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Craig Terrey

Craig Terrey

Private, Australian Army



Private Craig Dufaur Terrey

Headquarters, 5 Company, Royal Australian Army Service Corps, Australian Army
Service number: 2786037

"I worked in the Q Store, doing the paperwork, but I’d go out on convoys because it got so boring in base. Once there was an ambush set for us, but just as we got there, there was an infantry patrol coming up the gully, and they saw it.

Our guys were on one side of the road, Charlie was on the other side of the road, and we were in the middle.

I was in a 5-tonne truck with 9 tonnes of howitzer ammo in the back.

But the driver was a damn good driver. He put the pedal to the metal real quick and got us out of there. That was the worst thing I was ever in over there."

Craig Terrey’s birthday came up in the National Service ballot. “I got a letter in the mail saying, ‘You got the lottery.’ I was notified in early 1966 and by late 1967 I was in Vietnam.”

Craig says he had a very different sort of war to most people. “I went out to Mascot, hopped on a Qantas 707, flew over there and ended up in a logistics support unit stationed out of Vung Tau. I was a supernumerary with 5 Company, an extra person in the Q store.”

Craig said, “I did all the paperwork for the Q store. I was one of the backroom boys and basically it was a pretty, nice war. Although you were way over on the other side of the earth, and it was hot and sticky and not very nice, and you were stuck in camp, and you’d give anything to get out.”

For a break from camp, Craig joined the convoys travelling from Vung Tau to Nui Dat. “Once or twice a week, I’d be driving the trucks or riding shotgun. You didn't write home and tell the folks that you did that sort of thing, because they'd say, ‘Stay where it's safe’. Not that our convoys were dangerous.”

“I guess I was in a dozen convoys that registered contacts, but no one was killed, and we never lost a truck. Every Australian truck that went out had a driver and a bloke riding shotgun, and you wore a tin hat and a flak jacket. In the stinking temperatures, you fried.”

“When you left camp, you put on a full magazine, and you had another in your back pocket. The convoys also had APCs [armoured personnel carriers] running alongside and they had 50 calibre Brownings on top. Their orders were to shoot at anything that was shooting, so, Charlie left us alone.”

Apart from one lucky escape from an ambush, Craig never had a close contact. But he does remember watching a firefight. “There was a little town called Ba Ria about halfway between Vung Tau and Nui Dat, and one night a couple of days before the first convoy went through, we heard, ‘bam, boom, boom, boom’. So, we climbed on the roof of our hut and we sat there drinking beer and watching the firefight going on with flashes and flares and everything. It was eight miles away and in Vietnam eight miles is a long, long way. It's like a hundred miles in Australia.”

“Anyhow, when you’re young you have the attitude that if there's a bullet with your name on it, it doesn't matter where you hide, it's gonna get you. And if there isn't, you can do what you like, you're bulletproof.”

Being young didn’t help with the heat in Vietnam. Craig said, “It was hot for 12 months a year, and for six it was hot and humid.  You would wake up in the morning and it was stinking hot, and you’d think, Oh God, when is that storm going to come? It would be hours away. And when the storm came, it was an absolute drenching, and you got a bit of relief for half an hour and then the humidity you thought was high before, goes through the roof again. And you don’t sit back in a chair, you sit on the corner of your bed upright with as much skin exposed as you can to try to get the air around you.”

Craig said he did a “damn good job” running the Q store because he was good with paperwork and with people. “I used to go over to the engineer's mess quite regularly, and I'd shout a bit out of my own money. That made things like borrowing a couple of radios while ours were being repaired a little easier. It was worth it.”

Craig said there were never enough working radios in Q stores, but there were always plenty of fruitcakes.

“We used to get fruitcakes all the time. A lot of the blokes would say, ‘Oh no not another’ and throw them in the bin. I'd never do that, but I did write home to say don't send Christmas cakes we get so many. And my aunt, who is a very good cook, would make genuine Scottish shortbread which I’d share with the fellas for morning tea. Jock, the Scottish sergeant always knew when a new batch of shortbread came in the mail.”

As well as being a radio wrangler and a shortbread broker, Craig was an amateur projectionist. “In the Army you’ve gotta have a licence to do anything, even run a projector,” Craig said. “But the Major came out with an edict that two people were allowed to touch the old, clapped-out projector, another guy in the Q store and me. He knew we’d look after it because if the projector broke down, the Q store was responsible for getting it fixed. He didn’t care that I didn’t have a licence.”

Craig returned from Vietnam in October 1968. “Coming back as a Nasho was actually worse than being over there,” he said. “It took me about a fortnight to realise that if I mentioned that I was in Vietnam, I'd be looked on as a baby killer. So, I never told anyone.”

“I’d worked for an accountancy firm before I went over there, and when I came back, I went back to the same firm. Everyone was so pleased to see me, but there was not a word of where I’d been. I could have been on holidays for two years in England.”

“The day that Saigon fell, I was in the office and one of the partners came to me and said, ‘Craig, what did you think of this morning's news?’ That was the first time that anyone had acknowledged that I'd been in Vietnam. And that was seven years later.”

“Twelve years later I was sitting around with some parents after my daughter’s school fete, and something came up about Asia and I made a couple of comments. One woman said, ‘you seem to have a pretty good understanding of Asia, did you live over there?’ I said, ‘yes, for a year in the Army,’ and she turned and said, ‘Are you still ashamed of it?’”

“I don’t have PTSD or anything, but there are still little reminders of Vietnam. Once, I was driving a food van to Lithgow after a bad storm that had brought down a lot of trees, and I got this uneasy feeling. They had sent a helicopter to help clear up and the helicopter was a Huey. That noise is very distinct.” Craig said, “Once I knew what it was everything was fine. But while I heard the noise and hadn’t registered it, it really made me feel uneasy. It was an ex-Vietnam chopper that they had re-painted and totally recommissioned. You do get reminded at the oddest times.”