Night construction of bunkers - 5 Platoon B Company 5RAR - Nui Dat, August 1966. (photo courtesy of Colin Cogswell)
Most military units (I'm sure) have a ‘Big Jack’ within their ranks! In order to protect the ‘innocent’ (or ‘guilty’ ... depending on your point of view), the central character in this poem may or may not be fictional. The attitude of: ‘I’m alright Jack!’ had no place in the Australian Army. Anyone guilty of such selfishness was quickly ‘sorted out’.
♪♪ "Well, I guess if you say so,
I’ll have to pack my things and go!”
“That’s right! Hit the road, Jack!
And don’t ya come back no more, no more, no more, no more!
Hit the road, Jack!
And don’t ya come back no more! " ♪♪
- from the song Hit the Road Jack by Ray Charles, 1964.
♪♪ All you of lower ranks, boys ... all you of lower ranks!
Keep your ‘mags’ full, boys … don’t need those ‘tracks’ or tanks!
We’ll get a respectable tally today and impress those ‘brass’ up high!
They know me ‘round this base camp as ... ‘Big Jack’ from Gundagai! ♪♪
- modified chorus from the traditional Australian bush ballad Flash Jack From Gundagai. (Anon.)
Of Germanic extraction,
Giant jaw set nearly square,
Standing in excess of 6 feet,
Confident, arrogant air.
As a late unit arrival,
‘Big Jack’ laid down the law,
Taking over his section;
Preparing for that Asian war.
With bayonets we practiced,
Learned from him, how it was done;
Chilling scream: “In! ... Out! ... On Guard!”
As his fixed blade, flashed in the sun.
On each rifle range, ’twas the same,
Letting the M.60 rip,
All lying prone, except Jack,
Firing upright from his hip.
‘Big Jack’ had been to Malaya,
Ribbon bar of purple and green,
Impressing all of us young blokes,
Eager to be on his team.
In our training, he excelled,
Bushcraft, ’twas his expertise;
One day on patrol, medevac’d,
Stung by a swarm of bush bees.
First time on ‘ops’, in Phuoc Tuy,
Over vast swamps we had crossed,
‘Big Jack’ had mis-read his map,
So got his whole section lost.
And when it came to the crunch,
Things to share with each ‘grunt’,
Like chores, gear and C-rations,
‘Big Jack’ emerged out in front.
Ever aware of promotion,
‘Sucking up’ to our ‘Sarge’,
All members of Jack’s section,
At some stage placed on a ‘charge’.
On leave one day, in Vung Tau,
Having warned us not to be lax,
He himself got ‘sloshed’ and forgot,
V.D. reward was ‘Big Jack’s’.
With two stripes, as a corporal,
He proved a strange sort of man;
Of John Wayne’s movie exploits,
‘Big Jack’ was an obvious fan.
Yet, theory versus practice,
These two just aren’t quite the same;
When it came to the real thing,
Jack was ‘big’ mainly in name.
I recall him on an island,
On top of Long Son hill,
Directing M.60s and ‘arty’,
On 10 ‘Nogs’ for a kill.
Through binoculars, pin-pointing,
Where red tracers were falling,
Three deadly machine guns,
Obeyed Jack’s ‘warrie’ calling.
Radioing back to our base,
Standing proud and erect:
“We’re kickin’ serious arse here!
Give me three rounds for effect!”
Like a pilot, far from his slaughter,
He heard not a scream;
Grinning as our artillery,
Engulfed that squad in midstream.
Back at camp, Jack got busy,
Raiding the company’s compound;
Stores for a bunker construction,
His own ‘fortress’, deep underground.
The day prior, one hundred,
In-coming mortars had thundered;
Treasured logs from our stockpile,
Like a pirate Jack plundered.
Viet Cong about to attack,
To take Nui Dat on that night;
We had only one hour until dark,
Yet, ‘Big Jack’ was alright.
A taunting smirk, as he ordered,
“Better move it!, Bend ya backs!”
As we hurried in vain to construct,
Bunkers as big as ‘Big Jack’s’.
Cordon search of Binh Ba,
For the famed ‘Ten Thousand’ VC;
Barely that many people,
Across the whole of Phuoc Tuy.
Troops guarding that village,
In the plantation, became bored;
“Contact Practice!” on the airstrip,
Our ambitious O.C. then roared.
Extended line of eight ‘actors’,
One section ‘performed’, as a play;
Empty fuel drums, served as props,
Faces painted on them with clay.
Bayonet fixed, his ‘mag’ clipped,
Biceps bulging and flexed;
A hush in the audience,
Word quickly spread who was next.
Now ‘Big Jack’ and the O.C. ,
Shared ilk of similar type;
If his boys put on a good show,
He’d then gain his third stripe.
Having marshalled his section,
Leading out front of his team:
“C-H-A-R-G-E !”, firing, attacking,
Bellowing that classic scream.
Half way there, gun jamming,
Chucking it away to his left,
Shovel drawn, yet undaunted,
He bashed those ‘dummies’ to death.
All mouths dropped, in amazement,
Stunned looks on most in the crowd;
Yet, locals laughed and applauded,
As ‘Big Jack’ stood tall and quite proud.
Reward issued by our O.C.,
Whom Jack seemed to impress;
Up one rung in rank as new member,
Of B.H.Q.’s ‘jack’ Sergeants’ Mess.
Perhaps an agenda lay hidden,
Our ‘Louie’ told him to pack;
As all new ‘snakes’ are transferred,
We finally got rid of ‘Big Jack’.