Archive number: 1012
Date interviewed: 10 October, 2003
66th Battalion BCOF
Chief Staff 3 Division CMF
Commander 3 Task Force Townsville
You are listening to the interview audio
Jeffery on behalf of the Archive and everyone involved thanks very much for generously giving your time
for us this morning and today. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Perhaps we could start where you born and when and lead us through your growing and…?
Yes well I was born in Melbourne on 29th of June 1926 and grew up partly in Melbourne and then my father was transferred to Bendigo so I had some years in Bendigo and back to Melbourne and then into the army and that was my life.
What did your dad do?
He was a school teacher
and he, when he was sent to Bendigo, he became a headmaster of a technical school and later and later came back to Melbourne and ended the principal of Collingwood Technical School.
Brother of sisters?
I have an older brother two years older than I am and he went to the Melbourne University and did a science degree and worked for CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation].
And where did you primarily do most of your growing up?
Well, in Melbourne when we were younger my brother and I went to Scotch College and then when we went to Bendigo, I was about 10 or 11 we went to the Bendigo High. He went on to the School of Mines but I stayed on at the high school and matriculated from the high school.
And after high school?
For a year I worked in a bank as a bank clerk
and then I went to Melbourne University for a year and from then I was selected for Duntroon so in 1944 when I was 17 I went to Duntroon.
What did you study at the Melbourne University?
I did engineering for a year.
And when did you enter Duntroon?
In 1944, February 1944 and it was a 3 year course then and the war ended whilst we were at a senior class so we didn’t see operational service
during World War 11.
And you graduated in 1947.
No, 1946 it was a 3 year course in those days, so December ’46 my class graduated and we went straight off to Japan to join the occupation force in Japan.
How long where you with the BCOF [British Commonwealth Occupation Forces]?
I was there for 2 years with the 66 Battalion and the battalion then came back to Australia. 67 Battalion which became 3RAR [Royal Australian Regiment], it stayed on
What rank were by the end of your time in Japan?
I was a temporary captain, I was the adjutant so I was a temporary captain when I came back from Japan to Australia and became an adjutant of a CMF [Citizens’ Military Forces] unit and then that was in Adelaide and that was a very good job, and then when the Korean War broke out then 3RAR went across to Korea and I went in as a reinforcement after the Battle of Kap’yong. I was not at the Battle of Kap’yong, I went in after the Battle of
When did you arrive – this was in the advance or the retreat phase of the war?
It was in the mobile stage, yes…
What was your major areas you served in, in Korea at that time?
Well at that stage, the BCOF on to the Imjin River the battalion moved across on the Imjin River and this was in May.
1951 and Colonel Ferguson was the CO [Commanding Officer] of the battalion and he was there for a couple of months whilst I was there and then Colonel Hassett took over. Initially I was with A Company as the second in command, and a man called Bill Keyes was the company commander. He later became Sir William Keyes of RSL [Returned and Services League] fame. Great man to work for and he became the adjutant of the battalion and I took over the company and I had the company
for almost a year.
How long were you in Korea for?
12 months, we did 12 months to the day that was the rotation system. The battalion stayed there but we as the officers and the soldiers we did our 12 months period and then we were moved back to Australia.
Can you take us through the major areas you served in Korea without going to any detail at this stage?
Yes, we went over on the Imjin River and the mobile war had then
had really stopped, and we were in a defensive position and then there was an advance where the – it was quite a large advance the whole corps had advanced to try and take high ground away from the Chinese and that was a battle called operation Commando, but as far as 3RAR was concerned it was the Battle of Maryang San and that was a very well run
battle by Colonel Hassett, who was the CO and that went on for 6 days so Maryang San was really the highlight of the tour that I did in Korea. Although we stayed on and we were patrolling and holding defensive positions right through the winter, and then on into the early spring, and then I was moved back to Australia.
Well I was very lucky, I was
sent straight to England to do 2 years with the British Army doing infantry courses and doing an attachment with a battalion, Hampshires, who were in the British Army of the Rhine over in Germany at Luneberg, and that was a wonderful attachment.
And after there?
After there, I came back to Australia to the School of Infantry and then I was posted in as adjutant to Duntroon and
Colonel Hassett was the CO. They called him director of military art and commanding officer, so he was the CO and I was his adjutant. So I worked again with General Hassett and adjutant RMC [Royal Military College] was I think the best job I ever had in the army.
How long were you there for?
I was there for 2 years and then I went off to India to do staff college, the Defence Force Staff College in India, which is important in for professional soldiers to get staff college
behind them, and that was an excellent time over in India.
That’s interesting, we’ve done a few people who have been to the UK on staff college but never to India.
One a year they were sending and it was very good working, the Indian Army they were very, very good.
Had you got married at this stage?
Yes, I married in England when I was over on the first trip to England. I married an Australian friend and we were married in London.
back to Australia various staff jobs. Went to Melbourne with army headquarters, and then we got moved to Canberra. So I was in that move, the first move to Canberra when Department of Defence came through to Canberra as the main headquarters.
When was that?
That was in 1959, and stayed in Canberra for a year and then back to 3RAR as a company commander again but
that was in Enoggera in Queensland, and we were only training it was not operational service but we were having a look at a new organisation called the pentropic organisation, where the battalion was almost doubled in size, and that was a very interesting training period.
Based on the American system?
It was based on the American system.
What happened next after you …?
Well then I came back to army headquarters on staff appointments and
I was promoted to lieutenant colonel whilst I was here at army headquarters and then I got selected to go back to England again and this was for 2 years being the exchange instructor at the British Army Staff College, which was then at Camberley and wonderful, 2 years and I met people like Field Marshal Sir William Slim, Field Marshal Montgomery, and tremendous men to meet and speak to in person and in fact I had lunch
with both of them, so I really had good contact with those two brilliant men.
Hopefully we’ll get time to get your impressions of those?
I’d like to talk about it, yes.
Yes, we’ll make time for that. About more or less what time – when you came back to Australia what was the date or year?
I came back in the beginning of 1967, and then went straight to 3RAR which was then at Woodside, and we then began training to go to
Vietnam and at the end of 1967 3RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] went to Vietnam. It was the third battalion to go. There were two battalions serving there and then a decision was made to send a third battalion. So we went a bit ahead of time, a bit ahead of our training schedule to Vietnam and became the third battalion in the task force [1st Australian Task Force]. And I spent a year in the task force with 3RAR.
Where was that based?
We were based on Nui Dat,
the main task force base, and we of course served in Phuoc Tuy Province, but we also went north and were up around Bien Hoa which is a very large air base quite close to Saigon in the North Vietnamese were very attracted to Saigon, so they attacked it several times and we were part of the force that tried to get in between them and Saigon.
there over Tet, ’68?
We were there for Tet ’68 and later on we were there in battles which were known as Coral and Balmoral. Coral and Balmoral, the names of our support bases, and that was in May of 1968. They were both quite difficult battles – well both Tet Offensive and the May operation in Coral and Balmoral, they were quite
What was your rank at that time?
I was a lieutenant colonel, I was the CO of 3RAR. The task force commander was a man called Brigadier Ron Hughes who had been a CO of 3RAR and the general in Saigon was General AO MacDonald who had been a CO of 3RAR and the other two battalion commanders I worked with that was Phil Bennett, now General Sir Phillip Bennett, he was commanding 1RAR, and Lee Grevell,
Colonel Lee Grevell, he was commanding 4RAR, so the 3 battalion commanders were all 3RAR men. The brigadier was a 3RAR man and the general was a 3RAR man and the gunner lieutenant colonel, a man called Jack Kelly, he also served in 3RAR in Korea. There weren’t Australian guns in Korea so a lot of the gunner officers came into the infantry battalion, so he was a 3RAR man.
We were really a good club up there, 3RAR club.
Apart from Balmoral and Coral and the Tet Offensive, where there any other major actions that you were sort of overseeing at that time?
Yes, the – we’re in operations all the time of course the 12 months but 3RAR got into the Long Hai Hills now this was a secret base which had been – the Viet Cong had – were using it when we got into it
but it’d been there for many years even during World War 11, and it was a granite mountain range and they had these caves in it. They looked like natural caves in the granite, but it was heavily mined and it was a very dangerous area. However, 3RAR got in, and got to the top and we operated there for about a month. Took casualties on the mines sadly but we at least got in there. And we were the first people to get in there.
operations with the Americans, any joint operations at the time or?
Not with infantry we worked with American helicopter pilots. They had support for us later on the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] did come in with a squadron but initially we were working with the Americans. And on all the big lifts, the Americans had the resources, they worked with us. We also saw American artillery that came with
us and they were very good, but I did not work with American infantry or American armour.
The Chinooks: did they ferry in artillery pieces or?
The Chinooks yes, they did the heavy lift in fact they did the heavy lifts for us too in fact they even put us into a fire support base once, I think they were running out of Iroquois so they put us all in a Chinook. Not an ideal infantry carrying aircraft when you’re going into
an area which is under fire.
Did you get any leave back in Australia at the time?
I didn’t come back to Australia, my family said when I come back I had to stay back, so I with a colleague of mine we went off to Taipei and had a break for 5 days.
After six months was it?
It was about after 6 or 7 months, yes and it was needed too. You needed a break out of the country.
Your family, you had how many kids at this stage?
We had a daughter, Lette,
and she of course stayed in Australia with Lynne.
After you came back from Vietnam when was that and what did you do next?
We came back the end of 1968 and I then came back to army headquarters for a little while. Then I was promoted to colonel and I went to Melbourne and I worked with a CMF, which now reserve, CMF division in
Melbourne, and that was a very happy tour and then back to Canberra again as a colonel and then I was promoted to brigadier and went through to Townsville to command the task force up in Townsville, and that was ’72 to ’74. And then after Townsville I came back to army headquarters and I worked in army headquarters in several staff jobs until I retired
What have you been doing in your retirement?
Well the day after I came out, left the army, I became the honorary colonel of the band corps, the Australian Army Band Corps. I have an interest in military music which I’d like to talk about later and I stayed as the honorary colonel for 14 years which was a great tour of duty. But that was of course part time. When I immediately
got out, I went to university, the Australian National University and I did an arts degree in history and geography. Really just to learn about the world, it was no intention I just wanted to get a university background, I think, for my own general knowledge.
Fantastic, when did you learn, I’ll come back and talk about it, but when did you
pick up an instrument first was this way back or?
Oh, no, when I became the honorary colonel I said to the principal directory I’ve always wanted to play the clarinet so he said, “Start now,” so I started and I later on was playing in an army band on a clarinet and one of the soldiers sitting next to me, one of the soldier musicians sitting next to me,
“I think you’ll be better off on a saxophone.” And he was right, a clarinet is a difficult instrument.
It is, isn’t it?
So I moved across to a saxophone and had great fun. I still, when they invite me, I still play with an army band.
But you hadn’t been playing when you were a…?
I was not a musician.
Well that’s a great summary, we’ll go back now, and as I said we’ll take it through from the
beginning. Perhaps you could tell us a little more detail about growing up first in Melbourne and then in Bendigo?
Yes, well in Melbourne, I was very conscientious of the fact that my father had been a World War 1 soldier. He served as a private soldier in the 39th Battalion, which was a Melbourne battalion and a very good battalion. And as young boys, my brother and I were always taken into Melbourne to see my father march on Anzac Day.
And I think the band, the interest in band started there. And I’m certainly very much aware when I think back of the Anzac Day parades and bands and I become, at Scotch College, I went into the cadet corps and became a junior cadet. I’m always proud to say I served under King George the V, because he was on the throne when I became a junior cadet..
And so, we after 4 years in Melbourne at Scotch College we then moved through to Bendigo and when the cadet course started in Bendigo I went into it but then the year training corps began, so I joined the year training corps. The war had broken out in 1939 when I was still at school. I became very
aware that the war was on and I expected to go to the war. My preference would’ve been as a fighter pilot in the air force, I think a lot of us at school felt that way. The senior boys were going off to war it just seemed a natural reaction to me to go into the war – off to the war. I think it worried my father because I was not thinking about the future, and he did say several times to me that he got back from
World War 1 only as a partly trained civilian, he’d been a soldier for 3 years and he found it difficult to get the proper employment. And he actually became a school teacher when he came back but he had not got – he did not have a university degree, he had a diploma but not a degree and he kept saying it was important to get a degree.
And I think because I was more interest in the air force and I wasn’t thinking about any future as a civilian when I matriculated, he suggested I go and work for a year as a bank clerk. And I was about 15, I was 15, I think he was rather hoping I’d see there was a bigger world than being a fighter pilot, the war of course was still on. At the end of
1942, when he was due to come back to Melbourne with the education department, my brother had won a scholarship to Melbourne University and my father said, “Well you’ve got to be given every chance that your brother had, and pick a faculty and go to the university.” So, 1943 I studied at Melbourne University, still in the year training corps. It was
during that year that my father said, “Look I think you’d better apply to go into the regular army, I think this is going to be your life. I think you’d better try and get into Duntroon.” So during 1943, I applied for Duntroon and I got selected, so off I went to Duntroon. My mother wasn’t at all pleased, but I think my father realised that service life was my life.
How had the First World War affected
your father, do you think?
Well, he was very quiet about the nasty bits, but it became obvious to me that his friends from World War 1, in his section, he was in B Company of 39th Battalion, they were very important to him and we used to visit various men that he knew. His corporal was Corporal Searle who worked in a
post office at Geelong, I can remember that bit quite clearly. He also had several friends who’d been badly wounded and we used to visit them. But he – we saw the lighter side of World War 1 from my father, he didn’t inflict us with war stories.
What did he tell you of the First World War?
Later on, when I was older, he
told me a bit more but when I was a school boy it was more the comradeship of being with men that he liked, that he stressed, but later on of course, particularly after I came back from Korea he did tell me a little more about World War 1 and just having to keep going and the mud and being shelled all the time
and the worry about gas and the people being wounded. He didn’t – I have to be careful how I say this but he didn’t have a very high opinion of officers. Now I don’t know whether he was talking about the officers in his own battalion or just officers in general or the British Army, or he was never clear on that but he was not particularly keen on speaking
of officers and he did say to me on several occasions, they didn’t care about us. And when I was working in Adelaide as an adjutant in the BCOF [British Commonwealth Occupation Force] Battalion, the 19th Battalion my CO was a man called Colonel JG McKinner, a very wonderful soldier and when my mother and father came over to visit me in Adelaide, I said, “You must come and see Colonel McKinner.” So we went up to
Colonel McKinner’s office and to meet him and my father was terribly nervous. This was a man now, he was then principal of a very good technical school in Melbourne, but he was nervous meeting Colonel McKinner and when we came out he said, “I’m not easy with officers.” He put up with me but he wasn’t easy with Colonel McKinner, who was a wonderful man and very kind to my father. So coming back to my father, World War 1 obviously did have an
effect upon him but it was the soldiers he was interested, in not the officers.
What was you father’s background? Where did that side of the family come from?
My grandfather had come out from Scotland in the 1880s and settled in Australia but my father was Australian born and my mother was Australian born and her family had come out even earlier. So we were only
recent Australians, 1860s to 1880s were our grandparents.
What sort of a woman was your mum?
Oh, she was a very nice lady, quiet. Didn’t quite approve of me all the time because I think I made a bit much noise for her, but a nice lady. Not at all interested in the army or what I was doing in the army. And in fact my father said when I was away,
“Don’t write army stuff home, it upsets your mother,” so she wasn’t at all keen on what I was doing. And she lived a long – she died in the 1980s, Dad died in the 1960s but she lived in Melbourne for 25 years after my father died.
How closely were you able to follow the Second World War? What was your interest in that?
Oh well as a school boy
when the war was on, very interested in it. There was a lot of censorship at the time but any war film that came out, my friends and I would see it 2 or 3 times. Interested in the air force more than the army or the navy and there was some very good films about the air force. Mind you when army films came out, navy films came out, I still went and saw them as well. You know, On which we Serve
and Lives of a Bengal Lancer which came out pre war, when I decided to go into the army all I could do was see myself on a horse in India somewhere. It was – that had a big effect on me, Lives of a Bengal Lancer.
How big an influence was the Empire?
Oh a great influence. At school we honoured God, King and Country, no, Empire was very important.
And we were brought up that way in every school – the two schools I went to very conscientious of Empire. Quite a different scene today, but Monday mornings we would stand there and acknowledge the flag as it was pulled up and recite God, King and Country.
You were in the cadets, how were you finding that?
Oh I enjoyed it. I work better with a group of people. That’s why I like being in
a band. I mean I’d play in any band I just like being with people. I like team – team work and cadets are team work and so that’s what I enjoyed.
Any thoughts of getting into the band in the cadets when you were young?
No I don’t think so. I think there were – well at Scotch they had drums and pipes, I would’ve liked to have played the drums, but I was never encouraged by my parents so I just became a normal cadet.
Any sports or hobbies that stand out in particular?
I tried every sport, but I was just an average sportsman. I was never very – I wasn’t one of the top players but I used to struggle to get into the first 18, Australian Rules player, the first 18. Wasn’t very good at cricket but tried.
Any memories or stories or anecdotes of meeting soldiers around that time when you were growing up or in Bendigo?
Oh yes, because of Dad we did meet soldiers and he was interested in the RSL. When he was in Melbourne when we were young boys, my father used to write the children’s page for the RSL magazine and he was ‘Uncle Digger Bill’ in the magazine The Duck Board and ‘Uncle Whiz Bang’ in the magazine The
Mufti. So he was very keen on RSL work, but also interested in boys and girls in children being a school teacher so we did meet army people, ex Army. In Bendigo, if a man was ex army, because everyone wore their RSL badges then, my father always introduced my brother and I to them.
The man who was the manager of the bank I went to work, of course he was an RSL man. I think that’s how I got the job. My father must’ve gone to Mr Sutherland and said, “My boy needs a job, can you give him one?” So we did meet some very, very good soldiers. I mentioned Lee Grevell who commanded 4th Battalion in 4RAR in Vietnam. His future father-in-law was a friend of my father’s in Bendigo
and his name was Laurence and he appears in the war memorial. He was one of the men on Gallipoli – Bunkie Laurence was his name. He was one of the two men on Gallipoli that designed the guns which could be fired by dripping water that pulled the trigger when they did the withdrawal form Gallipoli and he was then Private Laurence and he was a great character.
And my friend Lee Grevell married his daughter, and of course I still see a lot of them.
Any stories of getting into trouble when you were growing up?
Oh, we’re not going to go into that?
Oh you don’t have to I’m just trying to paint a picture of your growing up years.
I got into trouble. I talked too much. And I’ve got one of those faces which I found out at Duntroon, it gets you – some people have a
face that gets you into trouble. I was accused of smirking on parade and oh no, the troubles being there and it’s good for you. And was I ever spanked, yes of course I was. Quite regularly.
Any other images of war time Bendigo or war time Melbourne that stand out in your mind?
Well, certainly the fall of Singapore was critical
because in Bendigo a number of Bendigo men were 8th Division. In our family we had a cousin who was a nurse, a sister in Singapore and she was captured so we were very conscious of the fall of Singapore. And as a teenager you only see the brighter side of the war, you don’t
see the other side, the casualty side, because you’re so keen to go and senior boys were going, and some of the senior boys were killed that we were aware of.
What ceremonies would you hold at the school if one of your old boys was killed?
Oh, just a minutes silence.
Can you describe how the news came through?
So it was actually known?
You had another story?
Yes, there were two things we were talking about the war in Bendigo in 1942, the Americans came out and there weren’t enough camps for them, so quite a large regiment was sent to Bendigo and they were billeted in
everybody’s houses, so we had two American servicemen living with us for about 3 months. And we’d go to school and they’d come with us. We used to be allowed to carry their rifle and down they’d go to the Upper Reserve which was a football ground where they’d train, and we’d go to school. But it was good, we saw the Americans there, they were great people and
they were good to us. And then in 1943 while I was at Melbourne University which was quite close to where the New Melbourne Hospital was, and the Americans had taken over the New Melbourne Hospital for their casualties, and I could hear this music and I went across and it was Artie Shaw. It was Artie Shaw’s Band playing live and that’s where I got the interest that I’m going to be a clarinet player one day, because it was wonderful to see
Artie Shaw live, and that was during the war.
What can you tell us about the Americans? What were they wearing, how different were they to Australian soldiers?
Well, they were much better dressed. They weren’t very popular because they – as everybody knows they were attractive to the young ladies, but they were nice people and people had them into their homes and they were very, very good men. There was the odd person that got into trouble which
hits the newspaper but on the whole they were very, very good and they were – there were a lot of them in Melbourne. They didn’t stay for very long in Bendigo, but they seemed to stay in Melbourne for most of the time I was in Melbourne. See I left Melbourne beginning of ’44, and there was still Americans there.
There was a murder carried out, wasn’t there?
There was a nasty murder in Melbourne, yes and that of course hits the headlines.
Do you recall that happening?
I can’t recall any
detail. They got the man. Had a name something like Swanski [Leonski] or some – it was a foreign sounding name but he was caught and it was very sad business. There was trouble as there will be with soldiers in hotels but we didn’t see that as a school boy and I was not aware of any of the trouble.
How much do you think you romanticised
the Americans and the military way of life at that time?
Oh I don’t thing I romanticised them, I just admired seeing them so well turned out. They were a very smart – but from World War 1 my father was not terribly fond of Americans. They’d had experience in the 3rd Division with Americans with them, I think Hamill, I’m not certain of the battle they were in but they certainly
had Americans with them, an American Company I imagine. My father wasn’t terribly impressed, he’s an AIF [Australian Imperial Forces] man, he’s an Australian and he accepted Americans but he never spoke highly of them. And I think that probably influenced me a little bit.
Yet you had them in your house?
Oh, he still looked after the soldiers, oh yes, oh very much so. And he wouldn’t allow them to drink in the house – my father was a teetotaller –
wouldn’t let them drink in the house either. We had young man and an old man. I suppose the old man was about 25, but there was a young man and an older man. The older man certainly did like to go for a drink but the young man didn’t.
How eager were you to go to war or not, as the case may be?
Oh no, I wanted to go. I mean all my vintage, my friends that’s what we growing up waiting to go – 18 –
to go to the war and that was expected of us – what I thought was expected of us to volunteer to go. My father volunteered, I would volunteer. I was fit enough to go so when there was a charge to apply for Duntroon – in fact I was 16 when I applied, but I didn’t get in until I was 17. So the war was a
big influence on the lives of people like myself.
Can you take us through your going to Duntroon and –?
Yes, went with a group. I knew a few of the people that were there because we had been at Scotch College. I remembered those people. No one from Bendigo, but the Scotch College people I knew.
We got there, there was a senior class which they pulled us into gear and there was good discipline. As I said earlier, I liked working in a group and it’s being trained in a group and this was pleasing to me. I was a bit sorry I wasn’t going into the air. In the back of my mind, I though perhaps later on I can transfer across
to the air force. Before the war in the 1930s, regular people who came into the army and went to Duntroon, some of them did transfer across to the air force, and I though well I’ll try and do that but the whole system changed when I graduated it wasn’t possible to transfer across, so I stayed with the army.
What was it like being away from home for the first time?
Oh I – that’s no problem at all.
We used to joke about it, “Are you home sick?” “Yeah, sick of home, I’m glad to be here.” That was a joke of course I mean I always liked going home, seeing my parents but I was not homesick. No, that was not a worry.
Interviewee: Jeffery Shelton Archive ID 1012 Tape 02
You were making a point about homesick when you first went to Duntroon?
Yes, I certainly was not homesick and I didn’t notice it amongst any of my friends, but when I went back as adjutant 10 years later I was quite aware of the fact that people were homesick. The doctor at Duntroon had been the doctor for many years, his name was Nimo, Doctor Nimo and he would ring me as
adjutant and say ‘if so and so is not doing very well, he’s homesick’. We had a – the assistant adjutant was a lady, Women’s Australian Army Corps was Lieutenant Dulcie Venerant, she ended a colonel in the army in fact, but she was very good and these people, the odd cadet that had a bit of a worry, he’d go in and sit down and talk to her and
she was a very understanding person and so we didn’t really have any trouble with it but I then became aware that people do become homesick that I was not aware of when I was a cadet.
Can you tell us about what your first impressions of the military college at Duntroon were when you arrived as a young man, you were only 17?
Well I –
everything’s organised you had to do things to timings and whistle blowing and I just fell in with it. It didn’t worry me at all. You got up at ¼ past six, that pleased me, and your light had to be out at ¼ past 10, that pleased me, so the disciplinary side I quite enjoyed. Some of the training I couldn’t quite understand why we were doing it.
Later on I found out it was needed but – and I suppose with other cadets I questioned why we were doing this. We had our favourite officers and favourite instructors. We had our favourite periods – we were very lucky they still had the horses at Duntroon when we were there, so I think probably the part I enjoyed most was when we were doing cavalry training on the horses.
That was tremendous fun. Sadly, in 1946, they decided that we are no longer going to war on horses there’s no point in having the horses there, but they were very good for character building on and good for getting the adrenaline going. I thoroughly enjoyed that.
I think that’s a subject definitely worth talking about for the archive because I mean, obviously that was an end of an era in a way. What did you train on the cavalry side of things?
Well they first of all taught us to ride. Some of us had sat on
a horse but very few of us were very good riders. Some of the boys were good but most of us had to be taught. And so we were taught to ride. There was an area called the ménage which was an enclosed area and we’d ride around that – we’d ride around, there’d be 20 of us riding at a time. And then we were taught to ride in sections that’s 4, 4 abreast. And then we were taught to jump and that was great fun and so we were given basic light horse training,
but it was the man management that was interesting, because you were taught that you’ve got to look after your horse. When you got back to the stables you looked after the horse before you had a drink of water for example. And that’s very good because in real life you’ve got to look after your soldiers. You were taught to be sympathetic to your horse, not bullying. Well, you can’t bully soldiers either you’ve got to be with them. So on the man management that was good. And the other really important one
was when you fell off, the sergeant was there saying, “Get back on!” and that’s good for your character if you fall off you get straight back on and go on doing it. So I believe as a character training means I’m sorry the horses went.
As a military tactic side of things though, where you taught about how horses might still be used in a battle situation?
No, no, this was 1944
the horses were not considered – you couldn’t go into battle with a horse, not the way the weapons were and not with the fire arms.
I didn’t expect so, but I thought I’d ask just the same.
No, but they used to – because the officers and the sergeants with a very good warrant officer with us they’d been with the horses a very long time. They knew the cavalry drill, the light horse tactics and they would talk about it. And that was great fun. We’d be up
riding around Mount Ainsley and they’d be explaining the – you know how one man holds the horses and the other 3 go forward on foot. It was discussed but not as a lecture, it was discussed only because we were all interested in it.
How much did those First World War legends like the light horse and Gallipoli come across to you in that time and how important was that tradition?
They certainly came across to us
in a nice way, Gallipoli was spoken of but we also considered it was pretty old. That World War 1, that’s old, that’s old hat. There was one officer there and one warrant officer with World War 1 ribbons but we used to consider they were pretty old. They could’ve been in the Battle of Waterloo, they were so old. So really it was an emotional feel for World War 1, not a
professional tactical feel for it, because World War 11 was going on at the time and the officers that were with us and many of the NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] they’d seen service in World War 11. They were the people we were interested in.
How did that war in the outside world affect the make up of the military college, or the atmosphere there at that time?
The Second World War or the First World…
Yes the current war that was happening?
Oh it was – it had a very big effect on the
college and we were fascinated by the officers who would be lecturing us. We would be forever trying to get them to talk about the war and some of them fell for it and there were some very good officers there.
You mentioned there were parts of the training you didn’t think were necessary, you didn’t agree with at first. What were you referring to there?
we were doing a lot of academic work as well as military work. We were being taught English and mathematics and science and chemistry. I really thought at the military college we should’ve been concentrating on the military work so that was one side that concerned me. Later on I realised they were giving us a general education not just a military education and my views as a cadet were quite wrong.
In fact, I wish I’d paid a bit more attention to some of the civilian or some of the academic subjects that we were being taught. On the military side we used to do a little bit of everything. We’d do a little bit of artillery, we’d do a little bit of armoured training. We were taught to drive tanks, we were taught to drive Bren gun carriers. That was
all interesting to me, particularly the armoured stuff. The artillery, the technicalities of artillery didn’t interest me at all. Some people got excited about the 25 pounder gun but it didn’t excite me. But that’s a weakness in me, not in the army training. Later on, I realised that you’ve got to know the capabilities of all these weapons.
What did excite
you apart from the horses which interested you?
The horses, driving tanks, driving, shooting on the range. I liked motorbikes, they were great fun when we were trained on motorbikes. The stuff that was exciting, that was what – couldn’t stand parade ground work. I thought this is terrible, but we didn’t have a band in those days, it was just listening
to the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major]. And I must mention the RSM, we were there when the famous GJ Watson arrived and he’s known to the army as ‘Fango’. He actually hated that nickname, but you’d never call it to his face, but he was a very strict man but a very human man, and later on I got to know him very well. I’m very fond of him but I was even fonder of him when I was cadet. I mean that was the RSM, he was God
and a great, great man. And we were playing Australian Rules in 1944 and he used to play Australian Rules with us and we used to have to call him by his number, you could never call him by his Christian name or surname. So he was number 19, and he was very good. And in 1945 because there weren’t many of us at the college then they stopped us playing Australian Rules and we all had to play rugby and that was good because you were talking
about the football code and when you were in the army you’ve got to be able to play rugby. And doesn’t matter where you are, I mean I played rugby in England with the British Army, which was great fun. Sorry, I’m off the subject.
No, that’s very much on the subject of training. How does sport help in an army training environment?
Well getting fit is one thing the competitive spirit is important and in the army you need that ‘you want to win’ attitude. The
men that were good at rugby, they were really running the corps and they still do, I think, and so sport was important toughening you up but it’s also working in team. You’re not working for yourself. That gets into your soul, it’s all for the team. But rugby of course is the army game and it was very popular
and they were good at it too. They had some very good sportsmen at Duntroon.
At the first two years almost you were at RMC, there was a war going on in the Pacific, that’s where the Australian Forces were involved? How did that specific experience impinge on your training do you think?
Well we did go off and do some jungle training and certainly a lot of the talk particularly in the administration when we were being lectured on
administration it was related back a lot to the jungle. Because supplying people in wartime in the jungle was rather difficult, and we were lectured on that and it was good training. We did our jungle training not at Canungra as they do now, but we went down to some forests, down near Moruya near the coast, and it was pretty vicious country
and we trained through that, worked through that.
What strong personal relationships did you form at during your time at Duntroon?
You could put that into two categories, there were the instructors that you came to respect, and you watched them in later life. You watched them at Duntroon
and you watched them in later life. They were important. And then of course there’re your own friends at Duntroon. And not just in your own class, there was the senior class, we had in fact two senior classes in 1944 one of them graduated in Easter 44, and one in December 44, and they were both very good classes with very good men in them. And so we all became friendly with men from the senior class and we worked with them later on and they were great people. I’d like to come
back to the instructors, if I may. The instructor that comes to mind with me was the New Zealand instructor, a Major, RB Dawson and he ended up as the CGS [chief of general staff] of New Zealand and his great friend at Duntroon was FG Hassett when they were cadets, and they were great rugby players, captain and vice captains of the rugby and good friend. But they were similar types, they were quiet men. Army people are seen as people
who shout and great extroverts but these men, these men are quiet modest men, but whenever they spoke you listened to what they had to say. Well, Dawson had some absolutely wonderful remarks to us. You know it was absolutely – we are all training out at Point Hutt, no houses out there, then it was a good training area and it had been pouring rain for a couple of days
and he lined us up and his words were, “I’m glad it rained,” and then he went on to say how in army life you’ve just got to live to go through the mud and slush and the rain. The war doesn’t stop just because it rains. Little points like that from Dawson stuck in mind for the whole of my service. When we’d see one another in our class we’d still say I’m glad it rained. It made an impact on us.
There were other good officers, there was a man called STG Coleman who was known as Big Dave. Now he was the happiest man in the army, he loved soldiering, loved training, loved cadets, loved football. Now he was such a happy man he was infectious. I mentioned Watson, the RSM, who was a different kettle of fish. Of course that was the disciplinary side.
So they were the officers, now coming on to the personalities in the senior class and our own class, well they’re all still friends of mine. I mean we still see one another. We remained friends all our lives and we worked together.
You said you became great friends with the senior class, but was there initially any rivalry or tension between the senior and junior classes?
Well, in those days the senior class were responsible for our discipline. And there was a –
it was a technique, it was called 4th Class Training. Where the 4th class had to – that’s the junior class – had to be told to keep their traps shut and they would correct us and I don’t think they’re allowed to know, because sometimes it spills over into bullying, and certainly in the year we were there in 1944 there was no bullying at all. We were corrected, we had to learn what the inscription on General’s Bridges’ grave,
he was the first commandant, he’s buried at Duntroon, we had to learn the inscription on this grave. Our table manners were corrected at the table by senior people and this was good training. Now there was the odd bully in the class, but you learnt – but you’ve seen that at school anyway and you – if you can’t beat them fighting, well you keep out of their way and it’s as simple as that. It’s part of growing up. The senior
class, later on when we arrived in Japan, some of the senior class were in the battalion and they were good friends. They guided you into doing the right thing. I’d like to mention a few by name, but there’s so many of them it would be impossible.
They’ll come up later in the story no doubt. You mentioned Franko Watson,
whose disciplinary zeal was quite famous of the time. What ways did they instil discipline in you at RMC in those years?
His influence on us was on the parade ground, but even moving around the college you had to move smartly. No hands in pockets, no slouching or not saluting officers. So it was just your general demeanour
at the college and if you swore playing football, in the Australian Rules, he would tell you that you’re going to be an officer, that’s not the language the soldiers expect and those are the sort of influences that he had. He was also an actor, you know, he’d put a great show on and it was quite amusing. Martin Bombers will still flying from the aerodrome, Canberra Aerodrome, and he’d be on
parade doing something and then a bomber went pass whirring over about a 100 feet above us over head and he’d get very angry and he’d shake his stick at the bomber and say, “Get off my parade ground!,” this type of act. Oh, he was great fun.
Were there cadets that didn’t respond as well as you did to this discipline?
Oh yes, and I don’t say I responded to the discipline all the time, don’t get the –
please don’t let me give that impression. We did break rules. But I can’t remember – no one said I can’t go on with this any longer you just put up with it. We used to get in the rear rank on parade and whisper to one another, and Watson would say ‘that rear rank’ –
normal soldier behaviour actually.
What rules were broken commonly?
Well, soldiers weren’t allowed to drink and no one at the college was allowed to drink and I didn’t drink when I went to the college but when you’re told you’re not allowed to drink you then work out how you can drink. So that was one rule that was broken. We used to sneak in beer. You couldn’t get much of it
because there wasn’t much around during the war but that was a rule that was broken. Some people used to go absent without leave and we used to cover up for them and make certain they weren’t caught. I don’t think I was ever involved in that myself, but I certainly covered for a couple of people on several occasions.
I don’t think there was bad disciplinary problems, I think no, I think we just behaved – it was easier to behave – if you didn’t polish your boots, you ended up on the square with doing defaulter’s drill. If you didn’t stack your clothing neatly, you could be given two extra drills. Those sort
of disciplinary things came in, but you just accepted that, that this is army.
How did your ambitions change that early period at the military college, you had an air force ambition when you went in, what happened?
They’re still there, they didn’t change, I still feel I would’ve been a good fighter pilot but one has to be realistic
and I actually applied to go into armour, not infantry, but there was only one vacancy in armour and a friend of mine got, so I went into infantry not as a volunteer but once I got into the infantry, got to a battalion in Japan and got with the people that I became friendly, I thought, “Well if I’m going to be in the army I might as well do it properly and be in infantry.” So I just – I accepted but every time an aeroplane goes overhead,
I still look at it.
Can you tell us about the end of the war, how that was marked and what you remember of those…?
Well yes, first of all there was VE Day [Victory in Europe Day] in May and the bells – we were out doing an exercise in what is Campbell now, and that was one of our training areas, and the bells began to ring and obviously the war was over
because it was expected that the war was going to end in Europe, and we thought they finish the exercise and let us go back to Duntroon. Oh no, we had to finish the exercise. That was the end in Europe. When the victory in Pacific came, that really did shock us, because we thought we’d eventually go and be in the invasion of Japan.
We didn’t expect it to end. And I don’t think a lot of people in Australia expected it, still had a lot of troops overseas as in Bougainville in Tarakan in New Guinea. There was still a tremendous amount of AIF overseas and the Americans were still a long way from Japan, but that shocked us a bit, but they did give us a day off for VP Day.
Well, there was a very good reason that no one expected it, because no one really knew about the atom
What was your reaction to hearing about that?
Well, it really was just another bomb at that time and later on people started to talk about it and by 1946 there was more information coming through on it and so we were being taught about the effects of the atom bomb, so it did come into our training later on. But in 1945 when it happened as you say, no one knew about so it was just another bombing attack really.
It’s very hard to think back now because my mind’s now rolled over into what we were told in 46 and of course in 1947, we were only 30 miles from Hiroshima, so we saw a lot of what was left of Hiroshima.
We’ll go on to that in just a moment, it’s a good point, it’s hard to take yourself back but that’s exactly what we want today, as much as you can try and think how you responded at the exact time and we’ll
try and get you back there as much as possible. The invasion of Japan, how much was that actually talked about in the military college?
Not at lectures, but we used to talk about it as cadets and how were they going to do it. How were we going to do it? And we would’ve thought the way the Japanese fought, that there’d be a lot of
fighting to go on in Japan. We’re very glad it didn’t of course, it would’ve been a very difficult country to fight in. It would be like Korea. Sorry, my mind has slipped.
That’s all right, we’ll get on to Japan in a moment. There must’ve been a big change though for the students studying at the officer college in Canberra to
suddenly have the war end on them. Your entire raison d’etre for being there had changed?
That is correct.
How did that affect you?
It affected me because I thought, well, I was here to go to the war. Now some of my colleagues had quite accepted that they were going into the permanent army, so though the war had ended, there’d be another war sometime,
they didn’t, but I did worry and some of my friends worried, we thought, have we done the right thing, what are we doing here? And that was a troublesome time for me.
We’d better move on to going to Japan, because this will be a big long day, I suspect, your war had ended but there was still work to be done when you graduated. Can you tell us about –
actually first just tell us about your graduation, that must’ve been a very big day graduating from the military college?
Well after three years there you – graduation was important. The previous graduation of the senior class had been rained out. So we rather hoped we weren’t gong to be rained out, but it was the opposite, it was hot and they put us in shorts. We must’ve looked terribly funny, but in those days there’s a lot of
sheep close to Canberra and the flies were terrible and so they sprayed us with fly spray. Well fly spray on the skin of course stings, and so we had a pretty miserable time out there on the parade ground. But one of the beauties of it, of the graduation was they brought a band in and so we trained for a couple of days with the band and then we had the band on parade and marching on a parade ground without a band, and then having a band on the
parade ground made such a great difference. It builds you up and so you thoroughly enjoy and then the graduation and getting the pips, that was all part of the ceremony, and that was a good way to end the training at Duntroon.
What did it mean to becoming an officer in the army for you at that time?
Well, with not having seen operational service and with so many people
that had seen operational service, I was a bit embarrassed (a) I was an officer and (b) I hadn’t seen service. So I think I changed from being a bit of an extrovert to becoming quite a quiet person for awhile.
What did you know about the BCOF at the time that you graduated?
When we left Duntroon, we had a Christmas period leave in
Melbourne or home, I was in Melbourne, and some of the senior class were in the battalion and they had been sent back to Australia on leave, so I met Freddie and Wilton and John Reid Hanky, they were senior class and they were in 66 Battalion, and Wilton said to me, Ian Wilton, he was a great friend, he said, “Don’t come to 66 Battalion, oh boy, they don’t like us. They don’t like Duntroon graduates there. Don’t come to
66,” and of course when we got to Japan we were lined up and just told where we were going. Where did I go, 66 Battalion, but at least I had Ian Wilton there and John Reid Hanky and friends from Duntroon.
Why did they not like Duntroon graduates?
Good question, there has been some problem between the militia officers and the regular officers, the staff corps and this goes on pre-war. General Gordon Bennett, who was a militia
officer, he would argue with General Lavarack who was a staff corps officer, so it was militia versus regular permanent army on a senior level. Now some of the COs in the RAAF, who were militia men they didn’t quite approve of Duntroon as officer producing. Their argument was, well we’re
not a professional army, we’re a civilian army and therefore civilian army, militia officers do better with the soldiers. So they weren’t orientated towards having a regular army people. Also and I found this out later, because the CO was a very good man, Duntroon people, because they know one another, they stick together which is almost elitist. Now I’ve already explained what
pleasure it was for me to arrive in 66 Battalion and have friends from the senior class. Well there’s one Duntrooner being friendly with another Duntrooner, whereas a man coming from the officer cadet training unit wouldn’t have that contact, so that did worry the CO that the Duntroon people would stick together and his opening remarks to us were, “I don’t want you Duntroon fellows to stick together. Duntroon’s over now, work in with the battalion.” And in fact, I became very friendly
with an officer in the battalion who was not at Duntroon, ex permanent army man, he and I were working together, he was very good, a good sort of friend to have because I used to watch what he did and his name was Lucas, D.J. Lucas, a very good officer and I learnt a lot from him, just you know, quietly watching how he operated.
What examples of that age old rivalry can you remember from your early days in
Well, just that the CO in particular never had a good word for anybody who came from Duntroon. The funny thing was his adjutant was a Duntroon graduate and was good. Now his name was Dunstan, DB Dunstan and he ended up chief of the general staff, he ended up Governor of South Australia, Sir Donald Dunstan, a wonderful man. Now he was the captain
adjutant Duntroon graduate, but Colonel Colvin who was the CO and a great soldier, commanded the 2/13th Battalion DSO [Distinguished Service Order] and Bar, tremendous man, he was reluctant to say a good word about Duntrooners. Now, obviously personalities have come into this, which I don’t know about but it was there and the soldiers got it as a little bit
there’d be a ‘oh, did you learn that at Duntroon’ sort of thing, there was a bit of a – it’s all gone now of course with a regular army people don’t worry about that, but pre-war, in between the First World War and the Second World War the regular army didn’t have regular infantry that was against the government direction, so there was no infantry. Their people
were either Light Horse or artillery or engineers, so they weren’t used to infantry officers, there was an instructional corps but not infantry. So we were something new, permanent infantry in a battalion. Well later on we became all regulars, so it didn’t matter. I think there’s still a little bit of people who haven’t come through Duntroon feel that the Duntroon people were getting better jobs.
I don’t think it really worked like that, you were picked on how good you were, not what your background was.
Can you tell us about your trip over to Japan?
Yes, we were sent to Greta which was the training for Japan, and we were given a draft of soldiers and put down to a ship. The wharf labourers were on strike for something, and anyway we got the ship loaded
and off we went. It was a fortnight going up in a troop ship. Not very pleasantly, they weren’t designed as troop ships. This was the Manoora which is still sailing in a military sense, but it had been a coastal ship and turned into a troop ship and it was a long trip being a fortnight. We pulled into New Guinea and went in close to
Finschhafen, and saw a little bit of New Guinea in a couple of days, very short tour of New Guinea and look at it, but it was a tremendous surprise to be, to just see the country. It was so different to anything I’d seen in Australia and we’d seen films but to see it live was tremendous, then off to Japan.
What were your first impressions of Japan?
Well we came into Kure, and Kure had been very heavily bombed.
All you’d see were broken buildings, smashed up bombed out buildings. And they tried to get the wharf – tidy up the wharf. Even when we left 2 years later, they were still repairing the damage and there were sunken ships in the Inland Sea and Japan had been knocked about.
What was your role there when you arrived? What orders did you have and what did you have to do?
Well I – being a reinforcement, I took over from
another man who was being sent back to Australia, and I was the platoon commander in B Company, in a rifle platoon. At the time B Company was commanded by a man called Ron Garland, RS Garland who had a MC [Military Cross] and bar – a wonderful soldier and tough and he was only about this high, but he could fight, he was a tough little man. In fact I boxed with him once, and only once and he was really – and I had to reach over him and the weight but a
good soldier. And he became adjutant and then we got a wonderful officer called Keith Tabain, who lives in Canberra, great man. And I still call Keith Tabain ‘Sir’, he’s a great, great man. So I was at Cooma, we were doing guard duty, a lot of guard duty, a lot of parade ground work, good band, excellent band – brass band and the
CO, Colvin, from the 2/13th Battalion, he said, “Every good battalion has a good rugby team and a good band,” so the emphasis in the battalion was on the rugby team and the band. And I think he was right too. That’s – you’ve got to hold the battalion together and that gives the battalion a good focus. We did a lot of training and we trained up in the hills and that was wonderful training, because we went to Korea much later. And I fell –
in training one night I fell into a paddy field, well that’s not to be recommended because those paddy fields you know I must’ve smelt for a week but that’s the sort of training that we got in the countryside in that Asian countryside, which is wonderful. When I went to Korea, there was no shock to going to Korea and seeing what it was like, one was used to that sort of country training in it.
This was before Korea was the first Asian country
you’d ever really seen, what did shock or surprise you or interest you when you arrived in Japan?
Well the hills, everywhere there were hills and trees: a very, very, very hilly country and then of course there were the lovely paddy fields. Very well organised, Japan and we would travel a lot on the rail to go to Tokyo on guard duty. We’d go up by rail. The rail was efficient even after the
war although it’d been bombed they got the rail back working and they were great workers the Japanese and we had a lot of Japanese working with us as civilians in running the camp. And building the camp and running the camp. And they were hard working men and they didn’t seem to mind us and the children didn’t mind us. When the – we’d have to march through some of the towns
around the place. It was known as showing the flag, just reminding the Japanese that they’d lost the war. Well you could march through with your company, march through a town and take no notice of you. They just wouldn’t even look at you. Put the band with you in front and march through the town and the school children were let out of school to clap, and the people smiled at us, and this is just why I became interested in band as part of a military organisation. They did a
wonderful job during the occupation putting the people on side, and good music too. And in our battalion, 66 Battalion, we had a change of COs. Colonel Colvin went back to Australia and a regular army colonel took over, Colonel McArthur, and he’d been in the 8th Army in the Middle East, and he said that the 8th Army, the British 8th Army had adopted a German tune that was Lili Marlene, which they had stolen and it became the tune of 8th
Army and he said, “We will liberate a Japanese tune, it’ll be our marching song.” So the band sergeant who was a man called Jack Silk, great fellow, Sergeant Jack Silk, he came up with the idea that there was a song the little Japanese children sing called Ringo it’s the apple song. And he said, “That’d make a march,” so they made the march out of Ringo and they got arranged for the band, it was a brass band in those days –
and when we went to Tokyo on guard duty we were marching down towards the Palace, and the band broke into Ringo and of course the Japanese recognised it and they thought it was wonderful. I don’t know that some of the older people thought it was wonderful, but the children loved it and so Ringo is still the regimental march of the 2RAR, which 66 Battalion became 2 Battalion. It doesn’t go so well on pipes, but it’s a great brass band,
concert band tune.
What a fascinating tit bit of weaning hearts and minds. I’ll stop that for a second to change the tape.
Interviewee: Jeffery Shelton Archive ID 1012 Tape 03
What did you see of Japan there? How much did you travel around at the time you were there?
We travelled a lot on duty and training and at one stage Colonel McArthur said, “Japan is not very wide, I think I’ll march the battalion from one side to the other.” So he gave
the orders to the company commanders and Captain Keith Kabain was our company commander, B Company at the time, so Captain Kabain what was the neatest way to do, so we marched from the battalion because we were on the coast in Kure – no Hiro, we were next door to Kure. So first of all we marched up to a place call Haramura and that was a training area. We stayed for about a week and then he worked how we could get right across
to Prefecturamani across country. One of the other companies that was supposed to march behind us, somehow they got ahead of us and we don’t know how they did it. We marched all the way but then we found out that a company commander had got them on a train. So they cheated, but we did march from one side to the other in Japan. That was great training, so we saw at foot level. And we were sent
several times to Tokyo, where we’d be for 3 months on duty. We were able to – we never got into the Palace, the Emperor’s Palace, but we were on guard, there were 11 posts around the Palace and we were on guard with the Americans at the Palace. And we used to do changing of the guard out the front of the Palace. I don’t think the Japanese liked that very much but we used to do it. And they used to watch.
We saw Fuji, Mount Fuji, we were in Japanese barracks, naval barracks at a place called Ebisu and they were about 8 floors high. It had a flat roof and at 6 o’clock we used to go with our platoons on the roof and do half an hour’s exercise and physical training and you could see on a clear day Mount Fuji from Ebisu.
And it was – the mountain sort of rose out of nothing and it’d be sitting up there snow covered. No that was all right them because there was no smog and I’ve been back to Japan since and spoken about this and they’ve said there’s no way of seeing Mount Fuji now, because of the smog. So we were rather fortunate to see Mount Fuji every morning.
What was the purpose of marching across
Japan apart from training?
Just training and training with a purpose to say you’ve marched from one side to the other. We were the only company to successfully march it, so Keith Kabain and I always talk about the march across Japan. It was good – good march. He worked out a good plot. He was a very good map reader and we were going through an area, it was August, it was summer,
and there was snakes around and of course Australians seeing snakes, you kill them. So there were a few dead snakes by the way we went. A soldier would bring a butt down on the snake’s head. So there would’ve been a trail of dead snakes because we were walking through some funny little areas.
What were you equipped with at the time, just your kit…?
The soldiers had the .303 rifle and we had the normal 36 Pattern Packs on our back, the
old fashioned packs and haversack, one water bottle and we didn’t have bed – sleeping bags in those days, it was a blanket and a ground sheet. It was all pretty primitive.
That’s where you slept?
You slept on the ground, put your jumper over your boots and that was your pillow. And it rained of course, you huddled under your ground sheet.
No, we didn’t march in tin hats we wore slouch hats on that march.
What did you make of the tin hat?
They were awkward. To be quite honest we wore them in training and throwing grenades and sometimes on the rifle range, but when you’re lying down on the rifle range and you put your head up with a tin hat on it, it catches the back of your neck. So we didn’t do terribly much work in tin hats,
steel hats. Later on we did, but not in Japan at that stage.
Over in Korea?
Korea we didn’t have them in my time, later on they did.
How were you received along the way on those marches?
By the children, they were fascinated. Like little dogs, they loved marching troops and of course we would have
in our ration there’d be some type of sweet that you could give to the children, barley sugar or something. Men liked being given packets of cigarettes, we were also on an issue of cigarettes so we used to be given a tin of 50. So they were pretty popular if somebody helped you out you could pay – Japanese helped you out with anything you could pay them with a tin of cigarettes.
Did you smoke at the time?
I smoked a bit yes, yes.
Well I didn’t at the start and then I thought well this is silly they’re being given to us, so I’d better smoke. There is a companionship with smoking, it’s not just a vice. If you’re talking to a soldier and he’s been giving you a bit of trouble or he’s got a problem well you sit down with him and you have a cigarette with him and that really does break down a barrier. I know people are – my wife died of lung cancer, she was a smoker –
so I know the dangers of smoking but there is this social contact particularly with soldiers. So I don’t mind people smoking, it’s a thing they can share together, it breaks down a barrier.
What did you see of Hiroshima?
Well we went through quite often to training trips and we went down to have a look at it when we first arrived and it was –
the damage of course was colossal, the size of the damage the area. And they put up temporary houses and they were doing it a very hard way to live. And going back in 1983, to see what – how Hiroshima has been rebuilt, it’s an amazing sight to see the work that’s been done there.
It’s a different city of course but they’ve still left the – what was ground zero.
Cause upon the future of warfare when you saw this damage to Hiroshima?
Yes you – the facetious remark was ‘they’ve taken all the romance out of soldiering’ but it was devastating so we
did worry that there would be atomic bombs and later hydrogen bombs’d be used again. It’s always a worry in the back of the military mind and the political mind, the devastating effect of them. When we were trained during the Second World War, the worry was gas and there was a lot of gas stored in Japan which our battalion had to unearth and dump.
That was the worry, well of course after the bomb was dropped the concern then came with the devastation of the bomb.
Was that the major practical military job you had to do there, apart from maintaining a presence and lugging people ...?
Well, the basic reason for being there as maintaining the presence but there were jobs. There were jobs such as
removing the dumps of mustard gas. There was other work, we had people – I was never sent on it, but some of the other people in the battalion were – sent out supervising the elections seeing that they were being run properly. That they travelled a lot over Japan doing that. We also had to train
as a military force there, and we had to be on standby in case something did go wrong. And things do, fire would break out for no reason. You wouldn’t know why the broke out and they had to be picketed. The area that had been burnt would have to be picketed with troops, particularly if they were military areas. That was a job. The weather was bad, there was a typhoon that came through and did
some damage. That – the army there assisted in tidying that up a bit and dumping stuff for them. But in an infantry battalion, basically it was showing the flag, that was the reason we were there.
You said there were fires, was there any other bad incidents or incidents that could be perhaps a bit near, not directly connected with sort of resistance or somehow showing that they were…?
No, that’s a good question, no there was not,
and we’re not too certain about how the fires were started. The electrical system was pretty basic and we always suspected it was a fault with the electrical system, setting fires off but coming back to problems, they thought there would be problems, but when the Emperor said the war was over, the Japanese said the war was over, let’s get on with life. The soldiers came back and they were demobilised
and their weapons were taken away and they were given medical checks and put out of the army. The prisoners of war, sorry, people that were arrested for war crimes against prisoners of war, they were being tried in Japan in 1947 and in other places in the Pacific that was going…
How involved were you with the war crimes?
Some of our people were involved, I personally was not involved. I did meet the famous Sister
Bullwinkel when she was over giving evidence and…
How did you come to meet her?
Well, she was entertained by the battalion and because I had a cousin who’d been with her, I made myself known.
What happened to your cousin?
She survived. Sister Beryl Woodbridge, and she was on the ship that was sunk, but she survived that and came back and
lived through to – she died in the 1980s. Never spoke of the war, even to my father who she knew would understand that part of her life was over. She still marched on Anzac Day, and once I had to go to the Shrine, the medical corps in Melbourne were having a Remembrance Day at the Shrine, and I said to Beryl, would she like to come
with me, because I was on duty and she could come with me as my guest. And so we turned up at the Shrine and she knew all the senior medical people and they made a great fuss of her. A man called Coates and there were colonels and brigadiers and generals, and the famous Weary Willie Dunlop they were all there and they knew Beryl, so
it was great to see her there.
What do you recall what Sister Bullwinkel said to you, or have any impressions of her reactions to going to Japan after all she went through?
No, she was very quiet there but I met her later, she was matron at Fairfield Hospital and I was in there after Vietnam. I was sick, and in Fairfield and she was there so I
introduced myself again and said we had met in Japan, I told her who I was and she would then come and see me every day she would come in and sit down. And then once she was doing her matron’s round and she said, “Oh come with me and we’ll talk,” so she took me around Fairfield Hospital when she was doing her rounds. And a very fine woman and she – a great person.
Is there anything that particularly stands out from your service with the BCOF that still you look back on and…?
No, I think we did the best we could to show the Japanese that we were not unlike them, because they did knock people around when they took over countries and I think under General MacArthur
we did show that there was another way of operating with soldiers, and there were a lot of temptations for soldiers in Japan there was a non fraternisation ban going on when we were there in the occupation and so you had to watch that the soldiers didn’t fraternise, which is pretty difficult to do actually. But we kept them playing sport, and kept them training. We did as best
we could. We weren’t entirely successful, but it was – I think because the battalion was working hard and good men in the battalion, wonderful soldiers in the battalion. A man that comes to mind is Arch Dennis, Captain AP Dennis, he was a very good character, and I mentioned GJ Lucas, Gill Lucas and these were good soldiers and they knew how to handle soldiers so it
was a very successful tour. In fact, in 66 Battalion it was very good.
Can you give us an example or a story of the fraternisation breaking down and not working?
Well yes, we were in a camp living near Hiro, and we’re surrounded by a nice number of villages so the soldiers did develop girlfriends and
they weren’t supposed to. We used to have to patrol to see that they didn’t end up in the beer halls, but I’m afraid – soldiers are pretty clever people and some of them got girlfriends.
What did you know of the situation on the Korean Peninsula at that time?
Very little, when we were in Tokyo we met some – at an American officers’ club, we met some American officers who were over in Korea and this was
1948 and they said, “Oh you people in Japan you’ve got it easy, it’s really tough over there in Korea,” and they were expecting trouble. They said, you know, something’s going to go wrong. So there was concern that (a) Korea was a tough place and (b) it wasn’t the happy place – the happy occupation that Japan – successful occupation that Japan was... They had a lot of difficulty
politically and with the Communists in Korea and there was political problems that were over there that we were not facing at all in Japan.
How much did you anticipate that you would eventually might be over there doing…?
Never, never thought of it, never thought of it. Thought we might go back to Japan and they said – eventually the occupation but then they said, “Oh no we’d done enough there we’re closing that down,”
and the Japanese are now a democracy, we’ve done our job and in fact 3rd Battalion was due to come back to Australia at the time that Korea broke out. I think Korea shocked them when it did break out. I gathered it shocked them. I don’t think they expected North Korea to invade South Korea.
Yeah, of course, the 38th Parallel…
How did you wrap up your time in the
BCOF there? How did you know the job was over?
Well, in an infantry battalion you just did what you were told to do. I really can’t answer that, how you knew the job was over, that was not a military decision, that was a political decision, so I can’t answer that.
What did you have to do with the elections there?
Well they were watching that the elections were – people were allowed freely to vote
so they were really just doing what as what people are doing now, in say Africa. They were just going around the various election polls, polling booths seeing that there was no coercion and people were free to vote.
How involved were you in that?
I was not involved personally. There were other people in the battalion involved but I was not one of those people.
So can you take us through your period of your time from finishing up with BCOF and knowing
that you were going to be going towards Korea?
Right, well we came back from Japan the battalion came back to Puckapunyal, and we were below strength down to about 80. The regular army had just begun in 1948 and it was the first time that the infantry were going to be in the permanent army, now called regular army. So it was a slow build up
of the regular army. The main emphasis in those days was as young regular officers we would go as adjutants to CMF units and that was what I was sent to. I was sent to Adelaide with 10th Battalion and this very wonderful fellow JG McKinner, and that was a very happy period for me because it was working for a good CO in a very happy little
city. Adelaide’s a beautiful place and I was single living in the barracks with a few other friends of mine and who were also adjutants and we had a good period of training and work and then of course the Korean War started, and we’d rather hoped that we’d be sent to Korea straight away, and a friend of mine J.C.F. Maloney,
we were in the school together in the same class at Duntroon. He and I were both adjutants in Adelaide, we hopped into my car and drove over to Melbourne to see the military secretary to say we missed out on World War 11, and we think we should be priority one for going to Korea, and Colonel Hurley was not at all pleased to see us. He told us that our job was to do as we were told to do and we’d go back to the battalion and being adjutants of our battalion, and not try and run the army.
He was not terribly sympathetic, so we drove back to Adelaide down in the dumps and the next thing is they decided that they’d have national service, so instead of staying with our CMF battalions we were posted to a national service battalion and that didn’t please the morale at all. But then Korea was not over by Christmas as General MacArthur said it was going to be the Chinese came in and of course the situation
in Korea changed and we were then of course top of the list to be reinforcement officers so we then all got sent over to Japan to reinforce holding unit, and when a vacancy came in 3RAR we went in and became reinforcement officers.
Can you tell us of hearing of that news of the invasion of South Korea across the 38th Parallel?
No I can’t, I can’t actually remember not like where we were when
President Kennedy was killed, I can’t remember just where I – I would’ve been Adelaide as an adjutant of a CMF unit at the time, so I would’ve been told that 3RAR was going and that was John Maloney and I went over to see the military secretary.
Up till that time how satisfied were you in the army given that it looked like, you know, an extended period of peace was coming and possibly you weren’t going to…
Personally I was not happy and I
was thinking perhaps the army was not for me because there’s gong to be no service and being a young officer amongst other people who had seen a lot of service, I was very self conscious of the fact I hadn’t seen operational service. I did think about resigning and joining the air force, I was still young enough to do that. Korea came in and so I never followed through, I got to Korea.
What having been over there, back in Australia, what did you know of Korea, the sort of political situation or – ?
Not very much, no I didn’t – as part of our promotion exams we sat for a subject called current affairs and we were – it was one of those countries that you had to know existed. You had to know about the 38th Parallel. You had to know about the political situation there and what the Americans were doing and what the – the Russians were then supporting
North Korea, what they were doing. So one was aware of it but not specifically that we were going to go back there, it was just general knowledge.
How, I mean the Cold War really did develop over the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, but at the time how much was communism perceived as sort of the evil empire and force of darkness?
Oh, it wasn’t perceived it was the evil empire and that was what we were watching and that was what we were being lectured on and talking about. No, it
was a problem and it was spreading, it was spreading in Europe, spreading in Asia. Oh no, it was – like terrorism today is in the news, communism in the ’50s, that was what was the concern.
How badly did you feel that you should go out and fight the communists?
No, as a regular army officer you don’t – you go where you’re sent. I didn’t have a particular hate against communists
as such, I’m not a political person. I just accepted that it was a worry. No, if they’d said go and fight the – I was going to say Afghans, I’d better pick another word. No as a regular army person you go where you’re sent. The communists didn’t worry me at all really. I don’t like
their system but it didn’t worry – I didn’t want Australia to become communist, that’s as far as it went.
So Korea did come along, and can you take us up to the time that you did go and join the reserve unit and how you were selected?
Sorry join the reserve unit?
What do they call it not the reserve, anyway the unit that would…
reinforcement holding unit?
reinforcement holding unit, yeah?
Right, yes I got to Japan
with a friend of mine from Duntroon, a man called Lou Bromfield, who was the class after me and he was a lieutenant and I was a captain or just got up to being a captain. So we fly up in the aircraft together. We went up in a Qantas aircraft. And he’d just been married and I was still single, so in fact I’d just been to his wedding in fact. Anyway we travelled up together, we went to the reinforcement holding unit and it was run by a man we knew
very well, a man called Henry W. Nichols, and he was an MC winner, a great character. So we worked for him as training troops in the reinforcement holding unit, but then Bromfield got selected to go over to Korea cause they needed lieutenants, they didn’t need captains and I could see that. They had experienced lieutenants who could’ve been temporary captains in Korea, so I was missing out on
going, so Bromfield went off to Korea and he just got there and the day after Kap’yong Battle started and I thought poor little, you know my friend Bromfield, he’s been thrown straight into it. And he went to A Company and he was thrown straight into it. They fought a very hard battle at Kap’yong. He was a great – we used to pull one another’s legs and he was a great leg puller
and about a week after he’d been there and the wounded were coming back into Japan and we knew how it was, a letter arrived for me and I thought, “Oh gosh something’s happened to him, this is one of these letters that people write to their friends you know you’ll get this and I’m dead.” But oh no, I shouldn’t tell you this, but he’d got a white feather and I don’t know where he got it from and he had a white feather and he sent me a white feather, ‘where are you Shelton’, and
I’ve never ever got even with him on that. One day I will, but I haven’t got even with him yet. Anyway, the casualties after Kap’yong – it was decided even as a Captain that CO Colonel IB Ferguson would put up with me, so I was sent across with a draft and Ferguson wasn’t terribly pleased to see me. I did know him because he’d been in 67 Battalion when I was in 66 Battalion,
cause I could see his point he did want to promote someone up from lieutenant to temporary captain but he put up with me, he let me stay so that was how I made Korea and started with 3RAR.
Just back on the wounded, were you able to contact the casualties, what were they telling you of the situation in Korea?
Yes, I was able to go and speak to a couple of people because I had known them. They were a bit confused about what was going on, they
would only know what happened in their own little area, so they could tell you what happened in their platoon but not overall with the situation. The message that came through loud and clear that the Chinese just kept on coming and that was the message that I got. There’s a lot of them and they keep coming.
This stage of the war they’d fought back from Pusan, and then they pushed back up…?
yes, they’d fought back from Pusan, they’d gone right up to the top, right up to the Yalu [River] and they’d come back again and they were now fighting their way – the United Nations were fighting their way back up to the 38th Parallel. So that was – the Kap’yong bit was – the battalion was there in between the Chinese and Seoul.
The Chinese were going for the capital, of Seoul, again and 3RAR were one of the battalions that fought very tough fighting withdrawal holding the Chinese. In fact the Chinese attack petered out at that stage. They tried again in May, but again it petered out.
What was the situation you stepped into when you went over to Korea the first time?
They were on the move
when I arrived. Still a fair amount of contact with the Chinese and they were moving slowly forward, advancing slowly. And I didn’t go out to a rifle company for the first few weeks I was on – stayed on headquarter company which was the administrative company. And I think that was a wise idea, I think Colonel Ferguson was giving me a chance to see what was going on. And I spent a lot of time
on battalion headquarters with him and we did several moves and then we moved over the Imjin River where we stayed for a considerable time into a defence position. It was quite a large river and we were behind it and we were quite close to the area where a British battalion had been captured. That was the Gloucesters and they’d been captured at that period of Kap’yong. They’d been surrounded and all put into the
bag so we were close to that area. And so we were patrolling – good defensive position then, and we were patrolling a lot to just try and find out where the Chinese were because at that stage they’d started to talk about an amnesty and they started the discussions at P’anmunjom and at that stage we believe the Chinese were building up like mad from what we could ascertain, so we knew that the war wasn’t
over so we were patrolling. There were two interesting things happening at that stage. The battalion had – 3RAR had been in an independent brigade, a commonwealth brigade, 27th Commonwealth Brigade with two British battalions and a Canadian battalion and then it was decided to form a Commonwealth Division and there was to be a British brigade
of 3 battalions, Canadian brigade of 3 battalions, and still the Commonwealth Brigade, except they changed their name to 28 Brigade. So we had 1 Australian battalion and 2 British battalions in that brigade. And that was in the June July area, that reorganisation was going on. So we had the peace talks going on where we weren’t supposed to take casualties, that was a political direction although we were sill patrolling and the reorganising in the Commonwealth Division, so we did a bit of training.
Now 3RAR was also being reinforced, because the people that had been there since the previous September were being moved out of the battalion and reinforcements were coming in so the training was necessary. And I went from headquarter company up to A Company with Bill Keyes as the company commander and then after about a month he went down as adjutant and I took over the company. That was a good company, a very good company.
Just going back, what were your impressions of Korea,
first impressions of the countryside the smells…?
Well, the smells are like Japan, you can’t change the smell of a paddy field but not as well organised as Japan. The farms were not as tidy although there was a war on, you could see from the villages nowhere as near developed as Japan. There wasn’t – in Japan even in the little villages there was electricity. In Korea only the towns had electricity.
The roads were not made as well. The paddy fields were not as neatly kept. Korea had been a very hard life under the Japanese for the Koreans, and they hadn’t really been independent for that long. They’d only been independent for 5 years and they had a long way to go. So there was no – it was a primitive country compared to Japan.
Of course it’s a different scene there now.
As a new captain going into an active service area and this is the first time you’ve been placed in this situation, what were your personal concerns?
Your concern is what you’re going to do when you get shot at, you don’t know. And although I knew I was well trained and had experience in battalions for
some years and I knew a lot of the people around me you just don’t know how you’re going to face up and so that’s a worry. You are also as a reinforcement officer who hadn’t seen service, you are also very conscious of the fact that you are green, but there’s always good soldiers around. Good officers and good soldiers who are helpful. There are also some that don’t want to know you.
Some people ignore you but you don’t take any notice of that. You settle down quietly, watch the people that are good. Talk quietly to the people that are good. Bill Keyes was a great man to work with. He’d seen service during the Second World War, quiet man, took soldiering seriously. He was a good man. The platoon commanders in the
company were two of them I knew, one of them I didn’t know and he’d come in from the Indian Army. A British officer had come in from the Indian Army, his name was Fred Gardiner and I got to know him very well later on. Sergeants are – the warrant officer I knew, he’d been in 66 Battalion the CSM, the sergeants I knew from earlier days and they were good men. A man called Svenson, Vic Svenson was a sergeant
I knew, he was very good. George Harris was another one of the sergeants, very good ended up in the Training Team did very well. Our third sergeant was an AIF man had been shortly in 66 Battalion but I didn’t know him and his name was Everleigh, James Everleigh, and he ended up with a MM, military medal, and bar. He was a brilliant soldier. And my age, he got away to the Second World
War, the end of the Second World War, but we were about the same age and he was a bit of character, but funny man but he was helpful. They knew I had a long – a bit to learn and they didn’t take it out on me. They just worked in and you’re working so hard, we were patrolling and doing – putting in defences and terribly worried about mins and booby traps which
were there. We were working hard. We all fitted in. And then cause once you get shot at the first time after then, you just soldier on.
You mentioned before that there were some people who obviously someone coming in green, they didn’t have so much to do with you or they might have regarded you with some suspicion as someone who hadn’t been blooded in a sense. Can you talk about those people who weren’t so welcoming?
Yes by all
means, because they ended up friends later on. The CO Colonel I.B. Ferguson, he didn’t want me, because he said, “You’re a captain and I could have so and so as a captain,” he didn’t talk to me after that. I suppose 3 days went by sitting and wondering what he was going to do with me. We were moving at the time so I just sort of worked with the RP sergeant, regiment police sergeant, actually I shared a tent with
him. That was a bit tricky. The only person that was friendly to me was Phil Bennett who’d I known at Duntroon and he was the mortar officer. He came down and welcomed me, but he was the only person in the battalion that said, you know, ‘welcome’. Lou Bromfield was out with A Company somewhere so I didn’t see him for a few days or week or two but when I did see him all he said was, “Well you got here eventually, you should’ve been here last week,”
sort of thing. In a friendly way, cause he was a real wag but the other people just weren’t – they’ve got their little team you’re somebody new so you’ve just got to play it quietly until you get accepted. There’s nothing you can do about it, happens to every reinforcement that arrives. I did try and smile at reinforcements when they arrived, but you sense they’re new you don’t know how good they’re going to be
and you don’t just know where they’d fit it. So you’re always reluctant – there’s a bit of a worry with reinforcements, but you accept it. Then eventually you get accepted.
Interviewee: Jeffery Shelton Archive ID 1012 Tape 04
Can you tell us a bit about the physical conditions and situation where you were based south of the Imjin River when you arrived with 3RAR?
Yes, being in a defensive position you have to hold the high ground that’s where you can dominate the area so the companies were spread out a fair distance between them. We were not mutually supporting, so you had a company
defensive position on top of a hill. So there you were up on a top of a hill if the enemy came at you they would first all have to cross the Imjin River and then they have to get up the hill to get to you. So the defensive position on the hill was quite strong. The work that we did from it, you would leave a few people behind or one of the reserve company a
couple of times moved into our company area to take it over, and we would cross the river and then patrol and be out for 3 or 4 days. The difficulty with the Imjin River was that when it rained, the river would rise dramatically and in fact we did lose – a soldier drowned crossing it. And that could be a problem. The A Company was sent out
at one stage to – one of the British battalions was actually operating on the patrol but we were sent out to look after the rear area and we were with the Indian field ambulance, they had a section there to handle the casualties well we were there to protect that particular section and hold a base area for these people operating. And the river came up, and there we all were,
this British battalion plus A Company stuck over on the wrong side of the river. But the Chinese didn’t take advantage of it, so we got back safely.
Can you just describe the picture you have in your memory of that landscape and what the river and hills looked like?
Yes the hills unlike Australia, they were much higher.
There was a lot of scrub around at the time so you could get protection from view, but so could the Chinese. The river itself was a very wide river, the Imjin. The area there, now they grow ginseng tea but in those days it was just scrub and the British Army being the British Army
used to love to go along that area and shoot. They were shooting for grouse and they actually walked into a minefield in front of us one day, so we had to say, “Please leave our area, that’s a minefield.” Great characters in the British Army – anyway the area we would have to get on to the high ground all the
time purely to dominate and see what was going on and the Chinese were doing the same thing so you’d hit a ridge line and the Chinese may be there or they may pull back but you could get so far and then they wouldn’t pull back any more so you would make contact with them. They were very keen on keeping us away from the area that we eventually attacked into, and that was the
355, 317 – but that was way to the north of us where we were on the Imjin – when I’m talking about the defensive position.
From your high ground then, what sort of vista did you command of the river and the hills?
In our defensive position we overlooked the river and you could see the lot of it and if they were crossing by day you would pick it up. Of course they’d come across at night and you wouldn’t be able to see it but we used to have listening posts down by the
river, to make sure that we were warned that they were crossing.
And you say scrub, I mean I have a view of Australian scrub but what’s Korean scrub like?
Much thicker, you had to push your way through it, but in winter of course the leaves drop and so it’s much more open, but this was spring an summer. The growth is phenomenal in the summer time, the rain comes and up come all these plants
and trees, so it was hard going so you had to stick to tracks really and always dangerous following a track but that’s where they ambush. But it was taking us too long ploughing through the scrub, so…
How high was it this – up to your eyes or nose?
No, over your head.
Over your head?
Mm. So some areas
were quite good. Some areas were low, quite close to the river it was marshy, so that was low but once you started to climb up, it was over your head.
The ridge lines that you commanded, were they rocky ridges?
Yes, they were and difficult to dig in on. In fact we needed engineers help at times, pioneer help, to blast holes to get decent holes down. And the soldiers of course were forever digging holes.
If you ask a soldier what was Korean, he’d say, “Walking up hills and digging holes.”
Diggers in the true sense of the word.
In the true sense and there was a lot of wiring went on too – barbed wire entanglements because with the Chinese with these mass attacks you’ve got to slow them down somehow, and minefields and wire did slow them down. Minefields are not very popular these days, but there were a considerable number of mine fields laid and they were -
fences were put around them with signs up, red triangles to say the minefields was there. The trouble was the fences occasionally got blown away and you could end up in a minefield without know you were in one, and that was always a danger when you were out patrolling.
Can you describe that defensive position that you dug in and how that was arranged?
Yes, because of the features where they were we had to be separated so
A and B Company were on a forward feature overlooking the river. D Company was back here on a high hill, approach to another high hill and a critical area and they had a tremendous amount of wire around, they were isolated. And C Company was behind us with battalion headquarters and the support area. So they were behind us. If they’d come through in
large numbers as they attacked during Kap’yong, they would’ve gone around us and then had to come back and fight us. So we were prepared to fight all round and the guns were well back. The guns were quite safe cause they – unlike Vietnam where guns did get attacked – the guns were well back. They’d still shell the guns from their artillery. They didn’t have air or not much air. So the guns were quite secure, so you
didn’t have to secure gun areas they looked after themselves but the rest of us were in all round defensive positions.
You were with A Company?
When I went to a rifle company I was with A Company yes.
Can you describe the defensive position that A Company held?
Yes, being a long thin ridge we had 3 platoons up. You really didn’t have a reserve platoon. You always need a reserve platoon because if something goes wrong you can move the reserve platoon in, but we
had to have the 3 platoons forward. So we didn’t have a reserve.
And each of those platoons, how was their position dug in? What arrangements were made there?
They were dug in forward of the slope, well dug in and we tried to camouflage but also they had an area rear of the slope, so that people could walk around in the daylight and not be seen and clean their weapons and you’d leave
people during the daylight, you’d leave people forward of the slope on picket duty but they weren’t showing themselves, they were just there on duty, but the rest of the platoons would come back to the rear of the slope and they’d cook their little meals and then they’d go forward and sleep. They had little hootchie tents that they put up at night, little tents and they needed them because it rained. A lot of us were not – a lot of them, didn’t sleep in the trenches at
night. They decided they were more comfortable out of trenches but later on when things – when we were being shelled and mortared everyone was sleeping underground. But on the Imjin everyone was not sleeping underground.
Where did you sleep – what were the officers’ conditions?
Well we had a – behind the hill where the company headquarters was, we had a tent and it was sort of the office and a tent – and sleeping
and both the company commander Bill Keyes and I slept in that time plus a lot of stores and stuff and his orders group would have a tent and we could close it at night so we could have a light and read maps and work at night. And when Bill went down to become the adjutant, a man called Alec Priest came in as the 2IC [Second in Command]. So Alec and I both shared a tent.
You were 2IC to begin
I was second in command to begin with, and then took over as company commander.
When you arrived can you explain on a day to day level what that job involved?
As the 2IC or as the company commander?
As the 2IC, because that’s your first job there.
As the 2IC he is responsible for the administration, so you work in with the CSM, the company sergeant major who looks after the ammunition side. You work in with the company quarter master sergeant who looks after the
rations. We had to bring water in, you couldn’t drink the water, so treated water had to be brought in and the clothing resupply and tools that got damaged and batteries. Batteries were a worry, the wireless sets had big batteries. So that was what the 2IC – his daily job was seeing that the administration was correct but when you had to move out on patrol the 2IC
normally arranged the transport and even leading the patrol out, the transport out and looking after the transport when the troops got out and left the area. So you were as second in command, you were there to cover the administration and if something happened to the company commander, of course you step in and take over. Yu don’t take over immediately because you’re probably not with him. You’re probably back somewhere. So one of the platoon commanders
would have to take over immediately but then you move forward. But Keyes was not injured when I was his 2IC so I never had to take over his company.
In that administrative role who were you working most closely with and how were you communicating with them?
Well I would go back probably in a jeep everyday to see the battalion second in command. The battalion second in command was that wonderful officer from 66 Battalion, Arch Dennis, who was then a major and
he and I both being 66 Battalion, we were blood brothers so it was a very good relationship. The quarter master of course was in an echelon further back, and several times I had to back and see him. So they were the people you worked with. You had to arrange for wire which was tremendous loads for getting the wire up and we had Koreans, they were called Service Corps, Korean – they were porters,
they would help us with carrying the loads. They did tremendous work poor devils.
That role must’ve given you great insight into the logistical aspects of the UN’s [United Nations] role in Korea and the supply and how that worked?
Yes, but once we got in with the Commonwealth Division it was the British Establishment, the British administrative system that we were trained to – even at Duntroon it was the same training we got at Duntroon
so that fell into place. When they were an independent brigade with the Americans, the American system was slightly different, so that was more of a challenge to work out how where you got stuff and how you got it from the Americans. Once we became British in the British system we were trained for it, was no problem you just worked it out and did what you’d been trained to do.
That system doesn’t function the same way any more. So
it might be interesting just to expand on what that British system was and why it worked so well. Can you tell us a bit about…?
Yes I can, the British system depends on echelons. I mean this is what we trained in and so you’ve got the forward troops now, just behind the forward troops is what you call F echelon, that’s the fighting echelon and that’s where you’ve got the immediate stores. Now that gets fed
from the echelon behind it which is A echelon, and that’s back about battalion headquarters area and you have people there ready to feed administrative rations and water forward and then more behind back in the rear area where your main transport is kept that is B echelon, that the quarter master looks after. That’s where he’s got the main stores. And so when we move,
the B echelon, it really had to move. It could build up its stores and it’s there as a reserve. That is the system in the battalion now in the brigade there was a brigade maintenance area where the stores came through as far as the brigade was concerned and each battalion would get its share of the stores. And so that was the system that worked
through and there was a line of communication and when you wanted wire, you’d order wire, and that’d go through and the engineers would see that you got the wire and that’d come forward. Ammunition would come forward from the ammunition point which was run by ordinance people. So that was a – it’s a very neat system of administrative control. That’s the British system and they had rear areas where they got their supplies
from. So it all moved forward in a sequence. It wasn’t manhandled all the time, the heavy stuff like wire we’d order and it could come right from a rear base, right through the system up to where it would be delivered to us. Now before that when we were working for the Americans, because the brigade was being moved around so much it
did change – where the echelons got their rations from and their water from – and so they quite often didn’t quite know where they had to go to get the next load of stores, but it worked eventually. You know, clever men working would find out where they had to go. An area called Uijongbu was built up as our base area and
a few times we had to go back – when I was a 2IC we would go back to Uijongbu and just see what was going on, so that you understood where you could get supplies from.
What was the scene at Uijongbu?
It was on a – it had been on a rail line. I think they’re probably using rail but all you saw when you went back there were great marquees
full of rations and marquees with clothing particularly when the winter was coming they had to build up winter clothing. So it was just a base area with mainly marquees. Ammunition was dumped separately in case it blew up of course and that was also in large dumps being delivered by trucks continuously. And then
they’d come forward.
What was the greatest problems you faced in the role?
Well, one of the things that had to be done is that you try and get fresh rations through and cooked meals. So you had cooks in the company who we set up down on the flat they weren’t up on the top of the hill. So you had to arrange for every now and again
that you got hot meals to troops. That probably was the main concern, we weren’t using that much ammunition at that stage. Later on, ammunition became a priority but it was getting the hot meals up the hill to the troops so that they could eat it. So they were hot boxes that they carried up and then be ladled out. It had to be a stew a lot of the time, of course, because that was a way to handle good meat and vegetable
in a sensible way that could be doled out quickly to the soldiers. Sometimes we brought the soldiers down the hill and they’d be off duty and they could go and have wash in a creek and wash their clothing and then come back and have a meal in the kitchen down the hill and then go back up to their platoons. And we’d do that by rotation. So they were the sort of administrative arrangements. They weren’t a worry, it was just fitting everything in, seeing everyone what a decent meal
and a chance to wash every now and then.
How was water dealt with?
Water was dealt with – a water truck would go back and pick up water from a water area which the engineers ran and then it was delivered in 4 gallon drums and then we’d fill our water bottles from that and you’d each put in your own chlorine and then there was a de-tasting tablet you put in
and you got used to the funny taste. But you couldn’t drink water out of a creek. Some soldiers did, but that was a danger and you couldn’t drink out of the Imjin River, because you didn’t know what was in it what diseases you were getting. So the water had to be treated and you’d treat it yourself. We all carried tablets.
In a large organisation like an army especially moving through
all these supplies through all these echelons you described was there ever any problem with corruption of any sort?
I’m not aware of it. I’m not aware of it. There was black market work going on with American troops because people used to like to get good raincoats that the Americans had, and good wind jackets the Americans had. The Americans were very generous, but they did like a bottle of beer for something or a bottle of whiskey. So there was – that’s not corruption, that’s just soldiers trading. I don’t think there was corruption. I mean
how could you have corruption, there was no one else around? You see they’d moved all the civilians out of the area. So it was only the army people that were there.
I guess corruption’s too strong a word but that’s what I was talking about, that kind of black market trading or unofficial supplies?
There was exchange. There was unofficial exchanges of some – well to get equipment that you needed. We had an American mortar that we used to carry with us. A little 60 millimetre, well we needed ammunition for that
and we used to do a little bit of unofficial trading with the Americans to get some ammunition. A lot of soldiers, not a lot, some soldiers had American carbines which were point 30 and some had Jarmanns too their rifles which were a different calibre to us. Now getting ammunition to them was a worry and when Colonel Hassett arrived he said to us, “Now we can’t resupply this ammunition so come back to the basic ammunition
that we need and these soldiers that are carrying these strange weapons, they’ve got to carry basic weapons.” And they didn’t like exchanging their weapons for the .303 rifle but we had to do it purely on resupply.
What was the corps of the weaponry you were using, the basics?
The solder had the .303 rifle bolt action which was the same as the World War 11. We had the Owen gun which was our submachine gun, which
you’ve got to be careful with that it can go off if you’re not watching it. The safety catch can slip and it can go off. We have had the odd person being wounded by it going off accidentally but that was the submachine carbine. The Chinese of course had a very good weapon called the Burp gun which was a similar machine, carbine automatic, and they were very well equipped with that. But the fire support from the section
came from the Bren gun which was an excellent weapon it was a magazine filled the same ammunition as we used in the rifle, it was a .303, very good weapon to carry. We also the Vickers machine gun which is another 303 for sustained fire that was a brilliant weapon. The only problem of it was heavy to carry. And we had a machine gun platoon and
they really were great people the way they flogged behind us. We used to help them carry some ammunition but they were carrying the weapon and the tripod. They were great people. The famous Reg Saunders ended up their platoon commander, the Aboriginal officer, great man and he was their platoon commander.
What about mortars?
Yes we had 3 inch mortars, they were in a platoon.
and they were not as accurate. They’re not as accurate as the mortar are today so you had to keep them well out from where you were when you were getting them to fire support. And in the company we carried a 2 inch mortar which everyone will tell you is good for smoke. The high explosive was heavy to carry on the ground, we really used it for smoke. So we did carry them but for mainly smoke rounds.
What personal weaponry did you have?
Officially, I had a 3-8 pistol but in fact I noticed that Nichols that I spoke about in the reinforcement holding unit, he came over and took over B Company and he carried a rifle and he was one of these men that I listened to and I asked him about that and he said two reasons,
a pistol won’t even get you out of trouble so I like a rifle and secondly I like to look like one of the soldiers so a sniper doesn’t pick me off. Now he’d been in more wars than I had breakfasts. So I thought if that’s the way you survive one should carry something else. So I tried carrying a rifle for a while, but it was always getting in the way cause you need a map you’ve got to talk on the radio so in the end I ended up with an American 30 carbine
which was much lighter to carry and I had enough ammunition to look after myself. So I broke the rule.
What did Colonel Hassett say about that?
He never said anything. He just doesn’t – he didn’t interfere. I think it was the soldiers that he was worried about getting them through. I mean he knew that I wouldn’t have to use it very much anyway but if I had to use it at all. So that didn’t worry him and
the men in the company that had to give up the Jarmann rifles, they got used to it eventually.
What other pieces of advice like that were you given in your early days in active service that stuck in your mind, or were good pieces of information to get?
Well the other thing that Nichols did, he took his puggaree off his slouch
hat and he had a sweat band – had a rag, they were issued as sweat rags around it for the same reason. He said that puggaree sticks out a mile. So I followed that tip. I used to get barracked a bit by some of my colleagues saying, ‘What do you think you are, an African big game hunter?” However, I didn’t care if Nichols did it, I did it.
The problem of being an officer, you’ve always got to have your signaller with a wireless, and they were big in those days, close by. You’ve always got to have map. Some of the officers didn’t bother about the no puggaree and the famous Jack Girk in C Company he was always immaculately turned out, he kept his puggaree on, I noticed he was carrying a rifle.
He didn’t worry about a pistol and he was a great man that I used to listen to and watch. He’d been in the 2nd 16th Battalion and he was a very well trained officer. The other two company commanders Nichols and Hardiman had both in the Parachute battalion. They were both – Nichols had serviced in the Middle East and later went to the Parachute battalion and Hardiman had only been in the Australian Parachute Battalion hadn’t seen operational service. So they
were great friends having been in the Parachute battalion together. And I became very friend with Girk after a while. Girk was a tough man you don’t become friendly quickly with Girk and it took me about six months before he was ready to be friendly.
Was it an issue to you at the time that you were surrounded by so many men with Second World War
experience and this was something you lacked?
Yes, it was a problem at the start and that’s why I think Ferguson was correct in putting me in headquarter company and then out as a 2IC. And then when Hassett came in I became the company commander by then I’d been there for 2 or 3 months and I was getting a feel for it. A lot of the reinforcements of course, younger men had not seen service so
the number of people at that stage, the young men had no seen service so I was not quite as conspicuous as not having seen service as I was in Japan in the occupations, this was 5 years later. And the young men, the young chaps that came in aged about 20 that hadn’t seen service they were good, they were tough they wanted to do well they knew all about the war from elder brothers or fathers
and they just settled down and battled on they were good. And some of them were regular army and some of them came in K Force as volunteers having been in the army not necessarily with operational service but having been in the army they were allowed to come back in as K Force and that was a 3 year appointment.
What distinction if any was there in the attitude or make up of the K Force soldier as opposed to the regular army?
When I first got there
it was noticeable the K Force regular army but it broke down very quickly. I think it started to break down at Kap’yong. I think once they got into really tough action together it didn’t matter. I did sense it initially but once Colonel Hassett arrived it didn’t matter. I did sense it initially but once Colonel Hassett arrived I mean it didn’t matter.
He was a person – he was a different personality to I.B. Ferguson. I.B. Ferguson was a remote man and he commanded in a remote way. Soldiers adored him and he was tough on officers I.B. Ferguson but the soldiers knew he was good. They had a lot of time for him. Now Colonel Hassett moved around much more and he like being a reinforcement CO he had to be adopted by the soldiers too, but he had such a personality
after the first patrol he did everyone was behind him. And he made such sense when he was talking to people, and he was good talking to soldiers. We had a couple of men who’d been in the Middle East, well Colonel Hassett had been in the Middle East. Well you bring your Middle East men forward, cause you’re proud of them and you say, “Sir this man he was in the Middle East,” and immediately Colonel Hassett would talk to him about the Middle East and that broke down
very quickly, the fact that he was CO as reinforcement. He got in with the people very quickly.
How long was it after you arrived that Ferguson was replaced with Hassett?
It must’ve been nearly 2 months, I should say, about 6 weeks I guess, 6 weeks.
Speak more about Hassett in a moment. You mentioned that one of your major concerns was how you’d react when you got under fire? Can you tell us about the first time
that you really knew that you were in a war zone?
Oh yes, well you knew you were in a war zone from day one, from what was going on and there was action going on in companies, when I was in headquarter company. And I had to go up to C Company once on a task, when I was at headquarter company, and they were then in action, but I wasn’t personally shot at and then I handled the transport that went out a
particular way and then the soldiers got out and had to go forward but we’d carried them in transport and my job was to see that the transport area was protected where they were going to get out of the trucks and see that the trucks were sent back. And the CO, it was Colonel Ferguson he came out in his jeep and he was going to sit and wait and see what happened to this company, and it was A Company with Bill Keyes in fact. So after about half an hour, I said to Colonel Ferguson,
“Sir, I’d like to go out in a company patrol and see what happens,” so after about half an hour he turned to me and said, “What are you doing here,” and I said, “I am your OC,” “I know who you are.” He said, “You said you wanted to go out on a company,” and I said, “Well I do,” by this stage, they were about half an hour in front. So off I went to chase the company up on my own, and eventually I found them and I got up to Bill Keyes where he was and said, “I’m here to just see what goes on.” And he said,
“Go back to the rear platoon do you mind?” a lovely man, so I said, “Not at all,” so back to the rear platoon and just after that they hit a contact and went into action. And so the rear platoon was to then go around on a flank and so I go in with them and we go around and all of a sudden just over the ridge someone started to fire. And I thought, who’s there, so I sort of went up on top to see who was there
and of course it wasn’t someone firing there, that was the sound of the shot coming my way. And I learnt that very quickly that the sound of shot, you’ve got to work out very quickly which way it’s coming. Fortunately nobody, not too many people saw what I was doing. One soldier did say, “Are you going to win this war on your own?,” or words to that effect, but that was the first time I was actually shot at and
that was quite an interesting patrol and there were some wounded in that and so I then had to go with the group carrying the wounded back.
Can you explain a bit about what the patrol was doing and what the whole situation was?
Yes, they were looking for the Chinese. They didn’t know where they were so they trucked forward as far as they thought was safe to truck forward, and then they moved – it was a platoon up at a time and later they put two platoons up, going forward to see where they were.
But the actual fire, initial fire and the chap that was wounded came from a Canadian tank which was also doing a patrol, but they fired into our area. And of course they always said we were in their area but I don’t know what the detail was, but that was how the person got wounded. But they did make contact with some Chinese who they then found out how far they could go and where the Chinese were. That was
the reason the patrol was there.
And was that working in whole platoons? How were you organised?
So they had the 3 platoons with them and he kept one 1 Platoon up in front and 2 back and when they hit something that forward platoon went down and the 2 Platoon went around either side again just to find out where the fire was coming from. Because of the Canadians hitting
into the company, and certainly one man was quite badly wounded. I don’t know what they did after that, I was told to get the wounded out, some of them could walk and one chap we had to carry.
What sort of wounds did they have?
Well, the walking wounded were shell fragments. Two or three could walk, but the man that had been hit
was hit in the leg and we had to carry him. He was the one that had been hit by this Canadian tank.
How did your reactions on that occasion match up to what you expected, and how did that influence you?
The embarrassment of not realising that the fire was coming towards us, that really was embarrassing, I thought, “Oh dear I should’ve known that from all my training
I’ve just got to be more alert in myself.” But I was interested to see what was going on. So I had to simmer down a bit and I guess the word simmer down is correct. I just had to take things a bit more quietly and not try and win the war on my own.
When a Canadian tank fires on Australian troops,
what are the repercussions of an event like that?
Well, they try to find out later what it was, why they fired. Our people did hold – we used to carry panels for signalling to aircraft one bright yellow and one bright pink panel and you used to lie them out in a particular code each – a different code each day so if aircraft were coming over that they’d know it was us and not enemy. And one soldier, it was
Sergeant Harris, George Harris, sergeant of one platoon, he held up one of the air panels which was a terribly brave thing to do and waved it like that, so that the Canadians would know it was us and not – well hopefully they knew it was us. They certainly didn’t fire again, but by then the damage was done. The wounded – the men had been hit.
How much of a concern was that in Korea, this
blue and blue or whatever they would call it at the time?
You mean people firing on one another, oh no, in any war it happens. It’s a sad thing to say and people say a mistake and we are given boundaries, but you’re working under pressures, you’re working in difficult terrain, reading a map under difficult terrain, and you see movement and you fire, and other people are firing.
I’m afraid it is one of the hazards of war. The artillery sometimes or the mortars sometime fall short and you get people hurt. You try desperately to avoid it but it does happen. Soldiers’ weapons go off by mistake. A man’ll throw a grenade and it’ll hit something and bounce back. Mistakes happen but it’s a hazardous
game and you just hope that you’re planning and you’re keeping alert enough to stop it happening. Aircraft come in sometimes and they napalmed a company in 3RAR which casualties were caused. It was one of the hazards that happen.
We have to change the tape.
Interviewee: Jeffery Shelton Archive ID 1012 Tape 05
I’ll start with that, you did mention that there was napalm of some of the troops of 3RAR while you were there? Can you tell us what happened?
No, I was not there. It happened earlier, before I came and that was with D Company. No, I can’t speak with any authority on that, but I certainly knew it happened and I had spoken to some people who were napalmed. But it was the aircraft that came in from the wrong direction, and it was just bad luck.
What instances apart from that one that you spoke of, where else that happened with friendly fire while you were there?
The, once when we were – a month later when we were in a defensive position, we took 3 American shells in amongst our company lines but we were all in holes, so no one got hurt. But it was a tremendous – it was heavy artillery and
really shook the whole place and gave us a fright, because if they’d followed up with something else, but very quickly we got through to headquarters and you know, we’re being shelled.
How do you know the difference between friendly fire and enemy fire?
Well, with artillery it’s easy because you know which way it’s coming, you hear it. But with mortars that’s more difficult, but you do hear the mortar go off. You hear a plop when it goes off. So if you
hear a plop from over there you know it’s the enemy mortar coming in and if you hear a plop from back there you know it’s our mortar. Providing there’s not too much going on at the time you would be able to tell. But normally when these things happen there’s a tremendous amount going on, so you may not know whether that fire, was it ours, was it theirs. You assume it’s theirs. But it doesn’t happen very often, these mistakes.
I can only think – I’m trying desperately hard to think how often it happened with us in A Company, but it wasn’t very much certainly, once that I can remember. The mortars came in pretty closely once, our 3 inch mortars, but we got back – we had what was known as a mortar fire controller a corporal with us who with a wireless sent back to the mortars and very quickly they were told, hey that’s too close,
but these things happen.
What of – can you tell me an instance when you had problems with mines?
Yes, for 12 months, because there are a lot of minefields there and to stop mass attacks you need the minefields. We didn’t have the numbers. You see, the Chinese had the numbers, we were covering large areas and the mission had a tremendous size area that it had to cover,
so some of the areas had to be mined. You had to watch the minefields. You had to cover them so they weren’t being picked up but then you’d move on and people would forget to maintenance the minefield. There’s so many of them to make a minefield fence. Sometimes they weren’t even our minefields, of course, they weren’t put down by the brigade or the Commonwealth Division, they would’ve been American
minefields or perhaps even South Korean minefields, so they should’ve all been marked on maps but they weren’t all marked on maps and you could’ve been in an old minefield that wasn’t marked.
Did you ever lose any men on a patrol when you were there?
Yes, we lost men – I personally didn’t – when I was on patrol we didn’t hit – we found we were in a minefield a couple of times but –
and you’d wait, and one man would walk out which way to go, and then the others would follow, and that happened a couple of times but we were always very worried about the minefields. The Chinese of course were pretty cunning, they’d sneak in and there’d be a gap where you could get through the minefield and they would close the gap and open it
further down, so that the gap would be into a minefield. I was only told about that, I never experienced in our front, but we were always watching that our gap was correct – hadn’t been moved.
That’s a pretty nerve wracking environment, how were you coping with the stress of being at the front line?
Yes, as time went on?
You get tired as – but when you’re aged 24,
well 20’s – a good through to about 25, you cope. Later on in Vietnam, I’d turned 40 and that was when I realised it was a young man’s war. A war is a young man’s game I should say. When you’re young, your body – mentally you take it, but you do get tired.
Can you take us into the
Battle of Maryang San and get on to that engagement?
Yes, well at that stage the Chinese had the high ground and they could look into the whole corps area, that’s a big area, so it was decided the whole force would move forward and take the high ground. Now the feature that 3RAR had to take, which was called Maryang San, we actually knew
it by 317, because that was its height. It was well forward of everybody else so it was quite a challenge for the CO being told that the brigade is going this far, but you are going a bit further. So he got warning of it and he had a group called the recce [reconnaissance] group, now that’s the company commanders, so we got into a vehicle, jeeps
and went forward to an area and then we patrolled forward like a normal patrol, so that they wouldn’t think we were a recce party.
Can you take us through that patrol in your mind’s eye or as much as detail as you can?
Oh yes, there were about the 4 company commanders, the CO, the intelligence officer, there were 6 officers, the CO signaller was with us and a couple of snipers who were our protection, so there were about 8 or 9 of us and we just moved
forward like a patrol would move, spread out, we weren’t showing maps or anything we had our weapons and we’d move forward and go so far and have a bit of a look and then go a bit further. So it was just a normal fighting patrol, moving forward. Then he got us forward to a particular area where we could go up on our stomachs and peer over and look into the enemy area and then we’d crawl back, having oriented what the area
What did you see?
You didn’t see any enemy, but you saw mountains. We’d looked at the map, we knew what we were looking for we saw this tremendous valley, which I’ll come back to in a moment, we saw a smaller mountain, a hill really 119, point 119 which was going to be a preliminary place where we were going to stay and we saw the main hill and the ridges running up to it, 317, and then we crept back out of sight of the enemy and
he then discussed what his plan was going to be. Then we went forward, I think we went forward only a couple of us at a time. I know I went forward with Nichols, who was B Company, and we looked at where we were going to move and then we went back and got out of the area. The Americans were holding the area – holding the
line that we went through. The American commanding, whether it was this day or at some other stage, he explained to Colonel Hassett that you’ll never get 317, we’ve tried twice you’ll never get it. You won’t be able to cross the valley and that was not very encouraging to us to hear, but to Hassett he said, “Well going across the valley that’s going straight at it, we’re going around the flank,” and that was his plan. And he got us
in. He used this expression ‘running the ridges’ which was an expression used in New Guinea where you get along the ridge lines and that’s what he planned to do. So he had a good plan and one of the other features of this plan was that we had a long way to go to get to 317 so he wasn’t going to be able to do it in one hit. So he needed a firm
base and this was going to be 199, so we marched in the day before, this was in October. And we marched in, in daylight, three companies. One company, D Company had been allocated to go and do a protection on one of the other – with one of the other battalions so there were only three companies – so we marched in B Company first and A Company followed and C Company followed A Company. But he kept 50
yards between each solider, so it took us all day to walk into this area, into the
Why was it done that way?
Because if the Chinese were watching the area, they’d just see one or two soldiers, they wouldn’t see 300 hundred. All day long we walked, it was quite pleasant like today, the sun was shining and no one was shooting at us and we just – the next soldier was 50 yards in front and we just quietly strolled up, up the – like a patrol going out
and the Chinese didn’t even know we were there. So we got in the night before, got into an assembly area and laid up. That was pretty dangerous, I thought that was the dangerous part, because C Company got up on a ridge line but B Company and A Company were on the flat, quite close to the river. If he’d come we’d have been pushed into the river. The river did a big bend there, the Imjin River so we were in a rather nasty little area that night. But he didn’t know
we were there. C Company were shelled, but we weren’t.
And you had overnight there?
Can you describe that night and how…?
Yes, we knew we were going to take out 199 and hold 199 for 24 hours. B Company were going to go in first, in the dark, under cover of darkness to get across this big valley. This was the worry. This was the valley that stopped the Americans. And B Company under Nichols we had to get
up and get on to 199 and get a platoon on to it, and once they got a platoon on to it, I was half an hour behind him in the dark, following him, and once he got that clear – platoon on to it, I would move across, take over, and he’d take his platoon back, and he’d hold a ridge behind us and we would dig in on 199. The way he was, the enemy would either shell us and was counter attack. Now whilst
we were doing this on 199, the big hill that overlooks it, and this was 355, it’s called Little Gibraltar or Kowang San, that was a British battalion was supposed to be taking that, KOSB, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, so the day we were moving up in the dark and taking 199, the British were supposed to be taking 355. Now they got held up, they couldn’t make it. And there was a lot of firing
going on. A lot of artillery and a lot of Chinese were moving about we could see at the rear. We were of course overlooked by that. Well we dug in on – there were a lot of holes there on 199, there had been some enemy there but B Company had shot them out of the place. So we got in quickly, expecting a counter attack to come in, and of course the Chinese start to shell and mortar us. But Colonel Hassett got tanks. How they got through, I don’t know, it was
the terrain but they got a couple of tanks up between A and B Company so they were – the tanks were able to do something about the enemy on the rear of the hill where the British were supposed to be and the machine gun section, the two Vickers guns with us, they had a go at the Chinese that we could see at about 3,000 yards. I don’t know what that is in metres now, but that was the limit that the
Vickers could do. They were about 2,500 years of 3,000 yards away, so they did that. Of course every time they started to fire, the Chinese would start shell and mortar us. However we were ready for the counter attack. And then in the afternoon who should turn up, and there’s lots of shelling going on, who should turn up in the company but Colonel Hassett. He’d come forward to see that we were all right. He’d gone to see B Company and see they were all right. Now that had a terrific effect on the soldiers, you know,
the colonel had come up. That was good, anyway he saw what we were doing, he saw what position we were in. He was still worried about the KOSB hadn’t taken Kowang San which was overlooking us, so he said, “Well dig in well and hang on here,” and so we did.
What resistance had you met up to this stage?
B Company had met some
resistance, not much, they obviously had an outpost on – not on that hit but they were on the next hill and of course where we were going 317, it was up there and they were up there but at this stage there was no small arms they could well have been patrolling but we didn’t pick them up. We had our patrols out but we didn’t pick anyone up but they were really just shelling and mortaring us. Hoping I suppose we’d go away. Anyway, we stayed the night, well
next day because the KOSB hadn’t taken 355, we were in a difficult position, we were out on our own a little bit and overlooked. So the brigade commander said, “3RAR you’ll have to help them,” and C Company were over that side of the valley and so Colonel Hassett said to Jack Girk, company commander, you’ve got to take – help them take a couple of features and he gave him the features he wanted him to take
and Girk said right and off C Company went. Well they got to those features eventually, tremendous fighting because the Chinese weren’t going to give up and the poor old KOSB are still trying to battle up the hill the other way and Girk looked on the hill and saw the Chinese were pulling out. And so he said back to the CO, “Look, I can get through to the top.” And
the platoon commander called Maurie Pears was there, and he said to Maurie, “Right we’re going to take the top.” And so they went up and they took the hill, the 355 which the KOSB were scheduled to take because they got in from behind and the KOSB were still trying to come up the front way. So they then signalled through to the KOSB, “Come on the hills yours. You can come up and take over.”
The CO of the KOSB never ever acknowledged that the C Company had done that, and in their history, their official history, they’re saying that really they got there first. So, I know who got there first, it was Jack Girk. However, we can’t worry about things like that. Well that was that day and again that day we were patrolling and looking at 317 where we were going and where we would have to go.
They still didn’t attack us on 199. They still kept shelling us but they didn’t attack us. So we hung out for another day and C Company got back that evening. C Company got back to their reserve position. They were a reserve company. D Company had arrived back so the Colonel was then ready for the following day to have a go at 317. Now what he was going, what his plan was,
was to use A Company to take the direct route, the ridge line in front of us, and just do the direct line to 317 and take the fire. In the meantime, he was going to slip B Company first of all followed by D Company, cross another valley under darkness up onto another ridge line and come in on the next ridge line. So, early in the morning B Company left. There was a mist,
so after dawn came, up they were able to cross the valley and get across the other side of the valley…
Can you describe those mists?
Oh yes, early morning mist like Canberra. You could – I could see you in the mist and see further forward but you couldn’t see very far and you wouldn’t be able to see 50 yards away of course. It was just too much mist. You could see shape but you couldn’t pick things up. So the Chinese didn’t know that B Company were crossing the valley and
they got across. We went forward at – I think our first platoon crossed over at half past six because they were waiting for us.
How could you navigate…?
Oh, we were doing it on compass and sticking to the high ridge line but on compass. No it was dicey, but they couldn’t see us, but they obviously knew we’d moved because immediately they started to shell us and mainly shelling
where we’d been. They mainly hit the ridge line 199.
And moving forward in that mist how would you know you weren’t going to encounter the enemy?
Well we didn’t. We sent one platoon forward first, they got over there and it was George Harris and then having got there I then moved the next platoon over and then the next platoon. No, that was dicey. But it worked. There was another
point of Colonel Hassett’s plan, he gave us two tanks or three tanks I think, three tanks. And they were to meet us and be ready to move. We were originally to move at 7 but he told me to move early to get in under the mist, so we actually moved half an hour early. So the tanks hadn’t arrived, but Colonel Hassett did give me the option that I could move with the tanks down in the valley, up there, or I could stay on the ridge
line and let the tanks go up the valley separately and I – let’s hold – we’re on high ground now, let’s stick to high ground so we’ll move independently of the tanks. So the tanks sent an officer to join us but of course he thought that we were leaving at 7, and we’d actually left at half six, so he had to walk through all that shell fire to catch up to us. And he was a New Zealander attached to the British Regiment, the 8th Hussars
and he’d been at Duntroon with me and the class after me. So he turned up with a big smile on his face saying that was a great welcome. But he was great, because he had communication with the tanks. Direct communication with the tank and they were wonderful. We were facing another problem and this really was the big problem that I had, the New Zealand battery, field battery, that was our touring battery that was supporting us, they could only man three forward observation
officers groups, so one company had to do without a forward observation officer, and that I had to give my officer up to go to one of the other companies, so I was without artillery support. But they put a British officer from a mortar, 4.2 mortar platoon with us and I’d never met him before. We had never had mortar support before and he was having trouble getting artillery support, so we were not
in a very happy position. We had the tanks down in the valley, we weren’t able to quick artillery support and we still had to press forward so that the Chinese’d keep thinking that the attack was coming from us and we just moved forward quietly. I took – the Colonel wasn’t hurrying me. He just said, “Go on, don’t lose too many people. Just go on steadily and take out each ridge line as you could do it.” So we just quietly moved – we were not doing the advance, the others were doing it, we were taking it quietly.
What enemy fire were you under at this stage?
Oh, there were small arms, they were there.
And had you suffered any casualties?
Yes, there were casualties, yes. And I can’t give you the figures now. They weren’t too bad. We’d get a platoon in and move another one up to give them support fire. We had the machine guns with us down there to help up. We’d move that platoon forward and then they’d get forward
then we’d move up behind them, and move another platoon up. It was just a quiet advance.
But was the mist still there?
The mist lifted about 11, and that was good because then the tanks could – the tanks were rumbling down in the valley and the enemy were terribly interested in them. I don’t think – I don’t know how – well they must’ve known we were coming, because they kept shooting at us, but they were fascinated by the tanks.
They were putting some fire down towards the tanks. Once the mist lifted and with the New Zealander with me, we were able to direct the tank fire on where we wanted the tank fire and that was good.
But what immediate action had you been involved in, had you had to use your gun at this stage?
Oh no, no, no, no I was not – you mean personally?
Oh no. At that stage I had a map, I was watching where the platoons were,
I had to try to persuade the mortar man to bring in artillery, rather than his damn mortars, which frightened the hell out of us when they came, because I thought he was bringing in artillery and mortars started to land in and I said, “Oh God, they’re mortaring us,” and he said, “No, they’re mine,” and I said “What!?” So anyway, that was not very happy little arrangement. But personally no, the platoons were forward
of me where I was.
What losses were you inflicting on the enemy at this stage?
Oh they shot a few. Sergeant Everleigh himself shot, I think he claimed about 5. He was actually supposed to be acting CSM, company sergeant major at that particular attack but he said, “Look I’d better go back to my platoon,” because it was a fairly new platoon commander, and he said, “I think I’m better off out there.”
How are you staying in touch with the platoons and deploying them?
We had wireless sets. We carried two wireless sets, one was back to battalion which a man called Mick Servos, wonderful soldier, he was on and then I had another wireless set working forward to the two platoons – the three platoons, because I was seeing each platoon commander anyway. So I would go forward, see the platoon commanders and then they would -
so most of it was verbal on the ground but we did have wireless contact with them. And also, the artillery officer he had a wireless set us well back to the, what I thought was to the artillery, but he was talking to his mortars and he was having trouble getting through, because he held me up a couple of times. He said, “I can’t move, I’m having trouble getting through.” Those wireless sets were not good and you could get screened
by hills. However I was still talking to – mainly to the adjutant rather than the CO, because the CO had gone forward, he’d gone forward up behind B Company, so he was well forward but he was on the other ridge. So all I ever got from him was, ‘keep going’ or ‘where are you?’, that sort of thing.
Can you keep us going after
the mist had lifted, I suppose?
Well I’d better – you’ve got the A Company picture where we’re taking enemy fire and just moving forward steadily. There were – I’ll come back to what the rest of the battalion was doing because that was the main attack, we were just diversionary. But there was another battalion, a British battalion which actually had it’s – it was due to be leaving the theatre. This was the Norfolks, a good
battalion, they’d done their tour of duty and they were about to be relieved and their advance party had already gone to Hong Kong and they were pulled in to be the 4th Battalion in the brigade because there was this gap to the left of us. This big hill behind us which eventually the KOSB was sitting on, but there was another hill called 217, which was also was dominating more where I was going. They were supposed to be taking out 217 and they were making
no headway. So we had 217 was still occupied by the enemy, and 317, and this was the ridge line I was on, was between them. So that was a worry to me. That’s why I had to take it very slowly. We couldn’t rush in, there was no way we would’ve got out if we’d gone in too quickly. Now, let me go back to the rest of the battalion, B Company had left early
gone across the next valley, got up into the ridge line in the mist. They were then supposed to swing left and head towards 317, but they were being fired on by a feature ahead of them. Now Nichols being the soldier he was, he goes to the sound of the guns. He attacked that feature. He wasn’t supposed to. That wasn’t part of the plan. And there’s still an argument whether he was lost or not. I don’t go into that.
When Nichols said he went for the guns, where they firing, I believe him. Anyway he took the feature out. And it was just as well, because when the mist lifted, the enemy on that would’ve got the battalion swinging up onto the hill. So he was sitting there on this extra hill, D Company then had to take over swing left and go up to 317. Well they battled on for a few hours taking ridge line by ridge line getting wonderful, wonderful
fire support from the artillery and the tanks. The tanks were in the game too. Not my tanks, the other tanks. But the company commander got hit. Hardam got badly wounded. And then the senior platoon commander, Geoff Leary, he got hit and he had to go out. And a man called Jim Young, a Middle East man, had been a gunner during the Second World War, knew his artillery a very brave man, he took over the company
as a platoon commander. And he’d been in the 30th, in the New South Wales Scottish, in between Second World War and Korea. Look great in kilts too. Anyway he took over – brave man – he took over the D Company and they kept going and – but Colonel Hassett had his tack head quarters close behind, a couple of ridges back so they –
a few ridges back, but they could see what was going on. He knew what was happening, so he then said, “Right, they’re too tired. They’ll never make the top of the hill,” as was in the original plan, so he had his C Company, which was a reserve company just behind him. So he sent for Jack Girk, who was there in a flash. And all he had to say to Jack, “The hill’s yours.” And Jack said, “right,” and they talked a bit about fire support and off Jack went picked his company up and said, “We’re taking the hill.”
And so they did. They went through D Company, went up the top and took out 317. Everyone said it wouldn’t be taken. So there they were up on top. So then the colonel got in touch with me and said send a platoon up to them. So I said to George Harris, “This is your turn again.” So ‘swzit’, Harris took off very bravely because we didn’t – the other hill, 217, still hadn’t been taken by the Brits and he fought – he got his platoon, he didn’t get hit by anything. He got up on a ridge line and got up to the top
and joined C Company and I was then pulled back with the rest of A Company, the two platoons of A Company to hold the rear area purely because the battalion was so much out on its own. And what the Colonel said later was, we could’ve been cut off, you’ve got to hold that rear area and – or rear hill. It was almost where B Company had been, back near 199 to keep open the communications and make certain the Chinese didn’t get in behind us.
So we went back there with a platoon up on 317 and they fought out the first night. And that’s, that was Maryang San. Well now, the Chinese were very keen on Maryang San, so C Company next day when the daylight went in and extended their position on Maryang San, got further forward. They allowed my platoon to come back to me. So they came back and then
because the British had not been able to take 217, the brigade commander said, well obviously the way to take 217 is for a company of the British battalion to go in through 3RAR, and come in from the top side. So they were ordered to join 3RAR, but their CO said we are too far away, we can’t make that in the dark. So in the meantime,
Colonel Hassett had said, well to assist them I’ll take a further feature. This was known as The Hinge. So he brought up B Company who’d been sitting over here and he brought the anti tank platoons and tanks and put them where B Company were. They were pretty low on the ground, spread out. And he got B Company up to the top of the hill in the dark and they rested up with C Company.
They were all jammed in together. And then early next morning he brought my company, A Company up the hill as a reserve – up behind – and B Company then had to attack across and take out this Hinge feature, which they did. Again the Chinese fought like mad to hold it. And they managed it – but in fact the Chinese let them go past at one stage and then hit them
from behind. Anyway they sorted it out and they got into that position. The Colonel got up onto to 355 – he was up on 355 – sorry, he was up on Maryang San, 317, when B Company attacked across because he was there with the New Zealand battery commander, a wonderful man and the tank major. They were all up on top of the hill bringing
down the fire support to help B Company. And the B Company got on to the position and then they had to hold the night there. In the meantime, the British still couldn’t take out 217. But as Colonel Hassett said, with us sitting on the Hinge, they’ll pull out over night. And then he said to me well you can’t get through, back you go. So we picked up the wounded and went back down the valley. Picked up,
mainly from the C Company the wounded… and went back down the valley again, back to where we were, back into reserve. Just got back into reserve and he said, “Looks as though you’ll have to go and take over from B Company,” and then he decided it was too late in the night, or too late in the after, so he said, “No, I’ll have to leave B Company to fight it out tonight.” And they, B Company fought it out on their own. They attacked them
I think about three times, B Company, but the fire support was tremendous. And they survived and next morning the Chinese gave up. They got out of 217, so the Norfolks walked in and took over 217 and the Chinese pulled back.
How many nights had you been out there?
This was six nights. That was quite a lengthy battle. Day and night, in fact, and the battalion
had taken a lot of wounded and it was tired. And the colonel said to the brigadier, now come on this battalion is now tired, and the Brigadier said, right we’ll take the KOSB 317 and put them in. So the KOSB came over and took over, took over Maryang San. And we pulled down then and took over one of their approaches to Maryang San.
During the night
can you describe sort of being under some of these artillery barrages that were going on or how badly were you shot?
Well, A Company on the bad night, that was the night that B Company being attacked… we were standing too of course, but we were not being hit at all, but it looked as though the whole was being – it was just being inundated with rockets and fire. They, B and C Company took a tremendous amount
of battering that night. So there was firing going on for a considerable time. Then it’d stop for a while and then it’d start and you’d hear the small arms fire and we – well we didn’t know what was happening, but we were reserves so we were ready to go up if we had to go.
Was there any time where you had to use your own rifle during that engagement?
No, I did not personally engage in enemy in that period. Such a good company, it wasn’t necessary.
For you it sounded like things had gone pretty much to plan, had there been any moments of doubt in your mind or uncertainty of what was going on?
No, well there’s always uncertainty because you never know where the enemy is or what the enemy’s going to do. So the uncertainty of the enemy’s there. But I knew Colonel Hassett would have it under control. I mean we all did. And he did. So you just did what he said, if he said move back, you moved back. He said move forward, you moved
forward and that was – that worked out. The worry you have has a company commander, I explained the worry when I couldn’t artillery support, but they’re the sort of things that worry you. Then the poor old tanks ran out of – and they’d done very well at brassing up the enemy, they were the tanks that I had, they ran out of ammunition. And I got this cheery voice
saying, “Oh well thanks for the day, we’re off now,” that sort of thing. The liaison officer with me said, “Well, it’s been nice knowing you, I hope I get back safely,” and he left me.
The expression ‘brassing up’, does that come from that period?
Oh I think so, yes. No, ‘brassed off’, didn’t invent that word. No, brassing up was always an expression that the artillery used when they were spreading their joy around the battlefield.
What were your losses in your company?
A few wounded, we had no killed. I can’t give you statistics. There were a few wounded. I should say about 5. I’m sorry I can’t give you statistics.
Are there any particular images that stick in your mind from those six days out there?
Well I had – I had to go up the top – when we were brought forward, I kept the company in the rear
area and I had to go up the top and see the colonel and see what was going on and I just arrived up there, and all of a sudden they were shelled and mortared, so I jumped into a hole and I was with Jack Girk and that was when he and I became friendly. You know, I asked him what was going and what would I have to do and where would I have to go, and you know, he was explaining to me the situation up on top of the hill. And
in fact, I never got called to have to do it, we didn’t have to do it. But it would’ve been interesting… period.
What’s it like looking out over a battlefield, that battlefield in that time?
Well, when the shelling is going on, of course you’ve got your head down. It’s only periodically do you stick out and have a look at it but it was pretty messy. You know there was a lot of damage.
And you couldn’t see – you could see the ground, but you couldn’t see the soldiers very well because they were all dug in, in holes and you’ve just got the general impression of the ground. I mean I was looking for routes to get the company through and so I was looking on the reverse slope trying to see how far down the hill we could get, to get across. You couldn’t, because of the steepness, there was no way we would’ve had to go across the ridge, the top of the ridge. It would’ve been difficult.
Interviewee: Jeffery Shelton Archive ID 1012 Tape 06
We’ve been talking about Maryang San and how that battle – and how you were taken out of that battle. Can you tell me what happened immediately afterwards?
Yes, immediately afterward the British battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers took over the hill, we were then moved on to the eastern approaches to Maryang San. We were
still in company positions, we were a bit tighter on the ground than we had been. We were to protect the eastern approach to the hill and we were there for quite some time. But the Chinese in November, early November, put in a tremendous attack on Maryang San. I don’t know the statistics, but they hit it with everything and some of our closer companies got a little bit of shelling and mortaring. And
rocketing too, and the KOSB had to pull off it, and we never got it back again. So, when I say we, the United Nations never got it back and it’s still deserted. It’s in the, in the zone between North and South Korea, quite a deserted mountain now, and we had to then pull back, because we were overshadowed by
the hill and they never attempted to take it again, the United Nations. I should say that at this stage winter was fast approaching, and we had to get back and get into what were known as winter defensive areas. So we moved back to an area where we dug in and got ready to go through the winter, which is a very severe winter. Snow and ice and everything below zero, hard to dig in so it was important to get into a
good defensive area.
Can you tell us about the winter, and how that affected things in Korea?
Now this was the second winter. The first winter the battalion went through a very difficult time, because they didn’t have the correct clothing and the Americans were very good to them, with giving them wind jackets and but the Australian Army was not equipped for a winter of that severity. But by the second winter when we were in the Commonwealth Division, we were given
excellent clothing and it came through the British system and we were extremely well equipped for the second winter. It was still very cold, we weren’t moving very much. We were in a defensive position right under the Chinese dominated hill, in fact where A Company was, but there was very little movement. We still had to patrol and that was difficult in the snow and in the cold but there wasn’t the movement that there had been in the previous
winter. Difficult period, you had to keep your weapons very clean and the soldiers very clean. You had to inspect their feet during the day to make certain they weren’t getting foot rot or frost bite, a difficult period. And this went on, of course, until the spring came, which does come in a hurry and it’s rather. Almost overnight, you started to get warm again and the grass started to grow
and the trees started to blossom but the winter was difficult. Mainly defensive positions, a lot of patrolling some clashes with the Chinese but not major clashes that we had such at Maryang San. The peace talks were then still going on. They went for another couple of years, another year after I left. And I went out on the 20th of May, because I’d come in on the 20th of May. So,
I had finished my year in Korea and I was sorry to leave. I would’ve stayed if they’d let me.
Can you tell us about how – some examples about how the weather made it difficult during the winter?
Yes, the first time it snowed, because some of the soldiers hadn’t been clever with their gear, they’d left some of their gear outside the weapon pits, their gear had been hidden under the snow that had fallen. So
they were scrabbling around in the snow looking for their shovel or something. So that caught some of the newer soldiers by surprise, not the older soldiers. When it went below zero, you could tell a difference in the way the weapons sounded, the artillery and the wire would freeze and it would twang and immediately people would think someone’s on the wire fiddling with – trying to break the wire. Little matters like that.
Personal toilet was very difficult in the freezing – you know just the simple matter of going to the toilet is a terrible business in that freezing cold and getting washed was difficult. We used to shave everyday but the Americans weren’t too keen on doing that, but we did. We believed that was correct. You shave and you clean your weapon, that’s part of the drill. They did send a shower unit and I think once a fortnight we were
taken back in trucks in rotation, and put through a shower and given clean underclothing, and that was tremendous. And I have to add that there was a system that we were sent to Japan at one stage for 5 days that was after about 4 months. And then after about 8 or 9 months we went over there sometimes it used to run into about 3 weeks, and you got a good break and got clean and
in fact I went skiing, the 3 weeks I was over there. I went back to Korea even fitter than when I was – started skiing. And that was run by the Americans very well.
Can you explain a bit about the setup for R&R [Rest & Recuperation] or whatever it was called at the time?
Well it was called R&R, and it was in Japan and the Americans had bases set up and the British and Australians had bases and you had a choice of where you’d like to go and some people liked to go back to Kure where the Australians’
families were, those that still had families there. Most of us went to Tokyo. Officers were allowed to stay at a hotel called the Maranuchi. The soldiers mainly went out to Ebisu Barracks which we knew were old and then they used to come into – they were allowed to fraternise then, they were allowed to come into the beer halls in Tokyo and go sightseeing, and as I say the Americans were running a very good ski resort which you could, you were allowed to go up there for 4
days, but when I got there I taught the – the American major that was running the place, that I would help him so I stayed there for almost three weeks. And I did help him too. I helped him meet people and did a little bit of administration for him.
It would’ve been a couple of years since you’d been there in the occupation forces, what differences were evident to you in Japan at that time?
Well many more troops were there of – and the war had brought a
friendliness with the Japanese. They were supporting administratively with food and they were very co-operative and there was a freedom that we didn’t have in the occupation force, and you didn’t get arrested if you were seen talking to a Japanese girl, as could happen.
How did an officers’ R&R differ from that of the regular troops?
Than the soldiers – only I think we went into a hotel, and they went into a rest camp. I think that was the only difference. No I don’t think there was terribly much difference. I think if the soldiers had got the right contacts with the Americans, they could’ve gone skiing,
I really don’t know. I can’t answer that very well.
Were there any problems with the regular soldiers or anyone coming into Japan and behaving badly?
There was the odd case of – and it’s just drinking a bit much and giving cheek to American provos [military police] I think was one of the main sports that they had and that’s not a very healthy way to act. So a couple did get into trouble.
But it wasn’t serious, it’s just soldiers being a bit silly.
How much did you mix with the Americans and other forces socially at that time?
Well, because I was skiing with them, I mixed a fair bit. It depended what you wanted to do. Some of my friends were golf players and they went off to a place called Kuarni and played golf with the Americans. It was a pretty free and easy relationship with the Americans and
with the British and there were Belgians there and Indians and there was quite a – with United Nations it was a cosmopolitan group. Australian officers usually went to this hotel Maranuchi which Australia did run during the occupation, so we knew it pretty well, so that’s why we sort of based up there as our base.
What did you think of the Americans specifically, those that you dealt with?
Well again being in a
Commonwealth Division, or in a British brigade, we didn’t see them that closely. So I’m not really a person that you can ask about that. They certainly, as I said earlier, we very generous and we did a little bit of work with them but not – I can’t comment as a captain and then a major we were not closely aligned to them. I’m not the person to talk to about that.
What about the Brits, you told that
very interesting story about them shooting grouse on your land in the early parts. What problems or otherwise did you have with…?
They’re wonderful people, they’re quaint they really are, compared to – course they think we’re quaint too, but they do have some funny, funny, habits. They were all regulars, with some National Servicemen with them and they were a bit older than we were. Their company commanders were well into their 30s, some of them in their late 30s. A bit old in that type of war
and that climate, but we were really friendly with the armoured regiment called the 8th Hussars and in fact we became affiliated, 3RAR became affiliated with them purely because of that close relationship and they were tremendous people. And we were also very close to the New Zealanders. Except the New Zealand soldiers and Australian soldiers, they will chiack one another. So there’s a bit of
acting the goat going on, which could be misinterpreted by anyone from outside, but we all knew it was pretty friendly stuff.
I heard stories, maybe you heard them or you now of this of Anzac being celebrated in Korea? Can you tell me anything about that?
Yes the Anzac Day in – I’m getting my years mixed – it’d be 1952 that I was there, Colonel Hassett invited the Turkish
Brigadier to come over and join us which he did and that was quite a great day but we did have stand down day on Anzac Day and we were in reserve so that was all right, and the soldiers had their little gatherings and there was extra beer, and no, it was observed by the padres originally, initially early in the morning, and then went on to each company had it’s own little
party. We weren’t into barbecues in those days, but there was some relaxation out in the companies.
What was the official party with the – in the presence of the Turkish brigadier doing?
He just came over to visit us. So they had a nice luncheon and he met a few of the soldiers, couldn’t talk English, so he had to do it through an interpreter. But he was a really tough looking brigadier and had a very nice manner, so he got on very well. We all shook his hand about 20 times, and
he kept thumping us on the back telling us we were great. We kept telling him he was great.
You mentioned the Anzac tradition wasn’t so prominent while you were still in the Second World War by the time of Korea, had it become something you were imbued with or?
Well, once you become a returned soldier it does start to mean a lot more. And I was always aware of the Anzac tradition, because of my father being a
First World War man and very interested in the RSL, so I was aware of it, but it means more once you’ve become a veteran.
During that more static phase towards the end of your service in Korea, are there any incidents that particularly stand out from that time that you remember with some…?
It’s hard work, all that patrolling and not meeting many of the enemy. The soldiers get a bit difficult
to handle when there’s not too much going on and we also had to keep training which because we were getting new people in all the time and the older soldiers really got bored with, you know, what are we training for we’re here, we’ve done the job, why do you need to train. Not realising that we had to bring the young soldiers into the team. So it was a difficult man management period, right up until the time I left. By then of course I was one of
the old hands. I think they’d stopped calling me ‘baby face’ behind my back, but it was difficult man management and you had to work at it.
How did the fact that the war had become more or less static affect the morale of the troops?
In a way it’s – I think they were delighted that they’re not moving all the time and they’re not getting shot at all the time,
but they want to be doing something and when they’re going out patrolling – I’m not saying that they wanted to be shot at, but they wanted to see some value for what they were doing. And we were tramping for miles and really not seeing too much. So it was difficult for the soldiers.
And you mentioned there were attempts to capture Chinese prisoners of War. Can you tell me about one of those?
Yes I can. That came from higher command, that they wanted
to know who we were up against. Therefore an order had come through sent out a patrol and capture a prisoner. Now that’s a very difficult thing to do. It’s a highly dangerous operation and it means people are going to get hurt trying to capture them and no one wants to be captured so the person’s going to fight for his life. We were not success – well certainly when I was there, we were not successful. We got one prisoner, but he got lost in the minefield
and couldn’t find his way out. So we literally rescued him, but of course we had to capture him. But that really was not a patrol going out to capture a man we were just lucky to get him.
Where did those orders come from?
When I said higher command, I believe it came from the Americans, not from the divisional commander but I’m not certain of that. It certainly came down through the line that we were to capture a prisoner.
Where there ever any orders you were
given as a company commander or indeed perhaps the CO was given from higher that you questioned in Korea?
Well I wouldn’t know about what the CO was given because he kept things pretty quiet, kept it to himself. I found out later from him that he was quite surprised with what we were being asked to do, to take Maryang San but he never disclosed it to us, and we were very close to him. So he kept that to himself. So I can’t speak for him. From us
no, there were no orders that particularly worried us. Some of the criticism we got for instance from a British brigadier that was a bit hard to take. We’d come had come into an area and taken over from another battalion and in our company area the hygiene and the mess was pretty bad, and he came in within 24 hours of us being there and then criticised me because the area was not very tidy. And that
was an unfortunate occurrence, I thought. Anyway, my CO he spoke quietly to the brigadier and told him the facts of life, and bounced off my back, but there’s no order that I can recall saying, ‘here this is crazy’.
By – towards the end or your tour you said you’d become an old hand. How had your views on the war changed?
Well, look my views on the war hadn’t changed at all. My confidence in myself had changed a bit. I knew that I could keep smiling and that’s important. And also I become – I felt as though I belonged whereas when you arrive initially you know you’re an outsider. Now to feel that you belong you’re all part of the
team that’s a great morale booster. So, and I was sorry to leave to be quite honest.
Can you tell us how the lead up to you leaving and what the process of being replaced by reinforcement is like?
Well, you knew which date you had to go out and that dreadful business, people were counting the days till you had to go which I refused to do. I just forgot about that. And we were out, we were in
reserve in fact and it was just a simple matter of me just bundling up my gear and saying to the 2IC, goodbye and good luck, it’s all yours.
On coming home what did you find the reaction to the war in Australia was like?
Well, there was certainly no problem like Vietnam, with people saying that you shouldn’t have been
there, but people didn’t know too much about the war. Your family knew about it, but other people, it wasn’t a very big war in the public’s eyes. Not like World War 11, where everybody was involved and there weren’t many of us there. It was just a battalion plus at that stage. Later on two battalions were there so people – my friends knew where I had been. They’d say, “How did it go?” and I’d say, “Fine,” and that was it,
then we got on with life.
Was that ever a cause for concern, the lack of public recognition?
Not at the time. Not to me. I’ve never heard people complain. We came back separately because we didn’t come back as a unit so we just had to fit in quietly and we were well looked after when we came back and then you just fitted into life. And it was hard to say goodbye to my parents cause
I was off to England. So having been away for quite a time, I said, “Hello, goodbye,” and went off to England.
Your training had been leading up to being able to fight a war. You’d now been involved, you’d done that. What was in store for you now and how did you feel about your career in the military at that time?
Well, I got much more interested in infantry in particular and in leadership watching people. I was fascinated watching Colonel Ferguson and then later Colonel
Hassett, their different techniques. I became interested, I was very interested in that and I in my own mind thought, well that’s war and we’ll have to train and get ready for the next one. And so there were changes in techniques of course. The helicopter was coming into use and that was and that made a big change in our life. I was still very fond of tanks. I knew that they were
always going to be great on the battlefield. But then I was sent over to England to train with the British Army and that was interesting, seeing a good army operating. And I went to their School of Infantry, which was beautiful – very well run and again you meet all these wonderful characters. The British officer is quite unique, they can all speak
so well. A lot of them had had a tremendous amount of experience. They were great to work with.
Just picking up on something you said, you mentioned helicopters, what did you see of helicopters in Korea?
Very little, because they were not permitted to fly forward of the rear areas, because of fear of being shot down. They had those Little Sue [Bell 47] helicopters, dear little things which they could take a
stretcher on the side. We used to see the helicopters taking the VIPs [very important persons] up the valley going to P’anmunjom during the peace talks, but operationally we didn’t see them at all. They came forward a couple of times to pick up wounded. In fact one ex-66 Battalion man was being carried back badly wounded and became conscious, and pulled his bandages off and bled to death before he landed. So
a bit of a worry about being on a helicopter, you’ve seen in all in MASH the way they do – in the TV film, they way they do it. But that was a dangerous way for a badly wounded man to be carried but of course if they hadn’t been carried they would’ve died anyway. So we did not see much of helicopters but they were starting to be used. Marines were beginning to use them in operations but we were not. That’s the American marines. We were not using them operationally.
It’s hard to take yourself back
to a world without helicopters, having become so important, especially in the military? How did that machine capture your imagination at the time?
Well a friend of mine, Renee La Mercier, who had our mortar platoon, he kept arguing we should’ve been using helicopters to carry the mortars forward and the ammunition, and no one was listening to him at the time but of course he was right and of course that’s exactly what happened.
But there weren’t that many around and of course Australians didn’t have any. We have light aircraft there, light fixed wing aircraft and we did a fair amount of flying as observers with them out on reconnaissance and that was great fun.
What experiences did you have of dealing with air support in general in Korea?
Not very much. The problem of air support there in Korea was when you need the air support, you also needed the artillery.
Now if you’re going to get close air support coming in with you or close to you, you’ve got to stop the artillery, and that was always a danger to us as an infantry in the company. One would prefer to have the artillery on tap, not stopped for awhile. Also, it was difficult country so they could make mistakes which had happened but it was better to see the air support going where the artillery
couldn’t go such as the Chinese gun lines. And they were very successful getting in amongst them. Also there wasn’t that – we didn’t have that much opportunity to call for air support. There wasn’t that much of it in our division.
There was a couple of points that pick up in your career as it followed on
after Korea. You mentioned that you went to England and you were married?
You came back to Australia to Duntroon again?
Back to the School of Infantry, initially, and then later a few months later to Duntroon, yes.
How had you found that the military college had changed in the time since you were a student?
It was much bigger than when I was a student. We were a 3 year course, they were a 4 year course. Very
good quality of cadets were there. The present Governor General, Mike Jeffery, was a cadet. That was the standard of boys that was there. Colonel Hassett was the Director of Military Art and CO, a delight to work with and most of the officers were – they were hand picked. Each corps wanted to put a good officer there, so that officer could have the authority to pick good cadets for
their corps. So the armoured corps officer, a man called Mark Bradbury, he was top line fellow. Jack Stud the gunner, top line man. So you were working with good officers, you were working with good cadets and it was just a happy posting.
You mentioned it was one of the best jobs you had in the army?
Why would you say that in retrospect?
I think because of the group of people I was working with and the keenness. Coming back to earlier work a lot of infantry soldiering is pretty
boring. You’re walking up and down hills or you’re digging holes or you’re putting out wire time and time again. There is a challenge every now and again but it’s not the excitement that was at Duntroon where you’ve got young people who are keen to learn and plenty of variety in the training. And it was just the atmosphere and the Field Marshal, Sir William Slim said they need a band here and so a band was formed in 1954
from soldiers and so there’s a regular band and that made life a lot easier. I should mention that the band used to be double trained. They had to be stretcher bearers and well as bandsmen. And now of course that’s been changed, and a soldier musician is dedicated to his musical work.
How did that change, just to go on a tangent?
Purely I think through keeping the professional musician at a good
standard and also on the medical side you needed a full time medical assistant not a part-time bandsman. You’ve noticed we’ve lost the musicians in the battalions. The good bands we used to have who were musicians or bandsmen and stretcher bearers, they’ve now gone and they’ve got pipes in some of the battalions. One battalion has a proper band but that’s manned by band corps people and
they’re dedicated bandsmen. But you do need music. It’s all – it’s part of the military life. It’s important for example over at Kapooka which is a recruit training battalion, when a civilian comes in, he hears the band straight away, and he knows this is where he belongs. From the civilian point of view, you hear a band, a military band and you know the army is around and it’s an emotional value and that’s why I believe
it was important. When I was a cadet – when I was adjutant at least, the band started at Duntroon and that I thought was a wonderful idea, and it’s still there. Next year in May, it has its 50th anniversary.
Moving on, you were later in Staff College in India?
And how – it must’ve been a very interesting experience. Can you tell us a little bit about what you learnt from the system over there?
Oh, that was fascinating
because they have a very, very big army. And this was a defence staff college. We were army, navy and air force altogether. We do it now but we weren’t doing it then. So it was interesting to see what the navy did and see what the air force did. But purely from a soldier’s point of view, just seeing another army, and such a large army operating. It was great. And having done the staff college
for a year, I then went to their School of Infantry at a place called Mau for 3 months and that was great to see their instruction. And they work hard. They’re good soldiers, those Indians. They of course had a – they were interested in – or worried, concerned about Pakistan, so they – their staff college, we did discuss the problems that they were facing and it was good
training because you had – well I shouldn’t say it enemy but we were well aware that they were thinking about Pakistan. And also they very interested about China. So from a straight professional point of view it was fascinating to be in a different country with their worries.
How much was the modern Indian army following on from the traditions of
the British Raj and the army that they had under Britain?
They were training on British lines at that stage. This was 1956, I don’t know what they do now but their mess procedure was the same as we do all on British lines. Their organisation, the same as ours, on the British line. They’re administrative system, the same as ours, on the British lines, so it was good for me to go into an
area like that, that was British. We had a Frenchman there, who was a bit puzzled about some of the administrative things that was different from them, but it was good from an Australian point of view to see how they operated.
During the next decade, I know we’re moving forward here, but we’ve got a lot to get through, the Australian Army did change in a lot of ways.
Can you talk about how the British system was influenced perhaps by other…
Well America came in after Korea, and because of the political situation in Asia with the British pulling out of Asia, we did become interested in what the Americans were doing. They do work a different system to us, administrating and in training so we’ve got to be aware of it and so we were looking towards America as much as looking towards Britain. I thought we were taking the best out of the British
system and the best out of the American system. I think we were doing well at that stage. Probably – I’m sure we still are.
What stage specifically are we talking about?
This is about 1960, when we tried out the pentropic division which was a larger battalion and did away with the brigades and went for 5 Battalion Division and we trained very hard to see whether that was going to work. It had its problems, and in fact Vietnam broke out, so we had to go back to being a tropical establishment but
it was interesting training. It was a good idea to try out.
Was there any – well can you talk a bit about the advantages and disadvantages of that pentropic system battle battalion – battle group?
Battle group, it was called. Well it had its own artillery and its own engineers and so the battalion group had much more support under the battalion commander’s control. And that looked to be a good
idea from a finding point of view. It did have its difficulties, you know, getting a good balance. We had 5 rifle companies, for example, and that was quite a good force but you didn’t – it was very difficult to get a reserve outside the battalion. You could have a reserve in the battalion but we only had at that stage two battle groups so
there’d always be – both the battle groups would have to be involved if there was an action using the battle groups. So I’m glad we went back to the divisional system of 3 brigades.
Vietnam came to the Australian Army in two phases, 62 they sent the training team over and 65 they committed a battalion. When did it first come on to your radar? When did you first…?
Well I was – it was on the radar
as you say in 1964, when I was told I was off to England for a couple of years. And I did ask, then it was only a training team, were we going to commit combat forces, and I was told no and off I went to England. And of course I got to England instructing at the British Army Staff College, and our battalions did go and well, first of all
1RAR went, the 1st battalion went. So whilst I was there I was rather hoping when I got back I would be selected to command a battalion.
What did you know about the conflict in that early stage?
Very little initially, in Britain they were not interested in it at all. They used to say why they shouldn’t be there and others argued why they should be there. And they wanted the Americans to conduct the operation in Vietnam, the way the British Army had
conducted it in – the communist problem in Malaysia. But it was an entirely different set of circumstances and some of the techniques you could reapply, but it was wrong for the British to say, well we knew how to handle Malaysia why can’t America handle Vietnam. It was a different war.
It was also a war that people had strong opinions on, did you form an opinion one way or the other early on, on Vietnam?
No, no you –
in the army you go where you’re told to go. I was a bit upset that when people are being sent off to a war that there are people from a political point of view arguing against it. In a simple mind that I’ve got, is if you’re sending soldiers to war well people are loyal to those soldiers and you shut up and let them get on with the job. And I was very upset with – and later on it still annoys me that we have people who speak out against
Vietnam. The Government made the decision, well we go and do the job. And other countries don’t whine and whinge when their soldiers are sent overseas, they back them, particularly Communist countries. They mightn’t have much choice, but they do. They don’t carry on like we carry on.
Just before we get there, one last aside, you mentioned you met Sir William Slim and Montgomery, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yes, yes, well whilst I was an instructor
at Camberley, the two field marshals are invited over to speak to the students. Montgomery wasn’t invited he just wrote to the commandant and said, I’m available on such a such a day, and of course we had to change the syllabus to fit Montgomery in. And at the staff meeting when we were told, I said, “How delightful, I’d love to meet the Field Marshal.” To which the coordinating officer turned to me and said, “You’ve got him, so you’re the escort officer.” And
everybody laughed and I realised later that nobody wanted to be with Montgomery, he was so difficult. But as far as I – I was with him twice in fact all day and I just got on – I just listened to everything he said, a great egotist, but great man to listen to, so I was fascinated. Slim on the other hand was a different story. They all adored Slim. Again I was allowed to be the escort officer to Slim and look after
him. And he was just a soldier right to the bottom boot strap. His chin jutted out, he had a great – never talked about himself, which Montgomery talked all the time about himself, but just about soldiering in general and the changes and just a different type of man. Great man.
Just stop there and change the tape.
Interviewee: Jeffery Shelton Archive ID 1012 Tape 07
You met Montgomery, he had an opinion about Vietnam, can you relate his…?
Yes he thought that as there wasn’t a political solution obvious in Vietnam, that they shouldn’t be fighting there. He said, you’ve got to have a political solution before you start a war. Now you can argue against that but the way he was talking I certainly wasn’t prepared to argue against him and say we’re there to give them time to
make this political solution so they can work their country out. You didn’t get a chance to answer Montgomery back but that was his view. He was concerned on the political side.
How did he come to be addressing you and the Australians on the wisdom of Vietnam?
Oh, sorry, he was actually talking to the British Army Staff College. I was just there riding in the vehicle with him sitting next to him at lunch, being an Australian knowing we were in Vietnam, that just triggered in his mind
what – why he was against Vietnam. When he spoke in 1965, he did say that there were people in the British Army encouraging the politicians that the British Army should be in Vietnam and he put a case forward that, no, this was not a position that he thought for the British Army. But that was worrying about the political side
and I wasn’t prepared to argue with him on that.
When you got back to Australia from that posting, what did you know of the military situation in Vietnam?
Well, very little. The man that took over from me in Camberley, Alec Priest, had been in Vietnam commanding a battalion. So I had a brief talk to him, but mainly we were handing over the instructional side at Camberley. So I didn’t really know too much about it,
until I got back to Australia.
When you got back, how keen were you to still participate in this…?
Oh, I wanted to go and I was delighted when I was still at Camberley that I got a signal to say that I would be going to Woodside to take over 3RAR and if I’d asked – if they’d said to me where did I want to go I would’ve said I want to go to Woodside and take over 3RAR. So I got exactly what I would’ve liked to have done.
At the time, 65 and 66, the first National Servicemen were sent over there. What was your association with National Servicemen and involvement?
Well, once I got back to Australia – there weren’t any National Servicemen when I left Australia in 64, when I got back, of course the 2 year system was in being. So the first National Servicemen that I saw was when I arrived in 3RAR at Woodside in February. And the impression I got that
we’ve got some very bright boys. See they were 20 years old, we were used to recruits from 17 years old. That 3 years makes a big difference in a young man’s life. A lot of them were very well educated. There were some very, very bright boys amongst them. And the training, they were good to train because they were alert, they were bright, they’re fitting in – there was a bit of joking going on
between the regulars and the National Servicemen, but once everyone knew that we were off to Vietnam, that settled down very quickly.
Did you have any opinions one way or another on the National Service system at that time?
I thought it was brilliant. Two years was excellent. I would’ve liked to have seen 3 years, because in 3 years in an infantry battalion, those men that made corporal they would’ve been sergeants and there were some very, very good men amongst them. But 2 years was great. When it cut back to 18 months
I thought we’re playing with this. If you want to get value out of the soldiers you’ve got to train them for about a year, and then use them for about a year. So that 2 years was a very good system.
Yet at the time some of them may, may not have been there, their numbers were drawn out of a hat essentially…
They may not have been there essentially voluntarily. How does that affect you (UNCLEAR)?
In an infantry battalion, they turned
up, we knew their numbers came out of a hat, so did they. And they joked about it, never won a bet in my life except this one type of thing. And they – interested as any other soldier, they wanted to know who they would go. Some of them were worried about their families, or about their jobs when they got back, or their study. But once we could keep them busy training and in Vietnam, they settled down. I never – no
National Serviceman ever said to me, “I do not want to go.” I think there were times in Vietnam where every soldier said to himself, “What am I doing here?” but all soldiers say that to themselves at times. No, I thought the National Service was very good.
How did you feel being placed in charge of 3RAR?
Well, I was delighted. Having been a company commander
on two occasions there I wanted to command the battalion and I wanted to command 3. I would’ve liked to have commanded any battalion but of all battalions, I wanted to go back to 3.
Would you regard that as almost the pinnacle of your career there, an infantry officer can make to that level?
Yes, yes, once I’d finished command I did have to say to myself, well that’s it
now. How am I going to fill in the rest of my career? Not quite as bad as that, but no it is a pinnacle and particularly if you can go into operations with the battalion.
It must’ve been a great honour anyway, when you got back?
Yes, we were pretty worn out and tired when we got back. We had our problems, we had our problems in training, we had our problems over there. So one was a bit – well I supposed
tired’s the best way to describe it. You don’t come back throwing your hat in the air. There were some worries that we had to get through.
How long was the training period at Woodside for the battalion, before you went over?
Oh we really trained – well the battalion keeps training but the problem was that we had to keep changing people over. The battalion had come back from Malay and there were National Servicemen being moved in and out. There were regulars
being moved out and being replaced so we were going through a transitional changing period so we didn’t really get a good standard training of the whole battalion. We were able to train part of the battalion and then we had to fill it up with reinforcements. So it was not as good as one would’ve liked, but on the other hand I was pretty confident the people I had with me
that you took a photo of David Cann the operations office and the officers I had I knew we could – and some very good NCOs that had been in the battalion for quite some time. You knew that you could get through it. I should add the RSM was a very good man. A man called Vince Murdoch who’d been in 66 Battalion, the quarter master, a man called Wes Jones who’d been in 66 Battalion. So,
as regulars, we knew one another and we knew what each other could do. So although the training wasn’t quite as good as I would’ve liked, we knew we could get through all right.
Within the training, what differences did you make for the National Servicemen and the regular soldiers?
None. None at all, they’re just part of the team and so they just fitted in. I didn’t even know who was National
Service and who was regular. And it just didn’t make – I mean they were soldiers. With the officers, yes, you had to know where the officers had come from, for how you employ them. Where the National Servicemen, were they Portsea were they Duntroon, how much service had they seen, so that you could put the right officers together and give a good mix and with soldiers you just mix them up the way they came in
and let them – let the corporal sort it out and the sergeants and that worked. It worked. And these were bright boys. We’re talking about good men.
What was your understanding of the National Serviceman’s ability to have say in whether he goes to Vietnam or not at that time?
The way we worked in 3RAR, if someone didn’t want to go,
we found out. Now we didn’t – I didn’t get up and say ‘step one pace forward if you want to go’ we just said we’re going. But the officers knew jolly well that they had to watch that we didn’t want to take anybody that didn’t want to go, because they’d be a menace. And I don’t know how many people we didn’t take, that didn’t ant to go. I can’t give you a figure. I don’t even know if there were any. We had to
leave some National Servicemen behind for medical reasons, and a couple for compassionate reasons but it was not a problem, most of them wanted to go. They wanted to give it a go. They were in, they couldn’t live with themselves if they were expected to go and they didn’t go. That was my opinion. We had a lot of soldiers in the battalion who’d run out of National Service time. Had to train with us and weren’t going.
And they got a bit disheartened and disgruntled, and I didn’t handle them very well. Because we really weren’t – once we knew we were going we went early. We went about 5 or 6 months earlier than we expected to go because they needed a 3rd battalion up there. So I really couldn’t worry about the National Servicemen that we weren’t going to take, they were just numbers and I didn’t look after them very well. So a
few of them’ll be disgruntled that they weren’t handled very well and rightly so. But we were busy, we were flat out getting ready.
What was this sense of urgency? Why was there…
Initially, there were 2 battalions – initially there was 1 battalion, then they got a task force there with 2 battalions, but that didn’t give the task force commander any flexibility at all. You’ve really got to have 3 battalions, so he’s got the flexibility to operate properly. So the
army had recommended that we should send a 3rd battalion, but the problem of course was manpower. Were there enough officers? Could we keep it going? For how long could we keep it going? Because the regular army is not a very large army, and National Servicemen had to be – I think we have about 40% National Servicemen. They had to be spread amongst the regulars. So there were a lot of manpower problems involved. And so it was kept,
well it was a secret that they were talking about a third battalion and then it got announced and then off – we had to accelerate our training and we got tremendous encouragement from General Daly, the man whose photo you saw me with. He was the Chief of General Staff. He stepped in personally and came to see me on a couple of occasions to make certain that everything was all right. When I told him what was wrong, it was fixed overnight. The Director of infantry was a man called David
Thompson. He was tremendous, he was on the phone, what’s wrong – such and such – fixed. So we got tremendous co-operation once we were going.
Physically, how do you take a battalion to Vietnam? Can you take us through the steps?
Yes, of course. Well once we were warned and we went through our final training and kitting and medical exams and briefings, we took a company over as advance party and we flew over. I went
with the advance party, and went into the area that we were going to occupy as a battalion.
Where was that?
It’s in a place called Nui Dat, which was inland from Vung Tau which was on the coast which was the main entry port for Australians. And Nui Dat was about 3 hours inland. Right in the centre of nothing, so it had to be a protected base and it was a good base. There is
discussion whether it should’ve been, where it should’ve been, but you’ll always get discussions like that. So we had advance party there for a few weeks, working everything out and getting oriented and finding out what we had to do. The rest of the battalion came up on an aircraft carrier, the Sydney, and it arrived just after Christmas and we met them and fitted in. Now the task force commander knew that we were short
on our training side, so the first 2 operations we went on he said to me, these are a training exercise where you can try things out. A training exercise with live troops, with live enemy, because there were enemy around which gave us a feeling that we were really there, but they were two very good operations so we could sort ourselves out and we just got finished on that operation. We were going to go and do
a third, but Tet Offensive arrived, and so the whole situation changed and we were into it.
You said before, in Australia, you were under-trained or your training hadn’t been completed yet, you were accelerated to go anyway?
How did that situation come about as being in charge of the battalion especially for the first time it must’ve been a little bit unnerving to (UNCLEAR)?
It was, there was an
exercise, a battalion exercise held at Shoalwater Bay against a British battalion from Malay which came out for the enemy. We didn’t have – some of the officer positions were held by temporary people. They weren’t going to be the people that went away and a lot of the soldiers were National Servicemen, who were not coming with us. So that was a bit unbalanced. So that’s why I meant that the training was not quite what I would’ve liked. I would’ve preferred to have gone for this exercise at Shoalwater Bay with
every officer on the ground, with all the soldiers on the ground that I was going to take. That couldn’t happen, that was a manpower reason. We just accepted it and did as best we could and we didn’t get a particularly good report out of that, but we knew what was wrong and we knew how to correct it, and once we got the officers and reinforcements in, we just kept at the job.
Can you tell us about flying over and stepping off the plane, that trip?
I actually had been to Vietnam a couple of times before, so it wasn’t a big surprise when I arrived. And… we flew over in a commercial aircraft which had been – we weren’t sitting in an air force aircraft it was a commercial aircraft, so it was a rather comfortable trip over. We got into Saigon, and billeted for the night and then flew down to Nui Dat. Met by the brigadier and told to get on with it, which we did.
What were the trips you’d made
I went over in 1964 before I went to Camberley, for a few weeks purely to be briefed on what was going on. This was when the training team was there before the American combat troops, was just to see the Vietnamese operating. And I spent most of my time travelling around with an Australian officer who was prepared to show me what there was to see. And that was really just an observer’s view of it. In
1967, just after our Shoalwater Bay exercise, Phil Bennett who was going to command 1RAR and myself, we were sent over to have a look at what the operations were like, and I stayed with Charles Worth in 2RAR and see what they were doing. So that when I – when both Phil and I went back to Australia to go on training, our battalions, we had a better idea of what the conditions were and what we should be training in.
What were your impressions
in 67 when you went over on that observation trip?
It was – it was a war that was going on but they were having great difficulty in finding the enemy so they were – I wouldn’t say they were frustrated, that’s the wrong word for it but it was really quite a problem. They were covering a tremendous amount of ground, but the enemy kept disappearing and so it was quite obviously that we were up against
an enemy which was beautifully trained in field craft. They’d be there one day and gone the next. We had the aircraft but they had the field craft. And also they could produce a lot of soldiers in a hurry. As they did in Tet, all of a sudden they came out of nowhere. So one became aware of these problems. There was a great worry in those days about
the booby traps that they were using. You had to watch where you put your feet – and of course later they got a bit more sophisticated and started using mines but it was always a worry the way they were operating. They were well trained.
On your arrival with the battalion, how did things shake down for you?
Well we got – the battalion arrived. We got these two shake down exercises
and they were good. We worked out how we were going to operate just to get the feel for the countryside. Quite different to Canungra, where we’d trained or Shoalwater Bay or Kultana [?], a desert near Adelaide where we trained. And then Tet started and that really was a – gave quite a shaking to everybody. They came – they hit all over in South Vietnam in strength and
they lost a lot of men too doing it but so did the ‘free world’ troops. From then on it got very – we realised we wouldn’t just be chasing around the bush looking for Viet Cong, that we were up a professional army and so the situation did change.
On those 2 initial exercises you did, I mean it’s, it must have been somewhat unnerving again to be
going for an exercise against the real enemy, this wasn’t a real exercise?
Against the real enemy, yes, but we weren’t very far out from Nui Dat. No, it was, it was the real thing. It’s just an exercise with a live enemy. We didn’t hit much. So it – we were really just making certain that we could move and deploy and use the aircraft that we were given to fly in and go through certain drills the
techniques that we had been trained at in Australia and we were just fitting in together. It was a good idea, good orientation.
Can you describe how it worked from your point of view as you set up the command, and what the sort of – on a day to day activity level, and also how you were planing your deployment, and the use of the battalion and how you were developing strategies and just take us through sort of a – from a day to day perspective, how the organisation worked?
In the area we were in, we were under the Americans. Now the Americans’ main control it was called, 2 Field Force Victor, and that had a general in charge of it. Now we had an Australian general up there, seeing that he wasn’t throwing the Australians in without his approval, so we did have an Australian general watching what was going on. The orders would come from 2 Field Force Victor
down to the task force commander, the brigadier and he would then allocate what units would be doing the job, the operation. So he would then send for me and the gunner officer and say – and I’d go up to task force and he’d say, “Right this is where we want you to go, this is what we want you to do. This is how long you’ve got, this is the support.” I’d go back, talk to the operations officer and the gunner officer,
the New Zealand gunner officer, Hitchings. We’d discuss what the problems were. I would come up with a plan how we were going to do it and which way.
How would you do that?
Well you’d sit over the map and you’d look at the problems of what had to be done. You knew how many troops you had. You knew what resources you had in the way of aircraft to fly yourself in. And if there was armour with you, we didn’t have the tanks initially but we had personnel carriers, armed personnel carriers so you worked out
how you were going to do it. It was a thing that you were taught. You always worked from a firm base. So if you were going to an area well away from Nui Dat, you first of all had to have a base. Now normally that was the fire support base, where you put the artillery and then having got your firm base, you then operated out with your companies, doing whatever had to be done. Whether it’s going up in the Long Hai Hills trying to find their secret camp, or whether it’s just going through the jungle trying to see whether they got
any troops there or whether you could find any of their bunker systems or their tunnels and so you worked out the best way to operate. And then having got your plan, you called in your company commanders and sat them down and you explained the situation. Gave each company its orders, and then they went back to their companies and worked out what they had to do and then they gave their orders, and then the time for the departure would come, and the aircraft
would come in and you’d all be lined up and you’d hop on the aircraft and go out and carry on for however long. Sometimes it was a couple of weeks, sometimes it was a couple of days. The administrative system would be with you. The battalion 2IC who was looking after the administrative side, he’d see you were getting the support that you required.
How abstract is
it, from you know you’re in charge of a battalion and your troops become arrows on the map, I imagine as you describe it, how does it feel to be…?
They become arrows on a map when you’re on a senior’s headquarters, but they’re not arrows on a map when you’re with them. They’re not, they’re people on the ground and you know them. And so they’re not an arrow there, that’s a company, that’s A Company with Howard in charge. They’re not arrows on a map, they’re people
and that’s the big difference. And in your mind, you’ve got your map but you’re visualising the ground. You’ve seen the ground, you fly over the ground in a helicopter. You go and visit the company commanders on the ground. They didn’t like that very much, they want to be left alone. They don’t want someone flying in, but occasionally you had to fly in and see them. And then contact started or the enemy do something that we hadn’t thought they were going to do. Well then you’ve got to change the plan
and meet it.
Did you reflect on your father’s sort of scepticism of officers in the First World War?
Oh everyday. Oh yes. Oh yes. Oh no I worried. And I don’t think our – and I think our officers did care about their soldiers. That’s why I often wondered what he was talking about. He might’ve been talking about not his own officers, he might’ve been talking about the higher command,
I never found out. But it was in my mind.
Can you tell us you know the first, after those initial exercises when – I mean take us up to Tet, and how much sort of – lead us into that because it happened fairly soon after you got there.
Yes it did, it towards the end of January, the task force headquarters and the other two battalions moved out of Nui Dat, they went up to Bien Hoa where they knew there was going to – they suspected from the
intelligence there was going to be a lot of enemy movement and so we were left holding the base at Nui Dat. But we had a company on standby that if anything went wrong that company would be deployed. Now Colonel Dunstan had just taken over as deputy commander, so he was in charge of Nui Dat and when the enemy hit they went straight for the provincial capital at Ba Ria. So Dunstan rang me up and said your standby company has got to go down to Ba Ria and he
gave the orders and Howard was the company that was on standby. So Howard with the A, B, Cs, and was thrown straight into Ba Ria and saw a tremendous amount of action in those few days.
Was that Tet or prior to Tet?
That’s Tet. That was Tet.
Well take us back a little bit before that if you can and you know perhaps any perspective that something might be happening, or were you just going about, you know, your…
No we were
going about our business, expecting to be going out into the various areas searching for where the enemy were. As far as I know, people did not expect this widespread offensive. And we certainly didn’t know of it and it hit.
What was your first word that this was not just going to be another contact?
Oh well from task force –
Dunstan. He said, you know, “It’s happened, they’re hitting everywhere and now Ba Ria’s under attack, send your company down.” We didn’t know what else was going to be under attack of course, because we didn’t know how many enemy were in the area. Intelligence had tried desperately to find out, but they just didn’t get the information.
Where were you and what could you see of the Tet Offensive?
I was in 3RAR
defensive position in Nui Dat. And so I saw, only what I saw was from an aircraft and I was not on the ground in Ba Ria. We sent one company in, that was A Company, and then after 48 hours pulled them out and put another company. But that was a company at a time, I did not go in, the company commander ran that that little battle.
What could you see from the air?
Just troops moving. You could see damage,
there was some damage. Not very much really. I was more, I got a bit worried about the movement between Nui Dat and Ba Ria. I suspected that there would be something there where we’d need another company to have to go in so I just flew to see that I – I knew what the ground looked like, so if I had to send anybody in, what
would happen. In fact they went over there, the enemy went to Long Dien, which was over that way, so we had to send another company there. But they were company actions as opposed to a battalion action and they were very well handled.
But how much were you reacting to their situation or were you able to control and…
No not control, monitoring, so if something went wrong we had somebody ready to do something, but the company commander was actually fighting the battle and I was not interfering,
and Colonel Dunstan, who was the overall commander was not interfering. He was letting him get on with whatever he had to do. Every now and again an order would come through and it would come through to task force and then be passed to that company.
Can you take us through those initial hours, from your point of view and attention or what you were doing and the communications that were coming your way, and the decisions you were having to make during that sort of…?
No, I can’t really, because
the company commander was in charge. He was reporting what was happening. That was going back to task force and we were monitoring what was happening in case we had to do something. But we were literally just waiting for the next step for when we had to do something else. So we were really on standby rather than fighting the operation, and Howard, the company commander was fighting the operation. And well.
Can you recall that waiting?
No, no more than any other waiting really. I mean you always – everyday of the week you’re waiting for something. It – and we didn’t sit in the command post all the time. We took it in turns so we kept alert. And you’d go and have some sleep and then come back and find out what was going on. It was a worry but that’s what we’re trained for.
What was you biggest worry at that time?
That they’d get cut off. That there were more enemy than we thought that there may have been, and they’d get cut off and we’d so we’d have to go and fight our way to get to them. This was A Company. That was what I thought was – could’ve happ – that was the worst case. The worst case was that they’d get cut off by more enemy and we wouldn’t be able to get ammunition through to them, or get through to get their wounded out. But it didn’t happen, they didn’t get cut
Were you getting casualty figures and what were they?
They were not very heavy initially. No, there was the odd casualty, but it wasn’t too bad. We were getting them yes, and they were getting evacuated by helicopter. And rather bravely, the helicopters weren’t supposed to fly in, because the place was still under fire, but one helicopter went in. Turned his wireless set off so he couldn’t be ordered to come back and flew in. Australian.
Did you know that chopper pilot?
I know who he is now, yes. I can’t tell you his name. He disobeyed an order.
Was that your orders?
No, that was from task force. His name was Cogland, a very fine officer but he just switched his wireless set off and went.
What was he doing?
He was told he couldn’t fly, but he knew that there’d been casualties down there in A Company,
so he took off and flew in. And they picked up the casualties whatever it was and pulled him out. I’m pretty certain that’s the story. Not being there I get all this second hand so I’ve got to be very careful what I’m saying, but I believe that was the story.
What did you know of the wider actions that were taking place in South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive at that time?
Initially very little at the start, but within a day we were told that it was a
widespread attack and the North Vietnamese were in strength and quite close to Saigon, and that Saigon was under attack.
How concerned were you that you might be overrun?
Well, it was always a possibility, I wouldn’t say I was concerned but we were the only battalion at Nui Dat, with the rest of the task force away, we would’ve had quite a battle if they had’ve attacked. Because the rest of the area was only
being held by skeleton people. It wasn’t a well defended base at that time and we were the battalion to do something. With one company away, one company on the way to go, so there wasn’t – and in fact we had another company, C Company wasn’t even with us, so we only had 3 companies there. C Company had gone up north with the task force.
Were you armed yourself personally?
Everyone was armed, 24 hours
What as battalion commander, what did you carry?
I carried a pistol. No carbine at this stage. I was a bit further away from it. The problem with a CO was that he’d get shot down on a helicopter. So sometimes I did have a carbine with me, an M16. An American carbine, but most of the time I just wore a pistol.
From your point of view what did you do in the wrap up after Tet
Well it wasn’t long after Tet, we were sent out on another operation so I was certainly interested in what A Company and B Company who went in had to say, but the D Company had to go into Long Dien. I’m pretty certain it was just after that all part of that operation. When C Company came back from being up north, they were very good to hear what they had to say about they were in a fire support base. What the difficulties were in a fire support base. So at this stage
it was a learning curve for all of us, so we were listening very carefully to the people that had been firing the angry shots.
How were you finding being battalion commander? What were the challenges that were sort of new to you?
Well that’s – that’s a difficult question. When you’re
a battalion commander, you’ve got to make certain the team are working together, the officers are working together, the officers and NCOs are working together, so as battalion commander, you’re watching the team as much as you’re thinking about the enemy and the administration, so it’s making certain that people are working well together and I suppose that was the main concern. You had to get the right officers together and the right sergeant major with the right officer and make certain that, that – and we did pretty well there,
the people we put together did work. We had to move a couple around, but that was pretty minor stuff just to make things move more smoothly. We were asked to produce officers for jobs which were not – we didn’t have the positions, so we had to take company 2ICs out of the companies. I think we only had one company 2IC left and that made it more difficult for the companies, without a 2IC. They just had to work a bit harder.
The CSMs, the company sergeant majors and company quarter master sergeants, they had a lot more to do but they were trained soldiers, they’d been around the game for years they knew what to do and so we got away with it. But it’s a risk taking second in commands away.
From a military point of view and particularly from the command, battalion command point of view what were the greatest challenges for you at the time?
Well, when you get
orders to do a job, you’ve got to think what could happen, what’s the worst case and then you try and cover that worst case. You don’t cover everything, you’ve just got to work out your priorities and what the risks are and so it’s a fairly hazardous profession. So you do have to think about things going wrong and what you can do.
So at the back of your mind you’ve always got to think, now if this goes wrong, we’ll have to do such and such, and things did go wrong, and we did have to with a cool head change plans and work things out.
Interviewee: Jeffery Shelton Archive ID 1012 Tape 08
Can you give us an example of something that went wrong?
Well yes, after Tet we were ordered to get into the Secret Zone in the Long Hai Hills. Getting into that area was difficult because of the minefields. But as we were flying in close to the area, I was in a command helicopter, that’s the
American who is in charge of all the helicopters, and he takes the battalion commander and the battery commander, the artillery man up in the same helicopter and we supervise what’s going on. C Company were approaching the landing zone and all of a sudden the landing zone came under heavy fire and there were mortar bombs going off on the landing zone and I thought, just as this helicopter’s approaching.
So I said to abort, so they went out to C, actually, C Company and we tried to find out what was going on. And we couldn’t find out and I thought there had been some security break. And I found out much later that the local South Vietnamese forces had seen some enemy close to where the LZ [landing zone] were and they’d opened up on the enemy.
But we thought it was enemy fire. So I got in touch with the task force manager and said the LZ’s under fire. And he said, “Well you’ve still got to go in, pick another LZ.” So we picked another landing zone and brought C Company in and landed them and then went on with the job. That was the sort of thing that goes wrong. I wasn’t very quick in deciding –
I thought we’d find out much more quickly what the fire was. I thought the system within the task force would’ve told me. But they didn’t have any control over the local South Vietnamese forces, and they were doing their own thing without telling us. So that was the type of thing that goes wrong.
What were the strengths and weaknesses of the task force communications in a
situation like that?
The communications were good. Occasionally we couldn’t get through. One of the problems was there were so many people operating in Vietnam, some of the frequencies were close together so you’d get blocked out with people talking and every now and again you’d have to say, “Now we’re in contact, get off the air.”
And of course they wouldn’t hear you, or they’d be talking. So interferences in frequencies more than getting out of range. And if you really got into trouble, of course you went up in a helicopter, and you could beam in over everybody from a helicopter, which we had to do a few times.
Just to make radio…
Just to get through to task force.
What were your operations in the Long Hai Hills? Can you talk more about that?
Yes, this was a very steady
operation. Because we knew there were so many mines around, because people had tried to get in there before and hadn’t got in there, they’d got stopped short, mines and enemy. What we did was got as close as we could to the highlands, to the high country. Now everybody, the technique then would be to fly in a company on top and land somewhere and deploy the company.
I thought that the best way to do it to let the enemy know we’re going up the top of the hill, we’ll go in on foot. So we put a company in, C Company led by a man called Ian Hands. We put them very carefully through a little area and they quietly climbed – starting early in the morning – quietly climbed up the hill and got up on top and grabbed an area which would be suitable for a landing zone. They had pioneers and engineers with them
making certain that the mines were not there, and once that was cleared when then fly in a company, another company in the late afternoon. So we had two companies up on top of the hill ready to start work amongst the minefields up the hill, looking for these bases. And the other two companies, one company was away on another attachment but the other company was down
on the base area, trying to pick up if enemy were coming out or going into the area. They were in ambush positions. And then the two companies on the hill had to very carefully with engineers and pioneers checking for the minefields, work their way towards these base areas what the enemy had. And we took casualties from the mines.
How are you monitoring this operation back?
We were in an area close by, called The Horseshoe, with some artillery and a few other troops and so we were sitting just glued to the wireless set listening to what was happening and when a mine went off we had a helicopter, we had a doctor, a man called Lippett. As soon as a mine went off, the helicopter revved up and he hopped into the helicopter and flew into the area.
What were you hearing over that radio?
You’re hearing reports on what they’re seeing on how far they’re going, if they needed anything. If they needed more ammunition, if they needed more engineers, that type of work, but it was really a progress report on how far they were going. The interesting thing about it was, in Vietnam the Americans are, and I don’t say this unkindly, but they’re great doers.
They’ve got the mobility, they’ve got the tanks, they’ve got the aircraft, they want to keep moving. They’ve got the fire support, the artillery, so they’ve got the fire support and they’re great pushers. Whereas we take things more quietly, we haven’t got those resources. We don’t want to race in through minefields and when we were told about this job, Brigadier Hughes said to me, “Take your time. I’ll keep the general off your back, just don’t hurry,
take your time.” Now he’d been in Korea, he knew as a battalion commander, he knew how bad minefields were, and it’s so easy to just put one foot wrong and you lose a section. And he was good, he just kept the general away from us and we quietly got in and did the job. And got in to where their secret base was.
Can you explain a bit about how the higher command worked and how orders filtered down to you through
Dunstan at the top?
Well, Dunstan was only the deputy in the task force. It was an American general up until Field Force Victor and he had a staff, a big staff and they’d come up with an idea of what had to be done and they would then tell the task force commander. Now the task force commander, the Australian task force commander, did have some flexibility in the – in operating in the Phuoc Tuy Province, not out of the province but in the province.
So he was responsible for keeping security there. I don’t know how many of the operations that we were sent on were just the task force commander’s idea or whether they’d been ordered by Field Force Victor. We were never told and it didn’t matter we were getting the orders from a task force commander, so we just went ahead and do them. Several times I did know, or did suspect that it was coming from Field Force Victor because of the nature of the operation.
And when Brigadier Hughes said to me, “Now don’t hurry, I’ll keep the general off your back,” obviously the general didn’t know we were going into the Long Hai Hills. And he – as I say we did take it quietly.
How did brigade level command work?
Called the brigade task force in those days.
So the brigadier was…
He was the task force commander. Yeah, they’re back to calling them brigades now, but we called it…
I’m just confused.
Yeah, I’m sorry, we called them task force, they were really brigade headquarters. They were commanded by a brigadier. They were called task force because they weren’t the usual way in which a brigade’s made up. They had additional troops, in fact they only had two battalions at one stage when they should’ve had three. But it really was a brigade, although we called it task force but he had certain authority to operate and he was responsible in Phuoc Tuy Province
in seeing the Viet Cong were not harassing the villages and he had to keep making sure that they weren’t concentrating. And so he was pretty busy there as well as having to obey what Field Force Victor wanted him to do.
How much flexibility and creativity did you have to interpret your orders at battalion level?
Not very much. We were given the job to do. We weren’t told which companies did it
Sometimes we were told to detach a company to do another job under somebody else’s command, but we were just given the job and left to do it the way we wanted to do it. And Brigadier Hughes was very good, he did not interfere. He gave you the job, and then kept out of the way, and that was good. And Colonel Dunstan when he was acting commander, he did the same. He gave you the job and let you get on with it. They checked – they came in every now and again to see everything was going well. Only if you had something wrong of course
you could talk to them over the air and say this is wrong, or this is going wrong.
Sitting in The Horseshoe monitoring this operation, how did you feel when a mine went off?
Well, I worried about the mines because the casualties that are caused, and they’re nasty casualties. They were a jumping mine so one was concerned and having seen what happens in minefields in Korea, one
is always worried about minefields. So I was worried.
How acutely does a CO feel responsibility for putting these men in these positions?
Oh all the way, you feel it. You don’t let it worry you, because that’s our job but it does of course. It does worry you later on. But at the time you’re concentrating on what has to be done. And making certain they were getting
the support they want. And know what has to be done. So you’re concentrating on the job rather than worry.
What times has it been able to worry you then?
Well, today. I don’t worry about it all the time unless something triggers it off. Next week I’m talking to the water platoon in Adelaide. They’re having a reunion, it’ll worry me
When you were in the job, how much did you think back to Ferguson or Hassett and what you experienced in Korea?
Oh good questions, a lot, a lot. You do think about, particularly about Hassett. You almost say to yourself now I wonder what Hassett would’ve done. So you do think back and
with Ferguson, Ferguson never smiled and I always thought that was wrong. Not that I went around smiling like a comedian, but I like people so I smile anyway. And I thought that, that was my doing the opposite to what Colonel Ferguson did. But that’s, I didn’t think I would smile because Ferguson didn’t smile. I just smiled because I think that’s
the way to operate. That’s the way I operate.
How could the two be compared, if at all, Korea and Vietnam?
In Korea we were going for the hills, we were going for ground and if the enemy got in the way, well you dealt with them. In Vietnam the ground wasn’t important, we were going for the enemy. It was this dreadful body count. So they were two entirely different types of war.
And it’s much better in Korea, going for the ground than going for the bodies.
What kind of commander were you? I mean we know some of your influences but how did you put yourself forward to the men? What was your style?
Initially, I didn’t say too much to them. The 2IC Geoff Cohen used to say, “You’ve got to go and see the soldiers.” And I’d say, “I’ll see them when I’ve
got something to say.” I believe you should keep out of the way of company commanders and let them get on with the job. They’re the people that are going to do the fighting. Now later on, once we got into operations and we were working together, I felt much more relaxed about going around talking to the soldiers and so I saw a lot more of them later on but initially I was not – not a personality
that raced around the place. So I think that’s about the best I can answer it. You really don’t change your personality when you’re a CO, you do what is in your nature. I think I got around a lot more than Colonel Ferguson would’ve done, but I don’t think I got around as much as Colonel Hassett did.
I certainly saw a lot of the company commanders as opposed to their soldiers, and once you talk to a company commander they’re running the company. Once you talk to them you get the feel of what’s going on.
What strategies for man management did you have to develop on the run as it were, in Vietnam?
Well I got cross a few times. Colonel Hassett never got
cross in any time I saw him. I realised that I would have to stop getting cross with higher command, lower command, things that were a problem. I tried to quieten down. The people that had worked close with me, poor David Kandow, the operations officer and Geoff Hitchins the battery commander they’ll probably
tell you a different story if you spoke to them, because I used to talk to them about what I was worried about. But I don’t think I really changed very much. I got tired, that was another thing I should’ve brought up. Over 40, it’s not a game for people that are getting older. No matter how fit you are and how much you
want to be there, it’s just sheer physical and mental exhaustion. I’d like to see battalion commanders much younger.
Did you recognise that as a problem at the time?
Yes. And I talked to my battalion colleagues about it and they said I was paranoid and they were perfectly fit and they didn’t want to talk about it and I think I’m the only one that’s actually said it. And I did talk to the brigadier
that took over after Brigadier Hughes, and he thought it was a personal problem. So I shut up after that. But I still believe that it’s a young man’s game.
What made you cross?
Being moved so often. We’d be in an area, we wouldn’t have a contact, and then the order’d come through, well there’s nothing
there, move so and so. Now that’s a strain on the soldiers. They were forever having to move, dig holes and I could see them getting more tired and getting more frustrated. And I would say, you know, just leave us for a few more days, you’re moving us too quickly. No you haven’t hit anybody. It was just body count again. If you weren’t hitting anybody, move again. Now, the Americans were doing that all the time, they did keep moving and mind you they took casualties too. Their own casualties.
They got a lot of people killed. Of course they were also very successful against the enemy. But that enemy was a mover and he was disappearing so you could see why the higher command were getting us to move, but that was making me cross. They weren’t giving us a chance to get a feel for the area, they were tiring us out. That was the main thing.
Were you able to express that anger to anyone?
Well, to my two colleagues, yes, but and I discussed it with the task force commanders, various ones and I didn’t discuss it with the general. That’s General Leon McDonald. He was not a man you discussed things with. And I thought, he’s up in Saigon, I’m not going to worry about him, it’s the brigadier here that I’ve got to work too.
What did your men know you
I hope it wasn’t ‘baby face’ as I was known in Korea. No, I think my initials were JJ. I think – to be quite honest, I don’t really know what they – I have heard myself referred to as JJ. The ‘old man’ you get as CO, he’s the old man. I don’t know whether they had a particular – I was never told they had a particular
nickname for me. Not like ‘baby face’ in Korea.
Kitchens and Kandow still around, maybe we should talk to them?
Well they’re both around, and they’re both delightful men.
Can you explain how you worked together in the operations room and what the scene were there? Who these two men were?
Yes, the operations officer was a major. He was actually OC of support company, but we brought him into the headquarters, and he actually ran the operations room and that was where the maps and the wireless sets were.
And he worked closely with the battery commander who had his maps and wireless sets to call in the artillery fire. And we had a very good mortar officer a man called Doyle, 3RAR mortar officer, he was there as well. And a signals officer called Clynick. So they were the key men, the support and the communications. Now, Kandow did the running of the command post. He saw that it was operating. He saw that the reports were coming in. He knew where everybody was.
He’d then briefed me on what was happening, and then if a decision had to be made, he would say, “Well this is going wrong or we’ve still got this to do.” I kept out of the operations room until there was something going wrong. For instance, when we were being attacked, that was when I would go into the operations and sit and there would be decisions to be made, they’d be made. So the operations officer runs that. Also,
when I was flying around the place, seeing the company commanders who were all spread over the place, the battalion would still run with the operations officer running it. So that was the way we operated and Kandow was very good. He was a soldier in Korea and was commissioned later on. Served in 2 Battalion, so he and I had a 2 Battalion affiliation in mind. And he married a girl from Bendigo, and so I was being a Bendigo – brought up
in Bendigo, you know we were almost related to one another. We got on, he was good, very good. Ad he told me off a few times. He said, you can’t do that, you’re doing the wrong thing. And, I listened to him.
Can you describe the atmosphere in the operations room when something big was going on?
Yes, for instance when we were being attacked at Balmoral, I – it got a bit crowded, there were too many of us in there, and there were too
many people talking at once. So, I threw a couple of people out and said, “Oop, out you get,” and of course we were being shelled and mortared, and I don’t think they ever forgave me cause I threw them out when they had to run for cover. That was the signals officer keeps reminding me I sent him out under fire. But with about three wireless sets going and people talking, see the adjutant was also in there. He was a sort of assistant operations officer, a man called Bob Blakley, good man. So he’d
be talking on the radio, the battery commander would be talking on the radio. The mortar commander would be talking on the radio. Either Kandow or I would be talking to task force. So there’s a lot going on in this small little bunker. And of course, there’s noise going on outside with the fire. So it is a bit of a strain, a bit hectic. But we kept our voices down. We worked well together as a team.
And then when things quietened down, Kandow would always say to me, “Perhaps it’s time for you to go off sir and have a bit of a rest.” So I… in other words he’d like me out of the way, so I’d disappear then.
There is a photograph that you showed us before which we took for the archive, it’s in the archive now of you speaking to Colonel Dunstan about Balmoral. Can you describe what’s going on in that photograph?
Yes, we’d been sent in and this was
done in a hurry this operation into Coral, which was into an area we didn’t know it was so close to where the North Vietnamese were. We thought we were going to an area where as we had been operating in the past you had to go looking for the enemy. We suspected we were going into a troubled area, because when Phil Bennett and I were doing the reconnaissance,
the day we were told we would be going in there, we were given orders, the pilot wouldn’t come down and when we said, “Hey we can’t see anything from up here,” he said, “I’m not going any lower, we’ll get shot down.” So we knew we were going into the area. We didn’t quite expect the enemy to operate so quickly. We got into the area, 3RAR went in first, into the area. The – again we had where we wanted to land, the American in charge of the helicopters wouldn’t land
there. He said it was because of the undergrowth. I think he wouldn’t land there, because I think it was to close to some rubber plantation. I think he thought it was dangerous. Anyway he landed us in the wrong spot. That caused a delay. Also, the area where 3RAR was going to go to, overnight the enemy had attacked the Americans that were there. Now instead of the Americans pulling out, they were still in contact with the enemy. So it was one of those
operations that started off where things were going not according to the way we would’ve liked them. Bardell was there and we had to change enemy in contact, quite close to us. Anyway we got down, the guns came in. I thought the guns were coming in to a preselected area. I was told no they – I was told recently, no they had to find where they had to go.
I can’t quite believe that, I’m sure they were coming into the same area as we were. Anyway the two Batteries of guns got separated they should’ve been together. That was causing a problem. So we had a bad day on that first day at Coral. Tried to get things sorted out. A lot of equipment coming in, two battalions, two batteries, task force headquarters advance party, engineers all coming into the one area. The helicopters had to hurry cause they had to go off and do another job. So we were just being dumped and
try to work it out, so it was pretty tiring. That evening, we went down into a basic defence position. Not a good defence position, we just went down where we were and dug in. It wasn’t coordinated, and the enemy attacked and got into 1RAR mortars and then into the guns. That was not good, we’d never been attacked in that strength in such a – we’d been attacked before, but not on the first night and not in that strength. So
that was a bad night. So that was day one of Coral. People kept, most people kept a cool head and it got sorted out. Well next day, I was able to get my battalion into the area we were supposed to go. The Americans eventually got out, and we got clear of Coral. And 1RAR then came back into Coral instead of going out. The original plan came in onto the defence of
Coral. So Coral was then set up as a defensive position and we went over to another area called Coogee. And once we got it set up, the New Zealand guns came over from Coral and joined us. And we started doing our company patrols. Tried to pick up the enemy who were supposed to be withdrawing out of Saigon. Not having very much success. And Colonel Dunstan who was then commanding the task force sent for me, and said, “We want you to move.
And we want you to move to Balmoral.” And I thought, “That’s just what we don’t need, another move, we’ve got a good base we’re working well.” I tried to talk him out of it. And he smiled and said, “That’s interesting, but you’re going anyway, so off you go.” So I worked out a plan that we wouldn’t fly in, we’d walk in with a couple of companies, so the enemy wouldn’t know we were going to be there. And then having got a couple of companies
on the ground, and some of us went in, in armoured personnel carriers we then, late afternoon we flew in the rest of the battalion. And we got into a defensive position, a tight defensive position, not companies spread out everywhere. A good all round defensive position, old style defence and dug like mad and wired like mad. And next day they sent up a tank troop to join us and that was very good having the tanks with us. No
guns, the artillery had gone back to Coral, so we were tight. And we knew the enemy was going to attack that was right where they wanted – no free forces. They had a lot of troops around. But we got our defence set up and they did attack and we had good fire support and we stopped them on two occasions. They never got through the wire. And
we killed a lot of them, which was what they wanted. They wanted people to be killed. They wanted enemy to be killed. So that photo is Dunstan saying to me, “You’ve got to go to Balmoral.” And I’m saying to him, “You leave us here where we can really do something and not throw us out as bait for the enemy.” And anyway, I didn’t win that argument, we went out into Balmoral and fought them off.
positions, can you explain them in a little bit more detail what they were?
Yes, I can. A fire support base was where the artillery were. Not necessarily on the right ground to hold for infantry defence, but for the guns to operate. Now one company can’t really go right around the whole of that fire support base, so there is an area in that fire support base perimeter where the guns have got to look after themselves. They put an
infantry company with them, with either one battery or this occasion in Coral, they put one company with the two batteries. That company can protect what is believed to be the likely route in of the enemy, to protect one area of the perimeter. And the guns have just got to protect themselves if they come in the other way. At Coral they came in the other way. Now Balmoral was quite different,
because at Balmoral there was no area where the enemy could attack, that they could get in without getting shot because we put the four companies around like in New Guinea, around in a circle. And we had mortars sitting inside, we had artillery laid on in various areas where we thought they’d attack. We had the tanks, not by day being seen, we kept them back by day but in the
afternoon – sorry, in late evening I should say, after it was dark we’d move the tanks forward into a fire position. And twice that the enemy attacked, they attacked right into the tanks and of course they got slaughtered. So that was the difference between a fire support base, with an open flank with the guns looking after themselves, and this defensive position, which was at Balmoral. I think Balmoral was probably the only proper defence, all round defence that was done.
1RAR could well have done an all round defence, I don’t know, but certainly it was the only time we had to get an all round defence.
Where were you that night at Coral when the enemy broke through?
Right because we hadn’t been able to move into the area that we were supposed to move into, the battalion headquarters group and a couple of platoons from support company, we’d been waiting to move and so we were next to the company that had been left behind. Our D Company was going to be left behind
to help cover the fire support base. And, so we tacked ourselves alongside that company. And the enemy, if they did come in they went around us and went straight for the open side of the guns. There’s a lot of criticism about Coral, that we weren’t in the right place. But probably every company that night was exposed. 1RAR companies and the 3RAR companies
that had been deployed, they went in defensive positions but they were on their own. And the New Zealand guns had been dropped off short of the fire support base, not where the other battery was. And they were out on their own too. And they were out much closer to where the enemy had been attacking the Americans and I was pretty worried about them. A Platoon of D Company went over with them, and we had one company close by but not giving them that
close support but they were not attacked. They got in behind the wire, they knew that they had to defend themselves and our mortars were with them and then when the attack did come in they were far enough away to be able to fire support over for the attack coming in on 1RAR. But that was a pretty hazardous night. And people criticise, and say there wasn’t enough reconnaissance, but there wasn’t time to do the proper reconnaissance. And we were told to move in by Field Force Victor
in they way they do operations, and we moved in. There were problems, they had to be solved and the criticism of it is there’s a lot of people trying to blame people and say what was wrong and what should have been done, that’s in hindsight. At the time we were doing a job in a hurry and the enemy came in much more quickly than we’ve ever seen them move
and in much more strength and we were in ground that was not – once we got on the ground it wasn’t as we’d seen it from an aircraft or as we looked at it from the map. There was a lot of scrub around, we couldn’t see where we were. There was a lot of grass. So it was one of those operations where the good men kept cool and got us out of trouble.
In a war with no front line…
… how do you manage to defeat versus victories and how do you know how you’re going in this kind of
Well, there were political people round in the villages that were supposed to be feeding information in on what they were thinking and how they were getting on but we don’t know how accurate that was. We didn’t see that. That’s on the political of running an operation like that. On the military side, you just didn’t know where they were, and who you could trust. And so you had to be on the alert 24 hours a day. If you were a platoon
commander, it was your job to look after protection of your men 24 hours a day and you just couldn’t afford to take any chances. Theoretically we were not supposed to drink whilst we were in the field. I’m told from reading the war history that there was some of them got liquor into the place, but we certainly didn’t have trouble with drugs, which the Americans were having trouble with drugs. I don’t know whether we had trouble with liquor in
3RAR or not. I don’t think we did. We had good senior NCOs they would’ve sorted it out. I was never told that there was drinking so, in the lines, or on operations so I couldn’t answer that. I hope there wasn’t.
What were the losses like on your side, during those…
In the 12 months, we had 20 men killed. Now that’s not large for a battalion operating for 12 months.
We still didn’t want 20 men killed, but we did have 20 men killed. We had a number wounded but the evacuation system with helicopters and the excellent medical facilities at Vung Tau. A lot of those men that were wounded survived. Some of them lost limbs and took very badly wounded but with good – there was excellent medical assistance.
We had a very good field and ambulance service with us which came with us. We had good medical people attached to us. We lost our doctor. Sadly, he got shot at Balmoral. He went out when he thought he was needed and he got wounded. He got evacuated and we got a new doctor in. A very good man called Butcher. And I wish the
soldiers wouldn’t joke about having a doctor called Butcher, because he was a very good doctor and a very sensitive man. I used to think I’ll kill some of these fellows if they don’t stop making jokes up. But I think he just smiled. I think he thought we were all crazy.
Is that a means of winning the war in a way, keeping the casualties down? Where there’s no…
It is an Australian way. This is where I think
we are different to other people. We don’t like taking casualties. We never – I think ever since World War 1, the training at Duntroon, you’re made very aware of the fact that these are your men you don’t lose them. So we were very conscious that you don’t lose your men.
And you still have to do the job but – the task you’re given. You’ve got to – as I said earlier we don’t like bowling into a place, we like creeping in and see what’s going on, get a feel for a place. Of course the enemy were – moved so quickly, that was contrary to what the Americans wanted. They wanted quick movement so we’d catch
Interviewee: Jeffery Shelton Archive ID 1012 Tape 09
I’ll ask this again, how hollow is it as a way of wining or losing a war just accumulating body counts and looking after your own?
Well you look after your own anyway, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan or wherever you are, we look after our soldiers. That’s our job.
but the emphasis on body count in Vietnam was sad, because it wasn’t necessarily the way the war was going to be won. You count up how many you’ve killed but then they’ll just move others in again, move more in and they had more soldiers than we had there, and they had a system there coming in from Vietnam.
I think we were wearing down the local communists. I think they were getting slowly killed off, but the North Vietnamese, they’d been fighting wars for many years. They defeated the French and they knew what they were doing. So the body count was a bit unreal, just going for bodies. But I think this is what Montgomery was arguing, that there had to be a political
solution that went with the military. Now they were trying to get political stability in Vietnam by giving the local people time to stabilise their life, but if there were so many North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese Communists ready to fight, it was a difficult problem. So I
think if they’d kept going, if America had kept going, I think they’d probably be still there. It was just an endless battle. From a soldier’s point of view, the body count was unreal in that you were slaving through the jungle or the rubber plantations or up and down hills and hitting nothing and working damn hard, but people were thinking you were doing nothing, because there were no bodies, no contacts. And a lot of the contacts
we missed, killing people, that was even worse. We’d have the general fly in and say such and such had happened, where are the bodies? It wasn’t as easy as that. It wasn’t as easy telling General McDonald too but on one occasion the soldiers had this contact but they wouldn’t fire because it was at night and there were women and children in the group. And they didn’t open up
into the main group. They opened up to return fire when people were firing at them so there weren’t any bodies on that occasion. And I had to try and explain this to the general, that there were women and children and they hesitated to fire. So the body count was a worry. How else could’ve they done it, I don’t know. I don’t know.
That endless conflict that you describe is obvious in hindsight
perhaps, but at the time how much was that the fact that this war was not going anywhere quickly, how much was that obvious to you?
Well, of course at the time we were winning and the press told us we were winning and the American generals told us we were winning. And they had been bombing in North Vietnam, and they expected the North Vietnamese to collapse. But the casualties they took
you would’ve collapsed but they didn’t they had a lot more incentive to keep going than we had frankly. When I say we, I’m talking about free forces, not just the Australians. We were doing as we were trained to do and told to do and we were doing it as well as we could. And we weren’t going to win the war on our own and it didn’t get won. And it didn’t help having people in Australia criticise.
How much did that criticism
filter to you when you were in there though?
It was only starting when we were there. There’d been a little bit of trouble when the first trip 1RAR came back and they hadn’t been received – or there were several people put in a rather unpleasant episode while they were marching through Sydney. The police – the postmen all went on strike. Now whether that was about Vietnam or not, I don’t know, but we were not getting any mail. That was when we first got over
there. That was a serious matter for the morale, particularly when you’re first in a force – first in a theatre for the force, not to get mail. That worried us a lot. I don’t know whether that was related to Vietnam, that was just some union trouble. Later on of course when we came back and people were much more vocal and politicians on the opposition were much more vocal, it did worry a lot of the men that got out
of the army, the National Service, who then went back who had fought a very brave war and you would expect people to have said well done. But instead they didn’t get that at all. They got abused as being murderers and things like that. And that was – terribly unfortunate thing to happen in Australia. As for regular army, we came back and we were not involved in that because we weren’t back amongst the
community, we went back to doing our military jobs back here. And we were still in the military fraternity. So we didn’t see, well personally I didn’t see very much of it. I had some nieces that weren’t very keen on it and when I questioned them I found out that they went on demonstrations because it was almost like sports afternoon, that’s where you meet the boys. So it was as simple as that.
How much dealings did you have with the media
As little as possible. You see a lot of our work – I say that bitterly – a lot of our work is not worth – you don’t make headlines, it’s just a quiet slog through the jungle or the rubber plantations and digging and wiring you don’t make headlines out of that. One journalist came and sadly he made up a story,
an officer had been killed and he made up a fictitious story about it, and it caused a tremendous amount of concern. Grief for the father and upset us, because it was simply not true. So, in answer to your question I could – from that particular occasion I was very concerned about journalist.
stage in your tour was this occasion…?
It was in Long Hai Hills, it was quite early and I – I didn’t want journalists around. It’s not a thing that – I can’t – today it’s – you know you good people are there with your television cameras and the journalists in Iraq but when you’re in war like that you want to get on with the job. You like to see your name in the paper or your unit’s name in the paper saying you’re
doing a good job, but sadly we’ve become so critical and there’s always criticism of what’s going on and what should be done better or what shouldn’t have happened. Perhaps that shows a weakness in my part, in my personality but I was – because of this occasion that happened in the Long Hai Hills, I
was not happy welcoming journalists.
How much criticism did you have to bear in your job at that time from any quarter?
Oh, from the general, he only saw the bad points because his was – pull us to bits about anything. I did say to him much later on, you know, there are some good
points, and he said, you tell the soldiers about them, my job is to point out what’s going wrong. So he was very critical. And on a number of occasions, with good reason. The brigadier, yes, he did criticise on certain matters which we then became aware of what were his worries and I lined the officers up and said,
“This is his worry and he’s the boss so let’s not give him any cause for concern.” Criticism within the battalion, you don’t, you discuss things, if there was criticism because of the discipline, I mean, that could be seen as contrary to what we were trying to do so…
we discussed things, but I wouldn’t say it was criticism, it was more discussion. Is that what you were asking?
Yeah, yeah, well I mean you have a tough job, that’s what I’m saying, you’re getting it from all angles in a way.
You get it from above. Oh yes, you get it a bit from below and some soldiers will step out – will come and say, this is happening. A couple of people have – came to me and said, “Look I don’t like this, this is happening,” and you
have to be very careful that you’re not undermining someone’s authority. And you have to listen to what they say. The RSM of course would come quietly to me, he didn’t have to do it very often, but a couple of times he said such and such is not going well. And so I would step in and do it. The padre was good. You see soldiers will talk to the padre.
We had a padre called Doug Shields. A quiet man, and he got around, and he’d come quietly to me and say I don’t quite understand what’s going on in such an area. Then he’d tell me the story. He wasn’t telling tales, he was just concerned and I suppose that’s a form of criticism. The doctor of course, he was good,
you’re working them too hard or they’re getting too tired. He was part of it. But that’s really not criticism, that’s all part of these people doing their jobs. Certainly Kandow, the operations officer, said to me a couple of times, you’re giving so and so a hard. And I’d say, “All right, I’ll back off.” That was criticism, but Kandow and I had that relationship. We could talk like that.
That were some things that were coming from above that you mentioned already that made you cross, the moving on the ground for example.
Did that then come back at you from below as well?
Oh yes, oh yes.
And how did you deal with that sort of situation?
In one particular case, I had to shut my eyes to what a man was saying, because I thought if I take this any further I’d have to discipline him,
and I know he’s tired, and so I said to the group that heard his outburst and it was an outburst. I’m just – I’m going to lay off him for awhile. We’ll just let that one ride. And he’ll get over it and he did. Cause you could see it happening. You could what – why he was getting tired and what was happening.
What was that situation?
Moving. It was
the moving again. And he just said, “We’re not moving.” So I said, “Let him stay there, we’re going.” And I quite sympathised with him, but we were ordered to go so off we went. Anyway we left him there for 24 hours and then let him catch up with us.
You are a professional soldier and you were doing your job, as you said, and the
Australians did it very well by all accounts. You have some difficulties perhaps and frustrations with the way in which that job was being conducted at a higher level to do with body count for example, moving on. Are those frustrations something that you might say had an affect on your exhaustion?
Oh I’m sure they did. But there wasn’t – I kind say the body count is not a nice way to operate in a war, we’re just
concentrating on killing people, that’s not – you can say, but what was the alternative, and I couldn’t come up with an alternative. So I just had to – well get tired because I thought this is not a good war to fight just going for bodies.
What were the symptoms of that exhaustion?
Temper. Probably miscalculations in what I said to senior officers.
I did open my mouth a few times, which I’m sorry I did. I think I did speak fairly unkindly on occasions to a few people, which I you know wish I hadn’t. So I think it’s tiredness that gets – and the other thing that I noticed as we were getting
late in the piece – we were told that we were not going to go back to Woodside, so we had to structure the battalion to go to Brisbane. Now there were married men in Woodside, and some of them had been in the battalion for over 10 years, and there were other jobs that they could’ve gone to, but not with the battalion but could’ve stayed in South Australia. And it was a period when we were getting tired and
there was a new task force commander who was really – was already to get up and go, and quite rightly – that was his job, and we’re thinking about going back to Australia which he was not interested at all in. And we had this problem of structuring the battalion to go back to Brisbane. And then I found out from the RSM who found it out from the canteen officer’s wife, in Woodside, that we were going back to
Woodside. And I said, “No, no we’re back to – we’re going to Brisbane.” And he said, “Look I think you’d better check because the people in Woodside think we’re going back there.” So I rang up the chief of staff in Saigon and told him the story and said you know please can you sort this out. This is pretty important, this is what’s happened. The chief of staff was a great man. This was this man called Mark Bradbury.
And he rang me back within about half an hour and said, “You are going back to Woodside,” and we hadn’t been told. Now that caused a worry. I don’t know what – I never found out why it had been changed, but it caused us some concern right at that end. So that was one thing that was a worry. With the soldiers there’s a – you’ve got to be very careful that the weapon
doesn’t go off accidentally. And, shoot your friends. You’re supposed to charge people if they discharge a weapon accidentally. That was beginning to happen, and we were getting few cases of weapons being fired when they shouldn’t be fired. Now that happens when soldiers are getting tired, and they were moving much more slowly when we were told to move point A to point B. Once upon
a time, they could in an hour say, now it was taking two hours. Two of the company commanders had become sick and had to be evacuated for a short period. Again, tiredness and they both had – I think it was malaria, it was like malaria anyway. Although they’d taken all their pills, they’d become sick. So
those things in the latter part of the operation did cause concern.
How did you rest? You mentioned that at the end, an officer in battle, that Kitchens said, “Go and take a rest.”
Oh Kandow, he put it nicely.
How did you rest?
I would go back – I had a hole in the ground just close by the command post and I’d go and lie in
that and sometimes I’d go to sleep. I had a phone beside my bed – by my stretcher. And no, in fact we were lying on mattresses, we had blow up mattresses and I had a phone there, so if they wanted me they could get me in a hurry and I’d just go and get out of the way and I would rest. You’ve got to rest, and we had to rest in rotation, because you can’t just keep
How much sleep were you getting?
I think you go in blocks of about 3 or 4 hours and then see that things are all right and then go back to sleep and then – you get in the habit of accepting broken sleep. And a few times we’d get back to Nui Dat in the base area and I’d probably go to bed at 11 o’clock in the morning and sleep through. Catch up on a bit of sleep.
You mentioned you had
5 days’ leave in Taipei?
How did you manage to get away from the tension during that leave?
Well I – the Duntroon classmate of mine, an engineer called Ian Gilmore, he was commanding the logistics support group down at Vung Tau, and he didn’t want to go back to Australia and disturb his family and nor did I. So we decided that we’d ask the general could we
go on leave together to Taipei and he said yes you can go. And Ian Gilmore waited ‘til I could be relieved and we went together. And so, and we you now ate well and went to the pictures and did that sort of thing and had a good look around Taipei. It was a wonderful country to go to, Taiwan. We travelled around quite a lot. Once again, the Americans were very good to us. I don’t know how Ian did this, but we were given
an American car with a driver. And we were driven around and taken up to Peitou and all these places you should see out from Taipei. Went to the museums, it was a very good break. And of course being with a friend who had a different job to me, we didn’t talk – I don’t think we talked about the war at all, or what was going on. I think we were just good friends who
enjoyed a good leave together. And it was good.
How much did you have to blow off steam during that leave?
I don’t think I did. I mean he had a job with his worries and I had a job with my worries. We were both getting hounded by General AL Macdonald, so we niggled a bit about that. But we’d been cadets together. I mean we’d been hounded all our lives. So I don’t think it was worrying us particularly. No we had a good rest. And I certainly
went back feeling much better.
I’ve just got a couple more questions before we start wrapping up the interview. This tiredness that the battalion was experiencing, yourself included, the term post traumatic stress disorder that is bandied about a lot these days and that seems to have two parts, the trauma and the stress, do you think that that tiredness is a sort of – can be accounted for as a stress disorder?
Yes – quite
clearly, and also you’re losing sleep. I’ve explained you sleep for 3 hours now, 4 hours there and then you go for 2 or 3. At Coral, Balmoral, I don’t think we slept for – Coral, I don’t think we had much sleep for about 3 days. And the night before we went to Coral, we were in a fire support base and the guns fired all night. So we were tired before Coral even started. At Balmoral we –
with the attacks there and daytime of course we had to keep patrolling and keep checking the defences. It was pretty time consuming, you’re working 7 days a week, not 24 hours a day, but you’re there 24 hours a day. And you’ve got to be very strict with making certain that the rotation that people are allowed to sleep. I got very worked about the pioneers and engineers in Nui –
in the Long Hai Hills, because we were putting them under tremendous stress. And certainly our pioneers, we were wearing them out, because I was watching it. A good pioneer officer, his name is Popper John. He’s now a very sick man and he’s got to be 20 years younger than I am. So I’m
sure it took its toll. Well I know it took its toll.
What about the other side of that trauma, what experience did you have of trauma from your time in Vietnam?
I don’t quite understand what you mean by trauma? You saw me break down earlier.
That’s what I mean, how did it affect you emotionally, I guess is what the question means?
Well you do break down. That’s – that I think – perhaps I’m an emotional
person anyway but that is I think part of the trauma and you just can’t stop yourself. The tiredness is there. I did become ill a few years after, after Vietnam. I still have nightmares but
so do a lot of people who have never been to war. It’s – I just think it’s part of the thing. Trauma – there are a lot of men from Vietnam suffering quite severe trauma. They can’t work, they can’t concentrate. I have not got that. If I’m worried, I go and blow the saxophone.
Worry somebody else.
Leads on to then how did you deal with that difficult period when you came back? And how did you sort yourself out?
Well, I came back to my family and we had 3 months leave, and we went to Fiji and I just being with my family I forgot. Just got over it and got on with life.
And then of course coming back from there, there was the next job in the army, and I wasn’t very happy with that politician Cairns and all the things they were saying, but we keep out of politics as regular soldiers, so I didn’t buy into it I just kept out of the way. And then the next job came up and you got on with life. I must say now, meeting some of the
soldiers again and hearing some of their stories I am very, very sorry some of them are so worn out by the year there. And the problems they had when they came back. There’s too many of them that – but I don’t think we could do anything else about it. We were there, it was our job, we did it we came back
and then you get on with life.
When you say you have nightmares and that is a very common experience there is nothing particularly unique about that, but why do you think that those are focused on Vietnam rather than say your experiences earlier…?
Well, they could’ve been from earlier. They’re not necessarily focused on Vietnam. The fact that people who have nightmares they’re all quite strange actually. I just mentioned the fact that I do have nightmares. I don’t think they’re any worse than anybody else
having nightmares. I hope they’re not. In fact they’re not as bad now, I think, but they were a bit of a worry at one stage, but they’re not a worry now. I hope they’re not a worry now.
Can you tell us about your own helicopter in Vietnam?
Yes, well each battalion commander was allowed to have – use a helicopter
and it had come over from the Australian helicopter base. Quite often it was the same helicopter pilot, so we worked well together. I kept the helicopter mainly for my own use to get around the companies and to see what was going on. Occasionally I mentioned the doctor being put in the helicopter. Some battalions used the helicopter quite differently. They put the operations officer up in it
or something like that, but if a company commander had to do a recce, well we put him in the helicopter. But really the best use of it was because the companies were so isolated and out on their own, you had to get in and talk to them again. Now they were putting up ambush positions, they didn’t want a helicopter coming in to see them, so the first operation we went on I was
buzzing around in the helicopter all the time and the company commander in D Company, Peter Phillips said to me, we can’t operate with you buzzing around in that helicopter all the time. We know you’re flying in it, but we can’t do our job properly with your buzzing around. So I got the hint right from the word go that I would only fly in when it was necessary. And occasionally you had to, if there was a change of order in fact
you didn’t want to do it over the air, so you would fly in and talk to the company. And also you need to talk to them face to face, to know just how things are going. So the helicopter was wonderful. But there is the other side to it, it means that the general could fly in, it means the brigadier could fly in and at times we would rather be getting on with the job rather than having to look after a general. The brigadier was good, I could say,
“Come on sir, be quick, we’ve got a few worries.” And he was very sympathetic. He’d say, “Oh I just wanted to see that you were all right,” and he’d fly off again. The general was not like that. The general said the troops want to see me and he had his red cap on and that was his way of operating and so we had to have him visit us and he was getting – telling the soldiers to brighten up.
If I’d been made general it would not have been the way I would’ve operated, but that was his style and if he wanted to do it that way, he was the boss, he did it. I mean he’s up there in heaven now telling me Shelton you’re talking too much but he did – that’s what he thought he should do and he did.
The helicopter gave you huge tactical and technological advantage over your enemy, can I put it to you
yet you didn’t win with this massive aerial fire support?
When you could see the enemy – you see, I said you we had aircraft they had field craft. Now they’d learnt to operate against the French who had aircraft and they could just could – their field craft, they knew when to move, they knew the ground. I don’t know what they did when we flew over in a helicopter. They probably just disappeared from sight, put
their head down. I flew a lot looking – looking for them and looking for routes for the company to go and well just flying to see if anyone was around. Never saw a thing. We only saw a thing a couple of times but rarely saw a thing.
Any near misses in the helicopter?
They did fire rather rudely, but they missed. A couple of battalion commanders did get his in helicopters.
So… probably 3 I think. Oh no, you were a target if they were game to take a pot shot at you, because you had the fire support if they did give their position away, you knew they were there. Most of the time when they were working in small parties, the enemy didn’t want you to know they were there.
When the casualties were coming out in the helicopters, were you around to oversee
Not personally, no. Once I went down when a man was being flown through. But no, the idea was, was to get them out quickly. Now they’d be hit in the company area so you’d fly them – so the helicopter would go right into the company. Quite often in the dark, very brave operations and get the casualty out. And they were getting
shot out. We flew casualties out of Balmoral virtually under fire. They – the helicopters came in. We had to stop the artillery to let them in – to let a helicopter in to get casualties out.
Perhaps a difficult question, but what would be your role in contacting families of the people that were killed in action?
I would write. Normally write to the father, you write to the next-of-kin and most of the boys had fathers
would – I would write to the father and the company commander would write to the next-of-kin and the platoon commander would write. So they, they would get contact from the battalion and several letters.
Did you know anyone personally who was killed in action?
Oh yes, yes and I wrote, and in May this year I met a daughter of one of the
men that were killed and I think she was 4 months old when he was killed, and she came to a company reunion that was down – that was D Company and it was held down – by the soldiers they organised it – down at Mount Martha, down in Victoria and this girl came across just to see people that had known her father. And she was delighted when she met people that actually knew him,
and a very nice girl.
You lost your doctor who died of his wounds?
He didn’t die. No, no, he was wounded and got evacuated and he died later on. He died many years later. No he was not fatally wounded. Got me into trouble, because he shouldn’t have actually been out there and so I had to explain what he was doing there.
any instances of people fragging?
Not in our battalion that I know of. And as I say we had CSMs that you didn’t argue with them. They were good men. So I can’t answer that. I do not know. We certainly never had a situation of fragging. We had one officer hitting another officer cause he got sick
to death with his behaviour. That’s not fragging that was a discipline that’s not in the book. And I knew about it and I said we don’t do that any more.
Where there any incidents where you had to get involved in court martials with any of the troops when you were there?
No, not court martials. We had battalion orderly rooms and I used to go round and find the 5 pounds or whatever it was in those days.
If they’d done something – there were a few infringements of discipline, but we handled it. Most of the time the company commanders would say that they were such good soldiers, that you know you’d have to let them off. Let them off with a warning. And the RSM used to say, he used to say to me, come on you’d fall for anything. That soldier’s got to be disciplined. Oh well,
next time he does wrong we’ll discipline him. They were pretty good actually.
It was a war difficult to identify the enemy, and how did you deal with – I could imagine there could be situations were civilian casualties arose, how did you deal if at all where these situations did arise?
A lot of the time we were not operating close to civilians.
In places like Ba Ria in the Tet Offensive in Long Dien when they had to go in amongst the villages they had to be very careful who they were shooting and our soldiers were good at that. They were not going to shoot down civilians. Whether we made any mistakes or not, I don’t know. There were some people
killed, but they could’ve been firing at people. The rules of engagement were under those situations, unless you’re fired at or unless you can see the weapon, you don’t fire. We had – in fact I told a war historian I felt the enemy sheltered behind the people. And that was not accepted. In fact, it caused quite a fuss because I said it. But why I said that was because the enemy
went in amongst the people in Ba Ria in Long Dien they got in amongst the people. That’s why I went and said they were sheltering behind them. He thought that people would think that the enemy put civilians up in front of them between us and the enemy and so he dropped the word sheltering behind. But the enemy know if they got in amongst the people, the civilians, we couldn’t bring in artillery, we couldn’t bring in air fire. We’d have to go in on foot and get them out. And
course, they would be waiting for us and… But fortunately we didn’t have to do very much of going in amongst the people. And so we didn’t have that much – in Balmoral and Coral, there were no locals around. There was a village a little way away, but that village was
a suspect village, it was believed that had been known to be helping the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong so we kept clear of that village, cause they would’ve given our movement away.
Interviewee: Jeffery Shelton Archive ID 1012 Tape 10
Your reception back into the army, how much was it talked about what was going on in Vietnam when you got back? What interest did people show?
Well in the army itself tremendous interest. The army were – we spoke, we briefed people, we went and visited battalions that were due to go overseas. There was great interest in what we had been doing.
But we kept saying that the war does change, and it seems to change every year so what we were saying that went on in 1968 wasn’t really what was going to happen in ’69 or ’70. So the war did change.
At that time when you got back what did you think should happen militarily?
I was rather hoping that the North Vietnamese would say we were not going to win. But they had
much more get and go and they stayed. And eventually of course we knew eventually people would have to pull out. They couldn’t stay there forever. And so we knew that after about 1970 the force was being reduced and the Liberal Government had made it quite clear that they were going to pull out. So and out they came.
How did that make you feel?
We felt that the job wasn’t finished, but again that was – the decision was made and you hoped that the South Vietnamese had been trained and given all that equipment that they would be able to hold off the North Vietnamese. But…
In your heart of hearts?
Not confident, I wasn’t personally. They – it was a great task to be against
a Communist force, a country that had the discipline and the drive to carry on. In democracy you’ve got so many voices being expressed, you don’t have that force. I don’t believe in Communism as a political force, but they do know how to get the people behind them and to use their armies.
They were determined to take over South Vietnam, they kept at it till they did.
When you went there, how aware were you of the history, not of just the Communist movement but prior to that the, I guess, nationalist movement? And the history of Dien Ben Phu and the (UNCLEAR)?
Oh, One Word Street Without Joy, the French version
that was almost a Bible for us, reading that and that was read before we went. No we were very interested in – and having been in Korea against the Chinese, we were wondering whether the Chinese – what they were going to do. Having been in Malay with seeing the Communists, people were extremely worried about the Communist political threat.
And so one did have an interest of what was going on. There were some good stories coming out of the French being in French Indochina, as it was called.
The NVA [North Vietnamese Army] was certainly backed by the North Vietnamese Government which was Communist but the Viet Cong were somewhat different. How did you regard the enemy, it wasn’t perhaps as homogenous as regarding as more communists?
They had their links, the Communists, into the Viet Cong. There was a very good – we knew there was a good channel of command going through to them. They were getting equipment, ammunition, they were being encouraged to get volunteers in the villages they operated with. I should’ve mentioned that when I was at the Staff College in India, the Frenchman had been in Vietnam.
And he was an armoured officer and he’d already been – well French Indochina as he called it, he’d already been there for several years. And so I’d been talking about French Indochina to him when we were in – that was in 1956.
So you knew at that time of Dien Ben Phu and…?
Yes, and took a great interest in it, purely because of Jacques who had been talking
about the type of operations they were doing and how good the Communists were.
When you heard news of the withdrawal and the fate of Phuoc Tuy Province and that eventually did go back into the hands of the people you were opposing, how did that make you feel?
Well, I felt very sorry for the people that were there. They wanted to get on with their lives. They didn’t care as long as they didn’t have to pay too many taxes
I don’t – they really – hard life being a farmer in that area. Most of them were on the land, farmers with their plantations and their little plots of land. A lot of big French plantations were still being run by the French, I think, those rubber plantations. So I don’t know what happened to those people. But one felt sorry for the people they they’d been through so much. It was such a long war and there wasn’t
a happy result for them at the end. And so many of them of course, tried to leave the country.
It was also a very difficult war for yourself and the Australian troops in many ways. How did that make you feel in regard to your effort there?
We did what we had to do. We worked – I thought we worked well. We had some tough operations. They were referred
to, I notice in the history, as hazardous operations. We had to use our brains a few times to get out of trouble and depend upon our soldiers to fight their way out so from a professional point of view and this is purely military professional, it was a campaign that was well fought and
from a professional point of view we learnt a lot from it. I’m not saying that we should’ve gone there just to learn, we were sent there because we were sent there. But from a professional point of view, it was a very interesting campaign. We saw the Americans operate with their wonderful resources. We saw an enemy operate with skill. Their field craft, with their resupply which had to come all the way from North Vietnam a long way on foot. So it was –
professionally it was a very interesting campaign. Moreover, on the emotional side you know I want to forget about it.
Do you find it difficult to separate your personal emotional side from your professional side?
Oh I usen’t to. I didn’t have an emotional side but it’s building up on me.
What images stay with you from that time that you were there
Oh, the people I was with. Yeah. Yes. I’ve been back to Vietnam. I went back with Carolyn. We were on a boat and I thought I never want to go back here. But I quite enjoyed it. We went into Da Nang where I had been when I’d been there in 64. And the people were very kind and I thought well it really is a lovely country. What a pity we had to fight a
war in it.
Why did you go back?
Well, we were on a boat. We were going to England on a cruise ship, and it called into Vietnam and we hopped off and we were there for a couple of days and had a look around. Just around one little area and it was very – I haven’t been back to Nui Dat or – and some people have gone back there. I don’t think I want to do that.
What sounds stay with you from that time?
Oh helicopters. Absolutely, yes. And we didn’t have a band in 3RAR, sadly, so I can’t say I enjoyed – should’ve had a band there but we didn’t have a band. We had stretcher bearers no musicians. Some of the battalions were able to keep bands going, but 3 had not been able.
You’re a lover of music, were you listening to music when you were over there?
Oh yes we were.
Yes. Someone even got a piano into the mess and someone could play a bit of piano so we had music. Listening to it on the radio. And I had a tape recorder with me, with tapes with the music I liked listening to, which is big band music. I’m an Artie Shaw man and Tommy Dorsey. So I had tapes of that, so the music was there. I didn’t take them
on operations, I had it in my tent back at Nui Dat.
What did you make of the music that perhaps your younger troops were listening to? Your National Servicemen?
No, different. There were concert parties came through Vietnam while we were there. We were always so tied up I never got to a concert party. And David Kandow said he went through the whole of Korea and never got an opportunity to go to a concert party
and he said I must go to a concert party. Anyway a concert party came, and we were back in Nui Dat and I said, “Off you go to the concert party.” And he just got there and of course a call came through to say, “Alert, put the battalion on standby.” So I had to send a signal to the concert party for Kandow to come back to work and I think he thought I was joking at the start, because I’d always pulled his leg about it because he’d never been to a concert party. Anyway he came back and still kept saying
he’s still never been to a concert party. And that’s what happens with concert parties of course. They’re there to a particular timetable and the forward troops don’t necessarily get an opportunity to see them, because of what’s going on. That’s why I prefer army bands to go there, as they went in Timor and Bougainville because they can just fit in with what the army is doing. If the army says we’ve got some people out there, send five men out there
with your instruments to play a bit of music to them. They pop into a helicopter and out they go and play a bit of music on the job. That’s why I’m very fond of army bands.
Looking back on your experience in Korea and Vietnam it’s a bit hard to conflate the two, but perhaps talking generally about the service of an infantryman and infantry officer, how do you regard those conflicts and the outcome
of them and what they lead to?
Well neither of them really won with Korea, it’s still North Korea and South Korea. I suppose we got the North Koreans out of South Korea and we got a demarcation zone, so in some sense Korea was won. Vietnam of course was not won. We lost Vietnam and I would be,
as a young Australian, looking at why did we lose it. Not talking about should we be there or should we not have been there. I would be looking very closely at why did we do lose. And that’s the real problem. Like Singapore, we talk about Singapore, but do we ever say ‘why did Singapore fall’, no good just saying the Brits didn’t do it properly. We as Australians have got to talk about that sort of thing and study it. And it’s not a pretty solution when you look at it
from an Australian point of view. That’s military talk, that’s not general public talk. I don’t want to see that splashed across newspapers.
Was it a winnable war do you think, Vietnam?
No. Initially I thought perhaps it couldn’t been won. We could’ve stopped them, like the North Koreans
were stopped and sent back from were they came from. But the terrain was quite different. The motivation of the Vietnamese was different to the Koreans. They could get in through Cambodia. They did have control of Laos. They did have the sea to go around. They had infiltrated, perhaps not infiltrated is not the word, they had Communists that were dedicated Communists in
South Vietnam. I don’t know how many Communists were in South Korea at the time of the break through but I don’t think there were as many as what there were in South Vietnam. So no, I think in hindsight it was a war – the difficult part of that question is, the contacts
on the military side we certainly won but you just can’t go on forever. And they kept coming on. And so that’s why it couldn’t be won.
You say you just do what the Government tells you to do but how important is it that you have support of
the public as well?
That’s important. I felt very sorry for the young men that were going off to the Persian Gulf – being told by some people that if I was Prime Minister, you wouldn’t be going. That’s not right, when the Government makes a decision the troops should go, if the politicians want to argue about it they should argue quietly about it and not try and win votes. I think we should just support people when troops
are sent overseas we should support them. And unfortunately in a democracy we are all allowed to speak out, and so you get people that can see another solution and want to put it forward but that doesn’t held the soldier, the sailor or the airmen who are there getting shot at. I have to say that I did speak to a National Serviceman, I suppose he’d been –
and this was after I’d been in Vietnam, and I suppose he’d been in the army about a month. He was being trained at Puckapunyal and there was a lot of fuss going on in Melbourne with Doctor Cairns and I said to him how do you feel about this, all this demonstration going on. And he said, “Oh I don’t listen to civilians,” and he’d been in the army about a month. And I thought, well that’s a good attitude. Here’s a young National Serviceman, he’s
army already, and he’s been in a month. He doesn’t listen to what the civilians are doing. I think that’s a rather extreme case but he was happy.
Is there not a case that you know, civic action you know in a democracy should speak up against placing troops in harms way and the possibility that the Government may have erred and it did happen in Germany, and the Government wasn’t quite so… benevolent…
That’s a good question. I don’t think I’m the person to argue against – you’ve heard my view, when a soldier’s told to go, we should back him. I mean that’s a simplistic view. What you’ve said of course is quite correct. I would just like to see soldiers sent overseas backed – by everybody – simplistic view.
you’ve seen you know some fairly – a very long career in terms of in Korea and Vietnam. How do you feel about war generally?
Well I don’t approve of war. I’m sure there must be a better way of doing it, but reality is we are faced with war so we’d better be ready for it. So, no, I think – and I can’t – I don’t like the thought of women being involved
in an operational area. Nursing sisters, yes. I think they’ve got to take their chance, cause they’re needed. With our very short man power, I can see the argument that why we’ve got to put girls there. They can do the job, lot of the jobs they couldn’t be in infantry battalion you just couldn’t have them there. And… it’s a fairly disgusting job. Now you get – you do it because
you’re with friends and you do the job but just the way in which you have to live and operate it’s better I feel it’s a man’s job and if you’re wounded certainly when soldiers are badly wounded and they get back to hearing a female voice with a nursing sister, they hang on to life. But that’s as close as I would want to see them. I know I’m talking against the
policy now, and I’ve just spoken to you about we should be loyal, but in my mind I’m glad I operated when I did when we didn’t have women around. Mind you, they won’t like me saying that, particularly the girls in the band who were doing very well. But that’s a good job for them as musicians and they’re armed and they’re able if they got themselves into trouble say in Timor or Bougainville they’re
armed, they know how to get out of trouble, they’re trained but we shouldn’t be sending them into operations to fight against an enemy.
Have you talked to your daughter or your grandchildren about these things?
My daughter certainly knows about it. She was interested in going into the army at one stage and I said it’s not a girl’s life and so she didn’t come in. She became an accountant. I have four stepsons,
I remarried a nice English lady, who has four boys and one of them’s in the army. He’s in the British Army. He’s just flown a helicopter in – commander of a helicopter squadron in the army, British Army in Iraq. He’s been there for six months. I talked to him about having girls in the army, but he’s of the new breed. Oh no, there’s a place for them in his book. And he had girls in his squadron
I’m thinking particularly about your war experiences, the – perhaps not the professional side but the personal side, the impact of your war service. Have you talked about that with your…
I’m like my father, I talk about the lighter side. I hope I haven’t spoken about the more serious side. I did get
worried and I have been speaking to Carolyn about some things particularly about the Vietnam War. That had worried me in hindsight that people are saying. We all remember different things from the war, of course, and we’re being and we’re contradicting one another on what we say, and what we believe. I hope I don’t – I mean I’ve talking to you because you’ve
been asking me, but I don’t normally talk about war.
What are those things that you’ve talked about that still worry you?
Well yes, it’s some people say that 3RAR should’ve done this and they didn’t. That the journalist said, this boy – soldier – officer killed on the mine did such and such and he didn’t.
Those sort of things I discuss and say, well look this is worrying me and I’m going to do something about it.
Are you in a sense still on duty?
I am yes, yes, yes. Good question. Yes, I am, I am duty. I’m worried about some things that are being reported on the Vietnam War and I’m quietly sitting there talking to people.
Talking to my friend Kandow in Tasmania, my friend Geoff Hitchings in New Zealand, saying this is not right, we’ve got to put this right. Talking to Company Commander Peter Phillips. Talking to my brother, commanding officer, Sir Phillip Bennett, saying this is not right, we’ve got to correct this. How we’re going to correct I don’t know. So, yes I am still on duty. I am still worrying about it.
Understandably perhaps too, given the responsibility.
Yes, oh you want to see the truths and we had – we acted under orders and you were doing what you were told to do and yes there’s another way of doing it when people get hit and killed but we were doing what we thought was correct at the time. Even now I don’t think we could’ve changed it, what we were trying to do, what we were ordered to do.
Looking towards the future,
how optimistic or pessimistic are you about the – the world as it now stands.
Well you’ve got to realise that – first of all I can’t do anything more about it. I tried. Secondly, I did read history at university and I know these things happen in real life, and there’ll be good years and there’ll be bad years.
I am concerned about the rise of the Islamic world and so are many other people. Whether we’re getting that out of perspective because of the television cause of the journalists, please don’t think I’m personally against journalists, they do a great job. I just don’t want them around a battalion when we’re operating. I must make that clear. So I am concerned
about the future, but the world’s got to go on. And now you know why I play a saxophone. You’ve got to do what you can do at the time and now the time has come for me to stop trying to solve the problems of the world and go back to trying to play that saxophone.
Sounds like a very good objective.
Good objective – being a saxophone player, you know that’s a good objective of course.
One last question, I – this archive will be around for 50 or a 100 years. Have you got any message for somebody who may be watching this based on your service and the things you’ve seen and…
Well if we’re talking about the army, it is a
hazardous operation. There are dangers and you can’t cover every thing that you think is going to go wrong. You’ve got limited resources so you’ve got to work out what you think are the problems and you try and tackle but you’re up against an enemy who’s going to change that plan. You’re up against ground which are going to cause difficulties. So everything’s not going to work out the way you like it. So the people that count
are those people that can see the changes, that have got the coolness and courage to get on and keep going. It’s as simple as that. So the people in the – the officers that I talk to, or the cadets that I talk to I say that you’ve got to accept the rough with the smooth, when you fall off the horse you’ve got to get back on it and keep going and that’s what I,
that’s my philosophy when I talk about the future, it’s keep going.
Thanks very much for talking to us.
Thank you. Thank you.