Remembering Kiwi killed in Vietnam 50 years ago

Discussion in 'Vietnam' started by Clint_NZ, Feb 9, 2018.

  1. Clint_NZ

    Clint_NZ Member

    Stuart Ellwood, with his Christmas presents

    Fifty years ago, Kiwi soldier Stuart Ellwood was killed in Vietnam as the war there entered a deadly new phase. He was just 20. Jimmy Ellingham looks back at his life and death.

    A Foxton boy at heart, Stuart Ellwood was a gentle type in the middle of a confusing, bloody conflict that left more than 3 million dead over two decades.

    On February 6, 1968, Ellwood became a casualty, one of 37 Kiwis killed in Vietnam.
    Stuart Ellwood was a month shy of his 20th birthday when he went to war.

    He was barely out of his teens and wasn't yet old enough to cast a vote or buy a drink in a New Zealand pub.

    He was allowed to fight the Viet Cong, after Keith Holyoake's National Government committed troops alongside our allies, the United States and Australia, in joining the South Vietnamese resistance to the communist push from the north.

    As the Domino Theory prescribed, the fall of Vietnam would bring communism closer to New Zealand.

    Stuart Ellwood, left, was killed in the Vietnam War on Waitangi Day, 1968.

    Sending Kiwi soldiers to the tropical Asian jungle was an unpopular move, which was widely protested. The soldiers were shunned on their return, forced into secrecy about where they'd been. Not until 2008 did they receive an official apology for their treatment.

    At the start of 1968, fighting became more fierce as the northern forces launched the Tet Offensive.

    Tet is the Vietnamese New Year and the push launched a new phase in the conflict in which thousands of soldiers and civilians would perish.

    Barry Toohill, who was with Stuart Ellwood when he died.

    Ellwood, the middle sibling of seven, was at the centre of this, but, for his family back home, life went on as normal in Foxton's summer sun.

    His sister, Ngaire Newland, recalls how that was disrupted with a knock at the door late in the evening, she thinks on February 6, with news of her brother's death.

    "My father went outside with the policeman. I clearly remember that. I remember going into the hallway when Dad came back and he just looked very broken.

    Ngaire Newland, Stuart Ellwood's sister.

    "I'll never forget that day."

    The Ellwood family home on Cook St filled with people helping out – her uncles gave her normally teetotal father Bill a drink. Mum Mary, meanwhile, was shattered, barely emerging from her room for five days.

    "It was back in the day when you didn't have technology. The only technology we had was a television, which was fairly new. I remember his photo filling the screen on the news. It gave us a really big fright."
    Stuart Ellwood, with his nephew Bob. This was taken shortly before Ellwood was sent to Vietnam.

    A split second, a stroke of luck. That's the difference between life and death sometimes in a war zone, and so it proved for Ellwood.

    He was with Barry Toohill the day he died. Toohill, 69, from Whangarei, has lived in Australia for the past 20 years, but over summer he returned to New Zealand and stopped in to Foxton to remember his old mate.

    In 1968, he and Gunner Ellwood, from the Victor 2 Company, were fighting alongside the Australian Task Force. Ellwood was a radio operator for Toohill, who would give grid references so artillery could support infantrymen.

    Stuart Ellwood on his motorbike

    The Northern Vietnamese weren't standing still and in the two-week period leading to February 6, Toohill remembers having about 30 "contacts" with them as they pushed towards Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.

    "The one Stuart got caught in, there was only two of them. They were waiting in ambush."

    In the stinking hot jungle, Toohill and Ellwood stopped for a spell. They were near Bien Hoa, 25 or so kilometres from Saigon. Ellwood rested against a tree.

    "I was standing up and I said 'I think we're going to get a contact soon'," Toohill said.

    Suddenly, the pair were under fire, bullets flying perilously close to Toohill.

    "I hit the ground. When I came up, Stuart was looking at me."

    An anti-war demonstration at Parliament in 1966.

    He'd suffered a fatal wound to the chest. Toohill was unscathed. The enemy soldiers took off.

    Toohill didn't spend much longer in the army, but he recalls how Kiwi soldiers, in particular Victor 2, did themselves proud.

    "When Stuart got killed, I didn't have too much time to think about him because there was 140 men that needed me to help them. If I didn't get my act together... There's 140 men relying on me.

    "You had to keep your faculties together. You didn't have a lot of time to think about dead mates."

    Now, Toohill says, he thinks about Ellwood every day.

    Ellwood was sent to Vietnam when Newland was 16. He'd lived in Foxton most of his life, apart from a couple of years in Central Hawke's Bay as a teenager, and for his army training.

    He was an easygoing young man, into fishing, swimming and deer stalking, a gentle person who Newland says you wouldn't pick to join the army. But he did, in August 1966.

    "He was at Waiouru and of course [going to Vietnam] is their job. That's what they do," she says.

    "He did say to me that there was a real threat and that he'd rather fight in Vietnam than fight in New Zealand."

    On September 19, 1967, Ellwood left New Zealand, exactly a month before his 20th birthday.

    "He was my big brother then. Now, when I look back, I think 'he was just a kid'."

    The pair wrote to each other. Ellwood would say where he was, what he was doing and the sights he'd seen. There were also questions about home.

    "He went on leave, I think to Manila at one stage, and he would chat about when he gets home and his 21st and all that sort of stuff.

    "I sent him a parcel for Christmas and one of the things I sent was a Lilo, so he wouldn't have to sleep on the ground."

    Newland, who had just left school and was working at the Foxton Borough Council, made an effort to learn about the conflict, too.

    "After he went to Vietnam, I contacted the US Embassy in Wellington and asked for information and they sent me lots of information booklets and stuff like that."

    That wouldn't prepare Ellwood's family for the shock of losing him.

    His body returned to New Zealand in early March and he was given a full military funeral in Foxton.

    There was a guard of honour outside the Anglican church.

    As Ellwood's casket was driven through the town, shopkeepers went outside to show their respect. Others stopped what they were doing and faced the procession.

    "The police came out and stood on the footpath and saluted as he went past. It was all pretty big, really, for little old Foxton in those days," Newland says.

    The Evening Standard reported Ellwood's coffin heading to the town's cemetery on a gun carriage, followed by a procession of cars almost half a mile long.

    "Life in the township came to a virtual standstill as seven army pallbearers, representative of all units and ranks at Linton Camp, lifted the coffin and carried it inside All Saints' Church.

    "The Ellwood family followed the bearers into the church, where the service was conducted by Linton Camp chaplain, the Reverend WR Otter."

    The Ellwoods weren't sure exactly what happened to Stuart for some time. Later, on his return to New Zealand, Toohill visited and told them the details.

    After that, Newland says she got on with life, marrying later that year.

    Around the world, 1968 proved tumultuous, with the war in Vietnam raging on and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy.

    A lot's changed since then, except one thing – the Ellwood family's determination to keep Stuart's memory alive.

    This year, to mark 50 years since his death, a ceremony will be held at his grave at Foxton Cemetery at 11am on Tuesday. Then it's back to the Foxton RSA for more stories and memories. The Ellwood family extends an open invitation to both venues.

    - Stuff
    Deacs, ozzy16, Harry Ree and 4 others like this.
  2. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    Thanks for posting. Good to remember these stories.
    Clint_NZ likes this.
  3. Oldman

    Oldman Very Senior Member

    Great Post.
    Lest We Forget
    Clint_NZ and Harry Ree like this.
  4. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Clint_NZ likes this.
  5. Puttenham

    Puttenham Well-Known Member

    My Generation. We will remember.

    Rest in Peace.

    Clint_NZ likes this.

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