I Was Only 19 Lyrics, Video and Background

I Was Only 19 Lyrics Sung by Redgum

Start the Song Playing then Read the Lyrics Below this Video

Now for the Lyrics

Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing out parade at Puckapunyal
It was a long march from cadets
The sixth battalion was the next to tour and it was me who drew the card
We did Canungra and Shoalwater before we left

And Townsville lined the footpaths as we marched down to the quay
This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean
And there’s me in me slouch hat with me SLR and greens
God help me – I was only nineteen

From Vung Tau riding Chinooks to the dust at Nui Dat
I’d been in and out of choppers now for months
And we made our tents a home, V.B. and pinups on the lockers
And an Asian orange sunset through the scrub

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M.16?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me – I was only nineteen

A four week operation, when each step can mean your last one on two legs
It was a war within yourself
But you wouldn’t let your mates down ’til they had you dusted off
So you closed your eyes and thought about somethin’ else

And then someone yelled out “Contact”, and the bloke behind me swore
We hooked in there for hours, then a God almighty roar
And Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon
God help me – he was goin’ home in June

And I can still see Frankie, drinkin’ tinnies in the Grand Hotel
On a thirty-six hour rec. leave in Vung Tau
And I can still hear Frankie, lying screaming in the jungle
‘Til the morphine came and killed the bloody row

And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears
And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn’t even feel
God help me, I was only 19

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
Any why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me – I was only 19

Interesting Facts About I Was Only 19 Lyrics and Redgum

“Only Nineteen”, “I Was Only Nineteen” or “A Walk in the Light Green” is the most widely recognised song by Australian folk group Redgum. The song was released in March 1983 as a single, which hit number one on the national Kent Music Report Singles Chart for two weeks. It also stayed in the top forty of the Kent Music Report Albums Chart for four months. Royalties for the song go to the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia. It is in the Australasian Performing Right Association’s Top 30 Australian Songs of all time.

The song is a first-hand account of a typical Australian infantry regular soldiers experience in the Vietnam War, from training in Australia to first hand exposure to military operations and combat, and ultimately his return home disillusioned, psychologically scarred and possibly suffering from the effects of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange.

Redgum’s lead vocalist-guitarist, John Schumann, wrote the song based on experiences he heard from veterans – particularly Mick Storen (his brother in-law) and Frankie Hunt: “The power derives from the detail, provided by my mate and brother-in-law, Mick Storen, who was brave and trusting enough to share his story with me.” – John Schumann

For the live version, Schumann explained the title, “A Walk in the Light Green”, as referring to operational patrols in areas marked light green on topographical maps, where dark green indicated thick jungle, plenty of cover and few land mines and light green indicated thinly wooded areas, little cover and a high likelihood of land mines.


The Australian Vietnam Veterans’ “Welcome Home Parade” was held in Sydney on 3 October 1987 and was followed by a concert in The Domain where Redgum’s Schumann performed his song with veteran Frank Hunt on stage. From this parade, a desire for a War Memorial to commemorate Vietnam Veterans grew into fruition with the Memorial’s dedication in October 1992. Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial was constructed in ANZAC Parade, Canberra in 1992 and includes a “Wall of Words”: “Stele B, the northern or right-hand stele, is adorned with a series of 33 quotations fixed in stainless steel lettering.” Amongst the quotations is:

“Then someone called out “contact” and the bloke behind me swore, and we hooked in there for hours, then a god-almighty roar. Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon. God help me, he was going home in June.”

A “normal language” explanation of each quote has been included, courtesy of the late Brigadier Alf Garland:

“This is a quotation from the song ‘I was only 19’ by the Australian singing group “Red Gum”. It relates to a fire fight that had lasted for some hours when an explosion occurred. “Frankie”, one of the soldiers had kicked (tripped) a landmine. In the song he did this on the same day that the US put a man on the moon for the first time. Frankie was supposed to be returning to Australia on completion of his tour of duty in June of that year.”

At the 40th-year commemoration of the Battle of Long Tan, 18 August 2006, veterans were accompanied by Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddle at the Long Tan Cross; following the commemoration a concert was held at Vung Tàu where Schumann (and The Vagabond Crew) sang “I Was Only Nineteen.” He also introduced Long Tan veteran Storen as the source for the song.

For an SBS TV special Vietnam Nurses (2005), director Polly Watkins chose “Redgum and John Schumann’s song ‘Only Nineteen’ during the Welcome Home Parade in 1987 because it is integral to one of the nurses’ stories.” Frank Hunt provides an account of his Vietnam experiences, titled “I Was Only Nineteen”, in Gina Lennox’ book Forged by War (August 2006).

After Schumann had received letters of request from active soldiers in Afghanistan and East Timor he sought permission to visit the troops but obtained no answer. A reporter published an article on the situation, authorities gave permission for Schumann to tour East Timor in December 2009 and entertain Australian and New Zealand troops. In September-October 2011 he played for Australian troops in Afghanistan.

In 2015, Lee Kernaghan recorded the song for his album Spirit of the Anzacs. That same year, the song was added to the Sounds of Australia Registry at the National Film & Sound Archive (NFSA).

Source: Wikipedia



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