Story 7 - The Boozer

 

By Denis Hare OAM BEM

Denis Hare

Introduction

The unit other ranks (ORs) canteen (boozer) is the most important part of a soldier’s life when away from family on war service.  The boozer gives relief from the hard work of war, loneliness from missing families and friends plus develops camaraderie. 

During the Vietnam war the 1st Australian Task Force deployed to Phuoc Tuy Province in May/June 1966 and setup a combat base around the small Nui Dat feature in a rubber plantation.  Included with the many units was 103 Sig Sqn for Task Force command communications.

There were many tasks for the deploying Task Force to secure the area including digging/sandbagging weapon pits, mortar pits and strong points for the defences, setting up toilet and showers plus erecting tents for work and accommodation.   One task of many for 103 Sig Sqn was setting up the boozer tent. 

 The Pisser (1966)

103 Sig Sqn 'The Pisser'
The Pisser.  (103Sigs 16-7)

The vintage WW2 tent was quickly named ‘The Pisser’.  The Pisser was decked out with seating, some locally sourced cheap folding chairs, iceboxes for beer and soft drink (goffers) plus a dart board.

The hard work continued with units doing their normal military tasks, improving defences and setting up the base with accommodation tenting, including sandbagged parapet for protection.  The work then started on more permanent buildings.   

103 Sig Sqn with Royal Australian Engineer supervision built tropical buildings for mess halls, kitchen, Q store and the boozer.  Lysaght Huts (prefabricated galvanised iron huts) for the Squadron Headquarter (HQ), Quartermaster (Q) and Communication Centre (COMCEN) buildings.  Some of the tropical buildings were open on the sides and other had shutters.   The Officer/SNCO and ORs mess halls plus boozer buildings were completed by Dec 1966 however because of the shortage of concrete and mixers, they had dirt floor.   At sometime early in the new year the concrete flooring was add and the boozer was renamed ‘The Bunchers’.

 103 Sig Sqn 'ORs Mess'  103 Sig Sqn 'COMCEN Floor'
Photo Left:  ORs Mess with dirt floor.  (103Sigs 19-9)  
Photo Right:  103 Sig Sqn concreting the HQ building Slab.  (103Sigs 22-6)

 The Bunchers (1967)

103 Sig Sqn 'The Bunchers'
‘The Bunchers’ L-R John Tootell, Thomas Scott and Alan Cutmore.  (103Sigs 15-15)

The Bunchers was cryptic for Bunch of 'Charlie, uniform, november, tango sierra' stemming from the wild days from the 1 Div Sig Regt at Ingleburn, Sydney in the early sixties.  The drinking hole which was favoured by the Regt lads was 'The Capitol' (Royal Hotel) in Clarence St, Sydney.  Other were the 'Civic', 'The Rockers' (Macquarie Hotel) and the 'Taxi Hotel'. 

103 Sig Sqn ORs were busy in the time honoured tradition out scrounging timber and other bits for a bar, etc, to make their new boozer a home away from home.

 103 Sig Sqn 'Boozer' with dite floor  103 Sig Sqn Boozer Xmas 1966
Photo Left:  Boozer building completed without concrete floor.  (103Sigs 22-23)
Photo Right:
  Xmas in the new boozer building still with dirt floor. 
(103Sigs 25-17)

With the units tour almost completed a large tour honour board was added in the roof rafters.  All ORs names were added including the 145 Sig Sqn (Force Signals), 547 Sig Tp (SIGINT), and US Army Signal Corps members and other who were attached to the unit.   Sadly, included were two members killed, Sig Barry Logan (145 Sig Sqn) and SP4 Barry Wood (53rd Sig Bn, US Army).  The details and names are recorded in the 103 Sig Sqn Story 4 ORs Vietnam Tour Honour Board”.

103 Sig Sqn ORs Honour Board
The ORs Honour Board hanging over the Bar.  (103Sigs 7-12)

103 Sig Sqn at the completion of their tour of service left a fully functioning ORs boozer for the incoming 104 Sig Sqn.

 The Nash (1967/68)

 The National Hotel, Brisbane in the 1960s
The National Hotel, Brisbane in the 1960’s.  Photo:  From Internet Source

Before leaving for South Vietnam, the last night saw a large number 104 Sig Sqn ORs at the National Hotel in the City for farewell drinks.  The National was a popular notorious hotel nicknamed by its many patrons, ‘The Nash’, frequented by criminals, prostitutes and rumoured corrupt police. It also featured Warren’s Bar, named for it's head barman. Warren with blue eyeshadow painted fingernails, and high-camp persona made him famous and was a Brisbane institution, much loved and often featured in the newspapers.

By closing time (10pm) the boys were charged and it appeared no special allowance was to be made for Vietnam bound diggers in the morning and they were asked to leave.   That was the start of 104 Sig Sqn’s first combat mission with their backs to Warrens’ bar, they tried to hold the bar!   However, Queensland’s finest got the best of the engagement, with a number of 104 guys cooling their heels in paddy wagons, on their way to the city watch house and others doing a tactical withdrawal back to Enoggera military base, with coppers in pursuit.  The rest of the story is history and detailed in the 104 Sig Sqn Story 18 “Last Night in Brisbane”.

The hard working 103 Sig Sqn that setup a very comfortable unit area at Nui Dat was replaced by 104 Sig Sqn in April 1967.  With the senior members of the unit still exasperated with the combative brawling on the last night in Australia, it is unsure how the boozer was renamed ‘The Nash’!   

 104 Sig Sqn 'The Nash'
‘The Nash’ Unknown unit member.  (104Sigs 112-5)

The inside was lined with acquired material including the breezeway that faced the base inside (kitchen and mess halls side) replaced with window type opening and other wall (movie area side) completely covered to stop any light going to the defence perimeter.  Ongoing improvements including the ceiling getting camouflage netting continued.  

The walls of the Vietnam 'Nash' have many stories that included great catch ups, the game ripp’ee, losing at darts, up the old red rooster singing and beating the two man per can restrictions from the early 1968 plus the units Radio Troop affectionately being known as “F Troop”.  See 104 Sig Sqn Story 70 “The Naming of F Troop (Radio Troop)”.

 Abraham Club (1968/71)

104 Sig Sqn 'Abraham Club'
Abraham Club. (104Sigs A-13)

On the 29 Sept 1968 a popular member of the unit, Sig Dennis Abraham was killed in action and the boozer was renamed the ‘Abraham Club’ in Dennis’s honour with a photo and plaque placed in the club.

   104 Sig Sqn 'Abraham Club'  104 Sig Sqn 'Abraham Club'
Photo left:  Painted and with window openings in 1968.  (104Sigs 9-9)
Photo Right:  Murals, etc in 1971.  (104Sigs 96-15)

The inside wall was painted, captured weapons mounted on the walls, painted murals added, replaced and other ongoing improvements until the unit abandoned Nui Dat in Oct 1971 and returned home.

 Conclusion

At the time of writing this story in early 2024, 104 Sig Sqn is no longer independent but one of two combat signal squadrons of the 1st Combat Signal Regiment in Darwin.  The ORs Club is still named ‘The Abraham Club’.

 1CSR (Home of 104 Sig Sqn)
The Abraham Club, 1st Combat Signal Regiment (Home of 104 Sig Sqn)
Photo:  Denis Hare (2015)

103 Sig Sqn is also no longer independent and one of two combat signal squadrons of the 3rd Combat Signal Regiment in Townsville.


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