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!
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.