| Left: An aerial view of Nui Dat showing “The Hill” at centre, Kanga Pad top left and Luscombe airstrip to right. Note the foliage denuded by the herbicide Agent Orange around the camp. Outside perimeter of the camp was about 12km.
The rest of the day is spent doing our march-in procedures and getting settled into our tent accommodations. They’re simple but they keep the rain out and let whatever breeze is available through. Sandbags have been stacked around every tent as a precaution against mortar attack, and a covered trench is situated just outside the entrance for extra protection. It would have to be a dire circumstance indeed to want to get down into one of them though. Who knew what was living down there in these things!
|Right: Nui Dat is situated to the NE of the then and now city of Ba Ria in the heart of Viet Cong territory. Other Australian forces were located at a logistics base at Vung Tau on the coast to the SW.
| Left: Tented accommodation at Nui Dat. Sandbagged walls are lined with corrugated iron. A sandbagged overhead protection pit can be seen at centre left.
| Right: Home Sweet Home.
| Left: The old neighbourhood.
My mate Dave “Eddie” Edwards and I change into our field green uniforms, already profusely sweating from the heat and humidity. We then start assembling our DP1 field webbing, field gear and taking a good, first inspection of our rifles.
Some of the older hands drop by to say g’day, introduce themselves and give us a couple of tips. The main points are meal and boozer times. As we work the regular throb of helicopters coming and going from nearby Kanga Pad was to become something of a feature we’d have to get used to. We were also to get used to the sharp cracking noise as nuts exploded off the rubber trees in their bid to propagate more trees. If one hit you it could cause a bit of a sting.
Left: The main track leading up from the Radio Tp Lines to the OR’s – Other Ranks Mess seen at left, through the rubber trees.
After the evening meal Eddie and I make our way to the boozer. It had been named the Abraham Club after one of the men in this unit who had been killed in action. All up 104 Sig Sqn lost 4 soldiers killed during the war. There may have been 8 or so others from the Royal Australian Signals (RASigs) Corps killed. In 2013 the unit still exists and it’s nice to know that the name for the soldiers boozer is still called the Abraham Club.
Right: The Abraham Club
Alcohol consumption is supposed to be limited to 2 cans per man per day. But someone is always on duty somewhere so those not on duty can often squeeze in another can or two. The night is rolling along quite well. Eddie and I are beginning to get acquainted with some of the men when suddenly some sirens start. Out go the lights.
One of our newly met brethren Barabas calls urgently, “Stand-To! …… follow me…. quick!”.wa Not being totally new to the concept of what a stand-to was we dutifully follow him as he ducks and weaves his way down to the tent line in total darkness, jumping from tree to tree with us following his example. I wonder briefly what on earth we are getting into and neither of us yet had a clue where the perimeter trenches were, but eventually we reach them.
Barabas dives into one of the trenches urgently whispering, “Get in here…quickly .. Quick …..!” Eddie in his haste jumps into the nearest trench a little too quickly, badly twisting his knee in the process. Under the circumstances it might have been acceptable except everyone nearby starts guffawing. Some ribald comments about reo’s (new reinforcements) and sniggering keep coming as they start climbing out of the trench to sit on the edge and commence lighting up cigarettes. We’d been set up.
A warning hiss comes along the line. Smokes get snuffed out and blokes get back into the trenches as one of the Sergeants came along the line. After he’d left we all sit back up on the edge of the trench, listen as the artillery blasts out next door to us and watch the glow of parachute flares floating down to earth in the distance.
Left: Standard perimeter fighting pit with discarded helmet on the bottom.
Right: Russ returning to tent
Over succeeding days we reo’s are soon allocated to various detachments. I had hoped to get into one attached to an Infantry Battalion but it was not to be. I found myself reporting to the Comsec – Communications Security Bunker for comsec monitoring duties. Corporal Graham Woodfield was my Det Comdr – Detachment Commander. My job was to listen across friendly radio frequencies and report any breaches of voice security or radio procedures. I also had to maintain a watch on an encrypted voice radio link to our American allies. We knew the enemy were always listening in to our transmissions, so altogether it’s a necessary job which might help prevent someone getting killed, but pretty boring stuff actually.
|Left: Diggers heading out to the bush and jungles in choppers is an almost daily occurrence:
Eddie in the meantime gets tasked to do an SDS – Signals Despatch Service run. He reported to the Commcen – Communications Centre, picked up a bag of signal messages and then boarded an Iriquois helicopter to deliver them to some outpost or other. The chopper was full so the Loadmaster told him to sit on the floor. During the journey at one point the pilot for some reason maybe known only to himself laid the chopper steeply over onto it’s side. Eddie’s rifle which had been sitting comfortably on the floor, to Eddies chagrin immediately slid out the door and disappeared from view.
The Loadmaster informed the pilot who circled around the paddy field below before flaring down to just above the water so that Eddie could jump out, search for and retrieve his weapon. All good so far… except that as soon as Eddie hits the water the chopper takes off leaving him to take new stock of his situation, unarmed, alone in a paddy field, potential hostiles around. The chopper continues to circle the area though. They are highly vulnerable to ground fire while stationary, and can give cover to Eddie should he have needed it. But the rifle was found, Eddie completed his SDS run and had a story to tell that night in the boozer.
I’m not sure but I think Eddie was eventually sent to the Artillery unit where among other duties of manning the radio on the Task Force Operations Net, he also had to man the telephone switchboard for that unit. Things settled pretty much into a routine. No days off. You are either on duty or resting. Spare time is filled with washing clothes, reading or grabbing a can or two at the boozer when you can, and spending a bit of time in the perimeter trenches when the Stand-To sirens go off.
Right: One of the machine-gun posts centre photo.
Occasionally I’d pull shifts manning one of the unit Machine Gun Posts overlooking Kanga Pad.To pass the time I’d watch the twinkling lights of fireflys in the nearby bushes. Now and then I’d toss a pebble at the bush and the lights would all blink out before tentatively coming back. Somewhat odd to be distracted by such pretty lights and thoughts of nature while the guns of the artillery would often crash out their song of death to people out in the darkness. Nothing to complain about though compared to the poor buggers we often saw taking off in the choppers from Kanga Pad heading out into the bushes. Although having said that, there was always the chance some of us would be selected to go out on a Task Force Patrol.