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Christopher McKay

Christopher McKay

Private, Australian Army


(Temporary) Corporal Christopher Harry McKay

8th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Australian Army
Service number: 218293
Rank on discharge: private

"I had a lot of overseas postings, but after Vietnam, I was pretty much over the army type of lifestyle. We did a lot of patrols – ambushes, mostly – up in the Long Hai hills. One of our worst days was 28 February 1970. Eight members of Alpha Company, 8RAR, were killed by mines in the space of about three hours.

It was a hard, hard day at the office.

I remember once, we captured this Viet Cong in a bunker system; this kid was maybe 14 years old. We brought him back to in an armoured personnel carrier and this poor kid, he’d wet himself. I’d never seen the look of fear on anyone’s face that I saw on his. Through the commander’s interpreter, I learned that he’d been raised in a communist family in the north, and that he’d been told that if he was captured the Australians used to eat their prisoners of war. He believed that’s what was going to happen to him."

Chris McKay joined the Army in February 1968 as a Regular soldier. “I did recruit training at Kapooka and infantry training at Ingleburn, then I was posted to 8 Battalion RAR in Malaysia for 12 months. When we got back, we went to Enoggera in Brisbane, and we were slotted to be the next battalion to go to Vietnam in November 1969. Half of the battalion were National Servicemen.”

Chris did a full tour of Vietnam from November 1969 till November 1970, travelling over and back on HMAS Sydney.

“The night before we landed, we were off Vung Tau harbour and you could see the mountains there, and air strikes going on and gunships … all this sort of stuff. And when we went ashore, we went on landing craft like in the Second World War. And I’m thinking, ‘this is full on’.” 

“You couldn’t see anything because you’re down low, and you’re facing the breech when the landing craft drops down into the water. And then we’re on Vung Tau beach and we get off ready to get on trucks to go to Nui Dat and all I can hear is the Salvation Army guy saying, ‘Hot drinks to the right, cold drinks to the left.’ “

“Ten of my 12 months in Vietnam I spent with Charlie Company 8RAR. I was Charlie Company radio operator. I used to have communications with battalion headquarters, calling in airstrikes or artillery, medevacs, dust offs, all that sort of stuff. But up till the end of January we had really had nothing, no contacts or anything. Our first near contact was one of our guys shooting himself in the foot and then pretending it had been an accidental discharge.” Chris said, “You’re trained, and you’re primed, but you’re thinking you’re not going to see any action. Unfortunately, February changed all that.”

“Most of our work was ambushing. We did a lot of time in the Long Hai Hills and on 28 February 1970 we had a tragic day when eight members of Alpha A Company were killed by mines in the space of three hours. We now call it Long Hai Day and it's probably the most solemn day on the 8 Battalion calendar. It was a hard day at the office, particularly from my perspective being on the radio and hearing the names of people who were killed, who I knew.”

“One of the guys who was killed on 28 February was Jimmy Barrett. It was his second tour. He had got out of the Army, but he couldn’t quite handle Civvie Street, so he’d applied to get back in and go to Vietnam with the RAR.” Chris said, “I still think of all those guys every day, you know. It was a very shitty day.”

“One day we captured a little 14-year-old Viet Cong guy, and because we were with company headquarters our commander had an interpreter. We brought the boy into the back of the APC, and he was that scared. The interpreter said the reason he was so scared was he'd been told the Australians used to eat prisoners of war. I don't think I've ever seen a look of fear on anyone quite like that. Too young to really know what he was doing but indoctrinated.”

“We brought in a chopper to take him and some of the wounded out.” Chris said, “I was thinking that poor kid thinks he's gonna be kicked out of that chopper, because there were stories like that. But one thing I can say, which I’m very proud of, I never saw any bad stuff done by Australian soldiers there.”

Chris said, “I think the thing about Australia and Vietnam, probably 50 per cent of the Australians that served in Vietnam were Nashos. I believe that our National Serviceman lifted the standard of our Army, whereas I think America's conscription, probably lowered the standard.”

“My mother was actually in the SOS Movement, which is Save Our Sons, from going there. My mother was a protestor, she got out on the streets which I admire her for.”

“When we came back from Vietnam, we went to the RSL and we couldn’t get in, the guy on the door said it wasn’t a proper war like the Second World War or even the Korean War. I wouldn’t join an RSL for 20 years after that.”

“When I left the Army, I was fortunate to get a job with Total Oil as a commercial trainee, and I did a Bachelor of Business, courtesy of the Army. My time was spent establishing a family and a career. I won’t say I denied I was in Vietnam or the Army, but I didn’t make it public.”

“But I wouldn’t change any of it. Having been in the service there are friendships that just never break. We all keep in touch. We make a point of trying to see each other. You don’t need to go to the Remembrance, you can have a reunion in your own way.”

“We have a large contingent of Vietnamese who come up to our Memorial Day at Springwood each year. We let them put up the old flag and play their old national anthem, which makes them feel good. It's probably not protocol, but anyway. They’re still fighting the war in a lot of ways, whereas with Australians, we went there, we came back. Sure, a lot of us are still fighting the war mentally but the Vietnamese, some of them still have visions of going back and taking it over again.”