A combined operation,
Launched in the ‘Rice Bowl’,
Town of Dat Do the focus,
Interdiction our goal.
’Twas to stop the Viet Cong,
From receiving supplies,
By building a mined wire fence,
Blocking off the Long Hais.
A brigadier’s obsession,
That’s how that nightmare began,
Dismissive of dangers inherent,
In this ill-conceived plan.
Commencing from ‘The Horseshoe’,
Its length slowly increased,
Winding 12Ks through rice paddies,
To Phuoc Hai in the east.
Local goodwill ’twas undone,
With these tactics employed,
Ancestors’ grave-yards intruded,
Sacred sites and paddies destroyed.
All construction carried out,
By teams of platoons in tandem;
Two rows of steel pickets and wire,
Mines planted between them.
Beneath the hot tropic sun,
‘Grunts’ staked and secured it tight; Engineers setting their ‘devices’,
To be stolen each night.
Two metres high, barbed coils,
Everything displayed in full view,
Of local peasant ‘supporters’,
Each mine location they knew.
VC removed or re-arranged them,
For work parties next day;
A concept so crazy and costly,
For all those Diggers who’d pay.
With a timetable to meet,
Pressure applied was intense;
It was an ugly, useless idea,
And we called it ‘The Fence’.
* * *
50 cals. on ‘The Horseshoe’,
Looking down on our toil,
As we banged those steel spikes,
Into that dry paddy soil.
And within the mine zone,
100 metres, staggered with pegs,
Was tied ‘bastard trip wire’,
To snare intruders ‘round legs.
Planned with ARVN commanders,
Both groups allotted their roles,
We’d supply and construct it,
They’d guard and send out patrols.
Yet, twice a day they’d return,
To Dat Do for each meal,
Seeking ‘home comforts’, at night,
They thus reneged on their deal.
I can remember it so well,
When young Teddy Lloyd died;
He’d been working the star pickets,
There along by my side.
Whilst he continued that chore,
Driving 1K to Dat Do,
Larry, Billy and I bought some fruit,
As refreshments were low,
I was riding rear shotgun,
Spear-heading a dust cloud, a mile,
Scowling faces of those locals,
Looking up, not a smile.
A market-place full of hate,
Sudden silence, not a sound;
With the Rover’s mounted M.60,
I kept swivel guard, all around.
This barrier had cut-off,
Their free movement, back and forth;
From the Minh Dam Secret Zone,
To villages and bases up north.
Thus they countered by stealing,
Many of the mines, and so hence,
Scores of Aussie troops later killed,
By that damned mined wire ‘Fence’.
* * *
Meanwhile, Ted moved forward,
One pound of T.N.T. encased,
About to spring from the earth,
Explode level with his waist.
Raising his hammer to strike,
Seconds left as he stepped,
Unaware of that deadly land mine,
Click short yet clear as it leapt.
Exiting town at high speed,
Scene in the distance, just ahead,
Familiar black cloud and loud BANG!
A mother’s pride and joy dead.
Ted had trodden on a ‘Jack’,
And now lay prone at our feet;
His shattered body outstretched,
Beneath a green plastic sheet.
Yet, the very next day, ‘déjà vu’,
’Twas just before noon,
Second victim of ‘The Fence’,
Viewed by our entire platoon.
‘Louie’ Rinkin, another ‘Nasho’,
Just 21 in that year,
Pointing to the line at his feet,
Informing us minefield ’twas clear.
And with one short step backwards,
He then trod on what we all feared;
Explosive gigantic black cloud,
Groin and left leg disappeared.
He was our second lieutenant,
Having been killed so soon,
By a mine, like Carruthers,
Both from this ill-fated platoon.
Three years later, still no change,
Security checked out by air;
Tracks crossing and cut wire,
Revealing breaches down there.
Destroyed at last, without blame,
In spite of that blunder’s expense;
Hundreds of Aussies killed, or maimed,
By that damned mined wire ‘Fence’.
'Wounded' from 'The Fence' - Author and 'Sharpie' Bill Drennan - March 1967
Mine warfare has generated international repulsion. Not only is the weapon insidious in its design and physical and psychological effects, the devastation thrust upon the civilian communities in war zones is an on-going cruel inheritance. In March 1967, the Australian Army High Command embarked on an ill-conceived plan to mine a barrier fence, some 12 kilometres long in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. The mines that were stolen from it, by the Viet Cong, were later used to kill in excess of 100 odd Australian troops and seriously wound hundreds more. Responsibility for the disaster has never been adequately accepted. This poem is a tribute to all those young men who were killed or wounded by that military blunder. (see Appendix G for more details regarding this disaster).
“Good fences make good neighbours!
[But] before I built a wall I’d ask to know:
What I was walling in, or walling out?”
- Robert Frost in Mending Wall, 1914.
“Another tactical error which caused death and injury to hundreds
of young Australians was the laying of the 23,000 odd mines in the
minefield [barrier fence] from Dat Do to the sea.”
- General Alan Stretton in Soldier in a Storm, 1978.
“ [An O.C. of one of 6RAR’s rifle companies] questioned [Task Force HQ] in April 1967 as to why patrols were not adequately covering the minefield security. He was promptly told, in effect … to keep quiet!”
- Ian McNeill in On the Offensive, p. 177.