Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Writing Home - 27th March 1970



When I returned from Vietnam back in December 1970, my mother packaged up all the letters I wrote, and gave them to me.

Because I wrote at least one per week, and I wrote to all members of my close family when I could, there were plenty of letters - over 350 in fact.

I'm making a feature of occasionally posting the contents of these on this blog.

History buffs may be interested, and the insights provided by this primary source material are, gentle reader, revealing, both of the conduct of the war, and my attitude to it.

F.S.P.B. "Anne"
27 - 3 - 70

1735099
5 Pl, B Coy,
7 RAR,
AFPO 4,
GPO Sydney


Dear Mum and Dad

I'll start this now (at 7pm) in the vain hope that I'll finish it tonight. I'll get a fair bit done because it doesn't get dark until about 7:30pm. We are harboured up just outside fire support patrol base "Anne".
Today we completed Operation "Finschhafen" and moved into the F.S.P.B. by A.P.Cs. At the base, we showered, ate, and went to Mass (unique on Good Friday, I suppose). Tomorrow we move into a new A.O. North of here. There's been no word of R and C yet, so I'll assume it's not until after the next Op at least.
Now, the summary of Operation "Finschhafen" -
The battalion had no "kills", which is apparently the basis on which the success (or otherwise) of an operation is judged. Therefore, the operation was, in the eyes of our commanders, a failure, and our C.O. had a dressing-down from the American commander of III Corps about this. To me, this is a lot of nonsense, but then the Yanks have always taken themselves too seriously, when it comes to statistics. I can't imagine it upsetting our C.O. very much, anyway.
                                                           28.3.70
Well, it's now 24 hrs since I began this letter. I'm now about 10 miles north of F.S.P.B. "Anne", near the border with Long Khanh Province, and on the banks of the Song Rai again. Major Warland has decided upon a new approach - we split up into half-platoon groups and sit in ambush for days at a time on as wide a front as possible. As you can imagine, I approve wholeheartedly of this. For all their plans, we covered a lot of ground today (not 10 miles of course - the first 8 were in helicopters) and I'm feeling pretty tired now. There shouldn't be far to go tomorrow, though. As has been the case of late, no sign of the enemy. Our intelligence thinks that they're waiting until the Yanks and we withdraw before they try to regroup again. I hope so.
Because of injuries, one section of the platoon is down to five men, and I'm helping them out with night sentry on the gun. I don't mind, though it does relieve the boredom.
You've probably read of 7 RAR having five blokes wounded in an accident with mortars. They were "Pogos" (base wallahs in normal language) who went outside the wire at F.S.P.B. "Anne" and directed mortar fire on themselves. God knows how they managed it. Anyway, they're OK now, although one is going back to Australia. Another bloke got sick of the scrub and shot himself in the foot, although they listed him as W.I.A. I don't know what will happen to him. Dishonourable discharge, I suppose.
Although I'm not getting any papers, please keep sending them. When my turn comes for L.O.B. (left on base defence) they will be handy. Also when we go back to Nui Dat in preparation for R and C, I will have a chance to read them.
I've been taking plenty of photos of the things we've been doing, but they probably won't get home for you for ages. At the moment, I aim to take a fair library of slides, and buy a good projector when I'm on R and R. I'll send it straight home.
Speaking of buying, I haven't spent a cent since we began Ops three weeks ago. So every cloud has a silver lining. Well, I'll finish this now, Mum and Dad, so I'll be able to give it to the Sarge (he looks after the mail). I'm sorry for poor old Anne. She writes me stacks of really interesting spontaneous letters, and I haven't been answering them. My excuse again is lack of envelopes and paper, but I'll make up for it when I get some. Helen has also been good with mail, and Neil is obviously making a great effort, because I've heard from him three times now, I think.
I think about you all quite a bit, and it's really good to hear about all the little things that happen.

Lots of love,

Bob




 

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Time Travel



Williamtown Airport - Pic courtesy News Ltd.

Visiting Newcastle, gentle reader, is always for me a special kind of time travel.
I’m here catching up with an old rifle section mate who is in care whilst the specialists are trying to manage his myeloma.
It’s most likely a consequence of exposure to dioxin all those years ago. It’s bitter to see him in pain, but at the same time good to catch up with two other ex Nashos who travelled up from Sydney. It had some of the flavour of a mini section reunion. We spent about a year together in 1969/70, comprising six months training in Holsworthy, through Canungra and Shoalwater, and then the voyage to Vung Tau on the Sydney.
Three of us did rookies at Singleton, the other at Kapooka.
In Vietnam, we were together in 5 platoon until July, when we went our separate ways.
Every point along the way has its memories of another time.
The airport at Williamtown, now the home of F-35s, is where I disembarked from a TAA Vickers Viscount on my way to Singleton from Brisbane a Nasho. It was my first flight in any kind of aircraft.
Back then, there were Dassault Mirages roaring about the Williamtown RAAF base, which shares the airport.
Last time I drove down to Newcastle, I stopped off at the Infantry museum at Singleton. Strangely, perhaps, that didn’t trigger as many memories, although if you're into military history, it's worth a visit.
The units based there now have privatised security, and the hi-vis vest clothed staff on the gate weren’t impressed by an old geyser seeking a nostalgic wander around.
I don’t remember any ex-diggers rocking up making strange requests on the few occasions when I did guard duty back in the day, but from memory, admission had more to do with the state of the guard commander’s liver or whether or not there were any attractive young women in the party, rather than health and safety protocols.
Newcastle is an industrial centre, but much of the area around the harbour has been gentrified. It reminded me of Teneriffe in Brisbane.
It still has the laid back atmosphere I remember from the seventies. This is perhaps the most obvious aspect of the time travel experience. Even driving there is much as it was back then, with precious little impatience and a tolerance for slightly lost geriatric visitors in hire cars.
It probably just as well the local drivers are tolerant. The traffic engineering is woeful, although obviously roundabouts are seen to be the solution to every traffic flow problem.


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