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Harry Brandy

Harry Brandy

Private, Australian Army


Private Harry Douglas Brandy

2nd Composite Ordnance Depot; 2nd Advanced Ordnance Depot, Australian Army
Service number: 2412270
Rank on discharge: private

"We’d be on guard duty, you know, once or twice a week, depending on what group you’re in. Through the night, then, you’d be thinking of what’s happening back at home.

I met this young boy – he was an orphan – in Vung Tau. And, you know, I felt sorry for him, you know. I sort of adopted him, you know. He didn’t have anyone to look after him.

It might have helped him, but it really helped me."

Harry Brandy was born in Crown Street Hospital and lived in Redfern until his family moved up north near Grafton. When he was a young teenager, Harry got a job at a timber mill to help the family financially. Harry said, “I was working in the logging yard. We worked rain, hail, or shine and there was no protection. I was sick and tired of having mud and sap on me and I thought there’s gotta be more to life than this. So, in 1967 I joined the Army.”

“At that time, the Vietnam War had started, and they were sending Australian soldiers over there. So being part of an Army unit, I volunteered to go. Being an Aboriginal, I wasn't required to register for National Service or the Army. But I wanted to go because I felt I needed to go; I was very gung-ho at that time.”

“Prior to going to Vietnam, I went to the Army Recruit Training Centre at Kapooka down near Wagga. And, I had to have all the needles, and all that jazz. You felt like a bloody pincushion after they were finished with you.”

“In April 1967, I went to Vietnam as part of the 1st Australian Task Force. There were a couple of hundred of us, I think. We flew over on a commercial flight, and I remember Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass had been over here and we saw them at the airport.”

“In Vietnam I worked in vehicle ordnance. We had APCs (armoured personnel carriers), Holden cars and various other vehicles. We had to maintain them to make sure they could be used at any moment. There were also quite a few wrecks; we would corral them till the Sydney came to ship them back to Australia. There was one particular wreck where a Claymore mine blew the arse end out of it and killed the Australian instructors and Vietnamese.”
“We did vehicle maintenance and other mechanical and electrical stuff. I can't remember the exact number of vehicles we had, but we'd put them over the pit every so often and do grease and oil changes and make sure they were running well. At the drop of a hat, somebody could say this unit wants blah, blah.”

“We were mostly at Vung Tau. The only time we went to the ‘frontline’, though there really was no frontline, was if they needed us to take vehicles up to Nui Dat or The Horseshoe. Nui Dat was about 25 clicks from Vung Tau. When we went up there, they made sure we were pretty well protected because they didn't want anything to happen. And you didn’t know where the Viet Cong were.”

“You would be the driver of the vehicle, and most of the time you had a partner with you, and they were looking out the turret hole and had an M-60 machine gun. One time we were going up to Nui Dat in a convoy sort of thing, and my partner got shot. It came through his shoulder and the side of his mouth. It messed up his shoulder, but he didn’t die. I thought, this is for real, I gotta get out of here. That was the closest I came.”

“If you got R&R, or a bit of leave for a couple of days, you’d go into the main part of Vung Tau where the bars and things were. They had police on patrol and looking around; they wore grey trousers and white shirts, and they called them ‘White Mice’. Anyhow, I remember there was a group of us sitting in one of the bars, and one of the locals must have done something and then run away. And the White Mice ordered him to stop, and he wouldn’t stop, and he pulled his pistol and ‘bang’ he shot him down in the street. That was one of the things that brought the reality of the war to me. That could happen anywhere, you could lose your life.”

“We had a pretty big area at Vung Tau, and we had fences right around us, but it was a very scary place. We'd be on guard duty, once or twice a week depending on what group you were in. Through the night you'd be thinking about what was happening at home and this and that. One thing that helped me a bit, I met a school-aged boy in Vung Tau. He was an orphan and I felt sorry for him, and I sort of wanted to adopt him or at least look after him while I was there. I sort of related to him, and that helped me.”

“Vietnam was very, very different to anything I’d experienced back in Australia. It was an eyeopener. We would load all our scraps in a truck and dump them on the rubbish tip. As you were driving out, there would be swarms of people following the truck. They knew there’d be scraps of food and stuff on the truck. And when you pulled the truck up and unloaded it, they were like swarms of mice going through the stuff. I thought, how do people live like this? I’d never seen anything like that before. It didn’t sit well.”

“It broadened my horizon as to what other people had, what other countries had, compared to what we had in Australia. As far as I was concerned, people didn’t realise how lucky they were back in Australia.”

“When we left Vietnam the Tet Offensive was on and we were lucky to get out of the country. We were at Tan Son Nhut Airport, and it was about midnight, and we were sitting there loaded and waiting. There were bombs coming over, and shells, and you thought, I’ve come through without a scratch I don’t want to get blown up now. But once you flew over Kingsford Smith Airport and you were back in Australia, just to see the country, you felt like you had been reborn.”

“At that time in Australia people weren't interested in welcoming soldiers back, they couldn't care less. And there were a lot of hippie people around stirring things up. They wanted, ‘peace, peace, peace’ and they said the Army, or the soldiers, didn't want that. And the thing is we were sent to Vietnam, it wasn't our idea but because we were soldiers, we did as we were told.”

“I want the wider community to understand that Aboriginal soldiers were part of this country's welfare and warfare. My grandfather went to the First World War. I am proud of my heritage, and I wanted to continue the family tradition, to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and his brothers. I want to highlight that even before Aboriginals got Australian citizenship, they had gone to war. There’ve always been there. And people don't realise.”

“Aboriginals are part of Australia and they fought for the country. I'm proud to be an Aboriginal person and a descendant of a very proud people and my forefathers, and I hope people can see that.”