On Active Service

Technicolour Death


About 1971 I thought to put some of my memoirs to paper. On an old mechanical typewriter, I banged away knocking holes in the paper instead of "Os" This scribbling was in private, and for my own benefit because, as I was often reminded on my return in various public places such as RSL clubs, If I mentioned the "V" word "It wasn't a real War ... was it?" One of the first persons (where I was employed and he a returned veteran) I confided in on my return, told me, "we were a lot of powder puffs." I was deeply offended, not so much for myself but for those men, some of them my mates, that had been smashed, blinded and broken in "That Place." For in Vietnam your chances of being killed or maimed by a mine or booby trap were always higher than being shot. Mines are very impersonal things, they are "a terrible technicolour of death." This was a fearful business, you cannot show courage to a mine, or even offer it terms, there is no forgetting the after-sounds of a mine event "they," these sounds, are etched into the survivors' minds like some "audio tattoo" that hides in the dark private recesses of the mind, there to be faded by time but never completely erased; they inevitably leave a scar that can drift back into consciousness, unless kept "back there," in that private place. Some have tried to drown those sounds in an amber fog, but manage only to drown themselves in the process.

Soldiers in the Second World War may have endured hours of fear if caught in a mine field, but In Vietnam you entered a minefield every time you went outside the wire. Recent statistics (American) revealed an infantryman, (US Army) in the Pacific during WW2 averaged 40 days over 4 years in combat conditions. On average an infantryman in Vietnam endured 240 days of combat conditions in 12 months. It was originally estimated that the Australian Army would need 3 battalions of infantry, plus support units consistently on operations. This would amount to a brigade strength force, in order to pacify and secure Phuoc Tuy Province. Because only 2 battalions at any one time were eventually committed, the Australian combat troops spent most of their time in country, outside the wire. In a very short time after being committed these two battalions were not up to strength, with some platoons of 30 men down to 20-25 or less.

MINES! Where Fate Punishes the Brave

Take Care, Those Who "Tread Here."

Picture moving through a world where you cannot trust the very ground you walk on. Hours and days where simply sitting down next to a tree, or bumping the wire on an innocent looking fence may have deadly consequences. You come to a fence, you simply step over this fence, you may not even hear anything, you will just slowly become "aware" that something has changed, if you're lucky, or perhaps unlucky, your eyes will come into focus and you will become conscious that ... for some strange reason you are unable to hear anything! Like being underwater! And then you realise you're not standing up anymore. Now! The full horror of your condition swims into focus; colours, bone white, liquid red, grey and black ash of burnt cotton; and what is that smell? Now you will start to scream ... and scream as your mind refuses to accept the evidence before your eyes. But it is true! It is you! Those that see you, Their minds are tormented between 'freeze, don't move' and 'help him'. Only the very brave will move to help you. It goes on ... I cannot, will not write about it, but ask yourself ... would you? ... could you move to help?

Imagine having to endure this fear for up to two weeks at a time without a break. You cannot understand the Vietnam War without understanding that after the sound of the 'chopper,' it is the after-sound of the mines that live in the memory of those who fought there. It is said, that it is not those people who are naturally courageous that represent the true essence of courage, but those who feel terror and manage to overcome it. These are truly the brave.

Mines and/or booby traps were almost never placed singularly, but in groups, sometimes referred to as nests. Usually the first indication of the existence of mines or booby traps is an explosion. The soldier, who suddenly finds himself in this "trap," is immediately faced by a terrible conundrum. Perhaps literally trembling with fear, he knows he may be safe if everyone around him remains still. Perhaps the Pioneers, or Sappers (Field Engineers) can be brought up to help, but almost certainly not in time for those that have already been wounded! And there again, any man who moves to assist those wounded risks not only his own life, but those closest to him!. He is torn between wanting to help those men who are calling for assistance. Remember they are now as close as brothers to him, and fear for himself and those men closest to him; for many mines or booby traps were cruelly set, so that the man who tripped a device at one point, killed or wounded the men standing 10 or 15 metres behind, in front, or beside him. Many men live today, with the decisions they had to make on such a day ... some touched with doubt ... "did I do enough to help?"

Still, then as is the case today, very few soldiers' hated the Viet Cong. They were brave men and women, who were the very epitome of a jungle fighter, cunning, stealthy, well armed and fearless. These were worthy opponents who expected, and gave no quarter.

We only hated the politicians who gave "them" comfort, back in Australia. And those political pygmies' in the reception committees, when we returned.

The men of B Company 5 RAR; "Where fate punished the brave" on this day, 21 February 1967, many gave their lives trying to help their mates. 9 were killed or died of wounds received that day, and many were wounded. In any other Army, medals would have been forthcoming, but in the Australian Army it was considered they did ... "only what was expected of them."

Dedicated to the memory of private Trevor Lynch (Deceased) 3 section Fifth Battalion Assault Pioneers, blinded completely by a mine October 18 1966 On Nui Thi Vai Mountains and those wounded with him; and all those men of the Royal Australian Regiment who fell to Mines.


© By Bob Cavill
C Company &
Assault Pioneers

Scroll to Top