161 Reccelections  


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Enlisted:        22 December 1966.
Discharged:  20 January 1990.
161 (Indep) Recce Flt South Vietnam:  April 1969 - 70.

Life in the Army started for me in late 1966 and I had various postings and detachments over the years including Indonesia, United Kingdom and Papua New Guinea, though it has to be said that 173 General Support Squadron is close to the heart.

My final three years in the Army was as ASM of Air Transport Squadron, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force aviation element based in Lae. As it transpired, I also won the RSM’s hat for 2 1/2 years as well. Talk about a conflict of interests with myself, but that three years is another story in itself.

I took discharge in Perth and joined Hastings Deering, the Queensland based Caterpillar machinery dealer and flew back to Lae where I spent three years as the Service Manager of their Lae branch, and was then moved to Tabubil, the site of the Ok Tedi mine, as the Branch Manager.

I spent a bit over six years there which was not the plan but it was an interesting and exciting place to work at. It was a large open cut copper mine about 25km east of the Indonesian border about midway up the PNG/Indonesian border in the Star mountains and was basically only accessible by air. Amongst other things, the place used to average between 8 and 10 metres of rain a year.

I resigned from Hastings Deering in Jan 2003 and joined Trakindo, the Indonesian Caterpillar dealers, and as at the time of writing this (Sept 2006), I was still with them as their General Operations Manager at a large nickel mine in South Sulawesi at a place called Sorowako.

Caterpillar machinery is a tad different from aircraft, but people still require managing and that's the bottom line.

I have been happily married to wife Kay (Ex-WRAAF, dental section Amberley) for coming up to 34 years and have one son Casey  30 years old. We live in Southport on the Gold Coast in Queensland.



APRIL 1969 - 1970

To me, my time at 161 Recce Flt was one of the most formative times in my life and the attitudes I developed have stayed with me to this day. The comradeship, teamwork, get the job done attitude was great and it became increasingly frustrating over the years to see the aviation game, maintenance wise at least, evolve into a 9 to 5 syndrome. We had great serviceability and availability states over there with the get stuck in and get it done approach but the way the higher Headquarters slowly strangled and stifled everything the further Vietnam was left behind was frustrating but inevitable.

I have never regretted one day of my time in the Army and I have never regretted one day of my tour in Vietnam, though with the benefit of hindsight and how the whole Vietnam thing ended, it was arguably a waste of time and life.

Twelve years in Papua New Guinea and nearly four in Indonesia with four years in Brisbane in between has seen me drift away from the mainstream and sort of lose contact with everyone, but with me finally getting onto Pmail may redress that somewhat however, I think this "Reccelections" is a great idea, get the stuff on paper before the old grey matter deteriorates too far. If this ever gets to print and someone says, "Yeah I remember Beans" it would be great to get a line.

My ‘recollections' are just a kaleidoscope of things and one liners in no particular order that came to me as I wrote. Maybe as people read them it will jog a memory and they can say ‘I remember that' or ‘remember the time'. Unfortunately the tall tales but true we all tell lose a bit when put on paper.

So here goes:

1. November 1968 and a short interlude at JTC Canungra to fine tune me into a steely eyed bronzed Anzac. Boy what a couple of weeks.  “ Thank you Demo “.

2. Log Stace, Bob Digance and myself went over to Vietnam together. We were skulking out of view on the rocks at Watsons Bay (the CSM had endless work parties) when we started throwing rocks at an RAN vessel parked right down below, a cable layer (HMAS Kookaburra, I think). There must have been a ship to shore telephone call because it wasn't long before the CSM came along and made short work of us.

3. We are at Mascot Airport, sitting by ourselves, as there is no one to see us off both nervous and excited.

4. Get on the 707 and told it will be a dry flight. Get out at Singapore and a plane load of dills walk around in poly pants, black oxfords and floral shirts with MPs around the place making sure, I assume, that we did not escape into Bugis street.

5. Saigon, the heat is stifling, confusion reigns supreme as we sit in the hot sun in this open dusty area with a boxed lunch. We are surrounded by people staring at us, squatting on their haunches, the heat, noise, ponk and nervousness takes the edge off my appetite, so I give the tucker away.

6. Bused to a C-130 through what seemed like 10,000 assorted aircraft. Get out, stand around, hop back on the bus and go to a C-123. Good, everything going to plan.

7. Professional interest has us doing a walk around this strange looking C-123. Bit concerned about things. We pile aboard and sit six abreast on the aircraft floor with a cargo "tie down" strap across each row to hang on to. After what seemed about 10 hours of the most noisy, mind numbing flying later, we are at the ‘Dat'.

8. A litany of cries of “no ones got 365 to go” greets us at 161. This was followed by "the monsoons are coming". This was still a private joke between Log Stace and I years later. We got the impression that the monsoons were more scary than the Viet Cong.

9. My first duty crew, early starts, late finishes. I cannot  understand the CP/Duty crew intercom, its just noise. I seem totally inadequate, spare prick at the wedding stuff, have not got a smick, then after a few weeks it all clicks.

10. The sound of the Duty Corporal lighting "choofers" early in the morning. His progress marked from the Officer’s lines to the OR's lines by ever increasing louder explosions. How many Corporals did you see on your tour lacking eyebrows and pink of face from "choofer starting"?

11. Dixie bashing, having a shower when finished and watching all the oil and grease pooling at your feet.

12. Joe Bartos, the Sergeant cook, putting everything into the tucker!!

13. Frank Gepp, his replacement, a fantastic cook added variety and imagination to the tucker. A good bloke.

14. Pork slices and apple sauce is the tucker. The apple sauce is just white sand in a tin. Add hot water and there it is, apple sauce. Clever sods these yanks with their rations.

15. George Xanthopoulos having an AD in the Radio Section. When we looked in, all the radio blokes are as white as a sheet, including George (which was a bit of a trick).

16. Someone having an AD in the old hanger, in the Airframe Section. The round zoomed through the hanger wall, through the Orderly Room wall, across in front of the Orderly Room clerk, Scully   !!! and out the wall on the other side. Stunned silence all round.

17. Fred Hardidge trying to track down Tony Gill for sucking him in to going to the Hoa Long dance. Fred looked a treat in the polys, clutching a carton of fags, waiting for the APC.

18. Tony Gill and Phil Consalvo making boomerangs (they eventually worked properly) out of rocket box timber. Being told not to throw them on one particular occasion by the EO Stew Curnow, but the Breed and Phil misunderstood and let fly with a flurry of boomerangs. The EO basically choked!!

19. We had repositioned an American jeep and had it all masked up in the original hanger ready for a repaint in Australian paint when the same Engineering Officer came in in the dead of night muttering about “it had better be the same colour in the morning”.

20. In the scrub with "Rogers Rangers". One of the APCs dropping us off threw a track a long way short of the drop off; so a bit of extra walking was the go. "Dusted off" one bloke with heat exhaustion, great fun!!

21. Pretty close to our ambush site for the night when there was a shot. The bronzed Anzac training kicks in, hit the deck, roll over, get ready, juices flowing, action is upon us, John Wayne has nothing on me. Look up, the only one standing is Bruno Kwas!!! A bloody AD, great, extra tramping to another ambush site.

22. Scary night. We can see the bad guys all through the night especially when notes are compared back at Nui Dat with who could see what where.

23. We get lost. Well, not really, we knew we were in SVN. We were sitting on the side of a creek while our "loc stat" had us in the South China sea. Reshuffle the code book!! We find ourselves and amazing, we RV with the APCs, scary, funny, great experience.

24. TAOR patrols with 5RAR and 7RAR. No questions asked about your ability, you were expected to get with the program and just do it.  I liked that.

25. A flare mission one night in a Sioux for 5RAR I think, Dave Early (Pacific Helicopters when I was in PNG ) I am pretty sure was the pilot. Six big fat flares are stacked between us and held tight by the seat belts. Used the first flare no sweat, but now five flares occupied the space of six and they were very loose rolling around the cockpit causing all sorts of mayhem. One of those ‘not so funny at the time but hilarious later on’ efforts. Am pretty sure that's the only time we did that with a Sioux.

26. On a flare sortie with Errol Driver in a Cessna supporting a Sioux fitted with an M60, I think Mal Smith was in the Sioux.

Landed back at Nui Dat from the movements end and we taxi along towards 161 when the Sioux comes in from the other direction. Drives gets off the runway as we are close to the refuel point, bang, crash, down a drain we go, rev, roar, rant, the old Cessna won't move. Hang on, you throttle and I will move the backside about. No result (apart from a good sand blast for yours truly).

Right, set the throttle and we will both push. Worked well, out popped the Cessna with two bods trying to control it. All aboard and taxi up to the refuel point like nothing ever happened.

27. Out on a VR going around in circles - oh, chunder. Blokes hovering down into tree tops blowing the branches away to get a look below. Never realised how tight sphincter muscles could get.

28. All day jolly once with Frank Markcrow and the M60 equipped Sioux up to Ham Tan and around the traps. Had Charlesworth thinking twice about taking us on I can tell you!!!

29. Wonder what this switch in the Cessna does!!!  Cannot do any harm to flick it as the power is off. Flick, clang, the rocket pods fell off.  Ah ha, the jettison switch, now I know!!!

30. Moved out of No.2 "drunks ally" and into the tent with Col Cocking and Mick Nilon when Herby "just take something home for the boy" Christgoergl went home. Had a clean up and found a shoulder holster. Did it up and it looked like a new one, so next time on Duty Crew, flogged it to Damien Aird. The Duty Crew had quite a few free beers on that holster.

31. Working through the night till morning on an engine change, major repair or same such and going down to the lines in the morning to find the troops have put a bunch of beer on the ice for you. Good blokes.

32. Speculating on whether the movie is "green box" or "brown box". All the hype about the green box movie Barbarella, and what a disappointment it (and Jane Fonda) was!!!

33. To be woken by Mick Nilon in late 69 coming off Duty Crew late at night and being told Allan Jellie and Barry Donald had been killed.

34. The close shaves from ground fire for the aircrew (and others as well, Bruce Johnson in A1-720 springs to mind), Peter Rogers, Harry Benson in what must have been his last flight in country. Trevor Wark, I am pretty sure just in country, who did not go on a first light recce as a PAX and the aircraft took rounds where he would have been sitting.

35. The First Light Recce Cessna, bursting into life in the dark. Race down to see what's happening and pass E.D. coming the other way. "Sit on the brakes will you, I will be right back after sorting out the paperwork". What a lad, another good bloke.

36. The flak jacket we had in the tarmac for visitors with its big yellow stripe painted down the back. It greatly amused us RAEME blokes. But we were easily amused.

37. The afternoon I lost the water trailer (full) off the HIAB. Fred Hardidge was with me and it came off as I hit a pothole. (I was definitely doing the ATF speed limit) but lucky for “on coming" traffic it went off to the right and into a swampy area. A bit of pretty handy HIAB manipulation got us out of trouble (though the jockey wheel on the trailer was buggered henceforth). The OC (Two Dads) drove past while we were doing our thing but to his credit never did ask what was going on.

38. One of the times Alan Satchell and myself were in the scrub together and a bloody great pig scared the daylights (or more accurately nightlights) out of us in the harbour area.

39. On the gun in the scrub at night. Boy does the imagination work overtime.

40. I always seemed to pull the time slot on picquet on the 161 gun pit down at the corner when the AFVN radio was playing their two-hour polka music session. Hate polka to this day.

41. Poor old Col Cocking had piles (or some such), and had a tube of "stuff" with a long applicator. The rest of us in the tent, Stork Deacon, Mick Nilon and myself would arrange our chairs to watch the pile ointment application floor show. We gave him heaps. He was a great bloke.

42. Hey Stork, remember the butternut snap biscuits. I eat them to this day and remember to this day the laughs we all had in that tent.

43. Stork was the PMC of the Sundowner Club and we organised to put on extensions as the boozer was too small. We scrounged everything and it looked great when finished, even though the concrete floor was about 90% squashed beer cans and 10% concrete.

44. I damn near did not survive the first night in country. Up in the boozer beer garden?? having a beer (or six) under a parachute awning and it started to rain and the chute was leaking. I made comment to the same effect, and some one said where, and I pointed up into the parachute and stuck my finger into a empty  festoon light socket. Sobered me up real quick!!!

45. July 69. Man walks on the moon. In the middle of this rock show something fantastic. Later someone brought back a Time magazine with the piccys. One of those dates you will always remember what you were doing where.

46. We built Nui Dat's (we reckon anyway) first stand up, flushing, moulded concrete urinal as part of the boozer extensions which flushed, from 44-gallon drums mounted overhead. It was a ripper!!!

47. Going out in the scrub, collecting the rat packs and never getting over the size of an American one meal ration pack compared to an Australian 24 hour pack.

48. The night the Engineer’s tent burnt down in 7RAR at the end of our lines. The amount of exploding ammo made it sound like WW3. What a show.

49. The nights spent sitting around or in our bunkers during a rocket attack, gibbering away to each other. Suddenly out of the dark comes the CSM - you could hear a pin drop.

50. The ultimate swan, a week in Saigon doing a "Saigon Guard" looking after the "pogos" up there. At the American PX saw a replay of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon six months before- amazing!! Some blokes who went were Col Cocking, Al Satchell, Joe Owens, John Gibson

51. The monsoons (yes they came) fair took your breath away.

52. B52s raid around the traps that shook the joint like no tomorrow.

53. Its night, everything is quiet and then Nui Dat Arty let rip - boy doesn't the crud start to itch.

54. Going out on air strike sorties. Something else. Watched a B52 strike one day from a distance as we were transitting somewhere in a Sioux. A very impressive display. Glad I was up top looking down and not down looking up!!

55. The first Porter is airlifted by Chinook into Nui Dat from HMAS Sydney in late 1969. About 100 feet from touch down at the Western Park the Porter goes from horizontal to vertical in the blink of an eye. The big ‘D' is made - put the other two together at Vungers.

56. Jagged the “putting together the Porters in Vungers“exercise. Good break down in the big city.

57. In early/mid 69 the Yanks airlift Errol Driver's Cessna from Blackhorse after a fau paux. Probably repairable till they dropped it off the hook from about 50 feet onto the strip. Stu Curnow the ENGO nearly faints. Tell you one thing though, Cessnas bounce!!

58. We are on "stand to" during the day because the bad guys are shooting rockets at us. One lands down at the Western Park and goes off. A couple of duty crew blokes (Joe Owens, I think was one) jumped in a Landrover, raced down and got the rockets remains for a trophy. The "brown stuff' hits the fan from HQ ATF.

59. The OC (Two Dads) is in his chopper turning and burning when suddenly Mick Nilon dives inside chasing a butterfly. I think the "old man" thought we were all certifiable.

60. Luscombe Bowl and the concert parties. Normie Rowe the trooper giving us a song, the USO shows, the Tasmanian concert party with the Singing Kettles - crazy.

61. Going up Route One on the APCs to act as reactionary force to escort convoys. Good fun.

62. Christmas '69, a Cessna comes back from Bien Hoa in the afternoon. We are standing, watching, waiting, when lo and behold it crashes on the far end of the strip. We race down to find two pilots (one fixed, one rotary who shall remain nameless) are both OK and ensuring the cargo is unbroken and secure by stashing it for safe keeping under the marker cones. The firies arrive in a blaze of glory (we broke their boredom) and they proceed to crack the darks because the duty crew had it under control. A great Xmas!!

63. Meeting two VC winners, Simpson and Payne.

64. Greg Juckert the cook caught just in time with two "Willy Petes" he was going to use to smoke out his bunker.

65. Considering where we were, the separation from families, the ups, the downs, the fact that we carried guns with live ammo, the problems, the pressures, there were bugger all fights or dramas - amazing.

66. Was not like that on Xmas day 1969 when shooting went on over at the unit behind the PX!!

67. The PX.  What a shoppers paradise!!  Would be interesting to know how many Seiko watches and Akai reel to reels they sold while the task force was at Nui Dat.

68. Sitting on the edge of the tarmac late one afternoon with Wayne Maudsley, Brian Calder and someone else (Fred Hardidge possibly) waiting for the last aircraft when we hear a shout.

We turn around and one of the duty crew (who shall remain nameless but he contacted me out of the blue in 2006 about this incident) has come down from the mess and is pointing his rifle at us.

He sights at each of us in turn, cocks it, aims it again, I am the last one in the sights and we are are a tad tense and saying words to the effect to stop this sillyness.  He laughed and pointed the SLR into the ground where they are building the new hanger and pulls the trigger. The weapon discharges, there is the classic deathly silence followed by the bloke being totally distraught (we were not too wrapped either).

It turns out he picked up the wrong rifle at the mess.  Pity you could not buy Tattslotto tickets at Nui Dat!!

69. That great day - six months are up, you ‘clang' and its all down hill now.

70. Rasmussen goes to Saigon to see his uncle. He is Captain on a Norwegian tanker or something.

Two months later at a slide night we spring Rassy in his polys on the above swan posing on the ship and he is wearing two ribbons. Hey what’s the go, he hasn’t been here six months - hoot, holler, catcall, poser, but he defends himself saying he couldn't go and see his uncle wearing only one ribbon. We reckon that's fair enough.

71. Some people in 'Rogers Rangers' who shared that fun time - Mick Nilon, Allan Wilson, Laurie Arnold,  Bruno Kwas, Mick Lappin, Barry Skinner and a whole bunch of others.

72.  FUBIS!!!    The RTA calender starts to cop a flogging.

73. Happy Pills, how they affected people in different ways, some couldn't drink, some couldn't eat, who cares, you are going home.

74. All the different weapons we tried on the aircraft - M60 on the Sioux, hand cranked M79 grenade launcher, 2, 7, & 19 pod rockets on the fixed wing, the .30 calibre type machine gun we fitted to the right litter, flare racks for the Porter and Cessna.

75. How we hid them and dragged out the Porter litter kits when some Swiss mob came around for a visit.

76. The rubber trees - one time beaut and green and full of leaves and the next, dry with millions of leaves all over the ground…the CSM used to love it for work parties.

77.  The Engineers came over with a bloody big drill and dug some holes for new dunnys down at the end of the OR’s lines. It was dry season and we were all on the CSM’s “raking up the leaves to make 161 neat “ work party , all pissed off.

Someone had the idea of throwing the leaves down the newly drilled holes, along with copious amounts of petrol and burning the leaves. This was duly done.

It was fantastic, this great roaring noise as the fuel went up in this narrow deep hole, the ground sort of vibrated, leaves blown up out of the hole every where. Couldn’t stop us raking, fuelling, blowing up. Put a lid on the hole to see how high it went in the air, then the CSM came down.  Fun over!!!

78. When we got ‘TULS' as a little puppy and I believe it grew into a handsome dog.

79. ‘Legs' Baldacchino, the bloke who ran the Sundowner Club. A top bloke.

80. The Kiwi pilot, Bill Flanagan, had a habit of, after landing down at the refuel area, pretending to check the oil on his chopper with his back towards the airstrip all the while having a leak. This practice became known as having a ‘dead cas Flanagan' whenever the need was felt on flight line for a little relief. Another good bloke.

81. Barry Rollason, bluing with the Admin Officer about the use of a vehicle to go to Vung Tau (I think), the AO took the moral ground and old Timothy O'Sullivan (TOS) would not be moved. Bazza was quite cranky and short with TOS.

82. Had not been in country long and went into Baria one day with Captain 'Stu' Curnow and Mick Nilon. I guard the vehicle and still they manage to knock off Stu's camouflaged raincoat. He never did forgive me.

83. Mick Lappin and others who brought back frozen meat pies from R&R. What a treat to eat.

84. Keith Scott, the ASM, another great bloke, thorough gentleman. He got things done because he was Keith and respected, without ranting and raving. A pleasure to have known him.

85. On a flare mission one night with Damien Aird in a Porter and returning to Nui Dat. My rifle fell over and slid down the floor and out the open hatch. As it went out, it gets caught between the back support rail of the homemade flare rack and the floor hatch. DA has a bit of a panic with the sudden banging and wants to know what all the noise is…"dropped my torch" says I.

I do a bit of panic and grab my ‘gat' back, all the time thinking how I would explain my missing weapon to Charlie Sheirs in the ‘Q' store. Go about five clicks into the scrub straight off the runway centre line and the M16 should be there.

86. Doing subject ‘A’ for Corporal in amongst the rubber trees up at the back of the unit. We all felt like dills initially, shouting at a rubber tree each to get used to giving orders. Still, the spit and polish required was minimal.

87. The day a C-130 got stuck in the tarmac down at the Western Park while taxing. The tarmac had melted due to the heat. The Herc gave it sixty to get out forgetting the Movements building was directly behind it and blew the Movements hut to bits. Hut, paperwork and various bits and pieces went flying all over the province. The movement's guys never knew what hit them.

88. Going to the orphanage at Baria to refurbish and paint the place. Some good work in the middle of the 'bun fight'. Wayne Maudsley and Fred Hardidge spring to mind with this.

89. Mick Nilons dad, Charlie, is in the funny place at the same time with an Artillery unit. Its great. He swans over for beer and a gasbag.

90. Counting down the weeks as each Wednesday the 'freedom bird' came and went. Everyone reckon they would walk to Saigon rather than catch a C-123 home. History shows that idea was kicked into touch every Wednesday.

91. Going home and a C-123 comes to pick us up. I cannot believe it. This time we go to Saigon like an overcrowded bus. There are seats down each side and the middle but still some blokes have to strap hang.

92.  Someone backs into the Qantas 707 ‘freedom bird' with a truck or forklift at Saigon and we leave about five or six hours late after repairs. We do not get into Sydney till about 3am in the morning. Apparently special permission was required to land because of airport noise curfews. Get mucked about by customs, step outside this shed of a terminal and its an all over, strange feeling.

Nui Dat in the middle of the ‘J’ in the morning and in Sydney that evening. Sort of surreal!!

93. Mick Nilon and Squizzy Taylor meet Bob Digance and myself. By 5am we are having a beer with breakfast at Mick's parents place. Mick takes us back to Mascot - me to Perth, Diggy to Adelaide.

On the way to Mascot, Diggy dives out of the car and deposits breakfast all over the front grass verge of a house basically at the house owners feet while the poor sod is watering the lawn. Streams of embarrassment come from the front of the car.

94. Fly to Perth, catch the airport bus to town and walk to Murray Street to catch the 353 bus home to Nollamara. It's like something from a 'B' grade movie, my mum is there waiting to catch the bus after shopping in the city. She is as shocked as can be. I am home.

Big hearted sod that I am I grabbed a cab.

95. Posted to 1st Aviation Regiment at Amberley, so bought a car and drove across from Perth and arrived there in June 1970 in my deep purple Austin 1800, soon to be known as the “Grape”.

96. Arrived at Amberley on a Saturday morning and found Log Stace. Last thing I remember that day was being at an Aussie Rules match in Ipswich with Log and others and we were sharing a gooney of plonk around.

Woke up in the car the next morning at Amberley parked near the OR’s lines near the picture theatre with the grass around the drivers door the same colour as the car. Thus the 1800 morphed into the “Grape “ 

97. Met the future wife, but that’s another story!

So there it is, things that came to me as I wrote and I am sure if I wanted to, I could jot down a whole bunch of other things as well. Hopefully people will read this and they too can say, I remember that, and what about this, and such and such was good fun, or indeed not so good.

Whatever, it was 12 months of my life that I will never forget for what I feel are all the right reasons.

E.T. Bevans “BEANS”.

Put together
Tabubil Papua New Guinea
November 1993.

Sorowako South Sulawesi
Indonesia 2006


Previous Reccelections:  Brian Calder | Peter Nolan | Peter Ginman | John Stead | Tom Jobling | Peter Spoor

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