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Final Days of the Second Tour

© David Wilkins
OC C Company
(Dec 69 - Mar 70)

Author: David Wilkins


Time was getting short for 5RAR with the date for RTA (return to Australia) on 27 February 1970 approaching. The battalion was embroiled in the final operations of its second tour of active service in South Vietnam.

Extended Time in the Bush

C Company 5RAR was little different from other rifle companies in the battalion when, from 1 November 1969 until our last day of operations on 16 February 1970, a period of a bit over 15 weeks, we only had two rest breaks of two days plus a three day break for Christmas.
C Company's final operation was exceptionally long from 28 December 1969 to 16 February 1970, a period of 7 weeks. My diary records this, (and reveals apparent fatigue and frustration at the time):

"17 Dec 69. Great bloody Xmas break we are getting- spending the entire "break" in the bush. The digs are even chiming "so many killing days to Xmas." To top it off we are about to embark from this great 'rest' onto our last operation of the tour and it is to be our LONGEST 7 WEEKS. Man's a bloody robot!"

As we headed out on the final operation the troops began the count down by chanting " 60 days and a  wakey," meaning 60 days and a wake-up before departing South Vietnam for home.

Keeping us in the bush on the final operations for such a long period was partly a consequence of an alcohol related fragging murder in 9 RAR, some months earlier, during the wind down phase of that battalion. "Fragging" derived its name from the fragmentation or shrapnel from an exploding grenade, in this case lobbed into an officer's tent.

One consequence of our policy was the reduction of our fighting strengths' of the rifle companies during the final operation. My diary records:

"12 Feb 70. Had to fly out all members of the Advance Party for Australia (ETD 18th) from op during our re-supply. What with this, LOBs, casualties, and persons reposted to other units in SVN, my coy [Company] fighting strength is now down to 55 plus an FO [Artillery Forward Observer] party and 2 engineers. Fifty-five!! As a result, what with [7 Platoon Commander] Ian Hosie wounded and in hospital, I have formed two composite platoons from three, disbanding 7 Pl; and still both the platoons are only 23 strong each."

This reduced fighting strength was of some concern, as all platoons and CHQ with Support Section of C Company became engaged in battles with squad and platoon-sized enemy on about 9 occasions in our last 2 weeks of the final operation, including a heavy contact in the Dat Set region which necessitated a troop of tanks being reacted from the Horseshoe to assist in the ensuing attack on the enemy bunker system. "For a description of some of the those contacts, go to  "Final Battle" on this website".

Return to Nui Dat

Whether or not the minimisation of our time in the Nui Dat base camp and the reduction of grog available during the pack-up of the battalion was warranted, it will never be known, but the fact is that 5RAR did not experience any troubles during this phase.

My diary makes reference to this and the potential alcohol problem:

"17-26 Feb 1970. Clean up in base area in preparation for hand over to 7 RAR. Period passed without incident, the soldiers being surprisingly well behaved despite restriction placed on grog, and a completely "dry" camp for the last two days. Success is probably attributed to the equal restrictions for ALL ranks."

The final duty was a hand-over ceremony of our defensive position at Nui Dat to 7RAR, the Porky Battalion; but not before some provocative and generally crude pig jokes were made wishing them well for the coming year.

Return to Australia

5RAR's Advance Party, under command of Captain Tim Britten (2ic D Company) departed SVN for Australia by civil air on 18 February. On 27 February the main body of the battalion followed. We travelled by truck from Nui Dat to Vung Tau and then by LCM to the HMAS Sydney moored in the harbour.

The sea trip via the Sunda Strait of Indonesia (between the islands of Sumatra and Java) to soldiers of 5rar coming alongside HMAS Sydney for the return to AustraliaFremantle, and then onto Sydney, was calm as a millpond. The decks were full of inactive soldiers, sleeping, reading, playing cards and just relaxing. This unwinding process was a most therapeutic way to RTA (Return To Australia) after the turmoil and trauma of active service operations. (Those who flew back had little time to adjust and unwind. One day they were on active service. The next day they were in 'civvy street'. It would be understandable if they experienced more adjustment problems than the veterans who floated gently back over the longer period.)
                   
Following a 4-hour stopover at Fremantle, when we disembarked the West Aussies and made a quick visit to SAS barracks at Swanbourne, we proceeded to Sydney, arriving on 10 March 1970.

5RAR March Through Sydney

10 March 1970 was a fine, sunny autumn day in Sydney. All ranks, dressed to the nines in starched greens, slouch hats, and gold lanyards on the left shoulder, stood shoulder to shoulder, lining the top deck as we proceeded through Sydney Heads until docking at Woolloomooloo. Here, we were met by an excited and emotional crowd of family and friends.

In John Hunter's article on this website (Homecoming Vietnam) he has provided us with most interesting anecdotes about his own homecoming. Most of it is personal to him of course, but one of the areas where we were all involved as a group was the parade through Sydney following disembarkation from the HMAS Sydney.

Unfortunately, with the passage of time our memories fade or become confused, but I have a very clear recollection of our march through Sydney. As confirmation however, I checked with some others who marched that day, and have had my recollections sustained.

The Sydney lunchtime crowd, several rows deep, lined either side of Martin Place and George St to loudly cheer, applaud and wave flags for the returning veterans of 5 RAR. Spectators crowded their office windows to get a better view from above. It was a friendly and welcoming crowd with ticker tape floating down from the office buildings either side (I am fortunate to have a video film of the march to confirm my memory of this. It can also be seen on the official 5 RAR historical video). It was a moment of pride for us all.

I must disagree with John Hunter's version that we received a very nasty mixed reception including cries of 'baby murderer and more foul language than I care to repeat.' There were neither unsavoury incidents nor calls of baby murderer, although I do recall reading a newspaper report of another Battalion (1RAR) being the subject of some red paint being smeared on their CO as he headed their march in 1966.

But that did not occur to 5RAR on this occasion. The proud Tiger Battalion was home. That day both Tigers and audience were tame. The anti-war demonstrations were kept for other days.


 

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