Leaving my unit at Puckapunyal and departing for Vietnam
March 26, 1969
March out from Puckapunyal
Today is my last day at Puckapunyal, the army base where I have been posted ever since being called up into the army last July. I have spent ten weeks here completing Recruit Training, another eight at RAASC’s (Royal Australian Army Service Corp) Driver Training Centre and then I was posted to 87 Transport Platoon, part of 26 Company RAASC – a resupply unit for Vietnam.
Recruit Training Barracks – Puckapunyal
With a mixture of regret and anticipation I marched out of 87 Transport Platoon at 11.30 am after all the rigmarole of collecting all my relevant army documents and pay book etc. I was transferring to the Southern Command Personnel Depot as the first stage of my posting to Vietnam.
I drove down to Melbourne with a mate, Bill Blackmore, who is also on his way to Vietnam. We had lunch at the pub at Kalkallo and then we went to report to SCPD (Southern Command Personnel Depot) at Watsonia Army Barracks. Here we had a Q Issue of combat gear to add to our regular kit and also underwent a final medical.
There seemed to be some problem with some un-signed debits in my pay book and SCPD had to phone 26 Company at Pucka to confirm that everything was O.K. Bill & I decided to stay at Watsonia overnight and we went to Bill’s home to pick up a utility in which we can take our gear home tomorrow.
Being assigned a room here has a strange feeling to it. It’s a new and unfamiliar place, but like other barracks, we feel ‘at home’ in an army bed which would h ave the same ‘feel and touch’ anywhere.
Barracks at Puckapunyal
Before leaving Watsonia we were paid and I went home at about 10.30 am. I called Sue (my girlfriend with whom I shared a birthday and with whom I had been going out for a number of years) at her work. She was surprised that I was home so early. At night we went into the city and walked around, soaking up the feeling of being together while we could.
I had all day to myself seeing that Sue was still working. I helped Mum with a few chores and tidied up a few minor bits and pieces around home. I took Sue out at night and she got into trouble with her parents for not getting home until 2.00 am.
Sue worked all morning but I saw her for a while in the afternoon. Tonight I attended the last meeting of the youth group that I had been leading at our church. It was pretty successful with about 12 – 15 kids attending. I had managed to keep up some involvement with them up until now, even though Puckapunyal was 60 miles away.
Afterwards, Sue, Colin (my brother) and another friend, Bill and I went to the El Greco coffee lounge in Balwyn to plan how to decorate the hall for my going away and twenty-first birthday party next week. I thought that it would have been better if one of the regular folk singers had been there, but it was still a good night.
I went to church in the morning and spent all day with Sue. I wanted to be with her as much as I could. At night I went back to Church for a farewell service feeling a mixture of excitement, fear and uncertainty about what was going to happen from now on. Mum, Sue and my Aunt were all upset and in tears. I asked Sue if she would become engaged to marry me but she (more wisely than me) decided that we should leave it until I came home again. It seemed better to keep an unofficial engagement and just announce it later.
I didn’t do anything at all this morning but assuming that I would have the occasional leave in the high spots of Vung Tau or Nui Dat, I went into town in the afternoon to buy some civvies to take with me to Vietnam. It was hard to find summer shirts but I managed to get some things in which I thought I would look rather dapper. I also bought some decorations for my party and met Sue at her work to bring her home for dinner.
I had a lend of my Aunt’s car for the day and went out with Sue to Macedon, Daylesford, Castlemaine and Bendigo. This was a great day out seeing some of my relations and the countryside which I really liked. We drove about 300 miles during the day and I enjoyed it enormously.
Today I went into Mayne Nickless’s office (the company where I worked before I was called up) to say goodbye to everyone. I saw Vicki Kristens and Graeme McKinty, both of whom I got on well with. Don Maling (my boss) was in Adelaide and I missed being able to say goodbye to him. Afterwards I went into the city to do some more shopping and had dinner with Sue.
Today I had another loan of my Aunt’s car and we picked up some party supplies as well as taking Mum to do her shopping. Sue and I went for a drive just to be together and watched some ships coming and going from Princes Pier at Port Melbou
rne. Sue came home for dinner
I spent most of the morning planning how to decorate the hall for my party. During the afternoon, some of my family came along and helped. I took all the family to a local Chinese restaurant for a feed of ‘Sweet and Sour’ in he evening. I don’t know when I’ll ever get a good Chinese meal again.
This morning I finished decorating the hall for my party and in the afternoon I stormed out to Sue’s home after an argument with her Dad about nothing important.
We had dinner early, to enable us to get to my party and I had a wonderful time with over seventy friends and relations wishing me a safe trip and a happy birthday. A three piece band played well all night and kept us all on the dance floor. The party finished at midnight and then we all went to my Aunt Phyl’s to continue. I took Sue home at 4.00 a.m. and fell into bed at 4.45 am What a night!
After last night I didn’t get up until 11.00 am and left in a somewhat tired state to go around to Sue’s for lunch. One of Sue’s friends, Margaret Brookman, came as well. In the afternoon we played records and pulled down the decorations from the party. After we had finished, I collected Sue and went to my Aunt’s to return her car which I had borrowed.
Today is my last day of pre-embarkation leave. All the family want to maximise their time with me and they had organised a family picnic at Kerr’s Park. I am feeling very tense about what to anticipate after I depart. I feel both excitement and insecurity. Everybody seems to know someone who has been to Vietnam and each has a story to tell. How much is truth and how much is fiction remains to be seen.
On the way home I said an initial private goodbye to Sue as tomorrow when I catch the train everybody will be there. This is my last time alone with her.
At home I packed my civilian clothes and said good-bye to the last few neighbours I had not yet seen.
Bill Blackmore picked me up at 7.30 am to go to Watsonia to report to the Army Movements Office. We had a kit check and I bought an extra pair of boots and a hootchie.
We travelled into town by taxi to the RMO (Regimental Movements Ofice) at Spencer Street Railway Station. Eventually I came home to Sue’s mother’s for lunch as in true army fashion there was nothing to do at SCPD and I spent a final afternoon at home. Dad took us all into Spencer Street Station at night to catch the train to Sydney.
Bill and I were the first people from our national service intake to leave 87 Transport Platoon and a few of the fellows leaving next week came to wave us goodbye and see us off. We offered to form a reception committee for them at the other end when they arrived in Vietnam.
It was quite a tearful farewell by all the family as the train pulled away from the platform and my ‘adventure’ began.
Having had some army practice at sleeping anywhere, I found the 12 hour train trip to Sydney to be O.K. We arrived in Sydney at 9.30 am to catch a bus to ECPD (Eastern Command Personnel Depot) at Watson’s Bay. Here we had another medical and Tab/Tet III injection. Blanket issue occurred after lunch and we sat around watching the ships come and go through the heads while we contemplated our futures. The harbour was a beautiful sight at night; it would be hard to imagine a prettier picture. One advantage of leaving through Sydney is that I have not been here before and this may give me a chance to see some of the sights of one of the most vibrant cities in Australia.
We started the day at 8.30 am erecting staging at Victoria Barracks for a ceremonial ‘Beating Of The Retreat’ by the NSW Regiment. We came back to ECPD to get paid before lunch and then were given a job collecting garbage around the base. After dinner, Bill and I went to Central Station to see if any of our mates may have been travelling home from their jungle training course at Canungra. We couldn’t find anyone so we walked around Kings Cross for a while to see the action and caught the bus back to South Head in order to write a letter before going to bed.
An eventful day full of more "Hurry up and Wait!" We lay low all morning to avoid being captured for any work but we got detailed to complete an ‘Emu-Bob’ along the front of the barracks. We spent some time in the afternoon chatting to a Digger just home from Vietnam as a way of getting yet another impression. Still not sure how to take it, Bill and I went into town at night, on leave.
I am pleased that it is the weekend so that we can follow the army tradition of `Hurry up and Wait’ somewhere more interesting than ECPD. We have leave passes for the weekend and as this is the first time I have been to Sydney, I’m looking forward to a chance to explore. We caught a bus into town to meet my cousin Jenny and her friend Lyn who were coincidentally there on holiday. We all visited the zoo and saw the animals. The view across the harbour from Tooronga Park is very scenic. We had a Chinese meal for dinner and then went to the movies. After walking Jenny and Lyn back to their hotel and staying for a drink, Bill and I caught a late bus back to ECPD and found our beds for the night.
Today we went into Sydney again and before we went to meet Jenny and Lyn we had a look at the Sydney Harbour Bridge and climbed up the Pylon Lookout. We spent the afternoon on a harbour cruise and had dinner at night in the ‘Cross’. We talked with the girls until after 11.00 pm and then caught the bus back to Watson’s Bay.
I woke up at the normal army time of 6 am. After reporting for morning parade and roll call, I was given the job of sweeping the road gutters around the base.
After lunch, I was called for a phone picket in the orderly room where I sorted out the movement orders (Mob 3’s) and documentation for all the Diggers on our departure to Vietnam. I had to take phone messages until 10 pm as the switchboard was closed. A little after 10 pm, I was relieved by the night picket so that I could go to bed
We were woken up by the Duty Sergeant at 6.00 am to pack and return our bedding to the Q Store. We spent all day ‘hurrying up and waiting.’
Our final packing and loading of gear onto a bus was completed in a thunderstorm and blackout at 8.00 p.m.
What sort of omen could this be?
Shortly after arriving at Sydney airport, we were cleared and processed for departure. I had time to make a final phone call to Sue and at 9.30 pm we boarded a chartered Qantas 707 and took off at 11.10 pm.
The plane had a flight crew of three – pilot, co-pilot and navigator who used a sextant through a window in the roof of the plane to take bearings and establish our position. This charter, is the regular weekly reinforcement flight. It only has stewards (no female hosties) and is full of troops of all ranks on their way for a tour of duty in Vietnam. It was my first ever ride in an aeroplane. The plane will fly back to Sydney with a load of people who have completed their tour of duty and who are returning home to Australia (RTA).
Soldiers leaving the weekly Qantas flight in Saigon