Archive number: 1265
Preferred name: Harry
Date interviewed: 22 July, 2004
8th Field Ambulance
You are listening to the interview audio
Harry, we are talking about doing a brief overview of your life thus far so would you be able to start at the very beginning?
I was born in 1942 in England in Oldham which is about 7 miles north of Manchester. Dad was in the air force
and I was born at home. Most people in England at that time were born at home, a midwife used to come and have the birth at home, and I guess that was the case for most heavily populated countries although we don’t see a lot of that in Australia. I was schooled in England. My father and mother worked in the cotton mill.
I have a younger brother and a younger sister. They decided to emigrate in 1958, or probably before that, but in 1958 it became reality. So we came to Australia I had done all my schooling. I worked for a brief time in England and then we arrived in June ‘58.
I got a job straight away working in a laboratory. I was 16 then. When I was 17, I joined the army. The adult wage was about £11 a week.
I met Mary around about that time and I did my recruit training at Kapooka in NSW and that was where everybody did their army training at that time. I was allocated to medical corps and I went to Healesville which was the School of Army Health then. That’s in Victoria in
in the foothills of the Dandenongs. I did my initial corps training there. I was posted to Woodside in South Australia, which is in the Adelaide Hills to a unit called 2 Field Ambulance. I did a couple of years down in Woodside and then was posted back to Sydney
to a new unit 3CCS [Casualty Clearing Station]. It had only just been raised. There had been casualty clearing stations, in the Second World War but they had all been disbanded, and this was raised for the first time since the war. I was promoted to a lance corporal there.
From there I went to 1 RAR, 1 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment – that would be 1963. All that period of service was from ‘59 to ‘63. I married in that year.
I was in the battalion and in the first two years of my marriage, we probably only saw each other for 6 months, on and off, because you were always out on exercises and away being the company medic in the battalion. I remained with 1 Battalion until 1965 and that battalion split up into two separate battalions, 1 and 5 Battalion.
This was the advent of National Service and 1 Battalion as you probably know was the first battalion to go to Vietnam. I didn’t go to Vietnam I stayed and raised the regimental aid post in 5 Battalion. I was by then a fairly senior corporal. We didn’t have any sergeants there at all.
As you can appreciate, most of the battalions then were all under strength except for 1 Battalion which they made up to strength to go overseas. There were no National Servicemen with 1 Battalion at that time. We took on quite a few National Servicemen ourselves in 5 Battalion. From 5 Battalion I wasn’t promoted there…where did I go to? Oh yes…
I went to general hospital, which is in Ingleburn still in the Sydney area and I was promoted to sergeant there. I moved from there to Puckapunyal where I was the wardmaster of the camp hospital down there.
Camp hospitals in those days were only glorified RAPs [Regimental Aid Posts]. They didn’t do any major surgery or anything like that. We used to send the major surgery to the repat [repatriation] hospitals – Greenslopes, Concord, that sort of thing. We were just big medical centres virtually. I was detached briefly from there to South Australia
which was 4 Battalion, but I didn’t stay on the detachment very long because 7 Battalion was raised in Puckapunyal at the time and basically consisted of some regulars and a lot of National Servicemen mostly Victorian based. Their RAP staff sergeant was unfit
for overseas service, so I was posted to there as a young sergeant… I was only about 26. Although I had all this experience in battalions I was considered a pretty young staff sergeant in the battalion. Much of that battalion was pretty young, in fact I could probably say that about
most of the army at that stage. We were committed to Vietnam. We were increasing our commitment and we were fairly sparse on the ground with regular soldiers, and National Servicemen made up the bulk of certainly the rank and file, and so people got a fairly rapid promotion if you were a regular soldier
if you had any sort of go about you. I went overseas with 7 RAR after a very short stint of doing exercises. At that stage one of the criteria that had been enlisted by the government was that we all had to go through what was then called the jungle training centre at Canungra – now known as the Land Warfare Centre, but it is still at the
same place. So the Jungle training centre – I went there too but I didn’t do the course. I was stuck in the tent. We picked up…I suppose 200 which is a company plus of National Servicemen who had never seen 7 RAR in Victoria. They had done their training at…
probably at Puckapunyal, because most of them were Victorians and then onto the infantry training at Singleton, and we picked them up in Canungra… and I was just in a tent bringing them up to date with injections, because we are talking about early ‘66….no, early ’67.
We were on major exercises. The whole battalion had come up and we picked up this new company, exercised with them and then brought them back, and the battalion went on pre-embarkation leave. I left with the advance party on 1st April,
1967 with about… there were 70 of us on the advance party. The advance party consisted of sort of key positions that we were to undertake. We duly arrived in Vietnam and took over from 5 RAR which is the unit which I had helped to raise some
2 years earlier. I knew a lot of the soldiers there in key positions. I only stayed 5 months over in Nui Dat and I was posted to 8 Field Ambulance, which was back in Vung Tau, which had then taken
over from 2 Field Ambulance which I had been some years before. And because they were medics, I knew most of them. Just to digress a bit, you got to know our corps because it was a fairly small corps and for promotion courses you all went back to the School of Army Health. So you met your peer group
who was at the same base for promotion. You would go down there for a promotion course for 6 weeks and see the same guys you had seen on the previous promotion course, so you know everybody virtually in the corps. This was the case at 8 Field Ambulance – apart from those people who had recently been inducted into the service and the national
servicemen. I will talk about the National Servicemen a bit later. When I returned from Vietnam… I already had a daughter before I went away, and my wife was pregnant when I went to Vietnam and my son was born when I was in Vietnam in the field ambulance.
She had stayed in Puckapunyal for that 12 months that I was away, not knowing anybody, and a little girl and pregnant and couldn’t drive so she had a pretty tough time. A padre once described Puckapunyal to me as: if the world had to have an enema, that is where they would put the tube. That is about as bright as I can say it on film.
No doubt any other soldier that would hear that would have to agree. She had a tougher time, I believe than I did. So I returned to a married quarter there in Puckapunyal after the Vietnam service, and I was actually posted to the School of Army Health in Healesville which is some .
100 clicks away or something like that. So I used to live in whilst waiting for a married quarter there. I used to live in at the school and commute back on the weekends and I was posted as an instructor, platoon sergeant. My job there was in the training company, training National Servicemen. The National Servicemen lived in tents
16, 16s and sandbags and this was the sort of thing they were going to live in Vietnam, except the temperatures were a lot different. But they had to maintain the tents and they learnt that as part of living and they had not done it as any part of their training thus far. They lived in barrack rooms in training elsewhere.
So that was an eye opener for me, and I would like to say that I found being a sergeant was the best rank I ever had, because it was close to the soldiers. I was interested in training the soldiers and I knew what we said wasn’t any bullshit . We could say that when we finished with you here, 90% of you will be in Vietnam,
and the wounds that you’ll be looking at will be proper wounds not rubber ones like you are seeing here. This gave me a lot of satisfaction to know that I was not bullshitting to soldiers and we were training for real warfare, not the peace time army, which I had been used to. Remembering that I was a 17 year old enlistment, the National Servicemen were 20 so they were
a lot more mature fellows that were joining the army than I was when I joined. They were generally speaking much easier to train because they were more mature and had seen a little bit of life and so on. The majority of National Servicemen that I know all enjoyed their training.
At that time too we also trained – the School of Army Health trained medical officers, dentists, some engineers, padres …all people who were National Servicemen and for some reason or other had been deferred because basically they were doing their university degrees and they’d just come straight in.
There were others of course. There were those who were in on the undergraduate scheme. These were people, officers who were picked up doing the medicine and joined the army as army reserves and they only picked them up at their 3rd year and then took them to their 6th year, paying their fees. Then they had to return of service to the military of course for assisting them through university.
So there was a mixture of those people, but the majority of them were in fact National Servicemen who had been deferred. So we took them from being civvies in long hair and people who had been university educated and who scoffed at the idea of the military in general; some misfits; some quite radical
thinkers. We took them from there to carrying swords and doing the whole bit on parade. That was also a rewarding experience there. I was at the school for 5 years doing this sort of training, training soldiers and I was eventually promoted to the company sergeant major of the training wing.
I left there to go to New Guinea. I had my second daughter, my third child there in Healesville. We took the family up to New Guinea and I had two years teaching up in New Guinea to be medics. It used to take us 6 weeks to do that in Australia and it took us 6 months to do that
there. I enjoyed that service, again as an instructor. I felt very comfortable instructing. Mary loved it, kids loved it, we all come back looking like Papua New Guineans. We came back to Sydney and then with the wardmaster of
2 Military Hospital in Ingleburn. Earlier, I said that all our camp hospitals were little more than medical centres, but because of the Vietnam War and the big influx of service personnel, these hospitals had got much bigger and much more professional in their attitude because they were receiving then the wounded who returned
from Vietnam and we were doing follow up care and further surgery and so on. So they were a much more professional set up. In addition to that some of the surgeons who had no previous war experience were all now war experienced, and the consultative surgeons were also experienced… the civilian surgeons because they had spent time over with the field ambulance and the field hospitals
over there and that was an ongoing thing all through the war. People were sort of fighting as professional men to put on an army uniform and go and do some war surgery. So I was there for 2 years as a wardmaster. The wardmaster’s duties… he’s in charge of the welfare
of the patients, the discipline, the organised running of the ward administratively not nursing wise – you have nursing sisters to do that. The arrangement of outpatient appointments and looking after families moving and all that sort of thing. I was promoted
in 1976 to WO1 [Warrant Officer Class 1] regimental sergeant major of 1 Australian Field Hospital, which was the unit that had developed in Vietnam from 2 Field Ambulance, 8 Field Ambulance to 1 Australian Field Hospital. In other words, its role became a much more
surgically orientated thing than a field ambulance was designed to be. And so that was where the birth of 1 Australian Field Hospital was. It was just situated in a group of buildings in Ingleburn and it didn’t have a hospital to run per se, because it was adjacent to the military hospital which I had just left. I only moved across the road but it was just a group of field force soldiers – we didn’t have a hospital.
So to give them some medical training, because the soldier he was overturning all the time and not all them were ex Vietnam and there were still National Servicemen coming in. No sorry, National Service had finished then, but there were some people who had joined since and hadn’t had war service, so we used to detach them to the military hospital, for
on the job training and also civilian hospitals in a variety of capacities. ..in theatre, in casualty and that sort of thing. In x-ray and pathology as well.
Can you explain 1 Field Hospital for us?
I would have to explain what a field ambulance is.
We will do that later, we will continue with your life?
So I was in field hospital, 1 Australian Field Hospital in Ingleburn and that was my first appointment as a regiment sergeant major. It is interesting to note to that it was the first appointment of Lieutenant Colonel Rossi. Lieutenant Colonel Rossi was one of the students that I had helped to train.
He was one of the people that were picked up in the university who was a doctor some years before. Colonel David Rossi, Lieutenant Colonel, and that was his first appointment as a CO [Commanding Officer] of command and it was my first appointment as regimental sergeant major. You find out why I tell you this as we go on.
From there I moved to – after 2 years as RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] there, I moved to Rockhampton. This was an entirely new thing for me because I was with the A Reserve, the old CMF [Citizens’ Military Forces]. I was the RSM, regimental sergeant major there as part of a RAR Carter staff.
This was a bloody shock to me. This soldier who had really high standards and perhaps expectations too high. Bearing in mind that I had been involved in instructing National Servicemen and officers for quite a few years, and then I come across this group of people in an A Reserve situation who thought of the army as a club.
Somewhere to go on Thursday nights, and spend 2 hours mucking around and then getting on the grog. Don’t get me wrong, I liked a few grogs myself, probably more than a few, but soldiering came first and it didn’t to them, and as a consequence I wasn’t very popular there. RSMs are not there to be popular, so I figured if I wasn’t popular
anywhere, that I was probably doing my job. The unfortunate thing about this was that the RSM is part of the headquarters and the executive part of the unit and the headquarters was in Townsville some 1000 kms away. So there was a bit of travelling involved. I was based in Rockhampton, the family was there.
There was another part of the unit in Mackay and the headquarters and quite a fair bit of soldiery in Townsville. So from time to time I would have to visit those as well as participating in exercises. So planning and soldier management was a very difficult situation.
The RSM being in charge of personnel, discipline, planning and training, and it is difficult if you are 1000 miles away from your headquarters. I didn’t like it there, and so probably the best thing I ever did for that unit was make sure that the RSM who followed me went to Townsville, to the headquarters. That unit has since been disbanded
as have a lot of A reserve and they’ve been integrated into the RAR in a different format. From 9 Field Ambulance in Rockhampton I finished there in 1980 and was posted down to 1st Military Hospital in Yeronga, Brisbane.
There I was to run into Lieutenant Colonel David Rossi, who was my CO [Commanding Officer] for the second time. He and I got on very well. He understood my soldiering attributes and standards and he set high standards himself… so we got on very well. Despite that I had nowhere to go in the army then. I had been around the job, I had been an RSM for 6 years,
so I decided to get out. But before I did get out, for many years I had been getting a letter because I was English born. I kept getting a letter, it started from the Whitlam years of government, and it kept saying, you are in the army and you should become an Australian citizen.
That’s fine, I had always intended to. I am more Australian than I am English, so I thought I will get around to it some time. In 1981 I got this letter that said if you don’t become an Australian citizen you may well not be re-engaged. By this time I had 22 years in the army.
I was a bit taken aback by this, but I always said I was going to do it, so I will do it. In 1981 Mary and I got our Australian citizenship and it’s sitting on the way behind me…on Australia Day. One of the old… a general who was one of the
majors in the unit that I was in Vietnam was quite surprised to see me. I was eating pies with the tomato sauce on it, which all Australians do. Anyway, that’s by the by because I never exercised the thing and got out in 1982 – but I had achieved Australian citizenship. I stayed on though in the military
in the A Reserves, something that I had loathed earlier on in my career and because I was… I was a bit lost in civvy street, so I thought I should have some ties with something that I know. I got out from Brisbane and brought a boat hire service here in Riverview in Bundaberg. It wasn’t a bad little business, it was more of a
lifestyle, but it didn’t bring in any money. So I sent my wife out to work again. We said we had retired but we really hadn’t, I was only 42. She had been in geriatric nursing for much of her life, so she got a job straight away. I said you can only do it
on an evening basis, 6 to 10 because I said I want you to run the boat hire during the day – because I was sort of looking around for a full time job. Although I liked fishing and I liked the life style I wanted some money in my pocket. So I got a job in a nursing home carrying emptying urine bottles and things like that. I used to think I hope none of my soldiers see
this. I did this for a few months, and I would get upset because I felt I knew as much as these nursing sisters. So I would come home and whinged to Mary and she said, “Go and do your training.” Nursing training I’m talking about. So Mary got all the things together and talked me
into it, and I went to sit for the exam and off I went, I did nursing training. I did my nursing training when I was 43. I was a registered nurse at the base here. I wouldn’t do it now because you have to go to college and you don’t get any money for it, you have to pay for it. But in those days it was 3 years of training on the job, so you got only a very basic salary – and after being a sergeant major and then down to…
Harry Butterworth, the nurse. I used to keep this hidden a lot. Anyway I got through it and all these youngsters who had all just left school, they kept me young and so I graduated when I was 46 and I was a granddad by then.
I said to the director of nursing, “You might find the odd grandmother graduating but you won’t find too many grandfathers.z’ She didn’t take any advantage of that. I felt rather proud that I had done that and my kids backed me up. I then went to
work. I was still in the A Reserve and during that time I was commissioned to Captain. After graduating there, I went to work in the Mater Hospital here, the acute hospital, and I worked there for 10 years before I retired. I retired at 55, because I was
emotionally upset with my life, probably brought on by PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. I have been retired… we sold the boat hire and all that sort of stuff and moved here. So I’m retired and I just sort of play golf. Our eldest
daughter lives here with two grandchildren. My son is in South Australia with another two, and my youngest daughter, she is just retired from 12 years in the navy as a lieutenant commander… and she lives in Melbourne. Interestingly when I was doing my finals for nursing, she was doing her Leaving Certificate
here, Year 12 exams here. It was a pretty stressful house that week. That’s about all. I just play golf, drink far too much beer. Mary and I have been over to England, we went over in 1999,
and had what Mary describes as the Great Britain pub crawl which I enjoyed, and she didn’t. We spent our time in youth hostels apart from the places when we went to see where I lived and distant relatives. My Dad lives here in Bundaberg in a nursing home… until a couple of months ago he lived with us. My sister
and her husband, who haven’t had any children moved from Brisbane about 3 weeks ago to live up here, and my brother and his wife who had no children live in Tasmania. I don’t think I can go any further. Here I am and what lies in the future for me? I could probably sell this place and go into a retirement village
where I don’t have to do so much work around to keep the place going. I want to do some more travelling. In fact I would sell this tomorrow and I would go back overseas travelling, but Mary doesn’t want to sell this and so she must be obeyed.
You said your daughter lives here, do you mean in the house?
No in Bundaberg.
So you have a lot of relatives actually around you?
Yes I have now.
Do you think your brother will move up from Tassie?
No, he has only just moved to there from Sydney. He’s a traveller too. I have been travelling all my life because I have been in the army and a place like this is the longest posting I have ever had… Bundaberg, I have been here 22 years.
It is something about Vietnam vets though – apparently it comes up… how long are you here? They move around?
Well as a regular soldier, you move around anyway. I know that we do move around – because there’s something innate in us that says I don’t want to stay too long here, and even though you might like it, you want to move somewhere.
I am a traveller. I’ve got itchy feet and I just like to go.
I am incredibly impressed about you doing your nursing in your 40s?
Basically it was a financial decision. I wanted to do something else. I’m skilled as an administrative officer in the hospital and so on, but you can’t get those jobs unless you have a civilian degree.
I am well qualified in that area in the military, in management and training and that sort of thing, but in a regional town like Bundaberg there’s no opportunities . Probably down in one of the major cities I would have probably gone into an administration role somewhere in the public service or whatever, but because I had made this lifestyle change into
boat hire and things like that, it wasn’t lucrative enough.
Interviewee: Harold Butterworth Archive ID 1265 Tape 02
What are your first memories of a child growing up in Oldham?
The very first memory I can remember… I wouldn’t know how old I was but I remember my mother holding me and my father in uniform coming back on leave. I am assuming this is about ‘45 or ‘46.
That is my very earliest memory. I have got other memories as a kid. Another thing was I remember going with my parents to a place – it was just a small inn – it’s called The Little Man. It had a man similar to the XXXX [beer] man over the door and I think the inn was called The Little Man.
I remember looking up at that as a kid in a cobbled sort of court yard area. Some years later I asked… it was a place called (UNCLEAR) in Shropshire in England. I asked somebody to get a photograph or a painting of it and I have actually got that upstairs, and when I went to England in 1999 I visited this great big inn
which is about as big as this room. But to my young age I remember it as quite a grand place as an early memory, and The Little Man was still there over the door, and it was a really nice quaint pub.
You were talking about your father coming back in uniform?
He was in the air force.
Basically, I just remember it as a vague thing of cuddling outside the home where we lived. That was it, it was dark.
Had he been away for awhile?
I think he had just returned from France. I’m not privy to the actual event itself. But that’s the earliest thing I can remember. He got out of the air force in
1946, so I am assuming it is 1945 or ’46 after he came back from France.
I was just curious because a lot of veterans from World War II say they saw their kids for the first time after a couple of years or whatever. Was he away a lot and seeming like a stranger at all, do you remember?
To me? No I don’t remember that so much.
He probably would say that and that probably is the case, yes. They were away a lot but I wouldn’t have recognised that at that age. I am talking I might have been 3 or probably 4, I don’t know.
Did he talk about his experiences?
Not much, no. I have quizzed him a bit in later years about his service.
He didn’t actually go overseas during the war. He was an aircraft maintenance fitter and armourer, so he used to arm all the fighters and the bombers and make sure their guns were correct, and had the right ammunition and the bombs were primed and things like that. So his job was basically
on the east coast of England. But he did go to France and Belgium after peace had been declared because then of course many of our airfields were established over there – what had been German airfields. He was basically occupation. He got out in ‘46 and went back to being a cotton mill worker.
What did they have to do for this sort of work – the cotton mill worker?
Cotton mill worker? Lancashire where we come from is basically – its industry in that time was cotton. At the time of the industrial revolution, it had developed into quite a wealthy area, and all the cotton mill workers used to have kids
working under the looms and things like that, getting all the scraps out. I’ve actually done that myself in the school holidays. It’s hard work working in these big mills and looking after all these cotton spindles and spinning the cotton, combing it and carting it. I don’t understand all the jobs that are involved in it, but he was what they called a master carder. He takes the rough cotton
and cards it and then it is spun and refined and put onto the bobbin – as opposed to Yorkshire which is a neighbouring town and which is a woollen area. Most of this is gone now, but it’s very hard work and you start early in the morning summer and winter and finish at 5 o’clock at night. They would come
home exhausted with cotton in their hair…especially in winter. We lived in a cobbled street, similar housing to Coronation Street, just a row of terraced houses, no front garden. Everybody had a doorstep, which they kept clean and flagged. A cobble street, gas lights at each end of the street, and these are all owned by
the mill owners for their workers, the cottages. In the morning the gas lighter, he would go round and put the gas lights out. He conserved all that sort of stuff. His gas light was a ‘putter outer’ if you like. It would dampen it down. He was also the ‘knocker upper’ and he would tap on the windows of the workers cottages going down the street and
wake them up so they would get up and go to work. Dead of night it is…well 5 o’clock in the morning, but in winter it’s dark until 7.30, 8 o’clock in the north of England. So he was the old lamp lighter, but he was also the knocker up for the people off to work.
It’s no wonder that they decided that they would emigrate for £10. It took a fair bit to save up £10 for everybody. They were a little bit shocked that I had to pay £10, because I was over 16 the other kids went for free.
Tell me about your story
in Oldham. Like what kind of future were you facing?
Probably much of the same…well no that’s not true, but I mean I went to the primary school and you get sorted out there. At secondary school when you get to 11,
everybody sits for the grammar school and me being a dumbo can’t pass it. So I was 11 years old and you go onto the secondary modern school, which is like the basic state school here. There are a number of alternatives you can go for – either technical schools which you have to again pass an exam for, so I was eventually able to do that. I went to Ashton Tech,
which was just another town. By then we had moved …oh during that time we moved out of this area. Most of these houses were then mid 18, no sorry, 19 century houses and they were all… the cotton trade was depressed and
the houses had to come down because they were just too old. So we moved into a council house which was a brand new house . To us, it was brilliant. I went to the technical school, so things were looking up. When I left the technical school at 15 I went to work for Imperial Chemical Industries, a big
international firm, ICI, and they had banks and banks of these… much like the cotton mills, they had banks and banks of laboratories and I was working in them and it was then quite prestigious if your employer sent you to tech at night – TAFE [Technical and Further Education college], if you like, and they used to send us
two afternoons a week and one night to study the Chemistry Certificate. I got £5 a week, which is more than you get as an apprentice. My father was earning £7 a week in the cotton mill, and my mother something like that. So this was quite a prestigious job and so I probably had a reasonable sort of future there
had I stayed. But I was keen as anybody to get to Australia… the keenest of the family. Even though I was 16 I found this difficult because I had a lot of hormones running around in me and I had tried a few things. So it was a difficult time for me, and
I had this good job.
Did you have some sweethearts or something?
Yes I did… it’s a long time ago. So of course I had to leave them. While I was there at ICI we were sort of doing some experimenting
in plastics then. Polyesters weren’t invented then. We were working on them then, the polyester fibres and now it’s all these synthetic things. They’re all the go, plastics and things like that. It was a development on from bakelite, and we were looking at… I don’t know the big picture because I was only one of 100’s of
laboratory assistants, but they were the sort of things we were doing in those days in 1958, ‘57, ‘58.
I am interested to know, you were a working class family?
What was it like being a working class family in England at that time?
We had a loving relationship, but in those days if you looked the wrong way, you got a bashing you know. I guess that was the
norm for most kids of that era, whether they were Australian or whether they were English.
I guess I’m more talking about the English society?
A lot of class distinction. If you went to the grammar school you were posh. You were either posh or very clever to win the scholarship. Even if you went and you won the
scholarship – if you were smart enough to go to grammar schools, it cost your parents a lot for the uniforms and things and so it would have been a struggle for a working class family to keep them up to standard with the kids who were more affluent. In the street where we lived there was a little shop – it was called an Off Licence and you could buy anything there. You would just go over with a jug and they would fill it up with beer,
and you would bring it back and pour it in your own glass like a little pub. They had plenty of pubs too, but this is what is called an off licence. You can do it today but you don’t go and get it off the draught, it’s a bottle shop now. My auntie…no it was not my auntie, it was my father’s cousin, but we called her auntie and they had the shop and the shopkeepers are a step above, so they were known as the posh
people in the street – and we were supposed to be a little bit posh because we were related. We weren’t, my mother and father were still working their bloody bum off in the cotton mill. They had a car and the first television set in the street and we had the second one and it was about this big, a 9 inch
screen and so you’d get all the kids in the street all come in and watch the FA cup in 1953, Blackpool Bolton, Stanley Matthews and all that. You don’t know what I am talking about I know. What did we do? We made our own fun. Everybody in England plays football.
It is called football in England not soccer. It’s called soccer everywhere else. Right from the time when you start walking, you’re kicking something around – a tennis ball, tin can, any sort of a ball. You are either kicking it or heading it. Your mother is always complaining. The toes of your shoes are scuffed and things like that. It was quite
an expense just to clothe you and of course there is no central heating in places in those days. Remember it’s just after the war and we were recovering economically. You didn’t travel overseas, not much. Most of the Poms these days go off every year to Spain or the Canary Islands or the Caribbean somewhere, just to get the sun.
You just couldn’t leave England in those days, all the money had to be kept in England, whatever you had. Even if you were rich – that was part of the rising economy, buy British and all that sort of stuff. There was still petrol rationing in England when I left in 1958. What’s that? Fourteen years after the war.
Ration books, we used to have ration books. When I was going to school you used to have to go and pick up these ration books. I think they were issued once a month. You had to pick up a ration book which allowed you to get certain dairy products and foods and that. It didn’t matter how much money you had, if you didn’t have a coupon to buy the meat,
you couldn’t buy the meat. I guess there was some black market stuff, but basically the working class man couldn’t afford to buy black market stuff anyway. If you didn’t have a ration coupon it didn’t matter if you had the money, it didn’t matter, you couldn’t get it….and the grocers or whatever. So these coupons, the ration books were like gold and you had to go and pick them up from
some government department in the council – I just can’ remember what it was. You picked up a ration book and if you had children under the age of 10, you got two medicine bottles of orange juice – of vitamin C, and you took them home. My Dad used to say, “Now don’t go the same way every time because some of the bigger kids would bash you for the
orange juice and get the coupons.” And that meant for a month or a fortnight you didn’t have any coupons, so you couldn’t get anything. It was really quite an adventurous game. The bugger around the corner knows that you are going this day and the adults can’t go because they can’t get time off work so you do it in your school lunch time, or something like that
or on your way back from school. But don’t go the same way because you will be bowled over and the rations stolen. It was like stealing cash.
I was interested to know what kind of ideas you had as a 16 year old of Australia?
I did a fair bit, because my mother’s sister, my auntie and her family had emigrated
some years early in 1952 and they emigrated into one of these migrant camps. But by this time they had brought a house in Bankstown in Sydney, and they actually sponsored us so that the Australian government didn’t have to house
us. You would get more points if the people who sponsored you had somewhere for you to live. Her two eldest daughters were married, so it was them and then there was our cousin and then there was my Mum and Dad and three kids all crammed into one of those 1950s suburban weatherboard
homes. We managed, that was better than what we lived in in England , mill cottages. So we came there and we lived there for a few months, but we were always trying to get out, and my parents did eventually.
I was interested in England and what you thought of it before you went?
Because they were there and had been there since the early 50s – and like every school holidays I would go to my auntie’s place, and my older cousins would look after me and they’re as much a part of my family as my own family, so we wrote all the time.
So I had a lot more insight than most people my age in England at that time. Geographically I knew where everything was because I knew that we were going to go there some day. I looked it up… that was a particular interest for me, so I did have quite a bit of insight, but I got a bit of a shock when I got here.
Because you don’t speak the same way, people tended to think that you’re not educated, you can’t talk like us, so if you talk different to somebody people automatically think he’s not educated. As a matter of a fact when I came to Sydney… remember I was in the laboratory thing so when I got to Sydney I got a job
in a laboratory as well. So I went to Ultimo Tech in Sydney to enrol in a chemistry certificate course. I had to go and see this bloke…the cashier. He was behind the grille and I paid my fee for the course. I said, “I have come to pay my fee for the chemistry course,” and
he said, “You can’t even speak English mate.” I said, “I can bloody punch your nose in if you didn’t have that grille there.” That was the way I spoke, I had come straight from England and that’s the way I spoke. He said, “You will never be able to pass that course, mate.” Here he was and he had just taking the fees. It was the same when I went to join the army, this big sergeant said, “What do you want, son?” I said, “I have come
to join the army.” He said, “You don’t even know the Queen’s English.” I said, “Yes I do, I am joining up to fight for her.” Anyway, that’s one of my old party jokes and perhaps I shouldn’t be using it here. Really it was an eye opener, the fact that you could always get a fight in Australia because you spoke like that. My youngest sister was okay because
she went through the schooling right from primary school, but my brother who was 13 had to go to the secondary school, so he was in the state school in Bankstown, and he come home with black eyes every day because he talked differently to people. That was in the days when you are either a ‘wog’, a ‘dago’ [southern Europeans] or a ‘Pom’
and the Poms got the worst. I guess that’s why I changed my accent fairly easily. I’ve got an ear for accents or I believe I have, so sometimes I can lapse into it.
What would they say to you, what kind of names would people call you?
They just call you a Pom, Pommy Bastard. I didn’t get half of it as much
as kids at school, because I didn’t go to school. But I was a bit… because of this we weren’t accepted as people – as bright people. I think I got a bit homesick. I was 16 and I left behind this beautiful girl, she was a darling.
Anyway I decided to contact some people who I’d… it was 5 weeks coming over on the ship. When I was 16 I met some people there too – you’re 16 and you’re immigrants and they want the young people. They don't want the mother and the father, they want the kids. So there was a lot of 16 year olds on that boat and we were there for
5 weeks, and I could quite easily have spent the rest of my life going backwards and forwards from Southampton or Tilbury to Sydney and back. It was just beautiful. It was also good for my parents. You sit there and you’re treated like a 5 star passenger… served meals at the table. They had never had that before.
Tell us about the 16 year old girl you left at home?
I am looking for her at the moment on the computer.
Was it hard?
Well, it’s no good soft is it? She certainly made it hard. There wasn’t just one, there were a few and I picked up a lot of good information on the boat too.
I was only a fumbling teenager like most people were. Let’s go to where I met Mary. So I met these people on the boat and they had gone to a migrant hostel. So I brought myself a push bike, and I used to go up there on the weekends.
I had a job and Friday night I’d go and stay in the migrant hostel and come home Sunday afternoon and work the week. Mary had been in the migrant hostel since about 1952. Her mother worked in the canteen there and I would sneak in and stay in one of my mates rooms and they would give me a feed and I would stay there the whole weekend. So I met
Mary and some other girls there too. So… she was a bit younger than me, so I just bided my time. That’s where I met her and that’s what I did and that probably stopped me from going back to England. I joined the army later that year, 1959.
What was this migrant hostel?
A migrant hostel is – they’re there now, but most of the Vietnamese are in them. They were old Nissan huts in those days. This one was at East Hills in Sydney, but there was one at Wacol in Brisbane. I couldn’t tell you much more about Brisbane, because I was in
Sydney. But there was one at Fairfield, one at East Hills and one somewhere else. They were all over the country because in the 50s that was what we were doing. There was the White Australia Policy, and they weren’t letting coloured people in. Most of them were Europeans, the majority of them being British. English, Irish, Scots, Welsh, and the other big thing was Italians and Greeks.
They had to have somewhere to house them. For example, the Polish and the Albanians and people like that were brought in the 50s to do the Snowy River Mountain Scheme, and they just housed them in barracks, and their family came over later or they married Australians. Basically, the Australian Government wanted British born people
and so they just lived in Nissan huts with a big canteen, and that was their life.
What was the lifestyle like then?
Like I say, I was 16, I was working so I had a bit of money, so it was all right. They would have a dance and you just kept together. You just lived in an enclave of British people because
all the kids went to local Australian schools, and every Friday night some kids from the local Australian whatever town settlement – in this case it was Liverpool or Hammondville or something, they would pick fights and we used to have a fight and whoever had the biggest gang there at the time won. Generally they used to come and try and bash Pommies.
That’s why you stayed together in the enclave and the only time… that’s where you lived and played and you went to work or school and that’s when you mixed with the Australian population. That still happens today with the Vietnamese and Filipinos.
Would you continue on with British things, like British singalongs?
Yes, bonfires and there would be a dance every Saturday night, and
I don’t think… I wasn’t that much interested in television in those days there wasn’t that much on in 1958. I bought my first car there with a couple of other things that helped you with the girls sometimes.
What about the Italians and the Greeks, did you have much trouble mixing with them?
Me personally no, because the only mixing I did was go to this thing and it was during that time I joined the army and then I mixed with all kinds in the army of course.
Tell us about meeting your wife, you said she was a bit younger than you?
She was pretty, slim and good figure and
we used to go swimming around the swimming holes, and I said that one will do me, and eventually that’s what happened. We were boyfriend girlfriend. I joined the army and I was in Woodside and I would come back and visit and she might have had another boyfriend, and I think I had a couple of girlfriends in Woodside but
that was us. When I came to Sydney, we just became a much more concrete relationship.
Why did you decide to join the army in the first place?
Like I said to you before I was basically lazy, and I wasn’t much of a scholar, so I probably wouldn’t have been able to go on and get a degree and
I wasn’t interest in schooling very much. But I was interested in travel and I was interested in having a bit more money in my pocket, and at £11a week back in 1959 was good money.
Tell us about joining up, what did you have to do and the things that happened?
I enlisted in Sydney, at Rushcutters Bay. A beaut little spot right near the sailing club. I’ve been back there since, and somebody said it’s not there. I was in there for a few weeks until they got enough people to send to…
No, that’s when I enlisted and then I went to South Head, another good army spot. The army had good spots in those days… and I was there for about a few weeks just doing odd jobs and cleaning and learning a little bit about the army but not much. We were just in civvy clothes until you get enough people to make a platoon then
they put you on a train and took you down to Wagga [Wagga Wagga]. So then you get into there and that’s when your training really starts then. Your fitness training, discipline, drill, field craft, weapons, the whole bit.
How did you take to the army?
I was glad to get out of recruit training, because it is tough,
but I still liked the challenge of it and I was only 17 and very green, and still hadn’t acquired a passable Australian accent. I was introduced to regular drinking too. As regular as you could get in training.
And at 17 – in those days you weren’t legal, you weren’t supposed to drink until you were 21. In military camps if you’re old enough to wear the uniform, you are old enough to drink sort of thing.
Tell us about the first time you got on the drink with some of the army guys?
Of course I had a few drinks in England and more than a few on that ship,
but not on a regular basis. Basically a lot of the people at that time were older than me and there were very few 17 year old enlistments. A lot of the people were sort of ex-world War II who couldn’t fit in and joined up again. But probably more from the Korean War. I would say the World War II guys were the instructors.
They were always telling me about the hundreds of thousands of yellow men who were going to come over the hill and you were going to have to lift this rifle, the .303 properly, or you’re a dead man. Of course that never happened. That’s why I was saying earlier that when I was instructing I didn’t have to tell them any bullshit, because they knew they were all going to be there.
I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it more in hindsight than at the time. I think it was well worth it. It was well worth it. It was 3 months … as soon as you get there they take all your civilian clothes off you and put them in a store room and issue you with everything. Underpants that don’t fit you
and winter ones that make you scratch and itch, and you only get to go home once – go out on leave once, but they still don’t give you your civvies back. So everywhere you went, you went out in uniform. They only gave your civvies back when they posted you to a corps and none of them fitted you by then because
you had a bit more muscle and you had put on a bit more weight, and they are just not you anymore. You just gradually buy your own civvies that are more appropriate when you are out of the training. At least that’s what it was like for me. It may not have been like that for older people or people who had service before.
I am only saying …like I’m still 17 when I have finished my training.
Interviewee: Harold Butterworth Archive ID 1265 Tape 03
Harold you were talking about your basic training at Kapooka and that it was quite hard going for 3 months and then you got transferred to the corps that you would be going. Now did you have a choice in that?
Yes I did, that’s what I chose. Everybody sort of had a choice but they didn’t all get what they wanted because it was just manpower resources,
“We want more infantry,” or more artillery. “Well, bad luck.” You had an aptitude test to see what you were suited for and so on, and different trades within those particular courses. Not everybody got what they wanted but I did.
What was your choice?
The Royal Australian Army Medical Corps.
Why did you have an interest in medicine?
I don’t know that I had an interest in medicine per se. I thought it was useful knowledge and I am still only 17 remember and not a man of the world. So I thought I had better do something useful here, because there is not many jobs in civvy street where you can fire a machine gun . So I thought I had better have something useful.
You were thinking when I get out of here at least I will have some kind of training?
I wasn’t thinking of it at that time as a full time career. I don’t think I decided what I wanted to do really.
On reflection now, out of curiosity, do you think 17 is too young to join the army?
Yes. I mean it worked out all right for me
but I think I lost some of my youth. I mean I went straight into a big time adult job at 17 and knew nothing. So you soon get brought down to earth. I adapted easily enough to it though and obviously I made something out of it.
Yes, I think 17 is too young. That’s evidenced in my later thing. I mean I much preferred to teach the National Servicemen than I did regular people who were younger, even though I had been one myself.
Where was your corps training?
In Victoria, the School of Army Health in Healesville. It’s not there any more.
The building was an old building called Summerlea Lodge, and in the early 1920s, it was one of the … where the gentry went for the weekend from Melbourne. It was set on about 37 acres, rolling hills. It’s right next to the sanctuary at Healesville, and it was a big wooden
building with a beautiful big ballroom and two big open fire places at each end. Everybody…s quite apart from the schooling, you had to do duties around the place, and most of your duties revolved around maintaining this building…polishing the ballroom floor and all these other things.
It was like a heritage thing… I think it was a heritage listed building at one time but I don’t think it is now, it’s gone to rack and ruin, so that’s a sad part about it. This is where everybody in the medical corps went to do their training and other advanced courses, not just simply corps training there.
It sounds like a beautiful place.
What was your impression of it?
It was just a beautiful place to be, but at the same time it was still an army camp so there was still discipline and parades and teaching going on. And because everything was new being taught, like just basic first aid, the history of the corps and militaria generally. It was all
new and interesting at that time. You just didn’t go straight there on a course because once again you waited until there was enough people to get a class going, which was usually 25. So there might be 2 or 3 intakes from Kapooka before it produces enough people to form a class. I was there for about, again 3 months,
but the course itself was only about a month or 6 weeks.
Is this where you started making the mates you would have in your army career?
Yes. They were just a fleeting group of people in recruit training, because then you go hell wide and crooked from there. I mean you do still run into some of those people from time to time,
but you know you run into the people who are in your corps more often, very much more often. Any reunions I attend are basically medical corps reunions.
What did this course exactly entail?
In corps training? Basically a history of the corps, how it was formed and
where its history comes from, and the badge and all that sort of stuff. That is peculiar to your corps, and that’s the basis of any other corps – the history of the Royal Australian Regiment and so on. You find out who your heroes are in that corps. The first VC [Victoria Cross] won by an Australian was in the medical corps, a doctor in South Africa. So you learn all these sort of things that are
peculiar to your corps – quite apart from what trades you are going to go into. You can be in RAAMC [Royal Australian Army Medical Corps] and everybody in RAAMC has a smattering of first aid, bandaging and so on. But they may go into quartermaster stores within the corps.
Even though he may have medical corps on his insignia, he doesn’t know much about it as a medic or as a clerk for example. He may be a great administrator but couldn’t put a bandage on and things of this nature. The basic thing was this was just pure basic corps training, learn about the corps, do your course and it is from there that the corps then identifies
your aptitudes. We need clerks, we need storemen, we need medics. There are different types of medics of course. The medics that work in the hospitals, the medics that work in a RAP, a regimental aid post in a static unit, say Victoria Barracks in Sydney. They might want
somebody who has got a bit of service – got a service ribbon to show they worked in Canberra, where he is going to come under the eye of a lot of officer cadets. It might be a guy that shines out in the bush, so you go with a field unit – infantry, artillery, armoured, engineers or something like that. So within the trades, there is a variety of jobs.
Of course if you are in a medical unit as such, well then you all get to know each other. But if you are a medic out of your corps, that is like I was with infantry you get to know them and of course you become part of their history and you have to get to know
their history. So the medic himself doesn’t get to fire rocket launchers or things of that nature, or work a jack hammer in support company like the infantry does – but he does if he’s the medic down there, because it’s part of being the team. The medic in the artillery battery doesn’t have a gun as such. He’s the medic but he knows all the orders
of firing, and what have you, and he knows how they deploy. If he’s in armoured he knows how the tanks deploy, how to camouflage those particular vehicles. Everybody is a soldier first and then your trade as a medical assistant or whatever is
secondary to it.
What did they pick up about you and your personality at the corps training that they thought you could …?
They wouldn’t know that then really – that’s too early to gauge. You’d go to… Well bearing that in mind some people might want to be a clerk and express this or express to be a medic or
whatever, so they will look at that and they might say we’ll send you on a clerks’ course, or you are obviously no good at first aid sort of thing so we’ll send you on a Q [Quartermaster] storeman’s course. But basically you get to know more about it when… people know more about you when you get to a unit, because then you have a specific task to do. Your junior NCO [Non Commissioned Officer] assesses you
and the sergeant and so on run courses within the unit and tasks and so on. And so they’re able to assess your potential then. “Is he a good medic?” “No, he’s bloody hopeless.” “He could drive or he could…” Many of the medics go on a driver’s course. When you’re travelling on convoy you need to have a co driver. And maybe you haven’t got all
the drivers. You might only have one driver for a truck, so it’s best to have a co driver. So you get other skills as well. But basically you are a medic.
You weren’t at Healesville very long?
No, about 3 months.
Then they sent you to 1 Field?
No, 2 Field Ambulance.
Tell us about that then?
A field ambulance is about a 200 strong unit which
it only about the size of a rifle company in a battalion. Its job – it is a field ambulance. The field indicating that it goes in the field and it supports a task force. That’s a group of three battalions. So there is one field ambulance to three battalions. Its task is to transport
casualties from the battalions back to the field ambulance, where they can do… not any major surgery but perhaps resuscitate you and get you further back. They have only got a holding capacity of say 3 days, because they have to remain mobile. It’s all under tents. The task force move out… the three battalions plus
its supporting services. The field ambulance has to up sticks and follow it too, otherwise you have too big a gap for the evacuation. So it’s collection, evacuation, treatment and preparation for further evacuation of casualties…and sick bay.
Forgive my ignorance, but this would also encapsulate stretcher bearers?
Yes, the medics, you do the whole bit, yes.
Would some people be better at being a medic, in being quick and fast and coming back, than other people?
Remember, there are medics in the battalion itself. There’s a regimental aid posts there. So if you just take one battalion and it’s spread into four rifle companies – so you have the battalion here, and you have your four rifle companies. There is a medic in each of those four rifle companies.
There is medics back here with a doctor. So they’re responsible to evacuate back to the RAP. Back here down here at the elbow is the field ambulance. So you have got…there are different varieties of how you can do it – like by air, by road, by river, sea… a number of ways… hospital trains in Europe in the World War. And they can only do so much.
Because they have to move, the elbow has to move with it to keep this line of communication feasible enough to have treatment close to where the casualties are going to be. This being the forward edge of the battle area, this is still in the combat zone. Behind them, over the shoulder there is the bigger things like field hospitals and casualty clearing stations.
This field ambulance has the ability to be able to establish what is called CCP [Casualty Clearance Post], casualty collection posts, because this might be a longer area or more difficult terrain, so they would get them to here and establish something there and organise priorities for evacuation. I mention all those ways and that can be
walking wounded, carrying, stretchering, via vehicle ambulance, by raft on the river. It depends on where you are serving. I mention all those things because that is what they had to do in the bigger picture in Europe for example. In Vietnam we had air superiority, so quite often the RAP didn’t see these casualties within the battalion
because with the injuries there at the company level – at the platoon level, they call in a helicopter who comes and picks him up, over flies the battalion and takes him back to the field ambulance and this could be happening from three battalions. Although that rarely happened in Vietnam in my time because… for a start there was only two, but
usually one battalion was in reserve, they didn’t operate as a task force.
The whole arm business was very well explained. You were the first field ambulance to go to Vietnam?
No I wasn’t. No, 2 Field Ambulance went to Vietnam, 2nd Field Ambulance.
I am talking about the 2nd Field Ambulance that I went to which was in Woodside South Australia after my corps training – that was the unit I went to. That describes what a conventional field ambulance did, what I just described there. In Vietnam, the field ambulance wasn’t conventional at all because it wasn’t mobile. We only had one battalion out on operations at any one time, usually only one.
There might have been elements of others like artillery. Artillery belongs to the task force too. I am only talking about the principal units of three battalions, but there were others supporting things such as armour, artillery and engineers and it is not just three battalions and a medic. The organisation is much bigger than that. But the field ambulance is collection, evacuation,
treatment and preparation for further evacuation. In Vietnam, it didn’t quite work that way because it wasn’t mobile, the field ambulance as such. So it became really like a permanent light field hospital, so it could do – because it wasn’t mobile – it could go into a building, Kingstrand Hut down at Vung Tau, and it can be that far away from Nui Dat because
of the air superiority – they are all coming in by helicopter. Not all of them, but basically the casualties from the field are coming in by helicopter. Bearing in mind it’s not simply casualties in the field. There’s the sick, people get diseases, people have accidents and they don’t have to be out in the war time area for that. I mean that can be
just in and around the base camp area. Like when you get a group of people anywhere, getting run over by a truck or a truck on a routine job around the camp, it can turn over and it may have 16 soldiers in the back of it. So already there’s a big accident and not necessarily from enemy attack
or combat. So all these things are there and all you have got is a unit which is about 200 men to support it. But as I say, because we have this air superiority, we can now make the field ambulance much more substantial in that it can carry out major surgery… because now we can put up an air conditioned operating theatre, we can attract the best anaesthetists from Australia
and surgeons and altogether something. Not that we don’t have them in the army, but they’re just career soldiers. These are people who want war experience so they come to us and so we build this into a light field hospital in huts, and have a helipad there – which is called a vampire pad by the way.
What did you say the huts were?
Kingstrand. They’re basically a galvanised hut, something like an aircraft hangar and just steel and it’s prefabricated. You just pour a concrete block and put them up, and that becomes a ward. You put another one up, and that becomes the medical section. You build a smaller one for the intensive care and a smaller one again
for the theatre complex. So eventually after 18 months the hospital is in buildings of this nature, but the diggers, they’re still in tents – because it is only the infrastructure of the hospital. This occurs not just in the hospital, but in the logistical support area.
My concern is the medical, so I can only explain that to you in detail.
After Healesville, you went to South Australia and …?
To the Field Ambulance. It was just a group of people again… this was in 1960, so we weren’t at war. We did have some
people in Malaysia, but we weren’t at war specifically. So it was just a group of people who exercised. It was one of only two AIF [Australian Imperial Force] units in South Australia at that time. The first National Service had just finished, so this group of 200 people had this big camp, this massive parade ground that could hold 1000 men
from National Service days that had just finished – that’s the early National Service, the 3 month jobs and so we had this great big area for 200 people.
I’m curious, Harry. Did they end up using these barracks and whatever when they started up National Service?
Yes, different units. In fact a battalion went down there and
a battery of artillery.
What kind of exercises did you do here?
We would just go out to the local forests and out to the scrub mountains, out Gawler way, Kyfo [?] Forest comes to mind, and we would just conduct our own exercise, putting up the advanced dressing station,
putting it up again and moving it, and doing it at night time and creating our own casualties. You have got a gun shot wound to the chest, you have got a fractured femur and we would bring them to the advanced dressing station, and preparing them for evacuation. So in that way people learnt what we had to do out in the bush.
What we had to do out in the bush was establish an advanced dressing station, maybe a casualty collection station – one of the CCPs, organise vehicles to get them. Remember I’m only a digger at this stage of the game. So you’re learning all this stuff. You’ve got to learn to put up these tents and pull them down like that, because you have to move when the task force moves. So you’ve learnt all these skills and you
don’t need to go on a major exercise to put a tent up, pull it down, and shift it – but it becomes very boring. So back in camp at Woodside all you were doing – see you never saw any real patients – they were all your mates with a ticket on them spitting a bit of blood out of their mouths. It was all pretend. You went through the thing of admitting them to the ADS [Advanced Dressing Station] looking after them, fixing up their
So the ticket said what was wrong with them?
Yes, it’s ticket. It’s an envelope that you used. It’s F Med 25 and inside it, goes an F Med 26. You see, in war all your medical records are back here somewhere, not with you
and they are certainly not with the infantry soldier coming in. His medical records are with his RAP, they’re not with the ambulance that receives him But he has whatever has been done to him – he has a gun shot wound to the chest…right well he’s had it. It may not be evident what’s wrong with him particularly if there’s plenty of them coming in, until you have done triage which is assessing and prioritising, and you’ve got to strip
them off to find out. But you’ve got a ticket to say he’s a ‘GSW of the chest’ – gun shot wound, or he’s a compound fracture of the femur… you can usually see that because he’s splintered up or something. Some of them may not be, but this identifies what’s wrong with them and it’s a document that is then transferred later onto his permanent record. It also tells us at the time if he has had any morphine so we don’t
give him another shot of morphine – we write that on his forehead if we’re out in the bush. If I am the company medic out in the bush and this fractured femur is obviously very painful, so I give him some morphine. So I write on his forehead and write on his F Med 26, and put it in his envelope. On his ticket has got all his name and regimental number and the whole bit because they’re the ones that know him.
Who was responsible for making sure that the records from his F Med 26 went onto his permanent record?
This goes back with you all the way until he gets to an established – we wouldn’t be bothering with this at the field ambulance, but when he gets back to a CCS, we try and get all the records, but we’re going to be adding to them. He will have this field record staying with him until
he gets to a permanent situation, because here back at the CCS we can do x-rays, blood tests, and they will all get added into this envelope as part of his movement backwards to more substantive treatment. If he doesn’t need substantive treatment, he might just have minor shrapnel and we just pick these out of his skin, you put a covering over
it and send him back. Well he’ll go back with his F Med 26 and that will be transcribed by the medic. It will go to the RAP, and the RAP is responsible for making sure his F Med 26 goes into his permanent record.
Something that just occurred to me thought, like for instance my blood type is quite rare. If you had a bloke on the field that had a rare blood type and he needed some kind of blood,
would that be on him, would that be on his dog tags or something?
The blood type?
I will show you my dog tags later. It has got it on your dog tag… it’s got your regimental number, your name, your religion and your blood group that is all. You know that he is not likely to get… he won’t get blood here,
down in the field. They haven’t got that capability to store blood, because it has to be refrigerated. He won’t get blood here in an orthodox field ambulance, but he could in the one which was in Vietnam which was more substantial so we could do it. But basically it would be at the CCS, the casualty clearing station where they can do the major surgery and where they have blood and or plasma.
Approximately how long would it take for a soldier in the field to go to
CCS if he needed blood?
It depends on the terrain. All we would do is try to keep his blood volume, we can put a drip in. We can put a drip earlier on too if he needs is normal saline. That will keep him hydrated until he can get to some other thing. The time limit is variable, because it depends on the terrain,
air superiority, flying time. Virtually flying time from there to there in Vietnam, in the province we were working in, 20 minutes the most. So 20 minutes from wounding…no, not 20 minutes from wounding because it might take …there’s flying time to get to him, but 20 minutes after he picks him up would be the longest time for him to get to here
in theatre. That posed some problems, because the time factor is a very important one. It’s one that I can’t tell you because it depends. Like in Western Europe where we were just putting them on a train where they could get drips and blood – or on
a hospital ship in the Pacific. But of course the time frame depends on the terrain and how quickly they can move him on that terrain. If you’re travelling from here to here and it’s 25 kilometres over rough country, like in New Guinea, you have got to carry him. But you can’t, because you can’t get a vehicle there and if you can put him on a vehicle and get him there well… So it depends
on the area in which you are doing it. But if you have air superiority, you can fly over and that’s what we did in Vietnam. Because you could get things so quickly to them… he’s shot here; he gets on the radio…I want a dust off chopper, and the dust off chopper gets there, but the medic on the ground hasn’t got time to stabilise his wound, If he’s got this broken… the longest bone in the body, he’s got
to stabilise it. He hasn’t got time to do that, so often …and the chopper doesn’t want to stay. He can’t stay around there, because it’s comprising the helicopter, comprising the position of the troops to start with. So then he comes in. So what we were finding was, 10 days later with these major fractures,
they would die of fat embolism because we had moved him. He had been moved before the fractured bone had been stabilised and there had been a leakage of fat into the blood stream. And so you would look at 10 days later, between 7 and 10 days and you’re looking at infection.
Well we can fight the infection with antibiotics and remember now he’s in intensive care back at the field ambulance or the field hospital. So you can do that, but he dies of a fat embolism because his initial first aid was inadequate. Not too many faults of the medic on the ground or his mate who was often trying to do something for him. It was because the rate of
the rate of evacuation was too quick for him, particularly if he has several casualties. So he hasn’t got the time to look after and stabilise this wound. Blokes were often winched up into the helicopter, and they’re not on a stretcher, just lying on the floor of the chopper, and although he is back in surgery in 20 minutes when they can do things for him,
there is later complications. The first aid is as important, if not more important as the surgery after. Surgery you can do magnificent things with, but if your first aid is not adequate, then it’s later on that you see – and we weren’t aware of it. We weren’t aware that his was a problem until
it occurred a few times. So we learnt a lot from that, that not always is rapid evacuation the best thing. If we learned anything from that, from our stint in Vietnam, I think it was the major thing that we did learn and this was something that I could take back and teach. Don’t think your first aid is a waste of time just simply because he is going back
and will be in theatre in half an hour. It’s even more important that your first aid is spot on, that is where you’re saving his life. I am not talking about simply stopping the arterial bleeding. Obviously that’s going to save his life, but the care that you give him while he is on the ground before his evacuation is as important. Don’t rush it or don’t say, “I won’t bother because the helicopter
will be in here in a minute.” If that does occur, you can’t do much about it. Part of my job of teaching them was to give them everything you’ve, give it to him, despite the fact that you know he will be on the table in half an hour.
Did you happen to know what you taught was utilised and successful in Vietnam after?
I think the fact that we were at war and medics were seeing these wounds, I think it obviously produced a better medic. My medical training was somebody who was pretending to be injured and I think you produced a better medic and most of those medics were National Servicemen. So
when they went back into civvy street they were useful there. Mind you many of them stayed on. Not just in medics, I mean everywhere, but I think… but to say what we were teaching at the School of Army Health made them better medics would be difficult to say. At least we had the knowledge,
and most of the people who were instructors at that time were ex-Vietnam. If you had any instructional acumen, they sent you to school to pass it on. I think indirectly –I think probably we did produce a better medic, because as I say, there was no guff about it,
like I had been told from Korean veterans. I am not blaming that, it just didn’t happen for us. When I said to a soldier, “In three months time you will be in Vietnam,” I was 99% sure that was the case.
Each conflict brought different consequences?
One of the consequences is the one that I just explained about the early movement of patients
before they were stabilised. It was quite often they weren’t stabilised until they got to the field ambulance, because they were on the floor of the helicopter.
Did you do a lot of flying on helicopters?
Yes. When we did training before helicopters, this was also another thing too.
In Australia when you do helicopter training, everything is run by the DCA [Department of Civil Aviation], the air regulations that control any flights in Australia. Only 7 can get on the Iroquois helicopters – three from this side and four from that and when you get in you’ve got to strap in and the doors are closed. That doesn’t happen in conflict.
The second day I was in Vietnam I was in a helicopter. It went out on an operation with 5 Battalion. I was in the advanced party and all the advanced party went out with 5 RAR. So we all line up and I had never seen so many helicopters in my life. They were coming in, just banks of them and they do what is called an ‘op landing’. They don’t actually land there. They’re just hovering there
ready to go. Nine people get on, not 7… from one side and 5 from the other, and I am last to get on. And there’s already two machine gunners on each side.
Interviewee: Harold Butterworth Archive ID 1265 Tape 04
Harry you were telling us what happened on the second day in Vietnam. What happened on the helicopter?
I had to go on this operation, some sort of road holding operation and there’s no doors on the helicopters. There’s two guns on either side, 50 calibre machine guns with a gunner there. Nine people get on the aircraft, not 7. There’s no seat belts
and I am the last on from my side – I can’t remember whether I was on the 5 or 4. And I’ve only got short legs so I have got all my gear plus my medical gear, and one up the spout – that is to say there is a projectile in the breach, and you are not allowed to do that in Australia either. This is live ammunition too, not blank ammunition.
So I’m the last one on. I’m sitting right on the edge of the seat, because I’ve got my pack on and he’s got his pack on, so I am right on the edge of the seat like this. I can’t reach down to the skids of the helicopter because I’ve only got little legs and I’ve got all my hands full, and I managed to find just over the door, a little ledge and I’ve got… to this day I reckon that my finger marks are in the
ledge, and that’s all I was hanging onto. I mean, I’ve been in plenty of helicopters, but all in Australia and it is just not like it. When they land, they don’t land either, they’re about 7 foot off the ground. At 7 foot they start telling you to get out, and of course I am first out.
Bloody hell. That’s what you call an op landing and you have to all pile out one after the other this high from the ground. Just roll – nobody taught us how to roll. We’re not parachutists. I don’t get injured or anything and off you go. Although you practice
going up in the helicopter and you practiced the configuration of how to put patients in, and how it can be configured to slot stretchers in and so on, in actual combat it doesn’t happen. That’s something that you can bring back and teach too and say, “This is what we’re doing here but when you get there, there will be no doors on,” and I tell them that
this is what happens, and it can be quite frightening because the helicopter isn’t just going straight up and like we’re doing here with you. It’s manoeuvring around and the centrifugal force actually keeps you in there. You are not going to fall out but nobody can convince you of that because you’re sitting on the edge of this seat and you can’t reach the skids. There are little lessons like that
that you pass onto them when you’re actually doing some training in Australia, but we can’t make it life like here. But because we have experienced it, we can pass it on and say what it is going to be like?
I wonder if anyone has broken their legs from jumping out?
Yes. Before we went to 7 RAR – before we went to Vietnam, we were having this exercise I was just telling you about earlier in the
Shoalwater Bay training area in what is called Strawberry Creek Flats. We were doing some helicopter training with British helicopters, Sea Kings, and they wanted us to climb down ropes from hovering at about 50 foot. We hadn’t done any of this before but
they were hovering with the ropes hanging down, and you had to climb down the rope. There’s no doubt that we can all do that but if you’re not doing it as a routine thing it’s a difficult exercise. We have got all our gear on and weapons slung ,and these helicopters are coming down all over the place and I’ve got
down out of mine all right, and I’m over establishing an aid post. It was a non tactical exercise, but it was to train us to get down these ropes – not repelling as you see some of these SAS guys doing. One of my mates, a sergeant…
I’ll tell you about this one because it was in peace time. He was about 16 stone and he was the RP sergeant – regimental police sergeant – a big bloke, a lump of a man. He started to slide down the rope and he burnt his hands so he let go of the rope and he must have been… I suppose, this high from it and dropped.
I went to go towards him because he didn’t get up straight away, and he got up straight away and I stopped – no problems – and then I saw him go down again, and I thought he has done his ankle in or something. I go racing over to him and his tibia had gone straight through his boot. Just simply by simply landing on it and his weight…
so I had to put him in one of the Sea Kings and take him down to a hospital in Rockhampton. It was a CCS. So there are accidents like that that can happen on the battle field
that aren’t the result of direct enemy action even though you are going on operations. That was in peace time, nobody firing at you and the helicopter hovering nice and gentle for you, but you are still up there and you have got to get down.
Was that rope training handy in Vietnam?
No not for me personally, no it wasn’t because we would do op landings.
As I explained before we would just do op landings – just jump out. The thing comes down this way, and you start jumping out about this high. They wouldn’t hover in Vietnam like that because that’s why they had op landings… they simply don’t land at all. They are just going like that and when they’re down here you get out and they’re gone. They are a scarce resource and a valuable resource.
You were going to tell me something?
You did ask if the exercise that I just described in the helicopters was useful in Vietnam. Well to start with, as a medic looking at preventive medicine if you like, I thought it was a dangerous procedure because
I certainly hadn’t been trained in it and I had been around the army for awhile. The battalion was young, had a lot of new recruits and I am certain they had not. I mean we had done this as part of a PT exercise, went up a rope and climbing down, but not from a helicopter hovering and with full gear on. They may have done something like that in infantry training, but not to my knowledge specifically.
I thought it was a dangerous procedure having not many of them done this at all before. Nor did I find it useful in Vietnam, because helicopters didn’t hover because they were a scarce resource and they’re vulnerable as a target when they are hovering. They compromise positions and
it’s an expensive bit of equipment – not to even mention the people in it. So hovering was not a thing they did routinely. They did it if they had to, when they were hauling a patient out or hauling anything out, but they didn’t like doing it and I could see no real useful
principle involved in that exercise at all. That was probably the most serious one of the day – in fact that soldier had to be discharged from the army medically unfit, and couldn’t go to Vietnam. He was a sergeant of some years experience. So whoever took his place obviously would be of lesser experience. Nonetheless, they’re the ways of the military life.
Were there any other operations that were particularly useless before you went overseas?
No I felt…I mean, that was an incident during an exercise that I didn’t particularly think was worthwhile. There’s lots of bloody things that are not worthwhile that you think at the time in the army… you can wait and everybody adds the fudge factor so you’re there for
three hours before you need to be or whatever. But they’re part and parcel of the military and you learn to put up with it. I think the exercises are important, in the fact that this was a young battalion, the first time they had come together, and they are going overseas for 12 months service. It was a get to know you exercise if nothing else, and from that point of view it was valuable.
All the other skills that are in there, they’re already there, but to exercise them altogether with somebody you haven’t even dug a fox hole with, or driven in the back of a truck before, it becomes important to cement relationships, and basically gather what sort of soldier you have got working next to you.
Did you have any
really top mates at this particular time before you headed overseas?
In 7 platoon? No, because I was a new chum in that battalion. I had grown up in battalions. I mean I was in 1 battalion and 5 battalion and I was well experienced in the workings of a battalion and I knew a hell of a lot of people in 1 and 5 because that’s where I came from.
All the bands people, they are all in the medical platoon. The medical platoon is the biggest platoon in the battalion, and all the bandies become stretcher bearers. 7 RAR didn’t have a band, but we had a group of people who were stretcher bearers, all of whom were National Servicemen. They were a good group of people, but they weren’t musicians.
In the other battalions they were musicians. They’re soldiers first, musicians, stretcher bearers and as such that’s part of their trade. So they had already been first aid trained and they are part of the medical team. The doctor comes in and gives them lectures, and the RAP sergeant teaches them, and each of the companies
has a stretcher bearer with the medic, so you become a close knit team. Our team never had a chance to become that, because we picked up a company of people on the way to one of these exercises, came come back, went on pre-embarkation leave and then went to Vietnam. I was teaching a lot of these stretcher bearers first aid on Barrawinga,
one of the exercises at Shoalwater Bay, and it was unsatisfactory really. They were keen to learn, but it was the time factor of putting them into situations that just simply weren’t there.
Later on over in Vietnam did you pick up an animosity between the enlisted army men and the National Servicemen?
No, you all got
on well, and as I say when I came back and started training I much preferred the National Servicemen than the younger RAR soldier.
Tell us about getting your posting to say that you were heading off to Vietnam?
I was the wardmaster of 3 Camp Hospital in Puckapunyal. I hadn’t been in that job particularly long
and 7 Battalion was raised in Puckapunyal. I think it had only been raised about 6 months, and initially the RAP sergeant that was there, was… became unfit for active service. He was an older soldier who had been in Korea. I knew him. So I was posted to them. I was actually detached to them
for these exercises, because he couldn’t go to Shoalwater Bay on these series of exercises which was building the battalion ready to go to Vietnam. That was late ‘66, early ‘67, and so I was young and fit and had battalion experience, so I was posted there. I was Johnny on the spot.
It was only down the road. The wardmaster job is only just a stop gap really, not an important job. I thought it was but actually it’s not. It is an important job, but the position is not as important as the battalion. You have to have somebody so I finished up with that. I must admit…I don’t know whether I should say this, but
I enjoyed my stay in 1 and 5 Battalion but 7 Battalion I disliked intensely.
What do you mean, you were at loggerheads with…?
I didn’t like the hierarchy. I think basically because it was a young battalion,
I was a young RAP sergeant, and I am guessing the hierarchy was also very young. The CO, they were new, it was probably their first turn as battalion commander, and it wasn’t like the old days that I had been in the battalion where I’m not a medic in the battalion, I’m a battalion man,
a regiment man and I never seemed to get accepted as that in 7 Battalion.
Do you know why?
Simply because everybody was new. I had only been with them a month whereas I spent 2 years in the other battalions. I had raised 5 RAR.
7 RAR was hardly raised at all. I went into a real administrative mess there. Nobody was up to date with their injections, even the older soldiers. There weren’t many of the older soldiers. All the older soldiers were in CQ [?] messes. Most of whom were unfit and should not have gone there.
I got into trouble actually. We were doing a hearing test. This was before we went and we had to do hearing tests. I didn’t know this but 7 Battalion was going… the battalion I was in was being tested for its hearing acuity. Everybody felt that the hearing acuity was too stringent.
Most of the people with hearing loss were the older soldiers, and as it turned out 85% of the older soldiers including the CO and including myself, some were quite serious but some not, but it didn’t really affect their soldiering. I was supposed to send these results to the
head in medical services in Victoria, but the CO said he would send them, and he got them off me personally. So I thought no more about that until Vietnam and they fronted me up and said…this is the battalion headquarters people, “We’re in all sorts of trouble, because you didn’t send the hearing tests…” I was in the advance party, remember.
“…because you didn’t send these results down.” I said, “I didn’t send them, I gave them to the commanding officer,” and the adjutant called me a liar and all sorts of things. I said, “I think you have better go and talk to the commanding officer instead of balling me out.” So he and I didn’t get on at all. You don’t apologise in the army for balling somebody out, that’s just an every day thing. But
that’s just some of the things that I didn’t like. Those sort of things were just everyday occurrences. That particular bloke never got outside the wire. There’s a lot of them.
What do you mean by that?
They never went on an operation, they just would sit in battalion headquarters. They don’t go anywhere. They just sit in base camp right there in Nui Dat.
They don’t get outside the tactical area of responsibility. So those sort of soldiers… I don’t care what rank they are, they just don’t come up to scratch.
Tell us about your pre-embarkation leave, where did you go?
I didn’t have any. I lived in Puckapunyal.
You had a daughter?
I had a married quarters there, and I was still the doing international health certificate on my leave
in the RAP.
What did your wife think of…?
I was going home every night, but I was working during the day.
What did Mary say about you being posted overseas?
In those days, I said things… I am doing this.
Not these days, hey?
No. That’s not true really. I’m a professional soldier and when they said, “Do you want this job?” They didn’t say it quite like that, you are getting it, but I was quite pleased I was going over. You don’t want to be wearing three stripes and being a regular soldier and not having active service do you. That’s the way I looked at it. I am a professional soldier.
What did you know about the Communist uprising and what was happening over there at that time?
We got a lot of intelligence lectures on that. I’ll tell you a humorous story. It’s not mine, it’s a mate of mine. He went over with 2 Field Ambulance, he said they are just a bunch of medics.
Their information was that everybody in black pyjamas is the enemy. So they’re all getting out of the vehicle. He’s a staff sergeant and his mate is a staff sergeant He’s a clerk and my mate is a pathology technician. They’re not soldiers really, not medics.
He’s first out and he gets to the top of the civilian aircraft and down the bottom is a little fellow in black pyjamas and a conical hat, and he drops and everybody bumps into him and he says to his mate, “Hey!” Alan looks over and he says, “Right, back in your seats.” He thought he was the enemy.
But of course this wasn’t the case. That was the extent of their intelligence. These were two senior staff sergeants. They weren’t going to get out because the bloke in black pyjamas was there. He assures me that was a true story and knowing him, I believe him.
How did it happen that you actually got over to Vietnam, what did you go on?
About 9 o’clock one night they all… the 70 of us gathered there, and the families were allowed to come. We just jumped into the back of the trucks and waved goodbye to them and they took us out to the airfield. I don’t know where it was.
We were put into a Hercules and we got to Darwin, transferred into a 727 Qantas and went to Manila. We stayed four hours in the airport in Manila, and changed into uniform – because we were in civvies. We changed into uniform and then off to Saigon.
The other funny story was that prior to this a fellow come up from the Bank of Victoria to change money. How much money did you want to take with you? So he was changing it into US currency. I think I only had about $100 – they were fairly new then.
It was 1966 when we change from pound shillings and pence. I forget how much I changed , but he changed it into US currency for all those 70 people who were going on this advance thing, so you could buy yourself a drink etc. We had a meal laid on in Manila but they wanted US currency.
We changed all this to US currency and we get to Manila but they didn’t want that, they wanted the Australian silver because it’s got a true silver content. They wanted to melt it down for the silver content, and they were really pissed off because we only had American currency. Some people bought trinkets and things like that at the shop and our food was paid for as I said.
And as soon as we got to Vietnam and Saigon and before we even got to Nui Dat we had to all line up at the pay office and get it all changed into military currency. It was a wasted exercise. Somebody thought they were doing the right thing I guess.
So you didn’t get to spend much time in Manila. A lot of blokes got to stay there for a few days?
Four hours, and then we weren’t allowed to leave the airport which was fine.
Tell us about arriving in Saigon. What was your
I didn’t see it. I only saw the airport. We went to this pay office and changed our payments into MPC [Military Payment Currency] and we got onto Caribous and we went onto Nui Dat…no, we went to Vung Tau and trucked up to Nui Dat. We got there sort of late afternoon
in Nui Dat, and you met your counterpart. I met the RAP sergeant of 5 RAR and he said, “Harry, this is where you will be sleeping, son,” and he looks after you. “Don’t go breaking your leg or anything. And you see this box I’ve got here, you can have that to put your clothes in.”
What do you mean, don’t break a leg? So he wants to go home?
Oh shit yeah. This is great! He was only there for 3 days and went home.
It wasn’t the case with all of them, but it was with this bloke. So I took over the RAP of 5 RAR. They treat you with cotton wool. He didn’t want anything to happen to you, he didn’t want me to go on this road holding operation, but our CO said all of us were going. He said “Oh Jesus, don’t get injured.” It means he is going to have to wait until they can find another replacement. Anyway we get there late afternoon,
and the next morning at dawn, we’re up doing this bloody thing. We had a briefing that night and we had only travelled in the country about 16 or 17 hours travelling that day.
What were your impressions of Nui Dat?
It was all right, you felt safe there.
You were getting briefed on the operations for the next day. Can you tell us about that?
It was so much of a rush. Like I said, we’d been travelling from Australia since the night before. We had been in the air most of the time and we had only arrived in Saigon early morning
and we had been flown down to Vung Tau, and trucked up there. And then we were in such a rush. I can’t really remember much of the briefing but it was much the same as any other briefing. Just be there at zero six hundred hours. You’re the chalk commander
of this and you got your gear and got down there the same as you would any other thing. I explained to you about all the helicopters coming in . That’s what I was talking about before. That was the introduction.
What was this operation called?
I don’t know, I can’t remember.
It was some sort of road holding operation – like I had been in the country 5 hours or something, and I think it was basically we had to secure the road so it could allow some villagers to relocate to another village or something like that. I’m hazy, I am not sure. It was a road holding operation and it only lasted the day.
We came back the same day after last light. But it was to secure a road so that some villagers could move from one village to another. For what reason I am not sure.
Were you frightened?
In the helicopter… that was the only time I was frightened.
I was thinking, being your first day at Nui Dat and given a briefing on that day and you were going out the next one?
I wasn’t worried about that, because the operation was just like any other. You were going on an exercise. I am a staff sergeant. I have been around so okay it’s active service, but the only bit I was frightened about was being in that bloody helicopter.
You must have got better at getting in and jumping out and stuff?
I did a few more operations,
none of them were as bad as that. That was the first time that I had seen so many helicopters in my life. It was a fairly major one, there were American and Vietnamese troops involved as well. We only had a small sector to do and I’m not sure of the full scope of what it all was.
Can you tell us what a road holding operation is?
Securing the road.
Make it safe to travel. So you’ve got troops out within mortar distance so you can’t get a group of people setting up a mortar along the road, so you’re out there patrolling. So if there is any enemy out there you engage them.
Were there any that day?
We didn’t have any engagement in our section.
I wasn’t patrolling, I was just sort of well away from the road but fairly central to where our sector was. I was the only medic from 7 Battalion, and I was only responsible for the 7 Battalion blokes. There were only 70 and not all the 70…
Yes, I think they all did, including the CO.
Tell us about settling into Vietnam if there could be such a word? How did you settle in?
No good. The RAP was fairly well established in one of these king strand huts I was telling you about. It was as long as my house. One end of it was dental surgery and the rest was for our
RAP – reception, treatment and doctors, and a room that you could bunk down in or sleep when you were on duty, and I spent most of my time in there for the first five months. All my gear was in the 16 tent next door, but I hardly ever slept in the bed in there, because I was basically senior medic, and you just stayed in there
when I wasn’t out. When they went out on operations I was the RAP. They went on more operations than I did because any major …I would go on the major ones – I think I only did one. The rest of the time the doctor would go on the operation out with the battalion and I am back there.
I am the senior medic in the battalion then, bearing in mind I’ve got the sick, lame and lazy to look after. The whole battalion doesn’t go out operationally. There’s all the Q people to keep re-supply of ammunition and food up and so on. I co-ordinate any of the medical stuff back in the RAP.
Just the fact you don’t have a doctor backing you up is a bit worrying and stressful, because the doctor is out with the battalion. But you’ve still got all the sick people back in the battalion. You haven’t got any sick ones out in the field.
That would be a lot more responsibility wouldn’t it without the doctor around?
The doctor’s on radio. There’s an element of the field ambulance at Nui Dat that I can talk to if I’m worried.
I can talk to a doctor there, but still you are still there.
I know you asked us not to talk about specific wounds, but there must have been a bit of your own initiative there with the patients . I mean you wouldn’t call them unless there was a dire emergency, is that right?
If I can’t handle a thing there, I would just send him back to…. I had an ambulance vehicle there.
It was a Land Rover fitted with stretcher frames, and I would just send him over to the headquarters at Nui Dat, and there is an element of the field ambulance there as I say, just a small one, and there is a doctor there. That particular element was static to so it can’t take the casualties from the battle field either because it hasn’t got the facilities. It is just over flown to
Vung Tau where the main part of the field ambulance is. Later on this became the field hospital, that field ambulance I am talking about. First of all it was 2 Field Ambulance, then it was 8 Field Ambulance, the one I belonged to after I left the battalion, and then it changes station or stature and it just changed its name to a field hospital which made it more of a field hospital than a field ambulance, it was a more
appropriate name. That’s the unit I became the RSM of, months later.
Interviewee: Harold Butterworth Archive ID 1265 Tape 05
We were just talking off camera. So you are already there in Nui Dat. Tell us what you were doing there in those first few weeks?
I was just basically settling in, getting to know where all the company positions were, where the medics were actually in the company positions.
I was in the battalion headquarters and the RAP. The RAP was a king strand hut – dental, operating, or just a dental chair at one end where the dentist was, and we had the rest of it. It was probably about 40 feet long. There was a reception waiting area and most of the waiting area
was outside, under what you would call a carport. Reception area, treatment room, and doctor’s office, and the storeroom. I was just setting up and re-identifying it as 7 Battalion having taken over from 5 RAR.
5 RAR was still there for the first few weeks. We flew over and the rest of the battalion was coming on the Sydney. Basically they were still waiting for the battalion to come and it did arrive. They all settled into their slots pretty well and started doing their regular TAR patrols, that is tactical area responsibility.
They were done every day at last light. That’s when the infantry soldiers are sent out, and they used to do their own company sector area. They were just sent out just to clear the enemy. It’s a normal routine of infantry soldiers that you did the area before last light and again at first light in the morning.
It was basically just a settling in for the whole battalion then. There was plenty of intelligence lectures about what the latest movements were, the major North Vietnamese units – not that there were any in our area at that time, but you got the latest things about the Viet Cong, the local relationships
with the local town of Hoa Long, which was not too far away from Nui Dat. CQs were establishing relationships with them to get laundry done, washing greens and so on. Most of them washed in a bucket after a while because they would lose greens and you would never get them back.
So you would wash them in a bucket. It was just basically all that sort of thing, settling in.
What are you thinking of the place, the environment, climate etc?
Where we were was under the rubber plantation, and most of the foliage had gone from it but there was some shade there, but it was still fairly
hot – hotter than I had experienced. It was all red, either dust or mud depending on what time of the year it was. When it rained it just gushed down the roads. Basically just around camp there all we wore were boots and socks and
shorts. Everything was ready to go but basically you didn’t wear any top or anything. I can’t think of much more about it.
What about the RAP, was that unusual or different to what you expected?
It was probably better than what I expected, it was a king strand hut, a building already established.
They would have only gone there and been in a tent 11 by 11 to start with, so I was surprised it was that far developed. There were other king strand buildings in the camp there. The sergeants’ mess and the officers’ mess and the headquarters, they were in king strand huts too.
A fair bit of stuff had gone on in the 12 months they had been there, so it was fairly well established. All the roads around the company were all engineered in, and the storm water around the thing, it was all fairly well developed. They had done a lot of work in the base area. That seemed to be most of what was
around the task force itself, but I hardly ever got out of the battalion area to see the task force, you were always stuck there. Unless you went out on an op or an overnight ambush. I never went out and saw any other units. The battalion was self-sufficient anyway.
They were well developed.
What did you have to do for the battalion when they first arrived when all the men came?
Most of them needed a follow up booster shot for their cholera or the (UNCLEAR), I can’t remember which but probably both. So we were doing the injections company by company and just generally checking that out.
They were all pretty fit. They had been kept on PT [Physical Training] every day on the boat and all this sort of thing. This is when I caught up with the rest of the med platoon, all the stretcher bearers and the ambulance drivers and so on and I had to sort of orientate all the medics about where other companies were, and
the ambulance drivers, where our medics were. It was a fairly big area. Then where the 8th Field Ambulance detachment was, the task force, because that where the ambulance drivers would be evacuating to. That’s about it, just general familiarisation around the traps.
How many of you were connected in that medical unit?
Full strength of the platoon….when I say it’s a platoon it’s not, it’s a platoon but it’s fragmented out to other companies. In the RAP itself – there’s the doctor and myself, a corporal, a couple of stretcher bearers and the two ambulance drivers and
the doctor’s batman. Then there’s a corporal in every company except support company. So all the rifles companies had them there. They all had four stretcher bearers in each company. So we’re talking about 35. In the usual set up, you’ve got a
band. So you’ve got… there’s 2 officers and 52 other ranks…that’s a big platoon. But in this one we didn’t have a full complement, it was just …about 35.
You didn’t need a band?
A band is good for morale.
They have a lot of historical significance in battalions, and people are very proud of their bands and bands used to go…In fact 5 RAR had a band as I may have mentioned, and whilst I was there in the first few weeks, the drum corps – while you were in the drum part of the band, not the brass as such, they would go round just before dinner at
night, before it got dark and just march around the battalion, just playing the drums.
This was in Nui Dat?
Yes. Not every night. It was part of a morale thing, the band is.
I just didn’t have the image of it in Vietnam.
As I said, they are musos and so all their instruments were there. They kept up the musical stuff as well.
Good bunch of blokes, the bandies.
So tell us about … You gave them needles, did you have to give them medicals or any medical inspections?
No, that had all be done. They had to be medically fit before they came, so we had done all that at Pucka [Puckapunyal] or at Shoalwater Bay and
At any time did you have to give medical inspections, just spot checks?
There might have been things like…Usually we used to leave that to their own company commanders, things like looking for tinea and things like that, so we didn’t do it at section level. The section commander is in charge of his own little group of men. He would say, get your boots off, let’s have a look at your feet.
He would make them mend and repair, and generally anything that becomes a problem that they can’t handle we would do. Usually they are self sufficient there, then they come to the medic. They would go to the company medic and the company medic farms them onto us. They’re vetted all out along the system – oh I can fix that, you don’t have to go to the RAP. Sometimes an old vet at the RAP says, you don’t have to see
a bloody doctor with that, go into the treatment room and the medic will fix you for that. You vet it all along, otherwise you would have the doctor seeing everybody and you just can’t do that. That’s what we’re there for.
You mentioned also that a lot of the 7th was a little bit inexperienced compared to where you had been before. How were you coping with this, because you had about 7 years experience in the army by this stage didn’t you? Did you find this difficult?
Yes, I had done a lot of learning in the battalions myself and I felt as competent as most of the other soldiers there, because I knew the infantry and the way battalions worked. It just didn’t seem to work properly. Maybe this was because it was active service, but I am more inclined to think it is simply because they hadn’t been together long enough.
I had only been with them a month before we started…probably a little bit longer than that, but I had only been out in the field with them for a month at Shoalwater Bay, and nobody knows anybody until you get going. You don’t know their capabilities. You don’t know what they are like as blokes, and everybody is weighing everybody else up at the same time.
Many of the platoon sergeants had been corporals until just before they were going. I was a sergeant and I had only been promoted to sergeant the year before, but I was promoted to staff sergeant there because the position of RAP is a staff sergeant position. So everybody was in that position. We had all sort of been bolstered up. I think generally there was a lot of
inexperience, myself included because although I had a lot of battalion experience, I hadn’t run the whole shebang and the ones that I had been involved with all had experienced band sergeants, or an experienced band sergeant and many experienced corporals that could look after that side of it, and I didn’t have any of that, nor
any of the stretcher bearers, bandsmen/stretcher bearers, none of them were trained as first aiders at all. I found that particularly difficult.
Tell us about what you had to know for first aid in the field in Vietnam at that time?
You had to know first aid in detail to have rank in our corps – in that particular trade, the medical assistant. There is nothing new that you don’t learn at the school or you wouldn’t learn in St John’s Ambulance. Basically one of your roles in the company as a medic is that you taught…
you did all your first aid lectures in there, and you taught a lot of them, because first aid is not just up to the medic. First aid can be yourself simply by grabbing holding of it and putting your own dressing on…that’s first aid. You do it yourself, like if you burn yourself, that’s first aid. So you can take it right from that to
splinting a femur if you want to. So by that token, you have got to be able to …it’s not just you as the medic, you are specialist in that company in that area. To be a section commander is a corporal in infantry, so part of his trade training is to have first aid knowledge so that he can pass it on.
So you pass it on to whoever is in the fox hole beside you. If you’re not capable of putting your own shell dressing on, well the guy next to you is. It’s just something as simple as that. If you look at the medical aspect of it all the way, the best first aid you’ve got, if you have got it there, you are just going to get better as you progressed and more advanced treatment, more
comprehensive treatment. It’s just simply like the bloke on the football field. He is the first one to have the pain, so his first aid is to support the bone and the next bloke is the trainer who runs on and puts on a thing, and says we had better take you off. And then he goes into the dressing room and sees the doctor and then to the hospital for x-ray. If you look at first aid in that way as a series of increasingly more comprehensive treatment.
It starts from just initially putting your finger in your mouth because you burnt it.
I guess in a war zone in Vietnam, I guess sone of the things you have to focus on is shrapnel wounds. What is something you would have to tell the men?
Very specifically, like sucking chest wounds, this is where you have a bullet in the chest
Between the chest wall, and the lung is an area that is a vacuum. When that vacuum is broken it becomes sucking, so it bubbles out so you can recognise it as lung damage. The first aid treatment for that is quite simple . To tell the soldier whether he’s a medic or not, just put shell dressing where the shell has gone in and make that air tight. If you make it air tight, you won’t
recreate the vacuum, because the lung will probably collapse, but you will stop it becoming worse. You won’t stop the bleeding because it’s internal, but you will maintain it air tight, assuming there is one lung available, the other one will be all right. Things like, check to see there is an exit wound.
You know, you have a wound here, a sucking chest wound. Right, make that air tight. If the bullet hasn’t lodged in there, or the shrapnel or whatever has caused it, it will come out here and the exit wound is usually much more extensive if it’s a bullet. So turn him over and have a look there. Whilst you’re doing this, he could be dying from the wound in his back.
That sort of thing. Basically you teach them the life saving techniques. If he stops breathing, breath for him if you can. It’s easy to say this, but if you are under fire you can’t do that. If a medic gets to him he can assess fairly quickly if he is breathing (so can you) by his colour and things like that. If he’s there and under fire and you can’t get to him, or
you’re pinned down or you’re busy firing at them, sometimes you just won’t be able to do it and that’s when people get distressed when they are unable to do something for somebody who they may have been able to. Sometimes they kill their own people
accidentally because they’ve had minimal training and all the time they’ve been out in the field and exercising with blanks. But they’ve now got one up the spout all the time with the safety catch off because you don’t want to make noise out in the bush loading it up which tells anybody where you are or even the click of the safety catch going off. So
it’s ready there all the time. All you have to do is trip over something and you get an accidental discharge and you can injure or kill your own people. That has happened. It’s inadequate training, not enough experience. They usually occur like in the first weeks or months
not towards the end of your tour, but then other people have come in reinforcements, and it’s an ongoing problem. That happens in all wars. It’s not peculiar to Vietnam or the National Servicemen or whatever.
It’s par for the course. It’s part of the dangers you are exposed to as a normal soldier doing the job. Wounds, what other wounds are you talking about?
I guess just any wound, like pressurising or…?
To stop bleeding basically is to just apply direct pressure. If you’ve got bleeding internally, we can’t stop it.
That can only be fixed by surgery and he’s obviously got to go back, so you have to recognise the signs that he is still bleeding somewhere. That’s more usually a skilful job but anybody who is wounded in action, as a general rule is going to be evacuated. That’s just… it’s not in the interests of war, it’s in the interests of politics. We can’t have someone wounded and he wasn’t even evacuated.
If the media get to this in modern warfare. I mean, you saw most of this on television, probably the first time we’ve seen it in a war. It was full on. If somebody was injured no matter how minor, he was evacuated. He might well be returned to duty tomorrow, because it was only peppering of shrapnel or something. Just bits of black things in his arm but he is still a casualty so he
has to go back. Even if he only goes back to the RAP you know, he has been evacuated from the forward edge of the battle area. Whether it’s even a minor thing he will go back – well that was the case in Vietnam anyway. It was politically motivated I think more than soldiering motivated. He is got to go back, otherwise the media will be onto it and we’ll be in the shit.
What about dealing with shock from a minor cut or something, people go into shock can’t they? Would you be telling them what to do or say in this situation?
Shock’s a normal condition of any injury, and so it becomes part of the first aid treatment for shock, give fluids, keep warm and this sort of thing. There are some particular wounds you don’t give fluids to, gut wounds and
we teach them all that. If you lose blood, obviously people are very thirsty because they’re losing fluids, and sometimes you can’t, and an inexperienced bloke might give him a drink of water and if he had a gut wound, you shouldn’t do that. It’s not likely to kill him, but it makes surgery later on a little bit more difficult. It’s not really a life threatening thing unless you are going to give him a bucket full of it.
You can wet his lips and things like that, we teach them things like that. There is a lot said for analgesia. If you have a fractured femur or a wound or any description, the first thing you go for is morphia. Only medics carry that in the field. They’ve never carried that before. They don’t carry it on exercises – they’re not allowed to by the drug laws which
it exists in Australia. Some people are loath to give it even medics. But to start with, if there is somebody in pain, they just give it. It’s important to know that in some cases you don’t give it at all even though they are in pain, because it depresses your breathing. And if you give him too much and his breathing is already depressed
then it is dangerous. Only medics carry that. There are some instances if you have got to keep him for any length of time you have plasma. You don’t normally carry these in your pack but they can be dropped to you if you had to keep him for awhile, but that was unusual . But say, if you had to keep somebody overnight and you wanted
some fluids then they could drop some plasma. That’s just the fluid part of blood. It comes in a plastic container but it’s in a tin so it can be dropped to you and you open it up like a tin of beans and all the stuff ‘s inside and you can put a drip in. The thing is only 500 mils and you are going to need a lot more than that. The bloke has got to go back. I mean,
there are skills that you are not allowed to do in Australia, but you can do them overseas.
Would you yourself, would you go out on patrols and operations?
Yes, basically I am staying back in the RAP, because you become the senior medic in the battalion then. Most of the people back there have got particular jobs to do
to keep people supplied in the field, and the other people are sick, ill for some reason or other, unfit. So I was the senior medic there, so when the battalion comes back, there’s always some little operation going on of some description so you go out with them. Sometimes you become a machine gunner and not a medic.
Tell us about your experiences on patrols, one of your first ones?
They used to call it the odds and bods and bottle washers patrol. I told you about the TAR patrols. When the companies do their TAR patrols,
they’re done routinely by them. When they come back from operations they might say go and set an overnight ambush …I have been on a couple of them. Odds and bods go. I went and I was number 2 on the machine gun. I still have the skill as a medic, so I have my medic bag with me.
The hygiene sergeant, he’s the number 1 on the machine gun. One of the cooks from admin company, he’s a rifleman. They might send me out with somebody from support company, somebody who is skilled. They just don’t send you out the caterer. You’re all soldiers. But they send you out with somebody who is capable of calling in artillery etc.
You could get in the ambush and lay there all night not moving, and if anything comes your way you shoot it. In the morning they call it off and it’s usually a set time for it and then you just go back to base. I did 2 or 3 of them. Another operation was a group of warrant officers. I went out as their medic. They were doing a
qualifying… it wasn’t an operation as such, they were qualifying as warrant officers. They were all temporary warrant officers. So part of their qualification was going out and doing some navigating and some major tactics out in the bush, and I went out as their medic a couple of times.
The only evacuation… they called a dust off for one of the warrant officers who had gone through the scrub and disturbed a hive of bees, and they all bit him around the face and here we are out in active service and we had to evacuate him. In reality, it’s quite a dangerous situation because he
was bitten around the throat and it was starting to swell. He was allergic to them he had been bitten heaps and heaps of times, and I thought he is going to stop breathing if he swells any more. The only way I can reduce the swelling is by putting cold compresses on, and it’s pretty hard to find that out in the jungle, so I had to get him back. He didn’t want to go of course but
they can give him anti allergy things to reduce the swelling. A big tough, warrant officer, a big bastard and he had to go back because all the bees had bitten him. He had to live that down in the mess for awhile, me too, because I evacuated him. What seemed to be funny, in fact it could have turned out quite serious.
That’s about it.
You didn’t encounter enemy fire on patrol yourself?
No. A young fellow got his scalp…his skull was just turned back. That was an accidental thing in training, throwing a grenade and some of the shrapnel came back and he was too slow to get down
and it sliced his skull. His brain was exposed. He was a bit of a mess, and I don’t know whether he survived or not. We evacuated him back and he went from there.
What did you have to do to treat him?
In the RAP, just cover his wound and send him back. There is nothing you can do about that.
His skull was intact. It just sort of lifted, just like a cap. He was almost unconscious.
How did it happen?
This was in Nui Dat itself, in the grenade pit. There is always firing going on around the place because the armourers and
companies are all testing their weapons and things and they would be practicing and grenade throwing and that’s what happened on this particular occasion. On the grenade range, he just didn’t duck down quick enough and he got caught. These things do happen from time to time even in peace time. He just copped it. I went to pick him up and looked at him and put him in….
I went in the ambulance because it was in the area. I put him on the stretcher but I didn’t even take him to the RAP. They took him to Nui Dat, to the field ambulance, airlifted him down there. I don’t know what happened after that, whether he survived even, I don’t even know that.
I was going to ask you about within the perimeter, what kind of injuries and accidents would happen?
That was one.
That was a bit drastic, but people would get drunk and there would be fights, that sort of thing. When people were stressed out after being on ops [operations] and they just punch each other out. So you get all the normal things where you have a group of red blooded men all around, and there’s beer and they’re far from home and they’re angry and those sort of things happen.
People have just simply fallen down in a weapon pit, stumbling down in the dark, not quite sober. Vehicle accidents – there is always vehicle traffic around the thing, like any small town.
Some company might have slept in some particular mosquito infested area and there is plenty of them. Ten days later, they come down with some fever of unknown origin. We know it’s not malaria and not this that and the other. Some virus from a mosquito, and they’ve just got these massive temperatures and it’s all
through the company, so we put it down to mosquito borne. Sometimes you have to isolate the company or the particular platoon in that company. Apart from the coughs, colds, sore throats and sore arseholes, you get them all the time. One of the interesting ones was… You might be amused by this.
Out in the jungle it’s moist and there are leeches and leeches go for anything. You can just walk from here to there in the jungle and come out and you’re covered in leeches. You have to burn them off you. Of course, if you’re sleeping in this sort of areas, what they do is sometimes they get up the
eye of your old fellow, and they attach to the insides of the urethra. Now this can be quite a frightening thing as you can imagine because it causes swelling. It’s only the leech that’s swelling but they can swell to four times their normal size and this makes the fellow initially feel very good. But although it’s not painful,
it is very distressing to them to know there is a leech up there. And of course you can’t get a cigarette butt and burn it off, can you. The only way you can get that is to induce him to have a leak. So you have to give him a diuretic and the best diuretic you can get is a beer. You can’t have that out in operations out in the bush, so they get evacuated and you give them a bottle of beer
and they piss it out. This became a very prevalent case of – get to the RAP and they’ll give me a bottle of beer. That was more of a joke than anything else. We had 2 or 3 of those. We used to issue condoms to them for when they went on leave but they used to wear them out in the scrub,
to stop the leeches getting in.
They would wear them?
Yes, you don’t want a leech on your old fellow, do you? I never got one and I don’t think you’ve had one and I don’t think you would like one, because I have seen some of the blokes with them, and the swelling can be quite painful.
Is it easy enough pissing it out?
usually they drop off you even when they’re on your skin. Some of them are this thick and swollen and if you don’t allow them to get that big on the outside , it’s only a matter of time before they get filled with blood and drop off you. But you don’t allow them to get that big because as soon as you see them or are aware of them, you get them off, don’t you? You are not aware of the leech, you can’t feel it biting you, you can only see them and then get rid of them.
In this case you can’t see this and the only discomfort you get is when your urethra is swollen and of course there is some pain. But it’s not your urethra that is swollen, it’s the leech inside. It’s stretched because of the swelling and it can’t get out, so it has to be flushed out. It has let go of the mucus membrane inside but it can’t get out because it has to have some pressure behind it. Hence you fill their bladder.
Interviewee: Harold Butterworth Archive ID 1265 Tape 06
I was going to ask you about sex education. Were the blokes given a lecture about getting VD [venereal disease]?
Oh, all the time, but most of them took no notice. As soon as you get drunk – we used to say a standing prick has no conscience.
That’s what happens. It’s the same as soldiers all over the world. I didn’t go anywhere until… I had been down to Vung Tau a couple of times to the hospital just to get some information from some of our patients, or I would take somebody down for an x-ray.
That was an ALSG [Australian Logistics Support Group], but I didn’t actually go anywhere until I was in 8th Field Ambulance some 6 months after being in the country. Then it was just 5 days R and R [Rest and Recreation]. Everybody… no sex, sorry. Everybody I knew had a Zippo lighter.
They were all the rage then, the Yanks did all sorts of funny things. They just flicked them open and they would light up and all these different tricks. Everybody bought a Zippo lighter from the PX, the American canteen. But I could never get one, most of the people smoked in those days. So I just had an ordinary lighter and matches. So when I went on R and R, this is just into Vung Tao. –
It was R and C, rest and convalescence. You go to an R and C centre there, and a mate of mine was the sergeant cook there so I spent the time at the R and C centre most of the time. I went out and this little kid in the street has this tray of all these Zippo lighters, and I said “Zippo”, and he said “Yes, Zippo.”
So I bought this Zippo. I don’t know what I paid for it, I don’t know, but I get it back and spent about 3 days in the R and C and I go back to the unit at 8 Field Ambulance and I said, “You blokes, I’ve got myself a bloody Zippo, I didn’t have to go to the PX to buy one, I bought one in Vungers [Vung Tau].” So the RQ [Regimental Quartermaster], a crusty old warrant officer there, he never smiles,
he said, “Give us a look,” and he fell off his seat laughing he said, “Zibbo!” The kid showing me, he had his thumb over it, he said, “Look, genuine zippo?” It was ‘zibbo’ and as he’s passing it around somebody drops it into the can of Coke and it immediately turns green, so I hoist it. I often think I should have kept that, because it would have been the only Zibbo lighter left in the world.
Everybody has a Zippo. It would have been the only Zibbo in the world. These foolish things we do.
What was the most common types of venereal diseases the men would pick up?
Gonorrhoea? And what was does that look like?
It presents as a drip
from the urethra with a yellowish to green bacteria and it drips consistently, usually about 3 days after exposure. Some of it was quite virulent and we couldn’t control it with penicillin. Some people there had
to have intravenous doses of Streptomycin. That’s a stronger antibiotic. They were such massive doses that you just could give it to them as a needle in the bum, you had to give them to them as a needle in the drip. They were walking patients and you’d see these patients carrying these drips around and they go to the toilet which is like an 8 seat thunder box, 8 holes
with all the comics and the playboys there and there were nails there so they could hang their drips up and what have you. It is very difficult to control. There was some syphilis. The only syphilis I saw came from Malaysia, and the Kiwis had brought that.
The Kiwis used to have a system where they were 2 years away from home. 12 months in Malaysia with their families, and then the rest of their tour was in Vietnam and their families went back home. I think as soon as their families went home from Malaysia, they found the brothels in KL [Kuala Lumpur] somewhere. But they brought some syphilis over. Syphilis presents itself as a sore on the penis. It’s
painless. Some of them probably didn’t even know and they didn’t get any treatment. Syphilis can lay dormant for 20 years or so, and you can get all sorts of complications after that.
Isn’t that the disease that can send you mad?
Yes. That’s the tertiary stage of syphilis that is 20 years later.
It can paralyse you…not paralyse, but it can affect your joints. You can’t walk and you can be confined to a wheel chair, and that’s because it’s lying dormant in your body all the time.
Would the men get…
That was common in the early part of the century, the 19th century disease in World War I and II.
The disease is still like that now but we are much more aware of it, and it usually doesn’t get to that. You don’t see people in wheel chairs from syphilis these days, or mental institutions from madness caused by tertiary syphilis. Usually it has been treated early. Even if they had gone to the hospital for a blood test for something else,
it would have shown up. It used to happen in the early part of the century.
Would these men get into trouble for not obeying army stipulations and not wearing a condom?
No, there was no punishment as such. Some people wore this thing as a badge of honour that they had so many doses of syphilis,
a venereal disease. An immature outlook – I don’t know where it come from. Like having a tattoo. ‘I’ve had the jack 3 or 4 times you know!’
But getting gonorrhoea, does that mean the girls are unclean?
Was there a clean house for Aussie soldiers?
Not that I know of, but you can’t stop a soldier. If he’s got leave and he’s in town and he is on the grog and he hasn’t seen a woman, it’s natural. And as I said before , a standing prick has no conscience. Inhibitions are lowered , you’re away from home, you’re drunk,
and you don’t know when you’re next one is going to be so you get into it now. And usually because you are drunk you don’t take precautions. If you’re sober you’re not going to do it. It’s only usually when people go into town and get drunk.
I am surprised from the female’s point of view, that they wouldn’t make the men wear a rubber?
We’re talking 30 years ago, no such thing as AIDS.
The men didn’t care that much, because it is only a couple of jabs in the bum and I am cured and I can go out and get another dose. Everybody had to be tested before they left the country, whether they had it before or not. My mate who was in pathology, he reckons that he had…
There were only 4,000 troops in the country and he had 3,500 patients on it, on his list that had some sort of venereal disease in the country in the 12 months he was there. That doesn’t mean that 75% had it. It means that the young people get over it, go out and re-infect and get cleaned up again and re-infect.
Did that frustrate you?
I didn’t see a lot of that. I wasn’t in pathology and I didn’t do a lot of treating medical. I did do a little bit when I went to 8th Field Ambulance in what they called the jack shack. Mainly I was in intensive care, so I didn’t see a lot of the dirtier medical stuff. We are just called medics in…
Surgical was clean, medical was dirty. Even if it’s only a high temperature it is an illness. You refer to everything in medical as a dirty illness. You don’t mix medical and surgical patients.
Is there a right and wrong way of giving needles?
There is several ways of injecting. There’s a very small needle which you just give intradermally into the skin and one which is for intra-muscle which is a bit bigger and then there are intravenous injections. There are a variety of muscles you can use, and there are some dangers involved in where you do give it, particularly in the bum so you don’t hit the sciatic nerve. For a trained person there’s no danger.
The other thing is that prior to Vietnam, we used to sterilise all our stuff. All ours was in glass and stainless steel needles. No throw away stuff. Like when we were doing the injections there, we used to just prepare a full syringe this big and even though you are only getting half and they are all going past… half a cc,
then take it off because there’s another bloke going to give you half a cc of something else just next to me. So you put another needle on your syringe and hand it on and so on. Probably depending on how many needles you have to have there would be another bloke on his other side. There was something like 7 or 8 needles before they could
Which you have to have as well?
Yes. We didn’t get any of this throw away stuff, this plastic stuff. Everything is throw away now except in a third world country, but we didn’t get any throw away stuff until we got to Vietnam, so we were re-supplied by the Yanks not by Australia in that sort of area.
How did you find
the American medical situation, was it different to the Australian one – how they set up and how they managed?
I didn’t see much of it, I don’t know. All what I heard would be hearsay, because I was in the battalion and then I was in 8th Field Ambulance. There was the 36 evacuation hospital also in Vung Tau, which I only went to once.
The only difference I could see in the wards was double decker beds in the wards. I figured that would be fairly difficult nursing.
Did you get to know any Americans?
Not on any real strong basis. A few Americans would come over to the mess now and again just on a social
good will visit sort of thing. We would usually invite them if we wanted something off them and we would usually get it. They are very gullible and very generous. Anything they got, we wanted it and they could get it they would get it. We were pleased about that. That wasn’t the way we were in the army, we were always on the bones of our bum. I think Australian soldiers
in all the wars have been a bit like that, scrounging off the Yanks. A friend of mine told me, when he was in the islands he was making samurai swords out of springs that he pinched from the American jeeps and he was selling them back to the Yanks as swords. That shows you how gullible they are, and I don’t think they’ve changed
in a generation of soldiers.
In the information I got from the office saying that you much preferred going to the 8th Field Ambulance than where you were in the battalion. Was that because of the differences you had with the doctors or a doctor?
A doctor and some officers that I mentioned before.
It was about how the hospital was managed or how the
medical side was being managed.
I don’t want to discuss this doctor.
That’s okay, but now you are away from there, and you went to 8th Field Ambulance, what changed for you besides the obvious lack of animosity, how was it different?
It was a bit more relaxed. I worked in intensive care and I was always a keen medic
and I worked in intensive care, and because I wasn’t the boss of intensive care I felt like I was less stressed even though the job itself was stressful, I could handle it all right and at night time even as a senior sergeant… we had nursing sisters there. The nursing sisters didn’t do night duty.
They would be on call if you wanted them, so whoever was in intensive care became the senior person on night duty, and very often that was me, but I didn’t mind that so much. I knew I had good back up and I knew the people on the floor were good, and they are your own mob, they are all medics. I felt a lot more secure.
I was getting backed up and I was able to back up so I felt safer career wise. Not that I felt unsafe as in being close to the front as it were, I was being undermined and railroaded in the battalion and that disappointed me.
What were the sisters like at the 8th Field Ambulance?
They were great, they were good. I still see most of them when we go to the reunions.
Can you give us…I know it sounds a bit shallow and I don’t mean it to be, but can you give us a typical day in the life of you in 8th Field Ambulance?
In the day? You just get up, have a shower under a bucket.
You have several showers a day really, but just getting up. You had spent the night actually on a bed mattress and a big mosquito net in the nude. Too hot for anything else. Have a shower, go down for breakfast. It’s just shorts, boots and a hospital top.
Not a recognised uniform but the uniform that the hospital had adopted. Down for breakfast usually etherised eggs. That’s how they used to preserve them, with ether, and they were terrible. And it didn’t matter what you did with them, they were just etherised, but it was a feed. At breakfast time you would have your anti malarial
tablet. We had to take Paladrin I think it was in those days, and then off to intensive care where I worked. If anything happened over night, you would just get the briefing of what had happened over night with the patients… any admissions, any deaths.
Usually we didn’t have any deaths, deaths were mostly in the theatre. Just look after them through the day. You get normal breaks and it was a 10 hour shift. Then you would just go back up and have a drink at the mess. The mess was open 24 hours a day so even if you were on
night duty you could go… you didn’t drink while you were on duty but you could have a drink when you came off, no matter what time of day. That was assuming you weren’t going to be on duty in the next couple of hours. That was just an honour system, you could just get a beer. It was as cheap as buggery. That is why a lot of people drank and there wasn’t anything else to do.
You would just drink, go to bed, get up, do the work. A lot of people rather than… they would write letters. You could go up to the PX and buy a little cassette recorder, two of them, send one to the family and one for yourself. The blokes used to do that, not in the 8 seater toilet but in the single seater
where the sergeants were and they’d be saying, “I love you, darling,” and you’re sitting and not doing anything but that was the only private place you could have. People could sneak up there because it was all in the sand dunes and they’d say “Who’s in there?” Click. “It’s only me.” “Hurry up I want to go in there (and record)” Basically they didn’t want to go to the toilet, it was that they wanted a private place. It was all right listening to them, you just put the ear plug in,
and then you could listen to the reply. There are amusing things but if you just wanted to say something privately, that’s what you did, you would go to the toilet.
It’s like your own sound studio?
Yes you could have sound effects as well you know.
Did Mary write to you often?
Yes, but we started doing this thing. I didn’t start dong that until
I was in the Field Ambulance. I didn’t seem to have the time to do that in the battalion. Yes she wrote often and as I say, young Geoffrey was born.
She was pregnant when you left Puckapunyal?
With your son?
He was born while I was there.
I got a telegram one day saying I was the father of a son. Right, I had a beer and that was it.
It must have been sad not to be home?
At Christmas time, I thought was the saddest.
You said you didn’t get any… You got R and C, and you didn’t get up to the shenanigans
of sex and all that kind of stuff. What about buying things in Vung Tau and what was the town like and who did you hang out with. What kind of things would you do?
I would go in the bar and have a beer. I only went into town that once on the R and C. I was in there for the 3 days and most of the time I would in the R and C centre itself, and drink with the sergeant cook who was a mate of mine.
We had good tucker there, because he bought local food , seafood, but I didn’t fraternise with the locals at all. I went in with him a couple of times around the bars. Instead of having the 5 days, I went home after 3, I went back to what’s-a-name after 3.
I did go to Saigon late in my tour for 2 days, because I wasn’t ever going to see Saigon. All I had seen was the airport and I knew when I was leaving that is all I would see again. So I managed to con a trip up there with another mate and we stayed in Saigon, and I saw a bit of the river and the Pasteur Institute. I was only there a day, overnight
and back the next day. I didn’t get to see much of that either. All I can remember of that was wall to wall people and bicycles.
Those are what they called rickshaws?
No they are a motorised bike with a thing on the back, just like a cover. You can fit 3 people in it I think or 4…
4 people, but they were usually a motor bike. If you were particularly heavy the motor bike was often off the bloody ground.
Was there a feeling of…I know a couple of army blokes have said you are not safe because you don’t know who is friends and who is enemy?
That was always the go. Vung Tau was our R and C centre.
They used to say that the VC used to have R and R there too, which they probably did. The farmer out with the bullock in the field. It’s just as easy for him to have an AK47 there as a plough. So I think that was probably the main difference in that war to any other wars we had fought as such. You were a target on wheels.
Anywhere, even if you were a clerk and never got out of the office but because you went into a town or a village you are still a target.
That ongoing stress would build and have an affect on some people much later after the war?
Probably. I never got out that much. It may well be that
is one of the reasons I didn’t. You feel safer in the company of troops.
I know you don’t want to talk about specific wounds, but at 8th Field Ambulance what was the most common injuries that you saw there?
Well, a variety of gun shot wounds would come in from an encounter, and almost invariably we would
go through triage which is a system of sorting out priorities and they would need some theatre of some description. So immediately post theatre they would come to my unit and we would look after them there. Some would be critically ill for a number of days, and others we might just keep for a few hours and send them to the surgical ward,
depending on their severity. So a variety of gun shot wounds. We used to get a lot of fractured femurs and this is where we picked up this. We looked after the Vietnamese as well. We looked after some of the South Vietnamese.
We had one fellow who had been wounded in an ambush, and his shoulder was shot away and one of the surgeons from Brisbane was looking after him. He used to draw a line on the wall of the unit and he could only get his arm up there so he’d draw the line up there and then tomorrow he had to get up there and then he would go…
We would use a bit of school boy French on him. I wasn’t that good but we used to get on and we managed and as he got further and further, and the next time it would be up there and he could only get to there. He was going home then, living on the edge of a barbed wire perimeter, of a weapon pit with his family and his chooks and
his children, about 10 metres behind in a little hovel. He wasn’t keen on going back so instead of going up this thing he would say he didn’t want to get that much better. He was having the time of his life, he was being fated there with 3 good meals a day, good treatment.
What happened to him?
He went back. And we had a North Vietnamese woman there. She was the hardcore North Vietnamese.
She had been caught in an ambush and she had been shot, and all her buttocks were all shot off and you could see right down to the bone and she never spoke the whole time she was there. She was a good solider. She was hard core, we knew that, and every day we had the American intelligence would come and talk to her and yell at her and shout at her
with an interpreter. I nursed her almost completely because she trusted me and I inserted catheters in her. You couldn’t put anything underneath her. We had her for about a month and gradually I got her out of bed and had her walking. She couldn’t walk on her own and she never would be able to again.
But just leaning on me as a crutch and using this leg, she walked to the thing and back, only this far and back. And then one morning they came and took her away and I never saw her again. I reckon they would have thrown her out of a helicopter
because she wouldn’t talk and she didn’t talk to me either, only with her eyes. Not in her Vietnamese way. You would just give her food and she would eat the soup.
Is that what they used to do?
That’s the talk and I believe that’s what happened to her. She was a patient and I respected her.
She was about 45, this woman.
Tell us about some of the Aussies that you nursed, did you get to have a bit of a laugh with them?
Yes we had amputees who had lost their leg.
They weren’t at the laughing stage when I was looking after them, they were in intensive care. We used to try and get them off the pethidine that they were having every four hours. They would be asking for bloody pethidine – this Jock. So you’d give him pethidine, and he’d say, “It’s bloody watery Harry?” And I’d tell him he was getting the same stuff, and
he would say, “It hasn’t got the same effect.” “That’s because you’re getting too used to it.” “Don’t give me that!” But we did try to wean them off it, because otherwise we would give them another problem. We were successful most of the time, but they knew you were trying to do it. They’d know they weren’t getting the full dose.
That’s strong stuff though pethidine?
They had some big pain too, you know. Nothing else would touch them. They’re getting instant relief because they are getting it intravenously.
I had it when I was in labour?
You wanted more of that, though, didn’t you?
It knocked me out, it was amazing. Something that I haven’t asked you was about those kind of things you talked about.
Christmas, anniversaries and things like that. How did you cope with that personally?
I only spent one Christmas there. I joined the choir. I went to the padre attached to us at the hospital. We called it the hospital, but it was a Field Ambulance, and to all intents and purposes it was a hospital.
He was looking for a choir because he was getting some Vietnamese choir from an orphanage or something and they were going to put on a Christmas concert for the patients and the staff at the hospital. I said, “I’ll join the bloody choir.” I used to be in the choir when I was a kid.
Just practising for that, you would go and do the rehearsals and that coming on for Christmas. That was something to do. I am not a religious person particularly, but I enjoyed the Christmas carols and that. Then we got on the stage and sang and they had been trying to learn Silent Night in English and some of it was Silent Night was English and then the other
was a mixture of Vietnamese. All the diggers reckoned the only mate they could hear in singing Silent Night was me, because I don’t know how to sing softly or talk softly and I was well known for the Butterworth Whisper. They reckon the only thing they could hear was me and I was drowning out all these little kids. They reckon they should tossed me out of the choir! It was a waste of time them coming and all that sort of thing.
I enjoyed that, it made me feel sad. Across the Red China Sea, a long way from home.
How old was your daughter and your son when you actually returned home?
Geoff was about 6 months or something.
Leanne, she would be 3. He wasn’t walking, he was just crawling around and I didn’t take much notice of him Mary reckons. It was just good being home.
What about your daughter, did she know who you were?
Yes, I think so.
I didn’t take much notice of that.
We are looking back now at your time in Vietnam is there any particular incident that was perhaps the most frightening or hairy or unpleasant?
There were lots of them. I just can’t separate them all.
I felt the loneliest I ever felt in my life over there, except for some periods in Australia in later life, when I was having a few flash backs and things. I don’t want to isolate any particular area. I mainly felt a lot of sadness for other people – like I felt really sad for that
North Vietnamese woman I was talking about, and I felt sad for the bloke …we had some prisoners of war there at one stage, like she was, and this bloke would come to see his brother had been killed in the same thing
that these had been captured. And he wanted to kill them. So we restrained him and his brother was in theatre waiting to go to the morgue. Not for myself did I feel sad, but very sad for other people. I think that’ my way, my
difficulty. I sort of tend to make jokes of things to hide that sometimes, and that then creates more stress for me, because it’s the way of covering my own weaknesses. But I felt more sad and frightened
for other people than I did myself. I never felt myself in any particular danger but I had seen a lot of people in danger and close to death and I had seen a lot of people who were suicidal, and I know about 7 people who have committed suicide. So I don’t like going there.
Interviewee: Harold Butterworth Archive ID 1265 Tape 07
You were just talking at the end of the tapes about some stuff that’s a little hard to talk about it. Is there a bit of a conflict being a medical man in a war zone?
I guess there is, because you’ve got to… You’re a caring sort of a bloke. I guess there are some soldiers who
wouldn’t agree with that, but if you’re a medic you have some sort of calling to help people. And if you do it well it doesn’t matter who they are you, will look after them. So that could be the case. I would just like to tell you some little stories that are a little bit more light hearted. It is going back to the private parts of
the infantry soldier again. When things were quiet, that is to say when the unit wasn’t on operation, you could get some elective surgery done. Infantry men are very much at risk of getting formosis, which is the inability to pull back the foreskin and clean under there properly because they might be out there for 10 days and they’re only living off a water bottle so
they don’t get to wash. That’s not so bad because nobody next to them is washing either, so you get used to the smell. As a consequence there’s a call for circumcisions, which leads to their cleanliness. I guess there is some thought that you are less likely for other… perhaps venereal infections as well.
So from time to time you get a crop of say 10 soldiers come down, and you might have 10 circumcisions today. So there they are in the surgical ward and being away from home, they still have all these thoughts, and they’ve just had surgery to this very delicate area. So someone needs to go around and give them a playboy
or something light to read. So through the night you would hear ah…. and this oh… and that’s because we give them a little bottle of ethyl chloride which is like a freezing agent so that should they rise to the occasion and hurt themselves in the process, they just get this bottle of ethyl chloride and squirt the area
and it promptly relaxes them. So there are squeals of pain, and a little hiss and a sigh of relief. We were going through heaps of this ethyl chloride, and it is very expensive stuff, and even the Yanks couldn’t keep up with it. It was the sort of thing except it was some ice in a bowl. That’s just a little aside of some of the lighter surgery we used to do.
With that lighter side, was it important to have a bit of a laugh and comedy?
Yes. Some of the patients were very grateful that they had medics and some of them still write today at reunions. They write to the unit today, “Is that guy still with you?”
Because they remember it as a time of relief I suppose.
What about the role as counsellor? Were you an unofficial sort of counsellor for many?
Yes. Not so much in… We did a fair bit of that in the battalion, but not so much in the field ambulance.
Like I say, a lot of that would be when there’s an operation on, and blokes are left behind and there’s is not much wrong with them but they need to talk or something like that. You just have to say, “Come back mate when I haven’t got a sick parade on.” Sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have a lot of times to talk to them.
Not that I was that experienced but a lot of people did. A lot of people come to see me after Vietnam too and spoke to me. Obviously I wasn’t very good because two of them committed suicide and I don’t know how you really detect that this is going on, even
though I have been there myself a couple of times. So all you can do is empathise with them but you’re not God and you can’t stop them. People who usually say they are going to do it, do do it, sooner or later. So yes, I did some counselling.
It would be hard for yourself because you’re counselling others but you’re there as well?
Yes, but they just come to you because you’re another bloke, and you’re not in their platoon. You’re not his platoon sergeant, and he doesn’t want to show any sign of weakness to the guys he’s with.
There is better people than that around. I used to refer them to the padre or the Salvation Army guy. There were plenty of them around the traps, and they came to the party pretty quickly.
I guess it is unavoidable sometimes when they have just gone through a bit of surgery?
Yes, that is right. You do what you can.
I think just put them on the right road. I know a lot more now, because I have done my nursing training than I did then. I was only like a novice really. I don’t know whether we ever become experts with all the knowledge. Some other people think you are an expert if you say all the right words. Sometimes you don’t know what they are and
you lose yourself. I don’t know if that makes sense.
It’s making perfect sense. It must be hard not to take their problems on yourself?
Yes it's hard to do that, but I’ve learned not to do that but I guess I did a lot of that.
I know you didn’t want to talk about it, but I was just going to ask about the feeling between being in Nui Dat and Vung Tau. Like how did it compare the feeling for you of being in each place?
I didn’t like being in Nui Dat, but it had nothing to do with the area. It was all to do with the unit. I didn’t get on with any of the people who were my superiors, immediate superiors.
So I left there under a bit of a cloud and I went to the field ambulance feeling better. But most of them knew the circumstances in which I left there. So I was a bit of an outcast there for a while so I had to re-prove myself as a medic. That wasn’t difficult because I
had the skills, and as I say, it didn’t take me long to get up to be the senior sergeant there. I knew all the seniors but they felt that I had let the corps down, some of them, particularly the bloke who had to go to replace me, and he’s a mate of mine. I’ve since seen him many times since then. And he
realised all the problems I had, because he had the same ones, and he knew that it wasn’t me that was at fault really. It’s a shadow on my career that I don’t like at all but I’ve been able to get over it. And since of course, I was only a junior sergeant and I went up to the highest rank you can get. So I assume… the doctor was a civvy and only came in for
the 12 months. He was also a psychiatrist and I always thought there was something wrong with him.
Is that one of the hardest things in the army? If you have a difficulty with someone who has perhaps got more power?
I think that would have to be a difficulty anywhere if you don’t get on with them, and you know that you can do the job.
There’s something wrong somewhere. Like, he can’t do his job but because he’s got more power he can be more convincing to other people. Instead of a reflection of poor performance on him, it reflects back on you. That’s is virtually what happened.
Feeling a bit isolated, is that particularly hard in the army because you are all together?
Yes the army is a team and if you haven’t got a team working you might as well not
be there and that can be done by one person who can stuff the team up. I was sacked from that position and the team performance didn’t improve. So I think it was more at the head of the team, who controlled the team.
NB. This section of transcript is embargoed. Embargo ends 01/01/2034
So, you were getting on pretty well with these doctors. How long were their tours?
In Vungers? There were military doctors there of course. The CO was a doctor
and there were other doctors there. But like I was saying before. You get the specialist surgeons and anaesthetists and they would come in for 3 months, and they would just be made honorary major. They would have more qualifications surgically than the colonel who was commanding. But they were consultative military surgeons and they looked after people in repat
and some of them would be following them up assuming he was a Queensland repat, and the bloke had been sent to Greenslopes [Hospital] or somewhere and he would follow him up later on. I remember doing that arterial transplant so he could have one leg going. The Yanks would cut a leg off. Our surgeons would take a vein out of the other leg and turn it the other way round, and it make it an artery for the
damaged leg, to save the other leg. He might have a limp and some muscle wastage and things like that, but the Yanks wouldn’t bother with that. If there was damage to the nerve and an artery, they’d just chop it off. Basically just to save their life, you see. They would have so many people coming through, so many thousands of people,
just another leg gone… I haven’t got the time to do this, whack. Send him out on a hospital ship in the Pacific. They saved his life. Our surgeons would save the leg, but we didn’t have the same volume of serious casualties that they did. I am not being critical for that reason. I’m just explaining why they did it.
Let’s talk about innovations. Were there innovations that you were aware of and developed in Vietnam in your role?
Not particularly. No I couldn’t say that. The only thing I could really say, and I touched on it before, was that rapid evacuation is not always the answer. The infantry soldiers think
that’s good, you beauty and why wouldn’t you if you were lying and bleeding in some jungle somewhere, and there’s a helicopter. It would be something from heaven and you know within half an hour you’re going to be on a table with an Aussie surgeon looking after you. You wake up and there is an Aussie sister. You would think you were in heaven wouldn’t you. From the medical point of view, there was some problems with that.
From a morale point of view, it’s bloody marvellous because the soldiers knew they were safe. So no innovations really, except finding out that that wasn’t always the best thing… what it appears to be.
Well you must mentioned the sisters, what were they like?
There have been sisters in every conflict of course. They didn’t come until 8th Field Ambulance was there,
and then everything had virtually been set up for them. They were like any other solider in war, they adapted very well and I think it was great. I know they were appreciated, although sometimes it’s a bit difficult having women in the theatre of war, but it soon becomes a good thing.
What is difficult about having women?
You just have to watch your Ps and Qs a bit more. With a mob of blokes, they’re all ‘f’ing’ and so on, but they were pretty good that way if you let it slip. I think it’s a bit more difficult now where you’ve got
women in combat zones. I just think of toiletries, but some women can do it better than some men. That sort of came in just towards the end of my service and I saw some good stuff. But it is still a problem for
the real redneck soldiers and they will never get used to it. I’ve got my daughter in the navy. She was in the navy for 15 years. She was on the war ship in the [Persian] Gulf.
Do you remember some of the diggers being a bit startled seeing a woman for a first time in ages?
It is a bit of a novelty seeing a round eye. That’s
what we used to call them. They were pretty well shielded in the officers’ mess. They were part of the team. There was me and there was a sister in intensive care – Terry Roach and myself. There was myself and another male lance corporal,
we used to run intensive care. It was just a great team. I was the first one to go home and we went down to the army club out of the unit, the [Peter] Badcoe Club [Soldiers’ club in Vietnam] it’s called, and had a few beers there and that was my farewell to that team. I ran into her about 4 years ago at a reunion and she was married. In those days when you married, you had to get out.
You couldn’t have married women in the army. She always wanted to stay in, but she got married instead. I was always married, so we were a good team.
Were you in the surgery during operations?
I have been, but no, that’s not my role.
Sometimes you’re in triage, sorting, helping to sort out who goes into surgery next, making sure that you have checked the whole body and take weapons off them, and make them safe and things like that. Then you’d wheel them into surgery, and sometimes stay there and do some dirty nurse scouting. But basically my job in the field ambulance was in intensive care after… post surgery.
So occasionally you would stabilise people who had to wait for surgery?
Yes I would assist in that and help the wardmaster to sort out some body parts and that, and take them to the morgue and try to identify all the parts.
That’s probably the worst job.
That’s a tough job?
I would get out of that if I could, but sometimes the place that you were working demands it, and you just go and help out and the more you help out, the easier it is on the rest of the team.
Would there be certain feelings you’d get when you hear choppers coming towards you?
What, like in civvy street?
No, I’ll talk about that later. When you were at the hospital?
Yes. There is aircraft all the time, night and day. Not just coming to us. It’s a big area. The Australians Logistics support group –
it was only a small town. There’s everybody there. There is vehicles travelling all hours of the day and night, and aircraft incoming with all different jobs. Our call sign was ‘Vampire’ and that… as soon as we heard on the radio calling ‘Vampire’, well that’s us and we would go off and get the diggers out. ,
We would ask if they had incoming casualties and usually they can tell us on the radio what sort of injuries and how many and so on before they get here. That is only a cursory examination more often than not.
How many would come in on a helicopter?
I guess the worst night they had, before I got there, was the Battle of Long Tan,
and you would have 100% of the hospital up for that. They were getting dead and wounded. Some would have gone up to 36 Evac [Evacuation]. We wouldn’t have been able to cope with that amount of casualties. We only had two theatre suites, that is to say, two theatre tables. I think half a dozen is probably the most I’ve seen come in on two choppers
that required surgery. Other may have come in, minor wounded and what have you, but I’m talking about those requiring surgery. Some of course were from 7 Battalion that I had been with earlier, so I knew some of them. That was a bit traumatic.
I guess I will ask you. Were your learning really new ways of operating in doing your work?
I had never worked in intensive care before. I had never worked in a hospital as such until then. I was always an infantry battalion medic or a field ambulance
with pretend patients basically. And the instructing bit didn’t come until after. That was a new experience for me, looking after severely injured patients who basically need one on one nursing care. Not being a nurse… I am a medic out in the bush, and this was totally new to me.
How busy were you, say during any type of typical day. I know it would vary, but during your time?
Basically you are always busy, because that’s where the… Whether you’re in a civilian hospital or a military hospital during war time, it’s always busy in the nursing environment.
Nurses are always on the go, and even though I never liked calling myself a nurse and I never did call myself a nurse, I was a medic. But basically it’s nursing care and there is always something to do when you’re on the job. It’s just a busy job.
How would you unwind when you would get a bit of time off?
Get on the piss all the time.
There wasn’t anything else to do. That’s why I said I welcomed this going in the choir and singing Silent Night at the top of my voice. It was something different to do.
Did you hit the piss hard?
Shit yes. We would only get sort of
one day off a week, and you would just stay in there…or I would just stay in the unit and just write myself off and go to bed. You could drink as much as you like, but you shouldn’t do that because you should be ready in case there was another Long Tan again.
Was that the best way to de-stress in that situation?
I don’t know whether it’s the best, but I don’t know of anything else. What else could you do? You could just sit in the tent. There’s no television; there’s no radio to speak of. It’s all Yank bloody baseball. You can read
and that doesn’t do anything to de-stress you, it just helps you to go to sleep. It’s hot and it is very hard to sleep, even if you are not stressed. So I think you would find that fairly universal, that most people would just drink – and that would include officers in that.
Tell us how it started to feel as you started to wind up your tour
and you started to see the end coming?
I used to count my ‘wakeys’ [wake-ups]. How many more wakeys. People used to have a drawing of a naked woman with all the various parts numbered and one wakey was in the most… where the map of Tasmania is sort of thing.
That was number 1 and that is the last wakey, and I am going home. And then and they used to mark the days off on the calendar. Everybody had their ways of doing things but that’s what a lot of people were doing. The real thing is when your replacement came. That’s your bed space there and that cardboard box you can have that to put your clothes in, and
don’t trip over going down there. But in fact my replacement arrived the day after I left, so I would have been in Australia as he arrived in Vietnam. He is still a good mate of mine, Barry Gregory. I think that’s about it mate.. Is there anything specific you want to talk about?
No I will just say how was it getting back to Australia?
Getting back to Australia. I came home with an old guy. He was a World War II veteran, a Korea veteran, his name was Jackie and he was a great old bloke. But he wasn’t a very good medic. He was promoted to sergeant because he had been there a long time, but he was a good bloke. He was married like myself, but he was a lot older
and he said, “I won’t be able to sleep on this aircraft going home,” so one of the sisters gave him some sleeping tablets so he could sleep – we came back civil air. We got out the night the Tet Offensive started in February. So there were mortars coming in as we were going out. We thought, Christ they’re incoming!
We were the last plane to lift off, the last civilian plane to lift off before the Tet Offensive. If it had been a day longer we would not have gone and we would have still been there. You asked me earlier on what Saigon was like, it was really good to get out of it. I was watching it on TV 24 hours later.
Anyway, we get on this thing and he has got some sleeping tablets, and he takes the tablets. He would lie down and then, bing his eyes would open, and he said, “I can’t get to sleep, Harry.” I said, “You have got to get to sleep mate. We’re going into Brisbane. We’ll get a connection from Brisbane down to Victoria and it will be all go, go, go when we get there, customs the whole lot.” I said, “Go to sleep, mate, or you will be tired.” He would take another sleeping tablet and bang.
Half an hour later his eyes are open. This went on several times, so by the time we get to Brisbane and land in Brisbane, he’s so sleepy, I can’t get him down the gang plank. I’m carrying him across the tarmac, and of course we get to customs and the sheila thinks he’s under the influence of drugs, so it takes us ages to get through.
It takes us ages to get through. “How many smokes have you got?” Anyway, we managed to catch our connection straight to Melbourne and got off at Melbourne, and there meeting me was Mary, blushed face, Leanne in her arms and baby in the stroller. I don’t think I have ever felt so happy in my life. They had sent a vehicle…
the CO of the place had sent a vehicle down for me from Pucka, his staff car. So I had to go to Watsonia and get my pay and I was on leave for a month. I was in the back seat just rejoicing in the fact that I’m home and somebody loves me. And
the driver… he’s got his rear vision on me and he was happy for me too. It was just so good and then when the leave finishes, it’s just back into the hum drum of army life again. I was pleased to be home. Lots of people who I now see at reunions have gone back, and if they haven’t gone back, are planning
to go back and some have been 2 or 3 times. I don’t want to do that and have never felt like it. They say, “Harry, it’s a beautiful country.” I didn’t see it as that, all I saw was really Nui Dat and Vung Tau. I never recognised them as a nice people and I never recognised them as friendly
and I don’t think I ever will. I am not going back there. In fact I won’t go to the east again. Europe will do me, I have had enough of the east. So I hope that’s been useful.
Have you got any final words you want to add or is that it?
No, I think I’ve had enough.
You’ve done a really good job. Thanks very much.