On one of the walls of the 1RNZIR Band practice room at Burnham Army Camp hangs a plaque dedicated “To the Best Darn Dixieland Band in South East Asia”. The plaque was presented to members of the 1RNZIR Band by a United States Military Police unit during its tour of South Vietnam in 1969.

On 27 October 1969 a small party of nineteen musicians led by Lieutenant James (Jim) Carson left for six-day tour of South Vietnam. After a four-hour journey from Singapore the band landed at Vung Tau. The next five days saw the band complete a hectic schedule of performances in Saigon and around Phuoc Tuy Province, the main area of operation for New Zealand troops in South Vietnam.

The first concert of the tour was held at the ‘Dust Bowl’ (Luscombe Bowl) at Nui Dat. Later that afternoon the band boarded a Chinook helicopter for FSB Discovery, an artillery firebase supported by New Zealand infantry. The trip was particularly memorable given the fact band members were issued with rifles and live ammunition prior to departure.

The band were due to fly to Bong Son to visit the Combined Services Medical Team but enemy activity in the area and fuel problems forced them to divert to an American airbase at Phu Cat before returning to Saigon. From Saigon the tour continued on to the US 93rd EVAC Hospital at Long Binh, where the New Zealanders were welcomed by the USARV Band and performed a series of numbers for patients and hospital staff.

The final day of the tour saw the band record songs for an AFVN television special and entertain staff at the Free World Military Headquarters. Later that evening members of the band performed at a roof-top party held at the United States Military Police Headquaters in the Cholon District of Saigon. The timing of the party proved fortuitous as the building was levelled by mortar fire the next day!

Reference: 

The information above is based on the memoirs of James (Jim) Carson (1934-2008), who was 1RNZIR Bandmaster on the tour to South Vietnam in 1969.

How to cite this page: 'The Best Darn Dixieland Band in South East Asia - 1RNZIR Band Tour', URL: http://www.vietnamwar.govt.nz/memory/1rnzir-band-tour, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 15-Oct-2013

Comments

The plaque in question was one of our proudest mementos and suggests the entire band was the 'BDDB in SEA'. Not exactly a fact though ! That particular night we were picked up by a small convoy of MP jeeps from our hotel and driven to the MP's hotel in Cholon - after curfew ! Quite exciting in itself ! The top floor (roof) was given over to Mess type facilities which even included a golf driving range, into a net of course. The bar was open, surprise surprise, and as things developed, as they do in such circumstances, the music was supplied by (and I can be corrected) Kevin Jarrett, Chris Schnack, Ernie Bate, Ginty, Lennie Penketh, and possibly Claude Hooper. The rest of us just had a ball ! The whole gig was organised by our kiwi MP in Saigon and (another) good friend Gary Schollum.

An exciting time as the Cholon area was regularly under VC rocket fire at that period of the war, and in fact the hotel was hit the next day. Not sure the building was "demolished" as in Jim's pocket history nor by mortar fire. Rockets were the weapon of choice at that time !

1RNZIR Band in Vietnam numbered, in fact, just eighteen musicians and Bandmaster - a total of nineteen personnel. They were: Bdsm EA (Ernie) Bate, L/Cpl GA (Graeme) Bremner, Bandmaster Lt JD (Jim) Carson, Sgt RA (Tony) Cowan, Cpl ER (Eddie) Davis, Cpl RA (Robin) Ensoll, Bdsm RJ (Robbie) Fisher, Bdsm LD (Laurie) Fitness, Bdsm JS (John) Forrest, Cpl MB (Max) Garmonsway, Bdsm TD (Terry) Garmonsway, Bdsm GMF (Gary or Griff') Griffiths, Bdsm CW (Claude) Hooper, Sgt KL (Kevin or 'Ferret') Jarrett, Cpl FI (Ian or 'Square') Levien, L/Cpl AE (Allan) McGuinness, Bdsm LG (Len) Penketh, L/Cpl CE (Chris) Schnack, and Bdsm JA (John or 'Stick') Sutton.
Accompanying the Band at various times was Padre Alvin Mushet and S/Sgt 'Dinga' Bell from Army PR in Singapore.

I am in search of one of these band members - Tony Cowan. I believe he is possibly the missing link in a family adoption. If anyone knows how I can contact Tony, or anything about his whereabouts, please let me know slcfisher75@yahoo.com. Thank you! His birth siblings are looking for him! :)