Chapter 50: Nursemaiding CHQ
After we left Garth things seemed to quieten down in the province. We were still out there patrolling, patrolling, patrolling but Nigel was laying low. I can’t say that I was disappointed, but it is right what they say – 95% of warfare is boredom; the only difference was we couldn’t relax because out in the jungle there was no front line. The enemy could pop up 25 yards away.
And he did.
CAPTION: The sigs manning the radios at CHQ.
When the company was in the field, one of the platoons had to nursemaid CHQ (company headquarters). This group consisted of the boss, Capt B, the CSM, mother; and an entourage of radio operators and other hangeroners. CHQ provided the link from the infantry platoons back to the battalion and the outside world. Communication was vital for this to occur so CHQ was weighed down with a lot of gear including a small command tent that some poor bastard had to carry.
A platoon could complete its necessary drills for a night harbour in less than 30 minutes, whereas the same process took at least two hours with CHQ. So in addition to slow progress through the jungle with these guys carrying all their gear, we also had to set up much earlier in the day; hence we considered nursemaiding CHQ as a bit of a bludge.
Browny, our forward scout, would give these blokes hell. When he had a bee in his bonnet (which was often) he would move very quickly through the jungle with the rest of us struggling to keep up. With CHQ tagging along they would often ask us to slow down. The conversation over the radio would go something like this….
“One Two puff, puff, this is One Four, puff, puff, over.” I should explain that CHQ would use a radio callsign One Four rather than One Zero for communication to us when we were with them.
When ever I got a call from CHQ I would be puffing and blowing from the exertion so I was very careful not to let them know that I too was feeling the strain from our quick pace. This required me to take in a bloody big breath and speak to them in my best radio announcer’s voice, you know, a silky smooth low toned voice, one that would show them that I am completely in control of the situation: “One Four, One Two, over?”
“Puff, puff, this is One Four, puff, puff, can you slow down, over?”
A big intake of breath and: “One Two, understand you want us to wait for you over?” Exhale and suck in more air.
“Puff, puff, affirmative over.”
Another big breath, “One Two, roger out.”
“Hey boss, the wankers from CHQ want us to slow down.”
“Fuck ’em. Ah, hang on…… tell Browny to ease up a little.”
There was a bit of wit over the radio too. One day it was pissing down, “One Two, this is One Four wetcheck, over!”
Ha, ha, ha.
Something like this would really lift my spirits and bring a smile to my face. Another time I went with a water party down to a nearby stream to collect water. “One Four, One Two, we are at the Murrumbidge now, over.”
Patrolling along with CHQ in tow often meant that we were just standing there waiting for them to catch up. The weight of our packs would cut into our shoulders so we would melt into a bush (for camouflage), lean over and flick the pack further up onto our backs so the load would be taken off our shoulders. I assumed this position while listening to the OC talk to another officer who was circling about overhead in the CO’s chopper. The CO was on leave or something.
Suddenly Doc Lindmark who was right behind me opened up with his M16. My first reaction was to dive to the ground. This seemed to take a long time as I floated through the air because gravity slows down when adrenaline kicks in.
I couldn’t radio CHQ because the OC had the airwaves tied up talking bullshit to the guy in the chopper and the noise of the chopper was masking the gunfire. Doc was still firing from a standing position. Go Doc. I’m not sure if I could see anything from down where I was, but the guys up ahead began to open up as well. The contact was over in less than a minute. Doc was really excited. He said he spotted a couple of guys coming right towards us as we were just standing there in the jungle. “What’s our guys doing out there?” He wondered to himself. “As I was trying to work out who they were, they got to about 25 yards from me when they turned right and started to parallel us. Then I realised they were the enemy so I opened up on ’em.”
As our guys were conducting a sweep to clear the area, the OC must have finally been told what was happening and let the chopper know that we had a contact going on. The chopper took off quick smart.
As the sounds of the chopper faded there was some yelling from our guys followed by a couple of burst s of M16 and SLR rounds, then silence. Mal was carrying the second radio for our platoon, “One Zero, One Two Minus, one enemy just died of wounds over.” Cheeky bastard. A further sweep found another dead enemy, the third got away. I think this was the first time CHQ were involved in a contact.
Doc Lindmark was the hero. This guy had been through a lot. As our platoon medic, Doc worked on the guy who got the top of his head taken off by the chopper. He worked on our platoon commanders, Pat Cameron and Bill Rolfe when they lost their legs. He worked on the enemy soldier in the Nui Dinhs. And more recently, he worked on Killer and Crispy. He saved a lot of lives and now he may well have saved more lives by being switched on and hitting the enemy before they even saw us.
It was at about this time that we received some bad news. You may recall that after our platoon commander Pat Cameron was badly wounded we had a Kiwi, Lt John Winton, with us for a few weeks before Moon was posted in. John then went on to command one of the Kiwi platoons (we were the ANZAC battalion). John was killed conducting a sweep after an ambush. The ambush started a fire, probably from one of the tracer rounds, and unfortunately one of the claymores that was not detonated when the ambush was sprung was detonated by the fire. John suffered some horrific wounds and died a short time later.
KIA Lieutenant John Winton 10th March 1971
Reproduced with permission from FUN, FEAR, FRIVOLITY – A tale by an Aussie infantry soldier in the Vietnam War – which is now also available in ebook format. See here to order.
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