SOS: Save Our Sons

Save Our Sons involved loosely affiliated groups all around Australia. These groups formed in response to the Australian government using the 1964 National Service Act to send young men overseas, to the war in Vietnam. The first SOS group started in Sydney in 1965. A Melbourne group also started in 1965, and called themselves Save Our Sons after the Sydney group so that, in Melbourne founder Jean McLean’s words, it would “look like we were bigger.” Across Australia, some men did join SOS – especially in Perth – but it was a predominantly female organisation, at least partly because their meetings tended to happen during on weekdays. The Anzac Portal claims that most were women “whose sons were old enough to be subject to national service” (, and this seems to be an enduring opinion for many people, perhaps because of the name. However, this was not always, or even mostly, the case; ‘our sons’ were more broadly understood to mean ‘Australian sons’, rather than the sons of individual women.

Note: “conscription” and “the draft” are used interchangeably for “the National Service Act”.

The interview excerpts you will find here were recorded by Alexandra Pierce between 2018 and 2022. Some of them were conducted in person, while others were done via Zoom or Skype. They form part of a larger project dedicated to documenting the role of Melbourne women in protesting both the National Service Act and the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1972. It is important to keep in mind that these women are recalling events from more than fifty years ago.

Oral history sources can be used in the same way as a written history source, and should be referenced appropriately. Consideration should be given to their context – both the context of the person at the time they were speaking, and at the time they are discussing. Oral history has a vital place in recording previously overlooked historical voices.

These sources are particularly designed to address key knowledge from the VCE study design for Australian History, Outcome 2: War and upheaval (1950–1992). Key skills that can be applied include:

  • ask and use a range of historical questions to explore continuity and change
  • evaluate sources for use as evidence
  • analyse the perspectives of people and how perspectives changed and/or remained the same over time
  • analyse the causes and consequences of continuity and change
  • evaluate the historical significance of changes to and continuities in Australian society
  • construct arguments about continuity and change in Australian history using sources as evidence.

Links: Jean McLean; Ceci Cairns; Joan Coxsedge; reflections from non-SOS members.

Also: Motivation; Experiences; Reflection

Sample learning activities and assessment

Further reading:

  • Mirranda Burton, Underground (Allen and Unwin, 2021). (A graphic novel that presents the stories of an Australian protester, an Australian soldier, a South Vietnamese schoolgirl, and a wombat who gets called up to join the army.)
  • Carolyn Collins, Save Our Sons: Women, Dissent and Conscription during the Vietnam War (Monash University Publishing, 1971). (A book about the role and activities of SOS members around Australia.)
  • Ripples of Wartime, Brink Productions, 2022. (Short interviews with “people impacted by the Vietnam War in a range of different ways.”)
  • Saunders, Malcolm & Ralph Summy. The Australian peace movement : a short history.  (Peace Research Centre, Australian National University, 1986.)

Suggested viewing: