For those of us old enough to remember what National Service was, today I wanted to remind you of the tigers most famous Defence Force draftee Royce Hart who almost ended up going to Vietnam in 1969 until a high ranking Liberal’s last-minute intervention got him out of it and as a consequence Royce almost ended up in prison!
Hart had been drafted into the army that year, but continued to fly into Melbourne each weekend to play for Richmond. One of his commanding officers in Sydney informed him that he had been chosen to go to Vietnam, saying there was nothing he could do to change it.Hart, then 21, immediately called Richmond secretary Alan Schwab to inform him of what had transpired..The Tigers not one bit happy with the situation made a call to the politician – whom Hart and the tigers still refuses to name 43 years on – who was able to overturn the posting.
“I was very close to going.” Hart said. “On the last day at North Head Artillery Base they made an announcement of where you were going to be posted next. “I was told I was being posted to Townsville to do about eight weeks (of training) and then onto Vietnam.”The commanding officer said: ‘You will be in Vietnam in a couple of months and you can’t get out of it.’ “I rang up Richmond about 11 o’clock. By five to three (o’clock), they had had made enough contacts to change it.
“I can’t tell you who it was that the club contacted, but I can tell you it was a very high-up politician. “He put his nose in and said ‘(Hart) is not going to Vietnam; he’s going to Woodside (in South Australia) instead’.
Hart continued to fly to Melbourne each week after transferring to South Australia.
In the lead-up to the 1969 Grand Final against Carlton, Hart was told he was being sent on a bivouac into the bush. “I rang Richmond and told them I wasn’t going to be able to play in the Grand Final,” Hart said.
“They told me to pay someone else to take my place. “On the Thursday, a group of young recruits came in. I looked at this snotty-nosed little kid and asked him if he would be prepared to stand in my place if I gave him $100.”The muster (on Friday) was so early in the morning that it was still dark.
They would call out ‘Gunner Hart?’ and he had to say ‘Sir’ and that’s what he did. “I got on the plane, flew back to Melbourne and ended up playing in the Grand Final, which we won.
“Hart returned to South Australia and was threatened with being sent to the army prison on Holsworthy, in NSW. “I made another phone call and got transferred back to Melbourne later that afternoon,” he said.
An interesting side note was that Royce was doing National Service in South Australia in 1969 and never trained with the Tigers once that whole year but flew over to play on weekends! He would train with Glenelg the local side and became a premiership player with the Tigers in any case!