161 Battery civic parade in Auckland

Submitted by Editorial team on

The withdrawal of combat troops from Vietnam did nothing to stem the growth of the anti-war movement in New Zealand.

When Auckland organised a civic reception on 12 May 1971 to mark the return of 161 Battery RNZA and 4 Troop NZSAS from their deployment in South Vietnam, anti-war protesters staged a demonstration to coincide with the event.

The civic parade was led by the Band of the Royal New Zealand Artillery followed by a double column of Land Rovers carrying the gunners of 161 Battery, and troopers from the NZSAS. The march was relatively uneventful until the column reached the reviewing platform outside the Auckland Town Hall.

As the parade approached the reviewing platform red paint bombs and fire crackers were thrown on the road. The demonstrators used red paint to symbolise the bloodshed in Vietnam. Several paint-covered protesters then broke free from the crowd and sat on the road in an attempt to block the parade route. Despite forcing the band to alter course the protesters only caused a momentary disruption to the parade before they were removed by police.

In a postscript to this event the commander of 161 Battery, Major John Masters was the subject of a citizen’s arrest by members of a peace group and charged with “offensive and disorderly behaviour” for parading his unit up Queen Street. The case was thrown out by Magistrate H. Y. Gilliand who described the application as “misconstrued and abusive” and not representing the general public feeling.

Images from the parade

161 Battery civic parade 161 Battery civic parade 161 Battery civic parade 161 Battery civic parade 161 Battery civic parade 161 Battery civic parade 161 Battery civic parade 161 Battery civic parade 161 Battery civic parade


Images courtesy John Miller


Submitted by Airihi on Wednesday, 10 December 2008 - 4:04pm


John Miller's sequence of photos provides a graphic glimpse of one of the most dramatic foci of pro- and anti-war feeling. In May 1971, the war was far from over, and the New Zealand government's commitment to the war was ongoing. The civic reception and military parade for the returning 161 Battery seemed, to those opposed to the war, to be designed to rally support for an increasingly unpopular venture. John Miller's photos carry all the grainy integrity of the days before Photoshop. The accompanying article does provide valuable background to the photos, but some at least of the comments accompanying the photos are out of sync with what I remember, and with the evidence provided by John's photos. I will give my own memories of the event, and then comment on the article. John's photos show the two different parts of the protest that day in Queen St. The first was the more or less official protest, complete with banners, further up Queen St from the main crowd of onlookers lining the street. The second group of demonstrators was mixed in with that main crowd of onlookers. We were trying to be inconspicuous until the time came for the 'guerrilla theatre' action we had prepared. This theatre action had been decided at a protest planning meeting up at the Auckland University Student Union the night before (or two nights before?). The idea was to show the terrible carnage that the war was inflicting on the ordinary people of Vietnam, and to contrast this with the pomp and ceremony of the civic parade. When the parade coming up Queen Street was still about a hundred yards away, the 'actors', dressed as 'Vietnamese peasants' were to move into the street and make a pile of blood-smattered corpses, to provide echoes of the horrifically familiar images from the press coverage of the war. Things didn't go according to plan. I was to give a signal. The police realised something was up and, at six foot five, I had little chance of making myself inconspicuous, once I had been spotted as a likely participant in that "something". One policeman stood right in front of me, staring straight at me, and moved wherever I moved. The parade was getting closer and closer, and I realised that I was going to be nabbed as soon as I did anything. I attempted to give the signal anyway. Before I could manage it though, the policeman grabbed me, pushed me the ground and held me immobile, using the time-honoured technique of grabbing my long hair and twisting it. The other 'performers' (including Steve Robertshawe, Thèrèse O'Connell and Anne Byrne), seeing that the parade was almost level with us, and realising that something had gone wrong with the signalling system, decided to go ahead anyway, and began to run out, virtually under the feet of the Army pipe band at the head of the parade. Instead of the planned 'theatre', our action appeared like an attempt to disrupt the parade. John Miller's photos (and TV footage which can be seen at the Auckland museum) do show clearly the theatrical aspirations of our action. You can see Thèrèse O'Connell wearing a Vietnamese peasant hat and skirt in the TV footage and Anne Burns (Byrnes?) (RIP) can also be seen wearing a peasant hat in one of John's photos. Several of us were arrested, and charged with disorderly behaviour. The police had to prove that the behaviour was likely to cause a breach of the peace. We defended the charges vigorously, arguing that a parade of armed soldiers and artillery was much more likely to cause a breach of the peace, than a theatrical demonstration. To no avail. Roger Fowler brought a court action against Major Masters for the same charge but as the article states, the charges were dismissed. People in photos: Photo 3 of John Miller's slide show: Steve Robertshawe is on the left and Anne Burns (Byrnes?) RIP is on the right, partly obscured by the middle woman's arm, but wearing a peasant hat. Comment on the article: It is good to see this attempt to describe the anti-war demonstration to complement John's photos. However, the article assumes that the main intention of the theatre action was to disrupt the parade. In fact, as I have explained above, it was an only partially successful attempt at anti-war theatre. We intended to do our portrayal of peasant victims of the war, and then leave before the parade reached us. Article: "As the parade approached the reviewing platform red paint bombs and fire crackers were thrown on the road." I have no memory of this and it certainly was not part our planned action. I wonder where the evidence for this comes from. Article: "The demonstrators used red paint to symbolise the bloodshed in Vietnam." We intended it to be a literal portrayal of Vietnamese victims (see the peasant hats) rather than a symbolic one. Article: "In a postscript to this event the commander of 161 Battery, Major John Masters was the subject of a citizen's arrest by members of a peace group and charged with 'offensive and disorderly behaviour' for parading his unit up Queen Street. The case was thrown out by Magistrate H.Y. Gilliand who described the application as 'misconstrued and abusive' and not representing the general public feeling." The article does not mention that a number of the demonstrators were convicted of the same charges and the case against Major Masters was brought as a response to those charges. He was not subject to 'a citizen's arrest' but simply responded to a court summons. I welcome this chance to add to the collective memory of this important event. Farrell Cleary. (December, 2008)

Submitted by vategal on Tuesday, 4 May 2010 - 11:36am


This parade was an experience that has haunted my father for nearly 40 years and the reason he didn't go to the 2008 welcome home parade in wellington. In my eyes my Dad's a true hero and a man worthy of wearing his medals proudly as he served three times, returning to a hostile country and still managed to be a wonderful dad to his three girls and married to mum for 45 years now while fighting the demons within. While the protesters had the freedom of speech and protest in our safe democratic country spare a thought for those who have seen what communism has done and still does to this day.

The protesters of the day in 1971 were misguided they should have been throwing their mock blood at the government and the prime minister of the time not at the brave soldiers who had seen first hand the horrors of a unpopular war and felt they had done what their forefathers had done....serve their country in conflict and returned. Why was it OK for the WWII soldiers to return from war where atrocities had occurred in Europe, Japan, the Pacific etc, as heroes yet my father and his fellow returning soldiers were treated like murderers? And left to fend for themselves for 40 years?

I totally agree. My father is in the same boat. He came home from Vietnam, after doing what the government had told him to do, and was called a murderer by misguided, inconsiderate protesters, strangers on the street, and even by his own parish priest!
Dad has been fighting P.T.S.D. ever since the war. He's had nightmares for decades, his health has suffered both mentally and physically due to his experiences over there and Agent Orange.
He didn't deserve the shit he got from those self-righteous anti-war clowns!
He was a professional soldier doing as he was told by the government of the time...who incidentally didn't officially apologise for the lack of recognition for their contribution to their country, or the effects of chemical sprays on the ever decreasing veteran population until 2008!
Protesters should protest at the source of their concern, not at the ones who had to fight!
When I see photos from this parade, the "murder" signs and anti-soldier propaganda they displayed, sickens me.
That my father, after all he went through, what he saw, the conditions he had to endure, had to come back to his own country, his home, and be abused by strangers in the street who've never experienced anything anywhere near as torturous as enduring a war and will NEVER understand the effects it has on the soldiers doing their job, saddens me more than these selfish, small minded individuals could ever conceive!
I don't use the word hate often, but I'm sorry to say, I hate those protesters, NOT for what they were protesting, but the way they went about it and who they targeted. I will never forgive them for calling my father, my hero, my best friend, a murderer.

Submitted by Noel Benefield on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 - 9:40am


Life is about timing and so is history. If the parade had been held at an earlier date it is unlikely this situation would have occurred.
On return from my first tour in 1969 I went to the local pub in uniform with my father for a ‘returned home’ drink without any problems. Whilst serving in Wellington in 1970 on ‘uniform days’ I travelled by bus from my flat without adverse comment. It wasn't until 1971 that I thought perhaps it might be better to travel in civilian clothes.
In late 1971 I was tasked to assist at NMD in Auckland and the OC asked me to pick up a couple of tickets to a rugby game. I said that would require wearing uniform but being ex-WWII and Korea he didn't understand, reminding me of the history of the uniform and what it represented.
I walked up parallel to Queens Street to avoid it but was confronted by a young woman not far from the University who was pointing me out and calling me a ‘baby killer’. I tried reasoning with her but she was beyond that so I tactically withdrew without the tickets and a mud spattered uniform from the rubbish the woman had dragged from the gutter.
After that I always carried my uniform in a cover and changed at the venue.
All because of that Pulitzer Prize article. Funny how no Pulitzer's were awarded for positive stories on the Vietnam War.

How to cite this page: ' 161 Battery civic parade in Auckland ', URL: https://vietnamwar.govt.nz/memory/161-battery-civic-parade-auckland, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 14-Jan-2014