BIRTHDAY FOR THE TIGER

“She’ll be right, Tiger,” Grandpa said,
Patting his head, ruffling his hair,
Getting the kid ready for sleep,
“You’re a Tiger”, calmly said so as not
To stoke dreams, jungle nightmares.

“But no Tigers in ‘stralia, Grandpa,”
Said the boy with immature certainty,
Rebuking the elder, who shrugged;
Shuddered, remembered and wondered,
Realising the boy wanted a bedtime yarn.

Words suited to childhood mingled
With memories and dreams:
“There is a real Australian Tiger, my boy,
A mob of soldiers, Diggers, boys and men,
Sent away to fight a war some said not ours.”

From Royal Australian Regiment’s pride,
A Fifth was born, Sydney, 1 March, 65,
A pup maybe to some, but many old dogs
Toughened by years of service,
Many in the Orient’s snow and jungles.

All blooded warriors of the RAR,
Trained proud as best in the world,
For country, kin and Duty First,
So Royal, so Australian, so Regimental,
Sons of Diggers, grandsons of legends.

Those who signed up for careers joined
By those selected by birthday decree,
Those whose stare comes only from war
To train those with young eyes of innocence
For a battle looming larger to our North.

Form up: Advance groups, battle groups;
By plane, by boat, by wings and prayers,
As one, as Five, on the Vung Tau beach
For yourself, for country and Battalion,
The first steps and Tiger’s on the prowl.

Sons of farmers, bankers, builders, teachers,
Sons who’s farmed, banked, built and taught,
Set out to reclaim a Vietnam province overrun
By forces of the Red Tide, silently slipping
Down from the Thin End to our Down Under.

Like pioneers of their sunburnt country,
They set off to clear the way, secure base,
A home, for a year or whatever it takes,
Win over hearts and minds, give freedom,
Exercise Hardihood a challenge to the foe.

The rotors slicing, chopping the air,
The symbol of the war: taking men
To battle, swooping back with rations,
Guiding Dustoff to Medivac the wounded,
Like chariots of the air, above the hell below.

In a time you can’t define, maybe a minute,
A training exercise became the real thing,
A firefight for a coveted watercourse
Became the first sacrifice, our first whisked
Away, return flight guaranteed, with accolades.

Operations blurred into each other,
As chopper flights become so passé,
And armour carriers rested weary legs,
Back to camp, memorial for those gone,
Shower, table meal and bed of sorts.

While Skipper’s chart had exotic names,
Phuoc Toy, Ba Ria, Nui Dat and Binh Ba,
We sought solace in songs our lovers
Were singing: Boots Made For Walkin',
Born Free and Strangers in the Night.

Chorus girls visit, blow our mind,
Though once the stage shifted
As mortar boomed, and out in
The rubber, some met their fate,
And Diggers overcame the odds.

Outguessing, Chasing Charlie
Gave way to fun and games,
Drinks and darts: drop ‘em if you
Haven’t scored; and Vungers
Or R and R gave some solace.

A long way from home, long nights
Spent with faraway thoughts,
And dreaming sentry moments, of
Loved ones, but letters kept fresh
Memories and possibilities to come.

By day, pack up, move out,
Stick by stick, choppers loaded,
Wagon trains of the sky, stacked
Up to the clouds, swarming into
Land on a magic mystery tour.

Through the scrub, some lifeless,
From an orange agent of death,
Some cratered from great heights,
Shirts wet with sweat, clinging
Before rain teems in bucketloads.

They sneak through the night,
Surround a village, wait and watch,
A Buddhist bell heralds sunrise,
Or is it a signal that Uc-Dai-Loi
Here to cordon and search.

Through the bush, the rain,
The sweat, the pain, again
And again we went cursing
Up mountains, clambered down,
But mines buggered us more.

Long night on the mountain
Followed a bloody afternoon
When a carrier was blasted
Bodies shattered, unseen enemy
Still owned the Long Hais.

Try another tack, the Fence
And the Horseshoe, keep the
Charlie apart, countdown
Began for going home,
Phuoc Tuy is won for now.

Back home, a street march,
Demo threat gives way to cheers,
On radio The Carnival is Over,
Life goes on as a Bloodied Tiger
Readies again for Duty First.


 

© Kerry White
MEMORIES February 2010
B Coy 1st Tour

 

Author Kerry White

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