at the back of the canteen itself. Which I hope is still standing but I don’t think so. With progress, they bulldoze these areas and so on. I remember it very distinctly. And that more or less heralded, not our hitting the road…Where it all came about was give or take around Christmas, or prior to Christmas ‘44.
The Soviets had already besieged Budapest and were starting to make forays southeast. Now if you can just imagine this, like if they besieged Perth and started making forays into Mandurah Bay…The Germans of course, were coming up…Hungary had the pleasure of being occupied
by both the Soviets and the Germans. One was an enemy, one was an ally. But nothing seemed to matter very much, you were the meat in the sandwich. You were the populace and all of a sudden you had not one, you had two sort of occupiers. Pretty flexy stuff. Anyhow, they moved up and we became part of the front line. They had sort of a brazier-shaped defence of some sort.
And that particular day we were surrounded by Tiger tanks, the whole lot. Any kind of World War II war things that you want. They came into our house, they told us to be quiet, very politely. They stuck the old machine gun over the sink. The linked ammunition rattled in the sink. Later on I was to handle heaps of linked ammunition in combat. I just find it strange.
Anyhow they rattled the old linked ammo well and truly in the sink. I don’t know whether they smashed a window out or not…Yes, I think they smashed it. The next minute they came in and hid. One came in with a crowbar and one came in with a huge sledgehammer. If you can imagine, the sink was facing this way towards the Soviets and over here they started to knock a huge hole in the kitchen wall. You can imagine
how that impressed Mum and old Granny. The house was pretty shaky from the bombing as it was. The people came in and tell you…not to shut up, but very nicely, they were very polite. But knocked a huge hole, which was obviously an escape. Obviously they were going to use the street as a front line, as a defence position, and they were going to….I don’t know if you know about military manoeuvres, but you stage through, you do it in stages. Of course, with the knocking of the hole…
Just before Christmas it is so cold in Hungary. I mean the snow is often two metres deep. The Siberian wind blew in. We were pretty chilly beforehand from emotion, but all of a sudden the old wind blew in, and my God…And then we were surrounded by, and these were young SS [Schutzstaffel] troopers, forget about them being brutal or anything, they might have been down the line, but these were kids. Like you,
they looked like you, with the camouflage gear and the old potato masher grenade in their boots. And they were winking at me and perving at my Mum’s bum, and my Auntie Clary was there, too. And it was a sort of organised chaos, which the Krauts [Germans] are very good at. Anyhow, the next minute the shooting started, the MG [Machine Gun] let go with a good burst…It was to become so familiar to me later on.
They started firing…from what I can assess now but back at the time to me it was just Guy Fawkes Night. Sustained bursts obviously to keep someone at bay. And then the shelling started. I don’t know if it was the Germans that fired a salvo first….Yes, I think it was the Germans. The German artillery started to rip into the Soviets, then the Soviets replied with a
20-percent increase and those Katyusha rockets. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them in the movies…They’d come in, they’d whine in, they’d scream in, that instrument of the devil. I’ve been in mortar attacks, close artillery. And I’ve never experienced, even with the section to section rockets in Vietnam…These Katyusha things…If you were at the wrong end of them…And this thing went on
and on and on. And the troops started to stage through the hole, and pass you. And some were pale. Christ knows what I must have looked like. But when you’re a kid all you do is take your fear from the adults. That’s all. And it’s like a dog, it’s palpable. Fear is palpable. And you can’t avoid.
But when group fear grips, you can cut it with a knife. And sometimes when I say the poor old Germans, they were just a soldier like anybody else. When they came through and especially when some of the barrages got heavier, and everything shook and everything was dust, and everything was flying shrapnel, and people were praying and people were groaning…They weren’t screaming, because everybody had a certain military discipline by then.
I screamed, I let go a few good ones. By the way, this is not new stuff; it had gone on before, but this front line. Oh Jesus Christ…anyhow, Mum…I think we survived the first move quite well, many people on the street didn’t. Then the bombing started.
Now I haven’t got a clue whether it was Soviet bombing to soften us up, because perhaps they hadn’t won the first stage. We had already gone, and somebody said that the town didn’t fall for a fortnight later. Anyhow, when the bombing came, Mum lost it, totally lost it.
She became zombified. We prepared for an evacuation; we had our suitcase packed, like any normal person does. But I knew she was zombified because she didn’t take her suitcase. She had fur coats in the cupboard and she threw a couple on, didn’t take the suitcase, perhaps took her purse, this was mid-winter mind you,
and walked out on me and Granny. Walked out, abandoned us, just like that. Later on…if it wasn’t for Granny then later and getting hold of me and a suitcase and we trudging through the snow to try and catch up with her, which was by a fluke that we did, I would not be sitting here now.
because she was an aluminium worker, and the aluminium boss could sort of see it coming and said all the important workers - aluminium was a very important substance in armaments - and he said he had made the bigger evacuation plan and he had created an RV [rendezvous - meeting] point. What we also didn’t know was that he was my Mum’s lover and she was torn between all kinds of emotion.
Like one, “Am I going to…this is my kid, and this is my Mum, but this is my lover, and the world is really turning to shit.” and unless you’re really there in real life and experience it, never judge anyone. I’ve long since given her the miss about who is a coward and who is a hero. There’s a thin, fine line between the two. The only one I will call a coward
is who deliberately leaves his mates behind, that is a no-no. And I personally later in life threatened to shoot one bloke who wanted to bug out on me, and meant it. And he stayed so we were all right. But she totally lost it. Granny had a clue that she was heading for this organised factory RV [rendezvous] point to be collected and moved westwards to Austria. And we struggled through the two metre snow,
Granny was a little fat thing, I think the snow was higher than she was. It was nearly to her shoulders, and we were dragging this big bloody case. And there was another bombing raid while we were walking; a small one….It was a pitiful thing. She was never meant to be a refugee, nor was I. We didn’t use the word, please believe me. I think we caught up with Mum who was hiding in a derelict building
to avoid the second bombing raid, then somehow or other in a heated exchange between daughter and Mum, about, “leaving your kid.” and all of this, then Mum managed to convince Granny to become a refugee and the three of us headed for the RV point. That was the beginning of the end for her. When I confronted
Mum later on as a more mature person, she looked me in the eye, she never dodged it. She said, “Son, at that very moment I couldn’t care about my country, my family, my home, or you or anyone, I just had to get out of the place.” She looked me in the eye, that was good. If she had of looked away I wouldn’t have liked it. Over the years, I have confronted her a few times.
It’s not a pleasant thing for your mother to abandon you in a situation like that. If she had stuck to her guns and she said, “Right at that very moment, nothing mattered.” And I believed her, I believed her. She lost it. ‘Shell shock’ it was called. In later wars that I was involved in, we used to call it ‘bottle fatigue’. Because the more you were under stress, the more you drank. So in the end it really became
a toss-up. Are you really an alky [alcoholic] or do you have combat stress? So we called it bottle fatigue, and really it was combat stress. We never heard of fancy pills, and marijuana was in Vietnam, but in Malaya and places like that, we never even heard of it.
But the most horrible thing is to say goodbye to a loved one and know that you will never ever see them again. And especially when you were a kid. And the reason I survived in many ways, there was just no food, we were given no food in many circumstances. We became prisoners of the German system. The Germans took over Austria, that’s the place that we went to next. It took us 101 days
to make about from here to Northam. A hundred and one days on trains. We took every train that went that way. Open frame, people would sleep on the platform, waiting, chock a block, like sardines. Which was good because you kept warm. Waiting for the train to come, then the train would come, and they would throw the doors open and there would be a mad
sardine panic to squeeze in as many as they could. And then the train would take off. And this particular place in Czechoslovakia, because as I said, it never went direct. The train pulled out and I was left on the platform, and Mum was already on the train, screaming and carrying on as I would have. And there was a German deserter; we thought he was a deserter because we didn’t have a clue
what he was doing there. He was a fellow in his full dove grey uniform, youngish fellow, and he had a wound, but when he realised what was going on, there was Mum, the train was pulling out, cattle carts they were, there was Mum pulling out and screaming and he could see her, and he looked at me there…By that time there was only the two of us on the platform, because I got left behind.
He came over, he got me under the back here and he hurled me like a bowl, like a Dennis Lillie job [famous Australian bowler], and it was pretty good, he landed me on the top of all these people. And I remember a hand coming up and dragging me down and telling me in German, which at the time I couldn’t understand, but later I picked up, “Stand still.” And although he said it in German, I knew exactly what he meant.
So there I stood like this, it seemed to me like an eternity, but eight hours. People jammed in. I don’t know how much I can say…But people wanting to go to the toilet, pissing their pants, farting all over the place. And I was standing there, starving, nothing to eat.
To cut a long story short, the doors opened, I got carried out with the mob, and Mum came running through the thing and then the crying and all of this…I remember saying to her, “Can I have a slice of bread, please?” I was starving.
And Granny of course was an onlooker to all of this and it was just too much for her, and then she went back. In Hungary, they used to worship their ancestors. They’d have an All Saints Day when you would go to all your graveyards, clean them up and put candles…And that night you go home and have a big booze party. That’s a good thing, I really enjoyed those. And her ancestors
were calling her, I’m sure of it. I mean, the fact that she really looked her daughter in the eye and her grandchild, the only one she had at the time, I think it was more powerful for her to go back. And even though my grandfather was a rogue, a loveable rogue, I think she was the one he really wanted. So she went home
and then she faded away. But I’m sure the war experience just finished her off. But what surprised me, she never…We were on a ration, now if I tell you the ration you wouldn’t believe it. This is from memory, but I was at a stage where most Australian kids go to primary, kindergarten, where they can
like scientists, say, learn five languages before you’re five because your mind is blank, and after that it becomes harder because you get preoccupied with living. This was my blank stage; I took everything in like a sponge. I should have been sitting in school learning reading, writing, arithmetic…I never went to school until I was age seven or eight by the way. Anyhow, I was taking all this in like a sponge. This was my classroom.
The funny thing was, as it went on, I accepted it as life. I didn’t realise that this wasn’t how people lived. I thought this was how the rest of your life went. Dead bodies and getting kicked up the arse and having your Mum raped, all of this. When I look back on it…all I know is I was frightened, don’t worry about that, but I started to accept it in a funny sort of a way as well.
Looking back on it. But anyhow, with Granny, the meagre food we got, Granny always smuggled it to me. And a ration would be something like one loaf of bread, one egg, one kilo of flour, 18 slices of salami, one or half a pints
of milk, and perhaps one or two other things like it, per person, per month. Per month. So your loaf of bread was split into four, Christ knows what we did with the one egg. Three of us on the ration thing…But the key to survival was
that we ate everything that died or moved. Squirrels, rabbits, goats, horses. I mean the poor old horses…there was no petrol, so they were back in vogue again. We ate the horse. I think I can remember what a horse tasted like. Not too bad by the way. We’d go into the forest, and spinach was a lifesaver. Funnily enough, in one particular area that we were there was
heaps of spinach. That was a lifesaver. Mushrooms, we had to learn which were the poisonous ones. Trading, trading. Anything you ever had of value you tried to hang onto it as long as you could. Women traded favours, sexual favours for their kids…I don’t blame them a bit. I take my hat off to them.
It was a tough, grim bloody life, it really, really was. I’m sure a fair amount of stealing went on, as a matter of fact I know. I never had the chance to steal anything, but things were so desperate that had I, I would have.
It was no difference from saying the South Australians come in here, occupy us, take over the authority government, put a Gauleiter or their equivalent, whatever a South Australian dictator would be, and we would get another name like Swanee or something like that. So no longer you were a West Australian, you were a South Australian under….And then they put in the pretence government,
but of course, the political man at the top. Always identification, always, “Where do you come from? Why are you here? Where are your papers?” We had no papers. We had bugger all. As a matter of fact, Mum had her birth certificate. If Granny hadn’t featured on her birth certificate as her mum, Granny would have been a nobody. That was the only record on which she existed. I was on as her son, so I was all right.
She had one ID [Identification] card from her aluminium factory ID card, which went over well because when they marched into Hungary they annexed that, the Germans annexed that, so she was virtually a worker for the Germans. But she must have already been aware of it because her second ID card, the second ID papers, she already put a ‘Y’ on the end of our name.
Our name is Bacskai, or Bachkai, as the Hungarians pronounce it. And it can be spelt with an I or a Y legitimately, but the people who generally spelt it with a Y were, for want of a better word, the landlords in the olden days. The old British lordship. You had your serfs and peasants and whatever. And Mum used to alternate the spelling from I to Y depending on what she thought
and did this confuse them…I don’t know. And then there were the searches. All of a sudden a scream would go through the place. “Everybody, everybody line up in the courtyard.” No, they never used the word Gestapo. “Polizei, polizei.” that’s a German world.
“Out, out.” You line up. Sometimes they wanted your gear. So you took everything you owned, which wasn’t much, and you laid it out in front of you. And then of course there was the Gestapo fellows who looked amazingly like the people you see in the movies. They looked like detectives. Like coppers, except our coppers don’t wear a hat. When I was a kid,
here in Aussie, all the coppers always wore a hat. So it looks the same, and the hair was exactly the same. Then they lined you up. And they always had their well armed military escorts, heavily armed paddy wagons and trucks. Then they’d look…You’d never want to be the first one, I can tell you. So they’d look over the thing and this particular search,
we’d just been allocated to this camp, we had absconded from another and we were crapping ourselves. And there’s a little old frail Hungarian nobleman of some sort beside me, and…and he had his possessions in a tea towel.
Everything he ever owned. Including this beautiful sword that was a family heirloom, he was a count or something. To me he looked like he was either a frail old man or he had cancer or something like that. Of course, this sword was like a magnet to the old Gestapo man. He came marching over like…
“I’m going to keep it.” He came marching over and I couldn’t help but look. My Mum was always rigid, whispering out the corner of her mouth, “Look to the front, look to the front.” You don’t make eye contact. Anyhow, over he marched and looked at this sword and saw this sort of pitiful human being.
“Vas ist dass?” German, “What is that?” And the bloke said this is my family, such and such, and this is the family heirloom. And I think the old Gestapo man, he looked…he said “Scheize.” which is, “Shit.” and he kicked him fair in the face. And felt this full impact. And it knocked this poor old fellow about two metres back.
And then they got hold of him and then they beat the crap out of him. And then the two soldiers came and got hold of him and bang in the back of the truck, and the sword flew in as well. And I remember Mum trying to talk as loud as possible, saying, “Look to the front, look to the front.” Then he came next to me, and he was eyeing me up…a kid is a kid. You can’t, you can’t be sort of.
I looked him in the face; he looked at Mum and kept going. Down the other side, people were getting the hell beat out of them…Whole families, mum, dad, three or four kids, beat up. Nobody said a thing. Survival…You’ve got to be there, you’ve got to be in the situation to appreciate it. You would have to be Mahatma Ghandi or something to take a step forward and say, “This is wrong.” Forget about it, at that point in time, survival…
from here to Fremantle, called Mauthausen, and anybody who lived in the area couldn’t actually say they didn’t know about Mauthausen…As I mentioned before, Castle Harthein, it was an euthanasia centre, whenever you got sick and you got a ticket for that, forget about it. But the concentration camps had thousands of
outstations they called them ‘komandos’, and they in turn had substations which were work stations. And in actual fact, each time you were allocated to work, the local Gestapo bloke got a kickback. Something like a dollar a day.
And skilled workers and normal workers were sent to build armaments. They had much better conditions; they were better fed, because they wanted them to be able, right. Or they’d build a railway line. So really, the people…what you see in the movies, that was a hardcore concentration camp, that was a political set up. But a concentration camp
had komandos, which were substations. The komandos had substations again, and so it went down to the skilled workers. Mercedes, Daimler Benz… the Steyr rifle, which the Australian Army bought and perhaps took to Iraq, the Steyr factory was within reach.
But that’s where this Steyr [arms manufacturer] rifle was built by people like my Mum and people like that. And funny that eons later the Australian Army buys the Steyr. When I first saw it, because we had SLRs [Self Loading Rifles], it just brought back the memory. I thought, “Christ, this is amazing.” My own mob.
Everything, trucks, aircraft….Really it was a sort of a slave labour job. Incidentally, I put in a claim and I could and I was accepted and I was given a number…By the time mine came up and especially as I was small, and my job as a kid, we were forever and a day lined up looking for this mythical potato beetle that we were given a diagram of, and we were promised five shillings, which in those days would be the equivalent of 1,000 bucks or so,
even a shilling would be worth something. So we spent all day looking for this potato beetle. I remember finding a beetle and handing it in but I got no money whatsoever. This was the job of the women and the kids and the babes, to go out on the agricultural team. Or you were looking after the sheep and the goats for the local farmer. Like in the early days, the Australian convict days, where the convicts were allocated to the farmers and the free settlers…
I can remember more of that time than I can of anything else. The Yanks were Amis A-M-Is, and the Russians were the Ruskies. “Better to have a Ruskie at the top, than an Ami at the head.” And I think the head did have sexual connotations.
Anyway, the day came…Before that, before that we ended up allocated, you are always allocated, and we ended up at Mitterberg again, we went
to, we were sent to a camp down the bottom of Austria called Salzburg. Salt mines were there, and people were working in the salt mines. Because by then we were sent to the salt mines, because by then these authorities who had interrogated us incessantly,
and probably because of my Mum’s big mouth, had classified her as undesirable. Non-Jewish Undesirable. We weren’t told this of course, but all of a sudden we were assembled with this group and given tags….Bunched on a train,
not cattle carts this time, a normal sort of a train, shipped over hill into Germany, into a place called Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s headquarters. And we expected him to come walking around the corner any minute. Mum was looking out for him or something…Of course, we had been brainwashed. Later on, when we ended at Mitterberg his
parents’ graves weren’t very far away, and just so the authorities wouldn’t flog the hell out of us, we used to pretend to pay a pilgrimage to the graves. Anyway, we were shipped over to a place called Berchtesgaden, oh Jesus Christ it was chaos. I reckon…anyhow, we were
quite innocent at this point, we were heading for an assembly point but we didn’t know. Anyhow, there was a German officer. He had one arm, one arm and two suitcases. And Mum being Mum and young and fit and strong, and he was trying to get on the train, grabbed his suitcase and put it on the train with him. And he was very grateful and
he was talking to her in German. “Where are you from, fraulein?” And she said, the place where she come from, the German equivalent, because you know when the Brits used to occupy a place, they gave it British names. You know how it goes. “Oh Hungary.” he says, “Beautiful ladies, beautiful wine.”
Crap, crap all this kind of thing. “By the way.” he said, “Where are you going?” And he leant over and he read her tag. Well, he just shut up…And by that time you were like a jungle animal. You sensed every change in mood. You sniffed it. And Mum could see straightaway that something was wrong. Anyhow, she said to him, “What is wrong?” And he said, “Nothing.”
But she was insistent, and this took place in a few seconds…And he said, “Where are you from?” And we said, “From Linz.” You get Vienna, you get Linz. Another one of the huge camps that we’d been in, thousands of people, you’d been shunted from camp to camp.
Anyhow, he said, “Look, fraulein how many of you are there?” And she said 75, whatever there was in the big group, and he said, “No, I’m talking about you and your immediate kin.” She said, “Just me, my boy and Granny.” Granny was sitting on the suitcase. The suitcase incidentally had been marked, slashed with paint.
Tagged, everybody tagged. He said, “I can tell you something, those things are for the concentration camp. You will be shunted further down the line to the assembly point where you will be met and sorted out.” And Mum started with, “But we’re not Jews.” And he said, “No, relax. Even some of my relatives are there.” He said, “Anybody.”
He said, “Today. Today, see the chaos on the platform?” He said, “Today, the Soviets had crossed the river. There is panic in Germany now. The Soviets have crossed onto German soil.” He said, “Get your Mum and your boy. Get out of the station any way you can.
Rip those tags off, hide and go catch any train back the way you came.” Mum again crapped herself. Mum was very brave, but these situations just never stopped. They were just an endless thing. Anyhow, he could see that we’re a bit stunned for a minute. He said, “First of all go and get your mother.” She got Granny.
He said, “Rip the tags off.” We were frightened, terrified of ever doing anything against authority. By that time, we were programmed like lemmings. That’s what happens in war, in occupation, you become a lemming. She said to him, “Can you buy some tickets back?”
He said to her, “Now you are thinking.” He, in actual fact I’m telling you everything short, and he actually went to the ticket box and got three tickets for us, and because Mum wasn’t handling the shock too well, and I don’t know how you would handle it if you were told that
you were going to the concentration camp….how do you think you would be?
to the little nearest village…anyhow, all of a sudden there was the mighty German Army, or parts of it, and horses everywhere because petrol was almost impossible to get. I remember these Lipizzaner horses, one German soldier was riding and leading about six or seven…
For a young kid that was so magic. And then you saw them limping without shoes, and you know how the Germans were always immaculate…They are really great people, honestly. If they had of been better led, they would be the salt of the earth. And equally, if they’re led the wrong way, they go wrong.
Blokes with iron crosses, bandages, crutches, horse drawn carts with bodies piled on them to buggery, like wounded dead, I couldn’t tell. Heaps of them, heaps of them walking…I think they were going west, east, I’m not sure.
And this was a huge parade of this beaten army. Of course you still see the odd fancy staff car with a flag and they looked all right, but the average bloke there was so rat shit…anyhow, we thought, “It’s getting close.” This is when the talk came about of , “Hope to Christ the Yanks get to us.”
Anyhow, what happened, there was a huge river, Elbe, I think from memory. And the Soviets coming up from that way had to cross the Elbe, the Yanks didn’t. And the Elbe held the Soviets and the Yanks overran our area first. It was unbelievable. Once again we ran down from the castle to the road and the scene
couldn’t have been any more different. Jeeps by the galore. The typical Yankee GI [infantry/soldier] chewing gum, reading a book…slack as shit, half of them. I got a medallion from the Yank Army, I did operate with them. And us kids, with our hand out screaming out for something, anything.
And they were chucking off these little chewing gum dispensers. Little plastic things, this square, like a cigarette lighter, and every time you clicked one down, a little square chewy would come out. And they came in convoys of powerful trucks. You know nothing like the poor old Kraut Army [German Army] looked like.
Equal and opposite. And laying back and reading a stick book, Dick Tracy, or Christ knows whatever they were reading, and giving the odd wave, but really looking at you half interested…but they got the idea, and look, they must have been sick and tired of it. We threw our rations out in Vietnam to the locals…
And funny enough, in our convoys in Vietnam, and the kids used to be there like that, and we looked down, we had the same American stuff, I could see myself. In actual fact, I saw two or three Vietnamese urchins with their arms out to me like that, that looked like me, physically. And it tugged at my heart. Actually, I feel so strange about it, I still do.
Anyhow, out came flying a brownish glistening thing. A tin I was to become familiar with later on…A big scrum goes on and us kids fight for it. I got it first, I was the youngest kid on the bottom, so I slide out and run like mad for the hedgerow, run like mad with this prize, no idea what it is. And
we could also see parachutes dropping in the background. I will never forget that. I don’t know if it was the cargo drops or whatever. Anyhow, I got to the hedge, and I got a stick and pried open the lid. And there were Alfoil type stuff, I pried it open and this mystery white powder was there, and the only thing I could equate it to was flour of some sort.
Anyhow, I tasted it, like kids taste it…didn’t taste too bad. The next minute it was the whole hand…I thought this was a prize, quick to Mum, and I raced up to her, “Look what I’ve got. The Yanks are down the road, it’s all over.” You know what it was? Powdered milk. It was the first time I remember tasting…
I didn’t have a clue. That was the beginning of the end. The Yanks moved in, they came to our castle. They used to yell at each other, they had this chant, like…there was a World War II song, it went, “Hey Baba Riba, Hey Baba Riba.” and, “Carry me back to the track, Jack.” or some garbage.
I heard it in a movie about angels…Anyhow, they used to yell out, “Hey Barba Ree Bar.” it was a kind of…we used to do the same. This is my big impression of them, drawing into the castle gates on their MG [Machine Gun] jeeps with their MG mounted things and looking over…what surprised me was the languages they spoke. See, I didn’t know about migration and all of that. There was a Yankee platoon,
about 30 blokes, and there was almost not a language they couldn’t handle. If someone spoke in Italian, a Yank would answer in Italian. If someone spoke French, a Yank would answer in French. It was amazing, an American platoon…Why? Because they were either the kids of immigrants themselves…and this astounded us, because all of a sudden…we didn’t know who our enemy was. Our enemy was whoever was putting shit on you
that day, that’s who the enemy was. But these were the propaganda bests, and we found them very pleasant. Actually one became my hero, I thought he looked like…Tab Hunter or something, epitomised in the big Yankee helmet. Later when we put them on, I couldn’t get mine off fast enough. They weighed a ton.
two classes emerged. The haves and the have nots. Like everything became available on the black market but nowhere else. Like, I saw this in Vietnam, where heaps and heaps of stores are brought in but they don’t go to the right people. They don’t go to the Red Cross. They go to the shifties, connivers, the gangsters,
and suddenly you have this huge black market trade which virtually denies it from legitimate sources that the average person needs. If you wanted anything, medicine - people were dying, no medicine. Medicine straightaway went to the black market industry at exorbitant prices. So what it became overnight, you had this certain segment of Austrian society of which the refugees…
And I think by that time we had gone over from the Red Cross to the United Nations…maybe it was too early for the United Nations. We were classified ‘displaced persons’. Certainly wasn’t going to…I would say for at least a year after the war, it was still scrounging the garbo [garbage] dumps. Cigarettes were the tender. We used to scrounge the butts
and out of which we would make one big cigarette. And that one big cigarette, you know, rolled in paper, that was the tender. That became money. And nylon stockings for the ladies became tender. No, things were very grim for the first year after the war ended. You would really expect that all of a sudden…no, definitely not. After the first year, and especially when the American sector…
We were put under an American military government then, a military man, military government, things started to get better. And employment, they were starting to organise…Look, it’s not unlike what you saw in Iraq, when they took over. There was bugger all. It’s starting to get better now, and it will get better still. But they’re still not there. That was what it was more or less like. You see, armies are good at being armies. Armies are not much chop at administration.
They’re wonderful for military administrations, but they’re not much chop for civil administration. They’re not trained for it, it’s not their job. There’s great similarity with what you saw at the end of the conflict in Iraq and trying to rebuild the city and infrastructure. As far as I’m concerned, this is what we experienced. And for the first year of all, it was really hard.
We became displaced persons all of a sudden, but it was good because we got a status. Before, we had no status, we had no work, we had really nothing…We were nothing. And all of a sudden, this new piece of paperwork and this change of administration,
a lifting of the servitude burden, if you want to call it that, with it the fear. There is still a bit of anxiety, but this anxiety was the sort of normal anxiety you might have about meeting your bills at the end of the month, which is not so good, but it’s all right. Better than the anxiety of walking around the corner and being searched, punched down and perhaps never seen again…Anyhow, all of a sudden we had a status, DP, displaced person,
we were almost proud of it. We fitted in somewhere…And also they allowed you to work, to keep the money. They allowed you free accommodation, be it just an extension of what you had before. My uncle joined us. He incidentally had been captured during the war. He had gone to get himself out
of the military prison, he volunteered for the French Foreign Legion because the French Foreign Legion used to scour the military prisons looking for talent. And that was a way out…He actually went to Morocco and Algiers fighting with whatever Arabs were unhappy with the French at the time. It got to the point where he deserted, and when he rejoined us in Austria he was limping from being shot in the bum by his mate going over the wall, because he reckons
if it hadn’t of been, his mate would have hit in the back or in the back of the head, but as it was he got a shot up the bum. So he was quite happy with that. Limping, he was a mean piece of article, my uncle, he was a loveable man, never without a knife, never without a pistol. Quick on the temper, punch you first before…and him and my Mum never got on, ever. For the first time we ate well. Things he used to bring home fell off the back of a truck.
And there was a huge fight at the table over a hunk of salami. “Don’t eat that!” She’d say to him, “Where did that come from?” He’d say, “Don’t worry about it, it fell off the back of a truck.” She’d say, “You stole it. Don’t eat it, don’t eat it.” And I was starving. And I was waiting, he was cutting slices. And he’d say, “Go ahead, son. You’ve got to eat, you’ve got to survive.” So I’m reaching for the salami and she’s saying, “Don’t eat that!” It was hilarious. Anyhow, he was a chef and he
got a job in the hotel nearby as the head chef. Things just became so…and Mum got work, too, and I think she became so much better for it.
full as a boot, believe me, on the old bloody vodka or whatever they were drinking. Inviting you on their horses, doing their head stands in front of you and showing off…All of them off their…How the hell they never busted their necks, I don’t know….They wanted me to go back to Russia with them. The more they sort of gave the signal to come, the more I backed
against the castle. This was another thing, but we had a couple of run-ins with them beforehand, and I can’t remember if it was during the war or after. But their favourite thing was, I hope I get this right, “Davai, davai, davai, give, give, give.” whatever you had, they took, and they had another expression that I am not going to tell…
The vagrants, the deserters, occupied the forests nearby. The misfits. And they of course were onto us young kids like sting, so you ran like mad. You kept your bum against the old bloody castle wall I can assure you. Many of the kids were kidnapped and never seen again,
died. Mum’s lover, his name was Hoffman, the factory man who led us out of Hungary returned, he traced us. So there was a big huge reunion between Mum and him. I had mixed feelings, although I thought he was a good bloke. He was a very good, educated man, an artist; he actually taught me how to draw.
I’ve actually got a piece of his work, a drawing of the castle in my files now, which I cherish. Sort of semblances of normality, but he was a shattered man. He was not the same when he came back. Semblances of some kind of normality were starting to return. Everything was judged in how much you could eat. If all of a sudden you ate well,
that was it. There didn’t appear to be any measure of…to me. From where I sat, this was how I saw it. So all of a sudden you start to eat okay, perhaps not well, but you started to eat okay. And that was only because your parents or somebody around you who got some money. But there were some people who did not, and there were people
who still had to scrounge the old garbo tips. Hoffman….his dad was the police commissioner for Linz and he had a family there. He was going over, he had to try and smuggle himself over to the Russian side to put his affairs in order, to say goodbye to his family, he was leaving them,
then come back and him and Mum were either going to marry or stay in Austria or whatever…I remember there was big talk, because Granny was….at that time, still pining that we were all going to risk it with the Soviets and go back to Hungary, where they would marry and we would cope as best as we could. And with the training that we’d had so far, we maybe could have done it…
But Mum was terrified of the Soviets and so was I. Anyhow, when we escorted him through the forest to the Russian checkpoint, into the Russian sector, which was pretty bleak stuff, exactly like you see in the black and white movie. There again there was a parting scene between Mum and him, I was a spectator, bloody snowing. We saw him; he went over the bridge,
I think there was a Yank guard on this side. The Yank guard checked his papers and let him go. He went over the bridge, he waved, there were some Russian trucks there, and that was the last we ever saw of him. He was treated as a provocateur and he was tortured to death. And he was tortured to death in the same cell as his father, who had been chief of police,
had been tortured to death in. We didn’t know, of course. He just disappeared. And the local pub owner, an older man, had a crush on Mum. So somehow or other through manoeuvrings and he employed my uncle as a chef…he was in the black market, he was in every bloody thing.
One of these people, a ‘survivor’ survivor. He was the only person that I knew in the whole area who could get petrol for his car. And that is the first recollection I ever have of riding in a car, maybe ’46/47…First time I sat in one, an amazing experience. I’m sure kids today can’t relate to the fact that you don’t ride in a car until you’re six or seven…
Anyhow, amazing, through his black market network, through his spy network, maybe he was working for the Yanks, who knows? He got the data back to Mum and she fell apart, totally. And the old fellow, he took advantage of this. He took the shattered young thing and put it right on her. And they had a sort of a fling or an affair until
she recovered and then bit by bit gave him the flick. Which I was very sorry for, because I never ate so well and I’d never ridden in a car before. Stuff the rest of the gear, I just thought what a wonderful thing it was to be living in a warm room, eating well…I was hoping that Mum would carry it on for a longer time. Anyhow, poor old Hoffman, he didn’t deserve that.
After that Mum started to go strange. First of all, Granny had already gone back. There was Mum and me in the wood room and the castle got new inmates. All the World War II survivors left and you got all these political people, political escapees, and they were different. They weren’t long-term reffos [refugees], they were…
I don’t know, they were fleeing politically. They were furtive, they were secretive, they were nothing like the kin before. The great thing about people is the less they’ve got the more, they stick together. Not because they love each other, but because they’ve got to, to live, to survive. All of a sudden, one family is saying, “We’re off to America.”
Off to South Africa, off to Canada…Australia was hardly ever mentioned, except the very near and dear group we made friends with, they were off to Australia. That was the first we ever heard about Australia. Bit by bit, these people who helped you survive all these years were going and being replaced by these political refugee types, and we started to feel almost unpleasant at the castle.
Anyhow, every year you would have to front up to the German administration and they would give you a work leave pass. Like when a Brit comes here and has to have a certificate to work. And anyhow, this year we fronted up full of steam and things were different, because by this time Mum had my sister,
and this was worrying the Austrian authorities, because all of a sudden they almost had a citizen on their hands. We were just the same old flotsam and jetsam, and she had, through this fellow who lives in Adelaide now, who my sister has reunited with, her real father, we had an Austrian citizen on our hands and this worried the hell out of them because they would have to be responsible, education and…
They said, “You’ve got one hour to make up your mind whether you’re going to America or to Australia.” They said, “Frau [fraulein].” she always looked young, “take your boy down a local village and buy him a lemonade and tell us whether you are going to America or Australia.”
We were astounded - gob-smacked the word is now. My Mum said, “We’re not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere at all. We’re staying here. We like it.” They said, “No, you’re not.” This was after they interviewed us about my young sister, who was virtually a babe, and where she was born and all that…They said, “No, you’re not. If you don’t take our options.”
and it’s your choice.” they tell…it’s the typical, “It’s your choice. We’re very kind. We’re giving you back to the Russians.” That’s all they had to say to my Mum, “Give you back to the Ruskies.” She dropped a bundle. We were down in the old village there, and I was a student, I’d read everything that I wanted, and I could read. Honestly, I don’t know who taught me, or if I taught myself, I could read. From day one I was writing, I was drawing,
I’ve got some of my drawings here now…Mum asked me to draw the castle for her 30 years after the event, and I drew the castle for her and even drew in a solitary tree in the front of it that she had forgotten about. She couldn’t believe it, she absolutely couldn’t believe it. She said, “Are there any gangsters in America?” I said, “Yes.” Because I distinctly remember the photos of the black cars with the Tommy guns. I said, “Oh yeah,
Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel.” all these…“God.” she says, “We better not go there. We better go to Australia.” I thought for a minute and I said, “Where is it?” She said, “Near America, down a bit.” Anyhow, we sort of mulled over it and we went back to the Austrian UNAid [United Nation’s Aid] fellow in his gleaming white shirt, it nearly knocked the socks
off us, I don’t know what kind of washing powder he used. Anyhow, he wouldn’t let us back in the building. We said to him, “We’ve made up our mind, we’re going to Australia.” He put his arms around Mum and said, “Good choice. Just like Austria.” Anyhow, on the strength of that we were processed through three or four other camps
in Northern Germany, went to Bremen Haven, went to Bremen, down Delmenhorst, which was a big Canadian camp. And from there put on a ship for Australia. The Skaugun III. And it was the
first time we saw the ocean and it was the first time that any of us had been on a boat. The Delmenhorst Camp, which was a migrant collection centre, after all we’d been through, it scared the daylights out of me, but for only one reason. I had never met Italians before.
And all of a sudden, the majority of these camp inmates who were going to be crammed on this boat with us were Italians. And I was used to a shell-like existence, we all were. Where you said nothing, you shut your mouth, right. And all of a sudden, these…all of a sudden these free people come along, they were all brown and we were
anaemic or whatever, and singing, “Hey Gumbadi.” and singing songs. I’m not Italian but I still remember. Something or other about a good-looking young person on the roundabout. You picked up every lingo in the world, believe me. There is no lingo that appears on a movie screen
that I can’t fathom out what they’re talking about, that’s an advantage of being a reffo. Anyway, I never saw people like this in my entire life. I guess for the first time I was looking at freedom perhaps, being free. And they scared the absolutely daylights out of me. And for 2,000 of us to be crammed onto this boat which was meant to take about 1,500,
and a huge amount were Italian…They were beautiful, fun-loving people, except to me they were so foreign, foreign to the environment I came from…
We were used to the regimented….down, downtrodden, servile sort of existence. And all of a sudden you had all these people who seemed to have no care, who were not afraid to demonstrate, were proud of it. I’d never seen that before. It scared the daylights out of me, I wasn’t
used to it. Incidentally, at that point, the minute I saw a person of authority, in uniform or anything, I would clam up. And something I have to this very day. It’s opposite now, I give them heaps of cheek now. I feel I’m on top. But it took me a long time. I’ve still got it, but I get in first now.
Anyhow, we were four weeks on this bloody boat, and I must have heard the joke, “Where the hell are we?” And the first exposure to Aussie was the Australian butter, and we couldn’t get over how salty it was. I suppose we had it more natural in Austria or Germany, where they probably got it from the local farmer and churned it up,
and it didn’t have all the preservatives…Anyhow, the mood was quite amazing. You were a draft. You weren’t a migrant sort of shift, you were a draft. You had an escort officer. In our case it was a Major Day, an old army digger from New Guinea, I think. You were a draft, you were…
everything was military. I’m sorry, I’m getting a mental block, and I shouldn’t, I spent 24 years in the military. But everything was military on the damn thing. When we got to Fremantle, first up, and then you were trained to the Northam Migrant Camp, which is still there now, or bits of it…Yeah, the huts have been taken away. Everything was military. Like for instance, if you were
to go into the army tomorrow, your basic training would be three months. For us reffos, our Australianisation was three months. A lot of people in dribs and drabs earlier. In those three months, everyone had to attend classes…learn the language. By that time I had picked up heaps from the American soldiers. So much so that only after a matter
of weeks, I’ve still got my first examination report, I got nine out of 10 in English after just a matter of weeks. When I showed that same report card to my old teacher, Clevelly, he said, “Jesus Christ, I must have marked you a bit loosely. I must have been easy on you.” And there was his writing; there was his signature and everything.
The Northam Migrant Camp was a bit different again. It took us a hell of a big mental turnabout to realise that it wasn’t another work camp, concentration type camp, collection camp, which it really was…they were as regimented as well. Lights out…we never had…in a cold climate like Europe, everything was enclosed. Here all of a sudden all the dunnies were open
because…Northam Camp was a camp to prepare…to harden soldiers to go to the Second World War. They more or less progressed through their training, went to Northam then went overseas, so it wasn’t exactly palatial. Later on, I went there as a soldier and I thought it was a joke because I was used to it. But for instance, the dunnies had no doors. I don’t know about your mum, but my Mum didn’t like to go and do her business without a door on the dunny.
Once again the huts were about 18 foot by goodness knows what, and 30 of us were crammed in there, so up comes the old twine and blanket routine all over again, so it was a bit of a blast from the past. Once again, not something that we expected. I don’t know what we expected…I guess what we discussed before. The end of the war, you expect all facilities to go back to normal, but
with very little family and very little documentation. Nothing. We landed at Free-o [Fremantle]. Mum met husband number two on the boat, he’s still alive in Subiaco. He had three or four packets of cigarettes that we could sell. That was it. We had no money, none, none. Imagine yourself landing at Heathrow Airport now, and apart from your passport, you’ve got…a bottle of whiskey
which you can flog down Soho or something, that is what it was like. That was pretty precarious. That was flying by the seat of your pants situation to start off with. The camp authorities, I don’t want to insult anyone here, 4,000 of us were at Northam. The flies from the shit pans, the military dunnies…
the food was unbelievable. We’d never seen food like it. The abundance of it. We couldn’t believe it. We thought this was a trick. We never believed there could be so much food. A lot of the people began to dig into the sugar bowls and filled their pockets with sugar, because it’s got to be a trick, and as soon as we’re marched out, everything will come down, it will back to normal, you will be back into the prison camp.
So people would walk out of that mess hall, you know from the sugar bowls, filling their pockets with sugar for the next day when the reality will start to bite. Things like that. The food there…it made such a big impact on me. And the flies…it got to the point where, I got used to, and it takes a bit of training, and I did it later in the military as well, let the flies crawl all over you without
distracting you from what you are doing. Anyway, it was the onset of trachoma. Later on, when we went to the bush…I was educated in Big Bell, and the flying doctor, he came and treated a couple of us kids for trachoma otherwise we would have gone blind. But I’m sure that started off in a Northam Migrant Camp. If you were a doctor, you got a job as an orderly in the camp hospital. If you were an engineer,
you got a job as a truck driver. If you were a carpenter, you got the job of hosing out the shit buckets. If you were anything below that you went into the kitchen and washed the plates, and this was how the jobs were allocated. You probably had a heart surgeon pushing you around on the trolley. They all made it…most are dead.
You know I get so many invites now to the migrant things to represent whoever, the migrants, and it took me a while to work it out. “Where the hell am I getting this garbage from?” You know, they open a museum in Fremantle or they open a museum in Northam, I’m only the list as invitees, as a guest, and then the penny drops….of course, there is no other bastard left alive.
Yeah, I went to school in Adelaide, too. Migrant school was an absolute hoot. First of all, we were in the funny class, the traumatised kids, which was unbelievable in itself…I don’t know what the other classes were like. I was sitting next to a big Jewish kid who hated me, because Hungarians
were shoved in with the Krauts, the Germans, and his family suffered, so had mine, and possibly out of the two of us sitting side by side, I was the only who had been sent to a concentration camp, but he didn’t know that, you see. So every minute of the day he was at me. And the language…Clevelly was teaching us in English.
I was okay. As I say, I picked it up from the Yankee soldiers, but some of the kids had none, absolutely none. So he was teaching a class in English that went from people like me, nine out of 10, to people who just sat there and looked at him, still traumatised, sitting there, 120 in the water bag, on benches, on hard benches, and the education was hard pressed, even back then.
Clevelly, to make do, used to cut pencils in half so we had a pencil each. We had a makeshift band. You know with the cymbals like the Salvation Army job and banging on tins….And I remember this, because when I turned 10, I had to stand at the head of the class and they had to sing Happy Birthday To You, in English, to me.
I’m not going to tell you what it sounded like. Which was okay, because I didn’t grasp it fully either. And everything was ruled with the iron rod. Old Clevelly, he was a good bloke. We used to call him Billabong Clevelly, by the way, because he was forever and a day trying to explain what a billabong was to us. And anyhow, Billabong Clevelly,
he got this Italian kid who was giving him a hard time and he was whoomping his bum, and I mean this poor kid was getting a regular Singapore flogging, and the kid kept yelling out “Basta, basta, basta.” Clevelly thought he was calling him a bastard, you see, so the more this poor old kid would call this out, the more old Clevelly would flog him. We just went along with it anyhow, and then it was over, I don’t know which one of us said to him later,
“Mr Clevelly, we hate to tell you, but ‘basta’ means ‘enough, enough,’ in Italian.” We could have stood up, but we didn’t…there was tragedies that resulted of what went on in the huts. Like, you know, Mum finds a new lover, the new lover liked her mum, but just didn’t like the kids and didn’t want to start a fight…we would often be sent out
on search parties to look for kids to come to class. I won’t say it was that common, you would find them in the dunnies and they’d hung themselves with a skipping rope. They used to issue us with a skipping rope and some of the kids used to use that to hang themselves. I’m talking 10 year olds. I don’t know how many of the old camp administrators are left, but
if they are dinkum and they’re got any balls, they will back my story up. For what it’s worth, I don’t care what they do. It was happening, it was happening. There was quite a few homos in the camp, so just like the old times in Austria, we younger boys had to run around well and truly
keeping our bums against the wall. And there was one very close to us, and by that I mean in the system. In the system. And the staff used to change girlfriends every time a new consignment came in…
Big Bell, just south of Meekatharra, was just such a wonderful thing. It straightened me out, it put me out, it opened my mind, it taught me…the Australian bush, I can’t say enough about it. I don’t like the cities much. It was the best thing that could have ever happened. It was an accident almost, but it was the best thing. When I left there and came down to Perth, I was a different person.
Totally. And I was for adventure then. I used to collect bottles and send away…In those days, whenever you returned a beer bottle, there was one pence or a thruppence or whatever, and I used to forever and a day collect and send away to Boans of Perth, mail order books. I used to devour books. All my life I’ve devoured books. I’ve got my own private library. And I used to collect bottles so I could buy books. In those days….
you had your catalogue and you sent away from the country to the city, to Boan’s or Bairds [store] or one of these places, and up would come the mail order things. So by the time we left the place in ‘55, we left the mine in ‘55, I was hell bent that I was going to be into adventure. I was going to run the world properly. I wasn’t going to be hounded or pushed or whatever.
And I guess being around so many uniforms and being in that environment influenced me more that I thought. There was only two things that I ever wanted to be. I wanted to be a farmer, I wanted Mum to send me to agricultural college but she couldn’t, or a naval officer. That was the only two things. You know how kids want to be fire engine drivers…but when we came to Perth,
after a period of time, I worked for a Carlyle Company and that was very, very good, and in a very short space of time, in the space of 18 months, I was left, and I was only 17, I was left to run a department on my own, which was pretty good, from starting to actually being the boss of a department. But I just couldn’t wait to join the military.
I did my exams when I still 16, virtually, and come 17 at Subiaco, I was waiting at the bus stop with the rolled up towel and the toothbrush and all that, and then amusing thing happened. While I was waiting at the bus stop…and I always wanted to go to the SAS [Special Air Service], always that was an ambition, and an SAS jeep broke down in front of the bus stop. Now,
later on we wore a sandy beret, but in those days it was the red beret. And of course my eyes are agog, these are the killers from the sky, or whatever, my ultimate goal. And there they were trying to work out what was wrong with the jeeps. Kicking the tyres in and the usual garbage, and I thought, “Do I have enough guts to say anything? Bugger it.” And I walked up to the leader, and I know
who he is now, because he later came back as a regimental sergeant major of ours. And I said to him, “Hey, I’m joining the army.” and I’m expecting, “Well done, son” or something like that. And he said, “Get out of it while you bloody can.” And then while my jaw was still hanging down, I jumped on the bus and out to command personnel depot. But that was 1957.
The Malayan Emergency went from 1948 to 1960, and even then they didn’t quite put down the insurgents, because we later on conducted operations on the border for a bit longer to ensure…But when everything finished, they actually carried on, the terrorists, until 1989, believe it or not. Which they eventually called the Second Emergency. Anyway, we were sent Kuala Kangsar,
and then from Kuala Kangsar we would be rotated onto the Malaysian-Thai Border. I say Malaysian, but in those days there was no Malaysia. It was Malaya. And we were rotated into different groups to hunt out the communist terrorists. The Emergency war had different phases of it - about three. The first third of it
was a little bit akin to what you have in Iraq, okay. Car explosions, attacks on people, everything that you are seeing in Iraq now, on the politicians, kidnappings, everything that you are seeing now. Then the middle level was where the actual security forces. Not a lot of people know much about the old Malayan Emergency as they called it. They called it an
Emergency rather than a war because the two major products, tin and rubber, were protected, insurance wise, by Lloyds of London, who would not do so in a war. They would have been destroying the economy of a country. They said, “We can’t call it a war, we will call it an Emergency.” So it became an Emergency. It was a very fierce thing, and something like 23,000 people died. That’s a lot of people.
I mean, people know almost nothing about it. Okay, then you had the middle bit where the security forces got control, then they took to the big jungle and this is where my battalion came in. We were put in and we hunted them in the deep jungle, all on the Thai-Malay border. So you can see the different phases. Our air force was put in
at phase one. In fact, one Australian bomber squadron conducted 80 percent of all bombing missions ever done there, was done by Australians. Our 2nd Battalion, the first initial one in 1955, was put into the middle phase. And by the time our rotation came through, we were called ‘deep penetrations’. We did deep penetration operations in hunting them out and keeping them on the move and so forth. That was our job.
worked us to death, we were all like marathon runners almost. You could use a cycle of 10, because let’s say, okay, you went in patrol, a patrol would last between 28 and 30 days, then you would come and do five days refit
or you got five days, which was either five days Penang, five days Ipoh, which is the old North Malaysian capital now. And this was an endless cycle. It never varied, at least while I was there. Perhaps it varied for others, because like every war, every phase, every year there are differences, but while I was there for a two and a bit years it never varied. It was in 28 or 30 days,
and I did two end-on-end, 60 days. Now I have no idea if you’ve ever spent 60 days under the canopy, because in the jungle, you’ve got a canopy virtually. Everything strives to go upwards, to try and get a bit of light, competing with each other, and eventually a canopy is formed under which you lived, patrolled, did everything. There is the odd bit of sunlight, but there is a dimness in everything about us.
There is a netherworld of leeches, spiders, snakes, call it whatever you like, all this sludge in the netherworld that you walk through, sleep on, etc. We slept off the ground if we could, mainly because of the parasites and everything, that were almost a greater danger to you than one of the communists shooting you in an ambush. There was hookworms, there was heartworms. There was rat’s
excreta and urine, which would give you thinks like leptospirosis. Malaria was common, I got it twice in spite of the Atebrin [anti malarial drug] tablets and so on you had to take. Anyhow, can you imagine working 60 days under this netherworld type thing? Or when your ambushes used to go for 24 hours at a time, I mean, they were 24 hour ambushes,
they could last 30 days, but they were manned 24 hours a day. Twelve-hour ambushes in some instances, you would mount them in the morning and come up in the evening. You always depend on the police information, the Special Branch information with that, because in the Emergency you were the response force to the intelligence agencies. And intelligence agencies
were spearheaded by the Special Branch, and the Special Branch got the intelligence. In other words, when you were fighting the insurgents, you are fighting them through the civil system and the army is just a back up. When you’re fighting a full-blast war, the army goes first and the civil system takes a back seat. Not so in the Emergency, they did it the right way. There was civilian authorities all the way conducting the jam, so to speak, with us the military very much backing up the civilian authority.
The police, the Special Branch. So every time you would be doing what intelligence demanded. Let’s say you had a DLB, a Dead Letter Box, because the terrorists used to communicate with each other…it was compartmented - that meant if you catch one he can only give you so much information. The CTs, the communist terrorists, used to compartment their exercises, with their couriership and all that,
so each courier who used to deliver the letters to a Dead Letter Box, a DLB, would only do that section. So even if you either killed him or captured him you would only get…Let’s say you killed him, you’d probably get letters for about that scope, but if you captured him he would be only able to tell you what he knew about that section and the people in that section. Say you were laying an ambush onto a DLB, a high-priority target,
that would mean 24 hours a day, rain, hail or shine, bucketing down, you would just be there…You would get relief from your base camp, which was set up at a considerable distance, or a good enough distance away not to give anything away, and there you would be 24 hours a day in ambush position. It wasn’t the most dangerous war that I was in, far from it, but it was by far the hardest work I’ve ever done in a combat situation,
bar none. We carried 10 days’ rations. What would that weigh? Sixty pounds, I suppose. A full complement of ammunition. And every 10 days, weather permitting, we would get an airdrop to keep you going. To walk into an area, of the border area, would take 10 days. So sometimes you would walk in 10 days, because you didn’t get a helicopter ride…If you got a helicopter ride to it, it was only 20 minutes. So,
you rode 20 minutes in a helicopter to what was a 10-day walk in the jungle. Sometimes it was by boat, because the Pera River dissected our state. Then it would be one day’s boat road to get the same AO, Area of Operations. So you had a choice. If you managed to get rostered a helicopter ride, you’d go in by helicopter, 20 minutes, then your operation
would start, you’d do 10 days then you would get your airdrop, your first airdrop. Or conversely, you get a day’s boat ride in, which was very hairy and very dangerous. The river claimed the life of some of our blokes as well. You’d get a day’s ride, or you walked in for 10 days to start your operation. Ten hard slogging days. Like I said, not the most dangerous
combat environment, but by far the heaviest work I’ve ever done in a situation like that. It’s an eerie world living under the jungle, under the canopy. Anything can pull, pulls, anything that can jab you, jabs you, anything that can bite you, bites you. You can’t see from here to there, you don’t know from one minute to the next what’s behind, and forget about the humans.
Sometimes the wildlife was very dangerous. We had tigers harassing some of our base camps. I’ve come face to face with a young tiger from a metre way. He in turn then, because we interrupted him, he and my mates, he stalked us for the full day. Now he would not attack us, because he was young…but if you go in an area where you’ve got an old fellow on his last legs,
he will attack a human. And they constantly did, the local indigenous people. The Orang Asli as they were called, the Malayan Aborigines, the pygmy people. Negrito and Temiar.
primitive, probably some of the most primitive people in the world at that time. They were a small, five foot two, brownish, curly-haired, Negrito type of a person. Absolutely…an anamite, or animistic or spiritualistic or superstitious but they read everything into everything.
Like, for instance, if you had a meeting, whereas it for you was just another meeting with another group or person, for them they were already trying to interpret the spiritual side. As far as they were concerned, the spirits were in the trees, in the butterflies, in everywhere, in you. You could be, maybe not a person, you could be the manifestation of the devil. So if the person you met was acting strange, and they did, and I’ve had them in front of me, it wasn’t perhaps because
they didn’t like to see you or like the look of you, it was because they couldn’t work out exactly what you represented in their spirit world. Now this might sound like a lot of garbage to somebody else, but this was how I really found them. It took them a hell of a lot to be at ease with you. They had the six foot-plus blowpipes, and they were the real, genuine dinkum primitive man. Their shelters were primitive. Sometimes
they were just even a very crude humpy. On the other hand, they could build the traditional Malayan thatched hut, and always off the ground so the tigers and things…it would be harder for the tigers and things to get at them. It was a pleasure for me, some of the other blokes didn’t share my sentiment, but I always found it fascinating to meet up with them, or to live nearby them or to
have something to do…The big disadvantage was that the communist terrorists had them well and truly under command. The head communist in our area, called Ah Su Chey, who I believe was part Malayan Aboriginal. He married 13 of the local maidens to keep them loyal. Some would say a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
But anyhow, he had extreme control over them. They themselves, I found, when I had the chance to talk to them, which was occasionally, and of course, it’s sign language stuff. It’s not…some of them could speak a smattering of English because we’d have the odd night, or nights in their encampments, which was a good case of the malaria I talk about, plus probably a couple of the other
diseases we picked up. All of us went down with malaria over the time we spent in their camps. At their invitation, by the way, we didn’t intrude on them. But they were the eyes and ears of these communist terrorists, as a rule. They spy for them, spot for them, they would provide a screen for them, and it made it terribly difficult for us. On the other hand, because of our instructions of where we had the hearts and minds thing, and we had to win them, we knew they were playing for the enemy,
we knew they were playing for the other side. We also knew that they really wanted to be left alone, that they were middlemen. The meat in the sandwich, and so it was very difficult for us. There were times when we thought about shooting them down. I was one time in myself, my section commander wouldn’t allow me to shoot them down. They were definitely couriers; they should have been shot down. Another time, another company, not me, did shoot them and got into trouble as a result of it,
even though there was a curfew there and nothing moved after dark, so to speak, except the enemy. Yes, it was a very difficult situation. The Temiar down south, in what we called the Garden Area, always had the Chinese influence. Whereas the Negrito had the typical slash and burn…they would chop down the trees and burn the undergrowth, and plant their dry rice, tapioca,
and whatever, in these very crude gardens, bordered off by just hunks of wood. Down south the Temiar who were already less Negrito looking and looked more like a very handsome miniature Malay. They had even features…could be my imagination, but they appeared paler. They appeared more refined. Very well proportioned. They already had the Chinese influence and I think some of the Chinese people actually
bought off them, bartered off them, be they communist terrorists or not. And they had these gardens, they were already westernised. They were larger, whatever they traded…the Malaysian and Chinese were always after their rattan. You know, the cane, they were always after that. They used to collect it and sell it as a river trade.
And actually the leader of the push in my time, on their aboriginal side, I’m running on memory here so people can contradict me…was a fellow called Kerinching, and he was down south. He wasn’t a Negrito, he was a Temiar, and controlled the whole area apart from the communist terrorist leaders like Ah Su Chey, and the other ones who names I can’t remember. In the end I think Kerinching surrendered
to our own commanding officer. Yes, it was very interesting but also very frustrating trying to conduct a patrol against an opponent, when they’ve got these indigenous folks acting as guides and scouts. You can imagine it, we were behind the eight ball straightaway. And also every 10 days taking a resupply, was very hard to miss a re-supply in the jungle, the aeroplane noise…If you got on a peak, or climbed a tree, you could see the
parachute canopy coming down. Casualties were both combat casualties say, and illness, which was the most. Illness, or the jungle. The trees were forever and a day coming down and breaking blokes arms, legs, whatever, particularly in the dark. Malaria, leptospirosis, the place was full of all kinds of diseases. It was very
difficult to get out. If you were carried on a stretcher, even if you found yourself a path that even remotely went in the direction that you want to go, trying to get four Australians, big Australians carrying another Aussie plus equipment on their back through that…and sometimes the jungle was almost impenetrable and you were desperate, because you saw your mate there on the stretcher and he was had it. And you knew it was a matter of time, you had to get him often. Often we’d find a
bend in the river, and that just gave enough space, with the sand, to hover a chopper over that. I actually medivaced [medical evacuation] once myself like that. In actual fact, the chopper couldn’t land. I was sick as a dog, thrown in, hurled in like a basketball and I landed on the metal floor…I was happy to get out, so don’t worry about that.
could clear 1,000 yards square, in those days, of jungle. Which is garbage, really. I mean, you only clear the piece of ground you walk over or where you stand, but that was a lot of the jungle stuff, to clear that, and devised different kinds of patrols which depended on the platoon commander or whoever the strategist was. Wherever you crossed-grain, where you crossed-grained, wherever you did a track search, wherever you did a feature search, wherever you did a
creek-line search, a spur-line search, depending on whatever you were allocated, and depending on what kind of evidence you found and then on that, how fresh? And wherever you laid an ambush on it. Or perhaps you had pre-intelligence to locate something…we were basically out there, apart from harassing and chasing the terrorists, and eliminating them, we were also
out there to collect intelligence or confirm intelligence that we had already gone out with. So you would have what’s called ‘finds’. An old camp. One time, I think there was two or three CTs, I can’t remember, but we actually came across them while they were cooking their meal. And even before we could engage them, they were gone in a flash. I mean, we could have given a hell of a burst
here and there, but we would have been shooting at trees. And there was their beautiful hot meal. And it wasn’t the local woodcutters or anything like that. It was the genuine article. So you could come across them that quickly. You would come across them on the spot. And this happened around the corner, one minute nothing, the next minute there it is. And you were surprised…and most of the casualties were caused by stray shots from either side,
or deliberate shots of course, if one spotted the other one first, ambush him, that was a way a lot of the casualties were done, or an attack on a camp. Attacking a camp…I personally went on a camp attack with a group from the 42 British Commando….By memory, came ashore and it was our area, so they had to have an Australian representative go with them, and with the Gurkhas [Regiment of Napalese fighting under British Army], too, on another occasion in our area.
But everything was finds. A bandage with blood on it meant somebody had been hit or stabbed themselves on one of the vines. It was just a never-ending cycle of chasing, finding, reducing, getting back intelligence. This is really how you fight a guerrilla, by your intelligence being greater than his,
and you being one step ahead of him. I mean, if you can deny him his aims, and his aim was to create an impression with the local people, pass over his political message, or whatever kind of message, in other words make an impact on the people he wants to make an impact and change, he’s won. But if you deny him all this, then he’s already lost, he’s useless, he can’t get his data. And that was part of the job after
the Emergency ended. The Emergency ended the 30th of July, ‘60, but operations continued until ‘63, what was known later as the Thai-Malay Border Ops. They were distinctly an act of service phase, but they were separate from the Emergency. The Emergency went ‘48-60. That was it. But after that, the Thai-Malay Border Ops continued. But the pattern was pretty much the same. Intelligence operations, counter-guerrilla, counter-insurgency ops,
and then I think our group pulled out, more or less. By that time we were involved in Borneo, we were also involved in Vietnam as well. I think the Malays after that, the Malays come Malaysians, were left more or less, apart from the odd time when we were seconded to them, to do some work. To handle what they called a Second Emergency themselves...
Are there any incidents you can recall that would demonstrate the level of mateship that you shared? And perhaps some of the humour of…
I think just being there…I just mentioned that we continued a rotation for 18 months. Now 18 months is a damn long time, and the mere fact that we were able to keep it up and we did. Now remember, we were carrying everything on our backs, you were nine times out of 10 on the sides of slopes, you were chasing after somebody who you also don’t know might be
waiting for you in an ambush position around the corner. You don’t know. Now, to do all of this, and survive in this environment, you can only do it with the support of your mates, with the humour. Humour, you want a humorous incident. Well, I don’t know whether it was when I turned 20 or 21 on an operation. At night-time, it was so pitch black that you could
poke yourself in the eye. And because of the dead fall, there was a constant dead fall…You know of the jungle giants rotting, falling down. There was no such thing of the old forest thing, look up, don’t park under a tree. Because trees were the whole thing, that’s why it’s a jungle. Anyhow, I drew the midnight shift…You could only get to your machine gun pit, which was a nominated gun pit, through a vine. If you didn’t follow the vine…
And shining torches and that weren’t on. So you followed the old vine to the machine gun post. Because it is so pitch black, you rely on your ears, the main thing was to listen out for dead fall. And this was one of the rules that we had in the platoon. And when you heard a tree coming down you screamed out, “Look up!”
Now what the hell you should look up for, I’m buggered if I know, because you couldn’t see anything. The only good thing is that you are conscious, or you are out of your sleep then. The amount of times that it was yelled out, I can’t honestly remember or even bothering to get out of my particular bed when the blokes yelled it out. But anyhow, that was the drill. You looked up and it either hit you or it didn’t or it fell beside the camp.
Anyhow, I drew the midnight shift and I turned 20 or 21, I can’t remember which. And I thought, “My God, there I am, 20 or 21, and there I am in the bloody jungle on an operation. All the other kids of my age were back home, getting keys to the door.” Number two on the gun at that time…I was number two to the Bren gunner. Macca. Good bloke Macca, and when I got relieved
I said, “I’ve got to celebrate somehow. I’ve got to do something to celebrate the occasion.” So I opened a can of steak peas and onion, cold, and while I was doing it I woke my mate Macca. I said to him, “Macca, Macca.” in the middle of nowhere. “Macca, I’m 21!” And I’m not going to tell you exactly what said.
I’ll give you the watered down version. He said, “So bloody what? Go to sleep.” And that was the kind of humour that you lived in. I didn’t care. I was celebrating my 21st birthday in this set-up. But humour just carries you, it carries you and your mates. Dry humour. Remarks. Some remarks…It went on for a long, long time.
What would you do when you had some leave up your sleeves?
I reckon we weren’t sober for five days. To begin with, to start off with. The refit phase, you would go back to camp and you always test-fired your weapons. You test-fired them before you went out, but you test-fired them when you got back. As soon as you test-fired them of course you put them in an immaculate position in your hands, to the arms cote, which was the Malayan Emergency version of the armoury.
Naturally enough, you got your body as in a good a shape as possible. If need be, go to the medical officer and patch up whatever you had to patch up. Or pump some vitamins into you, or whatever…incidentally, the nightly stand-to drill…stand-to is where you stand-to at last light and so on, in case they want to do an incursion on you, even a probe or whatever. So everybody stands-to at last light.
And just prior to that, the platoon sergeant and perhaps…the platoon sig [signaller], I don’t know who, would come around and it was mandatory and recorded, you presume it was, where you took a Vitamin C pill, a paludrine, anti-malarial pill, downed with a water bottle capful of highly overproof rum.
As a rum drinker, but only since 1960, I think my habit dates back to that. At the beginning it took us a while to get used to it. We also had in our ration pack, raisins and things like that, to give you the energy to push forward. I used to go through the raisins, but I had a couple of mates who were
real drinkers, I won’t say any more, and when a platoon sergeant wasn’t looking, I would pass my capful of rum to them to down, but of course I would collect their packets of raisins for myself in return. But once I developed a taste for rum, there was no such thing. And that didn’t take long. That took about a few rums. It was overproof. The air force were
particularly worried about it, because if it spilled in the fuselage of the aircraft during the aerial drop, it was one of the few things that would corrode the fuselage. The chutes were meant to be colour-coded as they came in. Like red for ammunition, yellow for medical gear and all of this. But the colour code they threw out the window, with the exception of the rum. They always colour coded the rum, I think that was red, from memory.
So you knew which one to get to first?
I suppose so, perhaps. I think it had something to do with themselves as well, looking after their aeroplane. And what did we do then? Well, we would make amends, that was what we called it, make amends, in other words clean up all your equipment. Your basic webbing, your…we wore jungle boots. Rubber-soled, canvas-side jungle boots,
lightweight. We exchanged them or if we couldn’t exchange them and they weren’t bad enough, we would clean them up as much as possible. You would get into number seven dress. Everything had a number. Number one dress was shorts, boots, socks - I don’t know about a belt - and a bush hat. I think that was number one dress.
Number seven dress was full civilians. You had number seven dress and you had the choice of the trucks parked there, you chose whether you went to Penang for five days, or if you went Ipoh. If you went to Penang there used to be the Garrison Club, which is a now a bank. I visited it. Which was cheap accommodation, military administrative accommodation for the troops.
Like where a bed in a hotel cost you, say 10, it wasn’t ringgits, it was straight dollars in those days. Ten a night. At the Garrison Club it was two. So what we used to do, because we knew we would run out of money, we would pay for five days worth of room at the Garrison Club. We never slept there. I can’t remember sleeping there at all, I can’t remember any of it, it was just back up for us when we ran out of money, because we would go through it
like it was water. We could book into a…half decent pub and start carousing and yelling and screaming and working your way through the bars and fighting with the other forces, and getting arrested by the provos [Provosts - military police], sometimes. And going to the ‘Run Bong’, which is the Thai non-contact dancing.
Where the very…taxi dances, you had to buy a ticket. In fact, most of the dances there you had to buy a ticket. There was no liaison, except for the ladies of the night, between a male European and local lady. There wasn’t much liasing between the blokes and the local ladies, even if they were married,
the man would walk in front and she would dutifully walk two metres behind him. But there were liaisons, let’s say, between a normal girl and white bloke. And sometimes he would be sent home. Sometimes he would be very badly threatened through the father of the lass, by the gangs that they had there.
Like the 08 Gang, the 303 Gang, you know the local extortionist gangs. And sometimes the communist terrorist back up group, the Min Yen, who were the outside army who supplied them, they also used to do extra curricular by being gangsters on the side. Robbing banks and things, which is very good for the coffers, for the cause. And we did one time, we took a young artillery with us, he patrolled with us for a good year. Just to get him out of the road of being…
killed, in town, at these different chances or other opportunities. And the Run Bong is where you dance with a girl without holding them, or perhaps hold her handkerchief…Incidentally, the young man who did patrol with us, her father put a huge ad in the Straits Time renouncing his daughter. She no longer belonged to him…this is then. We are going back
to the 1950s….Just saying, “This girl is no longer my daughter.” To save face for himself, within his own peer group. When you weren’t used to the system, you would walk up to a local lass and genuinely said, “What is the time, please?” No way in the world she would answer, back then, head down and away. Nothing. Wouldn’t speak to you. Even if she was a university graduate and you knew all the
English in the world, it didn’t matter. That was the system it was.
like a map perhaps that couldn’t be passed over the radio, and parachute it in or free-drop it in. And often when this occurred, they would free drop in mail. Or the mail bag would come in with a parachute re-supply. The best letter I ever got, in my opinion, is on my first operation from my wife to be. Which I still have. Your hands are so black, and when you’re holding
a pristine looking letter, and the contrast is too much for the old mind to…I remember one Christmas they also parachuted fresh bread into us. You look at your black hands and you’re holding this white piece of bread, it’s like a thing from another world. It doesn’t belong to where you lived, or where you worked. That particular occasion, three communist
terrorist Aboriginals wanted to give in, give up, and had tried to approach our unit to try and hand in their shotguns, their blowpipes and everything in. Imagine being at the wrong end of a blow pipe. But they were frightened by our appearance, because the communist terrorists used to fill them full of garbage about what we Australians…like we’d eat them.
As a matter of fact, there is recorded incident of them going around us to give themselves up to the Gurkhas or to the Kiwis, because they liked the Kiwis, because of the Maori boys. And funny enough, the local Malay Aborigines really loved the Maori boys as well. Of course, the Maoris are friendly. They tried hard, this group, and
one time our Eban tracker, each platoon had two Eban trackers. They were Dyaks from Borneo. I often was the scout or second scout, but in those terms you are the cover man, because at least one of your Ebans was up front tracking and you had to cover over his shoulder, and do the forward scouting over his shoulder, and he in actual fact spotted them, but the way they moved…
They lived there; they lived all their life in the jungle. The way they moved and used the foliage, he wasn’t quite sure but he knew that he had seen something. So in the end…his name was Unget, and the second Eban was Nerang. Nerang shared a bed opposite me in my shed. He’d taken two or three human heads, because he had the tattoo here.
Every time they took a human head they put a tattoo on their finger. He was the oldest. They decided that they were seeing ghosts. Put the fear of Christ up me. We couldn’t get out, they couldn’t speak English message well enough to impart the message. We knew something was going on around us, or about us, and we thought we were going to get ambushed at any minute. But in actual fact, it was the Eban
tracker sensing, seeing, that somebody was about us. And they were semi-primitive as well. Probably Unget is now the president of Borneo for all I know. Anyhow, that time he was still very much a primitive Dyak from the boondocks. They convinced themselves that we were surrounded by ghosts…so we didn’t
sleep, we were in a bit of a state of alert as well. Cut a long story short, it was the time we walked into a jungle fort, because each area, where there was a lot of Aborigines, they put in a police jungle fort. And that was not only to try and control the CTs, or for you to use as a forward operations base, but it was also a place where the Aborigines could seek shelter from the CTs, or pass on messages…
Try to win them over, do the hearts and minds. Now our forward jungle base was Fort Tapong. We were actually heading for Tapong because we were getting, for the first time, a fixed wing lift off their big pedang, which is their big sort of oval type thing. It wasn’t huge; because these twin Pioneer or single Pioneer aircraft were short take-off and landing aircraft.
Extremely. They could virtually land and take off in 100 metres, or 150 metres, and for the first time we were getting a lift out by these Pioneer aircraft. And so we were heading for the fort in this situation, where everybody….And the CT Aboriginals that wanted to give up, followed us, so as we entered the fort they followed us and headed straight for what we called the charge room, run by the local police there.
Straightaway giving in their shotguns and everything…we had a lot of conflict about it that night, and some of the oldies said it was better that it was done that way, than either get a shotgun blast in the face or one of the darts in between the chest here. Units get claims for captures. I think the local policeman got himself a claim of about seven CTs without doing anything.
Yes, of course. I think the long duration of two and bit years, two years, did get to you in the end. What I found in the end, coming out, that I…Funny enough, going on leave to Penang and Ipoh wasn’t a hassle because I guess we were still in our encapsulated leave environment with your mates around. But heading back into
the normal life, like Sydney is where we ended up, didn’t like the people about me. I think you got used to the isolation a bit. It’s not a matter of you don’t like traffic or something like that, and I guess it was with some of the other blokes, but you definitely left with some kind of…you got used to the sort of embryonic lifestyle.
And the open…it mainly had to do with people. An open area was fine, but the minute it got crowded with people, which you weren’t used to quite so much…because even if there might be 30 of you, you never saw more than the man in the front and the man in the back until you harboured up or until you had a no orders group. Generally if you saw two blokes behind you,
and we talked to each other in field signals…It was very important that you did keep in contact with the bloke in front and the bloke in the back…If you saw more than two then in that kind of environment, you were either two close to begin with, because you had to keep a certain spacing for tactical reasons, or you were hitting open stuff. But generally a platoon stretched out single-file, which was mostly what you could operate in, the terrain around you…
No, never saw much more than the man in front of you, and one or two men behind until you harboured up, until you came together for the harbour in the evening, when you got your permission ready for standing to and all of this kind of stuff. That is just the way that environment was. So even though you were working with 25, 30 blokes, most of the day you hardly ever saw them. You knew they were there, and the signals came and went up and down the rank…
Sometimes you could hear them, but then the platoon sergeant would demand a bit more silence. But really, honestly, patrolling was magnificent. You learned how to sway your body to go through the bush rather than bash your way, brush aside rather than bash away…Everything was down with field signals. We used to call it a jungle sway, with a pack on your back, to get
around the obstacles. Yeah, patrolling was top class. Stood us in perfect stead for Vietnam later on, perfect stead. I’d like to think a lot of Australians are safe and sound in their homes tonight, because of what us older Malaya and Borneo fellows managed to pass onto them about how to patrol in these jungles. I really believe that. It was really an invaluable experience.
you ease the pressure off and the other mob get on top. I guess when it came to an end, and we knew that we were heading back home and the authorities want to do the right thing and also give you a rest, I suppose. I’m not privy to their thinking. But they decided to feed us up and to give us an historical tour, which was in actual fact a retrace of the Japanese advance into Singapore. And so,
we started at the town of Jitra, in Thailand, and we followed the entire advance down to…across to the other side, north of Singapore on the mainland, but across to the east coast where the Australians in particular were. I’m into history, so for me…for some of the blokes it was garbage, and all they looked forward to was the beers at night and the steak. The first time we were
given a steak every night to bulk us out. So the beer and the steaks were beautiful, I don’t deny that, but for me the historical sights was terrific. And in the ’50s, you’ve got to remember it was only 10 years or a bit more, in our case, since the end of the war. And the pits were there, the gun pits were there, the pillboxes were there…what astounded me with them was, in some particular defence positions of ours, of the British Commonwealth,
that the pits were dug in such a shape, like in the World War II configuration. You had the walk away trench in the middle, then a firing pit, which eventually made it as big as a room, so you can see that that is easy meat for a mortar. And I could easily see how the Japanese mortars hooked into these lines. I mean, a blind man would hit them. But I was also told that this was the thinking of the
commanders from the Indian division, there was a lot of Indians there fighting at the time, in the Second World War, as the Japanese were coming down, as part of the Commonwealth, and apparently some of the old Indians…When I say Indian, they were British, but the ones that were part of the Indian unit, still had the World War I mentality, or the World War I tactics, because that is where they would have been as a young man. I was astounded at some of the defences…They weren’t the slit trenches that we were used to.
They were the big wide huge World War I type things you see on the World War I movies. Amazing stuff. I’m sure we were taken near a place called Bukit Kepong, which was a Malaysian position, northeast of the coastal township of Muar. Because we had to go from west to east, past Segamat,
and down to the east coast where the Australians had a particular do [fight]. They also fought on the western side as well, definitely so….but were eventually transferred over….Now on the Bukit Kepong side was a very significant action in the Malayan Emergency, it was in the ’50s, where something like
twenty four Malays plus their wives and children, apart from four or five wives and children that escaped, and four and five of the Malays themselves who were wounded and comatose, fought to the death against the communist terrorists. Fought to the death against 200 communist terrorists. It was called the Battle of Bukit Kepong. That to me was also…I wasn’t as keen on it as later on
when I realised the significance. I was more keen on the World War II rather the Emergency that I was a part of…I now am sorry that…I pay much more attention to it, but now is a long time after, whereas when it was in the ’50s…But you’re young and silly so what do you expect? How can you put an old head on young shoulders. Actually, I’m sorry about a lot of things now.
which was a policeman. A JCLO stands for, I think, Junior Commission Liaison Officer or something, but he is a policeman. During the Emergency you could shoot the bandits, as they called them, even, being not a war and them being communist terrorists and everything was fine. But when hostilities officially ceased, then of course you had to go before a court, as before on occasions when it before the court before as well,
depending on the circumstances, and this is where the policeman in your platoon would come up, and as being from the local jurisdiction, and you being a foreign Australian, would say, “No, all the rules of war.” blah blah blah. And this is why you had the JCLOs. Now most of the JCLOs were ex-communist terrorists. I just happened to be, hoochie-up, that means partner up,
a hoochie is like a tent, with the Gurkha JCLO who was an avid communist terrorist in the past but he seemed to be okay at the time. Actually, I liked him heaps. He was a terrific bloke. And he told me…he had been through the Emergency quite up towards the end of it, but as a communist terrorist. He said they feared three people the most. They feared the Fijians, through their sheer size.
They feared the Gurkhas for their professionalism and they were Asiatic like themselves. They feared the Australians very much for their aggression and their very quick response. He said these were the three they particularly feared. And that comes from him. Is that true? I haven’t the faintest idea.
It was ceaseless, the drills were ceaseless. Counter-ambush drills, contact front charges, where you charged forward actually because they were a smaller number and spread out…typical military drills. The drill
that you had was CT front charge. If you shot first, it was a contact; if they shot first it was an incident. Or if you just met and there was a dispersal and you had to run after them. The gun generally went to high ground, the rifle group, which is the group in your section which is the deployment side of the house went to the left.
But really the scouting command group had to run after these fellows. A pretty hairy occupation, because you don’t know what you are running into. But you only generally went forward to what we used to call, and considering that each unit did it differently, ‘Limit Of First Class Evidence,’ dropped hat, body, limit of first class evidence and then you stopped it. Perhaps even a great set of prints.
Identifying the terrorists was a big part of the communist picture, so if you could get any kind of intelligence you were quids in front. As a matter of fact, dead CTs were fingerprinted and photographed. And before, and it didn’t happen in our case, but before cameras were issued and partially because the CTs wouldn’t sign the Geneva Convention,
fingers were lopped off to be brought back to be fingerprinted rather than carrying the body out. The body was only carried out on a pole when it was near civilisation. And in some cases heads were severed and brought out for photographing so you had the mug shot. Pretty gruesome stuff.
I guess earlier on in the Emergency they didn’t have the luxury of the helicopters, although the helicopters came in fairly early on in the piece. I reckon the choppers were there as early as ’50. But yeah, to some degree only…helicopters came into their own in Vietnam. But to a fair degree, a lot of the chopper things came in during the Emergency. At least with our lot. We worked a hell of a lot of with helicopters. Western Whirlwind, Sycamores…
Also with Pioneer twin and single, Pioneer short landing and take off aircraft. Yeah, it was really starting to hot up and they were starting to bring in all the instrumentality, and all the sophistication you can see now. I had heard of a unit nearby, doing some things like that, in my time, but that unit is going to remain nameless even though they probably did it legitimately. And I mean fully legitimately because nothing
was signed. But the ID is you identify. Another drill was the immediate ambush drill where you…heard them first, and you used to use hand signals to show which side of the track your mob was going to go on. Everything was worked out to the nth degree. You slid into the jungle, there you were. Yes, I had a few immediate ambushes, but we never opened fire. And the one I discussed earlier,
we thought that they were Aborigines and we knew that they were the bad guys, but the political situation got a hold of the old commander before one of us did it by accident perhaps, maybe, perhaps if one of the blokes had of been a bit trigger happy, it would have been a different story. Perhaps the commander would have been decorated…I’m only joking. And harbour drills, where you do all round defence
and things like that. And then of course occasionally, occasionally, depending on the situation you did your clearing patrols and so on. But everything was judged at the time. You always had to think on your feet, always. It was good. Excellent training for young people. And navigation was…really hard. You were looking at 1,000-by-1,000 yard square, which was so tiny,
and you were trying to…You can imagine what 1,000 yards square piece of primary jungle is, and then compare that to a little tiny bit on the map. Yeah, it really brought up your navigation skills, really good, excellent. And somehow or other we managed it. We did it. We did it. And sometimes, us young fellows, 19 year olds, 20 years olds…Funnily enough, in my platoon or at least in my section,
most of us were bush boys, with a bit of a bush background. But that didn’t gel, because some of the city kids were quicker or smarter at picking up things than the old bush boys. But when it comes to looking at the terrain, the country people have the advantage because they’re used to looking at the vista. So they could really look at the jungle in a different way from a bloke who is used to looking at high rises all his life.
Conversely, he had advantages in other areas where you might not. But navigationally in my section, we did it. Really great, absolutely terrifically. When it was such a difficult job and we were so young. We were lost, and she was pretty awkward stuff. In fact, your survival training is a very big thing now, it wasn’t back then.
After the first day of no food and hard work, and we were really in a bad way, or perhaps that was the second day, and unless you’ve pushed your body when there is no petrol in the tank, you will never know the feeling. All you want to do is lie down, and the more you lie down, the less you want to get up. And this is really how the rot sets in. And if it hadn’t of been for our section commander who realised that we were
fading away, we…because I remember he was saying, “Get up! Get up!” And I was saying, “Please God, five more minutes. Please God, five more minutes.” Because you’ve got nothing to run on. You’ve got no energy source. What I noticed was that every part of your body ached, almost as if you could feel your bones. It was a strange sensation. To actually push yourself forward, after the second day or the third day, to push yourself forward after you’ve
had no food was just agonising. Absolutely in every part of your body. One bloke started to eat grass, which is the right thing to do; you get some Vitamin C in. Later on we learnt the right way, and there is plenty to eat in the jungle, and we chastised him because of our ignorance. We thought he was an idiot, but he was right. Our forward scout…and we were in a fairly
hot CT area, we really were in a hot CT area, he was so buggered that he was up front with his rifle over his shoulder like a walking stick. And none of us gave a hoot at all. We were that shagged. We were out of it, totally out of it. If it wasn’t for the old section commander making a firm drill of walking for 40, and resting for 20, but that’s all by the clock…
Anyhow, this pushing resulted in us walking into an Aboriginal camp. Where they fed us up and gave us shelter. And then the next day they more or less pointed us to river that allowed us to get our bearing again, and find our way back to camp, many days after we’d left. I don’t know how days patrol
we’d done on a water bottle full of water until the Aborigines gave us tapioca [root vegetable] and some bananas and a good dose of malaria and dysentery and everything else that went with it. But we were very grateful for them, and it was another great experience, being with them. When you’re sleeping with them…They had a long house which I was absolutely convinced,
a Comsi hut, that was built by the CTs. As a matter of fact the whole camp looked like a CT camp. It even had a little parade ground to one side. There is no way in the world a Negrito Aboriginal is going to give himself a parade ground. He might give himself a rough circular patch where they have their meetings, but this wasn’t one of those. This was a flaming ex-communist terrorist camp that they were utilising and using.
And half of them probably would have known the locals very well, and they would have known that we were there.
all the skills that you would normally have in a lager group. Like your own signallers, you were all trained as signallers, I was too. Medics…The first tour I was two things, a Pioneer, the explosives man in the patrol, or the medic. I ended up being the medic more than…and in those days that meant carrying the…we all carried morphine,
but albumen, which is a blood supplement to drip, to give your fellows a drip. Some blokes had to use it, I didn’t and thank God for that. I used to joke with my blokes, “Don’t you blokes get shot, because instead of the albumen I’m going to tamp you with an old sandbag instead.” And jokes like that. And your med kit
was highly sophisticated, or sophisticated enough for you to do…especially with the doctor on the other end, say, on the radio, advising you…And some blokes did do complicated, or not routine surgery. Even diagnosis of various ailments. We even had a code in our code books; everything was code, so we even had a code for intensity of fevers or things like that,
so we could actually communicate with the doctor giving him certain numbers and he would collate it at the other end, and he would come out and ask your opinion, and you’d give an opinion and he would either confirm it or say, “No, it’s not that.” And he would advise you on what to give the bloke, or whatever immediate extraction…generally an immediate extraction meant that the whole patrol had to go. There was no such thing as…You couldn’t get a re-supply.
So what happens is you carry your water. We looked like camels. We had four water bottles and we had a five quart bladder stuck in the front of our shirts. Everyone looked pregnant. Unless you came across a creek or whatever, which was fine in the wet season, but in the dry season, Phuoc Tuy was very much like West Australia. What training we did for it, we did down Collie, and I though it was ludicrous. However,
when we got there, it was….Unless you got up the hills where you got the Malayan type jungle, it was like Collie, certain parts of Collie. It was amazing. Because Phuoc Tuy Province is down on the lowlands. Yes, the training was good, the training was spot on. Yes, I carried the med kit, I was the patrol medic more often than not on that first trip. Lucky enough
I didn’t have to stick a drip in…I had other things though. Lucky enough I didn’t have to stick a drip in. I’m trained to do it, it’s not a problem.
Okay…Everyone carried a knife, of whatever their sort of desire was. Some people carried a K-Bar [type of knife], I carried an RAAF survival knife. It was excellent. You’d carry your grenades, from two to four, depending on your fancy. I used to carry mainly the normal grenades and an M34 phosphorous grenade.
And always two or three red smoke or mini-smoke, which was used for signalling, along with your mirror, along with your panel when you needed help from a helicopter or you needed fire support, and then you’d mark your position, you would lay it out, they would confirm the colouring, because the enemy weren’t silly. They also had radio sets and they were listening in. On at least one or two patrols we were actually jammed by them,
so they had sophisticated equipment in some areas. It wasn’t just…because their headquarters operated more or less not far from the Cambodian border. Which would be from here to Northam from us, because it wasn’t such a huge distance away. And they could listen out as well. At least once or twice we were jammed, absolutely jammed in our transmissions. So you’d carry our grenades…I always carried four loaded magazines.
I always carried an SLR [Self-Loading Rifle] weapon of my choice. This is a thing you have in the SAS, unless a patrol commander or special job demands you carry something else, you carried the weapon of your choice. I always selected what I used to call the old elephant gun, because it used to put people down well and truly…The 7.62 round. Other people were having with the 5.56 of the M16, often they had unders and overs. In those days, the 203,
which is the more advanced 5.56, with the 40-millimetre rocket launcher or grenade launcher you see underneath, which is common now, and variations of, or more modern versions of, were just starting to come in. We were sort of experimenting with them. As a matter of fact, our weapons were called XM [Experimental Model]. Experimental model. XM148, which had the normal M16 with the original 40-millimetre grenade launcher underneath.
XM203, Experimental model 203…And all the weaponry you see now virtually comes…The younger brothers is what you see. Spot scopes. We started experimenting with single spot scopes, where you would just aim through the spot, and whatever you were aiming at was virtually hit. These were all new concepts. Now you see all of them fitted with the sight or the night laser and the night sight bit.
The starlight scope, which was the night vision device, was huge and heavy. It wasn’t useless at all, it gave you imagery, but that was about it. A tube about two foot long weighing about five kilos I would say, or four kilos. It really…Often you carried a spare Claymore mine in your pack.
I also used to carry an extra bandoleer of ammunition in reserve. So I had my four magazines in my pouches, I had a large 30-round magazine on my SLR, which incidentally the armourer, in our case, converted to automatic. The SLRs as a rule went into automatic. A single-shot fire.
But in our case that were legitimately converted to an automatic rate. Being a small amount of people, and when you were trying to save your bacon, you had to have a great amount of firepower to break contact and so on. Yes, and then a spare bandoleer in a pack. How many rounds would that amount to? Give or take…200 I suppose.
From the very onset I knew what the hell was going on. Now whether we had a shootout on that one or not, I don’t know, but we actually got surrounded and that was exciting. We actually started our reconnaissance mission, and all of a sudden, after a day, the message came around,
“No talking at all, it’s all hand signals.” And you know little clicks of the tongue, and speaking through your hands and your eyes and gestures, tapping, we all knew the lingo. Got the lingo from the bloke next to me. That means we were up stakes and we’re off. And he whispered to me, I was the last on the chain, and he whispered to me, “We’re surrounded.” And he of course took off,
as fast as he could go. I mean we tippy-toed around but when you had to move fast, you moved fast, and he moved like a rocket. He was my mate, we worked on this patrol. Then I looked around and all you see is this wave of moving trees coming towards you. I nearly caught up to him. I really don’t know…I think we
managed to get away from that one without opening fire. I could have…But I think that one we kept nice and quiet, and we brought back some good data there. So the first patrol was, you’re surrounded…Yes, it makes you think. The fact that it was harder not to have a shootout than to have a shootout.
That was real war, you know, bullets-flying war. And then of course it happened sooner rather than later, and it’s always hairy, five of you, four of you against a platoon or whatever…The bits and pieces are falling off the trees and the lead is flying past. But then you break contact and you escape, you got to one side, they were onto you…The only thing that ever used to pause them, we knew it from the prisoners,
is because our weapons were automatic, they were confused. See there is a ratio in most armies. A section consists of around nine men; you can have more or less. But always the main firepower is a machine gun. So all the other soldiers count how many there are by the machine guns. If you hear one machine gun, if you hear two machine guns, you know there are about 18 blokes. You hear three machine guns, you say, 30…But all of a sudden you’re hearing five
going off in session. And quite apart from that is a lot of firepower coming in towards you, and even though you’re a fanatic you don’t really want to die. I mean now you’ve got the religious people doing it in a different way, but believe me; the Viet Cong didn’t quite do it that. They were very brave and very dedicated but they came to a grinding halt when they were greeted by the firepower of five automatic weapons. It confused them. To hear five automatic weapons, that would mean about 100 people
as far as they were concerned. A company, they were striking a company. They’d, “Shit, we better ease up on this, we’re going up against a company of a hundred blokes.” But it wasn’t, there was only five of us. And by the time they sort of got it sorted out, we were gone like a rocket. You can imagine us. It gave us that breathing space to break contact, to go off on our flank, outflank and then as soon as we could ask for the helicopters to come and take us out. Because to stay there was suicide,
absolute suicide. Sometimes they would spot you going in and they would signal with their rifle shots. It wasn’t for quite a while later until we debriefed another prisoner that…we used to hear four or five rifle shots, and it was a signal. How many of us landed. One for each of us. The signal shot is generally one or two. It took us for a while. When they were sick, lame or lazy, they were put on an
LZ watch, a Landing Zone watch. Wherever they had a radio or not back to their main camp, or whether they sent a runner back, whatever…but all their main sort of landing zones, all the sick, lame and lazy, wounded, they always had them watching. So often even if we landed on the far side of the clearing and we used to try and edge in as far as we could…and the drill, we would be gone in 10 seconds.
And as I say, the helicopters would lay cover and deception. But having said that, we were still humans. And we were up against other humans, so no matter how good you are…and often, the early signal shot you’d hear, perhaps from the other side, four or five, they were really counting us and letting the rest know. Some commanders would then dispatch their patrol to tail us. To track you.
Some commanders would tell the tailing patrol to just keep an eye on us, and then they would come and take us out if we looked like being dangerous, in their minds. Some commanders, I’m reciting…I know what it’s like on the ground, I’ve experienced it all on the ground, but there is nothing like a prisoner telling you…Some would straightaway send out like the old Zulu horns, and sort of try and cut you off
and get you in the guts, that happened a few times as well. And of course, we knew all that. It didn’t really matter which flank they were coming from, as long as we could handle it and avoid them was the main thing. But if we couldn’t, then we’d have the normal contact situation…and we had code words and things to send. It was not uncommon in some situations that you be rolling your aerial out and some bloke would be tapping out
the extraction word, code word, and the Viet Cong doing the sweep would get the signal wire on the throat. One particular time there was a tug of war between our fellow and the bloke on the other end, trying to pull in his aerial. This was common stuff. I was in a camp many times but this never happened to me, one of the blokes actually got the line
in the throat, the old clothesline, and one actually fell down their gun pit. It’s really unbelievable situations. We used to get them in every kind of position. Like on the bog house, making love…sometimes we’d shoot them, sometimes we didn’t. It depended on the job. It was just unbelievable stuff. It was very normal then
but looking back on it now, it wasn’t quite the norm I suppose, I suppose. They hated us, they absolutely hated us. We were their number three hate.
acquired and intelligence target, most of the intelligence targets came from us. We would plot their camps and then gunners back at Nui Dat would plot in whatever the task force told them for that night, and then at one o’clock in the morning, two o’clock in the morning, they would just roll out of bed and fire a salvo. At the other end, the Viet Cong would be nice and asleep and the next minute they were under this huge barrage, out of nowhere.
That is harassing and intermittent fire or acquired intelligence target fire. And they do it intermittently, anytime they like. And according to the prisoner, it had such an effect that they started to sleep without their mosquito nets. And their rate of malaria went sky high. Things like that. And we were number three, according to this lady who used to come on that
we called Hanoi Hanna [propaganda radio broadcaster]. We would jump out of the bushes and stab their honourable men in the back. The price on our heads, if we were to believe it, was more than a helicopter. A helicopter I think was…a bag of rice and perhaps the bike, but we were 15,000 piastres, that is their local currency,
15,000 piastres, and we were guaranteed a trip to Hanoi for interrogation. I think…15,000 piastres was the price on our heads. And they tried a few times to put us in the bag; to capture us rather and take us in…15,000 piastres for them was a lot of money. More than a year’s wage.
The average Vietnamese soldier who has been away from North Vietnam for about four or five years, his pay would be something like two dollars a month, or two dollars a week, or two piastres …15,000 piastres was like…Yes, it was quite a thing. They said we would jump out of the bushes and stab them. They had called us Ma Rung.
Phantoms of the jungle. Phantoms of the jungle. And there is another thing we didn’t realise. When we shot them or whatever, what appeared to aggrieve them was that we left the bodies laying face down, some of them. We just left them as they were. This was combat, right. So we get in there and we realised…
they thought we did it deliberately, because apparently you are meant to roll the body over so that the soul can get to heaven. And they thought that we deliberately left them lying face down. And we never had the faintest idea about that. It’s amazing what you learn from the enemy. They were scared of us; they didn’t like us, that was obvious.
You didn’t have to be Rhodes Scholar to work that out. They reckoned we were brave, that was okay.
Helicopters would always be governed by an Albatross leader, as we called it. A high helicopter that had a greater picture of the thing, rather than the helicopters down at tree level, who were going to do the operation and pluck you up. And he would command wherever they needed a strike first, to neutralise the enemy around us. And then of course,
as soon as they came near, we would get on our ‘SABRE or ‘PR66’ I think they called it. Talking on their frequency…But to attract their attention we would hit them with a mirror, we had a mirror. They reckoned the flash of the side of fuselage, where the Perspex is, used to be so huge it would blind them even and for us on the ground it was so small.
Then they would talk to you, they would verify you with a panel, then they would ask you throw smoke, but you didn’t tell them what colour. They would look around, because the Viet Cong if they were around, they would throw smoke, too, and the chopper would ask you what colour yours was. It was a bad mistake for the other blokes if they had another colour, because then they used to use that as a
marker and absolutely demolish them. That’s like marking your own positions. So that was a bit of a precarious job for them. And this is how an extraction took place. It was either the decision of the Albatross lead, because by that time he was in charge and you were just a package. He would let the gunships well and truly neutralise the ground, strafing, or have the gunships standing by. Have the slick ship come and pick you up first and respond.
And they used to do all sorts of cover and deception, criss-cross patterns and whatever. But the minute you were lifted, they would saturate the area. Absolutely saturate it. One particular patrol, and in two tours there was a lot, so you try and get it clear in your head…
We were in an area where there was a huge battle between the Republic of Vietnamese soldiers and the Vietnamese. A huge battle. And the artillery had gone in and really pasted the area. And a B52 strike had also gone in. That particular task was a
bomb damage assessment, or a battlefield assessment. Sometimes you were tasked in to do a bomb damage assessment. You had to go in and assess how successful…Which was horrific stuff. You are in and out of huge shell holes. And some of these unexploded, or these 1500-pound bombs are sticking out of the ground like darts. But anyhow, it was very hard going and often you needed a disposed area, because one B52 strike
could virtually clear an area of 2,000 metres by 10,000 metres, one aeroplane alone. Which was a fair strip. Imagine a whole flight coming in. Anyway, this was a battle damage assessment area…It was eerie, it was ghost-like. They had shot all hell out of it…
As explicit as you’re prepared to be in regards to this incident.
In actual fact, from where I was on the flank I had a wonderful view of the man stalking us…There was a tall one and a short one, and the short one was very, very small. Anyhow, when he got the point where…because we were quite prepared with our job to let it pass, to let him pass. But once somebody is stalking you it is pretty hard to
break contact and get out of his way, but we were hoping against hope. So we let him come, from me, two metres, three metres…Incidentally, in both my tours, I think the furthest I ever got at a bloke was two or three metres. It was always that close. No way in the world was it something like 50, or 40 or 30. It was always
two or three or metres when we engaged….well, we did anyway. So this was it, we engaged the bloke with the crossbow and we well and truly drilled him. And I still remember movement behind and I give it a bit of spray or whatever. Anyhow, part of the job was…them not having the administrative system we did, carried the gear on them, so paybooks and things were always in their packs.
Valuable intelligence, right. Often signals movements. So our job immediately always was when we got one of them was cut off the equipment and we would carry it all back and give it to the intelligence people. So that always means somebody does the searching. So the boss yelled out, “Paddy, search the bodies.” No problem. We put a lot of bullets into this man,
because he was coming into a half circle almost of us. By this time we were all pretty hardened, but his back was so riddled that I said to the boss, “We’re not going to turn him over, are we? Because the other side is always worse.” He said, “No, no. Cut the gear off him and let’s get out of here.” So I’m running forward with my knife when
all of a sudden the smaller one runs out, who happened to be a kid. And a head wound, bleeds like mad. You cut your head and…well, it was an horrific sight. He would have been a boy of about nine, like I was after the Second War. He yelled out, “Uc da loi, Uc da loi.” which means ‘Australian’ and comes running towards me,
and I’m there cutting the gear off this fellow. And I don’t know if he grabbed hold of me or if he cuddled me, I just can’t remember that bit…I really can’t. But anyhow, that was a shock, that was an absolute shock. And of course, the people who had earlier fired the shot on the track had gone ahead of us and heard this shooting, and now they were all turning around and coming back towards us.
So there we were, with this dreadful situation, this young kid, who had obviously been wounded in the head, we got some intelligence, we were doing our job and of course the bad guys are bearing down on us like steam. So, the boss said, “Paddy, shoot the kid.” Now whether he meant it or not, I don’t have a clue. By rights, that’s it. Because there’s only five of us and we were outnumbered. I said, “No way in the world, you do it.”
And he said to the 2IC [Second in Charge] of the patrol…Not because we were cruel or any damn thing, this was a pretty desperate situation. Any minute…if you delay much more, you are going to be dead as a maggot, these are the decisions and the choices that you have got. Anyhow, he said to the patrol 2IC, “You shoot the kid.” And he says to the boss, “Go and get stuffed!”
There was this big argument with the whole enemy bearing down on us, and there we are having an argument about a humanitarian issue. Anyhow, Maller solved it. He ran forward, grabbed the kid and then we peeled off. We had a drill. Firing and peeling off…there we are running through the scrub like mad things, in a line, control, with a kid under the arm. I remember the
old signaller who at this particular point in time hadn’t been able to do his stuff, I mean we had to be able to get away and get into some sort of a safe, calm situation and send a code word to say, “Come and get us.” I remember…he sort of had the crossbow at the ready as well. As soon as we could we sent the code word and we said, “There are too many of them.” Then of course,
over comes the bird, the Albatross one, but mind you, it took 40 minutes. So we had to hide away and avoid for 40 minutes…And the kid was extremely well trained, and I mean trained like a soldier. When we went into all round defence he took his part, he went down in a fire position. He had no rifle. And even though we were gunning against his people. When we gave him a drink of water, because we knew he must have been in some kind of
state of shock, he didn’t just scull it, he sniffed it. He put it in his mouth, swilled it around, spat it out, decided it was all right, then had a drink. We’re talking about a nine-year-old kid here. When we gave him a chocolate bar, he smelt that. He didn’t gobble it down; he put it in his pocket for later. Anyhow, when the Viet Cong pressure came on, he started to gibber a bit, perhaps
maybe even calling out to them, we said, “Shut up!” he shut up immediately. He followed every order exactly like a trained soldier. We were amazingly impressed. Anyway we managed to get the signal up and over came the bird, after a while, it was an agonising long weight. And this comes back from an extraction, he said, “No good, I can’t get you out of there. No good.” He said, “I can’t get you out of there. No good.” He said, “This is what I want you to do. I want you to get in line,
I’m giving you a compass bearing. Your last man puts the red panel over his pack. But don’t deviate. And when I say go I want you to run on that compass bearing.” Which was all right up there in a cool aircraft, but down below…The bloke holding the compass’ hand was like that. He had us all very worried. Anyhow, when he said, “Go!”
We did, we ran on that bearing as best we could, keeping in mind the logs and the trees and everything. And you wouldn’t believe it, he had a gunship on either side of us, he formed a tunnel. And we were running and to be on the wrong end of there, to be down at ground level with the gunships, and they’ve got mini guns on either side, 6,000 rounds per minute…which
is pretty flaming fierce I think. And the crescendo down at this level was just unbelievable. So there we were running in a tunnel…we were very frightened of deviating off it now with all these hornet things coming on either side. He got them to fire a nice path for us through, until we got to another clearing and then he said, “That’s it, stop there.” That’s the bloke controlling it up there; it was out of our control by then.
And we propped and then he said, “Now throw smoke.” which we did. He said, “That’s funny, we’ve got two of them. What colour is yours?” Now I can’t tell if ours is the same as theirs, but it didn’t matter, he very quickly sorted out, with our mirror or our panel, and plus the fact that they were looking at us as we were running, and within minutes that other smoke was pulverised.
Forget it. Absolutely pulverised. And the next minute the pickup ship flared…You know how a helicopter loses speed by flaring, like a big dragon fly and virtually dropped into our lap and we just all ran on. I can’t remember if it was one or two. As we lifted, the door gunners just opened up and let it rip. I think we also shot out. And that was when the kid lost it and started to cry. That was the only time he lost it, but I mean
that was such a…unless you were used to that sort of stuff, it was real traumatic stuff. Anyhow, the bottom line is this. He was the son of a…his dad was the guerrilla leader for the area, and he was with him when he was shot the week before. The person who was with him was his uncle, and he was on patrol with his uncle. His mum was sick and tired of the guerrilla life…I can’t remember the unit or whatever,
and had in actual fact surrendered to the nearest ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam], Army of Republic Unit, and gave herself up. However, they being what they are made her an agent and sent her back, and said, “You’ve got to stay.” They probably blackmailed her, said that, then said they would tell the rest of them that was an agent provocateur or whatever…and in the meantime, of course,
this kid is going out on patrol with all his relatives, which the security forces are killing in front of him. Anyhow, the upshot of the whole thing is that when we got him back to the task force, we got a voice aircraft up from the intelligence people. I forget her name, Mrs Wi, and the voice aircraft flew over the area, it was pinpointed by then, and said, “Mrs Wi, we have your son. Please come out of the jungle immediately.” By that afternoon she was out, we put him in the orphanage,
and by that afternoon she was out and rejoined with her boy at the orphanage. Because afterwards we used to send money to…and she just gave us bundles of intelligence, just an absolute bundle of intelligence. It’s a classical example of how an extraction can happen.
But the 40 minutes it took, that’s a long 40 minutes. That’s one. There is oodles, oodles, oodles more.
I won’t go into the whole preamble of it, but we got to the point where we were confident enough because we had some armoured personnel carriers nearby, where we could attempt a snatch. To attempt a snatch, to take a prisoner…prisoners generally happened rather than you deliberately snatching them. Like, we did try all kinds of things, like using gas or whatever…and we did take prisoners, but as I say, more often than not it was a happening rather
than a deliberate snatch where you had to take a man. But on this occasion, I decided with the situation as it was, and I only had a few minutes to make up my mind, I was either going to shoot him dead on the spot or sort of take him. And I had my mate Billy, was just next door, it was his first patrol in country. I placed him on this side of the track because I was actually, at that point in time, providing protection
with a bunch of armoured personnel carriers. They were actually infiltrating us, as a cover deception moving into this very bad area. Anyhow, along they came in about five seconds flat. The reason I got into that sort of idea was that the fellow had absolutely…He had equipment, he was a Viet Minh [literally – Vietnamese communists] no doubt and behind him was his Viet Cong mate in the
atypical black Viet Cong local gear, but this fellow was a very big man for a Vietnamese, authoritative, he had a proper uniform and all this kind of stuff. But I couldn’t see his AK47 [assault rifle], so I thought, “Unarmed.” you know. I can’t remember the second bloke. I remember him, I can see him, but I don’t know, I couldn’t see a weapon on him. If I had seen a weapon on either of them I would have just dropped them like a hot potato and that’s the end of the story.
Anyhow, a rush of blood to the head. I let him come up to about two metres away, and then I said really loud, “Dung loi.” which is ‘give up’ or ‘hands up.’ And he did, they were rooted to the spot. But the thing was he couldn’t see me. He heard the voice, but I was in the bush and so was the other bloke, the rest of them were way back, there was only two of us. And
he just didn’t realise that I would have to get up, stand up to my full height and confront him and I did. I bore down on him, I looked him in the eye and I said, “Dung loi.” I thought, “We’ve got this fellow, he’s going to do what he’s told.” No way in the world. What I didn’t realise was his AK [rifle] was tucked here and in a flash he had it out and he was firing about here. Blasted past my right hand side, ruffled my hair like that and
by that time I had hit him two or three times here, spun him around, and then my other mate just went, thrum, and drove him back with his burst…I’m not going to go into it, but buckets of blood came out of the person. He dropped his weapon, and I could see the rest of his mob coming up behind me. So I suppressed that and of course by that time my other mates were coming down and joining in…
By that time we were up and we moved forward to the bend, around the bend, and I don’t know how the other blokes felt, but every time I had to get up when I felt somebody had me, it’s quite a feeling. That’s when you’ve got good discipline. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. Your legs are rubbery…Anyhow, we got to this spot where his mates
had picked them both up. They’d both been hit and they were dead. So we did a follow up, myself and another mate were the tracker for, but because we they were nearby, Task Force decided on infantry, because we were SAS. We were classified then as ground troops and infantry follow up. And we were pushing towards a very big camp of theirs, which we suspected was Dong 10, a kind of
a Special Forces camp, and also by memory, where an American push the side we came in from, rather than the Australian side, had lost about…I don’t know how many were killed attacking it. And there we were like the last…especially myself and Blue…patrolling down. Like shags on a rock. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, they discovered back at the other end
a big cache of explosives, and food, rice…so all of a sudden our exercise up the front, the attempted capture, was forgotten and they wanted to get into the heavier-duty cache. But even after that, because we were on our way to be infiltrated. For once not by helicopter. I’ve been infiltrated by helicopter, by sea,
the D Day type thing, vectored in from a small boat by radar and all of that, and walking in…And anyhow, we were continued…we radioed to Task Force and asked to call the game off, because we thought there was too much shooting activity. We were supposed to infiltrate clandestinely. Not advertise our presence to all and sundry. Anyhow, Task Force refused us so we
had to keep going. Down we went and we infiltrated into this area. Now we had a drill with the armoured personnel carriers, they would do false turns and things like that. For anybody watching, they wouldn’t know what point we just slipped away. By that time we were in our camouflage gear and all of that. As sure as hell, they worked it out, they weren’t silly. And we heard the signal shots just before dark,
that they were onto us. That the trackers had found our tracks, which we’d go to great pains…we’d move very slow to cover. That was why we moved slow in everything. And by this time, we had a camp in front of us, or a transit camp or a staging camp…So there we were, with last light, and a group in front and a group right up our bum, the trackers
right up our bum. Not very desirable. And in the middle of a huge track complex which we were trying to avoid. Jokes, humour. Patrol Commander M. Bullock, a mate of mine, I had to sleep on one of the tracks because his logic was the passing Vietnamese would kick me in the head and then I would wake the rest of them. I don’t know, but I had a good night’s sleep anyhow. And obviously nobody come past.
But anyhow, the next day we advanced on the camp to do a close reconnaissance on it, and while we were doing it the blokes caught up with us - the ones up our bum - so what we did then, priorities first, we decided to ambush the fellows up our tail. So we put the Claymores [mines] out, give them a good blast and that kind of finished off that
exercise for a short time, not very long. Because they were all over the place. I was the last man, closest to the position, and as they withdrew through me, they threw down some of their grenades, which was the drill on that particular patrol that I was with. Each patrol has a different thing. In their patrol, the man closest to the action throws all the grenades, which I did of course. But some came bouncing back through the branches and everything, and of course they were getting a fair old head start on me,
in this particular case. And then of course they were in a clearing, and then we’d have to run over the clearing one at a time and try and avoid their fire. Of course, I’m the last man. You’d think by that time they would get their aiming, wouldn’t you? Anyhow, it was the same old set-up, there was too much for us to handle, and the helicopters were called. This time they were a bit faster
and the first gunship coming in to do the bit of a look-see was straightaway came under ground fire. This time, because we didn’t have a proper pad, we were winched out, two at a time hanging onto this winch. While we were actually going up into the old chopper they were really getting into us. They were pinging into us as we were hanging underneath…and my rifle
got stuck underneath the skid and the crew chief was going berserk, because nobody likes to take the old ground fire. I didn’t enjoy it either, but he thought I might have caused it. Once inside, he was busy working the winch, I got behind his twin M60s [machine gun], they’ve got them on either side and I just saw my mates down on the ground, by that time they were back to back, so I just shot a good little pattern for them around while they were
winched up. And that I would say is…I don’t know how you read it, but there were a couple of close shaves there as well, I would say. This was pretty normal fare, it didn’t happen every patrol. There was patrols where you never saw anyone and you had a quiet time. They weren’t that often. The hotter ones, you were more generally…
I don’t know the percentage, but the percentage of the hot and hairy ones were…they may not be predominant but they were certainly one for one.
’71, when I think I come home from my second tour, perhaps up to ’72, you’re not really disengaged. All right, you come home to your family and all right, you might be away from the location, but you are not away from the job. And you are getting briefed every day. There was briefing every day because you don’t know when you are going to be on a plane back again,
and you were training the new blokes. So what I virtually did between tours was I trained the next batch of blokes. And I was away from home. I can’t remember the time, but I was very seldom here. I would say that I would be…In the 12 months between the tours, I would have spent at least eight not home, training the next lot of blokes intensely for the job.
And I mean intensely. You had to impart everything to keep them alive. And the most gratifying thing…I can recall, is a young fellow, because we used to keep off the tracks, we weren’t in a position to be bold enough to use them because the tracks were their highways, right. So we used to teach a track and we had a track crossing drill.
Where you put out your flankers and so on. Or perhaps sometimes depending on what assessment the patrol commander made, you lined up and quickly got over, where speed was more important. And there was this young fellow, and I trained many, but there was one particular young fellow because I then rejoined his squadron up there. Not actually my own, I actually served for a short time with 3 Squadron.
My phrase for teaching them was that when you stepped on the track, be prepared to kill your mother. I said, “That’s it. When you step on a track, you be prepared to kill your mother.” I used to drum it into them, drum it into them. I said, “Because it happens so fast…” And anyhow, I went up and joined 3 Squadron for a while. I knew my own
squadron…when I say my own, it’s the squadron I did most with, but you don’t own any squadron, you get posted to one. And he came up and he…shook my hand and he said, “Paddy, I want to thank you very, very much.” I said, “Why is that?” He said, “First track we ever come to, first patrol, your words came to me.” When you step on the track,
be prepared to kill your mother’.” He said he got on a track, Charlie [Viet Cong] put two rounds through his sleeve and he dropped a man and got over the other side. And he thanked me, and I felt so great. I felt so great. He got on the track and the Charlie put two in his sleeve. Now that’s getting close, isn’t it? But he got the upper hand.
What about your job on the second tour. With intelligence, what did that actually encompass?
I did all facets of intelligence. Unofficially I ran my own net, which was often based on how many drinks you bought who and who you snivelled up to and how you could get yourself onto distribution lists. And I managed to do a bit of that.
I was responsible for all infiltration and ex-filtration patrols. I used to give the pre-infil [pre-infiltration] brief, like where were the enemy, where were your groups, so you didn’t shoot them up or have an accidental shootout between friendlies. On your information the Albatross lead would often plot the flight paths or the tactics for the infil or the ex-fil. But generally, all and every kind
of intelligence that I could cram in and collect from all and every source. And then when a patrol went out, it was my job to brief them or give them the data for their area, plus I think up to two or three thousand metres beyond it. And once they were gone, once they had infiltrated, which I also did, it was my job to go down to the air
planning, and to make sure that they were safe, that they weren’t bombed accidentally. And out of the intelligence I gathered from every source and distributed, I gave all of the morning intelligence briefs, and also updated our intelligence maps to the point where marking in topographical information which wasn’t marked on your maps
but had been brought in by the fellows. I would collate it all. So in the end we had a very up to date…so whenever we went to an operation in an area, they had the latest. Even though the map mightn’t show it, I would draw it in, or have them draw it in themselves. Like the intelligence…I put a time limit on it, like 48 hours,
maybe a bit longer. The intelligence they had was timely. But I’d bring in earlier stuff, if I needed them. It was a very heavy-duty duty, and it was a 24 hour a day job. It was very satisfying. And I patrolled, too, quite a few and still had my shootouts as well.
A big mistake. I really don’t believe you should be allowed to come home. It sounds fine, it sounds great, but when you go back after actually coming back to the unreality…you say the reality of home, but the unreality…because by that time, what went on there was real and this was unreal. And I mean when you land back, in your defence position, after you’ve been home seeing your wife, seeing your kids, five days only…
I don’t know how the other blokes reacted to it, but it sort of took the momentum or the wind out of your sails. Like my son, if they go into a situation like that, I’ve got three sons, tomorrow, I would say to them, “For Christ’s sake, don’t come home. Go to Hong Kong, go anywhere, get pissed, play up with the women, do whatever you like. But for Christ’s sake…” Because you go back and you just can’t…
And the minute the fire in the belly dies remotely you are up for getting that third eye, in my opinion. Bad mistake. I was sitting in my lounge room, had the next door neighbours there and she called me a killer. The next door neighbour! It was a very bad atmosphere. I never got pelted with tomatoes like some of the blokes
definitely did. We used to sneak into the airports, not like chest out, although we carried ourselves that way. It used to be...almost like trying hide you away. There you are, fighting for your country, upholding the pride of your nation and when you come back from doing exactly that, what do they do? They try and sneak you in the back door. No, it was a very bad atmosphere. Full uniform with
my ribbons on, I wasn’t allowed into an RSL [Returned and Services League], at all. I was stopped by the bouncer at the door. I said to him, “Listen, all these civvies [civilians] are going in.” There I am in full uniform, I’m transiting from R & R [Rest and Recreation] in Perth back to Nui Dat and you’re not allowing me to come in for a drink. He said, “I’m sorry, mate, I’d like you to, but it’s my instructions from the president of the RSL.”
I said, “Okay, can I please speak to the president of the RSL?” So the president came outside, wouldn’t even go inside the doorway, this was the Sydney RSL, I said the same thing, “Look, I just come from a war zone and I’m going back to a war zone. I just saw my family in Perth, I’m transiting, I’m in the camp, I’ve just popped down here for a drink and there’s your bouncer on the door not letting me in.”
He said, “Oh, you Vietnam vets are a bundle of trouble. You all just want to cause trouble.” He said, “That’s my instructions.” I don’t want to tell the camera what I told him…pissweak, bloody idiot. I mean, can you imagine how I felt? Anyhow, I said, “Well, go and get stuffed.” I was pretty aggro. And I suppose I was playing up to what he was saying about us Vietnam veterans getting angry and all that.
Anyhow, he stormed off inside and the bouncer says, “Come here.” He said, “Listen mate, your mates are not here. They’re around the corner at such and such a pub.” He said, “Just go…” So anyhow, I went there and walked in and it was like a Nui Dat job, all the vets were there, getting drunk, and I was home again.
This is how it was. Now isn’t that a bit of a disgrace?
I have handled mine…and believe me, I’ve had my share, that’s not what the program is about. But if blokes are not prepared to battle for their health, like they battle for anything else, they will go down, and they are going down like flies. From what I can work out, Vietnam vets are now dying, give or take, around the age of 55. That is too young. Now, I put it down to this
basically, the Dapsone and the Paledrine [Atebrin] we had to take, some of the gear we experimented with…For instance, one minute we would put on a certain type of camouflage cream made by Elizabeth Arden, all the big people got into the act. The next minute there was a panic signal coming around, “Quickly, quickly, get it off. Wash it off. Because it’s going to make your face drop off, or you
are going to get cancer from it.” A proven medical thing. The same with Dapsone, some people just can’t take Dapsone in any shape, some died from taking it. And it was a whisper, and going down to the Task Force briefs, I actually saw the board of the battle and non-battle casualties. And some men did die from taking Dapsone. At least,
that’s what was written up there. And then defoliation. Like first trip, we were in the mess queue and a C130 came over and dropped the old DTT [insecticide/dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane] type stuff over it. As I say, we were all in the mess queue. The reaction was, because you don’t know too much about these things, “You beauty, there’s no flies for a week.” I remember saying, “No flies for a week or so,
I’ll go over to the garbage can.” a brand new garbage can full of hot water where you dipped your dixies to sterilise them. But as I dipped them I noticed that the powdery type stuff was falling into that as well, and falling into the food as well, which the cooks had prepared. And it drifted into the hut we used as a mess hall. And still nothing…
Then I recall the first patrol and there was a defoliated area. And the reason why I do remember it is because it was on last light, after our own stand to and you managed to get your head down, I noticed that this white stuff was rising and falling towards my nostrils…
as you were breathing in and out. Logically, the body is still not as yet, will be in umpteen generations, used to a huge intake of chemicals. It takes time for the body to evolve. And for want of a better word, we had World War II bodies and we were starting
to be exposed to World War III things, and some sort of reaction occurs. And not only that, but the fogger would come around and everybody knows…To fog out your tents? And everybody knows that the fogger was also used with agent orange to defoliate one minute and the next minute, DDT or something, to get rid of the mosquitoes. And of course they always did it when, often when the blokes were in camp and you would be fogged up.
Whether this is true or not, I don’t have a clue, but there has got to be some common denominator, because there is a common denominator in certain illnesses across the board. Plus what about the preservatives? I remember on one particular thing that the old cook was doing…I think we had some rations from the Korean War. We were actually eating rations from the Korean War.
I think it might have been…I can’t remember what it was, but for sure, positively, without a doubt. I was quite surprised. You only remember the things that surprise you. So all in all, add the whole thing up, in our case or goodness knows what case,
the adrenaline or stress, some reaction has to occur. The law of averages demands it. Otherwise, why are all the blokes dying so young? I’ve got a sheet of paper that tells you how many died last year, and you would get a bloody shock if you read it.