Story 27 - The Slab on Nui Dat Hill

By Ken Hopkins


Ken Hopkins

The names on the Slab in 1997

Hi, my name is Ken Hopkins and I was in 104 Sig Sqn in 1970/71.  However I am not the Hopkins on the cement slab.

I did visit and see the slab in 1997.   It all started with a TV show on Channel 2 the previous year about the commercial development of Saigon, but finished with a few minutes about the Aussie's role in the Vietnam War and of course the base at Nui Dat.  The reporter was standing on SAS Hill and showed a landscape, commenting that there was not any evidence left that there once was an Australian Army base there.   To conclude he said that one relic was the cement slab that he was standing on, and the camera cast down to his feet and the name Hopkins.

I experienced a weird feeling of "was it me?" - my wife asked the same, but I could not remember.   It really got under my skin.   Some days I thought it might have been as I did go up to SAS Hill on occasions, but then I would think that it wasn't.

Kangaroo Pad in 1997The next year, 1997, we had a business conference in Bangkok, so extended for a week in Vietnam.    I had always been somewhat wary of going back, but with the name there, just had to go.  We had a great time at Vung Tau, the hotel being just behind the former R&C camp there (now a housing estate), then on to Nui Dat.   Through Baria and to Hoa Long, but being wet season the van could not get through the muddy roads.  Our guide took an hour or so to arrange three bikes and riders from Hoa Long to double us to Nui Dat for 2.200 dong each (about $20 U.S.).   Then another obstacle, signs had been put up the day before banning visits to Nui Dat.  So off to the local authorities, being the communist party office, a small building in a field with dirt floors.  After sitting on child size stools for an hour with our guide and an officer with red pips negotiating in Vietnamese, we were on our way.  The officer decided he did not have authority over that area and that as tourism was just starting up, he should not stand in the way, but that we had to report further along to the local military authorities who had erected the signs.

Site of Luscombe Airfield in 1997Being doubled by tiny Vietnamese riders on bikes was an experience, with backpacks, video camera and still camera and lots of adrenalin.   My rider tipped up once in the mud - I still have the exhaust pipe burn mark on my leg as a souvenir.   When we reached Nui Dat we were at Kanga Pad.  I had expected to be able to track 104 Sig Sqn area from the rubber plantation layout, but it's all gone.  A few lumps of asphalt lay around but the rest of Kanga was all grass.

We rode right around the hill.   The airstrip is still there with a village positioned to its side where we gave out miniature kangas and koalas to the kids.  Luscombe Bowl area was identifiable by the intersection of the roads, the site of my first posting, being with nearby 161 Recce, but the trees there were gone and very new trees planted.

Nui Dat Hill in 1997 looking from the old 104 Sig Sqn locationThen I said to the guide we were going up the Hill, but he was against that.  Another sign prohibiting access was right in front of us.   So off we rode in search of the local military.  An hour later, with nothing found, we returned to Kanga Pad area, our guide told the bike riders to wait in the trees, told us (Margaret and I) that if we got caught he was not our guide but a friend (That would take some explaining!) and we set forth up the Hill.   Not the old roadway where we went up by Landrover, but straight up the steepest slope, which was the direct route.  The slope was recently sowed with peanut plant seedlings and I'm sure we did some damage, but the adrenalin was racing. 

 At the top of the hill Marg was exhausted, so the guide and I went in search of the slab.   It was easily found though covered in weeds and dirt. After some clearing work by fingers the names were clear, as was the date, 12 June 1969, about a year before I was there.  Also the "I" in HOPKINS had a top and bottom stroke on it, which I did not write by then due to School of Signals morse code training.  The slab was smaller than we thought from the TV show, only about a metre square.   From the bolt on it I thought it might have been an aerial stand.

So it was not me, but I'm glad I followed through to establish the fact.  We do have photos and a video of this event for our memories, which may be useful at a future 104 reunion.

Margaret and Ken Hopkins on Nui Dat Hill in 1997We were very welcome wherever we went in Vietnam.   In Phuoc Le the Australians are remembered as tough but fair, somewhat different to the Russian ocean oil drillers who followed.

Sorry to ramble on a bit with our personal adventure.   I have often wondered who the other Hopkins may have been.  I thought he must have been SAS.

Having only recently discovered Denis Hare's great 104 Sig Sqn Web Site, I do notice that a Russell John Hopkins was in 104 from Oct 1968 to June 1969.   Was it him? The other names don't seem to match up with the 104 personnel list however.

If you do obtain more information I would love to hear about it.

Ken Hopkins

Footnote:  The three names on the Slab from an audit of personnel in South Vietnam on the 12 Jun 1969 are from 110 Sig Sqn as follows:

Daniel Cerchi - SVN, 6 May 1969 to 9 Apr 1970
Russell Morris - SVN, 25 Jun 1968 to 28 Jan1970
Robert Hopkins - SVN, 9 Dec 1968 to 10 Dec 1969

Russell John Hopkins served in 104 Sig Sqn from 7 Oct 1968 to 11 Jun 1969 so missed the slab date of 12 Jun 1969 by one day!

Note: 110 Sig Sqn had Detachments permanently at Nui Dat supporting 104 Sig Sqn and rear link communications .

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