Archive number: 795
Date interviewed: 18 September, 2003
Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
Royal Military College, Duntroon
You are listening to the interview audio
To start with thank you very much for doing this Adrian.
Without your help the archive wouldn’t exist, so before we start I would just like to express the thanks of everyone involved. Let’s start with a summary and the best place to start is where you were born, and a little bit about your family.
I was born in Sydney in 1933 and lived for three years there in Gordon on the North Shore line. At the age of three or nearly the age of four, we moved to England where my father had a job. He was chairman of the International Wool Secretariat
and we stayed in England until the start of the Second World War. Not long after the start of the Second World War we moved to America for a short while and then came back to Australia. I then continued school in Sydney and in 1946 we moved down to Melbourne where my father had another job with the CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation]. I did all my secondary schooling in Melbourne. In 1952
I went to Duntroon and did a four year course there, graduated in 1955 into the Infantry Corps, and from then on continued on with a 38-year military career, retiring from the army in 1990. Since retiring from the army I have been involved in a number of other activities, which we can probably go into in due course, which takes us up to the present day very rapidly.
A 38-year military career though, we’d liked to go through a
summary of the different aspects of that. After your graduation from RMC [Royal Military College], what postings did you have from there on?
The first posting I had was to 13 National Service Battalion. In my day nearly everyone graduated into National Service. The National Service Scheme had begun in 1951, I believe it was, and it was a three month compulsory service for every
eighteen year old. So we were all, unwillingly I might say, posted into National Service Units. However, it was a pretty good experience. The young fellas came in to do a three month course and then after they finished that three month course, they were required to do I think 5 years in the CMF [Citizens’ Military Force], as it was called in those days. It would now be called the Reserve. They came in, in various intakes. They came in as
university intakes or country intakes, or city intakes, and they all had very different characteristics, as you might imagine. The most practical and the easiest to teach were the country boys. In fact in one intake, I had a group of Broken Hill miners. They came in I think, as part of a country intake and I think the entire platoon that I had were Broken Hill miners. The interesting thing about them was that they
were all on what was called a “Silver Lead Bonus” in those days, so they in fact hired an aircraft to bring them down to Sydney. Now when you think of eighteen year olds in 1956 having enough money to hire an aircraft to bring themselves down to Sydney, it is rather unusual. They were an extraordinary bunch. They were the easiest group of young fellas I’ve ever had to deal with. They took to military service extraordinarily well and I discovered the reason for this in due
course, because they were used to working underground in small groups, rather like military organisations. They were used to taking direction from an individual, who was a leader, and they were used to looking after each other. They worked in a dangerous environment and they had no difficulty in adapting to the military system whatsoever. In fact they were extraordinarily good. They were so good that we even promoted some of them even during that very brief period and they maintained discipline on the others with a very
firm hand. The country boys were always good. The city boys were rather different and the university intakes were probably some of the most difficult, the least practical and most difficult but they had their own characteristics and strengths as well. It was a system that I think had some value for the community in the general sense. In fact I’ve met on or two people after
National Service many years later, who remembered me as a young platoon commander and made the point that they thought that three months National Service did them a tremendous amount of good. I did about 18 months in National Service and then was posted to the 1st Battalion, the Pacific Islands regiment in Papua New Guinea. I did a three year stint there.
In those days there was only one battalion, it was part of the Australian Army and it was a very well disciplined, and effective unit. We spent a certain amount of time in Port Moresby where the Headquarters was and spent a certain amount of time on out stations in six months stints. I spent six months or seven months up at Vanimo on the then Dutch border of Papua New Guinea,
and another six months or so in Manus Island where we had two company out stations. The Vanimo posting or period of time was very isolated. There was only the company of PIR [Pacific Islands Regiment], there was a missionary across the bay and there was a medical assistant, an administration medical assistant living up on the hill, and that was it. We had one plane that came in once a week bringing supplies
and there we were for seven months, and our main task was patrolling into the Hinterland from the north coast down into the Sepik area. To some degree we were pioneers although there had been some contact with the people on the coast certainly, for a long period of time. Some of the people in the Hinterland had very little contact at all with the administration, so in one sense we were assisting the administration of PNG [Papua New Guinea]
and the patrols of the administration did pretty much the same sort of thing as we were doing. In Manus it was rather different. Manus was a big naval base in those days, Australian Naval Base. There was that contact with the naval base which produced far more civilised activity than living in Vanimo, and also there were a lot of visiting naval vessels coming in, American, British, French and
Australian, coming into the Manus base. The three years in PNG were interesting and the soldiers were of course very different to Australians. In those days not many of them spoke English. You had to speak what was called neo-Melanesian or pidgin, to them. There were some English speakers but not many. Most of them had come from
semi-tribal backgrounds, I suppose you’d call it. If you walked along a platoon of the PIR, you would see a number of them with tattooed faces, holes through their noses, with ears that were looped up because they had been stretched down to their waist, so they had to loop them back up the top, and even some who’d had their heads bound as children, so that their heads came to pretty much a point. These were people from
the New Britain area. So they were rather an interesting group and certainly visiting officers from down south who had not had much experience of them were fascinated by their appearance. They were good value in the bush. They tended to look after their platoon commander. In fact on one occasion we were crossing a river up in the Sepik area and it was a
tidal river, and there would have been certainly crocodiles there, possibly sharks I suppose, but certainly crocodiles, and there was no way they would let me cross without a full protective element on all sides. There were very worried because they said the sharks were certainly attracted to the white, white skins, and not to black skins. The “salt water boys”, as they were called,
were quite happy to swim with crocodiles and with sharks. They certainly did want to swim with crocodiles or sharks while there was a white man in the water because they thought that the sharks and crocodiles were attracted to white skin. Whether that was true or not, I’m not sure. Anyway they were good value and I had about eighteen months as a platoon commander. I was company 2IC [Second in Command] and then an adjutant of the regiment.
Was there an element of establishing
jungle warfare tactics while you were in PNG or was it basic training?
No it wasn’t basic training. The PIR had a specific role. It wasn’t a conventional military role. If they had been used in war…they were used in the Second World War of course, or their forerunners, but if they had been used in war, they would have been used as guides for Australian units and local knowledge. They would have had to fight as well but
fundamentally that would have been their purpose.
What was your next posting after the Pacific Battalion?
After the Pacific Islands Regiment I came back to Australia and spent a very brief time in what was called Army Headquarters in Melbourne, doing a very nondescript job there, which is not probably worth going into. Following that Army Headquarters moved to Canberra in 1961 and we moved
with it, or elements of Army Headquarters moved to Canberra. In 1962 I was posted to the 1st Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam.
What was your rank at this stage?
Can you tell us a bit about your role in the Australian Army Training Team?
The Australian Army Training Team was a very unusual unit. There had certainly been nothing like it before as far as I know and probably up to the present day, we do find
a few Australians training the new Iraqi Army. Whether it is similar to the AATTV [Australian Army Training Team Vietnam], I’m not sure, but the object of the exercise was to get Australia involved in spreading the tactical and jungle training doctrine, which we had been brought up on, into the South Vietnamese Army. Now to put it in context, we sent a team of 30 people over in 1962.
The Americans at that stage had about 12,000 people in the country. Some of them were advisers doing the same sort of thing as we were doing. Others were in fact providing the administrative and logistic support for the South Vietnamese Army, and others still, were flying helicopters. For instance, all the helicopters that were flown for the South Vietnamese Army at that stage were United States Marine helicopters. Our job was theoretically advising
them on how to train. Of course there were many difficulties involved in that particular exercise because if you’re advising people on training, you theoretically should be able to speak the language. We didn’t speak Vietnamese. Subsequently people did have language training. So generally speaking, we had to work through interpreters. The South Vietnamese
at that stage, most of them, certainly the senior people, had been part of the French Colonial army. They, I think, preferred the French to the Americans, at that stage of the game anyway. Most of them, senior NCOs and officers, spoke French. Not a large number spoke English but they were just beginning to pick up English. One or two did. So from that point of view it was fairly difficult. Now the situation in South Vietnam at the time was interesting I think because
the Americans had been in there as advisers but the South Vietnamese Army was in the process of getting well and truly knocked around. From time to time while we were there, you’d hear reports of a South Vietnamese battalion being completely wiped out. It began to look very much like the same situation the French had been in, in the north some years before.
In fact when we got to Vietnam we were divided up and sent to different areas, and I was sent to a place called Phu Bai, which is just south of the old Imperial capital of Hue towards the North of the country, in what was then or what used to be called Annam, not very far from the border between North and South Vietnam. The Americans at that stage were firmly convinced that
it was going to be a second Korea. In other words, there was going to be an invasion from the north across the border, and therefore they equipped and trained the South Vietnamese Army as a conventional army. They gave them trucks and they equipped them very much in their own image, but of course the war at that stage, was not that sort of war at all. It was partially a guerrilla war but partially a sort of limited conventional war as well
and the Vietnamese were not particularly well equipped to cater for the war they were in. Subsequently there were major incursions from the north of course but it never developed into a Korea style war. I think that was one of the fundamental mistakes that was made. In fact when we got to Phu Bai, we were part of an American unit, the first thing that we were given was an escape kit and it was a
little packet of various things, food and compass, and what not. We said, “What’s this for?” and they said, “This is for when they come over the border.” I said, “What do we do then?” They said, “Just head for Penang.” That was a pretty good withdrawal plan we thought! Anyway, that’s how things were. The security situation was strange. We would sometimes get contacts with the VC [Viet Cong] in the training area.
Eventually this process continued and we started going out on operations with the South Vietnamese, which was very interesting. It became quite obvious that their training and their techniques were very different to ours, and in some ways quite deficient. It didn’t mean that they weren’t courageous. They were. Some of the units were quite courageous and would fight very well but they certainly weren’t trained in the same
way that we were, and they certainly used different methods, and their security in the field was vastly different to ours. They used to talk a lot. They used to carry live animals with them, chickens for food. Of course there was always a bloody great noise and it was vastly different to the way that we would operate in the field. But our purpose was to try and inject some of our tactics and techniques
into the system. I think we were partially successful but only successful in a very limited way. The South Vietnamese Army certainly became about 600 000 strong. What it was at that stage I’m not sure but it was very large anyway and the degree to which we could inject our techniques into a system as big as that, I think was strictly limited, and the degree to which the Americans could do it too. Of course the other interesting thing was that the Americans were working on
somewhat different techniques to ours anyway. The Americans were not versed in the same sort of jungle techniques that we were versed in. So it was an interesting situation but we got on pretty well.
What was your personal title and role within the Training Team?
I was called a Senior Adviser. The team that I was with,
there were three captains, one lieutenant, and the rest were warrant officers, and sergeants. In fact subsequently every sergeant was made up to warrant officer in the Training Team but in those days there were sergeants and warrant officers. So they were a fairly low level bunch. In fact the senior officer in that group
of 30, who was actually in the field, was a major, in one of the other places. We were part of an American unit and under an American lieutenant colonel.
Were you involved in training American trainers?
No, certainly not. Well, we certainly weren’t involved in training Americans. We were working with Americans. I mean we just fitted in as part of an American training team and
we injected our own ideas into the system. The Americans picked up some of our ideas and didn’t pick up others, and the same with the South Vietnamese. I mean we were in very large organisations and we had some effect but I think it was limited. Of course the Training Team in due course, continued with that role but it also adopted a role of going out on operations
with the South Vietnamese. In due course some of our warrant officers actually lead South Vietnamese companies.
What were the rules associated with that kind of thing?
In what sense?
Associated with you becoming active in leading South Vietnamese companies?
That happened after my time. We went on operations with the South Vietnamese but not in any command capacity. Subsequently when they were actually
commanding them, they just did command them. Now of course there were difficulties. There were difficulties in the language. There were difficulties of training and the way that people would operate in situations, in difficult situations. Of course there are examples of South Vietnamese troops of whatever description, just leaving their advisers for dead. Now that didn’t happen all the time but it did happen on occasions, so it was a very
difficult situation for a so called adviser to be in, who wasn’t an adviser anyway at that stage. The South Vietnamese were varied in standard. The Regular Army had about ten divisions I think in those days and they varied in standard. Some of the units, such as the Ranger Units, were certainly effective and would fight. They were certainly courageous but the problem with the South Vietnamese Army
was that it was very badly lead in many ways. They didn’t get paid appropriately. In fact the way that pay was pushed down the line was that the commander of a unit or a base, would get a bucket of money and it would be his responsibility to pay his troops. He paid them as much or as little as he thought fit and he pocketed what was
left, so it meant that quite often troops weren’t getting paid. They certainly didn’t have proper leave. Most of them were peasant farmers and when the rice harvest was due in, some of them would just take off. That’s not unusual for armies of that type and certainly not unique to the South Vietnamese. But they were likeable people. We got on quite well with them and they did vary in standard.
Some advisers you will find will stick up for them and say they were first class, and they probably were dealing with good people. Others will have a more jaundiced view but they were certainly mixed.
You were there very early on in the process, what happened after that in your career, after the tour with the Team ended?
I came back and I joined 1st Battalion in the Royal Australian Regiment, which was then a battle group. The battle group
structure was an interesting one. It was introduced in 1963 and it was an attempt to follow an American organisation. The irony of it was that while we were going on to this organisation, the Americans were coming off, which has a few lessons in it I think quite frankly. What it was, instead of having an infantry battalion of about 800 men, you had what was essentially
an infantry battalion called a battle group, of about 1500 men. You had much larger companies and there was a higher command structure. The CO [Commanding Officer] was a full colonel instead of a half colonel [lieutenant colonel] and so on. It was a system we used for a while and then when Vietnam started in earnest, in other words we sent battalions to Vietnam. We went back to the old battalion structure. So the lesson there was don’t
try and follow your major ally blindly, and look a little bit more closely at what you are doing. So I joined that organisation. I was a staff officer for a while and then I became a company commander in 1 RAR [1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment] for about nearly two years.
What happened after that?
After that I was posted to the Officer Training Unit in Scheyville. The Officer Training Unit in Scheyville was another unique
organisation, unique to the Vietnam era, in that it was set up in 1965 specifically to train National Service officers and it lasted for the duration of the Vietnam War, and then disappeared. The second National Service Scheme was being introduced at that point, 1965 I suppose it started, and
they thought that it would be necessary because the army was expanding, to produce officers from the National Service men that came in. The way that was done essentially was to ask the National Service, they came in for two years of course in that scheme, to ask them if they had any aspirations, if they had the necessary education and psychological profile and so on, and so forth. If they did, they then went up for a selection panel and
were selected or not selected, as the case may be. Those who were selected came to Scheyville and they did a course, which was about five and a half months. Now this was a very abbreviated course. The Duntroon course was four years. The Portsea course at that stage was a year. This was an abbreviated Portsea course. So we had a very short period of time to put these fellas through and indeed some of them, particularly those going to infantry,
but also to armour and artillery, could go to battalions which were, or units which were, going to Vietnam very shortly after they graduated. So within say eight to nine months of coming in as a National Serviceman off the street, they could be a junior officer in Vietnam. Now that’s a fairly rapid change of pace, to put it mildly. There was a lot of political pressure on OTU [Officer Training Unit] Scheyville
mainly because the hierarchy and the politicians really didn’t know how National Service was going to go for a start, and they certainly didn’t know how young fellas who’d come off the street, would react to officer training. In fact they needn’t have worried because they took it extraordinarily well and we were always absolutely amazed at the spirit, and the desire to graduate,
that these young blokes had. Because we only had a very brief period of time to train them, we had to be very ruthless with the number of people who got through, so some courses, up to 50% were failed in the early days, but par for the course was about one third of the course. Many of these people would have passed on a longer course but we couldn’t take any chances because they were going straight into units and sometimes going straight to Vietnam. Anyway as far as I was concerned, Scheyville was a great success and I
think most people would agree with that. I’ve met a number of Scheyville graduates subsequently who claim that Scheyville was a turning point in their lives and really turned them around. One interesting graduate was the former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, who went through in my day and he always claims that Scheyville had a profound effect on his subsequent career, which I’m sure is true. Anyway that lasted for about eighteen months
to two years and it was very hard work. We sometimes had three courses running simultaneously and I was Senior Instructor Tactics, so I spent most of my time in the field, and with three courses running simultaneously, I spent an awful lot of time in the field. It was well worth it!
What effect did that have on your own career?
I don’t think it had any detrimental effect on my own career but it was an interesting experience and
one, looking back on, I’m very pleased that I was involved with. However I wouldn’t have wanted to do it for too long because it was too intense.
Were you posted to the 8th Battalion after that?
No, I was posted to…I went to Staff College at Queenscliff straight after that and spent a year there, and after Staff College I went to the 8th Battalion in Malaya.
Can you tell us
what you did and what your role was there?
When I was first posted to the 8th Battalion it had previously arrived in Malaya about three months before I got there and it was part of 28th Commonwealth Brigade, which was a brigade of British, Australian and New Zealand elements. There was one battalion from each country. All the other units were mixed.
The commanders of the brigade were alternatively Australian, British and New Zealand. The staff was mixed and so on. So it was a very interesting brigade and the 8th had been posted there, a posting that had been going on in that form for quite some time at that point. I was posted as the operations officer of the 8th Battalion. I subsequently in
Malaya became the 2IC of the battalion and spent about eighteen months there, and we came home in 1969, about May 1969. The battalion had only just been formed before it went to Malaya. It was formed in 1966 so it was a very new battalion and I think we were very fortunate that we had two years in Malaya
before we came home, and went to Vietnam, because that allowed the battalion to settle down, and to get its tactics and techniques sorted out. Other battalions weren’t quite as fortunate. They were formed and then went to Vietnam fairly rapidly but we did a lot of very good training there. We did a lot of training in the Malayan jungle at brigade level and even
division level, and it was of great importance to us. At the same time we could look at what was going on in Vietnam and pick the eyes of the lessons that were being learnt there at that period of time. So from that point of view we were very fortunate. At the same time it was a very pleasant posting. The brigade had the brigade area, in near Malacca, Terendak.
It had been built by the three governments in the early sixties and it was a very, very comfortable brigade; very good married quarters, beach clubs and things like that, which made life very pleasant, and most people really enjoyed their two year stay there, although we did a lot of very good training at the same time.
You were married yourself at this time?
Yes, I was married and we started off living in
the suburb of Malacca, which wasn’t particularly marvellous but we then moved into Terendak, into a married quarter. The whole system was run on the British system where everything was very stratified and depending on your rank, the standard of quarter given to you was vastly different, as you went up the chain. It was a bit different to our system but it was a very pleasant two years.
After that you came back and prepared the battalion to go to Vietnam?
Yes. We came back and we spent six months in Australia, and then went to Vietnam in November of 1969. Now that period of time in Australia was a very intense period because we were building up to Vietnam. The system that applied at that stage was a very good system and I believe that we
sent probably the best trained units that we’ve ever put overseas, to Vietnam. We were of course half National Service. Half our soldiers below the rank of corporal were National Servicemen and we had a few National Service officers, so it was a fifty/fifty split essentially, which was a very good mix. You had the old experienced regulars and you had the National Servicemen, and after a while no one knew who was a Reg, and who was a National Serviceman. You couldn’t care less anyway.
So it worked very well. This was in marked contrast to the Americans who certainly had a much higher percentage of National Servicemen in their units. They had about 90% in their infantry battalions and that obviously was far too much, far too big of a proportion of their total numbers. Our system worked very well because of that mix I believe. Anyway, this period of six months was a period of intense
training, which gradually built up to an exercise where the battalion was sent to Shoalwater Bay in Queensland, and was put through a testing exercise. There was a testing system set up and everyone from the battalion commander down, was being tested to see whether the battalion was effective, whether they were effective in their own jobs, and so on and so forth. During that exercise in some battalions,
certain company commanders were weeded out and told they weren’t going because they didn’t measure up. Fortunately that didn’t happen to us. I think everyone who went in came out but we came out pretty well and by the time we had finished that exercise, I think we were all pretty confident that we could go to Vietnam, and do a pretty good job, which was the case in fact. It was a very good training system and we were lucky I suppose, having come back from
Malaya, we did change a number of people over when we came back, but we had pretty much the hard core of the battalion remaining. We did have a new CO. He was posted on our return from Malaya and apart from that, one or two company commanders were posted in but the hard core remained pretty much the same, and that was very useful.
You spent a year’s tour as 2IC in Vietnam?
What period was that between?
November ’69 to November ’70.
What was the progress of your career when you came back from the war?
I came back in November 1970 and at that point
I was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and I became the CO of the battalion. Our CO in Vietnam was posted out and I stayed CO of the 8th for about six months until I was posted to the American Commanding General Staff College at Leavenworth. I then did a year at Leavenworth and six months down at Fort Benning, which was the School of Infantry, and then came back,
and I commanded the 8th Battalion again until it became the 8th/9th Battalion in about October 1973. I continued on as CO of the 8th/9th until the end of 1974.
After that what major postings did you have?
Well after that I went to the Joint Services Staff College down here for six months.
I then had a short period in Army Office, only the second time I’d been in Army Office and again only for a very short period. I was then posted as the DMA [at Duntroon, virtually the Deputy Commandant]. The “DMA” was an old historical term meaning the Director of Military Art but in effect the Deputy Commandant who is responsible for the training of the cadets.
At that stage of course, Duntroon was a university college in one sense. It was part of the University of New South Wales as well as being a military college and that produced all sorts of interesting difficulties, and problems. In my day of course, it was purely a military college with some academic education. It had then become in 1969, this mixture of
academic college and military college with not only a commandant but a dean and a large academic staff who were responsible to the University of New South Wales, not to the army, so that produced all sorts of difficulties, and interesting problems, which to some degree have probably carried on but some of them have probably been solved as well.
After your period as the DMA?
I was posted as the commander of the 4th Military District in Adelaide and I was there for two years, and then was posted as Head of Defence Staff to London in 1983, no hang on, end of ’82.
How long were you in London for?
I was in London for two years and I arrived just about three weeks before the Falkland Islands War blew up, so it was a very interesting time to be there, and interesting to see how the Brits handled that situation, which they did very effectively I might say.
How did your career wind up in the army?
Well when I finished in London I was posted back to the 1st Division in Enoggera in Brisbane, as the commander. I had two years there and then I came down as the Chief of Operations in Canberra. I was Chief of Ops from the end of ’85 till early ’90, and that was the finish.
Interviewee: Adrian Clunies-Ross Archive ID 0795 Tape 02
Can you tell us in summary what happened in your career after you left the army?
I’ve been involved in a number of different activities. I’ll just run through some of them. I was president of the Regular Defence Force Welfare Association, which is an organisation set up to look after veterans’
entitlements essentially. I was president for four years and I’m still a trustee of one of their funds. I was on the Queen’s Trust for Young Australians, the ACT branch, which was an organisation. It is not called the Queen’s Trust any more. It has got another name, which escapes me at the moment. It was set up to provide money for young Australians who
have some particular talent in some field, to give them a chance to study either overseas or in Australia, and I was on that for about four or five years I suppose. Really what that involved was interviewing people who had put in applications and then making grants or otherwise, to them for whatever they wanted to do. I’ve been on the Defence Committee of the RSL [Returned and Services League] for about
10 or 11 years and I’ve been chairman of the committee for about six. That committee exists to lobby the government on defence issues. I’m still chairman of that organization.
I was appointed to the council of the War Memorial in 1996 and I’ve been on that council since then, and in 2000 I was selected as the chairman of the council, and I’m still the chairman. I have also been appointed to the council of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which was an organization set up by government about two years ago
to provide them with alternative strategic and defence advise. I’m on that council and I’m the deputy chair of the council. That organization exists to provide advice and it does this essentially by producing papers on the strategic and defence issues. It is funded by the government, which is rather unusual, but it provides independent
advice. Some of that advice is palatable to government and some of it isn’t terribly palatable but that was the object of the exercise. Anyway it was set up by present government and it has generally had a pretty good run I think. It produced a paper on the Solomon Islands not long ago and within a few weeks of that paper being produced, we had in fact deployed to the Solomons with troops and the police. Whether our paper had
an effect on that is hard to say but I think it had some effect. Whether it had a total effect is probably difficult to say but it certainly had some effect on government policy. So that’s another organization that takes a fair bit of time. I’m also the president of the Royal Australian Regiment Foundation, which is a foundation set up in 1991 to
provide money for the serving soldiers of the RAR, and I have been president of that organization almost from the start, and I’m still the president of that organization. So those are things that keep me fairly well occupied.
I’d love, if we have time at the end of the interview, to explore some of your opinions on the current defence issues facing Australia today.
One question that comes up through that, in your role at the War Memorial and from your career
in the military, how do you see Australia’s attempts to remember war and the way in which the Anzac tradition is used today?
I think we’ve done a very good job of it actually, overall. The War Memorial is a unique organisation. I say unique because many countries have war memorials but no country has a war memorial and a museum
combined that I know of. The Imperial War Museum [London] is purely a museum. It is not a memorial in any shape or form. None of the American memorials have a museum aspect, although of course they have magnificent museums but we are the only one that combines the two and I think from the point of view of a military museum, it is probably the best military museum in the world. In fact I can’t think of any other and no one has ever
been able to tell me of another institution which is better, and I’ve seen a few of them myself, and of course if you listen to other people. So I think from that point of view we have done extraordinarily well. As far as the Anzac tradition is concerned, the RSL has always been very keen to ensure that the Anzac spirit lives on and that people understand it, particularly the young, and I think for a period of time after the Second
World War up to about ten years ago perhaps, the Anzac spirit, and the Anzac tradition, seemed to be dying somewhat. Ten years ago, perhaps ten years ago but certainly a few years ago, it started to revive and from then on it has revived very strongly, and it is probably stronger now than it has been at any stage, certainly since the Second World War. But
also perhaps it is as strong as it has ever been I suppose. Of course in the past when you had Anzac Day parades when I was young, you’d have Boer War veterans and you’d have thousands of World War I veterans marching, and then World War II veterans, and then gradually the Boer War people died out, and the World War I people became less, and less until they just practically don’t exist any more, and even the World War II people are getting pretty scarce, but
the tradition seems to be living on in a different way. It seems to have an attraction to the young of the country, which you see by the attendance at the dawn services. For instance we had 15 000 people at the dawn service this year and then a large number at the service during the morning, and a number of people go across to Gallipoli every year, and so it seems to be very strong.
How relevant is that in Australian contemporary society?
I think it is very relevant. It is part of our history. It is an essential element of our history. It is trite to say Australia became a nation in the First World War but I think it is largely true in the sense that the colonies didn’t federate until 1901, and that was only 13 years before the start of the First World War, and were still thinking of themselves
pretty much as independent elements but certainly the First World War brought it all together.
Can you tell us a bit about your father and what sort of bloke he was?
Yes, I suppose I can. He started off as a scientist on the veterinary side.
That’s how he began. In the 1930’s he did a number of surveys for the Australian government on sheep and wool, and he became what was considered to be an expert on the wool industry. He did these in Mongolia. Someone had thought that they could establish a wool industry in Mongolia and he did the survey in the middle
1930’s, and determined that it would be rather difficult to establish a wool industry, although I do believe it has been established in recent years. He spent some time studying in the Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo in the 1930’s. He also did some postgraduate work in Cambridge in the 1920’s and in the 1930’s he got the job of
chairman of the International Wool Secretariat in London, which was an organization set up to market wool. It consisted of Australia, Britain, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa and they set about marketing wool throughout the world, and it is an organization that continued on for a long period of time but it has now changed its name, and the current name escapes me. Wool Corporation?
It sort of merged into the Wool Board, Wool Corporation. I’m not sure what the current title is. In 1946 he became one of the heads of part of the CSIRO and 1949 became chairman of the CSIRO, and he was chairman of the CSIRO
His professional career is very well known. I was thinking on more of a personal level. What sort of father was he?
Very good, very interesting man. Had a tremendous number of interests, was very interested in what was going on in the world, and what was going on in the scientific world. He’d also had a job as a delegate to the League of Nations before the war
as well, so he had quite a wide variety of experiences and had commented on current affairs, and international affairs quite widely on the radio in the 1940’s. He was a very interesting and very pleasant father to have. He died quite prematurely I might say. He was only just 60 when he died.
was your family? Brothers and sisters?
Two brothers and one adopted sister. My two brothers are still alive, one living in Scotland and one living in Melbourne.
Where did you come in the family?
And your mum?
My mother? She was born in Sydney.
I suppose one of the most unusual things about her was that she actually attended university in the 1920’s and there weren’t very many women attending university at that stage. She in fact had been dux of her school. She went to MLC [Methodist Ladies’ College] in Burwood. She’d been dux of the school. She was academically inclined. When my father died, she actually went back into the academic world in criminology and she
became a lecturer in criminology at the University of Melbourne. She became quite well known in that field for a number of years. She’s now dead. She was a very intellectually motivated person. She read a tremendous amount and thought a lot about what was going on in various aspects of life.
So I suppose it was quite an academic family. My eldest brother became an academic. He went to Cambridge after the University of Melbourne and he got first class honours in economics. They call it something else in Cambridge but it was economics essentially and he’s virtually
been an academic economist most of his life, and still is, although he has retired. He’s writing books on economies and essentially what he became expert in was the economies of developing countries. My younger brother became a businessman. He began his career working for a British firm in Hong Kong and Japan, and then started his own importing business in Melbourne
called Clunies-Ross Packman. They specialised in wallpapers in fact and they were quite well known for a period of time. He sold out some years ago and has been writing novels ever since.
Your family does come from quite an interesting dynasty from the Cocos Islands. How much did you feel the weight of that history behind you as you were growing up?
To a certain degree. In the
1940’s and ‘50’s, and up to probably the end of the ’70s, the Cocos Islands were pretty well known in Australia, and what was going on there. Yes, it had an effect I suppose. People always identified you with it even though we had nothing directly to do with it. In fact it was my great grandfather and his brother who went there in the first instance, and they threw the fellow
who was on the islands off, and established their own settlement. The brother stayed on the islands. My great grandfather didn’t and eventually his side of the family came to Australia. In fact that was presented to him in 1850. He was captain of a merchantman. So yes,
it had an effect and it came with a certain amount of prominence in early 1946, 1947, when they sold their interests in Christmas Island because they had, they and the Murray family, had large interests in the phosphates on Christmas Island, and in the ’40s they sold that to the British Phosphate Company, I think it was, and that achieved a lot of publicity.
So we were always sort of hounded by the Cocos Islands and various other things that went with it.
When you were growing up did you ever get to go over there?
No, actually I’ve never been there. I’ve been past it by sea. The last so called King of the Cocos Islands now lives in Perth and we went to visit him a couple of years ago when we were there. The interesting thing about the Cocos’ is when
the family was running it, it was very well run and it looked after itself. It ran on copper essentially. Since the Australian government took over, it has become an absolute shambles. They are all on welfare and quite a number of them have left the island, and have gone to Perth or other places. There is still a population there but it has been a bit of a disaster quite frankly,
post the family. Of course the reverse was supposed to be the case. When the family left it was all supposed to become better than it had been but that didn’t occur. It was a bit of an anachronism and something would have happened at some stage. The way it did occur was not particularly edifying. It was in fact
the Labour government in the 1970s which pushed them off the islands and they were treated rather unfairly I believe, or very unfairly. Eventually they sold the land to the Australian government and then they remained in the house, which had been built in the 19th century, and
eventually they got out of that as well. So they left entirely. There is an Australian administration on the islands now. It had a very large airfield on the west island, which used to be part of the normal civil run from Australia to South Africa, but now they fly over it, and it was an RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] base. In fact all the wounded coming back from Vietnam used to stop off there, on the Cocos,
on the way home.
Coming from that background, did that effect how you felt about being part of the British Empire?
I suppose so. I mean we grew up as part of the British Empire anyway. That was how it was. I think certainly,
my parents would have felt themselves to be part of the British Empire but very much Australians. When I grew up yes, we were still part of the British Empire, although it was probably called the Commonwealth then. When did it become the Commonwealth? I’m not quite sure, sometime after the Second World War anyway. But certainly yes, I suppose we felt that we were part of the British Empire, but there was no contradiction in that,
in being part of the British Empire and being an Australian.
Conversations at the dinner table in your house were they political or were they more…?
They covered everything, politics, science, anything, any current issue that was going on. My parents were both avid readers and we grew up with books that we were encouraged to read, which we did.
So I think we grew up with a pretty wide view of what was going on in the world. My father had a lot of interesting visitors who’d come to the house, Americans, Brits, whoever. So we grew up meeting people who were interesting, who had interesting backgrounds and had some significance in some cases. For instance, I do remember meeting
Bob Menzies on a couple of occasions. Once when he was out of office in about 1948 or ’49, when he came to see my father over something or other, and I met him once subsequently when I was at Duntroon. Yes, well we did have some connection with interesting people. In fact, on one occasion I can remember meeting Billy Hughes. When I was at Duntroon,
my father and mother came up for something or other, and in the foyer of the old Canberra Hotel, and in came old Billy Hughes, who was about 80 something or other at that stage, pretty decrepit. He latched onto my father. He knew my father and he latched onto him, and had quite an interesting conversation. He was still a very lively character even at that age.
As you were growing up, how interested were you in the politics of the day?
I think fairly interested actually. I was probably fairly reasonably well informed. I’ve always been interested in politics and what’s going on in the world, and certainly we were encouraged to think, and talk, and have an interest in those sorts of things, perhaps more so than most. I was certainly interested in politics, in what was going on in the world essentially,
not politics as such but what in fact was happening in the world.
What sort of young bloke were you? How would you describe yourself?
Oh, I don’t know. I was interested in sport. I liked sport. I liked physical activity. I was interested in academic subjects, particularly history. I think history has always been a direct interest of mine and
I still read anything to do with history. I still read quite avidly. So, I don’t know. I’m fairly normal, certainly had a lot of sporting interests, which was not abnormal in those days.
What in particular?
Rugby, tennis, athletics, cricket to some degree.
I started off in a rugby school in Sydney, a rugby playing school, and finished off in a Melbourne school, which was substantially Aust Rules but also had a rugby team, surprisingly enough. So I continued to play rugby but we did play a bit of Aust Rules, and played rugby and Aust Rules at Duntroon. I’ve always played a lot of tennis and still do.
You went to the UK when you were quite young. Do you have any
memories of that period?
Oh yes, quite a few. We lived in Surrey and I’ve got some fairly vivid memories of that time. I suppose the things I have got a clearer memory of is the start of the Second World War. At one point we were all issued with gas masks when the
air raids were about to start, and I can remember seeing a dogfight over southern England with a Spitfire or a Hurricane chasing a German fighter. Now that’s two things that I can remember very clearly. When we left England, we went across to America, must have been 1940 I suppose. We travelled on the Britannic, which was
the third largest P&O [Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company] liner in those days and that stage the U-Boat [Unterseeboot, German submarine] scare was very profound. On the way across we did life boat drills everyday, coming out in the fairly rough weather and everyone getting on the deck, and going through these life boat drills, and half the people being sick, and so forth. So it was a fairly vivid memory.
My mother was sick for most of the way across, so we looked after ourselves. We had on board the Earl of Athlone, who was going across to be the Governor General of Canada, so we had a three destroyer escort on the way across. I can certainly remember seeing these escorts bucking up and down in the rough weather, which was a fairly vivid memory. In fact my father, who came across subsequently, his ship was hit by
a glancing blow, by a torpedo on the way across. Fortunately it didn’t sink it. They were interesting times. When we got across to America of course, there was no war going on there. Everything was very pleasant. Then eventually, six months later, we went across America by train and hooked up with the P&O, and came across the Pacific, just before the Japanese came into the Second World War, well not just before but a few months before.
So those memories are fairly vivid and of course the start of the Second World War I can still remember. The start of the Japanese War, I can still remember quite vividly. I was going to school and some woman said, “The Japanese have just hit Pearl Harbor.” I can remember that quite vividly. I took a great interest in what was going on in the war. The war was I suppose, the main area of news for many, many years. What was going on in the Russian Front,
what was going on in North Africa, and what eventually went on in Europe after D Day, all these sorts of things. What the Americans were doing in the Pacific. Of course there were a vast number of Americans in Sydney at that point and so it became very obvious that there was a problem. We were also in Sydney when the midget submarine came into Sydney Harbour and that had a profound effect on people too. A lot of people took off.
What do you remember of that incident?
I can remember
people talking about it. At school we all dug trenches. All schools did at that stage and a lot of people had air raid shelters in their gardens. All the schools had trenches dug and we used to practise getting into them. It didn’t take much practice but we used to do that. So the war was very much something…it was just a day to day occurrence. It very much dominated what was going on.
After the midget submarine came into Sydney Harbour, there was a certain amount of panic in Sydney I believe, and a number of people took off, and went out of Sydney, and up into the Blue Mountains or wherever. It was thought that Sydney was quite vulnerable, which I suppose was true up to a point but then things settled down. The midget submarine
attack I think was a large shock to a lot of people. Even though we’d been in the war for a number of years at that point, it hadn’t been brought home to Australia, that it could directly affect us, even though there had been raids on Darwin and in other parts of the north. Those were pretty much suppressed for reasons of morale and not many people knew much about what had been going on in the North.
When that midget submarine attack occurred in Sydney Harbour, there was no way you could suppress that and that had a very profound affect on people’s views of what was going on.
What were your father’s views on the war?
I can remember he was shocked coming back from Britain to Australia because he thought that Australia was very relaxed and laid back about the whole thing. Having come from Britain, which was right at the
fore front of the problem and of course, was under potential invasion and bombing at that time, he was rather shocked I think, at the laid back attitude of Australians to the war. I think that did change. I think the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour did change a lot of that attitude. Even though we’d had troops fighting
for two years at that point, the attitude in Australia was still pretty relaxed. Rationing came in subsequently, and of course that helped to focus people’s attention because you had ration books, and you could only get so much butter, and so many clothes, and so much petrol, and so forth. So that focussed people’s attention.
Your family was obviously fairly well off. How much did that sort of shield you from the
realities of rationing?
I never felt any great problem at all. I don’t think it was really very stringent rationing but there was rationing certainly. You could only get as much as you had in your ration book but quite frankly, I don’t think we ever felt any great stringency. I don’t think we were different to anyone else quite frankly.
What decisions did you make about your possible contribution to the war at that time?
I could make no contribution. I wasn’t old enough.
What about cadets and things like that?
I was a school cadet in the 1940s but don’t think we ever thought of that as a contribution to the war effort. It was something that everyone did in those days and the interesting thing of course was, we were all given rifles and we all took them home.
Both at school in Sydney and the school I went to in Melbourne, you had a point 300 rifle but we took them home, and we just kept them, and went to school with them when required, and the same in Melbourne with the 303. I was in the cadet corps right the way though but cadets was something that everyone did, was expected to do.
I had no problem with being a cadet at all. In fact I quite enjoyed it. I don’t think I ever thought of it as being a contribution to the war effort.
Did you see a possibility that you might go into join the war?
Really I was too young. I was only 11 when the war finished,
so I didn’t see that as a realistic possibility. I mean I developed an interest in going into the army in due course but whether that had much to do with the war or not, I’m not sure. It may have because the war was a very fundamental interest of course, while it was going on. I mean you couldn’t escape it. It was around you all the time and the signs of it were around. I mean there were American troops all over the place. There were Australian troops all over
the place and the news was just full of it. That’s what the news was. It was of what was going on. I mean I grew up I suppose, at a fairly impressionable period of time from the age of about six to the age of about eleven, when everything was war. So I suppose that had some affect. What it had I’m not sure but it probably did.
In your teenage years what did you want to do?
I suppose there were two things I thought about. One was going into the army. The other was doing law. If I hadn’t been selected for Duntroon, I would have done law. I would have attempted to do law and I certainly could have got into university doing law in those days. So those were really the two avenues that I thought about.
I gradually decided that the army was what I wanted to do, so I eventually applied for it.
In your house, what religious upbringing did you have?
My parents were religious but not overly religious. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a minister of the Catholic Apostolic Church, which was a very high
element of the Church of England, not Catholic at all. It was Catholic Apostolic and it was a church which was founded for a very brief…it only lasted for a very brief period of time. He was a minister of that church, so there was a religious element in it. My grandfather on my father’s side had been quite religious. My father was
religious in a sense but not overly religious. We didn’t have religion drummed into us in any shape or form, but it was there. At school of course, religion was part of the activity. There was a religious service every morning at assembly. So religion was always there in the background. It was not something that I was particularly attracted to or fascinated by, but
my elder brother was. He is exceedingly religious and always has been. So the effect on the family was mixed.
Outside your immediate family, who influenced you around that time?
I think we were pretty much influenced by our schoolmasters, to some degree anyway. I mean not all of them by any means, some of them, but certainly there were one or
two who would have had quite a significant influence. My headmaster at Scotch in Melbourne was a fellow called Colin Gilray, who had been an All Black rugby player. He also played for Scotland and he played for Oxford, and he also held two athletics records in the 1940’s at Oxford, which he’d made before the First World War. So he was a pretty effective athlete as well as being a
competent academic. He’d also won a Military Cross in the First World War, so he was the sort of fellow who had this aura of athletic ability but also military record, and also had significant academic record. He was an impressive fellow and I think he probably had some effect on me,
although not direct. I didn’t know him terribly well but some of the other schoolmasters may have had some effect too. I suppose it was my parents more than anything else, who had a far greater effect than anyone else.
What would be the first independent decision you made?
Goodness me! I don’t know, probably going to Duntroon I suppose. That was certainly a decision that I made. It was not a decision
that my parents made in any way. They were quite happy with it but my father’s view on what you should do in life was to make your own decisions. In fact he, almost point blank, refused to provide any advice or encouragement in any particular direction. He thought that was something that you should do for yourself. He was very firm in that regard. In fact my mother used to get quite irritated by that attitude.
She thought that he should provide far more guidance on what his children should do in life but he was firmly convinced they should make up their own minds.
The decision to go to Duntroon was into the army, was there any discussion with your family over that?
Yes, sure. I mean we discussed it and they were more than happy. I can’t say it was a military family but my
three uncles, my father’s three elder brothers, had been in the First World War and two of them didn’t come back, the two middle ones. The eldest one came back pretty much knocked around and he died quite prematurely, so my father, who was the youngest of four, in fact was the only real survivor of that family. So I think that had some effect as well but probably not. No, it was more an attraction. I suppose there’s some historical.
interest in military history and in history in general but it certainly was a decision that I made, and they certainly had no objections.
Interviewee: Adrian Clunies-Ross Archive ID 0795 Tape 03
We mentioned the Anzac tradition a moment ago, what do you remember of Anzac Day growing up?
Not a great deal actually. I think you could always see the marches on the newsreels. We certainly didn’t have television in the early days and they were in the paper but
Anzac Day was there. There were very large marches in the capital cities. It was just something that occurred because there were so many veterans in those days. I suppose that had some significant effect. I certainly remember seeing Anzac Days. I must have gone to one or two marches I suppose because I can remember seeing people in the streets.
From the point of view of any real significance, I’m not sure that it was ever drummed into us that that was a particularly significant day. It was just an accepted day where veterans marched and that was it. It was part of the landscape. I don’t know that the symbolism of it was drummed in to any great deal at all. I think it was just accepted.
Where there any veteran or military role models in your growing up?
My father knew a number of people who were or had been senior officers. For instance Ian Campbell, who was commandant of Duntroon subsequently or the last year that I was a cadet, had been a great friend of my
father’s in his early days, and Victor Windeyer, who became a high court judge, and commander of the 9th Division eventually in the Second World War, was a good friend of my father’s. I can remember meeting Ivan Mackay, who was another World War II general after the Second World War. So I did meet people like that and I suppose that that had some bearing. It was certainly interesting to meet people who’d been in
those sort of situations. From that point of view they did have some effect.
Looking back to the sort of you man you were when you finished school, what were the reasons that made you want to go to Duntroon?
It is hard to say really. I always enjoyed the cadets. I thought the cadet experience was interesting. I liked the
sort of structured view of life and I suppose to some degree the disciplinary element of it. It seemed to be compatible to me. I just thought it was a career that I’d enjoy. I don’t know that I had any deep or significant views on it. It was just a decision I made. At least I knew where I was going. A lot of other people of that age don’t.
I certainly had a fair idea and if I hadn’t gone to Duntroon, I would have done law, so I was pretty firm in that view too.
The Korean War was on at the time, what influence did that have on you joining?
I suppose that may have had some effect actually because I can remember a recruiter. I don’t know what or who he was recruiting for but he must have been recruiting for the Korean War, coming around the school in about 1951 and talking
about Korea. I’m not quite sure why he was there. It may have been just to tell us about Korea but yes that may have had some effect. Korea had just started in my last year of school, or second last year, and maybe that did have some effect.
When you arrived in Duntroon, what was the situation you entered into as a young cadet?
Duntroon was a very military place in those days, more military that it is now, although the civilians might find that hard to believe. It was a four year course of which two years were academic but the academic part of the course was split between the four years, in fact split for three years because the final year was entirely military. The academic part of it
was…there were academic lecturers there but they weren’t part of a university. They were employed by the Department of Defence essentially, although they were civilians and they were treated in exactly the same way as officers were treated. They were saluted and so forth, so it was a very different academic environment to the one that you get now at ADFA [Australian Defence Force Academy] or indeed got before ADFA was started.
Everything was directed towards one end and that was producing an officer at the end of four years.
How did they go about doing that? Can you describe the set up of Duntroon at the time?
When you first arrived there you did what would be equivalent to recruit training in the army. You went out into a camp in the field for four to five weeks and did nothing but military work
outside the Duntroon environment. Then you came back in and the military, and civil work continued from then on but it was a very structured life in the sense that you had no free time, certainly in the first year. In those days the only free time you had was on a Sunday afternoon. Saturday was sport or was work up till midday, then it was sport. Sunday was
church parade in the morning and the afternoon free essentially. You couldn’t go out at night under any circumstances, so it was a very restricted life. I mean it was totally quite different to the current life where they can virtually have a fairly free hand. Church parades cut out at some stage. After the second year I think they cut the church parades out
and then it was voluntary from then on, but church parades were compulsory as well. You didn’t have to go to church but you had to go to church parade. You didn’t have any free time at all. The whole period of time was totally structured.
How did you respond as a young man to this restricted and structured lifestyle?
I didn’t like it much early on but after a while I got used to it. I mean some people had a fairly violent reaction
to it. Some people couldn’t handle it but that was the object of the exercise, was to determine who couldn’t handle it. Some of the people in my class, as in every class, fell out very quickly. Not many but a few and over a period of time it was a process of assessment too, by the senior staff. You were being constantly assessed as to whether you were up to the standard required
and they would assess you really on everything you did, not only military work but your academic work, the way that you performed on the sporting field, and so forth. So everything was being assessed all the time, formally or informally. It was a life that you got used to after a while and after a while it didn’t grate at all.
How were you treated by the senior class?
There was a lot of talk about…
there’s always been a lot of talk about bastardisation at Duntroon. It is usually grossly exaggerated. It wasn’t very bad in my day. There was a bit of putting down the junior class. The junior class was made to feel that they were the junior class, quite inferior but that again, was designed to put pressure on people to see
whether they could handle it or not. It never fussed me unduly and I don’t think it was very bad. I think at some stages subsequent to that it was worse than in my day, to be quite honest with you, but it has been grossly exaggerated. If you look at what people do in university colleges and what has been going on in university colleges, you will find it is far worse than anything that ever went on in Duntroon, and I know that for a fact because I had a son at university college
in Adelaide, and the things that went on there were incomparably worse than anything that ever went on in Duntroon, and included females. Of course in my day we had no females at Duntroon anyway.
What were the methods of initiation or otherwise that occurred in your day?
We had some silly initiation ceremony where we had to carry bricks and do certain things, pretty pathetic really. I mean there’s nothing
unduly hard about it but there was a constant pressure on the junior class. At meal times you’d be asked questions about military things, military history, all sorts of things. There was constant pressure on junior class but it wasn’t too bad in my view. It depended on the individual. Some individuals enjoyed being unpleasant to the junior class and other people didn’t.
It varied from person to person. You’ll find some people who probably had a much worse experience than others, depending on who they had to deal with from day to day.
What was there that you didn’t expect when you arrived in the army?
I suppose the question of the senior classes was something that you really hadn’t contemplated.
You knew there were other cadets there who had been there before. You didn’t really understand the hierarchical structure, which there was in the college and that probably was a surprise. Other than that, I don’t know that I was unduly surprised by anything. It was probably more extreme than you had anticipated, not that you had a very definite idea about what was going to happen.
It was to some degree a shock to the system but I don’t think that…not unduly, it was not unduly oppressive.
What sort of things got you into trouble in your early days at RMC?
The things that got everyone into trouble; not having your kit properly cleaned and boots shined, and all the various other things that you had to do, your room
sorted out properly. Your room had to be made up in a certain way and bed made in a certain way, and your clothes piled in a certain way in your cupboard. Everything had to be done in a certain fashion. That was the system. I’m not sure how it works these days but that’s how it was then.
What were the punishments for indiscretions of that nature?
Extra drills, which meant you had to get up in the morning
early and have all your kit ship shape, and everything else, and go out on the parade ground. That was the standard punishment.
Who were the most inspiring figures that trained you in those years?
I think some of the warrant officers were probably. Most of the warrant officers had just come back from Korea.
Some of the junior officers had too. Probably the most influential figure was the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major], known as Fango Watson. He was quite a legendary figure and he was an extraordinary man actually. He had a tremendous influence on everyone. He had far more influence than most of the officers did. He did an extraordinary amount of work.
All the drill training he did himself essentially but the warrant officers who worked in the field, they were pretty influential too. They were all quite high quality blokes and fellas like David Chin, George Chin rather, and Burzacott, and Rusty Troy. They were very good, fine types of blokes and they had a
pretty significant effect on cadets, but Fango Watson, the RSM, had probably the most significant effect.
There’s a story about Fango Watson that on a clear day you could hear him shouting on the other side of Canberra.
I wouldn’t be surprised.
Are there any other stories you remember about him?
A thousand stories. One thing he used to say to us when he was taking the whole corps for drill or some
parade or other, he would say he would be watching us even when he was dead. He said, “When they carry me out in my coffin, I’ll have holes bored in it and I’ll be watching you fellas, to see you do it right!” Funnily enough when he was buried, his funeral was at St Johns, all the Duntroon people who were there were looking at the coffin to see whether there were holes bored in it, to see if old Fango was looking out, but no, he was an extraordinary fellow.
If he was going to a parade, he wouldn’t sit down in the bus. He would stand so he didn’t crease his uniform. I mean he was that sort of bloke. He was a very strongly built, powerfully built fellow with a very rugged face and he was a most impressive, most impressive man, and of course he was a man of absolute standards, immaculate standards. What’s another story about him? There are quite a few. I can remember him on a
guard once, there was a tri-service guard, navy, army and air force, and each component had it’s own commander who was an officer, and Fango was there running the whole show. The naval officer who was commanding his guard said to him, “RSM would you move your guard over here please?” and he turned to him very smartly, and saluted, and he said, “With all due respect sir, you move your bloody guard over here!” and he did too, so that
was the sort of bloke he was. He had a lot of command authority, you could put it that way I suppose and he had a profound effect on people.
Was it at this stage that you came into contact with Frank Hassett?
Can you tell us about him?
He came back from Korea as the commanding officer of RMC. He had just commanded a battalion in Korea.
That’s all we knew about it at the time, that he had been in Korea and commanded a battalion. I suppose we knew that. We knew that he was a highly regarded officer, been through the Second World War. He was an impressive man who certainly commanded respect, had authority. I of course subsequently,
have found out far more about him and I know him quite well. I have known him well for years but at that stage we really didn’t know precisely what he’d done in Korea. He was a man who exercised authority and had a lot of respect. I think most people found him to be a very good leader. He was the sort of fellow that you wanted to impress and do the right thing for. I suppose that is the essence of a leader.
He certainly had been a very fine battalion commander in Korea and subsequently of course, I’ve known him for many years. He certainly was a great field soldier. There’s no doubt about it.
What sort of effect do you think the Korean War had on the training at RMC?
It had a profound effect on the training at RMC, in fact I think all the training that we did. A little bit of it was a hangover from the Second World
War, the desert, but a lot of the training that we did came straight out of Korea. The conventional war aspects of the Korean War were very much how we learned tactics. In fact it was a very good basis for tactics, in my view because it was conventional operations, attack, defence, withdrawal, all those sort of things, and very much based on the Korean experience. They were a very good basis for learning
tactics in fact, and it was much easier to apply other sorts of tactics, like jungle tactics, and the techniques that you’d use in close country, after you’d learned thoroughly, and been immersed in Korean experience, although the jungle techniques were very different.
By the end of your first couple of years there, again taking yourself back to the person you were then as much as you can,
had you begun to have ambitions within the army, see yourself in the future?
I don’t think so at that stage. I think that probably my only ambition was to graduate. I mean I suppose you had vague ambitions as to what, or vague thoughts as to what you might become in due course but I think essentially people were more interested in getting out of the place
with a commission, rather than anything else.
What particular aspect of the training there did you enjoy or did you want to pursue, more than the others?
I think I always wanted to be an infantry officer. I don’t think I ever really thought about being a gunner or in the ordinance corps. I certainly wanted to be in one of the fighting arms and
I don’t really remember ever having an ambition to be in anything else other than infantry. We had to pick our corps in the second class, which was the third year, and I didn’t have any trouble in picking infantry at all, in fact in those days, I believe most of the best people went to infantry. Some people might argue with that but I think that was the case.
Why? Infantry is not the easiest job by any means.
No, well that’s why people wanted to go to it. I mean in those days those were the sorts of motivations. I think subsequently those motivations weren’t quite the same but in those days people wanted to be in the fighting arms, or most people did, and I think that was the purpose in going to Duntroon anyway. I mean why would you want to go to Duntroon
and be in the ordinance corps? That didn’t seem to me to have any logic, although nothing against the ordinates corps but it seemed to me if you were going to Duntroon, if you were going to be an officer, you’d want to be in the fighting arms and certainly infantry was the most fighting of the fighting arms.
Can you tell us about graduation and passing out? It must have been a significant occasion for you?
It was something that you’d aimed for, for four years and
well I don’t think it was…apart from actually graduating, I don’t know that it was a vastly stunning experience but certainly some people got into trouble on our graduation. The RSM by then, who was a chap called Peter Steer, had taken over. Well, there’d been one who’d taken over from Fango and he didn’t last long, and Peter Steer took over.
He got himself into a bit of strife because he was the RSM but he lead a band of cadets around the parade ground about three o’clock in the morning beating a big bass drum. That wasn’t highly regarded by the hierarchy at all, particularly with the RSM doing it! Apart from that, it was a usual graduation. There are always a few high jinxes and a bit of nonsense going on but as an event, I mean it was just something that was expected. There had been three
graduations before in my experience anyway, of people who were in front of us. Apart from the fact that you were getting out of the place as a commissioned officer, it was just a part of the progress I suppose.
Was there any social life in Canberra outside the college while you were there?
Yes, we used to get out on the weekends and we had people that
we went to visit, people, homes who looked after cadets on the weekends, and gave them meals. So yes, there was a bit of social life. Not a vast amount but some. We did get out into the community but even in my senior year, we were not allowed out at night. It was still very much…you were allowed out on Saturday nights and Sundays,
but there wasn’t a great deal of freedom.
What was Canberra like in those days?
Very basic, only about 35 000 people. There was Civic. There was Kingston. There was Manuka and the suburbs that were immediately around those places, and that was about the size of it. This area out here hadn’t been developed at all. In fact I can remember doing field exercises
and tutes out in this area, on these hills. The Woden Valley was sheep stations. There was a track…there was a road in from Duntroon into Civic. There was a causeway and a road across to Kingston. There was no lake of course. There were cattle on the front of Old Parliament, what is now Old Parliament House. It was then the Parliament House.
And very little apart from those inner suburbs, Ainslie, Civic, Kingston, Manuka, not much more than that.
What was the most popular place to go?
There were a couple of cafes in Civic and a couple in Kingston, and that was about the size of it. I mean there really was very little. It was a very, by modern standards, a very dull
place I suppose but we didn’t consider it as such because that’s how it was. There wasn’t much to do outside Duntroon really. I can’t think of any particular…you could go up to Jindabyne and ski on weekends. There was a bit of boating on
Lake George but apart from that sport took up the weekends anyway. There was very little going on in Canberra.
You’d certainly have trouble going boating on Lake George at the moment!
Well they would! Of course interestingly enough, seven cadets were drowned in Lake George in 1956 in the middle of winter. They were boating in the middle of winter and apparently died from hypothermia but
that was a significant tragedy and there’s certainly not much water in it now.
Where were you at that stage?
Were you at the 13th?
I was at the 13th National Service, yes.
Can you tell us in a bit more detail about your job there? You mentioned the mix of people in the National Service, how did that affect you as a young officer?
Well they came in, in batches so you were dealing with a similar sort of person for each particular batch of people that you had for three
months. National Service was interesting. It wasn’t what we wanted to do. We certainly didn’t want to go to National Service and the National Service Battalions were populated by a very mixed bag of officers, I might say. A lot of officers who’d come from the British Army at that stage and there were a number of those, some from the Indian Army. There were a number of officers who were
reservists, who’d come in on full time duty and there were a number of ex-World War II people, and because the army was really taking on far more than it was organized to cope with at that stage, some of the officers in National Service were not of the highest quality. Indeed, although the end product was probably all right, there were a few deficiencies in the National Service Scheme,
mainly because the army was totally over stretched. It was a universal scheme. Everyone came in, so you’d have vast numbers of units all over the country and the quality of the officer corps at that stage, was pretty mixed. After National Service disappeared and we got back to being a regular army, a totally regular army, the standard
of people in the battalions was vastly better, and indeed of very high quality in the late fifties, and the early sixties.
What were the biggest problems you had both with the standard of officers and the standard of the national servicemen themselves?
Well it was not the problems that I had. I was just a platoon commander and I just had to worry about a platoon. I was fortunate enough to be in a company, the company commander being a young Duntroon graduate who’d just come back from
Korea, so I was rather lucky. Some of the other company commanders were, I wouldn’t have thought, very high quality. Some of them were World War II people who had very good war records but weren’t very good in a peacetime environment and had stayed on in the army for whatever reasons. Even though they’d had good records during the war, they were certainly not, what
we considered, very competent in a non-operational environment, that’s training and doing all the things that had to be done in peacetime. As I say, I was fortunate in getting into a company with a young Duntroon company commander, which was good. So I personally didn’t have a problem but I could see and so could my contemporaries who’d come from Duntroon, that things were not as good as they should have been, and certainly not
done to the same level as they were at Duntroon, or people expected to have done at Duntroon.
You mentioned the university intakes being particularly difficult to handle, can you talk us through that?
They weren’t overly difficult to handle but they tended to think they knew a lot more than they did. They weren’t particularly good on anything practical whereas the country boys and people like the miners were excellent on anything practical. Whereas
the university student element were good on the theoretical things but not too good on the practical. Some of them thought they knew a lot more than they actually did and they always tended to try and take the mickey out of the system. They were not too bad. I mean we never had any real problems with them but they had a different attitude.
What instances of insubordination?
I wouldn’t call it insubordination
at all. It was nothing as bad as that. It was just a smart arse…there were a couple of smart arse operators amongst the university intakes. I don’t want to give the impression they were too bad. They weren’t too difficult to handle at all but they were different. Their attitude was different and that was probably the most significant factor; that they had a different approach, which was not nearly as cooperative or as…
how shall I put it? I don’t know, perhaps not nearly as cooperative as some of the others.
What did you learn about yourself and your own ability to command men during this first posting?
I suppose you learned quite a lot, mainly by not consciously learning but you just learned by practice. You learned how to deal with different groups of people for a start. That was probably one of the most interesting
things, that you were dealing with different groups of people and you saw that there were different ways of handling different people, people of different backgrounds. To get a university intake to be fully enthusiastic was somewhat different to getting a country intake, or a city intake for instance. So I suppose you learned a lot about individuals. You learned something about people
and how they reacted, and how you could get the best out of them. I think that was probably the best, the most interesting lesson that you got from National Service.
What effect did that National Service training have on Australian society at the time?
I think it had quite a big effect actually and I’ve met people from that era. I’ll tell you a story actually. I was coming back from Canberra Airport while I was still in the army. I got into a Commonwealth car and
this Commonwealth driver was driving me along, and I could see him looking at me in the rear vision mirror. Then he sort of half turned to me and he said, “Do you remember me?” and I said, “No, who are you?” He said, “My name is Torpy.” And as soon as he said his name I remembered him. He was the worst soldier that we ever had in National Service. He was a shocker! Anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t have said his name! The interesting thing was he said, “You know, that was the
best thing that ever happened to me, that National Service. It made a tremendous difference to my life.” He said, “I would have been quite useless otherwise” and I thought that was very interesting. Here was this bloke; he was certainly a misfit as far as National Service was concerned but he still regarded it as being the turning point in his life, even though it was only three months.
Could you characterise what that tremendous difference might have been to someone like him?
I don’t know what his background was. He came
from down the South Coast somewhere I seem to remember but I think the fact that he’d come into a disciplined environment, that he’d been made to do certain things, that he’d actually had some pressure put on him to achieve certain goals, and he wasn’t left to his own devices to just mess around, and do whatever he’d been doing before. I think it put some structure into his life and I think that was what was the great benefit to a lot of them; that they
suddenly found out that they had capacities to do things, which they’d never known about before, because they’d been forced to do them.
What was your reaction on learning that you had been posted to the Pacific Island Regiment?
I had a mixed view on it. I really didn’t want to go to the Pacific Islands Regiment. I would have much rather gone to a regular battalion but
eventually when I got there, I could see there were certain advantages in being there, and it was very interesting. The man management of the Pacific Islanders and the New Guineans was quite different to the man management of Australians. They reacted differently to different things. I wasn’t too pleased about it in the first instance but once I got there,
I was quite happy with the posting.
What were your first impressions of the actual place?
Very strange! I can remember walking out of the Headquarters on the first day I was there and walking down, and seeing this vast array of black faces, and they all looked exactly the same. I thought, “Gee, how are you ever going to come to terms with these people?” But of course,
after a while you learned that they weren’t the same at all. They all had different skin colourings for instance, varied from very light, pale, quite pale brown, to black, depending on where they came from. Their physical characteristics were quite different, depending on what particular area of the country they’d come from, or whether they came from one of the outlying islands like New Britain. They were different
in appearance. They were different in personality and after a while you began to pick where they were from, in a broad sense. You’d say; he was a Sepik, he was a New Britainie, he comes from Papua, coastal Papua, or whatever. In fact there was one chap in the PIR called Harry Bell, who allegedly could determine what subdistrict they’d come from just by looking at them.
Now I never got down to that level but certainly from the point of view of picking the general area they came from, I could certainly do that, and I can still do it now. If I still see a PNG bloke, I quite often could say, “I’m pretty sure he’s from “X” or “Y”.” So they were very different in fact, although they looked in the first instance to be entirely the same. They had a very strong, what’s called a “One
Talk” principal, in pidgin. “One Talk” meaning a fellow who speaks the same language and they would bond together. If there was any pressure on any of them, the “One Talks” were the people with the same language area, or came from the same area, who would bond together, even though back in their Sepik district, they may have been mortal enemies. If they were in Moresby, the Sepiks would come together. There’s some very funny
stories about the PIR, if you want to go into the PIR.
We’d love to hear some!
Interviewee: Adrian Clunies-Ross Archive ID 0795 Tape 04
You mentioned a memorable story from your time with PIR.
Yes, I suppose this illustrates the way that the PIR soldiers reacted and thought. I was on the out station at Vanimo and we used to have a radio sched twice a day, once in the early morning, and once in the evening back to Moresby, and we passed
messages or whatever we needed to pass. On this particular morning, we just had the normal sched. There was nothing…I think it was a Sunday actually, nothing particularly going on and some time during the morning, we had some of our soldiers come up to us, and say there’s a big problem in Moresby. This was rather interesting because there was no way of communicating apart from the radio sched and that was controlled by
the officers. Anyway we said, “What is it?” “Oh there’s been a big trouble, big trouble in Moresby.” Subsequently we found out that evening that what had happened was that during the course of the morning two or three companies, who were stationed in Moresby, had dressed themselves up in their number one gear and marched out the gates of Taurama Barracks.
The duty officer, who was a major, I think during breakfast someone had run in and said, “All ee go long Koki!” And the whole three companies had marched out the front gates, marching down towards the Koki market. They weren’t quite sure why they’d gone out but apparently what had happened was the day before, a soldier had been beaten up down in Koki. So
they had all decided that they were going to go out and take the law into their own hands. When they got past Murray Barracks, or towards Murray Barracks, the new commanding officer, who’d only just arrived in the battalion and couldn’t speak pidgin at that stage, had been alerted to the fact that three of his companies were marching towards Koki, and he got out in the middle of the road, and tried to stop them. “Stop! Stop! Stop!” and they all ignored him. They just parted like the Red Sea
and went around him because they didn’t know him. This was indicative of the way they operated. If they knew you, it was a totally different thing to if they didn’t know you, doesn’t matter what your rank was or anything else. So they went to Koki and there was a big stoush down in the Koki market. Of course there was quite a significant reaction from the local white population because they thought here was the army rioting, which wasn’t
really the case at all. It wasn’t directed against Europeans. It was just directed against Keremas, down in the Koki. Anyway that occurred and they subsequently decided they would have a court, and they made a terrible mistake. They brought the court out to Taurama Barracks, which was absolutely unbelievably stupid and they brought the Police out with the court. So they had a magistrate, the police and of course the police and
the army hated each other. So bringing the police onto army property was a most ridiculous thing to do. They set the court up in Taurama and they lined up all these fellas who’d been down to the Koki market, and fought down in Koki, and they marched them all in, one after the other, and they went before the magistrate. The magistrate asked them whether they’d fought at Koki or not and all the ones who’d fought at Koki said, “No”, and all the ones who hadn’t fought at Koki
said, “Yes.” Why, I’ll never know but that’s how they operated on occasions. Anyway, they came out the door and the fellas who’d had fought at Koki weren’t convicted because they’d said they weren’t there, and the fellas had not fought at Koki were convicted. Eventually the people decided it was a Kangaroo Court and they raced in, and turned the court over. The magistrate finished up hiding under a
desk! That of course, did create tremendous problems because here was the army overthrowing the civil authority. That created quite a stir in the local community and eventually a number of these fellas were thrown out of the army. I think it was very badly handled, the whole thing. But the two interesting things were the fact that our people up at Vanimo had got wind of what was going on in Moresby six hundred miles
away, without any means of communication. So that was rather interesting, and you can work out for yourself how that occurred! The other thing was of course, the aftermath of it where they kicked out a number of these people. The other interesting thing was the people who were kicked out, of course once they were kicked out, had a very great shame and they used to have this, what they called “shame”. They’d call it shame themselves, “Me got big fella shame!” That literally was shame.
It was what they meant and they were shamed, by being discharged. I think you really had to handle them in a different way and that was very badly handled, that whole thing, not by the army but by the civil authority.
How much training did you have in dealing with Pacific Islanders?
None at all. Before going in? No, none at all, absolutely none.
How was the command organised with the Australian command over these troops?
They were part of a battalion, the 1st Battalion of the Pacific
Islands Regiment, and that virtually was the entire force. There was a Headquarters in the Murray Barracks but it was largely Australian officered, in fact entirely Australian officered. The Pacific Islands Regiment as such, was one battalion in those days and it was run just like a normal infantry battalion. All the officers were European. When I first went there,
the RSM and some of the CSMs [Company Sergeant Majors] were white, and there were some white NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers]. The CQs [Company Quartermasters] in the company where all Australian but all the other NCOs and all the troops were New Guineans. Gradually they brought some of the New Guineans up to warrant officer rank and that was just starting
while I was there. I left in 1960. So that’s how it was organised. It was organised as an infantry battalion but it was officered entirely by Australians.
When you were in charge of the patrols into areas around the Sepik, were you using “One Talks” from that area, or people from far from that area?
No, we just patrolled with the platoon, or company, or whatever, that we were responsible for.
But where were those people from?
They could be from anywhere, could be
Were they locals?
No, not necessarily. They could be but they weren’t necessarily and in most cases would not have been. That had it’s own problems too because if you got into an area where they felt very uncomfortable, and if you came from say Kerema, or somewhere down the South Coast, and you were patrolling in the Sepik, and you got into the Sepik Hinterland, they would feel very uncomfortable in those areas. Indeed
even some of the old NCOs, who were World War II veterans, would stay very close to the Australian platoon commander because they felt the Australian platoon commander had a capacity to ward off whatever might be unfortunate in the villages. So it had an effect actually.
They were heavily involved with the war on both sides, assisting the Japanese
and the Australian troops. Was there any evidence of that at the time?
The people that we had in the army were all people who’d been in, if they were World War II veterans, had been in the PIB [Pacific Island Battalion] during the war, so they’d certainly been on our side. There wouldn’t have been any people in the PIR who’d been on the Japanese side for certain. They were the older men anyway. They were the
oldest members of the battalion but they’d certainly all been on our side, not on the Japanese side.
How strongly did you feel that you were a colonial power at the time?
I don’t think we looked at it as colonial but that’s what we were, whether we saw ourselves in that light or not. I don’t think we saw ourselves as a colonial power in that sense. I don’t think we thought about it in those terms but that’s essentially what we were.
We were running the place. We were running the army. The army was part of the Australian Army at that stage and I must say, it was run a lot better than it is now.
What was your role there? What was the purpose of the patrols for instance?
The purpose of the patrols was pretty much the same purpose as the civil patrols. It was to make contact with the local people
and also to get more knowledge of the individual area that you were working in. I mean particularly out at Vanimo, the patrols were into areas which there had been very little contact. Down in the Green River there was a patrol officer who was going mad with the mosquitos and the crocodiles, and that was about it. You could certainly go into areas in the Sepik where there had been very little contact
in those days. So it really was to bring the government to the people, as the civil patrols were designed to do.
What civilians were travelling with you at the time?
None. It was purely military.
Did you run into any strife or any particular incidents that stand out in your mind?
No, I didn’t but a friend of mine had a patrol in an area of the Sepik, he was moving along
a jungle track and suddenly in front of them, out of the trees, dropped these fellas all with long bows, all ready to go. That was a pretty tense situation for a period of time. These were fellas who’d had very little contact or no contact at all. So that sort of thing could occur but it didn’t happen to me, no. It didn’t happen to most but that would have been a very unusual situation,
but it was a situation that occurred.
What was the relationship like between the white officers and NCOs, and the Papua New Guineans?
Very good. No, it was very good. Funnily enough, they had a strange view. I’ll give you one example of the way that they reacted to things. Towards the end of my tour there, there were three members of the legislative
council or assembly, I can’t remember what it was called in those days, appointed. The first three New Guineans. One from New Guinea, one from Papua, and one from the islands, and we invited them out to the officers’ mess. Of course the only people who came into the officers’ mess were officers or the stewards who worked in the mess, who were New Guineans. Now the fact that we’d brought these three members of the legislative assembly into the officers’ mess,
treated on the same footing as the officers, was a matter of some concern to the Papuan New Guinea staff. They couldn’t understand this at all. They said, “What are these fellas doing in here?” They were quite worried about it. It was just not the normal order of things, whereas as far as we were concerned, it didn’t worry us at all of course and it was something we felt was quite appropriate to do, but it
did worry them. So they had a different point of view.
In these days the bar of political correctness is somewhat different to then. Were there any names that you would call each other, the Papuan New Guinea troops by the white officers?
What do you mean? Derogatory?
No, not at all. No, never.
No, I don’t think so. There may have been jocular comments made but not derogatory. No we didn’t have that relationship with them at all. We had the same relationship to them as we had to any troops and after a while you get to have quite an affinity with the people. I mean your dealing with them everyday, all day. You were dealing with them in the field. We would be with them for weeks on end.
No, I don’t think that occurred at any stage.
What was the language you were using to communicate?
Pidgin generally. I mean some of them spoke English after a fashion but not many. If you couldn’t speak pidgin, you couldn’t communicate essentially.
You were also conducting training. What language were the training manuals written in for them?
The training manuals would have been in English but we would have used pidgin. Most of the instruction
would have been done by the NCOs anyway, so they would have spoken pidgin as a matter of course. Most of the training was conducted in pidgin.
Malaria was a big problem in the Second World War. How was that affecting you?
Malaria discipline was most important. We used to
have to feed the troops a Paladrin pill every morning and that was recorded in a roll book, and it was very strictly applied. Indeed, it was applied not only to the PI [Pacific Islander] troops but also to the officers. In fact it was a court martial offence to
catch malaria. I don’t know that anyone was ever court martialled but it was a court martial offence supposedly. Occasionally the troops did catch malaria but not very often. The malaria discipline was very, very strong actually and it was rampant in those days. Of course malaria was absolutely rampant and a lot of them had malaria when they came in, recurring bouts of malaria.
No, it was something that was very strictly controlled, to the degree that it could be controlled. In fact to the degree that the officer actually had to parade the troops and throw the pill down the throat of each soldier in the morning. That was part of the normal drill.
Even the local indigenous troops were required to take this pill?
I’m talking about the indigenous troops, yes.
Absolutely, they were the principal targets. The officers had to take Paladrin, or whatever the particular drug was but as I say, the troops were paraded every morning and the officer would actually throw the pill down the fellow’s throat.
It is a little known part of Australia’s military role in the colony of New Guinea. What was the overall military strategy?
I don’t think there was one. The purpose of the Pacific Islands Regiment was to assist Australian troops, if Australian troops had to be deployed into PNG. The object of the PIR was, in those days, to provide the local knowledge, guides, etc. They could be called upon to fight in a semi-conventional sense but that’s
essentially what they were there for, to provide the local knowledge and intelligence in various parts of the country. They had been used in that way in the Second World War to some degree, so it wasn’t something which was dreamt up out of thin air. But it was never thought that the Pacific Islands Regiment would be the defenders
of Papua New Guinea by themselves. It was always thought that they would work in conjunction with the Australian Force.
At that time you had a lot of things happening in the region. There was the rise of communism up in Malaya. How much of your presence up there was seen to be in response to these other emerging issues in the region?
was reformed after the war in about 1950, around about 1950. It certainly wasn’t, as far as I know anyway, in response to anything that was going on in Malaya. What was a cause of concern of course was what the Indonesians were doing in the western part of the country. The Dutch of course ran Dutch New Guinea in those days.
In fact in Vanimo, we were very close to the border and Hollandia was just across the border, and we had some contact with the Dutch, with Dutch marines, and with the Dutch civil administration. During the time we were in Vanimo and subsequently, armed Indonesians were in fact coming across the border into Australian New Guinea, mainly because there was no demarcation of the border. They didn’t know where the border was any more than most other people did.
From time to time, we would be alerted to the fact that there were Indonesians wandering around on our side of the border. That was far more consternation. That provided far more consternation than anything that was going on in Malaya and certainly had nothing to do directly with Communism but certainly had to do with what the Indonesians might do on the western side while the Dutch were still in control.
What instructions did you have to deal with the Nationalist movement there and possibly in New Guinea?
I don’t think we had any because there was no Nationalist Movement. I mean there was no Nationalist Movement on the eastern side while we were there. I don’t think there ever was really a Nationalist Movement. We gave them independence in 1975 before any of those sorts of things had developed. If we’d been there
for another ten, fifteen, twenty years, it might have developed but it certainly hadn’t developed in those days. I don’t think such a thing was even remotely contemplated and I don’t remember even a remote thought about a Nationalist Movement. I don’t think they would have thought about it themselves, quite frankly.
The period after the Second World War was a period of rising nationalism in that region.
But not in New Guinea.
New Guinea, going back, was one of the last colonies to…
Yes, but I don’t think they were sufficiently sophisticated to really contemplate that sort of thing and certainly there was nothing of that nature. There was certainly no anti-Australian feeling as far as one could tell. If you walked down into the streets of Moresby in those days, they would all say, “G’day master!” It was all very friendly and it is certainly not the case now. It is a vastly different atmosphere. In fact I’ve
been back on two occasions since I left in 1960 and the atmosphere on both occasions was vastly different to what it was in those days. It was a very friendly, easy relationship quite frankly, and there was no animosity as far as one could tell.
What did you personally take away or learn from that experience?
I suppose I learned about a different
culture, a different race of people, which I wouldn’t have learned about otherwise. The fact that you lived and worked with them day in, day out, on a pretty intimate basis for three years, gave you a different perspective, certainly a perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have had on New Guinea, and on them, on different people. What strikes me today; one of the things that I
do notice today when I see anything to do with the PNG Defence Force on television, is the vastly different appearance that these people have to the ones that we dealt with. The ones we dealt with were all lean, fit. There was no such thing as a fat PIR soldier. If you look at the PNG Defence Force today, there’s almost no such thing as a non-fat PNG soldier.
They all look overweight to me, which is fascinating because they don’t look similar to the people that we dealt with, because their physiques have changed, obviously eating western food. In those days they had their own ration, which was based largely on rice, on brown rice and tinned meat, and vegetables like Kahoka, sweet potato.
They used to eat vast quantities of that food and they all seemed to enjoy it, and it was quite palatable stuff. I mean I could eat it quite easily, no problem at all. These days I’m sure they’re far more Westernised in their diet and I think it has had quite an effect on their physique. They certainly don’t look like the same sort of people we dealt with, which is unfortunate.
Militarily, what did you learn in jungle techniques?
No much. I didn’t learn much. I mean I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know. When we say jungle warfare, we weren’t in fact involved in conventional jungle warfare training. We were more involved in acting as guides and the eyes, and ears of a larger Australian force. We didn’t do much in the way of real jungle warfare training. We did
conventional military training and applied it to particular requirements of the PIR.
Are there any other individuals that stand out in your mind or stories of the time?
What other things of note happened? There was what was called a
riot about pay. It just after I left the PIR. There were some problems with pay and they did actually have a minor sort of insurrection in Port Moresby, in the battalion in Port Moresby, which didn’t last for very long, over pay. I’m not too aware of the details but there was a bit of consternation over that. Generally speaking, they were very well
disciplined really but certain things upset them, which wouldn’t upset European soldiers. You had to understand their particular mentality and where they were coming from.
Were they loyal to their white officers?
I think they were extraordinarily loyal.
But yet they did riot for pay?
That’s not necessarily characteristic of a lack of loyalty but that was one occasion in the whole history of the PIR under Australian control and it wasn’t a major riot. It was just a sort of minor insurrection that some people got upset about. As I say, I don’t know very much about it. It happened after I left. Generally speaking, they were extraordinarily loyal to individuals that they knew.
The big factor with them was a knowledge of the individual and even though they mightn’t have thought “X” was a particularly good platoon commander, if they knew him, they’d rather have him than someone new. They had some difficulty in adapting to new officers. It didn’t take terribly long but
certainly there was a changeover period there. Once they got to know you, they were extraordinarily loyal. They’d look after you in the bush. They’d try. You could see them saying, “We’ve got to look after this fellow” to quite a significant degree. They were very good. They were excellent.
How was the military measuring up to your personal aspirations?
I think that in PIR, there were certain periods of time in PIR, certainly on the out stations when you got pretty bored with life. There’s no question about that. In Vanimo particularly, where there was nothing else and if you weren’t out in the field, it could be pretty boring.
There’s no doubt about that. In Manus it was rather different because there was the Australian navy there and there was a big naval establishment. I think it was mixed. I think at that stage I wasn’t totally committed to the army. It was only subsequently that I became more and more committed, as time wore on. I think that was pretty much the case
with almost everyone. I think everyone was pretty much in the same boat. When you first graduate, you are feeling your way. You don’t know really whether this was exactly what you’d expected or what you wanted, and after a while, you either say, “Yes, it is.” The great thing about the army is it was always changing. You were always changing your location, so if you were bored in one spot for a period of time, you could guarantee that the next one
probably wouldn’t be, or you’d be doing something entirely different, and that was generally the case.
How did it affect you that there was no direct war on at the time?
I don’t know that it worried me unduly. I don’t think that you really think in those terms necessarily. There was Malaya going on of course. Malaya was on. It was very minor
activity but it was on. Then Vietnam started up in 1962. 1962 we sent the first people there. There wasn’t a huge period of time where there was nothing. There was always something in the background and certainly when Vietnam started, it went on from ’62 to ’72, so that kept people pretty occupied for ten years.
Was there anything in particular that happened on Manus Island that stands out in your mind?
No, again it was pretty routine. The patrolling on Manus wasn’t certainly anything like as interesting as in Vanimo because you were going down into the Sepik district in Vanimo. Manus had been under European influence for a long while.
It was more interesting on the social side because of the navy and the fact that you had foreign navies coming in all the time, Brits, Americans, French. No, it was fairly routine Manus. It was very different to Vanimo. Of course subsequently, they formed the 2nd Battalion of the PIR in Wewak but in my day there was only one battalion and the two out stations, Moresby, and the two out stations.
Manus was routine but certainly socially far more enlightening than Vanimo, where the literary was nothing.
How were you keeping yourself occupied when you weren’t having to be front and centre?
I suppose I did a fair bit of reading. I was always a fairly avid
reader. We didn’t have much spare time. We were always working but again in Vanimo, there were no social outlets at all, whereas in Manus, there were quite a few.
Physically, what was it like being in a very different place to what you had been in before?
Physically? In what sense?
What did it smell like in the jungle?
I mean you could certainly get very physically knocked around on patrols. Some of them were pretty hard. I remember walking along sand for a long while. One patrol I did along east of Vanimo and before we went inland, we moved along the beach, and by midday, I’ve never been so knocked around as I was
then. I had a bit of coconut milk and from then on I was OK but really it was absolutely innovating, moving along a beach in heat. I was pretty fit. I’ve never been other than fairly fit but some of those patrols were pretty tough. They were going along pretty rugged country and you’re carrying a lot of weight. Physically, I mean the patrols were fairly hard but other than that there was no real physical difficulty.
You were transferred back to Army Headquarters. Was that at your request?
No. I’d finished a three year term. I finished up as the adjutant of the battalion anyway, which meant that I was very well occupied for that period of time. That’s back in Moresby. No, I was just posted out of the unit in a routine way and posted to Army Headquarters, which fortunately didn’t last for very long.
How do you see that three year stint in New Guinea now? How formative was it for you?
I suppose it was. I couldn’t really say how formative it was but I suppose it obviously had some effect. Mainly it gave me a different perspective on other people, on our near neighbour, which has been useful I think ever since, because I
have some perspective on New Guinea. Even today, while it is a vastly different place, I know where they were coming from, or where they have come from and probably can understand some of the problems far more readily than people who have had no experience. I suppose from that point of view, it has always been useful.
You went off to Army Headquarters first in Melbourne and then in Canberra, what did you
Very little. I was in a very routine job of no significance whatsoever, so I would say absolutely nothing quite frankly! [laughs]
Briefly, what were you doing?
I was a captain and the directorate of military training but in an area dealing with publications, the routine
publications that were put out, training manuals and that sort of thing.
At the time, did you regard it as a step sideways or backwards?
I don’t know. Probably backwards or sideways, certainly not forwards. It was not a posting that I had a great deal of affection for and fortunately wasn’t there for very long.
In the early sixties, can you tell us what you knew of the situation regarding the Vietnam War?
Before I actually was posted to AATTV, we did a period of training in Australia before we went to Vietnam, so we were brought up to date on the current situation and what was going on in Vietnam at that time.
When we got there, we certainly had a bit of background but if you mean before I was actually posted to AATTV, and had that preliminary training, we knew quite a bit about Vietnam because we had always followed the French Indochinese experience. We knew about Dien Bien Phu.
Did you know about General Giap?
Oh yes, you knew about Giap. We had followed the French Indochinese experience fairly closely,
so I think that I had a fair understanding of what the French had done and the situation in the country leading up to the French defeat.
When you say ‘we’, do you mean the Australian Army or you specifically?
I think the Australian Army did.
What did they teach you?
I think we’d done at some stage, courses and examinations of Dien Bien Phu and what had happened there, and certainly
I had a pretty good knowledge. I think most people did. The French experience in Indo-China was pretty topical. Certainly Dien Bien Phu became very focussed…
How was it characterised?
What? Dien Bien Phu? Or the French experience?
The French experience?
I think we thought about it in terms of the French military experience
and the way the French had gone about it. A popular view was that the French weren’t very effective but of course, that wasn’t true. They did fight very well. The problem was that they were fighting in a very conventional way against a very unconventional enemy and the interesting thing was that the Americans, who were very dismissive of the French, and their experience,
didn’t learn very much from it. Whereas I think we took out a number of lessons from the French experience.
What did you think specifically? Was this a Communist uprising or was this nationalism?
It was a mixture. It was both. It was nationalism that used Communism as its essential rationale, or maybe it was Communism that used nationalism as it’s essential rationale, but it was both.
It was a combination of the two and it was a very complex situation. It is not as if all the Vietnamese were pro the insurgence or the nationalistic movement. They weren’t. They certainly weren’t in the South. In the North, they were far more so because the French influence had never been as strong in the North.
You didn’t know that until some time later
but in the late fifties, what was the general awareness of the situation?
As I say, the general awareness of what the French had done in a military sense was quite well known in the Australian Army. It was certainly not a mystery. I would think that probably it wasn’t as well known by the Americans but certainly it was well known to us. When was Dien Bien Phu? It was 1953 wasn’t it ? I was still a cadet at RMC
and I’m sure we looked at Dien Bien Phu and the lessons of Dien Bien Phu, and the lessons of the French experience, even while I was a cadet. So it was not foreign from that point of view. When we were going to Vietnam in ’62, the situation was that the North was controlled by the Communists. The
Annam and Cochinchina, as had been the central and southern parts, part of Annam and certainly Cochinchina, were under the government of South Vietnam, and it was a far more demarcated situation at that point. The situation in the past had been, the reason that the Communists took over in the North was that the French influence had always been far lesser in the North than it
was in the South, and the people certainly had a different view. In the South, you had some people who were pro-Communist. You had some people who were pro the western oriented government, and you had some people who just sat in the middle, and didn’t want to be worried by anyone.
Interviewee: Adrian Clunies-Ross Archive ID 0795 Tape 05
Adrian, can you tell us about your trip over to Vietnam in 1962?
The trip across?
Was there anything interesting about the trip across?
I think there was one interesting thing particularly. Before we actually went to Vietnam, we went to Malaya, to Singapore
and were put up there for a few days, and we went up to the Jungle Training Centre at Kota Tinggi, and were put through a few of the elements of their training system. There was nothing new in that. It was all the same sort of stuff that was done in Canungra. We were only there for a few days anyway. On the trip across, I think the interesting thing was that we were required to get on the
plane in Singapore in civilian clothes and during the trip across we had to change into uniform. We got off the plane and we were in uniform. Now the reason for that was apparently that they didn’t want, for some reason, anyone in Singapore realising we were putting a military element into South Vietnam. It seemed to me absurd but there we are. So that’s how we did it. We had to carry uniforms
on and sometime disappear into the bathroom, and change, and then come back in uniform.
Who were you with on that trip?
You mean who we were with in the group?
Did the entire Team travel in together?
Yes, except for Serong, who was there. He was the senior officer. He was there already but the entire group went across, yes, in one hit.
Any particular figures that
you had become close to in training?
A couple of fellas I knew quiet well, like Keith Sticpewich, who later came up to Phu Bai with us. Some of them I’d known before. One notable character was Simpson, Ray Simpson, who subsequently won a VC [Victoria Cross] in Vietnam. He came from my team up in Phu Bai. He was an interesting character.
Most of them I’d known in the training phase or had known before.
What was the mix of experience among those 30 that arrived?
There were some who were World War II, not many. I’m just trying to think who was a World War II person, apart from Serong. It would have only been one or two, I think. A lot of them had Korean
experience, some Malaya. They were generally a fairly well selected group, one or two perhaps not quite so well selected but they were pretty well selected. Most of them had a certainly good background and experience.
How much were you aware of the elite and prestigious nature of the first Australian Army advisers?
Not the slightest bit aware. It didn’t even enter our heads I don’t think. At that stage we had no idea how long Vietnam…we were just being sent there for a job. We certainly didn’t realise we were the forerunners of a ten year commitment to the country and I don’t think we had any feeling of being in any way elite at that stage. Some people subsequently have talked about a special group of elite
people and so forth but I don’t think we would have ever thought of ourselves in that regard at all.
You obviously didn’t expect a ten year involvement. What were your preconceptions going in?
We were very well briefed on the situation in the country and as I said before, some of us had a pretty good background in the French Indochina War but during the period of training that we had before we went, we were given a very good up to date briefing on the current
situation, and what the Americans were doing. At that stage there were about 12 000 Americans in the country. They were advisers. They were also running all the administrative systems for the South Vietnamese. They were flying all the helicopters for the South Vietnamese and so on. We were a very small element in the total advisory effort and of course, by the time I left a year later, the numbers had gone up to about 16 000, and then they exponentially
increased after that, particularly after the commitment of form fighting units. We knew precisely what was going on in the country at the moment, which was that the South Vietnamese Army was being gradually whittled away by the VC, in using the same sort of tactics that the North Vietnamese had used against the French, precisely the same sort of tactics. In fact while we were there, there was a very
interesting example of an ambush, which was put in just north of what became the [Australian] Task Force base at Nui Dat. At that stage, we didn’t know anything about subsequent deployments but it was put in on that road that ran up from the Task Force base north from Nui Dat. It was the classic ambush that the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, had been using against the French. There was a Vietnamese
battalion moving up the road in trucks. They put in a block on the road. There were paddy fields on both sides. They opened up. They were all in ambush positions in single paddy fields, in the paddy fields with little things over their heads so no one could see them. At the appropriate moment, they call came up on one side and opened up on the convoy. When the Vietnamese de-bussed on the other side, all the other people in the other paddy field opened up. A block was put in on the
bottom end of the road and the convoy was essentially annihilated. Now that was precisely the same sort of tactic that the North Vietnamese had been using against the French for many years. Of course it was an example of why equipping and training the South Vietnamese as a conventional army was not a very good idea. I mean you had to have some conventional equipment I suppose certainly and you had to have some conventional training but making an army, which was
committed to rolling along roads in vehicles, was not a very good idea when the enemy was bound to use the same sort of tactics. That was an example of what was going on in the country. In the area in the north where we were, it was a different situation. There was an element of local VC, which was causing difficulty. I’ll give you a couple of instances. On one occasion,
we were coming back from Hue, just towards nightfall on a vehicle and we came past a little outpost on the southern end of Hue, which was run by the civil guard, which was a paramilitary Vietnamese force, which was supposed to be protecting the southern entrance to Hue. It was really. It was there. It was a post and they were armed. About ten minutes after we went through,
it was attacked by a VC element and completely taken out. Now these fellas had been in, on the side of the road, waiting for the appropriate time and just waited until we got through, and then carried on. Their view of advisers at that stage was ambivalent. This was the Vietnamese, the VC view. Sometimes they took action against advisers and sometimes they didn’t. A bit later on it became quite obvious that they
were going to take action against advisers if they saw them but at that period, it was a bit ambivalent. I’ll give you one story which illustrates this to some degree. Colonel Serong, who was the senior officer, was a special adviser to General Harkins, but he was also the commander of the Training Team. He came up to Hue and said he wanted to go and look at tombs of the emperors, which were on the west of Hue. Traditionally Hue had been the
imperial capital. So Keith Sticpewich and I got a jeep. We were armed of course, as we always were. We went and saw the tombs, and on the way back, we got a little bit off course. We found ourselves going down a track with bamboo on both sides. Eventually we could see at the end of this track, there was a village. As we got closer, we could see that there were some people milling around in the village. By that stage we couldn’t turn around on the track. It was too narrow, so we just kept rolling on.
When we got into the outskirts of the village, we saw that they were a group of about 40 or 50 young, fit, young fellas, all dressed in black pyjamas, with the big hats on, and all very well armed with Eastern Bloc weapons. By that stage, we had no capacity to do anything but just drive through them. So we drove through them and they just looked at us in a most unfriendly way. We tried to look friendly on the way back but
that was a group of VC, heavily armed VC, who took no action. Now they could just as easily have taken action, so again you didn’t know which way things were going to run at all. As I said, in some instances we had contacts within the training area, while people were under training. They were contacted on the way home and ambushed in convoys. So that sort of thing went on and it was a very unusual
environment, and one that you couldn’t really assess accurately, what the situation would be at any particular time.
When news came through to the Australians of instances like the Nui Dat ambush, what was your response amongst yourselves?
We just believed it was par for the course. That was what we thought was going to happen. That’s how they were going to wage the war. That’s how they’d waged in against the French and been successful. There was no reason to conclude that they weren’t going to
do exactly the same against the Americans or the South Vietnamese, and the American allies. We understood that pretty well because we were pretty well versed. I don’t think the Americans did though. In fact I’m sure they didn’t. To be fair to the Americans, I think you’ve got to understand the situation they came from. At that stage the American army was geared to fight the Third World War. They were geared to fight the Russians in Europe and all their training, and all their
emphasis, was on that. They were suddenly pitch forked into this South East Asian conflict and they’re not particularly good at looking at history anyway, certainly not other people’s history. I think they’re much better at it now but they weren’t then, and they certainly weren’t good at looking at the French experience. They were pitch forked into this South East Asian conflict, which they didn’t fully understand and their whole training had not equipped them for. It equipped them for something vastly different.
It took them a long time to actually come to grips with the sort of war they were fighting. I believe that it was until about 1969 that the Americans really came to grips with the sort of war they were engaged in but by the that stage, the situation had probably got out of hand, and had gone too far down the line. Remember with Vietnam, there were three levels
of conflict. There was the level of conflict which came about when the North Vietnamese divisions came across the border; either the Cambodian border or…they mainly came in from Cambodia. The Americans had to fight very major pitched battles against them. That was one element of the war. The other element of the war, was against a provincial guerrilla, who was organised as a soldier in battalions and regiments,
and that was what we were fundamentally engaged in, in Phuoc Tuy. The third element was the village guerrilla, who came from the village and was used for minor sabotage or to support the provincial guerrillas, or for whatever purpose. There were three elements. The elements we faced in Phuoc Tuy eventually were the latter two, the village guerrilla and the provincial guerrillas. Whereas the Americans of course, at
stages, had to deal with the major battles. So the Americans of course, had an ambivalent attitude to it but didn’t really understand the nature of the war, which was in essence very similar to Malaya but on a much larger scale.
Australia had a recent history in Malaya that equipped them better and the Jungle Training Manual developed there. You had arrived as part of a small team with this experience. How much was tried or attempted
on your part to communicate and use your experience to change the American point of view?
It would have been an impossible task for us to change the American point of view anyway but really, all we could do was inject our ideas into the system, wherever we happened to be. To some degree, the Americans in the local areas might pick up these ideas but to believe that we could actually change the
way the Americans thought about or fundamentally operated, was a complete pie in the sky, in my view. I don’t know that that was ever the object. I think the object was for us to go in and do what we could, to the degree that we could at our level, which we did.
What element of frustration was there amongst yourselves at that situation?
Yes, I suppose there was a certain amount. I don’t think we had undue expectations. I think we went in with a pretty realistic attitude to the situation and certainly when we got on the ground, we had a fairly clear idea of what the situation was. The frustration that occurred was due to the fact that
some people wanted to get out on operations and they gradually started to go out on operations. That was really the main element of frustration I suppose.
You mentioned injecting your own ideas or the Australian ideas into the system. Can you think of a specific instance on the ground where that occurred and you were involved in doing that?
Yes, we taught them a number of what we considered to be
jungle training techniques. One was the platoon harbour, which was a drill that you do when you were going to harbour up for the night in close country. That was something that neither the Americans or the Vietnamese had ever heard of before and that is a technique that we certainly taught the people that went through our system, considering that we were only a small element of the total system. So there would have been a few Vietnamese that went away with that. Whether they ever practised it or not, I don’t know!
Just for the archive can you explain the basic principals of a jungle harbour?
It is merely a drill. A platoon coming along in single file along a jungle track and wants to harbour up for the night. The platoon commander just points out what is considered to be 12 o’clock in that direction, whatever that direction may be. The whole platoon goes into a drill where they come into a circular,
very quick defensive position and go through the routine of putting out sentries, and establishing a perimeter, and it is all done with no talk, just done purely as an automatic drill. All it does is give you a very quick defensive perimeter, which you would only use for one night. It is only used if you were going in for one night, in other words a short period of time. It is not a defensive position as such.
It has a set drill. Everyone knows what they’re doing. It is all done without talk and it gives you an effective little area so you can operate or you can put up for the night, and then move off.
How did the Americans and the American hierarchy respond to hearing about techniques like these for the first time?
I don’t know about the hierarchy. I know that the Americans that we were with
certainly were interested and were not unreceptive to whatever we were doing. In fact, in some cases some Americans would have latched on to these and said this is the solution to the problem, as Americans do, and got terribly enthusiastic about it. Others would have said, “That’s fair enough. That’s how you do it” and left it at that. From the point of view of how we affected the
operation over there, I think the person who had the most effect on the Americans was Serong. He came in as a special adviser to General Harkins, who was the four star commander of MACV [Military Assistance Command Vietnam]. Initially Harkins really didn’t want a foreign colonel advising him on his staff but he came very much to rely on Serong and Serong exercised quite a bit of influence, greatly disproportionate influence
to any influence that he should have because he wasn’t representing very much at that stage. He certainly did exercise a lot of influence and even Americans in our part of the woods would talk about Serong with a certain amount of awe. He established a persona and he had to deal with not only Harkins, and the Americans, but he had to deal with the Vietnamese High Command, and he had to deal with President Ngo Dinh Diem. He was able to do that
very effectively actually. He was very clever at doing this and he certainly did have some influence. He had some influence with President Diem. Diem was very anxious to get someone or some ally, as a counterweight to the Americans and that worked very well until Diem was murdered. Then of course there were a series of coups but Serong at one stage, did exercise quite a bit of influence.
personal dealings with you have with Serong?
He was the head of the Team. He’d been in Australia. We’d seen him in Australia. He used to come up and visit us on occasion. Not a great a deal but his main job was as principal adviser to Harkins and I think he did that very well. We saw him from time to time.
Your arrival in Saigon,
you were there a couple of days before you were sent of on your various postings. What were your first impressions of arriving in Vietnam, in Saigon?
Saigon was a pretty interesting place at that stage. There was still a great deal of French influence. There were a lot of French planters still operating. They still operated right through the war, some of them. There were a lot
of Americans around, some of them military, some of them doing all sorts of other things, all very mysterious. When we got there we were shadowed by a female. She was going out with one of the fellows in the Australian High Commission or Embassy, and she turn out to be a plant of Madame Nhu. Madame Nhu being the President’s
sister in-law, who wielded a tremendous amount of influence. This girl was always with this particular bloke and whenever we went anywhere, she seemed to be around. We subsequently determined or found, that she was in fact planted on us just to see what we thought and report back because we were a new ally in the war. From the Vietnamese point of view, we were of great interest because we were another group coming in. From the American point of view, I think we were
of some interest also because we were an ally, probably the first ally that came in to assist them. Saigon was an interesting place. The French navy in fact was in town when we arrived for our three or four days and they were very much in evidence. I don’t know that I can say much more about Saigon but
it wasn’t teaming with Americans as it later became.
What instances did you witness with the French navy?
I can remember a couple. In a restaurant one night, there were some French sailors there and they started singing French songs, and that upset some Americans, some got obstreperous. On another
occasion we were in the Caravelle Hotel. The Australian Embassy was on the top floor of the Caravelle Hotel and there was something going on, and I, and another fellow went in just to have a look, and it was cabaret type show that was owned by the French organization at that stage. Now a lot of French planters had come in from all over the place and there was a very exotic
atmosphere. They were all dancing in (UNCLEAR), which was illegal actually. Madame Nhu had decreed that there was to be no dancing in South Vietnam and during the course of the evening, apparently the local police had decided they were going to charge in, and shoot the place up. They were only deterred by the fact that there were a lot of French sailors in the cabaret at the same time. We didn’t know this at the time.
When we came out, there was a dead Frenchman on the street, a dead French sailor on the footpath. We heard this story subsequently. So that’s how Saigon was. It was not a normal sort of place by any stretch of the imagination.
What was your reaction to that? This must have hit home to you about what the place was like and what was going on?
No, I don’t think it surprised us any. I think nothing surprised us much. We were all
professionals. We’d all been pretty well briefed. We were prepared for anything I suppose. I don’t think it came as a great surprise. We just thought, well this is how things are and take it from there.
What run ins or contacts if any, did you have with the “White Mice”, the Vietnamese Police?
What was their reputation?
Pretty poor. Not a very effective police force. I don’t know how good they were. They were very much in evidence
running around the place but whether they were much good or not, I don’t know, probably not. We probably had more contact with the American Military Police than anything else. They were a different breed.
What do you mean by that?
They have very strict rules and if anyone is breaching those rules, doesn’t matter what rank, they take action,
A very different way of operating to our people, very different.
Were you under the control of the US administration like that?
Not strictly but I mean from day to day operations, certainly we weren’t under their military control as such. But we were under, in military
terms, operational control. Any infringements or discipline would have been handled through the Australian system. That might be the story but in fact of course, if you’re dealing with an American MP [Military Police] on the street somewhere, he’s not going to be…they wouldn’t have even known who we were anyway quite frankly, most of them. So they had to be treated with a certain amount of caution, the US MPs.
right to have trouble with you people?
No, no, no. It is just that anything can happen. I mean I and another chap, Keith Sticpewich, were in a bar in Da Nang one night. We very rarely got to Da Nang. I think it was the only time we got there. We were just having a drink and there was a curfew at about 11 o’clock, and the MPs came in. The bar was open to everyone, Vietnamese,
whoever. We were in civilian clothes and about five minutes before the curfew, they came in and said, “You’ve got five minutes to get out.” We were still there about ten minutes after curfew and they came back in again. This chap I was with, Keith Sticpewich, started giving them a bit of lip. They didn’t know who we were of course. We were in civvies [civilian clothes] and they didn’t know whether we were military or whatever, and we didn’t tell them.
The fellow said to us, “Look I’m going to come back here in ten minutes and if I see you here, I’ll kill you.” So that’s how the American MPs operate!
What was the situation with you wearing civilian clothes?
We only did that when we were on leave essentially, if that was the case. We always wore uniform. We just happened to be in Da Nang for a day or so and
just to get out of the place. So that was an unusual occurrence. Normally, I mean 99.9% of the time; we would have been in uniform from the time we got there till the time we left.
When you first arrived in Saigon, what was your welcome like from the Vietnamese?
To all intents and purposes, it was fine. I think, from the governmental point of view, they were pleased to see another ally. So, as far as we could tell, it
was perfectly OK. They had a British Military Mission in there at the time, under Sir Robert Thompson, who’d been the Defence Minister of Malaya during the emergency. He was running around with a group of ex-Brit colonial administrators and police, and we met Thompson. He was a very well known counter insurgency expert of course in those days and we met him at one of the early receptions
that we went to. His team exercised quite a bit of influence with President Diem for a while. We subsequently saw them up in the Hue area when they were coming around. They exercised a bit of influence for a while on Diem but all the good ideas they injected into the system subsequently faded away, as did most things that were
of much consequence in Vietnam.
How did your job begin? Everybody was divided up and sent to different parts. What happened to you?
We were divided into a team of about ten and we just fitted in with the American advisory team that we were sent to, so we just became part of that advisory team,
to all intents and purposes. We didn’t work as a group. We were split up into the various components of that team.
What was the team you were sent to? Where were they and what were they doing?
They were in Phu Bai, which was a National Training Centre. It was called a National Training Centre and its purpose was to provide some form of basic training but it essentially was to
retrain whole units that came in. They’d be put through a training program and then sent back into the field. That is essentially what we were doing in the first instance.
What were the facilities you had and equipment you had available to you to your job?
We were all kitted with the normal Malayan equipment. As far as weapons were concerned, we got hold of either American or any other
weapons that were available. Apart from that, all the money and the facilities were provided by the Americans through the American system. The Vietnamese themselves lived in their own barracks, which were very basic, extremely basic and they
led a pretty tough life. For the Vietnamese soldier, it certainly wasn’t an easy life, not well paid, not particularly well fed, and not particularly well led, at that stage. But it wouldn’t have been unusual for any sizeable army in South East Asia at that stage.
What about your own conditions?
We lived fairly well. We had a sort of barrack block where we had
individual rooms. We had a mess, which was provided with American rations and an American cook, and so forth. We lived quite well while we were in the barracks. In the field it was a different story but in the barracks, it was quite comfortable.
You mentioned the normal Malay kit. Was this somehow adapted for jungle warfare or different to the Americans?
It was just the standard issue
kit, which was British essentially. All the webbing, the pack, and these sorts of things, they were standard British issue, much better than the American stuff, much better for the sort of work we were doing. We had to deal with American rations. For instance the Americans didn’t seem to have a “hard ration”. What we called a “hard ration” was a 24 hour pack that you could take into the field. They had these ghastly C rations [Combat Rations] that were all
tinned food and terribly difficult to carry, really designed for an army which was mobile on vehicles, no good for an army in the field at all. So from that point of view, that wasn’t particularly brilliant. All the administration there was carried out by the Americans. We were even paid by them and the Australian government reimbursed
them but it was actually the US Navy that was doing all the administration at the time, so we used to get paid by the US Navy. All our mail came through a PO Box number on the West Coast of the United States. The administration was a bit haphazard and wouldn’t be tolerated these days, I believe.
The American C rations are one illustration of their
un-preparedness for the conditions. Can you think of any other examples?
I think the general view of what was going on was conventional, tended to be conventional. As I said before, at that stage they were expecting an invasion from the north across the demilitarised zone. They were expecting a second Korea clearly and that’s how they
were training, and that’s how they were thinking. Well, OK, fair enough. It is understandable in one sense but they didn’t full understand the type of white-anting that was going on internally in the country at the same time, which was far more deleterious to the government and to their position. I don’t think they full understood and they didn’t for some years afterwards,
in my view.
How did that white-anting become obvious to you? You imply the Australians had a better handle on the situation. Where did it come from?
We had a better handle because we understood what was going on. They didn’t appear to understand what was going on to the same degree. It was due in fact to the way that they were oriented. They were oriented for a totally different war
and would have been extremely capable if they had to fight that different war but they weren’t oriented towards Vietnam at all, at that stage. I don’t think I can say much more on that except that was the way they were. I never felt that they really understood that this constant white-anting, which was going on of the Vietnamese Army,
the sort of incident that I spoke about before, and of the population, was really the key to the whole thing. For instance, in a war like that what you’ve got to do is make sure that the population can be protected from the guerrilla element, or whatever that guerrilla element is trying to achieve. That certainly was not the case. To some degree of course,
the situation had been going on for a very long period of time and there were parts of South Vietnam which were essentially under Communist control anyway, even at that stage. Certainly there were areas west of Da Nang where Communist control had predominated for years and essentially the South Vietnamese Government had no control whatsoever. So there were areas of South Vietnam like that and
to that degree, the country was already white-anted I suppose. However, there were many other areas where this was not the case and where an effective system, á la Malaya but on a much larger scale, would have had a significant effect I believe, on the system.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Vietnamese soldiers you were training?
I think I said before the officers, certainly the senior officers and a number of the senior NCOs, had been members of the French colonial army. The senior officers had generally been trained at the French Military Academy of Sans Coeur. They consequently were oriented towards the French.
It took them a period of time to get used to the Americans. They seemed to get on quite well with us I think but we didn’t exercise the same degree of influence or control over them that the Americans did, clearly. The command system was interesting because you had two levels of command. You had the Vietnamese command, which came down
from the corps, right down through the division brigades themselves. Parallel to that you had an American system of advisory command at every level and orders would come down one side, on the Vietnamese side, or the American side, to do something. They’d come down to the business end of the system and you’d go across to the Vietnamese and say, “Look, we’ve got to do X, Y, Z.” They’d say they
know nothing about it, because the order hadn’t come down the Vietnamese chain of command, either because someone didn’t like the order and was purposely making sure that it didn’t come, or they were just slack, and they hadn’t passed it on. So you then had that problem of trying to get the Vietnamese to do a particular thing when they hadn’t been instructed by their own system and they weren’t necessarily going to take orders from the advisory system. So that was one problem. The other problem was
internally, within the Vietnamese chain of command. The problem was that President Diem didn’t trust his four corps commanders. The four corps commanders divided up the whole of South Vietnam between them. They were sufficiently powerful and had sufficient numbers of troops underneath them, so that they could have mounted coups against him, so he didn’t trust them. So he tried to get his own people in at the level under the
corps, at division level and the corps commanders were doing the same thing down at regimental level. You had this layering of command at various levels, which didn’t trust the level above them. Consequently it was a very, very difficult command system. Now, while I say that Diem didn’t trust his corps commanders, that was with some good reason because of course, a number of coups were mounted by
corps commanders and others in due course, a number of military coups. Diem himself was murdered by the military command, he and his brother. So it was a very difficult command system to get anything done effectively. The main effect could be by the adviser on the ground actually getting a good relationship with his counterpart
or the bloke he was dealing with and then getting his ideas through at ground level, rather than something coming down from the top because things didn’t come down from the top very effectively.
Interviewee: Adrian Clunies-Ross Archive ID 0795 Tape 06
We were talking about the complicated system of command and hierarchy in the various armies you were working with. How long did it take you on the ground to get your head around this situation and how did you start to do that?
I think that we talked to the Americans. We soon got an idea of what was going on, how it operated. It didn’t take long because you’d get directives
down on the American side which clearly hadn’t come down on the Vietnamese side, so the immediate question was why. Then you’d find out why. It was something that people accepted as being a fact of life and you had to get on with doing whatever you could. The most effective way of dealing with it was to get a good relationship with the bloke on the ground. Indeed, when the Australian warrant officers began to command Vietnamese companies, the only way that they
could do that effectively was by getting a good relationship with the bloke, the Vietnamese who they were dealing with. If they couldn’t get that then they weren’t going to be very effective.
Who were some of these counterparts that you formed relationships with?
I mean there were a number. We had to deal with a number of different Vietnamese at various levels and I don’t know of anyone specific that I
particularly can talk about but we were dealing with a number of different Vietnamese officers everyday. Some were easier to deal with than others. There was a problem of language. If they didn’t speak English well you had to work through interpreters. You never knew what the interpreter was actually saying. You could be quite certain that if the fellow that they were talking to was senior in rank to the interpreter,
that any critical comment would not be interpreted in that way, for “face”. “Face” just didn’t allow that to occur. It was very hard to…certainly it was almost impossible to ensure that what you were saying got across, if the fellow didn’t speak English. There were a few who did and English gradually became more and more common to them.
Was there anyone from the Australian or American side who spoke Vietnamese
that you remember?
Not in our particular group I don’t think. We started to have some people who trained in Vietnamese subsequently but I don’t think there was anyone there. I don’t think on the American side either, there was anyone who spoke Vietnamese, no.
What were your major problems? Was there any particular instance in dealing with translators and interpreters that came up?
just in general. The general view of dealing with interpreters was what I’ve just said. You could never be entirely certain of what was being passed across but you could be certain that critical comments would be watered down in some way, particularly if they involved someone who was superior in rank.
Can you talk in a bit more detail about the pay structure of the South Vietnamese Army?
Oh God! Yeah, I don’t know that there was a structure. I think that what happened was that a bag of gold would be delivered to a particular commander and he would then be responsible for doling this out. That bag of gold would probably be used for everything, training. I don’t know about ammunition, but certainly training requirements. Everything that he needed to spend money on, he would have to use out of that
particular pot of gold and he would also have to pay his troops out of it. The Vietnamese system being what it is, there would always be at every level, someone hiving off a certain amount, so what got down to the troops on the ground was not necessarily a reasonable amount, or indeed what they should have had. I’m sure they weren’t entitled to very much anyway. From our point of view it was a badly
administered system but it would have been fairly similar to any Southeast Asian army at that time, other than perhaps Malaya and Singapore, which were different.
How did the prevalence of corruption affect your job?
It didn’t really. It was part of Vietnamese life and part of the system that the person with power hived off
the money, and it didn’t affect us greatly. We were aware of it but it was just accepted by them as being in the normal course of events. If you accept it as being in the normal course of events, I’ve always wondered whether it is corruption, certainly by our standards it is.
The Vietnamese you were dealing with were badly fed, badly paid, badly organised. What strengths did they have?
I don’t want to carry
that too far, certainly by our standards they were. The strengths that they had were any sort of group of people that come out of a hard agricultural environment are good material to make soldiers out of because they don’t expect much. When I say that they weren’t well fed or weren’t well housed, they wouldn’t have been any worse housed than they were back
in their village probably. They wouldn’t have been terribly well fed there and certainly not terribly well housed. So what they got in the army was probably no much worse or no worse than what they would have expected in their own village but of course they weren’t masters of their own destiny. They were all conscripted and there wasn’t a proper leave system. They didn’t have a period of time where they worked and then were allowed
to go on leave. They virtually didn’t have any leave. They didn’t really have a working week and a weekend. They just worked constantly day after day. The whole thing just rolled on. So from our point of view, their situation was appalling but if you come from a tough peasant environment you were pretty good material. You don’t expect much. You don’t require much to eat. You don’t worry about the heat and the cold,
and the rain, and therefore you were a pretty good person to train as a soldier. They were good material and indeed, tough. I mean very tough little fellas too, which was quite obvious because the VC were very tough. They lived on nothing. So they had natural strengths and if properly trained, and properly lead, they were most effective.
What motivation problems did you have?
Did we have or did they have?
I guess on either side but the way you describe the situation, morale must have been an issue at the time?
With the South Vietnamese? Oh yes, it was. It was almost impossible for us to motivate the South Vietnamese. The only people that could motivate them would be their own people. You would have found instances where advisers, either American or Australian, who’d got a very
strong rapport with a particular person, might have had an influence on the way that he operated and hence on the morale of his people but I mean it was almost impossible for us to say motivate a large body of South Vietnamese, and really you couldn’t. It was quite impossible. You could only do that by pointing out to their leaders what we thought was the way to operate and what we thought they should be doing. Now whether they would pick that up and
accept it, is another story. Some would and some wouldn’t, and some might pick up a bit. It is very hard to change a system. The same problem arises today. If we say, train elements of another army and we put them through our schools here, and we teach them about the Geneva Convention, we teach them all the things that we think are appropriate, and they absorb it all, as soon as they go back into there own system,
they revert to that system because there’s no point in talking about the Geneva Convention if you’re going back to “X” army, which wouldn’t know what the Geneva Convention was. That’s very much the problem. Unless you can change the whole culture of the organization that you’re dealing with, it is very difficult to have other than a local influence on what they’re doing. The same would apply…I see on TV a couple of days ago, Australian warrant officers are
training the new Iraqi Army. They’ll train them all right in minor tactics but what really matters is how they get back into their own system, and how their own officers deal with them, and how they’re treated by the system. Even though they might be trained by the best Australians in the world and trained very well, which they will be, that training won’t last very long if the system doesn’t support it.
How did those factors make it an uphill battle of morale with the team on the ground?
I don’t think it worried us. We expected that I suppose. We didn’t expect we were going into an easy situation. I don’t think that affected the morale of the team at all. We did what we were supposed to do and we worked as well as we could, and hard as we could in putting over what we thought we
had to do. I think a lot of our fellas had a certain degree of respect for the Vietnamese soldier. He’s a tough little fellow. He wasn’t very well looked after and I think you’d find a lot of Australians in the Training Team probably had quite a deal of affection for them. I mean that doesn’t worry professionals I don’t think.
Professionals don’t think in that sort of way. I know that’s how the press loves to portray it, as morale this and morale that, but professionals just take it as it comes really, and do their job, I found anyway.
There were helicopters being used at this stage. How were they being used?
They were all being flown by US Marines and they were being used to deploy the South Vietnamese Army, wherever it wanted to be deployed. Any operation of deployment would be US Marine helicopters and the South Vietnamese would get onboard, and be deployed wherever they were going. US Marine pilots were very, very “gung ho”. They would do a lot of flying which our air force,
at that stage, wouldn’t do. It was up to the pilot how many he took on, what he did, whereas our air force at that stage was operating under much tighter instructions. Our air force got to be a lot more operational as time went on but the US Marine pilots were excellent, very good indeed.
This became a huge tactical feature of the later conflict, the use of helicopters.
How did you respond to this new weapon?
It wasn’t really new to us. We’d used helicopters in Malaya continuously. We deployed by helicopter frequently in Malaya, usually by RAF [Royal Air Force] helicopters in Malaya or RN [Royal Navy] in some cases. No, by the time we got to Vietnam, helicopters were common and we had our own helicopters anyway.
We’d deployed in Australia in helicopters, so there was nothing new about the helicopter. It became a fundamental method of deployment in Vietnam really. Most deployments were done by helicopter and of course a very useful way of deploying, much better than flying, and trundling up a road. But it certainly wasn’t new to us, no.
You mentioned before the style of
war the Americans were expecting. How were you training the troops, to meet what sort of threat?
Fundamentally we were training them in basic techniques, I suppose you could call it and these basic techniques really apply to any type of war. There was no problem between
what we were attempting to do. The training programs were set up by the Americans but within those training programs you could introduce your own techniques and tactical ideas quite easily. So there was no real problem in what we intended to do and what the Americans were aiming at.
When I talked about what the Americans were expecting as far as the war was concerned, that’s at the very macro level of the war. We were dealing with a micro level of activity and when you’re training a soldier in basic training, and it doesn’t matter what war you’re eventually going to put him into, he’s got to be trained in the same way at that level, and it is only when you get up to a much higher level of
strategic or operational experience, that you start worrying about the type of activity that you’re getting into. So I don’t think there was any problem in that regard at all.
What was the strategy of magnifying your impact of your training?
What? Magnifying our influence?
For instance, if you train a soldier, you only train one soldier.
Were you training trainers?
No, I mean the way the instruction would be done would be for a Vietnamese instructor to get up in front of a class and give a lesson on a particular topic. That class might be a company of soldiers of 120 soldiers or something of that order. Beforehand, he would have gone through that lesson with the adviser and the
adviser would have said to him, look I think you should be doing this, and doing that, and doing the other. He would either have absorbed that and tried to apply it or he wouldn’t have absorbed it. The way the training was done was in fairly large groupings of troops, so probably 120 at a time. For instance, if you’re teaching a fellow how to shoot, every fellow has to be taught individually but if you’re teaching a
lesson on a particular topic, such as the “harbour drill” say, then you can do it to a group of 120 soldiers. It is not a very good way of doing it. I mean we would be doing it to a much smaller group but their scale was enormous by our standards, rather like the American scale. The Americans usually are teaching in large groups, much larger groupings than we would be teaching in, mainly because they’ve got so many more people to get through.
I don’t know whether I’m putting that in an explicable way but that’s essentially how it is.
What were your expectations of the standards you expected them to meet?
I don’t think you could really operate like that. For instance, if we were training in Australia, we do exactly what you say. We have a certain standard that has to be met at the end of the
day and if people haven’t absorbed that standard, then the training hasn’t been effective, and you’ve got to it again or whatever. Now I don’t think you could really adopt that sort of attitude with the system that we were in because you didn’t have the time to do it and the Vietnamese were only there for a limited period of time anyway. Once they’d finished that period of time, they went back into operations. So to some degree it was a far more hit and miss arrangement than would be acceptable if we
were training people. You aimed to get over as much as you could within the time available and within the limitations of the system that you were operating under.
To what extent did you take counsel from your counterparts of equal level in the South Vietnamese Army?
In what sense?
To take advice. Did you say, “Well how should we do this in your country?”
You can’t just walk in and tell people that they’ve got to do X, Y and Z. They had the capacity to ignore you if they wanted to and they could ignore you quite politely. They could nod their heads and say, “Yes, yes, yes” and then do nothing, just absolutely not apply anything that you’ve told them. You can’t just operate on that basis. You’ve got to get some sort of modus operandi between
the fellow that you’re operating with and yourself, and get across to him in the best way possible, what you would like him to do. It was not a question of ordering them to do X, Y and Z because we really didn’t have that capacity. So that’s the difficulty of the advisory system. We didn’t have control over them in any sense. They ran their own army. We were there to
do the best we could, get as much across as we could possibly do.
Who did you report to in the South Vietnamese Army?
We didn’t report to anyone. We were part of the American system. We were under an American lieutenant colonel, so for immediate day to day matters, we were under his jurisdiction. For anything that was peculiarly Australian, we went back to Saigon to our own little headquarters back there. For day to day matters, we were just
part of the American Advisory Team.
What was the most frustrating thing?
I don’t know. I think the most frustrating thing was probably in the initial stages, not getting into operations but we gradually did get into operations. We all started going on operations well before we were supposed to. In fact,
we were not supposed to go on operations at all by the directive but Serong was very much his own master. He would allow people to do virtually whatever they wanted to do. So we started going into operations well before the Australian government realised it. That was what most of the warrant officers found most frustrating. They wanted to get out into operations.
Can you tell us about
Yes. I’ll tell you about one. It was a heli-borne Ranger operation and I was told to marry up with some Americans in Da Nang, which I did. The following morning we went out to the airfield at Da Nang and there was a battalion of Vietnamese Rangers boarding
a flight of helicopters, which were flown by marines. It was pretty haphazard. There was no sort of way that we would do it. Everyone would have been nominated a particular spot and everyone would know which helicopter he was getting on, and so forth. In this case, I just got on a helicopter where there happened to be a bit of space and it was full of South Vietnamese, about14
fully kitted South Vietnamese, where we would have taken about eight or nine. It was an old Huey UH1B with no seats and no strap across the door, so I found myself sitting on the edge of the platform with my feet dangling over into the ether. While we were sitting on the tarmac, a Vietnamese came racing
along looking for a chopper to get on. This turned out to be the battalion commander! So that was rather indicative of the way that they ran operations. The operation was to deploy into a location west of Da Nang to take out a VC company and propaganda
school, which was allegedly there. In the previous operation that had occurred about half a dozen choppers had been knocked out by hitting wires, which had been put across the LZs [Landing Zones]. The Americans were very worried about that possibility but we landed against some opposition, not much and there were no wires, and they went and did their job. After they’d done their
job, we walked back for a couple of days towards Da Nang and were picked up somewhere or other. We spent about two days walking back after the operation had been completed. One of the interesting factors in the walk back was that we went through some of these areas west of Da Nang, which had been Communist for a number of years and you’d go through a village. This was the whole
Vietnamese battalion. They’d either turn their back on you or spit. You got the impression that they weren’t terribly friendly but that was just that particular area. In other areas you wouldn’t get that sort of reaction at all but that’s how it was there. That area was notorious actually in being under Communist control, even during the French period. A number of operations were run pretty much that way.
How did that make you feel to see that reaction?
I thought it was interesting. It didn’t altogether surprise me and as I say, you wouldn’t have got it in other places. This was very much Vietnam. Some places they were friendly, some places they were indifferent, and other places they weren’t, they were hostile. It depended on where you were and the expectation in this area was that they would have been hostile generally.
You had a role as a training adviser. Did you have any other roles?
No, not really. Why?
If I was in military, I’d be collecting intelligence.
Well, I suppose we were doing that anyway. We were writing reports on what was going on. So in a sense, you’re always collecting
information but that wasn’t our specific role. Everyone who was there was picking up information on the system, and how the system worked, and the South Vietnamese Army. That all went back, so in that sense we were providing very effective intelligence but that wasn’t our role as such.
Were you making independent reports on what was going on around you to the Australians?
Absolutely. We weren’t reporting through the Americans, no. The Americans were reporting through their own system.
We were reporting entirely through the Australian system.
How much were you advising your senior command on what the long term strategies might be?
I don’t think we were advising them on that but what we were advising them on was precisely what was going on, on the ground. It was not our business to really tell them how to prosecute the war in the broad sense.
By giving them reactions and the same sort of reactions that I’ve been giving you, we were giving them a feel for how things were going, and how things should go in the future. Most of the Australians, from the top to the bottom, would have had pretty much the same sort of view on the thing, as we had. We were giving them up to date information on exactly how things were. Now the hierarchy in Australia certainly when we were deployed, would have had a very clear idea of how things worked on the ground.
Clearly, they weren’t there. The only way that they could get an idea of how worked on the ground was by getting people on the ground who were telling them. So from that point of view, we were probably providing a useful service to the system.
At that time, how did you think things would go?
That’s an interesting question because we thought things could improve but I don’t think we were very
confident that they were going to improve, put it that way. I think we could see the problems on the ground. The problems didn’t appear to be getting solved to any degree but you really couldn’t tell at that stage because the American presence was quite small comparatively. Clearly
the Americans had vast resources, which they could bring to bear if they wanted to, which they did. Therefore you always had it in the back of your mind that if the Americans really want to get stuck into it, things can change. We always thought on the ground, that things were not good at the lower level. Leave the macro level out of it but at the lower level where the people were concerned,
where you had to separate the guerrilla from the people, that wasn’t being done clearly. Clearly the South Vietnamese Army was being white-anted to a considerable degree at that stage. Now there didn’t appear to be the capacity to change that in the short term.
How would you have changed things at that time?
There was certainly nothing that we could do. The only way you could do it was to have a totally different mind set. I’m not trying to denigrate the Americans here because the Americans were faced with a very difficult situation. They certainly had to keep in mind the fact that there could be major invasion across the border.
At the same, they really had to be able to fight the war on about three fronts and they had to understand what those three fronts were in the first instance. I don’t think they fully appreciated the need to protect the population, to separate the population from the guerrilla, as had been in Malaya. It was a much more difficult task in Vietnam. Let’s be quite honest about it. Malaya was comparatively easy because it was a smaller country and there was
strong governmental control. The Americans faced the problem of not having a strong South Vietnamese Government to deal with. Everything had to be done through the South Vietnamese Government. It wasn’t a question of the Americans saying, “You do this and you do that.” It was a question of the South Vietnamese doing whatever they thought was required. All the Americans could do at that stage was advise. So unless the South Vietnamese picked it up, the Americans really were
hamstrung in the sense that they couldn’t determine precisely how things were going to be carried out. Once they came in, in force, then of course they had much greater capacity to determine precisely what went on. Even so, they had to work through the organ of the South Vietnamese Government to some degree and that government was weak. It didn’t have the institutions to properly control the situation and therefore
it was a very difficult situation.
How effective do you think the AATTV intervention was?
I think it was effective in as far as it went. Most of the people in AATTV were very
professional. They knew exactly what they were about and did their job well but when you look at the numbers in AATTV in terms of the total conflict, I don’t think you could say they had a significant effect on the war but they certainly had a significant effect on the people with whom they came into contact, and they did their job as well as anyone could have possibly done.
Were there any of the patrols that you went on that stand out in your mind?
No, I mean they were all pretty similar. The operations that were being done in those days were very much of that type, of the one I’ve just described. They were heli-borne deployments do to a particular job and then come out. I think that was one of the problems in fact, that the operations that were being done were
pretty much that way. They would jump out from Da Nang or somewhere like that, into the hinterland, do a job and then pull out. Clearly what you’ve got to do in that sort of situation is you’ve got to have a presence on the ground all the time. If you’re going to separate the guerrilla from the population then you’ve got to have a presence and that’s got to be continuous. That was really the key to a lot of the difficulty in Vietnam. You need
an awful lot of people to do it of course. Where you put governmental presence in for a period of time, a few days, even a few weeks and the people get used to the governmental presence, and not having the guerrillas annoying them all the time, and then suddenly you pull them out, you’ve nullified all the good work that you did in the past. I think that’s probably a key feature of the operations in those days, that
there was probably no capacity at that stage to make them continuous because there weren’t enough. They were only dealing with the South Vietnamese Army essentially. There weren’t enough people and there probably wasn’t a realisation that that was what was required anyway.
To what extent was the environment a challenge in operations?
In what sense?
It wasn’t any different to operating in Malaya and New Guinea, or anywhere else really, except that there were certainly more people around than in New Guinea. The country was very different certainly but it was a tropical environment. It was generally fairly warm from that point of view. You didn’t get cold, although in the north I must say, in the monsoon season you could get very cold indeed.
Certainly when you got up a little higher, you could get very cold and very wet for a long period of time but generally it was a warm tropical environment. It wasn’t a difficult environment to work in from that point of view, much better than being cold.
Did you get up to the border?
We got right up to it on occasions but only as a matter of interest. We just went up there to have a look.
Just to see what it looked like. Just as a matter of interest really. There was nothing much to see. There was an interesting control mission over there in Vietnam at that time consisting of Indians, Canadians and Poles.
They were running around the country ostensibly, both north and south, right up to Hanoi and back to Saigon, ostensibly working out who was responsible for what, when an incident occurred, who was to blame. In the early stages the result was always the Indians and the Poles against the Canadians. It didn’t matter what happened but it was always the Indians and the Poles against the Canadians. They
would always be, the Indians and the Poles would be on the VC side, and the Canadians would be on the other side. When China attacked India in 1962, the whole system changed and it became Indians and Canadians against the Poles. These little teams used to run around in white jeeps and we used to have contact with the Canadian elements of them sometimes. We got up to the border
on one occasion. There was a little post up there of Poles, Canadians and Indians. The Canadians and the Indians were quite pleased to see us and the Poles weren’t very pleased to see us at all. The Poles of course were absolutely dead set Eastern Bloc in those days. These people ran around doing this job for quite some time. I don’t know when they finally pulled out but they were going from late ‘50s well on into the ‘60s attempting to determine
who was responsible for what particular incident, quite a complete waste of time as far as we could see.
Ho Chi Minh was brought up near the border wasn’t he, his birthplace?
He was born in Hue I think you’ll find. He came from Hue. He came from a Mandarin family, came from the city of Hue. He came from a Mandarin family, quite a well to do family. I mean I don’t know where particularly in Hue that
he came from but Hue is not as big as all that. It is fairly small, comparatively small town. It was then anyway. Yes, he came from Central Vietnam. So did Ngo Dinh Diem.
How aware of that at the time were you?
Of that sort of birthplace?
I think I probably knew that. I certainly knew that Diem came from there. Diem’s brother, who was the President for most of
the time we were there, his brother was the Archbishop of Hue.
You had a very good knowledge of the history of the place. Do you think the American counterparts had the same appreciation?
No, I don’t. I don’t think they did at all and they didn’t seem to have much of a knowledge of the French experience either, which I thought was always a deficiency. It would have been very handy to have known
exactly how the French faired in North Vietnam. No, I don’t think they did.
Interviewee: Adrian Clunies-Ross Archive ID 0795 Tape 07
You mentioned getting the chance to go into Da Nang for one, what opportunities for recreation or leave of any kind did you have while you were in Vietnam?
Practically none. We were given one R&R, [Rest and Recreation] and I went to Hong Kong for a couple of days, and that was about it I think. I don’t remember any other
For a couple of days?
Yes, the Americans were running R&R planes up to Hong Kong, and various other places, so we went up there for a couple of days, and I think that was the size of it.
When your time there came to an end, did you have a better idea of perhaps what the Australian involvement might be and how long this would go on? How had your knowledge
and opinions changed?
Well I don’t think I had a better knowledge of…I had a better knowledge of what was going on in the country but I don’t know that I had a better knowledge of what we were going to do. At that stage probably the only thing we thought would continue, the Training Team would continue perhaps in a more substantial form than it was at that time, which it did. At that point,
I don’t think that we contemplated putting formed units in. I don’t know that the Americans really, at that point, did either quite frankly. I think that came somewhat later. I suppose we thought there would be more of the same with probably a much larger American effort put in to propping up the South Vietnamese. I think that’s about as far as we went. I suppose at the back of our minds
there may have been some view that formed units may have come in, in due course.
You implied that you weren’t completely sure of there being a chance of success there, even in the early stages?
I always thought that it was possible to win it. I’m pretty sure I thought it wasn’t going in the right
direction but I always thought that there was a capacity to do it. I thought that it would eventually come out…it would be successful because I thought that there would be sufficient resources put in to ensure that it was. I think the resources came in but it wasn’t successful for a number of reasons.
Back in Australia, what was your reaction
then, knowing what you knew when the American involvement escalated and Australian troops were committed?
At that stage of course, the situation had changed somewhat and I thought that was a natural progression. It seemed obvious at the time that that’s what would have to happen if it was going to be successful eventually, because clearly the South Vietnamese weren’t capable of
doing it on there own. There was no question about that. I suppose that had become obvious before anyway. So that came as no surprise because the situation had progressed between ’63 and ’65.
You were at Scheyville shortly after that, is that right?
I was at 1 RAR until ’65 and then went to Scheyville, yes.
In 1 RAR how much
was there talk about preparing for the battle group for possible conflict in Vietnam?
I think that it must have been contemplated. We weren’t training specifically for it but we were a very well trained unit anyway. When the time came, they split 1 RAR into two battalions, 1 and 5, or split the battle group into two battalions.
Look I can’t remember really whether we thought about it in those terms. I suppose it was contemplated but certainly out training wasn’t directed specifically at a potential deployment into Vietnam, as far as I can remember.
What were the advantages or disadvantages in terms of a battle group formation like 1 RAR?
Not too many advantages I don’t think. It was a much bigger organization than a battalion and therefore much more powerful. The company size was much bigger. There were about 220 men in the company as opposed to about 120 in a conventional company. It was a rather unwieldy structure. I think it was too large for the purpose for which a battalion is intended and had too many vehicles.
It took too long to move. I don’t think it was flexible enough. A battalion organization has to be pretty flexible and I think it was just too big, and too clumsy. It had some advantages in that you had a very powerful battalion organisation but I think we were all pretty glad to see it go.
It was a unique organisation what was going on in Scheyville. How do you think it worked?
It worked very well.
Well because it had been well thought through. The officer training pattern, the officer training system, had been very well established anyway. This was a modified pattern because it was much shorter. We knew
how to train officers. I mean there’s no question about that. We had that system well and truly sorted out. We put the right people in there. We put good people in there to start it up and once the thing starts up well, it usually continues on well, and the attitude of the National Servicemen was very good. Everything came together and produced a very good result. I think you’d find that anyone
who went through Scheyville will tell you the same. I’ve never heard anyone who has been through Scheyville who says it was anything other than a first class experience. They mightn’t have liked it much at the time but they all appreciate that it was a very well run and effective organisation. Its purpose was to train a young fellow as a platoon commander, even though he might be going to some other corps rather than infantry. It was to give him that training as a platoon commander.
Then if he went to artillery or armour, he could then do subsequent training, which would fit him for whatever corps he was going to. Everyone was to be produced at the same level.
What did he miss out on putting such a lot into five months?
Clearly, if you had more time you would have concentrated on some other things I suppose and you would have done more of other things.
You would have done more of the things you already did. One of the problems with a course as short as that, was the fact that you didn’t have sufficient time to fully assess a person’s capability. Five months was just too short and therefore some people who failed at Scheyville would undoubtedly have passed at a longer course because they would have been given more time
to prove themselves. We didn’t have enough time to take the risk, particularly as some of them were going straight to Vietnam, so that was a drawback but it couldn’t be helped. It was just a fact of life that you had to do it in five and a half to six months. The people at Scheyville turned out, the proof of the puddings was how they operated when they got to the units and I think that most of them
operated very well. We had Scheyville people in our battalion and most of the other battalions did too. So I never heard any particular criticism of Scheyville people as such. They were not as experienced clearly, as some of the people who’d come from Duntroon or Portsea, but they still had the basic essentials and they were able to
build on those basic essentials.
What else was different apart from experience? What was the mix of people you were getting at Scheyville?
You were probably getting a wider cross section of the public than you would at Duntroon or OCS [Officer Cadet School]. You had people there whose civilian occupations were totally foreign to any sort of military
activity. We had people who were interior designers. We had people of all persuasions, all particular activities, university students. They came from every sort of background; people who came from the country, people who were aiming to go into business, or law, or whatever. So you had a great variety.
You get a variety at Duntroon too but they were a bit older at Scheyville. I mean aged 20 as opposed to 17 or 18 at Duntroon. Some of them had had some sort of experience in life, so there was a greater cross section I suppose, of people.
How was the atmosphere different training National Servicemen as officers?
It wasn’t very different, just more concentrated.
I mean most of the officers who were teaching them were Duntroon officers anyway. Essentially the same sort of broad parameters would be used to train and it was just more concentrated. It was done more rapidly. People had less spare time. Other than that,
I don’t think there was a vast deal of difference. It was more comparable to a Portsea course than a Duntroon course anyway because Portsea was only a year. Duntroon was four. Duntroon was quite different in many ways.
Around that time when the Australians got involved in the war, there was also something that hadn’t been seen in Australia before in terms of public reaction against it. What did
you see that doing and what was your reaction to that?
That only came about well on into the deployment. It didn’t worry us greatly. The only way that it would have worried us unduly is if it had affected the people we were dealing with.
It certainly didn’t affect them. As far as the battalions were concerned, it didn’t worry us at all. I don’t think any of that anti-Vietnam business got through to the Australian units, mainly because we didn’t have as many National Servicemen in the battalions. That’s one reason and it just didn’t resonate at all. From our point of view,
it really didn’t exist. We knew it was going on but it didn’t worry us, whereas with the Americans it had a fairly profound effect as the war ground on. It did have an effect on the American units.
It had a fairly profound effect on the National Servicemen more so than the regular soldier.
Coming home? Yes, maybe. Well that was a different story.
One of the problems with the National Servicemen was that they had to be discharged when they finished their two year stint, so once their two year stint finished in Vietnam, they had to be discharged. They had to be sent home and discharged. That meant they came home by themselves. They didn’t come home in their unit and they didn’t have that unit around them when they came back. They were just discharged and sent off into the community. Now that
certainly had a bad effect on some people. There’s no question about that. But that was after they left the army. Those who came back in units, be they National Service or regular, I think had a better time of it. Of course the regulars stayed on in the army and the National Servicemen eventually went back into the community. So if he went back into an element of the community which was anti-Vietnam, I suppose he did have a bad time
at that stage. It affected different people differently. It wasn’t a universal problem in my view. It certainly was to some.
As 2IC you would have had a central role in preparing a battalion to go to Vietnam. Could you take us through how battalions prepared to go to Vietnam?
It took about six months is that right?
We had a six month period yes. I think the build up for most battalions was about six months. In other words, theoretically they came to full strength six months before they went. Now it didn’t absolutely occur that way because people were always coming in but essentially that would have been the case and certainly was the case when we came back from Malaya. We had a bit of a changeover and then from then
on, we were substantially stable from the time we came back until we went. The object of the exercise was to…everyone was basically trained at that stage, so really it was a question of the individual companies and the specialists within the battalion being trained in their company groups. They were all put through Canungra. Each company went through Canungra and then finally,
there was an exercise in which the whole battalion was put through a test essentially. The exercise was in fact a test to see whether it measured up and to see whether the individuals in the battalion measured up. All battalions went through that, certainly after that system was established. That was a very good system. It did in fact, in some battalions, find out people who were weak links and
they got removed. It didn’t happen to us fortunately. So that was essentially how it worked.
Can you tell us in a bit more detail what this test was?
It was a battalion exercise which was devised by the testing authority and it consisted of a number of different manoeuvres that a battalion might have to do in Vietnam; deployment by air, cordon and search of a village. I can’t remember precisely what it involved but all those sorts of aspects. All the aspects
that were believed that a battalion would be required to carry out in Vietnam. I can’t remember how long it lasted, a couple of weeks, maybe. Anyway, it really put the battalion through its paces and tested every system. From that point of view it was very useful for the battalion, from the battalion getting a view of its own
capacity and also from the point of view of the hierarchy knowing that the battalion was capable of doing what it was supposed to be doing. So it was a very useful system and at the end of that exercise or test, if you came through that appropriately, then everyone would be quite happy about your deployment. I think it was a very good system.
this be monitored and recorded?
There was a directing staff who ran the exercise and at each level there would be an umpire, who would go with the company, or go with the platoon, or go with the Headquarters, and he would monitor what was going on, and report on it. Therefore the exercise organisation would finish up with a very good view
of what was going on. It was run the same way as any umpired exercise is. The umpires would have their own communication, so they would be able to talk to each other from company to company, and to battalion Headquarters. The only difference would be at the end there was a very detailed report put in on the commanders and also as a battalion as a whole.
At that point, what strengths and weaknesses did you identify?
I don’t think we identified any
weaknesses at all actually! I can’t remember to be quite honest. I don’t think there were too many weaknesses. I think we were pretty well prepared by that stage. I don’t think we ever saw the report, to be quite honest with you. I’m not sure. I can’t remember, maybe the CO did but I think that probably we only would have seen it if there were adverse comments made. I don’t
remember ever seeing it, so I think we must have come through pretty well. I know we did actually.
Who was the CO?
The CO was Lieutenant Colonel Keith O’Neill. He joined the battalion when we came back from Malaya. He had been in Korea and in Malaya previously. He was a very thoughtful CO.
He thought through the problem and had studied counter-insurgency, and counter-guerrilla warfare pretty extensively, so he had some very definite ideas on how a battalion should operate in that environment, and the environment we were in. He was a very good CO from that point of view.
did he rely on his senior officers?
Any CO has a personal style and he has to allow his subordinates some latitude, and leeway. If he’s trying to do everything himself, he’s not going to achieve much. So he relies on his company commanders and his 2ICs, and his Ops officer, to do whatever they are required to do.
If they are operating effectively, then the battalion will operate effectively. It depends on the individual style of the CO. In his case, he certainly wasn’t a bloke who tried to tell everyone what to do every minute of the day, by any stretch of the imagination nor would it have been very successful if he had. The battalion commander has got to know precisely where he fits into the system and how
to get the best out of his subordinates. The whole trick of running any organisation is to get the most out of each of your subordinates. How you do that is up to you.
The sword or the friendly approach? Which one was that more descriptive of?
I don’t know that either of those I would recognise as approaches. I think
that his approach fits in with his personality. He was reasonably friendly. He got on with people quite well but as I said, he had definite ideas on operations and how operations should be conducted. Essentially that is his job. That is what he’s there for. I wouldn’t say that
he fitted into either of those descriptions.
What does a 2IC of a battalion do? What was your main job?
It depends actually. It depends on how the CO wants to play it and how the 2IC wants to play it. Essentially he’s responsible for all the mechanics of the battalion and how the battalion deploys, and moves, and the administration of the battalion, how it is supplied, how it is
resupplied in operations. In Vietnam, battalion 2ICs were used in different ways by different battalions. I was what was called a “Frontline 2IC”. I commanded the fire support bases. In some battalions the fire support bases might have been commanded by some other person. I personally thought that
it was a very good role for the 2IC because the 2IC, as well as running all the administrative side of the battalion, has to be an understudy for the CO. He has to be able to step in and take over the battalion if required, which I had to do on occasions. Therefore to be up in the fire support base with the CO or very close to the CO, knowing precisely what is going on operationally, is in my view
what the 2IC ought to be doing. Some battalions use 2ICs in different ways and I think quite effectively but that’s how a 2IC should be used, and that’s how I was used in the battalion.
Did your command of the fire support base lessen the administrative role that a 2IC would normally take up?
No, I did the lot. That was not particularly difficult. You get your subordinates doing what they should be doing and you make sure that they’re doing what
they’re doing. After a while with the fire support base, we developed techniques of moving it and deploying it in Australia, and we had a very effective set up. We had all our command post bits and pieces preset, so that all we had to do was dig a hole, and drop these in, and then put something on the top of them, and then we had a command post, which was pretty secure. We took all this stuff across with us to Vietnam.
It would be slung under a helicopter in a net, so to deploy the fire support base with all the requirements that you had to have to get it underground very rapidly, we had preset. We could deploy and get the whole organisation operating underground within 24 hours, which is pretty good. That’s because we developed the techniques in Australia and took them across with us. Other people didn’t do it nearly as well as we did, I can assure
Can you tell us a bit more about the fire support base and what you would do?
The fire support base was a technique that was developed in Vietnam. It suited the Vietnam type of operation and it consisted in our case, of a mortar platoon with a bit of protection. In most cases it consisted of the Battalion Headquarters, the battery of guns,
direct support battery, the mortar platoon, the pioneer platoon, all the segs, and all the people who were essential to run the Battalion Headquarters, both the operational CP [Command Post], and the administrative CP. It could, if the situation warranted, have a rifle company in there as well for protection but essentially we ran our own protection. All the people who were in there are required to not only do
their own job but also to be capable of fighting. The mortar platoons for instance, have to dig themselves in. The pioneers have to operate as a rifle platoon and they are a very good fighting company. They are better than most infantry platoons because they’re older and more experienced, and know what they’re about. The pioneers are very good people to have around. It is set out in a defensive perimeter.
Everyone is dug in, wired and so forth, so you can withstand a fairly substantial attack. Some of the fire support bases in Vietnam did get attacked. “Coral” is a notable example but they’d only deployed that afternoon when they were attacked that night, so they didn’t have a great deal of time to set themselves up and that was probably their biggest problem. It takes a certain amount of time to get yourself on the ground
and properly dug in so that you could fight, and they didn’t have enough time. Generally that’s how we operated. I think it was pretty much the case with every fire support base that we established. We had that mix in. The pioneers could have been out and doing a job. We had the trackers also. They were based in the fire support base generally. Some of these elements could be out doing other tasks
and then come back into the fire support base in due course. So the fire support base was a firm base in which the Battalion Headquarters could operate essentially, without fear of being interfered with by anyone. Essentially I think our fire support bases worked very well.
How mobile was it?
It could be picked up by helicopter. The whole lot, troops, all the paraphernalia, guns, the lot, could be picked up by helicopter.
So you could deploy the whole shooting match by helicopter, which we did.
Did you move your fire support base on a number of occasions?
Yes. We redeployed it. Every time we redeployed on an operation, we redeployed the fire support base in some form.
Can you tell us a bit more about the mechanics of deployment?
What, the whole battalion? How
does the battalion deploy?
Obviously it is a large issue but it is an interesting subject and one that you have a very expert perspective on.
It is a very important issue of course. In redeploying an operation, not only are you required to be fast and effective, but you also are required to be secure too. I mean if you are deploying by air, you need to have a fair bit of practice. You need to have someone who
is going to control the whole air move. You appoint a particular officer who is responsible for, if you are deploying the whole battalion simultaneously, working out the lifts that are going occur, where and in what sequence people are going to move, what sort of protection you are going to have at the far end, and so forth. There are two types. There’s one which is if you are going to deploy to an area which
is comparatively secure and the other where you are going to deploy into an area which is insecure. Now if you are going to deploy into an area which is insecure, you’d have to be in gun range. You’d have to have artillery on the ground which would support you, as you came in. You’d have to deploy fighting elements first and so forth. If you are doing it the other way around or if it is semi-administrative, then you might do it a different way. But first of all, all the companies have
to know exactly how they are going to deploy and in what sequence. They have to know internally how they’re going to deploy and in what sequence. The Battalion Headquarters and all that paraphernalia that I’ve just spoken about, which is a much more complex group than a company, has to know how they are going to deploy, and in what sequence, and so on. It is really a matter of practice and having people sufficiently trained to organise the air move, and then run the air move.
Apart from practice, it should be run by standing operating procedures and a variance of the standing operating procedures, if you know what I mean by standing operating procedures? What’s laid down as to how you will do certain things and in what sequence. Every one is different and every one has to be looked at from an individual tactical perspective.
How did you
practise all that?
We practised by just doing it, by getting aircraft. We did this in Australia frequently and we certainly did it in our final test exercise. By getting the aircraft available to you, getting your own procedures worked out and then practicing, just doing it. Then modifying your procedures to cater for whatever the
requirement is. Really it is just a matter of practice and experience.
What about liaising with other groups and other forces?
Working with the air force is again another technique which has to be practised and has to be practised by the air force too. By the time we got to Vietnam, the air force was pretty well
advanced in those processes. Early on, not so well but they developed working techniques with the army, which certainly by the end of Vietnam were very good. Sure, it is a requirement. You’ve got to have air force people who understand the army requirement, which is most important. The airman’s view will always be to look after his
machine and that’s understandable, and fair enough but the army’s view is that you’ve got to do the job, and if the machine is put at risk, well too bad. I mean that’s part of the business. So it took some time for the air force to change their thought processes in Vietnam but certainly, mid way through to the end, they were very good.
What was the situation on the ground
when the 8th Battalion arrived?
We were essentially concentrating on Phuoc Tuy Province. Phuoc Tuy Province had been fought over for quite a period of time. The essential feature of the enemy in Phuoc Tuy was that it would reinvent itself. The main enemy force D445, would be
pretty much decimated at one point and then we would suddenly find that it was reinvented, and it would be reinvented by North Vietnamese recruits. Certainly towards the end of the war, they found it very difficult to get South Vietnamese recruits, so a lot of them were coming in from the north, which was a problem for them because the northerners were not liked in the south. They stood out. Their accents were different. They looked a bit different and they were very easily identifiable by
a southerner. D445 as time wore on became more and more North Vietnamese rather than local but when we got there, it was pretty well flourishing. It came up and down. Sometimes it was effective and sometimes it was not as effective as it might have been. One thing that our commanding officer
was very keen on was the classic counter-insurgency technique of separating the guerrilla from the villager, from the local population. In Phuoc Tuy Province you had a variety of villages. You had some villages which were pro-government, particularly the Catholic villages. These people had come down from the north in the 1950’s. They were very pro-government and very anti-VC, and they would look after themselves essentially. There were
people who were pro-VC, like Hoa Long, which was just on the edge of the Task Force Base. It was very pro-VC and there were others who were indifferent, and just wanted to be left alone. The guerrilla of course, will come in and use the population, either the village or the provincial town, Bien Hoa, not Bien Hoa but Dat Do, or whatever, for his own purposes. He will come in and
cut a few throats at night, get medical supplies, get whatever he wants, and intimidate the local population. By day the government would come back in. It would come back under control of the government and by night it would revert back to the guerrilla. If you want to stop that, you’ve got to stop the guerrilla having contact with the population. We were concerned, certainly in the latter stages of our tour,
very much with that technique. Getting around the villages and ambushing, it was a technique used in Malaya. It is quite obvious that that is the requirement because unless you can keep the guerrilla away from the population, you can talk all you like about the government and what the government is going to do for you but if he can come in, and cut your throat at night, you might as well forget it. You’re not going to have him on side for obvious reasons. He just can’t afford to be on side. We did that fairly successfully I think.
How hard it is to define which groups are the civilians you want to keep separate and which groups are the guerrillas?
You’ve just got to separate the guerrilla from the population. You’ve got to prevent the guerrilla moving into the populated areas and he does this generally by night. If you can prevent that occurring, then you can establish a governmental system, a governmental structure, which has some hope of
continuity. If you can’t do that, then the governmental structure just doesn’t exist for any practical purposes. You may have Province Chiefs and Village Chiefs, and everyone else but they’re quite ineffective. So the only way you can do it is by physically separating the guerrilla from the population. Now in Phuoc Tuy we had the capacity to do that because we generally had sufficient troops on the ground. We probably
could have done with another battalion actually but we generally had sufficient troops on the ground to make a pretty good fist of that. But of course, there were other operations to be done out in the hinterland, so the whole Task Force couldn’t be used in that sort of activity.
When you first arrived, where were you based?
We were all based in Nui Dat
in the Task Force base and each battalion that came in had a location, took over the location from a previous battalion, then you deployed out on operations. There was always that Task Force base at Nui Dat. Now some people would have claimed that it wasn’t desirable to establish a major base like that because you always had to protect it, and certainly in the early stages
protecting the Task Force Base was a major diversion for the Task Force commander. In fact the “Battle of Long Tan” was precisely that. It was protecting the Task Force base, nothing more and nothing less, from a major assault. The alternative would have been to have no fixed based like that, perhaps to have a base down at Vung Tau and have your battalion elements or other
elements, as free agents but there would have been disadvantages in that too. There were advantages in having Nui Dat, certainly. Most of the time we were there, we spent out of Nui Dat. Most of it wasn’t spent in Nui Dat, in fact you didn’t spend very much time in Nui Dat at all, in the infantry anyway.
Interviewee: Adrian Clunies-Ross Archive ID 0795 Tape 08
NB. This section of transcript is embargoed. Embargo ends 01/01/2034
What battalion strength operations did you get involved with?
I’m not quite sure how to answer that. Every time we deployed you could say it was a battalion strength operation. We had a couple where the whole battalion,
or most of the battalion was involved. An operation called “Hammersley”, where we were in the Long Hais and one of our companies his a VC bunker system, a very well dug in VC bunker system. This was surprisingly enough, not very far from Vung Tau but in an uninhabited area. They determined it was a very strong
position. The battalion redeployed to do a battalion attack, to cut a fairly long story short, but was prevented from so doing by higher Headquarters, who thought that there was too much risk involved. This was a VC battalion which was extremely well dug in, in a very, very strong bunker system and in quite open country. So in lieu of
doing a battalion attack, a B52 strike was put in on it and by the time the B52 strike was put in, the battalion had scarpered largely, knowing full well that something was going to happen to them. The only people that were left in that bunker system were people who had been left as a rear party I suppose. So the battalion attack wasn’t put in because of
the fears of higher Headquarters about casualties at that stage. Right through the whole period of Vietnam people were very worried about casualties.
How do you call in a B52 strike?
You put it through to your higher headquarters, which was the Task Force Headquarters. The Task force Headquarters would then have to go to the American system and the B52s came from Guam, in Vietnam,
generally came from Guam. The interesting thing about a B52 strike, I was over the other side of the hill when this strike came in. We were there. [demonstrates] There was a hill system there and the bunker system was over here. We knew it was coming in early in the morning at a particular time. You don’t hear the planes at all because they’re flying too high. The only physical manifestation you get
is the actual explosions on the ground of the strike and they let everything go simultaneously, so you have one enormous number of bombs coming down on a very limited area. The dawn was just coming up when this strike hit over the other side of the hill and it was rather like an atomic blast. You got this great cloud of
dust and rubbish coming up and it comes into a mushroom cloud, and essentially the dawn was turned into semi darkness again. So it was a very frightening technique as far as the VC were concerned. They were more worried about B52s than they worried about anything else because you couldn’t hear them coming. You didn’t know when they were coming and really you wouldn’t know when they hit you
because if they hit you, that was the end of you. In this case the interesting thing about it was that we went and had a look at the bunker system there shortly thereafter and a lot of the bunkers had been untouched by the strike. Unless the bomb had actually hit the bunker system itself, they were still intact,
which meant that they were extremely well prepared. VC bunkers generally were. Some had been damaged but a lot had not. The fact is that anyone who was there on the ground was certainly destroyed. But as I say, the battalion had left by that stage. It was a fairly…I won’t say ineffective exercise but it was
one way of dealing with the problem I suppose. We expected to put in a battalion attack but that wasn’t to be.
Who made the individual decision to bring in the B52s?
The decision was made at Task Force Headquarters I believe.
On your advice?
No, not on the advice of the battalion. The battalion’s desire was to do a battalion attack,
which could have been done but certainly would have had inherent risks in it.
What was the objective of Operation Hammersley?
The objective of Operation Hammersley was really to clear out the VC from an area in which they had been in for many, many years, even before the Second World War. The higher parts of Hammersley, the high parts of the Long Hais, had been occupied by dissidents,
be they anti-French or anti-whoever, since the 1930s at least. When we were, there they were very difficult to move around in, certain areas anyway because they were very heavily booby-trapped. In fact we lost more people on booby-traps in the Long Hais than we lost in any other aspect. The dilemma was
that desirably you go and clean them out but at the same time it could be a very nugatory exercise, in that you could lose a lot of people without achieving very much at all.
Can you tell us about those booby-traps?
The booby-traps were a very common device in South Vietnam and all battalions had to deal with them. They became particularly
prevalent after the minefield was put in around…the famous mine field that was put in by the Task Force. That minefield was not protected effectively by the South Vietnamese and many of the mines were pulled up by the VC, and used subsequently against
us. The mine booby-trap problem was a very significant problem for our battalion and for other battalions at that time.
What was the famous minefield?
A minefield was put into protect Dat Do. It was a conventional minefield and
it was put in about 1967 I suppose by the Task Force to prevent access into the town. The reason for it was that there weren’t sufficient troops on the ground to carry out these protective functions, so the Task Force commander at the time thought it was desirable to put a minefield in. It was a controversial decision and one which has been exorcised
in people’s minds quite considerably from then on.
How did you feel about that at the time?
Well we weren’t there at the time. We were not in the country at the time.
Can you tell us about the losses your battalion suffered?
As I say, the main losses in a particular incident were two booby-trapped mines
in the Long Hais. In one particular platoon of A Company, we lost about nine killed and 16 wounded I think. Virtually it decimated this one platoon of A Company. That was the biggest single incident that we had.
How did you deal with that?
The only way to deal with it is to get the people out who are still alive and
that was very difficult because the whole area was mined. You had to fly people out and someone had to prepare a landing pad which was secure, in other words it had been vetted for mines, and then get helicopters in, and get them out. That was about the only way you could do it. In an area like that you just have to clear
and area before you could do anything. That was a common experience. It was not an uncommon experience.
In that particular case, what was that platoon doing in the area?
The platoon was moving up the Long Hais in an attempt to get to the summit to help with the clearance of the Long Hais, to get rid of the VC who were known to be in that vicinity.
It had been tried before by various Task Force elements with mixed success. They were unfortunate but nonetheless, it wasn’t I suppose totally unexpected. The losses were unexpected of that magnitude but the fact that there were mines in the area was well known. They were in fact moving very cautiously
and prodding all the way up the hill while they were moving.
What were the stresses that infantrymen were exposed to that were peculiar to Vietnam?
Now that’s a very good question because I think there were some stresses in Vietnam which were peculiar. In other wars, for instance the Second World War, Korea, the action may have been more intense at times but
people came out of the line for considerable periods of time, both in the Second World War, and Korea. In other words they came right out. They mightn’t have been back in a recreational area but they were back in an area where they could relax and they had a period of time off. In Vietnam for the infantry, it was a constant slog. For instance, our first deployment we were out for six weeks. We came back for about three days and we were deployed again. Now that was a common
feature of infantry activity in Vietnam. In some cases operations went on for up to three months before people came out and then they only came out for a very brief period of time. While the action may not have been intense, as intense as some actions were in the Second World War and Korea, it was constant. The pressure on the individual was constant. He was constantly in an operational environment and when he came out, he only came out
for a brief period of time. In some cases companies got down to Vung Tau for a day or two. In some cases they got back to Nui Dat and they were on ready reaction task back in Nui Dat, so they didn’t get much respite at all.
What about for yourself?
We were pretty much in the same boat. Once we were there we were working the whole time.
how far removed from the stresses of your patrols were you?
Well you’re not a forward scout of an infantry company obviously, or an infantry platoon, so you’re not involved in that type of stress constantly but it depended on what level you were. Even a company commander in the field, in a Vietnam context, was a little bit removed from the immediate. He may get involved in it
subsequently, but the immediate contact would be somewhere up with his forward scout. In Vietnam if you were flying in the air, you were always subject to enemy action, either in helicopters or fixed wing. There was no time when you were…unless you were back in Nui Dat where you were totally removed from a threat of some description.
Can you describe a time when you were in an aircraft under threat?
Well, you are always under threat.
You were always under some degree of threat.
Can you describe the actuality of that threat?
The actuality of the threat would be someone firing a machine gun from the ground or a rifle machine gun probably, trying to knock the helicopter or the plane out of the air.
Can you describe an incident that you were involved in?
No, I was never actually knowingly shot at but that threat was certainly always there.
What was the most
personally threatened that you felt?
Personally threatened? It would have been on the first tour probably, rather than the second. It didn’t matter what you were doing in Vietnam, there was always some degree of threat. If you were deployed there was always some degree of threat. Whether you were personally threatened or not immediately threatened, there was always
some degree of threat around. Certainly personal threat would have been on the first tour.
What particular incident was that?
On a deployment. On the deployment that I talked about a half an hour ago or an hour ago, whenever it was.
How different were you finding this second tour?
It was very different in the sense that you were with your own people. It makes a big difference.
The first tour you were with Vietnamese and Americans. You were not with your own unit, so you don’t have that degree of ease, that you know precisely how people are going to react around you. On the second tour, you were with your own people, with your own battalion. You knew how they were going to react.
You knew that you could rely on them and so forth. It was rather different.
There was a village called Binh Ba, which was fought over for many years. Tell us about your involvement with Binh Ba.
No, I don’t think we were ever directly involved with Binh Ba. There was a Battle of Binh Ba just before we got there, which was 5 RAR and tanks. There was a substantial VC element in Binh Ba at that point but I think that was the only time that there was a substantial element of VC
in there. Binh Ba was an area that we moved through and around but I don’t think we had any direct contact in Binh Ba itself.
You mentioned a particular character in Binh Ba?
Oh, the “One Eyed Woman”! She was in fact taken care of by B Company of our battalion. She was a local guerrilla leader
and she was a very nasty piece of work. She would come in to the villages to intimidate them and it was certainly reported that she would be very nasty to small children in order to intimidate the locals. They got into, she and her element, got into a fire fight with B Company and that was the end of them.
Was that during your time?
Yes, B Company 8 RAR.
What was your direct involvement with that action?
Nothing. It was B Company. The company was directly involved but no anyone else in the battalion.
What did you feel about your enemy?
I think that we felt that he was a fairly tough
character who was certainly prepared to endure quite a lot of hardship for whatever cause he thought he was fighting. I think we had a certain degree of respect for them. We certainly didn’t have any animosity. There was no animosity towards the VC from our point of view in Phuoc Tuy, certainly when we were there. I don’t think there was at any time really.
I think there was a degree of respect for them in the sense that they were fighting and were pretty effective soldiers, and would put up with an awful lot to do whatever they were doing. We had a certain degree of respect for them.
At your level of command and from your personal point of view, how restricted did you feel by the order of battle,
the restrictions put on what you could, and couldn’t do?
We were certainly constrained to some degree but I think in any war that is the case. I don’t think anyone has a free hand at any stage of any war. You are always constrained by the intentions of the higher Headquarters. There was a political element in Vietnam of course and that political element was
casualties. There certainly was a very strong desire on the part of the politicians and the military hierarchy to minimise casualties. I mean everyone wants to minimise casualties anyway but certainly there was a lot of political pressure to ensure that casualties were minimised.
How did you feel about that from a command point of view?
It did constrain the battalion commander. As I said, he was anxious to
carry out a battalion attack at one stage on Hammersley and he wasn’t able to do so. Other than that I don’t think it provided any real constraint. I don’t think it affected us directly, although we knew at the back of our minds that certainly there was a very strong desire on the part of the hierarchy, to make sure that we didn’t suffer excess.
What instructions specifically did you give your company commanders when dealing with the civilian population in that obviously very blurry area?
We were very, very careful to deal appropriately with the civilian population. I think you’d be very hard to find any incident with the Australian Task Force where civilians were other than
appropriately treated. You might be able to find one or two incidents. Occasionally you’d have some sort of chiacking from troops perhaps, driving out in a convoy but that was very tightly controlled and if anyone was caught doing anything untoward with the civilian population, they would be very rapidly dealt with. There were very strong
directives within the Task Force about dealing with the civilian population. The whole purpose of the war of course was, if you start dealing inappropriately with the civilian population in that sort of war, all you’re doing is helping your adversary because his job is to get the population on side. Your job is to get the population on side with you and we were very conscious of that.
In that area, what did you do for the Hearts and Minds campaign?
We did quite a bit actually,
as much as we could. We built a school. We did other civic action tasks. Towards the end of our tour we had our pioneer platoon going out and doing these sorts of things. We were engaged in the building of that school right the way through for pretty much the way through our tour and we did civic action tasks as were required to do. There was a civic action unit in the Task Force and it was their duty to
coordinate all the civic action work that they wanted done and they would call on a particular unit to do whatever they thought necessary, which we would respond to as far as we could.
How did the losses affect you personally at that time?
I think it was always very depressing, particularly when you lost people that you knew
and there were some senior NCOs that I’d had quite a bit of dealing with. It is a fact of life in war but certainly the object of our CO was to minimise losses as much as possible and he was very upset by that particular incident in the Long Hais. It is something that you can’t blame anyone for. It was no one’s fault. It was just one of those things that happened.
Who was the colleague you were closest with that you lost?
A warrant officer called Bill Hayward. He was a fellow I’d had a lot to do with in Malaya. He had been in my company in Malaya. He was a sergeant. Was he a warrant officer or a sergeant? He might have finished up a warrant officer but I’d known him very well. He was a very tough chap. He was in fact leading this platoon in the Long Hais that hit those two booby-traps
and he was a very good soldier. I knew others too but he was one I certainly knew very well.
What did you do in that particular case to commemorate losses?
I don’t know about commemorate but the CO would write personally to every next of kin of those who were killed.
You might say that’s a pretty empty gesture but nonetheless, it is about all you can do at that point. Those people’s names are all recorded and commemorated in the battalion histories and archives.
I was thinking at that time?
At the time there’s not much you can do anyway. Well, there’s very little you can do. I think they’ve all been appropriately recorded and remembered,
and they will be while people are still alive who knew them. They will be afterwards I suppose but it won’t be quite as personal.
What did you have to do with the media?
As little as possible! [laughs] The media was very well controlled in Nui Dat, in marked contrast to the way the Americans
did it. All our journalists within the Task Force were accredited. If they stepped out of line then they lost their accreditation and they had no contact.
What does stepping out of line mean?
Reporting wildly inaccurately. The determination would have to been made by the Task Force Headquarters as to whether the journalist had…if he was reporting accurately what he’d seen,
then there was no problem. In fact we had a number of journalists who moved with the battalions. We had one, his name was Gibbons, a photographer. He came out with the battalion frequently and he took a lot of photos that we have in our battalion book. He took them in difficult circumstances.
Most of the journalists were pretty good in Vietnam. We really had no real problem with Australian journalists.
Was there a sense that you might be misrepresented?
I think you’ve always got that sense that you might be misrepresented! [laughs] Possibly because the journalist doesn’t understand what he’s writing about. That could be the case and that’s probably more the case than wilful misrepresentation.
I think it is generally that the journalist is coming at it from a totally different aspect. He doesn’t really understand what it is that he is writing about and then writes something that we would regard as wildly inaccurate or inappropriate.
How aware were you of the representation of the Vietnam War in the media in Australia?
We were pretty aware of it certainly and I think that most of the journalists who were with the Task Force, we would regard as fairly
effective. We didn’t have a big problem with the media really, I must say.
Yet that media was stirring up a fair bit of dissatisfaction at home.
Yes, but not the media that we were dealing with. They were people who were writing in Australia and we had no control over that. Obviously they could do what they liked but they were in a separate category to those that were actually dealing with us, that were with us or on the ground with us or talking to us
in Vietnam. Most of those I would think we had a fairly good view of. We got on pretty well and we thought most of them were…they can be a great deal of help in the media if they bond with the unit. If you know the technique that was used in Iraq, of putting them with units, which I think nullified their effectiveness pretty effectively.
Whether that was the intention or not, I’m not sure. The Brits used it in the Falklands actually. They used that same technique in the Falklands of putting the journalist with the unit and it worked extraordinarily well for them because the journalist tends to bond. In the Falklands the journalists were in fact with the front line units, whereas in Iraq, they were generally in units that were well behind the front line. They bonded with
the units in the Falklands and therefore wrote some very good stuff.
How important was it to you as a commander placing men in harms way to have support from the government and the public?
Clearly it is important and we never felt that we didn’t have that support actually. Despite what might have been going on in Australia, it didn’t penetrate to Vietnam. I
don’t think you’ll find that anyone in Vietnam felt that we were being undermined by whatever was going on in Australia. We certainly didn’t feel that we lacked support of the government and I don’t think we felt that we lacked the support of the population. When we came back we marched through Brisbane and we had a huge crowd there. That was in 1970, so there was no evidence of any animosity. There was an element of the population in Australia which was anti-Vietnam
Any instances of dissension in you battalion in the time you were there from the National Servicemen?
Absolutely none. I can safely say that. Do you mean because they were National Servicemen in Vietnam, in an unpopular war?
No, perhaps any dissension?
There were no disciplinary problems with National Servicemen which weren’t common to regulars. There was nothing untoward about the National Servicemen. In fact, you might if you looked at the various disciplinary activities, you might find they were less. I don’t know whether that was the case or not but there was no differentiation. I wouldn’t have known whether a soldier was a National Serviceman or a regular and I wouldn’t have cared quite frankly, and no one else did either. There was no
dissension within Vietnam from National Servicemen who were objecting to the fact that they were in a battalion in Vietnam, none at all, because they bonded with their organisation anyway.
Perhaps that’s something that might not come up to the 2IC of a battalion?
Yes it would. I’d know that, I can assure you. I mean I knew all the company commanders as well and we talked all the time. There was never anything like that. I can guarantee you of that.
I mean if anyone could remotely tell me any incident which was related to the fact that someone was a National Serviceman who didn’t want to be in Vietnam, I’d be very surprised. The fact is that they bond with their unit. Have you seen that correspondence that there has been recently over the 106 Battery in Vietnam, the artillery battery?
No I haven’t.
Well, in the latest volume of the official history,
there was a description of a court martial in which the defending counsel described 106 Battery as a slack battery. Now that appeared in the official history just recording what this defence counsel said. That has been the subject of a vast degree of correspondence from members of that battery, most of whom I suspect were National Servicemen, in fact I know a number of them were, defending that battery to the last.
That’s what I’m saying. Those fellas who were part of that organisation would, if anyone came up and said, “You were in a slack battalion, you were in a slack battery”, they would defend it to the last man in the last round. So you didn’t get that sort of reaction from them. In the American army, certainly towards the end of the Vietnam War, you would have got that sort of activity going on.
When you were over on your last tour,
what were your relations with the US?
We were in our own Task Force and we reported to the Australian Task Force Headquarters. We did do some work with American battalions, or in conjunction with American battalions, but not a vast amount. We did take over a fire support base from an American battalion, which was a very different sort of fire support base to the one that we would
deploy. It was one of these circular fort type fire support bases where everyone lived underground in big bunkers underneath that were dug in and with big buns around the outside. It was rather like the old covered wagon principal. We wouldn’t produce a fire support base like that, for all sorts of different reasons.
What was wrong with that sort of
fire support base?
For certain types of operations it might be fairly effective. They cleared vast areas around it. It was certainly well protected. We would prefer to be dug in underground, each individual dug in rather than have people living in great bunkered, Oregon timbered bunkers. It just wasn’t our style. It didn’t fit our pattern of operations or our
thought processes at all. It was effective in a sense but certainly didn’t suit us. We had dealings with one American battalion for a period of time and our relationship with them was perfectly cordial. We didn’t have a great deal to do with the Americans as such. We did get supported by American artillery frequently.
The heavier natures of artillery were American. We only had 105s. They had 155s, 175s and eight inch, which we called upon and we were able to call upon, and that’s probably the most substantial connection we had with the Americans.
Yes, that was available yes.
Did you ever have occasion to call in napalm strikes?
No, we never called in napalm.
Interviewee: Adrian Clunies-Ross Archive ID 0795 Tape 09
…your task with a particular strategy there, how did you measure the success of that strategy?
I think it is very hard to measure. I think the only real measure was the situation within the province when
we left and I think we would probably say that the situation in the province was better when we left than when we arrived. That wasn’t just due to us. It was due to all the people that were there but it appeared to us that the situation had improved fairly considerably between the time we got there and the time we left. It had happened before that there had been a falling off in VC
activity in the province and then it would come back again, and I think it did occur. There was a sort of final flourish when 4 RAR, which was the last battalion there, was involved in some quite heavy activity right towards the end of its tour. When we left Vietnam we weren’t replaced so the Task Force finished up with only two battalions and that was I think a measure of the fact that they believed that
there had been some success in Phuoc Tuy. The problem was of course that Phuoc Tuy was only a very small part of the total picture and really what happened in Phuoc Tuy was only a sideshow, as far as the total picture in Vietnam was concerned.
Was there any particular divergence between your personal opinion about the reasons for Australia being there and the official military objectives?
No, not really. I always thought that it was a legitimate exercise right from the start. You could argue on both sides of that. It is quite easy to argue and I could produce arguments for both. I believe that the Communist North, when it came to power
acted extraordinarily inappropriately in the north. They eliminated everyone who owned more than two hectares, or whatever the figure was. Everyone was just eliminated. They treated their own populace very, very poorly. I didn’t see anything grossly heroic about Ho Chi Minh and his ideas. I mean
certainly, you could understand their nationalistic drive, which was to get rid of the French colonialists and that was understandable. What they were producing was not something that was better. It was something that was probably worse and it was very much the same as the Russian Revolution for instance. It was all done for reasons of making Russia a better place, when in fact it finished up worse than it was before. So these sort of revolutionary
movements I don’t think ever produce a very effective result and I never saw any reason why that sort of system should be enforced on the South, who in many ways were somewhat different people. There has always been a capitalistic element in the South, a very strong capitalistic element. In fact that’s never been eliminated even though Vietnam became nominally Communist, or the south did. The capitalistic element is still there and is
flourishing, and in fact it is now flourishing in the north. No I didn’t have a problem with the morality of it. Clearly the way that it was fought, I would have some problems with, not the way that we did it but the way that it was done in a wider sphere, certainly I would have some problems with, but not the
essential morality of it.
Day to day, how were things going from an R & R point of view? How were you and your troops getting some R & R, time away?
The troops were allowed one R & R back in Australia actually, during their tour, which was pretty generous really, when you come to think of it.
Apart from that, there was not much. There was very little. Between operations people could get down to Vung Tau for a day or a couple of days and that was it. So it was very intense from that point of view. Once you got over there, you were going flat out essentially, until the day you left.
What did you know of Vung Tau?
What? Not much. I’ve been there a couple of times. Vung Tau was
Vung Tau. It was formerly a seaside resort. It was used by the French in the colonial days as a very exclusive seaside resort. We had our logistic elements there but you know that was about the size of it.
Did you ever spend time there yourself and what did you think of it?
I spent a couple of days there.
You know, there was not much to do there really. It wasn’t a very inviting place. There was a pool there where you could swim. There was a beach but the rest of it was not very inviting.
Among the Australian troops what was the incidence of drug abuse?
I would say nil. We certainly had no problems with drugs. The
Australian in those days was far more directed towards alcohol than he was towards drugs. I don’t think we ever had any drugs. We certainly had no drug problems that we knew of and certainly you’d pick them up pretty quickly. Drugs weren’t common in the Australian society amongst that age group in those days. Alcohol was always a potential
problem. Alcohol was very strictly controlled in our battalion anyway and certainly no one had alcohol on operations. The only time you could consume alcohol was back in Nui Dat and then the ration was two cans a man theoretically, and we strictly controlled alcohol consumption. Any problems in Vietnam could always be attributable to alcohol. Any that did occur were attributable
to alcohol, no question about it, not drugs. Drugs weren’t a problem.
Were there any particular events that were related to alcohol consumption that caused problems while you were there?
Not for us, no. Not for our battalion. We exercised very strong control over it and we didn’t have any untoward incidents involving the battalion,
which were attributable to alcohol, no.
Involving other battalions?
There was an incident with the battalion that was there previously where an officer was killed but that was involving the other battalion and not our battalion. We were just in the process of taking over from them when that occurred.
What particular incident was that?
That was a chap who was an officer
who was murdered with a grenade while he was asleep.
That’s fragging [death by means of a fragmentation grenade]?
You could call it fragging if you like.
A very unfortunate incident but again due to alcohol.
Not to do with dissension in the ranks?
Due to alcohol. Well obviously dissension
but alcohol on top of dissension, not in the ranks but in a particular couple of individuals.
Getting towards the end of your time in Vietnam how ready were you to go home?
Well I think we were all pretty ready to go home. I don’t think we had any problem about that at all! [laughs]
It was a pretty long year to put it mildly. We were ready to go home certainly.
You might not have had any problems coming home but some of the National Servicemen had some difficulties I think. Do you have any particular view on the difference between the National Servicemen and the regular soldiers with their homecoming?
We touched on this
before actually. Most of the regulars came back as part of a unit. They came back with their unit. For instance the 8th Battalion came back as a battalion. The regulars went back into Enoggera and continued on in their army careers. The National Servicemen who finished their tours had to leave Vietnam when their tours were finished and come back, and be discharged individually, and then they were put back into the community,
and they didn’t have the support of the unit, which the regulars, or the National Servicemen who came back with the battalion, had. I think that that was probably a significant shock to the system for some of them and it affected different people in different ways. While certain National Servicemen or ex-Vietnam people have had problems, there are also an awful lot who haven’t had problems too, and they’re never talked about. I know an awful lot of people who have been in Vietnam and have had no problems at all.
It affected different people different ways and that was due to their own personalities, perhaps they’d had problems before they went into the army or potential problems but of course for some people, it was a shock to their system coming out of Vietnam, and then coming straight back into the community, which in some cases may have been somewhat anti or some elements may have been anti.
They may have felt that very strongly. I think for some people it was difficult and for others it wasn’t, and since that time some people have had problems with post-traumatic stress, as it is called, and others have not. Whether that is any different to any other war, I don’t know. I think that Vietnam, as I said, was more intense from
the point of view of the continuous nature of the operations. It certainly wasn’t as savage as some pervious wars, except in particular incidents but it was very continuous and a very stress producing period where there wasn’t much let up during the time we were there.
How did you personally cope with coming out of that environment back to Australia?
I didn’t have a great problem, one way or the other. I mean I’ve never felt a particular problem with regard to Vietnam service.
The Australia you returned to was certainly divided.
Yes, it was divided.
How did that affect you?
Not much. I had
pretty strong views one way or the other anyway, and you know, many of the people that I had dealings with when I came back were not anti. There may have been one or two who were anti. I’ve had one or two incidents subsequently where people clearly were anti but only isolated incidents. Generally speaking most of the people that I had dealings with were not anti and
I never had a problem personally. Even if I did deal with people who were anti, my views were sufficiently well formed not to be too upset by it. I certainly think I knew more about Vietnam than most people who might have wanted to have an argument about it.
Have those views changed since that time?
No, not substantially no.
How would you characterise the Vietnam experience? What did Australia learn from it?
I don’t know that countries learn from things like that do they? I really don’t think so. I don’t think there is a corporate memory. It really depends on individual governments and the situation at the time, and how they see that situation.
If a situation arose tomorrow, would any particular government be looking back at Vietnam? They may have some idea of what went on but would they be looking back and saying, “Are we going to get ourselves into another Vietnam?” Maybe that’s a question they would ask but we’ve had Iraq just recently, where some people claimed before the event was going to be another Vietnam.
I certainly didn’t think so and I still don’t think so.
Were there lessons to be learned from Vietnam?
Oh yes, there are always lessons to learn. Sure there are lessons! A government, if it going to commit itself to war, has to look extraordinarily closely at what it is getting itself into and it is going to make a judgement one way or the other. For instance,
when the recent government made a decision to be involved in a peripheral way in Iraq. I don’t think it made that decision lightly. I don’t think any government makes those decisions lightly and clearly it went in with a very limited objective as to how long it was going to be committed, and maybe people thought about Vietnam. I don’t know, when making that decision. Certainly
some of the pundits around the place were talking about another Vietnam. This situation was to me in no way parallel to Vietnam at all. Now sure, it has become a difficult situation but it is impossible to say how it will turn out eventually. I tend to think it will turn out reasonably well but I don’t think it is parallel to Vietnam, for any number of reasons.
How would you have planned Vietnam
Now that’s a good question! Well if I’d had any capacity to plan it differently, I would have approached the war in a different way. I would have approached it very much from the point of view of our experience in Malaya but on a much larger scale. It certainly required huge resources. I required huge resources. The Americans did have huge resources.
I would have concentrated far more on containing the population as far as the guerrilla element was concerned and trying to make sure that that element was separated. To do that you really needed a proper governmental structure, which you never had in Vietnam, so maybe with the best will in the world, Vietnam was never going to be any different to what it turned out
to be. Theoretically you could have won it, theoretically, but it would have required changed circumstances perhaps, to do it.
What do you feel about the post-traumatic stress disorders that a lot of the Vietnam veterans
now are claiming?
Well, I don’t want to talk too much about that. I have mixed feelings on it. I think some of them are absolutely genuine. There are certainly some that aren’t and I’ll leave it at that.
You said that you can’t relate this to any of your personal experiences?
I can understand why certain people have had difficulties and I’ve known one or two who have had difficulties, who I can understand. I can understand perfectly well why they have them. But I know other people who’ve had them and I don’t understand why they’ve had them, so it depends very much on the individual.
Have you had any dreams or memories that would come
back to you?
But things that disturb you, that stay with you?
Well I suppose so but not that disturb me unduly, but things that I remember, yes, but not that I’m essentially disturbed by.
I’ve had dreams yes. I haven’t had too many recently I don’t think! [laughs]
You had a period in London during the Falklands War. What did you see of that war and how it was managed by the English?
When you say see how it was managed, I didn’t see any of it practically on the ground but I saw a lot of the ways that the British
establishment handled the situation. By establishment, I mean the government and the military hierarchy. Essentially it was a remarkably well handled operation. If you’d looked at it from the point of view of a theoretical exercise, most people would have said it was impossible to go down to the Falklands from the UK and reclaim them from the Argentineans, who were in fairly
close proximity. It was a combination of political will and also a very effective command, and control, as I mentioned before. They had this very small cabinet of principal ministers, the Prime Minister and the Chief of Defence staff, who took the directives of that cabinet down to the operational Headquarters.
The Operational Headquarters put them into effect and even though they were dealing with islands that were thousands of miles away, they were effectively able to carry out those orders because there was nothing in between. It was a very clear cut and effective chain of command. The Argentineans were not a very effective opposition.
Let’s be quite honest about it but the Brits were still put in a very difficult situation operating so far away. There was some good luck involved in it too. The Argentinean mainland was just on the edge of range of their fighters from the Falklands, so all they could do was get to the Falklands and turn around and get back. Now they’d had no time
over the Falklands to actually do much and that was a very critical factor because a lot of the Argentinean planes fell into the sea on the way home because they ran out of range. That was just a fact of geography but it was a very lucky fact of geography for the Brits. The other thing was the Brits had carriers that they could deploy down there and prove the value of the carrier, and they deployed a lot of their air
effort off carriers, in fact all of their air effort off carriers, or nearly all of it. The Brits were able to mobilise that force in a very short period of time. It was an extraordinary feat of mobilisation to get that force underway, on the way to the Falklands in the time that they did. They did that by commandeering civilian vessels. They called them “ships taken up from trade” and they commandeered passenger ships, and made them into
the hospital ships. They did that without any fuss, without any backlash from the people concerned. So they had very effective mobilisation plans that they put into operation.
What was your personal perspective on these events at the time? Where were you and what were you doing?
I was the Head of Defence Staff in London so we had to do the liaising with the British, the MOD [Ministry of Defence].
One of the interesting facts was that we had a number of Australians on British warships at the time. We also had some Australians in British fighter squadrons or squadrons, and in the British Army. Under the terms of the agreement that we had with the Brits, all those people had to be taken out of operations. It really affected the navy more than anything else because we had a lot of officers
who were called principal warfare officers on the ships. These were people who actually run the ship and we had a lot of people on exchange in that category. They all had to be taken off the Royal Navy ships and that was a big problem for them. We also had people who were flying helicopters off their carriers and they had to be taken off as well. That was also a problem. When the Gulf War
came about in 1991, that system had changed and all our people that were with the Brits stayed with them, which I think was a very good change. It was a very messy business taking those people out of operations and in fact some of the people had to be taken off the war ships who were deployed while at sea to the Falklands. They had to be flown off to the nearest port. It was a messy business. It wasn’t something to our discredit because that was
under the terms of the agreement and if it had have been the other way around, the Brits would have taken their people out too. That’s changed now and that’s a good thing. It was a very well run, very short operation. It was totally supported by the British public to an incredible degree. When we first arrived there in March of 1983,
it was very depressing there. They’d had strikes. There was a lot of rubbish around in London. The morale of the people seemed to be at a very low ebb and then the Falklands came about, and the whole morale of the country took a huge turn! [laughs] It was absolutely noticeable. You could just feel it. It was due to political will. I mean if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t been the Prime Minister, I doubt they would have done the Falklands under any other Prime Minister
but she had the political will and the drive to do it, and it was ultimately successful. It also had one interesting effect. The Eastern Bloc was firmly of the view, that’s the Russians and their allies, were firmly of the view that NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] and the West, had no stomach to stand up to aggression. The Falklands was a very salutatory lesson
for the Eastern Bloc because they suddenly saw a Western power, which was willing to stand up to that sort of aggression. Even though you can argue about the rights and wrongs of the Falklands, the fact is they were British people, and the British government had no option really, than to go to their assistance. But the fact that they did was quite a salutatory lesson for the
Eastern Bloc and had quite an affect I’m told, on their thinking from then on.
Australia’s position in the world has changed incredibly since your birth, and since you first joined the army. How do you
reflect on that change knowing what you know and taking into account your professional experience?
You mean from a defence point of view?
Let’s talk about from a defence point of view?
I think from a defence point of view, clearly there have been dramatic changes up to the Second World War. Of course we relied on Britain and since that time to some degree, we have relied on America. However over the last few years, I think really the most dramatic change has been
since the late ‘80s. In the late ‘80s we had a defence doctrine which said that the principal requirement of the Defence Force was to defend Australia, and by Australia they meant the continent, the land mass. Since that time there has been a change of view and by the defence of Australia, what people mean these days is the defence of the Australian continent of course, but
also Australia’s interests. By defending Australia’s interests you may have to do far more than just sit in Australia and wait for something to occur, which is what that previous doctrine in fact meant, even though they would never admit it, that is exactly what it did mean. Since 1988, when we deployed people to Namibia, we’ve deployed people all over the world, Rwanda, Namibia. Where else have we been?
Somalia and latterly Afghanistan, and Iraq. We’ve also deployed to Timor and we’ve recently deployed into the Solomons. That is a manifestation of the new thinking that you can’t just sit in Australia and wait for something to occur. You’ve got to defend your interests, whatever those interests may be within the region, or indeed beyond the region. People might take issue with the fact that
we’ve deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq but those deployments were done because the government believed they were in our national interests to do so. You can argue whether they were or whether they weren’t. Certainly most people regard what we did in Timor as being in our national interest. Most people regard what we are doing in the Solomons as being in our national interest. So the concept of our national interest and what we might have to do to defend national interest, and hence defend
Australia, has changed quite radically. I think it has changed appropriately too.
How does Australia’s involvement in say, Iraq strengthen our national security?
Well you can only argue that one way and that is by strengthening our relationship with the United States. That’s the only way you can argue it. I mean I can argue the reverse if you like, that it might have harmed our national interests. I don’t think it has harmed our national interests by the way but
I could argue that it had. I think that it has had more effect on the United States than perhaps we believe. I think it had quite a significant effect on the United States. Now if you believe that the United States is a sort of underpinning of our defence effort, our defence strategy and most people do believe that, and most governments do believe that, then strengthening that relationship is a good thing.
Now you can argue that there are side effects from Iraq, which are not good. The interesting thing of course is that we are not there any more. Well we are actually. We’ve still got 800 people there you know? Even though most people don’t believe that, there are still 800 Australians in Iraq but we are not at the cutting edge of the process. So I could argue that it is in our national interest to have been there. It was certainly in our national interests to have
done what we did in Timor and I certainly believe it is in our national interests to do what we are doing in the Solomons. We may be forced into doing other things of that type in due course. If for instance, the situation deteriorated in New Guinea. We would probably only go there if the government of Papua New Guinea asked us to but that’s conceivable. If we did have to do that, of course it would be a very difficult operation.
What do you see as the greatest threats to Australian security?
I think greatest immediate threat is not from another nation state at the moment. That always is a potential threat but the greatest threat at the moment is from terrorism, which doesn’t respect state borders and has no particular state support. It
is just an amorphous sort of thing run by people who have a particular ideological or religious point of view. Because it is so amorphous, it is much more difficult to counter than a threat from a nation state. So you’ve now got a situation where you’ve got to have far greater flexibility in your defence commitment, not that the Defence Force is the primary response force to terrorism. It is not. It is the Security Services and the Police but
the Defence Force has a role. But again this sort of amorphous threat that you’ve got at the moment, can lead to a situation in which the Defence Force would be required and therefore the Defence Force, for all these reasons, has to be far more flexible, deployable, and has to be able to cover a much wider range of situations than it did in the past, certainly under the previous doctrine, which was the defence of Australia, which was a very static sort of attitude.
How well is the Australian
Defence Force responding to this?
I think it is responding quite well actually and I think that with the new thinking, the government is forced to acquire new capabilities, and people are forced to look at the whole structure in a different way to that which they did before. I think it has had quite a dynamic affect on the Defence Force. It has also had a very productive
effect on it as well.
On a more personal level, how do you see your professional legacy with the Australian Army and in the posts you’ve held after that?
I don’t know that there is much of a legacy in the army as such but what I’ve tried to do since I left the army is to argue from various defence perspectives with the government and with the military
hierarchy on occasion. My view has always been the one that is now currently in vogue. I’m not saying it is due to my efforts but I have certainly argued against the previous doctrine, which was the Defence of Australia concept, “DOA” as they call it. So I don’t know whether there is any legacy there or not. I really couldn’t say.
The Australian Army as an institution has changed dramatically
in the period of time that you were involved with it, and even still since. How do you respond to those changes?
I think it has changed but it has also remained very much the same in some ways too. If you go into an infantry battalion these days, it is not very different to an infantry battalion in my day. They still operate in much the same way. They might have different kit. They’ve got different equipment. They’ve got more technology but the fundamentals of the battalion
and the way it operates, are not very different at all, I can assure you. The way that the battalions have been operating in Timor, although there was no opposition there essentially, is very much the way that battalions have operated in places like Malaya and even in Vietnam, but against far greater opposition there. Still they operate pretty much the same way. There have been changes and most of the changes are
good. Some of them I’m not too happy with but they’re more on the disciplinary side of the way the disciplinary system works. I’m not too happy with that. I don’t think that’s been an advance. I think it has gone backwards but the way the battalions operate is pretty much the same. The way that the operational army, the functioning army works, is not very different.
On a general level how do you see
I see that Australia is going to be involved in a lot more Timors and Solomons, those types of things. It is probably going to be involved with the Americans when other things occur in the world. I think those are the sorts of things that we are going to be involved with. We are going to be involved in our region.
We may well be involved in going and assisting one of the countries in South East Asia at some stage. But I think pretty much, more of what we have been doing over the last few years.
We talked a little at the start about the Anzac tradition and your role at the War Memorial. How do you see the events that you’ve taken part in, in the war specifically, shaping the future of Australia, and continuing to shape it?
The Anzac tradition has had some affect on Australia as a nation, certainly. The First World War certainly did. The Second World War certainly did. The wars that have occurred since then have had an affect on Australia, not quite the same affect as either the First World War or the Second World War had. But they have
continued that tradition to certain degree in that the people who were involved in them have wished to be associated with that tradition, and the general public also seems these days, to associate itself with that tradition. I suppose while that continues that Anzac tradition will live on.
This archives is being kept for 50 years, 100 years, for posterity, forever. If someone was watching this in 100 years time, is anything from your personal life experience that you could offer to them?
Just good luck I think! The only thing that I would say to anyone and I’d say that to anyone now, is
study history, and learn from it. If you neglect history, be you a politician or it doesn’t matter who you are, but certainly a politician or someone in the military profession, if you neglect history then you, while it is trite to say you repeat the same mistakes, it certainly is true. You’ve got to study history not in a superficial way but in an intellectual
way I believe and you learn an awful lot, particularly as military commander. There is nothing new. Everything has been done before in some way or other. It might be a different circumstance, but essentially the essentials are pretty much the same. So any advice that I would give to someone in 100 years is to study history.