Archive number: 2139
Preferred name: Geoff
Date interviewed: 16 July, 2004
10 Platoon, D Company, 6RAR
You are listening to the interview audio
Your life to date?
Oh, I was born in 1941 in Brisbane. My Dad was away at war he was in the Middle East and then in
New Guinea and so I was brought up by my Mum and her sisters. We lived at Sandford which is just outside of Brisbane. My earliest memories are of Sandford I started school there and then we moved to the seaside, to Manly, when I was about six and subsequently Lalor, which is just near Manly, when I was seven or eight. And I went to a convent school to start off with and
then to the Wynnum Intermediate and High School. Probably the most significant thing that happened to me as a kid is I played football I was picked to play for Queensland in an under sixteen schoolboys’ team when I was thirteen, so for most of my teenage years I was a footballer and that came first and nothing else sort of thing. I finished school at Marist Brothers at Ashgrove just one year and left school after doing junior which was pretty normal in those days
and I started work as an apprentice electrician. I worked with the electrical team at the Brisbane General Hospital, I did a couple of years as an electrical apprentice but it wasn’t for me and I finally left and went to work for Chandlers, a big electrical firm in Brisbane and at about this time I was eighteen years old I think, I finally made first-grade football forward for Manly and
played there for a couple of years and when I was twenty my brother had moved, he was an electrician and he moved to a place called Tara in south western Queensland and he suggested I come out there and try for the coaching job out there in the football team and work for him selling TV sets and things, which I did. So I spent a couple of years there I got the coaching job and quite enjoyable time for a young fella, but unfortunately the football season
ended and so half my pay stopped and I was working at the time as a station hand, the football club found a job for me and I couldn’t see a great deal of future in that and I saw an ad in the paper that said something like, “Would you like to be an officer in Australia’s Army?” I thought, “Oh, probably better than what I’m doing now.” So I wrote away and got the application form I had just the bare, enough education and went away and did the test, went to Brisbane and did the
psych [psychological] tests and intelligence tests and all sorts of things and after about, this would’ve been mid ’63, after a while I was told that I’d been – that I’d got to the selection board stage and to come down to Brisbane and go before the section board which was an interesting experience, there were ten of us, two days, ten guys each day and of those they took I think, six.
And we did all sorts of things we had to do physical and mental dexterity tests and write some things and address the other fellows and tell your life story sort of thing and then we went before a board of colonels. And I remember then the President of the Board was the commandant of the school that we were going to go to. And the only questioned he asked me was
would I be able to transfer from rugby league to rugby union? So I think I was still on a bit of a football scholarship perhaps and anyway I was selected and so we – my parents at the time were living in Adelaide, so for Christmas 1963 I flew down to Adelaide asked the army if it would be okay if I enlisted in Adelaide instead of Brisbane, which is why I’ve got a four oblique number instead of a one oblique number, people think I’m a South Australian.
But I spent Christmas there and then I joined up there. There were only I think four guys from South Australia. I met the other three and they sort of put us on a train, took us across to Melbourne, put us on a bus, took us to a place called Portsea, which is almost as far south as you can go in Victoria and I spent twelve months there and found that the brochures that they’d showed us about the wonderful life weren’t exactly true,
but you know Portsea, the experience of Portsea was certainly worth remembering and I graduated and I remember being asked what corps I thought I should go to and when I left Portsea and graduated as second lieutenant and when I first had gone to the recruiting depot there was a photo of a guy looking out of a tank you know, with a scarf on and goggles and I thought, ‘Wow, that sounds like
me, so I think I’ll be a tank commander’ and the fellow wrote down ‘infantry’, I think – so I graduated to infantry and I was posted to the 2nd Battalion, which was then in Brisbane, which I was delighted about because I was going back to Brisbane. So I got there in January ’65, I guess and for about the first six months
I lived in the peace time army which it was, which was quite a good job for a young fellow you know in charge of a platoon of thirty odd blokes and there was plenty of sport and not a bad life. It was still a very formal army, very British army in those days. We had to dine in the mess if you were a single officer at least four times a week and you had to wear a coat and tie to dinner every night. That was still not a bad life. We had a wonderful thing
called a ‘batman’, which was great, who was a soldier who did you washing and ironing and all that sort of thing, tidied your room, that was marvellous. And then in the middle of ’65 Vietnam had already hit the news and in the middle of ’65 they sent the 1st Battalion across to Vietnam and we basically knew that we would be going pretty soon for the, you know for most of ’65.
In June 1965 2nd Battalion was split into two and became 2nd and 6th Battalions. That was on D-Day, actually on the 6th of June 1965 and that was quite a significant time for me because I was photoed – a photo was taking of me leading my platoon in the parade which appeared in the paper and my then sister-in-law showed the photo to my future wife
and I was the blind date and that’s how it all sort of happened. In about September of 1965 the first of the National Servicemen, that was the two year National Servicemen, arrived in – into 2nd and 6th Battalions. Primarily 6 though because 6 was going to go to Vietnam first. At that stage I was in ‘C’ Company, ‘Charlie’ Company of the 6th Battalion
and just out of the blue, I was one day transferred to 10 Platoon, D Company, I know the reason, but I don’t know if you want to know it, but it was quite strange. D Company was – had just been taken over by a fellow called Harry Smith, who was a little short, nuggetty fellow and very, very feisty bloke, but right
from the day one he made it apparent – made it apparent to everybody that D Company was going to be the best company in the battalion and at that stage we were doing preparation exercises to go to Vietnam. We did a major one at Shoalwater Bay where we were given four objectives, four company objectives for the four rifle companies and they were in the order A, B, C, D,
going north, so our objective was first away. But Harry was determined to show that we were better than anybody else, so we marched all night for two nights and arrived there before anybody got there, the other ones took our objective out, then came down south and took our, Charlie Company’s, objective before they got there and we finally got to the stage where the umpires just took us out of the exercise and said, “You guys take a couple of days off and everybody else catch up.”
At that time there was a song, a very popular song by Nancy Sinatra called ‘These boots were made for walking’ that was adopted by the company as the sort of company song and still the company badges have a little pair of boots on. So at that stage even, thought D Company hadn’t been in any action, we were already a pretty good company and very you know, quite proud of our ability
particularly to walk because we knew we could go there and get there faster than anyone else was sort of the company motto. So then we – oh a few other things happened along the way, I got married not a good thing to do when you’re a second lieutenant. There used to be a saying in the army that ‘subalterns shouldn’t, captains can and majors must,’ and that’s marry. I was a subaltern I shouldn’t have been getting married I was too young,
too junior but you know. Eventually we were warned to go to Vietnam and told we would be shipped out in June of ’66 and we were sent to Vietnam in privately hired aircraft, Boeing 707s, we staged through Manila and arrive in Vietnam and I remember very
clearly walking down the gangway of the aircraft and we had a lot of training prior to going about what Vietnam was going to be like and we were told that the bad guys would wear black pyjamas you know, but they didn’t tell us that everybody else in Vietnam wears black pyjamas too, so as we were walking down the gangway of the aircraft and seeing all these people in black pyjamas, “Hey, hey, hey shouldn’t we all be doing something?” But you know you learn as you go along
sort of thing. They took us to a place called Vung Tau, which is sort of a holiday place in Vietnam and was a great, was a very popular French resort when the French were in charge. And it was also a place that was unofficially a no fighting area. You’d often, you’d walk down the street in Vung Tau and see a young Vietnamese man and say, ‘Man I bet you’re on the other side when you’re not here.’ you know. But nobody ever threw grenades there
or there was no terrorist type activities there it was pretty well a safe haven place. We lived in tents and they put us through what they called ‘acclimatisation exercises’, which was basically designed to be a long walk in the hot sun, it was very hot with our full gear on you know, just to get accustomed to the weather, but the one – as we were going along suddenly there was a burst of machine gun fire over our heads
and of course it was the first lot of live rounds we’d ever heard and we took evasive action and went to cover and all those sort of things and then the answer came, was through the radios, came a story, ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam], that was the Vietnamese Army that were on our side, there was a raid somewhere by and they’d fired, and there were actually rounds going over our head, and I’m quite sure today, quite sure that was crap, somebody had decided, some of our people I’m sure, that
that would be good way to teach us what a live round sounds like, so they probably let a few burst, a few rounds go over our head. The same operation was quite memorable because we walked for about two days just around in a fairly safe area, but it was very hot and all of a sudden we got guys with heat prostration you know, a couple of guys fainted so the boss called for helicopters to take them out and as soon as the soldiers stopped there were blokes dropping everywhere, everybody
said, “Oh quick I’ve got heat prostration, I’ll go home on a helicopter.” So badly so that we had to sort of sort it out and say, “Look there’s no more helicopters.” And I remember one of my lance corporals was lying there sort of moaning and carrying on and I thought he was acting a bit and I said, “That’s the end of the helicopters, but what we can do seeing as you’re crook I’ll leave you here tonight with two guys to look after you and you make your own way back.” And he jumped straight and said, “No
I’m feeling better ‘skip’, I’m feeling better.” So we went back to Vung Tau and then eventually up to Nui Dat, which is where the battalion was based and where the Australian Army was based, basically for the whole of the Vietnam War. Nui Dat, at that stage, 5 Battalion had gone ahead of us and of course, they owned one half of the circle and we owned the other half of the circle and we dug in from scratch, which meant we put up our rolls of barbed wire and we
patrolled. There were nothing serious in the way of contacts for the first week or so, well I can remember taking my first patrol out and being terrified, thinking if this is real now, you know. We put up wire and we dug pits and we you know, sort of got into situations, had we been attacked we would’ve been reasonably safe. Well we
hoped we would’ve been reasonably safe. We were working very hard. The routine was for the three platoons in the company, each company has three platoons, three platoons would day patrol, day patrol, night ambush in a – and then back day patrol, day patrol, night ambush, no days off. So you would do patrols that were usually half platoon strength and after a while they decided that it was reasonable to let the
platoon commander take the patrol one day and the platoon sergeant take it the next day. So you did get a day off sort of thing, but on your day off you weren’t, you were digging pits you know, and preparing the camp and putting barbed wire out and all that sort of thing. There were some minor contacts. I do remember that on one of the night ambushes, the sergeant of Charlie Company
was I guy I’d known, was a guy I’d worked with actually, before I’d joined the army and they were doing a night ambush and they were attacked at night by a group of Viet Cong in the ambush position. The Viet Cong were obviously aware that the ambush was there and they attacked them and killed one of our guys and wounded one and our guys killed one of the VC [Viet Cong], but then they had to be taken out at night where they
were probably a mile, a mile and a half from the base camp in the jungle and they were ‘casevaced’ [casualty evacuation] out and the platoon sergeant, the guy in charge of the patrol wasn’t terribly sure of the procedures, none of us would’ve been cause none of us ever done it and you had to get a helicopter down in the jungle, which means that you’ve got to find a clearing or make a clearing, and that was probably our first experience of ‘Hello, this is a ‘fair dinkum’ [for real] business.’ We then did an operation,
just below Nui Dat there was a village called Hoa Long which had been totally evacuated by the Vietnamese Government. They said, “Nobody’s allowed to live there.” And we went through the clearing to make it safe and there were a lot of tunnels, there were tunnels everywhere in the village and everyday somewhere or other there would be a few shots fired, but we almost never, ever even saw the guy firing them. Some guy would pop out of the tunnel, let a few shots go just to keep our minds on
that I think. No real contacts there, there might’ve been a couple of ‘brush’ contacts I think. But the first contact my platoon had, we were south of Hoa Long and the company was patrolling as a company and then we stopped for some reason, I can’t remember what and when we stopped we would go into what we call ‘harbour positions’, where the platoon basically gets into all around the fence while it’s
stopped, so that if something comes along we’re in a position to fight and we’d done that and three guys just walked straight into us. They were walking along a sort of a track, which at that stage we hadn’t discovered, remember the platoon at this stage has just barely stopped and we’re still putting people on the ground and the first guy that saw them happened to be the only guy in the platoon who had be probably the least qualified to see them, who was the
stretcher bearer. Now stretcher bearers strictly speaking, shouldn’t even fight, they only carry weapons for their own defence. He’s like the medic, the ambulance man. He had an old Owen gun because of that reason; he wasn’t expected to use it. He had Owen guns, which were pretty useless over anything more than about fifteen or twenty metres, but he’s seen these guys and he’s hauled up and let a burst go and they of course run away, one of them’s dropped a rifle and we found big gouts
of blood, so he’d obviously hit the first guy, but we never caught them. We followed up, but those days we were only allowed to go so far. So that was probably the range of our own mortars or something like that, so we were told to abandon the chase and that was the first time we actually saw any action in my platoon. That was about, oh I don’t know, early in July, so we had been there for about a month. Interestingly
in that same operation we found a big tunnel and the entrance to the tunnel was a weapon pit and we didn’t send anyone down the tunnel, later on we would send ‘sappers’, engineers, down the tunnels but at that stage we sort of didn’t know what to do with it, so we reported it and the company commander said, the CO [Commanding Officer], the man in charge of the battalion – you understand these terms?
Soldiers talk in initials, yeah.
Yeah, that’s great we’ll go back and
ask you lots of details about this, but it’s really good that you’re on a roll.
The CO wanted to see the tunnel so the company commander, Major Smith, my boss said, “Send a small patrol back to me.” Which is only might’ve been four or five hundred metres through the bush to guide the CO and his party out to where the tunnel is, so I sent a lance corporal and two guys. And as they walked through the bush a figure in black pyjamas leaped up and
ran and the forward scout fired and killed, it was a woman and remember that she – she was in a totally forbidden area, but there were lots of people, sadly the kid was very badly upset, in fact he was no use any more, we really had to send him home. Interesting when the CO’s party there were probably ten or dozen people when you count the CO
and he’s got about three signallers and the man, the chief of artillery he’s got about three signallers and then there’s you know, bodyguards and all sorts of people, but about fifteen of them standing around this pit and all of sudden one of the guys on my perimeter, because my guys are out in a twenty or thirty metres out in an in a circle, saw some movement of some sort, could’ve been anything, might’ve been a water buffalo, but he’s gone “click, click” which is you know, ‘bad guys’ and I’ve turned around to say, “Hang on Sir
I’ll go and see what’s going on.” And these whole fifteen guys have jumped into this pit and there were feet and radio sets and things kicking up and the sergeant and I, we both burst out laughing, which didn’t go down too well with the CO, but it was funny. So were getting up towards Long Tan I guess, Long Tan was the next village east of us, so east of Hoa Long, so sort of south east of
where Nui Dat was, and over the sort of July early August period we did patrols, a lot of which went to the edges of Long Tan, usually again they were half platoon patrols. A half platoon patrol was really one section which is ten guys with one machine gun and one gun group and you’d take another gun group from another section, so that would be three guys with a machine gun. So you’d have the two machine guns and then you’d have the platoon
commander and his signaller and his stretcher bearer, poor old stretcher bearer has got every patrol because we only got one and that was basically fifteen guys so that was the size of the patrols. We did a lot of those. I took one around the middle of July down into the area between Long Tan and Hoa Long and we come across three guys we were going along in an arrowhead [formation] with the gun group on the
left and the rifle group on the right and the forward scouts saw one VC who was obviously a sentry for the group, the three of them, and they exchanged fire and I hooked the gun group in from the left and we killed the sentry guy, the other two had bugged out and we weren’t allowed to go any further to chase them. We followed up, radioed back and this was the first guy we’d seen,
the first casualty you know, the first enemy casualty we’d seen, it was a bit of a shock to everybody, but we took his weapon and his gear and buried him and took that back to camp when we went back. My company commander who as I say was a bit of tough bastard, I was expecting to get a pat on the back you know, ‘You’ve got one of the bad guys’. He said, “Where’s the other two?” That was the sort of guy he was, but those two fellows withdrew, withdrew straight down the track
towards Long Tan, but after that I took a patrol, I took a half platoon patrol which went through the rubber plantation which was north of Long Tan, where we eventually fought the battle, and there was nothing in the rubber plantation, it was empty and the other guys in the company, other platoon companies had done patrols through the same area, so at that stage we had no idea there was any real large force. We’d only ever come across these groups of three.
So that’s the middle of July, the last week in July we were doing a company operation and at one stage we were going along with 12 Platoon and company headquarters to the north and my platoon and 11 Platoon to the south in two groups and 12 Platoon hit some guys, probably again one of these groups of three. The classic VC was a group of three and they had a bit of
a fire fight and the VC ran away and Harry got on the radio and said, “They’re coming towards you.” Well we had just reached the edge of a big clearing and I just told 11 Platoon to stop where they were and I put my guys down along the edge of the clearing and this guy came running straight towards us. When he got about half way across, my platoon sergeant fired at him with a grenade launcher, which he shouldn’t have done. Everything was wrong about it,
that’s tactics, but anyway he killed the – we killed the guy by fire in the section in front of, and he fired and he killed him, but there were probably two more guys behind that we should’ve got and we didn’t get. So the platoon sergeant and I had a bit of a disagreement and I went to Harry and I said, “I won’t work with this guy so you’d better move him or move me.” So he was moved to the 11 Platoon and I got the 11 Platoon sergeant, we were both delighted about it to be quite frank.
So where were we then? We were heading towards August…
Just going to stop you there for a second…
There was another operation but I just can’t remember it we didn’t have too much contact with. The thing we were probably, the more we were learning at this stage well you know, you can only go by the experiences you had, every time we had a contact there was almost always just three guys
and they all bugged out they just ran for their lives you know, maybe fire a couple of shots, often the contacts I was involved in we might get one of the guys, but the other would run and get away so yeah, we got to the stage pretty well, if you got a contact you just chased after them you know. It all sounds a bit bloodthirsty I know, talking about it like this, but you know, as young soldiers we were sort of keen to do well you know, and
I think that’s pretty important when you think about what happened to a lot of them at Long Tan.
Don’t worry about that, we’ve heard really graphic stories and nothing offends us, so be free to tell the experiences as you experienced them.
Yeah, well probably we’re getting up towards Long Tan, now we weren’t there very long before it happened. We had a lot of reports of
anti-barrage enemy formations moving around the place, but we just never saw any. I spent nearly two thirds of the time I was in the army in intelligence, but that was after Vietnam and I know how frustrating it is and you get reports and you tell people and it doesn’t come true and they think ‘These guys are a bunch of donkeys.’ that they don’t know what they’re talking about and to be quite frank, if somebody told me there were two thousand people out in the Long Tan rubber plantation I would’ve said, “Rubbish.”
So that was the attitude that we had at around that time. The actual time of the battle or about the 16th [of August 1966], two days before my platoon was sent to do what was called ‘shotgun duty’ on the APCs [Armoured Personnel Carriers]. The APCs would, as well as the daily duties, would take convoy duties up and down to Vung Tau in a supply convoys and things like that and
the APC just consists of a square tank type thing with one commander and one driver and that’s really not enough to fight the damn thing if they do get into trouble, so we had to carry a section of troops. And so one of the platoons from one of the battalions was always rostered to be with the APC squadron to ride ‘shotgun’ for them, to put troops on to go up and down the road if there was a problem. And at night time to provide perimeter defence for them because
the way their squadron is designed, they haven’t got enough troops sort of thing to man piquets and all that sort of thing, so I think we used to get about four days – every now and then you would get about four day job at the APC squadron. So I was doing that on the time up to the battle. So on the 17th of August my platoon was up in the – was not with my company, was up in the APC squadron,
and in the middle of the night the base was fired on by what we thought at the time were mortars, none landed anywhere near where I was, we could hear them going off and we got the reports on the radios what was going on, but again we sort of thought, well this is a bit of ‘opportunity’ stuff, they’d brought in a mortar team, got close enough and then they fired twenty or thirty rounds
and then gone for their lives. But there were some people injured by the shelling and the next day was the 18th, I came back to the company, I was ordered to go back to the company and the company was ordered to mount a three day operation, company size operation. What had happened on the – sorry it must’ve been the 16th we were mortared, the 17th I think the B Company platoon went out, yes, one of the
other companies went out to try and find these guys. And they found the position from where mortar and rocket launchers had fired and empty shells and things like that, but there was only a platoon and the company headquarters and they’d been out for a day and only had a day’s rations and that sort of thing, so they had to be relieved, so D Company was mounted to do a three day operation to sweep the area and see if we could catch these guys that had fired at us. You’ve probably heard this before. That of course was the day of
the first concert in camp – the first concert we were all going to have and we were most cheesed off to be told we were going out in the bush. So we mounted up our three day’s rations, which is – that’s about as much as a man can carry and that’s about long as you can carry it on your back. And weapons you know, ammunition and that sort of thing. And we set off about ten o’clock in the morning
to walk out to – to patrol out to where B Company was and you know, I can remember quite clearly, we were walking out, you could hear the guys tuning their guitars and that you know, for the concert which was going to start about midday. And we were most – a bunch of pissed off soldiers totally you know. And we got out to where B Company was and found them and saw the position and we had a quick lunch there
with them you know, it was just probably a tin of meat or something and then they went back to camp and we set off to follow the track, there were two tracks. We started off one, one platoon up which is pretty well the standard way of moving and my platoon we went up through the rubber, not very far, probably only a couple of hundred yards and the track split quite obviously you know, we were following a track that had been made by men
walking a couple of days ago obviously, not just an old beaten track sort of thing. And it split into two and I got on the radio and the area unit split into two and he said, “Okay well you take the left fork and I’ll send 11 up the right fork.” So we then went two platoons up, which is not common because it’s quite a big formation, but we were in the rubber plantation which is a lot more open than the jungle you know, it’s lines of trees and there’s
a little bit of undergrowth but there’s not much, you know. So ‘Sharpie’ [2nd Lieutenant Sharp] and 11 Platoon have gone pretty well straight ahead, up through the centre of the rubber and I’ve gone round the edge of it like that, and the next minute, as we came to a track, like a road really, with two actual fences along each side of it which went right through the rubber, it was even marked on the map in fact, and just as you’re patrolling, you never cross a thing like that without doing what they call ‘obstacle crossing drill’,
so you put some people on the ground, facing both ways and then you send somebody across and they face both ways on the track, over where you’re going and you go across in jumps, so if something happens or if they’ve got a machine gun pitched up the track that you don’t know about, you’ve got something on the ground to fight back if you get shot, so we did that to get across, you know. And nothing happened and then as we were just ‘shaking out’ [resuming standard formation] again and I was travelling in an arrowhead, one up, which is,
the first section is in a ‘V’ like that and myself and the platoon headquarters here and then the two other sections are coming along in single file like that, so it’s like a big arrow and like I said, we just shook out and started to move again, when firing broke out up to our right and there was a slight hill up to where they were, not a hill, but a slight rise, and I guess they would’ve been two hundred yards away, something like that, through the rubber.
And Sharpie came up on the radio and said they’d hit a bunch of guys, apparently three fellas just sort of walked into them, they’d killed one or something and the others bugged off and of course they just went after them, through the rubber, running and of course they run straight in front of a regiment, which is probably, you’ve heard about from them, which is a pretty bad thing to happen to them. And that stage I said to my – we
used to patrol, what you call a patrol order is everything you fight with is on your belt and your water is on your belt, you have enough water to survive on and the rest of your stuff, your rations and your sleeping bag and your mosquito net and that sort of thing and sadly also our entrenching tool, which is the thing we dig trenches with, are put on your big pack, so if you get into a contact, you just drop that pack where it stays and you haven’t got as near as much to carry,
but you’ve got all the things you need to survive with on you, so I just said to my guys, “Drop your packs.” and shook on, brought them up in a ‘two up vice’, brought another section up on the right cause I thought of for sure we would be going in from the left and then the firing was just getting a bit louder and louder, more and more fire up to the right, and Sharpie came up on the radio and said something like, “It’s too big for me, I think it’s a least a platoon.”
you know. Your general tactic is that you don’t try to attack anything unless you’ve got it outnumbered about three to one you know, that’s a sensible way to do things. If it’s a platoon then it should be a company that attacks it, something three times the size sort of thing, if a section well then a platoon can attack. So I thought immediately ‘Well okay, this is fine, I’m on the left flank, I’m going to be the assault platoon, other people will stay rear and provide fire support and 12 Platoon will be the reserve platoon.’ so I shook
them out into assault formation and then Sharpie comes and says, “No it’s even.” – it’s very hard for me to do much on the radio at all because that was where the action was and he was talking all the time to the company commander and he was calling for artillery fire and he come up and said something like, “They’re going to attack me.” Which was you know, we all sort of said, “Shit, this is not in the rules.” you know, we’re supposed to be more than them.
I then got through on the radio and I said to Harry, I could go forward on the left and he said, “Yeah go.” Just like that and so we went forward and that’s when the rain started we just stepped off and down she came. It did it every afternoon you know, three o’clock every afternoon in Vietnam it just buckets down and that’s in the monsoon season anyway, so we sort of – we advanced forward and at this stage I’m two platoons up, and myself and the
signaller and the stretcher bearer in the centre of the two, but we’re probably here and they’re probably, here from the wall away, in front of us you know, and we walked through and nothing and we were just going towards the sound of the firing and then we saw a little bit of a lump like that and as we went over, there’s this bunch of guys going like that. In front of us, they’re in line so we’re coming like that and they’re about like that. And at first I thought they might be 11 Platoon, I really did
because they were all wearing green uniforms, which, I should’ve twigged straight away, but I didn’t, so I just kept thinking, I was going and yeah, when we got another ten yards on, you could see they were carrying AK47s and they had little you know, so I just said, “Fire!” And I just went down on my knee and started to fire and the guys did, and we just all dropped down and fired and ‘heeooo’ wiped them right out. The guys further to the left, turned left and just trotted away
that’s the best, that’s the way I would describe it anyway. Now there may have been a bugle, I don’t know, their bugles blew all bloody afternoon but that probably was a bugle call that said, you know, ‘cut out’, but of course as soon as they cleared, we got up again and kept going towards 11 Platoon and we got maybe only thirty or forty metres and wow, we got it. Hit from our front and from the left and the first guy
hit in the platoon, and I think it had to be a sniper I reckon, was my signaller who was hit through the chest luckily, high and right through the radio and that, had to be deliberate I reckon. It could’ve been worse they could’ve gone for the platoon commander. And there were two or three guys hit in the left hand section but nobody badly, so I put on the ground again and we tried to get the radio going, which we couldn’t do. Young Horne, who subsequently died,
poor bugger, he didn’t die from that, he came back to Australia and died a couple of years later.
Interviewee: Geoffrey Kendall Archive ID 2139 Tape 02
Where are we? We’ve just been…
Just fixing the radio?
Yeah, trying to fix the radio yeah, well we couldn’t fix it, the bullet went right through it, so at that stage I had I think, four wounded and none serious. The one that was probably the most serious, the bullet went right through him, but they seemed to miss all the important bits.
One of the guys wounded was Johnny Cash who was lance corporal and all the left hand section, he was 2IC [Second In Command] of the left hand section, so I said to him, “Look take these guys, just crawl out the back till you get out of the fire fight, just go straight back there, you’ll find the company, it’s only a couple hundred yards back. Tell Harry that the radio’s out, I’ve had a couple of casualties, but I’m going to try and go forward by ‘fire and movement’.” And that’s what they did. And then we tried by fire and movement, fire and movement is just basically these guys fire while those guys
move and then those guys go to ground and they fire and these guys move you know, but the whole principle of that is that the guys who are firing are supposed to be keeping the heads down but we couldn’t see the bloody enemy in the pouring rain and they’re you know, they’re a sort of a hundred or so yards away from us, but you couldn’t sort of see guys to fire at and a lot of them were dug in and I think there were guys in trees too, I’m sure about that. I really think they might’ve been up the rubber trees, some of them anyway.
So we did that and we did about two leaps forward and I had another couple of guys wounded, it was obvious to me that we weren’t suppressing their fire, so if I just keep doing that I’m going to end up with nobody, which is not much point in that, so we’d stop there, hold it there and stopped on the deck and got the other wounded guys back and got organised and then we got mortared or hit by artillery fire, again we don’t know.
I thought it was mortar fire, but certainly about twelve rounds of some large shell thing went off on us and around us and one of them was between me and where Neil Rankin, my platoon sergeant and he would’ve had the stretcher bearer probably or the orderly, no the stretcher bearer. I saw the round go off and I thought it landed right on top of them and in fact Rankin himself, he lives down at Bribie
too, was lifted off the ground with the force of it, right off the ground, but not a scratch and nobody else hurt, we were very lucky, maybe because the ground was wet it could’ve been enemy mortars or it could’ve been our artillery, I don’t know. At about that stage though, out of the rubber behind me comes a fella called Akell, It was Akell who was reserve signaller in the company headquarters
and Harry had sent him forward with the – with a spare radio so I got on the radio and said, “I’ve taken a few casualties I’m not getting anywhere with fire and movement but I can hold but what do you want me to do?” He said, “No, bring your guys back to me and we’ll form a company position here.” So we did the fire movement thing again instead we’re going this way this time and we only had to go really thirty or forty metres the same thing for them, they couldn’t see what they were firing at either,
so we got out of the fire fight area and went back to company headquarters. When I got back there Colonel Harry said, “Right put your platoon down facing the south east.” Which is basically where 11 Platoon had gone, up towards where 11 Platoon had gone. So he put me down in – put them all down around the fence and one of the company headquarters and one of the sections of 12 Platoon, filling in the backs, the back segment and he said what the other two sections
straight up the same track, 11 Platoon had taken and basically the same thing happened to them. They went as far forward as they could go and got stopped by fire and things like that; this is getting fair way into the battle at this stage, I suppose an hour’s gone by, still raining pretty heavily, we saw from where we were, we were seeing people moving
all the time, large movement, a group moved across my front in fact got into where our packs were. We fired on them, but they were sort of too far away to be sure of getting them and ammunition was already starting to become a problem. Another group moved down to the south of us. Up in 12 Platoon they threw smoke, which allowed the 11 guys, what was left of 11 Platoon, to see that they were ‘friendlies’ and they just got up and bolted and came back to them and eventually
back through the company. My ex-platoon sergeant who was at that stage running 11 Platoon came back in and I said, “Where’s Mr Sharp?” and he said, “Oh he’s been dead for about an hour.” “Shit!” you know, because you know Sharpie was a very, very close friend and you just sort of think you’re immortal, you can’t imagine you’re going to get killed or someone really close is going to get killed but of course, poor old 11 at that stage, had lost eleven or twelve blokes.
They went through us and formed a base of a perimeter and we had a little bit of a lull in the fighting then the American Air Force went overhead and they were so far up that they couldn’t see us, dropped their bombs about five mile in front of us, totally useless. We sort of consolidated, and in that period is when the helicopters came in and dropped the ammunition to us. They basically just
hovered above us and kicked the boxes out and my platoon sergeant went off with the CSM [Company Sergeant Major]and other platoon sergeants and broke them up and threw them around to the guys so we got some ammunition. At that stage I forgot to say the first time, I changed my magazine on my Armalite in the initial contact you know, I fired twenty rounds and I changed the magazine and the first round of fire exploded in the thing that’s what they call the ‘separated case’ and when the thing, the block goes forward and pull the empty round out
because the round is stuck in there it pulls the back of the round you know tears the end off it so the case is still in it and the only way to get it out is if you’ve got a… which I didn’t have, but I did have Brian Horman that’s my CO’s SLR [Self Loading Rifle], but it only had one magazine because his magazines were in his pouches, so I was like that for most of the battle so I was quite delighted when they threw a few SLR rounds around. Not that I, mind you I wasn’t
in it really to shoot people you know. My job was to make sure that the other guys were shooting people, but it gets to a stage, well it got to the stage in the battle where you were shooting people on necessity. So we got the ammunition which was good, the fact that we had a bit of a lull and were able to get the ammunition was probably a big thing in keeping us going and then we saw them form up and they formed up basically the way that the other guys had come up, where 11 Platoon had been and when the rain was easing, still
raining but easing, you could see further and they – if we’d been doing it, would’ve done exactly the same thing, they formed up in line abreast eight or ten metres between men, walked at a fast walking pace with a reserve force about fifty, sixty metres behind them and that was when our artillery really came in and was really good because
the first group, the assault group would come in and they would usually get in under the artillery but the artillery would come in and the reserve group just ‘whoorgh’ just like a pack of cards. Wipe out. We wouldn’t, “Fire.” There wasn’t any singing out of, “Fire,” or “Don’t fire,” because first of all the noise was so loud you wouldn’t hear anyway, but secondly everybody knows to wait until they’re close enough sort of thing. So my guys would fire when they were about thirty,
thirty, forty metres out and you know we’d hold, knock them over the other guys, the guys they didn’t kill sadly would go to ground with the other fellows and then they’d be sniping at us in between the assaults and that’s where I lost all of my guys really. A fella called Rick Aldersea he was the machine gunner on the left hand section.
So where I… Rick Aldersea was machine gunner because where you have this, what we’d pieced together sort of thing, I don’t think he – well he didn’t live to tell us, but he moved his gun position and I would think he had a line of rubber trees and they were getting in his way or something so he’s moved to get a better position and of course one of these guys saw him and shot him and Maxie Wales was number two on the gunner, you have a rifleman whose job it is to help
the gunner and take over of course if he gets killed, and he went to get the gun and he got killed probably by the same guy. But of course that happened at that stage, I didn’t actually see it happen, I know from the section commander that it happened and Jack Jewry he was lance corporal, 2IC of the right hand section, but I don’t know what happened but I guess he got sniped too. But to give you an example Akell, the fella who brought the radio forward, he stayed with me as the signaller, for the rest
of the battle and he’s on the other side of the rubber tree from me and at one stage he went just like that, and went ‘bang’ and shot a VC [Viet Cong], he was about where that board is and he’d crawled in between the two forward sections, so that was the guys who were still surviving, so they were pretty brave they were. And there were two assaults, like two major assaults. Like there was a bit of, there was fire fighting and that going on in between, but two major shots, where they actually
formed up a company and attacked. Second one pretty much the same as the first. We stopped the assault rank and the artillery stopped the reserve rank, by this stage it’s just about dark and we’re getting really low on ammunition, I had about twelve rounds left I think and again, I wasn’t doing that much shooting probably, as the guys up the front. The problem then was darkness,
if they assaulted after dark you know, they’re going to get in amongst us and we were going to have to stand up and fight them and we didn’t even have bayonets, which was bad, we should’ve had bayonets. That’s another story that I forgot to tell you at the start. At one stage, early in the piece, we were doing these fleeting patrol contacts. Myself and the two other platoon commanders were sitting around talking he said, “Why the bloody hell do we carry bayonets, every time you go to ground they dig in you know and they’re out of date, they’re useless,
haven’t used them since the First World War,” sort of thing, “Why do we carry them?” So we got all ‘het’ [upset] up about it and went to Harry and said, “We think bayonets are bloody useless we shouldn’t be carrying them.” He said, “Well I’ll leave it up to you, it’s your platoon, you tell them that if they don’t want to carry bayonets they don’t have to, your responsibility.” So most of us didn’t, also a lot of us, look at me, my weapon, ordinary weapon was an Armalite, which was a second-hand American one like that we got from the Yanks you know, so I didn’t
even have the bayonet for it. We didn’t carry bayonets is the bad thing and believe me there is nothing more, that grabs your attention more when the enemy who have got bayonets, you think, ‘oh shit’ and if we stand up and get involved in the bayonet fight, they’re going to be at a little bit of an advantage and that’s about the time – that’s about the first time I thought it might be the end of the little ‘fat fella’.
And just around, almost the same time, just exactly as it was getting dark in fact, if you saw it in a movie you wouldn’t believe it, there was a big roaring up to the right of where we were and this is to my memory right, other people saw it differently, but the way I saw it, three APCs come roaring up on the right hand side, they raced for it, they were all firing their machine guns and they went about a hundred yards in front of the level where we were
and stopped and continued firing. One of the guys got killed but all across our front the VC just got up and started to withdraw and we’re still shooting, but they’re all just starting to withdraw and I reckon their commander just said, “Oh this must be reinforcements, looks like we’ve lost this one, let’s get out of here.” So they did and that was pretty much the end of the battle as far as the serious part.
Shortly afterwards the APCs came through the back with troops onboard, which was A Company had been sent out to relieve us and you know we started to find the dead guys and sort out who was wounded and who wasn’t and all that sort of thing. And we were all in shock sort of thing you know, people just looking at each other and nobody even talking really.
And they decided we’d pick up the wounded guys put them on the APCs take them back out of the rubber plantations to a place where the helicopters could come and get them, so we did that. The helicopters came after some problems. Sadly our guys, I was a lot more critical then than I am now, but our pilots just weren’t trained, they’d been there as long as we had, they’d never done this
they’d never gone in at night to get the wounded guys and they wouldn’t land, they kept saying, “We don’t know where you are, show us a light.” “Oh shine the light out and they’ll see us!” and all this sort of thing. And then they had one American ‘dust off’ [helicopter evacuation], where they got him from, I don’t know, but he sort of came in, put his landing lights on and went ‘plonk’ and we put as many on him as we could and I think the other guys said, “That’s what we’ve got to do.” And they did it, so they took the wounded out on the choppers then we just sat there all night, we didn’t have any food because the packs were still up in the,
up in the ‘boonies’ [the bush], I think we managed to brew up a few hot drinks, all in all a bit of shock and then the next morning the boss come in and said, “Right we’re going to assault, back in again.” I remember thinking ‘bloody hell’, I thought they would’ve used A Company you know, but now I realise why they did it. I don’t know if you know this, if you look at the figures, the survivors
from Long Tan, there was about a hundred and eight of us, of whom ninety odd survived or ninety two survived, then cases of bad PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and stuff like that, we all got a bit of it, but the really bad cases, we were way below the national average because we went back in and as we went back in, we saw what we’d done. You know, even as it was in front of 11 Platoon, where 11 Platoon were first
stopped, they’d cleaned out all the VC bodies from there, why, we went forward the first time, no bodies they’re all gone, the VC were very good at taking their bodies away but they still managed to leave two hundred and fifty. You know and even that was not true, we spent all day burying them and counting them and all that and there was a big urgency from Australia to know the figure because they’d already been told that eighteen of our guys were dead and that’s a major
tragedy, so they wanted to know if they’d taken all the VC bodies away and oh, we’d all be ‘crazy’. The brigadier said, and I heard him say it, he said, “Right whatever the count is at, fifteen hundred is what we’ll send to Australia.” And it was two hundred and forty-five and they found another thirty or forty before night fall and we found tracks of them and graves for weeks afterwards. Now we, D Company, didn’t
kill all those guys, probably more than half would’ve been killed by the artillery, but we gave them a major headache. Yeah so you know, we buried them all and sat around for that day and most of the next one I think. And then they pulled the officers out, pulled us out, for a bloody press conference or something and the soldiers, we pulled them out and sent them down to Vung Tau for a swim and a
day or two off and remember that was – we got there in June and that was August and we still had ten months to go. So that was Long Tan anyway.
When you look back at that now, what you said that you have suffered a little bit of PTSD from that, what are the strongest images that remain with you?
If I have bad dreams, if I have
military bad dreams, it’s always – there’s always a lack of something, something doesn’t work or we don’t have ammunition. That’s one thing that really gets me. I’m a lot better now, maybe, than I was say, four or five years ago. I still occasionally awake and I’m sure there’s some bugger in the house and I lie there really quiet trying to hear where he is so I can, you know that sort of thing, a few bad dreams but they’re not as bad as they were I guess.
See I served another twenty years in the army after that, so I had a different background to a lot of the guys. The worst cases I think are the guys who were wounded on the day and went straight home. You know if you talk to them, you know there’s a fella who lives here on the island that I know, Dennis Spencer, badly shot up, spent twelve months in hospital when he got home you know, he woke up on a bloody Hercules with dead bodies in
body bags, on the same plane, goes home doesn’t know what happened, never saw the battlefield, he can only read in the paper what happens; probably couldn’t read the paper for a month or so. You know, all he can think of is the bad parts you know, that’s pretty awful, to say it was good, seeing all the dead enemy but it bloody was you know. I can’t, can’t deny that if I thought we lost those guys for nothing yeah, you’d be a
lot worse I think.
Did they really have a press conference afterwards?
They had a sort of a press conference down at…
Can you explain what happened there?
Look I was – Harry did all the talking, there were a few guys come up and spoke to him, he did a big press conference in Saigon and that.
But did it seem crazy at the time to be talking about it, so soon after to the press?
Oh no not really. Uh…
I mean what would happen – who were they talking to in that situation?
Talking to Harry Smith the company commander, major in charge of the company.
Who was Harry talking to?
Oh just reporters from AIP [Australian Independent Press] and all those sort of people and military people too, of course you now. But you know the best possible stories in one of the papers; one of the Sydney papers, about two days after the battle has big
headlines, “VC concentrated on National Servicemen. Enemy attacking at Long Tan concentrated on the young inexperienced National Servicemen?” How the bloody hell would they know the difference? Most of the regular soldiers truly, most of the regular soldiers were younger than National Servicemen. The national service guys were all twenty, all the same age. Most of them had the same bloody birthday in fact or close to a few days. The regulars I had about six ‘regs’ and twenty odd National Servicemen, were almost all eighteen or nineteen. No they had to be nineteen to go,
nineteen years old, so for weeks afterwards after, all around the camp, all the regular soldiers wore a cardboard thing saying, “Regular, don’t shoot me.”
Can you describe a little bit more the clean up of the bodies, how that was organised and how you went about that?
Well it wasn’t done very well because it was a physically huge job.
We had A Company was helping and a company of 5RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] was helping, they just gave us areas and told us to count them, then dig pits as deep as we could and put them in you know, which we did later. I believe engineers went out and dug a really big pit. We’ve subsequently received reports from the, supposedly,
from the Vietnamese that they were impressed with the fact that we did bury them, that we didn’t just leave them there, that’s hardly the situation you know, but it was a lousy job it really was, because by day too in the tropics, oh it’s awful you know. Yeah I know a huge amount of weapons, we counted all the weapons, there were two prisoners quite interesting stuff. One little prisoner was a little North Vietnamese guy; he was only a kid too. And he was just
absolutely terrified, I guess to him we looked like ‘bloody spacemen’ we were bigger and we were bloody – got different gear on and he would’ve told you anything you wanted to know. They were talking to him, and that’s interesting because they did say to him, “What were your orders? What were you doing?” And he said, “We were going to attack the foreign soldiers on the hill.” So there had been a lot of arguments about what they were doing. They were going to attack the base camp
that night I’m sure, that’s the truth. The other little guy was a local, a local VC from D445, a local battalion, and he was shot in the groin had a hole in his groin with very rough treatment to it, you know and he was just totally, he said, “I don’t give a stuff, I’m not going to tell you nothing and you can do what you bloody like.” He said it all in Vietnamese and was translated, but that was the attitude, a very tough little guy.
They were sort of you know, all we had was our intelligence officer who was a captain-infantryman, not really trained and he’s just trying to find out basically who they were and where they come from and where they might’ve gone. And you know we found out, of course they were a North Vietnamese Regiment 275. And another interesting thing, as we were driving down to Vung Tau, a couple of days later in Baria which is the
main town in the area, there’s a great big banner warmly congratulating, I’ve got a photo of it somewhere, congratulating the ‘Australian Forces on their heroic victory over the 275 North Vietnamese Regiment’. I often wonder if they had another one which said, ‘Warmly welcoming the 275.’ just waiting to see who won, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, yeah.
Going to take
you back to the beginning and then we’ll definitely go through that story again, if you don’t mind…
I just want to hear a little bit more about your childhood and growing up in Brisbane at that time, it’s sort of interesting just after the Second World War had finished, is that right?
Well yeah, I was born in ’41 so I was four when it finished yeah.
Can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up and your family?
Yeah we grew up, I started off as I say, my first memories are Sandford, which was then just a little country town, a little country place.
I started school there, I was only four and a half when I started school there, they had things called prep classes. Prep ‘one’, I think you did prep one and two in the first six months, prep three and four in the second six months that was your first year of school. Somewhere I’ve got a photo of my class. Had to walk to school, it was just you know probably I don’t know, a mile and a half or so, very exciting you know, big time. There were only two classrooms, they had all the kids up to about eleven in one
classroom and the kids – and the teacher there was Mr so and so and Mr so and so taught there. That’s pretty much all I can remember of Sandford, I was pretty young. We moved to Manly and we lived on a – near the beach just up the hill from the beach in a rented house. My Dad was working then as a builder’s labourer and he also drove the bus that took all the other builders
labourers to and from work, he had two jobs. I was started off school at a little convent which was just up the hill from where we lived but after a year or so there I remember, I was always the top of the class at the convent and they sent me to the state school and I went down to about twenty, it was a bit different so I think…
What do you remember of the convent?
We had a nun called Sister Bernard, who was the head teacher. I reckon she was about late twenties,
in those days they wore the full gear you know, the full wimple and the thing like a thing and the big boots under the long skirt thing, you know but Sister Bernard would come out and teach us soccer. We were all seven, eight year olds and she could run and kick a bloody football with the habit on. Oh, she was our idol, old Sister Bernard and she is also the one that gave you the cuts [strokes of the cane] if you got into trouble, so she was a bit of a figure.
Did you ever get the cuts?
I’m trying to remember, not then I don’t think.
I might’ve been a bit of a ‘goody goody’ I think, I don’t know. Yeah and I was an altar boy for a while and I remember I – when you started off as an altar boy, they had in those days four altar boys for Mass and they were graded in seniority and the fourth guy was called the ‘dummy’, he was the dummy and he didn’t do anything except repeat the prayers, in Latin too of
course. So I’m lined up to do my first day’s altar boy and I’m going to be dummy, I’m going to just learn the ropes slowly and that’s on a week day morning and Mass is at six o’clock, it’s lucky it’s only up the hill, so I go up there and I get my little surplice and thing on and go up and kneel down by the side of the altar and go fast asleep and the nuns were trying to wake me up, they’re all out – the nuns are coming out carrying the wine and water and all that sort of stuff
cause I had crashed, gone to sleep.
So you family was quite religious for you to go…
My Mum was, yeah, my Mum was a pretty strong Catholic, Dad was Church of England or something both of them didn’t go much.
How many brothers and sisters did you have?
I’ve got, had three brothers and one sister, two brother older, one brother who wasn’t even born at that stage he was eleven years younger than me
and the oldest and the youngest are both dead, my two brothers.
And what was your mum like?
She was the same sort of that era of women you know, that they were bloody tough, really tough you know, cause I mean Dad was away overseas in World War II for five years or something, got home once, once on leave or some bloody thing, in four or five years
but they were all the same you know. All my uncles were all in the army, all our friends, they were all in the army, so all the women were just on their own. They did all the raising, all the bringing up, we were certainly dirt poor, I know that. You know we didn’t have too much money, even in my early sort of years, up to the early teens, kids didn’t eat meat very much, in the family meat was for the man who was
doing the work and he was doing physical work in those days so…
What did you eat then?
A lot of cheese and macaroni and onion fritters, I’ll never eat another onion fritter in my life I don’t think. Oh I guess we got meat but it wasn’t a sort of regular thing. You know and chickens, you got a chicken every Christmas Day that was the only time you got a roast chicken that I can remember as a kid, it just wasn’t the food that people had. You might,
if you got a roast chicken because you had a few chickens out the back, you feed yourself.
So the family had been quite affected by the Depression?
Oh yeah, yeah two of my uncles were ‘swaggies’ [itinerant workers] if you like, they rolled their swag and walked, see my Mum was a country girl, she came from out near, past Gunnedah and a big family, think there were nine of them survived and the younger
boys just in the early thirties just rolled their swag and just went from farm to farm, trying to get a day’s work for a feed, sort of thing. My father was a, his father brought his whole family from New South Wales up to Queensland as a ring barker, a contract ring barker which is almost dirt poor subsistence job, you ring bark trees for a living and you’d probably get paid a pound for a hundred acres or something, pretty hard ‘yakka’ [work].
So Dad was he was used to hard work.
Do you remember when he came home?
No not from the war no, I was only four. I reckon I can remember them dropping the bomb on Hiroshima but I don’t know I remember that, it was such a big thing and we had radios at least we had radios. I just remember a big kafuffle [fuss] I think, that when they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
I don’t remember my father coming home, no.
Did he ever talk about his experiences in World War II?
Not much. He didn’t see action at all, I don’t think. He was transport corps sergeant and he drove trucks and that you know he saw I remember his telling us about seeing aircraft fighting, dog fights in Egypt but no he didn’t talk much.
So if he was away for five years did he do the
Middle East and the Pacific as well?
Yeah, yeah, came back from the Middle East and I think they had leave and then went off to New Guinea. My uncle, his younger brother had his eighteenth birthday in Tobruk, the Battle of Tobruk put his age up to go, cause his brothers were going in the Battle of Tobruk, but he wouldn’t talk about it much either. Oh well yeah, he told me a few stories but it would take a bit if you
get a few beers into him sort of thing.
What stories do you remember he told you?
I remember him telling me about some prank he pulled cause he was only a kid, he pulled some prank which he got himself in terrible trouble over it, I can’t remember exactly what it was, it was something to do with boots. They all took their boots off to clean them or something like that and he hid them all or some damn thing and got into terrible trouble for it. I can remember him telling us about fighting in a machine gun pit against Germans in armoured trucks
the forerunners of the APCs I guess but I think he was sort of number two on the gun and he was mostly just feeding the belt into the gun and the guys were a fair way away, it wasn’t hand to hand stuff sort of thing.
Yeah so he was fighting in a pit he was telling you that story…
So what did the family do for Anzac Day?
Well Anzac Day used to be a great day back in those days, you wouldn’t miss it.
We used to go, my earliest memories was we used to go and get on top of a building, top of quite a big building in the city because the whole streets would be lined with people and watch the parades and they’d all march, my father and uncles would all march.
How would you get on the building then?
I don’t know, I know we used to get on top of the building and there would be a lot of other people there too. Maybe they hired them out or
something I don’t know. It was just a good place to watch from especially if you were a kid because if you were down in the streets you wouldn’t see anything. Funnily enough about four years ago most of the company survivors we met in Tamworth for Anzac Day there and it was a parade very similar to the old ones, they were six and eight deep on the street.
How did you fell seeing your father march?
Oh great like all kids, it’s terrific.
So do you remember what sort of concept you had of war when you were growing up?
Oh pretty simple I think, there were the good guys and the bad guys and we were the good guys.
Did you play war as kids?
Yeah for sure. I never really, well probably if I had had my choice and the financial situation had been okay I would’ve gone to be a naval officer, if I had had a choice. But there was no
poss – certainly in those days economics certainly dictated a lot of what kids did in their future lives. You had to pay to go to university and to be quite frank in ’56, I graduated from school junior then was regarded as pretty high education, year ten, only people that went to year twelve were people with money in my experience.
And you were at Cleveland High School?
Wynnum sorry, Wynnum. So what was Wynnum High School
Oh it was a great school. High and Intermediate [Certificate], so you started there a year before scholarship which is year eight was it, year eight I think. Then year eight and year nine were intermediate school and then years… is that right? Doesn’t sound right. Yeah cause there’s four years of high school isn’t there, two years for junior and two years for senior. Yeah see in the –
qualifications for an army officer through OCS [Officer Cadet School] was junior with the proviso that you get your ‘senior’. So you’d get a senior pass on your own time before you were promoted full lieutenant but you could go to an army education place to do it; that’s what I did you know.
That was a few years later after school?
Yeah after Vietnam.
Did you like school?
No not much. I wasn’t much of a scholar really well
I’m not kidding myself when I say I’m pretty intelligent, I’m reasonably intelligent, I know my OAR [Office of the Academic Registrar] rating, which is how they grade you in the army, but I wasn’t much of a student, I was more interested in playing football and doing all those sort of things. And that’s why I finished my last year of school at Marist Brothers at Ashgrove, as a boarder because at that stage, my Dad had improved his status a bit. He started off he left being a builders’ labourer and went to work selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners
and within two years he was the manager, the state manger he really went well and the financial situation changed a bit and he could afford to send me to boarding school. And boarding school, well in those days Marist Brothers, I met a guy the first day, the first bloke I spoke to in my class I said, “What’s it like?” And he said, “Today’s terrific, they never hit you the first day.” They probably hit me every other day from then
What the other students or the brothers?
No, no the brothers.
Why, did you want to go there?
No I hated it actually, but it’s like all things you only remember the good parts. I can remember the football was great; it was a good football school. I know they played [Rugby] Union instead of [Rugby] League.
But that must’ve been devastating having to go from League to Union?
Were you in a Wynnum team?
Yeah we were a
State High team.
That’s right, you were in State League Rugby team?
Yeah like I was playing for Wynnum and them and you go to trials and we got selected for New South Wales as a curtain raiser to Queensland playing New South Wales at the ‘Gabba’ [football ground].
Can you tell us about that that experience?
Oh it was sensational, I wasn’t much good at it I… they said they were having the trials and the coach of the football team he was one of the teachers at the high school
said, “I think you and you and you and you should go and any of you other guys think you have a chance put your hand up.” And, “I’ll have a go.” And I went and I must’ve just been a bit lucky, I played really well. I was a forward, a second row forward in those days. I played pretty well in one of the games and they then picked a Brisbane side to play south west Queensland I think. Which was basically Ipswich and Toowoomba…
no I’m not sure I made reserve for the Brisbane side and I was rapt again. Just anything and then we played the next level which was against Ipswich and Toowoomba I think and I scored a try and I played pretty well and they picked the Queensland team from that. Oh it was big time. I was very rapt in that. And then we ran out to play out at the Gabba and it was a curtain raiser to Queensland versus New South Wales
and the crowd roared. There was fifty thousand people or something and the crowd roared and that’s about all I remember about the game but oh it was because we were the main curtain raiser too. Only about this big you know. And it’s funny it was a sixteen Queensland side. I can name probably five of those guys who most people in rugby league would know their names. Kevin Yoyeh was one, he was an aboriginal kid for Gladstone. Later played for Redcliffe
in Queensland. Then Ronny Henry played for Toowoomba and Ronny Callaghan played for Tara for me in Toowoomba that was all these kids in that one team. Yeah I’ve got a photo of it somewhere. I’ll show you if I can find it.
Interviewee: Geoffrey Kendall Archive ID 2139 Tape 03
So in that final year at school at the Marist Brothers, did you have any particular hopes or ambitions about what you might do when you left school?
No, I think I was pretty well, I was sort of channelled towards being an electrician. My older brother was an electrician at that stage he’d just about finished his time as an apprentice and it was a pretty good job and the sort of social group that we were in a tradesman was a good thing to be
so I pretty well accepted the fact that I was going to be an electrician when I left school. I didn’t have any chance, but I got a reasonable pass for junior, mainly because the brothers don’t let you get a bad pass, they just beat you till you get a good one. That was a bit of shock it really was the old brothers. I remember one English class, an English lesson one day we were doing ‘Julius Caesar’, Shakespeare, and I can’t remember which bit it is but
there’s supposed to be a bit in ‘Julius Caesar’ that was funny, only one little bit that Shakespeare put in and we would – we all read the notes and we knew this was supposed to be funny so when one of the kiddies or whatever kid was reading it out, reads it out we all started laughing and the old brother said, “Okay I know, I know, I get the message I see what – very clever don’t do it again.” Of course there’s always half a dozen or so have a go so the next time he reads it out we all go ‘arghh’, “So okay, you asked for it.”
There were forty-six kids in that class and he lined us up and gave us four ‘cuts’ each. He must’ve, his arm must’ve nearly been falling off and we’re all the larrikins [rowdy boys], were delighted because all the ‘sooky’ up kids were going to get four cuts that they didn’t normally get you know.
What did he use to give you the cuts?
A cane about so long, yeah come up the sides and back through sort of thing,
so it must’ve taken him all of the English period to do that so there wouldn’t have been too much English done that afternoon.
So when you say the used to hit you everyday basically…
It’s true basically.
Is that what they used everyday to hit you?
Yeah, you might be lucky get through two or three days without them hitting you, so it must’ve taken him all of the English period to do that, so there wouldn’t have been too much English done that afternoon.
So when you say they used to hit you everyday basically…
It’s true basically.
Is that what they used everyday to hit you?
Yeah, well you might be lucky get through two or three days without a cutting, but you normally would. The reason we passed our exam is we did private study every week night; we did, from seven o’clock to nine o’clock.
You went back to the classroom, out of the you know, and sat down and a brother sat out the front of you and I was doing, I think I did seven subjects for junior. You had to, if you were asked to you had to produce a written page of notes on every subject, so if you didn’t work, if you just ‘skived’ along and you were unlucky when he’d say, “Show me your work tonight.” And
you’d probably get four and maybe lose your movie privileges, we were allowed to go to the movies at Ashgrove Theatre, the Saturday matinee, if you hadn’t lost any privileges through the week. I think I went ’bout once all year. You were allowed to go home one weekend of the month again if you hadn’t lost any privileges and again I think I went home about once in the year. Oh rough old life. As I say, you forget the bad parts you only
remember the good parts.
What were the really good parts?
Oh a lot of the blokes were all right and good fellas, we were all in the same boat. We had a couple of brothers who were pretty good fellas. The fellows in charge of our dormitory was Brother Religious, I don’t know what his real name was, that was his Latin name. Ward on, one night a week it was a Tuesday night or something at about ten thirty, there was a half hour radio programme which was the latest in music, cause I can remember quite clearly I heard Elvis Presley singing
‘Heartbreak Hotel’, that was the first time I ever heard it, the first time I ever head Elvis Presley, this old brother, we weren’t allowed to talk or anything, your weren’t allowed to talk in the dormitory after half past nine or something, but he put this over through the PA [Public Address], this half an hour rock show, oh we loved it, big time.
What did you think when you first heard Elvis Presley?
I wondered what all the fuss was about you know, so I thought, ‘Oh he’s all right, he sings okay.’ I remember there was a big spiel saying
and the people saying this guy's responsible for all the juvenile delinquency in America, I thought, “Why would that be? You know, what would he do that would cause that?”
So what sort of music were you enjoying at that time?
Oh rock and roll. I went to the old Festival Hall I saw Little Richard and Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Johnny O’Keefe was doing the
main curtain raiser you might say, but he wasn’t very well known. And who else did I see, oh yes Buddy Holly, who was with him, oh a guy… I can’t remember his name now, he wasn’t that popular but I went to a couple of those rock shows when I was sixteen, seventeen, they were great.
Buddy Holly, that was pretty…
Buddy Holly, because it was at Cloudland actually, the Buddy Holly Show that would’ve been about
’57 I guess.
So not long after you finished school?
Yeah, just after.
What do you remember about that concert?
Oh that you know, same as all rock concerts I suppose. There was always a pre-act, like Johnny O’Keefe was the one at the Festival Hall I remember, and would’ve been somebody at Cloudland that was always a lot longer than what the main guy was on
for you know, the main guy would come out and sing his three best hits or something and gone, that was it, but oh we all went crazy and screamed and carried on. Little Richard wore pyjamas, he come out, he used to play the piano standing up. He was wearing a long pair of red pyjamas, which I never got the significance of and still don’t.
What did your parents think of your music?
Oh absolutely ridiculous, thought
it was terrible, exactly the same as we do these days. My Dad was a big light opera, opera type fan, big musicals and things, the Student Prince and all those, we were brought up on all that sort of thing and the first record I bought was Bill Haley, ‘Rock around the Clock’ was a four play, a little forty five, ‘Rock around the Clock’ and ‘See You Later Alligator’ was on one side and I can’t remember what was on the other side. Never allowed to play it if anybody else was in the
house. Even my brothers didn’t like Rock and Roll they were only four and five years older, my sister did, but she was about eleven you know, not too old.
So that was a real time of change and transition in many ways, the fifties, I mean television had just sort of come in. Did you have a television at home?
Not initially, the first TV I saw was in the window of a shop and the first TV programme I saw was a
bloody Rory Calhoun, I can’t remember what the show was, it was a cowboy show you know, a half an hour cowboy show on TV in black and white. We got one pretty soon I think after it started cause it was all black and white you know, only on for two or three hours at night time and my father insisted on watching the Channel 2 news at seven o’clock, which on Saturday night was the same time as ‘Bandstand’.
If you missed ‘Bandstand’ you might as well be dead in those days. Yeah, so I’d go out on Saturday at seven o’clock and go down to my mate’s place and see ‘Bandstand’ down there.
How did television change people’s lives?
Well it certainly, you often wonder what you did before you had television. A lot of the time you probably just simply went to bed listened to the radio
for sure we had a lot – we had favourite radio programmes. We played a bit of cards and played things like Monopoly and stuff like that. I remember it probably because see I was – my two brothers were four and five years older respectively, so my folks played both ‘five hundred’ and ‘bridge’ and they taught the two older blokes to play to make the four and I was the next and I would sit on the edge and pray for one of my brothers to get sick of leave home or some bloody
thing so I could get to play, so now I’m a bridge fanatic of course, I play three times a week if I can. So we did that sort of thing, I guess. My Dad taught us all to play chess. In fact when I was twelve years old I was probably a better chess player than any other time in my life. I played the Queensland championships one year, up to under eighteen. Oh I didn’t do very well; I won a couple of games.
So we did that sort of thing you know, Monopoly was a big game.
So when television came in people started watching that at night?
Yeah, still there were you know, there were only, for a couple of years still, only two or three hours of programming it all started about six and finished about ten, something like that and often then there would be nothing you wanted to watch really, there was some awful shows on television really, really awful.
But it certainly changed things. When I went west to work for my brother and coach the football team, television had just come into the south west Queensland then, it was four or five years after Brisbane. We were selling TV sets and we were selling Chryslers, great big massive things, this long and this deep and solid timber and to buy the TV set and have the antenna erected – we would erect the antennas.
We would use tank stands and things like that because it was so far out, it would cost the person five or six hundred pound, a lot of money, you could buy a Holden [car] for five hundred pound, six hundred pound, a huge amount of dough. I don’t know what my brother did with all the money, but I was earning on commission but it was a big business. We sold television sets to guys on station properties at places like Meandarra and that and we’d set it up in the daytime
so that reception would be so good and wait until five o’clock to get something on to look at. Fair dinkum it would be so ‘snowy’ you could hardly see figures and make out what’s going on and these guys said, “Oh that’s wonderful, terrific.” You think ‘Oh God, they mustn’t have too much to do out there.’ Anyway we’d put a TV antenna, which would be fifty or sixty feet high alone, we’d put that on top of a tank stand with guy wires going maybe forty or fifty metres each way,
While you were still at school at Marist Brothers how did you like boarding and being away from home?
Not at all. The food was awful. In fact some of the food was so bad that you couldn’t, wouldn’t eat some days. All through winter we got porridge, I’ll never eat porridge again in my life. One day a week
we had liver for breakfast and I like liver, half the other guys didn’t, that was always a great day. There were six of you at a table and you got butter once a day I think and you got in those days, remember the little half pound packs of butter they used to wrap, you’d probably – they’d cut two slices of that so you’d have two little squares of butter and it was one guy’s turn each week to divide the butter.
To cut it into six pieces for the six guys, you see and he always got the last piece so you had to be fair because if you cut it too big for somebody else you got the small bit at the end. Oh God awful existence, no we had some good times there.
And what about the sleeping arrangements how did you like being in with lots of other boys?
It wasn’t that bad really because we were all still, I was fourteen I guess and
my class had some interesting guys, actually prime minister of New Guinea, Julius Chan, Sir Julius Chan. Julius Chan slept in the bed opposite me. Little Papuan guy, he was a bit older than us. He would’ve been seventeen or eighteen probably. His brother Joe Chan was a bit older still and Julius was one of the funniest guys in the world, he really was. He’d tell us stories in Pidgin and they wouldn’t necessarily be anything funny, but just the Pidgin would be so funny he would say, “This fella walking in,
he come along,” “This fella Mary,” you know, it was that stuff you know, funny guy. Yeah I guess Marist Brothers as boarders all you’d do is try and survive, try and get through the year, hope for the holidays to come around.
And when you left there you started an apprenticeship as an electrician, can you tell us about that?
Yeah, I started at the general hospital that was probably a bad thing too.
I think at the hospital there were about fifteen electricians in the electricians’ team and there were five – there was an apprentice every year, there was first to fifth year apprentices, just training through. The first year apprentice, all you did for the whole twelve months was change light bulbs and fluorescent tubes. Well the hospital’s a big place, a great big leather bag with a shoulder strap full
of light bulbs and fluorescent tubes. Every morning you got your list and it said ward bloody five wants a light in the toilet or a light in the so and so, and by the time you got through one day there’s a whole new day’s order, and the second year all you did was fix toasters and electric irons and bed lamps and things like that, so it wasn’t a real good introduction. If I’d been
working for say an electrician on his own, as his apprentice I would’ve been going to people’s houses and doing constructive stuff, learning the trade a bit even. I got to two and a half years, even the third year we were still doing industrial stuff, rewiring wards where you’re putting pipes through the walls, industrial electricity if you like, pretty boring stuff and not very profitable when you get out, if you’re going to make your money as an electrician you want to be able to wire homes and things.
And I just, even that, crawling around bloody ceilings and under houses all the rest of your life, I didn’t like that much.
So what did you do when you left there?
I said to my Dad that I didn’t, I wanted a change, I wasn’t really keen. At that stage he was working for Electrolux and he had a few connections and he said, “Well I’ll get you a job as a trainee executor for Chandlers.” Sounded great. Trainee was first year as storeman and sweep the
warehouse, but that at least progressed a bit quicker. Funny thing as I said before, the guy who was the next storeman to me was a guy called Shortie Turner, Les Turner, who joined the army and was the sergeant in the first contact at night time when we were in Vietnam and probably, well, ended his military career, was pretty upset that he didn’t perform very well.
We worked first of all at the big warehouse at West End and I was basically a storeman and packer, an order’d come in and you’d go and pick things out of shelves and put them in and do all that sort of thing. Then they moved me in to learn how all the invoices and things worked and goods inwards registers and all those sorts of things. Then they moved me to a shop, the first one was at what used to be McDonalds East in George Street there,
they didn’t have an electrical section, their electrical section was owned and run by Chandlers staff, saved McDonalds East the trouble of having an electrical section, so we worked in there and I was a sort of, I was the office boy if you like, so I did all the book work and I relieved selling things when the salesman went to lunch and things like that. I very quickly become a salesman though, because they paid us one percent commission. If you sold a fridge for a hundred ‘quid’, that was a quid, that’s good money,
I was only getting about eight pound a week I think. And I worked there for a couple of years; I got to be a relieving manager, oh not a manager, a relieving office manager sort of thing. That was good because I had one three week – one lot of three weeks at Surfers Paradise, one at Southport and somewhere else, somewhere not quite as exciting, somewhere like Redcliffe or something like that, where they paid for me in a hotel and that was good fun.
I was about eighteen I guess, good fun and then well, I left there to go to Tara.
So what were you doing for fun during those years? For entertainment?
Oh the same as most people, the Saturday dance was probably, just all my young life in fact, there was always a dance on Saturday night, no matter where you were.
The RSL always had them, always had a good Saturday night dance. In those days rock and roll was a pretty big thing, so a dance band would not get by, would play music for normal sort of dancing, but they had to be able to do a rock section or else the wouldn’t have got a quid, you know. And in a place like Tara, in Tara we would go to, oh I know we went several times to Roma, which was probably a hundred and twenty mile away, that sort of thing, just to go to a dance.
So in Brisbane you actually went to Festival Hall for the rock concerts?
Can you tell us about Festival Hall back then?
Oh we went to something better at Festival Hall later in my life; I went to the military ball there, that was really good. For the rock concert they just put a big stack of chairs in the ballroom and put a stage up, but the military ball, I was second lieutenant and I’d just met Bev, it was about the second time I took her out I think, second or third time I took her out.
And it was a big deal the military ball, in fact you talk to Bev, she said the girls in Brisbane would kill for an invite. They used to declare – they could do it in those days, probably still can I don’t know, there was some system whereby Cloudland was declared military property for the period of the ball, which meant they could have their own bars and serve drinks in there. You weren’t allowed to serve drinks at a dance in Queensland in those days. We’d go and
have a sensational lunch, not lunch, dinner, formal dinner and then the ball, which was you know, no hang on, the ball was organised, there were tables around the ballroom and you went in tables and we were all in winter mess dress, which is the old scarlet suit sort of thing with a – in those days white lapels because I was infantry, later green lapels because I was intelligence. We actually managed, Bev and I managed to crack a photo in ‘The Women’s Weekly’
for the military ball that year, so we were very chuffed [pleased]. Yeah Cloudland was great. And the military ball, they had two dance bands and the Northern Military Band, so it was a sensational night, really good. We went by taxis and we went as units basically, you know you made an alcove of the unit you belonged to, so the military was a bit like that in those days, we were a big family.
Just going back to before, you were in the military and you were going to dances in Brisbane, can you describe a little bit more about what those dances were like?
Yeah well… basically they were old time dances but with the rock and roll they were coming in with a couple of rock and roll songs, so that the people could ‘jive’. You had to learn to jive because at that age if you couldn’t jive you were nobody, you were dead.
The girls going to these were the girls you’d grown up with and gone to school with and that sort of thing, or in a lot of the cases the younger sisters, because it always seems the girls that you take out are always a couple of years younger than you are because girls grow up so much quicker than blokes. But we knew them all and you sort of, you wouldn’t necessarily dance with one girl all night or anything like that, that was pretty rare and frowned on almost a bit, you sort of
asked all the girls for a dance and it would be very impolite if a girl refused to dance with you and would only be excused on the basis that you were drunk or a noted bloody groper or an idiot or something, which everybody else would accept, but it wasn’t the right thing, wasn’t ‘the done thing’ to knock back an invitation to dance. The girls seemed to know that and we all seemed to get on quite well. You’d take a girl into supper, usually ask some girl could you take
her into supper or just mention having supper with her, they always put on supper at those sort of things. Probably take one home. Very few of us had cars until we hit our twenties anyway, because it was just financially not possible. So you’d often walk, did a lot of walking, depending on where they lived sort of thing.
Taxis were a little bit out of the range you know, it’s all pretty civilised.
What were people wearing to the dances?
Uh… the blokes mostly just wore long pants and a shirt, sometimes ties. Ties were a little bit, depending on the level of the dance, if it was regarded as a little bit of an upper class dance you would probably wear a tie. If it was a ball you actually wore a suit or a coat and tie at least.
In those days the awful bloody jackets were popular, they were the most awful thing. They only came in two colours black and pink, or black and green. They were like a windcheater, the main material was a sort of hairy, furry sort of stuff, the collars were made of this wool, the collars and cuffs were in pink and the jacket in black.
I never went to pink and black, mine was black and green, which was bad enough I guess, but every bloody young fella had one, we all had one. And of course the younger days we wore those, terrible.
What about hairstyles, were they changing?
Oh yeah, the crew cuts came and went, you know and Elvis Presley was very popular sort of thing. I think I had a crew cut most of my younger
days. Uh… shoes, desert boots, desert boots, awful things, but everybody had desert boots. The girls all wore dresses, usually slightly flared dresses and then when mini skirts came, a lot later. Tight skirts came in and the short shorts, they were great, all the girls wore them
in summer time for about two years, wore short white shorts and they used to wear these fluorescent panties, which had big frills and they always came out the bottom of the shorts, they were – they were fashion – gosh, that was tremendous and they were all fluorescent colours you know, orange, greens and blues, short, shorts, yeah.
Do you remember you first serious date with a girl?
I don’t know about the first one… yeah, I can remember taking a – when you say a date, apart from the dance type thing, apart from that yeah, I remember taking a poor girl once to a dinner and a movie in Brisbane, which is big time, get on the bus and go all the way to Brisbane from Wynnum, went to a
Chinese bloody restaurant for dinner I didn’t have a clue what to order, neither did she. I think we had fried rice, oh dear, that’s a long time ago. I didn’t see much more of her. The movie, what was the movie? Oh…would’ve been, I don’t know, “The Magnificent Seven’ or something probably.
What were your favourite movies back then?
Oh I think the old westerns were pretty popular, yeah.
They had some pretty good actors in those days though, like Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum and those fellas, any of those people would go and see. The ‘Ten Commandments’, wow, what a movie, went for two – three and a half hours or something. Yeah, that sort of stuff. We had, when I was little, a smaller kid, we had had movies every Saturday night at the
Logan Progress Hall or something, you know they were pretty rough, but there were other theatres, the Star Theatre in Wynnum, now we’re getting into it, aren’t we? The Star Theatre in Wynnum on the Saturday afternoon matinee, the girls weren’t allowed to sit downstairs or the boys weren’t allowed to sit upstairs, whichever way you want to look at it. They made the girls sit upstairs and the boys sit downstairs, it kept things easier, that way there weren’t so many fights and problems yeah,
I’d forgotten about that, yeah.
What were you taught at school or at home as a teenager about relationships and sex education then?
Depends who was doing the teaching. Basically you know you – my father’s approach was, ‘Do what you can get away with, but don’t get anybody pregnant.
I remember that there are girls out there whose whole aim in life is just to get married, to just get you married, so be careful.’ sort of thing. Mum wouldn’t sort of comment much about what to do because she’d naturally comment on any of the girls you brought home. My folk were pretty good; they didn’t dislike the girls I brought home.
Brisbane is a funny old business.
So when you went out to Tara, you were working with your brother is that right?
And how did you enjoy that?
Oh very much. I was there for probably, I went out towards the end of the football season and I had, for a while I was going back to Wynnum to play every week, paid me to come back to play every week. Then I had an ankle injury, which put me out for a couple of weeks
and that was the end of the season and then we had the off season and then I applied for the job and got the job as football coach. Oh living in Tara was pretty good, I was the football coach with the football coach elect, I was reasonably popular with the girls, wasn’t a bad life. I was getting two wages most of the time. I had quite an enjoyable time.
What was Tara like?
It was big; all the country towns were bigger then,
they had – around the late sixties, early seventies they all just withered away and died. I think at the same the war industry went downhill you know, but Tara was a big enough town for example, to pay a football coach and have a football team. It hasn’t had a football team out there for probably twenty years. You know it had two pubs. Again if there wasn’t a dance in Tara on a Saturday night there would be one at Chinchilla or
one of the close towns, you know. They had a dance hall and a major ballroom sort of hall; they had the occasional ball, the Wall Princess Ball and all those sorts of things, which are quite big time. A couple of pubs, one had only just opened. I lived in a boarding house which was just out of town, it was an old property
which had been mainly bought up, a lot of their land had been bought up because it was close to town and so she ran a boarding house and the main people that lived there were the school teachers. There were probably, oh nearly a dozen young male and female teachers, high school and primary school and they all lived in this boarding house and I lived there for most of the time I was in Tara, which was good. And again two or three of the male football – male school teachers were football players too, so we were all
mates. Football was quite amusing, we played in the competition which consisted of Tara, Chinchilla, Miles, Jandowae and Taroom. Now Taroom was a hundred and sixty miles from Tara, so when we played away, when we played home and away, when we played away at Taroom the big problem for the coach was to get your team there sober
cause you know we’d all pile into cars, everybody had a ute [utility truck] you know, all the boys in the country had a ute, so you’d pile three guys in the front and a carton of beer in the back and away you’d go and driving a hundred and sixty miles, three or four hours drive, if you had them all sober when you got to the match you were doing very well. So it was really – also in country football, when you played the away team, you had the away referee,
so when we played at Chinchilla the referee was from Chinchilla, so we had no chance at all. We had absolutely no chance of winning, but then again when they came to Tara they had no chance of winning either, oh it was quite funny. About the first game in Chinchilla, they were our main enemies, they were the biggest town in the five and they normally won the premiership. In Tara, in the team in Tara, we had a couple of shearers who were our front row forwards and a big fella called Lenny Burnham and
Brian, Brian, I can’t remember the last guy’s name, oh anyway, but they were two very big, rough shearers and Len said to me, I was a little half back, I was a ‘little’ guy you know, he said, “I’ll keep my eye open for you.” sort of thing. And I didn’t really know what he meant, so I said, “Well that’s great.” So the first time we play Chinchilla, in the season that I was the coach and
I think it was only a trial match, the Chinchilla coach was also a paid player, he was a Sydney fella, a big forward up from Sydney and the first time he touched the ball, the first time he got near the ball, old Leonard just walked up to him from the side, without him saying a word and knocked him unconscious. Of course it was RF, this big fella’s lying on the ground, ‘what happened?’ and he took no further part really, he played the rest of the game, but took no further part of it. Oh fairly rough
old business that football. We played in Miles once the big men were out playing, I said to the fellas “It’s time to go out and warm up.” We go to the door of the sheds and there’s about ten ‘hoons’ from Miles saying, “Come on, step out.” their aim is to start as many fights as they can and hurt us as much as possible before we go on the field to play the team. Oh rough old football in the west, but it was enjoyable.
And what happened on that occasion?
The police come and chased them away. Luckily the police usually were, they probably were on the side of the Miles team, but they would keep law and order. Oh terrible things in football, people running on the field and grabbing people. All sorts of things, yeah, good fun.
How did you enjoy being a coach?
Oh it was great, but I wasn’t such a good, I was twenty-one years old, I was more of a paid player really.
Oh probably from the guy before me, would have been, was a forward, he went back to Dalby where he’d come from. He, I don’t think, knew as much about football as I did you know, really. I’m not kidding myself, I could at least coach a few moves and things like that and I insisted on a lot better physical training, although compared to today it was nothing, you know. So we
probably improved the team, but we still got beaten, but there you go.
You said though you were pretty popular with the girls?
Oh look I don’t necessarily, that was, you know, the country girls are fairly direct. Well they were in those days anyway.
In what sense?
Oh you’re embarrassing me. Oh… I do know, not ‘raffled’ off exactly, but I know there was
just a meeting of young girls in town when I first arrived and stakes were made and I didn’t know anything about it, so later on, subsequently discovered.
They had a raffle for you?
Not a raffle exactly, but they sort of said, each of the girls gave their reason best why I would be their beau for a while at least anyway,
And did you end up being anybody’s beau there?
Not what you would say a steady relationship no, but then again maybe that was my point of view, maybe some of the girls had other ideas, I don’t know.
So when did you come to leave there?
Well the end of the football season ’63 because you know, basically the football season stopped which meant –
they provided me a job which had to pay eighteen pounds a week, which was good dough in those days, not bad dough at all, it was about average working man’s wages and then the football club paid me twelve pounds a week to coach the football team and paid for my accommodation during the football season, so I was doing pretty well for a young fella. Of course I’d spend it as quick as I got it, but when the football season stops the free board and the twelve pounds drops off, different
situation and I thought then, quite frankly, if I was going to continue in football there was no point in staying in the bush because all you end up – you end up marrying a local girl and being the football coach until you’re too old to play and then shearing sheep for the rest of your life or something. And so I was looking for something else to do, I did have an offer to go back to Manly; I could’ve gone to Manly and played for them. I could’ve gone to All Whites in Toowoomba as a paid player,
where I would’ve got not quite so much money, but I would’ve got free accommodation and board supplied. And I also just picked up the paper one day and there was an ad that said, “Would you like to be an officer in the army?” And read a bit further and so I sent to army recruiting and they sent me this big brochure, OCS Portsea, ‘Officer Cadet School’, oh what a great place it was, the old quarantine station at Portsea and it was a lovely place to look at, beautiful
setting and there were all these photos of these guys with the blues jacket, which really looks nice with the high collar and all the buttons and that, sitting at dinner and then with girls in ball gowns, dancing at the balls and playing ruby and playing cricket and swimming. I thought, “Oh, this is good as a holiday home,” so I thought, “I’ll apply for this.” So I had the basic, as I said, the basic education.
Went down to Brisbane and went to recruiting and did the basic soldier test, then they say, “You’re going to join the army.” Then you go to a different set of tests and if you pass those you finally get before a selection board where they take ten guys a day and pick half a dozen, but oh Portsea, so we get selected for Portsea and we go across in the train and we get off at Melbourne and
there’s warrant officers, serving warrant officers there to meet us and they were just barking at us like dogs, “Get over there, get on the…” So we get on the bus and this is of course, the first week of January, so we drive all the way down the Mornington Peninsula to Portsea and it’s full of what Melbourne call ‘holiday homes’, seaside resorts. Girls everywhere, oh this is a great place, this is wonderful and we get to Portsea, and pardon this, but I can’t explain it, tell it exactly the way it
was, we get to Portsea and we’re on the bus, and Portsea’s sort of a sealed off area and it’s got a big gate and you go down around through bush and you come to where the quarantine station is, the accommodation. We come down and we pull up in the bus and these warrant officers say, “Get out, get out, carry your bags.” And most of us have got two bags you know, and then somebody said, “March on the senior class.” ‘Shoo shoo shoo’ and out come all these guys in uniform carrying weapons, they’re the senior class, the guys who had done six months and they’re all as fit as Mallee bulls and they’re all
ironed and nineteen squares, they march out and stand on the other side and then up on the hill, there’s a little knoll and out comes the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] and he was a fella called ‘Paddy’ Brennan, who was a famous Korean soldier and famous RSM, medals everywhere of course, ribbons everywhere, a big swagger stick under the arm and he walks to the end and he shouts out, “Have you got ‘em all in, Sergeant Major?” And one of his warrant officers says, “Yes,” he says. “Well close the fucking
gate.” ‘Oh my God, what am I in?’ You couldn’t believe it, the guys beside of me were going, “What have we hit? What’s going to happen?” Oh that was the start of it, the first fifty days you run everywhere you go.
Interviewee: Geoffrey Kendall Archive ID 2139 Tape 04
So you were telling us, you arrived…
Then they, they would shout out the name of one of the senior class men, corporal so and so or lance corporal so and so you know, your section consists of, and when you hear your name, pick up your bags and run behind, get behind the man, run with him to your… to where he takes you, sort of thing, I don’t know. So he’d say, “Kendall, Smith, Johnson, so and so.”
And off we’d all go and then we’d go into, they put us in – we had a room each because you know, we were officer cadets and in the army everything that you are going to have all the way down to your pack, your bush pack and your rifle and everything, is all just clunk in the middle of the floor and it’s all come straight out of the Q [Quartermaster’s] store and it’s filthy dirty and it’s scrunched up and it’s everything and so your senior class man shows you that and he says, “Now come and see my room.” And you walk into his room and everything is
perfect, even the underpants are folded, nine inch squares you know, because there’s no doors on the cupboards, no door, nothing’s allowed to be hidden. And he sort of says, “This is the way your room will be.” you know, the bed’s made and drop a penny on it and bounces and all this sort of thing, you know. He said, “Right, you’ve got two hours to get your room looking like that. Go.” And then it started they just keep – the first fifty days you run everywhere you go and
you know, they just put us through – that’s sort of ‘hazing’ sort of thing you know, which is okay, it’s got to happen I suppose, there is a bit of bastardisation, but not too bad. Portsea is a lot better than Duntroon.
But at the time you were sort of expecting…
I was twenty-two too you know, I wasn’t really a kid, getting treated like a bloody kid I’ll tell you. Some of the guys that were doing this to me I knew were nineteen years old, sort of thing.
You had what you call a ‘father/son’ sort of system and depending on the size of the class, one of the senior class cadets will have you or you and another guy, they call him, he’s your ‘father’ and he’s your ‘son’, to the extent that if you stop up in anything outside what the cadets’ rule of control is, if you know what I mean, if you come to the attention of somebody else other than your senior cadet for stuffing up, he
gets punished instead of you, so that’s a bastard of a system, but it works pretty quick you know, you pull yourself into gear pretty quick. And if you get punished first of all by what they call ‘extra drills’, which means that everything morning at reveille which was I don’t know, at six fifteen or something, everybody gets up and gets into their uniform for the day to go to breakfast and to go to the first class. You get up and you get a marching order,
which winter or summer is the winter battle dress with your steel helmet, your full pack and your rifle and the whole bloody lot and your water bottle’s got to have water in it and your pack’s got to have all the things you’re supposed to have, your toothbrush and your shaver, shaving gear and all that and then you go for an extra drill parade, where they drill for you about five minutes. The drill’s not really serious, but then they pick one or two guys to inspect and make sure he’s got everything perfect and if he doesn’t then he goes again tomorrow. And you know there are
some guys there, some of the poor, I was bad enough, but some of the poor buggers, they never got any time off in the time we were there, they were on extra drill parades all the time we were there. But again, it has a purpose, it really does, you learn that if you look after things they look after you. So if you’ve got a pack and you haven’t got a toothbrush in it you can’t clean your teeth, so you may become a problem to somebody because you can’t clean your teeth, that’s a you know,
drag, a ‘long bow’ I guess, but that’s what they’re trying to teach you; to look after your gear and your equipment and in the daytime you do everything from sit down, school type lectures to physical training. Physical training, ‘whoa’, you go the first day, in you go and they say, “Right there’s a board up above, about there, so on my command, leap up grab the board with both hands and start to do chin-ups.” So yeah, I did two I think and then I couldn’t get up to the third
one and some of the guys couldn’t do two. And, “So you fellas have got a long way to go, you will not graduate as officers until you can do twenty of those any time I ask you.” I thought, “That’s never going to happen to me. I’ll never be able to do twenty of those.” Two weeks later, you could do them, a lot of physical stuff, two physical periods every week – every day sorry. Afternoon we had sport for about an hour and a half, providing you weren’t on some kind of
punishment detail. You know, cricket in the summer time and football in the winter time. And then at night, you’d have lectures at night most nights. Friday night we had a thing called ‘dancing classes’, we loved the dancing classes. All cadets, all officers, all young officers in those days are required to dance, it’s a skill that a gentleman should have, cause remember in those days we used to get a paper that said
you’re an officer and a gentleman. So they line us up about day two I think, we go down to the office building there’s Marie, Marie was the head typist and one of the few females we saw for twelve months, so we were all in love with Marie, she’s there, and the RSM, not the RSM, the adjutant’s wife, the adjutant is a captain, the head administrating officer and his wife, who is not even in the army, but she must have to be
co-opted and they’ve got a little record player and with a record on it, you know long play, and the whole eighty-two, I think there were, line up and they put the record on and the first guy grabs Marie and dances about four steps and she then says A, B or C and away you go. You are classified, then you know, we never learnt the classification, I think ‘A’ meant you could dance, ‘B’ meant
you could be taught and ‘C’ meant ‘forget it’ sort of thing, but on that basis, you go on Friday nights, every Friday night for the first new class men for the first term, you go to dancing class. Now dancing class, there’s eighty-two of us and they invite from Rosebud and those places, a group of girls we used to call ‘the dragon squad’. About a dozen of them every Friday night, they invited them to come to Portsea to dance with the cadets when they were learning to dance. So they would start off,
“Tonight we’re going to learn the foxtrot.” The foxtrot is done by moving feet together, slide and slide, and it’s on the board, on the blackboard, ‘slide and slide right’. We stand in lines and the girls are sitting back in the chairs waiting for the exciting part, we were wearing, every night we used to have to wear ‘blues’, which in those days had an open neck, it was a blue coat and trousers, open neck shirt with a white tie – white shirt and black tie,
so after we’d done it – learned about it on the board we line up together and we do it all together. ‘Slide, together, slide and slide’, ‘slide, together, slide and slide’ okay? Having got that, you were then allowed to dance with an A-grade cadet, who plays the female partner and when you got him perfect, you get one-eighth of a girl, one-eighth or one-sixth, depending how many there were of us and how many of
them sort of thing. They broke us into syndicates where there’d be say six of us and one girl and we would take turns in dancing with the girl, always to the foxtrot that we were learning that night. Why these bloody girls came I don’t know, they’ve got to be crazy to put up with it, but they all turned up every night, every Friday night anyway. The old adjutant’s wife would be up the front and, “Now boys, boys, I don’t want to have to call the duty officer, now keep behaving.” if there was any hilarity or frivolity.
So pretty quick we learned, we got two Nigerians, we had foreign students too you see, Clocker and Keyray. Joe Keyray was this big guy; big, shiny, black Nigerian and he thought the dancing classes were the nicest thing that ever happened. And so you’d get Joe to do it, always get Joe to, so when it was your turn to dance, “Joe I’ve got blisters mate, you take my turn.” “Oh yes, I’ll take your turn.” Joe doesn’t worry about doing the foxtrot,
he just wrapped himself around these little girls like this, sort of one foot up in the air sort of thing in time with the music. Oh dear… I can’t believe I was twenty years old and letting them do that to me, things like that yeah, that was the dancing classes. So the first term, is the first fifty days, the first fifty days finally ends, it’s only what? Is it seven weeks or something and our first leave and they say this is one that they
let us go at five o’clock Saturday and back by eight o’clock Sunday, something like that you know. They tell us then that okay, next Saturday evening is the summer formal, the first formal occasion of your course, so we expect you all to bring a presentable young lady to the formal, which is fine if you live in bloody Melbourne, but if you’ve just come from
Queensland or South Australia or Western Australia you don’t know anybody in Victoria, so they turned us loose on Victoria to get presentable girls for the next weekend, next Saturday and take very careful note of those that turn up without partners, oh bad, bad news, not officer-like behaviour and yeah, very interesting.
So how did you go in search for a partner?
Very well actually, the
partner that I took most to the performance while I was there was a nice kid.
So how did you meet her?
I went to a dance in Frankston. A bit lucky, I think they started playing ‘The Saints Go Marching In’ at one stage and I – it was jive so I got very excited about that and she was a bloody St. Kilda follower and I didn’t realise and that was their song, so I ‘clicked like a bomb’, so I took her home and said, “Would you like to go to a formal dinner next week?” You beauty, yeah, oh they did it pretty well.
They had a bus you know, which in certain pick up points for guys without cars, you could pick up your partner there and the dinners were terrific, the formal balls and that were great, but it was not hard to get – encourage a girl to go to one, good turnouts.
Did you wear your uniform or…?
No, no, never, in fact it was an offence.
But the girls would’ve been pretty keen though, on people who were nearly officers?
One of the girls on ‘the dragon squad’ had been in engaged to a guy in my ‘father’s’, my cadet-father’s senior class, a guy in his class, and was engaged to a guy in my class and probably was engaged to a guy in my junior class, she was – she was trying hard.
I was just going to ask you about that initial, before you actually joined the officer cadet school, when you first signed
up, you said you had to undergo some tests, do you remember what sort of tests they were?
Well first of all they were just the basic psych [psychological] tests you always do when anybody joins the army and then they went to a higher level. There was one test which helped me very much in later life, it was a test of your ability to speak a foreign language and particularly an Asian language and then…
How did they test that?
Oh they give you a mock character language and a
series of you know, just like a psych test, but then when you get – the selection board is very interesting, a selection board would make a good movie really cause there’s ten guys and you know that you’re all not going to get in, everybody’s, it’s pretty cut-throat, you’re not going to make another guy look good if you can help it, even if you don’t know him. I didn’t know any... they told us to wear clothes, to
bring clothes we could do physical activity in, we were initially going to wear a suit sort of thing, so me, like a, my bloody clothes, wore my electrical working clothes and as soon as they tell us to go and change, out come the nine other guys, they’re all wearing football jumpers because they know that the army loves footballers, I’m the only donkey wearing ‘khakis’.
And you’d been a footballer…
I was the best footballer of all of them, even if I do say so myself, but
anyway the commandant, he knew every game of football I’d played. But the reason was, they gave us an obstacle course thing and they gave us a little scenario. So right, the ten of you are a section, an army section, and you’ve been given this task, like the first one was like a hurdle, you can imagine a hurdle sort of thing with a square around it, about as big as a badminton court and we had a forty- four gallon drum and some ropes and some
planks and we had to get everybody and all the equipment over the other side of the hurdle without touching the ground in between and basically they’re saying, “If you’ve got an idea how to do it, convince the other nine guys.” you know, try and take command of them. Oh so it’s a bit of a rabble at first because everybody’s trying to take bloody command and everybody’s trying to show, ‘I’m officer material’ and a lot of the guys are already regular soldiers cause
you’ve got regular soldiers and [(UNCLEAR)]. The first three we had to do was that one and the next one was a bridge, a bridge that had been bombed and all the red parts were nuclear contaminated and you weren’t allowed to touch them so as a group of ten we failed the first three tests miserably, nobody’s got any idea and then they come to the two walls, they’ve got two walls, brick walls, you know only about twenty foot long, but you’re only allowed to go along the middle section
and they’re side by side and they’re about that far apart I guess and we got to get the whole section across the two walls, we’re not allowed to touch either of the walls or the ground in between them, but we did have four big, long sticks, two big, long sticks, two shorter sticks and when I say ‘sticks’, they’re like poles for a circus tent, you know and a couple of bits of rope and I was lucky because I knew what a ‘shellex’ [?] was and as soon as I saw the sticks, I said, “Oh hang on,
this is it, get the two big sticks here and tie them together at the top, put them up like that, you four guys hold the bottom.” We had – the guy who eventually got to Portsea too, I can’t remember his name – you climb up the end and we just lowered him over and we threw the stick over, you stand there, hold the little stick and across and down, so that was my moment of glory sort of thing because I knew how to build a shellex, which is a naval thing. I did a lot of sailing as a kid. So that
was one of them over. I’m trying to think of the other one, there was another one with boxes and they had radios in them, but we failed them all, we all fell in the water and didn’t do what we were supposed to do, but that wasn’t the important part I don’t think, they were just trying to see who could run the show and convince the other people to do it, you know. And then we went in for a written test, which was really interesting, same sort of story, they just gave you a piece of paper and gave you so long to read it and then ‘we’ll give you an hour to write what you’re going to do’. And it was,
you got wrecked on desert island, again ten people, they’ve just had a vote and they voted you the leader and you had all this stuff you know, you had a couple of rifles, but you had things like bags of cement, oh you know, big stuff that had been – came with you in the wreck and a map of the island. Now sit down and write what you’re going to do for an hour and the funny part about, it in my hour I hardly – I’d hardly got us anywhere, but I had got us some water
and I picked that up straight away, there wasn’t any water unless you went looking for it. Some of the guys were using the cement to build forts and all sorts of stuff you know, but you know, I guess again, they look at that and you score up or down on it and then you just, oh no, when we first started off, we had to sit in the group of ten and introduce yourself and give a bit of a brief of where you came from and all that sort of thing and then the last part, no, then and then we went to lunch with the
board. The board was three colonels, one of whom was the commandant of Portsea and a captain, who was just mainly a secretary. One of the colonels was a psychologist. After we went to lunch and we sat with, groups of us with one of the colonels and the other ones they sort of spoke to us all and
they’d already checked out our background pretty thoroughly. They knew things, they knew my father drove a milk truck in Sandford and I was only about four when he did that, so a pretty serious background check. And after lunch, they just called us in one by one for an interview, a personal interview. And they sort of, with me it was pretty easy. I had a sneaky idea that ‘current affairs’ would be popular and I’d driven down
from Tara for the thing, so all the way I listened to the news every hour, so I knew exactly what had happened yesterday and they asked about Vietnam, they asked a few questions about it and I could answer the questions, but believe me, if they’d had a map, I couldn’t have showed them on a map where it was. I knew where Indo China was, even though they called it Vietnam in those days.
What was happening in Vietnam then?
There was, ‘Big’ Minh [General Minh] was the guy, he was one of the army guys, he took over as President for a while,
that was when the monks were all burning themselves, you know. The President was, I can’t remember him now [President Diem], but his wife was quite famous, she was a bit of a film starry-type and she was quite famous and they were both Catholics. There was a bit of Catholic persecution of Buddhists and they reckoned, which was one of the reasons the Buddhists were on the side of the Communists uh... there were
some Australians there. There were Training Team guys there, but not many, they were training the Vietnamese Army, that was about it, but Vietnam was like so obviously a bit of a hot spot, so at least I knew – I think they asked me once, because I was a Catholic, they said, “How do you feel about the Catholics beating up the Buddhists?” You know, I said, “I think it’s wrong, they shouldn’t do it, whether they’re Catholics or not they shouldn’t.” Then the old commandant asked me how I would I go in rugby union and I said, “Oh
I think I’ll be okay.”
So football was pretty important?
Oh it was very important. I had a football scholarship for sure.
So at the time that you signed up Vietnam was sort of happening and there were some Australians there, but did you have any sort of expectation that you might end up there?
Not really no, no. I’ve – several times I’ve given speeches to Duntroon and places like that and I always tell them, “I can
remember being exactly like you are, sitting at dining, at night with some old fella talking to you and thinking ‘there’s no possibility that I’ll be going to war’ and six months later, I was in Vietnam.” Yes, so, don’t think it can’t happen. Not six months, twelve months later probably. But yeah, mostly in those days in fact our military training was mainly along the Malayan-Borneo Emergency lines, cause that was still going on, we had a battalion in Borneo
and that’s real counter-terrorist stuff you know, where you don’t expect to see more than one or two bad guys any time. The Malayan terrorists sort of things.
When you say the training was along those lines, what exactly do you mean?
Well the army actually was designed to fight that kind of a weapon, the weapons were designed to fight that kind of a warfare and when
your instructors are teaching you even the basic drills and that they say, “Well this is what you do in that sort of situation.” And your exercise enemy were always small groups and things like that cause we were trained to search out and find small bad guys, which the army was doing at that time. We started to get guys back from Vietnam, just right towards the end of my year, who really told us very different things, but sadly they
weren’t in time to catch up, we were still getting taught Malaysian rubbish in Canungra before we went to Vietnam.
What do you mean they were telling you very different things? In what sense was it different?
Well they were teaching us to fight a war against small numbers of highly skilled jungle fighters if you like, where we would be doing the searching and the finding and we’d spend a lot of time looking, we’d spend a lot of time –
the biggest danger to us was booby traps, now a lot of this is current in Vietnam too, but in Vietnam you’ve also got to train for the fact that he’s got forces of two thousand people. So you know, you’re – it’s a very different thing to say – say you’ve practising a platoon attack or if you’re doing a platoon attack on three guys in a rubber tapper’s hut, it’s very different to doing it on ten heavily armed soldiers in a dugout or a bunker so
different tactics, different all sorts of things.
So the guys who came back from Vietnam, they were telling you different stories, what were they telling you?
Oh just about a lot of the weapons, see the thing like a Claymore mine, we’d never heard of a Claymore mine which is a terribly vicious awful thing but current in Vietnam at the time. I must tell you another story about the Claymore mines, a couple. But I remember one guy telling us, he said, “It started off, the Claymore mine started off with the French when
they’d been fighting the Viet Minh,” they had a fortress complex, they liked to be in fortress type situations and they would dig into the banks of the camps forty-four gallon drums pointing slightly upwards, fill the bottom with explosive, fill the top with any kind of rubbish you can get, any kind of metal, gunk, rocks, and have a trigger back inside, so when they were being attacked they press the thing and ‘boom’, all
this rubbish blows out at these guys attacking you, well that’s basically what a Claymore mine is, only it’s about that big and it’s much nastier, much easier to use. A guy who was my ‘best man’ at the selection board and he went through Portsea with me and he’s ended up a brigadier, so he’s better than me, but he was blown up in Vietnam by – he was a platoon commander and they were going along, approaching
them on the road was a little Vietnamese girl and an old man and they stopped them, just cause they were in the wrong area and they were going to send them back to the right area, as soon as the group congregated, there was a Viet Cong with a Claymore mine on the ‘target’, the kid – the old man had been told where to walk and where to stop and talk to the Australian soldiers. One of his corporals was carrying one of our Claymore mines on his back at the same time, with the detonator in it, which is totally wrong, he shouldn’t have and you know, quite frankly poor old Colwich[?],
all they found of him was his chest and his boots and the Claymore mine he was carrying was set off, the other one he was carrying on his back just blew him to bits. ‘Sully’ got wounded in the, oh he had a couple in his legs, one in his stomach and one his groin, he wasn’t badly wounded, he was okay sort of thing, but that’s the sort of – that’s the sort of mentality of the guys your fighting there. Their little girl was killed by her own people, the old man badly wounded.
So your ‘best man’, what
was his name?
And he was killed that day?
No, no he wasn’t killed, he was badly wounded yeah.
Oh he was just badly wounded, oh amazing…
He wasn’t badly wounded, he didn’t even to get to go home sort of thing, but that’s what happens with Claymores. Now let me tell you another Claymore story, these are awful I know, but they should be told. Before we went to Vietnam, here at Enoggera in Brisbane, we were told that we were going to be taught how Claymore mines, what they were and how they worked. Basically they are a little piece of metal which is curved like that
and it sticks into the ground and it has a wire going back and you press it and it explodes, all these ball bearings out in an arc, like that. So the instructors come up from Canungra and they were going to teach people, company by company, what a Claymore mine is, so they sent a company down, B Company of the 6th Battalion, B Company – no maybe – 2nd Battalion, both battalions were teaching at this base, sat this company down anyway, put a Claymore mine in front of them,
which was supposed to be a dummy and then triggered it. And by accident they blew a sergeant’s, both his legs off, Len Usher, both his – he was lucky, he took most of the blast, took both of his legs off and wounded a couple of the guys in the company. It happened at twelve thirty on an ordinary day in Enoggera. Not publicly known was it? I was – my platoon was about – we were a couple of hundred yards away in the training thing doing something, heard the big ‘bang’, saw a big cloud
of smoke, ‘what the hell went on?’
What happened after that?
Oh there was an enquiry of course, it was very bad and old Lenny Usher, they made him two little legs that pointed backwards and they kept him in the army as a clerk but…
There was an enquiry, but were there any ramifications at all?
I don’t think anybody was ever really crucified over it; it was just one of those terrible bloody accidents that couldn’t possibly have happened, but did. Happened a lot of times in the army,
accidents like that, because the things you are playing with are pretty deadly. My company commander, [Major] Harry Smith, in Vietnam had to do a board of enquiry, he chaired a board of enquiry on a guy who was shot because he grabbed his mate’s Owen gun and said, “Is that thing clean?” ‘ppkoorou…’. The Owen gun is a very dangerous weapon, it’s got a safety slide, the bolt is on a spring, if the safety slide is not across at all times, you can shake it
and the bolt will go backwards and fire it. You can fire an Owen gun by banging it on the ground. This kid had pulled his weapon back and the slide’s gone back, ‘bang’. Those sort of ones don’t make the paper.
So in the first year of training at the officer cadet school were you taught about how easily accidents could happen?
My word yeah.
But they still happened?
Yeah well I’ve got to say that we had, all our instructors were warrant officers you know,
they were very senior soldiers. Very experienced, all wearing ribbons from Borneo, some from Vietnam, these guys were pretty good instructors, so it’s unlikely there’s going to be too many accidents happen when you’ve got fellas like that around. But oh boy, so many accidents happen in the army, it’s sad. Now eighty-two of us started and I think about sixty-four finished.
Eighteen guys either got kicked out or left voluntarily, just ‘chucked it in’ and said, “I couldn’t do it.”
Now you were pretty fit, you were a footballer, but how hard did you find…
Oh nowhere near fit enough for that. No I think day two they put us on a three mile run, just around the oval, fifteen times around the oval or whatever it was with your senior guy, the senior guy had to run with you, about three of us got there in the required time.
In the army you’ve got to qualify in the fighting part of the army. You must do, it used to be nine miles an hour for fifteen kilos [kilometres]. A nine mile march in an hour and a half with full gear, that’s webbing, pack, steel hat, the lot, a rifle, which is you know. You’ve got to keep trotting along to do that, what did I say an hour – no an hour forty-five, in the general army.
Graduation from Portsea was an hour fifteen and the record one of our class mates was an hour and two minutes or something, so that was pretty fit and you do that, you do it as a group, as a platoon and so if anybody falls out, he just falls out.
Did you see guys that were finding the physical training just too much or…?
Not too many because I mean, they’ve had a pretty good
look at you before you got there you know, to make sure you are going to be able to stand it sort of thing. There were a lot of injuries, but they were good with injuries, I mean I did my knee really badly playing football at Portsea and I was allowed to graduate although I didn’t go down on graduation parade, I was in hospital having my cartilage out when the graduation parade but…
That must’ve been disappointing?
Oh yeah pretty crook [ill] and really unnecessary, the army would’ve let me go. They said, “You’ll be in a wheelchair,
but you can go.” but they sent me to the naval hospital at Flinders for the operation, I was under a navy doctor who said, “No I’m operating tomorrow, I don’t care what your little army problems are.” Typical.
So you were talking earlier about that initial testing that you underwent before you got into the officer cadet school, it was pretty rigorous and they were being pretty careful. What sort of qualities were they looking for in potential officers?
being quite honest, they weren’t looking for guys who were going to be chief of the general staff, pretty well looking for ‘cannon fodder’ to be honest with you. Uh… you can just tell if you look at the size of the classes from Portsea over the years; ’63 [Prime Minister] Menzies says, “We’re going to send troops to Vietnam.” The size of the class at Portsea went from thirty to about eighty, because
‘we’re going to need a lot of young fellas to run platoons’ and as Portsea graduates are often very critical of Duntroon graduates, I don’t know if you ever noticed that we often are, even though my son’s a Duntroon graduate. But frankly, it sort of spoils a budding career if you’ve got to go to Vietnam and get shot. And that’s the way the Duntroon officers look at it to be quite frank, oh well that’s my opinion. Let me tell you my battalion had thirty-five officers in the battalion in those days,
two Duntroon officers, the CO and one of the company commanders, later on we got a lieutenant. But out of them, how many lieutenants did we have, about twenty-one Duntroon officers. Averages don’t seem to work out.
How does that happen?
Well I don’t know, I’ve never been in the posting orders and they all seem to get there eventually
because they’ve got to have the reference to go ahead, but very few of them seemed to be running around pushing you know, thirty soldiers around the bush. Yeah…
So what do you remember about Menzies saying that Australia would send troops?
We were all out in the bush, we were on an exercise somewhere and it came over the radio, he just said, “The government has decided we will make a…” – cause we already had the Training Team and we had the warrant officer type guys over there, some
anyway had been there since ’62, training Vietnamese soldiers, he said, “We’ll increase the thing to a battalion at first and then later to a task force.”
What did you think about Australia…?
“You beauty, we’re going to get to go to war.” Well I often said, Bev says the same thing all the time, she knew, when we first met all I wanted was to go to Vietnam, I can’t imagine why, but it’s a bit like,
to use an example, training for football every Tuesday and Thursday night and never ever getting to play a game and most of us felt that way, most of the young officers did anyway.
So you were pretty keen?
But when you first joined up though, when you first signed up for the cadet school you didn’t think you’d end up in war?
Not really no. You could sort of thing, you might get posted to the Borneo Battalion or something like that at least, to go overseas
and see a bit of something, but no Vietnam was up until, till Menzies said, “We’re going to send a battalion.” Well, you realised there’s a big chance I’m going now, you know.
And you were pretty keen, what did you think it would be like?
Oh well it’s hard to say really, you have all sorts of – was it you I was telling about walking down the plane and seeing all the ladies in black
pyjamas and you think ‘oh my God, that’s the enemy’, cause they told us a lot of crap in places like Duntroon – uh not Duntroon, Canungra because they didn’t really know themselves, you know? The first battalion that was over there was 1st Battalion, they were attached to an American brigade, so they were the third battalion in an American brigade and the American brigade commander didn’t want to get any Australians killed, really he didn’t. That wouldn’t be
smart, so they were rejected violently from the battalion, but it wasn’t their fault and they did have some contacts and causalities, but they were always being sheltered. Too political you know, it’s not – sadly, well not sadly, probably luckily for them if it had been an English brigade it would have been totally different, they would shove them out the front all the time. But..
So you were twelve months at
Portsea and then you went to Canungra after that or…?
No I went to…
So how did the training change?
Well we – we were trained there with a lot of company training and Harry Smith, he was a very good off – a very good solider. He was gleaning all he could from what was going on in Vietnam you know, what it would probably be like and we tried to train along those
lines then because of a political thing and truly, really a political thing, a kid was killed in Vietnam, a kid called Errol Noack, he was the first national serviceman killed and his dad had been an old soldier and back in the days when you’d never been anywhere unless you’d been to Canungra because that’s where they taught the jungle warfare, he said, “You sent my son out to war and he hasn’t even been to Canungra.” And the government made a decision that every soldier from then on had to go through Canungra.
And so down we went and it was funny, we were there for three weeks, there were – and the officers we had for three weeks we absolutely detested, they took us away from the soldiers and gave our soldiers to instructors at Canungra, to training instructors who were twenty years out of date, we generally would come home in the afternoon and the company commander sat down and said, “Now go and tell your blokes to forget all that crap, it hasn’t been done for years, we aren’t going to be doing it in Vietnam, just forget it.”
We did that just about everyday.
What sort of stuff were they teaching them that was out of date?
Let me give you an example, this is one of them that sticks in my brain, we were there doing a section attack, there was an old Scottish guy, a signals corps warrant officer who’s the Canungra instructor, who’s got this section of mine, I’m allowed to watch, but I’m not allowed to say anything and the corporal finishes his section attack against the exercise enemy sort of thing and the old warrant officer said,
“What are you doing lad, don’t you know you should’ve used your Enfield rifle?” Now the Enfield went out of service in about 1952 I think, that’s how much this guy knew and he was teaching our guys to go to war. Oh no, the corporal didn’t even know what he was talking about. He said, “What do you mean?” he said, “Where’s your Enfield rifle man?” You know that’s the sort – that’s my example you know, just terrible even the officer thing they used to put
an old .303 to fire grenades out of, but the army hadn’t had one for ten years at least.
So the equipment that they were teaching them to use was sort of out of date or what else was sort of…?
Tactics too you know. It just wasn’t really the right, a bit hard to explain, but even the scenarios we had was still Borneo, we were still chasing terrorists, we’re not going to Borneo and chase terrorists we’re going to go to Vietnam,
mainly because Canungra wasn’t prepared for it. When I came home from Vietnam that’s where they posted me to go and work as an instructor. So the situation had improved quite a bit then, but even still things that they were still teaching at Canungra when I was there as an instructor, I’d tell a soldier, “Don’t do that, it won’t happen, it’ll never happen.” Things like an
ambush, an ambush is where you go out and you hide beside a track and you hope somebody comes along so you can kill them. It’s not much fun, not good fun, very dangerous, it’s done in the middle of the night, you’re a long way from anybody else, usually there’s about fifteen or twenty at the most, so you’ve got to be very, very careful. So you’ve set the ambush, you’ve got all your weapons to fire, mainly one way where you hope the guys will come along the track, but you’ve got rear flank protection and you’ve got to have rear protection, so you set the
ambush and you have some sort of a signal; I used to use clicks and every solider in that thing knows once you hear the two clicks the ambush is set, nobody moves. Nobody gets off the ground, nobody goes for a leak until you hear the clicks that unset it, which will be dawn tomorrow morning. You lay there and wait for anyone to come along. So we’re doing this up at – now can you imagine then that I would have this soldier at the back, I would teach him that if somebody comes along in the night and you say, “Halt. Who goes there?”
That’s World War II, you just wouldn’t do it. Well I had an actual case where I had a platoon up in Levers Plateau [Canungra] and they were doing an actual ambush…
Interviewee: Geoffrey Kendall Archive ID 2139 Tape 05
Yeah, my job at Canungra was as instructor, as a course commander, so we’d get a hundred odd guys come in every three weeks and they did a three week course and they were broken into platoons for Canungra and I had one of the platoons and I also had the course, so we would do things like take them into the bush and do an ambush as though we were going to do it in Vietnam, even though most of these guys weren’t infantry soldiers,
they were soldiers who were going up there on some other jobs, but I had one in up in Levers Plateau where a guy who was the senior instructor, a major, was checking on the troops in the field and about two o’clock in the morning he came crawling, creeping into the back of my ambush and a little soldier was there and he waited until the guy got so he couldn’t miss and I said, “What have you been taught?” And he said, “Blank, you’re dead.” He didn’t ‘bang’ – he fired a blank. And this major was very embarrassed and very angry and he hauled me over the coals something
fierce and he said, “He didn’t challenge me, he didn’t ask for the password.” I said, “Oh Sir, we don’t use bloody passwords in Vietnam in ambushes you know, we just don’t do it.” He said, “But it’s in the training!” I said, “Well it would get somebody killed.” It really would you know. Well what’s it going to be in, you know that none of your soldiers are walking around, it can only be a bad guy or a cow or a buffalo or something, you’re certainly not going to say ‘Halt. Who goes there?’ the guy won’t say anything, he’ll just throw a grenade at you
and go for his life.
So where did you get your best preparation for Vietnam?
From the company commander in the company at Levers Plateau, at Shoalwater Bay, places like that.
Is that prior to going over?
Yeah prior to going over.
So was that after Canungra?
Yeah that was about the last thing we did before we went.
And how long were you at Canungra for?
Three weeks I think.
And you said before that you were quite fit and ready to go to Portsea, what were
the guys like that you had coming through Canungra? Did you notice if people were finding it difficult to get through the training?
Oh well, do you mean when I was an instructor there or when I…
Were you training there initially?
No I went there…
As an officer?
… and my soldiers were trained and I had a bit of training.
Oh okay, so you were training…
Then I came back after Vietnam as an instructor and they’re two different things.
The soldiers that were in my platoon, let’s say the National Servicemen and regulars, they were fine.
In fact a lot of the soldiers in our company were first intake National Service, they were the first of the new system and I’ve always thought they were pretty specially picked, they were excellent soldiers. They were all smart, all fit, great sportsmen, we had some of the best sportsmen in the country in national service, they weren’t too hard to train at all, they were good kids.
How were they picked, how did that come about?
Oh it was a bloody ballot thing, depending on our birthday, but even then it didn’t work.
Four or five of the guys here on the island that were in the company were National Servicemen and they’ll tell you that they knew guys who had the same birthday but they weren’t picked and things like that you know. They just – apparently they had a ballot thing and thirty-one balls and all the ones on the 15th ,who were born on the 15th, went to the National Service and the 16th didn’t or something like that.
So when you say they were specially picked, do you think it was rigged?
Well it’s hard to see how it could’ve been rigged,
but they were so much, I reckon the first intake was so much better, they all looked a bit that way you know, anyway I can’t think how they rigged it because it was supposed to be by ballot. Maybe the pre-selection was a bit rigged that way, maybe. See the country town, I think they went to a lot of people, like the schoolteachers and that, were part of the pre-selection, I don’t know.
But they were as I say good soldiers.
Did you meet Bev at around this time at Canungra?
Yeah, oh before, before that.
Before that could you tell us about that?
Yeah, I was – I got my photo in the paper, my sister-in-law was in the hospital having a baby, Bev was the senior nurse on the ward and apparently they’d raffled my body, she’ll tell a different story of course, but no
Bev was apparently, they were both named Bev incidentally, my sister-in-law and my wife, they were quite good friends while Bev was in hospital, she was quite sick and Bev was complaining there were no good blokes around or something and said, “I’ve got one of them, my brother-in-law, he’ll just be right for you.” So I went on the classic blind date and she was very lucky too. She was flatting [sharing an apartment], and one of her flatmates opened the door and I thought, “Oh yeah, same old story, blind
dates,” and she said, “I’ll get Bev for you.” “Ohh… that’s better.” Yeah, we got on pretty well and we got married three or four months later.
Really, three or four months? Wow, fast – how did that change life for you in the army?
Well as I say, I think I told you they don’t look kindly on lieutenants getting married and it’s probably a sensible thing if you’re a career officer cause your pay’s lousy, a lieutenant
doesn’t get much more than the corporal, but we lived, we had a little place at Mitchell when we first married, which is down from the barracks. Bev kept working of course, she was still nursing. When I knew I was going and when I was going my folks were in Adelaide and I arranged for Bev to go and live with them while I was away, which she did, which was good, there was a baby on the way then of course.
So she lived with my folks until I got back because her parents were way out bush, not even a hospital sort of thing, so she couldn’t really go there.
What was it about Bev that you liked when you first met her?
Oh I don’t know. She was a very down to earth girl, ‘cracker jack’ sort of country girl and a lot of things.
And we just seemed to get on you know, which was pretty – we got on really well right from the start.
Did she know much about army life or…?
Not a bloody thing. We were – several times when I was first taking her out, like the military ball and things like that, she was a very attractive girl Bev, particularly done up in a ball gown and several times some old senior office would wander across and introduce himself and
say, “I’m Tom Cape.” And Bev would say, “Oh Geoff, do you know Tom?” And I’d say, “Yeah I know him, he’s a bloody general.” She didn’t care about generals or corporals; they were all the same to her. Even still, even you know, I spent twenty-four years in the army, even when I had my own unit Bev was the same with the corporals and the privates as she was with the officers, didn’t make any difference to her. But she got attitude really too, many, many places in the army
and a lot of the places in the British Army they actually call each other Mrs Corporal and Mrs Sergeant and Mrs Lieutenant, terrible, yeah. But…
So did she stay nursing for a while then?
Stayed nursing for a while then she went to South Australia and then went back, went back on a nursing course when I came home although we had three kids in pretty quick time. We had, probably the worst time of our married life was when I was stuck
at Canungra it was worse than Vietnam. I used to go away and be away for about three and a half weeks, come home and sleep for three days and go back again. It was a miserable old life, but I think I told you about the language test. We tested everyone who goes, you were tested initially when you apply for Portsea and then when you graduate to the fighting course, the ‘arms’ as they call them, they test you again for language proficiency
and I always scored high on both tests and so in those days the army was teaching Chinese and Japanese and Indonesian and a few other things, so as a young lieutenant I applied to do a Japanese or Chinese course and of course my colonel he said, “No, you learn the bloody, you learn the business before you do things like that.” So I went to Vietnam and I come back and I went to Canungra and applied again and did the test again and scored highly again and my boss at Canungra called me in one day and said,
“Looks like you’ve got this bloody language course, but I don’t want you to take it.” I said, “Why Sir?” He said, ‘I’m getting 7th Battalion.” He was going, the boss of 7th Battalion, “I’m getting 7th Battalion to go to Vietnam next August.” Or something, you know. In a couple of months time, he said, “Come back with me and I’ll make you a captain.” And I said, “Oh give me time to think about it Sir, I have to talk to my wife.” So I knew what I was going to say, anyway I went back to him and I said, “No I’m sorry.”
A couple of reasons, one, captains don’t do anything that I like doing in war time. Captains are always a 2IC [second in command] or an adjutant or something, I wouldn’t like that and two, I don’t see my future in it this way and I want to do a language course and I fought about it, I had to threaten to resign to actually get it. Two of the – one of the guys who was selected for it and allowed to do it, he was the 2IC we had in Vietnam, he was the
captain, he lasted six weeks in the language course before they kicked him out, so I went and did the language course and passed it and moved on to different things.
Why was that so important to you?
Oh I liked the idea of learning another language, I like the idea of learning an Asian language. And you know
well there are all sorts of things, I could see myself to be quite frank doing three Vietnam tours. Going back to Vietnam as a captain if the war kept going long enough, going back as a bloody major. And oh you know, I did it once, I could do it again, but I wouldn’t like it. I reckon after Long Tan I spent nine months thinking ‘Christ, when am I going to go home to Australia?’ cause you get the feeling, I’ve sort of seen
what I came to see and done what I came to do and the rest of it is a bit boring and a bit dangerous. Dangerously boring you know, but oh well.
Can you tell us a little bit going back again about the military balls at Cloudland and…?
Oh well the military ball, it was the same – it was the function of the year. It was just very well done, the
army can do those things very well. It was a lot of ceremonial they had, the decorations were quite unique, they sort of used old World War I helmets for flower vases and things like that, it was very well done. The ball itself was always a huge success; the bands were great, they picked two of the best dance bands in Brisbane and the local military band, marvellous dinner, good company, good wine, hard to beat.
When you say there
was ceremony what do you mean?
Oh not that much ceremony I guess, they’d have a ‘colour party’ I think and march the colour party in and put the colours up and all that sort of thing. They had military…
What was involved in that, can you explain that a little bit more for people that don’t know?
Well the colour party is the flags if you like of the regiment, every regiment has it’s, or every battalion, you might say for example the 6th Battalions colours –
you have the two colours, you have the sovereign’s colour, which is the Queen’s colour, which is in the Union Jack and you have the regiment’s colour, which is the flag upon which your battle honours are sewn. Now depending on the size of the unit that’s parading sort of thing, for example 6th Battalion has Long Tan, that’s their regiment, that’s their battle honour, now they’re paraded on parade and they’re paraded on the formal parades,
now on the 18th of August I have a ceremony at the cathedral and the colours will be marched. And the party, the colour party, you have two lieutenants carry the flags, then you have four sergeants of the guard and they carry the weapons, I think it’s one in front and three behind and the ‘party’ you know, the colours are marched in. The colours but they’re very ceremonial, they’re never allowed to touch the ground, everything’s got to
be done so the colours are never allowed to touch the ground and usually the thing like the military ball they will march somebody’s colours in, just for a bit of ceremonial and a bit of you know. The colours originally, back in the days when we fought one on one, our team lined up here and his team lined up there, the colours showed you where the boss was. Where the flag was, was where the commander was, and you follow the colours, now they don’t go at all these days, but they’re still held for ceremonial purposes.
Colours live inside your mess, they’ve a big case where they’re crossed and laid up and every time we have a formal parade there’s quite a – a real ceremony where the colours are taken down and they’re handed to a subaltern, who has got to receive them with his white gloves and when you’re a young subaltern you get your turn carrying the colours and when you’re a little guy like me it’s mildly difficult. Oh yeah, some funny things happened with the colours,
we were doing a Wednesday parade with 6RAR before Vietnam and the colours had just been taken down from the mess and they’re being marched up the road to the parade ground and there’s like a little lady soldier driving a van because she was a driver and she’s coming down the road in her Volkswagen, Volkswagen Kombi, saw these bunch of idiots with flags and went ‘beep, beep, beep, beep, get out the way’. Oh dear, what happened to the poor girl, but the shout could be heard from –
the shout of horror.
At the military balls did they – were they very, was there a lot of concern about manners and doing everything the right way, how did they…?
Uh… not desperately so, but you would treat like the dining room table that your unit had, the alcove sort of thing would be the
same as dining in the mess where it is a bit formal, you were expected to know the right forks and the right things to do and all that sort of thing but no, no undue formality. The senior soldiers love it because they can do what they like and they can chat up all the pretty girls.
How did Bev go with the first military ball?
Oh she loved it, thought it was great, that’s what she said, a fella introduces himself to her as Tom Cape, who cares if he’s a general, she calls him Tom.
Coming from where you came from,
which you said was quite a poor background, did you find it difficult to learn all that…?
No my Dad was a [UNCLEAR] all his background was a stickler on those sorts of things, we were taught table manners and smacked over the knuckles if we got them wrong from babies sort of thing so…
Were there any officers in that early part of your army career that you really looked up to, that really influenced you as an officer?
my first company commander was a fella called Peter Phillips, he ended up as a major general and he was head of the RSL until recently. I served under him for a while and went bush with him a couple of times, he went after us to Vietnam and was decorated in Vietnam for a company attack he did with his company. A very good solider, his nickname was ‘Cool-hand Luke’ because he was the coolest fella that …
not to look at him, he’s not a soldier looking bloke at all, but he’s an absolutely sort of a cool fella and that’s good in a bit of a crisis.
When you say he’s not a soldier looking bloke, what did he look like?
Well not a soldier, like he’s he was quite a big bloke, a big burly bloke, just not that all sort of muscle and teeth attitude, very quietly spoken bloke, but a very good soldier and you know
I wasn’t with him when he was in the battle, but apparently through the battle he was fighting with his company and he just sat cross legged with a map on his leg and directed things and just totally ignored what was going on around him and that’s what some of the good ones are like I guess.
So when did you meet up with him?
When I first come out of Portsea he was my first real company commander. And I’ve got to tell you, we went down to near Canungra once on an exercise and he put me on a night ambush and I was
very new and straight out of Portsea and my first platoon, this is hard to understand but, we had a different system in the army in those days, but the platoons were very big. I think the old Pentropic platoon was nearly forty guys, he had three sections, three rifle sections and a heavy weapons section and the corporals I had as section commander who were the next guys under me
really, well there’s a sergeant but he was more administration, they were all fellas who had been eight year corporals, they had all been to Borneo or Malaya, they all had ribbons, really experienced guys, so much so that when Vietnam started most of those guys went in that period of a couple of months from corporal to warrant officer, skipped about three ranks, that’s how experienced they were, but you know of course I’m a bit of a ‘new boy’ and a bit of a joke and we go do
and we set up this night ambush on the track down near Canungra somewhere anyway halfway through the night, it’s cold, it’s miserable and it’s boring and nothing’s happening and one of these corporals suggest to me, “Why don’t you just leave the forward section Sir and pull the other guys out for a sleep?” I thought that’s a bloody good idea, so I did. And so the next morning the company commander says to me, “How did the ambush go?” I said, “Nothing happened you know.” He said, “What, you had a full ambush on?” I said, “Oh no, I pulled a couple of
sections out at two o’clock and just left one section there.” And old Peter Phillips said, “Well Geoffrey, did I tell you to do that?” I knew I was in trouble, I know I’m in trouble if people call me Geoffrey, they call me Geoff otherwise. I said, “No.” And he said, “Well Geoffrey I hope you’ll never, ever do that again cause if you do, you won’t be working for me any more.” “Yes Sir.” But that’s all he was, he didn’t roar or yell.
Why was it wrong?
Well because I wasn’t,
it was supposed to be a full platoon doing the ambush, if I’d been told to do that in wartime they would’ve put a full platoon out there because they’d expect enough to come along that you needed a full platoon, so if I decide to give two thirds of my group a sleep, it was just wrong, I shouldn’t have done it. And you don’t take advice from corporals, particularly old corporals, who would rather have a sleep than lie there in the night, good lesson.
After doing a year of training to be an officer, how did you first
approach the idea of being in charge of men, did you have a plan in your head how you would deal with those men?
Oh yes sort of, you get advice down there some of it is good, some of it is bad. A lot of is pure good luck, for example the infantry men in the army, I don’t know, I suppose they do it in the other arms too, you do a thing called FFI, a ‘Full Field Inspection.”
It’s part of operating procedures and it’s done all the time in the army, peacetime, wartime any time basically, it involves in the rifle platoon, that once a month or something the soldiers come to you in the nude and they’re inspected for tinea and gonorrhoea and all sorts of horrible things, just on the off chance they might have them, you have a medical representative but only like a nurse’s aide with you
and its just a regular thing, it’s just done, it’s been done for years and years and years and it obviously was taught to us at some stage at Portsea, but I must’ve been away that day, I never heard about it didn’t have a clue. So about the second week I got in my platoon he said to me, “Oh it’s FFI [actually Free From Infection] tomorrow Sir.” So I thought, “Yeah okay, I’ll check with somebody in the mess what an FFI is. It’s probably a new kind of a drill or a new weapon or some bloody thing anyway.” So I forgot to check and go in next day,
sergeant said, “You sit there Sir and we’ll bring them in here.” I said, “Oh yeah.” And the next thing I said “What am I supposed to do?” He said, “Sir, you’ve never done this before have you skip?” I said, “No I haven’t.” He said, “Righto I’ll show you, ‘ears!’” and the guy has to pull his ears out and other little techniques and I’m thinking, “What the hell’s going on?”
The bloke walked into the room naked…
Naked and I didn’t know where – what I was supposed to be doing yeah,
but that sort of thing happens.
So did you have a kind of leadership style that you aimed for?
Oh yeah, I guess you try and base it on people you’ve been impressed by, they tell you sort of firm but friendly, which I tried to be. You are expected as a junior, brand new lieutenant to make a few stuff ups and that’s why
I was lucky in this case, in those days we had very senior sergeants and my first platoon sergeant was ‘God’, he had medals from everywhere, even Korea I think, yeah. But of course he was just marking time to go way up the rank and he had many lieutenants before and unless you get a bad one, they’ll be pretty good, they’ll steer you straight.
Naturally as soon as I was able the sergeant says, “We do this every month Sir.” I’m supposed to tell him to do that and lift up here and all that sort of thing and we do it to make sure that the silly little bugger hasn’t caught something that he shouldn’t have or hasn’t got tinea, which is a soldier’s greatest enemy because soldiers won’t report to the medical centre when they should and things like that, so you make sure. But
oh I’m just trying to think, see my first platoon, well they were experienced as I say and they were pretty easy to push around the bush because they had done it plenty – so many times before, then that was sort of down graded like in guys that were – well my platoon sergeant in Vietnam had been one of my lance corporals in my first platoon see, he was up three ranks, but he was quite experienced, a
good bloke. But there is to say the old platoon sergeant who looks after you, my platoon sergeant was younger than me, he was six months younger than me so.
Do you remember what you felt when you first got the platoon?
Oh great. Actually I went to do my selection tests, one of them with a couple of guys who were soldiers from Enoggera, one was a corporal who told me at the time –
they gave us one of those psych tests, one of those double ended ones you know, where they say fill this sentence out, “Because of his mother he…” you know. And anyway that’s when I went through and wrote down the first thing that came into my head and we were talking about it later on when we were having a beer somewhere. This guy goes, “Oh no you don’t say the true things, oh no they’ll think you’re a crook if you say the real things.” I said, “Oh well that’s probably blown me.”
About fourteen months later I walked into 2nd Battalion as a second lieutenant and he was the first salute I got, he was still a corporal but I guess people have different ideas about things. But oh yeah you’ve got to be aloof, you can’t make friends with your soldiers, you can’t make close friends with your soldiers, it just doesn’t work and when you get to war you find out why it doesn’t work,
because you may have to say ‘go and do that’ and it might get him killed, are you going to think, ‘Oh I can’t send him because he’s my mate!’ or something like that, you just can’t do it. And also if you’re his mate he’s liable to say, “Go and get stuffed it looks dangerous, I’m not going to do it.” So you really got to have them to the stage where they do what you say because you say it and as I’ve been saying for years to young officers who were, if I talk to them at battalions
and things, in action it’s not really important what you say, but it’s bloody important that you say something you know, so that people know that somebody’s in charge. Even if you say it by field signals if you don’t actually physically talk, as long as somebody makes a decision and the soldier knows that the decisions that’s been made and that’s what I’ve got to do, that’s what you do, if that makes sense?
Yes sure. So how similar is it then
or different if you like to training footie players, do you know what I mean?
Oh a bit different, not totally different I suppose.
Obviously the stakes are higher.
You’re telling people to do things that are going to hurt in some cases, yeah.
Did that background help you in that?
I wouldn’t think so, not much, no. I think more – the other thing too is the old ‘keep it simple’ is good advice, the contact drills and
the simple drills you learn in real basic soldiering, but you practise all the time so the soldiers do them automatically when their ‘chips are down’, they’re the ones you’re doing because they’re the easiest ones to get across, the guy knows what he’s got to do you know, that’s fire and movement and that sort of thing and so you do them. We practised other things, we practised in peacetime and we practised them in Vietnam, we rarely did them in action because
we were doing the simple things that were easier and simple and more effective, but that’s why you don’t, I had the ‘blue’ [argument] with the sergeant because what he was totally against everything we teach and everything we were taught, it was just cowboy stuff to be quite frank, it can’t happen.
This was when you were in Vietnam?
We’ll talk about that a little bit later. What happened after you went to Canungra?
After Vietnam when I came back?
No, the first time?
Then we came back and we trained, most of the time I wasn’t home very much. We went to an exercise up at Kenilworth State Forest, which if you ever visited there it’s a lovely place, stand still and you watch the leeches crawling up your boots. I came home and you know how your pants go in your boots like that, take them off and there’s a ring of leeches hanging off both legs or when I got home there was just a ring of bites, in fact I used to itch there for about five years afterwards.
What was the exercise?
Oh it was just a getting used to jungle, really jungly type stuff, just moving and living in really heavy jungle. There’s not that much heavy jungle in Australia or for that matter in Vietnam. Vietnam is more bush and paddy and pieces of jungle, little sections of jungle. We did the normal sort of thing you do, we did company attacks and platoon attacks and
all that sort of things.
I think I asked you this before, but maybe in a more detail, if you could tell us the best training that you had for Vietnam and where that was and what happened?
Well places like Kenilworth because the company commander was in charge and he was training some of the things he wanted us to do and then when we went to the big exercise at Shoalwater Bay we had already practised most of the things we had to do,
but just the fact that you were going to some new area you’ve got at least some nominal enemy. And Smithy, he was a good guy, he was a very (UNCLEAR) guy. The very first action we had on that big exercise we’d marched all night, for several nights to get to the place we were at long before we were expected there and the enemy were in an old farmhouse
and they expected we’d do a company attack on them about oh, two days later at dawn or something like that and they were just sitting around smoking and carrying on so Harry said, this was in the middle of the night, said to me, “Take two sections and raid the farmhouse now.” So I did, I’d never done a raid before, but there’s not much to it. A raid is just like a night attack I suppose, so we got up close to them, the trouble is we’ve got blanks and things like that, we haven’t got machine
guns that actually fire so I just fired half a dozen blanks and said to the umpire, “That’s my machine gun fire there.” And he’s got us all sitting around the camp fire and walked in and said, “That’s it, you’re all dead.” So we went back and the umpire said, “Okay well you did that, but that’s not what we want you to do. We want you to do a proper company attack for training.” So he said, “Okay.” And at dawn that same night we did a full company attack. Once again they’re all sitting around smoking cigarettes so it had taken another day to get down here
to get the whole company down here that’s the sort of guy he was, he said, “You told me to take this thing, I’ve done it. Nobody said when I had to do it.” That’s the stage they said, “Oh well you guys had better sit around for two days while everybody else catches up.” Which we did. So that was pretty good training and that was very good for our – the whole company ‘esprit’, we were a bit snot nose, we thought we were pretty good the rest of the company had that, that’s okay.
Can you describe the attack in a little more detail, what you do leading up
Well as I say we were attacking, like a farm house which was a building, but it’s allegedly got a platoon of enemy soldiers in it and they’ve got weapon pits and machine guns and things like that, so we did an attack, two platoons, up there’s quite a large cow paddock if you like, that we formed up on the other side of two platoons up to attack, company headquarters between them and then the
third platoon and reserve behind company headquarters and there was a preparatory artillery, which didn’t happen for real because you can’t fire artillery on your own guys, but there for a, sort of for fifteen minutes the guys who were being attacked had to stay down for fifteen minutes, the guys who were being attacked had to stay down under cover in the holes because bombs would be bursting on the ground and they throw a few ‘bangs’ around to make a noise and we start our attack while that’s going on until
we get in the range where we’re liable to get hit with our own artillery. So we advance across the paddock and there was a wire fence we hadn’t allowed for which was a bit nasty, but we just went through it sort of thing and then into their position and as you approach, you start firing from the hip or firing aimed shots if you can see people and then through and out the other side, which you normally do and a reserve platoon comes through and finishes off anybody that’s not finished off. That’s the way it goes in theory.
And it worked at that point?
Well it worked for the exercise purpose yeah. I’ve seen a lot that don’t, but that was pretty easy cause the ground was fairly open and the only obstacle was the fence, when you do it in heavy timber it’s very hard to keep your people in line because they can’t see each other you know, and if this mob’s got slightly easier ground they’re able to get ahead of that line and you don’t want that you know, but
that’s part of soldiering I suppose.
How long were you at Shoalwater Bay?
Oh a long time, about three weeks, yeah pretty long considering we were on exercise all the time, it was quite a long exercise.
So you would do – when you say it is an exercise, you would have attacks every – how often would that happen? What was the breakdown of the three weeks?
Usually something – well the first week the force, the exercise was on the company basis,
so the four companies were given objectives and they were all farm houses that went up the coast one, two, three, four. Anyway a house was probably fifteen mile from where we started, so we had fifteen mile before we even considered an attack and the exercise controllers allowed us two days to do that cause we were moving tactically, carrying all our gear, all our packs through the bush most
of the way, don’t move on roads so it would take us that long, but they didn’t allow for the old’ beep, beep’ D Company because we were there the next night, well the same night really, the first day. So we did that and we did the first raid and then we did the company attack the next morning and then we did another company attack the next day, again I think, before they never let a day waste and then we had a day off and then we went down to B Company’s objective, which was the next one below us or it might’ve been C Company’s objective and
got into position to attack it and they stopped us and said, “No we want C Company to do their attacks so you guys just watch.” So company commanders weren’t too happy with each other. Well the C Company commander wasn’t that happy with our company commander, but that’s life.
Well you did a lot of training in the tactics it seemed, did you – did they prepare you much for the – I was interested to know if they prepared you for the culture that you were going into?
The Vietnamese people, did you know much about them or…?
Nothing at all really, very little… Just trying to think, we had a ‘why we fight’ lecture at Canungra or basically ‘why we’re fighting this particular war’, but oh it was awful, it really was, it was almost laughable.
What happened, what did they say?
The high point of it was that they were talking about how the Americans had got involved and the Gulf [of Tonkin] and
when the American ship had shelled North Vietnam and all this and then this guy who was giving the lecture who was a twit said, “And at the crucial moment, war was declared.” And a guy jumps through a screen like this you know “pproorr” with blanks, oh come on, you know, dressed in black pyjamas and painted up to look bad, but that was the level of the lecture, it was pretty bloody awful to be quite frank, luckily I
did have a chance to sort of add to that when I got back there as an instructor, so did other people too but it was you know.
Before you went over there what did you think was happening there or what did you think you were fighting for?
Well I knew the history pretty well and that Vietnam was split up and they gave them thirty days was it, to go either way, the north to go south or the south to go north, whichever you wanted to be and of course after about three days the north cut the border and kept them all in, so we knew that, we knew about
the French war Dien Bien Phu and all that sort of thing. Probably as a professional soldier you don’t get involved that much in ‘are we right or are we wrong’. I have said, I think I sent a letter to Bev about three weeks after I got to Vietnam, I knew damn well if I’d been born Vietnamese I would’ve been on the other side, but I wasn’t born Vietnamese so you know that’s just fact, so I would not have been in the ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam – South Vietnam], I would’ve been in the with
the Viet Cong I’m sure because I didn’t like the idea of other people in my country, but then I wasn’t there to sort of do that, that wasn’t my job.
What did you think of the VC [Viet Cong] before you went over?
Oh I’d heard that they were pretty good, well the Viet Minh were the same guys really, beat the French and the French were the ‘bad army’ in those days although a different mentality to us, but
we didn’t think they would be any pushovers you know. We didn’t really that much expect to be fighting regulars, North Vietnamese regulars because they’d got into it, but they hadn’t got that far south at that stage really, but then again I don’t think the VC were any less tough, they were pretty tough guys too. The village guerrillas were the blokes who really were the ones we contacted first, they were pretty amateurish really,
a lot of cases their weapons were old Russian things, old bolt action things and things like that, so they were pretty ordinary but they were probably just more – more there watching us and telling the other guys what we were doing, that was their job I think.
What were you most worried about going into that – into Vietnam?
being honest, I really think I was more worried about stuffing something up, I really wasn’t that really concerned about my own safety, I honestly, no, not saying that I was ‘gung ho’ [full of bravado] or anything like that, that didn’t occur to me, but I didn’t really want to do something that caused my guys to get killed when they shouldn’t have got killed or something like that you know.
Or have an opportunity that I should’ve taken and missed or something like that. I think most young blokes would think that way. And that in some ways it’s probably easier for the guys in charge than for the guy who’s only got his rifle to worry about, he’s only thinking about himself. The section commander’s got his section and the platoon commander has got to think about his three sections and the company commander has got to think about his three platoon commanders, so sometimes having a bit of responsibility can make it make the fighting side of it
a bit easier probably. Not that I’m saying it’s easy.
Interviewee: Geoffrey Kendall Archive ID 2139 Tape 06
Geoff I was wondering if we could, one thing I didn’t ask you about earlier was about drinking when you first joined the army, was there much drinking in that first twelve month course at Portsea?
Drinking at Portsea was very dangerous unless you do it under a supervised situation. We used to do all sorts of things, we used to hide our booze in the ceiling and
hang it on strings over the cliff, but most of the instructors were previous Portsea graduates, so they knew all the hiding places anyway, so there’d be a – every now and again there’d be a bit of a swarm and they’d collect it all and we’d lose it. But oh, it wasn’t bad really and I was just trying to remember what the rules were, there was – there was certain times on the weekend when there was a ‘wet’ canteen open we could go to or something like that,
the rest of the time it was pretty well not on, you weren’t allowed to drink. We still did and we got caught and got into trouble for it. But the guys that were punishing us had done the same themselves when they were, so you now.
What sort of punishment did you get when you got into trouble during those…?
Oh well the first thing was the extra drills, that was the basic sort of easy thing, you know what I mean, any officer could give you an extra drill just by saying so.
If it was a more serious offence you would be charged as though you were in the real army and you would go before the senior instructor and he was aware or he might award ‘Confinement to Barracks’, CB, which is – which in the normal army usually means the soldier can’t leave barracks and he may be required to do other work sort of thing, kitchen work or something like that,
but at Portsea it was a nightmare. At Portsea it meant you started the day with extra drill with all the other extra drill people you then had a – you then went to breakfast – went to breakfast and studies when people stopped for sport you went and got into your battle dress gear and your pack and your belt and your helmet and all those things and you either went and did punishment drill
with the RSM or one of the warrant officers, we ran up and down what we called the ‘scramble track’, which was just a little sheer hill with a little track going over it, they’d send you up on your hands and knees and we just went up and down, up and down and up and down until the warrant officer got sick of it and sent you back. And then you finished that and everybody else finished sport, so you went for a shower before dinner. You went to dinner,
after dinner if there was training you went to that then you had to appear, I’m just trying to remember, one stage you had to get into the full ceremonial gear, the blues and the white shirt and all that and go to a parade and the last parade at night was you went down and that was full marching order again I think, so you changed clothes about five times a day. You weren’t allowed out; you weren’t allowed any privileges, lousy.
So not much fun when you got into trouble.
Not much fun, no.
Were people often up on charges of…?
Oh yeah, I did two lots of twenty-eights, so fifty-six days in twelve months and I wasn’t the worst character there. First one was for drinking in an un – not allowed area. Three of us or four of us I think were down on the beach
playing cards and drinking beer and some Sunday, I think Sunday afternoon and got caught, three of us got caught, one guy got away. And the second one was for disobeying a lawful command given by another cadet. Again three of us we were, a cadet sergeant told us to clean up our room or something and we said, “No.” We were senior class men and we said, “You’ve got plenty of senior class men for that, get stuffed.” And he took it seriously and charged us
and we got twenty, twenty-eight days for that. But as I say there were guys there, there was guy who was in my senior class, a Kiwi, a redheaded guy, I can’t remember his name, and he was CB [Confined to Barracks] all the time, he was at Portsea, he was never off it and he did eighteen months too, he got put back as a further punishment after twelve months, so what a life that must’ve been.
So by the time you’d finished all your, well your training and your time
at Enoggera and Canungra, how much time had there passed between the time you had joined up and the time you left for Vietnam?
About two and a half years.
Two and a half years altogether.
Yeah, in January ‘64 I went to Portsea and I went to Vietnam in June ’66, so yeah two and a half years.
So how confident were you about going into battle in Vietnam?
Well I was confident
that I had the training. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to react when somebody fired at me, I don’t think anybody ever is. I remember very clearly the first patrol I ever took outside the wire was about day two we were there and we didn’t see anything or anyone, the greater section and myself and the sig [signaller] and we just sort of wandered around three and four hundred yards out in the bush
and found a little hut with nobody in it and came back, but oh that was really nerve racking stuff, I still remember doing that one, but I must’ve done a hundred of others because the first time outside the wire you know, the first time you think there are guys out there who might shoot at you. I had one of my corporals was an Aboriginal guy, ‘Buddy’ Lea and a real card, a real funny fella, and we found this hut and he was of course ahead of me cause he had the section, he was
commanding the section and he sort of looked back with the big wide eyes, ‘It’s a hut, god I hope there’s no bad guys in it!’ but oh well. You know we learnt pretty quick I guess, by experience.
So when you left for Vietnam you were married and expecting your first child?
What sort of – what was it like
to leave, to farewell one another?
It was very sad, no I put Bev on a plane about two days before we left to go to Adelaide and that was about the saddest thing in my bloody life seeing her going up the steps of the plane, oh I don’t like to think about that, very sad cause she was in tears and upset she was going – she knew my family, but only just sort of barely knew them, going off to live with strangers, she was pretty brave. Yeah it wasn’t much fun.
So can you tell us about leaving Australia and the journey over there?
Yeah we got on a plane, they were hired 707s, each company on one plane sort of thing, we went – whether we all went the same day I can’t remember, I think we did but we sort of travelled separately. We landed at Manila, the Philippines
at that stage weren’t – they weren’t involved in the war, they were later and they were neither supporting nor non supporting it, so they actually had armed military police at the airport and we weren’t allowed out of the transit lounge thing. There’s a second funny story to that, but I don’t know if I should tell you.
Ten days later, when we arrived in Vietnam, we were still on the beach at Vung Tau when soldiers from the company started reporting with gonorrhoea, the only place they could’ve got it was in Manila and we weren’t allowed out of the transit lounge, so you tell me – you work that one out for me. That’s the Australian soldiers, oh dear, they’re good at finding women or booze or gambling. They really are.
None of them got out of the transit lounge?
Well as far
as we knew there were armed military police stopping us from going out of the transit lounge. As far as we all knew we sat in the transit lounge and waited until the filled the plane, but that really happened and it’s never been explained to me how or where or why it happened.
That’s pretty enterprising.
Maybe we don’t need to use that one, but oh no.
But so in fact only ten days later people were…
Yeah ten days later, yeah we were still on the beach at Vung Tau, we hadn’t been anywhere except
on the plane and at the beach at Vung Tau.
What had the army told you about gonorrhoea and other sexually transmitted…
Oh lectures, part of the Canungra experience was lectures there were – there were some gross films of course. Seriously and I’m not at all biased, I’m not a practising Catholic at all, I’m very much a lapsed Catholic but the Catholic padre,
the padres were all elected to us, but the Catholic padre was by far the best. He just brought some of the gruesome films, ‘This is what can happen to you, have a look at this and think twice.’ and basically that was the theme of his lecture because the other guys were saying, “Don’t forget God.” and all the things which really didn’t go, do that terrible well with the soldiers most of it goes through to the keeper. The Catholic guy was
deadest and he said, “I’m going to show you some films of what other soldiers have done and the trouble it’s got them into.” And oh they’re gruesome and that was probably the best lesson of all, I thought anyway.
So they were pretty gruesome…
But it wasn’t enough to put people off?
Oh no… well a lot of them are single twenty year olds you know, they’re – a little bit of interest.
And so when they did get symptoms of gonorrhoea how were they treated?
Oh they could just go to the doctors and get injections and things. Luckily in our army it’s not a, you know, it’s not an offence to catch it; it’s an offence not to report it, whereas in the American Army it’s an offence to catch it, so they don’t report it. I don’t know if they still do that, but they certainly did in those days.
Interesting, so a different approach
to all of that?
A very silly approach really.
So you stayed, on that journey over, you stayed in the transit lounge and then from there you flew direct to…?
Tan Son Nhut in Saigon.
Can you tell us about arriving in Saigon?
Yeah I just, the main thing I remember is just sort of walking down and seeing all the black pyjamas and thinking ‘The buggers are everywhere already.’ and then realising they were women who were cleaning the footpaths and things.
And just trying to think how we got to… yeah we were loaded onto C-130s, Hercules, and flown down to Vung Tau, which is only – was only a short, an hour’s flight maybe.
What was the atmosphere like at Saigon airport?
Oh it was hugely busy, Tan Son Nhut at that stage was the busiest airport in the world cause it was used for both civilian and military aircraft and there was a situation,
in fact it happened to us later, a friend and I went to Hong Kong on R & C [Rest and Convalescence], R & R [Rest and Recreation] sorry. We were in the flight line waiting to take off and the pilot missed his chance and so we had to go back and get back in and we were in line for an hour and half before he got another chance to take off because they were just taking off all the time and landing all the time, civilian and military aircraft arms, it was a really busy airport,
not the first time I arrived there, other times, I was there a couple of other times. I remember seeing Air Cambodia and old DC [Dakota] planes you know, the ones that sit like that when they’re standing still and people getting into it with boxes and two ducks in it and that sort of thing, loaded up with all livestock and bunches of bananas all getting on this aircraft and taking off
So what was your very first impression of Vietnam when you arrived there?
Oh it was hot, pretty smelly, pretty smelly sort of place, most places. The beach was good, Vung Tau wasn’t bad at all, it was not surf, it was a bit like Redcliffe, like Bribie Island you could surf there, not really surf but a bit of waves. That was pretty well it, we didn’t see much else
at that stage. Vung Tau at that stage we were just in a big army camp, all tents and we weren’t allowed leave or anything like that so we just stayed there and sort of did PT [Physical Training] and that, we had a strip show, I know. The first strip show I’d ever seen in my whole life, twenty-four years old or something and that was on the beach, poured rain and all the girls’ mascara ran, it was very tough
Can you tell us a little bit more about that show?
Oh it’s a long time ago, two I think they were Americans I don’t know, they certainly weren’t young girls, two girls who had done a fair bit of that sort of thing I think. There was a bit of a band then a strip show then, pretty tame I guess by today’s standards. Everybody sat there, the rain poured down; it always rains every night in Vietnam,
most of the year. Poured rain, nobody moved, not even the CO, he still sat there still watching this – watching the strip show and as I say the poor old girls, their hair all ran and their makeup ran and…
So they were American?
American entertainers yeah.
What were the sort of sleeping and living conditions like in Vung Tau for you?
I think two junior officers shared a tent
sort of thing, which is pretty much the same, up Nui Dat we had forward pits, fighting pits and we had tented accommodation behind that, I had my own tent cause I was the senior lieutenant, so I decided I’d have my own tent and the other two shared a tent, the boss had his own tent. 2IC had his own tent.
Very wet situation because it rains so much, it rains every – for eight months of the year it rains every night and then it rains about an inch of rain in a half an hour sort of thing every night. So the weapon pits, trenches all filled up with water, bail them out the next morning and they fill up again that afternoon you know. The night we were mortared prior to the battle, there was some quite funny stories of blokes
jumped out of their tents wearing nothing probably because we mostly slept ‘in the raw’ [naked] because it was so hot and jumped out of the tents and we were up to here in the water and sort of huddled you know, at least they weren’t cold, you didn’t often get cold in Vietnam.
Were you surprised by any aspects of Vietnam when you sort of – in those early days when you first arrived? Or had you been pretty prepared?
Oh no, see we didn’t see much of the locals
for quite some time. I'm just trying to remember when. We did an operation before Long Tan which was quite well away from Nui Dat, they took us out to a village and we surrounded it and then searched all the houses because we found – now how about this, I know we found six hundred, the equivalent of six hundred American dollars in piastres [Vietnamese currency], under somebody’s bed. One of my soldiers brought it to me and I immediately took it
and said, “Oh it could be intelligence material, important stuff.” Don’t know whether now I’d do the same, I’d put it in my pocket now. No I wouldn’t’ve, but we also found two young Vietnamese men hidden in a sort of air raid shelter – all the houses had a sort of an air raid shelters dug underneath them and we were searching all of these and somebody said, “I’m sure there’s somebody down there.” So we got the interpreter to say,
“Come out or we’ll drop a grenade down.” And out these two young fellas come, their story was that they had been draft dodgers that they had been both drafted into the Vietnamese Army and they were hiding from that, who knows, we just handed them over to the Vietnamese authorities. That was about the only time we sort of got to a village and we really didn’t have any contact with the people because you’d go, we’d surround the village and the Vietnamese authorities would come with a loudspeaker and say, “Everybody out” you know, “All sit down there.” And we’d search, I guess we were looking
for weapons and things that would prove VC.
What were your expectations before you arrived or when you first arrived in regards to what sort of a war it would be, how you would be fighting this war?
Well we didn’t, I don’t really think I had much preconceived ideas you know, I knew what to do if a particular
situation arose, I thought I did anyway. I thought we would be good, I thought we would perform well when you consider the amount of training the Australian soldier had before going to Vietnam compared with an American, I mean we were so highly, over trained really. You know an American soldier could honestly be walking the ground in Vietnam carrying a rifle six weeks after he joined the army.
That’s just not enough. You can’t do that to a guy, by the time he goes through recruit training and before our fellas would go through recruit training and then do a year training before they went to Vietnam at least, so we were a lot better trained than them. Then again there were a lot fewer than them too, so we had to be well trained.
So in those first couple of months when you were there, you were in Vung Tau for…?
No we were only in Vung Tau
for about ten days.
Oh just ten days okay. So what – how were you spending your time in Vung Tau?
Mainly just fitness training really. We might’ve got few briefings. We did that acclimatisation patrol I think I told you about, which lasted really two days, overnight sort of thing.
Yeah I can’t really remember what else we did, I think mainly fitness stuff and maybe a few briefings and the one exercise type patrol.
And you didn’t go into the actual town?
No, didn’t go to Vung Tau then, oh yes we did, I went to get a haircut. Dave Sabben and I went in to get a haircut because I remember it was quite funny, again quite funny, we were both pretty new
and we sit in the chair and the barber cuts my hair and then the barber pulls out a big razor to do the bit and Sabben’s hand goes to his pistol and he’s watching this poor bugger wouldn’t want to cut me or old Sabs would shoot him. The barber then got … it’s a wonder he didn’t cut my hair off, but we didn’t know much about the situation at all really. Yeah we could do that, we must’ve gone into Vung Tau. We might’ve gone in once to one of the hotels
or something like that. I don’t remember it though; I remember the haircut I’m pretty sure it was then.
So do you remember your first impressions of Vung Tau?
It wouldn’t have been probably until the first time we got R & R, which I think we probably had one trip before Vung Tau; yeah I’m sure we did. The whole company’s pulled out for a day or two and went down for a swim.
Vung Tau was a pit; it really was a ‘pit’. It was mostly bars and just all packed out, made out of rubbish packing and Coca-Cola things and all that, a pretty grim old place. At that stage we had a bit of a sort of a rest area out on the Back Beach they call it, but it was only tented. There was one good hotel
called The Continental I think, allegedly a good hotel that you could go and have a beer which wasn’t sort of filled with bar girls and things like that. But oh it was a bit of pit, Vung Tau.
And did you see much of the brothels there?
I didn’t see any of them, I saw quite a few bars, I went to quite a few bars which were pretty well the same thing I guess, fronts for them. In
fact the whole of Vung Tau seemed to exist on prostitution in one form or another, but again as I think I said earlier, it was generally regarded as a no fight area. Nobody was going to start fights there sort of thing, so people could go somewhere and go get a swim at least. It built up later on it subsequently had a big club there and everything.
And were many of the men do you think visiting those women and…
Yep. I think there were quite a lot of them, yes.
And were they practising safe sex?
Oh a lot were I think yeah, but certainly condoms were readily available, it was only a matter of asking sort of thing. And you know all the fellas did get gonorrheae or
diseases I was trying to think about, no I didn’t have many in twelve months had five or six cases of guys who were reported with it, which as I say is not an offence in the army, it’s an offence if they don’t report it that sort of thing, fix them up pretty quick. When you remember that most of our guys wouldn’t get there very
often, they might get you know if we went as a company they would stay or we would stay on the beach as a company sort of thing and they wouldn’t be allowed leave. They got three or five, five days rest and convalescence in country once a year. The only other possibility is if they went there for some reason like a shotgun on the armoured car, armoured personnel carriers and even then they shouldn’t really be going to bars
that’s about all.
So what contact did you have with any American soldiers in those early days?
Not much we had an American artillery battalion, battalion? No might’ve only been a company attached to us, they had very big artillery pieces and they fired in support of us if required sort of thing. Paul and I went across a couple of times; we got invited across to a barbecue
once with them. We went across and played Bridge with a couple of Americans once, they were good guys. The CO was a Negro guy he was the CO, the colonel, which they say is a bit surprising. There were a lot of black guys in the American Army, but not many officers, a nice guy. Didn’t really have much contact with them apart from that you know. What else? Flew in helicopters with them but again usually we were just getting on and
But you spoke earlier about how some of the American soldiers at least had received very little training did you sort of observe the effects of that at all in Vietnam?
Yeah one particular occasion we looked after a bridge, it was out to the west, it was part of an operation I don’t know exactly why it was, but we ended up one night, D Company, looking after that half of the area where the
bridge was, the main thing in the middle that we were – that we didn’t want the [Viet] Cong to blow up. For some reason an American company had the other half and my line was the right hand edge platoon of D Company, so I’ve got three gun positions is our basically what we set up at night. The Americans had a roll of wire, just one single roll of that big high wire, lateral wire they’d rolled right out in front of their position. I check on my right hand gun
in the middle of the night, I’d go around a couple of times a night and check they’re all awake and that sort of thing and my two guys in the gun pit, they’re absolutely ‘packing it’, they’re terrified. They said, “Look at this guy.” Their wire starts there that the Americans have laid out and about fifteen yards away there’s an American soldier, steel helmet, smoking a bloody cigarette, rifle on his shoulder walking up and down outside the wire. He’s their sentry. And my guys are down in a weapon pit that they’d dug they’re down behind a machine gun, two
of them. This guy is going to draw all the ‘crabs’ [enemy] in the world, if there’s any bad guys around the place they’re going to pick him up pretty quick and we’re close, can’t we get rid of him. Can’t do much, that’s the way they did things. An interesting thing at night time, if we’re in the bush we ‘stand to’ at dawn, dusk we stand to, British Army’s always done it, so you’re awake, lying behind your weapon as dawn breaks and as night falls
because that’s the most common time to be attacked. The Americans had a thing they called ‘reconnaissance by fire’, so an American company’s out in the bush, they’d get into a circle like that, put a wire if they have it, where they get the wire from I don’t know, but each man would point his rifle outwards and fire a full magazine. A huge noise, a huge racket and the theory being that if there any bad guys out there we’ll chase them away. I heard, the first – on the same operation it’s the first time I ever heard that
and firing a huge amount of firing starts about a mile away from us and of course we all stand to, waiting for what’s going on, somebody’s being attacked, oh no, just reconnaissance by fire.
What did you think of that?
Oh well we thought it was pretty funny really. But in the end the Americans were very critical of us they reckon we were, what was the word… ‘over cautious’ cause we wouldn’t walk on tracks. We wouldn’t walk on tracks
cause when you walk on tracks you get blown up by mines, pretty simple stuff. We don’t walk on tracks and we were trained not to walk on tracks in Australia, but that takes a bit longer, it’s quicker if you go, if you haven’t got to beat through the bush but you also get killed doing it.
And they walked on tracks?
Yeah, oh yeah, they had very little idea of sort of bush tactics at all.
They walked close together as close together as you and me, you are one behind the other all down the track and they wondered why the got ambushed. I’m not being critical, they’re a different army to us with a whole different mentality, a hell of a lot more people, so their tactics are based on having a lot of people and being prepared to sacrifice a lot of people we just can’t afford to.
So when you left Vung Tau did you go to Nui Dat?
Up to Nui Dat, mm.
So can you tell us of your first impressions of Nui Dat and what you saw there?
Yeah it was a rubber plantation, a hill, not a very big hill by anybody’s standards really, but a hill that was surrounded on three sides pretty well with the rubber plantation. An old rubber plantation has big trees which if you got to live somewhere in the bush, well not such a bad place to live, a little bit cleared. We just started off
by digging in weapon pits and living in them for the first couple of days and then we got some wire out and more wire out and then we sort of gradually developed the place over the first two or three months until we got to the stage where we had four permanent tents sandbagged so that if we were mortared, if you were asleep and a mortar bomb fell, unless it fell right on top of you, you wouldn’t get – probably wouldn’t get hurt. And then back,
further back again from that we would have a communal mess tent for the soldiers and the officers in charge shared another one, a smaller one. Showers you know, just bush showers. That’s about it.
What sort of food did you have?
The food wasn’t too bad really. At the start we lived on ten men ration packs, if we were in camp, which are just like canned
food really, but we had cooks to prepare them, we had army cooks. We were very lucky, D Company had a fella called Bill O’Donnell, still alive old Bill, he’s in his eighties I think. He had World War II ribbons, Korean ribbons, Borneo ribbons he’d been everywhere man, he really had and he was a cook but he was very good he was, really he could make – he was used to making food out in that situation and we ate pretty well. He was a good scrounger; he used to scrounge this for
us. On patrol you ate ration packs, little individual ration packs which are pretty rubbishy. We got American ones on some scale we would get American ration packs which were very good, the American ration packs were a hell of a lot of waste, they had tins that had cookies in them and things like that which really is not worth carrying. It’s okay in base camp I suppose. The American
tinned food was generally better than ours. They had some good stuff in cans so they were quite popular for that the American packs, but a lot of rubbish you know a lot of stuff that really wasn’t worth carrying. After we’d been in the country for a while we started to buy fresh food, we could get the occasional steak and things like that.
Did you have access to alcohol and cigarettes?
Cigarettes, they had too many cigarettes sadly. I had thirty-four in my
platoon and it was normal, thirty-one of us were smokers in those days. Now if you saw a rifle platoon there’d be smokers and thirty-one would be non-smokers probably. But they were cheap, cigarettes were ten cents a packet and plenty of supply. Beer was different, for a long time, for the first probably month of so when we were there we used to get two cans a day was the allowance if you were in camp and they were always
hot, almost always hot, they weren’t much fun you know, they’d be lukewarm at the best but we eventually got ice and stuff like that. We eventually got wet canteens when you were in camp, so that wasn’t too bad and beer was very cheap, fifteen cents a can or something, American beer though mostly. We had a shipment of Western Australian beer, Swan, Western Australian beer which, so the story goes – I got this on
hearsay, but I did see the beer, a whole ship load came and they put it on a dock at some place where it was being unloaded and left it there for about eight or ten days in the boiling hot sun, so the beer had boiled in the cans about three times and that was absolutely putrid. When they got it there they found that nobody would drink it, nobody would buy it anyway so what they did they just to put in the soldiers canteens there’d be a big tub in the middle full of Swan beer on
ice and it was free. Nobody still drank it. It was just awful it was just terrible and it was a sort of a joke, if you were really broke you were drinking – you would have to drink the Swan beer you know, but Swan beer in Australia is nice but this stuff it had just gone bad they ended up throwing it away.
So you mentioned much earlier today that you had originally been with 11 Platoon then you moved to 10?
No, no Charlie Company.
Oh Charlie Company, sorry
and then you moved to Delta [Company]. So how did – what was the story associated with that?
Well I don’t know that it’s repeatable. I saw the guy actually only last week, we were in hospital together. The platoon commander of the 10 Platoon then was a fella who wasn’t an infantryman, he was a signaller, Signallers Corps, but in those days people from Signals Corps and Intelligence Corps and some of their
semi fighting corps, when you graduated to that corps you didn’t go straight to it you went to infantry first for two years, to learn how to be a soldier before you went you know, and he was doing his two years and he was with us and he was married and he and his wife had a disagreement and whereupon someone who was sort of – should’ve been a guidance figure for him said he’d go around and see if he could sort it out went round and put the hard word on his wife. So
he came – his wife told him, it didn’t solve the marital problems, but he said, “I refuse to serve in this condition.” So they said, “Oh find somebody to swap him with.” So they swapped us over. And he told me the story again last Friday or Friday two weeks ago, so it must’ve been true.
So he left?
No he went to another company.
Oh he went to another company because he refused to serve with this other bloke?
With someone yeah.
But we’d better keep that one a bit under wraps maybe.
So did that make any or much difference to you because, had you formed relationships in those…?
Probably wasn’t because we hadn’t long formed up as 6th Battalion and we were almost on a skeleton base anyway. I’m just trying to remember what happened to
the guys that I had, they went to Vietnam too with Charlie Company, either but my platoon, probably the one I had in Charlie Company, probably only ten of those guys went to Vietnam with us from some reason the other guys were posted or a lot of cases they were promoted cause they were regular soldiers who had been in there for a long time and went off somewhere else. Yeah I got 10 Platoon and initially for a very short period my platoon sergeant was the guy who was our
company sergeant major as the senior non commissioned guy in the company, Jack Kirby came back from Malaysia he’d been posted to a battalion in Malaysia, came back as a sergeant and was awaiting his promotion and they put him in 10 Platoon as a sergeant because it didn’t have one at the time, so I had him for a couple of weeks and oh he it was a dream, to have a guy like that for sergeant, he’d forgotten more than most sergeants knew, but then he was made the company sergeant major and I got another fellow
I was not quite so happy with anyway.
You had some disagreement with him, was that a problem for you?
Our, yeah we just – our personalities were maybe too much alike I don’t know. He would do what he was told but he would often do what he hadn’t been told and then I did not like that you know, one person runs the show and we had several disagreements over that sort of thing and culminating in that action
I told you about, so this has got to change, okay he went on to do well in the other platoon sort of thing I’ve got no regrets about that, but I was certainly pleased to have Neil Rankin.
How important is it to have those sort, not have those sort of problems in the relationship?
Oh desperately important I think anyway. The soldier has got to know who is in charge and that’s just the simple way it is.
Oh you know we still talk, he doesn’t live very far away and we occasionally talk on the phone or on the computer or something but we’ve never been friends.
And had you become very close with some people who were there with you in Vietnam?
Oh Gordon Sharp was a very close friend we hadn’t known each other that long cause he was a national serviceman, a national service officer and he came into the company
oh, about November of ‘65 and you know we met six months, six seven months later. We just got to be good friends. The other guy, Dave, Dave and I got on okay, but he wasn’t exactly my kind of guy you know maybe. ‘Sharpie’ was a bit of a villain, but incredibly he never – a complete teetotaller-
a bit unusual for young fellows in those days he had never had a drink in his – he would not drink – probably there was some family thing but he never said why, but he just didn’t drink but he was the life of every party and you know a funny guy.
Interviewee: Geoffrey Kendall Archive ID 2139 Tape 07
Can you tell me about the day patrols, exactly what would happen in day patrol?
Yeah well primarily we would do half platoon patrols and that lasted pretty well all the way through unless there was – it was going to be just for the day you know. You’d get, well you’d know it was going to be your turn sort of thing and you would get a briefing the day before.
What would be involved in the briefing?
Oh they’d just say, “You’re going out,
we want you to go out there, round here, round here and come back there.” Sort of thing, and see what you see. The idea of the patrols like that is the enemy know that any time somebody can come across them sort of thing it’s just to keep them away from the base camp basically or to find out if they’re coming close to you. They are more to find out information than to specifically go out and try and kill people you know. So you’d get the thing, I’d have a look at it on the map,
for a normal day patrol you wouldn’t get a reconnaissance, I did a couple of platoon patrols of a couple days, overnight ones where I was given an opportunity to go up in a helicopter and have a look at the area you know. A lot of helicopters, a little Bell, a good mate of mine just died about three weeks ago he was in the paper, Tommy Cavara[?], he took me on my first flight in one of those cause – there’s another funny story for you, Tom was a part Torres
Strait Islander a very funny fellow, a good soldier but we got on this little helicopter, I had flown on one before, just the two of us and we’re going to go and look at this area on the patrol, which is probably over about five mile of terrain sort of thing I want to go and have a look at it. So we’re going along and I said, “We’ve got to go down lower, I can’t see anything.” So we go down lower and we’re howling along you know, flying over the trees and still can’t see I said, “You’ve got to go slower.” And old
Tom turns to me, he was a bit of a character he said, “Make up your mind mate, we can go low and we go fast or we can go slow and we go high, you make up your mind.” And that makes pretty good sense to be quite frank, it wasn’t much use to me because going slow you’re so high you couldn’t see any damn thing anyway you know and skimming over the top of trees at a hundred and fifty ‘k’ [kilometres per hour] you’re not going to pick up much either are you, but I could see his point I suppose.
So what was the point
of going up there then?
Well I was supposed to do a reconnaissance, but he was basically saying “I’m not going to get you and me shot and the plane shot down just so you can go slow and see things carefully.” And it’s his plane.
So with a patrol then was there a specific that you would operate in that day – in day patrol?
Well yeah would normally be say about fifteen guys.
We’d normally go out in single file out through the wire, the wire had a pass, you knew where to go sort of thing and the ground wasn’t cleared much up to about say thirty metres outside the wire so there was a little tickly bit there cause that’s probably where somebody was watching the camp, you could get a few shots at you, but once you got into scrub
well you move in whatever formation the scrub demanded. If it’s very heavy you go single file, because that’s all you can do. You know, very heavy scrub. In open scrub we’d go in ‘arrow-head’ almost certainly cause that’s more fightable, like for example I think I told you about that one first contact we had where we killed somebody; we were in arrow-head when that contact happened which was great, we just go ‘boom, boom’ you know. We’d probably be out for lunch and stop somewhere,
find a bit of bamboo or something somewhere were it is pretty quiet and get in there and we can put a few guys out to watch and have a meal. We didn’t see much, we didn’t often see things, but you know I suppose I had some contact on ten or a dozen ones I went on, varying degrees of success or failure sort of things.
What are the more memorable ones of those?
Well the ones we had obviously where we killed somebody was
pretty easy to remember. I had one very bad situation in ’67, by that stage I had been transferred to B Company. We were doing a patrol, we were moving as a company through the sand hill area which is down away from Nui Dat and there was some movement reported on a knoll ahead of us and the company commander said to me, “Take a section and have a look at that.” So I went in around behind it
and came at it from behind again, just myself and the signaller and one section and the two scouts in front of us, we were going through very, very heavy undergrowth, really on top of the sand hill, but really gnarled stuff, you almost had to crawl through it, it was really, really thick and all of a sudden ‘bang, bang’ and our two scouts were dead or they were both wounded bad enough that they were going to die and I couldn’t see a thing.
And the section commander’s down to my right so I sang out, to say, “Can you see anything Clem?” As soon as I opened up I had a face full of sand from bullets that were landing just there, and there was a burst of fire down that way and he gives a big scream and I thought, “Oh my God, don’t tell me he’s gone too.” What had happened, he’d been ‘creased’ across the backside, a bullet had actually cut his pants and creased him right across the backside without – without even breaking the skin, but give him a really bad burn
and a hell of a fright of course. So I said, “We’d better get out of here because we can’t go forward like this.” couldn’t see us fighting it, so we just backed out very quickly, a couple of bursts of fire and backed out quickly and went back to the company and then came out around it from the other side and our two guys are still there of course. We drove a truck up the sand hill to the top of it, but it was too dangerous because if they had a rocket
launcher or something as soon as it crests the top of the hill they’re going to hit it, so I grabbed another section from my platoon, the second section that hadn’t been – hadn’t done anything and we just went in and charged down the thing. A bit silly I guess, but they’d gone anyway and there was a bunker with an opening on the front side of it sort of thing and where my guys had been killed it was just about that big, just a little slit, camouflaged, built in it and we went and got the two guys and they were both
still alive, one’s still conscious, but they were in a bad way and they both died the next day, that’s probably the worst one I was in, the worst single patrol.
How did you get them back in the end?
Oh we just carried them out by hand and then got helicopters in to get them, get them out. Just a bad luck one. My guys in Vietnam and lot of my guys were shot from bunkers and slits because just impossible to see them
until you’re from here to the chair away and too late then.
From the very first contact that you had where you killed someone, how did you come to grips with the concept that this was serious and you could possibly be the next…
Yeah, oh… I don’t really think that I thought that. I do remember that all the soldiers all wanted to see the poor guy because some of the riflemen were down to the right
and they were all saying, “Quick come up and have a look.” At least a couple of them come up and had a look and of course straight away and vomited because he was pretty badly brassed up [shot at] this poor little bugger. But yeah, oh I don’t know, I suppose we were a little bit cold and callous, we just sort of rang up, you know got on the radio and said, “We’ve had a contact and killed one guy and got his weapon, what do you want to do with him?” “Well find a nice spot and bury him and bring his weapon back home.” That’s what we did.
Was there any
kind of celebration that you’d made a hit?
Celebration might not be the right word but…?
Not celebration, when we went back we had the guy’s pack of course and his weapon and I said, “I’ll take it over to the Intelligence Section at the headquarters.” And I saw the RSM old George Chin, who was a good old solider and he sort of
said, “Well done, that’s the stuff.” I was pretty ‘chuffed’ cause I think I told you, my boss just said, “Why didn’t you get the other two?” But oh yeah, there was – at that stage the whole battalion had had about one kill I think, so we were chuffed to get some success sort of thing. And it’s nice to have a bit of training without getting somebody shot.
How did you deal with other guys around
you when you did come across conflict, did anyone overreact or react in a way…?
Oh yeah I had a few guys, a few fellas do silly things, but nothing that’s sort of desperate. I had one guy accuse another guy of shooting his mate when it wasn’t true, but subsequently you find out that one of our guys did shoot one of our fellas. I only found that out about a year ago. I didn’t know, everybody else in the company knew
except me apparently. But these things happen. It’s a pity – in contacts as I say, as long as somebody is giving orders and telling people what to do and they know what they’re being told, then it goes pretty well, and pretty well, contact is awful in most situations even if it’s only run forward
and get a bit of cover and get on the ground, people will do the sensible thing, sort of thing almost automatically and they certainly got plenty of practice of it in training.
What’s an obstacle drill?
Obstacle drill is just, an obstacle is anything that might put you in danger because of what it is, like it’s a road, crossing a road is different to walking in the bush, you’re easier to see and that’s easy to set up a machine gun
two hundred yards up the road and if somebody crosses it just fire at them and you’ve got a reasonable chance of hitting them. So you want to cross that, you want to be in the situation were you’re able to immediately return fire or do what you want to do, so it could be anything, it could be a creek, it could be – even a bad piece of scrub can really be an obstacle, if it’s too bad that maybe guys have got to crawl through it or chop their way through it, we’re probably going to put somebody down on the ground who can fire if they have to,
if bad guys come along.
So on those – on those day patrols were you constantly doing those kid of – keeping everyone in the right positions or?
Oh yeah, yeah.
Were there moments you just were relaxed or just walking through?
Not too many times that you relaxed because anywhere you were outside the wire there can be enemy
and sometimes were, so no, you’ve got to be alert at all times and if you stop for reason like to eat or something like that or smoke, which we used to do, which is bad tactics you wouldn’t do now, you have to make sure you put your fellows all round defence so they’re prepared to fight if somebody comes along. I did get a complaint once, I can’t remember exactly when, but a guy from the platoon came to me and said, “It’s not fair.” Because when we stop for a ‘smoke’ break.”
A rest, our field signal for a five minute stop was… ‘five minute smoke’, these were the non-smokers and they said, “We normally get put on piquet [guard duty] because we’re the non-smokers and that’s not fair.” I didn’t know it was happening, but that’s the situation where ninety-five percent of us were smokers, so I changed that, luckily the guys were sensible enough to come and tell me.
And when you said you’d signal the men to have a five minute smoke break,
you didn’t talk at all in the patrol?
Not much, very rarely. If you had to talk you’d try and get very close to the guy so you could talk very low, very softly you know, yeah on that sort of a patrol there were field signals for anything you wanted to do pretty well.
Can you show me some of those? There’s five minute ‘smoko’.
Mm, five minute smoko.
What were some of the other normal day time kind of things?
okay ‘stop’ stop is pretty easy; ‘gun’…
I’m seeing that, just come in a little bit further.
That’s all right.
‘Gun’; ‘group’; ‘go that way’. I’m just trying to think what else we could do. We had things like ‘stop’, that’s a building of some sort. What else, it’s a long time since I was in infantry.
What about if you were in a conflict situation, what were some of the
signals that would become really important?
Well exactly the same thing you know gun, group, or rifle group.
Injured or hit or anything like that?
No really no. Ambush – hand over the face. Ambush – hand over your face and point to where you want the guys to be. So that’s usually, say you’re paralleling a track and you hear somebody coming the other way down the track, it didn’t happen to me ever, sadly it happened to one of the other platoon commanders once
you just say immediate ambush on that side and the guys would go on that side facing the track and wait until they come along because they may only have two or three minutes to get there. What else… My mind’s gone blank, I can’t think.
That’s okay, what about the obstacle.
The obstacles, a cross, yeah like that yeah.
‘Good guys’ and ‘bad guys’… I really can’t think.
No that’s really interesting to see it. Now what about a night ambush, how are they different?
A night ambush is, sadly we were very badly organised and they just weren’t organised at all, I’ve even written papers on it since I’ve been in the army, night ambushes in Vietnam.
We had to do them and they were a good idea, but they were never properly thought out. Someone back in battalion headquarters and probably was the intelligence officer I think, was given the job of deciding where we would put a night ambush and he would take it off a map well you know, that’s ridiculous really, it might be a track junction or something okay, well I suppose what’s the likely place that you might see some people. But then we would be given – you were given the location to put the ambush in
and you couldn’t leave until dark, oh you couldn’t leave until, oh sorry, you were allowed an hour before dark to get into the area, but you can’t go into the ambush really until after dark or very latest when there’s still just enough light to see and it’s got to be set up. You need to have, ideally you need to have strings because the ambush is always in a linear fashion and you would have strings from the guys at the end who were going to be the first likely guys to see anybody coming.
If you’ve got things, we used to use some of the most, they’re quite funny really when I think about them, because most of the ambushes in the monsoon season are done in pouring bloody rain and pitch dark you can’t – ambushing your track which is where that box is and you can’t see it you know.
A couple of metres away…
Yeah, so we designed, old Jack Kirby, the CSM, designed a thing that was going to fix that, it’s a thing
called a ‘trip flare’, which is like a little box and normally it has a wire attached and you put that out somewhere, say out in your wire fence so if some guy’s crawling through your wire fence he trips that and it pops and a big light goes off, it’s almost like one of those Roman candles things, a big flame comes off, so he designed a thing where we rigged up a trip flare, but instead of using the normal detonation system we used a detonator like
you would to blow something up with, sometimes we used radio batteries to provide the electricity and we’d take the detonator and the cord to the top of the trip flare. So the theory was the platoon commander has got this bit of kit you see and he puts it out between here and where the ambush is. Oh that’s right, we had cut ration tins, ration tins, five man ration tins, they were green on the outside and silver on the inside, so we cut the ration can like that and fanned it out
like that and put the trip flare in there so that it had a reflector, a silver reflector, to throw the light that way, not that way, and we tried them in camp and they worked all right. But the way you triggered it, initially anyway in the first couple of months that we were there, we had two bare pieces of wire and you had a radio battery which has got two holes in the top with the terminals and you wait and when you reckon it’s time to go you push the two wires into the battery, ‘boom’ off goes the trip lamp. So a few
of the patrol commanders, you’re sitting there all night you can’t hold your rifle because you’re holding these two bits of bloody wire and it’s pouring rain and the terminals and the battery are full of bloody water and it’s not going to bloody work if you do it anyway probably and you just lie there all night hoping nobody comes along, so they eventually got better, we then got Claymore mines which work on the same principle; you have electric wire and they had a grip thing which sends a charge, which blows up. You can also change that and use it on the trip flare and
we had those and a much, much better deal, because you felt confident that it would work. Luckily, luckily or probably unluckily maybe, I had a big win, but nobody ever came along on my ambushes, so I was quite delighted mostly.
So you really just sat there all night with the…
Yeah sat there all night I used to – we used to have in one of the ration packs, the daily ration pack I think, a tin of – a tube of condensed milk which you used in your coffee or tea, a tube of sweetish milk you know
and so you get your tube of condensed milk and you put a hole in the top cause it’s got a, like a tube of toothpaste you know, a little tiny hole and get a hold of that between your teeth and every hour you can have a suck. It’s a good idea because keeping hold of it in your teeth keeps you awake, you’re watching the time, it’s a good way of staying awake. I found it was anyway.
So I didn’t get, that you’d hold – you’d put it in…
It was like a toothpaste tube, holding it in the front teeth, it’s got a little hole in the top and every hour or so I’d allow myself to have a little suck of the condensed milk.
And for the rest of the hour you’d just be holding it there?
Just be holding it there yeah, that’s good, it keeps you awake holding it in your teeth cause it’s amazing, it can be pouring rain and you’re lying there, it’s absolutely pouring down on you, the middle of the night, you can still go to sleep. Doesn’t sound right, but you can if you’re not careful.
Did you get sick?
Physically ill? No never, not really.
Really, in all that rain and heat?
you think you’d get pneumonia or something wouldn’t you? It’s very warm; it’s not very hot – not very cold in Vietnam. You’re just wet, soaking wet sort of thing. Yeah they weren’t much fun the old night ambushes. Dry season was better because you would see more and it didn’t rain that sort of thing you know. But…
Can you tell us a little bit more about the, if you don’t mind, the lead up to Long Tan and
what the planning stages were in the lead up to it?
Just, sorry, just before, just to clarify that a little bit more, you were saying earlier on in your first discussion of Long Tan that there was intelligence around, but it wasn’t necessarily used very well?
Yeah well, there was in intelligence, the intelligence mostly came from radio transmissions, enemy ones that were intercepted. There was a signals unit there that did nothing else but try and listen to the enemy’s
radio, everybody has them. And you know they’d say a little thing like a call sign which has been identified as the headquarters of 275 Regiment was heard broadcasting in here you know, they’d show you a spot on the map, it might be twenty mile away and then they moved here and they moved here and then they’d draw a little plan to sort of say where it was moving. But the trouble was we got those –all the time we were always getting reports, we often got reports of enemy in
and around Long Tan which wasn’t very far away from us.
How far away would it have been?
Oh if you could think to Bribie Island, from Bribie Island from here to the other side of the bridge.
Can we sort of guess kilometres?
Three or four kilometres.
Three kilometres yeah, from Nui Dat to…
Hang on, from Nui Dat to where the battle was yeah, well our mortars; our own mortars could fire in support of us, not in front of us but in support of us
at the flank and sides and they’ve got a three and a half kilometre range so there you go, roughly that, some of it would’ve been a bit more than three and a half kilometres and some of it a bit less probably.
And what was the terrain from Nui Dat to Long Tan?
Oh it’s scrubby really rather than jungly, short, not very high trees usually, fairly passable you know, can usually find a place to certainly travel single file which is not the
ideal, but you know, you’ve got to do it sometimes. There’s a creek I guess you’d call, it’s probably on the map as a river, but it’s only about maybe as wide as the length of this room and fordable, you might be up to your waist or up to your neck or something, but fordable, but tends to run pretty strongly when the rain’s falling down you know.
It’s call the Soui Da Bang I think was the name of it, that was about halfway out to the plantation. Where the guys had fired from was on the edge of the plantation, on the close edge so that would’ve been… Are we right to go?
Yes, the river was halfway from…?
…halfway from Nui Dat to the rubber plantation roughly, a little bit of scrub on the other side of the river and then the rubber plantation started. It’s quite a big…
So Long Tan
is the rubber plantation?
Long Tan is really the village of Long Tan, which is situated on the southern side of the plantation, but the village was deserted and had been – the Vietnamese Government said, “Nobody’s allowed to live there, it’s in a free fire area.” But we had you know, as I said, we had been there many times before, been through and round it so we knew the area sort of thing and the plantation
is on a slight hill rising up to the centre and then tapering back down again. It’s got a road, really a road you’d call it runs through it north to south, which was probably used to take rubber out in the old days, it wasn’t being worked any more. The trees weren’t, they weren’t big trees. They’re half grown rubber, the tree, each tree is only about that much round you know, and they’re laid out in rows. Some growth you know, they just hadn’t been cleaned out because they hadn’t
been worked, but pretty good visibility in normal weather you know, you can see people a fair way away.
So what were people saying about the area directly before this happened?
Well not much, we were, always had a bit of a thought about Long Tan, we always thought that their guys – that the enemy were using it for something you know, maybe to contact the local villages or the local guys or something like that, but
we’d never done any formal operation to clear it like we did with Long Tan, which was closer to the camp. And as I say, because we knew the area pretty well, we’d all patrolled through it, all the platoon commanders had anyway, and seen nothing you know, we just really didn’t expect that many people to be there, although there were apparently reports they were coming and we never got to hear.
You didn’t hear from your intelligence?
Not for that operation. We were told that the likelihood – the largest enemy we would be likely to encounter would be platoon size, so that’s twenty or thirty blokes you know, part of one of the local VC battalion.
That’s a huge discrepancy.
Well yeah as I say, you try to have a three to one advantage if you can, we were giving away about
twenty-to-one start, it wasn’t – not very smart. Although you know we were a hundred and eighty against two thousand you could say in the simple figure, but they can never use the two thousand guys at any one time against us. We’re only that big on the ground, you can only probably attack us with a company at a time which is roughly the same size as we are and we did have artillery and they didn’t, which is a big advantage. A huge advantage.
Why do you say that
they could only attack with…?
Well see when we formed our final position, when the major attack at us, we were only in an area which is probably not more than a hundred, a hundred and fifty yards across…
Cause there’s just no room?
Yeah just no room to get all the guys to attack us at once, they just can’t do it. They line up a company and the company front – frontage was probably about the width we are,
so they can keep coming that way, it’s not a bad tactic, that’s what the depth on an arrow front that’s probably a better tactic than coming at us from all sides, just keep pushing from the one point, but yeah we – there were two thousand of their men available, but they couldn’t use them because of the way things worked out and also if you think of the way the battle started they were coming along, they were trying to get in as close as they can without getting
discovered, this is my theory, so they can attack the base camp, Nui Dat, that night. And from their tactics, the way their tactics work what they do to attack the base camp is they will blow a hole in a the wire using ‘satchel charges’ on a narrow front somewhere, now we don’t know how much they knew about us, there was a pretty weak place where the engineers group joined up to the side of our battalion, somewhere there maybe, they blow a hole in the wire
and kill the people immediately behind that hole and then they pour in there and turn out like that, that’s the way they used to attack American camps very successfully. They were great users of things called satchel charges, which were just a bag with a bomb in it and you just throw it into a tent or throw it into a pit or something like that, so they’re coming along but they’re probably almost as far as they want to go, they’re probably not going to come out of the rubber until night-time and all of a sudden they’ve got this group
of six that went ahead first, probably as a screen or a close defensive patrol or something and they just bumped smack into 11 Platoon, they’ve hightailed it back for their own guys and they’ve lost one guy I think, and my platoon has hightailed it after them and say, “Hello we’re being attacked. What’s going on here? Lets stop and have a look at what these crazy buggers are doing.” pretty well. Half an hour later I come in from the left, they’re being attacked
again from the left, ‘How many of these guys are there?’ See we’re pretty well spread out. So they’re at that stage just trying to feel how many they’re fighting and they’re sort of saying, “We’ll try and hold those fellows there, hold those fellows there and we’ll go around this side and see what we can see round there.” you know and that’s the first part of the battle, they’re trying to figure out how many of us they’re fighting.
You would’ve been trying to figure out the same, wouldn’t you?
Yeah although we had a fair old idea there was plenty of them.
Yeah anywhere after the first twenty minutes of the battle it was obvious they were everywhere.
After 11 first came into contact with them what were you hearing?
Just enormous firing, certainly localised where they were, but also there were tracers flying overhead all sorts of things, a lot of ammunition, as soon as my initial contact refire was over we come under very heavy fire and
they were firing, they were using a lot of tracer, probably one in ten was tracer from their machine guns so you can see how high the fire is, you can see where the bullets are and they’re only about that high off the ground at the sort of highest so it was a bit hard to do much without getting shot.
So you just basically stayed down in that situation?
But when we moved we just moved in a rush and one group after the other sort of thing, you know
and even still we were taking casualties. They were very good at that, they were very good at putting suppressing fire on to a group and later on when we were back as a company there was a lull and I’m pretty sure then they were feeling around out edges to try and say how big this – how many people it could possibly be sort of thing and then they
started up the old suppresser fire again and it was great, you couldn’t stand up or you were dead and that’s – that was just about the truth you know.
What about radio contact, what were you hearing from the other platoon?
Well we heard from Sharpie all the way up until he was killed and then we heard…
What were you hearing him say?
Oh the things I remember, at one stage he said it was a section and he was going to do a platoon attack and I thought, “Oh, lucky bugger.” and
the next thing he said, “No it’s bigger than that, it’s probably a platoon.” I thought, “Oh, lucky bugger me, I’m going to do it.” And then it’s too big for him and then they’re attacking him and I though ‘Hey, hey, this is getting a bit different.’
So initially you wished you had been in his situation because it was it so…
Well it was going to be a quick attack and I’m going to lead the assault platoon, that’s what they pay me for.
Yeah I was literally quite excited I guess.
Yeah, yeah and what…
And Dave Sabben and if you ask David sitting in the background saying, ‘There’s two lucky bastards.’ up the front, so we were all thinking basically the same thing I guess. But it didn’t take very long before he realised that we were the guys who were going to be doing the defending and
What happens to you in that situation where, I know it’s difficult to remember because I suppose everything’s happening at once, but do you remember what you thought when you realised it had really escalated?
Yeah well… yeah I can’t remember thoughts that I sort of dwelled on, I was – I had a lot of things to do
and was concerned about doing them and making sure that they were done right.
So what did you do– what, sort of, did you go through?
Getting the wounded, my wounded, finding out who was wounded, how badly they were wounded, whether we had to be carried, what we had to do with them; admittedly that really is the platoon sergeant’s job and he was doing it very well, I must say that he was doing that, but of course I’m supervising it and then trying to get messages back to the company commander, at that stage he thought he’d lost both his platoons. He had one go
forward and a mass of firing then doesn’t hear much more from them while, no he’s still hearing from 11, but they were reporting they were taking heavy casualties and they had heavy casualties. I went forward, heavy firing, my radio’s gone, 10 Platoon might’ve been ‘history’ as far as he knew and so it’s important to get back to him and tell him we’re okay, we’re still able to fight, but no radio is very bad, our attacks are all designed around having a radio. So the radio was very welcome when it came.
Prior to that, prior to losing the radio what was he saying to you?
Not much, he was talking mainly to Sharpie because that’s where it was all going on. I did ask to go forward, say I thought I could go forward on the left and he said, “Yes go.” just like that and that’s all and went back to talking to Sharpie because they were directing fire, calling in artillery and all that and that takes a bit of doing.
Could you hear what he was saying to Sharpie?
What was he saying to him?
Not much except taking his fire orders and telling
him where to drop the artillery that sort of thing or just relaying that basically. And remember, Gordon hasn’t got too much time to talk either because he’s fighting a battle at the same time he’s trying to, that’s what killed him, he was running around trying to run the battle, which I guess he was paid to do.
Do you remember how the wounded were responding within your group?
Oh they were pretty good.
What were some of the heaviest wounds that you had, that you were worried about?
Well luckily it was nothing too bad. We had one who had a hole through the top of the shoulder and so out through the back.
The radio carrier?
Was that the radio…?
Yeah, yeah. Johnny Cash had a wound in his leg, but I think it was flesh part of his calf actually and he’d already put or somebody had already put a, you know a ‘quickpack’ on it. A guy who was a scout
from left hand section, Hornett, he had a graze on his neck, probably from some kind of shrapnel I think, not too bad. That’s about the first wounds we had in the first bit of action. Then we got two guys over in the right hand section both with leg wounds, leg or sort of hip wounds, but both still able to walk, both flesh wounds they weren’t too
bad. That was the first group I sent back. None of them, just told them to crawl out until I could get out of it and go straight backwards and they’d find the company for sure.
Would you be yelling that stuff at them?
Yeah, although when Cash come in I had him very close to me and I just said, “Just get – take them, crawl back out and tell the boss the radio’s gone but we’re still…” you know “operative” and so
Harry sent the radio forward, in fact he said he can’t even remember giving the orders for them to go forward but he must’ve done it cause he was pretty busy too. And Akell I recommended him for a decoration, he got a decoration, only a minor one, because I thought he was bloody magnificent, I wouldn’t have liked to have been running across there on my own.
So what did he do, he took the radio…?
Well from company which is about two hundred yards behind where we were and come up on his own to bring it up to me and he just come running through the rubber, I remember it as clear as a bell,
“Mr Kendall, where are you? Where are you?” “Over here.” He had a brush with a VC on the way, you know and he had a bloody old Owen gun because the reserve stretcher bearer, the reserve signallers and the stretcher bearers and that were the poor buggers that only had Owen guns because they weren’t expected to do that much fighting.
So he shot out a couple of VC…?
According to his citation, I didn’t see it but he told us he did, I believe him.
So then you moved forward into a different position?
We moved forward towards 11 Platoon yeah, further forward on basically the same direction we had been going, so by that stage already there were VC behind us.
How much further forward would you have moved at that point?
Oh fifty metres tops, two jumps of maybe twenty metres each.
And how many men were left with you then?
I think I’d sent four, five back.
So I had probably, I can’t remember exactly, I had that day twenty-eight, maybe twenty eight left I had nearly a full platoon with me I think.
When something like that happens where they take a whole lot of wounded out how do you reform the men?
Well it’s very difficult if they have anything like 11 Platoon had, see John Robbins who lives here on the island, he was running the left hand section of 11 Platoon he was only a lance corporal, national serviceman so he was fairly inexperienced and
just about the whole section was killed, nearly the whole ten of them so even if you don’t do anything you survive if you can sort of thing but I don’t really know because I’ve never been in the situation.
But even then you had casualties taken out?
Yeah I had ten casualties out of my thirty, which is three killed and seven wounded.
So that didn’t really affect the group? The workings of the group?
well later in the battle I had to move one corporal to another section because both the corporal and the 2IC one was killed and one was wounded, changes like that but at that stage we were defending anyway, we weren’t going anywhere sort of thing, we were on the ground defending we didn’t have anywhere to go.
When you’re on the ground defending is it just everybody in?
Well you’re still probably basically in almost the same formation you
were walking in, but in my case in the defensive position, my defence section is here and they’re spread in a sort of a loose semi circle, they join the right hand section about ten metres in front of me around to there and the reserve section fills in the back, so we cover maybe fifty metres on the ground, not even that, probably forty metres on the ground from front to back, so you can shout orders although that’s very difficult when the
firing’s really bad it’s very difficult for anybody to hear.
Are they close enough for you to hear them shouting at each other?
Yeah to a certain extent certainly, bugles they were blowing bugles all afternoon.
Was there a bugle signal that they had?
Well we didn’t know, they must’ve done, they were certainly blowing bugles and they were running up, their communication was only by wire so they had a team which we saw during
the battle running wire from drums, going back to a phone to a guy at the back and the guys running were bowled over a couple of times and they came back to do it again and we captured the rubber the next day it was still there sort of thing the rubber reels, the wire reels.
Interviewee: Geoffrey Kendall Archive ID 2139 Tape 08
So Geoff, when you look back on that battle what are the moments that you remember as being the most significant moments?
Well certainly the part I told you about where the APCs arrived, that’s pretty significant because then you sort of go from thinking you’re going to be dead to thinking you might be going to live, that was pretty significant yes, but oh yeah,
the stage we realised where that there were a lot more enemy than we expected and we were going to be doing the defending sort of thing, that was pretty significant. When I learnt that Gordon Sharp was killed I was very upset.
When you say that at the moment that you realised there were a lot more enemy than you originally thought, what went through your head when you realised that there were many more than you had
Well I thought that it was a different situation to what we were expecting, I don’t think at that stage I thought it was a bad situation, I still thought well, we’re the good guys, somehow or other somebody will come and help us or we’ll beat them on our own or whatever. I didn’t really think towards the end as I said, it was pretty obvious if they got in amongst us we’d be
in trouble but up until then we were just trying to stay alive, trying to get them not alive.
And the moment that you found out that Sharpie had been killed what do you remember about that?
Oh well that’s, I don’t – at that stage I wasn’t aware because that was just when the first 11 team came back really, what a hiding they’d
had you know, what a lot of casualties, they had a lot of guys killed and the first thing I learned was that my mate had been killed, I thought, ‘Hell, this is not what I was expecting!’ Yeah I was a bit shocked, but sort of the bloke who was telling me said I just walked away shaking my head as I go back to my platoon sort of thing, but yeah I was a bit upset.
At that moment that you
had to, I think you spoke earlier that you said that you dropped down to your knees and you opened fire, what could you see?
I could see a line of – a line of enemies going in on a line of an assault force, almost certainly what was an assault wave.
How many of them would you say were there?
I reckon I could see about thirty, but I reckon there was
probably more guys further away, their left hand element which I couldn’t see and when we opened fire the closest guy would’ve been where the fence is I suppose.
How close would that be in metres?
Fifteen metres, yeah fifteen metres.
So you could see him clearly?
Oh yeah clear enough to see he was carrying a SKS [Simonov System Self-loading Carbine], an enemy weapon sort of thing and he was wearing
greens, which I should’ve realised meant something very serious but didn’t.
Why do you say that?
Well the fact they’re wearing greens mean they were regulars, they were regular North Vietnamese Army, we were expecting to be fighting Viet Cong who normally should’ve be wearing black pyjamas. You know there are no rules about it, but the fact that these guys were formed troops.
So you weren’t expecting to see regular North Vietnamese Army at all?
we knew there were North Vietnamese regiments in the province, but the province is pretty big. No we expected if we saw anything they would be D445 which is the local VC battalion. When I say the local VC battalion, the battalion from that part of the province who we had brushes with before, not necessarily us, D Company, but Australians had had brushes with them before.
So when you dropped to your knees to fire,
they were firing at you…?
No, no, they weren’t firing; in fact they were advancing to attack 11 Platoon. And I doubt very many of them knew we were there because we were coming at an angle like that and they were going away from us like that.
So they couldn’t really – they weren’t really aware of you?
Doesn’t sound fair does it? It’s very fair believe me.
I wasn’t questioning the fairness believe me, not at all. But they weren’t really aware of your location then?
No, not at all in fact, I’m certain they weren’t.
So when you say you all dropped to your knees and fired how many of you would’ve been firing weapons at them?
Well I had two sections up so there could’ve been as many as twenty, but probably the guys on the far right hand side of the section wouldn’t have been able to see them I don’t think.
You know, I’ve sort of never really gone and asked every individual guy, I know that, one of the guys on one of the right hand sections remembers it very clearly and sort of described it but at least he was in it, but the left hand section would’ve all seen them, I would think, so ten guys at least maybe. Yeah probably as many as fifteen of us firing at them.
what did you observe of the effects of your fire?
Oh we knocked them all over we did, because there was quite a lot of fire really, fifteen guys firing is quite a large amount of ammo – you know, amount of rounds and we certainly knocked over the whole right hand element and then strangely really, the left hand element didn’t stop or didn’t continue on but just seemed to do a left turn and go away from us,
which was pretty good stuff really when you think about it you know, they were pretty well trained to react like that. You would think that maybe they would’ve turned and fired, but the sensible thing was what they actually did because they went away, which then cleared ground that other people behind them could fire at us and we started to take fire then or when we got up to move on again sort of thing.
Long Tan you said that you had one major patrol that…
Oh now, I had a couple, couple, mm.
Had you personally shot and killed any of the enemy?
The guy that ran across the thing I fired and Billy Roach who was the section commander of the section in front of me fired and the guy fell down and he had two rounds in him both from Armalites, one through his arm and one through his chest, so one of us killed him and you know, we didn’t argue about who it was. In the other contact
I didn’t fire my weapon at all; I was commanding the section sort of thing, the patrol. Yeah I probably did shoot or at least wounded one guy anyway, but see that’s because in an ambush situation it is the commander on the ground always triggers the ambush, that’s part of the rules so the soldiers do know when to fire, they can see the guy they want to fire at but you know in this case they were running at us
and quite possibly two more guys thirty or forty yards behind him who were going to run at us too so we wait to the last possible minute is the idea in that situation. In a normal ambush they’re usually coming from your left to right so you wait until you got as many into the ambush area before you trigger, well that’s the theory, I’ve never had to do it that way but that’s the way the theory works, so it’s always got to be the commander who triggers the ambush and everybody knew that, don’t fire until the boss does because you might fire too soon,
you might chase them away, you might do something wrong. That’s why I fired in that situation.
So in this situation, in Long Tan, suddenly you’re faced with a lot more enemy than you had been faced with before and shooting down many people at once, so I mean, you said there might’ve been twenty of them or thirty of them perhaps?
Oh twenty it would be more likely probably.
What sort of thing goes through your
mind or body physically when you’re involved in that sort of situation?
Oh I don’t sort of remember it as any feeling of triumph or anything like that, it’s more a planning that we did what we wanted to do and there wasn’t very much, there wasn’t time to dwell on it, we were straight up and doing something else immediately afterwards
cause that wasn’t obviously anything like the end of the show. It’s a bit like a bit different if you had been on a patrol and a bunch of fifteen guys had walked into your ambush area and you’d shot them all and then you might have time to think about it and send out scouts and things like that, but that just wasn’t the situation.
So how far into the battle was that moment?
Oh I suppose from the first shot it would’ve been – it might’ve been as long as half an hour
yeah, maybe not quite that long. See from the very first shot yeah it probably would’ve been half an hour, cause there was probably fifteen minutes before the real heavy, after the first guy, before the real heavy firing that’s all we knew when 11 Platoon got involved with a lot more people and then probably another ten minutes while they called for artillery and I’m trying to talk to Harry and trying to get a chance on the radio, yeah
and probably half an hour and we walked forward for maybe a hundred and fifty metres.
And at this time was it pelting down with rain?
Yeah, pelting, started pelting probably it hadn’t started raining when the first shot, when they’ve prompted into the guys but as soon as we moved off, as soon as we dropped the packs and moved off it just fell out of the sky.
So how hard was it to move in those conditions and to know where what was happening and who was where?
Not difficult to move really, it’s a bit wet underground and underfoot and you’re getting wet, but visibility is restricted enormously. Visibility has gone down from maybe a hundred and fifty metres to less than fifty metres and probably even less than that. It’s more of an annoyance, but not really any other – visibility is a big one, sound, well you certainly still hear all the firing, firing wasn’t
You said at one stage you thought that you received mortar fire?
But you couldn’t actually see it or you could just hear it or?
You could see rounds going off yeah.
So what was that like, can you describe that for us?
Yeah well it was a bit frightening actually. We couldn’t – you didn’t hear incoming which you probably would’ve
if there hadn’t been so much other fire. A round coming in makes a sort of screaming sort of sound whether it’s a bomb or a shell because often in camp our own artillery would fire just outside the wire if they’d seen lights or something like that and if you were in the front pit you would hear the scream and it would sound like it was coming on top of you, you know. I don’t remember hearing the screams, but that was probably because of the other noise, but anyway just a big explosion, one here
and one here and one as I say, one where my platoon, where I reckon my platoon sergeant was sitting. Yeah probably, well it’s hard to say, but I would’ve thought ten or twelve rounds over an area of maybe a hundred square, of a hundred metres square, but no damage really, I don’t think any damage at all which was very, very lucky.
You mentioned also…
We were all on the ground
We were all lying down at that stage, we were on the ground, had we been standing up almost certainly a lot more damage.
You mentioned that at some point you really started worrying about your ammunition running out?
When was that?
Well after the initial contact we were at the stage, we come back as a company and everyone, I think Harry sent out you know, an order, ‘Check ammunition.’ and it was
low already and most the guys had fired a fair few rounds, see they were only carrying, the soldiers were only carrying sixty rounds I think and they might’ve fired ten or a dozen in the first little brush we had, some more when we were doing fire and movement, so they might’ve gone through two or three mags [magazines], which is not good. So that was a worry but then we did get an ammunition resupply and
I don’t – I’m just trying to remember exactly how they got, I know they threw their – the machine gun ammunition is in a belt, a big, long belt and so that was just sort of thrown to the gunners and they grab it and hooked it up, but how we got the other stuff, I think it was still in packets, I’m just trying to remember, you just got a packet of – at that stage I was using an SLR, which was a standard weapon, I was using Hornan’s SLR and the standard SLR bullets you know.
And then after the second of the big assaults, towards the end of the battle you know, we were just about out, I think I had about twelve rounds or something and as I say I wasn’t doing as much of the firing as the guys were in the first rank. Yes so twice really.
And at that point when you really didn’t have much ammunition left what were you thinking?
Well I was thinking that we were going to have to – I was thinking
I had better think of some plan to tell these fellas to get up if they get in amongst us or maybe, I was certainly, was running things through my mind, I wasn’t terribly sure what we were going to do if they got in amongst us cause I know a lot of the guys had machetes and a lot of guys took their machetes out and laid them beside them, they were obviously going to use their machetes, but yeah it was a pretty nervous period.
Did it cross your mind
at the time that that decision not to carry bayonets was a…
Not specifically at the time, certainly the next day and probably even that night, but not at the time, I didn’t sort of think it’s a silly thing to do, but it certainly did occur to me later on yeah, because it wasn’t really until the first of the big assaults that we could really identify the fact, see the enemy weapons all have bayonets fixed to them, they just fold them out, which is not a bad idea, we should
maybe go for it. And you do think if you’ve got to fight the guy and you’ve got to stand up and fight him on foot well, if he’s got a bayonet he’s a little better off than you if you haven’t got one you know. I don’t suppose I consciously sat there and thought that, but it was going through the head anyway.
You’d done an enormous amount of training and in fact all the soldiers, the way you’ve spoken the Australian soldiers, were pretty well trained
to go to Vietnam, how well prepared do you think you and your soldiers were for that battle?
It would’ve been hard to prepare us any more, I just don’t see how you do it, you’ve just got to live it. I had done defensive exercises, mostly they were dug in situations though, where you actually live in a hole in the ground, sort of a weapon pit, we had done those.
We dug defensive positions every time we stopped in most of our exercises. Just trying to think, I don’t recall learning what to do when you’re attacked by an awful lot of guys, not specifically that anyway cause it’s a, that’s a thing that’s a bit hard to manufacture in training too. Usually when you’re training you’re training a battalion which is seven hundred guys and so
you borrow somebody else’s company of a hundred guys to be the enemy because that’s all we can afford to use, so you would rarely get situations where you’d see seven hundred guys all on their feet coming at you, there’s just not enough Australians to go around, not that we ever had seven hundred coming at us but we certainly had a couple hundred. But so that’s a bit hard to train for that sort of thing I think. We were pretty well trained, the guys could all, they knew what they had to do, they could all handle their weapons,
they could fire as well as we could teach them to, so you know, can’t do much better than that.
When you look back are you surprised by or were you, after the event, surprised at all by the way people were able to handle the situation?
I was very pleased. No, not really I don’t think so, Australian soldiers have
just have the right attitude somehow and it’s hard to explain what it is, but they’re all pretty good. I was very proud of my guys; they were bloody magnificent I thought, what can you say?
I mean in a situation like that it would be easy to understand how some people could falter, did you see anyone in the situation express their fear or?
Oh people were frightened yeah, but then you know there was a fair bit of bad language floating around. But oh nothing that would worry me there, I never ever seriously considered even saying anything to a soldier that he should’ve done better, no, not really. Yeah guys got frightened, God we all got frightened, but no they were pretty good, behaved very well.
What was the toughest moment of that battle?
For me personally, losing the radio, yeah that was… yeah, I reckon that was the worst, I was pretty scared towards the end, I thought they were going to kill us, but losing the radio was the worst thing, yes.
Cause that is the sad thing that we have to depend on the radio but it – there’s so many things you can’t do with it when you haven’t got a radio. You can’t call in artillery and the only advantage we had over those guys was we had artillery and they didn’t, that’s what won the battle, really. So not being able to call for radio – for artillery support, we were a bad way to be in not to be able to be directed or give a
report makes it – makes it hard. So that was the worst part and old ‘Yank’ bringing the radio forward was the best part probably because at least I felt I could fight my platoon again sort of thing.
And afterwards you described earlier that basically everyone was in a state of shock really, so I guess that at certain moment you realised it was coming to an end, the
Viet Cong actually withdrew…
When they got up and started to go away.
And at that moment what did you think?
Well I was very pleased, but we were – look I remember, I looked at – looking at all the other guys and was trying to see who was upright and who wasn’t and we were all pretty much the same, we were all just stunned. They had all sort of, they were all relived but nobody was sort of cheering or anything like that we were just sort of saying, “Shit that’s good.” you know.
Just trying to think, there certainly wasn’t any cheering or anything like that and remember too we had a lot of our guys were dead too, and I’m only finding out that three of my guys were dead so there wasn’t too much to cheer about.
How did you find the strength to cope with that as an officer in charge of these men?
Oh… that’s what I was trained for
that’s what they train us for. That’s part of the deal, but writing letters to the next of kin is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. You try and make them nice and you try and make them sound that they’re real, that you’re not bullshitting sort of thing, not very much fun. But
there you go.
There have been a lot of things written and said about that battle, it’s kind of, I’ve guess you’ve heard a lot of stuff that you would probably disagree with…
Are there things that have been said that you particularly find umbrage with?
Well it was often said that D Company was ambushed and that’s just crazy talk it really is. Anybody who knows anything about
the enemy knows that they were very good at ambushes, if we had been ambushed there would’ve been none of us alive, we wouldn’t have gone home. They would’ve wiped us out I’m sure. They were, if they’d had time to prepare what they were very good at doing, and they did it regularly to the Americans, a full sized regimental ambush, they would’ve wiped a hundred men out in half an hour probably, but because they were on the move and we were on the move we were caught ‘on the hop’, it took them a fair while to establish how big we were, we had a good artillery
support that’s what’s better – we weren’t ambushed, in fact the first enemy we saw as I say, walked straight into 11 Platoon as though they were on a Sunday stroll. You don’t ambush people like that and that’s always be a bone of contention with any of us that were there because it just didn’t happen. Oh there’s a few little ‘quibbles’ about some of the things that happened in the support but
I don’t think, I think it’s a bit cheap to go into that sort of thing.
There – I have read that there were accusations about how some wounded Viet Cong were killed the next day after the battle, were there any mercy killings?
Well one guy’s written a book where he said he done mercy killing. Certainly there were people that were shot. In almost, in every case that I saw
and I know there were a couple in my platoon as we walked back into the rubber and our soldiers were told before anything, so they were under orders, they said, “If anybody’s in a fire position and you don’t know if he’s alive or dead, shoot him.” And there were just literally dozens of people like that, dozens of people who were lying in positions where they could’ve been lying behind a tree ready to shoot you and so people just as soon as they saw them they shot them. Almost invariably they were shooting dead people, but that happened, yes, it did happen and I don’t excuse it and I would do it again.
That’s exactly what it was, I don’t know what Buick said, that’s his business, I didn’t see it and I wasn’t there.
But in fact, what you were faced with was not knowing if these people were alive or dead?
And then the Viet Cong are notorious for having live guys among the dead guys and shooting people, so if you are in any doubt put a round into them and make sure. If he puts his hand up and wants to give up as the two guys who were alive did, good, we’ll take him prisoner. If
you can see he’s alive and he’s helpless, okay, fine we’ll help, but don’t take any chances if you think the guy could be alive, shoot him and I would do it again tomorrow if I had to do it again, cause that’s just the way it was. But some people could say it was a war where they were shooting wounded, not true.
Is there anything about what you did or how the decisions that you made that you would’ve
I don’t think so, I can’t sort of think some of them I didn’t like and some of them were forced on me but I didn’t you know… on the other hand I can’t sort of
claim that I did anything wonderful, I just did what was called for at the time by the circumstances. I would like to say I was Napoleon, but I’m afraid I could never find those square hats.
You were awarded a Mentioned In Dispatches, that’s for your role in the battle, what does that mean to you?
Well when a commander, a platoon commander or company commander is awarded a decoration it is
awarded for the performance of his soldiers and people have got to understand that. You can’t give everybody an award, so the guy in charge gets it. It’s not a good system, but it’s probably the only system that works, so I was awarded, as my citation says, I was awarded for commanding a platoon which performed magnificently under fire and I’m proud to have, and I’m proud of them, you know happy about it.
And as I told them when I got it, I don’t accept it because I wear the bloody thing, you guys earned it. We all earned it you know. That’s the way it is, decorations are such a funny thing it’s stupid you know, I got an MID [Mentioned In Dispatches], Gordon Sharp got dead and he got nothing, so what’s the logic there you can argue all day…
How did that single event change your relationships within the platoon?
Oh I don’t think it changed them at all you know, we’re still – I’m proud to say my soldiers I think would follow me still I’m sure.
I just wondered if in some ways it may have brought you closer together actually?
I think so yes, yeah. You know – see I was a
regular soldier so I had many, many other platoons and at some times I forget guys, I know their faces, forget their names, fellows who were with me at Long Tan, that’s disgraceful but it just happens, I know I know the guy but I can’t remember his name. It happens when you haven’t seen them for a long time, but I get on fine with all of them. No problems and I think if they were in the army they would serve with me again.
You spoke earlier about how some of the people who were wounded that day and went home really suffered the most later because they weren’t able to go out on the battlefield and see what happened, so what was that process for you being able to go out and see the results and to get back into action if you like and why was that important?
Well the one thing that was – we were really afraid that
night, waiting to go back in or do what we were going to do the next day, they’d get our guys, because we were still missing I think, thirteen guys, still out there on the battlefield, now eleven of them were dead, but two of them were still missing and thirteen guys and we don’t know if they’re all dead or if any are alive or what. We’re terrified they’re going to get captured or they’re going to get mutilated or something like that, all the silly things you think of.
We were also pretty worried that we were going to go in the next morning and find it’s all been swept clean, there’s nothing there and no matter what we say for the rest of our lives nobody’ll ever believe us. They’ll say, ‘Well they had a bit of a scrap, lost eighteen guys and went home with their tail between their legs.’ so that’s why it was very hard, it just was a relief to think that we did do what we did and what we thought we’d done and you can’t believe what the battlefield was like, it’s just
you don’t believe it’s possible sort of thing, just couldn’t have happened. And then when we get to our guys we find two guys still alive, that’s tremendous, you can’t believe how good that was and the other guys were all lying –sorry – all lying face down on their rifles…
that’s pretty good too, if you’ve got to die, you die, at least they died like soldiers. Oh haven’t done that for a while.
We can stop if you would like for a while.
No, that’s okay.
Would you like to have a break or…?
Yeah I might have a glass of water I think.
Sorry, I know it’s hard to talk about it…
That’s okay, no it’s all right, it’s okay.
How long afterwards would you say it was before you sort of felt you came back to some sense of normality?
Oh not that long I don’t think. The next week, I had some good news the next week so we were getting on with life, goes on.
Can you tell us your good news?
My first child
was born, my daughter, eldest daughter and I got a telegram in the stylised fashion they used in those days saying the baby was born and I was able to send a stylised answer back, but I still, she was Natalie, ten months old before I saw her.
That must’ve been extremely hard to be to have partaken in a battle like that
and to be still out in Vietnam and have your daughter born?
Yeah it was a bit of a – the rest of the tour was a bit of an anti-climax, it was just always sort of seemed to be a bit as though maybe we should’ve gone home after the battle. Although that was silly to think of, we were all professional soldiers, well not all, well I certainly was, but it was a bit of an anti-climax.
But what about the moment that you received that telegram, I mean what was that like for you?
Oh just, just
marvellous you know, but very frustrating that you couldn’t get on the phone and talk or something like that you know. Crazy nowadays, the soldiers ring up from Timor on their mobile phone. Yeah it was all pretty primitive in those days.
So you and your platoon immediately went, after Long Tan, you immediately went back on patrols or?
Yeah we were…
oh the timings I can’t remember, but we were certainly on another operations within about two weeks.
And how did you – how did you feel on that next operation?
Oh just trying to remember which one it was. Uh… it wasn’t really a problem I don’t think. The guys were very, we were all ‘toey’ about bugles, once
more before we left the country we were on an operation where there was a bit of a brush with another company who was pretty close to us and somebody reckoned they heard a bugle and said, “Holy shit, we don’t like bugles.” Bugles mean the regular guys and lots of them, but nothing came of it anyway. But oh, I did another
probably seven or eight major operations and twenty or thirty patrols and ambushes at least.
But in those early weeks after Long Tan were you sort of concerned that you were going to be faced with something similar again?
We certainly wouldn’t want to be faced with 275 again, we were pretty happy about it, we had given them a bit of a blood nose and I think, I do think that, the enemy,
the enemy command said, “Listen it’s probably not worth the effort, stay away from these guys, leave them alone. Let them own their little province.” And although there were some other big battles later on, but usually when the Australians got a bit aggressive was when they got other big battles later on in the piece I think they said, “It’s not worth the worry, let them go.” Of course their official reports didn’t say that. Have you ever seen the official reports?
They killed four hundred of us. Shot down three aeroplanes and oh… blew up twenty tanks, something like that. Some Viet Cong guy was awarded a huge medal because of the great victory they had, that’s the way it goes, propaganda. Even now there’s one of those things that the, either the Australian Story [television program] or one of the other ones that was made about Long Tan, ones they talked to some of the
Vietnamese guys who were in the battle, all pretty old now actually and you know they didn’t really realise themselves what their own casualties were I don’t think, I think they kept it pretty quiet. One guy said, “Our orders were hold them by the belt, to fight them that closely that we could hold their belts.” Descriptive isn’t it? Yeah.
Still you know, like I said if I had’ve been Vietnamese I would’ve been on the other side anyway probably so you know you can’t despise them, they were bloody good soldiers and they did their side of the business too.
You were what, how old, twenty-five?
Twenty-five, just turned…
Twenty-five and in charge of all these men in this amazing situation?
Yeah but hang on, Gordon and David were only twenty-one. They were both National Servicemen.
about the two guys who had been out there all night?
Yeah well Jim Richmond was one, he was shot in the chest and fell face downwards and sort of just laid there and was found that way the next morning, had been lying out – it was a wonder he didn’t drown really because it rained all night. The other fella was a guy called Meller, ‘Custer’ was his nickname, I don’t know what his first name was, Barry, I think and he was shot through the cheek, not badly and a leg wound too I think and
he sort of got lost you know in the – he was 11 Platoon and when he moved back to us and he stayed out all night and he was the famous story that the Viet Cong tried to take his boots off during the night and he said, “Fuck off!” you know and let me tell you that that story was made up by a reporter from a bloody Australian paper and was not true at all, it was just one of those one of those reporters standing around and said, “That’ll be a good story.” And it
wasn’t true. But he was the guy, we were walking back in the next morning and he got himself against a tree and he was sort of waving his arm and oh honestly, it was one of the best moments of the whole thing to see he was alive and we had a guy, a guy called Ian Renshaw, he was an Englishman, in fact he went back to England joined the English Army and fought in the Falklands, but he was okay, he was the company commander’s
orderly which is sort of like his batman and guard and all that and he said, he was quite famous “G’day ‘Custer’ how are you?” and Meller said, “G’day you Pommie bastard.” And old Ian Renshaw reckons he knew he was an Australian then, he had been accepted.
And Jimmy who’d been out all night…
Jimmy Richmond yeah.
What happened to him later?
Oh he went – he was taken – I think he must’ve gone –
he was wounded in the chest, he would’ve gone home I think, yeah I’m sure he did and so I didn’t probably see him again until the reunion maybe some ten years later.
But he went back to Vietnam…
Back to Vietnam a couple of years ago with an Australian group that were going and offered us one guy they would pay for him to go, to go with them and so we said, “Who wants to go?” And Jimmy was one so we thought he probably deserved it more than the rest of us, he certainly had a feel for the infinite, feel for the Vietnam dirt.
But I mean, I think you didn’t actually tell us
on camera he actually went back to serve in Vietnam?
No, no, no …
Oh sorry, I misunderstood.
No it was just a couple of years ago as a tourist.
Oh okay, oh I misunderstood. That must’ve been an extraordinary experience to find them alive and...
Oh wonderful yeah as I say, his case and he’s still alive you would think after surviving an experience like that you would have a fairly short life thereafter but no, Jim’s going strong.
Interviewee: Geoffrey Kendall Archive ID 2139 Tape 09
So how did you come to leave Vietnam?
How did I come to leave when my tour was up? I was one of the last in my battalion to go, in fact Paul O’Sullivan and I were last, so we came home first class on Pan Am which was very nice, but sadly we’d been – we got our best set of greens you know, one that had been ironed somewhere or other
and then we had to go to Saigon to catch the plane, and the plane was late and we were there over night, so by the time we got on the plane we were pretty ‘grotty’, but being officers were travelling first-class so we went to the first-class entrance and the little stewardess sort of looked and said, “Are you sure you’re at the right entrance.” And we said, “Yeah we are.” They were very nice to us then though. Yeah we flew back through Manila. My wife was meeting every plane for about two weeks,
she was back in Brisbane by that stage and I had leave you know for – quite a lot of leave.
What was it like to meet up with Bev again?
Oh it was terrific, very good.
The reunion at the airport was it a teary reunion or…?
Oh not really teary, my daughter was pretty intrigued with me, she was about ten months old and I, she wasn’t used to me and
I had little sharp things on the shoulders and bits and pieces, so she thought I was a bit interesting.
How did you adjust to this person, you know this little ‘bundle of joy’ and you’d been roughing it in the bush, was it difficult to adjusting to treating someone with that…
Oh no she was pretty cute, at a nice age too, just starting to walk and that you know it was pretty good and then I didn’t mind any of that. Yeah I had leave and then I was posted
to Canungra as an instructor. Canungra at that stage had a wing…
Yeah you were posted to Canungra…?
Yeah and they had a wing at Green Bank, just south of Brisbane here, there’s an old army camp there and so I went there first of all because I went down to Canungra and I was there that was probably the worst part of my military career, I spent about
eighteen, twenty months there I think. It was a terrible job, it really was, it was very hard, we worked like drovers’ dogs and we got home and all we did when we got home was sleep. We lived in a little married quarter at Bulimba so I would go away and I would come back three and a half weeks later. Oh no I wouldn’t actually, I came home every week cause I had to come home to get fresh greens. Bev said all she did was iron greens for me, as instructor I had to be always spotless,
any time I appeared. And the first thing, a typical day was the first thing we would do was the obstacle course, so we’d go through all the obstacle course and the last part of the obstacle course the soldiers had to climb a tower and jump into the Canungra River. A big high tower and the officer in charge was the last man jumped in, you stepped into the river to show that you could do it too. So you put those clothes on an hour and a half before back to your room a new set of greens, train all day,
maybe in the afternoon we would go to the rifle range, you would be down on the ground showing a soldier to fire a rifle, go back a new set of greens for night training. I think I owned eighteen sets of greens – eighteen sets something like that, I know I would take them in nine at a time and I would have to go home and get some more and she didn’t have a washing machine, an old copper. Bad times. So you can imagine I was pretty pleased to get the Chinese course and…
talk to the guys much about what you’d been through? In Vietnam?
Uh… no, no not really. It’s a bit of a funny situation down there, we weren’t allowed to wear ribbons because the people – the theory was that some of the instructors had been to Vietnam and some who hadn’t and the soldiers would tend to listen more to the ones that had been to Vietnam, I don’t know why they would, but anyway we were all the same and it was a bit of the army principle so we, you know
we weren’t allowed to tell ‘warries’ [war stories] or identify ourselves, which I would’ve, have told warries. We did, those of us who had been tried to teach them things that were – what the facts were and we got into trouble for it too. I told you the story about the bloody, “Halt. Who goes there?” I just can’t imagine anybody who would have been so stupid as to, who would do that. “Advance friend and be recognised.” Yeah ‘bang’.
There were a few other things that were still silly. One of the guides I instituted there was just a simple thing where if anyone sang out ‘take cover’ or if they heard a loud bang, they all had to get as quickly as they could on to the ground and into a fire position, no matter where they were, that was just to give the guys an idea, no matter where you were in Vietnam you could be in trouble, you could be – as I said,
Vung Tau seemed to be out of bounds so probably you were safe there, but anywhere else you know the VC were very good in Saigon and little girls did it. They’d have a little girl on the back of a motor cycle and they’d just slide up behind them and ‘bang’ and blow the back of somebody’s head out and that happened regularly mostly to Americans, but so it was always a war zone no matter where you were sort of thing, but I wasn’t unhappy to leave Canungra at that time though.
You said earlier that Canungra did
improve from what you could see…?
Mainly because we had so many guys coming back who had been there and people started to say and we got some more senior guys who would be listened to probably more than the junior officers were and we had better soldiers there too. You know any soldiers and any experience if you explain the situation to him will understand even though he may not have been there. We were very early in the piece in Vietnam 1st Battalion
was there before we were there, a couple of soldiers were killed by our own grenades in an accident. The grenades were hung on, we used to hang grenades on the webbing you know, there were shoulder straps are and the webbing had been thrown in the back of the truck and you know, one of them snagged on something and the pin had been pulled on the grenade and its gone off and killed a couple of blokes. So they made a rule then that if you carried a grenade in you couldn’t carry it on your webbing, you had to carry it on a pouch
and that the lever, you know how a grenade works?
It would be interesting to hear you explain it actually.
Well the grenades we had and they’re probably the same today, has a handle down one side which is held in place by a split pin with a ring on to the top and to use the grenade you pull the pin first. It doesn’t do anything, as long as you hold the handle the grenade is still safe. When you throw the grenade the handle flies off and the grenade’s armed and explodes
seven seconds or ten seconds, whatever its been set to, after that. So what had happened in this case, the pin had pulled, the lever flew off, the grenade armed and went off and killed these couple of guys who were sitting in the truck. So then they said, “Right, from now on as well as having the pins being in, the handle has to be taped with masking tape.” No not masking tape, that rubber tape you know, duct tape, to the handle. And that meant from then on nobody would use grenades
because a grenade is a thing that’s got to be used on the spur of the moment, straight away, it’s got to be quick. The only time I ever saw grenades used at that was oh, a couple of times I saw them thrown down pits when they thought there might be enemy in there. But I saw once a friend of mine, a guy who was the tank commander, drag his tank to a halt beside a pit that they’d discovered, jump off, rush over, quickly pull the pins and throw two grenades down this pit
then roll over and wait and wait and wait… he’d forgotten the lever was still taped to the side. So that was bad, it was done for a safety reason, but it was bad tactics, I had said so many times at Canungra, to senior officers and that and they said, “Oh there must’ve been a good reason for it.” Yeah there was a good reason; you might as well not carry grenades because nobody’s going to use them in that situation. So I don’t know whether – the other thing was, I told you earlier,
we used to have our own trenching tools on our packs, but as soon as we went into action we dropped the packs and like at Long Tan we never came back to the packs until the next day. We never got within maybe a hundred and fifty metres of them so when the mortars started to fall and you think you might need to dig a shell hole, ‘Where’s my trenching tool?’ a hundred and fifty yards away on my pack. Three years ago I was a 6th Battalion in Enoggera and they showed me the brand new soldier. A young kid all done up with all his new gear and how
wonderful he is and his bloody entrenching tool is still in his long pack, the message still hasn’t dropped, so I don’t know. I’ve been saying those sort of things for years.
What were the young guys coming through like that you were dealing, that you were instructing?
Oh they were okay mostly, that particular course was for people who weren’t being posted with a formed unit, so they were people like cooks and clerks and things like that, they weren’t really going to be in
the fighting end of it, but they might get involved in it, they’ve got to know. They were pretty good, not as, probably not as fit as the infantry guys but not bad.
We’ve heard guys that have said that Canungra was really hard going; did you see any guys that you were instructing that just couldn’t deal with it?
Oh quite a few yeah. Remember that we were sending guys to Vietnam, some guys who were as much as forty years old; you can still be in the army in the infantry at forty-seven
in fact some of the senior officers found it pretty tough and we put packs on their backs and march them nine miles at the drop of a hat sort of thing. Yeah a lot of simple injuries too, a lot of ankle sprains and things like that. That’s par for the course and all that happened really was you sent the guy away and when his ankle was better they sent him back and he’d do it again so.
Did you remove anyone from the course yourself?
I don’t think so no, I don’t think I had – not for, on soldier grounds anyway, I might’ve marched some guys off for compensate grounds or something like that, but no I don’t think so.
Did you think some of the instructors were brutal with the men?
No I wouldn’t say brutal no I don’t think so, they were pretty tough and a lot of the guys hadn’t, since they’d done their basic training, hadn’t been in that environment
where they were forced to carry heavy weights and run and do nasty things and jump off towers. Used to the tower, probably one in every tenth guy would refuse to jump off the tower the first time you tried it. Yeah it was totally against the rules to push him off or anything like that, but every soldier who did it was made to stand beside the instructor and at some stage the instructor would go…
and down he would go. There were complaints about it and people were – the instructors were disciplined about it but it happened. In most cases the soldier got in and found it wasn’t too bad and was keen to go the next time. I got into terrible trouble once, a bloke jumped into the pool and sank, and come up to the top and froze just sort of, the water incidentally was bloody freezing in the middle of winter at Canungra was pretty cold. We had two guys, lifesavers there all the time and they
jumped in and grabbed him but the commandant happened to be watching and said, “That man could’ve drowned.” I said, “He was perfectly safe Sir.” He said, “He couldn’t swim.” I said, “Yes he could, he just got cold when he got in the water and froze and lost control. We got him out, it didn’t kill him.” The commandant was terrified we would drown somebody in training, so I get a few extra orderly officers. When you’re only getting five days off a month it’s crook if you have to spend two of those doing something else. But as
I say again a guy who had been my ‘son’ at Portsea, an artilleryman, he’d been you know, my junior class man, spent two years at Canungra and I don’t think ever had a day off, he’d just been in so much trouble that he just – poor guy.
So how did you come to leave Canungra?
I was told that I had been accepted for the Chinese course and – and sort of talked my way out of going back to Vietnam
with the general, colonel, later general who I saw later in life when I was in Intelligence we had quite a good yarn but you know, I couldn’t see much future especially as a captain, captains don’t do anything except you know… if he said, “You’ll have the mortar platoon.” I would’ve been tempted but that’s the only captain’s job that’s worth doing and even that I wasn’t that keen. I wanted to do the Chinese, so I went away and did the Chinese, that took a
year and then they posted me to Hong Kong for another eighteen months to do some more Chinese and then they attached me to the British Army for another eighteen months to speak Chinese and then one of the conditions of going to the British Army being attached to the British Army was I had to be in Intelligence so I transferred to the Intelligence Corps.
What sort of intelligence were you doing at that time?
How long ago, thirty years ago would probably tell you. I was interviewing people from China who, freedom swimmers to Hong Kong, they used to swim across to Hong Kong
and summer time there’d be sort of three or four hundred might swim across every night and they’d catch them all and they’d put them in police stations up in the New Territories and there was a British Army sergeant would go through and sort of say, “Any of you people that are cadre?” which is cadre, do you know what cadre is? It’s the system that the communists have of putting people in the villages to run the show, sort of like local politics and it’s normally given to somebody who has been in the army,
so some guy put up his, “Oh well, you were in the army.” “Yeah.” “Okay, well okay, we want to talk to you before we let you go.” And then they’d send him down to me and I would use interpreters to – we had Chinese, Hong Kong army you might call them, they were part of the British Army, they were Chinese – Hong Kong Chinese staff sergeants who were all – we used them as interpreters even though I could speak – I spoke Mandarin, the national language.
Was it Mandarin or Cantonese?
A lot of the people coming over were Cantonese speakers, four keen speakers all sorts of things you know, they could all understand Mandarin because that was the national language and that’s what all the TV and the radios are in it, but I couldn’t understand them, they talked a totally gibberish dialect so we had translators. Anyway you talked to guys in those days we weren’t friendly with China, they were a potential enemy, we were just getting military intelligence about them some of it was very basic
one guy come in one day and had been a cadre I said, “Why were you a cadre?” he said, “Oh I was in the army.” I said, “What did you do in the army?” He said, “I was in artillery.” I said, “Whereabouts did you serve?” He said, “At [Vat] Phou On.” Phou On in – Phou On – anyway I can’t remember it. “In Mongolia.” I said, “What were you doing in Mongolia?” Cause he came from southern China. He said, “Oh we were looking after the nuclear factory.” I said, “Oh, were you? I think we’re going to be very interested in you.” And he actually got a name,
this is more than thirty years ago so I can tell you.
We’re covered actually, so you can tell us.
The Brits used to name their sources after race horses and this guy was mine, so he got – he got Gunga Din, remember Gunga Din, the famous (UNCLEAR) that was this guy’s code name, Gunga Din. So I did that and it was a great I used to love going to work I would go to work every day it was really interesting, a lot of it was basic and pretty boring but it was a good job. The
British Army was a lot of fun to be attached to; I had a lot of good times with them.
Why did you like it so much?
Oh it was just interesting and I was talking Chinese and Chinese was very good in those days. And I liked the Brits’ system they were great, we had a cocktail party once, I was based when I was learning the language at place called Wanchai, it’s a fort on the end of Hong Kong Island
and they had a cocktail party every year and invited the local dignitaries and somebody suggested it would be a good idea to have it in the old fort, which is still there but deserted, and of course it was basically the young fellas who were suggesting it and the old fellas said, “Oh no, it’s too much bloody trouble.” But there’s more young fellows now than old fellows so we voted them out and the man in charge of the mess was very upset about it because he was against it, but the colonel was on our side about it. Anyway he said, “We’ll all have to form teams and do things.”
I’d had a lot of electrical experience in civilian life and a bit in the army too, so I said, ‘Well maybe I can do the electrics, maybe if I can get hold of some generators and things.’ And this guy said, “Oh Geoffrey that’s good, you do the electrics. Now you’ll need some help uh… is there a Ghurkha’s Engineering Unit in the New Territories?” And somebody said, “Yes Sir there is.” “Oh good, attach them to the captain.” I was a captain at the time, “Attach them to Captain Kendall.” So the next day a young Ghurkha arrives and salutes me and says, “Sir what would you like?” Wonderful.
I love the way the Poms do things, yeah and put generators in here, and ladies’ powder rooms there in old gun shelters and we had the most magnificent cocktail party and ferried people up to the old fort on buses, on army buses. Drank cocktails and watched the planes landing underneath us, marvellous.
The Brits were good at that sort of thing. We had a dining-in night in there in the mess, a formal dining-in night they always have a band and the band plays selections through dinner
and as you get to the ‘passing the port’ stage the band then plays every officer in the mess’s regimental song. And this was a combined mess that I was in so that there were people from everywhere learning Chinese, they were from everywhere so I’m listening and they say, “Oh that’s the ‘Gay Gordons’ and that’s ‘The Omen’,” or something and that’s the – all the British Regiments of the guys who were there – ‘Waltzing Matilda’ that marching song of the Royal Australian Infantry, oh it nearly made my throat this big you know’
it was really nice’ they did that well. So I really enjoyed Hong Kong. We were there three years and still be there if the job was still going. I came back to Australia in the Intelligence Corps; I went to South Australia and then Canberra for about seven years and then back up to Brisbane. I got to command a unit in Brisbane – the Intelligence Corps only has one unit, it’s called the Divisional and Intelligence Unit and they had photographers and linguists like me and…
Was there a real Communist threat still at that point?
No, not really it was pretty quiet; it was pretty much peacetime in the army then. But I had the first women soldiers who were what they called a ‘head of a division’, first time we had female soldiers in combat situations. I had the first four in my unit; they were two linguists and two photographers.
How did the blokes deal with that?
Not well, but they soon got pulled into gear.
Yeah a certain amount of horseplay, whatever you like is allowable in any situation, but we got over the board I had strict – if I get one complaint you know what I’m talking about, you’re ‘dead meat’, no the blokes were good. And the girls were good too, the girls were really good, we had one officer. When we went on a big exercise up Shoalwater Bay, we had to live in the bush and I said, “Okay
you tell me where you want it and you set up your own showers and toilets and I’ll give you someone to help set it up where you want it and how you want.” And she just got to it and they did it and we didn’t have any problems. The guys showered here and the girls showered there and it worked. Yeah they were good.
Did it take a long time for that to come in?
That’s what, I’m talking 1980 something, that this happened.
I mean were there a lot of discussions leading up to it
and a lot of resistance to it leading up to it?
Yeah there was, I mean we always had the women’s, the WRAACs [Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps] as they were called, but they were very strictly limited in what they were allowed to do and of course they bitched about it because the world was changing a fair bit and if a girl can speak Chinese as well as I can and interrogate as well as I can then why shouldn’t she get the same glorious dream as me, but okay that means she’s got to do two years in infantry. Okay we’re going to have to do find some way to do and it’s working out.
It’s slow, we’re still – we lean more to the British style in that way whereas the Americans have been doing it for years, a long time, they have girls flying jet fighters and all things because they realised, well I mean the Russians would’ve been doing it back in the Second World War, so we’re just catching up sort of thing.
So when did you come to leave the army then?
Why did you decide to…?
Oh I didn’t decide, I got to be too old. When you get to forty-seven you can’t stay in the arms. You know, the fighting corps, whoever is put in Intelligence you’re still regarded as a fighting corps, so the only way to stay in was to transfer and I could’ve transferred and become a blanket counter or something like that to one of the other, which didn’t really interest me and you’ve got to make a break sometime. I could’ve stayed to fifty-five, but it would’ve been harder to get a job at fifty-five than forty-seven. It’s pretty hard when,
“What can you do?” “I can shoot people and talk Chinese.” I did work with Chinese for a while; I worked with a guy in the Valley [Fortitude Valley]. A place called Chinese Trade Centre, but oh he was such a crook, he even frightened me. So as soon as I possibly could I got out.
Was it hard to adjust to civilian life?
Not hard, terrible. Nearly twenty- five years in the army I thought everybody outside was trying to cut your throat, in the army they’ll
cut your throat but they’ll do it nicely, they’ll tell you about it first or something.
Sit down and have a discussion about it and then do it?
So I bought a hardware store. I bought a little hardware store at Toowong in Brisbane and I had that for eleven years. Made a lot of money for about six years and starved for five years and sold it and retired.
Did you miss the army?
Oh yeah, I still had a bit of contact, I still see people, I go to reunions and things
and I get invited to speak sometimes and things.
Do you remember your first reunion with the Vietnam guys?
My first one… it was a fair way down the track because I was posted to South Australia and I was about the only Long Tan veteran in South Australia and then to Canberra where not much was done, there were very few people there, wasn’t really until I got back to Queensland in the army which would’ve been late ‘70’s,
’79 something like that. It was about then before I really went – oh no in 1968 they gave us, presented us with the [presidential] citation, the unit award, and we all went to Townsville to where the battalion was then. They had a big parade and everything to receive the award so I saw them all then or a lot of them anyway because a lot of National Servicemen were out of the army and some didn’t come to that. Most of them did though.
So that would’ve been about the first one, the first time I’d seen them.
And what was it like seeing those guys again?
Oh it was quite good, it was excellent in fact. Some were, there’s still some regulars in the army. ‘Buddy’ Lea, the Aboriginal corporal was still serving, I used to see him every couple months or so he was at Enoggera. Spent a lot of time trying to get him promoted sergeant, never could old Buddy, just couldn’t pass the sergeant’s exam.
He was a good soldier and he served twenty years.
Were there some people who looked like they hadn’t recovered from their experience in Vietnam?
A few yeah. One guy here on the island [Bribie Island] who has had a lot of psych problems, really bad ones you know. He was really badly wounded and he had a bad deal, he was coming home to hospital for a year before he sort of got back to civilian life. He’s had a few problems but he’s on
the island now and he’s doing better… yeah John Robbins, the guy who was wounded – he did very well in life, he worked for Elders before he joined the army and he went back to them and became almost their general manager or something so he did pretty well and he’s working through a lot of it now. Yeah I know young Honan
died, he I don’t know how he stayed in the army, he was a regular soldier he stayed in the army he was part aboriginal and he went back to Cherbourg, he left the army and went back to Cherbourg and just dropped dead in a football match. He had a heart attack in the football match. Maybe it was caused by the wound, who knows.
What did you think of PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder], when did that become, when did you become aware of that?
Oh I always had it a bit. I’d go through bad patches of dreams, it
was a bad thing we were all, just about all of us are bloody terrible drinkers, we drink like hell and we’re gamblers too usually, cause we all think we’re probably living on borrowed time. It wasn’t so bad in the army because my army had been my life for a long time. The last part of the army I had some good postings I had the divvy [divisional] unit which I loved. I had it for three years which nobody had ever had it
before and it was really good. And the last couple of jobs were in Victoria Barracks in Brisbane and one was an intelligence job which was interesting and the other one was just I was the commander of all the people that ran Victoria Barracks. I ran all the cooks and bottle washers and the guards so I was pretty happy in the army but then I got into the business and I didn’t believe you could be sick from stress, I never believed that in my life until I got my own business
and three weeks into my own business and I’m hopping on one foot, and I’ve got a cold and I’m sneezing and oh terrible, but it was interesting and as I say it was very successful for a while until the big hardware chains and we got Bunnings [hardware chain store] and all those big hardware houses and all the little blokes were really dumped. But yeah well I haven’t lost because I was okay because we saved in the good years
sort of thing and we did a bit with it anyway.
So a few of the long term survivors live in your immediate area?
Yeah there are eight of us on the island.
So do you catch up much then with those guys?
Yeah well Johnny Robbins and I are pretty good mates, we go to the gym class together which is run for Vietnam veterans, we were, no, there’s one other guy that I knew before and we play bowls together.. John Heslewood he wasn’t, he was in 11
Platoon, we play golf together and go fishing sometimes. Neil Rankin, my platoon sergeant, he’s here. We go out to dinner occasional and you know socialise.
Do you – do you talk much about that experience?
No, no not much really. We might talk about people or funny things or something like that or do you remember what happened to so and so but not much about the battle.
You know we’ve all been through it; we’ve all written things for books and stuff so it’s all pretty much ‘old hat’ now I guess.
When you look back what are you most proud of with your service in Vietnam?
Oh I’m pretty happy about Long Tan, I’m pretty proud of my platoon’s effort, they were very good. I know I do believe that my platoon were primarily responsible for the company not being overrun towards the end
cause we were taking the brunt of it, they were coming through us. So they made a major contribution although both the other two platoons made major contributions too, I’m not trying to make it a competition, but I’m very proud of what my guys did. And the fact – well go right back to the start of it, the first thing that we do that’s really serious, we shake out, I take two sections up,
we’re going to assault forward and try and get to 11 Platoon not one guy says, “Oh no we can’t do that.” or, “Oh no.” they don’t even bat an eye, they just do what they’re told. You’re pretty proud of that, you can’t help but be proud of that so there.
What about the Vietnam War generally, how do you look back at that?
Well that’s… I’ll get technical for you now, for
years, I think an old Chinese guy called Sun-Tzu first wrote the principles of war, the first principle of war accepted by the British and American system is the selection and maintenance of the aim. The first thing you do is you select, why are we in this war? What are we trying to do? World War II, okay we’re trying to defeat Germany and Japan. So having done that, having said that’s what we’re trying to do then you maintain the aim and that means that you do everything possible
to achieve that aim. You do drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima cause that’s to win. Maybe because of Hiroshima, I don’t know the Yanks have always had trouble grasping selecting the aim, first of all, what was the aim in Vietnam; to keep South Vietnamese independent. Half of South Vietnam weren’t too sure they wanted to be independent, that’s not about the aim.
If you say okay South Vietnam is going to be independent and that means that no Viet Cong or North Vietnamese troops will be allowed into the country and we will kill them all if they come. Okay it’s an aim, let’s drive them all back to Vietnam if that then says we’ve got to beat North Vietnam to do it let’s say that otherwise let’s go back home if we’re not too sure what we’re here for and that’s what the Yanks were doing in Vietnam, they were fighting wars and losing people without really being dead sure what they were fighting for,
what exactly they were trying to do. Now even when we were there we – and they insisted we came out from under American control we would be given a province that we owned, that was our province, we would call on the Americans for aircraft if we needed them, but big support if we needed, but we said how the battles done in there. And then our boss said, “Okay no Vietnamese, no enemy moves in this province unless we let him.” And that’s
what our aim was to try and do and we pretty well achieved it by the time we went home Phuoc Tuy it was ‘quietsville’, nothing happened down there. The Yanks sadly didn’t do the same thing ,I haven’t seen it I think you could say in the Gulf War or the bloody war that’s just finished the same problem, they haven’t really decided what they’re trying to do. Why don’t they just say we’re trying to get rid of Saddam Hussein, that’s what we’re going there for? Whether he’s got bad weapons or not we don’t like him,
we’re going to get rid of him and if that involves invading Iraq, we’re going to do it. At least we know what we’re doing. It might sound brutal but there’s a fair bit of truth to it. And that’s basically what happened in Vietnam, there were an awful lot of people that I met in Vietnam that did not want to be Communist, we had a whole village north of us called Binh Ba, they were all Catholics and in fact one of our padres used to ride up there on a bicycle
on his own to say Mass, brave guy, he died recently. Wouldn’t be escorted, wouldn’t carry weapons but the Viet Cong didn’t shoot him probably because they realised they would make worse PR [Public Relations] for them than not shooting him sort of thing but this whole village of maybe two thousand people, all Catholics, all fought several times, the local village militia fought against the Viet Cong fought to stop the Cong from taking over the village so what do you reckon happened to them after ’75?
And I’m sure there were thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands other people in Vietnam the same thing happened to them so it wasn’t all black and white.
Have you ever talked to your children about the war?
Often yeah. Not much about, Steve of course he went to Duntroon and he was keen to read the books and he wanted to ask me what I thought about this and that so I have talked more to him told the girls in general what happened more about the
living in Vietnam as a solider and what we did in Vietnam and that sort of thing than the warrie sort of parts but yeah. If I can tell them something that they – that I think is useful to know I would.
Have you enjoyed being a father?
Yes very much and grandfather probably even more.
Well yeah, grandchildren can be…
It’s hard to have a family though with the military life I’d imagine because you’re moving around?
It is yeah. We had,
this is the twenty-third address we’ve had since we’ve been married.
Bev hung in hey?
Oh yes, she stuck with it yeah. She’s pretty good. We had some bad ones and we had some very good ones too. One of the addresses in Hong Kong was a twenty square foot apartment overlooking the harbour. Five beautiful, five bedrooms the army paid for everything lovely. We came back from that to a hut, an army hut in Woodside in South Australia
where the grass grew up through the floorboards when you had people to dinner you had to move all the furniture into one of the bedrooms so you could put a table in, it was so small. Steve was about four, my son, when we came back the first day he wanted to go to the toilet, the door was closed, one of the girls was in there and he said, “Well where are all the other toilets?” In Hong Kong we had about five and that’s not counting the servant’s quarters. So there are highs and there’s low.
Geoff, do you have a kind of final comment that you want to put on the record for future generations that would hear your interview about war or life in general?
Well I think I’ll better, I’ll stick with the army side of things…
Basically what I said before we don’t have many soldiers and so if you’ve got them you’ve got to look after them and I’m not saying molly coddle them, I’m not saying
keep them out of danger but I have been to, I’ve sat in a lecture where it was proposed that I as the company commander would put my first platoon across a minefield to clear it and I don’t agree with that, I would fight against that desperately, that’s going back to World War I and we’ve got to advance on that and simply we just can’t afford to think that way. We’ve got to look after our people, we’ve got to look after their skills, now I’m pleased to see we’re doing it very much with the SAS [Special Air Service], those guys
are very, very good, very highly trained soldiers but boy it costs a lot of money to train and we haven’t got very many of them, so you’ve got to be very careful what you do with them, you don’t put them across minefields to clear the minefield, so yeah that’s my opinion. Yeah pretty well I guess it goes on to the country, we’re a little country and we’ve got to do what we can and look after the people that are doing it sort of thing, that’s how I look at it.
That’s about it I guess.
We have so enjoyed listening to you today thank you so much.
Thank you very much, that’s very complimentary.
No, it has really been very interesting for both of us, so thank you.
What are you going to do with it?