US Army 544th Cargo Helicopter Field Maintenance unit patch : Yvonne Barrett, Australian civilian entertainer South Vietnam

Accession Number REL44783
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Badge
Physical description Embroidery silk thread, Glue
Maker Unknown
Date made c.1965-1968
Conflict Vietnam, 1962-1975

Shield shaped embroided unit patch. The blue shield has a white edging with a large central design featuring a white winged yellow and red wheel. Above this design is '544th' and below is 'CHFM'. The blue material used in the badge has been pasted over a white backing material.

History / Summary

This locally made embroided unit badge was given to Yvonne Barrett by an unknown United States Army member during either her 1965 or 1968 entertainment tour of South Vietnam.

Yvonne Frances Barrett, born 1946, was an Australian performer and resident of Braybrook, Victoria. By the age of ten she was already appearing in pantomimes and TV dance shows in Melbourne, as well as stage shows such as 'The Sound Of Music' and 'Carnival'. When she spoke to the 'Australian Women's Weekly' in July 1964, she expressed a keenness to develop herself as a musical-comedy star. Barrett became a regular on TV's Go! Show and signed to Go! Records, achieving chart success in 1965-66 with singles such as 'You're the One' and 'Send her Away.'

Barrett undertook two tours of Vietnam as an entertainer. Her first tour was also the first sponsored by the Australian Government, designed to provide Christmas entertainment for Australian troops in Vietnam and Thailand. The group chosen included entertainer and celebrity Tommy Hanlon Junior, singer/guitarist Ian Turpie, and fellow Go! Show singer Pat Carroll (later to form a duo with the young Olivia Newton-John). It was inspired by a successful tour conducted at their own expense by Lucky Starr and the Rajahs.

As this was the first official tour of its type to Vietnam, the group was accompanied by liaison officer Lieutenant Colonel E D Hirst (RAA) from Army Headquarters Canberra, whose job it was to also assess the success of the venture. He delivered a 17 page report on the organisation, the selection of artists, medical and security arrangements and an assessment of the performances (see file AWM98, R66/1/3/3). The approach adopted by Hirst set the pattern for future tours by entertainers.

The group arrived in Saigon on 23 December 1965, and performed an average of two shows a day at twelve venues until 1 January. Their Christmas Show was for 1 Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, at Bien Hoa. They also gave three shows at the RAAF base at Ubon in Thailand before returning to Australia on 5 January. Hirst estimated that over 3,800 troops had attended in total. Hirst reported that the shows were 'a free flowing succession of acts which lasted for an hour and a quarter.' Hanlon's comedy act interspersed each act where, 'Barrett sang three songs in which she danced ... Carroll sang and danced ... Turpie sang numbers from the Beatles and Tommy Steele, and Hanlon and the girls sang numbers together' accompanied by Ian Turpie on guitar. After each show, the artists were photographed and 'posed with the soldiers and then visited in turn the solders', Sergeants' and Officers' Messes. This was appreciated by the troops and accepted willingly by the artists.'

During these post-performance sessions, and her subsequent tour in August 1968, Yvonne Barrett was presented with souvenirs from the servicemen she entertained and amassed quite a collection. This badge is one of those souvenirs.

Barrett continued on a successful music career until the 1980s, when she moved from Perth to Sydney. Here, in early September 1985, she met up with her enstranged husband, Hoang Van Truong, a Vietnam veteran, one evening; she was found dead in her unit the next morning. Truong was convicted of her murder.