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