Four men at airport
Qantas bag and contents showing medical equipment

James Villiers and team departing Australia for Vietnam with QANTAS bag containing medical equipment (Villiers on far right) , 1963
Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History

QANTAS Bag and contents on display – Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History


Dr James Villiers flew to Vietnam as part of a team providing critical medical services to the local population. They would also train local staff at Long Xuyen hospital. He carried an over-stuffed bag onto the plane with him and checked-in a curious amount of luggage.

Facilities at Long Xuyen were inadequate and the anaesthetic equipment unsuitable. Villiers produced an EMO vaporiser from his check-in luggage and a breathing circuit emerged from his carry-on.

Infectious diseases, chronic conditions and a great deal of war trauma arrived through the door daily. Bullets, grenades and mines took their toll on civilians and military.

The New Zealand civilian surgical team encountered a number of injured Viet Cong handcuffed to beds. Surgeon, Michael Shackleton, ordered them uncuffed. With broken legs they were unlikely to escape. The humane treatment of Viet Cong helped the hospital stave off attacks and decreased the risk of doctors being kidnapped; a clever strategy soon adopted by others.

Hospital ward showing people on beds and floor
Recover Room showing medical staff and patients

Typical Ward Scene, Long Xuyen, 1963
Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History

Recovery room, Long Xuyen, 1963
Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History

Plane cargo hold loading medical vehicle
Exterior of Royal Australian Air Force base, Yung Tau

A group of Australian soldiers and airmen gather at the rear of a RAAF Hercules aircraft as an unidentified patient who has arrived from Saigon, is transferred from an ambulance. The Hercules is preparing to fly back to Australia. Vung Tau Special Zone, Vung Tau. 1966. Photographer: Gerald Wallace Westbury. Australian War Memorial.

Australian Air Force Base, Vung Tua, Vietnam – Max Lyon c1971


Max Lyon was a RAAF Medical Officer stationed at Richmond in NSW. A Hercules C130E Medevac Flight would arrive regularly with wounded or sick Australian servicemen from Vietnam.

“I was amazed and aghast at the number of cases and the extent of their injuries. It was so much more confronting than the worst of nights in a busy city A and E.”

The C130 was noisy, rendering a stethoscope useless. No monitoring was available except for basic clinical signs. The pulse oximeter was still years in the future.


“Many of the patients were walking wounded but some had more serious wounds or illness needing medical personnel to be on the flight. If a patient needed mechanical ventilation a Medical Officer with capabilities to manage was needed.”

The Bird Mk 7 was used for ventilation during Aeromedical Evacuations.

Lyon returned to St George Hospital, became a Fellow in 1975, and was awarded the Cecil Gray Prize.

Medical equipment
Close up of Gray Prize Medal

Bird Mk 7, adapted for anaesthesia – Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History

Cecil Gray medal – Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History

Dr Newson administering anaesthetic
Medical Equipment - EMO vaporiser

Dr AJ Newson administering anaesthetic, Vietnam, c1963
Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History



EMO vaporiser – Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History




In 1967, a New Zealand medical team commenced work in Bong Son, to increase medical aid to the people in Bin Dinh province, South Vietnam. Anthony Newson was part of that team.

The operating room included two operating tables, one used for operations using local anaesthesia. There was no operating light and most windows lacked glass.

Anaesthetic equipment comprised two EMO vaporisers, one of which was non-functional, a small number of adult-sized endotracheal tubes and oropharyngeal tubes.

Everything was recycled.

Irregular supplies of time expired blood were donated from an American military facility. These were used with life-saving results.

The team was withdrawn from Vietnam in December 1971.

“War related injuries and road trauma were frequent and whilst time has erased memory of many, it is the dreadful injuries suffered by children from accidentally triggering Claymore mines and being peppered by high velocity ball bearings that remains a dreadful reminder that warfare is not exclusive to adults.”

Three injured girls
Casualties being treated on hospital floor

Child victims of war, Long Xuyen, 1963
Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History



Casualties outside theatre, Long Xuyen, 1963
Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History