Archive number: 1098
Date interviewed: 29 January, 2004
RAANC – Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps
9 Field Hospital Vietnam
You are listening to the interview audio
Interviewee: Amy Pittendreigh Archive ID 1098 Tape 01
Amy, what can you tell me about growing up in Manjimup?
I was born in Manjimup, and where my father had his farm, was thirty miles east of Manjimup and in those days it was quite a long way out. We didn’t actually grow up in the township.
So you were all by yourself, essentially, thirty miles out?
There were neighbours around. My uncle had a farm right next to my Dad. Because they came out to Australia before World War I and took up land from that area. There were three brothers who came. One of my uncles,
he already had a family at that stage. And it was too lonely for his wife, so they moved in nearer Manjimup.
Where did your family originally move from?
Scotland. Right up in Aberdeen. The three brothers came out. Two of
them were married. Jim, he had three children at this stage. Dad was single. But when he went back, he joined the army. They all joined the army and went back. They were in the 28th Battalion. And he married when he was over on leave.
So where did he serve as part of the war?
In France, in Belgium.
Did he suffer any sicknesses ?
I suppose he did. One of my uncles, he was gassed. He was the one that lived next door. He died quite early, in 1934, I think. I suppose Dad did suffer but not the same.
So he was forty when he married, so….But anyway, they had seven of us.
Brothers and sisters? How’s your family broken up?
Well, I’ve got two sisters older, and two brothers older then I am. I came fifth.
Then there was a sister and a brother younger. I was born in 1927.
What sort of chores did you have to do on the farm?
Well, we used to have to do our own bedrooms and things, and help with the housework, the girls.
We also all had to learn to milk the cows. It was a mixed farm. Dad wanted to have sheep but he found he didn’t have enough acreage. So then they went into mixed. But you all learned to milk by the time you were about six, because it was all done by hand.
So what time in the morning did you have to get up to do all that?
Oh, about seven o’ clock.
So it was not too ugly?
it was quite a happy life, really. We were a happy family. But education was a bit hard. We were mostly educated by correspondence. Then for a while, we had a school. Dad built a school, a
one teacher school. And we had about four years….We had to get other children in to make enough. You had to have so many. My cousin, uncle Charlie’s daughter, she taught us. I think about 1915, she was born.
She was older than we were. They actually sent her to school in Albany. But my parents couldn’t afford that for all of us. Then after the school closed, we went back on correspondence for a while, then.
My eldest two sisters and my brother had all left school by this time. Because at 14, we went out to work. The last three of us, four of us, we were sent away the last year of our schooling.
I just want to find out the school that your father built,
what did you think about going to school there?
Oh, it was all right, because it was right next to the house. It was just a one room building, and a fireplace. The Education Department sent down desks and things.
So that would have been very different from correspondence?
I suppose it was in a way.
It was a similar sort of thing. Because mother used to supervise us when she had us all on correspondence.
What sort of things did you learn? Was it just basic subjects?
Yes. History, Geography, Arithmetic, English. All the things that they learned.
And then when we all left school at 14, that was the age you left in those days. I think most of us went to work on neighbouring farms, to start with.
How did that work? Would you get paid?
Yes, about ten shillings a week.
What would you do with the ten shillings?
some of it went back to home. I think I used to give half to Mum. It went a lot further of course than money goes these days.
Did you have any sorts of social gatherings?
The neighbours did at that stage. Later on,
that was after the war, there used to be dances and things. We had a vehicle, but my eldest brother got a licence. He had a little utility we used to go around in. Well, early in the days it used to be in the [horsedrawn] buggy.
Then the neighbours got trucks and things and they used to pick me up. Picnics were a great thing. We used to catch marrons [freshwater crayfish] in the river, swim in the river. A lot to do, really.
How did you learn to swim?
Just dog-paddled in the river pools.
I was just wondering how large the population would have been around Manjimup at that stage?
They had big families. My Dad and my uncle had their farms next to one another. The next ones were five miles away, on one side, and about
eight miles on the other side. Then there was a little group there. They weren’t that far apart.
Would you have to go into Manjimup to pick up supplies?
Yes, they did.
How often would that happen?
Well, early in the early days, I think they used to do….perhaps it was every three months. They used to go in,
in the buggy. By the time I really remember that, there was a mail round that used to come round twice a week. He had a truck. We’d get supplies that way. But Mum made her own bread and her own butter, that sort of thing. Pickled her own meat.
How about vegetables?
Oh, Dad used to grow veggies. There were plenty of veggies. Mainly cabbage and cauliflowers and tomatoes and all the summer vegetables, in summer time. Never short on veggies.
How big was the farmhouse?
Not very big. It started off as a two room
building, with a lean to for a kitchen. Then as the family grew, Dad built verandahs on the side, and divided them up as bedrooms. It wasn’t very big.
Where did you mainly congregate in the house?
In what we called the dining room. As time went on, we used to go
out on the veranda. One veranda. The boys had one end of it, and Beth and I, had the other. The three boys and my eldest two sisters, they were away a lot at the time. But they had their own room on the other side of the house, the two boys.
What did the older sisters end up doing?
Well, they both married, but that was towards the end.
But Elsie, she was the eldest one, when the war came, she joined the Land Army. She got married at the end of the war. And Eva, she started nursing at Manjimup Hospital, as a nursing aid. And then she went up to…an old people’s home.
Then she married to, at the end of the war.
What can you remember about the Second World War?
Quite a lot, really. Because I was eleven, I think, at that stage.
Before it started, we didn’t have a wireless or anything at our place, and Beth and I would have to go down to our auntie’s to get the news. They got the papers, twice a week, but they were always out of date. But they had a wireless down there, so we could go down there. My cousin would write out what was happening and take it back to Mum and Dad, so they would know what was going on.
I can remember quite a bit. I can remember the first time I saw the airplanes flying in.
Did you know what they were?
Oh yes, We knew, sort of, what was going on.
How did your life change because war had broken out?
Not a great deal. It didn’t really change for us, too much. I had three cousins who had joined up. One was killed on the
I think it was the Canberra. He was in the navy. I had two cousins in the navy and one was in the army, a commando. I was going to say, it didn’t sort of affect
us the same as people living in Perth. I think the biggest thing was the worry from my parents about what was happening back in Brisbane.
So when you left school at fourteen, what did you do? Did you just work on farms?
Yes. For about two years.
And then when I was seventeen, I went into the Manjimup Hospital and got a job as a nursing assistant there. The matron that was there to go and continue my training. But as I didn’t have a leaving certificate or anything, I had to do the entrance examination they used to have. The qualification in those days was you had to have your Leaving. [certificate]
So then I had to go back and study English and Math. Then I took an exam and when I passed that I applied to go on with my training.
What sort of things did you do as part of being, did you call it an eight, at the Manjimup Hospital?
Well, nursing aides they called us in those days.
You did quite a bit. You helped with the treatments. And you helped washing patients and that all sort of thing. It was quite interesting, really. I got into the midwifery parts, too, when the babies were born, sometimes. You were just like help to the Sister that were working there.
What were the Sisters like?
Oh, they were all
very nice. They were all very encouraging. They tried to teach you.
I’d imagine it was a very small hospital in Manjimup?
Yes, it was. They had quite a lot of maternity cases. Sometimes there would be accidents and things, and it could be quite traumatic.
I might have been there eighteen months to two years before…
You were transferred to Perth?
Yes, I left them and went to do my training. That was in 1947.
So going to Perth and doing some training there was a pretty big move, because you wouldn’t have spent a lot of time in the city up until to now?
No, I had been there. I wasn’t
exactly ignorant of it all. I had been up there.
So where did you stay when you were in Perth?
When I started training? We were accommodated at the hospital. When we first went there, to the PTS, the Preliminary Training School,
we were down at Forrest House. It was an old boarding house or something. The hospital took it over to accommodate the nurses. Then we had our all lectures down there, but we
used to go up to the hospital to do the practical work. We’d walk up to the hospital. It was quite a way to walk.
What were the conditions like inside the boarding house?
It wasn’t a boarding house then. I think that’s what it might have been.
Or a sort of hotel. They weren’t too bad. They were fairly strict in those days. You had to be in at a certain time or they locked the doors.
What would happen if you….
Were late in? Well, you had to get a leave pass, then,
if you wanted to go out. They had a bell or something. Sometimes you found other ways to get in. I wasn’t one of the bad ones.
What were the punishments?
Oh, you’d just get a telling off. If you misbehaved too much, you
might have been asked to leave. I don’t remember anybody being kicked out. But I think they did if they played up too much.
What sort of a uniform did you have to wear?
It was blue. It was fairly long, about there. We had gray stockings
and lace-up black shoes, and a white apron. And just a little cap. And you weren’t allowed to have your hair down on your collar, you had to have it up. If you had long hair, you had to
have it up in a bun.
So even the uniforms were quite strict?
What did you think of the other girls that were doing the same thing as you?
Oh, we all got on well. I’ve still got friends from those days.
What sort of things would you get up to on the weekends with the other girls?
Oh, you might go to the beach. We used to go to dances quite a lot. But we only had one day off a week, I think. At that stage. And then you had your study to do.
It sounds quite busy.
It was quite busy. I think it was six weeks in the preliminary training school, before we were allocated to wards. When we were up there, we moved from Forrest House up to the hospital, and quartered at the hospital.
What sort of things did you do when you were moved to the hospital?
How did your training change?
You did all the general nursing, under the supervision of the Sister. You started off as a junior. But we were all allocated so many patients. They were the great big long wards.
What they called the Nightingale wards. Beds all down the sides. And there were two balconies on each side, with verandas. But they were filled up with beds, too. On a shift there would be a senior and a junior for each side of the inside ward.
And on the veranda, there was one who was probably a second year nurse or something. They used to do duties on those. So for first six months or twelve months, you worked with a senior nurse. Then you graduated and had your own patients.
How much supervision did you have?
Oh, there was always a Sister and a staff nurse around. Then on night-duty, there would just be two of you on. A senior and a junior. You had all the patients then, between you.
There wasn’t a Sister on at night, except the Sisters that overlooked. They came around and checked on you. Or you could ring them if things were critical.
So what were the shifts like?
You couldn’t do broken shifts. Mostly they were straight shifts. You’d go on at seven o’ clock
until three o’ clock in the afternoon, or from three o’ clock until ten o’ clock at night, and then from ten o’ clock until seven o’ clock in the morning.
Were you actually paid for this work?
Oh yes, yes. Not very much. But for a start….It was about ten shillings, too, a week.
When I’d been there about eighteen months, we got quite a big rise in pay. We were all getting two pounds, then, I think. Which is quite a big rise.
But we used to have to go to lectures as well. That was in our own time, normally.
How often would you have some sort of an examination?
Well, we had one when we finished at the preliminary school.
Then we had one after our first year. Then we had various other exams. Like you would have an anatomy exam. Different areas of nursing. We would have exams along the way.
At the end of your three years, then you sat for your finals. We went to the university for that one. It was the state exam. It covered a lot.
How did you go?
Oh, I got through it all right.
How much did you enjoy nursing?
Sometimes you’d feel like…I think after twelve months I thought “Oh, I can’t last.” But I did. I went back. I know the first time I went home on leave I said to Mum “I don’t think I can go back.” She said “Yes, you can.”
What was so difficult about it?
It’s a bit hard to tell now. I think a lot of it was the restrictions. And you would also think, “I can’t pass these exams.” I don’t know what it was.
So what happened after you did your exams?
After I finished. Well, I could have gone back as a staff nurse, but I think I just
felt I wanted to go away. There were a few of us, we wanted to go. So we applied then to do our mid [midwifery] . There were five of us went over to the Queen Victoria Hospital in Adelaide. I don’t think it’s there anymore.
And that was a nine month course, in those days.
Do you have to spend time being a staff nurse?
You don’t have to. But I think it’s better if you do, really.
Why is that?
Well, I think you learn a lot at that stage.
So how did you get over to Adelaide?
We went by train. In the days when the trains were not air-conditioned. It was very hot, but you stopped at every little station along the way, too. It was quite interesting.
It must have taken you a while to get there?
About four days I think. I know we broke down at Cook, and we had to hang around there for about six hours. I remember that. Wandering around Cook, trying to fill in time. There wasn’t much there.
Did you want to do the midwifery because you were generally interested in it?
Or was it just a bit of an adventure?
I think it started off as a bit of an adventure, but I loved midwifery.
What did you like about it?
I don’t know. I just really enjoyed that, while I did it.
What was Adelaide like in those days?
A lot smaller, like Perth.
We had a lot of fun in Adelaide. When we had time off, we used to walk for miles. Go up Mount Lofty. Sometimes we’d go up in the train, and walk back. Sometimes we’d walk up and get the train back. It was a lovely place, Adelaide. We enjoyed it.
Were you staying in part of the hospital?
They had their own quarters, too. In those days, the hospitals all had their own quarters. But when we first went over there, they didn’t have enough room, and we stayed in this retired nurses’ home. There was a lot of old ladies there. We were there for about six weeks or so.
But that was an experience.
Were you not very popular?
No, we weren’t really. Because they were all so set in their ways. I suppose we were a bit young….
Well, a fraction of their age.
What sort of things did you have to learn as part of midwifery. I mean, you don’t just sort of wait for the baby to pop out.
No, no, no. You’ve got to learn how they’re developing, and how to deliver them,
and the problems you’ve got to look for. Whether they’re breached, or whether there are any other problems. Sometimes they’ve got cords around their necks and things like that. You’ve got to learn how to diagnose that this is happening, and when to call the doctors. And you’ve got the babies.
You’ve got to look after them. And how to clean their mouths out and all that that when they’re born.
Generally getting them under way?
Yes, that’s right. They all come out screaming.
What sort of supervision did you have during the course?
Well, the same. You had the trained mid-wives there.
You weren’t left on your own to cope.
How did the other girls go?
We all got through it.
How long was this again?
Nine months it was, in those days. I think it’s a bit longer now.
So did you feel that you were effectively trained?
Oh, I think so.
Yes. In those days the mother’s used to stay in bed for seven days after they’d had their baby. Nowadays, you’re up and home in two days.
So what did you do after you came back from Adelaide?
Well, a friend and I went to Balingup, to the hospital there. We did general nursing there. A lot of midwifery there. There was
the Matron, she went on leave soon after we went there, and we were left on our own to do a bit.
So it was just the two of you?
Yes. We had nursing assistants, or nursing aides, to help us out. The doctor lived closed by. I wasn’t there very long.
I was only there for five months or so, then my mother died suddenly, so I went home after that.
And how did your life change after your mother died?
I was home, then. The first couple of years I used to go out relieving duties.
And I’d go home between times. My sister, Beth was at home. She stayed home on the farm. But Dad wasn’t terribly well. He’d have blackouts and things. And then, he had a stroke, then I was home full-time then.
So that must have affected the farm?
Well, the boys were there. I had three brothers you see. There used to always be somebody home. Sometimes all three were home. Dad had retired by this time, you see. Father had handed the farm over to the boys.
So we used to look after them and after Dad and what not.
So in other words, you took up your mum’s role, really?
Yes, after he has his stroke. But he never fully recovered after that. He didn’t want to live after Mum died. I think that was the trouble. Because he was getting on towards 80 at this stage. When he died,
I said to Beth, “We can’t stay here. Those boys will never get married if we do.” So we went to Perth. I was looking for a job. We were going to take any work, but we wanted to be together. So for a start, we worked at
Gloucester Lodge, which was a holiday. We worked out there for a while, as waitresses cum general duties. Then my youngest brother got married first, so we went home for his wedding.
After John was married, David got engaged at that stage, too. We went to the
employment agency, and they suggested that I go back to nursing. They arranged for me to go to Three Springs and Bet could go up there and work, too. So we went up there for twelve months, then came back and Dave got married.
Where is Three Springs?
That’s on the way to Geraldton. It’s in the
What jobs were you doing there?
I was nursing. I was back in nursing, and Beth, she worked in the kitchen. Helped the cook and carried trays. We were there for about twelve months. That was quite an interesting place, too.
Why did you like it?
The people were so friendly, was one thing. But the hospital was a bit….We used to have awful trouble with blowflies because it’s in the sheep area…
Interviewee: AMY PITTENDREIGH Archive ID 1098 Tape 02
So you were working at the hospital in Three Springs…
I think we were there for just under a year. My second brother was getting married, so I came back for that. We sort of didn’t know what we were going to do then.
One of my brothers-in-law said, “Why don’t you go to Queensland?” So we decided that we would.
Why did he suggest Queensland?
Oh, he liked it. Because he had been over there during the war. He told us before to join the army but we hadn’t. He said once before to join the army. “That will be a good experience for you.” Anyway,
we decided to go to Cairns, of all places.
How did you get there?
By train. It was long. We went from Perth to Kalgoolie, changed trains…
Yeah, it was the Prospector in those days to Kalgoolie. Then we changed onto the Trans Continental to Adelaide.
It used to go as far as Port Pirie. Then we changed onto the Port Pirie to Adelaide train. Then from there we had to change trains again in Adelaide, because all the gauges are different. Adelaide to Melbourne. Then from Melbourne to Sydney.
I think we had to change the trains there, at Albury. Then from Albury to Sydney, then changed again from Sydney to Brisbane, then from Brisbane to Cairns, we had to get another train. So we changed all those trains because of the difference in the rail-hopping.
So we got up to Cairns, and we’d booked into a boarding house up there.
What was your first impression of Cairns?
It was raining. It rained and rained, all the time we were there. And there was no work available, because
we went in January, and it was in the middle of their wet. And they’d had a cyclone just before we went up. So we’d been there a little while, and we decided this was no good. We wouldn’t get work there, so we went down to Brisbane. We just got out in time, before another cyclone came through.
Were you feeling a bit disheartened?
No, not really at that stage. We did when we got to Brisbane and couldn’t get work.
How did you look for work?
You went to employment agencies. Anyway, I got a job at St Anne’s Hospital in Brisbane, which was a private hospital. And Beth got a job at a boys’ school,
looking after the masters, who lived in. And I wasn’t real happy in my job. It was mostly psychiatric patients. In the ward that I was working in.
Why were you unhappy in that work?
I’d never nursed psychiatric
patients before, and I didn’t like it.
Did you find it distressing?
Yeah, it was a bit. Most of them seemed, to me, they had too much money and not enough to do. But that was just my opinion, they probably were. And Beth was quite happy in her job, but I said, “Look, you’re no better off then you were on the farm.
You’re still looking after men.” I said, “Why don’t you take Doug’s advice and go and ask about joining the army.” So we did that.
She didn’t sound very enthusiastic by the sounds of it…?
Who, Beth? No, she wasn’t really.
It was in the days when they had the three months national service. We must have gone down there the day to the recruiting office they had all these National Service boys in for their medical. We’d wondered what we’d struck, because there they were running around half-dressed, in toilets with the doors open. So we backed out, and went down the street and rang up and asked where we should have been.
They said, “That’s the recruiting office.” So we left it that day, and we went back about a week later. She was applying for the WRAAC [Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps] , and I thought, ‘I’ll do that, too, just for something different.’ Soon as I got in there and they knew that I was an Australian nurse, they said, “No, the nursing corps needs you more than we do.’ So anyway, that’s how
we came to join the army.
I was going to ask you, was there much unemployment at the time?
There was quite a bit. You could get jobs, if you took whatever was available.
Had you left home with much money?
Well, we had a bit. We had saved up a bit. You could save money better in those days, then you can now, I think.
We were alright. We weren’t short of money. We needed money, but we weren’t desperate or anything.
Where did you stay?
We were in a boarding house, where you cooked your own meals. There was a community kitchen.
That was where we were staying at that stage.
Were there many tenants or guests in it at that stage?
Oh, it was full. It wasn’t that big. There was probably about a dozen people.
Did you find the community living comfortable?
Yes, it was all right. We had our own room.
It was just that you shared the cooking and laundry facilities and things like that. That was alright.
So you still enjoyed some privacy?
Yes. Anyway, I was called up first, and sort of left Beth. That worried me a bit. But she was quite all right.
She was called up about a month after I was gone. She went off to the recruit school down at Queenscliff.
And where had you gone, Amy?
I went to Puckapunyal. That’s where, at that stage, all the new Sisters they brought in, they went
to Puckapunyal, and had a sort of indoctrination there into the army ways.
How did they indoctrinate you there?
They taught you all about mess behaviour, and office responsibilities and that. We were working on the wards at that time.
Can you describe Puckapunyal? What kind of accommodation were you put into?
They had their own accommodation at the hospital, Sisters quarters. They were like long
huts, wooden huts. They were all from the war-time, what was built for the war-time. And the wards were similar. They didn’t have that many patients. So, there was about four or five Sisters there who were reasonably
new in the army. The Matron there, had served in the Middle East. She taught us about what was expected of us, as an officer in the army.
Did she share some interesting experiences of the war with you?
A bit, but not…
Was she a good instructor?
She was quite good.
What did she think of you younger ladies?
I don’t know. I was getting on, there. I wasn’t just a youngster.
Did you bond with the other younger ladies there?
Yes, we got on well. So I was there for about three months.
They used to take us to various male messes and that, so we could meet the….And from there I went to the apprentices’ school at Balcombe, in Victoria.
What were you learning there?
They had army apprentices, they were like schoolkids.
They took them in at fourteen, and gave them an apprenticeship. They also continued doing their schoolwork. So we had to look after them. But mainly, we an RAP, a Regimental Aid Post. Which is like a nursing post, and they used to come up there with all their troubles.
If they needed hospitalization, they went either up to Heidelberg, or into the little local hospital at Mornington. But we treated them as out-patients.
Almost sort of like a first aid centre?
A first aid centre. Anything light, like if they had tinia or anything. Give them their injections. Colds and flu and all that.
How long were you at the apprentices school for?
I went to Malaya at the end of 1960, so I would have been there about twelve months, eighteen months. I joined up in ’59.
Any other memorable experiences from those twelve months down there?
Nothing that stands out.
What was Beth doing at this stage?
She went down to recruit training.
She came over and stayed with me for one weekend. It was down near Queenscliff. She was there. It was sort of over the bay from where I was.
This was really the first time that you had spent much time apart?
After my mother died. But before that, sort of the first time after Mum died. When I went nursing and all that, and did my training….
I’m just coming to terms with the fact that you had gone to Queensland
together, a long, long way from home. And you’d chosen to find work together. And you were both separated when you got into the army?
It was really the making of her when she got into the army.
She didn’t need her big sister so much?
I don’t think she needed me before, except that I felt
responsible for her, I suppose. Anyway, she went on to become a cook, she got up to sergeant.
Did you go on separate paths when you went to Malaya?
Yes, more or less. We still kept in touch. We were still quite close.
you to go to Malaya?
I was posted there. When they had the communists coming down, and there were insurgents coming down, and they had the Malaya Emergency. That was over when I went up there. But there were still a lot of troops up there, and there was families, and
they had to provide medical.
Were you very excited about travelling to Malaya?
I suppose I was quite happy. I was a bit worried, too. I’d never been out of Australia. I’d never travelled that far.
How did you travel there?
First time you’d flown?
No, I’d been
flown home before on leave. That was my first overseas trip. It was during the confrontation between Malaya and Indonesia.
This is following the main emergency?
Yes. This was just after the emergency was over. Singapore and Malaya joined together there for a while. But it didn’t work out. They were going to become one nation, but it didn’t work out. That’s when Malaya became Malaysia, after that.
I think it was all over Borneo. They were both claiming it. I wasn’t really up on what it was all about, but it was a confrontation between Malaya and Indonesia. There was a bit of a worry there that a war might start. We put down at
Jakarta to refuel and we were herded off the plane and along between wire, into the airport. We weren’t allowed to take cameras off, we weren’t allowed to do anything. The Indonesian soldiers were marching up and down with their rifles. It was a bit scary.
Did you travel there in you uniform?
I can’t remember, I think I did.
What was your uniform?
It was a grey frock with short sleeves.
That was the summer dress. The winter dress was a jacket and skirt. Buttons and buckles and all the bits. I can’t remember whether I was in uniform or not, or whether we had to travel in civvies. We might have had to travel in civvies. [civilian clothes]
And then we landed in Singapore we were met by the army Personnel there. We travelled from train from Singapore up to Taiping, where I was posted, with the British Hospital. The
BMH, as they called it. The British Military Hospitals. We were posted to that, and that’s where I went for the first time.
Can you describe the BMH at Taiping?
They were long wards, too. Very airy and wooden, I think, with tin roofs.
And they had medical, surgical, then they had family wards and children’s wards, and maternity.
What was your description? What was the work that you were doing?
General duties. General nursing duties. I started off, I think, in the men’s medical ward.
I had a time in the children’s ward, and I had a bit of time in the maternity ward.
Was it a busy hospital to work in?
It was quite busy. The family ward, I spent a bit of time in the family ward.
From there, I went to the Cameron Highlands….
How long were you in the BMH for, there?
I was in the BMH at Taiping, and I was at the Cameron Highlands, which was the convalescent hospital up there.
Then I went to Penang to work in the Family Medical Centre. That was just Australians I worked with there. Then I went down to Malaka, when they opened a hospital down there. And then I went to Kumanti, which was just outside Kuala Lumpur, so I wasn’t just in one spot, when I was in Malaya.
Over what time frame did you move?
Two years, I was up there two years.
What kind of patients were you taking in?
It was all army. There was British and Australian Army, and the families as well as the troops. The British had a lot of Malays working for them.
And they too were looked after by the British Medical Services.
Were the troops you were treating wounded troops?
There wasn’t really a war going on as such. They used to go up into the jungle and look for the
communist insurgents that were coming in from Thailand. That was what they were mostly doing at that stage. So, there wasn’t a sort of war as such, with wounded. Mainly the sicknesses were tropical diseases.
What sort of tropical diseases were you treating?
Malaria., Scrub typhus. What else? Various things…
How did they treat malaria?
Now, that’s the bit that I can’t remember.
What about scrub typhus?
Scrub typhus was antibiotics.
They had to diagnose them, and then find out what they were, and then treated them with whatever. You had to get their temperatures down, until they diagnosed what was actually wrong with them.
How many men did you generally have hospitalised?
Were the wards full?
Well they were. I mainly nursed families. A lot of the time.
What kind of treatments did the families require?
What any general hospital would. There were accidents and burns. Just as though you were a normal general hospital.
Did you become close to the rest of the staff that you worked with?
Oh yes. We got along very well.
What kind of things did you do together when you weren’t at work?
We’d go out for meals. Visit some of the families. You got friendly with them, and go visit them. Go the swimming pools.
I’d assume there were a lot of ex-pats living there, then?
There were a lot.
What sort of lifestyle were they living? Were they living a very opulent lifestyle?
They all had their amahs [maids] to look after their children or help them. That’s the troops.
So there were servants in the ex-pats homes?
Yes, they all had their servants. Especially the officers.
I think they must have had a lot of time, the officer’s wives, I should say. But I shouldn’t talk like that. I think they didn’t have enough to do, the officer’s wives, they had too many servants, they didn’t have enough to do.
How was their time spent?
I don’t know, really. Bingo, swimming.
Did they have very elegant parties?
Well, yes they did. And there was quite a lot in the messes.
Can you describe what would happen at those functions?
Oh, there were cocktail parties and all those sort of things. They could have formal dinners.
What kinds of meals and drinks did they serve at those dinner parties?
Just normal drinks, I suppose.
The same as you have at any other.
Well, I’m just imaging a feast or banquet, at an elegant cocktail party….
Well, usually at a cocktail party you just have snacks and things, don’t you?
Snacks and things have changed over the years.
I suppose they have. I don’t know that I ever went to a cocktail party. I did go to formal dinners.
How were the formal dinners arranged?
Where were they held?
In the messes.
Can you describe one of the messes?
They were very formal sort of things.
Did they have very basic furniture, or flash stuff?
They had very nice furniture, actually. Comfortable chairs and things.
And how would everybody be dressed?
In your uniform, if it was a formal dinner.
Did you have a special formal uniform?
No, we didn’t. I suppose all the ladies do now. These days,
they’re more equal than they were.
What about the local people? Did you have the opportunity to meet many Malays?
Not a lot. A girl I trained with, who was married to a planter. A rubber plantation manager.
And I went and stayed with them for a while, and I went to a Malay wedding.
That must have been interesting? What happened at a Malay wedding?
They got married.
Was it very different, perhaps to say, your brothers’ weddings?
They had a lot of rice cakes and things like that. They were very
well dressed up. It was not as casual as my brothers’ weddings were. Very sort of formal. I don’t remember a lot about it now, either.
You mentioned that a girlfriend you had trained with had married a plantation owner?
Had they met when you went up there?
They were married, when I went up there, yes. They had been living up there for a while. She actually came not that far from where we lived, down in Manjimup.
How did they meet?
I don’ t know how they met. But she got in touch with me when she heard I was up there, and asked if I’d like to go down.
That must have been an enjoyable place to visit?
It was. They had lots of servants.
What kind of home did they have on the plantation?
They had a big airy
house, lots of servants. Beautiful gardens. That’s sort of what I can
remember more than anything, the beautiful gardens. But I don’t really remember what the house was, but I remember it was nice and cool and airy, with the big fans going around.
It sounds quite exotic.
What was your friend’s husband like?
very British. That’s all I can say.
Did you think she had found a good catch?
She probably had. I haven’t heard from them in years. I lose contact with people.
Why did you move eventually down to Malaka?
Because the families of Australian troops used to live on Penang, the island .And they moved the troops down to Melaka, from where they were at Taiping. The Australian troops moved to Malaka.
So the families then, moved down there. I wasn’t down there very long. They hadn’t a hospital there at that stage, but they were building one. I think the concentration of troops at that stage was going to be down, rather than up. Because
I was working on Penang at the time, with the families, I just moved down when they moved down. But then I was posted back to BMH, a village just outside Kuala Lumpur.
Did you visit Kuala Lumpur?
You used to go sight-seeing more than anything. They had a club, an officer’s club, where you could go and have a swim.
Did you used to visit the officer’s club?
I did, I wouldn’t say I would do it a lot.
Did you enjoy eating the Malaysian food?
I did, yes. Most of it. When we were on Penang, we used to sometimes buy off the mukken carts, which was a no-no. The mukken carts were the ones that used to go around and
they’d cook their food on the cart and people used to come along and buy it, you see. We had a few feeds off the mukken carts, but it was really a no-no, because they didn’t know what diseases you could pick up. But I did enjoy Malay food, most of it. Not all of it.
What kind of food were you eating in the army?
The same as everywhere else. They used to often have a curry. A Malaysian curry. Which was quite nice.
That sounds pretty fancy for the army.
That was at the hospital.
Just for a change.
I’ve heard some pretty bad reports about army food. You didn’t mind it though?
It depended, on your cook a lot. On the whole it wasn’t too bad. But in Vietnam, I didn’t enjoy that food, not in Vietnam.
Interviewee: AMY PITTENDREIGH Archive ID 1098 Tape 03
We were just talking about Kumanti….And you had a bit of a mixed hospital there. Can you describe what that was like to work in?
It was much the same as Taiping.
I think I worked on my own in the family ward and the maternity ward there.
Were there any soldiers in part of that ward?
Not in that area.
The soldiers had their own wards, their medical and surgical wards. But I did spend time in the Cameron Highlands. I did two trips up there. That was the convalescent hospital.
What was that like?
It was an old convent, and the British had taken it over during the war. It had a chapel up there. This was up on a hill above the Cameron Highlands township.
It was all up in the hills, if you know what I mean, but the hospital was up on a higher hill than the rest. They still had the services. The nuns used to keep an eternal flame,
which floated on a little basin of water. They always tried to post a Catholic Sister up there, so that she could keep an eye on the chapel for them. I was up there once, and there were no Catholic Sisters up there, and these dear old nuns asked if I would just let them know if their
eternal flame went out. And I found it was always going out, because the breeze would blow and tip it over. So I used to re-light it. One of them said to me one day “That flame doesn’t go out very often, does it?” I said “No, it doesn’t.”
She knew what I was doing, but she was very grateful.
Did you get on well with the nuns?
They were all quite elderly. They were lovely old things. We had one in hospital
once with bad feet. But on the whole, I didn’t see a lot of them. I’d know when they had the service on up there. I’d like to know if it was given back to them, that hospital.
Was it actually a Scottish convent?
I don’t think so…
Because of the name?
Oh, the Cameron Highlands. That’s the name of the highlands up there. Another time
when I was up there, there was a landslide, a mudslide, and a school was buried. And we had to take some of the casualties from that. That was quite a thing. They had to clear out a ward and set it up
to take all these casualties from this landslide. Eventually, I think we only had them for a couple of days, and they cleared the road down to Ipoh, and they took them all down there. There were adults and children.
What did you think of the climate over there?
It’s all right for a while, but you get very tired of it. I did anyway. I’ve no desire to go back to the Far East. People say “Why don’t you go to Bali?”
Did the climate make working difficult?
No, I don’t think so, really. You sort of adapt to cope with it all. As you sort of adapt to cope with it all. You adapt to cope with most environments.
But normally the Cameron Highlands was for the troops who were convalescing. There wasn’t a lot of nursing to do as such.
Did you get to know any of the soldiers that were convalescing?
but not to remember. You know them while they’re there, but you don’t become friends with them as such. We used to go and play golf with them. A lot of the time they had a golf course up there, and that was one of their activities, they used to out to the
golf course and play golf. Sometimes we used to go along with them.
What sort of thing things did you do to pass the time?
Up there? I don’t know. We used to go for lots of walks up there, because it was cool, up there, which was different.
So what happened after Malaya?
I came back from there, and I went to Seventh Camp Hospital at Kapooka, where the recruits come in.
How were you informed of this?
Oh, through the channels.
Did you want to be transferred somewhere else?
They were postings. You didn’t really get a say. You go where you’re posted.
Were you sad to leave Malaya?
No, I thought it was time to go home. Just before Christmas of ’62.
Was that important to be home for Christmas?
It was nice.
What did your family think of you having
this experience out there in Malaya?
I don’t know, really.
Can you describe the Kapooka Camp Hospital?
Well, yes, this was another of these little war-time temporary hospitals.
Long wooden…..beds down each aisle. Tin roofs.
It doesn’t sound very comfortable to me….
Oh, they were all right. You could make them comfortable.
How would you make them comfortable? Would you stick up personal items?
Well, yes. You have your heaters for the winter and your fans for the summer. They’re not luxury by any means, but they’re comfortable.
What was actually the function of Kapooka?
Well, the recruits come in there from all over Australia.
And that’s where they go when they join and they do their basic training at Kapooka. So you’ve got to have a hospital to take all the…..We didn’t do any operations. They’d come back to us to convalesce. Generally
out-patients. We used to get a lot of bad backs. And a lot of knee problems. Football injuries, and things like that. Training injuries.
Sounds like it was fairly relaxed nursing?
Well, yes. Fairly relaxed. Then when the next lot of National Service, that was when the Vietnam War was on. That was when they started building up for there. We had to give them all their injections.
That was another thing we had to do. The initial injections. And all the various injections What did we used to give them injections for? I’m trying to think what we had.
Tetanus was one. If they were going overseas they had others.
How common would it be for men to have reactions to the injections?
Not very common. They’d get a sore arm, but I don’t remember any. I didn’t ever come across any who had a real bad reaction. It does happen, occasionally.
With the camp itself what were the washing and laundry facilities like?
For the troops, they weren’t too bad. They were building new accommodation blocks there and they were quite good. Brick buildings and barracks.
So that was quite good for them. At the hospital we just had the same as the wards. The wooden buildings.
How were your facilities there?
Not too bad. They had those great big tumbling washing machines.
And clothes lines, they didn’t have dryers and things.
Did you get to mix with the troops at all?
You didn’t mix with them like, socially
mix with them, no. Not with the troops.
I was just wondering when, if you’ve got some leave, you end up mixing with them that way?
What would you do while you were on leave?
Visit friends, go places.
Might go out to a hotel some night. At Kapooka, we used to get progressive parties.
That’s where you start off somewhere and you have soup, and then you move on to the next place and you have your dinner, and you
go somewhere else for sweets, and you come back to the mess for coffee and drinks. That was quite fun. I got to know quite a few of the families there. They had houses there, they called them the married quarters.
Was the hospital actually a mobile hospital?
Did you ever go on exercises?
Yeah, I went on a couple of exercises.
What happened on them?
We went out and we sent up tents. Tented wards and tented theatres. You’d have all your equipment come along in boxes, and you had to set it all up.
There was one out west of Sydney, a bit beyond Ingleburn. I went on one out there. That was a three week one, I think. You wore your jungle greens instead of your ward uniform.
These were both when I was posted to Seven Camp Hospital at Kapooka. There was another one at Rockhampton. We were camped out on these flats, and we had a big rain storm
and it flooded us all out.
Were you actually functioning as a hospital or…
Yes, we functioned as a hospital. The one up in Rockhampton, I was working in theatre up there.
We had a lad that had an accident in a tank, and he ruptured his stomach. So we operated on him, then sent him off down the military hospital in Brisbane.
So it was really an emergency…
It was an emergency thing. We did three or four appendicitises, in that theatre there. But we did have the one excitement,
when the lad ruptured his stomach. He had spaghetti for lunch, too.
How long would it take you to set up the hospital?
Not that long, really. Two or three days, probably to have it all up for an operation. It’s all packed up.
So you unpack it and set up the tents. And set up the stretcher beds.
How do you sterilize things when you’re out in the open there that like?
They usually have stainless steel autoclaves.
The generators. They had the generators so that you could have electricity. Or you can
boil water sterilise, or hot water sterilise, boil things up in them.
How long were you actually at Kapooka?
I think I was there three years.
From January ’62 to January ’65.
What did you enjoy most about that time?
I don’t know. I just enjoyed it. It seemed a happy place to be.
Did you make some good friends during that time?
We had a lot of fun there.
Is there anything else about Kapooka that you might share with us?
I went on my captain’s course there, and that’s when I got promoted to captain.
What sort of things did you have to demonstrate in order to be promoted?
the officer bit. Duties and things.
Did you have to sit or do some sort of an exam?
We went down to the Army School of Health, and we did a course.
So you actually did a course?
I did a course and passed
So how were you informed that you had been promoted?
It comes through the channels there. It all comes through the army headquarters.
Did you celebrate it?
I don’t think so.
So what happened after Kapooka for you?
From Kapooka I went to one military hospital in Brisbane, to work in theatre. Which I didn’t like very much.
Why didn’t you like it?
It’s not my favourite nursing. The theatre
What don’t you like about it?
You’re away from the patients….You’re not away from the patients, but you don’t get to know them.
Some people love it.
So you weren’t there for a particularly long time?
Up in Brisbane? I’ll tell you…. January ’65 to May ’67, two years up there.
And I went from there to Vietnam.
What was Brisbane like then?
It’s not as busy as it is now. I’ve been back to Brisbane a few times, it was a smaller town. But it was quite enjoyable. There were lots of things to do, and places to go from there.
What sort of things would you do when on the weekends or when you had time off?
I had friends up on the Sunshine Coast I used to go and visit. Some of us went down the Gold Coast sometimes.
I was just wondering if the beach would have been…
The beach wasn’t really my scene. I was never a beach lady.
How about dances? Brisbane would have been a pretty rocking place in the ‘60s?
Yeah, I don’t think I ever went dancing. I had my sister up there. They had their business up there then. I used to go up and stay with them.
Did you see movies at all?
Oh yes. I forgot about movies. Even in Malaya, I saw some movies.
Were they shipped into you in Malaya?
No, we went to the local ones.
Were they in English?
Some of them. Most of them were. They were mostly Hollywood films. They did have their own ones, too. I wasn’t much good with languages.
I used to learn a few words. I used to know jagga-jagga, and that was ‘watch out!’ I used to be able to say ‘Good morning.’ I can’t even remember that.
What were the staff like you worked with in Brisbane? Were they good people?
Yes, they were.
Can you tell me about them at all?
The sisters and doctors and medical assistants. They were all nice. In the army, as well as your Sisters on the ward, you had your assistants and your medical assistants. They were trained up to a certain standard. In the theatre,
we had some very good medical assistants, theatre technicians.
So it was quite professional?
Yes, it was.
How aware were you of the Vietnam War?
At that stage? We used to get a lot
of the patients back there, in Brisbane, when they sent them back. We used to have a lot of them come in for further surgery and things like that. Advanced surgery.
What sort of things would they talk to you about in regards to Vietnam?
Well, they didn’t talk to me much because I was in the theatre then. They didn’t tell you a lot about what went on.
What sort of things were you reading in the papers? Did you have any interest in going to Vietnam at that stage?
I hadn’t even thought about. I didn’t even know they were going to send Sisters over at that stage.
So how did it happen that you got posted to Vietnam?
I don’t know how I got posted. I was just told that I was going.
What was your reaction to that?
Unsure, probably, was the first reaction. It was an unknown. Except I had been on exercises, but it wasn’t quite like that, because the hospital was set up. It was a field ambulance, but they had built it into the hospital.
It wasn’t like going up there and setting up tents and stuff, like we did on the exercises.
What were you told about where you were going to be in Vietnam? I was just wondering if you got any sort of
briefing about Vietnam?
I don’t think so. I don’t quite remember…I knew the type of patients they had, because we had them coming back to the hospital. We knew about the mine injuries and
the gunshot wounds, all that. What the hospital itself was like I didn’t really know. I did know that they weren’t under canvas. They had these nice old huts.
Was it possible that you got this posting because you were familiar with the kind of injuries happening over there?
I don’t know. Or whether it was that there was no-one else to send.
Could you have said “No?”
I think so, yes, you can.
When you go into the army, you sign that you are willing to go overseas. They don’t just send you off willy-nilly.
So did you have any excitement about going to Vietnam?
Yes, I did. There was excitement, but it was also a bit of uneasiness about what we were going to….
Did you know any other ladies who were being posted
to Vietnam at the time?
No, I didn’t know any of the others. I hadn’t worked with any of them at the time.
How long did you have to prepare before you went? Did you have some pre-embarkation leave?
Yes, I did. I went home.
I had a fortnight I think. Then I went to Sydney, and that’s where I met up with the other girls. We were all told about how we were travelling, and where we would be met.
How many other girls were there with you?
There were three.
Where were they all from?
They were all from the hospital in Ingleburn.
When you met up with the girls, did they brief you at all about anything to do with Vietnam?
I suppose they did.
How did you get across to Vietnam?
We flew. We went
from Sydney to Brisbane, then we went to Manila in the Philippines. We stayed overnight in Manila. We went by Qantas. An international flight. We had a night in Manila, in a hotel there.
Were you in uniform, or were you in civilian clothes?
No, we were in uniform. That’s right, we were in uniform. I’ve some photos of us taken in Brisbane, on the way through. But then when we got the hotel in Manila, where we were to stay, we got into civvies to walk around the
streets of Manila.
What was Manila like?
It’s a bit hard to say when you were only there for a night. But we were down somewhere, and this American came up to us and said, “You ladies should not be in this part of the town.”
Had you managed to walk over into a red light district?
I don’t know what it was.
It didn’t look red light district to us.
Were there many Americans wandering around Manila?
He was the only one we saw. You didn’t see gangs or anything, other then the locals.
So from Manila you went to…
Saigon the next day. We were met by a couple of doctors
from the hospital. And they took us to our hotel and then we got into our civvies then, and they took us out for a meal. Then we flew onto Vung Tau the next day.
What did the doctors have to say to you?
I’m just wondering if it was more social or if they were briefing you?
That was social. I think they were looking for Australians for a change. I think they volunteered to meet us.
Interviewee: AMY PITTENDREIGH Archive ID 1098 Tape 04
We’ve got as far as Saigon, didn’t I? It was May.
It was our own hospital. They met us. That was when we arrived in Saigon, they took us out for tea. We went and got out of our uniforms into civvies and went out.
What were your first impressions of Vung Tau?
We had to fly down to Vung Tau the next day, and then to the hospital. The actual town of Vung Tau, I didn’t see that for a few days. But we landed at the hospital then. The CO [commanding officer] said we should have a couple of days to settle in before
we started. It was built in amongst the sand hills. The hospital itself was Lysaght [metal sheets] buildings. I suppose it’s a type of aluminium, and all louvered windows right round it. Our quarters were wooden
quarters which had been built. A long hut divided into five bedrooms, with a little sitting room on the end. Then we had a wash-house, come shower room, sort of another just built off it. The boys all were in tents. All the men were in tents.
The mess itself was a tent. That was the officer’s mess. The OR [Other Ranks] mess, they were all tents. It was only the hospital that was Lysaght.
What happened when you arrived?
I think we were taken first to meet the CO.
Then we were shown where our quarters were.
You mentioned you spent a few days…
Yeah,, you mean before we got settled in, before we went on duty, we did have a couple of days.
How did you spend those couple of days while you were settling in?
We had to do our unpacking and all that.
We got taken into Vung Tau, There was a bit like a corridor , with the bedrooms going off, so we decided we needed something. So we got those beaded curtains to hang up on our doors.
And bought things to make it a bit better. There was a bed and a chest of drawers. Yeah, we had a wardrobe, that’s what the furniture consisted of. And a chair each. So we just wanted to make it a bit more homely. So we went into Vung Tau and brought stuff….The sitting room on the end had cane lounge and
chairs in it. We also bought stuff to decorate that up a bit and make it look a bit nice.
What kind of things did you buy to decorate the place?
Oh, mats. I think we brought some curtains to put on windows.
Probably some vases and things. Just to make it a bit more homely.
Whereabouts did you go shopping?
Just in Vung Tau itself. Just in the shops. That’s the local town, which was two or three kilometres away from camp.
Was there a market there?
There were markets and shops. We used to go to a hairdresser’s in there, too.
What were your impressions of Vung Tau?
Having been in Malaya and the Asians there, they look like the same in these countries, so it was good.
I didn’t mind Vung Tau.
What happened when you started work?
Well, I had a long talk with the CO before we started. I had to have a theatre sister and then someone for the intensive care area. And then there was a few others, you see.
I decided I would take the medical ward over myself. And the other sister, the surgical ward. Because two of them were theatre trained, so they could take it in turns to be in the theatre. They used to do a fortnight each. So it was a
field ambulance and not a hospital at that stage. So I really didn’t have a lot of say in what I could have as far as staff went. They were allocated to me from the adjutant’s office.
Before this, the sergeants up there, the boys had been running it on their own, the medical assistants, and the doctors. The sergeants had been in charge, and the CO said we didn’t want to upset them. But I did find out they resented us coming up.
So it was a bit of a situation that I had to be very careful.
So you were having a few teething problems, settling down?
Yes. The wards weren’t very well furnished. When I mean furnished, I mean,
they had these great big tables, what they called SF tables. There were two at the top, which was the ward administration area, then one down the bottom, that held the linen. Then another one out on the veranda where the cutlery and crockery was kept.
And the washing up was done out there. So all this was higgledy-piggledy mixed up together. There were drugs and lotions, all mixed up together. I don’t know. All the books and their charts…Anyway,
I thought the first thing that’s got to be done that this is all sorted out. We can’t have this. We asked about cupboards for the linen: “Oh, no, we haven’t got anything like that. You’re in a war-zone.” Anyway, we found we had
a carpenter amongst our staff, so we went scrounging around various units. We got boxes and crates, and we got him building cupboards out of all this. This is one of all this…Anyway,
when this quarter master found out we had a carpenter there, he took him off us and they never got finished. He was better off. Also I got the pharmacist up, so we sorted out of all these….I think everything they got for a patient just stayed there, it didn’t go back. So he sorted it out, and we were left with just
what was needed on the ward at the time. And all our bookwork .They had a report book, and another book for when the doctors did their rounds, they put down the orders that they had given then. And it was all mixed up with temperatures and things, with all their observations, they were all written in this book.
And how they ever worked it out, I don’t know. So we drew up charts so they could do things properly, and gave them lists of the medicines and mixtures and treatments. Treatment lists and medicine lists so they knew exactly what each one had to have. So that took a couple of days to get that all sorted out.
Anyway, the first day that I was on duty, I said to the lad that had been working on the ward, “You always wrote the report, didn’t you?” And he said “Yes.” I said, “You can write it again today.” Anyway, after he’d gone I had a look and he’d written ‘Sister took over the wards today. And
changed all the mixtures, treatments and CPRs [cardio-pulminary resuscitation] .” That was his report. Unless you were a nurse you wouldn’t know quite what all that meant, but…”
So was his report positive or negative?
It wasn’t neither. It was just a statement
Anyway, they weren’t happy about it, and I think it had all been passed down from the NCOs [ non-commissioned officers] .
And it took quite a number of weeks to get them to realise that things had improved. They were being organised now, instead of going their own way. Most of the ones that worked in the wards weren’t trained beyond First Aid. So they didn’t really know about nursing as such.
I’ve got nothing against them. They were excellent First Aiders. If there was a gaping wound or something, they know how to…But when it came to looking after the sick boys, they didn’t really have much idea how to go about it.
So what did you do to rectify the situation?
Just had to teach them as we went along. On the job training.
Did they improve?
Oh yes. You could never be sure that you were going to have the same staff on. I had to make out rosters, but sometimes someone wouldn’t turn up. Another one would come and they’d say, “Oh so
and so was sick of being in the ward, she wasn’t to go in the outside work party. We’ve swapped them over.” That was my hardest job. One of the hardest jobs.
What did you do?
Well, I hate to say this. Our CO was too weak. He wouldn’t back
me up on anything. So the admin staff had too much say.
That must have made it very difficult for you to operate?
It sounds as though the place was totally disorganised?
In some areas, yes, it was. The theatre and the surgical side were very well done. They were organised to start when
a helicopter came in, they were there, they were out there, they brought them in. The triage area where they were sorted out. Things like that. They were done very, very well. The surgeon who was up there was in charge of the theatre.
The Sister, when she got up there, they sorted out all that. That was very well run.
Why didn’t you get the support that you needed from the CO?
I can’t say. I don’t know.
Do you have any criticisms about the CO you’d like to make?
No. I’ll say that, but I won’t say anything else.
It would be valuable to ask if you could perhaps elaborate on the kind of difficulty you had working with the CO. For instance, when he removed the carpenter…
He didn’t remove the carpenter, but he didn’t do anything to stop it. That was the quarter master.
It sounds to me like a deliberate attempt
to spoil improvements that you were planning to make?
Yeah, that’s the way it appeared to me, too.
Did you ever approach the CO and say you weren’t getting enough support?
Yeah, but you see, he used to have a staff meeting every week, which I went to
Did you raise issues to be discussed at those meetings?
Do you think they were adequately heard?
Would you perhaps be able to tell us some of those issues you took to those meeting to discuss?
Well, I’ll tell you one thing. At one stage, we were very short of cutlery. Some of the boys, I went down there one night and they were eating their tea with wooden spatulas. “We haven’t got any spoons.”
So I know the staff used to bring their cutlery with them, because it would get pinched. But it was easy to lose in the sand. The same with the wards. I think sometimes they took the cutlery to replace what they’d lost. I don’t know. But it used to disappear.
One day, at one of the meetings, I asked about the cutlery, said we needed cutlery. “Oh yes, okay.” Waited and waited, didn’t get any. At the next meeting I said, “We haven’t got the cutlery yet.” The adjutant stood up and he said “Amy, I’m sick of you talking about cutlery. I never want to hear that again.”
And the CO never said a word. Never said a word.
And what was your reaction?
I was furious, but I couldn’t do anything about it.
Did they not think it was important for people to have cutlery to eat with?
I don’t know.
I think they thought that as long as we could manage somehow. They said they couldn’t get it, for a start.
They boys you’re referring to, eating with spatulas…
They’re the patients. Our patients.
You must have been appalled to see your patients eating like that?
Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. So that was one thing. And
then, there were no screens in the wards. The beds were all lined up there. That was another thing. I didn’t think that was right. They used to strip them off to shave them if they had to go for an operation. I said “They should have a bit of privacy. They shouldn’t have to have everybody seeing them.” Or if they had to have any treatments done. Dressings or
anything like that. “They should be screened off.” But they couldn’t do it. Anyhow, the CO happened to be away one week, when the senior medical officer from the headquarters in Saigon called and he said was there anything I wanted?. I said I wanted screens on the ward. He said, “Why haven’t you got them?” I said “Because they won’t give me any.”
So he went to the quarter master and said he wanted screens to be in the ward by his next visit, or he would want to know why. So anyway, we got a screen for each ward. They make them so big and heavy, it took two men to shift them.
What were they made out of?
With a bit of material put around them.
Were they very useful?
Well they were, if you could have moved them.
What other kinds of complaints did you raise?
Well, you see, that was okay, but then I got called in to the CO when he came back from his leave, and I was told that I complained to the SMO [Senior Medical Officer] while
he was away. A laundry unit was sent up to Vietnam when the field ambulance first went up there. Instead of using that, they detached that to the American hospital, and our linen was sent to the American hospital for washing.
And it was a disgrace, the hospital linen. They did not remove blood stains. They came back and they had been boiled into it, more or less, it looked like. The linen was absolutely atrocious. So I said to the CO about that. He said, “There’s nothing we can do.”
I said “But the sheets and things that come to us aren’t like this.” I said “They come back quite clean.” He said “Yeah, but we send them to the civilian laundry.”
So you had patients sleeping in blood-stained linen?
Well, the blood was gone, but the stains were still there.
Did you have any complaints from the patients? You would complain on their behalf?
In the instance that the CO was away and you asked for the screens, and then he got back and was unhappy with you, what developed?
Well, nothing really. Until that CO went home and we got another CO.
And what was the new CO like?
He was different altogether.
Was he more co-operative and supportive?
Oh, yeah. He said I was the Matron.
What did the adjutant think at your next meeting?
When Colonel Watson came, he said to me, “Why haven’t all the patients got proper cutlery?” And I said “Because I was told never to mention cutlery again.” He never said a word, but the cutlery was in the ward that day.
Why do you think the CO and the adjutant that you had difficulties with…?
I don’t know. You see, they were a field ambulance, and usually the Sisters didn’t go into a field ambulance. I might be all wrong, but that’s what I felt. That they didn’t really want us.
The doctors did. That’s why we were there, because the doctors wanted us. But not the admin staff [administration] . Although the CO was a doctor himself.
I just can’t imagine why the admin wouldn’t be more supportive.
No, nor could I.
I would have expected them to do everything they could
to run the hospital…
As a hospital, yeah. Anything for the theatre side they got through all they wanted, more or less. But if you wanted anything for the wards…
Who was the new CO who came out?
Bill Watson. Colonel Bill Watson.
And he changed things, did he?
What can you tell me about Colonel Bill Watson?
I didn’t know him before he came. I’d heard of him. He was the CO of the military hospital. And I heard he was very strict. He was the sort of person that went round and ran his finger over things to see that they’d been dusted, and all that sort of thing. I’d heard I was a bit unsure about him. But oh, there was
nothing better could have happened for that hospital when he arrived. I wasn’t there very long with him, but I was there when they changed from being a
field ambulance, they turned it into a field hospital, over that period. It was so much different. We did have an interim CO, but they didn’t sort of changeover at the same time. So we had an ‘Acting’ for a while.
Had the CO
and the adjutant just reached the end of their tours?
Yes. The adjutant was a little while after the CO. Because I know he was there that day about the cutlery. But they’re still alive.
I don’t suppose you’re very close to them?
As a person, I liked the CO…
It makes you wonder how he ever could have been put in that position?
Yes. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a book by Marshall Barr?.
Now, he had some words to say about the CO.
“Surgery Sand and Saigon Tea”.
Who was it written by?
Marshall Barr. He was the anaesthetist there.
You were working with him?
Yeah. He was good.
And what does his book describe?
It’s taken from his diaries of when he was up there. A lot of it was about his other activities, too.
But he does talk about the CO.
How did the hospital run each day? What was the procedure that you followed on a normal day?
We had four shifts, the nurses did. You used to go on at seven.
With the boys it was seven to three. And then there was the night shift. With us, we used go on at seven, work through till about ten, then have a break and then go back then until about six until the night staff came on.
The boys had three shifts, but they worked straight on. The medical assistants. For a start we didn't have a Sister on night duty. But I had to go especially, one night,
in the intensive care. About two o’ clock in the morning, I thought I’d go out and get some air. I left the orderly in there and I thought I would go around the wards. And I didn’t find any staff in any of the wards. I found them all out, sitting on the veranda of the skin ward, asleep in chairs.
What was your reaction?
I sent them all back. I said to the CO “I’m going to have a Sister on duty or a senior sergeant or staff sergeant. I said “I’m not leaving them with any sergeant. They’re going to have someone to see to them. And if they have a sleep, if there’s nothing doing,
they have it in the ward. Not miles from where their patients are.” So he agreed with that. Then we always had a senior staff sergeant or someone like that on night duty. I used to take a turn myself.
Can you describe how the wounded soldiers were treated from their arrival
and through the various wards?
Well, the ones that came in, straight off the battlefield. They used to ring a bell, when they knew they were coming. They used to get a wireless message to say they were coming. Immediately there was a couple of orderlies down there and one of the doctors to meet them. They brought them up into the triage area and
there they were….Depending on how many were in it. Because you didn’t always know what was coming, whether it was medical or surgical or what. But you always prepared for the worst. Everybody that was around….Everybody that was off duty anywhere, they went down, ready to help if need be. If it turned out to be nothing
much, they went off. But when they rang that alarm to say that there’s casualties coming in, they went down there. And then they were taken in, if you had two or three, and they were sorted out. If they needed drips, they were put in. All that was done. And then
the worst cases went first. They sorted out the priorities, who was first. They could only do two surgical cases in the theatre at a time, because we didn’t have the staff to do more that. If there was more than that, they went to the Americans. Generally, they had it sorted out that if they thought it was too many for us, they took them to 36 Evac, which was the American hospital.
Or if they were up country somewhere, they went to the nearest American hospital. So the theatre staff were in there and did what surgery was required. We had a little intensive care ward, which I think was six beds. They went from theatre to there.
We always had a Sister in that ward, too. One was always in theatre, one was in the intensive care. The other one, she and I would do the outside.
They were treated in the intensive care until it was medivac [medical evacuation] time. Then they’d decide who was to fly….Because they took them from Vung Tau to Butterworth, for a start. And then they used to rest up a few days at Butterworth. That was the air force hospital. Then fly on to either Sydney or Brisbane.
And what were some of the more memorable patients that you treated while you were there?
Oh, golly. One was Jock Sullivan, he lost an arm and a leg. He lost his leg, then he lost an arm. He was one of the worst.
That sort of sticks in my mind. There was another one that sticks in my mind was one that was brought in dead. And he just had a bullet.
It sounds surprising that they would bring a man with that sort of wound in for treatment?
Oh, no. They brought them all there. We didn’t have a morgue, but they brought them in, then they would take them to the morgue over at the 36 Evac.
Had he been fatally wounded?
Yes. He’d been shot through the head. That was, in lots of ways, more traumatic, than some of the wounds you saw.
And another one was this lad. His sergeant had been killed. He was wounded. He wasn’t too badly wounded. Anyway, I was there when he was coming out of the anaesthetic.
He was going “The bastards! The bastards!” He was carrying on. A couple of days later, they brought in this Vietcong. They had actually wounded him, and he was quite badly hurt. And I said to this boy, sitting there, because they put him in intensive care with this lad.
And he said, “Oh, the poor bastard.” I thought ‘Isn’t that typical?’ He was calling them “the bastards.” Then when the enemy comes in, he says, “The poor bastard.’
So he was actually sympathising with him?
Yeah, because he was badly wounded.
What were the relationships like between the staff and the patient?
Oh, very good.
Did the boys behave themselves when they were in hospital?
Oh, some of them. Some of them didn’t. I caught one lad spitting out the window one day, and I said for that he had to go around and do an emu bob. Which meant that you go around and picked up all the
cigarette butts and stuff lying around the place. And later on, when I was going on the Horseshoe Bridge in Perth one day, this car pulled up and I heard “Sister! Sister! Do you remember me? You made me do an emu bob for spitting out the window.” Never seen him again.
So he followed his orders?
Yes he did. He didn’t think I was being hard on him or anything.
Did the boys behave themselves with your nursing staff?
Well, yes. They were very good that way. But I do know there were problems. Not with my nursing staff.
Interviewee: AMY PITTENDREIGH Archive ID 1098 Tape 05
Which was the most neglected ward there?
The most neglected ward in my opinion was the VD ward. The Venereal Disease ward. But that improved, too, after….
See, we didn’t go there. The boys did. They were neglected.
Were there a lot of personnel in the VD ward?
Yes, they used to get them in. That’s part of war, isn’t it?
Do you think it was neglected because it was looked upon…
I don’t think they sympathised with them too much, I don’t know.
When you first arrived at the hospital, was it actually still a field ambulance?
Yes. It was a field ambulance until….
I can’t remember the date. I don’t think I’ve written that down either.
I just wonder why it was changed from a field ambulance to…
Because it was treating…
A field ambulance really only does emergencies and minor cases. They’re either sent back to their units or…It was too big, it wasn’t a field ambulance, really. From the time it was set-up, it should have been a hospital right from the start. Then the field ambulance was then
up at Nui Dat, where the troops were. Although they always had a detachment at Nui Dat, the field ambulance was there then. They treat minor sick and wounded, or emergencies, then send them on to the nearest surgical unit, or medical unit,
depending on what their requirements are. They still had a field ambulance up there, but it was with the battalions where it should have been.
How far away was that?
Wasn’t long by helicopter or plane. It was probably an
hour or so drive, if you went by road. We went up there a couple of times.
Why were you up there?
Just for social reasons. We weren’t busy all the time. We had periods where we were flat out, periods where we were…
Can you tell me about the social occasions you went to Nui Dat for?
One was just for us to see the area, the first time we went up there. So that we knew. The next time was when 7 RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] came home, and they invited us up there for their farewell.
And what went on as part of the farewell?
It was just drinks in the mess and we had a dinner. That invitation’s still here. And when we went up there the first time, we saw the boys going out.
When they were going out to do operations. The helicopters would come in and they would get aboard, and he’d go off, then the next one would come in and pick them up. They went off like that, wherever they were going to be deployed.
When you got the invitation to go and party on at Nui Dat,
how many women were involved in that?
I think we all went. There was a doctor left behind, but the doctors went too. There probably would have been four or five.
There was one New Zealand girl who joined us. They’d come up for three or four months. Ours was a twelve month posting.
The first one was Margaret Torry.
What did you think of the New Zealand girls?
They were quite good. Well, Margaret was a very good nurse. She took over the surgical ward. She used to disappear sometimes. There was New Zealand Air Force, and she was really air force, I think. The New Zealand Regiment,
or the New Zealand Air Force boys that were up there. They used to invite her up there. She didn’t always tell me and I used to think “I should know where you’re going, girl.”
She was invited by the New Zealanders to where?
Up to their officers mess, wherever they were. They weren’t in Vung Tau.
So it was quite a distance?
It was the air force mess she used to go to. They sorted that out. She used to get a ride up.
Why was it a problem that she would go missing?
It was just that I didn’t know where she was. If she’d told me she was going up, it would have been a different thing. I liked to know where they were.
Was she the worst offender,
for bad behaviour?
It wasn’t bad behaviour, really. If anything happened, you’d like to know where they are, if they’re not in the camp. But I didn’t interfere with their private lives, when they were off. It was nothing to do with me, really.
How much time did they get off to play up, so to speak?
When they were off duty, they could do what they liked. Except that they had to let you know if they were going to be out of the camp. But what they did,
I didn’t ask. I know they visited other messes, and they used to go out with the Yanks, but that wasn’t my business. Except that I liked to know where they were in case anything did happen. But what they did…
Did you meet up with any Americans along the way?
What did you think of the Americans?
Just the same as….Some of them you liked. Some of them….They were nice enough. We used to sometimes have little parties down in our flat, and invite them up. I know that
when [Prime Minister] Harold Holt died, we had arranged a Christmas party in our little sitting room. Then it was all cancelled, because Harold Holt died. I remember saying to one American “It’s awful. We can’t have a party because our Prime Minister’s drowned himself.” He said “You shouldn’t talk like that about your Prime Minister. That would be like our President.”
So you had to cancel out of respect?
Out of respect, yes. Then we had a parade, an official parade. They put on a parade and we had to all get up there and march.
A memorial parade to him.
Who was actually involved in that memorial parade?
All the units, all the headquarters units, down in Vung Tau area.
They had a little service.
What did you think about Harold Holt dying?
It was just one of those things. I never thought about him being captured. I just thought that he got himself drowned. I never thought anything else. I did know he liked his swimming and all that, didn’t he?.
He was an active sort of man.
How free were you to move about the hospital base area, and in Vung Tau?
Normally pretty free. You couldn’t go into Vung Tau unless you could get a ride in. You had to have transport to go in there.
But normally you could move freely about the camp, and over to the various units, down to the beach. They had the Badko club down there, where you could go and have a drink.
What was that like as a club?
It was quite nice. Anybody could go there, not just the officers.
All ranks went down there. To the beach and that. The only time we were restricted in our movements was when the Tet Offensive was on.
What couldn’t you do when the Tet Offensive was happening?
Well, you were supposed to stay in your camp. You wouldn’t go out, unless you had escort.
And instead of our ward dresses, we had to wear jungle greens all the time. So we were in the pants and jackets and boots and gaiters and things like that. We used to wear that on night duty, after five o’ clock, because of the mosquito problem. That was quite amusing, too,
because they let you wear sleeveless frocks when you were off duty, but you had to wear….So….
What were the mosquitoes like?
They could be quite bad. You used mosquito repellent.
And make sure you took your anti-malarial drugs. Things like that.
Did you have nets?
Yes. Everybody tucked in, all round.
Was there any cases of malaria that would crop up?
I don’t think there was anything amongst our lot, but there was quite a lot of malaria in the boys who had been out in the jungle.
At one stage we had a medical ward full of….I think that was 7th Battalion. They had been out on patrol, and I had a ward full of them. I know because the CO came down and said he was going to make
me one of his platoon commanders, because there was so many in the ward. They weren’t all malaria. Most of them I don’t think were ever diagnosed what their problem was. They use to call them PUOs. Which was ‘Pyrexia of Unknown Origin.’ They never actually diagnosed them. They would run a temperature.
Were there any other common diseases like that? Would they come down with viruses?
Not so much viruses. Malaria was probably the most common. Then you had scrub typhus.
Some of them were quite sick. I remember one boy he was quite ill, and we had to take him over to 36 Evac. We didn’t have air-conditioning in
our medical ward. The only air-conditioning in the area at that stage was the theatre and the little intensive care. And it was hard to get the medical cases into intensive care. But afterwards the whole hospital was air-conditioned, all the wards. That was after I was gone. But at that stage we used to have to sponge them down, to try and get the temperatures down.
How did the climate make your work difficult?
Well, one of the worst things was the sand that blew. The sand would blow in and get in the beds and everywhere. Then they used to get a lot of prickly heat.
That’s another nasty thing. You come up with a rash, which is caused through the heat and the sweat. I had that. It’s horrible. You wanted to scratch and scratch. You get that in the dry season. Vietnam has two distinct seasons.
The wet and the dry.
Which one did you prefer?
The wet. Running out and getting under the rain running off the roof to wash your hair. It was pouring down.
Would it be quite monsoonal?
Yes, when it came it used to come down in sheets.
That must have been quite difficult to cope with mud?
We didn’t have there, really. They did in the jungle, because the boys used to come in after they’d been out there and they were caked, their feet and everything were caked in mud.
I’ll tell you about our shower, too. We had cold showers. Cold showers are nice, but they don’t get you clean, do they? If you’re hot and sweaty, a little bit of hot water makes the big difference.
To have hot water, you had to have these bucket showers. All the men had them, but I think they were being kind to us, and they just gave us the shower with the water. So we used to have cold showers. But I think eventually they managed to get some sort of heating system for that. But not in my time.
With the blokes and their ablutions, were they kept really separate from the womens?
What were the blokes generally like in the hospital? Could the blokes be trusted?
No, most of them were quite
good. Of course, the odd one might be a bit…Sometimes you would get them, trying to sneak alcohol in. You had to watch them. They used to go down to the Bedko club and get it, and come back through the sand hills. You had to watch them.
Weren’t they supposed to be drinking on the hospital premises?
They were allowed to have so much, but they would go down and get a carton of it, you see. They were allowed to have so much beer. Depending on how sick they were. On the whole they were allowed to have a beer, in the evening. But not get themselves…
What sort of camaraderie happened between the women?
We got on quite well, really. There might have been a few little nettles.
I was just wondering how close you were all were?
Well, I got on better with Kerry then the other two.
She was a big back-up, and help for me. The other two could be a bit independent. Off in their own way. But we got on quite well, really, considering the situation.
There wasn’t many women. There was the Red Cross girls.
What did you think of the Red Cross girls?
Most of them were quite nice.
Most? Not all?
I’m just wondering about if you looked down upon them in any way, because they were Red Cross?
No, I used to think they looked down on us.
Why was that?
I don’t know.
I just got that feeling sometimes.
Was there a bit of rivalry going on?
No. They had their job to do and we had ours. But no, most of them I got on quite well with.
What were the main differences between what their job was and what your job was?
They used to help the boys write letters home.
And get them things. They had a vehicle they used to run around in. They would take them into Vung Tau and things like that.
What do you call these people? They’re not nurses. They don’t do the nursing.
Yeah, Red Cross Girls, that’s what they are. During the World War II they had Red Cross nurses. They actually helped nurse. But these girls didn’t. They did welfare work.
So you think they were
a bit of a lesser standard than some of the Red Cross Girls of the Second World War?
No, I don’t know too much about their level in the Second World War.
How much did you use the beach?
I didn’t use it much, because I was never a beach person. But the girls did.
What sort of things would happen on the beach?
I was just wondering if there were any social activities…
Well, they’d meet up with other people. I don’t know what they did down there, really. I went a few times and had a swim. But I wasn’t the sort of person that would go along and lie on a beach.
Did you ever feel that there was present danger around the base?
The only time was probably during that Tet Offensive they had. But not that I ever felt…But that was when they were worried. Even the medical officers carried their pistols, on duty. I can’t say I ever felt….
It wasn’t like there was any bombing or anything. Not as far as the Vietcong went. They were…insurgents.
Did they ever start creeping into the camp?
I don’t think so. I never heard about it.
Was it effectively guarded, do you think? Your hospital?
I think so. We were sort of in the middle of all these other units. They had to come through them first.
How about mail? How often would you write back to home?
I used to write once a week. Or I would send a tape. I used to use a lot of tapes.
That’s pretty unusual, using a tape recorder. You would have been the only one using a tape recorder, surely?
I had my own little one. Just a little one like this, and instead of writing.
I always sent my sister a tape and she would send one to me. Once a week. You might go a fortnight. But it was something you looked forward to, with the mail.
How important was the mail?
I don’t know. I suppose it was because you were away from home.
Was there ever any hold up with the mail?
Yes. When the mail strike was on. There was a mail strike in Australia. They weren’t sending mail. It wasn’t getting through.
It’s the greatest morale booster of all time, to get mail from home.
How much would you share mail with each other?
We didn’t share mail, unless you got something a bit different. But not personal letters. I didn’t share any.
How about Red Cross packages, did you get any of those?
Any bits and pieces you might have got from Australia? Gifts?
Just normal birthday presents.
I was just wondering what kind of things you missed from home that maybe people would send you?
I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what we did get. We got a sewing machine. A fellow in Brisbane wrote to me. I forgot what he belonged to. Some Liberal organisation. He wrote up to me and said they would like to send something up that we required.
So I said that we would like a sewing machine. A treadle one if he could get one, because the electricity wasn’t always reliable. So they sent us one up and it was very, very handy, too.
What did you use it for?
Various mending. Actually
we made some things for the theatre. I don’t say we made frocks or anything like that, we didn’t. But you often need to put a little stitch in something, don’t you? Or you don’t.
That’s what mothers are for, aren’t they?
I didn’t have a mother up there. I was the mother.
How about Christmas? You mentioned that you were going to have a Christmas party but it was called off. How did you actually celebrate Christmas?
That all went ahead, the Christmas dinner.
What was on the menu?
Oh, the usual things.
How was Christmas Day different to other days?
How did you celebrate Christmas?
I don’t think we put up decorations, I don’t remember that. The boys got a bit of extra beer, the patients.
I don’t really remember.
What did you miss most about Australia?
I missed the meals. I couldn’t
stand the bread. Reconstituted food. Eggs that tasted like they had been injected with ether or something. Milk, it wasn’t
fresh milk. Fresh food was what I missed. And I didn’t like American bread, which was sweet. And plastic potatoes as we used to say.
What, they weren’t real potatoes?
They were real potatoes, but I suppose they were dried.
I used to long for some chops and green peas and mashed potato. I thought that would be lovely.
Did you get much opportunity to eat the Vietnamese cuisine?
Not a lot,
but I did it. It was quite good actually. Vietnamese bread was lovely. I think they were taught to make bread by the French. They had lovely bread.
Were there actually any Vietnamese working inside the camp?
Yes, they did have them working inside. The wards maid, she was a Vietnamese.
They had one on each ward, who washed up and swept the floor and things like that. We had a Mamasan as we called her, in our place, who swept out and did our washing, washed our sheet sand things like that. But we had a washing machine. She used to wash our grey frocks, our ward frocks.
She wanted us to bring her baby home.
She was going to have a baby, and she already had one. “Ooktaloi” they called it. She lost the poor baby. I said “I can’t do that.”
She wanted you to take it for a better life or something?
Yes. She didn’t really speak much English. and we didn’t speak Vietnamese, so it was mostly sign language. But she was a dear thing. I became very fond of her.
What sort of money would a Mamasan get paid?
Would it come out of your pocket?
No, we didn’t pay for her. I don’t know how much she got paid.
So that was one of the services that was provided…
We used to buy little presents like soap and stuff. You had to write a note so that she went out the gate that we had given it to her, if you gave her anything.
They used to search them to make sure they weren’t taking things out.
Were they girls, or older women?
They were older women. Some were young, they weren’t all old.
What do you think
was the best part about the time you had at Vung Tau?
I don’t know. That’s a bit hard to say.
Maybe it was the people, maybe it was some of the experiences that you had?
I couldn’t sort of say that something was the best.
It was a positive experience in lots of ways. It was quite an experience.
I’m just trying to find something about it that you thought was a really valuable experience for you, or something you enjoyed about your time in Vietnam.
Well, I suppose just having been there and seen it.
How did your time end in Vietnam?
When I went home?
I was up there for thirteen months. It was actually a month longer than the twelve months, because my replacement was late. We had a week together before I went home.
think it was six o’ clock in the morning you had to be out at Vung Tau Airport. Then we flew up to Saigon, and had to hang around there. We went home in a Qantas charter.
How did everybody say goodbye to you?
I did have a farewell. I think I’ve got a beer mug or something….I was feeling free at that stage, because I handed over all my responsibilities to the next girl. That was Gynn O’Neill.
And going home, we flew from Saigon to Sydney. Got into Sydney. The other girls had all gone home ahead of me. But Kerry came to the Sydney Airport. She came and met me there.
Interviewee: AMY PITTENDREIGH Archive ID 1098 Tape 06
Sydney, yes. We were about an hour in Sydney, then we went on to Melbourne. I was the only woman on the plane. The rest were mostly national servicemen, on their way home. And a few other regular troops, going home.
So we weren’t long in Melbourne, then we flew to Adelaide. We got into Adelaide about six o’ clock in the morning. And then we were met by the army transport personnel, the movement personnel. We got into a bus and went into the barracks. And we were
given breakfast. I was given a bed to get into. The ones that had to go on to Perth. I had a sleep till about ten o’ clock. I think the boys sat around in chairs and had a sleep. It must have been about eleven o’ clock we then flew onto Perth.
Got in there about two o’ clock, and there wasn’t a soul from the army to meet us there. Everywhere else there had been someone. An officer from headquarters. Not a soul. It was Wednesday afternoon, sports afternoon. My sister and brother in law were there to meet me.
The boys, some of them had their relations and what not. Anyway, I went back to Kennington, where my sister and brother in law lived. I rang up to find out what I was supposed to report to. They said “Go out to the duty officer in the barracks. The personnel depot in the morning.”
It was the middle of winter and I didn’t have any winter uniform. So I put my nephew’s uniform underneath, and something over the top of me and went out there. Anyway, whoever I saw out there said “You’re very good, coming out here.” I said “Yes. But nobody
met us. There was no-one there.” He said “That’s right. The boys have all taken off. We don’t know where they are.” I said “Is it any wonder? There was not a soul there to tell them where to go or what to do.” I said “Most of them are national servicemen about to discharge, and you do not even have the decency to have someone go out to meet them.” He was most apologetic about it all, but
it didn’t help. So that was our arrival home in Perth. And of course, we weren’t very popular anywhere at that stage.
What was the atmosphere like here in Australia?
It wasn’t very nice. Rather than blame the government,
they seemed to be blaming the troops.
What about yourself?
I can’t say that I was any more welcome than anybody else. It was later on I went to an RSL Sisters function.
And one of them said to me “Which war did you go to?” I said “Vietnam.” She said “Hmph, that’s one war we shouldn’t have been in.” And that was it. You just didn’t say.
Did you feel glad at all that you were home?
I was glad to be home,
certainly. My family and all my friends, they were all right. I can’t say I was ever spat upon or anything like that, but it happened to the boys.
Did Denise [interviewer] ask you about post-traumatic stress disorder earlier?
No. I never
really thought I had post-traumatic stress. I don’t know. My first posting, after I got home from Vietnam and after I had my leave, was to the CMF training unit.
Just before you talk about that, are you aware of any of your staff having PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] when they left?
There was one. She…also married a Vietnam veteran, but I know they’ve split. But I think it was probably more on his side than hers.
Why do you think some of the staff suffered PTSD and others didn’t?
I don’t know. I really don’t know.
Do you think they were chosen carefully for their work in Vietnam?
I don’t think they were always.
How do you think they might have been chosen differently?
Well, I think they should have looked at the history of
how they cope with things. That’s as far as the nursing. I won’t say that about the girls that went with me, because I think they were quite good. But I know there were some who weren’t exactly stable, that were sent up there.
And what do you think when you hear them talking of their PTSD?
I don’t meet up with them.
Does it concern you at all to hear these women talk about PTSD?
Well, it does.
How does it concern you?
I don’t know.
Do you have an issue with it at all?
Should we move on to the CMF [Citizens Military Force] ?
I was going to say when I was sent on as the adjutant, that is the administrative officer.
They do all their own training of their other ranks and all that.
Where were you posted?
At Karra Karra, in West Australia. But I also used to go into the barracks, the headquarters, Western Command,
and they had a CMF officer as the ADANS. That’s the Assistant Director of Nursing. So I used to go in and help her with her duties. I was there for a few years.
I must have been there two years. Then I went to the College of Nursing to do the nursing administration course.
What can you tell me about that course?
It’s a twelve month course. It’s quite an intensive
sort of course. All about the administration of nursing, and all that.
What followed that course?
Then I went into the Director of Nursing’s office, as her assistant, for about twelve months.
About eighteen months I was in there. That was administration of the corps. It was away from nursing as such.
Did you find that very rewarding?
It was all right. Something different.
I missed the nursing. I never really went back to nursing after that.
Where did you go next?
I went on exchange to the UK.
Can you tell me a bit about the exchange program?
I was the first one to go that was… They usually send captains, which is lower rank, and you
go and work as a Ward Sister. In exchange, and they send one out to Australia. But because I was administration, I worked in the administration. They didn’t quite know what to do with me when I first got went there. And the girl they sent wasn’t administration.
So it took a little while. I went up to their training unit for a start. Where they trained all their staff.. But they also
trained nurses in their army. They trained them as registered nurses. And their administered from that place, although they work in the various hospitals. They also have their own staff.
We have medical orderlies, or medical personnel in the administration side of the army, but the nurses didn’t. They were administered by the medical corps. They do it all themselves. The British Nursing Corps.
What was it like being overseas?
I enjoyed that.
I was nine months in England. I was at Woolwich Hospital and be like a nursing administrator there. I helped….
the administration. I wasn’t nursing as such there, either. I was there for eight months, I think, then I went to Germany for the BMH Wintell.
That was when the British Army in the Rhine was there. That’s all gone now. But at that stage they still had troops in West Germany. I did get a trip to Berlin. In the days when
you had to fly in. This wall was still up. That was quite an interesting weekend I had there. That was off duty.
When did you come home?
I came home in…
November, ’74, I was there. From there I went to headquarters in Victoria. The Third Military District Headquarters of Victoria. I worked in there.
It sounds important?
Yeah, it was.
It’s like going round, you visit the various units and recruit and do all sorts of things like that.
How long were you there?
I was eighteen months there.
Then I went up to Sydney. I was up there until I got out. I was just feeling that I’d had enough then.
You’d had enough? What did you do?
That was the same sort of thing as I was doing in Victoria, only in New South Wales. It was a bit bigger, so it was sort of a promotion.
I was lieutenant colonel by then.
Did you enjoy being lieutenant colonel?
It was all right, but as I say, it wasn’t nursing as far as I was concerned. You were right away from the patients. But anyway…
You missed the patients, did you?
Yes, I missed the hospitals. Once I got out of the hospitals, it wasn’t the same. I had to have a hysterectomy, because I had cancer, and I think that was what decided me. I was feeling alright, but that was part of it.
I just thought I’d done my twenty years, and I just wanted to get right away.
That’s understandable. Twenty years is a long time to give to the army.
So that was when I decided I would get out. When the twenty years was up.
Did you have any plans at the time for what to do after?
No, I was going to retire.
And what did you end up doing?
Well, I did retire. I went into a business with my brother. A garden centre. I did that for a couple of years, but that was hard work.
Eventually I handed over my share in it to him, to his wife really. And I just retired.
Got the retirement that you were looking for?
Yes. Played golf.
How important are those twenty years you spent in the army to you now, Amy?
Well, I’m not sorry I did it. A lot of it was good.
What is the thing that you are most fond about having spent twenty years in the army?
I think the friendships you make is one thing. I don’t know.
You must have felt a sense of accomplishment…
Oh yes. I’m not the sort of person who can talk about myself very much.
What do you think about Anzac Day?
I think it’s a good thing. I don’t march.
What do you do on Anzac Day?
I usually stay home. I might watch a bit of it on the TV.
What do you think about on Anzac Day?
I don’t think about too much, really.
You don’t think about Vietnam at all?
I think it’s necessary for them, they’ve got to have them.
Is there anything you would like to pass on to younger people of today or tomorrow about war?
Well, I think if we can prevent it, that’s the main thing. I was not happy about this
last war, I must admit. I thought that was…I know we’ve got to have an army. We’ve got to have peacemakers, but I don’t think we have to start wars. Anyway.
Thanks very much, Amy.