of drill. Lots of drill, which actually I liked believe it or not. I enjoyed the discipline and I just enjoy the team work. I mean watching a company on parade shouldering arms and attention and standing at ease and presenting arms. I mean and if you get it right, I get goose bumps just thinking about it, if you get it right, you just hear like on the present arms or the royal salute where everybody just slams their foot down at the same time
I mean it’s you say, “Wow, gee that was good.” So that whole recruit training for me again, it was fun. It was an adventure. You know I boxed. I swam. I played rugby. I learned how to shoot. All those sort a things. I mean it was fun. So again, for me it was an adventure and I’d also made friends at Kapooka that have been friends for life, interestingly enough who didn’t become officers. Who stayed on as soldiers but they
became friends for life. So we all came from all walks of life. That was the interesting thing. You know we had guys that came from well-to-do families and we had guys that were jackaroos, garbage collectors, out of gaol or about to go back into gaol. You know we had a real if you like mix of society and to throw people together like that into a training environment
and to see just how well they get on I think that’s one of the strengths of military service. And I think that’s one of the things that I believe in National Service, I really do, simply because I think youngsters today need more discipline. I’m not suggesting two years and I’m not suggesting take them to war or anything like that but I think a period of time in the military just teaches young people discipline and values and that’s really what my whole recruit training was about and at the time there, all
I wanted to do was basically to join infantry. You know they come out and say, “Well which corps do you want to go to?” and I didn’t fancy myself in a tank. I didn’t fancy myself sitting behind a gun like artillery and I just wanted to go to infantry because it was, it’s always been my ambition to get into SAS and it and infantry was the best corps in those days - it really was mostly infantry that got into SAS. They didn’t take people from other corps until much later. So for me it was always my ambition to
be an SAS soldier. So I went to infantry. So you know I did my three months at Kapooka and had two trips away from Kapooka as a sports man playing for the army, which was great because I didn’t have to do the dishes, I didn’t have to drill. It got me out of a lot of work, sport, it was fantastic and it got me out of a lot of work later on in life too in the army. I represented the army at swimming and we went to Nowra navy base where we
competed against the navy and the air force. I was very much a medley swimmer of the four strokes, a relay swimmer and a hundred metres. Then selected for rugby. They flew me to train or something I can’t recall, probably train in those days to South Head ah North Head artillery base, where I represented the army in 1962 at rugby in June or July or something. So
you know that whole sort of recruit training for me was again, it was fun. It was an adventure. I didn’t find anything untoward and you know like after a day’s work or you know if we had any money left, we’d go up to the diggers’ boozer and have a few beers and a bit of a giggle. And again, I made friends there that stayed friends for life and a very interesting if you like period, in terms of my development as an officer, was the fact that I’d actually done recruit training as a soldier.
commander. I ended up having a fantastic platoon commander, Pud Ross, who interestingly also won a Military Cross in Vietnam. He was ex-SAS and Pud was platoon commander and one day he and I were having a chat and again, I was playing rugby and I was playing water polo and I was doing all those sort of things but also doing some fairly serious soldiering and one day Pud Ross called me into his office,
platoon commander’s office and said, “Look Mick you ever thought of going to Portsea?” And I said, “Not really,” you know and he said, “No seriously, you ever thought of going to Portsea?” And I said, “Well why?” You know and he said, “Well,” you know, “you’ve got the education, you’ve got the qualities. You’ve got the leadership qualities. You’ve got the I guess everything they’re looking for. You play sport.” He said, “You play rugby and they definitely need rugby players at Portsea,” and I said, “Well look, thanks very much
but I want to just talk to a few people about it.” And there was one particular guy in the battalion who I played rugby with and who I drank with and who was my one of my mentors and that was a guy called ‘Dasher’ Wheatley, who won the Victoria Cross posthumously. And I spoke to Dasher and he was a sergeant at the time. He was not in my company. He was in B Company but because of rugby we were mates and I spoke to him and I spoke to another chap called I remember
Terry Loftus, who was also a rugby player, and I just said, “Look,” you know I mean, “what do you reckon?” And they said, “Mick, go for it.” You know and that sort of helped me and then a couple of other NCOs in my company, in E company, also said, “Look, go for it,” and then I looked at a couple of platoon commanders that we had in our company who were absolute dickheads and I thought, “Well if they can do it I can do it,” and that’s what spurred me on. I thought you know they were just
very poor platoon commanders and I thought, “Well,” you know, “I can’t do any worse than these and also I want to make a difference to soldiers. I want to make a difference. I want to be a good platoon commander,” and I thought, “Well I’ll apply.” So I applied and of course the thing with Portsea is applying is one thing, getting selected is another. You know but getting back to 1 Battalion, in that three year period I mean I met some fantastic officers,
some great NCOs and great soldiers and I really thoroughly enjoyed my soldiering in that battalion and again, some of those people that I met in that battalion are still friends today.
I’m looking for? A mm, an indiscretion. Indiscretion. I was in A Company and I won’t mention the company commander’s name, it’s not necessary, but anybody looking at this tape’ll know who I’m talking about and we were out on patrol and there was a contact, fairly major contact. I mean firstly the company was lost. I wasn’t.
I knew exactly where I was. I mean navigation was always one of my strengths. I knew exactly where I was but the company didn’t know where they were and the company commander kept saying you know, “Come in,” and Sunray was my call sign and I was I can’t remember now but something 1 9er or 2 9er. You know, “Sunray 2 9er,” you know, “come in, come in, come in,” and anyway the bottom line is he was lost and I got into a bit of an argument on the phone you know on the radio.
Meanwhile there was a major contact where company headquarters was attacked and they were only with 1 Platoon, A Company, and John Hartley was a platoon commander of that. John Hartley ended up being a major general in the Australian Army, he’s only just retired, and we had to try and get in and of course the enemy between us and the company, which was scary, but anyway finally either we frightened them away or
the other guys frightened them away and there I came into this company position. There was John Hartley sitting on the ground with a bayonet trying to get a bit of shrapnel out of his ankle and I said, “John, well that’s gonna stop. I’m gonna get a dust off and get you out.” He was wounded. So we called in a helicopter and meanwhile I thought, “Where the hell is the company commander?” Couldn’t find the company commander anywhere or the CSM. The CSM is A Company sergeant major who’s supposed to be responsible for discipline of the other ranks.
So everybody’s running around with bandages and cause three guys were wounded and I got up on this big log, I’ll never forget, and I looked down on the log like that and there was the company commander with the CSM and I just looked down and I said, “You can get up now sir. It’s all over.” Well I was fronted to the CO for insubordination and I got a slap on the wrist. I got
a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile we then kept on doing our things but the relationship between myself and the company commander was never the same after that. Anyway he basically told the CO that I was playing cards with my soldiers for money, which I was. I’m a gambler you know but we weren’t playing for you know cattle ranches. We were playing sort of pretty
small beer but anyway it was contrary to the conduct of an officer. So he fronted me to the CO again. Finally the CO realised that there was a conflict of personalities here and he had a yarn to me. John Warr, this is the guy that tried to stop me from going to Portsea, John had a yarn to me about my problems with this particular company commander and I told him. I said, “The guy can’t navigate. He’s gutless and he’s
unfit.” By unfit I don’t mean unfit as a character but unfit in terms of keeping the company moving and I said, “He’s gonna get someone killed,” you know. “I just can’t serve with him.” So anyway John said, “Well we’ll transfer you out of 2 Platoon,” up to what’s called anti-tank platoon, which was for me a bit of a let down because I didn’t know what their master plan was. They didn’t tell me what the master plan was and I thought, “Oh God,” you know, “anti-tank
platoon.” Cause anti-tank platoon is almost like a surplus platoon, which is part of support company and in those days the Viet Cong didn’t have tanks cause anti-tank platoon has special cannons which knock tanks out but I had to get away. I was devastated leaving my soldiers, I really was, and some of those guys are still mates of mine today from 2 Platoon and anyway I went to anti-tank
platoon and I didn’t realise that they had some plans for me and for reconnaissance platoon but before that I got a hold of anti-tank platoon and there were some pretty ordinary soldiers in that platoon. You know NCOs which of the old school, not the modern school, and anyway I did as best as I could. Soldiers
were great. I mean soldiers were great but I did as best I could and there was probably two good NCOs in that platoon. The rest were what I would call marginal or ordinary. Anyway we did a couple of patrols and then we did a major exercise, which was the one up in the Nui Thi Vai mountains where we had to climb the mountain with this anti-tank platoon in front of battalion headquarters
and we got up to the top pretty quick but we were absolutely exhausted. Absolutely exhausted and all of a sudden there’s gunfire behind us and I felt a bit guilty because we’re supposed to have cleared this for the battalion to make their way up to the top of this mountain and it was really gradient of one in two. I mean it’s a hell of a climb. So the company commander Max Carroll, support company, terrific bloke.
He got up and said, “Well,” you know, “you’d better get yourselves down and clear this so that we can move up,” because I mean you can’t have battalion headquarters attacked. I mean that’s our nerve centre, it’s our command centre. So we dropped our kit and we just went down with our ammunition and guns and whatever and anyway I left one section up on the high ground with the machine guns looking down into the re-entrant. It was real re-entrant with big boulders and rocks and almost impregnable really
and then I had another section which was up on the high ground up here. So one looking down that way, one looking across this way and myself with a lead section we went down into this re-entrant to try and find the enemy, try and clear the enemy when all of a sudden a shot rang out and my good section commander, Corporal Womal, got it through the throat and he was on a flat rock which initially we didn’t know where he was.
and so we’re moving around, fire and movement. Trying to get behind cover, behind rocks, behind trees. I’m calling down fire from one of the sections at the top. It was Corporal McLean’s section and they’re spraying the whole region. You know we then had the section up on the high ground actually behind me and we just had no idea, I mean we had no idea where the enemy was and that was the terrifying part. And whilst I’m down there
I’m terrified that I’m gonna lose somebody else and not know where they are because of the boulders and the rocks and being stuck somewhere and in an impossible place to try and extract anybody that was wounded. So whilst you’re conducting this battle and it was a battle and even today we don’t know whether it was three or thirty that were there because every time I gave an order, there’d be
some shots fired my way because obviously they’d realised that I was a commander and then once I’d shouted I’d have to move very quickly, fire and movement. So that when they did shoot I’d already gone and it was just utterly frustrating. Absolutely frustrating. So I called my platoon sergeant forward, Skinny Calvert, and I said, “Look, we’ve just got to try and get Norm. We’re got to try and find him and try and get him out,” and cause he was
at this stage fairly mortally wounded and he couldn’t tell us any more. He was still, initially after the , he was still up on one elbow apparently when and still giving orders to his section in terms of, “Keep firing,” and, “There they are over there,” etcetera, etcetera, etcetera but then you know he lost an enormous amount of blood and in a state of semi-collapse I guess and I had a stretcher bearer called Peter Fraser, who was one of our bands
men, played a cornet from memory, and terrific young bloke and we’d found the rock where Norm was at but the enemy were using him as bait. So every time we’d try to go towards him they’d fire rounds all round him and I thought you know, “What the hell do I do?” You know I mean, “If one of us goes up there we’re gonna be hit as well so rather than get one out, we’re gonna get two or three to try and get out.” So
I thought at the time, not realising how seriously Norm was wounded, I thought we had to neutralise the enemy first before we could get to him and move him out but I certainly refused to leave him. You know certainly refused to leave him because we were all caught in this ambush, we were all ambushed, and all of a sudden I noticed that Peter Fraser was actually crawling up onto the rock and he started to dress his wound you know
and they’re still shooting but deliberately not hitting Peter Fraser. Still using both of them now as bait you know and Peter actually had dressed the wound as best as he could and Skinny Calvert, the platoon sergeant, then organised for a couple a guys to sort of try and slowly slip him off this rock so that we could get him onto a hoochie, which is like a bit of canvas that was almost like an improvised stretcher, so we could get him
up to some safe ground because our doctor had come forward, Tony White, to see what he could do to help in terms of the extent of the wound. And meanwhile we’re still trying to find these guys and shoot at them and oh, just terribly, terribly frustrating. Anyway it took us a fair while to extract Norm off the rock and once the doctor had looked at him
he’d realised that you know all the blood vessels had been ruptured and Norm didn’t have a lot of chance of survival. We then had to get a helicopter in to get him out, which was tricky as well because again, the enemy was still there and this helicopter had to land on a on an angle like that and it was a pilot called I think from memory Askew. Lieutenant Askew from Army Air Corps or army
flying and he was in a little Sioux, one of those little bubble Sioux. Anyway unfortunately Norm passed away on the landing zone but they flew the body out you know. Meanwhile we’re still trapped. We’re still caught and of course battalion headquarters further down was still caught as well. So we had to keep fighting you know and try and anyway we tried everything. I mean we just couldn’t
find these fellows and you know we’d fire some rounds and then you’d yell something out like, “Have you seen any?” you know and next minute there’s bullets coming your way you know. So it was really quite scary and daunting and I remember quite clearly at the time because Max Carroll, who was my company commander, he said, “Mick, what was going through your mind?” and I was up behind this tree, big tree like this. I mean biggest I could find trying to get on the radio and
the thing that was going through my mind at that time through that whole if you like contact was something I’d learnt at Portsea, which is a an appreciation of the situation. You know, “What if?” “How?” So this thing I’d learnt at Portsea, which was a tactical appreciation of the situation, was going through my head like a textbook. You know in other words, “What would I do now if this
was a tactical exercise of our troops?” I mean that’s how you learnt tactics and nothing was coming to my mind. I mean I was just completely bamboozled because I didn’t know where the enemy was. I mean that’s the sad thing. I didn’t know how many were there either. So at that time my first priority was to extract my troops out of the killing ground, because they were all down there in the killing ground. Probably seven or eight of us
were in that killing ground. So with fire and movement we very slowly you know had to withdraw and this is going on for hours you know. We had to withdraw. So I got all my guys out onto the high ground and the other guys were up here on the high ground when Major Peter Cole from A Company said, “Look,” he could see where sort of we were shooting etcetera. He said, “We might be able to put some machine gun fire onto the
position.” You know like shooting from another angle cause he was down right down on the low ground and I at that stage I was prepared to try anything. I thought, “Well, let’s have a go,” you know. I knew it’d be dangerous because of the beaten zone of a machine gun. You know machine gun doesn’t fire at great distance it doesn’t fire in a straight line. It’s a beaten zone. It’s a huge like this. So what I did is we marked our position with smoke and Peter gave the order
for his company to open up with machine guns but those bullets were going above our heads because of the beaten zone. So that was pretty scary. So I just said, “Stop,” and they stopped straight away but they also hit the target as well but I wasn’t prepared to accept the risk. So I thought, “No, I’d better do something else.” We couldn’t use artillery. We couldn’t use mortars. So the only other thing I could use were gun ships. So we had some American gun ships on stand by. So we
called in two gun ships and again, we marked our position with smoke and the gun ships basically shot these rockets, white frosts and explosive rounds into what they could see were tunnels or caves. You know and that was pretty scary cause we were still pretty close to it. Very close to it actually but thankfully the Americans had a good day and they hit all the what we thought were the right targets
and they just did run after run after run and then after that there seemed to be almost quiet. Nothing. It was eerie. There was nothing and the only way then to draw fire again is to move. So again, I couldn’t say to my commanding officer or my company commander, “Look, come up,” because I couldn’t guarantee that it was clear. I thought it was
clear. So with a section then went down into the re-entrant again that we’d just taken us two and a half, three hours to get out of to go back in to see if the enemy were clear and thankfully they all took off. These rockets from the choppers probably frightened the daylights out of them and also I think they realised that we were not just a platoon on our own. They realised that there was other forces supporting the action. So
I think they felt that they were outnumbered but at the time we didn’t realise why they fought so tenaciously. Normally with the Viet Cong in particular they shoot and run. You know shoot and scoot and these guys stayed and defended quite vigorously, which at the time I didn’t realise why but I can tell you later why. We went back down into the re-entrant and we found blood soaked bandages and
blood in various caves and things like that and but it was getting dark. It was really getting quite dark and we had to get up to the top of the mountain you know. So the CO said, “Right,” you know, “Fantastic.” Like, “Push on.” So we had to lead the way back up to the mountain, then the whole battalion headquarters came up behind us where we established a base camp for the night. And then that night I mean you know
we were all feeling very, very flat because Normie Womal was a terrific bloke. He was just wonderful he was a Thursday Islander. He came from Bowen in Queensland. I think he was a Thursday Islander. He was married with four kids and he was just a terrific NCO, terrific and he was a real loss to us and I’d known him for years. I knew him in 1 Battalion when I was a digger and we were all very, very flat and very down and because Norm was known right throughout the battalion, not just in our company
and anyway I was interviewed, not interviewed I was debriefed by the adjutant who was the assistant ops officer and the operations commander who was Max Carroll and gave them a sort of a word picture very quickly as to you know where I thought things were and the next day John McElhony went down, who was assault pioneer platoon,
and of course he was hit again and he also won a Military Cross but he got hit again and lost one of his soldiers as well you know, Private D’Antoine where the enemy was still there you know. In other words, what they’d done, they’d retreated into the tunnels and then came out again and John attacked this tunnel with a flamethrower. Because he was assault pioneers he actually had a flamethrower. So he scorched
them you know or what was left of them I guess and again, you know you sort of think, “Gee,” you know, “these guys are still hanging around.” I mean it’s just amazing cause normally they just take off. Anyway then we got the engineers in and once you know the wounded of assault pioneers had been taken out the next day we went down again and got A Company up to help us do the search and
we discovered that in fact what had we thought were Viet Cong were actually NVA, the North Vietnamese 274 Regiment, and it was their regimental headquarters and out of that we found their radio. Nang Hung who was their commander we found the commander’s radio with his log book and apparently it ended up being probably one of the most important intelligence discoveries in Vietnam during our tour of duty because it showed exactly where this regiment
had been and what they’d done and contact etcetera etcetera and I went down into the some of the tunnels with the engineers to have a look and it was just amazing. I mean there were underground hospitals. There were underground communication centres. There was underground kitchens. It was just a huge complex and again, even today we don’t know how many people we hit. You know whether it was three or thirty or a hundred and thirty. I’ve got no idea but
it was probably one of the I’d say most important in terms of the intelligence that they gathered, one of the most important discoveries that we had had in our trip to Vietnam at that time, this was October. So it was significant in terms of the intelligence that we gathered but it was terribly sad in terms of soldiers that we lost. You know and even today sometimes you know I get the guilts and I think, “Gee,” you know, “is there some other way that I
could have handled the situation without losing Norm Womal,” but everything I did was in accordance with the book. You know I mean guns up on the high ground, reserve force behind me, assault force in front of me. Me behind the assault force. I mean that’s the way you’re taught, that’s the way you do it. If you had your way all over again and I guess again with the experience of time, because obviously you know you learn
as you go on, perhaps you would have taken it a bit slower, not as fast, but again in terms of assaulting an enemy position you don’t do it slowly. You do it fast. I mean that’s the way you’re taught but in retrospect looking back at that situation, perhaps if we’d done it more deliberately and slower and more fire and movement behind rocks and things you know it may have ended up differently. I don’t know but you know you can’t go back in time and you can’t recover what’s done. All I know is that
we lost a very good soldier.
Mine was the first, then there was Peter McElhony and then there was Dennis Rayner and because Dennis also had a fairly major contact he did brilliantly actually. I mean he didn’t lose anybody and he probably shot about twelve or fifteen of them, which is pretty good. The CO sent both Dennis and myself off to Saigon for Vietnamese National Day where we had to march through Saigon but he really sent us away
to get a bit of a rest. You know just to do a bit of recovery time and so both of us were away for the weekend. You know just we just flew up there for the weekend and you know we marched with Vietnamese armed forces through Saigon on this Vietnamese National Day and then when I came back from that I was a bit more relaxed. I was still upset but I was still a bit more relaxed. I was called up to the CO’s office and I’ll never forget, there was the CO,
the IO, the intelligence officer who was John O’Neill, ah Bob O’Neill. He was a Rhodes Scholar, very very good IO. We had Peter Isaacs, who was the adjutant, and Max Carroll, who was my company commander, and they said you know, “Mick we’d like to see you form a reconnaissance platoon.” Of course I was just blown away. You know I thought, “Gee, how good is this?” You know and they said, “Yep, we believe that there is a
gap between SAS,” which is thirty thousand kilometres out, “and the battalion,” which is back here and also with SAS they would go into a position, they’d find some enemy activity, they’d fly out, they’d be debriefed at task force headquarters. By the time that information had been if you like dissected and analysed and the information came down to us by the time we could get our battalion moving,
invariably was too late. So what our CO was looking for, he was looking for a unit from our battalion which could fill the gap, not take the job of SAS. I mean they’re totally different but to fill the gap. In other words, as soon as SAS re flies back and reports enemy activity in a particular area, we can fly out straight away and basically establish a little if you like a reconnaissance base ourselves to see if the movement is still there.
Not checking on SAS or anything else like that but to report back to our battalion that, “Hey, there’s still a lot of activity. You might as well come out and have a bit of a go at this.” Otherwise a battalion mobilises and comes out for nothing. So that’s just a waste of a resource. So there was that part of the situation which was part of the brief and the other one was to basically be the eyes and ears of the battalion. So if the battalion was operating in strength with companies
we could do some a the hard yards because we were smaller and not necessarily fitter but probably better trained. Where we could do some of the hard tasks like going up into the high ground where rather than take up a hundred men to clear a bit of high ground, I could take up twenty and we’d do the same job and mostly the enemy weren’t up there anyway, cause they stuck down to the river systems but you couldn’t afford to take the risk. You had to clear that high ground.
So we got jobs where we could operate quickly and effectively as a smaller group, whereas A Company going up there again, would have been not the waste of a resource but you would have been knocking diggers around unnecessarily. So there was that part of it and the other part was to operate in small four or five man patrols like SAS but no more than ten thousand metres out. We used to
always try and operate within artillery range which, our artillery range, which was our direct fire support, which is ten thousand metres.
a mental hardness, a toughness I guess and good soldiers. I mean good with other soldiers, good with themselves and also good with their weapons and their tactics. Interestingly enough we said to the CO, “Well how do I do this?” He said, “Go to the battalion. Go round the battalion and get a group of volunteers,” and I said, “Oh okay.” So we sent a signal out to all the company commanders looking for volunteers. Well if you’re a
company commander are you gonna let your best soldiers go? No. Have you seen the movie ‘The Dirty Dozen’? Lee Marvin? Yeah, well this was The Dirty Thirty. Seriously. The Dirty Thirty. I got a lot a guys from other companies that company commanders were quite prepared to see go because a bit like me, good soldiers but occasionally social indiscretions if you can call it that. Interestingly enough I
got soldiers into my platoon as NCOs who I was mates with as a digger. They came to my platoon. Blue Mulby, the guy that I said came second in the promotion course, he came over. Bob Carney, the guy that wrote Crossfire, he was in my section when I was a corporal. He came over. Harvey, he e and I played rugby together, he came over. Bobby Searle, he and I were diggers together. He
was in anti-tank platoon. He stayed. You know he was there. So it was very interesting where I got a mish mash of people from the other companies and of course I had anti-tank platoon guys you know and, as I said, anti-tank on that particular contact up on the hill just performed admirably. You know there’s no question about that but I knew some of these guys simply would not make reconnaissance platoon. They were too old. They were too set in their ways. They were too comfortable sitting in Land Rovers with their
recoilless rifles used to knocking tanks out you know. So I just said, “Right, who wants to stay? Who wants to go?” and a few of ’em packed their bags and went. Saved me the hassle. So away they went. So we ended up with about forty I could guess. I made contact with SAS with a Major John Murphy, who was OC of 3 Squadron, and I took three SAS instructors down with me to Vung Tau where
I basically wrote a two week program. I had two weeks to put this thing together where I drove ’em very hard. By that I mean we used to run through sand hills you know early in the morning. After being on the grog the night before I’d push them right through the sand hills until they could hardly walk you know. We’d run through water in our waists in the beach you know just to sort them out physically, who’s gonna make it, who’s not gonna make it and then we did all the sort of SAS things. You know our communications, our
demolitions, our first aid, polished up on some of our language skills again but principally the SAS tactics. You know in terms of fire and movement and how slowly they move. I mean, an SAS patrol might only move four hundred metres in a day or two hundred metres in a day depending on the enemy position you know. In a battalion we weren’t used to that because we’re used to patrolling in strength you know as A Company or a battalion size and you
go slow but you go at a fair pace. You know you might move two or three or four thousand metres in a day. In SAS because you’re out there on your own and you really are basically reconnaissance and you’re wanting to avoid contact, you’ve got to travel very, very slowly and that’s where we had to learn as small groups to travel very, very slowly. So we did that and at the end the period I had almost like a board of studies that I had at Portsea. Myself
with a couple of the NCOs from SAS and said, “Look guys,” you know, “which of these do you think,” you know, “is gonna make the grade?” We did patrols with SAS as well out in the bush so that they could observe the guys as well and we came up with a list and they came into my platoon and the rest I sent back to their companies and they didn’t go back to their companies with any stigma or anything like that. I just said, “Look, I’m sorry. I can only take so many.” You know, “If
I could take x I’d have x but I’ve only got so many,” so we sent the rest away. So I ended up out of the forty I think I probably ended up with something like about twenty seven, twenty eight roughly.
in our area that we were going into. They’d lost sixty guys. I mean it was a huge contact. I think it was something like thirty killed and thirty wounded. So we knew that we were going into a pretty bad area. So for our first op you know it was a bit daunting but we had the Americans there to help us etcetera but it was it all happened so quickly. I mean we were in choppers, we were out of choppers and we were sort of feeling our way and
doing navigation and Singleton is one thing, doing navigation then in Vietnam is another. Getting the communications right and a very steep learning curve for everybody in the battalion. An enormous learning curve. Thankfully we had some good planning. I mean we had some very, very good planning. The CO, the ops officer, the IO and through that good planning it meant that there was if you like less conflict, less clashes etcetera.
We lost our first National Serviceman on that op. He came here from South Australia. His name was Errol Noack and that knocked us around a bit you know because he was a National Service man but and I guess there was a bit of history being made at that time and I guess from my part you know, coming back to how you do things in Australia then how you do things in Vietnam, in the first contacts that I had in Vietnam
I used to walk around and you’d hear the crack, the bullets going over your head and you’re sort of walking around and you’re saying, “Well look Jones,” you know, “Bill will get down there and Harry,” you know, “just get the gun down this track.” And you’re directing traffic almost until I saw a Viet Cong get shot through the front of the head and it blew the back of his head out and I thought, “Wow. That’s what a bullet does.” I had no idea what a bullet did cause we’re
conditioned a bit to the westerns you know. I mean look at the guys in the westerns you know. They get shot and they keep going. They’ve got five or six bullets in them and they keep going. Well the bullets of today they basically either blow your back out or just blow your arm off. You know I mean they are high speed and they do enormous damage and as I say, I used to walk around in a contact until I saw what happened
to this guy’s head and I thought, “My God.” So from that moment on as soon as there was a shot fired you’d have to be very, very fast to beat me to the ground. I’d get to the ground real quick because again, it’s a part of our training that we didn’t do. We used to have these sort of mock up wounds that you know we’d bandage up etcetera but it doesn’t really do justice to what the real thing is and I guess that was the biggest shock in terms of what a bullet can do to the human body.
You think, “My God,” you know, “I’m gonna get to ground real quick in future.” So it changed my whole attitude in terms of my personal if you like initial reaction if we were being shot at.
My hair used to prickle up on the back of my neck and also I used to smell them. I could smell them from a fairly great distance because of A, they use drop pits as toilets. Their diet was pretty horrendous when it comes to toilets. Fish heads and stuff. Their soap, they used to use soap and they used to use a hair oil. A sort of a almost like oh ‘Californian Poppy’ used to be an old hair oil that you know
we used to use when we were younger, well like Bryl Cream type thing and they used to use that in their hair to sort of get spruced up occasionally and you could really smell that. You could certainly smell their food if they were cooking in a village and you could smell the fire as well but it was more their personal smell. It was a food that they used to eat, nuknam which is a fish sauce, lots of chilli and garlic used to come out through their pores in their skin and you could sort of smell that from I’d reckon twenty or thirty metres easy. In terms of the
intuition, that sixth sense, I can’t explain that. All I know is as the tour went on my sixth sense became far more acute to the point where sometimes I would just, “Stop,” and everybody else would stop and I’d just go, “Listen,” like this and we’d all listen and then I’d say, “Go to ground,” and we’d all go to ground and I’d just say, “Be quiet,” and we’d all just quietly sit there for fifteen, twenty minutes. Lo and behold all of a sudden three or four
guys would walk past. Now how do you explain that? You know it’s got to be an animal sense. It’s not mental in terms of you know being a psychic. It’s just an animal instinct where, “I don’t feel comfortable here. I think there’s somebody here. I think we’ll stop. I think we’ll go to ground. I think we’ll be very quiet and we’ll just observe for a while,” and sure enough, several times that happened. A group of guys would go by. So I think the human
body’s been conditioned through evolution to lose that sixth sense. I mean I’m a country boy and I mean I had a horse called Dolly for instance and one day we’re driving back or riding back to the homestead and all of a sudden Dolly took off. She was an old mare, fifteen years, and she never used to bolt at all but she took off. Next minute there’s this huge gum tree that crashed. It was a dead gum tree that crashed down behind where we
were. Now she didn’t hear anything. She didn’t see anything. She just had that instinct and she took off. Now I think we’ve got those basic instincts as well, which are now well and truly lost through evolution and modern technology and time but I think when you get into a scary situation where you really are on survival mode and you’re really living on adrenalin etcetera, I think that sixth sense slowly starts to come
back where you do start to develop very, very keen instincts. I mean women have got it. I mean women have got instinct much better than men in terms of mostly instincts about people, instinct about things. I think men, being principally if you like the hunter gatherer have got natural instincts or had natural instincts in terms of the hunting and the gathering and I just think in Vietnam during that period of time, that’s definitely something that I developed. No question about it.
Absolutely no idea. I mean I was assistant adjutant in SAS by this stage because I came back and went straight to SAS and my CO, Colonel Eyles, good bloke got me into his office one day and said, “Mike, we’ve got a top secret message.” Cause I used to pick up top secret messages all the time. “We’ve got a top secret message in at headquarters we want you to pick up,” which was headquarters western command and I went in there and there was a
chap there, his title is military secretary. He was ostensibly the person, civil servant, not army but a public servant who was responsible for officer postings and all that sort of stuff and I went in and he handed me this envelope. And he had a bit of a smile on his face and normally if I had to go in and pick up a top secret signal it meant that one of our squadrons in Vietnam had a contact and maybe somebody killed or wounded because I was also the family liaison officer, that would have to go out with the priest and advise them
that their husband had been killed or something like that. So I’d had no idea. I then came back and I handed the signal to the colonel and by this stage he got the adjutant to come in as well, Vin Murphy, and he said, “Well Mick,” he said he stood up and he shook me by the hand and he said, “Mick congratulations. You’ve just been awarded the Military Cross.” I couldn’t believe it. I just could not believe it. I had no idea. You know I had absolutely no idea and
you know from my perspective it was a platoon effort. I mean I just happened to be the platoon commander you know. You can’t do these things on your own but I thought you know I thought maybe there might be something. but it wasn’t expected and certainly had nothing came out of it I wouldn’t have been disappointed because lots of other platoon commanders and section commanders in the battalion, and soldiers, had done things far more memorable than me but that’s the way it works. My stretcher
bearer, Peter Fraser, got a Military Medal. He should have got a Victoria Cross actually by crawling out on that flat rock but he got a Military Medal. We’re still mates. He lives in Western Australia. My Normie Womal, who died unfortunately, he posthumously won a MID [Mention in Despatches]. Had he lived he would have won a Military Medal as well but he won a MID. So it’s just one of things you know. You
don’t expect these things but when they happen you grab ’em but you grab ’em with both hands on behalf of a lot of other people.
and anyway we didn’t find anything but I went out on this operation with A Company on the rear of Nui Nghe, mountain of Nui Nghe, and we we’re operating well ahead of A Company but as a platoon because that was also a bad area and Bob Carney was up front with his set patrol and all of a sudden a signal comes back,
“Wheel.” You know like this and then, “Wheel,” you know and then and by the time the message came back to me through four or five people, “Wheel? What do you mean wheel?” You know you like this and the message’d go up and then it’d come back. “Wing,” you know. “Wheel, wing, plane. Okay.” I went like this, go to ground and I went forward to Bob and there was the wreckage of this aircraft.
So I deployed a platoon around it and we then went and inspected the aircraft or the remains of the aircraft and found two bodies actually but they’d been there for six months, so they were in a you know fairly poor state and the pilot was killed on impact. The co-pilot had a fractured femur and he’d actually managed to crawl out of the aircraft and put up the last stand because all around his body there was just empty spent
shells around him. And there was a bullet hole in the back of his head, so he’d been executed or he’d been shot from behind and you can only put these things together because once we then had a look all the way around, we saw fighting pits and what we discovered through our intelligence was that 274 Regiment had ambushed that plane when it went down on Hardihood, had dug themselves in and they were waiting for somebody to come and find the aircraft
to ambush them. So how lucky were whoever it would have been not finding that aircraft, because all around were the weapons pits all the way around this aircraft. Anyway I called up A Company, A Company came forward, Max Carroll at that time and we got a chopper in with SAS guys to remove the bodies and the bodies were put into a kit bag and taken out. And then four years ago and I’d always
wondered what happened to the next of kin of those pilots, cause they were missing for six months, and through Bob Carney and myself we got onto the old military network to try and find the next of kin cause the book had been written. Crossfire had been written and lo and behold, we found the son of the pilot in San Antonio, Texas and Denise and I, Denise is American, Denise and I had to fly to Dallas
anyway for business. So I got in contact with the son on the email and he came up and had dinner with us in Dallas and I presented him with a book and his wife, who was an ex-air force officer, he was an ex-air force officer, and two little kids were there as well and he when he left he hugged me and said, “Thanks, you’ve changed my life,” and a course I’ve got a tear in my eye you know.
I said, “Why?” He said, “Well,” he said that, “If you’d not found my father my life would not have been the same because my mother would not have remarried.” You know when someone’s missing in action I mean you really don’t know as a wife and a mother. You know and she was a good woman. She just wouldn’t have remarried and as it was, once the bodies were discovered and then brought home and then buried she then much, two years later actually, married
his flying instructor who ended up being a general in the American air force. He was the air force commander in charge of the air cover during Desert Storm, the first one. So yeah, it was interesting I mean and then I just wrote a letter to all my diggers saying that you know I’d managed to and lo and behold out of the blue, I get a letter from this guy, Jacobs, he’s sending me a photograph of his father and with all of his father’s medals.
Cause he got a he had a Bronze Star and a Silver Star and Purple Hearts and God knows what else and that we’re going to, I haven’t done it yet but I’m going to present it to our regimental museum in Darwin, because our battalion’s now in Darwin and just put it up there as, if you like, a bit of a memento of the Vietnam War but it was a bit a closure I think for all of us. We never found the other, the co-pilot. The co-pilot should have won a Medal of Honour. I mean he just
he fought to a stand still. He had a fractured femur and he just fought to a stand still. He didn’t know that his pilot was dead you know but we could never find his next of kin. He was single, I knew that, but now his parents’d be dead now because he’d be sixty five or something and we don’t know whether he had brothers or sisters but at least the pilot we managed to get some closure.
They’re ambushes in a straight line where you’ve got a sentry on one end, a sentry on the other. You’ve got a rendezvous at the back but they’re in a straight line. I never used to do that. I used to set what’s called a triangle ambush where I’d have a straight line on the killing ground but then I’d have my flanks protected and I’d have one gun facing down that track, one gun facing down that track and a gun behind and then in the front centre was my headquarter group and thankfully I did that, because it was about,
oh I think we’d had dinner and then moved into the ambush position and it was about probably about eight thirty at night, nine o’clock something like that. You could hear guys jogging down the track and you could hear the pots and pans shaking and I thought, “Hello here they come,” and we opened up. Bluey Twaites, one of my machine gunners, he opened up and he got a few and but then immediately they went to ground and retaliated and fired back and one of the rounds had
hit Bluey in the back of the leg and cause he was wounded and his gun jammed too, which didn’t help. Bit of grass got caught in the belt. So he couldn’t fight back and then all of a sudden they started to deploy and then put in a counter attack you know and I thought, “Hello, this we’re in trouble here.” So immediately I get on, I call in artillery. First thing I did. Clean artillery. I mean we’re still fighting and shooting but I thought, “Well I want to get some arty on the ground”
and we got in some artillery but then they employed some hugging tactics [getting in close]. So what they do is that you know I had to call in the artillery and I dropped it, because at this stage when they did the flanking attack around on the side of us, it was only that I’d set a triangle ambush and I had Bob Searle, who was my other patrol commander, with a gun at the back that we managed to break it up. Cause as they came in on a flank, this gun just turned around and hit them with enfilade fire from the side and just knocked
them over. So they then withdrew and then had another go at us and meanwhile we’ve got Bluey Twaites has got really bad bleeding and I mean his leg was amputated. I mean that’s how bad the wound was and so my major concern once again was, “I’ve got to get this guy out.” You know, “I’ve already lost one. I’m not gonna lose another one. I’ve got to get this guy out,” but at the same time trying to extract myself from the bad guys and they kept shooting and tracer going left, right
and centre and anyway I had a bad feeling about this. I just had a really bad feeling because again, those guys were just too well organised and they didn’t cut and run. They actually attacked, counter attacked and I reckon there would have been, oh twenty or thirty of them. You know equal numbers but what I didn’t know, what was coming behind? You know so they could a been a battalion strength, they could a been the whole of 274 Regiment
and an interesting thing was that it was, but not at that time. They were a little bit further behind. So the first thing was to try and stop the bleeding and I couldn’t stop the bleeding and my finger kept slipping off the pressure point on Blue’s thigh and Blue Mulby, who was then my platoon acting platoon sergeant, said, “Get out of it Skip. Get out. I’ll get it.” So he got there he got it straight away. ‘Boom’ he was straight on. Stopped it bleeding thankfully. I mean we bandaged him up as best we could
but we’re still under fire and I thought, “Now how the hell do we get out of here?” you know. So there was a bit of a lull in the fighting and you could hear some of their guys wounded lying in the killing ground and but I wasn’t about to go and check ’em. So I instructed very quietly for all of us to quietly withdraw. You know just quietly withdraw without any noise or anything because I just had a bad feeling and I just felt that you know, “This is not something worse
is gonna happen here and I want to get out a here.” Again, it’s this sixth sense perhaps. So we slowly withdrew to an area cause I had to get Blue out too with a chopper as well. So we withdrew very quietly and this was in a sort of like a clump of bamboo and everything. So we withdrew very quietly and to a paddy field and quietly went to ground in the paddy field but still calling in artillery and
an air strike and that’s when I called in navy guns as well and all of a sudden our own position where we had withdrawn from was being mortared by the bad guys. They actually mortared that position and I thought, “Oh God how lucky am I?” You know I mean we’d just got out in the nick of time because they had then managed to get their heavy weapon support up from the rear because it was a regiment, because the next night they attacked a village south of us. So they
then came under their mortars and they hit exactly where we were, cause the next day I saw that and meanwhile I’ve got to get a chopper in to get this guy out and anyway I got onto the dust-off [helicopter evacuation] and it was American dust-off and he was flying around up there and all my guys are still going back like this and by this stage, we weren’t out of small arms fire but we were far enough away with our artillery
going in to take their mind off us if you know what I mean but I had to get the chopper in and it was a night extraction, which is very dangerous. So anyway I’m talking to the pilot and he’s saying, “West or East?” Anyway he was confusing what I was saying and there was still a bit of gunfire and finally I could see that the chopper was gonna make the approach and I was terrified of using a torch and I wasn’t going to send out a corporal or one of my sergeants
to actually guide the plane in you know or the chopper in. Because I thought, “If anyone’s gonna do it, it’s gonna be me because I’ve already lost one corporal. I’m not gonna lose another one. So I’ll do it.” But I wasn’t going to use a torch because with a torch, guiding him in with a torch you’ve got a beam that goes up and it was that sort of humid sort of an evening. So that beam basically comes back on the origination point and I would have been a target. So I said, “No, I’ll be clever
here. I’ll use a Zippo lighter.” So I always had a Zippo lighter, which is the old cigarette lighter, and then Bob Carney had one. I said, “Give me your Zippo,” and he said, “What do you want a Zippo for?” I said, “Give me your bloody Zippo.” So I just got the Zippo and I just got out there. As the plane was coming in I just lit the two Zippos and then by that stage Blue Mulby was on the radio talking the chopper in. So I’m up there with the Zippo thinking, “I’m safe here,” you know. Next minute he throws the spot light right on me
and as Bob Carney said in his book he said, “I shat myself,” he said in the book, because I’m totally exposed you know. So anyway and it’s probably one a the most frightening periods I’ve ever had in my life cause any minute I expected a bullet in the back of the head. I really did. I thought, “This is it. I’m gone here,” and you know when you’re up there like this, you ever been in a situation where you try to shrink? You know you
sort of try to get small but you can’t. You’re just got to stay there. So anyway once they’d spotted me and once they’d seen how far they were off the ground thank God they took the spot light off and came down and we quickly got him on and he took off. Well that was the good news but the bad news was that all that activity had had alerted the NVA as to where we were. So we had to get out of there real quick because I was frightened the mortars coming in on that position
as well. So we had to withdraw to another position, which we did, which was a bamboo clump again, I loved that bamboo, and we got into that bamboo and then I called in more artillery fire and also ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, because they were then putting an attack in on the village south of us. So it might have only been ten or thirty that had a go at us but there was a much larger number following up
after that and I thought we could break them up but we didn’t. They were determined to hit that small village, which is south of us, but the next day I mean that we could then stay there that night and the next day they sent out a whole squadron of APCs, which was about fifteen APCs, because we still weren’t sure as to whether it was totally clear. So I married up with the APCs and put my guys on board and then we
quietly went down to where we were had our first contact and you could see the area where we had our contact. You could see all of these mortar shell shells craters where they’d put the mortars in and then we went a little bit further on and we found some body parts and some sandals and packs and all that sort of stuff and blood bandages and everything else. So didn’t find any bodies because they really do as a matter of principle take their bodies with them because they were worried that we’d mutilate them
and then the Buddhists believe you go to heaven without an ear or without a finger you go to heaven without an ear or a finger. So they’re really quite conscious of that and also they have to be buried a particular way as well. So they used to be paranoid. You know not that we had done any of that but that’s propaganda I guess. So they do everything to get their bodies out. So we’ll occasionally we’d find all just little body parts in bags and bandages and blood trails and stuff like that. So
yeah, and that was a three hour type contact from start to finish roughly. Next day the CO rang me, like didn’t ring me but he got me on the radio and said, “Look, I’ve got good news and bad news.” He said, “The good news is Blue’s all right. The bad news he’s lost his leg,” and I thought, “Oh God.” This young kid came from Tasmania. He was a champion hockey player and I just really felt bad you know. Anyway he said, “Look, do you want to go down and see him?” I said
“Absolutely.” So he got me a chopper and I went down to see him at the 36 Evac Hospital and at the time the Americans were just having a huge operation called Junction City and they were getting hit left, right and centre and I had to actually walk down a post op ward because Blue had the last bed on the right and I had to walk through this post op ward to get to Blue and I’ve never seen so many terrible sights in my life. You know guys with no arms and legs, guys with
their stomach out on the table next to them. You know I mean just terrible. These guys had just been shot up so bad and here’s Blue he’s he was on the morphine. They’d sort of given him a really good boost and he was happy as Larry you know because he was drugged. You know but anyway I said, “G’day,” and, “How you going? How you feeling?” and you don’t make reference of his leg gone because he’s so doped up. You know you just talk to him. Anyway I had to walk back out of that post op ward and
a good friend of mine who was a doctor at 36 Evac, Australian, he also ended up being my best man. I said, “John I’ve got to go and get pissed. I’ve got to get a drink.” I said, “This is just terrible.” He said, “Look, I know,” he said, “it’s the worst I’ve seen too and I’m a doctor.” So he and I just went out on the grog all night. I didn’t go back and we sent the chopper back and my CO understood. You know he understood and so John Taskie and I, who’s now
a top anaesthetist in Brisbane, he and I got stuck into the grog and it was just depression on my part. I just had to do something because I’d I mean I felt bad about Blue but when I saw these casualties. I mean fifty, fifty badly wounded soldiers on either side of the post op ward and some of them were just horrific, horrific injuries. I just felt terrible. So yeah that was our little excursion in the Long Hais. No, that wasn’t the Long
Hais, that was the Horseshoe type ambush. The Long Hais was another one where our B Company was doing a patrol down from us and at that time I was attached to D Company and they got me and our guys to go up on the high ground to support the high ground and just to clear it in case there were any bad guys there and that’s when B Company hit the minefield and we
lost so many people in that. Just terrible and we could see it all from up on the top of the mountain looking down. I mean I didn’t have binoculars. You don’t need those in Vietnam but you could just see the plume of black smoke and you know a track that’s blown thirty feet in the air. I mean this is a thirty tonne vehicle that’s just blown to pieces and I think in that we lost I know there was I think from memory twelve killed and about twenty four wounded or something like that and it was just probably the
worst incident of the battalion’s tour in Vietnam. So we were all up there and we were fairly depressed about all of that. I mean you know obviously relieved that we weren’t involved but depressed for our mates, cause we knew a lot of those guys and one of my mates, close mates, was killed, Jack Carruthers and one of my instructors from Portsea, Bruce McQualter, who I couldn’t stand as an instructor at Portsea. He and I just were on different wave lengths but I had a chance
of serving with him in the battalion and particular in his company, B Company. What a fantastic company commander. Really first class company commander. I think he just liked giving officer cadets a hard time you know and of course he was killed, which was just sad and a lot of other guys and a lot of guys were very, very badly wounded and that night we just harboured up, up on top of this in ah Long Hais and there across from us at night there was this
damn fire going, little fire and obviously it was a Viet Cong cooking and I thought, “Right, we’re gonna get you blokes.” So I called in mortars, couldn’t call in artillery because the angle was not opportune. It had to be something that goes up and comes down. So and we got onto our mortar platoon and of course they were delighted to have a bit of a crack and we’d fire some mortars and the fire would go out. Say, “Ah, got him,” and we’d all quietly sit there, next minute the fire would come back on again.
Next minute I’d call in some more mortars. The fire would go out. Then in the end the fire kept coming on and I said, “Well look,” you know, “if that guy’s that hungry let him have his feed.” We just forgot about him. So it was a bit of humour in it towards the end of it but there in that whole operation was probably the low point in and we’d lost a lot a guys with mines you know. I mean our battalion lost a lot a guys with mines and it demoralises you. You know if you
can see the enemy and close with the enemy and kill them or he kills you I mean that’s one thing but you can’t fight against a mine. It’s something that’s in the ground and they were jumping jacks, M16s. They’d jump out and they’d just chop you in half at waist length, waist ah height. So that was probably one of our worst episodes I would think.
and we did a mock ambush of a little Vietnamese village where I pinched a pig, a little baby pig, but I didn’t pinch it. I actually paid the guy a hundred Dong or two hundred Dong. I’ve got to say he didn’t want to sell it but I didn’t steal it. I gave him some money for it and we put it in the little jeep that we had and we got into base and nobody knew that we had this pig. Nobody knew we had this pig. So what I did, we painted it you know
sort of a tiger, cause our mascot was a tiger. So we painted it like a tiger and it used to sleep in my fighting pit. So if I was ever mortared I’d have to get down there with all of that pig crap etcetera and scraps that we used to feed him and everything else but interestingly enough, we had a company sergeant major who was not well liked by the soldiers. I won’t mention his name but his nickname was “Pig”. His nickname was “Pig” and
what we used to do is this pig became like a dog you know. It really used to follow me around like a little dog and I’d get Bob Carney or one of the soldiers to hold the pig down the bottom of the road in front of our tents and I’d get to the top. At the top of my voice I’d yell out, “Here pig, pig, pig, pig. Here pig, pig, pig, pig,” and this particular CSM would stick his head out of the tent like this as somebody’s having a go at him and next minute this pig is running up the road and the diggers are just rolling
around laughing just absolutely but there’s nothing he could do. A, I’m an officer and B, I mean that’s my pig you know. So it was things like that. We had a boxing tent in the back of my tent where we’d box but we’d never box in the head. We’d just box in the stomach. So in other words, I’d blow the whistle and guys put gloves on and they’d just fight like hell hitting each other in the solar plexus and the stomach region.
Not done in spite or anything else but it got rid of a lot of frustrations and also a lot of giggles as well. We’d listen to a lot of music. I mean I was a Supremes nut. Johnny Rivers, the Supremes. Oh who’s the other guy that I can’t recall his name but it’s definitely Supremes. They were in in those days. So in my tent you know I’d just have the Supremes blaring and you’re not
supposed to drink in the lines and I always had booze in my tent you know. Bacardi and Rum we used, ah Bacardi and Coke we used to drink all the time and we’d have fun. You know we’d have fun. We’d have a giggle and the diggers’d get up into a bit of trouble. Like one particular time was Thanksgiving in November and somebody from my platoon stole a huge Thanksgiving ham from the soldiers’ mess and of course we all ate it. We didn’t know where it came from, well we knew where it came from
but I didn’t ask any questions and the next day this pig CSM, the company sergeant major, was doing inspection of all the garbage cans in front of my platoon’s tents and he found the evidence. He found the ham bone in one of the garbage cans. Of course it was Bob Carney’s tent so Bob, as a corporal, was charged with stealing soldiers’ rations and he was marched up to the CO
because only the commanding officer can hear the charge of a corporal and I went up as a character witness and a course here am I, the platoon commander, going up as a character witness and I’d also been aiding and abetting. In other words, I’d been receiving stolen goods. Cause I didn’t know. I mean by this stage I’ve had a few drinks and I thought, “This ham really tastes good.” So the CO because he knew, I mean the adjutant said to me, “What about Bob?” and I said, “Mate he’s a terrific digger. He’s fantastic and I think he’s been framed,” because Pig didn’t like him.
So he said, “Look we’ve got to go through the motions and charge him and all that,” and he said, “I want you to come up as a witness.” Not as a witness, “as a character reference.” So here’s the CO and the RSM, the regimental sergeant major, and Corporal Carney without his hat and belt because he might use them as a missile standing to attention in front of the CO and the CO said to me he said, “Mick, what do you think about Corporal Carney? What’s Corporal Carney like as a corporal?”
and I said, “Sir, he is one of my best patrol commanders. Loved by the soldiers and invaluable to our platoon but unfortunately when he consumes alcohol he’s a social misfit,” and oh God so they all cracked up. You know they all cracked up. “March out Corporal Carney.” So Corporal Carney marched out and then Bob and I were walking back down towards
our lines you know. He said, “Hey skip.” He said, “What do you mean ‘social misfit’?” and I said, “Bob you know exactly what I mean,” and he laughed. He just laughed but he got nothing. He didn’t get a reprimand or anything else. So it was always I guess a sense of humour, trying to keep a sense of humour going and we had a lot of black humour at that time in our platoon. You know we would see the funny things in some fairly serious things but we would see the funny side of it.
Not at the expense of others in terms of those close to us but you know if we saw some Vietnamese doing, friendlies, doing something silly we’d all just you know laugh and carry on and yeah, and look I and I think again, it wasn’t just myself that managed to maintain morale. It was my leadership group. It was my corporals and sergeants that helped to maintain that and they all had my sort of humour and I think that’s interesting. It wasn’t part of the selection process but it’s the way it worked out
where we had similar senses of humour and we’d just laugh at the most crazy things and I think that in itself kept us going.
because, “I’m an officer you know. We’re not supposed to get these things. We’re supposed to be strong,” and I had I’ve had soldiers ringing me. I mean I’m Dorothy Dix really. I’ve had soldiers ringing me for years with problems and I’ve tried to explain to them and explain to them and I’ll never forget this. It was about 1990 or ‘89. We had a staff college come through from Queenscliff, which is the majors seeking promotion to lieutenant colonel,
and at that time I was a director of the Hardy Wine Company and we had them through as, oh wine tasting and a bit of a giggle. Well lo and behold in the group of the instructors coming through as brigadiers and colonels there was about four or five guys that I knew from my time when I was an officer. Well we got stuck into the grog. Seriously got stuck into it. Just to touch base again. I hadn’t seen these guys for years and anyway I got home and
I just sat in a chair and I started to cry and my wife at the time she had no idea what was going on and I’d I just kept saying and repeating, “Nobody understands. Nobody understands.” I kept repeating myself and she was really worried. You know and she rang Bob Carney, who was my one of my patrol commanders, and Bob hasn’t had a drink for thirty years and he came over and he just put his arm around me and said, “What’s the matter?” and I said, “Nobody
understands. Nobody understands,” and then a very good neighbour down the road, he was a civilian not an army man, he came up and what I’d what I hadn’t realised I mean I was having a break down. Basically it was a pent up stress levels I guess from thirty years ago where I was having a break down. So I anyway I got over that you know. I stopped crying. I wasn’t crying, “Boo hoo”, it was just tears just pouring out of my eyes and I just kept saying, “Nobody f’n understands.”
You know I was really getting quite angry and the next day Bob rang me and he said, “Look I think you’d better go and see Tony Smith,” and Tony Smith was a platoon commander in 1 Battalion. He’s a psychologist and I said, “Yeah. I’ll have to go and see him cause I’ve never experienced this in my life.” So anyway what I discovered was that subconsciously what I’d said to myself is, “Nobody understands and I’ve got no one to talk to.” Everybody else had me to talk to. I had nobody to talk to because my civilian friends, I couldn’t talk to
them about Vietnam. Even my wife and kids, I couldn’t talk to them about Vietnam. I mean I didn’t want to disturb them and also they wouldn’t understand and that’s what I kept saying, “Nobody understands. Nobody understands.” So I went and had treatment and they got into my head and then I suddenly realised and I read some books on PTSD and I just I realised really that I’d had this all along but had just
chosen to ignore it and there were certain symptoms there that I’d chosen to ignore for some reason. So that whole, if you like that whole PTSD stress level, was terrible but I didn’t realise I had it. Now that I realise I’ve got it, I can manage it much better but I do have flash backs and I do have trouble sleeping and I do have dreams. Yeah, it’s not pleasant.