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Archive for May, 2009

Robbie Fowler comes to Saigon

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 16, 2009

Liverpool Legend and A League Superstar, Robbie Fowler comes to Saigon next week

The North Queensland Fury will enter the Australian soccer league, A League, in Season 2009/10.

Next Saturday, 23 May in Saigon, the North Queensland Fury will play a soccer match against local club Hoang Anh Gia Lai at 6.30pm, at Thang Nhat Stadium, HCMC.

The major drawcard will be ex Liverpool player, Robbie Fowler who signed up with North Queensland back in February.

On Saturday, 23 May from 9-11am, people will have the chance to have Brekkie with Robbie. On the Sunday, there will be a soccer clinic from 3pm – 5pm and in the evening, there will be a Gala Dinner.

The whole weekend will have an Australian theme to it showcasing Australian brands, sports, activities, tourism etc.

Imagine if the Vietnam Swans ran out onto Robbie’s soccer pitch at half time… We could have dazzled the 20,000 strong crowd with an exquisite display of silky Aussie Rules skills…

Alas, the Vietnam Swans will be in Hanoi on the Saturday playing an international match against the Jakarta Bintangs.

For further information and details about the events involving the North Queensland Fury and Robbie Fowler, please contact or from Strata, organisers of the weekend.

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Odyssey Resources presented with Swans shorts

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 15, 2009

Swans National President, Phil Johns, presents the CEO of Odyssey Resources, David Carter with a pair of our footy shorts - with the Odyssey Resources logo

During the week, Vietnam Swans National President, Phil Johns, presented the CEO of , David Carter, with a pair of our footy shorts. , which provides professional accounting, tax and bookkeeping services to businesses operating in Vietnam and Australia, is the Official Sponsor of the Vietnam Swans.

Below, David shares some of his thoughts.

I follow the adventures of the Vietnam Swans football team and wanted to relate two stories which might interest your readers.

I was pleased to receive the speech from ex POW Bill Haskell (which he delivered at Kanchanaburi Cemetery on ANZAC Day 2009, prior to the ANZAC Day match between the Thailand Tigers and Vietnam Swans), as my great uncle Ken was a prisoner in the “F” force on the Thai Burma Railway. I have an extract from Alex Barnett, a mate of Ken’s, who wrote a couple of books about his time as a Prisoner of War. Alex writes:

Part of the Thai Burma Railway site near Hellfire Pass

Ken was a retiring person which was characteristic of POWs. I knew that he was sent with other POWs to make up “F” Force which was forced to work on the Burma Railway.

I know that he suffered many privations and illnesses which were associated with the area. I also know that he received the full brunt of the Japanese ire and that he was punished by them in the sadistic way they reserved for the white-man. I am almost certain that his punishment was being chained to a wooden cross and left to weather the elements.

He spoke very little about his ordeal to us prisoners. He suffered among many other things from Post Traumatic Distress. He was never a well man after his return.

The Black Saturday bushfires in Kinglake

Further, recently, I was chatting to the editor of the Australian CPA magazine and it turns out that she lives in Kinglake and was personally affected by the tragic Black Saturday bushfires in that area. She is yet to live in a house again, but was personally touched by the spirit and donations from the Vietnam Swans after I sent over the (the presentation was prepared following the Bushfire Fundraiser and Match between the Vietnam Swans and Bali Geckos on 27 – 28 March 2009).

Phil, I’d like to thank you for visiting the other day and presenting a pair of shorts emblazoned with the Vietnam Swans and logos.

I truly believe in six degrees of separation and the Vietnam Swans continue to touch people’s lives in a positive way – please keep up the good work!

Odyssey Resources Limited

The Vietnam Swans are delighted to have as our Official Sponsor of the Club’s shorts. We are also thrilled that Odyssey Resources is taking an active personal interest in the activities of the Club.

holds the distinction of being the first Australian mover to open an Accounting Outsourcing Operation Centre in Vietnam, and since early 2006, has been providing a range of professional accounting, tax and bookkeeping services to businesses operating in Vietnam and Australia.

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Ex POW, Bill Haskell, and his speech on ANZAC Day

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 14, 2009

Bill Haskell, delivers the speech reproduced here at the Kanchanaburi Cemetery on Anzac Day

On ANZAC Day, 25 April 2009, ex POW, Bill Haskell (ex WX3279 2/3rd Machine Gun Batallion) delivered a speech during the official ceremony at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

It has been reproduced below with Bill’s permission.

In Australia and New Zealand the 25th April is known as Anzac Day.

It is a day on which the two Nations pay tribute to our Servicemen and Servicewomen who lost their lives in defence of freedom.

We are therefore grateful to the Governments of the Kingdom of Thailand and the Union of Myanmar and their people for permitting us to honour those who died in their countries and have their remains interred in this cemetery (at Kanchanaburi) and that at Thanbuyazat.

These men died as Prisoners of War of the Japanese in World War II, during or as a result of, working on the Burma Siam Railway.

POWs considered fit for work by their Japanese captors. Photo from

They died, in the main, through the sheer negligence of the Japanese in not supplying the basic food and medical supplies, in their inhumane and brutal treatment and in subjecting the prisoners to the absolute extreme of forced labour.

The prisoners were starved, overworked, exposed to diseases, harassed and brutally assaulted at the work place.

The established rules of warfare in relation to prisoners of war were abandoned completely in the frenzy to push the railway through.

We remember these men with great affection and deepest respect.

The sole purpose of locating Prisoners of War in Thailand and Burma was to work on the railway and the Japanese made it abundantly clear from the outset that there would be no respite until the task was accomplished.

The cholera isolation hospital area at Shimo Sonkurai No 1 camp. Cholera patients were housed under canvas on the left of the photo. In the centre is the operating table used for amputations, ulcer treatment and post-mortems. Photo from

During the monsoonal months of July and August 1943 the country was deluged with continuous downpours of rain. At the same time Cholera and Amoebic Dysentery reached plague proportions and the Japanese engineers introduced their dreaded “Speedo” tactics. The combination of these factors resulted in deaths and disablement thereby cutting the workforce considerably and placing a huge burden on the remaining workers.

The engineers showed no compassion, on the contrary, continually increasing the working hours. Despite the enormous pressure, many prisoners survived the ordeal until the rail link was completed. They received wonderful support from the Doctors, medical orderlies and camp staff who supported them admirably. All of these people deserve to be acknowledged for playing their part in a triumph over adversity.

Upon completion of the rail link the war was still twenty-two months from finishing and the POWs were moved around a great deal.

Some men were retained on the railway doing maintenance work and cutting wood for locomotive fuel whilst others were spread around the country working on roads, railways, and bridges damaged by Allied bombing and monsoonal rains.

The men of “F” Force, whose introduction to Thailand was a 260-kilometer march to the disease-ridden camps at and around Sonkurai were eventually returned to Singapore, missing over a thousand of their number who had perished.

The fittest of the Prisoners of War survivors were sent to other areas of Asia as forced labour. A large number of the Australians went to Japan to work in coalmines and other industrial areas. They sailed in decrepit unmarked ships and unfortunately some of the ships in the convoys were sunk by Allied submarines resulting in a further heavy loss of life.

Tropical ulcers were a constant problem for men on the railway. Few if any had boots and the constantly wet conditions meant that any scratch could quickly turn into an ulcer. There was little available to treat ulcers. Often the rotting flesh was scooped out with a sharpened spoon or men were told to stand in a river to let flesh eating fish pick at the rotting flesh. Sometimes ulcers could get so big that amputation was the only option. Few survived the shock. Photo from

The inhumane treatment meted to the Prisoners of War had reduced a third of the “railway” survivors to a state where they were incapable of further manual labour. They were transferred to (so called) hospital camps in Tarsao and Chungkai. They were later consolidated in a vast hospital camp at Nakon Pathom.

After the Japanese surrender, much to the relief of the Prisoners of War who were well into their fourth year of captivity, thousands of them were repatriated to Australia to be nurtured back to health by their loved ones. Many, of course, were beyond complete recovery. After a period of convalescence and retraining, those who had recovered sufficiently were returned to society and assisted in rebuilding a country that had been on a full wartime footing for over six years.

Notwithstanding the dreadful conditions in Thailand and Burma, the subsequent ordeals in “hell-ships” and coalmines and the inhumane treatment, many of the Australian POWs displayed a resilience, a fortitude and a will to survive which allowed them to re-establish themselves after the war.

Many moving accounts of the fortitude displayed by the Australian prisoners in enduring great adversity have emerged. I would like to refer to just one which gives some idea of this magnificent trait.

Basil Clark was a member of A Force in Burma and had his right leg amputated at the mid section of his thigh in September 1943. The amputation was carried out at the 55 Kilo Hospital Camp by the renowned surgeon, Lieut. Colonel Albert Coates, whose skill and expertise surely assisted Basil Clark’s recovery.

In due course Basil was transferred to the Base Hospital at Nakon Pathom in Thailand and repatriated after the war to Perth, Western Australia, where he very quickly resumed civilian life. In June 1946 Basil married the young lady he was courting when he enlisted. They were blessed with a son in 1947 and a daughter in 1948. Basil was fitted with an artificial leg that had an articulated knee and a rigid ankle. The leg was supported by a waistband and strapping which enabled comparative freedom of movement.

The Department of Postwar Reconstruction interviewed Basil and suggested that because of his handicap he should take up a sedentary occupation. Basil rejected this proposal out of hand and stated he was returning to his pre war occupation of farming.

In 1949 he moved onto a medium sized wheat and sheep farm at Wongan Hills in Western Australia and single-handedly carried out all the normal farming operations such as ploughing, cropping, harvesting and sheep husbandry. At the same time he took a lively interest in community affairs such as Rotary, Freemasonry, Parents and Citizens Clubs and general sporting activities.

In due course his son Noel continued farming the property and his daughter Lois qualified as a nurse in which capacity she accompanied the Quiet Lion Pilgrimage in 2007

Bill Haskell returns to his seat carrying this speech in his hand

This is the story of a survivor who triumphed over enormous difficulties as a Prisoner of War and on return to Australia distinguished himself as a family man and in farming and community affairs. Truly the type of person who inspires a nation.

Basil was representative of a host of Australian ex Prisoners of War who displayed those great traits of resilience, fortitude and an enduring will to survive. He and the rest of the Prisoners of War were truly representative of their predecessors who collectively led to the coining of the description “Anzac” and the perpetuation of Anzac Day.

We, those who are left, salute those who are no longer with us.

God bless them and God bless you all.

The black and white photos above are from on the ABC’s website.

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Vietnam Swan meets Glenn Archer on ANZAC Day

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 13, 2009

Adam Baird and his father, Richard, attend the ANZAC Dawn Service at Long Tan

While most of the Vietnam Swans attended the Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass in Thailand on ANZAC Day, one Swan, Adam Baird, was attending the Dawn Service at Long Tan (near Vung Tau) with his father, Richard.

Adam says that “Mum and Dad came (to Vietnam) for their 2nd visit, but the main purpose of the visit was for Dad (Viet Vet) to attend the Dawn Service at Long Tan. Then we visited his old army base in Nui Dat and a few other places of interest etc. Pretty special to stand there with Dad during the Dawn Service. Proud day for me!”

Later, they headed back to Vung Tau and dropped into an Aussie expats’ sports bar. While they were there, they bumped into North Melbourne great, Glenn Archer. “Arch was there as part of a tour group of Vets with his Dad having served in Vietnam also. Had a chat for a while and had a pic. Top bloke! Also got a signed pic from the legend!”

Adam Baird meets the Shinboner, Glenn Archer in Vung Tau on ANZAC Day 2009

Glenn Archer debuted for North Melbourne in 1992. He had a reputation as one of the most courageous players ever to play the game. To reflect this, the AFLPA awarded him the Robert Rose Award for Most Courageous Player six times in nine years, the most of any player in the award’s history. He won the prize in 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 (tied with Brett Kirk).

In 1996 he won All-Australian selection, and was named best on ground in the Kangaroos 1996 premiership team, winning the Norm Smith Medal. Although Glenn was part of the losing Grand Final squad to Adelaide in 1998, he tasted premiership success once more in 1999. Amongst winning other awards from his club and the AFL, Archer was voted “Shinboner of the Century” by North Melbourne in 2005 – “Shinboners” being the nickname of North Melbourne (Archer’s biographical detail taken from ).

See Patrick Stringer’s article, Finding Dad in Siam.

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Jakarta Bintangs cancel Saigon leg of tour

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 12, 2009

Captain Gus acepts the Swans first ever trophy from the UNIS Chief Rep after beating Jakarta in 2006. Coach Jarrod Dale looks on.

The Jakarta Bintangs who were due to have a week long tour through Vietnam and play a match against the Vietnam Swans in Saigon on 16 May and another in Hanoi on 23 May 2009 have had to cancel the Saigon leg of the tour.

The Bintangs have advised that the cancellation was “due to heavy work commitments and the whole financial crisis thing. (The) guys are feeling a little stretched to take the time off work.”

The Hanoi leg of the tour will proceed as originally scheduled on 23 May at the UN International School.

The Jakarta Bintangs last toured Vietnam in March 2006 when the then Hanoi Swans recorded our first ever victory.

The Swans are still to make our first tour to Jakarta.

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NZ Ambassador’s speech at War Cemetery

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 10, 2009

New Zealand Ambassador, Dr Brook Barrington

On ANZAC Day, during the Memorial Service at the Kanchanaburi Allied War Cemetery, the New Zealand Ambassador, Dr Brook Barrington delivered a speech. It has been reproduced below with his kind permission.

Veterans, Families of Veterans, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good morning.

On ANZAC day we honour all New Zealand and Australian men and women serving in the armed forces today, and we remember with thanksgiving those who served their country in time of war, and those who died.

These are familiar words. Too familiar, perhaps.  I have said them before.  You have heard them before.  It is a hot day, too hot for speeches.  And what could I, who have never experienced war, really know of the suffering and the anguish we are commemorating here.

The Memorial Service at the Allied War Cemetery, Kanchanaburi

So let us cut to the heart of things.  In this cemetery there are just under 7000 headstones.  7000 lives lost.  7000 loves lost.  7000 men, young and old, sons and fathers, artists and poets and plumbers and farmers, dead.  7000 futures gone, rubbed out.  And of those who died toiling on the Thai-Burma railway, perhaps as many as 100,000.  Malay. Burmese. British.  Javanese. Australian.  Dutch.  American.  And that cruellest of words:  “others”, including a small handful of New Zealanders.

More than 230 deaths for each day the railway was under construction. More than 240 deaths for every kilometre of track laid.  And how many lives back home, how many hearts back home, were broken by the deaths of these men? A million? More, surely. Many more. A human tragedy beyond counting.

We are not here to listen to speeches.  We are here to call to mind, to call to heart, the suffering of those who died and those who mourn.  We are here to be counted amongst those who believe that the values of courage and loyalty and service and grit and mate-ship and honour continue to be true, continue to matter.  We are here because it is the least we can do for those who sacrificed so much.  We are here to remember.

Their sacrifice

On this day we remember ordinary people from many different lands, united by a most extraordinary thing: they gave up their lives, they were robbed of their promise, so that we who came after them might live in peace.

Their sacrifice stands as a silent witness to the enduring values of faith and hope and love, and to the desolation of war.

It is right indeed that we should remember them.

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Black Saturday bodies identified

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 10, 2009

A$4,517.23 final amount raised at the Vietnam Swans bushfire fundraiser

Today, The Age newspaper reported, . The article goes on to say that “each of the 173 people who died during the Black Saturday bushfires has now been identified, after a painstaking forensic effort, and soon all remains will have been returned to families.”

Meanwhile, the Vietnam Swans National Treasurer, Danny Armstrong, has confirmed that an additional AUD180.66 was deposited into the Yarra Valley Mountain District Football Netball League’s account on 29 April 2009. This brings the total amount of money raised by the Bali Geckos and Vietnam Swans following the Bushfire Match on 28 March 2009 to AUD4,517.23 (USD3, 299 at today’s exchange rate).

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Dawn Service Speech by NZ Ambassador

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 8, 2009

NZ Ambassador to Thailand, Dr Brook Barrington, delivers the "most moving and poignant tribute" re Australia's fallen.

Patrick Stringer described the New Zealand Ambassador’s words at the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass as the “most moving and poignant tribute I have ever personally heard spoken of Australia’s fallen.”

With Dr Barrington’s permission, his speech is reproduced below.

Veterans, Families of Veterans, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

ANZAC Day is a day when trans-Tasman cousins stand shoulder to shoulder, just as they did ninety-four years ago.  That is true enough, and important.  But in the midst of that ANZAC solidarity I want to acknowledge that this is hallowed ground for Australia.

The far off echoes you hear when you sit here quietly in the dark come from Australian pain. The distant cries you hear come from Australian hearts.

Whether you are religious or not, this cutting represents something which goes beyond our ordinary lives.  Men – many of them no more than boys – lived and suffered and fell and died here.  Where we stand.

Memories of home – of shimmering heat and cicadas and cold beer – sustained life here, and were lost here. Where we stand.

The best of what it is to be an Australian – tough, generous, laconic, quick to laugh, to lend a helping hand, decent, unflinching – these values were tested here.  Where we stand.  And they were not found wanting.

Australian and Dutch POWs from the Thai Burma Railway

The victims of the Burma-Thailand Railway came from many lands.  They, and all those others who have served their country in time of war, remind us that the peace we now enjoy has been paid for in blood, and in sorrow.

As dawn breaks, full of hope and renewal, we especially remember all of those Australians who sacrificed their lives for their friends, and for peace.  There can be no greater gift.  This New Zealander, honoured to be in this place, thanks them for it.

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Swine Flu travel bulletin

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 8, 2009

Swine Flu

As a community service announcement, the Swans have decided to  stick the swines on the Blog.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued a travel bulletin on the Swine Influenza outbreak. It can be found on the .

Micky J has offered the following helpful comment that, “We can only hope for our day in the sun when all of Asia trembles at the onslaught of SWAN FLU! Bring on the Asian Cup, stay indoors and keep your mouths covered!”

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Presentation re 2009 ANZAC Day in Kanchanaburi

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 6, 2009

Bill Haskell, OAM, at Hellfire Pass. Today Bill delivered a "mesmorising" speech at the funeral of Ernie Redman, OAM, ex POW.

Dear Swans and Supporters

All footy, rugby, soccer and cricket trips are great fun.

Playing a footy match on ANZAC Day in Kanchanaburi in front of 3 ex POWs is in a space of its own.

It was a great privilege to have made this trip with each person in our touring party. It was a great privilege to be the guests of the Thailand Tigers. It was a great privilege to have met three ex POWs.

It was a tour where words like “privileged”, “humbled”, “honoured” and “special” seemed inadequate.

The attached hopes to provide some insight for those who could not join us.

The Thailand Tigers are very fine custodians indeed of the Kanchanaburi ANZAC Day Match.

Regards

Phil Johns, National President

Footnotes: As you may be aware, ex POW, Ernie Redman died on 29 April 2009. Grant Harris emailed the Vietnam Swans today to say:

I saw Bill Haskell (ex POW photographed above) today at Ernie’s funeral. Bill spoke again, and once more his words were mesmerizing. At around 90 years of age Bill has sat on a 10 hour plus, 700 km bus trip to be at the funeral.

Rest assured that we said goodbye to Ernie in the best way possible.

Also today, a memorial service was held for ex Hawk Rob Dickson and his two sons Byron and Gabriel. Rob came to Hanoi in 2006 and was involved with the match between the (former) Hanoi Swans and the  AFL / CARE All Stars. See the for full coverage of the Memorial Service.

The Vietnam Swans send our condolences to the families of both Ernie and Rob.

Still to follow: Copies of the New Zealand Ambassador’s two speeches on ANZAC Day and possibly, a copy of Bill Haskell’s speech at the War Cemetery.

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Bangkok Post reports on ANZAC Day clash

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 5, 2009

Bangkok Post reports on ANZAC Day clash

The Bangkok Post reported in last Saturday’s newspaper that the .

Click on the link to read all about the match.

Also, the Bangkok Post records the full time scores  (which had not been recorded so far on the Swans Blog).

It was the Thailand Tigers 13.13.91 to the Vietnam Swans 2.1.13

Click on the for the full story.

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“Finding Dad in Siam” – by Patrick Stringer

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 2, 2009

Patrick Stringer, who toured with the Vietnam Swans last weekend to Kanchanaburi for the ANZAC Day match, reflects upon the occasion. Patrick’s father had worked on “the line”.

Patrick Stringer

In early March I bumped into Phil Johns (National President, Vietnam Swans) at Café Latin in Saigon.  I had not seen Phil for many months but it wasn’t very long before the conversation turned to footy. It always does with Fabbo!

Mate, the Swannies have been invited to play the Thailand Tigers in the annual Anzac Day match and we are going to Hellfire Pass. It’s gonna be awesome, why don’t you come along” ?

I am sure I looked pretty stupid standing in front of Phil, in stunned silence.  My mumbled reply was probably less than coherent, and I am sure he interpreted it as a non-committal “maybe”.

But what Phil didn’t know was that my father was among the very first group of POW’s to be sent from Changi to work on the Thai–Burma railway.

What he didn’t know was that Dad spent 1548 days in active service overseas during World War II– the majority of them as a POW of the Japanese.

What Phil didn’t know was that my father never again enjoyed good health and died in 1961 when I was just 6 weeks old.

And what he certainly didn’t know was that I had spent years struggling to understand his sacrifices and what it means to be the son of one of these men.

For each of the 120,000 railway sleepers laid, one life was laid to rest

Despite living and working in Vietnam for 4 years, and with the railway so close, I had not yet summoned the courage to visit. It’s not that visiting it was not important to me.  It was very important to me. I had researched for years the details of my father’s capture in Singapore and his time in the forced labour camps. But I simply did not have the courage to stand in a place where I knew my dad had suffered so much, where he and countless others had been tortured and tormented. I did not have the courage to stand where young boys had died, crying out for their mums and dads.  That place, hallowed as it may be, was an awful place, a place of death and dying and I did not have his permission to go there.

But I also knew that to connect with my dad I had to visit the significant places in his life, and this was perhaps the most significant place of all.

So the arrangements were made, and soon enough we were in the bus at 3.30am on the way up to the Dawn Service.

Entrance to a POW Camp

For many people on the bus that morning I am sure that Hellfire Pass and the Railway was a hard thing to identify with – we all knew terrible and unspeakable things had happened there but it’s difficult to absorb really.  It’s made more absorbable somehow when all the statistics are quoted – that seems to be how our mind works, but then it becomes less real in a way, it’s a bunch of numbers and facts.

They were "like our footy team..."

I was asked to give a talk on the bus.  I tried to remind people that the men on the line were like our footy team, there were teenagers and blokes in their forties. I reminded them that the only thing those men had was each other. I suggested that we look around and imagine that nearly half of us would die in the next 12 months, we die slowly and in pain with only our mates to comfort us.  I talked a little about how the Army Units were constituted and what all the numbers meant, and why the men often came from the same area or town in Australia.   I asked who among us would be brave enough to volunteer to hold down their mate while his ulcerated leg was scraped clean down to the bone with a sharpened teaspoon every morning or his leg was eventually hacked off using a butcher’s saw without anaesthetic.  I said these things not to be gruesome or morbid, but because they were true. I tried to make it personal so that people would remember that these things really happened here and they happened a lot.

I never knew my Dad but my decision to visit Hellfire Pass that morning was a deeply unsettling and emotional pilgrimage. I was, however, mentally steeled by the historic fact that my Dad was in “A” Force and he did not actually work on the Konyu cutting or anywhere near the Southern end of the railway, so I knew my emotions would remain in check at the Dawn Service.

In the pre-dawn darkness we arrived at the entrance of the cutting, and like the thousand or so others who had come to this special place, we quietly awaited the commencement of the service. The cutting was lit with Bamboo oil lamps, just like it must have been then.

There is an established and great tradition whereby the Australian and New Zealand Heads of Mission preside alternatively at the Anzac Day dawn services overseas. But I freely admit to a charge of disappointment when, standing in the morning cool and listening to the timeless sounds of the jungle, I realised that this year, in this place, it would be the New Zealand and not the Australian Ambassador who would deliver the memorial address.

I knew of course, that New Zealanders too worked and died on “the line”, their dying no less horrific and no less painful than that of any other man. I knew that, of course I knew that.  But today, this year, why this year of all years, was it the Kiwi’s turn?  Oh well, at least this would make it easier for me to remain composed.

The New Zealand Ambassador’s words on that morning were the most moving and poignant tribute I have ever personally heard spoken of Australia’s fallen. There was an honesty, a deep love and respect that shone from his words which captured something fundamental about the significance of Hellfire Pass in Australia’s history and the unique relationship between our two nations.

Jonathan Diamond once said that grief is not an emotion like other emotions.  We do not seek it out, it finds us, and when it does, for most men it’s no accident.

For an entire generation of fatherless sons the railway remains an un-navigable link to their dads and the colossal nature of their sacrifice. Grief sought me out that morning. It overwhelmed me.  The ambassador’s words did not help to bring my dad closer to me, his words did not help to fill the lifelong emptiness, but his words did let us all know that our heartache is shared.

According to most definitions I have read, an Ambassador is sent by the Head of State to a foreign court or country, to represent the interests of his own nation. But on that morning and in that place, his was a selfless and heartfelt message from the New Zealand people, I am sure it was heard by all “men of the line” and I was glad to be there.

Later in the day, 3 of the surviving POW’s attended the footy match.

In the blazing afternoon heat, one man in particular, Bill Haskell, walked slower and I think more painfully than the others. With the aid of two walking sticks, he cut a heart wrenching sight making his way along the boundary line to his seat.  My eyes filled with tears as both teams applauded their presence.  Proud diggers indeed.

The Swannies went into the game underdogs, and to be fair, we were never really in the game up against a good and much fitter Tigers team.  But it was the one game in my entire life where I can say that the score did not matter at all.  It was the one game when playing in the right spirit and doing what you could to help your mates really was the most important thing.  We lost the game by a big margin, but I don’t think there has ever been a more proud Vietnam Swans team than the boys who wore the guernsey that day.

Bill Haskell

Bill Haskell had spoken earlier in the day at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery and told a story about a man from “A” Force.  My dad was in “A” Force.  After the game I approached Bill in the hope that he may have known my dad.  But it turns out that Bill was in “Dunlop” Force.  After a short talk I was beginning to get a bit choked up and so, more than a little embarrassed, I excused myself and made my way back to the changing tent to join the rest of the Swannies for a cold beer.

Some 10 minutes later, somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around – there was Bill Haskell standing with the support of his son and his two walking sticks in the still blazing late afternoon sun. He had followed me to the tent. He looked me in the eye, offered his hand and said “I didn’t know your Dad, but those boys in “A” Force knew all about it.  Thank you for making yourself known to me.”

Not for the last time that day, grief sought me out.

Most men find that talking about their father is an uncomfortable subject. It is certainly the case for me but I have been encouraged to write this piece by Phil and others who were there that day.

It is estimated 30 per cent of men today don’t talk to their fathers.  Steve Biddulph said that every father, no matter how tough and removed he seems, spends his life waiting to know his son loves and respects him.  He will spend his life waiting.

If you are one of those 30 per cent, I hope that reading this story can help you fix it with your dad. There’s a lot at stake.

Footnote: The Vietnam Swans have hosted an ANZAC Friendship Match since 2010 at the dog racing track in Vung Tau (near Saigon). During the Vietnam War, Vung Tau served as the Australian logistics base. Back then, the Diggers also used to play footy at what was known as the Lord Mayor’s Oval which is now known as the dog track. For more information on the Vietnam Swans ANZAC Friendship Match, click here.

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