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James Wilson

James Wilson

Signalman, Australian Army



Signalman James Alexander Wilson

104 Signal Squadron, Australian Army
Service number: 2783894
Rank on discharge: signalman

"I was posted to Whiskey Company from the New Zealand Army as a radio operator. ’Cause they were short of their own operators.

The Kiwis were at a place called the Horseshoe, about 5 Ks [kilometres] out from Nui Dat. They had 105-millimetre howitzers, plus a company of infantry.

My best memory is going down to Vung Tau, every now and again. We’d get a day’s leave down there, and that was just fabulous. Just to hand in your rifle. You were free for a while. You’d go and have a beer, and feed. The locals were so good. And we’d go down to the Back Beach for a swim.

It was absolutely magic."

Jim Wilson was a National Serviceman. He was called up in April 1966, did his training at Kapooka, and was posted to Signal Corps where he trained as a radio operator. “I was one of these guys that left school and didn't know what I wanted to do. Eventually I ended up as a laboratory assistant in a flour mill, so when I was called up for Nasho, no worries. And maybe I’m a bit crazy, but I enjoyed Kapooka, though in the middle of winter it was bloody cold.”

Jim said, “As far as Vietnam was concerned, I never had a problem with going. I saw it in a few different lights. I saw it as democracy versus totalitarian authority, which didn't appeal to me at all. I also saw it as Christianity versus a type of anti-Christ, not the anti-Christ but a type of anti-Christ. And last but not least I saw it as a chance for adventure, to get away from suburban Sydney and get out into the wide world.”

104 Signal Squadron was posted to Vietnam to the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) in April 1967. Jim was there from the end of April till the end of March 1968. “I was working at the Horseshoe Fire Support Base in headquarters and out in the field with the New Zealand Army’s Whiskey Company. The Horseshoe was a Fire Support Base with 105 mm howitzers and an infantry group.”

“Whiskey Company was doing trips out into the jungle, into the Long Green in particular. I went on a few of those trips because they were short of radio operators. My colleague wasn’t keen to go out, but I'm a bit crazy so I went out with the guys.”

“I only worked with the Kiwis for six to eight weeks, but I got to know them very well. I was invited to a reunion in New Zealand some years ago, and they remembered the Aussie sig. They were a great bunch of guys.”

“Dat Do village was about a kilometre from the Horseshoe. The infantry would check the vehicles coming and going with mirrors under the vehicles. Long Tan was only a stone’s throw from there and it was a hotspot. But we didn’t feel any danger, at least I didn’t. Dat Do and the Horseshoe have special memories for me.”

“I was at Dat Do on checkpoint duty one day and I got a call from the ‘Louie’ (lieutenant liaison officer) saying he was coming to see me. I thought he must be checking out his troops. I saw the chopper come in, saw a Land Rover drive out of the dust, and he got out and gave me a telegram from home saying my much-loved grandfather passed away. He was a top Louie, he really was.”

“After the Horseshoe I went back to Nui Dat and then up to Fire Support Base Anderson. Anderson was supposed to stop the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong retreating from Saigon after the Tet Offensive. There was quite a lot of fighting there. We weren’t actually firing weapons because we were radio guys but going out into the paddy fields we saw a bit of crap, to put it politely. Seeing dead bodies on the dried-up paddy fields with their brains blown out is not at all pleasant. That would be my worst memory of Vietnam. It doesn’t drive me bananas, but it’s there.”

“A few of us guys would go out as radio operators with the liaison officers. So, we had the great experience of working with the Americans up at Bien Hoa and Swan Moc (Xuyen Moc). We would have the Louie (liaison officer) and two sigs backing up.”

“My favourite piece of equipment was the PRC-25, the VHF portable radio communications in the Land Rovers and in the headquarter bunkers. We knew all the call signs and frequencies and we would listen on the radio to get the platoons’ and battalions’ locations for the night. There was a code of course, and my mate and I would break that down and plot it on the map and give it to the lieutenant and he would liaise with the Americans or the South Vietnamese.”

Jim has good memories of taking leave at Vung Tau and of the visiting entertainers. “Every now and again we would have a day’s leave down at Vung Tau. You would hand in your rifle, and you were free for a while to go and have a beer and a feed. We would end up at Back Beach for a beautiful swim, it was absolutely magic.”

“We had stage shows with visiting entertainers at Vung Tau. Little Pattie came over. It was good to sit back there and just unwind for a while. We also had groups at Luscombe Airfield at Nui Dat. We had a communication bunker on SAS Hill in Nui Dat, and we could watch from there, which was great.”

“Not long after arriving in Vietnam, our squadron was posted up on the Hill at Nui Dat, then 2RAR came over and were settling in. They were training with American helicopters coming in firing rockets. One day were sitting out on the Hill watching and something went astray and four 2 RAR guys were killed in this training exercise. That really gets to you when you see these poor buggers getting knocked off like that.”

“In Vietnam, I spent most of my time with the Aussies doing different jobs. The Regulars and the Nashos were integrated. But being a Nasho when you came home you got discharged, ‘off you go, buzz off!’ There were courses available, but you had to go and find them, nothing was shown to you. It was difficult.”

“A lot of us didn't say anything, we just went our own way. A lot of my friends in the earlier days didn’t have a clue where I’d been and with the newer friends, nobody spoke about it. And I didn’t say anything.”

“It disturbed me for quite a long time. I went back to my old job, but I couldn’t handle it after being outdoors for two years, leading a more exciting life. I shopped around and hit the grog for a year or two, but I got off that, thank goodness. Eventually I ended up in sales and worked my way up into management.”