I am a member of the 4 RAR Association, Qld but between May 1968 and May 1969 I was a pilot with 9 Squadron, RAAF. Sometime in 1969, I decided that instead of coming back to a bed every night, I should experience “life on the wild side”.
Earlier negotiations with the Special Air Service (SAS) had produced the advice that they would take me on a ten man patrol. I therefore asked my commanding officer (CO) if I could go with them. As it turned out, my CO very sensibly baulked at the idea. He did however agree that I could go out on a patrol with an Infantry company. Negotiations led me to being imposed on Major Michael (Midge) Morrison’s C Company, 4 RAR.
The Warrant Officer in charge of the 4 RAR helicopter pad at Nui Dat, WO2 Les O’Keefe, outfitted me with all the gear I needed. I was rather concerned however, that he could not keep from smiling during the kitting out process. I was given an SLR rifle which I had long ago forgotten how to operate but kept my RAAF issue 9mm pistol which I was sure I could remember how to fire. In the afternoon I was dropped into the C Company position and quickly realised that I had made a serious mistake!
Voices were subdued and there was much strange activity around nightfall which was repeated very, very early in the morning. After breakfast, the company started out on its patrol and I was placed in the middle of a file of Diggers. From time to time hand signals were passed to me by the soldier in front and while I tried to repeat them to the soldier behind me, it was clear that I had no talent as a mimic. In fact, after one particular shambolic attempt to pass on a signal, I looked back and was acutely embarrassed to see the Digger looking at me with an expression of fierce contempt. I don’t know who he was, but if he is reading this, I sincerely apologise.
After some time scrambling over and through difficult terrain, we adopted our ambush positions. Not too long after doing so, there was a bang. I immediately looked up to see what was going on and was more than a mite concerned to see that everyone else had their heads down . At that stage I decided that if shooting got under way, I would put my head down and not raise it again until I heard an Australian voice telling me that it was OK to look up.
Some hours later, one of the 9 Squadron Iroquois helicopters arrived at the company on a resupply mission. The crew of the aircraft were astonished to see one of their own board the aircraft to fly away, but the relief on the faces of the Diggers who looked after me was the memory that I really treasure. May God bless you all.
Submitted by : Wing Commander Hedley Thomas AM (Retd)