To me, it wasn’t real aircraft work. They very rarely got, unless they were on the squadron where they got to work with the instrument system, part of the system in the aeroplane, not an individual item. The electrical side of it was much the same. Most of them were in overhaul
facilities and things like this that, they call aircraft depots. But an aircraft is a place where stuff is overhauled and things like this, long term heavy type maintenance. Not anywhere near a squadron. And a lot of the people that do get involved in the aircraft depots are professional depot dogs. They’re there for the long term. Squadron
life is different. The other trades, engine side of it, that was good. Once again there, you can get yourself tied up where you’re in the aircraft depot overhauling engines or propellers, or you could be out in the squadron where you might change them, fix them, keep them happy. One’s the sharp end and one’s the blunt end. So I chose air frame fitting and I did that for another 2
years at Wagga. I graduated, then of course you’re posted to an aircraft depot. Now, the reason that you’re posted to an aircraft depot, this is further training in your apprenticeship. The apprenticeship was 5 years. As far as an air frame fitter’s concerned, what they would do, they would allot you to various aircraft types, where you’d be there working with experienced
people, then you may go the hydraulic shop, and you might spend 2 months there, where you overhaul hydraulic components, test them. So you do all these bits that you would not normally tackle on the line somewhere. Still in that same time,
at Richmond, we had Neptune bombers and we were converting them from a real bomber, self-protect aeroplane, which had gun turrets and things like this, to a maritime surveillance aeroplane. And that was a very, very big modification program, very interesting. Where we were taking nose turrets, mid-upper turrets, tail gun turrets,
out of aeroplanes. We were replacing them with observer noses and things like this. There were very big modifications.
which is in Perak. I used to go down there with the Perak Flying Club. Initially, travelling with a friend of mine Ken Howe, still a mate of mine, he’s at North Richmond. We went down and we were learning to glide. Now learning to glide in Malaya, you don’t go very far. Because there’s very little around the airport, as far as thermals.
So we did that. And I said to Ken “I think we’ll get into this Tiger Moth”. The flying instructor there was a British schoolteacher by the name of Gus Haynes. He was a big boy. So what we did, we did our little bit of gliding, then we’d also go and do our Tiger Moth training.
A Tiger Moth has got, when you sit where the instructor does, up the front, and 2 little doors just on the side. That’s so you can get into the aeroplane easier, then you put them up. But with Gus, he couldn’t have them up, because most of his shoulders were outside there. In the bottom of the pan of the seat, it’s got a gap that big for a parachute, which you sit on. Now
you fly from the back, you can fly from the back or the front, but one it’s one person you fly from the back. But we just used to have a cushion that used to go in there. Gus used to just sit on the pan. This is the size. He had a rear vision mirror up here. So you’d go out, you’d go around, you’d fly, you’d do what you want to. You bounced or something, and you look in the mirror, and all you could see was these two eyes looking at you.
I won’t look there, I’ll look somewhere else. But both Ken and myself, soloed in 6 hours. Normally the minimum to solo was 8, actually we were just under 6. We also soloed in the glider the same day. To this gentleman’s dissatisfaction. He said, “You cannot learn to fly both these aeroplanes at the same time”. So we did both that.
A lot of Malay Chinese that were in the club. I remember they took us out for dinner. Mr Wong lines up everything, got the table out there, and in the middle of the table he’s got a big bottle of Hennessey’s Brandy, and around at everybody’s place, was a smaller bottle of Hennessey’s brandy. Fill that up. And the call was “yam sing”,
and that’s from the bottom to the top. And I’ve never been crook so much in all my life. But that’s what their hospitality was like. They’d take you out. These people were tin farmers. Sounds funny, how do you farm tin? Well, you do. But they were very influential people, and for them, the flying side of it, meant they spoke to people other than people in the tin industry.
As far as we were concerned, flying, we were speaking to people other than the people in the air force base.
A lot to do with me, too. I went down to Ipoh in an Auster. An Auster is a single engine, single high main plane aeroplane, from the club. I had rebuilt this particular aeroplane at Ipoh. It belonged to the Penang Flying Club. They didn’t have a
facility to fix it up. I took a lot of the spare parts down in an RAF [Royal Air Force] helicopter, to Ipoh and rebuilt it. When it was back there, there were two chaps that I worked with. A corporal and a sergeant, and I said, “Why don’t we go to Ipoh for the weekend?” “Oh, beauty, we’ll do this”.
Sorry, it was another ROC [Royal Observer Corps] and a corporal, I’m telling the story wrong. Ken Woods and Terry Mathews. So we went down, and we had a fantastic weekend and they really enjoyed themselves. And on the Sunday afternoon we were to come back. There was a lot of monsoonal
activity around and the weather was just not suitable to come back. So I rang Butterworth and I spoke to a chap, the chief air traffic controller for the weekend. I said, “We’re supposed to be coming back this afternoon, what’s the weather like there?” He said, “Oh, it’s atrocious”. I said, “Well, to make sure we get to work tomorrow on time, we’ll leave at first light, if you will allow us
to land at Butterworth and not Penang. Because if we’ve got to land at Penang, then we’ve got to come over and we’ll be late. We’ll land at Butterworth, and what we’ll do, that afternoon, as soon as we finish, we’ll take the aeroplane out and take it across to Penang”. You had to go across the water. So I got airborne the next morning, we were quite early. It’s got no radio in it.
We went to land at Butterworth and we were waved off with a red light. So I decided that maybe the smartest thing would be to go to Penang. So we went to Penang, got to work about three hours late. I was charged with absence without leave, by my CO [Commanding Officer]. The other two
chaps, they were also charged with the same thing. Then I got to know the air traffic control bloke had spoken to my CO and he was told, “You’re not to let them land here”, so I thought, that’s pretty nice. So in the finish, the 2 other chaps, they had their charges dismissed. I was flying the aeroplane so it was my fault. And I was given 7 days confined to barracks.
At this stage, while all this was going on, there had been promotions around the place. Terry Mathews had been made a sergeant, Kev Wood had been made a corporal. He got up with me, he said, “Okay Rose. Seven days CB [Confined to Barracks]”.
He said, “What’s your reply?” I said, “Sir, with all due respect, I think it’s a very fair decision”. I said, “The corporal was a made a sergeant, the LAC [Leading Aircraftsman] was made a corporal, and I was given 7 days CB”. I said, “Everybody got something out of it”. Then he reminded me that I would get a little more if I didn’t turn my comments down. So I did 7 days CB.
And the other thing is they tend to drink their beer too hot, where we required ours to be cold. But this boat club was right on the water, down near where all the guard dogs were. We had an incident there where I had a wing commander, his name was KP Connelly. And he was the CO of
78 Wing, he was an engineering officer. We had a doctor by the name of Radford, and Doctor Radford wanted his boat taken out. So Wing Commander Connelly authorised the 50 ton crane, which was used at the airport, on the runway, to drag aeroplanes off the strip if they crashed, to go down to the boat club. So it went
down at the end of the runway, then went out, got on the beach, and it got at a fairly hectic angle, and couldn’t suck enough fuel up for it. This unit had a diesel engine in it, driving 4 electric motors, one on each wheel. And you could also take a big lead out, and remote control operate it and all this. Anyway, the chap that was on it, his name was Arab Gardiner. He goes back to get some more fuel.
When he come back, the tide’s come in. The tides in Malaya are very vicious. What it had done, it had started to dig the wheels in. This was right behind the sergeant’s mess. So they took a pile of us down there and said “You’ve got to go and dig this out”. So we had D9 bulldozers everywhere. The cameras we had, the films were taken out of them, so we couldn’t take any shots of it. Worked
all through the night, finally got this thing out, disassembled. It all came out as units. You can imagine it, it’s designed to lift 50 ton. Now the aerodrome can’t operate with fighters or bombers because there isn’t a machine to take them off if they prang. So anyway, finally it all finishes as a dining in night at the sergeants’ mess. They were handing beer over the fence to us. It wasn’t a bad night. So about a month
later, we had a chap who used to write different bits and what not. He seemed to be able to find out everything that went on in the based. His was called Don Ink, that was non de plume. He wrote this thing, and at the time the movie On The Beach was on. And he brought this great big poster out, On The Beach. A KP
Connelly production, starring Arab Gardiner and a cast of thousands. This wing commander went around, and he was hunting everywhere. He never found out who it was. This just stopped everybody. It couldn’t have been at a better time when this thing was being shown. This bloke was right on it.
And at the border, all identification, military identification was taken off us, and given back to us on the way back through. It was different. That had never happened to us really before. Went from there to Nice. We spent a few days there and had a look at their pebble beaches, and the
women who were very scantily dressed. Then. Of course, over dressed now, by the same standards. We also went down to Monte Carlo and did all that bit. From there to
Malta. Went from Malta to Alexandria. Went down the Nile to a place called Wadi Halfa, and we were the last aeroplane into Wadi Halfa, and after we left it was closed and it was flooded by the Aswan Dam. Out of there, we were about 50 miles
out of Wadi Halfa, and we got a may day call, from an American in a Cessna. He had engine failure and he was going down into the sand dunes, and he talked us right through the whole thing. Told us where he was, where he was tracking and all that. So we got on the authorities at Halfa and said, “Look, we want to go and search for this bloke”. They said, “Okay, we will
monitor your search”. So we went round and round and found him, finally, and he was sitting under the wing, eating an apple, and that’s all he had. So we packed up food, water, everything for him, then went over and did a drop. My HF [high frequency] got onto the CO of the flight, who at that stage was almost at Khartoum, who said can we land in the sand and pick him up. And he said, “No. We don’t want to have to go there and pick everybody up”.
So we’ve since communicated with that bloke, and probably saved his life. The interesting part about Wadi Halfa, all it had there was an air radio station, which used to be a bit like AWA [Amalgamated Wireless Australasia] , but this was the British equivalent. And they used to move people around to various parts of the world and they would do, really, the air traffic control. And Wadi Halfa
was just an air radio station. And this was the way it went, you parked on the tarmac there, and there was this long concrete pathway. And this place has got sand for thousands of miles either side of it. On both sides it’s got, “Please keep off the sand”. And I thought, “Whoever’s come here, has got a sense of humour”. So anyway, we went to Khartoum, a lot of these places you wouldn’t get to anymore. Khartoum to Aden.
In Aden there was a little bit of strife from the North Yemenese at that stage, and one of the aeroplanes, that had been in the ferry flight, had been suffering engine problems. Now, it wasn’t the aeroplane I was on, but I found out it had been having engine problems since Nice, but they elected to keep coming. So anyway, I went and had a look at it.
What had happened was one of the bullet proof fuel tanks, of which there were 5 inboard on both sides on the Caribou, if you get a bullet through it, it’s got this green ooze. And what it will do, it will flow into the break, then freeze hard, or go solid, and you don’t lose the fuel. What had happened with this one, it had broken from the inside, all this goop had
got in and gone down into the fuel lines. The reason they had engine problems was when they got enough down there, the engine said well haven’t got enough fuel, stop. They’d leave it for half an hour, fly on one hour, then it would start up again. So at Aden, we hung around there for a couple of weeks, waiting for a fuel tank. They sent 5 out, and they went to all parts of the world, except Aden. Then we got a message that said the other 2 aeroplanes had to proceed.
Seeing as it was an airframe problem, I can stop there and change the fuel tank, when it comes. So I did that, did everything I had to do. But seeing as everything took so long, we were stopped in an RAF transit hotel, very close to where it’s said Moses put the boat, the traditional thing. This was where it happened, when he sailed the Ark,
they said it was in this area.
36 Squadron days, and previous Herc days, who used to be a load master. He was the Air Movements Warrant Officer. We had an extremely good evening in Singapore, and I was put on Pan American at daylight the next morning. I arrived at Ton Son Nhat, which is Saigon international airport, got off the aeroplane, met by nobody.
And it was the greatest cultural shock I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen so many aeroplanes in my life, never seen so much stuff moving around. An American picked me and said, “Where you going, son?” I said, “I’m going to Vung Tau”. “Okay, jump in”. So I jumped into this great cabin front, he took me over and stuck me on a veranda of this place, and I’m looking around and everybody’s in uniform, everybody’s got guns.
I’m sitting there in civvies. I thought, “I look pretty good, don’t I?” So the day got longer and longer. You couldn’t use US dollars. That was prohibited. If you wanted to spend money up there, you had to use the American currency, which is military payments certificates, MPC. You weren’t even allowed to use Vietnamese money unless
you changed it, and you showed where you changed it. This was to stop all the black market. Of course, the value of a dollar was worth a lot more than you could ever get at the pay sections. So this bloke gave me some cigarettes, gave me some money for the drink machine, so I sat there all day. After a while, helicopters started coming in. I’m
very observant, just sitting there, and as Robin Williams said it was, “hot, hot, hot”. Ambulances went out. I thought, “What are all these things coming out?” In green bags, put them in the ambulance, away they went. Helicopter after helicopter. And I saw 43. I thought, “Jingoes,
I’m not real happy with this”. They were all body bags. Nobody to talk to. It’s not as if you’re there and you’ll just have a couple of beers while you’re waiting. It’s not you were by yourself. First you’d think, “What’s in the bag?” You knew there a body, but you get away from it, it’s something you shouldn’t be thinking about. So finally,
at about 5.30 in the afternoon, that’s after being there since about 7 in the morning, the Caribou arrived. 3 Aussie smiling faces. I thought, “You beauty. Let’s go”. Got off at Vung Tau, went into the villa and the cold beer was the best I ever had. Said, “G’day to everybody there”, and
it’s a real sort of homecoming.
and I got out and Trevor was cooking his little tin of C rations. I said, “What are you doing, Trev?” He said, “I’m having lunch. There’s not enough for you”. I said, “That’s pretty good”. And I just looked at him and said “This is ridiculous, what I’m seeing”. Blokes are working really hard, and they’ve got to pull up, they can’t get a sandwich,
can’t get anything, and they’ve got to do this. I said, “Well Trev, this is going to change”. He said, “Oh, it will never change”. So I went back to Vung Tau, got settled into the various runs that we did. From the time you got up, about 6, and had a shower and got out to the field, as I said, unless you had some tinned stuff
there to eat, you didn’t get much. Also the other chaps who were living in the blockhouse with you, were other people who didn’t start until about 8 o’ clock. So we disturbed everybody when we left. So I did all these various runs. And I noticed that to a lot of American bases we were carrying these 50 pound boxes. They were always cold.
I thought, “This is funny, I better have a bit of a check on this”, didn’t have anything on the outside of it, nothing like this. So away we’d go, we’d deliver stuff around the place. Sometimes the whole load wouldn’t arrive, you might get bits and pieces and things like this. So I decided that I would have one of these boxes. Took it back down to the villa, opened it up and there’s 50 pound of scotch steak.
So we unpacked all this and we improvised and we cooked it. We gave some to the officers, and we had some over, and we had a dog called “VC”. Somebody didn’t have 2 pieces because if people are hungry, a bit like survival courses, and I bring the box in and I have 2 pieces, that’s enough to cause a scrap. But if the dog has one of them, and
everybody has one, that’s no problem at all. So we ate all this. The next day I went back to the aerial port and I said, “This meat that you get, where do you get it from?” He said, “Oh, we can help you out with that”. I said, “That’s pretty nice. What can I do for you?” “Ahh, boy”, he said, “You got any Scotch whiskey?”
I said, “I don’t normally drink whiskey”. I didn’t mind drinking vodka and stuff like that. But I said, “Yeah, I think I can get that”. So I went down and picked up, took 6 bottles back to them. And this aerial port in Ton Son Nhat, these were the people who distributed everything. Once it got there it was distributed. So in the finish I was getting these boxes of meat on a regular basis, but they could never predict what I had in there.
You’d get back there, you might have 4 legs of pork, you might have 4 turkeys, you might have steak. But anyway, this was real good. So we decided it might be a good idea if we make ourselves a barbecue. So we got ourselves some bricks and mortar and stuff like that, on a day off, and made a barbecue so that we were better equipped. Then what would happen, I might get 2 boxes this day then I might go a few days and get nothing.
People used to wait at the gate for me, of the compound. To walk in there with nothing, was quite upsetting for everybody. So I used to go to the Senior NCOs mess and come in when everybody had cleared out. I was on one particular trip and all of a sudden I had 3 boxes of meat, and we had
refrigeration that didn’t work. The chaps came along and put 2 refrigerators initially, on the aeroplane, and they were for a 3 star general. They said, “There’s supposed to be three but we can’t find the other one”. What they used to do for loads like that, if they couldn’t find it, they used to put a thing through and say, “Oh, we bumped it”. So they bumped it. Then they came up and said, “We found it”. And put it on. And the paperwork wasn’t adjusted and away we went. On the way to Vung Tau
I had the other one shuffled up the front, covered up, the other 2 moved down near the back. And when I got there I gave him the paperwork and said, “Oh, they got bumped”, he said, “What’s that up the front?” I said “That’s just a spare engine”. When everybody went away, I took that to the villa, and installed it in my room, put the meat in that we had and we were right. We’ve got everything we want now. I came back,
went up to Nha Trang. I came back the next day and the warrant officer was there to see me. “Rose,” he said, “you’re under arrest”. I said, “What am I under arrest for?” He said, “It’s over a refrigerator. The commanding officer wants to see you”. So he takes my hat off me, because at that stage that shows I’d been arrested. But what he didn’t do,
we used to wear a 45 revolver with a round of ammunition, right around us, and I also had an M1 Carbine, and the M1 Carbine had what we called a “banana” with the bullets, they used to go like this. The reason we called it “banana” was we had another one glued on the other side, stuck with tape, so if you had to use it and you finished it, you could just change the magazines over, and you
still had a few shells in. And I had this, and I was in front of the CO, under arrest. So he told me that I was a naughty boy and I was in trouble. He was a mate of my father’s. He said, “I have to speak to your father about this”. I said, “Hey, look, I’m a grown man now. Deal with me”. He said, “Why didn’t you demand it through the system?” Demand a refrigerator through the system? There were 2 things you couldn’t get. A refrigerator and air conditioning.
So this all went. He said, “You will be interviewed by the American provos tomorrow”. So I went in, went to my villa, went to get in the door and there’s 2 Negroes there, fully armed. He says, “You’re not coming in here, guy”. I said, “I live here”. He said, “No, you’re not coming in”. So I have to go and get permission from the provos that they remove these people so that I can at least sleep there for the night. They interviewed me the next day and all this. And then this Guthrie
decides he will send me to Australia. He adverses me, gives me an adverse report, to which he appended other things to make it sound better, like that drinking was involved. When I fly, I don’t drink. But he put it in to make it sound right. They couldn’t get me out of Vietnam for about a week. So they gave me all other chores
to do. The colonel came down from the 115th Air Commando, who was basically our main CO. Guthrie said “Rose is going home”. He said, “I know that, that’s sad”. And Vic said, “All the meat here has just come from Butterworth, for the barbecue”. I said, “Sir, I beg to differ”, he said, “What’s the problem?” I said, “The aeroplane hasn’t arrived”, he said, “Where did the meat come from?” I said, “I got it off the Yanks”. So the colonel had a bit of a laugh.
He said, “Well, if you’ve got it, they don’t want it”. So I got sent back to Australia, and when I got back, for about 4 months I was told I was not allowed to talk to anybody, I wasn’t allowed to make any comments and all this and I was going to be discharged. I was sent down to Canberra, in a Caribou. The air member for personnel interviewed me, to find out what was going on. I said,
“Well, I was in the position where I could get food. I fed the troops”. So he then wrote a snarling report on the CO and said how weak he was. They decided that seeing Guthrie was going to come back to Richmond and they still needed load masters, that I didn’t get discharged. One of the main reasons is that the “Mirror” wanted to run a story. It’s amazing how people go and have another think.
With this CO said, “I want to take him back with me”. So in July, I went back and did another tour. Yeah, so I went back and Charles Melson was the wing commander, he was the CO.
And he’d been up there for a month or so before I got up there. I called him Charles because he became a great friend in later life. Charles decided that the way to keep me out of trouble was to give me as much work as possible, in addition to the flying. So I used to have do things like, I ran the airmen’s club and I ran the boat club and I ran the airmen’s mess.
This stage the airmen’s mess comprised of a building, a catering warrant officer, a field kitchen that had gone up in a C-130, so I felt quite proud about this, and an extremely good cook that would cook you anything of a day or night. He actually used to go out on helicopters as a gunner, on his days off.
Affectionately we used to call him “the flying cook”, amongst other things, but quite a genuine chap. So I did my tour up there and I finished that. I came home April the next year. I left Vung Tau on the 24th. We left on a C-130, we went to Darwin.
Everybody off, up to the mess. They said, “There’s soap there, there’s towels there, shower, shave, do whatever you’ve got to do. Put civilian clothes on, you’re not going to Sydney in uniform”. Which I felt was probably the biggest insult they could ever give anybody. So the lot of us were bundled onto a DC-6B,
run by, at that stage, Ansett. That’s a low wing, 4 piston aeroplane. We got everything, the beer and the food. I got off in Sydney. I had 3,000 cigarettes with me. I gave them away. I’ve never had a cigarette since.
And DVA [Department of Veteran’s Affairs], when I put a claim in for diabetes, were very interested about the fact how I could be so specific about the day that I gave up smoking. I said, “There are certain things in life that you do tend to remember”. Particularly a lot of areas where you’ve got a flying log book. I know where I’ve been. You pick the day and I can tell you a fair idea of where I was.
one American sergeant jumped up and down. But in the long run, it achieved what I would have wished to have there. Even when I went back and the warrant officer was there, I used to help him out. He used to have sides of bacon and stuff like this. On a run I’d go up to Delat, which is the garden of South Vietnam and I would give them the sides of bacon and I would come back with fresh veggies.
And the CO, not our CO, but there was a support flight there, he said, “Oh gee, we’ve got to go and thank this colonel”. I said, “Sir, please. Don’t go anywhere near him. It’s got nothing to do with the colonel. He doesn’t know anything about it”. I said, “I’m getting it off a sergeant”. He said, “Oh, they’ve got to be thanked”. I said, “You go out and thank it and thank the fact that there’s no more fresh veggies”.
They were happy with everything, but this was a fair embarrassment to them. There was a lot of toing and froing after it, and the main thing is that they charged me with nothing. They didn’t court martial me so as far as I’m concerned. I said, “I did no wrong”. Even Delat, the
provos marshal, the chief policemen of the air force, he interviewed me and he said, “I find Rose an honest man”. And he said, “He’s smart enough to know that by Guthrie sending him back to Australia, he will claim that this was his punishment and it wouldn’t go any further”. So I didn’t do too badly. So as I said, I went to 2 Aircraft Depot, because they wanted a C-130 chap there, then,
on a big replanking job, to be the NCO in charge of that particular part of it. I didn’t really want to go there, I wanted to keep flying, but they sent me over there, and the next thing, even before I got over there, they must have known I was going to be promoted. I was promoted to sergeant. I was sent back to Vietnam. Between corporal and sergeant,
the minimum time between that rank and that rank is 2 years, it never happens, and I was promoted in 2 years, to the day, and actually sent to purgatory. But I got out of that later on, they got shorter load masters and they took me back to 38 Squadron.
it’s like having a child carrying a rifle around. Because to many of them, the rifles were just about up to the top of their heads. They were viscous fighters, they hated the Vietnamese, had a real hate for them. They were Montagnards, they were mountain people. When you went to the villages, they didn’t dress real well, and
although in a lot of cases they were in the highlands, so they were a pretty hardy group. These were also the same people as the Australian training team. They had Montagnards, sort of under their command. Now, with a special forces camp, it will be a fortress. What they will do, the air strip, because you can’t have an air strip
within inside a fortress, the air strip was always on the outside. So if you ever broke down in an aeroplane that was a big problem. You were out where you were very vulnerable. If that was the case, and you had to remain overnight, you spent most of the night firing parachute flares all night, so people couldn’t get near the aeroplane, or couldn’t mortar it. But anyway, these outposts, started off with barbed wire, then they had
Claymore mines, then they had holes dug down with bamboo spikes with human excreta on them. The line of defence was just something else. There were machine guns spots all the way around. The gates used to close before night. In there normally there were
4 military people. The captain that was in charge was normally a Negro. Maybe 1 or 2 of the other ones could be. Out of that they might have 1 white man. That’s how they ran the whole organisation. The Montagnards, in their villages, used to surround them. They were there, but they weren’t inside the main
compound. Of a night time, some of the Montagnards used to remain in inside on the guns, but the Vietcong and North Vietnamese were that cunning, they would come into these places, go through the barbed wire, go to the Claymores, release them off the concrete, turn them around and reconcrete them in. As soon as
there was an attack and they fired the Claymores, they fire the Claymores at themselves. This is how ingenious these people were.
if we walked down the street, we wore one uniform. If the Vietnamese walked down the street, they all wore the same uniform. Black happened to be the fashion, and that included the women, too, as far as anybody that worked in the fields. You would fly over a rice paddy, and you could see the person going for the rifle. That’s the main reason we used to get around at 3,000 feet
or at tree level, because we were gone before they could aim at us. Initially, when we first got up there, they weren’t very good shots, but they did improve with time. As a matter of fact, one particular special forces camp we operated into, for quite a long while, we used take a lot of rounds on short finals.
There was a lot of firing. We didn’t get hit very often. But because we had to continually go back into the same place, we used to rain hand grenades down on short finals to maybe try and keep this bloke’s head down. We used to dispatch them in bottles. We used to pull the pin, slide the grenade in the bottle, and put the top back down on it.
And when we threw it out, it filtered down and when it got into the trees, it broke open, the trigger came up and it fired. The Americans gave me a hell of a bollocking, they said, “You kill him, they’ll put somebody else there who can shoot”. I said, “Thanks very much. How do we know someone’s not down there teaching him?” We remained overnight in one particular place,
and the amount of mortars that were sent in trying to get this aeroplane, because the aeroplane was a prize. We were on the other end in a pit, sending parachute flares up, trying to see where everything was coming from. If an aeroplane was left somewhere, they really decided that that was the prize.
to burn the Vietcong out of the tunnels. They were in the tunnels, they couldn’t get them out, so they said, “Okay, we’ll burn them out”. Pretty nasty way, you wouldn’t even do it with rabbits. Anyway, I was given the job to work out how we were going to do it. So we got all the fuel drums, a whole aeroplane full of fuel drums. I had the safety equipment bloke make
me up a pile of parachutes. And these parachutes I taped lightly to the drums. And on each drum I put a smoke grenade. The theory behind this was that as they went out the pin would go on a smoke grenade, they burn very hot, and down the thing would go, and hopefully when it did hit the ground it had a form of ignition. The stupid part about it is that that could have happened in the aeroplane, too.
But it didn’t. We did in fact get the whole load out. But at the same time there was an Australia Iroquois helicopter, which was to fly beside us, and as they drums were coming out, they were firing tracer bullets at them to set them on fire. Once again, the amount of machine gun bullets that were coming out of that were just,
the drums were going down and dropping and the flames were going up. As the last drum went, I just thought that a, they could have hit us, but the other thing was they way I got all the drums out without 1 smoke grenade going off in the aeroplane, was something else. The captain of the aeroplane was given a distinguished flying cross. We got hit by a lot of ground fire,
as we did all this. The fires burnt, but weren’t really successful, probably frightened us more than they frightened the enemy. When they started to dig in, these people, they’re rats, as you probably saw by the tunnels they used to make.
When I was told I was going to go, I was in the military. That’s what you’re in the military for. There’s an awful lot of people these days seem to say, “Well, hang fire, I didn’t join up for that”. A good example was those chaps that were sailing to Iraq. “Oh, we’re not going to have any anthrax needles, we can’t have any of those”. And I thought that
the level of discipline that is there now, compared with the level that we accepted, is quite different. We didn’t have people just saying, “I’m not going to go”. We had people doubling up, we had people going up there and doing 4 tours. They wouldn’t send you up there for 4 tours, but people were volunteering to go up there,
particularly people who were flying, because it was a challenge. The amount of work that we did actually do, that finished up to be a waste in the finish, was so much better. At one stage we had 6 aeroplanes. The Americans thought we had 50, with the results that we were getting. I worked out even from the RAAF in Vietnam, which is the full history of that.
I suffer from a bit of arthritis and things like that. I’ve had knees chopped open, and I blame a lot of it on load bearing type things. To go through the thing there, out of 352 days in Vietnam I flew for 227. In that 227, I was responsible for moving something like 470,000 kilos
of freight, and some 5,000 passengers. I went to a chap yesterday, a specialist, I said, “Would that have anything to do with my joints?” He said, “It certainly didn’t help them, lad”. The amount we did. They were 14 hour days and sometimes we'd work
10 days in a row. It doesn’t leave you much time for sleep. My CO used to say, “Oh, alcohol was a point”. But if you go and have a look at the timer of the grand, he didn’t have a great deal of time to drink anyway. But it used to work better.
They changed in sizes, slightly. And there were other ones, like one, you’ve probably heard of it, the siege at Plei Me. Now Plei Me also had, within its bounds, a fairly big hospital. And during the siege of Plei Me we flew medical supplies in there, and actually dropped them through the hospital roof. That’s accurate, but when you have a look at the size of the camp, it’s not very big either.
It was a triangular camp, and along one side of the triangle, was the strip. But once again, the reinforcements and the way they put their various armaments, like your Claymores and your Pungi sticks. They also had Napalm in 200 litre drums, that were out there.
So they could fend off a reasonable attack. But once again, these were remotely scattered around the place. There were bigger camps, too, a lot of much bigger ones. But a lot of those were bases just used for bringing in reinforcements and things like that.
Most of the strips were 1,000 foot long, with PSP, some of them just dirt. Quite a lot of them could be over paddy fields and things like this. So as you do land, the PSP goes down through into the paddy field. So to get the plane around, you've actually got to go outside and feel for the edges, then get the aeroplane finally back. But most places were just dry and dusty.
And as Robin Williams says, “Hot, hot, hot.” Actually, while I was in Vietnam, that particular bloke was on the radio. And Robin Williams played the part so close to what this bloke was all about, you could still see, to watch the movie, it took you back to it.
Just going back to mateship during the Vietnam War, can you describe the role that it played. You’ve described some fairly difficult and in retrospect traumatising situations, how important was mateship, to you, to cope with situations like that?
There was always someone there for you. There was always somebody to talk to. And with us, it didn’t matter what subject you wanted to talk about, whether you wanted to talk about your wife, talk about your girlfriend, talk about your parents, any of that. Nobody was inhibited, and everybody used to give freely.
The other thing is that when you did your tour in Vietnam, and you went back to Richmond, you then went around to the other wives, you cut lawns, you changed light bulbs. Now the military never looked after the people left behind, not in our day. But we formed our own allegiance, so we went around and did that. And, of course, if I had of been in a position when I went up there, they would have done exactly the same thing for me.
So that made it really worthwhile. People go, “Here we go, we’ve got mates. What are mates for?” And here they are fixing the car, or mowing the lawn, or doing something that the military really should have put in place. But the squadron itself put it in place, and it didn’t matter if it was a wing commander’s house, or if it was a corporal’s house or an AC’s [aircraftsman] house, we were going to, it was the same thing. Got money problems?
We’d take it out of the social club. Help out. In a lot of cases when you did come back you normally brought a fair bit of money that various blokes would say, “Look, take that home”. There was no way of posting it. The way it was up there, we got about 45 dollars a fortnight. But we were supposed to eat out of that. It was all very well to eat, if there was any food to buy.
Then the rest of our pay was just paid in at home, and when you came home at the end of it, and then you got it. Or if you had a wife, she would have been drawing so much of it.
So when did you eventually stay at home from Vietnam?
As I said, I went on the C-130s in 1968 as a flight engineer. From then on I continually went backwards and forwards, both to Vietnam, and flew within Vietnam, then flew back out to Butterworth. We didn’t stop overnight or things like that. Then I continued to operate with the air force until
the middle of ’74. I applied to get out of the military, because by 1975 I had completed 20 years, and I had a job with Cathay Pacific Airways. I asked the air force if I could have my 6 months long service leave, and leave 6 months early, which they okayed and said I could go
and fly with Cathay Pacific Airways. Cathay in those days had cargo planes, and the cargo planes used to go into Saigon. So I was going back in to Saigon, after the war, still with an air force identity card in my pocket. Anyway, thereafter, I did 20 years with Cathay. I flew 707,
Tristar, and the last 13 years I was on 747, both freighter and passenger. Flew world wide, with Cathay, it always got me where I wanted to be. I used it as that way, because I’m a bit of an aeroplane buff and I like to go to museums and I go to air shows and things like that. As I told you earlier,
I’ve owned war birds. I don’t own the Mustang anymore. That particular plane I rebuilt in Hong Kong. Took it across to Gatwick in the Cathay freighter, it was dismantled of course. I operated the first sector to Dubai, and I was the flight engineer. The company were good enough for the second sector to allow me to sit up in the upper deck. And I was the Mustang’s groom. I was actually on the paperwork as
the groom. I reassembled the aeroplane, we flew it 2 days later, and took it up to Ducksford, where I operated the aeroplane with a bloke by the name of Ray Hannah. He owns the Old Flying Machine Company. I was partners in the aeroplane with him. We did a string of movies as long as your hand. Including Empire of the Sun, Memphis Belle, Piece of Cake,