Archive number: 1770
Preferred name: Bear
Date interviewed: 02 April, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Ok. I’ll get you to start off with the overview that we’ve talked about.
Overview. Do you want my name and that? Peter Woodford. I was born on 3 September 1948 at Charters Towers. I lived there until I was ten years old. Went to St Columbines then to Mt Carmel College. We then moved to
Brisbane and I went to Marist Brothers at Ashgrove and finished my education there. From there I went to work. I went to university for a while, found perhaps that I was a bit too young at that age to go to university because people mature at different ages. I then went down to New South Wales. I had visions of becoming either a brother or a Marist priest. I fount that after being there
it wasn’t my cup of tea so to speak. I left, I came back up here and had a problem once again with the difference between the education systems in Queensland and New South Wales. If I had gone to university in New South Wales I couldn’t go to university in Queensland because they had changed the requirements for entrance exams. I had to go back to night school and redo English and redo maths one. So go cut a long story short I went to work for the Queensland Railway Department.
We actually did the change over from pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency. Can you imagine how many rates and fares there were to do to every little town in Queensland. It was fascinating and it was a good learning curve because you also went into the Queensland Railways statisticians office and all of that. So anyway to kind of summarize it for you in 1968 no 67 I decided that I
would make a change in career and go in the air force. I originally enlisted as a rad tech, which is radio technician and radar and that type of stuff. I got in there and I got talked into…don’t ask me how I got talked into this wonderful world of airfield defence. So I took the chance and the plunge and went there. That put me into various places in Vietnam and that. I’ve often asked myself
why I went there but growing up I had my father, my grandfather, uncles, who had all served in World War II and when you are in a…Charter’s Towers was twenty or thirty thousand people in those days so it is not a small town. But every time you went to a hotel and I used be dragged around with Dad and I would sit there and have a lemonade and all they talked about was war. Or somebody visited my father
or my father would visit somebody else. Uncle Ray won the Military Cross during the war. He was always hesitant to talk about it. I can equate to that thirty-five years later because I am very hesitant to talk about some of the thing in Vietnam. I was surrounded by people who had served in the war and they talked about it in general. So when I was growing up and even in Brisbane you spoke
to people and people would say…. the generation who was older than me, they were the ones who had gone away. They were the ones that used to talk. Even in an office environment like the commercial managers officer in Queensland Railways you sat there and people would talk to you. And what they would talk about was when I was in the war and something happened or there’s been a little bit of controversy in the paper about something happening somewhere. “Oh we went there in World War II,” and this so
everybody was tied up in that era where my generation all we heard really was one of two things. It was about the war or politics. And that was something that was very prevalent, particularly in country towns and in Brisbane which in those days was, 59 60 a very much a large country town. It was a great place to live but you had all this talk
about war. I don’t know if that influenced my game but I just felt that I had a choice and it was ironic that my number did come up in the lotto for a Nasho [National Service]. I was called up but I was already serving in Vietnam. I thought that was rather ironic actually. It was a huge joke actually because here I am getting called up for National Service and I am already in Vietnam which is fine. When I came back I found unfortunately with distaste
people had changed attitudes. Bear in mind over there occasionally you would see the Movie Town News which was the newsreels they produced and you would see the moratorium marches, you had Labor particularly in those days pounding the fact that we shouldn’t have been there. The only thing they didn’t do was they didn’t ask us. They didn’t ask the people who were actually there. “Did you
mind being there?” Because once you were there and you could understand what was happening. If someone had said to me, “did you want to go back a second time?” I could have I suppose. They never asked. If they had asked would you go back and I probably would have. Because one you had been there you see the result of what was happening and when you watch the TV news in seventy-three when they were evacuating Saigon. I have spoken to people who have come back, who came over here
as boat people and they had the re-education camps where you had two choices to do stuff and one of them was death. So you’ve got to understand. But all the politicians back here were arguing. See I got on off an aeroplane here when I came back here and I got spat on. That didn’t make me terribly impressed. See here I am and my wife, well my future wife was there, and here I am being spat on and called a baby killer. Now thank God
Raffie wasn’t there to see it but I’m being called a baby killer. What did I do? I did what my country asked me to do. I didn’t put up my hand and say, “Excuse me sir, please send me.” They said, “You are going there.” So I went. When I came back on R and R [Rest & Recreation] and I saw my wife. She wouldn’t marry me then. I had to wait until I came back the last time. It was very hard to go back, but when you went back there was a reason for going back. But like I said, all the politicians and people who were here didn’t bother to ask the people
who were there, to say to us, “hey do you want to be there?” Nobody wanted to be there but once you went there and realized what was happening it was fine. You kind of said to yourself it was worthwhile being there for that. That is my impression anyway. The rest of life. I kind of became a perennial university student on and off for about fifteen years. I started my own businesses. I’ve now had a few problems, particularly medical health wise.
Particularly with posttraumatic stress. I thought that as I got older it would probably lessen. It is exactly the reverse, its getting worse. You learn how to take things and cope with it. My way is I’m surprisingly fit. I walk. So I don’t do it at two o’clock in the morning, but if I start getting it I put on a pair of shoes and I walk. And I walk and I walk until I’m tired, I’m exhausted,
and I will sleep. So that side of it. You talk to a lot of guys and I don’t see them until Anzac Day. I suppose I don’t really like talking about Vietnam but I suppose you do and I’m finding that as we get older we all seem to be a little bit more reticent in talking about what happened where as ten years ago you’d be going to the pub on Anzac Day and you’d have one beer and everyone would be reliving world war one, two, three, Korea and everything else all at the one time.
As we are getting older people don’t talk about it or don’t seem to talk about it any more. And that’s a shame because when we set up the Airfield Defence Service Organization, we did it because people were hurting. You know you’d get somebody who would go out on the night and get drunk and you’d get a phone call at three o’clock in the morning, “I’m going to kill myself.” There was no help
outside. There was none with the Department of Veterans Affairs, there was nobody you could go do. They had just started the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service. I think it was 1980 or 1981. Prior to that you had no where to go. We found a guy many years ago. I won’t tell you his name but he drunk himself to death on his veranda with methylated spirits. And when you see that it’s a terrible thing. It is death but hey. He died a very lonely man.
And he wasn’t that old. It was a terrible shame. But some all right like I said, here I am fifty-five going on fifty-six and grey haired. I enjoy life as much as I can. I have a fantastic wife who has stuck with me through it. She deserves more medals I can tell you. But she is stuck with me and she finds it very difficult. Sometimes she asks me a question and I find it difficult to answer because I know she won’t understand and that’s not being rude to her.
How can you explain something to somebody if they haven’t been there? But guys you talk to have been there. Honestly I’ve got a great psychiatrist I go to. He deals with a lot of Vietnam vets [veterans] and I now go once every year or every couple of years. I’m on a kind of a maintenance program which helps. I talk to him and he understands. He wasn’t there but he has spoken to so many guys that have been and he has probably listened to so many tails of woe that you can talk
to the guy and he kind of understands and will listen. I’ve run across a couple of guys who still live there and sometimes I’ll wake up at night and I’ve got to remember that I’m not there any more. I’m here. So your mind kind of gets…It is kind of like a big file drawer and if you pull out the wrong file you are there. Ok. What else can I tell you?
At this point I would like to go right back to the beginning and ask about your childhood. And what are your memories of Charters
Towers as a town to grow up in?
Great. It is one of those things that if you’ve ever been in a country town. . . Like I said thirty thousand people. I mean I probably remember from when I was two because I did something terrible. I played with matches. I think I almost burned Granddad’s house down. Not on purpose but one of those things and I’ve got burn marks all down my legs. But that’s one of those things and I’ve never played with matches since. It was a great environment because they probably had an acre and a half in town
and you had the chooks [chickens], the turkeys, all the things in life as you start growing up having a brother from my father’s first marriage. His wife died when he was over in the islands during World War II. Died of all things of pneumonia which today is something that you never ever hear of or very rarely. You had things to do. You went and did the chooks and you went and did this and you went and did that. Always have to…using a scythe to cut grass. I remember
that. We cut other peoples grass James and I and we used to get three shillings so we would get one and a sixpence each. Well that was kind of enough to go to the movies two or three times. Growing up, it was great. We used to go and play in the mine pits which have all been reprocessed, they have got all the gold out of them. We used to go and play on cyanide heaps which used to be huge mountains of tail ends of cyanide.
And everybody used to go and play on them. God knows what effect it ever had on us. They’ve all now reprocessed all that and they’d got more gold out of it. They’d even reprocessed the old timbers in the mines where they used to smelt. Because there is gold in timbers and in walls and all this. It was a great thing because you could explore and somewhere to go. Then you had school. In those days we used to have to do what they called
preschool which was when you were four going on five, depending on when your birthday was. I turned four in September and I went to school at the end of January and I was going on to 5. So you did a year of preschool and then you went on to grade one. You were learning to write and I was terrible because I was a natural left-hander. I used to get beaten by the nuns, true because I wrote left-handed
and if you write left-handed you were the devil’s child. So this is a fact. I’m not lying to you. For those things you got beaten and I used to get whacked on the left hand. They would walk around whack, right hand. So I had to learn to write right-handed. The nuns used to say you couldn’t write left handed because if you wrote left handed you were the devil’s child. You continually got whacked until you learned how to write right-handed.
Now I do ninety per cent of things like turn on taps with my left hand. I pour water with my left-hand. I actually went and bought copybooks about twenty years ago and decided that I am going to teach myself to write left-handed. Six months later I gave up. Honest to god. Actually I took it to one of the psychiatrists and he said I would never get out of it because it was in my mind. If you write left-handed you think somebody’s going to whack you on the left hand.
So as a result of that yeah. But after I got through that I went to the nuns until grade three. Everybody went over to Mount Carmel College. We were Catholics, brought up as Catholics and so we went to Mt Carmel College. Had to learn how to read Latin because you had to go an altar boy. We did it on a rotational basis so I learned how to at least speak Latin, not so much understand it, but in those days I could speak Latin. And then my family or my
parents decided, at that stage I was one of six…. seven. My older brother James had an apprenticeship with CSR [Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited]. Explain he then took his apprenticeship and went to the tech college. He did he tech collage and got a diploma and then went to university and graduated an engineer and in the end he used to be chief engineer for five sugar mills around the Townsville area.
He died the year before last. Anyway that’s another story. What else? I came down here and finished my education. Probably excelled too much at sport as normal. I never studied. I was too lazy. I was very fortunate in the fact that I had almost an addictive memory. So I got away with passing exams. My mother used to despair and say to me “If you studied Peter you might do better do better.” So I’ve got brothers who are doctors, a sister who is a doctor
a sister in law who’s a doctor. My brother is one of them. Schoolteachers.
What was the lifestyle change like when your family moved from Charter’s Towers to Brisbane?
I think the biggest lifestyle change was that there were more people and we eventually moved out to Enoggera and there my father bought a War Service home, which he was entitled to. Kids everywhere. That was the thing in that era
I mean I said I was one of, well in the end I was one of eight. My grandfather moved down with us. He moved down with us because Mum used to look after him and that. We all did because he was a really great grandfather. And one of the things I regret is he used to tell us great stories. Often I thought I must write that down or I must go and buy a tape recorder and he told us about things like the 1893 floods. He was down here for those. He got
caught in George Street. Which was like in those days. Do you remember George Street from twenty years ago? It had all those little shops down past Michael Machanacks. In those days you used to have shops down below and accommodation just above. When the flood came the water was just below the top level. You could sit there and fish and when they caught a fish that’s the only food they had. They would cook it on the Veranda or inside and that was their dinner. He spoke about things like the boats that were washed up down in what’s now
the gardens and that thing and then he’d talk about…Granddad was quite a well-educated man but because of the Depression they lost everything. And that’s where I said originally he came from down Orange way, which he did. They lost properties and Granddad become a blacksmith of all things and travelled all around with the shearers and he was one of the people who actually got under the tree of knowledge at Longreach.
The tree of knowledge of the Labor Party. Because they very much got into…He used to tell me when I was a kid that he worked seven days a week and got half of Sunday off. I remember him saying, years later in the early 60’s they had the forty-hour week and then someone ended up getting the big deal of a thirty-eight hour week and he said, “Gone too far. That will ruin the economy.” But to what they had they actually achieved bringing it back to the reality.
And I suppose being under the tree. We actually donated his papers to the Queensland University because I think his receipt number was receipt number nine when the Australian Labor Party got started. Another thing I got sick of as a kid was politics because a lot of people knew granddad and if anybody came up to Charter’s Towers, any of the big wigs in Labor or whatever, the union movement, they would come around and see Granddad, the first thing they did after that they’d have a yak [chat] and a cup of tea,
so I used to get politics, in the sense, discussion. I am a swinging voter. I always have been. I make my mind up the day before the day of the election as to what I will listen to. But when I was a kid I had my father who was and I don’t classify him as a Liberal but he certainly wasn’t Labor but my grandfather was pro Labor and you always got the view from somebody who
was actually there when the Labor Party started so my father, who when he came back from World War II said there’s got to be…Because that was into the days of Chifley and all that during the war He said there had to be a better era afterwards. My grandfather died in 1968 and you’d have a meal and what you’d talk about…When TV became common in the houses…Dad used to get it on school holidays. Because everybody else…
Nobody had enough money to go out and buy one so you could hire it over the school holidays. He would sit there and then they started arguing. Always news time was sacrosanct, nobody spoke. My grandfather who was partly blind and was nearly ninety. He would listen and then they would start arguing. They would wait until the weather was out of the way and then they would start arguing about politics.
My father now is ninety and they used to enjoy arguing. Mum used to hate it. She’d have all the kids sitting around the table. We had to sit there until everybody had finished the meal. That was one rule Mum had. Everybody would sit there until everybody was finished. And my father used to have a cup of tea, black tea and he would pour it into a saucer and it would assure my mother. I learned never to drink black tea out of a saucer.
And then it was all over. Dad and my grandfather used to sit there and deliberately argue. I think for the sake of conversation.
What sort of points would they argue?
They would just talk about something on the news. There was always things that would come up. In the sixties it was like the world was changing…There was always…I remember one thing there was about Mt Isa Mines. A bloke called Mackey years and years ago and my Grandfather always took the side of Labor.
Even if they were wrong if it was a Labor view he took it. With Dad I think it was probably…. I won’t say he was a splitting voter but he used to perhaps see both sides. Grandfather only saw the Labor side. But it was good because you learned. I learned at a very early age that there was a difference in opinion. And Dad and Granddad would sit there and they would argue like cat and dog and fight. Mum would join in sometimes but she was sick and tired of the politics.
But bear in mind that Mum probably listened to it, she died twelve years ago and she probably listened to it from the time she was fourteen or fifteen with Granddad right though until he died in sixty-eight. But it was fascinating the views. My regret is really, I didn’t write a lot of things down that I learnt. He talked about riding, he rode a bike round Australia, a motorbike. In those days
nobody could afford a front wheel so he actually made a rope tyre for the front wheel. I didn’t believe that, Mum used to tell me, then again the bike that my Granddad rode used to be at the back of the house at Charters Towers under three pieces of iron and it still had a rope tyre on the front. And I think the motor was busted but I’m just saying he did things like that. And he used to tell stories of going out shearing. You’d get out to a shearing shed and in those days
you couldn’t go into the shop and buy some of the tools you needed so a blacksmith had to make them or repair them. And he was never short of work in that. And my mother said my grandfather was pretty good because every two or three weeks a telegram would turn up and he wired money to my grandmother. Because don’t forget we are talking post Depression years and when the war was on. So he was too old then to go because he must have been
late fifties. But anyway he used to send, and you could do it those days by telegrams and they’d be waiting for the telegram to turn up and he might have sent two pounds or something. That was a lot of money in those days. So that would keep them going through another month or two months or whatever. It is surprising that everyone used to live in credit. When I go back to those days at the Towers the grocery man used to come around,
I used to remember I was always fascinated that he used to sharpen his pencil with his pocket knife and then he would rub it on the stone. I reckon if I went there today and that stone was there, he used to rub the pencil to sharpen the point And he would write a big list down and, “When are you going to pay, we will deliver it then?” It used to all be by negotiation and then occasionally I remember as a kid there were people that used to come around. There were still people on the road in those days and they would come around and they would
like have sharpening stones or prop men. You know put up clothes props up the back and all you used to pay them was a sandwich. That’s what they wanted, food. So I remember Mum getting it and in those days there was no such thing as sliced bread and the man used to come with ice for the chest icebox and that’s where the butter used to go. Anyway so when they’d come…And those clothes props were heavy. It was a big line of washing that covered maybe thirty metres
and they are hanging down and Mum’s gone around and propped the cloths up. You had to push them up in the centre and I couldn’t do it when I was very young. James and I used to do it when I was nine or ten. James was older, these big props in the air. And if you ever dropped it on the ground you had to go and say to Mum, they are all on the ground, and she would have to wash them again and reboil them. I’ll tell you a funny story. I must have been
ten. And James would have been fourteen and we got sprung, we were smoking. Granddad used to smoke anyhow we got sprung. How she sprung us, we were sitting on one of the little mango trees and we were smoking. Try this, my brother and I. And I actually told this story at his funeral and everyone laughed. Anyway long story, short story Mum came up and said, “Are you guys smoking?” “No. No.” She said,
“I’ve never seen a tree smoke before.” And we were sprung. We both said yes and we were punished. I think we had to chop firewood for about two weeks. It just shows that people aren’t stupid. He we were. I’m ten and my brother’s fifteen and we are smoking cigarettes and we must have got them off Granddad. I think from memory it was a Pure Cigarette and I don’t remember smoking again until I went to Vietnam. I think that both James and I were more embarrassed that we’d told
Mum a lie. We said, no we weren’t but she said, “I’ve never seen a tree smoke.” Another time, because when you were that age…. We got caught again in one of the old toilets. That was the thunderbox [toilet] in the back yard with the big hole and so it was coming out through the roof. And we just said, “Ye. We were doing it.” And we stopped. We didn’t know at that age that you can smell tobacco on cloths and my Granddad used so smoke
pure cork tips and I haven’t seen a cork tipped cigarette for forty years. And that’s what he used to smoke and every now and then I’d say, “Can we have a cigarette.” And he’s say, “Well are you going to give up smoking?” He’d have one every couple of months. So yeah I think that got me. I don’t think I smoked again until I went to Vietnam. I came back from a trip one night and somebody handed me a cigar and said, “God that tastes good.” That’s how I got hooked on smoking. I only
gave up three years ago so I am now a reformed smoker. Getting back to the original question you asked, yes. When I was a kid there was, moving from Charters Towers, my parents bought a couple of shops like corner stores. Mum used to work one and Dad used to work one but I think they found out after about three months that it was a bit too much to have two so there was one down at Dean which Dad sold. I don’t
know if he made a profit or a loss. And then he decided that we had one at Red Hill which Mum ran basically with other lady. I don’t know what the wages were in those days but they sold petrol out the front and you could buy oil, it was like corner store combination garage. I remember once I got in trouble for putting four pence worth of fuel in the car rather than threepence. And that was probably a gallon. I put other the gallon mark and Mum said I was giving away profit. It was an extra
penny’s worth, I got into trouble for that. But no then Dad went out and got a job driving a semi-trailer. Because you know he used to help with the shop and he could work an afternoon shift or a night shift and be home by midnight so it worked out well. Then we moved from there over to Enoggera and like I said the thing today which so many people miss is there was so many kids about. I mean they classify us as the baby boomers [generation born 1949–1960] these days. And there were. I mean
you had terrific friends that you made in your local area. It didn’t matter whether you were a Catholic or a church of England or a Presbyterian. You were kids. Everybody in those days. Somebody had an electric guitar and suddenly you had fifteen hundred friends because everyone wanted to know how to play an electric guitar. I used to love playing tennis. And I did. I used to play tennis on Saturday Afternoon and Sunday and that’s where you met a lot of kids and you met a lot of girls and that was very important in those days.
When you were young you had to meet girls and this is where the girls used to come along and play tennis so you met them playing tennis. That was good and that’s what we did. But you always had something to do. You could go to the movies, which wasn’t that expensive. In those days I think it was a shilling when you went there. You enjoyed yourself and I mean TV was…Most people didn’t have TV. You had it on school holidays and if we had one you could
bet ninety per cent of everyone else had hired one from AGC [General Electric Company] and I can remember it turning up and then one day it broke and it took two days for the bloke to come out and repair it and I remember Dad was most peeved because you knew they were charging him for the two days it didn’t work. They gave us an extra two days anyway. I remember that. But all things aside we had a lot of kids about and that’s something today. I mean I look at this little place here. There’s one young guy across the
road there. He is probably nine. There are two young kids next door and probably one’s four and one’s five and a half. Down the road down here there is two young kids. A young girl probably ten and her brother maybe twelve and that’s all. Where as had I gone back to the sixties there probably would have been fifty kids here. And that what parents did I mean they used to use the expression, we used to breed like butterflies.
I was going to use something else, another expression but no. But there were kids everywhere. I remember my mother had another two children after she came down here. I remember when I was eighteen she came and said to me, “I’m going to have a baby.” I said “Congratulations.” But we were all kind of shocked. But I know my kids, I’ll come in jokingly when Rosemary’s here and the kids are here and I’ll come in from
behind and jokingly give her a kiss. “You don’t still do that do you?” Just because you’re old doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. And they do. Just because you are over thirty doesn’t mean you’re useless. But no. It’s like that. And I was kind of shocked at my mother. Here I am eighteen, going on nineteen, and she’s pregnant.
How old was she?
Mum would have been probably forty-two or forty-three and then she got that one which was Joanne and she is now a doctor.
And two years later they had another one. But it was funny. There were three ladies. They called them the three musketeers. My mother, a lady called Mrs Clair and Mrs Kent. They all got pregnant at about the same time, they had them in hospital at the same time, they all got baptized at the same time and they all got pregnant again at the same time, within weeks. And that’s why they were called the three musketeers. And the only one alive is Irene Kent and by God she is lovely lady.
She’s got to be almost eighty but she is an absolute character and she calls herself the remaining musketeer. My mother and Fran Claire and Irene. They all went to hospital together and they all got baptized on the same Sunday. And like I said here I am I’ve got a sister and if you look at one of the photographs I have…I haven’t got it, Rosemary has…Joanne was our flower girl. And she was four or five and here’s Brian, a babe in
arms. He was 12 months old or two years old. I remember when Rosemary came round to meet the parents. You know, the trick you do when you’re about to get married. I wrote a letter to Mum saying you know I’m seeing so and so and I’ve decided I’m going to ask her to marry me and it was funny. I had sent the letter on Thursday from Ipswich because I was over there for (UNCLEAR). I thought she’d get it on Friday and now I turned up and said, “Now did you get the letter?”
and she said “What letter?” and then I explained to her that I was going to ask Rosemary to marry me if she would. So the letter came Monday so that was kind of in the reserve role. But it was good and I had so many people. You know, in those days it was the fact that I wasn’t going to Vietnam then I was just in the service. And long story, short story, I got engaged and I was married two and a half years later.
Is that enough? Have I answered the question? I get very sidetracked.
No. That’s good. Question well answered. Tell me. You said if you had an electric guitar you were popular. How did things like music and popular culture affect you in the 60’s?
I think in that time I can remember…My brother…We’ll go back to James being four or five years older than me. He was into the bodgies and the widgies. I don’t know whether you understand that but that was when
bodgies wore red shirts and widgies were males and females and all this. And rock and roll. So this is back in the fifties and I remember that James always used me as an excuse. “I’m taking Peter to the movies.” I’d be taken to the movies and he would go up the road and go to the dances. That’s how he met his wife and I used to run up to this house, three girls. I got paid a penny for riding my bike up, delivering the note and
waiting for the replies. But that was the fifties. When we came down here it was the Chubby Checker era. It was just on the sixties and rock and roll was certainly established. I remember I particularly said I didn’t want a pair of rubber-soled shoes. I wanted a pair of leather shoes and I got why... We used to sand them down and polish them so they would slip on the floor and you could do the twist.
And everybody wanted a guitar. I saved up and I bought myself, I think it was two quid, an acoustic guitar. A friend of mine down the road moved in and we are still friends after all of this time. His Dad bought him an electric guitar, a second hand one, a Fender. It is probably worth a fortune these days. And I was out in my front yard and he said, “Come down to my place,” because I didn’t have an electric guitar. I am only playing acoustic and he
kind of taught me more and he learned a bit from me because I used to try and play classical and when I went to school I sued to be in the school band, the army band which they had in those days and they offered us all to go to the Australian Music College but I didn’t want to do it. We actually weren’t bad. We had some records made back in the 60’s so we were quite good. It was not me but…I used to play tenor horn,
euphonium, tuba. I never got that involved in the trumpet because you’ve got to have the right type of lips. You’ve got to have a special lip to play a trumpet where I can play a tenor horn or a euphonium or a tuba a lot easier. Anyway to answer your question I had a guitar and you learned to play and everybody was starting bands. You would try and find someone who could sing and then you would try and imitate the current rock and roll stars. I remember in those days
the Beach Boys were just kind of in the fringe of getting started and then the Beatles were there in 1964 and 1965. We went through a big change. We went from…Bear in mind that in those days, in the early sixties, I would have been thirteen or fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. And you went through the change from what was then…What I would classify as rock and roll to the Beatles. It took
me years to become a Beatle fan because I couldn’t stand their type of music. It took the rock and roll away. A lot of people of my generation were like that. They were saying that they were rock and roll and all of a sudden these people came along and it was not rock and roll. Where as you’d go to a dance and it was very energetic but what could you do to the Beatles. I still don’t know.
I mean people used to dance to them but I still don’t know what to do. It is different to rock and roll. I don’t mind the Beatle music now, I quite enjoy it but I just don’t go dancing to it. But yeah we all got together and we organized bands and we got together. There used to be a Catholic school just up the road, a two-storey place and we used to go in there on a Friday afternoon, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
Take out all the desks. We put them all outside, stacked them up, swept it clean and had a dance on Saturday night. We would come back Sunday afternoon and sweep it out and put everything back in again. Just three or four guys. But optimistically we did it to meet the girls. We also did it for the music and that was fun. We would sit up there and try and play music, never very successfully. I mean wouldn’t have made a band in the worst soap bar of hell but
it was music and people used to enjoy it and we played more of the rock and roll than we did of the modern stuff. And there was other guys who would come up and say, “Can I have a go?” “Ye. Go for it.” And you had this mix of people up there having fun and that’s really what it was. There was never any fights. There was nobody downstairs smashing each other in the head or blueing. We all had fun. That was the whole thing. The rule was we had to be gone by eleven o’clock, which we were. But you’d start at seven and that’s four hours.
And we used to have coffee and tea. Nobody drank coffee in those days. It was a cup of tea and water or whatever and occasionally someone would bring a bottle of Koosh. No alcohol. Nobody ever discussed alcohol. That’s what we did and as you got older. I remember they were still going
1967, 68. You’d leave and someone else came along and it became a venue for the young people who lived in that area to go somewhere on a Friday night. Because not everybody wants to go to the movies and not everybody wants to sit there and watch TV all the time. As I’ve got older I’ve become a TV addict. Like I like Foxtel, I love watching documentaries and I like watching biographies about people and reading biographies. All this kind of stuff.
But in those days you made your own fun and you learned to enjoy yourself with other people.
Interviewee: Peter Woodford Archive ID 1770 Tape 02
I was just interest to know how you decided or wanted to become a Marist Brother.
It was either a Marist Brother or a Marist Father, so that’s that. But I think when you go to a Catholic school and I mean my mother was for all intents and purposes a very devout Catholic. When you go to an all boys school and I’ve never been to a co-ed [co-educational] school
so I can’t talk about it. Everything I’ve gone to has always been a boys school…You get involved in the religious side of it because they had a religious session per day and you used to go to mass on Friday, Saturday or Sunday or whatever. Mum would wake you up and say, “Would you like to go to mass?” and half the time if you were feeling like it you went. And I think everybody used to talk about having the vocation.
It is very difficult to explain this. In yourself you feel that you’ve got a calling for God and you feel it in yourself that you need to go and find our whether this is what you want to do. There is only one-way to do that and that’s to go and that is basically what you do. And you learn…You go through and…I’m going back a lot of years but you go through a noviciate and you start learning
about the religious obligations. You learn by doing that and you learn about yourself because when you take on a religious office you’ve got certain requirements that you have to do. You’ve got to say an office every day and you’ve got a certain amount if prayer that you have to say. That is every day of your life. It doesn’t matter whether you are sick or whatever you are supposed to do it. If you don’t do it then another priest may say it for you or whatever but you have got that obligation of saying that office every day.
of spending time with God. You spent…The only way to do that is to learn and you learn. At least I know now that when I went there and when I left, I knew that wasn’t a vocation for me. You find out…It might take you three months, six months, two years…I know some of the guys I went with have now left. They’ve done twenty-five years or 30 years. And they’ve left. They’ve
got married later in life and they have young children. I can’t begrudge them that because they’ve given twenty-five or thirty years to God. And no one goes in and says, “I’ll give you twenty-five years of my life God and then I’ll leave.” They expect to be there for the whole of life. For example Jim Soy. He was a Catholic priest. The guy down in Canberra, the Minister for Employment Tony Abbott. I think he was a Jesuit.
You go in with all the right intentions. I don’t know whether he was ever ordained actually but you go through the process of learning about yourself. The only thing I know now is that when I went I wasn’t meant to be that vocation. I still like going to mass and I still like doing other things concerned with the Catholic religion but I know I wasn’t meant to be a priest.
And what brought that home to me was a priest I met many many years ago now. He was married and he had three kids and they got killed in a car accident and he used to be an army major. That is going back into the mid sixties and he said, “Well I feel as though God’s calling me,” because he did four years instead of the normal seven because at that age you know about life and you don’t have to be taught
that you can’t do this and you can’t do that. And he just said, “You’ll know.” And you do. And when we went away everybody does the same thing. You get out of bed for prayers, you got to mass, you have your silent days and we all learned to talk with sign language and we all learned what we had to learn. Somebody reads, you contemplate, you study, you go to classes and the whole purpose is of doing all this to see if you are suited to it.
Like I said. I have no regrets with the fact that I went because I know inside of me that that wasn’t what I was supposed to be. I sometimes am very envious of people that do that and I know a couple of priests that I am very envious of. I don’t know whether I could have suffered the abstinence bit because I love my wife dearly and I’ve got three children. I don’t know whether I’m strong enough
personally to put up with abstinence. The sexual bit, I don’t know if I could do it. But when you are that age you don’t think about it. You certainly are growing up and you certainly have all the urges that you have when you are a young man. But for some reason you seem not to ignore it but it seems not to be an issue. But when you were older and you got ordained and you were in a parish out there by yourself and
you are in a teaching order or whatever you are doing. You are there and you are living by yourself and all you’ve got to do is watch TV. That would make you…I mean I don’t know how they do it. Watch some of the TV ads [advertisements]. You’ve got very beautiful women very scantily dressed. I remember in those days when I was a kid women used to wash their clothes, their underwear and put them in a bag
…It was like a pillowcase. You never saw women’s underwear. They were called unmentionables. I mean that was even up to the mid sixties. Women never hung underwear, stockings and that type of stuff on lines. They put them in a bag. I don’t know what they call it but that’s just the way they did it. And you take it that
in those days TV was starting…There were the review shows and the staged live shows. It would have been hard and I think to myself could I have done it and I don’t know that I could have. When I get to my age now I think back and think, yes I would have loved to do that but it wasn’t my cup to tea. When you look at it like that you still have strong emotions. I never regret the time I spent there…I learned a lot.
I still today, surprisingly, remember to say prayers in Latin. I just do it so I could remember. And I had a good time. It was just a lot of young men together who played, ate, slept in the same dorm, worked their butts off. You never had time to think about anything but study and prayer, you had this and that to do. You never
had time to think of anything else. Women were discussed. You could read the papers. They were available to you. That’s not a bad looking bird [woman] and it doesn’t mean that because you look at a bird but as you get older it does change.
Did any of the men talk about the abstinence issue?
They did. I think it was discussed but like anything else I think it becomes boring. I find now that I suppose the old thing when I was talking to my kids. You never talk about sex,
religion and politics. Is when you get a lot of young guys together and I’ve got a couple of friends of mine over at the markets that I go and see. I’m quite good at designing things. They want to change something I designed a shed for one guy and I’ve designed an office change for another one. I don’t charge them…They are just friends. But you’ve got the young guys and you go up for a cup of coffee and you’ve got all the young guys it’s just sex, sex.
I think we did talk about it when we were young but it never became the source and be all and end all. And I can remember…This is something that is stuck in my mind. One night I went to pick up my daughter when she was at Saint Bareena’s College and it was a school dance and she must have been sixteen and you had to get everyone. I had an LTD in those days with electric windows so I put the window down and waved to show here I was there. “Hi.”
I could hear these young ladies talking. And it made me think. It made me realize that young women talk about sex too. It is surprising. I never thought about it like that. I mean here I am a male and males talk about sex and here’s all these young women, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and they are having the greatest natter and you think, my daughter is young, pure and innocent. And here is all these young women at the Catholic college that’s costing my wife and I four thousand
dollars a semester and they are having this wonderful conversation about sex and you think, “How do they know that. They are sixteen and seventeen.” It opened my eyes up that men aren’t the only ones who discuss sex. You know. Women discuss it too. And maybe they do it a bit more politely than men and perhaps they don’t do it so they are not overheard but yes. And we did talk about it. I think the abstinence thing was something that was very important. It is not
particular to the Catholic church. I mean if you wish to be a bishop in the Greek Orthodox church you can’t get married. So if you select that career path and in the Russian Orthodox you can’t get married, you can’t have a spouse. Because they are of the opinion if you want to be a bishop or an archbishop you’ve got to have the intent. I could tell you a joke. Can I tell you this joke about religion? This is an old one about over at the Greek, monastery.
And this young Australian guy went over there and he said, “I want to become a priest.” And after the interview process and several months later they said, “What you have to do is go and copy all these books. We never make a mistake. We’ve been copying book from book and we’ve been doing it for the last two thousand years.” He said, “Well I believe I’d like to do this.” So he starts and after twelve months he says to the abbot. He says, “I need another book.” “I’ll
get you one my son.” Anyway three weeks later they can’t find the abbot. He hasn’t come back with another book and they go down to the dungeons and down deeper and down deeper and eventually they find the abbot down at the very bottom floor and he ripped his clothes and he is crying. And they said “What is wrong reverend abbot?” He said, “The word was celebrate not celibate.” And that probably
ties up about what religion is in that sense. I don’t know whether God or Jesus Christ intended everyone to be celibate but that’s something that’s just happened. Well that joke rings home to me. It could have been that somebody said celebrate and it’s celibate. So that’s something that happened. And that’s a standard joke that a lot of guys use. You have to be a particular type of person. Believe me.
I don’t know if I could have done it.
So how long did it take you to realize that it wasn’t for you?
Fifteen months. You don’t realize. It was one of those things that I don’t think being there for a month would solve it. It takes time. Because you get so busy and so wrapped up in what you are doing you don’t notice the time. I mean I sat down there…If you go to Mittagong it is up in the mountains
and it’s a cold place and I mean coming from Queensland I froze but the next year I was right. But you got adapted. And then a year later I just…It wasn’t that mass didn’t interest me. It wasn’t that life didn’t interest me. You know, just like something that dawns on you and you say, “This isn’t for me.”
It’s like everything else. I mean they don’t try and talk you out of it. You sit there and discuss it and it worked out and they say that they respect your decision, because what’s the point of doing something with the end result of not, doubting whether you can do it. To me that’s not ethical to do something. I’ve always been taught you call a spade a spade you tell it like it is if somebody doesn’t like you for that fine. I respect your decision.
And that’s something they’ve looked at and that was fine.
So tell us about returning to Brisbane after this period?
The biggest shock was my mother. I had to go back and live at home because having no money, having no work experience. I think I had been out of the scene after twelve or fifteen months. You get there and I just turned up one day and
I actually caught a tram. I had this suitcase, a tennis racquet and a hocky stick and I think I walked from the tram station. It was a bloody long walk actually. I got asked, “What are you doing home?” I said, “It wasn’t for me. They just said thanks very much. Here’s the train ticket back to Brisbane and you can get home from there.” But luckily I think I had
five shillings or something, put away that I hadn’t spent so I think I had enough to get a tram. My father was, “Oh your back. I told you it wasn’t for you.” Mum was disappointed. So yeah you get to the stage that you kind of think about it but they learned to accept it. The parish priest was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t hack it. But I told him exactly what I said to you, you learn in yourself that it wasn’t for me.
I said I’ve never regretted going. I would rather have gone and have know that it is not for me than never to have gone and to have pondered the question, “Was it for me.” So I got back from down there and settled in and tried to find a job. It wasn’t terrible difficult. In those days I won’t say that there was a thousand jobs knocking on the doorstep. The lady I told you about before Aussie
Kemp, one of Mum’s three musketeer mates got me a job over at Woollies doing packing and stacking. Well for somebody who had just come from an environment of learning, keeping your brain active and doing all this to packing and stacking containers it wasn’t my cup of tea. But anyway I stayed there and eventually I found a job with the Queensland Railway’s Department. I went through the interview process and got a job there, went to
the commercial managers officer and then we started doing the change over, completing the change from pounds shillings and pence to decimal currency. They sent me down to QUT or QIT [Queensland University/Institute of Technology] in those days. I had to do a speed-reading course which I have never forgiven them for making me do. Because you could sit down and read a book in three hours and totally lose the enjoyment of it. That was something but we had to do it because of the volume of work
we had to do. They employed four of us at the one time and basically I think two are still working. They are getting close to retirement these days, because you had an opportunity. I could have stayed but I looked at it and thought I decided to go into the service and become whatever I became.
Tell us the story of when you first joined the services or
what first sparked that kind of interest?
I think it was the fact that I was getting awful close to my number coming out of the lotto system for conscription. Bare in mind that I had been out of the system for twelve, fifteen months everybody you associated with the older generation, I’m twenty, they are forty five or fifty. World
War II it was only twenty-five years ago or twenty years ago and they were discussing whether they would go back in or let their son’s go. And I thought well…I had never actually thought about the services as a career. My Dad didn’t make a comment either way. He said your decision. Being over eighteen I had the option. I
didn’t have to get the permission of my parents. I just thought about it and went, fine. I went down to the interview process at Mary Street. I said originally I became a rad tech but I had some education and they said, “Don’t waste it.” I could have went for aircrew. Flying didn’t interest me to be quite candid. I never thought about it in those days about being an officer or a lackey. It is better to be an officer than a lackey. I didn’t think of it like that in those days. So I went in. I got
called up and I went down in sixty-eight. South Australia, Hindmarsh or whatever they call it down there. I went through the basic training and in that period down there I remastered. I suppose I got conned because everybody was down there saying we need more airfield defence guards. They get to wear this green uniform and look like the army and act like the army and do everything that the army does. I thought about it and said fine.
I remustered and went through in about three days flat. Which surprised the hell out of everybody. Quite a few blokes changed from other mustering. I was down there for rad tech and somebody else was down there for sheet metal working and they got talking to you and the DI [drill] instructors were all part of the airfield defence. They were telling us how you get this and that. “You can go overseas. You get to go Butterworth or Thailand you can go to here or go to there.” Yeah, right.
So when we went up there we were sent up at Amberley and you went through your basic training. The whole part of it was in those days a lot of the basic training guys a couple of the officers were ex-British SAS [Special Air Service]. Our training was modelled on the army, on the basic side of it. We were taught a lot more I think…We learned more particularly
on the nuclear side and the chemical side and all that type of side because it was the in thing in those days. You had to know about the nuclear weapons because of the cold war situation and this, this and this. But we learned that and we became more oriented to survival, how to be in firefights. Normal training that gives you the best chance to live is the best way I can put it. A lot of the instructors were from
other military organizations. Some of the instructors were ex-British SAS or ex-British RAF [Royal Air Force] regiment which is the equivalent to SAS. It was good training but the fitness side of it almost drove you crazy. I didn’t really smoke in those days but I think in the sixties you’d have a social cigarette. Doctors, dentists, and you’d go back in those days and have a look at a camera or something and everybody smoked. But it was only in the fact that
you went out and somebody offered you a cigarette and you’d put it in your mouth and light it and say what the hell are you doing this for. That’s all it was. So yeah you had the social cigarette and it did affect your fitness level. But we were very fit. We used to go for a three mile run before breakfast. For that we had twenty minutes. And then we had the nine mile run which was an hour and a half.
Full pack and rifle thank you very much. So yes. There was a certain level of fitness that we were required to maintain. I said I was never a great smoker so that side didn’t worry me. I’ve been doing martial arts for forty odd years now, not so much these days because the arthritis is starting to effect my lower body but hey. In those days it was a way of keeping fit.
So you go into the process. You finish that and you finish the basic training which took three to four months. You then got posted to a base squadron. I got posted to Amberley. I don’t know why I didn’t ask for anything. It didn’t worry me where I went so I got posted to Amberley and then from there you continued your training.
And before we get on to that can I ask why you joined the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] rather than…
My father. My father was in the RAAF during World War II. And I don’t know why but he got a piece of perspex from a canopy through his eye and he used to take Bex and Vincents [analgesics]. I can remember as a kid my father would go and buy a box of Vincents. I think I tried one in my lifetime and it just about make me puke for two hours but anyway he had this box of Vincents and he would take them or Bex
all day. That’s how he coped with this irritation caused by this thing in his eye. Long story short 1967, Veterans’ Affairs arranged through I think it was the PA [Prince Alfred] hospital. They developed enough technology to remove that piece of stuff from his eye and he almost became human after that. After they got that thing out of his eye and he settled down.
But no that’s one of the reasons. Dad was in the services. I went into it. I looked at the navy but I don’t like boats and I thought, what, are you going to walk everywhere? At least in the air force you can get to fly somewhere at times so that was the reason, Dad and I think the opportunities appeared to be more in the air force as regards what could be done,
when you could do it and how you could do it. If I had come back and wanted to go back to Vietnam and become a rad tech I could have remustered there. I actually remustered to service base.
Tell us about being a rad tech. How long did you do that for?
I didn’t, I never went to training. I was supposed to be going there after my basic training but I got conned at recruit training and I ended up remustering to an
airfield defence guard.
And how did you take to the initial discipline of the services in your first couple of days?
Well it was easy because of what I had been doing a couple of years prior to that. If you have never had the opportunity, I don’t wish it on anybody, but if you have ever entered the noviciate it was a very regimented type of life and you don’t say yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir but you will rise at 5AM and you
might have to get the fires going or something going so yes you were very regimented. Discipline has never worried me. I have been a self-disciplined person since I was very young. Like even now without being rude to women, most women can’t budget and save. I am going to get shot here but my wife is very much of that ilk. Where I have no problem, I am the one that saves the money. I mean I’m not criticising Rosemary.
God forbid. But I’m the one who will budget for something and then achieve it. Rosemary may try but in the end, “darling can I have this please,” and I do it. Even in going back to university I am very much self-disciplined person in the fact that if I want to achieve something I will do it. One of the reasons how these days I survived a lot of the stuff with the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is that I have
walked. I get it out of my system. It doesn’t ever go away but I work on the basis if I have been for a five-mile jog or a quick walk, you know, you do the exercise and then come back and I’m stuffed. I’ll sleep that night. I may not sleep all night but I will sleep. And I often say to myself what can I do to change this? I can’t. What’s happened has happened.
I might if I had a time machine and could go back but I am looking at what I can do to change what has happened in the past and there’s nothing and that’s one thing I think Steve Procter. He is the psychiatrist I see. He says there is nothing you can do to change it. You live with it. You can either accept it and live with it or if you don’t accept it, it will kill you it will destroy you. And I’ve seen too many guys…I had a heart attack twelve years ago and
the number of guys who I know of who have had a heart attack and died is scary. But I am one stubborn son of a bitch I can tell you and I know some guys say because I used to play A grade squash and I enjoyed it and I was a bit older than most of them. They said, “Why don’t you give it up.” I said. “No way. I enjoy it.” If I take a challenge on I won’t give up.
So we just left it at Amberley. Tell us what extra training were you receiving here for
your capacity as an air guard?
Air defence field. It was like army but they go one step further. The whole purpose of airfield defence in those days was they wanted more people involved simply because of Vietnam, they wanted people to help secure air field defence. The two places you went to in Vietnam were Phan Rang or Vung Tau. There was an airfield at Vung Tau and there was an airfield at
Phan Rang. I happened to score Phan Rang. You just fall in the routine. But the training they gave you was how to…Well first of all, all training given by the military is how to survive. The other side of the training is how to defend and protect but there is no point defending and protecting if you are dead. So the first topic is you learn how to survive and then if you are there you learn hot to protect. One of the things they did over there at
Phan Rang was we had guard posts at the end of the runways. But there was only one problem. By the time you got to the truck and got there if you walked from the fence into there you would already be past that point if you were the enemy. So they changed that around. That is something somebody hadn’t thought of for years so they changed that around. So it was just a matter…The training evolved into like I said basically
what the army learned. Like we went out on patrol. We used to do that on a six-day cycle. Four nights out of six. You then were in the situation of surviving. It is like being in the army or the air force or whatever. You learn how to be a soldier.
Well speaking about that subject how did the air force’s
training in this capacity vary from the army’s teaching on patrol?
Most of the instructors that we had were either ex-army or ex-British RAF regiment or ex-British RAF SAS. So I mean the training we got was the same as the training the army got. It was all modified on. A lot of people didn’t realize that they used to have the airfield defence guards during World War II over in the islands. And some people in the association in the last ten years
have started contacting these guys and a lot of them are like my father’s age now. He’s eighty or getting older and there’s not too many left but what they have done is literally tried to contact these guys. Particularly the people who served on the islands round Australian and in Indonesia and that during the war. There’s some famous battles there and a lot of people were involved in it. It is one of the things I suppose if you are looking for the logistics of what they are talking about. If you have an air field,
you’ve got to protect it. It might sound like if you’ve got a plane get the plane up in the air and it can defend itself but you can’t defend against ground troops and that is the whole purpose of it. You do the logistical side of it where as you protect what you have. There’s no point having in these days having a forty million dollar or twenty million dollar aeroplane like a Hornet sitting there and somebody puts a bullet through the back of the fuselage. You’ve got no notice.
So yeah you’ve got to protect what you’ve got and that’s all it was. See over in Vietnam for example the Yanks [Americans] used to…There was the American air force, the Koreans and the Australians and we all used to share the duties for the towers and we all shared the outside duty. It would just depend where you were as to what sector you went out in. So that’s a scary thing when you’ve never done it before. It is like walking three or four or five kilometres outside a base.
Or three kilometres or whatever. All you’ve got is what you are carrying and a bottle of water and you know that if you try to go back through the wire you are going through certain parts otherwise the rest of it is planted with mine pits. So it is a funny situation when you think about yourself. One night the Americans mortared us instead of mortaring somewhere else, they used our grid reference. And you’ve never seen eight guys, to be quite candid they were all sitting there cowering wondering where in the hell are we going to go because the
the Yanks are mortaring us. So we had to run. Literally we got up and had the VC or Vietcong been there we would all have died. Had we stayed there we would all have been dead. We just got our gear and ran.
We might come to that later. We might just focus on before going to Vietnam at this stage. And can you just tell us were you expecting to…?
No. It was just one of those things. It was a possibility. I just got to that stage. I had met my future wife. We were courting
if I can use that expression. On the odd night I had off we were courting. And then one day someone came and said to me, “You’d better go and look at the board, Woodie. You are going to Vietnam.” I said, “Yeah. Right. Ok.” And that’s all it was. I mean there was eight of us posted to Vietnam on the same day. So what do you do. If
you said they had injuries over there. People were hurt. When I was over there three people were killed. Or died…So you got to the stage where. And then you got intensified training. If you hadn’t already done it you went on a survival course, which basically was the equivalent in the Dunbar Valley of being…pretending? You got parachuted into and area, you got parachuted a ten-day ration pack and you had to survive.
That was interesting. That was something we all did if you went there. I never regretted doing it. It was very interesting. A couple of guys ate the wrong type of fruit and ended up in Hospital. They ate fruit of a Morton Bay Fig which will kill you and we always used to embarrassingly go and borrow a chicken off a farmer and that sort of thing which we weren’t supposed to do. You would get hungry I mean a ration pack doesn’t hold that much food and if you are making a camp and hiding
and doing all these things but we used to go…If you found a chicken or some eggs we in those days would always leave a dollar note. So if you took half a dozen eggs you’d leave a dollar note behind. And I don’t think the guy minded. All he was missing was six to a dozen eggs and he got a dollar in it’s place. The interesting thing too was when you finished it they’d ask you did you want a couple of beers on the way out and they’d say no, you can have one because if you haven’t
eaten properly and your stomach has shrunk one beer and you are laughing drunk on the bus on way home. So people didn’t get two beers. You got one. So it was an interesting thing. It bought a bit more on the surviving side. They tended to sharpen your weapons skills and I elected when I went to Vietnam I asked if I could have an M60. I am not
exactly a small person and if you are going to carry something you may as well carry something that is a bit effective. I asked for an M60. I could have asked I suppose to have an SLR [Self Loading Rifle] or an F1 or whatever you wanted to call it but I ended up with an M60 which to me, I ended up becoming quite good at it. I could stand up to a target in a range and got the thing at twenty-five metres or whatever. So it is one of those ways you keep yourself alive.
And how do
you feel about the prospect of going to Vietnam at this stage?
When I first got posted I suppose I spoke to the guys who had already been there because they were coming back and other people were going. Because I was one of the first groups. I was the number nine course. So we weren’t that far into the situation and I was one of the early ones. You spoke to the guys. I went over there I believe with no
preconceived ideas of what it’s about. I mean you know there was a war on and you knew there was controversy back in Australia. There was people come back with stories and say this and that but if I summarized the main things people were saying it was that once you got there you knew why you were there. It is hard to explain I mean when I was over there I got involved
with the padre. I escorted him for three months or two months on a rotation basis and you go to all these different villages and you could see the effect of what the good side was of what we were attempting to do and occasionally you would see the bad side, people killed because they were dealing with Australians or whatever. But I’ve always tried
my whole life to not have any preconceived ideas. When you guys wanted me to do this I said fine. I’ve got no preconceived ideas of what you want. So I’m strait down the line. If I say something it is what I believe. You know. I went over there with no preconceived ideas but it is a bit of a shock when you get over there and the pilot said, “Do you want to land at forty-five degrees because of rockets.” That kind of makes you more aware of the fact that you are in a war zone. When we got there it was about…We had to
hang around for about two hours before we got a Caribou up to Phan Rang. I think we got to Saigon… Saigon was about two o’clock by the time we got to Phan Rang it was about seven o’clock at night. We hadn’t eaten. Everybody forgets that you march on your stomach. We hadn’t eaten, we hadn’t been fed. There were, I think, nine of us there. You got there and
like I said the first thing you did when you got there and that’s what made me realise. They threw a rifle at you and they threw a couple of bands of bullets and they are real. It is not as though you are here and somebody says to you, “Here’s six dummies.” It was two handfuls of real bullets, or a couple of magazines of real bullets and tracers. And somebody says, “Well if they come through the wire tonight you go downstairs into that bunker
and that’s where you stay.” Which means you don’t know enough about where you are and where is this going to do anything about it. You don’t realize and when you realize this because it does and when you wake up the next morning it is a bit of a thing and you go, “Where am I?” I mean forty-eight hours earlier you are sleeping in a bed in Australia.
You catch a plane to Sydney and hop on a 707 and the next day you are in Vietnam. And you get on another plane and they said, “Here you are.” And they give you guns and bullets and they say, “if it wakes you up in the night you go downstairs to the bunker. So you realize quite quickly that you are in a situation where you have to listen to what people tell you. Cause if you don’t, you can be dead and that is as simple as that.
Interviewee: Peter Woodford Archive ID 1770 Tape 03
Just going back a little bit. I’ll just get you to explain to me the procedure of how you got your embarkation notice that you were going to Vietnam?
Well basically someone came up to me and said, “Woody your name is on the board. You are going to Vietnam.” And that was basically how I found out and I was given, I think,
six weeks notice prior to go…I was told…I think I went on February something and I found out just before Christmas, which wasn’t the best Christmas present. Mum was like, “Are you going to come back?” And Rosemary was a bit upset. It was a funny sort of setup. In all the process of going through medicals and all the rest of it nobody sort of said to you, “Don’t you want to go?”
It was just assumed and rightly so. If you are in the services and if you are posted somewhere, rightly or wrongly, you are to accept that. I mean over the years in the services I had a lot of short-term postings. I’ve got about a page an a half of where I’ve been. I mean like following the Duke of Edinburgh all over Australia. It was ludicrous. But you went through the process. You had to get needles and I think I got seventeen
lots of needles before I went over there. And you get them in each army and you walk around like a zombie because your arms are that sore and they do it over a period of two or three days. Same thing coming back. They gave you all these shots and you walked around with the arms like a zombie because you could hardly lift them up.
What were the needles for?
You name it; yellow fever. All the diseases one could get they basically gave you a shot against.
And I remember your arms get that sore. It is not as though you go to a doctor today and you get all your shots to go overseas and you don’t come home and start doing fifty push-ups and a 3 mile run. You do do you? All that type of stuff and you feel the effects of it. They gave no account to the fact that you’ve just had four shots in this arm and three in that one. And the next thing you could be doing is going to the gym or you are running or doing something else.
So you’re all supposed to be heroes. You are twenty foot tall and you don’t get pain. Well the fact is you do and you put up with it because if you don’t you are considered a malingering whinger. I think they’ve changed the attitudes in the last thirty odd years or I hope they have. So you were a malinger if you complained about having sore arms but everyone had it. But I think they got wiser as they suddenly realized. I mean when
we started the process to come home they did exactly the same thing. They still gave us our shots but I’m glad I got them. I still get a touch of malaria but how I keep that at bay I go and drink bitter lemon which has quinine in it or Indian tonic. When I first came in I got malaria on my honeymoon and I had to go to a doctor on the Gold Coast to get some tablets because I was sweating and had the shakes and all those things. It’s one of those things you can do nothing about so I went and got it
and from now on at least once a month when I’ve finished the course of tablets I have a bitter lemon or I have a Indian tonic drink that contains quinine. And that’s exactly what I do now. When Rosemary goes out she will go and buy a four pack of bitter lemon or I will go and guy a thing of Indian tonic. But I like them now because I’m a diabetic and I can’t drink sweet stuff but you get used to those type of things. Nobody
wants to go but you accept it.
Well tell me a bit about Rosemary…About the…
Well she was upset because I had asked her to marry me that coming year and I think we still had four or five months. We were going to get married in April or March or something like that. And I remember I rang up and said, “I hate to tell you this love. I’ve just been posted to Vietnam.” I can still remember the intake of
breath and the voice. I said, “Look. I’ll come down tonight.” Because I’m at Amberley and she’s at Enoggera, Ashgrove opposite end to where I used to live. So I conned someone and gave him some money for petrol and he came down and saw his girlfriend and I came down and saw Rosemary. She wouldn’t marry me before I went because in those days, like I said, she was the computer person for the Main Roads Department. If she got married she had to leave.
Women weren’t allowed be married into a job which I thought sucked. You couldn’t in those days. You couldn’t work for the Public Service if you were married. They did offer her a job back when they changed the rules three years later but at that stage we had a child. But no I remember with fear and trepidation I told my mother that I was going to Vietnam. It was just one of those things. Dad kind of said, “Well
you’ll find our what it’s all about now won’t you.” I said, “Probably.” But Mum. First of all she is your mother and she thinks of you as a son but Rosemary was a future wife. It wasn’t an easy thing to accept. I know when I came back on R and R I almost didn’t go back but she was going to come with me. But it was one of those things
that you learned what’s over there and you accept. I had the choice of going. I could have went anywhere for R and R but I decided to come back home. It was only really four days here but that’s one of those things. If you are going to die and that’s something that is upper most in your mind. And you never forget, like somebody can walk round the streets and shoot you if you were walking around the street you can die so I thought well if I go and see my folks and see Rosemary. I scared the living daylights out of her.
I hadn’t told her I was coming home. I landed at the airport and walked in the back door and I can remember till this day see the look on her face. I can’t explain it but I know the look on her face. It was there. I don’t think she has ever forgiven me for that because I think if I had told her I was coming…I know when I finally come home because Dad…Rosemary’s father during the war was
like the command regimental sergeant major for the whole of Queensland in Victoria Barracks. Great guy. He died a couple of years ago but he was a really great guy. Anyway they had a problem. They couldn’t find out when I was coming. They said I wasn’t on an aeroplane and they didn’t know what happened to me and Rosemary is crying and Dad is saying, “Where in the bloody hell is he?” He was going to ring up one of his mates, by then was the equivalent of a three star general.
In there during the war he was an RSM…regimental sergeant major but he looked after the whole of Queensland and some of the guys he knew then as colonels had subsequently become generals or two star generals and that sort of thing. Anyway they thought they’d lost me but what they’d done coming back is they’d double booked the aircraft. The army had booked two thirds and the air force had booked a third and somehow it had all got screwed up.
And we landed at Sydney at one thirty in the morning and you’ve got a hundred and fifty guys kissing the tarmac, which is fine. And then going out to buy some good Australian beer and proceeding to get slightly inebriated. I have to be honest. But they didn’t know we were there. They hadn’t made the bookings. But here we are. We made it back to the airport at…Nobody really slept. We all bought some good New South Wales beer and had one or two. We went back to the airport and got showered and shaved and all the stuff that went with it.
At least smelt human and we didn’t have any record of us. “Who are you?” So after being away for over twelve months and you come back they had no record of you. “I want to go to Brisbane.” “What flight are you on?” “I wouldn’t have a clue.” With all our travel orders I mean like getting back to here to go there. They’d all mixed up. So here we are. Finally four of us finally got a plane to go back to Brisbane. I remember it was a four-engine prop job.
I think it was TAA [Trans Australian Airlines]. We finally got back to Brisbane on this thing it was a 2 hour flight. If we had got back on the first of the 707s it would have been a one-hour flight, jets. So we had to get on to the old prop job at least they got us back here. At least this time Rosemary knew I was coming and was waiting at the airport but they didn’t know we were there. The stuff up happened. I mean there’s a word for it in the services but
I don’t want to embarrass myself with you.
What kind of a word?
A derogatory term. No. No.
In relation to?
Stuff ups. F ups. It happens in any organization. You would think that getting guys back from Vietnam you wouldn’t have that kind of a problem. You know. They did. Really and truly it became the biggest stuff up you came across. Really I won’t
tell you the word. But no. I said what really got me and you’ve got four guys who basically…Two of the guys were army and the other guy I knew from the air force and he came from Vung Tau and people are abusing us. Calling us baby killers because what, we’d been over there. I’ll digress for a moment. I remember when my father came back. He said, “I’ll
take you for a beer at the RSL [Returned and Services League].” I got over there and I got asked, “Who is this guy?” “Who is this twenty-two year old guy?” “What had he got ribbons on for?” You know. Ribbons and unit citations and things like that. “You didn’t go to a war.” This is the guys from World War II giving us the heebie jeebies. I just said to Dad, “You have a drink mate. I am going. I can’t be bothered.” To this day I will never walk back into
and RSL. And I never will. Why should I be impugned because I went and did what I was told to do. And I had these guys saying, “You haven’t been to a war. You wouldn’t know what a war was” I think the attitudes have changed now but I certainly would never walk into an RSL to join it or to have a beer there with anybody. It finished me. It is the same when I came back the people from the moratorium marches abusing us and spitting on us.
Because we went to Vietnam. I didn’t say, “Please sir can I go?” I went because it was my duty to go. I was told to go and maybe I could have broken a leg and put it off for six months but I didn’t, I went. And I’m glad I did go. In hindsight what you see we did. People who were oppressed had life. Fine. And you didn’t see that until you went out. The people down in Saigon probably didn’t appreciate that.
When you get out into the country areas like Phan Rang and you up in to the mountains where the hill people lived and they were just as oppressed by the VC. Right. They were threatened, that type of stuff, which was fine. But you appreciated what you were there for. You were there so that another culture had the same opportunities as you do. Now how did I digress to that for you.
We were talking a bit about going home on leave but I’ll go back.
Going over there you were asking about.
What was the process of how they physically got you there?
Well I mean you went out to Brisbane airport or where ever you were and at that stage going over there five of us went to Sydney. Then in Sydney. What they did was they replaced a whole section. A section really was eight or nine guys. They had four of us up here and they picked another four up in Sydney.
So what we did is we all went to Sydney and got on World Wide Airlines and went to Darwin and refuelled at Darwin and went over to Vietnam. No that was on Qantas going over. The R and R was by World Wide Airlines. So basically you went to Sydney and you got the plane the same day you left and I used to love it. I love flying and I used to do what they call moon light hopping. The moon always keeps rising
When you are flying at thirty-thousand feet the moons there, it never seems to go down or go up it always seems to be rising in front of you. Basically what you are doing is skimming along the curvature of the earth at five hundred miles an hour. So I love sitting up there and watching those type of things. And my wife says that’s another lot of useless information and trivia. So then you got to Vietnam.
We landed in Saigon. The scariest part about coming into Saigon was that you came down at forty-five degrees. That is what they told us because they used to shoot rockets at them. And if you came down at a steep descent and then got almost to the airfield and flattened out. You landed at about two hundred knots, which is a fair speed. And taking off was the same thing. With taking off you were full power at forty-five degrees to get out of the way. Surely that’s the odd angle
at which it is difficult apparently to target. If you did it today now with the patriot missiles they have now they wouldn’t miss but then they couldn’t. It wasn’t as effective as it is now. So it was a bit scary.
What was that feeling like? What does it feel like inside the plane to land at that angle?
Scary. I love it. I started to learn how to fly but I t have a problem depth perception which I think has corrected itself
now that I am fifty-five but I am too old to do that again. But no I love that. I used to con flights from the Americans all the time and they do some scary things in aircraft. But no it doesn’t worry me. We used to (UNCLEAR) aircraft to in the afternoon and that was scary but the fact you go down at forty-five degrees is nothing. Being in a FAC aircraft is scary. Fort Air control.
At Phan Rang they used to be a squadron called signal squadron. It had bird spots or FAC aircraft or Fort Air Control aircraft. That used to go on seven days a week of the year so what they used to do was ask for a volunteer to go with them and I think I did about fifty-five hours. They honorary gave me my observers badge. They reckoned I was a qualified observer after doing so many hours. A couple of guys did it with me, there was.
Bob and there was Klaus and we all went up and did it. It took a few hours, two-two and a half hours in a Cessna. In the back seat with a rifle. You would direct aircraft, direct the jets to go where there was a literally VC or something and one guy came back one day. He’d been shot through the bottom of the aircraft with a large calibre weapon and it just about blew his leg off. I didn’t know that
until he landed. But it was scary. If you can imagine your flying in a Cessna if you’ve ever flown in a Cessna and you’ve got F104s coming and he’s saying you go down there ahead or whatever. When they go past you you are flying in a plane that is basically just sedately chopping along going at a hundred miles an hour and something going down through the afterburners going and the air is just becomes like, how to put it,
tooted. So you are in this little aircraft hanging on for dear life and it is just that four fighters have gone past and you’re bouncing up and down into air. The pilots are really good actually. I wrote to a couple of the pilots over the years. Then you get busy and you move house and you scratch your brains. I actually wrote a letter once…I never got a reply actually, to the Pentagon
wanting to know where I could contact signal squadron. I never got an answer back. Who knows. I might have got an answer back and somebody knocked the letter off. That was scary to be quite candid. All it’s got between you and somebody poking a gun at you…you are only up 5 or six hundred feet or a thousand feet in the air. Maybe a bit higher 3000. Now if I’m sitting on the ground and I’m shooting at you with a gun or an SLR or something
I reckon I could put a bullet though the engine. It was that type of thing so yes it was that but you could be five or six kilometres from the base so if the aircraft goes down first of all you’ve got no parachute. So it was a bit of excitement in the day. But the only option we had was we could only do it two days in a week. Out of the six day cycle and you were out four days, you had two days in which you worked
the morning of the fifth day and then you had that afternoons off and you had the whole next day off so if you wanted to go you were limited to those two days in the six-day cycle. But there were three sections there at Phan Rang so everybody used to contribute a person. And some of them didn’t want to go but hey. I didn’t mind. I thought it was great. It was one of those things. I mean I basically learned how to fly on those Cessnas over there. They said, “Do you want to have a go?” I said, “Why not?” I mean they were always in control
but you sit there and you learn how to do trims and that type of stuff. I reckon the best part of flying is landing and taking off. It’s great. But I mean I copped a ride in a jet over there and they are scary. The F104s are a flying coffin. Basically it’s a bit motor and if you’ve got a twin seat one it’s just the twin seats and all of the rest is just pure power. So if you ever got a ride in one of those they would deliberately go up and give you a hard time.
“I’ve got an Aussie with me today. I’m going to show him what life’s about.” And it was great. You got up there You were just two guys. You kind of forgot you were in an area where someone was going to kill you. but like I said you feel bulletproof. You’re going along fifteen thousand feet in the air and you are rocking along and somebody turns it over on it’s side and side flips and goes down. So I loved that type of stuff.
Did you land at Tan Son Nhut airport? No.
Which airport did you land at?
We landed at Saigon. I don’t know what they called that one. I think it was just called Saigon airport. Vung Tau and we went to Phan Rang and from Phan Rang you could go up to Cam Ranh Bay.
And when you first landed on the…?
That was Saigon.
Right. Can you describe what that airport was like?
Busy. Absolutely. I think from memory. I read an article in one of the magazines that the Yanks used to put out. It was the busiest airport in the world.
And I remember I actually had a trip down there one day. I got picked up from Saigon in a Canberra. I was returning from R and R or wherever I went and there were no aircraft to take me down and they said, “Do you want to have a ride in a Canberra?” and I said, “Yeah fine.” And we sat in the queue…. When you get in the aircraft you then have to queue. We sat there and we must have been eight back and in front of us was a Star Lifter.
It was a huge transport plane and you’re sitting on the runway. First of all these is sitting in front of you and it’s motors are just idling. Just waiting. But when it sits up there and it get to take off…These things are huge. You can drive a bus in them and then they put out because you’ve got to go for the power stakes rotation and just the amount of force coming back from the motor…The Canberra was rocking. Just sitting there because I was in the dickie seat, the spare seat. I was just sitting there and it was actually rocking
because of the power coming off the motors of the Star Lifter.
And how many aeroplanes would they have banked up to take off and land?
It took us about twenty-five minutes to get in when the Qantas was around but they were up fifteen or twenty thousand feet. I don’t know if that was Tan Son Nhut airport. It might have been I don’t know. I just know it as Saigon. Just busy busy busy.
Vung Tau I think was the next busiest. Phan Rang was after that and then Cam Ranh Bay but Cam Ranh Bay had a lot of navy guys up there with the big ships.
What kind of planes were at Saigon?
We came in on I suppose you’d call it the modern days of the time. We had a 707 which was Qantas. We came in a Qantas and we left in a Qantas or World Wide when we went on R and R I think it was that. They were all 707s.
There was the Vietnamese air force used to have some aircraft down there. They were ex-Mustangs. I forget. They are some type of Yank plane and the air force used to fly them. The Vietnamese air force used to fly them. They used to have some sort of trainer that was the jet they used to train in but that worked out as a war bird too. There were all the big transports. You had the Mini Hercs [Hercules] which was the C123s,
The two engine Herc and you had the big Hercs and all the Caribous. Helicopters everywhere. What else did they have? They had the Star Lifters, the Globe Masters, which is the one that opens up at the front. Those and then the Star Lifter. Basically you can drive a bus in it they are that huge. You don’t see that much because you get so used to it. People say, “What type of aircraft did you have at Phan Rang?”
And I say, well there was F104s which is Indian Chief…F104s anyway. Canberra’s. Our Canberra’s. They had their equivalent of a Canberra which was something else. What else was there. Helicopters of course, everywhere. But I mean there was probably other type of aircraft. Certainly the Caribou and certainly the mini Hercs and that was it. I mean you don’t look and you don’t think.
I’ve got photographs there. I mean I’ve got one of a Caribou where it landed and blew a tyre. I’ve got a picture of a Mirage which people reckoned were never in Vietnam but one flew over from Malaysia I think so I have a photo of that. And people say no there was no Mirages in Vietnam and I say, “Do you want to make a bet?” Because there is actually a photograph over there and I think it is the only one in Australia because people say no they weren’t there. What else was there?
Different types of Helicopters. There was one in Phan Rang called Pedro. That was like a fire helicopter. It used to drop this foam. They used to have a lot of times aircraft would come back and they hadn’t dropped their bombs. Of course they didn’t use Napalm over there but there’s another name they used it for. And when they came to land they would what they called hang five. When you’d get the napalm in the wing. It is normally on two points. When you release it it just drops.
And sometimes what happened it didn’t release from both points and you either had it hanging like that with the nose up and the tail down or you had it hanging the other way which was more dangerous with the tail still hooked up and the nose was hanging down on the thing. What they used to do with those if they couldn’t get it off is they would go out over the China Sea and shake the hell out of them to get the stuff to drop. If they didn’t they normally ejected the pilot and got someone to pick him up because if you landed with the nose down
as soon as the nose hit the ground you’d have instant heat. You were landing at a hundred and forty miles an hour in those things so you’d have instant heat and you’d go boom. Particularly if you are carrying Napalm. And they used to have Pedro up there which would have an automatic…They used to drop foam like a big foam squirt down over that. They had other types of helicopters for taking wrecks away. They would pull alongside with two hooks on the thing and pick up the plane.
And they’d take it over the China Sea and drop it. There’s be a fortune of aluminium over there. I don’t know how you would pick it up but that’s what they’d do, like with a planes coming in damaged with bullet holes. They wouldn’t fix it up, they would just take it out and drop it.
And what was this other name for Napalm?
I can’t think of it. They never used Napalm over there, which they did. What name did they use for it? It is against the Geneva Convention so we didn’t use it
Were you referring to Australian or American?
Both. I might get myself put away in Jail here for twenty-five years soon.
And so the Australians used Napalm?
I can’t verify that. I can’t. But I know they used Agent Orange [defoliant]. The government admitted that in 1988. But no it was quite common over there to use
Napalm. You would see them over there in the hills at the back of where Phan Rang was. And I’m talking about a place, Horseshoe Bay and Phan Rang was in there. They used to always be going up there in the hills and trying to find them because they used to sit up there in the hills and fire rockets at us. So one of the things was you’d be sitting there sleeping, if you were, sometimes in the day and quite often the alarms would go off because they would be firing rockets at you. 122 or 172 sized rockets. So
as soon as they found out where they were coming from they would send up fighters to go and bomb the shit out of them.
And at the number two squadron would the Canberra bombers ever carry Napalm?
I can truthfully say, I never saw it. I can’t discount it. I can honestly say, I never saw it there but who knows what they had in their bomb bays. They’d got a lot of secrets. It’s thirty-five years ago or thirty odd years ago now.
1969, what’s that, it’s thirty-four, thirty five years. What has happened has happened. Malcolm Fraser admitted in 1988 or 1984 or something that they used Agent Orange over there. We knew. We walked though it. When you went out on patrol you would go out through the stuff outside the base. When you drank the water it was in the water. There is a special name for Agent Orange. It never actually disappears. You keep diluting it and diluting it
and diluting it and it will keep diluting but it will never actually disappear. So hypothetically If all the water on the earth disappeared all you would have left it puddles of these various chemicals. That are there. Which are one of the most toxic substances known to man. But you lived in it. It used to be in the water in the canal. I remember one out there. The
Yanks planted…They went out and did all these two, four, five which you walked out through when you went outside and then they planted all these jumping jack mines. And if someone stands on a jumping jack mine you stand on it and then step off and it jumps up to about waist hight and explodes. There was only one problem. It was monsoon season and so they planted all these jumping jacks and they call got washed away down the canal and down the road so when
you went outside the wire you are thinking, “oh my God. Am I going to step on one?” They had been through and killed everything with Agent Orange and then they put mines in. Now if you were a VC and you wanted to get to a place are you going to walk though there? Two weeks later the monsoons come and that is torrential rain, I am telling you, that is torrential rain. It washes all the jumping jacks away. They don’t explode. They just get washed out of the ground.
And what did the environment which had had Agent Orange on it look like?
Actually a friend of mine or a friend of my brother’s who was a doctor asked that question because you do see some weird things over there in regards to genetic changed. And I saw it a lot because we used to go to this orphanage. We had a project in the squadron with was an orphanage in Phan Rang also when I was there with the padre who was there and that sort of thing. And you certainly see genetic things like
cleft lips, there's worse. Things like arms, legs, two heads. They certainly had a lot of genetic costs like that. You’d have trees that normally were fifty-foot hight and they’d be three-foot high and fifty foot wide. Instead of a tree growing up in the air fifty foot hight, right, when it was genetically
And it grew again it would grow three or four foot in the air and it would spread out on the ground like that. . Things like that. And what it did to human beings. It was atrocious. It is the most vehement poison that anybody on the planet has made. And I don’t know what the Russians have made or what the Yanks have made in their
little laboratories in Canada and over in the mountains and the more dangerous stuff but this stuff, 345D is a genetic mutilator. Just that alone and they don’t get rid of it. If you are a person and you get changed and you have a genetic defect the odds are that you have an offspring that is going to die. That offspring dies and you eventually die, you have solved the problem.
And that might have been twenty, thirty, fifty years. Hopefully in the interim what they have done over there with the canals they have diluted it and diluted it and diluted it to the stage where you can drink it and there are no genetic defects. I came back from Vietnam and Rosemary had a son, our first son Mark, and he was born with an isolated igA [immunoglobulin A] deficiency. It is as rare as rocket horse poo and the only way he got cured was they put him on a course of what they gave
to AIDS [Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome] patients. It builds up the immune system. We had another son who was born with a congenital eye defect and we had a daughter who was born with mild cerebral palsy. Now I can’t 100 per cent truly say that that was a genetic default, I believe it is. Fortunately they’ve all got over it but there was a lot of time and effort spent by doctors. I’ve got lots of my brother’s help.
He actually found out what was wrong with Mark and he did a lot of research on it. But we found out what it was and we found out what had happened but we have lived with that. I remember when Mark was ten, eleven and twelve every six weeks getting a shot. Forty of them he had. These shots to help. And there were five kids from Vietnam born with it and Mark was the only one that survived. See in those days we all used to go to the associations and compare, my kid’s got that. I mean there’s guys who went over there
who their first child that they had before they went there was perfectly normal and then the other one’s had problems. I’m waiting now to see what comes out in my grandchildren. We have two grandchildren that have problems. One will probably never make puberty. That’s the second granddaughter and I have a grand son that had some type of autism. But no it is very disappointing. I mean I came back and
I went to…I had money in those days and I got myself detoxed. I got test results taken and they were asking, “How come you’ve got levels of this pesticide inside your system?” Because I come back from Vietnam. And what they don’t realize is that a lot of insecticides and pesticide which they use are carcinogenic. We used to get fogged every Tuesday and Thursday with a fogging machine.
That went round the base. You can imagine in a tropical environment…It rains quite often so can you imagine seeing dead grass everywhere. This fogging machine. It was an insecticide pesticide and they sprayed it every week twice a week. And it used to stink. So you’d come back from a night out on patrol. You’d come back in at five in the morning
and you’d be in bed trying to sleep and this fogging machine would fog the place and it stank. What could you do about it?
What was it for?
Insects and pesticide and mosquitos and god knows what else. But what it was carcinogenic. We actually wrote, some of the association members wrote back to the general who was in charge of the base and he said yeah. It was pesticide, insecticide and sometimes they used agent orange.
But like I said. I consider myself fortunate. We had three children and they are all relatively healthy. I am very concerned about the effects on my grandchildren in the long term. I’ve got to live with that. . If that guy had said to me he would go back to Vietnam. In those days if you went to Veterans Affairs they would have thought you were a raving nutcase. So I went to this doctor over at Luck which
and I’ve lost track now but he did blood tests and all that and I went through steam baths and that type of stuff where you got it out of your system and that. But he couldn’t believe the levels in my system. And to this day I’ve never had a test offered to me by the RAAF. I have never been de-briefed from the RAAF and that was the end of seventy-three I got out. I was in there
three years after I came back. Nothing. They don’t care. I mean they write to you and say, “We don’t know whether you’ve taken your leave back from when you came back from Vietnam” and all that. “If you want to fill this questionnaire out,” and they write to you and say, “We told you, you didn’t have any leave you used it.” Stupid things like that. What about the important things. These guys up here who are dying. I consider myself very fortunate,
I’ve survived a heart attack because a lot of Vietnam vets have died of heart attacks. The most common thing is people get cancer. It is either cancer of the bowel or cancer of the stomach. This is people dying. After that it is heart attacks. After that…Like the number of people who have walked in front of cars. Have had motor vehicle accidents. I know two guys personally who couldn’t stand it any more and walked in front of cars.
I didn’t want them to do it and they talked about it and six months later you’d see so and so died. They got knocked over by the car. I feel terribly sorry for the person who was driving the car actually. That’s a terrible thing but you can’t change their minds. I know a guy who stuck a gun in his mouth. It blew out the back of his head. He had had enough. These type of things. I have been to so many funerals. I am sick of funerals. I mean
I was so emotionally upset and nobody else died and then I went to Derbies and somebody else died. And he had just been going with his wife down to see his daughter. Stopped at the petrol station, Orange actually, got out of the car and said, “I’ve got a headache.” Massive stroke. And he was my age. Bobby Lovel. All these things that happened.
But nobody still this day cares. When you think back to what we did in Vietnam. I’m digressing. I’m sorry about that. I do ramble about things. Different things come to mind. But I mean nobody cared. They never told us that Agent Orange was going to kill you or would have an effect on you. Nobody even mentioned it. They didn’t admit it until 1988 I think it was that the Australians had used it. We would see it every day. There’s
photographs there of planes spraying it and there’s photographs there of guys sitting there pumping it when they are spraying it around the base. And there’s a general, the general in charge of the base, General Gallagher and he actually wrote back and said, “Yeah. We used it.” So did you guys. The Australian Government doesn’t give a damn. I’m not saying to give me a million dollars. I’m not asking for that but I have grandkids and they’ll have children one day hopefully and I want them looked after if I they have a problem. That’s all I’m asking for.
Interviewee: Peter Woodford Archive ID 1770 Tape 04
Ok. Tell us about the base. What was the base like? Describe it for us. Phan Rang?
Phan Rang itself was within a horseshoe shape. It was probably in a direct line maybe five kilometres from the beach. There used to be a jet fuel pipeline from the beach
up to the base that the Vietnamese always used to go and undo and we’d have fried Noggie [Vietnamese]. Sorry I shouldn’t have said that. What they used to do it was undo the bolts on the pipeline and take away the fuel. There was only one problem. They used to smoke when they did it. JP4 kerosene is a very volatile product so what they’d do is they’d undo the nuts and they’d have fuel draining out which they put into containers which they would take away with them.
They’d sit there with their rolled cigarettes while they were doing it and you’d have a little explosion and then fried Noggie. I have to stop saying that but that’s what happened. Someone would go out fixing the line and you’d have the burned remains of people. But that went into the base and around the base itself…The base was quite large actually. It probably had about
three or three and a half thousand Americans. You had probably a thousand Koreans and the Australians, which was about four hundred. So they are all situated. The Australians are here, the Americans are all around them and the Koreans are on the other side. The Koreans and the Australians got on very well together except that I could never get used to eating pork and Ice cream together with tomato sauce. We used to swap messes. You’d go over there to
theirs and they’d come over to ours and what you’d do is have roast pork. I mean it was probably frozen in 1942 but you’d have roast pork. What they’d do get the pork, a couple of slices of pork, they’d get the ice-cream and they’d get the ketchup and put it over. You know. Then they’d cut the thing up, dip it in the ice-cream and eat it. It wasn’t my cup of tea I’m sorry. Anyway long story short story. Around us there was a hill at the back of us.
Inside the bases they used to call it Gallagher’s Hill. Named after General Gallagher who was in charge of the base. They had their radar towers up there and all their stuff. And then outside the base you went about two or three kilometres further to go up into the mountains. So if you imagine this horseshoe shape. The only thing prior to that had been back in World War II and after World War II and Phan Rang was where the French Foreign Legion
had it’s last stand when the French Foreign Legion was in Vietnam. And there was a massive battle and there are a lot of French Legionnaires buried there. That used to be an animal reserve and I’m talking about gorillas, elephants, panthers, tigers. So you can imagine while you are out on patrol of a night time and you are wandering along and somebody suddenly says, stop, turn around, quick.
One night we ran into a panther that was sitting there. We thought we don’t want to kill it so back we go at a very fast rate of knots. Another night we were out there and we saw a couple of tiger cubs. The problem was if there are tiger cubs where’s Mum and Dad. So you kept going and not hanging around. They used to have monkeys. Further up the road at Cam Ranh Bay, and this is true, I’ve been there. You throw a can at the monkeys and they’ll throw it back to you.
So you get over the wire and you threw a can and they throw the can back at you. We never had that at Phan Rang but we used to have panthers and if you’ve ever heard a panther scream it’s very much like a woman screaming in pain. Or tiger’s roar but panthers do have a funny type of scream. The Yanks used to go out shooting them, the tigers I have ever seen one shot panther or maybe it could have been a jaguar. But it was a black animal and I think it was a panther.
I’ve seen the Yanks there. We were coming back one day from Cam Ranh Bay and here’s a jeep with two tigers thrown over it dead…Over the bonnet. The Yanks were sitting there with their hands up and people taking photographs on it. Why kill an animal for that. they are not doing any harm. But it was actually a reserve. But there were thousands and thousands of snakes. You go outside in patrol. You never
walk through rice paddy’s. You try to avoided it. You come back early in the morning and I’m talking as soon as it gets light, four or four fifteen. You always walked on top of the paddy’s because walking through meant you got all of the crapes, which is an asp. Sunning themselves. They were starting to get ready to sun themselves so they could move. The base actually was very large. I’ll get back from digressing. The base was very large and just down from where the Australians used to be
This little section up there was where they used to do liquid nitrogen. It was a favourite spot for the Noggies, the VC trying to hit it. It is funny. You’d have an attack overnight with a rocket at night and the next day you’d see the Vietnamese workers pacing out how far they were out by. True story. They would work it out but they knew they were doing it so it very hard with that size rocket if they had something bigger it would have been a problem but they only used to use the small ones.
Then there was the ammunition depots. But that one that made the liquid oxygen was bad enough. If it had actually been hit and blown up we wouldn’t have been here. It would have wiped out. This liquid oxygen goes into the aircraft. So that’s a problem if it ever hit.
What kind of protection did they have to stop it being hit?
Nothing It was just there. It was kind of too far from there and too far from there so when you fire a rocket,
particularly the 122s and the ones they had over they. They would only go so far and they couldn’t get close to the base. I mean bear in mind that when you get near the base fence there are guard towers all around but they had been out with maybe a bulldozer, 245T and it made a hundred metre wide area where nothing grew so unless you get right up close. A rocket is in some senses like a mortar. You point it where you want it to go
but it only had such a range. That was a bit of a problem. But no our biggest fear was always that they might hit the oxygen depot. And that would have been a very large bang.
So what did you think when you saw Vietnamese workers pacing out this…?
Well it was a huge joke. I will tell you later but there used to be things we used to do because we used to have movies. Not all the time.
But we used to get the Yank movies and I remember one of the big things over there was we saw the Boston Strangler. We got it well and truly before it was released in Australia. It was a good movie actually. It had Tony Curtis in it. We saw a lot of other movies that I subsequently saw over here like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And things like that. At least over there the troops had it before the commercial releases. I was back here two years and The Good the Bad and the Ugly was released. I’ve seen that. Clint Eastwood and those ones in it
But what can you do about it. You are only assuming that they are marking it out. You can’t prove it. Right. But that was what they used to do. That was a common thing. You’d sit there and laugh your guts out. Really and truly. I’ll tell you after when you stop the tape.
So tell us. What did you think of the idea of having Vietnamese workers on the base?
Well like I said in any situation there is good and bad. Right. Like. I’ll cover that later but some people in the day would shake your hand but in the night would cut your throat. But there were young people there. We used to have a fantastic lady who was an interpreter. Her name was Shanky. If you want out with the padre she might come with you.
But after being there for twelve months you learned a sort of pig French with the Vietnamese and you could talk to most people within reason with this convoluted language. There used to be a Catholic church just down from the orphanage and I used to be able to go down there and talk to the French priest. Kind of between English and a little bit of dogmatic French and Vietnamese you could almost have a conversation. Same with the nuns in the orphanage.
You could kind of have this conversation with me. I can’t speak Vietnams. I hear it on TV every now and again and I think I know that word. That sort of thing. What was the question you asked me again. I’m trying to put it back in context?
Well I was talking about the…
Oh the Vietnamese. They are good and they are bad like everything else. You never really knew. They were all apparently legally checked out to work on the place and…But then again those people had pressure put on them because they are there. I mean they’ve got
…. how to put it…They’ve got families and they do some terrible things over there to families. I can tell you one family was found beheaded outside a little hut with their heads stuck on stakes. The villager, his wife, and his daughter with a sign that said ‘don’t associate with the Americans or the Australians’. So there is a way of putting pressure on somebody to do something.
But then again some of them might have been VC but you never knew. In the daytime they would shake your hand and in the night time they would cut your throat. What do you do? How can you fix it? You can’t. That’s the reality of life. If you go over to Srebrenitza or the Serbs. Anywhere over in Europe it is the same situation. Over in Iraq the same thing. Over in Timor they will shake your hand one minute and cut your throat the next.
What was it like being in a war situation like this where the enemy is somewhat unseen?
You tend to have a broad distrust of everybody. I can remember two situations that particularly affected me. We were out one day and we had to do a patrol of the village and the Pon-chams or the Vietnamese police would come with you. I suppose in some senses they were more an extermination squad. And we did a search of this village. And I mean
it was probably only in a direct line probably three kilometres from the base. I mean your talking two kilometres from the base so it wasn’t that far. It was just on the other side of the canal but we did this search and I happened to find this hut and inside there was an old guy about eighty and he had a stash of hand grenades and mortars and stuff like this. Well you have to do something about it. You go and say, “In here.” Next minute they take him away
and I asked the question a week later what happened and they said he was shot. It makes me feel real good. To search this village and here’s this guy shot because I found something in his hut. But that was what it was like. You never knew. When we used to do guard tower duties which were on a roster basis with the Yanks, you know, you used to have night scopes and you could watch people coming along and quite often you would see someone over there…two or three people meeting and I mean you think
you’d maybe see a rifle. There was nothing you could do about it but you would log which area they were in. They might be coming to work in the base to prepare food that type of stuff. The rule there was that you didn’t buy food that was bought outside the base. Although occasionally you would have Kentucky Fried Cat…I should tell you about that. Know what Kentucky Fried Cat is? You never saw a cat in Vietnam. You tell me
the difference between a cat and a chicken? There is none. Particularly when you take the bottom part off and you cook it like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Very few chickens but there were no cats. Cats were bred for that reason. They had Kentucky fried Cat.
What did it taste like?
Hot chicken, I assume I’ve eaten cat. It just
…Once something is fried it assumes a fried taste. True? If you eat something and you could always assume that it was seasoned or something. It tasted a bit like chicken but you were also playing with the fact that you might have got hepatitis. You were playing with the fact that you could have the runs and most times when you ate local food you did. We used to have down at the beach…I was telling you before when you asked about the design of the base. We had a little beach that was a hundred metres long
and it had guard towers surrounded by a fence that was probably twelve foot hight and you had a barbecue. It was about twenty-five metres wide and you would go down to the beach and have a swim. You were protected. Otherwise the junks that used to come along outside would take pot shots at you. Now here’s an Aussie having a swim and someone would get up there with a rifle and try and shoot you. They were out in the junks outside on the water and they were shooting back into the beach. So that was like a determinant
of going for a swim. So we tried to get a surf club going. Like back in Australia. But they would take pot shots at you so why bother. We used to have boats. Swap a Yank a boat, a twelve footer or fourteen footer for a carton of XXXX [beer] it was a good deal. We used to have food down there. Just outside the wire you could buy and you could watch them make it.
You could make a ham and salad roll or something that was rolled up. Like Vietnamese foods that was semi raw all rolled up. You were playing with…You didn’t know where it was from. So the rule was if you went down to the beach and you wanted to have a barbecue or something you would take some stuff from the base. You wouldn’t buy. But some guys used to. I did it a couple of times. You’d go and buy Kentucky Fried and you knew what it was and you
ate it and didn’t worry about it and as soon as you had that you drank half a bottle of Bacardi or Whisky or Rye or something. So a good time was had by all. But occasionally you went there and you would buy something. You are only talking something that cost 10p or twenty cents. You’d go and buy half a dozen egg rolls. They were very tasty. But you didn’t know what you were eating and quite often as a result of that you would have diarrhoea or vomiting.
And that wasn’t pleasant, particularly in the tropics. And you just learned the longer you were there that the less adventurous you became in eating the local food. I mean at one stage the squadron all got its hand in the pocket and all bought a bullock or an ox. We had a great barbecue. I think it cost us the equivalent of three hundred dollars Australian or four hundred dollars Australian to buy this thing. But we had a great barbecue. But things like
that was done by our butchers and all that type of stuff but you wouldn’t go and get the Vietnamese to do it because that’d probably poison you. You always took people on face value. I remember one with the padre. I was almost at the end. I had almost finished my stint and I looked at him one day and I said, “I think you’ve got a problem.” I said, “I think I keep seeing the same type of guy on a motorbike following you.” I went back and told them about it and they said to me, “Can you identify him? “
You’ve got a town of fifty thousand people. How do you identify one person on a motorbike when everyone else rides a motorbike. I said, “No I can’t.” It is just something. If you are sitting in a Jeep and you are going somewhere and you are sitting in the passenger seat with a gun and you see someone behind you or in front of you and then he gets behind you. You think in patterns and I am a bit mathematically inclined so I think in patterns and he is there again.
I said something anyway but they made a big deal about it. Well not a big deal about it. They put on extra security. See they wanted to know where you went. There was another situation with the orphanage. Twenty-nine children died in about two weeks. Babies, basically. We had to bury them. That tore my heart out. Those little babies died of dysentery, diphtheria and once it starts to run through
a place like that and what you’d do is come down again and take another two or three little coffins down to the cemetery and bury them. That tore my heart out and it still does when I think about that today. Other kids survived but I think about it in this day and age. Even going back thirty or forty years people shouldn’t die of dysentery and diphtheria.
There are inoculations against that and people shouldn’t die of it. Particularly not children. There is nothing worse. I don’t wish this on you if you have ever seen a diseased child. They look so pathetic that it tears your heart out. Anyway that’s life. The other thing is we helped the orphanage. We concreted areas all round it and we built areas where they could keep their pigs. Pigs around there were a big thing.
We tried to do something about the toilets. Instead of having to squat on the ground as people mostly did over there we built a couple of toilet closets. We put running water in for them instead of having to carry water up from a well. Gave them food. Things like that. You’d buy it. Things like that. But a lot of people went down and helped. It was something to do. It kept you busy. It kept your
mind off things. But sometimes when you were with the padre you saw things you didn’t want to see because he saw them. If he is there to bury a couple of kids what are you going to do? Not go with him? It does tend to stay with you. I was in terrible fear for my children when they were babies. You know you sit there and have nightmares over that. I still do. I sit there and look at my granddaughter. I mean things like that happen but they’re
still people and hopefully you can trust the nuns. But there’s a lot of people over there that you just couldn’t trust. I mean people are people, personalities are personalities. People do things because they are made to sometimes and if somebody says, “Unless you go and do that we’ll kill your family.” Really you haven’t got much choice. I mean there were people there and I think they found out after the Australians left and the Americans were still there that they were
VC. But what do you do? All the jobs they had were was they used to listen. They would go and work n the messes or they’d clean the huts up. The only thing we used to do there was fortunately…Our clothes were washed for us and they used to clean our huts up. We barely got them dirty. All you would do was sleep. If you came in at five or six o’clock you would try to sleep but most times
you didn’t and then you would go and have twenty beers. They were five cents each so you would have twenty beers and then you would go and sleep for four or five hours. But you are only talking stuff like Budweiser which is like drinking super light beer. But it kind of gave you an edge enough that you would go and sleep. They cleaned the huts and they would wash our clothes but we used to get to the stage that they would only use detergent. They wouldn’t iron them and they wouldn’t do nothing because when you get
…The longer you are there the wiser you become. If you washed your clothes with detergent it would stay in the cloth and if you are out in the jungle believe you me. If someone is wearing aftershave or smoking or, if they have been smoking you can smell it. If you want to stay alive you don’t
smell like that. It is a simple process. So all the stuff you had was just thrown into a washing machine and cleaned. It wasn’t ironed. It wasn’t ironed. They would just bring it back and we would kind of iron it out and flatten it out. But we never got them ironed or to use starch or anything like that because we could smell it. Also the Yanks with their bloody cigars. I say that nicely but I would never go outside the wire with a Yank anywhere in the world.
They smoke these stupid cigars and they stink. I mean I can smell a cigar if somebody is walking down the street. You can probably smell one yourself. You can imagine if you are in the jungle and somebody lights up a cigar…Had been lighting up a cigar. I mean without being rude passing wind out there is just as bad. If you are human you pass wind but you can smell it. But it is just the whole thing. You have to be very careful if you want to stay alive.
Would you say that to the Yanks you know?
We had very little to do with them. They caused us more heartache. I can name personally…Well one lot of guys came back to the wire. They were all shot up. Johnny Pain has still got a bit of barbed wire about and eight of an inch from his spine. Another guy came in in pain. He still has his leg broken. He had to go back to Australia. The Yanks mortared us.
We gave them a grid reference where we were going to be. And this is all done through central command. We told them we were going to be at that grid reference so they mortared us. Fine. Shadow was a mini-gun airship. Right. Same thing another night. They got us. Shadow was going to come over rand shoot us up. But they gave them the wrong grid reference. We told them where we were going and they thought that was what we wanted shot up. That’s how stupid… And Shadow would have killed you. Shadow had six mini-guns on it firing three rounds a
minute. Ever see Predator, the movie. That is a mini-gun. It fires a tremendous amount of rounds a minute. And the other night we come back in…Just before we came back home we went past the Vietnamese army. And they started to shoot us up. And that was just next to the Yanks and so you became very disillusioned with the Americans and particularly their attitudes.
And I would not go outside a wire. American pilots are fine, ground troops are not. I mean they would go out there of a night time in their armoured personal carriers with the six foot wheels and you just walked out through it and they are shining lights. I mean you have just gone out through the wire and you are walking somewhere to go somewhere out in the middle of the scrub and they are out there shining lights and tyring to see where you are.
Thank you very much. No. That type of idiocy. So I don’t have lot of time. I’m not judging all Americans by this but this is the guys who I met at Phan Rang. The Koreans were great. The Americans no. They’ve got fire power but that’s all they’ve got as far as I’m concerned. And that will win a battle for you every time but no.
Did it surprise you their
idiocy so to speak?
It did actually. Like I said. I mean I only hear about the American from my father and uncles and that during World War II. They used to call them Yank Tanks, Yank Talks. They are always the best at this and the best at that. But then again when you have an army that is so well ammunitioned with weapons
and that type of stuff you can afford to be egotistical. And I doubt there is a nation on earth that can stand up to the Yanks. You know. If the Yanks wanted to finish Iraq it could have been done by now but the American Congress won’t let them. That village yesterday where they mutilated those four people…I can tell you what they would have done. They would have circled that village or that town and not one person would have got in, not one person would have got out. There would have been
one amount of food in there and one amount of water and let’s see what happens in fourteen days. No. That’s fine. That’s what they can do. But they don’t. But if you are going out with them and your life is compliant on they’re reacting the same as you’ve been taught. One thing I am proud of the fact that Australians do it well. We do it good. We know what we are doing and we do it well.
That’s why the Americans don’t mind coming with us but I don’t like going with the Americans.
What was the procedure? You mentioned the ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] almost shooting you up when you were coming back what was the procedure to let them know when you were coming in?
Well when you went out you were given an area to go to. Because bear in mind that the Americans went there the Koreans went there and we went there. We all had different areas. So though the central command they had you would say, “Look. We are going to sector nine.” Right. Well come back in.
And you had gates to come through. You can’t go walking along the wire because of mines. So there are certain points that you could walk through quite safely. You didn’t deviate from that. I mean it was four foot wide. You walked back in single file and if you had an M60 you always put that over your head because Vietcong didn’t have M60s. You carried the M60 over your head when you were coming back through the wire. They didn’t have them so they knew you were Australian or American.
You go through the central command and would say we are coming back in, when we’ve finished, via this area and that’s what you did. And somehow some Yank got it confused and next minute you are walking down the road and you got shot at. So naturally you sit on the ground and you try and hide under a rock that’s six inches tall and somebody’s on the radio trying to tell the Yanks. “Would you tell this stupid
looking F’n Vietnamese to stop firing at us. We are not the enemy. And the next minute you’ve got flares going up in the air and a typical American over reaction, next minute you’ve got half a dozen flares up in the air and these things floating down and you stand out like if I was a black fly on that wall that’s what you stand out like. And you are trying to hide behind a rock that big. And that was just the way. I mean they got messages mixed up.
I mean how can they go out and shoot where you are. Mortar where you are. I didn’t trust them and every time I would go out I would say…And this one I had with the army when I came back in we were only about ten day shy of coming home. It makes it very hard to go out the next night, to go out again when you know that they have already stuffed up. That was just one of the realities in life.
What do you do? You’ve got to go and do what you are there to do but it makes it very hard when you come back and come back again and again. I mean Australians are pretty resilient. They do their job and they do it well but when the Americans are trying to bomb you or shoot you and do whatever else they are trying to do and they are on your side it doesn’t give you a feeling of confidence. When you are sitting somewhere outside of a wire
and you might be one kilometre or two kilometres or three kilometres, your sitting out there and next minute your are in trouble. Like as I said this night when they came up with the mortars you’ve never seen eight or nine guys ran. Had the VC had been there we would have been dead. We just literally ran. We picked up our gear…I had an M60. I just sat there. I had my ammunition on and I just ran. We all did. No. We all went
one direction and ran because if you ever laid there or laying in a position and nobody knows you’re there allegedly and the next thing mortars start going off and you could hear them coming in. There’s nothing like the sound of a mortar except maybe the USS New Jersey firing projectiles inlands. That’s the sound of ripping silk. But a mortar is just like, where can you go. If that first round had hit us in a circle
we would have all been dead but they just started. You know, the whole little sector. Stupid. But hey you live with it. You come back, you scream, you yell, and you talk to your boss and say, “Will you talk to these…” Because nobody wants to die. We lost guys over there through accidents, which is bad enough. But you don’t want to get guys killed because they are over there. That’s life anyway.
Well did you express this anger towards the Americans yourself?
No. It is always done through superiors. I mean you talk to them and you make friendships but no. You don’t talk to the Yanks. That’s all done through the chain of command. That’s what people don’t realize. If you are a sergeant or a flight sergeant or an officer sitting in the base you don’t go there at night time. No. You do your stuff and bullshit during the day. You are not out there with the other seven or eight or nine guys of a night time
setting an ambush and getting shot at. Had they come out there and been in that situation they might have appreciated it a bit more. But it is all right to get on the phone and say, “This is so and so, so and so. Please don’t mortar our guys when we tell you where we are. Get it right.” And then some guy said, “Well that was a bit of a stuff up last night. It won’t happen again.” I mean you are coming back through the wire and they knew…These guys were getting back through the barbed wire and they got shot up by the Yanks.
What about the rules of engagement? Were they quite…
Well you come under what they call the MPC which is the Military Operational Command Requirements. Allegedly is you don’t shoot until they shoot you but that doesn’t work in any war because when someone is going to kill you, you have the right to protect yourself. The things we signed…. I can’t remember what they were now but they were supposed to be a
police action and you were supposed to do this but hey, if someone comes up and wants to shoot me. I will reciprocate. I mean I don’t want to die so I’ll do that. There were certainly a lot of allegations about what the Americans did. I wasn’t there, I don’t know. But there are always two sides to a story. We tried. The Australians were always very…
I don’t think we’d go beyond the bounds of what is required in war…If we were out there to do a job I’ve never seen an Australian use torture. Never. I’ve seen some terrible things. For example…I’ll mention this in passing. The VC would cut a Yank’s penis off and put it in his mouth and put a sign saying ‘cock sucker’ on it. That was not very pleasant.
Did you see this?
Yeah. I saw one of those. Yeah.
Where did you see this?
Out in the scrub. They left him there. It was just tit for tat. I mean I’m sure the Americans went out there and bombed the hell out of five square miles and whatever else. There was one night the Koreans who stayed in a village an they had their throats cut. Three Korean soldiers. That village ceased to exist the next day. It was that high off the ground.
Every man, woman and child that was there died. Australians played by the rules pretty well. Rules were made to be broken and I think sometimes they do get bent. I don’t think Australians have ever been guilty of actually breaking rules. The night we had our engagement we stuck by the rules and the next morning we could have been a bit more ruthless but we weren’t. That is life. I mean if you stick by the rules you stay by the rules.
Everybody seems to think that because…And it gets me very angry. Everybody thinks that just because you’re a grunt or because you are at the bottom of the tree…It doesn’t mean to say your stupid. I actually have an IQ [Intelligence Quotient] of a 161. That doesn’t make me better than you. One of the things when they found out at school when I found out they said, “Oh yeah. You’ve got to go in this class. You’ve got more brains.” That doesn’t make me a better person. Right.
But it doesn’t mean I can’t understand what somebody says, I can’t make my own judgement about a situation and I can’t put my interpretation or report facts. But they seem to think that because you are at the bottom of the tree you had no brains. We all have brains and we all assimilate things in different areas. Sorry. I’ll get back to answering your questions now.
That was a pretty full on thing that you said that you saw was this American. I’m just curious what kind of effect did a sight like that have?
Well the same thing, as seeing another example is when the Koreans went out. They would all come back and stand on a dead body and they would come back and have their photographs taken. There is no big deal. You get to be immune I suppose in one way to what you’ve seen. The biggest thing that cut me up was kids.
I mean you go into a fire fight and we found one guy the next morning. He was still alive in a canal. But normally there was no bodies. You would find a bit of blood but they were very careful the VC. They would take away the bodies and whatever else. But you can’t take blood out of dirt or blood out of sand. Like I said we weren’t the only ones that were there. Like the Koreans took that area and quite often they would get into a fire fight too and they would bring back the bodies the next day.
And they would stand on them and have a photograph taken. Now that is a different culture. You are looking at different people who have different attitudes to death. But they used to do that and I’ve seen too many cigar boxes…Sorry. Big coffins. Aluminium coffins made over there. You know. The thought of dying doesn’t worry me.
The thought of being dead doesn’t worry me because you are going to die one day and if you do you are dead. I would like to die in my bed with my boots off making love to my wife. It probably won’t happen in reality but hey it is a nice wish. I will probably die with my boots on. It’s one of those things. You see too much death and too much destruction and what do you do? You become
immune to it. It is like people who work for doctors. They see too much death you see too much of the way people die. Too much of man’s inhumanity to man. You see too much of all this and you do. You come to a stage where you become immune. A lot of people say to me you are a cold, hard callous bastard because of the way I talk about death and things. And I say, “No I’m not.
It doesn’t worry me. It doesn’t frighten me. I’ve seen it too often.” Now I’ve been very fortunate since I have come back. My mother has died, Rosemary’s father died and I have lost a brother. That’s all inevitable. Better later than sooner but its inevitable. You look at a motor vehicle accident and Ok. You don’t regurgitate. It is like being a copper. You get very hardened to seeing things.
But the biggest thing it makes me think of is man’s inhumanity to man. Rosemary often says to me, if women ran the world this wouldn’t happen. I disagree with that because it could still happen but everybody is entitled to an opinion. Maybe it would be more sensible. What do you reckon? But maybe it would be better. It is terrible to think…I look at these things from Iraq. That is no
different from Vietnam or from Korea or from the Malaysia Insurgency or from World War II. People are dying. You can only die so many ways. You get blown up, you get shot, you get stabbed, and you get your throat cut, whatever. It is still the same result. Maybe it is quicker, maybe it is slower. But it’s the end result people are dying…For what? For their right to have freedom. And that’s when you see different people in this country making comments.
Australia contributed to someone having freedom. Right. And that’s what wars are about. I want something you want. Lets go and get it and we’ll take it by force. Or you are defending somebodies right to have freedom or to have that right. And so it is going to end up in this massive big thing that they are now having. And people die unfortunately as a result of that decision to offer it, take it, make it or break it.
Interviewee: Peter Woodford Archive ID 1770 Tape 05
Take me through what would have been a typical day’s work for you at Phan Rang?
Ok. The easiest way to explain was we worked on a six day cycle. Not seven but six. Four days…If you started off on a Monday, say Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday you did a night patrol. On the Friday morning you’d come back in
and you would then work. Whether it was filling sandbags…And most of the people who went to Phan Rang got their golden sandbag shovel which is ten thousand sandbags. You got a shovel presented which was painted a gold colour and then you had the afternoon off. And then the following day was your day off. So you actually had an afternoon, a night a whole day and a night off. Then on the Sunday…If it was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
on the Sunday again you would then go back to patrol Sunday night for the four day cycle. An average day…. If you were on a patrol cycle, which is the four days, you basically…You’ve had your day off. Next morning you basically check all your kit and make sure that what you are going to take that night is right. You try and rest. Most times
it’s too hot. You can’t sleep in the middle of the day. You basically go and find yourself something to do. You go for a walk over to the PX [Post Exchange – American canteen unit]. That is like about two and a half miles away. Or somebody would run you over in the truck and you would walk around there and be stupid for three hours. At least it was air conditioned. You’d come back and basically you’d start getting ready at about five. You’d then go and have your dinner or have tea early. The mess was basically open twenty-four hours.
If you had occasion to have an early tea you could have it but you didn’t have anything heavy. You had your light meal and you’d go back, shower. To have a shower was the basic, no soap. If you did use soap I wrote home and my mother sent me some type of baby soap. It was no odour, no nothing. No smell so you had yourself a shower and then got dressed.
You might have a cup of coffee and then you would go out for the night. They would tell you which section you were going, you would go out and then the next morning you would come in at about five. It would depend on the time of the year but there was no point being there after when it got really light so you would go back at five, four thirty or five thirty. Come back, go and get yourself changed, have a shower or have breakfast. Whatever order you wanted to do. The flight crews go out early in the morning. Breakfast starts about
two o’clock so we would come back and have what was our dinner which was breakfast. You would have your forty-three different type of beans, bacon or frankfurts and that was basically it. You’d have bacon and eggs, scrambled eggs, fresh eggs. Fresh eggs were probably frozen or etherized in about 1960. What they used to do with eggs when they etherized them was put a drop of ether in it and that kept the eggs but the problem is when you broke the egg and it was not right
the stink was absolutely horrendous. What they do with them in the kitchen they would break one into the plate and then it would go into the frypan whether you wanted it poached or fried or scrambled. Another thing they used to make was scrambled eggs made out of the powdered eggs and that was the life. You had about forty odd beans, beans and beans and more beans. So you had, you know, like you had
baked beans for breakfast on toast with eggs and that or bacon. It wasn’t a great choice but sometimes if they had operations on you’d be able to get a meal in the morning, something a bit more substantial but basically that was our evening meal. You then went and had a shower and tried to sleep. And basically by the end of the four day cycle you probably haven’t slept really well because
…Well it’s hot, it’s muggy. Most people would probably go and sleep for an hour and a half or two hours and then you would get up for tea. So it was like waking up at midnight, going over and having something to eat and probably a couple of cold beers. And then you’d go and try and sleep again for another 3 or 4 hours. So it got to the stage where once or twice I went to the doctor and said, “Hey I need something to make me go to sleep.” You get tired in yourself.
then you went out that night again so it was like a cycle and basically by the end of the fourth night and then you come back the morning of the fifth, three or four or five hours of reasonably hard work, whatever it was filling sandbags or whatever you were tired enough to go and have a sleep. So that was it. The next day you could go…They had a place called the beach which I told you about. You could go down to the beach and have
your thing there. The strip, which was very rarely ever open. It was brothels but you’d also have places to eat. It was catered in the American style. You could go into what they called a bar and have a bottle of beer, which was any fermentation from one per cent to ninety-nine per cent and it used to cost you fifty cents and if you
wanted to you could have almost a reasonable type of steak. So you went there with ten bucks and you could have two or three beers and a steak which was off the American base but it was something that we couldn’t get in our place, everything we got came basically though the Americans. And that was down there and you could have a cold draught beer. And like I said the alcohol ranged from one to ninety-nine per cent. It just depended on the batch
but the stuff we used to get was all cans. And if they ran out of Resch’s and VB [Victoria Bitter] and XXXX you drank Budweiser. I mean over there the XXXX was the top of the chain and then you went down to Blue and then Resch’s and then everybody had Budweiser and it was just something. It was cool. It was cold and it was different to have a beer out of a bottle. Right. I forget the name
It was some Barmy beer or something and like I said it was draught and you never knew the alcohol. You could have one and be paralytic or you could have a hundred and be sober. It just depend what was the thing. But it was good to have that and I tried to bring back a couple of tall bottles when I came back from R and R. They took it off me in Sydney. I don’t see any problem with taking two beers with me on an aeroplane but they took them off me in Sydney. I suppose
If I had two cans I might have got away with it but I had two bottle of XXXX. They took them off me at Sydney airport but that’s life.
And why was this section called the strip hardly ever open?
VC. See over there there was the…See I was fairly fortunate because I was in Vietnam maybe a week and I ended up being collared with the padre and the medical doctor. We had to go down and try and find a couple of young ladies in the strip who one of our lovely
people that were there socially indulged with and got very sick. So sick that they had to stay and extra six weeks and then he had to go home and somehow tell his wife that I can’t really have sex with you for twelve months. It was a virulent strain of something that he picked up and they kept him there trying to treat it. And we went down trying to find it. And literally what they called the strip was sheds, places made out of iron. Roofing iron.
They were not substantial. But as you went along…One of the reasons Australians didn’t go there was that they were American brothels and not all of it was. There were American bars and even poker machines, or gaming machines that you could put something in and have a game. But most of the Australians didn’t go there because the Americans, it’s ours so you don’t go there. Very…You know like we are Americans and you are
Australians and this is our so don’t come near us. And yet I’ll just mention the other side. Australians got on very well with the American Negroes. We could go to a Negro club on the base where a white American couldn’t. We had a couple of guys over there. See that photo of Arthur Clarke who used to be a boxer. Arthur is Aboriginal and very proud of it and I’m very proud I know the guy. He is a fantastic fella and like I said we treated Arthur no differently. We would sit here having a beer
together and how are you going. And American Negroes reckon this was great. If you got the other Americans over there, especially ones from the South the Negroes were, “What am I doing. Bla Bla Bla.” So we got on very well with the Negroes and they let us into their clubs. The white Americans couldn’t go in to their clubs. but outside the base in the strip it may not have been closed to Americans but it was closed to us. But open to Americans
And really and truly as I said before I was there a week and I was trying to find some young lady, a Vietnamese girl who had infected one of our fellas with some type of illness. God knows what it was and to me I wasn’t that desperate anyway. I didn’t want to go down there and find some bird who wants to have sex and pay whatever price it was to have it. And then come back and find out two weeks later I’ve
got some severe type of medical condition that I embarrassingly have to go to the doctor about. He is then obliged by law under the services to report it to the commanding officer and all the rest of it. Why bother. I enjoyed a beer though I’ve got to admit. But no.
What happened when you went down there with the padre and the medical officer?
We were just trying to find this particular girl. Can you imagine…I often feel
very sorry. They said to me once. Could I identify a Vietnamese. And unless I’m sitting opposite you and we all have different facial characteristics right but if somebody says to me, “I’m looking for a girl. She’s five foot two with hazel eyes and black hair.” Down there about ninety-nine per cent of the girls are five foot two with hazel eyes and whatever. Like when you get to know the person and you look at the person everybody’s got a different shaped face or whatever. Just like
you have to do it. It was done. They had a look, couldn’t find her. Thanks very much. But for whatever reason you wouldn’t get down there for another three months if you wanted to go so it was one of those things that they just put off on that basis.
What were the set up of the brothels like down there?
I don’t know. I never went into one.
But when you were looking for this girl?
Well we just looked in. The doctor says, “I am trying to find this woman” unfortunately it’s very hard. If they had a photograph you could say cause in one sense if they find the woman
they could probably treat her for whatever the problem is. Because one of the things that they did over there was the women were deliberately infected by the VC which is a fact and passing on strains to the Yanks and other people. Like Saigon Rose was basically a death sentence if you happened to get that strain of gonorrhea or whatever it was. That might have been the forerunner of what AIDS is today. I don’t know. But there were a lot of viruses that were given to women over there, just particularly
to the Yank brothel strip. If the girls got infected the Yanks got that and they worked on the basis that if the Yanks got sick then they wouldn’t work. But like I said I can truthfully say I’ve never been to a brothel. Well I’ve been there and they are just like put together tin sheds. And I assume…But like I said it is very difficult. I mean it’s like if you said to a Vietnamese, “Which Australian girl is it?” And he’s been there for a week
and you don’t know. I mean it is a passing relationship in life. I mean it’s a bit different when you are in your own country but over there when you consider that women were particularly infected so they could infect men. I don’t think they even found a lot of cures for the different types they had over there. Unfortunate, I think it was some type of biological warfare too. I feel very sorry for people who got sick over there. It was like I said Saigon Rose killed you. A lot of American got infected
with that. They were very different types of gonorrhea and syphilis that were made extra potent, potency. So that when you got infected with it it was very difficult to get rid off. So the longer you’ve got something the longer you are out of action then you can’t fight. It is a simple philosophy. I’ve you’ve got a hundred guys and those hundred guys get sick you’ve taken a hundred people out of the equation. Right. Like I said
I don’t know what the end effect on all the ladies was. I know that some died. That’s life. As I said before. But no that’s just one of the places. The other place you could go was to the orphanage. So a lot of people went there or went to the beach.
What would you do when you went to the orphanage?
We kind of had an ongoing never ending cycle of things. If you had four or five guys you could do some concreting.
You would choose a little square and concrete that. We would trade the American for a couple of cartons of beer of some description and they would give you a truckload of cement. They would give you reinforcing steel. We used to get pipe off them like galvanized water pipe. We actually watered…If I could use that expression, we put plumbing services right through the orphanage. Just for water.
Running tap water. We tried to do something with the toilets but that wasn’t very successful. But then we put a hose there where they could actually wash out the. . …Toilets in oriental houses are usually a little hole in the ground and western cultures are used to a different system. Over there it is funny. Man, woman and child all do it the same way. In western culture you go and use a pedestal. Over there you go and use a hole in the ground. So what they did to make it more scenic
We actually put two toilets in which the sisters used to use. Until then they used the old system. We put taps in each area, male or female so that if they wanted to get the hose and hose out the…But they used to go and thing into it like a drainage system. That or if you wanted to go to the beach.
Just on the orphanage. Tell me about the way the orphanage was run by the sisters.
What sort of care was provided for the kids?
A lot of…I forget the expression they used. If the child was Eurasian…A mixture of white or black and Vietnamese it was considered an outcast. Most times what they’d do was drown the children unfortunately but Vietnam was a reasonably Catholic, come Buddhist society.
So what they did they put them outside the orphanage. So if you had a child that was born slightly black or white, if it looked more white than the other Vietnamese did to the parents it was dishonour, shame. So what they’d do is they’d drop him outside the orphanage. Sometimes they had too many kids…If you had a family that had four or five kids then you couldn’t handle it, no way to feed them. What they would do is drop them outside the orphanage. There was much regret but
a lot of people there…I started talking before about Agent Orange and the effect of that. There was some children there and they came and went, that had some terrible deformities. Parents didn’t want them. I mean a child’s a child. I’ve got a lovely granddaughter who has twenty per cent of her brain left, paraplegic. I still love her as dearly as I love
my other grandchildren and I think if you were over there the nuns didn’t care they lavished as much love on one type of child as the next. And as I said just down the road was a Catholic church. There was a great French priest there and he could speak Vietnamese as fluently as I can speak English and that. He used to come up there and if someone was dying he did the right thing. Everybody had the opportunity to…Every child he baptized. They were all baptized and
at least had as far as they were concerned the opportunity to enter a good afterlife in the right spirit. You know. It was terrible to come there and the sisters would cluck cluck cluck. There is another five upstairs. It was very difficult for room. It is ok if you have twenty kids. But then all of a sudden it doubles to forty and then the forty goes to eighty. All we tried to do was concrete. You can imagine no concrete. Everything’s muddy.
Kids running around. It makes great mess and so what we did is slowly concrete the grounds. We put all the water above the ground. Like you do with the old pipe and all that. You would run it over the surface. Not under the concrete but above the concrete so that if something went wrong with it it could get fixed. And the motor that we gave them. We conned it off the Yanks I think for a pump. A water pump. It was like an ordinary
garage mechanic could fix it. We made sure that if we did something it was the most simple way of doing it. They really appreciated it. I remember one of the younger nuns…We were over there and were twenty-one or twenty-two and they might have been twenty-five, thirty. It is hard to tell a nun’s age when they are in their habit. They would say, “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, and about four of us got a kiss on the cheek.” That was a big deal for them because nuns don’t normally
kiss people non the cheek. But there were four of us there all getting a thank you kiss on the cheek. Thank you, thank you, and thank you. I wrote home to Rosemary and she got to know some of the French nuns that were out at the Clemency and she sent me over a missal in French which I gave to the father at the church and a couple of pair of rosary beads which I gave to the sisters. I thought that was great. But they appreciated what
we could do for them. They didn’t like to ask. It was like if you turned up to work fine but they wouldn’t come and say I need this or I need that.
And what about the kids? What sorts of spirits were the kids in?
Well the ages probably there went from babies up until you had some that were eight, nine, and ten. Girls were the same type of age range.
All cheeky as hell. Typical kids. No matter what you did. I had some nickname called Udo…I haven’t found anybody to tell me what it means. I think it means fat one or tall one or thin one or something. They were all different ages and they were just kids. If you took the time to talk to them some of them could speak a little bit of broken English.
And you learned this kind of French Vietnamese come whatever and it was a kind of hodge podge. Kids aren’t stupid. And they learned that you can…By learning a little bit of English. I mean quite often we would take down lollies in our pockets and you’d go to the PX or thing and you’d buy lollies. Ones that you could break into ten or twenty of them. The kids used to love it. It was like a game. You would ask the sisters can you give out lollies and as soon as they saw you
doing that suddenly there’d be all these kids coming from nowhere. But no it was good. They are just typical kids. It’s hard to appreciate. And the nuns were very loving in the sense that they were taking the place of parents. And they never knew their parents, basically these kids. You felt very sorry. Even in the orphanage amongst the kids that were a hundred per cent Vietnamese and the other ones that were half Eurasian or half
black Eurasian, there was a difference there. Because it is the old thing. I’m white, I’m supreme. I’m all Vietnamese, I’m supreme you’re only half. It’s that stupid thing we carry on about. I am better than you are. And kids unfortunately attract the prejudices of adults, but that was there and it was very unfortunate and kids are kids. We’d bring stuff down that was spare at work.
Like at the base. You could take down…One thing we took down was powdered milk and stuff like that, you could get and the boss, the wing commander knew you were taking it down. You took down things they tried to do. At one stage we took down a whole heap of sheets and they cut them up and made them into nappies because of diarrhoea and all that because as I said before it is very
disheartening when you have so many children die from various types of illnesses which in a western society are never heard of. I mean have you heard of anybody die from dysentery or diphtheria. How old are you?
That’s what I’m saying you never heard of anybody. I’m in my fifty five going fifty six I can’t think of anybody I’ve heard of dying in Australia. In a Western society. It is very rare. It has got to be absolutely horrendous for someone to die of it in Western society. But in Vietnam they would die of it all the time. And it is very frustrating. The doctor would go down
there and do his magic but he can’t cure things like that. How can he give people shots if he don’t have it. You know I used to feel like writing home and say I wish I could do this. I could do this or that and I can’t do it. So for a couple of years after I got back I used to get cards from the orphanage via 2 Squadron. Then we left anyway but I tried to get people back here interested back in the early seventies in an aid program.
Like go and approach all these stores and say, “This is what we need. We don’t need food but we need this, this and this.” I am sure the air force would have flown it over there. But nobody is interested. Everyone had a self centred egotistical situation, I’m first. Now how many people get involved with overseas doctors and all this type of stuff because their heart goes out to these kids. I’ve seen too many of them die so I sort of lost heart in the human race
after a while because at that stage…Within a couple of years Mark was born. We were married twelve months and within fifteen months Mark came along. But no you get very disheartened. People just weren’t very interested. Maybe it was the wrong time. People don’t think to…Because the baby boomers were all grown up. We were in our early twenties, mid twenties, a bit older. And we were all growing up and I don’t believe I was spoiled as a child.
But I had opportunities, my parents put me through private schools and I did the same for my kids. I tried to do that for my kids but people just weren’t interested and I really don’t know why. I’ve never been able to answer that question. If you can help me I would appreciate an answer.
I am just asking questions.
No. That’s all right.
You mentioned some of the deformities that might have been a result of Agent Orange. How were they treated in orphanages?
Well most of them were babies and I don’t know today how I’d react if I had a son or daughter born that didn’t look right, odd shaped head or a cleft pallet or all sorts of deformities that we recognize today Well how that comes about…I didn’t know the answer to that either but you look at it and you think somebody’s been cruel, somebody’s been this or somebodies been that.
You look at the kid and you think I wish I could fix that but you know you can’t. Most of them didn’t survive. They died. They were put outside the orphanage because people with deformities were considered evil. Useless. Things like that. And this is fact. They are. And they were treated like that So what happened is when they got in there they might have lived for a month and the nuns did a pretty good job.
But I don’t think any of the ones I ever saw…I’m going back to sixty-nine and seventy. I don’t think any of them ones that I saw ever survived. See you might go down every week for a month and then you might miss a couple of months because there was something else on. The next time you would go down some of the kids would recognize you and some wouldn’t. You would go and have a look around and you’d say, “Oh.” They’d change. This is it. It is very…I mean
I suppose there has been many a book written hopefully by medical practitioners who tell you what the different side effects of dioxides and agents are. It’s scary. Some of these people live in the areas they sprayed. We used to drink the water in the canal around the base where our water used to come from. It was syphoned five times. It went through five processes before we got to drink it.
Besides there were dead floating bodies in there which were quite common. It was processed five times and even that, we found out, didn’t get rid of the 245T. It made the water basically pure but you can’t get rid of the chemicals. It is soluble in water and it keeps getting right down till it is down to infinitesimal parts. We used to drink this and this is where every time it rained it goes in the canal. If you go and spray 245T [toxic chemical] last week and
Vietnam has the type of climate where it rains quite often where does the water go? Into the canals. Who drinks the water in the canals? We all do. When you are in the scrub you are waking through it or what used to be it and you avoid it like the plague. Because who wants to walk though dead trees. It gives you no cover but if something was done three or four years ago things mutate.
Which is unfortunately what the effects of 245T and Orange are. They go yellow and blue. They all have the same results. They are all disorients and they can kill people. It is very disappointing. I mean what can you do about it? The kids at the orphanage. They wouldn’t let us take photographs. I used to have a camera and I used to walk around half the time with the thing hanging around my neck. It was one of those small cannon half rungs and I took heaps of photographs. We tried to use some
and they would all come back in slides but they wouldn’t let you take them inside the orphanage. The sisters wouldn’t let you take them. But over there too they’ve got a culture that if you take a photograph you take the soul from the person. I don’t believe that but they do. Particularly with the hill people montegnards. They believe in nothing religion wise but they believe in the evil and the bad so if you take a photo you can actually imprison the soul inside the camera.
It is very hard to convince a bloke with a spear and a bow and arrow that it is not quite true. You just don’t do it. No. But yeah it is one of those catch twenty-twos. How do you change it? I don’t know, people have got to grow up.
Just going a bit more into the detail of our work. Tell us about your patrol formations? How did you literally patrol?
Ok. Well I
don’t know how it was designed saying, “You are going there.” That was done by the operational command system. The Koreans were out there. The Americans were out there at times and we were. There was probably twenty kilometres of wire around the whole base we didn’t go the seaward side. If you can imagine a horseshoe shape. We’d do three sides. It was big enough to probably have twenty tanks out there. They would just say you are going out that way and you’d go out
and there would be a scout, five or six people and tail end Charlie. You just went out and set up an ambush position and waited. And sometimes something never happened. Sometimes you thought you saw people and you heard stuff. Well there is a difference. You’ve got to imagine that the VC were very cagey and very sneaky. They used to cut tunnels underground and they’d come out at night. I mean they’d come out at night where they
Wouldn’t come out of a daytime because night gives you coverage. Even back here now I still can’t get rid of the phobia of full moonlit night. But that’s how they used to do it. They’d come out and they’d walk around of a night time. They would do their dirty tricks department of a night time because you can’t do it of a daytime. Night gives you cover to a certain extent. They didn’t realize the advantage of the technology that the Yank had particularly with their night scopes.
That turned the night into day anyway but they were expensive and they were kept mainly in the guard towers. It was just like if you are in the army and you are doing a patrol out you go. You go out there and you tell them that you are there. You set up an ambush position and wait and if nothing happens you come back in.
How do you set up the ambush position?
It just depends what the train is, if your on a hill you are looking down. You don’t get in a situation where you’re down looking up.
You get up on the high ground if possible and you make sure you can see clear avenues that you can see where people travel. The biggest thing we used to do is try and get into situations where they had seen walk pass. So if you are sitting there. You don’t go traipsing though the bush. As I said that area used to be an animal reserve and whether it is…I don’t say the tigers and the panther would get you but there are other wild animals there. pigs, Things like that.
Wild pigs that will quite honestly attack a human. What you did is you made sure you stuck to the acknowledged paths that were there. So you knew if somebody had come back through the security improvisation it was there. “We want you to go and check out that tonight. We believe something is going to happen there.” You would go out there and set up an ambush in that area to see of someone would come along that way. If nobody came then you would go home. And a lot of work you’d do, particularly
whether you are in the army or the air force most of it is sitting on your butt or lying in your position waiting something for what might happen. Took at Long Tan. That was a situation where the enemy decided we have had enough of this. And had they not been there nothing would have happened but people were there and there was a big fire fight over it. What we had was they started to follow us along the road…We were coming back into the base from out on patrol and they started to follow
us in. See they are following somebody in. If you say to a person on a guard tower that there are eight of us and a ninth person comes and you’re the ninth person, the ninth person will probably get shot. Sometimes we made mistakes and they would just follow you in. We had to be careful that Charlie [Viet Cong] or VC didn’t get behind you. And the night we had the big one happen apparently they were following us along the road.
How far behind you were they?
Well I was second tail end Charlie because at the back you had a guy with an SLR…An automatic SLR and then I had the machinegun. And someone said, “Hey Charlie. VC.” And I mean I hadn’t…Second tail end Charlie looks to the sides mainly. You are not interested in what is behind you. You are looking that way and then tail end Charlie is the one that turns around and looks behind you. And then somebody just yelled out, “VC behind us.”
We hit the deck. I mean like I said most of the times over there nothing happens. You re in a position waiting and you expect something to happen. Your intelligence information is not always a hundred per cent. I don’t care who you are or what you are it is never a hundred per cent. So a lot of times you just sit there and wait. You never actually plan an action, who wants to have a fire fight. You try and avoid them. You are there for a purpose
and that is to see what somebodies doing. And if you know what they are doing you can fix it tomorrow unless they are going to run over night. There was a couple of times at the base where the Yanks were at the end of the runway and the VC tried to get through the fence. The Yanks got fire power. The VC were cut to shreds. But if they can go and plant bombs in 20 C123s that’s
a lot of aircraft that aren’t off the ground.
So tell me about this big fire fight?
Well we had several small ones. They are a contact and they say they are a contact but not a contact. This particular night we were coming back in and I think there was eight of us. We were coming back in and we’d been out to a position. And that didn’t work so we sat around and waited and then started to come back in. We came in different ways depending on which part of the base we were at.
We were used to coming back towards what they used to call the canal. It is not exactly on the canal. Here’s the pathway here and six feet over is there or 8 feet over there is the canal. Like I said we were just walking back, probably I don’t know, two-ish in the morning and somebody yells out VC and everybody just kind of goes into…hits the ground and just looks
around to find out where they are from. By the time I hit the ground…Someone yelled VC behind so I just hit the ground and turned around and I saw at least two guys. There could have been half a dozen but by the time I hit the deck and turned around…It took me three seconds or four seconds before 10 people could have disappeared off the path. And then we just started shooting. Well after you go the initial bang bang bang out of the way
Eddy decided, we moved up a bit further and Eddy decided that he was going to go over the little bridge of the little culvert that was there, got to the wire and make sure that nobody had got to the other side of the creek. So there was two of us left on this side, myself and one other guy. He eventually became my best man. I’m here and the base wire is there. Eddy went around up here and started to come back from the wire
back over to the canal. Now where we were sitting. Remember I told you about the strip with these sheds made of rough iron or steel roofing iron. We saw movement in the bushes. Now I don’t think I’m paranoid, I saw something move. I was raised basically in the bush so I know if something moved it moved. It wasn’t
my imagination saying that bush moved. It actually moved. I just started firing. Now I’m firing away and bear in mind that that’s where the fence is…the base. I’m here and I’m firing that way. Away from the base and I will explain the method in my madness in a moment. The next thing I hear on the radio he is saying, “Stop firing.” “Why?” I said, “We are firing at some people that’s moving in the bushes.” “You are firing at us.” And I said, “I’m not. I’m firing away from the
base.” So anyway apparently someone was firing at Eddy. We’ve got seven guys over there and someone was firing at them but it wasn’t me. And this is a point I am making. Eddy did a big interview when he got on TV about this. He said couldn’t get guys to stop firing towards the base. I said, “I am not stupid. We were firing away. The base is behind me.” So unless I have bullets that are flying down and doing u turns and coming back…. We summarized later over the years that
they must have split. There must have been a dozen or so and they must have split so what we were firing at was these tin buildings. I don’t know if I hit anybody. I fired at about half a dozen shrubs that are about as high as I am. I probably let fly maybe fifty yards. In the same timeframe as I was doing that.
Interviewee: Peter Woodford Archive ID 1770 Tape 06
Ok. One of the things that happened after Eddy Powell got awarded the Military Medal, naturally most people wanted to interview whim. He was the first guy in the RAAF in forty odd years that won a medal. And anyway he went on the TV and a couple of radio programs and he said, “There was a problem with guys shooting back towards the wire.” And I spoke to Eddy
three weeks before he died. And I disliked that innuendo and so much so that I actually wrote to the Department of Defence in Canberra and said, “Can I have a copy of the report. ’They wouldn’t give it to me I offered to pay for it so anyway it would be available now because of the freedom of information and because the thirty years have gone by. Eddy is dead. It is going to do nothing for me. I have said my words to Eddy. I said, “I think you are very unfair Eddy. There were two of us there
and both of us told you we didn’t shoot at the base. I said our backs were to the base. We shot anywhere from fifteen to ninety degrees to the left not behind us.” I said, “If anybody shot at you there it was the VC.” Anyway he didn’t care. He seemed to think that he was right and everybody else was wrong. I don’t know who wrote the report or recommendation. I got accused of it for about twenty years.
Because I was the one who wrote the report that got him the Military Medal. I didn’t know that until we formed the AGU association. They said, “Well did you write it?” I said, “No.” I’m pretty good. I’ll admit if I do something I have no problems with that. Nobody ever asked me about that day since and Eddy and I have talked about it on the phone and I have made my point known to him. He’s the guy who got he Military Medal and I didn’t and nor did the other six of us who were there. I think we all deserved something but as it goes I didn’t get anything. It doesn’t worry
me either. That was life and I think the fact that Eddy made his decision on it that it was us that was shooting back. I can’t hold an M60 over my back like that and pull the trigger backwards. Not when I’ve got it pointed at an angle like that or an ark like that. I know where I am shooting and I’m not stupid. I don’t fire back where I know there are people.
Because we worked it out that whoever was there. We don’t know how many VC were there. That morning when we came back we were over there checking the canal and we did find one VC alive. He had actually been shot in the leg I think or legs and he was hanging out in the canal we got him out. But there could have been another half a dozen guys there. Who knows? We didn’t see the number of people. There was no bodies there. This guy was injured and he was in the canal.
But like I said it was very iniquitous. I felt hurt. We got a lot of flack when they announced that Eddy had been awarded a Military Medal. That was the guys that were there with him. We were harassed and hassled. People saying, “Come and fight me and I’ll get the Military Medal.” People being very young an immature and stupid but that’s life. You can’t do much about it.
Like I said it was very disappointing when speaking to Eddy on it. I got out of the services and Eddy was still in it. I tried to make a successful career for me in what I did afterwards. I did a lot of work in finance companies and banks. I have no complaint about the way I lived. But Eddy when I did speak to me when he finally came back to Amberley in the mid eighties. We talked. I said “How can you make a statement like that?
You made a statement on television you know, that we did this and there was only two people. I wouldn’t have cared if you’d said my name Eddy because I then would have sued your butt off.” I’m sitting there with…The guy who was there with me was eventually my best man and he got killed in a car accident in about 1973. So I mean for all the good that I would have said but we made our feelings known and vented in probably 1971.
Fine Hey. But like I said it was an action that the RAAF had and I am quite proud of what we did. I mean we survived, he had an action. Like I said you would never know how many VC were there. Because they always take their dead or inured people they take away. I don’t know why the guy ended up in the canal, I really don’t but the guy is in there with a bleeding leg. I said we all got a pat on the back, good boy sunshine and we got an extra cup of coffee sort of thing.
Which is fine. We didn’t expect anything, none of us knew anything about it And to this day, I got accused of it, I didn’t write it a lot of people said to me who wrote it, you must have wrote it. I said “No I didn’t.” Everyone seems to think that because you’ve got a quarter of a brain and you write things and do things you are always to blame. I said, “Why would I do it? I didn’t know anyone was going to get a medal for it. If anybody should have got a medal for it the whole lot of us should have got one. I don’t suggest a Military Medal.”
Something like that. But that is what happened in the end result. So there’s no sour grapes [bad feelings] over it but a lot of people had sour grapes of Eddy Powel. And Eddy retired up to Howard just outside Maryborough and we talked on the phone quite a few times. He lost his first wife. Then he married again and his second wife died. Both of cancer. And he died of cancer. So what can you do? Life’s like that.
During an action such as this one where you are being fired on how scared do you get within yourself?
You don’t have time to think. That’s an honest question. I’ve thought of that one I reckon it took me…From when they said “VC” I think it took me three or four seconds by the time you land on the ground. The guy said “VC behind us.” Well if I’m second tail end Charlie and I’m looking that way to keep a look out on either side of us and if the guy behind me is
tail end Charlie we had one M60 up the front and one M60 up the back. It must have taken me four or five seconds I was a lot younger and a lot fitter than I am not so I just hit the ground and turned around. Well I saw one maybe two guys that were there. Now I started firing in five seconds, six seconds. You walk around…It is a stupid thing to do but you do walk around with an M60 cocked and ready to go. There is no point in doing it otherwise and that’s why you find that most guys who carry M60s
have them pointing towards the ground. And that’s what you do. You just drop it, turn around and fire it. And I mean I don’t know whether I hit the guy or not. I don’t have a clue. I was one of seven or eight guys doing exactly that. We are down flat on our guts. Other guys are up higher behind us and they are shooting. And so we are all shooting at a spot on the other side of the canal. Probably I would say if I really sat and thought about it after the fact, yes.
But you don’t have time to think. It is like when I used to go out in FAC aircraft. You go out and someone would take a pot shot at the aircraft. The pilot had an involuntary reaction. Let’s get out of the way. But what can you do about it. It has already happened. The same as you turn around and start firing at someone. Let’s say It took me five or six seconds to hit the ground and turn around. I could still see two people at that stage.
And they were in VC uniforms so obviously there was people behind them or they had already gone. I mean you can do wonderful things in four or five seconds. You can almost disappear on the ground, dig a big hole for yourself and whatever. But no you didn’t think about yourself. The next morning we were over there and we went back and picked up our brass…We picked up our bullets and all our empty shells. And then we found this guy in the canal.
You will have to get a story from somebody else about that one. But he was hurt and he was VC and he was treated with the due respect and protocols that somebody is treated with. But he was an enemy but they shot at us. And to this day…Well I think Eddy might have realized it after he had spoken about it a few times. I know where I am firing and I know I wasn’t firing at the base. I was firing
…. And Eddy said the only way was that obviously the VC were shooting at him. How many rounds…He said, “Stop firing.” I said, “I’m not firing.” I said, “I’m firing at the strip.” “Oh.” So obviously he must have realized because I stopped so I could hear him on the radio and he was still hearing fire from his way. I mean I think it was a very unfair judgement on his part but he was the guy who was running the show. You had to accept the music at the time.
When I got into business and I was going up the ladder with people you make decisions and you wear the consequences. That includes employing people and sacking people. Not the same as in a war zone but you get up the tree and you make the decisions and wear the effect. You have the cause and the effect to wear. That’s life.
And I am interested…We were talking about patrols earlier and there were some things that you said I’ll talk about later because your wife was around.
Do you remember what kind of things they were?
Well. I’m just trying to think. There was something that I was going to tell you. It has gone. Maybe it will come back to me.
Ok. We’ll come back to that later. We were talking about some gruesome things.
I think they were both running together on the horror side. I mean there are horrible things you see.
We go out…When you left the base…The base was basically a U shape almost surrounded by canals. That’s where we got our drinking water from, our showering water, our washing water and whatever. Quite often you’d be walking around and you’d see a dead body floating along. But that could have been somebody who the US Army or the US Air Force could have shot. Someone the Koreans could have shot, or somebody
we might have shot if we had had a fight. Now I don’t know but sometimes they would throw the bodies in the canal anyway the VC would. Now it mightn’t have been a VC person that was in the canal. It might have been somebody else but they put him in the canal thinking it is going to be in our drinking water. What they didn’t realize is that it was processed five times before we even got to touch it. It was not a very nice sight. I mean the human corpse floats and it is not a very nice sight particularly when it has been in water for three or four days.
It doesn’t rise up for a few days. Over there being as humid as it is and as hot as it is people get pretty smelly after twenty-four hours. It is not a nice sight to come across. You see different things. The cigar boxes we called them which were the big coffins. We had three guys killed over there which I know of.
A guy called Pop Woolly. He and Brian Fitzgerald were coming back from Cam Ranh Bay and it was ironic because Pop said to me, “Do you mind if I go? You can go next time.” When they got the advice after people thought I had been killed and actually it was Pop Woolly or Alfie as they used to call him.
What do you think yourself when this happens?
Well I mean it was actually when they first thought it was me. “You’re dead.” But
It was…We just told the boss that Alfie wanted to go. Do you mind? No problems so away he went and the Jeep, I think it was. Not the truck, the Jeep was hit by a rocket. On the way back and basically both of them were killed. Pop survived for a while in the hospital but died. Brian Fitzgerald was the driver. He died.
I had the pleasure of meeting both Brian’s wife and the remainder of his family and Pop’s mother and father when we went down to the Canberra reunion in 1992. That was probably the most emotional week of my life because they said, “This is Brian Fitzgerald’s wife. When you talk with guys all the time and you speak with them every other day and they are there, fine. It becomes
part of your soul. Trevor Petith who died, the other guy. One of the mysteries of life. He was down at the armoury and allegedly being stupid. He cleaned a nine millimetre weapon and some how there was a round left in the breach. He spun it like a cowboy and it went off through his brain. There was a big inquiry over that.
So he did the Russian Roulette?
No he was playing a cowboy. He spun it round on his finger like cowboys. He had actually cleaned the weapon. I wasn’t there and I don’t know but like I said he shot himself. There was a big inquiry over it. I raised points later when I was a service policemen about what I believed was gear that was stolen off him. And I wrote my comments down. I believe I am entitled to say. It didn’t win me any points with
the RAAF police service but like I said the old expression says you don’t accuse people of theft but if you think they’ve done it you’ve got every right to make the allegation. But like I said when you see people like that nobody likes to see death or destruction but you get to the stage where…We had another guy over there who stepped on a mine. He was sent back to Australia. It busted his leg up. Young guy, just came over there
It is different things. I mean guys down at Vung Tau who on helicopter ships, helicopter gunners. They saw more of the firing an M60 picked up casualties and people off the ground, you saw different types of things.
Well tell us about the time this guy stepped on a mine. Were you there? Did you witness it?
No. This guy stepped on a mine and was sent back to Australia. I think he lost a toe.
men get hit or injured or killed when you were out on patrol yourself?
No. Mate you had to be as careful as you could. As close as we came is when we heard bullets. If you hear them going over the top of your head then you know you are alive. It’s the one that you don’t hear that kills you. If you hear them going by, hey. That means you are breathing. It is the one that you don’t hear that is going to kill
you stone dead. No we were lucky. Particularly that night when we came back in. But you have never seen eight guys hit the deck so quick and become so flat. It is amazing how flat you can become. I think I squeezed in behind a six inch rock and that’s all you see. That’s a fact of life but we were lucky. Between the Yanks trying to mortar us and the ARVN trying to blow us up or shoot us we were very lucky. It could have been worse.
Well coming back in the morning from one of those nights when you were almost hit,
a near death experience, how are you reacting? What is your mood? What is your feeling?
I tell you what. You can’t sleep. Your guts are tied up in a knot and I actually say to myself, “Well, I am alive.” I think we all did the same thing. You know you are alive and I think that morning after that big one which is the big main one we are talking about we went back out there. So we had to pick up our brass and that. And then we got looking for this guy which we found in a thing. But that was just luck
If he hadn’t have moved he wouldn’t have been caught. His leg might have fallen off but that was the game. You get so tied up in yourself. You’ve got to make sure you go back out again because if you don’t you won’t go. This happened to us like I said…That last one we had where the Vietnamese army were trying to shoot at us, that was ten days or eight days from going home.
We had been there for fifty-one weeks and someone’s shooting at you. It is not the bloody VC. They are supposed to be allies shooting at you. And you don’t want to go out again. You don’t. You can’t say, “I’ll go over there where it’s nice and safe.” You go where you are told to. And America has talked it over with our guys and they say, “We would like you go there tonight.” You didn’t have any real say as to where you would go for the
night. But with the eight days to go to come home you were feeling immortal and you become very mortal. You think, am I going to survive because you always had three or four days to clean yourself up and that. And you think to yourself are you going to survive. And that other one I thing was…No it happens at the same time.
When you get past the six months and you go for R and R, or R in C, rest in country and you go and have that time. I went down to Vung Tau for that. I actually did some exams while I was down there. That’s how I spent my R in C. Rest in Country. You go down and you get that out of the way and each time you do it you go there’s six months and there’s eight or nine months and you’ve got three months to go. And of course
everybody’s ten foot tall and bullet proof and you do, you tend to feel ten foot tall and bullet proof. Then you suddenly start thinking there are ten weeks to go. And you start thinking about your humanity. And as I said one of the reasons they use young people, whether you are army, navy or air force. Whether you are a pilot or whether you are a digger is that eighteen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two year olds
will do what they are told and they think they are ten foot tall and bullet proof. Look at World War II. All the young guys who got onto the small ships and came off the landing craft and all of that. The senior NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and all of that hung at the back. They learned you’ve got to survive. But when you’re young and stupid, I’ll admit it. Everybody is gung-ho. That’s the expression.
You are ten foot tall and you are bullet proof. And you are not. I mean I heard stories from a friend of mine who was down in Saigon. He was at Rest in Country. This kid came along and pulled a Colt 45 out, pointed it at him and pulled the trigger. And I mean this kid took off like a wounded bat. He was going to kill him outright. Because in those days there was a standard price on your head. An ear or a set of ears
was worth ten thousand basata, which I think might have been a hundred dollars roughly. And A head…If you took the whole head it was worth fifty thousand. Very collectable commodities.
And tell me, returning from a fire fight like the B1, would you turn to alcohol
and have a drink to calm down?
Well I remember a couple of times I returned and had a couple of stuff drinks. I mean over there you drink the beer because it was that. It was Budweiser or whatever. Everybody drank beer. Very few of us drank heavy spirits. Unfortunately I got a taste for it.
And I probably indulged too much when I come back. That’s why I stopped drinking. It is very easy to have half a dozen drinks and it makes you nice and tired so you sleep but there is no point in doing it. You become an alcoholic. If you have a booze [alcohol] problem it effects your whole life. I must admit I’ve come back and I’ve had a couple of drinks of Cognac. It just sort of jolts your system
enough you know to get you out of a doldrums or whatever you are in or if you are feeling mopey or self pity or whatever else you are in. If you are feeling the self pity bullshit then that gets you out of it enough to get you out of it. Other than that it’s dear old beer
What about at the base at the time? Would you talk with the other men? Would you drink? Would you debrief at all?
Like everybody is supposed to be debriefed
every time you go out. It never happened. Even with incidents. Ok we all sat around in a circle with a beer and one of the chief NCOs was there and we all chatted on but if you could call that a debriefing. I wouldn’t call that a debriefing. We all sat and talked about it, talked about the guy we pulled out of the creek, or the canal. You talk about it but that was it.
You come back and I said the next time I really thought about it was when it was mentioned in the newspapers and on the TV that Eddy had won the Military Medal. Everybody wanted to know. It was absolutely ludicrous. You had guys going on in infantile fashions. “Come and show us how you did it Woody or come and show us how Eddy did it so he won the Military Medal.” It was ludicrous. These were young guys who had come back that year and they were all carrying on about, you know, he didn’t do anything
to have won the Military Medal. I said, “How do I know?” You know. And everyone just believed that I knew what happened or how he got it. I mean I don’t run the minds in Canberra. You know, we are going to give this guy a Military Medal or this or that or whatever. But I mean they were carrying on like stupid idiots. This is guys that you were with. You might have been an LAC [Leading Aircraftsman], which is lance corporal type bullshit, or you might have been a corporal
and all these other people are carrying on about how this alleged thing has happened. How do I know? I don’t understand how the idiots in Canberra think. I don’t understand air force policy. I don’t understand military policy. At that stage in my life I didn’t. You know there are people asking you stupid questions and it became very…. That’s one of the reasons I remustered. I did…That was what two and a half years. I went back overseas. I went back as service police. I did become a service policemen
but I spent most of my time at headquarters in Melbourne. But like I said why put up with stupidity like that. People carrying on and being infantile.
We were talking a bit before about horrific sights that you saw and you talked before about how you saw heads on a stake. Did you see this?
In the village. This is just how the VC taught the people. That’s how they taught the South Vietnams.
But what were your thoughts yourself?
I think I was sick.
You know. You see it and you are sick. It is just…If the VC wanted to make a point they didn’t make the point against the Americans or the Australians or the Koreans. They made the point to the South Vietnamese. The VC allegedly were North Vietnamese. The South Vietnamese were South Vietnamese. Those countries had been warring against one another for
two and a half thousand years, seriously and they wanted to make a point and that’s how they did it. Whether or not people were tied to a stake and shot or unfortunately beheaded. That’s showing now if you do this, this is what happens to you. I mean it is an object lesson if you look at history people have always been going back to England to search for object lessons. You get your head chopped off
or you get your hand chopped off. If you don’t do this. Same thing through history. It is just that they are a little bit more barbaric and they have a different philosophy.
What would you do? Would you remove these?
You never did it. Like I said it is there as an object lesson, not to me, not to the Australians, not to the Americans. It is an object lesson to the Vietnamese.
What about that occasion where you came across, was it an American soldier with his penis...
Well that’s what they used to do. That’s how they did it. They used to call Americans cock suckers. There were other injuries to him. I didn’t go through them but they tortured the guy. And I mean it is just an object lesson. You have got to think of the way these people think. I mean I often think of the Japanese culture everybody says they are very cruel, or barbaric or whatever you like with the fact of spectacle or beheading of
people. I remember that photograph about over in the islands about that RAF officer and it has been on TV quite a bit and in books about how this Japanese was about to cut his head off. It is barbaric but when you think of their philosophy they were honouring that men by giving him that type of death. He was a warrior. He was a defeated warrior and that was an honourable way to die instead of living in captivity. Now
we as Westerners and I’ve got an uncle. I said he won the Military Cross up there in New Guinea and he actually gave me his sword he brought back. He said, “Yes. They did terrible things but you’ve got to think of their philosophy.” I mean he was anti -…. It got so bad I can remember when people went down to Townsville and Aunty Bronte who was about five foot three mind must have weighted seven stone used to grab his arm and Ray was bigger than I am. He had huge arms like that and legs.
You go near there I am leaving you. Because he was so frustrated with the Japanese. This is going back to when I was a kid. She wouldn’t let him because he was angry to go over and tear them to bits. I can understand it because some of the treatment that people received up there was not very pleasant. But as a broad spectrum like if you go to the cultures in Vietnam and Thailand and all that it is a very similar type of culture where people think that an object lesson
is not a punishment. It is an object lesson.
Well I am interested in knowing the effects of seeing something like that on you and the other forces particularly.
It is one of those things I think when you see it that you remember the…How do I put it. I remember the detail because I think it was so stark and shocking to me at the time.
It has implanted in my memory. It has probably made me more callous. It is like if you are an undertaker. You see these things you accept and you become very immune to them. It has probably made me and I say this…I have probably mellowed in the last twenty years.
I would say since I was about forty but prior to that I had very little regard for human life. I have my family and my kids but human life, how do I put it. I had no regard. If you hurt me I’d take your life from you as quick as blink. And that’s not a very nice thing to say. When I first came back from Vietnam if you’d upset me too much I probably would have picked you up by the throat and hung
you on the wall and said, “Do it again and I’ll tear your head off.” Couple of guys I know that did came back and slept with knives and machetes under their pillows and you would wake them up with a stick or a broom. And I used to sleep in a room with a guy like that. He used to have a machete under his pillow and I’m not joking. So when you woke him up you got a broom with a long handle and went, “Wake up.” They wouldn’t believe us. I hadn’t been to Vietnam then. This is before I went. The guy’s first name was Barry. I can’t think of his second name.
He’d sleep with a machete under his pillow and that’s what he would do. And like one of the guys from up there and woke him up with the broom handle and he cut the broom handle in half. He got discharged for being a psycho. But see nobody ascertained why he was like that and he couldn’t sleep without some type of protection. Fine. There must have been a reason for that. But they kicked him out of the services and said, “Find your own way.”
That’s wrong. But no you changed in different ways. I know guys who were helicopter gunners. You loose your emotions. That in some ways is a bad thing. I know to be a doctor, for example, if you are going to be a surgeon you’ve got to cut people and get inside their stomach. If there’s a problem you’ve got to fix it and then you get out again. That takes skill and it also takes a particular
type of person who wants to fix something when it’s broke inside people. Most people who have seen the things I have seen would probably spew their guts up and I have on several occasions, cause I saw something and went “Oh God. Yuck!” You get sick but you tend to become immune in yourself and you become…I can’t think of the way to put it. You become emotion-less
in yourself. I mean I have seen some stuff back here in Australia like car accidents and that I just look and say, “so.” And Rosemary says to me when I make comments on TV sometimes. She says “How can you say that. That is terrible” I said “so what!” Now that is after thirty plus years. You kind of turn off in yourself to the violence and to that, you know, I mean death is quick and
to my mind of thinking if I’m dead who gives a damn what they do to my body. Once life’s gone I’m not concerned. Like it is somebody else’s problem. And you see things on TV like last night with those four private guys being killed in Iraq. “We can’t show this because they are mutilated.” They can’t have it on general TV because kids watch but yeah sure. I probably know what they did to them. But hey they are dead. You only die once
whether or not somebody sticks a knife in your heart or cuts your throat you die. Whether it takes you two seconds to die or five minutes. What they do with the remnants has nothing to do with me because I’m not going to see it. I remember watching that movie Brave Heart with Mel Gibson. At the very end scene when he was on the rack and they were taking his intestines out to fry them which is part of the hung drawn and quartered bullshit,
he is there and he must have been in another utopia because his ex-girlfriend who had died many years before waiting for him and then they showed the guy with the axe who was about to chop his head off. You know. So he wouldn’t feel any more pain. Mercy was shown so to speak. And once that happens the human body reaches a stage where it produced pain killing stuff…Some type of endorphin or something.
The same thing is when the body produces stuff about emotions. Now I would love to be a…I think I am a totally different person from what I was when I went to Vietnam to when I came back. I say to my wife…She says, “You’ve changed.” And I say, “In what way?” I don’t know if she won’t tell me or she can’t put it into words. I know I’ve changed. I said to you before
that I was going away to be a religious person for want of a better word. I look upon those times fondly but I can’t get back the emotion that goes with that. I can’t get back the emotion I had when my brother died. I got a phone call saying, “I’ve got about three months to live.” My father rang up saying “I am going up to Townsville.” My brother on Friday, and this is Wednesday, I said, “You can’t have three of us up there at one time”
so I booked a flight next week. He died on the Monday. So I go a lot of help out of Virgin Blue. I got a flight The funeral was on Friday and I got a flight out on the Thursday night and came back Saturday. They were great. And I mean when Dad rang and told me…and I don’t look upon James. He is my step brother but he was a couple of years older than me and we were like two peas in a pod.
Right. Sometimes I think he used to know what I was thinking. I probably cried for fifteen seconds. And my comment was, “You are a bastard James. You said you were going to wait till I got up there.” Now that’s my reaction to my brother who died. He is a bastard because he wouldn’t wait. Right. And I told him that when I sat at his coffin at the church. “You are a bastard. You were supposed to wait until I came up and saw you.”
I mean I find it…With the kids. I get very emotional where children are concerned but with adults I am a person. It’s there, I mean I’ve changed. I don’t like the changes that I have made. I have tried to change myself back but I don’t know how to do it. They say that when people get involved in a war or situation you change and believe me you do. I mean I came back here and I felt
in some respects a hundred years old. Here I am twenty-one or twenty-two. And I felt a hundred years old and that happened to a lot of guys I remember I went up and did some visits. When I came back when I had some leave up north and around the people and I saw relatives and that and Uncle Ray said to me…He is the guy that won the military cross. I didn’t know at that time that he had won the Military Cross. He said to me, “You know what it’s about now don’t you?” He said, “You know why people don’t talk about it.”
I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Now you know why I don’t talk about it.” And ever since then we’ve got on like a house on fire because I could understand how he felt and he knew how I felt. There was no need to speak words. We just went down the pub and had a beer. I mean I could understand how he felt and he knew how I felt. You just don’t want to talk about it. And that’s sometimes very annoying. I mean the number of times I’ve been to Green Slopes over the years
for various things and I do miss talking to a lot of the old diggers. I get up there and, “Here’s a young whipper snipper.” You are forty and you’re a young whipper snipper and they talk to you. I had some very serious cancers removed from each side of my nose that were malignant. Like some of the guys that are there have had massive surgery. They say, “Ah mate you look beautiful.” You always get talking to these guys because you have to wait. And the stories, it was fantastic, next time you go back, “Where’s Bill?” “Oh he died.”
Because you go back every three or four months and these guys are now like my father in their eighties. How old’s Dad? 1915. Ninety. He is ninety this year. I mean he was eighty then and this is other guys who are the same type of age and that and they are the same type of thing. I mean you sit and talk in general terms and you talk about, “Where were you?” “Vietnam.”
“Where abouts?” “Phan Rang.” “Oh yeah that was air force wasn’t it, yeah?” “Do you know about any of the guys?” Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody. You’ve always got a common starting point but when you talk to these guys it is like you go so far. Like I know my Dad was over in the islands during the war in the Pacific. And they start talking, I was there in that year and they say, “Where was your Dad?”
And I don’t know the exact island but it was there and they say, “That was the airstrip, wasn’t it? “ And they get talking and talking but they go so far and then you come against this wall and it is a point you don’t go beyond. I mean you may have experience in talking to people and they go so far and stop. You don’t go beyond that point, they’ll say X. Same as Uncle Ray. Uncle Ray knew some horrendous things up in New Guinea but he would only go so far. We would go to the pub and after three or four years you’d
ring up on the phone and have a bit of a chit chat and how you going and I’d go up to Townsville for something or other and I’d run up to Charters Towers on a weekend or something. My business used to take me up there, so you’d run up to Charters Towers on a Saturday or a Sunday and you would always say you were going back home but you’d drive down to the motel because you didn’t want to stay with them in their little house. You’d drive back the next morning. But you would go out for a few beers with them and take Aunty Bronte and Uncle Ray out to the pub for lunch and have a good time and say, “I’ve got to
go back to Townsville now.” It is ten o’clock and you are ducking down to the motel. But they would only go so far. This is a lot of guys I found…even my father now. He is almost ninety. He will only go so far. I can probably read about his war over the Pacific and in the islands. There are books and TV shows about it and all of this. They all tend to go so far. I’ve watched a couple of interviews.
Interviewee: Peter Woodford Archive ID 1770 Tape 07
So did you ever get to go to Vung Tau?
Yes. One of the things I did up there is that for various reasons you might be sent down there to take things. I elected to have R in C a week …Rest in Country. I elected to have those at Vung Tau. I didn’t feel like going down to Saigon.
That was quite expensive in those terms in those days. If you went to Vung Tau you could stay on the base and you had your three meals a day if you wanted it. And I think everybody in those days, I was still cautious about money. We were well paid for the era but my wife says I have always been Jewish. I had a good time. I went out and did all these different things. I went and saw things I didn’t normally see. I went for helicopter rides.
In uniform with a gun and saw things that I would never ever otherwise have seen. On the way back I have some photographs there of a Caribou and it was a hop step and a jump coming back to Phan Rang. We ended up landing somewhere and the tyres blew. So that was interesting. We were waiting there for six hours for an aircraft to come along and change the tyres.
Where did you land?
Up near Icor. Up near the Ho Chi Minh trail. All that was there was helicopters
and they ended up…I don’t exactly know where it was but it was in the middle of whoop whoop basically. And we had gone up there on the bases and we had come back to Phan Rang. That was an interesting day I can assure you.
Well tell me about the day? What did you do?
Well it was just as I was coming back to Phan Rang after being down in Vung Tau and we kind of went on a courier drop. We landed on this particular air field. It wasn’t bitumen. I think it was dirt.
And the tyres blew on one side of the air carriage. You can’t take off with them so you just had to sit there until somebody came to fix them. And like I said about the only weapon on the whole aircraft I think the pilots had a nine millimetre thing and I had an SLR with probably two magazines. It was a really interesting…. I mean the Americans were all round us. I’m not saying they weren’t there but they were gun ships that were going up further. It opens your eyes. I had photographs
I don’t even know what happened to them now. You see twenty gun ships all in a row and in those days they used to call it the US Cavalry…Not Calvary…What’s the word. I’ve forgotten anyway. But they used to go out and they were gun ship sand they’d do their job and away they went. That got that fixed and we come back to Phan Rang but that was in the middle of nowhere. It’s like I suppose if you landed at a
station somewhere and you had to…Like if you had a cattle station out in the middle of the Northern Territory and you had to wait until someone came and fixed the tyre. What do you do in the interim? You do nothing. You sit there and the Yanks come over and say if this disaster happens run to that bunker over there. So basically that was all. There was only about two pilots, the load master, I was on it and I think a couple of other guys were there. And they were going on a trip. They were
coming back to where I had left from. They were picked up on the way there. It was an interesting day. And other places. Cam Ranh Bay was quite a common trip. We used to go up there…Well first of all there was RAF documentation that had to be picked up that they wouldn’t send by any other means. We actually had to go and get it. The warrant officer would go with your officer and you’d go up there and pick this crap up and bring it back. We went along as escorts to make sure they weren’t shot. Sometimes you wished
you could shoot them but that was another story.
And when you were escorting someone how would you ensure that they wouldn’t get shot?
Well it’s like everything. You just look after your own skin first and everything else comes second. People don’t realize that. I mean its area of protection. Everybody’s got side arms or something but if you are carrying a semi-automatic weapon that lightens the odds a bit. And people did take pot shots at you. I mean I’ve been driving in a truck over there or going to the beach
or back from the beach, going out on the outer roads up to Cam Ranh Bay and people take pot shots at you. You sit there and hear buzz. I’ve said you don’t worry about the ones that you hear. It’s the one that you don’t hear that kills you. Unfortunately it was that. You went up there as an escort. Also you probably had to get stuff anyway. But you were also an extra form of protection. So you went up there to do that and normally you had lunch there and you always got back before dusk,
always. So that’s what we did. So Cam Ranh Bay was an interesting place. It was also an airfield and you had some of the big American ships there. Every now and then you’d get the USS New Jersey which is a battle ship and it would come and park off Phan Rang and they would fire their big guns inland.
And I’m talking those things…What do you call them. They are eighteen inches. Big battleship guns. When they go through the air they feel like you’re ripping a piece of silk. Like a tearing sound. They fire well and truly inland and you lay there. And the thing about it is it was there was no aircraft movements when they were firing over the base inland and they used to go for eighteen miles or something like that. Twelve miles
And they would just go in the air and all you can hear…. You wouldn’t hear the noise of them going off, being fired, cause they were out to sea. You’d see the flash and you’d sit there and hear this tearing sound across the sky. And that’s what it would sound like. It was actually tearing through the air. And that would go on maybe for two hours and then it would stop for the aircraft movements because the aircraft movements maybe twenty-four hours a day. Where else did I go? Phan Rang itself was an interesting
place. You had the French Foreign Legion had a massive action there in 1952 54. There is a lot of graves in a section out there in the cemetery with French Foreign Legion. Around the place itself there is a couple of temples. The story is there’s a temple which
has got to be at least fifteen hundred, maybe two thousand years old. And there’s another there, one of the temples the story was that when the local prince built the temple he sacrificed twenty thousand virgins. And what they used to do was cut the virgins throat drain all their blood into a pit which they would mix with straw, water and mud.
The actual temple itself is made out of bricks that are very red. It’s very blood. Its made of only small bricks. Its like the old days Have you ever seen Moses when they were making the blocks in Egypt. These little flat things about like that and that. That’s how they made them. And blood makes the straw and the mud cement together quite well. I actually went to that place and I reckon the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I can’t explain it but they reckon
twenty thousand virgins were sacrificed to make the bricks to make the temple. And that’s the local story. I don’t know whether it is a hundred per cent correct but I wouldn’t doubt it. That could have happened. Another scary thing is if you are out on patrol at night…And it doesn’t matter…Where ever you walk around the base you have to walk across canals. A lot of times when you are walking your foot will collapse into a hole. It would be a grave.
See they used to bury their people sitting upright so I mean these things have been there for…Sometimes you’d sit down and you’d sit on a little mound and you’d go through it and you find you are sitting on bones. When you are walking along your foot would disappear into the ground and what you’ve done is gone into a grave. It might be two hundred years old. It was certainly not fresh. It was one of the older graves.
Like I said one of the other things around there…I think in a lot of ways I would like to go back there just to see what has happened to the animals. Like I said tigers are a magnificent beast and the Americans used to shoot them for sport. I told you about that day we saw two draped over the bonnet of a Jeep. Two magnificent animals, one male one female. It almost rips your heart out. I mean
just because they can say I’ve shot a tiger. Who cares? There are not enough of them left in the world now. I don’t know how many were there but I’ve seen one set of tiger cubs and one female tiger plus the two that were dead so obviously there is a few there. And it is a big preserve. It covers something like the bay and about fifteen square miles. So like it was a pretty large area and there was a whole range of animals there. I mean imagine
back in the eighteenth and nineteenth century they were probably all nice caged areas and all this sort of stuff. First of all the Japanese were there and they…you know all the type of stuff they did so that has changed. The monkey are funny. But you saw all these creatures that you would normally see in the zoo running wild. I don’t like snakes particularly but I’ve gone out there of a morning or during the day and I’ve seen fifty or sixty crates
snakes…Which are an asp…. a type of asp, lying in a empty rice paddy. You know they rotate them and it is just got grass growing in it and it’s dry and there are all these crates. If you fired a weapon a M60 you would probably kill a hundred of them and they are just lying there basking in the sun. That’s why at night time you didn’t go any where near rice paddies. You always avoided rice paddies you didn’t walk through rice paddies because crates loved that type of stuff.
What else? A couple of other places you went but basically it was where the aircraft went. I mean it wasn’t super dangerous. The plane went there, dropped stuff off, somebody you got back on it and came back and the only one was like I said…The RAF pilots used to go down to the bottom and along Icor but they were twenty thousand feet up and dropping bombs.
And you mentioned to Kirin earlier that when you were in Vung Tau
you were studying.
I just decided that I would always try to keep an active mind. There was an examination which they called the service general certificate examination. And you could do English, Maths 1, Maths 2, Economics and that type of stuff. English was too easy and I got honours in that. I did something else and got honours in that.
So over there I decided I would so some commerce. I went down there and sat down there for the exam and passed. I didn’t get anything spectacular. I just passed the exam. It was just something I decided to do to keep the mind active.
When did you study for it?
I didn’t. I read the books.
What sort of information was it covering?
Commerce? Well just going through the basics of world commerce, trading.
I mean accounting type stuff. I just had to get a book and read it.
And where were the exams set up?
They were held out at, what do they call it? The military base outside of Vung Tau. They used to call it the hill area and there was like an education section there. I sat with three SAS guys, all sergeants who were doing these
exams. There was one navy guy there. It was called the Service General Certificate Examination. It was equivalent to grade twelve or something. I just did it for something to do. I don’t like…I have always believed in keeping your mind active. I will sit there and do mental arithmetic and they think I’m crazy. I mean I’ll sit down there and it will give me something to do. I mean I love mathematics.
And I can do a lot of things in my mind. People ask, “How did you work that out?” It’s easy. Just use your brain. And I’ve tried not to let my…I was taught very young…I mean like we used to do the twenty times tables. Most people do twelve. We had to do the twenty times tables. You had to do mental arithmetic so I just developed. I used to add up the numbers on my transport plates, motor transport plates.
And like you’d go through number 123, 814, 615 and just add up the numbers until I got to ten thousand and then I’d go back and do it again. It was just a way of keeping your mind active and I enjoyed that. I really did. I enjoy mathematics. I hate not doing anything. I can’t stand to be inactive. You’ve got to use your mind. That’s why God gave you one.
I mightn’t always use it profitably but I use it in a sense that keeps it active. In a couple of magazines I’ve read that if you keep your mind active you shouldn’t get Alzheimer’s [Disease]. You shouldn’t get MS [Multiple Sclerosis] and you should retain your faculties longer. So at fifty five going on fifty-six I’m not going to let that happen to me I hope.
And what other things were there to do in Vung Tau?
You had a club which was called the Peter Somebody [Badcoe] Club, you just drank
I mean you went out to that. It was on the army base. You’d go to the beach and drink. I’m not that type of person. I used to drink, don’t get me wrong but I will be honest with you. Women didn’t interest me. I mean you could go to a show. I would quite often go to the Korean shows. They would come. They would have the Korean dancers and the Korean shows. We’d go to theirs and the Koreans would come to ours. Like we had Lorrae Desmond and Richard so we would swap shows.
We knew they were same shows as we got because they would come for a tour. You might see them at Phan Rang or you might see them at Vung Tau or whatever. But I mean I just don’t believe in going and drinking. I will go out to a meal and have a drink or I will go to one of these shows that come and have a drink. You know. You sit there and call a meal a couple of hamburgers or whatever or you would sit with a plate and a beer and watch the show and that was fine. I just don’t believe in going
and drink, drink, drink, drink. I saw a lot of nice shows. The Koreans didn’t mind if you came to their show. There was other American entertainers. You never got to see Bob Hope or that but there were other American entertainers who were there. And they were quite funny. I mean you’d go over and have a real laugh. They were pointing fun at everybody. Not just the Americans, the Australians and everybody too and you could catch up on world news. Now what was the guy’s name? Jack Benny.
Was it Jack Benny. The guy that died. God. A hundred he was. He played God in a couple of movies. I will think if him in a minute but he was over there and very satirical humour. I don’t mind humour that is satire and very satirical. I mean he’s not in Bob Hope’s class. But as humour it gets people laughing. But if you think of what he says you think,
Oh God. You’ve got to laugh. I remember seeing Lorrae Desmond over there and she was great. And you’ve got other people over there. There was Ugly Dave Grey’s ex-wife. She used to be a go-go dancer. She’s on TV now. I can’t think of the name. I mean you are going back thirty odd years ago so there is a lot of things that you saw. You didn’t have to go drink, drink, and drink. At Phan Rang for example there was
the movies once a week at the Americans. We had movies at our place but that was after the Americans had seen it. They’d give it to us and then it would go back to the Americans. But sometimes we wouldn’t get that show maybe for six weeks. There was a movie theatre that ran the same movie maybe one or two day as week so all the Yanks had a chance to go. And the only good thing about going there was it was air conditions. But you also got to see a decent movie. And that’s what we used to do. If you weren’t going to be
be there in six weeks to see this movie which they would post when it was coming out you’d go and see it over at PX and pay a dollar. Typical American theatre you walk into, you could get a bottle of coke and a thing of popcorn. The only thing you had to do was stand up for the stars and stripes [American flag] at the start and stand up for the stars and the stripes at the end. They had a little function we had to do which you got rostered on to
on a rotating basis was the lowering the flag ceremony. So basically they nominated a time. It was at dusk, say 5:30 and you would go down and lower the flags. The Americans, the Australians and the Koreans. The Americans always seem to go one step too far. I mean you’ve seen it when they lover the flag. It’s like three bags full, sir it’s a flag. I mean I’m very respectful of the Australian flag. I have fought under it
and I”ll die under it when I’m dead and we treat it quite thingo you don’t stand there as though if you don’t salute the flag your going to die. This is the American kind of persona…That’s they’ve got to….
No. And they just carry that American ethic. You know. American God save the flag. If you’ve ever seen some of the TV shows or some of the adverts of where they have the American flag. It just goes that little bit too far. I mean I’m very respectful of other people’s rights but the Koreans were very much like the Australians. You do respect your flag. Right. I mean I can’t stand people who burn flags.
Or people who spit on flags. I just want to knock their teeth out. But I am not to the stage in America where if you burn a flag over there you go to Jail. And I mean I don’t have that kind of…I think my ethos in me is that I’m an Australian and the Australian flag is part of the scenery if you like. Therefore I am respect full of it. It doesn’t mean that I can’t pick it up, I can’t
fly it or I can’t do this or do that with it. I used to have a beach towel with the Australian flag on it and the kids used to say you’re mocking the flag. No I’m not. “Do I have to stand up and salute each time I take you to the beach.” But that was a very serious thing the flag ceremony.
And you mentioned on days like Australia Day you might get up to some shenanigans?
We did. To be honest. We…I conned one of the
Red Cross nurses into being Miss Australia for the day and the only requirement was she had to wear a modest bikini and we would make her a sash that said, “Miss Australia.” She had to keep the sash and she could keep the bikini. The sewing machine guys who did all the alterations of things make a very sexy bikini, very Australian, you know.
Miss Australia was a big thing on it. We got a jeep I don’t know how I conned this but we got a Jeep and we put a rocking chair on the back of the jeep we tied it up so she could sit there and wave going around the base. We drove right around the whole base through the American things and we got a guy dressed up to drive it and we made him into a cosmic officer. He had fifteen bars out there,
Opposite side sitting out. He had a warrant officers patch on his cap so they would think he was a full colonel and we had this all around the base.
And how was the Red Cross nurse?
Oh she was great. In the finish we arranged to take her to the mess and give her a bottle of champagne and that. The bloody officer knocked her off and took her up there. So I embarrassed them all. I sent them up with one of the Vietnamese beer pourers.
We all dobbed in and bought her a really nice bottle of champagne. Back in those days it was twenty-five dollars so I mean when you could buy a bottle of Bacardi or a bottle of Rye Whisky for $2. 50 and that was a big bottle that wasn’t bad. So we sent it up and she came down and said thankyou. She also bough her clothes over so when she finished that and
I got a lovely letter from here you know before I left, she was going back and said thank you very much, I really enjoyed the day and I gave it to two squadron. But that was good. We got that over. That was Australia Day. That was the morning and in the afternoon we all got together and we had toga races. We all made, were wearing togas. We made chariots. Somebody was on the back and six people were pulling it.
If you have ever been in a chariot race I can tell you. When you get to the other end it is puff puff. What else did we have? We had the guy dressed up in the kangaroo suit.
Well tell me who made this kangaroo suit?
The guys at Safety equipment made it. He wasn’t a really tall guy like five foot eight. Minimum height requirements and he just made this suit out of material. And they stuck fur on it and if you looked at a distance it did look
like a kangaroo and if I had had a gun I could have shot it and I would have been in big trouble. But it actually looked like a Kangaroo. What they used to do was when a truck came down they would bounce it and you’d see this truck squeak. Look. We had a sign also made up, “Beware of Kangaroos” on the side of the road. “Beware of Kangaroos.” So it was quite a…Everybody was in on it. We had people there throwing boomerangs.
The first few experiments didn’t work that well I can tell you. Boomerangs have to be made in a particular way. But after Clarke who was the Aboriginal boxer…He said, “I’ll show you how to make a boomerang.” We were there throwing boomerangs being all stupid and getting drunker and drunker. And the next thing we knew there is a troop of American entertainers stopped. “Can you show me how to throw a boomerang.” “Yeah you buy us a carton of booze.” Well we woke up the next morning and we had
the next day off. That was Australia day. No. That was Australia day. It was the twenty-sixth. Everybody was sick the next day. There was no nothing. We really and truly had a good day. We drank, right. Had a barbecue. We tried to do things that were Australian except the toga run. We played the Yanks in the morning. We had to play them gridiron for fifteen minutes and then we played rugby
for fifteen minutes. They said, “Don’t you wear shoulder pads?” “No.” Because you have to wear all that stupid stuff that they want and some of those guys are big guys believe me. And they said fine. You’ve had your fifteen minutes of fame now you’ve got to learn how to play Rugby League. Take all your gear off just leave your trousers on, jock strap and put one of these shirts on. There was bark missing off everybody. We showed them how to play Rugby League.
Well they pounded into us. When we were playing gridiron they just pounded into us and really gave us a hard time. I mean fifteen minutes of a gridiron game and these guys …I still haven’t learned how to play it. I mean offensive, defensive and all that stuff. We said Ok thirteen over there and thirteen here. This is how you play rugby league. And boy did we…I don’t know who won. I can’t remember. And then they tried to get us enticed into a game of
baseball. We said, “Yeah. As long as we can use cricket bats.” So we were playing baseball with cricket bats. It was a stupid day I can tell you. But no it was fun it was one of those things that happened once a year and nobody worked, there was no flights. It was just a sort of quiet day and everybody well and truly had fun. You can see a magazine that I’ve got somewhere whish was a two squadron magazine. It is their own magazine that they put out.
Talking about our Australia day, we were stupid, God!
And how did you celebrate your birthday over there?
I didn’t. My twenty-first birthday I was sitting in a swamp about 5km out from the base and I said to myself, “I have just turned twenty-one.” And that was my twenty-first birthday.
Nobody made a big deal of your birthday. You didn’t think about it because of the number of people who died. We lost three guys that we know of and it was like bad magic, bad luck. Particularly, you know. I think I wrote myself a letter and wished myself happy birthday. But it was one of those things. As Rosemary said, “At least you came home for your twenty-second. ’ You know. And I found out there was three guys that didn’t that I know. And since then I’ve buried thirty-seven guys. I mean
they’re all about my age now or getting a bit older or a bit younger, but not that much younger. I have been to so many funerals I’m just sick of it. And I am going to have to go to some more but it gets to the stage where you get emotionally topped up. You’ve got to have a break for a while. When I went to Eddies funeral Rosemary came with me thankfully. Most of the guys I know are all officers now or they are getting ready for retirement. They have been
warrant officers for twenty yeas and they are ready to retire. I was sitting down there and the next thing somebody is rubbing my back and saying, “Don’t worry about it.” I wasn’t crying. I was just sitting there thinking. I must have had my mind a million miles away because he was cremated and you are sitting there and thinking. “Don’t worry about it Woodie.” “Oh for God’s sake.” I said to Rosemary I hope they didn’t think I was sitting there crying because I wasn’t. I was just thinking, you know. You tend to think back.
It is one of those things. You tend to remember. You never forget. And it is the old thing on Anzac day. “We shall remember.” That was just life.
And how important was getting things like letters?
Very, I used to look forward to getting all the letters my wife…My former fiancé who wouldn’t marry me. She sent letters over to me one a day…Well basically. I used to write her one a day and she used to write me one a day.
What kind of thing would you tell her?
I can’t tell. I’m not allowed. Well they were censored sometimes. No. “I love you.” All this type of stuff. She didn’t…I found some letters of mine years ago that I wrote to her and she was going to destroy them. I hid them and I can’t remember where I hid them. It was just one of
those things. You used to look forward to them. I remember it was funny one day. I got this letter and Jacky the interpreter bought it up to me. Rosemary had written it and forgotten to put Post office Vietnam. It had come through the normal mail system via ships to Saigon. It was sent to Phan Rang, two squadron and to me and it was delivered by the Vietnamese public mail system.
You know. I said, “God if they didn’t know where I was before they do now.” When you sent something by post, like the Vietnam Post Office it usually came strait over. They would separate them where ever they separated them and most times it would take about a week or ten days to get mail so it wasn’t too bad. But I used to look forward to Rosemary’s letters. I always
made it a habit when I was going out of a night time I always tried to say that if something happened to always remember that you loved her. That was a big thing because like I said three guys didn’t have the opportunity to write that again that I know of. And you remember that and I just became…Once I became (UNCLEAR) but I made sure in my own way that Rosemary understood that I loved her dearly and that
if something happened then it was meant to be. I mean I would have liked her to marry me before I left but then by the same token she couldn’t then work with the Main Roads and I mean in those days I mean I suppose there were jobs available but they weren’t falling out of trees, particularly for females. Rosemary was very good at the computers and that sort of stuff. I mean she had only worked with the main roads and their computers. It was not as though every
industry had a large computer like they had. But it was just one of those things. It was not easy being away. You tend to disregard…I mean I didn’t disregard my Mum or Dad or brothers and sisters. You would do them a letter once a week and say, “How are you going?” But Rosemary was so special, to me and I wrote and I think sometimes you do say silly things in letters.
I offered to take them back and burn the ones I wrote to her. I said, “You can take out the good bits and then I’ll keep it.” But no you tend to be like that and I think you tend to express yourself. I remember I had great difficulty in writing a letter about that incident with Eddy where we almost counted the number of stars that were in the heavens. I just kind of wrote and said, “I had a shit of a night.”
“I’m grateful to be alive. I’ll see you soon.” Because it is interesting because when you get into a situation where there is a possibility of dying the reaction is that you are very glad to be alive when it’s over. And that really is the summery of all the things. You are happy to be alive and in the end you kind of tell the world to go and get knotted and
you feel in yourself I’m here, I’m breathing, I’m alive enjoy it. I mean I know the result after I had a heart attack. I won’t say it was exactly the same. I mean when you wake up and you are going beep, beep, beep, hello how are you? What are all standing around. You are glad to be alive and you are glad to be in a situation where people know you. Very similar to that except it is not as deep and a lot of guys think about that. I mean I remember talking to Kenny
a bloke who became my best man and we both said one morning, “Jeez it’s great to be alive.” You know you don’t worry about anything else. It is just a feeling that you are there and you are alive and you are breathing. You don’t want to go and put yourself in the same muck hole again but that does happen. As I said when it came down to the last ten days you don’t really want to go out there again but you do because you have got to. But that’s what it feels like and when you get back and you are alive after being in a situation like that that’s what
you feel. You re happy to be there and happy to be alive. The rest of the world’s troubles seem very very unimportant.
And at the time were there any particular songs or anything that were representative?
Ye. We had a pretty good radio station. Not that we listened to it that much but it used to go twenty-four hours a day. The song, of the day was “Aquarius” That was the…
Every band that came, whether it was Philippine, Australian or American, they all played Aquarius. Every time you turned a radio on, you had Aquarius. And as you know that’s from Hair [1960s rock musical] because Hair was the music of the moment but that ‘[Age of] Aquarius’ song. You just knew it. I actually had another one that was my favourite. It was ‘A Minute of your Time’ by Tom Jones. I actually wrote back and asked for it to be played on 4BH
for my wife but she was out on the town that night. She didn’t admit that to me actually. After writing and saying I was going to. True. Well she actually found out about it. Her mates told her and 4BH re played it for her but no that was the song over there where ever you went. If they played ten songs it would have to be that one of the ten was Aquarius. And it was
just a pan into your brain. I have forgotten it now. I might have heard it once since I was back. It was the one tune that really stands out in my mind. It was this Aquarius thing. Everybody played it, everybody sang it. If you had a guitar it was Aquarius you played. Oh God.
What was the radio station like?
Have you ever seen that movie with…
Yeah. Good Morning Vietnam.
A bit like that. Not as supercilious as what the movie was but a bit like that. A bit of air force bullshit from the Americans about how wonderful they had been and the Australians. We always got a good wrap. We had an excellent bombing record. The Australians have been to the front again and they have an excellent record, blab, blab, and blab. And they would go through and there was X number of casualties but God we are still here folks.
we are all alive but it was like a hotch potch of a lot of things like today. You’ve got guys there who were…And they were probably DJs [disc jockeys] in real life back in America but you probably got…They told them what to day about whatever was going on and they learned that. Like a man walked on the moon in sixty-nine and they had when the Apollo rocket took off until they landed on the moon everybody was pounded day
in day out with the update of the rocket…The rocket is now a hundred thousand miles closer to the moon and then they walked on the moon and they actually played that on the radio and all that type of thing.
What do you remember about hearing that?
I’ll tell you. The day I heard that was one of our days off and I was lying on the beach and they had a loud speaker where they were playing it so everyone could hear. It was a big thing for America landing on the moon.
And they had this over the loud speaker so you didn’t need a radio. You could just listen. It was a very big thing to happen. I can remember laying there and the moon was still out. I mean you could still see the moon during the daylight. Vietnam was on a slightly different orbit to what we are here. But long story short story I said, “I think somebody’s walking on that.” It was on the radio. It was supposed to be live of what you heard on the radio.
You are sitting there and looking up at the moon in the daytime and drinking whisky. Someone was up there walking on that. But people have said since then that walking on the moon was fake. I don’t believe it was, I think it actually happened.
Interviewee: Peter Woodford Archive ID 1770 Tape 08
Tell me about getting close to the end of your tour.
Well Ok. I’ll reiterate before. The biggest thing is when you come close to finishing your tour…Well from our perspective our job was to go outside.
If you were a clerk or a pilot or whatever…other duties you did. You flew a plane and you landed it or you did your job and you went home. We were in respect to we were outside the wire for at least sixty-six per cent of our time. We were outside. . So you got very nervous. As I said you get to the stage where you get over your R and R. Then normally you had your rest in country which was R in C. I chose to go down
to Vung Tau. And normally that gives you about thirteen weeks or twelve weeks before you get home. It doesn’t sound a lot of time but it kind of makes you realize. Hey I have been there for forty weeks, you know, and that sounds an awful long period of time. So when you get down to that stage and even driving around the base. Because on the base there was a couple of cases where we had rockets hit and you end up with shrapnel holes in the
Building you are sleeping in. That’s fine. Another night we had to race down to the bunkers. The first person that raced into the bunker also raced out again because there was a king cobra there. Sitting up like that. So we kind of let him have residence and we stayed outside. That was fine by me. I wasn’t going to go in and shoot him. They did where we lived up pretty well. There was bunkers in between
the dongas they used to call them. Other areas where there was offices they put up sandbags or they filled up bomb fins which were about that big…Like a big two hundred litre container. They filled those up with sand and they built an impressive thing. What people don’t realize is that when an explosion happens there is a lot of shrapnel.
And you don’t realize then until you have been there and you’ve seen one go bang and you look at the size of the building or the area where one has gone off and you find all these little holes. And you are just grateful that you weren’t there at the time it went bang. They go through timber not so much metal but they go through timber. So in the context of it you seek cover. One of the problems over there was snakes. We built a swimming pool. Not a very big one I must admit. You had to check
very carefully before you went swimming because there could be snakes swimming it. Now if you go in the same pool as a cobra a crate or an asp the chances are you are going to get bitten and you are going to die. I mean I think it’s funny but I’ve seen one guy go in and he was in and out in about twenty seconds flat because there was a snake in there. I mean you look for a snake and they go under water too. They are there so you are very careful.
Yanks…I mean one of the things we had to do is we had to learn to drive on the right hand side of the road. I know I scared the living daylights out of Rosemary when I came back because quite often you would go round a corner without thinking and automatically got to the wring side of the road. So you had to cure yourself of that quite quickly. But going over there you know like driving you had to learn how to drive on the other side of the road. When you had a long stretch of road…I mean they built highways. The highway that ran from Cam Ranh Bay to
Saigon…It is basically four lanes each way. Magnificent. So you sit there and go to the wrong side of the road until you see Yanks are coming up the road and you very quickly…Oops. Go to the right side of the road. But no you become very cautious. Even traditionally when you went to go to the beach…Guys in the last week became very conscious of going anywhere where you took the risk of getting yourself
hurt. I mean the beach wasn’t going down there, you know there were Yanks there and Koreans there and Australians there but you had to get down there and people would take pot shots at you. So when you went down to the beach you would go there and it was kind of like a process of elimination. You know, the closer you got the less you went anywhere. And it became a thing of I’ve made it this far I’m not going home in a cigar box. You wanted to get there
and you wanted to go home in one peace. And I’ll tell you what the scariest thing that ever happened to us was. We got picked up when we were going back to catch the flight home. The plane was going so low that it hit the masts of a sand pan. We had to change aircraft in Vung Tau. I mean you’ve got to be low to hit the mast of a sand pan. But that was their requirement. When they were off shore as they were going down the coast, the higher you get people would take
Sam shots at you. Sam Missiles. If you are hit by Sam you could kiss your but good bye. Because they explode and blow your craft up. So the fighters were way up there and we were transport and we were down here. And what you do is stay on the coast line. We could go round corners and the next thing you knew you came across and American destroyer parked in a bay or something. You would just go up and over. But on the way back they hit the mast of a sand pan. When they got to Vung Tau they swapped and we had to change all our gear out of one and into another.
They sent us down to Saigon. But that was life. That was one of the situations you lived with. That was part of the excitement.
So tell us about that flight home?
That was scary…Not scary I suppose. Well not scary but everyone is sitting there thinking, We’ve made it now. Only twenty-four hours to get the silver bird home. So we got to Vung Tau and we changed aeroplanes because they had to do some repairs underneath the fuselage of the aircraft. It wasn’t a big deal.
You know. We didn’t worry but you’ve got to follow regulations. So anyway. We got to Saigon and we sat there in this little holding area. If you can imagine…Have you ever seen a movie that shows a picture of Grand Central Station? All these queue’s and you just sit there. That’s what they did. They sat us down and then the Americans ran dogs all over us to check us for drugs. You know. It was one of the most
embarrassing things I ever had done. I don’t mind dogs but Yanks think they are the best people in the world. I mean I don’t like a dog coming along and sniffing me. I don’t like it sniffing my luggage. I don’t do drugs but they still do it anyway. And if you object you get hauled away and get interviewed because the Americans think this is a PFC. Telling a corporal I’m going to…
You are going to come with me and get body searched. No. So you just sat there and accepted it. I didn’t like it and I still don’t like the powers that the police have today as regards to searches with drugs. I think it is a very great invasion of one’s personal privacy. But no you accept that and after going through the indignity of that you have to go through another situation where thy checked and made sure you have the right inoculations.
And that was supplied by your medical officer. You had your passport and you had to have it stamped. And I remember all our passports said, “Not valid for North Vietnam.” South Vietnam was all right but North Vietnam was no good. We had to go through and make…The first thing they did was check you for drugs. So I mean if you weren’t stupid you wouldn’t have drugs on you for a start. I mean I bought a turntable home for Rosemary, Hitachi.
Which was about the best of it’s range at the time. I mean dogs sniffing it and all of that. What were they going to do? Pull it apart and hide it underneath. Which is a possibility, I mean if you were stupid enough. I know a guy who bought a Colt 45 home in the back of an Akai stereo system, I mean a big one. He took the back off it, bolted and clued the gun inside it and then put the back on. Got some wax because they all had seals. Got some wax on it and put some boot polish with the wax
sealed up all the holes again and it looked like it had never been touched. But you could tell. He them put it back into the box and sealed the box. They didn’t check it and he came back home with a Colt 45. One of the original Colt 45s.
So tell us about the flight and coming back into Australia? What was that like?
Well the best part is when we landed at Darwin. We had to get fuel. The other reason is we
Ran out of grog [alcohol]. We drank … It was only two thirds full cause they messed up the booking but we drank it out of grog before we got to Darwin we had to get fuel anyway. But when they landed there they wouldn’t let us off the aircraft but they refuelled the grog supplies. We didn’t get into Sydney. We had to get permission in those days to land in Sydney at 1:30 in the morning which you know was a bit of a problem. It was one thirty and in those days you weren’t supposed to land until
after midnight I don’t think it was. One of those stupid rules. Anyway they let us land and you had two hundred guys pissed and they had to get off. It was a bit like the Pope does. They bent down and kissed the tarmac in Sydney. We were back in Australia, which was great. And then they sent us to all these various accommodation places. This is like by the time we got through customs it would have been two-thirty and there were all these grumpy customs people. Should be home in bed and you guys are here.
A couple of guys said, “Well do you want to go to bloody Vietnam and we’ll take your place.” But no they went through the customs process and they were very thorough I might add. I didn’t have any drugs or anything but I had bought back a book called Sex to Sexties in 1969 that was quite fun but I got queried over that because they reckon it was almost obscene. It wasn’t. Not in pictures and that. Not in the pictures but in the jokes it was quite bad actually so we had that and
they didn’t check my ankles because I was wearing a watch on each ankle. Rosemary wanted a couple of watches so I had one on each ankle. I had one on here and one on here. It wasn’t a big breach but you could get fined. No cigarettes allowed back in. If you smoked on the plane whatever you smoked had to stay on the plane. And they took them off us before we landed which means if you wanted a smoke when you hit the ground you had to buy one and we were getting them at twelve cents a packet.
In those days a packet was regularly forty cents. So we came from where a packet was twelve cents and back here to where a packet was forty. I used to smoke Benson and Hedges so I was going from twelve cents to forty cents. I should have given up smoking then but I didn’t so anyway we went out and we all contributed to buying beer. I think they allowed us to take fifty dollars Australian with us when we left Vietnam. We didn’t have heaps of Australian
money. You could have taken US what you wanted but we each had fifty bucks. So when we got to Sydney we each went and bought beer. We put in five dollars each and just went and bought bottles of beer and just opened them and drank them. And I think at about…they guy were we stayed, he went to bed, we sat up Everybody just sat there an started drinking and whatever and talking. The bloke who was running the boarding house type of thing, he and his wife got out about five thirty and started making
toasted cheese sandwiches and bacon and eggs. That was supposed to be part of the deal so everyone is sitting and having a beer and having a bacon sandwich or a bacon and egg sandwich and then they took us back out to the airport. Dropped us back out there I must admit and we didn’t exist. You know. They got everything all confused once again and we were sitting in Sydney. There was no flights booked for any of the people that came back from Phan Rang. There was no flights booked anywhere in Australia.
So here we are sitting there. Anyway we got on to the air movements officer. Anyway he sorted it out for us. But instead of getting on a T jet as they called them in those days I ended up getting on a 4 man prop job and got back up here kind of at the right time. It was very disappointing to think that the service organization meant they would send you there and bring you back and then you’ve got nothing else organized.
And they got on pretty well with the airlines because in those days it was either TAA or Ansett?
Tell us about coming back into Brisbane. What was that like?
I think the best thing when I came over was looking through the window. I mean I didn’t have an isle seat but I wasn’t a window seat was as you come in to the Old Brisbane Airport you come in over the bay. You see the refinery and you know you are home. Touching down was fine.
There was all these four guys, four of us. There was two army guys and us two walked of the aircraft. And, you know, it is just like I’m home. You felt as though you were back and you’ve got to realize that twenty-four hours previously you were in Vietnam. You had had very little sleep. And here you are twenty-four hours later and you have gone from an environment where you were shot at. To a country where you are not. And I think my lovely wife over there
can verify that it would take a bit of adjustment. I mean I had terrible reactions to backfires of cars. Jumping…Going flat on the ground and doing stupid things. We used to live at Annerley and we had a fire station down the road and I would go on the ground because of sirens. I had to adjust back to the reality that I was home and sometimes it’s the old expression, you might know you are there but your subconscious doesn’t.
And it is very quick. I’ve got an article that I’ve actually written years ago. One of the reasons the army guys adapted so well is they came back on HMAS Sydney or Melbourne. And it was six weeks at sea, you had time. Other guys from World War II had the same thing they came back by boat. It was six weeks in transit and they had the time to adjust and talk and get it out of their system. What they did with us…I’ve said I have never been debriefed to this day…
I got more debriefing about following the Duke of Edinburgh around Australia when he was here than I did about going around Vietnam. What he did, where he did it and did it all go to plan. And I said we came back and to this day I have never had a debrief. No. You’ve got to…It takes a while to realize. My mother had written to me and said, “What do you want?” And I said I want roast lamb, baked potato, pumpkin and peas. And a cold bottle of beer. Well half a dozen cold bottles of beer.
She had all that there for me. I had half the bottle of beer and I couldn’t drink any more. I had this nice roast dinner. It was really nice and I had the company of one certain lady over there who was there with me. No it was…You come back to be here but the stupid part of it was I think we had eight or ten weeks of. You know. You took your holiday and
then you would go into Amberley or wherever you went. You didn’t feel as though you were home. The reaction of having people spit on you is not conducive to saying to you that you are medal capacity. Hey look what did I do? I’m not a baby killer. I mean I was in situations where I got that old guy killed because I found stuff in his things and I felt terrible about that for years but hey if I hadn’t done it somebody else would have. If I hadn’t have been there
somebody else would have been there in my place. I might have been somewhere else and done the same thing. I don’t feel guilty about that per say but it is something to think about. But for us…I mean it was the army guys…the air force guys, not so much the navy guys. But the army and air force were spat on because we had been to Vietnam to do our job. I don’t see what…I mean I can see two points of view. I listened very funnily with John Miller
on the Radio Station 4BC and he was one of the protesters in seventy-two and seventy-three. I don’t hold a grudge against him but now he is saying all those guys who went to Vietnam did this and that. We did what we were told to do and nobody gave a shit about us for years. Since…. Veterans Affairs has changed in the last ten years for the better. They seem
a little bit more caring about them. But the stupid part is that very shortly there is going to be no guys left from World War II. There are going to be no guys left from Korea and a few from the Malaysia Insurgency but if they don’t take the Vietnam guys they won’t have a job. Who are they going to look after? Who are they going to take care of?
Well tell us how did you settle back into life generally?
Perhaps you should ask my wife that.
I feel as though I started to but in reality I didn’t. I changed. I don’t believe I have changed for the better. I certainly have changed myself over the last thirty years. I feel I have. I believe in the last ten years I have even got better. When I first came back your mind was in two places. Seriously. And nobody understood it in those days
Nobody could understand what post traumatic stress was and nobody could understand. If you talk about something and you get debriefed…Even the guys who go to Iraq now and whatever. If you get debriefed you come back to the reality of what you have done. You talk about it. Somebody else is writing it down, and recording what you said and what happened and what the series was and that. Here nobody cared. I mean
they had three sides to it. There was the public who was anti-Vietnam. They would curse you and scream at you is you wore the uniform and you wore two ribbons which were reasonably distinctive. We had unit citations we used to wear so yeah you’ve been to Vietnam and you’d get abused. Now if I don’t abuse you. You’ve got to be very careful when you are in the services. You can’t
react because you get yourself in big trouble. I don’t see why I should be abused because I was in Vietnam. Other people want to make the statement. Oh you can’t go. You can’t do this and you can’t do that. And you listen to the rhetoric that was Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam. Half of what was said, pardon the expression was bullshit. Now time has proven that they have bullshitted. As time may have prove in thirty
years about what Howard said about Iraq and that. Time might prove that to be bullshit. What Hawke and the Labor movement was saying about Vietnam in those days was BS [bullshit]. People believed it. Gough Whitlam said that, “When I come to power everybody’s coming home. No more Vietnam.” What he did is commit a million people to death. He didn’t realize. Because of you go through what happened to the people over there when everybody pulled out. Including the Yanks
He started the rolling pin. How many people were executed by the North Vietnamese? Between one and three million people.
Tell us how did you personally feel when you watched those images on the television in seventy-five?
Futile. I mean I often thought I should have went to politics but I didn’t. But when you think about it they made the decision to withdraw all the troops. Both America, Korea, Australia,
New Zealand, all made those decisions to withdraw troops. If you take it out where you have had a military occupation. South Vietnam and North Vietnam have been occupied by the military for two thousand years. Either amongst themselves or from somewhere else fine. But you’ve got North Vietnam come down to the rest of South Vietnam, “If you don’t do what I tell you or I’ll kill you.” That was it. You saw those images on TV
and you said, “Why? Why did we go there?” In reality I am telling you. The war could have been won in 1968 or 1969. They could have been in Hanoi. The politicians didn’t want to do it. That was the situation. That was the reality of it That’s not my word. Look at the history books. That was the decision that the history books have made.
And like I said I mean the politicians said “No you can’t do that.” They had the Paris talks. Ho Chi Minh went along there. And yet everybody is discounted. I mean over in Europe in Serbia how many people died before the world got involved. Once they pulled out three million people. Look what Pol Pot did. He destroyed a country. He destroyed a nation. Self genocide of nearly 4 million people
I’m just interested in your personal experience on return. Tell us about this post traumatic stress. Did you have dreams?
Yes I mean it’s funny. You don’t realize you’ve got it. And I didn’t realize I had it. I thought I was perfectly normal. Fortunately I have two brothers who are doctors and Phil, who I get on very well with, says, “You’ve got a problem.” I suggest you go and see whatever
You know. Whatever and I went and saw first of all a psychologist and he sent me to a psychiatrist and then I went to Veterans Affairs and they sent me to psychiatrists over at Green Slopes. Their answer was here’s a bunch of pills. Take these. They put me on a pill called Atopan which is one of the most addictive drugs you can ever take. My brother Phil came over to see me a couple of years later
…This is after I had been on these things. He said, “What are you taking those for how long you been taking those?” I said, “Since a couple of years ago when you told me to go and seek help.” He said, “What strength are you taking?” I was taking twenty milligrams. He said, “Who are you seeing?” Anyway he rang them up and abused the hell out of them. He said, “These are addictive.” And it took myself two years to get off them. I went half the tablets, I went down. In the end I got to the stage where I had a one milligram tablet that I halved. And I halved that to a quarter of a milligram
I took that to a quarter of a tablet, right. And then I had to go. I was just hanging on by the skin of my teeth. I had to make the decision to go off it. I had two weeks with no sleep. I had nothing. I couldn’t sleep. I took holidays from my job. I took time off from uni. I just had to get off these tablets. They were so addictive. I finally got off them.
Then I ignored Vietnam veterans. I couldn’t go back to Green Slopes any more so when I had the money in those I went and saw a couple of guys privately. See nobody knew about it. This post traumatic stress is supposed to be new. In actual fact since man’s been on the earth it has probably been there since man had been in wars but it’s called different things.
But nobody in the current day. I went to three different psychiatrists, well one psychologists and two psychiatrists and they were scratching their heads they had this technical definition in a book of what Post Traumatic Stress disorder is. It basically means in the long term that you don’t sleep. You have dreams. The dreams never go away. I took some other drugs that I was given by Steve Proacki. One called ‘Nulla’. It is for
treatment of schizophrenia. It does help people who have post traumatic stress. I was on that for a while and then I found I needed it all the time. Well I refused to give in to drugs. I’ve got some weights down stairs, I walk, and that’s how…I probably spend half my life walking. That’s what the post traumatic stress side is there. For a while there going back a few years I thought well I can conquer this
but as I’ve gotten older it seems to be reinforcing itself. I seem to be going back to when I was twenty and twenty-one twenty two. You know, going back to that era and it is really and truly getting more and more reinforced. I don’t know why I don’t want it to be there and I remember one night I was watching a program here with Rosemary and it had bush tucker man, Steve
Higgins. He was a major and he was talking about this thing and he said, “Yeah. I’ve got it and it has come back big time.” I had to go and seek help. Well I’m not too proud to tell somebody I’ve gone and sort help for it. Some people are. But hey I have got to have it now once every twelve months, well no more than eighteen, I will go and see a psychiatrist. I will go and see Steve.
And I think as long as you are reminded that it’s a function of memory. It’s something that’s going to happen whether you want it to or not and any amount of drugs you take is not going to fix it and you can except that. You’ll never cure it. You’ll never get rid of it but you know it’s there. And that’s the state I’m in at the moment. I mean I’m feeling very
emotional inside of me at the moment and I feel very much a mixed emotions. I have all these things rushing through my brain and sometimes I hesitate to get my train of thought because all of a sudden someone’s gone into the file draw and pulled out 1969. Look at this lot. And that’s what happens. That’s what it’s like. Somebody goes to the filing draw in my brain and all of a sudden someone they are picking out a certain day or a certain week in 1969 or 1970
and they are saying, “Hey look at this.” And it takes you back to 1969 or 1970. And sometimes you have got to be careful well I mean one of the reasons I don’t drink any more is that reason. Well with the diabetes too but I think I can control me better. I try very hard and I do apologise to my wife every other day because I snap and God forgive me I do yell and I do scream but not violently
you know I just kind of say things that I later regret. And it is something that’s like a pressure valve. I try and work on the basis that if I do that I can come to Rosemary ten minutes later and say sorry about that. Well I have bought a lot of jewellery over the years and flowers and boxes of chocolates I can assure you. So that gets rid of it for me but it doesn’t help Rosemary. As I’ve said she deserves maybe twenty medals through, how many years thirty four, a medal for each year
She deserves but that’s what happens is that you can’t get that. I know guys who take to drink. Really and truly. And they are on the grog big time mate and that doesn’t solve anything.
Did you or have you ever had flashbacks where you were back in Vietnam?
If I drink that is a side effect of that. Embarrassingly I did have a problem with drinking but I’ve fixed that. I believe that now
I could have a couple of glasses of scotch and get away with it but within my own self I am terrified that I will go and buy a whole bottle of scotch and drink the whole bloody bottle and then I’ll have like all these flashbacks. And that’s what drives some people crazy. I mean the guy that died outside of Rosewood years ago. Moody. He ended up drinking methylated spirits. He put it in the fridge and cooled it down and drank it with orange juice. Mate you’ve got to be bad to do that. But that’s
How he ended up living. And he died and we found him three days later.
When you have a flashback where are you? Are you on patrol or are you…
You can be anywhere. One of the dreams that happens is you’ve got a gun that fires water not bullets. That’s scary because I once asked a doctor or a psychiatrist if you are dreaming and you get killed in the dream can you die. The answer to that is yes.
So I mean fortunately most times you wake up before the dream gets to that stage. I mean I’ll wake up and have a start and sit on the edge of the bed. Sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’ve got to think to myself. Right. Where am I? It only takes five or ten seconds. That’s why I really sometimes don’t like going away. I mean even with Rosemary. I don’t know where I am when I wake up. I don’t want to walk out through a door
where I don’t know where I am and it’s twenty-five floors to the ground that’s where they might find me the next morning. That’s a real possibility because you don’t know where you are and I think I’ve got over that. I mean I kind of have a system in me that I’ve kind of worked out that works for me. It might not work for anybody else. Like I love reading and I’ve read a lot of autobiographies. I’ve read how other people have coped with it.
The most common way people cope with it is by drinking unfortunately and if you don’t control that you end up with all types of associated problems. I know some guys from Vietnam who had gone through five marriages and I’ve got one lovely wife whose put up with me, other guys haven’t. There’s one guys wife goes to the Himalayas and climbs mountains to get rid of her stress factor. And I do create stress. I mean I really feel bad about when the kids were growing up because
I didn’t realize. You don’t realize you are doing something until someone tells you. When somebody tells you it takes you a while to realize either the gravity of what you are doing or of what you have done. Then you’ve got to go and sit back at yourself and how do you fix it. Look when I used to take those tablets Veterans Affairs prescribed for me I used to have no trouble sleeping. Take one of these, go to sleep, wake up five six hours later, your body gets
used to the after effects of them. And believe me I know what it is like to go through a drug withdrawal. I said I got down to a one milligram tablet, cutting it in half, taking that, cutting it in quarters and you just have to have that little bit in your system. I’ve never taken a hard drug in my life like cocaine or something like that. I tried marijuana once when I was in Vietnam and I was sick for three days. I don’t know what it was laced with.
We were down the beach getting drunk and we started smoking this joint and two of us were sick for three days. Whatever it was it was vile. But like I say that’s part of it. There are easy ways of coping with it and like I say if you smoke marijuana today it will help you sleep and help you can cope more easily with it. And I mean I don’t need another drug. I take enough medication with my heart and my diabetes. The doctor just upped
my heart medication, or my blood pressure medication to help. But there’s enough of that. You don’t want to take other stuff. You know what Rosemary’s like. She has asthma. They get her to take all these different things to help with the asthma.
So looking back at it what is the worst memory that comes back to mind for you?
Those kids in the orphanage. That was bad. I still think of that. Every time I look at my grand
kids I can see sometimes…I can superimpose a dead body on them. I don’t know why I do that. I have talked to psychiatrists and psychologists about that. The worst thing that comes to me is burying babies and I’ll never forget that. If I live to be two thousand years old. Seeing people die isn’t very nice either but in a war zone. What have children got to do with a war? I mean they die. You look at it in hindsight and you say, “Well they have died Peter. You can’t bring them back.”
I know that. I know the realities and all the things that go with that but the side of it too is you don’t forget.
What about your best memory of your time?
You always have good fun…It is funny. I will always remember our Australia Day. Because I mean we went for a run up the hill and one of the things I used to do was I used to run. I got to the stage where I used to…I wasn’t really smoking that much.
I tried to cut it down and I used to run for exercise. Anyway the whole squadron had to go for a run. Three hundred guys. Had to run up what they call Paul Gallaghers Hill. We had to run to the top and run back. And I decided I wasn’t going to win it so I may as well just tag along and get somewhere. Anyway they all left me behind, the whole lot. But they did it for a reason. The purpose was I won six cans if VB. Because I came last. Where as in actual fact I was three quarters of the way through the
field and I kept on going back and helping the stragglers because I wasn’t going to win it and the wining prize was a dozen VB. I came last and I didn’t realize it and I got six cans of VB for that. That was quite good.
Well Peter we are actually coming quite close to the end of the tape so I might ask you now whether you have any final reflections or final thoughts that you would like to add to the record?
Wars never solve a thing.
I believe that any country should train it’s young people. A bit like America where you go through your twelve months or six months conscription base, you learn, a bit like the Israelis male, female, everybody. You are going through the six months or twelve months. You get paid for it. Whatever the current rate of a soldier is and you learn. And everybody. No exceptions. I mean not if you’ve got two broken legs or
you’ve got no legs that’s different but everybody goes and every five years or something you do a two week refresher course. We don’t have enough people in this country to protect it. We’ve have a neighbour up there called Indonesia that has a population of two hundred million who would love this country. They are Muslim and they are the largest Muslim population in the world and Muslims hate Christian society. Christian society is basically Australia.
We try very hard to get on with our neighbours. We give them three or four hundred million dollars a year, well the government does and I don’t know why. But I think that we all should learn how to be soldiers. I mean if somebody started to invade Australia I would be putting my hand up saying, “I may be fifty-five or fifty-six but I remember.” Right. Rosemary wouldn’t like it but then again I am fighting for me and I’m fighting for her and I’m fighting for my grandchildren. I’d put my hand up and I believe that that should
become a reality. Not people saying it only happens if you have a war. That’s garbage. Everybody does it. It’s part of society. The Israelis have done it since 1960. Since the Israeli war in sixty-seven. And it works quite well. I don’t see why we can’t.
And what about just off that point of personal reflection of your service time.
I don’t regret it. I left for a couple of reasons. One, I upset a particular officer who was a bastard. I decided he was going to get me so I thought the easiest way was I resign and get out of it. Shall I say one day…I know of that particular gentleman in Sydney. He is a doorman these days. I will go and pay a visit and say hello next time I am in Sydney which mightn’t be for a while. But like I say I enjoyed my time in the service. I made a lot of friends.
A lot of them have since died. That is a terrible thing. I’ve been to thirty-eight funerals now. I didn’t go to the thirty-ninth one because I just couldn’t cope. And it does, it becomes harder. These are guys who you live with for twelve months. They might not be in your section but you live with them. You know them. And they die. They die because of something that happened thirty odd years ago. So I don’t regret the time. I enjoyed
the serve to my country and like I said, “If someone invaded Australia I would put my hand up and say, “Yeah. Put me somewhere at least I can keep some of the young blokes alive.” Because you never really forget. Things you were taught. I might not be able to fire a spire rifle but I would be able to fire a SLR, which is basically what they’ve got. They haven’t sold them or destroyed them. They’d still got them. So yeah. I enjoyed it. I don’t regret it. I don’t regret Vietnam. I never stuck my hand up and said I’d go.
I didn’t really get an opportunity to go back a second time. I don’t know whether I would because I had responsibilities at that stage to Rosemary and to a young baby. Some guys did.