News World Photographer recalls sights of Vietnam War
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Photographer recalls sights of Vietnam War

Troops walk through tall grass during the Vietnam War, as helicopters fly overhead.
Tim Page
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Four months short of his 21st birthday, Tim Page was sent to Vietnam. But he wasn’t a soldier, he was a photographer.

He was there for the Tet Offensive and to see the first American troops arrive in the country.

And he was there on this day 50 years ago when then Prime Minister Robert Menzies committed Australian troops to the conflict, and then when they landed in Bien Hoa just over a month later.

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Today Mr Page walks and talks with exaggerated mannerisms.

Tim Page arrived in Vietnam when he was just 20.
Tim Page arrived in Vietnam when he was just 20. Photo: ABC

His head and hands move about as he recalls the warfare he saw in Vietnam, his deep voice still tinged with his English accent.

But in Vietnam, he was just like the other men fighting in the conflict.

Mr Page got lucky with the job in Vietnam. He was travelling and was in Laos during an attempted coup.

The pictures he took received international acclaim and he was offered a job by United Press International (UPI).

“UPI said ‘hey kid would you like a job? $90 a week, go directly to Saigon’, and a week later I was on a plane to Vietnam,” he remembers.

“After five months I was fired for not going in the field enough, trashing cameras in the field and smoking dope in the office.

“I don’t know which is a crime in a war zone.”

After that Mr Page started freelancing, and three weeks later he had six pages of photos of an ambush appear in Life magazine.

He can still remember all the deadlines of the magazines and newspapers he filed to.

“It was a low key war (when I first arrived) – you didn’t see the madness that came later,” he said.

He regularly went out with both Vietnamese troops and the allies, and remembers shooting in everything from dense jungle and swamps to desert and typical rural communities.

“The average age of the media in Vietnam was about 26 … so you got on very well with the GIs, the diggers,” he said.

Soldiers cover their ears as they fire a large weapon during the Vietnam War.
Soldiers cover their ears as they fire a large weapon during the Vietnam War. Photo: Tim Page

“I was a Pom back then … and the Australians didn’t terribly like the media being with them, but they put up with me (for) the fact I was a Brit and I’d been there before they got there.

“If you see most of my other work, it’s not to do with GIs and diggers, it’s to do with the local Indigenous population basically.

“I went out a lot of times with the Vietnamese troops; I felt it was more valid.”

Viet Cong prisoners photographed by Tim Page.
Viet Cong prisoners photographed by Tim Page. Photo: Tim Page

After being wounded three times, Mr Page said he lost his nerve and went home to the UK.

He stayed another 18 months before he was injured very seriously.

“A GI in front of me stepped on a landmine… he went 50 feet in the air and lost both his legs and arms,” he said.

"I ended up calling it 'The Universal Soldier', it's an old weapon, it's a western helmet... it's actually after a very heavy fire fight with the Korean marines", Tim Page said of this photo.
“I ended up calling it ‘The Universal Soldier’, it’s an old weapon, it’s a western helmet… it’s actually after a very heavy fire fight with the Korean marines”, Tim Page said of this photo. Photo: Tim Page

“I was three metres behind him and got shrapnel in my brain and my guts ripped out and was what they called DOA, dead on arrival.”

Mr Page was evacuated to the US and spent the next six years recovering, but gradually got better and started taking pictures again.

Despite his injuries, he says photographers were better off than the soldiers they so regularly worked alongside.

US Marines storm 'Red Beach Two' ten miles south of Da Nang, in south Vietnam.
US Marines storm ‘Red Beach Two’ ten miles south of Da Nang, in south Vietnam. Photo: Tim Page

“I mean a digger or GI can’t say ‘I’ve had enough of this crap, I’m pissing off home’,” he said.

“(As a photographer) you had to judge… ‘Have you got enough pictures to get a cover and five pages? How long do you stay out for?'”

ABC

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