Story 86 - 1ATF Shorthand Writer

By Ian 'Bluey' Granland OAM

104 Sig Sqn
Bluey Granland, SVN, 1970


104 Sig SqnIn 1970 I was working at 104 Signal Squadron as a GD/Hygiene man.

Sometime in May 1970 a circular came round from Task Force Headquarters.  It said that the Brigadier in charge of the Task Force wanted a shorthand writer and was making inquiries with all units to ascertain if anyone had shorthand skills.  I said nothing.

However later I joked with some of my colleagues that in fact I was a shorthand writer, learning the task as a NSW police cadet.  At my prime I could write 100 words per minute – which was not that fast comparing me with my cotemporaries of the time.  I never used this skill whilst in the police force.

“Tell someone, you’ll get the job” they urged me.  I had always remembered the old adage to never volunteer in the army, so I didn’t.  However, my colleagues did and soon after that Second Lieutenant (2Lt) Bevan Turner approached me to ask if it was true.  I told him it was and he nominated me to the Brigadier’s office as someone who could do the job.

I remonstrated with 2Lt Turner that it had been 4 years since I had taken shorthand and my proficiency rate was way down on what it should be.  Nevertheless, the fact that I could and probably because no-one else in the 5000 strong Task Force volunteered, I got an audience with Brigadier Bill Henderson.  Prior to our meeting I began practicing that lost art, but struggled to get over about 40 wpm or so.  What, I thought, had I got myself into?

Audience with the Brigadier

“Come in soldier” was his greeting.  I entered his office and saluted.  “So, you are a shorthand writer, are you?” he asked.

“Well sir, I used to be able to write shorthand, and I suppose I still can (not wanting to put myself down) but I’m nowhere near the speed I used to write.”

“That’s OK, I want you to write some for me and see how you go.  I’ll dictate a few passages from this book and you write them down.  Do you have a note pad?”

When I said I didn’t, he left the room returning a short time later with a pen and spiral notebook.  I didn’t104 Sig Sqn have the heart to tell him that serious shorthand writers only use pencils!!!

Well off he went, going 13 to the dozen and I was left trying to catch up.  “Are you getting all this?” He asked.  “Most of it sir”.  “Good”, then he continued.

After about 5 minutes he had dictated a few pages and my shorthand/longhand notes took up several pages in the notebook.

“Now go back to your unit soldier, transcribe what you have and bring it back to me”.

I trundled off across the road to where our unit was located.  Asked if I could use the Orderly Room typewriter and started to decipher what I had written.

I guess I got 90% of it right so I just made up the rest.  I knew he wouldn’t read it all.

I took it back all typed up and ship shape. He began to read it, then dismissed me with a “Good.  That’s very good, I’ll call you when I need you.”

So I saluted and went back to my duties cleaning dunnies, forgetting all about it.

Artillery Incident

On 20 July a platoon of infantry reinforcements attached to 1ARU were taken some distance outside the wire to give them experience in night time activities and possible involvement in what they could expect in a real live contact with the enemy.

During the evening the person in charge called in artillery fire from the New Zealand 161 Artillery Battery based in Nui Dat to provide a demonstration of how to use artillery and what the sensation was like when ordinance was being used.

104 Sig Sqn
1ARU Patrol 52 from 1ATF Log.  Extract from AWM95-1-4-193, Page 123

Unfortunately, ‘someone’ botched the map ref. co-ordinates and the shells landed amongst the platoon, killing 2 and wounding several others.  One of my good friends with whom I had spent 3 years in the police cadets, Jimmy Walker, was one of those wounded.  Luckily his injuries were superficial, apart from some temporary deafness and he was subsequently posted to Headquarters, 1ATF as a barman rather than being returned to Australia.  He did not want to be sent home.  Several others were medivaced back to Australia.  At this stage I did not know that Jimmy was involved, let alone in Vietnam.

Preliminary Hearing

As a result of this terrible incident, the army held a preliminary hearing into the event the following month.  I was called to take shorthand at the enquiry where evidence was given by the witnesses and those involved.  This initial inquiry was chaired by a captain only.

This was a huge task for me.  I was not prepared nor was I trained to do this type of work.  I spoke to 2Lt Turner telling him that I could not possibly take shorthand notes and then transcribe for days on end.  I did suggest though that I was a reasonably proficient touch typist and could type the depositions of the hearing almost as fast as they talked, so maybe if I did that, then my notes given to another typist who could possibly retype them without error.

Luckily 2Lt Turner had a small portable typewriter which made the job all that much easier.  The104 Sig Sqn captain in charged agreed to the arrangements and for the next three days I sat as the deposition taker in this pre-formal hearing.

On the first day Jim Walker walked into the room. “Jimmy, what are you doing here” I exclaimed.  Then he explained that he was one of the group of soldiers that were injured.

Of course this work was a big change from what I was normally doing of a day – I even had to wear a shirt!!!  I took the evidence from those involved, the lieutenant in charge of the platoon, some of the survivors, including Jim Walker, the NCO who received the radio instructions and co-ordinates and the soldier who plotted the co-ordinates.

I quickly gained the opinion that there could have been manipulation of the facts, particularly concerning the young NZ gunner who was very nervous and under extreme pressure during the hearing.  He provided a very poor recount of the situation and his part in it.  I am not attributing any blame on anyone here.


After it was over, I was thanked and never heard any more of it.  I have no idea if charges were proceeded with against anyone nor if anyone was found guilty.


104 Sig SqnLater in my life, Jim Walker, who returned to the police force after his two years national service, moved to the Central Coast of NSW where I got him playing Aussie Rules Football with my local club.

Jim became a detective sergeant and later worked as an instructor in the detective course in Sydney. 

Jim and his wife Merle, were extremely decent people who, besides their own children adopted several to whom they were exceedingly committed.  You could not find a more decent bloke than Jim.

In due course, Jim undertook a university course and subsequently resigned from the police force to become a successful solicitor at Woy Woy, NSW.  Unfortunately he died as a result of contracting leukaemia in about 2002.  Apparently, a number of his colleagues with whom he worked at 1st Australian Task Force Headquarters at Nui Dat during that time, also succumbed to cancer in their forties and fifties.

Makes you think doesn’t it?  Was it the water?  Was it something else?  Why them and not us?   

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