Once a year, each man received,
A few days leave into Sai-gon;
R and R to Taipei, or Bangkok,
To Singapore, or Hong Kong.
’Twas a time, just like a dream,
Until the fifth day, when we woke,
Reluctant to return to camp,
Smiling, yet sick and bloody broke.
Sometimes, leave granted to Vung Tau,
In a villa, near Vice Marshal Ky’s,
Once owned by those colonial French,
And then corrupted, Vietnamese.
In army trucks, through squalid hamlets,
A unique aroma fills the air;
A nauseating mix of garbage swill,
And spicy food cooked everywhere.
Peasants squatting in town markets,
Bartering their ‘fruits of sweat’;
Piastres swapped for ‘greenbacks’,
That market ‘black’ and fuelling debt.
Crowded streets, narrow stinking lanes,
Urchins calling out: “Hey, Mister!”
Suggestive signs made with their hands,
And: “You wanna buy my little sister?”
Lambretta rides, snacks at roadside stalls,
Living life just like those ‘wallahs’;
Packets of Salem for 20 cents,
Sex for a mere two dollars.
Some local brew, called ‘Ba Muoi Ba’,
Relaxed at The Grand Hotel;
Or a smorgasbord of sleazy bars,
Where ‘mama sans’ had girls to sell.
Pretty hostesses, accommodating,
Favours paid, with Saigon Tea;
Though tagged were those from Uc-Dai-Loi,
‘Number Ten’ and ‘Cheap Charl-ie’.
“You buy me dwink, I wuv you John!
I give G.I. plenty fun!”
“Hey! That’s not my name, and I’m no Yank!”
She said: “Xin loi! You Number One!”
A ‘White Mice’ curfew, ten o’clock,
A flash in time, a mere reprieve;
Would we return, or would this be,
Our final chance at any leave?
From a stranger’s bed, with a splitting head,
We’d then all ‘di di mau’ ;
Trucked back to camp, at Nui Dat,
After a few days in Vung Tau.
Members of 5RAR B Company 5 Platoon on leave in Vung Tau - July 1966
Author on leave in Vung Tau - July 1966
For any soldier, the prospect of approaching leave kept spirits high by providing some light at the end of the tunnel. In the early stages of the war, soldiers based at Nui Dat were entitled to just 3 lots of leave: one day down on the beach at Vung Tau; three days and nights Rest and Convalescence (R&C) in Vung Tau itself; five days Rest and Recreation (R&R) in one of the neighbouring Asian capital cities. R&R to Australia only became available to troops in the later stages of the war.
So, the ‘Tigers’ in 1966-7 were entitled to a total of just 9 days leave in the whole year. A government inquiry in 1968 concluded that this was far too inadequate for troops under such stress and so the entitlements were made much more generous ... but the early troops missed out.
Meanwhile, those ‘base wallah’ troops stationed in Vung Tau and Saigon of course had access to leave on most nights of the week when not rostered on for base duty. Readers interested in the life of a ‘base wallah’ are referred to the poem titled ‘The Base Wallah’.
“My philosophy was always: Eat, drink and be merry!
For tomorrow we may die!”
- Nancy Wake (Australian WW2 Resistance Fighter), 2001.
“Sex is like air! You don't miss it until you’re not gettin’ it!”
- Mae West, 1970.