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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.