served with 161 (Indep) Recce Flt from May 67 until Oct 67. He was the
Sgt Elec Fitter during his time in the Unit.
my two year Malaysian posting I was transferred to 10 Sqn RAAF Garbutt,
Townsville accompanied by my wife and five children in late December
1966. In time we re-acclimatised to the Australian lifestyle and found
suitable temporary accommodation. February 1967 found us settled in
married quarters; with the children at school, life was being really
being good to us. But guess what?
as soon as you’re on top of the world --- some bastard strikes.
time the ‘bastard’ was in the guise of a 10 Squadron Orderly Room Corporal,
who rang me sometime
in mid April 1967 just prior to lunch. "Sergeant Ginman, I have got
a posting here for you."
immediate response: "Bull-shit mate, I’ve only been here four
months and not long moved into married quarters, you’ve got the wrong
bloke!” My outburst did not dampen his persistence:
I think you had best come up here and see me or the boss so we can sort
where the bloody hell am I supposed to be going anyway?" I
posted to 9 Sqn and attached to 161 (Independent) Recce Flight."
all sounded strange, I had never heard of 161 (Indep) Recce Flight.
I think Serge”.
not going down there at any price mate. Get my Discharge Application
ready, I’ll be up to sign it”. I beat a hasty path to the Orderly
rubber pushbike tyres heralded my arrival at the Orderly Room. Bursting
through the door, with 10 Sqn’s motto ‘Strike First’ foremost in
my mind, I was ready to wring the neck of this ‘two-stripped little
interferer’ set on disrupting my happy life. However, my confrontation
plan had been pre-empted, he had called in reinforcements; Flight
Sergeant Mick Crummy stood at his side.
settle down a minute, it’s not as bad as you think" Mick said.
I knew ‘the two-striped interferer’ had got it all wrong. "So
what’s going on Mick?"
continued, "161 (Indep) Recce Flight is short of Army NCO’s in
the trades and want us to help them out."
interrupted, " Mick, where the bloody hell are they?"
he peered over his glasses "They are at Nui Dat …… in
was silent. I felt that same ‘strange quivering feeling’ around my
posterior I’d experienced some years ago after belting a Flt Sgt SP
over the knuckles with a 15” steel edged ruler as he tried to
commandeer the dice after having the audacity to raid our two-up game at
Amberley (another story).
Sergeant Mick Crummy continued, “You are posted to 9 Sqn at Vung Tau
and attached to 161 (Indep) Recce Flight at Nui Dat”.
think I said "Oh Shit”.
heard a voice say "When am I supposed to be there?"
May " he replied.
were rapidly formulating in my mind to dodge this posting. Things were
getting pretty serious up there, only last August the battle of Long Tan
was fought near Nui Dat.
I walked slowly out the door, slowly mounted the pushbike and slowly
rode to the Sergeants Mess in very slow motion. Flt Sgt Russ Anderson,
recently returned from Vietnam (35 Sqn Caribou transport aircraft) would
have answers to questions buzzing through my mind.
cut the story short, we discussed this pending disaster unfolding in my
life over quite a few ‘ambers’ at lunch-time (plus an hour or so).
Our Warrant Officer Merv Patterson, alias ‘Psychedelic’ due to his
rum impregnated blue veins in his ever-glowing red face, was neither
impressed by the news of my posting, nor with our late arrival back to
work. His volcanic retort to both my new posting and our late return to
work was only exceed by my wife’s response to the news. Joan should
have been with me in the Orderly Room, I am sure she would have sorted
insult to injury; my wife and children would be made homeless. RAAF
policy dictated that, as I was no longer with 10 Sqn Townsville, my
family was not entitled to remain in married quarters there. After many
brick walls were demolished they were allowed to stay. Logically, it was
now our home. The RAAF’s argument was: I would not necessarily be
reposted to Townsville after Vietnam. Mine was; they had not felt the
wrath of Joan yet.
the 10th May 1967, I farewelled my wife and children and boarded a
flight for Sydney without any form of training in what
might be necessary for survival in this war zone I was about to step
into. I spent a miserable and thought provoking night in Sydney before
flying British Airways to Singapore via Perth, then Pan Am to Saigon
from where a RAAF Iroquois helicopter took us to Vung Tau and next day
to the Task Force Area at Nui Dat.
weary RAAF NCO’s, Allan Burgess, Dave Menzies and your’s truly stood
on the edge of the tarmac at Nui Dat on the morning of 13th
May 1967. When the cyclone of red dust whipped up by the Iroquois’
rotor blades subsided we were confront by the green of the rubber
plantation concealing, to some degree, rows of tents regimentally lined
and sandbagged to head height on all four sides. These were our living
quarters for the duration of our time here. A large corrugated iron shed
at the edge of the field served as the maintenance hangar. A metal mesh
covered area, adjacent to the hangar, served as the 161 Flight Line. The
three Cessna 180’s and six Bell Sioux Helicopters, which made up the
strength of 161 (Indep) Recce Flight at that time, were protected from
sniper and mortar fire by revetments. On the other side of the field
hidden by foliage was SAS hill, where all the ‘nut cases’ lived. The
rest of the Task Force area comprised of: Headquarters; RAEME; an
armoured platoon; the current infantry regiment; an artillery regiment
and a New Zealand artillery and infantry battalion.
all this was being rapidly absorbed the welcoming committee of Mick
Swain, John Green (Deceased) 1938 –1994, and John "Skeeta"
Ryan joined us. Mick, a RAAF Flight Sergeant Airframe Fitter, was NCO in
charge of maintenance. He greeted us, wearing a holstered 38 revolver on
his hip, like long lost brothers. The others each carried a small 9mm
machine gun, this I soon learnt was standard issue to all NCOs, just in
case. The OR’s (other ranks) carried M-16s. I was right. They were
fair dinkum here --- SHIT!
settled, properly uniformed and arsenalled, we made our way to the
hangar. Here I met, among others, Major Peter Robinson the Engineering
Officer for 161. At a NCO meeting, he made it quite clear that we were
no longer in the RAAF; we now ‘belonged’ to the ARMY.
shit mate", I thought to myself.
Mush’, as he was referred to because of his bushy moustache, gave us
new arrivals a run down on ‘His’ personal history/involvement with
Army Aviation. What he did not know about aeroplanes did not matter -
according to him.
the end of his speech I’d done some mental calculations, I said,
"Excuse me sir, but with the years you say you have been involved
with aviation, in comparison to us here, you have the least
nearly choked, on his parting word, "Dismissed! "
Mush’ and I did not see eye to eye on anything after that. He had the
drop on me though, he was a Major and I was a Sergeant.
remaining Officers were nearly all pilots, and for Army blokes were
pretty good guys with great flying skills. Many of their operational
encounters were hair-raising. Your feelings for safe flying did not
matter if you were with them, just hold your breath and hang on.
I won’t bore you with my work involvement in preference to
relating only experiences that have stuck in my mind over the past
thirty odd years.
first of these occurred the day after my arrival at the ‘morning
social gathering shed’ (dunny). Toilet facilities consisted of a
fly-screened shed about four metres long and a metre and a half wide,
four galvanised iron cans with wooden seats spanned across a deep pit
which, together with a free supply of reading matter, constituted the
dunny block ‘conveniences’. For bladder relief, a 100mm pipe jutted
out of a raised mound outside the shed. A sign read, " We aim to
please, so you please aim."
morning artillery shelling the nearby hills had started as I met and
greeted two others in attendance. I settled into my place at the end of
the shed thoroughly absorbed in the task at hand. A deafening salvo of
artillery fired in quick succession, th--boom, th--boom, th--boom, th--boom.
To my astonishment, the two blokes alongside of me stood up and did not
even look away from their reading. I was in the process of thinking,
What the bloody hell is wrong with them?"
WHOOSH!!!!! A bloody great rush of air from the pit below just about
lifted me off the seat. I was pleased I was where I was - otherwise
there would have been a very big accident. The stench accompanying the
blast was a secondary factor to be avoided at all costs in the future.
percussion phenomenon was never mentioned to any newcomer: why
deprive oneself of such priceless entertainment. Shockwaves through the
ground from the (105mm?) guns caused an up-rush of air through any open
pit in the near vicinity. My body clock was put forward, permanently,
one hour from that morning on.
Sergeants Mess ‘regulars’ gathered before and after dinner each
night. Their numbers included Brian Quee the unit’s RSM, Mick Swain,
‘Bomber’ Harris, Allen Burgess, Bill Langridge and yours truly. On
odd occasions there would be a visiting journalist or one of the
American Advisors from a neighbouring ARVN post. Nights were pretty
boring; the only musical relief was the never-ending voice of Julie
Andrews hitting the highs of ‘The Sound of Music’, Mick’s
favourite, all night, every night. Something had to be done!
A Sergeant visiting the OR`s mess was pretty much frowned upon,
but, it proved a blessing in disguise for me. One of my electricians,
Cfn Kev Cupitt, made a base from a cardboard box, broom handle and some
twine. Together with Felix Mitchell, someone else playing guitar
accompanied by twenty pseudo ‘Simon & Garfunkel’s (aided by a
renegade from the Sergeants Mess - me), and you had a rowdy
sing-a-long night on your hands. On occasions we even had distinguished
(pissed) visitors from the Officers Mess. Our now fearless Brisbane
Anzac Day march leader, who would wish to remain nameless, (Tom Guivarra)
numbered one of those. Such nights were very popular and kept most of us
the odd occasion we would get intelligence reports stating elements of
VC had been spotted in the area. Fearing a night mortar attack we made
our way into the dug out pits to spend the night with a few scorpions
and whatever else was in there. Two of these reports produced only
sleepless nights, however the third was a tad different. On this
occasion rain teemed down and it was decided to remain in the tents
leaving one of the occupants to keep watch. I shared a tent with Dave
Menzies and John Green, we drew matches for the first watch. John drew
the first, myself second and Dave last watch.
I slept about two hours before waking and sat with John Green at the
tent entrance staring into the pitch-black night and pouring rain. We
spoke in whispers; suddenly artillery fire boomed propelling shells with
a whoosh like that of a low flying jet over our heads. As I turned
around, all I could see was an armed figure outlined by flares fired to
spot any VC. My weapon was cocked and loaded. It was pointed in the
‘figure’s’ direction when I heard;
-- Hell! What’s going
on?" It was Dave’s voice, I froze, feeling for the safety, it was
off. I never told Dave how close he came to being shot that night, and
for that matter, my near miss murder charge.
were spotted at the fence near the Engineers workshop setting up
mortars. The Engineers opened up with rifle fire and the Kiwi’s
artillery opened up in that direction over the top of our heads. Shits
were trumps that night; I believe they got the VC and their mortars.
very next night, prior to the evening meal, Bill Langridge and I were
leaning on the bar of the Sergeant’s Mess discussing the past event,
amongst other things. Bill spotted a bottle of Ron Rico Rum long
decorating the top shelf.
We’re going to ‘knock that off’ tonight, after last night I want
to be happy or non compos when I go”, he declared.
had a little pre dinner practice run before seriously setting about the
task at hand. We were 700ml into the 750ml bottle before staggering out
the door at an extremely late hour. All lights were out, everybody was
long gone, rain pelted ceaselessly in the pitch-blackness. Not ideal
conditions for our wobbly trek home through exceedingly slippery red
mud. ‘Clever’ innovation of our ‘weapons as walking sticks’
proved futile as support for our rubbery dysfunctional legs resulting in
frequent falls with riotous gut-rending laughter.
was in marginally better condition than me and led us to the entrance of
my line of tents bidding good night at the same time giving me a push to
get a run up. I made it about five metres then straight into a trench
full of water and red mud. My cries for help woke everybody in hearing
distance. Dave appeared at the entrance with gun in hand aimed in my
direction. John Green yelled,
only Ginman, he’s pissed. Leave the little bastard there." They
didn’t - thank God. (I checked the safety next day, it was on, but I
spent a great deal of time cleaning the weapon).
is hell! Yes, there was one going on and the aircraft were in constant
use. Spares were becoming a problem to obtain through regular channels.
So it was time to look for irregular channels. Occasionally on my one
day off I would get a lift down to Vung Tau on the regular run to spend
some time with my RAAF mates at 9 Sqn. I mentioned the problem to Gerry
Burton my ex Apprentice mate.
the Yanks here have got the biggest store of spare parts in the world
for anything. Where do you think we get a lot of our stuff for the
Iroquois? I’ll take you
down there now ". With that we jumped in the Land Rover and in ten
minutes pulled up in front of a huge hangar.
Americans flew the O-1 Bird Dog, a similar aircraft to the Cessna. The
guy behind the counter was at first reluctant to help, but it is amazing
how persuasive a carton of Aussie beer can be. Two cartons got Gerry and
myself behind the counter and along the lines of spare parts neatly
stowed on shelves reaching to the roof. An hours search for stuff I had
listed proved very fruitful. Now if you thought that was thieving, you
are dead right. That afternoon I returned to the Task Force with two
banana boxes full of spares, neatly packaged and identified by part
numbers to make the job even easier. ‘Bush Mush’ never enquired as
to how I came by all these spares. I would never have told him.
another trip to Vung Tau I had spent a very pleasant day at the
Sergeants Mess, but a pre-arranged birthday party for one of the boys
ran a little over time. The trip back to the Task Force Area via the
village of Baria, a distance of approximately 30 kilometres, normally
took thirty-five minutes if you were in a hurry. A curfew was in force
at the time, and all traffic on the road had to be cleared by 5pm.
After that you were subject to all sorts of interrogation by
South Vietnamese "Cowboys" enforcing roadblocks. The
"Cowboys" dressed in an all black uniform and wore the
equivalent of a Texas 10 gallon hat. You could never trust these
enforcers who were always open to all sorts of corruption. Sometimes
they were VC sympathisers and other times South Vietnamese sympathisers,
you never knew which.
our return time before curfew cut short our driver now had barely twenty
minutes for the trip. Full
of enough ‘Dutch courage’ to attempt the run in record time we
passed through three control points in the process of setting up
road-blocks. With 10kms to go we were on the base side of Baria when we
passed the last roadblock.
was running out fast, as the speed of the Land Rover increased there
were two "thunks" in its side. With only a kilometre to go we
felt home and hosed. Another ‘thunk’, a rear tyre hit, we kept going
making it inside the gates just two minutes late.
guards, seeing the fast-approaching cloud of dust, guessed what and who
it was. It wasn’t until we jumped out and saw two bullet holes in the
side of the Land Rover and one in the tyre that I realised how restless
the natives can be.
from our normal twice weekly correspondence, I was able to actually talk
to Joan through a radio phone link up on one occasion. It was not good
news, in spite of hearing her beautiful voice. She was required to go
into hospital for surgery as soon as possible. Moves were in progress to
have me sent home. That was the good news. Father Clancy, the RAAF
Chaplain at Garbutt Townsville, was searching for me all over South East
Asia taking a week to track me down. It was nice to feel wanted, the
RAAF at Garbutt did not know where the hell I was, they had to ask Joan.
mate ‘Bush Mush’ was not going to let me go, the Army had no
replacement for me. Contacting the Commanding Officer at 9 Sqn I told
him what was going on. The problem was soon fixed other than obtaining
clearances from 9 Sqn at Vung Tau and 161 (Indep) Recce Flight, a
standard service procedure. 2nd Lieutenant Tom Guivarra was in earshot
when I announced the news to all the troops around the flight desk. Tom,
a Cessna 180 pilot, was on his way to Vung Tau. He offered me a lift
down to get my clearances and would wait to bring me back. The flight
down was uneventful and my mind flooded with thoughts of Joan and the
children and how it would only be days before seeing and holding them. I
was on top of the world, metaphorically speaking.
were obtained in record time at 9 Sqn and I did not forget to thank the
CO for quietening ‘Bush Mush’ down. He assured me he had more pull
in the Service than my ‘mate’ thought he had.
he said, "You are in the RAAF not the Army." I was not sure
after six months in the rubber plantation.
was late in the afternoon when Tom & I took off from Vung Tau for
Nui Dat. Once out of Vung Tau airspace he lowered altitude to about 10
feet over the paddy fields. He looked at me and just grinned.
I would give you a closer look at South Vietnam before you go
got that funny feeling in the posterior again with visions of Joan and
the children at my funeral. "Thanks you bastard." I replied.
The Cessna banked with the wing tip almost touching the ground. If that
wasn’t enough he flew the thing along a river with the tops of the
trees now higher than we were.
your eyes peeled for any VC sampans or movement. We may as well have a
look while we are here", he said.
opened my eyes only to see a bridge spanning the river loom towards us
at the same height. The Cessna then stood on its tail as we gained
height quick time. He laughed into the headset, "Can’t have you
getting hit by artillery fire before you go home." We then made our
descent into Nui Dat. Was I ever glad to see the place again, believe it
or not! Thanks Tom.
arrangements were made for my return to Australia, it was a case of get
home the best way you can. So it was with mixed
feelings that I stood with my suitcase in the Air Movements hut
alongside the tarmac of Nui Dat on the 17th October 1967.
Caribou of Wallaby Airlines was due on its way to Vung Tau hopefully
with enough room for me, and one suitcase. The first part of my
homebound hitchhike was successful and I said goodbye to Nui Dat
spending the night farewelling my mates at the Sergeants Mess at Vung
Tau, I hitched a ride on a RAAF Hercules of 38 Sqn to Darwin with an
overnight stop in Butterworth Malaysia where I caught up with friends in
Penang. It felt very strange being back there after only a short time
was disturbed that night, interrupted by thoughts of seeing my family in
only a few hours. With a 6am Butterworth departure the Hercules
touched down in Darwin on the morning of the 18th October where I kissed
the ground. I raced over to the Movements Section of RAAF Darwin to find
out what my chances were of getting across to Townsville as soon as
Hercules was going through to Richmond, which put me further away from
Townsville, and I was short on time before Joan’s hospitalisation. The
Movements Sergeant could not believe where I had come from, in fact he
had never heard of Nui Dat. There was a slight chance of getting to
Rockhampton on a Pommy Argosy, transporting Malayan troops there for
exercises at Shoalwater Bay. It was due in tomorrow but he did not know
if there was room on it. The Hercules was due to depart and I had to
make a decision whether to go with it or stay and wait for the Argosy. I
I phoned Joan to tell her where I was and would see her tomorrow
sometime. She was waiting for me to arrive home to look after the
children before going to hospital. I did not tell her, there was only a
slight chance, of getting on the plane to Rockhampton. I found a bed for
the night in a spare room in the Sergeant’s quarters and
freshened up before making my way to the Mess. I was acclimatising to
Australian conditions at the bar when joined by some Sergeant who asked
a lot of questions. He too had never heard of Nui Dat, where had these
people been the last two years? This was really some great homecoming,
nobody gave a rats. This would not be the last time I would encounter
this attitude. That wait for the Argosy was the longest wait in my life. Eventually
it did arrive: it was full. Approaching the Captain with my plight, he
agreed to take me if there was a spare seat - I found one by pushing in
alongside one of the smaller ‘surprised’ Malayans, oddly enough he
failed to find his seat belt – it was securely wrapped around me!
Argosy departed Darwin and landed in Rockhampton about the same time as
an Ansett Electra prop jet landed bound for Townsville. I made the
ticket counter in time to see the Electra taxi on to the runway for
take-off. I would have to wait another day.
checked into a pub and phoned Joan, she was almost in tears and so was
I. However, at least I was on the same side of the continent now and
only a few hours away. I was booked on the early morning flight the next
day and would be home before lunch. And that is how it happened.
Home. ’Bush Mush’s’ face had faded from my life - I thought.
a few drinks at the Sergeants mess with mates the day of my discharge
from the RAAF after 20 years service, a tap on my shoulder brought
“Bush Mush’ and I face to face again, just 15 months since our last
Pete, joining civilian life are you? Let me buy you a beer”. We
chatted briefly, he shook my hand, wished me well and walked away. Our
paths have not crossed since, but it would be fine if they did.
MOST POIGNANT NUI DAT MEMORIES!
The thunder of 9 Sqn. Iroquois helicopters arriving to pick up
‘Grunts’ to take them on patrol, a Sunday morning ritual. Even now,
some thirty years on, the sound of one of these ‘choppers’ floods
back memories of this event.
The young age of the Nashos conscripted into the Army. Their
average age was about twenty.
Artillery firing into the Long Hai hills to pin down the VC and
thinking, "some poor bastard at the other end of that will cop it
Our unending struggle against the red dust and mud to keep
equipment and ourselves clean.
The smell of the rubber plantation during the wet season.
Mick Swain and his nightly dose of Julie Andrews and the Sound of
The ablution and toilet facilities.
The dedication to the tasks of ground crew and the wizardry of
the Army pilots both fixed and rotary wing, to fly in conditions
unsuitable to even walk in.
The homesickness and loneliness away from loved ones.
My flight with Tom Guivarra.
My hitchhike trip home.
Meeting some of the men I served with at Nui Dat, thirty three
years later at the Possum 35 Reunion at Caloundra, Queensland, on 18th,
19th, and 20th August 2000.
Receiving a friend’s gift: a 161 Recce Flight beret and badge,
after 33 years in 2000.
Feeling comfortable at last to join, for the first time the Anzac
Day March in 2001.
Speaking to primary school children (in my granddaughter’s
class) about my Vietnam involvement, as part of the school’s
commemoration of Anzac Day.
Calder | Tom
Jobling | Peter
Nolan | John
Stead | Eddie