Vietnam veteran Robert McFarlane shares his experiences

Anzac Day is a time when returned soldier Robert McFarlane pauses and remembers the 600,000 plus diggers who have died in service for  Australia including members and mates in his company and battalion.

He said it was important for people to take the time to reflect on what Australia could be like if it had not been for the sacrifices made by ordinary men and women who served their country in times of war. 

To share the realities of what he endured and to educate future generations on the importance of Anzac Day, Mr McFarlane recently began telling his story of service to the year 9 class at Cowell Area School and said he “tells it like it was”. 

“I tell them what it was like to be having contact (battle) for over 18 hours, what it is like to carry a mate with the top of his scalp shot off, under fire to a helicopter, only to find out it was not going to be at that spot and we had to go back again through bullets to a different spot, stopping to keep trying CPR along the way.

“I tell them it was like being in slow motion, like they show in movies and what bullets sound like as they zing by you.”

He said it was imperative to remember and honour the loss of people like his mates and to acknowledge what war and the memories of it did to those who returned.

“The horror of holding your mate in your arms and joking with him he had a wound which would get him home, thinking he would be okay as he was conscious, he had good colour, I had held pressure on his wounds, and then how it felt to find out he didn’t make it,” he said. 

“These kids need to know what these sacrifices were made for.” 

Mr McFarlane was 20 when he was called up for national service and after months of training was sent to Vietnam as part of the newly created ninth division to do his bit in the Vietnam War. 

He said he and his fellow soldiers felt it was important they went to Vietnam to stop the chance of a war coming to Australian soil, which was a perceived risk at that time.

“It was the only lottery I have ever won, I hadn’t even heard of Vietnam really until I got there.

“I thought it was a big adventure, I had never been out of Australia,” he said. 

Mr McFarlane has a strong family history of war service with his aunt and uncle both dying in World War II and had been brought up in a family that believed to be a part of a community you had to work for it, which led to his commitment to various community groups including Rural Youth and especially the Returned and Services League (RSL). 

“When I came back, I received an order to go to the next RSL meeting on a Thursday night, and when I got there it was packed with returned soldiers all who gave me support after coming home.”

Mr McFarlane said he might have been a different sort of man if he had not gone off to war and always threatened to break his children’s legs or arms if they were ever conscripted or joined the army. 

“It is only in the last few years I have spoken to my kids about what it was like over there, nobody wins in war.”

He said the mateship and trust in “the bloke next to you or behind you” were some of the more positive aspects of his service and how the friendships made during his time away, were still strong today. 

Mr McFarlane was the machine gunner for his platoon and was just behind the lead scout when “in bush” or out on patrol; he was also the first one off the helicopter when it landed each time they were flown in for a tour.

“Each bloke had his job to do,  we were really well trained and I had confidence that everyone knew there job,” 

“None of us were heroes, we were just bloody good soldiers.”