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Terrie Ross
Archive number: 1748
Date interviewed: 30 March, 2004

Served with:

8th Field Hospital
1st Australian Field Hospital

Other images:

  • RSL 'Lilac Time Queen' nominee, Vietnam - 1968

    RSL 'Lilac Time Queen' nominee, Vietnam - 1968

  • Margaret, Amy, Colleen & Terrie, Vung Tau - 1967

    Margaret, Amy, Colleen & Terrie, Vung Tau - 1967

  • Mott, VC POW child

    Mott, VC POW child

Terrie Ross 1748

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:42:00

So first of all thank you for being here. The Archive wouldn’t exist without your generous support. So from everyone back at the office and us, thank you very much for doing it. The first question I have, as I mentioned before, we need just a summary of your life. Without any details, just in point form.

01:01:00:00

I was born in Goulburn, New South Wales and I stayed there for many, many years. I went to school at Our Lady of Mercy College from kindergarten to fifth year. I went up to the Golden Base Hospital and did my nursing training and from there I went to Sydney’s

01:01:30:00

St Margaret’s at Darlinghurst to do obstetrics. Then I came home to Goulburn to decide what I was going to do, and I was asked by the maternity section of the hospital would I go up there and relieve someone for a month. Twelve months later I was still at the maternity ward.

01:02:00:00

A wonderful lady, Nora Marmond, was there and she said to me…she used to work permanent night duty, and she said I was very foolish staying here, “Because you’re going to find in another 20 years you’ll be seeing the same ladies and will have done nothing. You must get out and do something.

01:02:30:00

You’re in a rut.” She said why didn’t I join the army? “I was in the army and was on the train in Japan.” She had many years and she said, “That would be good.” And I said, “Me? Join the army? What an extraordinary thing to do.” However, I went home and said, “I think I might join the army.” I had been saying, “I think I’ll buy a new

01:03:00:00

car.” So my mother said, “Why don’t you buy the car?” However, I thought it would be a bit of an adventure. So I made an appointment and went and saw the matron at Southern Command and she said, “Very well.” I went over to somewhere or other and they gave me

01:03:30:00

cases full of clothes and uniforms and a voucher to go to David Jones to buy underwear. I thought, “My goodness, this is something.” And they sent me off to Ingleburn. The acting matron at Ingleburn was a great friend of Nora Marmond’s,

01:04:00:00

so that was quite nice. I spent a year at the camp hospital at Ingleburn. That was very different…living in army quarters and dining in army mess, which was particularly glamorous. The

01:04:30:00

hospital was a rambling old building, but of course it was quite adequate. We were looking after very fit boys with internal derangements of their knee and pretty ordinary things. And of course they got better quite quickly.

01:05:00:00

After a year I was posted to Singleton. And I thought, “Oh my heavens, what ever have I done to deserve this?” So I packed up the bag and off to Singleton. Well Singleton…this was 1966, and of course National Service was really quite a hot item and Singleton was a training camp for new National Service boys.

01:05:30:00

Huge complex at Singleton. However, in the planning there didn’t seem to be any arrangements for a hospital. So we were put in a hut next to the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] in the complex. It was

01:06:00:00

very basic with beds down the side. A partition, a desk and a sink and a refrigerator, and that was the hospital. After inoculations…of course the place really wasn’t very adequate at all.

01:06:30:00

So we took over the next hut which belonged to the Salvation Army. And then perhaps over to one of the company huts…so a nurse might have a box with a thermometer and files and so forth. And then there was a juggling at the end of the day. Anyone with no temperature was moved. So that was huge fun really.

01:07:00:00

Extraordinary. However, along the way – and our quarters were quite a long way out of the – and eventually they did build a proper hospital near the nurses’ quarters. But I seemed to happen to fall into place that had not been organised. Anyway,

01:07:30:00

I spent a year at Singleton, which I cried all night the first night, and leaving at the end of the year. I was then posted to Vietnam, which was a huge shock. There were no nursing people

01:08:00:00

in Vietnam so my old matron from Ingleburn alerted me that it might be a good idea if I sold my car and got myself a bit organised. And it was all a huge secret, so I never mentioned it to anybody. Then somebody came…I had had all my inoculations and I must say I was shivering under the shower and a

01:08:30:00

WAC [Women’s Auxiliary Corps] girl came and said, “I think you had better be getting on your mother because there’s announcements being made.” So I phoned my mother who was distraught because she said they were naming nurses going to Vietnam and, “Thank heavens it’s not Terrie or we would know.” And the next minute they said my name as one who would be going. So my family weren’t one bit military orientated or anything –

01:09:00:00

except for a very old uncle. So anyway, I said that was how it was and they were a bit horrified but very supportive. So off home I went with my trunk and all this gear. I think I had five or six days before we

01:09:30:00

went. And of course, every conceivable person from every war dating back to the Boer War, everybody is terribly excited about going to war. I don’t know why, but it seems to be the case. Everybody’s highly excited when they’re told they’re going. I was absolutely tickled pink.

01:10:00:00

So we had no idea. We didn’t know what to take. So it was decided we wouldn’t take any civilian clothes. We were issued with some jungle greens and a tropical mess dress which was white instead of grey. Grey uniforms. So

01:10:30:00

we packed all what we assumed we need. And of course we got quite a lot of press because we were the first going and there were interviews. But anyway with a lot of excitement and so forth, we hopped on the plane,

01:11:00:00

which was Qantas, first class if you don’t mind. The pilot showed us the front and we thought we were very important. We went to Manila and we stayed overnight in Manila. That was quite pleasant. We had a nice hotel and then the next day

01:11:30:00

we head off to Vietnam. So we arrive in Vietnam…I don’t know who was on the plane with us but they seemed to be civilian people. I recall getting off the plane wandering what was what and the heat was extraordinary. I thought, “Oh dear,”

01:12:00:00

here’s the plane backfiring with the heat and so it was nice to get over to the general airport area. Anyway, we got there and it was no different and I thought, “Oh well.” I thought, “A person’s going to be dead by the time the year’s finished.” And extraordinarily enough, after 10 days, two weeks, a person didn’t really worry much about the heat

01:12:30:00

because there wasn’t any fluctuation. Like in Canberra – it’s cold and then hot. So the heat wasn’t really as much as a worry as I imagined it would be. We were met in Saigon

01:13:00:00

and I think we went to Vung Tau in a Caribou. Anyway, we arrived in Vung Tau. Oh dear – sand. Nothing but sand and sand dunes. And tents. So we were shown to our quarters, which

01:13:30:00

we were very happy about. We were the only people in a hut. We had concrete floor and it was partitioned into five small rooms and a corridor and small area for our lounge.

01:14:00:00

There was a concrete path going to pit latrines and next to that was our cold shower. We thought, “Oh heavens, this is a bit basic.” But anyway we thought, “We’re here.” The cold shower was a concern to me. I can still hardly jump into a swimming pool. So I would boil the kettle and fill up a basin and wash myself down and then pour the water over me.

01:14:30:00

So I got the washing sorted out.
What was the hospital like when you arrived?
Well, we were at the quarters,

01:15:00:00

so we had to wend our way through the sand and up some steps to a big tent that was the mess. Very basic. Then down some more sand dunes to the hospital. Now the hospital considered of …it was a piece of steel, louvre windows, pieces of steel, louvre windows. Quite a large

01:15:30:00

building, concrete floor. Camp beds either side and a desk up the top. That was the medical ward. A concrete path ran over to an absolute replica of this which was the surgical ward. Another path

01:16:00:00

to another replica and then another. So there were four of these big…and then the theatre which was much the same sort of…then wood, I think, down to the helipad.

01:16:30:00

And then down that way was the admin, Q [Quartermaster] Store. So it was very basic. So we arrived…the four of us arrived down at the hospital dressed up in our uniforms. We were met by quite a lot of medics. So

01:17:00:00

we decided that that would be the medical ward, that would be the surgical ward. I don’t know how it was run before. Then there was this hut which was for intensive care. There were four beds here, a little office there and four beds there and that was air conditioned. I was allotted the intensive care. Margaret and

01:17:30:00

Colleen were sharing the theatre pretty well. Amy ran the medical ward. Now Amy was the captain and the leader of the four of us. And we were very, very fortunate to have Amy as our leader. I still say a little prayer that Amy was my boss.

01:18:00:00

Were there only the four of you when you first arrived?
Yes.
Did that number increase during the time you spent there?
One New Zealand nurse came, so there were five, all the time I was there. So we arrived there and there were these medics. I was in the intensive care ward and I had so many medics to help me.

01:18:30:00

So I said, “Righty-ho, now who’s ever worked in a hospital?” One hand went up. I said, “And what were your duties in the hospital?” He said he had been a porter at Repat [repatriation]. “Oh good. Anybody do any building? Anybody clever with their hands?” A couple were. In the middle was a table full of medication.

01:19:00:00

“And how do the soldiers get their medication?” Anyway, that was all right. So I said, “We would see what we could do about some material, and we’d build some shelves

01:19:30:00

so we can store all our stuff in a bit of order.” The lads were a bit sceptical about all this, they thought the whole place would be turning upside down. Some of them were a bit resentful. The more senior people. They used to have a book which I would be most interested to read. It was reporting on the…

01:20:00:00

I did see one. “One of the sisters was late for work today.” That was one of the important things that went into the book. So there was a bit of resentful there for a little while, but it didn’t take very long at all for us all to get sorted out so everybody could see…lists of medications, lists of duties, things were getting into a bit of order.

01:20:30:00

I mean these people…it would be like a plumber coming to run a hospital, or me going to a plumbers to put in a …how would you know where it all went? So it didn’t take very long for a bit of law and order, and then the five of us…how were

01:21:00:00

we going to run the place with cover. So we did 10-hour shifts. One worked from seven in the morning until five in the evening. One worked from seven until midday, came back from five until eleven. And then one of us did night duty from eleven until the morning.

01:21:30:00

And we all mucked in where necessary when someone was absent. So that all worked particularly well and it didn’t take very long for these medics to be completely outstanding. I did find, and I’ve found all my life, if you’re in charge of something, people only work as hard as

01:22:00:00

you do – all the same. And they put their heads down and nothing’s too much trouble. Once they knew what they were doing and how to do it, it was done beautifully.
We’ll come back and talk about that whole system in a lot more detail later. Let’s finish off the summary. How long did you spend in Vietnam?
I arrived on the 5th

01:22:30:00

of May and pretty well came home about the 5th of May.
That was 1968 that you arrived?
No, 1967 we arrived and 1968 we went home.
And what happened to you then when you came home from Vietnam?
I came home and I was posted to Wagga, Kapooka.

01:23:00:00

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Kapooka. The matron, after about six months, went off sick and I relieved her for several months and it was…yes, a very satisfactory year. Then I was discharged.

01:23:30:00

I said I was ready to move away from the army now. So I went home to Goulburn. I went back on the staff at the Goulburn Base Hospital. I trained with a psychiatric nurse that was coming

01:24:00:00

to do general. I don’t quite know how it happened but my father was a psychiatric trained nurse and I just can’t recall terribly well…one of their friends was elderly and needed nursing care and somebody suggested

01:24:30:00

to us, “Why didn’t we have a nursing home in this wonderful old building at Crookwell that used to be a maternity hospital?” So after lots of enquiries and decisions, we opened a nursing home, and that was probably one of the biggest challenges in my life. And we did open the nursing home and I stayed there for 10

01:25:00:00

years. I bought the nursing home from my partner after about two years and I stayed there for 10. By this time I had two little children and my husband was working from Canberra and I decided to sell the nursing home and move

01:25:30:00

to Canberra. I didn’t work for, I suppose, nearly a year, and I decided I might like to do…so I became a casual on-call person at the then Woden Hospital, which is now the Canberra Hospital,

01:26:00:00

and I did on-call work at their nursing home. Then I used to do clinics, the staff clinic and radiotherapy where I decided to do permanent part-time work, at radiotherapy, where I stayed for 15 years I suppose, until I retired. My husband

01:26:30:00

said it was time I retired and give someone else a bit of a turn before people start saying, “Silly old thing.”
When did you get married?
I got married whilst I was at the nursing home in 1970, I suppose. I’m never very clever with wedding anniversaries.

01:27:00:00

I remember a solicitor saying, “Cripes, you’re the first woman I’ve met who had to scratch their head.” But anyway…
And how many children did you have?
Two. I have a daughter and a son who are a huge joy.
Well that is a great summary of your life. Many things we’ll deal with particularly your year in Vietnam. But to begin with,

01:27:30:00

we’d like to know more about where you came from. So perhaps you could begin by telling us a bit about your mother and father. Who was the biggest influence on you growing up?
I had the most wonderful mother and father and sister. My father was a youth in the Depression and I think he had the option of,

01:28:00:00

when jobs were very scarce, he had the option of going out to shearing sheds and shearing sheep with his cousin, which he loathed. I don’t know how but he went to Kenworth Hospital in Goulburn and trained as a psychiatric nurse. I have huge amounts of regard because

01:28:30:00

in those days there was no tranquillisers. There was no drugs. It must have been an appalling job. However, he did very well and he finished up getting a medal for service over and beyond the call of duty, which made us all very proud. He worked at reception, whatever that is, and started a garden, a vegetable garden

01:29:00:00

for the patients. He was quite a remarkable person in my eyes. My mother was a very soft, wonderful woman who…I can’t say she was home duties because she ran a corner grocery store for many, many years. But her family was her…nothing was too good for my sister

01:29:30:00

and I. So we had the most wonderful loving childhood.
Had your father had any involvement in the year?
No, neither he or his two brothers. I don’t know…they weren’t gung-ho about war.

01:30:00:00

No, they weren’t. I don’t think they evaded going to the war but they certainly weren’t in it.
What sort of personality did your father have? He obviously wasn’t a military type. What sort of man was he?

01:30:30:00

He was a very gentle man. However he was a great man’s man. I never heard him swear. If he said, “Strike me pink,” I knew he was very cross. He had the most wonderful dry sense of humour. You probably had to know him to appreciate it a lot of the time, but he was very supportive of me and my friends.

01:31:00:00

And a very home loving man. A gentle man, to my way of thinking. Although I hear other people say he was a man’s man.
What sort of things would he do with you and your sister when you were girls?
When I was training to be a nurse,

01:31:30:00

he would be up, light the fire, have my coffee made, have the ice off my windscreen. He made my life very, very…he made our beds. He was just there all the way.

01:32:00:00

What about earlier than that. Do you remember what he would do with you as young girl?
When I went to school, he was in a grocery shop. After he did his training he must have got out of the nursing and went back.

01:32:30:00

They ran a shop, so when I came back from school, he was always there and always it was, “What sort of day did you have?” And I recall him coming home and he might be in the shed and he might say,

01:33:00:00

“Here’s the most beautiful thing in the world arriving home.” He always made you feel just super. There wasn’t anything we ever…I’m sure my mother and father went without to make sure we had the best. They certainly weren’t affluent but we were never deprived of anything. If there was a school

01:33:30:00

concert on we had to have the best costume, the best things. My mother was a person who really tried extra hard because she was always so proud. She had to speech and drama and we were in the eisteddfods and hair was curled more than anyone else’s was curled. We had the velvet dresses. So we were

01:34:00:00

spoilt to be honest.
Tell me more about your sister?
I have the most wonderful sister. She packed all my bags to go to Vietnam. She’s always been…if she was

01:34:30:00

invited to someone’s house to stay over, she would say, “Yes, if my little sister can come.” A friend would say, “I’ll teach you to ride a bike today,” and she would say, “No, teach Terrie to ride the bike.” She has spoilt me all my life and she still does. I have to say. She’s always been there.
What’s the difference in age?

01:35:00:00

Two or three years.
Was she a role model for you growing up do you think?
Absolutely yes. Whatever she said…she would say, “You’re going to have your ears pierced today.” And I got home and got into terrible trouble. But anyway, she said I was having my ears pierced and so that’s what I did.

01:35:30:00

All her friends were my friends, even to this day who friends are my great friends.
Tell us about the house you lived in, in Goulburn?
My very earliest memories

01:36:00:00

were…we had a grocery shop and we lived at the back. I just went down to the school at the end of the street. We lived there until I was only a small child but at school…Then we moved to another grocery shop down near the railway station. We lived there

01:36:30:00

pretty well until I left school. Then my father must have gone back to Kenworth Hospital and we lived in a brick house which my father stuccoed and painted. It was a comfortable basic house with a long corridor.

01:37:00:00

To us it was a particularly glamorous house. It probably wasn’t.
Tell us a bit more about the grocery stores. What sort of things would be sold?

01:37:30:00

The one in Verna Street comes to mind more. It ran a basic grocers like cereal and tinned fruit and milk, ice cream. And in those days of course there wasn’t any supermarkets. So people would phone their grocery order

01:38:00:00

and have their groceries delivered. There was a lot of on-tick [‘on river tick’ – in debt] people came and put their groceries on account. And my mother was a very lovely lady. She used to look after people around the corner

01:38:30:00

that were alcoholics. And I think she was almost a counsellor to a lot of women who came in to buy their groceries. And of course it was a bit of a…there was a wool store across the road and a garage and a lot of the lads came over to buy

01:39:00:00

milk. Does that cover it?
What did you do. Did you have jobs or chores related to the grocery store?
Not chores. But we did help from time to time. I can recall a kerosene heater behind the counter. I used to sit there and chat

01:39:30:00

to my mother and father after school. Anything…we might pack some thing or help with a grocery order. But it wasn’t a compulsory chore. But we did muck in a bit.
Interviewee: Terrie Ross Archive ID 1748 Tape 02

02:00:44:00

What sort of a place was Goulburn when you were growing up?
Goulburn was a wonderful place to grow up.

02:01:00:00

I take my children passed there now and they say, “How could you?” But I tell them that you could walk everywhere. I must say, to have a swim, I had to walk up this great big hill, quite a long distance, but there you had a great amount of fun. So you walked quite long distances because we didn’t have a car while I was growing up.

02:01:30:00

That meant you walked. But most of your friends’ houses were within walking distance. By today’s standards, I don’t suppose you’d allow your child to walk those distances…for fear that something might be amiss. But we didn’t worry about anything being stolen.

02:02:00:00

We had great fun with dances and youth clubs. We had two movie theatres and from a very small child, my friend and I went to the movies every Saturday afternoon. And then we got into high school we were allowed to go on Friday nights. We had…

02:02:30:00

I think it was sixpence to go in up stairs and sixpence to spend. For that you’d get huge amounts of very adequate…
Can you describe the picture theatre in Goulburn at that time?
It was magnificent. Huge foyer. Two lovely

02:03:00:00

sweeping staircases up to the balcony and tiered upstairs. It was quite a magnificent…and then downstairs…you were pretty upmarket when you went upstairs. The other Hoyt’s…that was called the Odion. The Hoyt’s wasn’t quite so grand but

02:03:30:00

it was very, very…much nicer than you’d ever find today, in my view. There was myriads of things to do. And of course I was very lucky going to the same school from kindergarten to fifth year. And

02:04:00:00

five of those girls that I went to school with are still my very close friends. You know their background and almost what they’re thinking after having spent so much time together. So I always think that’s a great advantage to have long associations.

02:04:30:00

What were the backgrounds of people around Goulburn at that time? It was a centre for the wool industry.
One of my friend’s father was a solicitor and the mayor. Another one was a train driver. They were …

02:05:00:00

what else did they do? Yes, working in the wool industry. There was a huge farmers and graziers wool building. I suppose just…they just come to mind…school teachers.

02:05:30:00

Was it a well-off town?
In my eyes, yes. Nobody was ever in need of anything. Nobody seemed deprived. Everyone was happy. Yes, it was a very happy place.
Tell me more about your interests as a girl growing up? You mentioned a youth club, what was that all about?

02:06:00:00

When I left school I joined the Catholic Youth Club and they gathered…my memory’s a bit dim mind you, but they had dances and outings and organised activities. We would visit friends and have parties.

02:06:30:00

We would go to the movies. Our life was …and then of course you would go to the dance on Saturday night and the next week it would be all about who was there and what boys were there, and who was seeing who. We had great fun.
How old were you before you started going to dances?

02:07:00:00

I would have been 17. I suppose I was 17 when I left school. So yes, it was 17. I was going to St Vincent’s in Sydney to do my nursing training, which I had organised with my friends a few years before we left school.

02:07:30:00

And we wrote and put our names down and applied and were accepted. We left school and we had to be called up. Anyway, ages went by, and our shop…the back of it went to the back of one of the hotels and I was great friends

02:08:00:00

with the McDermott’s who had that. And Ernie McDermott was the chairman of the Base Hospital Board. So he and my father said, “I’ll ask the matron if you can go up and start your training. So why don’t you start your training at the Base Hospital?”

02:08:30:00

So I thought that sounded a good idea, and I think it was about six months before the call up came from…so I said, “I’m six months in here and comfortable and I know everybody,” so I stayed on at the Base Hospital to complete my training instead of going to Sydney. Looking back, I feel pretty happy about..
Just going back a

02:09:00:00

little bit before then, as a school girl, what kind of a student were you?
Not clever. I wasn’t clever at all. However, I was the Day Pupil Head Prefect and I got a lot of prizes. A lot of…got a prize for being at the school since kindergarten. That hadn’t happened in other classes. Our

02:09:30:00

class was probably…I got the elocution prize because my mother had me in the eisteddfods. I was head prefect by vote from the students. And it was a very…they weren’t terribly big classes by the end…but I certainly wasn’t clever.

02:10:00:00

Tell us more about the school. It was a convent school?
Yes, a convent school. The nuns were the teachers. What can I tell you about it? We felt very privileged to be there.

02:10:30:00

There was another Catholic Girls College down at North Goulburn who were great rivals. And we were really very happy to be where we were. Yes, the nuns were quite wonderful. I’m grateful that I was brought up by the nuns.

02:11:00:00

Were they strict?
Strict but fair, and we all looked up to them. Some of them were brilliant people. One in particular ran the school concert at the end of every year which consisted of either a Shakespearian play or a Gilbert and Sullivan production. And she was quite wonderful.

02:11:30:00

Wonderful artist. The art thing was…she had wonderful ideas of face make-up for concerts. They were very talented women. I was very proud to have them guide me.
And you mentioned the other Catholic school that you were rivals with

02:12:00:00

what were you rivals about?
St Patrick’s Day they had a parade and we all marched. The boarders and the day pupils and there was a prize. There was a prize for the best marchers. Policemen used to come up and give us some marching

02:12:30:00

instructions after school and it was a very big day. And the sadness if we didn’t win! Everyone thought they were the best. Yes, it was quite marked rivalry.

02:13:00:00

I can’t recall how else we would compete.
Were you a sporting girl at school?
I wasn’t terribly clever at the sports. However, I played netball and tennis and we had a sports afternoon on Fridays. And I got the basics of tennis and netball, and I never pursued sports much after school. I didn’t think I had a great talent there.

02:13:30:00

You mentioned St Patrick’s Day. Was there a big Irish community in Goulburn?
No, I don’t think so. No, I don’t think there was much Irish influence. St Patrick’s Day was a huge celebration. It was

02:14:00:00

in the middle of Lent and we were able to eat lollies. So it was quite a special day, St Patrick’s Day. After the march…we all marched to the sports ground and there were sports and tunnel ball competitions and running and jumping. So the schools competed in that area.

02:14:30:00

How religious were you and your family?
I would have counted myself as religious. We attended mass every Sunday. Probably a couple of those years I might go to mass every day during Lent.

02:15:00:00

So I couldn’t say we were terribly religious but we were devout Catholics.
Was there any sectarian tension between the Catholics and Protestants where you grew up?
No. I didn’t have much to do with

02:15:30:00

anybody who went up to the high school. So there was never much thought about any other religion. We just carried on with our own little…no, there was no tension with other religions at all.
You talked before about

02:16:00:00

your friend’s chip heater and the technology of the time, can you tell us about that?
Well, I was saying that children nowadays have no conception of how we lived in the ‘50s. No motor cars.

02:16:30:00

A lot of my friends had…to have a bath, the wood had to be very small and the chip heater lit, and the water had to get hot to bathe. It’s just a difference to kids now jumping in to shower. We listened to radio.

02:17:00:00

I remember as a child in about sixth class, we all listened to a serial called ‘The Phantom Drummer’. We all listened to it, and if you missed an episode you were quite a bit out of the game. It sounds silly and I’m sure it was, but the radio…I recall my father sitting up all night listening to the cricket with sounds of someone with a pencil pretending it was a ball hitting the bat.

02:17:30:00

And walking…we walked miles without giving it a bit of a thought. It helped that there weren’t so many cars. And things like playing cards. We could sit up half the night playing cards and have the most wonderful time. And life was, in my mind, a little bit more pleasant. No one was frightened of anybody. I don’t ever recall a mugging.

02:18:00:00

And a murder was front page for days. They’re just little bits I recall.
How far afield had to been by the time you left school? Did you go on holidays out of the area?
Our family didn’t seem to go on holidays.

02:18:30:00

I suppose it was because they had this commitment with the grocery store and nobody to…but we certainly had weekends in Sydney staying with my aunts. I used to go to Sydney for a week or so staying with my aunt in the school holidays. The people behind us in the hotel, I mentioned before, they had an only son

02:19:00:00

who was younger with me. I went to New Guinea with them on the steam ship Belowlow. I went to Port Moresby, Lae, Madang, Rabaul. So that was a pretty big deal really.

02:19:30:00

My sister did hairdressing and after to her apprenticeship,

02:20:00:00

she and her friend went off to London and lived for a year. They toured Europe. She was always on to me to get myself to London and I said I had no desire. I haven’t much desire for travel at all. Someone would have to talk me fairly hard into travelling. I don’t know why.

02:20:30:00

What were your ambitions and dreams. What did you want to do?
I wanted to be a nurse from a fairly early age. I just think I just mooched along in life without any ambitions. I was always very happy with what I was doing and I really had no great aspirations to do anything outstanding at all. Just

02:21:00:00

day-to-day living was very satisfactory.
How did this trip to New Guinea come about. How old were you?
I was about 12 or 13, and the McDermott’s were going and I was a great friend of McDermott’s, so they just said,

02:21:30:00

“Why doesn’t Terrie come along with us?” So it was a wonderful, wonderful experience really. My friend Dermit went off and did law and he worked in the solicitors office in Sydney for some time, and then he went to

02:22:00:00

New Guinea and he became a Supreme Court judge there. He’s now a Catholic priest at Queanbeyan. How did I get on to him? Going to New Guinea…
What are some of your memories of that trip? It must have been a real eye opening experience for you?
Well, the ship was lovely.

02:22:30:00

Do you know, my biggest memory, which sounds ridiculous…one of the cabin stewards teaching me to iron a shirt. I often think of him now when I’m ironing. It’s a very vivid in my mind about how to iron a shirt taught by this steward.

02:23:00:00

I recall you had to be very well covered going into the towns. There was quite a few rules. But we had a wonderful look about. It was a wonderful experience.
Why were you covered going into the town?

02:23:30:00

Modesty was huge. You couldn’t be romping around in swimmers. It suppose it was just a rule. A sensible rule too when it’s all boiled down.

02:24:00:00

It was only about 10 years before there had been a war on in New Guinea, was there any evidence of that during your trip?
No. Probably was to a more mature person, but not in my recollection.

02:24:30:00

When did you get your first boyfriend?
When I was at school. I recall someone holding my hand at the movies.

02:25:00:00

There was certainly no great romance. It was all just excitement and fun. I had different attachments but nothing terribly important.

02:25:30:00

I had no deep and meaningful friendships as a young person until I was just about finishing my nursing training and I was in love with a young man who I became engaged to.

02:26:00:00

He was working the International Harvester Company at the time in Goulburn. His family lived in Maitland where they had quite considerable…it wasn’t until after I was engage to him that I realised they were really quite a wealthy family.

02:26:30:00

I was engaged to him for a year or two I suppose. There was a little bit of a problem with religion and we…his father was not very Catholic minded so we parted company.

02:27:00:00

Apart from that there were just odd bits of boyfriends here and there.
What were the courting rituals if you like…what did young men and women do together?
Mostly you met at dances. You would wait for someone to phone you. Will he phone, or won’t he phone? You’d wait

02:27:30:00

for an invitation to the movies and it just sort of went on from there really.
You’d go to the movies for example?
Yes. That was quite a…what else would you do? Go for walks. Nothing terribly stunning

02:28:00:00

at all. And of course you’d be in groups of friends and play cards and have dinners. Going out for dinner was a big thing too.
Where would you go out for dinner? Were there many restaurants?
Well there was quite a grand hotel in Goulburn called the Royal.

02:28:30:00

That was really the place to be seen and go to. They had a fairly upmarket dining room. But on the other hand there were quite a lot of cafes in Goulburn and it would quite bemuse me how…for a while the Paragon would be the place to go and be seen. And then for some reason

02:29:00:00

or another the scene would turn to another café where everybody went to be seen and gather. It was just which place was in vogue at the time.
The Paragon is still there. Was it much the same in those days?
No, it’s moved. The main

02:29:30:00

street is a little bit different. We spent a lot of time in the main street, much more than the youth do now. So yes, you would walk up and down to see who was about. And you might meet someone and go to the café, which was in vogue at the time.

02:30:00:00

As we got older of course we would go to the pub.
Where were the dances held?
The Liedertafel Hall was probably the one that comes to mind, that went for many, many years. Everybody went to dance on Saturday night.

02:30:30:00

It was a wonderful social…mostly the boys were sitting over there and…they were huge fun. And it’s very sad that that doesn’t happen today, I think. You sort of got a much more overall picture of everybody. But they don’t seem to be popular now, dances, do they?

02:31:00:00

Not for a long time.
Certainly not dances like that with men and women separate. Would you go with a partner? How did it work?
You would mostly go with a group of girls to the dance. You’d all sit and chat and mostly the boys were over there and then the music would start and you’d think, “I hope he’s coming to dance with me,” or, “I hope he’s not.”

02:31:30:00

And then of course there was tremendous gossip about who was cool. And who liked who.
What were some of the rules of etiquette at these dances?
Well rules

02:32:00:00

and etiquette were a huge part of the 1950s. If someone did something nice for you, you’d write and thanked them. That was an expectation. Dress rules…what you wore to the dance, what you wore to the ball, into the street. Everyone had a very clear idea of what the expectations were.

02:32:30:00

I feel sorry for the youth after us, there were no rules. It’s pretty easy when you know what the go is. And when there’s no rules, it’s not easy. You knew what was adequate to wear

02:33:00:00

and what was not nice. You weren’t rude to someone you didn’t want to dance with. It was just a very nice set of circumstances.
What about asking a girl to dance. Would the men always do that or could the women do that as well?
Oh no. I don’t think the women could do it, no.

02:33:30:00

Oh heavens no. I’m sure that wasn’t just me. Oh you’d be very talked about if you did that. Very strange.
Could you refuse a man?
Oh yes. “No, not this time thank you.” That was pretty hateful.

02:34:00:00

And what would you wear?
I think at that time we were into rope petticoats and quite big skirts. It was a bit of a competition who could have the widest skirt. Other than that I’ve nearly forgotten what we wore.

02:34:30:00

A lot of thought went into it. You didn’t just grab something.
What was the popular music and what were the dances?
Well there was always the barn dance, which was changing partners, that was a big…waltzing and

02:35:00:00

a bit of jitterbug. All manner of…and the band was very adequate. Quite an excellent band. And I suppose they were just the songs of the time…I don’t know.

02:35:30:00

I can’t remember. Just the hit parade songs.
Do you remember a bit later on the rock and roll music coming to Australia?
Yes absolutely. Well the dances progressed to the rock and roll. We loved rock and roll.

02:36:00:00

And whatever the next phase was.
Did you parents love it?
My father used to just say, “It’s 1960 and you’ve just go to go with it.” I can recall him speaking to my sister about the neighbour, saying about what time she got home and he said, “Bugger the neighbours.”

02:36:30:00

They talk about the early ‘60s being a time when youth culture grew up against the older generation. Did you see any of that in country Australia?

02:37:00:00

I suppose I did. It was getting a bit more outlandish and probably necking in cars which was taboo probably…but you just…

02:37:30:00

You realised there was a new era. But I find it hard to put into words, really. Yes, I suppose things were starting to be a bit outrageous.
Would this necking in cars happen much? Where would you go to do that?
Up to Rocky Hill

02:38:00:00

to the War Memorial. Do you know Goulburn at all? Oh yes, there were all sorts of places.
Was Rocky Hill the main one?
I think so.
And what would be the scene up on Rocky Hill with the cars?
There would be four or five cars parked there late at night.

02:38:30:00

A bit of cuddling going on.
Was that against the law?
No. Probably a bit secretive with the mothers and fathers. There wasn’t a whole lot of harm done.

02:39:00:00

Rocky Hill overlooks the gaol, is that right?
Rocky Hill overlooks the whole lot and all the lights. It’s quite spectacular up there. I don’t know whether it’s the same.
Was the gaol a bit part of Goulburn when you were growing up?
Not really. A person didn’t think too much about it. Except

02:39:30:00

I was in the choir and one of the nuns took us each Christmas and we sang at the church service at the gaol on Christmas Day. So I did visit the gaol once a year, but apart from that I never gave it a thought.
Interviewee: Terrie Ross Archive ID 1748 Tape 03

03:00:49:00

If we could begin with the beginning of your nursing at Goulburn.
Well, I didn’t think I was going to be there for very long. I found the uniform extraordinarily strange. Starched apron and wide starched belt and hat,

03:01:00:00

and I got all dressed up and was confronted by a school friend. She said, “My goodness, I hope I don’t look as silly as you.” I think I said, “I’ve got news for you and it’s all bad.”

03:01:30:00

I think we started off in the children’s ward and they told us to carbolise the bed and we said, “What’s that?” and we had to strip the bed down and wash it. We used to have huge laughs about it all.

03:02:00:00

Nursing in those days…you had four years of nursing training, and of course the first year you were the juniors. You always met someone in the pan room or the linen room crying. There was the senior nurse, and of course you were being constantly told off.

03:02:30:00

I suppose it’s a very quick way of learning. I think it’s a sadness that nursing isn’t in the hospitals now. It’s amazing how much…you cleaned lockers some of the time, and just cleaning lockers down and chatting to patients, it’s amazing what you learned about them. And at the end

03:03:00:00

of the day, when they were having a ward round, it’s amazing what the junior nurse could whip in that would never have probably come out without just that few minutes. Things like that. But it was a most enjoyable four years. Tremendous camaraderie amongst the nurses and it was all quite interesting learning.

03:03:30:00

Did you spend much time crying?
Oh I had my share of crying because I had been told off.
Can you share with me one of the stories?
Gosh, I should be able to, there were so many. Yes, I can’t really…

03:04:00:00

But there was always someone having a bit of a weep about something.
Was the training adequate?
I think it was. Of course, nowadays with the technology and specialising in some of the extraordinary things that they’re doing in medicine,

03:04:30:00

it’s really come down to a specialised field. I think once you go into an area you learn as much about that area, whether it be orthopaedics, renal, oncology. Whereas in my day it was very general. You’d probably be admitted to hospital with gout, whereas gout is nothing, is it?

03:05:00:00

But was there the presumption among the senior nurses that you should automatically know what you were doing, or were they training you?
They were training you, and you were told in no uncertain terms if you stepped out of the boundaries. Or you weren’t fast enough. It was pretty brutal sort of learning.

03:05:30:00

Did any of the girls drop out early because they couldn’t handle it?
Oh yes, quite a big drop out. I don’t know if it was because they weren’t handling it, but some didn’t like the shift work because it mucked up their social life. It just didn’t suit them on the whole.

03:06:00:00

There was a moderate drop out but not alarming.
In respect to training was there studies with what you were doing?
We had to go to lectures in our off time. There was specific lectures. If you were working, you didn’t have to go, but if you were off duty, you just went on your off duty time.

03:06:30:00

Then you’d probably have a block study for two or three weeks every so often and then you did your exams as they came up. And then the final exam was state wide. It was a state-wide affair.
Was the training for four years or was it a shorter time than that?
Yes, four years training. Then after your four years, if you passed your

03:07:00:00

Registration Board Certificate, you went from a cap to a veil.
So can you talk me through…given there’s four years, the stages of growth or climbing towards your final exam?
Well I think we had a yellow button on our cap for first years, blue for second and so on.

03:07:30:00

So if you went into the wards, you knew whether you had a first or second or third or fourth year nurse. Then I might spend three months in the male ward. So as the roster went, whoever was the senior nurse and the next nurse probably did…and then you got down to the junior. So there was a duty list for each of those nurses.

03:08:00:00

So if there were two first year nurses, who ever was the most senior. We used to start work at six, I think, and you’d go on and you’d do sponging until, say, seven-thirty and then you’d go for breakfast. You’d go up to the dining room. Sisters would be sat there and nurses over there and when a sister walked in, you stopped your breakfast and stood up as mark of respect for the senior...

03:08:30:00

There was a real…and the senior nurse…”Yes absolutely,” and, “Certainly I will.” There was a huge order of pecking.

03:09:00:00

But everyone accepted that, so according to your order of seniority…and then you got up to be the senior nurse which was quite nice.
That’s after the four years?
Yes. In your fourth year you would be the senior nurse. You looked after the nurses under you and you were answerable to the sister in charge of the board.

03:09:30:00

It was a good system.
Were there any jobs where you thought, “I don’t want to do this again,” or “I want to avoid this in the future?”
Oh, lots of them. But that was just tough. You either…cleaning the pan room wasn’t a real fun job because

03:10:00:00

you had to use Bon Ami and rubbing, and then when you got it all in order, you had to go to the senior nurse for her to inspect it and she may say, “No, that’s not good enough. The sink’s still got marks on it.” And while you’re doing all this, people are still coming in and mucking it up. But anyway, that was just par for the course.
In respect to cleaning, these days, disinfectants…did they have all that sort of stuff that you had to work with back then?

03:10:30:00

Oh yes. I don’t think the nurses do any cleaning of any description now. Bed making was a huge…the way the corner was to be tucked into the …matron would come down and even if the pillows weren’t right. That was a bit of nonsense, but it was discipline.

03:11:00:00

All that’s gone.
How did you get on with the doctors?
Oh…sir. It was nearly, “Allah!” They were very superior beings. Only a few years ago, I said to one of the doctors, “Would you like me to make you a cup of tea?” And he was quite shocked – they make their own.

03:11:30:00

Completely different. Yes, in those days they were the superior being.
Who did you fear more, the doctors or the head nurses?
Well, they were most much the same.

03:12:00:00

You laid low. You certainly didn’t want to rock the boat. Although I can remember my friend…somebody played a bit of a trick on her. She had a dish of water and she thought they were coming…it was one of the doctors. He took it far better than we imagined.

03:12:30:00

Any male nurses training with you?
Kenworth Hospital was the psychiatric hospital and quite a few of those lads came after they had registered as a psychiatric nurse to do their general training. So yes. I suppose there were three while I was there. Four.

03:13:00:00

They were training at the same time. They were good value.
What sort of patients did you get in at Goulburn?
Very cross section. There was a children’s ward and male ward and female ward. Whereas today you would have surgical, medical. They were all mucked in together, and as I said, technology now, it’s completely different.
Initially, you said you didn’t expect to be there that long.

03:13:30:00

How long did you expect to be at Goulbourn?
Well I was thinking I might go to St Vincent’s Hospital but after I had been there for six months I thought, “Well, I’m not going

03:14:00:00

to start from scratch again,” so I was happy to stay.
Why didn’t St Vincent’s come to mind?
Well, my friend and I had made a pact that we were going there. That was what we were going to do. We were going to be off to Sydney.

03:14:30:00

I didn’t wait around for the call up. You had to wait to be called up.
The call up…meaning you had already applied to St Vincent’s?
Yes, I had been accepted at St Vincent’s, but you had to wait for the call up.

03:15:00:00

I don’t know what my friend did. She went to St Vincent’s. She didn’t finish anyway.
So you were at Goulburn for four years. You passed your exam. So what are you in the hierarchy of nurses?
Now I’m a registered trained nurse.

03:15:30:00

And how did you end up transferring to St Margaret’s?
Well, St Margaret’s was a different….it’s mothers and babies. So I had applied to St Margaret’s Hospital to be a trainee there, to become a midwife. And they said it would be all right and I, so I turned up immediately after I had finished

03:16:00:00

my general training. That was a very interesting year training for midwifery. I enjoyed that.
Can you share with me what things were interesting?
Well I had never given midwifery much thought. It was just the thing to do. The end of the year you had to have a list of

03:16:30:00

witnesses of births. So I had to put in the date and that I had witnessed Mrs so and so and which way the baby was lying. I think I had to have 60 or a hundred witnesses. A bell used to ring to say you could go up to the seventh floor.

03:17:00:00

I had never been more shocked in my life. The first witness, I thought, “Oh my glory!” I had no idea, “This is a howdy do.” So I got quite used to that. I thoroughly enjoyed midwifery. Midwifery is a completely different kettle of fish [different situation]

03:17:30:00

nowadays, too. Sister Margaret was the matron and she ran a very tight ship. There were rules about…the baby didn’t stay with the mother at all. They were brought in four hourly for the feed for three minutes each side and then five minutes first day. My daughter had a baby here recently and I said, “For god sake, get that baby off your nipple. They’ll be that sore and there’s no need for it.”

03:18:00:00

So I told her to do what she liked. “You’re mad.”
So what was the reason or the thinking behind the separation?
Sister Anne’s reason was that nine months pregnancy was a huge physical and emotional call on a woman, and often a lot of them had other children at home and so they needed three days of complete rest. And they weren’t allowed out of bed

03:18:30:00

for two days. The third day you were just allowed…so that was her…and it’s not a bad reasoning really. You could go home if you had had a complete rest, face the other children, the new baby, and some of them now go in and come out in the afternoon.

03:19:00:00

It’s a fair ask, isn’t it, when you think about it.
What other things were different back then to how they handle things nowadays?
Well we would certainly take the baby back to the nursery for overnight. But today,

03:19:30:00

my daughter having her first baby and absolutely exhausting…and the nurse said put the baby into bed with you. I’d roll over and smother it. Bonding and …see I think that’s mad.

03:20:00:00

I find it very odd, the reasoning of things today. I’m old.
Did they have any drugs to help women with pain?
Oh yes. But then it was very awkward as a midwife because if you don’t administer the pain relief earlier enough and the baby comes, then you’re going to have a flat baby. So

03:20:30:00

it’s a bit of a juggle. Whereas today they’ve got spinal stuff. I don’t know much about the goings on today.
So you did a year at St Margaret’s Hospital…
And then I became a midwife.

03:21:00:00

A registered midwife with a certificate. And then I went back to Goulburn. I really didn’t consider continuing on with midwifery until they asked me at the Goulburn Base Hospital to come for a month while someone was on leave. So I rocked up there. But I thought, “It would be more time at home with my family.

03:21:30:00

Then I’ll make a decision as to what I’ll do.” As I said, I was there for a year before anyone said, “Your month’s up.”
So why didn’t you think to continue on with midwifery?
I thought well I’ve got that certificate. I’m not sure I knew what I might do. I think I was going to go home and think about it for a few minutes. But I didn’t

03:22:00:00

imagine staying on with midwifery.
And at that stage you made a good friend in an older lady, Nora …
Nora Marmont. Yes. It was her who talked me into joining the army.
Was she a midwife herself?
Yes. She had the most tragic life insofar as…

03:22:30:00

she got out of the army. Her brother was in the war and lost his leg. I think the wife left him and he had two little children, and her mother and father were very elderly. She devoted her whole life to looking after the mother and father and rearing these two boys. And she did it by doing permanent night duty. So she was a very selfless person.

03:23:00:00

Manic really. Nobody’s expected to do that, but she did it. She said, “You don’t want to be stuck here for the next 20 years.” So I went off for a big adventure.
So even though she was working there she didn’t see it as much of a career move to remain there?
No.

03:23:30:00

She said I would finish up in a rut. See the same and do the same things. She had a point really. I could have just stayed in Goulburn and seen nothing. She said, “At the end of your life you’ll say, ‘What have I done?’”
Just before we move on into the army, what were some of the complications that you came across with mothers and babies in respect to giving birth?

03:24:00:00

Every thing went all right. There didn’t seem to be any huge…there was the odd tragic incident, but mostly everything went off extremely well. It was very nice nursing because the baby would come and everyone was happy and you were the best person in the world,

03:24:30:00

as oppose to geriatrics. They’re sad about their mother and you’re a bit of a villain. You did feel very nice being with young people and everyone pleased with you because they were pleased with themselves. So it was nice nursing in that respect.
So you didn’t come across stillborns?
Oh, the odd ones, yes.

03:25:00:00

I have a fairly clever mechanism of being able to put bad things back there rather than dwelling on them. It’s a bit of a talent.
So you’ve decided to join the army. Talk me through the process of actually applying and getting involved?

03:25:30:00

Well I said to Marmy, “How will I go about this?” I must have phoned up recruiting. I had an appointment with the lieutenant colonel nurse at Southern Command and went up to Vic Barracks. I was coming home and I was telling the taxi driver about it. And

03:26:00:00

he said, “What? Do you want to marry an army man?” I said, “No.” He said, “You will, you know.” I said, “I’m only there for two years, so who knows what might happen.”
He was probably chatting you up.

03:26:30:00

So you went through Victoria Barracks. Did they take you through a medical?
Yes, I had to go for a medical. I had to go over to the Q Store and collect all the gear. Then they said, “You’re going to Puckapunyal.” I thought, “Righto.” Then there was a change of plan and I was to go to Ingleburn. I must have had my own vehicle, so I drove up to Ingleburn and

03:27:00:00

met all the people. It was a very old-style accommodation as I recall, but I had more than an adequate room. The mess was nice and the food was nice.

03:27:30:00

Organising buttons on your uniform was something you had to get used to. We had grey long sleeved…which you rolled up in the summer and then put down in the winter with a little red cape and a white collar.

03:28:00:00

It was getting used to…they used to have rules, what did they call them? Standing orders. I recall going to Wagga and I was in charge of the

03:28:30:00

rack…other ranks’ accommodation. I heard a bit of a ruckus and I had to go twice during the evening and just check everything. Something was going on. I didn’t really know anything about it. I said to the corporal, “Don’t you know the standing orders?”

03:29:00:00

And I didn’t. Years later I said to her that I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. But it was very nice because she said, “Don’t cross her, she can get a bit cranky.” It was different. I found the different ranks something to get used to.

03:29:30:00

Other ranks and captains…it was a whole new ball game and rather exciting in lots of ways. It was so different.
And I take it you struggled with some terminology that was used as well?
Well I used to laugh.

03:30:00:00

When I went to Singleton I was in a mess with a lot of national service officers, platoon commanders. We ate with them. And I used to think…everybody spoke in initials…COs [Commanding Officers]. You could say a sentence that big with all initials. I thought

03:30:30:00

this was a problem in many ways. You only spoke about army things. Your social skills started to deteriorate after not very long. And it was all in initials. NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and COs. Everything seemed to be in initials.

03:31:00:00

I found that strange. But that’s how it went. I used to feel very sorry for the young lieutenants because they spent one or two years being told, “You are the best, you are the best,” and then they came out and told them what low lifes they were. It must

03:31:30:00

have been very hard. But they all dealt with it. And specially the national service officers. They were very special. All national service soldiers were.
You shared a bit about the uniform, but how did the nurses uniform in the army compare with the starchy nurses uniform at Goulburn?

03:32:00:00

It was very similar. As a trainee nurse I wore a blue striped dress and a starched pinny [pinafore] over that. At six o’clock in the morning I had to put yesterday’s pinny on and I would have my new one for after my breakfast, so I looked at the part at 8 o’clock, whereas no one saw me at 6 o’clock.

03:32:30:00

If you were sponging, you could get a bit of water over you and it didn’t matter. So really, a grey starched dress was pretty easy. Except we had brass buttons that we had to put in…it

03:33:00:00

wasn’t a piece of cake, and keeping your starched veil…especially in Vietnam with the heat. You could feel it…and of course raining twice a day didn’t help. I really don’t know how we managed. But it didn’t seem to be a big deal.
So when you arrived at Ingleburn, what did you find in respect to

03:33:30:00

facilities and infrastructure?
Very adequate. I was in awe. So whatever was there, I was going to accept quite…yes, and just the different living conditions.

03:34:00:00

I was a bit in awe and I enjoyed it. I recall sitting having…we had a quite nice lounge area. A little bar and that was all on tick. You wrote it down and every week or month you paid your account. It was an honesty system. Then there

03:34:30:00

was a cup of tea room where you could go and make a cup of tea. This lovely captain was sitting there having this cup of tea and she said, “How are you today Terrie?” And I said, “I feel lousy.” She sat there for a few minutes and she said to me, “Itchy are you?”

03:35:00:00

I said, “No I’m better now.” She was a girl from Tasmania. She had never heard anyone say I feel lousy. She thought I must have been itchy. It was a different sort of life in many ways.

03:35:30:00

I had never heard of anybody who had never heard of anyone feeling lousy. I don’t know why I felt lousy. But the soldiers were easy to look after. We had a new CO come while I was there. Colonel Watson who eventually became general.

03:36:00:00

He was a very hard taskmaster and the place was almost a different after the month he was there. He wore the white gloves. It was a dusty old place when I first got there. So the whole place was upgraded in no uncertain terms. And if you had a soldier with a tear in his shirt he would just rip the shirt off him. Soldiers weren’t to wear torn clothes.

03:36:30:00

So he terrified the life out of us. He was very fair and a clever person, really. He made a big difference to the establishment. I had a wonderful matron there that I loved dearly. She was a clever…

03:37:00:00

We corresponded with letters for quite a few years. She used to give me wonderful pieces of advice. Like, on your way to work, make sure you smile at everybody, ever if you feel like spitting in their eye, because you never know what they can do for you down the track. And she’d say,

03:37:30:00

“Always carry a note book and jot things down. I don’t care how good your memory is, you’ll forget.” Those pieces of advice I remembered for a long time. So there were some quite memorable people there. You’d have a visitor to the mess.

03:38:00:00

There would be a silence, and behind everyone’s back she’d say, say something. I think, “Oh cripes,” and I’d say, “What a wonderful colour those hydrangeas are.” Something stupid. So you’d have a mad conversation about nothing.

03:38:30:00

Had she served in Korea or World War II?
I don’t know for sure. Her name was Margaret Carmody, but she was a very competent and experienced person. She had to been to campaigns but I don’t know where.

03:39:00:00

She had been overseas for years, really.
How big was the staff there at the hospital?
I suppose there would have been 20 sisters. And the matron. A couple of captains. Matron was a major and there were a few captains and the rest were lieutenants that we came in as, we came in commissioned.

03:39:30:00

So it was a fairly large establishment. Whereas at Singleton there was only a major matron and four or five sisters.
Interviewee: Terrie Ross Archive ID 1748 Tape 04

04:00:43:00

While you were at Ingleburn, what friends were you making with some of the nurses?
I made some lovely friends. One in particular came from Cairns. She was

04:01:00:00

a great character. And there was another one from South Australia who was a great character. I remember, I came in and she was ironing and I said, “What are you doing Nancy?” And she said, “One of the soldier’s needs his trousers ironed.” And while she was doing it….

04:01:30:00

so we had to go and get steel wool. We had some CMF Full Time Duty girls who were good fun. We were quite often invited over to the officer’s mess. I remember saying to one girl, “Why don’t you

04:02:00:00

come with us, we’re going over to 1 Battalion?” And she said, “I don’t think I’ll bother.” And I said, “Oh go on it will do you good.” And when it was time to go she said she wasn’t ready. That was very poorly told. I think I left a bit out.

04:02:30:00

No. But we had quite nice outings with some of the officers from the battalions. We were a fair way out at Ingleburn. I used to go home to Goulburn quite a lot on my days off. So the time went very quickly and it was just another year really in a long life.

04:03:00:00

So yes, the hospital was brought right up to scratch while I was there. I found things like Sunday was a horrible day to be working because you seemed to be counting. You

04:03:30:00

had to count everything, to know how many scissors we had and whether they were still there the next week. But apart from that, Ingleburn was about getting to work…nothing terribly spectacular really.

04:04:00:00

In respect to meeting the officers and stuff, any relationships start up between the nurses and the officers?
I suppose there was but not to any great extent. I didn’t have any…it was all just social pleasant…some of them may be going to the pub and we might…in those days the hotels had Saturday night bands…

04:04:30:00

I supposes they still do, but it was a new thing in hotels. So sometimes we might go down to one of the closer hotels with a group. Just as an outing, and get together and something to do.

04:05:00:00

I became very friendly with the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] at the Infantry Centre. He was a real character. He would ring up and tell me to go and visit someone at Concorde, one of his soldiers. I would say, “Why don’t you go yourself?” So it was quite a fun sort of repartee amongst us all.

04:05:30:00

It was quite different to being out in civilian street. Everybody was in the same boat, I suppose. Everybody was just part of a big group.
What sort of injuries did the soldiers have at Ingleburn?
Well,

04:06:00:00

lots of sprains and knees and pneumonia and funny….they were pretty mundane. You had to hospitalised if you couldn’t manage for yourself, whereas you could manage for yourself at home, you really couldn’t in a barrack. It was a long way to go for your meals

04:06:30:00

so you would be hospitalised for moderately minor problems. I’m not saying they were all that minor but you would have a big percentage of your patients who could be at home if they were with their mother or in a flat.
Any of the patients get up to mischief there?

04:07:00:00

My good friend Matron Cavaner gave me some good advice on arriving. She said, “Never look for grog in toilet cistern, and unless you see five dollar notes dripping on the floor, don’t ask them about their card games.” No doubt there was a tremendous amount of trickery going on,

04:07:30:00

but I didn’t look too hard.
She was encouraging you to turn a blind eye?
Yes. “Don’t look for trouble or you’ll find it.” That was what she was saying, which was very good advice. Not that I would be looking for trouble unless it’s terribly obvious.

04:08:00:00

Was there any advice given to you about fraternising with the men or those sorts of things?
It was made very clear that you didn’t fraternise with non commissioned officers. That was a no-no which was very well known right throughout the army. That was one of the rules.
Did any nurses you know break that rule?
Yes.

04:08:30:00

Can you tell me about them?
One that especially comes to mind is one of the CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] full-time girls. It was terribly funny because I was up late one night and I had the radio on. And it was quite strange that this soldier was having a song played for the sister who lived just near me.

04:09:00:00

Anyway, I did whisper to her and I did let her know that I was aware (not that I was going to tell anybody) but I did ring my friend the RSM and ask him about this soldier…He said, “Keep away, he’s gaol bait.” And it was then that I said to her to think seriously about

04:09:30:00

getting serious about this. Anyway she took no notice and I think they were married and I don’t think their marriage was terribly successful. But I mean, that’s only one-off. It’s just the one I recall. I don’t really know of any other instances. But no doubt, of course it would happen.

04:10:00:00

Human nature.
And the fellas in the wards, did they try and chat you up?
No, they treated you like they would treat their platoon commander. If you had pips on your shoulder, it wasn’t worth their while. They were very respectful and quite wonderful

04:10:30:00

patients.
Just as a comparison, did you find you had more respect from the soldiers while you were at Ingleburn or Singleton or even Vietnam to that of Goulburn, given there wasn’t that army regime?
I think the answer has to be yes. They were unique people soldiers. They had the most wonderful sense of humour.

04:11:00:00

Wonderful sense of fun, great respect. While I was in Vietnam, I don’t think I heard one bit of bad language. I wouldn’t have expected, but if you ever came close, then someone would warn them that you were on your way. When I came

04:11:30:00

home and I went down to the pub in Goulburn, the bad language nearly shook me. Only because I hadn’t been used to it for a while. But I thought, “Gosh.” Four letter words were becoming quite common.

04:12:00:00

Quite surprising really to be in a war zone and not hear bad language, isn’t it?
How long were you at Ingleburn for?
Exactly a year.
And what were the circumstances that lead you to Singleton?
Not very many circumstances in the army. One of the things about the army is…you can think, “I’m not very happy with this person,”

04:12:30:00

and you’d never know whether you’d be moved off the next day or they would. Like a normal job, you sort of think, “Cripes, I’m stuck with this person for the rest of the my life.” And that wasn’t the case. It was one of the wonderful things about it. But it was fairly sad that a person you loved dearly moved on. But someone else would come and fill the spot. But the movement in many ways was a good thing. And all of a sudden

04:13:00:00

someone just said, “You’re off now. You’ve finished at Ingleburn and you’re off to Singleton.” “Righto. When do I go?” “Next Tuesday. And you pack up your,” another wonderful thing about the army was, if you were moving, someone got your transport organised. Someone’s got your bed organised.

04:13:30:00

Your meal was there. You didn’t have to think terribly hard about anything which is a good thing. It’s a big thing in your life, where you’re going to put your head and what you’re going to eat. So that was all taken care of.
So how did the accommodation at Singleton compare to that of Ingleburn?

04:14:00:00

Terrible. Oh, it was a funny old place. I don’t know what it was built for but it was a long building with a big long veranda with just rooms off that. I had to come out to the weather to get to the showers and toilets. And the end room had four bed spaces with

04:14:30:00

a light. The new matron was coming and I had to go and pick her up from the train and I said, “I daren’t tell you about where you’re going to sleep.” Matron Crouch was a very clever lady. She got someone to put a partition in and she had it quite luxurious in no time flat. She had lamps and

04:15:00:00

it was quite lovely. It’s amazing how good you can make a sow’s ear. She was very clever. My room was adequate, but it was a long way over to the dining room. It was a long way to the supermarket. It was a long way to work.

04:15:30:00

But as I said, I wept for the first night and then after a year when I had to leave, I wept because I enjoyed it there. The hospital…I seem to turn up everywhere were there were no facilities.

04:16:00:00

It all had to be…I don’t know why that was. But I mean, the hospital was a non event. But there was a huge advantage insofar you were right in there. These poor boys were plucked from the bank with the girlfriend round the corner, living with their mother and having a very nice life

04:16:30:00

and then they found themselves at Singleton being told off, new regime. Their hair cut. Uniform. It must have been terror. It could only have been terror. You know, you got to know quite a lot of them quite well. One of them taught me to play chess. As they were passing by they might pop in and tell you how they were getting on.

04:17:00:00

One came crying. He had been there eight weeks and he found he had new friends and a new life and someone said, “You can go home now because your psychological test wasn’t good enough.” He said he didn’t want to go back.

04:17:30:00

I said I would go and speak about it. I went up to admin and said I was going to go to Ray Martin about this boy. “You’ve mucked up his life and now you’re mucking it up again.” They said, “For goodness sake go back to your tea and sympathy and just leave it to us.” I felt sorry for him, but anyway, he had to pack his bags and go home.

04:18:00:00

But you saw some sad bits. I had huge amounts of respect for those boys shifted on from their routine life. Can you imagine at 18, being in with a group of…it would be awful, wouldn’t it?
Did you come across fellas who quite clearly didn’t want to be there and tried to get out of it by pretending to be sick?

04:18:30:00

Hardly, no doubt there would have been some. But I didn’t find them. And after they had got used to it, they were all putting their hands up to go to Vietnam, and they all seemed to embrace the life.

04:19:00:00

They all seemed to love it really after the initial shock of the whole…I can see them turning up. There would be a bus load and they’d get off and come into this huge big area where they’d meet…not in this order, but the Q Store for their blankets and sheets.

04:19:30:00

Then they’d go and be measured up for a uniform and then they’d go and meet the padre. They’d come to us and get a couple of injections. They just went round this circle and at the end they were shown where their barrack was and they were in. Then they all turned up for a hair cut.

04:20:00:00

They were issued boots and that was all just out of the bus and you get your gear. And then three months later, watching them march out, it made you cry. You had these polished soldiers looking ever so proud.

04:20:30:00

You think of them turning up out of these buses with long hair and thongs. It was really quite moving. I used to weep when they had their marching out parade. It was lovely.
What inoculations did they have?

04:21:00:00

I don’t know. Everyone seemed to be getting inoculations all the time. I suppose it was tetanus and yes, coming in with those groups of boys…glandular fever used to hit after a few weeks, and it was a peculiar thing and I think it’s still to this day,

04:21:30:00

some of those glandular fever tests don’t show up. We used to send off blood samples. But the doctor used to say, “I don’t care what the blood sample says, that boy’s got glandular fever.” So he was rested up. But we used to get quite a lot of that. And then of course a week after their injections, some would be falling about with reactions

04:22:00:00

to the needles. There would be sprains and whatever happens to 18-year-old boys …they didn’t come in with severe problems. They were things you expected.

04:22:30:00

These days with syringes you would change it for every shot, how often would you change the needle?
Oh, every one. I think they were disposable in those days, and even if they weren’t, you’d get a new needle. No, you’d never use the same needle twice.

04:23:00:00

I was only thinking…someone said something to be about Wallgrove in Sydney out in the western suburbs. I was at Ingleburn…there was a unit out there. I don’t quite know what they were. But rather than all the soldiers coming to Ingleburn, we would go out there. It seemed to be out in the back blocks.

04:23:30:00

You wouldn’t know where it was going or where it was coming from. But it’s a built-up area now I believe. Ingleburn and Campbelltown. If you had had a few bob and bought a bit of real estate, wherever I went, you’d be terribly well to do. Not that you had the money to buy it anyway. It’s all relative isn’t it.

04:24:00:00

You’ve mentioned glandular fever when the boys arrived in the first week or so. Was there any other sort of things like colds which would be on the rise during the first couple of weeks.
Well, glandular fever and the reactions from inoculations…most people battle on with a cold unless you went down with a real flu.

04:24:30:00

I suppose that would go through them, but not that I can recall.
When you first arrived at Singleton were there other nurses already there?
There was a matron and four other nurses. Certainly enough for us to maintain a round the clock watch on the hospital.

04:25:00:00

But not a huge staff at all. It was relatively small. We didn’t have a big lot of patients most times.
How many men constitute a big lot of patients?
Well, there were probably 20 beds in this area. With the glandular fever…we could probably accommodate 60, and I didn’t ever…in fact I did get to

04:25:30:00

serve in the new hospital that they built. Quite a few years later when I was at Cook, they asked me to do a school boys camp at Singleton, so I did go back. And I was quite anxious to go back and have a look at the camp hospital which they eventually built. That was interesting.

04:26:00:00

But I just did a stint when the school kids were in the school cadets.
You’ve suggested that thins were pretty rough until you and the new matron arrived, where she did up the barracks and started to clean things up. What changes were made to improve not just your accommodation but also the hospital there?

04:26:30:00

The hospital didn’t improve greatly because…well, moves were afoot to get this hospital on the go as quickly as possible. I probably left just as the hospital was ready to…so it was probably only the year. They certainly weren’t going to upgrade the hut as such when there were moves afoot to build

04:27:00:00

a proper facility. It was just one of those things. So I suppose it was two years that it was not up to scratch. The year before…I don’t know how long it had been going. Maybe not quite a year.

04:27:30:00

Beside working as a nurse there, was the army training you in different area?
No. But there were …if I had stayed in the army, they do have a wonderful programme

04:28:00:00

for people to upgrade their skills. Administration and areas that are probably necessary. I went to Hillsville in Victoria on a…what do they call the course? Orientation.

04:28:30:00

I had been in the army for quite some months but you were sort of given a run down on how the army works. So that was quite interesting. But apart from that…no there was very little. No preparation for anything very much. I just lobbed in and learnt fast.

04:29:00:00

So that particular course was just to teach you army customs…
Yes. I can’t recall much about it. But anyway that was the crunch of it. It was learning about the army in general.
We all make mistakes at different points in life, during your time at Ingleburn and Singleton were there mistakes made by nurses?

04:29:30:00

No there wasn’t much of a…there wasn’t really many mistakes you could make that would matter greatly. It wasn’t a life and death situation.

04:30:00:00

I don’t think there were many mistakes really.
The chaplain – I presume there was a base chaplain or even a hospital chaplain?
Yes there was a Catholic padre. They were pretty well equipped with padres

04:30:30:00

at Singleton and Vietnam. It was particularly important. I think they worked pretty hard with some pretty dodgy problems really. So they were a pretty important in the overall scheme of things.

04:31:00:00

What were the dodgy problem they had to work with?
Someone’s doing some sort of…these people come up with research and things. Someone asked me if I had any old letters and I was…and strangely enough I found a box when we were moving from Garran to here a couple of years ago.

04:31:30:00

I found one that I had written to my sister amongst them. The start of it was, “I’m finishing night duty tonight. Whoopee.” And I said, “Not really, there’s some quite lovely boys I’ve been working with.” And even though I find them asleep on my round, the medics have a bit of a lie down. I told her that one I found several times

04:32:00:00

and I had to threaten him with having to clean the chuffers out if I found him again. And I made mention that one of the patients was looking particularly sad and I didn’t ask him what his problem was because I thought he would tell me if he really wanted me to know. I said that he was telling me he was married with three beautiful

04:32:30:00

daughters and he had received a letter from his wife to say she had had a dalliance with someone and she had found herself pregnant to someone else. And I thought, “What do you say?” I gave him a sleeping tablet. But that was a padre problem and not a easy one to deal with.

04:33:00:00

The ‘Dear John’ letters [letters informing that a relationship is over]. There was a lot of sadness. A lot of problems. It might not sound too much to someone else, but to you personally it would be devastating. That was just one I happened to remember years later from a letter.

04:33:30:00

I remember someone coming and saying the company commander, who would have been a major, they said that he had got a Dear John letter from his girlfriend. He opened it up and read it and then went and pinned it up on the notice board for everyone to read.

04:34:00:00

It doesn’t just happen to the soldiers. It happens to everybody. “I’m sorry, but bad luck.” There were an awful lot of Dear John letters. It’s not easy when you’re away from home. And it matters to some people. You can’t do anything about it. You’re stuck.

04:34:30:00

So the padre had pretty big issues to contend with.
Did the padres help the nursing sisters in their roles?
Only in passing. No. We didn’t have a huge amount…but they were certainly there.

04:35:00:00

They were a separate identity really.
In respect of Vietnam did the men see the padres as the grim reapers?
No I think the padre was more there for social problems and worries from home.

04:35:30:00

If there was a dust-off he might come. But I think everyone was pleased with the padre being about.
Back at Singleton, did you have a boyfriend at that point?
No, not really.

04:36:00:00

Not a serious boyfriend, no. I went out with some of the lads. We’d go out to some of the vineyards and we might go to the club at Maitland, but mostly in groups. No I didn’t have a serious boyfriend. But I had quite a nice social life.

04:36:30:00

So socially you were going to dances and those sorts of things?
No dances weren’t really in then. They’d gone. We mostly went out in groups. It was fairly isolated up in Singleton. So you sort of had company with the people in the mess.

04:37:00:00

You might go and have dinner somewhere. A group would go.
So what did you know about Vietnam at the time?
Nothing. One battalion went while I was at Ingleburn, and they were the first of the troops to go, and then the odd officer would say he had been selected to go and everyone would be jealous.

04:37:30:00

I remember one particular boy went and he had hardly got there and he was killed. We were all devastated. I remember some saying he was always accident prone. If anyone was going to get hurt it would have been him. But nothing. The troops were there and that was it. No one gave it much thought.

04:38:00:00

So when did the opportunity arise for you to go to Vietnam?
It wasn’t an opportunity. Someone just said I was going in the next 10 days. I was to have my injections now and pick up the gear I was going to be issued with and I would be on the plane Tuesday week. I went home for a few days. So

04:38:30:00

I had no say whatsoever. Nobody said, “Would you like to go?” “You will go.” There was no opportunity or say. “Just pack your bags and off you go.”
What was your parent’s response?
Horror.

04:39:00:00

I just know they were worried. My sister was saying when she was waving at the aeroplane that my father was saying, “By cripes, I’ll take the grin off her face.” They were just concerned that I was going somewhere...we didn’t have any understanding of where or what.

04:39:30:00

But anyway I got cakes and letters constantly from them. And I sent letters back to them. It was shock horror for the first minute.
Interviewee: Terrie Ross Archive ID 1748 Tape 05

05:00:42:00

Terrie you mentioned before about hearing that you were going and then the information being released to your family and about the names being announced. Could you just tell us that situation again in more detail

05:01:00:00

firstly from when you heard yourself?
Well, my matron from Ingleburn, who I think was very influential in me being selected to go, I did hear she said that if they were taking nurses to Vietnam then they would be silly not to take Terrie Roach, and she said,

05:01:30:00

“There seems to be moves afoot. Vietnam is coming up. Keep an eye open about selling your car because I think you may be going. But it’s a big secret.” Then I was officially told and it was a secret. So I had to have my inoculations. I think we got…

05:02:00:00

and then it obviously came over the radio. And my mother was heard to say, “Thank God Terrie’s not going because we would know. She would have told us.” Then my name came over on the radio. They were knocked for six that I hadn’t told them. So I phoned her and said I had only just found out myself

05:02:30:00

and I certainly would have told them. That’s just how it is. They said, “If you’re happy we’re happy.”
What discussions did you have with your parents or friends about going to Vietnam?
I didn’t have much time.

05:03:00:00

And only that I was quite excited about going and I thought it would be a bit of …I was anxious to go. They asked how I felt and I said I was ok. My sister helped me pack up and decide what to take.

05:03:30:00

What did you pack or what did your sister pack for you?
I was given a great big trunk and I had…I don’t know how many grey uniforms and veils. And a white dress mess kit.

05:04:00:00

And we didn’t take any civilian clothes. But when we got there we realised we needed civilian clothes. So we had to go to the markets at Vung Tau and have a few things made up. And then on R&R [Rest and Recreation] we bought up civilian clothes. So we just took every day as it came really.

05:04:30:00

So I really only packed uniforms and cosmetics. I remember writing home for suppos [supplements] because I felt I was getting a few veins and we used to get parcels. If you wanted something, stockings and things.

05:05:00:00

But they had canteens. The Americans had pretty well-stocked canteens with most things that you wanted. There weren’t many things that you needed to write home about.
In the time before you left Australia, what preparations were you given apart from inoculations for getting ready to go to Vietnam?

05:05:30:00

Zilch. Nobody knew. We didn’t know what to take. We didn’t know what to expect. There was no briefing at all really. I was given a book about the political situation. I haven’t read it to this day.

05:06:00:00

It was certainly nothing about what to expect at the hospital because nobody knew. Anyway it wasn’t a hospital. It was a field ambulance and no nurses have ever served in a field ambulance. And the field ambulance only lasted a few months before…and it wasn’t until it turned into a field hospital that they were given the authority to upgrade hospital beds from bunks

05:06:30:00

and things that were pertinent to a hospital. It wasn’t a hospital. So I suppose…you can’t say the situation was pretty appalling because it really wasn’t a hospital. And years later, seeing some tapes of the hospital they put up, I was

05:07:00:00

moderately gob-smacked to see what they did do to the existing place that I went, too.
When you found out you were going to Vietnam, as you said you didn’t know much about what was going on there. How much information was in the media about the war at the time? What do you remember about that?
Hardly any. See, 1 Battalion had only just gone for a year.

05:07:30:00

So we had only had troops there for a year, so…the media were moderately pro the troops I think. As the time went on…see I don’t think the National Service went the first year. It wasn’t…I think it was when National Service men started going that the media turned a bit sour

05:08:00:00

and all the protestors came to the fore. So there was very little in the media at the time I went. As I remember anyway.
You said before that for some reason people were generally excited about going off to a war, what were you excited about?
I don’t know. It’s manic. I can’t believe…people were that jealous when you told them you were going. The number of times that

05:08:30:00

was said. I suppose if you’re in the army, you want to be where the action is. I have no explanation for that at all. If someone had told me that that was going to be the case I would have said, “I don’t know about that.” But

05:09:00:00

it does happen. It’s a crazy fact really.
You said before you were one of the first women sent over by the Australian forces. Is that correct? Were you the only nurses who had gone over at that point?
When we arrived there were a couple of Red Cross ladies. But they were not army. We were certainly the first army women.

05:09:30:00

When did you first meet the other women you would be going with?
On the plane. No, wait a minute. I think they had drinks at Ingleburn the night before. They had drinks at Ingleburn the night before.

05:10:00:00

I had never met the other three girls at all before. We didn’t have much to do with each other that evening really. So it really wasn’t until we were on the plane that we found out about each other.
Where had the other three come from?
I don’t know. I think one had been up in Brisbane.

05:10:30:00

I don’t know.
You must have felt like an elite group?
We did. We just felt very happy with ourselves. I don’t know why I was selected but I was pretty pleased about it.

05:11:00:00

And the others were excited about going. When I saw we were on the plane…we must have had a couple of days…we were interviewed by the press. I don’t know where. We had our pictures taken and we were put in the papers…sisters going to Vietnam. So we had a bit …

05:11:30:00

We were on the news waving goodbye. So we must have met a couple of days before. We certainly didn’t know each other.
Tell us about your departure?
Well my family and folks were at the airport. A lot of my friends must have been there.

05:12:00:00

We bought some alcohol in our bag. Some of my friends bought me a couple of little statues of kangaroos and a koala. And they were gifts that I appreciated a lot when I got to Vietnam.

05:12:30:00

We really had no…they were the only ornaments that I had. And we were all waiting to be called. We were called on board and we all had to stand and wave for the camera at the top of the staircase. And in the aeroplane, first class. That seemed a pretty nice idea. We all sat very comfortably, and off we went.

05:13:00:00

How did you manage to get first-class flights?
I don’t know. As I said, if you’re in the army every thing is organised for you. That was quite nice. I don’t know if any of the other nurses went first class. We didn’t come first class home.

05:13:30:00

You went to Manila first. What were your impressions of that place?
Manic transport and beeping of horns and …actually we were a bit frightened there. We were told not to go down past the corner. So next day, I think, we were given a bit of a sightsee around Manila and then we

05:14:00:00

were off. I don’t think we were sorry to leave. I don’t think we were sorry to leave Manila. So anyway it was a bit of a rest over from the flight.
What was the security situation like? Who were you escorted by?
We

05:14:30:00

must have been met there by some military person. I don’t recall any…I know we were told not to go passed that corner, and we certainly didn’t.
Was there anyone else with you?
Than the four of us?

05:15:00:00

I think someone met us and picked us up again the next morning. I think we had our dinner in the hotel and we didn’t venture out too far.
Was the flight from Manila to Vietnam very different to the one that had taken you to Manila?
Very unmemorable after first-class Qantas. I don’t remember who was…I suppose civilians flew to Vietnam. I think it was Air France.

05:15:30:00

I think it was just an ordinary flight. I must say Tan Son Nhut was a spectacle in itself. It was the busiest airport in the world. There was a plane taking off every few seconds. You were seeing jets with parachutes

05:16:00:00

coming out on landing and sights you would probably…every complete sort of aircraft known to man was there and they were go, go, go. And coming into Saigon, you could be in the air for 30 minutes waiting for a spot to touch down…over and above the time from Vung Tau to Saigon.

05:16:30:00

I got to Saigon on a couple of occasions. The WAC head of corps, Dawn Jackson, came up for a visit. I don’t know if it was to see if it was suitable

05:17:00:00

for WAC personnel to have jobs in administration. I don’t know. Anyway she came up to check the situation and I was sent to Saigon to look after her for I think five days. Anyway I dressed myself up in my gloves and turned up and she got off the plane

05:17:30:00

and said, “What in the name of fame and fortune are you doing with gloves and stockings on?” And I said, “This is for your benefit Ma’am.” So she said, “For heavens sake take the gloves off, it’s making me feel sick.” She and I got on particularly well. I had a lovely time with her. She had someone coming to meet her and show her about and take her around,

05:18:00:00

do I just tagged along. She would phone me of a morning and say, “Are you awake?” “Yes.” “Have you got your feet on the floor?” “Nearly.” She said, “I don’t know who’s looking after who here but I’ve got a strong feeling it’s me looking after you.”
What was her name again?
Dawn Jackson.
We’ll come back to her in due course. What about the first time you set food in Tan Son Nhut?

05:18:30:00

And what were your other first impressions of this place?
Well, heat was the biggest and the fascination of all the aeroplanes and in the back of your mind you thought, “Where am I going to next?” But anyway we were met by one of the doctors from Vung Tau.

05:19:00:00

I hardly recall getting from Saigon to Nui Dat. I don’t think we were in Saigon terribly long. We got a Caribou flight over to Vung Tau. It was moderate shock horror, I think, when we saw the sand and the conditions, but we just pulled our sleeves up and got on with it. We thought, “Well, we’re here and there’s

05:19:30:00

a job to be done, so let’s get to it.” It wasn’t too traumatic. Particularly if you didn’t know what you were going to get. If you were expecting something fabulous and it’s not then you’re disappointed. If you don’t know what it is there’s not much disappointment. And everyone was very pleasant to us.

05:20:00:00

What sort of indications were there that you were entering a war zone?
Military uniforms, rifles, guards. The American jeeps everywhere. The noise of helicopters. I got my camera out

05:20:30:00

and I got my first role of film developed at the PX [Post Exchange – American canteen unit]. We had the dearest little Mamasan looking after us and she was anxious to see the photos. I lifted them up and I said, “Oh there’s a helicopter, Mamasan. There’s two helicopters. And there’s another helicopter a big truck. And there’s a different sort of helicopter.”

05:21:00:00

And I thought, “Cripes, aren’t these an interesting lot of photos?” I was shocked at how much impact it was. That was all I was snapping. So anyway, I had all these photos of aeroplanes. And the noise of them was

05:21:30:00

quite…they seemed to be hanging about and hovering, and then you’d hear bang…I never did understand what all the banging was. I don’t know if I asked anybody either. The people I did ask said they didn’t know.
So the

05:22:00:00

field ambulance was next to the airfield is that right?
Not far from the airfield.
What else was around in that area?
Just the beach and the sea. We used to swim. I certainly swam every day I was doing a broken shift. And

05:22:30:00

on days off you’d go down to the beach. Later, I don’t recall…there were sea snakes but we didn’t seem to take much notice of them. But we made friends with Vietnamese children. I don’t think there was any press, but there

05:23:00:00

was certainly word of mouth, and it was quite round Vung Tau that four army nursing sisters were coming. Of course, everyone assumed we were nuns because the Americans don’t call their trained nurses ‘sister’. They thought we were nuns. It was really quite a funny set of circumstances.

05:23:30:00

They didn’t know who we were. Anyway, the little kids took a great shine to us. I think another reason why, Margaret had flaming red hair. I don’t know if they had ever seen red hair before. So where ever we went you’d have little children flocking. Down the beach, I used to take my towel

05:24:00:00

and take my watch off. I would duck in and have a swim and the first time I came back, these children were all around my towel and they took my hand and smacked it and pointed at my watch as if to say, “Don’t leave the watch here.”

05:24:30:00

They were very quick to point out to me that I wasn’t allowed to leave any valuables. And they used to sell pineapples on a little stalk. They would peel the pineapple and then put the thing back on. If we

05:25:00:00

went into town we’d often meet these same little children. They’d rush up and greet us and it was all quite lovely.
What did they call you?
I don’t know. We only had a very strange set of speech. Anything that was good was number one and anything that was bad was number 10. And if anything was really wretched was wordy wees, 33. That was desperate. They were the

05:25:30:00

three biggest communication things with Vietnamese. Other than that it was pointing. Like leaving your watch was a wordy wee. Anything

05:26:00:00

bad was number 10 and anything good was one. So they’d point to you and say, “You’re number one.” And that was how I spoke to our mamasan for a year. It was amazing how much information you could get over to each other with…she’d talk about…Margaret in there. Colleen in there and the New Zealander. She

05:26:30:00

could tell you like that who she was talking about. She use to carry my radio around. I was telling you about these three ornaments I had. When we arrived we had a bed and we had a chest of drawers which were laminated and we had

05:27:00:00

a wardrobe. That was in our space. So I put the ornaments up on the chest of drawers. When we were in the markets we bought a grass mat. So I put the mat down on the floor and put the ornaments up. Mamasan would come in and roll up the mat and put it in the corner. Ornaments all laid down. And then I’d come

05:27:30:00

back in and put the mat back down and pick up the ornaments. This went on for a year I suppose. She hated the mat on the floor and she had some sort of religion that was about animals. And the animals weren’t allowed to stand up.

05:28:00:00

But anyway, she used to use my radio. I’d come home and change the radio over to an American station, and I’d say…number one. So we used to have rows about what we were going to listen to. She used to say that

05:28:30:00

Australia was Uc Da Loi. And if you were going anywhere, like I went to Saigon for those few days on R&R, if you got your suitcase down, she would weep. And I used to kill myself laughing because rather than tears welling, she didn’t have any, and the tears would just roll down.

05:29:00:00

I could never quite get over how so many tears could come down without welling up. But we became very…I used to come home from work and she’d see you coming up over the hill and she’s absolutely run and throw her arms around you and swing on you. I would have to cover myself up to get ready for the onslaught.

05:29:30:00

So we got terribly fond of each other. I don’t quite know what her duties were but she used to sweep out the place. I don’t know if you made our bed. She seemed to be busy. She

05:30:00:00

didn’t do our uniforms. We got an electric washing machine. She had never seen a washing machine. And they’re pretty well hairless, the women. I used to shave my legs and she’d sit and laugh and laugh and laugh. She was huge

05:30:30:00

amounts of fun. She wanted to come home with us. She used to come with bruises. I don’t know how I found out, but if you had a headache, they would squeeze their skin…pressure points.

05:31:00:00

That would be their cure. Anyway, she used to do a good job. She would bruise herself. She was much happiness.
Where did she live?
She lived in Vung Tau. I don’t know how she got to work or got home. But there was a big group of them worked in the compound.

05:31:30:00

In the logistics area. Some of them worked up in the mess, someone of them worked…all over. So there was quite a group who came.
How was compound defended or separated from the surrounding area?

05:32:00:00

We were all on this very large expanse of beach and there was …..where all the supplies are. And then there was where they did all the mechanical repairs. And then there was transport, the area command mess…

05:32:30:00

but it was a pretty big area really.
Was it wired in?
There was some sort of perimeter there but we seemed to come in and go out in transport without much

05:33:00:00

trouble. Can’t remember.
How far away was the village proper or the town of Vung Tau?
About 10 minutes in a jeep. It was a little way out but not far. Yes, so they had…Vung Tau was a resort for the French,

05:33:30:00

and they had really some quite…I won’t say stunning, but particularly nice buildings where the American bachelor officer quarters were. They were particularly nice buildings. We became quite

05:34:00:00

friendly with some of the Americans and we used to go over to their officer quarters and have drinks. They had restaurants in their bachelor quarters. It would have been a particular lovely place

05:34:30:00

before the war when the French had it for a holiday resort. They had markets. I had my hair done in a salon a couple of times. All the giggling girls. They thought it was a bit absurd, me being in there, I think.

05:35:00:00

What was the first thing you had to do when you arrived in Vung Tau in the compound?
Well, I think after settling our things in our accommodation and having a look at the hospital proper, we went up to ALSG [Australian Logistics Support Group Base] Headquarters and met the commandant. I think we probably had drinks

05:35:30:00

at the mess and then we were for it. And we were taken up to be shown Nui Dat where the battalions were. We had an overnight stay at the Big Red One, whatever that is. Some American group

05:36:00:00

picked us up in a helicopter and took us a long way away. We had an overnight stay there, which was nearly memorable. I really don’t know who the Big Red One was or how we came to get there. So we had a few little bits of…that’s all we saw of Vietnam, really.

05:36:30:00

What orientation were you given when you arrived about what was happening on the ground and what you would be doing?
None. We just worked it out for ourselves. Nobody told us what the…to be quite honest, I don’t know if anyone else knew what anyone else was doing. We were all just stumbling along doing our own jobs. There was

05:37:00:00

no chatting about…unless other people knew. Nobody ever told me and I never asked.
Before the four of you arrived who was in charge of the field ambulance?
Well, they had a

05:37:30:00

particularly competent surgeon who was a CMF from Brisbane. They had a very senior physician from Adelaide. They had a specialised anaesthetists and they probably had half a dozen medical officers. So they had a huge job and

05:38:00:00

I think it was them who said they really needed some nursing staff to help organise things. But they all did it on their own pretty well with the help of untrained medics. I think a serious things when to the American hospital

05:38:30:00

because they had a hug …so a lot of very serious things went to the Americans. One boy came over from 36 Evac [Evacuation Unit] and I said, “How did you get on over at that American hospital?” And he said, “All right, however when I arrived I said, ‘Thanks very much sister.’” And she said, “I’m not your sister, brother.” I said, “I don’t think they call their nurses ‘sister’.” And he said, “Yeah, I’ve found that out.”

05:39:00:00

Who showed you the ropes. Who got you up to speed on what was happening?

05:39:30:00

Well, the doctors said, “This is how it is, if you can improve it, go for your lives.” There really wasn’t much…Amy had huge amounts of decisions to make. I didn’t envy her. She was the boss. She had to make the rules. It was a very, very big ask. We were very lucky how competent she was. It’s amazing how quiet competent people can get a job done with no ripples, and nobody really realises who the boss is. I’ve found that quite often in my experience. Some bosses can just…if everyone is terribly aware who the boss is, they’re not as good as they may seem.
Interviewee: Terrie Ross Archive ID 1748 Tape 06

06:00:42:00

Now just coming to the hospital at Vung Tau. When did you actually start working with patients?
Well I imagine from day one. When we got there, there were all the patients and all the pills.

06:01:00:00

We pretty quickly got down to medication lists and rosters and it all went from there. We just took over and sorted everyone out, all their documentation and got it all in order.
Who was doing the job before you got there?
The medics.

06:01:30:00

And no doubt…the doctors were terribly overworked. So it took a great responsibility away from them…whether this patient was getting his antibiotics or getting his medication. If he wasn’t on the ball and asked for it, I imagine he

06:02:00:00

could have gone without. But it all seemed to work. I certainly wasn’t experienced or equipped in my mind to be there, but later I asked myself, “Who was?” Not that many nurses in Australia were aware of malaria, shrapnel wounds. So it was

06:02:30:00

learn as you go, basically. I don’t know whether anyone would have been equipped. You had basic nursing training behind you and you learnt pretty quickly.
Was there an initial shock for you and the other nurses with the trauma wounds?
I imagine so. But

06:03:00:00

I feel you took every day as it came. You sort of said, “Oh dear!” But there was a job to be done, so let’s get it done. You really couldn’t let shock come into it. But no doubt there was. The worst person that I looked after…

06:03:30:00

there was a big skirmish and we had quite a lot of casualties. And the worst one…he came in last because he was the sergeant and he had insisted that everyone else be looked after. He had lost an eye and a leg, and how he survived I do not know. But he was that brave. And I recall saying to him,

06:04:00:00

“You must have a rest. Close your eyes and go to sleep.” And he said, “No, I can’t. I won’t wake up if I go to sleep.” I said, “I promise you you’ll wake up.” So he said, “Ok, I’ll go to sleep if you stay here while I’m asleep.” So I said, “Very well.” But that was a bit inconvenient. I did stay until he opened his eyes, which wasn’t that terribly long.

06:04:30:00

He sticks in my mind a lot. And when I found some old letters, I found a letter from him that he posted from Adelaide when he got home to tell me what had been going on. I had quite forgotten that for 30 years.

06:05:00:00

Were these men not just suffering from physical trauma but also from emotional trauma?
No doubt they were, but they were very stoic and they were very good to each other. You know, they were marvellous mates and friends. Their friends turned up to see them and just next to each other, they were very, very supportive of each other.

06:05:30:00

Something you don’t really see…I suppose it happens, but they were particularly supportive. And that I think helped them a lot.
You mentioned earlier that back home in Australia that you and the other nurses hadn’t really dealt with shrapnel and malaria and other sorts of things. Was there an education process

06:06:00:00

given to you while you were there?
No. The thing is if you came up for a meal and you got up to the medical ward, you’d have a look down and you’d see four or five boys with blankets on, and you’d think, “Right they’ve spiked.” Malaria, they spike temperatures. So you go and take their temperatures and give them a sponge and

06:06:30:00

get their temp down. But after a while you could just tell. So it was just a learning curve really. And the boys kept an eye on each other as well. So if you weren’t hovering about, someone would let you know that they didn’t think all was well there. And it all worked.

06:07:00:00

You wonder how things worked. It looked such a hickledy pickledy. They all got better. So by gosh, or by gum, it all seemed to work out.
But in respect to replacing the dressing on someone who had lost a leg or an arm, was that all new to you

06:07:30:00

or did you know exactly what to do?
It was just a basic dressing. A dressing is a dressing, which we’d been taught to do. That wasn’t a problem. Supplies weren’t that easy. The nurse in the theatre really liked to keep her eye on her stock because

06:08:00:00

it was very limited. And I would go over and say, “Can I borrow a pair of scissors,” and she’d say, “No.” So I’d come back and my sergeant would say to me, “Don’t you worry sister, anything you want you just ask me.” And he used to go to her, “Sergeant,” and I got whatever I wanted little known to her. There was a bit of devious business that went on.

06:08:30:00

What was the drill if a patient suddenly came on the verge of death and you realised that at the time?
The doctors were all on hand. We would shout out. They were very competent and supportive.

06:09:00:00

Nobody died in the hospital while I was there. Dead on arrivals were a completely different kettle of fish. But nobody actually died while we were looking after them. And it was a fact I believe that a casualty in the war zone got to medical help before an accident victim in Sydney was relayed to a major hospital.

06:09:30:00

No, that in itself is quite extraordinary, isn’t it?
Were there cases that you remember where you had to call on a doctor to help you?
If I was worried I would certainly call him, yes.
Can you give me an example?
No. But I know I would give a hoy if I thought things weren’t going well.

06:10:00:00

They would come and check and change. But no I can’t give you an example. You’d just call out and say, “Would you come and see to this.” They were there very quickly.
What, in the broader scheme of things,

06:10:30:00

did your care entail? You mention staying awake with this sergeant so he could sleep, what other sort of strange things?
Well, it’s terribly, terribly hard to explain. I say I was in charge of the intensive care. But there was no way known that I could be there every day, eight hours. So when I was on night duty…it

06:11:00:00

was shared. When I was doing a broken shift, I would come on at seven…but I might have to keep an eye on the medical ward because that person would be going off at midday and between us there was a lot of sharing. Any problem you had, you would let someone know to please keep an eye specifically on so and so.

06:11:30:00

But we weren’t there every minute of the day like you would be if you were in charge of a ward at home. You would be there for your eight-hour shift. So there was a lot of sharing of duties. And really the sergeants became very responsible

06:12:00:00

and you could leave your ward to your sergeant. If he had any problems, he’d call out for sister over in the other ward. So we did a lot of rotating a bit. We didn’t do an evening. We did a broken shift. And someone had to be on night duty. So there was a lot of sharing of duties.

06:12:30:00

Could you just talk me through the various staff there. You’ve touched on yourselves. Could you just explain who’s actually there at the hospital and working.
Well take the intensive care for example. There was me who was basically in charge. Then the sergeant. Well he spent his whole time…so he

06:13:00:00

was pretty knowledge about the patient and their treatment. And then we probably had four or five medics that were stationed in that. They didn’t rotate. So they got a feel for what was happening and could do lots of things. And I think those same orderlies stayed in those wards. So there

06:13:30:00

was a continuous thing of at least some people in the same area. The nurses were the ones shifting about. So that all seemed to work. So there was only the orderlies and the sergeant and the sister. And everyone…all the patients…everyone was on everyone’s side.

06:14:00:00

And that’s a big help isn’t it.
And who were some of the characters that you worked with?
Meaning personality-wise? Well, they all had a huge sense of humour. There was lots of laughs of a day with…yes, the most…the harder

06:14:30:00

the time the more acute the sense of humour seemed to be. I think Australians are quite adept at using their sense of humour and it certainly came out there. I remember one boy came from somewhere in Western Australia. I can’t just think of the name of the town, but at the time there was a bit of…

06:15:00:00

whatever the name of the town was, it was called ‘sin city’. So the boy got heaps about his home town being sin city. Pretty lame, but everyone thought that was hilarious. You do laugh at things that aren’t quite as funny…that’s a poor example.

06:15:30:00

It was that sort of environment.
Who were the difficult people you had to work with?
Well, there’s human nature in the nicest of us. We are all pretty difficult at some stage. I was just reminded of a story that’s just come out. One

06:16:00:00

of the sisters…I was going on night duty and in the hall in front of my…we had a bit of a washing rope with a pair of stockings pegged on it. And I thought, “Isn’t Mamasan marvellous? She’s washed my pantyhose.” So into the pantyhose and I go to work and the next morning I’m met by a red headed lady snorting fire.

06:16:30:00

I’d taken her stockings. She gave me a terrible telling off over a retched pair of stockings. She recounted that story herself, which I thought was quite funny. I do remember it very well. So we could all be difficult if the mood struck and if we were tired. But on

06:17:00:00

the whole everyone was pretty easy.
And what was the hardest thing in respect to Vietnam conditions?
I suppose the long hours. A minimum of 60 hours a week.

06:17:30:00

That’s very long in hot conditions. But we were young. It’s amazing. Youth’s an amazing thing. And you adapted quite well, but I think that was probably the hardest thing. The long hours in the heat. More so than the…

06:18:00:00

any difficult situation you just seemed to get over and get on with things. So it all just became a daily routine.
And who were some of your more memorable patients?
Alex was indeed the most…we had another lad who I often think of – he had mumps and a bit of meningitis, so he was terribly ill. He was hallucinating.

06:18:30:00

He came from up near Newcastle somewhere. He used to chat to his friend who was up in the ceiling.

06:19:00:00

You’d come in and he’d say, “Ssshh,” and then when you went, he’d say, “She’s gone.” He used to have wonderful chats to his imaginary mate. The boys were…in intensive care. You came out of theatre and the very badly wounded

06:19:30:00

went home every second Tuesday on medivac [medical evacuation]. The air force came up and took them away, so you really have serious ill people for longer than 14 days. So that took a lot of strain off. And as they were leaving they would often give you a gift of some perfume.

06:20:00:00

And another nice thing. Sometimes they’d open their eyes and they would be from Singleton Training Battalion and they’d say, “I know you.” So that used to be quite good. You got very small pleasures. But

06:20:30:00

anyone they were wonderful, wonderful boys. I don’t know how or why, but they were wonderful.
What was the Red Cross’s role with you?
The Red Cross shared quarters with us. Before we came, I think they lived in Vung Tau, but when our

06:21:00:00

quarters went up…yes, they still lived in Vung Tau while we were still there. There was no accommodation. They did messages for the boys. If they wanted to write home or something. If they had a problem. I don’t really know what they did.

06:21:30:00

But they seemed to be fairly busy. We didn’t have huge amounts to do with them. We saw them socially a bit in passing. Dear little Mott, who was our prisoner of war orphan. They used to take him to school. He used to go to school early in the morning and come home at lunch time and have a rest and then back in the afternoon until the evening.

06:22:00:00

Well, they were pretty wonderful to him. They sorted him out. He was a dear little boy. He would find you when you were on night duty for a cuddle. So we got to love him. From somewhere above it was decided he wasn’t to be living there any more

06:22:30:00

and they bundled him and his toys up and sent him to an orphanage, never to heard of again. I said to the Red Cross years after if they could have tracked him down. I think they tried hard with no success.
Were the Red Cross giving you supplies at all?
No, I don’t think so. No I don’t think so. They seemed to be

06:23:00:00

their own…I should no better what they did but I don’t. They minded their business and we minded ours, and we were all very pleasant to each other. One of girls in particular is still a very good friend.

06:23:30:00

But anyway they did a good job.
Why were they there?
I suppose to help the soldiers. I don’t know. They seemed to be always busy running about.

06:24:00:00

I never stopped to ask them.
You mentioned earlier that some of the wounded men would help the other wounded men if you guys weren’t around or nearby, do you remember an instance where that actually occurred?
No not so much in the nursing sense. But morale boosting and companionship. If you’re in a bed next to someone,

06:24:30:00

then that’s their business and yours is yours. Your welfare was as much part of the crowd as the other bloke. So they were just very supportive of each other. We had one boy arrive with his tracker dog.

06:25:00:00

The tracker dog turned up with fees that went to admin for his feeding and he was treated exactly the same as the soldier as far as admin was concerned. He used to sniff out the mines. His handler said he saved that many lives…and the handler asked if the dog could come in.

06:25:30:00

We said, “Well the dog’s really not allowed in the ward but I’ll bring him in to show him where you are and then tie him up outside the door.” So he said, “Surely you could find some sort of hootchie outside where we could both be together.” His love for the dog was just lovely. I was very pleased to see the tracker dogs get a memorial

06:26:00:00

up in Queensland somewhere. I must go up and see it one day.
What had happened to the man. Had he trodden on a land mine or been shot?
He must have got some shrapnel from some explosion. But it wasn’t life threatening.
Did you come across fellas

06:26:30:00

who had done self-inflicted wounds?
They were the most difficult…they really weren’t self inflicted, more accidental. Like throwing kero [kerosene] into a choofer [fire] or something and being burnt. Wounded with their own gun.

06:27:00:00

They were probably not as easy to cope with as the others – something tells me that in the back of my mind.
Could you go back there and find out what it was?
It’s a long time ago. You should have come 20 years ago when I had a bit of memory. You shut a lot of it out, too. When I came home

06:27:30:00

and got out of the army, I thought, “I’ve got a new life to get on with now.” I had children. I had a business. And I thought, “This is where I go now. Into this new phase.” So you tend to shut all that out.
But these fellas were they difficult to deal with because of the way they related

06:28:00:00

to you? Because of the injury itself?
I just recall…I suppose they had a feeling of…remorse because it was an accident, it wasn’t the enemy. They were just…I just didn’t feel they were quite as stoic as the person who…I might be wrong.

06:28:30:00

I just felt they were a bit more withdrawn and seemed to be sadder.
But had you come across fellas who had shot themselves in the foot?
No, not to my knowledge. I don’t think so.

06:29:00:00

I don’t recall any self injuries. What, you think they might have got sent home? I don’t think so. It would have been a very one-off if it did happen.

06:29:30:00

Sounds like a good idea.
Did you deal with or try and treat any of the enemy?
Yes. Not many. We had one dear little lady come…I don’t really know what her injuries were but she wasn’t in a very good state. I must say,

06:30:00:00

the soldiers who were patients were very hostile. I felt particularly sad for her and I put myself in her place, and how terrified you would be being Vietnamese in an alien situation with an alien language. So I used to put a bit of lippy on her and give her a smoke.

06:30:30:00

Any prisoners of war that we had, the Koreans used to take and shoot, so why we bothered spending the money and the time fixing them up was pretty futile. But we used to hear…I suppose they got what information they could out of them. It was pretty awful.

06:31:00:00

Was that a rumour that went around? That they shot them?
I suppose it was a rumour, but it came from moderately good sources. I believed it.
What about the locals? Did you treat them?
No, we had nothing to do with the locals. The only thing…and the only person I had anything

06:31:30:00

to do with was my little mamas an, who I loved dearly. I would have liked to have taken her home. I would love to know what happened to her. I don’t know.
You didn’t treat the locals because there was no time or you were ordered not to?
Yes. We were there only for Australian and New Zealand soldiers. How the

06:32:00:00

prisoners of war turned up, I don’t know, but they were very few and far between. Yes, there were civilian nurses from Australia up in the local hospitals. We had a couple of social events with them but we had nothing to do with them. They were civilians there. I think they did six month stints. But

06:32:30:00

they were volunteers as opposed to army postings.
When you first arrived, how did the men treat your arrival?
Well the medics were very sceptical, especially the senior one. His authority was going to be undermined. So they didn’t

06:33:00:00

quite know how it was all going to turn out. Four women turning up and being the bosses. But it didn’t take them very long to come round. So they were resentful at the beginning. The younger private soldiers were – “We’ll see what happens.”

06:33:30:00

Was it the fact that you were women?
Probably. And see, they hadn’t had much to do with hospitals or nurses. So it was quite reasonable that they were apprehensive about change and the quality of their life. It was quite understandable that they would be a bit concerned.

06:34:00:00

But it all worked out well.
Was it difficult to break into a very male-dominated domain?
No. The soldiers didn’t look at you as a female as such. One boy said to me, “You know Sister, I haven’t seen a woman for three months.” He wasn’t considering me or the other girls or the Red Cross as women at all. We

06:34:30:00

were just part of the war. So I don’t think they looked on as…they loved us wearing our uniforms, veils. I arrived in jungle greens one day and there were noises of horror.

06:35:00:00

They were displeased at us being dressed up in jungle greens, and they let us know.
They wanted you to at least look like women even if…
Yes. I don’t know why. But the veil and the uniform gave them a bit of comfort some how or another.

06:35:30:00

I don’t know why. But I was a bit sad to see the uniform and veil go from the Nursing Corps. It did give the soldiers a bit of…more their mother attending…just a bit of comfort for some reason or another. Rather than a person dressed in green like everybody else.

06:36:00:00

Does that sound silly?
Were their times when you felt afraid and that you felt in danger?
Not really. The only time I felt…I can’t say frightened, but probably apprehensive…I was apprehensive in Saigon when I went there for a week

06:36:30:00

with the WAC chief. Anything could…it was a bit like the terrorist situation really. The Viet Cong were paid safety things [protection money]…if this restaurant were behind in their things, they’d just whip in a land mine and blow them up. So I felt a bit apprehensive about that.

06:37:00:00

The only other time I was a bit sceptical was…the soldiers in our unit carried firearms but there was no ammunition in them, except for the Tet Offensive, they gave them ammunition. That was a bit frightening because these boys had some bullets.

06:37:30:00

And they weren’t really trained. They might trip over or something. That was a worry. So I thought the live ammunition was a bit dangerous. But that didn’t last that long.

06:38:00:00

Were you girls given any weapon training?
No. Never held a weapon. It wasn’t in the equation at all.
There’s a photo in the Women’s Weekly [magazine] of you and I think a lieutenant of a mortar platoon and he was explaining the mortar. What was happening there?

06:38:30:00

We were taken around to be shown the civil action mob. I don’t quite know where we were, but we were given tours and he must have been showing us around. I’m not a very good listener really of things I’m not interested in. I don’t know a lot about it, but they did in fact give us a shot out of gun.

06:39:00:00

It terrified me. It nearly shot my shoulder off and I swore never to fire a gun again. That was the only time and I think I swivelled around and frightened the person that was showing me. I don’t know how that came to pass. It sounds a one-off thing.

06:39:30:00

I suppose we were the first there and the hospital had run without for so long that they thought they would give us a few trips before we really got into the nitty gritty of it all. That could have even been up at Nui Dat when we went up there to see where the battalions were.

06:40:00:00

We weren’t in that situation much at all.
So you were shown round a few places?
I don’t know if that actually happened to the next groups of people because by then the hospital was a going concern. So this was very early days.

06:40:30:00

You think what were the four of us doing away, but it would have been before we got right down to tin tacks.
Interviewee: Terrie Ross Archive ID 1748 Tape 07

07:00:42:00

Can you tell us more about this POW [Prisoner of War] woman that you cared for?
No, and I wish I could. And in fact I was speaking to my friend Amy about the book and she was asking me whether I remember what injuries she had. And I said I had no idea.

07:01:00:00

I wonder what she was doing there. We obviously operated on her and Margaret recalls that she lost a foot.

07:01:30:00

But no, I just remember looking after her for a brief time. She wasn’t there for much more than 48 hours and someone came and collected her.
You said she didn’t get a very good reaction from the soldiers?
No, they were very vexed that I was giving her cigarettes and being particularly…

07:02:00:00

I hadn’t been out on a patrol and been frightened by the Vietnamese. But I could understand their sentiments, but I told them I was only looking at it from if it was me. See, we were the enemy to her, weren’t we? But anyway, they…

07:02:30:00

it was all like, “I’d like to get my hands on her,” and that sort of thing. Out of character from their normal wonderful personalities. They weren’t pleased.
Was it a common reaction from the men in the hospital to feel hatred towards the enemy?
If it was brought up, I think so. If I shot you, you wouldn’t be too keen on me would you. It was quite

07:03:00:00

understandable, and I think they probably had to build themselves up to that mentality. Yes, there was no love lost.
When you saw men come in with serious wounds, did that rub off on you a bit? The hatred towards those who were doing it?
No.

07:03:30:00

No, it didn’t enter my head. It was just rotten bad luck that you were there at the wrong place at the wrong time. That was my feeling.
Did you have a view developed at any time about whether this war was right or wrong?
Never, no. Never thought about it. I had no idea. I felt

07:04:00:00

vicious about the protesters, I must say. I felt vicious, most for national service. They didn’t put up their hands to go, to be in the army. And their feelings towards whether it was a proper war or not wasn’t in the equation at all. So I thought it was pretty rotten of people…unpleasant to them when they got home.

07:04:30:00

They got a pretty poor…they were brought home mostly at 11 o’clock at night. There was very little army representation there to say ‘welcome home’ or anything. I think that was an outrage. But anyway it’s over now. But a great shame. Amy Pittentry arrived home on a Wednesday afternoon, which was probably sport afternoon.

07:05:00:00

No representation there for those boys…“We’re all glad you’re home. You’ve done a good job.” Nothing.
What did you know about the way the war was being reported in the media?

07:05:30:00

Very little. It wasn’t until I came home…I was there in the early days and I ignored it in my own mind. They sort of turned a bit, didn’t they, from acceptance. When the national service started to go, I think that the media turned a bit savage.

07:06:00:00

The media were quite thick on the ground. It was called ‘the television war’ and there was a lot of reporting going on. What did you see of the media while you were in Vietnam?
Very little. I hardly remember television. I don’t know if we had a television.

07:06:30:00

Not of the reports themselves but of the reporters gathering the information?
I didn’t see that many of them. I had very little to do with them and they would probably have been up at what they called the ‘sharp end’.

07:07:00:00

It can be a one-way street with reporting, can’t it? They show what they want and not all sides of it. But I had very little thoughts about that.
What about the article that was written about you four nurses?

07:07:30:00

There was a non-army personnel, Denis Gibbons that wrote a lot about us. He took a lot of photos of us. He was very good to us. He showed us about. He was probably the most informative person that we met.

07:08:00:00

He was given us a bit of a run down about how the land lay. He was in Vietnam nearly all the war. When he came home he did a PhD [Doctor of Philosophy] on something like bees. He was a very interesting person. But he did a tremendous amount of the press

07:08:30:00

that we got.
Where did you first meet him?
He came and introduced himself pretty well as soon as we arrived. And he did take us under his wing a bit. I found him very, very helpful. He was very nice to us.
Did you know what sort of article he was writing about you?

07:09:00:00

No. But he must have shown us. And goodness only knows the photos he has. He’d have an extraordinary thing of photos because he was there for a long, long time.

07:09:30:00

I don’t know what he told us about. He, I think he told us he was doing it for the Woman’s Day [magazine]. But nearly all the photos of us came from Denis.
That article was quite successful when you came back to Australia. You mentioned before that it inspired some other women to…
Well, I went to a 20 years on anniversary

07:10:00:00

and one of the nurses who I had never met before said, “Why I joined the army was as a result of the article Denis Gibbon’s had put in the Woman’s Day that you were represented in.” Fancy that. She said to herself that she would like to do that, so she made some inquiries and finished up going herself.

07:10:30:00

The other prisoner of war was a child called Mott. You didn’t tell us much about him. Could you tell us a bit more about what his situation was?
Dear little Mott was about eight or nine and he was carrying ammunition for his mother and father. The Australians killed

07:11:00:00

the mother and father and they brought Mott back to us. He was terribly anaemic and he was terribly ill. Gosh, he was in very poor shape. They worked on him medically and in a little while he was back to scratch. He lived

07:11:30:00

in the medical ward in about the second bed down. And the soldiers were wonderful to him. They brought him toys and played with him and they made up their own language. He was very happy. And then that first lot of soldiers were discharged and he cried and then the next lot that came were just as nice to him

07:12:00:00

and he really made 8th Field Ambulance his home. Everybody loved him, and in fact he was a bit spoilt if anything in the finish. Word came from Saigon that he wasn’t to stay with us anymore and he was packed off to an orphanage never to be seen of or heard of again. But we

07:12:30:00

all loved him very dearly.
What was the parting like when he moved away?
I think we all went and hid. The Red Cross organised all that. We just had a heard little weep I think. We were worried out the situation he was going to.

07:13:00:00

But we had no say in any of it so we just had to wear it.
You mentioned the person who was most influential in getting the field ambulance in shape was the commanding nurse, Amy. Could you tell us more about her as a person and why she was so

07:13:30:00

influential?
She was quite person. I had never met Amy before but she had an unflappable personality. She took everything in her stride, evaluated it and then quietly fixed it up. She never had to stamp or jump up and down. But she quietly…she had been in the army

07:14:00:00

for quite a number of years, and her nursing skills were very good. She had theatre training and admin experience. She would approach the admin staff very calmly and I think you can often get your own way easier if you go quietly, slowly, slowly catch the monkey was a bit way of working things

07:14:30:00

out. She did very well.
What sort of personality was she outside work?
Quiet. Very quiet. Quietly fun. She could tell…

07:15:00:00

You could go to her and tell her what you thought. We mixed socially. I just felt very lucky that she was the person who was my boss.
Was she someone you could confide your troubles to?
Absolutely. She took on board all your worries.
What sort of worries did you take to her?

07:15:30:00

It was mostly sharing worries. They weren’t real worries. Just day-to-day problems.

07:16:00:00

And I think it was her business to know all that was happening. She went along with anything. She was very good.
Were you or the other nurses home sick while you were in Vietnam?
No doubt. Yes. We had our moments of homesickness. But

07:16:30:00

we were probably too busy to self indulge in it really. They were just passing concerns for home. It would have been terrible if any awful to any of your family, I think.

07:17:00:00

But on the whole, we managed without many…we all got homesick at times.
Was there anything that you missed about home more than anything else?
My comfortable bed. My sister and Mum and Dad.

07:17:30:00

That mostly, and it would have been nice to go down to the regular shops at odd times. But you didn’t give it that much thought really. Everything you really needed was down at the PX. Even little bits of luxuries were all available, so we weren’t that badly done by.

07:18:00:00

What were the biggest luxuries that you could get at the PX?
You could buy perfume, shampoos and soaps and any photography things that you wanted. The PX was pretty…most things

07:18:30:00

you were in need of were available.
What about mail from home? What was the system like there?
Good. I got huge amounts of mail. We all had tape recorders, Akai. But that was a wonderful source of information from home. It was a lot quicker than writing.

07:19:00:00

You might 10 minutes in today and another 10 tomorrow. So you could send home a tape and keep people up with everything. I got letters from people…I’ve found letters from…and I think, “Fancy that! Fancy them writing,” and, “Wasn’t that interesting?” I was going to be a bridesmaid

07:19:30:00

before I left and of course I missed the wedding. But you could send a telegram home and it had to be a group of words…‘thinking of you’. You had to write this telegram up from all these sentences. So you could write nearly a page: “Thinking of you at this time,” “I hope you’re happy and well.” And you’d put number

07:20:00:00

15 and six, and off it would go. So sometimes they would sound a bit funny. But it was an excellent…if someone was having a birthday you could send them a telegram.
What other things were you able to receive in the mail?

07:20:30:00

Oh, Margaret Ahern had a friend who used to send her some exotic foods and savoury biscuits and olives. We were always pleased when her friend came to the party with nice stuff. So you might write home and ask for suppos stockings.

07:21:00:00

You didn’t write home for much, because as I said there was quite a lot available there. But sometimes you might want suppos or bits and pieces. There were strikes at odd times apparently, but we weren’t ever bothered by a strike. And of course mail time was much sought after. Getting the mail was wonderful.

07:21:30:00

Do you still have any of those tapes?
No, I think I probably got rid of them when technology got so much better. That’s a great shame really.
You mentioned when you first arrived you needed to buy clothes because you hadn’t brought any civilian clothes.
We finished up with some terribly funny clothes.

07:22:00:00

Can you tell us about them and the markets you bought them at?
It’s a pretty hazy sort of business. We had to have long sleeves because of the mosquito would come out after five o’clock. But I recall having fabric like curtain material.

07:22:30:00

I used to think I looked funny. But we went to Hong Kong and we had wardrobes of clothes made up while we were there. I can’t really recall how we…I must ask Amy how we managed all the clothes. There must have been a dressmaker there or something.

07:23:00:00

But they weren’t terribly glamorous clothes, as I recall. But at least they were out of uniform and they were very happy.
Were there other things you could buy in the markets at Vung Tau?
You certainly wouldn’t want to buy your meat there. It was very hot and you’d see this meat sitting out on the pavement, which would make you shudder a bit.

07:23:30:00

But then they’d be fruit and vegetables. They had…we were forbidden…Hepatitis Rolls. We were forbidden to buy their rolls and take-away sort of food. They called them Hepatitis Rolls, so we weren’t allowed to partake of those. So it was really

07:24:00:00

just food and any other artefacts…you wouldn’t say, “I would like to buy that.” So it was just really browsing. A bit smelly there, too. But in the middle of it there would be a hairdresser. We didn’t spend a lot of time at the markets.

07:24:30:00

You mentioned getting your hair done in the salon on one occasion and it being quite an interesting sight for the locals.
Well, all the people in the salon were giggling. You’d say, roll it up and cut it…you couldn’t speak the language and they’d be giggling. But they did quite a good job. I think I only went a couple of times.

07:25:00:00

What other things would you do in Vung Tau itself?
There was…as I mentioned, there were very nice bachelor officer quarters. So we became very good friends with some of them. One particular officer was a Captain Bill Farmer.

07:25:30:00

We really didn’t keep in contact but we did get a letter from him saying that, “The Americans are allowed one mistake, they’ve made me a general.” And we thought, “Cripes, Bill’s come up in the world.” And he, only a couple of years ago, the telephone went one Saturday morning and it was Bill Farmer, and I said, “Not the Bill Farmer, surely?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said,

07:26:00:00

“Where are you?” and he said he was at the hotel in Canberra. And I said, “Do you want a bit of a rest before we come and get you?” So he came and stayed with us for a couple of …and he was telling us he was in charge of logistics in that last big war…
The Kosovo War?
Yes,

07:26:30:00

and he was in charge of all the Americans, eating, hair cuts. And they had invited him to Australia to talk about contracts because they were saying what a terribly thing it was that the catering corps had gone out of the army. He said, “It’s not really. You can get a ship offshore with caterers and contract them and there’s no paying long-service leave.” They could do all the catering.

07:27:00:00

That’s the new way the world is going. It’s sad to me, but I suppose progress has to happen.
Back to Vietnam – were you encouraged to not to see officers after dark? Were there rules about what the nurses could and couldn’t do?
No. I met

07:27:30:00

my husband in Vietnam. I couldn’t say it was love at first sight. I wasn’t that terribly attracted to him. I thought he was a bit of a show-off. But anyway, he must have pursued me. We used to go out for dinner. Go over and visit these American friends.

07:28:00:00

Amy might come with us sometimes. Margaret made very nice friends amongst the Americans and they would invite us there. She became friends with pilots. Cripes, you could get a ride anywhere around the country.

07:28:30:00

So we certainly had our fun times. It wasn’t all hard yakka [hard work]. There were some very pleasant evenings. So yes, we had a very nice social time.
Were you ever in danger or encouraged to think about your own safety with the Australian and American troops on R&R?

07:29:00:00

No, I never felt in danger.
You were a rare commodity, I imagine, the white women around in that area?
You’d think that wouldn’t you, but that really wasn’t the case. Every one had their own lives

07:29:30:00

and we just slotted in. It wasn’t an issue at all being the only women about. Everyone was pleasant to us and we were pleasant back. But it wasn’t an issue being ‘limited’ women, really.
Were you able to socialise with the other women who might have been in the area?

07:30:00:00

Nuns, for example, that may have been working…
The only women we were aware of were from the American hospital and the civilian nurses. They invited us over and a few of us went over – some of the male officers and us. And I remember

07:30:30:00

being moderately intoxicated…I think I said, “I would have something and orange.” Their supplies of orange juice were very limited so I was getting that much alcohol and that much orange juice. I remember on the way home we must have gone into a BOQ [Bachelors Officers’ Quarters]and they must have had a band or something.

07:31:00:00

And someone said to me at breakfast what did I think of it and I said, “I wasn’t at the BO
” And they said, “Yes you were, you were sitting next to me.” So that a bit of a story in itself – but it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t go back over to the civilian nurses.
You told us off camera of one story about going to the Badcoe Club [Peter Badcoe Club – soldiers’ club in Vietnam],

07:31:30:00

the Australian recreation club down there?
Well, I did go to the Badcoe Club. I don’t know if officers were that welcome there. But anyway, my sergeant and corporal…one was having a birthday and the other one was being posted. So I said, because it was such a big event, “We must go out and have a drink.”

07:32:00:00

So off we go and I had more drinks than I really should have and we got home safe and sound and the next morning when I went to work my sergeant pretended that he had read the roster wrong in case I was very late. The corporal said, “He hadn’t read the roster wrong. He just thought you might have been running very late.” And I thought what a nice sergeant he was.

07:32:30:00

Can you tell us a bit more about your working relationship with your corporal and sergeant? What they meant to you?
Well, I looked on them as really part of my family. I was as fond of them as I would have been of a brother had I had one. But that’s my feeling towards them. And the medics

07:33:00:00

that worked in my area. We all worked very closely together and we were just like family. We told each other if we were sad or happy or who annoyed us. So it was a very family-like situation.
From your dealings with the American nurses or other Americans in Vietnam, could you see a difference in the way that they operated and the things that they did?

07:33:30:00

No, it was all very second hand. I went to visit 36 Evac once, I think, and a soldier from Singleton that I had had a passing acquaintance was sent up to Vietnam and he called in to visit me

07:34:00:00

to say he was in the country. He was a boy, Raper, and he had two brothers who were first grade rugby league players and they were both playing on opposite sides in the rugby league final in Sydney, and he happened to be a patient in the 36 Evac. He got a message for me to take a radio over so he could listen to

07:34:30:00

his brother’s playing the football. So I duly took the radio over and that’s all I probably saw of the place, the wards. So I really didn’t see how it ran. It was only all second hand. The lads did all right and were looked after. So I had very limited knowledge.

07:35:00:00

Was there any jealousy or envy that they were better supplied?
No, I think they were very generous if we were running short. They were very generous people, the Americans. And you could buy anything. They gave us a 10-ton truck for a slouch hat. Our unit,

07:35:30:00

they didn’t have to account for any of their stores. Once it left America, it was written off. We were unlucky we had a different power point supply because they’d say, “Do you want a refrigerator or,” but our power was different. So we were a bit limited in what we could…but they were

07:36:00:00

very generous. I just thought of something but have forgotten. I’ll think of it in a minute.
That situation with the Americans being so free with their supplies, other people have told me has led to some corruption in Vietnam. Did you see any of that?
No.

07:36:30:00

I was in a pretty isolated area. I imagine it was bound to happen. Human nature as it is. But I wouldn’t have been aware of…they were very good. I know what I was going to say to you.

07:37:00:00

We were going to have a party. It was coming up Christmas so we thought we would invite all these nice people who had been nice to us. So there were a lot of Americans and the party was to be on this particular night. We were getting ready and Harold Holt went for a swim, so…all parties in our area were cancelled

07:37:30:00

because of our Prime Minister. Well, ringing up these Americans, they would saying, “You’re joking. Your prime minister has gone for a swim without bodyguards, how could that happen?” They were absolutely shocked and stunned that we had to cancel the party because of Harold Holt disappearing.

07:38:00:00

I remember saying to one of them – one of them said, “When are you going on R&R?” And I said, “A fortnight from Tuesday.” He said, “You’re kidding me, you’re not telling me you’re going 14 nights.” He said, “I must write that down. I’ve never heard of such a thing.” He’d never heard of a fortnight.

07:38:30:00

We used to have some funny conversations. They were very fond of the Australians, the Americans. They were very good to us.
How much R&R did you get during your year in Vietnam?
I don’t know whether it was a week or two weeks. I went to Hong Kong.

07:39:00:00

I went with Margaret Ahern, the two of us went together. I remember having lamb lion chops for my first evening meal and I thought I was in heaven. And Sydney rock oysters. We had a wonderful recreation in Hong Kong.
What was going on in Hong Kong at that time around you?
It was just clean.

07:39:30:00

I remember going on a ferry and I was thinking how different it was to the Sydney ferry. For all those millions of people, everyone looked clean and crisp. I don’t know if it was just that I had come away from a lot of dust. But it was sparkling on the water in the harbour.

07:40:00:00

We had a lot of clothes made, so it was a lovely break.
Interviewee: Terrie Ross Archive ID 1748 Tape 08

08:00:48:00

Before we get back to R&R, which I’d like to talk about a bit more, the kind of work you were doing in the hospital – can you give me an overview of the medical procedures you saw on a daily basis?

08:01:00:00

How would you break them down?
Probably medication was one of the top…making sure everyone got their…that the IV [intravenous] fluids were right and every body got their antibiotics and pain relief. I think that was it.

08:01:30:00

Dressings, of course, were a priority. What else were important…and that everyone was as comfortable as they could be and as clean as they could be. Yes, we

08:02:00:00

didn’t have hospital beds. Really, you were flat out having enough pillowcases to cover the pillows. So it was catch as catch can. Does that answer your question?
Yes, it does in a way about what your duties were, but what were the problems faced by the men you were treating. You said if they were very serious, then they were moved on, but

08:02:30:00

what sort of injuries was the hospital generally full of?
Well of course shrapnel wounds were a big …and the pyrexias [fevers] of unknown origin, whether they were malaria or what. We had a ward that we had very little input, too. That was venereal disease, because there was a

08:03:00:00

strain of venereal disease that was becoming a bit resistant. So they probably had to have more medication, than was usual, and it had to be supervised that the medication was being taken. That was a side issue thing.

08:03:30:00

So then you had the odd appendix and a run of things just happened to ordinary fit young…ulcers. So it was a very mixed lot of…

08:04:00:00

a mixed lot of hospital patients. I’m trying to think what happened in the surgical wards. They might have hurt their limbs. We had quite a few circumcisions. With the sand and the heat,

08:04:30:00

there was quite a number of circumcisions. Which made me wonder why in Australia, with the heat and the sand, why circumcisions weren’t in more vogue. But they were quite essential a few of the times. Apart

08:05:00:00

from that, it was jut wounds and burns. I think the hospital changed a lot down the track. Whether they had more staff and more facilities.

08:05:30:00

But I did see how many we treated and it was quite an extraordinary number of people. They all seemed to survive god knows how.
What sort of problem would necessitate a circumcision?
Well, sand and heat causing inflammation,

08:06:00:00

and they just had to clean up the area and pin the skin back so it could heal. There weren’t hundreds, but there was more than one.

08:06:30:00

Even something like an infected ingrown toenail. That would have to be treated. So there were minor sort of things along with the more difficult….and I think we got a psychiatrist along the way for some of the psychotic

08:07:00:00

patients. Everything seemed to happen so fast and the days went quickly by, and every body was looking after a different kettle of fish. Probably one person didn’t have a clear oversight of all the doings. Me sitting back in my little area might have missed something.

08:07:30:00

How was your own health during your year in Vietnam?
After my visit to Saigon, I’ve never been so sick with gastric…and Miss Jackson came to my room waiting…I said

08:08:00:00

to her, “I would hate for you to witness this but I’m going to open my clothes and throw my clothes from a distance because I’m too sick to walk over and pack them in property. And I haven’t got far to go.” I was quite ill with vomiting and diarrhoea, but anyway, I recovered within 24 hours.

08:08:30:00

And I got a very bad episode of bronchitis, but apart from that my health stood up to it very well.
What about the stress of the work you were doing? Did that have any effect on your or the other girls?
No, it was pushed back

08:09:00:00

a lot. Lots of very sad things happening and I suppose it did effect you to a certain degree, but you weren’t able to indulge in pity. There was too much to pity, really.

08:09:30:00

You just did the best you could and bat on.
What about the sheer working hours? Was that difficult to deal with on some occasions?
Well, you do get tired, but a little bit of social activity away from it, a few drinks does wonders. And I think

08:10:00:00

that helped along the way. If you finished work and staggered home and hopped into bed and got up the next day and you didn’t have any mental stimulation, then I think it would have been horrendous. But when you’re young and you’re working and

08:10:30:00

have a bit of a play, it’s all…I think that took a lot of the stress out of it. You didn’t lie about and worry and simmer over things. Do you understand what I mean?
It’s very much something the soldiers themselves talk about – it’s the needing to relax and often they went drinking and

08:11:00:00

alcohol was quite badly abused in Vietnam. Did any of that end up in the hospital for one reason or another?
Not to my knowledge. Naturally some, but it wasn’t an overriding thing. And it was amazing how much liquor you could put away with sweating. You sweated a tremendous amount. The first few drinks sort of disappeared in body fluid.

08:11:30:00

I don’t know whether that’s quite a factor or not, but I felt you could drink more in such hot conditions. I don’t know whether that’s fact.

08:12:00:00

I found that alcohol didn’t effect you quite as much.
What about the taking of other drugs? What did you hear about that?
Do you know, I’ve never seen drugs in other way shape or form. Nobody has shown me, or offered it. But we used to visit

08:12:30:00

these American BOQs and we became quite friendly with them. And I used to see occasionally a big poster about pot and you know I was so naïve that it never registered that drugs were…and on a couple of occasions we would call in and they say,

08:13:00:00

“We would prefer you didn’t come tonight because some of them are drinking gin and they get a bit…” The place would be nearly wrecked, but it still didn’t occur to me. Not until I come home did I realise that some of those people were taking drugs. I don’t think our soldiers were. I don’t

08:13:30:00

know about the availability. So I didn’t have any idea and it wasn’t really for a couple of years that I realised that drugs were any sort of a problem. But whether they thought I was a bit crazy…but nobody told me anything about drugs. I wouldn’t have known they existed.

08:14:00:00

You went to Saigon. Can you just tell us a bit more about what that situation was? You ended up becoming quite close to Dawn Jackson. How did that happen and why were you up there?
I don’t know why she was there except to observe us. And I imagine to it was to evaluate whether it was a situation for WACs to come up for…

08:14:30:00

However she was a full colonel, I think, and I was sent to be her companion, and I finished up having a particularly pleasant week down there. I had a nice rest and nice companionship.

08:15:00:00

I remember we went down to the hotel to have a drink and she said, “Oh my heavens, this is expensive. I’ll get some transport and we’ll go to the PX and we’ll get our own.” Which we did. It was to offer anyone who came a drink…we would have our drinks before dinner and before bed.

08:15:30:00

I recall…there was something like four of us in a taxi and the taxi hit a bike and the call was, “Get out of the taxi and go for your lives.” We just abandoned the taxi. I suppose because there could have been quite an incident over it, and sometimes I think bikes ran into them purposely for compensation. But anyway I thought

08:16:00:00

that was quite interesting. We all headed for the hills. I thought Saigon was a bit of a scary place. A lot of people, but that was just through my eyes. I wouldn’t have liked to have spent a lot of time there.
Where was the WAC commander based?

08:16:30:00

Oh, we had a very nice hotel. She had a room and I had one. She was put up at quite a pleasant hotel. She was just visiting and I think she was only there for five days. She said she would take anything home that I may have wanted her to take home.

08:17:00:00

And I really don’t know what the result of her…I don’t think WACs ever came. But it would have been interesting for her to see the…yes.
What other parts of Saigon did you see?
She was…

08:17:30:00

I have a very limited memory of it. I really didn’t have the interest. I suppose I should have.
You said you felt scared, but that was just a vague fear?
Yes, just apprehensive.

08:18:00:00

I just felt apprehensive. Discomfort, it was more than afraid. Anyway, I spent very limited time there.

08:18:30:00

Just one out of order question about drugs again. What about the use of morphine? Was that common in the hospital?
Oh heaven’s yes. The RAP medics had morphine for the wounded, and

08:19:00:00

pain relief was certainly…and it was strictly pain relief. Are you asking me was it accountable?

08:19:30:00

If you had morphine four hourly, if you were in pain that was essential. So it was certainly used for trauma.
Did soldiers ever suffer with the use of morphine in terms of withdrawals?
I don’t think so. If you’re using morphine as pain relief, it’s only when the pain ceases that you’re using

08:20:00:00

the morphine for…you see cancer patients on huge doses of morphine hardly touching them. But unless it’s used for no pain, I don’t think you’ve got…or very prolonged, I don’t think there’s much of a worry with withdrawal. And I

08:20:30:00

wouldn’t have had the patient anyway because they were only there for two weeks at a time. So if you were that badly injured you were medivaced home every second Tuesday. So that sort of problem really didn’t come to my attention at all. That might have happened at home

08:21:00:00

later on.
Were the procedures for accounting drugs that stringent in the field hospital in Vietnam as it would be in a hospital in Australia?
I think it was moderately accountable for and I think it mostly came out of the theatre. So I just couldn’t take a vial of morphine willy-nilly. I would have to account for it.

08:21:30:00

And double-check it.
We have mentioned just a couple of times briefly the Tet Offensive. You mentioned how some of the fellas with unloaded guns suddenly got bullets. What other impacts at that time were there?

08:22:00:00

Well, there were curfews and I think black outs. We had to cover our windows. But apart from covering your windows, and I wasn’t happy about the live bullets about, and curfews, it had very little impact on me.

08:22:30:00

Nothing seemed to have much impact on me. I seemed to have got about in a daze. But there was talk about the Tet Offensive. And it did inconvenience us that we couldn’t go into the town, and we black out the windows. There was probably more injuries coming in. But apart from

08:23:00:00

that, the Tet Offensive came and went.
At any time while you were working were there influxes of patients…?
I’m sure that was the case. I think malaria was rife, and of course skirmishes. So you would have highs and lows in bed content. But I don’t know what the issues were.

08:23:30:00

Like anywhere, I suppose, you’re busier than at other times.
This boyfriend that you had – Michael – when did you first meet him?
I met him fairly soon

08:24:00:00

after we arrived in the country. He was very caring and it was very comfortable having somebody to go out with so you weren’t reliant on a lot of other people for transport.

08:24:30:00

He was very good to Amy and he was very good to me insofar as keeping the buttons on my uniforms. So it was very nice to have a companion really, which has lasted for 35 years.
What was his particular

08:25:00:00

role in Vietnam?
He was the adjutant over at the RAEME [Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] centre. They kept the tanks and vehicles in order over in his area. He was in admin person.
You did suggest that when you first met him,

08:25:30:00

you didn’t think much of him initially?
No. People would say, “Have you met Michael?” and I would say, “Oh yes, we’ve met.” I don’t know…it was over several weeks that we became more friendly, and then I suppose an item. So I found him quite a wonderful support.

08:26:00:00

Do you think you would have coped without him being there?
I don’t know. How would you know? I would have had to, but it wouldn’t have been as easy. To have someone to unload to was pretty nice.

08:26:30:00

So that was just a bit…I felt very fortunate.
Did he propose over there or here?
It was a little while before we married when we got home.
Did he propose marriage in Vietnam?
I think in Australia.

08:27:00:00

Yes. I came home and I went to Wagga and he was at Ingleburn for a year. We didn’t see each other as often as we had, and then as I say, I went into partnership in this nursing home in Cookwell.

08:27:30:00

So he came weekends or days off. So it all just happened.
So when you were in Vietnam, when did you realise you were coming home?
I always knew I was coming home in May.

08:28:00:00

And when May came, May came. And of course, we all went in May so it wasn’t about who would draw straws. Actually, I will never understand and I don’t think it happened all the time…why they wouldn’t send your replacement before you went home. That was very strange.

08:28:30:00

A bad bit of happenings, really. So I was just told I was going home. Instructions must have come down. And Amy was the last home. I think that was three or four weeks after me.

08:29:00:00

I went to meet her in Sydney on her way to Perth. I know how they decided who would go first and third. But Amy did ask me if I might stay a little bit longer and I told her, if she had asked me a week ago, I would have said, “Certainly.” “But my family will tear the airport down if I’m not on the plane and they’re there to meet me.”

08:29:30:00

So I wouldn’t like to see what happened.
Were you sad to leave Vietnam?
No, I was happy. I was well ready. I was sad at most other postings. But everybody was terribly eager and everyone was terribly eager to get home.

08:30:00:00

It was two sleeps and a wakeup.
Can you share with me your return trip home?
They charted a Qantas 703. It was a very, very long aircraft with just three seats all the way down.

08:30:30:00

They were all soldiers apart from me. I arrived and a very nice soldier said I could sit by the window. I said, “Thank you.” We got up in the air and the flight attendant said that one of the boys up the back was sick and could I have a look. I said, “I don’t know what I can do for him but I’ll see.”

08:31:00:00

So I got up there and he said, “I think I’ve got malaria.” So they were just being naughty. I was the only woman on the plane and they just wanted to have a bit of a look. I found it quite funny.

08:31:30:00

The only other thing…when the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac, the cheers would make you cry. Gosh it was…I must say I did feel relief, but the cheer that went round made it doubly great.

08:32:00:00

And of course my family and friends were all there to meet me. My aunties and everybody they summoned up. It was great. To be home was just lovely, to get to a comfortable bed. It was a wonderful experience. I always

08:32:30:00

say that the best part of going away is coming home.
Did you want to talk about Vietnam to them?
No one was that interested, to be quite honest. And another thing, I didn’t really, because no amount of describing could…you really couldn’t describe it. So after a little while…

08:33:00:00

no. Even down at Wagga, nobody asked much about it. So you were pretty quickly forgotten really. But it was a wonderful experience looking back. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Apart from all the …

08:33:30:00

and it was an experience that was well worth having.
Do you remember any songs that you may have sung in Vietnam?
Oh dear, we used to sing…

08:34:00:00

Michael would know what the songs were. I’ve forgotten. They were good, too. There was an Education Corps…we seemed to go into Vung Tau in groups. We’d go on a jeep with about six seats, and the six seats were always pretty well occupied. We used to sing on the way. If I was reminded

08:34:30:00

of the song, I’d be happy, but…it’s a long time ago.
When you arrived back in Australia where you were you posted?
I was posted to Wagga, Kapooka where I spent a year, and then I decided I would move on.

08:35:00:00

What was the catalyst for you to think of moving on?
Probably getting married.

08:35:30:00

There wasn’t much point in re-engaging my…I had joined the army for two years and I had re-engaged for another two years and that next two years was up. So there was no point in me re-engaging for another two year. I think they gave me an option for a year but I said, “No.” I said, “No, that will do.”

08:36:00:00

We’re sort of coming to the end of your whole Vietnam experience. What would you like to say future generations about your grandchildren about Vietnam?
Well, I suppose war is inevitable, and if you’re mixed up in it, you’ve just got to make the very best of it. What else could I tell them?

08:36:30:00

I can’t say don’t go because if you’re picked you have to go and that’s it.
Was Vietnam worth fighting for?
I think it was fairly essential. My gut feeling is – it was pretty essential to go. One, I think we’ve got to back the Americans, and

08:37:00:00

they were that appreciative of us being there, and two, for paying our own way. Like the Koreans were there, but the Americans paid, and they couldn’t do enough for us for the fact that one we were there, and two, we were paying our own way. And if the Vietnamese had have whipped down here and we had snubbed the Americans, then we could

08:37:30:00

have scarcely said, “Come and help us.” That’s just my naïve, easy way of sorting out. I don’t know. I leave it to the experts.
Do you think the Australian public were wrong protesting against the war?
Yes I do. They’ve got their rights…I think they’ve got their rights, but I felt angry. Mostly for the sake of

08:38:00:00

the national service. They had their marbles drawn out and they should have been treated a lot better. They should have taken their anger out on the government and not the boys.

08:38:30:00

Is Anzac Day important to you?
No, not really. I’ve missed a lot. I’ve been to Sydney to march once. I enjoyed marching in Cookwell because I went to Cookwell in 1970 and there were quite a contingent of Vietnam veterans who lived there.

08:39:00:00

There were eight or 10 of us, and the RSL [Returned and Services League] were very anti. We used to run our own little gatherings in our homes. We found the RSL were intolerant to our cause. They weren’t supportive of us or welcoming.

08:39:30:00

That was a bit of a shock, really. I think it was a bit different today. But the RSL weren’t that terribly welcoming, and we used to have a nice time together and we’d say, “One of these days, we’ll take it over.”
I guess your time has come.

08:40:00:00

Is there anything else you’d like to add to the Archive?
I’ll think of many things when you’ve gone home. But thank you…I hope I’ve answered as well as I could.
You’ve done a great job. Thank you for sharing today.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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