Geoff Grimish was 18 when he joined the Australian Army. “I had a distant relative who joined, and I just thought I'd follow suit.” Geoff said, “I didn't have any skills at the time, and you didn't need any skills to join the Army.”
Geoff deployed to Malaya in 1965 and returned to Australia in 1967. Then in 1968, he deployed to Vietnam as a bombardier in 102 Field Battery, part of the 1st Australian Task Force based in a rubber plantation in Phuoc Tuy Province.
Geoff said, “We were choppered into a Fire Support Base and dug in and that was it. There was no real education or telling you where you were or why you were there.”
About three months after arriving in Vietnam, Geoff was involved in the Battle of Coral. A typical day on the Fire Support Base involved cleaning guns, patrolling, and digging in, but 12 May 1968 was not a typical day.
“We hadn’t been in combat before, and it was Mother’s Day 1968 when the first rocket came in. The weapons pits weren’t properly dug yet, they were just shell scrapes,” said Geoff. “The first rocket hit our gun and knocked it out. We probably weren’t alert because in artillery you weren’t necessarily aware of what might happen. They called us Nine Mile Snipers. Being that far back you thought you were relatively safe.”
“The next day they choppered in a new gun. The enemy was attacking at night and withdrawing at dawn. The worst part was the waiting. On the third night our gun was disabled again by rocket fire, so they had to chopper in a new one. After four days we were operating our third howitzer.”
Geoff said there were six 105mm howitzers in a battery and one of the guns was firing Splintex darts. “There are about 4,000 darts in a howitzer shell. They are anti-personnel, so you fire them directly at the enemy. That was the only time we fired Splintex – never before or after. If we didn’t have those Splintex rounds, they would’ve overrun us and, no doubt, killed every one of us.”
“When we went out in the morning and brought in the bodies, the Splintex was in the woodwork of the rifles and of course in the bodies. We choppered in a bulldozer and dug a big hole and buried I think it was 68 bodies.”
Geoff remembers his time in Vietnam as being a time of male camaraderie. He said, “because you're together playing cards, listening to the races on Radio Australia … there was always something to do.”
“When we went down to Vung Tau, the rest and convalescence area, it was wonderful,” said Geoff. “And when you had occasion to see the local villages and the kids, it was fascinating just watching them watching you.”
Geoff said he gained lifelong camaraderie from his time in Vietnam. Camaraderie with his fellow soldiers and also camaraderie with the Vietnamese people.
“I go back twice a year to the hospitals in Hanoi with some Australian doctors teaching medical English,” he said. “They have three patients to a bed, two side by side, one in the middle the opposite way. They don’t complain. There’s no food supplied, so they cook on the balcony.”
“Then I go to an orphanage in Phuoc Tuy where we were based. It’s a relationship you had indirectly at the time, and now directly with the kids.”
“For the first 15 years after returning to Australia, nobody contacted each other. It was the Welcome Home Parade that got everybody together,” said Geoff. “I saw old friends that I hadn’t seen up till then, it was absolutely wonderful.”
“I think there's a general anti-war philosophy now. People don't want to get involved in other people's problems. We were sent by the government of the day and brought back by the government of the day, and in hindsight should we have been there? I guess not.”
“If I was on National Service and I got plucked out of a good, secure job, I maybe wouldn't have been able to handle it. But I've certainly got no regrets about what I did,” said Geoff. “I guess you look back through rose-coloured glasses, and I'm fortunate that I've got no nightmares or anything like that. But it's a lifelong camaraderie that you gain and that's what I thrive on.”
Discover more stories of Vietnam War veterans at the Stories of the Dat Do Dogs photography exhibition open at the Anzac Memorial until 1 March 2024