Tuesday, April 24, 2018

SOLDIER'S TALES #4


In the interests of preserving our history and with the kind permission of the author, one of my Corporals, who wishes to remain nameless (for fear the 'authorities' might wish to have words with him even after all these years) I am reproducing a story which first appeared in the Pipiwharauroa newspaper, November 2008, under the by-line 'More action packed yarns from out of Vietnam'.

This story is really about my Section. We were sent back to Nui Dat to guard our base camp. It entailed night time duties of sentry duty on the perimeter wire and the occasional listening patrol beyond the perimeter. Daytime duties were light and rest was the order of each day.

The Coy 2IC, a distinguished ex-NZSAS officer, ordered a clean-up of the lines, especially the gun-pits. Someone important was going to inspect. It has been noted over a period of time that rats had become a nuisance in the bunker due to food scraps left by errant guards.   Mysteriously the rats seemed now to have disappeared.

Cleaning up and the reason for the sudden disappearance of the rats became evident. Our gun-pit had been constructed with a recess to the rear of it, possibly as an ammunition storage bay. The recess needed attention. It too accumulated discarded rubbish. To our amazement (and consternation) we discovered a sleeping python of vast proportions. It was over three metres long and weighed in at a good twenty-three kilograms. His stomach was bloated to the size of three rugby balls. An autopsy revealed a hundred or so rats in different stages of decomposition – hence his need to sleep off the digestion process.

The air-field below our camp at Nui Dat at its northern end (nearest to us) was the storage area of at least two acres on canned Australian beer of every description stacked three pallets high. Soldiers seemed to suffer from acute thirst because we observed a slight reduction in this storage area at times. It always seemed to be replaced. Perhaps there was some form of accounting procedure for the stock as it came and went but it was not evident. The only evidence of protection for this treasure trove out in the open was a night guard of four men in a hut. A 'casual' visit by one of my section to the hut established vital information. At 2000 hours on TV in the hut was a round-up of what was happening in the war. This lasted for about 30 minutes. It was then that the guard took a break.

Planning swung into action. One of the major advantages in our favour was darkness. Calculation of timings and individual loads transported estimated that each man could manage thirty cartons in the 30 minutes. Further, to offset or delay discovery of the missing beer, it was prudent to remove the beer from the pallets in the centre of the pool. Rubber soled boots had to be 'stockinged'. Lastly, the pallet straps had to be replaced. Storage in our lines was no problem. Three old bunkers were re-commissioned as bars.

The same sort of situation was available at the Horseshoe as well. The truck driver was also easily tempted with a share of the booty so transportation was no difficulty either. My sections TOD at base camp coincidentally ended the day following the raid on the air-field storage area.   We had to return to the Horseshoe.

The Coy 2IC, mentioned earlier had a nose like a bloodhound. Trouble in the form of something out-of-place or untoward never went by him. Suspicion creased his brow when he first noticed the rather over-large tarpaulin covered load in the supply truck. His suspicions increased further when the supply truck stopped of at my patrol's bunkers first, a flurry of activity followed and then the tarpaulin covered load arrived at his HQ a lot smaller in size.   He was a man who exercised discretion with wisdom. Many months later with a twinkle in his eye, he mentioned over a beer how he had failed to apprehend the culprits, but knew who they were.

Footnote: As did the Company Commander, who with the Wisdom of Solomon, told the MPs to bugger off when they turned up at the Horseshoe 'sniffing'. But I do remember him telling me that if any of my platoon were ever caught drinking on duty I was for the high-jump. They never were.

Sunray 5/2

Footnote …. Victor 3 Company served in Vietnam from May 1968 through to May 1969.   It was part of 4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion.  19 members of the battalion, including four New Zealanders were killed in action while 27, including 8 New Zealanders, were decorated for gallantry.

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