1st Ordnance Field Park (Det) 1966-67

These were the first OFP guys to arrive in Vietnam. They had to set up the unit defences and operate as a unit at the new Task force Base at Nui Dat. The VC even threw in a mortar attack to keep them on their toes. Read all about their struggles, and some good times, during their twelve month tour of Vietnam.

 The original 1stOrdnance Field Park (Detachment) consisted of fourteen personnel (one Officer and thirteen Other Ranks) to service the needs of two infantry battalions (5 RAR and 6 RAR) plus the supporting arms and service elements. The fourteen personnel selected for active service with the Detachment were the cream of Ordnance soldiers at that time.

The Detachment was commanded by Lieutenant Norm Clarke and comprised National Servicemen from the first intake (Privates Frank Aylen, a qualified civilian accountant, as Control Clerk, Laurie Burt, Ted Finn, Eric (Hec) Mallet and Billy Sprudd as Storemen). The Detachment Company Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Class Two Bill Eaglesham, an old timer and Korean veteran provided the steadying hand to maintain discipline. Australian Regular Army (ARA) members of the Detachment included Sergeants Darryl Shaw and Max Smith, Corporals Peter McFarlane, Frank Houston, Arthur Hartwig (the Orderly Room Clerk) as well as Privates John Fraser and John Dyson, together with Corporal “Jock” Clegg (who joined the unit from the RNZAOC) in the Q Store.

As an example of the esprit de corps amongst the members of the Field Park, John Fraser accepted a voluntary reduction in rank to Private to accept the only vacancy the Detachment had available, as no other Corporal vacancies existed. Privates Barry Siddons, a National Serviceman, and Vic Zabenko, ARA, were posted in as reinforcements after the Detachment had reached Vietnam.

The advance party of the Detachment, along with the Task Force’s scaling of stores left Australia aboard HMAS Sydney on 21 April 1966. The main body of the Detachment departed RAAF Base Richmond, on 4 May 1966, on a B707 Qantas charter flight to Vung Tau (via Townsville, Manila and Saigon). The last leg of the journey was regrettably aboard a USAF C123 Provider, which, according to Lieutenant Norm Clarke, “leaked like a sieve” during a monsoon storm. On arrival in Vietnam the Detachment’s main body linked up with the advance party on the “BackBeach” at Vung Tau. The Detachment was accommodated in the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group (1ALSG) area where about a month was spent refurbishing and reconditioning stores whilst the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) position at Nui Dat was being secured. Lieutenant Norm Clarke recalls that on their arrival the weather was damp and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) soldiers were clearing a minefield close by and they were greeted by a number of explosions (of mines) as a “Welcome here boys”.

The Detachment personnel were rationed by 1 Composite Ordnance Company (1 COC), (redesignated 2 Composite Ordnance Depot shortly after arrival in Vietnam) and erected their own tent lines for accommodation and stores. They were required to dig weapon pits and to “stand to” at dusk. 5 RAR, having also just arrived in country, were next door and at dusk the Battalion sounded “Retreat”. So there they were at “stand to” with the Battalion observing the “Retreat” protocol, and it was raining cats and dogs as it did most nights whilst “standing to”.

Every day since the Detachment arrived ‘in country’ the monsoon visited with clockwork regularity. With it came gale force winds and rain for about half an hour, usually around 4.00 p.m. They had their tents (11ft x 22ft) up and their stores located and they thought they were really well organised. After they had been on the ground in 1 COC area for a few weeks, Lieutenant Clarke was instructed by Task Force HQ to relocate about 300 metres which put them directly behind the Task Force Commander’s personal sleeping tent.

Lieutenant Clarke did an appreciation of the situation and had it all worked out how to move with maximum protection for stores and equipment. He was then called up to visit Major Bob Phillips DADOS (AFV). Whilst he was with Major Phillips a monsoon storm arrived and it bucketed down. When he returned to his unit, after the storm had all blown away, he found that his unit had also been blown away with it. When he asked his CSM, Bill Eaglesham what the ‘@#%*’ had happened, he was told that the Task Force Ordnance Officer (TFOO) had “hopped in” and told him to move. Lieutenant Clarke recalls that he was somewhat a “little cross” about the whole incident as tents were wrecked and stores were wet and damaged, simply because someone else had moved in and got his unit to move without due appreciation of the climatic conditions. It transpired that there was no urgency in the order to relocate.

To add to his woes, Lieutenant Clarke later got into trouble with the Commander of the Task Force for loading his unit’s stores on to vehicles well into the late hours with a forklift truck from 1 COC, obtained via the “old boy” system. They were preparing for the move to Nui Dat. He was advised that this was “not on” and that he should go through staff channels for proper results.

While at Vung Tau the Detachment provided men for morning and evening clearing patrols and other duties. No one seemed to know whose responsibility it was to provide water for the Bath Section, manned by Corporal Frank Houston and Private Heck Mallett. Lieutenant Clarke arranged for a 1,000 gallon water tank from Engineer Stores (this time through Staff channels!) and the OFP Detachment took on water delivery to ALSG and Task Force units in the Vung Tau area, and later on when they moved to Nui Dat. They were in effect the “Gunga Dihn” for the Task Force.

Whilst waiting at Vung Tau, Lieutenant Clarke and the TFOO (Captain. Neville Bland) took a flight by US helicopter to Bien Hoa to visit the 1st Australian Logistic Support Company (1 ALSG) and 1 RAR, prior to their return to Australia, to discuss their usage rates for vehicle parts and other equipment over the past 12 months.

Lieutenant Clarke was asked by Task Force Head Quarters when he intended to move to Nui Dat. TFHQ agreed it made sense to move when the Task Force units B echelons moved. A group of Task Force Administrative Area (TFAA) officers, including Lieutenant Clarke, had done a reconnaissance of the TFAA location at Nui Dat some couple of weeks before they commenced to move.

On 5 June 1966, after being located on the sand at Vung Tau for about a month, the Detachment deployed forward to the Task Force Administrative Area (TFAA) at Nui Dat. The movement of stores and equipment was by 2 1/2 ton GS Tippers. Upon arrival at Nui Dat the unit was allocated part of the 1st Australian Reinforcement Unit’s (1 ARU) perimeter and worked quickly to establish its position on a Hill known as “Nui Dat 2”. Another hill, known as “Nui Dat 1”, was the highest and most prominent feature at the Task Force Base and was occupied by a Company from 5 RAR. A SAS Squadron was later to take over “Nui Dat 1” and it was then commonly known as SAS Hill after that. The position allocated to the Detachment on Nui Dat Hill was amongst fairly dense vegetation comprising low scrub, bamboo clumps and a few tall trees with rubber and banana plantations in the surrounding area occupied by the 1st Australian Task Force. At first the development and operations of the Field Park Detachment were hampered by the ground allocated, which as mentioned previously, was positioned on the second highest feature within the Task Force base, as well as a scarcity of engineer support to construct hard standing. Engineer support was gained mainly by direct liaison between unit members and passing bulldozer or grader drivers. The going rate for each job was a carton of Australian beer which was a considerable supplement to the daily ration of two cans.

det one

One of the weapon pits in the OFP area manned at night by personnel in the unit.
(Photo – Arthur Hartwig)

Three weapon pits were constructed and manned nightly from the first night. Manning weapon pits nightly proved quite a burden as the nightly picket roster was shared between only twelve men, while carrying out its normal supply support functions. Apart from its normal day to day ordnance functions and water delivery, the Detachment was given the task of handling the transit stores for units located in the Nui Dat area. This added further burden resulting in upwards of twenty cargo trucks a day having to be unloaded by hand at the Detachment’s site. The unit’s Massey Ferguson forklift was inoperable in the muddy conditions that had existed due to the lack of all weather roads in the early phases of the conflict. On one occasion four American semi-trailers arrived unannounced at the Detachment’s site with the initial supply of beds for the entire Australian Task Force. With its forklift out of action, and the burly Negro drivers demanding to be out of this “MF’ war zone, the only alternative left for the Detachment was to push the load off the vehicles on to either side of the road way. The end result was an unholy mess and very dirty beds for the Task Force, which the units had to collect “as they were”.

The Detachment quickly established its position on the hill in the Task Force Administrative Area and began providing limited direct support to the task force almost immediately. Included in this were issues of fast moving items from stock holdings of the Task Force commander’s operational reserve of weapons (eg. flame throwers), controlled equipment and dry cell batteries (which had an indifferent shelf life).

The Detachment also provided a distribution centre manned by Private John Fraser (later promoted to Corporal) for ordnance items issued from 1st Australian Logistic Support Group, at Vung Tau, and Australia. The Detachment lost all of its Private soldiers during August – October 1966 to assist 1 COC in Vung Tau in becoming operational. This left two experienced NCOs to the daily work routines of the Detachment.

Unfortunately, on 4 August 1966, the Detachment’s Officer Commanding Lieutenant Clarke was seriously burned in an accident during land clearing activities when they were preparing an area to set up a Bulk Break facility within the Field Park area. He was injured doing something which officers are not supposed to do (i.e. Work !!), but there were only four members left at Nui Dat at the time as DADOS ALSG had confiscated all of his men, but three, to assist in sorting out the mess which was dumped on the poor blokes at 1 COC, Vung Tau. He was transferred from 1st Australian Task Force base to the US Army 36th EvacuationHospital in Vung Tau and was then medivaced to Australia for hospitalisation. For a brief period, Sergeant Darryl Shaw was ‘unofficially’ acting OC of the Detachment from when Lieutenant Norm Clarke was injured, until his replacement took over. The next most senior officer was WO2 Bill Eaglesham, who was down at Vung Tau at the time.

Lieutenant Clarke was replaced as Officer Commanding by Lieutenant David Jamison who was transferred from the 101st Field Workshop Stores Section (RAAOC) by the direction of the first Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services Australian Forces Vietnam, Major Bob Phillips.

Shortly after arrival at Nui Dat, Lieutenant Jamison accompanied the Task Force Ordnance Officer (TFOO), Captain Neville Bland, former Officer Commanding 1st Ordnance Field Park 1965/66, on an inspection of the laundry contractor’s premises (which had been established by Captain Bland and Lieutenant Clarke) at nearby Baria, the province capital, only to be caught up in a Viet Cong mortar fire and artillery attack on the town. Such attacks were, fortunately, not a frequent occurrence and the provision of this contractor service continued with little disruption.

On the night of 17th August 1966 the first Viet Cong mortar attack on the Task Force base occurred. A mortar bomb landed in the Detachment’s position while other rounds landed in adjacent areas occupied by the 1st Australian Reinforcement Unit and the Postal Unit. Quick action by Sergeant Darryl Shaw and Corporal Peter McFarlane in getting into their weapons pits ensured there were no OFP casualties, although the reinforcement and postal units were not so lucky and some of their members were wounded in the attack.

det two

18 August 1966 Lt David Jamison and WO2 Bill Eaglesham having a close look at the tail fin of the mortar bomb which landed in the OFP area. Interestingly the base of the bomb had “Made in USA” on it. The VC/NVA could use our 81 mm bombs in their 82 mm tubes. The tail fin was later that day donated to Col Joye after a Concert Party at Nui Dat.
(Photo – Darryl Shaw)

The Detachment’s bulk stocks did not fare so well and considerable damage was suffered. Detailed stock escaped unscathed from mortar shrapnel due to the “bin pack” storage system being used by the Detachment.

Peter McFarlane recalls that luckily most of the blokes were down at Vung Tau selecting Bulk Break because 1 COC were still sorting out their mess. His accommodation tent was peppered with shrapnel and a photo of his intended wife to be copped some shrapnel in her shoulder.

Due to the rips in the canvas caused by shrapnel, the storage tents provided limited storage from the rains until such accommodation was gradually replaced. This mortar attack occurred in Nui Dat in the early morning on the day before the battle now known as “The Battle of Long Tan”. This baptism of fire did much for the promotion and practice of unit defence drills in the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat.

By October 1966, the 2nd Composite Ordnance Depot (2 COD) (formerly 1st Composite Ordnance Company) stock levels were such, and the 1st Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) site sufficiently developed, to enable the normal bulk break system to be operated by the Detachment. Thereafter, the full range of Ordnance Field Park tasks, including mobile shower facilities, were available to the 1st Australian Task Force.

However, things did not always go as planned. Sergeant Darryl Shaw recalls that while preparing the monthly Bulk Break vouchers, in October or November 1966, a demand was raised for ‘Service Flannelette 4×2’. Due to sweaty hands all vouchers were typed. The clerk, who shall remain nameless, instead of typing 2,500 yards added an extra two zeros. Of course the ultra efficient Sergeant, who will also remain nameless, signed the voucher for 250,000 yards and it was dispatched to 2 Comp Ord at Vung Tau. Unbeknown to them, the ‘Unit of Issue’ (UOI) had changed to ‘25 yard rolls’. So the Control at 2 Comp Ord changed the UOI to rolls but did not alter the quantity. As to be expected, the Comp Ord raised an Operational Demand (OPDEM) on Australia and still no one had checked the quantity. Next thing they knew, Peter McFarlane and John Fraser were in the Control tent rather upset that they had a truck load of ‘Service Flannelette 4×2’ on their hands and wanting to know “what the bloody hell we had done!” So this is the reason why, around November 1966, every track of every Unit in the Task Force was marked out with ‘Service Flannelette 4×2’. Two very embarrassed clerks then had to explain why demands for 200 yards, for example, were changed to 2,000 rolls. Thankfully the RQMS was very understanding.

Apparently some in the Detachment were prone to mutinous acts. John Fraser recalls that a couple of occasions come to mind. Once was when they were working down at Vung Tau; a bit of Rest & Convalescence mainly. They were ordered to return to the unit from the beach and didn’t think much of the idea so they didn’t go. Next thing they know WO2 Bill Eaglesham yells to Sergeant Darryl Shaw – “Charge them Sergeant!” Darryl informed them accordingly. After they had returned the charges of ‘failing to appear at a place of parade and disobeying a lawful command’ were remanded to Task Force by Lieutenant Norm Clarke (OC). At that stage it all exploded! It was mutiny! Darryl Shaw was paraded at Task Force where he told them he had made a mistake – he hadn’t really ordered them to return to the unit. Darryl’s bum is still stinging from the kick he got. At least Darryl probably saved them from twenty years in Changi Goal.

det three

1966 – OFP Nui Dat. Some of the guys organising stores in the Bulk Break area.
L to R. – Eric (Hec) Mallett, Ed Finn, Barry Siddons, Peter McFarlane
(Photo – Ted Sellens)

det fourRAAOC Corps Day BBQ 1966.
OFP members are Darryl Shaw (2nd from left) and Peter McFarlane (last on right)
(Photo – Darryl Shaw)

Lieutenant Norm Clarke, OC at the time, recalls this incident slightly differently. Charges hadn’t actually been laid and, after a couple of days, Lieutenant Clarke asked Darryl Shaw to tell him the exact circumstances of this incident. It transpired that Darryl had requested the boys to return to the unit. He had not ordered them to return. Norm recalls that after a lecture to the lads he breathed a sigh of relief. The thought that he had a group of revolutionaries (Oz version) would have been too much!

The second “mutiny” occurred at Nui Dat. Some of the troops were standing around talking when Corporal Peter McFarlane gave an order to do something. Apparently it didn’t fit in with the troops ‘schedule’ that day and they all declined to do what was requested by Peter. Several threats of “You’ll be charged” was followed by “Stuff Ya’s, you’re all on a charge of disobeying a lawful command.” Peter then went up to the Orderly Room tent to do the paper work. Corporal Arthur Hartwig (The Orderly Room Corporal) reminded him that that wasn’t exactly the charge – it was Mutiny! Peter returned to the group, called them a pack of bastards and the troops gave a grin and ‘consented’ to the order. It was a pretty close unit.

Not all the duties undertaken required Ordnance trade training as part of the job. Darryl Shaw recalls a daily chore which had to be undertaken which wasn’t in his job description. Every morning the ‘shitters’ (toilets made out of 44 gallon drums with a hole cut in the top and three quarters buried – sitting out in the open); had to be burned out with range fuel and diesel. What a stink!! Timing your toilet visit was a crucial part of their daily activities.

The annual Corps Day was celebrated with a BBQ in October 1966. WO2 Ted Sellens did all the organizing with T-bone steaks from Australia (via Qantas) and plenty of beer and ice. All the RAAOC people in the Task Force at Nui Dat, plus members with the AATV as well as some visitors from Vung Tau attended. What made the day more enjoyable was that it was the first night off the Detachment had had since arriving at Nui Dat. Members from 1st Australian Reinforcement Unit manned their gun pits that night so they could all relax and enjoy themselves.

Christmas 1966 was a memorable occasion for everyone at the OFP. Corporal Peter McFarlane’s small home town of Cunnamulla, in south western Queensland, sent him over thirty Christmas cakes and along with dozens more sent to other soldiers from all over Australia ensured that every soldier got a “taste” of Christmas – although the distribution of cakes was a profound logistics problem. During Christmas Day celebrations held in the unit’s bulk break area three section marquee, two Negro gunners from the nearby gun site were invited in and were offered a drop of Mr Penfolds finest Sweet Sherry. The Detachment had acquired some three cartons from an unnamed source. The gunners reply was that “back in Arkansas Sir, wine is a ladies drink”. Two hours later after sipping “wine” served at mail box temperature the gunners had only the whites of their eyes and the roofs of their mouths showing. Peter says “They didn’t know what gender they were”! A good time was had by all!

As a result of the mortar attack in August 1966, negotiations for a new area for the Detachment were given added impetus when the Australian Government, as part of the build up of the 1st Australian Task Force, announced an increase of the Task Force to a three battalion force. The announcement in turn came with the decision to return the Detachment to Australia after its twelve month tour in Vietnam. The 1st Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) was to be replaced by a Detachment from the 6th Ordnance Field Park stationed at Gaythorne in Brisbane.

A new location for the 1st Ordnance Field Park (Detachment), and subsequently the 6th Ordnance Field Park (Detachment), was of primary concern and a new area was quickly located at the eastern end of Luscombe Airfield in an area adjacent to the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. Development of the new area was required to be completed by late April 1967 to allow the 6th Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) to occupy the new facilities on their arrival in Nui Dat from Australia in May 1967.

The advance party from 6th Ordnance Field Park arrived in Nui Dat in late March 1967 to prepare for the handover. The 1st Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) ceased its operations in Vietnam on 5th May 1967 and returned to Australia allowing the 6th Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) to commence its operations from the new location. Upon the arrival of the 1st Ordnance Field Park (Detachment) in Australia its personnel were either posted to other Ordnance units in Australia or absorbed in to the Ordnance Field Park at Holsworthy, New South Wales.
det five

Christmas Day 1966. The Bulk Break tent all set up for the Christmas celebrations
(Photo – Ted Sellens)
det six

5 May 1967 –1 OFP (Det) -Going home at last.
L to R – Darryl Shaw, Peter McFarlane, Laurie Burt, John Fraser, Eric Mallett (obscured), David Jamison (OC), Ed Finn, Frank Aylen, Ted Sellens (partly obscured), Vic Zabenko, Col Griffiths, Arthur Hartwig and Billy Sprudd. (Photo – Darryl Shaw) Missing from the original Detachment Norm Clarke (OC)[ Medivaced to Australia ], Bill Eaglesham, [ Posted to 1 Comp Ord ], Max Smith [ Posted to HQ 1 ATF ], Frank Houston [ Returned to Australia ], John Dyson [ Posted to 1 Aviation Regt ] & Andy Clegg RNZAOC [ Returned to New Zealand ]