so I went to Murray Bridge Primary School. My secondary education was at St Peter’s College in Adelaide, there I belonged to the school cadets and perhaps that confirmed my interest in a military career. I should add that my father was a Gallipoli veteran from World War I and in 1937 my elder brother had gone to Duntroon [Royal Military College] as a cadet himself. So for all those reasons I applied to go to Duntroon and went there in 1947 to 1950 for four years.
Within six months of graduation I found myself in Korea in the middle of 1951. The major highlight,I tink of my year in Korea would have been the battle of Mari En Seng on the second to eighth of October 1951. One is also very conscious of Korea at the time that I’d never fought in snow before or ice or ambushed and a winter of minus thirty degrees Celsius and summers of days up to forty-five degrees
Celsius it was a bit uncommon for the Australians. The mere fact that rivers could rise nine metres over night was also something we weren’t used to. After Korea I went back to Japan, first of all to the Battle School as the Australian Company Commander and then to a staff job. In 1953, end of 1953, I came back to Australia, I had one term with National Service which was called the university intake and in
May of 1954 which that intake of two hundred university students I went with them, marched out to the Adelaide University Regiment, I was the new adjutant. I then had three wonderful years with that unit. In 1957 I was posted back to Third Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in order to go to Malaya later in the year for the Malayan emergency. In 1957 to 1957 I was with 2 RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] in Malaya. The first year I ran the command
post and the second year I was the Company Commander. I returned to Australia for a period of eight months and was attached to Army Headquarters in Adelaide. In June of 1960 I went as an exchange instructor to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for two years. Then I did courses in both the UK [United Kingdom] and the USA [United States of America] and returned to Australia in 1963. I then attended staff college for eighteen months
here in Queenscliff, Victoria. At that stage of my life I was thirty-three I recall, I had done all the normal things in infantry posting so my chances of getting back to the Royal Australian Regiment were small. I applied to go to the Pacific Island Regiment, was accepted, in fact was posted there when within three weeks, my posting was changed to the Special Air Services Regiment as it was expanding. So as a result by the end of that year we were in Perth and I started up 2 SAS [Special Air Services] Squadron
which I commanded from the end of 1964 through to August 1966. I had to train the Squadron, we went to New Guinea for a term and then we went to Borneo for seven or eight months in 1966. After that I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and went to Canberra to be the Director of army Recruiting for three years and thought I’d never get away from it because I could see Vietnam starting to slow down and in 1969 I was appointed the CO [Commanding Officer] of 4 RAR
on line to go to Vietnam. So the end of 1969 and all of 1970 we were rebuilding 4 RAR back to a full strength battalion and in 1971 I took it to Vietnam and we were 4 RAR/NZ. We were an Australian/New Zealand Anzac Battalion. The last troops of that battalion came home in March of 1972 and with that I got promoted to full Colonel and was made the
Commandant of what was then a unit called the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra. I was there for three years, got sent back to Canberra to a training staff appointment and in August of that year I was promoted to Brigadier and made the Director General of Training and Education Policy and I stayed there until the end of 1976. In 1977 I went to the Royal College of Defence Studies in London as a student, 1978 I’m back in Canberra
again for five months, the job was called the Deputy chief of Reserves where I was then promoted to Major General where I was sent to Defence for the next three years where I was responsible for Manpower and Establishments. In 1981 I returned to the Army and posted to Melbourne as the General Officer Commanding Logistic Command which was headquartered here but had units in every state of Australia. I had a strong feeling that the
family did not really want to go back to Canberra, I’m speaking for my wife and daughter, I had two sons that decided that Canberra was their place but not the rest of us, so although I’d been nominated for what would have been a perfect job in 1984 I knew (UNLCEAR) was not going to get it. So I looked around for jobs, we liked where we lived and Melbourne came up even stevens [equally] to us in appreciation. Jobs galore in Melbourne, only one job in
Adelaide and the Chairman even came across and took me to lunch at the Melbourne Club and said what a prestigious job it was and I had to say “Yes, it may well be but what a lousy salary”. So we stayed in Melbourne and have been here ever since.
ships in Port Adelaide and that was his life. My mother came from the Adelaide Hills a place called Montacute, she in fact was a school teacher and she was posted to a place called Wellington which crosses the river Murray just below Tailem Bend and that’s how my father met her in 1914. And I get the message it was love at first sight and all the rest of it and my father had
problems had convincing, not that there were any plans for marriage right then, war intervened, but he got her father’s blessing anyway before he went off to war. She stayed on as a teacher going around the countryside – this was her story she was always posted to the most outlandish places. He came back in 1919 and they were married in December of 1919. He first of all bought the general store at Meningie and we
know they did well but he was never satisfied it wasn’t quite what he wanted to do and he had a great hankering to go onto the land. Eventually in the Meningie area they subdivided some of the properties and they were allocated to servicemen and he won the ballot for one about 1924. I think it was the silliest thing he did, he gave up the general store, sold it to his brother and went on to the land. My mother, I know, wasn’t very happy about it, and anyway to cut a long story short after about two years my
father’s health wasn’t up to it so they sold that and she eventually got her way and they moved to Adelaide where they built our home and did everything else and he started working for the Shell Company. And it was from there that he went to Strathalbyn to work at the depot at Strathalbyn and from there, in 1934, he became the manager of the new depot at Murray Bridge. And they lived in Murray Bridge until 1947, the year I went to Duntroon,
and so the wheel turns. He then bought the general store at Middleton down near Victor Harbour in South Australia and became a general storekeeper again until he retired in 1959.
recall, I have very little recollection of the house we lived in, in Strathalbyn but I know we rented it and my father knew he would never be with the Shell Company in Strathalbyn for ever and ever, so I’m told purposely they did not buy in Strathalbyn. And we get to Murray Bridge, we rented a house, and I can picture the house now (UNCLEAR) Terrace – it was on the outskirts of the town, the town has doubled in population since my day. In fact I was
there a few months ago. And it took them about two years to find the house that they wanted and then they bought in Murray Bridge. I know that we had to watch our pennies, waste wasn’t a – the house that we bought had all the fruit and vegetables you can imagine. My father loved growing vegetables and it had everything that you could think of. And I had an uncle from the gardens up at Montacute, he used to come every year and prune all our
fruit trees but he also grafted – like an apple tree with five different types of apple on it, pear trees with two or three types of pear on it and we had all sorts of combinations thanks to an uncle who was a gardener. Yes, I think there was always that worry about jobs I do know that the Shell company had to downsize its staff and my father survived the downsizing in Strathalbyn. That’s why he was very
pleased to get promotion to be a manager in Murray Bridge but very good friends, working with the Shell Company in South Australia, were put out of work, lost their jobs. And that worried them, it worried my father very much, you know, the risk that he could have been the next one of course but luckily he wasn’t. I think we had to live carefully. I do recall, I don’t recall homeless people as such in Murray
Bridge but I certainly recall if you went driving anywhere you would meet a lot of people walking the roads, you know, carrying a bag or something on their back, looking for work. I don’t think we had the money to employ them but I know my mother used to feed them.
Would your mother, what sort of work would she engage in - I know generally women didn’t work?
Well after she became a school teacher, sorry, a school teacher during World War I until one year, about 1917, she was sick and tired as I understand, as I said to you they kept sending her around all these outlandish places and she finally ended up in a place called Pine Hill which had a very strong German family connections. And if I get the message right they didn’t appear to be very
loyal to our side of the war. And all her requests, after she’d done a year or two there, to be sent off to somewhere else failed so she resigned from teaching and thought she’d do the next best thing she’d like to do and that was the law. So her father got her into a law firm in Adelaide but of course then she found there was a glass ceiling, they didn’t have lady lawyers so my father saved her.
from a fate worse than death and he married her. He came home and he married her. So she never worked but she obviously was a mother and a housekeeper and but she was secretary of this and president of that. She was into the Red Cross, the mothers’ union, the church fete, on it goes, all sorts of things she was always caught up in. And in World War II of course I don’t think anybody in Murray Bridge wasn’t a member of something. Even I was an
ARP [Air Raid Precautions] member, not ARP, a plane spotter, all a bit game actually but it was fun.
They, at about the end of 1940, the force was disbanded because it was full of such brilliant people, I’m talking about the NCOs [Non Commissioned Officer] and soldiers now, because they wanted badly to fill out the AIF and almost in mass they transferred the AIF. Most of the soldiers became NCOs in the AIF units. The officers were a bit upset, very few of them were used for the AIF, they were used to build up other divisions further along the
line. So as a group they never got to the Middle East. However, he then spent all of 1940 and 1941 to about the time Japan entered the war in the Darwin area. He was then brought south and did a conversion to liaison officer between the army and the air force and he started following a new course and he became an operational staff officer and
then for 1942 to 1945 he was the liaison officer for example with the American forces doing their landings in Buna and places. He kept fighting to get back to a battalion, to get to a battalion, and eventually he found that the only way to do it was to go down a rank so he went from major back to a captain and became a company commander of the 2/3rd Battalion AIF and this really made his day.
So he spent all of 1944 doing that, 1945 he was back again in the planning for the Labuan landings and he was a major and a staff officer again. Before the landings he went to a brigade appointment and then in August, late August, just after the war was finished, he, two other majors and a brigadier were flown to Japan, to Tokyo in fact, and joined [US General Douglas] Macarthur’s Headquarters as Australian Military Mission.
year we would have been taught, really brought up and given the knowledge of what a corporal, section commander should have. In the third year and our fourth year, our third year would have probably taken us up to what a sergeant should have been doing and in our fourth year we acted as platoon commanders I’m talking about tactical training. This reflected the fact that, whereas at school you have prefects and things, within the corps of staff cadets you have lance corporals, corporals, sergeants, colour sergeants and
warrant officers so we were getting experience within our own group in day to day stuff, running parades, running messes, running sporting teams. You had to be, you had to qualify, whatever sports you liked yourself you also had to get referee tickets, umpire tickets so that you could referee and coach when you got out to your unit. But I couldn’t have refereed the last couple of
Wallaby [football] matches. I found out they’ve got four hundred, my wife kept saying, “Why did they get that penalty?” They said there’s now four hundred rules and regulations, well there only used to be one hundred at the time I did the examination as a Rugby Union referee, there’s four hundred now and I don’t know them.
And it was the first time that the Cold War, as such, had blown up to a “hot war” and all the more reason for us to get it over and done with but I don’t think they were at the forefront of my thoughts. To put it more pointedly, I probably was wondering how I would perform and even more pointedly I was suddenly going to come across a group of Australians who I hadn’t met any of them before, I wasn’t talking about members of the whole
battalion, I’m talking about I’m going to come down to, it did come down to 4 Platoon B Company of thirty men, fifteen at least had served in World War II as well as Korea, one could say they were very seasoned soldiers. Of the other fourteen they had been serving in Korea at that stage for eight to nine months, they were well seasoned and there was one other young man like me.
And he by mistake had carried his lance corporal stripe all the way from Australia to Korea, he arrived about a week after I did, he and I were the only two that had never been to war before in that platoon. And he, of course, was accelerated because he shouldn’t have had this lance corporal stripe, they normally get removed before and he would have arrived as a private but there’d been a hiccup. A wonderful platoon sergeant, a great
soldier of World War II and post-World War II and BCOF background and in the army game a new platoon commander really had to depend on his sergeant to train him, to get his real training. And on the sergeant’s side he has to hope he can mould this young officer to stop any extremes and so on too. So it was
interesting and I’m grateful for the people I inherited. In fact I think I was very lucky, they must have wondered what they’d struck. Let’s be fair by the time the end of July came all three platoons of B Company had brand new army officers as platoon commanders, all my class mates, the three of us, and a grumpy old company commander who was surly and sour.
and even though on a one-day patrol you didn’t carry much gear, if you were going out for longer than that, you know, you had a pack on and in the first kilometre or so of the river, there were no creeks running at that stage so there was no water re-supply. If you didn’t fill up your water bottle, and we only had one then, today anything from two to six is not unusual in that sort of
climate, and we still had some of these people with Middle East ideas that 1 water bottle was all that was needed. Today we’ve got the opposite approach in the Australian army, as much water as you can get hold of any carry yourself. So they were energy sapping days and particularly I recall the first patrol I did. The company commander, this old surly character, was most
insistent that I follow the route he’d drawn on the map exactly and I tried to point out to him, you know “But sir you’ve got us going uphill and downhill all the time”. I thought it would be far better to contour, I could see as much I can search as much ground but the men will be fresher. “Do as I say” you know was his answer. And that’s what we did. We went up and down, up and down. And of course I found out afterwards when I got back he’d just
sat there with a pair of binoculars and watched us the whole time. I suppose it was because I’m the new boy and he’s trying us out isn’t he?. But it did us all in physically and I did hear some of the diggers complaining about it that night as I had been myself and as they said, I couldn’t help but smile to myself when I heard them say “Oh, give him a go, poor bugger was only doing what the company commander said he had to do”.
mortars that certainly had an affect on us and we knew where they were but we didn’t know where the slit trenches were. So although we were caught on this slope running down leading back towards the river we had to reform, regather and go off another way – we were trying to find where their front lines were, by day, and we found it of course. All we wanted to do was sort of bloody their nose, we didn’t want to
have a major fight. Well that’s how I understood it - remember I’m only a junior officer amongst two hundred men. But we found them and they engaged us and we engaged them and then we slowly withdrew out having found where their FDL, Forward Defence Line was, that’s what we were searching to find. Every time we had put our Aero P Auster aircraft up to have a look of course the Chinese kept shooting
them down, holing them. In fact an Australian pilot died as a result of it. They must have hit some key part of his controls and he could not get the aircraft to go down or up. He could get it to circle but couldn’t change his elevation and the idea, eventually we learned all this afterwards, he got back to the area of the airfield
and they just had him going round and round until he ran out of fuel hoping he could glide in but unfortunately he crashed in and that was our first pilot we lost in Korea. Anyway, that’s right, we were out there searching.
war cemetery and we were sitting in the bus driving north and all the men seemed to be a bit sort of “Ugh” I said to someone “Something’s different” and eventually one character said “There are trees”. We couldn’t wait to get to the next place where we stayed for the night to talk about it to the local people and we found out that prior to World War I when the Japanese were running
South Korea they had taken all the trees, they had had all the trees cut down, I’m just trying to recall what they make out of them, they use it for industrial purposes, coals, I can’t think what it is now – anyway, they weren’t used in Japanese factories in Korea they were shipped back to Japan to be used in industries there. In the early 1960s, in the 1960s sorry, the South Korean government
decided re-forest their country and I thought it was a wonderful thing which we should promise to do here in Australia. Everybody got caught up into it, you know, that youth groups, boy scouts, girl guides, you name it, prisoners. The Army helicopters helped them to get up to the high hills to drop the seeds in, the prisoners did it the hard way they walked out and climbed and planted them so all of
South Korea is now full of trees. Come to the demarcation line, walk into North Korea, no trees in sight. So the point I’m making about the particular feature we were fighting that day, the hills were as bald as could be there wasn’t a shrub, a bit of grass but nothing else.
weapons. Then your sentries would stay on duty whilst you did your ablutions, your breakfast, you might have had your section master in to discuss the day’s activities if you hadn’t done it, normally you would probably have done that the night before. So that day you might have been up for a section patrol or a platoon patrol. You might have been up for maintenance of your defensive
works, you might have had to contribute to a wiring party to renew say the barbed wire that had been blown up the night before. The mining was done by our pioneers or engineers, we didn’t have enough knowledge within our platoons to do that but there would be work parties. It could be carting water from down the bottom of the hill to the platoon or bringing new rations or carting
rubbish out. So having cleaned all weapons, the sentries still remained in position, ablutions done, breakfast eaten, work parties would start or patrols would go out and the day would go on that day until you stood to that night for half an hour before and across dusk. Somewhere along that time that’s probably where you would have had your below group,
orders group, with your three section commanders and a platoon sergeant and discussed the patrolling, ambushing or work parties for the following day and all seven days were the same, you wouldn’t know which day was Sunday.
Probably the next thing that comes to mind is I talked about this river rising, going down to cross the river with my platoon for what was to be a fighting patrol and we had a specific target to raid, and I crossed the river, the engineers had set up lines across the river. I went across in the first boat very happily and I must admit I hadn’t been on a
river that was flowing so fast. The second boat came across very happily or, you know, successfully and so I had about ten of us on the enemy side of the river and the third boat comes across. And for reasons which we don’t know to this day they did not take them upstream far enough, you’d take the party upstream and you’d cross the river on an angle because of the speed of it. This one didn’t have that it crossed much
closer to the rope. The next thing, I had a great big bloke on the team, built like a thoroughbred of the highest order, the muscles and everything else. He tried to lift up believe it or not this cable, with the water running at thirty or forty kilometres an hour and as a result of course he tipped the whole boat over and we saw six of our blokes disappearing down this fast – those who didn’t fight it
eventually were washed up on the shore where the river turned and we went down and saved them. Those that fought it, the other half, unfortunately the three of them drowned and we found their bodies about a month later and that was a bit off-putting to say the least. My idea would have been to go on with that patrol even though I’d lost three men but we were ordered
to return so eventually we all made our way back the next day. I’m trying to think what happened after that and get everything into the right sequence. We’re into September now where the whole battalion went across and my battalion didn’t actually have any combat as such, we got shelled again but we didn’t have any hand to hand fighting. Then we went back to
reserve and then we were positioned at a lower position further down the west to a place near the Wijon crossing and that’s where we found these three blokes, their bodies anyway, caught up and snagged in the river line. And that’s where we did our prac training and preparation for the Battle of Mari En Seng and that was full of hand to hand combat for the next eight days. But that’s a -
do you want me to go on to that?
impatient, he wanted to tell us things, he wanted to tell us all about the battle, what was going to be called Operation Commando. All we wanted to tell him quite honestly was, we were very lucky, sorry we were late, but we had suddenly found ourselves in a minefield and we had to tippee toe back out again and where you I stepped and so on. The man behind me, we all stepped in the one place that’s how we got ourselves out of the minefield. So when you’re bringing a company out and suddenly
the alarm signal goes up “mines” and we started looking around and there were mines all around us. They were called butterfly mines which are dropped by aircraft that’s why they didn’t have minefield markers and fences around them, and to extract our company out of a minefield it took me half a day actually, in one piece. It did scare us that any minute something would blow up on us so we took the long way home all around it. Anyway, the company commander was there to tell us all about what was going to happen to us in a
couple of days time. He and his peers went off on reconnaissance and things. We couldn’t, it was too far away for us to see so we made up sand tables and models and things. So we started on the second of October and the battalion was trucked by an American trucking company right to the
far side of the divisional lines, divisional area responsibility, and we had to infiltrate in several kilometres. And the problem was to do it without the Chinese seeing us because they were on all the hills. And somebody came up with this bright idea - we all carried a half blanket, we didn’t have sleeping bags we carried a half blanket which used to be rolled up in the bottom of our bum pack and we put that across our packs.
Apparently it deceived them and we walked fifty – the official history says we were fifty metres apart, I don’t think we used metres I think we might have been fifty yards apart and it was like strolling on a summer’s day, going for a walk, or an autumn day, and it took us all day to get the battalion in to our various night spots where we based up for the night. One company had itself
shelled, we in B Company didn’t get anything, we were lucky, obviously we must have deceived the enemy. At three o clock the next morning, my platoon was the lead platoon for the whole battalion, we left at three o clock and I had to walk as the crow flies about three kilometres, dark, foggy, I had to navigate to a particular spot. forty-five minutes after me came the rest of the company and a half an hour after
them came a second company. All I know is that from three in the morning until eight o clock, for five hours we navigated and we dropped with us, we had a signal party who were carrying a line, so they paid the line out, the telephone line out, which our company was able to follow later that’s how they got there to. But it was pretty hard, for three kilometres,
through paddy fields and all sorts of clay, and mists coming up through the river - it was as black as the ace of spades, we had white markings on our backs, I hung on to your bayonet, you hung on to mine, it was the blind leading the blind with maps and pacing ourselves and compasses and we got there. And having got to this feature we made a defence space and forty-five minutes after that the company arrived and joined us and
then in this darkness and this fog we attacked Hill 199 and I’m pleased to say we attacked the enemy and we, I think we, I’ve forgotten the exact number we killed now but we killed/captured about ten of them I think the rest got away in the fog and the mist and we had three wounded unfortunately including our New Zealand artillery officer, a man who we depended upon a lot.
Very well – beautifully dug trenches and everything and their new winter equipment and clothing had just been positioned. And then later this A company arrived, they took over the feature and as the day progressed they were joined by a section of machine guns and then some tanks came to join them with great trouble, it took them a long time for them to get the tanks there. And to help us to help them dig in or to help us dig in on the parallel feature the Chinse successfully decided to shell and mortar us
all day so it’s a way to make people really dig I can assure you of that and we sat there for a couple of days. In that time other companies did other attacks so now we come to about day, about the fourth and away we go again and for some reason my section commanders had more or less said to me “Sir, can you get the section commander to let some other platoon be the lead platoon occasionally, why is it always us”. So he had agreed that we would
lead from five in the morning until eight o clock, at eight o clock a friend of mine from 6th platoon would take over the lead. So again we go off in the thick fog, painting the faces and we made it to eight o clock, the other bloke took off. We knew exactly where we had to turn left to go up a ridge line, to go up to this Hill 317 which is actually the name for which is called Mir an San.
There were two companies, another company was coming along with us, and my friend hadn’t long taken over the lead and I’m now at the back of the whole push and I knew very well that we weren’t going the right way, we hadn’t taken the turn left we should have. Years later I found out that the company commander and my friend had an argument as to who was doing the right navigation. Anyway, my company, B Company, went
further north before it turned left. The other company believed the navigation, they should have turned left and they did turn left. So you’ve got two companies going up like this now instead of one after another. About eleven o clock, much later in the day, the fog lifted and suddenly this other company, D Company, were caught exposed right in the middle of a Chinese position, a couple of positions and they had a hell of a fight and lost their company commander and lost
two of their platoon commanders and lost a whole lot of diggers. Anyway, they made several attacks on the way until about two o clock when they were a spent force, about three o clock sorry they were a spent force, we had to send a platoon down to help them. We were on higher ground, we had to clear a company of Chinese out ourselves so we’d had a fight. Luckily we saved this company. Had that Chinese position still been there their fire would have
actually just about knocked out our D Company, we saved them that. At three o clock D Company were spent, that’s the best way to explain it, so our C Company had to come in and they bounced through a couple of positions and by about five o clock that night they’d captured Hill 317. That wasn’t the only thing that we had to do or had been done. I should say that C Company the day before had helped the Kings Own Scottish Borderers capture
Hill 355. The Kings Own Scottish Borderers have never admitted that we actually took it, we the Australians, but that’s another story. We stayed there a further day and whilst all this is happening other battalions of the brigade are trying to get various features and are failing. And one particular battalion, who was in a week or two weeks of going home to England called the Royal Leicesters, they had one hundred casualties almost every other day
because they were trained to attack a feature called 217 straight up the guts and the Chinese just shot them down in flames and they were a spent force too. And the Brigade Commander asked that the Australians, now that they were sitting on top of 317, that they attack down this ridge line to 217 down at the end of it. So on Saturday the sixth the Commanding Officer ordered us on the top
of 317 and gave us the task to attack down the ridge line to a place called the Hinge which was at the middle of it, between 317 at the top and 217 at the bottom. The next morning at eight o clock we attacked down that head, down that ridge line and he whole company was only about seventy odd strong...... down that ridge line and the whole company was only about seventy odd strong instead of about one one hundred and twenty..... so the amount of ground we covered was very small and the company commander, we had a new company commander by this time he was very set in his
ways “four platoon (my platoon)left” my friend’s platoon “2nd platoon, right” the company corps and the reserve were doing five and down we went. The platoon as the most was only about twenty strong and we’ve got two sections say of six men, that’s twelve men and you don’t cover much land. Now on this feature there were trees and shrubs so we didn’t cover much. Now the enemy had pulled off this feature in the middle called
The Hinge, they went off to the side and went straight down like that, they’d pulled off. We found their trenches, we found their cooking spots, the coals were warm, they’d let us go through. As soon as we got through they came back up on the top of the hill again and they hit company headquarters and they hit Five platoon. In fact we had half a dozen killed on the spot, not of us, but our company sergeant major was the first man killed. So we in the
two platoons, four and six, had to turn around and fight back to help them recover. It went on, the fight went on for about an hour I suppose. There was one section commander I know who had an Owen Gun [light machinegun]. An Owen gun has a butt that you push a button and it falls off. He didn’t believe in bayonets because a bayonet for an Owen gun was only that long so he decided to butt stroke this Chinese bloke and he lost his butt didn’t he?So then he went like that with it.
He wore a bayonet thereafter all the time and in the end he throttled the bloody Chinaman I’m afraid. In the end it took us until about half past nine to sort ourselves out. All we could do was occupy the Chinese position which was facing the wrong way and it had a bias that wasn’t the one we wanted. At least a hole in the ground is better than no hole in the ground put it that way because before the Chinese actually left the features themselves their own
mortars and artillery came in on it and they came in several times during the day. In fact we had great trouble getting rid of our casualties, getting them evacuated, and we had great trouble getting ammunition. You can only carry so much your selves as you would appreciate. By dusk that night we stood to and all of us said,"Thank God they’ve stopped shelling us, they’ve stopped mortaring us, they’ve stopped even firing rifles at us now," so we thought, well we’ve made
it. But with hindsight we’ve all said it was an ominous silence, it was just so still, not a noise anywhere. At eight o clock it hit us and for forty-five minutes they shelled and mortared us non stop. They’d learned a lot about us by this time. "Stunned Mullets" that’s how you’d describe us, we were stunned literally.
One or more shells for example went straight into our machine gun section, knocked out one gun and killed all the crew and in fact we suffered a lot of casualties just in the shelling. There’s an old army saying in rifle work and the days of open ranges there was a catchy cry it used to be called “look to your front” in which you were required to look to your front because the targets would pop up. When the shelling stopped at a quarter to nine
around the whole place everybody was yelling out “watch your front”. Well that’s when they came at us and they attacked us one time that night, finally finishing at about half past four, quarter to five in the morning. We went through four lots of, four company loads of ammunition. In the end in fact we couldn’t get any more in. There was a pioneer platoon coming in from the top who were being used as load carriers, they couldn’t get through to us
so one of the blokes went up, one of the sergeants went out and grabbed all this spare ammunition from the blown-up Vickers ammunition. Now it’s ammunition but it’s a special type called Mark 8Z because it’s got a bigger range. So we used that to fire our rifles.
So during that night they attacked us three times because remember I told you they were very steep hills, you depend upon your Bren gun [light machinegun] to get rid of the enemy, they’re your main fire weapon but because they were so steep there was a gap, the Bren gun couldn’t get enemy who were close to us and they crept in and they were forever throwing stick grenades at us, the Chinese grenade, if you were smart you quickly threw it back at them.
I think we all got cocky that way. But three times they came in to attack us and we unfortunately kept getting casualties and our front, we got tighter and tighter and it was a long night. One can only say we were spent by stand to in the morning. We could hear the Chinese moving round, they were actually clearing the battle field
and our company commander, must have had a conscience, he said we were not to do clearing patrols which is normal at the end of stand to, we were not to engage the Chinese with fire but we could hear them, they were literally picking up their wounded. I put a couple of sentries out at the outpost but we weren’t allowed to do anything about it. It left the blokes
saying well this is probably the right thing to do, an honourable thing to do, but as long as they don’t surprise us so at least we had some eyes and ears out all the time. So we had to clean ourselves up, we managed to get, Pioneer platoon came back in again with more ammunition for us and also carted our casualties out because we had to hold the casualties all through the night. This is an aside here for a minute, when I was up talking to one of our
section commanders, they started their artillery again at one stage and I dived into this hole and I don’t know whether the two blokes in it really liked it but I was splayed across the top of them – at least I was keeping them safe I suppose. But I have to say it myself, a bit embarrassing, I got a big of shrapnel in my bum and I didn’t know about it, it could have been a bit of rock hitting but it might as well have been rock as well as shrapnel. The next day said to me “What’s all that blood on your pants?”
I wasn’t even aware, anyway that’s by the side. But here we were and the decision had been made because we were a spent force by now that we’d be relieved at nine o clock by the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, and we were very pleased to see them arrive I can assure you of that. And it was my job to count every member of the company out and I think it was fifty-one of us left that feature including the New Zealand
artillery party of one, plus there was an attached, one, two or one machine gunners which our one hundred and twenty odd company which had got down to under eighty; it was now down to under fifty; so that was the casualties that we’d suffered. Most of them came back to us I’m pleased to say other than the ones that were killed. But that photograph I’ve showed you of five platoon was taken the next day, the eighth of October and they looked tired and
dirty and that’s how we all were. We went about four hundred or five hundred yards away and set up new defensive positions to the east of this Hill 317 and regretfully three weeks later the Kings Own Scottish Borderers lost it. We had to sit there and watch them being lost.
there can be unlucky ones. I remember a chap called Private Daly who had been with the platoon from day 1 back in 1950 and a month before this battle he was sent down to the Q Store and became a storeman because he was due for replacement, about the tenth of October he was about to leave the country for good, that’s why he was made the storeman. Well, when he heard about this battle, he said “No way I’m a storeman, I’m back up
there with the platoon”. And when I said to you we had to turn around and fight back to help the company headquarters and five platoon we actually had a grenade fight with a group of Chinese and he was the forward scout and he found them and lo and behold one shot rang out, straight through his forehead, dead, finished, gone.
Now, he needn’t have been there, he could have been a storeman way down at the bottom of the hill couldn’t he? But no, he wanted to be with his mates but it cost him his life. We weren’t able to recover his body quite honestly for about an hour afterwards we were too busy keeping ourselves alive. I’m pleased to say that his body was not interfered with anyway. But others just got wounded and we just had to put them in a slit trench where they were free from
shelling and mortaring, at least they were as safe as we could get them. We had a company orderly called Tommy Tunstall, a medic that is, who even during the shelling all during the night and during the day was forever going around the platoons and he must have run out of bandages time and time again I don’t know where he kept getting them from and he never got killed himself, I don’t know how he did it.
The trenches were too small for him to get inside of them and to put the bandages on he was sort of standing above the ground and bandaging people up and seeing to them and checking them and so on. But he was a Godsend you know. One could not feel sorry about the casualties because you had to keep the rest of the people alive, does that make sense to you. One just hoped that sooner or later they’d
be evacuated and once they got evacuated they’d get good treatment. But the carry out, the battalion regiment on A post I found out afterwards had come forward several kilometres but these men on stretchers still had to be carried out a kilometre or more. I know our first lot of stretcher bearers left on one day, it must have been about day two, and we didn’t get them back for another two days, that’s how
far to carry out and then walk back, it was difficult to get people out. You asked a question, what did it do? I think it made the survival instinct stronger. I think we had, we learned very quickly if the shell or mortar bomb had your name on it that was it “Boom”. But by attacking the enemy it reduced his chance of throwing a grenade or firing at you personally, that was obvious.
row of hills as Hill 317 we were just sitting further to the right about five hundred metres away to the right and we had no problems with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers on the high ground, they helped to protect us, our problems were across a big wide open valley because it was a brand new position, we were digging by night and also because every time we walked on the surface, on the top of the hill, we got shelled and
mortared. So we therefore had to do what was called a reverse slope position – we did have positions dug out the front but we could only dig them at night and once you were, if you were there in the morning, then you had to stay there all day there was no way you could get back. The trouble is, I also had wiring parties out and we also planned to get the pioneers or somebody to come along and put mines in but we were out putting the wire out. And I led the first
wiring party and we were out from about eleven o clock at night until about half past four and we reckoned we did a pretty job wiring. And we were back in by four o clock sorry and you won’t believe it an SP [self-propelled] gun across the other side of the valley opened up against us and when daylight came we looked out and we had no wire left. He must have had just the right angle with his shells and he took all our wire off. This went on for night after night and I remember the platoon sergeant saying “I don’t believe you did any
wiring last night” And I said “We did”. Well the next night he went out and did some wiring and the next night the same SP gun got rid of that wire for us too so we had it on/off. So then we had to start sending patrols out, the idea we used to take a compass bearing and we’d hear this SP gun move forward follow his tracks, take a compass bearing on him and I led several patrols out there where our idea was to attack him. We never found him.
Obviously they had dug a great big bloody hole for him and they had him well hidden away. But the other platoons had the same problems, too, trying to find him because this SP gun drove us around the bend. Our artillery, because I said we used a reverse slope approach, the New Zealand forward observation officer, he actually lived in my platoon, he and I shared the same hole. If one of us was awake he was both the gunner and the platoon commander, the other one would be sleeping
and vice versa. So when he was awake he used to spend all his time trying to get this SP gun too but he didn’t win.
during the day prior, they lost it at night, we actually saw thousands and thousands of Chinese troops, like ants, going underneath the feature and this is when they started their digging and burrowing and things and I’ve never seen so many troops. I was the one on duty and the New Zealand gunner was asleep and I had no option but to wake him up. And a few shells amongst them, on the ants went
again. All we could do was then send the information back so unfortunately the Kings Own Scottish Borderers knew they were going to have a hell of a night and of course they did and they lost it. In fact one of their men even won a Victoria Cross that night, a man called Spigman. And that left us a bit untenable because the Chinese now overlooked us, down again. In fact just prior to that incident is the first time I’d ever seen an American film star. His
name was Danny Kaye. We had a wonderful view of this big valley and everything and the Chinese features, their position was well north of us. And the story about Danny Kaye is, he arrived on Sunday afternoon, it was a Sunday afternoon I remember that. And we were too scared, I said, to stand on top of the feature that just got shelled and mortared, you won’t believe this all these American generals and press and that and they brought him there and showed him the
scenery and away he went, very happy. As they left down came the shells and mortars, we cursed him, I really should have cursed the people who escorted him there. He got a wonderful view but we wore it. Anyway after we had lost Hill 317 our position there became very, very difficult. They kept just shelling and mortaring day and night and luckily for reasons that I’ve never understood
within that week we were asked to cross the Emgin and go further east again. The American general had obviously changed the divisional boundaries and we had to go up to another feature. And all I recall is that it was a higher feature than 317, very wooded, we had to climb and climb and climb. There was no water up there, we had no reserves of water.
No sooner got established, and this was now getting towards about the end of November, and I got myself sort of well organised up there. It was probably about four o clock and the Company Commander says to me “Well, is 4 Platoon organised?” I said “Yes, sir”. “Good” he said “and the sergeant’s happy?” “Why, sir”. “Well” he said, “he’s now the platoon commander”. I said “What do you mean?” He said “You’d better get down to (UNCLEAR) pretty smartly if you want to go on
five days R & R [rest and recreation] leave to Tokyo tomorrow morning. So all the way down again and a long walk out after that. I made Tokyo the next day I can assure you. I made Tokyo the night next at about eleven o clock, got in a bath, and got out of the bath at six o clock the next morning, I had instant hot water and cold beer coming. I never felt so clean in my life.
Touch football, films. On our retraining week, prior to Operation Commando and the Battle of Mari En Seng that is, I recall that Gladys Moncrieff [Australian concert performer] came and saw us and we had a concert. Now her program meant that she should have been well away somewhere seeing some American troops somewhere but when she heard we were coming back across the Imjin after a raid she stayed on.
And I think she had to wait 3 or four days for us and we were taken back to reserve position, probably a good fifteen, twenty kilometres behind the front line so we were safe as houses and away we went in the company truck to this amphitheatre and she got a great support. This was when we first got the message that we weren’t very strong. The Company truck was a snub-nose "blitz buggy" they called them and we left six men inside the company base to look after
our area, which we thought was pretty strong, there was nobody in our area at all, no enemy, no locals or anything and the whole company got aboard the truck. Now that really shook all of us actually. When we came back about ten o clock or half past ten, the company commander said to the company sergeant major, he said “Sar’ major, I want everybody to get off the truck one at a time and I want you to count them”. That’s when we found out there were seventy of us, there were six left behind.
six left behind. The company strength the week before the Operation Commando, The Battle of Mari En Seng was 1976, the company should have been one hundred and twenty so we weren’t a very strong organisation and that applied right across the battalion. But I never thought – a truck carrying seventy people that’s pretty good, that’s still good in itself.
By about 1948 you could say that most of the occupational duties were finished so they were greatly used on ceremonial and sporting activities. They did individual training, rifle competitions, physical training, but the unit was starting to run down. In fact 1 and 2 RARs went home in 1948 leaving just 3 RAR there so they had to pick up all the
ceremonial duties around Japan. It was a very under strength battalion, it didn’t have full rifle companies and it wasn’t doing battle training. It was just doing the minimum amount of military training of personal skills. It wasn’t doing company and battalion work training. So, therefore, just as well the Australian government didn’t, although they offered ships and fighter aircraft of
June in 1950 when the war started they did not offer a battalion until July and in fact they did not go to Korea until the end of September. And in the month of August and September the battalion trained for war. It was the first war training that battalion had done since World War II. Let’s be fair, most of them men had changed over but there were still some officers and NCOs there who were World War II people who knew about war training but it could not have
gone to Korea without that training, it would have been a disaster, they would have killed themselves. I’m suggesting to you that those Americans who went to Korea in the beginning, say in June to August/September and that, they went untrained, they also had come straight from ceremonial duties and sporting duties - individual training, yes but not unit or sub unit training.
And that helped the disaster – apart from the fact that the North Koreans were far better than anybody expected at the beginning. But by November when the Chinese came into the war they brought strength and brought all sorts of things to them and we never saw a North Korean again after that, they were pushed off right up the east somewhere. The Chinse took over most of the line.
But were there any ones in particular that were more difficult like exception as far as your experience was concerned?
No, I just have to say they were all difficult, I can’t pick out one more than the other. I can think of frustrating ones. I was trying to tell Colin [interviewer] here earlier, trying to find this self-propelled gun which kept shelling us every night and blowing our barbed wire to smithereens, we couldn’t find that barbed wire in the morning. And then trying to go along this very wide open valley to find out where this SP
gun was hidden. They had it dug in and we knew that but they must have had it very well dug in, we just couldn’t find it. We searched for it, our artillery officer even did ranging shots along the crest line trying to find a hole in it, a place where he could hit the gun but, no, we never find it. So it just used to pop off at us every night, just to keep us awake we think. We didn’t like it, we failed on that one.
And as it was so far in there was no way a light unarmed aircraft could fly in and have a look either. I consider myself lucky I was never employed on any of these snatch patrols to grab a prisoner of war. It was an American system and it came from the Corps Commander and he said something
like this to the Commonwealth Division “You have to capture one prisoner per day” you know every night of the week. In a division there are basically nine battalions so that would mean that one battalion every nine nights would have to go and capture a prisoner. Well, they were very difficult things to do. And it cost a lot of casualties, I know that the British
General that headed our Commonwealth Division had had a lot of arguments with this three star American General about the techniques of it, or his order, you know, his order “Every night I want a prisoner of war from your division”. It’s easily said it’s much harder to do. Today of course, I can speak from our Vietnam knowledge, we’ve got so many electronic aids to find things out which we didn’t have in those
days. In that particular book, the military history, there’s a lot of stories there about success and failure and, sorry, prisoner of war snatch raids which were a disaster in terms of casualties. Luckily, as I said, I didn’t have any of those.
particular gate out of a minefield and of course you’ve got to find a gate to come back in the minefield too or you cause your own casualties. That sort of patrolling in those terms was very difficult in terms of planning it, rehearsing it in the afternoon and doing it that night and the next day, of course, you’d debrief them and let them sleep in.
I think it would be fairer to say it would be easier to read about a particular patrol and read it because at this distance time now I can’t recall all the things we did. I recall the main thing, the format of it. We obviously took a mortar fire controller with us or a gunner to bring down fire, we used smoke to hide our movements. There are all sorts of things you deployed to try and
get you to your objective, do your job and then get home again but we, as I say, we lost a lot of casualties doing it. But Australia has an approach that if there’s an area call no man’s land we believe we have to dominate it. Not everybody agrees with that. A good example of that is there’s a very large hill up there called Hill 355, later after I’d left the Australian Battalion took it over,
one of the Australian Battalions took it over from the Canadian and they found the Chinese literally just about sitting outside their trenches because the Canadians had not been patrolling. The Chinese got cocky, didn’t they and they just dug their way up and sat right in front of the trenches. That’s not the way we work, we believe we have to dominate no man’s land and that means you have to be out there doing it. By day, you’re very
close, by day you can dominate it with your artillery and mortars. At night you have to dominate with bodies on the ground to stop the Chinese patrolling into your area.
and he’d tell us when he wanted us to do it. We would go away and think it through and examine the ground as much as we could with binoculars. Think about past times we’d been out there or someone else had been out there and talk to them about it. We would make up our plan, clear the plan with the company commander. We would then have an orders group and brief our section commanders and platoon sergeant and they would go away and get all the equipment organised and weapons tested. Then we would
rehearse down the back of the hill. Rehearse the formation we’d use and when we got there how we’d position ourselves. Rehearse the method of triggering the ambush, who would fire first and who would give the order for it. Discuss our route out and our route back and we did all the rehearsals we could until we got it right and then actually go and do it. Somebody would have to
see us out through the minefields, somebody who knew the route and who knew the gates and that. They would stay at that gate, if that’s the one we were coming back in on, they would stay there and protect it. We would go and do our ambush, it could be for some many hours – for example in the middle of winter you would have to make your time short because you just can’t lie in snow for ever and ever, you’d just freeze up and frost bite and everything else. And at a set
time, or if you’ve sprung the ambush, you do what you do, what you can about killing the enemy or grabbing them if you’re into a grab job and then you make your route back, your way home. You’ve got to bring casualties home and you’ve got to bring enemy home if you’ve got them and you may come back in through the same gate in the mine fence or another one. Again, hopefully somebody’s there waiting for you to guide you through the minefield.
And then you debrief and then put them to bed.
said to a classmate of mine “You’re a bit late hearing the bugle weren’t you” - he was two weeks after me actually. I got him so riled he said “OK if you’re that keen why don’t you volunteer to wait until I come out so we’ll both go home together at the end of July?”. Well that was earlier in the year I said that, I said “Yeah, I’ll do that”. You can be silly can’t you? Well one thing happened, first of all at the end of June my
company commander went off to Brigade Headquarters to become the Brigade Major and the new CO of 3 RAR was my brother and I thought, well, I’ve really only legally got two weeks to go, I don’t know anything outside being a platoon commander, perhaps I should drop a note to this major who has gone to Brigade Headquarters, could he use me. I had to fill in four weeks didn’t I having said to this friend of mine I’d go at the end of July.
Cutting the story short he apparently cleared it with my brother and I went off to Brigade for four weeks. I spent a week on the Brigade Headquarters, you know, getting to know the feel of it. I spent a week with a searchlight detachment with a bunch of English soldiers from Manchester or Newcastle, they were an unusual group. And I spent the last two weeks as the Australian liaison officer with the US Marine Division which was interesting. So that’s how I filled my
four weeks in, my last four weeks. And then, with my friend, at the end of July we both went back to Japan.
in intelligence and all the stuff associated with it. We were let into all that was going on with the Malayan emergency. There was stuff to read, stuff to learn. I even did, with the signals officer who was going to be with me in the command post, we went out of our way to learn Malay and Behasa, you know, we were great Malay speakers, we thought we were getting on with the language beautifully. In August I flew off with the CO in the
advance party and whereas he went around the traps to do things I was sent off to do a month’s course with the British Special Branch. That red book on the bottom there is written by the special branch officer who we worked with. The police ran the intelligence in Malaya and they were very thorough and it was nice to learn their techniques and method of doing it all and then the
battalion had arrived by this time. We had a month’s course down at the Jungle Warfare Centre in Johor and in November, by early November, the battalion arrived up in Setar Pera and took over these four or five bases and that’s where we were for the next two years. Our families were some four hours travel away on Penang Island and we would get home, if you were in the platoon, you’d get home about every two weeks to see them. Where I
was the first year I’d get home every three to four weeks. In the first year I literally ran the battalion command post aided and abetted by the signals officer and we were on call seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. The telephone at our desk was switched through to our bed in the nearest camp where we lived and we were the CO’s intelligence, operations men. And we worked with very,
very – I should add our command post was on top of a police station. The police station was a beautiful concrete brick place. We sat on the top of it in a tin hut, we had nothing but heat. Well, I suppose we were trying to outfox the communist terrorists as much as they were trying to outfox us.
job. Whether it was searching or whether it was ambushing it was always a platoon’s effort. So our twelve platoon commanders worked pretty hard and they got down to a real roster – fourteen days in a fortnight and a patrol would go off for ten days, come back and be debriefed, get rid of all their old gear, draw their new gear and go on leave for two days, what we called stand down. So every fortnight the platoon got two days
stand down. They’d come, they’d spend two days refiring their weapons, checking their marksmanship, drawing their rations any more stores, being briefed for the new operation and away they’d go for another ten days. So they just had a rolling fourteen-day system going. The others on staff jobs, as I was for the first year, in fact I think the first time I went on leave I’d been five weeks without any.
It was a peace time posting in a way with your families on the island and as a Company Commander in fact I eventually got down to going every two weeks too which I quite enjoyed. But you never knew when you were going whereas the platoon was regular, the others you didn’t. I do recall one day coming home and unbeknownst to me my wife had a card afternoon on, they were playing cards, and this squeaky jeep pulled up at the front
and I could see all these women obviously sitting at the dining room table playing cards. By the time I got in the house there wasn’t one visitor there, they’d gone out the back door, side doors and then for the next two days nobody came near us. It was almost – it was terrible, you felt lonely in a way but they were being nice they weren’t going to impose themselves upon their neighbours.
It was interesting because you had an opportunity to meet the Indians and the Malays and the Chinese. In the police station we were very multicultural. The officer commanding the police district was of Indian background called Saka Leem who had done the most terrible thing, he had married a Malay lady, well he was going to he was engaged at that stage. The special branch man was Chinese.
The operations officer in the police station was an English man so it was a real mixture but they were good people to work with and we rather enjoyed working with them. And then for that second year I went to a place called Lassa on the edge of primary jungle where there had been woodcutting allowed before the emergency and the woodcutter was still trying to work
but of course there was a great risk he could be, what’s the word, leant on by the communist terrorists to provide money or rations or intelligence to them so he wasn’t allowed to do much woodcutting at that time. But the real thing is that those platoons, this is statistics, had to patrol for about one thousand hours before they made a
contact. That’s a lot of work, a lot of sweat. They were the statistics by this time in the emergency. The emergency started in 1948, we couldn’t afford to send any infantry soldiers there before 1955 and we only sent three battalions each in turn - two, three, one, in that order. And it was a very hard slog, they worked like Trojans those platoons to find any indications of signs, by signs
I meant footprint, a dump of food or something or a letterbox, how the CTs [Communist terrorists] communicated with each other. You could find a letterbox and you could ambush it for weeks and weeks. On one occasion we found a food supply and we only ambushed it for four nights and “bang” it worked. An ambush if six CTs came in, we killed four and wounded two. Sheer luck, the next day we captured the two
wounded ones. The worst of the two wounded, in fact he and his wife, he was a branch committee member, he was a high powered boy, and we used him, well we didn’t the special branch did. Now I can be told that they used him to get into all the other organisations in North Pera and that’s what Operation Ginger was. Over the next twelve months about
seventy communist terrorists were captured and told “Right, where were you born” and if he said “China” they’d say “Right, we’ve got two choices for you” and remember most of them were Chinese “You can become a captured enemy person and in a matter of weeks once we’ve debriefed you we’ll push you over the border into China never to leave again”.
Or “If you want to play with us and tell us things, we’ll make you a surrendered enemy person and when we’ve finished with you, we’ll discuss what sort of business we could set you up in”. The sensible ones took the second alternative. Some took the first and since have tried to come back to Malaya or even get into Hong Kong and they’ve been refused, the system was pretty ruthless.
so as a result they then turned to Borneo and they stationed troops all along the Kalamantan Borneo border with the role of frequent incursion raids into Borneo just to stir up the locals and show them Indonesia was the boss, not Malaysia. And we, Britain and New Zealand offered forces to help the Malaysian Army and we were the four types of forces stationed
Borneo’s side and our role was to stop the Indonesians, to get rid of them. The war was very active the year before I went in 1965. In 1966 suddenly we had the brakes put on us but we were naïve we didn’t know why and nobody would tell us why. It wasn’t until August we found out
why. There’d been an unofficial meeting between the Malaysians and Indonesians in Kuala Lumpur, in fact in Bangkok first and then Kuala Lumpur and once Indonesia changed its president from Soekarno to Suharto, Suharto wanted a truce and the truce was announced in August of 1966. So that’s why we were told to tread a bit warily through
most of 1966. As SAS [Special Air Service] we did a lot of looking, watching, photographing. Ben Barry, one of my patrol commanders, was lying under a sort of a, I suppose you’d call it a hut thing, and he knew a smattering of Indonesian language so he decided he’d hop under it,
he might hear a bit more, unbeknown to him the Indonesian bloke came out and had a leak all over him. He didn’t like that. He said it was very hard for him not to swear and yell out. We were able to report on all their movements very accurately. What we were not allowed to do, we were not allowed to be aggressive unless we were caught short and there were a couple of occasions where some of our patrols did get caught short. I recall one of our good patrol
commanders was photographing this whole series of boats carrying stores coming up the river on a bend. He had them and he was taking all these photographs - unbeknown to him his mates had to go “bang” to his leg, coming up the other way was another boat full of armed soldiers. So he dropped his camera very smartly, luckily he had it hanging down his neck so it just dropped, and with his rifle shot six of the eight people in the boat.
The other man tried to hit the other two, we don’t know whether he did or not.
better” but I didn’t pull the trigger, you know. We had to be where we were. It’s no pleasure to say that the court inquiry into the three who were drowned crossing the River Emgin, not just me but the whole of 3 RAR were exonerated completely because they had nothing to do, 3 RAR had nothing to do with the crossing, we were in the hands of the
Royal Engineers. They got castigated and the squadron commander apparently really got the works. Unbeknown to us there were life jackets there that were not being used. We were never offered life jackets but they were there and that didn’t go down very well. The fact that the third boat that tipped over was
not taken further upstream so it could float back and get nearer the other side – nobody could stop this big bloke of ours doing what he thought was the right thing, he was going to lift this very taught cable over the boat, well it just wouldn’t have worked, but he was strong enough to try it. And with the noise of this fast-running river, even from our side, and they were out in the middle, we were yelling out
“Don’t, don’t”, yelling out not to do it but he wouldn’t have heard us but there’s always those things about “What if” but, you know, you can’t change it, you can’t change it. I think you’ve got no choice but to be a bit fatalistic and go on living.
Now, before you, in between Korea and Australia actually you went to Japan. I wonder if you could tell us a bit more about your time there, you were working with BCOF?
It had become by this time, the same badge, the British Commonwealth Force Korea, BCFK, because in April of 1952 the peace treaty between Australian and Japan and the other western nations was signed. It was just a change on name the reoccupation disappeared. The first couple of months I was the Australian company commander at Haramura, this was a bush camp. A good place to exercise and train,
good ranges and everything, all commonwealth countries were represented there. It was literally away in the bush and when I was there in 1991 I found some of the wooden buildings still standing but at the very back of the front gate was a freeway and the little village is now a great big city so it’s not out in the bush now. The reinforcements arrived from Australia and we put them through a month’s training course orientated to
Korea and then they went off to Korea. I only did that for a couple of months and I was then promoted and brought down to Kuia to headquarters BCFK, the Australian component of it, to be the Staff Captain Military Secretary. We lived in a very nice house with had been the Brigade Commander’s house from the BCOF days and Brigade Headquarters was our headquarters and
life was pleasant I’d say. Sport every Wednesday afternoon and go to the officers club every Saturday night to play Bingo, something I’d never heard of before, but that was our life.
who said somewhere about three o clock in the afternoon, he said, “I’ll make it known” he said “I haven’t introduced you to Warrant Officer Nelson yet have I?’ I said “No, who’s he?” God, I thought to myself, up to that stage I’d spent all morning learning about officer postings and honours and awards and I thought, God this is a good job, you’ve got no work of any note to do. “Well” he said “come on and I’ll show you”. Well he came to a room, about the size of these two rooms put together, and there was this warrant officer,
with his Japanese clerks working around him, and all the walls were filing places. And I was told “This is the marriage bureau”. He said “We’re in the process now – what number are we on?” “About ninety-eight, sir” - of potential marriages by Japanese girls to Australians. Well, a year later when I left we were up to number three hundred and something or other.
If the husband, if the particular husband to be had gone back to Australia we got letters back making application giving what he thought were the addresses and I had to spend time with an interpreter going around trying to find some of these ladies. I must tell you, as an aside, one of the most attractive ones of the lot, I eventually tracked her down on an island where there was an ammunition depot, and he’d been an ammunitions
officer which probably explained it, into her mother’s home, her father had died in World War II. Beautiful home, lovely mother and daughter and both could speak English perfectly. And the Australian officer, she must have been very young when they were friends and she made it clear that she was had no interest in him or Australia and she made it very, very clear that she was doing very well as the partner of a British major who now ran the ammunition depot, a British officer he was.
So we lost that one. Another one we lost was, or we won but lost, was the most educated and I found the most intellectually challenging lady whose father was a member of the Diet [Japanese parliament], she had had her secondary and tertiary education in the States and she was marrying, oh dear, an NCO in the British Commonwealth
Component Labour Unit. My Brigadier did everything he could to stop that marriage because they were just incompatible. Well, of course, we had ministerial and all sorts of carry on and the marriage was allowed to take place and as her father said “Well, you know, they’re both well over twenty-one” and you can’t do that much about that. To my knowledge I’m
told the marriage lasted about one year before she returned to Japan. In the best case there have been most successful marriages we have a whole lot of these wives here in Melbourne who I know through the Korean Veterans Association, who I’m the patron of, so I see them regularly at social functions. In the best case, the husband came home to Australia, went around their relations, the local shopkeepers, he did everything he could to make sure his wife learned
English and they’ve been very successful marriages. My brigadier died only a couple of years ago in about 1995 and I know we had to make an extra copy of every file for him which he brought home so he would have kept the records going I would think. Because he was delegated the powers of the Australian ambassador to approve these marriages, or disapprove them, and he took his
responsibilities very heavily but as I say the ones I’ve seen here have been very successful.
had three weddings, the first one was a Japanese civil, the second one was the British civil with the Consul General in Kobe and the third one was a religious marriage in the church of whatever faith they were. And it’s amazing how many were Church of Christ, no the men, but that’s the religion that the Japanese girl had gone to, I wouldn’t know whether they kept it up or not but that’s the one they’d gone to.
But, you know, I just kept getting the message that the three marriages meant that they really meant it. Going home to Australia on leave, which they were allowed to do every two years, to check out their family and the local butcher and so on, insisting their wife learned English, I think they were doing everything they could for them. I in fact ended up having to run it, no I didn’t run it, a lass called Nellie Strong from the YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Association] ran a wives club every Monday night. And
who had to help her? I had to help her. I could set tables and all those sort of things but all those other niceties she used to have to teach them. And the Women’s Weekly used to send us hundreds of copies and I used to give them out every week and away they’d go home with them. I was very young, I was twenty-three or twenty-four and I didn’t know much about life myself.
all denial things, the way the emergency was structured so you understood where the police fitted in, where this unit did that, how the district war executive committee worked. Then it got down to ambushing, routine habits of the CT, communist terrorists, how to search a map square, and there’s about five ways of doing it. Apart from giving you the five ways it gave you the pros and cons and each platoon commander in his own time probably worked out
which was the better that he found easier to run. There were other problems of course if you were doing it closely to another battalion, there was the danger of clashing so there were things you can do for that. It gave you, even though we hadn’t done – some people had done tracking courses but the normal layman needed to know a little bit about how to look for signs and when you see a whole lot of – you’re going along and all the twigs are bent over and broken
that day, you know, somebody’s moved just ahead of you. If it’s been broken for a day the twig has died, you know, probably obvious but clues which people like to know about. So, all I can say is, the British instructors at this Jungle Warfare Centre were very switched on. I’m just thinking of the Ghurkha Officers, of course, by the time we’d got there they’d been there themselves in part of the emergency then for nine years. They’d learned the hard way
themselves and they passed on their good information to us.
But, you know, wait awhile, what does it do to you? How do you get water out of a vine? How much easier it is to walk in primary jungle whereas dirty jungle is dirty and nasty all that came out of New Guinea and nothing has changed and won’t change. All it is we’re getting more and more secondary jungle rather than primary jungle around the world. By the time we got there in 1970, taking the battalion
through prior to going to Vietnam, it was all specific for Vietnam. And by this time, of course, our knowledge of the Phuoc Tuy Province, it’s various types of foliage, lelang, primary, secondary, crops, it was well known, there were maps of it, photographs. There was hardly a thing a soldier would not have known before he got to Vietnam. He would say “Oh, I recognise that”. He’d seen photographs of it, people had talked to him, lectured him, he’d seen
films on it and Canungra was all orientated the right way but the real thing is that the training was constructive not destructive. In 1957 I found the training destructive and some of my peers have told me that early training at Canungra in the mid to middle – around 1967 or 1968 that it was pretty destructive, Canungra,
there were nasty warrant officers and officers who all they could do was pull people down, be derogative. Whereas when I came along there was a beaut chief instructor, a friend from old, but he and his staff they were just so switched on and all they were doing was trying to make us better people.
open now and just ask you some general questions about Communism. Now post World War II in your time prior to going to Korea, Korea and Malaya and so on what did you know about Communism, what were you taught about Communism an dhow did you personally feel about Communism?
I’ll answer the second part first – I think I decided that any effort at all I prefer the democratic way of life that we have and therefore I wasn’t for Communism and there’s no doubt on could very easily work out the reasons why I did not want us to have Communism in Australia. We had an active Communist Party at one stage it was well document in the press and all sorts of lectures and things and we even had Communists come and speak to us on occasions
to hear the other side but I’ve never found so many illogical presentations. We had read the manifesto and things and it had no appeal to me. I felt in many ways they were very misguided and history has proven us all right I think. I did not know much about European Communism other than what I’d
read but in 1976 for the first time we were allowed to go into Communist countries, prior to that as a soldier I was not allowed to. And I do recall that on my way, to London to do the Royal College of Defence Studies, that I saw the Qantas flights and I saw that there was one flight going via Belgrade and I asked for a booking on that and I wanted a three day stopover to have a look at it. I wanted to learn, learn something about the place, get a feel of
it. You’d think I was about to become a deserter or something. Intelligence people came to see me and I was told how to look under the beds and behind paintings and told to be very careful what I do or say. OK, I was alert, I wasn’t that silly. Maybe I got some wrong messages by having a beer in the bar in the pub and talking to the barman but I didn’t stop people in the street and ask them ,but I just wanted to get a
feel and a bit like - our plane almost deserted itself in Belgrade. All of these Australians I’d seen wandering around Sydney Airport, their clothing was a little bit different in some cases, they all had red passports now, they were Yugoslavs who had dual citizenship and two passports didn’t they, you know, all getting off and going home for Christmas or something. No, I can’t answer your question in the depth that you’d like me to answer it.
dour and sour. I had the opportunity six months later, where we were made to wear uniform, that was to go to East Germany because Australia was part of the Commission that ran Germany after the war, east and west, we were part of that. So we Australians were all told to wear uniform and I remember this bus pulling up and we were going to watch the change of the guards and they were all goosestepping, you know, the Russian way of marching
and these kids, little kids, running around imitating them. And they saw this bus and we all got out in uniform, well, did those kids take off. I’ve had a bit of feedback because I have a son who majored in German and he had friends in both West and East Germany and they have both been out to Australia as his guests and he’s been back there many times but before he got the East German ones out some of the
stories that used to come out when he used to go and visit them. And he was a bit naïve the first time, he took her to Checkpoint Charlie [main East-West crossing], he was going to show her Berlin, West Berlin. Well it cost him his camera to bribe the guard not to do anything, to let this girl go. He was very naïve I just couldn’t believe he’d done it myself, we were just very pleased that he came home and he’s never done anything like that since either. No, it’s -
in fact probably East Berlin really put us off. I used the word dour before, the buildings, the whole thing was on the nose. - another reason why I prefer democracy thank you. I’d have to go back – you’re taking me back to lectures about fifty years ago, it’s a bit harder now. Democracy has triumphed there anyway.
threw into the boxes. But you might have liked to have had some of the things that he’d thrown out and vice versa. So he made up his own ten day things, he could be a man into rice and curry and things, so he made up his meals, he made his own up, he wasn’t carrying ten dead weight days of supplies. I told you how the routine went that they rehearsed,
did their weapons firing and then they started off. And patrols took one of two forms, one was ambushing, based on known information or intelligence which had a rating which was pretty good “It’s led to believe that there will be a meeting of the CT bosses in a certain area at a certain time frame”. That’s pretty good information actually probably than we ever got.
Searching, I said there were many methods of searching. You would only allow one map square a day, that’s all a platoon could cope with. It was probably more interesting to do the searching because you’re on the move you’re looking, you’re listening. You have frequent stops – you also need to stop every hour for no other reason than to refresh, have a swig of
water, relieve, change over the scouts. Ambushing I have no doubt became very, very boring for those who were platoon commanders for the whole two years because you were going to one area and you’ve got half the platoon ambushing and well back behind you in what’s thought to be a fairly safe area you’ve got the other half relaxing, sleeping and eating. And then probably on
dusk, daylight the next morning, you would change them over and it’s pretty boring, you now, just lying there with the mozzies at night and other bugs by day. So I think most platoons preferred the searching. We did not shave in the jungle, it stopped skin rash problems so there could be no problems about
this the rule was that by the time you appeared at your rendezvous to be picked up by a vehicle you were all clean shaven. So on the last morning you’d shave and say at nine o clock you’d pick up the vehicle to take you back to the base you came from. So everybody arrived back clean, clean-skinned. Again there’d be debriefing, particularly the intelligence, they may have found things, they’d found a food
supply or indications of a new one. They may not be the follow up patrol to do it but if they could do it in a couple of days time we’d send them back to do it or another one, another platoon would look in and see. And that was the sort of routine that was running all the time with the platoon. So you can’t say they went home every second Saturday because ten days out, two days before hand preparation, two days afterwards debriefing and changing
gear, that’s fourteen days associated with the operation and then you gave them two days off, so it was a sixteen day cycle in actual fact.
permission, clearances and just even to leave the jungle and meet at a certain point because the last thing you wanted was two patrols to hit each other, that’s not nice. We also had to co-ordinate police patrols who entered our area, area security units, Kampong Home Guards, one had to bring all this together. So there were day morning prayers with all the other officials around the
place, briefings. The English Brigadier would drop in every other day and want to be told the latest and what we were doing. Why hadn’t we done this and why are we doing this and with the CO going round visiting his five bases normally I’d be there with my sergeant and clerks and signallers and then in would walk this brigadier who was a difficult customer, he meant well though. That was the first brigadier we had the second brigadier we had was a Canadian who
joined the British Army he was so much nicer and that was in the first year. The second year, a couple of months between being the company 2IC that was establishing a new base and bringing our company together that had been apart for a whole year, that was only an administrative job really, but the last year 1959, well, the platoon
commanders had all changed around that time, the bachelors had all gone home, new ones had come in so one was sort of in a way teaching the new platoon commanders too as much as anything else. The diggers were still constant, the NCOs were still constant and we were starting to go further afield. As the CTs were slowly getting up towards the Thai border and we had been so successful in 1968 -
the CTs were moving further north well we had to go to work further north and sometimes it took us a day to get where we could drop them off. So the sixteen day cycle sometimes turned into an eighteen or nineteen day cycle because of the travel.
varieties and they were all demonstrated to them. Then they were able to do it themselves. We’d been doing all this with slow-moving, shallow, West Australian rivers, well, it’s a bit different when you get to a tropical area that’s why it was important we do that. We had taught them how you can live off the land, you can supplement your diet but you haven’t got those trees and plants growing in West Australia but you have in New
Guinea so they were shown again. And we just didn’t do it ourselves, we were able to use the staff of the Botanic Gardens in Lae, you know, they’ve got experts there who’ve spent all their life doing it so they were the ones who were lecturing to them not us. Also the men were tried out physically – there aren’t many high ranges down the southern end of West Australia, there are much taller mountains in New Guinea,
it rains more often, you know, you can set your watch at four o clock in the afternoon when it rains, we wanted to expose them to that. The pros and cons of do you sleep on the ground in a waterproof sleeping bag or whether you put a hammock up. The idea was to let them try it out rather than force it down their throats. There were many things I could – the signallers who had no communication problems in West Australia found they had problems in
New Guinea. When a thunderstorm occurs you just about lost your hearing so they had to experience that and on it goes.
front, where five battalions sat, and we patrolled four out of those five battalions. So sometimes if possible we sent a patrol back to the same area because you’d got to know it but many times a patrol went to another area that they’d never seen before. We equipped our people for fourteen days because we might have got them to the border by helicopter, road transport, in the worst case
walking, but the minute they got to the border they had to walk. We were only allowed to go ten thousand metres in as the crow flies, that’s a long way to get out on your feet too if you’re being chased. We averaged twelve days actually, at the end of it somebody did some homework, took all our patrols and divided by the number of men and days and apparently it comes out at twelve
days and that’s a lot of stuff to carry on your back. So they were lean and mean and we used to go the opposite of course, when they came out they’d get the best sirloin, the best this, the best that to fill them up again. Remember, we only had one role in 1966 and it was reconnaissance. So if you work it out again there was a couple of days of preparation, rehearsing, giving orders
refiring all weapons, checking all weapons, checking all equipment, selecting their food and making their own (on the face of it) fourteen days worth of eating. Then being taken to their drop off point by either vehicle, normally by helicopter, nominating RV [rendezvous] points – in other words if anything happened and they all got split up they’d make their own
way to these various RV points and wait so long. Then having pre-planned it all everybody knew as much as everybody else. Patrols were initially six strong in the Australian organisation, then we came down to fours or fives in strength moving slowly but surely to wherever the sight was, take pick up there, observation points, surveys, say that
Indonesian camp they were told to watch or the river line where they were bringing up resupplies and they’d do it for so many days and then they might shift to another position and look at another camp or vice versa depending what their orders were. And then they’d have worked out of course how we were going to take them out because to go out means they’ve got to come out backwards, uphill. They might have gone down in but they’ve got to go uphill out. Luckily their packs aren’t weighting as much. They had to contact our
headquarters once a day by morse code. After two days of no contact we’d get very worried of course. We were not allowed officially to fly in helicopters or anything. Officially there was one gun in range if we were lucky and we had to get permission from a general in Labuan Island to fire the gun and there had to be a pretty good reason to get that permission I should add.
One could say they had a lonely life, they really depended on each other. Hopefully they got back to the RV without any worries but often they got split up and had to go like that. One of the most successful ones, the man who got surprised most, who the army really went after searching – his method of alluding them was to go further into Indonesia
because obviously they were searching for him between their base and the border, he went the opposite way that’s how he alluded them. (UNCLEAR) but he took a calculated risk. Eventually they’d get back after twelve days and we fed them well and gave them a rest and then they’d start the cycle again.
Nearly all the officers had been reposted but several, about four at this stage, luckily most of the senior NCOs were still there and all the diggers had probably been reposted but for a few. And the first job we did was in October/November we were the enemy and umpires for a battalion doing its final test exercise for Vietnam. Then in December we moved what was left of the battalion, no more than two hundred, to
Townsville. A new site, new barracks, tons of married quarters so we didn’t get new people posted in until January. And I asked for, well, knowing the balance had to be fifty per cent National Service, no more or less, or fifty per cent no more and fifty per cent regulars. I asked for all the regulars to be posted in early so we could get their training underway because anybody who wanted to be an NCO or an officer who wanted to get
promotion as to do laid down standard qualifying courses and I wanted to get all those done in the first six months. Some courses six weeks for clerks, six weeks for drivers, six weeks for pioneers, four weeks for a tracker course, six weeks for a mortar course – all these specialists and it needs a long time for courses. So I wanted to get all regulars so I could get them trained in the first six months because the way the manning was working is I’d have
all the National Servicemen there by mid year so if I had the regulars there trained we could start the whole battalion training and going along all together. We had to do section training, platoon training, company training – finished by the end of the year because in January to March we had three major battalion exercises so by April we were ready to go on pre-embarkation leave and the first lot flew out on the 1st of May.
So it was all timed and it was like a jigsaw puzzle, I had to make certain everything fitted in. But if I didn’t have the mortar section properly trained they couldn’t go and fire could they and on it went and the signallers course, that was six weeks too. And we had to run promotion courses, nobody else was going to run them so we had to run them ourselves and on it went. So as I’ve always said, 1970 for 4 RAR was not an easy year, I also was a bugger because as far as
I’m concerned the standards had to be there. You can let standards slip in my experience but you can never start there, if you start there you can never get them up there. So I’m afraid I set the standards there and said that applied to everyone from me down and just went at that level and it paid off. It was a hard year but we had some fun in that year. We still tried, other than on the long exercises, we still tried to let them all have sport on Wednesday
afternoons, both inter-unit sport, inter-brigade sport and on Saturdays we had teams in a whole lot of Townsville sporting competitions. This allowed, because we had mainly young regulars, young national servicemen, all single, it gave them a chance to meet the locals and meet up with them and it paid off.
battalion commander – they had a funny system, apparently you had to get a tick in a box so their battalion commander only lasted six months then they couldn’t get to a staff job somewhere in Saigon or somewhere, but this man used to write in one of their professional journals. Anyway I was in Vietnam attached to the special forces and discussing this I found out that he was only a few miles away running his battalion and
they said well he could be there but he’s been re-posted to a staff job in Saigon and he’s fighting it. He wants to stay a battalion commander, where all the rest rush off to be staff officers. So to cut a long story short the bloke got his jeep out and I went down and saw him and I wish he had more time because I had a lovely time because I’d enjoyed his writings about war and obviously he’d written about Vietnam before he ever got there. He appeared to me to have all the right approaches but
he was hitting a brick wall. His battalion also had been very, very successful. He had taken aboard what I call a lot of British ideas and used them in his area very successfully. You could have transposed him to Phuc Tui province and he would have worked quite well in our forces using the same techniques and tactics but as he said he was being forced to give up and go and be a staff officer and this would all be down the drain and start again.
I saw the frustration of the man and I could imagine if he had had any way of influencing his officers – they would have been frustrated too because they could see they were getting somewhere, a new CO came along ready to get his box ticked and he’d probably let it all go down hill again. So I did see some frustration at that stage. Professionally though as I say we had almost
daily reports on what we were doing in Phuc Tui Province, particularly when I became battalion commander. We received all the intelligence reports, all their after-action reports and everything and all I knew is that the Australians were doing well in their area. Professionally of course I wanted to command a battalion in action so I wasn’t going to say anything that would stop me from doing that. So I wanted to go there and so did my soldiers.
You said that the VC were an eroded force, the VC that is, but the NVA weren’t?
No. The VC, I’m talking about the village VC the down to earth ones. 274 wasn’t eroded, 274 was a full-time Vietcong Regiment so they weren’t eroded. I’m talking about the local little village VC units, they were eroded - the ones who had an influence and who had been causing the strife for years. People were living a normal life in the villages going to their vegetable gardens.
going to the shops, going along the road to Burea and going with their oxen cart to markets, that part of living in Phuc Tui Province was back to normal. The head men weren’t being killed, we’d done that in the past, they weren’t being asked to produce food and money because by keeping – as I say these little VC units had been knocked
off so they weren’t threatening the villages and people were having a normal life. The Vietcong, NVA and 274 were full-time units on supply lines for rations and everything they weren’t running around blackmailing villages, they were beyond that, they were full-time units.
a meeting of the 3 battalion of 33 NVA and another battalion called D445 which had come up from the south and they were meeting, which I still don’t know why to this day know why they were meeting but they were meeting in the north of the province, whether it was to exchange equipment or to discuss tactics but through various intelligence sources found out they were
there and the taskforce commander decided to make this cordon and search, hammer and anvil approach apparently they called it. So we did our cordoning and I think our security got broken because the way the Americans came in they came in with a lot of noise and carryings on and then 3 RAR and the tanks drove in. We’re the ones who had a pitched company versus company battle
because the North Vietnamese decided to go flit out of the place as quickly as possible and we caught some of them in our cordon but we were catching individuals, in fact I remember there was D445 trying to go south again where as 33 went north. But in the middle of all that, poor old - one particular company of 3 RAR certainly had a company versus company battle.
That was not quite what you were after – that was in June. In July he reversed it and he made 3 RAR put the cordon and we attacked with C Squadron tanks and we hit one first battalion of 274 Regiment and that was a straight out flog, you know. We hit, they hit, we both
reacted. They had dug themselves in complete battalion position of bunkers and we had a lot of fighting and that’s where the tanks were so handy. When a tank screws around on top of bunkers, it buries a few people I’m afraid but it destroys a fixed line for machine guns and without the tanks it would have been a much harder battle. We had quite a few like that and then I can go on and
take you to the very end, not the very end, take you to the twentyfirst of September where we had got rid of – 274 were so knocked up they left the province – so from August on I was conscious our biggest problem was this 33 NVA so we had radio intercept we had all sorts of things going and we’re searching the ground. And suddenly about mid September it was obvious to us that somebody was back in the province again.
One death we had, not one of ours, we killed one enemy – brand new green helmet, brand new everything – no wallet or identification but it was obvious he was NVA. Six days later, it all happened on the one day. In the North, my D Company who came from the north south purposely
hit their first bunker and in hindsight I can tell you now they hit the bunker of the 2nd Battalion not 33NVA, had a bad day in manoeuvring himself around, manoeuvring himself to get a better position you won’t believe it after lunch he set a second lot of bunkers and they were the regiment headquarters and they reacted very ferociously. So he poor old bugger found himself in a (UNCLEAR)
there were the 2nd Battalion, there were the regiment headquarters and he was in the middle. Four hundred kilometres south at seven o clock that morning our APCs were returning from maintenance demand a pick up of supplies, they were almost ambushed but they got out of the ambush quite successfully and at ten o clock that morning I moved B Company into this area and he
was a bit, what’s the word, happy go lucky, he wasn’t convinced that he was going to contact a lot of North Vietnamese, they’d just patrol and wander around. Well one of his patrols got mortared and something else happened to another one and next thing he finds he’s taking on the third battalion of the NVA. By the end of the day he was secure because the 3rd battalion was ordered to withdraw north. Now we could read this because we were intercepting their
radio communications and we knew that the 3rd battalion had been told to withdraw north. That was good news for my B company but how about my D company. It had the 2nd Battalion and the regiments headquarters and now the 3rd battalion was coming north towards them. So we had a few problems extracting, we couldn’t extract D company and nor could I get another company to them until the next morning.
We used all the artillery we could use, but what’s interesting is what – I’ll show you the book afterwards – you’d get an absolute shock to see what aircraft we had. A man called Jade, Jade is an observation post for a pilot, Jade 07 [?] took great pity on us and he brought up every type of aircraft you could think of but in doing so he had to stop our
artillery. They brought the fire in of helicopters and gun ships, the place went mad, you’ve never seen so many aircraft in your life. You almost needed an air traffic controller, which this Jade was doing, to control it all. Anyway, our D company survived, unfortunately we had about five killed and about thirty wounded which wasn’t good but by next morning there wasn’t any 33 NVA
in the Province they had all left. So our biggest problem then was having to blow up two battalions worth of bunkers. What we did find out, an officer was captured by the Americans a month later and he told us that, the officer in interrogation, my IO went up to listen to the interrogation, “Yes, 33NVA had heard the announcement of our withdrawal, the Australians withdrawal form Phuc Tui
Province and they had set up, they had entered the province and they had positioned the 2nd Battalion in their bunkers and the regimental headquarters in their bunkers with radio communications and they had sent the 3rd Battalion south to this isthmus of trees to intercept (and they were the ones who ambushed the APCs that morning) and their aim was to attract
Australian troops out of Nui Dat into this ambush position against the 3rd battalion where they hoped they would do them over and if the Australians tried to come north of course there was the regimental headquarters and the 2nd Battalion waiting for them in their ambush positions too. What threw them out was that we approached them from the north not the south. We were not back in Nui Dat as they thought what we were operating as normal despite what Prime Minister
McMahon had said on Radio Australia. And he only knew about the casualties from the 3rd battalion the ones who started to engage us and then because of our north D Company taking on the others they were told to our assistance. So we know that he knew in his own area of some twenty odd casualties but thought there were more and he knew that the 2nd Battalion regiment headquarters had done very badly, and it’s rather
funny, it wasn’t until 1991 when one of our officers who won an MC [Military Cross] in that particular battle went, and using an interpreter, they went and saw some ex-NVA members who settled in Phuc Tui province and found out that that day when things went ass up for them – it was late in the afternoon when our artillery came in again, when the aircraft went home to be refuelled, and an artillery shell had
killed the regimental commander. It was obvious that the plan, by our intercepts, we worked out later in the afternoon that things weren’t going to plan, something was wrong. When they lost their regimental commander they panicked a bit and lucky for us they withdrew everything. And they must have had an awful lot of people on stretchers because the blood trails and that we found particularly the company that came in the next morning were unbelievable. We couldn’t believe it, they were so
careful with their normal exit trails. With this they couldn’t care a less they were just getting out as fast as they could go. There was blood on leaves and branches. I had a very relieved D company who really thought, with enemy on both sides of them, thought their days were numbered. Remember this is the first attack we’d ever done, in fact it was the first attack for three years the task force had done
against the regulars without tanks. Our tanks were on the seas going back to Australia, we had no say in that. I said to you earlier, tanks are wonderful to use when you’re taking bunkers. Their guns on the top can swivel around and can shut down machine guns, they can swivel on bunkers and bury the people inside very quickly and you don’t get so many killed that way. But to take those bunkers on without the tanks made life a little bit more difficult than it should have
been. And of course they kept running out, I resupplied them with ammunition at one stage – I gave myself a bit of a fright there, I didn’t mean to, the pilot didn’t mean to either - there was cloud coming and going and as you climbed up in the clouds we suddenly heard “phew, phew”. Unbeknownst to us our guns had started and our guns shells went either side of us. He did a thing which the helicopters normally do they don’t normally drop quickly in cloud
because you find hills that way – I don’t blame him he dropped us quickly into the cloud and we survived it. It would have been terrible to have been shot down by your own artillery shells wouldn’t it? Nobody would have known probably how they get shot down. But the next morning we survived. We found we still had D Company and B Company went on ahead just cleaning up what they had found down there – telephone wires, slit trenches and things. In other words they were digging in, we’d just got them in time that 3 battalion.
That was just a bit of luck.
patrols of one week of a particular year. My patrols would have six weeks at a time out. In Korea we never went back to base – in Malaya we were back into base every two weeks or so, in Borneo every two weeks or so. There’s no two years the same in Vietnam, they were never the same, how they operated in 1966 was entirely different to how they operated in 1968 compared to how they operated in 1969 or
1970. It’s hard to make those comparisons. The enemy situation differed. When I told my peers in 1971 we only fought regular full time units, we didn’t fight Vietcong village units, they can’t believe it because all they did was fight village units. So it’s very hard to generalise you’ve got to find out
when was the person there what unit they were in and so on. In fact I read a comment about that the other day, I told you that one hundred and forty-one members of 4 RAR had been to Vietnam before but none of the platoon commanders had. Now the platoon commanders were very much subject to leaning on their sergeants to teach them the job and the rest of it. One of our company commanders in an article wrote just recently or last year or
so said he had to really take some of his sergeants to one side and say this expression you used that’s not the way we did it on the first tour, that means you’re stifling that man’s initiative, he might have a far better idea than what you had on the first tour, you know, you’ve got to lean off that approach. It was interesting, I hadn’t heard of this before but it was interesting he made that point. He used an approach of
training that he wanted them to fail in Australia. If they were going to fail it had to be in Australia so this is my approach too. You wanted them to learn their mistakes in training so they wouldn’t make the mistakes in operations and I think that’s the practical way to go, it was the practical way, still is sorry.
Veterans’ Pensions based on some of the media stories - like I went to Saigon and I did this and I did that. And I recall one case that I had on the Veterans Board some years ago where the bloke came with his wife and children which made it a bit embarrassing because he told us what he did during Tet, how he was a transport driver, a lance corporal, he was told get a mate, get a machine gun go up to Saigon and rescue the Australian headquarters there, the Free World Headquarters which was the Free World Headquarters for
all the people who contributed to the Vietnam War including the Australians. He said “The drive up from Vung Tau up to Saigon, the shells, it was terrible, the mines” and of course by this time he’s got the PTSD [Post Traumatic Shock Disorder] and the shakes. And I had to let him have his say and say “Would you like to turn over to folio five, that’s your service record and if you look down at the seventh line what does it say?” He said “It says embarked
Sydney” the date, seventeenthh August 1968. “What does the next line say?” disembarked Saigon eighteenth August 1968”. I said “The Tet Offensive was in January and February, how could you have done that?” He said “Oh, maybe I imagined it” and we talked on for another
fifteen minutes and eventually he said “I wasn’t there was I, I’ve been dreaming this up?” So we let him down very nicely and showed him the door but he wasn’t the only one we’ve had like that but he took it nicely.