161 Reccelections  


Home       Notice Board      Links       

Peter Ginman (RAAF) 

Peter served with 161 (Indep) Recce Flt from May 67 until Oct 67. He was the Sgt Elec Fitter during his time in the Unit.


Following 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?  

Yep, as soon as you’re on top of the world --- some bastard strikes.

This 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."

My 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:

“Serge I think you had best come up here and see me or the boss so we can sort this out.”

"Well, where the bloody hell am I supposed to be going anyway?" I demanded.

"You’re posted to 9 Sqn and attached to 161 (Independent) Recce Flight."

It all sounded strange, I had never heard of 161 (Indep) Recce Flight.

"Where’s that?"

"Canberra, I think Serge”.

"I’m 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 Room.

Screeching 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.

"Pete, settle down a minute, it’s not as bad as you think" Mick said.

See, I knew ‘the two-striped interferer’ had got it all wrong. "So what’s going on Mick?" 

He continued, "161 (Indep) Recce Flight is short of Army NCO’s in the trades and want us to help them out."

I interrupted, " Mick, where the bloody hell are they?"

Pausing, he peered over his glasses "They are at Nui Dat …… in Vietnam."

All 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).

Flight Sergeant Mick Crummy continued, “You are posted to 9 Sqn at Vung Tau and attached to 161 (Indep) Recce Flight at Nui Dat”.

I think I said "Oh Shit”.

I heard a voice say "When am I supposed to be there?"

"13th May " he replied.

Plans 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.

To 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 them out.

Further 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.

On 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.

Three 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.

While 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!

Once 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.

"Bull shit mate", I thought to myself.

‘Bush 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.

By 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 experience."

He nearly choked, on his parting word, "Dismissed! "

‘Bush 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.

The 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.

The 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." 

The 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.

This 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.

The 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 sane.

On 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.

Anyway, 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; 

"F#$K@&N -- 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.

VC 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.

The 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.

We 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.

Bill 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,

"It’s 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).

War 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.

"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.

The 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.

On 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.

With 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.

Time 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.

The 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.

Apart 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.

My 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.

Clearances 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.

“Besides” he said, "You are in the RAAF not the Army." I was not sure after six months in the rubber plantation.

It 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.

"Thought I would give you a closer look at South Vietnam before you go home".

I 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.

"Keep your eyes peeled for any VC sampans or movement. We may as well have a look while we are here", he said.

I 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.

No 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.

A 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 forever.

After 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 away.

Sleep 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 possible.

The 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 stayed.

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!

The 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.

I 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.

Welcome Home. ’Bush Mush’s’ face had faded from my life - I thought.

Enjoying 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 meeting.

“G’day 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.


*   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 ---- hopefully."

*   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 Music.

*   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.


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

[Return to Top]

Home   Unit History   Key Appointments   Nominal Roll   Honours & Awards   In Memoriam   Unit Aircraft   

Luscombe Airfield   161 Library   161 Reccelections   Photo Gallery   Possum PX   161 Membership   161 Recce Sqn   

161 Branch Contacts   Notice Board   Possums AWOL   Links