The Beer Run

We all remember when, if the Airmen’s Bar wanted more beer, we would have to go to the US Navy Commissary in Cholon, a suburb in Saigon, to buy it from them. Do you remember how it went? A couple of blokes would grab the Milk Run to Ton Son Nuit, get off and grab a US Army vehicle with a local driver and drive to the Commissary, buy the Beer, load the Beer and drive to the Australian Embassy which was situated in the Caravelle Hotel, race up to the reception and grab the mail, back to the vehicle and drive back to Ton Son Nuit, off-load the beer and wait for the Milk Run to return, load the beer and return home. A piece of cake!! This is my recollection of one such Run, which happened in late March 1966. Two members of the Committee were to go and buy the Beer, there was myself, an LAC Assistant Loadie/G.H. and an LAC Loadie/Engine Fitter (who arrived 24/11/65 and departed 25/07/66) and who shall remain nameless, however for the sake of the story and for something he did later in the day I will call him “Little Boy Blue” as in the nursery rhyme. We caught the “Duty Loadie” vehicle from the Villa out to the airstrip; dressed in our correct uniform, you remember, Drab shirts, Drab shorts, secured at the waist by 2 strips of cloth passing through metal clips, Drab long socks, Black leather shoes and our Blue Hat. And being so immaculately attired we refused to physically assist the Crew in the pre-flight checks etc, however, we did offer constructive comments on their style and method. Upon arriving at Ton Son Nuit we left the aircraft to continue on its milk-run, while we met our contacts and somehow, I don’t remember how, we were given a deuce and a half (two & a half ton) with a local Vietnamese driver. The only thing I remember about the white knuckle drive to the Commissary was, to get right of way in the traffic the only rule seemed to be; the larger the vehicle and the louder the horn, got right of way.

Going into the Commissary was like something out of the future, it was huge, you could buy everything that opened and shut, the Yanks could even buy the latest model of a motor vehicle and it would be ready for them to drive away upon their arrival home to the states. We purchased the pallets of “beer” (Budweiser & Schlitz) and paid for them, I don’t recall how we did that, but I assume Little Boy Blue either paid them in Greenbacks or MPC. We loaded them onto the back of the Deuce and a half and headed off on our next white knuckle ride to the Embassy, which was situated on one of the upper levels of the Caravelle Hotel in down town Saigon, when we finally got there we found that there was no parking spots out the front, but we did find one just around the corner in To Doo’ Street, after parking and just as we got out of the truck we noticed that an American MP jeep had pulled up behind us. Can you imagine the sight that beheld the Big, Black Yank MP, with his 45 hung low on his right hip, there in front of him was a US Army vehicle driven by a local Vietnamese driver and hoping out of the passenger side was two white blokes dressed in Drab shirts, Drab shorts, secured at the waist by 2 strips of cloth passing through metal clips, Drab long socks, Black leather shoes and our Blue Hat, on closer inspection he would have noticed that on our epaulettes we had the word “Australia” and on each of our sleeves we had a two bladed propeller. His first words to us sounded like “Wot chew doing in Too Dough Street?” We didn’t understand him so we asked him to repeat it, which he did, Little Boy Blue, being the senior L.A.C., told him “Mate, we are just nicking up to get the mail and buggering off back to Ton Son Nuit.” The Big Black Yank MP, with his 45 hung low on his right hip then said “Say wot chew sayin? So Little Boy Blue repeated it. The Big Black Yank MP, with his 45, then unclipped his holster and told us that due to recent bombings that no-one was allowed to park in this street, it was at this point that Little Boy Blue, and just before he nicked off to get the mail, invited the Big, Black Yank MP, with his 45 hung low on his right hip, to go and have sexual intercourse with himself, or words to that effect. There I was, a young bloke who had only turned twenty a couple of months ago, left with our local Vietnamese driver, who was still sitting behind the wheel of the truck, but excreting bricks, and a very excitable Big, Black Yank MP, with his 45 hung low on his right hip, trying to placate and explain to him that we were members of the Royal Australian Air Force based in Vung Tau and we flew Caribous and worked under the command of the 315th Air Commando Squadron. Upon reflection I think the only thing that saved us was, that the very excitable Big, Black Yank MP, with his 45 hung low on his right hip, didn’t know what rank we were, but because we had a two bladed propeller on our sleeves we were possibly Prop Jockeys and therefore Officers and he was only a NCO. Thankfully after a few more minutes, although it seemed like a lifetime, Little Boy Blue reappeared with the mail bag slung over this shoulder, he threw the mail bag into the back of the truck and told me to get back into the truck, which I did. Just before Little Boy Blue hopped back into the truck he turned back to the very excitable Big, Black Yank MP, with his 45 hung low on his right hip, and once again invited him to go and have sexual intercourse, or words to that effect. Little Boy Blue then told our driver to take us back to Ton Son Nuit.

After surviving another white knuckle ride back to Ton Son Nuit we pulled up at the hanger that stored all the mail and other goods that “Wallaby Airlines” carried on its Milk Runs to all the different Special Forces Camps, we unloaded the pallets of beer and stored them in the hanger to await the return of the Boo. Located around a couple of the walls inside this hanger were large, open wooden timber crates, each with the name of the camps we visited on either, the milk run to Nha Trang in the north or to Ca Mau in the south. In due course the Boo returned and I organised a fork-lift to load the pallets of beer into the aircraft, it was only after we started to tie the load down that I realised that Little Boy Blue was not with us, so I went back into the hanger to find him, and where was he? Why, he was in a Mail Crate fast asleep!

Cheers,

Bob

P.S. If you still haven’t worked out who Little Boy Blue is, his Christian names are James Claude.

Extracts from Dutchy’s ‘Notes From The Rear’

NOTES FROM THE REAR

“Who were you with?” asked the bloke about my age at the bar after the parade.

“Wallaby Airlines.” I replied

“Wallaby Airlines.” he repeated “The Caribous.”

I was quite pleased that he was that knowledgeable. Many Vietnam vets I‟d spoken to since the

war had to be filled in on the details.

“They flew so slowly.” he said showing even more knowledge of the squadron. “In fact they

flew so slowly they are the only known aircraft to cop a bird strike up the arse.”

I wasn‟t quite sure whether to be proud of this singularly outstanding achievement, or to snot

him for insulting a great aircraft.

“Well…we got you into those tight little airstrips to fight the war”.

“Yeah, it was terrific.” he continued walking through his own private minefield, “By the time we

got there the fight was usually over.”

Having got the shits thoroughly by this time I asked, “So who were you with?”

“110 Sigs, Vung Tau. Spent the war up Telecom Hill drinking at the Navy Diver‟s Bar.”

Well that was it. I eased off to find a more suitable drinking companion. Bloody smart arse.

But he could have been right. We were flying against a head wind one day when one of the

passengers motioned for me to join him. He pointed out the window and said “Look at those

hills, they‟re beating us.” I admit we did seem to be losing ground. Someone up the front must

have noticed too. A change of course and we started to improve our position. At least now we

looked like we were going somewhere even if it was in the wrong direction.

There were various types of pilot who flew the Caribous in Vietnam. A different set of rules

from those back in Oz allowed for some individual creativity.

We had:

The Gardener – a pilot who liked to prune the tops off the trees with the UHF aerial much to the

chagrin of the radio techs.

The Botanist – brought the greenery back to base for further examination.

The Wannabe Bomber Pilot – arrived over the destination airstrip which was under fire,

and dropped the delivery, a live cow, through the cookhouse roof. The cook radioed back

that he was delighted with the service. Saved him getting shot at whilst chasing an angry

cow down a „hot‟ strip .

The Water Skier – flew so low over the sea he put up more spray from prop wash than the

regulars on the Murray.

The Banzai Pipeliner – flew along the waves at six feet. The waves were twelve feet high. If he

wanted to surf the Banzai Pipeline he should have taken a trip to Hawaii.

The Cullenary – carved it up and made a meal of the flight. (alternatively – trying to get a

Caribou to fly like a Mirage)

The Fun Fair Operator – pulled positive „G‟s on the passengers and then took her over the top.

The negative „G‟s soon sorted out who was not wearing a seat belt. Course the passengers

all had to pass the assistant loady on their way off the plane. Words like „mad‟ „insane‟

„it‟s frightening enough down there mate without nearly killing us up here.‟ were all too

frequent.

The Philosopher – same as the fun fair op only he did the manoeuvre with a plane load of

pigs. Trying to prove the old theory about „bacon on the wing‟ (even NASA hasn‟t tried

that one yet)

Talking about pigs, on one flight the box, housing a large white, was a little flimsy. On take off

the weight of the animal popped the back of the box and the porker came out, rolling down till he

hit the ramp. He picked himself up and took a position sitting on the floor facing the assistant

loady. They struck up a conversation and apparently the assistant loady was quite pleased to

finally find someone who would listen to him. Unfortunately the plane‟s destination was up into

the highlands – Montaniard territory. The assistant loady‟s latest friend was to become the focal

point of a Montaniard ritual that was quite stressful to watch from a Westerner‟s viewpoint.

Embarrassing Moments:

There were numerous applauds for the dedication and efficiency of the squadron as a whole.

However, at various times, not unlike any other venture in life, things turned left leaving the

crews to call on the old French adage “C‟est le guerre!”.

One delivery arrived over the firebase destination airstrip with a load of palletised, empty sand

bags. There was shooting and all sorts of nasty things going on down below so a request to drop

the pallets was approved. Just drop them on our end of the airstrip was the request. As they were

originally meant to be delivered, they had no parachutes. Don‟t need „em anyway. Can‟t hurt a

sand bag advised someone with a wealth of knowledge on sand bags.

Out went the red streamer. We had one run. Cargo door open, ramp level, straps undone,

assistant loady holding the pallets from rolling prematurely, loady, safety strap on lest he follow

the pallets out into space, set to run the lot down the rollers in one move. The pilot was quite

adept at his craft. Flew the plane to all but the edge of the strip, green light on, pallets rolling.

Out they went, falling…falling…dead-eye-dick. Straight onto the end of the runway in a line,

one, two three, four….

As the pallets hit the ground they compressed, the straps sprung off and the empty bags shot up

in a perfect arc landing, and covering, to halfway down the airstrip. “Oh shit!” says someone.

“Christ! Look at that!” exclaims the loady.

“Wallaby 05 thanks for that.” comes a call from the firebase. “Not only will we not be able to

retrieve the bags till the firing stops and we no longer need them, but it looks like there‟ll be no

aircraft landing here till we clean up the mess. You sure you‟re on our side?”

Some of the flights were long and boring. There was not a lot of scope for games like „I Spy‟ up

at 10000 feet. Clouds, hills and blue sky just about covered it.

Our two young intrepid pilots decided to put themselves through their paces.

“Lurch†, think up things to test us will you. It doesn‟t matter when it is, we need to get

experience. You need to surprise us so that our reaction time improves.”

So Lurch pulls a few circuit breakers. Some tests were easy, others a bit harder.

“Can‟t you find anything that will really get us thinking?” asks one.

“Not really. You seem to be on top of anything I can do.”

We all sat back in our seats revisiting the doldrums. We were headed for Da Nang. Daylight was

fading and the crew was hungry. We‟ll get off at the first exit agree the pilots having been told

our quarters for the night were at this end of the strip. A radio call confirmed that control wanted

us off as quickly as possible, as they had four F4s taxiing out to blast off on a twilight mission.

We touched down on the stripes at the end of the strip. Reverse pitch, gun the engines for

maximum reverse thrust. Suddenly the nose rears up like a stallion and we go charging off down

the airstrip. “Jesus Christ….what the ..!”

It took both pilots till half way down the strip to get the beast under control.

Lurch came on the internal radio.

“You gentlemen ever heard of the reverse pitch circuit breaker?”

“Wallaby 04, Wallaby 04, Say I thought you guys were getting off at the first exit. I‟ve got four

F4s chewing up juice waiting for you to get off the runway.”

“You silly bastard Lurch! Yeah control. A little mishap. Sorry. Will exit the last. I‟ll kill ya

Lurch!”

“You told me to test you anytime and I did.” “Shit just as well it was a long strip and not one of

those cricket pitches.” “Give me some credit.” signs off Lurch with the biggest smirk you‟ve

ever seen. Lurch† always had a big smirk when he‟d done something smart.

Wallaby Airlines had requests to drop an assortment of nasties such as incendiary flares and

barrels of tear gas. The night time flares runs was real hair raiser. We were given a parachute

harness and instructed that if a round of fire entered the aircraft don‟t hesitate to grab a

parachute, hook it on and leap out the back. As the loady instructed, don‟t look around for him to

give the nod. He wouldn‟t be there. (I always wondered where he‟d be. Climbing out the front

over the pilots‟ heads??)

I had passed matriculation chemistry. Every time we had occasion to use white phosphorus, the

ignition time was measured in nanoseconds. Someone hadn‟t done their homework with regards

to time allowed to find the chute, hook it on and leap out the back. I reckoned by that time we‟d

be part of the floating star.

Not only that. They forgot to mention that we would possibly be parachuting into enemy hands.

Who would possibly be shooting at us on the way down. And that‟s if we ever worked out how

to use the damn parachute having never been taught.

Actually, after a bit of thought, it sounded better to be part of the largest star in the heaven rather

than the other options. Our only glimmer of hope was that it was night and we were possibly

hard to spot to shoot at.

But we lived to fly another night. This time dropping 44 gallon drums of tear gas. These drums

burst on hitting the ground and the wind carried the gas to the enemy. It was never explained

whether the gas was meant to cause the enemy to retreat, or to cause them to cough so loudly

that our blokes could easily locate them and pick them off.

There seems something weird about coming across a whole group of men in black pyjamas,

sitting in a circle, having a good cry. Never the less, there we were flying around above Xuan

Loc one dark and shady night when the order came to drop the first batch. Three drums.

We were given a heading and a location to offload the drums. Cargo door up, ramp level, loadies

with safety harnesses, green light, roll…roll…out they go. We continued to fly a circle pattern

waiting for orders to drop the next batch.

“Wallaby Airlines….Wallaby Airlines. Cough” came the distinct Aussie accent over the radio.

“Youse silly bastards. Cough Cough. Youse have dropped the gas in front of us. Cough Cough.

You‟re killin‟ us. Cough Cough. Whose side are youse on?”

“We dropped them right on the coordinates given us.” replied our skipper trying to hide the hurt

in his voice. “Didn‟t headquarters tell youse, Cough, there‟s been a change in the wind direction.

Cough Cough. Youse are as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike! Cough Cough Cough”

HQ hadn‟t divulged this seemingly unimportant piece of vital information. We slunk out of the

area not a word spoken. (I‟ve since found out from numerous conversations with army friends,

that any HQs were usually surplus to requirement, a waste of money, a place where people sat

sipping coffee waiting to put in their claims for an assortment of awards since they were the ones

who submitted the final account of any event.)

Which brings up the time the Yanks shot down their own Caribou. A famous photo made the

cover of The Pacific Stars and Stripes newspaper. Someone of importance in Wallaby Airlines

decided to visit the Yankee HQ at Nui Dat to ascertain the level of possibility of the same thing

happening to us.

“These guns on tracks can hit Saigon from here.” our adviser told us proudly. (Saigon was 38

miles away he added.) “How high do they fire?”

“Well it depends on the azimuth and trajectory but we can reach 60000 feet.”

“That‟s 12 miles high.” “Yep.”

“So if we fly at a ceiling of 10000 feet, your shell can hit us on the way up, or on the way down.”

“I guess so.”

“So how do we find out where and when you‟re firing.”

“You don‟t! We don‟t want Charlie to know so we keep it quiet.”

We walked out of there with a chill running down our spines.

“That‟s not good enough.” says the boss.

I wasn‟t privy as to whether they ever solved the problem or even came to an agreement, but

terms like „friendly fire‟ were being used often enough for one to start writing home to his mum.

But I do know I went back and examined the picture of that falling Caribou very closely to see if

there was any way an assistant loady could get out of it without hurting himself too much.

But it wasn‟t long after that that we were on the 005 mission flying from Pleiku down to Nha

Trang. Things were hotting up in the Pleiku area so we were glad to be getting out of there.

Approximately half way to Nha Trang there was a little mountain shaped like a woman‟s hips. It

had a valley up the middle and copse of trees right at the top of the valley, the junction of two

other streams. For reasons which temporarily escape my memory, this mountain was referred to

as „Pussy Mountain‟.

It was somewhere in the vicinity of Pussy Mountain that our radio frequency had to be changed

from Pleiku Radio to Nha Trang radio. The mountains are about 5000 feet high. There we were

cruising along at about 7000 feet, minding our own business, when all of a sudden a whole hill,

at 10 o‟clock below us, simply blew up. A frantic call to Pleiku Radio ascertained that they knew

nothing. They told us we would be getting very close to Nha Trang Radio area, perhaps we

should get in touch with them.

Nha Trang Radio: “Wallaby 05, Wallaby 05, where are you?”

Wallaby: “At about (co-ordinates given) on route from Pleiku to Nha Trang.”

Nha Trang Radio: (in the background “Son of a bitch!) “Wallaby 05, Wallaby 05, turn right

onto heading 180 degrees immediately. I repeat, turn right onto heading 180 degrees

immediately. You are in the middle of a B52 strike.”

The plane just about got whiplash the pilot had it over so fast. The trouble is you don‟t know

where to fly….in the middle of a B52 strike. Those little suckers are up there somewhere with

their heads in the clouds, calmly laying eggs all over the place. Once we were pretty sure we

were out of it, we contacted Nha Trang Radio again and asked how we could have possibly

stumbled into the middle of a B52 strike.

“Well we give a ten minute warning because we don‟t want to give Charlie time to get out of

there. Where were you ten minutes before the burst?” “We were on Pleiku Radio.”

“Well…what do I say….you‟re lucky you‟re still alive man.”

Our bloke wasn‟t transmitting when he gave his reply. But the rest of the crew heard it. That

pilot was definitely recruited straight from the wharves.

† – Richard ‘Lurch’ De Friskbom 10/11/1935 – 12/7/05 (RIP)

Extracts from Dutchy’s ‘Notes From The Rear’.

Copyright © PF 2009

Lifer

Tuesday, 26th February, 1969.

The sound of the four Pratt and Whitney JT3 Jet engines was becoming louder as the speed of the QANTAS 707 decreased as we approached Saigon airport. Looking out the window, I could see the landscape changing from the dark green and shimmering rivers, to more defined shapes, and buildings. Mixed with these were the round dimples in the ground, running in lines. The results of a B52 dropping its load of 30 tons of high explosive bombs. But what was the point I thought, there was nothing there but green vegetation.

The engine whine grew louder, the wings of the 707 appeared to grow as the spoilers and flaps are extended, setting the aircraft up for the point in space when gravity overcame the lift from the wings, hopefully at the piano keys painted on the runway at Tan Son Nhut. A series of clunks was felt more than heard as the landing gear locked into place, not long now and I will be in Viet Nam. The land is getting closer, the 707 becoming a little rougher in the ride as the thermals from the tropical heat buffeted the wings, the engine noise varying now as the pilot flys the plane to the ground, getting closer by the second, trees and landscape moving faster as we get closer.

Thump, screech, screech, thump. The engines increase to a louder than normal roar as the clamshells close for reverse thrust. Looking out the window at the runway intersection, there are aircraft waiting to enter as the 707 clears the runway. F4 Phantoms loaded to the gunwales with bombs, funny looking transport planes that I had never seen before, along with the familiar C130 Hercules. The 707 taxies past revetments, some containing these and other aircraft, others empty. There were also various passenger aircraft, painted in company colours that I also had never seen. This was definitely a different place to anything I had seen in Australia. Driving beside the 707 now was a Jeep, but this Jeep had a M60 mounted in the rear, and a soldier sitting in the back caring for his toy. This was definitely different to anything I had seen in Australia. All the vehicles looked as if they were from World War II movies, all the men dressed in dark green. Somebody was taking this business seriously.

The airconditioning system in the 707 was loosing the battle now with the heat, and the cabin was becoming stuffy. Soon enough the aircraft braked to a halt, the external power cart plugged in, and the engines shut down. The silence was unusual after so long with the background noise of the jets, and the shuffle of the passengers was now evident as cramped limbs were stretched. Someone always has to spoil things, and in this case it was the Army, as a sweaty body emerged through the door telling all to stay seated until told to move. Back in the military again. Now the outside heat was really becoming oppressive, and sitting in the centre of the 707, I would be one of the last to get out.

As I stepped through the door, the heat really hit, and what is that peculiar odour. Why wasn’t I told about this, and how am I going to put up with that for a year. There were buses waiting to collect us, and as I got in I noticed something unusual, there were no windows, only mesh. Luckily the Yank driving had a sense of humour, and told us that the bars were not to keep us in, but to keep the grenades out. I thought he was joking, Christ I am only here to fix aeroplanes, not get into slinging matches with people throwing grenades.

As we left the bus at what could be a terminal, we were told “Army going to Nui Dat over there, Vung Tau over here”. There was a group of sick looking blokes crowding around as we passed, yelling stupid thing like, “Lifer”, “365 and a wakey suckers”, and similar things that I really didn’t understand. I was soon to learn the facts of life in Viet Nam, but now, well I had only been there twenty minutes. Out on the tarmac was a RAAF Caribou, that was what I was here for, so I thought that would be my ride to Vung Tau. Not so!

The people going to Vung Tau were herded down the tarmac to one of those funny looking transports, kind of like a small Hercules, but with piston engines, and a couple of jets in pods, just like the Neptune had. It turned out to be a Fairchild C123. But what a grubby looking ship, surely they weren’t going to put us in that. That’s right! All aboard. The interior was no better than the outside. There were no seats, bar a few, and tie down straps strung across the floor at about six foot intervals. “Officers on the seats, the rest on the floor and hang onto the straps on take off and landing”, said the big Negro with a flight helmet the same colour as everything else here. They must have had a special on dark green paint. So with all of us real people sitting on the floor, the ramp door closed, and with two clouds of oil smoke the engines start. At least that is comforting, little else is. As the Bookie taxies out to the runway, the jets wind up, and after a small wait as some F5 Fighters take off, we line up, and the noise and vibrations increase to a point where I think the whole thing will fall to bits. Amazingly though, the thing actually flew, and about a half hour later we were in a landing pattern, and landing at Vung Tau with a sound like a thousand cans rattling together. The source of this noise was to become obvious as we slowed the strip and taxiways were made of PSP, steel sheeting joined together. As the door opened, there was that smell again, although I had not noticed missing it.

It wasn’t as hot here, as there was a bit of a breeze from the ocean, but it was still hot. The bus here was more familiar, even painted like the buses back home, and it had windows. There must not be any problem with grenade throwing here. When the bus stopped at what was to be home for the next year, we were greeted by some ADG’s (Airfield Defence Guards) with L1A1’s slung over their shoulders, leaning on a pile of green sand bags, calling us those stupid names again. What did 365 and awake up mean, and what was a lifer? It must be the heat affecting these blokes.

We were shown to our billets, long wooden two story constructions, segregated into the particular units here, 35 Sqn, 9 Sqn, and the Operational Support Unit. It was about this time I met a familiar face, one of the guys who left home about a month ago. He gave me some good advice when I said I hadn’t got a bed yet, “don’t go upstairs, it’s too hot during the day”. So I went down stairs, and never regretted it. Life here is tough, no privacy, only what you can manufacture by moving lockers around, concrete floor, no windows only fly screen along the length of the building where the window should be, and ceiling fans which didn’t all work. Oh and there were these two local women sweeping the floor with a strange looking broom, and placing clean uniforms on beds. Luckily I picked a bed that was right next to a working fan. At that time however, I didn’t know how comfortable that fan was to become.

As we moved about getting out gear stashed and familiarising ourselves with the compound, we were still being called those stupid names, and it was starting to get to me not knowing what it was all about, especially when some people shouted things like “six and a wakey, suckers”. It must have something to do with this ‘a wake’.

A bit after 5 o’clock (that’s 1700hrs for you Grunts) there was an influx of bodies, this time all the blokes I was looking forward to seeing again, but they were still going on about this Lifer shit, and I just had to risk making a fool of myself and find out what it was all about. Well, it was all clear when I was told with much good humour that I had 365 days to go before I awoke and returned to the real world, and that the bloke who had ‘6 and awake up’ was real short (in time) and was going home next Tuesday.

Dinner was a bit different to what I was used to, being sourced from the American system, but not all that bad, especially as there seemed to be ice cream unlimited, and syrup thick chocolate milk. I soon learned to mix it half with plain milk, but that was not today.

Whilst getting used to paying 15 cents for a can of beer (its no wonder we came home with alcohol problems), the suggestion was to go into town and see the sights, such as they were. I have difficulty sleeping in aircraft, and was pretty beat, but accepted the challenge. The short timers

accosted a ‘Lambro’ driver, and the price into town was agreed upon, three packets of Salam cigarettes. Seeing that I don’t smoke, this seemed a pretty good currency to me, especially since I was not used to this Monopoly money they had given me for all my good Australian bills. And I certainly didn’t know what a ‘Pee’ was. Good fun this Lambro ride into town, me sitting in awe whilst the others had their fun with the girls sitting side saddle on the Honda 50’s. Once again somebody had to tell me why that was, but apparently that the slopes found ways around that problem too. I got to taste Beer 33 on the first night, got propositioned by many girls, was told not to buy them ‘drin’, so they went to greener pastures screeching about ‘Cheap Charlies’, preceded by how someone called Ookda was lying. I also tasted my first ‘Noggie Roll’ that first night, and was quite taken by them. Apparently the pigs are full of worms, so we shouldn’t eat the ham, and the ice full of bacteria, but it still tasted good to me. I am still addicted to them though, and eat one every chance I get.

Time was running out as we had to be back at the base by 10 o’clock, or stay out all night, which on the first night didn’t impress me, so we hitched a ride back with some yanks in a World War II surplus truck. I soon learnt that they were not as old as they looked. Another 15 cent Flag Ale (that was my beer of choice at the time) and I hit the bed exhausted. Oh yes! It was a real bed with mattress and sheets. Life was pretty tough for the ‘Blue Orchids’ at Vung Tau. As I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of drunks coming back from the Club, and 50cc Honda bikes going down the road outside the wire fence, I thought, “Only 364 and a wakey”.

Salts, Blue Orchards and Us

There has always been rivalry between all three military services but as for me, I now wave a flag of truce as I reflect on days gone by in peace and war. There are so many memories, the reliable and beloved Huey helicopter, the seemingly vulnerable Spartan patrol boats and then of course those magnificent aircraft, the Caribous which always seemed to be here, there and everywhere.

How many times did we wait, resting at a rarely used remote airstrip, dirty, tired and eager to be gone from the bush? Listening for the familiar sounds of our saviour, the Caribou, which would soon take us back to our base where there would be hot showers, food and then some leave to do what soldiers like to do best and often. Suddenly there is the familiar drone of aircraft engines detected and a stirring restlessness spreads through the waiting group as diggers prepare to move.

The great relief as the now crowded Caribou becomes airborne and claws for height, yet seems still to be labouring with its load, banging, clattering and shuddering. In its thin metal belly, old soldiers doze and dream of what they might do; young ones shout above the deafening motors as they yarn and boast of their exaggerated intentions on leave.

The Caribou was very much part of our life on deployments in OZ or overseas. I can still recall the welcome airdrops of rations in New Guinea and forgave the RAAF crew returning to Lae for showers, hot meals and luxury living. (Forgiveness was only temporary).

There was the time in Vietnam when a mate and I spotted a Caribou with a Kangaroo proudly displayed on the fuselage preparing to land on our short improvised air strip. It had been awhile since we had seen fellow Aussies and better still, they had good old Bushels tea leaves aboard. It was then I began to realise the RAAF despite its bad habits of insisting on luxury and countless rules and regulations was not to be ignored. It was also that day when a lifetime friendship with one of the pilots began.

I often think of the many Navy and RAAF I shared drinks with and will always hold in high regard as comrades in arms. Jack Lynch and David Marlin immediately come to mind. That’s a major problem as we age; recognising such efforts and becoming sentimental about Navy and RAAF bastards we served with. I’ll have to toughen up.

Those Magnificent Caribou and Crew – For old warriors such as
David Marlin and Jack Lynch.

I’m sure you recall those lumbering slow Caribous.
In peace and war flying in support of me and you, cramped, noisy, rattling, shuddering and no hostess in such planes.
In headwinds it seemed you were going back from where you came.
Touching down on a muddy air strip the size of a postage stamp.
Daring take offs and landings in darkness with the aid of bright lamps.
Carrying soldiers, ammo, stores and even live food.
Welcome relief for distant outposts which caused good mood.
News from home and precious OZ tea leaves always part of the job.
Such thoughtful Caribou crews were most appreciated by our mob.
Oh, there were times airdrops would come crashing from above.
After cursing, a crumpled note is found; “From the RAAF with love”
History clearly records no matter when or where, they stood the test
Thanks Wallaby Airlines, you were bloody bonzer and the very best.

George Mansford
October 2014