161 Reccelections  


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Tom Jobling


A tour of duty always started with some administrative activity that cranked up the wheels of progress. Mine was no different, except that it took six months in the hatching of the plot. Jungle Training Centre (JTC) in November 68, with a departure set for early March 69.

 I’ll start with JTC: My appointed day of arrival was marred by the uncompromising ability of Porter Aircraft to “loose” their BETA function. As trade NCO for type at the time my road departure was exchanged for a later departure by chopper. This was fine by me; fly in instead of road from Amberley to Enoggera then more bumps to Canungra. WRONG!!! On arrival a staff car was despatched to collect the “Officer” who had just flown in. Out of chopper steps Cpl. Tom with bush gear for a DP1 training course. The driver looked down his Private Soldier’s nose, sneered and drove off. I walked the 2K to the bush camp! It got worse - I was late and I was flown in - boy what a way to start DP1 training! {For Bob C - JTC was a place you tried to avoid believe me on that!}. 

The next step on the journey began in late February ‘69 with movement to 3MD Enoggera for DP1 processing. Oooppps! All of a sudden I am found to have a loss of hearing in one ear and down graded from FE to CZE. Nui Dat is an FE area. Messages flew in all directions while I sat and wondered what all the fuss was about. I could still do the job I was required to do! This lasted for 3 weeks. Geoff Moller was getting up tight with me also by now as he couldn’t get home until it was sorted out and his wedding day was approaching fast. Finally on Friday 19 March I’m returned to Amberley - NOT GOING TO VIETNAM! Well that was on Friday. On presenting to the orderly room on Monday morning I was met by one Major Peter (Bush Mush) Robinson. He bellows, “You’re 5000 miles too far south”!!  “Off home, kiss your wife good-bye and be on the train to Sydney on Wednesday”! That was that, I was going to the "Funny Farm".  

It was the only time in my entire Army career that my wife cracked up with the system. The uncertainty for three weeks, the definitely not going, and then the change of situation. I departed as instructed this time - no chopper flight I can assure you.

 By now I was a Sergeant, who had not yet had a beer with other Aviator types! Luck smiled then as (Peefer) Paul Lidster was also to fly out on the same day. We spent five days in Sydney and the following 371 days of active service together.  

I did see Geoff Moller before he left country - We passed on the tarmac at Saigon. We shook hands with him saying to me- “I’m glad to see you - poor bastard- nobody has 365 to go”!

My arrival at Nui Dat came late in the afternoon of 1 April 1969. I knew then that I had been taken for a ride! No air-conditioned mess hall. No sealed roads. No hot and cold running water- I should have stayed on the C123 in protest!!  

Anyhow, I had a tent with Snow Baxter, Doc Wilkins and another air traffic controller (John?). But I had a foxhole to myself - complete with spiders and all kinds of other creepies.

A quick rundown of the site will probably help.

The old hangar amongst the rubber trees, the orderly room just above the embankment. The CO’s tent out the back, behind the Cessna park, and the PSP chopper pad complete with dust or mud, depending on the time of year.  

A long strip of asphalt heading about North/South I think it was; with a funny “Bitches Box” atop a set of vertical stairs, located about halfway along the tarmac. Gordon Krause seemed to spend a lot of time up there, so did Snow and John for that matter. Doing what only God knows.

Harry Benson was the Flight Commander, Stu (Scattered Aces) Curnow the Workshop OC; Keith Scott (the truest gentleman I have ever met) the ASM and Alf Smith the CSM. Following a briefing and introductions to those who seemed to count Keith took Paul and I off to the Mess for a beer and “orientation” of the area. We had a quiet night, no incoming and little outgoing. The Arty. H&I next morning got me though.

The first couple of months don’t hold anything significant in my mind. Errol Driver was there and attracting more than his fair share of attention. Was it his fault that the Cessna slid from one revetment to the other? Was it his fault that every young soldier that ever wanted to “get up there” seemed to draw Driver as the pilot? Was it his fault that “Chicken” with graders seemed fun? The Brig. Didn’t see it in the same light though.

Later along came Damien (Damien Aird) C180 pilot and terminator of all wars!! Some of the things this boy wanted on his 180 would frighten the weapons designers for Star Wars! Between him and Errol they cost us 3 sets of brass tubes in as many weeks. “You catch it and I’ll pull the release”! What happened - No don’t pull the release - flick the switch and JETTISON!!! Crash, bang, Ahhhhh! F*&^$#@.

Trouble was that set had HE up the spout. Barry Donald produced some memorable moments with his weaponry also. I‘ll say one thing - it was impressive when he achieved a good delivery.

The chopper pilots were a little less bazaar. Frank Markcrow, Peter Bysouth and Bill (The Fat Arsed Chicken) Flanagan (NZ Army) being the ones I mostly flew with in the early months. These chaps had three things going for them. They were: 

1.     Married,

2.     Cultured, and

3.     Enjoyed real flying (Rotary Winged defiance of gravity)!!

The workshop operations and the quality of fitters I had made my life relatively easy and I found I had time to get out and about on missions. Even to the extent of first lights and last light recces. Boredom seemed to not be a problem for me. Then some of the memorable things started happening. 

NIGHT GUNSHIPS with Frank Markcrow and Bill Flanagan. We needed 1200 rounds to make a fair showing - yeah, great, we also needed fuel to get there, stay there, and of course get back! Frank + Tom + 1X M60 + 1200 rounds + fuel equals not enough grunt to lift off. OK; Skid her to translation - up and away. Ten minutes into the flight we will have burned off fuel and everything’ will be normal!!  Great!! It worked.

It was around this time that I found out who the new CO was to be. During one of these exciting take offs the comment was made by another pilot on air - “Harry probably doesn’t mind that but Bone Dome sure as hell will freak out”!! I thought Major Graeme Hill - Smith was due in. So - Who the hell is this Bone Dome?? I found out soon enough.

A new OC, a new outlook and I must say a re-vitalised 161 (Indep) Recce Flt became home for the pilots, fitters and the assorted rouse-abouts it takes to run an operational unit.

Then came the Porters: A14-680; 681 and 686 arrived on HMAS Sydney. The original idea was to air lift the fuselages to Nui Dat under a Chinook. Great idea! Unfortunately the empennage hard point was not that “hard” and 680 got a sever structural wound. Abort the airlift. Unload and tow the fuselages to 9 Sqn hangar and we will assemble the other two (681 & 686) there. This was affected without incident. 

Don “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life” Collins supervised the fitting of the main planes while Paul Lidster got other airframe things organised. I got on with de-inhibiting the engines along with Wayne Maudsley and Brin Calder; while the queer trades did what ever it was they had to do.

The next exciting bit of Porter arrival came two days later when I was to ground run 681 with Brin Calder.  Everyone turned out; we even had a news team there. I got 681 fired up and made all the necessary Porter noises. Then it was time to go to power! As I opened the taps the compounded corrosion on the disc pads let go - we stepped over the chocks and rolled onto the taxi way: Upending the photographer in the process. A caribou was also taxiing so I picked up the power lever, slipped into reverse and got the photographer on the way back! I don’t think we had much news coverage of that event.

Life settled down again and the Porters worked well on ops. Being new we seemed to have a lot of missionary flights to the Fire Support Bases and various headquarters. Following one of these Don got sick of being embarrassed and hatched the idea that the Porters in their matt paint were lifeless and “embarrassing” so “We’ll polish it” says he. Sunday morning there were Don Collins, John Digweed, Peefer Lidster and TomJ polishing A14-681!!! Ooooopppsss!! Ever seen drab paint with auto polish on it - it goes YUK WHITE!! Now we had a cause to be embarrassed.

We lost 686 within a short time of arrival. I think we all know enough of that incident for me not to embellish it here. 

The framies did a terrific job of repairing 680. I wonder if the present owners know she had the rear end almost torn off in 1969?

Early in my tour a young pilot (who shall remain nameless) forgot what type he was flying and buggered A98-044 at Blackhorse. “I got the master switch and fuel off before she hit mate!!!”  He advised me on return to the Dat. 

In March 1970 John Digweed and a FNP managed to total A1-635 for us. That was my last incident investigation in country.

During my last weeks I won several cans from one of our pilots who never able to start his chopper early in the morning. He did find out why on my last day of duty crew before heading home. Thanks for the tinnies! 

When my time was up it became almost as difficult to get home as it had been getting there. Firstly Peefer’s and my seats on the freedom bird were reallocated. You’ll have to stay a while smiled John Digweed - knowing the events of my getting there. I then discovered a C130 (RAAF) heading out of Vung Tau two days later. Get on it so I can promote Stork (Deacon) were Digweeds’ words. So I did, with Peefer and 15 Tankies. We departed Vung Tau about 1100 hours long looping to Butterworth for a one-night stopover. WRONG - by the time we arrived at Butterworth the North Vietnamese Army had invaded Cambodia and our C130 was the only Australian aircraft in the area, for a possible evacuation of about 120 Embassy women and children. We spent five days at Butterworth. 

The RAAF were magnificent, they arranged all kinds of activities for us and nothing seemed too much trouble (except getting another C130). We arrived in Australia about a week late, spent a night in Darwin and arrived at Mascot about 3.30 pm. Oooopppsss! (Again) our domestic flights left several days ago and the movement’s people knew nothing of our arrival! We finally got it all sorted out and I arrived home at Wacol, unannounced at 12:15 am after flying on the last flight from Sydney to Brisbane that day.

What a flight. Three paying passengers and the other 40 odd cabin seats taken by replacement crews for next morning. I had the pleasure of having Sir Reginald Ansett for company. But that’s another story.

I’ll summarise with some of my “Most Memorable Moments”!

Most Memorable:

Fixed Wing flight - First light recce with Errol Driver. Errol - “Road Block!!” - 161 Ops. “Where?” - Errol - “Phuoc Tuy province! - Well that’s as near as I can get at the moment!”

Chopper flight - Mid afternoon recce into the Long Hai’s with Allan Jellie - We copped a bit of ground fire, scampered home to find Allan’s’ biro had been chopped in half. It was located in the left sleeve socket of his Nomex! He was killed a few weeks later. 

Porter flight - To Saigon (Pilot forgotten but could have been Maj Hill-Smith) listening to air traffic when a Phantom pilot called in -“Mayday - I’ve taken a SAM - request straight in”! Pause: Control - “You are number 11 in the emergency pattern”.

Chopper Maintenance event - A Sioux D6 X Engine change service completed and test flown serviceable (by Bill Flanagan) in less than eight hours. The Brig. came over that afternoon for a look around and asked Stu Curnow what was going on. Here is a chopper literally crawling with people. Stu’s response - “Oh - just some routine maintenance sir”. 

Fixed wing maintenance event - Flooding carby on a Cessna (144 I think) - TJ “fixed it with a couple of well placed clouts from a hard faced hammer” - the Brig got out and left; he “had other important things to do”!

Social event - Playing host unit to the Australian entertainment troop mid 69.

Scavenge - Getting the Air Conditioner for the Sergeants Mess with Keith Scott. What a dealer he was! I am proud to say he was my friend!

Near miss - Early morning test flight in a Sioux with “The FAC”. We finished the test requirement and Bill suggested we find out “how high one of these things can go”. Up we went to about 5,700 ft where lift equalled weight. Having established this useless piece of information we Auto’d back to the Dat. Straight down! At about 600ft we saw a Cessna lining up on finals - over the rubber, coming in from the other direction was another Cessna! I believe the “stunt” was planned but unfortunately an in flight Sioux was not considered in the planning.

Night action - With Frank Markcrow as a Light Gun Ship. We were outbound when a Mohawk flying about 60ft above us passed directly overhead. Neither of us had lights on. We didn’t see him; until he was overhead - I don’t think he saw us at all. Both Frank and I ducked our heads, I can assure you. The following in cockpit conversation and language is unrepeatable.

Money - Wondering why a change of MPC script should cause so many haggard faces. I found out during my tour of duty. It’s amazing how the colour of the script can determine its worth.

UD - Snow Mullins in the old hangar with his smoking SLR and that look of “Oh shit - 500 bags here I come!!!!~!” Errol Driver’s was pretty good also!

Expression from the OC - Major H-S one day watching a Sioux take off. It flew right overhead and looking UP one could see where Snow Mullins had struck again. There was a bloody great PEACE SIGN painted on the cabin controls access panel. Major H-S; rolling eyes snarled- “Get It Off!!!” Oh, we all knew what he meant.

Field repair- Possum Niner (Hill-Smith) on a mission called in reporting that his chopper had a “twitch”. I suggested he put it down somewhere safe and call back. He had FSB Drake in sight so that was it. Following a bit of back and forth communication I decided we should change the right magneto. I flew out with all the gear in a chopper piloted by (Rock & Roll) Bob Thompson, who promptly left for a fire support mission. The Major wasn’t around so I set to and changed the magneto, ground run the bird and confirmed it serviceable. Just as I closed down the Major arrived on the scene and asked “How long you been here Sgt? “About 20 minutes sir” is the reply. “Oh-did you know that we have been under attack for the past 40 or so minutes”? “No”! Anyhow I got to meet my former Artillery Battery Captain, a Major now and still a gentleman (Thompson was his name).

Frustrating event - Trying to rationalise the loss of A14-686. (This one is still with me today).

Well - “So What”.  That’s how it was!!

By the way “The Odd Angry Shot” ends the same way!


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

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