Anzac Day 2019: Vietnam War through a young Digger’s eyes

THEY are the images of war never before made public: candid snaps of young men behind enemy lines, ­captured by one of their own… raw, intimate and devastating.

These photographs, taken by Vietnam War veteran Allan Beer, himself just 20 years old when he was conscripted into national service, offer a rare behind-the-scenes look at conflict told through a young man’s eyes.

They tell of mateship and youthful optimism, of sons and brothers doing their best. These are not the elite soldiers of today.

Just barely into their adult years, a ragtag group of six men pose outside a Vietnam War camp.

They’re snapped aboard a chopper flying low, taking a break atop a roadside convoy and shirtless watching a naval ship pass by.

There are cheeky shoeshine boys sneaking a cigarette and live performances for a sea of soldiers in green.

The pictures, detailing a group of Australian troop’s moments before their first operation, today made public for the first time will be celebrated at a special exhibition at Howard Smith Wharves as part of an Anzac Day service.

The commemoration coincides with Mr Beer’s 50th anniversary of service and the collection includes photographs of the artist himself, snapped by a friend, looking every bit of his youth, crouched beside a rifle and some ammunition.

Another photo captures him as he wades through mud and water, clutching a gun, while on patrol.

The 70-year-old said that from a young age he was passionate about photography, and carried a camera in his pack that would later capture roughly 300 photos during his time in Vietnam.

“It puts me back there, (the photos) because you can write a book about something, but one photograph can explain a lot to you – more than the written word can,” he said.

“It really captures the moment, and a lot of photos accidentally capture a mood and it’s a bit of a magical thing when you take photos that do that.”

Mr Beer said that he could ­remember every moment behind each picture he captured – and that he ­particularly remembers two ­mischievous Vietnamese shoeshiners.

“These little kids, they were opportunists of course, making a living and they were cheeky little kids, I think that photograph really captured them well,” he said.

He said the photos had been sitting in a box all these years, but would be exhibited for the first time, as he believes younger people are showing a greater interest of what life was like in the Vietnam War.

“I really wish I had of taken more, but of course, there was ­always something going on; there was never a dull moment really,” he said.

“It was all a bit of an adventure; we are all pretty young and it was a bit of an unreal situation.”

Mr Beer told The Courier-Mail that he was lucky to have the opportunity to capture candid shots in a surreal environment.

“A lot of the shots depended on where I was at the time, hanging out on the side of a helicopter – a lot of people never get to experience that, so when they see the photo it is a ‘wow’ moment,” he said.

Sophie Chirgwin, The Courier-Mail April 25, 2019

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Comments

  1. Phillip Buttigieg says

    The Vietnam War was an exhilarating period in our lives, especially for us infantryman. We sometimes scrambled with our kit, clashed with the enemy, killed him, buried him, mourned lost mates who we’d dined and drank with the night before, watched an outdoor movie, wrote a letter home. All in a day’s work. All for just a $1.65 extra per day. All for Anzac! We were different.

  2. David Ellison says

    We were a diffrent breed like our for fathers, we did not have mum’s apple pie coming to us we used what we had, there was comerade ship between us and it will last to the day we die, we laught we cried, we liost our innencence,but we were rich in gaining the experence.

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