© Jim Marrett served as a Sapper
with 2 Troop 1 Field Squadron.
He was attached to 5RAR.
Rats' in Vietnam we led an odd life, being attached in small teams to other
units instead of working together as a whole troop or squadron.
Occasionally, if you were lucky you'd get attached to the
Armoured Personnel Carriers
(APC's) for the operation. There may have been endless arguments of sleeping
space and 'Jack Rations', but at least you never had to walk. If you were really
lucky you'd spend an operation on 'Ready Reaction' (on standby. sic) at the fire
support base. This was a total 'Swan', (easy as) with regular showers, mail and
meals. Mostly though you'd end up walking with the 'grunts'. We usually
worked as a team of two Sappers, known as a Splinter Team, attached to a company
of infantry for the duration of each operation.
In addition to our mine, booby-trap and demolition duties, the 'Grunts'
also allowed us to act as honorary infantrymen. This had more to do with filling
the roster on the gun each night and the amount of
(Plastic Explosive) we could dish out for cooking purposes than any admiration
of our soldiering skills. Had the grunts been aware that our total infantry
training consisted of the real basics at rookie camp and the crash course at
Canungra, they may not have welcomed us so openly. But this story is more about
my skills as a Sapper coming under a serious cloud of doubt.
I was attached to A Company 5RAR for 'Operation
Kings Cross' in late 1969. It commenced with a rather gung-ho
Caribou landing at Phu My. It was an extremely arduous operation where we
found lots of bunker systems, all of which had to be searched and then
One bunker system we came across was very well camouflaged. Fresh grass
clippings were evenly spread across the entrance trails. It contained heaps of
medical supplies and equipment, mostly of French origin. As we swept through the
bunker system we threw
grenades into each bunker. I liked this bit because it got rid of the bats
and spiders I would otherwise confront when I went down to search the bunkers
and set up the charges. Unfortunately one of the
grenades failed to explode.
The Company Commander (Major
Sutton) made the decision that we would harbour up in the bunker system area
to see if 'Charlie' was going to come back for his medical supplies. This
postponed the task of blowing up the bunkers, but I was given the job of getting
rid of the unexploded grenade inside the bunker.
Not wanting to move his men or to make undue noise,
Major Sutton said I should make the explosion as minimal as possible. he
also wanted my assurance that he and his men would be safe from the explosion in
their present positions.
Major Sutton and the rest of the HQ group were situated right along side the
bunker containing the grenade.
Calling on my entire ten weeks of Corps training and subsequent in-country
education, I gave the 'Thumbs up' and headed into the bunker.
The last thing I wanted to do was touch this grenade in case I loosened
something that would set it off. I figured half a stick of
gently placed beside it would do the trick. I came out to make up the charge, at
the same time suggesting to
Major Sutton that everyone can stay where they are, but 'to be safe' they
should lay flat on the ground. I put the charge in place, lit the fuse and
exited the bunker with the traditional cry of "fire in the hole!"
Perhaps as a show of confidence I took my position flat out on the ground,
Major Sutton. Waiting for a demolition charge to go off is always a weird
mix of tension and excited anticipation. With my high ranking superiors gathered
about me, this one was especially tense.
Suddenly the earth shook. The ground rumbled and tossed beneath us. I caught
a glimpse of
Major Sutton and the others, their bodies flapping like fish freshly landed
on a river bank. This was not good. Leaves and twigs shaken from the trees
rained down on us and a cloud of dust engulfed the whole sorry scene. My first
thoughts were of a life on 'the hill' polishing belt buckles.
I prepared myself for the worst as
Major Sutton rose, brushing the debris from his greens.
He threw me a cruel stare that could have cut through steel, and said; "back
to the drawing board Sapper". I began to mumble about there maybe being a cache
of explosives in the floor of the bunker beneath my
charge, but I could see my defence was going to gather little support amongst
this shaken and dusty gathering.
'Charlie didn't come back to the bunkers so I eventually set up the charges
and blew them, using a particularly long fuse to enable us to get a 'very safe'
distance away before the big bang.
I must have been forgiven by A Company because they had me back with them on
Bondi, and even took me on leave with them to Vung Tau...but that's another
TALES FROM THE TIGER