in peace. And yet, no matter the challenges of life confronted, always you will be standing tall, forever your love of nation, sharing, caring, and always the battle cry as it was with the ANZACS, and forever more here in the land Down Under in all walks of life; “We are as one.”

George Mansford April 2023


* * * * *


We’re Going Home

A terrible feeling it was with no mail for many a day

Combat rations and a bent spoon became the dining way

Itchy burning rashes, tinea, blisters and ill-fitting boots

Hungry, weary and wearing muddy military suits

Yet I am so happy as this new day has begun

Silent and sulking are the once barking guns


I won’t have to climb another bloody hill

Nor stop at a creek and like a camel drink my fill

Forget about weapon pits, patrols or sentry duty for me

A soft mattress and crisp clean sheets shortly to be

Such bliss to soon ignore a sergeant‘s bellow to stand fast

Oh gawd, to think I will soon be free at long, long last


It is true I have actually survived?

Can it be that I am going home alive?

Pinch me to make sure it is not a dream

Now at last the signal to embark being given to our team

No more doubts of tomorrow or the terror of the unknown

Our time is surely up and at last we’re going home

George Mansford © December 2013


* * * * *


For the young leaders of tomorrow…

The ANZACS are Watching

Amid constant gloom and distant frowns

Increasing debt, and heads drooping down

Comes a time when a youngster will ask

“Am I ready for life’s tasks?”

The answer of course is so very clear

Think of the ANZACS who showed no fear

Cos they were Aussies, no different to you

Young, eager, larrikins and ever true blue

You too will have doubts but hardly a frown

Despite dangers, heads high and never looked down

Always a school’s battle cry, “do the best we can”

If all goes wrong in studies, stay cool; revise the plan

No matter the task, doubts, risks or cruel weather

You still go forward; all young Australians together

Even if cursed evil darkens the day

With love of country as your torch, you’ll find the way

Look out for each other; you are all part of the team

Your sword is faith and unity, forever sharp and keen

Seek tomorrow’s laughter and comforting sunlight

Go forward with love, not hate and for what is right

Take your kit bag of knowledge and reasoning with you

Both given free over years by parents and teachers too

Tell all of your respect for our precious way of life

Created with sweat, blood and pain in times of strife.

George Mansford © April 2022

George Mansford enlisted in the Australian Army in 1951 as a private and was discharged as a brigadier in 1990. He served as an infantryman; most of that time in the Royal Australian Regiment. His service included Korea, the Malayan Emergency, Thai Border, Vietnam, New Guinea and Singapore.

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  1. New England Cocky

    I have no familial connection with the1915 ANZAC Campaign, where a generation of fine Australian soldiers were sacrificed on the altar of English military incompetence by being thrown into industrial slaughter to protect the lies told by the English commanders.

    Both my parents served in WWII and subsequently growing up I lived Alan Seymour’s ”One Day of the Year” script.

    So I find Australia celebrating Australia’s greatest defeat at the hands of the British a little strange. The Australian, Sir John Monash, broke the German military back in 1918 and lived ever after totally unappreciated, possibly due to his Jewish heritage.

    The dogged defence of Tubruk for nine months prevented Germany from securing a seaport about 600 km closer to the El Alamein battlefront creating supply line vulnerability. Rarely commented upon, possibly because the relieving Americans lost that position (yet subsume the Australian military reputation in later television series).

    The fighting retreat down the Kokoda Track that stopped the Japanese advance overlooking Port Moresby was ignored because it was considered a ”defeat”!! Ask any New Guinea veteran if it was a defeat.

    The less said about the disastrous Crete Campaign (when Australian troops were sent into battle without weapons) the better.

    But underlying all of this was an Australian High Command that spent months in 1939 debating how old a field commander could be and remain effective militarily.

    There is no doubt that veterans have earned their one day of the year, but do we need to allow politicians use ANZAC Day to fan aggressive nationalism and play Deputy Dawg to the USA (United States of Apartheid) as that country descends into internal chaos misrepresenting democracy?

  2. Paul Smith

    A very moving ANZAC Day address and poems. Two points: Nashos died at twice the rate of Regs in Vietnam because they were not just the nucleus of the Battalions, but the great majority of those Units. To use a political trm, they were stacked. And of the future of ANZAC, when it remembers ALL Australians who died defending their country it will be a truly unifying event. We will ALL be as one.

  3. Ken Robinson

    Great article Michael, its about time George got some recognition for his service, I worked with George on a reunion called TERK BACK where in 1944 there was over one hundred thousand troops were assembled and training on the Atherton Tablelands for the final push against Japan, we had a great turnout of the veterans of the units who were there at the time and his organisational skills were amazing, the whole thing went off with clockwork precision and all had a great time.

  4. margcal

    Thanks NEC, especially the last paragraph.

    My only known history of war is dad at Borneo. He refused to speak about it so that he was there is all I know. History books can only fill in so much.

    My son was in East Timor, peace-keeping, and the war that wasn’t a war, Afghanistan x3. I pray never again, either overseas or on our own soil.

    On ANZAC Day, bombard Albanese with objections to where he is leading us, like a mindless, docile lapdog of the warmongering, crazier by the day, USA.

  5. Terence Mills

    I am only now becoming familiar with the sinking of the Montevideo Maru in July 1942 : the wreck of which has only now been found, 120 kilometres off northern Philippines in the South China Sea.

    The Montevideo Maru, a Japanese transport ship was taking prisoners of war and civilians from Rabaul to Hainan. It was sunk by the American submarine USS Sturgeon on 1 July 1942. An estimated 979 Australians died, along with 33 Norwegian sailors and 20 Japanese guards and crew.

    An Australian maritime archaeology group, Silentworld Foundation, organised the mission to find the wreck, helped by a Dutch deep-sea survey company called Fugro.The wreck was located by an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) at a depth of more than 4,000m (13,123ft) – deeper than the Titanic wreck.

    Captain Roger Turner, a technical specialist in the search team, said that “it’s a war grave now, it’s a tomb that must be treated with appropriate respect”. He added. “It was a moment of emotion to see the images of the ship, the closed hatch covers where prisoners were kept on the voyage.”


  6. Caz

    As a War Widow who watched for more than fifty years, her husband’s attempts to deal with PTSD, I hope we never involve ourselves in another conflict and that we do our utmost to live peacefully with our neighbours. My husband was involved in the brutal fighting of the forgotten war, the Korean War, which is invariably referred to as a “conflict”. I don’t need to be reminded “Lest We Forget” and so see nothing to celebrate or reflect on, on ANZAC Day. It is no surprise that most returned men never spoke of their experiences. They preferred to forget. It’s time that any decision to go to war should be made by the men and women we have representing us in Parliament and then only if it is likely we are to be invaded.

  7. Canguro

    Caz, your comments resonate; I grew up with a father who’d been a Japanese POW on the Burma Railroad. He was virtually destroyed by the experience, carrying PTSD related issues for much of the rest of his life, and suffice to say that as young children in the early 1950s my brother and I bore the burden of a father who was unable to act in the ways one would hope a parent should.

    And as for Korea, when I worked there in the early 2000’s, and was shown around much of that peninsular by a couple who’d taken me under their wing, not that I heard the word ‘conflict’ but I did learn that with the exception of a small section in the south-east of the country, it was no exaggeration to say that the whole of South Korea was awash with blood, virtually every square metre.

    War crimes were committed by Americans, as in their massacre of citizens at No Gun Ri, in typical fashion denied or lied about and certainly no responsibility taken.

    As I’ve written elsewhere in these pages, war offers absolutely nothing to celebrate and everything to mourn, that humanity still indulges itself in senseless slaughter after many millennia of similar behaviour demonstrates that we don’t learn from the past and in turn reinforces the notion that we seem to carry a deeply embedded fatal flaw in our psyche that triggers this propensity towards hostility as a default response to bristling argument or disagreement. And as far as ANZAC Day goes, until it acknowledges the Frontier Wars that sit at the outset of the colonisation and the various genocidal attempts at controlling the ‘indigenous problem’, it remains, in my view, as seriously shortfalling in its role as a tribute to the dead.

  8. Caz

    Canguro I should have mentioned the burden borne by the children of veterans. Yes wives do it tough but children deserve to have well adjusted loving parents. My children adored their father in spite of being affected by his mood swings. These men were tormented not only by their war experiences, but by their guilt when their families suffered. They were more influenced by their comrades especially those who believed any form of counselling was a sign of weakness. My family tried for years to persuade my husband to get help, but in the end it was easier to let it go, and make the best of it. To add insult to injury, my son was given a free university education being the son of a TPI. When Bob Hawke got in, he was saddled with a HECS debt which the government refused to waive. So much for valuing my husband’s service.

  9. Canguro

    Caz, these of course are experiences that shape our very view and perception of the lived human experience. Whether partners or parents or children, we all bear the burdens of how war impacts those who participate in the very psychologically damaging process of engaging in bloody battles that have as their objective the deaths of others. My father, I’m sure, never once entertained the thought that counselling may be of help. And after his repatriation to Adelaide at the end of the war, and six months in hospital to recuperate, he was discharged into the community with little or no followup. He was, as my aunt described, certifiably mad in those early years after 1945. And he was, also, a proxy soldier, given that he’d been working in Malaya in the rubber industry prior to the Japanese invasion and had joined a militia known as the Kedah Royal Volunteer Police Force, a proxy civilian subset of the British Army. This caused, as you might imagine, many bureaucratic problems when years later he applied for a TPI pension.

    And as for Korea, the couple I mentioned were retired high school teachers. Both were young children when the Korean War broke out, and both lived in the north, near Seoul, and close to the northern border, so they were directly in the firing line as North Koreans invaded the south. The husband was the son of a man who was a French language professor at a Seoul university; his father, one imagines, as an intellectual and somewhat gentle academic, had to fight against the invaders of course, and I was told that after the war he became an alcoholic and never recovered from those experiences of being in the blood & guts of vicious battlefields. And in turn, his young son, witnessing his father’s transformation from a cultured academic with a university posting into this embittered alcoholic, also became, in turn, an alcoholic, albeit not as badly damaged in a social sense.

    It’s way beyond time to strip away any false sense of war being heroic. It isn’t. It’s the very living embodiment of hell on earth.

  10. Michael Taylor

    Off topic, for which I apologise, but this is a 1956 photo of the Parndana soldiers settler’s camp. There were two families per barrack – one at each end of the building. The house we moved into in 1959 is the pointed out by the blue arrow.

    The camp was demolished many years ago. All that remains is a plaque.

  11. Michael Taylor

    Cruelly, the farmhouses of 86 soldiers settlers were destroyed in the terrible fires that ripped through the island in early 2020.

  12. Fred

    The annual focus on lives lost or maimed in war along with snippets about survival under extreme conditions or heroics or successes, seems to always see new “vets” marching, who were involved in the latest foray we followed the USA into, is disappointingly not accompanied by our politicians making statements to the effect that war is an absolute last resort and they promise to use diplomacy to avoid the need for it. Looking after the vets, particularly the large number with PTSD, doesn’t get mentioned much.

  13. wam

    My dad was over 30 when the war began. He was a lovely gentle man ruined by the war. For many years after the war, would have a week in daws rd ,every 6 months, where he got wired up. I caught the bus up on a wed to play snooker with him. If you have seen one flew over the cuckoo’s nest you know that I saw men in pyjamas just shuffling around the corridors. We were terrified that was going to be his fate if he complained. So despite his trauma being debilitating, we kept silent and the system ignored his treatment.
    He didn’t apply for a TPI till we knew the shock treatment and lobotomy had stopped.
    Caz and canguro, he(and we)had put up with his pain for some15 years after the war before the system took responsibilty for him.
    He and mum were very well looked after, for the last 20 years of their lives

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