Story 39 - The Home Coming

By John Hunter

John Hunter


Mascot Airport, 21 January 1970, home at last, no more gun fire, no more stinking cloths, mud, rain, and humid nights with out sleep.  There’s that steak I’m looking forward to and the baked dinners with real veggies and gravy and the leg of lamb the whole hog.  No more tinned milk, fish and tinned veg.  I have now gone full circle, from whence I left I have returned.

Sydney Airport

You get of the plane, collect your luggage and wait to go thru customs, they don’t really give you a hard time and they are mainly interested in banned goods and they don’t search every thing.  You mainly fill out a form disclosing what you have and they look at those items that might contravene importation or quarantine laws. Drugs and firearms are at the top of the list.

The trip home had been a good one and everyone is in high spirits, some of the blokes even kissed the ground after disembarking.  We even went for a trip around some Island at thirty five thousand feet, just a bit of a treat from the flight crew.  Pilots showing of their skills, all tho some of the blokes reckoned that’s where they got their lock-stat, the rest of us said!  Just get us home!  With great gusto, and they did.  The flight staff, were magnificent, they even cracked a few funnies and tinnies. How do they cope with us?

We get thru the gates meet the family; I missed my children the most the usual hugs and kisses and then, time for the pay que.  What a shemozzle, you have never seen anything so unorganised in your life.  Its first in line here and even the officers waited in the que, no privilege of rank, as some of the blokes are to fly onto other states and country areas and they have flights to catch; besides every one wants to get out of here.


MP DonkeyWell anyway on with the storey, and this is where the plot changes, here I am waiting in line the same as everyone else, when I’m approached by this little germ, a Lance Corporal Provost and with all of his self appointed authority!  Your wearing boots and where’s you tie and why are your sleeves rolled up?  I was also wearing a beret.

I tried to explain that the Q store didn’t have any ties, did this explanation suit him, not in your life.  By this time there was quite a crowd of diggers and family members and it was time for me to put him in his place, and to the delight of the diggers this was quite a show.  It was then that the drill instructor in me came out and paid this little shit head a visit.  I’m just in the mood to sort this prick out.  You see I might only be a corporal but I’ve just got back from Vietnam and I’m in no mood for this bullshit.  This little half-baked turd hasn’t been there yet and he’s lucky he struck me, as there are some who would dearly love to punch the living shit out of this miserable excuse for a man - thoughts unprintable.

To start with Lance Corporal, when you address me you will stand to attention, for you are not only blind but rude too and if you don’t know how to stand to attention and address me by rank, I will be only too pleased to teach you right here and now!  Well you never heard so many catcalls and whistles, even a wolf whistle or two, so red-faced; he goes away and comes back with this Sergeant who for all intense and purpose, was to jump all over me.  By this time Sir Galahad being of officer material steps out of the line pulls the Sergeant to one side, stands the sergeant to attention, get a salute and the Sergeant is informed of the Lance Corporals conduct.  Then I inform the Sergeant that charges are to be brought against the Lance Corporal, you should have seen that Sergeants jaw drop.  When my turn came to get paid I dropped the charges.  I told the Sergeant he was lucky it as some of these blokes have very short fusses and it could have turned very nasty.

So after all the hassle with the provost’s and the pay que, we all finally meet up with the family and there were more tears, especially from my mother, so relieved to have me home in one piece and not like my older brother, who was badly wounded three months before me coming home.

I told the family that I had to say goodbye to some people that I had served with, so the goodbye’s were heart felt and we all agreed that we would meet again one day and that could be anywhere.  (How little did we know that event was to take place in Sydney in 1987!  When more than 35,000 troops from all over the country, more like all over the world. From New Zealand our partners in crime. The United States, The Philippines, South Korea, and the Vietnamese community from all over Australia. It was quiet a show, Pity it was too late for some.)


The FamilySo pack the luggage into the oldies car and were of home to my parents place for the night.  For Mum had invited a few close family friends over, and there was quite a crowd and why not, as this was for not only me. This was for all the boys. I swear if mum could have she would have taken every one of the plane home, there was enough food and drink for all.  My younger brother and his wife were there and it was great to see them, but for now I was thinking of other things as mum had booked a hotel for my wife and me, so we didn’t stay at mums to long, but long enough for one night.  There was plenty of time for the rest of the family and a lot of catching up to do.

My wife must think I’m mad, because at first light I’m ready to stand-to. This routine of awaking early that lasted all of two minutes, what am I getting up for I’m home, must be the strange events of last night.

You know getting off the plane and all the excitement not counting the strange bedfellow next to me, this was no soldier and didn’t smell like one either and the air smelled different.  It was good to be home.  So check out and back to mums place just in time for breakfast with the family, especially with my two boys.  My mother was surprised to see us so early and the bemused look on her face said it all.  I just smiled and said can an old digger get coffee with breakfast.  Bacon and eggs coming right up. Beer first! So the old man and me sat out the back and started the day with a coldie, besides I wanted to borough his car as I had some shopping to do and I wanted to see the boys faces when I gave the their presents.  All this was too much for mum and she burst into tears again.

Anyone would think she wasn’t pleased to see me at 6am in the morning, I think she was just a bit surprised that I was back at her place so early.  I just told her it was routine and it doesn’t change overnight, but I’m home now so stop crying every five minutes.  I haven’t given any presents out yet and they’ll have to wait till I get back from shopping and this is where things got strange as I had to drive dads car to the shops.  I had no trouble driving to the shopping centre it was when I was driving home again.  I had turned of the main drag when I found myself on the wrong side of the road I had cut the corner as if I were driving back in Vietnam. The police car that pulled me up soon reminded me, that my driving had been erratic and they had been following me.  Well I’m up shit creek now, but they turned out to be decent blokes.  I had told them I had just come home and had been out shopping for my kids.  They just said where do you live, so I politely told them where I was going.  When they said you better follow us and we’ll take you home. A staunch word of warning don’t drive for a while, some of you blokes have been killed in motor accidents driving on the wrong side of the road, so take your time to sort yourself out before driving, sound advice, by the way welcome back. I waved and thought how lucky can you be, indeed so.  Now the plot thickens. It turned out that these cops know my Mum and Dad and they new the car.  


Gifts for the FamilyWith mission complete it was time for presents.  Well Mums eyes lit up like a Xmas tree when she got two bottles of Johnny Walker black label.  I just said that’s from Bill and me, and no more tears O K.  The rest of the family got their presents eventually, as we had to sample the scotch first and drink a toast to our reunion and safe return.  The old man got five cartons of cigarettes and a few extras, the wife a Chinese jade ring and a watch.

What did I get!  Well I got the greatest gift of all, the satisfaction of watching my boys open their presents and you can’t buy that.  That is the treasure money can’t buy.

Mind you I didn’t forget myself, the usual cannon camera with all attachments, an omega watch plus cigarettes and cigars and scotch.  The wife also got a jewellery box, the only item the customs looked at because it was made of timber and mother of pearl shell inlay.

After breakfast and all the hanger ons had gone, we eventually got to sit and talk and to explain a few things to my boys. Also a long discussion about my brother, like I said earlier, he had been badly wounded, but I was surprised to find out that he arrived home in a made up packing case. This was because his legs were in plaster and he was still full of shrapnel and they didn’t want him moving his body too much as his ride home could be bumpy, besides it was the easiest way to send him on to Perth. They loaded him onto a civil airline with a forklift. Talk about flying in stile, only in Australia. T.A.A. I think.  A doctor and nurses also went west as there were more than one casualty on that flight.


Check out the Married QuarterSo after a long discussion, it was time for me to see what married quarters were like, as my wife and boys had been moved from Wagga Wagga, Mt Austin, whilst I was in Vietnam.  So back in the car and off to Holsworthy, it hadn’t changed since my time away except I was now going to live there, stinking hot in summer and freezing cold in the winter and just a bare basic house and I mean basic, but that’s the Army for you.

The wife had the house all spick and span, as she had help from the neighbours and the wives association for veterans over seas. These women all have husbands in Vietnam or Malaya and some in other postings abroad. Thailand, Cambodia, South East Asia or elsewhere, somewhere out of Australia.

So home at last and I’ve got six weeks leave and twelve weeks pay in my pocket So with Mum and Dad staying at our place minding the boys, the wife and I go and check out the local RSL.  This is going to be great as I’m now a returned serviceman and I have a Pass to free membership for 12 months, not to mention the two inches of ribbons on my shirt.  What was to come next was worse than the run in with provost at mascot last night.  This doorman informs me that I can’t be admitted entry, as I’m Regimentally out of Uniform.  I showed him the pass and tried to explain that I had just come home last night.

He still won’t budge, so I asked him to get whoever was in charge, so he comes back with the duty officer and he is worse than this other clown. Now by this time I started to get a little bit hot under the collar. He just said its Eastern Command Orders and I replied, getting angrier by the minute, how would I possibly know Eastern Command Orders when I only got in last night. He then went to walk away and I questioned his character and his loyalty, at this he got a bit hot under the collar and threatened to call the police.  I stood my ground, I’ve read about blokes like you and I’ve fort and killed better men!  Your just a bloody Impostor and a commo at that, been to any rallies lately.  Ha ha I’ve hit a raw nerve here, and his face started to turn purple, come on Sampson and bring your donkey with you, No go!  I thought as much, and I thought the Enemy was in Vietnam.  No bullshit.

On this note I decided to leave, the last thing I need is the MP’s, but not after telling him what I thought of his RSL and what he could do with it. Not even to this day have I gone back to that club, so the wife and I went to a pub where I ran into another digger and his wife who had been given the same treatment.  It was funny as he didn’t have a tie either, so our twosome became a foursome and we had a good time, even when we caught out by the MP’s later that day and explained what had taken place, all they said, was next time correctly dressed right.  Right!  Was the answer in harmony, they just looked and shook their heads, and said poor bastards.  The first time I ever heard a provost say anything fair.

It’s been a hell of a day, what say we call it a day and meet up again one day soon and go out for dinner at a restaurant somewhere, some place, the whole box and dice ok! So we swapped phone no’s and called it a day.

Steak at lastNow it’s time for me to get that steak I have been dreaming about.  The butcher cut me a big one and guaranteed it would be tender, but I don’t think you’ll eat it all at once and he was right.  He also told me that his boy was over there and should be home soon.  I was later that I found out his son was KIA six weeks before he was due home and I was still on leave.  I felt for this man and his loss, and I also knew that there would be more to come, as this war dragged on and on.  I feel a lot of anger towards the news coverage, I sit and watch the news and I find it disturbing to what they report, when I know different.  They don’t tell of the suffering, they just sensationalise it, as to justify their stories. And the public buy it, lock, stock and barrel, stupid dumb bastards. If only they knew the whole story and not the bullshit the pollies and news are telling them.

The protestors, they are so out of touch with reality, the mind boggles. I know their will be many troops on their returning to Australia will feel that it was all for nothing as our own country has turned against us.  As if it were our fault that hurts more than being in Vietnam as a lot of us feel that we are the Enemy, in our own country.

My wife and I did go out for that dinner candles and all, and the people we went with, that was the last time we saw them, as he was posted some where else, Brisbane I think, no matter we had one good time.  There wasn’t many more good times to be had as my leave would so be over and it would be back to the grind of day to day!

There was one memorable day I will never forget and this is how it went.  These blokes pull up and come to the front door and informed the wife that they were here to cut the grass and tidy up the yard, this was the local RSL’s contribution for their husbands serving in Vietnam to have the place looking spiffy for their arrival home.  As the battalion was on its way home after completing it’s tour of duty.

Was this the same club that refused my entry earlier?  Yes it was, how ironic they should do this for us, so my wife said nothing, just thanked them and they went to work, done a fine job too.  So fine, the job done! I offered them a beer, as it was very hot and I thought that was the least I could do.  With this they asked who I was, I’m the husband and thank you for cutting my yard. They must have thought that my wife was having an affair, as I wasn’t supposed to be home.  Just because I was only wearing a pair of shorts and been home six weeks, there was no need to jump the gun. Then what are we cutting your grass for?  So I then explained what had happened on my trying to gain entry to their precious club and how I was treated when I came home. It wasn’t their fault and I think the exchange of heated words was uncalled for; No one abuses me in my own home and what right do the have to turn up unannounced or with no notification.  So I just said, in the heat of the moment.  Feels great to be shit on doesn’t it? I guess membership is out!  And laughed. They then drove off all disgruntled and pissed off.

And on that note they left, spoiled sports, didn’t even drink the beer I offered them.  It would seem that hospitality at my place was more than they could stand.  Talk about spit the dummy. I learned later that there were quite a few words exchanged between these workers and club management.  So for the most part, they had been had, and I got even, not really fair to the workers but the club wasn’t fair towards me, so in my own way we broke even. Vietnam Veterans were never treated well by the RSL Clubs for quite some time, not all clubs fitted this description, but in the most part it was family tradition to join the RSL.  Some where along the line they had forgotten the Anzac Tradition as it was passed on to us.  For we had upheld it, in true tradition of the Anzac spirit and just cause, it was our heritage and we are bloody proud of it, for we too are the sons of ANZAC, maybe, grandsons of Anzac’s but Anzac’s just the same. And its is our right to be so.


Back to the Unit - March 1970On reporting in for duty I get the usual run around, first the Squadron Commander the Troop Commander but not least the RSM. The usual bullshit, by way of introduction to a new unit I eventually get to the Squadron orderly room, and to my surprise there are two medals for me and a Infantry combat badge.  It ends up that there only two of us that have this award.  Mine for Vietnam, the other bloke got his for Korea.  He’s a lifer. A career man!

I served with this unit back in 63/64, and it hasn’t changed all that much and one of my old Sergeants is still there, marking time till his pension comes up, only he’s in the Q store now and it was good to see a friendly face.  I also know a few other personnel from way back when; only they have gone up in rank and been to Vietnam in the early days, some have come and gone but their still some that hang around, their called lifers and in time this unit will change, as with a lot of things in the Army will change.  Maybe not for the better, only time will tell. For now it’s a full re-issue of uniforms, field kit and service dress too.


Battalion March thru Sydney - March 1970Then in late March 1970, I marched thru the streets of Sydney with the Battalion, to a good reception, for the Battalion, but for me this was no welcome home parade. Australia didn’t do us proud and I felt ashamed for them as they have no Idea much the hurt us, I don’t think they even cared.  I had been on other parades and had been called a baby killer and had red paint and missiles thrown at us, by protesters, mostly students.  Even on the cenotaph guard there was the abuse by the smart Asses but the police were more than firm and took matters unkindly!  This happened a week before the march thru Sydney. I was in Corps of Signals then.  Victoria barracks guard duty, and soldiering on regardless.  Schools and courses.  Then reposting to another unit, and sub unit in the middle of nowhere.  Then in 1972 I received my Discharge, and that was that, All Finny?

Was my tour of duty worth re-enlisting?  I think it was, others may differ, but who gives a dam?  I did at the time and that’s all that mattered.  Was it worth it, only time would tell?

John Hunter

Note:  John served with 5RAR in Vietnam before transferring to 104 Sig Sqn in Sept 1969 during his tour.

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