© David Wilkins
OC C Company
(Dec 69 - Mar 70)
was getting short for 5RAR with the date for RTA
(return to Australia) on 27 February 1970
approaching. The battalion was embroiled in the
final operations of its second tour of active
service in South Vietnam.
Extended Time in the Bush
C Company 5RAR
was little different from other rifle companies in the battalion
when, from 1 November 1969 until our last day of operations on
16 February 1970, a period of a bit over 15 weeks, we only had
two rest breaks of two days plus a three day break for
C Company's final operation was exceptionally long from 28
December 1969 to 16 February 1970, a period of 7 weeks. My diary
records this, (and reveals apparent fatigue and frustration at
"17 Dec 69. Great bloody Xmas break we are getting- spending the
entire "break" in the bush. The digs are even chiming "so many
killing days to Xmas." To top it off we are about to embark from
this great 'rest' onto our last operation of the tour
and it is to be our LONGEST
7 WEEKS. Man's a bloody robot!"
As we headed out
on the final operation the troops began the count down by
chanting " 60 days and a wakey," meaning 60 days and a
wake-up before departing South Vietnam for home.
Keeping us in the
bush on the final operations for such a long period was partly a
consequence of an alcohol related fragging murder in 9 RAR, some
months earlier, during the wind down phase of that battalion.
"Fragging" derived its name from the fragmentation or shrapnel
from an exploding grenade, in this case lobbed into an officer's
of our policy was the reduction of our fighting strengths' of
the rifle companies during the final operation. My diary
"12 Feb 70. Had to fly out all members of the Advance Party for
Australia (ETD 18th) from op during our re-supply. What
with this, LOBs, casualties, and persons reposted to other units
in SVN, my coy [Company] fighting strength is now down
to 55 plus an FO [Artillery Forward Observer] party and
2 engineers. Fifty-five!! As a result, what with [7 Platoon
Commander] Ian Hosie wounded and in hospital, I have formed
two composite platoons from three, disbanding 7 Pl; and still
both the platoons are only 23 strong each."
fighting strength was of some concern, as all platoons and CHQ
with Support Section of C Company became engaged in battles with
squad and platoon-sized enemy on about 9 occasions in our last 2
weeks of the final operation, including a heavy contact in the
Dat Set region which necessitated a troop of tanks being reacted
from the Horseshoe to assist in the ensuing attack on the enemy
bunker system. "For a description of some of the those contacts,
go to "Final
Battle" on this website".
Return to Nui Dat
Whether or not
the minimisation of our time in the Nui Dat base camp and the
reduction of grog available during the pack-up of the battalion
was warranted, it will never be known, but the fact is that 5RAR
did not experience any troubles during this phase.
My diary makes
reference to this and the potential alcohol problem:
"17-26 Feb 1970. Clean up in base area in preparation for hand
over to 7 RAR. Period passed without incident, the soldiers
being surprisingly well behaved despite restriction placed on
grog, and a completely "dry" camp for the last two days. Success
is probably attributed to the equal restrictions for ALL ranks."
The final duty
was a hand-over ceremony of our defensive position at Nui Dat to
7RAR, the Porky Battalion; but not before some provocative and
generally crude pig jokes were made wishing them well for the
Return to Australia
Party, under command of Captain Tim Britten (2ic D Company)
departed SVN for Australia by civil air on 18 February. On 27
February the main body of the battalion followed. We travelled
by truck from Nui Dat to Vung Tau and then by LCM to the HMAS
Sydney moored in the harbour.
The sea trip via
the Sunda Strait of Indonesia (between the islands of Sumatra
and Java) to
and then onto Sydney, was calm as a millpond. The decks were
full of inactive soldiers, sleeping, reading, playing cards and
just relaxing. This unwinding process was a most therapeutic way
to RTA (Return To Australia) after the turmoil and trauma of
active service operations. (Those who flew back had little time
to adjust and unwind. One day they were on active service. The
next day they were in 'civvy street'. It would be understandable
if they experienced more adjustment problems than the veterans
who floated gently back over the longer period.)
Following a 4-hour stopover at
Fremantle, when we disembarked the West Aussies and made a quick
visit to SAS barracks at Swanbourne, we proceeded to Sydney,
arriving on 10 March 1970.
5RAR March Through Sydney
10 March 1970 was
a fine, sunny autumn day in Sydney. All ranks, dressed to the
nines in starched greens, slouch hats, and gold lanyards on the
left shoulder, stood shoulder to shoulder, lining the top deck
as we proceeded through Sydney Heads until docking at
Woolloomooloo. Here, we were met by an excited and emotional
crowd of family and friends.
In John Hunter's
article on this website (Homecoming Vietnam) he has provided us
with most interesting anecdotes about his own homecoming. Most
of it is personal to him of course, but one of the areas where
we were all involved as a group was the parade through Sydney
following disembarkation from the HMAS Sydney.
with the passage of time our memories fade or become confused,
but I have a very clear recollection of our march through
Sydney. As confirmation however, I checked with some others who
marched that day, and have had my recollections sustained.
lunchtime crowd, several rows deep, lined either side of Martin
Place and George St to loudly cheer, applaud and wave flags for
the returning veterans of 5 RAR. Spectators crowded their office
windows to get a better view from above. It was a friendly and
welcoming crowd with ticker tape floating down from the office
buildings either side (I am fortunate to have a video film of
the march to confirm my memory of this. It can also be seen on
the official 5 RAR historical video). It was a moment of pride
for us all.
I must disagree
with John Hunter's version that we received a very nasty mixed
reception including cries of 'baby murderer and more foul
language than I care to repeat.' There were neither unsavoury
incidents nor calls of baby murderer, although I do recall
reading a newspaper report of another Battalion (1RAR) being the
subject of some red paint being smeared on their CO as he headed
their march in 1966.
But that did not
occur to 5RAR on this occasion. The proud Tiger Battalion was
home. That day both Tigers and audience were tame. The anti-war
demonstrations were kept for other days.
ONCE WE WERE SOLDIERS |