Story 24 - Getting rid of them Flies


By Ian (Bluey) Granland

104 Latrines at Nui Dat One of my jobs at our 104 Sig Sqn Task Force Unit was to clean out the toilets, urinals and showers each day - someone had to do it and the army had a trade of ‘General Duties’, whose tasks were really to turn their hand at anything regarding maintenance.

The toilets (WC's) consisted of a 2 meter trench dug to about 1.5 meters topped with a concrete slab and three to four metal WC pans encased at equal distances.  They were enclosed by a green painted shed constructed of a timber frame with corrugated iron, walls and roof. 

The pans had metal seats and lids with a large peach tins bolted to each lid and filled with concrete in an attempt to form a seal.  It never worked.

There were no walls in these toilets and it was not uncommon to see four guys sitting side by side reading or talking whilst having their daily crap.   Week old newspapers adorned the floor which provided ample reading material.  It is amazing how war breaks down the veil of modesty.

It was here on my second day in country that I felt the effects of the local US 83rd Artillery Battery, located about 500 meters away.   When they fired off their ordnance, the ground would reverberate sending shock waves and if someone was using the toilets, it ever so slightly lifted their rear end from the seat.

Each troop had one of these toilet sheds with another at the sergeants’ lines and a further small unit for the officers.  The front side of each facilities, where the occupants faced when seated, was only a half wall with fly screen material making up the top section giving the user the opportunity of a view, in our particular troop’s case of the Eagle Farm chopper pad.

The pits never filled but relied on an organic process to keep the faeces level low, the same principal as used in many outback toilets.

Urinals known as 'pissaphones' were a different matter altogether.

There were four of us in my section with normally three to do these daily cleaning tasks which for the most part didn’t take long, a quick sweep, replace the toilet rolls and every now and then tip some disinfectant or the like into the pit to keep a reasonable odour.   Care had to be taken not to introduce too much toxic material which could upset the bacteria equilibrium.

We were always being asked to “get rid of the shit flies’ out of the dunnies”.

‘Shit flies’ were small insects which lived in the pit and, we believed (or we used to tell everyone) because it was dark and they had poor eyesight it caused them to continually crash into users’ bums when they entered into ‘their world of the shit fly’.   Perhaps they were trying to tell us something?

They didn’t do any damage, but continual contact with the rear end was quite annoying.

We tried fogging.   In short, a portable smoke machine powered by a four stroke engine, which we would filled with insecticide, start the motor and insert the pipe through an open WC lid.

Whilst recommended, this was a Band-Aid solution and had minimal effect on those annoying little creatures.

When the complaints became so continuous, one of the guys came up with a brilliant idea!  Why not pour in some petrol, ignite it and bingo, no more shit flies - well for a while, however we thought we’d better take some precautions.

The petrol was obtained and carefully tipped into each of the four pans (which directly led into the pit).

Knowing there might be a bit of a bang, we obtained extra weights for the toilet lids and then the question remained as to who was going to fire up our project.   Some buckets of water were placed strategically at the entrance should they be needed.

The lance corporal at the time grabbed some newspaper, lit the end, entered the room, lifted the nearest seat and thrust down the ignited paper, then took off.

104 Dunny up in smokeKerbaaaang !  The building shook, the ground shook and we all looked at each other in utter apprehension.   Heads popped out of the tents adjacent to the toilets with cries of anguish from the shift workers.  “Had someone been fragged? Had someone let off a live one?  Had, had had…………..???”

Slowly the door to the toilet was opened.   Yes, we had killed the shit flies alright but in the process had caused such a mess it created a whole day’s work for the three of us.  The inside walls of the 10 x 4 shed were littered with toilet paper, and …. shit.   Three of the lids where blow off, one catapulting through the screen wire at the front like an uncontrollable missile and the screen door was half off it’s hinges.

One of the worst results of the cleaning process was that we had no mains pressure water to hose down the place.   It was all bucket and cloth and in some cases, brushes.  Never again we told each other and when someone mentioned the shit flies we simply said “Suffer”.

The exercise, whilst a genuine attempt to reduce the irritation for the diggers was a complete flop, and worst still, we became the butt of the units jokes for weeks to follow.

Footnote: Ian Granland is a Veteran of 104 Sig Sqn and lives with his family in Tumbi Umbi and can be contact by email

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