days were always hot and humid; your clothes were
always full of sweat. It was the monsoon season and
the air smelt of the coming rains that would fall
the same time every day around four p.m. and stick
around for at least a couple of hours, and drenched
everything. Our feet were never dry, and rotted with
the skin peeling away; like peeling an orange which
left raw flesh exposed and made it painful to walk.
At times throughout the day in a safe area, half
the platoon at a time, removed boots to air our feet
and change and dry our socks. Anti-fungal foot
powder between the toes helped only if the powder
was dry. But it was mostly always damp and could not
be shaken through the holes and later discarded.
Tinea was rife
between the toes and around the crutch. Most of us still carry
this tinea, cruris bacteria, (medical terminology) in the system
today, and break out around the crutch on humid days, or if you
sit around with wet or sweaty clothing on and is known as the
Vietnam rash, and best treated by airing and sunlight.
The same clothing
was worn for at least three weeks, sometimes less, but could be
longer. Echelon bags, (kit bags) one per section, with the name
of the company, platoon, and section printed on the side, and
full of fresh clothing were flown in with the ration re-supply,
so your change had to be quick, old clothing had to be repacked
and flown out on the next chopper normally within the hour.
These were all laundered back at base camp by laundry
contractors, and later retrieved and readied for the next
activity would wear you down physically a little each day.
Plenty of water needed to be drunk so you were always on the
lookout for running water to fill your bottles. The enemy needed
water too, and mostly camped not far away. Tracks followed or
led to water, and we often rested across them and placed out
three man sentries at each end to act as small ambush groups
just far enough out to not hear any noise of the resting platoon
behind you. These were changed every two hours with a fresh
group. On the change the relieving group would move forward off
the track which was previously cleared, to cut back any noise,
and crawled in the last five metres. This only happened with a
long stay in one position throughout the day.
On this particular late overcast day, we were acting as
sentries, as the platoon did not intend to stay long and later
to move to another location for the night. This was a track and
did not show signs of recent enemy movement. It always made you
feel uneasy when you straddled tracks in poor light. Shadows
seemed to dance about and heightened all your senses. The track
crossed a deep ditch about twenty metres wide, and dropped away
out of sight momentarily. A bamboo thicket on our side, masked
our view directly in front. Only the gunner with the
M60 machinegun had a clear field of fire.
It was not long
into the hour when two VC appeared, talking as they strolled
along with not a care in the world. They were both unarmed it
appeared, and only carrying small parcels. At that moment it
started to rain; they suddenly stopped, shook out a black
plastic sheet, covered themselves, and squatted together in the
ditch out of sight of the machine gunner, who had seen them
coming. We could see the two from our position. You could see
them squabbling and fighting over there share of the plastic
sheeting as it was just barely enough to cover both.
The rain was
falling rather heavy at the time and all you heard was the
raindrops crashing through the jungle canopy and the noise of
the droplets hitting their plastic covering. These two were only
20 metres away, squatting in an awkward spot in the ditch, and
not quite in our killing area. The rain eased and they stood up
folding the plastic sheet and moved a few steps when the machine
gunner opened fire. 'Lofty', not being the regular machine
gunner must have closed his eyes at the same time as he pulled
the trigger, missing both and I watched them scamper back the
way they came at great speed. To this day I can still see the
bullets kicking up the dirt all around them. The rest of us were
hemmed in by the bamboo thicket and were unable to bring
effective fire on the two. After that incident we moved on to
another location, secured the area and stayed that night no
ambushing, just normal perimeter sentries to give the platoon a
The next day, on
the move again, this time moving early to another location, same
routine. Any high ground was always suspicious and was always
investigated for enemy bunker positions. You never could see the
bunkers until you walked right in amongst them..... and we did!
It was an old system but still in good condition. On our search
we believed the bunker system had
been vacated a couple of weeks before. Sometimes a caretaker
enemy group would hang around and look after the place until the
enemy unit returned at a later date. Being no enemy around, the
platoon commander decided we would stop and have a brew and
something to eat. These long rest times we looked forward to,
nothing like a sweet cup of tea and a hard oatmeal biscuit.
Minutes later something caught my eye as I looked around, I saw
movement just twenty metres away and noticed it duck down out of
sight. I looked away to give the enemy the impression we did not
notice him so he might hold his fire; I indicated to the
other rifleman that there is someone over there and I whispered
"don't look!" I gave him a quick plan that we would move to fan
out ... me to the left and he to the right. "Are you ready?"
Lets go! and we rushed the location firing as we advanced,
killing this young boy who was holding an
AK47 automatic rifle. I often
wondered why he did not fire on us, he could have killed us both
with ease at that range, but we were a large group, I believe he
did not wish to take us on. We buried him in a shallow grave on
Another day we
had just been given orders from company headquarters to patrol
around the edges of a fire trail. It is an area which had been
cleared by bulldozers months before and was a little overgrown.
It was in a 'Free Fire Zone' ..... you were dead if seen in it.
Another platoon had the task to keep watch over the trail
approximately 500 metres away. We were to act as the 'Killing
Group' in an ambush at the other end. We knew from intelligence
reports that an enemy main force unit was behind us somewhere.
Intelligence, possibly from the SAS, was that the
enemy was moving through the area in small groups. The enemy may
have been reinforcements, paying officers, or higher commanders
moving about to give their own orders to sub units, or soldiers
coming in from leave.
later a report came through over the radio set that two enemy
were on their way towards us. It took about 10 minutes to spot
them coming, and when close enough shot them dead. Immediately
other members of the platoon rushed out to drag the bodies out
of the way, clean up the mess, mainly rice from shattered
bandoliers that hung around their necks. The ground was soaked
in blood and you could not avoid walking in it. "Quickly you
blokes hurry up!" Another message came through ... more coming!
We rushed back to our positions and again the platoon waited.
Along came two more, and stopped, noticing the mess on the
ground but it was too late for them and were also shot dead. Off
we dashed again to drag the bodies away and clean up.
again whispered the platoon commander as more were sighted
travelling our way. Dragging the bodies away into the bush they
flopped about loosely. You ensured you did not get blood on your
hands as it smelt sweet and it would stay with you for hours
until you had a good wash. Other members of the platoon were
scampering around cleaning up the mess in a mad panic so as to
get back into position. Again the platoon waited, this time only
one enemy. He was carrying a bush in his hand. We didn't notice
this at first until an aircraft in the distance flew by. He
stopped right in the 'Killing Ground' and held the branch over
his head to camouflage himself from the air, and before we could
open fire he turned and ran. We fired at him but he was too
quick. We reckon he noticed the mess on the ground ...... He was
ONCE WE WERE SOLDIERS |