In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
They walked in single file across the padi, the green shoots breaking cautiously out of the water and into the light. Away to the right, alongside the rubber plantation, and perhaps 200 yards distant, were the long palm thatched wooden huts, built by the Australians to win hearts and minds, and outside their homes stood perhaps fifty sullen watchful villagers with their baggy sexless black trousers and shapeless jackets. Maddy, walking backwards in the post position, stared back at the Vietnamese.
“Didn’t win your bloody hearts and minds, you bastards.” It was eleven months now in this God forsaken, lice infested, stinking, loathsome hellhole. Any thoughts Neil Maddy had had of defending freedom had long ago slipped away, lost forever in the mud that was Long Tan. No, it was eleven months and thirteen days. In just twelve days he would be back in Australia, back to the blue waters of Queensland, to the amber delights of Castlemaine XXXX, and most of all to the round eyed, white skinned delights of his wife, Rosa, and the rediscovery of his fifteen month old daughter Emily.
Maddy looked left and right, his rifle at the ready with the safety off. There were no reported VC around here, but the bastards could be anywhere, even in that dammed village. He had stopped believing any of these people were on the same side as he was. They were all thieving bastards who would knife you or give you the pox. “Bastards” he said again as his rear position was taken up by Corporal Jack Moroney.
“Stop talking to yourself, Neil.”
“Piss off, Corp.”
“And you, mate.” There was no resentment in Moroney’s tone. Everyone in number three platoon had the same shared objective; to do their time and get home, alive for preference.
The platoon slipped into the jungle, with as little noise as they could manage. Lives might depend on their ability to move unseen, unheard and unsmelt in this dark green world. Off to their flanks were the other platoons in Delta Company, equally scared, equally concerned at controlling their bodily functions. Further still was the rest of 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment.
The jungle closed in, thick, dripping with moisture and wet and muddy underfoot. The soldiers spread out a little more, just in case they were attacked. They never had been, but sod’s law insisted if it had to happen, it would happen with eleven days to go. Maddy had never seen so much greenery, from the dripping leaves to the moss embracing the trees, or so much water. He looked up, and here and there he caught glimpses of a blue sky that seemed totally divorced form his own private green world. The sweat trickled down his face, soaking his bandanna, and moving on in steady streams down his body, turning into little rivulets from under his armpits, soaking his fatigues, and making him itch.
“Come on Jesus, get me out of this. I want to go home to Rosa and Emily. Just get me through another eleven days.”
In front of him about ten yards away, he picked out the stocky figure of Bluey Elwood, his ginger hair a beacon despite his jungle hat. A dark sweat stain spread across Bluey’s back, discolouring his fatigues to the same colour as the ground.
They heard the Lieutenant’s scream just before they heard the sharp crackle of gunfire. “Take cover.” Maddy was on the ground his face pressed hard against the dark brown earth of Vietnam, his hands over his head. He was petrified.
Moroney’s voice came from behind him. “Return fire, you drongos. Elwood, Maddy, three o’clock, to your right.”
Neil Maddy looked up, carefully, but could see nothing but trees. He fired a long burst, followed by two short ones, splintering the trees and sending white slivers of wood in all directions. Ahead of him a grenade exploded, filling his ears with sound and his eyes and mouth with black earth. To his rear there was the muffled crump of a mortar, the explosion lifting him off the ground. What in Christ was he firing at? He could see nothing, not even his mates. “Corp, where are you Corp?”
“Shut your face Maddy, just keep firing.”
Ahead he thought he saw a shadowy figure flit between the trees about twenty yards away. He gave the figure a three-second burst, and it slid from sight. “Mother of God, Mother of God.”
Somewhere he heard the radio operator intoning calmly. “Romeo Alpha 2, to Big Momma, Romeo Alpha 2 to big Momma. We are under fire from about a dozen Victor Charlies.”
“Big Momma to Romeo Alpha 2, Roger that, Aussie. State your co ordinates, Hueys on the way.”
A stream of bullets ripped into the tress above and around Maddy, and he fired back blindly. This clatter continued for ten minutes, the blue grey gunsmoke rising wraith like among the trees. At last the blessed clatter of the choppers was heard, and the firing died away. Stiff with fear the Australians shakily rose to their feet, and answered the roll call from Corporal Moroney.
“Elwood? Elwood? Where the hell are you, Bluey?”
Maddy walked across to the prone body, his ginger hair easy to pick even in the drifting grey smoke. Gently he turned him over, and saw the great crimson stain spreading across Bluey’s chest. He reached down and held him, but knew he was dead. “I think he’s dead, Corp.”
The American Rangers took up the pursuit and the dead and wounded lifted out in the Hueys. Elsewhere the battle would continue for six hours. Maddy sat down on a fallen tree and pulled a Marlborough from his pocket. He lit the cigarette with trembling fingers and saw with horror that his hands and the cigarette were stained with Elwood’s blood. Lieutenant Hughes sat beside him.
Maddy nodded. “Yes sir.”
Hughes looked round at the remnants of his platoon. “A black day, Neil.”
Maddy looked at his hands. For him the day was red, blood red.
On 18th August 1966, D Company 6 Royal Australian Regiment met a strong Viet Cong force at Long Tan, Republic of Vietnam. The Australians lost 17 dead and 24 wounded. Viet Cong bodies counted were 245, but losses were probably much higher. Between 1946 and 2002 only eleven Victoria Crosses have been awarded. Four were won by Australians in Vietnam, two posthumously.
Written by BM