Donald Barnby (Australian Army), Special Air Service Regiment

Running time
2 min 12 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Donald Barnby served with the Special Air Service Regiment in Vietnam. Like many, he found the rapid transition from the battlefield back to Australia difficult to adjust to.


The Special Air Service Regiment - the SAS, was an elite unit of the Australian Task Force.

"The main purpose of SAS was to conduct deep reconnaissance of enemy areas. To either pin point or locate areas of enemy concentration, or enemy camps, bunkers, tracks that are being used; gather intelligence…"

They patrolled in small groups, moving far slower than conventional infantry.

"Our speed of patrolling, depending on the terrain, used to vary from, I think the slowest day we ever did was about three hundred and fifty metres in a day, up to about two kilometres, but it was very, very slow. So you'd take one step, you'd look around, watch all your arcs up in the trees, down the ground, looking for possible booby traps and turn around to the guy behind you and you'd wait till he looked at you and you'd just go like that, and then you'd do your arc on the other side and then take another step, and then you'd do it all again, and that's how slow it was…

Every step was like literally going into the unknown, you didn't know what was around the next tree or around the next branch that you opened up; it was just the palpable tension – you didn't know what the hell was going to happen."

The SAS had the highest ‘kill ratio' of any unit in the force, but that meant little when Don Barnby came home.

"One day I was on patrol, the next day I was on a PAN AM fight to Australia, the next day I was back in Sydney, you know with flush toilets and hot showers and people saying: ‘What was it like son? What was it like?' Couldn't get my mind around it.

I feel proud of my service with SAS, I feel proud of my service in the army, I feel no shame at what I've done but I feel sorrow at what I've seen.

I've certainly been exposed to things that some people shouldn't have seen, you know, in your life time. It's certainly aged me."

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