To 161 Battery in Vietnam
Murray Broomhall shares a day from hell, 34 years on from the Battle of Long Tan, where he, Willie Walker and Morrie Stanley served as the FO Party for Delta Company 6 RAR.
As I sit here at work thinking back I decided to jot down a few memories of that day. It began with a bit of a buzz over the mortaring the night before and the normal scuttle butt as information slowly emerged as to damage and casualties.
Willie and I where a bit hung over we had a party in our tent the night before when the mess closed, and had a few over the prescribed 2 cans per day (so did the company HQ radio ops who where with us).
When the word came though to move out it was a bit of a shambles, and as I was not packed I decided to use a pack that Chris Cooper had left behind when he went home. About one hour into the patrol I found out why he had left it behind as the straps where rotten and one broke and I spent the next hour or so, trying to fix it gave up and made a shoulder strap from my toggle rope (I have often wondered how I would have coped if the battle had not occured and we had to patrol for two or three days).
First couple of hours where uneventful I used up about half my water as I was not fit and also hung over. Then a small VC patrol was sighted in a clearing heading up into the rubber plantation. We followed them, then the first shots where fired and the radios reported a contact...and shortly after there was an enormous burst of fire and it was all on.
The next three hours are still a blur with very few clear recollections of what happened ... to myself, Willy, or Morrie.
Harry Smith's batman and myself trying to dig a slit trench to act as coy HQ, and giving up as the rain water filled it faster than we could dig.
The tracer floating through the position like lazy fireflies that suddenly accelerated and crack past among the rubber trees.
Standing up to try and get a clear veiw to direct the fire from the HQ machine guns and sitting down again very quickly when the rubber tree I was standing next to suddenly shredded just above me.
Helping Buddy Lea back to the Aid post and realising that this was for real as the wounded lay in the shelter of the hollow just behind the HQ group.
The sight of a VC being lifted off the ground and standing out in the glow of a 105-mm explosion about 100 metres from our position.
Willie crouched against the base of a rubber tree relaying Morrie orders without any mistakes and writing the fireorders down with the rain pouring down throwing up a splash mist off the ground that almost hid him.
The roar of the APCs that seemed to go on forever; then they suddenly appeared slewing past the rubber trees.
The movement out of the Rubber then forming the hollow square of APCs to light the LZ for the dustoffs.
The slow realisation and shock that set in as we sat around like stunned mullet on the beach (excuse the pun from a fish merchant) ... realising that so very many had died during the battle and we were still alive.
Somebody offering me a cigarette which for the first and only time in my life I smoked.
Climbing into an APC to rest and dropping into a deep sleep for about four hours then waking with a jolt and wondering where the hell I was.
There are other memories that keep coming back as time goes by ...
Like not knowing up until about 10 years ago what day the battle actually took place, or realising very great historic significance that is now placed on it by historians.