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australian infantryman's combat badge
A Midnight Yarn with'Smithy'

© Bill O'Mara
B Company
1969-70

Author: Bill O'Mara


G'day 'Smithy'... thought it about time I brought you up to date since I last saw you way back in '69. What a bugger! You died of wounds from friendly fire on the 11th August 1969. Bloody hell mate, I'm not sure where to begin. As usual for me, it's way past midnight and I can't sleep; nothing new about that though.

Not too many days go by when I don't think of you and the other blokes that didn't make it home. To make matters worse mate, I gotta tell you that we bloody well lost to 'Charlie'.

I remember when I used to pick you up in the old EK and head back to Holsworthy after a rare weekend's leave. You always insisted on sitting in the back seat ... reckoned it was safer. I felt like your bloody chauffer until we collected Mick Skelly at Goulburn.

You've probably forgotten, but we were out 'scrub bashing' one day when the three day old papers were 'choppered in' with some extra rations and clean greens. I recall you reading that your old man John Sommerville-Smith was on page 3 again. He'd upset some politician with the Melbourne rag he owned. While I think of it, your brother has changed his name to 'Sid' (Sidney) so reckon his initials are now SSS. I met up with Sid and your sister Kathy too, but I'll tell you about that later.

Another recollection I have of you mate, is our trip on the 'Vung Tau Ferry'. You were running the roulette game and by the time we hit Vietnam you owed me a lot of money. You said to me, "If you are the cause of me having to get a real job when we get back to civvie street I'll never forgive you." So, we decided to call it quits and that you'd never again offer a punter "no limit betting".

You sure as hell left your mark though with the Task Force bookie, when you put a year's wages on a nag called Tetrabine one Saturday. I was with you in your tent, when the bookie called in to tell you that he couldn't afford to pay you out. He requested that you wait until after the 'Sydney Cup' on the Monday. I'm sure you'll recall that you told him to "put it all up on Lowland" in the Sydney Cup; the bloody thing won at 7/2. That was the last bet the bookie ever took from you.

I met your Dad at your funeral when I came home about a week after that terrible blunder. I innocently said "a pity about the accident". Your Dad went into a rage as he'd been initially told otherwise. Eventually the truth of the tragic friendly fire came out. For many years I have been going to go to the cemetery, this year I finally did, with your brother and sister.

You gotta know, that our old school, St. Edmund's College, have built a memorial to those that served in Vietnam. It was completed for Remembrance Day 2005. I know that you were never one for long shots mate, but you have pride of place on the Memorial Wall. If I had my way, Smithy, I'd 'whack' the roulette wheel in the wall for you, but not sure they would approve.

 That's how I met up with Kathy and Sid. I managed to track Kathy down with 20 odd phone calls and it was great to meet up with your family. I'm going to post this on our 5 RAR website so you'll know your not forgotten.

Sleep tight mate,

                Bill


Pte. Baron F. Smith 21
Brisbane, Queensland

Pte. Smith was a journalist when he was drafted on May 1, 1968. Pte. Smith died from friendly fire in 1 Australian Field Hospital Vung Tau on August 11, 1969.

Lest We Forget