C Company 1st Tour
April of this year it was almost 43 years to the day that I boarded HMAS
Sydney, for transfer to Vietnam, that my wife Carol and I embarked on our
second trip together to Vietnam. We had visited with friends in 2006, but
felt there were still some places and sights that we wished to see.
One of the main areas that we
wanted to see was Vung Tau and Nui Dat, a place on a map to most
Australians, but one that had made a large impact on me, and my mates as
young men, so many years ago.
We boarded the Fast Cat in
Saigon at 0800 hours and spent about one and a half hours going down the
river towards Vung Tau. Just over an hour had passed when I saw, in the
distance, the silhouette of the Nui Thi Vai hills and shortly after the hill
on the island of Long Son. Then we approached Vung Tau itself, passing Radar
Hill, front beach and with Lighthouse Hill at the end of the promontory.
From the wharf it was a short
walk around the road along the beach to 'Belly's Bar'
where we were to meet our guide for the day, Ern Marshall, an Aussie ex-pat
and member of AVVRG, (Australian Vietnam Veterans Reconstruction Group) who
served with 2nd Advance Ordnance Depot in 1968/69. Ern had organized an
air-conditioned car with driver and accompanied us on our outing for the
It took a lot longer time to
get out of Vunger's than I remember and the difference in development along
the way is staggering. Ba Ria and Hoa Long are no longer two separate
entities but one big urban sprawl.
Then it was on to Nui Dat,
along the way moving through the area that was occupied by 6RAR in 1966/67
and is now the base for Vietnamese D445 Battalion, they are even still using
some of the buildings that were built by 1ATF. Over the years the locals
have used Nui Dat as a quarry and it is not the same as it used to be.
Back into the car and on to
Luscombe field, now the main street of Nui Dat village and we visited the
school. Most of the children had left but the few that were there came
running, not to beg but to hold our hands and take us into their school
ground. A few dollars to the woman, whom we think was the teacher, supplied
a full class of children with frozen goats milk (or yoghurt as she called
it). The village is very poor and the AVVRG do what they can to help the
it was to try to find C Company, and specifically 7 Platoon lines, up a hill
on a very rough road with only the remains of the tarmac laid by the
Aussies, hang a left and down a gentle slope. I said to Ern, "You can stop
anywhere here!" We got out of the car and walked into the rubber, much
shorter and thinner trunks than I remember, but there was no mistaking the
lay of the land, this was the 7 Platoon area. As we walked around the
position to where, I am certain our gun-pit was located, I had quite a few
tingles running up my spine I can tell you.
had lunch in a little local restaurant in Ba Ria with Ern and then headed
back to Vung Tau for a look around. Where the Flags used to be is now a
Tourist Bus parking area and the street most of us remember as 'The Street
Of Bars', Phan Thanh Gian Street is now called Ly Tu Trong Street (see then
and now photos). Then along the Front Beach road, past the upgraded Grand
Hotel and up to Lighthouse Hill. I could not estimate how much larger Vung
Tau has grown, but the photo below, taken from the lighthouse, should give
you some idea.
Then we returned to Belly's
Bar for a beer with Ern and headed back to Saigon. We both enjoyed the day,
Carol finally seeing the place she had written those many letters to so long
ago, and me again finding the area that had played such a significant part
in my life.