Archive number: 1939
Date interviewed: 04 May, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Well, Noel, thank you very much for being involved in the archive project. Well the first thing I’m going to ask you to do if you can is give a summary, just the main points of your life from when you were born to now.
Well I was born at Stuart Town. Which we are now in Wellington but we lived say about thirty Ks [kilometres] from here. Went to primary
school in Stuart Town. And still living in Stuart Town I came to Wellington to high school. Then I left school and I worked here in Wellington at the local co-op [co-operative] store which doesn’t exist anymore but it did then. Ah then I went to Sydney to work for about two years. I worked here for about two years then I went to Sydney for about two years. Then I got called up, National Service, for a further two years.
Coming out of that I bought a business at Stuart Town, a general store, which I had for thirteen years. By this time, I wasn’t married when I bought the business but then I was married after a couple of years. Then we move to – when we sold the business we moved to Wellington. And I’ve worked in here
up until retirement last September ever since. And here I am still.
Fantastic, thank you. I’m going to go back and ask you about your childhood. Can you tell me a bit about your mother and father and their background?
Yes my mother was born the other side of Carinda, which is thirty miles, how many Ks is that? About fifty Ks west of Walgett. Her parents were on the land there. They
were actually settlers there, going way back. Her maiden name was Newton. My father was born at Stuart Town as was his father. Ah, and Dad was a shearer and that’s how he met Mum, you know he was going all over the place shearing. Um – what do we need to know about them? Well Dad, yeah Dad first. He ah –
a very hard worker, one of six. I’m one of six. He somehow managed to feed us and clothe us very well. I don’t imagine there would have been any spare pounds in those days. But ah yeah, he went away a lot. Not for lengthy periods but he’d be away most weeks either, mostly shearing when he was younger, which was good money. It still is I think but very hard work. He also trapped rabbits when rabbits were
really thick, I mean they’re still a menace, but back when they were in plague proportions. And that was quite good money he made out of those. He had a few acres, as in about a hundred acres, which wasn’t big enough to support us but he did run a few sheep and cattle and we had our own milking cows and that sort of stuff. And then in later years he worked on a property which he did a bit of too as a general hand for quite some years
locally at Stuart Town. And unfortunately at the age of fifty-two he suddenly had a heart attack and died, bang, one day at work. But a good man. And I’m sorry I didn’t know him more because he died six months after I returned from Vietnam. Mum also hardworking, hardworking. She was the one while Dad was away through the week who milked the cows and grew the vegies, made the butter, all that stuff.
And somehow managed to have and rear six of us. But she was a good mother, a good Mum. A strict Mum. Used to wield the strap that we used to get, not feather dusters or thongs – well they didn’t have thongs then I don’t think. Um, but when I say wield the strap, only when we deserved it. And I still think it should be used today on a lot of children. With all the hoo-hah about ‘don’t touch that child’, I don’t think it did me any harm.
I certainly respected my parents. But nicely, not frightened or feared of them just, you just knew you’d be in strife in you did the wrong thing and that was that, it was fairly cut and dried. So it was fairly ah. And they got along well Mum and Dad too which was another plus no doubt. I mean no matter what age you’re born or when you’re born it’s so important. Something I don’t know anything about. I suppose they had their quiet little spats maybe but it was never, you know we weren’t aware of
of it if it happened. So they got along well, you know had six of us. And you know I know money was really tight but I had no complaints because we were always certainly – well we thought there was plenty of food. I know if somebody dropped in – we used to have an uncle that would drop in and his wife out of the blue sometimes and I know Mum would tend to go without because yeah stay for dinner whatever. You know
and, and you’re not really aware of it when you’re, I’m talking about when I’m eight or ten or thereabouts, you don’t sort of – you know a kid’s a kid, you know kids aren’t fully aware of how Mum would be scrounging to get that extra meal for somebody you know. But that was Mum too, she’d do it, tend to go without herself. But yeah we ate well and were never cold or though you know we only had a small home. And it was three boys, three girls. The girls had the, there were only two bedrooms
and the girls had the bedroom of course and the boys were out on the verandah. That’s where – I look back on that sometimes and think it was – I mean it was, it just wasn’t even closed in the verandah, it was a verandah. In those days they were quite often sort of filled in about half way up. In latter years thought we were pretty good because we had canvas blinds that covered the top half but they weren’t exactly weather proof. Um but it used to be freezing in the winter times, freezing. But we had plenty of
blankets. Many times I remember going to bed and I couldn’t feel my feet but you’d get warm, you know because we had – and again, good old Mum, she’d come out and if she thought you were cold she’d throw an overcoat over you or something on top of your blankets, you know to make sure that you weren’t cold. But yeah you’d wake up and the condensation off the corrugated iron roof would drip on us in the morning. You’d pull your head under, right, totally under the blankets to get away from the drips off the roof. Um, but that was. Yeah I mean in later years that, my
poor hardworking Dad eventually got louvres, if you know what louvres are, and we thought we were made you know. At least it was fairly proof. If it was windy it didn’t blast you out of your bed. Um, and eventually it got done in quite nicely. But by this time you know I’m in my teens, well in my teens I suppose. But that’s about it.
What was Stuart Town like?
still a good little village. It’s a very strong little community, it always was. The others around it, small villages, some of them have gone totally although they’re still districts. But Stuart Town as stayed there with – you know it still has a school and this sort of stuff whereas some of the other ones sort of petered out around about,
the smaller communities. But it’s a really strong community as I keep saying. They stick together well, as in local – oh you know like the park, the little park and they get together and plant trees and this sort of stuff. That happens everywhere I know but being such a small village pretty much everybody’s involved and it’s sort of always – a very old place of course, originally iron barks, it was, as in
the Man from Iron Bark [Australian poem]. As a matter of fact I can – it was, way back it was a gold, an old gold mining town. In fact there are still a few people who scratch around looking for a bit of gold out there. Nothing, I don’t mean mining as such but – apparently it was a thriving place, I mean way before my time, probably before my father’s time, as
in seven pubs I think, something like this, you know with all the mining going on. Millions of Chinese and other nationalities apparently as happens on gold, or did in those days, gold mining places. And it was also I hope affectionately known as stripy town because of the different nationalities. In fact I once got on the train here in Wellington to go to Sydney, I think when I was working in Sydney
and we’re going through Stuart Town, and these people didn’t know I lived at Stuart Town of course, I’m quite young at this stage, what am I? I’m about eighteen or something and I’m sitting there and these people are saying, “Oh this is Stripy Town here, this is where they’re all inbred here.” And I didn’t say a word. Now I probably would have, I probably would now and probably would say you know “Excuse me, I was born here.” But that was, yeah I found that kind of amusing actually. They didn’t know, they didn’t have a clue who I was
or where I had been born or bred at Stuart Town, inbred or not.
What was the population of Stuart Town when you were growing up?
I doubt if it’s changed. Oh I don’t really know. Maybe a couple of hundred, maybe. I really don’t know what the – it’s a fairly big district as well, it’s not just a little township. There are of course people on the land and ah – How many was at the school? When I went to Stuart Town Primary School there were about
twenty or thirty kids I think. Yeah about twenty or thirty – I know there were four in my class, I remember that much. I think twenty or thirty to Year Six now. Is that right? Yeah Year Six. It used to be Sixth Class, mm so – and I doubt if the population has – the population has changed a lot as with everywhere, people have moved. We have now been living in Wellington for twenty-three or four years and in that time
of course people have left from Stuart Town. Other people have come, gone to Stuart Town. So but there’s still a lot of familiar faces out there, some old family names of course but there are no Grimes’ left at Stuart Town. When my Mum left Stuart Town – no when we left Stuart Town that was the end of the Grimes’ at Stuart Town because it was an old name obviously. I was saying my father and his father before him were born there.
What do you remember about the primary school and where that was and what school was like?
I never really liked school, be it Wellington or Stuart Town. But – what do I remember about it? Well it’s the same school, it’s still there.
Could you describe it?
Two rooms, the big room and the little room they were called. That was – age you know up to year or as I said
Third Class, Year Three or Kindy, I can’t remember where it stopped but the age of the kids. The little ones were in the little room; the big ones were in the big room. That’s how, well I guess that’s why it was the big and little room. I remember the parents, you know there was a P & C [parents and citizens’ committee] and they would get wood because we had open fireplaces in either room, that sort of helped a bit. Needless to say it was a small school but the rooms were fairly large and they took a fair bit of heating, you know even though
open fires aren’t that efficient. However they would hop in, the fathers would go out weekends or whenever they could you know and supply wood for the school. Ah what else? Generally a two teacher school. I remember being given powdered milk to eat dry because it was a sudden thing that was good for us. You know I mean these days I guess schools still get milk supplied or
whatever but it now comes you know all ready to drink in a bottle. And we actually ate it off newspaper. That’s how they gave us – you know they’d give us some powdered – and you know we thought it was fine because we’d had nothing to do with powdered milk before, it was quite pleasant. But I often think about it now. I mean imagine giving any child anything to eat of a piece of newspaper for a start; it would hit the headlines anywhere. But it obviously didn’t do us any harm. That’s one little funny sort of thing. Otherwise
no it was good, a big playground, and the weather shed up the back, ah where we used to play rounders if you know what rounders is, a bit like – Do you know what rounders is? No? It’s oh a bit like baseball really, with a broomstick and a tennis ball. And we’d play that every lunchtime and every chance we had. When it was happening you’d have teams and oh it was very serious, this is for the kids. And the teachers were good, they’d come and either join in or
at least sort of supervise it. This is in our own lunchtime or playtime in the morning. And I lived, oh as the crow flies, not terribly far but from the school we used to ride our bikes mostly probably about a mile, a mile and a half and we’d, when we got a bit older we’d go home for lunch, ride our bikes home for lunch. And the rounders team if you were due in to bat or whatever you know they’d be yelling at you and
we’d be coming in our bikes across the way, you know they’d be going ‘come on, come on’, because they were, they were waiting for us to get in and do our bit. But apart from that I think it was a good school, I can’t sort – there was a piano and I did a bit of singing, I mean the kids did a bit of singing. They used to have their local concerts and that’s where it gets back to the small town, the community is strong. There was always an annual concert, you know just skits and –
but of course everyone would go, the hall would be packed, everyone would go to the concert. Which would involve the school because the school itself used to have its own little fundraisers I guess too, as in concerts or whatever.
What kind of building was the school?
Weatherboard I think. It had a bit of brick. Basically weatherboard, with a verandah. It had another little section. On the end of the verandah
it had sort of been filled in and it was sort of kept more as a sports room I suppose with sort of any bit of, we didn’t have much sporting equipment, but anything we did have, balls or whatever, broom handles for square rounders, that’s where they were kept. I think we supplied our own broom handles. And then the two rooms and you could just walk from one room to the other. But yeah it was quite presentable.
And to my knowledge I don’t how much or if there’s been any or much renovations done. There probably has. I mean I’m going back what fifty years when I went to school there, or almost yeah. It’s certainly fifty years since I started school, plus and if you drive past it now it doesn’t look much different,
except of course it’s been painted up. I don’t know how or if there was really any big renovations done to it. There was a school residence that was beside it where the headmaster lived. It was totally demolished and a new home built a lot of years ago, but that did happen. But the school itself no it’s pretty much the same. I think the old bell tree as we used to call it is still there, where the bell used to be, you know that some kid would go and ring when instructed
coming in or going out of school. You could here the bell for miles. A beaut old bell actually, like a big cow bell. But it was just hung up on a chain in the bell tree, it was always called, a big box tree that was just up the back of the school that we used to play on and through and around and under it. And I think it’s still – I hope it’s still there the bell tree. I’m a bit of a tree lover anyway but it would be very old.
When you got to school what would be the routine of the day, starting from when the bell rang?
Now you’re testing the memory. – it was a little different, we sort of had very – oh they still do have their times to go in and come out but we used to start school at half past nine I think, not nine as most kids do now or a quarter to nine I think in some schools. But in these days there’s so many buses and things involved I think
they have changed, it’s restricting. Eleven o’clock was our first break, I remember that because it was always considered or called sort of eleven o’clock, you know when we go out at eleven o’clock, it was just the way we used to – we didn’t sort of call it recess or playtime or whatever it was eleven o’clock. And then I think lunch was twelve thirty and then a three-thirty finish. I remember that fairly well but as to what we actually did – then we had a
I guess reading, writing and arithmetic. Yeah English, spelling, writing. I guess a lot of that hasn’t, well I hope it hasn’t changed. Actually some of it has changed a bit because we didn’t have computers and we didn’t have calculators and all that which I think, now I think some kids would be very good without them, I mean it would do them good to be – I mean you’ve probably been brought up I should imagine with calculators
and computers, we weren’t. But you had to add, you had to work it out and that was that which I think is good, I think it’s good. Like spelling, no spell checks it’s you isn’t it? But I can remember that. Tables, I remember learning tables up to twelve times tables. I don’t know if they still teach those, I doubt if they do or sometimes they do or sometimes they don’t I think. With my kids having gone through school we put them through their tables because I still think it’s so important. How many
times is it so quick and easy to say twelve sevens are eighty-four not because you really, well you know because you remember, you don’t – and that’s invaluable to me, it’s a very basic thing. So I suppose we were taught good basics, yeah good basics. We did a bit of – also we had one headmaster he was sort of into a bit more woodwork and stuff. We used to a bit of you know making some awful things to take home to give to Mum which she probably hated but said they were beautiful – as kids still do, that hasn’t changed has it?
Like the painting that gets stuck on the fridge, you know it’s ah mums and dads always say the right don’t they? But ah yeah that’s about it with the actual school. As I’ve said I’ve never really been in love with school, I didn’t – I tolerated it, I didn’t hate it, I tolerated it.
What work or chores did you have to do on the farm or on the property when you were young?
We didn’t have to – yeah we were asked to help but I suppose made to help in some areas but generally not a lot. I mean we weren’t sort of driven. But I think as I said it got back to our respect for, well Mum who was home all of the time and Dad was home certainly all weekend. And sometimes he’d be home all of the time but –
so it all fell back to Mum. But she’d ask or – so I guess she had a way of asking but telling. But of course we had a fuel stove so you see that was all so much work in those days. I mean people would really wonder what – I used to look back on my mother talking about her parents and how they lived and used to think oh imagine, you know no washing machines, no this no that. Now I can look back on my childhood and think people over today would
you know sort of think, “God imagine that, no phone,” we didn’t have a phone for a long time. No electricity when I was little. Um things that are taken for granted now. That wasn’t what you asked me, I got sidetracked there somewhere. What did you ask me?
I was asking you about what kind of chores – ?
Oh chores, yes chores. Well as I’ve said earlier we had our own milk and we used to –
and therefore made our own butter. Mum, as I’ve said mostly, if Dad was around he’d certainly give a hand, I mean Dad, I don’t mean Mum, she only did it when Dad wasn’t there. If Dad was home he milked the cows but if he wasn’t home Mum milked the cows. And she would take, I can remember my younger brother who’s about eight years younger than I am, he’s the youngest of the six of us, I’m number four, and I remember her, she’d take him down in the pram to the cow yard and he’d be there
in the pram while she milked the cows, you know that’s – and anyone else little would be there looking on as well. Ah chores – yeah we’d be asked to go and get wood that Dad would – I mean it’s little wonder he had a heart attack really because he would spend his weekends – He would kill a sheep which was our weekly, we would eat in a week, a family of six plus Mum and Dad when he was home. And that was a ritual, nearly every Sunday he would kill a sheep and
that was one chore. We didn’t have a septic system when I think about it. It was the old pan job way down the back, and that had to get emptied every weekend. I mean we didn’t even have a service to pick it up, it got emptied and buried. So Dad would dig a hole every weekend and empty the pan. It was a chore, it had to be done. It’s the sort of thing now kids
would – and we always watched this because it was just the norm. It was like the sheep being killed, we just stood there and watched. I mean now I think my children or my grandchildren would be horrified to stand there and see a sheep get slaughtered, have its throat cut, but that’s it was, you know it was – and it still happens, of course now it happens in the abattoirs, people don’t do it at home or I guess people on the land still do but – ah yeah and the milking of the cows and we didn’t – oh the other side of it of course
the fuel stove, the wood burning fuel stove and an open fire, that was our heating and that was the way Mum cooked on the old fuel stove which required wood. And that required splitting and chopping. No chainsaws, all axe. We used to split the wood. Dad would also go out, oh how often through winter? Every second weekend I suppose and with a dray and a horse, horse and dray to get wood. Wood was fairly plentiful so you didn’t have to go
too far but nonetheless it was a you know cut the tree down with the crosscut saw and then with the wedges and the sledgehammer split it so it could be handled and secondly then split it narrow enough so it could be cut with an axe into pieces. I mean it was very hard work when you think about it and he would do that to keep the supply up. The open fire was different, you could use old stumps or lumps as you can imagine in an open fire. But
the fuel stoves you know had to be you know around about a certain length and a certain size or you wouldn’t get it in the stove. So chores, we’d – when I got older I used to chop wood. In my teens yeah. Then it must have taken some pressure off Dad because I could do that and did. Not just me, I mean I’ve got an older brother too. And milking cows. I can milk a cow and did
when I was, I was still in primary school when I was doing that, I was in year five or six. But that sort of didn’t bother me and I didn’t, I don’t suppose I really had to do it. But you sort of did I guess, it was just sort of part – well it was just the way life was so once you were old enough to milk you milked. You know I had a couple of disasters. I remember, I remember, this was before school, I’d milk before I went
to school. And they were pretty careful too Mum and Dad, if you had a cow that was very flighty or likely to kick your teeth in you know you sort of, at that age they wouldn’t sort of let you milk it. And we had this old girl called Topsy and she was quiet as quiet, really quiet. We always put them in the bale. You know what a bale is? You know with the pin and – to keep there and put a leg rope on them to stop them kicking you or kicking your bucket over and tie it back to the tin. And my grandfather used to weave
these hide leg ropes, really strong made from hide – beautifully plaited. So I had Topsy in the bale this particular morning and she was so quiet. You’d shove her in there and you’d milk her and you’d have to sort of shove her out of there again, she was really quiet. Anyway this particular morning I let her out of the bale and I forgot to take the leg rope off and she went down, that and the bucket of milk that I’d sat back against the thing. She’s lying in this great pool of milk. I’ll never forget that. And I’m screaming,
my little brother was there watching this, saw it all happen, and I’m saying get Mum, get Mum because Dad wasn’t home. I couldn’t get her up. There was so much tension on the leg rope I couldn’t release it, you know it was really strong and she was a big animal. And we had a concreted, Dad had concreted where we used to milk so we could hose it down and so on. And it was on quite a slope so she was down this slope with her leg up in the air like this as absolutely tight as tight as tight to the rail it was tied to. And I couldn’t budge it and I’m
kicking her and I went around to the front and I’m kicking her and imagine I mean I’m a kid of, how old was I, I would have been about ten maybe. I mean all I would be doing is hurting my toe I wouldn’t be hurting her. I remember kicking her in the neck or here somewhere and trying to make her get up and she couldn’t. But she was so quiet she didn’t struggle she just lay there groaning and milk everywhere because the bucket of milk went over when she went. Anyhow good old Mum she came to the rescue and had enough, oh a bit more strength than me too I guess but to slide the rope along the rail so we – and she just got up and strolled off,
this cow she was so quiet, a beautiful old, a beautiful animal. But that was a bit disastrous, a bit traumatic yeah, then I went to school after all that. I often tell that story, Topsy. I even wrote it when one of my kids was in high school and they had to – not a tall tale I mean that’s a true story but it was something to do with school so I basically gave him the apple and I did it and elaborated on it and it was used at high school when they went to school for some essay or something that they had to write.
Topsy, talk about topsy turvy, she’s been around about it. So chores, not really. I’ve always been a keen gardener, still am, when I was old enough I’d be down in the vegie patch because I enjoyed it, I loved gardening, I always have. I was probably a bit nuisance to Mum when I was little. I’d say, well so I’d say – I had my corner where I used to grow my stuff when I was little. Mine I might add was the worst bit of soil in the, looking back not good, the worst bit of soil in the whole vegie [vegetable] patch which was a fairly large
area down from the house a bit because it was pretty rocky, shaly country, not particularly good country, land. But it was down in a bit of gully where the soil was better and so on and there was a six foot fence all around it to keep the chooks out and the stock out and everything else. Ah yes I – and the garden around the house too, mind you water was always a problem. Don’t things go in a circle, waters a problem again now isn’t it? I mean it was a big problem then just because
well we relied totally on – until later years when Dad got a bore put down with a pump on it then we had plenty of sort of garden water and water for the chooks and that sort of stuff and toilets but it wasn’t sort of drinking water, it wouldn’t hurt you but it wasn’t very nice. So we depended on tanks, house tanks. Yeah so the vegies yeah I often think about that. I used to try and grow these in the worst little corner of this vegie patch with
no soil, hard ground but I enjoyed it and somehow succeeded to grow, it would have been too terrific, I don’t know how edible it was, these vegies, yeah but I’ve always been keen. So that sort of thing came fairly well naturally to it because I enjoyed it and I would get down there with Mum in later years. But in the meantime of course the family was growing up a bit. I mean my elder brother is nine years older than I am I think. One’s eight years younger and one’s nine years older or vice-a-versa
I can’t even remember. He was virtually grownup. He was out shearing as Dad did, ah you know when he was sort of seventeen or eighteen. And with my other sisters, it was I suppose, the mouths were still there to be fed but a lot of easier when you haven’t got you know kids like this I guess for them.
What were their conditions like, the shearers in those days for your Dad and your brother going away?
Oh I think –
Where would they live – ?
Well it depended if they were sort of – Dad didn’t go along – you know some fellows particularly, oh Trevor would my brother, being single and so on he would go distances shearing, following the shearing so to speak as they say. As I’ve said Dad met Mum when he was single the other side of Walgett. Which is about a similar distance as it is from here to Sydney, from here. Because he was
just following the big sheds around as they call them, with a lot of sheep. But Dad never went any huge distances. He’d probably only be shearing perhaps within a, what I remember within a thirty k radius sort of thing of home you know. Far enough – but of course vehicles were different to get home. Now people just drive. But a lot of times in those days
not everybody had vehicles so they’d share a vehicle and they’d stay. But they, the conditions – they were shearers’ huts. I think they still refer to them as shearers’ huts. Ah they were adequate but it would have been fairly – I don’t know how they got on for hot water and stuff. I mean the shearers’ huts usually had a stove and an open fire place and this sort of thing and I guess they sort of rigged some sort of a rough shower, I don’t know how they got on there but I don’t think they were too
bad. I mean shearers are actually, shearers have always been fairly demanding, as in the conditions over the years there’s been a lot of shearers go on strike like other people or they used to. And it was always, you know the food was generally supplied by the owner, like whoever’s sheep they were shearing – tucker as it was called you know it was generally supplied. And if it was a big shearing shed of course they would have a cook.
Where I mean you had a lot shearers and a lot of shed hands and so on. And that didn’t sort of happen so much – but yeah when I think about it they did even around home. Of course the properties aren’t as big as they are out west and so on, and therefore the shearing isn’t as big, not as many sheep and not as many stands in the shearing sheds, as in how many shearers there are. You know some of the big sheds, I don’t know if they still exist out west and so on
I can’t remember how many stands as they call them, fifteen or twenty per shed which means a lot of other shed hands as well. So therefore they would have the cook, yeah the cook would cook all the meals and everything. So they were always fairly demanding. And they run very strict; shearers run very strict – I should have known Dad long enough but I think he said they started at seven or seven-thirty. Very strict, morning tea at nine-thirty I think it is and then lunch at twelve
or whatever and then three o’clock again so it was about three hours probably, I can’t remember, and they want their meals on – you know they’re very mm. But conditions I don’t think they were too bad for the day. I doubt if people these days would think they were too terrific but I don’t think they were too bad. They always had somewhere to sleep and somewhere dry. And I remember that they always took their own blankets and stuff. It wasn’t that classy that they walked in and had beds and stuff there ready.
And I can remember going with Dad once, not shearing but when he was rabbiting and we stayed out the week. It was a very long week. I always want to go I’m sure and once again I was only young I was about ten or so and Dad decided it was school holidays and would I like to go for the week and I did but it was a very long week going around these rabbit traps at some unearthly hour in freezing weather. But we stayed in shearers’ huts on this particular property and it was pretty rough but okay. You know it was
more like an old slab hut with a tin roof but it had a stove and there was wood to burn and ah yeah so not too bad.
What do remember of going to school in Wellington and what that was like to make the shift from – ?
The transition from Stuart to Wellington was a big one, actually, having come from a little school with four in my class as I mentioned earlier to a class of about thirty I think. I don’t know what they are now but I think we had about thirty.
Yeah that was – it wasn’t too bad but it was so different you know from a little school and I still think little schools are wonderful generally. My eldest daughter is a teacher who now has two little kids so she’s not teaching, but she’s a teacher, and she loves little schools. Maybe because she also went to Stuart Town for a while before we moved to Wellington
at the primary school. But she was only quite young, she would have only been, she was about seven when we came to Wellington so she’d only been to school for a couple of years however she knows – but yeah coming into Wellington – what I was going to say was you can imagine a school of about thirty roughly, I can’t remember how many, it used to fluctuate of course, it’s pretty one on, well I mean there were only two teachers. Nonetheless
it’s there were only thirty kids so they all know you so individually and they know your family because it’s in a small community. Whereas you come to Wellington which to me was a huge school in those days. I mean they’ve got more now but I think there were three hundred odd kids at the Wellington High School then, that was a bit much you know after thirty kids to three hundred odd or whatever it was, three-fifty or something. Yeah it was,
it was a big transition, oh but you soon got used to it. The bus travel used to – again you forget that in those days – now of course it’s all tar and bitumen all the way to Stuart Town. In those days when I went to high school it was all dirt, all dirt roads, gravel roads – dusty, rough. And the buses were slow and not as comfortable as they are now. And we didn’t – I used to leave home at seven-thirty and get home at five o’clock getting to high school. A lot of kids of course
if you live way up Woop-Woop [out in the bush] somewhere they still travel those times but it was a long time for the distance it was. And there’s still a bus of course that runs from Stewart Town into Wellington High School. I don’t know how long it takes not but the roads are much better and the buses better and yeah.
Were there kids from Wellington who were coming from a long way away to that high school?
No not much further than me I think. Perhaps –
Yeah that would have been about it roughly, I don’t know what, I mean Geurie between here and Dubbo, I think they still go, they go Dubbo way, there’s not much in it, it’s fairly in between Wellington and Dubbo, Geurie, but I don’t remember Geurie kids at high school I think they must have always gone Dubbo way – I think there’s slightly closer to Dubbo. So I doubt if there’d have been, you know maybe slightly but not much different to the distance I travelled which as I said was about thirty Ks. yeah.
It was just that everything so slower and we used to boil in hot weather sometimes and we’d have to stop and put water in it, well we didn’t but the driver did. You know this sort of stuff – it used to break down fairly often. But it was yeah. But of course the school, Mumbil, which is this side of Stuart Town, only, I keep talking in miles because that’s how I remember it when I lived there, six miles from Stuart Town.
Burrendong Dam was being built when I was going to high school and Mumbil really exploded because it was a little township with all workers and so on. Compared, I mean it was a similar size place to Stuart Town and it sort of is again now. Um but that, speaking of going to high school, I don’t know how many Mumbil Primary School, and that’s what Stuart Town was, they had like three hundred odd kids suddenly,
oh well suddenly when the dam was being built for a lot of years. People moved there of course with their families and so on. And ah I think we pretty much had our own bus from Stuart Town though. Because they used to be chockers, the buses. Because you know often if you were in, along the track a bit you’d stand. I mean they wouldn’t have – they wouldn’t have it today either I’m sure but they used to stand a lot of times. But I was lucky getting on at the other end I would always get a seat coming in. I wouldn’t always get a seat
going home because at Mumbil they really packed them onto the buses yeah. So I don’t know how many high school buses they used to run in, I can’t remember, three or four or five, I don’t remember but quite a few buses. And at Mumbil of course it declined when the dam was finished people went away and drifted away and I guess it’s back to a – there’s still a school at Mumbil too, but I think it’s similar to Stuart Town. But that was part of coming to high school yeah. No, no big deals with high school.
What was Wellington like then?
in that – it hasn’t changed a whole lot I guess but we’re talking about fifty years ago, give or take so things do happen like we’ve got a new police station only recently and this sort of stuff. And the civic centre that didn’t exist then, it’s been there for a lot of years now but it wasn’t when I was going to high school. Of course Wellington seemed pretty big, being born and bred and going to school at Stuart Town. Wellington was, well it is a reasonable size place but it seemed
quite large when you were a kid and hadn’t been around much. Um I mean Wellington was the place where we came, it was where we – Stuart Town had little general stores and so on where everybody – and in those days everybody bought their groceries at the local little general store. Because people didn’t travel, they just didn’t have the means to and just didn’t. Um but if anything, you know about twice a year we would come to Wellington which was a big deal to us as kids. To get the school shoes or ….
Interviewee: Noel Grimes Archive ID 1939 Tape 02
What sort of future opportunities were there for kids in Wellington High School?
You mean in schooling or work?
In terms of what – were kids going off to do farming?
A lot did and a lot still do I guess because you know it’s basically a farming area, well it is a farming area. But then too kids still went away as they did more so no these days of course but people did go
to uni [university] and so on and but there’s no uni here so they had to go away to the city or to somewhere or to Bathurst or somewhere to uni. Um –
What did you want to do when you were young?
I had no idea. That was easy. I had no idea. I never did have any idea. I suppose I was a bit of a dreamer at school. I mean I love the bush; I still love the bush, even though I live in town.
I’d still really like to – I suppose it gets back to your childhood where you – although not necessarily does it. I was going to say I was born in the bush so therefore I enjoyed the paddocks and stuff, I mean not that I – I’ve always said that we only had a small, Dad only had a small spread but it was big enough to wander around on and do stuff as a kid. Kids don’t do that anymore. Well I did like wandering around just looking at the birds
and setting few rabbit traps and things like this, this is what we did in those days. Um I mean kids are glued to the computer screens now, more the pity I think. They wouldn’t have clue what’s out there, outside, a lot of kids. I’ve forgotten the question.
Were there particular subjects that you enjoyed at school?
I suppose – actually English, I didn’t mind English
because I’ve always been, even if I say so myself, I can spell reasonably well. I’ve always been reasonably into the spelling and you know didn’t have a problem with speech. You know some people never learn to spell. The bloke I worked for good businessman, good everything but – I mean he knew it, he was a hopeless speller. I mean I wouldn’t like to go in a spelling quiz but yeah things like that. So yeah therefore English I didn’t find
and I’ve always had a bit of a thing about – you know I could always write. I could always express myself on paper. You know I’ve been known to knock out the odd poem and things, and written a few pantomimes. This in latter life not at school. I was very quiet at school, when I look back. I just went to school because they said I had to. I wasn’t very, wasn’t terribly keen. And as I’ve said I really had
no – no I didn’t have any great ambition, I don’t know why I didn’t. I suppose – you know I had no desire to further my education. Mind you there was sort of – you can imagine there were six kids and so on and once you’re old enough to leave school you sort of left anyway. It was done a lot then different to now where they all go on to at least do their HSC [Higher School Certificate] and then fifty years at uni. Then it was quite
different and there were sort of – because people shopped, as I’ve said, they shopped so much more locally. Like now everyone runs, not everybody, but Dubbo’s our big centre. It’s not a problem, a half hour drive more or less. Twenty-five minutes if you’re in a hurry and don’t get caught. It’s – people just move whereas there were more jobs and people didn’t – as I’ve said I worked at the co-op which was a sort of a big – it was a co-operative
obviously with shareholders and things. But it was groceries and haberdashery and hardware and you know produce as in farm supplies and things, and I worked in the grocery. And that’s what I did I just – and I’ve never had any trouble getting job and I left school at fifteen and went to work at the co-op which was sort of quite accepted then. I guess there was no future in it but it was a job and I was working and it was the way – I mean my big,
older brother says you know I think you’re either born a worker or you’re not and he said we were definitely born workers, he said. Because we all had worked and when I say done well we were – I’ve got my home and everything else, I’m happy. I don’t aspire to anything higher than that. I mean I don’t want boats and yachts and stuff, even if I had the money, I’m too old now anyhow I drown. But yeah it was sort of in, then
it was more leave school, get a job. And that’s what got me back to the family of six especially but I guess – no not everybody had big families, they were thinning out a bit by then. I mean my parents both came from – there were eleven in Dad’s family and ten in Mum’s which was the norm in those days. The main reason there’d be no birth control, I should imagine. I wasn’t around then but you know – and then my, my family was considered
fairly large in the day, six. Whereas families when I think about it – oh not all, no some had six or seven kids in my time when I was kid but others were, they were getting smaller, I don’t know how they were managing it but they were getting smaller you know three or four, you know this sort of thing. So therefore the pressure was always there I guess with a family of six anyhow to leave school and get a job. And that’s what we sort of all did. And none of us – but you see uni and stuff really, well it was
I guess it never even got a mention and I guess it was pretty much unthinkable but it didn’t happen nearly so much then either as it does now. Now everybody goes – well it seems everybody goes to uni. I’m not sure what a lot of them are doing there but they do. You look around and you see the thirty year old that’s still at uni and say “What the hell does he think he is – ” You know, he’s not a doctor yet? Or he’s not a – stuff. That
always – I mean to me you need to be at uni with a purpose. As my – one of mine went through uni and came out a good school – I think she is a good school teacher actually, as a teacher. But that sort of to me that’s uni, you know it cost us the earth as it does but it was well worth it. So yeah we just left school and I got a job at the co-op and that was good. But you know speaking of the times, then, well for starters I’d have been too young to drive or have a vehicle anyhow
and would never, ever have afforded one anyway but I boarded in Wellington and my parents still lived at Stuart Town and I boarded through the week and I would go home weekends on the bus. There was a bus that used to run on Saturdays from Stuart Town to Wellington just for shoppers and so on. And I’d go home on the bus and I’d come back on the school bus on Monday morning, back into Wellington to work, because in those days we worked Saturday morning so – ah
yeah, so that was what happened to – but you asked me originally you know what I wanted to do – and every – I didn’t know, I didn’t know.
Did you have aspirations to travel or see different countries or cultures?
No. I mean your finances limit you to that anyhow. As I’ve said some of the stuff just from my upbringing with no spare dollars for, or pounds,
you don’t even contemplate it. I remember my Mum – I don’t know how, it was a radio thing or whatever, anyhow she won a trip to New Zealand when I was only quite young. But she, I don’t know how, I mean she just filled in something, you know how you do and she’d won this trip to New Zealand and couldn’t take it because they had no money and she had all these kids and – and she you know, I remember – I can’t remember a whole lot about it, I wasn’t very old. I might have been eight or ten
again, around there somewhere, if that old. And know she tried to get the money in lieu of the trip but no, no that’s just the way it was needless to say. The trip, I don’t know whether it was for one or two but it certainly wasn’t for eight, which would have been Mum and Dad and the six kids. So I guess as it is usually these days for two. But she just couldn’t take it, which is such a shame you know when I look back because Mum never ever went anywhere with the
kids until we were reared. And then Dad died early, that knocked her around a lot. I’ve forgotten your question.
That’s alright. So what was the reason for you moving down to Sydney?
To work? Oh just because I was eighteen. Is that a good enough reason? I think that’s basically it. I worked here as I said at the co-op for oh yeah I was about eighteen, sort of two and a half years at the co-op. And, well there was a little bit more to it.
I had one of my sisters, my older, I’ve got two older sisters but the oldest one worked here in Wellington. And at the time she had a boyfriend, I don’t think they were engaged then but anyhow, and he was Sydney, and he was a teacher, taught at the small school out here at ‘Gong [Wollongong]. And she decided that she’d got to Sydney to work so they sort of, they asked me if I wanted to go too and of course I’d been to Sydney of course but not much,
but yeah you know why not going to the city and – Mum wasn’t very impressed I know because I wasn’t very old. But they all do it now at eighteen or whatever. But that was the deciding thing. And I didn’t have a job to go to. My sister did so that was a help. But we had a great aunt, one of Mum’s aunts lived at Lane Cove and she was always sort of, funny old girl, but always
kind to us family wise. And she was quite happy for us to board with her or stay with her job or no job until I got a job. And Lynette already was – she had a job to go to in the city. So away I went and went to Crows Nest I think it was to the employment agency there and started work the following Monday because I’ve never had any problem.
Or mind you Sydney people seem to love country kids if you’re, well hopefully I was decent. You know they do seem to. My daughter remarks on it now at Woy Woy. Um so they seem to like country kids, I don’t why, perhaps we’re a little more open, a bit more you know up front.
As a country kid what were your impressions of big bad Sydney?
Oh it was good, it was fine but yeah it was exciting I guess. As I sort
of mentioned earlier I’ve always been involved with music and amateur stuff and at one stage when I was in Sydney I belonged to the Chatswood and Lane Cove Musical Society, both, so it took up a lot of my time. I mean it was a different – I didn’t go and let my hair down in Sydney, which was a good thing. You know as in, oh I suppose drugs were around then, you didn’t sort of hear much about drugs in those days – I guess they were around. But things like that,
the nightclubs type stuff, no. Well again I wouldn’t have had the money to do it. And that’s always been quite a big love besides the gardening which of course which sort of that’s happened more so, the older I get the more, the more I garden. But ah no Sydney – oh a bit of a worry, a bit frightening in a sense. But you see if was quite different.
Speaking of belonging to Chatswood Musical Society, I would go to rehearsals and get on a train by myself at eleven o’clock at night. And go back to, well we were at Lane Cove as I said but then we moved, my sister and I, we got, we had a – that was the sort of the arrangement and we moved and we had a flat between us that was right out at Collaroy which was nice – sort of half a house actually, it wasn’t a
flat you know as in high rise. But it was long, a fair way out and we both worked in the Sydney. But that was beside the point. At eleven o’clock at night or even later if we had a late finish I’d be, I’d get on a train by myself, I mean travelling by myself, and get off and then I would have to get a bus and sometimes quite often wait around for a bus to get me out to Collaroy and nobody bashed my head in or whatever. You know I mean you wouldn’t do that
now. I wouldn’t do it at my age let alone at eighteen. To travel on your own at that hour and you know waiting on a platform because at that hour the trains aren’t many, or buses and getting home quite late. Um but nonetheless there was always a bit of a concern there yeah asking about Sydney, even when I did it. But you did it, I suppose you’re younger and you don’t think about it too much either like I would now. I’d be worried if my children did that.
But yeah Sydney – it was a thing I guess, you’re born in the country so the city and sort of like – I mean some city people want to get out to the country and see it don’t they? A lot more city people should and then we’d all understand each other better. But yeah I never ever really loved the city I must say, I didn’t love it. At this time it was okay and as I’ve said
I had job the whole way so I mean I did get jobs so I didn’t, that wasn’t a problem, I wasn’t bumming around. I suppose another reason why I didn’t get up to no good maybe because I mean I’ve always worked yeah.
You mentioned that no good thing, did it seem like there was a generation of people in Sydney at that time who were – ?
Oh well it was, you know there was always the – yeah there was always the – I guess it just seems worse now, perhaps it’s just because I’m older, perhaps it hasn’t
changed all that much. But yeah it was there I’m sure. I mean there was always the big question mark about the Cross [Kings Cross] and you know and this sort of stuff but I guess it’s still there, it’s just more modern now. Yeah I’m sure it was – I mean I don’t know what I could have gotten into but I’m sure I could have if I wanted to. I suppose I could have – I mean I just didn’t hang around in the city or – you know I went to work and I went home. And then if I went out anywhere well it was as I said it was
to musical societies or, or my sister’s, her in-laws eventually but they lived at Dee Why. So we you know we’d sort of go there weekends or Sundays for lunch, this sort of stuff.
Were there many young people who were involved in the musical societies?
Yeah lots, mm lots.
Did you form friendships while you were in Sydney?
Yeah, yeah got to know quite a lot mainly through that and work of course, there was always – I
mean I ended up, I started to say I got a job straight up but it was, it lasted a week. It was at a chemical joint at Lane Cove. It was actually within walking distance, a fair walk, but I could walk to work from Lane Cove where we were staying with my aunt. But it was a chemical place doing these bulk chemicals into smaller things in open terrible conditions out under this sort of flat roof thing. And it was wet weather and oh it was dreadful,
you know bulk ammonia and stuff. So that lasted one week. I – only one good thing about it I said in those days most people worked Saturday mornings and it had no Saturday morning, that was the one good – but the first Saturday I got off I went with my sister into the city and just because it was there I walked into David Jones, a bit place, and I had a good reference from here where I worked at the co-op, and I started there the following Tuesday, after letting the other people know, I think I made my sister do that. I ring her up and say I’ve been paid for the week.
So I think she rang them and said he won’t be in. It was awful, I hated it, I really hated it. And I suppose that wasn’t a good start to the city because – well this wasn’t in the city I know but it was – and I wouldn’t say I was homesick but I mean you do miss home. Although I mean I’d boarded in Wellington all week, every week through the week so that was a big thing, a big difference in just leaving home and going ‘voom’ to Sydney and not getting home. So yeah I walked into
David Jones [department store] and that’s where I stayed, I worked in David Jones until I came home just prior to being called up.
What did David Jones look like then?
Well one of them looked much different because it’s gone. I started in George Street David Jones. Um there’s no George Street David Jones anymore. And then they – I was sort of doing a bit of a, what do they call it, executive course, they must have thought I had a few brains, and then they moved me up to Market Street store,
it’s still there, isn’t it, Market Street and Elizabeth Street? Mind you I get lost there now. I mean it hasn’t changed but it has. I mean you couldn’t run from one to the other in those days. I mean now you don’t know if you’re in David Jones or who, where you are, what store because they all just run on don’t they, across the street and all this sort of stuff. But yeah – what did you ask me, what was David Jones like? I guess David Jones hasn’t changed all that much. I mean they were always a very upmarket store. Um because I’ve my experience here in Wellington I was in the grocery department at
George Street, which was lower ground floor. Ah, different though and quite enjoyable. I ended up sort of managing a little, well they had a gourmet section you know where they sell all their – they still sell all that weird stuff like chocolate coated ants in cans and all this sort of strange stuff you know. But it was interesting and I enjoyed it. And I would relieve on their big cheese counter when you know when someone was at lunch and this sort of stuff. But then I went from there to the Market Street store into the menswear area where you know in those
days I couldn’t believe there was a whole department just selling ties and that’s where I was for a while. This was all to do with getting experience going around from department to department. There was six of us I think, permanent staff, selling ties alone. And I mean they’ve probably got forty now selling ties, I don’t know. And then casuals would come in you know especially Christmas time and so on and that’s all we sold ties, I couldn’t believe it. And then I was into the shirts, the shirt area, good experience. David Jones, I guess it still has the name does
it? You know people tend to be a little posh coming into David Jones – not everybody but quite a lot you know from Double Bay or wherever and they’d give you, nice enough, but give you a pretty hard time and I was like all of eighteen or nineteen. Um they could be very picky. But the shirts were the thing because they were all boxed in those days, pinned and they’d have, you know madam would have ten shirts out, or you’d have them out for them, showing it to them. “Oh my grandson’s about your
size.” You know and you’d be holding them up and they, well sometimes they’d buy one, but you’d have to fold and pin all these shirts back to put them back in the boxes. Oh I got very good at it but I always remember that the shirts. And of course they were always madam in David Jones, you always called them madam or sir. So I don’t think David Jones has probably changed that much has it? I don’t know I haven’t been to David Jones for years now. But I guess it’s still a fairly upmarket store is it?
I don’t know if you get that sort of attention
from sales people.
No well that’s all changed everywhere hasn’t it? I mean you’re lucky to get a grunt out of some people. Here in Wellington too, it’s not just city people. Some of the checkout chicks [supermarket cashiers] here locally you know I could shake and say it wouldn’t hurt to say hello, even if you say it fifty thousand times a day. I’ve been there and done it all my life. I’ve sort of always been in retail one way or another, and I hope I’ve never been that grumpy. We all have our days I know but put your best foot forward,
What sort of role was David Jones grooming you for?
Oh probably as I think from memory like a buyer or whatever yeah. But of course I left there anyway so that fixed that didn’t it? But yeah that was the whole idea they sort of moved you around from department to department for experience. Oh and I went to a few meetings that I must admit I found pretty boring. I mean when I saw meetings they weren’t big time meetings. Meetings with other kids doing the same thing I
was doing sort of thing. Where we had these little sessions once a week or something but I didn’t like it all that much. I was happier down dealing with madam folding the shirts actually.
Well what sort of skills do you think gave you this aptitude for retail at that early – ?
Oh probably only because as I’ve said I left school and got a job and that’s where I started in retail and well it’s all I knew, it’s still all I know work wise.
Um, but – yeah and it’s not a fun game actually retail, it’s very hard on the other side of the counter. Again I feel everybody should spend twelve months on the other side of the counter and then they’d all be nicer to each other. But yeah people can be absolute pains and you know if they were on the other end of it, it might change their attitude a bit. But anyway I don’t know what really – I think it just gets back to simply that that were where I first worked I retail, so
that’s what you sort of know. And David Jones was a bit more glamorous than I must admit – there was nothing wrong with store here where I worked but – they were good to work for, David Jones. But you know, very strict. That was a big thing from the country to the city, you know with staff entrances and stuff which you don’t have here. You know and you had to use the staff entrance, you didn’t wander in and out the front door. I guess that hasn’t changed.
What were you being paid?
How much? I think that’s where things have changed. I can remember how much I got paid here when I first started work. You’ll have to convert it into dollars; mind you it’s roughly double isn’t it? It was five pound nineteen [shillings] and six [pence] a week which is about eleven or twelve dollars. But you see it’s changed so much because – and I paid four pounds board here in Wellington. Board always been fairly expensive I think, then, now, private board.
So there goes four pound of my five pound nineteen and six every week. And it used to cost me ten shillings which was a dollar, yes, a dollar? I think convert – to go home on the bus and back again. However on that money I used to clothe myself. I mean the board was full board as in food. Ah I used to clothe myself and actually saved up enough to go with another guy and we went on this little cruise from Sydney around to Adelaide when I had holidays one year. So actually saved enough to do that out of that little bit. It shows though
how much the dollar, or the pound then, bought really. It probably hasn’t changed all that much now. Everybody’s on hundreds and thousands of dollars but I guess things have, you know way up there by comparison. So the dollars there. And then David Jones – because I suppose, I guess it still goes up if you start working at a young age as you get older – I mean every time I had a birthday I would get a pay rise. I don’t know if that still happens, I guess it does and these days there’s so much more salaries and stuff, isn’t there, not wages?
So yeah I can remember it going from five pound nineteen and six, we’ll say six pounds in round terms, round figures and that was after tax or before tax? No after I think. Ah then it went up to seven pounds something which was, oh quite a good rise, because I had turned another year older. And I think from memory in David Jones by then – but by then you see I’m seventeen, eighteen, no I would have been eighteen, nineteen when I left there. I must have been close to twenty.
And I think from memory would it have been eleven or twelve pounds a week or something. We did get – what’d they call it? We used to make a little bit extra because they did give us an incentive I can remember especially with the ties, I don’t remember so much with the shirts, but if you sold certain ties you got a – I can’t remember what they called it. Anyway you got like a little bit of commission for selling some ties and it would add up. You know
well it was only a few, well it wasn’t cents, I keep saying it wasn’t cents then it was shillings or whatever but it would add up and maybe if you had a good week selling certain ties you could add a bit on to your wage, maybe two or three pounds which was sort of a lot of money you know. It was good, well it seemed good. But you see even when I went into the army later the wage – I heard them saying the other day, somebody who – where are they now? They’re all over the place aren’t they? But who was it remarking
fifteen hundred dollars a day, somebody’s on overseas. They’re not in Iraq, where are they? It doesn’t matter. I mean, yeah, you deserve it over there, you might get killed, you might get shot. However when I was overseas we – what did I get paid? It was like thirty odd dollars a week or a fortnight.
Did it occur to
you at the time, oh I should be getting paid more for this?
Not really because again you see I’m going back forty years. I’m only comparing to what I heard in the last couple of days. But at the time, again it probably wasn’t as bad as it sounds except that we were in a war zone. But the money – but we got a little bit more because we were overseas I think, I can’t remember.
But again we had – you know they clothed us, they fed us. The money was ours except of course if you smoked or you had a few drinks, that’s not on the army. But basically I sort of saved quite a bit of mine. They encouraged that while we were overseas. They, we allocated – I mean it wasn’t a whole lot of money because we didn’t have, it wasn’t a whole lot of money in the first place. But we used to just allow ourselves like – we were
into US dollars over there. It was actually the year that decimal currency came in here while I was in Vietnam. And I came home feeling a little bit one step ahead of, because we’d been dealing in American dollars the whole time we were over there so – because it was difficult the transition for everybody from pounds, shillings and pence to dollars, to decimal currency. But I had a bit of an insight into that because we’d already been dealing in US dollars that we got paid in. But somehow – but we used to allocate, and I think I used to keep about, you could do what you like, they sort of made you keep
some of it. They didn’t want you to – I don’t know if you were allowed to draw it all out. Because pay day came and you actually went and got your cash, you know your money. And I used to get about – I’ve forgotten. It might have been pounds. I can’t remember how we were paid. I don’t know whether it was pounds or dollars. It wasn’t a lot anyway, either way, pounds or dollars. Thirty-two isn’t many or thirty-five – I can’t remember. But I used to allocate probably, oh I don’t know three quarters of it that
came automatically into, back to Australia and paid into a bank as most of us did. So your pay over there for the week would be just say ten dollars or ten pounds whatever it was. That’s what you drew out just sort of like pocket money just so as to have some money, there wasn’t much to spend it on except the booze, or smokes if you smoked.
Prior to being
drafted while you were still working at David Jones what knowledge did you have of the Vietnam War or Asian politics?
Very little. I had very little when I went to Vietnam. Mainly because – well for starters I didn’t come from a political type family, if you know what I mean. I mean yeah they had their Labor or Liberal or whoever they voted for but politics were never a big thing, put it that way, in my household. It still
isn’t with me. I am much more interested now because I’m older and it has happened over the years. But again, and you have to remember I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty around there. And I know I guess some kids at that age are right into it but I’ve never been terribly interested in politics, put it that way. So therefore no, yeah I knew of it but of course I was at the very – how long had they been there for?
When I went to Vietnam there had only been one battalion ahead of us so it was very early days within the Vietnam War so therefore, well to me, I think it had been brewing for maybe four or five years before I’d was called up, I think. You see I’m not right into the history. I mean I don’t, I still don’t delve into the history of why or where, I just no I’ve been and I’m back and I’m in one piece and I’m happy, well I’m happy to be back in one piece.
No, I didn’t know much about it and I confess, I don’t know if any of them did, any of us, any of the boys, even when we went to Vietnam I wasn’t absolutely sure why we were going you know. Except that we certainly told it was all Communist of course I know that much, the war. Better to fight them there than here that was the pitch we were given when we were sent. Had no say in the matter anyway but that was
yeah better to fight them there than fight them here, Communism.
What did you think Communism prior to going?
Yeah I sort of understand about Communism I think, as in you know everybody shares, you know the Communistic thing. Well they’re controlled aren’t they, everybody’s controlled as in – yeah I understood what Communism and I knew about that and I knew the North Vietnamese were
trying to overtake the South because they were standing up to Communism. But that was about it. I didn’t know anymore politics or whatever.
Do you remember how you heard about conscription?
Oh it had been I the media. I mean it would have been on the news, it would have been – I don’t remember a lot about that but it would have been talked about for a long time I’m sure. I mean they didn’t, none of these things happen bang do they? They don’t just say suddenly one day
we’re going to bring conscription in. I’m sure it must have been talked about a lot. I don’t remember much about it I must admit. It certainly was when I was I suppose a year, I mean we were twenty when we were called up, and I guess for the year before that. It was basically why I left work in Sydney and came home. I’d sort of had enough of the city anyway and my sister got married and so that affected the flatting arrangement. But I also knew I had to register
and I came home and didn’t do much for a little while. Like as in work, I didn’t have a permanent job, I came home and just killed time in a sense, I did a bit of farm work actually at Stuart Town, you know home, to wait and see if I was going to be called up or not. And sure enough February the fourth came out. You see it was all on birth dates and –
Can you explain how the registration system worked?
No not really, I mean it’s remembering it’s not explaining it it’s remembering what I did. But from what I remember it was fairly simple, I mean it was law of course, it was compulsory. If you turned twenty between whenever and whenever you had to register. And I’m not sure how we came by the forms. I can’t remember whether we had to come here locally to the court house or whether they were sent to us maybe
I don’t know, I can’t remember. And that was – and I don’t remember what was involved on the registration forms, I really don’t except well I suppose there was a form. We had to register; you know it was compulsory to register. And I was – had I been born two months earlier, I would never have had to register because I was the very first intake of national, of this particular national, two year national service thing. I mean was born as you just heard me say on the fourth of February. If I’d have been born on the twenty-eighth of December I wouldn’t have had to
register. I mean from then on everybody had to register but I just happened to be unlucky, lucky, whatever just being two months older than I could have been. And it was a six, I remember it was a six month thing. I think like in my case it would have been I guess from the January one to the thirtieth of June everybody had to register for that period. And then of course somewhere through that they’d have them registering for the next six months. I think it was six months or was it a three month period,
three months? I think it was six months. So probably oh about April they were telling everybody that’s turning twenty between June and December that they had to register. And so it went on, you know it kept going. I just happened to be in the first intake. That’s what I was getting at when I said if I’d been born a couple – I used to say to Mum, “Why didn’t you have me a couple of months sooner?” I said, “I wouldn’t have had to register for this.” And it was like Lotto it was luck of the draw, it was a ballot, so they told us anyway, it
was a ballot. If your marble came out as they said that was it you were called up. But I mean a lot of guys their marble didn’t come out. It wasn’t because we were twenty we had to go into the army, it was because we were twenty and our marble came out. They didn’t take – you know not everybody twenty has to do national service. I think the old one where there was a three month thing that was way, way back. I can barely remember that happening, a national service thing for three months I think it was only. I think everybody,
at whatever the age was then, went and did that three months I think. This was different it was definitely a ballot and it was luck of the draw if your marble came out or it didn’t. I said very like Lotto. And as I jokingly say it was the biggest thing I’ve ever won, two years in the army. I used to say it was the only thing I’ve ever won. I think I’ve been known to win the odd raffle since then. Yeah so that was – I can’t tell you – no I didn’t know a lot about the politics
of it all. I wasn’t that interested. And up to a point I’m still not – Not because I don’t care. But now of course it is in the past and what the hell whether it was right or wrong, there was so much controversy over that, right or wrong and as you can imagine – I mean still it’s going on exactly the same now with the Iraq thing and should we have troops there or should we not have troops there? Is it the right thing? Is it the wrong thing? You know and that hasn’t changed, it will go on forever,
people are people they’ll fight forever with somebody unfortunately. And that’s where politics does come into it doesn’t it? You know sometimes I think it gets pushed aside. That’s why I don’t especially like politics because I think perhaps it gets pushed aside, should we be there, shouldn’t we be there? It’s not whether we should or shouldn’t be there with the politicians I mean, it is because if they think they can do the other side some damage don’t they? I mean it’s happening right now with all this stuff, bring them [the troops] home by Christmas, no, don’t bring them home
by Christmas and all that. It’s just thrown out there half of the time I think because this side wants to get into power or this side wants to get into power. And I know that’s what oppositions are all about to take on the leaders to try to supposedly keep them honest but I think sometimes the cause gets lost all along the way, why? I mean I sometimes think if you could get the leaders of – the prime minister and the leader, whoever they be, whenever and the leader of the opposition together and they would tell the truth –
I’m not talking about politics now, to each other, if you got them on their own somewhere and they said now what do you really think they’re probably agree. You know that’s what gets to me with politics so I’m not really into it, I sort of don’t really care, but up to a point. But the Vietnam thing when I went that was a certain side to it too, it wasn’t – I suppose I didn’t question it all that much. I didn’t want to go especially. I didn’t want to go into the army especially.
you know I’m not a ‘warrie’, I’m not – Mind you a lot of people pretend to be ‘warries’ and they’re not really. But you know at that age, twenty, you get guys who, oh yeah you know I want to go to war. I never, ever did. I don’t enjoy shooting, especially at people. But I never, I was never keen on – you know, my older brother used to got spotlighting which is done a lot in the bush, it still is done you know shooting foxes and rabbits and stuff with spotlights at night time out in the bush. I used to go with my brother and hold the light
and freeze to death on winter nights. But I never really wanted to do that. I mean I was never into firing into a gun. I’m not a gun person. You know some people crank, some people have it as a hobby, some people love it. Michael Diamond loves it. In fifty years time someone will say, “Who was Michael Diamond?” He’s going to the Olympics soon. There you are they’ll know. Um yeah I didn’t enjoy shooting for a start. But then
there’s the side to it where I started to say – I think you resign yourself, you have to go because it was a ballot, you don’t get the choice. It’s not like joining the army. It’s not like saying I want the army as a career so I’m going to go and join for three or six years it was when I was in there that’s what they joined for three or six years. It’s not like that of course you are called up and unless you want to push it and a handful did on religious grounds. Because you had to pass a medical, you had to pass a medical to get in,
it wasn’t as simple as that. And I mean I think a few guys pulled a few stunts. You know the old thing about eating silver paper or soap or something to put your temperature up and all this sort of gear, I don’t know but apparently it worked. I didn’t do any of that. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d been called up. And I suppose again it’s a bit like being still in one piece now, it’s nice to be passed medically fit. You know not to say, “Oh no you’ve got a hernia, you can’t go,” especially at aged twenty. Or you know you’ve got flat feet
which I think stopped people from going or being called up in some cases. Um so it’s nice to be fit and be passed as one hundred percent fit. On the other hand, you know there’s always that little thought isn’t there, oh I wish I had something wrong with me so I don’t have to do this. But I’m glad I didn’t have anything wrong with me. So that’s what I say you resign yourself and then of course much to my parents’ horror, ah there wasn’t a whole lot said, but I know it was on their mind probably
more than mine, because I’m twenty, you’ve got to remember I’m twenty, I’m a kid. You’re a bit more gay abandon aren’t you? And I had no ties as in wives or, or, except my family that I’m very fond of. But it was certainly talked about. I mean I did twelve months training here in Australia and then twelve months in Vietnam. So during that twelve months we were here training in Australia. It was certainly thrown around a lot then. I probably knew more about it then than before I actually went into the army. And there was always
the big ‘if’ and ‘yes maybe’ we were going to be sent to Vietnam. And that was as I said what was worry the tripe out of my parents, I know the big question will he be sent or will he not be sent. And of course I was sent. But I think they played it down, I think they knew we were going really. They just sort of kept reminding us that we might be going sort of during that training period. That probably wasn’t anything to do with your question but anyhow.
Interviewee: Noel Grimes Archive ID 1939 Tape 03
Well Noel, you were talking about the concerns your parents for you going to Vietnam. I just want to ask you about the day your number came up and where you were and how it was advertised that you were called up for national service
I think, mind you I’m going from memory, not that I think I have a terribly bad memory but it’s a long time ago, I think were just simply notified by mail, by post I
I think from memory. Yeah I’m sure we were. When I think about it I’m pretty sure because you know we were sort of waiting, waiting. You were notified either way from memory. You either were called up or you weren’t. Mm, by post I think.
What do you remember of your parents’ initial to you doing national service?
I don’t think that the reaction there wasn’t –
There wasn’t a whole lot of reaction probably but that was sort of my parents, they were sort of – I mean my Mum always said what will be, will be, you know, que sera sera. It was her sort of – I suppose that’s why I resigned myself, okay I’ve got to do this, too similar thing. It all gets back to your upbringing I guess, on your outlook. But I don’t remember much – I really don’t remember whether there was any reaction at all. Of course there’d have to be a bit of concern there but I was
just going into the army, I mean that’s not a big deal really is it? And so I don’t think any reaction set in until I was in there and then there was all the talk about Vietnam. But they might have been more concerned than I ever realised when I was called up too, I don’t know. They might have been taking a lot more notice of politics of the day. Who knows? I’ll never know. They’re gone now so I can’t ask them.
What experience had they had during World War II? Had they spoken much about that?
again, no they had no – No my Dad was never at war and again because basically he was a shearer, you know considered I think. I guess he could have volunteered and gone I suppose. And it’s fine to volunteer and go as a lot of them did but at that stage of course Dad would have had a couple of kids, World War II wouldn’t he? Yeah I was born in forty-five and I’m the fourth eldest and that’s when it ended and so – and
my brother was born in thirty-six so there you go I mean he would have had a couple of kids then wouldn’t he? And a wife. So why would you want to volunteer, really? It’s fine to say fight for your country but – and I think the fact that he was rural, I think probably being a shearer and so. I don’t know how it worked, needless to say I wasn’t around. But you know when the war broke out or whatever I wasn’t around, I was only around at the end of it. No so there was no involvement. Dad had a couple of brothers killed in oh,
I don’t know which war. Oh, it would have to be World War I, it wouldn’t be World War II, I think. Because as I said there was a big family of them, eleven, and Dad was the youngest of the eleven. So therefore he had brothers, they were born pretty close together in those days, however he’d have had probably a twenty year old brother when he was born you know with a big family like that. And they, I think a couple of those might have put their age on to go. And I know a couple were killed in – but I never –
and of course Dad didn’t really know them so I didn’t stand a chance of knowing them. A couple survived I think. I think one actually married and ended up living in France, one of Dad’s brothers. But I never, I knew very few of Dad’s brothers and sisters because they were as I’ve said he was the youngest of eleven and a lot of them either died or had been to war or whatever.
you were called up where did you have to go first off?
First off to Marrickville. Um, yeah. I mean the medicals and so on were done here, I think they were done here in Wellington, yeah, prior to – because you had to you know pass the medical even though you were called up. And – yeah Marrickville, Sydney. And then we were only there overnight I think
and it was the time of the demonstrations. Being the first intake, lots of demonstrations.
Could you explain what you saw of the demonstrations?
Well the main one that sticks in my mind is Central Station when we were leaving. As I’ve said we went to Marrickville. We were only there I think one night, it might have been two, I can’t remember where they processed us and put us through all the papers and measured you and I guess gave us a uniform. I don’t know if we got them there and then, I can’t remember
And then anyway we were sent off to, what was it called, initial training, anyway at Wagga, Kapooka at Wagga. And – on a troop train just full of twenty years olds, heaven forbid. Ah yeah but at Central when we were leaving yeah big, big demonstrations with mums leaning against the train and not letting it leave. It didn’t go on forever but it was enough to cause a bit of a kafuffle and as I’ve often said
said when you’re twenty and that’s going on it’s a bit embarrassing, it’s a bit amusing and it’s a bit of a new adventure the whole thing really. Um so you don’t take it too seriously. But there was a bit of action yeah a bit of – a lot of publicity and stuff.
What do you remember about what the demonstrators were saying or what the placards said?
I don’t remember, don’t remember. I mean there was a lot of noise and as I’ve said
you can imagine it was a troop train and it was full of twenty year olds. I mean we’d have been making enough talk anyway, just talking, laughing, people hanging out of windows and stuff you know. I don’t really remember what they were saying, that’s the main thing I remember how they just lent against the train and wouldn’t let it leave, for a while and then they got cleared away or whatever but yeah I don’t remember. Oh I think what was the big thing, ‘Save Our Sons’ or something. I think now something’s clicking there. Banner wise, placard wise I think
sort of ‘Save Our Sons’ I think it might have been or one of the main things we kept seeing ‘Save Our Sons’ yeah.
Did you know much about the Save Our Sons Movement at the time?
No, not my personally no. I knew it existed. There’s always opposition to anything, but no. I think that’s what it was, ‘Save Our Sons’ mm. I mean at that stage we didn’t need saving, we were only just, it was day one.
What were your feelings about seeing the demonstrators?
Well as I said in a minute ago it was just – it didn’t – well I can only speak for me of course, I don’t know about the other guys on the train but it didn’t ah – I suppose up to a point it was sort of exciting if that makes sense. It was sort of silly to say it was exciting but to us at twenty, as I keep saying, I can’t say enough times we were only twenty, we were only kids and it was sort of amusing and – I think more embarrassing
actually that the demonstrations were happening. You know you don’t – and especially I suppose – If you were a celebrity or something you were probably used to it. Some sort of big welcomes or farewells or be they good bad or indifferent. But when you’re just a little ordinary person who’s just been called up into the army it’s all a bit different, it’s a bit of a, bad expression I suppose, shell shocked a bit. But mm that was basically it, embarrassment.
But we didn’t place anything too much on it and of course once we did pull out of the station they’re left back there aren’t they the protesters, so then it was just us until we got to Wagga. I don’t remember at the other end whether there was – I really don’t remember whether we were greeted with further demonstrations, I don’t remember. It’s pretty vague that bit, I don’t remember.
What do you remember of what was being shown on television or in the papers about Vietnam at that time?
Very little. I really –
I wasn’t – I’ve said before I think I was never really heavily into politics and – No I don’t really remember. I just remember the controversy over it all. The ‘ifs and buts’ and you should or you shouldn’t that was going which of course obviously was political anyway. I remember yeah that it was toss around a lot but I don’t recall anything specifically no.
When you got to Wagga could you explain where you went and what the layout of the place was, the camp?
Ah yeah as I’ve said I’m very vague, I must admit remember really getting to Wagga. I guess I must have gotten there but I don’t sort of actually remember getting off the train and all of that. I think it might have been our first experience. I don’t remember – they had to get us to Kapooka which was the army camp, and the train didn’t pull into Kapooka.
They must have tossed us onto the back of trucks. I’m sure they did because that’s how we spent most of our lives travelling around then on the back of these trucks as you still see them sitting in old movies, especially you know when they’re sitting along the sides. I don’t remember much about it except that we were, or my lot, I was in Silver City as it was known, which was the old half tanks, you know like old aeroplane hangers. Freezing cold. This was in June/July. And Wagga is a cold place.
And they were just tin huts really. I just remember that. Twelve men, twelve to a hut. And we were in Silver City. There were newer buildings across the flat over the other side, brick ones but somehow – I mean it was just luck of the draw, I scored Silver City. It was okay. I mean we had board floors and adequate bedding
and so on. Ah they were pretty cold you know because it was as I’ve said just like a big dog kennel really.
Was there any heating in the hut?
No. Not that I remember. No I don’t think there’d be any heating. And it was really, really cold weather, awful weather. I mean Wagga, I don’t know if they get it all the time but I mean we were there what was it ten weeks initial training, ten weeks I think. And really severe frosts and some horrible wintry days you know showering and stuff.
And the fog, you know the fog would just barely lift and then it would start to come in again. It was dreadful, really cold, very cold.
What do you remember of what you were told in those first few days about what you would be doing?
Not a lot really except that I guess we were, because we’d been taken off Civvy Street [civilian life] as they say, ah, I think we got lectured pretty well – well I think anybody going into the army
would get lectured on all the dos and don’ts and you will do this and you won’t do that. But especially as we were the first intake and just come off Civvy Street. And the people training us were obviously regular army and had been in there for some years, some of them, I think they decided they were going to show us a thing or two being these long haired louts of the streets. Which by the way we all had our hair cut of course. Um, yeah so I don’t remember anything specifically except
we were – I mean they made no bones about the fact, they really didn’t about sort of saying “You lot.” But then they may have treated regulars like that too because let’s face it regular soldiers who join up come off the street don’t they? It’s not sort of – except we had this bit of ‘nasho [national serviceman] thing’ hanging over our heads. And the regulars were going to show the nashos. But anyhow we all survived it quite nicely and at the end of our ten weeks you know they’re telling us, “Well we knew we could do it, we knew we’d make a man out everybody, make a soldier out of you.”
And they did, and they did.
I just want to talk what other men were in that first intake. What was the sort of general feeling amongst yourselves about people’s willingness to be called up? Did you talk about it very much?
No not really. I think by then it was sort of it was just accepted and as much as I keep saying and I didn’t especially want to go into the army, it didn’t – I didn’t want to run away and hide either,
I was indifferent about it. I thought, as I’ve said I had to do it so be it. And of course we were in the army – I mean we didn’t know anybody when we first went in, we came from all over. And I, you know there was no-one from Wellington went with me anyway. And if they did I didn’t know them and they ended up in another unit somewhere. No I don’t think it was discussed all that much.
Once we were there it was sort of – it doesn’t take long really for it to turn into a bit of a family in a sense, it doesn’t take long. And people sorting out who’s who because I mean whatever you are in the army or out of the army there are people you don’t like or people who don’t like you. Or you know you get loudmouths; you get nice guys whatever just the same on the street isn’t it? I mean you get thrown in there altogether, you’re a mixed bunch, totally mixed bunch. But generally they were nice bunch of
guys that I was with. But I don’t think it got discussed a lot, no. I think then the talk possibly started amongst the fellows sort of thing about oh maybe, you know about Vietnam, maybe it was getting a mention even then. It would be more like I hope they don’t send us. You know you’d get the odd, you know the big warrie who wants to go but most didn’t. But ah it suddenly happens you’re off the street, well I wasn’t on the street if you know what I mean, you were off Civvy Street
and suddenly it’s a whole new world, a brand, a different, just so different. And of course we were restricted. I mean you weren’t allowed home in those ten weeks. I mean that was that you were there for ten weeks. And an odd character or two was actually homesick. I wasn’t, there was enough going on, they keep you so busy and so tired, even if you’re twenty. There’s stuff they put you through the whole time and up at the crack of dawn and curfew and lights out at ten. Mind you it was never difficult to go to sleep because we were tired, they really worked us
hard, physically hard you know.
What did the training involve?
Well there was all the rifle stuff of course and then the stripping rifles and putting them back together and everything else and actually firing them like on ranges, all that stuff, I did a lot of that. And it all had to be done, not just learning about them and learning to do it but learning and I guess that’s gone on from day one in the army but you had to do it to time.
There was always a time. It should take you so many seconds to load and pull it up and reload and this sort of stuff. And that was always when you were out on the flat lying on your belly on your elbows with a rifle in the frost, it was really hard on the fingers but they actually allowed us to wear gloves. That’s how cold it was. Can you imagine the army allowing you to wear gloves? But they did we were allowed to wear gloves but you sort of couldn’t do that sort of stuff with gloves on. That was all the rifle stuff but then there was the physical side to it. You know there was
all the – we did a lot of marching and slow marching and that’s just the discipline side I guess. And the ropes, you know climbing ropes. Obstacle courses. Twenty mile route marches. All that sort of stuff on the physical side. Um and when you’re twenty of course you are fit. But then there were guys – there was one guy that was in our lot and he was a big fat kid, no other way to put it. He was pretty
heavy and he couldn’t climb a rope for you know for, for anything. And they weren’t too hard on him really. I don’t know what happened to him eventually. But I mean this young fellow was just – he was overweight but a big kid. He could only get about yay high off the ground, you know when you’re supposed to get up ropes and things. And I used to feel, I think we all felt sorry for him but nobody sort of gave him a hard time. I mean I think the people training us probably did a bit at first but when they see somebody genuinely just can’t do it,
I think they sort of backed off. I don’t know what happened to him or where he went. But yeah a lot of physical stuff, a lot of physical stuff. And you know running in your full gear and your pack and everything else. And of course in the army way but I guess that hasn’t changed army wise. Your boots had to be really clean and your bed had to be made in exactly the same way. All twelve in the hut were all done and tucked exactly the same way. And they would pull hut inspections and you’d be in terrible if you didn’t
toe the line. And I think one particular guy, this bombardier he used to have us out, because they did a roll call every morning, I suppose they thought we might run away, and I think it was six o’clock every morning, you had to be up, you didn’t have to be dressed, you could stagger out in whatever you liked but it was so cold outside you’d have to just pull your coat on or whatever, and he’d have us slow marching, you know the slow march which is hard going, especially at six o’clock in the morning and you’re not awake,
out in the frost, the slow marching in the frost. We used to always – God who have we got this morning? It’s him we’re going to be slow marching. But that’s only, you know it doesn’t do you any harm, it probably does you good. But I mean we used to grizzle and grumble about that a bit yeah. But generally, generally speaking. I mean of course I’m forgetting about all the other stuff, what else did we do? You know there were sort of map readings and compasses and this sort of stuff that you have to learn about. And your bearings and this sort of stuff.
It wasn’t all physically hard stuff but you had to be – but it becomes a bit of a competition too which helps everybody. For a start they pin you, like I was in 23 Platoon, well they pinned 23 against so and so, like the other platoons, saying we can do the route march in a certain time, well the majority of us or who holds the record, and this sort of stuff happens and it sort of keeps you going. And then there’s a certain amount of competition within the platoon. It’s a bit like swimming or something, you know you’re sort of, you know
I can get up the rope in ten seconds; it takes you twelve sort of thing. Nothing horrible but there was always – I guess it’s their way too of turning into a sort of competition. You like to think you can be up with the rest of them you know. Unless you’re a wuss [coward] then you just sort of – but there were a couple of guys I remember having, I won’t say problems, nothing special they just obviously hated being there and, and of course discipline is, was brilliant.
You take it a bit hard at the time. But as I said it’s not all that different from school really. And if you do as your told you don’t get in the poo. As simple as that. You don’t get the kitchen duties. But some of them never learnt. You know they’d back chat. Of course you do not back chat to one of your superiors. And ah be it ever so little and you get duties very easily, very quickly. So any spare time you’ve got you’re in the kitchen and this sort of stuff.
I never ever got any of that because I could always bite my tongue. You know I could never – you know it’s not me to sort of, no matter how inside I didn’t want to do it or hated it I would just do it, I mean I would just shut up anyway. But there was a few that never ever learnt – spent half their life in the kitchen, dixie bashing as they call it, that is literally washing up the big army greasy pots and pans you know. And they’d have to start early of course, wouldn’t they, you know we’d all get up at six, they’d have to be at five or whatever in the morning and this sort of stuff but
they never ever learnt. But apart from that it wasn’t bad, looking back I keep saying, I suppose I’m old now and I suppose this has been said a million times, it would do a lot of twenty year olds good now to, not necessarily go to Vietnam or see actual service, but a national service would be good, even if it was only for three months, I think it would be excellent for them. Just – the ones I said that never learnt, that always back chatted I suppose they came out of the army and it doesn’t do them any good either. I suppose they still backchat all their life.
But generally speaking I think the discipline – just like being on a parade ground where you have to stand and you do not move, you don’t blink, well you do you’ve got to blink but that’s just about all you can do. You don’t move and if you do move you know you get the extra duties or whatever. The only way you can get off a parade ground without moving was to collapse, faint. And then they didn’t like that much and it used to happen, people would pass out just because you’re standing out there forever and not moving.
Yeah, so discipline, oh I think it was a bit over the top sometimes but when you think about it handling a whole heap of men, let alone, well it doesn’t matter whether you’re twenty or thirty but ah, in age I mean, but they had to be tough or pretend they were anyway.
You mentioned the men had haircuts when they came in, where was that done?
That was done at Kapooka. I’m pretty sure it was Kapooka. I think we escaped Marrickville. It was just all –
I’m sure at Marrickville I think they mainly did paperwork. You know they would already have had our birth dates and things otherwise we would not have had to register but they put us right through the full bit you know to make sure it was right, our addresses and our age and our – I think we probably, there must have been a bit of a certificate of some sort with our medical. I think they gave us another medical at Marrickville from memory. I think we had yet another medical. And we measured for uniforms and so on. But I think we escaped the haircut there, I think that happened
pretty much first up when we got to Kapooka, yeah.
Do you remember that happening, lining up for the haircuts?
Yeah vaguely. But it was only a bit of a joke really when it came down to it. You know my hair wasn’t especially long but it was certainly longer than army requirements. But some of them as you can imagine really had quite long hair and ah it came off. It was only a bit of a joke, “Oh look at him now.” You know it really wasn’t – I don’t think anybody
hollered and wailed and objected. They knew it had to happen anyway.
So at that stage when you were called up for national service did you believe then that you would be going to Vietnam?
No I didn’t. I didn’t really know. I mean I guess I didn’t – I suppose it was in the wind – I keep saying I don’t remember a whole lot about it but I guess it was in the wind that Vietnam was going to happen. But
it – No I didn’t sort of think a whole lot about it when I was actually called up. It was just the initial thing of being called up alone. As I said a total transition from normal life to army life was sort of enough probably to keep your mind off anything else for a while. But then I think it probably started to dawn a bit more because at the end of our ten weeks training that’s when we were sent to various corps, as in infantry, you know
what else was there, engineers or whatever, RAEME [Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers], and the majority of us were sent into infantry. Unless you went into the army – If you went in with some qualifications then you would stand a chance of getting into RAEME which was what the Royal Australian Army something a rather Electrical Engineers or something to do with it. And I had a good mate, that was only a good mate because I was in the army, in that ten weeks, and he was sent to RAEME because I think he was actually an electrician or ah – yeah he was an electrician,
or an apprentice electrician or whatever at twenty, whatever. So he didn’t get infantry. Because of course most of us unless you had a trade or something where they could use you most of us got infantry. And I got sent to Brisbane to Enoggera. And some of the guys you know went with me from there once there was a certain amount. Some went – they went in all directions from there. Um, oh that’s what I started to say. I think when the postings came out which we didn’t know until right at the very
end of the ten weeks where we were headed, I think then we probably started to – then you’re supposedly a soldier you have your ten weeks, we’ve knocked all the stupidness out of you and now you’re a soldier, I think then it perhaps started to dawn a bit that this is getting a bit more serious when you know you’re going to, oh I don’t know just into a corp. Before it was just training, just training, training and more training you know in one way or another be it discipline or rifles or physical stuff. Then when you
are posted to a corps as in I was into infantry then you sort of start to think a bit more maybe I think about Vietnam whether it was really in the picture. But I do remember it being in Brisbane it was mentioned quite a lot the further we were there. You know the corporals would be saying, “Well when you get over in the funny place” as they used to call it, and they’d say, “When they’re coming over the hill you know you do this you don’t do that – ” blah, blah, blah, blah. So it was mentioned, yeah it kept getting mentioned. But I don’t know –
I think probably that my superiors knew more than they were telling us, particularly as we were first intake because the media were really onto anything as they still are, that hasn’t changed either. And it was played down I’m sure, low key. I think they, they probably knew we were going from day one when we hit Brisbane or probably from when we first Kapooka, who knows. It must have been in the wind. I mean when I look back I think oh it must have been in the wind,
these sort of decisions aren’t made overnight. And I think it was really, yeah we kept hearing – then of course we were questioning our superiors, will we go, do you think we’ll go? And this sort of stuff was going on. This was over the last few months probably at Brisbane. And they were always when I think about it fairly evasive. You know they’d, “Oh well, maybe. Oh, we don’t know yet.” And all this sort of stuff. But then of course we did go.
Could you tell me about Brisbane and
what you were doing there?
Brisbane. For a start it was lovely to get away from Wagga because Brisbane’s a much nicer climate even though it gets cold there in the winter because there used to be frost on the parade ground some mornings, at Enoggera anyway. Ah it was, well it was corps training I suppose and we did a lot of – it was a bit more relaxed than the original ten weeks I must say because they really stuck it into us, I know they did. Didn’t relax there – well it was more relaxed yeah.
But basically we would go out and do a lot of exercises. I mean when you’re in a battle zone they’re operations but they’re exercises when you’re training. And we did an awful lot of that. Some of it was – some of that was really hard because by now you’re supposed to know it all, so you know what to do with your rifles and so on. Ah but a lot of it was playing cat and mouse, pretend, you know out in the bush. And you’d
go out for two or three weeks at a time. And when I say out, they’d, onto the back of the inevitable trucks. And they’d take you out and drop you in the bush somewhere. And of course it was like you had to – ah it was all as though it was for real so you know – again the discipline was really coming into it. And – but we spent a lot of time – I remember Lamington Plateau which is on the border of New South Wales and Queensland. A
rainforest, very pretty, full of leeches that I hate. I’ve never liked leeches; I still don’t like leeches, land leeches. And again it was just simple – you know usually you had an enemy. You’d split up or they’d be another company being the enemy or whatever and that sort of stuff. And then there was, ah what do they call it, jungle training centre, where was that at? It was further north than Brisbane.
Canungra. It was Canungra. Yeah and that was pretty tough. That’s really just physical stuff, you know pretty much. You know flying foxes across creeks where you had to let go and drop in and runs and more ropes and stuff. You know all the – and obstacle courses and as I’ve said you know and crawling under barbed wire and over – a bit like you see in the movies you know going over mesh, oh what do you call them, mesh and fences I was going to say, they’re not really mesh anyway.
But yeah it was just, they just pushed you really hard. That was sort of fairly – we’d been up there for a while when we went to – that was when it started to, the penny started to drop a bit with us all when we got – which I think was basically part of everybody’s training. But when we got sent to, I think they call it the jungle training centre don’t they, I think that’s when we thought “Oh, hm, why are they sending us here?” But Brisbane, yeah, nice city,
Brisbane. Not that was saw a whole lot of it but we had a bit more freedom there because we did have weekends off, you could go into town in uniform. Sometimes – oh I think after a while – no I think we used to go in, in civvies come to think of it. So we had a few nights out in town. You can imagine there was, being the ballot everybody was turning twenty-one weren’t they? And quite often you could have five other fellows on the same day you’re
turning twenty-one, they’re turning twenty-one. So there was a lot of celebrating went on. There was always a twenty-first birthday about every day. Not necessarily within your group but somewhere, someone was twenty-one. You can imagine with a whole heap of us and all called up in that period. I mean I know I had two or three who had their birthday on the same day as mine. So there was always – and they had the local boozer as it was called in camp, you know the canteen thing where you could go and have a few beers and it was probably the safest place to go and have a beer. But we were known – I don’t know whose birthday it was, we were in town, there was four of us
who went and did a bit of pub crawl in Brisbane. I’ll never forget that. Nothing happened except I don’t remember a whole lot about the end of the night. We somehow got home in a taxi. And one of my mates lost his false teeth because he was so ill. I mean he flushed them. So that was a bit of an experience but we were just young and silly.
And what did you do on your birthday?
I don’t remember anything especially. I think we just went up with – there were four of us to a hut in Brisbane, which was better than twelve.
And I can’t remember. I think we just went up to – Mum actually sent me a birthday cake. I’ve always like fruitcake, so I mean you couldn’t send a sponge could you? So she actually posted me a birthday cake. My actual birthday I know we were up, oh again we were on exercise or whatever I mean on the day, it was fairly close to camp I think, I remember because we were up Enoggera Hill or whatever. But then
nights we were back in camp and I think, yeah I think we just went up to the local boozer and had a few beers, yeah. I don’t think it was mine when we were in Brisbane. I don’t know whose birthday it was, it must have been somebody’s, yeah.
What was the sense of camaraderie amongst the men at that stage because you were all around the same age?
Oh good, basically really good. As I keep saying of course there are people who sort of – there’s always the odd one out, there’s always the –
it doesn’t matter where you are. Like as I said whether on Civvie Street or at school there’s people that you know you do click or get on with and there’s always usually, well I wouldn’t say a bad apple but you know the old thing there’s always somebody that everybody seems to hate or don’t like or whatever. I suppose it’s unfortunate dispositions. I don’t know. Or unfortunate attitudes, I think more to the point. But there wasn’t much of that either. Basically
as I said the further we went it sort of starts to turn into one big happy family. Well even if you’re not all that happy sometimes because I mean not all aspects of army life were good. I mean sometimes you would just dearly love, I don’t mean homesick, but gee it would be nice to go home. You know or forget all this sort of pomp, rubbish, whatever. You know the old expression in the army was if it moves salute it, if it doesn’t move paint it and that was pretty true. That was how they
reckoned you’d keep out of trouble, yeah someone said that in Brisbane, some of the corporals or somebody. Because that takes a bit of working out you know the pips on the shoulder and so on, you’re not sure who’s a captain and who’s a corporal. I mean you don’t salute a corporal but you do salute a captain and you know when you’re passing them anywhere that was all pretty strict, all by the board when you go overseas.
Did you feel like a soldier when you were
in Brisbane in Enoggera? How did you perceive yourself?
Yeah I guess so. I don’t really know, I mean I don’t really know what a soldier’s meant to feel like. I think only the ones I referred to as I said a warrie, who want to go and fight somebody or pretend they do, usually it’s all front from what I’ve seen, but they’d probably feel like
a little tin soldier. I don’t know if I ever did. Yeah you certainly do and I must admit even though I was never really into army life I didn’t mind it. I can look back and it was a very good experience. As I’ve said I don’t think it would hurt a lot of people. Take out the Vietnam bit. But ah – no it was –
I don’t think I ever really felt – Except I must admit on the parade ground with the military band playing and you’re marching you feel pretty good. That was a thrill, you know those days when you’re not allowed to blink or do anything wrong. Particularly if you had families coming to see you which never ever really happened to me because this was in Brisbane and you know there were days when they had parades and families were invited, friends and families to watch.
Well especially on those days as you can imagine you did not lift a finger or do anything, and everything had to be extra shiny and so on. And even without family there, not that I ever – I never held that against Mum and Dad, they couldn’t afford it anyway and Brisbane’s a fair hike from here. But yeah I can remember feeling very proud. Oh even the day they marched us out of Kapooka actually by then as they’d say, “They’d knocked us into shape and we could all keep in step.”
And there were a few dignitaries there as you can imagine. You feel good. I don’t know if I felt like a soldier but I certainly felt I looked like one. So yeah that’s good when you’re all in uniform marching and as I said the military band or any bands. Sometimes you’d have pipe bands and so on and they really send a tingle. You know the boys used to always comment on that. I’ve always been very interested in music but musical or not you can’t help
but get a tingle up your spine when you’re marching to a military band or any of those. There’s good bands, more than one band sometimes if it was a big parade. Um that was yeah.
When you went to Enoggera was it just national service or was it a mixture?
No well again of course corporals and things – things, they’d like to hear that wouldn’t they? Um anyone with
rank of course – I’m trying to remember whether we were with any regular soldiers or not. As I’ve said the corporals and so on of course they were definitely regular soldiers. Certainly when we got to Vietnam we were tangled up – there was still a big percentage of national servicemen. I suppose because we were the majority I guess. I don’t know how many regulars were in the army but when the big influx of national service came in I suppose – and all been through training
at that particular time I guess is why – we certainly had regular soldiers with us in Vietnam but I don’t sort of recall first up whether we had any in Brisbane. As I say apart from the corporals and so on, sergeants and things. I can’t remember. I know the guys in my – the four that were in my – three I should say in with me I mean we were all national service, we’d all come from Kapooka. I hadn’t necessarily one I –
No Peter wasn’t in with us. I’d been in my hut in Kapooka. There was only – no I don’t think any – they had all come from Kapooka but they weren’t actually with me. They were fairly new to me because you can be at Kapooka of course where there was a whole lot and not really get to know some fellows. So there was a bit of a fresh start in Brisbane with new friends in a sense. But they were all national servicemen, that’s what I was going to say anyway the four of us in my particular hut were all national service. There were some
regulars running around, there were yeah, there were a few yeah when I think about it.
What was the attitude of the corporals and the sergeants to the nashos in Enoggera?
Improving. They weren’t bad but as I’ve said of course not having even been a regular soldier they might cop exactly the same treatment as we did. Chances are you know they might still say “Get your hair cut, son, we’ll make a man out of you.” You know like I
mean I guess they do that anyway. It’s a very, what’s the word, macho I suppose, world, man’s world the army, well it used to be. Well now of course there are ladies in the army aren’t there? And the forces. But then it was definitely – the attitude I don’t think it probably – yeah they sort of kept – it seemed that they kept warming to us as in ‘they’re not
stupid hippies off the street after all’. You know that they’re okay these guys. They sort of eventually got around to almost telling us that, you know sort of saying well you know you’re all right. There was always a bit of joke there sometimes too probably, you know oh you’re all right considering you’re only a nasho and this sort of stuff. But it was only light hearted stuff. But generally I think – well they got to know us too, the corporals and so on they get to know you as a person. Even though you don’t mix it with people with rank, I mean
it’s forbidden. You don’t go and have afternoon tea with the captain or anybody. Um but yeah I just think they also got to know us and then it started to fade away the fact that we were national service and they were regulars and so on I think – well that was my experience anyway yeah.
Interviewee: Noel Grimes Archive ID 1939 Tape 04
Noel can you tell me about how and when you received the news that you were actually going to Vietnam?
No I can’t remember. Of course we were told. And it wasn’t very long though before we went, it wasn’t, I mean we didn’t know, from memory, we didn’t know for six months or anything like that, it came up fairly quickly like a couple of months away I think, from memory. And that’s when we were given
four or five days, what do they call it, pre-embarkation or something leave, that’ll do anyway, it was something like that. So the final leave before we went overseas. And they actually flew us all home and were very kind to us. Those that needed flying home. If you lived in Brisbane I suppose you just went home, I don’t know what happened there. But yeah I was flown to Dubbo and was picked up was home for four or five days. Um
but I don’t think we really knew for a long, long time, no. Again I suspect, maybe to do with the – now we’re the first national servicemen going overseas. Before that we were the first ones called up and now we’re going overseas. Again we’re the first national service. There had been a, what was it, a battalion over there ahead of us I think,
only one. Yeah because when we went over, two battalions went over when I went, 5 Battalion and 6 Battalion. I was in 6. And 1 Battalion as in name 1 Battalion was over there and they came home when we went. So it wasn’t, we weren’t the first soldiers sent to Vietnam but we were the first national servicemen going to Vietnam. So I think maybe it was played all a bit low key for that reason, I’m only guessing really but now looking back on it. At the
the time I think it was a bit of a why don’t they tell us, I wish we knew sort of thing. I think that was going on with us and as I’ve said earlier I think they were a bit evasive, they probably knew more than they were letting on or telling us because we’re going to tell our mummies and our daddies if they tell us. And they’re going to kick up a big fuss maybe more drama. And I do know I mean when they did fly us out, and I know that was pretty much a fact to avoid any of all this stuff, they flew us out of Amberley at two o’clock in the morning,
ah when we actually went to Vietnam. And it was all very quiet and hush-hush. And – I mean everybody knew, of course the parents knew that we were going but I don’t think anybody knew that we were leaving at two o’clock in the morning, or very few people. Ah, so yeah I think they wanted to play it down a bit.
What was the pre-embarkation leave like for you?
Oh good, great of course.
But disbelief I think all around. You can’t believe you’re going; your parents don’t want to believe you’re going anyway. I think disbelief right until you actually – even when I was there the disbelief I’m here. You know it’s sort of, it’s a bit like – yeah, yeah disbelief. Certainly the leave. Great to be home of course. I think we had four or five days. But then
of course you’ve got to go back and you know you’re leaving next week or whenever it is, very soon after our last leave. I can’t remember how long the time was but within a few days we were heading off. I mean that’s tough. I’ll never forget Mum and Dad seeing me off at the Dubbo Airport. Tears all around as you can imagine. That’s tough. That’s when you start to wonder, you know am I going to see them again? And no doubt they’re wondering the same thing yeah. That was tough. I remember flying – I was half way back to Sydney
on the plane before I could sort of emotionally stop – well I was battling to stop crying. You know you’re sitting next to somebody as usual, especially when you’re twenty, you’re not going to be sitting there crying. But they don’t know why you’re upset so I battled with it until I was about half way back to Sydney I think and then I was okay. You know once you get away and I guess they were too once they – you know there’s not a whole lot to be said once it comes to the crunch, when you’re leaving like that, you know except you know
a stiff upper lip and sort of “Well we’ll see you, you know twelve months. I’ll be back. See you.” You know light heartedly wondering all the time will you be back. But that was, yeah that was sort of hard again.
How much was that in the forefront of your mind that you might not be coming back?
Oh a fair amount I suppose. And yet
it’s a bit like the disbelief in that you’re actually being sent overseas. Oh again it’s just me but I was never terrified I wasn’t coming back. There was always thought that I may not. And I think we all sort of said well if I cop it, as we used to say, “We won’t know.” You know you sort of – mind you that’s not the case because you can be awfully badly wounded
and know all about it for the rest of your life. But that’s the way you look at it, I mean if you think of not coming home you’re thinking of being dead. So therefore, well that was my attitude, I thought “Well if I cop it, what about Mum and Dad and the family?” And so on. But it was first and foremost in my mind. I think you sort of always, you sort of push it away really, well I did, again I’m only speaking for me of course. But I think you push it away and
you don’t want to know. So you’re sort of it’s there yes but it’s not a big – put it this way I suppose, I hoped I stood a lot better chance of coming home than not. It’s more you hope, you know you hope but you know it’s on the cards, you know can get shot dead. But that’s a bit hard to comprehend as well. I mean just the thought of being shot dead. And you haven’t been there to experience – at this stage you haven’t experienced
any of it, not for real. I mean you’ve been through all the exercises and training and stuff but you haven’t got – I mean I think the thing of speaking of the dawning of some things that, I think I said this to the lass on the phone the other day [Archive researcher], when we got on the plane in Brisbane, I mean at Amberley, that night was the first time we’d had live ammunition in our rifles with us on the plane. And that was sort of the realisation that this is getting serious. You know I mean it starts
to really hit. I mean you know you’re doing it, you know it’s serious but it doesn’t – it’s a bit like a dream you know you’re sort of – that’s – I mean normally I mean live ammo in camp or anywhere in your rifle was taboo, I mean it’s dangerous. And certainly you don’t go out on exercise with live ammunition – with pretend that you just might shoot for dead. You know, you use blanks and all this sort of stuff. But I remember being the dawning thing. It was a bit of a worry, I mean we’d been
using these rifles, handling rifles, firing on firing ranges with real bullets, you know at targets and things. And doing obstacle courses with targets that used to pop up out of the scrub and you had to – you know that sort of stuff. That was for real with real bullets. But to sort of know you were going over there with – but that’s still only pretend even though they’re real bullets and you’ve got targets – that’s only pretend isn’t it? And when you climb on that plane you sort of think oh. And you were getting super duper warnings don’t
forget you have got loaded rifles, you know because you’re not used to having them loaded, not like around camp areas and things. Because I mean there used to be that there was the occasional AD as they called them, accidental discharge. That used to happen in Vietnam and people wouldn’t have heard about it. I mean people being shot and wounded just simply by people – because they used to have weapon inspections in Vietnam too. It was much more relaxed but you had to keep your rifle clean and so on. And of course if you had a
live shell up the spout, which was the term, and there was a routine for when they’d check your rifles for cleanliness and all that and you have to shoulder arms, then you do – well I can’t remember the instructions now, the orders. But it’s done to a pattern every time. And at the end of it’s catch, fire, catch which means take it off safety, fire the thing. And of course occasionally someone would take their magazine off their rifle and they would have a live round still in
the breech of the thing and of course this catches fire and boom off it goes. And there’s been – and of course the sergeants or whoever’s out the front making you do this they’ve been shot. You know and so I mean it – except the realisation of suddenly having live bullets in your gun and you’re on a plane. You know normally it would have been taboo, you wouldn’t have had – you know you had your rifle because that was instilled in us that you took rifle everywhere.
Even when we were in camp at Brisbane we had to take our rifle to the boozers with us. That’s all part of the training I guess, you don’t go anywhere without your rifle and if you lose it you’re dead, more or less.
You mentioned before that you weren’t particularly fond of rifles and shooting prior to the army. How did you feel at that stage when you said you got on the plane and it dawned on you, how did you feel about
actually killing other people?
Well it’s something no – well I didn’t want to kill anybody, no. And it’s so impersonal. I mean let’s face it I mean sure you’re being told you’re being sent for your country. There’s such a difference in wondering how you would shoot somebody else, a person, than actually having your back to the wall and in self defence shooting somebody. There’s a difference a big difference.
You’d have no qualms when your life’s on the line. You know that’s the difference I find. I mean to thing, just to think that it’s premeditated and you’re going to go and shoot somebody – I suppose wars are premeditated although this wasn’t because it was all guerrilla stuff, it wasn’t like trenches you know where you said alright they’re in that trench, we’re in this trench. That’s what I’ve often said that the guys in World War I and Two and things did it a lot tougher than I ever did, I’m sure they did. That’s I suppose premeditated when you say
“Okay the enemies there, we’re here, we’re going to take them in that trench and we’re going to shoot them.” Sure I mean we used to go out searching for the baddies, the Viet Cong, so that’s premeditated isn’t it? But you never knew where they were. I mean you’d be looking for them but if you found them well again it’s so quick, it all happens – but I found that – yeah you wonder, you wonder how you would go. You more
wonder rather than will I feel rotten or is it whatever as far as shooting anybody goes, you sort of wonder can you. That’s what crossed through my mind, can I if I have to? And all I can tell you is I can assure you, you can. It’s surprising how you turn into – can turn into almost a little hero
totally unintentionally. Because I’ve said self preservation in my view is what gets you there. You know if you really thought too much about it you wouldn’t get there. But self preservation that’s all I can put it down to. And I tell you when those bullets are flying you – for a start you can get flatter on the ground than you ever thought you could. Secondly, it’s not hard to fire back when you know it’s your neck – I mean
that’s what I used to often think about, forget about, oh I was going to say King and country but the country, when the chips are down it’s little old me that I’m worried about. You know when the chips are down I’m not thinking – well you can imagine I mean there’s no time but you’re not thinking I’m doing this to save my country. Last thing on your mind. The big thing on mind was we’ve got to get out of this, you know we’ve got to
we’ve got to win, so to speak, that little situation, be it a little situation or a big situation. That was, that was – but self preservations is what always kept me going. And even as I’ve said, it’s probably hard to believe, but even when I’d been over there for six months in Vietnam it’s still a bit hard to believe you’re actually there and you’re actually doing what you’re doing. You know it’s sort of – I guess it depends on yourself and I think some part of me never ever wanted to know if that makes sense – it’s something you push
back, way, out or something. And therefore you’re sort of fairly, well you feel like you’re coping fairly well. I mean I saw guys who didn’t cope well. But – and you know I’d always think oh well another day tomorrow, I hope and then there was another day tomorrow so – and I’m lucky as well. Some weren’t so lucky.
For those men that didn’t cope
what would be the evidence of the fact that they weren’t coping?
There wasn’t a lot, there wasn’t a lot. I mean one – a good for instance is Paul Large who was shot dead and he was in my tent, now we’re in Vietnam, we’re going four to a tent eventually. And he was a little guy
full of bravado but everybody knew that a lot of it was front with him And he was a forward scout, that he insisted, oh he was very happy to be a forward scout. You know you had your position in your platoon and your company and you were either a rifleman. I was number two on a gun which meant I carried a lot of weight because you carry the spare barrel, you carry all the extra ammunition and stuff, and you stick with the gunner, with the M60, the big gun. And he was the forward scout, anyway, Paul and he was always – oh yeah – he was one of these
definitely ‘oh we’ll show them’. But everybody knew he wasn’t sort of that brave and it used to really sort of – he was a nervous wreck really but he used to pretend he was – you know, ‘I’m happy’. And I mean the forward scout is the one going through first. When you’re leading you’re first and everybody’s following so I mean it figures that the forward scout’s going to cop it if somebody springs you, you know, and you suddenly walk onto – and that wasn’t how he got shot, it was in the Battle of Long Tan that
where quite a few got shot. But he was – that day, the day he got shot I was screaming at him, Neil Bextram [?] on the other side of him was screaming at him and we thought he’d chucked it in so to speak because he was shot absolutely between the eyes, didn’t move, didn’t know anything obviously. And he was just lying there as if he was firing but he had his head down on the ground. And we were screaming at him, we thought it had gotten too much for him and he had just chucked it in. But he was dead
as it turned out. But that’s why we were screaming at him because we thought he’s, he’s – and he’s a guy that sort of always – he’s a good for instance. There weren’t many like it. I mean none of us were that brave, let’s face it none of us were – yeah you know nervy and so on – of course you’re nervy. But then it depends how – with Vietnam and the guerrilla type warfare you’d sometimes go for days and maybe weeks and not see an enemy or nothing would happen. So you’d get a little bit
blasé, I suppose is the word, or a bit slack anyway. Oh but they wouldn’t let you get slack the person in command. We didn’t get slack to the point where like the Yanks were sort of noted for running along with their trannies [transistor radios] in their ear and this sort of stuff, you know never, ever were we slack and that. But you get a little bit that way. And of course all the time you are counting the days down. You know you’ve been sent for twelve months so you know – which seems an awfully long time
when you leave home. And it was a long time when we were there too. So it was a different type of warfare. I don’t know what they question was now really.
I can’t remember it either.
What I wanted to ask you when you were talking about that self preservation. Given that you hadn’t been career soldiers how much of that self preservation came from training and how much came from instinct?
I think it comes just from instinct. I don’t think it’s – I suppose some of it comes from training. I mean training teaches you to handle yourself and know what to do. I mean I guess you could have been thrown into that situation and had no training but it still would be self preservation though, just you. I mean it’s sort of nothing to do with – I don’t think. I mean it’s just,
as I say it’s your life and you’ve only got one. And – and your mates around you of course. I mean you’re there as a group, as a team. I suppose it sounds pretty selfish to say it’s just you but really you see everybody I assume is thinking about just them even though you stick together as a group. So I guess it works even if everybody’s thinking of little old me, themselves, and you’ve got everybody thinking that. But also being aware
of your mates and the other guys around you. Yeah I think it’s just simply self preservation, it’s just as simple as that. To me that’s how it was with me anyway. I mean sure I’ve said I was very aware of, well like screaming out to Paul. That’s not just you, that’s worried about him. But basically, oh it got back to can you pull the trigger
or can’t you, didn’t it? That was where we started I think with some of this. That gets back to self preservation. Oh again of yourself and the rest of them. But as I’ve said I never ever knew if I – I guess most of us didn’t really know whether we could really pull a trigger and shoot somebody. But as I’ve said when your back’s against the wall and well it’s simple it’s either you or them. That’s the wrong way around, them or you.
You do it. And it all happens so quickly when this sort of things happening. There’s no hanging about for half a day and thinking oh I don’t know whether I should shoot him or not. You know you just do. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t. So it happens sort of spontaneously and I guess, I suppose the training, yes you are trained for it but you don’t know if you can do it. You know you can fire your rifle and you know you can put more bullets in there, you know all that side to it, but can you really pull the trigger on somebody. It’s, you know
I never ever knew until I had to do it and it’s not that difficult. I mean it would be just as difficult again now. I’d sort of being saying, I don’t know if I can do this. But if I was thrown into the same situation again – well I know now it wouldn’t be difficult because I’ve been there and done it. You know before that you don’t know until you’ve actually been put in that situation or the position. It’s, it’s like reacting to anything anywhere isn’t it? You know,
people, they react differently. Um, yeah but I think basically – but of course I’ve said I’m the only one that can tell. I can only tell my story can’t I so I can’t really speak for anybody else. But I would assume that it would apply to most I think. You just don’t know until you have to – until you have to do it. And gets back to that too, you have to do it whether you like it or not. And as I’ve said there isn’t the time to sort of question it
or worry about it. I can remember the first time I did it. Still wondering you know sort of feeling really strange.
Can you tell me about that?
Well that was the Battle of Long Tan that’s been well documented. I don’t know if you know it or not? Um – you see Vietnam, you could go to Vietnam possibly and really get into very few skirmishes, just the luck of the draw.
Probably fellows have been to Vietnam and back and seen very little in the way of action – possibly. It could quite happen because of the guerrilla stuff you know. But the Battle of Long Tan yeah – what did you ask me?
You were going to tell me about the first time you had to –
Oh that, that was then, that was then, the Battle of Long Tan. And there was some confusion too that made it
more so because – I mean it’s a long story the Battle of Long Tan but it – basically we were all pinned. There’s only D Company, my company, which was I think I read somewhere the other day at full strength we were about one hundred and twenty in the company. And I think there was always usually someone with a rash or something that didn’t go out on operations. And we were, I think our strength on the day was about one hundred and eight or something, of us. And we were doing a clearing
patrol from our camp, Nui Dat. A three day clearing patrol, that was sort of fairly common. Apart from the big operations that lasted three weeks or maybe four weeks out away from camp these were three day regular stuff to try and keep our perimeter clear. The long and short of it was we walked into, I’ve forgotten whether it was two or three battalions of Viet Cong, I mean North Vietnamese troops in greens like us, trained not – I mean generally we were used to
seeing the Vietnamese in what they called black pyjamas, the dress they wore all the time, the long you know – typical you’ve seen it yourself. That’s the guerrilla type people you never ever knew whether they were good or bad. That was the hard part of that particular because they all looked the same to us, they look the same anyway, and they’re all dressed the same. But this lot were, were trips from the North, from North Vietnam. They actually had their battle gear on like us. And 11 Platoon,
each company’s split into three platoons. Depending on who was leading the day before, you’d take in turns leading. And fortunately for me we had led last time. We had only just gone out that day, it was our first day out on this three day thing, but even so the time we were out before, whenever that was if we led it meant it was our turn in the rear next time. And it was lucky for me personally and the rest of my lot, 12 Platoon, that it was our turn in the rear.
11 Platoon – there was 10, 11 and 12 Platoon in D Company. 11 Platoon were leading and they were the ones who copped most of the casualties. They ran into this great big force that we didn’t know – I mean I’m sure the idea of clearing patrols was to clear it and make it safe for camp but they would never have sent us there if they’d known how many there were or if they were there even. There was always talking and intelligence stuff coming in that there was supposedly a battalion here and a battalion there close to camp and this sort of stuff
And – so that platoon got pinned down because they ran into them. 10 went up to help, they got pinned down. We went up to help and we all were pinned down but split up, couldn’t get to each other. And it was on. I mean we didn’t know what had struck us needless to say. It all started because they’d run into about four or five – oh anyway they were on the lookout, you know their sentries or whatever belonging to this big mob of Viet Cong, there were four or five and they’d been a few shots
exchanged, this is from 11 Platoon up front, and then they sort of pursued them and of course they led them right into the big mob didn’t they. Anyhow where I was talking about the first bullet, the fact was A Company, we were D Company as I’ve said and A Company were in the vicinity somewhere, I mean I don’t mean just there but they were within maybe an hour or two of us or something. And it with all the confusion and bullets flying and nobody really knowing, I mean it was chaos. And radios,
because you know every platoon has their own radio, every section had their own radio. And it was in appalling weather, it was in monsoon time. There was mud and water and slush and – and the radios were out and again when it came to the crunch there was a couple of radio guys, you know one of them was just screaming on it. I mean we hear this later, I mean he wasn’t right next to me but because they – and it was – anyway we were told that A Company was sort of going to try and come and rescue us or help,
help us. So that was when the big dilemma came where we actually started firing at these guys that looked just like us in all the rain and the wet and the slush, you know a little way a way, I mean they weren’t from me to you away, through the rubber plantation. They looked, they could have been anybody, they just looked like us, soldiers in greens. And we’d actually started firing because they were firing at us. At least they were coming from everywhere because they were sort of running around
us like Indians, there was just so many of them. And ah then we were told, that was a terrible feeling, they told us to hold our fire because they thought we were firing on A Company, that were coming to supposedly help us. It wasn’t, it wasn’t. But then there’s the big indecision do we keep firing, somebody’s still firing at us and they were so far, they were close enough and yet far enough away to not know who they were, you know. And that was strange. That was a peculiar feeling. Everyone was bellowing all of a sudden, “No, hold your fire,
hold your fire! It’s A Company, it’s A Company!” And you thought oh you know. But it wasn’t. A Company were coming somewhere but they were a lot further away than that and I don’t know if they ever quite got there but yeah. But it’s not hard; it’s not hard when you know they’re not yours. When you know they’re not A Company, it’s not hard, it’s not difficult. The first one yes it’s sort of a – this is not a target anymore; you know a cut-out. But then when a few start whistling around you
you sort of – it’s not difficult, it’s not difficult. It just goes back to self preservation; I’m going to get out of here. I’ve never been very religious but also you pray. I’m still not very religious, I should be but – I remember that day.
So when did you know that you’d actually killed somebody?
Well in my case you don’t actually. Well you do because
you know you see them drop. I mean – but in this particular instance which was the biggest thing I ran into over there, I’ve said they’re reasonably distanced, certainly within range to shoot each other, I don’t know how far you would say, it’s hard to sort of guess – and if it had been clearer weather but it wasn’t, as I’ve said it was monsoonal and it was dreadful and of course once the bullets start flying the limbs are falling down and the little twigs and big twigs off the rubber – we were in a rubber plantation and they were falling everywhere and it was dreadful.
But all you can sort of see is – I mean possibly it’s a lot harder to – oh I don’t know, I was going to say perhaps if I was as close as I am to you and someone was threatening my life it might, it might be harder to be sort of point blank and pull a trigger on somebody, maybe. But on the other hand if you knew they were going to do it to you it probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference, I don’t know. But these, as I’ve said they were distant enough and in the appalling weather – I mean you couldn’t see a face, put it that way. You could see a body, a person so that probably helped the cause a bit
but – so that’s when you know, yeah I mean – but there were so many of them and of course they were darting and diving and, as you can imagine they weren’t just standing there, they were on the move and they were on the move towards us but nonetheless they were moving. So you’d see, you know you’d see them disappear so you assume you’ve hit somebody. That’s what it really amounts to when they’re not terribly, terribly close to you but I mean you just if you pull the trigger and he’s there and then he isn’t you think
Were they attacking in waves?
Yeah, sort of in bursts but there was so many of them. And I think the only thing that saved us really that they didn’t know how many of us there were. I mean I think Aussies are noted for putting up a fair fight and I think probably that’s all that saved us. And I don’t think they really knew how many of us there were. Because again we were, I mean I
don’t – you can’t have an aerial. I mean the tacticians and so on and the people who’ve researched it would tell you exactly where everybody was no doubt. I don’t sort of remember. All I know as I’ve said 11 Platoon was there somewhere, 10 Platoon tried to get to them and they couldn’t, we tried to get to 10 Platoon and we couldn’t and we were all split up. I mean 11 Platoon as I’ve said they had all the casualties because they were up front. And well there was eighteen killed on the day and I think 11 Platoon had about, oh I can’t remember, it would
would be documented. But ten or a dozen were out of 11 Platoon which basically wiped out the platoon really. Paul Large was the only one in my platoon that was killed. We had several wounded but there were twenty-six wounded on the day. Which shows the odds weren’t too terrific. As I’ve said I always feel so grateful to be sitting here right now because when you look at one hundred and eight – there were eighteen killed and twenty-six wounded,
it’s about half isn’t it? Roughly. I could have been one of them one way or the other, and I wasn’t. But ah as usual I don’t know what the original question was.
You said that the odds weren’t great, so in hindsight what do you put that down to that you were in the favoured half?
Why did I survive?
who knows? I didn’t do anything different to anybody else. I mean as I’ve said for a start I was fortunate we weren’t leading that day. Because as I’ve said 11 Platoon had all the – the majority of them were dead anyway, the casualties. I mean some of those they were in there overnight and we went back the next morning and they were there all night the guys that were shot.
So that alone, the fact that we weren’t leading, we were bringing up the rear. Had it been the last time we were out, whenever that was, wherever we were going, we’d have been in front. But because as I’ve said we led last time we were now in the rear and next time we would have been in the middle and so you worked your way through the three and they just kept rotating which was just fair on everybody’s nerves and everybody’s you know. Yeah so – but no, I don’t know why
I mean I’m reluctant to say this because I find it hard to believe and I rarely have said that speaking of being lucky as you would know we wore these webbed belts, quite wide and quite hard things. I mean it was part of the uniform. Well the guy next to me when all this was going on, before we’d regrouped, there was more to the whole thing, after it was all over, the next day, that night
whatever, he said “Oh God you’ve got to be the luckiest one here today.” And I said, “Why?” You know, “Why?” I mean well I know I’m in one piece but – he swears, because they were using an awful lot of tracer, the enemy, one in five about. So you can see the bullets, that’s worse. I mean you can see them coming, I mean you can see them, you know where they’re going. It’s good for them because they can see where they’re firing too and that they were in the right spot because of the tracer but you can also see them coming at you and it was very dramatic, you know this tracer fire absolutely everywhere.
And because of this guy reckons that he saw one deflect off my belt at the back. I mean because you can see tracer. I mean I never ever felt it, didn’t know because as I’ve said there were sticks and twigs and stuff falling, shrapnel falling, well I won’t say shrapnel, out of the trees. It was all over me of course and limbs were coming down and – but he swears that – I mean that much lower
and it would have got my spine because I mean we were all flat on the deck needless to say, flat as flat, as I’ve said it’s surprising how flat you can get. Um and he swears that you know he saw it ricochets, deflect off my web belt. So that’s getting close isn’t it? That’s lucky, that is lucky I guess. Um, but I wouldn’t of – if he’d – and why would he say it? I mean that’s the thing. I didn’t – as I’ve said I’ve rarely said that to anyone really. I mean Helen knows, I told Helen. But I tell her
it sounds like a tall tale, it really does. So, so close. I mean if it hit your spine where would you be? It mightn’t have killed me but I wouldn’t have been much good would I? And I said why would he say it this guy? I mean he had no reason to say this did he? It wasn’t him. It’s not like he was running around saying I had this. Because I didn’t know what he was talking about when he said you’d have to be one of the luckiest blokes here today. Anyhow that’s my little story, I’ve told that one. I always feel guilty
when I tell it because as I’ve said it feels like, that I’ve just made it up. Running around saying I’m not a warrie and here’s me telling this little warrie tale. But that’s a fact, the guy, Tom Humphries was the guy who said it I think – I can’t remember, Tom Humphries I think. So there’s some luck attached too I guess or is it fate? I don’t know. It may be fate. I tend to believe in fate although I’m not religious. But as I said earlier I think Mum,
my Mum said what will be, will be, que sera sera. Sort of. I mean you’ve got to work at it. Nothing happens without working at it does it, in life at all, I mean in army or out of army? But ah yeah there’s sort of I think fate. I mean that’s the only way I can look at it; say “Well I wasn’t meant to die that day.” I mean after I came out of the army a few years later I rolled my car and I came out of it with just a – and it went over about twice
and I came out with a sore collarbone where I had my seatbelt on fortunately. And I thought well I’m still meant to die am I? This is after my army days. Not that I got out there you know, what do you say, tempting fate – anything but. But that’s, I sort of tend to believe in fate. I mean I don’t know why Paul Large got shot. Why didn’t I? I mean I’m here, he’s here, Neil Bextram’s there, it wasn’t us, it was him.
I mean obviously he was in their sights but we were all on the ground, we weren’t running around or walking around. So why him? You know you can go the other way. I suppose his family have always said that, “Why him?”
What were you expecting in terms of the North Vietnamese presence in the area when you went out on patrol?
That day? We weren’t expecting. I can’t remember what – you know as I’ve said there was always intelligence and information being passed onto us that yeah there’s you know
there’s reports of this, that and the other, you know a battalion here and a battalion there or something of you know North Vietnamese, and I don’t remember whether we sort of looking for them. We certainly didn’t mean to run into them. I mean with such – the numbers, the vast – I mean a hundred odd fellows just don’t go and take on, I don’t know how many there was, a thousand of them or whatever. I mean we just don’t do it.
The Yanks might but we don’t. I don’t know if the Yanks would do that either, hopefully. They’re a bit of all guts and glory aren’t they? So yeah I mean I know if the powers to be knew that that number of enemy were there and knowing how many of us – I mean there is no way they would have sent us to take them on. It was just one of those things I think as I’ve said – I don’t know if they had an inkling if they were in the area or not – I’ve got no idea.
It was always the camp area of Nui Dat that was, a big area, a huge area, it had an airfield in the middle of it and all that, but these three day patrols were regular things. When you weren’t out on exercises you were quite often sent on these three day ones and usually only just the company of you. Sometimes we’d do just sections which, you know there’s three platoons to a company, three sections to a platoon, is that right, I think.
So sometimes – but sometimes, if there was only a section of you there’d only be six or eight of you got out, or eight or ten maybe with headquarters – yeah, you know, somebody carrying the sig [signal] set and so on. So this happened to be the company, D Company. And ah yeah they were regular things these three day patrols. All of the time really they kept them going and you always went clockwise I think so as you didn’t shoot each other up. You know you’d got out, a fair way of course, three days you’d go
for. And then you’d go around and came back in here and of course A Company or whoever was over this side of the perimeter would do the same and it’s all, you know that’s going on the whole time. And of course they do have radio sets so they sort of know where they’re all at. And that’s what was on this day. I remember clearly leading that day because everyone was belly aching because they used to bring us – we used to get a certain amount of entertainment over there. They would come over girls entertaining the troops – or not necessarily girls, and they had this sort of a rough stage
open air stage, you know where people were kind enough to come over and entertain us. So I don’t know who was there that day but we were all belly aching because it was our turn to go out and somebody – we could hear the music when we left camp that you know somebody was singing or doing whatever. I remember that clearly. I remember going out through the barbed wire and grumbling and groaning, “Oh it would have to be our turn when now they’re here entertaining.” Whoever it was, I can’t remember who it was now. We used to have a few – Lorraine Desmond, she’d be too old for you to know. She still
performs Lorraine Desmond I think. She used to come over there a bit. I can’t remember who was around in the day. We didn’t get a lot of it but occasionally – and if you happened to be lucky enough to be in camp well you’d, or weren’t on you know some sort of duty, you’d get to see the entertainment. Anyway that was the day of the Battle of Long Tan, the eighteenth of August. And we were going out and as I said everyone was grumbling and moaning and carrying on – well most were.
So it wasn’t much fun, well it wasn’t the sort of music we were looking for before that day was out.
Interviewee: Noel Grimes Archive ID 1939 Tape 05
Noel, I just wanted to keep talking to you about the Battle of Long Tan. You mentioned that you went back the next day.
Could you explain how that came about?
We were told – yeah it was after the battle – we were eventually taken out of there by APC, armoured personnel carriers,
to a clearing somewhere, a paddy field or whatever, where we spent the night. You know a reasonable distance away. And then simply we were told much to our surprise that we were to go back in the next morning and you know do what had to be done. And we sort of felt that why can’t it be somebody else? Why can’t it be A Company
or somebody else to do it? But we were sort of told it was good for us in a sense. Psychologically somehow the thought then anyway was that it was good to send you back into the scene of the crime so to speak. It wasn’t very much fun. I mean it wouldn’t have been fun for anybody but I mean they were our mates that we had to pick up and put in body bags; that were still there overnight. And we were the ones who buried the two hundred and forty-five Viet Cong that were killed.
So yeah I – I’ll never really know why except that’s what we were told that it is good for you. I suppose that’s hardly the way to put it. But to handle or to cope with the whole situation I guess or to help you come to terms with it or something, they decided that we were the ones that had to go back in and do the cleaning up or whatever had to be done.
What was the reaction
among the men when you were told that you were going back in?
Not happy, not happy. Again everybody was sort of – by this time we’d been in the army for a long time so you do as you’re told anyway but yeah it was questioned, why us, why us, why us, you know. As I said, as I just told you that was the answer we were given. And nobody really rebelled so to speak it was just certainly questioned yeah. And to this day I don’t really know why us, except for what they told us. Perhaps it does work, perhaps
it helps you down the track, maybe, I don’t know. I really don’t know, I don’t know no. I don’t know why it would help you. I suppose the fact that – I mean we’d actually won the day after all. Maybe it was to sort of go back and see
how many the enemy had lost and how many we had maybe. I don’t know you know do you say “Okay, well, two hundred and forty-five of them, there was eighteen of us killed sort of thing.” Whether that – I don’t know but I’ve never looked at it that way, I’ve never sort of had any bearing on it. I mean the reaction of course once we got there was varied, generally just quiet of course. And picking up your own guys and putting them in body bags to be
flown out – well I think they had choppers in there, yeah. We had to load them into something. I can’t remember whether they went first into a vehicle and then into a – they might have gone into these armoured personnel carriers, I can’t remember. But that wasn’t much fun. They were still lying there as they’d been – a bit like Paul Large that I mentioned earlier, that this had happened, they’d been killed when they were initially – you know they didn’t get back and regroup as the rest of us that were left did, that was when Paul got shot when they were still about to overrun us, that’s when I thought
they were really going to overrun us when we’d regrouped as one. I might add it was the Australian artillery that saved the day. I did say earlier that they didn’t know how many of us that they were but at that point our own artillery was just as frightening as anything else. It was – because – and it was being called in from camp of course which was, I think, in old terms about three miles away. By our Major Smith, I think, was calling it in
who was obviously brilliant. I thought it was going to wipe us out; it was just so close and so frightening. But it did the job. That was when we’d regrouped and they were really about – I’m sure that when Paul got shot they were really going to overrun us I’m sure. But the artillery just kept getting closer and closer in front of us and closer where I was and it certainly stopped them and obviously killed a lot of them. And that was sort of the end of it when the artillery –then I think some
armoured, I don’t know what company that was, but armoured personnel carriers also started to arrive, you know assistance was coming in, and they sort of wiped out a few on the way in too I think. But the next day, what was I talking about there, yeah it was pretty – ah that’s right, I was saying the guys mainly from 11 Platoon that were there all night – there was one guy who lived through it, that was there all night which must have been pretty horrific.
He was wounded, one of our guys yeah.
What injuries did he have?
I can’t remember. I mean he obviously – I don’t know if he couldn’t run or walk or he just – as I said we were split up so I don’t know. I really can’t remember what the story was. Yeah he was injured and he had – he used to tell some horrific tales but sometimes, somehow we all felt they got a bit exaggerated as time went on.
But nonetheless a tremendous ordeal. It’s bad enough having been there at all let alone being alive and the whole night on your own with your mates dead around you. But you know he was telling stories of the Viet Cong sneaking in and trying to take his boots off because they thought he was dead and this sort of stuff, or thieve his boots or whatever. So we really don’t know you know whether he was perhaps hallucinating even because there didn’t seem to be anybody left around. But that’s
quite, quite possible, it is quite possible. But the scene wasn’t much fun. Apart from our own guys, bodies and bits of bodies everywhere.
Was it easy to find where your guys were, where they’d fallen?
Relatively. I think again we didn’t have to sort of hop up and find them ourselves. Of course we were taken back in by our superiors
who were with us that is, who’d read the maps well and had the location and all this sort of stuff. We were sort of – and we were taken back in, in the armoured personnel carriers I remember that. I mean Dave Sabben, Louie who was a national serviceman actually, was our platoon commander, he was trying to have us all jovial, I remember that, he was putting up a very good go of cracking a bit of a funny on the way back in and this sort of stuff. But everybody was
just basically, well I know I used the term shell shocked earlier but this is shell shock, you know was shell shock, it sort of – again, it’s the disbelief that it’s actually happened. That’s how it used to strike me. I think it’s personally again what got me through many times and it’s probably the way I treat the life really but it’s your, you know talk about your subconscious, well I think my subconscious tends to push this sort of stuff away, at least at arm’s length and I survive it.
Whereas others probably may feel better, I don’t know, and they probably let it all hang out. But the way I’ve always – and it’s not intentionally done it’s just the way you are. Because you go back in there and you think again got to do this, got to do this, didn’t like it. I mean God some of them were dry retching because it was just you know the stench and in that climate, in the heat and the flies and overnight. It’s something I’ll never forget the stench. Like
there’s something different about, as I said I’ve been brought up on the land where you smell – you know where there’s a dead cow, a dead horse or a dead cat, they all stink. But human, the stench of human bodies has a different smell – it’s sort of quite, quite different. I don’t know whether it’s because you know it’s another human or what but it’s sort of a – well if I had to describe it I’d say it’s sort of a sweetish stink, different, different.
But we did it we buried them as best we could. I mean that was sort of the humane thing to do. And we were fortunate in the sense, when I say buried they weren’t terribly well buried but because of the artillery there were plenty of graves. I mean they leave holes so deep, you know big holes. So we just dragged them into these holes. Sort of mass burial but it was still a lot. There was only a handful of us and there were still two hundred and forty-five of them.
But it’s was all the bits and pieces and heads and shells of heads and arms and bodies without this, that and the other that’s really you know – it’s bad enough just dead people but when they’re all in bits – well not all but a lot of them were. There were total shells of heads you know everything’s gone there’s just a shell left, a skull. Um that would be of course from the artillery and so on. It wasn’t very pleasant. And I can, I’ll never forget it. I mean it’s always
there. It’s something I don’t think about much. But after all of these years too I find it’s sort of – it just sort of becomes part of your life, to me. It doesn’t sort of – or something that happened. It’s not something that I care to dwell on or want to dwell on. It’s not hard to relive it; I mean in my mind it’s not hard to relive it. But a lot of stuff in Vietnam I’m really vague. You know occasionally if I do – I’ve been to the occasional reunion
over the years and you’ll get some of the fellows saying. “Oh remember when we used to go down through the Ba Ria and through that little something or other there?” And I’ll say, “God knows, I don’t remember that, you’re better than I am I can’t remember that.” But this sort of stuff you remember, you know you sort of – I can almost remember every move from the time it all started, the battle started – not every little bit of it but until the next morning. And as I’m talking about it I can just about, I can visualise it all. I mean there’d be details that I don’t remember but yeah.
When you were faced with having to bury these
VC [Viet Cong] what emotion did you feel when you saw the enemy, when you saw the dead bodies?
The main one I remember was they were so young some of them, so young. I mean we were young, as I’ve said we were all of twenty-one, I suppose we’d be nearly twenty-two by this, we’d be turning twenty-two. Some of them appeared to be – but of course Asian people, Vietnamese, they tend to look – they’re only a small anyway, smallish race so they tend to probably look younger
but that was one thing that we remarked on. And I remember remarking and saying “They’re so young.” I mean these were the North Vietnamese troops. They looked about sixteen, fifteen/sixteen a lot of them and that was the bit that struck me I think more than anything, apart from blood and gore and horrible stuff that you’re seeing but the age generally. They weren’t all that young but a lot them were just really and truly only kids.
I mean they were bits and pieces and you sort of think why? You know why any of this? Mind you it could have been me there in bits and pieces too but it wasn’t I’m glad to say. But yeah we somehow – and mean we used to always carry toggle ropes which were just part of our gear so that’s how we got them into the graves. I mean we didn’t physically touch them. We’d wrap a toggle rope around their leg or whatever was there
to be wrapped around and literally dragged them into these holes, you know four or five or six in a hole, whatever and roughly – well, we covered them I mean there was loose soil around from the explosion. Because we always carried tools and trenching. All army will say you’re trenching, tools and trenching, plus a little shovel thing that goes on your belt. You always carried those so I guess, I guess that’s what we used – it wouldn’t be hard work because they weren’t very big
but I guess we covered them with that, well we covered them somehow, I don’t know, roughly, vaguely. So that was about it. And then I think they were very kind and gave us two or three days off back in camp and then we were out and back into exercises again. But we did have a day or two yeah to sort of hopefully go – but then again everybody’s just stunned after something like that, particularly with loss. I mean if you all get back there sure everyone’s still probably a bit stunned but when there
and well in my place Paul Large is missing out of my tent, isn’t he? There was four of us and now there’s three and Paul’s not there anymore and that’s sort of hard to – I won’t say hard to cope with but you sort of keep looking at that bed and thinking you know he won’t be back, that’s it it’s empty. I suppose it’s like when anyone dies but just in different circumstances. He was all of, the same as the rest of us, all of twenty-two or whatever. And the little guy who put up this brave front – that’s the other you know. He was a little guy with a big image
or tried to have a big image as you often see with little people, you do. Especially fellows you know they like to stand up that bit taller if they can and he was just like that. I mean he was a nice guy and all that but he was certainly – and again that sort of used to run through my mind why somebody sort of so – I mean if he could hear me saying this he would deny it, saying underneath that he was a little more scared than the rest of us. And you sort of think
well why did it happen to the one who was a little more scared? And he wasn’t up the front doing his scouting that he would normally be doing when we were patrolling. If he’d been up the front that day, 12 Platoon, he would have been out the front scouting. The forward scout he’d have been up leading us and he possibly would have been shot there but he got shot anyway. Isn’t it odd? Talking about what you believe, faith or what? And he got through the main skirmish where the others were all killed and we were split up until and as I said it looked like we were all going to get wiped out but
to my knowledge I think he was the only – there was more wounded, but I think he was the only one killed then. Like after we’d sort of regrouped and formed some sort of a defence again and that’s where he copped it.
I want to take you back to you leaving the camp and you mentioned earlier that there was entertainment going on and people were grumbling that they were missing out. Did you have – I want to just see if you can just walk me through that initial phase in
that day to when you knew something was going on that was big. At what point did you know?
The only – the point – I think I did mention earlier actually I said yes we went out through the wire, you know the barbed wire – you know we had a little track through it, on the perimeter of the camp area and as I’ve said we could hear the entertainment was starting up and there were a few grumbles and groans, “Oh that’d be right.”
Then it was quite normal, because as I said we did a lot of these three day patrolling, and it was very quiet and it was you know I guess you – you’re always a bit nervy, you’re always worried but as I’ve said there is a point when you just trudge along, you know another day, because as it wasn’t an ongoing, as I’ve said earlier it wasn’t an ongoing confrontation, like fighting them over there and you here. They were, what did they say on that program, “They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere.” It was sort of like that, or they could be everywhere but they might not be anywhere.
It’s cat and mouse. It is very nervy, nerve type war because you don’t know whether they’re going to spring out of the bushes or what. But that particular day it was just – I suppose – we hadn’t been there all that long, it was in August and we’d been there three months when this happened and – yeah we were just sort of trudging along I guess doing our patrolling. And as I’ve said up
front was 11 Platoon because – we were going single file because we were in thick country and it’s just army procedure not to – but anyhow the way it’s done the thicker the country the closer you are together but you string out in single file. Whereas if you’re going across a big open expanse you’d be more inclined to go abreast, this way, but still very, very spread out. In other words you just sort of stay so you can see the one in front of you. So you’re strung out for a fair distance when there’s a hundred and twenty of us and there’s probably
oh I mean I don’t remember, it was reasonably thickly vegetated. There’s probably sixteen or twenty metres between you, you know strung out in single file going through the bush, so you’re spread out over a fair area. So the first thing we knew being at the rear or at the last third of the line were a few shots exchanged up ahead. And of course everybody stops and the word gets passed along the line or whatever and
that had turned out to be some scouts or whatever they call them belong to this great body of guys who were obviously, they were obviously still, I mean not on the move, and of course as we all always did you have somebody, well everybody would be on watch, but you would tend to send out sentries you know to keep an eye out to warn of anybody coming or whatever. So there were four or five of them and I don’t know if they – I think they might of – from memory one of them, I think they might have wounded one of them
or whatever and they were sort of following this bit of a blood trail or something. And the next thing our course they led them – it was sort of a bit of a thing – I don’t know why they followed them because they tended to be a thing we were told, you know you’ve just got to be very careful following – you can imagine there’s four or five so you sort of give chase so to speak. But meanwhile there were all these hundreds and thousands that they’d run back to and it can be an ambush and not necessarily a – perhaps they’d intentionally you know – perhaps we were ambushed
intentionally and they may have expected us to follow and – I mean they fired on our guys up front so they were obviously enemy so you tried to track them down. And that’s sort of what happened. I don’t how, I can’t remember how far they went but that was the first inkling. Yeah, a normal mundane old three day patrol. But sometimes you’d got out and of course you wouldn’t see a thing. Or you know you may come across some civilians that you’d – but we never ever knew.
But these people of course as I’ve said were dressed in the Northern – they were trained forces in uniform. The normal ones we were used to seeing were the black pyjama’d ones that we never ever really knew who’s side they were on, because they all dressed the same. And you’d, you know you’d come across them sometimes and they’d be questioned, because we used to have an interpreter with us mostly. But then we didn’t understand the language so how did we understand what the interpreter was saying to them?
That used to be a big worry to us. I mean he was with us, a goody. Well we thought we were goodies. But when you don’t speak the language he could have been giving away all sorts of stuff. That’s not this particular day I’m talking about, this was normal times. You know that’s what I say normally you’d go out and you wouldn’t – invariably you wouldn’t run across anything too much. They might be sighted. You might see somebody running and disappearing or,
or whatever and this sort of stuff as I’ve said. And you’d interrogate anybody that you came across and try and find out you know were there Viet Cong in the area and this sort of stuff. But we never ever knew if we weren’t already talking to one of them, at least a sympathiser. And we were always worried the interpreters, the Vietnamese interpreter. They seemed nice, they were sort of one of the boys but no-one ever trusted them, you know we’d always be half – they were always fine but we never ever knew ah –
I mean you learn a few words and things but when they start babbling like any other language you don’t understand you don’t stand a chance. So you’d be asking him questions and he then in turn would be telling us you know what he said but a big question mark, how do we ever know? That wasn’t your question, I don’t think.
That’s quite okay. When you were walking along in single file on this particular day what was,
what was the topography like and the vegetation because just explain what the landscape is like.
What’s it’s like? I mean some parts of Vietnam are really hilly, mountainous but most of it where we were wasn’t totally flat but sort of undulating and not, yeah ups and downs but not terribly hilly and not absolutely flat either, but that’s the actual terrain. I don’t know if I can –
I mean a lot of the vegetation – you get a lot of bamboo and other stuff and as much as I’m a keen gardener I wouldn’t know what it was. Very sort of tropical because they have a dry season and a wet season and this was obviously the – I think it was only the beginning of the wet season, but I know it was an awful day. It wasn’t raining when we left the camp but that’s how monsoons often go, it’s fine in the morning and boom in the afternoon it all happens. I’m not sure when it stops and starts but it does
because the country changes from being absolutely arid and dry and a lot of stuff defoliates, it loses its leaves, there’s no grass to be seen. The shrubbery of course is still always there so far as thickness goes. But the undergrowth virtually disappears in the dry season. It’s hard to believe. And then when it rains it really rains and everything’s just so lush and everything’s running and there’s water everywhere and – so this was – yeah the vegetation as I said it was always – basically that was the rule where
the distance between you depended as I’ve said on the thickness of the shrubbery or the scrub or whatever we were going through. The more sparse the more spaced you were because you could keep in contact and see each other and secondly you were less of a target. Whereas in thick stuff you were, well you need to keep in touch. I mean there’s not much point following somebody and you end up over there and they ended up there. And if you lose each other which is a possibility when you’re quiet, because you know you don’t yell out to each other or speak.
On – but on this particular day, I can’t remember a whole lot except it was – we ended up in a rubber plantation, that’s where they, where the confrontation occurred. Which is fairly sparse the vegetation, low stuff. It was only a young rubber plantation which means the trees instead of being, you know they can be so big; these were so big, trunks. But quite sort of tall trees. But leading into it of course was more what you’d call natural bush I suppose. And quite
thick, yeah quite thick. You sort of battle your way through it. Thick enough you know to be sort of battling your way through it. Or at least the ones up front battle through it; the others get a track beaten for them. But yeah.
How would they clear a path?
Oh with our machetes, our faithful machetes. You know, what do you call them? Well they were machetes, like a big meat chopper, generally. Yeah if it’s that thick. I mean you can –
normally you would battle through it. But if it was thick enough with the machete you know you’d have to hack your way through which of course makes a bit of noise, you know attracts attention so you avoid that as much as possible needless to say. I think we probably did more of that in Queensland than we did in Vietnam. With the lantana in Queensland you know we used to battle our way through that, it was dreadful stuff to get through.
What do you remember of the sounds you can hear when you’re, when you’re on this
patrol and what can you hear when you’re walking single file and – ?
It’s surprising what you do hear, that you don’t hear. You sort of imagine that you hear things sometimes. Little things, you know oh was that a crackle of a bush or – because you think it’s somebody else. Otherwise you don’t hear anything much. I mean there’s your – you make it, no matter how quiet you try to be you make a certain of noise walking. I mean it’s not like walking on a,
with joggers on a concrete path where you’d do it silently. It was in the bush so you’re going to make a few crackles and things so it’s not absolutely dead silent I suppose but it really is it’s very quiet. It’s very eerie but then you know, again getting back to that self preservation, you know you don’t – I mean even when you, when we stop and I mean we’d stop occasionally for a rest or a smoke. You know just normal times. But the message would come back; I mean the one in front is
saying, “Okay,” you know the message is like, “Okay, we’ll take five and then you just stop where you are.” You know you don’t go up to your mate and have a yarn. It’s just all very quiet, very quiet in that sense. And I suppose there’s the odd bird tweeting and so on. There’s always something happening in the bush, you know the bush is never dead still, it’s never dead quiet anywhere, just because there’s got to be something making a bit of a noise but generally very quiet, yeah very quiet. And see the thing is you hear – More nights, nights, nights because I mean
we always did piquet of a night – you took your turn you did your two hours or whatever depending on how full strength you were ah you do it usually at least two hours which was hard in the middle of the night. And again you’d sort of get rostered, rotated – do the early one and then the next one and so on. And then of course it was a cardinal sin to go asleep on piquet. It’s happened to me, it’s happened to – you know, it’s hard, you’re sitting there staring into the dark and you’re frightened at first but
after a while it just becomes too – I mean you’re tired, you’re dead beat; you’ve been trudging all day as well. And I’ve dozed off which means of course that the enemy could have charged in and got you all but you’re only human. It was a big chargeable offence to go to sleep on piquet. But quite a few of us did it. Because you’d go to relieve your mate and you’d be asleep. You know but of course you don’t go telling the sergeant or anybody. I mean you can’t help it; you don’t intentionally go to sleep.
But that didn’t happen a lot but it did happen. I remember doing it myself. I don’t think anybody actually woke me. I think I sort of dozed off for a few minutes maybe and then snapped out of it. But nonetheless it’s funny to say you can sleep like that but on the other hand when you’re just sitting there staring into the pitch black you do hear little – and I suppose – I mean there are animals and things. I mean Vietnam don’t have lions and tigers and stuff so there’s not animals that are going to come and get you, you’re not worried about that but they do make
noises. You know there’s only got to be you know a possum, anything, it makes a bit of a crackle or you hear a twig snap and then you’re sort of there you know because you can’t see a thing, and that’s sort of very nerve wracking. But on the other hand you can get a little bit used to it after a while. You get a bit hardened to it, put it that way I suppose. But sometimes we’d do it together, sometimes there’d be two of you doing it which was sort of a bit of moral support and
to keep each other awake I think. But we did that every night when we were in Vietnam, it didn’t matter if we were in camp or out in the bush. Out in the bush was worse of course, we at least had some protection in camp with barbed wire and stuff. But you always had to do your piquet. Once in a while I think we got a night off, I don’t know how that worked. And yay, you can go to bed tonight. But yeah it was always on.
When those first shots were fired from the VC at the front of the line what were your thoughts then and what did you do?
Well you’re sort of just thinking and hope, when I say hope well you assume really probably – you see I don’t know of much else that happened in Vietnam on that scale as into numbers, I mean it’s possible, I don’t know it went on for a long time after I was there, a lot of years, the conflict I mean in Vietnam.
But normally yes it’s a worry, what is it? Because you’re a fair way from where this is happening. And after a while you know messages will get back and you get to know – but of course all you get is what they know which is like yeah we saw five or whatever it was, five Cong as we used to just commonly call them, and they took off in such and such a direction. And I think if I remember rightly where waited there for a good while that day.
Well, 11 Platoon went ahead I think. That’s probably just is exactly what happened I’d say when I think about it because we did get split up. And as I said they got pinned down, 10 Platoon couldn’t get to them but they also got pinned down and it happened to us too. I’ve already said this three or four times I know but – yeah I don’t where I’m at now.
When you, when you heard those shots and you,
you said you – ?
Oh yeah well normally I – Normally it’s sort of what you’d just call a contact. You know they were just considered contacts where they might have been a few shots exchanged, perhaps nobody even hurt on either side. Because this guerrilla stuff with the Viet Cong was more inclined, what they were inclined to do was fire a few shots and then off like hell, you know they’d be gone. And if they were lucky they got you and if they were – you know it used to happen a bit where, but nobody was sort of hit or hurt, or someone may get wounded.
And so assume – and that’s the sort of message you get back. Oh it’s a contact, yeah there’s been a contact which is obvious by the shots to us but you assume that’s all it was because so many times – but they were normally in the black pyjamas as they call them, that’s what we mostly saw. Any of the contacts they’d be in black pyjamas not in uniform. And they would just, as I said, fire a few shots, maybe – and if you walked, walked on to
them so to speak well they maybe wouldn’t fire any shots, they’d just go like hell. Ah so that’s what we expected. No-one I don’t think suspected that there was a big force up ahead. As I’ve said not the powers to be or anybody. If they knew they were in the area – as I’ve said before we used to get, and it would filter to us eventually, you know through the – there were often reports of supposedly a battalion of baddies out there somewhere, or out there or whatever you know they’d be saying where
or seen near Hoa Long, which was a village, last night or yesterday or the day before or you know somebody’s informed or somebody’s – anyway intelligence puts it altogether, puts all of it into one basket and tells you and says you know – we’d hear, we’d get all this stuff. Then we’d sometimes go on these missions looking. But I don’t remember that this was the case this day but I don’t really know, I don’t know. To me it was just from memory a normal three day patrol. Ah –
there was always the chance of running into the enemy of course, that’s why we were out there patrolling. But not a force that big. If anybody did know it was there and sent us there to – then they’d have something to answer to but I’m sure they – no-one knew, no-one knew that they were – because you know again we kept getting these things of how they were going to attack our base camp at Nui Dat. Not then but
over – all the time from, from – Now and then there’d be reports of supposed to be you know two battalions or whatever forming up out somewhere. And talking about attacking the base camp. It never happened while I was there. I think I can remember a few mortars going off now and then but not an out and out attack. You know real guerrilla stuff I think, you know fire a couple of mortars into the camp area and run. You know it was more harassment than attacking.
So yeah that was it on that day. It seemed like a normal day patrolling with a bit of a contact happening up front. Probably you know you don’t except to find, you know see anybody but we did.
So from the time you’re at the back and the two other batta –
platoons were pinned down, at what point did you then come in contact with this full force of the VC?
Well that bit’s a bit sort of – when I say vague, I remember just waiting. I mean you could hear the fire – when they went for them they got, they ran into the force obviously there was a lot of firing. And of course to this day I don’t know whether that’s when they got, they probably did, the guys we got out of there the next day that’s probably when they got shot, don’t know. Perhaps somebody does, I don’t. But I do remember waiting quite a while and not knowing what was going on. Because
needless to say there was a lot of firing when that happened, after the initial contact. And then we sort of got word again that 10 Platoon had been called to go up and sort of rescue them, or try to help. And as I’ve said they got pinned. But they couldn’t get to 11 Platoon. So obviously they were in between the two platoons. And then the same thing happened to us, we tried to – we were called up and we couldn’t get to anybody either. So we sort of all split up with obviously
the enemy running between us. In each of the platoons there would have been, what did I say, I mean with company headquarters – I think I did say earlier that there was supposed to be a hundred and eight of us all. Company headquarters were usually travelling not up front, that was the major and oh a few hangers on. There was a few in the company. Um – but yeah, so obviously they were running in between us.
I mean they were – where we were pinned, all I know is they were all around us. So they were obviously around – no but they must have been a bit baffled too, I still say that, but the opposition didn’t really know how many of us there were because we were sort of all over the place. I mean it wasn’t by plan – we weren’t – we should have been all together but we weren’t, it was the way it turned out. But who know I suppose if they’d have sent the whole lot of us up in one hit we might have all got wiped out, I don’t know.
So when you say your platoon was pinned, could you see your other platoon members? I mean or could you just see – I mean in a rubber plantation what could you actually see?
No well again we were pinned to the ground, and when I say pinned we couldn’t move, we weren’t even game to get up so we couldn’t go anywhere.
But were you right near another man or – ?
Oh yeah I was sort of close-ish. Yeah I mean we were a bit sort of – we weren’t still in our single line. Of course
when we got there we sort of went in as a group but then you sort of – I can’t remember how close but yeah there would have been – you know the closest guy to me probably who knows from here to the glass out the front there, just there. A few metres away. Our own guys you know sort of here and here and then there was some sort of back there and – because we were a bit scattered a bit more than – it’s not like when you’re at training; you don’t say “Okay guys now you all just form this nice neat circle of defence.” You know you don’t have time.
I don’t remember exactly what formation we were in, probably none really. But basically you know you sort of face out obviously. And that’s all I could see from my direction because I mean I wasn’t looking that way, other guys were. There were Viet Cong by the score. You know out there through the – in the rubber plantations, through the rubber plantations. That’s when I said the confusion came in when at one stage we thought it might have been A Company. But as I said thankfully it wasn’t because we’d already been firing at them. And –
but when – eventually – as I said it was chaos because well quite a few had been killed, quite a few had been wounded, nobody really knew who, how many, where? And eventually what happened was that the word got – I mean there was no secret that we were there so there was no point in being quiet and of course the radio sets had been hit and they were out of action and as I said one guy was hysterical on his. You know, had sort of
lost the plot. And they couldn’t make sense of him and then they’re trying to company headquarters and probably back to camp too, to the task forces. So it was all very chaotic and eventually the word just came – I mean everybody was just screaming and saying – it was sort of every man for yourself, run – I mean we were going in the same direction, there was no good just running off into the enemy. And I don’t know how we knew which way to go except we just sort of followed the leader – somebody must have known.
And everybody who could did, we just ran like hell. And sort of regrouped back and far enough obviously away. At least what those left of us, which I suppose was, well I said there’d been eighteen killed and twenty-six wounded – so it’s amazing you talk about courage and stuff. I mean my sergeant he was shot through both heels because as you can imagine lying flat on the deck and your heels up in the air somehow, talk
about fluky shooting, I’m sure they didn’t aim at his heels but he ran all the way back. I mean he was a bit older – he was a bit older than us he wasn’t a – well he seemed old, he was probably forty. He ran all the way back and what’s his name Graham McCowra[?] he was shot through here somewhere. I mean it didn’t hit anything vital, well obviously, it didn’t kill him, he’s fine. But nonetheless it couldn’t have been very comfortable. He was shot through here and it came out his right – and he ran all the way back. You know how you do. Whereas
if it happened to you in your own yard you’d probably just lie there and groan and say oh dear I’m in terrible pain, I can’t move. But it’s surprising what you do when you have to. That’s what I’m getting at. How people run with both their heels – and I think he crawled some of the way, the sergeant I’m talking about. But you do it you know. So that was leading back to where – I’ve already covered that I think where they took us out of there. And then the artillery came in when we all got back together that’s when the artillery was called in. And the choppers, the helicopters
dropped in more ammunition. I mean they – that was a pretty risky game too, the fellows in the helicopters dropping the ammunition in. I mean they’re only in there as briefly as possible and they’re a pretty prime target just above the rubber trees dropping down the ammunition. But anyway they did drop the ammunition and stuff.
Before you’d regrouped, I mean how long was this fighting going on?
Oh three hours, roughly I think they said.
I think it was three hours. But it was in the afternoon I remember that. And it was sort of – because we’d been going in the morning – I can’t remember the time. I mean it was eventually dark, of course it night time eventually when we got regrouped so it must have been around mid-afternoon, I can’t remember, around two or three o’clock in the afternoon. And that lasted three hours all the pinned down stuff until we got back. I mean all in all it was more than that I guess by the time we got out of there. I don’t remember what time they took us out in
the APCs. We used to hate the APCs because if you were claustrophobic – you’re either not but you’re just in the back of these things but they’re pretty much bullet proof so – and they’re rough as hell to ride in. Um but they were very nice that night because you felt pretty safe in this, you know unless someone had an anti-tank weapon they’d take you out, but a normal old bullet wouldn’t penetrate it. So it was nice to be in there. It was sort of all over then because –
Interviewee: Noel Grimes Archive ID 1939 Tape 06
Noel that artillery support that came in can you give me an idea of the size and the capacity of it?
Not as such. I mean I’m not – well I wasn’t in artillery, in the corps, so I’ve got no idea, you know you’d hear them talking about a fifty pounder or a hundred pounder or whatever I just know the, on the other end the explosion was, explosions
were as I said – oh, hard to explain. They were dreadfully frightening. It was like a – not just the noise but the blast, the explosion, the flames, you know when they hit when they explode. And they seemed close enough to get us but they weren’t. That’s – but I don’t know – and they were fired from camp, back from base. I think approximately three miles,
what’s that four or five Ks away. So to me that’s pretty, I mean it’s pretty normal I suppose. But to call them in, meaning giving the grid references and everything else that the major did, you know and saying up three, down four or whatever the jargon is you know to get them so close to us without wiping us out – I mean one wrong call and we’d have gone pphtt wouldn’t we? Because it was just so close to us and he was getting them in closer – they were coming in closer and closer
but so was the artillery. And that’s the last I remember of that sort of battle bit so to speak. As I said Paul had been shot just prior to that, Paul Large. But yeah I don’t know how big, all I know is the explosion was huge and absolutely terrifying, frightening. And of course you’re not really sure – we’d regrouped and I suppose we were in a
reasonable area, sort of a circle. But of course with it all happening too at first you’re not sure, is it? You know you don’t know it’s your artillery. That’s a bit of a worry. You sort of think well is it them, are they carrying something, who knows. But then we were sort of – we were informed we knew it was our own thing, artillery. It was such a relief until it got so close. You started to wonder whether it was a relief.
But it’s all a bit vague but it’s all so very vivid, I can still see the splash, the explosion, just big, I don’t how big, big.
How did the weather affect that battle and how it was fought?
I don’t know whether it affected how it was fought in a sense. It certainly affected weapons, some weapons. With the mud and the rain some weapons. Some weapons you know failed,
you know because we carried different sorts of weapons. Mine was fine, the SLR [self loading rifle] which was – well obviously a basic rifle. But there was an Armalite that was used a lot. It was an American gun. It was very light to carry, just as deadly as the one I carried, but they didn’t like the rain and
the mud and there were a few reports of them – and just imagine – mine at least was firing. When you’re out there and your gun won’t fire, your rifle, you know how do you feel, what do you do? That must have been good fun. I mean there was a few that happened to and they were desperately trying to pull them apart and trying to get them clean in the mud you know. A waste of time trying to do it but they just – that affected, that would have affected it yes. I don’t know whether it would have made any difference with the casualties but who knows with those guys
that were up front it might of. I don’t know what they were carrying. Not everybody carried these Armalites but a few did and they were all – they were sort of introduced or relatively new when we were, sometime during my two years in the army. I don’t know whether it was here in Australia or over there.
Could you make sense of why a gun was being used that didn’t like the mud or the rain?
I don’t think anyone really knew they wouldn’t work in the mud until that happened. I mean there were sort of doubts I think, always questions.
But Paul carried one of these Armalites. I mean I don’t remember, I mean maybe his failed. And he thought they were great and they were; they were light, very light. Because the SLR we used to carry was reasonably weighty. But they were obviously tried and so were the Armalites tried in a sense but I don’t know whether they’d been tried to that extent in the mud and the slush. And they didn’t like it. I mean some of them blocked, failed or whatever.
Well, wouldn’t fire. Got mud in the mechanism somewhere or water or whatever. But it was really muddy, not just wet it was muddy. So I don’t know why – yeah when I, when we first saw the Armalite. Oh yes there’s this new beaut light weapon, you know light to carry. But there were a few sort of ifs and buts about it, I can remember that going on when –
and we sort of had a bit of a, not a choice exactly as to whether we had one, but I think there was a slight sort of a choice given there. You know if you wanted an Armalite you could have one, but a lot of us just stuck with ‘the devil we knew’, as you say – I think that was the go. But they were used and they were at Long Tan and some of them did fail. But then I think the M60, some of those failed too, the machine guns, under the conditions and they’d been around for a million years, I don’t know how old they are.
How much ammunition were you carrying?
Now you’ve got me testing the memory.
Well the reason I ask is that you said that the choppers were dropping in ammo.
That was yeah after we’d been pinned and after we’d ran back and regrouped because we were running out of ammo yeah. But we carried – you can only carry so much because it’s heavy. I mean you can
only carry so much. And I can’t remember what we used to carry. Like a magazine that goes on your rifle, what do they hold twenty or thirty or something? I can’t remember I really can’t. And then you would carry – oh I can’t remember how many spare magazines, three or four or something – like filled magazines. But then the guns, the machines guns that fire very rapid – as I said I was number two on a gun which meant I carried the spare barrel because they tend to get overheated
and was a changeable on the machine gun. And I used to have to carry that. And the valise, the bag that carried the spare barrel and the ammo, the belts of ammunition for the machine gun. I don’t know how many rounds were in it, they were heavy, trudging along. That’s plus my own rifle and my own spare stuff. So the number two – the gun itself though, the gun it’s sort of fairly, it’s a heavy thing.
So he had his weight too the gunner.
Once you’d regrouped what did, what did you say, what was your plan then?
I don’t know what the plan was, just to try and get us out of there so far as I know. As I’ve said of course I wasn’t the one giving the orders or I wasn’t you know – I mean we were obviously given orders because when we regrouped – as I said we just ran like scalded cats,
as best we could back and sort of got together, then we were obviously told to get into – well you form a circle really, you know so that everybody’s facing out in all directions. And I think the plan really was – I mean they knew the force that was there and I think the plan was just for us to try to get out of there really. I mean we had to fight our way out of there so to speak. But – yeah, so meanwhile they suggested they drop –
and of course they had to send up some flares to let the helicopters know where to drop the ammunition. It was very dark by this time; I don’t know what time this was, and this sort of stuff. So I don’t know what – the thing was I don’t think there was a plan ever. I don’t think – this is only my view but of course as I’ve said they would not have sent a hundred or so of us out to attack how ever many there was of them, a lot. So there was never a plan and then of course when you’re pinned and stuck there and –
it’s just to get out of there. You don’t you know you wouldn’t try to just stay and fight. I mean you don’t stand a chance when they’re probably about fifteen to one. Who knows, I can’t remember their number. Um so I can’t see there ever being a plan, only to get out, to live and get out of there.
I’m just curious that once you experience something so terrifying
and you’ve regrouped what do you say to the man that’s standing next to you?
Nothing. Probably nothing. I don’t know I can’t remember. I mean I only – I mean the only thing I vividly remember is the Paul Large thing because as I said he was there, I was here and Neil Bextram was on the other side, probably a few metres apart. Well I told you about that when we just thought he’d given up the ghost so to speak. Well he had but he’d been shot. And – but we were screaming at him and so on and I started to say earlier
how people go on about courage and bravery and stuff. But we Neil and I got up and went to him, ran to him, not – this is we were under fire, you know he’d just been shot. Why neither of us got hit who knows. But it’s a thing you do. Neither of us thought, oh we might get shot here; you just do it because we didn’t know he was dead for a start. And we got him and we dragged him back, like back out of the front line so to speak
for which we sort of – there was a thing about it in Long Tan, I’ll show you afterwards. A picture of – we were recommended you know for bravery awards and things, Neil and I, but I never sort of – but I sort of think I wasn’t brave. Oh maybe I was, it looks brave, but it’s not, it’s a, it’s a natural reaction – your mate looks like he’s in trouble so you just go and – and you don’t think that you might get shot. Yes there’s sort of a danger there, you know there’s the danger there but it all happens so fast,
more or less without thinking you do these things. Um as it turned out, when I say it was a waste of time it was because he was stone dead. But nonetheless we didn’t just dump him and say “Okay he’s dead,” we did take him. And he was only a little bloke as I’ve said but dead weight as they say is dead weight and the two of us – anyway we carried him or half carried, half dragged him back to company headquarters that was sort of in the middle of this
thing. But he was dead. I can still see his face too because of the colour. I mean he was just blue/white. But yes he was – as I’ve said he wouldn’t have felt a thing. He didn’t move from where he was lying with his rifle, except for his head, down.
The unit received a Presidential Citation. What did that mean to you personally?
A lot, yeah quite a lot. The thing was again I don’t know if I care to explain this but it was a Presidential Citation, an American citation so it was never really to my knowledge sort of – we were officially presented with it when we were back home
they flew us to Townsville after we were discharged. I hadn’t been out all that long and they flew us to Townsville and John Gorton who was prime minister of the day presented us with this citation, D Company, and yet it’s still not really recognised. It is but it sort of isn’t because it’s a Yank, I guess. You know it’s a political thing. And I was talking about the bravery awards and so on. A few of us, a handful
were – oh what was one of the old things, you know you get the Victoria Cross and so on, it was mentioned in the dispatch I believe it was, it was an award that was given or whatever, well Neil and I along with a couple of others I guess, there were a few of us, a handful, were – what’s the word, nominated’s not the word is it? Anyhow for this – but again there was political stuff there. This wasn’t an American thing this was an English thing I think and oh I don’t know a British thing or something and
and again we were presented with, from the Vietnamese Government we had an official little sort of a thank you thing or congratulatory thing or whatever. And we were actually given Vietnamese dolls which was our – like being given a medal or whatever but it wasn’t really, not really recognised, as an official thing. The same as the
citation you were asking about. I mean I wear it, a little blue swimming pool that we call it, which is what the citation looks like. And at one stage oh quite a few years ago I had one you know I had some of the guys sort of saying, “Oh you can’t wear that it’s not, you know sort of not legal.” I said well I’m on Civvy Street now I said and I can wear what I like. I know I’d earned it. I mean I’d been presented – but I wasn’t – the citation. When we got the presentation I’m pretty sure I actually – oh and they were saying,
“Oh you can buy those anywhere.” Well you can buy them, this little blue swimming pool, that’s all it is, a blue – with gold around the edge. But I mean who’s going to buy one and wear it if you haven’t been there, if you haven’t got it, that’s the way I look at it. And there was only a handful of us really in all that got this citation. I mean all up there’s – how many would be around, how many citations, fifty or sixty? I mean taking out the ones – oh no there’d be more than that, the wounded ones I forgot about that. But anyway if all up there was say about a hundred
odd of us on this day that’s what the citation was all about. Because you see there were as I’ve said maybe seventy or eighty citations running around. So it was always a peculiar thing, I think a little bit of whatever from many of the guys, “You can’t wear that, you know it’s not official.” I said “Yes I can, I will and I do.” But they think that I bought it, I think they thought I’d actually bought. And yet we were – I can’t remember. The actual citation as I said John Gorton, I don’t know why it was in Townsville, although we were based in Brisbane so, 6 RAR [Royal Australian Regiment].
But he presented the citation. You know came along and shook all our hands and all of this. I don’t think it – I don’t think that’s where I – or did I? No I don’t think that’s where I got the actual thing that I wear. I don’t know, can’t remember. But it’s a strange sort of set up yeah. They’ve still been doing a bit of battle over it or some of the guys do I mean you know with parliamentarians or the powers to be or whoever about medals and stuff, yeah in that
area I think it’s still sort of going on. From time to time I read bits about it.
Did it seem bitter sweet given the political sensitivity of the –
Mm it did a bit, it did a bit. It was sort of strange. I mean even the Vietnam – this mention in dispatch or whatever it is that’s what we were actually awarded but we couldn’t be awarded it because of the political whatever you know.
So – and that was from our side, not from their side, from our side. And I still don’t fully understand what the political problem was or whatever. But you see even our medals that I wear no on Anzac Day, excuse me, I, we were never given when we came out – it’s the only thing I’m sort of – it didn’t really bother me at the time, as I said I was just so pleased to be home and – but I didn’t have medals for years and years and years. All I
wore were the little ribbons I bought in Vietnam, that you could buy in the local shops in Vietnam, with the colours, you know the ribbons for it – and for a lot of us that’s all we had, we were never, when we got out we weren’t given – this is just your service medals, I don’t mean heroic type ones, the ones that everybody gets when you’ve done overseas service. You know you see some of the old guys with rows of them. Campaign medals that’s what they call them. And – but for years that’s all I had and they were getting grubbier and
grubbier those little ribbons that were on a funny old clip thing and – but then eventually it came to the light in the media somewhere, somehow that – and I had to apply for them, would you believe. Years and years. I mean it might have been fifteen years after I’d been out of the army or – I hadn’t had them that long really. And yes I applied and filled in my little number and everything else and after a long wait, because it was publicised that a lot of guys hadn’t received them. But we were never – wouldn’t you think when they discharged you they’d say, “Well here you
go, here’s your medals, you’ve just been to Vietnam for twelve months,” but no, there was never a mention of them, no – not even a – I don’t remember them even saying you will get your medal sent to you or anything. But it went for years and years and years until I finally wrote to Melbourne, or wherever I had to write, speaking of archives, and I got my medals. After years and years of – I mean my stupid fault, I should have asked before I suppose but you sort of assume that
they’d just give them to you wouldn’t you? You’d been there and done it, so you know why do you have to apply for them? You know it’s like applying for something you haven’t done.
Given that you know World War II Veterans had received various commemorations and medals and welcome home parades etc. how were you able to make sense of the fact that you didn’t even receive a medal for all those years?
Well it didn’t make sense but you see as I’ve said – I suppose I was young and I came home and – I don’t know really.
I mean I did have my little ribbons that did the job so to speak. And the only time I ever wear them anyway is on Anzac Day. So you know one Anzac Day would come around and another one would come around and you’d think oh I must do something about that, I must ask somebody about that and it just goes on and on you know after a while until eventually I did do something about it.
When you were present at that ceremony in Townsville did it seem that that lack of recognition was impacting on other
men more than you, or how what did you notice?
No I don’t know because on the day we were getting our recognition, on that day you know here’s the prime minister presenting us or whatever he said and all his nice words and stuff and – so we were – you know and it got written up in the Brisbane whatever paper and so on, so we had a bit of glory for a little while. But ah we sort of weren’t – but as I said it’s a Presidential
Citation, an American citation so you know – well I don’t know, you don’t know either I guess. I’m saying you know, you probably don’t anymore than I do. But therefore there was no – it was official but it wasn’t official. I mean I suppose John Gorton was only presenting to us on behalf of the US Government, I guess, you know I suppose that’s what it amounted to. I do know it’s a Presidential Citation so it’s not an Australian citation. So yeah we got a citation but no we haven’t got a citation,
I don’t know. But I do have a citation but it’s mine, I don’t care if whether it was a Yank one or a Russian one, it’s mine and there’s not many of us with one.
So the veterans of Long Tan have never received any medals or citations from the Australian Government?
No not any medals. You see I’m talking about – I’m talking about bravery medals yeah. I mean I’ve got one, two, three, four medals.
But they are, as I’ve said there, service medals. In fact I never really know which one’s which. Every Anzac Day I put them on and say to Helen alright now what’s this one, because she doesn’t know either, but you know one’s a service medal and one’s a whatever. And I’ve got four and there was another one – I’ve had another one only in the last two years that came to life because people were – it was more like a service medal come to think of it, that was written up and publicised and they said you know if you haven’t got this medal apply for it
because – but they sort of had to fight somebody for what; I didn’t, to get it. I don’t mean fought over there I mean fought the government or whoever or the department or whatever to obtain this medal. It was a bit of a saga that went on for a while I think. And suddenly, and that’s only like the year before last I think, I did write to this address and yes after quite a wait got yet another medal after all this time.
But it doesn’t bother me a great deal. I guess – I suppose yeah up to a point you worry about – but I didn’t in the earlier days. As I’ve said years just kept ticking by and really it would only be Anzac Day when I’d be sort of thinking and then I’d look around – I mean some of the guys did have their medals. A lot of us didn’t but some did. I mean obviously they applied or whatever you had to do but I just don’t think you should have to apply to get them, that’s my point.
It’s my fault I waited that long to finally – and then without delving into it where do you go, who do you see? You know I mean who do you write to, who do you ring? This is before it all comes out in the open as to who to ring or write. You see unless you want to be paranoid about you know and run around asking questions. But you see that’s never been me. I mean I’m quite happily plodding along into real, normal life. So the medals did mean a lot to me but
more to the point it meant, it meant a lot more to be that they didn’t just issue them to us without having to apply you know. And then of course when you apply naturally of course you have to give your old army number and who you were with and where and everything else and I thought you know you shouldn’t have to do this, you’ve been in there, they’ve got everything on record. They’ve got your name, they’ve got your age, they’ve got your – and what you’ve done and where you’ve been,
where you were enlisted, all this stuff. That’s a bit of a thorn in the side still. I mean I didn’t even think about it until you asked because I’ve now had my medals for quite a while. But I really felt it was very poor to say the least. You know you had no say in being sent over there but – so why, I couldn’t imagine why, I couldn’t imagine why it wasn’t just a formality, I mean why they didn’t automatically give your medals when you got out. Or send them to you even. You know even if it was a month later
after you’d been – and of course you didn’t have to be discharged to get medals. I don’t know I mean what if I’d stayed in the army. There was a reasonable amount of pressure to stay in the army. We were only invited of course but they were really – yeah when we got back to stay in there. And most, oh I wouldn’t say, yeah I supposed most of us didn’t. I mean I didn’t want to stay in the army. But had I those medals would have still been due to me you
know even if I’d stayed in there. But maybe if I’d stayed in I’d have got them too. I don’t know it might have been a different story because I might have been able to say ‘hey where are my medals?’ to captain so and so or colonel somebody or a rather. Whereas back here on civvy street you know it’s sort of – and it’s – anyway enough about that except, except they should have issued them to us without us having to apply that’s what it amounts to. But I’ve got them now eventually. I’ve had them for a few years now. But
considering it’s what nearly, fifty-five, sixty, it’s about eight, what is it thirty-eight years since Long Tan. Mm ‘66, ‘67 I was over there. Given that amount of time and I’ve probably had my medals for the last, I’m only guessing fifteen or twenty years. I went along time without them you know before I – and that was only because I applied for
them. Enough about that.
When you returned to the base at Nui Dat after Long Tan what was the atmosphere like on the base and what reception did you get from the other troops?
Well you don’t get to see – we didn’t get to see many of the other troops because of the big area of Nui Dat. As I said there were two infantry battalions there then, we, 5 RAR and I was 6 RAR. Plus all of the other artillery
that I spoke of, the engineers, the airfield in the middle of it – a big area. So you didn’t really get to see many of the other guys if you know what I mean. The ones that had been involved we were here in this part of the perimeter. Then there was another lot there and there. And you didn’t wander around. I mean you sort of could a little bit but you didn’t wander across and have a yarn to somebody in A Company across the other side. It was a fair walk in the first and secondly you just didn’t, you just couldn’t.
So the reaction I think from memory just again, just quite really I think. You know again I think everyone was a little bit stunned, a lit bit, back to the old word I keep using, but disbelief that this has all happened you know. And it’s only like yesterday and you’re back in camp – well we’d have been, we’d
have gone back to camp yeah the next day after we’d done all the burying and stuff, they’d have taken us back to camp then. And I think I mentioned earlier they were very kind and gave us, I can’t remember, I might be wrong, a couple of days sort of doing nothing which was nice but – but the atmosphere, all the morale wasn’t bad actually I guess really. And again we were encouraged to keep our morale up and this sort of stuff.
You know I’ve got to hand it to the army guys in that sense, I suppose any of the forces not necessarily the army but – and of course the guys that were keeping our morale up had been out there anyway. You know they’d been with us so it was a fair ask to ask them to keep our morale up wasn’t it? But they sort of did, they helped anyway.
How did they keep your morale up?
No particular way, I think it’s just, you know I think it’s just support, just verbal support,
you know just – and I think we just talked and talked and talked and talked as you would amongst ourselves about various aspects and yeah and just sort of went over it in a sense, relived it to a point. Um I don’t remember a whole lot about it except it was very quiet and – and of course a few guys missing from camp so that’s sort of a bit of a stunner when you get a few people missing,
like eighteen of them.
So how does it affect your morale when you go back to a four man tent and one man’s things are there and – ?
Oh yeah it’s – again disbelief. You just sort of can’t believe it’s all happened and it all happened very quickly. I mean sure it’s a long time to be having – you know three of four hours is a long time to be under fire and so on but at the same time it’s only a day and the next day it’s all changed and well nothing’s changed, that’s the sum, except that people are missing
and particular someone out of your tent, simply because as I’ve said there’s the spare bed and his gear there. I can’t remember what happened to his gear but somebody must have cleaned it up or taken it away or something. I don’t know I don’t remember. I don’t remember whether I did or we did it the other three of us or whether, you know whether they did send somebody to collect it. I mean we probably packed it up I suppose we would have, I don’t know. I mean we didn’t have a whole lot of gear but you did have a gear you know. I mean even his army clothes and stuff that he wore.
I mean we didn’t have a whole heap of changes but we did have a change of clothes and – and you’ve got your writing gear and all just personal gear, your shaving gear and all that sort of stuff, I mean that would all be there. Oh no it mightn’t have been actually, he probably had it with him because we had to shave rain, hail or shine in camp, out of camp, wherever we were. So that wouldn’t have been there, not in camp. So not a whole lot to tell about the return
except as I said just generally subdued. I think most of us again thought we were the lucky ones, we’re back in camp. So yeah that’s about all I can remember or –
How do you think that battle changed you and your attitude for the remainder of your tour?
It was a worry in the
sense – I mean it was a worry of course but I mean I had mentioned earlier we had only been there three months and we had nine to go. That was the bit I remember thinking, or we used to talk about it, it just wasn’t me. You know you sort of say, “Oh we’ve only been here three months, you know what’s going to happen in the next – we’ve got nine to go yet.” You sort of – well you don’t know as it’s all such a guessing game with guerrilla warfare. And fortunately nothing like that happened again, well not to me anyway.
I mean there were other incidents but nothing as major as that. But that was – as to affecting us I don’t know, I don’t know sort of except worrying about how we were going to get through the next nine months if the first three’s like this what’s the next nine – mind you that hadn’t been happening for three months but that’s all we’d been there for and that was our tour as they call it, good word tour,
was for twelve months unless you were desperately ill or got wounded, the only way out of there. Or for some really compassionate reasons you had to get home, that was it, one year.
So given that you didn’t have anything to compare it to was there a sense of this is what my whole war’s going to be like?
Well that’s what I was getting at a minute ago yeah it’s because, because of the severity or whatever of that battle
we wondered how many more of those have we got to endure before our twelve months is up, you know before we can get home, before we’re out of there. You sort of think oh is this just the start of it all, you know is it really happening now, are we going to run into this every week, every second week or whatever, but we didn’t. I mean but there was more than D Company Six Battalion there too of course. There were the other battalion and they all had companies and they all had their various skirmishes and things you know and – but I don’t think anything on that scale but I might be wrong
there, I don’t remember anything on the scale of that, Long Tan. But there some other fairly hefty confrontations and battles or contacts or whatever you’d like to call them with some of the other companies and things. But to me of course you don’t know the guys. Unless there’s somebody from your home town, there wasn’t – I mean there was one guy that lived down here in Yeoval but he was in engineers and he wasn’t anywhere near me. But I knew he was over there when I was there but I never ever –
I don’t know if I ever – I think I might have seen him once. I knew him reasonably well. I wouldn’t say we were close friends but – He was there but generally speaking you didn’t get to see the rest of the – only in passing sometimes. You know sometimes you’re going out on patrol and they were coming in and you’d pass that way. You’d say to the guys but you didn’t really know them. It’s surprising how you can all be over there and not know each other but – mind you there was a lot of us.
What was the nature of these patrols generally? What would you be looking
Well the patrol when Long Tan happened was a clearing patrol and they were called, yeah I think they were called clearing patrols where you went outside your perimeter and did a certain distance around it and came back in. That’s when you would come through A Company lines or B Company lines or 5 RAR or something because you’d be coming in somewhere else. But they were, they were, they were just considered clearing patrols to try to keep the camp area safe. You know clearing – go out a reasonable distance
and do a sweep around. And maybe this lot were preparing to attack. I think some of the theories were that they were going to attack the camp, the ones that we ran into at Long Tan. I don’t know whether they ever really knew for sure but they were certainly within striking distance.
Were you patrolling through villages?
Sometimes. That day we weren’t. But yeah oh we did have search and destroy missions as they call them. And we did – burnt a village, a whole village.
Can you tell me about that?
Well it was deserted; I mean we didn’t burn people and so on. It was again considered a VC stronghold I think and there were a lot of tunnels and things over there and rice caches and things buried in the tunnels. What was it called, Ba Ria? Oh I can’t remember the name of the town, Ba Ria?
There was another one too called Hue. Anyway it doesn’t matter but that was our little chore to go in and – it was peculiar actually because they’d dropped all sorts of pamphlets and stuff by air to tell them – because it was meant to be a Viet Cong stronghold even though people lived there of course, normal civilians. But then again as I’ve said before no-one knew how many civilians, who was who. But they were told to get of there because this was going to happen.
And they got out, I mean they disappeared out of the town. And – I think there was an odd one or two found there still when we went through. I mean I didn’t personally come into contact – but there was no, no fighting or anything went on. But that was part of our – yeah search and destroy. So you know you’d search all the buildings looking for weapons or whatever and then
burn it, burn the buildings. I suppose – well the reason being I suppose so they can’t move back in again because it was meant to be Viet Cong, one of these places. Based again on intelligence. Um – so yeah that was a bit sort of, a bit sad, very sad. But after a while you do get a bit hardened.
And you know everywhere you went the kids would be “Uc Dai Loi, Uc Dai Loi!” That was ‘Australian’. They’d be yelling out to you, “You give me a cigarette.” You know kids this big. And for a while it was a bit novel but after a while – but you still didn’t know you know those kids were being – you know we were coming back off the trail one day, again I was lucky not to be, we were really strung out, I think there was more of us, I think it was more like a
battalion. I can't remember there was a lot of us in more open country and we were really strung out. Anyhow who was that, Ainslie, what’s his name Ainslie. But we had to go over this little bridge thing, culvert thing. So way up ahead of us we here boom, you know and – anyhow somebody had walked on a mine or whatever – I mean there’d been quite a lot over ahead of this guy. And you know he – we still think
that somebody set it off, he didn’t actually walk on a mine and it went boom I think. Because there was a woman and a couple of kids or a child I think just quite close by. And – anyway he lost – it didn’t kill him, it blew his leg off. But things like that you know you’d never, you didn’t trust them, even the ones that were friendly saying you give me this, you give me that. So even the kids, you’d think yeah, little mongrel, you’ll probably be waiting around the next corner for me. You know
or pressing a bomb, a button somewhere or a – not that it was a war of technology that’s for sure but you know you could imagine them around the corner with a plunger, the old fashioned plunger going boom and blowing up a few Uc Dai Lois, Australians. So you got you know, quite hardened up to a point. I mean I used to feel sorry for the kids, they all spoke, the kids spoke reasonably good English because they used to teach English in the schools apparently, the little kids, quite good English.
How did you deal with the woman who was standing near the bridge?
She was shot. And it would never have hit the Australian news for obvious reasons. I mean there was an instinct to the guys – I mean they didn’t take her away and shoot her, not like a firing squad. The guys at the scene just swung around and mowed her down. First reaction. She’s standing there and this bloke just got blown up, whether she was
guilty or innocent you know. So that sounds tough too but unless you’re there – but that would not have been publicised. There was more of that sort of stuff happens than you will ever hear about for the obvious reasons. Imagine the uproar, “Woman – ” I think the child was shot too of course. Um, and imagine the uproar, “Australians mowing down innocent civilians – ” bla-bla-bla.
And I wasn’t involved. I mean I didn’t even see that happen but it happened, I know it happened. Because as I said there was a lot of us this particular day. We’d been out in the bush for a long time and we – oh three or four weeks and trudging our way home. And as I said the explosion was well up ahead of us or where I was and – but that’s what happened, no questions asked, they just swung around and mowed this person down.
So meanwhile, and of course what’s his name Ainslie, I don’t where he is, he’s still around somewhere, Peter Ainslie, yeah Peter Ainslie. I mean he wasn’t – he was in another platoon, I didn’t know him that well, I knew but, but he lost his leg or foot or something, totally. So he’d have been home earlier than twelve months. Not the way to come home though, with one leg.
Yeah but there was a bit of that of course happened, you know – you know like women and so on being shot. Not a lot of it but of course a woman’s is just as capable of pulling a trigger as anybody else or pressing the explosive or whatever or setting something off as anybody else. In fact they’re easy – they’re better – in that type of war from what I saw of it they’re
in a better position to do it than a fellow aren’t they? The poor innocent woman with a child. Who’s possibly triggering off some explosion or something that you’d tend to ignore more than a bloke, like a Vietnamese. But I mean I’m only – these are sort of only theories but they’re not sort of. Experience with a bit of theory chucked in.
Interviewee: Noel Grimes Archive ID 1939 Tape 07
I wanted to, we wanted you to go back and talk about how you got over to Vietnam. You said that you left Australia at two a.m., it was all quite secret.
Well it seemed quite secret, yes. I mean obviously people knew.
I mean pilots and things and the Force obviously knew. They flew us – we only stopped – oh a lovely flight in a 707 or 727 or something. We touched down at, oh what’s, to refuel actually only. Oh what’s the name of the place? Somewhere along the way. I’ll think of it in a minute. It doesn’t matter maybe I’ll think of it in a minute.
We were there oh it would have been an hour or two refuelling and I think we were allowed off the plane but we didn’t go anywhere we were just – oh why can’t I think of it [probably Singapore]? Anyhow then we were flown, and still flown on to Saigon which was later to be Ho Chi Minh City I think – it was Saigon then. And then they put us into aircraft type, army type aircraft and we were flown to Vung Tau,
this is in Vietnam. Where we spent two weeks I think it was, acclimatization on the beach at Vung Tau or Vung Tau, however you wish to call it. And that was the strange thing about that war. Now Vung Tau we had a couple of times we went there for, from Nui Dat from our camp, on, oh what do they call it, one was
R&R, rest and recreation or – anyway something like that they call it, for a couple of days. Every now and then they would do this to give you a break right out of it. But you could walk around Vung Tau and no-one would shoot you or, or – I mean it was a bit of a worry, you sort of used to think this can’t be – and I can’t remember it wasn’t all that far from Nui Dat, it was, I can’t remember, by truck it was probably an hour or so or two. And yet here you were on the coast at Vung Tau walking around
unarmed and life goes on you know for a couple of days. I mean it was good you’d get down there and get to unwind a bit and – but when we first got there that’s where they landed us. We weren’t running around town then, you know we were this very sandy, just sand dunes, awful. And it was hot. You know we left here in June, July wherever it was and landed there in, well it’s always hot over there just sometimes it’s wet and sometimes it’s dry, but it was really hot on the beach
and I guess that’s why they do it as well – they call it acclimatization. I mean we still had to – we got through our drills and – it was good place there, they could run us up and down in this sand couldn’t they to keep us fit in the heat. But that was basically it, it was acclimatization and then they flew us, did they fly us, helicopters I think or truck, I can’t remember, to Nui Dat our new home for the next twelve months. But when we got there it was – being the first –
well the camp area was extended because as I was saying there was, I think there was one battalion over there, well the two of us went to replace them so therefore there was more troops there therefore we were in a brand new area. I guess we, I think – after that of course anybody – whoever replaced us they moved into our area. But when we got there, there was absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing, a rubber plantation.
And we spent a few, I don’t know how long, quite a while in two-man, ‘hoochies’ we used to call them, tents – the ones we carried everywhere together that we camped in out in the bush if you put a tent up. The ones that you put together and they make a two-man tent that you’ve got to crawl in. So we lived in those for a bit and it was wet. The wet season must have been going because it was wet then when we got there. It was
pouring. And the mud and we dug little trenches around this to try and – and we were only sleeping on stretchers so far off the ground. Not that the water was that deep where we were but it was just all through and you can imagine the mud and – so that’s how – and we worked physically very hard in between going out. I do think we got the short end of the straw there simply because we were the first there. And there was no barbed wire out the front, we did all that in time. And we used to get pretty
dead beat young and fit all as we were. You know because you’d go out on you know patrol or whatever for two days, three days, three weeks, whatever, as soon as you got back to camp it would be on, you’d be down and doing – for our own benefit of course. And we dug all of this great – I’ve got a photo over there somewhere of this trench for own protection down through the centre of our lines, through our tents. This was afterwards. And all the dirt, the soil we took out of there we filled into sandbags to put around our tents, for protection from mortars
or whatever. So a lot of physical hard yakka [work]. But first of all two-man tents, then we were tickled because we eventually got four-man tents and at least they were canvas ones you could stand up in. No floors or anything still. And then after a while we were thrilled again we were getting floorboards that we had to put in the tents. So we got the floorboards and the hammer and the nails and whatever and we put the – but that at least got us out of the mud, you know we didn’t have to worry about the little trench around it anymore to keep the water out.
And that’s as far as we progressed so far as – but this all took time you know and as I said the four-man tents they’re the ones we filled all the sandbags for and packed so high all around and for protection. Yeah so – and then later on I mean I know they got aluminium huts and so on not too far down the track after that. When we went there to the mess, the ah you know the
mess, the kitchen, the eating place, it was the same it was just a big marquee thing, you know just dirt floors. And the cooks actually did a brilliant job. I mean they had the equipment. I mean I don’t know what they cooked on but they just – they must have had power or maybe it was – I don’t know. But cooking for a heap of fellows under those conditions the food wasn’t bad; you know it was pretty good.
What would you eat?
Oh you’d have the normal – like breakfast – this was when you were in camp of course, not when you were out in the bush. You’d get like bacon
and eggs and stuff like that, except the eggs were always whooshed in one side and out the other and I have never like runny eggs and I still don’t and not for that reason, I didn’t like them before I went into the army so I’d dodge the eggs usually. And they’re quite often be mashed potato and stuff to go with it or sausages maybe. That sort of stuff so there was plenty – you know I could avoid the eggs. You went along and sort of, with your plate, and they went whack, whack, whack so if you didn’t want your egg you didn’t take it or didn’t put your plate out or didn’t eat it if you got it. But that was the
only complaint I had but otherwise considering cooking for such a mass of guys under pretty awful conditions. As I’ve said they were trudging around the cooks too in mud to for a long time. But that eventually – that improved, you know they eventually also got a, a tin or at least an aluminium place with boards in it I think from memory, while we were still in our old canvas huts, but it all improved a bit. And the ones after us of course the trench was already dug, the barbed wire was already up wasn’t it and that sort of stuff but they wouldn’t have had to have done it. However the luck of the draw.
What about lunch and dinner, what did you have?
I can’t remember what we had, good meals though, this is as I said in camp yeah. But of course out in the bush you carried your own rations which was pretty ordinary, I mean they were World War I stuff I think. But oh edible and you got sort of – you know you’d get your little tin of fruits, yay big and you’d get your little tin of – we used to get dog biscuits as we used to call them. I mean they were all right,
they were sort of Ryvita-ish type things, but fairly chewy. With a little tube of raspberry jam and a little tube of condensed milk. This was all in a pack about so big. And then you’d sort of get like, oh I can’t remember, sausages and baked beans or something in another little tin and that was sort of a ration pack as they were called. So I don’t know how many of those we carried, two or three. Then they’d drop more out to us or more into us or whatever. But sometimes they’d, they’d actually
bring us out a hot meal which you know was pretty – in the helicopters they’d fly it out from camp in these great big things that kept it hot. And once in a while, if you were out there for quite a while they’d bring you out a hot meal which was brilliant you know. So I must admit I can’t complain about army food. And in Australia it was brilliant, particularly in Queensland – I mean I couldn’t sort of believe it. There was nothing wrong with it at Kapooka but in Queensland you know the mess was nicely set up and just simply good meals
and sliced rock melon and stuff on the tables along with your meal and so on. Sliced paw-paws that I’d never run into before, I thought it was rock melon because I love rock melon but it was paw-paw. I acquired a taste for it, I don’t mind it now but it just looks like rock melon when it’s sliced and I wondered what I’d struck. But anyhow the food yeah generally I have to say – considering, you know you imagine cooks cooking in such quantity too. They managed
quite decent meals, quite good meals. No complaints.
Did men get sick in Vietnam?
Not really, I mean we took our malaria tablets, what was it, Qalaramide, no that’s something else these days isn’t it? What was it called? We were given those; I mean they were handed out. You took your tablet once a day, anti-malaria. And I don’t
recall anybody getting it. I mean some guys were a bit, no I don’t want to take that sort of thing but they were actually given to you, you weren’t given a pot of them to take on your own. At the end of every day I think you got one put in your little hand and you were seen to swallow it you know. I can’t think what it was called now. But no, not really, rashes and things were fairly common just from the heat,
you know prickly heat and this sort of stuff and some guys with sensitive skins would get pretty heavy rashes because we were wet all the time, if not from rain from perspiration or both. And that was I sort of wonder how you – and our feet. I mean when we were out in the bush, we, most of the time we did not take our boots off for the simply reason that if you’ve got to move in a hurry you need your boots on.
So when you were wet and you get wet through. I mean of course you didn’t – in the wet season it just rained and you just walked in it, I mean there’s no way of keeping dry, you can hardly carry an umbrella and you didn’t have raincoats and things, you just didn’t. I mean you’d be so restricted and everything else so when it rained you just got wet and you just dried in your clothes, if you dried out. You’d go to bed of the night, or at least lie down in the dirt where we slept and you’d be wet. And your feet would be, you know how your feet go wrinkly from being in water too long or your hands, they were just permanently wrinkled
because they were just always wet in your boots. I mean they’d dry out when we got back to work the wrinkles would go away, we’d boil our socks up on petrol and sand in a tin and boil them. They were woollen socks, I don’t know how they stood it but they did. It was one way to clean them and sterilise them. But yeah a lot of rash type things. Yeah otherwise not, no not, there was sort of no major –
Well the first thing that comes to mind is malaria and that type of thing but no not that I recall. There was quite often somebody missing when you went out into the bush. That’s why you weren’t always full strength. Somebody was you know maybe was sick one way or another. I mean I suppose there was general sickness. You know I mean it doesn’t matter where you are somebody gets diarrhoea or something. Perhaps nothing to do with Vietnam. It happens here doesn’t it? We get these wogs as we call it. But I don’t recall any serious sort of
something that everybody got or everybody gets, that sort of –
What about the water, drinking water?
Well it must have been all right it didn’t kill us. When we were in the bush, in the wet season especially, there was always, well there appeared to be lovely clean water running all over the place. Ah it was quite clean, like little creeks and gullies. Everything was running. Or you’d just catch off your tent. I mean if you had your tent up you know enough to drink, enough to make a mug of tea of whatever.
Or to have a shave. But we carried, well we did carry water, we had our water bottle. But in camp we used to, again I suspect that improved but our showers were cold only and we had to go, there was a well there already in this rubber plantation. So you’d got out with your bucket and get your bucket of water and take it back and pour it into the – they sort of had a rough tin, galvanised iron sort of shower thing. That a few, you know could get in there at once.
Ah and you’d pour it into this slow bush type showers with the rows that you’d turn on and go for it while your water lasted. But it was cold. And even though it was hot isn’t it amazing the hotter you are the colder the water feels and out of a well it was probably quite cool. It was pretty cold. I don’t know what happened after that. That was all we had while we were there. No hot showers and no tap to turn on. We used to go and bucket it out of this well. Ah I suppose we were fortunate the well was there otherwise I don’t know what we’d have done for a while
for showers or a bath. But of course out in the bush you just didn’t shower you just went and went and went. We must have smelt nice but we all smelt the same so I guess it didn’t matter much.
You mentioned about securing the camp with barbed wire. What kind of protection did it have around the perimeter?
Well it gives you the protection of just simply – no-one can just scream and race into your camp, I mean on foot.
How much barbed wire was it?
Oh masses, masses.
And it’s not like a barbed wire fence, it’s just barbed wire uncoiled off its roll so it’s like this. And probably I can’t remember it would be from here to a – here to the other side of the road through it. You know masses of this, rolls and rolls and rolls. And we used to drive in iron posts or steel pickets they called them, you know steel posts, they were driven into the sort of the hole up there so you couldn’t just push it around. It was sort of held. And through that it was like a maze and through that
there was a narrow track that we went in and out of, that someone else could also come in. But that’s where of course we did our piquets on those entrances and exits and it wasn’t that easy. Particularly of a night time which is mostly when you’re likely, this is likely to happen. It was – you know you’d wind your way through all this barbed wire, see it was like a maze at the show or something, all –and in day time you’d be fine you’d
sort of find you way through but at night time it would be very hard going without a torch or a light or something. But yeah it was a lot of protection. I mean it didn’t stop us from being shot at, from somebody outside there but it certainly stopped – and if anyone – If there was a force and they were to come through and they were to find this little space through the wire it would take them forever to get in. But that’s where we used to do our piquets yeah. In fact, oh I forgot how far,
not too far from these entrances and exits that we used to come and go. And needless to say there were all the way around. When I said earlier we used to go out on these patrols and around we’d come back in somebody else’s spot through ah – and sometimes we’d go and go and you’d think oh we’re never going to find where to get in here and that was in the daytime. So yeah they were very affective. And it wasn’t just one roll of barbed wire, you see it was higher; it was more than one thing high. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a roll of barbed wire but you know it just springs open like
a spring, a big spring. But a lot of it, a lot of it. I often wonder what happened when it was all over, when we pulled out of there. I suppose it just got left there. I can’t imagine anybody – you couldn’t roll it up, not barbed wire, you couldn’t do anything with it but you sometimes wonder what happens to that sort of stuff you know. It’s not very good for the environment or wherever it is, is it? It served its purpose at the time.
When you were going out on patrols how much break did you have between patrols when you came back to camp?
It varied, it varied. I think it depended on again on reports and intelligence and so on. – I mean sometimes it would be quite quick; you might be only back in a day and next thing it’s announced oh you know we’re off tomorrow. We’ve just had our three day patrol and your back in and they’d send you on a three week one, or an operation they would call it. And there’d be a lot of moaning and groaning then. “Oh no not us!” “Oh we’ve only just
come back in. We’re – !” You know this would go on but it didn’t do anybody any good, away we went again. But they quite often flew us, if we had, if we were going a distance they would drop us which, that was a risky business and it was a worry but they would fly us in the helicopters, take us by chopper out to wherever the area was we were meant to be clearing or patrolling, you know more than patrolling, clearing. Or securing sort of. And they would drop us into – well I mean a chopper can’t land in the thick scrub so they’ve got to, would have to drop on plenty of paddy fields everywhere.
But it would always been in a clearing of course but that was always risky, they’d just drop you out in the middle of nowhere. But if you’re walking you’re slowly getting there aren’t you but when you’re just dropped in, that was always the big worry and the first dive would be to get out of that clearing into the scrub on the edge. But you didn’t know what you were going to run into on the edge of that scrub of course. And the pilots again, it was risky for them too and they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t even, they wouldn’t land the helicopters, we used to jump. The last person out of the helicopter
would jump as high as this ceiling. And you know a guy, a couple of guys actually broke legs jumping because the helicopters were in such a hurry to get out of there in case. They’d sort of land, hover, land almost and I don’t know how many – they used to stuff us into these choppers, there would have been six or eight in each one I suppose – it might have been more. And with all your gear on and your packs and things on. But we used to – you know it’s funny you do,
we did have a little bit of training here in helicopters and it was always the safety thing, you got in and you tapped the pilot on the shoulder when everybody’s ready and the doors closed and everything else. No doors on the helicopters over there. And it’s funny; it was a bit exhilarating in a sense. I don’t especially like heights but – and many a time I’ve ridden in a helicopter with my legs swinging over the sides sitting in with somebody holding the pack to make sure I didn’t go out, as we all did, sat. And they flew very low for obvious reasons too, just skimming the tree tops.
And that was sort of exhilarating even though I mean I didn’t like being, going out to wherever we were going, to the unknown. And when they banked, you know helicopters turn like this and bank, and I mean there’s just nothing, you’re sitting on the edge and you’re just looking straight down and it’s sort of frightening but one of the better sides to it I guess, I didn’t mind that. I didn’t like leaping out the other end. Taking a plunge out of a – quite a few oh you know a metre or two or three if you were the last one out especially. If you were hanging over the edge like that though you were the first one out.
So yeah they took us out quite often. And they’d mostly bring us back the same way if we were that far out. Sometimes we’d have to trudge but mostly – or they’d send APC, the armour – armoured personnel carriers. I mean they could charge through the scrub and stuff, they don’t need roads. And yeah. But in between time like it varied. And that’s where it
used to wear us down, where there used to be a lot of grizzling and groaning because as I’ve said it didn’t matter how long we had in camp we spent all of it putting up barbed wire or digging trenches or filling sandbags. Besides doing your piquet through the night and so on. You know the – we worked very hard when we were back in camp. Whereas hopefully for their sake anyone who followed us would not have had to work nearly as hard.
Did you have any down time, any spare time in camp?
sort of a little bit of free time yes, not a lot. I mean we had time to write a letter and this sort of thing. I can’t remember how that worked. They must have given us you know half an hour or half a day or something. I don’t really remember, but we did. And then of course if you weren’t on piquet and didn’t go to bed too early that’s mostly when you’d write a letter or something, at night time. Um I can’t remember what we had for lighting. Did we have power? I think we eventually
may have. I can’t remember what we did. Perhaps we didn’t have lightning. Perhaps we didn’t write letters after dark, I don’t remember. But we did have time to write the odd letter or two. But I remember writing, actually or scratching some stuff down out on an exercise somewhere. If you had something to write with and something to write on you had your little moments where you would just get time to scratch something down you know. I remember doing that. Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be doing it but I did.
any other recreation in camp, was there card playing or – ?
Oh we used to play a bit of – yeah well I mean I was never into cards. I have played cards. I’ve learned to play five hundred at one stage. That was in Australia though when we were stuck up at Tin Can Bay in Queensland. It was boring, boring. We were waiting on a truck. Another old army expression is hurry up and wait. And you know the trucks will be there at nine o’clock or whatever and next thing five o’clock in the afternoon and the trucks finally arrive. And this sort of thing was going on. This was when we were in
Australia. Some of the boys were into – yeah a lot of them were into cards. But five hundred, don’t ask me to play it now I wouldn’t have a clue. But yeah I sort of got into the five hundred, didn’t mind five hundred but of course it was boring and we were waiting on the trucks and we’re just sitting around, sitting around. But in camp likewise. Ah oh and an occasional bloke would have a guitar. You know he’d strum away. You know you were allowed to, the camp was a big area so you could strum a guitar or have a radio on, if you had a radio, you didn’t have to worry. Not night times
but day time you could, if you were having free time you could yeah strum a guitar or sing a bit with it or something if anybody thought they could sing a bit. Cards yeah but as I said I was never into it, I’m just not a card person; I never have been – still not. But as I’ve said I have been known to have the odd hand when I had to and I was totally bored. Ah what else did we do? Ah that was sort of about it I think. I mean there was – and there was the local canteen where you could go and have a beer
but that was sort of restricted of course, you know depending on what we were doing or if we were going bush the next day and this sort of thing. They were fairly strict about that. But nonetheless some of the guys managed to wipe themselves out occasionally. Come staggering home through all the tents, crawling over the ropes. But I wasn’t guilty of. Yeah I mean I’ve always liked a beer but I never ever did that. I mean you had to go and buy your beer it wasn’t, it wasn’t laid on.
Apart from that I can’t remember what we did. We didn’t have a lot of spare time.
Around Nui Dat where were the nearest villages?
Distance wise? Hoa Long was the other one I was trying to think of a
while ago with the search and destroy thing. I think it was Ba Ria, we used to go down through Ba Ria but I don’t know if that was – I think it was Hoa Long we searched and destroyed. Ba Ria was a reasonably sized town. You know a lot of people there and so on. But it was a little way away. Again you know I suppose driving, and you could go there by road, – or did we got to Ba Ria to get to Vung Tau maybe,
Vung Tau. I think we did, through Ba Ria. But it would be sort of maybe three quarters of an hour away by road. That’s pretty rough though because I can’t really remember whether it – it wouldn’t be anymore than that I wouldn’t think. Three quarters of an hour, maybe an hour. And Vung Tau was yeah it might have been a couple of hours to Vung Tau but not far really considering that’s what I said before. Ba Ria was likewise you know
you’d sort of go through there. And it was always a worry, you never knew where someone was going to spring from but you’d go through there on a truck and as I said all the kids would be out give me, give me, give me and it wasn’t sort of considered too dangerous. Strange you know a couple of hours away up the track you’ve got barbed wire around you, mm. But nonetheless there was probably a lot of Viet Cong watching us drive through Ba Ria too, who knows?
What kind of contact did you have with the South Vietnamese?
The people? Very little except for the villages as I’ve said. And after a while it wore very thin with the ‘gimme, gimme’ stuff. You know I felt dreadfully sorry for the kids only because – we all did for a while. Only because you think oh all they know is war. You know there’d been fighting for I don’t know how long, you with the
French and all that before this and – I mean we did some – I mean a lot of the rubber was to do with the French I think. And there – there were a few roads which were tarred and bitumened, narrowish roads here and there and that was apparently all to do with the French. And I remember us doing an exercise, an operation somewhere, sometime and there was this rather grand, house/villa thing in this rubber plantation. Nobody – it wasn’t inhabited but it had been there, it was still in fair
condition. And I think we snuck up on it and searched around thinking there might be some Viet Cong hiding in there or whatever, but that was sort of left over from the French stuff, don’t ask me when, sometime. But they – we used to feel sorry for the kids because they’d, well I did, you’d think poor little cows that’s all they know, war of some sort you know. But I guess it’s no different from looking at the Iraqis now and so on. I mean it’s all they know is war isn’t it? You know they
they can be your age and that’s all you know is war. So I guess they sort of get used to living with it up to a point, you know. But after a while the novelty did wear off, you know like all kids really but they, the more you give them the more they want anyway. And so it got that way that we’d tell them to rack off and they wouldn’t understand you. Although as I did say earlier the kids spoke reasonable English. But it got that way you’d say oh you know because they’d just mob you. If they had the chance they would just literally mob you, ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’, anything.
I suppose they didn’t have much. But yeah that sort of petered out after a while. And especially after you start having a few experiences. When you first get there it’s all novel and poor little things. But after a while your attitude changes a bit.
What did you see of how the civilians were being affected by war in terms of food and livelihood.
Nothing really. I think – ah I think they were probably having problems going about their normal every day growing their rice and stuff I think in some places maybe. And sort of even we had something to do with that. You know when you cleared certain areas that was it they weren’t allowed, civilians weren’t allowed in their either because they’d just given up knowing who was who. But otherwise there was nothing that I remember sort of visible,
as to how they live, I don’t know. There was a checkpoint on – there was a road which actually went through the – well we used the same road to get to Vung Tau or wherever. But there was a road that actually went through one side of the camp area, the road that was always there, but there was a checkpoint there and they’d stop all the locals going through with their water buffalo and their stuff on the back of their carts and things because again no-one ever knew what they might be up
to, you know what they’re carrying or transporting or whatever. But no – well I suppose you don’t know how they lived before war; I didn’t, so I guess I haven’t got a comparison to make. I mean there was nothing sort of obvious that stuck out. I mean they looked pretty poor and derelict some of them but it’s sort of the way they sort of lived too, chewing betel nut you know and they’d –
yeah, but no not really. And of course in Vung Tau and these places they loved us all because you spent money when you went there didn’t you, if you were there for a couple of days, being in a bar or where. I mean it would have affected their economy for the better I would think in places like that where there was always a handful of – oh yeah, Yanks too I think, but certainly there was a handful of Aussies. That’s where they sent us. Because as I said we only went two or three
times for the whole times we there, from memory. It might have been more. But they sort of – it was still more ‘gimme, gimme’ in a sense, but yeah.
What did you do at Vung Tau when you were there?
Again not a lot except – I mean you could swim if you wanted to. The beach was okay and – and there were bars everywhere, little bars everywhere, everywhere – and I mean little bars,
that’s all they were just bars. I mean not like we know a bar in a pub or in a club or something, they were just bars, like little narrow shops everywhere. And you sort of paid the earth for drinks anyway. But apart from that – they provided the accommodation for us. There was a, oh what was it called? Again a very old – not a bad old building, I’m trying to think what it was called – quite large, where we had accommodation when they
sent us down there. So I think it was general sight seeing, a few drinks and – it was only ever for a couple of days.
Did you have much contact with American troops?
Very little, very little. The only time I had anything to do with them – but we’d never had anything to do with them so far as you know patrolling and all that stuff, the only time we would run into them was on leave which wasn’t very much but ah you would see them on leave,
the only time I had any contact with them. But of course on top of the leave too at Vung Tau we had, we all had the opportunity to go further afield, and I can’t remember, one was called rest and recuperation, R & R, R & C [rest and convalescence]. What was the other one? Rest and convalescence or something, it wouldn’t be convalescence, anyway it doesn’t matter. We had the opportunity to go and sort of had a choice I think it was for four days
to Bangkok, Hong Kong or Taiwan I think it was or Singapore, on leave. And I chose Hong Kong just because – just because, you know I thought I’d like to see Hong Kong. And you only sort of went off – the whole lot of us didn’t go; there was only one out of this platoon and one out of that platoon and one out of that one sort of thing. So you
more or less went on your own, sort of. But it was good, you know it was really enjoyable. But then as it turned out, we were talking earlier about rashes and so on, I suppose you’d say I – well I was fortunate in the one sense that I didn’t have any rashes and things, I was never – I didn’t miss an operation or anything. And because of that sort of toward – we’d been through – I don’t know how long we’d been there when I went to Hong Kong. But there was a chance for a handful,
there were a few more vacancies or something or a rather for a second time around and it was fairly done who had been in the bush most, and I qualified, along with others, and next time I went to Bangkok. Which was interesting also. I think we had to pay, I can’t remember, I mean they flew us there and so on at no expense. I can’t remember whether we had to pay for our accommodation, I really can’t remember. I think they might of. I think the
army might have paid. It doesn’t matter. So I was fortunate to get – I mean I was fortunate I didn’t miss any operations for that reason but then on the other hand if I had missed a couple it wouldn’t have bothered me so I was back in camp for a while. So you can’t have it both ways but I did get to see Bangkok and Hong Kong. And that’s when, back to your question, I saw a lot of Yanks then.
What was it like for you to come from a war zone like Vietnam to a place like Hong Kong?
Just good, I mean wonderful. It wasn’t – I was going to say it was like going home, but not in the same sense, it’s just that it was totally removed from the war so it was a bit like four days at home, away from it, not at home at all but away from the whole thing. You know I said even at Vung Tau where
it was sort of safe enough in Vietnam apparently, but you were still always a bit edgy there, you’re thinking oh you don’t know if somebody’s going to spring out with a knife or something, even though as I said we didn’t even carry our rifle around, or did we, I don’t know I can’t remember. But nobody sort of shot at you, when I was in Vung Tau. But of course there was still the risk, it was still in Vietnam and that’s where the supposed war was. But of course
went to Hong Kong and Bangkok and no war there, you know it was just lovely the first three or four days, it was really good. And plenty to see too if you wanted to see it. I mean again some guys just went and got full and you know probably made a nuisance of themselves generally. And I’m no angel as I said I like my few beers and things but I was interested in having a look around. Hong Kong –
you know I remember going to Kowloon which is the thing – well it’s part of Hong Kong, Kowloon. And Bangkok I went on an actual day trip thing up the, I think it’s called the Bangkok River, is it? Anyway a big river you know where they live. And it’s interesting to see them living on their houses built on the stilts on the side of the river. You know and washing in it and drinking in it and doing everything else in it. But it’s
an interesting, it’s interesting, a bit different from the way we live. I was surprised by Bangkok and I’m still talking as I said forty years ago, but I was surprised how sort of, especially Bangkok was sort of fairly westernised, I was surprised. I mean they still had all their tradition and their buildings and stuff. But you know I was surprised to see the cars, the brands that you saw, the sort you see driving around Australia and – big ads for Ford and you know I can’t remember, Ford,
Fiat or whatever and something and big billboards and I’d think, I would think I was in Australia in some areas. But you get like as I said the tour I did up the river which was a sort of a whole day thing I think. I mean it wasn’t a terribly flash boat, it was like a little, I don’t know wee small ferry thing. And that was very interesting to see how the other half live as they say or in Bangkok or whatever.
So yeah I did do a bit of sight seeing and that and that was good. But then you had to go back.
What were your impressions of the Americans that you saw?
Generally nice. But my impression was and still is that Americans are very loud people, you know they’re just very loud, verbally loud. And yet they sort of loved Australians or at least wanted to know about us
because most of the ones I ran into hadn’t been here, I mean a lot do these days but I guess then – I suppose there’s still a lot of Americans that haven’t been to Australia. But most of them I ran into hadn’t been to Australia so they wanted to know an awful lot about Australia, they were very interested in Australia and you as an Australian. And to them we sound English and they kept, because what do they call the English, Limeys or they did from some of the old wars or something, Limeys. And few of them would say of you’re a Limey and I’d say no, no I’m an Aussie, or an ‘Ossie’
as they call it and ah – but I can understand why. I mean we think we think we drawl a bit and everything else but to a Pom, to an American I suppose we sound a bit English, we’re not drawly like them. So yeah they were very interested. You know the old thing about sort of not quite but you know do kangaroos really hop down Pitt Street? You know this sort of stuff. They were very innocent and very ignorant of Australia. You know oh yeah we’ve got a few modern things, you know we’ve got television and a few things like that. But they were
interested yeah and very nice generally. But I really wouldn’t like to be shoulder to shoulder with them at war. Only because they’re loud and their reputation is not good, I mean running along with – so we heard, I didn’t witness any of this, but you know running along with their trannies to their ears going through in Vietnam. So apparently it’s little wonder they got so many casualties. Um yeah so that’s – but I must say any that I met were nice, nice to speak to,
nice people. But when I came back – yeah that was either from Hong Kong or Bangkok, one or the other, I was sitting with a Yank on the plane going back to Vietnam and he was so interested in Australia and a nice guy.
Did they talk about – did you talk about the war at all when you were on leave, if you met an American?
No, no not really, I don’t – if at all. Not at all. I don’t remember
ever talking to them about – again it was mostly where you know whereabouts do you live and what part and I would probably ask them too but I mean I don’t know America anyway, I’ve never been, still haven’t and – oh but I would ask them where they lived in America. As a matter of fact that same guy wrote to me a couple of times. Just one of those things that fizzled out. I often wish I’d kept in contact with him. He sent a photo of his wife, he had a wife obviously. He wasn’t very old but – and when he was back home we corresponded for a little while. But then
you know it fizzled out as these things do, you sort of put it off and you don’t write. And then I finally wrote after a long, long time and it never, ever got to him. I don’t know what happened to him or whether he moved or what. But yeah generally, generally nice people but a bit loud. He wasn’t, actually he wasn’t a loud sort of character the one I’m speaking about but most of them are pretty loud.
Interviewee: Noel Grimes Archive ID 1939 Tape 08
Noel you mentioned that you had radio in camp, what sort of signals would you listen to on the radio?
Oh wang-wang-wang, woing-woing-woing, mostly that sort of stuff. We used to – and we used to get all this propaganda with Ho Chi Minh, what did they use to call her? I don’t know this lady –
That’s her, you’ve heard about her before haven’t you? Yeah Hanoi Hannah. She used to be on there but I can’t remember what she said, it was all this propaganda
stuff. Yeah but otherwise as I was just doing, that was Vietnamese music I was just singing. Pretty boring, monotonous stuff, but that was sort of all. I mean we used to really laugh at it. I mean it was amusing Hanoi Hannah. I mean we sort of enjoyed listening to her because of the things she’d say. But I don’t remember really what she said but it was just all this propaganda I think.
It could be likened to the guy you know at the last minute of Saddam you know saying, “No things are wonderful – ” You know, the bloke who was in front of the cameras all the time. I can’t remember what capacity – but everything was wonderful and they were winning the war, with Iraq recently. Similar stuff she was always saying, oh yeah, the North Vietnamese, somebody’s surrendered and somebody else has and somebody else has and none of it was true, I mean we knew it wasn’t true but we just laughed about it, it didn’t bother us.
Did she refer, from what you can
can recall did she refer to Australians as well as Americans?
I don’t remember, I don’t remember. I don’t remember, because I mean compared to the Yanks there weren’t many Aussies over there, we were probably only a little group. There were a lot of Americans there; I can’t remember how many but a lot.
You said that when you arrived in Vietnam there was a sense of I don’t know what we’re doing here, as you were coming to the end of your
tour did you have a clearer concept?
Not really, I still wondered what we were doing there. I knew why we were there, certainly. I wasn’t absolutely sure why we were sent in the first place. As I’ve said earlier all we were told was better to fight them there than here on our shores, as in the Communists. I don’t know what chances there were, whether we had any say – you know whether we did anything there to
stop that happening I don’t know. But certainly after I’d been there yeah – I mean I could see what it was all about but I think, I just think we all felt it was just hopeless, you know a hopeless cause. With that sort of thing you can clear an area all you like and as soon as you move out, they move in. It’s sort of a bit of a waste of time, you know. And perhaps the Battle of Long Tan might have helped the cause, I don’t know, they were North Vietnamese troops.
And ah a lot of them and more the real military so maybe that slowed the whole thing down. I don’t know if it had any bearing on it still.
Can you give me an example of what would happen if you were on patrol and you came across someone who you suspected was Viet Cong?
Generally they’re the ones
that – yeah you know they’d be searched, and interrogated, with an interpreter as I said earlier. But if they were actually suspected – but you see we never ever knew. I mean they were supposed to carry, they carried ID [identification], supposed to. If they didn’t have ID I think they were sort of – well they certainly didn’t get shot but they got taken somewhere or sent back somewhere you know to be interrogated.
So it wasn’t terribly dramatic. Yeah, but if you came – well they were considered civilians if they just stood there and let you walk up to them. I mean anybody running, very suspiciously naturally. You know if someone spots you – particularly if they’re carrying a weapon. But to anybody else that they just walked up to, that we just walked up to you know or just stood there. I mean it was probably just someone out tilling their paddy field or whatever. But sort of you would assume they’re obviously civilians
but you still don’t know. Or are they advising? You know they’re seeing where we are aren’t they? They could easily pass on all the messages to the baddies. But generally speaking yeah they were just interrogated and let go or if they had an ID and everyone was sort of happy enough they’d just let them go, just stop and talk to them as best we could.
What were you told? How were you briefed on dealing with the Viet Cong in these villages?
Oh well they were search and destroy. If you – well they were the enemy so you didn’t ask any questions. I mean if you knew they were enemy same old story if don’t shoot them they will shoot you. And that was always the big risk in these villages when we were on foot. As I’ve said it was different when we going through Ba Ria that I spoke about. This search and destroy thing it was, it was a nerve wracking thing. There was nobody there that I remember, except maybe a couple, but nobody shot at us
or whatever that I remember either. You know they found somebody hiding in a tunnel or a, under somewhere or something and he’d have been interrogated all that too. But it was a worry that someone would spring out, that they – and we didn’t know if there were people – even though they were told to get out of there, there could have easily been enemy there. There wasn’t, so it appeared they had fled. But there were all sorts of – I don’t know whether we found, did we find? Certainly rice caches. You know they used
to bury the rice to – well that was their staple diet I guess so that fed the Congs as they moved around didn’t it, the Viet Cong – apart from the locals I guess. But yes I don’t know, I don’t know what we were briefed, except if we knew they were enemy of course – but it depends. I mean if they come out with hands up or whatever they weren’t shot. But as I’ve said anybody shooting
at you, or running away, would get shot.
What were you told before you left Australia or when you first arrived in Vietnam in terms of what sort of a fighter the North Vietnamese troops were?
I don’t recall, I can’t remember anything specifically.
What were your impressions of how they fought?
Well, my only account was the Battle of Long Tan with professional troops. And obviously they’re quite well trained, well they were, we’re still talking about a long time ago. Yeah they – but you know it’s a bit hard to say how they compared like to us, I don’t know. I mean on the day they
compared very well. But then there were a lot of them. So I don’t really know and I don’t remember you know anybody sort of saying anything specifically about their ability or they’re training or whatever. I don’t know, they may have.
Can you describe what the tunnels looked like?
Oh just sort of boarded up quite often or, just tunnels. But I mean not tunnels you would,
they varied, but not tunnels you would walk through, tunnels you would crawl through. But there were sort of masses of them under villages and around villages and in villages and not always in villages. I mean you could come across one out anywhere. But it would always be treated with great – and of course a good trick was to booby trap them wasn’t it? You know so if you go poking around these tunnels – I don’t remember much happening in that respect to us but yeah a great place for a booby
What would you do to try and avoid booby traps and mines?
Well people were always – well land mines didn’t seem to be – they certainly were around roads and things yeah you know we avoided generally walking along roads. I was talking about the bridge earlier. But generally speaking we didn’t walk, when we were on foot, we didn’t walk on roads much, for that reason I think. But they didn’t – I wouldn’t say mines were –
they were certainly around, sort of used but they weren’t to any great extent I don’t think. Except for the odd booby trap which as I said they would set like that in a tunnel somewhere I suppose they thought we were going to search or look. But I don’t recall anything – not with my lot. I mean things happened. I remember, and that was at Ba Ria and I think they were actually. You see Ba Ria wasn’t hostile or not meant to be. And when I think about it I think well I spent a bit of time down there too, we did.
We fenced it in too. We barbed wired it around Ba Ria for their protection. And I’m sure that’s where they got Sergeant Kirby. I don’t know what happened there. I think they were down there doing a similar thing and he was blown, I mean he was killed, he was blown to bits. Well I don’t know about the bits but he was – but I don’t remember the details. He wasn’t like – I wasn’t there with him, but I knew him quite well, a great big man
he was. I can’t remember if it was a mine or – I’ve got a feeling it was or some sort of a booby trap thing. But he was killed and that was at Ba Ria but you know you’re down there with mixed feelings, eh, down there putting barbed wired around the place just – for their safety from the North Vietnamese and somebody blows one of our guys up who were down there. I think that’s what they were doing. I know that’s where it happened.
Yeah getting blown up for your trouble. So who? You know somebody in Ba Ria, I don’t remember.
What sort of correspondence were you having with back home? Were you writing to your parents?
Yeah fairly often, fairly often. And so far as we know – I mean we were sort of – well I think maybe I, some of them a different, but
I mean you don’t write back – I do remember writing back about Long Tan, saying it wasn’t much fun. But I wouldn’t have gone into every detail for their sake. You know you wouldn’t, I didn’t, I never ever sort of – I’d always write pretending I was happy whether I was or I wasn’t, sort of. But there didn’t seem to be any, what do you call it?
Not that I know of. I mean the letters I wrote always got home and vice-a-versa, the ones coming back. But I don’t remember us ever being warned not to say this or not to say that. But of course usually anything you wrote about had happened anyway – you know it was in the past, it’s what you’ve done, it’s not what’s going to happen, not usually. Oh I suppose you might say well next week we’re going to whatever, whatever. But no, yeah I used to correspond
You said that you would pretend to be happy even if you weren’t. What was your state of mind like for the remainder of your tour after Long Tan?
I don’t know that it changed a whole lot. Probably it made everybody take a lot more notice than we had been taking in a sense, like as in, I talk about sitting up and taking notice, as in being more careful because you know what can happen
when you haven’t experienced it you don’t know. But that’s that side to it. Emotionally, I don’t know, after – I mean there’s initial sort of shock of it all I guess but as I said for a few days or longer I guess too but I don’t recall it – it bonds those that didn’t get hurt; you know it makes it a lot –
it’s amazing how something like that, not that, as I said we were sort of one big happy family anyway, but something like that happens and the ones are still there it really bonds. Because then you get reinforcements you see, they come in and they’re the nervous wrecks the ones that come in to, they have just hit Vietnam, reinforcements, replacements. And that’s what happens you know so you’ve got a guy there with – and to them we’ve been there four or five months or whatever it was, well it was three months at Long Tan, but this happened
with anybody who got sent home for whatever the reason, they were ‘reos’ they called them, reinforcements. And as you can imagine they’d come in and we’d been there five or six months and they’re just green, they’ve just arrived. So were we five or six months ago but we’ve been there, we’re acclimatised and sort of part of the furniture and they were the ones that used to be really nervy the ones coming in. And going out for the first time – we’d have all been like that but you know we went out as a group and they probably felt a bit you know inadequate
even because we’re there, we’re experienced. It didn’t make much difference whether you were experienced or not really. It was the luck of the draw as I said with that type of war. But I don’t if it affected. As I said we just kept – it was always on, ‘how long now, Mum’, you know sort of thing. But particularly after that eighteenth of August, that was when it seemed an awfully long time until, around until the next June or whenever when we were due to come home. But
it slowly went away and I had Christmas in Vietnam which was lovely. I can’t remember having a clue what we did, we were probably out in the bush, I can’t remember, I really can’t remember what happened on Christmas Day, or were we – I mean they certainly – they would not have called everything off. You don’t, nothing stops, you know the wars don’t stop for Christmas Day. In fact I think it’s usually probably even a bit more –security wise you’d be more security conscious because of what they might be thinking we mightn’t, might be doing or not doing on Christmas Day.
You know I can’t remember but I’ve got a feeling – but no, I don’t know that it changed a whole lot. You just put your head down and slog and do it and know you’ve got to do it regardless of what happens. As I said unless you’re wounded or whatever there’s no, you don’t get sent home. I mean I guess if you feel in a screaming heap and you know were an absolute emotional mess they would have to send you home but yourself will not let yourself do that anyway. And you’re part of a unit; it’s not just you,
you’re not fighting the war on your own, although I sort of felt we were sort of because of the whole thing of it. I don’t know where the Yanks were but they were buzzing around somewhere. It was that type of war though you know it’s not like – however I would not trade places for the world for World War I or II veterans going through what they went through. You know I think I had – it doesn’t matter much does it; it only takes one bullet wherever you are? But
the risk was probably far less in Vietnam than those goes. I mean imagine being a POW [prisoner of war] or whatever, I mean enduring all that sort of stuff – I couldn’t imagine that.
Noel what was – I think we talked a bit about what it was like between
the nashos and the regs [regular/permanent army soldiers] back in Australia. What was it like once you were actually in Vietnam?
There was nothing in it then, I mean it was all – see I mean some of the reinforcements we got, a lot of them in fact were regular soldiers. So really I suppose that puts the nashos, the nashos had been there for five or six months and here comes a little old reg. But it wasn’t like that; I mean I’m still making it sound like there was this big pulling against each other. No there was, it was always there sort of.
But the worst part was or the best parts for us and the worse parts for the regs was, and I really felt truly sorry for some guys, they’d come as reinforcements and you know we’d been there ten months, let’s just say ten months, and you’d still reinforcements coming in all the time, from time to time, so we’ve got two months to go, he’s got twelve months. Be it a regular or national serviceman he’s got you know those two months plus another ten to look forward to where we’re off
home soon. And if he was a regular soldier and had signed for six years there’s a chances are he could do three tours of Vietnam. They did it, I mean they’d go for twelve months, if everything well, if you’re in the regular army home for twelve months you’re back to Vietnam again. And it was possible at least to do two, possibly three. So I mean – and if he’s not very impressed with the army and not certainly not impressed with Vietnam, who was, who would be, that’s what he’s got to look forward to. And I know a guy that was really – I don’t know how he got on. I mean I’ve spoken to him actually, he survived it all, he was in the regular
army. I don’t know if he went back for a second tour but he was really sort of having trouble to cope, a regular soldier. He was actually younger than us because you see they used to join – I don’t know what the age was for joining the regular army but he was actually younger than us. By this time we’re all of aged twenty-two aren’t we and I think this kid was only, he’d only been in – oh, he must have been in a year or two to do his training and be over there, but he was only nineteen or twenty then. And
I know – I don’t know whether he came as a reinforcement or whether it was just simply that – I think he did, Alf, Alfie Bartlett. But he used to – he was a bit of a worry actually, he was sort of – he used to get really depressed and yeah. But he survived it all. But that was his big thing; I know it was that we were – and not only were we finishing our tour of
Vietnam hopefully in a couple of months time, most of us were getting out of the army when we got home. And if you’re regular – you see not all regulars – I mean they sign up but it doesn’t mean they like it. And for them it used to be three or six years and I know Alf he was – I mean they used to rib him a bit too and say, “Oh never mind, Alf, you’ve only got four years to go,” or whatever it was and you know that would only aggravate him. I mean he wouldn’t go off or anything, he’d be mmmm.
But yeah it was – but otherwise generally speaking no there was very little in it. There wasn’t anything in it here in Australia really; it was really only from the superior officers or the guys training us, that’s where that sort of all came about initially. They sort of compared us to the regular soldiers. As, as I’ve said long hair louts off the streets and they were going to show us. And I guess the regulars probably got treated the
same way, I don’t know, they were probably show them too. Because they will show you, they have their way. You know you either get dishonourably discharged for one reason or another or you endure it. This is army not – and in Vietnam of course same story. It’s worse over there you’ve got to get shot or wounded or be dreadfully ill to get sent home. And I guess that applies with any war anywhere. And I suppose there’s a difference isn’t there between when I was in Vietnam and the early
world wars and things anyway. I guess there was no way to be flown home for any reason was there much. I mean when I was in Vietnam if you were desperately ill or if your mother was dying and you had to have compassionate leave or something they could whack you on a plane and fly you home. But I guess in the first, early world wars that wouldn’t be on would it? So there were plusses for being in Vietnam when I was in Vietnam compared to the guys in the earlier wars.
And I mean there’s no plus being in any war. Stupid but people will fight. I guess it’ll go on forever and ever and ever.
But how difficult was this guerrilla style warfare?
Yeah well that’s – very, very – impossible really. That’s what I was saying a while ago that what’s the point in going out and clearing? I mean there’s a point to it at the time, to protect us, our base camp and so on but by clearing that area out there, no matter how big or how small it is, that’s fine, you can go through that and clear it and say
no there’s no Viet Cong here, or you hope there isn’t, maybe they’ve given you the slip but there’s none here. But as you’re walking out the other side of that area they can be walking back in the other side of it can’t they? I mean there’s no real way of saying that area is secured or cleared. Whereas I suppose in the other wars with front lines and things you know where they’re going through you assume behind you is clear don’t you? But with the guerrilla warfare stuff yeah as I’ve said they’re all over
the place. And there’s no fences. I mean you can’t say, “Okay we’ve been through there, there’s nobody in there, they won’t be there tomorrow” because they just could be. So it just goes on and on and on, clearing areas and – sure, you burn a village it’s got to sort of clear that area but they don’t always live in villages, no the guerrilla type people who ran around the scrub in little bands of four or five or six, you know just striking here and striking there and
generally just trying to do a bit of damage and I suppose you know it’s doesn’t do anything for the morale of, in this case the South Vietnamese, the so called goodies. You know I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of, you know how much fighting there was there with the North and South. They were fighting each other but the South had troops too I think. I’m sure they did
but they weren’t considered much of, speaking of reputations, I don’t think they were considered much as soldiers, I don’t know. The Aussies tried to hold a pretty high standard so, so I don’t know they mightn’t have been as bad as we thought. But of course they were on our side; I’m talking about the South Vietnamese people.
Where would you sleep when you were on a patrol?
Ah generally just on the ground. Rarely did we pitch our little two-man hoochies that we all carried, as I’ve said,
and you’d combine with your mate or whoever you were with because they sort of had big press stud things on them and you’d make two little – sometimes you’d put them up, it just depends on the situations. And at least you’d be out of the rain. But if it wasn’t wet mostly we’d just sleep under – well when I say under the stars, just in the open. As I said earlier we didn’t get undressed, we didn’t take our boots off most of the time. So you just wiggle your way
and try and get your hip comfortable in between a couple of rocks or wherever and you get very used to it – you sort of got that way you could sleep anywhere, hopefully with your head uphill not downhill.
During the patrols what would you be aware of in terms of an ambush?
I can’t think of anything especially, you just always were aware of ambushes. You know and sometimes you would, you’d come on to tracks, I mean people tracks,
paths sort of thing, I don’t mean a concrete path just a track through the scrub that was obviously used. They were a worry. You know you’d sort of – we’d rarely travel on them. But there was always a chance – and sometimes that would happen, you know you’d get a little group coming along this track, of Viet Cong I mean. But more often than not they’d sort of – because as I’ve said we were pretty good at being quiet and sneaking around and more often than not they would sort of
tend to run into us and maybe fire a few shots and gone. Or maybe not even fire shots, run you know because that’s the sort of way they worked. But it did happen, I mean one day we were – I talk about Vietnam simply, Long Tan rather simply because it was the biggest thing I experienced over there but there were others. I mean that, I guess it makes the others seem pretty insignificant so you sort of
tend not to – I think well that was mainly the big thing, that was mainly it for me over there but there were quite a few others that I touched on. You know again we were doing – I can’t remember how long that the trail was where we were, there weren’t many of us, there was only a section patrol, maybe, no it wasn’t even a platoon. So there was only eight or ten or a dozen of us doing this little patrol somewhere, I can’t remember where. What used to happen too when we were out in the bush and had sort of established a camp
a base camp when we were clearing an area we would send the same patrols out there as we did back at base camp, you know everybody going out, when there was enough of us, you know a whole company of us out there or a battalion even, we used to go on whole battalion things. And you’d, they’d send these day patrols then, they were just day ones out and around to try and make sure we weren’t going to get attacked or whatever, and I think it was one of those we were out on one day and we’d just – and they’d only sent out little small patrols, section patrols and things. I’m not sure how many of us there were,
there would have been about ten or a dozen. And we had actually stopped for a little rest and a little smoke and whatever. And these Viet Cong, again I was fortunate really, because they just blundered onto us. We were sitting really quietly, you know only a few of us, sort of spread out reasonably well but as we always did, you didn’t just stop everyone faces out and – anyhow they just blundered onto us and, and, not onto me, onto Doug Langlands [?].
And a couple of shots were exchanged. He actually had a machine gun and I think he blazed away and I don’t know if he got any, I can’t remember whether he got – you know there was only four or five of them, but he got shot Doug, through here, out here. Lived through it and he has no sight – he lost this eye, I think it was his left side, it doesn’t matter. The last time I spoke to him he’s got twenty percent vision in, this is a few years ago now, and his hearing’s about gone, I mean that’s what –
He was in hospital for months and months and months. I mean they flew him home. But there’s that sort of stuff did go on yeah, I mean he was just – again it’s the luck of the draw; he was where they blundered onto us. I mean if they had blundered onto me they’d have probably done the same thing to me. And I suppose there’s a luck of you know do you cop a bullet through here or do you just get it in the arm. You know I mean there’s a sort of bit of luck there too I think sometimes when things happen so quickly like that. It’s not like they’re
taking aim for your head, I don’t think they would have had time, they would just fire. So there’s a certain amount of luck attached I guess.
Were they NVA [North Vietnamese Army] or – ?
Well, black pyjamas, so obviously yeah. Obviously north, or at least sympathisers. You see that was the big thing – yeah they weren’t in uniform. The only ones I ever saw and remembered seeing in uniform were the ones
at the Battle of Long Tan.
What did you do for Doug once he was shot?
Well we had to get him out. And of course we had radio and – we radioed a helicopter. We moved and had to move him of course. I can’t remember, we must have had him on a stretcher or – I know we had to get him, well to a rice paddy for the helicopter to land. And speaking of reactions
and emotions and things it just depends I think on the individual, Alan Parr who was in my tent also most of the time, he sort of lost it that day because – and Doug, I mean we knew Doug very well, he wasn’t in our tent but he was sort of next door. And Alan that day sort of – I mean were battling to shoosh him because he sort of went off – we were getting Doug to somewhere where the chopper could get him out of there. The others of course had
fired their couple of shots and gone. But Alan sort of lost it that day and was thrashing around the scrub and bashing the trees and the grass and anything he could bash you know in anger and frustration. And we were concerned about him, you know he sort of looked and he sort of – it didn’t last, he got over it but we – again we were trying to be quiet getting Doug to wherever we could get him to get the helicopter to whiz in and get him and here’s Alan thrashing around and
muttering and yelling and carrying on. So that was somebody who sort of cracked for a moment or two, because Doug had copped it and I mean he looked like he was going to die, he looked like he was dead at the time. I mean we knew he wasn’t dead but you know he was, he was unconscious and didn’t look, you know didn’t look good. However he did survive it. They obviously didn’t hit anything vital apart from his, well I shouldn’t say anything vital, eyes and ears that’s pretty vital but
it obviously got through his head without hitting brain or anything. Yeah so anyway we did get him onto a helicopter. I think he went to Vung Tau to the hospital there for a while and then he was sent home. And I think that was before Long Tan, was it? I can’t remember, I can’t remember.
How quickly would the helicopter be able to come in and take – ?
To get there? Fairly because they whiz along pretty well
and you know even if you’re a few Ks out from camp it doesn’t take a helicopter long to get there. But sort of long enough I guess. I mean I guess by the time we got him to an open clearing anyway the helicopter would be well on the way. And of course they’d have to swap, on the radio they’d have to be swapping references and things, where are we and just exactly where we are. And then you take him out into the clearing and hope they’re not sitting on their bit of clearing watching you take him out into the clearing, the
VC. But nothing else happened, we got him on the plane, the chopper and continued our whatever we were doing.
How dangerous do you think it was for these helicopters that were coming – ?
Yeah very really because as I’ve said they’re, you can’t, they’re noisy, you can’t quieten them. But that’s what I said earlier they – I was talking about the occasional bloke getting a broken leg when they were taken us out somewhere because they
would not, wouldn’t really land. They would hover sort of on the ground and by the time the last guy was off, as I said earlier, they’d be a good couple of metres off the ground and the last person would have to jump you know. It might have been preferable to stay on and go back to camp. But that used to happen because they were trying to be – you know it was out, out, out, everybody had to get out as fast as possible and by then as I said he’s got it a couple of metres off the ground and you’re holding your nose and jumping out of the side more or less. And it was the weight you were carrying, you
know we carried a fair bit of weight on our packs, in our packs and things. But we were young and I guess we were lucky there weren’t more broken legs but I know one bloke for sure had a broken leg. I mean that would probably get him home. He wouldn’t want to stay over there with a broken leg. But –
Would there be cover on the helicopters? Would there be someone armed?
Yeah they had guns. Guns as in you know not rifles, guns mounted.
What sort of psychiatric support was there for people, for troops?
What in Vietnam or – ?
While you were there?
I guess – there was always you know the clergy, the padre or what was he called, yeah more often than not the padre I think, he was sort of always – they were they were available yeah if you wanted to talk or
whatever. I can’t remember – I mean I don’t think, this Alan I speak of, he was okay, I mean he went through that little patch and then he did calm down and then he was all right, you know he was – it was some of his anger, you know, as I’ve said earlier with the guy getting his foot blown off on that bridge, it’s just sheer anger on the spot, on the spur of the moment. You know – but
yeah I guess there was a bit of – oh I think if anyone was bad enough they would send you home or I don’t know but I didn’t, I don’t remember that happening to anybody, everybody sort of survived it.
Did the padre come and talk to anyone after Paul was killed?
I don’t remember, but it’s possible. I mean I don’t remember. I mean we might have all collectively had a little session if you know what I mean. He may have come and addressed us but
I don’t, but I don’t remember that. It’s possible. And if not the padre it was probably some our superior officers who would come and for a start tell us we were good at what we were doing, you know at what we did, a job well done so to speak under the circumstances and all that and I think give us a bit of a, well a general pat on the back and sort of – so as probably not to make you feel rotten about the whole thing, you know which you sort of you do.
But I don’t really recall, no.
What were those last few weeks – ?
Long. Long and I think fairly uneventful from what I can remember. But yeah they were long. And of course to come home they flew us there in however hours it takes to fly, but they’d put us on the old [HMAS} Sydney to take bring us home, the old – an aircraft carrier converted to a troop carrier
and it took us forever. How long did it take us to get home? Ten days or a fortnight or something from Vietnam. Slow, slow, slow. And some of it – and we were told you know again being the first intake of national servicemen, or at least most of us were, coming home we had this long – oh it was very pleasant, they weren’t even too hard on us on the thing. I mean we were about at the end of our two years anyway. Because they said they were trying to fatten us up a bit and tan us up a bit
and make us look a bit better was the general feeling, and we cruised. I mean it was very pleasant but we wanted to get home, who wanted to you know – we came down through the Whitsunday Islands I think and very pretty and cruising along slow, slow. I mean it wouldn’t have been a fast ship anyway but it could have gone a lot faster than it did. But eventually we got home and I guess we were better, you know fed up and tanned up and a bit rested because –
it was probably a good idea – it didn’t hurt us anyway. But just that we, “Come on hurry up get home.” I know we slept in hammocks down below. I mean it was converted but we slept in hammocks mm. So there we go. And I landed, they landed us in Brisbane. So that was about it. There were no fanfares or
anything but then – I personally – I’ve heard a lot of – I’m only speaking of Vietnam veterans of course, because they’re the only ones I can relate to, or not relate to so much, compare to. But I’ve heard a lot over the years of guys – maybe it happened, maybe it depends where you live but you know sort of being frowned upon, spat on and this sort of stuff when they returned. I have never experienced any of that.
As I say we landed in Brisbane, anyone who had Queensland folk were obviously there to meet them if they could be or whatever. It was quite low key, there were quite a few people there but no great big cheers and streamers and stuff but I don’t think any of us wanted that anyway, at the time. And then in my case they flew me to Sydney where my Mum and Dad had made the big effort and gone down to one of my sisters that lived in Sydney, the same one I went down to live with some years before.
And as a matter of fact I stunned the life out of them because I’d somehow ended up on an earlier flight than planned from Brisbane and I just – they were all ready to go to the airport to meet me in Sydney and I walked in on them – you know I got a cab out to where they lived at Miranda. So that was a bit of stunner all around for them because they were all just getting ready, “Righto come on, come on, time to go to meet the plane.” And I’m there aren’t I? But that
was kind of nice. But that was a big effort for Mum and Dad. I mean they weren’t city people or whatever but they did it. But getting back to what I said I – then Stuart Town gave me a big public reception. I’d been home a little while and out of the army a little while. I didn’t especially want it but they insisted. And in a small village everybody goes as I’ve said before and it was quite a big do, nice. You know it was just a welcome home thing that was in my home town.
And so I’ve never – you know I’ve heard reports of some guys saying, “Oh they were in a pub in Sydney having a drink – ” And as soon as they know you’ve been to Vietnam or whatever they don’t want to know you and all this, but I’ve never ever found that with people. But maybe some people like to sound off too much I think. You know you start big timing yourself I think maybe you ask for, ask for some criticism or whatever. But I have no experienced anything that’s –
But as I’ve said I’ve basically tried to get on with life. I haven’t sort of gone around saying “I’ve been to Vietnam! You know I’m the greatest, I’m anything!” I’m just – If people know I’ve been, fine, if they don’t know I don’t tell them, it’s as simple as that. I had to go, did it. I keep saying home in one piece for which I’m eternally thankful. And now, well I’m a bit older now, I’ve got a few knee problems and aches and pains but I’m here aren’t I?
I’ve got a lovely wife and two lovely children and two lovely grandchildren. You can’t ask for much more, Vietnam or not. Despite Vietnam, put it that way. No there’s been a lot of stuff over the years too. Agent Orange, you know all the Agent Orange stuff. So far as I know, I mean I’m sure it was used when I was there. I know they used something to defoliate – you know you sort of don’t take a whole lot of notice what it was called when you were there, it’s only after you’re home that it’s used later that suddenly Agent Orange crops up and everybody’s going on about Agent Orange and deformed children and so on. Well again maybe it’s just
luck, maybe – I don’t know. I haven’t had any deformed children. My children haven’t had any deformed children. But I know they certainly defoliated the trees or a lot of the trees when I was there. The reason being to be able to see the Cong running from the air. But there was a lot – they used something and I assume it was Agent Orange, I don’t know, it nearly had to be. They may have changed it later on and
maybe they stopped doing it, I don’t know. However I have fortunately had no effects, side effects, family effects whatever. So that’s another one that people grizzle about, you know returned guys. Maybe I’m just fortunate I don’t know, but here I am.
Thank you so much for participating in the archive project, Noel.
It’s been a pleasure.
Thanks for talking to us today. It’s been wonderful. Thank you.