Jim Marrett served as a Sapper
with 2 Troop 1 Field Squadron in
Vietnam from June 11 1969 to
June 11 1970. He was attached to
5RAR operations, mostly with A
Company until the Battalion
left, then worked with 7RAR.
It was June
1969 and I was new to this game. A Reinforcement on his
first operation, complete with fresh greens and an
embarrassingly new bush hat. I was a field engineer,
(now more romantically referred to as a
Rat), with 2 Troop 1 Field Squadron and I was out on
5RAR's 'Operation Esso'.
Geoff Hanley was my 'Number 1', the team
leader of our two man Splinter Team. He was 'short' with
just weeks to go, and he took me under his wing.
In the early days of the operation we
were situated in a small, and constantly moving base
camp housing and protecting elements of the land
clearing team in the Long Greens at the base of the Long
Was I nervous? Well, I went ten days
in-country before I had a crap if that's any indication.
I kept eating, and drinking, and wondering where it was
all going. At one stage I convinced myself it must be
coming out in my sweat ... there was a lot of that.
In this mini base camp, surrounded by
earthen bunds built by the bulldozer operators, we were
allowed the luxury of ponchos, air mattresses and
mosquito nets. Sin of sins, I even took my boots off
when I hit the sack. One night, very early in the
operation, I was woken by Geoff telling me to: "get out
quick there's movement!" As I rolled off the bedding and
began to rise, one of our
M60's opened up.
This was it. This was serious. And I
wasn't anywhere nearly properly prepared for it. I
pulled my boots half on as Geoff yelled at me to move;
"over here! over here! he said". With weapon in hand,
webbing over the shoulder and boots flapping out
sideways, at right angles to my feet, I waddled in the
direction of Geoff's voice.
"Under here," he said, as I ducked under
a conveniently parked army truck, joining three or four
other brave souls. An explosion ripped the air, followed
by a moments silence then a barrage of classic Aussie
phrases suitable to the occasion.
The VC had fired an
(Rocket Propelled Grenade) at the gunner who, by opening
fire had given the VC an aiming point. Realising we were
failing to contribute to the security of our comrades,
we exited our haven beneath the truck and took up
positions on the bund wall.
After an hour of 'standing to' and no
further action, we were eventually 'stood down'. In the
morning, as the sun rose, I glanced at the truck that
had been our safe-haven just hours before and winced at
the thought of what could have happened.
Perched on top of the truck was a huge
rubber bladder, filled with fuel for the bulldozers. Our
overhead protection was a huge incendiary bomb that
would have turned us to toast had it been hit.
Lesson one from my first operation:
will have a lot to do with getting me through my 12
months in this place.
TALES FROM THE TIGER