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James Hughes
Archive number: 1109
Date interviewed: 19 November, 2003

Served with:

3 RAR - Korea
3 RAR - Malaya
2 SAS Squadron - Borneo
4 RAR - Vietnam

Other images:

  • In Borneo - 1966

    In Borneo - 1966

  • As Major General - 1983

    As Major General - 1983

James Hughes 1109


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Tape 01


O.K. Can I get you please, General, to give us a brief introduction, a summary of your life beginning from when you were born and your career?
I was born on the eighteenth August 1929 in Adelaide. At that stage my family were living in Strathalbyn, South Australia. We moved to Murray Bridge in 1934 when my father became the manager of the Shell Company in Murray Bridge


so I went to Murray Bridge Primary School. My secondary education was at St Peter’s College in Adelaide, there I belonged to the school cadets and perhaps that confirmed my interest in a military career. I should add that my father was a Gallipoli veteran from World War I and in 1937 my elder brother had gone to Duntroon [Royal Military College] as a cadet himself. So for all those reasons I applied to go to Duntroon and went there in 1947 to 1950 for four years.


Within six months of graduation I found myself in Korea in the middle of 1951. The major highlight,I tink of my year in Korea would have been the battle of Mari En Seng on the second to eighth of October 1951. One is also very conscious of Korea at the time that I’d never fought in snow before or ice or ambushed and a winter of minus thirty degrees Celsius and summers of days up to forty-five degrees


Celsius it was a bit uncommon for the Australians. The mere fact that rivers could rise nine metres over night was also something we weren’t used to. After Korea I went back to Japan, first of all to the Battle School as the Australian Company Commander and then to a staff job. In 1953, end of 1953, I came back to Australia, I had one term with National Service which was called the university intake and in


May of 1954 which that intake of two hundred university students I went with them, marched out to the Adelaide University Regiment, I was the new adjutant. I then had three wonderful years with that unit. In 1957 I was posted back to Third Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in order to go to Malaya later in the year for the Malayan emergency. In 1957 to 1957 I was with 2 RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] in Malaya. The first year I ran the command


post and the second year I was the Company Commander. I returned to Australia for a period of eight months and was attached to Army Headquarters in Adelaide. In June of 1960 I went as an exchange instructor to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for two years. Then I did courses in both the UK [United Kingdom] and the USA [United States of America] and returned to Australia in 1963. I then attended staff college for eighteen months


here in Queenscliff, Victoria. At that stage of my life I was thirty-three I recall, I had done all the normal things in infantry posting so my chances of getting back to the Royal Australian Regiment were small. I applied to go to the Pacific Island Regiment, was accepted, in fact was posted there when within three weeks, my posting was changed to the Special Air Services Regiment as it was expanding. So as a result by the end of that year we were in Perth and I started up 2 SAS [Special Air Services] Squadron


which I commanded from the end of 1964 through to August 1966. I had to train the Squadron, we went to New Guinea for a term and then we went to Borneo for seven or eight months in 1966. After that I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and went to Canberra to be the Director of army Recruiting for three years and thought I’d never get away from it because I could see Vietnam starting to slow down and in 1969 I was appointed the CO [Commanding Officer] of 4 RAR


on line to go to Vietnam. So the end of 1969 and all of 1970 we were rebuilding 4 RAR back to a full strength battalion and in 1971 I took it to Vietnam and we were 4 RAR/NZ. We were an Australian/New Zealand Anzac Battalion. The last troops of that battalion came home in March of 1972 and with that I got promoted to full Colonel and was made the


Commandant of what was then a unit called the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra. I was there for three years, got sent back to Canberra to a training staff appointment and in August of that year I was promoted to Brigadier and made the Director General of Training and Education Policy and I stayed there until the end of 1976. In 1977 I went to the Royal College of Defence Studies in London as a student, 1978 I’m back in Canberra


again for five months, the job was called the Deputy chief of Reserves where I was then promoted to Major General where I was sent to Defence for the next three years where I was responsible for Manpower and Establishments. In 1981 I returned to the Army and posted to Melbourne as the General Officer Commanding Logistic Command which was headquartered here but had units in every state of Australia. I had a strong feeling that the


family did not really want to go back to Canberra, I’m speaking for my wife and daughter, I had two sons that decided that Canberra was their place but not the rest of us, so although I’d been nominated for what would have been a perfect job in 1984 I knew (UNLCEAR) was not going to get it. So I looked around for jobs, we liked where we lived and Melbourne came up even stevens [equally] to us in appreciation. Jobs galore in Melbourne, only one job in


Adelaide and the Chairman even came across and took me to lunch at the Melbourne Club and said what a prestigious job it was and I had to say “Yes, it may well be but what a lousy salary”. So we stayed in Melbourne and have been here ever since.
That’s fantastic it’s one of the best introductions we’ve ever had. OK thank you very much for the introduction now what I will do is go back to your early childhood


years and ask you some questions there. Can you tell us more please about your parents, your father and mother?
Yes, my father came from a place called Meningie in the south east of South Australia near the Coorong. His father produced, was in the business of producing horses for sale to the Indian Army, and that was almost his sort of upbringing, his background, the breaking of horses. Driving them by land down to the


ships in Port Adelaide and that was his life. My mother came from the Adelaide Hills a place called Montacute, she in fact was a school teacher and she was posted to a place called Wellington which crosses the river Murray just below Tailem Bend and that’s how my father met her in 1914. And I get the message it was love at first sight and all the rest of it and my father had


problems had convincing, not that there were any plans for marriage right then, war intervened, but he got her father’s blessing anyway before he went off to war. She stayed on as a teacher going around the countryside – this was her story she was always posted to the most outlandish places. He came back in 1919 and they were married in December of 1919. He first of all bought the general store at Meningie and we


know they did well but he was never satisfied it wasn’t quite what he wanted to do and he had a great hankering to go onto the land. Eventually in the Meningie area they subdivided some of the properties and they were allocated to servicemen and he won the ballot for one about 1924. I think it was the silliest thing he did, he gave up the general store, sold it to his brother and went on to the land. My mother, I know, wasn’t very happy about it, and anyway to cut a long story short after about two years my


father’s health wasn’t up to it so they sold that and she eventually got her way and they moved to Adelaide where they built our home and did everything else and he started working for the Shell Company. And it was from there that he went to Strathalbyn to work at the depot at Strathalbyn and from there, in 1934, he became the manager of the new depot at Murray Bridge. And they lived in Murray Bridge until 1947, the year I went to Duntroon,


and so the wheel turns. He then bought the general store at Middleton down near Victor Harbour in South Australia and became a general storekeeper again until he retired in 1959.
What about your dad’s military career, tell us about that?
He was in the 9th Lighthorse in World War I and in those days you might recall they had regimental numbers within the regiment so his number was 137 suggesting that he was one of the very early enlistees in fact he enlisted early in September of 1914.


He even, at that stage, within a couple of months of that got a feeling about Duntroon. In January, just before they embarked to go overseas, they received a new troop commander called Mackenzie, he was one of the first graduates of Duntroon in fact they received several of them but his particular troop commander was one K.A. Mackenzie. By 1918 he was his Squadron Commander and my Dad had a lot of time for him and I recall him telling my


brother years later that if he ever wished to go into the army Duntroon was the way to go, be an officer and do it that way. So Mackenzie who by 1936 was a Lieutenant Colonel was a good adviser to my father and brother as to whether or not he should contemplate an army career which he did.
Did your father talk to you much about his First World War experiences?
I don’t think he talked to me much at all, there was a nine year gap between my brother and myself, and I now know that he talked to my brother quite a lot but not me.


What would he say to your brother?
I think there were questions my brother put to him and I don’t know the answers not being there – the age gap – as my brother was thinking about going into the army I have no doubt that’s when he asked all the questions, probably around 1935 or 1936. And my only comment is that my father, in winter, used to love having a sleep on the sofa on Sunday afternoon and when I woke him for afternoon tea if I didn’t do it


gently I certainly got a reaction and I learned about wanting to be on duty and wanting to be on call. He didn’t talk to me much about it because I didn’t ask him the questions. The feed off came from my brother and of course as a young child I lived all through World War II with my brother’s experiences. He was a great letter writer in great detail and, well, he answered all of the questions I had. Although I


probably was using my brother to ask questions off more than anything else. I think I’m right in saying he only came home twice between 1939 and 1946 and each time I must have hit him with question after question.
Your father, was he wounded at all in the First World War?
No, he was evacuated from Gallipoli in August of 1915 with dysentery and that has a funny connection because we as a family would never take school holidays in


August, because every year in August my father would go to hospital with dysentery for his whole life. It was one of those funny incidents. There was the odd year where it wasn’t so bad and he was just able to go to bed at home but most years the doctors put him in hospital and that’s in fact what drove him off the farm, it was the dysentery that did it. So he didn’t have any wounds to show but he certainly used to suffer every August.


What about your parents, religious background?
Both Anglicans, my mother could be described as a very good Anglican, be that in a wider sense. She’s probably the one I think, subtly, suggested that he come to church every Sunday. She encouraged him to join the vestry committee, become a warden of the church and so on. I think he might have been led a bit by her


whereas, she herself sang in the choir, secretary of the mothers’ union, taught religious instruction in the primary school and the high school. That was her background.
So I trust that you would have been indoctrinated in certain ways?
Yes, if my mother had her way she would have thought it wonderful if I’d become a priest but I had no desire.
She was interested in you becoming priest?
Yes, I think it would have given her a lot of


thrill, you know, she would have been very thrilled but no it wasn’t my cup of tea.
So can you tell us how the 1930s impacted on your life being crucial years of course of the Depression?
Well I suppose I can say that in the 1920s my parents had owned whatever business they had or whatever house they lived in. And as I can


recall, I have very little recollection of the house we lived in, in Strathalbyn but I know we rented it and my father knew he would never be with the Shell Company in Strathalbyn for ever and ever, so I’m told purposely they did not buy in Strathalbyn. And we get to Murray Bridge, we rented a house, and I can picture the house now (UNCLEAR) Terrace – it was on the outskirts of the town, the town has doubled in population since my day. In fact I was


there a few months ago. And it took them about two years to find the house that they wanted and then they bought in Murray Bridge. I know that we had to watch our pennies, waste wasn’t a – the house that we bought had all the fruit and vegetables you can imagine. My father loved growing vegetables and it had everything that you could think of. And I had an uncle from the gardens up at Montacute, he used to come every year and prune all our


fruit trees but he also grafted – like an apple tree with five different types of apple on it, pear trees with two or three types of pear on it and we had all sorts of combinations thanks to an uncle who was a gardener. Yes, I think there was always that worry about jobs I do know that the Shell company had to downsize its staff and my father survived the downsizing in Strathalbyn. That’s why he was very


pleased to get promotion to be a manager in Murray Bridge but very good friends, working with the Shell Company in South Australia, were put out of work, lost their jobs. And that worried them, it worried my father very much, you know, the risk that he could have been the next one of course but luckily he wasn’t. I think we had to live carefully. I do recall, I don’t recall homeless people as such in Murray


Bridge but I certainly recall if you went driving anywhere you would meet a lot of people walking the roads, you know, carrying a bag or something on their back, looking for work. I don’t think we had the money to employ them but I know my mother used to feed them.
Did they come knocking on your door?
What sort of things did they ask for?
“Have you got any work to be done madam”, you know, wood to be chopped.


By this time my brother had gone off to, he hadn’t gone to Duntroon then, but I had my wood chopping duties after school and I used to wait, dying for her to say “Yes, you can go and chop the wood” but, no, it never happened. I think back, I think I was a very lucky individual as a young kid that our family seemed to survive the depression very well. My mother’s family were all gardeners in the Adelaide Hills.


They had problems selling their produce I know that but they all survived. And my father’s family down at Meningie by that time they had sheep rather than horses for sale. I think they lived a pretty, you know, mean life but they survived.
Would your mother, what sort of work would she engage in - I know generally women didn’t work?


Well after she became a school teacher, sorry, a school teacher during World War I until one year, about 1917, she was sick and tired as I understand, as I said to you they kept sending her around all these outlandish places and she finally ended up in a place called Pine Hill which had a very strong German family connections. And if I get the message right they didn’t appear to be very


loyal to our side of the war. And all her requests, after she’d done a year or two there, to be sent off to somewhere else failed so she resigned from teaching and thought she’d do the next best thing she’d like to do and that was the law. So her father got her into a law firm in Adelaide but of course then she found there was a glass ceiling, they didn’t have lady lawyers so my father saved her.


from a fate worse than death and he married her. He came home and he married her. So she never worked but she obviously was a mother and a housekeeper and but she was secretary of this and president of that. She was into the Red Cross, the mothers’ union, the church fete, on it goes, all sorts of things she was always caught up in. And in World War II of course I don’t think anybody in Murray Bridge wasn’t a member of something. Even I was an


ARP [Air Raid Precautions] member, not ARP, a plane spotter, all a bit game actually but it was fun.
So you’d try and keep yourself occupied, that’s the way it worked then?
Yes, I think everybody contributed because so many men and women had gone off to the war and you couldn’t be in everything you didn’t have time. So the ARP was probably the, I can’t remember what it stands for now, Air Raid Precautions, were probably one of the first


ones started. I know my father was an ARP Warden, “put your light out” and all that sort of stuff but plane spotters were normally young kids like myself and ladies and twenty-four hours a day we’d sit in the rotunda in Murray Bridge in the middle of one of the parks and we’d record, ring Adelaide and tell them about all the planes going over or backwards.
What about your schooling?


Can you tell us about the cadet system and how you got involved in that?
Well, obviously in Murray Bridge there were no school cadets of any description, they only applied to secondary schools. When I went to St Peter’s in Adelaide – today incidentally you could be a day-boy in Murray Bridge and go to school in Adelaide, it takes less than one hour by bus – in my time it took two and three quarters on a fast train so therefore I had to be a boarder. And I was


old enough to join the school cadets as soon as I got there and I did. And roughly, I think I was a corporal the first year, a sergeant the second year and a cadet lieutenant the third year because I was, what’s the word, interested in the services. I can now say perhaps in hindsight perhaps I didn’t study as thoroughly as I should my normal subjects. I think I probably studied training pamphlets during homework time a lot.
What made you interested in the military?


my father’s connection, my brother’s connection, it was the middle of World War II and you know I had this feeling that I’d like to be a soldier. They’re the things that drove me not pointedly but subtly.
What was the cadet system like there?
You had to belong to the Cadets, the Sea or Land Scouts, the Air Training Corps


or St John’s Ambulance so for half a day a week as a school child, in the senior school, you had to be a member of one of those five organisations. Well without any trouble, I never thought of St John’s Ambulance, the Air Training Corps didn’t appeal to me, the scouts didn’t appeal to me but the cadets certainly did and I enjoyed it.
What sort of training would you engage in?
Looking back it was very basic. Drill, very easy to do on a


school oval but we had camps two or three times a year and that’s when we did our field training. We probably never advanced beyond the basic level of troop training but we were pretty good at it and there were competitions against other schools at these camps and we used to do pretty well.
How old were you when the Second World War began?
Nine, yes nine.
Do you remember the day?


The third or fourth of August 1939. I recall what I did that day, yes.
What did you do?
It was one of those days where I can tell you there was no racing in Murray Bridge so I was allowed to come home for lunch. I had to cross the Adelaide to Murray Bridge Road and I do recall walking up the road with a couple of friends and I remember having a great argument. You know “Hitler this, Mussolini that and gosh we’re going to beat them all by Christmas” I’d love to have had it recorded at the time but


we were great, as nine year olds we had very firm opinions. You know, the British Empire this and the British Empire that, we had a great argument. I think the big argument was how quickly we would get the war over and done with, we had no idea it was going to last as long as it did.
That’s usually the way it works out isn’t it. What did the Empire and Monarchy mean to you - I mean not just when the war began but even –


Well, not so much today I’ll ask you that a bit later but as a kid before you got involved in the professional military?
OK. I think one was proud enough as a school kid to open the atlas and find that half the world was covered in red, being the British Empire. That gave you one of pride, we belonged to it, there was a King, there was something funny about some King that went and got married and stood down, that was Edward VIII


obviously. My parents didn’t think much of that but they thought King George VI was pretty good and he had a nice wife and that was just somebody way over there in England, that’s as far as it went I suppose.
When you say the monarchy what was your understanding


of its purpose, was it more of a symbolic gesture?
Even then I think it was symbolic because, I can’t think of the name of the 1929 agreements, but even then I knew that we were an independent country in the British Empire. We might have paid homage to the King and Queen, the King in particular but, you know, the Westminster government didn’t give us any orders or directions.


I think I’m right in saying that the only – we still had, you still could appeal to London through our courts system and that didn’t come for many years later when we cut that out. And I must admit that when we did that I think that was the right thing that our High Court is the final appeal level. And the fact that people had to go to London to make appeals didn’t seem to me to be quite the way an independent country should operate so I was pleased when that got changed later on. I just thought they were out of


sight out of mind, you know, one had seen photographs of the Duke of York as he was then opening parliament house in Canberra in 1927. As a young kid in 1937 after my brother had been there six months we went to Canberra and we drove across there for a couple of weeks to Sydney and Canberra and we saw the New Parliament House and the new capital city, it was then called the Federal Capital Territory. And all the tourist


brochures were still full of photographs of the Duke of York opening our parliament house in 1927. That, to me, was the sort of role I saw the Royal family doing, opening parliament house. I didn’t see them dictating to us or telling us how to live or anything that was our parliament’s job. I can make other comments later, yes, sure.
Well I’ll be certain to ask you.


Did you, in your schooling, well in the time that you were at school and this is obviously during the Depression as well as during the war- what can you tell us about Australian society from your point of view at that time?
Living in a town of five thousand people it would be fair to say that everybody knew each other, everyone had a place in the town.


We did not have, we only had one aboriginal family and I have to say I was probably as cruel to this one girl in my class, Shirley Long, as anybody else. She was a big girl much older than the rest of us. I think back now and realise she must have been kept down. They lived in a humpy on the banks of the River Murray and were the only aboriginal family we had. About 1942 a new


insurance representative arrived in Murray Bridge and I hate to say it, the shame of all this, because he was a member of the RSL [Returned and Services League], he served in World War I, he was well-dressed, his family was a nice family, my parents were one of those who went to bat for him but within three months he’d been forced out of the town. That was racist at the highest order, it just about split the town actually and I’ve never forgotten that.
Sorry, he was an aborigine was he?
An aborigine, yes.


Right, this is Adelaide?
This is Murray Bridge in South Australia, a town of five thousand people where everybody knew each other.
How far outside Adelaide is it?
Fifty-one miles in those days, it’s under one hundred kilometres today. They’ve got a new freeway now that’s why it takes less than hour to get to Adelaide. You can live at Murray Bridge and be a day boy at St Peter’s College now whereas I had to be a boarder. No, I just found that, that was terrible, how he literally got


pushed out of the town.
It’s very interesting?
But I only half answered that question, can you give me that question again?
Yes – it’s about, well, the question I suppose was what did the society you lived in at the time look like. So that’s a good answer – let’s work on that strand, racism, ethnicity, religious differences, catholic, protestant?
Yes, we always used to tease the Roman Catholic girls.


There were stories about what the Roman Catholic priests and nuns got up to because they sat on either side of the road and we always used to say “How can we find the tunnel beneath them”. I mean these are terrible things. I think in living in a town that size you knew, most people went to church and you knew what their religion was. I would have said that we were all pretty versatile except that we, in the public school, might have slung off a bit at the Roman Catholic boys


and girls, they probably did the same to us anyway. Everybody had their place at a graduate order but there was no top dog – I suppose the Mayor of the town would be the top dog but he got changed every couple of years anyway. Nobody was flush with money, I do recall in 1939 I think it was the new Dodge car came on sale in Murray


Bridge and had a price on it of four hundred pounds. And we used to stand there and gawk at it and say “Who in Murray Bridge can afford this?” And we couldn’t work out anybody who could but somebody did eventually. We didn’t know about bank loans and things in those days or we kids didn’t anyway but fancy, four hundred pounds. You seen, when you think the average wage in Murray Bridge in suppose would have been five pounds a week.


That’s an extraordinary amount of money then isn’t it. It sounds a lot even today. Now, I’m very curious to know why that particular incident left a mark in your mind about that aboriginal family?
Well I saw him, I suppose I’m pushed by the thoughts of my parents. My father of course was able to say, well you know, he was a returned soldier from World War I and he served in the


10th Battalion I think and that’s where my father would support him. And my mother would say, you know, they’re a nice educated couple, they’ve made the best of their life and that’s why they defended them as being normal Australians in the brightest sense. Today we see nothing wrong with educated aborigines but in 1942 or 1941 or whatever it was that seemed to be a


bit unusual. The only one family we had didn’t work and they never got out of primary school, never went to high school but that’s perhaps because the system didn’t encourage them either.
Were they fair-skinned or dark-skinned aborigines?
Well the children would have been fair because – I’m thinking back -


I suppose you should say that they had aboriginal blood in them but they weren’t black as the ace of spades, no. Whereas Shirley Long, Shirley Dunn sorry her name was, Shirley Dunn, was the same colour as the leather, very black.
It would have been quite a rarity in that period to have a middle class, educated aborigine as a result of the system working at the time.


That’s very interesting and how did it split the town?
In opinion, in opinion. There were those who were all for them, which we were one of those families and obviously there were others that had problems with it.
And what was the issue with it that basically they were aborigine and they shouldn’t be in this town?
They were living in the town in a normal house, a house which I think belonged to the insurance company which he worked


for. But their answer, as I understand, and this is only hearsay because I was not party to all the details, was that they moved to another posting which was a terrible thing to have to uproot the kids and the wife and move them off to another town.
Do you think that might have been a problem wherever they went?
I hope not. That’s why I hoped they went back to Adelaide or something like that – Adelaide in those days was about a half a million people, easier to be absorbed in


than a town like Murray Bridge.
Now this aboriginal man and his family I understand you said that he was in the 10th Battalion, he was AIF [Australian Imperial Force] World War I?
Yes, that’s right.
Right. So he was distinguished – what sort of rank, do you have any idea?
I have no idea, no.
That’s a very interesting story. It obviously made some impression on you?
It certainly impressed me and through my own army life I have not


dealt with hundreds of aborigines but every unit I think I’ve been in, for the first couple of units anyway, we had nothing but very, very good aborigine people with us and it was beaut to see it all happening.
When did you finish school was it 1946?
Actually I went


back to school in 1947 because I had to do a supplementary and if I hadn’t have got the supplementary I would have had to do another year anyway. So I went back to school in 1947 until such time as the results came out and when the results came out they confirmed that my entry to Duntroon was on so I then went to Duntroon.
That was something you had been planning for?
Yes, and people say to me well what else could you have


done? And I say one has a great idea and it would have been nice to be a lawyer or something – even medicine I suppose at one stage I even thought of. But I have no pride in saying that I successfully failed Latin in Matriculation and in those days you had to have Latin to do law or medicine and that put finish to any ideas like that and I was quite happy to go along the military line. The military was first anyway in my desires.
You said you were communicating with your


brother when he was overseas, tell us a little about your brother?
Well he graduated, his class, he entered in 1937 at Duntroon and they were planning to go for four years, the war opened it started in – and their class was brought forward and they graduated in December 1939 after three years. To the man almost they went to the Darwin Mobile Force, a new force, formed in 1938, living in Darwin, about two hundred and fifty or two hundred and eighty strong.


They, at about the end of 1940, the force was disbanded because it was full of such brilliant people, I’m talking about the NCOs [Non Commissioned Officer] and soldiers now, because they wanted badly to fill out the AIF and almost in mass they transferred the AIF. Most of the soldiers became NCOs in the AIF units. The officers were a bit upset, very few of them were used for the AIF, they were used to build up other divisions further along the


line. So as a group they never got to the Middle East. However, he then spent all of 1940 and 1941 to about the time Japan entered the war in the Darwin area. He was then brought south and did a conversion to liaison officer between the army and the air force and he started following a new course and he became an operational staff officer and


then for 1942 to 1945 he was the liaison officer for example with the American forces doing their landings in Buna and places. He kept fighting to get back to a battalion, to get to a battalion, and eventually he found that the only way to do it was to go down a rank so he went from major back to a captain and became a company commander of the 2/3rd Battalion AIF and this really made his day.


So he spent all of 1944 doing that, 1945 he was back again in the planning for the Labuan landings and he was a major and a staff officer again. Before the landings he went to a brigade appointment and then in August, late August, just after the war was finished, he, two other majors and a brigadier were flown to Japan, to Tokyo in fact, and joined [US General Douglas] Macarthur’s Headquarters as Australian Military Mission.
That’s BCOF [British Commonwealth Occupational Forces] is it?
Well, they are the ones who


planned BCOF. BCOF didn’t come about until February 1946 but they were in Japan by the end of August planning what sort of force we should have in terms of composition and size and where it should be used and how used. So this military mission of four men did that planning. So they saw BCOF arrive and got themselves established and if I remember right he came home in about the middle of 1946.
And you told me before


that you were very keen to ask him a lot of questions about his experiences, what particularly were you interested in and what did you ask?
Just soldiering generally - I really cannot recall the questions today but I probably asked, you know “What do you do, how do you do it? There was one incident in 1942 where he actually commanded an American regimental combat team, which was the same thing as a brigade, by default for four or five days.


This was a regimental combat team of three battalions plus, they did an assault landing on the north east coast of New Guinea, no south east coast probably of New Guinea, and to cut a long story short it was a disaster. The men had never been to war before. The senior officers like the regimental combat commander had been in World War I and because it was such a


disaster I’m afraid he had a nervous breakdown so they had to evacuate him. And it took them about five days to bring in a replacement and in that time it was going from disaster to disaster and there was no way my brother could actually run the thing because he was an Australian major but he had to be very subtle in what he actually advised the staff to do. It’s well written up in our war history actually, an embarrassing situation he had, a disaster on his plate


and nobody prepared to take responsibility. I’d ask him questions like, you know, get those sort of facts out of him. And then of course after he had this time with 2/3rd Battalion, you know, I didn’t know this “What does a company commander do, how does he do it? Very naive questions from a schoolboy I imagine, that would be the best way to sum it up.
Now, we’re just going to stop and change tapes.
Interviewee: James Hughes Archive ID 1109 Tape 02


Can you tell us about your time at Duntroon, what was the culture of the college like at that time?
Lean and mean, basic meals, a lot of physical hard work and a lot of challenge in some of the studies. We were the first post-war four year course so the courses during the war had got down to as short as eighteen months, most of them about two years, they’d


slowly increased the length back to about three years and we were the first four year course and a whole swag of new academics had arrived and we had new departments so we got stuck into the - our first six months could be seen to be a disaster I think, the transition from – you’d probably be a period on tactics, period two, and the next minute you’d be doing economics- a bit hard to go from one to the other.


After that they made it quite clear – at the start of each term and the end of each term was military training, in the middle all academic training, that’s how the rest of our four years went. We obviously came from every state of Australia as a group and New Zealand. We had eight New Zealand cadets and we even had an Indian cadet so we were a pretty mixed group. I had to say only half of us are still alive, this is worrying, we seem to be falling off the pole pretty smartly. I


loved it. It was hard work, it wasn’t hard academically, it was hard militarily and it was hard in terms of sport and physical training. Initially we were very lucky we got seven and six [7 shillings 6 pence] a week pocket money that was all but with that you had to buy all your supplies and everything and eventually it was raised to ten shillings a week so we though we were ahead then. Oh, we probably thought we were big time


thinking about it.
Were you honoured to be there?
Did you feel honoured to be there?
Yes and I remember Canberra in those days was only twenty-seven strong. And you had isolated main buildings like Parliament House sitting in big paddocks, paddocks and fields, cows grazing, sheep grazing. So a bicycle was essential, it was a lousy bus service. You had to be in by – I’m talking about the weekend now – the pictures ended at eleven o clock and you had to be in by midnight so you had to get from


one of the two pictures theatres back home by that time or if you got punished, you got charged, you got charged for a lot of minor infringements and you’d have to do pack drill on ungodly hours on the parade ground. I suppose it taught us discipline, how to look after yourself. I also think we also learned a lot about corporate discipline particularly in the sporting side. Because when you went to go and play somebody, if you were playing in the team good, but if you weren’t playing


yourself that afternoon you went too. We all had cheer squads so you might have had, I think the college owned four or five buses, they were really old army trucks where the college had built a bit of old framework around them, it wouldn’t have survived any accidents I know that but we gave great support to our teams.
Were the lecturers


men who’d seen service in World War II?
The military lecturers were, all but two. They had all served in World War II no worries about that but we had to feel very, very sorry for two of them who wore parachute wings. They belonged to the First Australian Parachute Battalion, headquartered at Tocumwal, they were one of the best trained units Australia had in World War II, it never went on


operations. They were planning to, VP [Victory in the Pacific] Day they were to have parachuted into Singapore Race Course and taken over Singapore and all those ideas and they all got scrapped. So their morale couldn’t have been very good, they were trained to the n’th degree but never went overseas.
I thought there was a parachute battalion at Lae


in New Guinea?
Was there?
There was a parachute operation, it may have been American?
Yes, sorry, sorry, yes, it was near Lae, Nabzab. They were American parachutists who went in, we had an Australian Artillery Regiment who went in who’d never parachuted in their life before and they parachuted in and our parachute battalion would have loved to have been part of that, don’t


They were still sitting at home at Tocumwal.
But the two same officers both made brigadier both served in Korea and did very well and subsequently, well, I’m thinking of one in particular, he was my CO [Commanding Officer] in Malaya and he served also in Vietnam so they did well afterwards.
Were there any particular lecturers that made an impression on you?
I’m speaking about the military ones now.


In their own way I suppose they all did, collectively. One man I recall had a Military Cross and I thought that was “Oh boy, I wonder what he did?” There was no way we could find out either and he wouldn’t tell us. I now know how we should have found out. There were things called Blue Books and they were a history of people’s past postings


but we didn’t have that sort of knowledge. I think we hung on to almost every word. Some were better than others. The academics in the main had not had military service because some of them, most of them stayed on in Universities being academic teachers during World War II but some of them that came from England had had active service in the British Army or services. But you’re referring to basically the


military ones. They’d had a great – they’d been everything. One had been a prisoner of war, for example, of the Japanese on the Thai Railway and he was that thin. In fact, he only died two months ago, but he remained a pretty miserable looking man because there were photographs of him with football teams and that back in 1935 and you couldn’t help compare the man we saw in 1947 was just a shadow of himself in 1935.
It must have been


tough that. As someone going to a private school you would have been used to fairly stiff discipline?
Yes, I found no transition problems. I have to say there was another South Australian who went with me and he always lived at home and he couldn’t take it, he became so homesick so after two months he resigned.


Did you find any change in the discipline and the way you approached that?
Compared to a private school the discipline was much more, far more strict but providing you played the game you didn’t suffer any punishments but once you started playing around you suffered punishments. Anybody, all sorts of people could give you extra drills,


extra drill meant getting up at some ungodly hour and marching up and down the parade ground but that was only part of it. If they inspected you and there was something wrong in your dress or something inside your pack you had another extra drill. I had one member in my class who was a well known QC [Queen’s counsel] who died here a couple of years ago and I think it took him a month to get off the parade ground. He had arrived late on parade, extra drill, he wouldn’t have packed everything he should have had, he might have left a clasp knife out of his


pack so he got another extra drill. I took him a month, he got on for a very minor thing and it took him a month to get off it. At the same token, I can tell you a story against him, Canberra had many fogs as you know, this was the middle of winter, this was June of 1947, he was the only man on default or as they call the parade. He was sitting on the edge of the parade ground and as the corporal gave the orders “turn left, turn right” he was just sitting there stamping his feet, you know, “left turn, right turn” and doing all the right things. And suddenly he’s tapped on the


shoulder and here was the duty officer who’d come along the road beside him and saw this guy sitting on the side performing so he got another week’s extra drills.
But you didn’t have any great difficulty in toeing the line?
No, there was an end purpose. I wanted to finish four years, graduate and become a commissioned officer in the army, that was the goal. Even on


cross countries, I’m no great runner, even though as the college got bigger each year I was there, I was able to keep my position in the pecking order of the cross country. I never got beyond about the top thirty but at least I got there every year. I used to hate cross country, I think it went for nine kilometres, uphill, downhill, I found no purpose in it but we just had to keep on plodding on.


Did you ever get into trouble?
Yes, you can’t help it. Yes, I even had three weeks, I’ve forgotten how they ordered it now, three weeks comfined to barracks, that’s not right, so for three weeks I did defaulters every day along with a couple of others. We had a late pass to one o clock, a late pass until one o clock, a beaut party we’d been to and we walked home,


we didn’t have the money for taxis, the buses had all gone, I think we got home at about a quarter to two but we all signed that we’d got in at one o clock. So falsifying a leave pass. Most of us, fifteen of us, twelve were junior class, two of us were the next class and there was one who was the class ahead of us. Funny, he never, ever got (UNCLEAR) and I’ve never, ever worked out why because under our


system there he should have owned up and taken his punishment like a gentleman. So the rest all got two weeks, the rest of us in my class we got three weeks because we were seen to be the seniors and that resulted in a loss of twenty-one marks to start with off our grand total. We also got a total of nine weeks of not being able to go on leave so we got to know each other pretty well in that time. Nor were we allowed to go to the


local cinema either. So we’d take bread down from the mess and have toast in our rooms, we used to break all the more rules and that was the major incident I got caught up in.
What, of the class you were in, what sort of background generally?
Background? I suppose, if I’m generalising, middle class,


half private school and half public school - half private school and half high school.
Being the first post-war class to go through and, as you say, the college itself was going through its formative years and having been involved with


heavily with the military and the years afterwards and also with the college. How would you describe those early years and how has it changed since then?
Well the whole system has changed now in as much as Duntroon only does military training and the Australian Defence Force Company does all the academic work. So at the moment they go to ADFA [Australian Defence Forces Academy] for the first three years and only have very minor military training and then they come to Duntroon for their


fourth year and do nothing but military training for their fourth year. I think there are advantages in doing it that way but if I quote back to 1960 when I was an exchange instructor at Sandhurst and Sandhurst had just gone from an eighteen month course to a two year course, that was mainly military with a little bit of academic, I believe we had a better product. I also visited West Point


I think they had some extremisms in their approach which luckily we avoided. And I ended up being quite bias in thinking that perhaps Duntroon had the best system but I accept that I am bias.
Given your military history since then, things that you experienced, how would you rate the experience that you got there?
As basic training,


we used to jokingly say that the aim was to train us up to the level of being platoon commanders so we could go out into the regular army and carry on at that level.
Was that stated as such?
Yes, yes. We used to jokingly say that we left Duntroon all ready and primed to command brigades and divisions but perhaps not platoons. This was our own joke but I really did feel that


we knew more about the big world than the world that really mattered to us. Platoons, you see, is only what thirty to forty men, it’s a very small intimate world and when you’re responsible for the life of each of those it’s quite a responsibility.
I guess like a lot of graduates –
We had done a lot of training, military training, our own class formed – that’s not right – we’d done a lot of training where we held positions of


acting platoon commanders or acting section commanders but who were the rest of the platoon, fellow staff cadets of junior classes. Now if they didn’t co-operate, they were the ones that suffered, not us, they were the ones that suffered first. So everybody was trying their hardest. So we had almost perfect sections and perfect platoons – not what you get out in real life.
Can you give us a little more detail of the


kinds of things that you were taught and the kinds of training exercises that you learned?
On the military side, yes. We, first of all, I’ll give it to you year by year. In our first year we would have done the equivalent of a recruit course. So we would have been taught field craft, minor tactics, weapon training, how to live in the field, how basically to exist as a soldier. In the second


year we would have been taught, really brought up and given the knowledge of what a corporal, section commander should have. In the third year and our fourth year, our third year would have probably taken us up to what a sergeant should have been doing and in our fourth year we acted as platoon commanders I’m talking about tactical training. This reflected the fact that, whereas at school you have prefects and things, within the corps of staff cadets you have lance corporals, corporals, sergeants, colour sergeants and


warrant officers so we were getting experience within our own group in day to day stuff, running parades, running messes, running sporting teams. You had to be, you had to qualify, whatever sports you liked yourself you also had to get referee tickets, umpire tickets so that you could referee and coach when you got out to your unit. But I couldn’t have refereed the last couple of


Wallaby [football] matches. I found out they’ve got four hundred, my wife kept saying, “Why did they get that penalty?” They said there’s now four hundred rules and regulations, well there only used to be one hundred at the time I did the examination as a Rugby Union referee, there’s four hundred now and I don’t know them.
There’s also a lot of video cameras and another umpire up in the box. Now tell me a little bit about the


non military training that you had there?
Yes, the non military training was basically you selected whether you were going to be an Arts side or a Science side and the science side eventually broke down into science or engineering. So there were three, in our day there were three structures. Today, they have many more different departments and they have a greater variety of academic training. English, for example, was common across all those three departments in our


time. I did the Arts side because to be fair admit that I’m not very good at calculus, it’s never been something I’ve been strong with so it was better for me to be doing economics, economic geography and economic history and military history in particular of course as opposed to getting caught up with more and more calculus and applied maths and that sort of thing which I wasn’t strong on. Despite doing Arts though we still did chemistry and physics


I suppose to make it balanced and an engineer went off and did all sorts of funny things that I wouldn’t know.
Regarding the military training what sort of very practical things did you learn?
I would have said that it was all practical. You just weren’t - I’ll use the simplest one, the drill, you were taught how


to do drill but that’s simple and that’s all you’d teach a recruit in the army but we were taught how to teach the drill and then how to do it yourself. Sorry, we were taught how to do it yourself but we were taught how to teach it to juniors, to others, and we were actually given junior cadets to teach actually and we were assessed in order to do it. We couldn’t produce a battalion of


cadets and do battalion parades but this might sound silly, it’s amazing what you can do with a left mark and a right mark and a rope in between. So we could learn how to do ceremonial parades, instruct in it, run them, be the commanding officer running the parade or be the sub unit commanders so everything was made practical that we could. If we were going to use explosives, which is one of the trainings we did, mine warfare, then you blew things


up. Nowadays you have to have a licence to do that but we used to blow big holes around the place, in the paddocks and we also filled them in afterwards I imagine.
And you did rifle training I presume?
Yes, every type of weapon training you can think of, radio training, radio exercises all around that part of the world, vehicle training.


We learned how to fix a Harley Davidson motor bike, you had to make sure you took a threepence with you so you could undo - the mechanics had pulled the wire up so you couldn’t get any speed out of them, we used to undo the throttle cable and let it out and away we’d go and there used to be quite a few accidents too along the way.
Were you a good shot?
I’d say average, yes.
Was there any particular area that you excelled in?
I’d like to think I


excelled in tactics. You’re talking about the practical side now?
Academically my loves were tactics, military history, organisation, administration and back there the things I got my prizes in but not for military history and there’s another story to it. Shall I tell it to you? My last year was 1950 and my brother suddenly arrived at Duntroon as the military


history instructor. For three years I’d been happily topping military history in my class, I never topped it again after that. And literally last Christmas on his death bed I had to say to him “I’ve never asked you this before but why was I such a bad military history student?” He said “What do you mean?” “Well” I said “For three years I managed to top it very successfully and then for your year when you were my military instructor I never did”. I said “How did you mark me?” He said “I always marked your


paper first, then I’d mark it again and I gave you the lower of the two figures”. He said “Sometimes I even marked it three times and then you got the lowest of the three”. He was a man who never wanted anyone to point the finger and say you were showing bias or favouritism. That’s why I never topped military history. It was nice to find out eventually.
Yes, that’s what I would have suspected,


just keeping you down for fear of nepotism. All right so when you graduated from Duntroon it was 1950?
Yes, December 1950.
And what did you move on to then?
In those days there were only three battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment. The 3rd Battalion was in BCOF, Japan, that had gone to Korea. There were only two left in Australia one in Sydney and one in New South Wales. My brother had just been promoted to


Lieutenant Colonel and appointed the CO of 2 RAR here at Puckapunyal. So I wasn’t posted there was I, I was posted to RAR Sydney. So of my class and infantrymen, half went to 1RAR Ingleburn the other half went to 2 RAR Puckapunyal and we all spent six months with those battalions and starting in from July on we got fed up to Japan as reinforcement officers to go to Korea and so on. So from the month of July I’d gone from


1 RAR in Sydney to 2 RAR in Korea.
Now was this your first time overseas.
Tell me your first impressions when you arrived.
I suppose I was very lucky actually. I went with a chap who was two classes ahead of me at Duntroon. He came and joined us in Sydney at 2 RAR in June and he and I flew out about mid July together.


He knew, well, he’d been to BCOF Japan, he’d been up there and come back again and he’d been to Korea and in fact he was ADC [Aide de Camp] to the Chief of General Staff and he didn’t like the idea, he wanted to keep going back to Japan. So he said “All right, I’ll post you to 1 RAR, get you posted to 1st Battalion” Having got there of course he immediately put in to go to Korea and Japan and of course away he went. He was able to,


you know, if we flew over New Guinea fairly low, he was able to point things out to me and tell me things. In the twenty-four hours we had in Hong Kong, he took me around and showed me because he’d been around Hong Kong three or four times. When we got to Japan he was acting like a mentor all the way. In fact we even went to Korea together five days later and again he was able to – in fact, he was a very good guide and mentor. I’d have to be honest and say my eyes were out on stalks


seeing new things, new people, new smells and I was going to war. I don’t want the anti-war group to say “Oh, war mongerer” – I was doing what I’d been trained to do.
Yes, and you must have been, as a fresh graduate, you must have been pretty excited to get out and get straight out and put it into practice.
That’s right.
What did you know or what


were you taught about the war in Korea and what the international situation was generally?
The thing I left out obviously was international affairs as an academic subject so we knew all the background. I have to say our morale wasn’t too good around November of 1950 because MacArthur was saying “Home for Christmas” then. Well of course it didn’t come to pass did it and by the time we got there


he’d been removed by [US President Harry S.] Truman. The press, we didn’t hear much, well, no TV, but you didn’t hear much on the radio in those days about Korea. What little there was in the paper and we’d all avidly read it and by this time, 1951, we knew nothing more than what we read in the press. There was no dissemination of facts about Korea. A few journalists too many had probably been killed by this time and they stopped


reporting it very well, you know, didn’t report it much. They went mad in the first three months there were reporters everywhere but a few of them got killed and they didn’t have so many representatives. No, I think we had to rely on what we’d learned from the military and I suppose one had to get there to get the real feel of it and find out what was going on.
Given what the military had taught you which you would know would be a one-sided story or a


military side and given what little you’d read in the papers, what was your impression of what was happening there, trying to remove what you know now?
I obviously knew that North Korea invaded the South. Initially they were very successful and had driven them right down to the toe of around Pusan but then they’d gone mad and the UN [United Nations] Forces


had gone up to the Yalu and then the Chinese had entered the war in November 1950 and driven them down south again, going on a yo yo. All that was well known, there was nothing there that I doubted I didn’t think that I was getting one view only. We were certainly getting our share of the propaganda, that was being reported in our press. The Chinese saying the American capitalists wanted this and that and that was the only reason, we were going –we were


one of twenty-one countries that went to Korea and I think they spread their propaganda very well. We were only going there to help the American capitalists.
Taking it as a given that obviously you were excited to be going and putting your skills into practice, what was your view of what Australia was doing in Korea and what America


was doing there, did you have any doubt that this was the right thing to do?
No, I had no doubts. I didn’t, you know, as far as I knew the United Nations had twenty-one countries of part of their force and we were doing the right thing, we were defending South Korea. And if I’d had any doubts, I went back at our own expense in 1991 and I just couldn’t believe what I found. I’d read about this


dynamic country, particularly if you remember the Olympic Games in late 1988 I think, and that’s the first time I’d seen pictorially the state of Korea today, South Korea, I just couldn’t get over it.
In what sense?
Well, all I know is that when I went there in 1951 it was run down, everything was broken, there was one bridge only, a broken bridge at that, across the Han River. Now there’s something like twenty-three


bridges, there’s country towns with sky scrapers that make Melbourne look silly and Sydney for that matter.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that you, as a graduate, would have had perhaps a lot more training in the forces of communism and the


Cold War at that time than your average person so I’m interested to know from your point of view about I guess the international state of the Cold War and specifically what was going to happen?
Well, specifically, because of the Cold War and, you know, the United Nations was only about five years of age, it was a great challenge to them and we were proud I think to be part of that challenge.


And it was the first time that the Cold War, as such, had blown up to a “hot war” and all the more reason for us to get it over and done with but I don’t think they were at the forefront of my thoughts. To put it more pointedly, I probably was wondering how I would perform and even more pointedly I was suddenly going to come across a group of Australians who I hadn’t met any of them before, I wasn’t talking about members of the whole


battalion, I’m talking about I’m going to come down to, it did come down to 4 Platoon B Company of thirty men, fifteen at least had served in World War II as well as Korea, one could say they were very seasoned soldiers. Of the other fourteen they had been serving in Korea at that stage for eight to nine months, they were well seasoned and there was one other young man like me.


And he by mistake had carried his lance corporal stripe all the way from Australia to Korea, he arrived about a week after I did, he and I were the only two that had never been to war before in that platoon. And he, of course, was accelerated because he shouldn’t have had this lance corporal stripe, they normally get removed before and he would have arrived as a private but there’d been a hiccup. A wonderful platoon sergeant, a great


soldier of World War II and post-World War II and BCOF background and in the army game a new platoon commander really had to depend on his sergeant to train him, to get his real training. And on the sergeant’s side he has to hope he can mould this young officer to stop any extremes and so on too. So it was


interesting and I’m grateful for the people I inherited. In fact I think I was very lucky, they must have wondered what they’d struck. Let’s be fair by the time the end of July came all three platoons of B Company had brand new army officers as platoon commanders, all my class mates, the three of us, and a grumpy old company commander who was surly and sour.
So, tell me


about your first arrival in Korea and when you first met the men?
Well, I suppose the first thing I recall is arriving at Kimpo, what was left at the airport, where 77 Squadron were based, into a dirty old jeep, driven for miles and miles it doesn’t seem so much now because they have freeways and that but dirt roads and, you know, we had a


pistol. Checking in to the CO, luckily the new CO of the battalion had been the CO of 1RAR so we had not seen each other for two or three weeks so it wasn’t quite so bad to meet the new CO because we knew him and we knew us but I didn’t know anybody else though. Then this company driver picks me up and we’re climbing up the hill to the company, in the background I hear our mortars fire and he


yelled out “Duck, sir” and he threw himself flat on the ground. And he was right, there was one mortar firing short so maybe three bombs fell over us and the other one dropped down behind us and that was interesting.
Was it summer or winter at this point?
Was it summer or winter at this point?
Summer and a very hot, sticky day. What did I find?


Thin, wiry, I can’t say they were dirty but they weren’t that clean, you know, water was very short. I could show you afterwards, I’ll show you a photograph of he platoon taken a few months earlier and one of our other platoons taken after a


particular battle that’s how they sort of looked like in those days. You were living in sort of clay, dirty stuff, and you had enough water to wash your face and hands properly that’s all, your clothing was the same colour. And they probably wondered what they’d struck and I did too.


It’s a question I’ve never thought about since then actually. Had I been showing you a photograph it would have been easier to demonstrate how it sort of all looked. I don’t think I can tell you much more about how they looked otherwise than that they were lean, wiry and interested in what was this new bloke like and I was very conscious of my p’s and q’s and very dependent on this wonderful platoon


And what was your first impression of him?
Good, a good impression. He was helpful, explained things, the only problem was about a week later he disappeared on leave for a week.
Given that most of your men were more experienced than you,


which is to say that they had some experience and you had none in the sense of war experience and also given the general Australian lack of respect for senior officers, without putting too fine a point on it, how did


you react to the men or how did they react to you and did you want to put a firm impression on them up front or did you take it softly, softly.
I think without any doubt I took it softly, softly. Remember, a lieutenant’s the very bottom of the pile so he’s not a senior officer. Also though I think we’d gone from the


World War II extremes, before many of these men had spent four or five years in BCOF and they were all regulars, they were all volunteers that’s the other thing, everyone in that unit was a volunteer. No, I think the easiest thing is that they’d rather call you boss than sir once you’d earned it, you know, earned the term boss. And it was


not the sort of wild stories you’ve read about some of the AIF of World War II or World War I, these blokes had been running around doing ceremonial parades in Tokyo and the others were K Force people who from their World War II experience, had been recruited specifically for Korea and again they were volunteers. So I can’t recall any disciplinary problems. You might have


chipped somebody every now and again for some reason or other but they were very minor. I don’t ever remember charges ever being laid or anything like that. It was a team work thing because once you get to operations it’s a bit like the correct analogy is of a football team – if half the team are well trained and half aren’t then if the other half don’t learn from the trained people there’s something wrong. You’ve got to mix in with each other and learn from each other and you depend upon each


other. The bloke on your right could keep you alive or not if he’s a member of the team.
I guess what I was thinking when I said that Australians were ill-disciplined is some of the stories actually from Korea because the men were working so closely with units from other countries a lot of the Australians distinguished themselves by the fact we’re not like the


British, we don’t stand on ceremony so much we get the job done and I wondered if there was any difference between what you’d been trained to expect, say in training a young cadet at Duntroon?
One always knew that our training was done amongst our peer group and with hindsigh) of history over several decades, not several decades, several hundred years one had a pretty broad idea I think of all the


various approaches that could be used. Then again when you got to Korea itself inside the battalion you’d be lucky if you saw anyone other than an Australian. You would see New Zealanders, you’d see two if not three New Zealanders inside your company who were the artillery people. Later on when tanks became more readily available you could have a group of one or two tank crews who were all Brits but some of those stories almost suggest as if they were


people who had travelled down to the back or ad been serving at headquarters or logistic units because living inside a battalion you’d be lucky, as I say , other than those three New Zealanders and the tank crew of Brits you wouldn’t see anybody from other countries. Now, how our people carried on in leave in Japan that’s another story again.
We’ll pause you there before we get into that.
Interviewee: James Hughes Archive ID 1109 Tape 03


So your initiation basically or acclimatisation into Korea, how long would it take to get adjusted, not just to your men but to Korea?
I don’t think I can really answer that, you know, we are speaking about fifty-two years ago. I never, ever really did get used to the extremes of


winter, the coldness but there was a sort of, your morale is high, you’re doing what you’re trained to do for four years, four and a half years, and all you had to do was give of your best and learn and I was surrounded by people who had more experience than I had.
So how do you find command in such a situation where you do have NCOs who are far more experienced?
Same as joining a football


team, the same thing, you learn from them but you know what your standards are and you know what should be done and how to do it but obviously you have to modify some of your theory approaches to make them practical.
So would that mean that you were actually consulting with your NCOs to receive advice, how would you react say on a patrol for instance, what should we


do, what would be the best thing to do, would it be something like that?
Yes but not quite saying “what should we do?” that demeans yourself on the spot. You know, this is the task the company commander’s given us and you can discuss it generally with them it’s not a case of standing up and giving them formal orders, you’ll given them formal orders in due course but in the preparation phase you’d have to say “Well, Bill, how would you tackle this or what do you think of this approach?”


You’re not asking for approval, you’re asking for their ideas and you digest that. Right in front of us where we were first was the ImjinRiver at that stage low in volume of water, and you’d have to say “Well, Bill, have you been across the Imjin before?” “Yes, Boss”. “How did you travel last time?” “Oh, you know, walked across, got our feet wet”. You know, that would


answer the question.
Now what was the climate like in Korea at the time when you first arrived?
Well, at this time days of forty plus degrees Celsius every day.
Forty plus Celsius, I thought Australia was bad.
It was far worse than an Australian summer.
I’m very surprised.
Well, some days were only thirty-eight but it was energy sapping


and even though on a one-day patrol you didn’t carry much gear, if you were going out for longer than that, you know, you had a pack on and in the first kilometre or so of the river, there were no creeks running at that stage so there was no water re-supply. If you didn’t fill up your water bottle, and we only had one then, today anything from two to six is not unusual in that sort of


climate, and we still had some of these people with Middle East ideas that 1 water bottle was all that was needed. Today we’ve got the opposite approach in the Australian army, as much water as you can get hold of any carry yourself. So they were energy sapping days and particularly I recall the first patrol I did. The company commander, this old surly character, was most


insistent that I follow the route he’d drawn on the map exactly and I tried to point out to him, you know “But sir you’ve got us going uphill and downhill all the time”. I thought it would be far better to contour, I could see as much I can search as much ground but the men will be fresher. “Do as I say” you know was his answer. And that’s what we did. We went up and down, up and down. And of course I found out afterwards when I got back he’d just


sat there with a pair of binoculars and watched us the whole time. I suppose it was because I’m the new boy and he’s trying us out isn’t he?. But it did us all in physically and I did hear some of the diggers complaining about it that night as I had been myself and as they said, I couldn’t help but smile to myself when I heard them say “Oh, give him a go, poor bugger was only doing what the company commander said he had to do”.


Do you think, you know, how they’re portrayed in movies and in general Australian folklore that Australian soldiers are rebellious, how true do you see that?
I don’t. If an Australian soldier, if you have an Australian soldier – well, I’ve got to be careful how I put this so I’m not seen to be boasting – if an Australian soldier is well trained and well led he hasn’t got a case for being


rebellious. When he’s not well led and not well trained yes there may be cases and there have been such things I’m quite sure of that but I’ve never been party to that. I have been party to where it was obvious, I have been party to where it was obvious that officers had lost the respect of their diggers and that was self-inflicted. In fact, I sacked a couple


later on in my life.
Yes. The men didn’t trust them, the men didn’t want them and neither did I.
Is this an Australian trait or a general trait?
Oh, a general trait across all armies I would say.
Why do you think that, you know, this myth sort of an Anzac myth has come about this sort of idea that a rebellious Australian soldier who’s fair dinkum and fights hard – look, I don’t doubt that of course?


They were stories from the first AIF and the start of the second AIF in World War II but more the first AIF who were all recruited, volunteers, straight off their farms into the army where the NCOs knew no more than the privates and the officers in many cases didn’t know much more either unless they had been at the first class in Duntroon or they’d been in the


then Citizen Militia and they’d had some training or in the best case some of them had been to the Boer War. When you suddenly expand an army like that over night you haven’t got the officer or NCO material so there’s a lot of hits and misses along the way.
So you’re saying the training of the army directly reflects on its, how could you say it?
If you train


properly you teach self and corporate discipline and you teach the right tactics, the right techniques. That gives the man confidence in himself that he knows how to do it and he knows that a mate on his left knows how to do it and the mate on the right knows how to do it and they work as a team and you don’t have rebellion there. Let’s be fair, I’m jumping ahead but, to take a battalion to Vietnam we trained together for fifteen


months whereas you take the first AIF in the best case they would have had five, six months training prior to Gallipoli so at least they’d had some training. In fact in Wold War II our first division, the 6th Division, had been training for a year before they went to war before they fired their first shot in anger. It’s when you try and do things


overnight that you get rebellions because people haven’t got self discipline, let alone corporate discipline and nor have they got the knowledge, it could be as simple as how to shoot the rifle properly, how to attack properly, how to throw a grenade so training is a hell of an important thing.
This is something I really want to touch on later when we get to the post-Korea stage, Vietnam and Borneo, that’s where I suppose the politics comes into it. So can you


walk us through your first combat experience?
The first fire fight [gun battle]?
In Korea, yes, the very first actual combat incident?
Well, I had a lot of incidents without me actually being in a fire fight like I told you about that first patrol, we saw enemy be we were both of us too far away to hit each other. A week later,


I was made a liaison officer to go across with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry who’d crossed the Emgin to do a battalion raid and they took an Australian company with them, our A Company, and I was sent as an LO, a Liaison Officer, to the Battalion headquarters of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. That all seemed straightforward didn’t it except that it rained one night and we were all cut off.
It rained?
Yes, and the Imjin River came


up three or four metres and we were cut off and we eventually ran out of food and a couple of Australian Dakotas [aircraft] came in to do an air supply drop and it’s fair to say that they were out of practice a bit, most of the parachutes drifted over to the Chinese lines and we got tins of potatoes and cigarettes. The potatoes of course all went to the


fighting troops we on the (UNCLEAR) got the cigarettes, that wasn’t much to live on. But there was no actual combat, it was two or three weeks later when I had the first combat when a two-company operation – the first thing is we were caught out in the open with Chinese artillery and mortars and I do recall jokingly saying to the signaller


something to the affect like “Gosh you’re faces dirty, you’re really burying into ( we had no slit trenches or anything) He said “Sir, you want to see your face it’s dirty too”. We couldn’t make ourselves small enough when the shells and bombs came pouring down. So then we actually had to engage the enemy and sort of leapfrog ourselves out again, the two companies.


I don’t know quite how we got ourselves into that situation, it wasn’t very well organised now I come to think about it.
So it was actually meant to be an attack?
No, I suppose you could put it that way, both companies were sent across there to more or less taunt the enemy, show us where they were, we didn’t know where they were you see. And when they fired their artillery and


mortars that certainly had an affect on us and we knew where they were but we didn’t know where the slit trenches were. So although we were caught on this slope running down leading back towards the river we had to reform, regather and go off another way – we were trying to find where their front lines were, by day, and we found it of course. All we wanted to do was sort of bloody their nose, we didn’t want to


have a major fight. Well that’s how I understood it - remember I’m only a junior officer amongst two hundred men. But we found them and they engaged us and we engaged them and then we slowly withdrew out having found where their FDL, Forward Defence Line was, that’s what we were searching to find. Every time we had put our Aero P Auster aircraft up to have a look of course the Chinese kept shooting


them down, holing them. In fact an Australian pilot died as a result of it. They must have hit some key part of his controls and he could not get the aircraft to go down or up. He could get it to circle but couldn’t change his elevation and the idea, eventually we learned all this afterwards, he got back to the area of the airfield


and they just had him going round and round until he ran out of fuel hoping he could glide in but unfortunately he crashed in and that was our first pilot we lost in Korea. Anyway, that’s right, we were out there searching.
So what sort of artillery did the Chinse us in that specific engagement? You said mortars but can you be more specific?
Mortars and


artillery and field guns, similar to what we had.
Now I understand the Australian standard artillery was 105 millimetre was it at the time?
No, in those days 25 pounders. We have 105 millimetres howitzers now which have a longer range and a greater variety of ammunition but this was the gun that took us all through World War II and again in Korea and in fact


we used the same gun in Malaya.
What sort of weaponry did they use for artillery and mortars?
Russian designed ones which they manufactured themselves and this was in the very early days of the Chinese artillery they became - by October when we get to the Battle of Miri An San that’s became very good as you can tell by our cost.
With their artillery?


And what sort of tactics did they use in that first encounter you had?
Well they didn’t have to move out of their defence lines you see they did not engage us. We were trying to find where their forward defence lines were, all they did was when they saw us they engaged us with artillery and mortars, they did not declare where they had their troops on the ground. That’s why we had to turn around and go back another way until such time as we found


them and we engaged them with fire and they engaged us with rifle fire and machine guns. Having hit them we then pulled back.
When you say you engaged I mean what sort of encounter was this I mean like was this a close combat sort of instance?
No, we didn’t get into their trenches we only wanted them to show us where they were by firing their rifles and machine guns.
And what sort of range was this between you and the enemy?
Four hundred metres.


Right. That’s quite a range still so it’s just to sort of spot the area. And what was the landscape in Korea like?
On thing, it had no trees. The whole of South Korea was treeless and if I can break into for a minute there, we went back in 1991 with our wives, we were driving up from Pusan, it was Anzac Day, we’d just been to the


war cemetery and we were sitting in the bus driving north and all the men seemed to be a bit sort of “Ugh” I said to someone “Something’s different” and eventually one character said “There are trees”. We couldn’t wait to get to the next place where we stayed for the night to talk about it to the local people and we found out that prior to World War I when the Japanese were running


South Korea they had taken all the trees, they had had all the trees cut down, I’m just trying to recall what they make out of them, they use it for industrial purposes, coals, I can’t think what it is now – anyway, they weren’t used in Japanese factories in Korea they were shipped back to Japan to be used in industries there. In the early 1960s, in the 1960s sorry, the South Korean government


decided re-forest their country and I thought it was a wonderful thing which we should promise to do here in Australia. Everybody got caught up into it, you know, that youth groups, boy scouts, girl guides, you name it, prisoners. The Army helicopters helped them to get up to the high hills to drop the seeds in, the prisoners did it the hard way they walked out and climbed and planted them so all of


South Korea is now full of trees. Come to the demarcation line, walk into North Korea, no trees in sight. So the point I’m making about the particular feature we were fighting that day, the hills were as bald as could be there wasn’t a shrub, a bit of grass but nothing else.
So were you highly exposed essentially? Was that a contributing factor to the stalemate because of the


nature of the terrain?
No, no, the stalemate was all political.
No in terms of the military conflict?
No, the trees didn’t make any difference to that, what you call the stalemates was literally the three stalks were on or three stalks were off and if the tree stalks were on you were allowed to defend yourself but you couldn’t advance and capture, when the three stalks went off


we advanced and captured and both sides fought to get the best positions in anticipation one day there might be a truce that’s the whole background to the Battle of Mari En Seng.
Is it similar to that Pork Chop Hill [US forces' battle] and things like that?
Yes all that time, they were at that time.
There must have been numerous such engagements.
That’s right.


So can you walk us through your daily sort of routine in Korea after that engagement, generically speaking?
Yes. Half an hour before daylight “Stand to”. You’d stand to for half an hour. After stand to you would take it in turns, you wouldn’t have all your weapons being cleaned at once but you’d in rotation clean your


weapons. Then your sentries would stay on duty whilst you did your ablutions, your breakfast, you might have had your section master in to discuss the day’s activities if you hadn’t done it, normally you would probably have done that the night before. So that day you might have been up for a section patrol or a platoon patrol. You might have been up for maintenance of your defensive


works, you might have had to contribute to a wiring party to renew say the barbed wire that had been blown up the night before. The mining was done by our pioneers or engineers, we didn’t have enough knowledge within our platoons to do that but there would be work parties. It could be carting water from down the bottom of the hill to the platoon or bringing new rations or carting


rubbish out. So having cleaned all weapons, the sentries still remained in position, ablutions done, breakfast eaten, work parties would start or patrols would go out and the day would go on that day until you stood to that night for half an hour before and across dusk. Somewhere along that time that’s probably where you would have had your below group,


orders group, with your three section commanders and a platoon sergeant and discussed the patrolling, ambushing or work parties for the following day and all seven days were the same, you wouldn’t know which day was Sunday.
Was it pretty boring at times?
It could be, yes it could be. For example, you didn’t have the same section carrying the


water up and down the hill every day. You didn’t have the same part of the platoon doing the ambushing you’d try to alternate to give people variety.
What did you know about your enemy, the Chinese and the North Koreans?
Not as much as we would know today because we’ve got better aids to learn our intelligence. We only had general information that it was say


191 Division, it would be fed down to us from battalion headquarters but we probably only knew the name of the division or the number of the division officer that’s all or the brigade we didn’t know much in detail. We would certainly hear what they had said because we received once a week a copy of some American army newspaper which we all read, you know.


It would quote what the Chinese said about this or that so we probably learned as much through that newspaper as anything else.
What happened after that. Where was the next encounter you had after your first?
It’s hard now to get things in the right sequence.


Probably the next thing that comes to mind is I talked about this river rising, going down to cross the river with my platoon for what was to be a fighting patrol and we had a specific target to raid, and I crossed the river, the engineers had set up lines across the river. I went across in the first boat very happily and I must admit I hadn’t been on a


river that was flowing so fast. The second boat came across very happily or, you know, successfully and so I had about ten of us on the enemy side of the river and the third boat comes across. And for reasons which we don’t know to this day they did not take them upstream far enough, you’d take the party upstream and you’d cross the river on an angle because of the speed of it. This one didn’t have that it crossed much


closer to the rope. The next thing, I had a great big bloke on the team, built like a thoroughbred of the highest order, the muscles and everything else. He tried to lift up believe it or not this cable, with the water running at thirty or forty kilometres an hour and as a result of course he tipped the whole boat over and we saw six of our blokes disappearing down this fast – those who didn’t fight it


eventually were washed up on the shore where the river turned and we went down and saved them. Those that fought it, the other half, unfortunately the three of them drowned and we found their bodies about a month later and that was a bit off-putting to say the least. My idea would have been to go on with that patrol even though I’d lost three men but we were ordered


to return so eventually we all made our way back the next day. I’m trying to think what happened after that and get everything into the right sequence. We’re into September now where the whole battalion went across and my battalion didn’t actually have any combat as such, we got shelled again but we didn’t have any hand to hand fighting. Then we went back to


reserve and then we were positioned at a lower position further down the west to a place near the Wijon crossing and that’s where we found these three blokes, their bodies anyway, caught up and snagged in the river line. And that’s where we did our prac training and preparation for the Battle of Mari En Seng and that was full of hand to hand combat for the next eight days. But that’s a -


do you want me to go on to that?
Yes, very much so.
I’m sorry I’ve left out one incident. The company had done a reconnaissance across the river, the river ad gone down again, and the company commander was called to go back to battalion headquarters by an orders group and he asked me to bring the company home. When we got there the company commander seemed very


impatient, he wanted to tell us things, he wanted to tell us all about the battle, what was going to be called Operation Commando. All we wanted to tell him quite honestly was, we were very lucky, sorry we were late, but we had suddenly found ourselves in a minefield and we had to tippee toe back out again and where you I stepped and so on. The man behind me, we all stepped in the one place that’s how we got ourselves out of the minefield. So when you’re bringing a company out and suddenly


the alarm signal goes up “mines” and we started looking around and there were mines all around us. They were called butterfly mines which are dropped by aircraft that’s why they didn’t have minefield markers and fences around them, and to extract our company out of a minefield it took me half a day actually, in one piece. It did scare us that any minute something would blow up on us so we took the long way home all around it. Anyway, the company commander was there to tell us all about what was going to happen to us in a


couple of days time. He and his peers went off on reconnaissance and things. We couldn’t, it was too far away for us to see so we made up sand tables and models and things. So we started on the second of October and the battalion was trucked by an American trucking company right to the


far side of the divisional lines, divisional area responsibility, and we had to infiltrate in several kilometres. And the problem was to do it without the Chinese seeing us because they were on all the hills. And somebody came up with this bright idea - we all carried a half blanket, we didn’t have sleeping bags we carried a half blanket which used to be rolled up in the bottom of our bum pack and we put that across our packs.


Apparently it deceived them and we walked fifty – the official history says we were fifty metres apart, I don’t think we used metres I think we might have been fifty yards apart and it was like strolling on a summer’s day, going for a walk, or an autumn day, and it took us all day to get the battalion in to our various night spots where we based up for the night. One company had itself


shelled, we in B Company didn’t get anything, we were lucky, obviously we must have deceived the enemy. At three o clock the next morning, my platoon was the lead platoon for the whole battalion, we left at three o clock and I had to walk as the crow flies about three kilometres, dark, foggy, I had to navigate to a particular spot. forty-five minutes after me came the rest of the company and a half an hour after


them came a second company. All I know is that from three in the morning until eight o clock, for five hours we navigated and we dropped with us, we had a signal party who were carrying a line, so they paid the line out, the telephone line out, which our company was able to follow later that’s how they got there to. But it was pretty hard, for three kilometres,


through paddy fields and all sorts of clay, and mists coming up through the river - it was as black as the ace of spades, we had white markings on our backs, I hung on to your bayonet, you hung on to mine, it was the blind leading the blind with maps and pacing ourselves and compasses and we got there. And having got to this feature we made a defence space and forty-five minutes after that the company arrived and joined us and


then in this darkness and this fog we attacked Hill 199 and I’m pleased to say we attacked the enemy and we, I think we, I’ve forgotten the exact number we killed now but we killed/captured about ten of them I think the rest got away in the fog and the mist and we had three wounded unfortunately including our New Zealand artillery officer, a man who we depended upon a lot.


Now this was the beginning of?
The beginning of Operation Commando subsequently called the Battle of Mari En Seng. That was the first effort in the whole battle, well the first battle was getting the position in on thesecond, this was the morning of the third. We withdrew the whole company back to another feature, a parallel feature, left a platoon on this Hill 199 to protect it. It was obviously was probably a platoon, a Chinese platoon outpost.


Very well – beautifully dug trenches and everything and their new winter equipment and clothing had just been positioned. And then later this A company arrived, they took over the feature and as the day progressed they were joined by a section of machine guns and then some tanks came to join them with great trouble, it took them a long time for them to get the tanks there. And to help us to help them dig in or to help us dig in on the parallel feature the Chinse successfully decided to shell and mortar us


all day so it’s a way to make people really dig I can assure you of that and we sat there for a couple of days. In that time other companies did other attacks so now we come to about day, about the fourth and away we go again and for some reason my section commanders had more or less said to me “Sir, can you get the section commander to let some other platoon be the lead platoon occasionally, why is it always us”. So he had agreed that we would


lead from five in the morning until eight o clock, at eight o clock a friend of mine from 6th platoon would take over the lead. So again we go off in the thick fog, painting the faces and we made it to eight o clock, the other bloke took off. We knew exactly where we had to turn left to go up a ridge line, to go up to this Hill 317 which is actually the name for which is called Mir an San.


There were two companies, another company was coming along with us, and my friend hadn’t long taken over the lead and I’m now at the back of the whole push and I knew very well that we weren’t going the right way, we hadn’t taken the turn left we should have. Years later I found out that the company commander and my friend had an argument as to who was doing the right navigation. Anyway, my company, B Company, went


further north before it turned left. The other company believed the navigation, they should have turned left and they did turn left. So you’ve got two companies going up like this now instead of one after another. About eleven o clock, much later in the day, the fog lifted and suddenly this other company, D Company, were caught exposed right in the middle of a Chinese position, a couple of positions and they had a hell of a fight and lost their company commander and lost


two of their platoon commanders and lost a whole lot of diggers. Anyway, they made several attacks on the way until about two o clock when they were a spent force, about three o clock sorry they were a spent force, we had to send a platoon down to help them. We were on higher ground, we had to clear a company of Chinese out ourselves so we’d had a fight. Luckily we saved this company. Had that Chinese position still been there their fire would have


actually just about knocked out our D Company, we saved them that. At three o clock D Company were spent, that’s the best way to explain it, so our C Company had to come in and they bounced through a couple of positions and by about five o clock that night they’d captured Hill 317. That wasn’t the only thing that we had to do or had been done. I should say that C Company the day before had helped the Kings Own Scottish Borderers capture


Hill 355. The Kings Own Scottish Borderers have never admitted that we actually took it, we the Australians, but that’s another story. We stayed there a further day and whilst all this is happening other battalions of the brigade are trying to get various features and are failing. And one particular battalion, who was in a week or two weeks of going home to England called the Royal Leicesters, they had one hundred casualties almost every other day


because they were trained to attack a feature called 217 straight up the guts and the Chinese just shot them down in flames and they were a spent force too. And the Brigade Commander asked that the Australians, now that they were sitting on top of 317, that they attack down this ridge line to 217 down at the end of it. So on Saturday the sixth the Commanding Officer ordered us on the top


of 317 and gave us the task to attack down the ridge line to a place called the Hinge which was at the middle of it, between 317 at the top and 217 at the bottom. The next morning at eight o clock we attacked down that head, down that ridge line and he whole company was only about seventy odd strong...... down that ridge line and the whole company was only about seventy odd strong instead of about one one hundred and twenty..... so the amount of ground we covered was very small and the company commander, we had a new company commander by this time he was very set in his


ways “four platoon (my platoon)left” my friend’s platoon “2nd platoon, right” the company corps and the reserve were doing five and down we went. The platoon as the most was only about twenty strong and we’ve got two sections say of six men, that’s twelve men and you don’t cover much land. Now on this feature there were trees and shrubs so we didn’t cover much. Now the enemy had pulled off this feature in the middle called


The Hinge, they went off to the side and went straight down like that, they’d pulled off. We found their trenches, we found their cooking spots, the coals were warm, they’d let us go through. As soon as we got through they came back up on the top of the hill again and they hit company headquarters and they hit Five platoon. In fact we had half a dozen killed on the spot, not of us, but our company sergeant major was the first man killed. So we in the


two platoons, four and six, had to turn around and fight back to help them recover. It went on, the fight went on for about an hour I suppose. There was one section commander I know who had an Owen Gun [light machinegun]. An Owen gun has a butt that you push a button and it falls off. He didn’t believe in bayonets because a bayonet for an Owen gun was only that long so he decided to butt stroke this Chinese bloke and he lost his butt didn’t he?So then he went like that with it.


He wore a bayonet thereafter all the time and in the end he throttled the bloody Chinaman I’m afraid. In the end it took us until about half past nine to sort ourselves out. All we could do was occupy the Chinese position which was facing the wrong way and it had a bias that wasn’t the one we wanted. At least a hole in the ground is better than no hole in the ground put it that way because before the Chinese actually left the features themselves their own


mortars and artillery came in on it and they came in several times during the day. In fact we had great trouble getting rid of our casualties, getting them evacuated, and we had great trouble getting ammunition. You can only carry so much your selves as you would appreciate. By dusk that night we stood to and all of us said,"Thank God they’ve stopped shelling us, they’ve stopped mortaring us, they’ve stopped even firing rifles at us now," so we thought, well we’ve made


it. But with hindsight we’ve all said it was an ominous silence, it was just so still, not a noise anywhere. At eight o clock it hit us and for forty-five minutes they shelled and mortared us non stop. They’d learned a lot about us by this time. "Stunned Mullets" that’s how you’d describe us, we were stunned literally.


One or more shells for example went straight into our machine gun section, knocked out one gun and killed all the crew and in fact we suffered a lot of casualties just in the shelling. There’s an old army saying in rifle work and the days of open ranges there was a catchy cry it used to be called “look to your front” in which you were required to look to your front because the targets would pop up. When the shelling stopped at a quarter to nine


around the whole place everybody was yelling out “watch your front”. Well that’s when they came at us and they attacked us one time that night, finally finishing at about half past four, quarter to five in the morning. We went through four lots of, four company loads of ammunition. In the end in fact we couldn’t get any more in. There was a pioneer platoon coming in from the top who were being used as load carriers, they couldn’t get through to us


so one of the blokes went up, one of the sergeants went out and grabbed all this spare ammunition from the blown-up Vickers ammunition. Now it’s ammunition but it’s a special type called Mark 8Z because it’s got a bigger range. So we used that to fire our rifles.
I’m going to have to stop you there because we’ve just run out of tape I’m afraid.
Interviewee: James Hughes Archive ID 1109 Tape 04


So during that night they attacked us three times because remember I told you they were very steep hills, you depend upon your Bren gun [light machinegun] to get rid of the enemy, they’re your main fire weapon but because they were so steep there was a gap, the Bren gun couldn’t get enemy who were close to us and they crept in and they were forever throwing stick grenades at us, the Chinese grenade, if you were smart you quickly threw it back at them.


I think we all got cocky that way. But three times they came in to attack us and we unfortunately kept getting casualties and our front, we got tighter and tighter and it was a long night. One can only say we were spent by stand to in the morning. We could hear the Chinese moving round, they were actually clearing the battle field


and our company commander, must have had a conscience, he said we were not to do clearing patrols which is normal at the end of stand to, we were not to engage the Chinese with fire but we could hear them, they were literally picking up their wounded. I put a couple of sentries out at the outpost but we weren’t allowed to do anything about it. It left the blokes


saying well this is probably the right thing to do, an honourable thing to do, but as long as they don’t surprise us so at least we had some eyes and ears out all the time. So we had to clean ourselves up, we managed to get, Pioneer platoon came back in again with more ammunition for us and also carted our casualties out because we had to hold the casualties all through the night. This is an aside here for a minute, when I was up talking to one of our


section commanders, they started their artillery again at one stage and I dived into this hole and I don’t know whether the two blokes in it really liked it but I was splayed across the top of them – at least I was keeping them safe I suppose. But I have to say it myself, a bit embarrassing, I got a big of shrapnel in my bum and I didn’t know about it, it could have been a bit of rock hitting but it might as well have been rock as well as shrapnel. The next day said to me “What’s all that blood on your pants?”


I wasn’t even aware, anyway that’s by the side. But here we were and the decision had been made because we were a spent force by now that we’d be relieved at nine o clock by the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, and we were very pleased to see them arrive I can assure you of that. And it was my job to count every member of the company out and I think it was fifty-one of us left that feature including the New Zealand


artillery party of one, plus there was an attached, one, two or one machine gunners which our one hundred and twenty odd company which had got down to under eighty; it was now down to under fifty; so that was the casualties that we’d suffered. Most of them came back to us I’m pleased to say other than the ones that were killed. But that photograph I’ve showed you of five platoon was taken the next day, the eighth of October and they looked tired and


dirty and that’s how we all were. We went about four hundred or five hundred yards away and set up new defensive positions to the east of this Hill 317 and regretfully three weeks later the Kings Own Scottish Borderers lost it. We had to sit there and watch them being lost.
Such is war.
I think I can make a


general comment about that which I have done in a publication and some articles is this is where I as a young man learned about maturity that night, no doubt about that, I wasn’t the same young bloke the next day.
I was going to say this is kind of a baptism by fire and this is a very intense battle. You’ve given us an overview


and you’ve told the story more or less from a tactical point of view. Can you give us more detail from a very personal point of view because for you this would have been a very trying time and there were a lot of casualties?
Yes, well I suppose some casualties were – sorry, casualties had to occur you can’t get out of it but


there can be unlucky ones. I remember a chap called Private Daly who had been with the platoon from day 1 back in 1950 and a month before this battle he was sent down to the Q Store and became a storeman because he was due for replacement, about the tenth of October he was about to leave the country for good, that’s why he was made the storeman. Well, when he heard about this battle, he said “No way I’m a storeman, I’m back up


there with the platoon”. And when I said to you we had to turn around and fight back to help the company headquarters and five platoon we actually had a grenade fight with a group of Chinese and he was the forward scout and he found them and lo and behold one shot rang out, straight through his forehead, dead, finished, gone.


Now, he needn’t have been there, he could have been a storeman way down at the bottom of the hill couldn’t he? But no, he wanted to be with his mates but it cost him his life. We weren’t able to recover his body quite honestly for about an hour afterwards we were too busy keeping ourselves alive. I’m pleased to say that his body was not interfered with anyway. But others just got wounded and we just had to put them in a slit trench where they were free from


shelling and mortaring, at least they were as safe as we could get them. We had a company orderly called Tommy Tunstall, a medic that is, who even during the shelling all during the night and during the day was forever going around the platoons and he must have run out of bandages time and time again I don’t know where he kept getting them from and he never got killed himself, I don’t know how he did it.


The trenches were too small for him to get inside of them and to put the bandages on he was sort of standing above the ground and bandaging people up and seeing to them and checking them and so on. But he was a Godsend you know. One could not feel sorry about the casualties because you had to keep the rest of the people alive, does that make sense to you. One just hoped that sooner or later they’d


be evacuated and once they got evacuated they’d get good treatment. But the carry out, the battalion regiment on A post I found out afterwards had come forward several kilometres but these men on stretchers still had to be carried out a kilometre or more. I know our first lot of stretcher bearers left on one day, it must have been about day two, and we didn’t get them back for another two days, that’s how


far to carry out and then walk back, it was difficult to get people out. You asked a question, what did it do? I think it made the survival instinct stronger. I think we had, we learned very quickly if the shell or mortar bomb had your name on it that was it “Boom”. But by attacking the enemy it reduced his chance of throwing a grenade or firing at you personally, that was obvious.


So you didn’t give yourself time to reflect?
No, there was no time to reflect. Well, you didn’t have the right number of men to start with, the men numbers keep getting less and less so you had to keep modifying where you had your defensive position and how you were fighting your defence. As I said to you when I showed you a photograph of 4 Platoon back in April of that year


I never saw a platoon that strong again, only for about one week in the whole period did I ever have a batman. I don’t think of a batman in that way, he was an essential part of the headquarters, but the sig, the batman, well the four of you run as a team and we only had the batman for one week. The sections were too weak so we had to dispense with him. You couldn’t go without a signaller but we did run short of NCOs when they got wounded and the


platoon sergeant had no choice in his opinion but to go back and run the section that had been his previous section when the section commander got wounded. Therefore I suppose I became platoon commander and the platoon sergeant and the sig was the continuity link. Yes, no time for reflection I can assure you of that.
You said that when there were casualties you didn’t


dwell on them and you concentrated on the living and you also mentioned that there were a few fellows you had to keep going through the night until the medics could get there. What was that like?
We just hoped for the best, we all knew how to put on a field dressing, we carried field dressing, we had spare shell dressing and we did the best we could. This Tommy Tunstall,


the corporal medic, would come around and check, he didn’t have a torch or anything, you wouldn’t want him to have a torch come to think of it. He was probably doing it by feel and asking questions I suppose. But I recall in the little trench, two-man trench that our signaller and I had, when we got short of men the signaller had to go out and join the perimeter and one of the wounded blokes came in and he seemed to have enough sense about him and I made him the sig on the


spot. I forget what his wound was though but he got evacuated and the next time I saw him he was a commissioned officer and the last time I saw him he was a lieutenant colonel. But he was a reinforcement who only spent four days in the platoon. After being wounded he got evacuated that following day and we never saw him again until I met up with him in Malaya. But luckily he’d learned how to operate a radio set somewhere along the way.


I’ve got to be honest and say that it’s my understanding that some of our wounding did not survive but they would have been the minority because they’d have been badly wounded – not in my platoon but in one of the other platoons.
Did you have any painkillers at all?
Aspros [aspirin]? In those days the medics did not carry morphine nor were they were allowed to in fact I wouldn’t have known what the word morphine meant.


I don’t think he probably would have either. No, Aspro.
Why were they not allowed to because it was getting stolen?
The doctors wouldn’t allow an untrained person to touch anything like that. We changed as we got more expertise around. That reminds me of another story but not to worry.
No, tell us, asides are fine?


No, it’s now June 1966 and I’m attached to the American Special Forces in Vietnam and I went to this base and their sergeant medic as part of his orientation to me he said “Sir, you’ve got to come and see my surgery”. Well there he was he said “I can’t wait to learn my first amputation”. I thought, "Oh God, some people have all the luck I suppose".


There is, the thing I’m getting at with the painkiller I mean you had to look after these blokes overnight and they must have been in terrible pain. Given that you didn’t have time to reflect on the dead this must have given you cause to reflect on your own chances?
I don’t think there was time to think. I had to put great faith in this company medic Tommy Tunstall.


If he had seen the casualty and he had done what he could I knew that was far more than I could do or the platoon sergeant could do or the section commander could do and one only had to give them words of encouragement. Our perimeter by this time was getting smaller and smaller and tighter and tighter and when there was a break in artillery and mortar was when I would go round and talk to the blokes and once again even to those that were fully alive who were ducking these


stick bombs and our machine gunners for example who really saved us had to fire and duck because sure as eggs the Chinese immediately fired back at them. One just had to use encouragement and, you know, I suppose it was a bit like a football match encouraging your side and we encouraged each other. You know, the shiyaking that went on between people, deadly serious but it meant a bit of


levity, a bit of laughter.
The training that you’d had, you’d been well trained in tactics and in combat including hand-to-hand combat, how do you think – did it prepare you well and did you find any differences with the real thing.
I think the training we had had as


cadets at Duntroon had prepared me but it doesn’t prepare you for the smells, the noise, the blood, the dirt, the atmosphere is missing. I don’t believe you can recreate that atmosphere in normal peace-time training. It is different.


In fact it’s – one could talk to people who’d been in it but even their description of it is not quite the same, I don’t know, it’s an experience you have to have I suppose.
Well there’s an extra edge from both parties when you’re actually fighting for your own life you’re going to throw it that much harder or fire faster?
You’re going to fire it that much harder. I’m going to use the wrong word now, endorphins, endorphin;


it’s a medical term I think, you can’t help but be on a high. You know, I’m better than that enemy and I’m going to get him because at the end of the day at any of these actions as I said, if you’ve given yourself the advantages of being trained and being fit then you’ve got everything going for you to beat them. It’s him or you, if you don’t kill him he’s going to kill


you as simple as that. So I’d prefer to do the killing, putting it in the real sense. That may not go down well with some people I know but my idea is to be a survivor.
Well Korea was different in a lot of ways, one of which was that there was a lot of hand-to-hand combat and you actually got to see your enemy up close.


How did you find the Chinese?
Well I appreciate that he was just another human being but he looked different, he had different uniform, different weapons, but you know, sorry, it still came down to it was he or me and I was determined that he would be the one to go not me. And that I think was the attitude of all of us. This is, now, I’m talking October 1951, in this period that was referred to as the stalemate period


that was predominantly all close combat, hand-to-hand combat because of raiding and ambushing, that’s exactly what it is of between patrols of between fifteen to thirty men. As I said earlier to you there were more casualties in the stalemate period than there were in the more open flowing periods of the Korean War.


We certainly, in that week, the second to the eigth of October had the highest lot of casualties the battalion had had for a long time. I think we had twenty odd killed and about eighty odd wounded. And about fifteen or so who were allegedly reported wounded in action who remained on duty but that’s so be it.
When you came into contact were they large groups or groups more the size of your own platoon?
In the


morning of the seventh October they were in the main smaller groups because they were as disorganised as we were. You know, suddenly a company of Australians hits them, well they had enough forewarning apparently, it must have been because of the covering fire we used, for them to pull down the hill as I mentioned earlier. So when they came up they were just as disorganised as we were – all attacking each other. Sometimes we were attacking groups of twenty sometimes we were only attacking groups of five or ten. Remember it’s


bushy growth. I have to tell you that on the day of the eighth when we left we didn’t have any trees or shrubs left on that feature it was bare, it had been shelled off it. The attacks that night though, where we couldn’t see them, we know that three different battalion attacks were put in on us. So there were a mass of Chinese people in mass coming at us.


They certainly were, they had the predominant numbers compared to our one rifle company.
Within your platoon can you think of or did you notice any particular acts of heroism?
Yes, my platoon sergeant, Sergeant O’Connell, received a military medal for his actions. In this first recovery phase at the


start of the morning of the seventhth of October one of our blokes was wounded, he didn’t think twice he just hopped out, out in the open air and grabbed him and carted him back. He was doing things like that regularly, he was forever wandering around, he must have been a machine-gunner once in his life. Whenever he found a machine gunner wounded or missing he used to duck in and take it over and he used to have the time of his life, you know, just machine gunning all over the place. He was tenacious, that’s how I’d describe him, it’s just


the Chinese got his paddy up and he wasn’t going to let any Chinamen come near him or his mates.
In the night battles were there ever lights?
We kept calling for illumination. If we do it today our artillery have the ability to fire an illumination shell but back in October 1951 the mortars didn’t have such a shell, if the artillery had them they


weren’t in Korea. They might have been in Europe or something but they weren’t in Korea. We would have loved to have had them it would have made life so much easier.
Did the Chinese every use anything?
Did the Chinese ever use anything.
On that particular occasion they didn’t use any illumination, no, and they would have welcomed it too probably. But their tactics are different to ours you see in preparing to make an attack they would often come in


the day before and dig, I’ve never seen people who can dig the way they do, they dig themselves you know a whole trench which will give them cover, you know, from fire but they can dig this trench right up almost to your front door. All they have to do is pop out of the trench and they’re at you. That’s how they did it, when they came back a month later to recapture this feature how they did it, they had been there for two days digging right under the noses of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers


who knew they were there digging but they couldn’t do anything. Remember they were down in trenches so their rifle fire and Brengun fire had no affect. Artillery fire and mortars, yes, if it hit the right place it could have an affect.
Very tricky. So then following this battle you pulled back to a defensive position?
We didn’t pull back we just went east. So we’re in the same


row of hills as Hill 317 we were just sitting further to the right about five hundred metres away to the right and we had no problems with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers on the high ground, they helped to protect us, our problems were across a big wide open valley because it was a brand new position, we were digging by night and also because every time we walked on the surface, on the top of the hill, we got shelled and


mortared. So we therefore had to do what was called a reverse slope position – we did have positions dug out the front but we could only dig them at night and once you were, if you were there in the morning, then you had to stay there all day there was no way you could get back. The trouble is, I also had wiring parties out and we also planned to get the pioneers or somebody to come along and put mines in but we were out putting the wire out. And I led the first


wiring party and we were out from about eleven o clock at night until about half past four and we reckoned we did a pretty job wiring. And we were back in by four o clock sorry and you won’t believe it an SP [self-propelled] gun across the other side of the valley opened up against us and when daylight came we looked out and we had no wire left. He must have had just the right angle with his shells and he took all our wire off. This went on for night after night and I remember the platoon sergeant saying “I don’t believe you did any


wiring last night” And I said “We did”. Well the next night he went out and did some wiring and the next night the same SP gun got rid of that wire for us too so we had it on/off. So then we had to start sending patrols out, the idea we used to take a compass bearing and we’d hear this SP gun move forward follow his tracks, take a compass bearing on him and I led several patrols out there where our idea was to attack him. We never found him.


Obviously they had dug a great big bloody hole for him and they had him well hidden away. But the other platoons had the same problems, too, trying to find him because this SP gun drove us around the bend. Our artillery, because I said we used a reverse slope approach, the New Zealand forward observation officer, he actually lived in my platoon, he and I shared the same hole. If one of us was awake he was both the gunner and the platoon commander, the other one would be sleeping


and vice versa. So when he was awake he used to spend all his time trying to get this SP gun too but he didn’t win.


I was just going to ask you, you mentioned before the story about you trying to lower your weight, just at the beginning you told us a story and it was off-camera so I wanted to get you to tell it again.
What was the story about again?
You were trying to lower your weight.
Oh, the weight, yes sorry. In preparation for Operation Commando and knowing you had to carry so many rations and


ammunition I was conscious as a platoon commander that, you know, you had to carry your own share – I was carrying a bazooka bomb, you’ve got a map case you’ve got compasses you’ve got your share of the sigs batteries and I was conscious I was carrying a lot of weight. So it was suggested to me I should get an American carbine [automatic], much less weight than an Australian .303 [service rifle],so the company driver fixed it up for me and I had the ammunition and everything and it fired for me when I


first used it. On the morning of the seventhth when I’d been called back to Company Headquarters for an orders group I didn’t have anyone, I couldn’t spare anyone to go with me so I just walked off on my own carrying this weapon. And I’m coming along this track and suddenly I find three Chinese. Well they were as startled as I were and I realised they were outnumbered so I brought this carbine up to fire it, nothing, it was dirty it wouldn’t work. So my only answer to get around that was to make the carbine


horizontal and throw it at the three of them and run around them. I’m not a very fast runner but I did that day. I never saw the carbine again after that and for the rest of my time I carried a good 303 rifle.
What was their reaction, they were too stunned to do anything?
Yes they were too stunned, it was just sheer luck. As I say, for both of us to come round, I think we both got a shock to see each other to start with


but luckily enough I had enough instinct to throw it at them and run.
So when you moved across to the second hill and you were there for 3 weeks?
Yes, that’s before the Kings Own Scottish borderers lost Hill 317 and there’s no doubt about that. From where we were


during the day prior, they lost it at night, we actually saw thousands and thousands of Chinese troops, like ants, going underneath the feature and this is when they started their digging and burrowing and things and I’ve never seen so many troops. I was the one on duty and the New Zealand gunner was asleep and I had no option but to wake him up. And a few shells amongst them, on the ants went


again. All we could do was then send the information back so unfortunately the Kings Own Scottish Borderers knew they were going to have a hell of a night and of course they did and they lost it. In fact one of their men even won a Victoria Cross that night, a man called Spigman. And that left us a bit untenable because the Chinese now overlooked us, down again. In fact just prior to that incident is the first time I’d ever seen an American film star. His


name was Danny Kaye. We had a wonderful view of this big valley and everything and the Chinese features, their position was well north of us. And the story about Danny Kaye is, he arrived on Sunday afternoon, it was a Sunday afternoon I remember that. And we were too scared, I said, to stand on top of the feature that just got shelled and mortared, you won’t believe this all these American generals and press and that and they brought him there and showed him the


scenery and away he went, very happy. As they left down came the shells and mortars, we cursed him, I really should have cursed the people who escorted him there. He got a wonderful view but we wore it. Anyway after we had lost Hill 317 our position there became very, very difficult. They kept just shelling and mortaring day and night and luckily for reasons that I’ve never understood


within that week we were asked to cross the Emgin and go further east again. The American general had obviously changed the divisional boundaries and we had to go up to another feature. And all I recall is that it was a higher feature than 317, very wooded, we had to climb and climb and climb. There was no water up there, we had no reserves of water.


No sooner got established, and this was now getting towards about the end of November, and I got myself sort of well organised up there. It was probably about four o clock and the Company Commander says to me “Well, is 4 Platoon organised?” I said “Yes, sir”. “Good” he said “and the sergeant’s happy?” “Why, sir”. “Well” he said, “he’s now the platoon commander”. I said “What do you mean?” He said “You’d better get down to (UNCLEAR) pretty smartly if you want to go on


five days R & R [rest and recreation] leave to Tokyo tomorrow morning. So all the way down again and a long walk out after that. I made Tokyo the next day I can assure you. I made Tokyo the night next at about eleven o clock, got in a bath, and got out of the bath at six o clock the next morning, I had instant hot water and cold beer coming. I never felt so clean in my life.


So how long were you in Tokyo for you?
Five days. One of my class-mates went with me so the two of us had much fun.
What sort of delights did Tokyo have to offer at that time?
I saw a Japanese type of ballet, we went to the theatre quite a few times. Music, classical music and the dancing, it was Japanese dancing, it wasn’t ballet


but the beer halls and The Ginza, restaurants, shopping. I hate to think of the rubbish we bought now thinking back, you know, parcelled them all up and sent them back to Australia. Our relations probably wondered what the devil they were getting but anyway we had a good time. The two of us were in the bath actually, we had a button to press and the cold beer would come along, a man would come along with a


tray of cold beer for us but just that hot water, that was a luxury. You know, I hadn’t washed for five months other than a bit of carrying on, it was lovely to have clean clothes.
Did you have much beer in the field?
We would get one bottle of beer a week if we were lucky, Japanese beer, I remember it had a straw container to stop the beer bottles


breaking in the boxes and you paid for them. It was warm beer, now on the days around forty degrees Celsius one appreciated it. It would normally come on a Saturday and providing you weren’t going out on patrol that night or the next morning then you got your bottle. And in those days because the space to get the bottles across it wasn’t a case of you were a non-drinker and you’d sell your bottle to somebody else, no they


wouldn’t allow that – if you were a non drinker you didn’t get one. So one bottle was what you got and the word was always “if you’re lucky”. It couldn’t be guaranteed to get a bottle a week but if they could they would.
Did anybody come up with any ingenious methods of getting them cold?
I can’t think of any. In winter when you could have done it, we didn’t get beer, because we got a


ration of English rum, a water bottle full per platoon which meant the platoon sergeant would have it and he’d pour one cap for each person in the platoon and you didn’t have to cool that down.
Just like the old days. Just generally and in Korea can you tell us a bit more about


the day to day conditions and the kinds of things you might do to relax or to entertain yourselves?
The time to relax when we were lucky enough to be taken out into reserve or retraining or in fact went out on reserve once retraining and we had an athletics match. You know, all the good athletes went (UNCLEAR) or everybody else had a go.


Touch football, films. On our retraining week, prior to Operation Commando and the Battle of Mari En Seng that is, I recall that Gladys Moncrieff [Australian concert performer] came and saw us and we had a concert. Now her program meant that she should have been well away somewhere seeing some American troops somewhere but when she heard we were coming back across the Imjin after a raid she stayed on.


And I think she had to wait 3 or four days for us and we were taken back to reserve position, probably a good fifteen, twenty kilometres behind the front line so we were safe as houses and away we went in the company truck to this amphitheatre and she got a great support. This was when we first got the message that we weren’t very strong. The Company truck was a snub-nose "blitz buggy" they called them and we left six men inside the company base to look after


our area, which we thought was pretty strong, there was nobody in our area at all, no enemy, no locals or anything and the whole company got aboard the truck. Now that really shook all of us actually. When we came back about ten o clock or half past ten, the company commander said to the company sergeant major, he said “Sar’ major, I want everybody to get off the truck one at a time and I want you to count them”. That’s when we found out there were seventy of us, there were six left behind.


six left behind. The company strength the week before the Operation Commando, The Battle of Mari En Seng was 1976, the company should have been one hundred and twenty so we weren’t a very strong organisation and that applied right across the battalion. But I never thought – a truck carrying seventy people that’s pretty good, that’s still good in itself.
What about when you were nearer the front, if you weren’t on


patrol, apart from sleeping?
Recreation could only really be really playing cards, playing dominos, things of that nature. You certainly didn’t have the opportunity of playing any sport or anything then. In defence as opposed to the attack, the commitment to keeping a defence position going be it barbed wire or just trenches is a very heavy one.


I’m thinking now more of the defence of the stalemate period – there was a very heavy commitment to work parties, refilling sand bags, digging again. You get those heavy rains around the month of August, trenches would start to collapse and you’ve got to dig them out again. Sand bags rot the wood – we had great trouble getting wood because there were no trees around of any note and the timber that was brought in was pretty crook stuff, low quality, so that would


rot. So there were a lot of work parties. I don’t think, we thought about relaxation and you’d think I hope we can get a film night or something, that was a bit unusual, but if you’re lucky to see a concert party. I can’t remember too many concert parties, one or two at most for the whole year.
And what about your relationship with the men, did you have any particular


mates and how did you get on with the men generally?
You’re question’s a fair one but I don’t believe if you’re a platoon commander in a group of no more than thirty men you could particularly have any mates, have any particular mates within that platoon or you would cause them problems – ie “You’ve been cuddling up to the platoon commander again, that’s why you got off that patrol”


or something. I don’t think you could do that. If a platoon commander has a particular mate I believe it would be one of two people – his platoon sergeant or his signaller because you’re the three who form platoon headquarters, you’re the three that probably sleep together in that same slit trench and there’s always one of you on duty. If you use the word mate I think it would have to be one of those three. Outside of that


you’re breaking into that small, No. 1 Section family or No. 2 section family or No. 3 Section family. Mates as such are really your fellow platoon commanders who you would see at orders groups or you’d just wander across to see them because remember a company doesn’t occupy that big a ground in defence. I’m sorry, I’d hate to give you the wrong yardstick but I could walk


probably and see my fellow platoon commanders all within a couple of minutes and that’s who are your mates, not the company commander. He correctly is probably a major, ten years older – remember I said the first one was grouchy and surly I wouldn’t have wanted to be a mate of him anyway. He has departed now so I can say that.
All right so given that you weren’t mates but I can’t really


see yourself being too aloof, what was your relationship like with them?
Well, hopefully, you had a happy relationship, you know, “What are you up to, Bill, what do you think?” “Who do you think is going to win the football this week?” Because once a week we used to get, they were then Sun newspapers, The Melbourne Sun, about an A4 sheet it had all the football results


in and all the cricket, all the sporting results. The local news, Australian news, on the front and on the back all the sporting results. Now we all got one of those or the platoon sections we’d get at least one copy of those every week and whether you knew anything about Melbourne football teams or not, I’m South Australian as you know, you’d still discuss the pros and cons, are Collingwood going to beat Melbourne – you didn’t get the results for probably a couple of weeks sometimes but you’d


discuss all those normal Australian things.
Interviewee: James Hughes Archive ID 1109 Tape 05


I’d like to ask you from your experience in the battle of Mari En Seng what the Chinese soldiers were like?
I would have to say we got the message they were very professional soldiers. They were tenacious as we thought we were too. I have to say we admired them knowing what they did and how they did it. We had a respect for


Can you give me an example of what you admired about the Chinese?
Well just that night of the seventh and eigth, three times they attacked us and each time we drove them away and they came back again for more, that’s persistence.
That’s after heavy losses?
Yes, we do not know what their total losses were. You may recall I said that the company commander would not let us do our normal clearing patrols outside of our company


position. Our company position as I said was a lot of casualties in a very small area. Now we were dying to know what casualties we had inflicted but we’d heard them for four hours cleaning up the battlefield which means they had probably taken away their wounded. So we asked the relieving company, the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, when you do your clearing patrols, because they didn’t have the same limitations on them that we did, would you mind tell us what you find. And they


reported to their headquarters who reported to brigade headquarters that on our immediate perimeter they found at least one hundred and twenty dead Chinese which suggests that there were at least one hundred and twenty killed and when you get another unit counting them you know that’s right because we weren’t fibbing or making up the number. They went back up the line and then eventually came back to us later that day. So if we killed one hundred and twenty


statistically that means you’ve probably wounded three hundred sixty in addition, that’s a total of four hundred and eighty casualties just on our company position. On the top of Hill 317 a similar situation applied to our C company so probably at a guess they had the same, similar.
What were the Chinese tactics, can you describe how they would assault, these are night attacks aren’t they?
No bugles, nothing like that. There’s forty-five minutes of artillery and mortar


preparation, then they attacked, just went in in a wave. And they got smacked back and they went back and regrouped and re-organised themselves and came in again on all sides of us and they did that three times.
So you were encircled from all sides?
Yes. Most of their weight came from their own from the north side but they still had people around outside on the flanks. So all parts of our perimeter


were having to fight the enemy.
How close did they get to your position?
As close as you and me. Some actually got into our position and we had to eject them.
That’s a nice word. So this was essentially three times there was hand to hand combat taking place in many occasions.


Can you explain to me what the experience of hand to hand combat is like? It’s a rare experience, not many soldiers these days get that opportunity. What was it like for you?
Well there had been, you know, back at nine o clock in the morning there’d been hand to hand stuff. As I say one of the corporal section commanders in 5 platoon literally throttled a Chinese in the end because his weapon was no good and that was the only way he could kill him to throttle him. It’s the adrenalin flying.


I’m not saying we got invaded by one hundreds of them inside but it was not a perfect defensive position and where we had casualties we had weak points. Remember it was like this, so they were crawling up to us, they were throwing in hand grenades and some of them got bold enough to stand up and go in and some of us were literally throwing them down the hill, physically. When you’re


as I say, it’s you or them, so you seem to have greater strength, well you think you have anyway. Probably the most intimate thing was that they could be probably about three or four feet from you and be just popping a grenade into your slit trench or you’d be popping it straight back at them and hope when it went off it was at his end not yours. We tried to work out, we never captured any


live, sorry what’s the word, unused stick grenade, but we’d like to have known what the fuse length was. I think it was a fairly long fuse so we were taking a bit of a risk but it seemed to work. If it was thrown at us we’d catch it and throw it straight back, I don’t recall anybody losing their arms so it must have worked.
What sort of weapons did the Chinese have?
Same as us - sub machine guns, you know, Russian origin and Chinese origin. Exactly the same as us but made from the eastern bloc.


Now there was this talk about for instance the Chinese doing human wave assaults, I’m not sure if that attack was -
That’s what it means actually because one got the message that manpower was a very inexpensive item for them. It was a very expensive one for us. As I said, if I give the other alternative, three weeks later when Hill 317 was lost, that afternoon seeing the Chinese coming in to do the attack it was


like some ants, thousands of Chinese soldiers in single line weaving around the valleys to the entrance preparing for the attack that night.
And you could see this from your hill position?
Yes, we could see up the back of Hill 317 but we didn’t seem to do much damage with our artillery at them. We tried but not very successfully.


You said to me before that they were extremely professional, was this all the time generally speaking?
No, as they went on they got more and more professional. When we, well just for an example, back in August/September I would have said their artillery and their mortars were not very professional. And we were saying, well, that’s good for us, they don’t know much about it. No doubt


by October they were very professional and what they did with their artillery and mortars absolutely astounded our gunners and our intelligence services. They had no idea that they Chinese had such expertise with their artillery and we paid a price for it. To fire on a ridge line that’s like that and get your shells on top regularly is a very good


gunner. The shells normally go over the top or fall on the near side, they did both, they did the whole works, they were very good.
Do you think a lot of these chaps would have had experience beforehand like the Australian soldiers in the Second World War? The Chinese [communists] were fighting you know the Nationalists and the Japanese?
Oh they’d certainly had all that experience, yes. I don’t really think though, reading what I did of that


war, of the internal one, Nationalists versus the Communists, I don’t think they had the number of artillery. I think they had some artillery but not the massive amounts they had in Korea, on. It was a natural upgrading of their expertise. There were some who said perhaps they’ve had some very good Russian instructors, they could have too.
Now you obviously knew about the defeat and the


retreat of the US, was it the 6th or the 8th Army, I can’t remember?
The 8th Army was the name of the total, it was the highest headquarters of all armies in Korea, all allied armies in Korea.
And they were the initial force to go in?
When they got defeated in those battles, the series of battles until they retreated, what was your impression when you came to Korea and you thought about this, you know, that it was the longest retreat in US


Military history, all these sort of things?
Yes but all the key people had been killed or sacked or got rid of. There were new generals in charge, there were new formations and units there. You know, that was last year. I was there in 1951. All their problems occurred around September/January – September 1950 to January 1951, that’s when the bad time was. But let’s be fair the American


Army in the main had all come from occupation duty in Japan, hadn’t been doing much war training. 2 RAR could not have gone to war without some training, it wasn’t war-trained, it was trained for ceremonial duties in Japan and that’s what happened to the first lot of Americans too.
Why were the designations changed?
The designations weren’t changed.
No, I’ve noticed that


in World War II the terms were like you know, 2/2nd Infantry AIF?
We’ll go back to World War I. It would be the 10th Battalion, full stop, because we only had one. In World War II we called them the 2/10th Battalion, they were the 2nd AIF. There was still a 10th Battalion but it was a militia battalion


recruited, conscripted so therefore it couldn’t fight outside Australia, it couldn’t be sent to the Middle East or anything. So in World War I you only had the 10th Battalion, all volunteers, could go anywhere in the world. In World War II you had the 2/10th the same volunteers and the 10th Battalion Militia who were all conscripts. Now also had their territorial titles and the 10th Battalion was called the Adelaide Rifles. I’m referring to the battalions of that Royal Australian Regiment which was only formed in


1948. So, 1 RAR was the first battalion and by the time we were in Vietnam was had 9 battalions so we went form one right through to 9 Battalion in the Royal Australian Regiment.
And these are all regulars?
No, no, at various times they have been but during the 1960s half of them were national service and half of them were regulars. We don’t have nine battalions today we only have six because we can’t afford to pay for let alone man nine battalions.
I see.


I was just a bit confused about all these units. Now you say 3 RAR wasn’t trained so basically the period – walk me through that please what you mean?
I will start again and say that 3 RAR went to Japan in February 1956, it was then called the 67th Battalion and it only went for BCOF occupational duties.


By about 1948 you could say that most of the occupational duties were finished so they were greatly used on ceremonial and sporting activities. They did individual training, rifle competitions, physical training, but the unit was starting to run down. In fact 1 and 2 RARs went home in 1948 leaving just 3 RAR there so they had to pick up all the


ceremonial duties around Japan. It was a very under strength battalion, it didn’t have full rifle companies and it wasn’t doing battle training. It was just doing the minimum amount of military training of personal skills. It wasn’t doing company and battalion work training. So, therefore, just as well the Australian government didn’t, although they offered ships and fighter aircraft of


June in 1950 when the war started they did not offer a battalion until July and in fact they did not go to Korea until the end of September. And in the month of August and September the battalion trained for war. It was the first war training that battalion had done since World War II. Let’s be fair, most of them men had changed over but there were still some officers and NCOs there who were World War II people who knew about war training but it could not have


gone to Korea without that training, it would have been a disaster, they would have killed themselves. I’m suggesting to you that those Americans who went to Korea in the beginning, say in June to August/September and that, they went untrained, they also had come straight from ceremonial duties and sporting duties - individual training, yes but not unit or sub unit training.


And that helped the disaster – apart from the fact that the North Koreans were far better than anybody expected at the beginning. But by November when the Chinese came into the war they brought strength and brought all sorts of things to them and we never saw a North Korean again after that, they were pushed off right up the east somewhere. The Chinse took over most of the line.
When did you ever see one?
See what?
A north Korean soldier?
So it was


before your deployment?
It was before my time, yes.
It’s interesting isn’t it. Tell us about the other units that served alongside with the Australians, you know the Turks?
In my time there were two other battalions in the brigade, the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry who I’d spent that week across the flooded river Imjin with and the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, the ones who relieved us on Hill


317. They were the two other battalions of the brigade. Before I left the first battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment had arrived and so it became a four battalion brigade which gave it a lot more flexibility and because two of the battalions were Australian in late June of 1952, this was within a week or two of me leaving, the Brigade Commander became an Australian too which was good.


What about – did you ever get a chance to associate with the civilians?
No, the civilians had either been pushed north or pushed south so around the front line – oh, for a little while there in July some refugees passed through us. We had to watch them very carefully because the Chinese were putting North Koreans amongst the refugees to


shoot them south to do the spying jobs so they had to be treated with kid gloves. But really we didn’t see any civilians, we purposefully kept civilians out of the area.
Of course. You may have probably heard on the news a few years back that there was some talk about Korean War atrocities


where actually refugees, by American troops the allegation was, that there had been considerable misunderstanding between the South Korean population in certain areas with American Troops. This was the allegation only with the Americans and it had led to some sort of village massacres and things like that that took place?
I don’t know. I have never heard about it and I don’t know about it.
Would it surprise you if it did take place?


I know, well, all sorts of things took place at the end of 1950 with untrained soldiers. I’ve got to bring the word training back in again. If you haven’t got your soldiers trained anything could happen and Vietnam was full of that, not Australian I can assure you of that. But as I said, the Chinese were putting North Korean soldiers in civilian


clothes in with the refugees. Now that in itself can cause strife so I need say no more.
I also heard that the Chinese were quite chivalrous towards their enemy. You know I’ve heard some pretty examples. Can you tell us about your experiences with the Chinese?
In that line? I don’t recall them being


chivalrous to us. No, I would say they were enemy who fought fairly.
What you say fairly what do you mean?
Well, they didn’t fight fairly with our prisoners of war, that is for certain. Our prisoner of war had a pretty difficult time in fact one of them died as a result of torture and things so I can’t bear out your point.


That particular second edition, that’s volume II of the Korean War History and it has a long dissertation about prisoners of war at the back of it, it’s worth reading. They don’t come out of it very well.
On the battlefield they were different were they?
Well, I explained to you what happened. We never saw them doing anything that we wouldn’t have done or vice versa. They just seemed to be


a fair enemy, you know, seemed to play by the rules. But they didn’t play by the rules with the prisoners of war. But again, they were not front line combat troops who were handling the prisoners of war, they were intelligence people, interrogators and nasties.
What took place after that Battle of Mari en Seng for the remainder of your stay in Korea?


I was very, very lucky over December and January, I became the assistant adjutant so I missed the worst of the winter. I had a bit of a lean-to tent on the side of an office truck so I survived the winter very well. After that I went to 8 Platoon of C Company where this then Major John White was now the


Company Commander, the man who’d been an instructor of mine at Duntroon and was later my CO in Malaya. He as now the Company Commander and this is the stalemate period and I spent the rest of my time in Korea ambushing, patrolling, enemy lines were very close to each other and one was regularly shelled and mortared and our trenches kept falling down and we had to repair them and on it went. Perhaps the time of


life which became a bit boring because when you’re so close to the enemy, say two hundred or three hundred yards away, you couldn’t go on very long patrols and most of it had to be night work so the enemy couldn’t see you.
There are two questions or three questions I’d like to ask you. One is that can you walk us through a very difficult patrol that you can


I would say that they were all difficult because there’s the unknown. You might think the enemy is on that feature and you might be going up there to say capture a prisoner or war or do them over and to your knowledge there’s no wire in front of you, there’s no mines in front of you and they’re there. Well those things can all change and it’s also very hard to


track yourself at night, to navigate. And of course, this didn’t happen to me but it happened to some of my friends, they found a Chinese patrol coming the opposite way to do exactly the same to them. So that can be disaster in more ways than one. I just have to say every patrol was difficult quite honestly.
But were there any ones in particular that were more difficult like exception as far as your experience was concerned?


No, I just have to say they were all difficult, I can’t pick out one more than the other. I can think of frustrating ones. I was trying to tell Colin [interviewer] here earlier, trying to find this self-propelled gun which kept shelling us every night and blowing our barbed wire to smithereens, we couldn’t find that barbed wire in the morning. And then trying to go along this very wide open valley to find out where this SP


gun was hidden. They had it dug in and we knew that but they must have had it very well dug in, we just couldn’t find it. We searched for it, our artillery officer even did ranging shots along the crest line trying to find a hole in it, a place where he could hit the gun but, no, we never find it. So it just used to pop off at us every night, just to keep us awake we think. We didn’t like it, we failed on that one.


And as it was so far in there was no way a light unarmed aircraft could fly in and have a look either. I consider myself lucky I was never employed on any of these snatch patrols to grab a prisoner of war. It was an American system and it came from the Corps Commander and he said something


like this to the Commonwealth Division “You have to capture one prisoner per day” you know every night of the week. In a division there are basically nine battalions so that would mean that one battalion every nine nights would have to go and capture a prisoner. Well, they were very difficult things to do. And it cost a lot of casualties, I know that the British


General that headed our Commonwealth Division had had a lot of arguments with this three star American General about the techniques of it, or his order, you know, his order “Every night I want a prisoner of war from your division”. It’s easily said it’s much harder to do. Today of course, I can speak from our Vietnam knowledge, we’ve got so many electronic aids to find things out which we didn’t have in those


days. In that particular book, the military history, there’s a lot of stories there about success and failure and, sorry, prisoner of war snatch raids which were a disaster in terms of casualties. Luckily, as I said, I didn’t have any of those.
What would be your method of patrolling, I mean say you’ve got your two front lines here


you don’t obviously just go straight out do you? Is there some sort of pattern?
No, you plan a route. At night you normally walk in single file. If it’s pitch black and hard to navigate that means it’s going to bring you close but it means it’s going to add casualties if you get shelled and you have to think of all sorts of routes. You’ve got to have a route out and a route in and obstacles you’ve got to cross. You are forced to go out on a


particular gate out of a minefield and of course you’ve got to find a gate to come back in the minefield too or you cause your own casualties. That sort of patrolling in those terms was very difficult in terms of planning it, rehearsing it in the afternoon and doing it that night and the next day, of course, you’d debrief them and let them sleep in.


I think it would be fairer to say it would be easier to read about a particular patrol and read it because at this distance time now I can’t recall all the things we did. I recall the main thing, the format of it. We obviously took a mortar fire controller with us or a gunner to bring down fire, we used smoke to hide our movements. There are all sorts of things you deployed to try and


get you to your objective, do your job and then get home again but we, as I say, we lost a lot of casualties doing it. But Australia has an approach that if there’s an area call no man’s land we believe we have to dominate it. Not everybody agrees with that. A good example of that is there’s a very large hill up there called Hill 355, later after I’d left the Australian Battalion took it over,


one of the Australian Battalions took it over from the Canadian and they found the Chinese literally just about sitting outside their trenches because the Canadians had not been patrolling. The Chinese got cocky, didn’t they and they just dug their way up and sat right in front of the trenches. That’s not the way we work, we believe we have to dominate no man’s land and that means you have to be out there doing it. By day, you’re very


close, by day you can dominate it with your artillery and mortars. At night you have to dominate with bodies on the ground to stop the Chinese patrolling into your area.
Is this universal through all types of combat, conventional and unconventional?
I’m talking conventional now. Irregular runs differently.
How did the Americans operate in


contrast, were they also for that sort of system?
No, I’d also have to say – remember I’m the most junior officer in the battalion as a platoon commander, I would have heard about Americans, other than seeing them on the road going past I wouldn’t know what they did.
Obviously there’d be some sort of rivalry between units?


Between British and Australian units, yes - between British and Australians on one side and Canadians on the other and New Zealanders of course they sided with us and vice versa. Yes, there was plenty of rivalry. But we sometimes were alongside American units but not very often. For three months at one stage we were alongside the First Republic of Korea Division and they were a very


efficient organisation. In fact, not that we could speak the language, but one of their platoon commanders saw me practising our platoon prior to Operation Commando and he came across and in sign language said more or less “Can I show you how we would do it”. And he was interested to see it, he could work out what we were up to and we tried little competitions between our platoons.


I thought the ROK [Republic Of Korea] their soldiers weren’t very good quality it was thought generally?
The first ROK Division it was, first rate quality, that was the first of their divisions, the capital division, the number one division. I never saw a 9 ROK all I know is the people in the 1st Division were very good, very good indeed.
Were there any Japanese soldiers from the old army there?


No, no, no, no way. We hadn’t even signed the Peace Treaty with Japan by that time. That wasn’t signed until April 1952.
What about ambushing. You said you took part in that. Can you walk us through one of the ambushes that took place?
Well somebody would have to give us, the company commander would brief us and say I want the following area ambushed and so and so


and he’d tell us when he wanted us to do it. We would go away and think it through and examine the ground as much as we could with binoculars. Think about past times we’d been out there or someone else had been out there and talk to them about it. We would make up our plan, clear the plan with the company commander. We would then have an orders group and brief our section commanders and platoon sergeant and they would go away and get all the equipment organised and weapons tested. Then we would


rehearse down the back of the hill. Rehearse the formation we’d use and when we got there how we’d position ourselves. Rehearse the method of triggering the ambush, who would fire first and who would give the order for it. Discuss our route out and our route back and we did all the rehearsals we could until we got it right and then actually go and do it. Somebody would have to


see us out through the minefields, somebody who knew the route and who knew the gates and that. They would stay at that gate, if that’s the one we were coming back in on, they would stay there and protect it. We would go and do our ambush, it could be for some many hours – for example in the middle of winter you would have to make your time short because you just can’t lie in snow for ever and ever, you’d just freeze up and frost bite and everything else. And at a set


time, or if you’ve sprung the ambush, you do what you do, what you can about killing the enemy or grabbing them if you’re into a grab job and then you make your route back, your way home. You’ve got to bring casualties home and you’ve got to bring enemy home if you’ve got them and you may come back in through the same gate in the mine fence or another one. Again, hopefully somebody’s there waiting for you to guide you through the minefield.


And then you debrief and then put them to bed.
Can you give me an example of an actual ambush you really did?
Well I’ve just done that actually, that’s what I’ve just done.
But what I mean is, what I’d like to know more is rather than the format your actual experience and how you saw it?
Well, you’ve got to follow the format if you want to be successful. In the particular ambush - I


have to tell you, on many of the ambushes nobody ever appeared in which case you were there for whatever it was, one hour, four hours, eight hours, and no enemy came along although you’d seen them moving there previously. So therefore you’d just pack up and go home. Other times, if they do come through, you spring the ambush, fire shots and if you’ve been successful you’ve killed some and you’ve wounded some.


If you’ve been unsuccessful you’ve missed the lot and that’s happened before today too.
That’s happened as well?
Well, young reinforcements are firing too high. There’s excitement and there was a problem with this battalion 3 RAR, not with the battalion itself, it was manned on an individual basis. All other Australian battalions like 1 RAR


the one that went after us it came from Australia, it trained in Australia, trained in Japan, trained in Korea and as a battalion came to us, came into the area and was there for a year then it went home. With 3 RAR it was based on individual replacement. As you did your twelve months you went home and a reinforcement arrived. When I finished my twelve months, I went home and a reinforcement arrived. So 3 RAR was in a permanent period of


rotation. So its standard could never get up there ever, its standard was automatically lowered to the weakest link and the weakest link was o the man who arrived in the unit yesterday wasn’t it? Not the man who’d been there eleven months and twenty-eight days. So the other battalions had a much better concept of going to Korea as a battalion and going home as a battalion. We have never, ever repeated this mistake of individual replacement


again, we only ever did that once in Korea. We never did that in Malaya, Borneo or Vietnam because you could never get the standard up where you need it.
So when you’d rotate you’re saying that after this it was done by company or something like that was it?
No, what I’m saying is that in 2 RAR and 3 RAR they brought a full battalion into Korea and they took the full battalion home again unless there’s casualties obviously but they had their


standards and their standards were maintained. The standards of 3 RAR altered every day because people were marching in and people were marching out. Now if it comes down to your section of eight men, two men go home yesterday and today brand new ones arrive. Now your section is not to the standard it was yesterday is it? Now that applied right across the whole unit, it was a very worrying problem for the commanding officers and company commanders, the standard of their unit kept changing every


day and of course it affected you, the platoon commanders, too. My good sergeant disappeared, the section commander got promoted up and he was a good one but his section commander, the replacement for him, was not a very strong or well-trained person so that section was never as good again. So it’s a bad system individual rotation, the key thing is we tried it, it failed, it’s never been used since. It is used for administrative


units today still but not for infantry fighting units.
Can you walk us through towards the end of your stay in Korea what month and year did you leave was it 1952?
Yes, 1952. I was due to leave in the middle of July. I jokingly had


said to a classmate of mine “You’re a bit late hearing the bugle weren’t you” - he was two weeks after me actually. I got him so riled he said “OK if you’re that keen why don’t you volunteer to wait until I come out so we’ll both go home together at the end of July?”. Well that was earlier in the year I said that, I said “Yeah, I’ll do that”. You can be silly can’t you? Well one thing happened, first of all at the end of June my


company commander went off to Brigade Headquarters to become the Brigade Major and the new CO of 3 RAR was my brother and I thought, well, I’ve really only legally got two weeks to go, I don’t know anything outside being a platoon commander, perhaps I should drop a note to this major who has gone to Brigade Headquarters, could he use me. I had to fill in four weeks didn’t I having said to this friend of mine I’d go at the end of July.


Cutting the story short he apparently cleared it with my brother and I went off to Brigade for four weeks. I spent a week on the Brigade Headquarters, you know, getting to know the feel of it. I spent a week with a searchlight detachment with a bunch of English soldiers from Manchester or Newcastle, they were an unusual group. And I spent the last two weeks as the Australian liaison officer with the US Marine Division which was interesting. So that’s how I filled my


four weeks in, my last four weeks. And then, with my friend, at the end of July we both went back to Japan.
Just lastly when you were with the 1st Marine Division what sort of activities and duties were you doing there as a Liaison Officer?
Well I had to – I sat in on their General’s orders groups and things and if there was anything he said or any actions he proposed that could affect our brigade, who were


adjacent to him, it was my job to tell our brigade what was happening to the marines. Secondly, if our brigade was doing something that could have affected him then it was my job to brief him on what 28th Brigade was going to do or any concerns they had because they were right alongside each other. You’re a long way from a platoon commander with troops one day and the next day you’re listening to all these American staff officers.


And I have to say the American Marines were then, as they are now, a very professional body. In those days they were far more professional than their armies, they were all volunteers in the main. So for me it was an eye-opener anyway. And living at divisional headquarters they had messes with fly wire and they had proper food, fresh food and all sorts of things.
OK We’ll stop there, I’ll just change the tape.
Interviewee: James Hughes Archive ID 1109 Tape 06


After Korea can you walk us through what you did next?
After Korea I went back to Japan, initially as Australian company commander at the Battle School Haranmura which is up in the Highlands up above Hiroshima, only for a couple of months, and then I was appointed Staff Captain, Military Secretary down at the QA [?]


headquarters and they gave me a temporary promotion to captain so I became a desk wallah and I stayed in that job until I went home, I posted myself home. The Military Secretary looks after all officer appointments and honours and awards so I was able to post myself home. I suddenly realised had posting orders home but me was home so I posted myself home. So I got home about September I suppose 1953 and had to start work before Christmas at the National Service


Training Battalion in Woodside, South Australia. And the whole idea was that I take over a particular company who would receive all the university students coming in January, the whole two hundred of them, and they were there for three and a half months or four months or whatever it was. And they would march out as the University Regiment and I would them become the adjutant of that Regiment where I was for the next three years. After 1957 I’m ready


by that time to be re-posted. I had achieved what I wanted to do by going to Adelaide. It meant that I’d married my wife, we’d had our first child and I wanted to go back to the regiment again. I knew by rumours that 3 RAR was going back to Malaya and every time somebody came through and said “What are you going to do next young Hughes” I said “I want to go to 3 RAR in Malaya and that’s where I got posted.


So in February I flew off to Sydney, I didn’t I went by train, didn’t fly in those days you went by train. I went by train to Sydney with my tin trunk and eventually my wife caught up with me a couple months later when I eventually found a place for us to live. And I joined 3 RAR in their build up to go to Malaya.
And what were you debriefed about Malaya?
Debriefed? Debriefed is after the


incident isn’t it?
Briefed, sorry?
I started of as a Company second in command originally, by the time the new commanding cfficer arrived, the one I’d had as an instructor at Duntroon, he’d been my company commander in the first part of 1952 in Korea, John White, he decided to make me his intelligence officer. So with that I seemed to do a whole run of courses in


in intelligence and all the stuff associated with it. We were let into all that was going on with the Malayan emergency. There was stuff to read, stuff to learn. I even did, with the signals officer who was going to be with me in the command post, we went out of our way to learn Malay and Behasa, you know, we were great Malay speakers, we thought we were getting on with the language beautifully. In August I flew off with the CO in the


advance party and whereas he went around the traps to do things I was sent off to do a month’s course with the British Special Branch. That red book on the bottom there is written by the special branch officer who we worked with. The police ran the intelligence in Malaya and they were very thorough and it was nice to learn their techniques and method of doing it all and then the


battalion had arrived by this time. We had a month’s course down at the Jungle Warfare Centre in Johor and in November, by early November, the battalion arrived up in Setar Pera and took over these four or five bases and that’s where we were for the next two years. Our families were some four hours travel away on Penang Island and we would get home, if you were in the platoon, you’d get home about every two weeks to see them. Where I


was the first year I’d get home every three to four weeks. In the first year I literally ran the battalion command post aided and abetted by the signals officer and we were on call seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. The telephone at our desk was switched through to our bed in the nearest camp where we lived and we were the CO’s intelligence, operations men. And we worked with very,


very – I should add our command post was on top of a police station. The police station was a beautiful concrete brick place. We sat on the top of it in a tin hut, we had nothing but heat. Well, I suppose we were trying to outfox the communist terrorists as much as they were trying to outfox us.
Was there a large percentage of people in Malaya who had previously experienced


combat operations in Korea?
All the majors had been in Korea, almost without exception the captains had been in Korea, all the subalterns were brand new, recently commissioned. All the lieutenants had had no experience, they were new graduates of Duntroon or Portsea.
You said subalterns did you?
Yes, subalterns means all Lieutenants.


So the NCOs and most of the corporals, there’s a photograph on the front there, he was a digger in Korea, he was a corporal by the time he got to Malaya. And the sergeants and warrant officers, the warrant officers had all been in World War II and most of the sergeants I suppose had been in Korea. So we were a mixed unit in terms of experience and the junior soldiers were brand new too.


It’s a pretty experienced army then?
By that time yes, yes we were. That was my first year, my second year – there were a couple of months in the middle where I went back to being a company 2IC again and then we lost a major and I became a ompany commander for the last, the calendar year of 1959 and we came home to Australia in October.


At the end of the two years my wife and I, with the CO and his wife, flew up to Malaya in August of 1957 but we came home by sea, a nice rest at the end of it all.
What were operations in Malaya like can you describe them to me?
Hard work. The operations in Malaya were based on the platoon. So in the battalion you had twelve platoons and everything was a platoon


job. Whether it was searching or whether it was ambushing it was always a platoon’s effort. So our twelve platoon commanders worked pretty hard and they got down to a real roster – fourteen days in a fortnight and a patrol would go off for ten days, come back and be debriefed, get rid of all their old gear, draw their new gear and go on leave for two days, what we called stand down. So every fortnight the platoon got two days


stand down. They’d come, they’d spend two days refiring their weapons, checking their marksmanship, drawing their rations any more stores, being briefed for the new operation and away they’d go for another ten days. So they just had a rolling fourteen-day system going. The others on staff jobs, as I was for the first year, in fact I think the first time I went on leave I’d been five weeks without any.


It was a peace time posting in a way with your families on the island and as a Company Commander in fact I eventually got down to going every two weeks too which I quite enjoyed. But you never knew when you were going whereas the platoon was regular, the others you didn’t. I do recall one day coming home and unbeknownst to me my wife had a card afternoon on, they were playing cards, and this squeaky jeep pulled up at the front


and I could see all these women obviously sitting at the dining room table playing cards. By the time I got in the house there wasn’t one visitor there, they’d gone out the back door, side doors and then for the next two days nobody came near us. It was almost – it was terrible, you felt lonely in a way but they were being nice they weren’t going to impose themselves upon their neighbours.


It was interesting because you had an opportunity to meet the Indians and the Malays and the Chinese. In the police station we were very multicultural. The officer commanding the police district was of Indian background called Saka Leem who had done the most terrible thing, he had married a Malay lady, well he was going to he was engaged at that stage. The special branch man was Chinese.


The operations officer in the police station was an English man so it was a real mixture but they were good people to work with and we rather enjoyed working with them. And then for that second year I went to a place called Lassa on the edge of primary jungle where there had been woodcutting allowed before the emergency and the woodcutter was still trying to work


but of course there was a great risk he could be, what’s the word, leant on by the communist terrorists to provide money or rations or intelligence to them so he wasn’t allowed to do much woodcutting at that time. But the real thing is that those platoons, this is statistics, had to patrol for about one thousand hours before they made a


contact. That’s a lot of work, a lot of sweat. They were the statistics by this time in the emergency. The emergency started in 1948, we couldn’t afford to send any infantry soldiers there before 1955 and we only sent three battalions each in turn - two, three, one, in that order. And it was a very hard slog, they worked like Trojans those platoons to find any indications of signs, by signs


I meant footprint, a dump of food or something or a letterbox, how the CTs [Communist terrorists] communicated with each other. You could find a letterbox and you could ambush it for weeks and weeks. On one occasion we found a food supply and we only ambushed it for four nights and “bang” it worked. An ambush if six CTs came in, we killed four and wounded two. Sheer luck, the next day we captured the two


wounded ones. The worst of the two wounded, in fact he and his wife, he was a branch committee member, he was a high powered boy, and we used him, well we didn’t the special branch did. Now I can be told that they used him to get into all the other organisations in North Pera and that’s what Operation Ginger was. Over the next twelve months about


seventy communist terrorists were captured and told “Right, where were you born” and if he said “China” they’d say “Right, we’ve got two choices for you” and remember most of them were Chinese “You can become a captured enemy person and in a matter of weeks once we’ve debriefed you we’ll push you over the border into China never to leave again”.


Or “If you want to play with us and tell us things, we’ll make you a surrendered enemy person and when we’ve finished with you, we’ll discuss what sort of business we could set you up in”. The sensible ones took the second alternative. Some took the first and since have tried to come back to Malaya or even get into Hong Kong and they’ve been refused, the system was pretty ruthless.


So most of them were Chinese, the CTs?
Did you get Malays and Indians as well?
A few Indians. There were some Malay but not in our area but very few in number. They were really about ninety-two per cent, I’m making this up, about ninety-two per cent, Chinese probably five per cent, Indian and about two or three per cent Malay.
Why were so many of them


Well, they always thought they were the downtrodden race. You see the Malays had always divided and conquered and they’d played the Chinese off against the Indians and vice versa. In World War II I’m told, and this is all hearsay now, that in the resistance to the Japanese invasion regretfully too


many Indians, and Malays for that matter, seemed to side very quickly with the Japanese and the Chinese didn’t. So there was a Force 136 run by British special services people and they were able to recruit Chinese very willingly to come into the jungle and live with them to fight the Japanese but they weren’t able to do the same with the Indians and the


Malays. So when World War II ended, in fact one of the leading Chinese called Chin Peng was even awarded an MBE [Member of the British Empire] I think for it, and they were asked to come out into the open again. They came out all right but they hid all their weapons, they only brought a few weapons out. So three years later they were ready to win their arms struggle as they called it, they had to go back into the jungle again.


Differing figures – some say that they had ten thousand and some say they had fifteen thousand terrorists ready to take on anybody. Obviously they tried to hit the economy by hitting the mining camps and rubber plantations. Their first serious action was to kill three rubber planters just outside of Sangi Sebert. Sangi Sebert was where we had our command post on top of the police station.


The other thing is that they decided the best way to get government was to knock off everybody who was important so if you were a district officer or the head man of a village they had a price on our head and they got rid of a whole lot of people like that. They even got rid of the British High Commissioner, ambushed him and shot him in 1951 I think it was.
Quite a surprise they got


Well I imagine he was in a Rolls Royce or Bentley just driving up the hills for a cool weekend in the mountains and he was ambushed. I’ve never been on the road but I’m told the road goes like this with heavy growth on either side, set up for ambushing. That had quite large repercussions, security was changed quite dramatically from that time on.


Probably one of the greatest achievements was to be there when Malaya became an independent country in its own right and self-governing. They didn’t kick us out, they needed us to help them finish of the emergency but it was great to see it happen. So, the emergency in fact finished in 1960 – according to the Malayans of course it took them to the 1980s. The few communist terrorists left all went up to southern


Thailand and Thailand didn’t want to get caught up into it so they found it a haven to go and live in the southern part of Thailand, in the jungle of course, but I’m told they set up quite permanent type camps and things. But by the 1980s the Thai Government had agreed to join with Malaya and they did eventually flush them out. And again they were offered their choices “Are you a surrendered enemy person or are


you a captured enemy person?” And Chin Peng himself eventually came out – I think I’m right in saying that he came back to live in Malaya, Malaysia by then. But I know this branch committee member we captured in 1968, he eventually was running the bicycle shop in Taiping that’s the business he went into with his wife.
It sounds like a very, is it basically a low


intensity conflict?
It is low intensity yes, that’s why it’s based at a platoon level. We did have artillery. Artillery was used to sort of harassing fire more than anything else, if we ever did get firm targets, yes, they could be used then. Australia first commitment in 1950 was a bomber squadron and that was really harassing .


We had little in the way of air power – it would have saved a lot of walking if we’d had some helicopters. Yes, we had a Whirlwind helicopter, you’d seen one about once every two months, they were few and far between. You were mainly walking on your flat feet.
What was the equipment of the CTs?


All the World War II stuff they had acquired and hidden away and of course they set up little workshops and they repaired them and they made new stuff, you know, they were full of tradesmen. They had their little workshops and saddlery shops and things.
What was the biggest encounter for the campaign?
Earlier in the campaign I’m told, somewhere down in Johor as I remember, don’t hold me to this, somewhere like one hundred


CTs, fifty to one hundred, took on a Ghurkha Company I think and the Ghurkha Company won.
So basically


just for the sake of the camera to finish off what you said before after that engagement in Johor?
The CTs decided it would be best if they operated in small groups where if necessary they could come together for a major attack but they wanted to hit a police station do some damage kill a few people and then disperse and disappear again into small groups. They felt they would be safer from being caught, captured or shot themselves by working that way.
And how often were they


attacking was it a very regular occurrence?
In some of the strong areas, it depended of course on the strength of the organisation and the commander. If he thought he was getting the returns he would but the number of attacks got less and less as they kept losing people, either people getting shot or people surrendering. There was obviously a strong psychological warfare campaign, leaning on their parents and their girlfriends and their


family and also trying to turn the population, particularly in the villages, into dobbing them in rather than paying the blackmail of food or money. And of course the other successful thing done in about 1954 or 1955 by the time it had finished, all the lone farmers living out on the fringes of the jungle had all been brought into to what they called new villages –


big barbed wire put around them, central cooking of food so food couldn’t get out. They all had to be in at six o clock at night for curfew. The night morning at six o clock they were allowed out to go back to their farms or to go rubber tapping but to get out they would have to go through police checks. A bicycle would be dismantled because they quickly learned that people would hide rice down the channel of the bikes and things. They learned how to inspect


them. No, the emergency powers that were brought in worked very well indeed.
Were the people very co-operative with your forces when you were there?
In 1957 or 1959, yes. There were some in Sangi Seput who had relations out in the jungle – I wouldn’t have said they were co-operative but they co-existed.


I’m pretty certain we didn’t allow the diggers to go down the local street and sit in the local bars or cafes. We let them walk down the street and go to the pictures and things but they had to be a bit careful what they did.
Now, I think the Malayan conflict finished in


1960 wasn’t it officially?
The emergency officially ended in the 1960s but it was the 1980s before they got rid of that last little rump of CTs out of southern Thailand. If I was talking to my special branch friend he would say to you “Oh no, it didn’t finish until the 1980s” and that’s correct as far as they’re concerned.
What took place after Malaya when you finished your


deployment there?
I went back to Australia and as we came from South Australia they very nicely attached me there for about eight months and I worked as an Operations Officer in the Adelaide headquarters of the Army until June when I went to England and became an exchange instructor at Sandhurst for the next two years.
At Sandhurst in England, OK.


And I felt I could give the Brits as good as they gave me. There were two other colonials actually at Sandhurst, two New Zealand cadets and one of my responsibilities of course was to look after them too. But we three were pretty smart – anyone mentioned the word colonial and they’d get our hackles up – it wasn’t mentioned too often. There’s a story there


though, we did have a bit of it in Malaya. I was at the Medang Swimming Club one day and very proud of our new young son and all the rest of it. He was growing up, he must have been one or two by then and I hear this voice ring out across the swimming pool when it was all quiet “Timothy, don’t play with that boy he’s an Australian” - I checked her antecedents out too. She was the wife of a cavalry


officer who’s regiment had never served in the Far East, to use their term, and he never was likely to. He had been banished, he was a useless so and so and that explained her probably too. But, no, we had none of those problems at Sandhurst.
You said you did a stint in South Australia again when you came back with the National Service Regiment?


Adelaide Headquarters, Central Command – the headquarters of the army in South Australia in those days.
What did you learn at Sandhurst what sort of thing were they teaching you?
Nobody was teaching me, I was teaching them.
OK what specific sort of tasks?
I instructed in tactics, I instructed in internal security and I was a tutor in military history.


I coached the rowing eight, I coached a company rugby fifteen and I refereed rugby fifteen and I played on a staff cricket team and staff rugby team and a staff hockey team. I was fully occupied, loved it.
Tell us about the tactics you taught in?


No different to what I’d taught in Australia, it didn’t differ at all.
So their doctrine is very similar, identical if that?
Yes. And internal security was, they hadn’t had Ireland at this time, internal security was no different than what we taught. In fact they were far better at internal security than we were because they’d had more experience. If I hadn’t have served those two years in Malaya I wouldn’t have been a good instructor in


internal security at all. The two years in Malaya, because that was what the emergency was really about internal security, gave me all the practical experience of it.
And if I’m correct that was the only internal security operation except in Vietnam, next to Vietnam you could say?
I wouldn’t call Vietnam internal security, no. The Brits had been doing it for years. Internal security in Palestine,


Cyprus, Northern Ireland. Some of my Brit friends seemed to be doing it all their lives. There’s a general service medal issued for it, that’s the one on the front of that book that’s called “One inch of bravery”. Well by the time I got to Sandhurst I had four ribbons and one of my lovely fellow instructors, called Donald Hall, Donald just had the one inch


of, one inch general service medal. That ceremonial parade when he wore it he had four bars to it – I mean Palestine was one, Malaya was another, Cyprus – I’ve forgotten what the fourth one was – saying that he’d earned it four times. So it would be fair to say that he knew quite a bit about soldiering only though he only had one ribbon. No, I would say the Brits were superb, they were the best in the world in internal security at that


stage. So I found it quite an honour to be made the instructor for the whole of the academy in internal security.
And you stayed there for two years you said, what happened after that?
I did courses in the UK and in USA for the next six months and came back to Australia early in 1963 and in June of 1963 started an eighteen month staff college course. The Australian Staff College in those days was at Queenscliff, Victoria, today


it’s in Canberra and that is only military training, no academic training to it but it covers subjects like tactics, organisation, internal security, international affairs, psychological warfare, the major streams of personal matters like superannuation -


it probably covers more than that but I’ve forgotten now. I can’t think for the life of me, we must have had more subjects than that but I’ve forgotten them.
And after that?
Well that’s when I told you I came to the stage that – in this battalion I had been through all the key lieutenant and captain positions and I had


been a company commander in 1959 and I was told in the briefing by the Director of Infantry “Anywhere over thirty is too old to be a company commander in a battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment” and I knew I was going to have to do a lot of staff work for the rest of my life, I wanted another go at regimental training so put my name down for the Pacific Island Regiment where there weren’t any age limits and that’s where I got a posting to.


Unbeknown to me the Special Air Service Regiment was being expanded and within three weeks of getting the posting to second in command of the Pacific Island Regiment at Wewak, that was cancelled and I was posted to Special Air Service Regiment in Perth. So by December we were living in Perth and that’s where we lived for the next twenty months.


In 1965 I had inherited only a half strong squadron so I had to go around the battalions and recruit the other half and then train them and send them off to para [parachute] training, then give them their specialist training. With that we then went to New Guinea towards the end of ’65 for two months, home for leave and early January of 1966 we took off for Borneo. We came back in August.


With that I was promoted to lieutenant colonel and posted to Canberra.
That’s an interesting deployment, Borneo, this is the Indonesian confrontation?
Borneo confrontation, yes. The Indonesians had initially in 1964 done a lot of raiding straight across from their own country, Sumatra and that, into the bottom end of the Malaysian peninsula. Without trying, they got defeated


so as a result they then turned to Borneo and they stationed troops all along the Kalamantan Borneo border with the role of frequent incursion raids into Borneo just to stir up the locals and show them Indonesia was the boss, not Malaysia. And we, Britain and New Zealand offered forces to help the Malaysian Army and we were the four types of forces stationed


Borneo’s side and our role was to stop the Indonesians, to get rid of them. The war was very active the year before I went in 1965. In 1966 suddenly we had the brakes put on us but we were naïve we didn’t know why and nobody would tell us why. It wasn’t until August we found out


why. There’d been an unofficial meeting between the Malaysians and Indonesians in Kuala Lumpur, in fact in Bangkok first and then Kuala Lumpur and once Indonesia changed its president from Soekarno to Suharto, Suharto wanted a truce and the truce was announced in August of 1966. So that’s why we were told to tread a bit warily through


most of 1966. As SAS [Special Air Service] we did a lot of looking, watching, photographing. Ben Barry, one of my patrol commanders, was lying under a sort of a, I suppose you’d call it a hut thing, and he knew a smattering of Indonesian language so he decided he’d hop under it,


he might hear a bit more, unbeknown to him the Indonesian bloke came out and had a leak all over him. He didn’t like that. He said it was very hard for him not to swear and yell out. We were able to report on all their movements very accurately. What we were not allowed to do, we were not allowed to be aggressive unless we were caught short and there were a couple of occasions where some of our patrols did get caught short. I recall one of our good patrol


commanders was photographing this whole series of boats carrying stores coming up the river on a bend. He had them and he was taking all these photographs - unbeknown to him his mates had to go “bang” to his leg, coming up the other way was another boat full of armed soldiers. So he dropped his camera very smartly, luckily he had it hanging down his neck so it just dropped, and with his rifle shot six of the eight people in the boat.


The other man tried to hit the other two, we don’t know whether he did or not.
Did you serve with Lieutenant Colonel J.P. Cross?
With who?
I can’t remember his surname, he wrote a book called “Jungle Warfare” – Lieutenant Colonel J.P. Cross from the British Army, he was working with some special unit there?
Not Chapman?
No, not Chapman, Cross.


He was a senior officer, he was an expert in sort of special tactics, jungle warfare –
No, I know most of them. Gray, not gray?
Not Gray, no.
Not Slim?
He wrote a specific book on the Borneo confrontation.
He might have been the CO before {General Ord]Wingate, Gray who was the CO in my time in 2SAS and his second in command was John Slim the son of Lord Slim,


Field Marshal Lord Slim. I don’t know that bloke he must have been before my time. I know them from 1966 on, prior to that, no.
It could have been before. What were the casualties of the SAS in Borneo?
Two men.
Two men killed?
Two men drowned.
So none of them died from enemy action?


I know from that book I read that there were talks of SAS going into Indonesian territory, obviously this took place, can you tell us about that?
Well that’s how we were able to observe them wasn’t it? We didn’t go into Indonesia, we wouldn’t have been allowed to photograph them on their boats, in their camps and their movements and watch them through binoculars. In those days it was called operations and we were not allowed to tell anyone and we were all sworn to secrecy and all the rest of


it but now we can and it’s all in the SAS book anyway.
There was an incident with some barges, I don’t know if that’s the thing you were talking about, the one with photographs.
I remember I told you but what have you heard?
What have I heard - what I heard was there was an SAS patrol, I’m not sure if it was Australian or British, presumably British, and a series of barges had gone past, they’d been observing this place for a few days


and they decided to spring an ambush at a certain location and they completely sank a barge?
That must have been the British, it would have been in 1965 when they were allowed to be aggressive. We were not allowed to be aggressive in 1966. We had to be, what’s the word, “Get all the information in the world but don’t take any action unless you’re caught short yourself”.
Why was that, why was there such a change?
Because of this meeting going on in Kuala Lumpur between the Indonesian government


officials and the Malaysian government officials. They didn’t want to stir up – they’d had this message from Suharto, Soekarno would not have a truce, full stop, but they had already earmarked Suharto to be his successor and he wanted a truce. Now we didn’t know this, these meetings started in February of 1966 and they went for six months.
The coup took place in 1966 didn’t it, with Soekarno?


That’s right, yes. Well that’s why we weren’t allowed to be aggressive. This is all politics at work. They all wanted a transition to Suharto and they wanted a truce.
How long were you in Borneo?
From January to August.
Do you remember when the coup took place in 1966 – which month, was it early or mid?
Early I think.
O.K. Were you aware that there was a sort of slaughter?
No, we weren’t allowed to know any of this,


nobody knew, it never hit the press or anything, it all came out afterwards. That’s what diplomats are all about.
OK we’ll pause there and we’ll change the tape.
Interviewee: James Hughes Archive ID 1109 Tape 07


I might just go back a little bit, back to Korea – being your first experience in a war situation I’m interested to know how you shaped up in the eyes of the men, did you have an idea of what their opinion was of you?


To be fair I think you’d have to ask them.
Don’t by shy?
I’m still friendly with them, there you are, those that are still alive. I’ve lost the platoon sergeant – I’ve been very friendly for the last ten or fifteen years with one here in Melbourne, unfortunately he died last year of lung cancer. There’s still one left in Bendigo, I haven’t seen him for a couple of years. When we unveiled the Korea


Memorial a few years back, that’s when I picked up a few others from around Australia. It is boastful, I think I did alright but it didn’t happen overnight, it just took time. Better the one you know and better the one you don’t know.
Well understandably they wanted you to prove yourself a little bit I guess?
And they probably thought


they’d rub the bumpy bits of me, I don’t know.
As a platoon commander you were responsible for the men, how did it affect you when you lost men?
It hurt. I can recall their names now.


But this is a nasty thing, I can’t recall all the names – I lost more in Vietnam but I can’t recall their names without looking at the records because I didn’t know them so well. Some I knew and some I didn’t, the ones in that platoon I knew them all as individuals and I can picture them now.
Did you feel responsible?
I think one had doubts saying “Could I have done things differently or


better” but I didn’t pull the trigger, you know. We had to be where we were. It’s no pleasure to say that the court inquiry into the three who were drowned crossing the River Emgin, not just me but the whole of 3 RAR were exonerated completely because they had nothing to do, 3 RAR had nothing to do with the crossing, we were in the hands of the


Royal Engineers. They got castigated and the squadron commander apparently really got the works. Unbeknown to us there were life jackets there that were not being used. We were never offered life jackets but they were there and that didn’t go down very well. The fact that the third boat that tipped over was


not taken further upstream so it could float back and get nearer the other side – nobody could stop this big bloke of ours doing what he thought was the right thing, he was going to lift this very taught cable over the boat, well it just wouldn’t have worked, but he was strong enough to try it. And with the noise of this fast-running river, even from our side, and they were out in the middle, we were yelling out


“Don’t, don’t”, yelling out not to do it but he wouldn’t have heard us but there’s always those things about “What if” but, you know, you can’t change it, you can’t change it. I think you’ve got no choice but to be a bit fatalistic and go on living.
Did you have contact with their families?
Yes, one had to, you were bound to write to them, you had no


What was it like writing letters to the family?
Not enjoyable. I didn’t have to do any in Malaya but in Korea, Borneo and Vietnam I did. You don’t enjoy doing them and, what’s the word, well some people can handle that sort of situation very well and some can’t. If


none of this is being attributed I can make a comment from last night, we have a friend who’s an ex army chaplain who lives in England and his wife has just died and he’d forgotten we were on daylight saving so again last night he rang at about quarter past eleven, we were dead asleep. He didn’t make the comment to me, it’s second hand now, he made the comment to my wife. I answered the phone and then she talked and he said “In all the years I’ve been a chaplain


I’ve had to handle death as regularly as I have christenings and baptisms and marriages but (he’d just lost his wife you see) never in my life did I realise it’s as bad as it is even though professionally I’ve ad to handle funerals”. That’s quite an interesting statement for a man who could see a funeral once a week.


When you wrote letters did you provide the family with general details of how they died?
I honestly can’t recall now.
Would you have been allowed to?
I don’t know – in the case of one particular death in Vietnam, the father wrote


back to me and asked me for more detail and in that particular case a court of inquiry had been heard and convened and put the results out and the Task Force Commander was quite happy for me to send him a copy which I did and I got a letter back saying thank you. I don’t know what happened in Korea, I don’t think I got any response to the letters quite honestly but the CO would have written also and had there been any


response I think it would have come to him. But nobody ever mentioned any responses to me anyway.
I just wonder in some cases you might be able to say, you know, if it’s any consolation he died instantly or he died without pain or he died heroically?
I think one would have tried to do things like that, yes. That’s something one was never taught you were just taught that you were duty bound to write a letter to the next of


kin but you weren’t told what to put in it that was left to you.
Now, before you, in between Korea and Australia actually you went to Japan. I wonder if you could tell us a bit more about your time there, you were working with BCOF?


It had become by this time, the same badge, the British Commonwealth Force Korea, BCFK, because in April of 1952 the peace treaty between Australian and Japan and the other western nations was signed. It was just a change on name the reoccupation disappeared. The first couple of months I was the Australian company commander at Haramura, this was a bush camp. A good place to exercise and train,


good ranges and everything, all commonwealth countries were represented there. It was literally away in the bush and when I was there in 1991 I found some of the wooden buildings still standing but at the very back of the front gate was a freeway and the little village is now a great big city so it’s not out in the bush now. The reinforcements arrived from Australia and we put them through a month’s training course orientated to


Korea and then they went off to Korea. I only did that for a couple of months and I was then promoted and brought down to Kuia to headquarters BCFK, the Australian component of it, to be the Staff Captain Military Secretary. We lived in a very nice house with had been the Brigade Commander’s house from the BCOF days and Brigade Headquarters was our headquarters and


life was pleasant I’d say. Sport every Wednesday afternoon and go to the officers club every Saturday night to play Bingo, something I’d never heard of before, but that was our life.
Did you have much to do with the Japanese?
Yes I did actually because, although my job was Staff Captain Military Secretary, I remember the man handing over to me, a friend,


who said somewhere about three o clock in the afternoon, he said, “I’ll make it known” he said “I haven’t introduced you to Warrant Officer Nelson yet have I?’ I said “No, who’s he?” God, I thought to myself, up to that stage I’d spent all morning learning about officer postings and honours and awards and I thought, God this is a good job, you’ve got no work of any note to do. “Well” he said “come on and I’ll show you”. Well he came to a room, about the size of these two rooms put together, and there was this warrant officer,


with his Japanese clerks working around him, and all the walls were filing places. And I was told “This is the marriage bureau”. He said “We’re in the process now – what number are we on?” “About ninety-eight, sir” - of potential marriages by Japanese girls to Australians. Well, a year later when I left we were up to number three hundred and something or other.


If the husband, if the particular husband to be had gone back to Australia we got letters back making application giving what he thought were the addresses and I had to spend time with an interpreter going around trying to find some of these ladies. I must tell you, as an aside, one of the most attractive ones of the lot, I eventually tracked her down on an island where there was an ammunition depot, and he’d been an ammunitions


officer which probably explained it, into her mother’s home, her father had died in World War II. Beautiful home, lovely mother and daughter and both could speak English perfectly. And the Australian officer, she must have been very young when they were friends and she made it clear that she was had no interest in him or Australia and she made it very, very clear that she was doing very well as the partner of a British major who now ran the ammunition depot, a British officer he was.


So we lost that one. Another one we lost was, or we won but lost, was the most educated and I found the most intellectually challenging lady whose father was a member of the Diet [Japanese parliament], she had had her secondary and tertiary education in the States and she was marrying, oh dear, an NCO in the British Commonwealth


Component Labour Unit. My Brigadier did everything he could to stop that marriage because they were just incompatible. Well, of course, we had ministerial and all sorts of carry on and the marriage was allowed to take place and as her father said “Well, you know, they’re both well over twenty-one” and you can’t do that much about that. To my knowledge I’m


told the marriage lasted about one year before she returned to Japan. In the best case there have been most successful marriages we have a whole lot of these wives here in Melbourne who I know through the Korean Veterans Association, who I’m the patron of, so I see them regularly at social functions. In the best case, the husband came home to Australia, went around their relations, the local shopkeepers, he did everything he could to make sure his wife learned


English and they’ve been very successful marriages. My brigadier died only a couple of years ago in about 1995 and I know we had to make an extra copy of every file for him which he brought home so he would have kept the records going I would think. Because he was delegated the powers of the Australian ambassador to approve these marriages, or disapprove them, and he took his


responsibilities very heavily but as I say the ones I’ve seen here have been very successful.
Why did, well perhaps it’s through the Brigadier, but why did the army take so much of an interest in them I mean, if they were over twenty-one?
They were serving members of the military forces and they wished to marry a foreign national so all the immigration laws of Australia came into bearing and the marriage laws. And the best marriages


had three weddings, the first one was a Japanese civil, the second one was the British civil with the Consul General in Kobe and the third one was a religious marriage in the church of whatever faith they were. And it’s amazing how many were Church of Christ, no the men, but that’s the religion that the Japanese girl had gone to, I wouldn’t know whether they kept it up or not but that’s the one they’d gone to.


But, you know, I just kept getting the message that the three marriages meant that they really meant it. Going home to Australia on leave, which they were allowed to do every two years, to check out their family and the local butcher and so on, insisting their wife learned English, I think they were doing everything they could for them. I in fact ended up having to run it, no I didn’t run it, a lass called Nellie Strong from the YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Association] ran a wives club every Monday night. And


who had to help her? I had to help her. I could set tables and all those sort of things but all those other niceties she used to have to teach them. And the Women’s Weekly used to send us hundreds of copies and I used to give them out every week and away they’d go home with them. I was very young, I was twenty-three or twenty-four and I didn’t know much about life myself.


It’s a pretty interesting period for Japan?
Sorry, I haven’t answered that question fully. I just realised you said “How many Japanese did I get to know”. Therefore, I got to know a lot of Japanese ladies but in order to deal with the local civil administration I had to deal with what you’d call like the Melbourne City Council, the equivalent of the QA City Council, they had an information officer, Karasumi,


so I’d be seeing him at least once a week and he’d talk me to his staff and he’d help me find these girls, ladies and things. Outside of that, we didn’t play any sport against Japanese teams. We had Japanese staff working in our messes and that and drivers, all our drivers, cleaners and cooks and waitresses were all Japanese. So, yes, we had some dealings but


a bit limited the more I think about it.
Mostly subservient - I just wonder because we talk to many World War II veterans and you get a fairly jaded view of the Japanese after a while and I wondered if you could balance that out in any way of just what the Japanese society was like in those years?
Well have not really been into private homes I can’t answer that one.


Fair enough. Now, prior to going to Malaya did you go to Canungra and do some jungle training?
Yes, the battalion did, yes.
Can you tell me a little bit about the kind of jungle training that you did?
You might recall later on that I became the Commandant of the Jungle Training Centre so I’ve got to speak with a bit more knowledge later on. And I’ve been with two different


battalions through Canungra and going through with 3 RAR in 1957 they could not take the whole battalion at the time even though we were a light battalion in terms of numbers they could only take a half and I don’t think they really knew what we were doing in Malaya. They taught us certainly all about primary jungle and secondary jungle but I don’t think they knew much about the operations that were occurring in Malaya. That was my


feeling as a layman. I do recall quite early in the course they asked us to do a battalion night attack in secondary jungle. Well, nothing like that was ever occurring in Malaya and never did occur in the whole twelve years of the emergency so why ever we had to have so many twisted ankles and twisted knees I’ll never understand. I have to say that was


my second visit to Canungra and the first visit I was most impressed but that particular visit I wasn’t impressed. I can quickly jump to our preparation for Vietnam and say that everything was very switched on. It was constructive, firstrate officers and NCOs and we couldn’t have been given a better two months training. They were chalk and cheese the two occasions.
Do you think the


training for Malaya was ill conceived or just that they were unaware of exactly how this emergency was going to eventuate ?
I don’t believe there was anyone on the staff there in 1957 who had been to the Malayan emergency and that was their problem. Now luckily for us, as a complete battalion in October, we went to the British-run Jungle Warfare Centre


in Johor so we learned all about the Malayan techniques properly and that was very valuable training. Without that we would have been failures.
So what sort of things did you learn there?
That’s another book I should have brought down - army training, manual – all the way to check food denial, cash denial, labour denial,


all denial things, the way the emergency was structured so you understood where the police fitted in, where this unit did that, how the district war executive committee worked. Then it got down to ambushing, routine habits of the CT, communist terrorists, how to search a map square, and there’s about five ways of doing it. Apart from giving you the five ways it gave you the pros and cons and each platoon commander in his own time probably worked out


which was the better that he found easier to run. There were other problems of course if you were doing it closely to another battalion, there was the danger of clashing so there were things you can do for that. It gave you, even though we hadn’t done – some people had done tracking courses but the normal layman needed to know a little bit about how to look for signs and when you see a whole lot of – you’re going along and all the twigs are bent over and broken


that day, you know, somebody’s moved just ahead of you. If it’s been broken for a day the twig has died, you know, probably obvious but clues which people like to know about. So, all I can say is, the British instructors at this Jungle Warfare Centre were very switched on. I’m just thinking of the Ghurkha Officers, of course, by the time we’d got there they’d been there themselves in part of the emergency then for nine years. They’d learned the hard way


themselves and they passed on their good information to us.
It would sound then like the British training was much more specifically designed around the kind of operations that were happening?
Yes, it was only training for that, all training was in relation to the emergency.
Whereas the Australian training sounds more like general just how to


act in the jungle?
It was, yes.
Similar to what soldiers received in World War II before going to New Guinea.
That’s right in fact it was probably a similar syllabus because Canungra only started up again in 1955 and the people who started it up in 1955 where still the ones running it in 1957 when we got there.
Had there -


referring to the training that the militia in World War II received to go into New Guinea, do you think any lessons had been learned from the New Guinea experience that had been passed on?
Yes, they were, the way Canungra ran in World War II was that they didn’t have instructors who hadn’t been to New Guinea, they were all very experienced New Guinea hands so it was all


passed on.
So what sort of things had the Australian Army learned from that World War II New Guinea experience?
I wasn’t there at the time so I’m afraid I can’t answer that one. I was taught general stuff in 1957 at Canungra but not specific to Malaya, that was the point I was making earlier.


But, you know, wait awhile, what does it do to you? How do you get water out of a vine? How much easier it is to walk in primary jungle whereas dirty jungle is dirty and nasty all that came out of New Guinea and nothing has changed and won’t change. All it is we’re getting more and more secondary jungle rather than primary jungle around the world. By the time we got there in 1970, taking the battalion


through prior to going to Vietnam, it was all specific for Vietnam. And by this time, of course, our knowledge of the Phuoc Tuy Province, it’s various types of foliage, lelang, primary, secondary, crops, it was well known, there were maps of it, photographs. There was hardly a thing a soldier would not have known before he got to Vietnam. He would say “Oh, I recognise that”. He’d seen photographs of it, people had talked to him, lectured him, he’d seen


films on it and Canungra was all orientated the right way but the real thing is that the training was constructive not destructive. In 1957 I found the training destructive and some of my peers have told me that early training at Canungra in the mid to middle – around 1967 or 1968 that it was pretty destructive, Canungra,


there were nasty warrant officers and officers who all they could do was pull people down, be derogative. Whereas when I came along there was a beaut chief instructor, a friend from old, but he and his staff they were just so switched on and all they were doing was trying to make us better people.
Now, perhaps I can throw it


open now and just ask you some general questions about Communism. Now post World War II in your time prior to going to Korea, Korea and Malaya and so on what did you know about Communism, what were you taught about Communism an dhow did you personally feel about Communism?


I’ll answer the second part first – I think I decided that any effort at all I prefer the democratic way of life that we have and therefore I wasn’t for Communism and there’s no doubt on could very easily work out the reasons why I did not want us to have Communism in Australia. We had an active Communist Party at one stage it was well document in the press and all sorts of lectures and things and we even had Communists come and speak to us on occasions


to hear the other side but I’ve never found so many illogical presentations. We had read the manifesto and things and it had no appeal to me. I felt in many ways they were very misguided and history has proven us all right I think. I did not know much about European Communism other than what I’d


read but in 1976 for the first time we were allowed to go into Communist countries, prior to that as a soldier I was not allowed to. And I do recall that on my way, to London to do the Royal College of Defence Studies, that I saw the Qantas flights and I saw that there was one flight going via Belgrade and I asked for a booking on that and I wanted a three day stopover to have a look at it. I wanted to learn, learn something about the place, get a feel of


it. You’d think I was about to become a deserter or something. Intelligence people came to see me and I was told how to look under the beds and behind paintings and told to be very careful what I do or say. OK, I was alert, I wasn’t that silly. Maybe I got some wrong messages by having a beer in the bar in the pub and talking to the barman but I didn’t stop people in the street and ask them ,but I just wanted to get a


feel and a bit like - our plane almost deserted itself in Belgrade. All of these Australians I’d seen wandering around Sydney Airport, their clothing was a little bit different in some cases, they all had red passports now, they were Yugoslavs who had dual citizenship and two passports didn’t they, you know, all getting off and going home for Christmas or something. No, I can’t answer your question in the depth that you’d like me to answer it.


What was your impression of Belgrade then having talked to the bartender?
OK, I felt I’d probably picked the wrong Communist country there because they had good public buildings, seemed to have a working transport system but it’s a bit unfair, I’m talking about the days of something like the twentieth to the thirtytieth of December. It was winter, it was miserable, there wasn’t much cheer around the place. There wasn’t much laughter it was all very


dour and sour. I had the opportunity six months later, where we were made to wear uniform, that was to go to East Germany because Australia was part of the Commission that ran Germany after the war, east and west, we were part of that. So we Australians were all told to wear uniform and I remember this bus pulling up and we were going to watch the change of the guards and they were all goosestepping, you know, the Russian way of marching


and these kids, little kids, running around imitating them. And they saw this bus and we all got out in uniform, well, did those kids take off. I’ve had a bit of feedback because I have a son who majored in German and he had friends in both West and East Germany and they have both been out to Australia as his guests and he’s been back there many times but before he got the East German ones out some of the


stories that used to come out when he used to go and visit them. And he was a bit naïve the first time, he took her to Checkpoint Charlie [main East-West crossing], he was going to show her Berlin, West Berlin. Well it cost him his camera to bribe the guard not to do anything, to let this girl go. He was very naïve I just couldn’t believe he’d done it myself, we were just very pleased that he came home and he’s never done anything like that since either. No, it’s -


in fact probably East Berlin really put us off. I used the word dour before, the buildings, the whole thing was on the nose. - another reason why I prefer democracy thank you. I’d have to go back – you’re taking me back to lectures about fifty years ago, it’s a bit harder now. Democracy has triumphed there anyway.


I’m interested to hear the army was so open in their teaching and allowed you to read things like the manifesto or to have communist speakers?
It’s likely this was the academic instructors that were doing it and I have no doubt that they would have got permission to do it.
They weren’t afraid of contamination?
No, I don’t think so.


I’ve never met any communists in the army, I wonder whether we had any or not. I met a pacifist in the army and I helped him to get his discharge as quickly as I could, it was the only answer I had for him – each to his own. He subsequently became an academic so he’s probably all set up now.


All right. Let’s get back to specifics – I want to ask you a bit more about your time in Malaya. Firstly one of the interesting thing I guess about the Malayan experience was having families so close by and you had a new family, a new young family at that time?
I had one child – well when we first went we had a child of eight months and whilst we were there we had our


second son so we had two young children.
So how did that work out having family close by?
When you’re getting home every three to four weeks, you know, it was better than none. It was better than not getting home at all I suppose. You know, my wife was able to share the thrill of a new country.


Do you think it changed the way you, what am I trying to say, did it take the edge off operations when you were out in the field?
No, I don’t think it did. Again we get back to almost self and corporate discipline, we were there to do a job and we were


given time off. Well, we’d go and enjoy our families and every day with the family was a blessing.
Single men may be a little more?
They only did one year normally. The officers had one single man, he only did one year. No, that’s right, the diggers who were single did two years.
I just wonder whether it changed the way you thought about death and


taking risks?
No, not really. I probably think more about that in relation to parachuting. When I first parachuted it caused me no worries, the second time - I was a bachelor then, within a couple of months of being married, the next time I was married with one child, two children sorry, it didn’t worry me. I had a break for three or four


years and I started again with the SAS. By that time I’m a bit more mature, I’ve got three children, I’m thinking of education and I’m trying to save to buy a home – yes, I really thought about the family then. In fact I just found it a bit harder and harder each jump to do, you know, to get myself psyched up so I wasn’t unhappy when I stopped jumping, that’s an honest statement.
Were those jumps in training or in


No, training. SAS has lost a lot of people through training jumps. The SAS has only once done an operational jump, no accidents, but in training jumps they’ve killed probably about fifteen blokes already, fifteen to twenty people. I can happen.


All right, in Malaya can you describe a particular patrol for us?
Well, I gave you the time frame earlier – it was a ten day patrol in terms of the maximum you could carry, not that we expected a man to carry ten days of supplies. We gave him ten ration packs and the Q [Quartermaster’s] store had a whole run of big boxes and everything he didn’t want he


threw into the boxes. But you might have liked to have had some of the things that he’d thrown out and vice versa. So he made up his own ten day things, he could be a man into rice and curry and things, so he made up his meals, he made his own up, he wasn’t carrying ten dead weight days of supplies. I told you how the routine went that they rehearsed,


did their weapons firing and then they started off. And patrols took one of two forms, one was ambushing, based on known information or intelligence which had a rating which was pretty good “It’s led to believe that there will be a meeting of the CT bosses in a certain area at a certain time frame”. That’s pretty good information actually probably than we ever got.


Searching, I said there were many methods of searching. You would only allow one map square a day, that’s all a platoon could cope with. It was probably more interesting to do the searching because you’re on the move you’re looking, you’re listening. You have frequent stops – you also need to stop every hour for no other reason than to refresh, have a swig of


water, relieve, change over the scouts. Ambushing I have no doubt became very, very boring for those who were platoon commanders for the whole two years because you were going to one area and you’ve got half the platoon ambushing and well back behind you in what’s thought to be a fairly safe area you’ve got the other half relaxing, sleeping and eating. And then probably on


dusk, daylight the next morning, you would change them over and it’s pretty boring, you now, just lying there with the mozzies at night and other bugs by day. So I think most platoons preferred the searching. We did not shave in the jungle, it stopped skin rash problems so there could be no problems about


this the rule was that by the time you appeared at your rendezvous to be picked up by a vehicle you were all clean shaven. So on the last morning you’d shave and say at nine o clock you’d pick up the vehicle to take you back to the base you came from. So everybody arrived back clean, clean-skinned. Again there’d be debriefing, particularly the intelligence, they may have found things, they’d found a food


supply or indications of a new one. They may not be the follow up patrol to do it but if they could do it in a couple of days time we’d send them back to do it or another one, another platoon would look in and see. And that was the sort of routine that was running all the time with the platoon. So you can’t say they went home every second Saturday because ten days out, two days before hand preparation, two days afterwards debriefing and changing


gear, that’s fourteen days associated with the operation and then you gave them two days off, so it was a sixteen day cycle in actual fact.
OK, we’ll just get you to pause there.
Interviewee: James Hughes Archive ID 1109 Tape 08


You were just telling us about the patrols, I wonder if you could tell us just a little bit more about the methods that you, having had a little time with the British, being trained in this, what kind of different methods were you using as opposed to, say, Korea?


Well, remember Korea was generally open countryside and Malaya is, other than the vegetable gardens and rubber plantations you were running around in secondary or primary jungle so it’s the type of foliage that depends on the techniques of say searching. There’s no comparison between patrolling in Korea and patrolling in Malaya you can’t compare the two.


You went on patrols yourself?
Not very many, no. As the IO, running the command post, that was my role to be there. I co-ordinated all the operations, I did not do any patrols myself. As a company commander in the second year I did a couple of company patrols but that was unusual to have company patrols. No, I was co-ordinating the company.


Sorry from what I’ve gathered the methods used in moving through the jungle in Malaya


were even quite different from Vietnam in the way that certain types of signals used?
No, exactly the same. The Australian field signal system has not changed. What we were using in Malaya was what we were using in Vietnam. Somebody implied we’d changed them?
No, not that they’d changed them but being different conditions and a


different kind of war that there was different methods used and different signals for different animals or a different kind of ambush?
I think we might have added some more signals to the basic lot we were doing in Malaya but I would have said the signals were exactly the same. Enemy, I’m going to the right, the sign for bringing the


machine gun up, they all stayed the same. I find that, you can’t compare - I’m sorry in internal security action of an emergency is different to hunting – in my case in Vietnam we were not playing with the Vietcong, we were playing with the National Vietnamese Army, we were playing with proper army units. But that to one side, the signals we used to deploy a platoon or a patrol were


identical, I’ve never ever heard of anybody saying any different.
Perhaps I’m mistaken, we haven’t actually spoken to many Malayan veterans.
I would accept that there were some more signals added to the Australian list of signals. I would also say that as the majority of the people who went to Vietnam had never been in Malaya or Borneo they wouldn’t have known what was used there. I just picked up a


book on Vietnam two days ago in preparation for today and I read that 5 RAR developed a method of co-ordinated search of villages and that other battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment followed them in Vietnam. I think that’s a lot of rubbish. The British were doing it in 1948 in Palestine and that’s what we were doing it in Malaya too and in Borneo so it was nothing new


just reinventing the wheel.
I guess that’s why I’m interested really because, comparatively speaking, there’s not so much known about the Malayan experience so I’m trying to eke out any details about what was difference?
Well, when the various battalions came back from Malaya of course some of their officers and NCOs would have been posted to some of the various army schools


so they would have brought that knowledge back into the army school system. A similar sort of thing happened after Vietnam people would be posted so this is how the education of the army keeps going on. But how to track down, to say, when did we introduce that, is pretty hard.
In Malaya there were a lot of, I guess, there was


not a lot known bout the enemy and where they were, comparatively speaking again, I’m talking say in comparison to Korea or World War II.
I would say we knew more about the enemy in Malaya than we knew about the enemy in Korea, in Malaya, our methods were better.
I’m really getting myself into trouble here?
We had infiltrators,


we had turncoats, we had double agents, we had minimal air use, a warrant officer class 1(UNCLEAR) who was a pilot and he had an officer aircraft, he only had about fourteen hundred hours up on a single-engine aircraft, he could read signs from the air that I wouldn’t even see, I couldn’t get over it. By the time we got to Vietnam we were using so much technology, you know we were able to use


sniffer machines. We put aircraft up and they’d tell you whether, by virtue of the human smell and heat and that, whether there were people down below you or not and they could tell you wether they were going north, south east or west. There were so many technology things that were used in Vietnam. I don’t know what half of them were but I used to get the end product. There was a group of enemy about this size in that position and


pretty good information.
What I was going to ask actually was just what it was like working with the civilians when some of them may be smuggling food and some of them may be smuggling information or turncoats for the enemy?
Well if you collected food, we as the security forces were collectively called the Security


Forces, gate checks were always manned by police, they might have used the home guard but there was always a policeman there somewhere and this man or woman who had rice hidden all down her bicycle channels she was handed over to them, that was a civil offence so we didn’t have to handle it.
Were you - you were involved in the searches though


No we weren’t we’d just pass them on to the police?
No, in the first unit to go, 2 RAR, their soldiers were actually used on some occasions to search people at the gates of the new villages. Our diplomats thought that was a bad thing so if they wanted to do that they were made to supervise the home guard or police area security to do it, not physically do it


themselves. Consequently we would only search people – if we suddenly found, there was a demarcation line and sign posted, if you go beyond this point there was no protection, you know, you’re out of bounds. And there were always some villagers that said, you know “The best vegetable patch I’ve got is inside that jungle” that might have been their


story but if we found them in there we would apprehend them and we would search them because they were then considered enemy, suspect enemy. With no police available and if on occasion when we thought that person was a friend of the communist terrorists and he might have been setting them up or about to meet with them then he was brought back to Sangi Seput and handed across to the police now what they did with his interrogation I wouldn’t know.


We kept just that distance away all the time and let the police do all the dirty work.
Now moving to the general to the personal - I guess you’d proved yourself in Korea, what was the difference for you in Malay in terms of your personal experience?


Well, I’d never run a command post before, I’d never co-ordinated all the operations of a battalion so that was a challenge. I worked for a commanding officer who I admired, I liked being his right-hand man, simple as that.
So we were just talking about your personal experience in


Malaya how that had changed from your personal experience in Korea and you said that you’re doing different things but it was a very different kind of war?
Oh yes. As I said, being the operational staff officer to the Commanding Officer one was co-ordinating all the operations and therefore playing with every patrol and every platoon we had in the battalion. Nothing could move anywhere without us giving


permission, clearances and just even to leave the jungle and meet at a certain point because the last thing you wanted was two patrols to hit each other, that’s not nice. We also had to co-ordinate police patrols who entered our area, area security units, Kampong Home Guards, one had to bring all this together. So there were day morning prayers with all the other officials around the


place, briefings. The English Brigadier would drop in every other day and want to be told the latest and what we were doing. Why hadn’t we done this and why are we doing this and with the CO going round visiting his five bases normally I’d be there with my sergeant and clerks and signallers and then in would walk this brigadier who was a difficult customer, he meant well though. That was the first brigadier we had the second brigadier we had was a Canadian who


joined the British Army he was so much nicer and that was in the first year. The second year, a couple of months between being the company 2IC that was establishing a new base and bringing our company together that had been apart for a whole year, that was only an administrative job really, but the last year 1959, well, the platoon


commanders had all changed around that time, the bachelors had all gone home, new ones had come in so one was sort of in a way teaching the new platoon commanders too as much as anything else. The diggers were still constant, the NCOs were still constant and we were starting to go further afield. As the CTs were slowly getting up towards the Thai border and we had been so successful in 1968 -


the CTs were moving further north well we had to go to work further north and sometimes it took us a day to get where we could drop them off. So the sixteen day cycle sometimes turned into an eighteen or nineteen day cycle because of the travel.
Now how long were you in


Malaya for?
Two years.
And then you returned to Australia?
To Adelaide, yes.
I meant to ask you this about Korea as well, did you have a welcome home?
No 3 RAR was individual replacement, we never expected a welcome home and I’ve never complained about not having one. It only happened to 1 battalion, the other two battalions went up and


back as an entity and they had welcome home parades and they had farewells before they went too.
Now, I know you went to Sandhurst as an instructor, I’m not sure quite where this fits in but you spent two weeks in New Guinea at some point?
No, that’s SAS and two months.


You went with the SAS?
I took an SAS squad to New Guinea for two months.
OK at what point?
October/November 1965. Our final work of exercise prior to going to Borneo.
So what was involved there, what were you doing?
Well there’s not much jungle in Western Australia so really it was acclimatisation – the country, people,


the jungle primary and secondary, vegetable gardens. It was the nearest thing we had to Borneo so that’s why we went.
And you would have been fairly adroit by now in jungle training?
You would have picked up a few tricks, what sort of things did you teach?
Well we had taught


tricks as such – we had well lectured to our people – most of the NCOs had all been in jungle, our trip to New Guinea really was confirmation of what we’d taught them, we didn’t teach them anything new. We had taught them everything we had known and now they were able to try it out for themselves and see for themselves. For example, I can’t think of one fast-flowing river in


West Australia, I can’t think of one. Well, there are a lot of fast-flowing rivers in New Guinea and that’s what Borneo has so we did a lot of river crossings, that’s an example. And you can debate the pros and cons of how to cross in a classroom very easily much better to do it an experiment the various methods.
So how did you cross a fast-running


How difficult?
No, how did you cross a river?
One left it to each patrol commander who was shown all the various methods and he and his patrol had to work out which method they preferred to use and when. Let’s be fair, the method you use today with the river going, a shallow river doing ten knots, is very different to the one you’re going to use tomorrow when it’s at night and the river’s doing thirty knots and it’s a long wide and deep river. You had to give them all these


varieties and they were all demonstrated to them. Then they were able to do it themselves. We’d been doing all this with slow-moving, shallow, West Australian rivers, well, it’s a bit different when you get to a tropical area that’s why it was important we do that. We had taught them how you can live off the land, you can supplement your diet but you haven’t got those trees and plants growing in West Australia but you have in New


Guinea so they were shown again. And we just didn’t do it ourselves, we were able to use the staff of the Botanic Gardens in Lae, you know, they’ve got experts there who’ve spent all their life doing it so they were the ones who were lecturing to them not us. Also the men were tried out physically – there aren’t many high ranges down the southern end of West Australia, there are much taller mountains in New Guinea,


it rains more often, you know, you can set your watch at four o clock in the afternoon when it rains, we wanted to expose them to that. The pros and cons of do you sleep on the ground in a waterproof sleeping bag or whether you put a hammock up. The idea was to let them try it out rather than force it down their throats. There were many things I could – the signallers who had no communication problems in West Australia found they had problems in


New Guinea. When a thunderstorm occurs you just about lost your hearing so they had to experience that and on it goes.
So that brings us to Borneo and how long were you stationed in Borneo for?
January to August of 1966.
Can you describe a typical patrol in


Borneo and how that differed to patrols in Malaya?
No, with respect, that’s not the way we do it. It’s horses for courses. In Malaya we were searching for individual people in a set area where the battalion owned one area and we all knew our way around it. In Borneo we were responsible for two hundred kilometres of


front, where five battalions sat, and we patrolled four out of those five battalions. So sometimes if possible we sent a patrol back to the same area because you’d got to know it but many times a patrol went to another area that they’d never seen before. We equipped our people for fourteen days because we might have got them to the border by helicopter, road transport, in the worst case


walking, but the minute they got to the border they had to walk. We were only allowed to go ten thousand metres in as the crow flies, that’s a long way to get out on your feet too if you’re being chased. We averaged twelve days actually, at the end of it somebody did some homework, took all our patrols and divided by the number of men and days and apparently it comes out at twelve


days and that’s a lot of stuff to carry on your back. So they were lean and mean and we used to go the opposite of course, when they came out they’d get the best sirloin, the best this, the best that to fill them up again. Remember, we only had one role in 1966 and it was reconnaissance. So if you work it out again there was a couple of days of preparation, rehearsing, giving orders


refiring all weapons, checking all weapons, checking all equipment, selecting their food and making their own (on the face of it) fourteen days worth of eating. Then being taken to their drop off point by either vehicle, normally by helicopter, nominating RV [rendezvous] points – in other words if anything happened and they all got split up they’d make their own


way to these various RV points and wait so long. Then having pre-planned it all everybody knew as much as everybody else. Patrols were initially six strong in the Australian organisation, then we came down to fours or fives in strength moving slowly but surely to wherever the sight was, take pick up there, observation points, surveys, say that


Indonesian camp they were told to watch or the river line where they were bringing up resupplies and they’d do it for so many days and then they might shift to another position and look at another camp or vice versa depending what their orders were. And then they’d have worked out of course how we were going to take them out because to go out means they’ve got to come out backwards, uphill. They might have gone down in but they’ve got to go uphill out. Luckily their packs aren’t weighting as much. They had to contact our


headquarters once a day by morse code. After two days of no contact we’d get very worried of course. We were not allowed officially to fly in helicopters or anything. Officially there was one gun in range if we were lucky and we had to get permission from a general in Labuan Island to fire the gun and there had to be a pretty good reason to get that permission I should add.


One could say they had a lonely life, they really depended on each other. Hopefully they got back to the RV without any worries but often they got split up and had to go like that. One of the most successful ones, the man who got surprised most, who the army really went after searching – his method of alluding them was to go further into Indonesia


because obviously they were searching for him between their base and the border, he went the opposite way that’s how he alluded them. (UNCLEAR) but he took a calculated risk. Eventually they’d get back after twelve days and we fed them well and gave them a rest and then they’d start the cycle again.
Was there any difficulties with the


terrain, the wildlife or disease?
Not with disease, the terrain was always difficult. Some areas were literally swampy others were very steep and nasty but we just gave them time. We weren’t – providing they did their job we didn’t mind them coming home early. We didn’t want them lasting more than fourteen days I can assure you of that in which case they’d be very hungry.


But one had to do an estimation, in giving a patrol a task, you had to work through it yourself, what could they achieve in that time? We, not so much my own squadron, but the previous squadron used to regularly resupply and send the people straight back out again - it didn’t appeal to me much. they were working in an entirely different part, they were working in Sarawak, further north,


the idea wouldn’t appeal to me anyway.
So after your time in Borneo did you return to Australia for a while?
Yes, for three years. No, I returned to Australia in 1966, got promoted and went to Canberra to a desk job and in October 1969 I took over 4 RAR which had returned several months earlier from Vietnam, the first tour.


Nearly all the officers had been reposted but several, about four at this stage, luckily most of the senior NCOs were still there and all the diggers had probably been reposted but for a few. And the first job we did was in October/November we were the enemy and umpires for a battalion doing its final test exercise for Vietnam. Then in December we moved what was left of the battalion, no more than two hundred, to


Townsville. A new site, new barracks, tons of married quarters so we didn’t get new people posted in until January. And I asked for, well, knowing the balance had to be fifty per cent National Service, no more or less, or fifty per cent no more and fifty per cent regulars. I asked for all the regulars to be posted in early so we could get their training underway because anybody who wanted to be an NCO or an officer who wanted to get


promotion as to do laid down standard qualifying courses and I wanted to get all those done in the first six months. Some courses six weeks for clerks, six weeks for drivers, six weeks for pioneers, four weeks for a tracker course, six weeks for a mortar course – all these specialists and it needs a long time for courses. So I wanted to get all regulars so I could get them trained in the first six months because the way the manning was working is I’d have


all the National Servicemen there by mid year so if I had the regulars there trained we could start the whole battalion training and going along all together. We had to do section training, platoon training, company training – finished by the end of the year because in January to March we had three major battalion exercises so by April we were ready to go on pre-embarkation leave and the first lot flew out on the 1st of May.


So it was all timed and it was like a jigsaw puzzle, I had to make certain everything fitted in. But if I didn’t have the mortar section properly trained they couldn’t go and fire could they and on it went and the signallers course, that was six weeks too. And we had to run promotion courses, nobody else was going to run them so we had to run them ourselves and on it went. So as I’ve always said, 1970 for 4 RAR was not an easy year, I also was a bugger because as far as


I’m concerned the standards had to be there. You can let standards slip in my experience but you can never start there, if you start there you can never get them up there. So I’m afraid I set the standards there and said that applied to everyone from me down and just went at that level and it paid off. It was a hard year but we had some fun in that year. We still tried, other than on the long exercises, we still tried to let them all have sport on Wednesday


afternoons, both inter-unit sport, inter-brigade sport and on Saturdays we had teams in a whole lot of Townsville sporting competitions. This allowed, because we had mainly young regulars, young national servicemen, all single, it gave them a chance to meet the locals and meet up with them and it paid off.
Did you find yourself presiding over marriages again?
No, thank heavens, they were more sensible now.


But also everybody had to be a volunteer whether they were National Servicemen or not to go to Vietnam so that was important. And remember we were pushing these things of self discipline and corporate discipline and team work and I think we got it to a very fine standard. In fact I keep being asked could I tell who was a national serviceman and who was a regular, I couldn’t. If I had any worries I’d have to go and look up their records


because they were all Australians in the same mould, same background of training, all wanting to do the best. Now let’s be fair, not all qualified in my opinion so I have to say to you I sacked a major, I sacked a captain, I sacked a couple of lieutenants and I sacked some diggers and they got moved on because they weren’t good enough, as simple as that.


Better to find out in Australia than to find out in Vietnam.
Now at that time what was your opinion of the Vietnam War?
I was very conscious as most Australian army officers were that the Americans had gone the wrong way about it. I knew that we were successful in Phuc Tui province and we hoped that the new man had taken over from the Americans in the American


game, Abrahams or whoever he was, that perhaps he could change some of their silly habits but I’m afraid he wasn’t able to.
Specifically what do you mean, the way that they’d gone around it in their habits?
Well their basic philosophy was that you win the war by sheer weight of numbers and firepower, firepower in the main and equipment. Perhaps if the Americans in the early


1960s had tried it more the way the British did in Malaya they might have done better but from 1965 because they never tried to get new villages they didn’t try to bring in a proper legal system, didn’t get the police properly trained – in 1965 they gave up almost in disgust “We’ve failed”. OK we’ll bring in our hundreds of thousands of troops and we’ll just bash the bastards well, that didn’t work either.
On a political


level what did you think of the Vietnam War?
Sorry, what do you really mean by the question?
Well, you’ve said that you disagreed with the way that on a military level how the Americans were waging the war – when I say on a political level the reasons for having the war?
Well, if I’m anti-communist I wouldn’t have wanted South Korea to


become communist which it has and I have a lot of ex-Vietnamese friends here who I’ve met up with here in Melbourne – you and I would call them boat people who’ve found their own way to Australia and they’re very good citizens of Australia and they wouldn’t want to be living there for all the tea in China. Some of them are wealthy enough now to visit and see their relations but they’re very happy to come home to,


I use their words, home, Australia. I have a couple of Australians I know who work and run firms in Vietnam, only in the south, they enjoy it, they’ve made a lot of money doing it but they’re still not, as I say, in their more sober moments say “this is terrible”


you know, seeing the lack of freedom, seeing the lack of democracy, they’re not smiling about it. But what happened, happened and you can’t reinvent history.
I don’t want to badger you about it and I certainly don’t want to get your back up about it but what I’m trying to get at is, in between believing that it was


right to defend South Vietnam and stop communism and on the other side the reality of how the Americans were waging the war, did you think it was right to be having this war and that it was right for Australia to be involved with the American Forces?
Well I have to say that our voice wasn’t even heard. I do recall in 1966 there was an American


battalion commander – they had a funny system, apparently you had to get a tick in a box so their battalion commander only lasted six months then they couldn’t get to a staff job somewhere in Saigon or somewhere, but this man used to write in one of their professional journals. Anyway I was in Vietnam attached to the special forces and discussing this I found out that he was only a few miles away running his battalion and


they said well he could be there but he’s been re-posted to a staff job in Saigon and he’s fighting it. He wants to stay a battalion commander, where all the rest rush off to be staff officers. So to cut a long story short the bloke got his jeep out and I went down and saw him and I wish he had more time because I had a lovely time because I’d enjoyed his writings about war and obviously he’d written about Vietnam before he ever got there. He appeared to me to have all the right approaches but


he was hitting a brick wall. His battalion also had been very, very successful. He had taken aboard what I call a lot of British ideas and used them in his area very successfully. You could have transposed him to Phuc Tui province and he would have worked quite well in our forces using the same techniques and tactics but as he said he was being forced to give up and go and be a staff officer and this would all be down the drain and start again.


I saw the frustration of the man and I could imagine if he had had any way of influencing his officers – they would have been frustrated too because they could see they were getting somewhere, a new CO came along ready to get his box ticked and he’d probably let it all go down hill again. So I did see some frustration at that stage. Professionally though as I say we had almost


daily reports on what we were doing in Phuc Tui Province, particularly when I became battalion commander. We received all the intelligence reports, all their after-action reports and everything and all I knew is that the Australians were doing well in their area. Professionally of course I wanted to command a battalion in action so I wasn’t going to say anything that would stop me from doing that. So I wanted to go there and so did my soldiers.


So when you finally did what were your first impressions of Vietnam?
Well at least I’d been to Vietnam before, I wasn’t going for the first time.
When was that?
In 1966 when I was attached to the American Special Forces.
I seem to have skipped a beat here.
I also should tell you that I had one hundred and forty-one people in my battalion who had been to Vietnam before with either


4 RARs first tour or with other battalions. All the majors had been to Vietnam, all the captains but a couple had been to Vietnam, none of the lieutenants had, all the warrant officers had, all the sergeants had so there was a great deal of knowledge already in the battalion.
So when you went in 1966 what were your impressions then of Vietnam?
Well the Americans hadn’t made their big mistakes


but as I said I was a bit disappointed, having gone to this lieutenant colonel I was telling you about, and seeing how he had been so successful by using tactics which I clearly understood but which his peers did not understand. You know, I could see the frustration and it got worse after that not better or the American approach got worse put it that way.


More generally what were your impressions of the country and what was going on there?
Well Phuc Tui province was literally on the coast on one flank and then forty kilometres across on the way to Saigon. OK it was certainly - I was in South East Asia but it could have been any part of


Malaya or some parts of Borneo are very similar. I had not been to Cambodia or Laos at that stage. Its security was very similar to, sorry, it was obviously an area controlled by Australians. People were wandering around freely. They had curfews or areas that they couldn’t go into. They couldn’t go into the primary jungle. Where their village gardens ended that was the stop line if they went beyond that they were in trouble


but they were going about their normal business. By the time I arrived there the Vietcong had been very much eroded and as I said to you earlier in passing the enemy we fought was a particular unit one called 274 Vietcong Regiment who were full-time regular Vietcong equipped by the North Vietnamese army and pretty good fighters and the


most offensive of the lot was the 33 North Vietnamese Army Regiment because it was in three different battalions so we were fighting regulars in the jungle. We had nothing to do with any town or villagers, they were being looked after by their own regional forces. So what we did in 1971 was very different to what people did in 1966. In fact there are people who try to think the war years in Vietnam were the same. I can tell you from my reading of it


every year was a big difference.
OK we’ll pause there it’s the end of the tape.
Interviewee: James Hughes Archive ID 1109 Tape 09


Let’s talk about Vietnam in more detail. When you went there in 1966 –
It was only an attachment.
Was that the Australian Army training Team in Vietnam or was it something else?
No. It was an orientation tour where you could ask to be attached to anybody of any particular type. As I was with SAS it suited me to ask for an attachment to the American Special


Forces so that’s who I went and saw. In fact the particular base I was sent to was just near the Laos border, Cambodia or Laos which is the nearest?
I think Cambodia’s closest?
Yes, it must have been Cambodia, I think it was Cambodia, I’ve got a query there anyway.


It was literally just about a kilometre of the border and I do recall the briefing I got in Saigon that no way was I to go into this other country. All I know is that every patrol we did we seemed to be going that way. Maybe they couldn’t read their maps very well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I was supposed to have been completely non recognisable as an Australia and


for that reason the American Special forces gave me boots, worn-in boots, socks, underpants, everything but I refused to accept made-up dog tags I wore my own, I thought if anything happened to me I’d like to be known as Jim Hughes and nobody else.
So what American Special Forces Unit were you working with exactly?
I can’t think of its name now.
What sort of outfit, is it


Green Berets?
Yes, yes, Green Berets.
Tell us about the operational doctrine. How did they operate, what different between the Green Berets to the SAS are they on par?
I think we’d go off at a tangent here and I’d have to take another three tapes.
Can you make it succinct?
No I can’t unfortunately. They worked in large numbers. They normally went out with a Cambodian company of up to


two hundred and eighty people with them, this particularly group did anyway. They weren’t operating the way that we operate. When I told them about our patrols of four or five men they were aghast. They just couldn’t understand it. They were doing all offensive ops, they weren’t doing anything in the way of reconnaissance. They were doing - it’s one of the roles of the


SAS and it’s to train indigenous forces – it was Cambodian, a group of Cambodians. They were entirely – they didn’t really use the role that we were in, it was one of our roles – I should as an aside here tell you that I was also responsible for our squadron of rangers [?] in Borneo. They were


officered by British SAS officers and Australian sergeants and I gave them pretty much a free hand because they operated in a different division but they were under my overall command so we did understand this indigenous role but it was the only role these American special forces were doing. So - interesting but, no, not my cup of tea. We’d had a lot of feedback anyway because my


own sergeant major had spent time in the training team working with Vietnamese Rangers and Special Forces.
Who were the Vietnamese Rangers were they the Montagnards?
That was one lot of them but they had the training team and the American equivalent had trained Vietnamese Rangers to do work. The Montagnards were another indigenous group, yes. I really think we’ve got to leave them because


that was a sideline, it was something I just wanted to do professionally until I found a few things out.
I presume you would have liaised in a different way when you came to Vietnam later on when you were deployed there –
No, I didn’t want to do any liaison because we had an SAS Squadron in our task force and we only operate, by this time we were only operating in Phuoc Tuy we weren’t operating elsewhere.


O.K. It’s exclusively Australian?
There were New Zealanders as well weren’t there in Phuoc Tuy?
I had a New Zealand company in my battalion. I had ninety-five New Zealanders in my battalion so that’s why we were an Anzac battalion, that last book on the right there.
What was the situation like when you first arrived at Phuoc Tuy?
Exactly – remember I’ve been saying for eighteen months we’d been receiving daily situation reports


and weekly intelligence reports. We’d been receiving all the after action reports. I would have said that we knew as much as the people who were there knew.
Is it that good the intelligence?
No, no, I didn’t say the intelligence was that good, our knowledge was that good.
How were they operating?
Every bit of paper being put out by one task force we were receiving in Townsville. So we were across the board in reading what was going on. We had the


knowledge – I’m not saying the intelligence was good, it was pretty good actually, because by this time a lot of technology was in use.
I suppose what I was trying to say was apart from just the knowledge of what was taking place in Phuoc Tuy, what I was trying to refer to was what was the scope of operations as far as the VC [Viet Cong] and NVA [North Vietnamese Army] were concerned?


The Vietcong were an eroded force in Phuc Tui Province. They hardly ever caused any problems or hiccoughs. The regional forces were running the villages. The threat there was the North Vietnamese Army units and so my battalion’s role was to take on 274 VC Regiment


which were the full-time Vietcong Regiment which had been equipped by the North Vietnamese Army and had North Vietnamese officers and NCOs amongst them whereas 33 North Vietnamese Army was a regiment which had been badly hurt in 1968 but had been rebuilt to a regiment headquarters and three battalions all North Vietnamese and they were our major problem, we had major fights with them. We had major fights with both actually but they were the ones who really caused us our most


Did they have an different actual system and organisation? When you say 274 VC Regiment was that roughly the size of a battalion?
Yes. Oh no, 274 Regiment originally started as a battalion, the 1st battalion, somewhere along the way its 2nd Battalion had been left behind some where. So when I said 274 Regiment we were really dealing with 1 battalion of 274 Regiment.


When I talk about 33 NVA we were dealing with a regiment headquarters that had three different battalions. So our enemy – it was funny, there was a route too which went up the middle of the province, 274 VC Regiment always worked to the left of the route through the road and 33 NVA always worked to the right so it made it quite easy for us we knew to the left of the road it was 274, it was the right of the road we hit 33.


They never crossed the road, don’t ask me why, it suited us.
They had boundaries, operational boundaries?
Yes, they were their operational boundaries. So that’s why my operational boundary was astride the road purposefully. They’d been doing this for some years before I actually arrived so as I said it suited me to be across the road.
Now this is probably quite a good instance for me to contrast also


as an experienced military professional how do you see the way the Americans – you were just saying before about their sort of hard sort of, you know, massive ordinance blasting etc. etc., is this the sort of you see currently in Iraq as well the way they’re operating?
The way they did their operations were quite different. I’m talking about the actual month of March


the way they and the British operated were very different to Vietnam no comparison. They were prepared to go in with large numbers and large equipment but because the Iraqis didn’t put up any opposition of any note it just all happened overnight. But my concern about there is they didn’t seem to plan the post-combat operations. They didn’t have any civil government organised, didn’t have their own experts.


There appears to be no plans, I could be wrong, there appeared to be certainly no intelligence planned.
You’re saying it’s different in Vietnam they went in there with a plan to reconstruct the country?
No, no, no I’m not saying that – we’re going off in a tangent with respect. Perhaps it would be better if we could stay with Vietnam.
OK we’ll move to it right away then sure.


My knowledge of Iraq is just what I’ve read in the press, nothing more.
I suppose I’m just curious because you’re a Major General and your experience.
If I’ve experienced it I’ll tell you. If I’ve only read it in the press I’ll have to tell you that.
You said that the VC were an eroded force, the VC that is, but the NVA weren’t?


No. The VC, I’m talking about the village VC the down to earth ones. 274 wasn’t eroded, 274 was a full-time Vietcong Regiment so they weren’t eroded. I’m talking about the local little village VC units, they were eroded - the ones who had an influence and who had been causing the strife for years. People were living a normal life in the villages going to their vegetable gardens.


going to the shops, going along the road to Burea and going with their oxen cart to markets, that part of living in Phuc Tui Province was back to normal. The head men weren’t being killed, we’d done that in the past, they weren’t being asked to produce food and money because by keeping – as I say these little VC units had been knocked


off so they weren’t threatening the villages and people were having a normal life. The Vietcong, NVA and 274 were full-time units on supply lines for rations and everything they weren’t running around blackmailing villages, they were beyond that, they were full-time units.
Did they have special operations units


as well?
Not in our province.
Assassin squads etc. things like that?
Now where was the bulk of attacks taking place when you were there?
The north of the province.
Is that Vung Tau area?
No, Vung Tau is to the south, the exact opposite - coming in from Long Quan Province.


Those two units in fact after we’d hit them very hard they’d both go back into Long Quan Province north of us to recoup and recover and mend their ways or mend their equipment I suppose. Then they’d come back in again to have a go at us so our job was to make certain we were ahead of them, to find them, locate them, hit them and push them out again. Our basic role was to keep them away form the civilian population and that’s what we did.


Now how would they operate?
They operated in companies and in battalions, no different to us really.
I thought they were doing more low intensity sort of ambushes and things like that as well?
So this was almost like conventional war taking place?
Yes, by ’71. It was different to earlier years. We never found -


we found in terms of some of the logistical units we’d find small groups and we’d find small groups but when we were talking about these battalions we found we were hitting complete companies or whole battalions at a time.
So these were pitched engagements – I had no idea, I thought it was more like platoon or section level?
No, we would love to think so. Consequently the task force orders were that we were not allowed to operate in less than platoon


groups and preferably we always went into the bush with a company and formed a company base and let the platoons farm out from that but within reasonable reach to get back. On several occasions of course the platoon found a company or a company would find a battalion of enemy.
Tell us about your first actual combat experience in Vietnam regarding something like a company-size


engagement or battalion or whatever?
I suppose the first operation –it might answer your question, it might not though. I and an American battalion were asked to provide the cordon, like a U, for the other Australian battalion 3 RAR and tanks to go in and hit


a meeting of the 3 battalion of 33 NVA and another battalion called D445 which had come up from the south and they were meeting, which I still don’t know why to this day know why they were meeting but they were meeting in the north of the province, whether it was to exchange equipment or to discuss tactics but through various intelligence sources found out they were


there and the taskforce commander decided to make this cordon and search, hammer and anvil approach apparently they called it. So we did our cordoning and I think our security got broken because the way the Americans came in they came in with a lot of noise and carryings on and then 3 RAR and the tanks drove in. We’re the ones who had a pitched company versus company battle


because the North Vietnamese decided to go flit out of the place as quickly as possible and we caught some of them in our cordon but we were catching individuals, in fact I remember there was D445 trying to go south again where as 33 went north. But in the middle of all that, poor old - one particular company of 3 RAR certainly had a company versus company battle.


That was not quite what you were after – that was in June. In July he reversed it and he made 3 RAR put the cordon and we attacked with C Squadron tanks and we hit one first battalion of 274 Regiment and that was a straight out flog, you know. We hit, they hit, we both


reacted. They had dug themselves in complete battalion position of bunkers and we had a lot of fighting and that’s where the tanks were so handy. When a tank screws around on top of bunkers, it buries a few people I’m afraid but it destroys a fixed line for machine guns and without the tanks it would have been a much harder battle. We had quite a few like that and then I can go on and


take you to the very end, not the very end, take you to the twentyfirst of September where we had got rid of – 274 were so knocked up they left the province – so from August on I was conscious our biggest problem was this 33 NVA so we had radio intercept we had all sorts of things going and we’re searching the ground. And suddenly about mid September it was obvious to us that somebody was back in the province again.


One death we had, not one of ours, we killed one enemy – brand new green helmet, brand new everything – no wallet or identification but it was obvious he was NVA. Six days later, it all happened on the one day. In the North, my D Company who came from the north south purposely


hit their first bunker and in hindsight I can tell you now they hit the bunker of the 2nd Battalion not 33NVA, had a bad day in manoeuvring himself around, manoeuvring himself to get a better position you won’t believe it after lunch he set a second lot of bunkers and they were the regiment headquarters and they reacted very ferociously. So he poor old bugger found himself in a (UNCLEAR)


there were the 2nd Battalion, there were the regiment headquarters and he was in the middle. Four hundred kilometres south at seven o clock that morning our APCs were returning from maintenance demand a pick up of supplies, they were almost ambushed but they got out of the ambush quite successfully and at ten o clock that morning I moved B Company into this area and he


was a bit, what’s the word, happy go lucky, he wasn’t convinced that he was going to contact a lot of North Vietnamese, they’d just patrol and wander around. Well one of his patrols got mortared and something else happened to another one and next thing he finds he’s taking on the third battalion of the NVA. By the end of the day he was secure because the 3rd battalion was ordered to withdraw north. Now we could read this because we were intercepting their


radio communications and we knew that the 3rd battalion had been told to withdraw north. That was good news for my B company but how about my D company. It had the 2nd Battalion and the regiments headquarters and now the 3rd battalion was coming north towards them. So we had a few problems extracting, we couldn’t extract D company and nor could I get another company to them until the next morning.


We used all the artillery we could use, but what’s interesting is what – I’ll show you the book afterwards – you’d get an absolute shock to see what aircraft we had. A man called Jade, Jade is an observation post for a pilot, Jade 07 [?] took great pity on us and he brought up every type of aircraft you could think of but in doing so he had to stop our


artillery. They brought the fire in of helicopters and gun ships, the place went mad, you’ve never seen so many aircraft in your life. You almost needed an air traffic controller, which this Jade was doing, to control it all. Anyway, our D company survived, unfortunately we had about five killed and about thirty wounded which wasn’t good but by next morning there wasn’t any 33 NVA


in the Province they had all left. So our biggest problem then was having to blow up two battalions worth of bunkers. What we did find out, an officer was captured by the Americans a month later and he told us that, the officer in interrogation, my IO went up to listen to the interrogation, “Yes, 33NVA had heard the announcement of our withdrawal, the Australians withdrawal form Phuc Tui


Province and they had set up, they had entered the province and they had positioned the 2nd Battalion in their bunkers and the regimental headquarters in their bunkers with radio communications and they had sent the 3rd Battalion south to this isthmus of trees to intercept (and they were the ones who ambushed the APCs that morning) and their aim was to attract


Australian troops out of Nui Dat into this ambush position against the 3rd battalion where they hoped they would do them over and if the Australians tried to come north of course there was the regimental headquarters and the 2nd Battalion waiting for them in their ambush positions too. What threw them out was that we approached them from the north not the south. We were not back in Nui Dat as they thought what we were operating as normal despite what Prime Minister


McMahon had said on Radio Australia. And he only knew about the casualties from the 3rd battalion the ones who started to engage us and then because of our north D Company taking on the others they were told to our assistance. So we know that he knew in his own area of some twenty odd casualties but thought there were more and he knew that the 2nd Battalion regiment headquarters had done very badly, and it’s rather


funny, it wasn’t until 1991 when one of our officers who won an MC [Military Cross] in that particular battle went, and using an interpreter, they went and saw some ex-NVA members who settled in Phuc Tui province and found out that that day when things went ass up for them – it was late in the afternoon when our artillery came in again, when the aircraft went home to be refuelled, and an artillery shell had


killed the regimental commander. It was obvious that the plan, by our intercepts, we worked out later in the afternoon that things weren’t going to plan, something was wrong. When they lost their regimental commander they panicked a bit and lucky for us they withdrew everything. And they must have had an awful lot of people on stretchers because the blood trails and that we found particularly the company that came in the next morning were unbelievable. We couldn’t believe it, they were so


careful with their normal exit trails. With this they couldn’t care a less they were just getting out as fast as they could go. There was blood on leaves and branches. I had a very relieved D company who really thought, with enemy on both sides of them, thought their days were numbered. Remember this is the first attack we’d ever done, in fact it was the first attack for three years the task force had done


against the regulars without tanks. Our tanks were on the seas going back to Australia, we had no say in that. I said to you earlier, tanks are wonderful to use when you’re taking bunkers. Their guns on the top can swivel around and can shut down machine guns, they can swivel on bunkers and bury the people inside very quickly and you don’t get so many killed that way. But to take those bunkers on without the tanks made life a little bit more difficult than it should have


been. And of course they kept running out, I resupplied them with ammunition at one stage – I gave myself a bit of a fright there, I didn’t mean to, the pilot didn’t mean to either - there was cloud coming and going and as you climbed up in the clouds we suddenly heard “phew, phew”. Unbeknownst to us our guns had started and our guns shells went either side of us. He did a thing which the helicopters normally do they don’t normally drop quickly in cloud


because you find hills that way – I don’t blame him he dropped us quickly into the cloud and we survived it. It would have been terrible to have been shot down by your own artillery shells wouldn’t it? Nobody would have known probably how they get shot down. But the next morning we survived. We found we still had D Company and B Company went on ahead just cleaning up what they had found down there – telephone wires, slit trenches and things. In other words they were digging in, we’d just got them in time that 3 battalion.


That was just a bit of luck.
Were they able to knock out any of the tanks?
We didn’t have any tanks.
No, in that assault earlier?
No, we got - one tank lost the front of a muzzle but that didn’t take long to fix and they often lost the odd canister – they have boxes on the side of them they lose things like that occasionally but, no, the tanks were superb.
What was the strongest


point of the VC or the NVA as far as fighting capacity concerned, capability rather?
Well I suppose the NVA were the ones that were the best they were for the first time well equipped, had been well retrained – based on their intelligence they had a pretty good plan there to make a mess of the Australians. But as I said the real success story was we didn’t come roaring out of Nui Dat as they thought from


the south, we were already there, in fact we were north of them and they just couldn’t get over now we came from the north. But we’d been searching up there –I’d taken about an extra three thousand metres of the Long Quan Province with special clearance so we could search up there rather than come from the south. I didn’t – well, I felt the sooner we found it and we knew where they were the better but it


threw them out completely and everything they had was facing south so when we came from the north if threw them out, really threw them. But when this company withdrew and got themselves to a better position and got so close to reaching headquarters that’s when the troops, you know, I’ve got to defend the colonel, and they went mad didn’t they.
What about the NVA and the VC their


tactics. I knew that in certain areas they used to build bridges underwater, they’d be small bridges?
In this part of Phuc Tui didn’t have any water.
Did you hear about those sort of things?
Yes, individuals, whether they had sort of a training camp and say we’ll do this everywhere I wouldn’t know. No, individuals tried different ideas and tactics and that but this 33 NVA were working on conventional tactics, they weren’t the Vietcong as such.


What sort of, I suppose their conventional tactics, I’d like to try and get a better understanding especially for the camera?
When you think about it he had positioned himself into – in this particular case by the twenty-firstt – over a period of six days, had built three arcs of bunkers to ambush our troops


coming from the south and when he found in the north our troops came from the north not the south so that threw them out. In the south, our troops came from the west, again not from the south although they were positioned to fight us in an ambush. So just by sheer luck the way we were searching was not the way they expected us to come. That gave us an advantage, a moral


advantage I think, anyway you like to look at it.
When I look at the Americans, this is on a bit of a different angle here, and I see that they suffered sixty thousand killed, an extraordinary amount and obviously Australia’s participation was a lot smaller but you only had five hundred Australians?
50I only had one casualty killed out of


five hundred
How many of those were killed in action?
Five hundred and one are recorded as being Australian servicemen killed in Vietnam no doubt some of them were probably killed in vehicle accidents but I’d say the majority.
What about the division between the units, say the Nashos and the Regulars, correct me if I’m wrong here, but the


National Service that took place did anybody go against their will to Vietnam?
No, I think what’s happened is that I’ve been telling Colin some answers and you’re asking the same questions. I can only speak for 4 RAR but it applied to them all actually, but no National Serviceman went there against his will he had to be a volunteer to go.
It also came to my attention that before hand there were some instances of fragging?
Back in the


early days, yes.
Do you know what?
I wasn’t there so I wouldn’t dare quote I haven’t even read the reports but again I would suggest that their teamwork, they were not infantry battalions, there’s no fragmentation in infantry battalions. It’s a different approach to training and they were units where they had individual replacements, they weren’t units that went there as formed, they followed this individual replacement system again,


the one that 3 RAR suffered from in Korea – it’s not quite the same when you take a unit there and bring it back again and when you’ve learned to look as a team before you even leave Australia.
What was different to the American system in Australia, how did they work?
I think they took units in and out by this time, I could be wrong, look, I don’t know. I’m selfish enough to say I only worried about what we did.


What about with the actual tour, now I’ve seen statistics that Vietnam Vets actually did far more patrolling work in contrast to Malaya and say World War II, the actual fighting was longer, the days they were involved in fighting?
Sorry, you mean days out on patrol. Well there were some battalions that only did


patrols of one week of a particular year. My patrols would have six weeks at a time out. In Korea we never went back to base – in Malaya we were back into base every two weeks or so, in Borneo every two weeks or so. There’s no two years the same in Vietnam, they were never the same, how they operated in 1966 was entirely different to how they operated in 1968 compared to how they operated in 1969 or


1970. It’s hard to make those comparisons. The enemy situation differed. When I told my peers in 1971 we only fought regular full time units, we didn’t fight Vietcong village units, they can’t believe it because all they did was fight village units. So it’s very hard to generalise you’ve got to find out


when was the person there what unit they were in and so on. In fact I read a comment about that the other day, I told you that one hundred and forty-one members of 4 RAR had been to Vietnam before but none of the platoon commanders had. Now the platoon commanders were very much subject to leaning on their sergeants to teach them the job and the rest of it. One of our company commanders in an article wrote just recently or last year or


so said he had to really take some of his sergeants to one side and say this expression you used that’s not the way we did it on the first tour, that means you’re stifling that man’s initiative, he might have a far better idea than what you had on the first tour, you know, you’ve got to lean off that approach. It was interesting, I hadn’t heard of this before but it was interesting he made that point. He used an approach of


training that he wanted them to fail in Australia. If they were going to fail it had to be in Australia so this is my approach too. You wanted them to learn their mistakes in training so they wouldn’t make the mistakes in operations and I think that’s the practical way to go, it was the practical way, still is sorry.
When you were there, I think Tet Offensive was in 1968?
That was when you were around?
No, no.


When you saw the Tet Offensive take place how did the troops react to that even though you weren’t in Vietnam at the time what was the general reaction amongst military circles, could this war be won?
Well they did win Tet you see. Despite the media saying otherwise the allies won Tet. The NVA and the Vietcong got the most hell of a bloody fright and suffered thousands and thousands of casualties. Tet was a


major win for General Westmoreland but the media never accepted it – you can’t win all the time can you. And those that served at the time, I know all three Battalion Commanders, they’re very happy that they won, they were successful.
What was the immediate aftermath, obviously in a sense there would have been a downsizing of operations as far as the


Vietcong were concerned of the NVA?
There was because they had to go back and recoup and get reinforcements.
But the fact is that they could still sustain the operations?
Oh yes, one had to give them full marks for the way they brought things in but there’ve been so many media stories which are not factual and can’t be supported that it distracts entirely from what they people at the time did. It’s even got diggers making claims for


Veterans’ Pensions based on some of the media stories - like I went to Saigon and I did this and I did that. And I recall one case that I had on the Veterans Board some years ago where the bloke came with his wife and children which made it a bit embarrassing because he told us what he did during Tet, how he was a transport driver, a lance corporal, he was told get a mate, get a machine gun go up to Saigon and rescue the Australian headquarters there, the Free World Headquarters which was the Free World Headquarters for


all the people who contributed to the Vietnam War including the Australians. He said “The drive up from Vung Tau up to Saigon, the shells, it was terrible, the mines” and of course by this time he’s got the PTSD [Post Traumatic Shock Disorder] and the shakes. And I had to let him have his say and say “Would you like to turn over to folio five, that’s your service record and if you look down at the seventh line what does it say?” He said “It says embarked


Sydney” the date, seventeenthh August 1968. “What does the next line say?” disembarked Saigon eighteenth August 1968”. I said “The Tet Offensive was in January and February, how could you have done that?” He said “Oh, maybe I imagined it” and we talked on for another


fifteen minutes and eventually he said “I wasn’t there was I, I’ve been dreaming this up?” So we let him down very nicely and showed him the door but he wasn’t the only one we’ve had like that but he took it nicely.
How did you react to the demonstrations in Australia?
In Townsville we didn’t have any problems. We didn’t have any demonstrations in Canberra, we didn’t have any demonstrations in Townsville.


We saw our previous battalion 2 RAR leave there, farewelled by the town and received home I’m told well. We were beautifully farewelled – I was actually in Vietnam and my second in command, a New Zealander, was a bit worried, he got a phone call the night before from the Student Union of James Cook University saying “We’ll certainly see you off” and he thought “Oh Boy what’s going to happen” – there were banners of


support. And we got a wonderful welcome when we came home too from the local town, the local people, you know, people we played footie with and basketball and so on. That’s the beauty probably of being in a country town. We didn’t have the Melbourne or Sydney approaches or anything like that so we thought we were very lucky.
Now we’ve only unfortunately


I think I could sit here and talk to you for a day about all these things – we’ve only got a minute left – can I ask you, I’d just like to hand it to you and ask you if you’ve got anything to say for the record.
No, I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed my military service. I’ve served with some most wonderful people – you know, wonderful – I think that’s it.


OK, I’d like to thank you very much for your time, General.


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