Those Early Days
Digging pits and sandbagging the spoil - 1966 Author enjoying a bush shower - August 1966
Those Early Days
Yep! ... Suffered another one, last Anzac Day!
In a very loud and boisterous way,
This bloke was braggin’, ‘bout what his unit won.
Claimed they’d tamed damn near all Phuoc Tuy,
And then abruptly, in addressing me,
Asked: “What the hell had 5RAR ever done?”
“Your 1st tour must’ve been a bloody breeze!” he said,
“Your battalion was never in any news I read!
Not in print or on television, like was mine!
We had heaps of kills and casualties galore,
Over in the ‘funny farm’, in that stinking war!
What were you guys damn well doin’ all that time?”
Taken aback, by all of this claptrap, to start,
With him tryin’ to stir and just be real smart;
So I took my time, to give him my reply.
I was dealing clearly with a bloody fool,
So I calmly waited patiently and kept my cool;
Yet, I really don’t know how or why?
“Well”, I said, “let me enlighten you with my story!
And unlike yours, it’s not an embellished ‘warrie’,
It’s all about not standing out, in the crowd.
Firstly, are you aware how we got our unit name?
From Shakespeare’s words, ’twas where it came!
A reputation of which we’re all still bloody proud!”
“So ‘tis true we ‘Tigers’ stayed real low,
Headline hunting ’twas not our ilk, nor way to go;
‘Cause we were never seeking any form of praise.
And since we had nought to prove, to anyone,
Rewards for all our efforts, there were often none;
Whilst enduring poor conditions ... in those early days!”
“When we were dumped there, back in ’66,
First lot of ‘Regs’ and ‘Nashos’ in an even mix,
Nothing but mud and jungle, all around.
No showers, mess, tents, lights nor latrines,
Just ration packs, with crap ... like lima beans;
No bunks nor floorboards to keep us off the ground!”
“Long days patrolling, with no relief,
Facilities so crude, way beyond belief,
And days on leave were few and far between.
We had 9 of them in total, off that year,
And rationed to 2 cans per man per day, warm Yankee beer;
Whilst hot meals and good food were rarely ever seen!”
“No tanks to call upon, and little air support,
Poor conditions in which we lived and fought,
So any suggestion we had it easy, I refute!
No reserve force at base, waiting, standing by,
And up from Vung Tau our gunships had to fly;
Hearing how ‘hard’ you blokes did it … really makes me puke!’
“And as ‘Tigers’ out there on patrol,
Little time spent resting, ‘round that ‘rubber’ knoll,
And we used ‘stealth’ instead of: ‘Big is Always Best!’
Like a herd of elephants, being pushed,
Some other units ’twere loud, and often then am-bushed;
We were proudly different from all the rest!”
“When you all arrived, you had it made,
Believe me with our first tour, you’d never ever trade;
Yet, like I said, we sought not glory, nor false praise.
So don’t ever think your conditions were really rough,
Or believe you did it so damn bloody tough;
Compared especially … to those very early days!”
The Fifth Battalion, in May 1966, was the first group of Australian soldiers to be dumped at Nui Dat. It was the start of the monsoon season. The rural areas within the province had been under enemy control for the past decade and so the early troops of the rifle platoons were tasked with not only searching for the enemy but also clearing a 4-5 km mortar-free zone around that hill. When back in base, the lower-ranked soldiers of the rifle companies were given duties of constructing the camp’s basic accommodation and amenities and providing security. This involved turns at digging command and fighting pits, each with overhead cover, sand-bagging walls around all the 4-man tents, constructing a company mess, a wet canteen, an ablution block, latrines and a barbed wire perimeter enclosure. As well as these normal camp duties, each man (each lowly ‘grunt’ at least) was rostered on gun picket, out on the wire, guarding their own platoon sector. This could entail two lots of 2 hour sessions each 24 hours. For the first 3 months the only leave granted was one day at the beach in Vung Tau. Conditions were exhausting, primitive, wet, de-moralising and dangerous, particularly for the combat troops of the first tour.
Comparative proof comes from those who later did a second tour. They all readily corroborate this contention.
“In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man, as modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger.”
- Shakespeare (Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1)