Glen Francis (front, second from left) with troops in Vietnam between September 1969 and March 1970.
Glen Francis (front, second from left) with troops in Vietnam between September 1969 and March 1970. Contributed

Meet Gympie sisters who wowed Vietnam troops 50 years ago

A GYMPIE region Vietnam veteran who gained a medal for logistics and support, this week celebrated the 50th anniversary of when she and her sister landed in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

Here is her story:


Far right Glen and Narelle are the Francis Sisters, taking part in the Something Special Show with their band and dancer Debbie Smith (red bikini).
Far right Glen and Narelle are the Francis Sisters, taking part in the Something Special Show with their band and dancer Debbie Smith (red bikini). Contributed

September 12 marks the 50 year anniversary of the day we landed in Saigon and rocked our way through mud, sweat and tears.

In July 1969, I was lucky enough to have a rostered day off from work and was able to sit back and watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.

Little did I know that a few month's later I would be standing a few yards from him as he walked on stage at Camp Eagle in South Vietnam, a guest on the Bob Hope Show.

To begin the story, I have to rewind my journey.

My love for music started after hearing our neighbours having sing-a-longs.

I could hear this music very clear and as a child would go up on the high ridge and listen.

This was Joan and her brother Vic Johnson, sometimes with the Steele Brothers.


Glenice "Glen” Francis shares her memories from being a singer for troops stationed in Vietnam on the 50th anniversary of her deployment. Donna Jones

Thank you Joan for inspiring me to perform your kind of music.

I saved up for my first guitar and had a few quick lessons with Eric Tutin.

Soon after I was asked to do a few songs on the Harmony Ranch Show on 4GY, Les Weller being the announcer at the time.

I was then asked to be a part of a large concert, held in the hall where Drakes now stands in Reef St, Gympie.

This was in 1959.

Around this time, the sound of rock and roll was the music of that era, and even though the words did not make sense to me, the beat and sound and new dances had some of us following the new craze.

A lot of parents did not like it.


Narelle Francis, one half of the Francis Sisters with sister Glenice
Narelle Francis, one half of the Francis Sisters with sister Glenice "Glen", sings to an admirer in Vietnam. Contributed

Our fashion was loud and we hung around in groups.

The bodgie and widgie scene was born.

l decided that there was more in Brisbane, music wise, for me to get into.

I got a job at a hospital and shortly after I entered a talent quest on Show Boat (on the Brisbane River) and won it.

Sadly, a person I shared a dorm with stole my winnings.

I warned the other three girls that someone was going to be wearing a fat lip if I ever found out the identity of the thief.

One of my friends knew members of a band in The Valley (at the Wickham Hotel) and it was here that I started to sing regularly with them and play the electric guitar.

It was here I gained a lot of experience.


Members of the band load their equipment into a Chinook helicopter.
Members of the band load their equipment into a Chinook helicopter. Contributed

Rock and roll was the sound of the time.

I remember doing a spot at an R&R dance at Nundah, a Chuck Berry hit (Johnny be Good).

Those early days were some of my best.

In 1967, I started working at another hospital, and in 1968 my sister came to Brisbane for work.

We heard an announcement on the radio to come along to the Modern Country Music Association in the Valley, which we did and joined the club.

This was the start of many things - a part of a large concert run by Bernard King and another big concert at the opening of the Toombul Shopping Centre (where Reg Lindsay was guest artist).


Glen Francis (front with guitar) performing in 1997 at the Kedron Wavell Services Club.
Glen Francis (front with guitar) performing in 1997 at the Kedron Wavell Services Club. Contributed

Prior to this Narelle had bought us a new guitar each and said we needed to get ourselves some full-time work.

We had two managers who booked us all over town and up as far as Warwick.

Our main spot was The Treasury Hotel with the Ray Goldy Band.

Another band we were part of was The Ranchmen.

By now we had gone full circle and country and western music was back in to some degree.

One night at a concert a talent scout from Sydney was in the audience looking for a sister act to be part of a group she was getting together to send to Vietnam.

SS Enterprises was owned and run by Shirley Simmons.


Glen Francis's view of Bob Hope (left) and Neil Armstrong at Camp Eagle Christmas 1969.
Glen Francis's view of Bob Hope (left) and Neil Armstrong at Camp Eagle Christmas 1969. Contributed

She was the first female entertainer to go to Vietnam in the early '60s, long before the government started sending shows over to the troops.

We signed up, said our goodbyes to the MCMA and did our last gig at the Capalaba Hotel.

It was agony for me as my arm was swollen from a smallpox injection - one of seven different shots we had to have before we could enter the country.

We left Brisbane for Sydney and met the band, El Jaze and the other members and spent three weeks rehearsing.

We did a show at the Bronte RSL, a big crowd as a test run, before we left Australia to spend the next six months in South Vietnam.


Glen Francis in one of the Francis Sister's performance costumes.
Glen Francis in one of the Francis Sister's performance costumes. Contributed

Shirley had given us plenty of lectures and last minute briefings on what we were going to see.

We left Sydney, stayed overnight at Manilla and left for Saigon the next day.

Most of us had never been in a plane and the weather was very rough and I thought we would not make it.


lt still didn't register to me what we were going into until we crossed the coastline and I could look down and see very large holes and craters all over the place and trees stripped of their leaves.

Arriving at Tan Son Nhut Airport (Saigon) on September 12, 1969 was unreal.

The noise, heat and language problems are a story on their own.

We had arranged to meet our brother there.

He had got a ride on a chopper from Nui Dat where he was with 3rd Cavalry Regiment.

It was still not in my head where we were and I wondered why he was wearing a shoulder holster.

After getting all our band gear and clearances, we all were crammed into a mini van and driven to our downtown hotel.


Glen Francis (centre) was the winner of a Queensland competition in 1997.
Glen Francis (centre) was the winner of a Queensland competition in 1997. Contributed

There were no road rules and the honking of car horns was insane.

Without explaining, I know all other personnel, veterans and civilians will know what we saw in Saigon.

We had four days of rehearsals and spent a lot of time looking for food.

The heat was bad.

Next we went for a long drive to Long Binh for an audition, to get our rating.

It was a good size crowd of US troops.

May I add here that all shows for the US were paid and all the shows for the Australian troops were free.

On September 18, we flew to Da Nang and rode in the cockpit with the pilots.

We were driven to our villa, where we lived for a few weeks, until our sister show returned to Australia and then we were moved into a better villa.

It had a very high fence around it and no glass in the windows as incoming rockets had shattered them.

We had drinking water brought in from the bases by jerry cans and food was hard to get because were not allowed to use MPC (military payment certificate) money, only Vietnamese money.

There were giant rats which ran around the villa at night.

They chewed up one of my dresses.

We had our shots for plague.

Our maid washed our clothes on the cement floor with a brush.

Life was not easy.

We did two or three shows a day and were usually picked up by a big truck.

There was a driver and usually two others riding shotgun.

If we were going into a dangerous area we had a bigger escort.

We did shows in all weather, driving through mud like you've never seen, flying in choppers, (Chinooks to fire bases high up on tops of mountains in the jungle) and also in C130 and C123 planes.

We had a notice board where we kept track of all our shows.

We were flying as far south as Nha Trang and north to Quong Tri and Hue City.

Sometimes we couldn't get out, because of bad weather or enemy close by.

Have you ever sat in a C123 plane with a rain coat on?

It happened because it was leaking so badly.

We had a few bad experiences in planes and choppers; being fired at on our way home or going to bases.

We did a show in the same spot where Australian singer Cathy Wayne/Warnes was shot and killed on stage, just out of Danang.

They had pulled the club down and built a new one when we were there.

Christmas 1969, we were in the area doing shows at Camp Eagle, when Bob Hope did his Show.

There were thousands there.

I was able to get up close to his massive stage and see Neil Armstrong, Connie Stevens and Bob himself and got some good photos.

After a few shows, we realised we had to change song choices.

The African American troops wanted Soul Music and when we went to some bases, they were southerners and they wanted country and western.

The stages built for the shows were slap up buildings, being three walls and a stage and a canvas top.

Sometimes we were down in a bunker where they had clubs.

I recall one show we did was on table tops pushed together.

The majority of the troops were well behaved.

They went all out to welcome us.

Other places were wild and we had to be escorted on and off stage and sometimes to our transport.

We encountered some troops trying to break into our hootchs (barracks/military accommodation) after a show and another show we found one hiding in the shower.

The biggest crowd we had was nearly 2000 in the audience on December 3, 1969.

It was a two hour drive in an open truck to Bong Song.

I was very scared and waiting for an ambush.

We stayed the night at LZ (landing zone) English.

Halfway through the show we were stopped as troops were called away to help a unit being overrun by Viet Cong just down the road.

One night we were coming home late under escort around the perimeter road of Da Nang Airport.

I was in a Jeep up front with the driver and our bass player.

When a shot rang out, the driver took off at high speed.

On arriving home, he inspected the Jeep, which had a canvas roof and in the roof was a bullet hole.

In Da Nang, not far from the villa, was Australia House.

Here were men attached to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam.

It was always good to get home and go there to relax and have a good time and to hear an Aussie voice.

They usually had US visitors coming around to see what entertainers were there and try to get XXXX beer.

We did many shows around China Beach.

I realised mail coming from home was going to take a long while to reach us so we used an address of US Navy man, Don, we'd met.

We were able to get mail much quicker.

After 50 years, we still keep in touch.

After six months we started to fall into the way of life there.

Living with the Vietnamese people we started to learn some language.

We got on pretty well with them. We always knew while we were living with them, there was a number of Viet Cong within the compound.

Friend by day, enemy at night.

Our time there and the stories are too long to put down here.

We arrived back in Sydney on March 13, 1970, and finally got home to our parents.

We were happy to get home alive but at first it was hard for me to settle down.

My sleep pattern had changed and my vocals were pretty worn out.

I swore I didn't want to see another stage because we worked by night and sleep was in the day.

When we did get a day off and hoped for a good night sleep, it usually was broken by incoming rockets.

People asked me, why did we go to Vietnam?

For us it was to give some entertainment to all the troops and to boost morale.

We went to some hospitals just to visit and the boys laying in their beds couldn't believe it when we gave our time for a chat.

We saw many soldiers suffer badly there.

Many took to drugs.

When talking to them, they would just start crying or they were going home to broken homes or missing limbs.

There was a lot of trauma there.

This is one part of our lives we will never forget.

It was an honour to be awarded with a Vietnam Logistics and Support Medal on our return, from the government.

We Aussie entertainers were invited to march in the home coming march in Sydney in 1986, our drummer and myself up the front with our flag.

I returned to my place of work with my job waiting for me.

Narelle had left for Mt Isa.

While up there she ran into an entertainer we had met in Da Nang (Andy King) and was invited to do a few numbers on his show.

Meanwhile in Brisbane, trying to settle down it took nearly 12 months to find myself.

People were always asking me about the war and I stopped talking about it, as I don't think they believed me when I told them what I saw.

In time I found myself back singing again, but there was something missing and I gave it away.

In the early '90s I met a fellow worker who was doing some gigs around Brisbane.

She asked me to come to Northern Suburbs Country Music Club, so I joined.

Soon we were going to a lot of festivals all over Brisbane.

I entered into a few competitions and won some nice awards.

The finals were always held at Kedron Wavell Services Club.

In 1997, I found myself in the Golden Oldies Section, for Queensland. A man's name was announced winner.

Not long after I was called to the office to be told that a mistake was made and I had won that section.

After it all, I knew I felt more enjoyment at hotel gigs - competition was not my thing and gave it away once again.

We have been retired from that part of life for a long time.

Recently a well known Bob asked if we could do a few numbers at the Gympie Bowls Club.

Since then lots of visits to hospital have restricted me from doing what I loved doing since I was 14 years old.

During our journey, we met many top TV artists and many years ago we did an interview for a documentary, Entertaining Vietnam.

We were invited to a big event in Brisbane some time ago, which was organised by Navy personnel.

Here we met Don Morrison, who was the drummer in band Xanadu.

Don had written a book My Rock & Roll War.

A lot of his story we could relate to, very much, as we all had been to the same venues in Vietnam.

Don's band played for a concert, Entertainers Reunion at New Farm one year.

The stage set was an eye opener.

Very dim lights came on, then the sound effects of choppers and firing almost had us diving under the tables.

It was moving and made the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

The song was We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.

I would also like to thank Rodney Nott for adding us in his book, The Long Haul.

We have also been invited to take part in a few Remembrance Day marches in Sydney, Canberra and Gosford, to name a few.

It is always a moving day.

Seeing lots of the war in Vietnam, our support and thoughts will always be with the vets.

- Glen Francis of the Francis Sisters

Gympie Times

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