‘Get what you can, when you can, wherever you can'. This was the brief given to Noel Bell prior to his deployment to South Vietnam as a photographer for the New Zealand Army.
Noel Bell went to South Vietnam in November 1968 as a Public Relations NCO attached to HQ V Force in Saigon. Tasked with photographing New Zealand military and civilian personnel serving in South Vietnam he spent the next twelve months capturing their daily activities.
Using helicopters and airplanes to move around Bell focused his efforts on the main New Zealand areas of operation. He accompanied New Zealand infantry companies (Whiskey 2, Victor 3 and Victor 4) and 161 Battery RNZA on operational patrols throughout Phuoc Tuy province; visited the 1st New Zealand Service Medical Team at Bong Son and New Zealand Civilian Surgical Team at Qui Nhon; and covered the work of New Zealanders working within the Red Cross and Save the Children organisations.
Closer to Saigon he was involved in a project to construct a playground and schoolroom at the Binh Loi Orphanage. The project was initiated by members of HQ V Force - materials and equipment were scrounged from various aid organisations and the work carried out on the weekends by HQ V Force staff, local workers and the Redemptionist Order nuns who ran the orphanage.
In 1969 Bell was awarded the Vietnam Armed Forces Honour Medal (2nd class) for his dedication to combat photography and work at the Binh Loi orphanage. The award – presented by General Tran Ngoc Tam – was one of only three given to New Zealand personnel by the Republic of (South) Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Noel Bell's Vietnam photographs
Noel Bell interview, Vietnam War Oral History Project, November 2008