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Australian infantryman's combat badge
From the memoirs of "The Reo" -- First Ambush

© Alan Riley
C Company
 2nd Tour

Author: Alan Riley


My National Service experience I remember well in some parts and not so well in others. Strange how some things stick so well and yet not others ― and the things I do remember were not always driven by some momentous event but often were very much more trivial in nature.

I always had problems recalling dates and operations and maybe that is because from my perspective it just wasn’t really relevant to me as a digger ― life in Vietnam was just an ongoing series of operations, scrub bashing, mountains, jungle, contacts and short spells in camp. But I get ahead of myself.

The first time I was outside the wire was while with the Australian Reinforcement Unit (1ARU) at Nui Dat. This was the place reinforcements were put on arrival in Vietnam before being allocated to a Battalion. One late afternoon we went out in platoon strength to ambush overnight and we ended up on the edge of a banana plantation with maybe 50 yards of clear ground before the track/road we were ambushing. Don’t ask me which road or where it was I haven’t a clue. Just a minute or two before curfew lifted in the morning a small motorbike started up and sped down the road. Nobody fired at the transgressor given it was practically at curfew end. Later, the general consensus was that it was someone either getting an early start off to work or an enemy courier who thought he was past the ambush point and was safe to get on the motorbike.

We had gone through the usual stuff of reconnoitring the ambush point and also another area a little further down the road to mislead anyone who was watching as to exactly where we would be in ambush so maybe the enemy courier thing could have been true.

Now here is the silly thing. When we went into position on the edge of the banana plantation it was pretty well dusk but I noticed that there was a little track just the other side of the edge of the banana plantation. It would have been about 5 feet from our position and only a foot or so wide. At the time of going into position I did not see the track we were ambushing that was about 50 yards away and I thought it was this very small and very close track that we were ambushing. I couldn’t believe it! I thought what the hell were we doing so close to the track? I didn’t ask anyone as I didn’t want to appear stupid for asking so I just kept quiet. That night I did not sleep a wink. All I could think of was the enemy coming down that track (I could almost touch it from my position) and prayed if the ambush was sprung it was done at the other end of the ambush and not anywhere near me.

Of course in the morning it all became clear to me ― what with the motorbike starting up and all ― and I then realised that the actual track we ambushed was 50 yards away. I did not tell anyone of course but I did feel sheepish afterwards. How does this relate to Charlie Company? Well it was this very naïve and green digger that a couple of weeks later ended up being transferred to C Company 5RAR. Must be comforting for Charlie Company soldiers to know the Battalion was being reinforced with the very finest..........

(Article courtesy Half Circle a sub-unit newsletter of the 5RAR Association)

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