W3 Company - Service Stories

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Maj EJ Torrance RNZIR 1970 [Gundersen]
Visitors to W3 - Major Torrance

Visitors while with 6RAR [Nov 24 1969 until ANZAC Day 25 Apr 1970]  Within a few days of arrival in country we had our first visitors.  On November 23rd the US Ambassador to NZ, Mr Franzheim and Lt Col John Brooke the CO 1 RNZIR in Singapore made a brief call.  Lt Col Brooke was on a farewell visit to the area as he was about to hand over to Lt Col Rob Williams.  In the days to follow we were to have a number of visitors with some “dropping in” while we were deployed on operations.

From time to time entertainment groups toured the military bases and put on performances for the military personnel.  Best known was Bob Hope who entertained American service personnel over many years.  On January 9th the ‘Quin Tikis’ from New Zealand performed on an open-air stage near Luscombe Field (named after a RMC Duntroon graduate Bryan Luscombe who was shot down and killed in Korea in 1952) before a very appreciative audience.  Luckily, we were in Nui Dat that day so the company was able to see and appreciate a fine performance.  Bob Hope would have had to be in sparkling form to better the ‘Quin Tikis’!

Hardly a day went by on the Horseshoe without visitors.  Just about everyone who visited the Task Force came to see the Horseshoe so we became expert tour guides.  Our Chief of Defence Staff, General Leonard Thornton accompanied the Minister of Defence, David Thomson, were among our first visitors.  I showed them around and gave them the opportunity to speak to the few soldiers that were there.  They had visited the site on a previous visit so there was little that was new to them.  They gave me the impression that they found visiting a war zone very tiring with none of the glamour and comfort associated with other parts of Asia.  On another occasion the outgoing and incoming Commanders, Australian Forces Vietnam based in Saigon made a visit.  Major General Fraser was replacing Major General Hay.  We were looking out at the view from the highest point when they engaged one on one in a conversation that was as far away from Vietnam and the Horseshoe as you could get.  I may as well have not been there as they compared experiences about how badly they had been treated by Defence Headquarters and their Minister of the Army.  Little or no warning of their postings, disruption to their family and social life, having to shift houses at short notice and so on.  They eventually realised that I was standing there and apologised for having been “carried away” with their moans.  They said to me that I shouldn’t expect things to improve with advanced seniority and rank – if anything things got worse!  Other Australian VIP visitors included their Minister of Defence Mr Fraser, Senator Gair and the CGS General Wilton.

Colonel Fenton, the Head of our NZ Force Headquarters in Saigon visited on June 3rd and let it be known that the Leader of the Opposition Norman Kirk would visit us later in the month.  Then a few days later the CO 1RNZIR in Singapore, Lt Col Rob Williams, made a call.  He had visited us in January shortly after our arrival in theatre.

Visitors while with 2RAR [May until Nov 1970]  During our time back in Nui Dat we had a visit from our CGS, Major General R.J.H.Webb and the visit went off well.  He showed a genuine interest in what we had been doing and complimented us on our success.  We also had Norman Kirk call in as expected on June 14th.  This is what I wrote the day after his visit “We had Mr Kirk around the lines for a half an hour yesterday.  He didn’t have very much to say.  Went around and talked to all the soldiers about the weather in New Zealand and his last couple of days in Cambodia.  He is a much bigger person in the flesh than one would have believed from photographs.  It was cool yesterday but he was finding the heat a little overpowering”.  I do recall that when he arrived and got out of the landrover I was rather taken aback by his appearance.  His thin cotton sleeveless shirt was saturated with perspiration and his trousers were marked with sweat stains.  I think he was embarrassed to be looking this way and I felt sorry for him.  

On Saturday July 3rd Maj John McGuire [V5 Coy] and I boarded a 161 Recce Flt Pilatus Porter aircraft at Luscombe Field, Nui Dat for a flight to Saigon.  We had been summoned by the Head of NZ Force Vietnam Colonel Fenton to a function at his home to meet our Prime Minister Keith Holyoake.  The meeting with the PM went off well and this is what I wrote after the visit.  “The PM wanted to know where he had met me before.  Don’t recall having met him before so on the next occasion I’ll be able to remind him that it was in Saigon.  He was interested to learn of the “goings on” up this way.  Gave no indication of what elements would be withdrawn come November.  For ourselves come November we won’t be too fussed one way or the other.  Sat across the room from the PM and was pretty aghast at the state of his clothing.  He was wearing a very crumpled pin stripped blue lightweight suit but to cap off his unkempt appearance he had a hole in one of his socks and the leather sole had worn through on one of his shoes. One would have thought that he would have had a “minder” to look after those sorts of things – the civilian equivalent of a batman!”.  We stayed overnight in a Hotel and went out to a French restaurant for dinner.  Our guide was Captain Jim Brown NZ Armoured Corps and known as “light Jim Brown” to distinguish him from our Whisky Company “dark Jim Brown”.  Jim Brown knew his way around so in the limited time that we had in Saigon he was able to give us a quick tour.  Both John McGuire and I couldn’t get over the contrast between the atmosphere and living conditions in Saigon to those that we experienced on a daily basis around and about Nui Dat.  At times it was hard to believe that Vietnam was at war such was the normalcy of many parts of Saigon.  It was unreal and I was pleased to get back to Nui Dat where the real war was being fought.

'I Was There': Peter Anderson 1Pl  I saw mention of General Webb’s visit to W3 and it made me think of an incident when he visited 1 platoon at a fire support base.  We had been out with the assault boats on the Rung Sat, and had just got back to the fire support base to clean up.  Anyway after a shower and change of greens, we were out on the edge of the bund having a coffee or what ever and this officer came along and was talking to some of the guys, no one had said anything about a general, I happened to be reasonably close by but not part of the group, and when he finished talking the officer suddenly turned around and said to me, “Where are you from?”.  I was taken aback but replied that I was in 1Pl W3 Company.  He gave me a look that made me realize I had made the wrong decision to get out of my hammock that morning.  He turned to the next guy and said "where are you from?".   Whoever it was said Auckland or some other NZ town.  And I realized I had really made a foul up of that, and that Private Anderson and Field Marshall Montgomery had one thing in common.  Neither of us was going any further in this man’s army.

A lot of years later I was flying back to Whangarei from Wellington, I boarded the plane sat down, belted up, when a bloke came down the aisle looking for his seat, put his gear in the rack and I happened to look up and it was General Webb (retired).  After he sat down he nodded and I thought here goes so I said, “The answer is Whangarei.”  He said "yes I know that’s where we are going.”  I said to him “yes we are going there but that’s the answer I should have given in 1970 in Viet Nam”.  I then explained the situation and he laughed like mad.  Took me awhile but he got the right answer.

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Commendation from Gen Abrams - Evan Torrance

A query about the General Abram’s letter was very timely.  For 35 years it has been lying untouched under plastic film in the green photograph album that we all got when we left Vietnam.  Over the years the print has faded to the extent that it is almost indecipherable which is understandable considering the fact that it was a copy of a letter addressed to Lt Col Val Brown and we now know that plastic film is a big "no no" for the storCreighton W Abrams, General, United States Army, Commandingage of documents.   With the use of a magnifying glass this is how it reads:

"Headquarters Military Assistance Command Vietnam
Office of the Commander

27 October 1970

Lt Col V.B. Brown
Commander
New Zealand Vietnam Force
Saigon
Vietnam

On the occasion of the redeployment of W Company, New Zealand Force Vietnam, I wish to commend each member of this outstanding unit for a job well done.

Since its arrival in the Republic of Vietnam on 14 November 1969 W Company has served with distinction.  The dedicated efforts and professional contribution by the officers and men of the Company to assist the Republic of Vietnam in its fight against Communist aggression merit the highest praise and have earned themselves the admiration and respect of all Free World Military Assistance Forces.

On behalf of the Officers and Men of the United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam I extend my best wishes for continued success to W Company and the New Zealand Vietnam Forces.

Sincerely

(Signature)

Creighton W Abrams
General, United States Army
Commanding".

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Isabel Beaumont NZRC - Bruce Young
During the Vietnam War two New Zealand Red Cross [NZRC] staff were deployed to work as welfare support personnel at military hospitals in Singapore and South Vietnam.  The pair were Isabel Beaumont [SVN April 1970 - April 1971] and Avis Wilkes [SVN June - November 1971].NZRC photo of Isobel Beaumont working in a ward [likely BMH Changi Singapore] [NZRC]

Isabel Beaumont was posted to the 1st Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau on 9 April 1970.  Accredited to the New Zealand Army, Isabel carried the rank of Assistant Superintendent and wore the New Zealand Red Cross uniform.  She was the first New Zealand Red Cross aid worker accredited to the New Zealand Army while in the field, previous New Zealand aid workers being accredited to the Australian Army.

Isabel Beaumont working in a ward - likely BMH Changi Singapore 1971 [NZRC]

Isabel is well remembered by New Zealanders in Master's battery, W3 and V5 Company's for the attention she gave wounded Kiwi's earning her the nickname ‘Kiwi sister’.  Ian Herd recollects Isabel was at his bedside the whole time he was in 1AFH in November 1970.  Ian would dictate and Isabel would write the letters home for him, keeping his parents up to date on his condition etc, even feeding him when his arms were strapped to prevent him from moving.  There are several photos of Isabel and other ReIsobel Harris is presented with the General Service Medal with Vietnam clasp and New Zealand Operational Service Medal at a ceremony at the New Zealand High Commission in London, September 2008 [NZRC]d Cross staff at the W3 BBQ's in Nui Dat.

Following a year in Vietnam Isabel was transferred to BMH Changi, Singapore and promoted to the rank of Superintendent, being replaced at 1AFH by Assistant Superintendent Avis Wilkes for five months from June – November 1971 [V6 Company TOD].

Both Isabel and Avis are entitled to the General Service Medal with Vietnam clasp and the New Zealand Operational Services Medal.  Attempts were made to locate them so their service could be officially recognised and Avis was present at
Tribute08 to receive her medals

Updated August 2008 - Isabel Beaumont located.  The New Zealand Red Cross succeeded in locating Isabel Beaumont after advertising in the UK.  She had married a RAF type in Singapore and after much time in Hong Kong now lives in Wales, married name Harris.  She was presented with her GSM and OSM medals in a ceremony in London 3 September 2008.   Isabel travelled to London with her family for the presentation.

Isabel Harris was presented with the General Service Medal with Vietnam clasp and New Zealand Operational Service Medal at a ceremony at the New Zealand High Commission in London, September 2008 [NZRC]

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'Missing Headcount and Other Challenges' - Bob Upton

It was during the wet season (probably about September 1970) when 2RAR again decided that the battalion less W3 Company should return to the Nui Dat for some R&C.  W3 Company was to maintain a presence in the Battalion AO until the rest of the unit returned from their break.  From a positive perspective this decision could be taken as another strong indicator that our company equated to the whole rest of 2RAR.  The AO we had to look after was east of Route 15 in the general vicinity of Phy My village.  Some will say where the hell was that village.?  Remember the White Lady statue: - well it was almost next door.  As well as patrolling the AO we also had to protect FSPB GAIL located along side Route 15.  2 Platoon with a section of mortars and a section of APCs had this task.

Being a battalion level FSPB, GAIL was pretty well set up (bunkers and miles of wire) and relative to sleeping in the bush, much more comfortable.  For example, platoon headquarters operated out of the battalion command post and we had lighting from a generator.  Of concern however was the size of the perimeter.  Not really a problem by day but at night our ‘thin blue line’ was pretty ‘stretched’.

For a reason that I can not recall we had to maintain a radio schedule with Nui Dat.  Well this location was further away than the normal range of the 77 radio set plus we had the Nui Thi Vai Hills between us.  If that was not enough the battalion dismantled the big antenna they had in place before they left.  Waka Haig Clarke, the platoon signaller, tried very hard to establish communications but to no avail.  To our rescue came the CSM.  Using his experience from being the radio sergeant in 1RNZIR in Borneo, he told us how to create an antenna using long steel pickets, D10 cable and some No 8 fence wire.  Kiwi ingenuity yes but we had perfect communications.  The Australian Battalion Signals Officer would not believe us when we told him what antenna we were using and actually flew out the next day to have a look.  On seeing the set up, he just shook this head, mumbled something about “bloody Kiwis can always find a way” and flew off.

One night at ‘stand to’ I went for a stroll around the perimeter.  (I know some of you will comment “that was unusual for you Bobby”).  It struck me that we seemed to be even lighter on the ground than normal so I did a head count and two were missing.  It turned out that PB (Titty) Harris and Graham Ryalls' had decided that they should be proactive in furthering NZ/US relationships by undertaking a liaison visit to the US base at Long Binh.  (As I recall this base was about 40km up Route 15 towards Saigon).  Apparently during the day they had wandered out to Route 15 and ‘hitched’ a ride on a US truck.  They returned the same way the next day looking very much the worse for wear but assuring all that they had a great time.  I honestly can not remember what, if any, formal action was taken against them for their little escapade.

Being the main road from Saigon to Vung Tau, Route 15 was very busy during daylight hours.  One afternoon a very small open bus carrying about 30 school children had 2PL RAP scene - Edwards looking at cameraan accident right out side the entrance to the FSPB.  The kids were aged between about 7 and 14.  While none of them were badly hurt they were pretty shaken and some had bad cuts.  Temporarily FSPB GAIL became a Field Dressing Station.  We had few medical supplies but using what we did have and with limited medical knowledge we cleaned and dressed the wounds.  In particular I remember a little boy, aged about 8, who despite a large and very deep cut on his leg, never complained or cried throughout the whole time we were treating him.  Stoic or had he already in his young life seen or experienced so much pain that there were no tears left???  

2PL RAP scene - Edwards looking at camera

As an aside one of the teachers also had a nasty cut on the upper leg.  Despite many others volunteering, the Platoon Sergeant said that he would look after the teacher.  I wonder if he would have been so insistent if she had not been a very beautiful young woman.  Somehow another bus was quickly found, and loaded up with ration pack sweets and other goodies the kids continued their journey back to Saigon.

After about 10 days we were relieved of our task at FSPB GAIL and rejoined the rest of the company. 

'I Was There': Bruce Young [from a letter to his parents written from FSPB GAIL].  FSPB GAIL was supporting operations to the north of the highway in the Hat Dich region in the north-west of Phuoc Tuy province from the artillery section located within the wire, and the action was in distant places rather than on the wire.  However the base was a defended locality and uninvited visitors would arrive at short notice looking for assistance.  On 11 September a US Iroquois helicopter had engine failure while overhead and choose to do an emergency landing on the road outside the base.  2Pl dispatched three APC and a section to secure the site and direct traffic.  Within minutes helicopter gunships and CASEVAC helicopters' were circling above the scene and within 30-minutes a larger Chinook arrived overhead, a strop was lowered to the disabled aircraft which was then lifted as an under slung load and carried to Long Binh repair facilities.  We thought it was a good case of the aviators looking after their own.

On 13 September a jeep with three ARVN soldiers ran off the road during a severe thunderstorm with all three occupants suffering serious injuries.  2Pl dealt with them briefly before calling for a DUSTOFF chopper which arrived promptly during the heavy weather and evacuated the ARVN to Saigon.  

15 September was the date of the kids accident. The small bus had a jammed throttle and ran off the road before an abrupt halt which tore up the central seating and smashed the children about.  My notes say about 10 were seriously injured and describes the injuries as: broken right arm almost at the shoulder joint which made splinting impossible, plus a fractured right shoulder blade.  A boy with his entire top row of teeth smashed, impacted back into the gums, driven up at right angles and into the lip just below the nose, or straight through the tongue.  Others also had crushed fingers, eye injuries, and other facial cuts and bruising.  One little boy sitting outside with the uninjured kids complained his foot was sore.  The interpreter told him to walk in and see us,Goodman with CASEVAC chopper behind, others carrying injured Vietnamese kids to chopper [Jane] despite the bone in his foot protruding through the skin.  Yet as Bob says, the kids were silent and thankful for any treatment we gave them.  The guy with the smashed teeth would cry silently with tears rolling down his face but did not pull away when I treated him.  The broken arm case would turn his face away when we hurt him, then turn back and smile at us.  The smashed ankle case grinned and remained cheerful even while we set the bone.  They all munched their way through a lot of ration pack sweets and finally we had a US chopper fly six of them to a local hospital.  A replacement bus took the remainder away just before dark but the priests returned the following day to reclaim the smashed Toyota.  The kids left a a very good impression with us.

Cpl Wally Goodman with CASEVAC chopper, others carrying injured Vietnamese kids to chopper [Jane]

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