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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.