Allan William Wood

The Kokoda Track Papua New Guinea traversed by Allan William Wood

The Early Times.

 

TRAINING UP for BIGGER THINGS to COME.

 

HALCYON DAYS in the “HD” CLUB.

 

Remembering FSB “CONCORD”.- June/July ’68.”

 

Contact on Operation Capital”- Saturday 16th Nov. ’68.

 

Home Bound in March 1969

 

With 10 Plt. D Coy, on the Song Thai Vai River, Operation “Goodwood II”, 10 Feb.‘69”

 

A visit to Royal Hospital Chelsea Our Irish Guard Connection

 

The Early Times

My ‘marble’ was drawn in the 4th ballot in late 1967, by ex-test cricket captain Lindsay Hassett, & it was some time before I could discover if I’d been “lucky”. I was working as a Public Service “pen-pusher” in Sydney at the time, not bad money, but for a 20yr old, pretty boring stuff for one brought-up on a diet of John Wayne movies & action comics. Once I learnt that the information was available on personal application, & couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer, so one lunch-break, I walked across to Chifley Sq., to enquire. The clerk went away, & presently returned, with the solemn news that I was “in”. To his surprise, my response was something like “you beauty!”, & I skipped away back to the office, with visions of derring-do going through my head, with the promised great adventure ahead. When I got home that evening, I recall that my dad said very little, but mum had me already measured-up for a box. It was to be some months before things got properly moving though. I had to receive official notification, & attend a medical exam as I recall.

The big day came on Wednesday 19 April 1967, & I was to present myself at Arncliffe depot, for further medical & dental checks. My parents drove me in, & goodbyes were said at the gates. I can’t remember their emotional state that day, only my own excitement. We were bussed in convoy down to Wagga, a journey lasting many hours, & arrived at Kapooka camp (1RTB) in the dark very early hours. After being put to bed for what remained of the night, the next morning was made busy shedding our civilian clothes, (to be sent back to our parents I think, hopefully the only time they would receive a parcel of my personal belongings), issued with a full kit of obviously antiquated military gear at the QM store, & were marched off to the ablution-block, where a brace of barbers from town were honing-up their shears for our regulation “short back ‘n sides”. I heard one new guy, obviously sensitive to current hair fashion, ask his barber to do a bit here & a bit there. The barber responded by just moving the electric clippers over & over his head, ‘til all trace of his crowning glory was obliterated. As was the fate which soon befell all of us.

We were assigned to a room in the multi-story barrack block, me rooming with Lee Shipley, a “journo” from around Gosford way, (who I soon teamed-up with), Jimmy Last, (a school-teacher), & Tony Wodianicky, who we all found rather difficult to get on with, all of us now in 20 Platoon D Company.

Our Platoon Commander was a Lt. Kerr, who we didn’t see much of. I later heard that he’d gone into army aviation. Platoon-Sergeant was Sgt. Nelson, who of course, gave us a rough time, as was his job, breaking us down from the civilian mould, to rebuild us into a “rough, tough, fighting machine!! There was to be no leave into Wagga township or home, for about 6 weeks, except in an emergency, & in that time, we learnt the fundamentals & finer points of ‘drill w/o arms’, ‘drill with arms’, (over & over & over again), physical training, route-marches, fundamental arm’s handling, map-reading, etc, etc. Funny thing though, after a time, our loose-knit group began to pull together as a team, giving one guy who refused to pull his weight, a hard time. I remember on a 20 mile route-march in full pack we took out towards a place called The Rock, those who faltered were helped along by the others. We were all going to make it, whatever came. Must have been satisfying to Sgt. Nelson, though he’d never admit it to us of course. Towards the end of our 3 mths. at Kapooka, we were surveyed as to which army-corp we would like to go to. We were to give two choices. I kinda thought that being APC M113 crew looked ‘cool’, sleeping in hammocks inside, rather than on the ground, having an Eski for necessary food & beverage supplies, & not having to walk everywhere. My second choice, & in hindsight a mistake to indicate on this survey, was infantry. BIG mistake, as I think my first choice was therefore ignored. Hello RAR! With my previous P.S. clerical background, some people said I should have nominated for a Service Corp. posting, pushing a pen somewhere, but I wanted to get as far from that as possible. Besides, apart from family ties, I had no other hold on me. I wanted to be in a “fighting corp”. It’s an interesting statistic, that of the 45 in my platoon at 1RTB, I find that just 25 went on to serve in Vietnam, & of these, only 12 served in the infantry.

I had heard of the easy-lifestyle experienced by those posted to units at Malacca in Malaysia, with servants to do the hard yakka. Sounded like a holiday on full pay to me. I could live with that, I thought. So I opted for the RAR. Silly naive me!

In late June, our families attended a “marching-out” parade, overseen by the 1RTB CO, Col. Oxley. Fortunately for all, the weather, though brisk, was fine, as all that “spit ‘n polish” we’d lavished on our kit could be better appreciated. We were then posted off to our respective Corp. training schools, in my case, the Infantry Training Centre at Singleton, in the Hunter Valley, NSW. Mid-winter there, as was at Kapooka, wasn’t very pleasant, especially at early morning-parade, often carrying our bed-sheets over a shoulder, to ensure we would have to remake our beds daily. Sergeant Zymski, our new platoon-sergeant, introduced himself to us on parade that first morning with the words "I am God", & we certainly believed him. Must have, I still remember those words. For the next 12 weeks, we honed our skills under the watchful eye of Sgt. Zymski ; small-arm’s training, PT, bush skills, map-reading, (I was good at that), drill, etc. One afternoon, we were all marched down to the camp theatre, there to watch the recently released movie “Zulu”, principally to observe the discipline displayed by the British soldiers there at Rorke’s Drift in 1879. I also put-up my hand for a 1-day officer-training aptitude test, to be sent to OTC at Sceyville. Really didn’t think I was ‘foreman material’, but thought I may as well try. Nothing to lose. Various team-exercises, followed by a meal in the officer’s mess, but no! It wasn’t to be. I was destined to remain a ‘grunt’.

We had more freedom of leave over some weekends from lunchtime Saturday, & went home to Sydney sometimes, down the Putty Rd., & down to Newcastle on occasion. Got a lift in Bobby Byrne’s VW “Beetle”. He lived over on the Nth. Shore in Sydney somewhere. He was to be later assigned to 4RAR like me, & was to later die of wounds received in Vietnam, after spending some months in a coma at Concord Repat. in Sydney. Inter-platoon rivalry grew rather intense as time passed. I recall that one guy in our platoon who didn’t appear to be ‘pulling his weight’, was waylaid in the “ablution” block (toilet block to civies) on one occasion, while a number of the platoon did a little “persuasion” on him. We finished our training with an exercise up in the nearby Bulga Mountains, where our “enemy” we were told, were to be members of the SAS Regiment. We were further told that should any of us be captured by them, though we would be returned alive, rather ‘unmentionable things’ awaited us from their rough handling. On one night, we were all rostered two at a time & overlapping, for a two hour duty in the ‘gun-pit’ on sentry. As each of us arrived throughout that moonless night, it was quietly passed-on that there were some ‘blackened-up’ SAS out front, & edging slowly & silently ever closer, only moving when the breeze rustled the leaves. Rest assured, nobody slept on sentry that night. In fact, I remember an aboriginal guy from Cowra, NSW, (Terry Stacy was his name) in the pit with me for an hour. All I could see of him were his wide eyes. I have never been so bloody cold as the nights out on that exercise. On one particular night, though we were told that an A4 charge awaited anyone lighting a fire to keep warm, one guy did just that, & he was.


HALCYON DAYS in the “HD” CLUB.


The new members of 4RAR, (myself included), bade a fond farewell to our "beloved" drill-sergeant Zymski, & travelled by bus in early Sept. 1967, to join our unit, not yet returned from active-duty in Borneo & Malaysia. I remember travelling into Brisbane in the gathering evening darkness, past the developing site for the forthcoming World Scout Jamboree out at the now-named suburb of Jamboree Hts., & arrived at our new home at Enoggera Barracks in the early evening.

This was to be the start of a very easy 3 months for us, all at that stage housed in the “High-Density”, or HD accommodation block, 3 storey’s high, with about 4 to a room, as well as beds lining the corridors, with ablutions at the far end of each floor. As I recall, we had a farmer from Victoria in my room, Alan Davis, who occasionally regaled us with a rendition on his bagpipes. Lucky I like the pipes eh! Lazy days were to follow, as a small number of present 4RAR staff did duty, the remainder, as they returned from overseas, going on leave ‘til early in the new year.

Parades were few, food was plentiful at the mess (heaps of steaks, all you could eat), & leave was frequent, usually into town, where my mates & I were to be found at the Arcadia Hotel at the top of Elizabeth St., the Land’s Office Hotel around the corner in George St., or at the Treasury Hotel also in George St., with it’s punkah swinging from the front bar ceiling, all now long gone. The Grand Hotel down at the far end of town was the best venue for a bit of "stoush" if one was in the mood, & the tables & chairs were all bolted to the floor, & for very good reason. At the opposite end of the spectrum of respectability was Christie's Restaurant & Milk-Bar, to be found in Queen St. down near Edward St. There was also a great little nightclub alongside the Arcadia where every table was prominently numbered, each being furnished with an "in-house" telephone (just dial-up a table-number of choice) to call-up girls sitting at other tables for an anonymous chat if the mood hit. Soft lights, music, booze, all the ingredients. - it was a great place for a ‘pickup’. Other popular destinations, but usually on a Saturday night, were a small floating dance-hall down a long & steep flight of stairs to the river in town, a drive down to The Glen Hotel out near Eight-Mile Plains in the city’s south, or to what was commonly referred to amongst us as “The Bulk Store”; better known as Cloudland, an old-fashioned large & very prominent “big-band” dance-hall perched on the top of a hill out at Bowen Hills , with “wall-to-wall” single females in attendance. If you couldn’t get a ‘pickup’ there, then you weren’t trying. I found a girlfriend from there in my first week in Brisbane, she lived out near Capalaba as I recall. (I was also to find another girlfriend there just a week before I sailed in May ’68.) As it was difficult to travel out to Capalaba at awkward weekend hours by public transport, my next essential was to get a set of wheels, so I soon had me an old FE Holden for $300, picked-up from a dealers out at Albion. (Bill Harrison Motors). There was a large rust-hole in the front passenger-side floor with a rubber mat over it, very handy after a "hard" night out & driving back to camp, as one didn’t really have to stop moving if someone was “busting for a leak”. When the wind got up, so did the mat as we moved along, with a mate Bob “Zorro” Page from Colac, Vic., hanging out a window yelling “Ariba, ariba” to all & sundry as we passed. We’d also take the occasional weekend down on the Gold Coast, where Greg Reid, “Shorty” Partridge & I, would make the best of sleeping in my car, & spend the odd hour together at the “Cabbage-Patch beer-garden at Coolangatta. Eats were obtained from what we referred to as the “Chew & Spew” café, in the main street of Coolangatta. These were wild & carefree times.!! We were all indestructible then. Young ‘n dumb !

Life at Enoggera during those 3 months revolved around duty, (or ducking it); usually in the mess, (OR’s, Officers or Sgts.), gardening details, or sentry duty. I spent my 21st doing the latter in fact. I recall early one morning being told that in our shower block in the HD, there were several ‘ladies’ of a very “dark complexion” & very questionable morals, to be found. A number of us attended a fortnight’s Mortar Course down at Ingleburn outside Sydney during November, which was very convenient for me, as I came from Sydney. Life was very lazy. In early December, we & the rest of the country were shocked, when the P.M. Harold Holt disappeared while swimming off a beach in Victoria. Rumours had it that he’d been picked-up & whisked away by a Chinese submarine.

During this time in Brisbane, I recall that a contingent from the British Army’s “King’s Own Shropshire Light Infantry” stayed for a few days in the barracks nearby, post-exercising up north I think. They marched everywhere at “double-quicktime”, which seemed very comical to us, but I really did like that “rainbow”-striped belt of theirs, & tried to barter for one at a pub in Brisbane. They wouldn’t part with it though. Several days were occupied with a party of us travelling down to Hamilton Wharf by truck to do stevedoring duties on the British supply ship “Sir Lancelot”, then loading a cargo for Vietnam. Took us longer than it should I suppose, but we were in no hurry to get the job finished. It broke the boredom anyway. Some time was even spent by some, across the road at the local pub. As several of the blokes could operate forklifts, they held a jousting bout down on the cargo-deck for our entertainment. My favourite music then, was by Garry Puckett & The Union Gap, & Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Last Waltz” was not bad either.

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TRAINING UP for BIGGER THINGS to COME.


As those who had been on extended post-tour leave began to return to barracks into January, our holiday was finally drawing to an end. Lt. Max Chambers was appointed to be our platoon CO, with Gerry Villalba his Sgt., & to us new blokes, our nemesis. Continuous rounds of drilling, route-marching around the suburban streets of Brisbane, range-practice out at Greenbank, tracker training, practice in “chopper” loading & unloading on the nearby football field, bushcraft, practicing with APC’s, numerous parades, practice with Recoilless Rifles, ( both in camp & out on the range), training, training, training. But the time went by faster than in late ’67. Sometime during April, we found ourselves up in the Shoalwater/Tin-Can Bay area near Rockhampton for a week’s exercise, made a little more palatable by a small group of us, while riding on an APC on one occasion, discovering a beachside pub to buy a few cans of Mac’s, then travelling at some speed down the long beach ‘til we were brought to an abrupt halt by the discovery of some girls sitting on the beach, who looked as though they were badly in need of a drink & a little convivial company.

We were some weeks later off to Canungra JTC for a 2-week stint. There, it was to be yet more weapon’s training, bayonet-fighting, tracker-training, battle condition’s practice, where we crawled beneath barbed-wire entanglements over a course through mud, whilst an old Vicker’s machine gun fired live bursts over us into a vast rock wall on the far side of the valley. The infamous obstacle course was awaiting us at course’s completion, with it’s much feared “bear-pit”, full of all kinds of obnoxious materials. As I recall, on the river crossing, where one had to cross-over through the water, pulling yourself on a rope fixed at each end, Jimmy Cawston, our English platoon member, (conscripted whilst in Sydney on a holiday), had “the gun” strapped on his back. After it’s 22lb weight pulled him under for the 3rd time, he wasn’t going down for a 4th count. He promptly uncoupled it, & it sank to the river’s bottom. He was promptly placed on an A4 (charge), & the M60 had to be later retrieved by a staff member of JTC. The course finished with the climbing of a tower in full webbing, kit & weapons, & a leap into the river from around 25 metres. Before this, & luckily, they would ask about one’s swimming ability. They didn’t wish to lose anyone prior to Vietnam, did they ?

Immediately after Canungra, we spent a further 2 weeks in Northern NSW at the Wiangaree State Forest, brushing-up further on our bushcraft, patrolling techniques, ambushing & tracking practice. This place was absolute “hell”. Straight up & down stuff., with lots of “scrub-bashing”, leeches, mosquitoes, ‘wait-a-while” vegetation, snakes. Vietnam would be a breeze after this place, I’m sure. Glad to get back to Brisbane & some real food, girls, a soft bed, girls, showers, girls, pubs, girls, again.

As May ’68 came, we went on final embarkation leave, & upon return to base, arranged a platoon party for our final Saturday night, our destination was to be Bishop Island, at the mouth of the Brisbane River, with a BBQ, booze, wives, girlfriends, concubines, whatever. Chartered a small ferry out, & a great time was had by all, to various degrees, I’m sure. I remember that I walked with the girl I was with down to the beach & gazed out to the number of small launches & yachts bobbing about in the gloom, anchored just off-shore. As I remember, she said something about us commandeering a nearby row-boat & going out to “look at one of them”, but I ignored the suggestion I think. Was I slow, or what ?


Came our last day in Brisbane before departure, Monday 20 May, & I, with some mates & our partners, went along to the Land’s Office Hotel that evening for one last “bash”. That was literally what eventuated. Our troop-transport, the HMAS SYDNEY, had arrived in port that day, & a fair number of it’s crew was also in attendance at the crowded Land’s Office beer garden, all sitting at tables covered with glasses & jugs of beer, & taking in the on-stage singer’s floor-show. Don’t know who started it, but it was on, the annual Army v Navy “game”. The very first bar-room brawl I’d ever seen or been a part of. The singing continued for a time, & I recall the female vocalist up on stage swaying out of the path of airborne jugs & glasses as she continued on with her number. Had to eventually leave though, as we had our girls with us, & did the right thing by them & got them away, but in hindsight, would have loved to have taken part just once in one of these legendary altercations. Everybody there on this eve of our embarkation must have been a bit tense, & it wouldn’t have taken much for it to have triggered-off. Must have been some sore heads & sundry other parts next morning, I’m sure.

Came Tuesday 21 May, & the Big Day. We were up early & on parade out on the battalion parade-ground with full kit straight after breakfast, awaiting the convoy of trucks to take us through the city & down to Hamilton Wharf. My parents & siblings had driven up from Sydney, & with my new girlfriend, were there to see me off. Goodbyes were said at ship-side down on the wharf, & boarding made for our send-off under a sunny Brisbane sky. The SYDNEY turned around out in mid-stream with a band ashore playing “will you no come back again” & other numbers, & as we set off down-river, every ship’s whistle on the river was sounding off a haunting farewell. Most of us still lined the flight-deck ‘til well down-river & out of sight. With such mixed emotions, I bet there was the odd “speck of dust “ in the eye with not a few of us, & a large lump in the throat.

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Remembering FSB “CONCORD”.- June/July ’68.”


Travelled out of Nui Dat to Concord by road-convoy on the morning of Sunday 23rd June ’68, for a planned stay of about 6 weeks, on Operation “Final Victory”. The role of the Tracker Platoon was to be used as base defence, plus available for call-out on contacts follow-up by the rifle companies. The base, already established by the US, & not far from the air-base of Bien Hoa, was about 300 yds in diameter, completely devoid of any vegetation, & scattered with tents, sandbagged bunkers, & numerous US Army vehicles, the most obvious being a dug-in battery of six 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzers of the 2/35 US Artillery.

The perimeter was surrounded by 3 barbed-wire fences, & our allotted position faced approx. south, adjoining some US forces, (199th LIB, I think) which was a blessing, & quite an eye-opener to us newly arrived “in-country”, as to how the other half lived in the field. Here we are, with our Aust. military C-ration packs to sustain us, while these guys receiving Yank beer, soft-drinks, known as “goffers” to us for some reason, (?) radios, fresh cold milk, ice, ice-cream, & all supplied from their PX just down the road at the Long Binh complex. We were soon finding our way into their mess-tent to eat their freshly cooked rations, (steak, ham & eggs, etc), & taking HOT showers, our first in some weeks, since arrival “in country”.

Work quickly commenced on building our defence bunker, given a good start by us getting the aid of an American GI driving a back-hoe, who quickly dug the hole for us, about 20ft long, x 8ft wide, x 5ft deep. Until this was habitable, we slept in shallow “shell-scrapes” about 1ft deep, continually partly getting buried by dirt, from the vibration caused from the 155’s on their frequent night fire-missions. With the day’s light long gone, & the yanks watching us “stand-to” with a certain amount of amusement & curiosity, the only lights visible would be faint red bulbs in the 155’s, throwing low light in each turret. A fire-mission would come in, the turrets would rotate with a low whirring noise, the barrels would all elevate in unison, there would be a call in a broad American accent of “stan-bah”, & a deafening multi-sourced eruption followed, fire spewing from each barrel, & a whizzing sound off through the black night skies, only to be followed by a very distant multiple-crunch as the shells found their mark. Quite awsome, & something I will never forget.

Another night memory comes to mind. We would sit out under the stars in the evening, watching the aircraft activity at Bien Hoa, & sometimes the distant fireworks of an artillery strike, or a lightening storm. One evening, there were 2 fiery jet trails off to the south, as fighters lifted off from Bien Hoa. Suddenly, one flame pointed back to earth & went out, followed by a far-off explosion. Never did discover if the pilot ejected.

On the night of 4th of July, we were treated to a firework's display courtesy of multi-bursts of star-shells & numerous other sky-bound explosive devices all across our region, an awsome sight for us, not long "in-country". Then on other nights, we watched the awsome spectacle of the fire-power exuded by US "Spooky" gunships, as they emptied their load of ammunition into the ground in a matter of just a minute or two, via several "mini-guns" aboard ; electrically operated Gatling-guns, their tracer seeming like just a single unbroken stream of "death-ray" down to the ground.

Our palatial sandbagged bunker, to house 6 men, wasn’t quite finished even after a week, but habitable by the start of the 2nd week at “Concord”. Just to finish sandbagging the roof, & we’d be ready for anything we felt. But we didn’t plan for a flood. Our 1st Sunday in our new home, & I was busy writing home, laying in my bunk inside. There was a short, sharp shower, which soon passed. 15mins. Later, the skies opened with a deluge, but inside was dry, so far. After 30mins. rain, a trickle of water started down into the bunker. No problem, “we can deal with that”. On I wrote, but suddenly there was a noise of running water, & through the far entrance came an 18in. wall of water, followed by a flurry of activity from the inhabitants, throwing equipment though gun-ports or hanging it from the ceiling. It was some days before the level was reduced to an oozy-mud floor, & much of our equipment was either ruined or needed some degree of dying-out. With the help of a US bulldozer, we were able to arrange some diversion channels to take any further deluges away.

About mid-July, & having finally just completed our “palace”, elements of our platoon were put on alert for a 3 day patrol outside the wire, but after these days went by, crashing about the bamboo thickets, thorn bushes, hills, biting flies, mozzies, leaches & red-ants, the powers-that-be decided we loved it out there, so flew out a further 3 days rations by chopper. Great! So hot out there, we had blokes fainting from heat-stroke, & we’re expected to stay alert too.

After our week getting acquainted with the countryside, we returned to “Concord”, to be alerted to pack-up our gear for re-deployment. Four weeks had passed based out of “Concord”, our first long operation away from Nui Dat. It had been a real experience here, working with the US forces for our first time, doing boat patrols at night on the nearby Song Dong Nai River, & swapping cultures with them. I’d surely miss those large cartons of thick “Foremost” chocolate milk freshly flown in from Hawaii, even though I once overdosed on the mixture, then wasting the whole carton’s contents in the mud at my feet. Off to the “Firestone Trail” by chinook-lift on the 18th July.


Contact on Operation Capital”- Saturday 16th Nov. ’68.


This Saturday, I was in a Tracker team commanded by Lt. Bob Sayce,& carried the PRC25 “sig” set in our team at the time, & attached to the “Kiwi” Victor Coy, with whom we had many experiences, good & not so good, during out tour. It was sometime around 9am, & not all that long after moving off for a day’s patrolling, our team being not too far off the front of the column, & with me with a plug in one ear, listening into AFVN Radio’s “Good Morning Vietnam” program, the very final morning show for departing US presenter Marine Sgt. John Horton, my favourite, returning to “the world” as we called any place other than Vietnam.


I don’t recall just how it started, but as we came in out of a relative cleared area into an area of bamboo thicket, all hell broke loose. “The shit was flying”.Machine gun & small arms fire, explosions. We hit the dirt, & there were the sounds of a pitched battle raging all round, but especially up front of us. My CO, Lt. Sayce, called on me to lob a grenade to the front, which I did, (the only time I did “in anger.”) We took cover behind bamboo bungs, while thoughts of Gen. Custer’s fate flashed through my head for an instant. At that moment, my estimation of the bravado & furocity of the “Kiwi” soldier in action was born. Many, if not the majority, are of Maori extraction, a “warrior” race, & as they swept past us, the sounds of whoops & holla’s, with broad grins on their faces as the shit flew around their heads, firing machine guns, M79’s, & lighter weapons from the hip, filled one with unbounded confidence. “I’m glad these blokes are on our side” I thought. A scene which will never leave me.

Not knowing what we had walked into, the NZ CO ordered the Artillery Fwd. Observer travelling with us to call in a fire-mission on whatever was confronting us.

A round was landed, then another, only closer, & then-------

Not more than 100yds in front, a full salvo or two landed, I remember the crashing trees, the intense noise, & the sound of whizzing shrapnel past our ears, & overhead, with twigs & leaves falling all around us. How close can one get to “mother earth.” VERY CLOSE indeed!

Eventually, & after maybe 20mins, all was quiet, & the Kiwi’s made a clearing sweep. What they found was a bunker system in the bamboo forest, walked right into. One Kiwi was KIA, L/Cpl Bensseman, & several others WIA in the action that morning.

It’s only when all falls silent again, & the adrenaline level drops, that the “shakes” start,

I discovered on that morning. A cigarette helped, though I was not a smoker,… then.-


With 10 Plt. D Coy, on the Song Thai Vai River, Operation “Goodwood II”, 10 Feb.‘69”


Called out to accompany 10 Plt. D Coy, to set a night ambush on the Song Thai Vai River. I was in a 90mm Recoilless-Rifle team from Tracker Platoon, commanded by Cpl. Milo Schlatter, along with Davy Coxhead, & several others who’s names I no longer recall now.


Walking out of FSB “Janice” late that afternoon with the Rifle Co. blokes, we only had to travel less than a klm. through young rubber plantation, & took up our position on a high bank where the river took a sharp turn away. We carried “splintex” rounds for the 90mm, these being canisters filled with hundreds & hundreds of tiny metal darts, which spread as they travel away from the barrel, much like a shotgun, but infinitely more powerful. The hours passed through the moonless night, with no sound save for the breeze & the odd noise of the “creatures of the night.” Eventually, & some time after 10 pm I think, we were silently alerted to movement on the river, & we prepared ourselves for ambush.

As I recall, a flare was sent up by the “arties”, & the firing started from both sides, but we held the initiative here. Two M60 machine guns & small-arms fire from Delta Coy, was joined by our 90mm chorus, & I recall the number of thuds felt more than heard, as the VC’s RPG rockets crashed into the high bank below our position. They were firing too low.

All six sampans & their occupants, numbers unknown, were destroyed that night. They were “sitting ducks”. But this was curfew time, & anybody out was considered “fair game”.

The following morning, the D Coy. lads made a sweep of this section of the river at low tide, bringing in a number of weapons & other equipment, including AK47’s, carbines, & RPG rockets, in the mud by the low water. Our team was assigned the job of searching other sampans as they passed our position.

As a reward for a night's job well done, we were given a ride back to “Janice” in APC’s, sent out to give us a hand.-

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Homeward Bound. ~ in March ’69


As the time approached for RTA, all eligible personnel (mostly Nat’l Servicemen from my intake), were given the option of staying on for the remainder of the battalion’s tour, effectively a further 2 months, then to sail home to Brisbane with the main part of 4RAR. A further incentive was offered : if we agreed, a promotion to L/Corporal rank was on the cards. After consideration lasting several seconds, I decided not to press my luck. So come early March of 1969, all effected said our goodbyes to further service in the field. I walked-out some klms. to a chopper-pad, & was lifted back to Nui Dat. I received a medical there, handed-in sundry army-issue equipment & on Tuesday 18 March, we walked down to Luscombe Field for our “Wallaby Airlines” caribou flight to Tan Son Nhut airbase near Saigon. There, a big Qantas 707 awaited us. A cheer arose as we lifted-off bound for Sydney, & within several hours, the aircraft was totally dry, & the obliging hosties were in for a bit of good natured banter from us all the way home.

It was quite dark when we flew into Sydney, & once again, cheers broke-out as the wheels finally touched down. An army Movement’s Controller was on hand to bark orders at us, & I’m told there was also a “Sally’s” team there to help-out where they could. I remember my mum & dad were there to meet me & take me home, but what I did then was perhaps a little insensitive to them in retrospect. After initial greetings, I thrust my baggage onto them, told them I’d see them in the morning, & raced-off to accompany my mates into town for one last big bash, before we all went our separate ways. I knew that some of us may never meet again, after being close family for so long under such stresses. Our night was spent up at King’s Cross, & finished-up at the NSW Motor-Trader’s Club in the Haymarket. Needless to say, I was a little the worse for wear when I caught a train home to Miranda that morning. It all seemed so very surreal to me, & my mother mentioned my ‘standing them up’ at the airport, for many years to come, with some attached hurt no doubt. Perhaps they even had a ‘welcome-home’ arranged for that first night ? I never asked.

I later found that many of us arriving that night who lived interstate, couldn’t connect on a flight until the next morning, had been given no Australian currency, had no overnight accommodation arranged, & had to sleep in the airport terminals. “Thank God for the Salvos”, who tried their best with limited means, for the comfort of these returning marooned diggers. As a fellow veteran once told me, the Salvos have taken a lot of money out of him over the following years, trying to repay their many kindnesses & care shown to him in times of great stress.

I was discharged in June, after some lengthy periods of leave interlaced with mixed duties based at South Head Army Base, some around the city, some on the base itself. My old P.S. position was still there waiting, & though I returned to it for a time, I found it very hard indeed, to settle. Everything seemed so artificial & trivial to me now. In an observance heard many times over about veterans of active service, I had been changed permanently. I stuck this P.S. desk job out for a few months, but eventually resigned, much to the disgust of my mother, & did several short-term stints for a time, such as working with an air-freight firm at Mascot, collecting tolls on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, & working as a traffic-officer with Ansett Airlines at Mascot. None of these positions could settle me down. I was restless, moved to Brisbane, got married to a girl I had met just 1 week before my depature for Vietnam, & found my niche in the travel industry for the next 20+ years, also spent in Canberra & Hobart positions. Two great kids, but I found myself remarried within 10 years.

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Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC) ~ we pay a visit.
~ Al Wood ex-4RAR Tracker Plt. SV1

 
Having just recently returned from a 3 week’s holiday in Britain with my wife Barbara, I reflected on the highlights of our time abroad. Undoubtedly, one of our most enriching experiences was an invitation while in London for a few days, to call at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home for over 300 years, of aged pensioners of the British Army. (www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk) We’ve all seen images over the years, of these old warriors dressed in their scarlet tunics, wearing black tricorn hats, & bedecked in their medals. Run along military lines, the 300 residents are formed into companies, & receive all food & lodging, entertainment, & medical needs, for the rest of their lives. For this, they forgo their military pensions, & are much respected in the general community.

 
Throughout it’s distinguished & long history, the RHC has only ever permitted male veteran residents, but just in the last several years, it’s been opened-up to both sexes, & not without mixed reaction from residents there. Three women veterans so far, now call the RHC their home. They will want for nothing.

 
Several years back, when we were last in London, we made acquaintance with an old solder resident there, a former Sgt. Of the Black Watch, who said that when next we came, to have drinks in their bar, followed by lunch in the “Great Hall”. So here we were, back again. Getting in contact with him in advance, David had asked us to be at the gate at 10:30am, for a church service in their historic chapel commencing at 11am. “Why so early”, I thought. We were soon to find out. Getting to these gates right on time off the bus that Sunday morning 4 July, he was waiting there, sitting in the sun just inside, & ushered us in, & just in time to view the ‘church parade’ that morning, this week’s in honour of the Royal Veterinary Corp. The ceremony was to last approx. 20 mins, with an inspection of the guard of honour & a select group of veterans, followed by a march-past. Though most of them now in their 80’s & 90’s, these old warriors still stepped-out proudly.

 
Then off & into the nearby chapel, a small & beautiful one built in the late 1600’s by Sir Christopher Wren, for the 1 hour Sunday service, accompanied by banner carriers & the chapel choir. As this is also the parish church for the surrounding area, there were many civilians also attending. The service closed with the singing of two verses of “God Save the Queen”. “Nothing to feel uncomfortable about here” I thought. After all, our oath was taken to Her Majesty the Queen, way back in 1967 when I joined-up.

 
When this was at an end, & after bidding our goodbye to the chaplain Dick Whittington (no pun intended) at the exit, we moved on to a pre-arranged meeting with our friend David, already in the bar, for a pre-lunch pint or two. He was standing guard over my Guinness already waiting on the table, along with Barbara’s “G&T”.

 
Having noted on a previous occasion that the bar was resplendent with plaques around it’s walls, I was this time fully armed. In advance of this visit, I had asked Kathy & Ron Coxon of the VVAA in Hobart, if I could purchase a plaque from them, to present to the RHC on this visit. To my surprise, they offered me one at no cost, for which I am most grateful. To it, I added the badge of the RAR & a small ICB, making it of even more significance to me, & packed it to Britain.

 
Over a drink, I asked David, who I could present it to? He called the bar sect. over, which proved just a little embarrassing, as I was wearing jeans that day, (contrary to my wife’s sound advice) along with a tie & jacket, but jeans are normally not permitted in the bar on Sundays. However, me being a colonial I suppose, an exception was made in my case. Just so happened, that at that time, the Adjutant : Brigadier David Radcliffe, came in with his XO Rupert Lucas, & sat down a few tables along, to chat with some of the veterans. The plaque was by now doing the rounds of the tables at that time, passing through many hands, & finally came into the hands of Brig. Radcliffe. Glancing in that direction, I noted we were being pointed-out. “Oh dear”, I thought. “It must be my jeans”. I’m for it now. He walked over, introduced himself to Barbara & me, & sat down for 5-10 mins chat with us, soon followed by his “off-sider”, Lt-Col. Lucas. The Adjutant was more than happy to accept the plaque on behalf of the RHC, & said he would pass it on to his CO the following day.

 
Then to the Great Hall for Sunday lunch we went, a roast for me - of course. Another great architectural gem by Christopher Wren, festooned with portraits hanging high from the walls, & large plaques all around these walls, commemorating campaigns & battles of the past 3 centuries. I never before have dined in such an opulent setting.

 
We were finished & out by 2pm, & were permitted to take a brief look at David’s quarters at the end of a long gallery wing of enclosed cubicles, soon to be enlarged & fitted each with private ablutions. It was now “quiet time” for these elderly veterans, before the grounds were opened to the general public’s access for the Sunday afternoon. We walked with David in his motorised-chair back to the gates & bid our fond goodbyes ‘til next time. As we left the precinct of this historic quarter dripping with military history, the thought crossed my mind,. “if these walls could only speak” !

 
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by Al Wood. ~ (Tracker Ptn. SVN1)

 
Having just recently returned (36 hours travel ‘door-to-door’ in early July) with my wife Barbara, from several weeks in the UK, I thought it would be appropriate while there, for me to take some time out to somewhat explore this somewhat overlooked connection our Association has with the 1st Battalion of the Irish Regiment of Foot Guards. As some members may not be aware, 4RAR & the “Micks” (as they are affectionately called) received royal ascent to an affiliation of our two units way back in 1965, but until now, I am not aware that it has been given the recognition it deserves. This British light infantry battalion is very soon to be deployed to it’s first tour to Afghanistan, (sometime in September) & I think way back to our state of mind in Brisbane in 1968 as we prepared for our own deployment, with a certain degree of empathy .

 
Our recent journey found us in Liverpool on Saturday 26 June, (which happened to be UK Armed-Force’s Day) & we found it an opportunity to attend a very moving commemorative service held in Liverpool Cathedral that morning. Later that day, I took a short rail journey out to the small Lancashire town of Widnes, where I spent 2 ½ hours in the home of John Hyland & his charming & hospitable wife Doreen. John was a long-service ex-member of the Irish Guards, & in fact, they now have 2 sons also long-serving in the same regiment. I had discovered him on the www, as founder/conductor of the Irish Guards Singers, (www.irishguardssingers.org.uk) a male choir doing their utmost to raise funds for the welfare of the troops & families, by public singing engagements & fund-raising in shopping-centres, etc. They have also produced two audio CD’s to further augment their fund-raising, & I was presented with several fine copies of their repertoire, in the hope that news of their endeavours may be further spread amongst us. I was also given a handsome, but rather bulky book, covering the “First Hundred Years of the Irish Guards”. Though quite a large “coffee-table” type of publication, it was well worth the effort of bringing it home with us.

 
The Irish Guards Singers

Some months ago, & because of my recent interest in this affiliation, I had come across the Irish Guard’s Forum on the www, (www.ig.association.forums-free.com) & due to this 4RAR/Irish Guard connection, I was deemed eligible to join, as we all are, as former 4RAR members. Through this interaction, it was arranged for a meeting to be made with an ex-Guardsman on our last day of our time in Britain. Here I am, sitting outside the “Bag o’ Nails” pub in Buckingham Palace Rd in London, at noon, as arranged. Right on time, along the footpath through the lunchtime crowds, strides this 6’3” crew-cut guy, smartly bedecked-out in dark blazer (with embroidered badge on the pocket, tie, grey trousers, etc.), & by the audible & rhythmic ‘clack-clack’ sound of his heels on the pavement, I guessed correctly. Straight up to me he marches, “Al ” he exclaims? I confirm, & am instantly greeted with a bear-hug. “Great to meet a member of our brother battalion” he exclaims with his EastEnd come Ulsterman accent, though he now lives in southern England, & breeds/trains German Shepherds.

 
Davy is an ex-Irish Guardsman of some 10 year’s service, who tells me over a pint we down in the “Bag o’ Nails”, an oft-frequented pub by the guard doing duty at the Palace, that he rose to the heady heights of corporal during those years of service in the regiment, but only for 3 days, before they got wise to him. He knows them up at Wellington Barracks near the Palace, the home of the Guards in London, & presently occupied by the Grenadier Guards. (the “Micks” being currently quartered out at Victoria Barracks, near Windsor Castle) Would I like a look-around inside the gates ? So one beer & off we go. “One is enough” he says. “Don’t wish to have the smell of booze on the breath.” “Always a Guardsman”, thinks I. Our 10 minute walk up past Buckingham Palace to the barracks rear-gate in Petty France St., is filled with anecdotes of his memories of standing sentry at the palace years ago.

 
We got past the two gate-sentries & into the orderly room, where he states our credentials & my purpose for the visit. After a short time, a guy arrives & takes us up to what I soon learn is the RHQ of the Irish Guards Regt., past a vast display of medals, drums, uniforms from many years’ past, where we are left in the tender care of Capt. Vince McEllin of the RHQ, who tells us the Regimental Adjutant is currently in a meeting, but will soon be with us. ‘Quite no need to interrupt him”, I say. Gulp !!! What am I doing here ? All I wanted was a look around the complex. Even Davy in all his years in the Guards Regiment, has never got this far, he tells me. Both of us feel just a bit uneasy, as in a former life, we’d have been up here most probably in less pleasant circumstances, but after a short time talking with Capt McEllin, we are ushered into the presence of the Regiment’s Adjutant, Lt. Col. (Ret) Brian O’Gorman, for a cordial 5-10 minute meeting, just the four of us. Sitting in a large, timber-panelled room, resplendent with painted portraits of uniformed personages & opulent wooden furniture, looking out onto the parade-ground, on to Birdcage Walk & further on to St. James’s Park & The Mall, with Buckingham Palace just off to the left, I briefly talked of my remembrances of service in Vietnam with 4RAR some 40 year’s ago, & our association’s empathy & moral support for our ‘brother’ battalion’s forthcoming journey into ‘harm’s way’, & touched on the many similarities of our situations; a hardened, determined & difficult to identify adversary, IED perils, the oppressive climate, the sometimes inferior equipment supplied, serving alongside the US forces, the unending stress experienced, the often critical media & factions of the public at home, etc., etc. A lot of this was brought home to me late last year, while watching the cable-TV British series Ross Kemp in Afghanistan, mostly “up-close & personal” like. I could almost smell it all again, even after all these years. Our guys, more than most out there in society these days, could appreciate the task & personal toll which lies ahead for them, & theirs.

We said our cordial goodbyes, & I was directed to the Q-Store, where I picked-up a silk Guard’s Regimental tie before departing the precinct. Incidentally, all ex-members of 4RAR are entitled to purchase any of the items available through www.grenade.org.com . It was not quite the grand tour of the Wellington Barracks complex which I had expected, but a very worthwhile experience none-the-less. Shortly after, Davy & I said our brief goodbyes near Victoria Station (for now) & went our separate ways.

This interaction with our affiliate ex-Irish Guards members sure beat the hell out of taking any organised & touristy sightseeing tour. So much more personally rewarding.

I was also privileged to visit the Royal Hospital (for aged military pensioners) at Chelsea (www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk) ; & the two veteran’s charities - COMBAT-STRESS (www.combatstress.org.uk) & VETERAN’S AID (www.veterans-aid.net) …but that’s another story.

 
Al & Davy at Wellington Barracks