Story 3 - Bug's Strikes a Blow for the Drinking Digger

By Peter Brown, 110 Sig Sqn, South Vietnam
(18 Dec 1967 - 19 Dec 1968)

Peter 'PJ' Brown

For some considerable time Military organisations, of all ilks, have attempted to ration alcohol to troops on active service. For some considerable time troops have successfully evaded most of these regulations.

110 Sig Sqn and VC Hill
Photo:  110 Sig Sqn at 1ALSG, Vung Tau in the foreground and VC Hill in the background.
Insert:  110 Sig Sqn RR site on VC Hill.  Also used for VHF retrans.

Warren “Bugs” Kennedy, is dead now and has been for some time so I’ll depart from usual procedure and use his real name.  Not that the story could be in any ways construed to reflect upon his nature, far from it.  Bugs was the Corporal detachment commander on VC Hill in Vung Tau, when the following story occurred.

VC Hill was our Radio Relay site between Vung Tau and Saigon. The hill was almost totally occupied by the Americans with small sites owned and operated by other allied nations Australia being one of them. There were three of us on the hill and they were responsible for maintenance of the radio equipment (AN/TRC-24) (Part of the AN/MRC-69 Radio Terminal Shelter) but mostly responsible for changing the generators, maintenance and site security. We had three 10 KVA s, numerous drums of petrol and a small hut to live in.  This is his story as he told it and my memory allows. The name of the ASCO stock manager may not be correct but rings a bell so to speak.

K Phone‘RING’  ‘RINNNG’  ‘RING’  one short one long one short burbled down the party line `K’ phone.  Or it did if you remembered to put the batteries in and the humidity hadn’t rusted it out. (On the whole, they worked pretty well).

 Bugs observe to no one in particular “arr... tha tel be for us” picking up the phone he answers “hill?”    The switch board operator remarks casually to both connecting parties “watch your security”.   Both parties simultaneously shout “bugger off” and feel much better for it.

 A distant and slightly hollow voice then identifies himself “this is Corporal Major”.

Bugs thinks ‘yer so what am I, bloody clairvoyant or something’ but actually says  “so how can I help you? ”.  Cpl Major continues “from ASCO you’ve heard of us ?” by now he must have had a few interesting replies to this opening.

Bugs “nope”.

Cpl Major attempts to explain “oh, ah - we’re the new Australian Services Canteen Organisation we’ll be running the Australian version of the American P.X.”   Bugs quickly replies, before the office of `listeners in’ can get pencils to paper, “The meat heads are on to that sort of stuff, you could get arrested and then you’d never make Sergeant ” he chuckles.

Cpl Major, wisely, lets that one go and continues with his explanation “no, I don’t think you understand we‘re an official- organisation we’ll be selling radios, tape decks, small items of extra rations, vegimite, biscuits etc and of course we run the in country beer n spirits distribution” .

Bug’s interest rate goes into over drive. (He was never slow especially when the booze word was used),  he pauses, to consider the vast concept – so to speak..

Cpl Major begins to wonder if the switch may have disconnected him ` click click’ the line release switch is tripped rapidly (it drives the switchies nuts if nothing else) “are you still there” he asks.

 Bugs’ recovering his composure and striking quickly asks, “how can we buy beer”

Cpl Major replies “oh you don’t buy it we bill you”.

Bugs, lost again, says “HUH” (beer without paying this guys taking the piss out of me).

Cpl. Major tries another tack “perhaps if I explain”.

Bugs, “please”.

The Cpl continues, “we have you as a registered unit entitled to a full canteen issue so you can order from us and we’ll invoice you each month.  Unfortunately we don’t have transport as yet so you’ll have to arrange your own pick up”.

Bugs realising, now, that this guy this must be new in country and thinks he (Bugs) is the orderly room for a complete military unit, contemplates the possibilities.  Well for a start, he should not explain unit dispositions over the phone, security and all that.  But to keep the conversation going, whilst regrouping, he says  “for the record transport won’t be a problem”.

Cpl. Major replies thankfully “good – how many are up there?”

Bugs’, expecting this, nails the goods home gleefully (and technically truthfully) “about three hundred give or take two or three”!

Cpl. Major sounds thoughtful “oh - at two cans per man per day” sounds of mechanical calculations and mental processes engaging  – pause – then “I know this is not enough but I’ll allocate you a pallet load of beer a month and if your short I’ll get you some more from unused allocations, would that be ok?”

VB TinnieWould it!  Bugs, not giving this guy a chance to think says, “fine, got any VB?”

Cpl. Major replies sadly “we can only give you half a pallet till the end of the month then we can start the monthly issues”.

Bugs “1430 too early for you?” (Considerate cove).

Cpl. Major explains “no that’ll be ok just quote your canteen number to the yard man”. 

Bugs hiding a chuckle “thanks see you then”.

Telephones   a distinct `click’ as the handset is replaced and each party winds the ringer handle to indicate the call is finished. 

Switchboard operator quietly to his off sider “y’ll never guess what I just heard”!

Footnote 1:    Bugs got his beer as did everyone detached to “The Hill”  both with Bugs detachment and all the detachments that followed.

Footnote 2:    It may be that this was not as much a secret as we all thought.  Whilst I was there,  Mal Stevens preceded me and explained the procedure and the need to retain a low profile, a difficult position as we were on a hill.   However I digress, about half way into my detachment the Yank (Hill) commander came across to see me to explain that due to certain contingencies (of the War) their supply line had dried out.  Could I help?   Well I could of course.  They had transport and I had an account at ASCO, all legally transferred to each (Cpl) 110 Sig Sqn detachment commander.  The fact that it was supposed to be his (account) had not escaped either of us.

We did get his beer and I was invited to visit his club.   I discovered that his troops were a bit flat on our beer.   But it seemed they were just not beer drinkers despite  the apparent popularity that Australian beer held for US serviceman.  They may have been hard spirits drinkers and would not change.

 PJ Brown
2013


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