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fifth Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment Formation and Preparation for War - An Adjutant's View

© Peter Isaacs
Adjutant 5RAR
1st Tour

Author: Peter Isaacs

5 RAR began to form early in 1965 and was officially raised on 1 March. Although its Commanding Officer was appointed from 1 March, Lt Col Peter Oxley did not arrive until May. Meanwhile, administrative command of the Battalion was exercised by its designated Second in Command (2I/C); Major John Warr who had been the Deputy Assistant Adjutant & Quartermaster General (DAA & QMG) of 1RAR in its Pentropic establishment. DAA & QMG was a designation originating in Victorian times but in reality, it was the chief administrative officer. John had been responsible for all administrative aspects of the reorganisation of 1RAR into a full strength Tropical Establishment Battalion and raising the nucleus of 5RAR.

Basically 5RAR consisted of the old E Company of 1RAR and the surplus ranks of other 1RAR companies including those who were under 19 years of age, unfit or had compelling compassionate reasons for not remaining with 1RAR for their forthcoming tour in South Vietnam. There were sixteen officers and for a short period, I became Officer Commanding D Company situated half a mile up the road from Gallipoli Barracks in a small camp that was then known as Old Holsworthy. This was subsequently to become the HQ of the newly formed 1st Australian Task Force commanded by Brigadier Tim Vincent.

Throughout this article, I refer to John Warr as "John" because it is the name by which I knew him since leaving the Australian Army in 1968 and the subsequent years during which we remained in touch. Sadly, he died in 1999. When he was my Commanding Officer, I referred to John either as "Sir" or as "Colonel". The same applies to the Battalion Second in Command and Company Commanders. In 1966 / 7, to me they were all "Sir".

Apart from D Company, until 1RAR departed for South Vietnam in May, both Battalions shared Gallipoli Barracks. The 200 or so soldiers of 5RAR spent much of their time on routine chores and administrative duties including the provision of guard details at Victoria Barracks in Sydney so as to permit 1RAR to concentrate on training. 1RAR also had an understandable priority on the provision of equipment and facilities. Surprisingly, a problem did arise over the joint occupancy of the officers' mess. Lt Col Lou Brumfield had been the XO (Executive Officer or Second in Command) of 1RAR in its Pentropic guise but had assumed command of 1RAR under its revised Tropical establishment. He and John Warr did not really get on well together, and some ill feeling was reflected in what I thought was a petty attitude adopted by Lou Brumfield over the allocation of resources within the Officers' Mess and the split of the mess funds.

In May, Lt Col Peter Oxley arrived from South Vietnam where he had been Army Attaché, and assumed command of 5RAR. John Warr reverted to being 2I/C. However, it was soon announced that both officers were to be promoted in September ― Peter Oxley to command the new Third Training Battalion to be raised at Singleton to train National Servicemen and John Warr to command 5RAR. Between them, they agreed that John would accept responsibility for all decisions that would affect the Battalion after September. A few new officers arrived but it was not expected that the depleted strength would be made up until later in the year. Interestingly, of the sixteen officers who made up the original 5RAR complement in March 1965, only nine were still with the Battalion when it deployed to South Vietnam the following year and only four in the same jobs. As a further example of the considerable officer turnover which occurred during the first year of the Battalion's life, in November 1965, the total strength was thirty one officers, but of those, only seventeen were still with the Battalion five months later when it deployed to South Vietnam in April 1966. With so many appointments frequently changing, training and continuity were very difficult.

Amongst the early new arrivals was Neville Jackson. Neville had served for 21 years in the Queen's Surrey Regiment of the British Army. His last appointment had been as the RSM of a Battalion of the Kings African Rifles in Uganda. Shortly after the country's independence, the Battalion had mutinied and Neville had coped with a very tricky situation indeed. Neville was accompanied by his wife Elizabeth and four children. Neville didn't accompany us to South Vietnam but left the Army to train for the Anglican Ministry. He re-joined as an Anglican Chaplain and when eventually he left the Army, Neville founded a parish in the small Queensland coastal town of Buderim about 100 miles north of Brisbane. Sadly, Elizabeth died of cancer in 1989 but Neville re-married and might well still be preaching in Buderim.

Selective National Service had been introduced in 1965 and we expected our first conscripts to arrive in October. In April I relinquished command of D Company and became the Intelligence Officer at Battalion HQ. Although it was expected that 5RAR would replace 1RAR in April 1966, the official announcement was not made for many months. Nevertheless, we anticipated that we would have only three months in which to train for war once the Battalion was made up to full strength at the end of the year.

At the first Battalion Parade at which Peter Oxley was in command, he quoted from Shakespeare's Henry V, 111,i

"In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect."

Officers of 5RAR on the dat of 5RAR's Formation Parade

5RAR March Past Formation Parade May 1965I'm not sure how much of Shakespeare's immortal words the majority of the Diggers on parade that day understood, but it so happened that Esso was at the time, promoting sales of its petrol by using a tiger advertising theme ― "put a tiger in your tank". The next day, Gallipoli Barracks was festooned with "tiger tails" collected from Sydney's Esso filling stations. The "Tiger Battalion" was born and some time later, we managed to adopt a real tiger cub at Taronga Park zoo as our mascot and named him "Quintus". We also found a generous patron. Bill Brennan was an enthusiastic collector of model soldiers. He heard of the formation of the Tiger Battalion and offered to provide a tiger skin for the bass drummer of the newly formed Regimental Band. Bill was to remain a true friend and benefactor of 5RAR for many years.

In the absence of a full complement of officers and men, Peter Oxley concentrated on building morale and esprit de' corps. Typical of this was a 24 hour route march involving the whole Battalion ― at that stage no more than about 200 strong. Route marches are usually conducted at the platoon level and are useful in building stamina. The Oxley march involved the whole Battalion marching off down the Hume Highway with "tiger tails" tied prominently to many a rifle barrel. After seven or eight hours, we came to a camp established during the day by a work party. They had built a huge bonfire near the tents; there was no pretence of a typical exercise scenario. Once weLTCOL Oxley with CAPT Isaacs and Maj Miller had eaten and repaired our feet, we slept. There were no night patrols, sentries or the usual defensive measures ― that was for later. The next day the Battalion awoke, had a communal breakfast and headed back to Gallipoli barracks across country following a route that I had previously reconnoitred. It was a simple exercise but it was important in building a unit identity at a time when morale could have slumped disastrously with all attention focused on 1RAR.

On another occasion, Peter Oxley took Neville Jackson and me to the depths of the southern end of the Holsworthy training area. We selected a suitable site for a Battalion attack and Neville was told to build some makeshift huts as the objective. We decided on all the routes the companies would take towards the objective, the forming up places and start lines for attack. Peter Oxley's aim was that there would be no cock ups, everything would proceed smoothly. Once again, he was building morale and despite our inexperience as a unit, we would carry out the attack without problems and be pleased with our success. It ran contrary to conventional military wisdom where training begins with the individual training of soldiers and gradually moves up through platoon to company and finally to Battalion level training. We were ignoring individual and sub unit skills and concentrating instead on building the idea of a Battalion. It was very much like teaching primitive tribesmen how to shoot (as I was to learn much later ― different army, different war). You first of all stand the trainee so close to the target that when he fires the weapon, he cannot miss. He is then gradually moved back, hitting the target each time he fires from a greater distance. The aim is to build the man's confidence in his ability to hit the target. He can be taught all about the rest of the paraphernalia later.

COL Oxley handing over command to LTCOL John WarrJohn Warr took over as CO in September and in early November, an Inaugural Parade was held; reviewed by Army Minister A. J. Forbes MC. The first batch of our National Service reinforcements had arrived together with more regular soldiers from other Battalions and from recruit training. Approximately 250 National Servicemen were present on that parade.

At the end of the year, a number of officers were posted out of the Battalion and those who would serve with it during its expected forthcoming tour of duty in South Vietnam arrived. We were very fortunate in the selection of several of the newcomers. Major Stan Maizey became the Second in Command (2I/C). Stan was a Royal Military College Duntroon (RMC) and Staff College graduate and had served with the occupation forces in Japan and Korea and as a Company Officers of the Battalion Inauguration Parade 5th November 1965Commander with 2RAR in Malaya. He was an exceptionally gifted officer but didn't suffer fools gladly. Max Carroll joined as OC Support Company. Max was an Officer Cadet School Portsea and Staff College graduate and had served with 3RAR in Malaya. The principal role of the OC Support Company during war was to run the operations of the Battalion and act as battle 2I/C to the CO. This system had been developed in 1RAR where John Essex Clark was serving with distinction as OC Support Company.

The appointment of the OC Support Company was a key one and in Max Carroll we were fortunate indeed. With one exception, all the Company Commanders were a young crop ― the youngest being Bruce McQualter; an RMC graduate and OC B Company. Noel Granter was a Portsea graduate and commanded C Company. Paul Greenhalgh was a fellow classmate of Bruce McQualter at RMC and commanded D Company. John Miller was a Portsea graduate, had transferred from 1RAR and commanded Admin Company. Bert Cassidy was the oldest and had transferred from the CMF to the Regular Army in 1959 and had served in the ranks in the South West Pacific during WW2. He commanded A Company. Bob Milligan joined as 2I/C C Company from his previous posting as ADC to the Commander 1 Division.

Because of a shortage of infantry officers and also I think because of the Army's wish for officers of other Corps to gain early experience of the war in South Vietnam, a number of non infantry officers were posted to us to fill vacancies. These included Don Willcox (Intelligence Corps) as Intelligence Officer, Ron Bade (RAEME) as 2I/C A Company (he had arrived a couple of months before), Brian LeDan (RAust Sigs) as Signals Officer, Bob O'Neill (R Aust Sigs) as 2I/C B Company, David Rowe (RAAMC but later transferring to Inf) as Anti Tank Platoon Commander, Jack Carruthers (RAEME) as a Platoon Commander in B Company and John Cook (RAAOC) as Assistant Quartermaster. Tony White arrived as Regimental Medical Officer having only recently qualified. His military experience consisted of a two week course during which he had learned neither to salute nor to understand how to put on his gaiters the correct way around. He proved to be an outstanding medical officer.

The Rifle Company Platoon Commanders were all recently commissioned and from a variety of backgrounds. Five were National Service Officers who had attended a twenty two week course at the recently established Officer Cadet Training School at Scheyville in New South Wales. They included Ted Pott & Terry O'Hanlon in B Company, Harry Neesham and John Deane-Butcher, in C Company and Finny Roe in D Company. The others were regular officers, three of whom had been commissioned from the ranks after a twelve month course at Portsea including Dennis Rainer, Mick Deak and Bob Gunning. John Nelson had been a civilian entry to Portsea and Greg Negus had transferred to the regular Army from the CMF. Only Roger Wainwright and John Hartley were RMC graduates and serving as Platoon Commanders in C and A companies respectively. John was subsequently twice Mentioned in Despatches (MID). Trevor Sheehan and John MacAloney had transferred from 1RAR; both were Portsea graduates and they commanded the Mortar and Assault Pioneer Platoons respectively. John was later awarded an MC. Ron Shambrook was the Quartermaster and had transferred from the CMF to the Regular Army in 1962. Bob Supple was the Transport Officer. Both had transferred from 1 RAR. Bob had been commanding 1RAR's airborne platoon detached to RAAF Williamtown and became 2I/C of B Company 5RAR, but when the more senior Bob O'Neill arrived, he was moved to the only remaining post for a senior Subaltern and was less than pleased! Darryl Lovell had also transferred from 1 RAR and had been the Assistant Adjutant until about two weeks prior to embarkation when the after effects of a Friday night "celebration" got the better of him and he was hospitalised. He rejoined after we had arrived in South Vietnam and had begun to settle in to Nui Dat. Ralph Thompson had also transferred from 1RAR and took over from Darryl as Assistant Adjutant.

Mick Deak was one of A company's three Platoon Commanders. Mick had been a particularly hard nosed Private soldier (and sometimes a L/Cpl) in E Company 1RAR and frequently in trouble for fighting. Much to the surprise of everyone in E Company, Mick applied for a Commission and even more surprising was his success in passing the selection for entry to the course at Portsea. Years later he told me it was prowess on the Rugby field which clinched his place at Portsea. Newly commissioned Officers graduating from Portsea were seldom posted back to the unit in which they had served in the ranks but someone at Army HQ Personnel branch had obviously forgotten that 5RAR was raised from 1RAR in which Mick had been such a hell raiser. When we received notice of the arrival of 2nd Lieutenant MG Deak, I just knew there would be trouble ― and so there was, but it all turned out right in the end and Mick was awarded an MC whilst commanding the Anti Tank Platoon (prior to its conversion into a Reconnaissance Platoon). Dennis Rainer who had been a Section Commander in E Company 1RAR was also posted to us on graduation from Portsea. Dennis was awarded an MID and an MC whilst serving in D Company.

With one exception the officers who would lead 5RAR in battle were younger than earlier Battalions of the Regiment that had been sent to war but at the Company Commander level, several had experience of active service in Malaya and all seemed to get on together very well.

I succeeded Ron Boxall as Adjutant and Ron joined D Company as Paul Greenhalgh's 2 I/C. Ron had been Assistant Adjutant in 1RAR (Pentropic), and during his time as Adjutant of 5RAR had needed to concentrate on the personnel responsibilities of the job.. Ron had done the hard work and as we had a competent Assistant Adjutant in Darryl Lovell and a very capable Chief Clerk in Staff Sergeant Merv Fridolf, I was confident in their ability to look after the remaining detail and henceforth delegated much of my personnel responsibilities to Daryl and to Merv.

My primary interest was in operations and as was the case in 1RAR, the Adjutant became the Assistant Operations Officer responsible for the day to day running of the Battalion command post, air support – both helicopter tactical movement and offensive ground attack- and manning the rear radio link to Task Force Headquarters. One personnel function that I did retain was responsibility for the discipline of junior officers. This would not be easy when the Battalion was engaged in almost continuous operations in South Vietnam but I regarded it as being very important for junior officers to know that the Adjutant was there to keep them in line when necessary and provide guidance whenever possible.

I was to work as Max Carroll's operations deputy for the next 12 months until he became OC A Company. I learned much from Max and we have remained very good friends ever since.

During an early evening news broadcast In January, it was announced that 5RAR would relieve 1RAR in South Vietnam in April. I was at home at the time and heard Bob Supple cheer from his house next door. Sounds of similar male rejoicing could be heard from other married quarters nearby. My wife Penny was quiet as I imagine all the other wives were too. What is the instinct that makes men want to go to war? Why don't women share it? Being left behind must be one reason. Fear of what might happen to their husbands, fathers, sons and lovers is probably the main reason. It has been the same throughout history and young men will never learn that the final outcome of all wars is decided around some table after vast numbers of those husbands, fathers, sons and lovers have been killed and maimed and countless thousands of civilians of all ages and gender have been similarly killed and maimed. But the sad truth is that unless one is unfortunate enough to experience prolonged and horrifying combat, the fleeting danger and exhilaration is electrifying and addictive. But it was some time before I was to find that out.

In January, our final batch of National Service reinforcements arrived and training for war commenced in earnest. National Servicemen now comprised approximately 50% of the Battalion's strength and many eyes were upon us to see how we would perform.

The Rifle Companies were now up to strength with Private Soldiers and most junior NCO positions had either been filled or soon would be. Filling the many vacancies at Sergeant and Warrant Officer level was not so easy. Both John Warr and Stan Maizey spent much time lobbying the various superior HQ and the Central Army Records Office to fill our vacancies with the best men available.

In this they were largely successful and our original small group of ex 1RAR Warrant Officers and SNCOs were joined by a growing band of experienced men. Many of the Corporals from E Company 1RAR were promoted to Sergeant including Stretch Witheridge and Tassy Wass and I was especially pleased when Rowdy Hindmarsh, Skinny Calvert and Derek Collins who had been my three Section Commanders in 19 Platoon 1RAR, also became Sergeants.

We could plan on having no more than three months to prepare for war and everyone set to work with an enthusiasm that in the circumstances was surprising. There was practically no political opposition to the involvement of America and its allies in South Vietnam at the time; that was to evolve much later although we did step up the security of Gallipoli Barracks from a position where the camp was totally open to anyone who might have wished to visit us! We certainly didn't have armed sentries at the gate in those days.

The Rifle Companies worked long hours and frequently spent from dawn until well after darkness practising and improving their skills with rifles and machine guns on the nearby ranges. At that time riflemen were equipped with an Australian made 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle – a version of the original Belgian Fabrique Nationale design and practically identical to the British SLR. Each platoon had three American made 7.62 belt fed M60 light machine guns. Platoon Commanders, Section Commanders, Radio Operators and other such "support" personnel were issued with a 9mm Owen sub machine gun. This was an Australian designed and manufactured weapon that was very reliable. It was being replaced with another 9mm sub machine gun design but both were withdrawn during our tour in South Vietnam because they had insufficient "stopping power". A hit with a 9mm round did not guarantee the target would go down – the round might be stopped by a heavy webbing belt or pouch and the target would remain "active" – and potentially lethal!

We took 106mm Recoilless Rifles and 66mm Carl Gustav anti tank launchers to Vietnam but apart from taking a very long "pot-shot" from the top of Nui Dat hill at a suspected Elephant (supposedly used by the VC as cargo carriers), neither weapons were used and remained in storage. In fact the Swedish Government refused to supply Carl Gustav projectiles as it opposed the war in Vietnam.

We were allocated ample quantities of small arms and 81 mm mortar ammunition with which to reach a high state of readiness. Trevor Sheehan had recently completed a course as an 81mm Mortar Platoon Commander and he soon brought his mortar crews and their Sergeant Mortar Fire Controllers who would each accompany a Rifle Company Commander on operations, to a high state of training. Bob Gunning was the Mortar Platoon 2I/C who would command the actual mortar line. As Platoon Commander, Trevor would be part of the Battalion HQ Fire Support Coordination Centre (FSCC) which included the Officer Commanding the Field Artillery Battery that would always be in Direct Support of the Battalion once operationally deployed.

The Rifle Companies also carried out their own training exercises in the Gospers Mountains. There was much work to do at Battalion HQ and the administrative staff also worked very long hours. Battalion HQ deployed on a number of shake down (or was it up?) exercises in the local Holsworthy training area. None of us had much experience of how an infantry Battalion HQ should operate in the field and through trial and error (and initially without the complication of Rifle Companies to command) we worked out who from the HQ staff was actually needed in the field and who could support the Battalion's activities better from a base location. We developed answers to such questions as how does the HQ actually move on foot through thick country? What should the make up of the various parties be? Who was best placed to actually command the movement, to lay out the defences when we stopped? What was the role of the RSM? Who would provide sentries at night, who would organise the support of massed helicopters that were the usual method of getting around in South Vietnam, who would organise offensive air support, where would the FSCC party be? Together with radio operators and orderlies, the FSCC party alone numbered seven people. How would re-supply for the Rifle Companies be arranged ― and who would be responsible? What sort of defensive position should we dig as a matter of routine every time we stopped for more than a short break? How could we operate the command post by night without showing any lights? Who should be in the command post? What sort of radio aerials did we need to put up whenever we stopped both for communicating with the Rifle Companies and the rear link to Task Force HQ?

We had to develop our standard operating procedures (the military's beloved "SOPs") pretty well from scratch although after John Warr returned in January 1966 from a short visit to 1RAR in South Vietnam, the copy of their SOPs which he brought with him was very helpful indeed.

Each Rifle Company spent three weeks at the Canungra Jungle Training Centre and I was able to get away and visit one of them for a few days. I enjoyed the break and from what I saw, the Diggers seemed to be enjoying the experience which for many of them was the first time they had seen tropical rain forest.

We arranged basic Vietnamese language courses for selected members of Rifle Companies and Bob O'Neil delivered lectures on Vietnam and the reasons for Australia's involvement in the war to all members of the Battalion. As a former Rhodes Scholar, Bob was expected to know these details!

In recent years there have been reports of National Servicemen being asked if they did or did not wish to serve in Vietnam. I don't recall any formal procedure, but Ralph Thompson remembers me instructing him to address all National Servicemen on the Battalion Parade ground and warning them of operational service. According to Ralph, they were more interested in getting away to the boozer than what they all knew was inevitable anyway! I believe that had anyone approached his Company Commander and stated that he did not wish to accompany the Battalion, I'm sure he would have been left behind on some pretext or other. I believe to this day that there was no dissent among the ranks of 5RAR to the forthcoming deployment. It was after all, the greatest adventure in which any of us had participated.

A final series of exercises was arranged in March in which the whole Battalion participated as a complete unit for the first time. We flew by RAAF De Havilland Caribou aircraft from the airstrip at Holsworthy to a rough airstrip in the Gospers Mountain training area (near Rylstone NSW). Although we were training for jungle warfare, the final exercise was almost called off because of heavy snowfall and plunging temperatures in the final 48 hours!

Brigadier Vincent; commander of the 1st Task Force supervised the final exercise. At the conclusion of a week of hard slogging over the very difficult and latterly snowy terrain of Gospers Mountains, he pronounced that we were good enough to deploy to the tropical jungles of South Vietnam!

My personal view is that in the mid 1960s, the Australian Regular Army was ill prepared to undertake a major overseas military commitment and cite the varied backgrounds of the officers, the frequency of postings into and out of the Battalion in 1965 together with the serious shortage of senior NCOs as evidence of that ill preparedness. A huge effort got under way to correct the deficiencies in numbers and in training, but by the standards which evolved and certainly by those of today, we were only just up to the mark in April 1966 and the experience of war soon revealed some shortcomings in both officers and NCOs; including one Company Commander being dismissed in July and another being posted to a staff appointment on medical grounds in August.

General Tom Daly was General Officer Commanding Eastern Command and he was a frequent visitor as it was his HQ that was responsible for our preparation. In December 1997, John Warr told me that General Tom's final words of advice to him were as follows:

"If you have a choice of accomplishing something in 12 hours but with a high risk of casualties or of doing the same thing in 24 hours but with less risk, do it at less risk – your men's lives are more important."

Deployment for most of us was to be by QANTAS civil airliner, but one Rifle Company had to sail to the South China Sea aboard the converted aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney together with all the vehicles and heavy equipment for the remainder of the 1st Task Force that was to follow. Being an enthusiastic gambler by nature, Stan Maizey held a draw to decide which Rifle Company should enjoy a nine day tropical cruise and Paul Greenhalgh of D Company drew the black spot from Stan's upturned cap. Having already told his Company that they would deploy by air, Paul was aghast. He approached John Warr and Noel Granter was told that C Company would sail instead.

Everyone was given one week pre-embarkation leave but there was not enough time for many of the Battalion HQ staff to go away, and my wife and I had nowhere to go anyway. We had decided that she and our two year old son would return home to the UK and by making a special case, the Government graciously returned her passport which under the terms of the £10 Assisted Passage Migrant Scheme, would normally have been retained for 3 years.

Stan Maizey had drawn up a very detailed administrative plan for the preparation and movement of the Battalion and all its equipment to South Vietnam I still have a copy of the plan and it is a model of thorough preparation, precise "staff duties" - as the military terms its method of preparation of such detailed instructions - and good humour!

Stan has written a most revealing article for the 5RAR website chronicling the deficiencies of the Army's logistics system in 1965-66 and its impact on our preparations for war. It was very largely thanks to Stan, John Miller, Ron Shambrook and all ranks of Admin Company that we were ready for embarkation by the time the Advance Party commanded by John Miller departed for South Vietnam by air on 19 April. The following day there was a parade and Beating Retreat when Army Minister Malcolm Fraser was Reviewing Officer, and on 21 April, the Battalion marched through Sydney for what I can only describe as a tumultuous ticker tape send off. C Company less Roger Wainwright's Platoon which went by air with the CO's party on 28 April embarked on HMAS Sydney on 22 April together with all the transport and freight. On 28 April, movement of the main body by air got under way and flights departed every two days.

I was due to depart on the last aircraft and had a few more hours than most to help my wife sort out our domestic affairs although she managed most of the problems herself. We put what we could into storage, disposed of that we didn't want and handed over our married quarter. I took her and our son to Sydney airport and we parted sadly. The thought that we might never meet again passed through my mind as I'm sure it did hers but neither of us said anything about it. As soon as they had gone, I arranged to sell her MG Midget at a local car auction. She was very upset at leaving the car knowing that we must sell it as it had been a 21st birthday present from her father and that car had been a good friend to us.

I moved into the Mess for the final 48 hours before departure and on the evening of the 12th May, was picked up by a driver and taken to Stan Maizey's married quarter. I watched Stan say goodbye to his three daughters. The youngest was Sally, then aged about 12 months. She was asleep as he kissed her. "Goodbye blossom" were the last words he said before we went out into the cool night air. Stan's wife Janette drove with us to the RAAF Base at Richmond. Marquees had been set up for families to have a final cup of tea before the men folk departed. It was a subdued gathering and there were tears and final hugs all around me. I was quite relieved to be alone. I hate farewells at airports.

The QANTAS Boeing 707 which took us to Saigon via Manila might well have been the same aircraft in which I flew to Australia 2½ years before. Much had happened since then but the time had passed quickly. The crew proudly announced that they had all volunteered to fly us to war and seemed disappointed when we appeared less than impressed! I don't remember landing in ManilaLTCOL John Warr met by MAJ Miller Tan sun Nhut airport Saigon but I do remember seeing the coast of South Vietnam for the first time and wondering what fate held for us in the future. We landed at Ton San Nhut airport which at that time was reputedly the busiest airport in the world. The atmosphere was stiflingly hot. There seemed to be hundreds of aircraft about from civilian Boeing 707s, large US Military Airlift Command (MAC) Lockheed 141 Starlifters, and C130 Hercules by the dozen and in earth and sandbagged emplacements a variety of ground attack aircraft ranging from F100 Super Sabres to the A10 Skyraiders of the South Vietnamese Air Force. And then there were helicopters – everywhere!

I returned to that same airport thirty nine years later in October 2005 at the beginning of a two week visit with a group of former 5RAR colleagues. The aircraft bunkers were still there together with a few helicopters and fixed wing aircraft abandoned in 1975.

We were taken by bus to board a US Air Force C123. Looking rather like a C130 Hercules but with only 2 engines, the C123 was camouflaged colour and streaked with oil. We dumped our kitbags on a pallet and clambered aboard via the lowered tail ramp. The interior was hot and after engine start up – very noisy.

After a 40 minute flight we landed at Vung Tau. I remember feeling that we had definitely arrived in the war zone on seeing US servicemen walking around their aircraft with holster slung pistols and the windows of the buses being covered in wire mesh as a precaution against grenades. Doubtless some of the Diggers had expected to take cover as soon as they had reached the bottom of the aircraft steps! (C Company did fix bayonets as they approached the beach at Vung Tau on disembarking from HMAS Sydney, but that is another story best told by former CQMS Bob
Trenear!)

Officers of 5RAR Vung Tau May 1966Ralph Thompson met us and we boarded Landrovers and trucks for the short journey to the Battalion's temporary base camp located in sand dunes next to the South China Sea. I remember passing close to an overgrown cemetery. The sweet smell of dung – probably human as well as animal – seemed to permeate the air near all habitation. When we arrived at the tented camp set up by John Miller's advance party, Ralph showed me to a tent that he and I would share and as he sat on his aluminium trunk in the sand, I asked him to bring me up to date on what had been going on ever since he had arrived several weeks before with the advance party. I put my kit on a camp bed and felt rather left out of things. I had been in a position to know every facet of the Battalion's activity since it was raised over a year ago. Now, as one of the last to arrive, I was the new boy and I didn't like the feeling at all.

It didn't last long; shortly afterwards, Stan Maizey, Bob O'Neil, Bob Milligan and I completed an aerial reconnaissance of Nui Dat and Binh Ba in separate helicopters of 68 Aviation Company. (described in Bob's book "Vietnam Task"). A couple of days after that, Brian LeDan and I joined 1/503 Battalion in the 173rd Airborne Brigade's operation to clear the intended location of 1ATF.

All officers had packed Tropical Mess Dress which we wore only once at a memorable occasion in the Grand Hotel in Vung Tau (some claim it was the Pacific Hotel and cite the Commander's Diary as proof, but I believe it was the Grand) when we entertained to dinner, the officers of the US Army's 68th Aviation Company with whom we were to work closely during the Battalion's first six weeks whilst under command of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade. As a finale, Bandmaster Bob Taylor conducted our Band in a performance of "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" which brought roars of approval from all present. Later that evening, Stan Maizey had to "persuade" the Military Police officer in charge of the Provost Patrol that 5RAR officers were not subject to any curfew and should be allowed to return to Back Beach without hindrance! Roger Wainright didn't make it. He had been confined to camp by his Company Commander Noel Granter!

In mid 2008, Ron Hamlyn wrote an article for Tiger Tales. His concluding sentence was:

"Every night for the next few years I used to thank the Lord for giving 5RAR John Arnold Warr as Commanding Officer, the most compassionate and caring man I ever met."

Whilst acknowledging the huge influence that Colin Khan had both as CO during the Battalion's second tour in South Vietnam and during his tenure as President of the 5RAR Association, I think it is largely due to the influence that John Warr had on the Battalion and its members for the first two and a half years of its existence, that fifty years later, it remains a close knit veteran family.


PJI
Isle of Wight, UK
April 2015
 


With the assistance of Darryl Lovell, I have listed the Officers, Warrant Officers and Staff Sergeants as at the date of our deployment in April 1966. There may be errors

I have included a few of the other members of the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess but there are many gaps. Perhaps members of the Association will add names, but remember, the list is current as of April 1966 only. There were many changes throughout the following 12 months including promotions.
 

BATTALION HEADQUARTERS
CO: Lt Col John Warr
2I/C: Maj Stan Maizey
Adjt: Capt Peter Isaacs
IO: Capt Don Willcox
A/Adjt: Lt Ralph Thompson
RSM: WO1 Les Foale
RP Sgt: Sgt "Tassie" Wass
Chief Clerk: SSgt Merv Fridolf
Orderly Rm Sgt: Sgt John Leaman
A COMPANY
OC: Maj Bert Cassidy
2I/C: Capt Ron Bade
CSM: WO2 Jock Stewart
CQMS: SSgt ?
PL Cdrs: Lt John Hartley
  2Lt Mick Deak
  2Lt John Nelson
Pl Sgts: Sgt Neville Case
  Sgt Robert Brown
  Sgt ?
B COMPANY
OC: Maj Bruce McQualter
2I/C: Capt Bob O'Neill
CSM: WO2 John Bates
CQMS: SSgt Sailor Mealing
PL Cdrs: Lt Jack Carruthers
  2Lt Ted Potts
  2Lt Terry O’Hanlon
Pl Sgts: Sgt Ray Solomon
  Sgt Barry Hassall
  Sgt ?

C COMPANY

OC: Maj Noel Granter
2I/C: Capt Bob Milligan
CSM: WO2 Ross Wormold
CQMS: Sgt Bob Trenear
Pl Cdrs: 2Lt Harry Neesham
  Lt Roger Wainright
  2Lt John Dean-Butcher
Pl Sgts: Sgt Rowdy Hindmarsh
  Sgt Derek Collins
  Sgt Shorty Mavin
D COMPANY
OC: Maj. Paul Greenhalgh
2I/C: Capt Ron Boxall
CSM: WO2 John Clarke
CQMS: SSgt Mick Owen
Pl Cdrs: Lt Greg Negus
  2Lt Dennis Rainer
  2Lt Finnie Roe
Pl Sgts: Sgt Bob Armitage
  Sgt Stretch Witheridge
  Sgt ?
SUPPORT COMPANY
OC: Maj Max Carroll
CSM: WO2 Brian Hughson
CQMS: SSgt Lofty Cunningham
Mor Pl Cdr: 2Lt Trevor Sheehan
2I/C Mor Pl 2Lt Bob Gunning
Sig Pl Cdr Capt Brian LeDan
Aslt Pnr Pl Cdr 2Lt John MacAloney
Anti Tk Pl Cdr Lt David Rowe
Sp Pl Sgts Sgt Brian London
  Sgt Skinny Calvert
Mor Pl MFCs ?
ADMIN COMPANY
OC: Maj John Miller
CSM: WO2 Don McGregor
Quartermaster: Capt Ron Shambrook
A/QM: Lt John Cook
RQMS: WO1 Blue Balzary
RMO: Capt Tony White
Medical SNCO: SSgt Mick Seats
Tpt Offr: Lt Bob Supple
Tpt SNCO: Sgt Terry Gardner
Bandmaster: WO2 Bob Taylor
Drum Major: Sgt Ken Benson
Armourer: SSgt Mick Henrys
Caterer: WO2 Peter Roby
Pay Sgt: Sgt Gerry Brendish
Hygiene NCO:  Sgt Bob "Blowfly" Brown
ATTACHED
Padre (RC): Capt John Williams
Sally Army: John Bentley


 

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