W3 Company - Service Stories
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I joined the army in 1968, being attested after finishing a linotypographry apprenticeship with the local paper in Whangarei. I had volunteered to do National Service and decided if I wasn't called up before I finished my time, I would join the Regular Army as soon as it was decently possible on completion of my apprenticeship. I joined the army on July 15, 1968, being attested in the Whangarei Army Hall, before it was known as Harding Hall, by Major Robert Manson who long after I left the army became a friend through the Ex Malaysian Services Association Whangarei Branch. I underwent pre-basic training at the Training Wing Papakura Army Camp under Sergeant Major "Shocker" Shaw and his team of mainly Fijian Military Forces personnel who were undergoing training for an Instructors Course. In early August some 20 or so of us were sent to Waiouru to join other pre-basics from all around New Zealand on the 10 week Basic Training Course 66. The journey was by train leaving Papakura at about 1730 hours. We arrived at about 0200 to a frost that took our breaths away, were allocated barracks and tried to sleep. Next day came order out of chaos and training began.
After 10 weeks hard instruction and practise we were trained to a basic all-arms level in weapons training, shooting, map reading, survival, admin and logistics, medical, camouflage, trenching and defensive position, digging in, and minor tactics, physical training, and we all attained a greater degree of physical fitness. The course culminated in a 10 mile run in boots, webbing and a full pack, a 100 yard fireman's lift carry and a 100 yards being carried, jumping a nine foot ditch, scrambling over a 6-foot wall and then firing 20 rounds into a Figure 11 target at 25 metres.
In October 1968 we passed out as a group and entrained at about 0200 for Fort Dorset in Wellington, where we waited until late afternoon and embarked on the inter island ferry Rangitira and sailed south overnight past the hulk of the ferry Wahine, to Port Lyttelton near Christchurch. Here we were met by trucks and transported to Burnham Military Camp to join A Company, 1 Battalion Depot, the sub-unit responsible for Infantry Corps specialist rifleman training. Being Saturday morning we arrived after the morning parade, had breakfast (which was crap and which we complained about and received an apology from the Mess WO, some L/Cpl Cook got his bum kicked) and were allocated to barrack rooms, and section and platoons, before having the rest of the weekend off.
Monday morning we started a more focussed infantry training agenda with A Company, in the following weeks exercising in the field at Tekapo, Lees Valley, Coalgate, Little Malaya [Oxford] and shooting at the West Melton ranges, punctuated by a lot of physical fitness training. We finished Corp Training in late January and those of us continuing as riflemen were posted to B Company while others went to HQ Company or Support Company. On Waitangi Day, February 6, 1969, two of our members were involved in a motorcycle accident in Ashburton, Wayne Dowey was killed and Rastus McLauchlan was injured. Members of our group were pall bearers and made up the firing party for Wayne's funeral. Rastus was later killed when a truck rolled on him while on an exercise in New Zealand.
In late February, the two B Coy platoons were flown to Fiji for 3 weeks to do Exercise Tropic Dawn 13; we experienced the hot and wet weather of the early cyclone season and operating in jungle conditions. We loved it. Further training known as modules [specialist weapons and equipment] continued in Burnham, Little Malaya, Tekapo and West Melton after we got back to New Zealand. In late April we had a large exercise to do on the West Coast and were packed and ready to be trucked over to the coast and sitting in brilliant sun shine when the CSM Rusty Taylor told us the West Coast area for the exercise was experiencing torrential rain and that we were stood down until after lunch. After lunch the weather forecast was the same. Stand down until Sunday morning. Next morning the rain was even worse while Canterbury and in particular Burnham was drenched in sunshine. Stand down until Monday morning. Monday saw even worse rain and the enemy party were in dire straights and cut off from the training area and had lost some gear in a river, so stand down until Tuesday. Well Tuesday was no better so a shortened version in Lees Valley was organised and we were trucked up there. (God knows what happened to the enemy party on the West Coast, maybe they are still there.) This proves the old adage that the best laid plans of men and mice don't mean diddly squat to nature or Murphy. Worse was to come.
In Lees Valley we went tactical as soon as we were off the trucks and we hadn't gone 300 metres when we were attacked. Blank rifle fire and Schermoulie flares were fired to simulate RPG rockets, great idea, not, they set fire to the tussock and we had to stop the exercise to go fire fighting, that took all day and we finally finished at last light. A non tactical night was declared. The exercise started for real on the Wednesday through Thursday and Friday into Saturday when we were trucked back to Burnham. On arrival back in Burnham we handed in stores and Rusty called out a list of a dozen names to stay behind, we expected fatigue duty, however he told us we were being posted to 1RNZIR in Terendak Garrison in Malaysia.
After a week of final leave we sailed on the Rangitira to Wellington and entrained for Papakura Camp where we were issued kit and waited for the flight on the 6th of May 1968. We flew by RNZAF Hercules to Alice Springs where we overnighted and then on to Changi Air Force Base in Singapore. From Singapore we were bussed up to Terendak. We became the advance party for B Company 1RNZIR with Major Torrance as OC, Ali Barber as CSM, Lt John Sherriff, Sgt Denny King and other NCOs to form us into what was to later become Whisky 3 Company. The second weekend we were there the Malaysian General elections were held and due to the wrong parties gaining power major riots occurred. Curfews were imposed and enforced by Malaysian Police and army. B Company was made a ready reaction force and we had to be available at 30 minutes notice, were issued 50 rounds 7.62mm, rations and water and slept on trucks waiting the word to go. We trained in riot control during the day and slept on the trucks at night. It all came to nothing for us but the curfews remained for a long time until tensions were eased.
A couple of weeks later the rest of the platoons arrived and Lt's Bill Blair, Stan Kidd and John Fisher took over 1, 2 and 3 Platoons respectively. Our CSM Doug McIntosh BEM and CQMS Ron Lichtwark, Cook Sgt Ted Gorman and Pioneer Sgt Arthur Burton, Mortar Sgt Larry O'Brien arrived with their NCOs and men, we became a full company and training began. Stan Kidd of 2 Platoon was replaced by Lt Bob Upton when Stan Kidd was posted to Victor 4 Company. Stan had instructed the Company on the M60 machine gun. I can never forget his call of, "There's a thousand Upugolowangans in sand shoes and long socks charging over the hill and your gun jams. What is your IA (immediate action)?" Sadly Stan was killed in Viet Nam. We were also trained by members of Victor 3 under Cpl Sam Christie, who had just arrived back from their year in Viet Nam. They showed us ambushing techniques, patrolling, night harbours, contact drills and all the time we weren't in the bush we were doing courses on map reading, M60 machine guns, grenade launchers and M72 anti-tank rockets, medical courses, mortar and artillery fire control and much, much, more. Better training we could not have had.
Up until late September I was in 1 section 1 platoon, but as I had got good marks in the medical course I was made a second string medic but still with 1 platoon. In early November the W3 advance party under Captain Jim Brown left Terendak to be ready to receive the rest of the Company. Our Medic Corporal Jim Mitchell was part of it and I was to arrange the final jabs parade and bring the Company's medical records up with me (which I did).
Time in Viet Nam
Early in the morning of November 13 we breakfasted, embussed and set off for Changi Air Force Base in Singapore where we spent the night and then emplaned in an RNZAF C130 for Viet Nam. After the 3 hour flight we landed at Vung Tau air base and were issued a magazine of 20 rounds and watched Whisky 2 personal emplane for Singapore after their year long tour. We were trucked to Nui Dat and to our company area. An orientation period was undertaken and TAOR patrols around the Dat were carried out. After 10 days we went out on operations. There are records of the Company operations so I won't go into them. I was on every operation from start to finish and while carrying the medic pack I was used as a cover scout and acted as an ordinary part of the platoon until I was needed as a medic for either wounded or more general cuts, grazes, insect bites, leech bites or general ill health and sickness. Dispensing the anti-malarial Paludrine pills morning and night was a priority. We served in Viet Nam from November 14 1969 until November 10 1970 when we returned to the 1RNZIR lines at Punjab Square, Nee Soon Garrison in Singapore.
The only sour note of the time in Singapore was that after having my medals presented to me at Bn HQ by a L/Cpl clerk, (the old 'sign here' scenario) as was the way at the time, my medals were stolen off my Dacron shirt early on ANZAC Day, 1971. I had got my uniform ready for an early start to Kranji War Memorial Cemetery and woke to find the medals gone. It could only have been someone in the barracks who had seen me getting my gear ready. I had my suspicions but the medals were never returned. We had had reinforcements posted to us prior to ANZAC Day and I suspect one of them needed them more than I thought I did. I watch on Trade-me but they have never appeared. The medals were probably dumped when there was a fuss made and the thief realized they are named.
1RNZIR parade ground Nee Soon Singapore
While in Nee Soon we underwent further training and exercises and slowly became Garrison soldiers and not the constantly alert and aggressive active service soldiers we had been. In other words we had a period of time to became human again. This is in stark contrast to 161 Battery who returned via Singapore to New Zealand and were expected to assimilate back into normality overnight. They did but it must have been hard. The Australian and American servicemen had the same instant transformation expectation going straight from the field to civvie street with no stand down acclimatisation period. The remnants of W3 left Singapore on May 20 and returned to New Zealand via Perth and then on to RNZAF Base Whenuapai. Interestingly we arrived at 2330 hours and were met by a few friends and family for those of us who were from the Auckland area. No protesters but we had been warned about them and were prepared. There would have been a battle the b******s would have never forgotten.
Leaving the Army
After I returned to New Zealand I had a couple of weeks leave and then drove down to Burnham where I took my discharge in July 1971. There was nothing left I guess, no more active service, only garrison duties in Singapore or postings to Territorial Force [TF] cadre positions. The Labour Government began a policy of anti-defence force and the Army, Navy and Air Force suffered accordingly. Fuel for trucks was in short supply, ammo was short and New Zealand had determined we weren't a source of National Pride but more a source of embarrassment. The time of the peacenik and apologist was upon NZ. I never joined the TF because at that time you had to use annual leave to attend annual camps and employers were loath to grant unpaid leave and I also believe that some ex Viet Nam Vets made a bad impression with their "I know best, you don't know anything" and "When I was in Viet Nam" attitudes. Thankfully not all were like that and in most cases the TF benefited greatly from veterans experience.
I loved the army and have followed its fortunes ever since I was discharged. It remains close to my heart. I have a great respect for the guys who stayed on and made a career out of the Army. I am proud to have served with 1RNZIR and Whisky 3 and couldn't have served with better Officers, NCOs and men, there is always sense of pride when ever I am asked "Who did you serve with?" and I say "1RNZIR, Whisky 3". I attended my first Viet Nam reunion in 1989 and then a W3 reunion in Waiouru in 1994, Parade 98 in Wellington, Nelson in 2000 and the Tribute 08.
Peter [on left] with Dick Bennett and CSM Doug Macintosh Timaru ANZAC Day 2008
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