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Michael Shave

Michael Shave

Warrant Officer Class 1, Australian Army


(Temporary) Warrant Officer Class 2 Michael John Shave

Australian Army Training Team Vietnam; 9th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Australian Army
Service number: 1201583
Rank on discharge: warrant officer class 1

"There was this coolness that I’ll always remember. If I close my eyes, I can still feel it. At the end of a day of patrolling, you’d set up a patrol base, establish a perimeter. You’d been slogging through the jungle all day, covered in sweat.

Then, there was this moment, as the light faded from the jungle, there was a coolness that would rise from the jungle floor.

It was quiet as the jungle moved from day to night, and it was cool and quiet. And peaceful. Beautiful, really."

Mick Shave joined the Australian Army in 1967 when the Vietnam War had been going for some time. Mick said, “I wanted to go to Vietnam, and I thought, hurry up let’s get there. Before I came to Australia, I was nine years in the British Army.”

“The Australian Army prepared well to go to Vietnam. I spent 12 months at Woodside in South Australia training with the 9th Battalion, with nine months of solid work with my section. We put the work in, and we were pretty damn good, I think.”

“I think our contact drills worked and didn’t need much of a tweak to apply them on the ground. Though we were doing jungle training in the deserts of Cultana in South Australia which is all low mallee scrub. One forward scout could see the other from 500 metres away. And ammunition was short, so we had gas rattles to imitate the sound of machine gun fire, but I guess they were still effectual.”

“I think the main thing about the nine months, was the mental attitude towards going to Vietnam. At the end of the training period, all the National Servicemen, the conscripts, were asked if they were prepared to go. If they said no, they disappeared. I think we only had two disappear. It is a pretty loaded question. You do nine months of hard work with a group of blokes, not many are going to say, ‘No, I’ll pull out and leave them now.’”

“In Australia there was a different attitude towards authority. I think Australians had an intelligent attitude towards soldiering. They would query orders. In the British Army you did what you were told without really questioning. In the Australian Army, they would ask, ‘What for?’ It was quite refreshing.”

Mick went to Vietnam in November 1968. “I was a section commander. I had seven blokes in my section: a scout, a gun group, a machine gun group, and a rifle group. The section changed over about 300 per cent; only one person went the entire tour with me, the others dropped off for various reasons.”

“When I was a kid, I was bullied mercilessly which led me to take up boxing, and I become pretty damn good, I think. I don't think it affected my soldiering in any way, but I think that it gave me a reputation that attracted respect which is always good to have. So, I think the respect that it gained for me certainly enhanced my role as a section commander.”

“At one stage, we went for something like three months in the bush. That’s talking in whispers only and using field signals. At the end of that three months, if you raised an eyebrow, they knew what was required. They were very good.”

“In my experience with 9 RAR at Woodside and in Vietnam, the conscripts were better soldiers than their [Australian] Regular Army counterparts, almost invariably. I think the reason is maturity. A young Regular soldier usually joins because he can’t get work, or he hasn’t done well at school, or he wants to get away from home.”

“My machine gunner was a Bachelor of Science, one of my riflemen became an agricultural scientist. These were brains and I had them in my section. I think we wasted them. Why would you conscript a Bachelor of Science and put him behind a machine gun and send him off to a war that you don't intend winning. It doesn't make sense to me."

“I enjoyed Vietnam. It sounds awful but I enjoyed the buzz. I enjoyed the excitement, the closing in and the moving out, and the actual shooting. And nothing has ever equalled the satisfaction of lying back in the evening and enjoying the cool after a successful contact.”

“Vietnam is a beautiful country. I liked the rainforest. I liked the coolness of it. When the sun begins to set, it becomes nice and cool and it’s good.”

“I used to feel quite sorry for the trees. After the artillery rounds had been landing in an area, you would go through and see all these poor trees that had been penetrated or torn by the shrapnel. I wouldn’t like to have been there above the ground.”

“One time I was on my own in the middle of a paddock, and it had been hit and there were bodies all over the place, not ours. And I don’t know why, but I sat down. We had illumination rounds going off. They would go off, ‘pop’, and then they would illuminate, and you would hear the sound of the casings falling, and I thought that was eerily beautiful. Instant shadows, and then the wavering of the shadow, and then the next one.”

“I extended my time in country, and I went to Nha Trang for a little while with 5th Special Forces, but I didn’t do much with them. I did a Command and Control Course off an island called Hon Tre, and thoroughly enjoyed myself there. They were good people.”

“And I went back to Vietnam again in 1971 and 1972 with a thing called the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, AATTV. It was political nicety; we didn’t do too much. But when we went there, we went to Nui Dat, and I found an old gun pit that my company commander had my section dig when we were there in 1969. Two years later that pit was almost pristine still. It was quite nice to see a good professional gun pit.” 

“I've written a number of poems about my time in Vietnam, one of them is about post-traumatic stress. I think it affected a number of my people because they were young, and they were exposed to such a life. To cope they pushed it aside, but suddenly it comes back and hits them. I think that’s the importance of associations. You don’t know each other, but there is a distinct bond between those who have been there and done that. It’s not a brotherhood, I think that’s the wrong word, but it is a very strong feeling.”

“My life I think was enriched by my experience in Vietnam, not just my life as a soldier but my life as a person.”