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1969

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SVN Odyssey

Milton C. W. Pearson, CSM, 106 Field Workshop, 1968-1969

On The Road To 106 Fd Wksp, Nui Dat

Never gave immediate thought of Vietnam although I knew my OC, Maj. J. Hardwick, had strongly recommended that I go. The posting arrived as the CSM of a Unit named 106 - I had heard of 101 and 102 Field Workshops (and of the others 105, 113 etc, all CMF Units. Off to war; departing from Seymour Railway Station unlike the troops to Korea who departed from a platform called Dysart Siding.On arrival in Sydney we were transported to the Personnel Depot, South Head. Planes came and went whilst a large group of us remained in South Head where the daily routine was being on parade with WO1 Clarrie Webb doing the roll call and informing those who had a flight.

Weeks later still no flight and only COs or OCs had any priority in gaining a seat to Vietnam. Daily routine: fall-out and wait at Watsons Bay Hotel and if any flight a runner would inform us. I learnt much later that there was a ceiling of Australian numbers in Vietnam, thus the trickle-feed.

Finally WO1 Webb said he could take 12 on a Priority-2 Stores flight and we had to be at Richmond Air Base by 6am the following day, 21st Nov 68, with 12 aboard a C130 Hercules seated in web seats with our feet up on boxes of stores and off we went.

Our flight took us to Darwin where we stayed the night. 22 Nov 68, arrived Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon. The scene was unreal with warplanes, passenger jets and helicopters I had never seen. All aboard my first flight in a 'Caribou' a Canadian Built transporter operated by the RAAF and dubbed 'Wallaby Airlines'. First call was the port city of Vung Tau to release some passengers then off to 1st Australian Task Force, Nui Dat, in Phuoc Tuy Province.

March In

Landed Luscombe Field, Nui Dat and met by CSM Laurie Lilley of 1 Armoured Squadron Workshop. Laurie stayed with me long enough to show me my tent (built with Australian sand bags) - he then headed back to his Unit. Chief Clerk WO2 Ron Hutchins was happy to see me given the Unit had been operating since 5th October 1968 whereby many soldiers marched in from Units already in Vietnam and new arrivals from Australia. It became standard practice at 106 to meet your Rio if possible.

The march-in process to 106 involved basic admin, the Adjutant then would parade you to meet the Officer Commanding. The process continued: weapon issued, greens issued with number stamped on, (my number was F204W). This marking of greens meant that when you handed yours into the Q-Store for laundering, you would then receive your clean greens back. The laundry was done in the village of Baria, Phouc Tuy Province.

The construction of the Workshop buildings was still to be completed however, the imposing A-Vehicle repair building - nicknamed the 'Opera House' - was operating but the Soldiers' Club, Sgt's Mess and Kitchen were yet to be built. Watched the morning parade (Nov. 1968) to get a feel of the daily routine of the many working groups and also checked out 1 Armd Sqn Wksp's weapon pits with CSM Laurie Lilley; but given the improved defences of 106 from its Southern Perimeter these pits would become obsolete and after the recovery of ammunition and grenades, the pits were filled in.

Duties on allocation (to the Unit) were not via Routine Orders as ROs did not include any duties. 106 had a daily lookout set up on the roof of B-Vehicle shop. The Craftsman/Private would climb up and be seated with binoculars as early warning. (The Task Force eventually called off this requirement.) Duties were a juggling act on the morning parade where it was decided who was going to work and who was going to be on duty. I asked the Platoon Commander of 2 Platoon (James Hislop) if he would he like to see all duties listed in Routine Orders. He was delighted, saying he would know who was turning up for work on the many projects his platoon was undertaking (and who was not).

To clarify how initial duties were allocated, we needed to understand that many soldiers were away outside the Task Force and how this was managed was: Corporals had soldiers in their group numbered 1 to 10, so for any one day on the morning parade, duties were allocated to say numbers 3 and 7 and so the Corporals who managed 3 and 7 would simply have those Crafties undertake those particular duties. Other duties that kept Crafties from their platoons included: mess duties, cleaning grease pits, refurbishing tents, painting cement in showers and applying sand to make them non-slip, urinal maintenance and a few others when soldiers were on field punishment. When I converted duties into actual names which were shown both in Routine Orders and morning parade, there were a few soldiers on duty on successive nights because at that stage I had no idea who were in the 10 section groups; given that each week some sections only had 5 or 6 soldiers and not a full complement (after all the Unit was forming and those in Vietnam from other Units to form 106 remained from 4 days to some 4 months before their replacements from Australia arrived to fill their position). After two weeks in the job the OC Maj W.I.N.S Hicks-Hall called me in and said I now had the task of providing Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) for 4th Battalion our North Easterly neighbour.

Duties during my posting (within & outside 106) were: 1. Daytime lookout 2. Night Piquet on strongpoint 88A (on our Southern perimeter) 3. Night piquet at Husky Alpha (US Unit that had 155mm and 175mm) Track mounted guns 4. Night piquet at B Sqn 1 Armoured Regiment (Eastern Perimeter) 5. TAOR Patrol out from 4th Battalion and then 6th Battalion when they arrived April 1969. 6. Special patrols after Nui Dat was fired upon (July 69) with 122mm rocket and 87mm fire.

Morale

I was very impressed by our 106 soldiers in a War Zone. We relied on another Unit's water tanker to fill out overhead tanks and sometimes we did not get a refill. To see A-Vehicle Corporals and Crafties covered in grease - and no shower to boot - did not faze them. The beer ration was fair and the driver bringing the ice was slipped a few tinnies (VB of course) to dump a few more blocks into the assortment of old fridges/freezers now being platoon-size eskies.

The odd match or two! ... 106 playing in the soccer comp against other Nui Dat and Vung Tau Units (that included the Vietnamese Academy) provided a good outlet, with those not involved in sport or required for work on Sundays boarding the truck for Sunday beach trip. Of course as a caring [?] CSM, I handed out prophylactic kits (thanks to Cpl Arthur 'Rainbow' Aplin, our medic, for keeping up the supply). 'Rainbow' was a Unit character born in Borroloola and for example, to see Cfn Don Johnston teaching Arthur to throw the boomerang was a treat.

Lance Corporal Charlie Goloski our Unit Mascot was a source of great morale. I met Charlie through his handler Cfn Dick Sainsbury and he did not bite me. Charlie stirred up the diggers and soon learnt to open a 'tinnie' or a 'goffa'* and have a swig and if berated or harassed he would go aloft and pee from above. Charlie did not like the locals when he rode into Baria on the laundry run and would guard the vehicle when the driver was inside collecting laundered greens. His inquisitive nature led to his demise. * 'a soft drink', like a lemonade or a Coke.

Range Shoot

The 30 or 50 cal machine guns were also a great morale booster! Many weapons in Vietnam were not part of our normal Army learning for many of us. We had lots of ammunition from vehicles in for repair and from 'other sources' that were not pristine! The range area was on the Eastern side of 1 ATF and we set up 44 gal drums some 600 plus metres down the range. Fed back to me many years later revealed just what a great range shoot it was.

Strong Point

Manufactured by GE Platoon, it was a good design and after being buried underground then being outfitted with beds and mattresses, enabled the night piquet to take a kip and then to move from bed below to parapet above (on a shift change) with no external movement detectable by the enemy. A 30 cal machine gun was the main weapon in 1969 [later changed to an M60 machine gun]. A blast-wall entry point was behind the strong point.

A 'Bummer'

Task Force Fire-Power Demonstration prior to 1969 TET New Year Holiday was a low point for our Unit because we were not able to participate. This fire-power demo was a counter or preventive measure given the 1968 TET Offensive when the enemy coordinated attacks against most of the Military Units and locations in South Vietnam. 106 had 1 Fd Sqn off to our right flank and 1 ARU and 9 Battalion off to our left flank which narrowed our frontage to be involved. However, it certainly was a '4th July old fireworks display' when the show began not the least being 'Puff The Magic Dragon' as it flew over our Southern perimeter) ... parachute-flares lit up the skies and the one-in-five tracer bullets vertically fired from 8 coaxial-mounted machine guns in the modified DC3 plane, demonstrated what a lethal force this plane was and how it could neutralise a football field in a burst.

Training / Patrols

I would take out a TAOR patrol and within the group would be a Corporal or Sergeant who would then take out the next patrol. This became on the job training for both the patrol members and the next patrol commander. I learnt the Battalion Standing Orders by going on patrol with them together with Sgt Noel Crawford prior to implementing our own patrol programme. This responsibility went for nine months when our requirements slowed down before resuming after I had left.

A funny incident occurred when Sgt Barry Jackson and I were out the back of the 'Opera House' (A-Vehicle Workshop). When going through scrub banana a very colourful snake (krait) reared its little head and I leapt 9 feet 10 and half inches over the snake leaving Jacko to do the snake in.

Nick-Names

I often recall a soldier simply by their nick name and what then flows is a story about them or that person:
'Shorty' - Richard E. SAINSBURY, Recovery Mechanic. He operated the M543 and would extend the boom and lift me over the triple perimeter wire so that I could replace and lay trip flares. Shorty was also the handler of Lcpl Charlie Goloski.
'Clogs' - William J. SLEGERS, Transport Section, handler of the Unit's second monkey mascot 'Susie'
'Jock' - Brian R. CARLYLE, GE Section, played the bagpipes ... piped himself out of 106 on RTA.
'Abdul' - John W. BAILEY, Electrical Section, from Mt Isa, a bush poet, not just Abdul the Bulbul Ameer song which was part of his repertoire.
'Roly' - Roland J. LANHAM, Orderly Room, Roly wore coke bottle thick glasses. One morning with sun beaming, in a shadow, someone appeared and asked to see the OC. Roly responded that the OC was a busy man and at that point he noticed PEARSON on the person's greens. Are you the CSM's brother; NO, I am the Task Force Commander. The OC will see you straight way Sir. A week or so later I was out at Luscombe Airfield and 1ATF Commander, Brig. Sandy PEARSON, stood alongside me as a Bristol Freighter was landing. I exclaimed that I have never seen such an old freight plane. The Brigadier replied noticing my name 'CSM that is not a plane it is 5,000 nuts and bolts flying in formation'. Roly's uncle was Brig J.C. Bendall, CBE, our last DME and first DEME. I was awarded the Bendall Cup for winning the RAEME Victoria 200m race in 1965.
'Rotor Button' - is the small important component of a distributor. Whoever bestowed this title on our Unit's second Officer Commanding, Major Claude C. V. L. PALMER is not known ... more than likely, some Crafty in the Vehicle Section. Claude as an RMC Duntroon graduate in Mechanical Engineering liked to get his hands dirty and would often arrive and show the Craftsman some of his trade secrets and like a rotor button he certainly was a hands-on OC doing his daily rounds. The Australian digger has a knack of reminding you of your past good or otherwise and as for our wonderful leader, Rotor endured many a ribbing (good hearted) post Vietnam when in the company of 106 diggers. I learnt a lot as a CSM from Claude and the phrase 'mitigating circumstances' crept into my vocabulary.

Orderly Room

Movements in/out, duties, offences and of course charges = THE A4 (not the paper size!) The ingenuity of the RAEME Crafty has no bounds, some very good and some not so good. Formerly, a soldier being disciplined would have an escort front and rear and be paraded by being marched into his OC/CO. The offence read (arrghh!, 'mitigating circumstance') is the last line of defence for the soldier. Claude liked a good story; guilty 7 days field punishment, march-out CSM; on some occasions this could have been worse.

It would be remiss not to mention Cfn. Kevin C. CHASE who arrived in Nui Dat two days after his 19th birthday on 21st January 1969, the same day as our new OC Maj C. PALMER. I had this Crafty for 296 days and he kept me busy with his inventing new ways to get into strife. Claude had Cfn Chase for his whole tour. I did find out at our 25th Birthday Reunion at Coopers Plains how ingenious he was and what he got away with. On the good side, Charles, as he is now known, did provide some welfare towards the late A-Vehicle Warrant Officer John 'Put-Put' PUTLAND. John and Charles were born only 15 km apart in Innisfail where John passed away.

Rest In-Country

My five day break was spent as a guest of 2 Squadron RAAF in Phan Rang. This was the Base for the Canberra Jet Bombers. This Unit won awards from the Americans for their low-level bombing missions. They only had eight aircraft and did eight missions per day, great maintenance crew.

A hectic program was in place and I was welcomed by Squadron Commander and taken around the complex by Flt Sgt Keith Evans. The Post Office/PX was managed by an ex Armoured Corps Sergeant that I knew from Puckapunyal. Welcome into the Sergeants Mess saw me carrying out a ritual of riding a wooden rocking horse across the room and whilst still mounted kiss a photo on the opposite wall. Yes I was thrown off and repeated the manoeuvre with success, by the way the front legs of the horse were retractable - too far and down you went, not far enough, you hardly moved.

Next day I was asked to conduct a range shoot with two 50 cal machine guns, they had more experts than I. In reality I was more like Range Safety Officer. However, I was then given a M72 LAW rocket launcher and asked to blow up an old vehicle some 250-300 metres up range. In Australia I had only ever handled this US weapon as a training aid. The weapon is light-weight, fires a single shot 66mm round, and then you dispose of the tube. I armed the weapon by extending the tube and in doing so up popped the sights; made sure no one was behind me and fired. Wow bang on target, made even more spectacular because they had put a can of petrol in the old wagon.

The following day was sports day, so went sailing in a 15 foot corsair with the Instrument Sergeant at the rudder and me handling the sails; very good until light winds 4 mile out to sea meant many tacking routines to get back ashore. Not sure what was in those Chinese Junks out to sea. The next day visit to a South Korean outpost. Too big a story and adventure to tell.

Why the trip? Well, a RAAF Sergeant Instruments had invented a sight mechanism for the M79 Grenade Launcher. The Infantry rarely used the sight mechanism because it was cumbersome in adjusting the distance and the bridge-like structure would catch on jungle material, so operators simply guessed the elevation over distances of 100 to 300-plus metres. The RAAF Sgt's design was made of Perspex, butterfly winged-shape and had distance etched into the Perspex. In short, Flight Sergeant Evans and I conducted firing tests to gauge comparison and Maj. Claude Palmer was given the results. The ratio was 4 to 1 in favour of the RAAF design.

The Wallaby flight to Phan Rang had deviated over the South China Sea and when fired upon we came to land from over Phan Rang Bay to the American base that housed their F4 Phantom Jets. The aerodrome had a 14 mile perimeter, with the RAAF responsible for night duties on this facility.

R & C in Vung Tau ('Vungers')

I had never been to the R & C centre run by Australian Amenities Unit, until I did so in early November 1969. The newly arrived Artificer Gun WOI Edward J. WOODS was not met by his Rio with previous incumbent already back home. I took Eddie down to 102 Fd Wksp and then called into the centre.

We got a beer and sat down upstairs. Two infantry blokes asked if we would like to play darts for beers. Ed was up for it so the introductions were made. Ray Simpson, I forget the other Warrant Officer. Heck WO2 Ray SIMPSON AATTV VC, DCM. I was stunned. I thought once awarded the Victoria Cross you were sent home. Ray SIMPSON served three tours totalling 1501 days. I felt guilty because Ed and I never paid for a beer. Well I got to have a beer or two with a bloke who served in WW2, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam. Ray returned to Tokyo in 1970 to his wife Shoko Sakai and he passed away on 18th October 1978 aged 52 yrs. This five day break away from the Unit in a purpose built facility in Vung Tau.

Hair Cuts / Get a Haircut Soldier!

Fortunately through Regimental Funds two electric hair-cutting sets were purchased via two soldiers going on R & R to Singapore. The clippers were kept in my office and simply given out to various sections when required. One day doing my rounds I entered the Stores Section. WO2 Dave Smith was cutting the hair of one of his soldiers. As he turned to address me and announce my present to his soldiers, the clippers continued their way (Victor motor mower style) up the back of his head. I took over the clippers thinking I might lessen the impact. However, the word went out, 'Don't let the CSM cut your hair!'

One late morning in October 1969 our Adjutant Capt James Robert STUART burst into my office exclaiming this soldier out here cannot see the OC. I called the soldier in and saw the reason. How did this Craftsman with long blonde hair get through the system? Out came the clippers and the curls disappeared as I changed attachments from 4 down to 1. The proud Crafty came and told me of the photo he sent to his mother of his combat haircut!

Before I left Nui Dat they built 'The Pearson Community Centre' and within that building was a Vietnamese barber. Sgt John Barry JACKSON (Repairs & Inspections Section) was a good barber and given he served for 564 days in 106, he cut many short back and sides. Barry had a real GI looking haircut and long after Vietnam he still had flat top [crew-cut] & very short back and sides.

Malaria

On the morning administration parade, soldiers took their daily dose of Dapsone* and another once-weekly pill, Paludrine to combat Malaria; at least on parade and using their own water bottle became the fastest and most efficient method of dispensing this medication. *Dapsone is an anti-bacterial drug most commonly used in the treatment of leprosy. During the Vietnam War, some Australian troops took the drug Paludrine as an anti-malarial agent, while some took both Paludrine and Dapsone.

We certainly had a weekly spray from 'may bay' the Vietnamese word for plane. The plane's loud speaker would announce to the local people that the spray was not harmful to their crops. I often saw this plane when I took the Sunday morning parade. For all the pills, Paludrine and Dapsone, when we left Vietnam, we then started on what was colloquially called 'Happy Pills', orange in colour which needed to be taken for six weeks on returning home. A few, who forgot, actually developed Malaria some years later.

Sport

My first ever game of Rugby was for 2 Pl GE against 1 Pl the Greasers; as the CSM I simply chose GE given I Corps enlisted to be a fitter and turner. We played out the back of the 1 Pl lines and as I ran out Cpl Dennis Cordier, Tels Sect, asked what position I played. Never played I replied. Well you are now the fullback CSM. For the record I scored the only try. Our next game was against 9 Battalion and we lost by one try.

Our soccer team was mainly in 5th place during season and snuck into the final four; from there we progressed beating 1 Fd Sqn and then the Vietnamese Junior Academy team to make the grand final. Our opponents were 2 AOD. They ran out onto the field in red and white uniforms including proper football boots. One of their blokes had played for Australia and their equipment was sent to them by a Sydney Club for whom a 2 AOD member had played for. Out we trotted mainly in GP boots, the odd footy boot and Cfn Dennis Edwards had a green top, our goalie a red top and I a green top, that was the extent of our strip. Nil all at half time and in the last 15 mins they scored five goals to claim whatever the trophy was on offer. In Rugby Cpl John W. Smith and I were selected to play for a RAEME team in Vung Tau. John Smith was a Vehicle Mechanic and played Rugby for the Apprentice School and A grade in Brisbane.

Task Force RSM Conferences

These meetings commenced in 1969 and were held in different Unit Sergeants' Messes on Sunday mornings. This rotation enabled me to visit all other Unit locations. Matters concerning the soldiers were raised, resolved or simply put into place by 1 ATF down to Unit commanders. The cessation of wearing sleeves-down after 1800 was a good move (prior,it was a chargeable offence).

One day, at 12 Fd Regt while having convivial ales after our meeting, I noticed the mess had plenty of greenies (VBs). I found the mess Sergeant and asked why they had so much green. I knew this was a NSW Unit and VB would be hard to swallow. I thought you blokes liked Fosters, well we prefer that to VB. I could swap you a pallet load of blue (Fosters) for a pallet load of green. The Sergeant was a happy bloke. I rang our transport section and Cfn. Michael 'Bluey' Saunders answered. Cfn Saunders have you got a Pettibone forklift licence? Yes Sir! Well then, get a pallet-load of blue and deliver to 12 Fd Regt. Sgt's and take back a pallet of greens. Job done!

When it was SAS Squadron to host the RSM Conference, you had to be careful, remove the rotor button, otherwise you became trapped in their company on top of Nui Dat or SAS Hill as it was known.

Completeion of the Brolace Club, Sgts' & Officers' Messes

The Borlace Club (Soldiers' Club) was a beauty, lined, painted, and cartoons on the walls 'Peanuts series' featuring Charlie Brown and Cpl. John W. Smith kept the troops in line. The famous 106 sign 'The Punch Behind the Task Force Fist' was bolted on the East side of the roof so all that who saw our Unit from the North/South road system within the camp could easily attempt sabotage. And no more Lance Corporal Charlie Goloski up in the tent rafters either - sadly Charlie passed away (death by misadventure) and OC Maj Claude Palmer conducted a ceremonial burial alongside the Unit flag pole.

The Sergeant's Mess was great relief from our well-worn tent with only a ridge pole holding it all up. The President, Art Tels WO2 Robert M. 'Mick' Stevens and I, the Vice President, together with our Art Gun WO2 Terrence Lewis (his brother was a Company Commander in 9 Battalion). On painting the bar black I did a comb-like scrape through the paint to give a burnt orange look to the finish. The rubber flap when lifted enabled 'goffas' and 'greenies' to slide down shaft into a 44 gallon drum outside. Our second Chief Clerk WO2 Colin 'Chiefy' Thorpe would fire up his squeeze-box for some music, also Instrument Sgt. Joseph M. Gibbons would play guitar.

My 28th birthday on 29th July 1969 was celebrated with fellow mess members. I had a dozen Great Western Champagnes and on opening we fired the corks over the partition that separated our mess area with the Officers, in fairness I gave them a bottle also, so they could fire back with popping corks. Cpl. Lawrence F. Forsyth did a painting that was hung on the entrance door.

My Rio

My replacement, WO2 Donald H. 'Bronco' Burns, spent a week with me learning the ropes. 'Bronco' was the first President of 'The Lowerson VC Club' back in 1957. I'm glad 'Rainbow' liked me because Bronco was shot by our own medic with the bullet passing through orderly room partition and into his thigh. Well you have to be tough to make CSM.

Boeing 707 named City of Ballarat was my 'freedom bird' - had to lie on the floor of the bus at Tan Son Nhut due to some wild machine gun fire. Great flight to Sydney, big brother of mine ushered me past demonstrators to his place then on to Essendon the following day the 20th Nov 1969 where my family Wendy, Joanne (5) and Mal (2 1/2 who, running across the tarmac, wrapped himself around my legs) were waiting for me. I was home and proud of what I had achieved.

Arte Et Marte