On Active Service

When 'Wingy' Read the Riot Act!

This short story has been sitting about for a few years waiting for an opportunity to run.Lt Col John Warr presenting the 7RAR mascot to the new CO The April issue of Tiger Tales brought up that opportunity. The photo page 3, of Lt. Col John Warr (Wingy) handing the "Tiger Pig" over to Lt. Col Eric Smith made me smile—little did anyone know where that day would end.

I guess the reason for this snippet about mayhem and rebellion is to show that the 'fun gene' in the Australian soldier's psyche just takes over at times, creating legends and stories that make in retrospect, the dark days a source of fun and laughter. This is a true story, possibly the first time told in public– cobbled together from bleary, beery old memories shared between mates with a chuckle and far-a-way look in their eyes. Some of the 'facts' are a little rubbery, names have been omitted to protect the definitely guilty and Ron Hamlyn has demanded his 'Right of Reply'.


I do not know if in Australian military history a battalion CO has formally read the “Riot Act” to his troops. I suspect that it has not been often and, if so, the results may not have been as happy-making for the Diggers involved. But it did happen to the shaggy, unshaven and hung-over remnants of B Company, first tour, several days prior to embarking for home.

In May of 1966, one hundred and forty B Company men departed for Vietnam. At the end of the tour (after the advance party returned to Australia and those yet to complete their tour marched out to other battalions), thirty remained in-country from the original group.

B Company had already taken heavy losses over the year to 21 February 1967, when a mine explosion (a booby trapped aerial bomb plus a brace of jumping jacks) in the Long Hai Hills caused a further twenty-two casualties of which seven were KIA/DOW (Killed in Action/Died of Wounds). Most were from 4 Platoon and Company HQ. Those KIA’s included the Company OC, Maj Bruce McQualter and 4 Pl’s Lt Jim Carruthers.

After the Long Hai site was cleared of mines by the engineers we returned to lines for a day or two to stop shaking and work out which way was up. From memory we had forty-five odd men left in B Company under the command of Bandmaster Bob Taylor.


Within a few days Major Ron Hamlyn took over with a brief from Wingy that they both firmly shared “that idle hands would get up to mischief”, so out most went to the dreaded ‘Fence’ for some light duties! Casualties continued by the day, four wounded and a further two DOW from mines; Pte Richard (Dicky) Lloyd, and Lt Kerry Rinkin. Kerry had marched into the battalion the evening before and been at the fence but a few hours.

Of the original one hundred and forty men, only thirty nine originals completed the one year tour and in the final tally, sadly, fifteen of the twenty-five men on the The Honour Roll were from B Company.

Shattered after Dicky and Kerry’s deaths, but not dispirited, the depleted B Company, returned to lines and undertook camp duties. We were so short of men that one man to a gun-pit per shift throughout the night occurred occasionally. It has been said that the stock of booze at ‘The Vile Inn’ (our NCO & OR’s boozer) was plundered late in the shift to steady a nerve or three and to relieve the boredom at the pit—no names (ever) no pack drill! Ron, nocturnally prowling with moustache ‘a-twitch’, collared one or two, dispensing swift justice (he played rugby in his youth—was known for his goal kicking), his view of idle hands and mischief was well founded.

At last the great day arrived, (just two days and a ‘wakey’ to go), the last operation of the battalion, a night ambush by B Company returned. Lt. Lou O’Dea with 5 Platoon, (they had enough men left in the platoon to form a large section!) proudly marched—that’s right, marched (something they had not done since Holsworthy) up the road past the BHQ tent complex, with Lou holding aloft a burning orange smoke flare and all did a smart ‘eyes-left’ as they passed. Wingy took the salute with most of BHQ looking on. Later in the day B Company 7RAR moved in and took over our responsibilities of clearing patrols and gun pit duties.

After a huge seafood lunch put on by our resident cooks from The Bastard Catering Company Inc., (God loved them, I guess, only he would), the afternoon and evening festivities in and around our boozer were liquid and loud—several times so rudely interrupted by the 7 RAR Duty Officer (DO) with so many unreasonable demands.

Later that night with the boozer’s shutters open and lit up like a Christmas tree, the DO returned for the third or fourth time, this time with the Task Force MP’s (Military Police). All sorts of things happened, particularly as the DO entered the boozer without requesting permission – he had previously been refused entry and forcibly removed. We of course were fully (hic) focused on our mission – we still had about 100 dozen Black Ducks and Tigers (beers, for those who weren’t there) to finish and dammed if we were going to be told to leave them for the “Laughing Pigs” —(7RAR)!—Well, maybe, yes, we would have if Wingy had ‘told’ us and he said ‘please’—we all did like the man.

After the boozer was closed by the MPs, ‘the troubles’ as the Irish say, began and continued through the night; loud slurred discussions, hopeless quartets singing out of tune, Armed Forced Radio hit music echoing through the rubber as some partied in their tents, absent officers being ‘told where to go’ in graphic detail, fizzing gofers thrown towards gun pits, hidden strings jangling tin cans out on the wire, attempts to get the 7RAR guys in the gun pits to “av-a-beer-maaate, it sharpens the eyesight…you can see all those funny little things out there that keep moving” etc, and so on.

I have a blurred memory of the next morning of being with others, formed up in a three-sided square near the cookhouse. Company Officers and NCOs stiffly at attention, Colonel Wingy, with a lot of emotion (rage? glee?) and a loud, stern voice saying words like; “If any of you miserable sods (this has been toned down a bit for our women readers) … congregate in groups of more than two … you will be locked up and charged … I will throw away the key … you will never see Australia again … or leave Vietnam … let alone get out of this Army … I am ashamed and embarrassed…”and so on for about ten minutes— well Ok, we had been a little bit naughty but hey, really not that bad, surely?

Apparently up at Task Force, the tiger’s coat was not such a bright shade of yellow anymore, mostly black and it was B Company’s fault! Shit! This sounded serious! All these words and threats as we looked on at one poor bugger who had been handcuffed to a rubber tree since very early morning.

Rumour had it, poor man, that, after the MPs had withdrawn, his only crime was to drop a purple smoke grenade down the air vent of the underground command post and another down the steps as the “purple occupants” attempted to decamp. Another of the “miserable sods” (never identified officially) had at the same time popped a grenade out over the wire, causing some confusion and twitchy trigger fingers in the 7 RAR B Company gun pits.

The grenade and gunfire and the lack of communication with B Company Command Post resulted in a 7RAR battalion stand-to—we of course didn’t notice! Hey, someone has to train the troops, sharpen their reactions, bring them to the edge …. Those at the highest level of course, did not appreciate this lesson in practical soldiering from the experienced.

As the shaggy, unshaven, hung-over (and unremorseful) remnants of B Company, we were very lucky. I think we were confined to our camp area for the remaining two days and banned from the boozer. Guards were posted at the boozer but they were, in true Aussie style totally flexible and could (and were) bought for a beer or two to ease their own raging thirsts (talk about putting a tiger in charge of the hen—err beer-house!). Most of us managed a beer or ten from hidden stocks to get through our incarceration—warm beer is better than no beer and mission accomplished, no beer left for the Pigs.

As happens when old soldiers gather over a beer and go into “do you remember that day …when …”, question arise: Where were all our fearless leaders that day and evening anyway? I have never asked Ron, not game really. Surely they were at a tactical conference somewhere honing their skills for their next tour, maybe even down at Task Force working out with the Brigadier their next posting, or (heresy of heresies as one knowledgeable furphy-monger claimed) eating seafood, washing the red dust out of their mouths with chardonnay and singing loudly at the BHQ Officer’s Mess. It’s all a mystery.

I think I now understand why Ron is our membership officer. I think he is still prowling for names and retribution. He mutters darkly about “a conversation Wingy had with him” (which suggests that it might have been a little bit one sided) over tea and scones in Wingy’s office just prior to his reading the ‘Riot Act’ up at B Company lines. I am not certain if Ron was muttering about his Court Martial, or ours, or both!


© By Haydyn Dorrough
B Company 1st Tour

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