Story 67 - Service Overview


(From Extracts of Letters written to my Parents)

1st February 1967 – 31st January 1969

Gordon Taylor in SVN

By Gordon Taylor
(National Serviceman Radio Operator, 104 Sig Sqn)

Comments in italics are salient points that I have added during the compilation of this story.

I was in the first National Service call up which was held at the beginning of 1965. My birth day marble was drawn out (they pull out a pre-determined number of marbles, numbered 1-31) and was advised that I would be deferred until I finished my apprenticeship. My apprenticeship finished at the end of 1966 and was called up into the 7th intake which commenced on 1st February, 1967.

I was quite ambivalent about being called up. I had planned to go to the UK after I had completed by apprenticeship with one of my work colleagues, but I thought that if I got called up I would delay the trip until after National Service. My work colleague, Malcolm Kinniburgh, ended up going overseas anyway and I caught up with him in 1969 after he had returned from the UK. By this time I had already booked a passage on the Iberia in October 1969 to the UK and was keen to talk to Malcolm about his experiences whilst living there..

 RECRUIT TRAINING

 1st February 1967

On the 2nd February we were given a postcard to send home. It said that “I have arrived in camp safely. My address is.”

2786034
Recruit G A Taylor
16 Platoon, C Company
1RTB
KAPOOKA, NSW

6th February – When we arrived at the designated assembly point in Marrickville (on the 1st February) we had lunch and a medical and then were all assembled into platoons of 48 blokes. We arrived at Kapooka, taking about nine hours in a Palorcars bus. We were given a meal and then assigned to our barracks. We have four to a room and the room is partitioned in two.

 My room mates were: –

2785992 Leigh Mitchell - 161 (Independent) Reconnaissance Flight - 11/12/1967 - 11/03/1968  and 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment - 11/03/1968 - 05/11/1968

2785771 Kerry Dwyer  - 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment - 20/12/1967 - 05/11/1968  

2786049 Adrian Van Der Linden - 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment - 24/10/1967 - 13/06/1968

The barracks are almost brand new. They are three stories high and of brick construction. On the first things we were given was an advance on our pay so that we could purchase boot polish, brasso and cleaning rags. That afternoon we were issued with all of our clothes, boots, belts and hats and a rifle, amongst a myriad of other things. All of our clothes have a specific place and must be folded exactly nine inches across.

Kapooka
1st Recruit Training Battalion (1RTB) - New Barrack in 1967
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

Reveille is at 0600, but we all get up earlier in order to have our boots and brass polished. We have to assemble on the parade ground with our blanket under our arms. I guess this is to prove that we have made our bed every day.

The weather is extremely hot, 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. With drill, physical training (PT), rifle practice it takes it out of you. On the first day of PT I flaked out during one of the runs.

I thought to myself “how am I going to last the distance?” I must have been one of the least fit people in our platoon. I realized that the only way to solve this problem was to pick out a person that I thought I could beat (not necessarily the best person in the platoon). Once I had achieved this I moved onto another “target”. By the time our training was complete I felt that I was as fit as any one else in the platoon.

As well as all of the above our company has to carry out piquet duty for two weeks. This means that we get at least one night on duty. My shift was 2000 to 2200 and then 0200 to 0400.

We have been given plenty of needles, the worst being either the cholera or typhoid. We have had so many I am not sure what they all are. Certainly we are all suffering from a very sore arm.

 9th February - I have applied for Officer Training and should know in a couple of weeks if I have been successful. Many of the staff are National Servicemen, especially the Platoon Commanders. Ours in only about 22 years old, but it is the Corporals that are really tough.

 Tomorrow some of our platoon is taking exams. I think it is to test their intelligence. The “brainy ones” are having drill. In the afternoon we are carrying out rifle practice, followed by field craft. This is the name given to the art of camouflage and concealment, the ability to judge distances and pick out objects. We then had more drill practice and finally PT.

 Saturday 11th February – We have finished work for the week.  We are given Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday off, but we are not allowed to leave the camp. We finished at lunch time and spent the rest of the day cleaning our gear and doing washing. Our PT has now extended to distance running, as well as all of the calisthenics we have to do.

 We will be given a lot of tests, both physical and mental. The physical ones are a five-mile run and a 29-mile forced march. Obviously other tests relate to rifle training such as filling a magazine with 20 rounds of ammunition in 25 seconds. We haven’t gotten to stripping and reassembling a rifle as yet.

 I have made a $10 per week allotment to the bank. Two of my room mates volunteered for National Service. One of them has a guitar and a mouth organ so we have plenty of entertainment when ever we have some time off.

 One of the top songs on the hit parade at this time was “The Green Green Grass of Home” by Tom Jones, which made some of us a little homesick.

16th February – We don’t get enough to eat, I am hungry a lot of the time, I guess it is the exercise. I didn’t make the Officer Training Unit (OTU). Two of our platoon made it, a teacher and a draughtsman. I haven’t made up my mind with Corps I want to get into. I will be asked next Tuesday when I go for my interview. 

On the 18th I start work in the mess for a week. This means getting up and 0430 and working through until about 2000.

I fired my rifle for the first time yesterday and had my first test today. My shoulder and cheekbone are swollen from the recoil. At a range of 25 metres the round knocked over a four-gallon drum full of water and almost split the drum in two.

I received my first pay today, $40. After PT, which included a run, an hour on the ropes and chinning the bars we are allowed seven minutes to have a shower and get changed into full battle order, webbing and pack, bayonet and rifle, and boots and gaiters on. We then had two periods of bayonet practice and parade marching and then it was off to the mess until 2000. Now that I am not going to OTU I should be home early on Saturday 11th March.

 26th February – Well, we are back to the same old grind after a week of working in the mess. We all worked non-stop, 15 hours a day and we were continually sweating. I spent a lot of my time dixi-bashing (cleaning pots and pans). All “slops” end up in garbage bins and are picked up by someone who takes them to a pig farm.

 Yesterday we had PT first up and we had to run 4/5ths of a mile with a log between six of us. That soon knocked the stuffing out of us. What a way to spend a birthday. We went to the canteen that night and had a couple of beers to celebrate.

 3rd March – Things to look forward to shortly are the five-mile run to be done in one hour and the 20-mile route march which someone has worked out is actually 29 miles. Next week we have our first drill test and our “Tests of Elementary Training” which consists of stripping and assembling the rifle, loading and unloading, how to change an empty magazine, how to prevent a stoppage of the rifle, and being able to fill a magazine with 20 rounds in 25 seconds. It looks like a bush week.

 About my Corps allocation, I have selected signals as my first choice and armoured as second choice. I asked the Lieutenant for artillery or armoured and he said straight out “Armoured”, so that will suit me if I don’t get into signals.

 We have just been assigned another platoon commander, the third in nearly as many weeks. He is also a National Serviceman. We have been issued with our dress uniforms. We also received a raincoat, two pairs of jungle jeans and battle dress. More clothes to get dry-cleaned! It costs about 25/- a week for dry cleaning alone. I have paid for my fare home for my few days of leave. It cost $12 to travel by bus.

I had not sold my car before going into the army. During this leave break I took it to a second hand car dealer and sold it for a “song”. My parent’s house did not have a garage and I thought that to leave it out in all weathers for two years was not a sensible thing to do.

 March (no date) – Since arriving back at Kapooka we have been out on the rifle range and the sub-machine range. I did all right with the rifle, but not so hot with the sub-machine gun. When it is fired it tends to lift, causing me to shoot the tops of the trees. On Thursday we went for a 3 ½ mile run in our boots. It was hard going but I felt better at the end of the run than at the start. On Friday we had out PT test. We had to do six chests to the bar, 4 insteps, up and down the ropes twice, a broad jump and run 3/5th of a mile in five minutes. I failed the heaves and the insteps but should be able to do them before I leave.

 In the afternoon we had our 5th-week drill test. We are supposed to be the worst platoon at drill, but we came through with 68%. I made about four mistakes, one of them very bad.

 We are on guard duty tonight and therefore we have to prepare with spit-polished boots, clean starched greens, shiny brass, etc.

 Our allocation postings have come through and I have been allocated to signals. Another recruit from our platoon is going to signals. About six were allocated to REAME (Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), and about six or seven got Infantry. We nearly all got what we had asked for. Tomorrow we have got leave from 1315-2100, which will allow us to go into Wagga for a look around. Only three weeks to go!

Apparently there was an urgent need for additional Corps Signallers to be sent to South Vietnam (SVN) due the fact that the Task Force at Nui Dat was being reinforced with more infantry battalions and the signals infrastructure needed to be upgraded to handle the additional units, along with an upgrade of the equipment.

23rd March – We have been fairly busy since we came back, what with tests and more tests. Last week we had another drill test, we were about average. Our rifle test was crash hot, our Platoon now hold the Battalion record for this. We had to run a mile in 6 minutes and 15 seconds. I managed it in 5 minutes and 40 seconds.

Today we were throwing hand grenades. One of my roommates, instead of throwing the grenade, he forgot to let it go and it dropped at his feet. There were seven people in the throwing bay and they had seven seconds to get out or be blown up. They all just made it. The explosion made a mess of the walls.

My mother was sent an invitation from The Commanding Officer to attend the March Out Parade at Blamey Barracks which was held on the 8th April, 1967. The RSVP was 27th March.

Kapooka  Gordon and Mother
March out Parade of the 7th NS Intake 8 Apr 1967 and Gordon with Mother after the Parade
(Both photos supplied by Gordon Taylor)

CORPS TRAINING

15A/67 OKR
Op and Tac Wing
School of Signals
BALCOMBE VIC

 14th April – We left Kapooka at 3am on the Thursday 13th and caught the Spirit of Progress at Wagga, arriving at Flinders (actually it was Spencer St Station) the next morning. From there we caught a suburban train to Frankston and we travelled the rest of the way by truck. I am currently in Holding Troop. I am in this Troop until the next course starts, which could be a month away. I will need to get you to send down some civilian clothes as we will be able to wear them when we are off duty.

 17th April – There are a number of courses that are available for us to take. It is useless for me to go for the technical side. I haven’t a clue about electricity or Ohm’s Law, etc. I’m trying to go for a Keyboard and/or Morse Operator, but by the way the basic course is going, which helps determine which course you are suited for, I may not even get a Morse course. I find it very hard to distinguish between the dots and dashes at the start of finish of each letter. They send a series of letters, it doesn’t matter what they are. The morse code is sent at about seven words a minute They send you four sets of fifty letters. Out of that I think you have to get at least an average of 85% correct to be considered for morse training. 68%, 58%, 68% and 66%, but I may get better in the other three tests still to sit. If I don’t pass the morse test then I will probably get a Keyboard and Operator course but the pay is not nearly as good.

 20th April – I was allocated to be trained as an Operator, Keyboard and Radio (OKR). The course takes about six months and will all be carried out at Balcombe. An OKR gets paid at the Group 5 rate. I am on Group 1 at the moment. The highest rate for a private is Group 7.

Our instructor is Corporal Norm Harris. He transferred from the Navy because he suffered from acute sea sickness, although interestingly he ended up doing two tours of Vietnam in 32 Small Ship Squadron. He was a complete alcoholic and on pay day he would be drunk until the following Monday. Towards the end of our course I recall that Ken Cox had hidden a couple of bottles of beer in his room (which I had “procured” from the Officers Mess one night when I was rostered on as a waiter), and Norm Harris found out about it. So he marched Ken down to his room (Ken thought that he would be “charged”). When Norm opened Ken’s locker he took out the bottles, broke open one of them and drank it straight down. Ken was let off and returned to the class room.

Sgt Norm Harris
Sergeant Norm Harris, Ex 32 Small Ships Sqn, SVN (Two tours - 1968/69 and 1969/70)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

 26th April – We have moved into different huts. They are very old, weatherboard. I am in one that is one long hut with eighteen beds, lockers, tables and chairs. The hut is not lined on the roof or walls and it has a double door at either end. It will be freezing in winter. Toilets and showers are in an adjacent hut.

15A OKR Course (Balcombe 1967)15A/1967 OKR Course L-R (Rear Row):  Gordon Taylor
 L-R (Mid Row):  Dave Ellis (Reg), ?, Richard Christiansen, Ken Cox, ?

L-R (Front Row): ?, ?, Sgt Norm Harris, ? ..
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

3rd May - As well as the course we have drill and PT. We have a parade every morning and at lunch time and it the Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM) “Block” Howe doesn’t think that we carried out the parade to his satisfaction he would call another parade and we would have an hours drill at the end of the day. PT is held twice a week. We also work two nights a week and have a major parade every Tuesday morning with spit polished boots and all the trimmings.

10th May – The morse and typing is going all right at this stage. There are eighteen subjects in the course, including voice procedure, batteries, electricity and magnetism.

17th May – We only have fourteen on the course now. One has been transferred on another course. Two others will be moving out shortly, one to Education Corps and the other to Provost.

One of the sergeants in our Wing, Mick Saunders.  Mick was the instructor for the other group of OKR trainees, is organizing a 55-mile march from Portsea to Melbourne GPO. He needs at least 30 volunteers to make it worthwhile.

While we were at Balcombe there was a six-day war between Israel and Syria. Mick Saunders (who was training 15 OKR) came into our radio room and told us that there was an urgent call for the Army to send troops to the Middle East, and proceeded to advise us of who was going and when it would happen. We were all “sucked in” and our whole world was turned upside down. He was able to keep this rumour going for a couple of days before we realized that he was only playing a joke. In reflection is seemed like a pretty stupid thing for him to do, but at the time it was very serious. Of course there could be no retribution as he was a Sergeant and we were only Signallers.

The food is pretty good here. An example of one day’s menu –

Breakfast - Fried egg, slice of bacon, chips and tomato, porridge, toast, marmalade, cup of tea.
Lunch – Soup, salad and dessert.
Dinner – Roast beef, vegetables and dessert.

 I am now putting on weight with eating more and exercising less.

During breaks between periods we used to get some fresh air by playing a game throwing a large medicine ball at “piggy-in-the-middle”. It cleared our minds between lessons, and allowed us to let off a bit of steam.

24th May – I will be home on the long weekend. Luckily I had my leave form in so I don’t have to be on piquet duty that weekend. The 55-mile march is going to take place sometime in July.

30th May – Last Friday we spent the day erecting telescopic aerials with different dipoles and feeders and working out frequencies to use with ground and skywaves. This coming Friday we are going down to Flinders Naval Base for a rifle practice.

We started training for our march yesterday. We did a five mile run in boots and gaiters after work. We are going to do this twice a week instead of PT. And instead of sport we’ll be going on marches of approximately eight to ten miles just to work out an even pace for everyone.

I recall that sport was one afternoon per week. At the beginning I was playing squash, but some of our group was playing softball with the WRAAC, so I joined them. We also had a church service once a week, but you didn’t have to attend if you told them that you were an “atheist”. So we were assigned to clean up various rooms each week instead of attending the service, but in actual fact we did nothing, just sitting around and taking it easy.

Talking about Vietnam, it seems from all reports I have heard, rumor has it that about 90% of OKR’s will go overseas, nearly all to Vietnam. At least I probably wouldn’t be in the front line, if they have a front line over there.

6th June – Lots of focus on the march. It helps to break up the “daily grind”. We went for a 14 ½ mile march last Thursday. We managed it in 3 hours and 10 minutes, with only one stop at the halfway mark.

We spent the day out on the rifle range at Flinders Naval Base last Friday. We shot about 40 rounds at various distances from 300 metres down to 50 metres. We also had a shot with the sub-machine gun. We were supposed to record 15 hits with the SLR rifle but most of us only got four or five hits.

We are receiving morse at about nine to ten words per minute and typing at about sixteen words per minute. The goal is to be able to receive 18 wpm in morse and type 40 wpm by the end of the course. It is getting very cold down here, mid 30’s every morning.

14th June/15th June – Well we’re back at it again after the long weekend. My flight back from Sydney was uneventful except that I nearly missed the plane after being the last on board. I had a few drinks with Mick and Helen and forgot the time. The plane home was a DC-9 and back down was an Electra.

We are now also working with radio sets for voice communications. The sets are AN/PRC25. We’ve also notes on the A510’s so we will probably learn how to use them as well. Tomorrow we go on a 25-mile march as part of our practice for the big one.

We have received our results from our exam that we did last Friday. I got 69%. I would have liked more but at least I came in 5th in the class so that’s a little better than half way. Only four of us passed all the subjects. Some blokes got up in the 90’s for some subjects, but down in the 30’s for others.

It’s not too cold down here at the moment but it’s raining and I have to wander around the camp on piquet duty for two hours at 7:45 and again at 1:45 am. Good fun!

 27th June – We moved into new quarters last Friday. We’re now in two-man rooms. We’ve got bed lamps and even lino on the floors. The only trouble is that we have to polish the floors every Monday night and look after the place a lot more than our previous quarters. At least the water is hot all of the time, that’s one concession. My morse is now at 14 wpm and typing at 25 wpm.

I embarked on writing letters to travel agents asking them to send me posters of overseas travel destinations. I had several posters sent to me and I pasted these up in my room. Interestingly no-one challenged me re this and indeed our SSM thought that it was a great idea. It allowed some of us to “dream” of faraway places that we might want to visit some day and brightened up an otherwise drab room..

Two of our group tried to get transfers because they were getting fed up but they were told by the Major that they were just lazy. One of the regulars in our class has applied for a discharge and got it. He is supposed to leave in a couple of weeks. He can get a discharge because he is under the Army Adult Tradesman Scheme.

Our march will take place on Friday, 7th July. We can’t march right into Melbourne because you need a licence, so we will most probably stop a couple of miles outside.

I received my Group Certificate from Smith and Miles for the financial year 1/7/66 - 27/1/67 I earned $2,096.80 and paid $336.75 in tax, not bad for seven months work.

5th July – The march is the talk of the camp. We might get some TV coverage and a mention in the papers. Morse is up to 16 wpm and typing at 30 wpm. I think that I am about third in the class.

11th July – About the march. We got a mention in the Melbourne papers and some of the blokes were on TV on Saturday night.  I marched 51 miles and had to stop, seven miles short of our goal.

I had stayed behind with my room mate who was really struggling about half way through the march and after he pulled out I couldn’t catch up to the others. Of the 24 who started 13 made it. I was on the march for 19 hours finishing at 11 am. We carried submachine guns which made the march look rather authentic.

Workwise I am now typing at about 32 wpm and morse about the same as before. We’re starting to take actual messages on message forms and also taking morse on the teleprinters at about 12 wpm. I timed myself sending morse and I can send at about 15 wpm with only a couple of mistakes.

22nd July – Two new OKR courses started last week and we couldn’t help but laugh at how slow the are reading morse. I would hate to be starting all over again. Yesterday marked the half-way point of our course.

30th July – I suppose you’ve heard about the Monash University students sending money to the Viet Cong. A few of the blokes down here are very riled up about it.

7th August – A very warm August weekend and we went down to the beach and soaked up some sun. On Sunday I went out to the car races at Calder, about 20 miles north of Melbourne. In contrast it was a bitterly cold and foggy day.

 We spent two days last week duplicating a Signals Centre with various means of communications. I was working CW on a C11 radio set. It was good fun putting our studies into practice. We are reading morse at 15 wpm for our tests. In typing we have to type 14 messages in 15 minutes without any mistakes. I can do 12 correct.

C11 Radio Set
Radio Set C11/R210
(Photo from Internet Source)

We are having one exam after another recently with another two next week. In our last Electricity and Magnetism exam I got 72% and in Aerial Theory I got 97%. We also had another progressive test in which I got an average of 72%.

There has been a lot of rumors flung around about where we are going to be posted to after we finish here, ranging from Vietnam to a static posting in Canberra. The past two Friday afternoons we have seen movies on Vietnam. One was a Yank production and the other one a Project 67 production about the Australians over there. It was called “The Third Generation”. It was a good show and it showed life at it is over there without any bull in it.

Today we started our battle efficiency tests. They consisted of the following activities. Carrying a person your own weight for on hundred yards in under one minute, jumping a nine-foot ditch, scaling an eight-foot wall, running a mile in eight minutes and running five miles in one hour (this will be done next week). I passed everything easily. All of this is done fully clothed with boots, gaiters, belt and beret. The only trouble is that I now weigh 12 ½ stone so I had to carry someone who weighed the same as me, and that’s no lightweight.

13th August – I managed the five-mile run in 50 minutes with no problems. We are all trying to qualify in our typing exams. We have to pass three tests in a row (14 messages in 15 minutes) to qualify. If you pass two and fail the third you have to start all over again. Only one of our group has qualified so far.

The tests we have are to qualify in morse receiving by hand and typing on the teleprinter and morse sending. Along with these tests there are also the trade tests to pass as well.

We go to a Laundromat in Frankston once a week to do our washing which gives us a little break out of camp. Some of the local blokes go home every weekend if there is nothing happening in camp. Not having a car means that I am more or less stuck here all the time unless I can get a lift with some of the others. Now that Geoff and Ken have girlfriends they spend more of their time out of camp on the weekends.

27th August – Managed to go out for a few social activities over the last two weekends. A dance at the Frankston Teachers College, some time at the beach one Sunday (the weather was kind), into Melbourne for lunch, went to the movies in the afternoon and then to St Kilda to a disco, which had an all-girl band. Of course there is still washing and ironing to do before the new week begins.


Out and about!  L-R  Gordon Taylor and Jeff Fewson
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

 As I recall, the winter of 1967 was not too cold for a Melbourne winter. We were usually free on the weekends and for those of us who were interstate people we used to spend some time at the beach and I recall some of us swimming on one occasion. We spent a lot of our free time together which made us a much closer unit. The two of our group who were Melbournians used to go home each weekend.

There are three married blokes in our group and two regulars, one who is only 18 (Jeff Fewson, my room mate) and the other Dave Ellis (both ended up in Vietnam). I ended up having both of them in my room. So we had three people in a two-man room.

All last week was spent doing a tape relay exercise. We had four minor stations, two minor relays stations and one major relay station. We had to send messages to one another by typing and sending them by tape. We find that even a week away from morse and typing and we aren’t as good as what we were before.

2nd September – We had to do drill on Saturday morning because some people had been talking on parade. This is the second time we have had to do this. It doesn’t worry me too much but a lot of the blokes go home or out for the weekend. Last week I managed to qualify in all my typing so I had the Thursday night off. My morse is now at 18 wpm so I shouldn’t have any worries passing my tests. I am also confident in passing my trade tests as well.

10th September – Next weekend I am rostered to work in the Sergeants Mess and the following weekend four of us are going away for the weekend down past Geelong and along the Great Ocean Road. The weekend after that we will be on an exercise out in the bush. We will be establishing comms with voice and continuous wave (CW) and some of us will be using the A510’s.

I am now more than a stone heavier than I was before I entered the Army. Too much food and not enough exercise.

16th September – Instead of the normal weekend exercise that we were going on, five people from our course and five from the other course (15 OKR) are going up to Ballarat for the weekend. We have to provide comms for four hundred Army apprentices who are having a weekend exercise up there. The Army Apprentices’ School and the School of Music were also in Balcombe Army Camp. We’re using voice comms with a network of five small static stations and one roving station in the back of a landrover. It should be quite a good experience, and at least we are doing something that’s fair dinkum instead of just a make believe exercise.

We should find out where we are being posted about a week before we finish the course. Most of us are going to be sorry to split up. I don’t think that we will all be posted to the same unit.

25th September – Our weekend away along the Great Ocean Road was a great time. Geoff Morgan (he had the car – an Anglia), Richard Christiansen, Jeff Fewson and I were the four. We ended up in Mt Gambier before heading north through to Stawell down to Araret and then Bendigo, Ballarat and back to Melbourne. About 850 miles in total.


At SA BorderAt tha SA Border.  L-R Geoff Moragan, Richard Christiansen and Jeff Fewson
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

Our tests are now in full swing and my marks are all in the high 70’s and 80’s. I am about halfway in the class. Some of my classmates are very brainy, Uni degrees, etc.

One of the major songs that I remember during my time in Balcombe was “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.

Last Wednesday our course went out into the bush with the A510’s for the day. It was pouring with rain all day. We were spread over an area of about five square miles. There were two of us to a set and we had to establish comms and pass traffic. We were working on two frequencies. Four sets on about 7mcs and the remaining three on 2. something mcs. I was on the lower frequency. I took my transistor radio along and tuned into the other frequency with it.

A510
WS A510 with Transmitter on left connected via cable to the Receiver on the right.
The antenna tuner is on the left (on the transmitter), above is the handset and the morse key.
(Photo Internet Source)

 We couldn’t raise anybody so my partner (Bill Laidlaw) had to climb about 30ft up a tree in the pouring rain and put up an end fed sloping aerial about 80 ft long. Even that wasn’t very successful and at times we had to change to CW to keep in touch.

We’re not using the A510’s next weekend. We will be using the AN/PRC-25 which is a VHF set with a frequency range of 30 to 76MHz.  It is a crystal calibrated, digital tuning set. How does all that sound of a heap of technical garbage? I could confuse you even more by mentioning the power output but I don’t know it.

AN/PRC-25
Radio Set AN/PRC-25
(Photo Internet Source)

Tuesday, 3rd October – The weekend exercise (Friday to Sunday night) with the Apprentices was quite interesting and enjoyable. The main of our part of the exercise was to keep our HQ informed of the arrival and departure of the Apprentice patrols. There were 12 patrols and each one had to march through each checkpoint. This was the first time that I had eaten combat rations. These were the E type packs.

Our only tasks apart from putting up a vertical dipole aerial and operating the radio were to dig a latrine and chop up some firewood. Evan so it was more fun than sitting in a classroom all day.

Our postings should come through any day now. We only have nine working days left until the end of the course.

Prior to our postings we were given the choice of where we wanted to go. We had three choices. I put down SVN on all three. I didn’t do this for “Queen and Country”. I wanted to put into practice what I had learnt, rather than being posted to say Ingleburn, where I might spend the rest of my Army service mowing lawns, etc. I also wanted to see some of the world and I also knew that I could get a war service loan if I went on Active Service.  I know that both Geoff Morgan and Ken Cox had SVN down as one of their choices. Not long after this time Ken met Anne Maree (his future wife) and was regretting the fact that he had put SVN down as a choice. Geoff also met his future wife around the same time as Ken.

I never told my parents that I had volunteered for active service, I think that my mother would have had a heart attack.

11th October – Three minutes isn’t very long on the telephone, but I haven’t got much else to tell you except that the Squadron that I am going to is definitely going to Vietnam next year. This Squadron is based at Enoggera in Brisbane. I passed the course with “no worries” and I was one of the few blokes to get recommended as an NCO.

Out of the 29 blokes on our two courses, two got New Guinea as teachers, one as a Sig. At least 12 will go to Vietnam. Three others are going to 1 Signal Regiment in Ingleburn (they won’t go to Vietnam), and one got Newcastle, working with the Air Force. The others ended up going to Watsonia in Melbourne.

OKR Trade Cert
Trade Operator, Keyboard and Radio (OKR) Test Certificate - Gordon Taylor

From 15A OKR - Geoff Morgan, Ken Cox, Richard Christiansen, Jeff Fewson (Oct 68), Dave Ellis, Ivor Harris (Saigon) and Alex Sheppard (Vung Tau) all went to SVN. That was seven out of the 13 that completed the course. At least one of our group was sent to New Guinea to teach some local army personnel. Geoff Morgan, Richard Christiansen and Alan Wright were all teachers from Qld. Geoff said that they wanted him to go to PNG but he declined, to which he was told that if he went to SVN he would most likely be killed.

Don’t know who from 15 OKR went. Although they were housed in the same barrack block as us we were obviously not as close to them as our own group.

If I don’t get the chance to come home on my way to Brisbane I will probably be home for Christmas.

UNIT ASSIGNMENT

139 Sig Sqn
ENOGGERA, QLD

20th October – The barracks here are only about four months old and are as good as Kapooka, much better than Balcombe. The squadron is out on an exercise at the moment and won’t be back until the end of the month. Consequently there are only about half a dozen blokes left in camp. The squadron has a barrack block to itself. Admin Troop is housed on ground floor, Radio Troop on first and Signal Centre Troop on the second floor.

I was interviewed by the OC and he told me that I would be in Radio Troop and he said that by the end of the week or so I would know when I was going to Canungra and Vietnam.

139 Sig Sqn HQ   139 Sig Sqn OR  Barrack
Left:  139 Sig Sqn HQ Building.  Right:  139 Sig Sqn ORs Barracks
(Both photos supplied by Denis Hare)

2nd November – I have been told that I will be going to Vietnam in February. I have also been told that my annual leave is due to start from the 17th December. I am also going to Canungra on the 16th November for three weeks. These three weeks are going to be the worst three weeks I’ve ever spent. Everywhere you go you have to run at the double and you do all your training with full webbing and a rifle.

You start at 0500 and don’t finish until 2000. I have been told that you do two weeks of muscle building and going over obstacle courses and one week is spent out in the bush setting up ambushes and being ambushed, etc.

I have been spending time gardening, cleaning the canteen, and doing other general duties. We spent two days on the rifle range. There are still piquet duties to be carried out.

We managed to get out of camp fairly regularly. Geoff Morgan, Ken Cox and Richard Christiansen all lived in Brisbane, so I was able to get around a bit. I spent a lot of time with them, and met Ken and Richard’s families. I remember going to the National Hotel one night (a real Army Pub) and saw Dinah Lee. The whole pub was going crazy. She actually went to Nui Dat and performed for the troops. At this time we were getting to know many of the Sigs who would eventually end up in SVN. In particular, Keith Oliver, Glenn Sweet and Terry (Tab) Hunter who sailed over on the HMAS Sydney with me. We were also on the same Battle Efficiency Course (BEC) at Canungra

14th November – I am off to Canungra to do my Battle Efficiency Course. I don’t think that I will have time to write to you while I am there. I have just finished a week of mess duties and for the past few days we’ve been trying to get into some sort of physical condition doing circuit training, forced marches, running around the camp and going over an obstacle course.

JUNGLE TRAINING, CANUNGRA

7th December – I have just returned from Canungra. My only injury was a septic little toe. I went to the RAP where they removed the toenail.

Canungra would be without a doubt the worst placed in Australia. Our accommodation was a tent that held seven people. We slept on stretchers and we had one locker amongst the seven of us. The temperature was close to the century during the day and down in the fifties during the night. We slept in our clothes all of the time. The only good thing was the food, and there was plenty of it.

The night that I rang you we had just come back from the bush. Our exercise was designed similar to a search and destroy mission. There were blokes dressed up as the enemy and we had to chase them for four days and then attack their camp and wipe them out. I think that they were the worst four days I have ever spent.

My leave is still down for the 17th December.

Jungle Training at Canungra was the hardest experience in my whole life. We were totally exhausted every day. The day started with breakfast and then a run. Each of us was in our PT gear and had to carry a rifle. There was also an M60 machine gun in the group and this was handed from one to the other during the run. Obviously it was everyone’s challenge to get rid of the machine gun to someone else just to make the run easier.

Then dressed for more training, climbing ropes, crawling under barbed wire with rifles being fired overhead, running the obstacle course (walls to scale – where one of them had a mud wallow at the bottom once you climbed over), mud wallows to run and crawl through, ropes to get through, logs to climb over and run between; and eventually the tower, which was about 30 feet (10 metres) high, to climb and jump off. Several guys baulked and were pushed off. I didn’t mind jumping of the tower, at least it cooled you down after the torment of the course.

We also attended some indoctrination classes to attend. Here they talked about the enemy, what we were likely to expect. They talked a little about the history of the country, but mostly it was about how back they were and how we were going over to win the war.

In the third week we had a free day to go down to the Gold Coast. I made the fatal mistake of lying on the beach and got severely sun burnt. The very next day we were to go out on a four-day patrol. As I can recall I think that there were three platoons, each totally separate, but followed behind each other, although they had no contact with the other two.  Each platoon had three or four sections. I was given the job of forward scout for one of the sections, but my back was so sore I could not cope. Each time that we were fired on by the “enemy” we took cover and started to crawl through the scrub. We would then wait for the signal to advance. I was too tired from not being able to sleep the night before that I was falling asleep during the lull prior to advancing again. I recall someone behind me waking me up. Thankfully for me or else I would have been in real trouble. Our sergeant berated me “uphill and down dale” (you can imagine the language), and I was sent back into the middle of the platoon. I was picked on for the next day or so as being a “malingerer”, and that sunburn was a chargeable offence.

On the second day I had to move forward with two other guys as a scouting party and find some water, making sure that we weren’t seen by the “enemy”, who were made up of soldiers who were part of the training group. We were actually successful in as much as we weren’t spotted and were able to find our way back to our platoon around lunch time.

Late in the afternoon as we were setting up camp, there was a bushfire not far from where we were. The platoon was ordered to make their way to a fire trail where we were picked up by a couple of trucks and driven to the fire. At this stage the fire was starting to burn itself out and we were sent there to give the bushfire brigade a break. We were given some sacks which we used to put out any smoldering embers and make sure that there were no new outbreaks. On the way there our truck ran off the trail and crashed into a tree. A couple of the guys at the front of the truck were injured and taken back to camp. This meant that they would be sent back to their respective units and would either have to come back to Canungra or perhaps not be sent to Viet Nam at all.

My sunburn was much better after a couple of days and I was back to “normal”.

On the morning of the third day just before daylight we were “attacked” by the “enemy” who charged through our camp and “killed” as many of us as possible, firing blank rounds all over the place.

During the day there were more field exercises, working out distances, arcs of fire, etc, etc. I recall that we were always talking about “knolls”. I guess that this was a good way to quickly explain landscapes and suggested routes to traverse.

On the fourth day we were marched to the base of a large hill and were told that we had to climb it and there would be some vehicles waiting to take us back to camp. Not long after starting the climb I noticed that one of our group, who I thought was the strongest and fittest guy in the platoon was struggling with the M60. I thought to myself that this was a good time to show the sergeant that I was actually tougher than he thought I was. I walked up to the sergeant and told him to look after my glasses (in those days I could see quite well without them except for reading) and give me the M60 from the guy who was struggling, and that I would carry it to the top of the hill.

When I finished the climb, which I was very proud of, I walked up to the sergeant and as I can recall told him that I wasn’t a fucking malingerer after all. He took the machine gun, gave me back my glasses and never said a word (which I guess was as good as a compliment).

When we marched on to where the trucks were. Just as we drew close to them they drove off without us and we had to walk back to camp, which was several miles away. Typical army bastardry! After a long shower and a great meal we all felt much better.

During the three weeks I teamed up with someone (who wasn’t in my unit) and who had a great sense of humour, and whenever things became difficult he used to come out with some of the funniest expressions and sayings, which gave a lot of us a laugh and kept us going. It is amazing the camaraderie that abounds when one is under pressure.

The best thing that I can remember about the place is that the food was great. Huge steaks every night, big breakfasts and healthy lunches, all designed to keep us healthy.

At our 2000 104 Sig Sqn reunion on the Gold Coast, Ken, Keith, Richard, and Geoff I think, travelled back to Canungra to have a look at the place. Keith and I stood on top of the tower and thought about jumping “one more time”. It certainly didn’t look quite as foreboding as it was back in 1967. Actually Ken, Geoff and Richard’s jungle training was held in Puckapunyl.

 Canungra Tower
Old soldiers checking out the Canungra tower in 2000.  L-R Keith Oliver and Gordon Taylor
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

17th December 1968

LEAVE (at home)

 14th January 1968

Return to unit (Ingleburn)

 17th January 1968

Embark on HMAS SYDNEY

Bound for Vietnam on HMAS Sydney

We were trucked from Ingleburn to Garden Island where there were a huge crowd gathered to see us depart.

We caught the tail end of a cyclone when leaving Sydney. Keith Oliver and I slept on the focsle in hammocks every night except for the last night. It was far too hot below deck to sleep. The first night out the water was gushing through the gunnels where the anchor chains were. At the beginning of the trip not many people had thought about sleeping “above decks”, but as time went on it became very difficult to find a spot. We were given a locker to put our clothes in and provided with a hammock that we had to store each day and then take out at a certain time every night. I can’t remember about our rifles, I think that they were stored away during the trip.

 HMAS Stuart II

HMAS Stuart was our escort, which was a Type 12 anti-submarine frigate, constructed for the Royal Australian Navy at Cockatoo Island Dockyard as ship number 200.  It was laid down on 20 March 1959, launched on 8 April 1961, and completed on 27 June 1963. It has the same specifications as for HMAS Parramatta (III). HMAS Stuart was the first vessel fitted with the IKARA anti-submarine guided missile that had been developed in Australia.                 

HMAS Stuart II
HMAS Stuart II at the time with the pennant number 'F21' which changed in 1969 to '48'
(Photo Interent Soucre)

We had PT, rifle shoots off the stern, shooting at balloons. There was a “crossing the line” ceremony.  Crossing the line ceremony.jpg   I had one or two days working in the Petty officers mess. We had a beer ration of two large cans per day. For those who didn’t drink they swapped their beer for cigarettes or whatever was available. One of our jobs was to obtain the beer from the hold of the ship. We certainly seemed to have a lot of free time, and we were able to acclimatize ourselves to the humid and hot weather. I think that there were lectures held on most days. These were about food, VD, Vietnam history, etc, etc.

HMAS Sydney
Deck of HMAS Sydney was packed with vehicles for the war zone - Wessex Helicopter landing
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

This trip was not usual in the sense that there was no infantry battalion on board. We were from various units that were stationed in SVN. This was at the time that there was a need to build up the infrastructure given that a third battalion was being, or had just been deployed to Nui Dat. We were also carrying quite a few trucks and other vehicles.

South Vietnam

3rd February

Arrive in Vung Tau, South Vietnam

104 Signal Squadron
AFPO4
GPO, SYDNEY 

On the morning that we arrived of the coast (at Vung Tau) we were flown off the ship early in the day in Chinook’s. There was only one sortie of choppers and I was on it. All other troops were taken off by landing craft as there were no more choppers available. No one knew anything about TET (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) .

We spent most of the day waiting for transport to take us to Nui Dat. The road between Vung Tau and Nui Dat was blocked to due enemy action. We were finally flown by Caribou to Nui Dat and then picked up and taken to 104 Sig Sqn lines.

3rd February - Stationed at 104 Signal Squadron, 1ATF, NUI DAT

I spent a few days in camp familiarizing myself with the place and carrying out the usual menial tasks, garbage run, sandbag run, cleaning duties. We knew nothing of what had been happening all over the country. Indeed we never knew the big picture at any time during our tour of duty. We were only involved in our day-to-day duties.

The first two hyperlinks below show a schematic of the 104 Sig Sqn lines in 1967. I think that they had been modified a bit by the time I arrived. The third hyperlink is an aerial photo of Nui Dat.

 Major Norm Munro was the boss, Captain Graham Arnold was 2IC, WO2 Bluey Still was the SSM, 2nd Lieutenant Ken Twining (affectionally known as “Twit”) was in charge of Radio Troop,and Staff Sergeant Max Hardy who looked after the “day to day” activities of Radio Troop. I don’t ever remember having a conversation with “Twit”. He was the one that named us F Troop, after the American TV show of the same name. Some of the 104 Sig Sqn reckon that the F stands for something else.

 We have to take one Paladrin tablet each day to ward off Malaria. If you were in camp they were handed out at parade time. We became so used to taking them that we swallowed them “dry”. At the end of our tour of duty ………………….

 104 Sig Sqn at Nui Dat
104 Sig Sqn from the air. Nui Dat Hill on the right and HQ 1 ATF to the left of the Sqn in the centre.
(Photo supplied by Denis Hare)

12th February - I flew to FSPB Andersen (Operation Coburg), where 7 RAR was stationed along with 161st Bty RNZA, about 20 miles north of Nui Dat (actually was 20 miles north east of Saigon). 3 RAR was also involved towards the latter stages of the operation.

I was only there for a couple of hours before being sent by chopper to 199th Light Infantry Brigade at Long Binh. No sooner had I arrived than I was informed to relocate (not sure if by chopper or road) to 101st Airborne based in Bien Hoa, managing retrans messages between elements of the FSPB and Nui Dat. I was sent back to Nui Dat (via Xuan Loc by chopper) on the 1st March.

At one stage in 1968 Bien Hoa was the busied airport in the world. I worked in the “Hurricane” TOC (Tactical Operations Centre), - Bien Hoa was the home of 2FFV (Field Force Vietnam – the head of III Corps).

TOC at Bien Hoa
Tactical Operations Centre (TOC), Bien Hoa (1968)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

I recall that on the second night that I was in Bien Hoa, not really knowing where I was and how secure we were, the Americans called an orange alert, which meant that they all retrieved their weapons from the armory. They immediately started firing their rifles into the air. There didn’t appear to be any discipline at all.

That night a major ammunition dump nearby was attacked. The shells, etc went off all night. At the time I didn’t have a clue what was going on and as I didn’t belong to any particular unit, nobody told me (perhaps they didn’t know either). We were never told if any VC (Viet Cong) came near our perimeter. During Tet there was also NVA (North Vietnamese Army) troops in the area. Parts of Bien Hoa and Long Binh had been overrun by the VC/NVA at the beginning of the Tet Offensive.

The corporal I was with told me that I would be promoted to Lance Corporal when I was sent back to Nui Dat because I was actually assigned as a 'Corp Sig' to 4th Field Regiment and as he was returning to Australia in a couple of days, I would automatically take over his role. (17-Apr-67 -- 09-Apr-68 16862 Cpl William James Whitehead). This promotion meant that I didn’t have to carry out piquet duty or work in the mess.

3rd March had a run down to Vung Tau for a day of R&C. Visited 110 Sig Sqn and caught up with Alex Shepherd (from 15A OKR in Balcombe).

4th March was assigned to 4th Field Regiment in Nui Dat. Working in the Command Post (CP) manning the Enterprise switchboard (Artillery HQ CP)Ebony was the switchboard designator for the Task Force HQ.  I managed to get a couple of trips to Vung Tau between 4th and 27th March. I caught up with Geoff Morgan during one of these trips.

31st March – I visited Nui Dat Hill where all the aerial towers for communications in and out of Nui Dat are received. There is a very good view over the camp and surrounding countryside. 104 Sigs has a full time detachment stationed here. (Ken Cox was stationed here for quite some time). Caught up with Ken Cox at 104 Sig Sqn early in April and took at trip to the PX down at the airstrip (Luscombe Field).

I also managed a couple of trips to the “Sand Pit” near Baria. This is where we could pick up sand bags filled by the local Vietnamese for use back at Nui Dat. I don’t know how or who we paid.

Gordon at the Sand Pit with Vietnamese Kids
Gordon Taylor with Vietnamese Kids, sand pit near Baria (1968)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

Managed another trip to Vung Tau on Sunday 7th with some of my mates from 104 and spent some time water skiing during one trip. I was promoted to Lance Corporal on 11th April.

I received my Vietnam allowance ($1.55 per day). This takes my fortnightly earnings to $109.85. This will increase once my promotion comes through the pay channels. Back to Vung Tau to get eyes tested and new glasses. Had to stay overnight and took a chopper back to Nui Dat the next day.

There was a US gun battery sited next to the Artillery Regiment. We knew them as Husky Alpha 155 gun battery. They were responsible for a lot of the H&I (Harrassment and Interdiction). This was the term used for ‘indiscriminate” firing of rounds (usually at night) to deter the South Vietnamese to travel at night.

155mm Gun on the move   looking down the barrel!
Left - Husky Alpha 2/35 US Arty track mounted 155mm Gun enroute at Nui Dat (1968)
Right - Looking down the barrel of a 155mm Gun (1968)
(Both photos supplied by Gordon Taylor)

For any newcomers to Nui Dat their firing would cause them to jump about two feet into the air and start looking for cover. If you were unfortunate enough to be sitting on the “loo” during the firing it would cause a “wump” that would lift you off the seat. Our toilets were in a hut that had about six or so seats alongside each other that were positioned over a large hole in the ground.

4th Field Regiment has been relieved by 12th Field Regiment. The regime is much more regimented now that they have taken over. I feel that I have spent enough time at this detachment and want to be transferred back to 104 for a new assignment.

23rd April - we were able to commander a vehicle and visit a show put on by a group of entertainers from WA. These shows were held at Luscombe Bowl affectionately called (The Dust Bowl), which is located down at the airstrip (Luscombe Field). Troops used all manner of transport to get there (tractors, bulldozers, APC’s, trucks, etc). They were in Vietnam for a week or so entertaining the troops (Aus and US).

Luscombe Bowl
Luscombe Bowl, Nui Dat with a RAAF DHC-4 Caribou in the background (1968)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

Operation Thoan Thang was carried out during May. FSPB Coral and Balmoral were established as part of this operation.

Gnr’s Ian James Scott and Christopher James Sawtell were killed at FSPB Coral on 15th May. They were from HQ 12 Field Regiment. A 104 Sig Sqn member was also killed there. They were in the same tent as me in Nui Dat. They had only been in country for a few days and this was their first foray outside the camp.

I had requested that I be sent to FSPB Coral as part of the 12 Fd Regt HQ, but my request was denied due to the fact that I was seconded from 104 Sigs and did not report, other than my duties in the Task Force, to 12 Fd Regt. In hindsight this was probably a very good thing given what happened to Scott and Sawtell. There might have been a good chance that I could have been with them at the time of their death.

3rd June - went out with the Civil Affairs Unit to Long Dien where they were constructing houses for the local population. I was providing radio comms back to Nui Dat.

We have been working flat out for the past few days laying new phone lines from each of the gun batteries to our switch and then onto Arty Tac. Arty Tac controls the artillery fire from 1ATF base.

I am still trying very had to get back to 104 in order to get posted to a new detachment (The work was becoming very repetitive and I felt that my skills were not being used to their full potential).  I had made many requests to be sent back to 104 but without success.

13th June – I left Nui Dat by road with 12th Field Regiment Regimental Quarter Master’s Party. 1ATF Operation 'TOAN THANG II’ (13 June-18 July 1968).

We have an operation about five miles away from Long Binh  (not very far from where I was sent when I first arrived in Vietnam). We are carrying out food, equipment, etc resupply for the gun battery at FSPB Kiama, supporting the operation in AO Birdsville. My job with three others is to man the radio communications for the Artillery net 24 hours per day. It is a pretty easy assignment with very few calls being  directed to us.

We are stationed not very far from one of the main airstrips. During the day there are at least twenty planes in the air at one time, from choppers to the latest jet bombers. One of the chopper pads is right next to us.

We spent three days digging a mortar pit three feet deep and fifteen feet long and lined it with sandbags so that we could place an overhead cover on it. The ground was so hard and the tools we had very inadequate. We almost had it finished when we were told not to carry on as they were going to survey the area and level it off and put in proper drainage and make it like a semi-permanent camp so that at any time we have an operation in this area we will be able to set up our resupply easily. What a waste of time and effort. Typical Army!

On one of the resupply trips I was able to meet up with Keith Oliver who was stationed at FSPB Kiama, which is about five miles from where I am based. During our time here (Long Binh), we have made friends with several of the US troops and have been swimming in their pool and visiting the club. We have also done a bit of trading of goods (raincoats, shorts). We like their poncho lines and rucksacks.

FSPB Kiama
102 Fd Bty, 12 Fd Regt area at FSPB Kiama (1968)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

I have also been doing a bit of driving (without a licence) around the camp. If there is a need for a job to be done and there is no driver available then I volunteer.

24th June – We have about two hundred Aussies up here at Long Binh. Our camp is called 1ATF Forward – Long Binh. The US camp Long Binh is 55 sq miles in area. There is no need for radio transmissions from our area now that there are so many people here, so I am spending my time on resupplying the FSPB. Of course more troops mean more discipline and we are having daily parades and rifle and tent inspections. Life was easier back at Nui Dat.

3rd July - I was sent here as a Sig but recently have been carrying out general duties. I am due to return to Nui Dat on the 12th July. Returned by chopper from Long Binh to Nui Dat, and then off to Hong Kong on R&R on the 15th July.

Both US and Australian troops had a choice of taking R&R (rest and recreation) back in their home country, or in Hong Kong, Taipei, Hawaii or Bangkok. Some people managed two R&R’s, not sure if these were US and or Australian.

Hong Kong was a great R&R destination. Plenty of cheap duty-free goods (I purchased a large stereo system, which caused me no end of trouble to get back to Nui Dat. By the time I arrived at Luscombe Bowl I was seriously considering leaving it on the plane.) I was hoping to go to Hong Kong with Geoff and Ken but that didn’t pan out, so I was the only 104 Sig Sqn person in my group. I managed to team up with a couple of guys from some other unit and spent some time with them when shopping, etc. I stayed in a cheap hotel on Nathan Road, near the Star Ferry. I believe that all the good hotels were taken up by officer and Senior NCO’s.

R&C (rest and convalescence) was taken in-country by Australians, at  Vung Tau.  I tried several times to get R&C but never made it.

22nd July – I have returned from Hong Kong and am now stationed back at 104 Sig Sqn. I was able to finish my time at 12th Field Regiment before I went on R&R. I am in the same tent as Richard Christiansen. I am only supposed to be here for a week before being sent to the engineers at 1 Field Squadron (1 Fd Sqn) for a week while someone goes on R&C. Geoff Morgan is currently with 1 Fd Sqn. Another pay rise has come through. It is another $4 per fortnight.

In reading the Commanders Reports for 104 Sig Sqn there was always a shortage of Radio Troop personnel, so I guess that eventually they brought me back from 12 Fd Regt because Staff Sergeant Hardy realized that he could have me back in the Squadron rather that being assigned elsewhere. I don’t think that I was replaced, at least in the short term.

I have been sick since I went on R&R. I had to go to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP). They have me some pills and put me on light duties for three days. They said that it was some sort of virus I had picked up in Hong Kong, but I do recall that I was not feeling well from day one there, maybe it was the water.

27th July - Life at 104 has become much more regimented lately, with rifle inspections, etc every day. I have been on general duties, working in the radio store, garbage and water run. Today I was spreading blue metal around the place. I have just found out that I am being sent to 17 Construction Squadron (part of 1 Field Regiment) for a month, along with a couple of other Sigs.

 30th July – Moved over to 17 Const Sqn today in readiness to move out on Thursday 1st August. Gordon Sanderson and Marty Pandelus and I are part of a Land Clearing program (Operation Lyrebird). This involves clearing trails or areas on the bush to hinder the enemy. The operation we are on is designed to hinder movement of the enemy without being seen. It will also allow us to move APC’s, tanks, artillery and troops easily into the area. The first phase of the operation is to blaze a trail 200 metres wide and 14,000 metres long along a valley in between the mountains about seven miles west of Nui Dat. The trail to be cleared was between the Nui Thai Vais and the Nui Dinhs in AO Warburton, clearing from Route 15 to the north. 

3rd August – FSPB Hague. The first phase of the operation was to take three weeks, but two of the bulldozers are out of action. One was hit by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade)  just after we moved in and the other had some mechanical trouble.

 We left Nui Dat on the 1st August with seven D9 bulldozers on trucks (Gordon Sanderson and Marty Pandelus were with me). We were escorted by a troop of APC’s, which we travelled in. The AO was named Warburton. We also had some air support given that we were traveling from Nui Dat to Baria and then along the main route to Saigon for several miles before turning off into the bush. We have a company of infantry with us. The APC’s and the infantry moved out into the bush for about 4000 metres and cleared the area before we moved in about three hours later. During the setting up of the FSPB the dozer was hit by the RPG.

FSPB Hague   CP - First day at FSPB Haque
Left - D8 dozer on fire FSPB Hague after being hit with a RPG Rocket Propelled Grenade (1968)
Right - CP on the first day at FSPB Hague. 104 Sig Sqn Radio Operators at work.
(Both photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

There was a contact on the perimeter about 50 metres from our position. There was four or five VC who had sneaked in close to the perimeter and fired some rounds into the FSPB. We all stood to (grab your rifle and head for your mortar pit) in our case there was no mortar pit so we ran to cover. One of the infantrymen was wounded and Medivaced out. The Platoon Commander was also slight wounded in the head. As a result of this contact another platoon (actually it was another company) was sent in the next day to provide additional support.

There had been several reports received from Intelligence to say that the local VC division (D445 Provincial Mobile Force Battalion) was likely to pass through our area during the time that we were there, so we were on high alert and this also probably had another company sent out to protect us.

7th August - Our CP is now set up and all radio communication working. The three Sigs are working five-hour shifts with a two-hour shift at night, giving 24-hour coverage. The biggest problem we have lack of water for a shower. I have managed one change of clothing in this time. We have not been able to send a convoy out from Nui Dat because it is still a little bit dangerous.

Saturday 10th August - Yesterday afternoon it rained and I managed to soap myself up and get cleaned. Luckily it stopped raining just as I was rinsing myself off.

In the middle of our camp we have a cleared area where the dozers and APC’s can move around and park. They have churned up the dirt and it is just a mud heap now. We have to cross it every meal time and I’ve got mud half way up my legs.

The CP gets fairly hectic at times. We have seven radio networks and a switchboard set out to the perimeter.

14th August – Things have settled down in camp to an orderly routine. We have three patrols out at all time. They have come across a lot of VC and a lot of food and ammunition and documents, but they have only killed one VC. We will be moving from our present FSPB in two days time as the dozers have to move too far from camp each day.

The other night one of our patrols started shooting, only to find out that they were shooting one of their own fellows. Nobody knows how this happened but apparently this fellow wandered away from his post and somebody opened up on him. He was very lucky only getting shot in the leg.

A bore has been sunk to provide additional water for showering, much to everyone’s relief.

Discussions are already taking place re my return date to Australia, especially from my parents. I received another rise in my pay and am now earning $113.96 per fortnight.

One day we were out on a jeep traveling along the cleared area, I have no recollection of why we were there. We were about a mile or so from camp when our jeep became bogged. A photo I have shows that my companions were Gordon Sanderson and Marty Pandelus. I can’t recall any other details except that we were very exposed if any enemy had been in the area at the time.

20th August – We moved FSPB’s on the 16th. It is called Hokanui. Our move was carried our in typical Army style. We had half packed up the day before to ensure a smooth start to the move. We spent most of the morning waiting for trucks to arrive from Nui Dat. When we finally got started it took five hours to move five kilometres. We have been experiencing some torrential rain and all of our vehicles got bogged at some stage of the journey and had to be towed by the bulldozers or the APC’s.

Moving to FSPB Hokanui
Moving from FSPB Hague to FSPB Hokanui (1968)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

We weren’t able to put our tent up properly so I slept in about two inches of water. The CP was set up and we managed to hack out a place in the scrub to put up our tent. We had so much rain that the CP became flooded and they ended up abandoning it about 8:30pm and set themselves up in the makeshift kitchen. The next morning the CP had five feet of water in it. We dug a new one and have spent two days in trying to make it waterproof.

We have been out here for twenty days now with countless days left to go. I still have had only two or three showers given that we are wet most of the time.

27th August – We are working in with the Infantry as far as Sig work goes and we take in turn to man all of the radios. It is good experience for me because I haven’t worked any really busy networks before, and with five networks going at once and sometimes only one man to handle it, things get a bit hectic.

I volunteered to go out on a day patrol as an extra radio operator. The platoon already had an infantry sig attached. I recall spending the whole day out in the jungle with several breaks for a cup of tea and lunch, etc. Thankfully there were no incidents during the day. At one stage my aerial became entangled in a bush when we were passing through a particularly dense piece of jungle. I turned around to free the aerial only to find that I could not see anyone in front of me. That is how thick the jungle was. There was a sergeant behind me and he pointed me in the right direction or else I might have ended up getting hopelessly lost.

Yesterday I spent the day working on the chopper pad, talking to the pilots and guiding them in. There were not too many landings so it was quite pleasant. We have to throw smoke upon their approach and they have to identify the colour for confirmation.

We have both Chinook and Iroquois helicopters landing here. Actually the Chinooks don’t land, they deliver the bladders of diesel fuel for the bulldozers and the Iroquois bring in food and supplies. On the network the Chinooks are called Hillclimbers and the Iroquois are called Albatross. (My recollection is not quite right as I have a photo of Whisky Co (NZ) standing close to a Chinook as it is about to land to extract them from the site.)

The bulldozers each use 10 gallons of diesel per working hour. Therefore we need around 1,000 gallons of fuel per day. The diesel is flown in in large 500 gallon bladders which are slung underneath the Chinook.

I believe that we will be out here for another month or thereabouts, so we are trying to get a couple of days back at Nui Dat. I have written a letter to our Troop Sergeant asking him for a second R&R but haven’t had any response as yet.

3rd September – Good news! I have been promoted to Corporal effective from the 20th August.  I hear that mail is now free from Australia to SVN. The NZ infantry company (Whisky) has been replaced by Bravo Company (1RAR) and in the next few days we may be getting Alpha Company (1RAR). The company’s are all being switched around because of Battalion commitments.

Whisky Company on the move
Whisky Company, 4RAR moving out of FSPB Hokanui by Chinook (1968)
Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

Next Monday I am going back to Nui Dat for the day and try to fix up my second R&R if possible, and get some gear replaced and buy a few things that we need out here. Seeing that we have been out here for so long we are allowed a day back in camp.

Sunday 8th September – Guess what? I am back in Nui Dat. I received a note from our Troop Commander saying that he was swapping two of us over. Neither of us was very happy at the idea, but anyway we flew back to Nui Dat late yesterday. What a hairy chopper ride – tree-top level all the way. He was flying too low to get any good photos of Nui Dat from the air.

Gordon Sanderson stayed out there for the full length of the operation. He told me after the event that when the new boss of our group arrived he made them dig deeper pits and sandbag the whole area. Life became a lot stricter from that time on.

During my time with Gordon on this operation we had agreed to meet after we got out of the Army and plan a trip to the UK. Gordon was born in London and like me, wanted to go on a working holiday in the UK. We did travel to the UK in October 1969 and spent about 12 months together travelling around the UK and Europe.

Sunday 15th September – We now have our own unit writing paper. Today we were supposed to be doing a protection party run down to Vung Tau and we were given great instructions as to what our tasks were. While this was all going on Geoff Morgan and I were told to report to the OC, Radio Troop regarding an assignment. We were told that we were going out on a liaison job with the Yanks. Geoff is going to Bearcat (mostly Thai Army) and I’m going to Blackhorse, which is the HQ of 11 Armored Cavalry Regiment (11 ACR).

I am not taking a second R&R. I have been told that it is not allowed. My return to australia (RTA) is now down for December. I don’t know the date yet, but could be in the second week.

Wed 18th September – We were choppered out to Blackhorse. There are two sigs here, I can’t recall who the other was, plus a Captain (not from Sigs). We are working from 0700 to 2200. The two of us have broken the shifts up into a double one day and one the next. There is an Australian detachment up here but I haven’t had much time to have a look around.

The 11 ACR is a lot different from the other American units I have been with. They are a lot more “rough and ready”, but still nice guys. They haven’t seen Australian soldiers in their unit before and we are treated as a bit of a novelty.

The yanks are all a big trigger happy. I was travelling to somewhere in a jeep during my stay at Blackhorse when on of the passengers asked if he could fire off a few rounds from my rifle as he hadn’t used a 7.62mm rifle before. He fired several rounds and looked very happy with himself.

Bearcat is about 20,000 metres (I think that it should be 2,000 metres) from Blackhorse and seems to be a bit of a hot spot. They have been mortared a couple of times (during the day), which seems unusual. I believe that this is Geoff’s first time out of Nui Dat, so he is right into it.

Overview Map
Overview Map showing Bear Cat, Blackhorse, Nui Dat and Vung Tau
(Map from Internet Source)

I hear him on the radio quite often. I was listening to him just as I was writing this letter and I heard him say quite nonchalantly “We have mortars landing just outside our perimeter.” He sounded so casual about the whole thing.

Monday 23rd September – We have been here for nine days but are going back to Nui Dat tomorrow afternoon. The Yanks had a live show up here. The entertainers were Korean and were quite good. It looked so out of place, the fellows were dressed in formal suits with bow ties and the girls were wearing the latest clothes. The stage was the back of a semi trainer and the dressing room was the back of a smaller truck. Here we are, wearing dirty, smelly clothes, covered in mud. I should have taken a couple of photos to show the contrast.

I can estimate that I should be home no later than December 17th. I doubt very much if they would keep us over Christmas, but I will wait until I am on the aircraft before I’m sure.

I’ve got five days coming up in Vung Tau (R&C) and if I am really lucky I might also get a couple of days coming up very soon given that I was out in the bush for six weeks.

One of the most played songs on Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) at this time was Jennie C Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA”. I can remember thinking that it was absolutely fantastic. AFVN also played “Chicken man” every morning. It was a fairly stupid take off of a superhero. One morning someone in the Sig Centre, from 104, played an episode straight off the radio and over the taskforce network. I don’t believe that they found out who it was.

AFVN was run by the American Military – you may remember the movie “Good Morning Vietnam” – They played fairly tame music but from time to time they would play the top hit parade songs. Their ads were really targeted at the lower level, less educated troops with simple ads about keeping your mosquito repellent on, or how to purchase government bonds, or pushing the re-enlistment barrow which was incentivised towards having troops re-enlist or extend their tour of duty.

Wednesday 2nd Oct – Nothing goes to plan. I was back for three days and then required to go out again. (Operation Windsor). I was told I was going to be running a re-trans station for the Artillery net and was to be stationed out at one of the FSPB’s. (Cedar). Three of us (Ken Cox? – or Keith Oliver - and Pete Menagh) were sent over to the Kiwi gun battery and we flew out in Chinooks the next day to their FSPB. 1RAR and 161 RNZA were involved in this operaiton.

We had to set up comms for two stations who were several thousand metres (???- maybe FSPB Kwinana)) to our west and re-broadcast their transmissions back to Nui Dat. Our first job was to pitch our own tent, set up our equipment and each dig our hole. We were plagued with trouble right from the start. Everywhere we put our gear down someone wanted to pitch a tent, or dig a hole or the guns wanted to fire in that direction. It poured with rain all that afternoon and every time a Chinook or Skycrane came in with a load we had to hang onto our tent and gear to stop it from being blown away.

Skycrane at FSPB Cedar 
Skycrane at FSPB Cedar – never set up camp under the flight path (1968)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

A Chinook creates a wind comparable to a 90-mile an hour gale. All our codes, Sig instructions and secret papers were scattered over the place.

Once we were set up we realized that we couldn’t get comms. We gave up for the night and first thing in the morning by recharging our batteries and re siteing (sic) our aerials. We had just finished as Major Munro (our OC) arrived to see what was going on. In the end they decided that we were too far away from Nui Dat for the equipment that we had and sent us back to camp. There were five soldiers killed in this operation.

Radio Troop has had its first casualty.

Sig Dennis Abraham was on a re-trans station at Blackhorse, the same set up that I was on a few days earlier. He was there with Geoff Morgan. He was able to get a “joy-flight” in a chopper and while they were flying around they were shot down by ground fire. There were no survivors and when the patrol found them there were no weapons to be found. It appears that they had been found by the enemy before we found them.

He was killed on the 29th September 1968.

I have since heard that Geoff Morgan was going to go on the flight, but at the last minute he had to go on shift so Abraham went instead.

I had been posted to Blackhorse from the 18th to the 24th September.

Tuesday 9th October – I am back in Nui Dat – on the garbage run. The operation that I was on is still in progress so there aren’t too many fellows in camp. I am now officially a Corporal. Last Sunday we had a day down at Vung Tau. A few beers were consumed and I had a swim in the new pool down there.

Saturday 19th October – Still in camp – this is the longest that I have spent in the Sqn (three weeks). I have managed to get down to Vung Tau a few times. Once on a swimming trip and last Saturday two members from Radio Troop were invited down to 110 Sig Sqn for a Regimental Dinner. I was chosen and we had to dress up in polyesters (dress uniform) with ribbon, etc. It was a great night with the best food I have tasted in a long time.

The next day we waited for the convoy to come down with some of our fellows on it and we spent the day at an American club similar to ours at Vung Tau.

Today I am going down to Vung Tau again as an escort on one of our vehicles.

Sunday 20th – I wish I hadn’t gone down. We had to change a tyre just before we left Nui Dat and I managed to slice my finger open quite badly. There wasn’t much I could do till we got to Vung Tau. They couldn’t stitch it up so I just have to wait until it heals up which may be a few weeks. (They actually put some sort of plastic skin over the wound.)

Last week we went out on the range for a bit of a shoot with various weapons. I fired three magazines through my rifle. We also fired the M16, along with a couple of machine guns and a grenade launcher.

Sunday 27th October – I am out at an Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) outpost at Phu My with Keith Oliver. Phu My is some ten miles north west of Baria on Route 15. We are liaising with the ARVN, Thais and Yanks on an operation.

We were carrying out the usual jobs around the camp at Nui Dat – cutting grass, filling sandbags, etc. Keith and I were informed around 1645 that we were going out with a company from 3RAR the next day on Operation Diamond Pin. Keith and I spent the next three hours putting all of our equipment together for the operation.

Ken Cox was sent to Vung Tau as part of this operation retransmitting callsigns. (Not sure if this is accurate – Ken’s notes show that he was a Xa Bang at this time. He had been stationed at VC Hill for a couple of months prior to this time.)

We had to be ready at 0700 to move out with 3RAR and several APC’s. This was my first ride in an APC. We had it to ourselves given that we had about 1000 lbs of gear to carry. Wet cell batteries, aerials, radios, etc.

The APC’s dropped us off at Phu My and moved on up the road for several thousand (hundred) metres to the AO Rapier. There was also AO Everglade and FSPB Nelson which may have been part of this operation or Operation Harvest.

We were no sooner set up when some Yanks came in to ask for help. They had had a smash not far up the road. When they tried to go back for help they had their way blocked by a contact on the road. They ended up staying with us overnight until they got some tow trucks up from Vung Tau to take them away.

Monday 28th October – Phu My is an ARVN outpost about company size. It is also area HQ for smaller outposts nearby. From here, patrols go out every night to ambush position, but I have my doubts as to whether they do much good or not. The soldiers live here with their families in nothing more than hovels which are dug out of the mound of earth which surrounds the camp. There are several tin buildings inside the camp and it is inside one of these that we are operating from.

Tuesday 29th October – We are working long hours with the radios. It requires both of us to work during the day and sometimes at night, at least until midnight. I am glad I am out on this job for a couple of reasons. This is one of the few jobs I have done where I have felt a sense of achievement. It is also the first time that I have worked with the Vietnamese. Their life is so much different to ours in many ways and while we are in Phu My we have to live more or less the way that they live. The children are generally very well behaved and we get on very well with then even though neither of us can understand what the other is saying.

The other night the Liaison Officer (LO) and I went over to the Vietnamese OC’s place for a few drinks. We had to take off our boots and socks before we entered the building. We were seated on the floor with our legs crossed and a bowl of rice and a few bowls of meat and sauces place in the middle of the circle. Chopsticks were the order of the day and I had a hell of a job trying to eat with them. I don’t know if they were having us on or not but a cooked cockroach turned up on one of the plates. I had finished eating by that time, thank goodness.

I suspect that they had carried this out in jest as we had been talking earlier about eating rats, mice, cockroaches, etc

Wednesday 30th October – I am due to go on two days R&C at Vung Tau, but this looks doubtful as we are not due to leave here until the 2nd of November. The sooner we leave the better. The LO is driving us round the bend. He is a young 2nd Lieutenant from the infantry we are working with, and in my opinion is very immature. He just makes a fool of himself all the time, trying to impress everyone and impressing no-one.

He got dragged over the coals by his CO the other night after ordering me to call up the Infantry Company and saying “contact, wait, out” when we thought that the compound had been hit by a rocket, when in actual fact it was actually a rocket that was attached to the perimeter facing outwards that had been fired. No-one knows why it went off. I think that the CO went “crook” because the 2nd Lieutenant hadn’t gotten his facts straight before making a call and giving the whole Company, which was stationed in the bush, a fright.

The Lieutenant in question was a 2nd Lt David O Morgan (216942). He was actually two years younger than me. We were stationed with the SVN 655 Regional Forces Company.  Their main armaments were 2 x 105mm field guns (which I never saw). We were at YS 237772.

Thursday 7th November – I’m back from Phu My after spending nine days there. It was a great experience working with the Vietnamese. Keith and I felt that the 2nd Lieutenant was a complete idiot and we were left to do all the work and we made most of the decisions.

The day after we returned to Nui Dat there was another operation starting up but I was too late to get a job on it, so at present I am just hanging round the Sqn trying to keep out of everyone’s way.

104 Diggers at Nui Dat
L-R Dave Ellis, Digger Downs, Keith Oliver at Nui Dat (1968)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

I have learned the way to seem to be invisible. I have my bed in the same tent as Richard and two other people, but I don’t have any sheets, pillow, etc. I just have a poncho that I use as a sheet/blanket. Each morning I fold up the poncho and hide it in my trunk under the bed. This means that I don’t have to have any tent inspections as there is no evidence of anyone sleeping there. There are no roll calls and because people are moving in and out all of the time there is no double checking of numbers.

I have missed out on my R&C and have put in for the 21st November. I will see if I get it if I am not out on another job by then.

There is still no definite word on when we are going home. It could be a week before Christmas or two weeks after. Life has been quite dull the past few days. I have spent a few hours driving around the place delivering mail or equipment and with over half of our unit out the place is very quiet.

Our beer ration was lifted last week, most units have unlimited supplies but we are now on four cans a day, instead of two as it was before. Shirts are still on and we won’t be back into shorts for a while yet.

Somewhere around this time I was involved in a “mission” to go to a Vietnamese village and “arrest” a VC suspect. I was the radio operator for the group. I think perhaps two land rovers, don’t know what other personnel were with us. We arrived in the village just on dusk (I guess when most of the villagers would be cooking their evening meal) and pushed our way into one of the houses to arrest a person who was suspected of being a VC sympathiser. As we were talking him away the wife and children were screaming at us (along with some neighbours). The woman was so distraught that she would not let go of her husband and in the end we took her with us back to Nui Dat and delivered them to the “gaol.”

This was the first time that I had been “up close and personal” to a confrontation where we were dealing with the grass roots villagers and I found it most disconcerting.

During one of my trips to Vung Tau I visited the base hospital to meet with some of the wounded Australian soldiers who were recuperating there. This was a very emotional experience for me. It was very difficult to communicate with some of them as they were still in a period of shock. Their injuries were not necessarily life threatening, but nevertheless were certainly not slight and they would be expatriated back to Australia once they had recovered.

Saturday 16th November – Well, I am out again. Keith Oliver and I have been sent to Suoi Cat. We are working with the ARVN. There is a Task force operation on called Operation Capital II and it involves the ARVN, American and Australians. We are all working in more or less the same area to find and destroy a suspected VC Battalion. We have been out for six days now and haven’t found anything. Suoi Cat is a few miles east of Xuan Loc at the 18th ARVN Division Forward HQ. We had been here for a couple of days when some more Aussies turned up. They had been out with the ARVN Artillery for several day and a couple of them were from our unit (Phil Denton). So now we are working two nets, doing liaison for Artillery and ground troops.

I recall that on one chopper ride (probably this one into the ARVN FSPB) our Huey from FSPB Lion to Suoi Cat was required to make some urgent maneuvers due to outgoing artillery fire from the FSPB. At the end of that particular volley we had to immediately land before any more outgoing rounds were fired. Very exciting, white knuckle stuff.

 Keith and I left Nui Dat last Monday morning before dawn (small chopper), and were flown up to our Task Force HQ Fwd (FSPB Lion) and from there we were flown up to Suoi Cat in the afternoon. (1RAR were involved in this combined operation – OP Capital II.) The ARVN fire support base is a far cry from what we are used to and at first we didn’t feel very secure. The next afternoon an ARVN gun battery several hundred metres from our position fired a round into the middle of our camp, killing two Vietnamese and wounding several others. Luckily I was on duty in the CP (a tent with sandbags around four feet high surrounding it), so I was shielded from any possible blast effects.

I had my camera stolen while on duty. I am not too worried about the camera. It is the photos that were in the camera – shots of Phu My and here. (With no photos to remind me of people, places, etc it makes it more difficult to recall what happened during this period.)

 A recent email from Keith – 6th Sept 2007

“I will check out my slides to see if there are any from our time at Phu My and at that FSPB with the "Mighty Anvil". I can still remember those delta fox-trots dropping around the perimeter followed by an enormous bang when the drop-short hit us very close by.”

Before this event we had been sleeping in a tent inside the FSPB. In no time flat the Yanks had commandeered a bob-cat and dug a huge hole in the ground. We had to struggle down the relatively steep gradient until it flattened out and laid out our bedding and gear. We were down at least three metres from the surface. We slept more soundly after this.

We are working in with the American advisors and we also have an American Artillery battery at the FSPB supporting elements of 18th ARVN Division who are based in Xuan Loc. We get fresh rations and the food is better than we get back at Nui Dat. Washing is the problem. We have to go down to a muddy stream and paddle around in there and do our washing as well.

In typical American fashion the food at the FSPB was top notch. We could order our eggs in a number of ways, scrambled, over easy, fried; ice cream was available for lunch and dinner – a far cry from the c-rations which was normally what we would have when our in the bush with our own troops. In some occasions we would have had hotboxes delivered in the FSPB when with our own troops, otherwise it was c-rations.  There was always a bartering process that went on with c-rations; lima beans were the least liked and were very hard to trade.

There were four of us in the stream the other day when all of a sudden a snake about four feet long, came swimming down towards us. It took us about two seconds to get out of the water. These are the hazards of washing in a Vietnamese stream.

Stand to at dusk is an interesting experience with the Americans. Instead of sending out patrols from the FSPB at dusk, they all congregate along the perimeter and fire their weapons into the bush. Not sure what this achieves, other than to tell the enemy exactly where we are. No doubt they already know this. One of the Americans was very keen to fire a few round with my rifle and gave it a good workout that evening.

Tuesday 26th November – We have been at Xuan Loc for almost a week now after coming in from Suoi Cat. As far as I can recall I was at Suoi Cat with Keith Oliver and Xuan Loc with Ken Cox and Marty Pandelus. We took over from Bluey McDonald. Not sure if we flew to Xuan Loc or were transported by road.

An email from Ken Cox sent on the 22nd November 2008 said that, – “Gordon, it was 40 years ago today that I flew to Xuan Loc to meet up with you.”

The 18th ARVN Div HQ came in out of the bush and now we have joined up with the Liaison team who was here supporting the operation. We are working 24-hour shifts here until the operation finishes at the end of the month.

104 Diggers at Xuan Loc
L-R Marty Pandelus, Ken Cox and Unknown in Xuan Loc Village (1968)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

We are staying and working with the MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) in Xuan Loc. We live in one compound and work in another (about two miles apart). The shifts are – morning (one Sig) – afternoon (one Sig) – evening/night 1730 until 0730 (two Sigs). Movement is restricted at night hence the need to have two on during this time.

Last Saturday I got a trip to Blackhorse with the supply truck and managed to visit the PX there to buy another camera.

Well, so much for my R&C at Vung Tau. There is a rumour that I might be home between the 17th and 22nd December, but nothing definite at this stage.

Saturday 30th November – We are returning to Nui Dat by chopper this afternoon. Ken (and I assume Marty) returned with me. I am pretty sure that this will be my last job with only a short time left to go. Ken and Geoff are going home on the 10th December and there are more flights on the 17th and 23rd.  There was a mortar attack last night somewhere between our two compounds. I didn’t hear it and was only informed when I came on duty in the morning. (Ken Cox’s notes say that there were five mortars fired into an ARVN base about a ¼ mile from our compound.)

Sunday 1st December – I am back at Nui Dat at the moment but either tomorrow or Tuesday I am going back to Xuan Loc. It looks like I won’t be returning home until the New Year.

Tuesday 13th December – Jeff Fewson (from Balcombe days) is up here at the moment along with Keith Oliver. Jeff arrived in Vietnam on the 3rd December. He managed to get hold of a revolver from somewhere in Xuan Loc and fired a round from it. He will be reprimanded when he returns to Nui Dat. I have heard through the grapevine that I will be returning to Australia on the 7th January. 

I returned to Xuan Loc with Keith via chopper. I think that this my one and only flight in a little bubble chopper. Jeff Fewson arrived a week or so later.

The operation that we are carrying out liaison work for includes one Battalion of Australians, along with Americans, Thai’s and the ARVN. Part of our role is to give clearance for troops to fire artillery rounds into areas that are outside the AO. One day while I was on shift someone (not our group) must have given clearance into an AO that had some troops there and dropped a shell into their area. Don’t know what the ramifications of this were.

Thursday 19th December - We spend a lot of time when not on shift with the MACV security guards (they work shift work like we do) so they are often off at the same time as us. We have also spent some time in the town looking around. Apparently we are supposed to get a $3.50 allowance per day if we are staying out of camp. We have never heard of this before, so this covers some of our expenses.

Things are pretty routine here at the moment with not much action on the radio networks. I spoke to our Admin Officer yesterday when he flew up to pay us and he said that the 7th January is the next time he can get people booked to go home.

Saturday 28th December – Xuan Loc – I should be leaving here before the New Year so that I can get things sorted out before returning home.

I worked Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day we flew down to Task force HQ Fwd, which is out in the bush on Operation Goodwood (FSPB Julia), for lunch. I am glad that I am at Xuan Loc rather than being at Nui Dat where I would be filling sandbags, having inspections, etc.

There were no more letters home from this time on.

I flew back to Nui Dat around New Year’s Day from Xuan Loc. I spent the last week in camp getting prepared to depart – handing in rifles and other bits and pieces and making sure that our dress uniforms were neat and clean. We spent a couple of days driving around Nui Dat having a last look around and taking photos of areas of the base that we had not been to during our time there. Had a big farewell party on the evening of the 6th as there where quite a few of us going home. I managed to get hit just above the right eye by a full beer can being thrown and had to be taken to the RAP and get a few stitches inserted. I certainly didn’t feel too well the next morning.

I spent almost six months out of Nui Dat on operations.

Last look at Nui Dat
Last look at Nui Dat before returning to Australia
L-R Richard Christiansen, Robert Lyons (110 Sig Sqn), Keith Oliver,
David Tiernan and Unknown
(Jan 1969)
(Photo supplied by Gordon Taylor)

Return to Australia

7th January 1969 - We flew by Hercules to Ton Son Nhut at about 0730 and boarded a Qantas 707 around midday, arriving at Mascot around 2230 (in the dead of night when the airport was closed). There was no official ceremony upon arrival, certainly no “welcome home” parade. Only parents and friends of those coming home were at the airport to welcome us. There was no one there to welcome us home and or to say thanks for our efforts.

The first week back was very strange. Coming straight from a war zone to civilian life took some adjusting. Even walking down the street and looking out for traffic as you crossed the road was difficult. Any strange noises certainly had you on your toes.

I wore my uniform a couple of times and on one occasion was spat on and called a child killer. Not a very nice welcome home message.

I went to South Head military barracks a couple of times to fill out paperwork and have a medical prior to discharge before being officially discharged on the 31st January 1969. I was asked if I had any disabilities at one of the attendances. I said no, because I didn’t have any and was very keen to get out of the Army as soon as possible.

31st January 1969.  Formally discharge from the Army at Eastern Command.  Added to the Regular Army Reserve for 3 years which was completed 31st January 1972

In discussions with my father-in-law a few years later he said that I should have come up with some problem, as this would make it easier for me to claim a disability pension sometime in the future.

I travelled to Melbourne to meet with Gordon Sanderson, Keith Oliver and Ken Cox in mid February. Ken was getting married, Gordon and I were arranging a trip overseas in October and I wanted to catch up with Keith as I had spent a great deal of time with him in various operations.

The information from 104 Sig Sqn operational documents from AWM War Diaries (AWM95 Class 6, Subclass 6/2) is sparse to say the least. Major Munro and Captain Arnold (1968) kept very few records so it is very hard to determine any flow of personnel or operations carried out.  A lot of information can be gleaned from Infantry War Diaries (AWM 95, Class 7). As yet (Feb 2009), no Artillery War Diaries were located on the AWM site.  

Note:  Royal Australian Artillery War Diaries are now located in AWM95 Class 3.

Gordon Taylor
January 2017


Home   |    Go to top of page