Vietnam Diary – Part 4

Getting Up Some Time

October 1

I worked on Route 23 for 17 Construction all day although I had to fit a new PTO cable on my truck before I could even go out on the road.

Today was a normal sort of day taking loads out from Nui Dat. Being the last truck in the packet is not my favourite spot; you get everyone else’s dust and you have to keep an eye on the rear vision mirror for Provosts.

We did the last two loads of the day to the Ammo Point to fill in a soft hole where the forklifts were getting bogged.

Being the first back to the compound, I got lumbered with the job of taking a truck up to the lines to pick up rubbish from the HQ lines.

October 2

We worked again for 17 Construction all day.

At lunch time, we all gathered in the school at An Nhut for a luncheon to thank us for the new road we have built. The Assistant Province Chief and local Military Commander spoke. We had Coke and then rolls with tomato, lettuce and spices and then chunks of turkey cooked in oil.

It was really good of them to go to that trouble and it made us feel wanted and thanked. We didn’t realise that the road was this important to them.

 

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The school at An Nhut

October 3

We worked all day again to Route 23 for 17 Construction. The loader blew a tyre so I had to take out a new one, as well as a wheel spanner, on the top of my load.

I ended up doing 110 miles today.

The Nogs have been grazing their cows very close to the gates of Nui Dat recently and the Provosts have had to move them on. Today a herd was on the road and we thought that we would give them a helping hand by chasing them for about a mile in our trucks.

I tried to get to the PX but missed by ten minutes. Today is the first day it has been open after a new shipment has been brought up on the Jeparit. You need to get in early before they have sold out of some of the best things.

Brian Egan and I went over to the Civil Affairs Unit at night to see Miles and Murphy from 87. He ended up so drunk we had to carry him, to the Landrover to take him home. He wouldn’t be quiet and nearly fell out a couple of times. It’s a wonder that we weren’t shot at by a picket.

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A typical hamlet.

October 4

Today, I worked all day on a cargo truck. We left early to go to Phu My to pick up some Kiwi’s who were out with a land clearing team. We picked them up but we had trouble getting started as the tank trans­porter got bogged on the side of the road.

We had traffic banked up for miles as we tried to pull it out. In the meantime a Yank convoy passed all the vehicles that had stopped and completely blocked the road. While all this was happening we were trying to pull an 80 ton load out of a bog.

Today a two Phantom Jets and a Canberra bomber buzzed our airstrip. The Phantoms were really noisy but the Canberra was so quiet, it just seemed to glide up the strip.

October 5

Sunday – 192 and a wakey!

I took one load of rock (3" minus) to the Van Kiep Training Team and then carted laterite to 105 Bat­tery to a stupid position around their ammunition bunker. What an awfully tight place to try and dump a load.

After lunch we had to pack eight pallets of 105mm shells to be airlifted out. That was done in twenty minutes (good going) and then I went to the PX.

October 6

We’re working again for 17 Construction on Route 23. We had to wait until 10.00 am for them to arrive out on the job site.

This left us only enough time for one more load before lunch and we only carted another two in the afternoon.

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Our trucks at the quarry

October 7

This morning, I went to the RAP as my face is swell­ing as the ring tinea that I have seems to be getting in­fected.

I started to work on the road at 11.00 am.

After lunch we worked to the causeway that we have now finished to fill in some soft spots with rocks.

October 8

Working again, for 17 Construction from the Nui Dat quarry. I did two loads to Route 23 and then a few locally to 9 Troop of 17 Construction Squadron.

I went to the RAP to see about my face and have to go back again tomorrow.

In the afternoon we carried rock to the causeway which is being re-worked.

October 9

Working on the Baria run for 17 Construction.

The engineers were not at the site when we arrived so we dumped our loads and headed back for morning tea.

We worked on the same job for the rest of the day.

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Vietnamese Houses

October 10

I went back to the RAP and saw Doc to get some new treatment to clear up my face. I sat in the lines all day getting treatment and didn’t do any work

Today I had to fill in a form to register to vote in the elections that are coming up back home in Australia. Now that I am twenty one, I am allowed to vote. The forms were sent to the Assistant Returning Officer in Saigon.

October 11

A rest day. I went over to 8 Field Ambulance to see the doctor and see if I could go on R&R on the 19th. He said no because of my ring tinea and face, so I had to change places with another bloke to go at the end of November. What a disappointment! I sent a telegram home through Sigs and then sat down to write about why the dates will change.

We had a party in the RAEME area tonight for everyone going home in the next two months. It finished at 10.30 pm and no one really wanted to go to bed.

Brian Aspinell and Ron Clarke in my tent, both went to Hong Kong this morning for their R&R. Nick Psomadellis, the fourth person in our tent will be going home in on the day after tomorrow so I will have the tent to myself for a couple of days.

October 12

Sunday – 185 and a wakey!

We cleaned up after last night’s party and after lunch I had to sling a truckload of ammo for Air Despatch.

We thought that we were going to settle down for a free afternoon but at 4.30 pm we were called out to fill in a culvert that had been washed away towards Phu My. I went out in the gun-jeep to support our convoy of sixteen tip­pers. The trucks worked hard and did three escorted trips to fill in the hole. Even though curfew is at 6.00 pm we didn’t finish until 12.30 because we also had to winch a Vietnamese truck out of a bog We had dinner back at the Dat at 1.30 am By then we were pretty hungry.

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Waiting to load in the Nui Dat quarry

October 13

We had to be on the road at 7.00 am again to finish the job at the culvert. We did two loads with a lot of civilian traffic congestion and finished the job before lunch.

In the afternoon we had to clean up the lines and I ended up sleeping for a couple of hours to make up for a late night.

My face is starting to clear up a little by now but I still can’t shave.

October 14

I started as duty driver following the Doc’s instructions to keep out of the dust from the road. This meant that I spent all day running around in a Landrover like a taxi service picking up mail, taking officers to conferences and taking signals to the Sig. Centre at 1ATF.

I had to stay in the office at lunch time and picked up meals in lunch bags for the three of us on duty.

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Our Landrover

October 15

Duty Driver again. This morning I had to take a radio to the top of Nui Dat Hill to exchange it for one with a flat battery.

I did the usual jobs around the area and managed to take a few photos of things around the base.

The day finished with the ration run from 52 Supply Platoon to the messes.

October 16

Six Months In-Country today. I’m probably no longer regarded as a ‘Reo’.

Duty Driver again.

I took radios to the Sig Centre at Nui Dat Hill again but couldn’t install them so I had to bring them back. I took Captain Arbon to a conference and picked him up later. I had to stay in the office again for lunch.

In the afternoon I had a test fire of my rifle – the first time it has been used since I have been here.

Ron and Brian came back from R&R today after a good time in Hong Kong. They said that they were hounded by shopkeepers, tailors and waiters; all eager to take their money. They each spent over $500 while they were there.

October 17

In the morning I had to take an officer from 52 Supp­ly Platoon around to the messes to check on some canned milk that was going off.

In the afternoon I had to pop into Baria to collect a pane of glass to replace the one in a broken picture frame.

The airstrip was buzzed by two Canberra bombers this morning.

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NZ Bristol Freighter at Nui Dat Airstrip

October 18

Still on Duty Driver.

We found out at 2.00 pm that Brigadier Weir (Commander of 1ATF) was going to inspect the area and we had a real panic to get the place tidy. I met him at the Sergeants Mess while I was doing the ration run. He made quite a point about the ring tinea on my face.

One of our convoys was on the way to Vung Tau today when all of a sudden a US Huey Cobra Gun­ship landed in front of them and the pilot got out and gave our blokes two rocket motors and a warhead that were coming loose from one of the launchers. All he said was "Take these, I just saw that they were falling out and I’m in a hurry!" Being truck drivers, they were a bit cautious about them and took them to the ammo dump when they got back to the Dat.

October 19

Sunday – 178 and a wakey!

Duty Driver again all day.

I was told that the OC of TFMA had ordered me not to drive until my face had cleared up. Meeting the Brigadier was worth it after all!

I stayed in the yard and spent all afternoon on the standby section. Each Sunday, one section is on standby to respond to any potential action. The largest piece of action came from me having to type out Accident Report Forms for three accidents we had experienced recently.

October 20

To keep off the road, I have been assigned to the CSM. I started to work for him by painting the OR’s canteen. He told me to take my time and not to work too hard. I guess that this is the only job available to keep me occupied. Today I painted some of an outside wall and the beams supporting the roof.

I drew a picket for tonight and it rained for the first time in a week. We could hear the rain coming, and we just made it to the mess as it started to come down.

A Canberra bomber buzzed the airstrip again today.

October 21

I’m still painting the Canteen. I finished one wall inside and part of the end wall.

I spent most of the time in the mess eating toast and talking to the cooks.

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Our lines after we had replaced the sandbags with corrugated iron retaining walls

October 22

Still painting the Canteen.

I am trying to sort out colours with the stupid bloke who fills in the role of Barman. He has some silly ideas; he wants to paint one wall pink! I have finished two thirds of the job now.

Six of our blokes went home to Australia today.

October 23

More painting in the Canteen.

Today is payday but I didn’t draw any money as I still have enough left from last week.

October 24

Still painting the canteen.

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Flying over Nui Dat, looking from the Northwest.

October 25

Still painting the canteen. Today, I hardly did anything at all seeing no one was around to check.

I went to the orderly room today to fill in my postal vote for the election but found that the Returning Officer had enrolled me in the wrong electorate. I requested the right ballot papers but it means that they will have to be replaced from Saigon. What’s the point of having a vote when it gets stuffed up?

October 26

Sunday – 171 and a wakey!

I didn’t do anything all day. I tidied up my locker and found a few things I had forgotten were there. I went to the PX but there were too many people there so I didn’t bother to wait.

We have a new CO to replace Major Kilner. He has off-loaded many of the small tasks we have had to do on a Sunday, so we get most of the day off now. From next Sunday we are going to start having beach trips to Vung Tau again.

October 27

I started to paint the fence around the canteen this morning. I painted every second picket and then lost interest. I don’t really like painting very much.

October 28

Today I painted every other picket on the fence and then painted the rafters inside the canteen.

I went to see the doctor about my face. At 8 Field Hospital I watched the crew of the Medivac Chop
­per washing it out with a fire hose. It was covered in blood after a casualty who had been shot five times and was dusted-off during the night.

October 29

I have finished the canteen at last. I painted the last picket of the fence today, threw out the paint tins and cleaned the brushes. It was just like a finishing ceremony!

I spent most of the afternoon writing letters and reading. I am starting to run out of things to read by now.

Six new Reos arrived today. I am now in the second oldest group of people in the platoon. It only seems like a little while ago that I was a brand new Reo with less time up in country than anyone.

Brian Egan went on R&R and is about four days overdue on his return. We all hope that he is O.K. Failing to come back from R&R carries a charge of desertion. You can get shot for that!

October 30

The CSM is out at the forward TFMA at Phu My so the Acting CSM got me to paint two walls of the pick­et hut. I reckon I have done enough painting. I did one wall before lunch and the other afterwards. I tried not to work to hard and finished at 4.00 pm.

I don’t know what has happened to the elections. I have heard nothing more about my vote and the elections were on last Saturday. I guess that’s the way the army works.

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Looking to the north from SAS Hill (Nui Dat Hill).

October 31

More painting! Now it’s the Sergeants Mess where I am painting out the TV room in their boozer. My ring tinea must be a good excuse for painting everything. I thought that it was only in the Navy that everything that didn’t move got painted.

We spilt a little paint on the floor but didn’t worry too much.

We spent a lot of time drinking goffers and changed some greens and boots I had "L&D’d" for new ones at the Q Store.

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85 Transport Platoon’s ‘Road Runner’ sign on the office wall.

November 1

Our work party worked all day for the Acting CSM painting behind the bar in the Sergeant’s Mess. We did the walls two tones of grey and weren’t too particular about the job. We spent more time drinking goffers than working.

‘Pierre’ (Peter Byers) came back from driving today with two ducklings that he had bought for an apple, five cents and some chewing gum. They swim in his bowl but probably won’t make as good a pet as a monkey which some people keep as pets. The RAP give monkeys anti-rabies injections which makes them less of a risk to keep.

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November 2

Sunday – 164 and a wakey!

The spray plane flew over today spraying for mosquitoes. It is an American Hercules flying at about 100 feet and makes about 10 runs across the base. The spray smells like anything and it’s hard to get a sleep in with the noise of the plane.

After he left, the propaganda plane started broadcasting. It has a set of speakers and broadcasts a lot of garbage about the VC who should Chieu Hoi (Surrender). The plane flies at about 1500 feet and you can hear the broadcast for miles. I don’t know why they fly around Nui Dat because I don’t think too many people around here want to Chieu Hoi.

We were tasked to work for the CSM again, but he didn’t want us today. I came back up to the tent and spent all day ‘swanning’ around doing nothing.

November 3

Today, I worked for the CSM building a magazine rack for the Recreation Hut. All I had to do was cut up some boards so they would fit into a steel rack to form shelves. My second job was to fit some fly wire to the pig-pen (rubbish area where the food scraps are thrown into bins at the OR’s Mess).

It struck me today, just how young everyone here is. All of the Diggers are only 19-22 years old and most of the officers would be in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Some of the Regulars are only 18 or19. Our CO is only 25 and the CSM is only 28.

We think that most of the Regulars are pretty dumb. Before I was called up, I thought that all the ‘dills’ in the world worked for the railways; now I know that they are in the army. One of our Nasho Lance Cor­porals told one of our blokes who was clowning around on Pill Parade tonight, that he ‘didn’t even have the brains of a Reg.

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Recreation Hut

November 4

Again, I am working for the CSM taking oil to all the toilets ("Pissoires") and fire points. I pumped a few gallons of oil into each to keep the mosquitoes down.

I had another pretty easy day. This problem with my face is getting me out of some work, but it’s pretty boring.

Our standing orders have been changed so that we have a weapon inspection every night now on Pill Parade.

November 5

I started the day by going over to 8 Field Ambulance for a checkup about my face and the SMO admitted me to hospital. I flew to Vung Tau in a Dustoff Chop­per along with a Kiwi who had been injured in a grenade explosion while mowing grass around their lines. They took good care of him and gave him plasma on the way. The poor bloke was only a few days from going home. Another fellow on the chopper had burns that he received in some accident.

I saw a doctor and surgeon who decided not to do anything about the sores on my face. They said that they would go away naturally.

I spent all day in the hospital in the medical ward. The medical ward consists of twenty beds although only seven of them are occupied. The nurses seem to do a great job and provide excellent care. I the next bed is a bloke with whom I went through recruit training and who is now in 5 RAR.

November 6

I was discharged from hospital at 10.30 am after the morning inspection by three doctors; a Colonel, a Major and a Captain.

While waiting to go back to Nui Dat I had a haircut and bought a few things at the ‘Hong Kong’ gift shop for my camera. I saw some of the Vung Tau drivers and then went back to the hospital to hitch a ride back on a 5 RAR vehicle.

When I got back to 85’s compound, I picked up my rifle and returned my pay book to the office.

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Poor Houses on the side of the road from Vung Tau

November 7

My visit to hospital marked the end of the CSM’s work party. Today I am tasked to drive to the Pelican Pad.

My job was to fill a 1000 gallon bladder at the water point and then take it to the Pelican Pad where I fill 250 gallon seal
drums. These are flown out to the bush by helicopter. The water is pumped out of the truck into the drums which are then tipped on their end and bled of air using a forlklift. They are then topped up so they only contain water. I filled eight sealdrums today. This job is pretty unpopular and no one really likes to do it for long.

Up until now we have had to wear long trousers and shirts with sleeves rolled up at the Dat. At night, sleeves have to be rolled down as protection against malaria. In Vung Tau, shorts can be worn until din­ner. We are now allowed to do the same, providing that we are inside the wire. It has always seemed to me that there are more mosquitoes at Vung Tau anyway.

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Flying a load out from the Pelican Pad

November 8

I was woken up at 5.00 a.m. to be ready to leave at 6.30 am for FSB Discovery. I took a 1000 gallon bladder to top up their water tank, but they only needed half of it.

We had Normie Rowe as an escort today. It was fun to listen to the comeraderie that he and the tankies had on the radio All the time, they were passing silly menages down the line and singing..

In the afternoon, I filled sealdrums at the Pelican Pad to be flown out tomorrow. I was also meant to take 1000 gallons of water around to 52 Supply Platoon so that they could wash out the fridges but I ran out of time.

Last thing, I refuelled my truck and signed off the G2 (work order).

November 9

Sunday – 157 and a wakey!

I drove the water truck again this morning and filled up sealskins at the Pelican Pad.

I was in the standby section in the afternoon and we worked to load our tippers for tomorrow’s work. We blew up a flat tyre on another truck and tied down a 1000 gallon bladder on a cargo truck and filled it.

Our cargo trucks can be set up in a number of ways; high sides, center seating, flat top etc. No matter which way we get them set up, we get ordred to change them around another way. Bladders lie on the tray and are strapped down with webbing.

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A GP vehicle fitted with a 1000 gallon water bladder.

November 10

We left Nui Dat at 6.30 am to take loads of rock to Xuyen Moc. We took a big convoy of nearly 40 vehicles. All the earth moving equipment was up front; graders and dozers on tilt-beds. It took us three hours to do the 24 miles to get there. Our top speed was 11 mph in third gear. The rock had to be used to fill in culverts and bridge approaches so that the heavy equipment could get through.

When we got there some villagers came out with some coke for sale. What a sight for sore eyes! Some of us conned them into selling us some ‘Balmy Balm’, our name for Vietnamese beer. The brand of beer here is "333" and is pronounced Ba Ba Ba. We cor­rupt it to ‘Balmy Balm’ because of the affect it has.

The trip back was slightly faster but still slow over a very rough road.

The ducks had to go today. We took them down to the dam and let them go. At Pill Parade yesterday the OC decided that they were getting a bit out of hand and that we couldn’t keep them.

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Our earthmoving convoy leaving the Dat Do gates.

November 11

Remembrance Day

We worked with the American Seabees for a change today on a civil affairs job building roads around a hamlet to the south of Dat Do.

We had lunch near the school surrounded by hordes of children looking on. The village chief came out in the end and moved them on and gave us a bit of peace. They showed us how to eat the seeds of a tree that looked a bit like a Jacaranda. Not much chop!

We did about 170 yards of road which took fourteen loads from the Horseshoe quarry.

November 12

I was meant to go to Vung Tau for a check up but couldn’t because my medical records had not come back from the hospital. I hope that they have not been lost as it will mean that I’ll have to have all my injections again.

I spent the morning changing tyres and in the after­noon I took a tipper to the Pelican Pad to pick up some rubbish to go to the tip.

I had picket duty tonight as duty driver. We had a practice alert while I was in the middle of a job delivering Chinook movements to 1 ATF. Everyone was running around madly with pretend ambulances and make believe fire trucks and the night was a complete shambles.

I didn’t stop driving until 11.00 pm and my shift on picket started at 3.00 am so I didn’t get much sleep. Early morning pickets have to make any early morning wake up calls as well as to light the `choofers’ which run on petrol and heat the water for the showers and messes.

November 14

This morning, I went down to Vung Tau in an 8 Field Ambulance Landrover to see the doctor for a follow up. He gave me a local anaesthetic and lanced the lumps that had formed on my face.

I tried to con Jill, an interpreter at the hospital, into coming back to Nui Dat with me but she wouldn’t be in it.

I had lunch with the 2 Platoon boys in their mess and went to the Badcoe Club after lunch. I came back in the afternoon convoy and got back to the Dat at 5.00 pm.

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Bars in Vung Tau

November 15

Back driving for 17 Construction all day to Route 23 out of Nui Dat. I did eight trips and 146 miles all day.

The road works has now reached Long Dien and there is a fair bit of congestion in the village with trucks dumping and turning around, especially near the market.

I counted the gear changes on one trip and they totalled ninety seven. On eight trips, which is about normal for a day, that means that I change gears eight hundred times.

The Yanks have set up some 8 inch guns at Baria to shell the Long Hai Hiils. They are so big, they have to be machine loaded. They are self propelled on tracks.

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The Long Dien Market.

November 13

I am back working for Civil Affairs carrying rock to Dat Do for village roads. The Seabees tell us that about 80% of this hamlet are active VC. That explains why the village chief was anxious that we left early the other day. Their men were probably going to be coming back into the village.

The quarry ran out of rock in the afternoon, so went back to Nui Dat early. Perhaps this way we’ll miss the VC coming and going from the village again.

I found out that my medical records were at 8 Field Ambulance and tha
t they are now back in the Order­ly Room. Having to repeat a whole series of cholera, plague, polio, and whatever other injections was not something I was looking forward to.

We were told, on Pill Parade, to expect a rocket or mortar attack over the next few days.

An Australian army radio station opened in Vung Tau today. It is playing a mixture of its own music as well as Radio Australia programs like the news and sport. It will only operate for about 3/4 of the day but it is a nice change from only having the American Radio to listen to.

November 16

Sunday – 7 Months up today, 150 and a wakey.

I had all day off after working last Sunday. I was rostered for a beach trip but decided not to go as I was only down there two days ago and I don’t have any money. Instead, I spent all day writing letters, sleeping and lazing about.

November 17

I’m not tasked for work so I spent all morning being lumbered with jobs around the compound. I worked on my truck in order to try and look busy and checked the tyres, battery and cleaned the CES.

After lunch Sgt. Watkins took me down to the dam where a pump had been set up and he washed my truck. I think he must have fallen out of his tree! He’s never done anything like that before! However, it certainly looked different when it was clean.

I started a service at about 4.00 pm and had the truck greased before we knocked off.

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Prisoner of War compound, Nui Dat

November 18

I finished the service this morning and checked all the oil levels. Sgt. Kenyon inspected it and took it for a test run. The main repairs it needs are to replace the prop shaft, modify the brake light switch, fix the stop/tail lights, tighten the compressor belts and straighten the mudguard.

We got paid today owing to our resupply ship, the Jeparit, coming in to Vung Tau.

November 19

I started the day at 5.30 am to do the early morning water run. After delivering 1000 gallons around the place I knocked off for breakfast at 9.30 am and then went down to the workshop.

The Provosts have been booking a few of our blokes for speeding, so today I only gave them half as much water as normal. They must have a pretty dry existence as most of the the other drivers do the same thing.

Back at the workshop, I completed a few more jobs on the truck. I de-rusted the cabin and painted it with zinc chromate to stop it rusting again.

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The runway at Nui Dat from the water point

November 20

My truck is still in the workshop. We had all the jobs finished by lunchtime; the last being to fixed the bumper bar which we did by ramming it with a forklift until it was straight.

After lunch I sat around in the drivers tent all afternoon and pottered around my truck to try and look busy. I ended up helping to put up a new fence around the back of the compound.

November 21

Today, I’m tasked back on the Current Affairs job at Dat Do. We didn’t work too hard as the loader driver wasn’t too energetic and held us up a lot at the quarry. We finished one track after lunch and started on a new one in the middle of the hamlet. The quarry ran out of rock after lunch and we finished at 4.00 pm.

We came back to the Dat through the East Gate using the short way through Long Tan. This road comes back through the centre of the battle field where the Battle of Long Tan was fought in Tet 1968. It is a bit awe inspiring to drive through such a place. All that is left now is the jungle and the remains of a few buildings.

November 22

Back working for 1 Field Squadron all day.

After doing two loads, the quarry ran out again. The Engineers blasted some out with 12 Beehives of 401bs of explosive. We had great fun watching all the Nogs, who share responsibility for the Horseshoe, jump every time one exploded. One blast threw a rock through the petrol tank of the truck in front of the one that we were sitting behind. Another went through the CO’s tent and others bounced off the mess roof.

We finished the day filling in the low spots in the road ready for sealing.

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A Centurion tank leaves 106 Field Workshops.

November 23

Sunday – 143 and a wakey!

We worked all morning carrying laterite from the pit near Hoa Long to 9 RAR’s area.

An officer was murdered there last night by one of the diggers. Someone threw a hand grenade onto the mosquito net over his bed early in the morning. 9 RAR are due to go home in only four days! Perhaps someone took their last chance to get even before they left. It’s not an appropriate way to do it, but I guess that’s the way some people think.

We could get in to 9 RAR’s area OK, but all the exits were sealed by Regimental Police. We couldn’t get out again without clearance which we finally got from the RSM and Adjutant.

We took six loads there before lunch and had a free afternoon.

November 24

I’m tasked to work for 17 Construction Squadron all day. I had an NCO with me all day as section leader, but it was just a normal day’s work.

It doesn’t rain much now. There is still a bit of cloud around but it only rains every few weeks or so, rather than every day. In the wet season you could just about set your watch by the rain. It would start at about 3.30 pm and rain until about 6.00 pm Then it would stop until about 8.30 pm and rain again until after mid­night. When it rained, it really poured! I reckon we would have over an inch every day.

We have discovered a stall in Dat Do which sells banana fritters. We can swap two apples for five banana fritters. Apples are going well and sell for 40 Piaster in the Baria Market. We get cases of them which we can’t eat and we can get a whole truckload of sandbags filled by the nogs for half a case.

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Houses near Dat Do

November 25

I’m on Duty Driver today which will give me time to go for my R&R medical at 1.00 p.m. I did the usual jobs of picking up the mail from the post office and running people around.

After lunch, I went to the RAP and ended up with my medical being a walk in, walk out, one question job. I passed O.K. and then took my documents to HQ to be processed and had my R&R arrangements fixed up.

November 26

I am not tasked today as my truck broke down yesterday while someone else was driving it, with the gears jammed in neutral. I fixed it myself by belting the gear stick to the left with a hammer

After that I carried a few loads of rock for 161 Recce Flight to the side of the air strip where it has been wash
ed away by rain. It meant having to drive right up the runway. I think the air traffic controller in the tower thought that I was going to dump it in the wrong place as he got awfully worried when he saw me heading for the strip. I had already obtained clearance from the control office before I was able to go onto the runway and they can’t have told him.

November 27

Back working for 17 Construction all day carrying rock to Long Dien for the road. We didn’t work too hard and I had an NCO with me in the morning and became lead truck in the packet. At least there is no dust this way.

Our section leader changed trucks in the afternoon as I had to go back to the workshop because the al­ternator light was coming on all the time. I had it fixed and did another three trips after lunch.

I bought some Christmas Cards at the PX on the way back to the compound after the last trip of the day.

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Long Dien roadworks amidst the local traffic

November 28

I worked for 1 Field Squadron from Nui Dat to Route 23 as the Horseshoe Quarry is out of rock. We tried a few different ways to get there for variety, but mostly we went out the back way through Long Tan. We drove flat out all the way.

Because we had lunch back at Nui Dat the Engineer Sergeant made us do another load at 5.00 pm. This meant that we didn’t get back until 6.00 pm..

He seemed to think that we would get more done if we had lunch on the road but we can’t see that it would make any difference.

November 29

I’m not tasked today in order to get ready for R&R.

I had all the paperwork done in the morning and changed my money over to Australian dollars. I spent all morning packing and trying to arrange everything to take home. In the afternoon, I polished my shoes which have not seen the light of day since I got here. My polyesters have also come out ready to wear home.

I’m pretty excited about getting home and I had to find things to do to fill in the time. I talked for a while to Doc, our medic, who goes on his R&R the day after me, but it didn’t help tomorrow come any faster.

November 30

I was up at 5.00 am. and had a shower and got dressed.

I left at 7.30 am. on Wallaby One for Saigon.

We had a briefing when I got there and were given a short bus tour of the city. Lunch was at the US Airman’s Mess and we had to be back by 2.00 pm. for customs and currency change at Camp Alpha.

In the evening all those going to Australia were taken by buses to a World Airways plane. There were about twenty Australians and all the rest were Yanks going to Sydney. We left Saigon at 6.00 pm and arrived back on Australian soil in Darwin at 11.30 pm. to refuel. I called my family from the airport and spoke to them for the first time in seven months.

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A street in Saigon.

December 1

The plane left Darwin at 1.00 am. and arrived in Syd­ney at 6.05 am. I passed through Customs within half an hour and caught the 7.15 am. TAA flight to Melbourne.

It seems very odd that I am in the middle of people travelling on their normal business while I am only 12 hours away from a war. I sat next to a woman on the plane who seemed interested in Vietnam but just didn’t understand.

Everyone in the family was waiting at Essendon when the plane arrived and it was really great to see them all. We all drove home to Sue’s for a cup of tea and then went home for lunch.

I took Sue to her work at the ABC studio at Ripponlea at 3.00 pm. and found it really hard to drive on the left of the road again.

December 2

After waking up and with no Pill Parade or Roll Call to bother about, I went around to Sue’s. We went shopping for a record turntable to go with my tape recorder.

We called in to see my Grandmother on the way back home to Sue’s for lunch.

The rest of the day was spent talking to people who came by to catch up and say hello.

December 3

I went into the city this morning to change my return flight back to Sydney to a later time. I might as well spend as much time at home as I can.

I did some shopping and helped Mum get ready for about fifty friends and relatives she has organised to have at home tonight to see me.

December 4

In order to relax and see some of our favourite places, Sue and I went to Lorne for the day. I felt like I needed to get out of the city and be somewhere quiet. We arrived back home at 11.00 pm. after having a great day together.

December 5

Because Sue was working, I went in to see the people with whom I used to work at Mayne Nickless. I went out to lunch with Don Maling who was my old boss and had a long talk about life, the war and things in general.

I had intended to stay for an hour or so but it was 5.00 pm. before I left their office. I sure am looking forward to being back at work again. Its been nearly 18 months since I worked there, and it will be good to pick things up again.

I took Sue out to a special dinner at the Palm Lake at night.

December 6

My last day of R&R. I went shopping for a few things to take back to Vietnam with me. After lunch I went down to Bill Blackmore’s parent’s place to drop off some of his things that I had brought home for him.

I called in to see my Aunt Phyl, and then packed up and headed for the airport. I found it very hard to say goodbye to everyone. I really wondered whether the difficulty and emotions of leaving were worth it. Maybe I should have gone to one of the other R&R places like Hong Kong or Bangkok. This goodbye was even harder than when I first went to Vietnam. Then it was a bit of an adventure with some excitement; now I know exactly what I have to go back to.

In Sydney I caught a taxi to a hotel in Kings Cross which a TAA `Hostie’ had suggested. I could have gone back to ECPD at Watsons Bay, but I reckon it was worth avoiding the army as long as I can.

I booked in and put in an early call for 5.00 am. I can’t afford to miss the plane tomorrow or I will be in big trouble.

December 7

I woke up at 5.00 am. before the early call came through and shaved and showered. Then I caught a taxi to the R&R Centre near ‘The Cross’ and after a briefing, I caught a bus to the plane.

We stopped in Darwin at 11.30 am. and arrived back in Saigon at 4.00 pm.

It was too late by then to catch the last Wallaby to Nui Dat so I spent the night at Camp Alpha. I watched a show at the Airman’s Mess and went to the Playboy Club with a few Yanks and then went back to my bed to sleep for the night.

December 8

We had to hang around Camp Alpha until 8.00 am. What a depressing place – a big impersonal staging point with strange customs for me as an Australian and no one I know.

I caught a bus to RAAF Movements and had to wait until 11.30 am. for the Wallaby. As we were taking off, there was a bang and red hydraulic oil sprayed everywhere down the right side of the plane. An oil line had broken and we were grounded until parts could be flown up from Vung Tau.

I filled in the time by talking and playing cards with some American Red Cross Girls. We finally left at 3.30 pm. and I a
m sure that the only thing any of us were looking at all the way during the flight was that starboard engine. If concentration was effective, it had to be O.K. this time.

I eventually arrived at Nui Dat at 4.00 pm., unpack­ed and called it a day for R&R. By now I have decided that it was all worth while even though saying goodbye was as hard as ever.

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Village near Nui Dat from the air

December 9

I’m not tasked today and all I could do was to hang around the compound all morning.

I was grabbed just before lunch for a task driving a Landrover and ended up as Duty Driver for the rest of the day.

In the afternoon, I went to the RAP as I am hearing less from my left ear and it has an infection. I was just too busy on my R&R to care about it.

December 10

I started work today as garbo driver for the Pelican Pad.

This job is to cart away all the rubbish such as pallets and wire strapping which is left after slinging loads of ammunition for air despatch to the field.

There was not much driving to be done today. I sat around most of the day except for getting a couple of loads of gravel for a few soft spots on the pad.

I’m still not too happy about being back from R&R. I wouldn’t mind in the least if I could have stayed home permanently.

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A Chinook operating from the Pelican Pad.

December 11

At the Pelican Pad again. There was hardly any rubbish to take in the morning, but in the afternoon I took a load of empty shell cases to the dump near Luscombe.

5 RAR have moved in from FSB Picton and we carted a few loads of corrugated iron and timber around the place as they were bought in by Chinook. No one wanted them. We took them to 5 RAR, then to TFMA and then to 21 Support Troop before I could find anyone who wanted to take them.

I went back to the RAP about my ear and had some antiseptic gauze changed, but it still doesn’t seem any better.

We are now going through a period when industrial action at home is affecting us. The wharfies have black banned our supplies which is making life tough and the posties have bans on some mail. Most of the blokes are writing letters home with protests (W.A.W. for Whallop A Wharfie, or P.A.P. for Punch A Postie) on them.

December 12

On the Pelican Pad Garbo run again.

I started by doing the usual road clearance job with 52 Supply Platoon along Canberra Avenue, to collect garbage and any rubbish on the road and then went to the Pelican Pad.

I carted two loads of Ammo boxes away; one to 8 RAR and another to our Cooks lines. After lunch I sneaked two loads of rock out of the quarry without authorisation for the Pelican Pad and then went back to the workshop.

I started to change a tyre which was worn right down to the canvas but gave up in the rain after trying to blow it up without a valve.

The food in our mess seems really poor lately. Some­times it’s the food which is no good, but mostly it’s the Cooks or at least the Catering Sergeant who has about as much imagination as a Girl Guide in a butcher’s shop. Anyway, I only have sixty more days and I’ll have three hundred up. Then I’ll be really `short’.

On Picket tonight and I had the first shift in the rain.

December 13

My truck is still in the workshop. I finished changing the tyre as well as another bald one. Ray Knight the mechanic, had finished all the work by lunch time and then I went down to the new Community Centre for a haircut. After coming back to the compound I did a few jobs in a Landrover before knock-off time.

It started raining after dinner and kept on until well after bedtime. This is the second night it has rained. We all thought that the dry was here.

December 14

Sunday – 124 and a wakey!

On the Pelican Pad Garbo run again. I caught a joy ride in a chopper out to FSB Discovery and back as it carried ammunition. It was pretty noisy but the view and scenery were good. We had four slings of artillery ammo slung on a hook underneath and flew at about 2000 feet doing around 70 knots.

The pilot could recognise the FSB by the colour of the smoke grenade they let off. The smoke also told him about him about the wind direction.

I was on standby section all afternoon and at 5.30 pm we had to find all the PSP (Perforated Steel Plating) we could lay our hands on. A troop of tanks are bogged in the paddies out at Dat Do and we need it to get them out.

We didn’t knock off until 7.30 pm. and byh then we were in a stinking frame of mind. Supplies are very hard to get with our supply ship. the Jeparit, being black banned by the unions. We raided every source we could find to get the PSP and came up with 80 pieces.

The bloke I really felt sorry for was a Captain at ATFHQ who has been awake for the last 55 hours trying to find urgent supplies from anywhere he can.

Two of our trucks and a gun jeep took a platoon from 5 RAR out as protection for the bogged tanks.

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Yellow smoke from the FSB

December 15

I am in a packet of tippers working for 1 Field Squadron at Dat Do from the Horseshoe today.

We had to eat ration packs for lunch.

I have been waving and talking to little kid called Lee and when he has been waiting by the side of the road I have taken him up for an occasional ride. I picked him up today and through a mixture of words and sign language he tells me that his dad is a Sergeant in the ARVN and he has five brothers and one sister. Their ages are 12, 11, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2.

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My little mate Lee who was always on for a ride in a truck.

December 16

Back on the Pelican Pad garbage run again.

I got into trouble with the WO2 at the quarry for filching rock for the Pelican Pad without an order for it. The Air Despatch blokes are RAASC too, and we ought to help each other. Not to worry! I’m only a Nasho! I’ll let the Reg’s worry about that sort of thing.

I received my first Christmas card from home today.

Some people are starting to bury cans of grog in as many hiding places as they can to be sure of having some for Christmas. We may not have any with the way supplies are now and the problems with the Jeparit.

Today, we all received a Christmas parcel from the Australian Forces Overseas Fund. Mine was donated by the Waverly RSL. It had a lot of good things in it – pen, writing pad, soap, nugget, book, bottle of cordial, peanuts, polishing cloth, toothpaste, shaving cream, razor blades and some sweets. It feels nice to be supported by those at home who do care.

December 18

I was up a
t 6.00 am. to catch Wallaby One to Saigon to see an American Ear Specialist. I have a fungal growth on my left ear drum and the Australian doctors don’t seem to want to work on ears. Two other fellows who came with me had to see the eye specialist.

After arriving in Saigon we were taken to the Free World Building (Allied Headquarters) and then to an American Hospital. After seeing the doctor, I went around to the Capital Hotel (an American Billet) and had lunch. There is another hotel called the Canberra which is the Australian Billet. The T -Bone steak I had was as big as the whole plate. Then we went to the Cholon PX, which is just like a super­market, and bought some gear. After that the three of us walked around some of the local streets to do some sight seeing.

On getting back to the Free World Building, we found that we had missed the bus to Tan San Nhut Airport, so we had to catch a taxi. Three of us were crammed into a tiny Renault. What an experience! No wonder they are called "Kamikazes".

December 17

I worked all day doing the Jerry Can run before starting the Pelican Pad garbage run. This means having to collect all the jerry cans from around TFMA and fill them at the water point. Then they get returned to the water stands in the lines. I reckon we fill about sixty on the average day.

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The Free World Headquarters in Saigon.

December 19

I am tasked to do a 4000 mile service on my truck today.

I spent half the morning trying to get the grease gun to work and finally was able to get the job started. I had my truck inspected by the RAEME Sergeant and then took it off the servicing ramp. I put it over to the side of the workshop area and started to do the driver’s jobs on it until a mechanic was available.

The EIS team are currently inspecting all the vehicles and making lots of work for the mechanics and drivers.

December 20

I still have my truck on the side of the workshop area, waiting for the mechanic.

I am doing odd jobs such as tightening the chassis bolts and fitting new grease nipples.

I got the old girl into the workshop in the afternoon and by the time I had pulled the muffler off, it was time to knock off.

December 21

Sunday – 117 and a wakey!

I headed down to the workshops in the morning and pottered around my truck. I fitted a new muffler and then called it a day.

In the afternoon I did some washing and wrote a couple of letters. It was a nice sunny afternoon and I just sat around enjoying myself.

After an armourer’s inspection, I handed in my rifle to be repaired by 106 Field Workshop. I have to use an Automatic Rifle in the meantime. It is basically the same as an SLR, and is much heavier than my Ar­malite.

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American 8 inch guns

December 22

I’m still in the workshop doing repairs. We put on a new jack-shaft this morning as well as a new hose from the hoist reservoir to the PTO pump.

One of the mechanics is named "Flash" and its not because he thinks fast! I had to help him work out how to do some of the work and I’m no sort of mechanic. After lunch we tuned the engine and put in new spark plugs.

I picked up my rifle from a weapon inspection and found it had been fitted with a new barrel, stock and sights. It previously had too much head room between the bolt and the chamber and was in danger of exploding back if it were fired!

I sat in our tent at night to write a few letters.

December 23

Still in the workshops having the last jobs done on my truck. Later in the morning, I went back to the Pelican Pad garbo run again.

I didn’t do anything but empty the rubbish bins and collect wire and garbage from unpacked ammo boxes.

A quite easy day.

December 24

Christmas Eve

Today started at 6.30 am and I was on the job at 17 Construction Squadron. We carried rock all day and dumped it on the stockpile opposite Long Dien Market.

I was called in to the compound at 10.30 am. for an EIS inspection and had to change the oil in the front differential as it had water in it.

We sat around all night talking and listening to Christmas Carols on the radio. The planes with loud speakers that broadcast to the Nogs were flying around the Dat playing Carols.

At midnight, a few of us went to the Luscombe Bowl for Midnight Mass. It is only a short walk through the rubber trees from our lines and was a nice thing to do. It was also the closest place where any form of Christmas church service was to be held.

December 25

Christmas Day

All our platoon were woken up at 7.00 am with Ser­geant Watkins giving us a cup of rum laced coffee in bed. At about 8.00 am a Landrover appeared along the road with a Father Christmas ringing a bell and waving to us all.

After getting over the shock of being woken up in this way, we got up and mucked around until 10.30 am when a show by the ABC Dance Band started at the Bowl.

The Officers and Sergeants served our lunch; prawn cocktail, chicken soup, a curry entree and then roast turkey with vegetables, followed by Christmas Pudding.

Ron Clarke who had been to Hong Kong on R&R attended lunch in a bottle green coloured suit he had bought, complete with service ribbons.

We all had the afternoon off as we have arranged a cease fire with the VC, and spent it relaxing in the lines. Brigadier Weir came around the base in his Landrover wishing everyone he saw a Merry Christmas. He stopped and chatted to us for a while.

Tonight we have an all Australian Barbecue for dinner which was great. We even had Aussie sausages and steak.

This has been the only time I have felt really homesick since I have been here. I have handled the rest pretty well – probably because we have been so busy. Christmas has always been a pretty big family time for me and I am missing that a bit now.

There were only a few jobs on today – garbo, water and an emergency vehicle but they were manned by the Corporals so that the ‘Digs’ could have the day off.

December 26

Boxing Day, and we are back working for 1 Field Squadron all day at the Horseshoe to build a by-pass around a bridge so that it can be widened.

We all had a couple of hours sleep when we first ar­rived; 1 Field Sqdn must have been still recovering from Christmas and were late.

In the afternoon we did four loads and I had a puncture on the last one. I headed back to the Dat early to fix it but I still didn’t get it finished until 5.30 pm.

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Tippers in Baria.

December 27

I have a follow up visit to the ear specialist and was up at 6.00 am and had the duty driver take me to Luscombe at 7.00 am to catch the Wallaby.

I flew to Saigon and saw the Doctor. He was finished with me by 11.30 am
and I then went to the PX in the bus. I bought some gear and went to Saigon in a taxi. I had a look at Trung en Dou St. which is the main thoroughfare, and walked around taking in everything there was to see. It was easy to see the amount of French influence – open-air shops, French car firms and big villas. I even saw Vietnam’s one and only train line. My biggest problem was running out of money too quickly.

I caught a taxi straight to the airport in the afternoon and waited for the Wallaby back to Nui Dat. Riding in a Saigon taxi has to be one of the scariest things a man can do! In one stretch we passed between two trucks with 3 inches to spare on either side, around another taxi on the wrong side, through a horde of motor bikes and then back to the centre of the road.

December 29

I’m on the TFMA Garbage run today. I did the water run first and then went straight on to the garbage run.

We worked flat out to try and get as much done in the morning as there is a show on in the afternoon. The show is by a Vietnamese group who volunteer to entertain overseas forces here.

When I got back to the yard, I got a blast for not reporting in to the Duty Sergeant in the morning. I got out of it by impressing him with a story about my desire and zeal to get on with the job. They say that bull dust baffles brains and it sure worked this time.

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On the garbage run

December 28

Sunday – 110 and a wakey!

I worked in the morning carrying laterite to 105 Bat­tery and to 101 Battery so that they could make bunkers around their new ammo points. Before I could start, I had to fit a new rocker cover gasket as oil sprayed everywhere when I started the engine up.

In the afternoon I did some washing and we covered the table in our tent with plastic to keep it clean.

Today was a normal type of Sunday afternoon.

December 30

My first job was to do the water jerry can run for TFMA. I picked up all the jerry cans from the lines – 72 of them and then dumped a load of rubbish.

I had that job finished by 11.00 am and spent the afternoon working underneath the truck tightening the chassis bolts and fixing up some EIS jobs.

December 31

Working for 1 Field Squadron at Dat Do near an ARVN post.

Today was a normal day except for being charged for speeding and negligent driving on Route 23 by an En­gineer Sergeant.

I went to the movies at night while the others in the tent taped the top one hundred hits of 1969 which were being played on the American Forces Radio. A song called ‘Sugar Sugar’ came out as number one for the year, with ‘Aquarius’ coming second.

At 10.00 pm a great cheer went up in the lines signifying that it turned midnight at home. This was followed by everyone walking around for all hours shaking hands as we saw the New Year in at the local time. The place settled down by 12.30 am when everyone finally got to bed.

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Protecting the garbage truck from the enemy!

Proceed on to Part 5 – Short on Time Now

3 comments

  1. paul edgerton · ·

    great pictures my father was in 85 transport
    graham edgerton any photos of him or any more of
    the guys he served with would be appreciated
    as his have all been lost. i would love to see them.

  2. john baldock · ·

    Just a quick one in defence of the much maligned GASTRONOMICAL ENGINEERS(cooks),i did not hear of one bloke dying of starvation while i was there in 69/70 both at Vung Tau and Nui Dat,having said that your diary is a great reminder of what went on .I was in 2Transport Platoon as a cook.

  3. It is wonderful of memories.I was born in Baria -Phuoc Tuy.I left my home townin 1975 when I was 17 years old.Thank you for everything.
    We love you … We love AU.

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