May 2008 was the 40th anniversary of the Battles of Coral and Balmoral in South Vietnam. These were the biggest battles that 1 ATF was involved in SVN.
Unlike the battle of Long Tan it was not all over in one day, but went on for several weeks. While Long Tan was an important battle, Coral and Balmoral had greater loss of life and more casualties on both sides.
1 ATF had been deployed as a two battalion Task Force with supporting arms. Its mission was to cut off NVA activities against Saigon in the Mini Tet offensive that started early May 1968. The battles for Coral and Balmoral involved, on different nights, four NVA regimental size attacks against separate parts of 1 ATF. In addition, there were a number of substantial encounters within the 1 ATF AO.
In recognition of this anniversary, the veterans of the Australian units involved decided to hold a series of reunions. These were supported by the Australian Government.
161 Battery and NZers serving with 12 Field Regiment were invited through the EVSA website and by word of mouth contact. Those who indicated they were going to attend eventually received an invite from the Australian PM to a reception that was held at Parliament House in Canberra.
The first reunion was held over the period 12-14 May, to celebrate the Battles of Coral. 1RAR, 3RAR, 12 Field Regiment which included 161 Battery plus many other Arms and Services attended. NZers who attended were Rod Baldwin who was GPO 161 Battery, Neil Bradley who was FO with B Coy 3 RAR and Alex Baker who was attached to 12 Field Regiment LAD. All were in good health and enjoyed themselves. There may have been other NZers there, but they were unknown to us.
The reception at Parliament House was huge. About a thousand attended, which also included a lot of people with SVN experience but were not associated with the battles. Plenty of refreshments were served, the price of which was the need to listen to political speeches. They were appropriate to the occasion.
Over the next two days a remembrance service was held at the Vietnam Memorial, a plaque commemorating 102 Field Battery (which took the brunt of the initial assault on Coral) was unveiled at the War Memorial and a ceremony held to commemorate the granting of the battle title (Coral) to 102 (Coral) Field Battery. On the last evening, a big dinner was held for all the Artillery who were involved. It was a great night to round off an enjoyable few days.
On the weekend 23-25 May, 3 RAR and supporting Arms and Services held a reunion to celebrate the first battle for Balmoral. NZers who attended were Geof Hitchings who was BC 161 Battery, Neil Bradley as FO with B Coy 3 RAR and Mac Wells who had been a sig with the A Coy 3 RAR FO Party.
The first night involved company parties at various hotels round Canberra. The second night was a battalion group dinner, which was attended by 635. The following morning there was a memorial service, once again at the Vietnam Memorial.
One of the nice things about the two reunions was the way all the NZers were treated. We were well acknowledged and remembered at both. For those who were in SVN at the time 3 RAR went home from its first tour, you will remember the special bond that existed between 3 RAR and 161 Battery. You will remember the great farewell we had at that time. Having served two tours in SVN with the Battery, I never again saw bonds between a battalion and its DS Battery so tight. There were tears in the eyes of some who we had not seen for 40yrs as the memories came pouring out. That spirit and closeness was still clearly evident.
That's what I call a good reunion.