Monday, 27 February 2017
Life on Station: part 1: Van Kiep: Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975
Life on Station: part 1
I would not want to give the impression that no work was done. I just cannot think of anything more boring to recount than the daily duty of a Decca technician. I always found it was the life that went with it that was fascinating.
There was a film on the Vietnam War on television the other night. I found it completely nauseating and didn't watch more than ten minutes of it. I am incapable of watching anything on Vietnam unless it is documentary.
There were long periods of quiet. This was one. Sometimes we were on duty for two or three days. I can remember staying up all one night trying to keep our last diesel generator alive by pouring water into it every half hour. We had a new generator shipped down by helicopter. They put it on our airstrip half a mile away. When they had brought a porta camp by helicopter previously they had dropped it on the camp, luckily without killing anyone. The US army in Vung Tau said they would take three or four weeks to send a fork lift to move it, if of course I filled in all the necessary paper work. Coming back from the air strip a day or two later I came across a lone Australian driving a fork lift. I asked if he could help. In no time at all he had it lifted up and taken to our diesel shed. I've always had a soft spot for Australians. We had one in our team, ex Australian Air force. They were starting to arrive in our province now. Contrary to the Americans who bulldozed everything flat and turned a camp into a dustbowl, the Australians blended into nature so no one knew where they were. I could now continue in praise of Australian beer, but I won't.
John was fixing a vehicle, on his back without a shirt. Then great consternation. He found he'd been lying on a red ant's nest. I had to keep him company that night whilst he drank to take the pain away. An American officer I knew went off with his battalion of Vietnamese. They were all wiped out in a rubber plantation a week or two later. We had an alert. Lots of shooting. In the morning one dead pig.
A visitor, nameless, from our Saigon office, came down. Went to sleep, perhaps not too sober, on our water tower. In the morning not knowing where he was he stepped off. He was saved from death if not exactly from injury by landing on the barbed wire below.
I put up a Union Jack in the window of our porta camp. At night it shone rather beautifully all over the US advisers compound. They were not allowed to fly the Stars and Stripes at this time. We were, after all, that little corner of England in a foreign land. An Australian didn't take too kindly to it though and was going to do all sorts of horrible things to me. That's the other sort of Australian, the type I don't get on with.