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Paul Crofts OAM

Paul Crofts OAM

Private, Australian Army


Private Paul Vincent Crofts

2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Australian Army
Service number: 2792844
Rank on discharge: private
Honours/awards: OAM

"They used to call us “Pongos”. We stank. We honestly stank.

We were out in the scrub, and we were out there for weeks and no bath, no shower, no nothing. I think I had one shower at a fire support base. They stripped us all. We had to all strip down and go for a shower. That was the one time in that year that happened to me.

And when we got back to the base at Nui Dat, we used to go to the showers, and get the soap and scrub up, and put our new greens on again. You know, but the greens used to stink ’cause you’ve got the perspiration, the sweating, all the time. But’s that’s why they used to call us: “Pongos”."

Paul Crofts was working for the Water Board when he received a letter from the government saying he’d been conscripted. “The day I got it, I was sitting on the fence with my mates and of course they were laughing at me,” Paul said. “But out of the 11 mates, eight of us got called up. Our marble came out of the barrel.”

Paul had 10 weeks’ recruit training at Singleton. “Once we finished, we had to put in for the corps we wanted. I put in for artillery – but I got infantry, most of us did. The infantry training was good. I loved the field craft, and I was pretty good at it.”

Paul said, “Conscription is a very sore point with Australians. And the thing is, I was conscripted. My country wanted me to get trained up, and I said to myself, ‘I'm here, I'm gonna do my job to the best of my ability.’ The first week I got into trouble, and I had to scrub the toilets, but I soon shut my mouth. I did it for my country. It’s as simple as that, I respect my country.”

“When I was doing my training, I was always aware of Vietnam. After corps training, they put me in the 5RAR. We were in Canungra for jungle training and mine warfare when they called for 40 volunteers to go to Townsville to join the 2RAR to go to Vietnam. I volunteered. I thought it was going to be an adventure.”

In May 1970, Paul was deployed to Nui Dat, Vietnam with the 2RAR. “There was infantry, armour, signals, and headquarters. Nui Dat was pretty big. You had your battalions on the perimeters, and 8 Field Ambulance used to be at the ‘Pearly Gates’, that's the gates to go home … and the chopper with the Red Cross, that was a sad place.”

Paul said, “The Tet Offensive was in 1968, and when that finished the new strategy for the Army was pacification. We had to go in and help villages and stuff like that. The strategy was to get the people on your side.”

“We set up ambushes for any Viet Cong entering at night. Some of the villagers didn’t bother with the curfews and would go out shooting deer. They would walk through the ambush sites, so we had to be careful not to shoot them.”

Paul said, “In the Army, you met guys from different states, different walks of life. Aboriginal boys, country boys, blokes from South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia. And we were all brothers. There was no animosity with each other.”

“We were called Grunts and Pongos,” he said. “Grunts because the packs used to move on our backs, and we’d go, ‘Ah’ because it hurt. I carried 10 days’ rations, 200 rounds, a Claymore mine, two grenades, and a smoke grenade. And I carried a rocket launcher along with my SLR.”

“We were called Pongos because we stank. We wore jungle greens and GP boots with steel underneath for the punji sticks. We were out in the scrub for a couple of weeks with no bath, no shower, no nothing.”

“When you're walking through paddy fields, you're getting wet. When you're going through creeks, you're getting wet. When you're going through the Rung Sac [salty forest] … when you’re waiting in ambush ... you’re getting wet. You stank, it was just one of those things.”

“When we got back to the base at Nui Dat, we’d go to the showers and get the soap and scrub up and put our new washed greens on. But the greens still stank because you were sweating all the time.”

“At the base you had your hootchies, but you had no sheets. You were just under a mosquito net on a mattress. You had a pillow with no pillowslip, and it used to stink, but you got used to it. We had some of the comforts of home, like electricity, but we didn’t have a fridge or television or anything like that,” Paul said. “I used to have a shortwave radio and listen to Radio Australia, even when I came back to Australia.”

“Our food was good. I liked the tuna. I used to put rice and curry with it, that was my favourite dish. And instead of using hexamine, I used the C4. It used to cook your meal real quick and get you a cup of tea. That was good.”

Paul left Vietnam in March 1971. “When I went up the ramp to go home on a C-130 Hercules, I said, ‘I made it.’ The training taught me how to stay alive. More than anything, in Vietnam I learned how to survive,” he said.

“I lived at a place called Villawood. It was a pretty rough area, and I was a bit of a rough kid. The Army straightened me out. It changed my whole life. It taught me discipline. My mates all told me I was a roughneck. I used to be bluing all the time and big mouthing. The Army showed me discipline and respect. Everyone says I changed when I came home. Well, I did change, I grew up simple as that. I grew up and if I had to do it again, I’d do it again. I’d do anything for my country.”

“When my time came up to get out of the Army, I was back at the Water Board the next day. It was really good. I went back to my depot, and, they said, ‘Oh, Croftsy’s back’, just like that. They looked after me. I became an Overseer, then a Senior Overseer I worked my way up going to TAFE and stuff like that. I got a promotion. Firstly to Safety Inspector 2nd Grade then Safety Inspector 1st Grade. I had further education and was promoted to Safety Officer.”

Paul was with the Water Board for 28 years. “I’ve been gone for 27 years, but I’ve worked in other ways, helping veterans and their families. I’ve done 396 funeral services, written up the eulogies. It was part of my getting over what I was going through.”

“My wife is five years younger than me. She was at school when I was in Vietnam, so she didn’t really understand. She doesn’t know what I’ve done because I don’t tell her. We don’t talk about it.”

Paul said, “I am proud of the medals I received. You had those people who burned their draft cards and stuff like that. I’ve got no problems with that. That's their choice. I could have done it myself if I wanted, but I made a choice to do what my country asked me to do. And if they asked me to do it again, I would.”


Hootchie – A synthetic tarp which could be press studded or laced together. Hootchies were used as one-man shelters in the field and four-man shelters in base camp.