Story 5 - The Group Photo 1971

By  Ken Mackenzie

Ken Mackenzie (Colin Harry Sinclair - Background) at Soui Ca 1971On the morning of Thursday August 26, 1971, I flew from the 4th Bn RAR at Courtenay Hill, in the southern Long Khan Province, to Kanga Pad at Nui Dat.  I humped my gear along the path which led up through the rubber trees and turned left towards Radio Troop HQ.  I was dog-tired, hungry and filthy dirty.  My mind was set on showering, sleeping in a bed and eating - in that order.  At the time, I was really pissed-off and glad to be out of the field. For the next three days I was on ‘R&C’

As I neared the building, The Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM) WO2 Brian Fisher, called and beckoned me over to the back of Sqn HQ.

On walking over, I saw a large gathering of unit members arranged in photo formation.  Not too many of them seemed happy to be there.  I noticed a very clean and pressed PR dude fussing around with a camera and, as I recall, making wisecracks - he obviously wasn’t from around this neck of the woods - I wondered what the hell was going on.  But, the SSM said something to the effect of "SGT Mackenzie, you are just in time," "Dump your stuff and move in there!", as he pointed to a space between SSGT Ron Steffan and SGT ‘Sparrow’ Dwyer.  I was particularly unimpressed.

Ron Steffan wasn’t too happy either, and he gave the old ‘two fingered salute’ as the photographer snapped away.  In a couple of moments it was all over.  I got up and left.  I never even bothered to ask what it was all about, and promptly put my mind to other things.

In 1974, I found myself at the Royal Military College at Duntroon in Canberra.  I was instructing Third and Fourth Class Cadets (one of whom ended up being my CO in Cambodia 18 years later!), in Signal Corps stuff, Weapons, Infantry Minor Tactics, and the like.

My Boss at Duntroon was Warrant Officer Class One (WO1) Jack Seech.  During the World War 2, Jack had been a pilot in the Airforce.  He used to fly Liberator Bombers out of England on anti-submarine patrols, way out over the Atlantic Ocean. When he came back to Australia at the end of the war, he decided to join the army.  Jack was one hell of a guy. Anyway, we used to swap war stories and, on one such occasion, happened to be discussing the Vietnam War and 104 Signal Squadron.   During the conversation, Jack handed me a black and white photograph and asked if I knew anybody in it.

Did I know anybody in it?  You bet!  It was one of those group photographs taken at Nui Dat on August 26, 1971.  I had a piece of history in my hand!

So, that started me on a quest.  And without giving too much away, I discovered that three photographs had actually been taken. At least two of the three had been developed.  But had not been widely distributed.  I promptly made a half a dozen copies and gave them to some of the 104 guys who were still at that time, in the Army. I took some more to the "Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade and Reunion " in 1987 at Sydney.

 Some years and a little bit of luck later, I was to find a hand written note, explaining that two of the three photographs taken on that day in ‘were not suitable for use’ - more than likely due to SSGT Ron Steffan’s gesticulation – which seems a little small-minded to me.

The First Group Photo - Part

Then Eureka!! I discovered the approved copy.  This must have been the first photo of the three taken.  If you look at SSGT Ron Steffan, you will see that his right hand is just on the way up.  In the second photo, his fingers are almost fully extended.  Gee, I would have liked to see the third one. Then again…I’m still looking..!

The Second Group Photo - Part

There have been several 104 Signal Squadron reunions and gatherings since 1987.  I’m led to believe that this photo always appears and lots of folks have put their minds to naming all the people shown in it. To aid in this process, and with the assistance of Bryan (Puff Puff) Panting and Bob (Don’t Smoke it all Yourself) Chambers, I have taken the liberty of compiling and attaching a list of names of the guys I think are in it.

The last column lists some of those members who were "In-Country" at the time, but not in the photo. 104 Signal Squadron still had all of its Liaison Detachments, deployed; the Dui Dat Hill bunker was still manned; both Infantry Battalion detachments were still in the field, the 1 ATF Command Post, Comcen and Switchboard were still being manned, etc.  So this list is not, by any means, exhaustive.

And not all the names listed may be accurate, either.   So, if I have made a mistake with your Initials, or the spelling of your name, or if I have put the wrong name to the wrong head, I apologise.

I you detect any errors or omissions, please forward them to me at the e-mail address shown below and I will make the appropriate amendments.

Oh, one last thing - the Photographs were definitely taken on August 26th, 1971.

 Ken Mackenzie
2nd June 1999

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