Tony Ey: Stories of Service

Running time
7 min 28 sec
Place made
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Video file

The job of a Navy Clearance Diver during the Vietnam War was a vital but dangerous one. Discover Tony Ey's story as he describes his experiences in the Royal Australian Navy as a clearance diver and Senior Demolitions Instructor.

Student inquiry activities

  1. Tony Ey has had a distinguished career in the Defence Force. Plot Tony's defence career on a timeline.
  2. Many countries were involved in the Vietnam War. Make a list of these countries and note which side of the war they supported.
  3. What types of equipment are clearance divers trained to use?
  4. Explain why clearance divers in the Royal Australian Navy played a vital role in the Vietnam War.
  5. Tony talks about undertaking covert operations. What does the term 'covert' mean? What skills and personal qualities might be needed in a covert operation?
  6. What does the term 'unexploded ordnance (UXO)' mean? Why are UXOs found in the places mentioned in the video, and what threat do they pose?
  7. How do you think Tony felt when he saw the barge explode that his team were sent to explore?
  8. What did Tony's role as a Senior Demolitions Officer in the Navy involve?
  9. What was the highlight of Tony's career in the Australian Defence Force?


[music plays]

Four war medals shine beneath the words 'Stories of Service.' Photos shuffle into view. They depict an Indigenous soldier, a naval seaman, and four women in uniform. Fade to black. A series of black-and-white photographs show a smiling blond boy, young men in a classroom, a man attending to a vineyard, and a grinning young adult in a short-sleeved shirt tucked into slacks.

Narrator speaks: 'Tony Ey spent his early childhood in Adelaide and dreamed of a life at sea. He attended an agricultural high school at Urrbrae and commenced his working life as a trainee station manager on a sheep property in South Australia, but he always knew he was destined for a career in the Navy.'

Tony sits in a wicker chair inside a bright and airy seaside home. He's bald and sports a white goatee. His blue button-up shirt's sleeves are rolled up. Behind him, a telescope points toward the water. In a black-and-white photo, 2 little boys wear sailors hats.

Tony speaks: 'I guess I, from a very young age, I grew up with this idea that I wanted to join the military and specifically the Navy. So, yeah, I think I was about 6 years old when I decided that the Navy was the only life for me.'

In a colour photo, young Tony poses in an army uniform with a weapon. A sepia photo shows an aerial view of a sprawling training base. In another series of photos, young Tony poses in a seaman uniform, in diving gear, and with an array of explosives.

Narrator speaks: 'Tony realised his childhood dream on 28 August 1965 when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy, joining the new recruits at HMAS Cerberus, the Navy's training base in Victoria. Once his basic training was completed, he quickly found his calling from amongst the many roles on offer, training as a clearance diver. This combined his love of the sea with the high adrenaline work of locating, defusing and often blowing up explosives.'

Tony speaks: 'Clearance divers are the full-time divers in the Navy. Clearance divers probably go through the most intensive training. They teach us to dive to quite deep depths on all forms of diving equipment from self-contained scuba-type gear to surface-supplied air to oxygen, pure oxygen rebreathers to mixed gas sets. We're also specialists in explosive demolitions - blow up anything we can. We specialise in attacking foreign ships, attaching limpet charges, limpet mines, with the idea to sink them. We're trained in covert, behind-enemy-lines operations, and, in recent years, the clearance divers have become very, very involved in counterterrorist actions.'

A colour Navy patch reads 'Clearance Diving Team 3. R.A.N. United and undaunted.' An embroidered crown tops the patch. Soldiers in berets pose in photos. A photo shows personnel aboard a ship bearing the United States flag.

Narrator speaks: 'Clearance divers played a vital role during the Vietnam War in combating the threats to ships which transported essential military supplies and personnel along Vietnam's rivers.'

A map details the locations of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Narrator speaks: 'The Vietnam War was a conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia which lasted from November 1955 until the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.'

Text: 'In archival footage', helicopters fly low over a lush landscape before landing. Soldiers laden with large backpacks run. Armed soldiers patrol a banana plantation.

Narrator speaks: 'Australia joined the Vietnam War in 1962 and fought with United States forces on the side of the South Vietnamese against the North Vietnamese forces. The latter were referred to as Viet Cong, or Vietnamese Communists. While it was a war largely fought on land, the Royal Australian Navy played an important role transporting troops, providing naval gunfire against ground targets, and through their clearance divers.'

Archival footage shows men pulling ropes on a dinghy, a man communicating over a radio, and a chopper hovering low over soldiers' heads.

Narrator speaks: 'Clearance Diving Team 3, CDT3, was formed in 1966 and was deployed to South Vietnam to assist the US forces on rotation. Tony Ey was part of CDT3 stationed at Da Nang Harbour in 1970 and 1971.'

A ship emblazoned with the numbers '504' is docked onshore. Cargo doors at its bow stand wide open. A truck and trailer are parked in front of the ship. In archival footage, a shirtless diver in surfaces. He holds onto a thick anchor chain.

Tony speaks: 'When the team was in Vietnam, we only had 6-man teams and only one team there at any time. We reported to the Americans. Ships would come into Vietnam with stores and ammunition and it was a great target for the Viet Cong. They'd love to sink these ships and they'd swim out and put mines on them. So, that was our primary role, was to protect the shipping, and then it developed into all surface-related bomb disposal or explosive ordnance disposal, as we say. And the Americans, they considered us to be the answer to pretty much all these small problems that they couldn't deal with because their people didn't have quite the training that we had - the extensive training. So, we were being called out to do all sorts of operations - everything from, you know, barges being overturned, barges blowing up, booby traps out in the jungle, unexploded ordnance they'd find.'

Tony leafs through a coffee-table book featuring wartime photos.

Tony speaks: 'I have many memories of Vietnam, of course - many good, many bad. We'd been in Vietnam for a week, less than a week. We had a call on the radio that an ammunition barge which had broken adrift from its anchorage during a very fierce storm when we arrived was on fire on the beach in Da Nang, and 'cause then no-one knows what to do.It's an ammunition barge and there's fire. The fire can lead to producing enough heat to detonate explosives. Three of us jumped in the truck to drive down there. I had an idea where it was, the wharf, but I took some wrong turns, so we got down to the boat and I reckon that delayed us two, three minutes, perhaps. Anyway, I jumped in the boat, an American fast boat. We could see the ammunition barge out there and there's a very intense fire, and, you know, we're thinking, 'What are we doing here?' We had to go out and try and put that fire out because there was about 170 tonnes of high explosives on the barge right next to the village. And then boom! Whole pallets of whether they were mortars or rockets or bombs were being thrown out. You could see them hurtling through the air. So, we went out after it settled down. There was very little of the barge left - just the wheelhouse remaining. Half the village was flattened. But, yeah, it wasn't until later it dawns on you that if I hadn't got lost, we would've been on the barge, there's no doubt whatsoever.'

In a black-and-white photo, Tony wears a full, greying beard. He stands between two smiling men. All are in uniform.

Narrator speaks: 'Following his service in Vietnam, Tony continued to work in the Navy.'

Tony speaks: 'After I came back from Vietnam, I got promoted a few years after, and I posted for diving instruction, and I was the senior demolitions instructor in the Navy. I had to teach the young clearance divers how to use explosives properly, safely, and demolish things, how to destroy things with explosives. I thoroughly enjoyed that. I did that for 12 months. Many parts of the Pacific region, such as the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Palau, are littered with dangerous unexploded ordnance - UXOs - left behind after the Second World War. This continues to harm people who encounter these remains while going about their daily lives.'

A map shows the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and Palau to the north of Australia. In a photo, a vast column of thick black smoke plumes high into the sky. A dirt road leads to the explosion site. Verdant hills rise in the background.

Tony speaks: 'We used to do things like go to New Guinea, blow up World War Two ordnance, go to the Solomon Islands. There's so much remaining from the Second World War there. Probably the highlight of my career, apart from Vietnam, was I was posted to the US Navy for 3 years. It's an incredible life. I would not necessarily have put up or spent 20 years just in the regular Navy, but clearance diving's unique. I think spending 20 years in the Navy, and especially as a clearance diver, was a wonderful experience, and I don't regret a second of it.'

In a colour photo, an older Tony smiles alongside two men. Medals adorn his blue suit jacket. On a black-and-white image of a diver are the words 'Clearance Diver - The Life and Times of a Navy Frogman.' Fade to black. The Australian coat of arms is displayed in white. Text: 'Australian Government. Department of Veterans' Affairs.'

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