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Once We were soldiers

 

Australian Infantryman's combat badge
A letter to Queen Eliabeth 11

© Ron Shambrook AM
2IC B Coy & OC C Coy
1st Tour

Author: Ron Shambrook

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth 11When I arrived from Admin Company and took over as 2IC B Company, 5 RAR from Bob O'Neill in 1966, the Company was continuing to set up the Company base. Here, below, is a true story of the Queen's colour portrait at B Company in 1966. Many years later I wrote to HM Queen Elizabeth and this is an extract from that letter.

"As an officer in the 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, my unit was deployed from Australia to Phuoc Tuy Province in South Vietnam in May 1966. Our infantry unit establish, from scratch, a battalion base in an area that had been a rubber plantation. We commenced active patrolling from this base, which was to be our home for the next 12 months. Priority was security of the base area, tactical domination of the immediate area, defence works and the erection of tented accommodation and living facilities. We had in our Company crates; brought with us from Australia, a framed colour photograph of Your Majesty that we intended to have pride of place in B Company 5 RAR combined Officers/Sergeants Mess. After some months we acquired a US Army marquee and were in a position to establish our mess. We sand bagged around the marquee and so we were ready to open our company mess.

When your framed photograph was unpacked we noticed the glass had broken in transit. I was to journey about 25 kilometres south by road to the logistic area and local township of Vung Tau the next week, so I took the damaged framed photograph with me. After asking around if there was glazier in Vung Tau I found a small Vietnamese shop, complete with dirt floor and packing case counter. I spoke very little Vietnamese and the owner spoke very little English. In fact, it is likely that the owner had little or no previous contact with Australians. I left his shop more hoping than believing that I had satisfactorily explain to him what I required and that the reglazing be completed by 4 p.m. that day. I needed to return by road to my unit in daylight hours for security reasons.

At about 4 p.m. I returned to the shop to find the Vietnamese owner excited to see me walk in. He then reached under the packing case counter and produced the reglazed framed photograph. He then looked at me then the Photograph and said in broken and heavily accented English, which I assume he has rehearsed "Very nice wife, very nice house". I was so taken back I failed to correct him but thanked him for his good work and paid the account and left."

Lt Col Shambrook leaving HMY Britannia with portrait under the left armIn 1982 I headed up about 1550 men and women from the Navy, Army and Air force in support of the XII Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. I was also a member of the Royal Tour Directorate for that Tour. On 9th October 1982 I was received into a private audience with HM The Queen and HRH Prince Philip aboard HMY Britannia. She presented me with a signed portrait of herself and HRH. I immediately thought of the B Company 5 RAR portrait of HM the Queen but did not gather myself together well enough to tell her the story. I regretted that I had not done so. Many years later I wrote the above letter and told the story.


The reply from Buckingham Palace;



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