REMEMBERED: David Quarrell and author Andrew Wong.
REMEMBERED: David Quarrell and author Andrew Wong. Crystal Jones

What about the Aussie veterans who fought a secret war?

A BUNDABERG documentary maker and writer are making it their mission to see the role of our service people who battled against the threat of communism properly acknowledged.

David Quarrell, whose father Norm Quarrell is a Vietnam veteran, and Andrew Wong, whose parents' families battled to escape China as it fell to communism, believe by recording and telling the untold stories of our veterans, it may help to change perceptions and stigma.

For both men, it's personal.

Andrew Wong, the son of much-loved Busy Bee Fish Bar owners Kent and Lyn Wong, thanks Australian service people whenever he meets them. Had it not been for their sacrifices, he believes there's a very real chance he'd never have been born.

"I was born in Bundaberg, but my parents were born in China and during the Second World War, when China and Australia were allies, the Japanese bombed my parents' village," he said.

"After the second world war ended everyone thought that there would be peace but, however, Russia, which was communist, rolled the tanks and the red army into Europe that was occupied by the former Nazi colonies and they also rolled their tanks into former Japanese occupied colonies.


An Australian flag is flown proudly at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul.
An Australian flag is flown proudly at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. Crystal Jones

"Luckily my grandfather was an Australian citizen and he had to get my father and his family out of China as quickly as possible before the communists took over plus the White Australia Policy was coming into effect.

The outcome was more tragic on his mother's side.

"My mother's side of the family wasn't so lucky - they were trapped in China after the Russians helped the Chinese communists take over China and turn it into a communist country," Mr Wong said.

"So a lot of my mum's relatives were executed or became political prisoners, but luckily my mum's uncle was an Australian citizen and he had to fight tooth and nail to get them out of China because life was really difficult under communism - so that's the reason why I wrote this book."

The book Mr Wong is talking about, is titled The Australians Who Fought in the Cold War: Let's Remember and Honour Them.

It's available online on Amazon, and Mr Wong is hoping at some point there will be a print edition.

"I'm really thankful for all the Australians that fought during the Cold War period," he said.

"I'm talking about Korea, the secret south Asian wars and also Vietnam - it's my gratitude to them and proceeds from the book will go towards supporting ex-servicemen plus I also want to increase public awareness about what these men did because everyone's forgotten about them."

Mr Wong said very few even know there were wars in Asia between Korea and Vietnam that Australians were sent to fight in.


A plaque at Seoul's War Memorial of Korea.
A plaque at Seoul's War Memorial of Korea. Crystal Jones

People were paranoid, Mr Wong says, and there were communist uprisings in countries such as Malaysia, Borneo and Indonesia.

"So the Americans sent in troops to suppress these communist uprisings and not many people know that Australian troops were sent... it was completely kept secret," he said.

One man Mr Wong interviewed for his book, went from wielding a shovel building roads in Borneo for military vehicles to picking up a rifle in Vietnam.

Mr Wong spoke to multiple Vietnam and Korean War veterans in compiling the untold stories - everyone from the Korean man whose father fought alongside Australians in the Korean War right through to the woman whose brother returned from Vietnam a completely different man because of severe mental stress.

"Everybody remembers World War I during Anzac Day and they remember World War II during Remembrance Day and they lay a wreath of flowers at the eternal flame for these people that died but the men who fought in Korea, the secret south east Asian wars and Vietnam, they're alive and everyone's forgotten about them and the contribution they made," Mr Wong said.

"What we're trying to say is if it wasn't for them, we could have been taken over by communism because it was a real threat."

Mr Quarrell, whose father was Mr Wong's manual arts teacher at high school, said in addition to the Asian wars being forgotten, the men who battled in them were often and shunned.

"Dad he was conscripted so he went over and fought with 6RAR they've just done a feature film - The Battle of Long Tan - so Dad went in the second tour and basically what we get out of the Vietnam war is we just talk about the Battle of Long Tan but what's happened is these guys have gone over, conscripted - they had a choice - if you don't go, you get locked up, you're a coward. If you do go, when you come home you're a baby killer and all this sort of stuff," he said.

"My Dad was quite open with conversations. There's a lot of stuff that was said to me by dad that wasn't spoken of in the history books or what was important to Dad and his mates wasn't of significant value to the media and the politicians and their story, so what I found was there were a lot of these guys who were very quiet to the point that some of them, to this day, haven't told their family - their wives and their kids - that they went to Vietnam because there was this stigma around these guys when they returned."

Every two years, the men who served with his father meet. Their 50th reunion is coming soon, but conversations are still difficult because of stigma.

Mr Quarrell says it's like a the wars were seen as a "big stuff-up" that no one wants to talk about. At the time, mental health issues weren't dealt with at all.

A third of the world's population was under communist rule at that time.

"We sent troops to Korea, South East Asia and Vietnam to stop communism and the government was happy to send them but once they came back to Australia it was a bit like 'well thank you, get lost now'," Mr Wong said.

Mr Quarrell added that on the extreme side, in some communist countries, people could be condemned for something as simple as wearing glasses.

"I think that side of the story is not told," he said.

"It's always 'we lost the war' but what was it? It was to decrease the spread of communism so if you look at today's standard was it successful?

"Well yeah because what have we got? China's opening its doors, you've really got North Korea, but Russia isn't and Cuba is opening their doors..."

But it's only through sacrifice that the world came to this point.

"One of the stories was one of these guys was a truck driver and Dad said 'what are you upset about?' and he said 'while you guys were out, I didn't just drive trucks, every time someone died I had to pack up their stuff and send it home'.

"These are the little things that they've had to carry. There are some stories that are just insane and they wouldn't have told anybody."

Many who returned from Vietnam didn't even get to march in the streets or get the keys to the city, according to Mr Wong.

"People were sitting in their living rooms and watching all these atrocities and death going on and when they came back they were labelled baby bashers and killers in uniform and all these things," he said.

"They went there because they were trying to stop communism and keep Australia free."

The pair feel that recognition and financial assistance were not a priority.

"You gave them a gun and said to them: 'go fight for us'," Mr Wong said.

Mr Quarell said many veterans feel such a deep sense of guilt that they won't even accept a pension.

They want people to appreciate these veterans while they're alive. To stop and thank them. To call for more support for the ones who made it home - not everyone did.

"Injuries and death in training is huge," Mr Quarrell said.

"Dad's first day of training, a man had a heart attack and died right near him.

"And on the very last day of their mission there's a helicopter sitting there to take them out so it's only 100 yards away and they're walking back and the guy next to him walked around a fallen tree and he stood over a landmine. Dead.

"So, on the very first day and the very last day, the guy next to him died."