Saigon

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In due course I’m selected to go to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) as part of a Guard Detachment.  We are to guard what is colloquially known as the Hotel Canberra, which accommodates Aussie soldiers who work in Saigon.This task is apparently shared by most units at Nui Dat and now it’s our turn.For this job we’ll need our best ceremonial greens, so we pull out our best green uniforms and iron them up. Also locate and polish our mouldy black, web belts from the bottom of the storage trunk, clean the brass buckles and spit polish our best boots. If I remember rightly we had two sets of boots and always kept a good set of “greens”.The day to go soon comes and we dutifully climb into the Caribou aircraft arranged for us, and take off for Saigon.

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Above and Left: Views of the country from a window of a Caribou aircraft.

On landing at Ton San Nhut airport we are taken by bus through the city in the rain to some Headquarters or other.  We are required to wait …. and wait…. in true Army fashion, at the back of the building.

svn53Right: Street scene in Saigon. Motor cycles are the most common form of transport. Typical civilian accommodation in the background.
svn54Left: One of the many monuments showing an heroic Army of the Republic of Viet Nam – ARVN. They were all destroyed by the communists at the fall of Saigon.
svn55Left: Typical svn56Saigon street scene. The ubiquitous white-topped taxi at right, street stall on footpath, a pedi-cab and crowded housing behind.

 

Right: Pagoda on the left hand side of the bus.

Below Left: Waiting to be taken to the Hotel Canberra, where we will begin our guard duties.  From Left: Don Mackerson, Laurie (unknown), Russ Swan and (unknown).

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Right: Don standing at the back fence in front of a row of apartments behind the wire.

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Left: Grabbing a quick drink.

 

Right: Unknown fellow guard member.

svn62Above: Part of the Canberra Hotel where Aussie diggers working in Saigon were accommodated.
Eventually we arrive at the so-called Canberra Hotel. We are confronted with a building protected on the outside with a wire cage which extends to either side, and up to the second floor. The purpose of this I guess is to stop any thrown explosive such as a grenade or satchel. The driveway entrance was closed and sandbagged with the only access being through a pedestrian side gate.We were to learn why this was necessary in the next few days. This would be home for the next week.
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We are told to find an empty bunk upstairs, then report back downstairs for a briefing. At the briefing we received detailed instructions on what we are required to do, guard rosters and meal timings and local leave whilst off duty.Our task was to make sure nobody lingered out the front of the premises. If anyone stops we are required to give them a blast on a whistle. Sometimes they stopped.  Perhaps deliberately.  Usually the sound of cocking the gun gets them moving again.
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At least one or two women squatted on the road before me and left behind little puddles.  Their modesty was preserved by the length of the shirt-tops they wear.  Perhaps they were VC – Viet Cong sympathisers.  Perhaps they just needed to pee.  Who knows? You can never tell who the enemy is in this war.The machines guns are the L2A1, which are just a modified version of our standard 7.62mm L1A1 SLR – Self Loading Rifle, which can be set only on semi-automatic mode. This version allows the weapon to to be set to automatic to enable short bursts of fire. It’s also fitted with a bipod on the barrel to steady it.
svn64On one of my day trips outside I’d taken this photo of a local cinema with it’s typical display of billboards announcing current movies.  It’s just 50 metres or so along the same road at the Hotel Canberra. I was again off duty and returning to the hotel. I’d reached the corner across the street when a motor-cycle drove past the cinema carrying a female pillion passenger. I didn’t take any particular notice until I saw the passenger throw something up onto the second floor, and they took off down the street.
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The blast takes me by surprise.  Lots of screaming. Rubble over the road. Immediate thought is that there might be some kind of follow up attack, either by more hand thrown explosives or gunfire. Run across the road as quickly as I can and conscious of my civilian cloths, take care to draw attention and identify myself to the gunners at the front of the hotel, who are now on higher alert.
Nothing else happens. Not much more to see.  The screaming dies down and I go up to my room. The civilians seem to just take this sort of thing in their stride.
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DSC_1071Right: The Hotel Canberra in 2008 at left.  Just to the right is a KFC shop.  This is where the cinema was.

On another day Eddie and I are exploring one of the local vegetable markets.  Lots of people mingling around and it’s difficult to move due to the congestion.  Even though we’re in “civvies” we stick out among the local people like sore thumbs. Out of the crowd in front emerges a man holding a wicked looking knife pointing at us.  He’s not happy. Starts volubly giving us an earful, punctuating his points by waving his knife around. I get it. He doesn’t like us behind here.

Looking around I think I see others moving around the stalls to either side so it’s high time to retreat. Eddie and I about turn and get out of there as fast as we can.  I can hear the man still yelling but his voice drops back. We decide to just get out of the area anyway since we’re not at all sure whether anyone else wants to play pin-the-digger.

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Left:
 Onboard (I think) a Pilatus Porter aircraft for the return flight back to Nui Dat. Sitting on the runway waiting for a Caribou to take off.

Right: This is no joy flight. The rockets on the wings aren’t there for decoration.

For the morsies:  BT   ii   B   ii   K

 

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