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Gregory Meek

Gregory Meek

Lance Corporal, Australian Army


Lance Corporal Gregory Stephen Meek

110 Signal Squadron, Australian Army
Service number: 218517
Rank on discharge: lance corporal

"One of the guys was sent back on compassionate leave, and I was sent to Saigon for three weeks, to the communications centre there. Right across the street from our compound was a Buddhist temple. It was the one where the monks used to burn themselves to protest the war. And this one night, this monk was sitting in the middle of the courtyard, and he’d dowsed himself, and my mate says to me, “Shit, there’s another one!” We were all looking out the window, and then Sarge came in and started yelling at us, “Get down! Get down! Get down! Don’t look at it! Don’t look at it!” He just wanted to make sure we didn’t witness it; you know, curiosity makes you want to look, but this fellow kept us from seeing that.

I was 19, from Earlwood in Sydney, where old people walked past my grandmother’s house and nodded “G’day, how you going?” and to just understand that this stuff was happening … it changed my life."

Greg Meek enlisted in the Army when he was 17. He said, “I’d probably seen the Vietnam War on television and in the newspaper, but it didn’t really sink in what it was all about. I had no idea until I got there.”

Greg turned 19 in March 1970 and in April he went to Vietnam with the 110 Signal Squadron based in Vung Tau. Greg remembers there were tears when he was leaving. “My cousin and my mother were crying, and I was thinking, ‘What are you crying for, what’s the big deal?’”

“The thing that hit me first was getting out of the plane in Singapore and the humidity. I’d never experienced that sort of thing. I'd never been anywhere. I went to Forster as a kid on holidays, that was it.”

Greg arrived in Vietnam at eight o’clock at night. “I went across to the boozer. I didn't drink in those days; I was a milkshake boy. So, after a couple of beers and a packet of chips, I got back to the hut, and I spewed everywhere. I think it was more like ‘Shit, I’m here!’”

Greg said, “After about two months they put me in a small room with a teleprinter, working a rotating 12-hour shift from almost dark till light. There was information going all over the place, Saigon, Singapore … You'd receive and send a message every five or 10 minutes. There was no sitting back or going for a bit of a stroll.”

“If you had a confidential message, you’d have to get in the Land Rover and drive into Vung Tau to deliver it, whatever time it was. The Don R Driver would say ‘do you want to come for a drive as gunshot?’ So, I’d grab my SLR and jump in and away we’d go.”

“We were the major relay station between Nui Dat and Saigon, transporting all the messages back to Sydney, Melbourne, and different places in Australia. The main transmitter with all the big aerials was on VC Hill on the other side of Vung Tau.”

Greg remembers some funny things from his time as a teleprinter. “I remember boiling eggs during the night to have something to eat. First, you had to steal the eggs from the kitchen,” he said. “And we used to stuff these huge bags with teleprinter tape to make beds. We’d go into another room and have a sleep and hope nobody would come along.”

“Where we were, every night the Long Hai mountains were being sprayed with tracers and you’d have Vietnamese coming in through the swamp to get to the PX store. At the time you didn't worry about it, but now I'm thinking, well, that's pretty spooky.”

Greg was primarily at Vung Tau, but he spent three weeks in Saigon relieving a guy on compassionate leave. “This one night a monk had dowsed himself in petrol and was sitting in the middle of the courtyard, and we were all looking out the window,” Greg said. “The sergeant came in and said, ‘Don't look.’ He didn’t want us to witness it. Usually, your curiosity would make you take a look, but we didn’t. It was obvious later that he’d burned himself. Apparently, it was a regular occurrence there. It was happening in protest to the war.”

Greg said, “Another thing that sticks with me is the Vietnamese women foraging through the buckets of food outside the base at Vung Tau. They were getting scraps to eat, and that was strange to me. I'd come from Earlwood in Sydney where old people walked by my grandmother's house and said ‘G’day, how’re you going?’ Everything was just hunky dory. So, for me seeing that sort of stuff, it was weird.”

“There was some very unreal stuff. One night on picket, two blokes went troppo down below and were firing over our heads. The sergeant tackled me and said, ‘Get down!’ It didn’t impact me that much at the time, just a couple of blokes going crazy. And another time at the front gate to Vung Tau, an Australian came through and killed one of the guys on duty. That happened while I was there, and I wasn’t falling down in tears thinking ‘poor bugger’.”

“That’s the weird thing about war. At the time it doesn't really impact you. It's when you get home, and years and years later when you look back. I didn't talk to any veterans until probably 1985, and then at the Welcome Home parade I caught up with some mates. Conversation brings it all back. Later, when I joined the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service, that was the first time I really talked about the human stuff.”

Greg said, “When you came back to Australia on the ships, a lot of blokes were together and got off the ship together and probably connected. But when you got replaced singly, you came back on your own and there's no connection. You went to South Head and got rid of your gear, that was it.”

Greg remembers coming home and landing back in Sydney. He said, “I've got a photograph of my mother and grandmother on either side of me, when I landed back here. There was nothing else, there was no hoo-hah.”

“I don't think anyone wanted a pat on the back, just to be accepted. I don't think we got accepted, that was the main problem. The old Diggers at my RSL said, ‘That wasn't real war’ and in the end we believed it. We thought they're right, we shouldn't have been there.”

About eight years’ ago, Greg got a call from the War Memorial saying someone in America wanted to contact him about his hat. They had an Australian Army hat and they had rolled back the inside of the hat and saw ‘GS Meek 218517’.

Greg remembers going to Long Binh where the Americans were based to exchange slouch hats for ponchos. “We had blankets to sleep on that were too bloody hot and the Yanks had ponchos which were silky and cool. So, I swapped a slouch hat for ponchos and all sorts of different stuff. I still regret it today.”

When he was contacted Greg said he was very emotional.  He said, “We had a lot of conversations through emails, but I never got the hat. He might have thought I was gonna offer him $10,000 to get it back.”