Book review: Operation Babylift

In the dying days of the Vietnam War, 600 orphaned children needed to be evacuated

Book Reviews
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Read how two former Adelaide nuns rallied support to evacuate orphans from South Vietnam.

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HUNDREDS of orphaned babies were evacuated from South Vietnam in the dying days of the Vietnam War thanks to two brave Australian nurses.

In late March 1975 as the Vietnam War raged, Australian voluntary aid worker Rosemary Taylor approached the Australian Embassy seeking assistance to fly 600 orphans out of Saigon to safety.

Rosemary and Margaret Moses, both former nuns from Adelaide, had spent eight years in Vietnam during the war, building up a complex of nurseries to house war orphans and street waifs. The organisation that built up around the women facilitated international adoptions for the children.

As North Vietnamese forces closed in on their nurseries, the pair needed a plan to evacuate the children who remained.

The new book Operation Babylift, by Ian W Shaw, details the last month of the war from the perspective of the orphans it created, and shows how a small group of determined women refused to play political games as they tried to remake the lives of a forgotten generation one child at a time.

It is based on extensive archival and historical research as well as interviews of some of those directly involved in the events.

In his epilogue, Shaw notes that while the exact number of children airlifted out of Saigon in those final weeks is not known, it is known that about 2900 children were flown to North America "primarily Vietnamese orphans but Cambodian children destined for adoptive families in the United States and Canada".

About 150 were flown to the UK and possibly the same number to other European nations. Australia accepted 266 orphans.

As Operation Babylift unfolded, Shaw writes that it "exposed some villains but also threw up a lot of heroes" ... like US Army chaplain Father Joe Turner, Sister Susan McDonald, who travelled back to the US with orphans on the last Babylift flight, and Australian Elain Moir, dubbed "The Waif Smuggler" by the Melbourne press.

It is an amazing tale of tenacity and determination.

Operation Babylift, by Ian W Shaw, Hachette Australia, RRP $32.99.

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