The Vietnam War Memorial Avenue, which exists on the northern side of the upper Martin Street and adjacent to the Coolah Hospital, was planted on the evening of the military funeral of Paul Andrew Large by members of the Coolah Sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers League. A tree was planted in memory of each of Paul’s fellow soldiers who were killed in the battle of Long Tan. The tree seedlings were Faucett Flowering Ironbarks, being a natural hybrid found growing on the outskirts of Mudgee and were selected for the Avenue for they flowered, in a rich red colour for 6-9 months of the year.
Paul Andrew Large, of Coolah, was the son of Victor Allan and Olga Dulcie Large and grandson of Harold Percival ‘Duke’ Tritton, bushman, folk singer and shearer. He was the only boy among fiver sister, Patricia, Gloria, Lorraine, Robin and Sandra. Upon leaving school in about 1960, Paul worked in the Coolah, then the Mudgee Post Office. It was his ambition to become a top shearer, but this desire was frustrated when he, like other lads of his age, were conscripted to do two years of compulsory military training, which could involve service in the Vietnam War. He left Australia for Vietnam on his 21st birthday, the 9th of June, 1966 and ten weeks later he lay dead in a Vietnam rubber plantation, near the village of Long Tan.
He lost his life in a ferocious battle, which started when a patrolling force of 108 from the nearby Nui Dat Army base, south east of Saigon was ambushed by a vastly superior force of Viet Cong and North Vietnam group, probably totaling 2500 of the enemy. The small Australian company fought bravely against the superior number until the tide of battle turned in their favour when reinforcements from another troop company arrived. The enemy then melted away into the jungle leaving 245 of their dead.
The Australian casualties were 18 dead, with 17 from D Company, including Private Paul Large and 24 wounded. Paul’s company became the second unit in Australian military history to be awarded a United States Presidential Unit Citation. Australia’s military involvement in the Vietnam War was from August 1962 to January 1973; during which time 50,001 Australian took part and 520 lost their lives. A total of 23 lads from Coolah served in the Vietnam War.
Two commemorative plaques erected at the beginning of the Avenue. One reads:
“This Avenue was planted to perpetuate the memory of Private Paul Large, 6th RAR and formerly of Coolah and seventeen of his fellow servicemen who were killed in Vietnam on 18th August 1966”.
This plaque and the large stone on which it was affixed was provided by the Coolah Shire Council.
The second plaque, which was placed upon the same stone, bears the following inscriptions:
“These servicemen of the 6th RAR unit sacrificed their lives at the Battle of Long Tan on 18th August 1966. Pte. Richard Alfred Aldersea, Pte, Glen Alfred Drabble, Pte. Kenneth Howard Gant, Pte Ernest Francis Grant, Pte. Victor Roy Grice, Pte. James Michael Houston, L/Cpl. Jack Jewry, Pte. Paul Andrew Large, Pte. Alfred Frederick McCormick, Pte. Dennis James McCormick, Pte. Warren David Mitchell, Pte. Douglas Javing Salverton, 2/Lt. Gordon Cameron Sharp, Pte. David John Thomas, Pte. Francis Brett Topp, Pte. Maxwell Ray Wales, Pte. Colin Joseph Whiston and T/Cpl. Peter Edward Clements, unit 1 APC Squadron who died from wounds on 27th August 1966. This plaque was unveiled on 26th April 2003.”
For the unveiling ceremony family members of the deceased soldiers travelled from far and wide including Wollongong, Newcastle, Sydney and parts of Queensland. On Anzac Day, 2004, a memorial service was held at Paul’s graveside in the Anglican Cemetery at Coolah, attracting over 50 visitors many being Vietnam veterans from the Metropolitan area.
Paul was buried on the 7th September 1966 and the inscription on his headstone reads:
“In loving memory of Paul Large killed in action in Baria Vietnam 18th August 1966, forever in the hears of your proud and loving parents, sisters and brothers-in-laws and fiancee Noeline.
Coolah’s Vietnam Memorial Avenue and its initial associated plaque was the first memorial recognition, in Australia of the Battle of Long Tan. The avenue and plaque has attracted many visitors over past years, particularly from veterans, relatives and friends of soldiers who served in Vietnam. Roy Cameron, who was Shire Clerk in 1966 was responsible for originating the proposal and making the arrangements for the planting of the trees.
– by Roy Cameron, OAM