Archive number: 1889
Preferred name: Peaches or Mad Dog
Date interviewed: 11 May, 2004
Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
UN Military Observer - Kashmir
You are listening to the interview audio
Okay. If you would like to give us an introduction.
Okay. I was born on 9 August 1945 in Fitzroy in Melbourne. Educated in the primary system at Box Hill Primary School and Clyde State School. My secondary education was at Nunawading High school and I filled in the six months post
high school before applying for and joining the army as a terribly young, shaving once a week without a razor blade, eighteen year old and I was accepted for officer training at Portsea at the Officer Cadet School, graduated on the 11 June 1965 and had twenty years of regular soldiering and went on to complete another ten years of reserve.
I was allocated to the Australian Staff Corps, Royal Australian Engineers and after graduation served in a squadron before taking the engineers’ young officer’s long course which was about ten months at the School of Military Engineering. After this I was posted to an engineers’ stores unit and later to the Second Recruit Training Battalion at Puckapunyal
in national service days. And from there to undertake preparation for posting to the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam, posted to the team, returned to 7 Field Squadron in Queensland and from there, which was in Brisbane I should say. And from there posted to Mount Isa for my sins. Mt Isa to Singapore for two years. Returned from Singapore to command
1st Field Squadron of Royal Australian Engineers which incidentally landed in day one of Gallipoli. From there to brigade major at 5 Engineer Group at Haberfield in Sydney, from there to the United Nations Observer Group in India and Pakistan for 1980. Returned from the subcontinent to posting
at headquarters third military district in Melbourne at Vic Barracks. That lead to my one and only posting in Canberra and I discovered that everything I had thought about that happened in Canberra was true and departed the system in 1984. Went to Omeo in the high country in Victoria and started a business, became a member of council up there.
Sold the business, built my home in the mountains and have been doing various engineering related tasks up until today where I am in a semi retirement sort of mode and doing the odd day every now and again to help the development of a gold mine. Here we are. 2004.
Was that succinct enough?
Yes. Now what we’ll do
is of course talk about your early days of life. Can you firstly tell us a bit about your parents?
Okay. Well they are both still alive at eighty-seven and eighty-five. Dad was a stonemason. Both Depression kids so they know the value of a shilling.
Mum was principally a housewife but has been an absolute partner to my father; well they have been partners to each other in the time they have been together. They celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary and are now ardent, constitutional monarchists in the country having received their telegram from the palace, the governor general and the governor, it was a wonderful system. Dad
was a stonemason but got into the building industry. He ran several businesses around the state so we were on the move in the early years. I have a younger sister and a younger brother. My sister ended up marrying my roommate from OCS [Officer Cadet School] and the younger brother has been in the army reserve for going on thirty years
so apart from militia service during the Second World War the family went from good pacifist Methodists to having all their offspring associated with the army in one way or another. It must have been quite a shock to the system for them.
Methodist background you said?
Yeah. My parents never smoked, drank, danced or swore. Wonderful people. True Melbourne wowser background. The army was quite an eye opener.
Did your father serve in the Second World War?
He was a militiaman. And he spent most of the war working at Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation at Fisherman’s Bend and Mum at one of the ammunition factories out at Maribyrnong. I don’t remember this because I wasn’t born but it is what I’ve been told.
What about the First World War? Did you have any relatives?
A grandfather who served but as far as I know did not leave Australia. He served here. I had a great uncle who served in the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force to New Guinea but that was over on day two. He found it boring and transferred to the AIF [Australian Imperial Force], went to France, wounded, gassed and died
relatively early in his life. And I say relatively early because when he joined the AIF on the enlistment forms there is a question about any previous service. On the documentation I got out of the archives he has filled in Scottish Army which I think it quite delightful because they haven’t had an army for about four hundred years. Yeah that was probably
the family connection with the services.
So your ethnic background would be, I presume…
Mother’s family from the Channel Isles and my father’s family from Scotland.
You were born in 1945 so when the war ended.
On the day that the second bomb went off actually.
I came into the world with a bang.
Can you tell us a bit about your early childhood years and what life was like? I suppose we’d be talking about 1955 when you would start to remember things.
I can remember earlier than that. I can remember the first motorcar we ever had was a 1926 Essex. My father paid about ten pounds for it. Rag Top. I mean today you pay a
fortune to get a convertible but this was a rag top. It was a pretty good childhood. Australia was a different country. Obviously the population was a lot less. The first I can remember was they were living at Box Hill opposite the Box Hill Ice Works. And they had an ice works because people still had iceboxes and ice was delivered by horse and dray. Bread was
delivered by bread carts pulled by horses and milk was delivered by milkmen in floats pulled by horses so it was a transition period if you like. We had no television. We only had the electric wireless. It was a different era all together. It was probable a gentler time in that children didn’t have the restrictions that parents seem to place on them today. Saturday mornings for example
we would disappear on our bicycles straight after breakfast and the folks might not see us until after dark. Nobody seemed to be worried because we wouldn’t come to harm, unlike it seems to be today but that it probably just the larger population. We hear more about it with the power of the press and instant communication. In those days if you went to the cinema
you saw newsreels of stuff that might have been flown from around the world and then compiled so news from a movie or a cinema perspective was six, eight, ten days old and yet it was considered to be up to the minute. So yes it was a great childhood. Australia wasn’t a bad place to grow up as a kid in the fifties.
And where did you grow up then?
We went to the
bush, to Clyde where Mum and Dad had a general store. Clyde is only four or five miles out of Cranbourne and nowadays Cranbourne is a dormitory suburb of Melbourne. Back then the mail came up by steam train. They had two sub post offices that came under their general store. One teacher and twenty-five, twenty-six pupil school.
Some kids did ride in on the backs of horses two or thee kids on the back of a horse. It was a good way of getting the feeling for rural Australia albeit that in those days it was much more rural than it is now, that area. You’ll have to ask and touch the buttons.
It is our job.
So what was schooling like at that time?
We learned how to write. We learned how to spell. You know I’m saying that as compared to what it is today where we are constantly being told that kids leaving primary school and going to secondary school are almost illiterate. It didn’t happen
in the fifties where teachers could still take to you with the ruler or strap. We learned a lot of things by rote. We learned things. Most people learned to write clearly, I didn’t. My writing still looks like a spider that jumped into an ink well and ran across the page. I am
one of those people who is incredibly thankful for computers and word processors because I can actually read my own writing now. School was good. Plenty of outdoor activities. I still remember Monday morning school assemblies. It was a different age. I am not convinced that it was a bit pre-historic. I think it was a good grounding for lots of people. I think the kids today understand communication
and have a better understanding about rights…Kids have a better understanding about rights but in some cases they have no understandings about responsibilities. We were taught about responsibilities and the price that we may be expected to pay and the price that had been paid for the lifestyle that we had.
Schooling was good. High school was interesting. A lot of our teachers were returned men and women. Most of them were returned chaps and occasionally they could be fed a red herring and they would give us a rundown. I recall we had a Greek teacher who taught English, which seems a bit interesting,
but he had been a boy on Greece under the occupation of the Germans and he told some wonderfully bloodthirsty stories. He probably provided us all with sufficient interest to do some more reading and that’s what it was all about. There was no television in those days and the cinema was something that you saved up for one a week so reading was where you got your knowledge from. Not a bad way of getting
When did you first start to develop an interest in the military?
Oh probably from about five or six. It was something that was always there and I cannot tell you why but it was just something that was there. It seemed….in retrospect it seemed that I always wanted to be a soldier and
looking back at it I think I always wanted to be a soldier but I can’t remember why. I think it was just always something different. A different approach today but then that’s what it was all about. I think it was all terribly adventurous and a lot of fun it was going to be but again I’m not sure. I just wanted to go for a soldier.
Well in your teens when you appreciated more an appreciation of war or started to…
No. I had no idea.
Well in an academic sense through books and whatever, through stories you might hear from your grandfather or whatever, there still would have been some World War I vets [veterans] alive at that stage.
They were young men. When you think about it the Great War had only finished in 1918 and we are talking about 1948 to 1958.
They were still relatively young men. I can remember seeing early Dawn Stand To’s at the Shrine and hearing the tinkle of medals in the dark and seeing the shine of matches on a matchbox and men standing under battalion trees and greeting their mates. This was in the days when there were no women in attendance at the Dawn Services at all and that was at the request of the old chaps themselves. They said it was their time
and they did not have women at Gallipoli and Dawn Stand To was about Gallipoli, not about the whole war. That was only just starting to come in and the young men who had come back from the Second War. They abided by the wishes of the originals completely so that was a bit special.
They must have been god-like figures mustn’t they, the soldiers of the First War?
Yes they were. God like is probably not quite right but they were bigger than reality. The legend that surrounded them is something that a reality could never change. The most vertically challenged of them was still in a way a giant among men. They were special. They were not special to everybody
…All families of course but not held special by everybody but those who had read a bit and were starting to get that glint in the eye. I had also been brought up on [Rudyard] Kipling so I knew all about the right stuff and playing the game properly and a gentleman’s code of honour and gentlemen were not from a particular
economic group, gentlemen were born not made and that kind of thing. It was Boys Own stuff. Decent chaps as only chaps can be.
Because if you look at the Shrine of Remembrance you see the two statues, the father and the son and if you notice the World War I digger has almost a steel like face and the Second World War digger [soldier] has almost a baby young face.
That’s true. I
might show you a photograph after that was taken of me, I didn’t know about it and I only received it in the last few years, in 1969 and when I opened the envelope with this photo in it I thought, “Why are people sending me this picture?” It is just me standing somewhere and I thought, “Hang on, there is something familiar about that.” I thought, “No one was ever this young.” and this is a story….You said this might happen.
I remembered a particular warrant officer who I was issued to in my war asked me if I could to try and grow a moustache because people kept asking if I was his grandson. I was supposed to be his boss in that situation. So yes, you are quite right. They tend to do those things, the father to son thing. By the same token I don’t think there had ever been anything quite as hard
as it was for those who served in the Dardanelles or on the Western Front in France. That was just awful. And anyone who wasn’t there, no matter how widely they have read, can have absolutely no idea about the horror of those places. But that’s what it’s about.
you eighteen when you first joined the army?
Yes. In fact they deferred me going to Portsea for six months because I was too young. So just a boy. In those days of course we didn’t get the vote until we were twenty-one. A proper age to get the vote, not children. Okay for cannon fodder but not to vote or drink.
Well that is the way it was. A
Was the Korean War an influence in you joining up?
Korea was something that has happened and as most of the returned Korean men would say it was almost a forgotten war. We lost an awful lot of people in Korea…We had units, the three battalions especially but we had units that did a lot of good work. Our people in Korea were very, very
good. But we didn’t hear that much about it. It didn’t fill the newspapers as, for example the Second War would have done because we had so many war people away and we were at risk. We knew about it. We knew that we had had some people that had done well. Some of us had actually heard the word or the name Kapyong but it didn’t mean very much.
It was just a little sideshow. Unfair to say that for those that were there but in comparison with the Great War and the Second War it was just a blot on the landscape.
It would have been about 1963 when you joined up?
Yeah. I started the process in sixty-three and was at Portsea in sixty-four.
Walk us though the
recruitment process please.
The recruitment process for those wanting to try for officer training was just an application. You were psychologically assessed but I think there were some major mistakes made there. And I’m trying to keep a straight face and then if you were medically and mentally fit
and as part of the psychological assessment you had an officer intelligence rating, that is not an oxymoron. Five to ten I think or one to five but if you were in a particular zone you were then invited to attend a selection board where they took you out, in my case in Victoria to
Watsonia and you went through a series of interesting little exercises to find out if you were a leader or easily lead or influenced or could exert influence, you were interviewed by the selection board who pontificated and probably tried to stop themselves rolling around on the floor laughing and said, “We will give this one a chance or that one a start.” In my particular intake at Portsea there were a lot of
soldiers, ex-apprentices, people who were already serving who had probably been given a quick reef in the backside by the NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and their own officers to apply for Portsea because they had the potential to be commissioned leaders. And there were probably about fifteen to twenty per cent civilian entries of which I was one.
And that was interesting. Everything at Portsea from arrival was done on the double. In fact for the first fifty days everything was done at the double. It was to help get us fit and it was to start to mould us to what the system wanted and in that they were pretty successful. But they also allowed some room for individuality and
perhaps encouraged some of us to develop our individuality even more once we had graduated. We were all very much aware that you complied for the most part to graduate. If you were too much of an individual you would be thanked very much for your time and shown the front door and you could go and be an individual somewhere else. But the system wanted people
who thought along a similar line but had the strength of character and the individuality to think for themselves within the envelope in which they wanted us to think.
How did you find the training? Was it harsh?
It was hard. It was physically hard. As a civvie [civilian] entry I had to learn to be a soldier. The blokes who had been soldiers
already had the basics there. They, the instructors at the school, treated everybody as though they were a straight civilian entry with no knowledge of army life at all. So we had to be taught how to dress. We had to be taught how to keep our rooms the military way. We had to be taught drill, both foot and rifle drill; we had to be taught how
to look like soldiers and we had to be taught a bit of couth and culture too. The cadets’ mess was run like an officers’ mess. We had steward service. We did very well. But we also looked after our own accommodation blocks, our rooms and the standard for our accommodation blocks and or rooms was probably fifty per cent greater than that which was required for other soldiers
because we were supposed to be able to do things at the very least as well as the best of our soldiers and generally speaking better. The bosses, or potential bosses, had to be as good as or better at most things and that was one thing the OCS did for all of us. They made us in some cases better than what some of us knew we were. Certainly
the civvie entries I think and certainly in my case. Some of the things we did physically I never believed were humanly possible for anybody. Let alone the person who looked back in the mirror when you did shave in the morning, yeah. It was a good forty-four weeks.
Yeah. It was good to be finished. But we made
friendships that have lasted all our lives since then. My own class had a reunion, thirty-seventh reunion. None of us had any idea why we would do something on the thirty-seventh year but it just seemed a good idea at the time and in so many cases people just picked up conversations that they had left off thirty years earlier. In some cases even
though we had a large graduation class and we went to the same corps and in some cases we saw each other regularly if we were in the same corps or in similar brigades. Some people we hadn’t seen at all for thirty plus years but we could just pick up conversations that were left off thirty years earlier. And that’s one thing the service
does do. It does mould people so that there are always specific interests and specific shared experiences so that you’ve got a starting point.
What about bastardisation for recruits? Was that…
I never saw that at Portsea. Anything that was done to us that might have been thought harsh at the time was probably done for a reason. OCS had a father/son system. I think nowadays
we would use the term mentoring but every senior class man was issued with a junior class man and their responsibility was to help bring him up to speed in a particular time and that particular time was usually yesterday and for the first week I think any transgressions on the part of the new officers or cadet that were punishable in terms of extra drills and whatever,
the father got them. That was an incentive scheme for him to lift his game and make you better than he had been. I was issued to a Malaysian…a vertically challenged Asian who gave me as hard a time as anyone had ever given me in my life. I can remember him coming in on day one and looking at my wardrobe which was set up as I thought it should have been, as per the
Standard Operating Procedures for Portsea and he just rolled on the floor, laughed, and threw the clothes out. I did it three times that day and if I had had the opportunity I would gladly have ripped his heart out and thought nothing about feeding it to feral cats along the beach. I would have had no twinge of conscience whatsoever. He was a good man.
Did you say he was a Malaysian?
Yeah. He was one of the overseas students. We had
some Koreans, a Samoan, in fact the Crown Prince of Samoa, one Malaysian and a swag of Kiwis [New Zealanders]. In fact Portsea seemed to be at one stage a bit like Manly, nothing but Kiwis. It is not strictly true of course. We had a few people from overseas and they were good operators too.
Most of them, if they didn’t pass all the physical tests which we as Australians and New Zealanders had to pass they would have got a diplomatic pass but some of them chose to do it the hard way, for example my Malaysian father, Fred Zarky. Fifteen particular forenames but Fred is as good as he was going to get and Fred
he remains to this day. He passed everything including the two miler. The two miler in full kit. It had to be done by soldiers with weapons and full water bottles by soldiers in eighteen minutes. It had to be done by officers in sixteen. The difference between sixteen and eighteen minutes doesn’t seem to be much but I promise you it is. And Fred Zarky passed his two miler on his
fifteenth or sixteenth attempt and he only passed it because his room mate who was an Australian cadet and a giant, a physical giant, goaded him and ran in front running backwards saying that he was a weak gutted little noggie [Asian] turd and couldn’t do anything. So Fred was trying to get at Pat to take him out and got across the line
into our PTIs [Physical Training Instructor] with seconds to spare and then Fred’s room mate, picked him up, still with all his kit on and carried him up to his room. Quite amazing. They all didn’t have to do that. Fred Sarky was a proper soldier. Well apart from the fact that he went to signals corps, he was a proper soldier.
Were these exchanges sort of…
No, they were sent out here to do their training.
It would create a relationship that may be very helpful in the future but as far as the Commonwealth was concerned this was the way things were done. Malaysia had officer training institutions but they sent people to Australia to meet some of our people who may be handy in the future and to pick up some of the, perhaps, Australian
traits that they found were particularly good. At that stage New Zealand didn’t train any of their officers. They had some at OCS and I think they even had some at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst but I wouldn’t be sure of that.
So when you say OCS can you explain what that is?
Officer Cadet School.
Now after you finished your forty-four weeks where
were you first posted to?
My first posting was at a unit at Sydney which was collocated at the School of Military Engineering at Casula on the Georges River. It was 20 Field Park Squadron which was part CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] part regular army but it held heavy plant and equipment and workshop equipment for use by other
combat or field engineer units of the Royal Australian Engineers. So I was allocated to the Royal Australian Engineers. I should go back. We had a choice of corps. We could apply for allocation to any of the arms or services and depending on them whether they wanted us we actually got our corps allocation and that actually happened very early in the piece so that you
could form an association with the officer instructors at Portsea who actually came from that corps and they could help you with that particular subject or look at you and shake their head and thing, “My God. I think they’ve made a mistake.” Really, terribly helpful they were. I was allocated to Australian Staff Corps Royal Australian Engineers and went up there for six months awaiting the next long course which
we did for ten months to learn how to be basic sapper or military engineer officers.
There must have been a lot of training in military theory I suppose as well. What sort of concepts were they talking about then?
Oh not a lot. We touched on tactics. We studied in great detail organisations but we did military history just
to get the feel for what it was about and supposedly start an interest that would remain with us for the rest of our lives. In some cases it did and in some cases it didn’t. But we were trained at OCS to be infantry platoon commanders. In the corps we were allocated to we were infantry platoon commanders. When we went out to our corps, our final homes in the army, then
they would undertake the specialist training to take us to the next level beyond being a platoon commander. But that was the common aim in Portsea and I believe that it succeeded. Obviously some were going to spend the rest of their time in ordnance, and with respect to my ordnance friends, blanket counters, one they finished Portsea they were never ever going to be platoon commanders again so
they worked for that forty-four weeks to do that and then they went off to count blankets or measure the distance between two points or in the case of engineers built roads so that infantry could walk parallel to and a hundred yards from…And that sort of thing.
You got into the engineers.
Did you have any choice in that?
Oh yes. We had a choice as I said. I had already decided
that any person who voluntarily put his home on his back and walked into the hills with a smile on his face was lacking something. And I thought that any fool can be uncomfortable. What I had seen of engineers indicated to me that they lived quite well in the bush. They worked exceptionally hard in interesting things and they played hard. They were different.
So I thought, “This will suit me down to the ground. I think I’m different and I will work at it.” Yeah.
What about the infantry though.
What about the infantry?
That is exactly my point. You didn’t find anything attractive about the infantry, being posted to an infantry unit?
If you walked through the bush carrying sixty or seventy pounds on your back, carrying a machinegun and a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition and eating the putrid food that they did
get…No. That’s being unkind. I might add that subsequently I went to a unit that was sponsored by the Director of Infantry and was regarded as an infantryman for twelve months. I had a wonderful twelve months but it also confirmed that I didn’t want to be an infantryman. No, I was quite happy to be
anything else but an infantryman. I thought gunners were far too technical. Tankies [armoured unit personnel]…I had seen what high explosives could do to armoured units. I was quite happy to be a sapper [engineer] thank you.
Where did you see this?
Oh when we went out on the range at Puckapunyal and we saw the training films about what anti armoured weapons…No. Sappering will be just perfect thank you.
And there are interesting people who are sappers.
We’ll pause there and change the tape.
Interviewee: Russell Smith Archive ID 1889 Tape 02
Can you compare what kind of person you were before you joined the army to what kind of person you were when you graduated second lieutenant?
I never ever graduated as a second ‘Lu-tenant’. Americans have ‘Lu-tenants’. We have ‘left-tenants’.
We are abusing the language enough as it is without becoming too Americanised. I was
in the process of becoming a young man. In retrospect I went into Portsea as a teenager and I came out as a commissioned teenager. Probably with far too much gravitas. I was absolutely convinced that I was God’s gift to the defence of young Australia. But starting to find out a bit more about myself and starting the
growing process or the maturing process. I think I know that graduating as a second lieutenant was basically being given a licence to learn but to learn from a fairly privileged position. I can’t speak for the army today and I can’t speak for the army
earlier than my time but we as young officers, officers full stop, had a fairly privileged position in the system. There is no such thing as a free lunch and we were expected to pay and pay dearly for the perks of commissioned service that we had and I don’t think any of us ever thought much
about the it without the wisdom of decades of hindsight. Some of them may and they were probably more mature individuals than I was. But for those privileges we were expected…Here we were. We were to assume the roles that we were given and to think specifically of our soldiers.
We were given soldiers. They were given to us in trust to look after and to work their butts off. But they were ours and we looked after them and if you think of me as an eighteen-year-old second lieutenant and my first unit, which was a plant platoon, I reduced its average age by about six years just by joining it. Quite remarkable.
But that’s what it was. And most old soldiers and especially the senior NCOs…The senior NCOs are sergeants upwards to warrant officers knew that we were there with a licence to learn and they were the ones that taught us the nitty gritty, the hands on business of soldiering. And they were
incredibly tolerant. We did do some incredibly stupid things. And we were protected by our soldiers because we were theirs. They would take the mickey out of people [tease people] from other units but no one took the mickey out of us in front of our people because if we were amusing or foolish or completely bloody dumb we were their amusing or foolish or completely bloody dumb people and they could take the piss but nobody else could.
So that was part of the learning process. So it was interesting. And you asked…I rambled when you asked the question about was there a difference. Of course there was. I was incredibly fit, as I said, God’s gift to the defence of young Australia. I didn’t have a field marshal’s baton in the bottom of my pack but I thought I was going to do wonderful things. Boys.
That’s what it was. That’s how it was but we were privileged boys, very privileged boys.
Were you vastly different human beings after that original course?
I was more sure of myself. Full of physical confidence. Probably fairly mentally confident too. The major crashes hadn’t occurred at that stage. Yeah. I mean you are a graduate of the Officer Cadet School in Portsea, and
as we were told and firmly believed, one of the top five per cent of Australia’s young men, physically, intellectually, the whole box and dice. We were bloody good at what we did. We were bloody good but we just didn’t do a lot. So it was a very small envelope. We were terribly small things in a very big envelope but no we were good.
Those traits you just
described the physical, mental, did you have that before you joined up or was it just waiting to came up?
I’m fairly confident that very early in the piece there were some things that I thought I did well. A bit cocky. Not pompous but a bit of a smart arse. That was straightened out fairly early in the piece if not by
warrant sergeant and officer instructors by my peers. One learned fairly quickly when to place the extra bet and when to fold and just sit there quietly. That was a case of self-preservation so without realising it you were learning about survival fairly early in the piece. So there had been a difference.
It was a self-assuredness that was there to a degree in amongst real soldiers, people who had yellow pay books, who had been there for a while one was still not completely sure. And that was not a bad thing. Some of my classmates were absolutely assured and with good reason. Some of them were assured with no reason at all and they came
crashing down very hard. And the good ones who were self-assured did very, very well. They were brilliant leaders and that’s what it was all about. I sometimes think my soldiers followed me out of a sense of curiosity, “What will he do next?” The trust built up and as time went on and the teaching process continued, and it did, it got to the extent I think of eventually becoming
a band of brothers thing. ‘We band of brothers, we happy few.’ We all knew where we fitted. There was only one person up the pointy bit up the top. We all fitted in exactly and there was no one who had to back stab or tear their way. We looked after each other. We were awful for those who stuffed up but within our tribal group or sub tribal group. It
was an interesting situation.
That dynamic, is that something they taught you at the officer training school?
Yes. But it was something that just existed. The army is an interesting thing. You’ve got the officer corps or class if you like and then you’ve got the senior NCOs and the junior NCOs
and then all the other ranks. Generals and most officers are absolutely convinced that they run the army. The warrant officers know that they run the army and those of us that have been around for long enough know that that is true too. Each allows the other to do their job. No one can make an officer feel that he has done a good job as well as his warrant officer, I can promise you that much. No one can make a ‘Sir’
feel as small as he can be made to feel more than a warrant officer. They can do it so well and so respectfully I promise you. It is just amazing. So the army, yes it was, it was a conscious thing, the system moulded us. It had been through hundreds of years of testing with major adjustments and minor adjustments. And we trained our officers in Australia
differently to the way the Brits [British] trained theirs and certainly differently to the Americans. I think that we came up with a better product, hands on, on the ground in their platoon so I think our junior officers were without peer. Sorry but that’s just the way it is. In fact it reminds me of something that….I am going to do a story. Sir William Slim [former Governor general of Australia] wrote a book
called Courage and Other Broadcasts and “Courage” was an address he gave to the young officer candidates at West Point talking about Courage. And he told them that he didn’t want them to think that it was only the British race of nations that had courage.
He said, “But gentlemen they have it longer than anybody else.” Yes. And that’s what it is all about. We were a bit better than them. And we had a different way of training people. We had a bit of the Military Academy in Sandhurst and a bit of Mon’s Officer Training School. We had a bit of Fort Benning Officer Candidate School in the US and WestPoint but we were us.
Very Australian and very good I think. It produced a good product and we were very good indeed.
Did you feel privileged and lucky to be selected for officer training?
It was my birthright. No. Yes I did. I didn’t know. There were things like that that happened quite a few times during my career. Because I was very young there were three of us
at OCS and one other who had exactly the same birth date as I and my brother in law who were the youngest officers in the Australian Army for a couple of years. And we were boys. At that stage I didn’t think back but now I can see it and you’ve seen that photo. I had been soldiering for a couple of years at that stage. I was a boy. We were privileged there was no doubt about it but we were also good enough to do it. The system
convinces you of that too that you are special.
It sounds very much like that. Through the testing and so on they recognise talent.
Yes or sometimes dragging the talent forth in spite of ourselves, bringing out the best. When we were at Portsea everybody had to be good at something. My best-examined subject strangely enough happened to be
Military Law, I just liked it. It was fascinating but there were people who were better on the range, who were superb at tactics or at organisations. Yeah. It was just the way it was. Everybody had to have something special. And if you were a footballer you were…And the army’s football game was and still is Rugby Union which is the game they play in heaven.
You were forgiven a multitude of sins if you were a rugby player. I think it is still the case today and whether you like it or not that’s just the way it is so you accepted it and worked around it.
That happens everywhere, even in schools.
I’m sure it does but it’s not always union of course. Union is the service’s game.
When you moved on into engineering what was the process and the initiation into that part of your career?
Okay. The initiation was posting to a first engineer unit which was 20 Field Park Squadron with old soldiers and there were Korea, Malay, Borneo veterans, and good people. But that was just filling in time. It was just getting a bit of regimental experience in a unit as a junior officer before doing the young officer sapper training in engineering. So it was part of the apprenticeship and it was an
interesting apprenticeship because the two of us who were sent to this unit were thrown out and given a troop and told to get on with it. There were specific tasks that had to be done and there were works tasks. I took my troop away on exercises a couple of times and we were doing really interesting things like building football ovals for people, but they were ours and we were allowed to get on with it.
There was no lights out at a particular time. Apart from being at work at a particular time, getting up was our business. There were batting staff in the mess so there was someone to make our beds and clean our shoes and do our ironing. Most people, most of us chose to clean our own boots because there is something about boots that is personal, like badges and brass. But it was part of the thing. We
were introduced to mess life and found that that small fortune that we were being paid on graduation, nineteen pounds six shillings, we were being paid fortnightly, but this was about our weekly salary. It really wasn’t that much of a fortune if you got too involved in mess life. So by economic necessity we did other things. It is just the way it was. But you had to learn that you were no longer
restricted in your drinking or eating. It was up to you. You were, in fact by Act of Parliament a gentleman and you were expected to act like one. And sometimes many of us didn’t but that was all part of the growing and learning process as well.
What was the relationship like between yourself and the guys from World War II?
You mean those who were serving.
Well they were warrant officers, they were generally as old or older than our fathers were. And they treated us with…they treated us absolutely correctly because we were young officers. Inwardly they were probably pissing themselves laughing. But they taught us. They passed on their ten, twenty, thirty years knowledge and they continued the moulding process.
And the World War II officers were getting longer in the tooth by this time, they treated us with a great deal of tolerance. Some of them taught us wicked ways in the mess but they also taught from a different perspective. Some of them had daughters of an interesting age so we learned a lot from that too. Yes. It was interesting.
The services are an image of society at large even though we were in cantonments or barracks we still were part of society. We probably then reflected the better parts of society. I am not convinced that the same applies today. There are too many military politicians,
absolutely politically correct and the services, the soldiers, the people on the ground who are in the end the ones who do the work that the government decrees are being let down and of that I am quite convinced. It has probably ever been thus to a degree but not to the degree it is now.
What was the best thing that the guys from World War II told you militarily?
“Never volunteer for anything my son. Wait until you are called upon.” No they obviously taught us a lot about things that they had done because, systems, the technology that we were using in my time wasn’t that advanced from World War II so there were a lot of things that they could teach us from their experience
that would smooth out some of the rough edges or would get us to a particular solution because they knew how to bypass some of the rough edges of the military system. And there are a lot of stupidities in the military system. They are all there and a lot of them are there to protect butts, or everybody up the line but a lot of them there are to stop us youngsters making stupid mistakes that other people had made. But there are some
times that you can work to the edge of the envelope and get things done better than if you followed the system rigidly. Even as a schoolboy I never wanted to follow the system rigidly. That was for strange people. I would rather try the envelope. They taught us that as well.
And what was the best thing they told you socially?
The social…well to behave like a decent chap was far better in a social situation than to act like a bloody animal. And they were quite right. I am not going to elaborate. Sorry I did at one stage as a very young officer
escort Miss Victoria to the Miss Australia final and I am not going to tell you any more about that either. But they told us that if you behaved properly good things happened. When someone like Jackie Lightfoot walked across the table and put her finger on my shoulder to escort her in the final for the Miss Australia I just went, “Thank you God.” Young men dream about things like that. It doesn’t happen all that often I promise you
but it did then.
We have plenty of tape.
I know you have. She is probably a grandmother many times over and was a really nice person, as an incredibly attractive young woman. I think that not withstanding all the social and military skills that we had been given and all the thoughts about God’s gift to the defence of young Australia when someone like that walks over if you don’t do it outwardly inwardly
you are dribbling and going ‘bbb’. She was a pretty spectacular young woman and it was nice. We had a lovely evening. Stuart Wagstaff, the guy who used to advertise that particular brand of cigarettes was mine host, a lovely chap. Yeah.
You mentioned earlier one of your reasons for joining engineers and going that way was the people involved and the lifestyle they lead. Can you elaborate on that a bit more?
When infantrymen go to the field they do carry their home on their back and they wash, shave and drink from one-quart plastic water bottles and when they sort of bathe most of the time they only dab the armpits, the crotch and the feet. I rather like going to the field and being able to get into a hot shower after a
long day of whatever. I like climbing, even on a stretcher, climbing into a sleeping bag and being warm. Rather than wearing your dry clothes to sleep and sleeping with your wet clothes underneath them and getting into them in the morning because it is character building, bugger me. It is not character building it is uncomfortable. But sappers did interesting jobs
They were tied around working engineer plant obviously. They were tied in with demolition work and mine warfare. They were subjects that I really enjoyed. There was another thing too that young sapper officers got to do things independently a lot more than infantry and most other corps did. They were sent hither and not told to multiply but told to do things
by ourselves. It was considered by the corps to be part of the education processes of young officers and it was great. You got that responsibility generally so far away that you really couldn’t do any harm and if you stuffed up in any major way it was kept within the family. Your senior NCOs and or warrant officers could get a good grip on you and take you away from them being criticised by RSMs [Regimental Sergeant Majors] and
and the people they were answerable to. Sappers, good call. They have always accepted a degree of inspired eccentricity within the officer corps which keeps the soldiers amused. And if someone had an eccentricity and was also half reasonable
at their job they were looked after. More stuffs up were tolerated. It’s just the boy at his thing again. And a bit more was tolerated. It was good in that respect.
Just one more question about the World War II guys you were working with. Some of them, you were their boss.
Well how did that work?
It was the army way.
How did they take to that?
The same as they would have taken it as if they had been anyone else. That’s the way the army system works. Boys come out to lead and look after and train the soldiers. As I said to you, certainly from the warrant and senior NCO perspective. They knew that they were there to train us. If they wanted good officers and that feel
great and that is from major upwards the only way they were going to get them is by training them and passing on their wisdom and the knowledge acquired through the hard way from the soldiers perspective. So it was a challenge to him. We can make him better. Some of them they didn’t. There were always failures but some of them were very, very good. Some of us had our whole careers
such as they were, tied around the whole career that we got as NCOs and warrant officers and via soldiers. Now if someone doesn’t want to do something, really doesn’t want to do it. It doesn’t matter what the prescription is they won’t do it. So to be able to get people to do things that no one wants to do… I mean no one wants to leap into a river fully clothed
just to get to the other side. Now to do these things not just willingly but with a smile. There is something a bit special about that. So yeah. The World War II guys, they had seen the best of other officers and NCOs and there was that incredible potential pride in producing a good ‘Sir’ and that’s what the system was about.
Remember I said before you’ve got the people at the pointy bit at the top and everybody…It was a hierarchical system and there was nothing democratic about the army. The air force I think is different and the air force is worse than we were but there was nothing democratic about it. It was hierarchical. That’s how it works. I think it is even mentioned in the bible somewhere about centurions going forth and…So there you go.
Did you know that at the time that the warrant officer was training you?
Sometimes. Other times no. The better ones you didn’t know unless you were pulled up. “If I were you Sir I wouldn’t do that.” “Why?” “Well Sir, think about it.” “Oh.” “You’re learning, Sir. Carry on. Thank you, Sir.” You may recall a television program in the past called
‘Yes Minister’ where Sir Humphrey would say to the minister or the prime minister, “What a courageous decision.” The warrant officers could do that far better than Sir Humphrey ever did. God. But there were times when they would say, “It won’t be easy Sir.” And that was a way of saying, “Yeah, we understand exactly why this is happening and we are there behind you.” Yeah. And that’s a nice feeling too. “You’re the boss and we will do it.”
If they thought you were wrong they would say so. Sometimes quite forcefully. They wouldn’t be abusive or anything but there was no question that there was a criticism that may be constructive and very seldom would it be destructive but it was a criticism and we would be wise to think about it, even if only for a split second but that’s what we were taught to do. We were taught to make an instant appreciation and make the decision.
Where did you move to from there?
I stayed at Sydney and then did the young officer’s long course so it was back to school for another ten months. And school is school. We learned more about our profession. Some better than others. I went on to an engineers’ stores squad.
Just a question about the officers’ long course. Would they teach human interaction
sorts of things or methods of things or actual human behaviour.
No. This was way back. Counselling was not a growth industry in those days like it is today where you have a major road, rail, air trauma and even before the rescue people arrive the counsellors are there to make sure that someone who was in the flight path of the aeroplane that crashed three states away doesn’t feel too bad about it happening.
There was none of that sort of thing. But your leadership was something that was there. You were formally taught leadership as a subject at Portsea and from there on it was hands on and example or arse kicking if you stuffed up. You worked by example of what not to do as well.
When I was actually referring to human behaviour I was wondering why people would do this or even in strategic manoeuvres why people would move
people around like that?
So you are talking about tactics?
And also human behaviour of why a soldier wouldn’t want to do this?
He would do it because he was told to do it. That is the principal reason. The thing is you were trained to react automatically in some situations where it is so noisy and terrifying that the automatic reaction is the one that saves your life and gets you out but taught to act so that there is this mutual trust
and this understanding and that soldiers will know and your own people will know that no matter what happens you will always do your damndest do explain why and the background. Not just because people want to know but if people are putting their lives on the line they should know I think. I’m not talking about political knowledge but the military side of it. This is what we are going to do chaps and this is why. And they know that it is going to be difficult
so tails up heads down and they get on to it. They also know when you have built up this understanding and trust that the time will come when the boss will say jump and on the way up you’ll say, how high? They will know that there are times when you can’t be told but because they are a soldier and you are a soldier it will happen. That’s the way it’s got to be. As an adviser for example in a brigade
to a brigade commander he will come up with a plan to do something and then he will go round to his arms. He will go to his artillery regimental commander and to his tank APC [Armoured Personnel Carrier], armoured fighting vehicle commander and then to his sapper and he will say comments on their particular expertise. He might come to the sapper and say, “Sapper.” “Sir, this is a dreadful way of doing things. These are the risks that you are going to take.”
“I understand that. Can you do it? “Oh yes. But these are the risks.” That’s the way it is done. You provide the advice as you see it as a professional. He is the commander. He makes the decision and once he had made it bang, you get in and do it. No matter how dangerous, what can go wrong, you did it to meet the commander’s decision. The trust it there and that’s what is it about. Yeah.
Excellent. What rank did you end up with after the long course?
Well I was still a second lieutenant. We graduated second lieutenants and we stayed second lieutenants for three years. And three years it was, I can guarantee it to the second. And all sorts of things might happen after then depending on where you were, what you were doing and how lucky you might be. Some people went straight from second lieutenant, didn’t really put up their second pip and went straight to temporary captains. Most
of those who went to temporary captains fairly early probably never appreciated just how temporary we really were. ‘Just as they give so shall they take away.’ So yeah that was just the way the system worked. The army was expanding and we were into Vietnam at a great rate. We were very short of officers, sort of senior NCOs as well, but very short of officers, particularly junior officers and that’s second
lieutenant, lieutenant, probably fairly short of majors too, but that was the way it was going.
What did you know about Vietnam at that time?
I was taking an interest because when I was at OCS four of our instructors had either been on the first or the second team of AATTV [Australian Army Training Team Vietnam] so we would
get a bit from them. Not a lot but a bit. So we were starting to get a feel. But once we had our first battalion warmed up in Vietnam everyone was thinking about how they were going to get across there. Because it was a war. I mean we had things going on in Malaya and two battalions, well one then and another to be formed in New Guinea. So there was service around which was fairly active. But Vietnam was
the place where you could guarantee being shot at and everyone wants to practise their profession. And for a chap it is a rite of passage, you need to know that a) you are God’s gift to the defence of young Australia and b), that you will act the way you were always told you would act in difficult situations and c), well you need to know yourself.
Am I going to be absolutely terrified? Am I going to overcome that and do the job? Will I be able to handle it? Will I make an absolute dork of myself? Will I need to get my field marshal’s baton out to my pack and polish it up? All of those things I think come in. And each, you know, depending on the individual, but each would have the same weight given to it and that is
the fear of fear itself that we would all be….
You said earlier that there was a shortage of officers. Did you feel that while you were on the long course?
And did things change as they wanted to push people though or something like that?
No. If they said they were going to take ten months to do something ten months it was. A posting order may have come out prior to the end of the course which you when you knew were going to see you get ready to go off to here or there.
That was pretty exciting but the course was still going to go for ten months because that is the army way. Sorry. They pushed people our a lot quicker in World War II from the [Royal] Military College at Duntroon because they cut down the academic, not the military side of it. You can get away without having all of the flowery language and not understanding logic as a subject
but you can’t get away without knowing about weapons and the characteristics of weapons etc etc. The military side was not getting cut down. If anything that will be lengthened so that if you get a guy on the ground he will know his stuff. If anything we’ve cut training down from the basic training at the training school and then we’ve got people out to units so they can learn on the job. It is unutterable bullshit
because we are always short of people and the senior officers and NCOs who will do the training are off doing courses themselves. Or we are short of people anyway and so who is going to train these half-trained people? It is not fair on them. So we who worked in the field kept saying, improve the course by all means at the schools. When they come to the units and certainly when you are as busy as
in the days of Vietnam they have got to be trained soldiers. We will polish them or cut away the edges so they can learn the shortcuts but they have got to come out basically trained. There is no question about that. The people who are in Canberra. Have you ever been to Canberra? Public transport everywhere, shopping everywhere, nowhere is more than a couple of minutes from anywhere else.
That is not how the rest of Australia is; the people who live in that environment just don’t understand what it is like. I’m talking about my time. It would not surprise me to know that exactly the same thing prevails today. I can’t really say it because that would have been spreading despair and despondency but in my time that is the way it was for a lot of people. Yeah. But we made do.
After the long course you went on to where, sorry?
I went on to an engineers’ stores
squadron. I had not done brilliantly at my long course. I may have had other things on my mind. I sorted that out.
I sorted it out. I subsequently sorted that out but I went to a stores squadron in Penrith and ran the Army Reserve, it was called CMF in those days, the section of that. And spent yeah…I spent most of the time preparing to take my troop
to Shoalwater Bay for exercise Barrawinga which was in sixty-six and at that stage it was the largest peacetime exercise that Australia had ever seen. We had troop trains. The first troop train from Brisbane to Rockhampton since the Second World War. So that was a fairly busy time. A time out in the field with soldiers, both part time and full time soldiers. And Vietnam was
getting bigger. So we were starting to prepare engineer stores and what have you to go to Vietnam and wondering what on earth was going to happen. National service was getting bigger so after that period at 55 Squadron I was posted to 2RTB [Recruit Training Battalion]. That was a training battalion that was a pure national service training battalion built from scratch in the wilds of Puckapunyal.
In Victoria. Everyone knows where Puckapunyal is don’t they? It is a bit like Aldershot in England. It is just part of the army. No matter where you have been everyone has been to Puckapunyal.
We will just stop there and change the tape.
Interviewee: Russell Smith Archive ID 1889 Tape 03
I arrived at Puckapunyal in I think September ‘68 as a platoon commander. I was the newest march in staff for 2RTB so my platoon was the interesting people. The people who had been deferred because of university, deferred because of apprenticeship, deferred because of bloody brain
transplants, terminal dandruff all of those things. I got the interesting ones. So they were not all twenty year olds. Some were. Some were twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five year olds which made them a lot older than I was. They were there, the dregs, until they sorted them out. They always found there were some nutters, some who should have been in padded cells, some who couldn’t read or write,
a whole range of people who they would then cull from the intake and the dregs would then get distributed around the battalion. I rather liked the dregs. They were interesting characters, they were different people. And my staff were interesting. They were leftovers too and mostly new chaps and I had mainly engineering NCOs and that was
unusual to have a platoon made up of almost all sappers. So when they got ready to disband 22 Platoon and distribute them around the battalion I actually asked the battalion commander, who was a gunner full colonel who was a lovely chap if I could keep them. And he said, “There’s some strange ones.’ And I said, “Challenge Sir.” “Right they are yours.
On your head be it my boy.” We had a wonderful time. They were never going to be the best dressed or the best at drill but they won all the field craft competitions. We challenged them intellectually and physically and probably gave them a lot more leeway than most people did. Engineers do that sort of things. And we produced a magnificent platoon.
It really was a great group of people. We got involved in an additional training regime which were basically illegal punishments but we never had any complaints from any of them. They all knew what they were doing things for. They were exceptionally good and when that platoon went I was temporarily promoted to captain and through another source I was
asked if I would be interested in volunteering for the training team. Yes. Why not? Even though I had always been told never to volunteer for anything but what I had been told about the team was pretty interesting I reckon. Right up my alley. Just the thing to do. Still ties in with God’s gift to the defence of young Australia all that sort of thing. I spent a lot of the later
parts of 1968 doing other courses in preparation for posting to Vietnam.
What did you know about the training team at the time?
They were different. They worked by themselves. A lot of them were getting knocked around but they worked independently.
What do you mean knocked around I’m sorry?
Her Majesty’s enemies were actually getting to them. We had lost quite a few killed. This was real soldiering. This, to my mind, was what real soldiering was all about. You as an individual having a chance to really matter without the full machinery of the system hovering and looking over your shoulder. It was…Yeah. That’s what I
thought is was. It subsequently turned out to be not quite like that but in some ways even more like that than I had imagined.
It is interesting I was just looking through and I ran across an article about the AATTV and I understand that it wasn’t exactly a training team was it?
Well it started off purely in a training role but as the people on the ground said, “How can you confirm
training if you can’t see it operating?” so the first commander, the person who had raised the team, Ted Serong, first colonel and later brigadier who only died a short time ago. Got an approval for people to go out. The Americans wanted us out with them all the time because Australians are very good at this counter insurgency warfare. Exceptional.
But no, their role hadn’t been training from probably the first couple of tours. You were still advising. You were coordinating support and we did have people in training centres throughout the country. And specific to unit training going on as well but as time went on it became a far more operational role and then it was very much operational. We had members of the team not
where I was, who commanded up to almost brigades of native troops. That was pretty good and we had some good operators.
Where did you start your training before this position?
I started at home living a life of indolence at Puckapunyal. We were all reasonably fit because we did so much
with our national servicemen who needed to be a lot fitter, or I though needed to be a lot fitter. So it started at Pucka physically and with a lot of reading. Everything that I could get my hands on that pertained to Vietnam, that pertained to minor unit tactics or also had something to do with counter insurgency. I read and read and read and read. Almost
information overload I think, but I just wanted to increase professional knowledge. I think it was more individual. It was professional knowledge but I wanted to be better at what was going on. I wanted to know things. And it was a practical experience. I was still only a boy so it was self-teaching. And talking to people.
Well what about through the army? Did they give you any specialised courses?
Oh yeah. That came on. You said how it started. The next one was off to Queensland to do the tropical warfare advisers’ course. Now this was an Army Office or AHQ [Army Headquarters] course. Canungra’s where everyone was prepared. Everyone did a battle course at Canungra. This is where we learned the ropes about our advisory role, or operational
role in Vietnam. We learned the ropes about how the Americans operated, how the Vietnamese operated and that is Vietnamese on both sides. The good guys and the Viet Cong and the NVA [North Vietnamese Army]. We learned about their tactics. We were tried in various jobs, no matter what our ranks. There were five officers on the course, three majors and two captains and there were about
forty or forty-five warrant officers, yeah, that would be about right. From my age which was the youngest by a long way and I think the oldest attendee was Warrant Officer Joe Gorman and Bill Bruce. Bill Bruce had won his military medal at El Alamein in the Second World War
and he was always called Pop because he looked about eighty years of age. He obviously wasn’t. I saw him not long ago at the funeral of a dear friend and he hadn’t changed much in twenty-five years. He still looks old. So he was a gunner. So we had this wide range of experience as well so it was an interesting course.
So these are people from different corps in the army?
Absolutely. We didn’t have any cooks but we had
ordnance and RAASC [Royal Australian Army Service Corps] which is service corps, truckies, gunners, signallers and lots of infantrymen. Lots of infantrymen, many, many infantrymen. Sappers but not many sappers. I was one sapper officer and there were two sapper warrant officers, that’s all. Yeah. A whole range so yeah from all over.
It was interesting.
So we went up there to do our tropical warfare advisers course. It was to get us fit, to improve our skills and improve our unit tactics, it was to test us as members of a section and platoon. It was for the section commanders to test us as platoon sergeants and platoon commanders. It was the whole range. We were to
fill roles, principally the warrant officers filled the roles, the officers just did things. I can remember a warrant officer instructor at Canungra one by the name of Bushie Coutts who came into the officers’ tent and said, “You’re a likely looking lad Sir. You look fit and strong.” Threw me a GPMG, a General-Purpose Machine Gun the M60 and said, “This is yours Sir, for the rest of the course.”
“Thank you Mr Coutts.” “My pleasure Sir. But to help you out I will only inspect one group of the gun every day.” Because I had a rifle to look after as well. I said, “Thank you Mr Coutts.” He said, “Oh Sir, but here’s the rub. Which group am I going to inspect?” “Thank you Mr Coutts. I will remember you in years to come.” “I doubt it.” So there you are. It was great fun and I loathed that machine gun. So we worked pretty hard and we
did spent a lot of time on the range and we started to get to know each other because we could go as a sort of reinforcement contingency albeit spread over about eight to ten weeks. Because it was trickle system. Quite a few people didn’t make it through the course and you would probably not see them again. Not on the course anyway. But
unless they were your corps you probably wouldn’t see them during the rest of your army service because the Australian Army was a big army so you were all working pretty hard just trying to get through and preparing for the next phase.
What was the duration of the course at Canungra?
Oh God I think it went for about ten weeks. It seemed to go forever because we did not live in the comfort that we thought a
a senior course should live but we lived in tents on Scale A Ridge and the course started, if I remember, in winter and in Queensland in the Gold Coast hinterland it was bloody cold. It had frosts and under canvas in frosts with a fifty yard dash to the showers was not fun. But that’s the way it was.
In regard to what they taught you about Vietnamese tactics in the jungle and that was there much similarity or difference to the Australian doctrine of jungle warfare?
Oh yes, we were better. Obviously our doctrine had been adapted to be better than Her Majesty’s enemies doctrine. That is what it is all about I mean you don’t set up
tactics or doctrine to be subservient to any bugger. You are there to dominate them rather than the other way around so that is how we had set up, but we studied in detail the tactics that they were using, their small unit tactics so that theoretically and hopefully practically we would be able to, for any situation we might be able to think of one or two alternatives that the enemy
might have taken on the ground so that we might be prepared for it. It is an old military adage, the principals of the ‘six Ps’. ‘Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance’. By knowing as much as you can…the more you know about your enemy the less likelihood you will ever be caught out and the better you are prepared to take him on to your advantage. That’s what it is about.
Were there any things that
you were taught that came as, how could I say it, that were peculiar to the Vietnamese?
Oh Lord yes. Every conflict initially has something peculiarly theirs and of course Vietnam did. It was pretty simple compared to what we do today but we had never used helicopters before. We had a couple of helicopters in Australia but
most of the time when we used helicopters we got on the back of trucks and pretended that they were helicopters. We just didn’t have them. So that was something. The range of weaponry that was available was generous so we had to learn a lot more about the characteristics of many more weapons than we had ever seen before. We needed to get a feel for a wide range of geographic
conditions from swamp through to quite high cold mountains, albeit I don’t think it ever snowed in Vietnam. But everything short of that. We had to understand that and we needed to understand the might, the enormity of Uncle Sam [United States]. Uncle Sam never does anything in half measures. Uncle Sam is wasteful and a show off
and noisy. We were not wasteful, we didn’t show off and we were not noisy so we had to learn about them as our allies and how they could get us killed quite easily because of the things that they did that we didn’t do. So we had to learn about liaising and telling in some cases quite senior
American officers how to get knotted in such a way that they would actually look forward to getting themselves knotted. Yeah. It was difficult.
That was all taught at Canungra was it?
It wasn’t part of the formal syllabus but yes it was taught I promise you. You will come up across these situations and you have to learn to say no and in some cases no might be said, “Bullshit!” and you will have to do it, hopefully not too often as a warrant officer but certainly as an officer.
And they were right. So we learned a range of things and as I said we spent a lot of time on the range. Not only on the range shooting but seeing how the ranges were constructed. We would learn how to adapt so that we could use the facilities in Canungra and do it on a really tiny budget over there to help our own people. And when I say our own people, the Viets that we were going to work with.
I will ask
you a lot of these questions a bit later once we get to Vietnam about cooperation with the Yanks [Americans] and all that.
And then I understand after the Canungra course you went to South Australia for a specialised intelligence.
Yeah. Specialised intelligence. Yeah. It was run by the intelligence centre and it was….we did a colloquial Vietnamese course that taught us enough words to perhaps get through initially, we did the Int [intelligence] briefings where we
did even more detailed organisational briefs, the latest intelligence coming from Vietnam in tactics, operations, areas, looking at say the northern part of the first corps tactical area. What were the NVA units operating there and what the VC [Viet Cong] units were and how this would impact on and the political organisational set up for
the insurgents, the Vietcong…I have forgotten it. Anyway the political side of the house as well and how the political side impacted onto the military side. How Her Majesty’s enemies were destroying the rural economy and forcing the government’s forces into doing very little and so they were dominating
the bush so rural Vietnam needed to be won back. There needed to be hearts and minds as well as a military victory. And we were starting to find out that the government organisation, political organisation in Vietnam was a little bit different from ours. It was starting to be a bit nasty so there was going to be some reality coming in and we wanted to make sure that we were not too
surprised when we arrived.
So you are saying that you are starting to see shades of grey now at this stage when you went to the intelligence school, you were understanding the complexities of the conflict?
Yeah. They were introducing a shade of grey. I am not convinced that all of us were seeing it in many shades of grey at all. I
still think that we thought it was pretty black and white and intelligence we got, the staff officers. What would they know? But anyway we’ll listen to them because it might help us. We were still not convinced. Most of us, I think, that there were shades of grey. It was still principally a black and white situation, I think. That’s how it is. And I’m still the youngest by a long way so it could be more of me coming out than
is being fair to other people so I’m not sure.
All right but that’s at the time.
Yeah. Sure but I’m just saying that that’s still me at that tender age. I never picked up much from my team in disagreement of what I’m saying but that was still my perspective. I was younger and still probably more gung-ho. I was more gung-ho. I
hadn’t achieved that degree of military sneakiness that I got later on. I wasn’t very subtle. I was a bit like a sledgehammer between the eyes from thirty feet. Later I learned other ways of doing things.
Would you say that the intelligence courses were adequate in preparing you for…?
Well they certainly met the charter that they were given.
In the limited time we learned a lot. And we all went away with some Vietnamese. Some of them were very good. Some of them just had the colloquial course and were good enough to go on to a linguists’ course. And half way through it. Some of us were hopeless. Some of us just worked on the old British system that you just kept talking English
louder and people would understand you perfectly. That’s the way it worked in India and Malaya…that’s the way people did it and particularly English as distinct from Scots or us they have always done that. So yeah. But it was…we were, I think, well prepared. We were probably better prepared than normal units going over to the [1 Australian] Taskforce because we were
doing a different job so we needed to be better prepared. We needed more theoretical subjects than those people in the Taskforce. And that is in no way denigrating what they were doing. It is just that they had a different role to undertake and we were prepared for our role.
What took place after the intelligence course?
Well we really just waited. Some of us did a specialist weapons
course. I didn’t do a specialist weapons course but I was lucky enough to have some friends at the infantry centre and I went there and played around with stuff that they had so with the help of warrant officer instructors at the school of feet I did fifty, thirty cal [calibre]…All of that stuff that I could have done and just fired their weapon and got a feel for it.
Just to have an understanding and the confidence that if the situation ever arose I could pick up one of about fifteen to twenty weapons and actually make it go bang in the direction that I wanted it to go bang. Hoping like hell that this situation never arose but this kind of thing went on. You see we had a few people coming back
or who had been recently so I was able to talk to more and more people through the mess just, yeah, sucking knowledge out of people. Like a sponge. I ‘m not saying it all stuck there but just learning. And the preparation, probably being an absolute nuisance everywhere because one was not doing the job that one was specifically paid for entirely there were other things to do. Yeah. And that was part of the preparation.
But this state…… the AATTV was the first unit to be inserted into Vietnam.
So there was no one to draw experience from really was there?
No I mean Australians.
By ‘68 some units had done two tours. And we were rotating battalions through there all the time. With the training team we were rotating people though there all the time. By ‘68 the…the first went over there in 1962. 30th of July 1962 they arrived in country
and we are talking six years. So we have basically got six teams. If you want to look at a team being eight different people for six months. Eight teams had gone through. We had gone from thirty-five to a hundred. We increased our team strength before it all went funny in several years time. That was the strength of the team. The organisation of the team, the locations where people were pretty well firmly fixed by ‘68. There were some movements
here and there. The then CO [Commanding Officer] Colonel Lloyd did some changes with people but that was just putting Australians where they could do the most good. It was making sure that there were always, generally speaking, some other Australians within cooee [close] so that they weren’t completely by themselves. They could get Australian support if required.
Was any sort of information drawn from regular infantry encounters as well?
Oh yeah. During our training?
Stuff that had come back from the Task Force, from the battalions, after action reports. Oh yes we certainly got that but we didn’t get it direct from them, we got it through the intelligence centre so they had made some interpretations and said well this has happened because toot, toot, toot. Okay. It was big picture stuff. We were getting small picture
stuff but it was being looked at from a big picture perspective. We were getting more than what you could get as a rifleman in a section and more at a platoon and company level. We were the briefings that you would expect at battalion and brigade level. What our rank corps or experience and the people that preparing for the training team were all getting that stuff.
Everybody had been brought up…Some of them like a couple of the majors who went away. They had the experience on the staff side, not the operational experience but the rest of us were being brought up to understand very easily high-level intelligence briefings. The rest of us knew that most of them were bullshit. They were doomsday reports and things like that.
Well later on I think we went
twenty-five days running where each night we were told by the corps intelligence that we were being descended on by a complete regiment of NVA and they were going to wipe us off the face of the earth. Every night we hardly heard a shot fired at all. The night we did get hit we weren’t warned by intelligence. Intelligence had been failing for a long, long time and succeeding a good bit too. The successes most people forget, their failure most people remember intimately. Particularly if they were involved in one of their failures. Or because
of one of their failures.
A very topical thing.
At the moment incredibly topical.
Actually we might be interviewing Lance Collins later as well.
Wow that will be interesting. Lance Collins is very good at what he does but he is a zealot.
So you had the rifle training courses and all of that.
Yep. Done all that.
What happened after that?
We had our final kit checked. We made sure we had all the little things that meant you weren’t desperately uncomfortable in the bush. Yeah. It was preparation.
How long was this entire training regime for?
Three and a half months.
And this was especially for the AATTV?
Yes. Everybody did stuff but we did stuff that was pertinent to
the tropical warfare advisers’ course was longer than it was for a battalion just doing a battle inoculation course. And our briefings were for us and catering specifically for us. We also had a reporting function. We did daily, monthly reports that went into the various levels of our headquarters in country and what we had seen then hopefully would filter back
and get into the intelligence network as well. We might see things that would help confirm the theories of some people. That’s the way it was.
Just one thing about Canungra. Can you just describe how big Canungra is and…
It is humongous. It is several thousands of acres and I’m sorry I can’t…I used to know it backwards because as a sapper I have done work up there over the years.
I don’t remember. Sorry. Big. There was Canungra and then there were training areas that were used along the fence. There was Lamington State Forest and along the border fence between New South Wales and Queensland it was regularly used. So there were training areas that were part of the Canungra complex but were separated by dairy or private land.
So yeah it probably covered fifty to a hundred thousand acres but God don’t quote me on that?
Was the actual jungle similar to that if Vietnam?
It was awful. Lantana and ‘wait a while’ [vine] was probably worse than anything I ever walked through in Vietnam. You don’t walk through lantana. You either crawl over it or under it or you sit there and cry. Wait a while is just
awful. I reckon there were parts of Canungra that were worse than anything I ever saw and thicker than anything I ever saw so in that way we were well bloody prepared. If you could survive that you could survive anything.
The day you were leaving to Vietnam what was your opinion of the actual war? What was happening, Australia’s role…
It was the only one we had. I was always terribly concerned it would finish too early. Professional soldiers, boys are like that. I could think of nothing worse than having prepared and trained and then having it all called off. And perhaps to an extent those thoughts are still there but from a slightly different perspective now. One is starting to look at one’s own mortality now a days but
in those days we were completely mortal. I felt very sorry for you two chaps on either side of me but I was all right. I was going to come home. One only bloody increased one’s insurance really because that was the thing you did. But it was a waste of money really, quite remarkable. We needed to get there. It was the only war we had.
You said a very interesting point there that you saw yourself as almost immortal.
Obviously we are young chaps ourselves.
We are all immortal.
But does the military compound that? Because of your training, because of all the exercising?
The military doesn’t say anything. It just says that if you are better than the other side, because if the military said that, they wouldn’t put as much time into training you for first aid and things would they? I mean the military knows but the military also knows that young men are young men and that they are immortal.
So you don’t contradict that. You just prepare them for that time when they suddenly find out that they are not bloody immortal at all. Yeah. You are taught that you are good. You are the best and the best will survive and the majority of the best do survive. But there are always some apart from the last war…I remember on Anzac Day last year I took great delight
in standing up at Omeo’s Anzac Day service and saying that this was the first war that Australia had ever attended where we had no casualties. That was pretty special and they still haven’t. I mean the odds are getting shorter all the time but it is still pretty special.
I understand you got married in 1968.
I got married on my birthday actually so I didn’t forget one or the other. Yeah. In fact we sort of married to fit in with the Vietnam posting which of course caused some
amount of chatter amongst the maiden aunts but of course that is what maiden aunts are for. They chatter. We got married before we went away. In retrospect I never would have done it that way but that’s the way things work out.
You were very eager to go to Vietnam obviously.
So what happened?
I went. Vini Vidi Vici. I came, I saw, I conquered. That’s what it is all about.
Give me the details. So you got to Vietnam and what happened then?
Well do you want from
Well actually just walk us from the airport when you left for Vietnam.
Well we took civil shirts with us because we went on charter airlines, Qantas generally. And there was always a refuelling stop in either Honkers [Hong Kong] or Singapore. Because of an agreement we had with those governments we couldn’t have soldiers stomping round in uniform so what we had was a bloke wearing boots, general purpose,
polyester trousers, Hawaiian type, bloody flowered shirts all with cuts exactly the same. All young men nineteen to twenty-four or twenty-five. And by the time they got out of the aeroplane at Hong Kong or Singapore with a skinful [drunk] and they weren’t soldiers though because they were wearing our Hawaiian shirts. Amazing. But that’s what we did. It is called politics. Yes. So that’s how it
worked. I said farewell the night before and went out to Eastern Command. I flew out from Sydney. Did I? I must have. I must have flown up from Melbourne and went to Eastern Command Personnel Depot and then out to Kingsford Smith [airport] to fly out from there. It was interesting.
So basically you stood out like a sore thumb.
Of course we did.
So what happened when you got to Vietnam?
Of course coming in just about an hour out of Saigon the Qantas crew shouted us all a last beer from them which was awfully nice. And then we did the rapid descent into Tan Son Nhut [airport] and landed and for the first time for me and for other people…
In fact I was sitting next to a bloke who had just been back home to bury his son. His son has been a troop sergeant in tanks in the Taskforce and had got blown apart by a bomb set as a mine only a week or so before he was due to go back to Australia having been accepted as a cadet for Portsea. I was younger than his son which was a bit of a worry. So
he was good company in the plane going over. But for me as for most of the people in the aeroplane when the doors opened at Tan Son Nhut we first got the smell of a country at war. All the smell of the tropics as well, the spices and the dog shit as well as the stink of expended ammunition. It is a great smell.
If they could bottle it they could make a fortune I kid you not. Talk about pheromones. And for me that was the first time and I have never lost it. Quite remarkable. And years later doing different things all together, getting out of an aeroplane one night on an exercise and not being told where we were and the back of the C130 opened and I went … and I had a pretty good idea where we were
purely from the smell. It was quite remarkable. Yeah. Anyway we’ve arrived so this was something and then everybody else disappeared until there was probably about six of us left who were Training Team guys and we were picked up by team vehicles and taken to headquarters AATTV which was at the
Free World Building where they started the process of kitting us out properly. I remember going to a US supply depot where we got side webbing, long arms, and that’s where I acquired my first shotgun…Well my only shotgun in country. I love those pump action shotguns. People do not argue with you when you have a shotgun. It is a great peacemaker. Anyway
we had this kit issued and then back to be briefed by the adjutant of the team and then be briefed by the CO and that’s probably best saved for another tape anyway.
Okay. We had better stop anyway.
Interviewee: Russell Smith Archive ID 1889 Tape 04
So on arrival it was round to headquarters AATTV to go through normal march in procedures. They issued identity cards and they issued two American PX [Post Exchange – American canteen unit] cards and an ASC [Army Service Corps] canteen card which we could use in the PX so we could get lots and lots of goodies. And then through the US system to get issued
American fatigues, greens, weaponry I think I said before I talked myself into the shotgun. Normal issue was an M16 colt forty-five because you were with US troops and that was the normal side arm. And US packs and boots and all that sort of stuff. So you’ve got stuff. Lots of stuff. So back to headquarters AATTV
and we got a vehicle to the Inter-Oceanic which I think was the bachelor officers’ quarters where we camped the night. I was flying out the next day. And then on to Air America on to a C46 which was a Curtis Commando which I had never seen. And I fly aeroplanes. I am a mad keen aviation person and I had never seen an M46. They were a World War II aircraft. The same…They were built by a different company to Douglas who built the DC3
but they were the same. They were a different version of the DC3 and so I thought Christ. Okay. So we flew one up to Da Nang. It was a whistle trip all the way along dropping people off. Not to Da Nang but to Quang Ngai. We landed at Quang Ngai and I got off and was met by my warrant officer to whom I was issued and this was one Jack Morrison DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] and bar. He won his first DCM in Korea
and his second DCM in Vietnam on his first tour and that’s right, he was Jack Morrison DCM Bar and Insult MID [Mentioned in Despatches] and he said that was an insult to him. And he saw me get off the aircraft loaded down with this stuff and he gave a little sniff and, “This way Sir.” God. And this was a real soldier.
Second War, Korea, Borneo, Malaya, two tours of Vietnam and a very good war in Korea and I thought my God. Jack was all right. Great in the field. Dreadful out of the field but a good soldier. But he was looking for the big one and that made him perhaps a little bit
dangerous. But we had some interesting times.
When you say he was looking for the big one what do you mean?
The VC [Victoria Cross] and he was probably just the guy to do it too. He was a real warrior. He carried two Colt 45s. M1911 45s. And he wore a slouch hat in the field and as often as not just a green
Her Majesty’s issue singlet in the warm weather. And he was a big man. Jeff would have been six-one or six-two and he would be at the front of it the whole time. But yeah I was issued to him. I didn’t learn till years later that he had been given a severe talking to by our CO who said that if what happened to this young Smith was what happened to the previous one, who I think had been a platoon
commander of his in Korea who he had lost, the CO might have words with him and no one ever wanted our CO to have words. He was a hard man. And I can speak from personal experience because he had words with me once and I thought I was going to die. Anyway…
What were those words he had with you?
One of the things he said to me as part of my briefing was, “Welcome
Captain Smith. You are sponsored by the Director of Infantry and you are for all intents and purposes, for the remainder of your posting, an infantryman. You are not an engineer. You will not steal, you will not borrow, you will not beg and you will not acquire or trade. You are an infantryman. You walk on the side of the angels and you are not a sapper. Do you understand me?” “Yes sir.”
“Good. Make sure that you do.” We didn’t get a lot of stuff. The ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] was basically equipped. It was always nice to have extra and I used to go out and trade. Jack and I once had the house girls at Australia House in Da Nang make up some NVA flags which we took out and rubbed them into dirt and
put buckshot cartridge though them and Jack hung over them tapping the side of his nose until it started to bleed and so they were bloodstained. And then we went and we traded them. I was able to limp most convincingly and we lied to people. For one NVA flag we got a two and a half ton American truck, a fifty cal machinegun and twenty-thousand rounds of ammunition. That was for one flag and the flag would have cost
us in those days, maybe fifty cents US. What we got was probably fifty thousand dollars US worth of stuff. It was wonderful. We did things like that. Not often but we did them. And I got pulled out of the field and flown…A helicopter out of the field just from nowhere. “You are to report to headquarters in Saigon.” I flew down to Saigon formally, still grotty and a bit sniffy
Just a couple of questions. When you arrived you had a platoon sent or you brought your platoon?
I didn’t have a platoon. I was just a battalion senior adviser. I went to a battalion as the senior adviser of that battalion. I had one Australian, Jack Morrison and some Americans. The Americans were not allowed to work by themselves. The Australians, if we didn’t work by ourselves we’d get our butts kicked and sent home. Simple as that. It was a different set of circumstances.
I was flown down to Saigon and formally marched into the CO’s office and I got a dressing down where I thought that was it. They have already got my tickets and they are flying me home. He went through all my bloody sins and he knew the lot too. I was appalled and then he said, “Right. Go.” I said, “Yes Sir.” About turn. I got to the door of his office and just had my hand on the knob and this voice said,
“Young Russell.” “Sir?” “I require four air conditioners down here by the end of the week. Not one word my boy. Go.” He got his air conditioners. I couldn’t believe it. The bastard. But a good man.
So when you had to get the air conditioners was it like the flag incident?
Oh absolutely. What we did. I rang another engineer warrant officer
at Australia House and said, “I need you to take air conditioners out of the winter quarters.” And we had a long, long room filled with beds that we called the winter quarters that had about eight, maybe ten big air conditioners so you could sleep under blankets. We called them the winter quarters and so we stripped
them out and it was easy enough to acquire replacements. Sometimes replacements you can get instantly and sometimes it takes a few days but I wasn’t going to make him wait so that’s what we did.
How big a bartering or black-market system was there?
It wasn’t black market. Bartering.
Was there a black market system?
Oh yes of course there was. I’m sure there was stuff at times that we had in the battalion that may have come through the black
but I cannot comment because that I don’t know. But the bartering system or the begging, borrowing and stealing from Uncle Sam as far as the Australians were concerned. That was just sport. It was wonderful and it happened all the time. Their system was just so much different from ours. It is humungous for a start and if you need it you got it. We would get all the essential items but it did
take a while for that to happen. I did not get an Australian Issue Prismatic Compass when I got my Australian stuff. It was just impossible. Every staff officer at headquarters, Australian Force in Vietnam wearing polyesters, which is barracks dress in Australia had a tool belt, a nine-mm pistol, a first field dressing and a prismatic compass. Now what did they want with a prismatic compass in a major city in
the republic of Vietnam and in a building I do not know but I couldn’t get a compass. It wasn’t till the CGS [Chief of General Staff] did a visit, Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Daly flew in to say good day as he did regularly to all members of the team that he asked, “Are there any problems my boy?” I said, “I am having problems getting a prismatic compass, sir.” “You will have one within the week.” And that was wonderful. Generals are wonderful people. When they want things they get them and he was a proper general.
So yeah. So generally we did okay. If we were ever short of some items the padres would bring them up. We would get a visit from a PD; he was protestant denomination and the mick [Catholic]. They would come up as a little team probably once every three months. And they’d keep Kevin Gabriel supplies of Bundaberg Rum and Gilbey’s Gin and if you wanted Australian socks
and Australian boots and if you wanted it they would bring it up. That was great. I mean people liked the padres anyway but when they came looking like Santa Claus they were just worshipped. It was remarkable. Anyway I met Jack Morrison and from Quang Ngai we drove up to Tam Ky to our battalion’s location and we were going out the next day. Don’t forget that this was my second day in country. So things are happening really quickly. I said, “What about briefings?” And he said, “It has all been done.”
“This will give you an idea. This is an introductory operation and you take things softly, softly and get a feel for things.” I said, “I will do just that.” Then he took me into the MACV, Military Assistance Command Vietnam compound and it was a compound with television and the early version of Karaoke and all of this and I had never seen anything like this at all.
And a barbed wire…Not barbed wire. Those chain link fences just like we have around factories in Australia. It was interesting. I said, “We are not staying here?’ He said, “No problems. We are staying here tonight.” “Who looks after the place?” He said, “We’ll be right.” “Okay.” I didn’t sleep a wink. I had no idea what was going to happen tomorrow. There was artillery fire. Mostly outgoing. Just harassment and interdiction fire.
But still very, very off putting and things are happening faster than you can comprehend. It is information overload and sensation overload because on the way up to Tam Ky when we are driving up Highway One (The Street Without Joy). There were eucalypts there. Where am I? Stuff that
had been planted. Gifts from Australia though whatever program but it was quite delightful. I understand that they are all seventy, eighty, a hundred foot tall now, really quite beautiful. And the next day we were up at a gentleman’s hour. We didn’t start to leave until about ten o’clock in the morning. I thought this is bloody ordinary and we drove out through little tracks, through villages and tracks just above the paddy fields. Goodness gracious me.
We had about a…It was a sort of ten kilometre stroll through the bush and it wasn’t very much bush but paddy and villages. There was not much to it and I thought this was a bit of a doddle but I still didn’t know what to expect. Many of the soldiers around where I was, which the battalion headquarters was, were having a smoke as they walked and that is something I had never seen and cannot abide
even today. And I thought oh, oh and it was just…So we camped out that night in a little village in a defensive position but I thought, I hope we don’t get hit tonight because it was awful. Just awful. There was a tactical approach to things but not seriously. The next day we were doing the return route back to
Tam Ky and we were walking over a dry paddy and we were just standing on the edge confirming our position on a map and I was standing in the open area looking at a couple of hills and taking sightings with my compass to do a resection and I turned round to say, “I think.” And there was no one there. I thought, “This is a bit radical. Why am I standing here by myself?” And I heard Jack saying something.
It was very rude. “My boy would you mind getting out of the way, lying down. You are attracting attention to Mrs. Morrison’s boy Jack. And my wife might get upset if you cause something to happen to me.” But they were words to that effect but far more colourfully than I am doing it now. We were getting shot at or nipped at and I did not know. I had no idea. I did not hear the rounds. I was doing something else.
And that…Yeah. This is when you start to get a feel that maybe your mortality is not quite as stringently in place as maybe you first thought. Oh he was quite angry. These things happen. So we went back in and that was the end of day one. My gentle introduction to operational soldiering.
Just to clear one thing up. You were in uniform, correct?
I’m just trying to think, what would I think be… that was the first time and the last time I wore purely Australian stuff in Vietnam. From thence forth onwards I dressed the same as the Viets did. I had Vietnamese badges of rank, the lot. Of course I had my bush hat because theirs were awful. I think I carried an Australian pack but I
wanted to blend in as much as possible. That’s what it is all about. We did have one chap, the 51st Independent Regiment who was a CMF officer on full time duty over there. Dent I think. His nickname was tiny and he was about six foot nine. The Vietnamese radio operator had rigged about three extension cords from the handset to the radio so he could be as
far away from the adviser as he could possibly be. I mean at six foot eight you are a target. You are a mountain walking around compared to the Viets who are usually of short stature. Not quite vertically challenged but usually about two inches short of being dwarves. They were really quite delightful.
And when you were shot at that was the first time ever?
Yeah. The first time anyone had shot at me in anger. Well I assume they were angry. They might have been doing it for amusement just to see the reaction of the young officer. But it frightened the life out of me.
Yeah. So there you go.
Now the operation itself…How did you feel about what had happened there?
Oh it was awful. It was not very professionally done. It was just a gentle stroll through the bush. I am not even sure what the purpose of it was. To be doing something but I am not sure. It did improve somewhat after that because we
sat down with the battalion commander and discussed things. He did it his way and I started to learn something about the team motto which was, ‘Persevere.’ Perseverance was what you needed. Something suggested today might come to fruition five or six weeks hence and it would come as if it had been thought up by the person you were making suggestions to and when it came back you then
fell all over yourself saying, wow. That’s rocket science. Why didn’t I think of that? There is a God. And that’s how it worked generally. In some battalions if there was a really good rapport between the adviser and the battalion commander you might actually be able to get things done as you talked them through. Don’t forget some of these people had been fighting the war,
their war, for five, ten fifteen, years. I had a battalion commander at the Second of the First (2/1) Battalion , First ARVN Division at Quang Tri had been fighting for about twenty years. I couldn’t teach him much about tactics but we could discuss better use of support and I could sometimes arrange support to fit in with exactly what he wanted to do in the operation. And he taught me an awful lot about unit sized operations. He was a good soldier.
He had served for twenty years and still alive and along the demilitarised zone you had to be either very lucky, a good soldier or associated with the other side to survive and I don’t think he…I think he was lucky but he was a good commander as well. He was a brilliant soldier.
What did he teach you about units?
He just taught me about larger unit tactics. Thinking as a battalion commander and what you
could do it you really could organise all the support that you wanted. We are talking about air and artillery. I was the key to support. They’d only…This is later in my tour when they were only then starting to undertake Nixon’s policy of Vietnamisation but if they wanted anything, US support in particular, it had to come
through the adviser. We could turn things off. We could in fact bribe. We could say, “If you don’t do this then I’m not going to do that for you.” Not very effective. I thought that was the way to probably end up in a box or something if you really got them angry. With a good man though you could sit down and discuss it and come up with quite innovative solutions to age old problems and that was how it worked It was good stuff.
That walk. That was the first time you saw the Vietnamese terrain itself.
What was your impression of it?
Well that day it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t that far from the coast. It was heavily cultivated and there were beautiful little villages around. And the people were quite delightful. I mean I liked the Vietnamese people anyway. And it was just, yeah,
it would have been so much nicer not lugging around fifty or sixty pounds on your back and thinking that Ho Chi Minh was going to descend on us at any moment. It was still. It was an eye opener. It was reasonably enjoyable. From there we started to get into some more interesting country. Secondary, primary jungle and into more high country. That was hard work. The walking was hard work. Vietnamese battalion commanders in
my experience carried nothing heavier than a pistol belt. If he had a staff of four or five so did the adviser but as a matter or pride we carried our own packs. I think they had the right idea. This is a battalion commander. If he was moving forward or going to do a recce [reconnaissance] he shouldn’t have been too far forward. That is not the role of a battalion commander.
It was a bloody sight easier if you don’t have your pack and you don’t have to worry about it. You’ve got these staff around you, a radio operator, a personal houseboy and a personal bodyguard. Now that’s nice. That is a lovely feeling having him. He was big for a Vietnamese and ugly and was prepared to look after the covan [Vietnamese for adviser] absolutely. You made sure that you looked after him anyway.
Just quickly on the weather conditions and the heat. What was the weather like?
Awful. It was the tropics. It was either hot and wet or wet and hot. And if it was the wet season I mean it was always wet. I always looked at wetness when you were in the field in degrees. Water which was running down the crack in the cheeks of your arse, that was wet.
It didn’t get any wetter than that ever. But it was like that a lot of the time. Yeah. It got cool if you were in the higher country but generally speaking it was not uncomfortable except in the wet season when it was a hundred and ten per cent humidity and high temperatures. It was awful. Crotch rot was something that you regularly got and everybody had favoured solutions for sorting
it out. I ended up taking on US issue cotton boxer shorts. I have never worn boxer shorts in my life but God they were good then. And Australian Army foot powder sprinkled around the family jewels was the only thing that prevented them falling off. Yeah. It is humidity and prickly heat that basically went into crotch rot. It was just one of the things you did. I can recall
at one stage on top of the hill when everyone was off the top because it was the only place where there was a breeze and lying down with my pack as a pillow and my trousers down around my ankles still with boots on and my crotch aimed into the wind for the cooling effect. It was just awful. But that’s what happened. I tried American boots and they were not good. The Australian kit that we had I found was quite excellent.
Excellent. But we always tried the Yank stuff just to see and it goes to prove that wealth is not everything. It wasn’t bad at all.
Did that work? Your tactics?
Yeah it did. And that and American cotton boxer shorts helped no end but it was just awful.
We talked to some soldiers who said, no underwear no
socks. And that’s how they got though it.
Look it is a personal thing. I prefer socks. I have taken socks off in some interesting situations where you’ve been in a heavy situation and you take your boots off and the socks just come off in shreds. I mean you need to look after your feet but sometimes the opportunity is just not what you want. But Australian foot powder is wonderful stuff and I found
that no jocks just for me didn’t work. I was just thinking of something incredibly crude but I will just let it go past and keep it. Yeah. Cotton….It is like Brit greens for the jungle. The Brits always had cotton and so did we. It is only in recent times that we have gone in for polyester clothing
to issue to soldiers which with intense heat or flashes of flame melts and it doesn’t breathe. In tropical conditions you need clothing that breathes and it is only natural fibres, not that you can wear wool there but cotton breathes. The Brits had cotton and again we were the same. The Yanks went for cotton as did we.
We didn’t have anything, I didn’t think, like the cotton boxers. They were bloody good. In fact today you would probably buy boxers of the same quality for thirty or forty dollars. Ridiculous. Some people would not wear underwear at all. That was their choice and it worked for them. That is what worked for me.
Just on that was there from higher command, would they suggest things or would soldiers just work these things
out for themselves?
Soldiers worked them out. If you were an infantryman, you were a rifleman in a rifle section in an infantry platoon you might be lucky enough to have one of the senior or junior NCOs who was on his second tour or someone who had Malaya/Borneo experience. Those who had Malaya/Borneo experience knew all the secondary and primary jungle tricks. They slept in hammocks as distinct from on the ground where
you would have to pick out the centipedes and the scorpions etc. Every creepy crawly known to God was located on the ground in Vietnam where you were sleeping. No question about it. So if you…You would pick it up yourself and it was passed on to the new chaps but it was learned by experience. The system said, “You should do the following.” And you would work out what you needed to carry and how you set up your basic webbing was pretty well
up to you. And you weren’t going on parade with it. If you did do a parade with webbing you would have to change it back to what the good book said but people organised it to suit themselves. Number one and number two on the gun had a different set up to the forward scouts who had a different set up to someone else who had a different set up to someone else. It depended on your size too. If you were big and three or four axe handles across the shoulders you could carry things entirely
differently. In fact you were probably a mortar man or a machine gunner because you were capable, you didn’t like doing it but you were strong enough to carry the bigger stuff.
How important were Australia’s World War II experiences in Borneo and New Guinea?
Oh the whole lot was essential because it was a continuity of lessons learned. We had a wide range of straight military experience of conventional and to a degree unconventional warfare.
Malaya and Borneo…Malaya in particular taught us…Malaya was successful. It worked. There was no political nonsense about borders that people could go and hide across. Oh well the Thai border to some extent but peninsula Malaya was peninsula Malaya. You had nowhere to hide. You were in the bush or you couldn’t do anything because the navy had the coast pretty well blockaded.
We learned an incredible amount about jungle operations but also a lot about counter insurgency warfare. We knew a lot about patrolling. The Australians have always…There is no such thing as no man’s land if there are Australians operating. We dominated no man’s land. It became Australian territory. We did exactly the same thing on the Western Front in the latter stages of the Great War.
The guys went out as much for the enjoyment of it. Believe it or not they did and they were bloody good. Snatch operations…units that were opposite Australian units, certainly in that situation in the great war did not like it at all because the Australians dominated the in-between ground. They were very good at it and they still are. Well I am assuming that they still are but they were exceptionally good at it in Malaya and Borneo.
And they were very good in Vietnam.
How many of the people involved in Malaya and Borneo would have been involved in training and teaching or was the information just passed on?
Oh no a lot of them were hands on people. Because so many of those had been in the emergency in Malaya and Borneo who were corporals and lance corporals because of the great expansion they might have become sergeants or staff sergeants, some were even warrant officers
and part of the role of all NCOs, whether in a training establishment or just in your unit is training. It is the passing on of information. There was a continuity all the way though and that was one of the things that was so important to us. We learned from other people’s mistakes. We still managed our own. Hopefully they were new ones but as often as not they weren’t. We were told if you did this is what will happen and it did. So you learned that something could go wrong.
And sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes because you knew the pitfalls you might get away with it. Not always.
Do you think that our experiences in World War II and Malaya differentiated us from the British troops?
Oh God yeah. The Americans have always been plenty of everything. What was it? ‘Overpaid, over sexed and over here.’ They
have always been along those lines but they also had some very good units. Some exceptionally good units. We…I think we generally had far better leaders, junior leaders and we had some very good senior leaders too. Battalion, brigade, division upwards but our junior leaders were just wonderful. Certainly in the Great War and to a lesser extent in the Second War
there were a lot of people promoted in the field, commissioned in the field to replace people who had been killed and the officer slaughter in the Great War was just appalling. I mean the slaughter generally was just appalling but the officer slaughter was even worse. I mean the English used to talk about their second lieutenants whose only duty was to die well. Inspire the lads. And that’s the way it happened. Our people
were commissioned with experience as section commanders or platoon sergeants and they were already leaders so when they were commissioned it was great. The boss really knows what he is on about. He is quite experienced. But those who weren’t when they arrived got their experience awfully quickly. In some of our campaigns they were dead awfully quickly. That was just one of the things too. If you have ever read anything about the New Guinea campaigns
the officer slaughter was just amazing.
Do you think the US and British respected our experience in that field?
Yes they did. But it also in some cases pissed them off because sometimes, not all the time, just sometimes we told them we were good. There was still I think, not so much with the Americans. We knew we were better than they were.
And we were. With the Brits we still had a little bit of cultural cringe in my opinion so at times we would rub it in. But they did like us being close by. No question. I served at one stage with the Gordon Highlanders in Singapore and I remember the first time I was out with one of their companies and the company colour sergeant was using the
terminology from that wonderful Michael Caine film “Zulu.” Watch the officer of engineers setting up in the bush to five star accommodation comfort in two minutes flat. Whereas the young Scottish officers, for most of them it was their first time in tropical rainforest an hour later they were still all thumbs and tangles and so they would come round and look at
the officer of engineers hutchie [shelter] and go away mumbling and it was interesting because they had never had an engineer as part of a company set up. This is the Brits. They had never had an engineer as part of a company set up. Having their own who was not only an Australian but an engineer and knew all about the jungle was just wonderful. He was their protector from all things. It wasn’t true but they were willing learners and they would sit there fascinated because half the time they couldn’t understand a word I
said. It was awful but there you go.
Because of the accent.
I mean I was aware after working with native troops that one doesn’t talk at the normal Australian pace but slows things down. But the accent still does throw people. Short story. I once had a call sign that was Laced Cakes Echo
Laced Cakes was the battalion call sign. Echo was the…I’m wrong. Laced Cakes was the regimental call sign. Echo was the battalion call sign. Six was the senior adviser call sign and Zulu meant I was an Australian. So I called in to get some artillery support and I
heard a smart arsed American say, “Say it again Liced Kikes.” And I had no idea that that’s how I sounded on the radio but that is how I did. So I started to articulate and enunciate a bit more clearly just to try and stop that from happening. It would be embarrassing. They are questioning that the call sign is accurate. They don’t understand ‘ai’. I just thought
he was being a smart arse and when I started swearing at him over the radio he knew exactly that he was dealing with an Australia. End of problem. yeah.
Was it a similar problem in Vietnam there?
I am talking about Vietnam. I had a similar problem but from a different perspective. We were outside of our Vietnamese
supporting artillery company and we got hit fairly hard by Her Majesty’s enemies and needed support. And so I broke in onto a [US] Marine Corps frequency which I had. Well which I had written down. I called in and the word was “Authenticate” and that meant I had to give the particular password for the day to prove that I was
a good guy because I didn’t have their signallers’ operating instruction which gave all this information. And they didn’t have mine. So I called again and said, “I’m a Zulu and I don’t have your Sierra Oscar India but I need your support and I need it now. Help.” “Authenticate.” If they do it thrice and you haven’t authenticated they’ll change
all the frequencies right throughout and I didn’t have a copy of their spares. So I said, “You must have someone there who had some R and R [Rest and Recreation] in Australia. Ask me any question on Australia and I will prove that I am a Zulu and I am not one of them.” And this thing said, “Wait.” At least he didn’t say authenticate. And this voice said, “What are the trees that grow on Manly foreshore?” “Norfolk Island Pines, Norfolk Island Pines.”
And then the artillery came in right away. Several years later I was posted to Mt Isa and I was driving out from my married quarter out to Kalkadoon Park there, where the Mt Isa CMF depot was and I saw some hitchhikers coming along the road with US flags on their backpacks. One male and one female and I stopped the car and said, “How far are you going? There is almost nothing till you get to…..” I’ve forgotten the name of the place
but there was almost nothing till they got to Darwin and they were going north so they had to be going that way. So I said, “There’s a truck park out here where the cattle trains haul up and you might get a lift. Throw your packs into the back of the ute. [small truck]” Army ute of course. It is completely forbidden to carry passengers. Hah. Civvie passengers. Got into the front seat. This lovely little American lass next to me and then this chap. Anyway he said, “Thank you very much.” after he has asked me where I was going and at me and said nothing.
And he just leant forward and looked and said, “I’ve heard your voice before.” But I can’t do the American accent. Yes. And he said, “Were you ever in…” And I said, “Yes I was.” And he started to grin. “Norfolk Island Pines.” He was the same young man who was on the radio all those years before, hitchhiking at bloody Mt Isa. Unbelievable. They didn’t get to Darwin for a few days.
What a small world. I just sat there and howled because at the time he probably saves…By being there and listening and having the smarts. Private soldier, young American, he had the smarts to actually either get approval or ask a question from R and R that I knew the answer to and I’m not a Sydneysider. Oh yeah.
Interviewee: Russell Smith Archive ID 1889 Tape 05
All right. When you first started working with the ARVN what were your first impressions of them and of the organisation.
First impressions. The First of the Fifth [1/5] had ups and down and it depended on the battalion commander. Well lead most troops, rabble can be turned into soldiers if they are well lead. It helps if you are well trained but just good leadership for a start is more than half the battle.
And that’s at all levels. At the junior level in the section or in ARVN/American terminology, the squad. In our terminology it is the section then platoon, company, battalion etc. Yeah, well lead they weren’t bad. They were a bit slack at times but again depending on how hard the battalion commander was with his company commanders and how hard they were with the platoon commanders.
So First of the Fifth was a bit iffy. We had went out on one operation which I think I put in my preliminary notes to your mob way back when, were we got nearly halved and we were knocked around pretty much. In fact if it wasn’t for the fixed wing gunship
we would have been annihilated. It was as simple as that. Our battalion commander who…It was partially his fault we got hit. We got caught in the bend of a river with one company just about to cross this river and it was an ambush situation. We should have never have been ambushed. We should have had our people out there. So he was a bit slack but he got them into a good defensive position and through me, with my support, we saved our arses.
But he got wounded several times that day. We all did but he got knocked around pretty badly. He was pulled our and replaced and the person who replaced him was an arsehole which is a technical, military term meaning that he was an arsehole. It was through him that we had the mutiny in the battalion and that was not pretty. But that was
poor leadership. If it had been well lead and it needed building up after that ambush. We got knocked around as I say pretty badly.
How many casualties in the battalion?
We only came out of the field with ninety…Ninety who walked out and we had gone in with about two hundred and fifty. So it was pretty nasty.
…once we had the gun ships on site we held our own end up with the help of Uncle Sam but it was nasty. It was…I probably had never been for a short period of time more frightened than at any other time in my life. And then I don’t remember huge amounts of it because we were just so busy and I don’t remember the noise
so I was obviously so busy doing what I was supposed to be able to do that I got over the initial adrenalin pumping through fear and got on with it. And don’t remember noise at all. It obviously happened because it was pretty interesting. I got shot that day and didn’t know I had been shot for several hours. I had
absolutely no idea. Just one of those things. Just busy and I just didn’t realise it. I just thought I was sweating heavily into my boots. It was only when I saw it was red sweat and realised what had happened. And we had a lot of wounded, an awful lot of wounded. I reckoned I was okay. I had a bruise from my bloody crotch to my ankle. I was hit in the thigh and I said to one
of the battalion officers, “I need to see the medic.” “He is absolutely flat out with other people.” I said, “I’m all right.” And I extracted the bullet and filled the wound up with sulphur powder and sewed it up with my housewife. You know a housewife…Soldiers get issued with a housewife. It is a cotton roll with pockets in it that you can roll up and you put buttons and cotton and
darning wool and your needles, a pair or scissors so you can repair stuff. I just got a fine needle and picked out some really great green coloured cotton and stitched it up. It worked.
Yeah. A housewife and I still have it. My housewife still exists and I fixed that for, you know,
dressed it every day and checked it out and no infection. It wasn’t until we came out of the field about two weeks later and I went along to an American version of a Regimental Aid Post and a US doctor went though me like a dose of salts. He was very angry and he said, “It looks all right. It’s clean. There is no infection.” He was just so angry that anyone would use cotton to suture up a wound.
And he said, “We’ll take it out.” and he took out a pair of scissors and I can remember him touching the cotton to cut it and I can remember breaking out into a cold sweat and all the blood draining from my face and I fell to the floor in a dead faint. I don’t remember it but I was told later that that’s what happened. And I was so embarrassed and he told me that what had happened was that until I got to him and he was about to cut the suture my
brain had taken over. You know they create this sort of morphine substitute and I had been in control until he touched it and then the delayed shock came in. I had the shakes for about three days. It was just awful. I couldn’t eat. I up chucked every time I got something in my mouth.
So you were in shock.
It didn’t happen
until he touched it. Until someone else suddenly became responsible for things. It was quite amazing and frightening. But I was embarrassed as a young man. Fancy fainting in front of someone for Christ’s sake.
I have heard worse stories than that.
Yeah but you don’t expect it. I have already been given one indication that someone’s immortal when the shot goes over the head and now there is a hole to prove that the immortality odds are getting
shorter and then when you…Sorry. Chaps don’t do that. Chaps are supposed to be thin lipped and stiff upper lipped and phlegmatic and all of those things. Not any more but that’s what we thought.
Your role in this was… were you overseeing a company?
I was in the battalion headquarters as the battalion senior adviser. I would provide advice and guidance to the battalion commander so that he could better
organise and deploy his troops. But in this situation what I was doing was controlling the support. I was calling in the artillery, coordinating the artillery, coordinating the air support, both fighter bomber and ground attack and fixed wing gun ships. That was what I was doing. So I would also need to be close to him to find out where our people were so I could make sure that the supporting gun ships and fighter-bombers would know where we were.
Otherwise we would get into all sorts of trouble. And all sorts of trouble could mean that we are getting…What is the terminology nowadays? Collateral damage.
Blue on blue.
There you go. That’s exactly what happens and it does. It is so easy to happen and you would swear at US Air Forces but never navy or marine pilots because they never did it…but only ever taking people across our front but never over the top of us. Wow.
If you go across the front if it is an overshoot or an undershoot it’s not into you. If they are shooting towards you or away from you an undershoot will take you out. It is bad enough when Her Majesty’s enemies are going to take you out without ‘blue on blue’ as you say. Yeah.
I don’t particularly like that term the use of it.
Nor do I.
Explain if you can what the situation was.
I mean Tam Ky was a town.
Tam Ky was the provincial capital of Quang Tin province which was one of the Provinces of the First Corps Tactical Area. Vietnam administratively and militarily was divided into Corps areas. There was I Corps, II Corps, III Corps and IV Corps And the Saigon Special Zone.
IV Corps was down in the delta. III corps was where Australia was located with other people. II corps was sort of the Central Highlands through to Cam Ranh Bay and Pleiku and I Corps was from the DMZ [Demilitarised Zone] to South of Quang Ngai. It doesn’t help at all does it? You need to see a map. Anyway.
I need to be there.
Well no you didn’t need to be there but a map would have been helpful.
Okay so what was the situation in Tam Ky when you arrived?
It was another provincial capital. It was filled with Vietnamese of all kinds. Those who had been there for a long time and were making a living, running a business. Those who were refugees and there were a few of those. Those who shouldn’t have been there and they were the nasties but you didn’t know they were the nasties and an awful lot of ARVN troops and Americans around. The villages, the farming areas were
further out obviously, but it was just a provincial city. The population in those days…fifty, sixty thousand people probably.
And it was near to the end.
We are talking about Tam Ky. Tam Ky was probably about two hundred and fifty to three hundred kilometres south to the DMZ. Quang Tri was near the DMZ.
Okay. In this actual encounter
where the battalion…
Got chopped around.
Yep. You said that a couple of companies had been decimated.
Well I said that we marched out about ninety strong and we had gone in about two hundred strong.
What was the intention? Was it an operation?
We were out on a search and destroy. Until that time we had not come
across all that much. We found a few weapons caches and there had been some sniping against us. We had taken some mortar rounds but there had been very little. It was only when we got closer, back towards the coast where we were going and while we had been out further from the city…We were probably twenty-five or thirty Ks [kilometres] away and there had been
fairly major Vietcong attacks on PF [Popular Force], that is popular force bases and defended villages. A village that had a compound where people would go in at night and they would probably have had a moat or…They were armed to protect the villages from being hassled by the Viet Cong. A couple of those posts
had been hit the night before we were done and overrun and both of them had lost their heavy weapons. They had been taken by the Viet Cong as had a fifty-calibre machinegun from one of them. We know because we got the fifty-calibre machinegun back after our nasty episode. Because the VC [Viet Cong] were firing the fifty cal [calibre] at one of the gun ships which is a very
silly thing to do and the gun ship had fired straight down the tracers which were coming from the fifty cal and when we found the fifty cal, in the receiver group, which is that section of the fifty cal where the cocking handle is. There were about fifty holes in an area probably six inches by about six inches. This is from the mini guns…The things that fire up to six thousand rounds a minute, cyclic rate and there was just
shredded dog meat around. They really chopped them up.
Which you saw.
Why is it stupid to fire a fifty cal at a helicopter gun ship?
They were fixed wing gun ships.
Can you describe the model?
The first one we had was a ‘Spooky’ which was a C47 Dakota DC3 with the gun mounted out of the cargo door. The second one
that was around was a C119 twin boom cargo aircraft and twin engine with the cargo port in the centre and that was in the company of ‘The Golf Ball’ which was a flare ship which dropped several million candle powered flares which made the place light up like day. It had…if my recollection serves me correctly it had two
mini-guns and these are the seven point six two electrically operated gattling type guns…the multi-barrelled guns. It had a cyclic rate of fire or us to six thousand rounds a minute. Do you know how they aimed them? Okay. It goes back to bush mail delivery in South Africa where light aircraft would fly out with bush mail to your place
or my place. They would put the mail into a bucket and lower it out the side window of, let’s say it was a Piper Cub [aircraft] and get around in about a sixty degree bank and because of the way they were flying and the bucket at the end of a long rope it would stay in one spot just above the ground while the aircraft was flying around it. And this is all tied in with centrifugal force and gravity and you could take your mail out of the bucket and
put your outgoing mail into the bucket then you’d haul it in. So if they would do it with a rope which was a solid thing, why wouldn’t it do it with a gun aimed at the ground and the rounds of ammunition going down? Wouldn’t that be the same as a rope? So each pilot of the gun ship would have a dot on the perspex windshield off to his left.
They needed lot of practise of course but in a particular bank where that dot hit the ground was there that gun would hit. It would take about a fifteen to twenty metre radius of beaten zone. So we could mark where the nasties were…exactly the direction and distance and he would look at his spot on the ground and fly around it and keep you almost protected if you like behind a solid wall of lead.
It was very, very accurate. So if it is very accurate why would you take a pot shot with something that can only fire in bursts of around ten or fifteen and even at its best can only fire five hundred rounds a minute? The plane could fire six thousand rounds a minute. Stupid and they found out the hard way.
Was that ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ as well?
Yes. ‘Spooky’ and ‘Puff’ were just interchangeable names. As often as not
‘Puff’ would be a C47 and ‘Spooky’ could have been a Hercules probably.
This is the plan that was providing the air support.
This is what we called in to help us because we were in a world of hurt. It was an interesting afternoon
What were the problems that you encountered as far as commands were concerned?
Well technically we had no command over them at all. They commanded themselves.
The problem was, and it was all tied in with face, which is that delightful Asian thing where you cannot bear to have not thought of something or be subservient to one who might not be your social, intellectual or commercial equal. Face is difficult to do. It is a pride thing but it is not quite pride.
So the difficulties were convincing him in the nicest way that you did know best. That was not easy and for someone who was as young as I was it was bloody hard. Old Jack Morrison my warrant officer said to me at one stage, “Sir, if you can, I would like you to grow a moustache. Then maybe people will stop asking me if you are
my grandson.” Which was a pretty nice way of being very rude too? But by the same token I knew what he was saying and so age was against me but if you could…if you were professional in your own conduct and the way you went about things and of course in providing support, and it was me controlling the support and where it went on the ground then
it would be loss of face not to subtly acknowledge that the dai huy. Dai huy = captain. Covan = adviser. Or the dai huy covan uc dai loi [Australian] which was ‘the captain adviser Australian’ had actually done some good things so perhaps we had better give him something in return. And the something in return might be doing something that he suggested. So there was a little bit of manipulation going on but
we had to be subtle because no one manipulates as subtly as the Asian does. Well I don’t think so anyway.
What sort of enemy were you fighting? Was it VC or NVA?
At that particular time it was VC. Up north I think it was NVA all the time.
I came across a couple of NVA whilst working at Tam Ky but up north working out of Quang Tri it was NVA all the time in my experience.
And they were considered generally more formidable than the VC?
They were better trained. They were basically regular soldiers, professional soldiers. I didn’t find them as nasty as the VC. The VC could be nasty.
But these were a reasonably well disciplined rabble. Not nice at all. They are not nice chaps. You wouldn’t take them home and introduce them to Mum. But you could sit down in different circumstances I would think and with some of the NVA commanders you could probably have a reasonably interesting, professional conversation. I think they were fairly good. Fairly rigid in the way they did things
which gave us an edge but they were…I found them to be pretty good and I don’t think that they were abusers. They didn’t go in for terror type tactics. Not in my experience. Other people might have found that not the case but I can only talk about me.
When you…How long were you actually in
Tam Ky...March through to December I think. I think.
That is a fairly long stint.
I know it was a reasonably long stint. I know I was in Quang Tri and had Christmas dinner at the Killroy Compound home of the Quang Tri Tigers. And New Year’s Eve I think I had in Da Nang.
What was the situation like with the…you said something about a mutiny before.
Yes. After the big ambush when we only had ninety left we got a new battalion commander in and he was on the ground with his wife. He was a vertically challenged, chubby, little chap.
He spoke impeccable English, dressed immaculately and couldn’t have given a rat’s arse about his soldiers one way or the other. We were moved after the big ambush, we needed to be reinforced and we were and we needed to be in a situation where we could do some consolidation and some retraining. We needed to return to form again and to get our bottle [courage] back. We went
out to a fire support base near the village of Queson. Q-U-E-S-O-N. That was different to Khe Sanh which was way up north. And it was a pretty big fire support base. It needed a battalion to protect the perimeter and there was a US155 and one 175mm battery
or battery in our terminology, company for them. There was a platoon of US engineers and there was a humongous pile of fuel, mainly JP8 which was jet turbine fuel for choppers [helicopters]. It was a refuelling point for choppers going out into the high country. We were to sit there retrain, just patrol around the fire support
base. We were going to be there for about a month. The battalion commander’s wife started up a small exclusive little whorehouse. The customers were only Americans who came from the other half of the fire support base, either artillerymen or engineers. I didn’t know this was going on at first. I knew that there was mumbling going on and I
didn’t really know but I had a boy who had been bequeathed to me. He had been with Australians since he was an orphan, a babe in arms and young Lam was about eight or nine. Usually he stayed with one of the drivers who drove the advisers back into Tam Ky and went to school and we just paid his way. Nice kid actually.
But this particular time he was on a firebase. He had come out and he was staying with us. He was saying, “Dai huy. Very bad men here. Very bad men.” I didn’t really take all that much notice and I was in the CP [Command Post] one night in a pair of Bombay bloomer shorts. Have you ever seen Bombay bloomers? Wonderful things. They come down to about your knees and they are so wide and it means that for example Ghurkhas when they march
in their bloomers, their shorts never move but their legs move inside the legs of the shorts. And it is good for air getting up and keeping you cool. And I was wearing those and gym boots and a t-shirt and there was a call from the CP. “Dai huy. come quick, come quick!” And I just, how I was, took off after and followed the corporal
from the recce platoon down toward where the battalion commander lived in his bunker. And there was a crowd outside the thing and when I got there the battalion commander’s ear was lying on the ground. They just chopped his ear off…just sliced it off. And they were starting to handle him quite roughly.
And I thought, “Jesus this is not good.” or words to that effect. “You’d better bloody stop this and stop this quickly.” And “Dai huy, dai huy, dai huy. No problem, go away.” I said, “No, he is the battalion commander. You can’t treat him like that. He is your commander.” This was….They were really trying to get me away. Keep me out of it. It was nothing to do with me and
they were quite right. But goodness me this is not the way things are done according to Hoyle. And just at about that time I said no. Oh the woman had got a thump. I thought that was awful. You don’t hit women. I don’t know what you do to them but you don’t hit them. And they had given her a good working over so I said to the recce [reconnaissance] corporal, “We must get
her and him out of here.” At that stage a jeep came down, down the little track that I had just run down. It came to a screaming halt and a couple of members of the recce platoon, quite heavily armed, and young Lam, the little boy with them in the back of the jeep and he had in his hand my shotgun. He said, “Dai huy!” and he threw the shotgun to me just like that and
at exactly the same time as he threw it one of the mutineers shoved a grenade down my t-shirt. That concentrates your mind. First reaction was just caught the shotgun like so. Just twisted like this and went “Whack” and he just went down like a poleaxed ox. I subsequently
discovered that that was him finished on the spot. Trying to get the grenade out because the t-shirt was tucked into my pants and I couldn’t get the frigging thing undone. And I think I must have been silently counting and I had gone well beyond four. I couldn’t hold it in my hand and it fell to the ground. Just fell to the ground and lay there looking at me. It didn’t do anything. It did not
obviously go off. Oh. Oh and the old heart was going pump, pump, pump. There was a guy on the ground just been clobbered on the side of his head with a shotgun, a battalion commander bleeding like a stuck pig. The battalion commander’s wife all bloody and messed. Anyway dropping this guy and then the grenade falling on the ground. The other
blokes just disappeared because they thought we are all going to get blown by this bloody thing but it didn’t go off. The people who came down in the jeep from the recce platoon, they took the battalion commander and her and threw them into the jeep and took off. They took the little boy and left me by myself. I headed back at the double to the command post and as I got in firing started up and they went absolutely ape shit. The battalion was almost
evenly spread between those who were not necessarily for him but weren’t going to mutiny and the mutineers who were basically new guys. The reinforcements that came in. And it got really messy. I called up the artillery company commander and he lowered the barrels of the one seventy-five millimetre guns and these are guns, long barrelled things.
He loaded them up with full charges but no projectile. No round, just the powder. And that throws flame out about two hundred and fifty or three hundred feet and it goes out to about a hundred feet wide. If the mutineers had decided to get really nasty and have a go at the Yanks they would have fried them.
So the guns were depressed. The battery commander himself came around with his battery sergeant major in a two and a half ton truck and quad fifties…an anti aircraft mount for machineguns on the back and hydraulic jacks on the front so you could jack it up to get the depression to make it a ground weapon as well as an anti-aircraft weapon and he said, “I’ll leave this with you.” And he headed back to get into his
wife. And I called up regimental headquarters and I did a coded message because the last thing you want is for the bad guys who are monitoring to know that you’ve got a doggies bloody doo-doo mess where you are. If you are going to hit anyone that is the time to do it. So I called them up and gave them the message and it was wait out while they decode it.
They came back and said, “You’ve misused a word. You’ve got mutiny here. Please confirm mutiny.” So I think I said something like, “Thank you very bloody much, out.” and completely changed and got onto Da Nang. That is Corps headquarters. I went right across regiment. Spoke to the senior Australian and said, “Look can you organise to get gunship teams down here and I want
a gunship because I’m going to tell them if they don’t behave themselves we are going to hose them off the hill.” So they did that from the US perspective and things were starting to quieten down by this time. I don’t know but I think a few of the mutineers were no longer with us. They had gone to God and the others may have been realising that they were in deep shit.
Vietnamese are not nice people like we are. There would have been no bloody court martial. It would have been bang and that was it. And it just quietened down and very early the next morning a battalion of marines, not US but ARVN, Vietnamese marines and they are hard buggers. And a company of white mice, military police came in and sort of cleaned the thing up and took them away.
The gunships were out all night. It only would have taken one shot and it would have wiped them off the side of the hill and it was not good. And I had the twitches for days. They sent me home on R and R just after that. I got home for my first wedding anniversary.
Did the VC or NVA capitalise on that?
Not at all. Well once the gunnies were in that would have been silly because we had a constant top cover of
gunship…Two pink teams which was two gunships and an observation control and fire control helicopter and they just were rotating the whole time and it would have been silly, but then again if they weren’t close by it would have taken them thirty-six or forty-eight hours to organise something and it would have been too late by then anyway. It happened so quickly. I still don’t know what started it. It was something to do with the whorehouse but I still don’t know what.
What can you say about the politicisation of the ARVN from your experience?
Senior appointments were to consolidate the power of whoever was President at the time. It was about making sure that the President had no threat too close to Saigon and that the divisions further away couldn’t be seen as
becoming too individually powerful. So we had battalion commanders who were political appointments as well as regimental and divisional commanders and it wasn’t the best person for the job.
If an ARVN commander was very professional but politically he wasn’t…because what I have noticed in many Asian countries is that
the society generally speaking is very politically active so everyone seems to have some sort of a leaning somewhere. Now if there was a highly professional ARVN officer, if he was too professional would that also be considered a problem?
If he was purely professional no problem at all, but he only had to look as if he was leaning in a particular direction and then he was no longer just professional.
It wasn’t long before his professionalism would become a threat. So there was always some sort of conspiracy going on and many battalion commanders, certainly at battalion level were just useless. But there were some good ones. I did say that the one at the Second of the First was brilliant and he was. But many of them were yeah, just doing their time. They were city people and they had no affinity with their soldiers at all.
As a consequence they didn’t give a shit.
What about the composition of this battalion you were liaising with?
Advising. The battalion I was advising.
Yeah. As far as social economic composition was concerned.
The soldiers were relatively poor and of peasant stock okay. If you had money your father could get you out of being called up. I am getting tangled up
Okay. They could be paid to do some desk job. Not out in the battalion. So most officers…Officers weren’t taken because they were smarter or more militarily inclined. They were taken because they were better educated and better educated meant most probably city people. They couldn’t understand the rural
area nor did they understand the rural people. You had this gap between the leaders and the led. I mean you could say that was true of the old British Army right up until the end of the Great War where you had the officer class and you had the soldiers but there was always a pecking order in the old class system where people pretty well knew where they fitted
and they naturally deferred to those who made up the officer level and they just believed that they knew best. Sometimes they did and in a lot of cases they didn’t. Whereas in our system and what should have been in the ARVN system was that the people who should have been leaders should have been leaders. But they were timeservers. So many of them were timeservers. It is a problem of
developing systems I think anywhere in the world. I am not aware of any country relatively new in its formation that works any differently. No matter what continent and no matter where.
And okay you emphasised the social economic background. What about the religious composition of the battalion?
The better educated were probably Catholic.
The rest of the soldiers were probably Buddhist. That shouldn’t make a problem because both, like most religions, preach tolerance and whatever. If only we practised what was preached. Therein lies the problem. So there could be a difficulty. In some battalions there weren’t any problems at all. People didn’t ram their ideas. They didn’t naturally feel superior.
They felt senior by rank but not superior because some people did understand. But as often as not the bloody hierarchy would be Catholic and the soldiery would be Buddhist. That wasn’t always the case but certainly in the areas I was in that was generally the case. Most of the time it could be controlled if like in many cases, they were well lead.
As an adviser would you
be looking into this just to know what you were dealing with?
You worked very quietly to find out reasons why but you wouldn’t be interfering.
You would be looking to see what is the ethnic composition?
I would be looking and listening.
For social things as well.
Yes. But it would not be as formally put as I am getting what you are suggesting. It would be looking and listening carefully and it is not difficult.
Okay. We’ll pause.
Interviewee: Russell Smith Archive ID 1880 Tape 06
So after saying what you have. When did you start to become or did you become disillusioned by the way the war was being conducted or any sort of outcome?
Oh I was probably disillusioned with some of the tactics of the thing from before I went there. When you’ve got an imaginary line in the ground
over which you are forbidden to go in pursuit of Her Majesty’s enemies it is no use. What’s the point? It is like fighting with one hand tied behind your back. And it was stupidity. The war could have been won but it needed…the aims of the war were never clearly spelled out and you’ve got to have an aim and people
have to understand it. The only war in the whole history of warfare where people knew what it was about without any question.
World War II?
No. The Trojan Wars. It was about a woman. Helen of Troy. You can’t tell me what World War II was about and I can’t tell you what World War II was about and the same with the Great War, at the time. We can say it was a war to get rid of bloody wickedness and all sorts of things.
Yes. It should never have been allowed to happen in the first place should it? We appeased. We had stupid naval treaties. We had a world organisation, the League of Nations, which the Americans wouldn’t join and then they were the power that was coming, not the world. All this sort of stuff. No one really knew. But the Trojan War was about Helen.
Because someone wanted to get into her knickers and that seems like a perfectly good reason to do something. It’s true.
Yeah. I’ve heard things like that before.
But yeah militarily we were disillusioned because of the political interference but we were soldiers and we would do what we were told. What we were doing, I think most of us at the time, if not all of us
thought was absolutely worthwhile because most of the time we were doing okay, thank you very much. It is nice being successful. You could see that the future was probably going to be a loss and that was sad.
Did you see yourself as an occupier in any way?
But the Vietcong and the NVA…What I am trying to say…
You are trying to put a political spin onto it.
No I’m not.
What I am trying to say is Vietnam was as political as any other conflict was.
All conflicts are political except for the Trojan Wars and they were the only ones that weren’t. Yes of course they are. And everybody has different reasons for it. Lord you might get a whole swag of people in the United States, for example, who are just vehemently apposed to the involvement of Uncle Sam in anything. But
the same thing might also manufacture aeroplanes and things and they want to see them more involved because it is business. Everyone’s got different perspectives depending on the way you look at it. They will sell another thousand Apache Gunships but they don’t want their son or daughter to go and join the National Guard or the Reserve or something. So yeah all different perspectives.
About the Americans themselves,
did you agree with some of their methods?
What sort of methods did they use?
Americans are awfully nice people. They would sometimes use a sledgehammer to open a peanut. Not necessary. Their tactics were appalling. They
believed that straight out firepower could cure and fix everything. It can’t. Sometimes it’s real helpful but sometimes I think they lack subtlety. Towards the end, probably the last few years, they too were scraping the bottom of the barrel. It was the poor and as often as not it was the poor
non Anglo/Celtic or Caucasian Americans who were making up the core of the draftees. And the junior officers were just awful generally. [Lt] William Calley of My Lai was just one such awful leader. So yeah they had all sorts of problems but
they used to use…They would think that might and firepower would do everything but it doesn’t.
It seems like in Iraq there is a similar sort of ideology.
Well they won the war in no time. They just didn’t know what to do with the peace. And that’s been the same. They have done that before. The Iraqis are different from the German people and lots of other parts of occupied Europe.
They set up military governors and a military administration almost from day one. We didn’t do that in Iraq. They tried to be seen to be nice. And didn’t fully appreciate that prior to the cessation of open hostilities that [Saddam] Hussein and his henchmen
had basically opened the armouries to the country and had relieved millions and millions of rounds of ammunition and probably millions of weapons just open slather. So every bloody repressed minority or majority who had been repressed for the whole time of Hussein’s regime wanted everything now and being the type of people they are they just ran amok.
The Yanks are not good peacetime administrators. The same is not happening in Basra, the British area. Isn’t that interesting? When was the last time you saw Brits getting around on the news? When was the last time you saw Brits on the news come to that? When was the last time you saw them getting around with bloody ballistic vests and tin pots on. They have been
wearing regimental berets and bonnets and just ordinary shirts for bloody months. Because they know what it is like to get out there on the ground, get in with the kids. They will win their mum and dad over. They know, they have done it for hundreds of years. They made a huge empire like that and generally speaking did it bloody well. And not withstanding that
people in India got pissed off. They have a magnificent bloody political system, and magnificent road, rail and anti-drought system that bloody worked. And for a long time generally speaking, the communal problems were suppressed by the way they ran the country.
But that’s history and one thing that we always learn from history is that we never learn anything from history. It is true. We make the same mistakes time and time again, very sad. Everybody wants to be seen to be the saviour of and the inventor of the wheel but wheels are round and that’s it. The square ones don’t work so how can you reinvent the bloody wheel.
You can reinvent the way it is attached to an axle but that’s all. Very sad.
What other methods did the Americans use that you experienced? You did talk about them using the concept of a sledgehammer for a peanut. In terms of just like ground fighting and things like that…
Up the guts with lots of smoke. No subtlety. No quiet patrolling.
Too much time spent on tracks. Too much time carrying too much kit and being too noisy. Poor leadership it boils down to. Reconnaissance by fire. A whole unit would line up around their perimeter and have a wild minute of firing everything they had on full automatic into the bush and saying, “Well that’s cleared that.”
We would never do that. We would go out there with people on the ground and quietly search. When we said that area is clear it bloody well was clear because we had been there. We dominated our ground, not anyone else. We owned the night and the day. They didn’t. Technology ain’t everything but I wish I had had a GPS [Global Positioning System] there.
It would have been very handy.
Obviously this would have been different in different sections of the US Army. Were the Marines different in this regard or did they also do similar sorts of things?
Marines were better disciplined but similar sorts of things. Again more’s the pity and again towards the end even the Marine Corps was getting light on the ground.
Yeah pretty well all of them had problems. Some of the Special Forces units were very good and some of them not so good. But the good ones were magnificent. No question about that. The bad ones were just awful. In some cases it wasn’t a lack of good leadership. In some cases the leaders were not allowed to lead. It was simple…I have seen people on the ground
and flying above that in a helicopter a company commander, and above the company commander a battalion commander, and above the battalion commander the brigade commander, and above the brigade commander the divisional commander. You cannot command like that. And on the bottom on the ground there is just a lieutenant bloody platoon commander who is just told to get moving, get moving. Because they are in a nice bloody helicopter in the cool and that poor bloke’s cutting his way through the bloody jungle. So often it worked like that. It was very sad. It took
them years to get over it. They’ve got over it. As a war fighting machine very good.
They have learned lessons from Vietnam in terms of what’s happening now in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Vietnam has got nothing to do with Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing what ever to do. Instead of a great, war fighting machine they have fought open warfare, conventional warfare
in the Second Gulf War and they did it superbly. And the bloody thing was over within days. But it was the peace they couldn’t handle. In Afghanistan it was initially principally a Special Forces war and they didn’t follow though. I think politically he [President George W. Bush] was concentrating too much on Iraq and not concentrating enough on Afghanistan. That is an opinion. I was
not involved in either of those and my opinion is based on what I read and what I can interpret and interpolate from a professional perspective and I only know that much and I don’t know that much and without that much knowledge it is only an opinion for what it’s worth if anything.
Is it possible to have, I mean just purely on a conceptual level and from your own experience, is it possible to have large armies that can be efficient?
Oh shit yes. God yes.
I mean we are talking about very large armies like the American for instance. Does it end up a pyramid structure with….
Oh it has to.
The bottom is not as good.
Well there are just more on the bottom. There is no reason why the people on the bottom can’t be as well trained for their roles as the people on the top and the people down the bottom are generally going to be much younger and are generally going to only do one, two or three hitches in the services anyway. What they are is they are starting to climb up
the ladder. You can call them the cannon fodder if you want but they are not. They are the actual doers, the hands on people, and there is no reason why they can’t be good. Europe was administered exceptionally well after the Second World War but there were problems. It’s just people. There is not much you can do about it.
You can lessen the effect and lessen it by having better trained people but you will never get rid of it. You will never completely get rid of nookie or anything else. That’s just what happens. The navy will always have bum bandits. That is just the nature of the beast, it’s what happens. But you can minimise all the way through. Opinion. Yeah. And there were so many different programs going on in Vietnam and
each one was going to be the gee whiz to end all gee whizzes, very sad.
Oh they had the fortified village concept, they had the Phoenix program, and they had the National Police Field Force program. It just goes on and on and on and they never controlled
the funding tightly enough. There was too much generosity, too much room for corruption and there was a lot of that too. A hell of a lot of it.
About those programs that you mentioned the most interesting one was the Phoenix program. Well I suppose because I understand the AATTV was involved in some capacity with that.
Well we had a couple of our members who were involved in it but not the team per se. Just
some members of the team were involved the same as there were a couple of members of the team who were attached to CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] organisations but for particular tasks. See most of the Phoenix program people don’t have a clue about it because they don’t go and read about it. They all think they know. They think it was people creeping around with incredibly sharp knives
or bits of bloody cheese wire cutting throats or chopping heads. That is partially true but just a tiny little bit of the thing.
What exactly was the Phoenix program then?
I don’t know. I know some of it but I don’t know all of it because I wasn’t involved in the Phoenix program. And you really do need to talk to someone who was involved or you need to read Ted
Serong’s book to get the background. My understanding of the Phoenix program was it was something to remove the infrastructure of Viet Cong out in the villages and the towns. It was almost a do unto them before they do unto us. My understanding and a little bit because I was not involved.
What did you hear about it as far as…?
Basically what I have told you. Anything else is speculation.
Or it is information that if I told you I would have to kill you. It is hard to keep a straight face. No, speculation is not worth talking about because it is. We do have some people who are still alive who were involved to a lesser or greater degree. And if anyone volunteers the information
to me mostly it would stay with me because if it hasn’t been publicised it would be just two band of brothers talking to each other. And maybe he just wants to get something off his chest and that’s okay. But that would be just a tiny little bit of something and it is just a tiny pebble in the whole beach or a grain of sand in the whole beach. Yeah.
Yeah it is probably very gee whizzish but it is not going to do much at this stage unless you’ve got the whole concept of it and I don’t. It was way over my head at that stage.
Well in retrospect I suppose…I understand the Phoenix program started well before the full on troop deployment of US troops in Vietnam. Before full-scale escalation…
See you know something that I don’t. My understanding was the Phoenix program was well and truly while the US was there. So there are two different ideas for a start. I didn’t know that it had started before that.
Can you tell us about your time at Quang Tri Province?
Quang Tri province. Yeah. That was interesting. I did touch on it earlier
and said that the Second of the First ARVN was an excellent battalion in any army anywhere the battalion would have been regarded highly. Well-trained, well lead, well equipped, conscientious. Good lads. Very good lads. They had Australians with them for a very long time too and this is one particular time when I would be more than happy to say that part of their
success was because they had worked with Australians for a very long time and there was an absolute trust between the advisers and the battalion hierarchy and therefore the whole battalion.
And I’m curious to know weather the actual Australian advisers who were there at the time actually learned things from them as well where techniques and tactics were concerned?
Tactics I doubt. Some techniques of doing some things may have but I don’t recall anything special apart from when the battalion commander, because of many years experience fighting NVA, he knew as much about NVA tactics as the doctrine
writer of the NVA probably did and would use that to set his people particular tasks. It was not so much a learning about their tactics but just confirming in your mind that knowing your enemy well is a great help. Yeah. Or in some cases you say oops they are too much for us and we go away and go and fight them another day. It is about knowing
your enemy and also knowing yourself. Knowing how good you are but they were very good. It was his knowledge of his country, his people. I want to say his people that man his battalion as well as the people who lived in the country. But when I say knowing his country I mean knowing geographically the country backwards and knowing his enemy that made him a successful commander. He was very good.
What was the difference between the two
advisory roles you had at Quang Tri and Tam Ky?
They were well lead, well trained and all of those things.
The problems I am saying as well.
I’m trying to think it we had any problems in the Second of the First. No. I don’t think we had problems in the Second of the First. There might have been some minor problems of administration but that was in their system the same as there are minor problems in the Australian administration.
They were their administrative problems. It was just the normal type of thing there but they were well trained, they were well lead and they were good.
The Quang Tri was in the DMZ area?
Just below it. The …Quang Tri in fact was lost in ‘72 when the NVA made that big
incursion down but the good guys took Quang Tri back again themselves. The Second of the First went on that Lamson 51 operation into Laos when Tricky Dickie [Richard Nixon] stopped the air support that they were promised the arsehole, and the Second of the First came back with all of their weapons accounted for. Lost a lot of people. They were the rear guard battalion.
And whereas there were a lot of weapons they left on the battlefield the blocks, the bolts if you will all came back. It was a well-trained battalion. Very good. They hung in.
You fought against the NVA there? What the NVA were like to fight against compared to the Vietcong?
Oh very good. Very good. They obviously didn’t have the support that we did. There were
a couple of times we had taken some NVA prisoners who were very, very young. So it appeared that they may have been some barrel scraping but I think they were very new reinforcements. My recollection is that they were and that is a long time ago so I might be a bit hazy there. And they were quite good but they were pretty rigid. You can bet that if they came from that direction
they would always do A, B, C and D which meant that you could be ready to counter A, B, C and D. There may have been some original thought but the original thinker was not allowed to put his ideas into action. I think if he had have been, if there had have been the flexibility of command that existed in our system we might have been in deep shit in a couple of places but generally speaking we were okay.
We were talking about weapons before regarding ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ and things like that. What were the other types of bombs and weapons used frequently?
Well all grades of artillery so that is 105, 155, Howitzers and then the 175 guns. There were forty mm twin cannons used on the turrets of M48 tanks
and they were picking up bunkers and what have you. They were things that broke the walls down at the fort. They called it Hue after Tet, ‘68. The…. it will come to me. Yeah. We also used occasionally naval gunfire support from USS New Jersey down which was a fifteen
inch metal ship, very spectacular. All air, Vietnamese Air Force, US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps and Army all various types of aircraft. That’s is fixed wing from phantoms all the way down to bloody…I’m trying to think of what the bloody piston engine aircraft
was. It was a World War II naval fighter and it was very good. We used all helicopters, the various grades of Huey that were flying, the Bell Kiowa, the Hughies 500D, the CH forty-seven and forty-six. That is the Chinook and the Marine Corps version. ‘Jolly Green Giants’ everything. We saw the lot.
We never saw…I never saw smart munitions used in my area but I understand that they were using the Mark 1 smart munitions or starting to use them in the later days in attacks in Thanh Hoa in North Vietnam. I can’t comment on it. I only heard it and that was all. But regularly air support would be twenty-mm cannon and five hundred
and two fifty pound bombs, napalm regularly. Spectacular. Nasty.
Oh shit yes. Nasty but so are bombs too. And of course we would occasionally see or hear a B52 strike and a B52 strike was known as an Arc Light and that could be fairly impressive. The aftermath was fairly impressive too. There wasn’t much left.
It didn’t hit much but there wasn’t much left.
Why weren’t they successful?
They bombed too high and they bombed from intelligence reports and the intelligence was not always as good as it could be. Yeah it was carpet-bombing.
With the napalm have you ever seen the effects of it?
Oh shit yes. We used to use it regularly and sometimes not all that far in front of us.
Napalm at times was the only thing between you and embarrassment so yeah, Napalm was used. It is spectacular. It is awful but I would much rather that we have it than they have it.
So I mean in regards to the people you encountered you would have come across people injured by Napalm? What were the exact effects on people?
Well some people who were pretty badly caught by Napalm it was just
a charred frame. Sometimes you could tell that once it had been a human being but most of the time you can’t. But just a spot on it can be very badly burned. It is just like petroleum jelly. It can be made fairly easily. You can make it in a forty-four gallon drum with two-thirds diesel and one-third petrol and a packet of Lux flakes [soap]. Crude but exactly the same stuff. Napalm is just frightening.
So what would you do if you did find injured people?
It would depend how injured they were. Light burns, they would be treated for light burns. Major burns, it would depend on how major the burns were. Some people would be in shock so major that they would just die. It was just that they hadn’t stopped breathing and their hearts hadn’t stopped beating. If they were f…… they were f…... Sorry that’s what it was and it could be pretty quick.
It just sucks all the oxygen away from something and people might asphyxiate and be dead before they were cooked. It was quite possible but if you were in a completely sealed bunker, providing all the air wasn’t sucked out too quickly you could survive. Because I’ve seen people survive or seen people who have survived fairly constant hits of napalm on bunkers. Not nice.
What about Agent Orange [defoliant used in Vietnam], the use of Agent Orange. Was that used in the Quang Tri area?
And Tam Ky around that area in that district?
I am just trying to remember. I think that happened before my time. I’m just trying to think. It wasn’t [Operation] Rolling Thunder. Ranch Hand I think was the operation. Much of those areas had been defoliated and I would assume it was Agent Orange.
I would assume. I don’t know because the spraying had been done before my time. And I had seen areas. That’s right, I had seen areas being sprayed one some of the operations we were on but it was further away from us were there were four, five, six aircraft flying wingtip to wingtip and spraying. But we didn’t go near it and it was not being done from any airstrips near where I was. Again I’m assuming
it was Agent Orange, I don’t know, but people say that was most widely used so it probably was. I can’t confirm or deny I don’t know.
With the end of your tenure in Quang Tri province what happened after that for you
as far as postings were concerned.
I came home I was posted to 7 Field Squadron in Brisbane and had quite a delightful posting actually just getting back into normal living which was sometimes easy and sometimes not. I also did a fair amount of specific training for infantry units that
were getting ready to go away for a second or third tour and as a sapper I created mine warfare areas so that the lads could get a feel for what they were likely to see and using battle noise simulation techniques I could demonstrate the effect of five-hundred pound bombs, napalm, by making that mixture and just show them how effective it was.
I became like a special effects man in a film and that in effect is what I did. In fact I had one of my soldiers became the special effects man for The Odd Angry Shot with [Graham] Kennedy.
Now just in retrospect when you came back from Vietnam did you see Australia’s participation in it as necessary?
Oh God yes. Part of our
insurance premiums. We live on the rim of the Pacific. We live on the rim of Asia. We are not Asian and we are not Pacific. We are basically a European enclave basically down at the bottom of the earth. We are on a huge lad mass with a relatively small population. To
expect the assistance of friends there has to be a reason for the friends to want to assist in the first place and if that’s because they believe they have an obligation, legal or moral I don’t care, but that’s worth us paying for that insurance policy. If that means we go away and support,
we go away and support and I would much rather fight in someone else’s backyard than mine any day. I would much rather see blood on the jungle than blood on the wattle any time.
There was another question I wanted to ask before it slipped my mind. Fragging [murder of officers by their own troops] was a big problem in Vietnam.
Well of course it was. Especially in the American Army. You must have heard of that.
Oh I have heard of it but you said it was a big problem.
It could be in the American Army.
What you are really suggesting is that it made the headlines a few times okay.
And this is what other veterans have said.
Well yes. You haven’t spoken to too many American veterans yet have you?
I have just come across statistics in books, that’s all.
Yeah and how were the statistics? For long periods of time, over a four or five year period there were two and a half million people through. How many fraggings
for ’68? Have you got any figures through? No, okay I am being difficult and probably pedantic but I don’t think it was as big a problem as people made out, but one was too many. We had episodes ourselves and people who should have been bloody locked up for life in some cases were brought back, put in Long Bay [Gaol] and were out in bloody eighteen months.
And they should have been under the old bloody Defence Act taken out and bloody shot. It is just not acceptable at all.
Well what were the causes of fragging in the Australian Army?
People got pissed off and thought they were getting picked on. Probably too much booze [alcohol] and not busy enough. It didn’t happen in units that were deployed to the field of operations. It was nearly always base type units. And that was pretty much the same in the earlier days for the Americans too.
The field units didn’t have problems, they were too busy doing other things but the base units who were bored fartless were just getting interested and stuck into some of the harder drugs and doing stupid things. Lieutenant, captain, major so and so. He picked on me and I’ll fix him. And they would toss a grenade into his bloody bunker or bed or whatever. It was just bloody bullshit. And yeah anyway, one episode was a
problem but I certainly heard a bit about it in American things. I never. No I never saw it. Never ever and I think what I heard was probably third, fourth, fifth hand and I didn’t know if it was urban legend or what. So yeah I mean I obviously know there were
a couple of examples in the Australian Task Force but not a big problem. It depends what you mean by big problem.
In the army?
No probably the reverse in the army. If someone questioned a battalion or a company command he would most likely just pull out his forty-five and shoot him on the spot. I did see that once with
someone who refused to…he said, “I will not do that.” to the battalion commander so the battalion commander shot him. And he said to his 2IC [Second in Command], “You are not the company commander. Will you do it?” “Yes Sir.” “Good. Carry on.” You just butt out of those things. None of your business and I didn’t completely disagree with him.
What about the Vietnam
protest movements in Australia and the domestic environment. What was your reaction to those things then?
I was appalled. We were watching people in Australia telling outright lies about what was going on there and being believed and we weren’t being believed. I saw soldiers, Australian soldiers
being abused in the street, being abused when they were doing a march through cities on their way home. I watched newspapers pillory soldiers of all ranks. I watched and listened to politicians do it. And soldiers are just the instrument. They do nothing more than what their government orders them to do and their government
of course is the people. We had…it was at that time that political correctness was starting to come to the fore. We didn’t have people who were prepared to tell them, a pox on them and lock them up. I have this theory and it is not completely black and white there are shades of grey, and it comes from looking at stickers on the back of American pilots’ hard hats, their bone domes.
“It’s your flag. Love it or leave it.” “America, right or wrong.” My country is still my country.” Yep we do disagree with things but we protest against politicians, we protest against soldiers or sailors or airmen. They are doing their job and nothing more. I was appalled but it was a political movement and people like [Dr] Jim Cairns [anti war campaigner] in the fullness of time will be met by
Saint Peter who will bloody escort him down to the other place. A pox upon him because they lied. They outright bloody lied. And that is sad. It is just not good enough. It is not the Australian way.
Okay. I’m about to stop because we’ve just about run out of tape.
Interviewee: Russell Smith Archive ID 1889 Tape 07
Was Vietnam a war?
So how do you feel when people describe it as police action and use all these political jargons for it?
Exactly the same way as I feel as when someone describes a homosexual as gay. They have no idea what they are talking about. Some of the poorest, sorriest sons of bitches I have ever met in my life have
been homosexual. They are not gay. They just don’t like being described as homosexual so if someone doesn’t like something being described as a war let’s call it something else and let’s hope that when we call it a police action or a civil war or an invasion we will upset those who went away and did their bit for it And most of the time we couldn’t care less what they think because we were there. We knew what it was like. And they can think what they want to but
they cannot take away from the reality of the situation. As simple as that. So I don’t think it has any consequence at all and yet you know by the way I have responded to it that it pisses me off. Yeah. So I guess they’ve achieved something but they are wrong.
It must piss a lot of soldiers off when they describe it as anything but a war.
Yes it does. But the majority of them know and won’t waste their breath. They just find
it interesting that someone who has never done anything in their lives, has never been anywhere and has never been committed to something that they could actually do something about decides to take the piss out of them.
It is the reason that for most people didn’t understand the reason why
initially young and then older and real old people got together on days like Anzac Day and sat down and sometimes drank too much but certainly enjoyed the company of people who they didn’t have to explain anything to. They were people who knew that they had shared something special and it was special so they didn’t give a shit about anyone else. The rest of the world, yep we’d like to be able to
tell you but if we have to explain it you probably won’t understand anyway. That’s very selfish but I think that that’s the bottom line from a lot of people. Some cases I think and not necessarily Vietnam…I think hardly ever. I think for the Great War, those who did fight for the whole time on Gallipoli, that is did summer and winter and those poor buggers who did the Western Front.
They didn’t want to tell too many people about what the conditions were really like and with those that had shared it with them they didn’t have to. They just remembered those odd silly little things that had them giggling. Waterlogged, trench-footed, freezing, lice infected but someone did something that they giggled about for days. They could remember that but no explanation needed. So
we might put people off but we don’t worry any more. We see things coming out of Iraq and we feel terribly sorry for the people that are over there. But we also think that some of the people who are over there ought to know better. We would never have sent people who were that, not in more recent times, that poorly trained into that situation. And yet we came awfully close in [East] Timor.
I think most people don’t realise how narrow a squeak that was.
Do you think America lost Vietnam? Lost the war?
Well of course they did. It’s….lost the war. Yes simple question
simple answer. Yes.
There is more to it than that. They did desert people who deserved better. They deserted them. They left them in the lurch. There is no other way to describe it. It was an appalling lack of loyalty but Uncle Sam has done that before and will probably do it again. We did it too.
to a lesser degree but we sorted it out in the long run. The guilt allowed an awful lot of deserving boat people, genuine refugees to get into the country and make a real life for themselves. There are some thugs amongst them but by God there are some good people too. But nowadays they are starting to marry outside the Vietnamese community and
by goodness do they produce some gorgeous kids.
That’s wonderful. Did Australia lose the war in Vietnam?
No. We were not setting policy I think. This is almost playing bloody…it is almost pedantic here. We lost in Vietnam but we lost some innocence.
We lost in some cases a reputation for fair play. Yeah we did lose some things but we didn’t lose the war. America actually lost battles. We never did, ever. Not even close to it. We did real well. Militarily we did but politically I’ll accept politically but that was because
we cut and ran.
Just a quick hypothetical if the Australian command structure took over the training of American troops and artillery would the war in Vietnam have been won?
No. The training had nothing to do with it. Well yeah it did in your hypothetical but that was a political decision. If you had have said if they had have taken over the training and not necessarily the Americans…
Taken over the training…
And the administration.
And laid down the policy and got rid of all the bloody political restrictions, yes. But so could the Yanks. If they were allowed to go untrammelled and get stuck in. Margaret Thatcher [former British Prime Minister] in the Falklands [War] told the task force commander, “Go to it.
I will provide what you want.” And she did and she let the military people fight the military battle. As soon as they won, bang! In came the politicians and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Politicians make the decisions to go to war but the instant we join in battle let the generals and the soldiers get on with it. Butt out. If someone needs to be sacked sack them, but don’t do it just because you are getting a bit twitchy. You’ve got to
understand what is going on and I think that she did. There have been bugger all since who have understood. That’s my opinion.
I would just like to jump a bit forward to Kashmir now and come back to Vietnam later.
The Srinagar Rod and Gun club. Yes.
What can you tell us about your involvement there?
I loved it. As a kid who grew up on Kipling
to go to India and Pakistan and to an extent pretend that it is all one country even though the reason for the United Nations Observers in there is that there is a break up. And it is the line of control around Kashmir. It was wonderful. It was one of the few times…Not it wasn’t. It was the only time that I have ever seen an Australian type military organisation
with a full infantry division and a full armoured division in the field, full strength. Amazing. I have done it theoretically and I have seen it in film but I had never seen it for real. I was quite impressed. Very impressed. Kashmir is something that should have been sorted out in nineteen forty bloody eight. I mean it is still not sorted out today but that is politics for you and religious politics in particular.
It was a wonderful twelve months and four days. It really was for everybody. It was just an amazing place.
Can you just give us the details of why you were there and when you were there and so on?
Okay, 1947 there was a partition. There was supposed to be a plebiscite in the old Indian state of Kashmir which has a Hindu, no
Moslem majority and a Hindu head of state. I think that did it the wrong way. So what should have happened is that the Indian prince should have gone to wherever he went to and Kashmir should have gone to Pakistan based on the majority population as they decided at that time.
Yeah. [Mahatma] Gandhi. No [Jawaharlal] Nehru, sorry, was a Kashmir and a Kashmir Brahmin too. There was no way he was going to let his state to go Pakistan. So he was recalcitrant and it has remained that way ever since. No one will give up. It should go to Pakistan but it is a beautiful place. You have this
bloody political and religious bullshit that neither side will give an inch at all. So they fought several wars. There was ‘47, ‘63, and ‘72. Australia was one of the original countries to go into the Military Observer Group in ‘48 I think and they ceased in about ‘86 more’s the pity but
it was a Labor government again. But it was a great experience to see big organisations facing off and a beautiful country and you learned an awful lot about representational soldiering. There was a line of control and each side used to crib a little bit every time they thought they could get away with it and the observers’ role was to maintain continuous inspection
and to go in if someone complained about cribbing a bit of the line and to write a report. We weren’t peacekeepers. We were observers and we were supposed to be from the arms. Infantry armour or artillery engineers who could report and experienced who could report from an arms experience perception if
the lines were being breached and cribbed and who we reckon had transgressed. Wow and we were unarmed and we were given blue berets, white jeeps and a big flag that has UN [United Nations] on it. And Australians always carried Australian flashes. Australian flags on one shoulder and a big Australian flag instead of the UN because
we played cricket, squash and hockey against both countries and in those days we played pretty well. We played like gentlemen and all members of the one family. Occasionally these guys were doing pot shots while we were supposed to be doing out inspections and we thought that the Australian flag was far greater protection than the UN flag so we cheated a little bit and that’s what we did. I was there in 1980.
From 1 January 1980 to the fourth of January 1981. So it was a one year and four day posting and in the year that I was there India had beaten Australia in cricket, squash and hockey. It was a bloody great year to be on the sub-continent in an openly Australian uniform. It couldn’t have been nicer. So it was a wonderful place, a beautiful place. A great experience.
The Raj is alive and well. It always has been. It is just administered by different people nowadays. Pakistan was particularly interesting because that was being run by Zia Ul Haq at the time so it was a military dictatorship. They were, when I was there, out of the Commonwealth. Yeah out of the Commonwealth. They had been kicked out yet again. Not that it mattered because the majority of them didn’t know that. As far as they were concerned the Raj was still alive and well. And when they
would see any of us around and not wearing our Blue Berets but wearing an Australian beret and carrying our Australian stuff it was still as if the Raj was alive and well and when are you coming back. Well that is a different story and that was difficult at times but it was good fun.
Besides the UN car and so on did you feel that you were part of the UN or were you very much an Australian force?
Oh no we were part of the UN military
side but none of us were great admirers of the UN. We worked for the mission in that particular place but the UN as a whole. We were administered by the UN International Civil Service, the international side and this I don’t mind saying that I wouldn’t piss on most of them to put them out if they were on fire. The things that we have heard in the last few days about the oil for
food and what have you and the suggestions surprised me not one bit. Who was the bloody…Secretary General [Kurt] Waldheim the Nazi. He was secretary general at the time and you think what now. It was like the Olympics committee when the Spanish Fascist was heading it. People are treated as if they are thick and don’t understand things. It is just amazing.
But there has to be some sort of international organisation and I think that the UN is probably the worst possible example that the world has ever seen about political correctness. That is just because you head the government of a country that slaughters their own, rips
off everything and invades other countries doesn’t mean that we can’t be nice to you and be civilised. And you think hang on. I’m really a nasty prick and these people are kissing my arse. What can you do to help and that’s what happens. It is awful. Libya is heading the United Nations sub-committee on human rights abuses.
Sorry what else can you say? I mean there are some wonderful organisations in the UN. UNICEF [United Nations International Children and Education Fund], wonderful. The World Health Organisation. What is the other one? There is another that is really good but most of them are awful. I don’t think I am saying anything that’s new or radical. The military observer groups…I mean we were all soldiers and professionals and we did as best
we could in the situations. Australians always did very well because we always regarded ourselves as absolutely a political. We would insult them all. Nicely of course. Yes sir. Why are you such a f…wit sir. In the nicest possible way. Then you would talk a bit quickly and you would hope they didn’t completely understand because
the language of the mission was English.
How dangerous was it?
There was more danger on the roads than there was from the shooting side of things. All getting…well I got in the midst of a major riot outside of Skardu which is the closest populated city. Yeah it is a city…to [Mount] Godwin
Austen. It is the support town I suppose to K2 [Mount Godwin Austen] and it was one of the locations for a field station only in summer. In winter it was under about thirty feet of snow. And we used to go up into some high plains areas about sixteen or seventeen thousand feet to inspect the line there. We were coming back from an inspection and we had been driving for about twenty hours and we could see dust
where there shouldn’t have been. It was a fairly still day. And I said to the driver, “What’s going on up there?” And he said, “I don’t know sir.” We got closer and there was a full scale battle going on.” God bloody Lathies. [steel tipped bamboo clubs about 6 feet long]. The police were there and do you know Lathies? They were really getting stuck in. I thought bugger. Okay. I think we had better go another way. “No other way sir.” This could go for bloody ages.
We’ve got to get back. He said, “It will be all right Sir.” Okay. I had faith in my little driver. We did about twenty-five or thirty yards on the outside of this little riot and everything stoped. People stood back and, “Oh sahib. Tika sahib.” They talked and then once we got through they got stuck in again. He said, “Oh um…” I think he said, “It’s the water.” but I can’t remember the expression he used. But I understood exactly what he was saying. It is getting rid of steam. It is maybe
too much testosterone. But there was blood and bits of teeth but we could just go through. Okay. I rather liked that. It seemed fairly civilised in an uncivilised sort of way if that makes sense. Yeah. But the roads were awful. We…right up in the Himalayas, right up in the high part of the line, Gulmarg, out along Karakoram and along there we
took the doors off the Jeeps and there were some times when we would say to the drivers, “Stop. I will walk ahead and reconnoitre.” You weren’t going to sit in that bloody vehicle for anybody. Apart from that there was no problem. Not with shooting. They haven’t lost anyone in that way since probably ‘47 or ‘48, not that I am aware of but it was still an interesting place.
From your time in firstly India how did the Indian people…What did they think about Kashmir and what was happening?
Well they thought Kashmir was theirs. It was only fair and proper that it stayed theirs. They had no problems with that whatsoever. Do you want to ask me the same question about the Pakistanis?
They thought that it was theirs. They had no problems with that whatsoever. Sorry that’s the way it was. I think the Pakis [Pakistanis] were right.
It is predominantly a Moslem place; ninety or ninety-five per cent and so it should have gone to Pakistan.
Did the actual people on the streets care that much about it or how passionate were they?
Some aren’t. Those who are working their butts off to maintain some sort of dignity in their lives. They don’t really give a shit. They just want
to be allowed to get on with the job of supporting their families and raising their kids. All the things that we want to do. Just to a lower socio-economic level. As often as not it’s the religious fundamentalists, the fanatics, the same type of people that convince fourteen year old children to wrap TNT [high explosive] round their waists and go and blow something up. None of them ever do it.
They know. It always surprises me. Well it doesn’t surprise me and based on my reading of such things…I have never read the base document completely. You can not misinterpret what the Koran says that much. But who am I? No, I don’t think the ordinary man in the street gives a
rat’s arse. He just wants to be let alone to get on with his life but isn’t that the same here. Yesterday’s university students who made such idiots of themselves with Vietnam and all that sort of thing are all with their mortgages now and trying to educate their kids etc, etc. Amazing isn’t it. Full circle. That’s the way it goes. Religious fanatics are worse though.
They are generally awful people and I don’t care what religion it is. Go back to Melbourne’s early days and the wowsers, the fundamentalists of the Methodist church and I am one. I am not a fundamentalist but I was born a Methodist and my God they were awful. What difference was there? They weren’t blowing themselves up with TNT but they were trying to close down perfectly acceptable pubs and things and dancing places so in their own way they were
just as awful.
Did you have any dealings with fundamentalists while you were in Kashmir?
Oh occasionally you met a few. You wouldn’t set out to. You’d meet people and talk to people and I like people generally. And some of the better educated ones, those who were the thick fundamentalists wouldn’t say hello anyway.
Because you were round eyed. Their kids would. That could be a bit hard. But you could have some interesting conversations with people who had some fundamentalist beliefs but probably weren’t blowing up each other. That fundamental. And you could talk to them. I don’t know if you can ever convince them but I’d try and run a conversation that was called canvassing them.
Just getting information without in any way commenting back for or against. Just genuinely interested. The polite ones would realise pretty quickly what you were doing and they would just give you information. It was just to get an understanding. It is like Ireland. I just don’t understand. I have heard all the reasons and I have read them all but I just don’t understand why it is that difficult to sort things out. But it is like family. I mean family,
there is nothing you can do about it. Family is family. Do you know what I mean? Yeah and so I think that whilst talking to them they are unconvincible. It is sad.
Do they seem like just ordinary people? What were their personality traits compared to normal people?
These were the people certainly if they were Moslem their women would be under full Purdah and that is pretty awful.
I mean a shuttle cock walking upside down is just an awful thing to see. Especially in some of those temperatures. They were…Some of them were wild eyed too. You’ve heard the expression. The same as Ghurkhas when they get angry. Their eyes go bloodshot. They really do. It is frightening. You would try and avoid some areas. Certainly after dark you would definitely
avoid them if you were by yourself. You might not get away with it if you were by yourself. You might not overtly do some things. You just would go softly. You tried to avoid Shiite areas. Sunnis are pretty tolerant but Shiites would get a bit twitchy. So yes you were careful.
So they are a different type of people to the average Joe walking in the street?
Yeah because they are zealots. Most people are not zealots. Even about Collingwood [football club] they are not zealots. But they can get passionately involved in some things. Zealots are the problem. Ordinary reasonable people will say, “This is not fair.” and they will get on with the business of living.
And would try and do something in the ballot box the same as we do. They might get peed off with the result. Why can’t everyone agree with me? Well how boring it would be but they….I was going to say the better people. By better I mean the reasonable people. Those just trying to get on with life.
Were there differences between the fundamentalists in India and Pakistan?
Well one lot was Moslem and the other lot was Hindu.
I don’t see it. Not in their attitudes. Each was as right as the other was wrong. And I don’t seen any difference with a Methodist fundamentalist or an Anglican or a Catholic and God help us some of the hot gospellers making their millions in America. There is no difference that I see it anyway. Sorry.
How would you compare the two societies?
India and Pakistan. Interchangeable. I don’t see…There is a line drawn on the ground. They lived together for thousands of years. They had their problems but that happens. Families are like that. Some of them are pretty horrible problems but generally speaking they did quite well. They lived exceedingly well. Kashmir is an Indian state with a Moslem population
and a Hindu Nawab lived quite well. There were problems now and then but we have problems now and then. yeah. It is one of those things. They always would send in the Queen’s man and he would sort it out. Hang a few, send in some goats and set it all up again.
Did you prefer one country to the other, staying there?
Very early in the piece my first tour there was in Pakistan and so apart from what I had read everything that I got was from a Pakistani perspective and there was no question that I understood absolutely what the Paks were saying. A smaller population. If they really wanted to India could
swallow them like that. That’s militarily. I’m not talking about politically and I’m not talking about nukes [nuclear weapons] either. Short of that the Indians are very, very efficient for such a big organisation. After I had done both sides I just basically thought, “Well shit why can’t they just sort it out?” There is so much in common in the history.
Way before the Raj was a common history really and Pakistan in my opinion needs the support of India in some things and in other things the Pakistan section of the Punjab is a major grain bowl to help on the Indian side as well. They could feed off each other, why not? But then again I read too much Kipling and that’s a problem.
Can you just take us
through, if there was a dispute on the line how it would actually come down and what was the actual process you went through.
Okay someone would take a pot shot and then a pot shot would be fired in return. This might be at an individual level and then the section might say well bugger it and give half a belt of machinegun fire which would get maybe a full belt in return. And someone would say,
well bugger, and drop off a mortar round and before you know it there is artillery going off. It might start to get a bit more interesting. There is a political agreement but only to a point. People have been facing off for months and months on end and they do get bored. To blaze off half a belt in the direction of someone who you are told is your enemy. Hey that’s all right. You can take out your frustrations. So hey, someone would complain and there might be
a truce between the two. The battalion commanders or the brigade commanders might ring them up. They would go through the civvie telephone exchange for God’s sake. Say Geoffrey. Twenty years ago, perhaps not so much nowadays but they were probably educated at the same school, at the same officer training school. Went to Staff College together for God’s sake. “Geoffrey.” “Yes Lloyd.” “Let’s stop this bullshit.” It was that sort of thing and then they would say hey while we were shooting one of your buggers has done so and so and then the UN
would get called in. Now in my time interestingly enough the Indians allowed us out there on the UN field stations but they wouldn’t let us inspect the line. The Pakis….remember. They are not as strong as India. India could shit all over them in no time at all. The Pakis wanted us there and spoiled us rotten so it would be a Pakistani complaint
and we would go and talk to the Paki commander. Get a chronology of events. We would write it all down and we would do measurements and things and we would rather hope that someone would be allowed on the other side. So a report would come in from the battalion on the line to the UN people on the Indian side. They would compare the two of them and come up with who they reckoned had transgressed
and then go back to either side with a note from the Chief Military Observer and then he would do a report to you in headquarters. This being just a waste of time and paper. And I have just talked about this in a minute. This has probably taken five or six months. Yeah. But at least they weren’t at it completely. As often as not apart from the odd water
buffalo no one got hurt. In more recent times there have been some nasty things but they have been way up in the high country. I mean some of these artillery exchanges have been at sixteen to eighteen thousand feet. We had one…the highest permanently manned military post into the world was at nineteen thousand two hundred feet on the Paki side and you drive to fourteen thousand feet and walk the last five thousand two hundred to inspect it.
We would do that after we had been in a high area for quite some time just to acclimatise. If you compare [Mount] Kosciusko. We were twice Kosciusko’s height where we drove to for God’s sake so that was pretty interesting. And that’s where it got a bit fierce and a bit heavy. But they haven’t really got…Not since ‘70 whatever have they really got stuck in.
My next question was going to be how volatile was the situation, but can you add to that?
But it isn’t. I don’t think it has changed that much. My most recent opinion and it is just based on what I am reading in the normal things that are available to most people. I have only read in greater depth because I know the area in depth and I like the people. But it is from twenty-three years ago. God. Yeah there is
a degree of volatility but they don’t want a full-scale war. Not nice. Not with both of them knowing that the other’s got nukes. They don’t want that at all.
What about back then? Do you think they could have gone for a full scale war without the nukes?
They may have started off in that way but the Paks would call time out very quickly because they know.
The only reason the Indians have nukes is because the Paks have been developing them for many years because they are so much smaller. They are not capable otherwise they would do it. So the Indians did theirs which probably means the nukes would stand off. But if push got to shove and if one side thought the other was getting the advantage then they would bloody fire one. They do get excited and remember it was…they talk about
soccer crowds and hooligans in England and Europe but it was on the sub-continent that fences were first put up to keep people out of the cricket ground for God’s sake. They were put up so yeah. They get excited.
Just quickly. What was it like seeing those mountains and the mountain range and just being there?
different from the Victorian high country. Our mountains are not the highest in the world but they are the closest to heaven. I will answer the question. The Himalayas are magnificent. They are really something to see and I’m glad I’ve been there and I’m glad I’ve climbed some of them but I prefer ours. Ours are
softer. That is hard country. Some of the valleys go further up beyond Gilgit to the Hunza Valley and things like that…They are just gob smackingly beautiful. They make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It is just wonderful. And all of that Kipling stuff…The Man Who Would Be King…You could see it all happening.
You can see [Sean] Connery and [Michael] Caine [actors] doing their thing there. Amazing stuff. Yeah.
From what you saw of the Indians and the Pakistanis. Do you think, the man on the street, that they can live together?
They have. They do. For most part they do just that. And in some areas the communities are terribly protective of each other. When there has been communal
violence else where some of the smaller communities have drawn into themselves to protect themselves. Others have torn themselves apart so it depends on the firebrands and as often as not it is the priest and they have always been the problem. No matter what their correct term is, the priests have always been the troublemakers.
Just another quick hypothetical for you. If they could all live together could they combine and become one state and India, Kashmir and Pakistan become one country?
Well they were. And Bangladesh of course. That was part of it but of course there were. The only reason they wouldn’t is politics, power and
because Pakistan was the first specially Moslem created country in the world. That doesn’t mean bloody anything to me but I am not a Moslem. It would be pretty potent. Did you know as a matter of interest
that that independence in ‘47 the Indians called the Mutiny of the First War of Independence. I like that. I think it is rather subtle. But at Independence the population of India was about three hundred and thirty million and the civil service was sixteen hundred strong.
We’ll just stop there.
Interviewee: Russell Smith Archive ID 1889 Tape 08
So now we’ll jump back a bit again to your final days in Vietnam and what were the circumstances of your leaving there?
My posting came up. It is time to go. We weren’t there for the duration and it was now my time to come home and I was probably tired too.
Did you have any effects after the mutiny occurred?
I was twitchy for quite some time. Yeah that was interesting. That was a fairly close run thing. I know it had absolutely nothing to do with anything I had been involved in but it was still a slap in the face. I had never seen that and I hope never to see another one at all. It was not very nice at all and it was a bit frightening but after
we had cleaned up, after the battalion commander…in fact the battalion was basically taken away to be reformed. We went up to Da Nang to have a couple of days off and we went up and they said, “You are going home.” I said, “Oh thank you. I haven’t been in country long enough.” “Go home. Go and enjoy.” I was home for my first wedding anniversary which was awfully nice
so the family knew I was coming but not when. I got to Melbourne at some ungodly hour of the morning, not a penny to my name and got out at Tullamarine or Essendon [airports], I can’t remember. Got a cabbie and said, “Puckapunyal.” “Climb in my boy.” Things were just starting to open up. I said, “Stop here. Go into
the office to draw some money and I will be out to pay you.” And he said, “Oh don’t worry.” I said, “You’ve just driven me from Melbourne.” He said, “No. I have been a soldier myself son. Have a good stay. Cheers.” That’s pretty nice and you never saw that in the bloody headlines. No people waving banners saying the lad’s doing a good job. He was an ex-soldier and he knew so it was rather nice actually. Yeah.
Before you came back did you talk to people about what had happened in the mutiny and being a bit twitchy?
Just what had gone on. Yeah. Not in any detail. I just wrote a report on what I knew and that was it. It wasn’t my mutiny. It sounds a bit bloody buck passing but it wasn’t. It just wasn’t nice. That’s all. It was not sporting at all.
But they could see that you needed a break?
Oh yes. Yes. Because remember we had come out of that big contact, gone onto the hill. It was time for a break.
Did you feel that yourself?
Probably not. In retrospect yes but at the time I would doubt it.
There were a couple of things that happened at odd times where you didn’t say anything because only wusses said things. Stupidity. In retrospect stupidity but at that time it’s just what you did. You didn’t buggerise around. I mean my wound that I did myself…That didn’t go anywhere.
It was just the way it was. It was only…I picked up a dose of…we think it was leptospirosis which is from rats’ piss going into open wounds in water and there was lots of water. I had been feeling poorly for a little while but these things happened and it could be a whole range of things. We were having a visit…as we did on a regular basis, the headquarters AATTV used to get on a
regular basis one of the head doctors, Australian doctors to come up and just check people. Just have a quick look and see if there was anything quite obvious or not. We used the US system obviously because there was so few of us wherever we were. That’s why our records are so awful from that time. If we didn’t do something on return to Australia there was nothing in existence. The Yanks have got them in their files somewhere.
Anyway this guy was up and I was up for pay and I was asked if I would take him and show him and do a tourist thing around Da Nang. No problems at all. He said, “You look a bit tired.” “I’m all right. I’ve had a bit of an upset. I’ll be okay. I’ve just been out for a couple of days and I’ll go to bed later on.” He said, “Are you sure you want to take me?” “No problems at all.” I took him up to a place called Monkey Mountain which had a magnificent view over
Da Nang Harbour and he said, “This is wonderful Russell. Thank you very much.” And I turned round to say, “That’s all right.” And collapsed with a raging temperature of a hundred and five or something. And he drove an American jeep for the first time and we had passed. A full colonel I think. We had passed the Naval Support Activity Hospital on the way up to Monkey Mountain. He just took me straight down and took me in there and said, “Admit this man. I am Colonel
so and so.” “You are Australian.” “There is an agreement between our government and your government to look after these people. They pay one hundred dollars per adviser per day so don’t create a diplomatic incident. Admit him.” I got a captain’s cabin. You know that naval captains are for more potent than army captains so it was lovely. They prodded and poked and took blood and decided that was it. They gave me a couple of things of antibiotics and I was out in two or three days.
But it was pretty nasty at the time and that was probably the only time apart from almost being scalped once…Street Without Joy, big paddy bunds and we were having some of them having a go at us which was a bit difficult. So we called in air support and then realised I couldn’t correct the aircraft because I couldn’t see anything.
And on one corner of some paddy bunds or a junction there was this whacking great tree so I took the radio and climbed up this tree and I was calling in the air…There were Marine Corps Phantoms and they were doing a wonderful job. It wasn’t until Jack Morrison who was there said, “You stupid thing Sir.” And I realised that the tree was disappearing from around me
because they who were shooting at us and then being shot at by the Phantoms realised that someone was doing something and here was this shadow in the tree and I was correcting the bloody thing and just as I realised that I shouldn’t be there and it was a bit silly, a piece of five hundred pound bomb, and it was glowing white hot and came down a took a little bit off here.
Just the top of the head. Just snuck it off. In fact that’s how I had an idea when that photo I showed you before was because there is a little line in my hair of when that scar finally disappeared. It certainly smarted I can bloody tell you and Jack was bloody angry. “Don’t you bloody talk to me like that Mr. Morrison. How dare you.” “Use some f…… sense!” And he went right out of his brain and he was right too.
But it had to be done at the time. See, youngsters. Immortal. Don’t think about it. Job’s more important than anything else. In retrospect I would have sat back and said, “Carry on sergeant.” Or something like that yeah. But not that stupidity.
What year did you start to become mortal?
I think I knew by that time but every now and again you got caught up in the bloody excitement of the thing. You knew something had to be done so you just did it.
Yeah. Should have had more sense in some cases but you were professional soldiers and you did things. Perhaps with another war under our belt we would have been in a different situation all together. And perhaps if it had been a few years later. I mean I was bloody young and
I didn’t have a lot of military experience under the belt and thought that there was something to prove. That I wasn’t going to wimp or wuss out. I don’t know what the expression was we would have used then. We soldiered on and that was probably silly but yeah that’s the way it was.
Did you see people around you that
couldn’t cope with the situation?
Not at the time. I don’t…I saw people get angry for no reason at times and I have done it myself. And that was probably part of it but we would have been tired or whatever. There would have been a perfectly valid reason why someone was twitchy.
No. Didn’t understand at all. Didn’t see Australians in the Team in that situation. In retrospect I know that there was a whole swag of us who were twitchy. But that is in retrospect.
When you say twitchy can you describe what you mean by that?
We were twitchy. We reacted
strangely to normal situations. We got shitty when we shouldn’t have got shitty. Perhaps when we finally got to be fathers we weren’t as reasonable to our kids as we should have been. We, some of us, colour coordinated our pegs on the clothesline with things we were hanging up. We got twitchy. We became compulsive/obsessive.
We did all sorts of strange things but because we were all still in the system and most of us were senior for those who wanted to say something and were never game to because they didn’t know what we would do. We didn’t realise it and we were chaps. Chaps never get sick. Chaps don’t need to see doctors; chaps are perfectly okay all the time. True. When I say that that’s
irony with a lot of years under the belt now but we probably still do it to a degree because we know that we are not immortal but we are not far from it.
From our discussions in the past it seems the Vietnam generation were more open to doctors than the World War II generation.
I can’t comment
And counselling and so on.
Oh Jesus. You know something that I don’t. I think some people came to that many, many years, and in some cases many, many years later but I don’t know that and I don’t so I can’t comment.
That question came up because you said we’re chaps. It doesn’t matter. That was the World War II attitude that we’ve found.
That is the chaps’ attitude. Everybody wants an excuse for why something didn’t work out. You read the paper every day. He just killed the whole family, ripped out their hearts and fed them to the dogs and he’s been storing the bloody thighs for barbeques. It wasn’t his fault. Someone once said that he couldn’t go to the bloody circus
or he couldn’t have that second ice cream. You know what I’m saying? I’m being bloody facetious but it is true. How many times? Oh it was his upbringing. Oh shit. Some people are just naturally wicked and some people are just naturally stupid. I think that the green system prepared all of us very well for going to war. It didn’t prepare us well by telling us how to come back home.
And that’s just the way it was. And I didn’t realise that at the time. It is something I thought about and I think it is true. But the chaps thing. I mean chaps today still don’t go to the doctors. Well I’ve come from rural Australia. Maybe that’s a rural thing. Maybe that’s not a Lygon Street, [café strip in Melbourne] latte drinking, yuppie thing but chaps don’t
see doctors and certainly don’t seek bloody counselling in rural Australia I promise you. There are a lot with drought and fire and all the rest of it who are topping [killing] themselves and maybe they should. I was being ironical I wasn’t being critical.
What do you think the army should have told you about when you came home?
I don’t know. There may have been a couple of…There may have been a couple of
psychologists that we had that had an idea but I’m not sure. Those who got really funny were the chaps that got off an aeroplane let’s say Monday morning. By Monday lunchtime they were at Eastern Command Depot and they were out of the army, they had their last pay and they were heading home to see their girlfriend, wife, whatever and they had just gone through one of
the most defining periods of their lives. They really had. They had been to war. They could have been quite proud of the fact that they had been to war, they had proved themselves. They had followed in Dad or Grandad or Uncle Jim’s footsteps and they had the experience. But they got home and Mum, “Jimmy I’ve made trifle with bloody passionfruit delight and
we have ice cream and all the things that you like.” And he said, “Mum you won’t believe…” “Oh we don’t want to talk about that.” Sorry and they had no one to get it out of the system. Those of us who were soldiers, we were either going, just getting ready to go or just coming back and helping other people get ready to go. We were in the extended family and if we were twitchy or had that extra glass or three of port that we shouldn’t have had
someone would make sure that the keys were hung on the PMC’s hook and the flat was opened and so and so was put to bed. Someone would sit there for a while to make sure you were in bed and they would come along the next morning and say, “I rang and told your other half that you were incapable of driving home.” Yep. The system looked after them and it always had. The same as the system protected people with a tendency to drink too much booze. In fact it protected alcoholics for years. It was wrong
but that’s what systems do. Who protects recalcitrant priests? The church. Who protects recalcitrant doctors? The medical profession. No one protects anyone like lawyers protect their own. So that’s how it was and at least we had the extended green family around to help out. These National Servicemen, bang, from one
and it could have been twenty-four hours to the other. Grossly unfair. If they had stayed in for another three or four weeks and talked their way out of it I think it would have been better. That is a lay opinion from a lot of years of observation.
I was going to ask if they should go somewhere for…
Well they do nowadays. So many people have had quite cathartic
experiences like that coming home parade which I didn’t make but when I saw 3RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] march it was nearly three battalions on parade and it was magnificent. They were right. They were back in amongst their own. A lot of them didn’t come home until that time and it knocked a lot of them around. It screwed up whole lives and they didn’t know why. They had never been allowed to come home.
They hadn’t been allowed to be with that extended family and they didn’t know. And there are a lot of World War II and Korean War guys the same but at least they got their home comings. Some did and some didn’t. A class mate of mine, last Anzac Day just past was the first Anzac Day he had been to since he came back from Vietnam. He was just staying with me for a few days and he came along and
at our Anzac Day he met a chap who had been coming down to Omeo every day Anzac Day for three years and he served in the same unit. They didn’t stop talking for six hours. No problem. He’s home. It happens. I mean it wasn’t planned. He didn’t know. It was just one of those things. Interesting isn’t it and that was another professional soldier.
At the end of World War II a lot of the guys were told, “Don’t talk about it
just deal with it.” Was that the same attitude after Vietnam?
No. No one ever said anything. That’s the way it was. Maybe they discovered that the not talking about it was bullshit so say nothing. Let them find out for themselves, but we never complained. No one blamed anybody. That was it. You are not the person I married. Oh you must have changed. I haven’t. Okay.
I mean as I said I saw that photo and said, “Who is that person. Who was that child?”
Did you yourself have any nightmares or any bad dreams or that?
Well there were a couple of times when things went through the brain but you think bugger. I wish I had have done that differently or I wish I hadn’t have done that or bugger….But I don’t think
I have ever woken up screaming in the night. There have been some things that have concerned but they have been more waking hours than the night time. I have jumped under things when there have been strange noises going bang in the night. I promise you that still can occasionally do it. And I don’t care what anybody says but the sound of a D model Iroquois [helicopter]
with the bloody tips of the rotors bloody cracking the sound barrier, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. But I do the same thing if I hear a bloody Rolls Royce Motor blowing a Spitfire through the air too and I have never heard them fly in anger. But it is that sort of thing. It is something that evokes a reaction and it is oh yeah.
We just talked to a Vietnam guy who said, actually the army switches the switch on
and it doesn’t show you how to turn that switch off.
Yeah. That’s what I said but in a different way. They tell you about going and not coming home. Yes they do. I don’t think that the green machine sees that it has a responsibility to do that and I’m not sure that I think they do either. Probably they do. Duty of care but where do you stop it? I’m not sure.
I’m not sure. I am really not sure. Yeah. Interesting isn’t it?
What are your thoughts on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
I don’t think there is any question about that and it exists in a whole range of things. Yeah. I think it is like God. If it didn’t exist it would have to be created.
Because the mere fact that it does exist is a comfort to a lot of people because it gives them a reason why they are a bit funny and have gone a bit funny. And it has happened to most of us. We reacted, and we might have anyway but there have been some different kinds of reactions to situations that in our callow youth
that we would have completely ignored or gone right overboard at. I find that there are a lot of big things now that just don’t fuss me at all. I just don’t get upset about it because I know that it is not really that big. We can sort this out. Yeah. Different approach. A different approach to life’s rich tapestry.
It may be more reasonable. Now I am not sure because I’m a bit bloody paranoid. Someone else can answer the questions about how I react to things far better than I can. Yeah probably there are some differences.
Do you believe that you yourself had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
I believe I was a bit screwed around for a while. But I found out when someone
said, “Do you realise what you have?” “No.” then I sat down and thought about it. I was screwed around but that is part of it. I don’t blame anybody. It is something that happened.
Do you feel that soldiers can work their way through it?
Oh absolutely. I am still here and feeling reasonable.
Five years ago I probably would not have been sitting in front of this camera.
Why is that?
None of your frigging business. Okay. Do you know what I am saying? Do you get the point I was making before about people who can get together don’t bother explaining? Yeah. None of your business. It is my bloody business. But maybe there is something there
that might be of some help to someone. If not they might laugh and get some wry amusement. Or caught up in the War Crimes Tribunal…one of the three.
But that is the best thing to do is to talk and communicate, do you feel?
Yeah. Absolutely. But we haven’t been communicating today, not really. You’ve been asking some questions. You’ve been pushing some buttons and you’ve been getting some answers but five years ago you wouldn’t have. Some of the things I wouldn’t have even thought about. Most since then
But even not just today but talking out loud, sharing those views with people like us. Does that help in any way?
I don’t know. I’ve been giving Anzac Day addresses for a long time. I have never ever given a personal one. Some people have no problems at all
and I’ve always worked on the principle that it is my business and no one else’s and it is to share with the people that I shared the time with or, you know, the mere fact that this was given and it might be for people who are doing some research in the future and there might be some stuff that will be of assistance. Otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. But I would like to think that maybe there is something where someone will say, “Goodness.”
I would hope that you have heard nothing unique today at all. But if you have oh well that’s because we all have different experiences and you are right. We have only touched on a few things haven’t we?
At reunions and so on how prevalent is PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]?
I have no idea. I have never seen it at reunions. People are normal at reunions. The fact is we all look a bit older.
Some look a lot older but people are with family. They are with the band. There is no problem. They see bloody Hector being just as objectionable as he always was but that is Hector. It doesn’t matter understand? You accept things. When you are from that band of brothers you accept the peccadillos. And you are probably rude to each other too but that’s all right, that’s family.
Or greater than family. That is perfectly Okay. Things I might say to you as a member of the family if he bloody says it I’ll snot the prick. Okay. You may be a boong [Aborigine] but you are our boong, okay? I mean there’s an Aboriginal living in our valley, a lovely guy and he is our boong. There have been a couple of people who learned the hard way to be very careful about what they say. You get
some bloody stockman about twelve foot across the shoulders saying, “Listen here arsehole.” Whack. He’s our boong. Do you want a drink Russell, different Russell all together and that’s it. It’s one of those things. It is the Australian way isn’t it?
When you do get together do you talk about the hard times as well as the good?
Most…You tend to take the mickey out of yourself about something. About some dreadful
mistake that you made. The tree…the tree disappearing around you. There are some blokes who nearly wet themselves when they hear that. You silly bastard. So you are taking the piss out of yourself and it happened and it was pretty dramatic. And it could have been bloody final but looking at it and they can see shit, the tree’s disappearing, what the f… am I doing up here?
When you are concentrating you don’t think about these things at the time because you are busy and then suddenly. Oh Good. The good Lord does look after fools, small children and drunks and I’m not sure which one we were. Certainly two…Maybe the drunk part during the day we weren’t but the other two. Small children and fools. We could be classified as specially deserving of his assistance.
Do you know of many guys who came back and committed suicide or turned to drugs or things like that?
I know a few who turned to booze which is a drug but I accept that when you are talking about drugs you are probably talking about heavier drugs. As distinct from the drugs of booze and tobacco.
No. I can’t think of anyone, my people, who came back and topped themselves that I am aware of. I know of a lot of people that I didn’t know and from other units that had service who topped themselves but I didn’t know them, so no.
Can you understand why they would do that?
There are two ways of looking at it. One is that it is the easy way out. The other is that they are hopefully have some dreadfully debilitating bloody thing and they have made the decision that they are gradually going to fall to pieces in front of everybody else. They have got their affairs
in order, have said their farewells and are away. I can think of no other reason for it and therefore I probably don’t understand.
With your PTSD?
That is assuming that what I had when I was twitchy was PTSD.
I thought before you said you had it?
I said I was twitchy…a bit funny.
That’s all right. We all make
But with the way you were feeling was it because of one incident or because of the general time you were there?
Oh I think it would be…I think it would be a range of things…If it was one would be….you asked the question were there specific dreams and things and no there were not. If it was one thing unless I was able to completely block it out of my mind it would come back and I’m not
aware of a particular thing that ever comes back. There are a range of things that do and some of them are funny as I said and some of those things, shit I wish I had never done that. It is not a constant recurring thing. No. It does happen if I am reading a book, say one of McKay’s books or somebody else’s or flicking through my copy of “The Team” it will remind me having seen,
I can relate to that, and you’ll thing of something that you have done that is not completely dissimilar. That can be a reminder. Or the occasional film. I recently saw Mel Gibson in, “We Were Soldiers Once.” It had the “And Young” left off but the book was, “We were Soldiers Once and Young” and that brought an awful lot home. Did you see the film?
Yes. What did you think of it?
Did you see the sergeant major when he said, “But Custer was a pussy sir.” Apart from the accent that is an Australian warrant officer’s response. “Come on sir you are better than that.” Oh wonderful film. Very accurate. But as they called him the command sergeant major, the RSM in our language
was so accurate, perfectly showed. The man was immaculate the whole time. RSMs do things like that. I don’t know how they do it.
On films, what other film portrays what happened?
‘Saving Private Ryan’ only had the smells left out. ‘A Bridge Too Far’, excellent show.
‘Enemy at the Gates.’ Interesting. That didn’t have the smell either but everything else was pretty good.
That was interesting. I had no problems with that but it had nothing to do with my experiences whatsoever. Well apart from the fact that….No it was ‘Full Metal Jacket’ when they were in Hue. It was a small unit thing and it was
entertainment. It was a moral story. But ‘We Were Soldiers Once and Young’. That was excellent. That portrayed things and it was right for the age. It was very morally courageous but for the time that was the American professional army way. They were prudes beyond belief. We used to leave them mortified. Yeah.
When you came back from Vietnam and there was a
not a really nice reception for a lot of soldiers how did you take that personally?
A pox upon them. Basically just as we did and the army did do that I promise, just withdrew into cantonments and ignored the rest of society and for a long time too and we just did our thing. And it was a pox upon you.
And probably after a few years if anyone had have pointed the finger or said anything they were likely to get snotted. Not beaten up, just snotted. They would know they had been bloody snotted. There was no question about it. I do remember a warrant officer in Canberra who had retired with ‘Woman Against Rape in War’ who were setting
up ready to have their corresponding march up Anzac Parade. The warrant officer who shall remain nameless walked up to this lady, looked her up and down, and said, “Madam you’ve got no worries at all.” He about faced and came back and fell in. Yes we felt so good about that. “Oh that was rude.” “Yes it was, wasn’t it boss?” “How did it feel?” “Marvellous.” The woman knew what he was talking about too. It was quite interesting.
It is like nude beaches. People who you would like to see naked on a beach never do it do they? Those who should be under full length paper bags or something parade all. Isn’t it true? Yeah. God and it is the same with Women Against Rape in War. Those that do have no problems whatsoever. It is not denigrating. It is a fact of life. Sorry.
Sorry. No. Very good. It’s true.
When you came back…How long have you been a member of the RSL [Returned and Services League]?
I think I joined the RSL in Omeo. I have never been around in any place long enough. It is a bit like, I was once asked if I would join the Masonic Lodge and I said, “Why?”
“Well it’s a Loyal Lodge.” I said, “I have held Her Majesty’s commission since 1965. Why would I want to do it again?” When I was to be sworn in as a councillor in Omeo Shire I said, “I took an oath in 1965. I am more than happy to affirm that oath but I will not take another one. My word, sir, is my bond.” Pomposity. Yes. It was wonderful. They didn’t know how to react. Anyway
How long have you been in the RSL?
In Omeo so I would have joined in 1984. It was home and it is a great little place and it is different. We do things our way. Which is different?
You found no problems at all with the RSL?
There were two full members. There was the president and there was me. There were associates but
at that stage there were two returned guys. And he was air force so he was no problem. There were two of us. A lot of people who hadn’t been members, we’ve just gone out and talked quietly and a lot of people have found it easier to come home. Okay. We have a great little turn up now. A lot of Vietnam guys, some Korean guys. We have some people who come down from Queensland,
not many, but it is a bit different.
A few of the Vietnam guys said that they didn’t join up or they weren’t happy with what happened when they initially returned. But here we are today and they have organised this room and everything and obviously the perceptions and the way Vietnam Vets are treated….
We are the old farts now you see. We are the people with the experience. Yeah. It was the old school never likes to see the young ones
because it wasn’t like ours. You think you had it tough but we lived in cardboard boxes in the middle of the road. I can’t remember how it goes. Yeah I think that had a lot to do with it. And at one stage the RSL was controlled a lot by ex-servicemen who had never done anything. They hadn’t been out there and there were a lot of people who went to Vietnam
who never ever fired a shot in anger but they were part of the big system. But those who went out there worked as hard as anyone since the Great War in the trenches. They were on duty twenty-four hours a day for the whole time we were there.
Well Russell I will just stop you there and we’ve got about forty seconds so I will just give you that time to wrap it up basically.
Oh bugger that.
The floor is yours.
it up, just thanks for the opportunity. It has been a most interesting day and honestly I had no idea how much has come out. And only I know what hasn’t come out but I didn’t know how much would come out. So it has been a good day. Thanks chaps.
Thank you very much Russell. Great day.