On Active Service

Thoughts of a Digger

By a Digger

He was a young soldier, strong, fit, naïve, placed into a battalion with its own structure - officers, warrant officers, sergeants, corporals, etc.

He was a number - in the late 1960's, the Army wanted infantrymen, and if he fitted the above criteria, he found himself in a Rifle Company, training for war in Vietnam.

He was not alone - his platoon consisted of exactly the same as him - strong, fit and naïve. His kit was thrown at him, and because he had survived ten weeks at the Infantry Centre, he was considered to be a competent soldier.

He trained well the year before Vietnam - night rifle range, Darkes Forest, Wedderburn, Gospers, Shoalwater, Canungra, short exercises, long exercises, guard duties (for discipline), and happily accepted any other training tasks that would prepare him for Vietnam.

Ten days on HMAS Sydney which was good fun - then the anticipation of moving into a war zone, sorting the buggers out - putting all that training into practice - mates all around - he thought he was bullet-proof.

Then the real facts - tents - monsoons - cold showers - ration packs - wet bedding - hot beer - Tinea - damp gear - the psychological tolerance of some colleagues - Dear John letters - mosquitoes - prickly heat - 'posties' refusing to send mail - 'wharfies' refusing to load the ships, consequently no parcels from home - the hostile attitudes of those at home - picquets - mess queues - haircuts - irregular days off on R&C (Rest & Convalescence) leave - TAOR (Tactical Area of Responsibility) patrols - ambushes - contacts.

Then the horror - the stark reality that the unthinkable had happened - a minefield! The huge explosion - the screaming - the terror - the gunner is dead - your mate's boot found ten metres away, with his foot still in it - blokes without legs - blokes blinded - shrapnel wounds - officers and senior NCOs leading by remote control, staying calm and displaying sensational leadership. This was the result of war.

After a year of this, the battalion was sent home. No debrief. National Servicemen were discharged. Others went on leave. No acknowledgement for their efforts. No acknowledgement from their Country, for which they had given their service. Criticism from those who were opposed to the Vietnam War. Politicians not willing to be truthful and confirm that our involvement was purely political. 504 young Australians gave their lives for our country.

Funny isn't it - those who served still love Australia, march proudly, have forgiven their fellow Australians who derided them so much, have tried to get on with their lives, but seem to be rated as second-class with their pensions, in comparison with public servants, who, with their pension entitlements, seem to have secured their own futures.

He's glad he was a Digger.

An Infantry Soldier
C Coy 5 RAR 2nd tour
Vietnam, 1969-70

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