“Harbour-up!”, by hand sign,
To form a circular line,
Each paired, at 30 metres apart;
A camp to prepare,
Little time to spare,
Total silence, once ‘stand-to’ would start.
Both ‘hootchies’ unwrapped,
Carefully centred across a rope;
Then four corners tied down,
To stays near the ground,
Forming a V-shaped inverted slope.
Carried by all on patrol,
Gear included bed-roll,
Just room enough for two to lie;
’Twas a constant fight,
Against rain in the night,
Staying almost warm and dry.
All ‘hootchies’ at dawn,
Down the next morn,
Each folded up, placed wet in our packs;
Until needed once more,
Like the night gone before,
Carried all day on our backs.
5RAR for awhile,
Across about one mile,
At a base for eight hundred plus,
Had our ‘hootchie’ homes,
Spread out in company zones,
Since at first there was just us.
From loved ones we’d yearn,
Latest news to learn,
And though ‘home support’, ’twas a bitter pill,
Daily mail we’d read,
Welcome breaks we’d need,
In those ‘hootchie’ homes around that hill.
* * *
No airstrip nor roads,
Tracks fit barely for a jeep;
No metal sheds nor latrines,
Green plastic ‘hootchies’ for broken sleep.
Our messes too, were tents,
Holes in their roofs for vents,
Rickety old tables, with planks as forms;
No windows nor doors,
Rusty dirt for floors,
And most meals accompanied storms.
Although base days few,
Camp eventually grew,
Sand-bagged walls each day stacked higher;
For nearly everyone,
A picket on the Gun,
Digging pits, staking out barbed wire.
Eerie scenes all around,
Phosphorescence on the ground,
Fireflies flashing their lights;
A falling parachute flare,
Two-hour stints to stare,
Our entertainment, during most nights.
Between dusk and next dawn,
Flaps down, closely drawn,
Perhaps a card game was on offer;
With tent tops dripping,
By torchlight sipping,
On a beer, or soft drink called a ‘goffer’.
Time slowly passed,
Floorboards and power at last,
Though the movie show ’twas crude, yet still,
Morale maintained by this,
And night’s sleep ’twas bliss,
In ‘hootchie’ homes around that hill.
The ‘hootchie’ is a term referring to any sleeping tent that the soldier used. In base camp it was a 4-man dark green canvas marquee with matching fly to help keep out the rain and heat. As the camp evolved, each tent was equipped with floorboards, stretchers and an electric light. The sides were usually rolled up during the day to provide fresh air but were rolled down at night to block in the light. Each tent was surrounded by a sand-bagged wall about 1 metre high to counter any blast from potential incoming mortars. Each tent had a constructed bunker/fighting pit (which were dug by the troops) adjacent to it. The excavated soil was used to fill the sandbags. There were usually seven 4-man ‘hootchies’ per platoon, spread out in ‘the rubber’, several metres apart (2 for each of 3 sections and 1 for platoon HQ).
On patrol in the jungle, the ‘hootchie’ consisted of two green plastic rectangular sheets (about 1.5 m x 2.5 m) which were clipped together by press studs and strung over a rope tied at about chest height to two trees, bushes or other stays. It was open at each end and sheltered (barely) 2 soldiers for the night. Forward-thinking occupants would dig a shallow trench around the perimeter of the ‘hootchie’ before last light to counter surface ground water ingress from the inevitable run-off of overnight monsoonal rain .
“A few words of pidgin English carried over into Vietnam War ‘speak’ [from WW2]. For example, any structure[shelter] was called a ‘hootchie’ by the allies, a derivative of ‘uchi’, a Japanese word for home.”
- Neil Sheehan in A Bright Shining Lie.
'Hootchie' in B Company's lines - Nui Dat 1966 Author's Field 'Hootchie' - 1966