By Haydyn Dorrough
B Company 1st Tour
This short story has been sitting about for a few years
waiting for an opportunity to run. The April issue of Tiger
Tales brought up that opportunity. The photo page 3, of Lt.
Col John Warr (Wingy) handing the "Tiger Pig" over to Lt.
Col Eric Smith made me smile—little did anyone know where
that day would end.
I guess the reason for this snippet about mayhem and
rebellion is to show that the 'fun gene' in the Australian
soldier's psyche just takes over at times, creating legends
and stories that make in retrospect, the dark days a source
of fun and laughter. This is a true story, possibly the
first time told in public– cobbled together from bleary,
beery old memories shared between mates with a chuckle and
far-a-way look in their eyes. Some of the 'facts' are a
little rubbery, names have been omitted to protect the
definitely guilty and Ron Hamlyn has demanded his 'Right of
I do not know if in Australian military history a battalion
CO has formally read the “Riot Act” to his troops. I suspect
that it has not been often and, if so, the results may not
have been as happy-making for the Diggers involved. But it
did happen to the shaggy, unshaven and hung-over remnants of
B Company, first tour, several days prior to embarking for home.
In May of 1966, one hundred and forty B Company men departed for
Vietnam. At the end of the tour (after the advance party
returned to Australia and those yet to complete their tour
marched out to other battalions), thirty remained in-country
from the original group.
B Company had already taken heavy losses over the year to 21
February 1967, when a mine explosion (a booby trapped aerial
bomb plus a brace of jumping jacks) in the Long Hai Hills
caused a further twenty-two casualties of which seven were
KIA/DOW (Killed in Action/Died of Wounds). Most were from 4 Platoon and Company HQ. Those KIA’s included the Company OC, Maj Bruce McQualter and 4 Pl’s Lt
After the Long Hai site was cleared of mines by the
engineers we returned to lines for a day or two to stop
shaking and work out which way was up. From memory we had
forty-five odd men left in B Company under the command of
Bandmaster Bob Taylor.
Within a few days Major Ron Hamlyn took over with a brief from
Wingy that they both firmly shared “that idle hands would
get up to mischief”, so out most
went to the dreaded ‘Fence’
for some light duties! Casualties continued by the day, four
wounded and a further two DOW from mines; Pte Richard
(Dicky) Lloyd, and Lt Kerry Rinkin. Kerry had marched into
the battalion the evening before and been at the fence but a
Of the original one hundred and forty men, only thirty nine
originals completed the one year tour and in the final
tally, sadly, fifteen of the twenty-five men on the The
Honour Roll were from B Company.
Shattered after Dicky and Kerry’s deaths, but not
dispirited, the depleted B Company, returned to lines and
undertook camp duties. We were so short of men that one man
to a gun-pit per shift throughout the night occurred
occasionally. It has been said that the stock of booze at
‘The Vile Inn’ (our NCO & OR’s boozer) was plundered late in
the shift to steady a nerve or three and to relieve the
boredom at the pit—no names (ever) no pack drill! Ron,
nocturnally prowling with moustache ‘a-twitch’, collared one
or two, dispensing swift justice (he played rugby in his
youth—was known for his goal kicking), his view of idle
hands and mischief was well founded.
At last the great day arrived, (just two days and a ‘wakey’
to go), the last operation of the battalion, a night ambush
by B Company returned. Lt. Lou O’Dea with 5 Platoon, (they had
enough men left in the platoon to form a large section!)
proudly marched—that’s right, marched (something they had
not done since Holsworthy) up the road past the BHQ tent
complex, with Lou holding aloft a burning orange smoke flare
and all did a smart ‘eyes-left’ as they passed. Wingy took
the salute with most of BHQ looking on. Later in the day B
Company 7RAR moved in and took over our responsibilities of
clearing patrols and gun pit duties.
After a huge seafood lunch put on by our resident cooks from
The Bastard Catering Company Inc., (God loved them, I guess,
only he would), the afternoon and evening festivities in and
around our boozer were liquid and loud—several times so
rudely interrupted by the 7 RAR Duty Officer (DO) with so
many unreasonable demands.
Later that night with the boozer’s shutters open and lit up
like a Christmas tree, the DO returned for the third or
fourth time, this time with the Task Force MP’s (Military
Police). All sorts
of things happened, particularly as the DO entered the
boozer without requesting permission – he had previously
been refused entry and forcibly removed. We of course were
fully (hic) focused on our mission – we still had about 100
dozen Black Ducks and Tigers (beers, for those who weren’t
there) to finish and dammed if we were going to be told to
leave them for the “Laughing Pigs”
yes, we would have if Wingy had ‘told’ us and he said
‘please’—we all did like the man.
After the boozer was closed by the MPs, ‘the troubles’ as
the Irish say, began and continued through the night; loud
slurred discussions, hopeless quartets singing out of tune,
Armed Forced Radio hit music echoing through the rubber as
some partied in their tents, absent officers being ‘told
where to go’ in graphic detail, fizzing gofers thrown
towards gun pits, hidden strings jangling tin cans out on
the wire, attempts to get the 7RAR guys in the gun pits to
“av-a-beer-maaate, it sharpens the eyesight…you can see all
those funny little things out there that keep moving” etc,
and so on.
I have a blurred memory of the next morning of being with
others, formed up in a three-sided square near the
cookhouse. Company Officers and NCOs stiffly at attention,
Colonel Wingy, with a lot of emotion (rage? glee?) and a
loud, stern voice saying words like; “If any of you
miserable sods (this has been toned down a bit for our women
readers) … congregate in groups of more than two … you will be
locked up and charged … I will throw away the key … you will
never see Australia again … or leave Vietnam … let alone get out
of this Army … I am ashamed and embarrassed…”and so on for
about ten minutes— well Ok, we had been a little bit
naughty but hey, really not that bad, surely?
Apparently up at Task Force, the tiger’s coat was not such a
bright shade of yellow anymore, mostly black and it was B
Company’s fault! Shit! This sounded serious! All these words and
threats as we looked on at one poor bugger who had been
handcuffed to a rubber tree since very early morning.
Rumour had it, poor man, that, after the MPs had withdrawn,
his only crime was to drop a purple smoke grenade down the
air vent of the underground command post and another down
the steps as the “purple occupants” attempted to decamp.
Another of the “miserable sods” (never identified
officially) had at the same time popped a grenade out over
the wire, causing some confusion and twitchy trigger fingers
in the 7 RAR B Company gun pits.
The grenade and gunfire and the lack of communication with B
Company Command Post resulted in a 7RAR battalion stand-to—we
of course didn’t notice! Hey, someone has to train the
troops, sharpen their reactions, bring them to the edge ….
Those at the highest level of course, did not appreciate
this lesson in practical soldiering from the experienced.
As the shaggy, unshaven, hung-over (and unremorseful)
remnants of B Company, we were very lucky. I think we were
confined to our camp area for the remaining two days and
banned from the boozer. Guards were posted at the boozer but
they were, in true Aussie style totally flexible and could
(and were) bought for a beer or two to ease their own raging
thirsts (talk about putting a tiger in charge of the hen—err beer-house!). Most of us managed a beer or ten from
hidden stocks to get through our incarceration—warm beer is
better than no beer and mission accomplished, no beer left
for the Pigs.
As happens when old soldiers gather over a beer and go into
“do you remember that day …when …”, question arise: Where were
all our fearless leaders that day and evening anyway? I have
never asked Ron, not game really. Surely they were at a
tactical conference somewhere honing their skills for their
next tour, maybe even down at Task Force working out with
the Brigadier their next posting, or (heresy of heresies as
one knowledgeable furphy-monger claimed) eating seafood,
washing the red dust out of their mouths with chardonnay and
singing loudly at the BHQ Officer’s Mess. It’s all a
I think I now understand why Ron is our membership officer.
I think he is still prowling for names and retribution. He
mutters darkly about “a conversation Wingy had with him”
(which suggests that it might have been a little bit one
sided) over tea and scones in Wingy’s office just prior to
his reading the ‘Riot Act’ up at B Company lines. I am not
certain if Ron was muttering about his Court Martial, or
ours, or both!
I would like to hear from other B Company members who have
recollections of that wonderful night, just to add to our
folklore. On Ron’s honour, I understand that the Statute of
Limitations now applies and no one from B Company, will be
handcuffed to the nearest tree—so please send anything
that you remember to me at:
(Note: The above address is in
image format to prevent spamming, copy it into the head of
your e-mail client).
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