© Alan Miles.
C Company Radio Operator, 2nd Tour
I joined the army in 1968
with no idea what I was going to do except be a soldier.
To cut a long story short I went through the usual
ritual of Kapooka, Ingleburn and then
I remember lining up outside CHQ (Company Headquarters)
with everyone else who had been posted to 5RAR to have a
(very short) interview with Major D.D. Graham, the then
OC (Officer Commanding) of Charlie Company. This was to
assign us to a job in the Company. I still remember the
words of Major Graham when I fronted him. “You are
English so you should be understood on the radio—Radio
Operator 9 Platoon.” No, I don't know how he worked that
out from my (then) thick Liverpool accent! I thought
that was it and I spent a very enjoyable period of
training with Roger Lambert, Platoon Commander 9 Platoon
and “Taffy” Cheeseman, acting Platoon Sergeant. (Good
actor was Taffy, sorry Taff'. Actually Taffy was by far
the fittest man I have ever seen, before or since). We
developed an excellent rapport and I was very happy in
the position. But, as fate would have it, Company HQ
suddenly needed a radio operator and I was recommended
for the position. I wasn't happy and neither was Roger.
But to no avail, Company Radio Operator I was.
So that was how I went to South Vietnam, "C" Company
Radio Operator. And that was
how I came home, C Company Radio Operator. I spent the
whole 12 months “working in the middle”.
Working as the Company Radio Operator had one big
advantage. The most protected man in the Company was the
OC. Right next to the OC was the Radio Operator (Me). We
never had less than a Platoon of the best soldiers in
the world around us. That was very comforting let me
tell you, although we did have our moments.
My stint as Major D.D. Graham’s operator was brief. Two
or three operations and Don
Graham was injured (back injury I believe) and that was
it for him. Then came Claude. I
can now use the first name but back then Claude was
Major Ducker or
sir and woe
betides anyone who thought different...
Claude was a bit of a culture shock for me. Claude was
Army with a capital “A”. I didn't
know what hit me at first. He was a stickler for
protocol and everything had to be done
exactly by the book. At first I resented this and was a
very discontented puppy. But
things changed and I will try to explain how.
I carried the radio for four different OC's in Vietnam.
Don Graham and Claude Ducker I
have mentioned but also there was Bill Titley (Captain
Titley the Company 2IC (Second-in-Command) and Dave
Wilkins (Battalion Adjutant before joining C Company).
They all had the same onerous responsibility. To take a
Company of young Australians into harms way in a foreign
land, be successful in those endeavours, and most
importantly, get those young Australians safe home
again. And during those times I was as close to the OC
as I am now to this keyboard I am typing on.
As the majority of my time was as the radio operator for
Claude Ducker I will stick to
my experiences with him for the time being.
It took a little time for me to realise just what that
responsibility entailed for the OC.
At first it was all a big adventure, spells of interest
and wonder interspersed with short
bursts of sheer terror. All reading this will know what
I mean. And it all started at the
Company “O Group" (Orders Group) before going out on
operations. As the Company Radio Operator I attended the
O Group to check all the radio procedures, codes,
frequencies etc... Mostly I just sat there and stayed
quiet and listened. Believe me Claude’s O Groups were
meticulous. Every detail was gone over and then checked
again. I had to walk out of there and know intimately
every aspect of the Radio Communications for the
upcoming operations, and I did. I was too bloody scared
of the consequences if I didn't!
Out on operations was the same. The OC had enough on his
plate to worry about
frequencies, radio pickets, or whether communications
with the Platoons was established and clear. That was my
responsibility and one I took very seriously. I can
remember after settling into a harbour or an ambush
position with one of the Platoons I would set up the
radio with the appropriate antenna for the position,
work out the picket and then settle down myself. Claude
would be studying the map using a torch with a pin prick
lens. There would be an O Group with the Platoon
Commander, the 2IC, the Artillery FO and the CSM after
receiving any orders from BHQ via the Battalion Radio
Operator. Often I would get aroused at some deathly hour
to do my turn on the radio and look across to Claude's
position to see the pinprick of light still hovering
over the map — Meticulous.
Of course more went on in CHQ that just Claude and me.
The Artillery FO (Forward Observer) and his Radio
Operator had to set up their comms and do whatever it is
they did. I was usually too busy to worry about what
they were doing, maybe one of the FO's out there could
do a small article on just what being an Artillery FO
with an Infantry Company entailed. Jack Lake and Bill
Titley would be busy on the admin radio arranging for
re-supply drops and any other administrative tasks that
had to be done.
When the stuff hit the fan a series of actions was
precipitated. Usually, unless the
contact was with the Platoon with CHQ, it would start
with the noise of gunfire from a
distance. Both the OC and I would tense waiting. Then
the message would come from the Platoon involved,
“contact”. That short terse message was then relayed to
BHQ. After a short period while the Platoon in action
sorted things out a contact report would come over my
radio. No code, everything was sent using a pro-forma
and the map references were sent in plain language so as
not to compromise the codes being used on the operation.
Then the wheels really went into motion. Organise
artillery and air support, ground support if possible,
liaise with BHQ, organise resupply of ammo and supplies
if needed and of course action the radio message no one
wanted to hear, “stand by
Dustoff”. All done
automatically, no time for procrastinating; everything
had to run like a well oiled machine, just do the job
you were trained for and woe betide anyone who asked
“how do I do......."
And so it went. Month after month. The initial
excitement went and boredom set in (still
interspersed with the moments of sheer terror). But the
meticulous planning that Claude started with never
waned. I lived and breathed within a couple of metres of
Claude. Close enough to hand him the radio handset
immediately when needed. Even so I never thought of
Claude as a mate, at least not in Vietnam. Claude was a
Major and I was a NCO and although I now think of Claude
as a mate then it was always an officer and NCO
relationship, as it should have been. I do think that
Claude and I melded into a good team after we got used
to the way each other worked.
If Claude was the authority then Jack Lake was the
hammer. Jack was the CSM (Company Sergeant Major) from
training through to coming back to Australia. Jack was a
man not to be underestimated.
I remember an incident in a bar in Vung Tau when a
digger, big bugger too, decided to
“get even” with Jack and offered him outside. Jack came
back a few minutes later and
the digger was not heard of again that night. Jack was
the glue in Company HQ, bloody hard but fair. For all of
us that got home relatively unscathed we owe a lot to
our mates, Section Commanders, and Platoon Commanders
but, although I think that a lot of the Company members
did not really appreciate it at the time, I do believe
that the efforts of Jack and Claude, along with Bill
Titley and Dave Wilkins, went a long way to getting the
Company safely home. Gentlemen you have my deepest
admiration and gratitude. And so there it is. CHQ was a
lot more than the above but my memory is shot these
days. Brain cells dying rapidly! But for those who did
not ever get a look in to CHQ those are my very brief
ONCE WE WERE SOLDIERS |