Archive number: 1725
Date interviewed: 31 March, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Thank you for giving us your time today, the archives wouldn’t exist without your time, so thank you very much.
I’d like to start off today by asking you if you can tell me where you were born?
I was born in Adelaide.
And where did you grow up?
And where did you go to school?
Marist – well in primary school, St Joseph’s at Keswick and secondary school was Marist Brothers at Everton.
Well we’ll certainly come back and talk more about that. But roughly when did you enlist in the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]?
1963, it was the 10th of January.
And where did you do your rookies [rookie training]?
Rookie training was done in Wagga.
And roughly how long was your rookies?
Rookies are only basic three months training, then you go on to do a – in our case it was a TM [Technical Mechanic] course, which is a technical mechanics training course.
And how long was the TM course?
That was about six months I think, initially.
And where did you do that?
That was in Wagga. Then we’d go on from there, I went to do an electrical serviceman’s course also in Wagga.
Would that be ESM [Electrical Service Mechanic], or…?
Yeah, I’m not sure what they call it, electrical service mechanic, I think that’s right.
Again in Wagga?
Yes, that’s right.
Ok, well we’ll come back and talk about that course. Any other courses after that one?
Well from there we did initial training outside of the Wagga base, you’re posted to another air force base of some sort, which in my case it was Canberra, and from Canberra we went to – that was six months in Canberra on the helicopters, in
my case it was helicopters, and then I went back to Wagga again to do another six-month course, which was an electrical fitting course.
And after the electrical fitting course?
I went to Edinburgh, spent about 18 months there, approximately.
And after Edinburgh?
I went to – posted to Butterworth, Malaysia, and from Butterworth went to Vietnam, and then that was about 10 months there.
And the year that – you were in Butterworth in ’66?
Yep, that’s right.
And Vietnam was ’67?
Sixty-seven to ’68, yes.
Ok, so you went to Vietnam in roughly April ’67?
That’s correct, yes.
Ok. And so it was about a year for that tour?
About 10 or 11 months, I think.
Ok, well we’ll come back and talk a lot more about your tour in Vietnam. And when did you leave Vietnam?
And that was repatriation back to – sorry, it wasn’t repatriation, it was just coming back to Australia?
No, I actually had to come back, medivaced [medically evacuated] back to Australia, I did actually go to Butterworth, back to Butterworth to be – had a specialist look at my leg there, and then he said I needed to go to Sydney to have an operation.
And after you recovered from that operation, did you return to Butterworth?
Yes, I did.
And when were you discharged from the RAAF, or when did you retire?
Yeah, it was January the 9th, 1969.
And what did you do after the RAAF?
Went into the PMG [Post Master General’s Department] for a short time, which was
mail exchange, and then went into PMG telecommunications which was changed of course to Telecom later, and that’s where I was till about – overall, officially about ’94, I think, yes.
And what was your job with Telecom?
Technician, yes, just working in telephone exchanges and doing maintenance and
modifications, that sort of thing.
And when were you married?
Married in ’63.
Two children, a girl and a boy.
And how old are they now?
Carrie would be 37 I think,
and Derrick’s 35. Not young any more.
Good. Ok, well that’s fantastic, that’s given us a really good – a good – I’m just wondering if there’s any other questions I have about that. Yes, no, so you were
injured about March ’68?
I was injured in January, on January the 28th, ’68.
Ok, so there was a week or so before you were medivaced back?
Well it was more than that, it was actually – I went back to – I was in hospital in Phan Rang, a USA [United States of America] hospital, for were about six days, went back to work
for a period of time, but they kept swelling up with bullet wound.
All right, well we’ll come back and talk about that later. Well that’s fantastic. That’s given us a great…
Scope. So what I’d like to do now is go back to the beginning.
And you grew up in Adelaide? Where was your family home?
Myleston, that’s off South Road, it’s a three-bedroom house with a fowl house out the back, and the old story, ducks and fowls and almonds and fruit trees and that sort of thing. And a large family, six children, I was born prior to ’39, which is prior to the Second World War, which means I had the boyfriends of my older sisters and that around the house and they had their –
they got married and had their children, stayed in the same house, so it was a big house full of people, so yes.
And you said there were six children, so where were you in that…?
I was the last baby, yes. So a bit tough.
Why was it tough being the youngest?
Oh well, I think you’re the one doing the dishes and you’re the one doing the cleaning and so on at times, so yeah, it’s pretty normal, yeah, if they can get out of it they will, they’ve got the boyfriends to go out with and
I’d be home doing the dishes.
Well just before we talk about what you remember of World War 11, just tell me a bit more about your house. What was it like?
Size or you mean the – the size was – it’s really a two-bedroom house where the dining – the lounge was used as another bedroom, we had two sleep-outs as
well, one at either end of the house, and my brother, myself and brother, the next oldest to me, we slept in the back bedroom, so a back sleep-out, and then we had tents and caravans in the backyard as well, so quite a few people.
And what was the house made out of?
It was a Mt Gambier stone, iron roof, usual sort of thing in those days.
I think most of the houses in the area were very similar in style, sort of bungalow style.
And where was the bathroom?
That was inside the house, but I’m trying to think, the actual toilet was outside, but in the veranda area, yeah, it was fully connected to sewerage type of thing, it was no thunder
box or anything like that, so, yes. But we had plenty of fruit out the back and almond trees and so on, so it was great.
And did the house have a veranda?
A veranda at the front, a small veranda at the front, and part of that was enclosed in a sleep out. My oldest brother, he was in the Second World War, so – and that’s where he stayed. Very small, but he seemed to
cope all right. Didn’t mind, because he was coming home at late hours I suppose, he didn’t disturb anyone. So he was happy with that.
And tell me about your mother.
Mum, I suppose mothers in those days were sort of just hard working ladies, weren’t they? They were sort of – she only had one holiday that I remember, and
she – apart from that she was cooking and washing, cooking and washing. So yes, she had a holiday, went back to England where she came from, Liverpool, had a holiday back there and I think she was away for about three months or something, quite a while. I think I was about 12 or in that age bracket when she went. Went with one of my sisters, so they travelled together, and they had a good time obviously, went
in the boat and travelled on the Oronsay or one of those old P&O [shipping company] lines, and yeah, had a good time.
Well she had a lot of children to care for. Who helped her?
I suppose Dad to some extent, he’d do the – we had the old coppers and that to boil the washing in, and they had the old wring out boards, they had in those days, the scrubbing boards and that. It wasn’t
until later that we actually got a washing machine, a Simpson washing machine, and of course the fridge even, the fridge was a later – and that wasn’t till probably the ’50s until we got a fridge, so we had an icebox until probably the late ’40s, early ’50s.
And where did your icebox fit?
Well there was a kitchen then there was a lobby, so it was in the lobby, and the ice would be delivered on a daily
basis, milk would be delivered in a can on a daily basis, fill up the can out the front, yes. That’s bringing back memories there.
Well it is quite a different way of living to today.
Oh, it certainly was, yes. Things have changed a lot since then, even things like radios, they had the old wireless radio, which was valve
operation, and a big old box, a beautiful piece of furniture, but the quality wasn’t there, of course. So you’d have to strain your ear a bit to hear it properly and listen to the cricket or whatever. And the fireplace in the corner, all the wood’d be chopped on a daily basis and through the winter all crowd around this fire and get a bit of warmth. Most of the heat would go up the chimney I think. So that was
the lifestyle then.
And what was your dad like?
Dad worked till he was 75, he went from the tramways, 42 years in the tramways, and then he continued, at 65 when they retired him, he continued through to 75 doing cleaning and store work and that type of thing, you know, so he would have worked till he was 80, he died at 85, but he would have worked till he was 85 if he could, that’s what he was like.
Never thought of retirement in those days, keep going. Big family.
And what sort of hours did he work?
Well he often did two shifts, on the trams they worked to fairly odd hours, they did broken shifts and things like that, and if the next person coming on to the – when he would be going off shift, the other person didn’t turn up, he would just continue that shift as well, so he could quite easily work say 16 hours in a day.
Yes. That’s how they operated. He didn’t mind that because he liked the money, he needed the money I think, to keep the large family going. But he worked through the Depression years, so he was lucky to have a job all the time.
And who metered out the discipline in your house?
Probably my oldest brother, I think, more than anybody else, towards me anyhow, yes. Dad,
we didn’t sort of see a lot of Dad because of work, and more my older brother I’d say, so he was sort of 19 years older than me, I think, no, 15 years older than me.
And how did you react to your older brother?
We had our tiffs I think, yes, sure of that.
What would he tell you off for?
Probably answering back or not doing my chores, or whatever it might be, or not wanting to eat fish at the kitchen table or something, all those sorts of things, just general things, nothing serious.
Well what do your – what are your memories of growing up during the World War 11 years?
You were a bit young, but…
Yes, I do remember quite a bit, because we were all handed our little Aussie flags and American flags, and my sisters had American boyfriends as well, they were bringing home Coca Colas and chewing gum and things like that. And I remember things like searchlights in the air and you know, scouring the skies at night
and the school having the windows blackened and things like that, yes. Closing all the curtains and so on, yes, getting pretty dark.
And what sort of impression did those American boyfriends leave on you?
Well they were great, because they gave us chewies and Coca Cola. Of course the accent was the thing that amazed me, they spoke different so – and they were very friendly and happy-go-lucky types,
out for a good time, obviously.
And what did you think of the taste of Coca Cola?
Well, it was great, but we weren’t – oh, Coke, yes well it was terrific, because we had never had anything like that in our lives until they turned up, so – and the chewing gum, we only got sort of one little square, and that was halved, that was all we were allowed, that was dished out on sort of a ration basis, because we were on rations as I said,
everyone had ration cards, so food was fairly scarce, so you didn’t overeat. But as I say, we had chooks and ducks and – so we had plenty to eat, really.
And did any of those American boyfriends last?
No, they didn’t, but I think they still kept in contact for many years later. In fact,
my sister was here just after Christmas, and she brought that up a couple of times about the war years and me being the baby of the family of course, and she used to sort of torment me a bit with lipstick on my bum and things like that, you know, the old story, kiss my bum and tell me I was a naughty boy whatever, that’s the sort of things she brings back.
mentioned was it your oldest brother who went away to war?
Yes, he went to – he went out of Darwin, he was in the navy, and did a tour of Darwin, I think he did a tour out of Darwin as well, they did the mine sweepers and things like that, so he did a few tours around the place, mostly in South Pacific area, I think. And Dad was in the First World War of course, the photograph’s over there of my father.
He went to the Somme and there was a there was the 11th Field Ambulance there, and he was lucky, he avoided any major problems, but he certainly saw all the problems, he was amongst the problems but he never got – he got gassed and things like that, but never got any major problems. He coped quite well.
So did you say he was field regiment or…?
Eleventh field ambulance he was in, yes. So they’d follow up and clean up the mess and whatever. Yes, he would have had a fairly traumatic time in that period of time in France.
And do you think that he was affected by that experience?
Well as a young child, see he was 50 when I was born, so it was very difficult for me to know how he was affected.
He didn’t – to me he didn’t seem to be, but there again I wouldn’t know what to look for I suppose. But yes, he seemed to cope well. I think a difference in the First and Second World Wars in comparison to Vietnam was that that was accepted and they were seen as heroes you see, whereas Vietnam was the opposite.
And was it just the one brother that you had that went away to service?
Another brother he avoided it, he was in the call up in the ’50s, the National Service, but he never went anywhere and didn’t go to Korea or anything like that, never got called up to service, in other words. He just did the National Service.
Ok, I’m just going to stop, because…we’re talking about World War 11 and those years,
and you mentioned your father was in service and also your brother.
Yes, Dad was in the First World War, Laurie, my brother was in the Second World War.
What sort of impression did particularly your brother signing up leave on you?
Well, I didn’t know about him signing, but I remember him being away and I remember him coming back. Yes, I
thought he was my hero, you know, at that time because anyone in the war was probably seen as a hero, so yes, the impression was probably heroic sort of thing, yes, it was.
And why do you think you looked up to him in that way?
Probably because he was in uniform and they’re all flag
waving, I didn’t really know why but that’s – I was too young to know why, because I think I was only six or seven when I saw him come back from the Second World War, yes.
And going back to those American boyfriends, what did they know about music?
Well the music that I – I remember the music myself, but I don’t remember what they knew about music. I know that all
the Andrew Sisters and that type of thing were in vogue, and Glen Miller and whatever, because all those records were out and I used to listen to them as well, I loved them. It was great music. Yes, so I’m not sure how they, they’d obviously be – being Americans they would have been dancing, I suppose, but I wouldn’t have a clue, really, I’d be just thinking that’s probably the case.
And the school that you mentioned being blacked out, was that your primary school at Keswick?
Yes, that’s right.
And what do you remember of those blackouts?
Well I think it’s just the – it didn’t worry me, I didn’t even know why it was being done. It was just that you accepted it as
being normal, I suppose. Never really told us why, they just closed the curtains and whatever, and that was it. Didn’t know why I was sitting there in semi-darkness. But it was just, I don’t know whether it was just practice type things they were doing, I can’t – because we never got bombed or anything like that, so maybe just a practice thing that I remember, hard to say.
And what sort of games did you play as a young boy?
Under five games or older? What age?
Just going into school age, under 10?
Under 10. Well we mostly played in the streets, kicked a footy, cricket and tennis, hockey, all played in the street. We used to play – there was a huge number of children, we used to play things Arrow Heidi at night, we’d play till 10 o’clock at night, just running the streets with
a piece of chalk and that, in teams, you know, they had to fight, and yes, that was good fun. We had plenty to do, we seemed to always be playing sport of some sort, yes.
What was your favourite sport?
I think tennis in those days, at that age bracket it was tennis, because there were a lot of tennis courts around, and I used to use my sister’s old tennis racquet with broken strings, get out on the tennis court and away we’d go.
So I still play a bit of tennis now, but no broken strings any more.
And where were the courts?
They were only sort of two blocks away, there was another lot about three blocks away, they were in a different direction. And there was another block about five blocks away, the other way, so they were all pretty close and handy. And we weren’t actually members, we’d just go when no-one was there and go and play tennis, use their tennis courts and their nets, and
yes, that was good. And everyone seemed to play tennis, so it was a good area for tennis players, or seemed to be growing in that area.
Well moving on, you mentioned you went to Marist Boys…
Marist Brothers. What was that school like?
Very strict, the cane was used quite often,
and one particular brother [priest], the head brother, he was an English teacher, and he was very knowledgeable but he just couldn’t teach, that was his problem, he was easily upset in the classroom so we’d purposely upset him to get him offside, therefore we didn’t have to do English. But the school generally, it was a woodwork and technical type school, woodwork and metalwork, the only
standard went to Intermediate as long as I went there, that’s all we needed in those days to get a good job, so yes. It was pretty strict though.
And was Marist Brothers a denominational school of any sort? Religious?
Yes, religious, yes, Catholic, and it was a boys only school, Catholic school and they were all brothers teaching there.
But they all knew how to use the cane.
And how often did you get the cane?
Reasonably often. Probably once a week or something, who knows, that’s a long time ago. But you wouldn’t have to do much to get the cane, you know, if you were talking or anything like that, away you go. They’d belt you. Got used to it.
Still, it’s not a great way to live, to know that you’re getting the cane once a week.
Yes, well I’m saying that’s sort of an average. It seemed to be dished out fairly freely, so everyone seemed to get a serve somewhere along the line. Some got a lot worse than I did.
Picking up where we left off, how did you react to your school environment at the Marist Brothers…?
think it’s sort of – you tune to it, because we didn’t know anything else, we thought that was the normal way to be brought up at school, getting belted, you know? And I suppose for that reason we were all sort of – we toed the line generally, you know, you don’t get out of line too much, and this probably goes through your whole life when you’re brought up that way, sort of do as you’re told and that was it. I think that’s how they taught us, and that’s what we did.
And how would you
describe yourself as a young teenager growing up? What sort of personality did you have?
I was good at sports, and I was a pretty happy-go-lucky type, you know, sort of didn’t have too many worries at all, I was just a – just the general – and fitting into society I suppose, yes. Nothing out of place. I did a couple of minor things as a kid, I went joyriding with another lad in a car, that was at the
age of 17 or something, but apart from that I was well behaved, yes. I think I didn’t sort of upset too many people, you’re too busy playing sports I think, that’s probably what it was, toeing the line.
And the school that you went to was Catholic.
Why was it that you went to a Catholic school?
Catholic family, you go to a Catholic school, and it was seen, you know, from Dad’s point of view I suppose he wanted us to go to a private school rather than a public school, so seemed to be a better education there, I suppose, better chance of getting work and so on, and that would have fitted into his fairly strict Catholic upbringing.
And how did you respond to being brought up a Catholic?
I didn’t know any better, the
other kids we played with weren’t Catholic, and we all sort of got on well together, no-one seemed to worry about that, so we all played sports together and so on.
And how often did the family attend mass and…?
Mum and Dad probably every week, or Dad probably twice a week, and of course we had to go on the Sunday for – through the teenage years, up to probably 17, 18, and I just sort of slowly peters out, stopped going,
like most of the family, other things to do.
And did you have a bike as a young…?
Initially I didn’t have a bike, I used my sisters’ bikes, even to go to secondary school. I used to turn the handlebars back to front so it didn’t look too much like a girls bike. And
I thought it was ok, it got me to school and no-one seemed to tease me about it. But Dad did buy me a bike at the age of about 15, I think, got a first boy’s bike, two-wheeler, and you know, I had that for quite a number of years, that was my bike.
And where would you ride it, apart from school?
I rode it everywhere, we rode virtually all over Adelaide. Used to ride down to the beaches and carry it over sand hills to get to the West Beach
and – of course the airport wasn’t built, it was being built at that time, so we used to – to get to West Beach you had to carry the bike over the sand hills, there was no road going through there. But we went out to Colonel Light Gardens and out to the eastern side of town, into the city, upper, North Adelaide, everywhere on the bike. We didn’t really have the money to even get bus fares, we’d just get on the bike and go, and pinch someone’s
watermelon on the way to have something to eat, out the front. Yes, we could always find some food of some sort on the way, down a creek or something there’s wild apples and pears and things growing in the creek, figs and that. So we’d always find something to eat.
Well it is hard to imagine Adelaide without the airport there, what was your district like? Can you describe it?
Well my district
hasn’t changed, it was one of the close in to the city so it was there from the time I remember, it hadn’t really changed a lot, well it has changed now, there’s – my – the old house has gone, there’s flats there and so on. So it’s changes in the last 20 years have been flats. But living in that environment in those days it was just a suburb environment, you know, there wasn’t a lot of trees, there were trees in the street but we were sort of surrounded by houses generally.
And what were your aspirations when you were at school? What did you want to be?
I had no idea. Because my brother became a plumber I thought, “Maybe I’ll become a plumber.” And I actually left school and I – the first job I got was with Ingars and Taylors
and I worked there for a week, thinking I might become a tailor, because I liked it at the time and they treated me well and so on.” But Dad didn’t think it’d be a good job, so I said, “Well if Dad says it’s not a good job I’m not going to stay. So I went to a place called Thompson Harvey, and that was about a week, but I cut my hands to pieces on all the glass, and that was the sort of job I knew I wouldn’t like. And Mum said, “What about going to Nomess Electronics,” so I went to
Nomess’s and did about five years there I think, and from there I went on to the PMG.
Well did you get an apprenticeship with…?
With Nomess, yes I was an apprentice with Nomess Electronics and then went on from there to the PMG.
And what was involved in doing your apprenticeship?
That was electrical – radio electrical stuff, yes.
And how often a week did you go to school?
One night and one day, or one afternoon I think, through the week.
And where was the school?
The School of Minds, which is now the Adelaide Technical I think they call it now, on the corner of Frome Road in North Terrace Hill.
And what did you learn? What sort of things did you learn? Can you tell us a bit about that apprenticeship?
Well it’s just building radios, amplifiers, public address work, repairs and just electrical maintenance of toasters and irons, in those days you used to change all the elements. But radio was just valve radios in those days. Television
came in, in that period of time and – about ’58 I think, so that was all new to us in those days.
And during your apprenticeship where were you living?
Myleston where I was born, stayed there. I lived there until I went in the air force, which was 1963.
And where was the company that you were working for?
Nomess you mean? They were in – on South Road at Black Forest, I don’t know if they’re still there, they may still be there.
And how were your bosses and…?
Yeah, good, nice people, good crowd to work for, yes. But it was just something that I thought the end result I needed to move on and do something different, so that’s what happened. It was easy to find work, so you
didn’t have to worry about searching around for any work.
Well you did mention that you did go for one hoon when you were about 17?
Yes, that’s right. Yes, a lad, he stole this car from around the district somewhere, and he came to – we were all around this fish shop with our motorbikes in those days, and he said, “Look, I’ve just bought this car,” or some such thing, he said, “Do you want to go for a drive?” It was an
FJ Holden, or an FE Holden, one of those, and so off we went, down to Victor Harbour and on the way back he told us it was a stolen car, so – and then he went and put it back where he actually stole it from, and they obviously caught him and he dobbed us in as well, and we said, “Oh my god,” so we wore it as well.
Were there punishments?
Well, I was put on a 12-month bond or something, a good behaviour bond for joyriding,
and yeah, so live and learn.
And when did you think about getting your driver’s licence?
I got it at 16 years old, I was at Nomess at the time and I’d never driven a car, and the boss said, “Well drive this into town to get our licence,” and I did drive one of the vehicles at Nomess’s into town and got my licence and so I got it the same day. You only had to do
a verbal test in those days, a very simple test, so it’s probably why we’re all bad drivers now. There was no actual practical test involved. But I think the laws are something you learn as you go along anyhow, they’re quite simple. They’ve become more complicated now than they ever were, I think.
Ok, well we might just
stop the tape there and change it.
Interviewee: Peter Hussin Archive ID 1725 Tape 02
Peter, we were just talking about who was living at home while you were doing your apprenticeship. Couple of your other siblings had moved out, so how many children were at home while you were doing your apprenticeship?
My brother Dave, sister Cath and Laurie, my
oldest brother, yes. So four of us.
And how well were you all getting on?
Yes, there was a bit of friction I think, different age brackets, you always get a little bit of friction, but overall we all got on reasonably well. Cath actually moved out, she went to New Zealand, round about that period of time she went to New Zealand and lived there for a
number of years and came back to Australia, got married over there, and came to Australia again. That was all in that area of time.
And what about girlfriends as a teenager?
Plenty of those. Yeah, there was a lot of friendships and that, and dancing and never in sort of relationship type things,
but there were plenty of girls around to chat to and take out and go to movies with, and we all sort of went in groups, and that sort of…yeah.
And fashions and music began to change during the ’50s, how did that affect you?
Oh, I loved the rock and roll era, it was fantastic, yeah, it brought all the era of age bracket that was really their time, you know, the sort of –
the changing music I think, the major change of music from the old Glen Miller days and things like that. And of course the parents didn’t like it, I think, not that they said much, but – because we were all sort of jumping out of our skin all over the place, they couldn’t understand it because it was too noisy for them. But yeah, we thought it was great.
And were you a dancer?
Yeah, I loved to dance, yes, still do.
What sort of dances did you do?
rock and roll and all the quicksteps and you know, the general stuff in those days, ballroom dancing type of thing. So it was all sort of mixed in the same dance things, dance halls.
And what did you wear when you were doing rock and roll dancing?
Initially I think we had to wear coat and tie I think, to get in, I remember rightly. But in a rock and roll type situation, you’d be sort of in jeans, tight jeans and big thick
shoes and bright coloured ties and jumpers and socks. So that was different. Places like the Semaphor Palais was pretty alive into rock and roll, that was all jeans. But all the ballroom dancing was at the Nord and Wonderland and those areas, coat and tie. Didn’t matter much, it was all weird.
And did you have any favourite songs from that period?
They’re probably all favourites to me, I think there’s a lot of them alike, so there’s nothing that sort of stood out to me. I suppose Rock Around The Clock was the initial one that really stuck in my head all the time, because that sort of makes everyone jump up straight away. But that’s not necessarily a favourite, it was just one that sort of sticks in my mind, yes. But I’ve still got all the rock and roll records around the place, somewhere.
And the dances that you went to, was the music being played live, or was it…?
Yeah, live, live music. And often they’d have a vocalist who would sing. I think Bob Francis is involved in those, do you know Bob Francis? He’s on radio now, he was even involved as a compere in those days.
And what did you enjoy about those times?
Oh, the easy going, I don’t know, I suppose music generally is just an enjoyment in itself, and then meeting girls for the first time, and that sort of thing.
What sort of difficulties did you have?
Well socialising and…?
I can’t think of any that I really think I had, no.
No problems that way. We all sort of socialised quite easily. We weren’t allowed to drink at the dances and that, but we used to sneak away, within 300 yards, you could go 301 yards and have a drink. So we’d do that and go to the dances and so on, park your car that far away. So it was totally different, you’re not allowed to drink in the halls, so it was totally different.
And how easy was it to get
you know, some alcohol?
It was easy to get, there was no problem getting it, you just didn’t sort of drink within that area of distance.
And what about smoking?
I didn’t smoke, I just can’t remember if you were allowed to smoke in dance halls or not, I just can’t remember that.
Well, after you did your apprenticeship, where did you go?
Yes, I went to the PMG then, and I stayed there for quite a number of years, and then went into the air force.
What sort of work were you doing with the PMG?
Technician-style work, it was the maintenance of switchboards and modifications and things like that, telephone equipment.
And how interesting was the work for you?
Well, it was ok, it was work, but not something you really sort of set your mind to do the rest of your life. It was all right.
Why did you find it a bit boring?
Well it was much the same work all the time, there wasn’t a lot of variation to
it, it was sort of bench work, and you’d do a similar thing each time, so it was a bit tedious. And being inside again was another problem, where you’re sort of sitting at a bench and working, not sort of getting around too much, so it was a bit tedious.
And where was the PMG workplace?
That was in Franklin Street
initially, and then we went down to Kidman Park, so it was – they moved the whole block and dice down there. And I’m trying to think when that was, about 1961 or 1962, something like that.
And how would you get to work?
That period of time I was driving a car. Prior to that, when we were in the city I’d catch the bus into town, there was nowhere to park there, so I’d catch the bus in.
How had you managed to get yourself a car?
That was in – I’d saved the money, I think I took out a bit of finance at that time, yes, I’m just trying to think what I paid for it, $1500 or something, 1500 pound maybe, I can’t think what it was now.
And what sort of car was it?
It was an FJ, FJ Holden, yes. Then I moved on to an FE and so on, up the ladder.
And what colour was the FJ?
It was actually grey, I jazzed it up a bit with a bit of red on the outside, and did the grill a different colour and so on, yeah. Had a grey and red interior, or pink interior or something, and so I just coloured it a bit more on the outside.
Sound like it’d be a collectors’ item now.
Yes, if I still had it, it would be. Yeah, it’d be worth hanging onto.
Well, moving on, you were still living at home and you’re not so happy with your job at the PMG. Tell us how you came to even consider enlisting in the RAAF.
Well I think I must have seen it in a newspaper or something, to sort of attract my attention to it, and I asked a few questions around the place,
my – one of my brothers-in-law had been in the air force, and I asked him a few questions and he said, “Yeah, you’d probably enjoy the life, the outdoor life, and working around aircraft is always exciting,” so I said I’d give that a go and see it goes. And so I did, and when sort of, I think probably six months of applying, I was in the air force, medicals and so on.
And what did your
mother and father think of you wanting to enlist?
It didn’t worry them at all, quite happy for me to go there.
And where did you go to enlist?
Adelaide city, wherever the recruitment office was in those days, somewhere in the city.
And what sort of medical did you do?
Just the general
medical they do, doing all the blood tests, look at your mouth and teeth and you know, your general physical set up.
And did you quit the PMG before you enlisted, or did you wait?
I had to wait for the call up date. I had applied while I was in the PMG and waited for the call up date, and then gave my fortnightly notice, or whatever it was.
And how did the other blokes at the
PMG react to you?
They thought it was good, they said, you know, “Don’t stay, get in there,” you know, so they thought it was a good idea. A lot of them were older than me, of course, and they were probably thinking well you know, you’re better off doing that than you are staying in the PMG.
But there was no-one else, none of your other mates from the PMG went with you?
Yeah, I think I might have been the youngest one there at the time, and most of them were sort of 10 years older plus, than me.
And how long was it before you got your call up?
Waiting for a call from – yes, I think from the time of the medical it was probably three, four months or something, something similar to that. I’m not really sure now.
And why particularly the air force? What about other services?
Well, I thought no to the army, because I was seeing the foot sloggers all the time and not so much of the excitement side of it. The navy, well yes, you spend a lot of time at sea too, I suppose. I thought I’d rather be on land. Yes, the air force appealed to
me anyhow, yes, the aircraft generally.
And for you, from what you’re telling us today, I’m just wondering, because you were fairly career motivated, what about the other motivation for enlisting to do with serving your country? How influential was that in your mind?
I never thought of it along those lines, as serving for my country, like defending the country, because at the
time there wasn’t any conflict. I was looking at it more as a job than anything else, and so you know, that really didn’t come into my mind at the time, you know, serving for the country. Even though I knew obviously there was – we could be involved, but that didn’t worry me, generally.
And when you enlisted for the RAAF, what aspirations did you have apart from the skills that you already had? Did you have any other dreams?
You mean ambition towards something? No, I just thought, well I’ll just do the normal routine sort of improvements as you go along and see what happens.
And did you want to be a pilot?
Well initially I thought I could try for a pilot, but you know, your qualifications weren’t there, going to Intermediate wasn’t really high enough and whether I had the reflex actions I’m not sure either, so – to fly a plane. But there again those days I think the pilots didn’t have to be that top notch either, they were sort of – the aircraft weren’t that sort of sophisticated, so...
But they certainly became more sophisticated in that period of time I was there.
Well where did you initially start off doing your rookies?
That was in Wagga, which was a nice township really, it was very cold in the winter and hot in the summer,
but quite a big air force base, and basically training base, in those days it was just purely training, not only rookie training but technical training, you did all types of technical training, all types of musterings of aircraft.
And what sort of send off did you get from home?
Well, just Mum and Dad at the train really, then my
girlfriend who became my wife, she was there as well, that was basically it. Everyone said, “See you later,” sort of thing. So it was just a friendly sort of, you know, have a good time, enjoy yourself, see you on holidays or whatever.
Well it’s interesting to hear that you already had your girlfriend. What was her name?
By then. What did you discuss with her about you going away?
Yes, well I said to her, you
know, once the training’s finished, we had decided we’d get married that same year, and then from then on she’d be living with me, wherever we were, but I wanted to get the training out of the way first so we could get posted and find a place at the same – wherever we were posted to.
And where had you two met up?
In Adelaide at a dance.
One of those rock and roll dances?
Yes, it was actually I think, yes, I think it was,
called the Princeton Club, that was sort of semi-rock and roll and semi – there wasn’t a lot of room to dance there, so it was really crowded. A bit sleazy really in a way, that place. Yeah, all the hippies were going there in those days.
But that wasn’t you?
No, I was never a hippie, no. I was sort of a bit straighter than that, I think. But that’s were we met and both enjoyed dancing and music.
And did she have a job at all when you went away?
Yes, she was a dressmaker. She had been a dressmaker since she left school, and she sort of had to give that away of course when we got married, that was at a later stage. So that all sort of worked its way through.
Well what were your impressions at Wagga when you first arrived?
Yes, a little bit scary in a way, because not knowing what to expect. And that was the first sort of air force discipline sort of thing, where they try to snap you into line, all these no-hopers come in, in civvies [civilian clothing] you know, trying to get them doing
something, change their ideas and change their ways of doing things. So you know, regulation haircuts and all that sort of thing. So all those sort of things were new to us, and it took – some of the lads couldn’t hardly walk properly, let alone march properly, so it was sort of quite – and some of them never tidied a cupboard in their lives and never made a bed, I’m sure of it. So all those things are sort of funny to some of us and some of them took it seriously. So it depends on how you were brought up at that
I was going to ask you what you took with you. You just mentioned you turned up in civvies.
Yeah, that’s all you were told to take, most of your clothes, you know, not a lot of clothes, because you didn’t have a lot of room, and your general toiletry stuff, shoes and things like that. From then on they’d all sort of get stuck in the cupboard and they gave you a uniform and away you went. So you wore that for the next three months or something.
And wore out their boots and things, and that was it.
And where was your accommodation on base?
Well, they were little sort of igloos, I think there was probably eight of us, eight to 10 in one of these igloos, and there was four or five of those, so we…
You were showing me a picture of one of those igloos, but for the camera, can you just describe what that looked like?
Well it was like half a cylinder, and so it was round, from one side of the other had no flat roof to it, corrugated iron I think, wooden floorboards, and probably eight beds in there or whatever, with a cupboard alongside, and that was it. Small windows.
Small windows and
door at both ends I think, yes.
It is an unusual shape, those igloos.
How spacious were they inside?
A lot roomier than you would expect, and a lot bigger than you would expect, they’re quite large inside, plenty of room to move, yes.
And how were they heated or cooled?
No heating, no nothing, just throw some
more blankets if you got cold, and it was very cold, and very hot there too, two extremes. Because we had our great coats of course, which are the great heavy coats and gloves, you had to wear gloves in the morning, otherwise you couldn’t bend your fingers. Then handling weapons which – you had to wait for the middle of the day before you could sort of – supple enough to shoot a weapon or whatever.
And in those
igloos, you mentioned there were eight beds lined up...
I think it was eight, eight or 10.
Did you have any lockers or...?
Yeah, a locker with a cupboard, that was it, to keep our gear in. That was supposedly open for inspection every week, or every day if they wanted to, so you had to keep everything tidy and clean, polished.
And how comfy were the beds?
Yeah, ok, I slept all right on them. A little bit of a dip in them, but I think
they were only wire mattresses, but they were ok. You got used to them.
And in that first period of being a rookie, you’re now away from home sharing an igloo with seven others, how did you respond to the loss or privacy?
Yes, that was probably a thing that took a bit of adjusting to, learning to live with other people in
that environment, especially when they’re just strangers to you, because everyone came from different states, did things a different way, different personalities and so on. But you sort of – you learn to cope with that I think, it’s sort of forced on you and you learn to cope with it, you put up with things you wouldn’t normally put up with, and they put up with things they wouldn’t normally put up with. But you generally get on – we got on pretty well, really no hassles.
No slight irritations, or...?
Oh, you get slight irrigations, yes, you know, there was one guy who used to always toss a guy out of bed in the morning, and you know, just annoy him, and those sort of things get you sort of thinking a bit. A few minor skirmishes. But that’s fairly normal.
And what about guys picking on each other?
Yes, there was –
one of the huts at the end of ours, there was a couple of skirmishes there that got out of hand a little bit, but seemed to settle down.
Can you tell us about one of those skirmishes?
Well I wasn’t there, I sort of went in to see what was going on, but I don’t really know what it was about, someone had annoyed someone else over something, and so they had a bit of a rumble or tumble or something, didn’t last long.
Well there is an element of having to prove yourself in a new group of people? So how did you I guess, establish yourself in this intake of rookies?
Well I’m not sort of saying this out of context, but I actually was the top in sport there, in the physical side of
it, so I suppose being that way anyhow would have just established some sort of credentials, which means I was the fittest, at the end of that course I was the fittest. So that in itself I suppose might have been some sort of help.
And what sort of physical training were you put through?
Well, we did a lot of running and marching and
push ups , sit ups, all the physical type. They used to call it 5BX [Basic Exercises] exercises, and that was all the basic exercises to get your body fitter. Initially you started of with doing all these exercises without any training, and they sort of noted your ability then, and after three months of training they noted your ability again and they wanted that improvement to be shown,
and I think in all cases everyone improved, climbing ropes and all sorts of things.
And how competitive were you?
Oh, I was pretty competitive, yes. Because I suppose you like to feel you’re a bit better than the guy next to you, so you have to sort of beat him. So yeah, it was pretty normal, competition.
Well I’ve seen pictures
and film of the typical kind of obstacle course, but can you tell us about some of those physical tests that you had to run through?
Yes, we didn’t have much in the way of those courses, they seemed to be with the army-orientated things, but we certainly did, you know, the competition running three or four ks [kilometres] or something. And – what
else did we do in those days, long marches and that type of thing, endurance type things rather than – and of course being in a gymnasium we had to do all these running across the inside of the gym doing your exercises at one side then running back to the other and do the exercises there, and this would go on for quite a while. So you sort of try and notch up more than the guy next door, so as to stay in front of him, sort of thing. Yes, it was quite a bit of physical work for three months.
And where did you go marching?
Basically round the perimeter of the base, and so – with full equipment on, you know, rifle and so on, on your shoulder. Heavy boots, cold weather, whatever. And we used to do things like fire fighting drills, and you know,
similar things like that.
And what about team sports? What team sports did you play?
Played basketball and played tennis. Football wasn’t really available to us unless you could play on the local side, which is the Wagga side, though we weren’t there, sort of we were the odd times, not sort of over 12 months, so if you were there for 12 months or six months you could probably
have the time to train with them or something, but as you’re rookies, you couldn’t really go off the base at the time, except on the weekend, you could go off. So we never considered playing locally. But we had our own air force team, football team, which I didn’t play in, but I – because I was going back on the weekends to Adelaide, every time I got the opportunity to come back to Adelaide, so that was sort of on a fortnightly basis, so I didn’t play any weekend sport there. But
some of them did, some played sport.
And how did you get back to Adelaide?
I drove back. Every second weekend, probably, a fair hike. And bringing back other people who were coming back to Adelaide as well, hitching a ride, and paying towards the petrol and so.
And was this in the FJ, or had you had a different car by now?
Yes, it was the FJ then, and I did buy another car when I was there, that was an FE Holden
utility, which – some of the guys would sleep in the back, with a mattress, and go back, they had a great run, because they could sleep on the way. But yes, I used to take them back on a fortnightly basis. That went on for quite a while.
And why did you switch from a sedan car to a utility?
Well because of carrying gear, and also it was – the old FJ
started – almost got burnt out in that time, it was travelling a lot of distance in that period of time. So I was almost using as much oil I was petrol, in those days. But it was good old car, let’s face it.
And which way did you come from Wagga to Adelaide?
Across the Hay Plains there, you’ve probably heard of it, the most boring place in the world. Usually through Renmark, but sometimes come the other way through
Pinaroo which is the Taylor Bend way, which is probably a better way to go, actually. But Renmark and Mildura, those areas.
Well who were your sort of instructors in that first three months of rookies? Who was teaching you?
The names of them?
It doesn’t matter so much about the names, but the type of blokes.
Oh yeah, they were corporal DIs [Drill Instructors], I remember a guy called Corporal Lovell,
and there was another guy who took us for a while, but I can’t think of his name. Yes, they were guys not much older than us, I think they hadn’t done rookies long before us, they’d probably done their training and then they’d probably only been in the game a short time. So they were sort of trying to big note themselves with what they do. And try to get a bit of order going amongst the group.
How did they big note themselves?
Oh, screaming, ranting and raving all the time, as
if they were some sort of gods, but we sort of used to joke and laugh about them, didn’t take it too seriously. They were generally nice people, but you know, they sort of had to do – it was part of their job, to scream and rant and rave, I think. So that’s how they carried on.
Well, what sort of impression did that leave on you?
Well I just thought of them being dickheads really, but what else could you think?
Did you think twice about what kind of decision you’d made?
In the air force?
Well in that first three months?
No, I sort of expected that anyhow, I was told, you know, you’d have to go through as rookies, and so on. No, I actually enjoyed it, because of all the competitive nature and that I think I enjoyed it.
I didn’t like the cold, the heat wasn’t too bad, but the cold was really bad. But once you sort of acclimatised yourself, you put up with it anyhow so you just get on with it and do what you want to do, and enjoy. So yes, it was enjoyable, I thought it was good.
And what was the main purpose of that initial rookie training?
Well, it’s just to get you into the way of thinking, air force, you know,
get away from your civilian thinking and you’re now sort of part of our team and discipline’s very important, just in case you’re in a zone and someone gives you an order, you’re able to follow the order, I suppose that’s what they’re trying to do. So it’s very important to the services to do that.
And what other things during
that initial time did you do apart of phys-ed [physical education] and discipline and route marches? Was there any theory or class work...?
Yes, there was general air force theory on you know, ranks and what it all meant, why the services are there generally, and things like fire fighting drill and the reasons for it and just in case the aircraft prangs or
something, you’ve got to be there, especially if you’re on what they called duty crews, which is what the aircraft maintenance guys used to do. So – but as I say, theory, that was air force theory.
And the huts and the school that you were attending, how close was that to the drome, or...?
Are you talking about the actual
air force, the aircraft hangars, is that what you mean by the drome?
Yes, a fair way, they were sort of divorced from each other when you were doing rookies, that was a totally different area, yes. We weren’t really in contact with aircraft during rookies.
Did you get a tour?
What do you mean?
Of the base?
No, just the old area we worked in, well trained in, that was it. They didn’t sort of
take us out of that area, no.
And at the end of that initial rookie training, was there a passing out parade?
Yes, a passing out parade, and us and another group who were training at the same time, a different recruit training group, they passed out at the same time as we did, and people were allowed to come and watch and whatever.
And who came
over from Adelaide?
No-one came over, I just said, “Don’t waste your time, it’s too cold, anyhow, it’s ridiculous.” No, it was just a march around, a parade, you know, not worthwhile. I don’t even know if my Dad would have come over, they were too old anyhow, but my brothers and that were all working, so they wouldn’t take that time out from work, just to go over there.
What about your girlfriend?
Well she didn’t
have a car. She probably would have liked – I think she wanted to come over, and I said, “Well you know, you have to find accommodation, you have to get over here,” and she said, “Don’t worry about it.” Actually, she moved in to stay with my parents that time, she moved in there, so she was quite happy, she was still working in Adelaide.
Well what was next on the agenda for you, after
that initial three months rookie training? What – had you been put into the electrical side of things by this stage?
No, I’d applied to go into it, and that’s how they slot in when you’re doing your rookies, to slot into the other course, which is – I don’t know if they call it technical or maintenance course or something, where all the different musterings, say aircraft fittings, aircraft frames and engines and
electricians and whatever, are all put into this one group to train, so that’s the basic training of aircraft, and so that was the sort of –I think it was a three or six months course, of just general mechanical work and how to use tools properly and filing and that style of thing, to get used to using tools and from then on we’d separate into an electrical serviceman’s
course, and some went to electrical – sorry, some went to airframe fitting courses and some went to engine fitting courses, and all branched away from the TM course.
And at the end of that first rookie training, did you shift huts or stay in the same hut?
No, we moved after the training, we moved into another group of huts all together.
Where did you move to?
It was only sort of 100 yards or so away, 200 yards
maybe, from where we were.
And was it the same style of hut, or was it...?
No, they were sort of more self-contained, they had sort of separate rooms, and they were a rectangular shaped building, long rectangular shape, but separate rooms, yes. Very small, but they were ok. Enough for a bed and a wardrobe.
why was it that you had to move? Was it because you were no longer a rookie?
Yes, and they needed those rookie huts for someone else to move into and retrain so they moved us on to other course area training. So it was, to their way of doing things.
And the TM course that you did, it was for six months of so? Was it in a different part of
Yes it was, where the technical instruction was given and things like that, different classrooms and a different area to do your work, workshop areas and so on, equipment training.
Ok, well we might stop there, and change tape.
Interviewee: Peter Hussin Archive ID 1725 Tape 03
On your initial rookie training, when you got there how did you react to the discipline?
Yes, I was sort of – I didn’t have any trouble with it because I think I’d come from a disciplined background, like strict Catholic schooling and with brothers, they were reasonably strict at home I suppose, to some extent, so I didn’t have any trouble with
And how did the other rookies react to it?
Some of them were a little bit – they had trouble, I’m sure of it, you know, without sort of knowing too much about what they were thinking, I think you could see they had a bit of a problem, they used to get a bit upset and you know, weren’t really happy with it.
And how was this discipline administered?
Just yelling, usually be screaming and ranting and carrying on, sort of, you
know, powering over the top of everyone, making you do extra laps or whatever you might have to do, instead of when you think you’re knocking off from holding your rifle and marching, you have to do another couple of laps of that, or whatever it might have been, you know, just to sort of show they were boss and we weren’t.
And when you joined the RAAF, you were joining a defence force, and at that time
who do you think was the threat to Australia?
When I joined it really wasn’t – Vietnam hadn’t really got going, probably Indonesia, and Malaysia was actually – the Indonesian Malaysian conflict was still going, I think. So Indonesia was probably the biggest thought of a threat, yes.
And did they ever, during your rookie training or
in the next line of your training, ever talk or discuss the threat to Australia?
No, not at that period of time, no-one really spoke about – they’d just talk in general terms rather than in individual countries, that I can remember, I can’t remember them mentioning Indonesia, but they may have, I just can’t remember.
So what were they saying in a general sense?
Just the general defence of – using aircraft and maintaining aircraft, it was more into the actual – the common areas of what you’re doing with the aircraft, no so much what the aircraft is doing or going to do, just looking after the aircraft, keeping it right.
I’m just thinking politically...
Oh, politically, sorry, yes.
Yes, there wasn’t a lot of politics in that time, it came later, but not then, no.
So when you moved onto the – well before I ask this, what actually appealed to you about the electrical side of...?
Well I’d been in that system before and I thought well I’d stick with that anyhow, to see what it’s like in another environment, so I didn’t sort of have any trouble with it, rather than do engines or something which I may not have
enjoyed, so I stuck with it.
And how was it in this new environment?
Yes, it was good. I liked the environment because we were outside generally and being around aircraft and – which is pretty exciting, it can be pretty exciting, helicopters and so on, yes.
And when you moved into the technical mechanic course, what were you working on?
Well, there were a couple of old aircraft they used to used to just totter around with,
I’m not sure whether they were Meteors or something, I’m not sure what they were, Vampires or something, but there was a couple of old bits and pieces of aircraft, wasn’t really a complete aircraft, it was just putting faults on aircraft generally, things like that.
And what did you do in the technical mechanics course?
Well that was just generally filing and education and general technical work, handling of tools and
you know, just getting used to being around equipment and using drills and all that sort of thing, you know.
And what did you find the most interesting about that course?
The TMs course, I didn’t think was interesting at all really, because we hadn’t got into aircraft at that stage, we were just using – that came in the electrical serviceman’s course, that was around aircraft. The TMs course was pretty basic and nothing really exciting.
And what did you hate about it?
I didn’t hate it, I just thought – because I’d done a lot of that type of thing before in training, so I didn’t find it sort of challenging, so it was nothing new to me, really.
Well, you now had been in Wagga for about nine months, doing a course that was kind of ok. How did you spend your free time?
ok, like, weekends we could go anywhere we liked, so there was – as long as we’d done the right thing in our rookies and done the right thing in, TMs, there’s no way they’d hold you on the base, you were allowed to go off the base in civvies, and we went to places like Canberra and drove around a bit and had a look at a few places up in the hills and so on. Went down to Albury, then to Melbourne, a mate I met in the air force, he was living in Victoria, went down to see the
South Australian Victorian state game of ’63, which South Australia won by the way. So you know, different things like that. He came to my place in Adelaide twice I think, yes.
That’s interesting. Was there much state rivalry?
Yes, there was a lot of state rivalry, I’m sure of that. And they tend to stay in their groups of states, too, in a lot of ways, they sort of tended to
be – it was in a way a bit childish, like you know, one group would think, I’m a Queenslander, so they’re better than this or better than that, and you know, a lot of rubbish really. But that’s how the thought was, there was a bit of rivalry.
Could you describe a person from each state? Were there any similarities between them?
They had slight – everyone had slightly different accents, if you know what I mean, they’d use different words, which is fairly common, and I’m sure that’s still the case.
But no, they were all pretty generally ok. Didn’t have any real problems.
And how were you getting along with the other guys in the RAAF?
Yes, no worries. We all got on pretty well.
And after the technical mechanic course, you moved onto electrical service mechanic, still in Wagga?
And what was in that course?
Well that’s when we were getting into aircraft, and equipment they’d use in aircraft and the type of – this is all sort of now getting into electrical stuff, rather than anything else, and anything to do with aircraft electrics was discussed and just some people didn’t – well it’s also an electrical
course in itself, without aircraft, so you had to go through the electrics as well, learning about electricity.
And what were the highlights of that course?
Well I think it’s the first time we got to be around aircraft, working with aircraft, so that was probably a highlight of it, more – far more likely of getting somewhere in the course, something to do with the air force in other
words, rather than just handling tools and things, you’re now tied up with aircraft.
That’s an interesting point. Did you feel much frustration through these courses?
Well I thought they – because I’d done electricity before, it was a little bit sort of similar to what I’d done before, and so I was just waiting to get on the aircraft side and see what that was about,
so a little bit slow getting there.
And when you started working on aircraft, were you able to go up in them at all?
No, not at that stage, no.
So how did you occupy yourself in your spare time when you were on the base?
Well, I’d have a drink, I would
ring home, you know, generally play cards or go into town, whatever.
Was there ever any homesickness?
Well I missed the girlfriend, but not homesickness as such, no. I mean I was happy to be away from Adelaide, doing something different, just seeing a different part of Australia.
After the electrical service mechanic, you then went on to Canberra. Was there any graduation from either of the technical mechanic or electrical mechanic courses?
Was there any... sorry, what was this?
Any type of graduation or accreditation?
Yes, well they just called us electrical servicemen, then they called us electrical fitters,
so after the electrical serviceman’s course, we did – had to go off the base and do six months with – on a base, an actual working base, so we went all over Australia doing different – posted to different parts of Australia on different bases. Then spent six months and we all came back to Wagga again to do an electrical fitting course.
So where were you posted?
I was in
Canberra, not very far away from Wagga.
How did you feel about going to Canberra?
I didn’t mind it actually because I – you know, I never thought of going to Canberra, and Canberra had the helicopters which appealed to me anyhow, so I thought that was quite good. And it was a VIP [very important personage] squadron as well, so we had to do a few, what do you call it when the VIPs come, you’ve got to
stand to attention and do a bit of that sort of rubbishy stuff. But the helicopters were good, that was exciting, we got to go off the base, Lake George and those places, to do exercises there. Then you bring the aircraft in and out and help the pilots in the choppers and things.
What exercises were you doing?
They were doing things like training of rescues and – they dropped someone in
Lake George and you’d have to rescue them and things like that, just general pilot training. And someone would go off on a winch and pick them up and bring them back in and...yes.
And you mentioned VIPs. What VIPs came to the base?
Well actually a couple of royalty turned up while I was there, it might have been Prince Charles, if I remember. Yeah, I think it was Charles that turned up while we were there, so we had to form
a sort of a – what did you call them in those days? – when you go out and stand outside and they walk past you and things like that, I can’t think what they call it now. But we had to do a bit of that, sort of thing.
And what was the protocol for royalty?
Well, as you say, just gathering the troops and saluting and play the national anthem and then he’d shoot off with a VIP and that’s the last you’d see of them.
So it was just a fairly – you know, the politicians would be there of course, greeting him, and governors and so on.
What was the buzz like on the base when royalty was coming through?
Well I think most of them would sort of try to avoid it if they could, because no-one really wanted to go on these types of things anyhow, so we all tried to make excuses having to be somewhere else, too busy for that, or something.
Why didn’t it appeal to...?
Well you just stand around waiting, you could be standing there for hours waiting for the aircraft to arrive, and then have to stand to attention and all that sort of thing, whereas you’d rather be doing something else.
What excuses did you try to come up with?
Oh, I can’t remember, would have thought of something. But I had to attend a couple of them, in that time, so everyone had their turn.
And can you describe the helicopters that you were working on?
Well they were the Iroquois, the Bell Iroquois, I suppose it’s seen as a small chopper really, not a large helicopter, but they’re a sort of a rescue style of helicopter, in and out in a hurry, very manoeuvrable, and quite easy to work with, they’re very
lightly framed but quite quick for that period of time, the obvious answer to a war zone, so they were quite good.
And what were common problems amongst the choppers?
You mean mechanical type problems?
No, I don’t think they had any sort of – they were fairly serviceable aircraft, didn’t have a lot of major problems, a few minor
ones, but not major ones. They functioned pretty well.
So what was your responsibility on...?
Well, as an electrical serviceman I didn’t have a lot to do because I was still in training, but I would bring an aircraft in, they were flying in and out of the base, I’d be bringing them in and helped to fuel them and work on them in a minor way in the hangar, in the servicing area, replacing what had to
be replaced, do a bit of general maintenance type work.
When you say bringing them and bringing them out, how did you do that?
Oh, I just had to bring them down, tell them where to go, if they’re level and that sort of thing, you’d have to bring them onto the tarmac, and the same thing when they leave, they had to be given the all clear to be able to leave and things like that.
So you did a few gestures then, but what were the gestures for
To bring them down, you have to put your hands out, get them lower, and sort of, if they’re tilted you’d be doing this to them, and things like that, so they know. And if they’re clear underneath you’ve got to give the clear signs, and all sorts of...
What’s the clear sign?
I think it was just like that, or something, I think it was – all ok, you know, yes, clear. Or you’d point to where they could go, or something like that. And because they’re so manoeuvrable, they can just.
hover, so there’s really very few problems with them.
And did you go up in any of the choppers?
Yeah I did, on a couple of occasions, yes. We went to Lake George in them, and had general joy flights around the place, when they were wanting a bit of training.
And what’s it like being a mechanic to a vehicle that you can’t actually fly or operate?
Well, you’d prefer to be flying I suppose. No, no real problems, it’s like saying, well your job has a certain job to do, you’re not expecting to be flying them, so just take that into account.
So if there was a problem with the craft, would the pilot inform you, or – how does that happen?
Well you do have headphones on,
do you mean like as if he had a problem, or the aircraft had a problem?
Well I mean, either way, how did he define it?
Well, he’d probably say something to you, and he’d be hanging on for grim death I suppose if he was going down. But they could cut their engines and auto-rotate, which is just the air itself, would hold them to a certain extent, they wouldn’t drop straight down, so they had it reasonably under control.
So they’re reasonably safe to fly in, yes. They’re very exciting because of the low level, around mountains and things like that, you can get up close to them. Yeah, quite good.
And were there any training accidents?
No, not when I was there, no.
So, I mean you did mention before that you were still in
training. I expect there would have been a bit of boredom during that time?
No, I sort of can’t say it was boring, no. By the way I got married in that period of time too, I forgot to tell you that, back in Wagga before I’d finished that course, we got married, and my wife came with me to Canberra, so I was living off the base, so that again was a new
situation and so I always had that – so there was very little boredom going on, I think. No, it was all right.
And how did your wife respond to now being an air force wife?
Well she enjoyed being away from Adelaide, a new sort of a involvement to be in, exciting for her, she got a job there in Canberra for a while,
and yes, we had our weekends, toured around and went different places, so it worked out pretty well.
And when you got married and started working in Canberra, did your approach to your work change at all?
No, I don’t think so, it was the same – you arrived every day and knocked
off every night.
What were the hours you were keeping?
I’m trying to think of when we started it was probably – I know I’m guessing now, I think it was probably 8.30 to 4.30 or something like that. I’m not really sure.
And what were the pilots like?
Yeah, they were good, they were easy to get on with, and they played sport with us and all chatted normally, yes.
And when you went back to Wagga, what were you training then?
Well that was called the electrical fitting course, and that’s just a more intense course, generally, more of the deeper areas of
electrics and more aircraft work to become involved in.
Sorry, what aircraft?
Sorry, I didn’t mean to stop you then.
No, sorry, what were you saying?
I was just going to ask you what aircraft?
The same thing, bits and pieces of aircraft we had in the past, and I don’t know if they were Meteors or what they were, I can’t remember now, and they’d put faults on the aircraft and you had to repair the faults and just,
yes, so general hints on handling aircraft and what not to do, and what to do. Safety, safety things as well.
And amongst the other men in your course, how were you kind of academically ranked, if that makes any sense?
Yes, no, I think you all just passed, there’s no real ranking on the course itself, you get a rank as you finish, you become an electrical fitter,
and then you do – out on the base later you do promotion-type courses, or exams.
And how long was the electrical fitting course?
That was six months, yes, it wasn’t over-long.
It’s quite a lot of training.
There was a lot of training really, yes. Probably over-trained in a way. It’s ok
if you’re staying in for 30 years or 20 years or something, but when you’re only signed for six, you’ve got the choice of staying on, it is a lot of training, yes, for six years.
How did you feel about this constant course, after another course?
Yes, well again you disciplined yourself just to accept it, I mean, I wasn’t looking forward to it, so it was just a thing you sort of take into account
and say, “I’m going to do it,” and that’s it.
Did you ever think it was going to finish?
Yes, it can be very slow, but I think the problem with that was being back on the course and having to live on the base again in that situation, it was a problem.
So what happened to your wife after...?
She came back to Adelaide in that period of time.
Didn’t they have married quarters in Wagga?
Not when you were on training. We did in Canberra, so
we had to find our own accommodation but they paid towards it. Wagga no, it’s very difficult to get good accommodation. Well actually, we did get it for a couple of weeks, a few weeks, and then she decided to come to Adelaide. Couldn’t get work in Wagga, so she came back to Adelaide to wait for the course to be over, then we’d go off again.
And sorry, how long was the electrical fitting...?
Six months again? And then from there you went to Edinburgh?
And what was your posting there?
I was posted to – what do they call it now? Some maintenance air trials unit I think, number two air trials unit I think it was called, maintaining aircraft, which were Canberras and Meteors, and there was the odd Vampire. Yes, those three
And you were qualified by this time?
Yes, that’s right, yes.
So at the end of your training, was there a graduation, or any ceremony?
No, no, that was it, yes, you were qualified and away you go, so it gives you a posting, we were all posted all over the place, like Adelaide and – which I wasn’t real happy with, I would have preferred to have gone somewhere else, but – you put up with it. At least my
wife at the time – we got accommodation quite easy at Elizabeth, so it worked out quite well.
Why didn’t you want to come back to Adelaide?
Well one of reasons you join I think, is to travel, so Adelaide wasn’t the place I wanted to travel to.
Well be this stage, where did you want to go?
Well I was thinking of Queensland, I hadn’t been to Queensland. Didn’t want to go to Victoria, because it would be too cold, I would not have minded Sydney, Richmond, but Queensland would –
Amberley would have been good, or Townsville. But I wasn’t lucky enough to get those, no
Did you ever put a request in?
Yes, I did, I think I got my third or fourth request, or something.
And what was the reason for not letting you go to Queensland?
Oh, they don’t tell you the reason. That’s where you’re going, that’s it, yes.
So, by this stage you were actually working on
operational aircraft? What were the most difficult ones to deal with?
I don’t know if they’re sort of more difficult, because they’re all so totally different, they’re all put together in a different way and different equipment in different positions. All you really have to do is find out where all these things are, where they’re
they’re hidden in the aircraft, because they’re all sort of compact. Getting to a nose cone of a Canberra was a little bit squeezy to get in there, which is the bomb site in those areas. But there was, yes, that’s an area – they’re all very compact so wherever you had to go you had to squeeze around a bit. There wasn’t a lot of room in them.
And which ones did you enjoy working on?
Well the helicopters were probably the best, but the old aircraft, probably the Canberra was quite good, yeah, that wasn’t too bad to work on.
And what was going on at Edinburgh?
It was called two air trials unit, so that was tied in with Woomera, and the Meteors, apparently they were used up there as target aircraft, they’d tow a target
and they’d be shooting at these targets, so that was their use at the time, they were an old jet. The Canberra, I’m not sure, they were bombing aircraft, so they’d do that sort of trial, in their own pilot training, so they were basic jobs. The Vampire, I think that was just a fun thing for the
CO [Commanding Officer] of the base, he’d probably fly that around, I don’t know what that was there for. It wasn’t much good.
And were there any training exercises in Edinburgh, not training exercises, accidents?
No, no accidents, no. You’d get minor problems you know, where they’d come in slightly crooked on the runway or something like that, but nothing that’s going to cause any damage. A few wind problems, things like that.
And so by now
Vietnam was starting to come on the agenda. What were the rumblings around the base?
That was, what was that, 1964, I think? 1964 or something. Yeah, there was no – there wasn’t a lot of talking about it as far as I know, I can’t remember. Because you never sort of expect you’re going to be there, the army hadn’t even been allocated at that time, I think they didn’t go there till about
‘65, so Vietnam was another world to us then, it wasn’t sort of discussed. So Malaysia was a bit of a conflict even then, they still had their base there, and that was sort of on the end of any problems, they did a few confrontations up there.
What did you know about what was happening in Malaysia and Borneo?
Not a lot, no, sort of – we weren’t
sort of informed of much, unless you wanted to go and find out for yourself, you didn’t bother really sort of doing anything about it unless you were actually going there, didn’t sort of think much about it.
Well at this stage this was the only place that there was any action where you could possibly get posted to. How did you feel about the prospect of getting posted to Malaysia?
Well I tried to go to Malaysia because I knew anyhow it wasn’t a major confrontation, there had been
skirmishes, and I think that sort of all died away by the time I got there. But you always sort of think it could happen, you never know, you’re always a little bit apprehensive.
So what did you know about the skirmishes, because it was quite a secret campaign over there?
Yes, it was. I didn’t know a lot about it, you know, it was what they call a Communist uprising in Malaysia,
and it was just a sort of insurgency thing, and people were sort of there to protect the base, basically, and aircraft out to supposedly bomb anything that might be causing any trouble. But there’s wasn’t a lot of bombing being done there, there might have been a little bit.
What was your own opinion on this Communist peril that was hanging over Australia?
At the time I think we were
sort of – it was sort of a brainwashing thing in the papers to say, “They’re such bad people,” it was like they’ve got three heads or something, you know? Until you sort of delve into those things, and if you read books about it, they’re probably just fighting their own cause and just put a label on them as Communists, well that just means really they’re fighting a cause rather than a capitalistic cause, they’re fighting their own cause. But we would see them in those days
as being something evil, but not really knowing what it’s about.
And how real did the threat feel, at this stage?
No, I didn’t feel threatened at all at the time. We did have a couple of situations which were localised political problems, where we were told to stay indoors,
not to go out, which were just the Chinese Indians versus the Malay basically, the Malays controlled the country and the Chinese Indians were getting a raw deal, and that was a bit of an uprising in the streets, and they were sort of blocking off the roads and you know, that sort of thing.
Before we go into too much about actually Malaysia, what was your wife’s
reaction to your requests to be posted to Malaysia?
Well she didn’t know, she was probably the same as most, she wouldn’t have known much about it, it’s another country and never – a little bit apprehensive I think, about going there, because leaving Australia for the first time and going to a strange country, I suppose you’d think it’s a strange country and different type of people. So she would have been a bit apprehensive,
So when you came home with the news that you were going, how did she react?
Oh, I can’t remember. I think she thought if I was happy, she’s going to be happy there too, so I was happy to go there. So she would have been happy that we were going, anyhow. But of course when she got there she wasn’t happy, it wasn’t what she expected.
What was the real appeal about going to Malaysia?
I think the climate, the different way of life, the fact you could buy things a lot cheaper there and money was – you get extra money for going there, extra allowances. Yeah, all those things combined.
So I mean they were skirmishes as such, and it
wasn’t as big as what was going on in Vietnam, but you were still heading into a conflicted area.
Yes, war zone, sort of thing, yes.
How did you feel about that? What thoughts did you have on that?
I didn’t really think a lot of – it didn’t really worry me, I wasn’t sort of worried about it. I just thought I’d sort of cater for it or cope with it when it happened.
And we were sort of – being in the air force base you’re fairly well protected, and from what we’d heard the private houses weren’t sort of in any danger at all, or anything like that.
So how did you prepare for the trip to Malaysia?
We packed up all the wrong sort of clothes, of course, clothes that we didn’t need.
Yeah, and put our stuff into storage, all our furniture and that, into storage, and it was all paid for by the air force.
And how much notice were you given?
I think it was only about a month or something, it wasn’t long. So it wasn’t too difficult, but it was all right. We had to have our inoculations and passports organised, and things like that. Maybe longer than that, I’m not sure, I can’t remember.
And when you went over there, did you go over in uniform?
we actually had a couple of days in Sydney to see some friends there, and stayed there in Sydney with them before we went, and flew out of Sydney in a – how did we go, Qantas I think, yes, we went with Qantas, I think, over there, we were all in suits and things when we went there. It was stinking hot when we arrived, we couldn’t wait to get our clothes off.
So what were your first impressions when you landed? Where did you land, actually?
In Butterworth, we
landed in Butterworth, we had to go via Manila, because of the conflict between Indonesia and Malaysia, we had to go via Manila, around Indonesia and land in Malaysia, and of course the temperature was extreme, it was that time of the year, and so we just thought it was like a hot wet blanket had been thrown over the top of us when we arrived.
was your first stop, first experience outside of Australia? How did you react to that?
Well it’s a funny place Manila, like they all – at the airports you weren’t allowed outside that room where we were, because they all had guns and whatever at the door. Because I just wanted to go outside and have a look outside, but the guy said, “No,” and just sort of shook his head with his gun in his hand and said, “No, don’t go,” didn’t say that to me, just nodded, just went like that, “Don’t try it,” in other words.
So we were there for just a short break before we flew on, an hour or so.
And how was your wife responding to this sudden change in climate and armoured men?
Yes, she was more interested in looking at what was for sale at the airport at the time. But yes, she didn’t say much there, she looked at all the wood carvings and things, was quite intrigued by those. But no, she didn’t say anything at the time, not until we got to Malaya, she didn’t like that when we first got there.
you get to Butterworth and what happened?
Well, we unloaded and we were taken in buses to the island and went into our house and we were there, just mostly Asians, there’s only four Australian houses, Australian service people in the houses, and nearly all Asian people around us. So that was a bit scary for my wife, she wasn’t sure, you know, if she
was in was in the right area. She thought, you know, this is a bit – I expected there to be Aussies everywhere. But she settled down, that was no trouble at all, but she thought there was, there was going to be trouble. But she hated the heat you see, that was the thing she didn’t like, was the heat. And it took her a couple of years even to acclimatise, really.
And did you go over with other servicemen?
In the aircraft? Oh yes, there was quite a few of us went over at the same time, yes.
They were all going to different parts of Penang.
And did they – were they married and in similar situations to yourselves?
Some were married and some were single, some got married like we did, just recently married, and some were still single.
So who were the other four families in the area that you were staying at?
The guy next to me, he
was actually in another squadron, he’d been living there a number of years, sorry, not a number of years, a number of months, the bloke after him I never even met, I don’t know who he was, there was another guy over there from my squadron, the last guy in the group was in the same squadron as me.
And what squadron were you with now?
It was called 2 Squadron.
And what was Butterworth base like?
Yeah, very –
very pretty really, as far as the trees, the coconut trees and palms or whatever. Yes, well laid out, well maintained, looked after, yes, it was quite good.
Malaysia has got quite a different environment to Australia.
Oh yes, totally different, yes.
How would you describe it?
Well, serene really in a lot of ways, it was sort of, you know, very picturesque and
you can see the island from the base, you could see the island. And a little bit misty, it wasn’t as clear – the sky’s not as clear as Australia, but it’s still very pretty.
And the weather?
Well the weather’s you know, it’s hot all the time, and sometimes it’s extreme in humidity, so it takes a bit of getting accustomed to.
We’ve got a tape
change now, so we’ll just do that.
Interviewee: Peter Hussin Archive ID 1725 Tape 04
Peter, I just want to go back to your time in Edinburgh for a spell, and talk about the number two trials. What were they trialling, what were RAAF trialling?
From my understandings, there were actually just using those aircraft that we were working on, the Meteors and the Meteors were trialling targets and they were shooting at those targets.
Now I imagine they were using rockets or some sort of whatever weaponry, I’m not sure. So that’s basically the aircraft they were using, Meteors.
And could you give me a description of the Meteor so I can get a picture in my head?
Well it’s a jet aircraft, twin jet, small in size, an old fighter, I think they used them in the Korean War actually, I have got photographs of them, but
you know, small target aircraft.
And why were they trialling – I’m trying to understand, they were trialling the target, and had they...?
They were actually trialling targets off the back, and they were shooting those targets, yes, from ground level.
So had they made any changes to the Meteors?
What do you mean by changes? I see what you mean, by trialling a target. No, I don’t know, I don’t know what they did, they would have had some sort of hook up there, that would just release the target, whatever they did.
And what was the connection to Woomera?
Woomera is where they were doing the shooting, obviously, or whatever they – that’s where the guided missiles
were, whatever they were using to shoot with, were in Woomera.
And what were the missiles that they were using?
I don’t know, I really don’t know. If they were using missiles even, they were certainly – whatever they were shooting was from Woomera, so I just assume it must have been a missile of some sort.
And when you got to Edinburgh...
There were Singers, Gendervix or something, weren’t they, or whatever, I’m not sure what they were called.
And when you got to Edinburgh were you at the beginning of the trials?
No, it had been going for a while, quite a while I think. I’m not sure how long.
And was it purely just Meteors that they were training with?
They were the only things I know of that were trialling the targets yes, there may have been other aircraft prior to that, I wouldn’t really know.
So what other planes were you working on in Edinburgh?
Canberras, there were Canberras there.
And what’s the difference between – how can you tell the difference between Canberras and the Meteors?
Canberras are much bigger aircraft, a bombing aircraft, it’s got a bomb base to it, whereas the Meteor was purely a fighter aircraft.
And what training were they doing with the Canberras?
Well they were just generally, just like they have anywhere, they were just doing general training, the Canberras.
And what is general training?
landing and taking off and probably doing – working with the army maybe and doing possibly an exercise, I’m not sure what they were doing really.
And what were they preparing for? What were they really training for?
Well they’re always training for a war situation obviously, they –
they need to have their pilots trained up just in case there is an immediate necessary situation for them to go to. So they’ve always got to be fully trained. And so that’s one of the things they’d be doing.
So was it just Canberras and Meteors that you mainly worked on?
Yes, that’s all I was working on there.
What other planes were there on the base?
They had – I think they
might have had a Neptune or two there at the time, I’m not sure. See that became a recruit training base too later, so I’m not sure whether they were doing – there didn’t seem to be a lot of aircraft there, but there were things like Dakotas and things like that, they’re a small – just a transport aircraft.
Well could you describe for me what a Neptune and a Dakota are like?
The Dakota’s just an
aircraft built probably in the late ’40s, they were sort of a – they’re used as freighters in some situations, they are a transport aircraft generally, like a small plane of the old modern-day planes.
And the Neptune?
Well that’s a radar detecting, submarine detecting-type aircraft.
And how does that differ from say the Canberras and the Meteors?
Well the Canberra is a bombing aircraft, the Meteor was a fighting
aircraft, but the Neptune is a reconnaissance map reading, well the radar equipment, so there’d be sonic detecting equipment to trace submarines and things like that.
And what does the Neptune look like?
Well, it’s much larger than the Canberra, it’s quite a large aircraft. I’m not sure what the crew would be, it’s probably
eight, might be eight in the crew, I’m just guessing, so they would be using all the radar equipment, a reasonable size.
And you mentioned that the Dakota was quite an old plane that had been used in World War 11...?
Yes, they used it in the Second World War in Korea.
What technical or what mechanical differences did you notice with the Dakota compared to the more modern aircraft?
Well it didn’t
have the up to date equipment, they were sort of working with the old style equipment, electrical-wise they hadn’t been brought up to the modern technics of electrical equipment, so they were still very much the old-fashioned style, very basic.
And how difficult was that to work with?
Oh, easy to work with, the old stuff was easy to work with in comparison to the modern day equipment.
What was the problems with the modern day
Well, I’d never really got to work on it, that came in, in things like Mirages and then of course F111s, Mirages came in at the time I was in Butterworth, but I never saw anything of the F111s, I was well out of the air force then.
Well going back to Butterworth now,
what planes were you working on there?
Butterworth was Canberras, and Dakotas again. Dakotas were used for VIPs up there, and also used as freighters. And they were doing supply drops as well, which is the three main areas of Dakotas. The Canberras were used on bombing situations
and pilot training for the future bombing exercises.
And how did the Dakotas handle in the humid conditions though?
Well they seemed to be good in all conditions, they were a very robust aircraft, they seemed to be very sturdy and seemed like they’d fly forever, those things, they’re a much more sturdy aircraft.
And how were the Canberras faring in that climate?
Yes, they seemed to hold up pretty well, they developed a few cracks in the period of time I think, over a number of years, but they seemed to hold up pretty well, a very solid aircraft.
Where were the cracks appearing?
Somewhere in the wing support area, I’m not sure exactly. There has been some talk about it since, but I think it developed probably in Vietnam where they
really became structurally sort of unsound.
And what were the VIPs coming to Malaysia? Who were they?
Well, we had – I actually travelled in a VIP, went to holiday in Bangkok where they just used – the ambassadors would use to go to Bangkok from Malay or somewhere, you know, someone reasonable, not of a high status, of course they’re very sort of low-grade VIP aircraft. But it just means an aircraft that was lined I think, not
like the like the service aircraft that are unlined, so it was reasonable seating in them and so on. But they would just be used for the ambassador up there or whoever’s flying around.
No royalty this time?
No, no royalty in those, no.
You also mentioned supply drops. Where were they to?
They were to the Malay-Thai border, where there were still skirmishes going on there, and that was happening even through the time I was
there, so it was probably up to ’68 even, I don’t know, they were supplying their local army, which is the – not our army but their army, the Malaysian Army, and police, whoever were up there at the time, supplying equipment and food or whatever.
And were there any choppers at Butterworth?
No, there wasn’t actually, not at the time, no. There may have been the odd one or
two, but they were sort of visiting, they weren’t actually stationed or based there.
And what were your impressions of Butterworth base?
Oh, we enjoyed it, it was a good environment there. Yes, it was very – the locals were all working there, and they sort of did all the store work and general things around the place, cleaning and so on.
And how far was your home to Butterworth?
Yes, from home we’d have to catch a bus to the ferry, then the bus again from the ferry to the air force base, so overall it was probably an hour to get from A to B, maybe a bit less.
And what was your uniform at this stage?
Well, we had sort of a
tropical type situation, it was short-sleeves, still had similar trousers, lightweight trousers, short sleeves, and we wore shorts as well, you had optional shorts. But on the base we would just be in a pair of shorts and no shirt and shoes, that’s all we’d have on, in the heat.
What was discipline like on the base?
It was nothing sort of – not like rookies, it was sort of like a work
environment, you didn’t have anyone standing over you generally or anything like that, so it was pretty relaxed.
Was there much saluting on base?
No. The air force were never really into saluting a great deal, they’d avoid it if possible I’m sure of it. There again, if you saw the CO and you were in uniform, you walked past and you’d certainly salute him, but generally, you know, you’d sort of – everyone was treated fairly equally there.
And what were the other men like?
What were the...?
The other men?
I worked with?
Yes, they were good, we played sport together, basketball and things like that, played a bit of tennis and went to the beaches together and sort of socialised. They had the Air Force Club on the base, on Penang Island where most people would go there some time through the week and have a few drinks or whatever. We got our drinks cheap there, in comparison to
say at a restaurant where you’d pay top price, all the duty costs on top. So we had duty-free drinks and a good environment, a big club on the beachfront, and very nice.
And where the wives allowed to go...?
Oh yes, they’d spend more time there than the men I think, they played basketball and tennis, or whatever they do in there, they’d have their knitting classes and flower arranging courses, whatever they do. So they had a good time.
Well how were the women coping with life?
Well, my wife, first of all she hated it when she first arrived there because of the weather, and I think she was a little bit frightened of the place. But, within six months she’d really got into the scene of it and joined in and enjoyed it. In fact when we were coming home I’m sure she didn’t really want to come home. Because we had an amah [housemaid], like an amah
looked after – the first baby was born there, so we had an amah to look after the baby and we had a gardener to do the – cutting the grass or whatever, so we were well catered for. Food wasn’t that good, because mostly frozen food, so if you wanted a roast, it was never really like a roast at home, it was sort of de-frozen and tasteless sort of stuff, you know, so it wasn’t that good.
Did you have much traditional food?
Yeah, virtually over time you changed to nearly all traditional food, eating their chickens and prawns and rice and vegetables.
It’s quite spicy compared to the food back in Australia.
Yes it was, yes. It was our first taste of Chinese-type food and of course we loved it and – but there again, if you see the kitchens you probably wouldn’t eat out at places up there. But no, we never had any problems with it,
it was quite good.
And how did your wife cope with homesickness?
No, she didn’t have any problems really, she was sort of – she knew we were there for two and a half years, so she sort of thought, “Well this is a holiday for two and half years,” so it was good. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know she was coming home in that time, so she was quite happy to be there.
And back to the base, what was your daily routine?
Again, maintenance of aircraft, the same thing, servicing and maintenance and in my time there I was moved to the VIP squadron for about six months, I think, and so I did a bit of flying with them, I went up to the Malay-Thai border on a couple of occasions, probably three occasions, and just to parallel generators and just do servicing of the aircraft, so it was a fairly quick trip there and
back. So I sort of got a bit of flying and a bit of work done at the same time.
What was it like, flying?
Yes, they were an old aircraft, but the things they used to do is they were also pilot training, which means that while they were flying they’d cut one engine off and then fly with one engine, and they’d bring that one back on and they’d cut the other one off, then they’d cut them both off, and then they’d just start – and then they’d
bring them back on again, so your heart would be in your mouth a bit in that situation. So it was a little bit hairy, yes.
And what problems were you noticing with the Canberras? You mentioned cracks before, but what mechanical problems?
They didn’t seem to have anything major, like just general servicing, things would
go wrong, you might have to change a generator or a light globe or something of that sort. There was always something happening.
Well was there a schedule in which the Canberra or the Dakotas were serviced?
Well, they had their own strict schedule to be serviced in the major servicing or minor servicing. And they just kept to those routines fairly strictly, I think.
What’s the difference between major
service and minor service?
Well major you’d probably pull a lot out of the aircraft and rehash it and check it out and put it all back in again, clean it up or whatever you had to do. A minor one would be – which would probably take a day or something, a day or two to clean it up, just routine stuff.
And were there any training accidents or accidents whilst you were on the base?
there was nothing of any note. Not that I could think of.
Well what – I mean they were dealing with skirmishes and freight and fairly, you know, standard operations, were there any operations that were out of the norm, or unusual to what you’d actually been dealing with?
Well the only one was the supply drop to the Malay-Thai border, that’s the only one I would say was out of my general sequence of involvement, which means I was with them in that supply drop, so you’re in a sort of a war zone situation going across to the Thai border, so not knowing what to expect, whether you’re going to be shot at or not at the time, but apart from that,
maintenance was just routine.
Why were you on that freight plane?
Well I actually went on there to parallel generators, that was my excuse for going flying, so I went up in them to do that.
Sorry, what was it? Parallel...?
Paralleling generators, generators had to be brought into line, it’s easier to do it in flight than it is on the ground, otherwise they’ve got to start the engines and keep them going on the ground and block it all up, block the – hold the aircraft down virtually, if you’re going to rev the engines up and that.
So how often
would you do that?
Only when it’s necessary, which – if they were out they were out, so you go for a flight.
And did you notice once you actually got to the border, and you knew you were in a war zone, what indications did you see that you knew you were in a war zone?
Well, you only saw the area they were living in down there, but nothing that was – you weren’t being shot at, at the time. But it was in a sort of a valley, and you had to sort of – it was a bit hairy getting this aircraft around the
valley, and so you just knew you were at the Thai border, and basically that’s all we really knew.
What signs could you see on the ground?
What signs could you see on the ground?
We could see very close, you were only sort of 300 or 400 feet off the ground when you were dropping these supplies, well maybe higher, less than 1000 feet anyhow. So you’re pretty close, it’s not very far away when you’re looking down,
so you’ve only got the treetops to worry about, and things like that.
Did you see anything of what was on the ground?
Oh yes, you could see all their huts they were in, and their storage areas and so on, yes.
Did you see any damage to the environment, or any clear signs of...?
No, it’s all virtually all jungle through there, so everything’s fairly well covered over. Didn’t see much.
And what would you do to quell any boredom on the base?
Well I suppose the work environment was the only thing that could be boring, but you couldn’t do much about it, you’d have to put up with that and get on with your job. I didn’t feel particularly bored, there was always somebody to talk to or someone’s got something to say
Were you getting any Australian newspapers or anything like that?
Yeah, we were getting the odd papers, not a lot. We weren’t really worried too much about what was going on in Australia. We had the Straits Times up there which is a pretty well government-controlled paper, it was writing what they wanted to say about anything, but never controversial, you know, whatever the prime minister of the country said, they would agree with, so they were under control.
And what was being
said about the Malayan Emergency?
Really nothing, you’d see odd statements, you know, about Communists doing this, Communists doing that. No-one took a lot of notice of it, I don’t think.
And what did they say the Communists were doing?
Oh, they were all Communists, the bad people, you know, that’s all they’d talk about. It was very sort of, sort of a statement you know, there’s not going to be variations to it, that’s how
the country was being run, it was almost a dictatorship situation, by the sultans or whatever.
And what recreation did you have on the base?
Yes, there’s a golf course there, and I think there was a squash court there, I’m not sure about that, and I think there were tennis courts as well. I didn’t play squash or
tennis on the base, but I did play golf there. But I’m sure they had other things you could do there. They had a boat club, of course, which was pretty well frequented, and a bar there as well, so that was the place to go I think on the Butterworth side of the situation, mainly.
So a golf course on the base makes me think this is quite a bit base.
What was the layout?
You mean how big?
Well, yes, I’ve got a photo, but I’m not sure of the size, I suppose you’re talking about two or three mile one way and two or three mile the other, I’m not really sure. Didn’t sort of get into looking how far they sort of stretch out. It’d be a fair size.
So I mean from what I’m gathering this is like the largest base that you’ve actually
worked on up until that point.
Well even Edinburgh is a large base, it’s quite large in size, but there’s a lot of area where there’s nothing, just a long way to get to the fence, you know? Just as a security thing, its size is only security rather than anything else.
What was security like on the base?
It was pretty strict, I think they had the army on the base as well and they sort of probably kept
things under control. We never sort of had to worry about things like that, so we just sort of assumed they were doing the right thing.
What security checks were there?
Only as you went through the front gate, they had fencing around the base, of course. Of course we had locals living just off the base at the end of the golf course, they had kampongs there, which is their local sort of villagy-type things, their huts, and I don’t
think they were a problem as far as I know.
And you mentioned the army were also on the base. Did you mix with the...?
Yes. We played basketball against them, and socialised a bit with them. They also had the – on the island they had the English Army there, they were called Mindon Barracks, that
was their army barracks, and we mixed a bit with them as well, not a lot with them, but they played basketball with us, everyone had a side, so we sort of met them there.
So from your observations, because you’ve got two types of army in front of you, you’ve got the British and you’ve got the Australian, what differences could you see between the two?
Not really seeing a
lot of the British guys, they seemed to be under a sort of – they were fairly strict, probably stricter than even the army I think, seemed to be in a fairly controlled area, but not really knowing much about them...Of course the English air force were there as well at Butterworth, a few of them
And how did you relate to the English air force?
Pretty good. Yeah, we had them working with us, alongside us, and they did quite well. They were handling the visiting aircraft, they had their own little group there, which I actually worked with at a later stage, after Vietnam.
And what equipment were you using?
I’m not sure what you mean by equipment.
Well, I’m just thinking of – I mean what do you use to maintain the aircraft?
Well, just general normal tools that anyone would use anywhere, to unscrew or screw up or unbolt or whatever, so you use the same sort of spanners.
But they have special equipment on some tools, they were special to get to certain areas, might be sort of a restricted area to get into, so you probably had a special tool for that. But overall they’re just general tools that you’d use anywhere else.
The air force, or working in the Defence Forces, you’re generally quite privileged in getting the latest technology. Did you actually find that?
probably not in my day, it was sort of fairly – I’m sure today that would be the case, but I mean our aircraft are old aircraft now of course, you know, they no longer exist. But they weren’t sort of up in that sort of technical area that the modern aircraft are in. They were sort of more basic.
What kind of
hours were you keeping on the base?
I’m trying to think of the hours, I don’t know whether we arrived there sort of at – I’m sort of guessing again, about 8.30 and probably left there at four, or something similar to that, so we’d be back home by say five and left there at 7.30 in the morning or whatever, something similar to that.
You noted earlier that your wife had had
a child, your first daughter in Malaysia. When you became a father for this first time, did it change your approach to your work at all?
No, not to the work, sort of just went on as normal, but that was a good – you know, it’s always good with a new baby in the family, but it didn’t affect the work I don’t think, no.
Personally how did it change you?
I don’t know if I changed at all, someone else might have noticed that, but I can’t say I noticed myself changing. I’m not sure.
I mean you are in a war zone and you’ve got a family. What extra precautions did you take?
No I think – we always felt we were fairly secure
there, so I didn’t think that I needed any more security. You were always wary, you had to be wary, like certain things I’d say to the wife, “Don’t do this or don’t do that,” and she knew herself that, you know, you’d get caught out in situations if you’re not careful. For instance, she had her bag stolen and things like that, on a drive-by motorbike or something, just by walking with her bag over her shoulder.
Things like that. But apart from those sort of securities, it was fairly safe.
Well you did actually mention earlier about, just warnings about being in Malaysia, what kind of incidents were happening there that became a bit threatening?
Yes, they had – the political set up was such that anyone who didn’t agree with the Malay
prime minister was seen as a threat, I’m sure that’s still the case even now. And there was sort of Chinese and Indian opposition to him, and they were labelled Communists, whether they were or not, I don’t know, and they were getting a raw deal I think, from you know, I don’t think they were getting social security at all, whereas the Malays were, and there was uprisings, political-
type uprisings over there, and they threatened to close the streets down and barricade this and that and shoot anybody that got in the way or whatever, that sort of problem we had on a couple of occasions.
So what were you warned?
Well stay indoors at that time and – they weren’t really going to worry us so much, but just told to stay out of the way generally, keep out of it. We didn’t have to fight them or do anything like that.
Just a local political problem.
How close did the unrest get to you?
Well in one situation when I was in Vietnam a friend of mine who lived in another area of Penang came to pick up my wife and daughter to bring them back to her place because one of these things was about to happen, and on the way back they’d already
barricaded the road, so they actually stopped them on the road, and they were pretty frightened at the time, thought they were going to get shot. So that’s the only one that I know about.
During these unsettling times, specifically in Malaysia, how were they reacting to westerners?
Yeah, I think they were probably being – in a lot of instances I saw
where the Aussies or the English especially were sort of putting them down a bit, I think they weren’t treating them as well as they should have, a bit of racism there I think. But I didn’t notice any comeback the opposite way, I didn’t sort of – they were all sort of well behaved towards it, I think, as far as I remember. There were a few instances with taxi drivers and that, who would scream and rant, didn’t pay them what they
wanted to be paid. But apart from that I didn’t see any sort of a problem.
You mentioned incidents of racism. What did you see?
Well I think it was just putting people down because they weren’t of the same race, you know, that was sort of a – calling them nogs or whatever they were calling them, you know, they had names for them. And seeing them as being a lesser people, I suppose, than what they were.
With this attitude amongst some of the men on the base, how did they respond to the locals who were working on the base?
Again, I think there were some, not a lot, but some were treating them a bit rough, yeah, putting them down a bit. But generally I think a lot of the guys worked on the basis that they were pretty good workers and they seemed to perform pretty well.
The campaign in Malaysia and Borneo was quite a secret campaign. What were you able to tell your family and friends back home about what you were doing at Butterworth?
At the time, or do you mean later on?
No, at the time.
At the time. Well,
I think – see the insurgency was almost over when we were there, we didn’t get there till ’66, so there was very little happening, apart from this Malay-Thai border. There was a couple of minor things, there was a situation, a little bit of sabotage possibly on an aircraft, that was actually an aircraft – I found the problem, someone had cut the wires up underneath the wheel rim of a Dakota, and that could have caused a
major problem if they were flying under those conditions. And you know, that’s really all you could say, I mean I didn’t know of any real problem going on, apart from those racist things that happened locally, things like that.
It’s interesting that you spotted sabotage on the plane. Can you discuss that in more detail?
Well I don’t – you know, it was thought to be sabotage but they
couldn’t prove that. Wires going through to the wheel well, which was electrical cables, were all frayed and sort of bare, so if they touched each other they could blow a fuse or make say an engine cut out or whatever it might have been. And it seemed to happen in a short – in an overnight situation, so they thought it had to be either sabotage or a shrew or a rat or something got in the plane and chewed through
wires, I’m not really sure what it was. But they sort of assumed at the time it was sabotage.
In your opinion, what did it look like?
Well it did look like a sabotage thing, but you know, there’s no way of knowing, who would have even got to the aircraft, I don’t know.
So what was the process for investigating that?
Well my flight sergeant took that on and he took it over, so I don’t know what happened after that. I just repaired it and went about my work.
Well when you come across
something like that, who do you suspect?
Well you think that someone has to have done it, you would think normally. But the answer may have been a shrew, because they did actually fumigate just in case there was a shrew in the aircraft, a shrew being a rat. So they weren’t really sure. I don’t know what conclusions they came to.
Was it possible that a local could have got in there?
Well it’s always possible, because they
lived just off the base, and it could have been done by anybody, yes. It’s just out in the tarmac overnight, and if anyone wanted to do something they could probably easily get there.
Was there any speculation that it could possibly have been an Australian or a British...?
Oh no, I don’t – well, no, I never thought of that being the case, no. No reason to.
And was that the only time that you saw something out of character on the base?
Yes, the only thing I saw, there may have been other things around, but I didn’t notice anything else.
In that kind of situation, is there a heightened sense of paranoia?
That someone’s going to do something? No, but you are always wary, you know you’re in those sort of – those areas, and you sort of never know what they might do,
so paranoia is always there to some extent. But I don’t think there’s any heightened sense, it’s just a low paranoia situation, it wouldn’t be too major, I don’t think. Never lost any sleep over it or anything like that.
And I mean, it’s a fairly small community that you’re establishing there and excluding yourself from locals, to a degree.
What was your feeling towards the local Malaysians?
Yes, we got on pretty well. As I say, we were in an area where mostly locals are there, and the lady at the back for instance had all these orchids on her back fence, and the wife used to get into conversations with her quite often, and the people across the road, they’d lock themselves out sometime, of their house, and I had to try to help them get back in, and they didn’t have their keys, and of course they didn’t
speak my language, I didn’t speak theirs, but our amah was Chinese, she was doing the conversion of languages, and so we sort of helped them, and we always said, “Hello,” and waved the hand as you go past, talk to their kids and things like that, so it was a good environment, everyone sort of accepted you being there, so it was no problem, yes.
We’ve actually got another tape change now.
Interviewee: Peter Hussin Archive ID 1725 Tape 05
So Peter, this interesting question of how a plane is supplied with power, can you tell us what sort of voltage is on a plane?
Yes, well they’re all basically 24 volts, and they have a generator, a generator supply over the battery, they’ve got battery packs in them, and that’s
a stack of batteries in parallel...
So on the Canberra, because that’s the plane that you were mainly working on, can you tell us where those batteries were located?
They’re in a sort of a slide out compartment under the base of the aircraft, they’ve got a little compartment open so they just slide out, and lock back in, lock up in.
And this might be a strange question, but for the completely uninitiated
on planes, was that at the front or the tail?
The side, actually, the side of the aircraft, yes. So they’re in a compact situation, it slides out.
And how many batteries were there?
Four or six, I’m not sure what they were now, just paralleled up to get the voltage.
So what was the total voltage?
Twenty-four volts. And generators supply the –
with the engines running, the generators are supplying the batteries. The battery is there as a back up rather than anything else, they’re not doing any more than the back up, so they can start the engines off the batteries if necessary, but generally there is a back up.
can you just take us through the kind of voltage supply on the Canberra – and the front panel, I’m assuming was needing some power?
Well it all goes through sort of a circuit board which is like a fuse board, press button sort of stuff. And everything, all electrics
virtually run off those, you’ve got gyros and things that all sort of come off that, instrument panels are all supplied by whatever voltage they’re drawing into – down to that area, or supplied back to this fuse box.
And you mentioned earlier that you would need a couple of special instruments to get into some tight places.
Oh no, not necessarily, I just can’t remember using any special tools, but
some aircraft would have special tools to get into – designed to get to say a bolt of whatever, yes, but generally I think our – I can’t remember any special tools being used on the Canberra, they were all sort of general tools I think, that I can remember. There may have been odd ones but I can’t think of them.
So those four – approximately four batteries all tied up and parallel to each other,
how many of those would supply the cockpit for example, and then how many would supply the interior?
No, it’s just an overall supply, and they draw from that supply, so they all go through a fuse situation and draw from that fuse situation through the power board, which is directly connected to the batteries, so they would just be supplying, just like any fuse box, you know, if you have power supply
then go through a fuse to whatever part the equipment’s drawing from.
What sort of electrical problems did you encounter on the Canberra?
Well just minor things generally, it was nothing – we had to change generators at odd times, alternators at odd times, it
converting from DC [Direct Current] to AC [Alternating Current] in some areas on certain equipment. Apart from that just globes and things like that which cut out, yes. But there would have been other problems, I can’t remember offhand. There always seemed to be a problem of some sort, not necessarily electrics, because usually there are equipment problems, instrument type problems or something like that. And instrument
fitters would handle that rather than electrical fitters.
And cables supplying that voltage, how often would they deteriorate or...?
No, not at all generally, pretty stable and not packed away in compartments where they’re never sort of trodden on or touched generally, so that’s how they –
the wiring up anything like that would be all behind panels and not sort of exposed too much. But you’d get an odd situation where something might break, but it’s unlikely.
And was the Canberra – well I’m going to say user friendly to fix or to work on in terms of the electrics?
Yes, pretty easy generally, yes, I think it’s
probably because it didn’t have a lot of problems, and apart from the structure it was more to do with the frame of the aircraft, it could have been a major problem, which is developing cracks under stress. But the electrics I think were fairly adequate.
And where was the generator located?
They were on the wings, alongside the engine virtually, in the wing area.
And how would you take the generator out, or replace it?
Oh, there’s panels, also unscrewing panels and whatever, huge panels, the whole thing’s full of panels and you’ve got all these screws to unscrew to get to anything.
And what would you use to get up there?
Just ladders and whatever. They have special ladders on wheels and that, to wheel them out there, and
up you’d go on a sort of scaffolding type thing to get up on top.
And how heavy was the generator?
Oh, pretty weighty, sort of that size.
How many of you did it take to replace one, or shift one?
Once you got in position you’d do it yourself, but I mean probably you’d hold it there, initially you might need a couple to hold it to get it organised in position before you start screwing it back on.
I can’t remember having to change one, so I can’t sort of recall it.
And how – when you were on Butterworth, how easy was it to maintain the supplies of things like globes and electrical power?
Yes, we seemed to have a good supply. They were always sort of serviced back in Australia anyhow, and those
parts would be sent up to – if necessary they’d have a storage environment to any spares, reasonably well equipped I think, easy to get to.
And at Butterworth, where was your bench, or work area?
Well, we were just off in the hangar, off the side, like everyone had their sort of area to go to.
That was with the Canberras, and the other side of the hangar was where the – what the area was for the Dakotas, so I worked in both sides over time. But there was a big storage area there, and that’s where you go to get your parts. Pretty efficient sort of set up.
what sort of wastage did you see?
Wastage of what? The aircraft parts?
Oh, I don’t think I saw any. No, if anything came out it had to be repaired, if we didn’t repair it they would send it, in most cases, unless it was something simple, they would send it back to Australia, like a whole stack of things would go back and another stack would come up, they have an area down in, it might have been Sydney actually, where they had
sort of an – what do they call them, just like a workshop, they’d do all the repairs, I can’t think what they called them then. They’d do all those sort of repairs. It was like having anything in a – if you want an aircraft to be continually flying, you’ve got to be able to do it quickly, you can’t be there doing the repair, then putting it back in the aircraft, the aircraft needs to replace the part straight away, so the aircraft can fly as soon as possible.
And the part, instead of repairing, they send it off to be repaired, so keep efficient, see the aircraft running all the time.
And what sort of known problems did the Canberra have for you? Electrical problems or...?
Like a common problem? Didn’t seem to have anything, but being an older aircraft it sort of functioned fairly well, didn’t have any sort of finicky type things.
I’m just wondering if there was a
part that would continually need replacing?
Yeah. No, I don’t think so, not that I can thing of, no.
And the Dakota?
Same thing, they’re an old aircraft, they just seem to run forever. The times you were replacing or doing something is when they’d do a service, they’d pull it out and put another one in because it needed servicing. Not so much of it actually breaking down, just that it needs servicing. So there was no – there wasn’t any major breakdowns.
And what’s the turn around time that you’ve got to complete either a repair or a service?
Well, you know, the minor servicing is a minor servicing, it would be sort of done virtually the same day almost, and you’d go in the next day, but the major ones could be, you know, two or three weeks, whatever. There is a set time limit you’re supposed to do it in, but I can’t remember the time, so that
would be sort of a complete overhaul of the aircraft, they’d probably pull virtually everything out and put it all back in, new stuff back in.
And how many ground crew were there at Butterworth?
All together? Probably 160 to 200 or something, I’m not sure what the numbers would be.
And how many electrical fitters?
Again it’s probably about
10 to 12.
And how many of the electrical fitters would work on one plane at a time?
Well, probably all of us at some time, you’d either be working on one aircraft or another, or sending aircraft out or whatever, so there’d be all sort of rostered areas you’d be on, and you’d have to sort of work in that area in that period of time. Next
week you might be doing something else. So it was sort of a rostered system. So it’d all be sort of switched around. Same as Vietnam, it’s the same thing, roster basis.
Well these days voltage and current is measured by digital multi-metres and bulk metres. But can you describe the metres that you were using to read voltage and...?
Describe the metres?
Were you reading
Yeah, but I mean what would you say, in the aircraft itself or just the testing equipment?
Yeah, they just used a multi-metre style of thing, that’s right. There are quick testers as well which they used, sort of, to see if you’re getting voltage here or there, or press button type stuff, or little handset type things, just quick testers on the say, for instance, the fuses and things, see if voltage is arriving there, or getting away from a fuse or whatever, this type of thing,
simple stuff. Nothing complicated.
No, it’s not complicated, but it’s still interesting for us to hear what type of testing equipment you had. So can you just describe again what those quick testers were?
Well, we had like multi metres, several multi metres, we had just a sort of a prod type test, to see if you’re getting a light from a few 24 volts or whatever,
they were sort of the normal things you would use, and on a test area you’d probably use something larger to set up on a bench or something.
And once you had gone through and completed your work, who would then come and check?
Oh well, the – you’d have the next guy in
line, it’s usually the flight sergeant or warrant officer, whatever, he’d usually do a – he’d sign off anything you may have done, or if he’s happy with your work anyhow he wouldn’t even look at it, he’d just sign it off. But generally it’s you know, a quick look to see if it’s all stable and nothing’s out of place.
Well I’m interested because the checking and inspection of an aircraft is very rigorous...
Yes, it can be.
And I have heard that there are – normally there’s two or three
stages of checking.
Yes, there is, but you don’t – like a corporal could follow you up or something and look at it, or he’d be working with you anyhow. But it depends what it is you’re repairing, they’d probably want to see it again, if it’s something they wouldn’t even bother, but if it’s something major they might have a close look. So there would be a corporal or sergeant, and then there’s a flight sergeant. So we used to work fairly close with the corporals and flight sergeants – corporal and sergeant, the flight sergeant or the
warrant officer would be in charge, and he was more or less in the office rather than down below. As you say, that’s a stage thing, if they wanted to look at it they would.
And the parts that you were replacing. When you got a new part out of stores, how personally responsible were you – I mean I’m asking you if you had to sign out for it, or...?
yeah, I think we had to sign out, yes we would have had to sign out, I’m sure of it. Can’t remember that. I suppose we did. Nothing for free, so I must have had to sign something. Typical government.
Well the reason I’m asking is because I know when you take something apart, things can easily get lost or misplaced. So what sort of accountability was there?
Yes, there would have – stores would have
had that accountability, to give you some, they wouldn’t just give it to you, I’m sure we had to sign for it. And probably the same with the replacement I suppose, you had to hand that back to them or whatever. But that sort of thing, I just can’t think what they did. They wouldn’t always probably be got out by us anyway, maybe it’s got out by a sergeant or someone else gets it out, I’m not sure what happened there, never sort of thought much about that.
And what sort of routine did you have for making sure that no screws were lost and...?
Yeah well, I think it’s like anything you see, if there was a screw missing, you mean like on the outside, you’d notice that straight away, so yes, it’s something – and something like a generator you’d have to sort of – the bolts had to be pre-wired in a sort of an ‘S’ shape, one bolt would be tightening the other, if you know what I mean, if you loosened one off, you couldn’t loosen it off without cutting this wire. Used to have strands of
wire tied between them, and things like that, so they can’t just loosen and fall off. Sort of a safety situation.
And when you undid anything, either a panel or whatever, did you have a particular method of doing that so there was a particular order of doing things?
Yeah, probably tried to do it that way, I mean you’d have to
sort of – no good trying to get to something you can’t get to without taking another panel off, so you’d have to sort of do it in stages, yes. Sometimes you might have to move something out of the way to get to this other part, so many variations to those things.
And how often did you have schematics or drawings?
Yes, we would have to look at – with a major problem I suppose, you’d have to look at that and see what’s going on, where the wiring’s going or
how it’s connected, or whatever. But that sort of didn’t really – when you’re in operational aircraft, you don’t get a lot of that, you get more into a – a large servicing you’d get it, but you’d get it more into bases that are sort of more into sort of repair work of the aircraft, doing the actual repairs. Where we’re doing it by changing, they do it by repairing. So if you’re in an operational area you
don’t sort of get that time to stay too long with the aircraft, you’ve got to get him in and out all the time, because the idea is to keep him them in the air as long as possible, and keep them going.
But still, when you’re new to an aircraft or anything for that matter, you need to know your way around.
So how did you find your way round the Canberra? To begin with when you starting working on Canberras, how long did it take you to become familiar?
that was in Butterworth, it takes a while, because you don’t find – you don’t have to touch a lot of the parts until a major servicing or something like that. You know they’re there, but you never sort of have to really go and do anything with them, they’re sort of their in the lock down, so as long as you know they’re there, and where to get to them, that’s the main thing, I suppose. So it’s – yes, but you get to know where they are by being around the aircraft,
or hidden away in different spots.
And what sort of safety precautions, I guess in the hangar environment when you’re working on the plane, what sort of safety precautions were you all taking?
Well, you’re supposed to wear the right shoes for a start, and you are safety conscious because you can’t afford to leave a spanner, say, in a generator or whatever, so you are obviously
conscious of it, safety is there all the time. But I don’t remember anyone sort of causing any problem that way, so everyone’s sort of got that in their mind all the time, probably counting the tools as you’re putting them in and taking them out.
Well I guess that’s why I’m asking you about your MO [Modus Operandi], because you need a method so that you can trace your tracks, and...
I see what you mean, yes.
and a routine, I guess.
Yes, more so
probably in modern aircraft than the old aircraft, because ours were easier to get to and it was easy to see where your tools are, and knowing what tools you’re using. Whereas the – I haven’t been around modern aircraft, but I imagine they’re much more intricate and much more – the spacing is a lot smaller. There again, they may have compartments that open up, much easier to get to that way, possibly. I’m not really sure.
And you mentioned that you had the big ladders on wheels. What about cranes and cherry pickers or...?
No, didn’t really – we had sort of, yes, I think it was only really, you could stand on the aircraft to work, so you didn’t have to sort of stand above it, you could stand on the aircraft, stand on the wing or stand on the top or anything to get into the little compartments on top or
whatever. So the ladder was enough to get up there in most cases. They’re not over tall, they’re probably – their height wouldn’t be more than say 10 feet at the most, off from the ground, the Canberra, fairly easy to get up to.
Well how safe was it up there on top of the plane?
Well, as long as it’s not blowing wind I suppose, you’ve sort of got safety shoes on, they’ve got a bit of grip, and they are sort of a concave – they
are sort of round, so it’s not as if you’re walking on a narrow ledge, you’ve got a bit of room to manoeuvre, and the wings are quite solid and they’re not slippery.
Well because my thought is, you could easily slip off.
Yes, well if you’re not careful you can. But like anything, you know, just keep your wits about yourself. Nothing really to worry about.
No thoughts of falling off the side?
No, no, the only thing I ever thought of was having to jump from the wing, or it’s time – say if you’re fuelling or something and there’s no ladder, you jump off the wing, so you know, you’ve got this distance to jump down and sprain an ankle, could be a bit of a problem, but apart from that, no, it’s pretty right. We used to slide off the back of the Dakotas and you’re almost on the ground when you slide off the back.
It’s all fun and games.
And how strong is it to stand on the wing?
Oh, they’re very strong, very strong. They’ve got to take a lot of G-forces, you know, the aircraft travel, they move, they’re not stable, so they move and they take a lot of force. So a couple of people standing on it’s not going to worry it at all, a bit like an elephant I suppose. Easy to
And were there any pranks?
I’m sure there were pranks all the time, you know, you sort of come across guys doing different things, setting other guys up, like you do in any job.
What do you mean?
Well, you know, I don’t know, I’m just trying to think of something that might have happened but I can’t think of any offhand. But guys are like that anyhow, if you know what I mean, they
do that sort of thing, I’m sure girls do too, set each other up.
Yes, but I haven’t been standing on top of a plane.
Oh right, is that what you mean? Yes, no-one’s going to take a sort of – put anyone in danger I’m sure of that. But there have sort of mistakes made, I didn’t see, but I’ve heard of a guy who filled a tank, the rear tank of an aircraft, prior to
the front tank, he must have been new or something, and of course the aircraft tipped and sat on its back. So he must have been new on the job. Yes, he would have copped a bit over that, I should think. But that was the sort of thing that has happened, filled the wrong tank first.
Well, it would be, wouldn’t it? Yes, let’s face it. I don’t know what damage he might have done as well, so it wouldn’t be nice.
And what sort of I guess issue clothing were you given to wear during your working hours?
We just had shorts, sort of navy coloured shorts, or royal blue colour, and the shoes and socks. And you could wear a uniform, if you wanted to stay out of the sun, you know, stop the freckles, you could wear your uniform shirt
and shorts, but you weren’t allowed to wear a singlet you see, so it had to be either one or the other, shirt on with your uniform, which was too hot, you’d be sweating all day, or shorts and no shirt, which is what most people preferred to do. So it was much easier.
And most of the time were you in the hangar or out of the hangar?
Yes, in most of the time, but then if you’re bringing aircraft in or seeing them off, you’re outside. It was just too
hot to stay out there all day, and even if an aircraft was outside, and you had to fuel or service it or something, you’d still spend a lot of time underneath, you’d be –you wouldn’t sort of be standing in the sun too often.
And what sort of noise protection...?
We had the earmuffs, so they weren’t used as often as they should have, but they were there to use.
Did you wear yours?
Yes, but not all the time,
sometimes it’s just not practical. It’s only when the aircraft engines are going you’d have them on anyhow. But you used to have them stuck around your neck somehow, and you couldn’t often – if pilots or something see you had these things on, you couldn’t hear him anyhow, so you had to take them off to hear what he’s saying, so he’d give hand signals or whatever. So you know, there’s always a variation to those things. Sometimes you had them on, sometimes you didn’t, depends who’s – if
someone’s calling out to you or screaming at you or something, you’ve got to be able to hear him. You use your own noggin in most cases.
And manoeuvring the planes into the hangars, where would you be standing when they were coming in?
Out of the way of the aircraft. Well sometimes you’re on the tractor, giving the guy a guide, or you’d be
standing on the wingtip and saying you’ve got that much room here or like backing a car, you’d sort of give them a bit of advice. So everyone’s sort of helping each other one way or the other, a team effort.
Well that’s why I asked, because I was wondering if it was just the electrical work you were doing, or if there were multitasks that you were involved in?
Yes, you used to have to be involved, especially in Vietnam, we all did a bit of fuelling, we all did a bit of aircraft handling, which really wasn’t our job as such, but you needed to do that because
the other guys were doing another aircraft at the time, so there’s always someone who’s got to help someone else. Especially at night time, crews and things in Vietnam, they had sort of limited crews, and there’d probably be say a dozen guys working at the time, and we’d all be helping each other.
Ok, well perhaps we should get back to your story, and what happened next? One thing I want to
ask though before we move on from Butterworth, I mean I understand that you were working in hangars, but there were wounded coming in from Vietnam...
Yes, that’s right.
while you were there.
Not when I was first in Butterworth, when I came back from Vietnam to Butterworth, see it was our squadron that went from Butterworth to Vietnam, so there was no wounded coming back at the time, not that I saw anyhow, because if they had have come back they would have been coming back in a different area, which is the
visiting aircraft. So I did work at visiting aircraft when I came back from Vietnam, I went – that’s where I worked.
Second time, all right, well we’ll come back and ask you about that. So how did your first stint at Butterworth come to an end? Or why did it come to an end?
Well the whole squadron was posted to Vietnam, that’s what happened, we all left
Butterworth and we arrived there in Vietnam.
Well what was your briefing before you set off for Vietnam? What was your briefing?
What, as a group you mean? Yes, we had a meeting and they spoke to us about what to expect and you know, that we were all going and sort of you know, that their wives had a choice of going home if they wished to, or to stay there,
and they would be looked after and have extra security and so on. And just the general war-type warnings in Vietnam, you’re there to sort of – expected to sort of save these people there, or whatever.
And what did your family choose to do?
Yes, Jackie stayed there, she stayed in Butterworth, which is probably the – there was
no real problems in Butterworth – sorry, in Penang, so yes, she was quite happy to stay there, she knew a lot of people by then and seemed fairly well catered for, the amah was helping her out, you know, picking up food and whatever she wanted to do, cleaning the house.
And how apprehensive were you to be going off to Vietnam, knowing what was going on there?
again, we had missed out on the – you know, a lot of knowledge, because unless you were reading Australian papers and getting all that guff at the time, we didn’t probably know a great deal, any more than anyone else would know, so we were just – we were sort of given this briefing and they expected us to sort of work from there, there wasn’t a lot of knowledge, you know, “We’re there to fight Communism,” and this political rubbish we were given.
Well you mentioned that there was approximately a dozen or so electrical fitters in the ground crew. I’m just wondering if the whole of the ground crew went?
Yes, I think so, as far as I know, unless maybe they – there may have been a few changes because some would have been ready to be posted back to Australia possibly, so maybe there was a few that didn’t go. But all the electricians went,
that I know, and there was a couple added from Australia, and yes, as far as I know they probably all went.
And by this stage you had spent about a year, approximately, working with these fellows. I’m just wondering, were there any fellows in the ground crew that you were particularly mates with?
Yes, again there’s a
couple that played basketball, and I probably knew them as much as anybody. But I was more involved with people I went into training with that had also been posted up there, they were in different squadrons even, so we socialised more with them, because they’re the guys I’d joined up with. And even our own group, even though we did go to a couple of shows where they were and different balls we went to and things like that, and
to our own little gatherings.
Well who was your – the person that you immediately reported to...?
Next in charge? Well there was a couple, three corporals I think, Don Warden, David Lee, and I can’t think of the other guy’s name. But then we had sergeants, their names I can’t remember at the moment. And the warrant officer, or
sorry, the flight sergeant was Black, his name was Black, so they were guys we just sort of reported to.
And what did you think of the chain of command at that point in time?
Yes, it was pretty good, they were regular sort of people, no hassles or anything, pretty easy to get on with.
And how efficient were they in their work?
Yeah, I’m sure they were top dogs, no worries at all, all very efficient.
Well how did you travel from Penang to Vietnam?
Yes, we went on a Herc [Lockheed 3-130 Hercules], and the pilots flew the aircraft with a couple of odd guys that went with them, a couple of service people went with them, there is a third dickie seat you can sit in. So a few of them went up with the aircraft and the rest of us went in the Hercules.
Was that your first ride in a Hercules?
No, I’d been in a Herc before. Yes, I went from Edinburgh to Sydney I think, yes.
And where did you land?
We landed at Phan Rang, and we had a greeting by the Yanks at the time, they had given us a feed and a bit of a
sing-along and all that sort of thing. A bit comical because I don’t think they knew what to expect anyhow from us, we were all sort of – I think we were given a couple of beers or something, and we all started singing Waltzing Matilda, that sort of garbage. So at least they knew we were Aussies rather than Yanks.
And did you arrive in uniform?
Yes, we did, yes, we actually arrived in uniform. We had to carry our rifle with us, which is a
bit silly too, you know?
On the plane?
Yes. Don’t know why, but that’s what we had to do. And then we sort of got it there and put it back into storage straight away. I think it was all to do with photographs, somehow, you had to make it look real. But yes, so that was our arrival there, then of course we had to line up – I think I know why our driver – we had a parade, that’s right, and that’s when the aircraft
flew in, after that, they must have flown in the next day possibly, and of course they arrived and they had the big fanfare for the aircraft turning up, and...
You mean the rest of the squadron, or...?
Well our squadron and plus the Yanks were all lined up as well, and it was quite comical because they were under the control of the Australian commander, and of course they didn’t understand the Australian commands anyhow, they couldn’t understand our language let alone anything else. And of
course we were told to stand to attention, they were all sort of wondering what that order was, and it was just a shemozzle [mess] really. But anyhow, they had this great fanfare for us and flag flying and everything else, and so the aircraft landed and that’s when we were there. It all started from then on.
And where were you put up, or
Well we had new barracks, brand new, they were probably the best on the base, because we had flushing toilets and the Yanks didn’t have any of that, no flushing toilets. Our own cooking facilities and showers and everything else. And we built bar there, while we were there, Koala Bar. So we had pretty good facilities,
couldn’t complain about that. But they were a barrack type situation where you had an open plan living of, I don’t know, 20 or so in a hut, two-storey huts, and three or four of those.
And what were the huts made out of?
Just a prefab [prefabricated] equipment I think of some sort, it may have probably timber, yes, I’m just trying to think what it was now. Open vent sort of slat vents and things like that. It was
sturdy, wouldn’t be so sturdy if it was hit by a bomb, but they were sturdy. It was quite good, we had wardrobes and little cupboards in our beds, but not a lot of privacy, no.
Well 20 to a hut is a bit like boarding school.
There’d actually be more than that, I’m trying to think of the numbers now. Yes, it could have been more, it might have been
25, 26 or something like that, that’s each level, what was that, 50 – yeah, probably 25, 26 on each level, and then the officers’ quarters and sergeants’ quarters were separate again.
And were you downstairs or upstairs?
I was upstairs, yes. I don’t know if it was good or bad, I can’t remember.
Ok, well we might stop there, because our tape’s just come to an end.
Interviewee: Peter Hussin Archive ID 1725 Tape 06
We’re in Phan Rang now, and I’m just wondering what kind of operations were happening out of the base?
Are you talking about bombing generally?
Yes, we were sending out eight aircraft a day, sorry, night time initially I think they were bombing, and they were carrying 750 pound bombs, I think there were six underneath and one on each wing
initially, I think that was extended at a later date to 1000 pounds on each wing and possibly even more underneath, I’m not sure what the final result was there.
And still with the Canberra bombers here?
Were there any incidents of – I’m just trying to think how the bombs get released, if there was any electrical jamming or...?
There was a case of – not when I was there, after I was there we had the bombs held up, jammed up in one – they
had to shake them loose or something, I heard some story about that.
How do you shake a bomb loose?
Well I think it’s purely a physical thing, it must have got hooked up somehow on the equipment, on the actual support base of the bombs, I’m just not sure what happened, but shaking them loose is – rather than you can’t land with them there, so they had to get rid of them somehow, so they would just manoeuvre the aircraft, turn it sideways or whatever they had to do to you know, jolt it off, I think.
And was there any incidence where the electricals were failing on
the aircraft during an operation?
During the operation itself? I’m sure things would have gone haywire at times, minor things would have gone wrong, maybe the radio failed or you know, some were in the wrong district and they couldn’t hear each other, that type of thing, I’m unsure of what actual failures they would have had, but nothing major that I know of, but I’m sure there would have been minor things.
So from the situation and the operations that you were in, I’m gathering that the
pilots and the ground crew would have had to have had a very good rapport.
Oh they did, yes, they were relying on us obviously to keep aircraft in the air, and they don’t want anything sort of falling out of the sky on them and things like that, anything breaking down, generally, so yes, there was a good rapport, we all got on well together, and we didn’t sort of call them sir, or they didn’t – they’re called by each other’s first name and so on. Very good.
Which pilots really stuck out for you?
Well, I’m trying to think of pilots’ names now but it’s so long ago. A couple I probably played basketball with, back in Butterworth, they were sort of exception people as far as I was concerned, but names, I just can’t think of their names these days, what their names were. I could find out, but at the moment I can’t think of their names.
You mentioned when we were talking about Butterworth, how you found
excuses per se, to go out with the pilots on operations. In Vietnam, what reasons would you go out flying?
Well you wouldn’t normally, you’d be sort of, you know, you’d be a bit dubious about flying anywhere generally. But there were helicopters around, we did fly on the base itself, just with different – with
Americans, we’d fly around with the Americans. And the only other thing which happened to me was flying in a Cessna, a Cessna Bird Dog, which is like a surveillance type aircraft, forward air control aircraft which looks for damage or more so directs fighter aircraft or bombing aircraft onto a site they want bombed, or where the enemy might be seen, and they
would direct them into that area, radio in and get them to come straight out, or whatever.
And did you notice any major problems with any of the aircraft?
What, as a failure type of thing, when the aircraft needed to be serviced in a hurry or something?
Yes, or that would hinder an operation, or...?
No, there was
more or less the pilots were more inclined to find something wrong, and they would report back to us on landing, and we would have that repaired, they’d be able to fly it that night. Something may fail during one of their sorties.
And on the base, you mentioned that there were US [United States] Air Force also on the base. How did you get along with the Americans?
Yes, pretty good.
They had – they used to come to our bar quite often, and there was quite a bit of racism between them actually, between the black and white situation, and there was also quite a bit of drugs involved in amongst the Americans, because they had couple of major floor shows, the Bob Hope show and Connie Francis, and those sort of shows came to the base, and you could
see a lot of them were drugged out for the time, but there was a lot of racist comments and call each other, you know, the whites call the blacks ‘boy’ and look down on them a bit, but I think it was a follow on from the Martin Luther King days, so it was still there.
It’s an interesting observation that between the race split in the US forces, did you see any
Yes, there was one, it was basically a bit of a knife fight and a punch up in our bar that occurred, and they were both banned obviously, from then on. But it was generally sort of reasonable conduct there, they weren’t getting drunk generally, but apart from that...
Did you notice a difference between the way the black servicemen approached their work, and the white servicemen
approached their work?
No, because we weren’t working with them, but they obviously noticed the race problem was there, towards them, and I think they actually preferred to come and drink with us than drink with some of their own people. We treated them quite well, so...
When you say they, who are you referring to?
To the white American, yes, they treat them in some cases pretty badly, yes.
Sorry, who would prefer to come and drink with the Australians?
Well, they’d all prefer to drink with us, but we preferred in a lot of cases the Negroes to be there, they seemed to be quite good. But there again, there’s some great white guys as well, but there always were conflicts there.
I’m also interested about that comment you made about the drugs. From what you could see or could sense, what drugs do you think were available?
Well again, not knowing
anything about drugs at the time, we were told there was cocaine and that sort of thing there, and you could see they were high as kites on something, so I just assumed cocaine must have been what it was about.
And I find that fascinating, because I’m trying to think how could they possibly be in operations and you know, working in a war zone under that kind of...?
Yes, that’s right. Well I wondered that myself, like you know, maybe they’re in
their time-off period when they’re doing it, I can’t be sure. But certainly in the recreation area that’s when I saw them in that condition, so I’m sure plenty of others did too.
And where would you get cocaine in Vietnam?
Well again, can’t be sure, but the understanding is the CIA [US Central Intelligence Agency] were bringing it in, but that again is another possibility, but that’s what we were told.
It’s a pretty big conspiracy if it was the
CIA feeding their own troops.
Yes well, paying for their own war I suppose, yes. They’re the sort of conspiracies that come up, but who knows what the truth is.
Now you mentioned the Koala Bar. Now I understand that that’s a bar that you built while you were...?
Well basically that hadn’t been finalised when we were there, but we were sort of – I think the structure was there, we had to do the interior work and set it up with fridges and you know, that sort of thing, supply your tables and chairs,
it was all done out of money that we sort of poured in through drinking there, and then you eventually get to the stage where you could virtually drink for nothing. There was a booze supply from Australia and things like that, and in a lot of cases no charges had been involved.
See that’s an interesting point as well, alcohol on the base and – how often were men drinking?
Pretty often, yes, I’m sure it was probably more than we should have been drinking to be sort of sober the next day, even though you’d get to work all right and everything seemed to be ok. But a normal situation probably say we shouldn’t have been drinking that much, you know. There was plenty being drunk, yes.
How difficult is it to work with a hangover in a war zone, in that weather?
Well, I don’t know if I every got to
that case myself. No, I found it all right, it wasn’t too bad. We were not sort of – you’re not in a pressurised situation where you have to all of a sudden clock on or anything like that, you’re there and you’re sort of feeling you way to do the jobs you have to do. As long as you got the job done, there was no sort of time limit put on it really. You had to get the job done, so you just did it, it might take you half an hour longer because you had a few beers the night before, that’s all. Who knows?
And can you describe the Koala Bar for me?
Yes, it was – how big would it be? I suppose guessing again, 40 feet wide, probably 100 feet long, sort of thing, fair size. Had a bit of a stage up one end and a bar down one side.
And how many men could fit into the Koala Bar?
Quite a few, probably
200, quiet easy, yes. Probably more.
You mentioned some of the shows that came through, did any Australian artists come through?
Yes, quite a few, those shows were basically – most of them were outside, but we did have an odd one or two in the Koala Bar. Yes, they were just localised, and they were making money by doing a tour with the Yanks as well, they were doing shows for them and getting paid for that. Do our shows for nothing.
And what do you remember about those shows?
Well, people like Little Patty and Bob Francis came up later, I wasn’t there when Bob Francis was there, but there shows like Lucky Grills, he’s a comedian, the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] bands, major bands came up at the time, to entertain us. Always had a singer of some sort. I think it was Big
Pretzel, one of those was there, doing their usual act, but quite a few people, well known in Australia, yes.
You were in a kind of different situation personally in Vietnam, your wife wasn’t there and you were living on the base. How did it change for you personally?
Yes, well you’re sort of, you’re missing first of all your wife and child, a newborn, we were going back every three months, I think we were allowed to go back to Butterworth. The ones that came from Australia had one holiday in that time, and we had sort of three or four minor holidays, so we all went back to Butterworth, so
that sort of helped a bit I think, yes. That gave us the sort of situation where we could go back and be quite happy.
But in some sense being that far away you are kind of living the life of a single man again?
Yes, that’s true, that was – and going back to live in sort of quarters like that, where you’re all involved in one room, yes, it’s something you just got used to, you had to put up with it, so you did. It wasn’t that much to adjust to, I
Now in Malaysia you had locals working on the base there. Were locals working on the base in Vietnam?
Yes, they were, yes.
And what were they involved in?
Well a lot of the guys hired girls to do their washing and laundry and that sort of thing. And men were involved in cleaning and working in – and the girls also, working in the cafeteria or the mess, general cleaning jobs and things like that, they had all sorts of various jobs they were doing.
And they were called ‘hut girls’, I believe?
Yes, we called them hut girls, yes.
And did you have one?
No, I didn’t, no, I did my own washing. Had to fight to get the washing machine at times.
And how much were the girls paid to...?
Oh, I don’t know, it wouldn’t be much, but I’m not sure what they were paid, no idea.
Previously we were talking about this off camera, but it’s an interesting point to raise. With the locals in Vietnam there was a lot of suspicion
behind who was VC [Viet Cong] and who wasn’t. What kind of security checks would you do on the locals?
Well I wouldn’t know because the security people would be doing that. But I’m sure they’d have to be just questioning, generally – I mean, what else can they do, to ask someone how they feel about things I suppose, whose side they’re going to be looking after. But there again, if they get a liar they’re not going to know the answer to that, so
who knows, I’m a bit unsure how they went about that.
And were there any Viet Cong amongst...?
Yes, we found out at later stages there was – they were involved in, you know after hours bombing and raids or whatever on the base, because they were perusing the base to know where to come in and what areas to bomb and that type of thing.
Could you describe for me what the raids were and the bombings were?
Well the raids actually started about the time I left, believe it or not, so I missed that sort of thing. But they had rocket launches sort of thing, landed near the huts and so on. But I wasn’t there at the time so I’m not sure exactly what happened.
And in Phan Rang where would you go for
In my case I went back to Malaya, but others were going to Bangkok and possibly Hong Kong, I think, and some were going to Australia I think, yes.
And did you ever venture out to Hong Kong?
I did go to Bangkok, not to Hong Kong. But that was a sort of an unofficial trip, I had time off and the Yanks were going there anyhow, so we had a – me and another lad had time off at the same time, so
we had a day, so we had to extend another day with someone taking that shift for us, and we filled in later when we came back. So away for sort of 48 hours or 36 hours, or something like that.
And what did you do in Bangkok?
Just generally drank at the bars, that sort of thing, look around generally.
Popular culture has created this very trendy and hip image of Vietnam, you know, with music and the drugs and everything. How true is that image to what you saw as going on there?
The music and drugs?
Yeah, well I agree with that, I mean there’s certainly – drugs were certainly there, and progressively seem to be getting worse, and the music,
there was entertainment nearly every night if you wanted to go and play poker machines, if you wanted to, over at the American base. There as also things like PX stores [American canteen unit], you could buy anything you wanted to buy, and a lot of people bought stereo equipment and things like that. So there was plenty of noise going on at night.
And Phan Rang had a strip as well?
How far away was the strip from the base?
I think it was only a mile or two off the base, I’m not 100-per cent
sure of that. So that was pretty easy to get to.
And describe the strip for me.
Well, it was a combination of massage parlours, brothels and cabaret style bands there, you could get a haircut there or whatever.
And how many brothels were down there?
I didn’t count the number, but I’m sure there were quite a few.
I should imagine, I’d say a dozen to maybe more.
And how would you know which was a clean brothel and which wasn’t?
Well the air force did have one they supposedly – the doctors supposedly went to and checked out on a weekly basis or whatever, and the girl’s photographs were actually in the area of the doctors rooms somewhere,
and if you wanted to go there, well that’s the girls you were supposed to go to. So if you went anywhere else you were in trouble or could be in trouble.
And that would have been quite a thriving business, that close to a base.
Oh yes, I have no doubt, yes.
How many girls would you say were working down there?
Again, you know, you’d only see them sort of darting here and darting there. Overall it could be
100 or so, I don’t know.
And what kind of circumstances were these girls in to push them towards prostitution?
Well, I think they saw easy money and it could have been a family-orientated thing to do that, to get money, or else they sold themselves. You’d probably need to ask
them that question.
Yes. And how were they seen within their own community for what they were doing?
Yes, that’s the strange thing, I don’t know how they’d be accepted, whether they’d be ostracized or not, I don’t know, difficult to know.
thinking about the whole popular culture of the ’60s. It was quite a – not only a political time but it was quite a progressive time in the way of music and fashion. Were you able to explore any of that, being in the air force?
Explore what, exactly? I’m not sure...
Explore popular culture and you know, you were in Vietnam, and it was quite a progressive time, and I’m just wondering
how much of that you were able to be involved in?
Well the culture in Vietnam wasn’t really sort of progressing much, is that what you’re sort of saying? The culture in Vietnam? Well their culture is fairly stable, it really wasn’t developing at all, I don’t think, as far as I could see, apart from the money the Americans are putting into the place, building new buildings and thing like that. I don’t know if their culture was really developing
much at the time, pretty stable I should think.
What were your first impressions when you actually got to Phan Rang?
Well, the size of the air force base was probably impressive, and how the Yanks operated was impressive, they’ve got – everything’s done on a big scale, they have their pilots and so on tend to show off a bit with their Phantoms and
things they were flying at the time, at night, they’d take off and put the after burners on and just sort of do vertical climbs, let off a stream of flare out the back or flames out the back. So yeah, they used to do things in a big way there, yes.
The American aircraft is quite different to what the Australian ones are.
Oh yes, they’re much more advanced, but they weren’t necessarily more efficient, because they sort of – their bombing was
probably less efficient than the Australian bombing, because the Australians used line of sight in daytime bombing, so they were very efficient, because there was low level bombing so they didn’t miss the target too often.
And did you ever get to maintain or get into the mechanics of the American aircraft?
No, not at all.
So what involvement – I mean
obviously as a mechanic you were quite in awe of the planes that they were flying.
Yes, apart from the aircraft, they had an aircraft similar to ours, which is probably – they were nowhere near as efficient, they sort of – I think they had 17 to 20 odd aircraft and they’d be lucky to get six of them in the air at night, whereas we had eight and we’d fly eight all the time, so theirs seemed to be dripping oil and falling apart and ours seemed to be – but that was a very old aircraft
for them to have, or ours seemed to be quite efficient, on the go all the time. So the Yanks, apart from those very old aircraft I was talking about, which is like ours, everything else seemed to be much more modern and much more functional and so on.
What aircraft did they have there?
Well they had these – I think it’s Supersaver F105s, I think they were called, the Phantoms
and – I don’t know whether they got the – the F111s weren’t in then, no, they had other aircraft which I can’t remember the names of, but they were all sort of more modern and up to date.
And did you get to go up in any of those aircraft?
No, apart from the transport aircraft and helicopters, a couple of helicopters, yes. But generally we weren’t sort of in that situation of working with them, we
worked alongside, not actually with them, no.
And did you have much of a relationship with the US ground crew?
Yes, like in our bars, and then we’d go to their situation, and their night time shows, things like poker machines and that sort of entertainment, and had cabarets going quite often over there.
And were you ever able to discuss any of your problems, or you know, do any brainstorming with the ground crew?
No, I think everybody avoided that really, I can’t remember anyone really talking about any problems that they may be thinking at the time. Because we were sort of in a situation where we thought we were winning the war actually, no-one was telling us otherwise so we were quite happy. And we were in an area at the time called Happy Valley, or we called it Happy Valley, because nothing was really occurring, they weren’t even firing on us and things like that. That all occurred later after I left.
Well what did you know
of the war that was going on?
Well we had our bombing aircraft, obviously, going out every night, flying out all the time, and we had gattling guns hanging round the perimeter, that’s at night, clearing the perimeter of anyone sort of trying to get on the base, so they were just firing gattling guns out of a
Dakota at night, just clearing the area generally, so if anyone was around they’re going to get shot. So we’d see that sort of thing going on all the time. There was always bombs being exploded at night and things like that.
And how often were the Australian bombers hitting on target?
You mean how often they were flying out to do it?
No, how often where they hitting on targets?
I think their efficiency was very good, as far as I
understand, that’s what I read in books, they say, very much on target. They won the proficiency award in Vietnam at the time for their efficiency, so must have been pretty good.
And what damage were you seeing coming back from operations?
There were bullet holes and that showing up on aircraft but
this again happened later. There was a couple shot, I think one never came back, another one was fairly knocked around, and they ejected and were found and rescued and so on. But that all happened again later, not when I was there.
Well, I mean what major hiccups happened when you were there?
Only the fact I got shot, that was the only hiccup I think. No, it was pretty quiet up to that period of time, that was really the start of what they called the Tet offensive, which is early ‘68, and I was shot in ‘68, so early ‘68. But from then on I think there was a lot of action going on, they seemed – that particular year I think was the start of the major offensive by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, they were setting themselves
up all round the place with their rocket launches and grenades or whatever.
So where the operations bombing then, what parts of Vietnam?
Well mostly South Vietnam, but they did actually go into North Vietnam as well, even though they weren’t supposed to, they did bomb in North Vietnam apparently. They were supposedly bombing in South Vietnam. They were sort of defending area positions where troops would be in trouble, they’d go in and bomb the area.
Called in to do it late, they might be on their way to another mission even, or another sortie, and diverted from that to go and bomb somewhere else. So all that type of thing was going on.
So how much did the ground crew actually know about the operations?
Not a lot, we’d hear about it afterwards, but there wasn’t a lot of conversation, it was just slowly getting through the grapevine. But we did have an intelligence officer who was giving us sort of run downs on what’s happened in the overall war,
supposedly winning all the time, but the end result found that wasn’t true.
Well how accurate – I mean at the time I’m sure you believed what they were saying. What was he saying?
Well, you know, telling us things like so-and-so area has been bombed, so many killed, and whatever, you know, driving back this force here and doing this over there and making us feel like we’re
well in front and in a few days we’ll all go home. But in reality it was just – I think they were sort of keeping us happy generally, yes.
And what propaganda was being generated?
Well that was really – the propaganda was basically that we were winning the war, I think, yes, basically what it was.
And when you ventured
out to Bangkok, did you see anything to give you a clearer idea about what was happening in Vietnam?
No, we were there only a short time, they didn’t have any local English papers or anything you could read, so didn’t know what was really happening. But you’d get the odd paper from Australia and you’d start seeing things that people weren’t happy with what was happening in Vietnam and that type of thing, but nothing you’d take too seriously, because that was the early days. Those
moratorium marches started about ’69 I think, around that period, ’70.
Well when you did start to see some displeasure coming through in the press, and you’re still on the base and you’re still undergoing operations, and you think you’re winning the war, what does that do to the morale of the men?
Yes, I suppose people would have to think, “What’s going on here?” you know, “Who’s telling the truth?” and,
“Why are we really there?” That’s the sort of thing you’d say to yourself, anyhow, what are we doing?
Did you ever question why you were in Vietnam?
Yes, I certainly did after coming back, and finding out more about the truth of the matter, the political side of it, and working out the reality of the war.
But at the time while you were there?
No, at the time I was there I probably still didn’t click on who was
telling the truth and who wasn’t, and what was really happening. We thought we were doing the right thing, we were told to go there and that’s what we did.
Well just going back to the locals, what kind of interaction did you have with them?
Didn’t have a lot to do with the Vietnamese locals, there wasn’t a lot of English being spoken with them because – not like Malaysia, they nearly all speak English of some sort.
The Vietnamese are very broken and didn’t have a conversation with them really, you’d just say “hello” or wave to them or something, that’s basically what it was about. They used to wander through our showers when we were having a shower and do all sorts of strange things. Use our toilets, everything else. But they’re the only sort of close contacts you had.
And did they treat – were they able to distinguish between the Australian servicemen and the US servicemen?
Yes, I’m sure they did, yes.
And did you notice any difference in the way that they treated the two types?
How they treated us or Americans? No, I didn’t, not knowing how they really treated each of them, no. We treated them reasonably well I think, treated them politely and so on. At that early stage anyhow, don’t know what happened later.
And in Phan Rang when you were going down the strip, I mean were you given any warnings about what was
going on down there, or any of the locals or...?
Well, I think you always had to be ward, you knew you had to be wary of anything unusual happening, make sure you’re not on your own if you can help it, and things like that, you had to sort of stick with a group, and most people did anyhow, for obvious reasons.
Did you learn any of the local language?
No, no, I didn’t really have the opportunity to learn the language, because you knew you weren’t going to
converse anyhow. You were there for a reason, you weren’t going to get off the base and go on holiday or anything like that, so not much point.
And for the locals, how could they tell if you were an Australian serviceman or a US serviceman?
From a distance, because we were always in civilian clothes off the base, and the Yanks were always in uniform, so that was one easy way of deciphering.
Was that a choice to be in civilian
No, I think we were advised to actually, that’s really – I think they preferred us to be in civilian clothes rather than service clothes, yes.
And for the Americans, was that a choice?
I don’t know about the Americans, I think they only had the uniform as far as – I think they had to be in uniform, yes, as far as I know. Don’t think I’d ever seen them in civilian clothes.
And as a work
environment, I mean you’d worked in Malaysia and you’d worked in Edinburgh, how does Vietnam rate as a work environment?
Yes, I think it was – we all got on well together, we all sort of worked together, probably closer together really than even anywhere else, because you sort of had to back each other up in all cases, and feel like you’re a team, you know? So probably
It was – this was a war zone, and it was the first time you’d worked in a war zone. How would you describe the pressure you were working under?
Day time seemed to be good, night time it was always a little bit – you knew at odd times that there were people trying to get on the base, which did happen when we were out there at one stage.
We could hear the firing, shots being fired, and of course they were running towards the airstrip, where our revetments, or our aircraft, were all up one end of the airstrip, and that’s where they were heading for, that area. This was sort of early hours of the morning, and we’d hear the guards, there was a guard on top of the revetment, with this two-way radio, and he was talking to the guys who were actually shooting at these Vietnamese and listening in to what he had to say, so they –
we knew they were heading in our direction and then we’d hear the shots and yells and screams and carrying on, so for that reason you had to be wary, we had no weapons out there so we had to rely on these guys defending us. So that was a bit hairy.
How many were there?
Running on the base? Not many, I don’t think, you know, it was only a handful, probably, but I
can’t be sure who could tell us the numbers. But you’d hear them saying, “I got one, I shot this one, I got this one,” or something like that, you know? So I’m just not sure how many.
And what damage did they do to the base?
Well on this occasion none, I don’t think, they didn’t get a chance, they were shot before they got in.
It’s quite ambitious.
Yes, I wouldn’t like to try it myself.
So what was going through your head
when you could hear all this going on around you and you’ve got no weapons?
Yeah, well we were all sort of saying, “Oh my god, what do we do now?” And we knew our aircraft were due to come back, so we couldn’t go too far, because they’re relying on us anyhow, so we hung around and it worked out anyhow, so didn’t go anywhere.
What could you use for self defence?
Nothing really, we had nothing, it was all just flat tarmac and there were no stones to throw at them or anything
And what kind of training did the air force give you for situations like this?
Well that’s true, we don’t, you know, normally if you know the company you’d have your rifle, because all the rifles are stored in the hangar obviously, and we would have our rifle at least, but in this case they never know so they expect the opposition never get on the base, this is probably their thinking, so
they think, well we’re pretty safe, which we were generally, we were pretty safe.
What other skirmishes or minor attacks did you see when you were there?
Used to hear about a few odd things, like the Koreans capturing the Viet Cong and throwing them out of helicopters and things like that. Interrogating them and throw them out if they didn’t get the right answers. That type of thing you’d hear about. The
Koreans are a fairly stern crowd, you didn’t get many smiles out of them. We went over their base a couple of times, we never got to speak to them, had a beer and that’s all. And there was a couple of Ks [Koreans], they were teaching karate and things like that to a couple of our guys. So there was a little bit of contact, but not much.
And what was their base like?
Bit hard to remember, it wasn’t much, it was
only smallish, I think. I don’t know what their numbers were, but it wasn’t a big area.
And was there a bar on base?
On their area? Yes, there was I think, I’m pretty sure there was a bar there, yes, I’m sure we had a drink with them, that’s what I’m thinking, yes.
Well, what other armies were around you?
We had the American 101 Airborne Division,
and we had American Army as well as – probably wasn’t a great deal, we had the American air force and the American Army on the base, quite a big number of air force – the Airborne Division is really the army that flies out of the sky if you like, dropped from parachutes and things, quite a few of those there.
So aside from the US and the Korean armed forces, there were no other nationalities near you?
No, not as far as
service people go, no. There were a few private people on the base, like I came across a Filipino, but I don’t know whether he was just a – what he would have been in catering or something, I don’t know what he was. So there would have been a few odd private people around the place.
Ok, we’ve got a tape change.
Ok, got the tape.
Interviewee: Peter Hussin Archive ID 1725 Tape 07
So Peter, just talking a bit about Happy Valley, and you were just telling us off camera that it was your first time or encounter with people on drugs. Why was it strange for you?
Well I was a bit shocked really, you’ve heard about drugs but you don’t know how it’s affecting people or what effect it has, so to see someone sort of totally
out of it without any control, yeah, just quite amazing, I suppose. And this is prior to a – I think it was the Bob Hope show when I first saw these people, they were all in a group and they were all sort of high as kites, so it was a bit of a shock.
And how did you know they were high as a kite?
Oh, purely because it wasn’t alcohol, you know, I’ve seen alcohol – people on alcohol before, and these guys were really doing
totally different things, you know.
What were they doing?
Well I think their eyes were rolling and hands running around the air, and they were sort of gazing into no man’s land and didn’t seem to have any control of what they were doing with themselves.
And how connected was the nickname of Phan Rang as Happy Valley? How connected was that do you think to...?
Oh no, I think that was just because basically there had been no action there at the time, it was
just a quiet base and hadn’t been attacked you see? So this is where it got its name, Happy Valley.
Not connected to the drugs then?
Oh no, well, not from my point of view it wasn’t. But that would have happened on all bases, I’m sure of it. So that was purely because it hadn’t been fired on at the time.
And how much was drinking a problem on the base?
Yes, I think it
became a bit of a problem, I think there was quite a bit of drinking going on, but you know, where you’d sort of – you’d be drinking most of the day and just flop into bed at night, sort of thing, yes. Plenty of that going on. Quite common.
And how did it become a problem as such?
I’m not sure it was a problem, I can’t remember anyone sort of – there was occasions
where guys didn’t turn up to work, and someone had to fill in for them, things like that. And that may have become even a bigger problem later, I don’t know.
Well, do you think that it’s fair to say there might have been a bit of slacking off going on, or...?
No, I just think the alcohol just controlled the situation at the time, too much alcohol had been taken in, and guys sleeping in generally and
couldn’t get out of bed, probably.
And why do you think – I don’t know if you’re including yourself in this, but why do you think guys were drinking that much?
I think we all drank, but that was our sort of entertainment at night generally, otherwise you’d be bored out of your mind sitting around in your room, so you’d have to go where everyone was, and there were many nights when it was just free, booze was free, and
we’d be entertaining each other with jokes and whatever entertainment we’d be doing on the side, you know. So that’s where you’d stay, and obviously you’re drinking at that time, so without realising in a lot of cases, you just drink too much, and just flop into bed and hopefully you get woken up in the morning. But it sort of became a major problem for some of the guys, the way they were drinking.
And when you say major problem, was that because they couldn’t turn up for work?
Well, I’m sure that sort of, it would have continued on through their life, becoming quite possibly alcoholics or whatever, yes.
And how important was it to maintain your sense of humour when you were there?
Very important, yes, you had to sort of be part of the scene
and get along with as many as you could get on with and join in whenever you could join in, so you’d really have to sort of – no good being, stand off on your own and try and do your own thing, you’d be wasting your time, so we’d enjoy ourselves together. And drinking with someone like the American Negroes, I mean they’re a huge bundle of fun really, they’ve got so much sense of humour it’s incredible. And they’d have drinking contests and everything would be going. They’d buy a slab of
beer rather than buy you a beer, they’d buy the slab, and of course it would all go hot and they’d still be drinking this hot beer, and oh, hopeless cases. But they had that much money to blow it didn’t really worry them too much. A lot of these guys, you know, they came from slums with no money, yet they were blowing all this money they were being paid. But they used – they’d get into talking about the racist problems, you know, Martin Luther King and those sort of
background people, how they were treated in America and things like that. So it was a conversation piece, and they’d laugh about things and carry on, about their background and the their families, how they lived as slaves and things like that. So there were varying conversations.
It’s quite an eye-opener I guess for you, to be mixing with such different people?
Yes, it was,
you think they’re going to be similar, but they’re – there are similarities, but they’re different backgrounds so they have a different – and we come from a sort of quieter, staid, strict background, they’ve come from the slavery background, and it’s totally different. And they’re much more – their sense of humour is quite incredible, and they like to laugh, so that was always entertaining. And they were always good to be around, so you know, we never had any problems with them. Well, as I say, when I was
there, there were no problems.
And how much poking fun at the air force was there?
At our air force?
Or the American air force, or...?
No, I don’t think there was any of that going on. They always wanted our slouch hats and things like that. If we were flogging [selling] our slouch hats we wouldn’t have any left in Australia, I think. They all wanted a slouch hat. But they’d give you boots, and they’d give everything, army boots and everything out of their rations, they’d give you all these boots and things,
just to get a slouch hat, and they still didn’t get the slouch hat. They were very generous generally, that type of people. Just a happy environment at times.
And I was going to ask you, I mean you’ve just briefly mentioned that you did have drinking contests...
Oh yes, yes.
But what was the contest? How many pints you could drink at once, or...?
the time to down a can or something, that sort of style, you know? And it wouldn’t just stop at one, just keep sort of going, you have to take it to three or something, and there’d be a time lock on you, they’d count up to 10 or 15, 100 or whatever, and yeah, that sort of thing. Very silly, but we did that sort of thing.
And what sort of beer were you drinking?
We had mostly in New South Wales, we had Tooheys and things like that, which a lot of – well the
South Australians didn’t like the Tooheys that much, it was different beer to what they’re used to. But there was VB [Victoria Bitters] up there and Queensland XXXX and things like that. And we were supposed to get the South Australian beer up there, but apparently it was sent up and never arrived, so it went off on the black market somewhere. So we got – and we had those mixed drinks, like rum and Coke drinks in the can, and things like that, they were horrible things, probably vodka and orange or whatever. But we started – as I say, initially
we were paying for them in a minor amount of money, it wasn’t the full amount, but most times they were free, just pouring them down our throats.
And did you try the American brands of beer?
Yes, the Budweiser, yeah, sort of watery, not that good, no. There was another one too, can’t think what it was called.
Becks is it? Becks? No, that wouldn’t be it, that’s not American, is it? No, I can’t think, there was another one. Slitz American beer? I’m not sure. There was another beer.
And what would give you the biggest hangover?
Of Australian beer you mean? I don’t know, it’s a bit hard to compare them, you didn’t really count the numbers. Yeah, just have a drink and – you know, you’re
not getting drunk every night or anything like that, I mean there were odd nights where you’d have your day off the next day, so you’d have a good session that night. Just part of the old stressing out and calming down, whatever.
And did you ever win any drinking contests?
No, I was a bit slow that way, I didn’t get to the high-echelon area. There was one guy beat everybody there, there’s usually one in every group, isn’t there?
So this guy was – a waste of time taking him on. I don’t think he had a throat, I think he just poured it down.
It’s interesting, I’m getting a picture of what the base was like. Why was it that you loved watching the Phantoms
Well, you never get a chance to see those things again, obviously, the power of those things and the noise level and the flames would be blowing out the back, all at night, very spectacular, it was quite amazing. And it wouldn’t be just one, there’d be two or three following each other and they’d all do the showing off bit and do a roll up in the air or whatever, and carry on. Yeah,
they’d show off that way.
And the Phantoms are the Mirage?
No, the Phantoms are a different aircraft to the Mirage. The Mirages were in Butterworth, they weren’t in the Phan Rang, no.
And did you have any nicknames, you and your mates?
Yeah, odd people had names, nicknames,
some of them, usually part of their name or – yeah, one bloke we called – we just called him the Court Jester. There’s probably heaps of names, but I just can’t think of the names now. If I saw their faces I’d probably sort of remember them straight away, so it sort of fits their personality or face or whatever. Yeah, a lot of that sort of thing.
And what about you, did you have a nickname?
No, I didn’t, I don’t think, not to
my face anyhow.
Well, during lunch we were looking at your film footage. I’m going to ask you, what’s a revetment?
Well that’s just a protective area for the aircraft, an individual protective area. So if a bomb or a rocket dropped in one of those revetments, it would only destroy that aircraft, not
spread to destroy any more. So it’s quite a thick metal and filled with concrete, protective area, height of say 15, 20-odd feet, enclosing all the aircraft individually.
And when you were not working on planes, what tasks did you have to fortify the
base that you were on?
No, we didn’t have to worry, we had our own defence force, what do you call them, airfield defence guards, or something. Is that what you mean, defending the area?
Oh yes, we did sandbagging and that sort of thing, we had to build our own protective bunkers and things like that.
And where did you build those bunkers?
They were built between our huts,
they were almost enclosed over the top, if I remember rightly, they were sort of fairly thick and heavy.
And how many people was it designed to fit?
I’d say it would comfortably fit about 40 people in each, quite comfortably, squeeze in a bit, but you’d get in there. And there must have been –
there’s probably at least four of those built that I know of, probably more built later.
Well sandbagging is sometimes a job that you get as punishment.
No, you’d think so, but no, it was a voluntary thing, and you’re obviously quite happy to help out because you may have to use the things. And no, it was just a matter of filling the bags, and you’d spend a couple of hours a day if you get
Well what work were you doing getting the craft ready for night raids? When would you do that work?
See, one shift would be doing the aircraft – preparing the aircraft through the day, and the next shift would be sending them out at night and bringing them back in the morning, depends on the distance of time and hours. Sometimes there’d be a shift change –
I’m not sure if we had two or three shift changes now, probably two shift changes in the day, that’s right, and one shift would be on leave, I’m not sure how that worked now. Yes, we’d send them out at night and bring them back, and next week you’d be doing the day shift, which would be the maintenance and that sort of thing on the aircraft.
And was there a better shift, or were they both the same?
They were both – nice to try both out, they were still the same
area, but I think the aircraft coming in and out was a bit more exciting probably, because you’d actually see them being loaded with the bombs during the day, and you’d see the pilots coming back, have a bit of a chat to them, how they’ve gone, see how they sort of – had any problems or their bombs got away all right or whatever, so all those things are taken into account. Night time was probably a little bit better,
night, mornings. Then we’d have a steak about midnight, go down the cafeteria, we cook something about midnight and get back in time to see the aircraft come back in again. They feed you at all these bodgie hours, you know, because you sleep in daytime in those situations, so you’d be eating at night. And the catering would be going – the cooks would be going all the time.
So the most activity was morning and then night again?
Morning they’re coming back from raids, this is when they’re doing night bombing and you’re sending them off at night, so say it’s eight o’clock at night, the first one would go out, he might come back at two in the morning, or something like that, they come back in a staggered situation, so we’d slowly put them out and they’d slowly come back, three or four hours later. It gives us time to handle them and get them into their revetments and the
next one would come in and you’d start fuelling that one, the next one would come in and you’d do the same, until they all come back.
And you mentioned refuelling was one of your jobs. How much fuel did a Canberra take, just approximately?
Yes, I really couldn’t sort of tell you, I’d have to sort of think about it.
Well what sort of job was it to refuel?
Well it wasn’t really our job, but I mean everybody took that job on because it was just a part of helping
out. It was really nobody’s job, I suppose, it was just a thing that – I think the air framers or the engineers are supposed to fill them up, but they’ve got other things they’ve got to do as well. And some of the guys would bring an aircraft with a tractor, and they’d have to tow them and push them into revetments, so they’re all sort of jobs that some guys would take on. Just an extra job.
And would you refuel when it was actually in
the revetment, or before?
Yes, in the revetment.
And how would you get the fuel in?
The hose would fit over the top, it’s sitting up the top, the hose would extend that far, and they’d just come in towards the wing and the hose would fit quite easy. There are two holes at the top to refuel, so you fill the front one first and the back one later.
So you’d bring the fuel to the plane?
Yes, the tankers would come alongside the plane.
You mentioned a bit earlier, I understand you volunteered as a spotter in the Cessna. Tell us about that.
Yes, the Bird Dog they called them. Well they were looking for people to help them spot outside the perimeter, which was an
American – in this case was an American Cessna Bird Dog, and other guys had gone out prior to me, it was on a bit of a list that people were volunteering to go, on your day off, something to do. So I just happened to be one of the volunteers that put my name down. And apparently a guy a day before me, they had been shot at but not hit, or the aircraft wasn’t hit, and my following
up day was the day that I went and I copped a bullet.
Well we’d like to hear in as much detail as possible about this incident. First of all, what sort of plane was the Cessna Bird Dog?
The Cessna being a two-seater, light aircraft, now the Bird Dog was a style or name they gave that particular
aircraft, I don’t know why, it was just a name tag they put on that aircraft, it was a certain style, I think, and yes, I can’t tell you much more about it than that. There is a number for that aircraft, like it’s a certain number, it’s in the book over there.
And you mentioned it was a two-seater. How were the seats positioned?
Yes, one behind the other, straight behind the pilot, in line.
And what sort of communication was there between front and back?
Yes, they had head phones on, you could hear what he said, and he’d switch on to you if you wanted
to, which he did. There was a bridge that had been blown or part blown away, and he just asked me what I thought the size of it was and the style of bridge and things like that. And he sort of said to me if you notice anything looks out of the ordinary, let him know, so we were in general communication.
Well, tell us the area that you flew over.
Well, it was sort of a mountainous area, there were villages spotted around the place in between and the terrain was pretty rugged, and that’s when obviously the Viet Cong were setting up their – things like their rocket launches or whatever they were
installing, obviously ready for this Tet offensive, so that’s what his job is, to try to find anything like that that’s going on, so they can call in the bombing aircraft to blow them up. And that’s why we were sort of out there, out there a couple of hours, I suppose.
And what could you see from the air?
Well it wasn’t that easy, you had a fairly high sides, but I didn’t
notice anything apart from the things he noticed, because he was used to the terrain, things had actually changed, this particular thing that he did spot, that’s where he dived on it and he fired a rocket, just a smoke rocket, and they were firing back at the time, and their shot hit the aircraft, they were obviously aiming at him probably, rather than me, and the bullet came from under the seat and
hit me in the leg, smashed a bit of the aircraft around.
Well tell us about that moment. What was it like being hit?
Well I wasn’t sure that I’d actually been hit because the leg sort of went numb, the numbness in the leg was the thing that was quite amazing, because you always think a bullet’s going to be painful, and this wasn’t really painful, just the leg went numb. So it must have hit a lot of
nerves in there, which it did, it sort of travelled from here up to the top of the leg, and actually nicked an artery on the way through, so – and luckily it didn’t sever the artery, otherwise I’d be dead. But yes, it was just a thing that sort of went numb, and not a lot of blood, and he asked me, he said, “Are you ok? You’ve been hit?” And I said, “Well I think so.” I wasn’t really sure. I felt a sort of
jolt in the leg, so I wasn’t sure what was really going on, until I put my hand down and felt blood then, I knew there was something wrong. I actually felt something travel inside, but it happened so quick I just thought, “It must have been a bullet.” So he just called in, straight away called in a couple of F105s and they came and strafed that area, and bombed that area. And we headed off
back to the base and to the hospital.
So when you say he called in, who did he call in?
He called in the American air force, which are these Supersavers, a couple of Supersavers, to drop a couple of rockets there, whatever they were going to do, and cover the area and get rid of these people. They were there in a short time, too, they were
already on their way before we got back, so it didn’t take them long. We were only sort of three or four mile off the base, at most, maybe less than that.
So was part of your job, when you were going out spotting, to take some photos?
No, not really, that was just – I took my movie camera with me just in case I could take something that might be of interest, that’s all. I had to take a rifle with me obviously, just in case you were
shot down or something, if you were still alive, at least you can use a rifle. So what we had to do.
And were you wearing a parachute?
No, no parachutes. There’s no way of ejecting out of those things. It was low level as well, we were flying very low level, so you wouldn’t have time for a parachute to open.
Well you say that the pilot immediately called in reinforcements. What evasive flying action did he then take?
He was – this happened in a dive, so obviously he pulled straight out of the dive and headed off out straight away and went up high as he could at the same time. And he was also worried about structural damage, to see if there was anything that we noticed that would have caused the aircraft not to be able to land properly, and neither
of us could see anything major, so it was just a clean hole, shattered underneath the aircraft and my seat I was in, and sort of splattered there. So we couldn’t see any more damage than that. And so they had the fire brigades and ambulance there waiting for us when we got back, just in case there was any crash landing, and it was all right, we landed quite normally. No problem.
And what sort of ill-effect did
you have immediately from your wound?
Well, nothing that was really sort of – I felt no pain really, there was very little pain, and the doctor looked at me and he couldn’t see anything really wrong with me at all, as far as he was concerned, I didn’t seem to have any – he said I didn’t have any stress factor from it, but I think internally I was sort of stressed out.
No, there was no real sort of major damage to look at, as far as that goes.
So the bullet had dislodged, or...?
No, it was still inside, yes. And that’s when they did an x-ray and obviously they had to – they patched it up and thought, “Well, it can stay in there, as long as it’s not going to do any damage,” you see?
Well where were you taken?
I was taken to their air force hospital, the USA hospital,
and they did – what they didn’t notice was the artery had been hit, they didn’t actually feel that pulse, with blood spurting from the artery, and so after about six days they’d patched me up and sent me back to work, and of course the leg – because of the bleeding the leg kept swelling all the time, I’d stand and it’d just swell up with blood, and the doctor there then said, “Well you know, you’re due to go back to Malaysia on a holiday anyhow, while you’re
there go and see the specialist down in Butterworth,” which I did and they said, “Well you’ve got to go to Sydney and get this repaired,” so they sent me down there to Macquarie Street, and they took a piece, quite a large piece out of the leg, which was a piece of shrapnel, and there’s still a lot of bits and pieces still in the leg, and they fixed the artery up and away I went. And instead of going back to Vietnam I went back to
Butterworth, because they were all starting to be discharged from Vietnam then, anyhow, then the next lot were going to go up there.
And how disappointed were you to leave Vietnam?
I wasn’t disappointed, I think after 10 months you’d had enough anyhow, and I certainly wanted to get back to Butterworth to see my wife and the child, so I was quite happy to go back to Butterworth. They put us on
the visiting aircraft situation which was ideal, because we were working something like 24 hours and then 48 hours off, in that 24 hours we’d probably only do eight hours anyhow, so we had eight hours on and then the next 48 hours off, so it was quite – and that was really a bit of R&R [Rest and Recreation] I think, I think that’s what the idea was. Anyone who’d been to Vietnam, we’re all back there working in the
same spot, so there was another three or four of us filling our time from Butterworth, had to sort of do our two and a half years, so the rest of that time was spent there. So it worked out pretty well.
And did you like your time in Vietnam?
Yes, it was certainly an experience, and a lot of fun times, a lot of enjoyment, and seeing something totally different to what you’re used to.
So it was certainly an experience. But there again, as you say, we were in the Happy Valley situation, so we weren’t being shot every day of the week or anything like that, like some of the army guys. We had a fairly lean time that way. But that apparently changed after I left, that same year there was quite a bit of trouble. The bases were attacked a number of times and
some of those guys said they used those bunkers quite regularly, apparently.
Well what was your recovery period like? Well first of all, I should just ask you about when you went back to Butterworth, you mentioned earlier on in the day that
well, you were then incoming wounded from Vietnam, can you tell us about incoming wounded at Butterworth?
Yes, the Hercs were coming back from Vietnam, and they’d stop off at Butterworth, possibly for refuelling, I’m not sure of the reason, and there were coffins and you know, whatever in there, and also as many guys injured with their limbs either blown off or bandaged all over, that sort of thing.
So there were some pretty horrific sights.
This was on the tarmac?
And what sort of impression did that leave on you?
Well I was shocked when I saw them, and when I could the look on their faces, I thought they were sort of – they were in shock anyhow, they must have been thinking, like, you know, they’re going back to Australia, and they were thinking, well am I going –
my family are going to see me like that, so...
Do you want to stop for a minute? Don’t worry, we do a bit of crying in this job. You’d just been very moved then Peter,
I guess reliving and going back to that time. What is it that stands out in your mind most?
Well I suppose it’s more the unnecessary side of it, yes, not good. When you sort of look at the –
I’ll have to have a break. Are we on now, are we? Sorry. What I’m trying to say is I think the stupidity of war really, is what it’s about. When you see a political situation like that, and people getting shot up and killed for no reason really, and then they’re moved out.
And those guys are still either – committed suicide or dead, whatever. Better stop.
So after your surgery back in Sydney, you then returned to Butterworth?
And what jobs did you have in Butterworth?
Yes, I worked with these visiting aircraft, which were Hercs and
aircraft coming from America and R&R, sorry, from Vietnam and R&R, and there were some Pan Am [Pan America] aircraft and things like that, they were flying them. There were a lot of – there was one royalty situation, I think that was Prince Phillip or someone like that, actually it was Prince Phillip, I should have mentioned before, not Prince Charles. There
was, as I say, aircraft coming back from Vietnam, Hercules and things like that, and aircraft from New Zealand, anything that was visiting or flying through the area would be handled. A lot of RAF [Royal Air Force] and New Zealand aircraft coming in, so we either refuelled them, or repaired them or whatever. So that was a pretty easy job really, it was just basically to send them on their way, fuel them up and send them on their way.
Very simple. But as I say, it was very relaxing, and not a lot to do. We probably played Badminton while we were doing it, in between aircraft. Not a lot to do.
And how long did it take for your leg to recover?
Well it’s never fully recovered, but I was actually back at work, I think I was six weeks down in Sydney,
and including time back at Richmond Air Force Hospital there, before I got back to Butterworth, and sort of, you know, it’s swelling up a bit still and still get pain in the leg, even now, it’s one of those things, it’s sort of never fully recovered. But it’s not stopping me from sort of hitting a tennis ball or playing a bit of golf.
Sometimes I get a lot of pain and sometimes I get none at all. Climbing up and down ladders is a bit of a problem at times.
Why is that?
I think it’s probably the fact if I get a sharp pain on a ladder, I’m likely to fall, whereas if I’m hitting a golf ball and I get a sharp pain it’s only going to send the ball that way or that way, so it’s not sort of a safety thing.
Well, you returned from Butterworth at the end of 1968. Why did you come back to Australia?
That was when my posting was – I was actually getting out, they’d asked me prior to that whether I was staying in the services or whatever, so they would have sent me back to the closest base to getting out of there, save them transport fees and
things. Because it was only a matter of days after I got back, it was only sort of two weeks or something, got back prior to – just before Christmas and got out on January 9, I think I got out, the next year. So I had to go out to Edinburgh to do my discharge papers and that was it. They asked me again if I wanted to stay in, I said no, so that was it.
I guess this is a question for today, looking back, you might have felt differently at the time, but
I guess hypothetically if you hadn’t been wounded, do you think you might have stayed on?
Well, yes and no. I think the air force was – I thought I could sort of improve on my life by not staying in the air force, but if I stayed there I would have just been possibly involved in another war skirmish somewhere else. And I’d been to probably the best posting, which is Butterworth, in the air force, and I
thought, “Well, I’m not going to get back there in a hurry,” they may end up sending me to Victoria or something, and I’d sort of hate that, so yes, I thought I’d – and the kids were – my wife was pregnant again with the second baby, see, and I thought, well there’s no point in dragging her around Australia, and my daughter was you know, two, just over two years old at the time, so she would have been sort of starting to go to preschool or some sort of thing,
you know, in the next year or two, so I thought, it’s time to get out.
Ok, well our tape has just come to an end, so we’ll just change it.
Oh, ok, good.
Interviewee: Peter Hussin Archive ID 1725 Tape 08
Peter, I just want to pick up on when you left the air force, RAAF, what was the decision to leave?
Well it was mainly decided on the fact that I had been through the best bases and so on, and the kids were growing up, so I thought, well – I thought – I’d seen children in the services who
moved around a lot, and even those days where kids were fairly well under control, these kids are real terrors, so I thought, well I didn’t the kids to turn out like that, changing schools all the time and never know where they were. So I thought, “No, get out.”
And what was the first job you had when you got out?
Well I waited to get into Telecom, so I had to wait a while so I worked with the mail exchange, just got a job there overnight sort of thing, and it was money coming in while I was waiting to go to Telecom.
And at the time, politically, ‘Vietnam’ was a dirty word.
Yes, it was.
And having actually seen what you had seen in Vietnam and then coming back to these moratoriums, how did you respond to that?
Yes, well I tended to agree with what they were saying, I think we should have been out of Vietnam, we should never have been there, but, well, the thing that annoyed me with that was we were the brunt of it, like I was called a
rapist and a murderer and so on, so I thumped this guy in a hotel for that reason. So that was sort of probably not an uncommon thing going on. Individually you were sort of sorted out, and that was 1970 or ’71, about that time, and just because you’d been to Vietnam, you know, so you had to defend yourself somehow. A lot of people just went, you know, a retrograde step and took a step
back and sort of didn’t want to talk about it for that reason, because they were always in trouble, you see?
Did you tell many people that you’d served in Vietnam?
No, I never told anybody unless they sort of spoke to me about it, you know? I’d talk about Vietnam generally and they seemed to be all right, so I might bring it up in that circumstance, but I never sort of walked into a hotel and said I was from Vietnam, and they didn’t want to talk to me, nothing like that.
It also took a long time for Vietnam veterans to be recognised by the Returned
Services [RSL, Returned and Services League].
Oh well, that’s right, and for that reason not many have joined the RSL anyhow.
How did you feel about that?
Well I felt the same as everyone else, you know, the RSL sort of had their heads up in the air, they thought they were the only ones ever served in a war, and because we didn’t obviously win a war they didn’t want to know us, so that’s the way I saw it.
And how – you had been in the armed services for
quite a while, how did you fall into civilian life? How was that process?
Yes, that was a bit – it was difficult for a start, because back into a routine style of work, and I just felt in a way that a lot of the people were sort of – you could see it written all over, they were bored stiff in their jobs and they had no adventure in their lives generally and had what I saw to be very little,
a little bit difficult for a start, yes.
What made it difficult?
I think communication was one of the things, because you know, if you communicate they’re going to ask you what you did last and so on. And I tried to avoid that as much as possible. So you know, I sort of avoided a lot of social activity in those areas, stayed away from that sort of thing. There was a lack of understanding and lack of
forethought and things like that.
It sounds quite isolating and...
Yes, it is. It is isolating, but there again I luckily in a way, after a few years we all – a lot of us met down at West Lakes, War Service built houses there, and a lot of guys met each other first time down there, where there was 130-odd houses built and all Vietnam veterans mostly, and a
few Second World War guys, so there was a lot of social activity there, so we all sort of felt good around each other. So you know, that sort of got us out of the shell a little bit, yes.
And the Vietnam veterans who are now your neighbours – all would have had different experiences to your own.
Yes, they did, yes, most of them were in the army, there’s a few navy and air force there.
And how did that open your eyes to what
was going on in Vietnam?
Well, there was a lot of discussion, because you didn’t really know what each other was doing, when you’re there you don’t know what someone else is doing somewhere else, so it was a sort of an education in a lot of ways, finding out what other people have been doing, or where they’ve been, things that had happened to them.
And personally, how did it feel to find these veterans who pretty much...?
A bit reassuring actually, to feel that some had
been through similar experiences and some had you know, the same sort of reactions from other people. So it was a bit of a gathering of the troops in a defensive way, in a way.
And when you finally did get your job with Telecom, what were you doing?
I was a technician then.
And what was your work environment like?
Well the work environment wasn’t good, it was inside telephone exchanges with artificial lighting
and noise factor, so there’s no windows to look out of. So it was a totally different environment to what I was used to. And I found there there’s a lot of alcoholism anyhow, in those – in Telecom. Yes, there’s a bit of friction going on generally amongst the people there. It was ok, it was good money, but not necessarily a good environment.
had talked about it earlier, about all the drinking that had occurred on the base. What was your relationship with alcohol like, back home?
Oh, when I got back home? Yes, I was still drinking, I had my sort of sessions, you know, not an every day thing, nothing like that. But I certainly was drinking, probably drinking more than I should have, I suppose. But not to the extent where I was falling over or drunk or anything like that.
And what kind of – what parts of your experience in Vietnam were still lingering around?
Well I mentioned before about the guys coming back from Vietnam and
the reactions on their faces, that still stays there.
Did you have any nightmares?
Yeah, I’ve had flashbacks and things like that, yes.
Do you mind if I ask what the flashbacks are?
Well the flashbacks were basically in that situation I was just mentioning about the faces and – yes.
And did you have any night sweats?
Yeah, I used to get them, quite often, yes.
Was there anything in particular that
would trigger these?
Well, you’d sort of – well, you’re asleep I suppose, it’s always subconsciously there. Nothing seemed a necessary trigger as far as I know, sometimes you just – I think because it’s always there, you had nothing else to disguise it, so it’ll probably come out at night, I don’t know.
And when would your flashbacks occur?
Usually like in bed and,
you know, you’re sort of thinking, generally, yes, I’ve had them at other times too, just sitting down.
And we had discussed earlier off camera about post traumatic stress. When did you feel that you had post traumatic stress?
I didn’t realise it, I didn’t know what it was, I thought, you know, I knew I had a
stress factor, but I’d never heard of post traumatic stress, I didn’t know what it was. But I had a sort of an anxiety state, which obviously that’s what it was anyhow, and it wasn’t really till about ‘91 or something, around that time, they diagnosed me with that sort of situation. Went to the doc and the doc sent me to the Repat [Repatriation Clinic] and
they sort of tried to wash it off a bit, and I went to another psychiatrist and he said, “Yes, you’ve definitely got that problem.”
And how was it treated?
Well initially with tablets and talk, that sort of thing.
With the talk were you reliving your experiences?
Yes, they had to go through that, yes.
And how was that?
Well the same
as it is now really, it hasn’t changed a lot. They try to sort of help you by you know, relieving this sort of thing, stress management, that sort of thing, which is breathing, that style of thing, but that didn’t work for me anyhow, so yes.
We were talking before about how
sometimes your leg still hurts. Do you feel that the emotional healing is still ongoing?
Yes, that’s probably going to be there forever, I don’t think – it’s been 30-something years or whatever, you know, 35, 40-odd years since it happened sort of thing, so it’s still there. So it’s probably ongoing.
And when it is starting to get tough again, who do you
Well you don’t really lean on anybody, you lean on yourself I think, because it’s very hard to understand.
We did touch on before one of the very sad signs of the unnecessary death and
casualty that comes out of war. How do you make peace with yourself, having gone through the experience?
Yes, it’s probably more like avoidance than – avoidance talking about it, I think. Because I feel a lot of guilt feelings, things like that, in some people getting killed and so on. Yes, the avoidance of talking about it is
one way I do it, you know, just – and some people you know, use alcohol and things like that, but I don’t know if I’ve ever disguised it like that, no.
And how do you – what do you do for yourself therapeutically to...?
Watch the television or something like that, anything to sort of, you know, try to change the subject, I
suppose, yes. You’ve got to try something else. But it’s probably less often now. I think since I left West Lakes, where there’s a lot of Vietnam veterans around, and the conversation – Vietnam was a conversation piece, not necessarily about the problems, but because I’ve left that area, I’m probably talking about it less, so therefore it’s probably diminishing slightly, yes.
Some people say that
Vietnam was an unnecessary war, and we should never have been involved in it. How do you respond to that?
Well I agree with that – yes. Well, it was a useless war because you can’t fight someone else’s civil war, you know, it’s interference politically and setting up puppet governments and that sort of thing just doesn’t work. So it’s obvious that we didn’t have the willpower to fight that type of thing, you can’t fight against someone
else’s wants and needs, you’ve just got to say, well forget about being there. The end result’s going to be the same, one way or the other, and if you win, you know, blow the place apart, they’re still going to keep coming out of little holes in the ground and fight back. Where our society is just not used to that, we can’t handle that, we’re used to the good life, and they’re not, so they need to – they’re going to live that life until they change themselves, we can’t tell them what to do.
You mentioned before
briefly about a sense of guilt. What do you feel guilty of?
Well I feel guilty of the innocent people that were killed, that died in that war, that’s both sides, more so the Vietnamese side, the innocent people, the families and the kids and the women, they were napalmed and so on. Pretty silly.
And when you were at Phan Rang, were you aware that any of this was happening?
Well I did,
but in those days it sort of – you didn’t know to what extent it was supposedly bombing the enemy, who the enemy was we don’t know either, so – but when you see the photographs later and you see how people were – photographs and movies in the later stage, you see how people were – how they were blown apart and so on, for no reason. Whereas we were in their country, they’re not in ours, so it’s pretty gut wrenching.
And when you came home, what was the hardest thing to face about the Vietnam War?
Yes, I think the peoples’ reactions to us was the hardest thing. I came back reasonably in tact I thought, until I felt those reactions of moratoriums and so on, and the way the people were say, treating me.
That was the hardest thing to handle, yes.
How did your family and friends respond?
Well that was a mixed thing. They didn’t talk about it a lot, because – they’d always ask you questions, what was Vietnam like, and really you don’t want to talk about it.
So how long was it before you talked about Vietnam?
Well never, really, except to Vietnam veterans.
What would you, just going further with some further reflection here. What would you say was your proudest moment, during your air force career?
That’s difficult. I can’t really say that I find being proud about it all, you know, sort of, prior to Vietnam I suppose I felt certain pride, and I think the comradeship and that was good, early days, plenty of fun, and it was a good social
life. So about pride, well I don’t know, I sort of feel that it’s the other way now, you know, I feel a little bit of guilt rather than pride.
Well from your experience, is there anything that you regret?
Going to Vietnam is one. Yes, probably, overall that’s the answer, yes, going
How did your marriage sustain itself during the post-Vietnam...?
Yes, it was a bit difficult because of you know, drinking and general lack of understanding, I think, from my wife anyhow, she didn’t understand, and I didn’t understand what our problems were either, so wouldn’t expect her or anyone else to understand either, which made it difficult.
But the marriage lasted a long time, it was 34 years, so we did pretty well. And we’re still friends.
And what about the children? How did...?
Yes, they had some tough reactions, too, I think, probably – well, maybe my drinking or my behaviour, whatever it might have been, so they would have had – they’d have their own feelings about that, we haven’t really spoken about it, but I’m sure – I still see them all the time.
And what did you tell them about what had gone on in Vietnam?
I’ve never spoken about it.
Why did you want to speak to the Archive?
Well, I’m not sure why, I
thought I might be able to show them the movie, I thought the movie might be interesting for them, but really, that’s not such a great interest. And I suppose it’s like – you have thoughts as to what they should know and whatever, and I don’t know what other people are saying, and I’m sure we all have different stories and you know, different ways of viewing the whole thing, I’m sure there’s so many different variations to that.
What do you think they should know?
Well, I think the feelings of guilt, and I’m sure a lot of guys have got that guilt feeling, they may not admit to it, I’m sure it’s there.
How would you like
the men of – who fought in Vietnam to be remembered?
Yeah, are you talking about everyone, or just the ones that died, or...?
The men that served.
Served. Well probably more along the lines of being recognised as some sort of,
you know, in history as being probably the ones that were sort of used in the wrong war and used the wrong way, and were sort of given the wrong story about Vietnam and why we were there, they’re probably the most important things.
And do you think that the men that died there should be remembered differently?
Well no, I think they should be remembered, but
you have to remember them the same way, as to we should never have been there in the first place. So I’m not sure what you mean by the question actually.
How would you like their experiences to be remembered?
Well, I suppose their experiences, if they can’t talk about their experiences, the ones who are dead, you mean? Can’t talk about their experiences?
No, I’m just –
well how would you like your experiences to be remembered?
How – you mean how are they going to keep the experiences remembered, or...?
If people were to reflect on your experiences, what do you want them to take away from it?
Oh, just that if you’re going to get involved in wars, let’s be honest about it and not just be a political
situation. There has to be a reason, a good reason, to go to war.
And how did your years with the air force change you?
I’m probably a lot tougher and harder, I suppose, yes, tougher and harder,
mentally sort of washed out, but yes, probably tougher, yes.
And what do you miss about the air force?
I think I miss part of it, I sort of miss Malaysia, wouldn’t mind being up there again. Yes, that’s probably the times I enjoyed the most in
Penang, a good social life and a good life in general.
It’s – just hearing you say that, I find it interesting that the first time you were in Butterworth you have fond memories, but after Vietnam those memories changed.
All downhill, yes.
What made Butterworth different the second time round?
you mean when I was there the second time, yes. I suppose because I was away from Vietnam, that in itself was the relief, and the enjoyment of Penang was still there, even though not to the same extent. And I think the environment there was good, so just generally an enjoyable area.
And if you were to leave
any advice for future generations, what would it be?
You mean rather than getting involved in wars, you mean?
Well if you were to – I mean this is a record that you’ve made of your story and your experiences, and if you were to say anything to future generations about your experiences or advise them in any way about what you’d
gone through, what would it be?
Well, war is a last resort, I suppose, that’s the thing I would have to say. You try everything else but, first. Maybe we should let the politicians fight it out, rather than anyone else, first.
Is there anything else that you would like to put on the record?
No, I can’t think of anything else offhand, no.
Ok, thank you.