Archive number: 2417
Preferred name: H
Date interviewed: 26 August, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Well Harry thank you very much for being involved in this project. The first thing I wanted to as you to do is give a very brief summary of the main points in your life so from where you were born through your service career and up until now? Go for it…
I was born 1945, March
1945 in Parramatta New South Wales. My father was in the army he was a regular soldier at the time and my mother came from Northmead. She lived in Northmead during the war. My father was actually a farmer and his family were on the land down near Griffith New South Wales. Later my first, I have no
recollection of Parramatta at all it was only when I was taken back to Griffith that I really start to recall all my recollections on the land so I can pretty well remember back to about four and a half five key points. Growing up on the land some say it was hard I don’t really recall it as hard. I remember good times and most certainly they were most different to my kids growing up
today. It was a very simple time you made your own fun you really didn’t have a lot of toys. People didn’t have a lot of money. My Mum and Dad and their family had been on the land since the early 1900’s were not rich people but we never really wanted for anything. A lot of our food and sustenance came from the land and
I was educated in a public school in Griffith. The very early years, I remember very fondly with my brothers as I say we made our own life on the farm had our fun and we went fishing and shooting a lot. We had a lot of chores to do on the farm they were all set down. Dad was I suppose the old,
an school having been through the Depression and the war. He was a hard man. Mum came from Parramatta and she hated the country and but she put up with it and for Mum I think it was a very very hard life. She was, it was a very lonely life you know miles from anyone and to go anywhere was quite a long time
to get into town and things like that.
Harry, we’re probably going to go back and talk in detail about your parents and your childhood so if you could just give a very quick precise of where you went to school and when you joined up and what your service career has been?
Okay, I went to school at Griffith Primary, Griffith’s school in Griffith. Pretty young uneventful I was pretty good at three things fighting, picking up garbage and
athletics. I made first year high school or half way through it and then I got expelled along with a couple of Aboriginal friends of mine and at that point my father who was pretty knowledgeable around the place set me up with an apprenticeship. I was forced to go and do an apprenticeship. That was really a plant mechanic where you had to do a multiple
apprenticeship of fitting and turning, diesel mechanic and boiler making which was moulding. That was pretty had given I’d left school early and didn’t do a lot of maths so it was a bit of a struggle there when they wanted to teach me algebra but I got through that. Finished my apprenticeship quite young I was only sixteen and shortly after that I joined the army.
Met some friends that were in the army and I thought I’ll do that and I joined the army that was in 1962. In 1960…after the basic training I went through to Kapooka, Ingleburn and then we were sent to Malaya to 3 Battalion and joined A Company 3RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] and
underwent more extensive training in infantry battalion. I then served on the – first saw action on the Thai border the Thai Malay border then action again at Kesang in Malaya when the Indonesian confrontation commenced and after that we went to Borneo and spent three quarters of the year in
Borneo in the first division of Sirowic at a place called Stass which was an outpost probably a hundred and fifty kilometres of Kuching on the border following service with 3RAR in Borneo I came home and joined a Special Air Service regiment and stayed with them
for quite some time. Ultimately went to Vietnam with Special Air Service with 1 Squadron in 1967 and did a tour with SAS [Special Air Service]. Around about that point in time the army wanted to send me home so at that time I had been in active service for probably three years
and around that time I decided to get out of the army I didn’t see the army as a career so I extended and got transferred from SAS to 7 Battalion and saw service with 7 Battalion in Vietnam and then when they wanted to send me home I extended again and served with 1 RAR, 1 Battalion and stayed with them and went
through a number of major conflicts with 1 RAR including Fire Support Base Coral. After that period just towards the end of May 1968 again the army decided they wanted to send me home and again I got an extension through a friend of mine who by this time was a major, Alf Garland who went on to command SAS
and I was transferred to an American Civilian Organisation and served on special operations such as Fire Fly and Fly Flocks for about five months before coming back to Australia finally everyone caught up with me and I had to come home. I then went back to
SAS for a brief period of time waiting my discharge – got out. Travelled overseas for awhile on – doing various things and met my wife, got married, put myself back to university did engineering, mechanical electrical engineering and we lived overseas for a number of years in Singapore, based in Singapore Malaya
working as an engineer and manager and eventually came back to Australia. Occupied a number of senior executive jobs in construction and mining companies for a number of years and in 1978 after the Hilton bombing I was approached by a number of people who were serving in SAS still if I’d like to come back
which I did so I joined the regular reserve and served from basically that time through to about 1988 – 1987 –1988 with the commando regiment undertaking all sorts of activities from counter terrorist work through to commando work and my main role there was training people.
I then left the military again and resumed university studies completing further management studies and law and started my own business which today I still have I don’t work as frequently as I used to for one reason or another and
it currently – I’m currently acting as a consultant to a number of government departments, local governments around the Country and overseas and am still heavily involved with the Special Air Service Regiment particularly in terms of the Australian Regimental Association and helping people and particularly people of my own age and
more importantly younger people who are coming back form overseas and basically have the same or similar problems that my era had coming back from Malaya Borneo and Vietnam and so here we are today.
That’s great Harry thank you very much. I’m just going to go back Harry and ask you to tell me a bit about your mum and dad and their background?
Mum and Dad
I don’t think really should’ve got married they were two completely different people. I always remember Mum as a very loving and caring person when as a kid we’d muck up or play up and for me that was all the time she’d always be there to protect us and I think as a young boy I was always close to Mum. I was never close to Dad. Dad was an extremely hard man as we his father on the land.
He’d left school at around nine I think, nine or ten and was a self taught man and in many ways was very brilliant he lectured CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation] in astronomy as a guest, guest speaker he just about knew every star in the sky but he
really – his expectations of kids particularly of myself being the eldest was very, his attitude was very strident, very disciplinarian and unforgiving. I never knew Dad to be able to say sorry about anything even when he was wrong it just wasn’t in his nature but then again his friends, I came to realise his mates his father they were all of the
ilk. They just didn’t say sorry for anything if it went wrong it went wrong, if they were wrong they were wrong they didn’t care less you just moved on from it. Whereas Mum was completely the opposite she’d say sorry she say she loved you, he loved us and all that and I think it was from Mum in later years my strength came from because one of the things that I vowed if I ever got married and have
kids which I did I would never ever treat my kids the way we were brought up ourselves particularly with Dad. With Dad you’d get – if you did something wrong it was unforgivable you’d get a hiding on the spot. Not that was particularly important to me because a lot of those hidings I deserved anyway. I can’t remember a time where
I didn’t something that I didn’t really think about and I did things that were wrong and I knew they were wrong and also knew the consequences so it wasn’t surprising that I got a hiding but from Dad I still got a lot of things. He was a superb bushman, he’d lived on the land all his life with Aboriginal people on the property we lived on. I was brought up the same way. A lot of Dad’s strength’s his resilience his ability
to confront adversity was quite different to Mum’s. Mum in many ways was very strong but at the same time very weak on some areas and looking back I can say that at the time I guess I didn’t really appreciate that but Dad was extremely strong and I think it was a combination of Dad and Mum say – has seen me through life to this day. From Dad I got
the strength to just buckle down and achieve what I’ve set out to achieve and from Mum I got the ability to care for my family and to love people and to understand people and to forgive people, mostly certainly didn’t get that from Dad. The schooling was I suppose, I hated school I really
did and I think that probably stemmed from Dad because Dad didn’t really think school was all that important when you lived on a farm. The important thing was that, it was an interesting thing I think Dad expected when kids were born they were actually were born at eighteen years old and with a tractor licence and a licence to do all manly things. He really had no tolerance for his own
kids growing up but strangely enough he was absolutely tolerant of his friends kids and he’d spend an immense amount of time with them doing things with them that he wouldn’t do with us with my brothers and myself so it was it was quite interesting but his attitude towards school was as long as you could add up and subtract and do a few basic things really you should’ve been at home on the farm working and
doing that and I think that was particularly noticeable when my youngest brother who is five years younger than me was quite brilliant at school. He was an A-grade student all the way through and left the year before he matriculated simply because I think Dad had put so much pressure on him to come home to the farm that he
just left school but he never went to the farm he joined the air force so and he had a successful career. For myself at school I remember going through, I don’t remember much of infant’s school obviously but primary school I do it was an interesting time it was I suppose meeting a lot of people. It was the first time in my life I had been around a lot of people up until that point I had been pretty well much a loner. On a farm you are
and so it was a beginning of a new era but I did hate it. I hated the rigidity, people telling me what to do. I couldn’t understand why you had to add up and subtract and multiply things and do maths it was to me it seemed a waste of time. But the three things I did excel in were picking up garbage, fighting with my Aboriginal mates and wagging school and the fourth thing in particular was athletics.
I excelled at athletics ended up State Champion with the school’s – School’s Champion and of course in many respects most of the teachers hated me because I wasn’t an academic but I suddenly realised when you picked up garbage successfully and played sport successfully a lot of things were forgiven. They still didn’t teach you any academic stuff but they did spend a lot of time teaching you to play sport properly,
made the school look good so I guess everything was great. Primary school was a good time, I had a good time in primary school but when I hit high school the wheels fell of the billycart. I just couldn’t come to grips with that all. I was in a General Activities class GA Class 1G and I just through they’d
run out of you know it was alphabetical and if your name started with A if you were in G Class you started with WXYZ but I soon learnt that the dumbos were in G but again was excelling at fighting, garbage collection and athletics. Although one thing I did, the only award I ever took out of high school in that first year was an award for English. I loved English that was the only thing at school I ever loved was English and writing and reading,
I loved reading and of course that was the one thing that has really seen me through life particularly with academic studies where I love to read and write and you know came out in engineering and it came out in law where you have to do that. But after about five months in high school we got into a bit of a fight one day and this teacher he was the
master, the form master, the maths master I think he was a real cruel type of bloke he excelled in hurting people and there was three of us this day had got into this fight it was the middle – it was just starting to get to winter so it was really cold and he brought us in we were going to get twelve, he was going to give us the cane it was twelve cuts with six on each hand. And a mate of mine,
an Aboriginal mate of mine who got the cane just before me he broke his finger and I thought well that’s not going to happen me so he gave me six on each hand, on one hand and he gave me six on the other but of course one of the tricks was to lower your hand when he was bringing the cane down so he wouldn’t hit you so hard and so he was smart enough to see what was happening and hit me underneath the knuckles from the bottom really
hard and I don’t know I just did the lolly and grabbed the cane off him and hit him around the head with it and punched his lights out because I was basically six foot, in those days I was the same height as I am now skinny as a rake and as fit as mongrel dog being on the farm and lifting all sorts of stuff so I did this bloke a bit of a disservice and he ended up getting twenty or thirty stiches across his lip where the cane hit him and it broke his lip and ear in half
but anyway me and my mates decided we’d bug out so we bolted and ran away from school. We didn’t run too farm because they got the local copper on to us and he run us down and give us another hiding and of course took us back to school and I think it was about that point where the school rang Mum, Mum and Dad and of course they were miles out of town and it was in a peak work period at home on the
farm so Dad was less than impressed to have to drop work and come and pick me up. I remember on the phone when they told Dad they thought I’d reached a point in – at school that I had achieved everything I was going to achieve and it would be in the better interest in the school and everyone else that I left. It was a flash way of saying you were going to get the bullet and I remember when Dad came in, Mum came in well God did I get a hiding that day. By geez, I got one in the headmaster’s
office, the headmaster – the teacher had given me one, the form bloke had already ripped into me and I’d sorted him out the headmaster had given me a belt around the head the copper had given me a hiding and the three of us as well cause that was the nature of the day everyone sort of got cranky and even Mum backhanded me which was unusual for Mum oh she really got stroppy. Of course we went home and when I got home my grandparents gave me a hiding and
then we went out bush and we got taken out bush and of course then one of the stockmen gave me a hiding. And he told me that I was stupid young mongrel because I’d wasted an opportunity to be educated where he hadn’t. And it was quite interesting to be expelled in those days was – was a bit like if you had a sister and she became pregnant. She was sent away to a finishing school and no one talked
about her again. Well it was much the same it was a loss of face for the family everyone knew about it, small country town and so happiness came to a grinding halt that day and Dad after a couple of months at home working like a dog on the farm and I remember one of the things that Dad did was quite interesting because he, I mentioned before he was quite a – he could be quite a cruel bloke
in his own way and he wouldn’t hesitate to backhand you and when I say backhand you it wasn’t a backhand you got knocked from one end of the room to the other and he’d get stuck into you. Today they’d probably put him in gaol but in those days they didn’t of course. And I remember the night I got home from being expelled the old man got me and he took me about a mile from the
homestead and he thought he’d teach me a lesson so he, there was this damn and he took me up there and he chained me to this tree and it was about four o’clock in the afternoon and it was by this time it was wintertime and he chained me to this tree on the fox warren and the foxes had this, they dug holes in the back of this dam and he reckoned by chaining me to this gum tree that
I don’t know what it was going to do to me he reckoned it was going to frighten me to death or I was going to change overnight but anyway he did and I remember Mum was really upset about it and I remember Dad hitting her when she argued a point with him cause that was another thing in those days it happened quite regularly to Mums was they’d get a backhander from Dad if she even stepped in on some of the men’s things. Men’s
decisions. But one of the things that Dad forget was that I actually loved the bush and I used to make an art form of going up and lying on the bank in the grass, in the long grass when the young foxes were out and I’d lie there for hours and hours on end I used to love it and the foxes used to get used to you and the young ones would come up and play with you, you could play with them. The adult foxes
wouldn’t come up, wouldn’t come they’d come within about five or six foot and growl at me and I used to take little bits of titbits up and they’d eat it and I used to play with them and so when Dad took me up there and he thought he was punishing me I was actually having a ball because the chain was about three metres long and I could lie in the grass and the little fox cubs would come up and play with me all night and so I had a ball. I never really did work out why I was happy the next day. But he did that tow or three times
and after awhile he realised it didn’t work so he figured it was better if I went and did an apprenticeship. So he went and organised an apprenticeship for me. I didn’t get a choice. He had a couple of mates, he had a lot of mates that were quite influential and he was himself and it was one of the things that mates of his ill did they’d sort out their career path for their kids and the kids didn’t get much of a say you just turned up and you did it. And
so I started an apprenticeship. The big hurdle was of course as I recall it I don’t know if it was the Education Department I think it might’ve been the Department of Labour Industry or something like that they came out and interviewed and I know they tried to get me into another school but in those days if you’d been expelled no school would take you so that solved that problem and I was quite happy about that. It meant
that I was away from school. So around about twelve, twelve and a half I started work with men so I wasn’t around young people any more. And so that really starts to change you although I did enjoy a lot of things being by myself. I used to go fishing and shooting by myself and like we did when we were young
with my brothers we’d you know I was ten I can remember we’d often had a billycart and a bike, push bike I’d stick my two younger brothers in it with rabbit traps and a rifle and we’d often ride you know a hundred, a hundred and fifty kilometres just out trapping and shooting all t by ourselves. Come home with a few rabbits at night and of course Mum’d cook them up. Or we’d go
out miles and miles by ourselves and Dad would come and pick us up a few days later. You know we, today people would say oh gee little kids running around with firearms but Dad bought me my first rifle when I was four and I remember that I’ve still got it to this day. And we were taught how to use firearms and respect them and how to hunt and fish and do all of those sorts of things so you never really had any
problems. So even when I started my apprenticeship I still continued to be pretty much a loner and even at home it worked out that way because my brothers were basically told to concentrate on their school and to not spend too much time with me. Well they couldn’t anyway because I was flat out working and doing what I had to do and getting home and doing all our chores and that.
But we still enjoyed each other’s company as kids. Once I, the firm that I had started off doing my apprenticeship with ended up going broke so I ended up moving to another firm to finish off my apprenticeship.
Where was that?
What were the names of the firms?
Oh it was Griffiths Producers which was a produce outfit who did all sorts of things and
then later on I served for a short period with a panel beater Purcell Motors and then I left the town and went to Snowy Mountains and worked there. And that was interesting because I think it was really the first time in my life I had come into contact with people from different places. Although that’s
not really true because in high – in school in high school our class was probably made up of a third Australian, a third Italian and a third Aboriginal so you had that mix and most of us spoke enough Italian to talk to people and some spoke fluently. Interestingly enough down the track a lot of my mates out of school
married, Australian boys married Italian girls and Italian girls married the other way so the town became integrated very, very quickly with different people.
Tell me about the property you lived on when you grew up?
I lived on two properties we initially lived on a large mixed fruit farm which grew all sorts of things form grapes, oranges peaches,
plums you name it to vegetables to whatever else. And later on I spent a lot of time with what I call my second parents who tell me a hell of a lot out in the back blocks of Hay on large sheep property. And those people
were really in many ways a defacto set of parents to me. I spent more time there in later years than I did at home. Rolley was part – Rolley and Linda Pasco they’re still alive today and live in Hay, very old but along with Aboriginal people and that I spent a lot of time – I think I spent a lot of time out there because they
were close friends of the family but I was away from home and I had two people who were a different type of parent to me, taught me different things and they were people who would spend an enormous amount of time teaching me about things and talking to me. Rolley was a top station manager and a – and all the skills
that went with that and of course he was Second World War veteran in Borneo so we had a, you know he was a very interesting man to be around and to talk to.
How did it come about that you were spending time out at Hay?
I originally spent time out of town, it started probably in the mid fifties when Dad
lost a kidney he had to be operated on for a kidney failure. That came about by poisons we found out using a poison using parathion and he ended up having a kidney failure and ultimately what killed him some years down the track when the other kidney failed and in those days a kidney operation Dad was off work for I don’t know about fifteen and so
there was a big – a big demand on everyone’s time to help at home. However, I never got on with Dad and so I didn’t really stay at home but there was a lot of economic problems as well out of that and I went and stayed with Rolley and Linda and they were a long way away from where we lived and that’s how that came about and it was a sort of economic
thing. So I started to live with them on the property and spent a hell of a lot of time out there and more or less I suppose grew up there and matured there in a way that I would not have at home different style of farming, different demands, different freedoms, different learning. The thinks that I, I suppose a combination of Dad’s bushman skills
and particularly Rolley’s and the people that lived out into the bush really were to hone up I suppose my skill of being a loner of being able to be by myself for periods of a long time and to rely on myself. They taught me that that was one of the things you from very early on you relied on yourself and you looked after yourself and I think in later years in the
army particularly in Malaya and Borneo and to some degree in Vietnam those types of skills mostly certainly stood me in very good stead.
What stories did Rolley tell you about World War II?
Mainly about Borneo the hardness he was with – he wasn’t captured but he was with the, I forget the unit but he was with the unit that actually
relieved a lot of the people who were captured on the Tarakan [Sandakan] death march. Apparently it was quite a horrendous time and I read a bit of it after that so it must’ve been quite an interesting – interesting time. Most certainly the things that Rolley taught me was, and it was a common thread with him and Dad
around you know you’d be around a camp fire whether you were out shearing or whatever you were doing or either be down the river and the sorts of things that the old blokes would talk about were all the good times. You would very rarely hear them talk about any of the bad times but Rolley told me about some of the bad times I suppose when I was younger but not in any
way that I really appreciated. He taught me about the hardships and some of the fighting and the problems that they had and the things that the Japanese did to some of the prisoners and some of the things that the Australians did to them as well. But it never really sunk in until I came back from Borneo and I went in fact interestingly I didn’t go home to Mum and Dad when I had leave I went out and stayed with Rolley and Linda.
And I remember the first night I got out there we had a big – we went about thirty mile from the homestead and met a lot of the blokes that were still there. The boundary riders and stockmen, and people. And we had this big fire and it was at that time that Rolley asked me whether or not any of the things I’d ever told – he’d ever told me
had come home to roost whether and I understood them and it was that time I did, I understood very very clearly one of the things that he had told me and what it meant to be a soldier and having gone through it I wouldn’t say that the things I went through were comparable to the things that he went through but most certainly they had a common threads and I think we had
an appreciation of each other that we would never ever have had had I not had military service. I understood him. It was almost like a foreign language you can talk in shorthand to another solider that’s been in action and you can tell you know there’s just a shorthand among them it’s a common, common threat and you just fit in. And the same was with Dad, I never really understood my father and the way he was. He spent I think six or
seven, seven years in the army he joined the regular army before or whatever they called it before World War II and he got out in 1945 but I never really understood Dad and the way he was but after I’d been in the army by myself for some period of time I suddenly understood that. And from that point in time, I started to get on with him for the first time in my life. I really started to understand
him and appreciate a lot of what he was. I mean I didn’t condone some of the things that he used to do but we sort of in the last years of his life which was unfortunate for me I think in many respects, but it was only in the last couple of years in his life that we really clicked and we clicked simply because of my military – we’d had similar experiences and all of a sudden he
understood that the mongrel of a kid of his had all of a sudden turned into a man and I’d crossed a sort of finish line with him. It was like you were in a race and you weer never going to make it with Dad until you actually came first across the line and I think at that point, it was at that point that we really understood each other. And that created a lot of problems for Mum because Mum,
I actually grew apart from Mum. I didn’t stop loving Mum, I always loved Mum but I think she always thought until she died I think she really did think that I’d sort of walked away from her because she’d spent so many years protecting us from Dad then all of a sudden the whole thing for her seemed to change. It didn’t change,
what changed was that I still had a Mum but instead of having a Dad who was an old mongrel I now had a mate. That’s what had changed and I don’t think Mum really appreciated that she saw it as a loss. She saw me as agreeing with Dad as having somehow written off all the things that she did for me and that wasn’t the case at all.
Harry I’m just going to stop you there cause we just
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 02
What can you tell me about what sort of contact there was in Griffith in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s between the Aboriginal population and the non-Aboriginal community?
I think there was a reasonably high contact. You’ve got to put in into context of those days where Aboriginal people were still pretty much marginalised
by the adult population at school everything was equal. You didn’t really care. There was very little concept of black or white or yellow or green. If a kid was you mate he was mate and for me that stayed through life with friends I’ve still got. A colour of a person is not a measure of a person but for some strange reason
when you become an adult that becomes important in some people’s eyes. In those days of course there were restrictions on alcohol. The Aboriginal people couldn’t go into pubs, they couldn’t drink and I don’t think that happened until I was in the army I think early ‘60’s, ’63 or somewhere around there. So it’s not to say that people
didn’t have access to alcohol they did it was just illegal and you couldn’t go into a pub but one of things that whilst a lot of people in that period used to talk about alcoholism and that, excuse me, Aboriginal people couldn’t handle it and all this sort of stuff, I really can’t remember… yeah I can remember alcohol with
Aboriginal people and particularly families of friends because we used to go and play with them and stay with them and sure the odd adult’d be on the turps as we used to say and carry on like a pork chop but equally I think my greatest memory of problems with alcohol, and my Mum and Dad didn’t drink and nor did his father. Dad was what I called a hairy armpit Methodist, Mum was a right wing Catholic
High Church of England so you know I should be – I was a typical abused kid but the memories I’ve got of alcohol are not of Aboriginals but of white people and the effects that that had on families and fights and things and you know and I think I developed – I drink today I’ll have a drink but one of the things I won’t do is go to a
pub or a club I can’t stand them and I think that’s probably something that stemmed from my experiences with pubs when I was young. In a country town you’d walk past the pub and there’d be people rolling around in the gutter and you know vomiting and you know crazy and they were white people they weren’t Aboriginals so I thing that stuck with me through life was that
that type most certainly when you go back to memories of Aboriginal people I had, I can only say that I had some of my most profound experiences in terms of bushcraft, social – social affairs we were ahead with Aboriginal people with kids of my own age. They were usually pretty good at fighting and picking up garbage and athletics like I was so we sort of fitted in pretty well. We got on
great with their families too so you know didn’t really see it as a problem in my time.
In terms of that bush craft looking back now what specifically do you think you picked up from learning that bush craft that was so valuable for you later on?
The ability to – the ability to observe to be aware of everything around you. To
be able to identify things that you could eat that other people would find completely obnoxious. To be able to gather food and live on that food that’s not to say that every day of the week we were out there living on grubs and ants that’s not the case at all but it was more a total thing that you lived in an environment which was very harsh and you had to
know how to survive in it. Like simple things, if you’re out in the middle of somewhere how did you know where water was if you couldn’t see water and of course you had to observe different types of birds, pigeons and things like that didn’t go far from water. They were always within a kilometre or two of water so it was a question of observation. So observing the types of animal life, bird life around the area the types of fauna in the area
tells you a lot about the types of things you need to survive in the area. And strangely enough that type of information doesn’t really change from country to country the ability to live off the land. True you’ve got to have local knowledge of some things most certainly eat the wrong fruit you die but just basic survival techniques
and the Aboriginal people didn’t see them as survival techniques they just saw them, that’s the way they lived. We see them as survival techniques and I think it’s quaint today that we look back and say oh well maybe these people are the greatest environmentalists that ever walked. I mean that’s not the case at all and I lived with Aboriginal people later on in my SAS career in the Kimberleys [Kimberley Ranges] and later on in my current
role of work with Aboriginal people out in the middle of the bush and most certainly they don’t say that. They reckon that they and my observations were that they lived the way they did. I mean like anyone a lot of our native fauna our old marsupials all died out because they were hunted to extinction simply because those things were slow and you could catch them
and you could eat them whereas faster things got away so they survived. And I remember when we used to go out and we’d set fire to about two acres of land much to the disgust of the fire brigade and I’d often ask the old people you know, “Why are you doing that?” and they used to look at me and tell me, “Why chase something when you can burn it to death,” so I thought that – I didn’t see much environmental stuff in that except if you needed to eat and
you didn’t want to waste your energy chasing things around the bush you’d set fire to it and burn them out and I think that pretty well nailed it on the head I think. I think that might’ve been the case for many many thousands of years before, before Captain Cook saw land here but anyway that’s only one view.
What were the local police like in Griffith?
The local coppers they were almost like part
of the family. I mean, when you talk of police you’ve got to put it into context in those days in the 50’s and early ‘60’s they icons of the local town were the policemen the doctor the station master, the railway station master God, he was God. The school teacher you know people like tis the fire brigade captain these people were icons in the town.
These were people that as a school kid you aspired to be. You want to be a train driver, you want to be station master. A station master was a JP [Justice of the Peace]. I mean JPs were really something in those days. And the local policeman played a particular role invariably the local policeman was a sportsman he got involved in everything that moved around the town. He was well known, he was liked, he was respected. There were a few ratbags but everyone knew who they were and they steered clear
of them. I think the good thing about the policeman was in those days that unlike the police force today where you get liquorice allsorts in there from people from four foot to whatever in those days to be a policemen you had to be I think it was six foot and you had to have a boot about eighteen metres long and he had to be this big imposing person. And so when you were talking about policemen in those days you were talking about men who were, because in it there were very few policewomen
I can’t remember one to be quite frank but these blokes were whopping big characters and I mean as a kid looking up you’d used to look up and you’d think God he’ll boot me in the bum which is what he used to do I mean if you did something wrong like I’d drive me bike, ride me bike down the main street one day on the footpath and I remember riding down the footpath with a couple of mates and the next minute whack I was on my rear end on the ground and this arm come out and whacked me fair across the chest
off the bike onto the ground and he got me he was the local copper he gave me a bloody clip behind the ears took me down to the station with me bike and locked the whole lot of us in the cell and we missed school. And the next thing we know our parents turn up and we get another hiding and so those days the policeman was almost the defacto parent I mean and he was treated as such and if you did something wrong and you got a boot in the bum by the local copper you could bet your rear end when you got
home you got another boot in the bum from everyone else at home because that’s the way it was you deserve red it he wouldn’t have done it otherwise. So he was also a bit of a friend. I mean a couple of times getting into a bit of trouble and I can’t remember his name now, the local Inspector and I was going home from school one day and he accosted me in the middle of this park. And he said, “Young
Whiteside I think it’s time you come and had a talk to me,” so back we went to the police station. He bought me a couple of lollies, there were jaffas I love jaffas, he gave me a couple of jaffas and a little bit of coloured water and he sat me down and it must’ve been an hour and a half and gave me this whopping big talking to like a father’d talk to you, you know about where was I going in my life? You know I was going to end up a big I was going to end up a no good no hoper if I didn’t do well
at school so he gave me a general lecture about school and then drove me home. Put me in the back of his thing and drove me home and then told Mum and Dad and of course Mum and Dad met him like he was a mate which he was. He’d wander inside and have tea and scones with Mum and Dad and I’d be out doing my chores and you know. And then he’d go and after he’d gone I’d get another hiding just to show me you know this bloke was important if he
wouldn’t have taken the time to counsel me if he didn’t think it was important so your local policeman was quite a different kettle of fish than they were – than what you get today and I think it’s a shame because boys being boys need a clip around the head every now and then a boot in the bum they need to be straightened up and I think a little bit of discipline goes a long way
that makes you respect people and you know where people stand and today if you look, if I look back on that even though I got the bullet out of school very young I still had to have references and in those days you could not get a job. I mean it – or a decent job at least. You could not get a job if you didn’t have a reference from one of the town’s icons and one of the town’s icons was the copper. And the station master, I got a
reference from the station master strangely enough the primary school headmaster who liked me for some strange reason and yeah I had a reference from the stationmaster, the copper and the primary school headmaster and that was a ticket to your future. If you didn’t have a reference from the policeman, if a copper wouldn’t give you a reference then you could bet you were going to have a problem getting a
job that was the way of it. Today if you got a reference from a policeman you’d never get a job. They’d probably ask you if you were on the take or something how much you paid him. They were the times, times change unfortunately.
When you were a kid at school what did you want to do when you grew up despite being told that you were going nowhere?
I wanted to drive trains. The big thing was to be a steam train
driver that was, and I might say a whole bunch of boys icons you know you wanted to be either a you wanted to be on the fire brigade, you had to be a fireman, a steam train driver and – or a school teacher. They were the three sorts of things. School teachers were looked at as in awe I mean despite the fact that I got into trouble with them I mean you respected school teachers male and female.
They came to school dressed in suits and ties and they carried themselves with some deportment and they carried authority. Not like kids today just treat teachers in the main like scum and I think that’s sad because in those days they used to be able to discipline you and carry on and like the copper if the school teacher disciplined you and give you the cane don’t worry about it when you got home you’d get another hiding
because Mum and Dad would regard whatever happened at school as a slight on them and the school teacher was never wrong. And so you had this inbuilt discipline and respect and as a consequence people even ratbags like me and my mates we respected school teachers you know you always say, “Yes sir, no sir, Miss so and so, Mr so and so,” you never disrespected
people. You might’ve been naughty you might’ve done the wrong thing but you always got a boot in the bum for it one way or the other but you never ever disrespected someone it was just one of those things so different today with kids today, so different.
How did you enjoy your apprenticeship?
I enjoyed my apprenticeship
immensely from the practical point of view from a practical – I was always a sort of practical person I didn’t have an academic I obviously didn’t have a deep academic background and fitting and turning for arguments sake you require a you’ve got to do algebra and formulas and things and maths at a reasonably high level. For a diesel mechanic I didn’t need that, quite that level of maths and as a boiler maker I only needed to make
out – work out triangles and things like that and a few to a lesser degree. So the academic side of it I struggled with, I really did struggle with that particularly the maths side and it was only sheer, sheer luck that I had a boss who again a good mate of Dad’s who’d sit down with me and I used to go around to his home and
he’d take me around and take me through it and out of all that I was able to get fifty one out of a hundred and pass. Later on in life that – that deficiency in mathematics came back to haunt me when doing engineering obviously for five hundred good reasons I had to revisit my past again to try and solve that but even though I got through that I was never, I suppose I was
average at maths but thing was I got through but the thing that always stood me in good stead was practical, the practical side, I loved the practical side of being an apprentice out there working making things with your hands and in those days of course you didn’t, if a tractor blew up, someone’s tractor blew up and they did a crank shaft or something like that
I mean more often than not you didn’t go and buy a new part you came to the fitter and turner who made the part so spare parts aren’t what they are today where you can a lot of tradesmen today are more the case of part exchange specialists they go and get a new part and they put a new part on in my time you had to actually make the parts you had to design the parts
so it was, that was very interesting. I suppose I became very interested in gun smithing at that point in time because gun smithing is quite an art in itself and requires fine tolerances and attention to exquisite detail and my boss at the time in fact two bosses I had were both gun smiths as well as fitters and turners and a lot of fitters and turners end up in that
line in those days. So I learnt a lot of things and another thing in my apprenticeship which I really enjoyed in the boiler making side I had an Italian boss and he had only been in Australia for a few years but he was a blacksmith by profession and old style blacksmith welder and that bloke taught me things absolutely magic on how to make things
to anneal things I remember one of the – he was interested in guns too. Like in those days a lot of people were fishing and hunting were a big thing one of the jobs he gave me to do was to actually make a shot gun barrel from a piece of steel, single piece of steel and wind in around a mandrel and hand and (UNCLEAR) and it’s called Damascus barrel and things like that.
My apprenticeship was interesting and I think that’s what kept me there because I could relate it to practical things, to things I did in the world and even when I was learning maths my boss would always take me outside and show me something practical. Okay this is why you need this and this is why you’ve got to work that out. And so you’d have something practical and he’d get me to do it practically and it would usually fail
and then he’d make me do the maths and then show where I went wrong. So he was quite good like that and that stood me in good stead so I suppose overall my apprenticeship was a happy time. It was a time of independence too I was actually earning some money although I had to give half of it to Mum. Five and sixpence a week, fifty six cents a week and you gave two and six
to Mum. A bit went to tax and I had to put the rest of it in the bank except for sixpence I was allowed to keep sixpence even that’s how independent I was. I could have sixpence to spend for that week. I used to save up all those sixpences and what Mum and Dad didn’t know was of course used to do foreign orders and when you got into your second year apprenticeship and you were getting some skills the boss said you can do a few foreign orders for mates you know and they’d bring their
motor bike parts in for fixing or making and I’d charge them a couple of bob and at the end of the week I’d have you know Mum and Dad would bet my payslip and there’d be five and six in it and of course in my pocket there would be about a pound which was all foreign orders which they never really saw.
What were you saving your money for?
In those days Mum made me, you were made to save your money you had to be frugal you always had to put always put some in the bank you know the rainy day thing so you were taught to
save at a very early age.
What were you doing for fun at the time?
I used to myself, I used to go mainly fishing and shooting... I’d get on my pushbike, we didn’t have cars, I mean we couldn’t afford cars, that was nonsense. So I’d have my pushbike and I used to race my mates and we’d all have our push like racing bikes and we’d race up and down around the place and
then we’d go shooting or fishing and we’d ride bikes for you know hundreds of kilometres put everything in our little billycart at the back we would make because being a tradesman now I could make a flash billycart had ball bearings which made it easier to pull and we’d go to the river which could be forty fifty mile away and we’d spend the weekend together and jus boys I mean none of us thought of having a girlfriend I mean they were a
waste of space. They didn’t add value to you at all they made you like silly if you hung out with those too much so we didn’t in those growing up days it was very much boys, boys were boys and girls stayed with girls. And the same thing happens today with barbecues Mum goes there and Dad goes there on the other comer so our interests were very simple and
the way in which we entertained ourselves was self entertainment and simple, little simple things and they were really God.
How were the armed forces recruiting people at the time?
Don’t know. I never ran into it. The army at the time was during my time in my apprenticeship I never thought about the military at all even with Dad’s background
and other close friend’s background it wasn’t something that I even contemplated. The only army I ever saw was I started doing a little bit of school cadets before I got expelled I was in that for a awhile and being a good shot I was always the favourite of the month there. Of course like athletics if you were a good shot in the army
you were the favourite of the month as well because the liked to win competitions but apart form the cadets the only contact with the army you’d get regular army people come they were running cadets in those time in high school but really I had no contact with them. I know a lot of, I should say some of my mates, in fact it was quite a few joined the army
but most of the blokes who’d joined the army my experience was my mates who couldn’t get work. See work was a, there wasn’t a lot of work around, there was work but there were people out of work too and a lot of me mates joined the army because they didn’t have a trade and didn’t go on but I never saw them again we knew they joined the army because everyone told us they joined the army and we might’ve saw them before they went but that
was about the end of it so. The army didn’t sort of come into my sphere of operations again until one day when a mate of mine I hadn’t seen for awhile actually joined the CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] and he told me all these riveting stories about their annual camp and all the disgusting things that they used to get up to and I thought that sounds all right to me
so I joined, I was only in it for a year oh it was all right I found it a bit boring didn’t do much for me. Although I enjoyed – I went mainly because of the company blokes I knew, young fellows I knew and we had common interests and but to think at that point I would’ve made a career of it or gone in any other way was a bit beyond me in the early part of it although later on I did join the army but
it wasn’t because of any advertising or any career orientated stuff it was simply a good mate of mine was in it and I think after all young people today they get the itch after university or school and say I want to go for a trip overseas I want to go for a holiday I want to get away from home I want to do my own ting and I think to put it any higher than that from my point of view at that time would be –
would be a bit of a lie I think. To me it was just an adventure it was something new, it was away from home a new environment you did it you know and regret it for the rest of your life. But no that was about the sum total of my experience with army recruiting at that time, was none.
What thoughts did you give to going to fight in a war?
None, none at all. I think the time that I decided to join the regular army that type of thing you didn’t even think about. I didn’t think about it too much when I was in the army. I think it, totally different context and period of time say when my Dad and his ilk joined the army there was a war brewing there’d been a war
another one was coming on you had the world in turmoil sort of thing and people were doing it for different reasons. I never really – you know from my point of view joining the army, a lot of people say you join the army for King, Queen or countrymen that’s a lot of crap. For the majority of people that’s garbage I mean I didn’t join the army for that. Had there been a war been declared or
something and something and someone said we’re going to attack Australia we need volunteers you’d have volunteered anyway but to say it was God, Queen or Country or King or John Howard you just wouldn’t do it I mean you’d go because your mates went it was a more peer thing if you don’t go your behaviours unacceptable. That’s the type of thing that drives blokes to go and join and do what they do even during World War II or that. Even thought in that time there would be a,
I would suspect a more God King and Queen sort of an arrangement, I – talking to a lot of the old blokes over the years I think it was a load of garbage. Some did, most certainly some did. Most certainly some people are bent that way for the most people are not they would go simply because it was the right thing to do or because their mate was going and if they didn’t go then probably the sister wouldn’t go out with the on the Saturday
night that would be more to the point or someone wouldn’t buy him a beer.
What was your concept of communism at the time?
I don’t, at the time I didn’t have a concept of communism. Sure as a kid, a young bloke it was in the newspapers there was always some garbage in there but I didn’t read newspapers anyway I was into reading the Phantom and Biggles and
comics or text books from Tech or TAFE [Technical and Further Education] I mean I didn’t read newspapers I mean who read that garbage except the comic strip. The more intellectual people who made the A Class of the school might’ve read it. I only really knew what Mum and Dad discussed what their friends discussed what you heard on the radio, you didn’t have television you just had radio but it didn’t impact on me. I
mean that sort of concept was so distant from where I was in real life. I mean why would you worry about that it’s garbage it’s not about rabbit shooting or shooting foxes or pigs or catching a Murray Cod down the Murrumbidgee or getting lobsters or something like that I mean it wasn’t even real you couldn’t even have a fight over it, it was crazy so for me it was a non event. Even in later years in the army it meant nothing to me all the way through Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam
and of course there was all sorts of lectures given to you in the army about communism and all these big bad hoards of people coming down to get you. To this day I really don’t have concept of that and I guess I’m supposed to have been better educated now. I understand what it – all the doctrine and principle of it obviously but I still don’t really come to grips with it
so what hope did I have when I was seventeen, none. I was a mental moron then. Yeah.
So you sort of disregard the domino theory?
Oh, yeah that’s a very interesting theory that. Most certainly I’d heard of it I mean if one country goes the other country is going to go so we’ve all got to follow the leader like sheep and
develop this big magic final line somewhere and hopefully in the middle of Asia somewhere so it doesn’t come down here and get us, oh yeah, and all that garbage. But I mean no it didn’t, I’d heard about it and yes I suppose it was relevant to the oldies at the time who liked to push the wheelbarrow but I often I know it’s politically incorrect that America is a great ally of ours but I
often wonder and I wondered this in Vietnam that’s not just something I wonder now when you get past about twenty two you start to actually think for yourself which is disgusting, disgusting habit which actually form opinions which are contrary to other people but I think today the domino effect is in reverse whereas years ago we were chasing communist the domino effect is America and a lot of the things going on since
Vietnam and Vietnam onwards are not healthy, it’s not good. So you know how do you interrupt a domino effect. I mean it’s not the problem with communists they’re a dying race so who have we got now, Australia, America, England so you’ve got everyone else looking at them and probably saying the same thing when are we going to stop these cows. Which country is going to be
next. It’s a hard one I think it’s simple but I think for a lot of people it’s probably hard.
Tell me about what you had to do to enlist in the regular army?
Be out of a job. In those days I mean I… I’d had an interesting time because I was under age and in
those days you had to be twenty one and your Mum and Dad had to sign you in and my Mum and Dad refused and my grandfather who was Mum’s Dad he’d just retired he died at a hundred and three so hopefully there’s hope for me yet, excuse me, and when I decided to join I initially didn’t want to join the army I wanted to join the air force and as a fitter and turner
and so we went my granddad took me down to Rushcutters Bay down in Sydney they had a recruiting place. I didn’t know Sydney at all so I got lost it was an awesome place to me to come in and see all these people and tings and whatever. So he took me down and we filled out all these forms and for the air force anyway they took me into this room and there was a whole bunch of other people the same age as me
and quite interestingly a lot of people a lot older than me. I suppose I was seventeen and a half and they were around twenty five thirty some older so it was quite intersecting anyway we did these exams and all sorts of psychological things and garbage they give you anyway we all went out and had lunch
and came back after lunch and this bloke came and he said I’m going to read out the people who are successful and my – I wasn’t. Anyway Granddad said to me, “Oh well back to what you’re doing.” I said, “Yeah,” it didn’t worry me all that much no one told me what the result was at that point. Anyway as
I was walking out the door this other bloke comes tearing over from this other – well two blokes came over there was a – I didn’t know who they were but that’s how it turned out one was the army and one was a navy bloke they were all dressed in all these things had medals on and dressed up, getting all dressed up and going nowhere and very impressive and this bloke comes over to me and he said, the army bloke as it turned out got to me first, “Oh I’m from the…” I forget what they said, “I’m from the army,” or something like that. He said,
“Oh you did their test,” the air force test, I said, “Yes.” He said, “How did you go?” I said, “I failed.” “Oh gee they’re mongrels you can’t trust them mate the people flying planes can’t be trusted. Anyway they never go to the bush, they never do anything exciting, any mug can bomb people.” He said, “You want to be a hero and you’ve got to do the work join the army, join infantry’s the way to go that’s it.” I said, “What about my tests, have I got to do some tests?” He said,
“Oh yes we do tests too but hang on a minute I’ll go and get the results.” So he wanders off for twenty minutes and he said, “Come over here young fella, oh mate you’re in you don’t have to do our tests.” I said, “How did I go on that one?” He said, I think he said I got eight five and I failed so I don’t know what their test result was – what their standard was but anyway I got eighty five percent he showed me so I thought that’s all right. He said, “Mate you’re a Rhodes scholar to us you’re in, you don’t even have
to do your exam. Here, come and sign up.” Granddad said, “Oh this looks all right.” I said, “Hang on a minute what’s the go?” He said, “If you join up now you’ll get five guineas I think it was about five, ten, eleven bucks a week which was a princely sum of money and I thought God oh I’m in business here. So I said, “Yeah that’ll do me, I’ll sign up.” So I went home that night stayed out at Northmead with Granddad and had dinner
and he brought me back in again the next morning and I hopped on a train and went to Kapooka and they did recruit training with a whole bunch of other ratbags in the one train it was an absolutely disgusting experience. There was a hell of a lot of them drinking grog and I never drank grog and there was all these young blokes carrying on I think I was – there were two of us from the bush it was another young bloke and he came from Bourke I think it was and
anyway we got together and all these other characters were from the city and all they wanted to do was get drunk and party on and for some strange reason which eluded me they wanted to chase sheilas for. You know if a girl walked past they were on to her. This was the big thing what are they chasing sheilas for. Yeah we did. I mean I never had a girlfriend until I was twenty-one I think
or twenty two I just wasn’t interested what do you want to go and do that for What a waste of time you could be out doing athletics, running, shooting catching rabbits you could be doing any number of things but don’t go out with them God they’re a menace we knew them from school.
Did you have biological urges though?
Yeah go and get rabbits. No not really. No it didn’t cross my mind it wasn’t an
important issue. It just wasn’t an issue and I think we were brought up that way no I was never brought up to – I think we were brought up to respect which we did. You’d open doors for them and you’d pull the chair out and things and if you didn’t that you’d get a hiding anyhow so they became a threat to you whole way of life if you didn’t look after them properly unlike today if you open a door for a young girl now and she’s likely to punch you on the nose and ask you if you think she’s useless
oh well the answer to that could be dangerous too so you’ve got to be a bit you now times change if in that day and age if you didn’t open a door for a young girl my God, you were an unacceptable – of course in that day and age young girls, like most parents, except if you came form a – I suppose if a young girl was brought up in a say she was a doctor’s daughter or headmaster’s daughter or
maybe a land and gentry’s daughter or something like that they’d probably go through to matriculate or year twelve as you know it now and maybe go on to university but for the vast majority of young girls in my era parents did not see their education as important at all. It was excepted that they would leave school at fifteen as did most boys. Intermediate certificate a year before the school certificate today
and that they would get a job, girls would get a job, domestic duties, typing secretarial you think of any job that should be only women and that was the go in the day and boys didn’t do it. Not male nurses you didn’t find them, if you had a male nurse mate you watched him like a hawk e had to be a worry probably live in Oxford Street today.
Harry I’m just going to have to stop you there because we just have to change tapes and I don’t want you to be cut off.
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 03
Harry I just wanted to ask you briefly what you did at the Snowy [Snowy Mountains] when you were working there?
Tradesman, worked as a tradesman on heavy equipment, bulldozers, drilling machines plant stuff like that you know general tradesman activities.
How many, I mean what was the scene there when you were there in terms of how many people
were working on the scheme?
There were thousands, absolutely thousands of people worked on the Snowy cause I think it went from about 1948 through to probably 19… well 1968 –69. The last big dam was built in 1973-74 that was the Dartmouth dam so I had a bit of a I suppose something of a
history there I spent time as a boy, or young fellow as an apprentice and I was an apprentice tradesman and then the wheel turned in 1973 when I went back as the mechanical and electrical superintendent for the Dartmouth Dam project and I was an engineer for it.
Were you living in camps when you were an engineer when you were an apprentice sorry?
Yeah those days we were. In the early days we lived in
Cooma but later on I went and lived in Camp Coban which was where a big workshop was and used to work out from there when things broke down they’d bring stuff in and you’d fix it all. You’d go and and fix it on the job things like that and you’d you know travel all over a number of places from Camp Coban to Guthega to Island Bend any number of places where they were working so it was quite an interesting place.
You learnt a lot and I think I it’s probably the apart from being brought up in a town which had a high proportion of Italian in and a lot of those came from the Snowy too in the early days the Snowy and came to Griffith and made their home. I think Griffith is still probably one of the biggest Italian communities outside of Italy. And se had some Aboriginal people and that and we had some
Greeks but on the Snowy it was my first experience to run into what we used to call liquorice allsorts. Everyone and his dog was there I mean they came from all over the world. They’d come from Chinese, well Chinese have been in Australia just as long as we have. Afghans, it’s quite interesting when people talk about Afghans it sounds like
it’s a recent thing but the Chinese and Afghani’s were here in the very early 1800’s longer than most white people and so you were working with Greeks and Indians and oh they were from everywhere. And I found it absolutely, for myself personally I found it absolutely riveting because you had all these interesting people and hardly any of them could speak English. And of course I couldn’t speak their language either and
the common thing on the camp was grog. Everyone drunk grog, I still didn’t drink it. And of course as a boy saying that you can never trust a man who won’t drink. Might be true, mightn’t true I don’t know but most certainly I didn’t in those days and I still didn’t get it but I think an interesting thing I found if you
drunk wine at all in those early, in the ‘50’s or ‘60’s you were regarded as a plonko. The only people who drank that were from Italy or Greece or some strange European country and of course now today you give that stuff a really flash name and if you didn’t drink it you’d be on the out. And of course they had different food oh it was they used to cook their own food, make their own food up you know salami and stuff and
cheese. That’s where I got, I always loved salami all these different types of foods that people had. It was absolutely beautiful you know you could have all these choices. I got home we used to have a leg of lamb, pumped leg of lamb, road leg of lamb. You’d have these fifteen legs of lamb or mutton as it was then you never, you didn’t, you never no such thing as l lamb in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s always mutton
and or beef but here these people they had a whole lot of other things pasta and things and all this sort of stuff and it was really, I liked it, it was really good tucker. You know it played up something foul with me sometimes but I mean it was really good stuff. And they had cheese, I mean I never used to east cheese at home we never had cheese and they had all sorts of – they used to make their own that was a worry too I don’t know what was in it but geez some of it was sudden death.
You know straight in and straight out cheese that stuff. We used to call it in and out cheese but it was quite good.
How did you live in the camps? What were the living conditions?
Barracks, just barracks, single men’s quarters things like that. Nothing, nothing remarkable you just enjoyed your – you had a little room and keep your stuff in there and your bed. That’s all you needed
you didn’t need all this stuff that you’ve got today. And I suppose when you’re working with blokes all the time it doesn’t matter if you stink anyway. So you could, you know you could, you didn’t have to put aftershave on if you put aftershave on down there you’d they’d reckon you were a woolly woof [poof – poofter – homosexual]. So it was a pretty austere type of accommodation and living but it was
very good of course you were next door to the blokes you knew and being a young fellas I was sort of taken in tow by a lot of people, a lot of the older blokes particularly the Italians who were treating me like a bit of son and sort of looked after me and kept me from the vagaries of life. I remember one of the first, one of the things they couldn’t come to grips with was that I and I think they thought I had other tendencies
because I didn’t mix with girls and I used to go running everyday and I enjoyed my running and athletics and so on and go fishing there was plenty of opportunity there and a bit of shooting and about every fortnight on payday this bus would come into town and they used to bring in let’s call all the young ladies form Sydney. Particularly from
Kings Cross and they used to come in by the bus load and of course all the blokes, I used to wonder why all these blokes were lining up and of course they were all lining up of course I knew what they weer lining up for in the end I’d be told about it and of course one of the older fellas that looked after me would tell me all about the bus and what it was and don’t go near that bus, that’s a bad bus you know. Bad bus, they’d tell me it was a bad bus and they’d be lining up too as soon as they put me to bed sort of thing so
you know you had different, a completely different time. And it was a good time too because I was brought up where there was really no difference you know you didn’t recognise the difference in different people from different places because as a kid you just played with people you didn’t care where they come from. And down there course all of a sudden you were put in this complete melting pot of the
world and was occurring only there and nowhere else in Australia at the time that was where it was happening and I think that was really good because later on particularly in the army a lot of that tolerance that comes out of that flows on and some of me mates that I formed mateship with over the years were actually from ethnic or Aboriginal backgrounds I’d met in the
army and people would often say, “Why is he hanging around with them mongrels you know why’s that?” but it was because I didn’t see any difference. And I, you know they were my mates you now and we had an infinity and we could talk to each other and I could accept them and they could accept me and I didn’t put any values on them and they didn’t put any on me and we’d go out and have a ball have a good time and stay mates. We were mates still the families and that. I think that was a pretty
important thing and I don’t, I think in later years with my own kids that it, that same thing rubbed across.
How long did you stay at the Snowy for?
How long did you stay at the Snowy for?
I was only there for about fourteen months, thirteen or fourteen months and then I joined the –
in the meantime I’d applied to fulfil a lifelong ambition and become an engine driver. It was the time with the railways and it was a time when diesel trains were just starting to emerge but like the rest of the world at the time if you weren’t twenty one you didn’t have a vote and you really were a nonsense you didn’t, were a nothing you still had to have your parent s tick you off on everything you know.
And so when I went and joined the railways, because I had worked on locomotives, little locos and stuff down in the Snowy but I always liked steamed trains it was always a bit of a thing with me and as a kid at school we used to in the afternoon the four or five of us would hang out together we’d on our bikes we used to racing our bikes, and we’d race the steam train up and down the road and see if we could beat it and invariably we did
because it only did thirty mile an hour we’d work on that. Anyway I joined the railway and sat for the – because I was a diesel mech [mechanic] what I did, finished my time did the exam and passed it and they said, “Oh well when you turn twenty one you can be a driver.” But they didn’t have many diesel locomotives so I didn’t actually get to be one but they instead stuck me on steam
engines which was great. We used to, they had a beaut euphemism for the job I did it was ‘assistant engineman’ in real language it meant you were the labourer and you shovelled coal and you greased it and clean it and you stunk like a bloody skunk at the end of each day but you were as fit as a mongrel dog because you used to shovel tonnes of coal while this silly old
goose who was called a driver who had been in the railway usually his family had been there for six hundred years you know son, father, son father real nepotism he would sit up there with his little hat on and pull the levers and issue orders and carry on like a pork chop but it was interesting I used to go from Sydney to the journey and Sydney to Goulburn, Sydney to Moss Vale. I only did it for four months
but I think in that four months I became the fittest skinniest person you ever say on the earth shovelling all this coal and then with my other mate we decided we’d join the army and that’s where we sort of started to come back to join the army and it was only after I’d been in the army three months the railway, the railway they were mad. I’d pulled the pin and gone and joined the army. I’d left them and it
was two months after I was at – I was halfway through Kapooka and I got this lovely letter form the railway saying that I had been appointed as a diesel engineman. I thought that was really novel that I’d actually left and they you know but anyway that never really interested I’d moved on.
Why had you been interested in the air force?
A couple of friends of
my Dad’s were pilots in World War II, fighter pilots and I talked to a few people and the general consensus was well look you know if you want to follow your trade you want to get into something as a career and everyone looks up to you and think of God he’s in the air force that was the way to go it was I think people saw the air force at the –
that arm of the service that was at the top of the food chain. And I think, yeah it sounded all right to me so I tried out but no didn’t want me. Bad luck they missed out. Probably lucky for them.
Why wouldn’t you parents sign off on you joining the armed services?
I don’t know, I really don’t Mum, well Mum was I think
mum was probably a bit of a pacifist she was and a lot of Mums are they don’t go down that path they don’t see that as a really a choice and bear in mind Mums are always out to protect their kids so they’re the big protector of the family. I think Mum was basically a pacifist type of person she was, using the world pacifist probably is not right but
she certainly wasn’t military you know that way she wouldn’t encourage the boys to go and join the army and I think but I don’t know this either it’s only looking back in time the inter-play, the problems between Mum and Dad and I think she… I think she blamed the army for a lot of problems in her marriage.
I think she did. I think she blamed Dad’s attitude to a lot of things, the way he was, I think Dad was always the way he was before he joined the army I don’t think it needed the army for Dad to be Dad. But I can understand now with my own experiences looking back that whilst a lot of the things that we are, are with us long before we join the army.
I think the army military service, particularly in the army I think it makes an art form of probably taking some of the weak things we are an exacerbating them making them weaker if you – it’s very hard to explain I think it’s very easy to go down that path but yet the army the military will give you a lot of good things. But it does I think if you’ve got some
weaknesses before you go in there particularly if you call them not the right word at the time but social sort of weaknesses if you’ve got, if you’re a sort of an angry sort of person if you’re a sort of aggressive person if you’ve got very high standards and you demand very high standards of others the army will take that and it’ll use that to their
advantage very well, maximise that but at the same time will make it worse when you come out in trying to be normal. You won’t be the same when you, if you had problems before you went in then you’re going to have more problems when you come out that’s going to be a higher level, it’s going to be a question of degree, I don’t think it’s going to be a question of whether you have the problem it’s a question of the degree to which you have it and a degree which you can control yourself down the track.
What had your dad’s experience
been in the army and during World War II?
I don’t really know he, he… had a very short army number an X662 which meant that he would’ve joined very early on in the piece. I know from relatives he joined with like his brother and my – his best mate married
mum’s sister so they married into the same family. Russell’s still alive, very old now, Dad’s long gone. I know that they were both, Dad was a tradesman as well he did his apprenticeship and I know initially when they joined the army they went into
that side of the business but Dad was always pretty fit as was Russ and both of them became physical training instructors they did some time with artillery and I think that was principally because that‘s where the physical training instructors probably resided and I know from my experience and most certainly in later years in the army as having done PTI [Physical Training Instructing] myself artillery was always the corps where PTI’s were trained and come from so it was probably the same
in World War II but I never really, he never really spoke much about his military time and the only experiences that he ever relived where around the camp fire or out on- out in the bush when all the blokes, his mates were around who were with him and then like today they only ever seemed to remember the good parts and all the
funny things that happened and no one very rarely do you talk about anything else.
Did he go overseas during World War II?
No he didn’t, no he didn’t but he was old when he joined the army and I wasn’t – it wasn’t until 1980, ’81 that I started to find out something about the old man and it was only accidental. I was
serving with commandos at the time as an instructor and every year, like we do now they invite all the oldies back and every year and have a bit of a go and the World War II commandos used to come in every year and we’d put on a range practice parachuting things all sorts of things for them to have a look at show them what it was and bring them in and let the young blokes listen to the old fellows and it’s really great, it’s really, really magic stuff cause a lot of those characters got some
really, really interesting stories to tell. We had blokes that had served on, that had been, you know paddled five thousand kilometres in a canoe from Singapore a lot of them got beheaded when they were caught you now obviously they weren’t present but you now those sort of characters. And I can’t remember his name he was the CO [Commanding Officer] of one of the commando groups anyway I was giving this demonstration one day unarmed combat and
weapon handling and stuff with a bunch of blokes and our of them anyway I was introduced there was sergeant and blah, blah and after the first session was over and we were having morning tea three or four blokes came over to me and they wandered over to me and he said to me, the boss said to me, he was colonel in the Second World War this bloke and I can’t think, Littler was his name, Littler that’s right can’t remember his first name,
Arthur Littler anyway whatever it was and he said to me, “Sergeant Whiteside,” and I said, “That’s right.” He said, “Unusual name that.” He said, “Your father ever in the army?” and I said, “Yeah he was.” He said… And we got talking and sort of went off the subject and he said, he went away for awhile and came back and he said to me, he said, “Your name
is Harry Whiteside isn’t it?” I said, “That’s right.” He said, “I knew a Harry Whiteside a few of us here knew a Harry Whiteside,” and he said, “Any relative of yours?” I said well, “I wouldn’t have a clue.” He said, “Do you remember your father’s regimental number?” and I said, “Yeah X662,” and they all looked at each other and smiled and they said, “Where is the mongrel?” and I said, “Dad died a number of years ago,” and they said, “Geez we’ve been looking for him for – since
about 1950.” And while he himself wasn’t a commander a lot of his time being an old bloke was training and apparently he trained a lot as an instructor and of course he was old at the time and this CO told me, I said, “Why didn’t Dad go overseas?” I said, “He was always…” He said, “I know we tried to get him over on a couple – to come with us but they wouldn’t send him.” He said they wouldn’t send the older blokes because they
were senior instructors and they couldn’t afford the thing but Dad had gone to a number of these places where they’d trained in way out places and I visited those places later on when I was SAS and sort of yeah and they told me some stories that were quite interesting and again years after the event, unfortunately long after Dad had gone the past catches up with you and things and even more then I mean
at that time Mum was still alive she died in ’87 I remember that night I was so sort of elated that I’d – for some reason cause I’d never really thought about it in the past that here I’d run into blokes that knew Dad and had a yarn with me like they would’ve with him, “You old mongrel you know where is the bastard?” and of course Dad had gone and they were really upset over it and they wanted to know and I spent
hours with them about Dad and where he’d been and what he’d done and family and things and a couple of them had only missed him by about a quarter of inch on a few occasions and been in the same area and hadn’t known. I remember that night I went home and I hadn’t seen Mum for awhile she lived down at Penrith at the time and I made, I said to my wife, “I’ve got to go up and see Mum,” and I went up and Mum didn’t want to know about it. She’d moved on
she’d saw that period of time and she didn’t know herself. So I spoke to her sister later on and she said, “Oh no your father got involved in a lot of funny things that he never ever spoke about.” And it wasn’t until 1997 I went over to SAS for a reunion, thirty-five reunion
and Russ Hallom whose brother was, it was my uncle I suppose what he was Dad’s brother-in-law or something like that but anyway I was always close to his eldest Lorraine and we’d kept in contact over the years and she’d lived down near Bunbury in West Aussie and we went down to see her and when she knew she was coming she arrived for her Dad to turn and of course her Mum
and Dad were strange you know I didn’t see her Mum but I got talking to Russ he’s quite old now I’m not even sure if he’s still alive but I got talking to him and I laid it on him I said, “Listen mate you and the old man served with so and so,” and he looked at me then and he said, “Who the bloody hell told you?” He said, ‘I’m not suppose to tell you that,” and even to that day Russell wouldn’t talk about it and Lyn and I tried to dig it out of
him and all he would tell me was the old man wouldn’t appreciate this line of questions and that was it it was cut off at the knees, bang. But at least I’d, I suppose in some small way I’d sort of linked a connection that Dad and I were again quite similar because I remember when I went to SAS Dad was – the only time I ever saw Dad
show any signs of excitement and that was limited to his eyebrows moved and he became very interested in I knew from questioning some of the things that I’d done and was doing and he’d say things and I often used to think, shit you know, you know it made me think cause some of the things he said to me were things only a bloke who had been associated with Special Force would be able to say but I never drew the
link. I never drew the linkage till years later. And he was very, he was not happy with the army because they never sent him overseas and I think it was the end of the war or 1944 or towards the end of that because the boys at the commandos had told me that they got him a trip overseas he was to go to Japan with the – I don’t know what the Force whatever the Force was and Dad jacked up and said, “No,” he said, “If I
wasn’t good enough, if it wasn’t good enough to send me when the action was on it’s not good enough to go when it’s over,” so he never went.
So tell me about arriving at Kapooka for you and what that was like?
That was a change of pace. The arriving at Kapooka, in some way because I had a little bit of experience with the CMF, in some ways
it didn’t really phase me but I don’t think you were ever really prepared for Kapooka to be quite frank because the moment you got off the bus you had these characters with pace sticks wandering around yelling and screaming and carrying on like pork chops and tyring to line you all up and I had a pretty short haircut at the time and the first thing we did was go to this barber and this bloke would’ve got a job shearing sheep. You know I don’t he would’ve got a job sheering sheep
to be quite frank. God you went to the barber shop you had to get yourself shorn and then you went to the “Q” store and drew all your gear none of it fitted of course and everyone told you it was going to fit and of course you waged war with people for the next three weeks trying to get decent clothes that fitted and boots that fitted properly. I think the first couple of weeks at Kapooka,
the first three weeks at Kapooka is hell on wheels because basically they, and I’m looking back in time now as an instructor looking back as to why they do that but from my point in time I started to ask myself the question you know what did I do to deserve this am I an abused kid. You know have I ended up in a camp for wayward camp for kids here because they were treating you like absolute garbage and making it very hard it most certainly wasn’t any
bastardisation that wasn’t there although you did get into a few fights with a few of the new inmates that you disagreed with. I was handy with that so I used to win a few of them but the instructors and people there were pretty good. They were all a lot of them were all World War II blokes, Korea War, Malayan Emergency. Most of them had a little bit of colour on their chest, they had a medal or a couple or a whole
bunch of them and they were the old type diggers. Very demanding, discipline was absolutely way through the roof and of course in those first three weeks, three or four weeks what they’re doing is right they’re making everyone equal there’s no difference you can be, you can come from a millionaire family or you can come from a pauper family but by the end of the first week mate you’re all the same and there’s no distinction about where
you come from but it’s all about normalising people getting them into one team and then getting everyone to react to orders instinctively. Instinctive obedience and that’s one of the reasons why the army particularly like to recruit young people they haven’t got a lot of garbage in their head and every easy to indoctrinate into the way in which they need to think. And you don’t really come to appreciate that –
those first couple of months at Kapooka you really don’t come to appreciate till several years down the track and in particular when you start to go into combat because as a young person you have to react instinctively to an order you can’t question it. You hesitate to question it you get your head blown off and that’s one of the reasons why NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers], lance corporals, corporals, officers
sergeants invariably I think have a higher mortality rate than a lot of privates in many respects per capital because they actually take that little bit of time longer to make sure that those under their care are actually doing what they’re supposed to and that’s fatal in a lot of cases so most certainly was an interesting time. I… one of my memorable things was a
sergeant major who informed me after I’d stuffed up a couple of times that I was nothing more than three happy seconds in my father’s memory which you can take which – whichever you want but I was left under no illusion that it was Dad cut through foreplay. So it was, that was, I thought that was a new way, oh three happy seconds it wasn’t something you’d ever talked to Mum and Dad about because in those days
the three things you didn’t talk about at the dinner table was sex, religion and politics and kids were only to be heard and not – were only to be spoken to and not heard. But, I had a little bit of difficulty fitting in for some time. Principally because I was a loner I liked to do things myself and
that sort’ve had to be belted out of me in one way or another but there was a redeeming feature, there were two redeeming features for me at Kapooka one I could one so I kept winning all my company’s cross country championships and all their athletic stuff around the thing so that put me in the good books because immediately they found out that I had that school that meant you could win competitions against others and make your instructors look good and everybody else look good so a little bit of forgiveness
started to come into the system and then discovered I was a very good shot and started when all their all their competitions for shooting so from those two things I had two things going for me and it was then that the instructor started to lay off me a bit and started to pick on some other less more deserving person and…
Specifically what did they used to
do to pick on you before they sort of…?
Oh today you’d, today you’d probably call it bastardisation because today everyone’s so bloody soft. I mean you start to yell and scream at someone and everyone gets all up in arms and hold the ring cutter, “Oh you screamed at someone you can’t do that it’s naughty you now you’ll destroy them for life,” you know or some idiot thing like that but they’d like the instructors would come down the
barracks inspection early in the morning because you’re up really early you had to shave and do all your stuff and everything’s regimented and you had to learn how to make beds and for most boys even in this day and age is a novel experience but to have to make the precisely the same way a nurse made them in hospital with no wrinkles with the right folds and your pillow in the right spot and then of course your boots had to be all polished and lined up and not you know the bloke would come and run a level down it
and you know if it was a little bit out you’d be in business and they’d open your locker and everything’s underpants here, socks have got to be a certain way and everything’s got its spot that it’s got to be in but low and behold if it’s not in there I can tell you in the right spot and even you’d go out of your way to make it right but because he’d take a set against you, you know for whatever reason they’d just pull everything out of your locker and it would end up on the ground. You’d have crap everywhere and then your boots would get
kicked all over the place and he’d rip the bed apart and they’d make you redo it eight or nine times. And by the end of the day, you know I saw blokes break down and they’d get into tears and you know they’d really get, it’d really hit them you know because it’s on and on and on and on it’s one of the things I suppose to get people to be self reliant to put up with things that need to
be done you know. You can go overboard too and I think sometimes they did but I think in hindsight – I never used to – I think one of the things that made people annoyed with me particularly instructors was the fact that I used to laugh and it was a crime to laugh and smile when you’re ordered unless you’re ordered to smile and laugh you’re not allowed to. So that means you’d get push ups, chin ups you’d go for a run and of course they use to, as a punishment every now and then you’d get a sandbag on your shoulders and you’d be told
to run up the hill and back down the hill and of course they gave me that initially and they found I liked it so the trick was to the things that you didn’t like you made out like you did like and you smiled at them and they stopped it. And the things you did like, you, “Oh no I don’t like this I can’t do this,” and they’d give you all the things did like then psychologically played an important part in Kapooka. Little things that of course being from the CMF and a fitter and turner we
made this device you had brass on your buckles and one of the problems with all this brass you had to polish it all the time and it was all your buckles and of course there was a thing, this device that you could use to make it a little bit rounder and make it look nice and we used to sneak into Wagga [Wagga Wagga]. I used to p.. I met a bloke in Wagga I knew from Griffith and he was jeweller I wen to school with him. And
when lights out’d came we’d bolt down to the railway which was about a mile away, the railway line and we used to get the express – cause I used to do that railway I used to drive all that and we used to know when the train timetables where so a couple of us would run down, we’d bolt down after lights out and they’d put us all to bed and everyone would cover for us and we’d bolt down to the railway and catch the midnight flyer coming back from Uranquinty, the Rock which was a big uphill thing and the train was only doing about could only do about
ten fifteen mile an hour and we used to run down there and jump on it and ride on back all the way into Wagga. And we’d jump off at Wagga and fly down to my mate down at the, where he lived and I’d give him this big bag of brass, all our spare stuff see and he’d take it in and either roll it and he’d take it in and he’d put it on the rouge and make it really bright and sparkly and you know you really didn’t have to polish it all that much and
then we’d run, like we’d leave it with him and then he’d run, I’d run back to the train, we’d run back to the train and get on the next train get back to Kapooka and bolt across the paddock at a mile and a half and get into bed, back about two in the morning and we all laying there and of course they’d come and wake you up about four thirty or five and kick and I thought where have I been and then offcourse the next night we’d do the same thing and go back and pick up the brass and come back and flog it to the blokes cause all these lazy buggers that didn’t want to polish their brass we could sell it to them for
two bob, three bob to do their brass and of course we were making all this pocket money and finally a big fella called Von Kurtz got on to it he’s a big sergeant and he called me for – he was a World War II bloke he had served in World War II bloke with the German army. Oh God he was a mongrel. But I ran into him again in Vietnam years later and we had a good old talk. But they were funny little things that we used to do like that you know to make life easy.
What was your punishment?
Oh well they didn’t do much to me actually in the end because the only punishment they used to do was to put us on the – in the end was to go to the mess and peel potatoes, peel spuds and wash dixies and all base dixies for – in all an amount of time. Initially the use to make us go for runs and do all this physical exercise but they suddenly worked out that was the stuff I could do and did well and liked so there was no way in the world they were going to give that to me any more. And they didn’t want to do too much
to me because I remember one day they had a athletic championship on between the various, there were three companies and I was in C Company and it was a big thing they had all this championship my company’s better than yours, your platoons better than this your sections better than you know oh geez… It was all about the instructors being – it was nothing about the blokes it was all about the instructors looking good with the other instructors and low and behold if you made an instructor look
bad to some other instructor that was over in the next company. I remember one day I really got in the poo and anyway I got some, they were going to give me this confined to barracks stuff I don’t know why they gave me confined to barracks we couldn’t go anywhere, stupid and anyway I made some mutterings as I went up to see this regimental sergeant major and paraded up to him and he got stuck up me at forty mile and hour and then as I was walking out the
door I said, “Oh well I’m not going to run in this athletic company anyway you can stick it in your bum.” “What did you say? You come here. You threatening me? You threatening not to represent this thing,” you know I thought oh God this is world war three anyway I said, “Oh bugger and I said it you can stick your army in the bum,” and walked out well mate this bloke he frothed at the mouth fair dinkum I thought he was going to die. I thought he was going to die I thought he was going to do his sink a valve in, he really went ape. “You talk to me, you
stand when you’re…
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 04
Harry, so tell me what happened when you said you weren’t going to run in the athletics?
Oh it was worse I told him I was going to leave the army. Anyway because I had been insolent and beached all the military code of conduct imaginable by telling someone to get stuff which was a crime, a crime against humanity. And I got wheeled, I got charged and taken up to the CO and anyway
I’m standing outside, left right, left right, left, halt and you stand outside, wait there and the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] goes in and sees the CO and you could hear them. And the CO says, “Who have we got today?” “I’ve got Whiteside from C Company.” “Whiteside, what’s he’s done?” “Oh I’m going to charge him with this and this this and this and this and that,” and the CO says, “Isn’t he the bloke who wins all our races?” the RSM said, “Yeah.” “Well I’d think you’d tone it down a bit if you want to win.”
So I get dragged into the CO and he really ripped into me oh he really tore shreds off me about what a yokel I was and I ought to go back to the bush however the athletic carnival on such and such a day, “I believe you’re not going to run?” “That’s right sir.” “You will run and the RSM will not do all the things he said he’s going to do to you,” and so we came up to a happy ending where I got charged I was fined a
whole weeks pay and given, I think I was given three days CB, Confined to Barracks all it meant was I had to put a pack on and march around the parade ground with the RSM yelling and screaming at me for an hour and a half a day which I thought was a pretty good trade off anyway. So I went and we went into the athletics carnival and I ended up wining it and getting the
record for the three mile run so all was forgiven. So it was yeah things like that were quite good. Other things that we used to do at Kapooka cause in those days it was stacks of rabbits around and wildlife and me and another couple of blokes who used to come from the bush used to go out and we had shanghais and we’d make shanghais of sling shots and we’d go out and knock of rabbits and top knot pigeons and ducks
and bring them back and give them to the cook, this German cook and he loved it and so he – everyone else everyone else would – you’d line up at the mess and everyone would get all the slops given to them and we’d go along and we’d get a little top knot pigeon and a little bit of a rabbit leg and a bit of mashed potato and everyone would say, “Where did you get that from? Oh I don’t know where he got it from Whiteside snivelled at the cooks again.” I started to learn at a very early age that there were two types of people in the army that you really did have to keep on side with cooks and the people that run the Q store [Quartermaster’s Store] if you wanted to survive
and it was a really goo survival lesson but Kapooka when we got used to Kapooka and you started to understand the politics of the system and how your strengths could be used to better your own life so to speak Kapooka ended up being quite an enjoyable place of residence for three months. But the
first month was most certainly trying and most definitely a time when I decided I really need to run away and go back to Burke or go to some other strange country what I’d done to join this outfit but once you got over that and you started to work at it, it was pretty enjoyable it’s a time to look back on with quite funny memories because it had noting to do with war service or anything it was more to do with taking young blokes
in and simply changing them inexorably in what they thought they were going to be to start the mould, mould you into a soldier the basic skills that a soldier needs.
You mentioned on the train trip out there, there were the divisions between the city and the country kids…
How did the city kids cope with Kapooka compared to the country kids do you think?
Some of them,
well it depended on, I reckon it depended on where they came from in the city their backgrounds. There were blokes there who were obviously devious there were hard knockers street wise kids they’d you know get into a fight at a drop of a hat and punching someone’s lights out if they upset them. Kids who had played sports kids who had been out and around the
world tolerated it pretty well. They were used to being abused they you know abused in that they’d had a hard life you know harder life street wise they handled it very good. The odd kid who came in from say a well to do family or from a well to do background or a more sedentary background usually had a harder time. Usually had a harder
time but not always but most of them did though, most of them did that I ran into. A one t of the things that they couldn’t come to grips with simply the yelling and swore at really, really slip into you and let you know but for those who had come from that environment, from an environment where that sort of thing was day in and day that was normal everyday stuff. I mean there’s language today that’s used even the
Courts uphold the use of the language which is absolutely nothing short of disgusting. In my time if you said any of those words boy you were in big poo, big, big poo even gaol you know for an amount of time but when you went into the army of course the method of instruction included
belittling people. I always drew a distinction something as an instructor in later years that I reflect on in many respects that there is a distinction between belittling people and training people and doing what’s necessary to get someone to appoint. You don’t have to belittle people to do that. In fact belittling people is more often than not is a – is quite a negative undesirable thing that you want
but most certainly for me it didn’t matter but for a lot of kids and kids that come from the country too they weren’t, they didn’t have to be city kids who had that who hadn’t been exposed to street life so to speak. But then again, by the same token some street kids broke down too but not many of them they were few and far between.
One of the things that was noticeable with these street wise kids from the city though was their, was their desire to intimidate others because they’d lived like that and they wanted to intimidate people and they’d do that through bullying and through you know fighting or whatever the case was or ganging up on people and so it was very important very early on in the piece and I remember my first blue I got into
was somewhere between Junee and Wagga I think it was. I ended up in my first with this character who was, he was about twenty five, a real bully and he had been having a go at a couple of the younger blokes who were there and I was young and he came down and I told him to sit down and shut up and wake up to himself and one thing led to another and I decked the
clown so that solved that problem so from that point I really didn’t have a problem with a whole lot of people because a lot of the people because a lot of the people who had joined the army with him were out of his little sort they’d been together for awhile and they had a little pecking order and so you know just one of those little things in life you move on you get on with it if in doubt hit them in the head with a chunk of four be two. You know that solves the problem there’s many ways of winning arguments. Nice way’s only one.
What kind of a soldier were you by the time you finished at Kapooka?
Skinny. I was horribly fit a lot fitter than I had ever been and I was extremely fit I don’t think I was any sort of soldier at that point I hadn’t really started soldiering.
No I would say I would be no sort of soldier at all there I hadn’t really started soldiering I had been through three months of mayhem all designed to turn me from a nice loving boy into an aggressive mongrel but no I wouldn’t, I don’t think I would grade myself in that time as being a soldier. The highest I’d put it is
probably I’d past the first of many tests in becoming a soldier.
How did you end up in infantry?
There was several ways you could end up in infantry the first one was if there was a war on you tended to need more people to be shot at than you did need people to fly planes so you end up in infantry seeing
there wasn’t a war on but there were a majority – because the majority of people in the army at the time and there was a lot more, the defence force, the army at that time was a lot, lot bigger than it is now. Well, no it wasn’t sorry it would be about the same size as it is now might be a little bit bigger but in 1965 it became a lot bigger when they created another six or seven battalions and all those sorts of things.
But – I’ve lost the question?
I have too, how did you end up in the infantry and you were saying all the different ways?
Yeah I ended up in infantry, you got a choice it’s quite an interesting term in the army when someone says you’ve got a choice usually means you’re usually going to go where you’re told volunteering is about as bad but basically they give you a choice of where you want to
go and some people want to go to infantry and a lot of people want to go to infantry and don’t get any choice some want to go to Intelligence some want to go somewhere else some wanted to go become officers, go on to officers training and that all depended on you academic performance basically. And also, or what your academic qualifications were when you were at that stage and it also depended on how you
turned out in your course report at Kapooka just where you were in the pecking order and most importantly it also depended on the chief instructor as to where he thought you should go depending on where he’d been usually. So if you were any good or he thought you were going to be all right if he’d served in 3 Battalion then he’d say, “I’ll get you 3 Battalion,” then he liked you and you know those sort of things so but I suppose the objective way is that you would go where the army wanted you to go.
If the army, if you had thirty people in your platoon and the army wanted twenty five people to go to infantry then twenty five people went to infantry. That was as simple as that infantry were the main Corps. They did try initially to get me to go to RAEME [Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] to engineers, Royal Australian – anyway mechanical engineers or whatever they call them, mechanician electrical engineers because I had a
trade because I was a tradesman. And I jacked up on that if they sent me there because I wanted to go to infantry anyway. So you know that’s how I ended up in infantry I wanted to go and probably didn’t have the smarts to become an officer so they wanted targets.
And you attached to an infantry battalion then?
No, not at Kapooka no, no, that’s just the recruit training program.
But once you’re selected for infantry?
No the only thing that happens when you’re selected at Kapooka to go to a Corps and that’d be engineers it could be Intelligence, it could’ve been the service Corps truck drivers or infantry it could be a whole range of Corps. Once you were selected at Kapooka you then went to Corps training if you were selected for infantry you went to Ingleburn, which was infantry training centre. If you went to RAEME or the engineers you went somewhere else.
If you went to service Corps then you went to Melbourne and so on and so on and so when you went from Kapooka to Corps training you went to a place that ramped up the training for an infantier so when you went for Corps training at Ingleburn you were now going to learn basic infantry skills. What they call now the initial employment training. It’s the initial employment training. So Kapooka is all about preparing you for the army
in very basic way you can do drill you can recognise an officer even better you can recognise an RSM real quick because they’re dangerous so you’ve got that basic military you can march you can use a weapon you can do all the basic things which everyone’s go to do in the army it doesn’t matter whether you’re going to become a nurse or an engineer or anything else you’ve all got to go through Kapooka and so when you go to infantry centre you start to learn the fundamentals of being an infantry soldier
that’s the first time you run into it really. Tactics, working as a group, teams you know, platoons and sections and skills that you need and so you do your three months there and then once you qualify out of there you’re then sent to a battalion, a regular battalion in those days there were only three 1 Battalion, 2 Battalion and 3 Battalion so when I came out of that I was sent to 3 Battalion in Malaya or 2 Battalion in Malaya then
as a reinforcement to 3 Battalion so to me it was pretty good. Of course a lot of the blokes didn’t, I think it was only four or five of us went to Malaya and the rest went to other battalions so that was quite good.
Excuse me Harry, what were the infantry instructors like at Ingleburn?
Oh they were a different type of instructor to Duntroon –
to Kapooka although they all had the similar characteristics I mean they were experienced soldiers and NCO but it at Ingleburn the instructors I had were more interested in training you as a solider they accepted the back that you had these basic skills and now we’re going to take those basic
skills and make you into something else in the next stage of your career path so a lot of those characters were I thought were very good value. Very good value was one of my instructors who was a former SAS or he was on loan from SAS, and I got to know him pretty well but I suppose that was my first sort of introduction to SAS because
they used to a carter training cell at Ingleburn as well and they were running people through all the time to get into SAS so and I used to watch them run and do all the things that we weren’t doing which sort of got me thinking about that but the instructors at Ingleburn I found very good. They all had overseas experience they were World War II, Korean, Malayan Emergency etc so they all had
combat experience and so not only were you being taught theoretical stuff but you were starting to get taught practical issues although Ingleburn is basically about theory as well it’s about a higher level of basic military theory with a little bit of practical stuff. So you had blokes who could actually, would actually talk to you in a far different when then you had done in Kapooka. At Kapooka you were very much the recruit and they had a simple.
they had a high degree of informality down there I would call them Sir and they would call me private or recruit and that was about as far as you got but when you got to Ingleburn you had the same sort of arrangement there was no first names but there was a much more personalised starting to treat you almost as a human, almost but not quite. So it was quite a different, different
thing. When you finished Ingleburn you most certainly started to think of yourself as being a soldier. At that point you sort of you know I’m pretty good now, I can do all sorts of things now and I couldn’t do them six months ago. So you know you at that point, the question you asked before about when do you think you become a soldier, I think at Ingleburn by the end of Ingleburn you most certainly have got a thought in your head that gee whiz you know I’m different because by that stage six months in
the army is a long time I can tell you. By that time they’ve knocked a lot of your former civilian habits out of your head. You’ve started to form footballers currently call it bonding and a lot of other things but nonetheless you’ve started to form groups and allegiances and relationships that are now going to probably last a lifetime. They are a start of a formative period. Didn’t get a lot of leave at Ingleburn I think we had
I think I got two leave passes for a weekend off and both of those I went and saw my Nan who lived at Northmead and my granddad my Mum, my mother’s people. I was very close to them I was very fond of them and I got on well with Nan and everyone so we – to me it was a good weekend off you know you could do down and
have the oldies and you know you have your baked dinner which you never got in the army and you know all your bake chook oh mate this was good. Bacon and eggs, really cooked ones, none of this crap out of the mess, splat, oh not that one again you had to chase it across your plate before it went off the other end and nail it down to the floor with a ramset gun but no it’s, infantry seemed most certainly different, a different experience you were becoming a soldier
you were starting to be treated like a soldier.
What happened once you left infantry school?
I went to Malaya…
I just want to stop you there Harry, did you go to Canungra?
No, no I never went to Canungra not to do not to train I went there on a couple of occasions to instruct but on a different plain altogether but I never went to Canungra as a – to do my jungle warfare training
I actually did that in Malaya. For people who didn’t go overseas in the infantry invariably they went to Canungra because that was the Australian Jungle Warfare training centre but for those that were sent overseas and didn’t go there then we were sent to other places like Kota Tinggi in Malaya which was the jungle warfare training school in Malaya and you had a whole lot of different instructors there from British commandos
British ASP [Armed Services Personnel] people to our Australian instructors, Ghurkhas all sorts of multi-national type people there if you could imagine the British Empire at that time, British Empire great word but we were part then over there of the 28th Infantry Commonwealth Brigade Group which included you know it included English, Indian Ghurkha, Australian, Singaporean, Malayan,
where else did they come from oh liquorice allsorts we were everyone was there so that was the old British Empire in all of its – even then in those days India wasn’t part of that they were still instructors and that stuff there so there was still that connection was still there so it was quite an interesting place to do your training.
Before we go on and talk about that I just wanted to ask you a bout getting attached to 3 Battalion?
Yeah, when I was attached,
well 3 Battalion they just simply needed people and I was sent there they needed people and I was sent there. I did reasonably well at Ingleburn and therefore you got a bit better choice and they said okay the ones that come first second third can go to can get the good posting because overseas posting was, you know you’d kill for it. No one wants to go to Liverpool, there’s a limited to where you want to go as an exotic holiday.
So we went over there, I was selected to go over there. I went into – I was attached to A Company 3 RAR and of course my first – the first real soldier I ever ran into was a bloke you interviewed yesterday, Tony Keech and at that point you then start training to be a soldier
because then you’ve got to take – you’re now dealing with trained soldiers who probably have been in combat, been in action so you’re very much who’s this goose but they take you onboard and they go through extensive training and becoming part of a team and being part of that team meant being part of a section of some I think we had about fifteen people in it, something like that.
Twelve or fifteen people I forget the actual number of which I was the youngest. I was only just over, just on eighteen. The rest of the blokes in there were all gee whiz they would’ve been twenty three through to thirty you know that sort of age group I would guess. So to me they were older brothers you now they were the thing of course those characters had been a lot
hardened people it wasn’t like if I had’ve been at home when I was eighteen and I was dealing with a twenty three year old who was a bigger juvenile delinquent as I was as he had more hairs that he was older here you were dealing with men with people at twenty two, twenty three who were forty at the way the looked at life.
You know the hardness of where they had been made them men long before you know old people long before their time and so their, their mentoring of me or their nurturing of myself was quite an interesting thing.
What contact did you have at the battalion with veterans from Korea?
We had company commanders, we had regimental sergeant major was a Korean veteran well
3 Battalion itself was a battalion of long history of war. We had a hell of a lot of people who had served at the battle of Kapyong in Korea in fact in our in my platoon two of the corporals were Battle of Kapyong Corporals were well one was Battle of Kapyong and the other one was a Malayan Emergency bloke and I don’t – I can’t remember whether he was in the Korea, I think he might’ve been
I just can’t I’m trying to picture him but a lot of people in the battalion were from that era were still there so you had contact with those people. The, I think it was an interesting thing I learnt in that period dealing with those sorts of – we had World War II blokes as well as Malaya Emergency so there
was a whole lot of people there from different wars and I think one of the things I learnt very early there was an interesting lesson was that just because a person’s got a few medals and been somewhere doesn’t make them competent you learn that very fast. I picked – that’s something I picked up very early on in the piece
and some of the stuff that they used to live on the past was not right and it’s something later on as an instructor myself down the track I definitely stayed away from I made a conscious effort never to be the old soldier definitively particularly when you’re dealing with young people because I basically after I you know after years of it I had experience myself I come to understand in my own mind anyway that the only difference between
a trained soldier in Australia who hasn’t been overseas in action and one who has been in action is simply one got shot at and one didn’t and when you go into action sure the things that you learn in peacetime and under training undergo radical re-examination like how to dodge bullets or not to go on patrol at all and get shot at to start with but you do learn when you go overseas and you go into active service
it is a different life and it’s a bit like applying, it’s a bit like going to university and getting a degree in something but never really doing anything with it you come out of university and then the real world starts and now you’ve got to apply it and so a lot of things and principles that you’ve learnt have got to undergo so radical changes to enable you to survive to enable you to move forward and being a soldier is like that too. Theory’s great
there’s nothing like a bit of practical to bring it home to bring it down to earth.
Can you explain this gulf thing between medals and competence?
Yeah I think when you’re talking medals you talk about, we’re not talking about awards for bravery and things like that I mean but I talk it in the sense that if you see someone with ribbons on their chest what it means is, and a soldier can tell I can look at another soldier and I can exactly where he’s been he can’t crap on to. I mean I know exactly where he’s been from the different
bars and things that are on there and he can tell the same with me too. But what it doesn’t tell you is if a person's been overseas they will get awarded a campaign medal most medals are campaign medals which means that you’ve served overseas in a campaign. The young blokes today going to Iraq they get a medal for Iraq and a UN medal no different to when we went to Vietnam you got a Vietnamese and Australian medal
what that says is a soldier served there. It doesn’t tell you where he served, who he served with, what he did when he was there or she did it just simply says that that person served in that conflict or in that conflict it doesn’t say whether that person was a frontline soldier or the person was showing pictures up the back and most certainly it doesn’t unless you know the people personally, and most certainly the fact that
even if a person has been in action and active service for many years the fact that they’ve been there and done that does not make them competent soldiers. That’s not the case at all and for young people I know when I was training young commandos and SAS people getting in – one of the things I thought, I used to take – wear as a
badge of pride was when a young bloke came up to me and say, “You know “H” you’re the only one who doesn’t condemn me because I’m not part of the Vietnam club,” and I used to keep away from that because I’d learnt that lesson years ago when people used to say as a young bloke, “Oh what did you know? You don’t know anything. We didn’t do this in Korea. We didn’t do this in World War II and we didn’t do…” and most of that stuff was irrelevant to what’s going on right
now anyway except in a more general sense and it has the effect of putting young people down. You know I didn’t want to go to their mess and drink with them, I didn’t want to go out with them because invariably it would come up on a few beers some one would, oh yeah you know and so you’d stay away rather than be put down and I think that was because when you learn as an instructor looking at young people I mean I look down –
I look now at some young people the other day from SAS we were having around home and some of those young people, oh they’re young now they’re near forty – young see. Some of those I actually put through their initial courses and to see them mature to where they are up to now quite senior and I look at them and I think you know magnificent absolutely magnificent
that the type so things they do they think for themselves and my job as instructor is simply to expose them to a way of thought give them the basic principles encourage them to think for themselves and develop their own strategies and techniques and then move on and train others. Not to sit there and say we didn’t do it like this in my – you should be doing this and that that’s not the case because everything changes, like jobs change and that’s what I mean competence
there’s that sort of incompetence where people keep putting down younger people and they probably don’t do it, oh some people do it deliberately, a lot do it I think just as a matter of course but there was that sort of incompetence and there was the other level of incompetence where people are just not competent soldiers or NCOs for that matter. So
yeah most certainly the fact that someone has been in campaigns has been overseas doesn’t make them competent is something else, being competent.
Can you just stop a moment Cathy [interviewer[, I’ve just going to go and deal with… Okay. Harry, were there particular instances that were indicative of that when you first joined 3 RAR?
Not when I first joined because I
was lucky enough to join a section whose section commander was very competent and I think generally the section commanders that I ran into there were all pretty competent in their own way they were trained soldiers and they all had different ways of doing things but as a general… when I say that competency is a general proposition that people often fall into the trap because so and so has been to so and so what they say must be right and therefore
it’s gospel, it’s written you know so you do it so the point I make is that that’s not the case that in all cases you’ve got to make sure that the people you actually deal with and I found this important because some people who I’d actually accepted as being plausible being you know they obviously know what they are they’ve been here and there later on would prove to be quite hazards to follow their advice and
desisted with that very early on in my career so but most certainly with 3 RAR, 3 RAR… in my view, it’s a selfish one I guess and not simply because it was the first battalion I served with in a real senses but it was in its day the cream of the army. It was ‘the’ battalion in the army. It was the –
if you were in the army and you talked about where were you going to, oh I’m going to 3, oh geez I wish I could go there. You know people wanted to go to 3. 3 probably had the highest level of competence, overseas service commitment, history. 1 RAR did too, I mean 1 RAR had been around for a hell of a long time and I subsequently served in 1 RAR. But most certainly when I served with 1 RAR it was a far
different battalion than it would’ve been when I was serving with 3 in the early ‘60’s, very different battalion altogether. The 3 Battalion where I think regarded as the Rolls Royce of the Battalions at the time and I think one of the interesting things about it when 3 Battalion returned to Australian in ‘65 or ‘66
whenever we came home it was split up because national service had started and a third of if I get the ratios right I think a third of the NCOs went to form 4 Battalion to start 4 Battalion up. A third went to 7 Battalion at Puckapunyal to start 7 Battalion and the other third stayed with 3 RAR to reform 3 RAR. and I went
when I came initially I went I come home to 7 Battalion while I was waiting to go to SAS so I was one of the first people to go in there, to walk into 7 Battalion as a new battalion and so to those battalions where the 3 RAR NCOs went you ended up with very good battalions because you had senior officers senior NCOs, junior NCOs and privates who went and
invariably those battalions had very very good reputation overseas, very good.
What sort of feedback was there at that time on the Malayan situation?
In what way, in?
In terms of because the [Malayan] Emergency was technically over by that time, I assume?
It finished, the Emergency finished I think in ’66. ’66
I think it finished ’65 late ’65 early ’66 no ’66 I think it finished. Stand correct I think it did because 4 Battalion went over. It went there and a couple of friends of mine who were with 3 went back with 4.
So how and when did you become aware that you were going to be going and serving in Malaya?
At Ingleburn when I finished infantry training but it was merely a posting an overseas posting at that time it wasn’t
you know the only war like things that they were doing were on the Thai Malay border chasing communist terrorist and rice smugglers and whatever else was tearing around the countryside at the time so that was when I knew I was going to 3 but for not other reason than 3 needed reinforcements and we went. I was lucky in that sense
because things I learnt with 3 Battalion were to really – it was lucky in the sense that, it’s a bit like getting good parents I think or having good mentors anywhere else if you start your formative time doing something with the right sort of people, with the right values, with the right standards then the chance of you surviving and making good in your own career are pretty high and that was how I found 3 RAR.
And in particular my section commander at the time gave me values cause he was an extremely how could you describe him he was extremely pedantic when it came to rules when it came to properness to correctness, correct military bearing, approach, training the way you conducted yourself
in the jungle, the way you conducted yourself in action they way you conducted yourself to soldiers on the other side or whoever it was on the other side and how you conducted yourself personally were values that stuck with me all the way through life to now right through and for that I have got 3 Battalion to thank and of course you don’t get that you can’t buy that sort of it’s almost akin to reputation
the only thing we’ve got is reputation you destroy that you’re dead so you protect that at all costs and so it is with being a professional soldier if you were lucky enough to have that initial grounding particularly when you’re young and you’re easily, not that I would say I was easily swayed but most certainly you are when you’re younger you’re easily convinced of the rightness or wrongness of various things
I was lucky to run into that person and have that person and to stay in that section all the way through which was really good.
We’re just going to stop there Harry.
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 05
Harry could you tell me about arriving in Malaya?
Arriving in Malaya was an exciting experience I suppose we didn’t know what to expect you never do when you go somewhere strange but when we got off the play I think it was the combination of sensation all five senses instantaneously reacted. It was the extreme heat because it was
in the middle of their summer, so it was extreme heat and the humidity and I think the smells were different when you first got off that plane it sort of hit you and you sort of think “whoa,” this is definitely not Griffith or the Snowy or anywhere it was so different and plus all of a sudden you’re surrounded by all sorts of people foreign languages
you know things that you’ve never really had to confront with before and sort of hit you. Yeah it was very different but at the same very exciting because it was different you know it was things you’d never, never seen before and you’d probably never believed if someone had told you ten years earlier this is where you’d end up they would’ve laughed at you because it was in an era when people didn’t travel. I think Mum and Dad the closest they got to going overseas was probably
crossing Murrumbidgee River to go to the other side of it. So in that sense it was a very exciting time.
Where were you based in Malaya?
Malacca. Initially I was in Singapore for some time Nee Soon Barracks there so I had a few weeks in Singapore to get around and meet people and see the sights and sort of get a bit of a feel for what life was like
and then we were put on a train which was a two day trip the whole I think was about four hundred ‘k’ to go to Malacca. Well we didn’t go to Malacca we went to another place called Tang Ping and there the train ride was something else again I mean that was we’ been on trains in Australia obviously and this was a completely different train ride. I don’t think I’d seen so many people crammed into a train and hang off every part of it in my whole
life. They were hanging off the side, we had chooks and pigs and you know you name it and we had it on the train so it was quite a different thing and of course the train stopped at every whistle stop along the way and quite often the locals would flag it down in the middle of no where so it would stop anyway. There was a little bit of apprehension I suppose when we left, before we left Nee Soon we got a thorough briefing
on communist terrorists and being ambushed on trains and buses all that sort of thing and I thought, oh yeah go home this is going to be a bit hard. It didn’t really sink in and of course nothing really happened and we had some senior NCOs from 3 Battalion with us and of course the persisted in telling these appalling lies about how we were all going to maimed and killed before we got over the border and of course everyone’s sitting up all night with their eyes well by the time we got off at Malacca
your eyes were open we hadn’t slept all night worrying about all these characters that were going to attack you which never did. So yeah no it was going up to Malacca was a very interesting exercise you know of course you passed through areas that was jungle and villages rural areas and mainly Malaya still is predominantly rural country like Australia so you went through miles and miles of
jungle and stop at this place and that and we’d all pile out and go and buy a drink of sorts or whatever was going at the time and of course we arrived at Malacca and we were put on back of trucks to go to Terendak Camp out at, I forget how far out, I guess twenty mile out of,
twenty mile away it was on the coast and I think the most, the first noticeable – the first noticeable thing I noticed that just as you went into the main gate there was all the bars, entertainment centres we’ll call them on the outside of the boats and of course we went through and once you went into the base it was a bit like walking you know it was a bit like moving into a British sort of
a town I guess it was a base run by the Brits it was part of the brigade group and of course it wasn’t only Australians there was New Zealanders there was various British forces, infantry forces and support forces. There was a town there own sort of internal little township with cinemas and NAAFI [Navy Army Air Force Institute] which was their canteen arrangement plus shops and
hairdressers like a self contained town they had a beach club which was a very interesting place and yeah it was almost two worlds. The world you’d come through getting there and then all of sudden you come into this artificial sort of world or formal barracks and you know bitumen roads and all the rocks painted white and all the lawns manicured
so and then of course we came into 3 RAR into the main, come through the guard room and the first thing you notice is a soldier where’s the RSM hiding, where’s his parade ground so we found that pretty quick and then of course there were a whole range of shops that the locals ran in the base of 3 RAR itself. So you know it was a sort of a – oh I suppose
interesting when we got to Malacca and Terendak Camp a lot of the humidity had gone because you’re up country the climate seemed to me to be a little bit more forgiving than it was in Singapore which was down right stifling and of course once we lobbed in the place we assembled on the parade
ground and then the RSM came out and raved and ranted about his battle hero about his battled whinging career and everywhere else all designed of course to intimidate the young soldier into an abject fear of the RSM nothing to do about going into action or being a soldier the most important thing was to show a respectable level of fear of the RSM I think and he was an interesting bloke his name was Stanley, I can’t remember
his first name but the – as a private you never really got to know a RSM’s first name but he was a Battle of Kapyong solider and a decorated soldier too he got a military medal from Kapyong and we were then assigned to our various companies we went to and I went to A Company and of course you went through the normal introductory necessities
of meeting the Company Sergeant Major who was quite an interesting bloke he was an Irishman, Paddy someone I can’t remember his name either but he was a fearsome character in his own right and then you meet the company commander and platoon commanders and everyone else and finally you end up with your section commander and then you sort of go down to the “Q” store and get all your gear
and draw all the equipment and stuff you need and head back up to where you’re going to sleep for the next couple of years which was basically a long barracks which we had four to a room. So I was in with three other blokes and just a big open rooms with a bed in each corner and you had your own little sort of boxes and things you put your trinkets in
and if you had a girlfriend you put her picture up which was downright stupid because everyone wanted a copy of it. People who didn’t have a girlfriend wanted a copy of yours so they could put it on their locker. To have a white girl as a girlfriend was really something important over there with blokes so you know you’d do all that and then you’d go through the usual carry on of being indoctrinated into the group which was quite a, was usually involved
once you got settled down to being sculled dragged out to the nearest bar just to see how much alcohol you could consume in the quickest possible time particularly on the basis that if a man didn’t drink he wasn’t trustworthy and if a boy didn’t drink he was even less trustworthy because he’d probably dob you in.
So what happened to you seeing as…
I didn’t drink.
So what happened?
So I got into a fight and finally after that they discovered I wasn’t too bad a bluing on so they
discovered that well if he didn’t drink he was probably all right so I got away with it to that extent because the normal indoctrination was grog and women. Seeing as the grog didn’t work you were sort of scull dragged down to the local ladies club we will call it where usually of course of not having a girlfriend and not being anywhere near one you were known locally as a cherry boy so the idea was for the
blokes to take you down there and they’d pay for your first introduction to a woman down there and of course I jacked up on that and wouldn’t do that either and then I was getting sculled dragged into this joint and then of course the blokes had worded up the Madame and she was it was all into getting one of these cherry boys in and everything was supposed to be free now you’re all free now just to put this one up on the wall so anyway I ended up getting away from there as well.
So tell me about those establishments
that you were dragged into?
Well they were quaint establishments they were you now brothels that’s what they were in English funicular they were more than that they were really a social meeting place for people. I knew blokes that went to those places who never entertained in any activity but they went there to get a feed. And they used to put a feed on you now in the better establishment s
and you got to know the people and it was quite good and one of my friends actually ended up marrying a young lady from, who was associated with them and he’s still happily married to this day four kids, five kids and so it was quite interesting and all the blokes tried to encourage him not to marry her but he did and yeah so they were quite interesting places usually
known as a local knock shop. But they played a pretty important part in the life of the soldiers a vast majority of the blokes were single, married blokes were section commanders but even some of them played so they were untrustworthy buggers too but yeah it was more a social thing blokes would go here and I was more a social outing it wasn’t so
much a tear in tear out sort of thing and like drinking if you didn’t visit these places with the blokes you were regarded as you know well clearly you’re not one of us you’re one of them and we’ll take you to one of them too because you know a lot of those places catered for anyone’s taste it didn’t matter with it chook, fowl animal or man you know you could buy it for a price so it was quite an interesting time.
What did they look like inside?
Oh they varied from definitely disgusting to pretty flash mansions yeah pretty flash some of the places were in old colonial type buildings and bear in mind that Malacca was one of the oldest places in South East Asia. You know it was I don’t know the exact history of it but the Dutch had ruled it and the Spaniards had been there before the
Dutch so there was big influence on the area of those early people that go back you know and I can remember going up into the cemetery and there were graves dating back to the 1300s of Spaniards and conquistadors and all that it was a boys own gallery of memories and they’re still there today for people to go and see. So a lot of buildings and houses and architecture
in the area was influenced by those people obviously and so some of these bordellos actually were in those, in these places and the madames who run them were quite interesting people as were a lot of the girls that were in there. But there was never, as I say it was more a, it wasn’t a case of the blokes going down to the local knock shop per se it was more we’re going out for the night and a must
do stop was Suzy’s so if you didn’t stop at Suzy’s then the next time you were in Malacca Suzy would get right up you and you would get yelled and screamed at, “I’m not good enough to come and have your food and have your muck around and stuff,” and so you’d drop in for your feed, if it was nothing else you’d still drop in for a feed and say hello. One of those, one of those sorts of things but that’s to be expected they made a good quid out of the boys. I mean you send blokes
in the jungle for six months and bring them home something’s got to give so you know they played a pretty important part, the only downside I think was some of the social disorders that came out of those places from time to time which everyone’s warned against and doctors give you immense lectures about for hours on end which of course is all great when a blokes sober but of course when they go out for the
night and they end up with a few beers and of course all the rules and regulations and the care and control sort of disappear down the gurgler and sure enough four days later bang down the hospital there we go I think they were the only people that made any business out of it. But you’d get this big line of blokes down the local hospital you always knew what it was because if the blokes caught any of these unsavoury diseases it was always called VD [Venereal Disease] or something else but
if an officer got it he was down there to fix his throat, it was a sore throat you know officers never got that sort of thing so I was quite taken by that how you differentiate the various levels yeah. The bloke I know a lieutenant was a bit wayward and forgot his rules and he ended up down there and of course officers didn’t go where the men went in hospital they had to go to another section everyone knew it was the sore throat section they went down to get the sore throat I bet that he came out of there with the same sore bum everyone else got
with his whopping big needle but no it was for their sore throat.
So tell me about the operations you did in Malaya? Can you tell me about the first operation you went on?
Yeah the first operations in Malaya were basically I suppose from my recollection split into two, into two things, training and I suppose special service, active service if you want to call it for a want of a better word.
The – we did an enormous amount of training and hard and arduous training and Malaya of course is quite hilly in areas, mountainous to the fact a lot of triple canopy jungle which is real rain forest type jungle and a lot of low lying rubbishy material and it’s damn hard to get through and it’s usually on the plains and swamp areas
and it’s very hard to get through and it’s stinking hot elephant grass and stuff and cuts you to bits and you know you’ve got to force your way through it, very arduous either way. That training, a lot of that training went on for six, eight, nine weeks at a time straight you’d be away continuously training in the jungle. As I say that was very arduous, very demanding physically and mentally
in some cases particularly with the long hours designed to push you to the limit and physically because you were carrying very heavy loads and you were in often very difficult terrain if not mountainous most certainly swamp or low land which was very difficult. And all that training of course is pretty much infantry training, jungle training designed to
bring you up to standard for active service or if not to bring you up to that standard most certainly to hone your skills and to keep you competent in the skills that you’ve got so it’s very important, very important exercises. The, whereas in the other part, the other type of operation was the active service operation that was broken I suppose into two
areas one was the operations on the Thai Malaya border which involved being up there for three month at a time. Patrolling on the border for communist terrorists that were coming across and attacking various things, admittedly at that point of time we were there, there was some of it but not a lot because it was really at the tail end of the Malayan
Emergency most of the big stuff had finished with 1 RAR and 2 RAR before us. So we were sort of given the dregs, the leftovers but nevertheless it was still quite, very arduous and you had to be on your toes because it was still dangerous. You did run into these people and we did from time to time
and fire fights pursued so you know even though they weren’t particularly the John Wayne type moving making contacts they nevertheless were very serious you had to take being there very seriously.
Could you talk me through the first time you had contact with the communist terrorist?
I didn’t really have myself when we did patrolling, I didn’t really have any contact with them. I observed them saw some people let them go through to others as such I didn’t have a contact with them. My first contact with enemy came against Indonesians in Southern Malaya some months after that because part of the patrols that I were on were all about
reconnaissance or about looking and watching and observing and we used to see things and radio through and someone else you’d hear a few shots up the road and that sort of thing although one of our sections got into a fire fight it wasn’t my section it was another section had gone through so even though you weren’t in a fire fight as such you still had all the stresses and even thought the
chance of I suppose having a contact that ended up in a fire fight was not particularly high but nevertheless did happen and you never knew when it was going to happen and you didn’t know who it was going to happen to. So for that reason you were on a heightened sense of preparedness all the time although I think my two greatest, my two greatest fears at the time on the Malaya border was scorpions, centipedes and tigers in that order
because they would – before I’d gotten there, there was a Kiwi had actually been dragged out of bed by the head by the tiger, by the skull, dragged him off into the night and it was only when they fired a whole lot of shots over its head and ran at it and about it that the thing let him go but the poor bugger in a fruit cake farm [mental institute] for the rest of his life. I mean something dragging you out of bed in the middle of the night. So and you used to, you could smell them all the time they were cause tigers continually
piddle and mark their territory and do whatever they’ve got probably got a crook bladder and it stinks and you could always smell them and quite often you would see them and they’d sort of follow you and look at you and I’d look back and I used to always admire the size of their teeth that really impressed me that did because mine weren’t that big so the things that were at the back of my mind a lot of the times were a tiger taking me which was pretty remote.
More to the point was centipedes and little snakes and vipers and crates little we used to call them boot lace snakes would get into your gear and cobras and things like that we had blokes bitten by cobras and taken out. Fellow I knew got into bed and didn’t shake his bed out and managed to sit on a scorpion one night and those things grow about six seven inches long whopping big buggers and it laid
into him when he was in his bed and Jesus I never heard a bloke scream so much in my life you thought you were in a torture chamber and they had to get him out the next day and he nearly died. So I think you know in many respects the true dangers weren’t getting shot it was more the case of not checking your boots, make sure snakes weren’t in there or centipedes. Another bloke I knew got, went to bed one night
and again didn’t shake his bed out properly because you were sleeping on, you were sleeping off the ground but things climb up and anyway in the morning we could hear this moan, I was on picket duty that night on guard duty on the machine-gun and I could, about four o’clock in the morning I could hear tis moaning and wailing and gnashing of teeth going on, oh God what’s that you know cause the noise of fly flyers going around
I thought oh God someone’s going to spring us hear with a noise and I could imagine someone firing a whole burst of fire through to the noise from some clown outside and I thought, oh no. Anyway in the morning it went on and on and a few of the blokes got up to see him and it kept going and of course this centipede and they grow about you know ten inches long big red and black mongrels big teeth on them big snipers and he’d sat on it and it ate a hole in his bum. It was about,
oh geez it would’ve been two and inches three inches across and about an inch deep it had eaten half his bum off and of course he bled everywhere and you know it was oh mate I thought at that point in time I discovered I didn’t like centipedes either. They were the sorts of things you got memories of you know funny things happened. I remember one of the funniest things, we, when you’re up there you’ve got to use mite repellent because you get
mite and ticks and things would get on you and one of these blokes had – he had a bunch of tropical sores and the only thing that would get rid of tropical sores is a thing, used a thing called Whitfield’s ointments. Now Whitfield’s ointment is a bit like if you can think of some of these super heat, deep heat muscle stuff athletes use you’ve got something wrong with your muscle. Well
if you could think of deep heat and imagine that twenty times deep heat you’ve got this Whitfield stuff this was the sort of, it could take the duco off your car but you’d put this on in little dobs and drabs and the thing was of course you had to make your hands were clean afterwards so that you didn’t go around doing anything else. Anyway this bloke put this ointment in a mite container, in this particular container and at the same time he kept
mosquito repellent and everything else in these green containers anyway come in the middle of the night he decided he’d get up and put some of this stuff on and of course he picked up the Whitfields instead of the mite stuff and he ended up getting it on his personal parts and in the middle of the day and this bloke he was absolutely oh he was in agony all night and when we woke up in the morning we had to get him out because his
personal parts had grown to such enormous dimensions that every bloke around the place were lining up to see whether they could get a dose of this as well and I don’t think it every went down it just went black and big and so it was quite interesting. Everyone threw garbage at him but poor bugger he was nearly maimed for life with this using the wrong ointment. It was a big lesson then, everyone got a bit lesson about how you don’t mix different
jars and different things so that was one. One of the other things that was interesting on the Thai border was elephants. I remember one day because I always imagined elephants as a kid are whopping big things and they weight four or five tonnes and clearly they do six hundred mile an hour and if they stomp through the jungle you’ve got to hear them well in actual fact you can’t hear them and I was lying in ambush one day, ambush position and I was out to one edge by myself and another
bloke was about five or six metres away anyway I was watching this crossing on this little river and waiting for someone to come across and I was sort of, you know you were sort of drowsy and you’d been there for a couple of hours and you were just sort of watching and I remember just sort of looking away for a bit and I looked back and I realised I couldn’t see the crossing and I couldn’t work this out and I thought, “Why can’t I see the crossing?” and this big grey thing right in front of me about three probably
two metres away on this little track this big grey thing this post standing in front of me and I thought, that wasn’t there before. And of course the bloke next to me says, ‘zwit zwit’ and I looked up at this post and this post was connected to about five tonnes of other things and it was a bloody elephant and it had come and stood right next to us and you couldn’t hear it, it had walked along the track and you couldn’t hear I could never ever come to grips with that this monstrous thing had wandered down the
way and of course when we made a bit of a noise we suddenly realised why they make a noise when they charge they just took off at six hundred mile and hour through the jungle and woe be tide anyone who got in the way you’d get squashed. They were interesting mind forming times of the real dangers of the jungle, scorpions, spiders, tigers, centipedes and elephants and everyone says well what about the communist terrorist and I said, “Well I only ever saw one of them”
but I kept seeing hundreds of these other things so you had to put the risk at the right area I think.
So tell me about going out on patrol how does it work and what’s your role in those reconnaissance patrols?
Well it was basically a pretty simple affair I mean the orders had come down from battalion or from somewhere higher. The battalion commander would give orders to the company commander the company commander would give them to
the platoon commander and the platoon commander would give them to the section commander and of course you all had a mission you had objectives and typically you would be going out you now probably a thousand yards about a kilometre in those days I suppose patrolling in the jungle or wherever you had to go to and just looking for the signs of people. You’d be looking for caches, like weapons caches or rice caches because these people used to store things up in
various areas and you used to have to search the jungle for those and try and find them sometimes you found them and sometimes you didn’t and basically to feed information back up the line so they could a build a picture of what was there. And if you’d take a battalion and you’ve got four companies you can imagine the amount of people that are out there doing parol they’re in their own areas so you’re covering a big area
and getting a lot of valuable information back in so people can plan what they’re doing later on ambushing and you know trying to catch people that are out there. It was all for tactical purposes. The other time you’d go out on patrol would be to ambush and you would set up an ambush you’d have a defined target that the intelligence called would always tell us that all these people were going to come along and this is what you were going to find and it never happened I don’t know where they got their information from God only
knows I don’t but very rarely did it come to fruition but you’d go out on this basis and you’d ambush this track and you’d lie there for days on end you know you’d lie there and lie there and at the end you hoped to go something would come along even if it was an elephant and for some people something did come along and they would get into a bit of a blue but for most of us I think it was just a time of being on edge all the time you know just waiting for that something
to happen and I suppose in most of my minds hoping to God it didn’t, so…
Tell me about living in the jungle for that length of time on patrol?
Living in the jungle is quite an interesting, I suppose quite an interesting thing. It’s, the good thing about it is you don’t have to wash or shower you can actually stink and really bond with your mates. You know you all stink the same and that’s good in a way because other people can’t smell you either becaue
if you go into the jungle and you kept brushing your teeth and using soap and smoking and eating a lot of the tucker that you normally eat then you exert a smell and of course you can smell that from a long way off. In later years in a different environment I was able to myself I could smell smoke up to a kilometre away, I could smell smoking and things like toothpaste, soap and stuff like that I could smell
with the wind right probably four of five hundred metres away. People I could smell and when you’ve been in the jungle a long time and it works both ways because the people we were – we were supposed to be chasing had different diets to us and people who have different diets smell different it’s not just under our arms. I mean if you eat a lot of garlic or onions as some cultures do in Europe, I’ve been in the bush with them and they stink like proverbial dunny can
really undesirable people you know because it comes out that type of diet comes out and you can smell people are different because of their diets. Doesn’t mean that tuckers no good so in that sense being unclean although you shaved and you had to do certain things in those days that was the regime while you were in base, out of base you didn’t but most certainly
in your main central base you would shave and things and ablutions because being clean is part of keeping lots of diseases and things away from you but living in the jungle is pretty basic I mean we used to all build a – you wouldn’t sleep on the ground I mean it would only a fool who would sleep on the ground, you would only sleep on the ground if you really had to and then you sat up all night watching all the nibblies come and have a chew at you but we used to build a
sort of a stick arrangement where we’d have two sticks and cross them like an “X” and we’d run our sleeping, our basic sleeping bag, not sleeping bag but a sort of sleeping bag container through two sticks and so we’d be suspended about you know you could be suspended about half a metre off the ground and we’d often get a bit of bug repellent and squirt it around the poles so things wouldn’t walk up,
they didn’t like it so they wouldn’t come up and you’d live off the ground with your hutchie over the top of you but apart from that you’d make yourself as comfortable as you could in your base area and I found it quite enjoyable. I didn’t dislike it I quite liked it, it didn’t worry me I quite liked living like that. You’d cook your meals there and things, very basic but
What did you have to eat?
Mainly rations, mainly British rations. They had all sorts of stuff in them they were tinned stuff you had you know chocolate bars the most important thing for me was their, two things I liked the most out of the Pommy [British] bars was the Mars Bars, it was the first I was introduced to Mars Bars and most blokes didn’t eat them they hated them I loved them and people
reckoned that Mars Bars were only good for one thing and that was fixing the bottom of your feet if you could make a sandal out of them they’d last a life time they were like that to eat but I loved Mars Bar they were high energy and one Mars Bar of course heaps and heaps of calories in them and it was great. But the stuff I liked there used to be McConaughy’s Irish stew, I loved that people hated that. And I loved kippers, Poms loved kippers so that came tinned
and then there was a whole raft of different types of stews and things that you could open up and you had a pack in there of tea and coffee and you had a sugar, didn’t have any chewing – no, did we have, no didn’t have any chewing gum I don’t think got that later. And bits and pieces like that so you had a, your twenty-four hour ration pack was designed to handle three meals you know and it did.
The great thing was that blokes would throw stuff away you know they wouldn’t eat it and if you’d mongrel around a big swapping contest what do you like, what do you hate and of course, “Oh I like kippers.” “Oh that crap,” so yeah, “You can have that.” “What don’t you want?” “Oh I don’t want that chilli con carne,” or whatever bang so you’d whistled that over and get rid of that and you’d do this big swap so blokes by enlarge would end up with the tucker they likes and you’d always find characters who would throw stuff away so I’d spend a whole lot of time
scrounging in the garbage pit so to speak to get my Mars Bars and anything that was good because that’s all I would carry in the end. In fact I got that way in the end with a lot of the patrols that I just took Mars Bars the other thing we used to get was rice and you could boil up your rice and make a stew and we used to always carry our own curry powder and stuff like that, Tabasco sauce and if you didn’t like your mate while he wasn’t watching
you’d slip about fifteen more drops in there and see how fast it took him to go to the dunny but which was usually pretty instantaneous in one end and straight out the other. So basically your living and stuff like that whilst it was very basic the tucker wasn’t too bad as good as you’ll get rations but every now and then in the main base they would bring in hot
meals you know they’d bring those and cook them up somewhere. Always wanted to catch the cook so I could shoot him but never did find the cook of those I’d rather rations in a lot of cases but no it was pretty good.
How long would you be out in the jungle for?
It varied it could be a day or it could you now a month or it could be two months. It depended entirely on the operation, depended on what you were doing and it also depended on how
many, how much rations you could carry how much ammunition and supplies you could carry cause we learnt that generally speaking that most blokes, we used to carry on big ops a month’s rations. You’d carry enough for a month, which is a hell of a lot of gear, it is a hell of a lot of gear plus all your stuff but more often than not you’d be taking about ten days
something like that ten fourteen days which is a pretty normal stint in the bush although in some ambush conditions I’ve spent up to thirty five days in one place and you couldn’t take resupply so you’d be, you’d have all your stuff with you so you measured yourself in terms of your food and what you took and how you did it.
But by enlarge people didn’t have a problem with that because most of us would share tucker you know someone would have so and so, so I’d make you know if someone was out on an ambush or something and they were coming back in I would make their tucker for them and we’d have a big bunch of stew or soup and put it all together and sometimes we would be able to get some local stuff too to put in so you know it was you pretty good, you made do you know
part of survival and that’s part of your training that’s part of your whole I mean that’s where going through Ingleburn, particularly Ingleburn and learning some basic stuff and then going into a battalion and then going into that type of (UNCLEAR) you’re really then becoming a soldier then starting to manipulate what you have to produce what you need you know to survive so pretty simple.
We’re just going to change tapes there.
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 06
Were you shot at while you were in Malaya Harry?
Yes unfortunately, yeah and the first time I was shot at was by one of my own blokes, accidentally. It was in a bit of training environment we’ll forget about that one that went over the top. No the only time that we, that I was personally shot
at in Malaya was down in Kesang when the Indonesians landed, when the confrontation started and it was a bit of a toss up that night whether it was me own people shooting at me or someone else. All you could see was these tracers going everywhere and go past you and it was quite an interesting experience to say the least it was not one that I would recommend to anyone – to anyone but…
Before we go on and talk about
the Indonesians can you tell me about what happened in that training exercise when you were shot at?
Oh it was a live fire exercise just simply what we used to call a fire and movement exercise down in Kota Tinggi in the jungle and we were giving a demonstration to a, I was with a demonstration section and a fellow who was my boss a fellow called Reno Whellan who was killed in Borneo he was a SAS man, and probably the reason
later why I was to join the SAS from his – my contact with him. And we were, we had this ambush all lined up and there was all these highfalutin big brass officers had come, major general an oh they’d come from miles around to see this big demonstration and we were supposed to move through an area using live ammunition and firing and all that and
one of the, a British commando unit was part of the demonstration and I was off to one side with a Bren gun with a machine gun bringing some cross fire to bear on a target while others moved through and one of the, one of the commando groups had got their co ordinance wrong they had a machine-gun on fixed, on what we call fixed axis but somewhere along live journey
it would end up being pointed a me luckily we were down low, I was in a bit of a depression in the ground than God and anyway the word come to go and of course all the noise and bangs and things going off and everyone’s happy and all these big brass are looking there, “Oh yes, yes, cup of tea – oh yes lovely chap,” and the next minute ‘bbrrrmmm!’ and the whole lot of the tree disappeared around my head I looked this hole, all the
jungle disappeared and about three bursts came over the top of me and I thought oh bugger this so I started to dig a hole deeper somewhat deeper than it was initially and it turned out that one of the commandos had set up this machine gun and for some reason it was pointed in the wrong direction and I never quite got any apologies from anyone. It was an error of judgement I remember this Pommy major coming down and telling me, “Oh chap, oh young chap error of judgement I say.
Error of judgement I say, error of judgement,” I thought, bloody error of judgement that was about all that was said. He went away, “Have a cup of tea, have a cup of tea young lad.” All they wanted to do was drink tea and coffee so yeah so that was a rather interesting time of course it was all over that quick that you only reflect on it after, when it happens it was sort of ‘bbrrmmm!’ and everything and ohh and your head down and it happened again and happened again and I thought, ‘Oh geez I’d better start getting
lower,’ which I did and of course someone woke up to the fact, I said a few profane words to someone I forget what they were but they were very directed. And someone said, “Oh yeah got the wrong bloke,” and that was about the sum total of it but it wasn’t until after that you sort of reflected you look around and you look where you are and you look where all these trees disappeared which were only about seven or eight inches above my head, where I had been and if I had been sitting up you would’ve been as dead as a dodo you know which was lucky I
was lying down which was a good start.
During your army career is that the only time you were privy to friendly fire?
Oh no over the time it happened from to time and happened a couple of times in Vietnam. Happened a couple of times in training in various areas but – but in… except for
I suppose a couple of times in Vietnam where it could’ve been serious most of it came about just simply because of people not telling people about the whereabouts of others and they mistook us for enemy. I mean Vietnam wasn’t training, most certainly wasn’t training mostly certainly wasn’t training but we were in an environment where and I mean my myself once had the honour of ambushing
one of my own platoons. Luckily we only wounded a couple with claymore pellets but it was a – that wasn’t in training the was in Bien Hoa Province in 1968 an operation I think was in was it ’68 yeah ’68 Operation Coburg and that came about because a problem with the terrain we had a
central base area, company base I was the section commander of the support section which was a double section with heavy machine guns and that supporting the main area and we were ambushing this track and the rest of the platoons had been sent out on what we call radial searches they had gone out to about five hundred metres and they’d do about a circle, they’d just go out about five hundred metres turn right and go so far and come back in anyway one of
the platoons so theoretically none of the platoons actually meet they’ll keep going around their way and then they’ll come back in and they won’t meet but they’ll cover the whole area to search it. And anyway about I suppose three or four hours into this one of my early warning group lance corporals said to me I got a message back there’s movement out the front to one side and so I
went down and listened to it and I could hear this movement. It was probably two hundred metres away from us but it was coming in at an angle that it shouldn’t be it was coming in direct just out to one side of us and there was no one due in none of the platoons were due in so I went back in and got on the radio and I had the company commander – company commander with me. He came down and I said, “Well look it was noisy out there,”
and so we got on the radio and contacted all of the platoons who were out. No they all gave a grid reference that was nowhere near this noise and so it can’t be, it can’t be any Viet Cong they were in the area because we’d based up on top of one of their camps, one of their underground camps where they’d left and so I said to the boss, I said, “You’ll better check this out I mean
this just make sure,” and so we were on the radio again, I got on to it, no, all the platoons said no they were miles away from where they were – from where that position was so at that point the noise was getting closer and closer and of course we were on a bit of a hill looking down this – this valley and the rear entrant to this creek line and so we had no option but to put everyone on standby on stand to so we armed all the mines
all the claymores and we had four machine guns lined up on the track and plus blokes in the middle of it you know anyway I said to the boys don’t fire until I tell you to I’ll fire first, I’ll detonate a claymore. If we’re going to let – I don’t want to do this until the last minute. I still had something in the back of my mind you that that it wasn’t right, it didn’t feel right. Anyway the boss has got back
on the radio again, no, no one in the area and then the noise came right alongside and it came below us but you could see the jungle moving down there and at that point in time I counted a number of silhouettes, movements into the ambush and then detonated three claymores and of course everyone opened fire. And this firefight went on for about three minutes, oh there were bullets going everywhere then all of a sudden all bullets started coming back
our way and of course they were coming, what happened was our machine gunners were taught to fire in a certain way that when they rake the ground in front of them they rake the ground about six inches off the ground, six to seven inches off the ground because that’s about the height a person is when they’re lying on the ground so it’s no good firing high you’ll miss people so you rake it in front of you. Anyway the – eventually this mob on the other side we didn’t know who they were
opened up with a machine-gun, got a machine gun going and of course the moment it started it started to rake the ground, wow all this dirt started going over God you know straight away and the colour of the tracer. I looked behind of course there was a red tracer going past me and I yelled out at the top of my voice to the boss, “Cease fire, this is we’ve got friendlies – who the bloody hell have we got over there – who the f…ing hell is over there you bunch of gooses,” and this voice comes, “Why who’s that you mongrel I’ll shoot you, you prick,”
and so all this started coming backwards and forwards and we ceased fire and it was one of our platoons and of course a couple of blokes got hit with pellets, claymore pellets which is dead lucky I mean we were just bloody lucky. The only thing that saved them was there training was the fact that they were trained so well. That they responded so quickly and so positive to what had happened to being ambushed
and anyway we choppered the blokes out that had got hit with the pellets but needless to say I didn’t get, people didn’t invite me to their Christmas party real quick but no, no everyone got over it and said what the go was and of course they suddenly realised what the problem was when this platoon had gone out and had come back there was
something a lot of the area we think it was a magnetic influence in the ground you know like iron ore or something like that because the compasses, it threw the compasses off so they came in earlier than they you know like two hundred metres earlier than they should’ve done and so they didn’t know because all of their compasses would’ve been reading the same thing and it wasn’t until the next day when I went out on a patrol I made sure that everyone knew where I was going
and I went out and the compass did the same thing. I had to go out a little bit further than the platoon having a big – having more fire support capability and we got out about three hundred metres and my 2IC [Second in Command] said to me, “Hey what’s you’re compass reading?” and I looked, pulled my compass out and had a look at it and I said, “We’re going in a fixed direction,” and he said, “Yes so is mine,” he said, “We’re going the wrong way,” and I looked at it and I had a look around where the sun was and I said, “No, we’ve
got a problem here,” so immediately we radioed straight back in and spoke to the boss and he said well follow the ridge line down so we went out to where we had to go and surely the compass bearing came around so it was something there in the ground but you wouldn’t – probably iron ore or something like that to cause the compass but that could’ve been a very, very serious, very, very serious. Had it have been flat country a little bit flatter and not
steep and dropped off so quickly from where the ambush track was, the track the ambushing was I got no doubt at all that we would’ve had a number of people in body bags without any doubt at all so yeah those things can happen. They happened with SAS. And most of the times it happens because people do something
that they’re not supposed to which is you just don’t’ do it and for some reason they just do what they do and there’s no alternative but to shoot and afterwards figure out the consequences or it happens because of some technical failure like it happened in that or it can happen simply because of incompetence or it can
simply happen, simply because it’s individual lack of attention, lapse of attention things like that or accidentally and that’s a very real, it’s a very real concern. I mean in training it’s absolutely something that you don’t want to happen at all I mean you don’t plane for that but in active service
it’s a really, it’s a thing that can happen and it’s real and I think if you look at these statics of a lot of these areas that a significant number of the people who were killed in Vietnam were killed by our own people’s fire. The Americans were the same you’ve only got to look at current conflicts where the Gulf War and things like that and you say well did the Iraqi’s shoot –
how many Yanks did the Iraqi’s shoot and the short answer is bugger all in the initial thing most of them were killed with their own fire bomb their own you know bring a helicopter in and shoots the wrong thing or they just I think whilst you most certainly don’t want that to happened and you most certainly hope it never does it will and you play that game long enough and had enough it’s –
the risks are there and quite often it’s only a question of time you get the right combination of factors and it happens it’s no different to my mind than SAS losing, we lost a whole bunch of people back in 1996 with the Black Hawk disaster and you know people in our society we love to blame people, we’ve got a society that lives on blame someone’s to
blame someone’s got to be blame for whatever happens to me and we look for compensation or we look for some damn thing but in many respects these things if you, like SAS does, if you train at that level constantly train at that level of realism the odds are that sooner or later a major accident will happen. And whilst you’ve got to learn from it and move on it’s not something that you readily blame someone
about it’s just a combination of factors come together there’s no ‘ors’ it’s ‘and and and and’ boom you’ve got it. I’ve got oxygen, I’ve got fuel and I’ve got a match and they all come together and you’ve got a fire. If you take the oxygen away, you take the fuel away, you take the match away it doesn’t happen you have near misses. And of course you fly helicopters that are only one and a half rotor distances apart at a hundred and fifty kilometres an hour
blind Freddy will tell you that they don’t have to be a math’s scientist to tell you that you’ve only got a split second a hundredth of a second and all of a sudden you’ve got two helicopters crashed. And you put things together like fatigue and all sorts of things and these things do happen. It’s just unfortunate that people need to blame other people.
Are Australians – have Australians become unaccustomed to military deaths
do you think?
I think that , I think if you look at the history of war and war like operations since Vietnam I think what it’s true to say is that governments whether it be Americans or Australian or New Zealanders are extremely sensitive to body bags.
Vietnam showed that. The thing that’s going on now and my belief will ultimately will bring the Americans undone. The longer they stay in Iraq and I’ve always said if they could go in there in six weeks, seven weeks and get the hell out of it and only loose forty or fifty people of their own through whatever causes they were home and hosed. But to stay there like they have done is just to expose themselves to another Vietnam,
they can’t win it and they’ll stay and the longer they stay the more will get killed and ultimately that will bring the government unravelled the same as it did in Vietnam. People don’t tolerate body bags particularly with TV [Television]. If there was no television and all that sort of carry on like in Malaya and Borneo the British run it and there was no television, well you had cine-cameras you had news and most certainly all that but you just simply did not report it, it was not reported.
The British took a simple view we’re there to win a war and that’s what we’re going to do. And there will be none of this press and people hanging around and to be quite frank I agree with it, I totally agree with it war is not the place for press. Sure you can have your war correspondents who report the like you’re doing now the events and the factual things of it but things, wars aren’t a place
like back home we don’t like them no one likes them I don’t care whose side you’re on and ultimately if you publicise it if you bring into someone’s home their kid getting killed you’re going to have a major problem, you’re going to have a major problem and finally we’ve got a situation now where the Western world particularly is intolerant to…
they want a zero, a zero – zero death war. They think it’s a clean thing you press buttons you go in there and you bomb the God out of some poor bugger and you’ve come away and you’ve won a war and none of your people are injured or killed and that’s good as long as you can wage that war you can go to as many wars as you like government but the moment you start to kill our kids we don’t want to have a war and that’s one of the big tensions that
I see as a former soldier that we face in this country and I think that it’s a tension that my father and mother faced in Vietnam because Dad changed. He was dead against it and I think at the end of the day you people have got to the point where they won’t accept deaths, they won’t accept injuries. Oh so you kill one persons, that’s okay, one person is okay as long as it’s not
my son or daughter but you start bringing body bags home day after day after day and give it full press, full coverage ultimately you will pay – the government will pay the price. Yeah most certainly in answer to your question I don’t think society now, and it didn’t in Vietnam and most certainly not now, is prepared to accept that, that wars
produce dead people and wounded people and maim people and just don’t want that and that’s a major problem for Western society because our values are quite different to the values of some of the people now they’re fighting against different values altogether, different values, different causes and of course if you go into a conflict that with those sorts of people with one hand tied behind your back because you’re not prepared to tolerate
deaths or injuries then you are going to lose, you are going to lose you’ve given the other side a major tactical advantage. And I saw that in Vietnam, didn’t see it in Malaya and Borneo becaue in the way the British run it. People are concerned that oh well if you don’t have all this transparency then there’s all these war crimes and things and stuff that go on. I mean I…
I… you know as a person that’s been in there wars are not a clinical place it doesn’t matter if it’s an Iraq war it’s an Afghanistan war it’s a Malayan war or Vietnam, World War I or World War II or the next World War III, God help us when that one happens and it will it’s only a matter of time now I think before that hits. I think that people
just don’t understand that you, and it works on both sides I mean I’ve seen it from like both sides of the fence whether they be Viet Cong or whether they whoever you are on the other side but if you – wars causes people to do a lot of funny things under stress. Effectively our government or whatever they take an ordinary everyday person like yourselves off the street, you put them
in the military and if anyone things that people will join the military because it’s a good job and it’s a holiday camp then they’re sadly mistaken the military has only one role and that is to defend this country or to assist in the defence of someone else’s country who we’re mates with and that means the people we put in there are trained to do one thing and one thing only and that’s to go overseas and might and kill that’s what they’re about. Now you can cull that anyway you like,
anyway you like. I’ve heard people argue about it all day long but the bottom line is that is what soldiers do. And despite all this modern stuff Vietnam was the same people go you know they think this Gulf War I, Gulf War II all this garbage is all air force stuff you know you go over and you drop bombs on everyone and everything goes away and people forget that the air force can bomb people but it takes infantry soldiers to take and hold ground and
secure what’s on the ground and of course once you put soldiers on the ground, you’re going to get people injured and kills from both sides whether on our side or their side it’s a natural conflict and yeah so yeah most certainly in my view people today since Vietnam and today even more so are
intolerant of people being killed and being injured and they want a clean war they want okay government of the day you can go and wage war wherever up until the point to where you or where someone is injured and I know personally and it’s absolutely disgusting but it’s a reality it’s a political reality where senior officers will instruct
junior officers in modern day stuff that they don’t want any body bags on their shift because it’s their career and I’ve seen this happen in recent times which I really can’t go into now but I mean they – where I saw a very good friend of mine crucified absolutely crucified who was a commander in a recent conflict and because he dared to have one body bag on his shift, absolutely crucified and that’s
the extent to which it goes, yeah it’s, it’s a real issue. And that will define in many respects the outcome of – of conflicts that are going on now overseas. I think that will be the one thing that will define those conflicts.
Harry can you give me some specific examples of that stress that you were talking about in Vietnam?
Of they type, those types of conflicting…
You were talking earlier about stress and accusations of war crimes and people doing things on the battlefield that were specific to the tensions that that kind of environment produces and…?
Yeah I think, I see, and I talk from my own practical, my own experience on it, I look today at things that are
being argued that have supposed to have happened in Timor and they’ve supposed to have happened in Afghanistan and they’re happening in Iraq, putting aside the issue of gaols and people doing you know silly things that should never just get off the ground in my time and most certainly shouldn’t get off the ground today in Iraq that sort of behaviour is simply unacceptable but I mean
in combat you, in battle you basically have got a whole lot of people who are just ordinary people who have been asked to do a lot of extraordinary things and they are asked to do things that back home here you would gaol them for. Now if you said you were going out to ambush someone today and shoot five people they would throw you in the nut farm or put you out in Long Bay [Gaol] and look you up for life but no we ask the same
people to go to another country and to do exactly that and it is not in my, it is most certainly not a natural thing for people to go around killing other people and so when you ask people to get involved in that kind of activity you’re introducing stresses and value and value changes that are so dire grammatically opposed to everything that people are used to
before they went in the army that something somewhere along is going to give and I’ve seen blokes in combat do things that ordinary people would think were wrong but in combat both sides do it to each other. You know it’s
you know in the sense of shooting people I mean you take a simple example for arguments sake you can be miles and miles from anywhere, you’ve got no medical aid there’s no one out there to help anyone there’s a small team of people you spring an ambush a number of people probably killed a number people are wounded, seriously wounded.
Do you leave them there? Modern – all our modern – all our own teaching tells us oh you call in a helicopter and you get five doctors you do this and you do that but at the end of the day that doesn’t happen because those things aren’t available and it comes down to a simple equation in a lot of cases with people do you want to be left there like that yourself. Let the pigs come and eat you and whatever else of course
you don’t so you do what you’ve got to do and you take measures to make sure those people don’t suffer and you do it quickly and you move on. And a lot of it is done in a very quick and deliberate way it doesn’t, it’s not something you sit around and talk about for ten minutes. A contact takes place, it might last twenty seconds, ten seconds, fifteen seconds at the end of that time there’s a whole lot of gnashing of teeth going on and decisions that you make then are made right on the moment.
They’re not something that you talk about you discuss you do and you move on. And the only thing that you say at the end of the day but for the grace of God goes me. And you hope it doesn’t happen to you and things like that and there is things where people… respond to pressure. People say oh that person cracked under pressure mm, yeah, that’s a beaut euphemism. I remember
one thing in Vietnam at the time which people remember vividly was the My Lai so called My Lai massacres. Where people, where enemy had shot from the village the village was known to be a pro Viet Cong village and the officer in charge had lost a number of men snipers and things and whatever else and rather than expose
these men to any more he called an air strike into the village and then they got the village out and they shot them all in the thing now you can – you know sure that’s wrong it shouldn’t go on and you don’t condone it under ordinary circumstances but in, in hindsight we put judgements on these people and I often wonder about
things like Nuremberg Trials and World War II and I’ve read about them and seen movies on them and I think about these so called three ring circus trials that the Americans are doing now in Guantanamo Bay. After the fact we tend to judge people and we say well against normal values that was wrong but the bottom line is in action in combat in the heat of the moment when
everything’s going and you’re being shot at and people are being killed and dying around you, you don’t have the luxury of normal values, they’re not normal values, wars aren’t normal values and combat is not normal values and what you do at that point in time in my view should only be judged by peers who have been there and done it. Who have been in that position who can say right what was normal at the time not someone some strange lawyer who – whose closest thing to battle was watching
John Wayne’s movie The Green Beret someone how has been in combat who has come out in a reasonably balanced way who can sit back and say that standard of behaviour under those conditions was unacceptable or acceptable based on that that’s the sort of tribunal you’ve got to face but at the moment as it is people are often judged by people from a clinical stand point of hindsight against normity of values.
And the one thing you learn very quickly and you learn there is no normity of values they are simply just not there. And it’s all right to have all these strange conventions and things that are supposed to, I often found it quite almost laughable that a country will commit itself to war against another and you’d get involved in all this stuff and for some strange reason we’ve got to have a set of rules it’s like a football match
and these rules apply you know and so when I’m in the middle of a contact I’ve got to say, “Hang on a minute mate, whoa stop, the other side stop, five minutes mate I forgot to read the Geneva Convention I know Article 6 says something about this let’s have a talk about it,” and we all go into a conference room, get in a jungle conference room and have this big talk about the niceties of this convention when the other side don’t own a signatory to it.
Harry, can you…
So it’s a problem you know.
yeah, I just want you, I’m wondering if you can give me some examples of particular instances in Vietnam where you recognise that the behaviour was not normal and you had to digest it in terms of that context of combat that you’ve just described?
In… I had two instances where I suppose these tensions
come about in completely different ways. The first one is where, and bear in mind that in Vietnam the Viet Cong had been, call them Viet Minh, Viet Cong whatever they were, Viet Cong had been around for a damn long time they started off at the end of World War II. All the way through the French Occupation was the Viet Minh and
then they turned into the Viet Cong but all the way along life’s journey it was all about the one thing the unification of North and South Vietnam so I suppose arguably you could say well what we had onboard was a civil war not a domino – the dominoes marching down the slopes of Vietnam was – I mean when you look back at the history of Ho Chi Minh and I put it in
context, I mean Ho Chi Minh was on our side doing all sorts of thing in World War II I think it’s quite strange that George Bush, the older one, was in the what was the forerun to the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] in those days and he had personal contact with Ho Chi Minh over all the period and they made all these, the Yanks made all these promises to them about what they were going to do and what they weren’t going to do like the did in a few other strange places like Afghanistan the Taliban and Iraq
and then all of a sudden somewhere down the track they turn against them and then they’ve got this wonder their eyes open, oh my golly gee he turned on me. And then you’ve got this fight on you hands. Now, in that context you’ve got the Viet Cong who had been in the jungle for a long time now in the province where we operated in Phuoc Tuy Province you had a lot of hard core, hardcore Viet Cong been in the
jungle for many many years never came out of it except to rape, loot, pillage and plunder and do whatever they had to do which was all against their own people. They spent nought amount of time killing their own people never mind about the Yanks and Australians leave them along why shoot them when we can get out own. So there was that now one of the problems that we had was getting these people to give themselves up.
How do you get someone who has been in the jungle for twenty-five years the hardened communist in inverted commas, who didn’t want to see that they were doing was evil and wrong compared to the Western standards. Well the answer was that you couldn’t send them an invitation and ask them to give themselves up because that didn’t work. The Americans tried dropping
leaflets all over the jungle which were called the Chieu Hoi Program or “Open arms give your self up and you can come and join us,” program. That didn’t seem to work because the Viet Cong simply said, “Anyone found with one of those we’ll shoot on the spot,” and they made a pretty good art form of that. So if you picked up one of these things and you had it in your pocked and you were a Viet Cong you got zapped. So beheaded or whatever the case was so it wasn’t conducive of getting people to give themselves up so a program came in where we
and we started ambushing and patrolling and well started locating through reconnaissance there their actual base camps their sanctuaries where they were and you put in the context that most people back here would never understood although they’re coming to grips with it in the Middle East at the moment where you can get an eight or nine year old kid strapping bombs on and racing down to the local supermarket and blowing themselves up. We find
that in our culture that’s so far from the left that it’s unaccept – it just bears… beggars belief for those people some of those people that’s normal, that’s normal behaviour. For the Viet Cong they had a similar type of regime. We had kids in that, you had kids, I’d seen ambush of kids as young as nine and ten with weapons we’d ambushed
and your women, old women, young women, mothers, Dads like ours they were all out there doing the same thing. And so we’d find these sanctuaries and locate strategic points where they’d go to get their water or their cache or their whatever their food and stuff and of course you would ambush them and take them out and of course one of things that happened to the Viet Cong all of a sudden was that
it wasn’t like fighting Americans where you went and raided their base and they patrolled out and around all of a sudden you had people, small groups of people, four and five man groups of people miles from nowhere in the middle of the jungle finding your house and taking out your family. And that went for about oh about three, four, five months but at the end of that period of time there were an enormous amount of people just walked in and gave themselves up.
They just gave themselves up and why did they do that? They did that because they couldn’t accept their families disappearing. Now when their families and people like their, they had weapons. This is a Viet Cong camp and it’s got tunnels, it’s underground a bit above ground way out in the middle of the jungle in the middle nowhere and there’s whole families living in there and all of a sudden
you’ve got these Australian commandos wandering around the weeds, so to speak and locating these things and no one had a clue where they were and all of a sudden it was a twenty second – twenty seconds of mayhem and all of a sudden there is a whole bunch of people dead and wounded and then there were all leaflets left around and who were these people? They’re gone. Are you going to be next? And so they came up with leaflets like that, are you, which basically said, and it had a crying mother
on it with a baby in her arms and a husband and other people…
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 07
Harry, you were talking about the leaflets that were dropped if you got to a place like that could you explain what was on the leaflet you said there was a mother with a crying baby?
Yeah the leaflets were and you’ve got to look at it in context the program of going miles behind into enemy territory, locating them and doing what you had to do there
was part of the psychological operation what they call PSYOPS [Psychological Operations] and the leaflets were part of that so not only did you go and do so what you had to do but leaflets would be dropped all over the jungle as well and they basically had a picture of a woman crying with a baby in her hand with people dead around her with a home in the background the sort of the jungle in the background the home and what it basically said in Vietnamese was that
that as a mother it was appealing to women, “Do you know where your son is? Do you know where your daughter is? Where’s your husband? Where’s your uncle?” and it basically said, “Uc dai loi be ik tok hung chong,” which was Australian commandos strike anywhere. Do you know where they’ll strike next? Will it be your house? Will it be your son? Your daughter? Your house? Your family that you come home to? And the crying women was looking down coming home after a day’s shopping so to speak
and of course there’s the family and it was that type of psychological operation that really started to have a decisive, I think a decisive effect on the Viet Cong infrastructure because for the first time I think it’s true to say for the first time in a long, long time if not the first time at all they’d actually had faced a problem,
faced a threat that actually came and actively looked for them in their backyard and did to them what they were doing to everyone else and that’s the big difference and it’s the same thing today with a lot of things that we’re doing overseas now with these more extreme people they simply don’t respect people who
don’t demonstrate a strength to do what they do or do the thing that they do respect is anyone who does it bigger and better and it’s one of the in doing what we did over there it demonstrated to an enemy that they weren’t safe their sanctuaries would be found they would be killed, they would be destroyed and they were simply were not going to be able to do anything about it because they couldn’t predict it and they couldn’t plan it and they
couldn’t plan for it and of course I on a number of occasions on reconnaissance I had the privilege, if you call it privilege, to be lying near an underground complex, near a Viet Cong complex about a day after a fighting patrol had been in and taken a whole lot of people out and we would be there
watching and seeing what the effects was and the only thing, the only way I could describe it would be absolutely, absolute mayhem. Here you hard trained long term people, the Viet Cong had been in the jungle for many years and very experienced and skilled at what they did and quite happy to do it to other people come back in to where they thought it was a sanctuary and
just to find people dead just went off their brain and I remember on one occasion a character, an old bloke who came in and he stood about probably five metres from me the width of this room and he just went absolute ape and he had an AK47 and he just emptied magazine after magazine into the jungle all over our head.
He was that just – and then just threw his weapon down and just broke down and cried and cried and cried and he just couldn’t come it was a person who was obviously a female member and just cried and cried and cried and I thought hot myself that struck me and it always lived with me that that just how much alike we are how much we are all alike irrespective of what side we’re on and it bring home to roost the fact
that putting all the politics to one side how just stupid and useless you know wars are. Absolutely stupid and useless that here you could have someone who would otherwise betray themselves as being the biggest killer in the market down at night in a village, beheading people, killing people which is what they did and for them to come back into the jungle
miles and miles into an area where they thought they were safe and to come home to that was – was just often too much for them and they gave themselves up they just walked in just walked out of the jungle so that’s one level of I guess of things that you say well that is normal sort of patrolling and work but it’s –
it’s something that most people would I suspect would see as unnecessary why would you go out and do that. In the main you are waging war against the wrong people but all the people who comprised that person’s family were all Viet Cong and they were all armed, all had weapons, all trained no exceptions. The fact that they went out at night and did what they did and came home in the day time and run a normal
house in the jungle so to speak was irrelevant to the issue and in fact the Americans haven’t learnt, it seems to me from their experiences if you look at the Middle East and the problems that are now they are simply not identifying or they do identify the people who they should be taking out and they’re not doing it and that is at the end of the day is put them in the same position as they were in Vietnam and in my view
they’re going to have a big problem, big problem and there’s that aspect of it and then of course you come to another aspect of a war and this is something that is has also been going on for many wars not just the current one, not just Vietnam or whatever is that you have other agencies besides military people, pure military people in the war. I mean
it’s not secret that effectively the CIA ran the Vietnam War. They ran the collateral operations that were carried out in Laos Cambodia and Thailand from there and they most certainly ran the Vietnam War.
Harry, can you tell me what your personal experience was with the CIA in Vietnam?
I had a number of
contacts with them over time. Initial contacts were just people coming to instruct you on things fill you in on intelligence issues and stuff like that. Didn’t have a lot really a lot to do with them they were sort of a mytharious group of people who came and went. But at the second level later on from the end of May through to
August in ’68 I had a lot more to do with them on different programs. Most certainly they were programs that they were responsible for and again it’s a contextual thing in Vietnam at the time you had regular for Viet Cong, soldiers you had main force
Viet Cong you had part timers the people by day were just ordinary fold and by night turned into something different and then you had another group of people the infrastructure or Viet Cong infrastructure they were called the VCI and I suppose an easy way of trying to find how it worked and it was a very smart strategy.
If you could imagine a city like Orange and imagine that you’ve got a local council, which you have got, a mayor you’ve got town clerk you’ve got engineer you’ve got all these people, senior officials. The same goes for your school board, you’ve got your local school board the headmasters and so and so down the line. You’ve got government departments there with directors and
people who run it. What the Viet Cong decided was they would mirror image these organisations so for an Orange Council for arguments sake working in there or on the outside of it in close collaboration would be a number of Viet Cong. Now to everyone they would look just like ordinary people but each one of them would be trained to be a mayor to be a town clerk to be
an engineer to be a whatever and so the theory was when a big uprising came, when they rose up to take over the South Vietnam all of a sudden there’d be, all of these people like the current mayors and people like that, teachers would be killed or captured and put into internment camps and re-educated and at the same time instantaneously these other people, these hidden shadowy people would simply step into those roles so you had no
breakdown of the infrastructure of say the council or the school or anything else all of a sudden tonight the people who were the town clerk and the bosses yesterday finished and tomorrow morning when you wen tup you had a new set of bosses but everything carried on as normal there was no drama. So it was quite a brilliant thing and it and I think ultimately it worked pretty well for them but the Viet Cong infrastructure were largely civilian people they were
civilian. They were the civilian side of the Viet Cong structure and so one of the important things that the Americans had to do was to identify who these people were and of course they did that though with the help of South Vietnamese military and intelligence people and secret services and things like that.
Harry, could I just interrupt you there what I’m wondering if you
can do because it’s so rare for us to speak to people who are actually there and experienced, yeah have a drink while I’m explaining this, because it’s so rare for us to have a chance to speak to people who are actually there what I’d like you to do if you can is talk more in specifics about what your experience was on a personal level.
Yeah well my experience or at least as specific as I can be in that period of time was the work
with teams, with special teams what the intelligence community did and that included the civilian intelligence community they identified Viet Cong infrastructure people, call them targets and what we had to do was to either capture – there were three courses of action
the target would be identified the first step usually sometimes was for the community, the intelligence community people whoever they may be they could’ve been Vietnamese they could’ve been American military or whatever would try and make contact with these people and try and convince them to come over to – to the right side see the ills of their way and give up alternatively the would
try and capture them or arrest them or do things like but bearing in mind a lot of the times they didn’t have proof to arrest people in that sign and that was one of the problems with that type of war you weren’t in a war you were in a conflict much like conflicts we’ve go today. They call it a war I don’t know why it was never a war in the real sense or alternatively for those who refused to tow the line or wouldn’t or they couldn’t get to then
ultimately those people had to be identified, ambushed and ultimately eliminated and taken out of the system. And that went for quite a period of time to my knowledge, that was going on all the time because the only way you could bring a lot of the Viet Cong structure down was to actually eliminate the underlying structure that supported it and so from a – I suppose from a civilian point of view
you look at that type of behaviour and there’s a reasonable amount I think recorded about it around the traps.
So where were you based and where were the CIA operatives that came and saw you?
Well the Civilian Intelligence Agency was based in Saigon, it was based in a number of areas. It had operations all over the country it wasn’t just in one spot they were in all major cities field operatives and people like that.
It’s very difficult to identify who was real civilian intelligence and who wasn’t because they had a lot of contractors working for them and people like that were all sorts of shadowy figures wandering around. But so you couldn’t say where you were based. A lot of my operations were out of Bin Wah which was a major military base and sometimes
out of Long Binh which was another area where military people hung out another military base but for most of the part my role with the teams that I was with at the time were basically in the country they weren’t in the city they were in major villages and things and towns and you know around those areas and more often than not involved people, other people like the
intelligence people in identifying the civilian Viet Cong and basically tasking people to ambush them at known locations. Quite often they’d be tax collector – you know tax collectors, Viet Cong tax collectors were a favourite because they’d be wandering all over the place collecting money off everyone. They’d go into a village and everyone had to pay up their money whether
they were Viet Cong or not otherwise you’d get shot and bail up all these bags of money and so you would be looking for tax collectors and the carter or the political carter as we used to call it the intelligence committee would have a pretty good idea that these people would be travelling from point A to point B or they’d be at point A at a certain point in time and of course our role was to go there and to grab these people. So you’d either
grab them and in some cases successfully capture them but in the vast majority of cases you couldn’t because they were invariably accompanied by body guards and people who were there to protect them so the in effect the elimination process came about by natural by what we called natural causes the people guarding them would want to continue to guard them and
we disliked them intensely for that so you ended up in this big blue. But…
So were the guards killed?
Oh yeah well they’d shoot, it’s just an ordinary contact, an ordinary ambush, ordinary contact. You’d go in to find someone and they didn’t want to give themselves up and so you’d end up in a thing and bearing in mind that these so called civilians when they were out away from their normal job doing
what they were doing with the Viet Cong were also armed so it wasn’t a case of unarmed people you were dealing with the Viet Cong infrastructure who were there at the time. If they gave themselves up well that was well and good if they didn’t then you had a high probability of a contact taking place.
Do you, could you tell me an example of the first time or a memorable time that you went and searched for a VC [Viet Cong]
I think the, I think one of the, I think one of the first memorable times that we wanted to do that was actually with SAS. We were on a patrol and it was called a ‘snatch patrol’ actually it was, we used to call it the ‘John Wayne patrols’ the patrols you did but you didn’t want to do and we were miles from anywhere in the Thi… ,
the [Nui] Thi Vai Mountains and we’d ambushed this track and the plan was to that the certain people in the centre of the snatch patrol would jump out and yell out to whoever it was in Vietnamese and they had to stop and halt and give themselves up and but the problem was no one wanted to get captured so every time we went out we ended up in this big shooting match simply because you know they hadn’t,
I don’t think they’d watch the movie John Wayne and the Green Beret but they were supposed to give themselves up but they never quite did it. So I formed a view early on in the piece I usually wanted to be as far away from grabbing someone as possible and that the only way to actually get someone was to find out where they were sleeping and where their house was and hopefully they had taken fourteen gallons of grog and you could sneak up to them with a big stick and belt them around the head and take them home. But apart from that it was quite a
hilarious experience because, well it wasn’t, it was hilarious when you look back but it was pretty serious at the time a few people took it seriously when people want – don’t want to get caught and they want to shoot you so yeah there was – grabbing people is not – not all it is made out to be. And most certainly later on the dying period of time that I was over there we did get involved in that on a couple of operations
and we had some success but it was extremely costly in the five times that I was involved in the successful grab of a person we suffered very serious losses and so in a way grabbing people is really not what it is made out to be.
Walk me through one of those
snatch patrols, one where when you were successful in getting someone?
Well one of the times we had to get this person he was a know high ranking North Vietnamese officer he was a colonel or something around that level and he was known to be travelling from point A to B from these two, in between these locations quite frequently.
He used to vary his time quite a bit because our reconnaissance had indicated and our intelligence indicated that he did in fact did vary his route and how he travelled. He typically travelled with about fifteen people some North Vietnamese soldiers and the rest were local Viet Cong and he’d used the local Viet Cong because of the local knowledge of the track systems and all of
that, excuse me, so it was an extremely difficult thing to nail down with this bloke to be in a particular spot at a given location because to do these sorts of patrols where you’ve got to try and get someone you’ve got to have very precise knowledge and not only knowledge of the person who’ll be there but also knowledge of the type of contingent that will be with that person and whether it’s going to be
an area if they can get back up if you do – if it does start in a fire fight situation, locally and how you can get out of the area too you’ve got to organise that. In this particular we did, we were given information that he would be at this particular meeting and the meeting spot was only a junction of several tracks near a river
and we set out the, it was lucky really I think it was just a fluke. We went out with sixty odd blokes and they were Vietnamese Provisional Reconnaissance Unit people and they ambushed the junction and we worked out that this bloke once he left the meeting they were going to let him have the meeting and then move off and we were
the snatch group were going to grab him after up the road a bit and the other blokes had set the ambush off as soon as the meeting had finished, a couple of minutes after the ambush – the meeting had finished, set the ambush off caused a diversion and we would be able to get out and grab this bloke with minimal risk and so we set up the snatch position where we thought it was likely he was going to go because he could’ve gone one of three ways anyway lucky as it was
he did go the way we wanted and anyway he, instead of leaving going back only with his North Vietnamese soldiers he actually came back with his contingent of Viet Cong blokes as well so that meant he had about twenty and there was only nine of us in the snatch group then we lost contact with the PRU [Provincial Reconnaissance Unit].
They set the ambush off and started a bun fight going on down the other, about two hundred metres away and of course all of a sudden we were left with this, with what to do. So we, as it was we’d set up claymores and we detonated I think it was six claymores, three – we had a choice of what we could detonate we had banks of three we had detonated three at either end and then raced onto the track and
wrestled this bloke, wrestled this bloke to the ground and he didn’t want to be wrestled to the ground but we got him to the ground and we were in the throes of trying to bind him and get him, put a hood over his head and bind him and disarm and all of this sort of stuff instantaneously when all of a sudden down the track came about another twenty blokes which came the way he was going apparently there was another group that were coming to meet him, as best we think
and of course all hell broke loose then and we had to, to actually drag him off the track and detonate the last claymores that we had which were a flanking claymore and luckily the mob coming down we don’t know what happened there they dissipated into the jungle and started shooting and were able to get away far enough to get a bit of back up but the PRU unit
who went in they lost something like twenty five people and we had another fourteen or fifteen badly wounded.
What does PRU stand for?
Provisional Reconnaissance Unit, so that was not an overly happy time. As I say those sorts of activities can be very very expensive and one wonders whether it’s worth it because by the time we got this character back
for interrogation apparently it took us you know a couple of days where we could be extracted and get taken out and as far as I was told later on that hiss, the information that this bloke had was no good anyway and apparently they shot him but because you know intelligence has got to be real time so I don’t really know what the story was there but
most certainly he was handed over to the South Vietnamese Police, Intelligence people we used to call them the White Mice and they were known to be absolutely ruthless. And the next thing I heard from the civilian intelligence bloke was that I said “What happened to him?” it was a few days later and he said, “Oh no they’d executed him that his information was…” they couldn’t get any information out of him
or whatever the story was but that was pretty typical I mean I could personally never see the point in it you know just executing people for the sake of it but the South Vietnamese people made an art form of it so...
Would the orders to snatch that bloke have come from the CIA or the South Vietnamese?
I wouldn’t have a clue.
The targets or the people that we were to – or the work that we did was tasked through military channels. The civilian intelligence were most certainly present all the time but all our work was tasked through a military sort of chain of command but they, the civilian intelligence they always had,
they were in control of it. I mean they were at all the debriefing they had clear control, clear and obvious control over what was going on particularly where you’d have senior army officers, Americans present at some of the debriefings and they’d make decisions that they’d be overridden by the civilian intelligence people so
but most certainly these people were targeted because they were a strategic people in the – in terms of intelligence requirements. I mean you don’t, you don’t chase military target, military officers at that level just for the sake of doing it they would’ve been chosen by people well up the food chain as being strategic
people with strategic, possibly strategic information that would, would assist in future operations or present or future operations because basically intelligence you know from a lay people’s – person’s point of view intelligence is basically got two connotations it’s either or three basically it’s either immediate battlefield intelligence i.e. you get someone now you are in a battle you
capture someone you interrogate them they give you immediate information to allow the commander to do things to modify his behaviour to further the course of the battle or the contact or whatever it is the other type of information is probably an intermediate type where it’ll have a short term effect, short medium term probably in the next twenty four hours, thirty six hours something like that. And then you’ve got the long term planning type strategy we’re
you’re probably trying to get someone trying to capture someone who possesses knowledge of forward plans of troop movements of strategies of targets that are going to be designated into the future and I rather suspect that the people who I was involved in to and were targeted were more in the long term. People who knew
underlying structures and philosophies and what it was all about. It was interesting the people that I met, this particular bloke that we got he spoke perfect English. I had a long talk with him he was a lovely bloke yeah lovely man he spoke very, very good if not perfect English, very, very good. And he’d been educated he just told us he talked to us in the bush we fed him
in the bush and he didn’t tell us anything we didn’t ask him anything to compromise him it wasn’t our job.
What did he talk about?
Oh he just talked about his family and he was educated in – he had been educated in France he was… – he was, he was a… not an engineer an architect something like that he was very well spoken well educated
and he had been educated in France and he had been in England he had done something there and I think the most notable thing was that he hadn’t seen his wife or family for almost four years that he had come down and he’d been operating in this area and he was looking forward to seeing his family cause he knew he had a daughter and she would be four. So and he
didn’t think, when do you think you’re planing he said, “Well I don’t know she could be very old when I get…” you know she wasn’t going to be old at all he was going to be – get topped. So you know to me what the Vietnamese did to this bloke, which was who did it I just thought was unforgivable and it actually changed my attitude to a lot of things because I saw that happen so many times I that four months that I was with
these people that it didn’t seem to be to me any thyme or reason and the other thing that became apparent was that a lot of the people that were being targeted were in actual fact probably not Viet Cong, were probably not Viet Cong. The Vietnamese culture has a history of payback of inter-
family feuds and all that sort of thing and I just – and I just got the impression and so did other people that I was with at the time and we often talk about when we have a bit of a get together which isn’t frequent these days but that a lot of the stuff that was being targeted was simply pay back was feudal payback because you had you know predominantly
Roman Catholic religion then you had the Buddhists they kept burning themselves up every now and then in protest of various things and the inter-family feud thing, payback was just there all time I mean even working with the Vietnamese you noticed it with there with their officers and their people you know quite often you’d run into them and there’d be this internal tension all the time
and when you’d ask about it, ask someone about it w as in the know they’d say, “Oh keep away from that that’s a family bun fight,” you know you wouldn’t send them out of the same patrol together because one would shoot the other sort of thing it could get that way you know.
So the four months that you were doing the snatch patrols where were you based and who were you working with at that time? Who were you attached to?
The best that I can say
at that time was the American, American Military at that time and my base was in three – based in three areas depended on where the work was so you’d just move around to do the work. But, beyond that you know nothing there just simple bases and you’d move out of them you’d be there for three weeks and then move on to another job
another area where you were in an area of operation that you had to operate on.
Can you give me a rough idea where that area of operation was?
Most of it was in the… what they called the official area of Vietnam it was in the border area between Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos that area that lower sort of –
lower sort of area and a little bit in the what was known as the swampy area, the Delta area we were working around those areas.
Did you ever go into Cambodia or Laos?
Not to my knowledge, not to my knowledge bearing in mind that geographical boundaries are lines on maps but most certainly – most certainly there were people who operated in
into Cambodia and into Laos and into North Vietnam but most of those people I most certainly knew of some of them and knew some of the people that they were highly specialised people that were trained to extract pilots mainly to go in and try and get pilots out who were shot down. Most certainly they weren’t involved in any of the stuff that, any other stuff
that was very dangerous work those people.
So when you were on the snatch patrols with eight other people was it were they Aussie [Australian] SAS or?
They would be Americans?
No, they’d be, sometimes mostly American, mostly Americans, sometimes I think on one occasion we had couple of South Koreans… yeah they were mainly
Yanks we had a Kiwi once. Yeah he had served with the Kiwi SAS but I didn’t know him then he although they lived on the same hill we did that I didn’t have much – that was later on but I didn’t have much contact with but mostly Americans mostly special force or SEAL [Sea Air Land Team – US Navy Special Forces] Teams doing the work so but later on
towards the end when I was there was mainly, they’d switched across and they had a lot of South Vietnamese equivalent South Vietnamese Special Force types that were on the teams. I think it was probably a sign of the times. I know in years later I spoke to one of the SEAL mates who I still see from time to time when he gets out here.
We often talk about it but he was there for an extra year after I’d gone and I didn’t see him again until about 1981 when he came to Australia on exchange, on an exchange programme just accidentally just ran into him and we had a long talk and he said that they’d had a big change of heart the Americans and the civilian intelligence mob because of the questionable value of
what they were doing. I think they started to question the feudal type I suppose Vietnamese inter-politics that were going on and ultimately a lot of those, he said a lot of those teams were converted almost if not a hundred percent to local and he went back to his camp later where he was based where quite a few of us worked out of there from time to time
but and that was the end of that. But most certainly I think it was a – they are simply an example of a different type of I suppose tension that can come in – in a war is when the people are trying to locate the very people who are supporting the military side of it and I can sort of feel for the Americans at the moment in Iraq and Afghanistan and those other places
where whilst they go and do big operations and bomb the hell out of hills and whatever else around the place they’re not touching or don’t seem to be touching any of the real underlying people that they need to get to. So yeah I think in many ways they need to visit the past to sort the future out but of course that
won’t come to pass in my view because of the change of culture change of attitude politics the glare of TV cameras and all that sort of thing so you know yeah so I at the end of the day they’ve got one hand tied behind their back but we had that in Vietnam too we had both hands in many
respects. I mean you – I mean it got that silly in one, I remember in one…
Before you go on Harry,
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 08
Harry, you were about to tell us another story.
Which one was that I’ve forgot.
We’ll stop the tape for a moment. Harry, what sort of evidence was there that the wrong people had been targeted?
Really, only anecdotal,
really anecdotal, gut feeling you just had a feeling. Sometimes and quite often you could get that reaction from the village when the bodies were brought back in and relatives and that got access to them you know people have got a strange way of responding to things even in war
and I mean the Vietnamese were pretty resilient to a lot of that but I don’t know I just got a feel in a lot of cases of the way the people responded, not just families but other people, generally responded if you got the wrong person. You got a completely different tone, the nature and character of the outpouring was quite different whereas if you got the right person there was a bit of outpouring
and well you know it was only a matter of time sort of analysis but for the, yeah… but bearing in mind too that from my point of view I had no apart from that type of gut feeling and also the feeling of Vietnamese with whom I was working who I would rely on
they were pretty straight up and down and had no reason at all to be dishonest or anything like that they had that feeling as well. And they sort of knew I think within themselves they knew what was right or what was wrong but for me as an outsider I had no way of objectively measuring that and nor and nor would I have anyway. I just didn’t, bearing in mind now that we look back at things in
hindsight with a bit of maturity and a bit better education and sort of try and analyse things but the reality is at the time when you’re twenty three, twenty four and you’re there to do a job really the ins and outs of what you’re doing is right or wrong don’t really come into the equation.
You are tasked to do a job, your job is to do “X” you do “X” and you do “X” in the most efficient way that you can. Sure you may think well you know what was that all about? You know maybe it’s right or wrong but you’ve got no way of really knowing you’ve got no way at all and most certainly people don’t come down and tell you that they were wrong which is to be expected.
I mean no one is going to admit that they went out and told someone to ambush the wrong person. They’re not going to do that. No way in the world so they just simply move on and give you the next target.
How were you recruited for the Phoenix Programme?
Well I think first off to use the term Phoenix Programme is a misnomer,
the Phoenix Programme was a programme that had a long history in Vietnam and they had an early history with a programme called Chords Civil Coordination something I forget what it was about, but it was all about hearts and minds and winning the people and all those sorts of things. So there was a series of programmes and the Phoenix one unfortunately got a bit of a bad rap [reputation] although
as I understand it, it got off the ground for the right reasons and was in fact, if I remember rightly was conjured up by a South Vietnamese Province Chief as a way of identifying people on the other side and trying to get those people to come in and talk about why they were on the other side and try and argue logically with them that they shouldn’t
be on the other side they should be with us and I think that’s how it kicked off and I think over time it became something more than that and I think it got a bit of a sinister name probably deservedly so in some areas but in all of that when you say Phoenix, Phoenix is really probably not the right term although what we did was in some ways part of that, part of that overall
strategy but most certainly the sub program were more, they went by various names and those names change with monotonous regularity but it was the sub programs that were the important ones because they were the ones that gave the results and they were the ones that were done at a ground level, at an operation level to implement broader strategies and those are terms now that I use in hindsight
they weren’t particularly terms that I would’ve used at the time at the relative time but so the American civilian side of the business their intelligence side and coupled with the military side came up with all sorts of programs designed to try and
curtain the activity of the Viet Cong infrastructure and some of those programs were targeted at getting, getting hold of North Vietnamese soldiers as well as Viet Cong soldiers for intelligence purposes. On the other side of the coin of course they were there to try and identify the Viet Cong infrastructure and people who aided and abetted that structure in an attempt to
sort of cut the snake’s head off because at the end of the day I suppose it was like a big octopus you had the body and you had all these arms going out all over the place from the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese viewpoint you could cut off as many arms as you wanted but they kept growing. You’d get one and another would pop so the only to really knock it on the head was to take out the brains of it and of course the infrastructure
and the collaborators to the infrastructure were in fact the a lot of the brains the mechanism that gave it its substance so it was quite, it’s a bit like an analogy with I suppose America chasing Al Qaeda around. You’ve got a body of a dozen people probably who are the head of it who are responsible for all the strategic planning the general
direction the doctrine and all that sort of stuff but then you’ve got a lot of collaborators all over the place you’ve got them in all countries all over the world they’ve got them everywhere and of course on top of that you’ve got a lot of people call them who are involved in the operational side of delivering those strategies in terms of bombings of suicide bombings of assassinations and whatever the case is now you can chase those people around as much as you like but they’ll
grow at forty mile an hour it’s like as thought you’ve put super phosphate on our lawn there’s too many of them so you’ve got to concentrate on two issues one knocking the core and then simultaneously taking out those collaborators and infrastructure that is in place to support it. The bankers the and that’s how it gets down to I mean
organisations can’t survive without money the Viet Cong couldn’t survive without money they had to buy things. The Al Qaeda has – needs money and of course Americans have taken a steps there of freezing assets of companies and dealing with them and all this sort of stuff tyring to cut off the oxygen the life supply but of course so if you look at today environment and then look at the
the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese particularly the Viet Cong environment of Vietnam at the time and you put it in the right context which a lot of people tend not to do today is no different to then except yester year the Americans and its allies took steps to try and really isolate that the lifeline the oxygen that fed the machine
and now, the same thing they’re doing now for all this other terror stuff the same thing.
How do you think Phoenix got a bad reputation?
I don’t really know, I rather suspect admittedly see Phoenix again is a term I mean it doesn’t mean it’s not a to me it doesn’t mean a great deal Phoenix is just a program. It’s a program under which a hell of a lot of things were
done and most certainly at the time I was there I had no understanding or appreciation of the extensiveness or what it meant in real terms how far it went, what it did, simply because I was simply a young soldier I didn’t have the need to know that sort of thing, I didn’t want to know it couldn’t be interested in it I’d rather go and read a comic or go on R and R [Rest and Recreation leave] and do something more sensible but most certainly I do know
that quite part from the bad press it got in later years it most certainly the program did deliver a lot of good things in hearts and minds and you know looking after people and stuff like that at a basic level. It was just that I think the thing got out of hand when probably a number of, the problem is that
you can’t have civilian intelligence agencies such as the Americans running around the moment they’re into the area the press are on to them at forty mile an hour they become a target, oh what are they doing here? They did in this country in that country what are they doing here and so people are out to look for the bad things and most certainly I think bad things did happen but and it just got blown out of proportion towards the end. It got taken
out of context I think and then of course there have been all sorts of stories and things I mean I’ve never even taken the time to read about it. It’s not something that, it’s strange you know I’ve not bothered about it, it doesn’t do anything for me and its part of the thing that’s gone. Although I believe that some of my mates have read a bit about it and they’ve cast dispersions on this and that and
something else but I’ve not done that. That’s only you know for myself personally it’s something that’s not important to me.
We’ve interviewed other people who referred to you know the CIA agents as Air America how secret were they?
Well it wasn’t all that secret everyone knew about it that’s the first thing I would say about it. Most certainly, most certainly
had some contact with some of those elements at varying times in the last four five months I was there but not in any real way other than the fact that they would come and go in their aircraft, in their unmarked aircraft and disappear and come and go and every now and then you would talk to someone but there was never any
real thing most of that side of it was I mean Air America was the CIA’s Airline it was their Qantas it didn’t operate just in Vietnam it operated in other places too just under a different name probably Ansett probably why it failed, who knows. They’ve always had that capability to airlift and to do things but my impression was that most of the people who operated
in that area were some people call them mercenaries whatever you want to call them but I – they were most certainly part timers they weren’t full timers because all I can say is that the full time people working for that organisation not Air America but for the main agency the people I ran into were nothing short of professional. They were competent professional people. The odd ratbag
but we had plenty of them too but the ones I ran into I had a lot of respect for very – strangely enough a lot of them are lawyers. Law qualified, yeah, yeah quite interesting. So, I guess, I guess when you look back in hindsight you can understand why given some of the stuff they get up to. You would probably want to be lawyer to get out of it the only thing that would save you. But
yeah most certainly that I mean you say you know was the CIA’s secret or Air America’s secret of course it wasn’t secret everyone knew about it. And that’s the best way to keep a secret tell everyone and they think it’s not a secret so they don’t bother reading it but the moment you tell someone it’s secret everyone wants to know.
What about the operations?
Oh well their operations I mean knowing that these people exist is one thing of course having
entrée to their operations is an entirely different thing altogether that stuff is ultimately secret in terms of their planning and execution and what they do and what they don’t’ do. That stuff is kept very much against their chest. Not for any I don’t – you know I’d say for no other reason than tactical, strategic you just don’t – you just don’t tell people what you’re going to do.
in terms of the teams that you were working with or military reporting or what news was conveyed to relatives what would happen if someone was killed or wounded on one of these operations?
Oh just normal military stuff no different, for me it would’ve been no different I… I would’ve if something had happened to me my parents would’ve been notified in the normal way. No, no change.
He was wounded at so and so or he was wounded in action. That’s it full stop. He was killed in action on such and such a date full stop. No more and no less than that Mum and Dad would never know they wouldn’t have a clue what you were doing.
And what about official reports?
Official reports are interesting things. Official reports there would probably be none. Probably be none. A lot of the operation of that
type of thing were, I suppose they’ve got a euphemism for it its called deniable and you know and operations that are conducted in secret are normally pretty deniable. They are not released at all either the information is not released or once the information is given back it simply dies. You know once the usefulness of that information is finished it’s finished and the only information that would
be available to you would be through people who were there. People who were planning who knew what happened apart from that the efflux of time will kill it. It just won’t be there for you and you’ll find a lot of people will simply clam up anyway they won’t talk about it. Such as that community, that community is a pretty close community
and they’ve got to be I mean if they weren’t they would have all sorts of problems. And that’s like I think it was American last year someone had outed some agent somewhere in the world I don’t know where it was and there was all hell to pay over it because the problem flowed on all the way through the intelligence community. This blokes name had been given out and everyone knew who he was but no one officially knew and all of a sudden
everyone officially knew so and of course that puts – that puts people’s lives at risk, it really does, even though we may you know people may have differing opinions on security and secrecy and special operations and stuff like that the people who engage in those sorts of operations need to have their identities protected and rigorously protected, jealously guarded because
at the end of the day their name gets out not only does it compromise potentially a whole range of things but it can particularly compromise that person and their family so you know and now in our intelligence community in Australia right now the same so you know you can’t it’s very difficult I mean you can understand people and I run into people who say, “Well you know
this is wrong that’s wrong you should have full disclosure you should do this and you should do that,” and I think in a lot of cases we can be a lot more transparent than we are about things but when you’ve got people out there doing job and that job is dangerous it’s hazardous and your name becomes know mm yeah there’s is a lot of tension in there I wouldn’t like to have to solve that
How were you actually recruited for these operations Harry, who told you what and where?
Well my involvement was probably accidental more than anything else. I was ready to come home after – well the system was ready to send me home after Fire Support Base Coral a few weeks after that and I had a bit of an
altercation with a commander over one thing and another but and so my time with 1 Battalion had come to an end and I was basically slotted to return to Australia and an old commander of mine he was called Alf Garland he went on to become and Brigadier in later time was a 2IC of 7 Battalion when
I was there and probably one of the reasons why I went over to 7 Battalion and stayed on him because he was a former SAS man and I was ready to go home and he had become the Liaison Officer between Saigon and the Australian Task Force for a lot of operations and things like that exactly the nature of his job I don’t know. I know he
was Liaison Officer and I mean liaison officer is a euphemism for lots of things and I ran into one day and he, he said, “What are you doing? I heard you were thinking of going home?” I said, “I don’t want to go home I’ve made a decision to get out of the army,” and he said, “Oh you told me that bloody years ago,” and I said, “No I had but I’d prefer to stay here a bit longer and just rather than go home and walk around a parade ground I’d rather do what I’m doing,” and
he said, “Okay, I’ll I think I’ve got a job – I think I can get you something to do,” and basically started with that so I got on to that line of work and then continued that for end of May, June, July, August went home in August
so it was through him that he was able to keep me in the country that bit longer.
How were you briefed initially?
Oh just part of an overall team in terms of there was no secret that we were going to be given special tasks
that certain groups of people or individuals were going to be identified and that these individuals were part of the Viet Cong infrastructure, high ranking people and that they would be at such and such a location or be travelling on such and such a route in the track or in the jungle or wherever at this particular time. So it’s really no different
than being tasked in you know in SAS in going out in patrol before you go to patrol the intelligence tells if you are going out in a fighting patrol, an ambush patrol you don’t go out there just on spec that you might find someone you go out there on good intelligence that there is likely to be so and so and so and so on that track at a time so you just don’t wander around the jungle in the hope that you will stagger across.
someone you actually go out on a defined task with a defined mission and you execute the mission and it was exactly with that stuff that I was doing it was no different than that. You were tasked and you went out and you did the job hopefully the intelligence was correct. There’s nothing worse than
wandering around in the jungle and sitting there all day and all night waiting for something to happen that doesn’t.
Can you, I just want to get an idea of exactly what happened and so I’m just wondering if you can walk me through step by step from getting the intelligence briefing exactly what happened what you would do how you would get there and how you would do it?
Typically, yeah typically the intelligence
briefing, well put it this way planning like for any operation starts quite often a little bit before you get to do it. Typically about twenty-four hours before, probably a day before we’d go we’d get orders what we call an orders group and we’d go to a briefing. We’d be briefed by typically intelligence officer and in this case we would also be briefed by a
civilian. The and sometimes two or three people so sometimes another person would come in who had conducted patrols in the area or whatever the case was an actually knew the area so you would be briefed thoroughly on the situation What you were likely to expect. Details of any friendly forces operating in the area that you needed to keep an eye on. You would be briefed on such things as air
support radio frequency, tactical information the team that you would have with you. Who would be with you, what you would need your equipment and so forth. And then they would then you would then be told your target or targets and what the mission was. You would then start planning for that. In some cases if
it was a for arguments you had to go out and try and grab a hold of someone, snatch them, capture them sometimes you had to do rehearsals for three or four days and you would try and pick a location that was very similar to the area where you’d been. And of course before this you’d have looked at air photos and air photos and you would’ve analysed the ground exactly what the conditions were all around and you would set up a rehearsal
and you’d just rehearse and rehearse and rehearse your drills, your counter drills. How you were going to do it what happens if it all goes to crap – run. What are you going to do and then after all the rehearsals are right you come into probably the next day where you would have to go out and do the job and typically you would be briefed again and
you’d be updated this time the whole team would be briefed on the conditions on the same things knowledge of the targets. When they were last seen, where they were last seen, how they were dressed what they were doing who they were with. Whether we could expect them to be – give themselves up or whether we can expect them to carry on like pork chops and try and knock us off too. So all those things would go on and then you’d be, that’d be the end of the briefing.
The next thing is of course go out and do the job. Sometimes you might be taken out to a certain place by helicopter and dropped off and then have to walk a bloody long way to get to where you want to go cause they make a lot of noise. Or other times we would be taken to a spot and quite a few times we were taken up in river boats you’d be taken up stream
and dropped off at a particular spot or on other occasions you’d go out on a convoy and there would be four or five or six trucks there and all of a sudden you would just disembark while the trucks are still going and the trucks would keep going a big pretend hope no one’s watching and they will think it’s a full truck all this sort of carry on a three ring circus because invariably someone tried to break an ankle or a leg getting out of a truck at twenty mile and hour with all your
gear on which was quite novel. So then you’d go and do your job. You know you’d go out and do your patrol of the area. You’d probably stand back, most the people would stand back probably a kilometre or so from where you were going to do your task and a reconnaissance team would go in and we would just go in and check it and make sure everything was right, we were in the right position and then come back and brief the rest and then
move in to where we had to go by another route, you never ever travelled by the same route twice, very fatal not good for your life cycle and we’d go and then set up the… assuming the people came along you wanted and then you’d spring your ambush the snatch thing hopefully grab the right – grab the right one of them, once we grabbed the wrong one
and the right one got away and that was embarrassing…
Harry, can I just stop you… how did you subdue them?
Oh mainly talking to them in a calm way and ensuring them that we were safe. No usually you’d jump out on the track and surprise them, surprise was everything and
you’d be aiming a weapon at them of course fully cocked and ready to go too I might say and tell them to give themselves up and in some they did and most cases they didn’t they’d put a blue on. That’s basically how it worked. I mean there was none of this stuff where you hide on the side of the thing and the side of the track and all of a sudden this hand mysteriously appears from the jungle and
the body disappears into the jungle I mean that was great theory that one there was none of that you actually, you’d bracket the people there was a simple rule too, of course there’s only so many of us and sometimes we you could be as few as nine or ten or us on other occasions there could be thirty and not all of those people would be involved in trying to grab someone but they’d been used for protection
it would depend on who we though would be with them for protection. If they were going to come along with a big bodyguard and a force then clearly you had to have some means of doing that but there were general rules that we’d make a call in the day if it was –if the people coming along were just too alert, too on guard, you just let them walk by just let them go and wait for another time.
You’d go another time it just wasn’t worth – the risks are too big you’ve got to balance things up. Because one of things is you’ve got to take your people home with you, you know that’s one of the aims is not to leave dead bodies lying all over the ground and wound your own people so if the risk was too high and was inappropriate you would let them go or in some occasions if it was a very important target and we couldn’t snatch them then you would simply spring the ambush and just take them all out. So the first thing you’d do is
detonate probably eight or nine claymores and then small arms fire you’d then secure up stream and down stream from the ambush site with your cut off groups you’d move through search the bodies get whatever information and stuff they had and then just simply up and keep going straight across and go to your rendezvous points and go home you know get called
home so you would get your transport back and go home or go to wherever you had to go to get to your transport. And that sort of operation was not that dissimilar in the way in which we worked with SAS or the battalion for that matter in term so of doing our job and ambushing and stuff so it wasn’t a great deal of difference it was just the difference in the outcome we had to try and achieve to grab someone.
So how would it work if you were actually taking people
How would it work if you were actually taking people out?
In terms of shooting them?
In what way? In terms of just…?
Well I mean how would you identify that group and what would you do if they were in a village or in a camp?
Well the simple rules you very rarely would you do anything gin a village mainly because it was the damage to other people and that’s
only ever happened on a few occasions and very unique circumstances. We were able to identify a particular house in a particular spot where a particular meeting was going on and that meeting was in progress and we were able to isolate that place from everywhere else very quickly and very efficiently. So it’s rare and few and far between. The majority of the cases is that you would wait for people
to come out of the village, they’ve got to come out sooner or later so it’s a question of being on the right track at the right time and usually it’s quite a big distance from there so your chances of hurting people who were, collateral damage is the word, is a beaut new modern word, didn’t happen in my time, of getting or injuring or killing innocent people, was
very, very remote. The chances of that was none, pretty well none, Buckley’s of that happening because you know you were miles from it. But your terms of logistics of ambushing someone they were pretty straight forward I mean they were no different than, than any other infantry unit. You basically carry, we used to carry up to about
twenty claymore mines which was a bit more than most, most people because they were a very handy thing you could set them up very close to the track. Command detonate them, that’s detonate them with an electric magneto and they have the advantage of making one hell of a lot of noise and smoke and fire and brimstone but also of creating an impression that you’re
a lot bigger force than you are and also of course the good part of it is that if they’re set up right then you’ll very quickly reduce the number of people on the other side in one foul sweep which is often the case and the only people you won’t get are the people that might be outside of that radius which can create a problem for you because they can form a flank attack to come in and try and wind you up if you’re only one, cause you’re only on one side of the track but apart from that
you’re simply carrying weapons, an assortment of weapons, grenades, gas grenades – gas grenades CS [tear gas] hand grenades… plenty of small arms ammunition that’s about it and once the – you carry enough ammunition and munitions for the job you’ve got.
Grenades are rarely used simply because they’ve got a horrible habit of bounding off trees and coming back to you. So you would tend to not use those sort of things that can create an embarrassment on your side of the fence there is nothing worse than you have to run like hell because you threw you own thing at a tree and it bounced back which I’ve seen happen on the odd occasions needless to say one sprints very fast for the biggest tree you can find and of course gas,
gas grenades are rarely used too except to extricate yourself from a position if you’re in a problem and you can throw a couple of the gas grenades and they’ll have the effect of causing a lot of people to cough and chunder and irritate them sufficiently to cause them to lose probably hopefully
orientation for a short period of time to allow you to get away. Probably won’t kill them having had plenty of mouthfuls of it myself it doesn’t really do your throat any good. Singing career is not high on the agenda after you swallowed a bit. So you don’t use that either because if the wind changes then the damn thing comes back to haunt you so if you’ve got a whole bunch of blokes that’s running like hell to beat this cloud of gas that’s
enveloping the wrong people but most of the contact initiators they were claymore mines and with small arms fire from rifles or from in most cases with our people from automatic weapons and so that is about it. Your typical, your typical ambush is all over bar the shouting in
usually thirty or forty seconds that’s as long as it takes and then you’re out their checking and doing what you’ve got to do I mean it’s only when you get into big battles like with 1 Battalion and Fire Support Base Coral that you’ve got to stand there like a goose and fight all night and hope to God you don’t get shot and you can’t go anywhere. That was one of the advantages with I suppose with SAS and
operations that you – you weren’t out there to wage war with the locals you were there to gather critical information to do a specific job and get the hell out of the place and bring that information back so others could use it for tactical advantage and not much has changed with that job but the last thing you do is wanting to get into a bun fight with four or five blokes with thirty or forty that’s very uneven odds, not very good at all. Not good
career building stuff so yeah.
We’re just going to change tapes there Harry.
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 09
Harry, I just actually want to go back to Malaya so having spoken about Vietnam for the last couple of tapes, when did you actually move into Borneo and what had occurred to prompt that move?
The prompting for the move to Borneo was Indonesia basically declaring I suppose a war for want of a better word on Malaysia and Singapore and
the – and they started that by basically crossing the border in Borneo form Kalimantan which is South Borneo into to Sarawak and Sabah and attacking a number of places and killing a number of people and whatever you know carrying on and just before
that they landed a bunch of people in Malaya they parachuted people in. The only problem was like with nearly all Indonesian carry ons it ends up a stuff up they put all these into aircraft, into several aircraft and drove them over and forgot to look at the weather so they dropped all their paratroopers out and these were very very skilled and highly trained paratroopers they were from TKNI [RPKAD – Indonesian paratroopers] which would now be
known as Kopassus their special forces they’d seen action in Africa so they’d been an impressive outfit but the forgot to ask the weatherman what the weather was like in Malaya at the time and it happened to be a monsoon and blowing a gale and so when they dropped all these characters out at about three thousand foot they ended up all over Malaya not in the one spot so you have ten here, four there, five here there, fifteen
there two there and they just blow them over something like a hundred square two hundred square mile of thing so you had all the locals running around you know the government got on the air and told all the locals and of course nearly every local had a shot gun because they used to shoot their own game and things and sent all the locals out running around rounding up these Indonesians and capturing them in chook pens and all over the countryside but there was actually a bunch of them landed in a place
called Kesang in Southern or in Northern Johor, state of Johor and so having about twenty or thirty of them land in the swamp down there and create mayhem we had to go down and round them up an that was the first for me and for the Australians that was the first contact we had with the Indonesian and there was a bit of shooting took
place and I’m not too sure who was shooting at who. Like all I did was hide over one end of this big, big bank because the bullets kept coming over the top and tracer and as it turned out it was one of our other companies who sort of opposite us on the other side who weren’t supposed to be exactly where they were and they were firing into the swamp and the bullets were ricocheting off up our way and the Indonesians were having a bit of a shot every now and then but know one as far as I was
aware none of the Indonesians got hurt and none of our blokes got hurt and after about two days of this they – of living in the swamp they decided they’d give themselves up and that was the end of that but the British had been having a bit of blue in Borneo for probably six months or so before six seven months before that Indonesians had started to do things and it wasn’t until I think that this Malaysian landing that things got
serious and so 3 Battalion was sent to Borneo to patrol the Sarawak, Sabah, Kalimantan border zone that sort of area. So that’s how we got involved in that.
So how did you make the journey to Kesang was it to defend against the Indonesians?
Yeah well I went across on the HMS
Albanian which was a converted aircraft carrier of sorts owned by the Brits it was converted to a helicopter carrier and it was used by the Royal Marine Commandos 40 and 41 Royal Marine Commando units as their main transport around the traps. So we got onboard that and I think it took about two days, I can’t remember the exact time two or three days
to get over there or whatever it was and I think it was the first time I was actually introduced to alcohol. We got onboard this big boat or ship whatever and for tea, it was that cold onboard oh it was blowing a gale it was freezing I was absolutely frozen and the navy of course, the British navy still gave their pint of rum
as a standard thing for their blokes, I think they gave it to them twice a day I think or most certainly once a day because when you went down for your tucker you got this big pint of rum initially I thought it was lolly water so I got back to me bench and start eating me potatoes and whatever else and I thought God I’ve got to have a drink so I took this big long drink of that and I thought I was going to die because it was bloody alcohol it was full of
rum and I put it down and I go, “Oh my God,” anyway one thing led to another and it made me feel nice and war so I finished it I think it was the first time in my life I was actually inebriated I think it wrote me right off and everyone looked around surprised and they said you know what sort of weakling have we got here not only didn’t I drink and I couldn’t be trusted and go out with girls and equally not be trusted now I had a problem where I couldn’t handle rum which meant I was bringing the name of Australians into disrepute
with the British navy cause not being a sound drinker to throw me overboard anyway I sort of went to bed early that night and they reckon it was only a weak sort of rum by geez I’d hate to see their fair dinkum stuff. And that was a big pint of rum and you know I felt really, I wasn’t cold that night at all.
Was that battle with the Indonesians was that the first real fire fight you’d experienced?
The first Indonesian was the first
time we’d actually been in what you would call a fair dinkum firefight. Yeah that was we moved from Kuching up to Kampong called Stass. Stass it was, I suppose about eighty to a hundred ‘k’ from Kuching, probably a hundred ‘k’ [kilometres] from Kuching on the border, it was right on the border of Indonesia and things and it was a
forward camp it had been occupied by the Brits and in particular by the Ghurkhas. The Ghurkhas were there we actually relieved the Ghurkhas and it was a flea hole for want of a better word. It was what you could imagine a just a hole in the ground with bunkers and overhead protection and sandbags and rats mate, rats these things were even bigger than cats. They did, they
actually flew cats in to try and get rid of them and the rats ate them so, so much for bringing in cats to get rid of rats and all sort of you know it was a terrible damn place but it was home so we made the most of it and from there we would go out on patrols both on hearts and minds patrols patrolling around with villages, Ibans cause a lot of people there at the time were the Iban trackers the Ibans were head hunters. A lot of them were still
slightly starting to give up the practice of raiding the next village for their tucker so it was quite interesting and you’d go out on these platoon patrols and put ambushes in and wait for Indonesians they never came we lost quite a few blokes in Borneo through mines. The Indonesians came and laid mines all over the tracks and stuff like this so you couldn’t walk on any tracks you had to walk through the jungle and
yeah so it was a very hard place to work through in the jungle it was really close to the equator stinking hot, humid, itch you all the time, you know you used to get this prickly heat itch and you were carrying big loads on your backs to do your patrolling and that. So we went out and did our job and of course on a number of occasions we embarked on
claret operations which are a cross border operations and that’s when we run into our first big fire fight our platoon we were quite a distance over the border and we ambushed this track like I was explaining for Vietnam it was on intelligence they knew that these people were using this track the Indonesian Regular Army, the TNI and we ambushed it
we had been in ambush for a number, oh how long, quite a few days anyway we had been in ambush position and I remember on that I was the signaller as well I was actually the signaller as well and I had this sig [signal] set and the trap was about that we were ambushing was probably about five metres from me, four metres at the most and one of my jobs
was to – we had Morse code I had to tap out this information and when the enemy came through, when they came through one of my jobs was to count them through and the platoon commander was in front of me and my section commander Tony Keech was off to one side of me and his section was all down there so I was part of him but I was doing this sig stuff and it was a bit of a low lying area bit of swampy stuff, terrible
stuff we were lying down and I remember if there was more than ten the ambush wasn’t to be initiated because we were too far across the border and we only had – there was two sections I the ambush which was basically about twenty, would’ve been about eighteen blokes in the ambush and there was one section about four hundred metres to the rear on a hill which were going to act as our cover
if we had to go back that way they would cover fire for us if anyone followed up and all that. Anyway I remember getting to nine and I counted to ten and I tapped the platoon commander I belted him on the boot and the thing was give him one boot it was ten no thing anyway he ignores this and I’m counting through ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen and I got to nineteen and he jumps up and says, “Fire.” Well
I nearly pooped meself I thought geez, and I could see all these faces going past and of course a couple of claymores mines, the claymores they let a couple of claymores off and of course all hell broke loose and of course the Indonesians these were very very professional people and of course they were trained in Australian. They were trained at Duntroon. Their officers were trained here. We’d armed them with M16 assault rifles we didn’t have them ourselves so
the Indonesians were getting all the goodies and we were still mucking around in World War II. Anyway very quickly the responded to the ambush magnificently they within I reckon it would’ve been ten seconds fifteen seconds they had two heavy machine-guns working really, really quick and there was bullets tearing over they were fairly tearing through the jungle and then you could hear them yelling out and some of us who that could speak the language we could hear them and I yelled out to Tony who was alongside me and I said, “Mate, mortar,” and he looked at
me and all of a sudden ‘boom!’ cause I heard them yell out the thing and just ‘poonk!’ in coming here they come and they started firing mortars, three inch mortars onto us within oh twenty seconds of the ambush being initiated. So very, very professional people and shortly after that the started to do a flanking attack they just turned around and did a flank and started to come towards us and of course there was a whole bit of
a fair bit of firing going on you’ve got to think of it in context I mean the build up when you’re in the ambush position and you go and then all of a sudden there’s enemy coming and you’ve got the word they’re coming and all of a sudden your adrenalin starts pumping and you start to say there’s no fear is to absolute lie I mean it’ a – it’s a new experience and you’re getting ready for this and this inbuilt fear is a controlled fear and you’re trying to get down lower and lower and lower and I’m trying to hide behind
this radio set because I can see them walking along this track and the rule is if they can see me, I can see them they can see me and I was getting smaller and smaller and smaller, well I thought I was anyway and Keech alongside me I thought he was getting damn small and then of course it all opened up old Tony he opened up and he started shooting and I think I was the only person in the ambush that never fired a shot and yet I was the company, the best shot in the battalion, I never fired a shot mainly because I was operating a signal set,
this 510 set which was a real mongrel of a thing and then we’d heard the command for the mortars and the mortars started coming in and luckily it was swampy area and the mortars weren’t tree bursting thank good because if they’d gone off in the trees we would’ve really wore some casualties cause they come – they go off in the trees and then it shatters like that, shrapnel goes everywhere but they were landing in the mud and just going straight up so there was unless you were basically sitting really on top of it
you were pretty safe except for your eardrums and you know your brown stains in your pants but that sort of thing and anyway we had two people wounded in that there was bloke shot in his knee and one had his personal thing shot off which was quite – we all laughed at but so the Indonesians started coming so I had to call down the artillery and we had these
predetermined spots where the artillery would support us and it was basically twenty mile away, twenty kilometres, twenty mile no about twenty-five kilometres away big eight-inch guns from a place called Crowcon [Kroh] and we called down the fire and said righto call down the first defensive fire position call in fire one tap it out and in they come ‘uum uum uum’ you can hear it coming ‘rrroonnngg boom’ she hits the ground and of course the whole ambush because they fired
I ordered fire three rounds for effect and these are pretty big the things are as big as a case and they go off with a big bang and when they came in and landed you could feel the Indonesians as well as us everyone hesitated for a second to listen to see when it was going to cut out cause whenever you can it hear it it will go past you but when stop hearing it it’s going to land pretty, if not on top of you very close. And the first three come over and it was all this lull and it went ‘mmmmrrrrrr booom’ they landed
down the road and all of a sudden the fighting started again and by this time I had corrected the artillery and the – Tony yelled out to me they’re flanking us you know they’re coming through and then the Lieutenant Doug Buyers yelled out to me, “Sort them out.” I said, “Yeah righto,” and I tapped out a command I couldn’t get through so I went through on voice and got on to the
artillery commander at Crowcon and they gave him a call sign and they said, “Right fire mission,” and he said, “Yes, fire mission,” and gave him the co-ordinance and said, “Right drop two hundred and fifty metres for effect fire ten rounds,” well the whole, I must’ve said it in a pretty loud voice because everyone heard me and everyone stopped and very quickly people worked out two hundred and fifty minutes was smack bang were I was
siting because we were told to abort and I accepted that and allowed the time of flight was going to take about thirty seconds to get there we should have plenty of time to run well God almighty bloody run, everyone up and the next minute we’re sitting there and all of a sudden I hear this plop and I look around Keith looks at me and here’s this grenade sitting right between me and him and he’s looking at me and I brought my radio around to where my head was on the other side and he looking at me
and trying to grab one half of the radio set and the damn thing never went off the pin was still in it the bloke had forgot to pull the pin and had thrown it and the Indonesian had thrown it and not pulled the pin thank God for that. But that really left brown stains in the pants I can tell you and I think Keithy did too there was marks everywhere when we got out. Everyone was saying, “What’s that smell? “Don’t worry about it.,” But yeah so we all got up and we moved out of the ambush
and of course all of a sudden ‘vvrrrmm’ all the eight inch guns came down, all the rounds came down and started getting into it the contact broke off but it was sort of sheer mayhem it was all I could explain it was initial fear of the thing going to happen the sheer mayhem of it happening because when it happened the shooting started you didn’t even think about all that sort of fear left
me and you just went into a controlled automated response to how you’d been trained and you did what you had to do and the only bit of fear that emerged in amongst all of this was when this grenade landed between me and Tony Keech it just landed there and I tell you what my drying cleaning bill was enormous and and I think Tony was too and it didn’t go off and then we moved back out and it wasn’t until the Indonesians tried to follow us up a bit
and then we brought, organised to bring more fire support down they saturated the area with heavy artillery rounds. There was, we did do a bit of search of the area, I didn’t go out on the track and do a bit of search Tony did. I think there was something twenty odd Indonesians dead and a whole bunch wounded but hey didn’t have much time to muck around because what we’d ambushed was a company which was over a hundred and twenty Indonesians and there was no way in the world you
could stay there and do anything other than go out, look grab whatever you could and get the hell out of the place. It was just death defying with professional soldiers like that on the other side you just couldn’t run the risk. And so we went back to our rear protection area and then got out from there and then we travelled back to the border with our wounded people as fast as we could so
one of the interesting things with working on claret operations or in operations were you’re not supposed to be you can’t get air cover, you can’t get air protection and yet the Poms had all of the jets, all of the jets running around the area and helicopters and you couldn’t get it, you couldn’t get any help until your crossed that border and the moment you crossed the border you cold get all the help you want but you know that’s the stupidity of this type of stuff. And I mean even stupider still before we wen on claret
operations you had to cleanse yourself so to speak. And all of your clothes you had to take all your tags, all identifying tags off all of anything made in Australian all of that had to be taken off. Anything identifying you dog tags weren’t allowed either, no dog tags weren’t. We had a, I had a number called Alpha Nine Four which had to be on everything. So it was quite an interesting sort of deniable it was a typical deniability thing
if you’re caught over there everyone knows but if you’re caught there you stay there and that’s basically what happened to several SAS blokes patrolling over there one gored by an elephant and the other one, the other ones were killed in a river with a flash flood. The government for thirty years denied they were even there. And they were never killed in action they were missing in action everyone knew they were dead. Stupid and it wasn’t until everything was declassified a couple of years ago
that they were able to go over and they still haven’t found the bodies or they’re still looking for, I don’t know what they’re going to do about that but anyway whatever the case is but most certainly when we came back across the border up until that point in time the only bit of fear agitation that had occurred immediately before the ambush was sprung then the bit when the grenade landed between us and then everything was pretty high pressure all he way back across the border because we had to cut a new track through and literally
with machetes cut this damn track through because we were carrying wounded people when we got to the other side we were able to then get air support casualty evacuation for the wounded people and it was about that time that we then moved about another kilometre away from the border and formed up into a protective area because another platoon had come to secure the area to make sure we came through and no on e followed up and
it was about that time and it was late in the afternoon and all of a sudden you were by yourself you know we’d done things like check weapons things ammo and all that sort of garbage and make sure everything was there. And then I remember, I remember walking off with a mate of mine we got on pretty well with and we sort of walked away a bit and all
of a sudden I just started to shake uncontrollably I just all of a sudden just shook absolutely uncontrollably and you just couldn’t control it and I felt that much fear it was like it had all of a sudden hit me that what had happened and I remember piddling myself and I got real worried about that because I thought oh Jesus oh here you go,
because you realise it and you just couldn’t help yourself and I looked down oh yes made a little bit of a mistake here Harold and anyway I looked at this other bloke and he had piddled his pants too so I was in good company and when we walked back there was a whole lot of other people had piddled there pants so it was a pretty good custom that from herein on out we were not going to make a habit of doing this. But it was just a I think it was just all of a sudden
I mean I was only nineteen and all of a sudden the actual the whole thing just hit me and I think it was then at that point in time I suddenly realised what it was to be soldier at that point it was a turning point in my whole military career and probably a turning point in what I was to become in later years and my attitudes and things
because I had an indelible effect and absolute indelible effect and then subsequent contacts and stuff had similar effects although not to the same you become hardened to things after awhile. But I never ever in all the years even despite heaps of exposure to this never once was I never frightened it was a question of degree and it’s a healthy thing. I always worked on the basis if I had someone working with me
who wasn’t frightened then I really didn’t want them with me they’re dangerous, they’re dangerous and yeah so that was the first time that it happened.
How secret were the claret operations at that time? What were you briefed about the crossing over into Indonesia?
Oh complete censorship, complete embargo yeah it was a dead set no no. It was top secret,
top secret full stop and I mean that stuff was embargoed only released in gee last well if you took ’66 thirty years, what’s that ’96, would’ve been yeah only last four or five years has been released that you can only see it and there’s book written about it, about those things. But at the time even or letters were censored I mean you just couldn’t
write home and tell people that you had gone for a walk across the Indonesian border and ambushed a whole bunch of people, I mean you couldn’t even talk about your military thing it was censored.
How far across the border were you?
Geez not all that far at that particular time we would’ve been… gee I couldn’t remember I probably – probably five –
five kilometres probably maybe even ten, ten would be max but most certainly be at least five, at least five kilometres and probably a bit more and five kilometres in the jungle is a bloody long way. It’s a long way particularly when you can only travel at about, in that thick jungle at about two hundred metres an hour. You know sometimes you might move at a thousand metres an hour
most times if you moved at 500 hundred metres an hour you’d be lucky in that country because it’s just that thick you’ve got to use a machete to get through and you can’t then you’ve got a problem of not being able to use a machete because once you’re over the border because of the noise and so from as a forward scout in a lot of cases which I was in this section you would be even harder because you’re actually, you’d take all your the packs off and other people would carry it and I would be just worming my way through the just widening the jungle and the grass and
stuff to get – form a – form a route through and so you had to change people at the point, at the scout point roughly about every hour it was so absolutely debilitating even though I wasn’t carrying a pack some other poor bugger was and of course come through everyone would do just a bit more until you ended up with this trail and that’s the problem once you leave that trial you can never go back by it someone will find it and ambush it or mine it and that makes it equally difficult particularly when we were coming
back from the ambush where we had wounded people we’ve got to make a route big enough for people to carry a stretcher and that’s the problem with dead people are pretty easy wounded people are a real mongrel because it takes four people, a minimum of four people to carry one wounded person with a stretcher so from an enemy’s point of view and our point of view if you can ideally wound a whole bunch of people rathe than
kill them then you’re tying up absolute enormous resources and of course when they get back to the – they get them back to hospital a wounded person requires nurses, beds, things all the logistics so if you can ideally go out and wound a thousand people a thousand dead people probably won’t cause a particular problem they’ve either got to bury or move them but wounded people will chew up all the resources they’ll absolutely kill the organisation with resources.
So you’ve only got to look what happens when you have an emergency happen in civilian life where you know someone a big accident, a big disaster happens and you two or three hundred and a massive problem of getting them to all the hospitals and you can multiple that in wartime in squillion times you know.
How did the Indonesians respond to you being over the border?
Oh the got nasty. They didn’t want us there. They’d
respond in indirect attacks in direct and indirect attacks they responded by crossing the border also and hitting villages and police outposts and ambushing them and killing you know people on that side, on our side and from time to time they’d put an attack in on a base camp
you know of some sort usually it was never anything really big usually firing mortars or things and small arms fire into the camp so occasions they had a bit of a go but most cases they didn’t they’d rather come across and hit the civilian side of it which was far more vulnerable than military. Why hit a big base with plenty of machine guns and all the support when you can go and take a police station out and everyone probably agrees with you.
Flog their radar cameras and smash them so you know but they did quite a bit of that and they were quite successful at it.
So were they British police that were targeted?
No, no they were local, local Malaysian. Yeah they actually penetrated, Indonesians actually penetrated on a number of occasions a lot deeper on our side than we went into theirs in a lot of cases.
They’d penetrate up to you know twenty five thirty mile in some cases and in some ways that could’ve been a pay back for British and Australian SAS patrols who penetrated well into their backyard they probably got a bit dirty on that decided they’d do it the other way but as I said before the Indonesians that we faced were experienced and trained soldiers they weren’t run of the mill.
Borneo was not like Vietnam where in the early days you were fighting an irregular Viet Cong albeit that they at like times were well prepared and well trained the Indonesians were experienced combat troops so their response and plus the were trained in Australia by Australian instructors so they knew our tactics they knew exactly how we’d respond to a
particular incident and could counter it likewise we could with them so that’s the downside of being mates with your neighbour and the same thing goes on today we still train, I think they’ve started to training Indonesians getting out here in all our bits and pieces so.
Why do you think they had that goal of doing the claret operations when it was so politically sensitive to do that?
a necessary evil first off Special Force patrols whether they be British or Australian went over there again for reconnaissance strategic information to find out what the enemy were doing you needed to know that on the ground there is a limit to what you can find out from aerial photographs and other sources at the end of the day you’ve got to put people on the ground to confirm or deny those other types of sources that your getting
because at the end of the day the only real stuff that counts is the stuff that you see and you can put your finger on so there is that issue and the other side of it of course is the, I think the, and I’m talking as a soldier not as some military strategists which I don’t profess to be but I think form a psychological point of view it was important to do it that you get over there and stir them up so they didn’t know what was going on because
they were coming over our side and doing and they used to, I’m not too sure they used to deny coming across. I can’t recall that whether they did or didn’t. I can’t remember anyone every saying to me that you know we didn’t know the Indonesians came over because it was a secret so we can’t tell anyone about that either. I think it was, I think Indonesians just regarded it as a right of passage
that they’d go across and blow the hell out of Malaya because they wanted to take it over they had a bit of a thing about it so I don’t think they saw it as secret at all but we did and they just sent me another one of those examples of a war that is not a war. Vietnam a war, it’s not a war. Iraq a war, no, no, no, we haven’t got a war there we just go there and visit at the moment our visits
unhappy so and that’s the nature of the beast I mean you weren’t supposed to be over there. I mean there were probably, I mean I wasn’t aware of them at the time, I mean you look back in time and you have a bit of a guess at it but I’d say given Australia’s – Australia’s always had a funny relationship with Indonesia for some reason we take a view that they are
a threat to us but at the same time we need to be best mates with them so know one wants to come out in the open and say, “Hey our nearest enemy, our nearest potential enemy is two hundred and thirty million people living six hundred ‘k’ off our shore and they won’t do that and I remember even in the ‘80’s when we were doing exercises in Queensland we used to always, we’d have briefings and it’d be always say, “Who’s
our biggest enemy?” “Oh the Indonesians obviously,” and then all of a sudden this political correctness change with the Keating because they started to get into bed with the Indonesians pretty well and when we went on these big exercises and the Indonesians were in them and we had the orange and the green, the orange people and oh I forget what t they used to call and I can’t remember now what the name was but it was Indonesians and the ‘nignogs’ would come over and they’d say, “Why don’t you tell them it’s us we know
who it is.” “Well I can’t tell you that.” Of course you know who it is, it’s us but no one would say it because oh…
Back there in Borneo, was Australians involvement in that campaign party because of fear about Indonesia’s proximity to Australia and if had expansionist policies towards Malaya would it be moving further South or is that too early?
I don’t know, I mean I could only
answer that question from a – from a perspective now of reading stuff about it. At the time I wouldn’t have a clue that’s like a lot of things as a young solider you don’t and one of the things we were taught was to be apolitical, that you didn’t become involved in it. That’s one of the things a soldier didn’t become involved in was the policies of the government and to the extent that
in those early years I didn’t have to vote. Soldiers were exempt from voting I could vote if I wanted to but I didn’t have to vote.
How long did that last for?
I don’t know. The first election I ever voted in was when Gough Whitlam got elected. So I a number of years I hadn’t voted I hadn’t exercised my right to vote and
most of the diggers, most of my mates didn’t either. The said, “Oh these bloody politics we’re soldiers they can crap on…” we didn’t want to vote and it was only when I came home that my wife got a bit offended that I was voting or hadn’t voted. So I voted to please her not necessarily because I wanted to vote someone in or out. So yo know it’s an interesting thing
So how long were you based in Borneo for?
About eight months I think, about eight months, yeah, somewhere around there.
After that first ambush that you were involved in were there other significant ambushes that you remember that stick in your mind?
There were little bits and pieces but nothing really as significant as that. Most of it was taken up as in ambush in setting ambushes and nothing happening and or laying
ambushes and the wrong people come through like it’d be civilians or things like that. I think the most dangerous things about ambushes was setting them up because we – we had one of the blokes shot in an ambush he went out to set up trip flares that it would set off if someone walks through so they eliminate the area and he’d set it up and came back the wrong way and set the trip flare off and one of the early earning blokes
hadn’t been told he was still out there he thought he was back and saw this movement and shot him. He survived actually the bullet went in the top of the neck and came out down the bottom here somewhere and no it went in, no sorry, he was bent over that’s right and it went in the centre, went up the centre of his back went along his spine and came out the top of the neck and apart from not being
able to eat chocolate for a week he ended up being fixed that was lucky.
I’m just going to change tapes there Harry.
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 10
Harry what sort of news was filtering through about Vietnam while you were in Borneo?
I got a fair bit when I was at Kota Tinggi the jungle warfare school in Malaya we got a fair bit through there was stuff filtering through all the time on basically what was going on some tactics on issues. I
guess we always felt that sooner or later we’d get involved because we were getting information because we had Australian advisers there and they started in ’61, 1961 or 1961 ’62 so there were people, Australians already in Vietnam so that information was coming back. Claymore mines for argument’s sake were one of the first things, tactical things to emerge from Vietnam that I recall. We got the first ones
in Malaya in fact I was on the demonstration team that detonated the first claymores that the Australians got. It didn’t work, very embarrassing and yeah so yeah we were getting a fair bit of stuff and more a you know it didn’t come through daily and all that sort of stuff but it came through as intelligence
reports as tactical reports and things like that general conditions and what was being found or not being found that sort of carry on you know.
So how did you get involved with the SAS?
Stupidly. There is a limit to what people should do in this world. I guess I got involved in the SAS from a couple of points I guess.
First off I had, one of our platoon sergeants in A Company 3 RAR Reno Whelan was a World War II Vet [Veteran] he was a very good mate of Ray Simpson who won the VC [Victoria Cross] in Vietnam both of them of the same age both of them had married Japanese girls during the occupation. I think Reno had been through Korea, I’m not too sure about Ray he might’ve been too I just can’t recall although I knew him reasonably well
and later served with him in commandos for a short period but both of them had a profound influence on me particularly Reno who was an absolute gentleman and quiet unassuming sort of character we both, we got on very well and I guess even though he was not my platoon sergeant he was another platoon sergeant
we got on well because I loved athletics and running and fitness and he loved it and I sort of caught up every day I’d go for my normal nine ten kilometre run and every now and then I’d go for a thirty ‘k’ run or twenty mile run and tear around the countryside like a fool and he’d come with me and he was quite a bit older than me too and he used to talk to me about why don’t I go
to SAS he said, “It’s the next challenge for you move on from here you’re fit you like doing the bush work,” and you know I was reasonably good at what I did and he said, “You could make a good career out of it you’ve got the right sort of temperament and right attitude why don’t you have a go?” and I said, “Oh yeah yeah,” and it was after he died in Borneo that I sort of
thought about it a bit more and a couple of mates at the time in 3 Battalion not serving with me in A Company decided we’d yeah give that a go, we’re pretty fit mongrels so we thought we’d have a go at this so we applied and we were selected and we went across and passed all the tests and ended up in 1 Squadron together so
it was, yeah so I think it was the natural, as Reno said it was probably a natural progression for a young soldier and if you were pretty fit and you liked to try something else you wanted to move on have a go at it. Of course you did all sorts of strange things like parachuting and diving and roping and repelling and using explosives which gives every man a thrill when he’s young
and doing a lot of skills advanced radio communications and advanced medical paramedic type training. In fact an advanced lot of everything so if you look at SAS and you said what’s the difference between SAS and the Battalion, there is a lot of difference. The first difference is in the type of person who goes there have got to be pretty capable of working by themselves happy to be
by themselves happy go lucky, pretty gregarious couldn’t give a bugger about too much but were serious in doing the work and would fit both mentally and physically for the job not just a matter of being physically fit and who was say happy to work by themselves or work as part of a small team and be happy to give orders or
be happy to receive orders. So there was a sort of a mix of attributes in there that later on I was come to understand what Reno had said to me that blokes are different and that’s what he said, “You’ll fit in you’ve got the right attributes you’re happy go lucky, you’re by yourself, you’re happy to work by yourself you can work as a team you can do the stuff and you’re fit.” He said, “So mentally and physically you should be able to – the only thing
probably would bring me unravelled,” he said, “was if I can’t handle the physical extreme, the physical requirements and the extremes of mental requirements,” and I said “Yeah that’s great,” and so a couple of us did that and we went across and we passed all that and ended up in the unit you know that’s how we ended up there it wasn’t any real career orientated thing it was sort of yeah
I’d like to have a go yeah we’ll think we’ll have a go at that that’s what it was. If you say what motivated me that’s what motivated me.
Were you required to keep your role in the SAS secret?
No. No, today of course everything’s a secret. It’s a secret whether you go to the dunny you can’t tell anyone in case someone follows you should I be so lucky. But in those days no
the secrecy thing with SAS never really came about until, in fact I remember when it happened it happened about 1978, ’79 after the Hilton bombing when they started a counter terrorist cell and that sort of training and at that time I was aware of it because I was still serving at the time with the commandos and doing SAS with the commandos so as a SAS sergeant on the training commandos so
it came in. I in fact it was quite interesting I was talking to a an ex CO of SASR [Special Air Services Regiment] only the other day we were having a bit of a cup of coffee and we were talking about security and he said, “Oh “H,” he said how did you blokes in the ‘60’s handle all the security?” he said, “Geez it must’ve been enormous then given Borneo, Malaya and Vietnam and all that sort of stuff,” and I looked at him and said,
“Jim, what are you talking about? All that stuff is what you started, you blokes started bloody in the ’80s.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Mate we used to go on leave – we could not leave the regiment without a uniform on so how secret’s that?” I said, “If I wanted to go on leave as a single bloke I used to have my beret on, I used to get dressed up and if you didn’t get dressed up the RSM would come an grab you and you would be on duty for a fortnight so and if I went on leave
I went on leave on uniform. I came back from leave in uniform,” and he was absolutely, he said, “Crap, really?” He said, “No one’s ever told me that,” and I said, “Well maybe people need to remember, maybe we need to go back to the past with the time machine and have a look at the peanuts that walked around with the cherry berry on and up and down the street of Perth.” I said, “How do you think I ever got a girlfriend in Perth if I had my SAS clothes on no one would know me.” Say oh there’s a trained killer, oh I like him take him home to Mum and Dad,
pigs will fly. Last thing some decent girl wanted was a SAS going home with her they all had a divorce rate of about three to one but yeah so the security thing was really a relatively recent origin. In those days there was security and clearly we didn’t discuss and to this day we don’t discuss operations not so much operations but
training techniques and things like that and people say, often say, yeah well “H” it 19 – 2004 that happened in 19 in the ’60s and ’70s tell us about it?” and I say, “I can’t tell you about it because a lot of the techniques don’t change.” And the techniques that are used today are exactly or very closely assimilated to the techniques that we used for a lot of our work so for basically sixty-seventy per cent of the work is not
all that different except for technologies that’s used, modern technology and things and thermal imaging and things that you can look through walls and you know makes it very difficult to hide behind walls now, infra red and all sorts of technological types of devices that are used obviously all army special forces around the world use them to varying degrees so but today with the – with the terrorist issue with this
counter terrorist stuff the same degree or height of security is required for the same things I did back in the early days and of course in addition to that now you’ve got the problem of needing to secure individuals because one of the things baddies do they love to take pictures of people and if they can target people and we’re talking about baddies today
the terrorists who they don’t care if they don’t get the soldier they just simply love to take out Mum and the kids so to protect the families and all of that sort of stuff they do have a very high degree of security and I think deservedly so I mean there’s nothing more precious than your family and to and this is what some of these people excel in they’re looking for people’s family because that’s the weak point
if you want to upset people you look for the most vulnerable part that you can and attack it.
Prior to leaving for Vietnam what did you know about the enemy?
Prior to leaving for Vietnam, a fair bit actually, a fair bit, we had been training to go to Vietnam for well a lot of blokes had been training, blokes who hadn’t been through jungle training had been training for two years. If they didn’t go
to Canungra, SAS as a jungle rule didn’t go to Canungra. Our Canungra was New Guinea. So they’d spend several months in New Guinea in the jungles of New Guinea honing skills down to a fine art form and preparing for Vietnam. The only ones that didn’t go to New Guinea in that sense were people like myself who had served in Malaya or Borneo and it was deemed that we were expert on not to waste more taxpayers money
but certainly we were briefed very thoroughly on how they operated the means by which they operated their communications cells everything. We even had photographs of certain enemy that we would be looking for so unlike that’s where one of the distinctions would’ve been between say battalions and SAS the battalions
would’ve been, were also thoroughly briefed on Vietnam but not to the minute detail that we received the same briefing so the soldiers of the battalion wouldn’t have received such explicit tactical information that we need to operate with small groups a long way from anywhere. Most certainly we were well briefed.
What were you briefed about culture and – Vietnamese culture and fraternisation?
A lot of that yeah. There was most certainly customs, we were briefed on customs of course a lot of the blokes had done basic language courses, and basic language was taught to all of us to communicate and of course to learn a language you’ve also go to learn a fair bit about customs and protocol you know how people think as best you can in a limited –
in a limited environment. Some people went on to be definite linguists fully conversant in you know all the written and all the history and all that but for most of use we could get by enough to make people understand what it was about what we wanted or what we wanted them to do or listen to them and talk to them in a you know in a rudimentary way but enough to communicate and then over time if you had enough contact with them on leave, I used to
enjoy that and meet with Vietnamese people on R & R on R & C [Rest in Country] and sort of try and improve your knowledge of the people. Vietnamese people are very nice, very lovely people, really are very nice a good race of people just unfortunate they had a barney going on with the northern neighbours. But most certainly customs one of the things that were very, we were briefed on thoroughly because with
assoc – one of your key roles as well as winning is hearts and mind so not only are you operating in the jungle out there somewhere but you were also going out doing hearts and minds giving medical attention to villages and things like that so the last thing that we would want to do is get into an environment where to get into a situation where some blokes spots a lovely
young bit and decides he’ll chase her around the jungle as soon as we find that we’d hit him on the head with a stick and send him to sleep, give him a cold shower and lock him up for a month because that type of thing you simply do not do it’s unacceptable particularly when you move into more remote areas with motten yards and more Aboriginal type people. Quite a lot of those roam around in the way that God gave them since day one
and of course to say that you’d go out there and spot a young girl and become sexually agitated over it is just a nonsense I mean you just don’t do that it doesn’t happen. And most certainly in my time even Malaya and Borneo I never known it to happen with blokes and where someone has showed any sign of wanting to go down that path they were gently
counselled, very gently we’d persuade them in a way that leaves no doubt that you can forget that one.
So how did the SAS blokes satisfy their sexual urges while they were in Vietnam?
What does that mean?
Very carefully. Oh well there’s many ways as you well know there is many ways of doing
that and I mean you can become self indulgent which a number of people did that was the safest method of I think of anything was to become self indulgent. A lot of people said you go blind and deaf but my hearing’s still in tack and my eyesight’s as good as every so I think there was a fallacy in that one but most certainly you went on R & C yo had two leave protocols
one was rest and recuperation which basically you went to Vung Tau, you went in country to an R and C centre and like on the Snowy Mountains the R and C centre had all these buses except they were fixed buildings with all these lovely attractive young girls or boys as the case may be depending on how you were and for a price, usually money, you were able to have you way with them. So it was, well you would always have a massage
you would never, never ever just race in and ravage anyone for twenty bucks you had to pay thirty bucks and get a massage first and be calmed down with a beer or something you know assimilating but under no circumstances would you yourself engage in foreplay that was unacceptable when you were paying for things you had to come the other way so the short answer is that when blokes were on leave they could go to the R and C centre and of course
they could meet some attractive young girl for a price who would wilfully demonstrate to them the very, the prowess’s of women in the Eastern culture or alternatively the go on R and R which was out of country so you would go to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur Australians weren’t allowed to go home for R and R. Americans were but we weren’t.
So you had anyone of these strange exotic distant countries to meet equally beautiful and strange and exotic women, for a price, and discuss you sex affairs with them and they were quite soothing and they were quite happy to encourage you to use their services, I thought that was nice. I mean for a fee of course.
You described you know the establishments as you called them
in Malaya you’d sort of run in the opposite direction by the time you got to Vietnam how sexually experienced were you?
Pretty well. I was up to scratch on anatomy I could pretty well describe it for you in detail you know people had arms and legs and bones and things and all those necessary bits and pieces by the time I got to Vietnam, as I say I never, personally I didn’t go out
with a young lady I think I was over twenty one when I did, I was over twenty one and interesting the first young lady I went out with was actually a young Malay girl, well she wasn’t young she was the same age as I was at the time and there was no sexual activity at all in fact I knew her parents well
her family and learnt to speak fluent Malay and read and write it and it was a typical cultural thing almost a brother and sister thing we used to enjoy each other’s company absolutely immensely and to this day I still know that girl and my wife and family know her and she’s got a family of her own and we go back over to Singapore probably,
oh I work over there quite regularly but we most certainly as a family we go about once a year and we go and we see people and it’s quite interesting that the types of relationships you can have with people that aren’t sex based and you know I think that’s the best type of thing you can have but her culture and she’s Muslim and of course her culture is very stringent and she went on… she’s got a couple of university degrees now she lectures in University of Singapore at the
Malaya, classical Malaya Language Centre but we used to talk quite openly about her problems and I think you know one of the problems was that she like a lot of you women of her type, her culture, had been you know shall we say operated on at a young age to prevent her from having any feeling about whether sex was important or not or whatever the case was
and even for her age she was, Fatima was very open much to the disgust of her father. I think it came from her parents because her parent, parents were or her father was a university lecturer in engineering in Malaya so he was you know they were more enlightened types of people the system the way it was caused those problems but most certainly for my part my
I suppose first experience was with a lovely young lady without a price because she recognised that I was going to be marked up on a wall as a win so I got dinners and everything and thrown in so it really was an interesting experience for a young bloke then. Most certainly beats being self indulgent.
Was that in Vietnam?
No that was in Malaya
in Singapore but yeah it was quite interesting that I reflect back on that with fond memories one of those more enlightened experiences in my life but it was like a lot of blokes at the time and I think, I’m not justifying it that’s life but I do think that way of introduction for a male is a better way
than, well the way I did anyway, than going out with a girl next door and getting her into a whole bunch of trouble because you’re experienced and you know things happen I mean this day and age it seems to me young girls are more enlightened than young boys but most certainly in those times that was not the case at all I mean you didn’t have contraceptives that are available today you didn’t have the sex education for young girls and
it was so easy and a lot of my mates who came home and went out with young girls ended up getting married for the wrong reasons simply because those you know that problem so I think looking back on my time it was an education period but it was also a I think very worthwhile experience because you got taught a lot of things
that you wouldn’t otherwise be taught and therefore it has an effect of keeping you ignorant of a whole range of issues that are available and things you can do and as I said before some of these ladies, a visit to these places was not necessarily for sex it was almost like you went home to see Mum. And the Madame looked after you they’d sit down and talk to you about everything. You know you could
have a yarn and oh yeah what about this and the Karma Sutra sixty-five ways and you get you know all these things would come out and sex wasn’t a dirty word it wasn’t something that was in my time at home as a kid you’d never – oh geez I’d hate to have – even before Mum died you couldn’t talk to Mum like this, “Geez leave me out of that that was World War IV mate that was almost atomic bomb material. She just couldn’t even when she, she just couldn’t wear it.
Dad, if I’d dared to raise it with Dad I would’ve been knocked from one end of the room to the other with one foul swoop with a big hunk of four by two. It was that way you just did not talk about those things that was no no. And that was why so many people, you people in those days got themselves into trouble and so many young girls went to finish school. It was amazing how many young girls went to finishing school I was absolutely amazed at that when I was young.
So how liberating do you think it was sexually for this generation of men in Vietnam who I
guess I assume many of whom were virgins?
Many of us were, many of us were there is no doubt about that. Most certainly my, I ought to be a bit cautious some of my mates might hear this and not drink with me for a week but I think there was an age gap too between the national servicemen I had a lot of national servicemen friends, still have who came in, in ‘65
but by the time although strangely enough there wasn’t a bit age difference between us probably a couple of years two years at the most, two three years something like that between me and the national service age, nineteen because I was twenty one sort of thing you know and but there was years difference in maturity here you had a nineteen year old come in
and you’d think oh twenty one, he’s twenty one but those couple of years had probably added thirty to my life so my view, my views my attitude everything about me was not twenty one it was way up here you were looking back now and these young kids but one of the things that I noticed about the young national servicemen was they were a
lot more in line they were sort in a, had come from an era which was even though I’d lived in it I’d never experienced it, it was this sort of flower power thing and you now the San Francisco here I come sort of culture and a lot of those kids had had experiences that I had not had sexually or at least they said so I don’t know if you take what blokes say they’re basically all honest,
like hell, but you know if and some of them I’ve got no reason to disbelieve some of them had girlfriends they were engaged. A lot of them were engaged they got engaged immediately before they came to Vietnam which was a bit silly but they did so I daresay engagement parties being engagement parties there was more than the cake cut but still. They had those experiences and they seemed to fit in to the R and C and those sort of environments a lot more
because I think they were – a lot of them were also were in university too. They were twenty one too and they were, they’d just finished university and were coming into the army at the end of their time so I couldn’t imagine any university student in the ‘60’s in the mid ‘60’s who hadn’t had his way with some undergrad at university. I mean in those days it was it seemed to me it was in all the papers it was free, a smorgasbord of love and affection at university I don’t know how they passed all their exams
but if they were that buggered. But that was the image that we got, that I got as a soldier from all the stuff that came from home it was just a smorgasbord of love and affection and everyone couldn’t wait to get back to it but when we got back home it was sort of somewhere along life’s journey it had bypassed me so I wanted to go back to Malaya. This love and affection train sort of didn’t stop at my station so yeah I don’t know but most certainly a lot of my blokes, blokes of my era
they were most certainly virgins. I think it was pretty typical at the time, I think it was pretty typical I just didn’t I just didn’t see sex as, well it didn’t sort of stir me along. I mean why would I want to get involved with a woman for? She can’t go shooting she won’t gut rabbits she won’t skin foxes why they hell do I want to go out with this – they’re no help at all. You know there was just no, there was no
connection…and even with girls that I knew from athletics and army girls as well that I knew, no, didn’t – wasn’t something that was, oh yeah she’s not bad looking oh yeah give her one. Oh yeah, no, we’ll go rabbit shooting and that’d be about – no, that’s too hard let’s go down this other path she’ll want dinner she’ll want this she’ll want a
washing machine oh bugger that, let’s go. So we were pretty practical people.
Harry, compared to Borneo and Malaya what was it like to go away on the deployment to Vietnam for such a high profile campaign or war if you like when there was so much public scrutiny over the war and public debate?
When I went that scrutiny wasn’t there.
When I went it was all the way with LBJ [US President Lyndon Baines Johnson]. We’re in let’s go boys and girls and we went. For me personally, I’ll talk for myself personally, I… Vietnam wasn’t a hype I didn’t see Vietnam as anything particular I didn’t see as anything remarkable. To me I volunteered to join the army, I volunteered to go to Malaya, Vietnam join SAS to
me it was another destination, a logical destination that I’d go to as a solider. No different I went to Borneo or from Malaya to Borneo. To me it was just simply another place where the Australian Government wanted soldiers to go. And a lot of my mates were the same I mean we – you got fed all this hyped pulverous garbage about communism and things and all that but
I for me personally to say that it meant something to me in anyway real way would not be right, it didn’t. There was the usual excitement I’m going somewhere else, go and have a look at new things. Do a few new things but basically I’m going there as a soldier and I’m going to do effectively the same job that I was doing for the last two and a half years. So no Vietnam didn’t mean a
lot to me and there wasn’t any political thing about it, it was a go. The political stuff never really started to kick off, I don’t think until from the end of ’68 onwards somewhere around there because we used to get that flak in Vietnam too through Stars and – American Stars and Stripes magazine which was the army, American army magazine sort of thing you know so that’s where I was there.
How did you journey over to Vietnam?
I had a lovely
trip it was on a C1-30 Hercules. A lovely trip we went from, you can’t go direct anywhere in the army you’ve got to go indirect so we went from Perth to Syd – to Melbourne to Sydney to from Sydney to Melbourne from Melbourne to Darwin on this bloody Hercules. And then from Darwin you go to Vietnam in one hop which is even a lovely trip the thing
that is marginally faster than a pushbike and the beauty about a Hercules is that it’s got seats that are made of mesh and these mesh have got holes in them about every three inches you’ve got, two and a half inches, you’ve got this mesh and so after you’ve been in a Hercules for about four or five hours your bum comes out looking like a scone tray and you get off there and it takes you about a week to get these marks off your bum that’s as your bottom goes
through it and squeezes up and you come out looking like a scone tray so I, I’ve remarkable views of C1-30 aircraft going to Vietnam I can tell you, disgusting aircraft and it’d shake, and it’s cold and it shudders oh man it was the only time I was happy parachuting in the SAS was when I was jumping out of them I knew I wouldn’t have to land with them.
So as you sighted land what were your first impressions of Vietnam?
Oh I don’t think I really had a first impression it was hot when I got there the monsoons had just finished and it was the start of the dry seasons. Got there late in the afternoon, very late in the afternoon so it was nearly on dusk… don’t really remember that it had any great impact
on me other than the fact that I got off the thing I’d never seen so many jet fighter bombers in one spot in all my life cause Tan Son Nhut where we landed was one of the busiest, at the time I think the busiest airport in the world they told us with a military jet taking off to bomb someone every thirty seconds. And that’s all it was I could hear ‘sshhoomm’ a line of after burners go past, watch that, ‘whhooosh sshoomm’ oh another one, look at that one ‘pooomm’ they were gone you know. I’d never seen so many aircraft I thought ‘God the world didn’t have this many.’
I think it was about the only thing that struck then we just got on a truck and went to an urbanite place to stay. Went down to a mess an American mess which was where you usually got fed your normal garbage, jellies and ice cream and peanut butter on it oh appalling tucker and the next day we got on another aircraft
and went to Vung Tau landed there had a night in Vung Tau but then sort of wandered around town looking intelligent seeing all the sights and the bits and pieces and the various establishments and then next day got on a truck and drove the thirty mile or whatever it was up to Nui Dat
on the back of a truck with characters telling us all the way we’re going to get ambushed. I thought that would be novel so no one’s got a weapon this should be a really remarkable experience what was I going to get out and chase them with my hand you know so yeah.
So tell me about that journey from Vung Tau to Nui Dat and what you saw on the way did it look like a war zone?
No, no not at all of course by that time we had you know it was by that time people had
been issued live ammunition and stuff and weapons and there was a machine gun on the top so a little bit of realism was starting to creep in but most certainly there was no visual I didn’t see anything visually for the whole trip that would cause me to think I was in a war zone. It was just countryside very flat miles and miles of rice paddies we had the Nui Thi Vai Hills
on the left on the southern side and the Nui Dinhs on the other side a big mountain range, the two big mountain ranges and but they were both respectively ten ‘k’ and twenty ‘k’ away, twenty five ‘k’ and there was just continuous paddy fields, rice fields with people working in them and little villages and stalls along the way. People
on pushbikes, you know tricycles and things and bullock carts and people just the normal humdrum of everyday life in an Asian setting that you’d find almost the same thing in Malaya to some extent, Borneo, to a sort of lesser extent but people probably look a little bit
different but by enlarge it seemed to me that I could’ve been driving from Malacca to Kota Bharu or somewhere in Malaya along the road. So if I had been blindfolded and someone got up and said, “Oh where am I?” except for the names, and Vietnamese names and things like that you wouldn’t, no I didn’t most certainly see anything that’d cause me to think that I was in a war zone at all.
Quite remarkable really that you were right in the middle of a war that has been going on for years and there was nothing there but I think that was pretty true of the province that we were in in Phuoc Tuy Province apparently when the Australians moved in they were given the Province to look after or patrol in whatever the case was when 1 Battalion first went or later on 1 Battalion went there but the Australian
way of patrolling and the aggression in battalions and SAS later I think set a standard there for the Viet Cong and people becaue the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese to a lesser extent used Vung Tau as an R and R centre. It was well know that you wandering around in Vung Tau you could be with anyone. They used to use it too because it was a major area for them for communists for money for money laundering or whatever you had in the area
everyone knew but no one really did anything the Viet Cong I can’t remember Viet Cong hammering Vung Tau while I was there at all and yet they had bases very close by, big bases in the Mae Tow Mountains, well Mae Tow were up in the north east but the Nui Dinhs and Nui Thi Vais were full of them underground big tunnel systems thousands of them and they had
the home for the D445 Regiment and it was the Province so their presence was most certainly in the area there were plenty of them around but they used the area too like us for R and R I think and for other nefarious activities that went on. They used to get a lot of, of course you know I never saw it personally but it was pretty well common knowledge that in some of the American bases some of the people who ran the supply line were
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 11
Hello. Remarkably similar.
And you’re the eighteen-year-old.
Rubbish. Harry I want to ask you about arriving at Nui Dat and what the role of the SAS was from that base?
The role, the role of SAS it’s primary role is to gather information, it’s a reconnaissance unit, it’s to gatherer reconnaissance
to gather strategic information by doing behind the lines reconnaissance hasn’t changed to this day. It had a dual role, a dual role in my time there. It had the dual role of carrying out reconnaissance and gathering information and feeding it back to the Task Force for strategic use by battalions based on
in part on SAS type information coming back and also on intelligence coming from other sources. SAS stuff obviously would quite often be used to confirm other information because you’re on the ground looking and seeing actual what it is but of course, bear in mind you’ve got to bear in mind that tactical information you are getting on the battle field can be very transient. I can see
twenty troops moving down, enemy moving down this path now because they’re moving at five kilometres an hour so clearly in an hour’s time they’re going to be five ‘k’ that way they’re not going to be here any more so that type of information is pretty useless to most people it’s only useful in terms of understanding the amount of people where they’re going directions, dress the type of weapons they’ve got whether they’ve got packs on their type of you’re looking for their attitude like their morale is
their morale high, low very good indicators of stress and things so you’re feeding a lot of information back but also you’re feeding tactical stuff back i.e. you would go out and look and you would find an enemy camp. Now clearly that would be of strategic importance because it’d come back and probably another unit like a battalion particularly would be tasked to go out and conduct operations in the area based on that camp or series of camps and
movements. SAS wouldn’t have a role in that other than to guide the battalion in to the area to set up their ambush if it was needed specialist knowledge of the area and it was a quick way of getting people in there without being comprised or run into the chance of being comprised. The, so intelligence gathering, reconnaissance intelligence gathering is, was the prime role of the unit. However the secondary role of the unit was to
carry out interdiction patrols in other words fighting patrols to go out and actually ambush people and create mayhem and carry on out in the jungle. I suppose an unfortunate thing occurred in Vietnam which was no, nothing to do with SAS as such we just got caught up in it. It was that Vietnam
was very much and this was something that I found so much different to Borneo and Malaya. Borneo and Malaya were about getting in there and solving the problem and getting out of the place. Vietnam was about, ended up being about body kills. The whole war was run from as far as I could see on body count. If you went out to the bush and had a contact, an ambush, the first question was asked, “How many did you kill? How many
Killed in Action? How many KIAs?” then everything you got was graded it was either killed, wounded no it was a kill, a probable or a possible. A kill was definitely someone you drag up and talk to or in the case maybe wouldn’t talk to was ‘definitely a deady’, a probable was ‘probably a deady’ because all you got was an arm and a leg and half a head but you didn’t get the rest of it so therefore it was probable but you got it.
I mean I found it hard to believe that people could run off with half a head and be probably dead but for those that made up the wisdom of the military and whoever it was adding up all the bits and pieces and a possible was if you had an ambush and you went in and looked at the area and you grabbed a couple of weapons they left a few weapons behind or a pack and there was a bit of blood and stuff and a trail and drag marks where they’d, their mates had dragged them off into the scrub but you didn’t find the bodies well that’s ‘definitely a possible.’
So they’d ticked that. But the whole war ran on this possible, this kill probable and possible routine and in my view the unfortunate outcome of that was that because SAS were able to operate very successfully a long way from home behind the lines it was also able because of its high degree of expertise and speciality
in what it did it could inflict very, very large numbers and levels of casualties and levels of loss and destruction and material and that on the enemy that was out of all proportion to its size and it did that successfully in World War II and ever since that such a small group can produce such mayhem i.e. you get someone runs into a big building with a big 747 terrible mayhem. SAS
in a different way you create that sort of imbalance and so the Americans very quickly and the Australians I think up the food chain picked up very quickly on the fact that this capability was there so SAS spent a lot of time ambushing and that sort of thing, snatch patrols and whatever else. And of
course it became a kill count thing. We’d hold a squadron party, it was a ‘fiftieth kill’ party or a ‘hundred kill’ party or something like and I mean battalions did the same thing and platoons, “How many have you got?” “Oh we’ve got twenty five.” “We’ve got four,” or whatever and it became a, I thought a debasing of a lot of things because it became a – it no longer became a war to me
it became a war against individuals based on you had to actually get body count. Body count was how your unit was measured things like that and that was the battalion was the same the SAS was the same. What I must say with SAS I don’t think it impacted on us as much as it did in the battalions because
there’s a very difficult sometimes to figure out when you’re our there on a fighting patrol and when you’re out on a reconnaissance patrol because all patrols were required, were carrying out reconnaissance intelligence gathering and but what changed was that at the end of a reconnaissance gathering patrol, patrols were then allowed to select a target of opportunity or targets of opportunity
outside of their area of operation so you would have an area of operation, defined area of operation which might have been say four grid squares by eight grid square or six by six or something like that which you would operate in and gather your intelligence and then you could extract yourself out of their on your last days of operations and providing it was ‘X’ distance away from that area of operation you could
select a target of opportunity which meant ambushing a track and… and if someone come along you got them and that had a number of I suppose good features the first thing it kept the enemy on their toes they just simply didn’t know where they were going to get ambushed and secondly it inflicted injury or damage on the enemy but it also
it came back the other way to promote the body count theory. Yeah I just found that one of the… it wasn’t a satisfactory way of running, running an army I don’t think, of running, I just didn’t think it as and that was probably because of my training and upbringing in Malaya and Borneo where you had a different experience altogether. For a lot of the young, for the blokes who didn’t go to Malaya and
Borneo that was in the unit the kill count was pretty important to them because it was a way of demonstrating physical success in your operations and it was a psychological thing as well, morale boosting thing you know they’ve got none of us and we’ve got stacks of them so to speak you know there’s an analogy.
Having come from those theatres of Malaya and Borneo what psychological impact did it have
on you to be involved in your first kill counting in Vietnam?
Basically nothing, nothing.
What do you remember about it?
I remember it quite clearly, we’d gone out into the Nui Thi Vai Mountains and carried out a reconnaissance of a – an area I was in a reconnaissance patrol, we carried out an area,
an area of reconnaissance and gathered information we needed and then I think it was on the fourth day or fifth day we had a message to convert the patrol into an ambush patrol which we did and we set up an ambush all pretty mechanical.
How do you set up an ambush?
How do you set up an ambush?
You select a point, we had a number of these points selected on this, it was a track,
a track bear in mind the track I’m talking about is not a road or a footpath like we know here or a sealed thing it’s just simply if you could imagine a, if you took a sheep farm and sheep go down to the water hole regularly and they make this little track a little pad through the paddock and if you could imagine that well worn but in the setting of a jungle and this tracks going through the jungle and of course the only thing that makes that track
in the jungle is not animals but blokes usually. I mean sometimes you might have an animal track and you’ve got to be able to distinguish the difference between them but that’s reasonably easy to do. And so you’d be looking for a fresh track, a track that’s well worn it’s used it looks like it’s frequently used and you’d find you’d do a reconnaissance on it and you’d find a suitable place to set up your early warning group and you cut off
your two early warnings group you both act as cut off groups and your main group is in the centre and with someone behind to protect your rear end. And you’d pick a suitable place to run the ambush and you’d set up your claymore mines, the cut off groups would have a couple of mines and then the main group in the centre would probably, probably have four or five and the rear protection which is usually one person
or maybe no persons but connected to a chord maybe another couple of claymores facing that way, rearward in case some takes us from there and we’ve got to get out. So you just set it up your early warning groups are set, usually I like to set claymore at no more than about two metres, three metres at the most off a track beyond that they were
pretty well ineffective. You’d hide them in an ant’s nest or in against a tree something that would shield you a little bit from the back blast. You’d be behind to one side of the claymores by probably five or six metres and protect it from the back blast as best you could and you’d just simply wait for someone to come along and you’d have signals
with the early warning or the cut off groups would have prearranged signals on the numbers of people coming through so that you didn’t engage anyway, like you wouldn’t take on fifty people or something like that you wouldn’t even take on ten or twelve. You might take on ten or twelve if it was the right conditions but you had to know that the people coming in were of sufficient size that you could take them on and not have any problems. But if there was
five or ten people come through and then there was the early warning cut off groups spotted another fifteen coming the chances are you wouldn’t do anything you’d just let them go through or maybe just hit the last fifteen knowing that everyone was that side and there was no one on the other side so you could do something about it. And then basically once the number of people had entered what’s called the killing area, which is the main frontal assault area of
the ambush once the criteria had been filled and that was usually once the first enemy reaches the extreme cut off group or they get past that a little bit then all of a sudden we’ll detonate the main ambush and at the same time any enemy in front of me like if I’m in the cut off group I’ll detonate a claymore there
and get rid of them and they same will happen with any stragglers at the other end. Then small arms fire will open up typically it will all be over bar the shouting in a matter of seconds, twenty, thirty seconds it’s all over and done and you’ve got a search team on the track searching bodies, weapons, information and then maybe less than a minute, less than
a minute’s gone from that point in time and we’re all packed up and gone.
So what happened on this particular day when this was your first ambush in Vietnam? You’d set up the ambush and…?
Yeah we just set up, we came to the track and we set up the ambush we were only there for probably about three or four hours and along came… there was seven Viet Cong
all at the ready, ready to go they were all patrolling very carefully which indicated that they probably knew that we were in the area. The Viet Cong had a technique for warning about SAS patrols because they knew we had come and landed in little clearings and things and helicopters, basically where the helicopters landed with the blokes and there was a couple flying around with gun ships and they got to know and they had a series of warning shots so typically you’d get off the helicopter to
go on a patrol and if they Viet Cong were in the area within ten or fifteen seconds of you getting off the chopper there would be a shot fired just in the air could be three hundred metres away, two hundred metres away could be a kilometre away you’d hear ‘bang’ and then all of a sudden there would be another one ‘bang bang bang’ and what they are they’re all alerting each other the fact that there’s a patrol in the area and if they know the direction of travel which they usually find out pretty quick in the thing and we’re patrolling in a certain way then
often ‘bang bang bang’ we were going that way and the bangs were going in front of us. So at that point of time you become particularly on edge and you start to patrol very, very carefully you now know that people know that you’re there so they would do that but in this particular occasion where we went we set up and so we were there about three hours I think and it was getting on late in the afternoon and seven people came in and
I was on the left cut off group at the time with another fellow and for some reason the ambush was delayed in being initiated I don’t know why that was I never really found out but as a result the ambush was initiated and – and all hell broke loose but the couple of people, there was
two Viet Cong went past me at about a range of three metres and I was watching them and they went past me and they were past me by ten metres when and they were out of the range – out of the scope of the claymore when the ambush went off then they turned around and started to yell out and we opened up on them but they were in the jungle by this trying to get away and we thought everything was okay
and then all of a sudden there was a whole bunch of people turned up, none of us, we don’t know but we think about fifteen or twenty turned up from these two had run away and they started to come through the jungle so obviously we’d missed something or someone had been up there coming this way we don’t know probably coming this way to meet them or whatever the case was and they started to come through so
myself and my offsider waited until we – until a number of them came within the range of the two claymores and which was only about fifteen metres away and we detonated both of those and then opened up on full automatic fire to spray the area and then extracted ourselves out to the thing so we don’t know what, what actually happened there we rather suspected that we got a couple but I don’t know what the outcome was we couldn’t wait around. And we got back and by that time
the main ambush group and the other cut off point had come back to the same point we all formed up and as we went off we detonated all the other claymores just to create a bit of mayhem and extracted ourselves to a predetermined point rendezvous for the helicopter to come and pick us up so it was pretty uneventful to me personally it was uneventful I guess.
The, I know there were a couple of people in the patrol that was, one bloke it was his first so he was in my, the same predicament I was in Borneo and I’m sort of feeling a bit sorry for him but apart from the usual bit of fear that creeps in when the word comes that it’s going to happen the same thing every time you
get that apprehension, the fear the adrenaline starts to run because you know that you know you’re only you’re on a doomsday button from this point on and what’s going to actually happen at the end of the day is in the lap of the Gods you know you could end up on the end of a bullet as well as the bloke on the other side so you’re in a fair dinkum, you’re not there to play around and once you get through the initial
sort of initial bit of fear and controlled fear you just switch on to automatic pilot and everything’s done, it just goes ‘chung’ training just takes over and just everything falls into place the beautiful that’s when you start to appreciate the Kapooka, the recruit training the corps training the instinctive drill the drill that’s drilled into you time and time and time again
is to cause you to react instantaneously to a stimulus and the moment that trigger goes the moment that thing happens everything just drops into place and it’s only when something really strange goes wrong that you’ve not prepared for can bring you unravelled luckily I’ve never had that happened and
yeah it just sees you through and it’s after the event when you always you know tend to sit – when you’re by yourself it never sort of happens when you’re with your patrol mates and things because you’re sort of altogether talking and going through all the ins and outs of whatever happened but its when you’re by yourself and you’re alone that things always come home to roost with me anyway and you’d suddenly again you would realise that
the – just what had happened and it always brought home to me the very slim gossamer thread between being alive and being dead. And I often wondered if there was such a thing as being alive and being dead which was – what was different. It’s things like that that really make you think and realise that you know when you see
a soldier of the other side and you watch them and then you can see them coming down the track and then all of a sudden you just press the mag you know and two people are gone just a mist and in that second you, you really do come to understand the difference that thin gossamer thread but for them it could be you. You make a mistake that’s you.
And it’s such a – such a – I found it to be such a levelling sober thought that you made sure you paid attention to detail you paid attention to planning you paid attention to drills and instructions and what you had to do because the price of failure was to disappear in the mist that’s basically the reality of it.
And it’s things like that that you I think that indelibly form your future life and also your memories and problems that that you have that people have with the odd nightmare and things that you recall even to this day. I mean they don’t go away it’s if you ever wanted a film archive of it if you could plug into the back of my head and download it to the latest PC [Personal Computer] you would get some really interesting garbage
but sometimes I just wish that could happen I wish that, I do wish that you could just press ‘Control Alt Delete’ [reboot the computer, i.e. to start afresh], you really do you really do it never leaves you and a lot of that stuff you can still you know when you’re by yourself and you think you still smell it and feel it and hear it and you can touch it and it’s jus as real as it was yesterday and age,
strangely enough the body might be deteriorating at forty mile an hour but the thing that holds the photos in the background doesn’t deteriorate quite that way if anything it with time it heightens things. And I think mainly because of, and I often reflected on what they problems you have as a solider in a lot of this stuff and I think it really comes down to the destruction of
standards that when you go into action, I mean you take a thing a young man or woman today, women are in the same boat and you come from you imagine your own family and your background and your religious upbringing which is all drummed into us from birth, a bit of brainwashing there and of course you’ve got all of these society values and things that make you operate within the controlled environment that we operate in
and whether your behaviour is acceptable or not acceptable these sorts of standards and it took me years to come to grips with this I and something dawned on me one day that that’s what it was about it was about standards and when you go into action, into combat and if you’re in combat long enough, long enough over a period of time all of a sudden what happens to you is
it’s a bit like taking all the standards before you were brought up with and putting them in a blender and turn it full ball and then three or four years after all of a sudden people say the war is over your home your out no rehab no nothing and all of a sudden the problems start because all of the standards you had before are no longer there they’re just churned up like a mincer
and for the rest of their life a lot of the these blokes and a lot of blokes and I’m no exception you spend the rest of your life trying to find what it was that was screwed up and no amount of shrink no family no one can resolve that and you can’t either. It’s just a complete destruction of everything that you because what you in action in active service
is so contrary to all of the things that you were brought up to believe in as a kid that ultimately it will catch you because as you get older these things start reflecting and they do cause problems I have friends that have committed suicide over it and things like that and you’ve got to be really, I’ve never ever contemplated that but I find it difficult to believe that a person could contemplate
suicide because it’s obviously not a rational act of a rational person if you get yourself into that much of a pickle that these memories kill you.
What images from Vietnam stay with you? What episodes have stayed with you that have really marked you?
Everything I ever did stays with me every ambush…
every body I’ve ever seen it’s just there it’s in grave detail it’s in good detail. For me personally probably, I mean these things impact on you and it’s a pity you, you probably didn’t interview people’s wives they would probably give you a side of the story that’s well worth writing but I remember I had
my first heart attack at thirty-eight in the army I was doing a run, excuse me, a nine mile run taking young commandos through it and all of a sudden a switch went off and boom AOT [arse over turkey – fell over]. And a couple of weeks later they put that down to war stress and all of that sort of stuff but anyway that was another issue but when I was in
hospital over at the Seven Day Adventist Hospital that they put me into over at Wahroonga and I didn’t know about this but when you have the heart operation you come out and you unconscious for a couple of days or whatever it is until you bring you out of it and you get used to the fact that someone’s attacked you with a chain saw and anyway apparently on the second – the second day or second
the day after the operation it was the day after the operation that’s right in the afternoon it was the next day and apparently I through ha whopping big wobbly in the intensive care unit to such an extent that I broke a very expensive bed and frightened the living daylights out of all the other intensives there they had to take them all out and put them in another room and lock me in the room and call the arm,
call the shrink, call the doctors and call my wife in and a couple of my mates that served with me and I through this big wobbly and apparently relived a complete ambush and one of the things, and I don’t recall it at all, because apparently I was yelling out and screaming and demolishing half of the hospital ward. Wonder someone didn’t shoot me and but apparently it was very, very serious they had to move people out of the ward
and cordon it off. And they eventually found out, I found out what it was they said, “Oh no when you,” – the military says, “No, what happens is when you – the type of anaesthetic you’re given you’re taken right down to a low level and of course stuff comes out,” and it did, he said, “You can suppress it you can pretend but every time you have this type of operation
you run a grave risk of having the same problem,” and I’ve had three lots of heart attacks and each one produced the same problem the same anaesthetic so they’ve got it down pat now where the doctors are now ordering a special anaesthetic that keeps me at a – doesn’t take me down as low but it causes other problems. So it just goes to show you that the underlying results of all this that repose in the
back of your had that we all think that we’ve got it under control but in fact you haven’t got it under control and even to the extent at night and it only happened to me recently with my wife where I had a bad nightmare I don’t have a lot of them any more but I had one this night and tried to choke her so she called out to my son and got her out of bed and dragged me into one corner and her into another and she had to go to the doctor
next day, terrible and that was over some drug that I went on that he’s put me on for my ticker that he’s put me on and created some, some problem so you know you can quite understand some people who come back and particularly oh I’ve got great sympathy for national servicemen who and I had some in my section in 1 Battalion in 7 who came to Vietnam straight from Australia
after you know very little training top, absolutely top blokes cream of the crop magic people but then you all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a battle and they get winched in with no preparation I mean I had the luxury of a reasonably smooth transmission into combat over a long over a period of time and you imagine young national servicemen who
who just of all of a sudden without that thrown in and then see their mates get blown to bits and whatever else and wonder why they end up – they’ve got so much trouble with them, absolutely terrible and there’s no rehab no one, no attempt to rehabilitate any of these soldiers, me or anyone else just let loose.
I was reading an interesting article about Vietnam Vets and one theory that they now have is that Vietnam
Vets were the first generation of soldiers who were trained in such a way that the kill rate was very high say compared to World War II that the actual amount of success in terms of the firing and the killing was actually very high because of the way we had trained soldiers was that something that you were aware of at that time in terms of…
I, I’ve not seen that statistic
but personally I wouldn’t agree with it and I had a lot of experience over a long period of time and I don’t think that’s the case at all I think that’s false sure there were a number of there were some at least three, four big battles that I know of that were fought in Vietnam and in order of largeness there was Fire Support Base Coral,
probably Long Tan, then Balmoral, Fire Support Base Balmoral it was the same time as Coral different area and then Suai anyway I can’t think of the name but Suai something or other that was with 7 Battalion that was, I wasn’t involved in that but it was with 7 Battalion. They were the four bigger ones we had. In,
even, even with SAS with all the units in Vietnam all the Australians in Vietnam I don’t know about the American ones, SAS was said to have had the highest success rate and that’s pretty understandable given the nature of the work and the character and the fact that you went out looking for people and given the small amount of people doing it so your ratios
are like all good statistics they are worthy of close inspection but most SAS did and as I said I served with 7 and 1 and that was in a period when Vietnam was basically at its peak activity that was ’66, ’67, ’68 they were the peak years and culminating in the Tet Offensive of ’68
where the Viet Cong rose up and after that it was basically the end of the Viet Cong. They just about got annihilated in Tet ’68 but I… my experience was that not everyone who went to Vietnam in an infantry battalion saw a Viet Cong. To say that everyone went there and had an ambush and
did whatever they did in the twelve months of which only probably eight months was active in the bush by the time you took R and R, R and C, training, time off whatever the case was I would’ve thought and purely personal observation that if
ten percent of the Australian soldiers who went to Vietnam actually saw action and actually saw a Viet Cong I would’ve thought that that would’ve been about right most certainly in the bigger battles where everyone got involved in a static position where people attack you from all over the place was a sort of different thing but as a general proposition and I know from my own patrols, SAS, I went on a number
of patrols and saw no one. To say that we were out there carrying on like trained troopers all the time was not right. I mean it was very stressful and the fact that you were in the jungle and you don’t see someone or you don’t – you don’t get into a fire fight with someone doesn’t mean the stresses aren’t there they are, they’re very real. So you could have a person go twelve months patrolling for twelve months patrolling in the jungle with the battalion or SAS or anyone and not see an enemy
and yet come out of that experience a fruit cake. Simply because of the sheer level of stress of fear, adrenalin and uncertainly that’s there all the time you live and breathe it so in many respects having contact with an enemy is in many respects a release because it lets it all flow out and you can be somewhat normal
not apprehensive and most certainly I noticed that with some of our people in SAS at the time was that people were going out and they might go out on three or four patrols and not, not see anyone and someone would come back and go to the bar afterwards and crack a funny, oh again, boom boom she’d be on you know a big punch up and of course it was easy to tell
if someone had had a contact or not quite apart from the fact that you knew but you used to tape the end of your barrel with a tape to stop dirt and stuff getting in and of course if you fired it there’d be all shard all over the place so it was a bit of thing and I think it was that point in time they realised that it was necessary to try and have targets of opportunity at the end of every couple of patrols to allow people to do it quite apart from the need to chase baddies around the scrub.
So yeah I would have trouble with that figure but it could be right I mean I don’t know I don’t do the stats but being on the ground I, and having read about a few of the World War II things and knowing some people that are still here with us today from big battles of world War II I’m not saying that World War II was any more or less important than Vietnam because I don’t think you can
really, I don’t think it’s possible to measure one to say to try and make an equivalence between Vietnam and World War II or Vietnam and Korea, or Vietnam and Borneo, Vietnam and Malaya. I don’t try and make that distinction and I only distinguish with the fact of young blokes that I talk to today that are in terms of degrees of hardness of work and that’s more to do with the climate, hills and that sort of thing rather than the actual
thing itself because if you took a gun stand and the published reports of SAS there they got into some very, very big fire fights short duration and one was long duration very, very big fights and that sort of speaks for itself with the number of decorated people that came back from there. Yeah you can’t, I think it’s very difficult I think you get into trouble when you start to draw
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 12
I like this.
Harry, what do you remember about the build up to Tet?
Quite a lot actually. The… every year in Vietnam in Asia you’ve got the Luna holiday and things that are of cultural
or religious significance and of course these are times when good omens come around and people think this is the good time to X, Y and Z and they do it and the Tet was a bit like that. That was, the time when the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese had turned out had figured out that this was the time to really have a go in the Luna New Year. And so Tet ’68 in many respects had been forecast
for months and months beforehand by intelligence we were briefed on it and I remember doing patrols three and four months before it where all the patrols where we talked, we also talked about well the Tet there’s people moving into these locations and the debriefs and the briefings we got from the intelligence people would tell us that there’s build up in these key areas and it’s clear during the Tet is a logical time or someone’s birthday or Ho Chi Minh’s birthday or whatever they’re going to rise up and do
something so that was – Tet ’68 in I suppose in many ways was the wind up to that was probably no different than many other holiday Vietnamese sort of significant dates in points of time but as we got closer to the end of that year ’67 the Tet issue became more and more pronounced because there
were greater volumes of North Vietnamese moving into Vietnam from, from the Ho Chi Minh area, from the border areas. There was an increased level of activity, a heightened level of activity of Viet Cong main force units as well as run of the mill part timers who only come out at night. There were very clear build up of troop movements
and they were all heading around major facilities and the American was building this up, the intelligence was building it up from a number of sources one on the ground reconnaissance aerial photographs captured photographs, interrogation and from a magic thing, a magic device they used to have called, what was it… oh I forget what it was, anyway it was an
aerial photography system where they recorded, they could record animal human movement at night that they’d earmarked it would show up on the plate, on the photographic plate. Unfortunately sometimes they’d pick a herd of water buffaloes and bomb that it’s quite remarkable but we’d go out and look at it and there’d be all this water buffalo gone by enlarge it was pretty accurate. Was it red haze or something like that but anyway it
along with everything else was able to track large troop movements and predict where they were going to be. A lot of those – a lot of that type of intelligence was used, to use what we called arkalite strikes, B-52 strikes. Contrary to common belief they didn’t put a B-52 in the air and just bomb for the sake of it, a very strategic bomber very expensive to take off and they would only embark on particular missions where there were
dead set advantages to be had and so a number of things started to happen these troop movements which we were seeing on the ground were coming in to various areas increased movements, increase archalike strikes on known forming up places particularly on border regions where the North Vietnamese were forming up and in some areas where Viet Cong were clearly coming together to with North Vietnamese to produce a problem. So leading up to Tet
was most certainly well known and it was something that was discussed in most if not all intelligence briefings particularly from November onwards, ’67 onwards. I don’t, I can’t recall going to an intelligence briefing after November ’67 where the Tet issue was not number one on the agenda. It was only a question, only ever a question of degree
as to the degree to which the Viet Cong would respond. We knew that it was going to be – that places were going to get hit really bad but just who was going to get hit and where were things that – so a lot of our operations in the December period, Operation Forest went for five six weeks all through December January in the
Nui Dinh and Thi Vai Mountains and then of course Operation Coburg took up in Bien Hoa and followed on from that with 1 Battalion. And of course as we all know the Tet came and the Viet Cong basically rose up all over the countryside. I think it was the first time they came out of the jungle and the woodwork so to speak in a big attempt
to uprising but they made the fatal mistake a lot of people make with the Americans keep them in the jungle and you’ll do them go out in the open and they’ll bring the fire power in and that’s exactly what happened the moment the Viet Cong came out and started attacking into the open the Americans just put up massive air power and I mean there was very little people can do too much with ten
or fifteen Huey gunships tearing around with three weapons firing seven thousands rounds a minute each. I mean you don’t go too far with that and of course Tet Offensive from my perspective of it anyway at least in the work I was doing was the end of the Viet Cong as we knew it. They basically completely destroyed the Viet Cong when they rose out but of course the Vietnamese then took over the war and
increasingly it became a North Vietnamese War it was no longer a Viet Cong War and of course we saw what happened all the way through to the end of it, there was an increasing North Vietnamese War.
Harry, those operations those two operations that you mentioned just prior to Tet what was the purpose of those and how did they figure in this anticipated offensive?
Well I didn’t know how the fitted into the big picture
except to say that they, the two operations were part of the Tet of the program of keeping the enemy away from big bases and taking the advantage of going out and aggressively patrolling which was the Australian way of aggressively patrolling looking for them, finding them, destroying them which was something that the Viet Cong didn’t take and North Vietnamese to
a fair degree sort of kept out of the Phuoc Tuy Province out of our Province because of the aggressive nature of the way in which we did our work so was so unlike the Americans and in many respects so unpredictable that they couldn’t readily take to that and they sort of tended to keep away from it so the very nature of our military and the way we conduced business was such that the other side
knew that it simply wasn’t really worth the candle to make a big thing out of it so we were able to keep them, keep them away from most of the time.
Which bases were you focusing on?
Nui Dat mainly, yeah, I mean also Nui Dat was also in the crossroads it was also there to assist in the protection of Vung Tau and Baria and Bin Bah and other sorts of little towns around the area,
little villages but most certainly Australians it was their Task Force headquarters in the Phuoc Tuy Province and we were the ones that did most of the work there. Americans came down from time to time but not in any great big way and most of it was left to the Australians to look after that particular Province.
What detectable tension was there in the villages around this time?
I couldn’t really I suppose answer that when I wasn’t living in the villages at the time, wasn’t living in the villages but most certainly through various things that we were doing and programs we had contacts with various people in different little villages and places. Vietnamese are pretty inscrutable people they very difficult to predict you know they
sort of hold themselves as basically being shot at for thirty or forty years you’re entitled to be a bit indifferent to everyone that goes past you but most certainly you didn’t really get a feeling that there was anything exciting going on but not being a Vietnamese it would be difficult for me to understand how they were most certainly the Vietnamese intelligence people who were feeding information back to us were painting a picture that
the Tet Offensive was going to be quite serious but I think for the ordinary people of Vietnam the villages and that I don’t think they really, really cared. I mean at the end of the day they’d seen people come, they’d seen the French come and go, the Americans all come and go and the Australian come and go and everyone else will come and go and they’ll still be there so I think they probably viewed all of these things with some level of indifference.
Oh well, okay if we wake up in ten days time and we’re still here and we’re in business we can plough the fields and do what we’ve got to do. Maybe that might be simplifying it a bit too much but I just got that feeling a number of times in Vietnam that ordinary folk they’d seen people come and go they’d heard promises and lies the Viet Cong come in every night and tell them that we’re gong to do this for you but if you go and take any
notice of the Americans we’ll kill you. The Americans go in the next day, we go in the next day and tell them the exact opposite only except we didn’t tell them we were going to kill them and at the end of the day the people who came to save them invariably all ended up getting done. So I suppose they’re entitled to worry to think you know to take it with a grain salt that we might’ve been their saviours which we weren’t.
Given the intelligence reports and the increase in that activity how
did you interpret the ceasefire that happened just before Tet?
Ceasefires are usually political ploys to allow either side to get closer to each other to figure out what they’re going to do. I think that, I’m very sceptical about cease fires, oh let’s have a cease fire but the Viet Cong would still come in night and killing people. We were still out doing patrolling in a lot of ways.
You know I often saw, I just saw a cease fire t as a political ploy to give someone the excuse to reform retrain and send out a few patrols and figure out really what you were going to do and then prepare for it and hammer someone because at the end of the day all the cease fires ceased and we got back to shooting each other so it was quite an artificial although some of the ceasefires were in my time were actually by enlarge
successful so we’re not going to, we’re going to cease fire for this period and you do this and everyone says. “Oh that’s good,” personally myself I used to keep the rifle safety off you know you never knew. Yeah, no I was very sceptical about ceasefires some of them worked and some of them didn’t and life went on as usual.
Were you cynical about peace talks?
Were you cynical
about peace talks?
Quite frankly I didn’t care about them. It was, that sort of thing was pretty much beyond me as a solider you’re not really concerned too much about those sorts of things not at my level anyway. I suppose everyone now, every now and then someone would say oh you know, you’d read about it in Stars and Stripes you could see it on the armed forces television which was just more propaganda
and invariably we turned it off and went and watched a movie somewhere or a show with Ann Margaret turning up wandering around with hardly anything on and that was more riveting than listening to political dire tribe by our side. So you know peace talks didn’t, they were just a artificial something up there that other people discussed and if it happened one day and we got to go home and finish this off then great in the meantime
we’ve got work to do. You know so it was a pretty sort of cynical approach to it.
Can you walk me through Coral and your role in it?
I was a section commander with A Company 1 RAR and Coral was my first and only big stand up involvement in a big
stand up battle horse of a different colour altogether. We went to Coral as a blocking force, they put the Australian Task Force in as a blocking force and it was in May 1968 so it was in that Tet, Tet venue, that Tet sort of period, post Tet period and I’d been in Bien Hoa a number of times before doing different things so the area wasn’t
overly remarkable but what was remarkable was they but 1 Battalion, and 3 Battalion was at Balmoral and 1 Battalion was at Coral and we had different supporting units and that and of course patrolled out from this base and we’d patrol out in platoon size strength to a point then the sections would go out an do their patrol and come back
and most certainly in the early days when we went there in the beginning of May there was some enemy movement in the area. There was evidence of enemy movement through tracks and movement and things there was the odd sniper decided to have a shot at someone and usually had the effect of frightening everyone to hide but nothing really remarkable for the first few days.
Then we were out one night away with the platoon we were out running an ambush I think about one and half kilometres from the main base when the North Vietnamese came in the first time and struck the base and they ended up killing a number Australians and taking out the mortar and actually flogged the mortar base I think it was and did some other damage
and ran off into the wilderness. That same night one of the, I had an ambush set up with my section and a bunch of North Vietnamese came down the track from a different angle and we could see them with a beautiful moonlit night and for some strange reason best known to anyone we – the officer commanding the company had
told everyone to put hutchies up which was stupid because we were in the middle of a paddock with no cover and these green hutchies being plastic shine in the moon and so you can see them for miles away like a tent city lit up why you would do that God only bloody knows but anyway it happened. So I had this ambush set up on the track and basically it was simply part of the perimeter of the platoon but we
were out anyway the – we could hear them coming they were running along the track and jingle, jingle, jingle of their weapons they were carrying and we spot them I looked through the starlight scope this night scope and here they are must’ve been I stopped counting at about fifty and I said, “Oh geez we’re in for a bun fight here and got my 2IC and we notified everyone put everyone on stand to and I’d, I was running a double support section at the time so we had
four machine-guns on the track on this lining up on it and I had a couple of claymore mines down the track as far as I could get them, oh no sorry I didn’t have it, and when I saw them I see these people from four hundred metres away five hundred metres so I immediately with two of my blokes went and got four claymore mines and we went out as far as we could of the extent of the wire and set the claymore mines up at the side of the track knowing full well that if we – if we ended up a – with these
people coming out in a line it was going to be a big problem to us so we got the claymores out came back and in the meantime tried to get the bosses to pull down everyone’s hutchies so by the time they realised that there was something coming and started to pull down the hutchies the message got out and these characters were about I suppose fifty metres away and still twenty five short of the length of string on the detonating wire on the
claymores and all of a sudden they were carrying machine guns and everything and suddenly it dawned on them that hey what’s this in front of us you could see the surprised look I was watching the bloke through they Starlight scope a forty pound Starlight scope and you could count every hair on his rear end and his surprised look on his face they sort of came to a half and came to a line to figure out what it was and I though, oh, and Mal Meadows who died the other years, who was the platoon commander of the platoon was alongside me and Mal said, “What do you reckon ‘H’?” I said,
“Hit the button,” so we hit the button and let the four claymores go and of course at twenty five metres you might as well used the bloody shanghais but it had the effect of making a hell of a lot of noise and making wonder so we opened up with the machine-guns and we got a number of them and of course at that time we could see something like about I suppose a hundred and fifty of them, all in line, all through coming through, a big line and that was as much as I could see and God only knows what was behind that it was part of the regiment
and so anyway we fired and there was a bit of incoming fire and that was it for the night. But at the same time the Task Force, the Fire Support Base was being hit so they’d hit a couple of major columns and luckily I think for us because of the Fire Support Base got hit which was only a ‘k’ and a half away base was probably two ‘k’ at the most they called up air support
and they got on station Puff the Magic Dragon the AC47 gunship like a big Dakota gunship and they carry three big mini guns onboard and a whole big bunch of big million candle power flares and of course when they got on stream were able to call, call one of them over and they put flares out all over the place and you could see
these characters running like buggery through the paddock away from us and we’d stop firing by this and then all of a sudden one of the gunships Spooky as he was came over and over the radio, “Spooky to ground.” “Yes ground give the call sign.” “We can see them we’ll take over from now,” and the next minute there was two gunships two AC47 gunships just absolutely laced the area with six mini-guns from eight hundred metres up just a rain of fire came down
just tracers everywhere cause you can imagine these things firing the six mini-guns firing seven thousand rounds a minute each and it – all you could see was this massive dust storm where it hit the paddock where all these people were running through and the word came back and it was, “Spooky to ground I think that’s the end of them. Have you got any more jobs for us?” and they went on their way back to the Coral and all night basically we had
gunships running around spraying the jungle with these, just one after the other spraying the jungle. In the morning we went out and did a search we found a number of bodies there were a couple of wounded characters lying in, had got themselves into little clumps of bamboo and tried to do the dirty on us and we brassed them up, fixed them up and then we went, we had to go all got called back into base and it was that time that
they had to enlarge Coral and set out the perimeter more carefully. So the next couple of days was taken not so much on patrolling but on preparing the defences of the Fire Support Base and then there was more patrolling a lot of it was an old agricultural, old rubber area, old rubber trees a lot of it was very open country but where we were in A Company
we, we were at the end they had run out of barbed wire big triple concertina barbed wire which is your first line of defence and it ended about thirty metres from where I had my section line out and Mal had his and then there was no more wire and of course a couple of nights later when we got attacked we got a, it was the 12th or 13th May I just can’t remember the date but I had half of my
section round about five hundred metres with elephant ears they had these listening probes planted all along the area and you could listen to the movement and hear people coming through the ground phones, ear phones, and one of my fellows he was a very, very good soldier an SAS bloke too and he rang, he got on the radio whispering and he said, “’H’ they’re all over the bloody place they’re all around me we’ve got five of us out here mate what are you going to do?” I said, “Oh Jesus,” I said, “What are they –
where are they?” He said, “They’re all over the place. They’re everywhere. I can see them. They haven’t sprung us yet. What are you going to do?” and I talked to the boss and I said well you know this is the case and he said, “Well I’ll have to get approval from the battalion.” He rang into the battalion and they wouldn’t give approval because the were a kilometre behind us and as far as they were concerned nothing was happening, wouldn’t believe us and anyway at the end this mate of mine who lives in Vietnam now he’s married a Vietnamese girl and stayed there in Vung Tau, owns a
bar, one of them bars but he, he was staring to get a bit jittery and so I said to Mal Meadows, “No I’ll take three blokes out and I’ll go and get them I’ll bring them in,” and Mal said, “Right I’ll cover for you back here,” because we were told not to go so I went out and got them and brought them in and on the way out there were North Vietnamese everywhere and the only thing that saved us was that you couldn’t see in the dark you wouldn’t know who was who.
So we came back in left tore up a few wires of our stuff and basically came back into camp and got back in and that was about ten – ten o’clock at night that, that was an early morning post that had come in, weren’t supposed to be in but there was no point so and then about eleven thirty it didn’t matter anyway because the poop hit the fan so to speak
the Vietnamese started to – the trumpet blew a few trumpets and there was all sorts of noises and things and all of a sudden mortar fire opened up, rocket propelled grenades, B1-22 rockets were fired and they went over the top of us and we were at the forward area and the reason was the couple of days before the Vietnamese had been, the North Vietnamese had a lull in their patrolling they must’ve, they come in did their recce [reconnaissance] figured out where everyone was one and went off to regroup
and do whatever they were going to do and they made a big mistake because in that two days we had the SeaBees [US Construction Battalions] come in the blokes with bulldozers and machines and we got out and we cleared the jungle in front of us for about a hundred metres so it was a dead set clear killing area and we’d pulled all our people back a hundred metres so in front of us with this – we’d actually moved a hundred metres from where they’d earmarked where we were and
cleared it but we had no wire to protect us so I’d gone out and conned a whole bunch of claymores that we put out, forty two of them and we got them and Mal Meadows and scrounged all these from right back at Task Force at an American outfit and they had a whole stack so they gave them to us and we scull dragged them up because our people wouldn’t give us as many and put them all out and at
about eleven thirty they started to attack and I remember that the battalion headquarters still didn’t believe that anything was going on because they couldn’t hear it so it’s not going on then all of a sudden the Vietnamese opened up with rockets and guess where the first rockets landed fair in the middle of battalion headquarters with Task Force headquarters. They killed a couple of people in there too as the usually do and it was at that point in time that a lot of people decided that yes there was some truth in the rumour that there was movement on the wire
and we’d asked for flares which they wouldn’t give us and by this time there was all sorts of noises and everything going on and shooting and I’ll never forget it the flares went up and all I could see was line after line of North Vietnamese that’s all I could see. And just line after line as far as I could see just Vietnamese all over the place and I remember at that point saying to Mal, Mal looked at me he was a lovely bloke and he,
lieutenant, and he said to me, “What do you reckon ‘H’?” I said, “Mal if I was a betting person I’d start tuckering your bum,” and he said, “Yep I think that’s a good way to go, I think we’re in a bun fight,” and by God we were in for a bun fight. And so they put up the flares and of course in this time it was too late the Vietnamese sappers had come in they had put torpedoes devises into the wire
and started to blow the wire up so they were already behind us when they gave the go. Their sappers had come in and got through the wire and blew it up and so we had enemy behind us in our camp. And they were that good and of course we held fire until the last moment until we got close and I remember the first line of characters got within about, oh where I put the claymores out and I hit the first line of claymores
and just a whole bunch of people vaporised they just this gap mist just appeared that’s all it was a mist and a stench what was humans before was just a mist. That’s all, that’s how easy it is to convert a human into mist just pull a button and that happened we just let all the mines go and all the gaps closed and they just kept walking there was that many of them. And
I had machine-guns there and we burnt three barrels, all me barrels in me machine-guns were burnt out by three o’clock in the morning I’d burnt all the barrels out we’d run out of ammo and it was then that the, we had to or just before then we had to call it was then that the called in artillery and they brought in an American forward observation officer a big artillery fella a big negro bloke. I’ll tell you what he had to be the bravest mongrel I’d
ever run into in my life and he stood there and he said, “I’ll bring the big ones down,” an these are the big eight inch guns from thirty mile away and he called them in he just stood there with this forty five shooting people with his radio operator tagging behind him like you see in the movies and this blokes trying to hide behind a tree and this blokes trying to drag him through the frigging, through the bush and I’m look up out of my hole and said bugger you, and bang, bang, “Oh Goddam got you you mongrel”
oh he was having a ball it was almost like he was almost in a home from home and he called down the big guns and of course we could hear it on our radio and Mal’s looking at me and I’m looking at him and he gives this ranging shot which is a test shot and he said where – look at the grid reference he picks his torch out and the last think you want in a middle of a battle in the night someone shining a bloody torch on a map and he’s shining this torch on the map and asked me to tell him where I’m on and I thought, oh mate you’ve got to be hero and anyway we pointed to the spot and he said, “Right,”
and brought in the first salvo of three rounds and it went ‘wwhhhooomm’ like steam trains coming and ‘whhooop’ right on the – right in front of us about four hundred metres out and you could see the flash and the noise and the stink and trees went everywhere and this flash and he said, “That’s right for line and,” he said, “and a little bit and I’ll check for…” and he gave me, he gave a grid
reference a corner of a grid reference which was only about two hundred metres out from us and fire three more round son that and down it came ‘wwhhooomm’ terrible and by this time all the Vietnamese had overrun us we at this point now we were having a big problem and it was at that point that we had to fix bayonets and the order came down to fix bayonets and it was hand to hand fighting at that point no ammo
and what I had I was saving for meself not for someone else and then he said, “Right,” and I heard him say he said, “Left, left two – left two hundred, drop one hundred four or five – four effect twenty rounds fire,” and then he said, “Get out of my way I’m getting in your hole,” and we’re all in this hole together
with bloody Vietnamese going everywhere and Mal said, “What does that mean in English,” and I said, “Mate I think we’re going to hit the poop here,” and the next minute these rounds came holy bloody hell they came on and you could hear them and they just stop making a noise out there and at that point we knew she was on for young and old and all these rounds landed, eight, ten, twenty, thirty metres down the front. All up and down the thing oh spot on. When the first one landed right out the front of me I never remember
it I remember the flash the noise and I sort of woke up and I was about five metres outside of where I was supposed to be in amongst this bit of grass and I couldn’t I could not hear anything it was just my ears were just going ring, ring, ring, ring people started yelling at me and I started yelling back and I started abusing people because I couldn’t hear them and they weren’t talking to me cause I couldn’t hear them and they couldn’t hear me
and slowly your hearing starts to come back with this terrible ringing in your ears absolutely appalling and what I had done we were that close to the explosion that it actually moved me from where I was the concussion of the thing out of the thing but it had the effect of causing a massive lull in the fight because I think at that point in time the Vietnamese realised that gee this is getting pretty serious you know they –
you know we’ve got to step up if we stay out in the open we’re going to get slaughtered we’d better get in here so that actually accelerated the North Vietnamese to attack even harder and so this bloke had gone this Fire Control bloke he’d gone back to headquarters he’d done his job he was on his way. And the next order that came down was to light, because we’d just been run over there was people all behind us I was, I’d turned around and
shot people behind me right behind me they’d got past me you know just there anyway the next happened was because of that we got ordered – we’d been run over, over run you know like that over run so the order come down to light hexamine or light anything we had and place it out the front of where our pit was so that it’d create a perimeter because they were bringing in the phantom
jets to napalm the area and to bring in gunships, helicopter gunships to give them targets to know where the line was and so we were lighting these fires and putting them out and I thought oh Jesus I really don’t need this and we did it and I remember the first gunship, Cobra gunship came in from behind us and he opened up early and I remember yelling out to Mal, “Get the hell down this bloke’s going to brass us up,” and sure enough he did not through his fault he just came in
at the slight wrong angle and the whole ‘shoowawhatta!’ I can imagine what it was like being under one of these damn things. Lucky it didn’t hurt anyone everyone was starry eyed and oh yeah whose side is he on but the he changed tack and come up and down the outside and we still had quite a lot of Vietnamese in amongst us and by that time it was just starting to get a little bit of light and that’s when they brought
the phantoms in, when the fast movers in with napalm and they just dropped the napalm up and down the bomb, the napalm up and down a hundred and twenty metres away just up and down the jungle, the edge of the jungle and where they were and of course then they were able to bring in high explosive a thousand, seven hundred and fifty a thousand pound bombs and then they the Vietnamese did two things they, those that were inside us kept going that way and got caught trying to get out the other side and those that had gone and
people going out the side but the ones that were in front of us from which they came from Cambodia from over the Cambodian border which wasn’t, which was only, I think it was only twenty, fifteen ‘k’ away it mightn’t even been that far so they’d come from the major – major refuge places formed up and come across and they all went back and of course all the big planes and the aerial gunships and that just followed them
you know while they got back and over into the border. They were a lot closer, I think they could’ve been five or six ‘k’ away because you could see the planes stop on the border they wouldn’t go across and they sprayed the area and but stacks of bodies everywhere. I mean they, we patrolled, I patrolled with my outfit out you know probably two three kilometres and there were bodies all over the joint they were in the ground and the North Vietnamese to their credit
extricated a lot of their bodies and wounded and their dead because it’s part of the psychological thing that you don’t leave them behind because if you have had this big battle and there’s no bodies it does effect, I’ve seen people in units I served with there where this almost mythical Viet Cong thing, theory emerged we go and we have an ambush and all we ever get is a bit of blood and nothing
else and that we’re losing people and this mythical people we can’t kill and so bodies and things like that do play a big part in the morale side of your side your successful you’re not hunting some whisper will in the jungle that’s you can’t see and so they did that at Coral too. So a hell of a lot of the bodies and wounded were extricated out of the place but they did leave a lot
behind that they just couldn’t get you know people had, we found people in bamboo clumps and little jungle clumps that had just crawled in there and died from badly wounded and some who hadn’t who sort of had to be helped on their way to heaven but for some to get a bit stroppy and shoot at us. But yes so Coral was and I remember that morning of Coral after we’d
done all our clearing patrols and we’d been out and I remember, I don’t think after again by myself and couple of blokes we sort of drifted away and again I think it was a never forgettable period where you piddle your pants just the fear comes back because we’d lost people blokes had been killed and wounded and there was nothing more you look up in the morning there’s bodies everywhere there’s bodies in your pit, there’s body here
bits and pieces there, the smell the stench the images of the night of what’s happened just that smell that never leaves you all impacts on you at once and I think you suddenly, it suddenly dawns on you the actual magnitude of what you’ve been through and you just can’t help be afraid. You can’t
help but be frightened and that sort of post frightened event all of a sudden you look around and that’s when you really start asking questions like you know why me not him, why him not me, how come I’m here these sort of things start you know why’s me mate gone, why am I still here, who chose me to be still here. And I mean people don’t openly talk about things like that and I think that’s unhealthy but I’m happy to, I think it’s
good to talk about some things with people that you know you’re with and trust and that and for things like this because those sorts of things are the things are the things that assault the standards that I was talking about before you know why, you know what’s my role in this universe, why me, why am I here, why’s my mate gone, I can’t find my mate because there is no mate, maybe a foot, maybe a torso,
maybe just vaporised and that’s why I think…
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 13
Okay you lead.
So after Coral in that day when you’re seeing all the destruction around you what do people talk about what’s said?
Most people don’t talk about much at all. Interesting they talk about a lot of things but nothing about the real stuff a lot of small talk, a lot of make fun of things.
So the way you overcome a lot of these things is to laugh and joke about things and to try and convert something that’s damn serious into light hearted a banter a joke, “Geez look at that we did this and oh look at that and that and that…” and it’s all afterwards you come to understand and when you’re a bit experienced yourself and you look at people doing it you suddenly realise that it’s a mechanism
to try and put something that’s absolutely bloody horrific behind and you just cast it into the background and I really to think that’s where the army’s wrong because it should encourage people to – it should encourage something after a battle like that to talk about things and to get it out in the open because those things that happen the fear the absolute
survival I mean you we talked before early on today about standards and about things that happened in war which shouldn’t happened and do happen it’s under those conditions that lots of things happen and it happens simply because men or women if they’re there have to survive and if you’re given a choice between not being here and being here I’ll tell you, you will do whatever it takes to make sure you survive and if that
means doing things that ordinary folk think are wrong then so be it I’m into it I’ll do it. I’ll make no excuses for that no excuses at all and there is no need to make any excuses or even justify it. If you’ve got a government that put you into that situation and you take ordinary people and you put them in extraordinary things and you ask them to do extraordinary
feats with their body and mind and then complain when they come unravelled in the middle of doing something which is totally against all of our taught humanity then let’s not bitch about that let’s support them and get on with life and say right that’s something that we would rather not have happened but it has now well let’s get on and move with it. It’s not their fault that they’re in that condition or my fault if I’m there. You mind does funny things when you’re
under great – under great stress and there is no greater stress in my view than the need to want to survive to live particularly when people around you are dying and being maimed and quite often there are you know the thing like there’ll be enemy wounded on the ground in the heat of battle who ordinarily you’d probably in better times you would probably try and immobilise them and treat them and look after them and be humane and
in those conditions you don’t you waste a lot you don’t even argue. You don’t even think about it because a person who is injured on the ground in the heat of a battle like that, like Coral or any decent size or any battle for that matter is a danger to you and you just don’t have the necessity to disarm them and talk to them and give them a smoke you just simply waste them, on the spot and then yo move on.
There is no other way of doing it you just can’t. If I didn’t do it then I go past that person and my mate behind me who hasn’t seen him gets wasted by that bloke so I really don’t have any difficulty with that at all particularly when you’ve got imminent danger it’s upon it’s being you’re in a condition where you’ve got no control over
or no or very little control over what you do or very little control over what other people will do to you. So is it any wonder that when people come home from war that they have problems and I think, I think every war that’s ever fought has the same problems as Vietnam. I can’t imagine that blokes that fought in World War I in battles didn’t have the same issues
or people in World War II or Korean War or Borneo or wherever Afghanistan, Iraq, Timor they do and I know today from talking to young men who have been to these places and some of them have been into fie or six or these area conflicts and they’re already showing
the same signs. I look back now with the wisdom of Solomon and hindsight and you can see it. They don’t see it I see it in their families in who we still meet with and their wives are the ones who’ve got to put up with it the kids and how the treat the kids how they treat the wife how they do things how they don’t do things that’s why a wife is I think someone who is grossly
overlooked in all of this because they have another side of the story that’s not told and it’s an absolute appalling side of the story.
What signs are there?
Oh there’s just you know like husbands who can’t settle down I mean you look at people that have been two three four marriages I mean okay a person gets married once and makes a blue
or either partner makes a blue yeah okay you can wear that one that’s bad enough but two three four times, no it’s not the women it’s the bloke and it happens in many ways like they won’t talk. I’ve got friends who and they’ve been divorced a number of times in fact I’m an old marriedy I mean I’m unique in many respects there’s other like me but we’re unique in the sense that we – I’ve now got
thirty five years of marriage behind me. The early years of that had some tension in them mainly because of me adjusting I suppose two things one you’ve got to adjust to having a partner and understanding that it’s no longer me there’s now a team, team and that’s a big thing for any marriage if two people are single
and they get too old too quick and then all of a sudden try and change their ways but with my sort of experiences and things I was a loner and I wouldn’t talk to my wife about a lot of things she’d ask me and I would tell her the funny bits and she would never really hear a lot of other stuff and that then I had my memories and turns and problems and,
and probably have a bit too much to drink on the odd occasion because of it and she’s got to wear that with the kids and of course the way you treat the kids, the discipline side of it the way you look at solving problems is, is not conducive to a good marriage and if you’re lucky with two parents that had been
through that era and Carol’s father had been in World War II he’d been overseas and then having other people around me who were experienced people from war gone by and had been through it and knew were able to sort of grab me on the arm and say, “Listen peanut wake up to yourself you’re not going to have a family and you need to straighten up and you need to move on. You need to do these things. If you want to talk about anything I’m here for you to talk to me,” and I took that advice and
I started to talk to people I started to talk to my wife. My wife knows everything now and we’ve got a great loving relationship, it’s great, she’s my best mate and she’ll be for a bloody sight longer I can’t afford to get rid of her. And yeah and even you know going through jobs I mean I – I had a hell of time holdings down jobs initially I think I went through about twenty seven
and all of them I sort of had difficulties I ended up punching the boss so you know it was over Vietnam which was quite appalling I mean I came out of the army and wanted to go back to being normal and found that people wouldn’t let me be normal. The moment that they knew that I was in the regular army I was a baby killer and all those sorts of obnoxious things which seem stupid but it was true I mean you were accused of all sorts of things because Vietnam polarised
the country is such a way you were like George Bush today you’re with me or you’re against me there was no grey areas you were an enemy, evil or good or bed there was terms like that you know and for a hell of a lot of people Vietnam and even worse if you were a regular soldier, oh you volunteered to go if you were national servicemen you were a fair bit of forgiveness but if you were a reg and served in like SAS then you were
definitely regarded as a whatever. So I got that way in the end that I just simply didn’t put on my resume I just made a conscious decision I said okay what they want to hear is I never went in the army so that was exactly the way I went and of course every now and then unfortunately you’d run into a mate somewhere that was working with someone else and say, “Oh Harry how are you going? Oh I last saw you in Vietnam?” and the boss would turn around and say you didn’t tell me you served in Vietnam and
bang right between the peepers that solved that one go and look for another one and you know she’d be on for young and old. And it really wasn’t until I got a job in Singapore that things started to change because the people who employed me the bosses it was a big, a big Pommy company and the two big bosses were both
ex-Changi prisoners of war and I was a young kid and they sort of took me in tow and took Carol aside, the women the older women and most of them in the company had been through World War II and they took Carol to one side and I got taken to one side, the other side and they sort of treated her as a daughter because she was very well very young and I think the next one up the ranks from me was about forty five close to fifty and I was you know twenty
seven, twenty-eight and they sort of took me to one side and forgave me for all my misdemeanours and ills and allowed me to settle down you were in an environment where you were with people that understood and you could talk to people that was really so important to be able to sit down and talk but a lot of people won’t talk to people they just build it up build it up and before you know where you are you’ve got a completely
dysfunctional family and dysfunctional husband and the wife’s tearing her hair out and finally you get all these major breakdowns.
In terms of the SAS and the training that you did for that role, what was different about that to the other battalions?
The SAS training is I suppose put it in two contexts first off
an SAS soldier in my time and I was regarded in SAS I was an infantry soldier doing specialist work highly specialised work but first and foremost I was an infantry soldier but I was doing work that needed specialist training, specialist skills and of course part of that came with a type of physical and
mental capability and things like that so the type of people who would volunteer for SAS and you’ve got to volunteer to go there you don’t get posted to the joint as a trooper as a frontline trooper you don’t so I the type of person that goes there is a, and I don’t say this in any other way than the type of person is a probably a bit unique a bit special in their
outlook they’re pretty happy go lucky gregarious make fun of a lot of things, very fit, mentally able can work by themselves, work as a team, fit in and also think outside the box so you’ve got a person who is probably a bit of an outsider in infantry battalion in any event and is probably not, probably not always sometimes probably won’t be getting on real well in that area because the battalion
sort of requires you in a very indefinite way because you’ve got to but with SAS they encourage the individual, individual thought because you’ve got to act that way you’ve got to thing outside the box when you’re only in small groups and come up with something novel sometimes but the training in SAS itself is different in that it is far more rigorous, far more demanding,
very specialised and a lot of infantry skills are what any soldier would have except that they’re taken to a degree much higher. You use, you’ll have special weapons probably, special technology. You will learn different skills like you’ll do parachuting, although infantry people do parachuting can do it. We’ve got a battalion of people who are para qualified.
Many people do parachuting for different strategic reasons. We do diving, use of explosives, languages, roping and repelling a whole lot of skills that are needed in that sort of a role.
So when you went into Vietnam say for reconnaissance patrols what equipment were you carrying and how different was your
work to say the other battalions in that regard?
The equipment we carried in many ways was similar for arguments sake we carry ammunition we carry grenades we carry smoke bombs and gas grenades and things like that, claymore mines, we carry rations the only difference there is the battalions would use a
twenty four hour ration pack with tins and things in it all our stuff was dehydrated so it was very light and all we had to do was boil hot water and add hot water to it and it was a high energy ration, ration pack for the type of work we were doing for substance. We would invariably carry a lot more water for arguments sake in a dry season I’d,
a normal infantry bloke’d probably carry about four or five water bottles maybe a bladder I’d carried probably nine plus a bladder which was a lot of weight. We’d carry a greater level a higher level of or I did anyway, a higher level of ammunition than would be carried in a battalion in fact more of it. Our other stuff we’d carry like
rockets the battalion would carry also but only whereas you know sometimes we would carry one each, radio equipment basically in many ways the type of equipment basically in many ways the type of equipment is very similar to the battalion except it’s specialised for what we do. Our, our packs are different we use different packs because we need different packs to put the gear in and the way we operate. Our webbing is,
we tailor make the webbing to suit ourselves around our waists so it fits us personally you know we get tailor made to do it and use different things. We probably have a selection of the same range of weapons the battalion had in our time we had five point five six M-16’s armalites. We had self-loading rifles we had the M-60 machine-gun, we had shot guns.
The only real weapon, we had pistols and the only real weapon that we would’ve had that I think the battalions didn’t have were silent, silent sub machine-guns for special ambush operations and had big silencers on them and they were as useless as a bloody tin eyed bull.
Why was that?
Oh half the time they wouldn’t go, when you went into the bush you had to have them cocked because they were a blow back mechanism so you had to cock them which meant that the
spring was completely compressed all the time it sent the block forward which had the firing pin fixed to it and I got out a couple of times in the bush and pulled the trigger and it just went clunk which is the most embarrassing and largest sound you will ever hear in the jungle when you do it because the spring had got weak and it wouldn’t set the round off. Needless to say one immediately went to ground and sought another weapon of more reliable status but we
learnt that and then we sort of overcome that in time but they created problems you only cocked it when you needed to but of course in cocking a weapon it made a noise so you were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea a bit of a worry. So many of the I suppose the equipment, much of the equipment was very similar to what was used in the battalion except it was specialised, we had specialised equipment and different types of rations
and different types of combinations of equipment for our specialist roles.
When you were gathering the intelligence in Vietnam what details and signs were you looking out for and what could you tell from those?
Generally speaking on the patrols I was on you were looking for signs of enemy movement you were looking you were going out to try and locate
the whereabouts of the enemy where their – where their base was where their forming up places were where they were caching equipment where they were hiding equipment and weapons that sort of thing. You were looking for signs of tracks in the jungle, fresh tracks, use of tracks who was using it which way they were going and you were drawing this on a map you were keeping that information so you could build up a profile of the area. You would
also be looking for numbers of people for arguments sake how many there were how they were dressed their morale their deportment whether they were patrolling at the ready aggressively in other words they were expecting someone to be there or whether they just had their weapons slung and walking along the track which generally meant they thought they were in a safe area and so and what sort of
weapons they had, what sort of equipment they used generally, directions they were going to from all these sorts of things that most people think like are a bit of a nonsense but each one of those little bits of information fills in a jigsaw puzzle to a complete picture so like if for arguments sake I’m watching a track and the enemy comes along and
they’re talking to each other and you can hear them coming a mile off and they’ve got their weapons slung over their shoulder and they’re having a good old time moving from point A to point B I mean that tells me very clearly that they’re not under threat. They don’t think they’re under threat they’re quite happy to be in this area it’s a safe area and they’re not anticipating any problems which means we’re right in the middle of their home, their home turf that they regard as safe, that’s their safe haven and of course that tells us a lot in terms of
coming into the area to do other operations. What we’re likely to find and how, well in an area like that for arguments sake, it’s an ideal place to probably set up a snatch patrol because no one’s ready. They’re not expecting it they don’t think there’s anyone there to annoy them. Whereas if they were on guard if they were patrolling carefully it usually means that they were expecting something. It’s an area where they’re not secure and so on and course dress and deportment are
important because if they are basically slovenly, unclean, unkempt, we pay particular attention to weapons, cleanliness you know ammunition the sort of the condition of ammunition that they had or carrying of weapons and of course if that is rusted or dirty or filthy it tells us a lot about what the unit is that it’s probably not a regular unit it’s probably a part time unit and morale’s not high they don’t really care a lot
so that makes them vulnerable to attack to successful work and probably means to intelligence people that oh if we’ve got people here who are you know sort of moral’s low this could be an area that we can target for psychological operations for people to give themselves up. It may be an area where they say right we’ll go in there and hammer this area really happy with a whole bunch of SAS
fighting patrols and really down the morale a bit and then hit them with a psychological operations and say whether they want to come in or the want another round you know go round ten with Cassius Clay again so there’s all sorts of information that comes back the type of food they eat, whether they’re cooking whether they’re eating cold. If they’re eating cold food it means that they’re not going to cook for smell. They’re probably,
they’re not secure in the area. If they stop and have a yarn and cook food it means they’re quite comfortable again so depending on you know you record all of that information comes back and it come back into the debrief it goes back to the intelligence officers who are specialised in that field and the assemble a matrix and information matrix and of course one patrol on its own brings back important information
but if you’ve got eight or nine patrols in a area bringing back the same information then you’ve got confirmation and you’ve got a wider view so it can give you very important strategic information of a long term nature. It can give you immediate battlefield information of your enemy now and it can give you an opportunity to have short to medium term operations against the enemy whatever they might be so it’s quite a,
you know a lot of people’ll think oh that’s not important but just a little thing can be so important.
You’d mentioned earlier in the day that you sense became really important can you explain how the smell, how you developed those senses in that kind of work and how important smell was in the jungle?
It’s, smell’s is one of the major senses of the body, it’s probably one of the most sensitive
ones other than your eyesight…
We were talking about the sense of smell and how important that is?
Your sense of smell is one of your as I say one of your main senses… you know hearing sight and smell and the main ones but for me in the jungle hearing and smell are critical.
You develop that very early in the piece in jungle, in Malaya particular one of the things that you are taught to, that you acquire very early. And you acquire it in funny ways for arguments sake in Borneo we’d be out for you know three weeks or two weeks or whatever we were out in the bush and of course no one washes no shaves no one does anything
and in short you stink to everyone else except you. To anyone else that’s in the jungle and the trackers, I learnt a lot off the trackers I used to work a lot with the trackers, the Iban trackers and they’d come up and we’d be out by myself with them and they’d come back and they’d stop and we’d talk in dialect and they say, “Ooh you smell. Why do you smell?...
Mm, we’re camp?” I said, “Oh that direction about three hundred metres.” “Why you no pick it up early?” I said well to this fella and I said, “When did you pick it up?” “About one hour ago.” and you get t learn the smell and of course if you’re not, you’ve got to turn
yourself on to it it’s not something you acquire the smell but you’ve also develop it and things like soap, if people are using soap, when we were coming back into base you could also smell them, you could smell the village and the cooking and the different smells long before you reached there. And soap, cigarette, cigarettes are appalling you could smell them miles away. Soap is, soap
or any of the type of cosmetic type stuff we used to pretty ourselves as you well know those things, those things are, stand out very, very painfully you could smell them and all of a sudden all of these six senses would go on alert and your body, even your body exudes a smell because of your, because of the diet you are on and things like that
so I could always, in Vietnam when I was out I could always smell Vietnamese and Viet Cong long before I got to them. So underground, in a ground complex you’d you could quite often smell them you know a hundred two hundred metres away if you were in a camp where the smell was coming in the right direction and it was one of the important things that I came to was to try and work your searches and such a way that the wind was coming towards you
because you I mean that’s quite difficult in the jungle the winds coming and going from all sorts of things but if I had a choice I’d always be working my search pattern in a, so the wind was coming to me I was walking into it all the time and that way it’s blowing it behind me and everyone else in front of me is coming down.
So could the VC smell you? What could you do to disguise your smell?
We did that
usually with SAS we’d two days, a couple of days before the patrol we wouldn’t, we’d get into our I used to keep my old gear from the last patrol in a corner nice and handy much to the disgust of everyone else in the tent they did the same thing but I’d keep my old gear handy, wouldn’t wash it, wouldn’t clean it and I’d put it on like two days beforehand, no shaving, no washing I’d start eating rations, dehyd –
the stuff I was going to eat in the bush and so I had a bit of a beard along with cam cream, I had old gear on I stank so when I got into the jungle I was part – I was part of that – part of the jungle again. And that’s part of the, an important part of the camouflage and concealment of being able to blend in with the jungle. They say the jungle’s neutral it’s only an enemy if you treat it
with disrespect so if you go in there as part of it and blend in with it and learn to live and abide by the rules that are going to be there with you then you’ve got a very high chance of survival. And that type of preparation, I mean ideally in other stuff work I did sometimes have a week, four or five days with my old gear on and stuff and smelling and stinking before we went out depending on where you were and the condition of what you had to do but most certainly most blokes didn’t
shower or shave or wash for days before a day and a half two days before.
What about diet did that change?
Only that we went to dehyd-rations, on to dehydrated rations. I used to myself and a lot of blokes were like it I used to buy, go down the local village and buy dried fish, I used to love dried fish it stinks like all hell and Nhoc nam [Kikkoman] which is
a Vietnamese fish sauce which is even worse but beautiful and I‘d have my dehydrated, I’d have for a five or six day patrol I’d take probably three dehydrated rations cut them in half or put them in, save old containers and put half in one and half in the other and roll them up ready and only half of one for a meal but all my other meals would be rice and fish, fish heads and a bit of Vietnamese sauce, Nhoc nam sauce, fish sauce because
in eating that stuff you smelled exactly the same as everyone else because if I was in the scrub and after a day or two of eating this sauce you’d, even the Viet Cong wouldn’t know they would think you were their mother – their mother because you stink the same it’s natural that you do and so I didn’t mind it I found it was nice tucker, good tucker, nutritious and it was light with the fish so I put that in and so I would take plenty of rice and stuff
and that and give all my other stuff away and take my Mars Bar and my chockie bar so those things were pretty good but most blokes had different ways of mixing and matching their rations but that’s the way I didn’t mind.
Were you always dropped in by chopper? I mean did the chopper land or how did you actually get in to the patrol area?
basically two ways of being inserted one was by helicopter and one, the other one was by motor vehicle whether that be truck or an armed personnel carrier, an APC an Armoured Personnel Carrier. I had the joy of being inserted by all three means at one time or another. With helicopters, helicopter was a particularly interesting journey because normally a couple of
days, or at least a day before the patrol went out the patrol commander and members, probably a member of the patrol would go in the helicopter, 9 Squadron the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] would take us and we would overfly at a sort of oblique angle the actual landing zone that we had to go into which only be a little hole in the jungle just a little, enough to get a helicopter rotor blades in really some of them
were very small and we’d have to pinpoint this point in the jungle. So we’d overfly that with the pilot who was called Albatross Leader he would be the person who would guide us to the target to the landing zone when the time came tomorrow afternoon. So that pilot knew exactly where it was you’d never hover around the area just fly straight across it and as we were flying across you’d say, “Right, that’s one two three you’ve got them?” “Yep.” He’d mark them
on his map, “Yep, confirmed one two three landing zones wherever,” and away we’d go. The, we’d go miles and then go back to base never fly back over it again and that’s confirming the drop off points and pick up points that we’ve got to come out. And the next afternoon when we get on the chopper there will be basically, usually about five choppers there’d be four or five choppers. The first one is Albatross Leader
he’s a normal slick ship not a gunship he’s empty he’s got a pilot and co-pilot on board he’s got the Albatross Leader the bloke who is going to fly at height. Now his role is take off three or four minutes, five minutes ahead of us and get up to four or five thousand feet high, three thousand foot high whatever he flies at why up in the boom docks and once he’s got himself up to that height which takes a helicopter a little while to get up to the height he calls out to the blokes and says “We’re right,” so we take off so the
slick takes off and has got the patrol on, the patrol operates in such a way that we try when the helicopter lands it lands in a particular aspect so it’s pointing north, pointing east, pointing south so that if I’m the scout when I’m getting off I know I heading in the right direct – north and I’ve go to head east and take a line so I’m off the helicopter and gone I don’t have to worry about figuring out which way I am I know very important, a very important thing.
Now what the rule is the first slick, my slick ship will then take off Albatross Leaders in the air and we’ll take off and get to some height maybe a thousand foot , twelve hundred foot or something out of small arms fire, hopefully out of small arms fire range or above it and we’ll head off to the direction where we’re going to insert to the area where we’re going to insert the patrol. At the same time behind us we’ll take off two other
or three other choppers and they’ll be gunships probably two bush range of gunships protecting us and sometimes maybe a spare slick ship, a spare ship to pick if something goes wrong but once we get in the air our bloke flies at about a thousand or twelve hundred foot or whatever and the Albatross Leaders here and he’s guiding, the Albatross is guiding our
pilot on direction and everything so he’s following that bloke. When we get about, you know five minutes out the word’ll come back from one of the gunners or the crew or the pilot, “Five minutes,” that’s five minutes to LZ [Landing Zone]. Five minutes to LZ we will start to check gear, it’s all check gear, get everything right we’re ready to go and I’ll take my position if I’m the scout on the skids I’ll face out of the helicopter
and I’ll have my feet on the skids and just be sitting there ready to go, ready to go with my weapon. When we’re, and then we’ll get a call every minute, a minute to go three minutes so we know but ultimately we will get a call thirty seconds, thirty seconds, it’ll come back, “Thirty seconds Harry, right ‘H’.” “Okay, ready to go.” At that point I will cock my weapon, the weapon will go to instant so I’ve got a round in the spout and the safety catch is on and the adrenaline starts to pump and in that thirty
second, or about, sorry about two minutes three minutes out the pilot descends – no be five minutes at five minute out the pilot descends from twelve hundred feet to tree top level, straight down and flying right along the trees and in and out the trees and that’s where the bloke at the top guides you you’re coming up and so at the thirty he says, “Righto, one minute, one minute to go,” at one minute to go I’m out ready to go we know we’re one minute away and then he gives thirty seconds , “Thirty seconds to go,” and then I’m
standing there waiting for it and then all of a sudden he’ll say, “Right,” and then he’ll say, “We’re here,” bang it’s on and all of a sudden he’ll pull back on the stick and ‘boom boom boom boom’ as he brings it down through this hollow little thing. The moment he’s started to do that I’ve switched right off everything that’s going on as a scout I the moment the helicopters about six foot off the ground I’m out and gone, I’m off. I’m out of it even before it touches the ground and I’m away. I’ll take a line, I go into the jungle
take a line probably go in a hundred metres clear the area make sure, see if anything’s there and then people, then the helicopter takes off and the rest of the patrol follows in and we’re inserted. The slick takes off the two gunships are behind us by about three minutes, two and a half three minutes so they’ll fly around in broad circles until we, in kilometre circles until such time as the
patrol is in the ground it’s been inserted successfully and no one has shot at us or we haven’t had a contact because probably in a third of all the patrols I was on we were shot at within twenty seconds of hitting the – either shot at in the helicopter as we landed or shot at within you know a minute or two minutes of getting off the pad so they stay around and if it all goes to poop up goes the emergency beacon and the gunships are on station straight away
we talk to them righto where it is give them a target throw smokes and then they use they’re mini guns to brass up the area, slick ship comes back in and we run like hell get back on and everything being equal we go home and have a beer and then probably have to do it again the next night. And when we – when we’ve got to go back in the next morning or whenever it is so not in the same place I might add as they know about that. So that’s how a helicopter insertion takes place SAS style quite an exhilarating thing when you first do that and you’re tearing along at a
hundred knots in and out tree tops and they’re actually hitting the bottom of the skids and they’re in and out but you get used to that. The other method of insertion is by truck and that just simply means that you’ll be taken out in amongst a convoy of other trucks and somewhere along life’s journey five of us disappear off the back of a truck without breaking our necks and the trucks all keep going.
Are you rolling or jumping?
Yeah sometimes be rolling and sometimes…
End of tape
Interviewee: Harry Whiteside Archive ID 2417 Tape 14
Harry, tell me about leaving Vietnam?
That was a pretty, a sudden experience I was out on operations and the word came through that was I was to be extracted and repatriated to Australia. I was out in the middle of the jungle and the word came down from hell or heaven or wherever it as that Harry
you’re going home so I just got winched out of where I was in a helicopter with all my gear and everything and taken back to my base at Bear Cat, a place called Bear Cat and from there I went I was winched out …
at nine o’clock at night, probably nine o’clock at night. I went back to Bear Cat where I was hootchied up [tented up] and the next morning at around about nine o’clock I had my gear packed and I had a chopper ride to – to
Tan Son Nhut to helipad five and simply taken to a departure plate where we had some Australians there NCO’s and officers I don’t know who they were with they were with someone and they just briefed me on what was going on and told me that I would be on a Pan American flight in two hours time and I was going home. And I still
basically had the greens on I’d been wearing the day before because I didn’t have any change of stuff. I managed to change an old set that I got hold that had sort of been through the wash and at least was a little bit non smelly but I had all me, I had me weapon all the stuff I had the day before with me my bag, my (UNCLEAR) all my
rations were in that I hadn’t used and my ammunition too I might say. I still had a fair bit of ammunition left they hadn’t taken that off me and true to their word I got on a Pan American flight around I think it was about one o’clock in the afternoon, twelve thirty one and it was quite a, almost a, it sort of didn’t hit me at first
so I got onboard and immediately went to sleep and apparently started snoring because one of the hostesses got cranky with me and we had civilians onboard as well as army people so it was a mixture flight and I was sitting up the front and I suppose where first class would ordinarily be not, I can’t remember, I don’t think it was a first class seat but it was up that area and I got woken up and I was when I
got woken up I was about halfway to Sydney. This American girl asked me, if I wanted, “If I wanted something to eat?” and I said, “Oh yeah I’ll have something to eat,” “You want something to drink?” I said, “What have you got?” and she told me she had this dreadful Budweiser beer that Americans drink its absolute lolly water, garbage so I settled for a Coke, I think it was a Coke or something
and I remember she gave me about a mouthful about how “Aussies are supposed to drink beer.” I don’t know who she had been going out with but anyway it was obviously an Aussie so I said, “Oh no I’ll just have a Coke,” and she brought me this tucker and it was a turkey and cranberry sauce I remember it because I always swore I would never eat cranberry sauce and turkey again and I haven’t. And
I ended up eating this stuff and oh there was other garbage on there too but I thought I need something to eat I was a bit hungry and about twenty minutes after that I immediately regretted that because it went straight through the other end so I spend a third of the rest of the flight in the dunny. Of course the change of tucker was such a profound thing from what I had been eating it was just a real, eat some of this and clean yourself right out.
And then I went back to sleep again and the next thing I was being woken up we were going to land at Sydney and so I, I it was quite interesting because my weapon was alongside in the aircraft. Imagine getting on a weapon, on an aircraft on a Qantas aircraft now with a weapon onboard God they’d take you out and shoot you at birth.
But I had it there and no one questioned you know just go on with it, it was all right and I got off at Sydney airport and here I am with all this gear and I never forgot it, the customs. They are something else again that mob, they are really something else again. I hoped they’ve changed I really do. I don’t think so. They were going through I had a little dilly bag, a handbag I had with my stuff on which I didn’t have
a great deal of stuff and the one thing I had in the bag was a Playboy magazine with a centrefold in it and this centrefold was my girlfriend for life. She’d, I’d had it for three years there or two and half years or whatever I’d had it and this was my pinup girl this one and always imagined girls from that point on. Every time I looked at a girl with a bathing suit on I worried about her being deformed because there was never any staple
marks in her stomach and that’s where the staples were in this thing all the time when you pinned it up it just didn’t look right if you didn’t have staple marks. And, I mean she was fully clothed for God’s sake I mean in those days Playboy magazine the centrefold was not what the centrefold is today. A rather explicit you know depiction of a young lady in those days you got your rocks off by being able to see her knees
and she had this long suit and it was nothing but anyway they, Playboys were banned in Australia it was one of the banned publications in this world and they wanted to charge me with this and that and I’m trying to import this disgusting paper. So morale hygiene at home was alive and well and they didn’t even check me bags they would’ve found all sorts of stuff in there from ammunition to whatever, never checked it all they were interested in was me foregoing
the Playboy magazine and the concession was all they wanted was the centrefold so they tore the centrefold out and gave me back the magazine and wished me well on my way. And I couldn’t come to grips with this hang on a minute I’ve been at war for this country for the last bloody four or five years and I’m going to go to gaol when I lob home for having a centrefold pickup picture that had been, she’d been my hero for years she sustained me in all
my knowledge of women for all this time and all of a sudden I got done, she was gone, I was distraught no more girlfriend, disgusting, couldn’t get over that. Of course I came out of the customs area and I don’t know what the go was in Sydney I’d never you know I’d read and these characters that turned up at airports and did all sorts of things to returning soldiers but it had never sort of sunk in until Sydney airport and
I was to find out from later on the army the people who picked me up at the airport and they were sent there to pick me up in a Land Rover cause there were other soldiers onboard too Americans on leave for R and R and a few more Australians but I was the filthiest and so I won that award but they told me later that basically every time one of the planes landed everyone knew about it and
all the ratbags came out of the woodwork and you know to assault all the soldiers at the airport when they came off. When I came out the customs area and I’d, it was – the only thing that would go through my mind, I came out there was this, I’ll call her a young lady for want of a better description, quite an attractive young thing she wouldn’t have been any more than I don’t know twenty or somewhere around there
and I don’t think I had run into such foul language outside of a digger’s Mess in the army. This young girl had a turn of phrase that would make the most profound soldier cringe for the things she called me and then proceeded to have a bit of a spitting content, the only trouble was she’d lost her chewing gum and couldn’t do it properly and then all the rest of them started oh bloody kid killers and all that sort of stuff
and of course it was really a, because I was wearing a SAS beret and that drew the crabs so I promptly took that off and hid that got outside of all of this mayhem and the only, I just thought to myself, it really hit home and I thought you know I’ve spent five years shooting at the wrong people that’s what went through my mind. I just had this
wild desire to plug a magazine on and clean them all up. I thought it was disgusting I thought the whole thing was – that’s the way it impacted on me I just felt that they just needed cleaning out. You know these people were, you know if you want to go and spit on people, if you want to go and – if you’ve got a beef with the government vote them out the mongrels out or shoot the politicians but don’t take on the soldiers and the men and women of the defence force who, who are sent overseas
to underwrite the very privileges that these people are abusing. You know don’t abuse them they’re not, they’re only doing what the government wants they’re not to blame for it and it’s the same will go on with this Iraq and everywhere else and stuff. At least the blokes and the men and women and coming home with a little bit more thanks you from the community but the Vietnam thing most certainly polarised people and it wasn’t until then that I really started to come to grips with
the fact that I was coming home to a big problem time. And just how that was going to impact on me I wasn’t really going to find out until I got out of the army and started looking for jobs and you know doing my own thing and then running into the prejudices and problems that were outside. It most certainly didn’t have a lasting impact on me personally myself I just,
I thought it was disgusting, I sort of never really from that day to this have I tried to rationalise it out except to say every time I get cranky well you know they are the rights and privileges that soldiers go overseas to underwrite. If we start you know kicking the hell out of these people we’re actually – we’re actually just being part of we’re doing exactly the opposite to what we’re supposed to be doing and I think that’s the way
it is, I look at all the laws and things that the government, that we have now brought in, State Governments have brought in to counter terrorism and we don’t need those laws. The laws are more draconian than Saddam Hussein’s regime. I mean we’ve got draconian – more draconian laws here than any of these terrorist countries have got. So in a way the terrorists have won simply because we’ve failed to ensure that our current laws
work properly to handle the problem. After all what’s a terrorist, a terrorist is a criminal so treat them as a criminal and get on with it and I think by analogy when I came home in 1968 yeah I most certainly had those wild desires to do something about the people but you stop and think and you think hang on a minute they are doing the very things that soldiers in this country
since before World War I have been sent overseas to underwrite these rights that’s what makes us different from all these other people so I wrote it off as people they’re right to do that. I only objected to, my only objection was not, I think even in hindsight, my objection to them was not that they protested is it’s not that they got angry it’s not that they did whatever they did it was that they targeted soldiers
and not the government and I suppose people said oh well soldiers are part of the government they go there they do the government’s bidding all these soldiers should’ve known to refuse and all this you know all that sort of carry on but the end of the day that is part and parcel of our society is the right to protest and the right to free speech and those things and I think the better view is that people have got to be allowed to do that. One just hopes that they do it with a little bit of respect of other people
and as in our case pick the right people instead of the wrong people to do it to. So that experience was most certainly something I’ll not forget but it most certainly didn’t have an impact on me I don’t think in the long term, my view of myself, not being a psychiatrist I wouldn’t know, but I’ve moved on from that and of course eventually you make your life and you
simply get on with life and realise that your military career is simply a past, it’s something that happened in the past and you moved on and you’ve now got a new career and new responsibility and you do meet every now and then and have a few beers and think about the good times and hopefully forget all the bad ones. But yeah it was rather strange coming home that quickly I mean
one minute you’re in combat and the next minute, you know the next day you’re back in the free world. You’re back amongst normal people the only problem is you’re not normal, you’re not normal and becoming normal is something you’ll probably never do a question of degree
you’ll never become normal but you’ll learn to live with things and hopefully try and control yourself and try and moderate yourself and fit in I think’s about the best explanation for coming home but most certainly we had no rehab, no rehabilitation at all. You were just winched out, put on a plane sent home and said, “Bye taa ta see you later, thanks for the journey great time meeting you,” and that was
about that was life. I think today they’re trying, the military today, I know they are today they’re trying to do it a lot better and a lot smarter but it’s going to take them time, it’ll take them time. I think in many respects today they’ve probably gone overboard with a lot of stuff but most certainly it’s a head start on people like myself and national servicemen and others who went
away and didn’t, weren’t rehabilitated at all and were just simply left to fend for themself in the community and I think the worst feature of it all and I think it’s the distinguishing feature of other wars is that in all other wars that I’ve read about and with most certainly the participants that I know and I’ve talked to the men and women who served overseas came home heroes the Vietnam people didn’t, they come home in
disgrace in the eyes of a nation and that is the big difference and when you’ve got people coming home now from Timor from Afghanistan from Iraq they come home to an appropriate welcome and an appropriate thank you and that’s important Vietnam didn’t get that and I think that was the one big distinguishing feature of the Vietnam War which created and has created
and continues to create such a major problem with soldiers who fought in it both here and America and wherever else and in here in Australia as far as I’m concerned was a lot of blokes that I knew just went into their shell. They sort of thought that society had left them abandoned them and they – their whole life has been a complete stuff up ever since. Simply because all of those values
were challenged that I spoke about earlier and because when they did come home there was no one to help them unravel those standards to try and put them back into society and one of those key issues I reckon was the right to come home and be welcomed by the society that sent you and people say thanks in a more public way to people and that didn’t happen, the
reverse happened and I think that put a lot of people into the problems that they’ve got today.
Years later Harry, when there was a welcome home parade, was that, did that help or was it too little too late?
I didn’t go to it, I refused. One it didn’t – I refused to go to if for two reasons and a number of my mates I served with over there with SAS battalions we didn’t go either
but what we did we met on the day and went to a RSL [Returned and Services League] Club, not that I particularly like RSLs but we went to a RSL Club and we had dinner and we didn’t go to the parade for two reasons, one was we were all regular soldiers and we reckon that we weren’t there as volunteers and we didn’t really need the welcome home thing in that sense. And in a big way that’s true we’d been to other places and Vietnam was
to me just another destination, one more destination I went to but for a lot of people where Vietnam was the only place that they went to and they might have done one tour, two tours some people did three tours it was a big thing and I think and to national servicemen in particular the nation owed them more I think than a regular soldier
a thank you. I mean it was a nation who sent them, who conscripted them who sent them it didn’t matter under what government but it was a nation’s obligation to say it and welcome them home and they didn’t and I still think that having people say well better late than never I think 1987 I think that was I think, I can’t remember the date but anyway I think it was around 1987 it was a long way from 1970, 1972 and
it’s a bit to me like you’ve got your favourite girlfriend you know what day her birthday is but you forgot it and you take her a bunch of flowers the next day. I don’t think it quite has the same impact. I mean you can dress it up in all sorts of reasons but I don’t think she’s going to like you too much and I think that’s a bit like these parades that are held after the fact sure better late than never but and the other thing was for myself personally I wouldn’t have gone
anyway even if I wanted to the moment politicians showed up I just didn’t feel that was appropriate. Particularly the very people who caused the problem so I didn’t go for that and probably the only, I think in hindsight the only thing that I ever wanted to go to and all my mates were like this was some years ago when they,
when they had the ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’ when they brought the bloke back from Europe and they had the big do in Canberra it was the only thing I wanted to go to. I really did want to go to that and so did a few of us but the politicians turned up and some of the characters were there during that period and I said, “No, and that’s not there place they shouldn’t be there,” because the tomb of the unknown solider to me epitomises a
lot of what real combat is about it’s the concept of the bloke man or women who has simply disappeared and there is no sign of them and you are looking around and bang something goes off and one minute your mates there and the next minutes there’s just a mist nothing and whether it be our soldier or an enemy soldier that same concept was nothing more in my mind nothing more, more striking
indelible in your mind forever is to be present when a human being just disappears. You’re talking to them and they’re there and you’re just talking and the next minute there’s an unholy bang and the next minute all you’ve got, the next second all you’ve got is a mist and yet that person you could’ve known for months, years and everything’s just simply gone in a
microsecond of a bang. There’s nothing, literally nothing and I think that to me will always be the most important legacy of war to me is to remind me and hopefully to remind others that just how useless and stupid and fruitless it is sending young people to war I mean
unfortunately we may have to do it and I don’t have a problem of going to war for the right reasons but I’ve got problems going to war where the reasons aren’t right and people dying. We owe it to our young people not to send them to those places for sure. Yeah the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is probably the most, the most
important thing for me in terms of concept. It’s a bit like Anzac Day, I’ll never go to the dawn service, I refuse. I just can’t go and listen to the last post I just can’t go. It just brings back too many memories of those sorts of images. I often used to wonder when some of my folks’ friends my parents’ friends who’d on Anzac and
the old blokes would cry and break down and I thought, geez that a bit, you know what’s all that about you know they’ve got a bit of a problem and of course having been in action myself for a fair period of time I now appreciate entirely what causes that and why it happens and I think it’s a very healthy thing because it at least allows tings to come out but
How would you like to be remembered as a Vietnam Veteran?
Well I would like people not to remember me as a Vietnam Veteran. I don’t see myself as a Vietnam Veteran at all. I was a regular army soldier who served in a
number of conflicts Vietnam was one I’d just like people to think of me as a veteran and not put a label on it and I think in many respects the putting of a label on people confines them to and destiny to a particular thing and you call people Vietnam Veterans and sure some people only went to Vietnam but forever in their life they’re going to be indelibly linked to,
publicly to with all the garbage that went on with Vietnam and they’re never going to leave that behind but for myself personally I’d be just happy if, well I don’t want people to remember me at all to be quite frank but if they need to then they say “Harry was a Veteran and he served in the Australian army,” great and I’ll be really happy with that
I’ll rephrase my question how would you like people to remember the Vietnam War?
Never really thought of that, that’s a good questions. Uh… I think the most equitable way to think of the Vietnam War was that it was… it was a place that we went and fought and served and died in…
for the right reasons at the time. That the war didn’t pan out the way that people thought it should which was mainly in my view a television, an issue of press and media. I mean you just simply cannot have
the press in my view there is no room in combat or in those sorts of situations for television crews and the press beyond official war historical people. You simply cannot take a television camera, you can it was done, but you cannot take a television camera or a sixteen mil [millimetre] cine camera whatever they had in the time into a combat situation
and then beam that real live back into everyone’s lounge room so that parents see their kids being killed and expect to be able to prosecute a war you can’t do that because ultimately you will turn the nation against you. The moment body bags come home the moment it becomes personal the press have this unholy
requirement that they need to sell newspapers and television time and so we’ve got armchair experts commentating, it’s a bit like watching the Olympics I mean got a whole lot of people including a whole lot of has-beens sitting back there telling you what someone’s thinking or doing or what they’re going to do or what they should do when they haven’t got a clue in hell and of course they report back in finite detail
all the good things, very few of the goods things and a whole lot of the bad things of war and unfortunately there are more bad things in war than there are good things. So it’s very easy to focus on things which ordinary folk would think was reprehensible as things that you shouldn’t go on and so it distorts what’s going on.
I mean wars are distorting enough as it is without someone with a television camera doing the same thing. But that’s the nature of the Americans you’ve got to have a TV camera shoved in our nose it doesn’t matter what you do and ultimately they pay the price as they’re doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. They’ll pay the price of having television cameras at war, again and sad as it is.
So what would you like the legacy of the Vietnam War to be?
I think the best legacy from Vietnam is for the nation to remember that the government of the day, the elected government of the day
for all probably the right reasons at the time that they thought were right at the time and they were elected for that sent troops to Vietnam. And that despite the fact that the nation later didn’t like Vietnam, turned against Vietnam was never a reason to turn against the troops who served there and the legacy I’d like is for the nation to remember Vietnam and remember never ever to
take a personal front against the very troops who go overseas to underwrite their rights and freedoms that to take it out on the government and not on the troops, not on the soldiers and men and women of the defence force. That’s what I would like the legacy to be the nation to actually remember that every time and say we will not make that mistake again. Take it out on the government but under no circumstances take it out on the very people who were sent there to,
to underwrite the nationals freedoms and rights, privileges because that’s exactly what happened. And it’s true to say that not everyone did that but the vast majority did and I know even in my own family I saw the way it polarised my father and his attitude to it and he became a different bloke over Vietnam
and I don’t know why, to this day I don’t know why I never ever got it out of him it wasn’t political he just said it was wrong. He never took it out on me but I think that was a – he was a good mark of the rest of the community they just felt that Vietnam was so wrong and there were those people in the community that felt it was wrong and didn’t have a crack at
the defence force people but there was a big majority of people who said it was wrong probably the same reasons as my father, whatever they were, but targeted the defence force, targeted the soldiers rightly or wrongly. And the press did it. You know they were baby killers and things, you were, I mean I always remember that people said, “Oh that terrible napalm
and all that sort of crap but it failed to understand that – that a lot of the burns you saw on television were not napalm they were caused by white phosphorous which is a horribly insidious damn thing. I saw very few people burnt with napalm. I saw a lot of people killed by napalm but one of the roles of
napalm was to deprive an area of oxygen and so a lot of the – most effective in tunnels and close quarter areas where it sucks massive amounts of oxygen out of the air and asphyxiates people. You find a lot of people dead and nothing wrong with them, that’s napalm. So you know there’s a lot of misconceptions about things but it’s the past. I think let’s just remember that not to do what we did there again and simply
move on and not repeat it for the conflicts that we’re in now.
On that Harry thank you so much for today it’s just been an absolute pleasure, thank you. Thank you.