Cross of Long Tan secretly returned to Australia

A relic of the infamous and bloody battle of Long Tan in 1966 has been returned to Australia in a secret diplomatic exchange.

500
War Memorial Cross Long Tan
The Cross of Long Tan, a relic of the Vietnam War, has been returned to Australia and is now displayed in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Photo: Katacarix, Bigstock

The Cross of Long Tan, a relic of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War is now being displayed in the Australian War Memorial. It was returned to Australia after standing at the site of the Battle of Long Tan for nearly 50 years.

The cross was set up in the War Memorial during the night and its return to Australia was kept a secret affair for weeks.

The cross was collected by the War Memorial early in November at Sydney Airport. The cross was returned to Australian shores after a decision by the Vietnam Government leading up the to the APEC conference last month.

In the lead up to the APEC conference, a Vietnamese official communicated with the Australian embassy in Hanoi, asking if Australia would want the return of the cross. The sensitivities around the item required any transport of it to be done quickly and quietly.

As the cross is one of only two tributes to foreign forces allowed in Vietnam, it has been considered a great honour for the Vietnamese Government to offer its return to Australia.

The cross was then kept in storage until Tuesday evening when it was placed on display in the Reg Saunders gallery at the War Memorial. Brendan Nelson, director of the Australia War Memorial, stated that he was proud staff managed to keep the return of the cross a secret.

The cross was set up in 1969 by Australian soldiers at the site of the bloody 1966 Battle of Long Tan in which 18 Australians were killed. It has been noted as the most costly battle for Australia during the Vietnam War.

The return of the cross has occurred after the cancellation by Vietnamese authorities of official commemorations at the battle site in 2016, its 50th anniversary. The controversial decision by Vietnamese authorities is said to have played a part in the cross now being returned.

As Vietnam is sensitive about implying there were any foreign victories on their soil, many believe that the return of the cross to Australia was a reasonable compromise.

Nelson said that the Vietnamese Government had managed to recognise the emotional and historic significance of the cross for Australians. He went on to say that the cross was symbolic of Australian bravery, sacrifice and of the families who supported the troops.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull stated that he thought the return of the cross showed a “great act of generosity” from the Vietnamese Government. Turnbull is said to have thanked his Vietnamese counterpart in a private meeting on the sidelines of the APEC conference.

The return of the cross is a symbolic exchange between Australia and Vietnam that strengthens their new strategic partnership following APEC.