In the Jungle
In the Jungle
In the jungle, well clear from ‘rubber’,
Vast thickets of spiky bamboo;
Fresh signs of ox-carts detected,
Deep grooves in the mud, a clear clue.
Distinct, foreign voices, t’were heard,
Wafting, from just up the track;
Three ‘unfriendlies’, hauling supplies,
Advancing, and each dressed in black.
Hand signals issued in silence,
Three riflemen crawled left to a bund;
Commander’s clenched fist thrusting right,
Referred to our two on the Gun.
Nine firing as one, together,
Death came in one ripping lead wave;
A young girl’s bloody photograph,
Left attached to one shallow grave.
Back on patrol, in the jungle,
Binh Ba locals foraged this land;
A free-fire zone area,
Civilians from there had been banned.
Suddenly, to the right, half-hidden,
Appeared on the edge of ‘bananas’,
Heavy rain, blurring five figures,
Each garbed in black cotton ‘pyjamas’.
Our Gun opened up a short burst,
Spat death, in a half belt or so;
A tragic mistake in mere seconds,
How the bloody hell could we know?
A young Asian boy, so white, lay still,
Red splattered this background of green;
Mother screaming, unrelenting,
Medic injecting relief with morphine.
Innocent peasants, picking wild fruits,
Most oblivious, to this ‘law’,
Appearing as VC guerrillas,
In that unique, filthy war.
Such flashbacks, today, haunt our minds,
Truly cleansed they’ll never be;
’Twas hard not to get dirt on your hands,
In the jungle, throughout Phuoc Tuy.
Large bands of virgin jungle covered much of rural Phuoc Tuy Province. It was here where the Viet Cong hid and trained and travelled from one area to another, undetected from the road or from the air. It was into these areas where Australian troops were sent to hunt this elusive enemy. (NB. ‘Phuoc’ pronounced ‘fook’).
Such uninhabited areas were declared ‘free fire zones’, meaning that it was an official ‘no go’ zone for civilians. Anyone sighted in such areas was automatically declared enemy. Unfortunately, many of the peasants continued to take the risk and forage for food (mainly wild fruits and fish) in these restricted areas, resulting in tragic consequences. One such event took place a couple of km away from Binh Ba village. It was July 1966.
“Left forward platoon advanced; machine gunner of No.4 Section saw a
Black-cladded male figure to his right front moving parallel to the platoon.
Suspecting an ambush, the gunner fired three 5 round bursts into the area.
An immediate sweep was carried out but the male had taken off. In the banana
plantation lay a dead boy (about 10 yrs old) and a badly wounded dying female.”
- 2Lt. Terry O'Hanlon, report Aug. 1966, Map GR. 462 716, 5RAR Commander’s Diaries.