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Once We Were Soldiers
 


 

australian infantryman's combat badge
HMAS Sydney 1966

 

© Gary Townsend
C Coy 1st Tour
Author: Gary Townsend

On 21 April 1966 I was one of the group who boarded HMAS Sydney, at Garden Island dock in Sydney, to start a voyage to South Vietnam. The contingent was made up of C Company HQ, 7 Platoon, 9 Platoon and various support groups. For most of us it was our first venture overseas and certainly our first into a war zone.

Pte Bill Parkes watches the Australian coast pass byThe flight deck was covered with vehicles and stores so most of our spare time was spent below decks, sitting in the forecastle watching the waves go by. I can remember watching the Australian coastline slide past in the distance, and then, one morning it was not there anymore. When the coast disappeared I wondered when I would see my wife, Carol, and Australia again. At that stage there was no thought that some of us would not be coming home, we were invincible!

sleeping hammocks HMAS SydneyOne of the first things that we had to learn was how to correctly set up and hang a hammock, that's if we did not want to finish up on the deck half way through the night. Talk about the current term of 'High Density Living', there was only about 12 to 15 inches between hammocks.

Most of the daylight hours we were kept busy with duties and drills, kitchen duty, firing practice from the stern, etc. entertainment also came in the form of the escort destroyers or HMAS Supply coming alongside to transfer fuel, stores or crew.

A stop at Manus Island, with the islanders sailing alongside, trying to sell us goods from their outrigger canoes, also gave us a interesting few hours.

CSM Wormald gets a dunkingA couple of the blokes had decided to visit the ships barber, and have their hair cut into the Mohawk style. The next day CSM Wormald paraded the entire company to that same barber to receive what is now known as a No 1 crew-cut, almost bald! In fact it was probably the best thing that could have happened to us all, as it was many weeks before we were in a position to get a haircut again.

The Sydney's crew treated us to a terrific 'Crossing the Line' ceremony with, as I remember our Company 2IC, Capt Bob Milligan, one of the primary victims. This event also gave us the opportunity to take revenge on the CSM for the indignity inflicted upon our heads by the ship's butcher, sorry I meant barber.

Manus IslandIn early May we arrived off Vung Tau, packed up all our gear and boarded landing craft. As we were approaching the beach we were given the order to 'Fix Bayonets', you can imagine our surprise, we thought we were landing in a secure area. So the 'Bronzed Anzacs' of C Company stormed ashore to secure a beach-head on the South Vietnamese shore. The reception we received was not what we expected; yanks working on the beach stopped what they were doing and thought it was a great joke. "Put those pig-stickers away before you hurt yourselves", was one the jibes that I remember.

Our first day in South Vietnam was memorable in two ways, firstly, as a laughing stock and secondly, the start of a period in our lives that we believed we were prepared for, but were unsure of what to expect.

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