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Tales from the Tiger


 

australian infantryman's combat badge
Christmas 1969 - Nui Dat
(or How I learned to love the war and stop worrying – for a day)

© Roger Lambert
C Company 2nd Tour
Author: Roger Lambert

With military precision (well, what else would you expect from the Tigers), plans were put in place for the traditional start to Christmas Day, Thursday 25 December 1969. At the appointed hour (something like zero dark 30 hours as I recall), the officers of C Company assembled at "Yarralumla" for a final briefing before proceeding to the company kitchen. "Yarralumla", for those of us whose memories are fading (like mine), was the name of the Officer Commanding Charlie Company’s ‘hootchie’ (tent) (I guess by comparison to our humble sand-bagged abodes, the OC’s digs probably did resemble the Governor General’s official residence in some ways!)

Aluminium cooking pots containing coffee were decanted for ease of handling (handy things those hot-boxes with their inner containers) and armed with a suitable quantity of rum, we proceeded to our respective lines to serve up the Coffee Royale to our troops. I suspect that our diggers were very pleased to see us on two counts:

1. their officers were serving them instead of vice versa; and
2. we were serving alcohol in the lines.

Now of course we all know that no self-respecting Aussie digger would disobey Standing or Routine Orders and consume alcohol in the lines. Not in such a professional outfit as Charlie Company. Those buried "Trunks, Metal, Troops for the Use Of" were only there to store 'goffas' (soft drinks) and to prevent chocolate from melting in the tropical heat. Right? Yeah right!

With the Coffee Royale duly served, the officers retired to Yarralumla to finalise plans for the rest of Christmas Day including the Army tradition of serving lunch to our troops. This was the first misjudgement of the day. No, not the planning but rather gathering in the OC’s ante room.

One Captain David Wilkins produced a bottle of rum that he’d been sent from Australia. It was white rum. Not to my individual taste but, heck, beggars can’t be choosers. David proceeded to extol the virtues of this fine Australian rum as healthy portions were poured into our "Cups, Canteen, Troops for the Use Of."

Cheers, Happy Christmas and all that and down the hatch. Bottoms up.

What the heck is going on here? My lips have gone numb, my eyes are watering and now I can’t feel my tongue! There’s an acute burning sensation in my throat that’s proceeding down my windpipe! There’s a gurgling in my stomach that would do a volcano about to erupt proud! I’m now getting concerned about how quickly this rum is going about its business dissolving my intestines and what was going to happen by the time it hit the outlet valve of my bowels (or what was left of them).

Another? asked David. By now the initial impact of the first healthy dose of Inner Circle had settled. Either that or I was so severely injured by that first hit, the equivalent of a napalm strike, my body and mind had no idea what was going on and that same foreign voice that seemed to come from me says "Yes, please." Idiot! Who said that?! I’m bloody well possessed!!

I didn’t dare light a cigarette while the top was off that bottle for fear that there would be an instant detonation and the entire officer group of Charlie Company would be incinerated. Come to think of it, had we sprayed this stuff over the jungle and lit it up with WP, (White Phosphorous) we could have obliterated the entire Province and have been home by New Year’s Day!

Holy Dooley! Now my legs have developed an inability to keep me upright, so it’s a case of get into the "Chairs, Canvas, Folding, Troops for the Use Of" lest I end up a heap on the floor and having to leopard crawl my way around! "What the hell is that?" some guttural, almost spectre-like voice that didn’t seem to be my own croaked.

David proceeded to extol the virtues of CSR Inner Circle Rum. Man, that stuff was 100 Proof if it was a day.

Fair dinkum, I reckon if a Huey ran out of fuel, you could pour this in the tank and the turbine would happily run as it would on Aviation Turpentine. But I don’t think you could put it in the trusty Zippo though as one spark and it would probably blow your head off.

 And so started Christmas Day in Nui Dat, 1969.

So how was Christmas Day so far? Well, let’s say that the digger’s lunch, with us serving, went off very well and things seemed to be going pretty much according to plan. A good feed, good company and perhaps a wee bit too much grog a great Army tradition. But heck, I wasn’t feeling any pain. The CSR anaesthetic was seeing to that. Now there’s another thought the Doc could have used Inner Circle during minor operations and one would not feel any pain. Did the day get any better? Well, things started to go downhill somewhat when a Half-Ton Trailer appeared in the company lines. Not just any trailer this one was full of beer. How on earth did that thing get here and where did it come from?

Hang on that’s a US Army jeep (or Mutt as they referred to them). Where the heck did that come from?

"What do you mean you swapped it for a Slouch Hat complete with puggaree and badge?" There’s that guttural, foreign voice again but the diggers are looking at me.

Take the bloody thing back say the voice. "Ah, but Skipper" rings out the chorus. "Don’t argue. Just take the thing back where you got it or you’re all on a fizzer!" (A charge for military misconduct) That voice who’s saying these words and why are they looking at me? "And where did that trailer come from?" I am possessed; that trailer is full of cold beer and this voice keeps telling them to get rid of it. Pull yourself together man. There’s sure to be a logical explanation and after all, it is more beer.

"We brought it up from "X" Company, boss" says the chorus. Smart cookies these diggers. Don’t let one bloke be the spokesman and take the wrap, but all speak up together and it’s most unlikely everyone will be placed on an A4 one for all and all for one.

"X" Company, you say" says the foreign voice seemingly coming from me. "That’s OK then. Just stash the beer and get rid of the evidence … er … trailer." Did I say that?

And so Christmas Day 1969 in Nui Dat passed without further incident. Well, almost.

 The trailer with the beer had been missed, reported stolen and the "Sheriff" and his trusty band of RP’s (Regimental Police) were on the trail. The OC hauled we platoon commanders in and demanded to know what we knew of the missing trailer.

I swore blind that my boys didn’t do it and would never do such a thing. In hindsight, how good was it that I was still affected by that dreaded CSR Inner Circle? I could have used the defence that I was possessed by the 'spirit' and that it was not me doing the talking.

To the best of my knowledge, at the end of the day, the US Army inventory had the correct tally of jeeps and the missing trailer mysteriously turned up with its rightful owners albeit empty. I swear that I have no idea what happened to the contents although Southwark is not to my taste either …

Some years later, as I thought back on my introduction to CSR Inner Circle Rum and Christmas Day 1969, a chill ran down my spine when I hypothesised what might have happened if D445 and whomever else was in the Province at the time had decided to launch an attack on Nui Dat that day. Nah! Had they even contemplated an assault and had they got through the wire and perimeter defences, the alcohol fumes and the frequent belching and farting would have completely disoriented them if not repelled them. 'Chemical warfare' would have saved the day!

Then of course we had our secret weapon to employ CSR Inner Circle Rum. Thanks, David. To this day I still reckon that, among other things such as soldiering, the Army taught me how to drink and smoke well, I’ve got to blame somebody.

PS. "X" Company is designed to protect the innocent after all these years. Let’s just say it was one of ours 'down the hill'.

 

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