Imagine going to a party and the host has no drinks or cigarettes. If you don’t smoke or drink you would only want the food and women if they were on offer, wouldn’t you? Well, this was the case on the particular op.
We were bought into a company harbour position and were to be re-supplied for the next phase of our operation. We would then go into a 15-day ambush without further resup. Let me explain how the re-supply process worked. The 2IC’s of each section would go around each man and ascertain the extent of his needs. This order would then be given to the Platoon Sgt who would compile a list for forwarding to the CSM. He would in turn translate this into what would now be called a maintenance demand, [maintdem.] This would be put into code and radioed to the base, where JR our CQMS [Company Quarter Master Sergeant] would then fill the order package it and place it on the chopper/s to be flown into a designated grid reference. Usually every 10 days. Oh yes, with the re-sup would come fresh milk [devastating to our bowels.] We would dig a hole in the ground, drink our milk and within seconds rapid bowel movements could be heard all around the harbour position. The hamburgers were very much appreciated, thanks to our intrepid cooks. Bare with me a little longer. One of the cooks was breaking his neck to come out on operations with us and kept harassing JR to let him join us. JR finally did let him join Coy HQ. Well that’s when he joined us, suffice to say he never asked to come back out on ops with us again. His curiosity had been well and truly sated.
Now before I tell this story I want to highlight the real situation with our Government of the day, and their avoidance to adequately supply us with the necessary field equipment that would enable us to meet our field obligations. When we arrived in Viet Nam from Singapore most of us had our issue field equipment from Singapore. This kit was well and truly stuffed - my boots were Australian issue with the steel plating [I had purchased these from an old veteran for $20.00 on arrival in Singapore.] To be fair the army did issue us with ankle boots but they were useless in the tropics. My boots were held together with insulation tape. Our field tents were very romantic as at night you could see the stars through the roof and were even better when it rained, as they would act as filters letting the water come through. I guess you are getting the picture.
So, on our very first operational maintdem most of us had put in for much needed replacement field kit. The choppers duly arrived and we were very excited, just like children at Christmas when opening presents. Imagine our disappointment when the kit we asked for did not turn up. The reason. Our intrepid CSM had decided, in his wisdom, we would be better served if we had all this brand new kit given to us prior to returning to Singapore! Well, let me say at this juncture we were not happy campers! Suffice to say ten days later we got what we asked for.
Back to my story - once again our intrepid CSM had missed some very important items off the maintdem, one of them being cigarettes! This particular phase of the operation would require the company to go into ambush positions for 15 days. The reason he overlooked these was, he had forgotten to include them in the maintdem. I also suspect he thought it would be good not to have cigarette smoke giving away our positions? Who knows? However, in the popularity stakes Dick rated [at this point in the tour,] about as popular as pork in a synagogue. So, off we went to our ambush positions a little like the seven dwarves. No Snow White tonight. Dick if you are reading this all was forgiven long ago. For the record, I no longer smoke.
It is now our third day of the ambush, we are in bamboo and my blow up tubes are stuffed as the bamboo spikes lying in the ground have punctured all of them, I am not a happy camper. This incidentally is where Hanks story of the night firing of the claymores and the boss wanting to know 'what’s going on', originated.
When we received our issue of rations, we would get a mix of Aussie, kiwi and American ration packs. The American food packs would have four cigarettes to each meal. Smoking American cigarettes is an acquired taste as their tobacco was always toasted and tasted like crap. Not, of course if that’s the only thing you have to smoke! Most of the boys would give me their yank cigarettes and smoke B&H or Rothmans. Please don’t take this as an endorsement for either brand - it just happened to be what we were used to.
So, I had stored at the bottom of my pack a large collection of American cigarettes. These I issued out to my section when they ran out of theirs. Day four…. desperation is setting in and tempers are running short! The boys are now sneaking out from the ambush position into the jay [jungle] and smoking their last cigarettes. Each of us sniffs the air, "Ah...ha! Trying to smoke on your own you b*****d!" The boys make there way to the guilty lone smoker and suck the guts out of the cigarette. Now we are down to tea leaves wrapped in bamboo bark! On this particular op the CSM nearly got his wish as the company almost [as a whole] quit smoking!
But wait, we are now facing a more devastating dilemma; we are running out of water. You see part of our ration issue was freeze-dried food that could only be reconstituted with…yes, you’re right, water! Pity the poor VC that came our way during that ambush, or our CSM! So, now we had to improvise. We decided to cut the bamboo trunks to leech the water out into our eager mouths! However we discovered that bamboo only draws water up from the ground during the night. So this is how we managed to get water during this op, not much I might add.
Hutch came back to talk to me. You have to understand Hutch was pigeon toed and would trip over his own shadow! Well, I had forgotten this and as he got too close for the safety of my precious liquid his boot knocked over my coffee! He now gave me some of his water and I made him stay and join me, but far enough away not to knock it over again. Wait there’s more. I had just finished making another brew when a C130 over flew our position spraying the area. The oily spray settled on my coffee, however I was not going to miss the pleasure of this cup. So I spooned the oil of the top and we drank the now oily flavored beverage.
We asked the boss to find out what the chemical was? The answer came back that it was mosquito spray! Yes folks, it transpired much further down the track it was the dreaded Agent Orange. Funny thing though some weeks later in that same area the mosquito spray had affected the local foliage and killed off the surrounding vegetation. Ah such is war! Thirty-five years later the Government has finally admitted we were exposed to toxic contaminants! Ha. You know in those days I really trusted our members of parliament to do the right thing by us. But I guess if my father’s long struggle with the powers that be were any indication I should have known better. And politicians wonder why we no longer have any faith in them.
Read more Lloyd Roberton memories here.