I was continually moved from school to school, as I mentioned I went to Eden Hills when I was old enough and we had no sooner settled there than we went to Guildford. Because of the Japanese threat. And then for whatever reason Dad was in the army at that stage and my Mum was running a fish and chip shop called ‘The Fair Dinkum Aussie’ next to the railway
line I can still see all of the air-raid shelters there. For whatever reason we moved out of there when I was in second class and I duly arrived at Bassendean and I was put into third class. So there was a fair degree of confusion and lack of standardisation I assume, and of course I couldn’t cope, and was sacked and put down to second class where I should have been in the first place.
That was in itself a little trauma I think., I can remember corporal punishment, getting the cuts [hits with cane or strap]. I can remember digging the trenches and the school teacher telling us to get under the benches of the school with our mouths open and our ear plugs in our mouth, crouched in case of bombing. I remember the air-raid drills well.
I can remember blackouts at home. I can remember the postman coming around and the immense emotion because we lived in a street where virtually there was no fathers, the men were all gone. It was run by the mothers and the young men, young men being teenagers as I saw them, in those days they were the young men, or the old men. And because it was that area of
Bassendean it was predominantly women, they were both mother and father in those days. There was one particular area of the street where, during the war in the Middle East, one of our Western Australian battalions had taken terrible casualties in El Alamein and that transferred itself into the street. There was a lot of grieving and weeping, I remember all of that. I remember the Americans coming,
I remember the aircraft coming over. I remember listening to the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] and later on when the V [rocket] bombs were devastating London and I can still here the bloke telling us that the war might be lost, because of that secret weapon. I can remember my school teacher in 1944 in fourth year,
she had a map placed on the board. She put a soldier with white crayon there, and it was the landing at Normandy. We had landed in Europe, being the Allies. And I can remember her later on that year weeping because she lost her fiancé in New Guinea.
She was born in 1904, so she was still a young girl when the war broke out, but she certainly would have been exposed to World War I, and we are probably side tracking. I have always made the point publicly and elsewhere, if you look at our history that particular generation that
grew up in World War I, they saw the impact of their fathers or elder brothers or relatives going to war, and in the 20’s they saw the impact of that war because of Australia’s terrible loss, not only the dead, but the maimed. The people who were gassed. My step father was such a bloke, he coughed his lungs out later on in life, after I lost my father and my
Mum remarried. So they had that impact on them, but they didn’t make any excuses for their behaviour in society; they got on with life, and then they went smack bang into a depression young people who should have been enjoying life. As we know the Great Depression was a terrible thing.
Another interesting observation to note that during that Depression there was no anarchy and rioting and so forth, there was still a very disciplined society here in Australia. Even though there was virtually starvation. And a lot of pride. And those same youngsters, as they just came out of that they thought they had their youth in front of
them, World War II came, and they didn’t break down or whatever, they got on with life. And my mother was one of them, one of millions, and they didn’t flinch. And because of that they didn’t expect their children to behave badly. Perhaps the most classic example of that, I can still remember as a kid going back to your
question, we were well informed, certainly in my area, I had lots of uncles involved as well. London was being bombed, we had been kicked out of Europe, we had lost Greece and Crete, Singapore had fallen Darwin was being bombed, we lost the [cruiser HMAS] Sydney with all hands, all of these disasters one after the other and the Japanese invading in
New Guinea. And yet they would still have sing songs on a Saturday night and sing It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow. Work that one out. That’s a tough determined generation, magnificent. And if we ever had to learn anything from history, it is how to perform when the chips are down [life is tough].
And you didn’t bathe every night because there was just the one bath and you had to transfer the water from a copper to the bath, that was before the heaters came in, which was another luxury. So when you talk about day to day routine, the family would be at that table and certainly the
mother she was both mother and father, it was the same setting I can recall when my father was there. We would sit around the table, that was a ritual you would sit around and talk. There would be a prayer before the meal and simple one, we weren’t fanatics but it was there.
It was obviously a simple one because Mum never imposed her Catholic experience on us. I should mention there just that that’s the second time I have mentioned Catholic experience, the interview should not be suspecting that I am a bigot in regards to Catholics I am not. In fact I only said it last Sunday at a gathering in the Tablelands, the Catholic priests
in the army were the most outstanding, the most wonderful individuals I ever saw, they shone out. But back to the point, dinner was a ritual and it was at that table where you would be asked about your school work or what was going on tomorrow. It was also a time to allocate the task for the next day. “You will do this and you will do that, and pass the bread.”
“Buy a Stamp,” saving stamps, and of course Mum would always give us threepence a month or something, which was a fair bit of money for her. You would get this little stamp in your coupon, doing your little bit or you would go around picking up scrap heap iron and so forth for the war effort. I can remember they brought out this card and it had a photograph of this very primitive biplane
with two wings flying through the air, and this character of a Japanese pilot leaning out of the cockpit with a bomb in his hand about to drop it. He had big thick glasses, which was typical in those days you know, the Japanese myopic and all of this sort of stuff, and with big prominent buck teeth and the poem went, here I am sixty-nine I can still tell you, “Georgie Jap is flying high, dropping bombs to make us cry,
buy a bomb today, and Georgie Jap will fly away.” Now that was very emotive, but my name was George and I got very upset that I was being identified with one of these bloody Japanese and I was very upset, very angry about that. It didn’t take long for your peer group to pick it up and it became a teasing point.
Can you just go back to the end of World War II, and can you talk about hearing the war was over and the impact that had?
I remember that well. We were at school, or was it the day after? Anyway we were all put out on the parade ground, in those days we had parade grounds. And the headmaster told us the war was over and they were going to celebrate and so forth.
My first indication was my sister writing in her diary and reading it out to me that they had just dropped a big bomb. We didn’t comprehend, It had been dropped somewhere in the Pacific and about a week later we heard that the other one had been dropped. And the news was instantaneous, it was like an epidemic
through the whole suburb and everyone just gathered like moths to a light in the shopping area of Bassendean. On our way down there there was a troop train going past from the eastern states and they were all shouting and waving and we waved back. I remember that. And I also remember Victory over Europe Day [VE Day – Victory in Europe], when that
happened, that might have been when the headmaster pulled us out I can’t remember. But I remember me and my mates, some of those that joined up with me, we grabbed all of these old kerosene tins and we ran up and down the Main Street of Bassendean shopping centre beating them. They probably would have told us to, “Bugger off!” I suppose, but everyone was too happy to worry about it.
It was very much, the celebrations went on and on. And then there was the aftermath of that in that people started to come home, uncles and Dad and so forth. And I can remember as early as 1947, again shortly after the war,
Olive my elder sister she would have been about seventeen, eighteen going out with this soldier with one leg who had lost it in Singapore. He had just been released obviously. And he was still on a crutch. There was the impact of the war, with your own family, suddenly your sister is going out with a bloke with one leg.
Later on, when he left the scene, another fellow came along and he was the fellow she eventually married, he was still in uniform. He had been serving on HMAS Warramunga for the entire Japanese War, from 1941 right through to ’45, he was obviously very young when he joined up. But he was still in uniform and he suddenly became our hero.
So there was that, and then the uncles started coming back. And the one thing we never missed out on and it was part of the society of that time, was that Christmas religiously was always at out grandparents’ place down in a place called Garrett Road right down next to the bridge, he was an old fisherman. And they had a pretty large big block of land, the new bridge now goes over it, they resumed
the land later on in our life. And that’s where we had our Christmas and grandma would come out with the puddings that they would put in the old hessian bags and leave them and they would all have the old threepences and sixpences in. And the cousins, we were only kids. They maintained that throughout the war. And again there was the absence because a lot of the uncles weren’t there, They were either in the army, navy, air force.
wood for the fire. I probably had more rapport with my uncles who were much younger. When I say younger, they were obviously in their early twenties and had just come home and I identified well with them. It was just one of those things, it never made
the impact on me that it did when I saw my mother crying with war, W A R. And to this day I have often wondered how come I could spell war at that stage. And I thought if I couldn’t spell it I can still recall that photographic memory of W A R there., Maybe I picked that up later on in life, but it was there just these three letters. So to answer your question with my uncles and men,
there was a degree of change in the street because looking back I didn’t appreciate it at the time, we were probably sad because there were some that didn’t come back. But most of my mates, one’s father had been taken prisoner in the Middle East, he knew it because his mother had been given a telegram to say he was captured.
So he knew his father was alive, but always wondering day to day whether he was still alive. So I can still see him coming home. But other than that I think it was just an adjustment. And of course the other thing that kids have, not that I am an expert in it. There is that defence mechanism, “Right oh, the
war is over, right oh what’s next?” I was eleven when the war finished, so it was a question of getting to an age then when nothing else mattered but going down and seeing who could dive from a higher height from the bridge into the river or a shallow area, or the dares that challenge young kids-
going camping out bush with your mates, they all took priority. And as you got older into adolescence suddenly you started that these sheilas [girls] weren’t bad looking things after all.
I was just wondering since you were a bit closer to your uncles spending time with them, did you ever ask them anything about their war experiences, even some of the lighter side, at all?
No, the closest I ever got, Uncle Bill saying to me once, I found it very amusing because I have used it a couple of times since, actually. He was there and this bloke was saying to him and officer apparently came up and said, “Stop smoking!” and he said, “I am not smoking.”
And he said, “But you have got your pipe in your mouth.” And he said, “I have. I have also got my boots on but I am not walking!.” Yeah. Doesn’t work though, I tried the trick several years later, a sergeant told me to stop smoking, I said a similar thing, really saying the cigarette hadn’t been lit. I found out that sergeants don’t have a sense of humour.
Put my age up and so I gained a bit of a background to the military side of it when I joined up. But I did my recruit training as a private soldier with my mates in a place called Guilford, the same place where the fish and chip shop was and the air-raid shelters. That was the recruit training centre in those days, each side had its own. There has been drastic changes to military training since then, it is all centralised. But in those days each
state had its own recruit training centre. The comparison between our training centre and Gomer Pyle [US TV comedy show] or these American movies you see on the marine trainings and Full Metal Jacket and all of these other movies, there is no comparison. Ours was far more sensible,
far more mature, far more constructive and certainly none of that nonsense, at all. I didn’t find it tough, it was hard. It was demanding, but it wasn’t torture and it certainly wasn’t as people make it out to be. And even the comparison then to the modern armed forces, and sometimes I
see it on TV you know people yelling and shouting and screaming at somebody that far away from their nose. Well it wouldn’t have happened in our time, somebody would have got fitted [hit]. Because, well it is true, in fact I don’t know how these officers get away with it now and it serves no purpose. There was a far better psychological approach in those days, it was very tough, very demanding,
there were no excuses. I can remember a whole platoon of thirty people lived in the one hut bed after bed, so if one person got a cold everyone got it and so on. On day one, if there was a need for twelve inoculations you got your twelve and in those days in the next morning they would drill you because that would get
the arms moving, because they were like lead. There was a rumour, and I am sure it happened because the tea never tasted the same, because we were all young and virile and oversexed, they fed us bromide in the tea which distracts you from chasing young ladies. And so we were all convinced this bromide
was there. After a while you didn’t drink tea or you did so you accepted it. It was certainly a very interesting phase of life, the military then and now, there is no question about that certainly in the Australian Army, certainly developed confidence, esteem and comradeship. The very basic understanding of comradeship, it was very clever,
it was forced onto you. I don’t know that they knew what they were doing but they forced onto this mateship and everything else and the ethos and the ethics that were very easy to accept and pursue. And thieving, you could leave your wallet on your mattress, nobody would touch it., And people would say why? Well later on in life if you only had half a bottle of water and you
you were out and that’s all you had, you would share it, but that was your water. And so if and when we found the thief, when I say we I am talking about the older soldiers, I was still an infant really, I just followed the mob, and there was incidences of it and the thief was found and that thief was given barrack room justice before the system got hold of him.
He would be belted, the old run through a line of web belts and so on, and banished. Never to come back, not even to pick up his gear, and the system would wake up to it and he would be grabbed and moved off. Very harsh justice. And one could argue that it wasn’t a smart way to do business because there was always the possibility of someone who was innocent being involved in that caper, but soldiers have a way of
knowing. Fights, they were common in those days, like the fight I was talking about at school. If there was a difference of opinion between two people there would be a ring of soldiers and they would settle it. Hence the ‘mad galahs’ mentioned. They would settle it and the other thing in those days, there were no knives, no knuckle
dusters [weapons]. It was a test of your manhood so to speak, it was fist or nothing at all. And if anyone put the boot in [kicked] when you were down it wouldn’t matter who he was, that was the worst thing you could do, putting the boot into someone. Which is a vast change from today’s society, they use baseball bats and so forth. You really wonder how it all happened, this transformation from brutality to brutality without any honour.
So that’s recruit training. I can remember an officer there who was a very good officer who lost a leg in Korea. Another one who became a prisoner of war. I can still see one of my favourite NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers]and I have been asked on many occasions to speak publicly at reunions and so forth and he is one of the few fellows that I never forget,
Wally Ogleby, he was a corporal. Wally Ogleby was a World War II veteran. He fought in El Alamein and the Middle East and the South West Pacific. He had already been to Korea, he went to the Korea with the first group, the real tough ones and spent the first winter of Korea in summer dress. Basically they had to steal to stay alive in the below zero temperatures.
He was at the Battle of Kap’yong and so on. Anyway he was posted to recruit training, he obviously identified me as a bloke who needed a bit of help, and he gave it to me. The first lesson he gave me, we used to do a lot of bayonet fighting, that was the infantry in those days, it was just as much bayonet fighting as shooting on the range
or throwing grenades. And other tactics, whenever there was time when other people would be in the canteen he decided I was too young for that. I was very young like a baby, so he would take me down the back and make me do more bayonet training and unarmed combat to the point where at the end of the three months I was very good at it and I could take him on and he
would come at me with his rifle and bayonet there, and I would take it off him. That gave me immense confidence and it built me up too. I was a bit of a weed [skinny]. And the other thing he taught me which I have often quoted. If I go down to the military college, I am invited down there often in recent times. I only just got back a
couple of weeks ago to talk to the graduating officers who are leaving which is a great honour, because I never went through the military college. Ogleby once said to me, and I was only talking about it the other day, that as a young bloke I was mouthing off about officers saying, “Why do we need officers?” and Wally Ogleby pulled me out of the line and said to me, “I will tell you why, because officers are there to lead and your job is to follow. Now you get off your arse and
start learning how to do just that.” Never forgotten it. Great bloke. So they are the visions I have of recruit training.
And it developed team pride, collective pride. The fact that if your barracks weren’t clean, if there was one bed out of place it was that one bed, the whole barracks would be required to do it again that night or whatever. If the barracks weren’t spotless, and there were three or four errors involving people, you would all do it again.
That was their own subtle way of saying, “Get your act together.” Because you can’t go different ways, everyone has got to pull together, you’re a team. And it was that approach, to the point when those rare occasion when you went on leave, I suspect it was deliberate, in that town you can only go to that pub or that pub.
And there were other reasons, maybe the other pub had a bad reputation or whatever, but it forced people together socially. The canteen was together from eight thirty to ten o’clock at night, forcing people together, you didn’t have a choice, you didn’t go anywhere else. And so even your social entertainment and activities, you sing songs, concerts you all had to produce. And so by the time
you left, you were still green by the time you left your three months recruit training, but the difference was you had developed a lot of confidence, you certainly had pride and you had established a great rapport with other people and you understood the values of other people, tolerance and so forth. And I go back to the earlier point I made, if you walked into the army as a bigot in any sense of
the word you weren’t going to survive if you persisted in that bigotry. And it might shock you that later on in life, even homosexuals. I have served alongside homosexuals and they were great mates. But they knew the rules, these particular people, they didn’t try to practise these activities in the group. What they did outside, didn’t condone it, never encouraged it, but what they did, just
shut a blind eye but never inside, as opposed to those that did and there was the subtle difference. So recruit training was very much an important stepping stone for the soldiers. And even in those days, if you didn’t confidently make that stepping stone you were out, you didn’t get past recruit training.
So let’s move on now, after recruit training what is next for you?
I went to Puckapunyal in 1951 to the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. The barracks were very primitive, they were World War II barracks, they had never been maintained, they had never been improved, there was four of us to a
room in a small area. No windows. So the more enterprising would put brown paper up to keep the wind out., some of those who had gone to Korea before us had belted holes in them, maybe before that, maybe the Middle East, and the wind used to whistle through and in summer there was the hot dust. Extreme temperatures and in winter you froze. And you
would go out into the scrub, Tallarook Ranges was a favourite. And we had World War I rifles, that was no surprise, and we had 303 rifles and we had World War I American pup tents which leaked, they were the ones you carried on your back. We had World War I gas masks, which were a ground sheet that you laid on,
rubbery ones and they had lost all of their warmth and protection against the cold and moisture. And so we carried our greatcoats, big army greatcoats in those days. And the big army greatcoat was a great sponge of water, so whenever you got wet you’re suddenly carrying three times as much as weight in water, and when it got wet it got wet. So literally, you were like a mule carrying all of this stuff around.
The difference between then and now is immense, with modern science and technology and equipment.
Well two were killed in a mortar explosion, they were firing a mortar which is a bomb down a steel tube and it blew up on them, faulty ammunition, so it killed two of them. Part of the training in those days, because communication was poor, we were using World War II walkie-talkies [mobile radios] which had a range of about two or three hundred metres, so there was still a reliance
on runners and of course the runner system meant that you had to train as to the importance of it. And you would get a message, and from there you have to go about another thousand yards along this creek bed, along the hill and down the hill, and report to battalion headquarters. And you had to give them a verbal message that your company was under attack and you needed thirty thousand rounds of .303 ammunition and
five thousand rounds of nine millimetre, and two hundred and seventy three grenades, and that there had been fifty-five people wounded and so forth, go! And you go you are going under wire and up ropes and through creeks and people firing over your head with machine guns and loud explosions and when you get to the end if you haven’t got the message right you have to go back and do it again.
And it was going through the wire, the machine gun firing overhead for whatever reason, ricochet came and cleaned up one of the fellows, shot him through the head. So that was three. And there was another, we were seventeen years of age and
I can remember in recruit training going back and Ogleby and others would say, “This is the M36 grenade,” that was the old pineapple grenade where you would have to unscrew it, put the fuse in screw it up again and then you had four seconds after you pulled the pin and let the lever fly [before it exploded]. And he would say, “This is the M36 grenade, got a very good lethal range in confined areas. Kill anything in
confined areas. It has got forty-eight squares on it which, when it explodes, will fragment into forty-eight pieces, plus the base plug plus the clip. It has a lethal range on hard ground of one hundred and ten metres and on soft ground seventy-five metres.” And I
assume the difference being on soft ground the shrapnel embedded into the mud and wouldn’t ricochet. And I used to say to myself, “I can’t even throw the grenade that far.” That was my first reaction. We did it from trenches over the head and out in the open and you would just get down in your little fox hole or fighting pit. Well at Puckapunyal we advanced to the next step where you would be out in the open and
you would be crawling along and you would throw the grenade out in the open at a target in front, which was a small trench. Now if the grenade didn’t go into the trench and stayed in the open and you’re in the open, then you would really have to hug the ground. And they were very clever because if you do that, chances are you are not going to get any impact at all from the grenade. Which was another subtle way of telling you how well
you could use grenades, that you mastered them. Anyway this particular day we were out there and we got to the next step of throwing two grenades at once.
One bloke was wounded in one side of his leg and the other bloke lost his leg. Of course I was there and smoking, I was smoking in those days and I suddenly decided I needed to smoke about eight cigarettes at once. But this is the army,
you see. The sergeant had been wounded and the warrant officer company sergeant major took over and he said, “Right Mansford, grab your grenades.” “But I have already thrown.” “Just grab your grenades.” I went back out He knew I had to re-establish confidence. Now you could argue today and rightly so, they would stop the practice to find out what the problem was.
And the problem was pretty obvious – you don’t throw two grenades at once. Incidentally I saw that happen and immediately realised the problem and was in a position to stop it for future times. And so I went out and repeated the whole process. There was no investigation. As soon as the ambulance was out of the area, whistle blast, “Get on with it!” I keep saying to these young blokes at military college, this was counselling as it was in those days.
Nobody was sitting you down saying, “Now how do you feel son? That was sad.” This was, “Get on with it.” And quite frankly that is the only way to counsel soldiers under those circumstances. It is a pretty tough profession, no used feeling sorry for yourself, you have got to get on with it.
As difficult as it would have been losing three people at Puckapunyal did that prepare you further on, you would have learnt quickly at close range that you’re doing a dangerous job?
Yeah. Well it was a dangerous job. And the bottom line is that it was accepted. I mean and maybe that was because we had already been exposed to some of the
periphery of World War II. Mind you, most of the people I soldiered with in those days were already World War II veterans. My corporal was an ex-bomber pilot who had won the DSC [Distinguished Service Cross] in bombing raids over Europe and joined up for Korea; he wanted to go again, couldn’t settle down to civvie street [civilian life] see?
And I suspect he had already been divorced by his wife, that’s the other side of the story. The girls had to put up with a lot. His 2IC [Second in Command] a lance corporal as most of them had had been in El Alamein and the South West Pacific and a couple have even been to Korea. And here I am, a seventeen year old, their average age was twenty-five to thirty and here I am half way between
seventeen and eighteen. And they really protected me, I mean later on in life when a couple of them were alive, they have gone now, but they had immense pride in that Georgie made brigadier you know. Brigadier Georgie is a one-star general. Immense pride. And these were the rough and tumble blokes, the cutting edge of our infantry
corps in World War II and a bomber pilot for World War II and so when we would go down to Melbourne we would go on a troop train, there would be a troop train down there maybe once every four to six weeks because there was no leave, you didn’t go out of the gates when you wanted, you only went on leave when the army told you to.
It was quite an interesting experience because you’re talking about young men, pretty wild,
although disciplined suddenly out of the clutches of the military but all in uniform and free for a little while. We would all end up at the YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] and the Salvation Army would look after us. Soldiers never had allowances to go and live in a hotel or whatever, so we would all sleep on the stretchers and quite frankly from there we would all go and get drunk or chase sheilas. And occasionally,
and this was the mateship again, we would come under threat from some in the civilian community and we would all gather as a clan to make sure our blokes were protected. So the Melbournites were more than happy to see us get back on the troop train Sunday night and go back. And there would be many who were AWL [Absent Without Leave]. But the point I was making before, that section that I belonged
to, they still had me in a monastery. I would go into the pub with them and they would let me have one beer, two beers at the most and then tell me to ‘bugger off’ [go away] and I would have to go to the movies or something while they got drunk and did whatever they were going to do over the weekend. It was their way of looking after me, and it is quite interesting to look back and see the
protection these blokes did offer to the minors so to speak.
Can I ask you about the general public’s response to servicemen at that stage, had the goodwill from World War II carried on?
It was increasingly different. I mean in our days in 1951, you would get on a tram and not pay, we could send a letter home and not pay. Not pay postage, just armed forces. And if you walked into a pub there was a significant number of old diggers who would welcome you and buy you a beer and so forth. And so it was there, the other side of the coin was though
that you had a community that was indifferent. Indifferent to emotion, indifferent to circumstances and probably very wary of war. You’re talking about a nation that this is only half way through the century, and they have already been involved in two big wars in a big way, and then Korea. And there are a few blokes that are pretty critical
about the fact that it is the forgotten war, and in many ways it was, but the other reality is that there was an indifference, it was just simply an extension of World War I1 on a smaller scale, hence if you got three people killed in a couple of weeks training that probably might not even make the [news]paper and if it did it would be page 10. “So what? That’s not as many as we were losing four or five years ago.”
As I say with Korea it’s just another war, whereas by the time Vietnam came there had been a relatively big gap. And of course you also had the emotions of conscripts, the young twenty year olds being dragged away from home, which is another story.
The politics of the Korean War, the spread of communism, why Australia was fighting there?
I think most young Australians certainly that I am aware of my associates, we were well read. You’re talking about a generation that was encouraged to read, you’re talking about a generation that had that need to read. Because there was no idiot box [TV] and the movies were once a week or whatever, and so the radio around the camp fire or whatever the venues were, was a very important part of social life at that time and reading was part of it.
Every soldier had a book in his pack, I would be interested to find out how many have got them now. So we were well informed and we knew as a general rule, there would be exceptions, but generally we understood, we understood the official line too I might add, about the threat of communism.
And no matter what they argue later in life, the threat of communism in1951 was real. You had Russia on the march and North Korea invading the South and China supporting them, and you already had Vietnam, the first Indochina war was on and even in Malaya it was on; in fact
Malaya was nearly about to fall. It didn’t, but it was nearly about to fall to the communist insurgents. Australians didn’t know about Malaya, well we vaguely knew about it, but we certainly knew about Korea and we knew why. It was a direct aggression by North Korea, there is no doubt about that.
day with very little water, discipline, in those days you didn’t drink when you wanted to drink, you drank when you were told to drink. There was a very good reason for it because nobody knew where the next water was coming from. Anyway we finally arrived on this God forsaken barren hill and the commanding officer of the company, company commander a fellow named Reg Saunders,
first Aboriginal officer, great soldier, another one who taught me a lot. He said, “Right dig in and in three hours time there will be tanks coming over and attacking the hill.” So we’re thinking, “This bloke has gone off his rocker,” [mad]. And I noticed with interest some of the older fellows who had done it before, digging at a pretty good pace. So I dug too because I was also the officer’s batman, I was his orderly, the runner and so forth and so I also had to dig his share
of my trench, because he was elsewhere. It was pretty hard digging at Puckapunyal with all rocky and cold and so forth, so I was digging furiously and sure enough at the required time we heard the clatter of tanks and they appeared on the horizon over the crest of the hill. Old Reg Saunders said, “You have got five minutes. “And then people realised he was fair dinkum and the dirt came out faster and faster.
And then he blew a whistle, everyone in their trenches, and then the tanks commenced firing at us with live ammunition. Yeah. This was called tank inoculation. Not only did they do that then of course they were firing the machine guns and not getting a high explosive and the young platoon commander, he was the fellow I was sharing the trench with, he was in the
trench and I fell on top of him and of course we didn’t have much room for moving. Anyway the machine gun started and you could hear rounds [shells] hitting around the top of the trench, perfectly safe when you think about it. Anyway he said, “I have got a cramp Reg, you will have to move.” And this was the first time I ever swore at an officer, I said, “You can get stuffed.” But I was not that polite actually. “I am not moving.” So he
is at the bottom of the trench with his face down on the sweet smelling earth and I am on top of him. Sort of a homosexual embrace really and I wasn’t moving. and then the tanks arrived and they didn’t stop they ran over us, the tanks actually came over the trenches. And it was quite an experience you could feel the trench contracting with the weight
pushing it in. And I am not sure if it was him screaming or me. Anyway the tank went over, they weren’t firing obviously at that stage. And I put my head up and behind them were coming two young, well two old diggers [soldiers] cigarette hanging out, typical digger really, and they were carrying shovels and they would say, “Here is one over here Fred.” And there would be a trench that had fallen in and they would start digging and pull the blokes out. And that was our tank inoculation, compliments of
Captain Reg Saunders. I don’t bother telling it at the military college because I don’t think people believe me. It’s true. And the idea of it was to show simply that infantry can fight tanks if you’re dug in. you let them go past you and get them from the rear. And when I look back that was obviously part of the technique that they used in the Western Desert, you
know the 9th Division at Tobruk and El Alamein. And in our section there were people very much experienced in that, so to them it was old hat [old fashioned] and they were the ones that were digging pretty fast. I took my queue from the old soldiers, never question an old soldier, whatever you see an old soldier do, you do.
World War II, he was commissioned in the southwest Pacific where he was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant. I am not sure about that. He served in Korea as a captain, he was with the first force to go over there. 3 RAR so he was at Kap’yong and then he returned and he was our company commander for a period of time
as a captain because the major was away somewhere, and so he was our company commander when we did that. Later on when the battalion left and left me behind because I was too young, that was the end of the world for me, because all of my mates were over there and I was still here waiting to go and he took me under his wing. And I shot through [ran away], I know I am digressing but we’re on Saunders. I shot through,
this was my way of protesting about the system. I wrote to the Minister for the Army Kramer, and told him what I thought of him and the fact that I should be with my mates. He wrote a letter back saying, “You’ll go when you’re old enough.” And I shot through and spent all of my money running around drunk in Melbourne, absent without leave. And then I went back and thought, “This will sort you out, what are you going to do? Are you going to punish me? Good. Twenty-eight days’
detention. Good. I have had a gutful of the army. You can all stick it.” And you know what he did? He was there when I got back, “Congratulations, you have been made lance corporal.” He completely ignored the fact that I had been AWL. I was promoted, he totally ignored it, he even covered the books which was totally illegal, he covered for me. So what do you do? I was humiliated.
My plan had fallen apart, the military wasn’t supposed to do that, but I realised this bloke was saying, “I know how you feel but this is no way to act.” So anyway I changed my tune, I didn’t last as a lance corporal long, I was back to a private shortly afterwards. But no fault of Reg Saunders, he was one of the most outstanding leaders that I have ever had the privilege to serve under.
Back to the question, no he wasn’t voting he wasn’t an Australian citizen as such, but the army didn’t see it that way, we never did. And that’s why I said that comment, didn’t matter white, black, brown, brindle, whatever, Catholic, Jew we were all in the same trench and it was one of the beautiful things about the army.
geography books, there would be a map of the world and everything British Commonwealth Empire was red. Big Australia was red, India was red, the UK was red, half of Africa was red, Malaya was red and so it went on. Very impressive stuff. And even my school teacher, I had slashed my wrist, not
suicidal type but I had cut it on a window pane, this is 1943–44, he meant well, he said, “That is good British blood, George, and British soldiers don’t cry.” And I said, “I’m Australian.” And so there was the difference, and
others like me hadn’t been captivated or seduced by the geography books, but it was there. Maybe it was a bit too obvious but it was there. I think the other thing that helped us, but in those days we would see the movies once a week. And the ritual
before the movies started before you watched the movie, it would be God Save the Queen or God save the King [the national anthem] in those days and it was automatic, everyone would stand. And if you didn’t stand as a kid, there would be an adult that you had never met before in your life behind you give you a clip over your ears. And so everyone would stand. But at the same time when the newsreel came on that was negated to a point,
because they would have the kookaburra and the kangaroo and the emu doing these things [on the screen] and a lot of us identified immediately with that. It wasn’t as though our Irish background had suddenly leapt and we were the old Irish rebels coming to give the Pommies a bit of a pasting, it wasn’t that at all. In summary it was there and I think it was deliberate, but it didn’t work. Young
Australians were young Australians and we knew who and what we were.
this is important we were Don Company. Don Company played a very important part in the Battle of the Hook. And Don Company CSM came in and he said to me as a I was an orderly runner, “Mansford, I want you to get the AB3s.” It is a document that gives your life, tells what you have been given, when you enlisted, with your height, weight everything,
that the army wants to know is in that little book. “And I want you to isolate everyone born before such and such a date and put them over there.” So I am looking and the company commander’s there and he said, “Sir I have anticipated that you have word?” He said, “Yes the battalion has been earmarked for Korea, we leave in March.” So I immediately know what the AB3 isolation was about,
and I went straight to the files, and McCutcheon, McCutcheon was a bit older than me but a young bloke, he has gone now Billy. But I put his into the good pile and I am just reaching for mine, I couldn’t find the bloody thing. And it turned out I had been to the Q [Quartermaster’s] store the day before and it wasn’t in, just as I was finding it the CSM realised what he was doing and came out and said, “I will finish that.”
McCutcheon was saved, he went under age. But as an aside, not so long ago at a reunion he said, “You know until you joined us.” it might have been when I did join them over there, “The night the bombardment started for the Battle of the Hook I was in my bunker and Jesus I was scared and I was bloody frightened. It was all coming down thump, thump, thump.” It was one of the world’s biggest barrages at that time.
And he said, “I thought that mongrel bloody Mansford, if that little smart arse hadn’t have done that I wouldn’t be here!” So the news was devastating and I and about fifteen other youngsters were removed, you had to be eighteen and nine months to go. And at that stage when they sailed I was eighteen and,
I wasn’t far off the age. I shot through, I stowed away or tried to stow away,
You were explaining why you were at Watsonia?
Yeah well you get this illegal removal of demountables and on top of that it got to the stage where the migrants, a lot of them were required to move. They had to get out into the community and a lot of them, particularly from the Baltic, didn’t want to go. And so our job was to move them and it was very unpleasant because we were the subject of attacks, bottle throwing and whatever. And I can still recall one morning we were on top of the roof
removing the people, and the way the army decided to do it was just to take away the roof and force them to move. And we were removing the roof and down below me is a family with a couple of kids at the table, an old army table, having breakfast, and we’re taking the roof off and that upset me a little bit. On top of that I fell in, fell on top of the table, hurt myself, got up and apologised and limped out
and they just kept eating breakfast. That was the reason we were there, they still had the camp, but by then it was deserted and we had the job of rear detail, to carry on the job that the battalion had been doing, looking after that camp. Now of course Watsonia is one of the big modern camps, it was ironic that many years later, about 1990, I went back down there as a Brigade Commander to a conference,
army conference, and I couldn’t help but just go for a walk around and visit the old double storey building which is now the home of a military band. Very happy memories of those times. And we stayed there and eventually when I was old enough I went to Korea. And I arrived there at the ceasefire, and when the troop ship arrived we went into Pusan
and I met a lot of my mates again for the first time.
there were circumstances where you would slip or lose the message or you wouldn’t have time, he wouldn’t have a pen and pad and he would say, “For Christ sake, go and tell so-and-so such-and-such,” and the reality is in the true sense that was training to emphasise, the reality is when I was a company commander, I used the same training methods
because it was good developing confidence and pride and all of the rest of the stuff. But in reality you might turn around and say, “For Christ sake Fred, go and tell the bastards that company headquarters are in heaps of deep shit [trouble]. We need lots of ammunition and we need reinforcements now!” Simple, as that so he wouldn’t have to recite it or go back and get the message, so that was an important part of the training. It was the
military psyche too, they knew it was exaggerated, but they wanted to place the importance upon it, they wanted to challenge the youngster, and they wanted to know that he could do it and to make him proud of the fact that he had done it, and if he hadn’t done it they also wanted to remind him that he had to do it. It was very clever, the system is clever and I must confess as I went through forty years of military I became just as cunning and clever, and there is probably a few young
men out there that regret that they went through the Battle School which I was given the task of starting.
Marriage was a pretty common thing in those days. So we didn’t have much time really, Canungra took a long time for us and getting the wrong training I might add for Malaya. But there was another character there, by the name of George Wharfe. He is another fellow that I learnt a lot from.
He was one of the legends of World War II, colonel, as I mentioned he ran the Battle School in Canungra, not to be confused with the Battle School I started later on in life at Tully. And I can remember, as we started to climb up this huge mountain, it was an eight hour climb with all of these heavy packs and George Wharfe was there at the bottom and he looked at me as I went past and he said, “G’day.”
and I said, “G’day sir.” And I got nearly to the top, about six hours later and the message came back, Colonel Wharfe wants to see you, “Where is he?” “Back down at the bottom of the mountain.” So I went all of the way back down and it is getting dark at that stage so I knew I would have to wait until the next morning to climb up again, absolutely exhausted. And Wharf said, “You’re wearing a female bayonet.” And the bayonet had a ring in it, I had it back to front, he had brought me all of the way down the hill to tell me that.
But his message was clear, attention to detail. And from then on I always made sure my bayonet was in the correct position and everything I did for a patrol or anything was spot on, because he was quite right. The next day I walked right up the bloody hill again.
Canungra by that stage would have been a very well oiled machine I mean they had so many guys pass through World War II?
Well no it wasn’t, Canungra. I can’t remember the date, but they opened up Canungra again specifically for our battalion, because we were going to Malaya, so they were relearning the ropes. Canungra really hit its maximum efficiency,
the well oiled machine as you put it, was 1967, that was during the Vietnam War, when it really hit its peak, very efficient machine I mean they were still teaching us World War II tactics and assaults by Japanese and so forth and as we found out when we got to Malaya the
techniques we were using were not good, not smart, training for the last war so to speak. I mean the very first contact our section had was with one individual who happened to be a very lucky young man. I was the second scout, the forward scout opened fire,
wasn’t under control. There was still terrorist activities and a lot of areas were ‘black’, black meaning it wasn’t safe to travel. You could be ambushed or subject to attack. Kedah was black, but the point they made was we were put in there initially because they thought it would be a good training ground because intelligence said that there wasn’t much activity around.
The truth was we walked into a pretty little place of terrorist activity, they had just been having a good time there, resting and enjoying themselves. And so that was the setting, our intelligence wasn’t good, it was very similar to American intelligence today. With all due respect to our American cousins, I don’t think their intelligence has been any good ever since the Battle at Alavair,
they always seem to get the wrong information somewhere along the line. We certainly had it wrong and the end result was we no sooner arrived there preceded by big publicity back home and air strikes and artillery and bombardments, we went in. And the bottom line was where the air strikes and the artillery had been, it just made our job more
difficult because they had knocked a few trees down and we had to go around in the rain forest which is not so easy.
was going to RV, but hang on that was the day before yesterday. But obviously intelligence like that was very important, equally if you got intelligence and didn’t act upon it you would lose the confidence of those who gave it, a lesson for any campaign. We had an incident after we moved into Perak where a sister company had shot up a couple of terrorists and one of them got away but he had been badly
wounded. The intelligence came through that he was suffering gangrene in his hands where the shotgun pellets through his hand and he was hiding out, his brother dobbed him in actually. So we sent out a small group, I was part of it and we went to where we knew he was hiding and he resisted and was killed and it was an
example of good intelligence and timely response. On another occasion there was an incident in Sungai Siput, the place I mentioned after we moved out of Kedah into Perak. Where there was several people in a bar, we were in a bar a couple of us had just moved into the toilets when this bloke threw a grenade in, came past on a bike and threw the grenade in and up she went, a couple of little girls were badly wounded.
And they got this bloke, he was on his bike and under careful interrogation by the local police, the Malay police, he decided to confess and gave some very variable information including the fact that there was some fifteen terrorists going to RV [rendezvous] out in an area outside of the rubber in a place called Jalon Tingi.
that was the information, it was hot, it was timely. And so we reacted, we went out as a company group during the night walking through the rubber in sandshoes to mask our normal patterned boots from the rubber tappers which would be out the next morning, which we did. And the concept was an area ambush where
we would have a number of groups scattered around the area. In addition we had mortars and Vickers machine guns. and unfortunately the enemy did arrive, but they arrived where there was very poor battle discipline in one particular group and they were still setting up their ambush when the gunner saw them coming and he couldn’t contact anyone so at the last minute he opened fire and he only fired one round out of his Bren gun
before it jammed. And of course it was another example of what these people believed in, flee to fight another day, which is very sensible. So they dropped their fourteen packs and fourteen hats or whatever it was and took off. And of course the firing started and our group was supposed to move, that was second plan to move around and cut off but the mortars and machine gun fire provided a barrier
between us and them. The end result: we didn’t get anyone, we got fourteen packs. The end result was that we obviously lost a lot of confidence in the source of intelligence. Not smart. And this comes back to team work and everything else. And so we had the bad news and the good news, and that was one of the bad news.
thinking, how did they know where I was? Suddenly the informer would be probably on the receiving end, and that happened more than once I might add. People found out in the rubber with their throats cut. Malaya was a very tough war in the emergency in that it required a very high degree of physical fitness, you weren’t in contact every day,
but when it happened it was short and sharp and often without any warning whatsoever. One occasion I can recall, an enemy camp we were at and it was getting close to last light when the forward scout, I was the second scout, indicated it was raining very heavy rain and there were tracks coming in and sure enough there were tracks joining
this track we were on. Platoon commander was very new to the game, he had just arrived in country. We had been there about fifteen months at this stage and had been in a number of contacts. And experience, and he said, “No, they’re rubber tappers.” And I undiplomatically pointed out that rubber tappers never operated in the rainforests because it was a ‘free go area’ – we could shoot them and there was no way in the world they would do it. Anyway we were told to move on. So we moved on a little further and there was more tracks coming in.
It was obvious that there was a big party in front of us, but the platoon commander’s main concern was to harbour up for the night which we should have already done because it gets very dangerous if you’re moving at that time of the day, the light is failing, your vision is failing and there is a need to organise yourself on the ground with daylight, so you know what you’re going to be doing that night. As it turned out Terry and I were doing leap frog, I walked past him
and as it turned out, obviously their day sentry had gone into camp to start their night routine, and I walked around the corner and there they are. So we said a quick “G’day!” to each other and into it. And I didn’t worry about fire control. I just let the whole magazine go on my Owen gun and then replaced it and started to go again when I heard a clunk, the round had jammed into the spout [gun’s barrel]. In the meantime, the rest of
the fellows hadn’t arrived and they decided that was time to get into me. And I dived behind this stash of rice and you could see the rice trickling down where they were getting into me. And ‘Bomber’ Harris arrived on the scene, really saved my life I guess, and he started to engage these with his Owen gun. The end result is that we hit several and they took off and we got a couple of rifles. But I
make that point because one minute you’re wet, tired, cold, hungry and all you want to do is harbour up for the night and the last thing on your mind is walking into an enemy camp. And suddenly you go around the corner and there it’s on. There were a few incidents like that.
our company where we killed a rubber tapper by accident, supposedly he was an innocent rubber tapper, I should say. But he was outside the curfew and it was at night time. And you have got to ask what is a rubber tapper doing out at night wandering through the rubber? The excuse his family gave he was going to worship at the local temple there, it was a bit
suss, [suspicious] anyway he was killed, it was during curfew. If it was daytime in that area, we would never engage anybody in the rubber. Until we actually identified that they were enemy and there would be a couple of occasions including in our company where we missed out because of that doubt. Inside the jungle I am not familiar with the rules of contact now, but
common sense would tell us that if you were on the edge of the jungle you would be very careful, but the incident I just explained to you was well inside the jungle and no doubt at all. The exception being the Saki, which was Malaysian for Aborigine, very primitive people, you know, the blowpipes and the loincloth,
bare feet and so forth, they used to be around. But you would have to go very deep in the jungle to find them and on those particular operations you would be told to be careful, unless of course the Saki was wearing a khaki hat and khaki jacket and carrying weapon, then you didn’t bother.
the emergency was still on. It was the same, I mean there is always tension there, you are out in the middle of nowhere. And your visibility, your knowledge of the area, is as far as you can see, which isn’t far. Probably the tension is more after, because you have been there before, and you know what the unexpected can result in. The tension is there, but soldiers
have a way of dealing with it. You get around the camp fire or the stove at night time, have a few cigarettes, heavy smokers, have a brew and your great luxury in life is to put up your tent and take your wet clothes off, put your dry set on and try and get some sleep before you’re required for sentry duty, and next
morning it is back on again. Take your dry clothes off and put your wet clothes back on again and get on with it for another day. But the tension varies if you suddenly think that you have found hostile signs then the adrenaline will start pumping, and then you find what you have found is a monkey track or something and then there is the big deflation. The tension
is there. It is the same. I am often amused by the people who talk about the boys in Timor, there were very few contacts but the reality is that a soldier that goes outside the wire, in a DMZ wherever, wherever you go outside the wire there is tension. And you might go out a hundred times and not fire a shot, but it doesn’t detract from the tension that the soldier had, Timor or wherever. It is an important factor.
well he is being stupid of course, and probably hasn’t been involved in those contacts. But it is no big deal, the tension is there but that comes from soldiering and soldiers develop ways to switch out of it. And interestingly enough some of us would argue that
soldiers get rid of that tension because when they get back to camp they just get a belly full of beer and get drunk. Others would argue in today’s society that they are nothing but drunks and they needed counselling, but the reality is when soldiers get drunk they talk about it, they release, and they might even have an argument amongst each other and then it is all over, it is as right as rain and they go back again. And each time you go out
you’re getting tired, but I suppose it is true to say that later on in life it might catch up with some of them in many ways. If you have the adrenaline pumping too often, it is going to have an impact on your heart or your nervous system or something. No big deal, we certainly didn’t see it that way I mean it
was expected. And to be fair and critical of ourselves I suppose it was also the macho effect of it. If you did feel a bit nervous you certainly weren’t going to tell your mate about it. Because that’s the other interesting thing, it doesn’t matter if it is Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Somalia or World War II, World War I or whatever, it is utter bullshit to say people stand and hold fast because of the flag of their nation,
or Mum at home with their apple pie as the Americans would say. It is all about your mates, it is all about not letting your mate to the right or left down. That’s the most important thing that comes first. As simple as that. it is comradeship. You can’t afford, you’re not going to, it’s an honour, you can’t afford to let you mates down no matter what the consequences. The same as in our regiment, we always said we would not leave our wounded behind. And we never have.
With very few exceptions. And we will never leave our dead behind, unless, it that happened on occasion you don’t risk somebody’s life for somebody who is dead. But it was that ethos, that character, and it was all built around that mateship that started way back in recruit training that started in that very primitive building when somebody said, “Clean your room.” That’s where it started and developed and it
is a very powerful weapon. Even today I can take you to a reunion where we all get emotional when we see each other. Some would even say we’re bloody poofters [homosexuals], we hug each other and kiss each other and whatever. We do. Because it is a bond stronger than others. Very strong., it is the most powerful weapon an army has if it has got mateship. And we have got it,
and we have still got it although we have got to be very careful and this is another thing I preach, Australian soldiers are very good at initiative and thinking for themselves and what we don’t want is to stamp it out of them and have goose stepping robots replace them. That’s our big strength in the Australian army.
What other release was there, did you have leave, head into the major towns when did you get a break from the jungle?
Well in the first tour, yeah there were towns and so forth. Leave wasn’t that often; you would probably do four to five weeks out there, carry huge weights and rely on air drops and if the air drops didn’t come. Then you really have to start sharing your last couple of biscuits with your mates or give up
smoking for a few days, or whatever. But yes, leave was there. The second time of course when I was over there, there was no contacts. The enemy had gone, dispersed, over the Thai border or whatever and that’s where we were operating on the Thai border and to my knowledge, and you might here different, but the reality is we didn’t have any contact in the second tour and we didn’t have any battle casualties, no battle deaths.
But nevertheless, if you talked to some of the mates that were with me, be they Korean or World War II or Malaya on the first trip there will be generally common agreement that our second tour of duty in 1961 was the hardest. Because we still didn’t know what was around the corner. There was no contact, they were still trying to maintain an alertness with the young blokes who
suddenly believed there was no bad blokes around, and the physical demand was even more immense than the first tour. There was a lot of movement, a lot of walking and a lot of climbing. And a lot of going without, it was pretty tough. And yet, see there is the comparison, there was no enemy. And yet oddly enough, sadly enough, a lot of the young
fellows that went on that trip never fired a shot in the true sense, but were magnificent infantry, you will never see them on Anzac Day because they don’t think they belong to it. And I keep arguing, I get very angry with them, because they are very much part of it.
had actually made the rank of corporal, we didn’t have a great deal to do with. We got on relatively well with the British soldiers, although on the second tour of duty there was a great difference of view between one of their regiments and ours, to the point where Ipo was a town put out of bounds to us. My platoon
commander had been killed and so I was acting platoon commander as a corporal, and I felt my duty to go down, and ‘Doggy’ Williams was his name, he was back home and he wanted to introduce me to his new bride, a Chinese girl in Ipo, and so we went down there and as we left my mates in the canteen at Lassa, we were off patrol at that stage. They said, “It is out of bounds.” And I said, “Don’t worry about it, nobody is
going to see us.” Anyway I went down and I didn’t go to see his Chinese wife. I went to the bar and I am eventually drinking with a couple of Brits much older that I am, and one of them is asking me, “How can we settle this problem between our regiment and yours?” And I said, “What do you reckon?” And he said, “A football game?” And I said, “No, that would be a blood bath. A better idea would be for some of your blokes to go on patrol with us and some of our guys to go patrol with you.”
And he said, “What a wonderful idea, by the way my name is Colonel So and So I am the commanding officer and this is my regimental sergeant major.” Of course I was only a corporal by then. I thought I am not even going to tell them who I am. Anyway at that stage my mate from Lassa walked in, they had decided to come down to Ipo to get me. And as they walked in I was with the CO [Commanding Officer] and I was hobnobbing it and so I just ignored them as they sat down and before I could go over and join them
the military police arrived, and they put them all under close arrest because they were out of bounds, they were in Ipo. And they knew I was one of them, but they also knew the CO and the RSM of this British Regiment, so they didn’t touch me. And as they were wheeling these blokes out they were saying, “What about him?” So I went back to camp, grabbed the platoon, we were off. We went up to the Thai border, and when we were
relieved, the helicopters came up and out came this fellow Frank Moffat, and where he used to have two stripes [corporal’s stripes on his arm] they had gone, and there was just a faded area where his stripes used to be. I knew straight away he had been busted [demoted]. I said, “G’day Frank.” He said, “Don’t Frank me you bastard, I lost those trying to go down and look after you and you see that little bastard” and there, you can spot him a mile away, he was a Pommy, they always wear their hats down over their eyes and they have got this pale skin.
He said, “You said that little bastard, because one of our so called mates was big mouthing with the CO of the British bloody battalion, I have got to put up with that little bastard for the next six weeks! And two of my best soldiers are down there being stuffed around by the Pommies.” And he said, “You wouldn’t know who thought that one out would you?” So anyway he turned around to this Pommy, the little Pommy is standing behind a log with his rifle looking out and he said, “I told you to go further back,
go back another kilometre, I don’t want to see you again.” When I got back to camp ‘Peggy’ O’Neil, our company commander, was there and he was beside himself. He said, “George I have got some bad news, Frank’s been busted, Duchy has been busted, Rowan has been busted, I had no choice to put them before the CO and they have all been stripped [lost their rank]. That makes you the
senior corporal in the company.” And I put my hand around him and tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Sir I am with you, you have got to do what you have got to do.” So that answers the first part. We didn’t get on very well with the Poms at all as soldiers. Together, if there was a fight, we would be mates. Anyway then about three weeks later I went down with malaria and was recuperating in the Cameron Highlands,
a cold part of Malaya, good for convalescence for malaria, bad malarias. And it was Anzac Day. I had recovered and we got permission to go and visit the local bar from the Pommy doctor in the Pommy hospital. And while we were there the Pommy RSM arrived and he hadn’t been told we were allowed out and ordered us back to camp. Of course I had had a few drinks by then, and told him to stuff off [go away]. Anyway there was a fight and I flattened him
and I ended up in the local gaol that night and when I got back to the hospital I had about five offences, all very serious ones, striking a senior officer and all of the rest of the stuff, and I thought “That’s me I am gone!” We got back to camp and Holland and Moffat, they are all beside themselves, they have all got their rank [back] by this stage, the company commander had no choice, there was no more experience in the company. And I am about to get busted. And I
front up to old Peggy O’Neil and he said, “I can’t help you, you are going to have to go before the CO.” And I thought “I am gone.” The day before I fronted [appeared before] the CO the signal comes through from British Brigade, which we are part of, saying : “Reference to charges against Mansford, tear them up. He was arrested by British military police without any Australian representatives present.” It was an illegal arrest, I was off
the hook. I was saved. And that all came about when ‘Breaker’ Morant [Australian trooper accused of killing prisoners] was executed by the Brits after the Boer War. After that the Australian government on Federation said, “No more will we put up with this nonsense, Australians will be tried by Australians arrested by Australians” unless there are certain clauses and so on. So I was laughing, I was thankful to ‘Breaker’ Morant. And today Dutchy
Holden and Frank Moffat swear blind I had friends in high places. That it was an injustice and I got off it. So that sums the soldiers’ approach to the British soldier and his hierarchy in Malaya, we tolerated each other is the best was of putting it.
story, because later on in life when I was a lieutenant colonel visiting the Chief of Army who had just given me the job of raising the Battle School, he took me down to the officers’ mess, and said, they did the normal courtesy from the senior man in the Australian Army, and the general said, “I have got George Mansford, he has come from up north, he is starting the Battle School, please make him feel welcome.” And I went over to get a drink, second
round one for me, one for the general, he bought the first one. I say that so you know I am not snivelling to the general. And I look at this bloke at the bar and I spotted him straight away, he was my platoon commander and I won’t go into details but he really sold me down the drain [betrayed me] to that contact we were talking about. And I said, “We have met before.” And he said, “I don’t think so.” He had his name tag on, and I said, “You’re the fellow
that was our platoon commander in Malaya.” And he admitted it. And there was my opportunity, I outranked him and I could have really made him look like an idiot, and I didn’t. I just said, “Good to see you again.” And walked away. But the chance was there. I have always felt good since, that I didn’t. So the platoon commander does that, and if your platoon commander doesn’t do that
when you start talking about sergeants and corporals, unless you’re noticed by the company commander you’re not going to go anywhere, until they do. The system has changed a bit since then and they have other ways of doing it. but those days it was a bit primitive. Mind you, I didn’t deserve to get promoted, I was very irresponsible in many ways when it came to discipline as far as the military was concerned,
I was a bit of a larrikin [noisy rebel]. And when I was promoted to lance corporal I was demoted as quick as I was promoted. And when I was promoted corporal I went on my second tour of duty, I was a corporal and I made sergeant on the way back on the troop ship, but there wasn’t a sergeants’ mess and by the time the boat got back I had gone to another battalion and I wasn’t a sergeant any more. And years later when I went to that same battalion I was a company commander, a major by that stage,
and I went down to the sergeants’ mess, and the RSM knew, he was an old mate of mine, and when I walked in he said, normal courtesies, “Gentlemen, Major Mansford, Company Commander of whatever company of the 1st Battalion. The only sergeant of the battalion never to set foot in our mess.”
They just broke up [laughed], everyone knew the story. And that’s true. Today I am the only sergeant of that battalion that was promoted to sergeant of that battalion that never set foot in the mess as a sergeant. For some people it is very hard to believe that I was commissioned [to officer], and they are probably still wondering at the success of it. But I keep saying to people the reason I went so high as far as the one
star was simply because people wanted to promote me, to get me out of the way.
I passed it, so I am not complaining, but I am thinking of others who didn’t. So there was all of that, they would assess your current affairs, your understanding of international affairs. Your political views, if you had any and I didn’t have any. I am apolitical, was then still am, always will be. So it was a very broad sense. They obviously knew,
I mean I had been in the military fourteen years in the ranks at that stage of the game and I had been through most of the ranks from private to sergeant several times, so it wasn’t really testing your military knowledge or your military leadership at that level, it was just confirming how they thought you would perform as an officer and
hence the knife and fork, part of it was your social graces. And me and a mate up in the Tablelands, Barry Callagary, we blew it on day one really. We went into the mess and immediately started to get drunk. And our mates said, “You’re done. You can’t do that in the officers’ mess.” But obviously they made a different assessment and they thought, “Well these blokes are pretty honest, they are not hiding in the cupboard so to speak,
they’re being what they are,” and we were.
expensive training assessment without doing that. The other logic is you could have twenty-three brilliant people so why would you get rid of nineteen of them, if you only needed four? Wouldn’t make sense. Also it was the stage where the army was beginning to expand, that was 1964. The army is very clever.
They had the vision to see that we were going to get committed to Vietnam even though they were politically involved, they could see the writing on the wall. Hence when I was talking about a corporal commanding a platoon, that was no difficulty for me because whenever we did our training, if I was a private going for corporal rank, I would be required to not
only learn and understand how to command a section, I would also be required to learn how to command a platoon and I would have to have some understanding of the company level. Just like the Germans did before World War I. So army was thinking three up all of the time. So when I was a corporal and they suddenly said, “You’re going to command the platoon on operations.” No trouble, I had done it before,
the difference being I was still a corporal, so there was no distance between me and my mates. There doesn’t have to be because Australian soldiers don’t need all of that bullshit, they can react to orders more so from people they respect and like, than just simply the rank.
Were you a bit ambitious as well, or was it just because people saw the way you were? You naturally had the skills?
Well I don’t know that I had the skills, but I think it was the latter, I wasn’t ambitious at all. Initially, I wasn’t ambitious for the army, I had the ambition to do six years and get out and study law and when I came home from Malaya the first time, I had already been to Korea and Malaya and I was twenty-two going on twenty-three and I went up to
what we called the repat [repatriation] mob, the rehabilitation mob you know look after veterans? And they said, “Well what do you want to do?” I said, “ I want to go to uni [university], I want to study law.” Because I had already matriculated [university entrance certificate] in my own time, that’s what made me feasible for this knife and fork course. It obviously impressed the system that I had matriculated in my own time by
correspondence and so forth, under very difficult circumstances and I said, “I want to do law.” And they laughed at me. And said, “No, the whole system has been revised, son. This is what we can do for you, we can give you a hundred and fifty dollars and kit you out as a butcher.” It’s true. “We can do this for you as a carpenter or whatever.” And both of my wives used to say I
was a lover, not a carpenter. I was hopeless with saws, still am so I was a lover not a carpenter. And so they were the two options given to me which today still infuriates me when I think of all of these young men and women who leave the armed forces on the belief that the government is going to give them a chance, not look after them but give them a chance. That was my chance. After six years,
three on operational service, they were going to make me a butcher. So I told them to shove it. And that’s when I went back. We were married then and I went back to Malaya and the interesting thing is if there was any ambition it might have started then. It was on that trip that I was a corporal in all sorts of strife,
on the way home I was a sergeant in a bit of trouble. I think my ambition started after I became an officer and even then it wasn’t of great expectations, to steal the phrase. So I think I am long winded about this but I think it was the latter if there was any development for me, it was just fate or somebody above
me had more confidence in me than I believed I needed, as simple as that.
How would you describe your own personal leadership style?
Different. It’s not the conventional way that you will get from R&C [Rest and Comfort], oddly enough I go back to lecture on leadership, they want me back there all of the time, on a voluntary basis I might add, in that they don’t pay me the bastards. I enjoy it and to me it is a great honour because I didn’t go to R and C and not many are invited, back
even amongst their own class. My style is different but I am smart enough to know the important elements of leadership, familiarity and everything else, and that’s true. And I learnt a lot of my lessons from when I was a soldier and I often say it. Officers would call me “Mansford!,” and I detested that, it was either
“Private Mansford, hey you or that fellow over there.” Well many a time I got into trouble saying, “My name is George.” Or whatever. And it was in Malaya with the platoon commander who was killed actually. As I walked up the hill he said, “You’re blood’s worth bottling George.” That made my day. I was
suddenly recognised. That made my day. So as a brigade commander, some people used to have heart attacks over it, to me my soldiers were Billy or Fred or whatever, unless they were senior officers or the regimental sergeant major, I would say, “G’day RSM” even though he was an old mate. But to the young soldier “G’day Billy, how is your family?” “G’day Fred.” I never had any problems, they didn’t say, “All right George.” So a
different approach. And I am not here to say that’s a brilliant discovery. I am not saying it is the way to lead. I am just saying everyone has got their own style and I was smart enough to learn from so many brilliant leaders that commanded me at different times. I just took a bit from everyone without copying them.
is you have come up with a brilliant story a brilliant excuse. The bad news is I used to use the same bloody one myself. I find you guilty, a hundred dollar fine. March him out RSM.” I am digressing I get a kick out of this. I was down lecturing at Brisbane not so long ago and the old regimental sergeant major, he said, “Sir you wouldn’t remember me, I was a soldier at the Battle School when you first started and commanded it.
When we were out we were about five mile out and we were tired and hungry,” because I always made sure they were, and he said, “I threw a piece of paper on the ground and I looked around and you were watching me and I thought oh my God I am gone. “ Litter discipline was absolutely important. And he said, “You said nothing. And we ran all of the five miles back absolutely exhausted,
and that afternoon at about four o’clock and you said, ‘Didn’t you forget something?” he was a private soldier he said, “I am saying to myself, what did I forget, what is this silly old bastard on about?” and then I said to him, “You dropped a piece of paper well up the road about two hours out, you had better go and get it.” So he had to go all of the way back out there, find the piece of paper report back to me and by
then it was about eleven o’clock at night, he had missed dinner. He had never forgotten it. And the final one without boring you, we always used to change everything at the Battle School because soldiers are too smart, they can anticipate, so I would always change the exercises and it was always related to my own combat experience, the unexpected. About midnight they would get thrown out of their little tents and so forth and if they hadn’t packed
properly that was tough. They would be on the road, and for the next twenty-four hours they would be marching, not eating, walking, running fighting, exhausted and by the time they got back to the camp, the final thing they did, they couldn’t even think properly at this stage and that was deliberate, message from the runner and so forth, and they had to engage these targets, sit up targets. And this soldier was absolutely stuffed and he went to engage the target and he had a stoppage and the brain
snapped and he threw his weapon on the ground and said, “You can all get stuffed. I have had enough!” I said, “Charge him RSM.” He said, “Yes sir charged blah, blah” That afternoon they’re all dressed, they have all had their showers, they have all been paid, they are going to go back to the unit in Townsville; they are going to go out to the hotels, chase sheilas [girls], catch up with their beautiful wives, going to meet up with their families. And this bloke fronts me up and he has got a long face, it is not just a sad face it is one of defiance. You could pick it a mile up, I can pick it time and time again. And I thought, “Well you’re
going to learn a lesson you will never forget son.” Anyway the charges were read out and he has still got the long defiant face, I don’t care what you do to me, you can fine me five hundred dollars, I am going home. I tore the charge sheet up and said, “Son I am not going to charge you. I don’t want to spoil your record.” And he broke into a big grin,” I have beaten these bastards.” I said, “What I am going to do with you, you’re not going home you are going to stay with me and start the next course tomorrow. You’re with me for another five weeks.”
And that happened. And the word got around Australia within twenty-four hours, “Don’t stuff around with ‘Warrie’ George” ‘Warrie’ George they used to call me, “Don’t stuff around with ‘Warrie’ George, he did this to Billy Bloggs.” “He couldn’t do that?” “I am telling you, he did it.” Never had a problem after that. And where does it come from? It comes from people like Saunders who demonstrated that there are other ways to discipline soldiers other than the formal black cap before you hang
them. He promoted me, that was his psyche. There was another fellow by the name of Sullivan just before Korea. We were out for the night and being a larrikin, three o’clock in the morning I get the flag pole and I put a pair of ladies panties on it. Nothing symbolic, I just put them up there, I wanted to be different. And as I looked around there is Joe Sullivan the company sergeant major he was then, and he said, “I will see you in the morning.”
And he could have charged me, I could have been fourteen days confined to barracks and we had about four days before we left. For the next three nights, he let me off the last night before we went to Korea, the next three night from six o’clock to ten o’clock I had to walk around the flag pole with a baseball bat protecting the flag post. And
then from two o’clock to six o’clock I had to do the same. Tired, and of course the six to ten was clever because I couldn’t get near the canteen. The boozer [bar] was closed by the time I finished the first shift. And there was others. When you read about the calling of the roll in Puckapunyal where a soldier tries to cover for his mate,
that was me. And the lesson learnt from that the sergeant in question made me call the roll for ever and ever, after that to explain what it was all about. So that’s leadership. I don’t think I am a good leader in that respect, I have been a fortunate leader and if anything I have the ability to understand the people underneath me and get the best out of them.
Well you certainly don’t break anyone but you can embarrass them, you can humiliate them, you can appeal to them. There is all sorts of those methods you can use, depending on how tough the egg is to crack. Humiliation is the last one you need to use. But there has been the odd occasion when it has been necessary, particularly when it is somebody in the bully line. But equally
there is other standards you see, for all of that flippancy and humour, I sacked two lieutenant colonels one after the other just like that, even though it was not good for the battalion and not good for the brigade because the morals were there and the ethics were there, they had disobeyed them. It involved women; the first one tried to rape a girl. Gone. The other
one was being very suggestive to a girl and I just told him, “If you’re guilty of that my advice is you resign today, because I am going to investigate and if I find there is any evidence there I am going to have you court-martialled.” He resigned the same day. So it was easy for him, easy for the brigade and less uncomforting for the girl involved, got rid of it. So that was breaking, I suppose.
And those sorts of things happen. But they’re rare, I find most people react very well to discipline.
Graham Belleville. The interesting thing was that the bloke who took over from me was a friend of mine too, Karl Baudestil and he was killed too. So I was in the middle and the two warrant officers who took over from me in Bien Hoa didn’t listen to me and they were killed. My first job was at a place called Duc Mi Ranger Training Centre which was a cosy job in the beginning in that you were simply
advising in the training of Rangers being the Special Forces, Vietnamese Rangers. There are blokes that were supposed to travel lightly armed like commandos, but there is a question mark on all of that. But in the process of doing that there was a need to get out there in the field with each platoon that you were training and be out there with them on operations advising
them to see how they were going. Some pretty hairy [frightening] experiences. I can recall one where I got a new warrant officer straight out of Australia, and being a bit critical, he wasn’t physically fit and that night we were camped and we came under attack, that afternoon and he wasn’t there because we had made a long approach march, and nobody knew where he was, he was missing. So we have got all of these bad guys around and I had to go back
out and try to find him by myself. And about forty minutes down the track I found him, it was probably as scared as I have ever been. So I found him suffering from heat stroke and everything and brought him back in and of course everyone is shooting at everybody. They were the sorts of circumstances. There was another time with another fellow who was later killed Geoff Scott, I was
with an under strength platoon Rangers you know lightly armed, gung-ho, and there is Geoff and me and we ran into this village, and they made a big song and dance of us, this is in 2 Corps, up near Min Hoa, a place in the mountains and they said, through the interpreter they were saying we were the first white men they had seen since the French. And I said, “That can’t be right,
you have obviously had security forces.” And they said, “No, we have had nobody.” The intelligence was all totally wrong and we were in bad fellow [Viet Cong] country very much. “Now that you’re here we feel liberated, the Viet Cong come in virtually every night and surround the village and take some of your young people away and indoctrinate us.” and so forth. In the meantime the curry chicken they cooked for us wasn’t very appetising.
So I said, “We have got to get out of here.” And so just on last light we took off and you could hear the dogs barking around the camp which meant that they were already on their way, we didn’t make it. We found this old French fort all overgrown, so we positioned ourselves around that and during the night the bad guys came past us, just past us. And I was praying to God that no one would open fire, there was only a few of us and there was a lot of them.
Radio wasn’t working and we were out of range of artillery and all of the rest of the stuff. Next morning they were gone because we owned the day and they owned the night, so to speak, and but they had burnt the old fellow’s hut down and he was taken away, never saw him again. I felt pretty bad about that. So they were the sorts of things. And after that I joined a Ranger battalion that was operating in meeting emergencies so to speak
and ended up down near the Australian battalion Task Force, in the Nui Dat Hills and so forth and then from there I went to a place called Binh Ba which became the scene for a big battle between the Australians and the North Vietnamese later on. Binh Ba was an outpost really, it was an approach to the Task Force, and the
theory was we would get hit first, and probably overrun, but it would give the Task Force adequate warning, so I was there for about six months as well, which was the Regional Popular Force. So I went from one extreme where you had lots of priorities, to the other where you had to fend for yourself. We had to even steal our own bloody vehicle off the Yanks.
small team. I can understand where they were coming from. I mean, because you were going to virtually work in isolation, you had to be able to work and perform by yourself in a hostile environment without relying on a team. And that in itself was pretty demanding I can tell you. Binh Ba for example, we were Regional Forces,
I was supposed to have a hundred and sixty, I had about seventy. When I arrived there they were all poorly equipped, weapons were rusty and they were indifferent, and we were out of the artillery range and I was getting all of these reports, a chopper would come in each afternoon at one stage. “An NVA [North Vietnamese Army] regiment is camped just outside your backyard and intelligence reckons they’re going to attack you
tomorrow night.” And you knew bloody well if you had that sort of force attacking you, you were gone. All I could do was dig in and the philosophy I was telling my mates, two warrant officers, that if they come we just stand and fight because there is no way out. That plays on your mind. That becomes very demanding. And then of course the chopper [helicopter] whops away and nothing happens, and then
two days later they are back with a fresh report. What they were saying was right in the long term but it happened after I left, they attacked Binh Ba after I left and that’s where one of the battalions, a regiment came up with tanks and APCs [Armoured Personnel Carriers] and really did it over like a dinner, the battle of Binh Ba. So I think that was all about the selection process and certainly when I was an instructor at
Canungra after I had done my tour of duty in Vietnam with the team, it was obvious that that’s what it was all about, because we were all involved in it.
be back there again. The motivation was there when they would be in camp in a unit operating there, and they would get a message that their family has just been killed in Hue, massacred by Viet Cong. Or somebody else has been bombed by an American plane. Hard to motivate people in your own place, it was pretty common stuff. In fact one of the captains I worked with and
his wife, beautiful woman. I brought over a little koala bear from Australia, you know one that played Waltzing Matilda and I had it here, I have just given it away to my daughter. His mother was an artist in Hue, she painted this beautiful sketch of me in uniform and slouch hat. In the Tet Offensive she and her husband were just taken away hands tied behind their back by the Viet Cong and murdered. That didn’t motivate him,
other than revenge and so forth, but when he was away he was worrying about his own wife and child and from all reports all three of them were killed after I left. So there is all of that. There comes a point of despondency or futility that says, “Why are we doing this?” Great tragedy
and another tragedy is that it plays on a lot of us that we left them and we deserted them.
no doubt I would have been very cranky obviously if I hadn’t have been able to achieve that. But the greatest challenge for me was that the unit at Binh Ba was able to operate after I left and it was capable of doing that. I mean I have just written an article for our association which talks about the dirty rifles and so on when I arrived,
and indifference, but when I left there was a rickety old bamboo pole with their national flag going up every morning, and even though it wasn’t Coldstream Guards [British elite troops] it was “present arms” to their flag and their weapons were oiled and they were clean. More numbers and more weapons, and there was a defensive position there that we had built that they could defend themselves from and fight from.
So that was my biggest challenge and in doing that we had to steal from the Task Force, we had to steal a vehicle from the Yanks. Which is an interesting story because on one of our stealing operations we got picked up by the American MPs [military police] and one of my warrant officers in the back he was drunk, it was his turn to get drunk. And they said, “That warrant officer in the back is drunk.” And I said, “He had better be. I told the bastard to get drunk.” And they couldn’t understand that coming from an Australian captain.
And they said, “Sir, you are going down the street the wrong way.” It was a one way street and we were going the wrong way. And I said to them, “We are just down from an outpost at Binh Ba, we are down here for the day.” It was enough but it was a stolen vehicle, one of their vehicles, red hot stolen. And when I left Binh Ba I said to the two warrant officers who took over, they weren’t replacing me with an officer, Baudestil,
the bloke I was telling you about before, instead of coming where I was went further north and he was killed. And I said to them, “Whatever you do don’t set a pattern in your runs which are rare from here down to the Task Force. There is only one road from here through the rubber and you know it is too dangerous, you won’t make it if you set a pattern.” Well they did and they were both killed in an
ambush, old Charlie [Viet Cong] was waiting for them. So the greatest achievement was Binh Ba and the most important one was getting out of there with my hair and my warrant officers. If there was a disappointment it was that the warrant officers that took over from me didn’t, but there was nothing I could do about that.
Jack Morrison [Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar] and Jack was around and we would play two-up [gambling game] and have a few beers and then everyone would go back scattered all over the countryside, Anzac Day was our day that we would all get together, unless somebody was on operation. Anyway one of those occasions the two up, Jack had one of the American jackets and he cleaned everybody
up in two up and he has got money stashed all over him and he went back to his Vietnamese unit the next night and they got attacked by NVA the next day and got overrun. When they got down to the bottom of the hill Jack reorganised the survivors and they counter attacked and took the hill again. And the next reunion we had there were several of us that got together and narked [teased] old Jack and said, “Jack the only reason you went back up that hill was because you had left your jacket there,
with all of the money in it.” He got a Distinguished Conduct Medal for that. So you know the other thing about Vietnam, some of the sad memories being on the hill on Christmas Day during the truce with a mate of mine from Korea who was a major at that stage and he was all
excited, he was just leaving Task Force headquarters to take over a company in one of the battalions. And it was Christmas Day and beer was slow, we couldn’t get any beer from anywhere because we were on an isolated position. And we had this black duck, Emu Beer, one can of Emu Beer between us. Rusty, hot. And one old tin of meat between us. No mail because the posties [postal workers] were going slow and
we toasted each other with the one can, sipping our Merry Christmas. I was going home and forty-eight hours later he was killed. I never did see his widow for a number of reasons, different directions. But on the Welcome Home Parade I went down to that on that ceremony the laying of the wreaths, on his name she came forward and laid a wreath but
I didn’t go near her, she was too upset. That was very sad that. A few others, I mean I was there the day before Long Tan [a key battle for Australians in Vietnam]. I had taken time off from 2 Corps to go down and see my old battalion. Charles Mollison wanted me to go out with him on his patrol that ended up running to the rescue of Long Tan. I was all set to go except then the CO, thank God, rang me and said, “I heard
you are in Nui Dat. Get back to your unit in a hurry.” Which I did and the next day Long Tan occurred. I spent the night before with Harry Smith and his mob and I can still see the Delta company boys, they were having a big concert and Harry was talking about how there was, “No VC around there, not like you blokes have got up north.” And I said, “Don’t worry about it Harry, they will find you sooner or later.” And that night they mortared the place and the next day
he went out there. I was talking about, on the funny side, we came home and when I eventually remarried I was with the 1st Battalion company commander and we were getting ready to go back to Vietnam on another tour of duty, and of course in those days you always had to go through Canungra.
And so I went down to Canungra with the company, I was a major then. We came out of the bush after four weeks, dirty, tired, clothes are torn and hungry. And we got on the main road and a car pulled up and said, “General Westmoreland – you know the boss in Vietnam? [William Westmoreland – US Commander in Vietnam] He is visiting Australia and he has just made a surprise visit to Canungra and he wants to see some Australian soldiers. He is very impressed with Australian soldiers and seeing you blokes are going back, he wants to see you.” Westmoreland turns up
with his entourage, press cameras and TV, and General MacDonald who was GOC [General Officer Commanding] Northern Command, he is there with his entourage. Westmoreland comes up and shakes hands, and I introduce myself. And he said, “How many have you got in your company?” I said, “A hundred and twenty sir.” And he said, “I understand you have got conscripts?” I said, “Half and half sir, half regular half conscripts.” And he said, “Is that a problem?” and I said, “No sir, because they have all volunteered for Vietnam, regular and National Service.”
And he said, “I am very impressed with that, can I see them?” So there they are in three ranks, rigidly at attention, all in combat gear, disciplined soldiers. And we are walking up the front rank and Westmoreland stops in the middle of the front rank to talk to this soldier, a little fellow I can still see him. And the light came on, little warning light came on because I had never seen this fellow before in my life. As it turns out he was a reinforcement and he arrived the week before
and the CSM had put him in one of the platoons. He was a cook from admin [administration] company and they had to do their training too. And General Westmoreland said, “Tell me son, are you regular or National Service?” And he said, “I am National Service sir.” And he said, “Oh that’s good, your company commander tells me you’re all volunteers and you can’t wait to get to Vietnam.” And this young bloke says, this miserable cook says, “I have never heard so much bullshit in all my life.” He said, “I have done
twenty-two months in this circus, two months to go before I am back in civvie street and I can’t wait to get out of this bloody clown mob!” And General Westmoreland’s mouth shuts, General McDonald’s mouth opens and the rage, you can see his hair standing up and the cameras are clicking and the TV cameras are whirring and Westmoreland didn’t ask not one other soul. So my
claim to fame when you talk about ambition, my claim to fame had just gone suddenly down the gurgler [drain] I could see it in the headlines the next day, ‘National Serviceman rebukes Westmoreland’ or ‘Soldier tells Westmoreland to get stuffed! National Serviceman refuses to go’. And Macdonald is looking at me as if to say “Mansford, you will never
get beyond major.” They are the breaks. He was a soldier and as I said later on to him, “You’re a soldier and you’re entitled to give your complaint to any senior officer going, but why the bloody hell didn’t you tell me or keep your mouth shut, you little bastard?” So there you go. When we talk about instant replay and instant news and
satellites, it was happening then but imagine it now, there would be replays of it all day. So that probably summed up Vietnam. I have never regretted going there, most of my mates have never regretted going there. We are very bitter still to this day about the fact that when we went there confetti was thrown on us and it was a landslide victory for the Libs [governing Federal Liberal Party] because they
had introduced National Service and we had committed there, and yet a short time after that our wives were being abused, and the difficulty of returning. I can recall I was out on patrol at Binh Ba being shelled by our own artillery, accidentally, but being shelled by our own artillery, and forty-eight hours later watching my son play football at a barbecue.
I couldn’t adjust. And what made it harder was people would say, “Where have you been George?” “I just got back from Vietnam.” They didn’t say, “Oh, well done,” or anything like that. Or, “Glad to see you back.” It was just, “Hey Fred, pass us another beer.” As if I had been down to the butcher’s.
The reality is in Vietnam they were totally outmatched, the heaviest weapon they had was a Browning automatic rifle or a thirty calibre machine gun. And it was limited back up, they were a conventional battalion and so it wasn’t difficult for them to get outgunned. And the other stupid thing about it which I quickly identified, they were being misemployed.
When I left, Rangers would be used to react as reaction forces, so if there was a town under siege for example or a garrison or outpost, these blokes would race up to relieve it and more often than not they would go by vehicle and more often than not they would be the target because the town or the outpost was just bait to get these blokes onto the road in the killing ground, and these blokes would be decimated.
Sometimes they would go by chopper and they would go into the obvious landing zones where the Viet Cong were waiting. They took terrible casualties in that regard and it bled the Ranger elite dry. And I could never understand why. If you’re going to do that, then they needed to be equipped differently with different weapons and so forth.
They did it at Hue, they were the reaction force for Hue and when I was operating with them they were always a reaction force and the fall guy really, based on the stupidity that because they were a Ranger corps they were invulnerable and bullet-proof and they weren’t.
Vietnam is rainforest., there was lots of open terrain which could be murderous. Whereas our blokes in the main were in the rainforest and we were very good in the rainforest, in the jungle and we could hold our own. Americans were a bit critical of the Australians in that they sometimes suggested we weren’t looking for a fight, because the Australians would move along not on tracks,
stopping and listening and waiting to pick up sounds. Well it speaks for itself – I mean Phuoc Tuy where the Australians were, we defeated the enemy in Phuoc Tuy, the enemy were beaten, it is a historical fact. They never did come back until the Australians were pulling out in Phuoc Tuy. They tried it in Long Tan, and got done [beaten].
And they tried again in the Tet Offensive in Ba-ria, and did a little bit of damage and they got done again, at Binh Ba, on the three occasions where they tried to take the Australians on they got bloody noses, and of course all of those small patrols and so forth that occurred in the jungle. There was a difference in our approach to it and the Vietnamese were more imitating the
Americans, and understandably, I mean they were being led by Americans, basically in most cases. They weren’t up to it. Not because they weren’t brave or up to it, but there was a continual dilution of their ranks in casualties and so forth, I don’t think they ever recovered from it.
What effect did that have on you, that news?
Well as I was saying before there was nothing you could do. I knew if the intelligence was right, well you had better start crossing yourself [asking for divine help]. We didn’t have the artillery support, all we could rely on was a quick reaction from the Task Force and that would be slow
because the Australians weren’t stupid, they weren’t going to come charging up the road to relieve us, they were going to come cross country and that would take time. And so as I said I had two advisers I would say, “Listen boys this is it. We had better get ready. We have got ammunition here, and ammunition there and if we get over run there, we can fall back and do this and that.” So it was positive in that respect, we were going to stay and fight, we weren’t just going to get overrun, we had our fall back positions
inside the outpost, on the assumption that someone would come to the rescue, like 7 Cav [Cavalry].
If there was any observations out of Vietnam it was one of great tragedy, uprooting all of those youngsters but more so their families. Terrible toll. As I said I think it was a classic example of yet another occasion that it could have been resolved in different ways, if the
Indochina war had have been resolved separately. Or a classic occasion of even before we went in there to negotiate and resolve it. It is not unlike, I don’t want to peddle my own wheelbarrow but it is not unlike Iraq. You know we have got the same sort of circumstances where people are driven more by emotions and personal view as opposed to the cold hard facts and reality.
And sadly that’s war. Sadly you know, touch wood, we won’t see any suffering from our people in Iraq but chances are we will. Chances are we will and I hope we don’t. So the lesson of all of this is, and I continually say it when I make comments publicly and I am
reasonably well sought after as a speaker at different places, is the fact that war is the very last resort. It is something that we should never try and avoid at all costs, but it is certainly the last resort. And I don’t think, there haven’t been enough arguments for me to say we have tried everything in recent times.
saw that in the village that hadn’t been patrolled, where the old man gave me curried chicken. I saw it in Binh Ba, no matter what we did it wasn’t long before two warrant officers were killed and then the battle of Binh Ba. And I saw by reading the newspapers about some of the Vietnamese battalions that I was familiar with and fond of being decimated.
But above all it was there before I left and it was very frustrating and I have got to say, it wasn’t long after I returned home before I lost my wife, and that probably started the marbles clicking. And 69 was such a bloody bad year I lost so many mates I lost
count, and virtually all of them were married and so I became Mr Fix It, wandering around talking to the widows and so forth. That in itself was a tragedy I hadn’t even probed before, because as a soldier you write home, you tell someone that their husband did this or that and sometimes lie about it. But you never saw the
suffering or the agony of the widow with kids, terrible. And I was visibly moved by it. I remember one girl, I still communicate with her, she lost her husband over there on the Team, I went there for dinner one night, we were both single actually, I was a widow and she was a widow, there was nothing
in it, just companionship. And I was there for dinner and we were supporting each other and I will never forget it. She said, “I have just got this letter from the Prime Minister. I am excited about it but what does this mean?” And it was [the bravery award] Mentioned in Dispatches, posthumous obviously, and what it meant, he had been given this little oak leaf for his ribbon, that in some cases you are mentioned for a higher award and you don’t get it, that’s Mentioned in Dispatches.
So I explained it to her and she was happy, but I was shocked, furious angry, that the system hadn’t had the guts, courage, leadership man management or sound administration, to go around and give her the letter and explain it for Christ’s sake. Here she was a lonely grieving widow with a child of twelve months at that stage in a room in the
Gold Coast trying to find her way in life and no bastard would bother to tell her what it was about. And last year when I was down military college, if you’re listening Johnny, the commandant was just telling me he had been to Bundaberg to present medals, she was remarried but did I know her? Her name was Betty Bodestal? Of course I knew her she was an old friend as he was. And I had seen her, she was
I had been communicating with her in those bad days. But why was she there? Because nobody had ever given her his medals. He was killed in 1967 – that’s thirty-six years later. The government didn’t decide to give them, somebody found out she didn’t have them and went chasing them up., that’s unforgivable.
Unforgivable. I have given you the good side of the army and so forth, but gee there is a rotten side too, be it to do with the government or the bureaucrats. That’s part of it.
with a bloke and wanted to know what was my view, she wanted to go and live with him. You have got to understand we were talking about a time when we were, it was a different society. We weren’t as liberal as we are now. And my comment to her was, “Well you have got to do what you have got to do. Billy won’t object. He wants you to be happy. But you have
got to be careful, if you want to live with him why not marry him? He could just dump you?” And her answer was very simple. She said, “George you don’t understand. If I marry him I am going to lose my war pension. And if this bloke dies at a later date I am going to have nothing.” So we even had this in the system, that our widows that had lost their husbands, “There is your war widow
pension. Thank you very much, but by the way if you get married next week you are going to lose it all.” And some of them did get married and lose their husbands and got nothing. I went on a crusade about that and got the ball rolling and then dropped out of it for a number of reasons because the ball was rolling. And it was the year before last they decided people who were widows and had got married again, as a result of their husband being in action would keep their pension.
And when you talk about ironic when I lost my first wife all I wanted to do was go back to Vietnam. All I wanted to do was go back and take out my spite on somebody I understood I could take it out on. It was a selfish approach but I was immensely grieved I loved her so much. It was ironic in that about
twelve months after she had gone I went up to get paid and they said, “There is no pay for you, you owe twelve months’ back pay of marriage allowance.” Which when you’re married you have got an extra bit of pay to look after your family. And I said, “How come?” And they said, “The children aren’t living with you, you have got to be under the same roof.” And I said, “How the bloody hell can my children live with me in the army under the same roof, I have been in a tent ever since?” So I lost it and when I eventually married and found this beautiful second bride,
I appealed to the CO who knocked it back, then I appealed to Northern Command who knocked it back. Then I appealed to Sydney where the headquarters is, to redress a wrong, the very same principal that young soldier used with Westmoreland. And then Sydney knocked it back. And then I appealed in Canberra and they knocked it back. So then I sent it to the Army Board, the board of
generals, and they knocked it back. No one was sympathetic, “No, they’re the rules.” And I had one last appeal to the Governor General and I took it, I wrote to the Governor General and I was married about this stage and it was about two or three years after I started this appeal process, and we were getting ready to go back to Vietnam and I got a phone call from [Lionel] Murphy who was the [Federal] attorney general,
personal phone call. He said, “Look I apologise for this, they have done you such a grievous wrong, you can sue the pants off the army if you want to.” It was a phone call I wasn’t supposed to have gotten. And twenty-four hours later I got this letter in communiqué from the military board of generals it said, it didn’t say it had been before the
Governor General, “We have reconsidered and we are happy to give you back-pay if you promise you won’t take any legal action and whatever.” So I spoke to my bride Helen. And she said, “George darling, you have got to do what you have got to do but my advice, you have got a lot of time left in the army, so why rock the boat? If you can get that obstruction eliminated and corrected for future generations why bother?” So we got this nice big sum of money back, and a
nice letter from the general saying it had been rectified. Three months later, no the next year and we were getting ready to go to Vietnam I think and this bloke lost his wife in a tragic accident and he had two children. So I grabbed him and said, “Listen mate I have been through this, I can help you.” I said, “I am going to send you on compassionate leave, you’re going now
and if you need anything call out. And believe me they won’t touch your pay, that’s all been sorted out.” Well he finished his compassionate leave and he came back and said, “Sir you are wrong, I have just got a letter saying because the children aren’t living with you you have just forfeited your marriage allowance.” So I went up to the commanding officer, I was a major and the commanding officer was an old mate of mine, threw it on his desk and said, “Sir you have
got a choice, we can either fix that or I am walking out the gate. I am not going to have this.” He agreed with me and we both revolted actually, rebelled, and they fixed it, they finally fixed it. It took yet another incident before the system did it. Yet it is the same system that will tell you all about leadership and to know them and how to look after them.
And back on a plane, back to the unit. I went down to the 6 RAR just prior to Long Tan with a bloke by the name of Felix Consenkus, he is dead now, we went down there for about three days. That was it, at that stage when we went to Binh Ba everybody was getting so bloody tired I pulled the two warrant officers and myself out and on one of
our trips we went down to Vung Tau and if you excuse my language, got pissed. And they were single blokes so they started chasing sheilas, but I was married so I just kept getting drunk. That was twenty-four hours overnight. That was it, other than right at the
end of the tour of duty, I got whacked with a mine blast and I was in hospital and I walked out of the hospital down in Vung Tau and then joined 6 RAR on one of their operations. I was longing for Australian company. For twelve months I had been virtually with Vietnamese, it didn’t matter where they were. I felt happy being with the battalion out on operation,
I felt comfortable I was with Australians. Of course why I was out there the CO found out I had walked out of the hospital and I got another rocket and was told to get my backside back to Vung Tau and get on a plane to Hong Kong for R and R, which I did. I went there for five days and then got back to Vung Tau and back out to Binh Ba and took a
patrol out and that was when we were shelled and then forty-eight hours later I was home watching football. So that was my rest, five days in Hong Kong, a trip to Da Nang for two up with the boys overnight, a trip to Vung Tau overnight. A trip to Nui Dat to see 6 RAR, which is about three days and I suppose
you could argue that I had a bit of rest and recreation out with 6 RAR on operation.
time simply does not know the military. And there are generals that say that, well they don’t understand leadership or their soldiers, these soldiers within twelve months of being conscripted were fighting battles winning and commanding. Absolutely brilliant and because they came from all walks of life they brought with them a sense of maturity to the army, a maturity that the regular army didn’t have. It was a challenge to a lot of the young men in
the regular army. And it was a great changing pattern of the army and I am sure history will show that if anyone is smart enough to read into it. But as I said earlier I think, the bank clerk for example, he was on a plane and like me twenty-four hours later he was in an airport in Sydney, for example with someone saying, “There is your discharge papers, there is your pay, go home and get out of uniform.” The
following week he is back at work. He can’t connect or relate to his old football mates. His girlfriends are probably gone if he had a girlfriend at that age. Suddenly he is back in the same bank stamping things and yet a couple of weeks before that he was in Vietnam. And people say, “Why can’t he adjust?” Well how can he bloody adjust? I was able to adjust because I was back in the military family, I was back in Canungra, and even though every time
a machine gun went off I would be doing things instinctively, not breaking down and having convulsions but instinctively reacting. I was there and it was like a diver, you’re slowly coming up so you don’t get the bends [pain from sudden return to the surface], I was doing that; slowly absorbing it so that I didn’t have any of this trauma. The young national servicemen didn’t have any of that, straight from the bottom up to the top. He didn’t even
have his mates to go and talk to. He didn’t have a CSM, a CO, he didn’t have a badge, he had nothing. We just threw him back out there. Where some of them came back on the troop ship. And if you talk to a lot of them when you’re interviewing people you will probably find when they talk about coming back on the troop ship that was far better that whoof! [on a plane], even though it was only ten or twelve days, they had time to suddenly accept, relax and adjust, even that
was a short period of time. It was a stupid way. World War I, no one could even compare the combat our grandfathers or great grandfathers or fathers fought in, but equally they had a month or so coming back which helped, it had to help. Same as World War II, they were still in the islands waiting for six months sometimes before they came home. Vietnam no.
And it is inexcusable because our medical science at that time including psychology.
leaning on a tree, the obvious things which a lot of youngsters don’t even understand. So we did all of that and it was very demanding, and it was during that time that I lost my wife and I can always remember Canungra as a place where, that going up from the sandy bottom up to the top, there were other mates with me.
Jimmy Bourke had been shot through the mouth, he had lost half of his platoon, sniper they knocked them off one by one. Jimmy was having difficulty adjusting. David Rowe had lost a warrant officer and always blamed himself, he was having difficulties and there were others and we were like a magnet within this brotherhood, outside on the bar.
We were all married and of course I was still living in because my family was still living in in Brisbane, they had married quarters. And it wasn’t any disrespect for wives or lack of love for wives, we just wanted to cling to each other, and we would drink. We used to drink and go our separate ways and we became very close, we had been close before but it was our way of slowly releasing it. I can always remember that. And there is an amusing side to it, there was
one night we got some very bad news that we had lost something like about seven of our mates in twenty-four hours over there. So I said, “Stuff this.” We weren’t allowed in the mess if we were in jungle greens and of course we were on the Battle Ridge so we were always in jungle greens. So I said, “Let’s go inside the mess.” It was a cold night., so we all went in, and Felix Consenkus, Military Cross winner, he was on the team, we were all ex-members of
the team all infantry., and so we started drinking whiskey and every time we had a drink we would throw it in the fire, smash the glass. I know that sounds childish but that was our way of releasing it. And we went through a lot of glasses. And the next day the PMT the president of the mess, grabbed me, “George” he said, “You and your mates last night this has got to stop,
you broke over eighty-five glasses I have just had a stocktake.” I said, “No problem sir we’ll pay for them, we were just letting off steam.” He understood that. And Felix Consenkus, in broken English Felix said, “Well as a matter of fact colonel it was not eighty-five we broke, at least hundred and fifty.” And the PMT said, “Right a hundred and fifty.” And the PMT walked away and I said, “Felix for Christ’s sake!” So
we paid for a hundred and fifty, and it was only eight-five. But that was the emotion that ebbed and flowed. The most important thing was trying to provide advice to all of these youngsters who were going, be they the officer level and so forth. And I think that was sad because you knew them all, because you were exposed to them and every time you heard about another
mine incident you would wonder whether you had done, there was as much trauma coming out of there as really was in Vietnam in some ways. And I can remember this big fellow by the name of Patterson, big fellow, lieutenant, he was a National Serviceman, he was getting out. And I knew he didn’t want to get out, he was about to get married and he didn’t want to go. And I said, “Do you really want to go?” and he said, “Not really. But they can’t find me boots big enough.” He was always putting little boots on and he was in agony, couldn’t walk.
And I said, “Mate if you want to stay in I will get you the boots.” And he said, “Really?” And I said, “Yeah.” So I caused a stir in the system and got him the boots. He got his boots, went home and got married and stayed in. and he went over to Vietnam and got himself killed. Never saw his little daughter. All of those sorts of things. You had people like Tony
Pirello, always mischievous and so on, got killed. And people I have mentioned before and some of the wives who became widows I associated with. And years later you get emails form people like Peter Pirello saying, “I understand you knew my father?”
was at the Infantry Centre and I was a major in charge of specialist week, training snipers and those sorts of people. And the commandant said, “George I have got to go, can you review the parade of young infantrymen graduating.” I said, “No problem.” So in my own style I said, “As you come up I want you to tell me what unit you’re going to and your name.” And they went through and this bloke said, “Wilson 2 RAR.” And I didn’t think about it.
Anyway we went up to the canteen later to have a drink with them and their parents and this bloke came up to me and I was with Helen, my second wife. And he said, “Sir I would like to introduce you to my mother, I think you know my mother.” And I said, “Do we?” And she said, “Yes I was Joe Wilson’s wife.” And then it dawned on me. Joe Wilson was a bloke in Malaya which we didn’t get around to talking about, Eagle Force which was a Special Forces operating on the border in 57.
And there was a break of about five days after patrols and I had gone home. He was a separate patrol and he came around to my place on the day we had to go back and had a cup of coffee with me and Maureen my first wife, and we got on the ferry and went back. And he got on a chopper and I got on a chopper and he went that way and I went that way and I no sooner landed in the chopper
thirty minute flight, got out to rejoin the patrol on the border, and they said, “The news has just come through. Joe Wilson has just been killed.” And there they were, very moving, grown up. And his mother had never married again.
And having we had the best army in the world then in 1974/75 without a doubt, our regiment was nine battalions strong and we could have taken on any bastard. It was a magnificent regiment. As was the army and it proved itself in combat in recent times in Borneo, in confrontation [with Indonesia] and Vietnam. I don’t know I saw it happening and a few of us were
protesting, but the disease just got more. I mean where you would have a book that big to tell you about your leadership, suddenly you had a wheelbarrow. Created a lot, hence I am digressing, in 1990 as I was leaving the army the army approached me and said, “Would you write a book on leadership?” and I said, “Yeah I will, providing it’s set by my rules, no graphs, no academics, it is written as I want it.”
And they agreed. It is in its fourth print and still being used, Leadership on the Battlefield. And that was my gift to the army, and it is very popular. But getting back to your question, Gray and the Chief of the Army, Donald Dunstan said, “We need to find a place and somebody.” So they touched the computer,
“Who is expendable?” and it spat out George Mansford. So I was given the job of setting it up and I did a bit of research. Obviously it had to be in north Queensland where there is rainforest, tropical and I looked and it had to be in my opinion where it rained and rained. And Tully was the ideal place because it was also a link the army had. And so we moved into Tully and we did it, and today even in my time you are getting American Special Forces and British Special Forces and
other Special Forces from overseas, all sorts of people coming there as well as our own.
changed anything it was deleted. It was a place in isolation, it was like a monastery. There was no leave outside of our area, it was austere, the best comfort you would have was a stretcher and a sleeping bag, including me. The students, because they were only there for three or four weeks and in the camp
only for one night, they slept on the cement under those holes where the rain came through. And there was a number of rules, everyone walked around with a loaded weapon with a round [bullet] up the chamber and if anyone had an unauthorised discharge they were fined a hundred dollars because I was getting back to Malaya where we lost three people in one day, all killed accidentally, our mates, killed by three of their mates, so there is six gone really.
And there was a dramatic decrease in the amount of UD [unauthorised discharge]. It is gone now because the army says, “That is not a legal order.” I wouldn’t last in your army of today, I wouldn’t last., we had no batman, no orderlies, no stewards, everyone got their own food. Everyone washed their own dixies, no plates, no sheets, none of those administrative things
that start to bog down. No married quarters, our wives and families, it was a tough decision for me, very much in love with my bride Helen, they lived in Townsville which was four hours’ away and I would see them once a month for about four days. We did that for three years. Why did I do it? We were training for war
even though there wasn’t a war around. That’s what they wanted and that’s what they got, training for war. I used every lesson that I had been exposed to, even including the enemy camp. I had a camp out there and I would run, the instructors would be exhausted and they would go through this foliage absolutely exhausted and as they came out there would be all of these figures around the fire and a couple over there and a couple over there, engage and they would have to start shooting them. And of course the
soldiers loved it because they knew it was a realistic example. Ambushes, the whole box and dice. Everything was based on fact, everything was from lessons from the past and everything was there to save soldiers and I would like to think that we have done just that in some of the campaigns we have fought since then. The SAS went through there. It was a pretty tough course, no holds barred and I gave examples of the discipline I meted out.
In fact well I can tell you now Johnny Howard just before I left they brought in a telephone box which I didn’t know about, I had been away on a conference, and the beauty of not having a telephone box was that anybody and everybody had to go through the system if they had a problem, the students. So we discovered that some soldiers were broke and their wives weren’t getting money or they were broke or somebody’s wife was playing up with
Billy Brown or somebody’s girlfriend was having two or three of them on at the same time. All of these problems that affect soldiers and we had the ability to start sorting them out because we knew. Because they didn’t have any other means of communication. And then one day I got back and my brand new second in command said, “Look.” And he was very proud of himself, there is the phone box. So that night at eleven o’clock I got my driver, I said to him, “Get your vehicle.” He brought it down and I said, “Back it up against the phone box,
now push it over.” And the phone box was pushed over and I said, “Now put the vehicle away and you know nothing.”
she didn’t go back to him. I knew this bloke he wasn’t going to commit suicide, it was an act. So the next time he was supposed to go down I cancelled his visit and I took him out bush, I used to do that on occasion by myself, I took him with me, set up camp. I had a rifle and I gave him a rifle because you always carried a rifle out there in case of pigs or whatever. I said, “There is the rifle, I will be gone for three days. Now if you really want to commit suicide or kill yourself you have got seventy-two hours in which to do it.” Big call, but I knew him.
I went away and I didn’t hear any shots, when I came back he was still there and I said, “You didn’t do it?” He said, “No Sir.” So then I got about him, I said, “Don’t you ever write letters to the system threatening this or that? The girl is not worth it. You’re worth something and you have got to get on with your life.” So I went back and they said, “He didn’t turn up.” And I said, “He doesn’t have to.” And I told them what happened, well the whole psychology corps they went to pieces. I was
going to get court-martialled and everything. But my mate down in Canberra sorted it out, the old general because I set the rules you see?
they wanted to be able to prove that they could do this or that in a battle situation. It is always a question mark with soldiers and a lot of people don’t get a grip of that importance. I did because I was one of them. They loved it. They even loved it more because on the final night I would open the canteen and let them drink, let them do whatever they wanted to do until twelve o’clock at night and then the shutters would come down and they would be drunk and if they had a fight they would have it and they would sort themselves out.
And the next day they would go home and they would be too tired to go to town in Townsville, to get into trouble. I had got all of their passion and enthusiasm so to speak out of the way, which I thought was very clever. I used to do it all of the time with different units. I am talking about leadership not about George Mansford. Another time we were out, when we were getting ready to go to Vietnam I was a brand new company commander, there is the company, and we were out
in the scrub and we were getting trucks the next morning to go back to Townsville. And the CSM said, “Can I give them a can of beer?” And I said, “Give them what they want.” And he said, “Sir they’ll get drunk.,” I said, “Let them get drunk” and that night they got drunk, a lot of them were already Vietnam veterans and they had a ball, they reckoned I was the greatest thing out. “Old ‘Warrie’ George, he lets us get drunk, he can trust us.” Next morning I said, “Line them up on the road.” And the CSM said, “But sir, the trucks aren’t here.” It was a twelve-mile walk,
twenty-five K, or whatever. I said, “The trucks aren’t coming RSM, I have cancelled them.” And so they lined up and we marched with all of their heavy equipment on their backs with their hangovers and they were dry retching and they were vomiting. And we got back to camp and the next time we went out on exercises, “Give them what they want RSM.” They would have one beer and go to bed
because I was always one jump ahead of them. And I did the same at the Battle School, before they would leave they would expect to get praise for what they had done and they would all be there with all of their gear and I would say, “Standby for inspection,” and they would look at me with their mouths open and I would go by inspecting all of their basic pouches and I would say, “You have been here for three weeks and you have got an empty water bottle, for Christ’s sake. Do you want to do the course again?” “No sir.” “Well get the bloody thing filled up, you’re an infantryman!” “Yes sir!”
What would be a typical exercise of a night?
Well night patrols. Night ambushes, those sorts of things yeah we would do them. it was all about the stark reality. My son-in-law who was in the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] was visiting a place in the Cape up near Northern Territory and he was driving a RAAF truck and he stopped for a night in a pub. And he is there in uniform and the bloke said, “Are you in the RAAF?” and he said, “Yeah.” “I used to be in the army.” This is the publican. And Barney said, “Oh you might know my father.” “Who is that?” He said, “George Mansford.” “That bastard?”
He said, “You see this?” And he has got this big jagged scar over his arm. “Your bloody father-in-law gave that to me.” And then he told them the story about how he was in the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] had cut himself with a machete at the Battle School, we were flooded in, I walked in and this eighteen year old medic is dabbing the man with this red stuff, disinfectant. And I said, “What are you going to do?” and he said, “We will wait for the river to go down and send him to the hospital to get stiches.”
I said, “The river won’t be down for at least twenty-four hours and you wont be able to stitch it.” and he said, “Well in that case Sir I will bandage it up and they will do what they do.” I said, “No, you stitch it now.” And this young bloke looked at me and said, “But Sir I haven’t done any stitching.” “There is always a first time, you’re a medic, stitch him.” anyway he stitched him, did a terrible job
and hence there was this scar. But the interesting thing is, all of those incidents I tell you, the bloke the bar owner the publican, Barney didn’t buy a beer all night, the publican bought him beer all night. The bloke that I said, “I am not going to charge you, I am going to send you out for another course.” I get letters from him every year. Isn’t that interesting?
that this general be disciplined and so he was fronted and duly fined two hundred dollars and disciplined for having a UD, soldiers were happy, the law had been passed, in fact he had paid more than they would have. There was no rank, everyone carried through. But I have got to say that in recent times, I was invited back there not so long ago,
and there was a big iron mattress and white crispy sheets and the young officer looking after me for the night, my aid so to speak said, “Sir this is your bed.” And I said, “I can’t sleep here.” He said, “Sir it is the best accommodation we can offer, otherwise we will have to put you in a hotel in Mission Beach?” I said, “No you’re missing the point, it is not the accommodation, if I sleep in that I will be betraying every soldier I served with in my time. And if they hear about it I will never live it down. “And he said, “Well what will you do?”
I said, “I am going to sleep out there so I slept out in the grass. And it rained and I still slept out there in the grass, they thought I was absolutely stark raving mad. And they had stewards, white plates and married quarters at Mission Beach. It had all changed.
“Why can’t I do it?” “Well because the Aborigines are up there and Torres Strait Islanders, they’re scattered and they will probably need to have a bit more training.” So I then harangued and in the meantime I got my World War I colour patches back and all of my units were wearing them, a matter of pride, history, got
rocketed [criticised] for that. But if you notice in the army today they’re all wearing them, so I won the point. I took Beazley and the chief of army who was Grayson at that time, and as we were flying around they were impressed with the concept and we were about to land in Weipa and General Grayson said, “George I think we will put this to SITSAC.” SITSAC is an army committee that meets and I knew what SITSAC meant; that meant he would put it through and six years later regurgitate
it out the other end with a “No.” Beazley was quite interested in it. I said, “Well General, I am delighted you’re happy about it because when you get off the aircraft you’re about to meet the company.” He said, “Company?” And I said, “They are waiting for you, sir.” And he said, “You haven’t been given the nod.” And I said, “ I have already formed them.” And the company was there, all civilians, part-time soldiers these blokes in Weipa, the miners, the forest men, cattle
men, all lined up, half of them in civvies and half in uniform and some of them without hats and it was au fait accompli. Beazley said, “This is great.,” And Grayson said, “Well you have jumped the gun.” I said, “I had to.” So he started looking for flaws. “Where are you going to train them?” “I have organised with the local milk bar, we’re going to take it over every Tuesday night and on Sundays when it is not open. We’re going to train them there.” That was the beginning, you go to
Weipa now and they have got a huge depot which is very functional. You go to Torres Strait, you have got boats, a headquarters there, barracks, you have got units on every island. They’re all trained, be they black, white, brown or brindle. I went around to every Aboriginal and Torres Strait leader going back to my own experiences as a kid, and went for the heart of it, the people that make decisions.
And I did it to great success, to the point when a fellow by the name of Sebasio died up there in the Torres Strait, he was one of the leading lights of the Torres Strait Island community. And I went up there to pay my respects at his funeral and there was several politicians there and the new leader asked me to come out and do the eulogy, not the politicians or
ministers some of them, he asked me. My aide said to me at the time, “Gee, you upset them.” Catter [Bob Catter, Federal politician] was there, He said, “Catter was saying when am I going to make a speech?” They said, “You’re not, there is only one bloke George Mansford.” So yeah we did that, we re-raised the 51st, we re-raised the 31st Battalion, we set up a sig [signals] squadron, we set up the engineers and we became a brigade.
But I certainly made the point whenever he was there, in fact the point when even Prime Minister Bob Hawke came and got briefed on it all, and he was very impressed. So you know we had the politicians on side in the government at the time and we just went from strength to strength to the point were I was deploying troops from Rockhampton on the weekends to Torres Strait, to link up with the 51st.
I deployed the whole brigade up there which was a big Australian exercise; and the SAS could get near their objectives. Two warships came in and tried to destroy the harbour and were destroyed by my artillery, that I was not supposed to have. Yeah we went from strength to strength. It was simply a matter also of the psychology of
letting them think it was their idea in the beginning. It was like the Battle School, nobody wanted anything to do with it because it was doomed to fail. The Battle School was one of them, our lines of communication were long, whenever we had a beer, which was rare, we would have to put it in the creek. And when we first started we had no power, it was candles and hurricane lamps. Now it has got power and everything, fridges [refrigerators] and so forth. But it was a matter
as it gathered momentum and became successful, you would be amazed at how many people now claim that they were responsible for setting up the Battle School. And that George Mansford helped them. And you would be amazed at how many people are claiming responsibility for the surveillance unit or the re-raising of the 11th brigade. Yeah George Mansford was the commander
but I gave him the nod or I gave him the ideas, or I gave him a lot of support. People – you don’t even realise how many there were. And you would be amazed how many platoon sergeants I had in the army that reckoned they were my platoon sergeant when I was a young platoon commander, there would be about three hundred of them. “Yeah I used to be his platoon sergeant” “Did you really?” “Oh yeah, he was a bit of a rebel that little bastard. I had to look after him.”
Anyway there came a time when we got the word that they needed six volunteers from each company for a special operation and I was volunteered, there were no volunteers, “You, you, you and you.” Anyway we ended up on the border, supposedly under the pre-text it was a training school.
And there was six of us from each [company] A B C D and four rifle companies, so there was about twenty-four of us. And we were briefed that one of the enemy had surrendered and he knew where Chin Peng was and the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] had already
put it on radio in Malaya and elsewhere, that this bloke had been killed to allay any fears of his mates that he surrendered. They thought he had been killed by security forces. And in the debrief to intelligence he told them about this camp, right in the middle, with a number of camps around the outside. And then again more outposts around that, so it became virtually impenetrable with all of the security.
And what they decided was that this captured man was going to lead a patrol back in to where the camp was. The patrol would then set up the flares with the RAAF and there was a survey team already in location on Bukit Timah, whatever it was, one of the mountains. On
the given time they would zoom in and grid it [mark out the target] and at the time the flares were set for eight o’clock in the morning. The smoke would go up and the bombers would come and in they would go. And the other four patrols of Eagle Force would then swoop as the helicopters were coming down. As well as throwing
the ropes out and coming down, rappelling down was hand over hand in those days, pretty hairy stuff. We trained for that, but in addition we also trained for the other job in case there was a need, by moving through the jungle at night time and positioning flares. We became very skilled at it, we were there for about four weeks patrolling and doing this, and then A company patrol
went out with the captured enemy man, we were on standby. They came back, they were unsuccessful. They knew [Chin Peng’s group] they were around, they had found a couple of abandoned camps. But he [the guide] had been disoriented, he wasn’t quite sure, so they said “We will send out another patrol with him, we will continue.” And then they changed their minds, typical army fashion, I don’t
know where that decision came from. And so that was the time that Joe Wilson and I were down there for a four day break, and we came back. He went to join his company and I went to join my mob, and the choppers [helicopters] went different, and his company that had deployed was no longer the small force,
it was just a conventional operation. They had deployed and forward elements had gone down and found the camp. And in the process they were detected by the sentry. The sentry was killed when they threw a grenade, killing him and a couple of others I guess. And then the company went into attack. And old
Charlie the CT said, they had laid an ambush and the first three Australians were killed and the enemy broke contact leaving their dead, and took off. And Joe went out on a patrol following up and was killed. That was Eagle Force, it was basically to locate this camp and then bomb the hell out of it with this other force coming in by ropes
to pick up the pieces. It had been done once before in the early days of Malaya. But the point is that they worked on an enemy informant who said the camp was there and aerial photography had found where they thought the camp was. The bombers went over in waves, and they were lucky they got the lot of them. So they thought this is a great way to
kill them. It didn’t work.
So when we went into operations, about the same time as we found that first enemy camp I told you about, we were coming back off patrol with a very inexperienced patrol commander and he, instead of coming back on the route that was briefed on and the time, he took a shortcut and came in from a different direction at a different time. Sentries weren’t aware that
we had a patrol coming in that way and that time and opened fire. And of course we thought we had run into the enemy and we returned fire. Of course I was the ‘rear end Charlie’ so I didn’t do anything, I was just watching the rear of the patrol. It was certainly whistling around. When we realised it was friend against friend, nobody was hurt, thankfully. A lot of ammunition was expended which went to show how accurate our firing was.
Well their firing, I didn’t fire. Anyway we got back to the company base the next day after that operation was over, because we had to go back into that first camp. We found there a huge one thousand pound bomb in the middle of it, obviously the enemy were about to defuse it and make a bomb out of it wherever they could use it. While I was getting ready to go out with this demolition squad to blow up this bomb,
someone threw their Owen gun on a mattress on a piece of wire in this rubber tapper’s house. And we had the char wallah with us, the char wallah being the bloke that provided all of the bugs and soft drinks, he was like a Salvation Army, he used to hang around the camp except he got paid for it. Anyway this Owen gun went off [fired]and it has got twenty-eight
rounds in it and you could see the bullets hitting the char wallah’s bottle and smashing. Nobody was hurt. Anyway when that was over – that was two incidents in two days – and the company commander came out and gave everyone a roasting and went back and sat in his chair. His orderly was cleaning his rifle and as the OC leaned forward to grab hold of a map the batman [orderly] put a round through the chair. I said jokingly, “If they keep this up we will be able to shoot anyone that touches a rifle in self defence.”
Because it was very bad. Later on we went to Penang burying one of our mates had been killed accidentally and while we were going through the ritual the RSM raced up and said, “Make it two. Somebody else has just been killed. Sergeant in an ambush accidentally killed.” And while we were rehearsing the final time the next morning, it was three, we buried three of our mates in the one day, all accidentally killed.
I said earlier, when you lose three people you have also got the three that pulled the trigger and so you can write off six. Not good.
though South Korea has become a very successful independent democracy. Whether it stays that way is another question. Certainly an economic power base. So there is certainly some justification for that keeping the hordes back out where they were before it all started, keeping in mind that the Chinese and North Koreans got down as far as Pusan at one stage. And
nearly over run that. So there is that angle. Malaya we certainly won there, there is no question about it, we beat them fair and square. But when you look at Malaysia now, with its fundamentalism and Islam and the Prime Minister until recently very hostile towards Australia, and you realise that the twenty-three Australians I spoke of from our battalion are buried there,
including some of the boys from the ‘mad galahs’ and their graves are very much neglected. And you wonder about all of that too. What it was all about. Vietnam? I suppose the justification, in my view it gave the message to Russia and China that they weren’t going to just sweep through the place and one might argue that that was the stalling phase;
and you know they came to their senses, which is a pretty weak argument. Where I come from with Vietnam and I make it quite clear, Australians didn’t lose the war, we won ours, we won Phuoc Tuy. There was no question we had Phuoc Tuy in our hands. And when we left the country it was still in our hands.
It wasn’t until years later that North Vietnam swept down in breach of and violated the ceasefire and all of the rest of it. That’s where we lost the war, they simply came through with surprising speed and so forth and the Americans just weren’t game enough to go back in. That’s where the war was lost not
in the conduct of it. Certainly we didn’t. That’s the justification for that. but philosophically when I look at all three I can look at people like Johnny Russell who would have been probably a great grandfather now or a grandfather, I look at all of those other mates around that time, Snowy Gordon
and so forth. And then you go through the others as well, Joe Wilson and so forth. I mean it’s long winded and it is probably not an accurate description, but it is suffice for me to say I have got no hang ups about it. I am not bitter about it. If there is any bitterness I have about my campaign it is the betrayal back home.
And I will say that categorically any time to anyone anywhere and I get very angry now that I see some of the bastards coming out of the woodwork who were very vocal in their protests who are now being treated like heroes. Even those who avoided National Service. The stark reality is that no National Servicemen had to go to Vietnam. And all they were doing, they weren’t protesting against Vietnam, they were just
demonstrating that they weren’t prepared to serve their country. Having said that, the National Service of the day was stupid, the selectivity of it was stupid. And history will show that it was probably the demise of national service because you mention it now and people always react and think of Vietnam. They don’t think of the national service of three months before which done such great wonders for our youth.
I get on with life, which is probably why I am now chairing this North Queensland Tourist Board, the Australian Rainforest Board, running the local fire brigade, chairing the local ratepayers association. I want to keep busy but equally I want to be productive. I keep saying to my doctor, “When the time comes for me to go, I am not going to sit in a chair and dribble,
I am going to go up the back with a bottle of whisky and a box of cigars and a bloody sheila and I won’t come back.”
subtle invasion in history and that is the boat people [refugees]. They won’t need to come here with guns and invade, boat people will be one of our biggest problems regarding social and so forth. And I am not drawing lines and that we shouldn’t accept them. I am just saying we should have a plan saying, “This is how we can absorb, or we can’t.” And if you go down to Canberra now and say, “Where is the plan?”
I reckon the plan is that they are going to annex a couple of islands and put them there. And stew on it because politicians can’t think past their own time of office and the time before the next election. There is the great danger, and if I had any reservations or any doubts it wouldn’t be because we didn’t win those wars or didn’t come home heroes, and I might add now
the point is maybe it’s the conscience of the people now coming out about Vietnam, why we are so keen about giving the right PR [public relations] to Timor and Iraq, and so alert to all of those soldiers because it is the conscience telling us what we didn’t do for the Vietnam mob. And maybe it is the conscience of the government trying to find new medals and excuses to give us.
That’s how cynical I am and I think it’s true, I think there is a public conscience out there. It is now trying to wash their hands and cleanse their souls. I got away from the question.
We have an answer in there. Let me take each of your three conflicts separately, in what way did Korea change George Mansford?
Well I think it is fair to say I was at an age where I was young, naïve, and very poorly educated in the sense orf worldliness. So I suppose it helped me mature a lot quicker. Although I obviously still needed more maturity by the time I got home. I was only twenty. It helped me mature more, appreciate just how wonderful our country was.
And if there was ever a time for me to understand pride of our nation and the flag and everything it stood for, it was there, that was very important to me. It came to me, the values at home, and that you could never take anything for granted. And of course comradeship. It was really re-enforced. In Malaya
it was simply an addition of all of those things. But you could throw in the military skills that were now being applied and used. Where you had the jungle and so forth. Vietnam, well I think that was as an officer it gave me those lessons in added responsibility as a commissioned officer and not simply as a soldier or an NCO
as I had been in Malaya. I mean Malaya I could still see, when you talked of officers, a young platoon commander there who was dying and in a lot of pain he knew he was going, simply saying to me, “How are the boys, George?” and when I briefed him that everything was okay he said, “Take command.” There is a professional. I learnt from everyone and the one I learnt
from him was take command. And I learnt from Ogleby that you follow officers because that’s your job. I learnt from Saunders that there is other ways to skin a cat [more than one way to do a thing] than punish a bloke. I learnt from Charlie Anderson who you will read in the book as Jacko, that he too was talking about taking command and he too accepted responsibilities beyond his rank, and he too was prepared to fight for them.
With the hierarchy. So I learnt from those sorts of people and it made my life. Again it is inescapable. That’s the male component and then again I can show that I am not really a chauvinist I also learnt from two beautiful women my wives.