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Page title: Tales from the Tiger

 

 
 

australian infantryman's combat badge
Where are you Parker Hale D808?

© Graham Sherrington
    6 Platoon, B Company,
    1st Tour.

Author: Graham Sherrington


I was on my way to Vietnam with 5RAR after a period at Kapooka in the rifle team and when I saw it ... I had to have it. It was a beautiful piece, a Parker Hale .308, 7.62mm NATO sporting rifle with a high quality Pecar telescopic sight professionally mounted on it.

The rifle had started life as a 7.92mm K98 military weapon made for the Wermacht, it had been swept up in World War 11, then bought at scrap metal prices by Parker Hale and converted to a fine sporting rifle. Nowadays Parker Hale use lesser quality Spanish actions for their rifles. I'd bought the rifle from Jack Hochstadt's Sport store in George St Sydney. for about $150.00. Military Calibres were not permitted in NSW in those days, but Jack got around this by calling it a ".308 Winchester calibre" sporter, bless his departed soul.

Now the Australian army have a ambivalent attitude towards 'personal weapons, in theory an officer can carry his personal weapon into battle, but I was a private soldier. How was I going to get this thing to Vietnam? There was only one way and that was to confess and show them I knew how to use it effectively. Luckily I had an enlightened OC in the shape of Major Bruce McQualter, (tragically died of wounds 5th March 1967) who suggested I take it out to the train-fire range and they'd put me through the wringer. I'd had another enlightened OC, Major Colin Kahn who'd put me through a small in-company Sniper Course at Tin Can Bay. Major Kahn was to lead the Battalion on its second tour.

After the day's normal range practice was complete I was given five rounds to shoot at a 25 metre target stuck onto a train-fire target at 100 metres. A five shot half inch group at 100 metres clinched the deal and the good Major McQualter decided it could be useful to have along.

Well I lugged that thing all the way over to Vietnam, through Vung Tau, all of the way through Operation Hardihood and finally it reposed in the Q Store at B Company at Nui Dat and it never saw a serious shot fired in anger. Then I was sent to Intelligence Section.

My Corporal, Bob Harbourd reminded me a short while ago that I'd wanted to drop off from the tail of the section with it out in the bush and remove the VC 'trail followers' who tagged us sometimes. It was a good thing that I wasn't given permission to do so, or I probably wouldn't be writing this story now.

Still the rifle had not been used as a sniping weapon, and it was only taken out once on a helicopter reconnaissance ride to Xuan Moc with Captain Robert O'Neill (the battalion's intelligence officer) when I was escorting him, riding shotgun. Well, at Xuan Moc the rifle was a hit even if we weren't! The ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) soldiers thought the whole concept of zapping someone at 600- 800 metres through the head was a wonderful idea, but sadly the chance never came. There was much admiring and fondling of the piece and I had to keep a serious eye on it before it 'grew legs' and disappeared.

The Vietnamese at that stage were being supplied by air, and it was not until much later that the Battalion opened up the road out to them. They had a serious problem with mortaring and VC snipers, and their commander proudly showed us a fresh mortar hit on his front porch from the night before. The rifle, with me attached to it could have been very useful to them.

Back into the Q Store went the Parker Hale and I went back to B Company as a forward scout, rifleman and machine gunner. An accidental death in another platoon involving a sawn off double barrelled shotgun caused the rounding up of all unauthorised weapons, (they even found a 'sanitised' GPMG M60 ... with no serial number on the receiver amongst other 'toys').

As I'd had permission to bring the rifle over, I was also granted permission to return it to Australia, so it was carefully packaged and sent back to my brother in Townsville, Queensland. He was later rather curtly summoned by the Customs Department into their office and told: " Your brother has sent you a rifle from Vietnam, and you're to open the package in front of us." (With a couple of policemen present).

Now the customs people were expecting an M16, an SKS or a Kalashnikov, and they were completely nonplussed when a very nicely greased and rather expensive sporting rifle emerged smelling of jungle rot. After looking up all of their regulations they could find no barrier to the Parker Hale coming home and it stayed in my possession for some years until I traded it in.

In later tours in Vietnam, in a more enlightened military climate, some soldiers received sniper training from the American Army, and snipers are now once more part of Infantry units. We have to re-learn the same lessons over and over in every war.

I was probably the only soldier in the Australian Army to take my own scoped rifle to Vietnam, and I'd dearly love to find it again and send it to the Infantry Centre Museum, so if you bought Parker Hale serial number D808 from Mick Smith's Gun Store in the 1970's I'll buy it back at a very good price. Mind you, after the 'Gun Buyback' by now it's probably scrap steel.


 

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