HOW I STOLE A ROVER By Alan Norcott, 8 RAR
It was May 1970 and 8 RAR had been in country just over six months. After Operation Hammersley a few of the boys were offered different jobs within the battalion. There was an opening for a bright young digger in transport platoon. Some of the boys were offered a stint on the Saigon guard. Wanting to stay in the battalion, I applied for and was successful in landing the job with the battalion transport platoon. I thought, ‘Here we go. I’m on easy street.’ All I had to do was stay out of trouble until we headed for home. WRONG. It only took the first week to fuck my reputation. I was ordered to join a TAOR (Task Force Area of Responsibility) and sent on patrol, led by Section Commander Corporal Neibling. We made our way to the ambush position about 800 metres west of Hoa Long hamlet.
Cpl Neibling told me to set the claymores in the killing ground and at either end. Looking at the ground, I realised it didn’t look like the same area as to the O (orders) Group we had received back at Nui Dat, which indicated we were missing a track coming in from the left-hand side of the killing grounds. I asked Neibling to re-check our position and our DFs (defensive fire). After a navigation check, I informed Cpl Neibling we were roughly 200 metres ambush to that position from where we were supposed to be. He agreed. We moved to the new position and settled in for the night. We fired our DFs and catnapped for most of the night until daybreak.
On arriving back at Nui Dat, Cpl Neibling went for a debrief on the night’s ambush. He informed the Company Commander that I had disrupted his ambush. I was then hauled over the coals and threatened with incarceration. I made my way back to the platoon lines, fucking fuming. I sought out Cpl Neibling and smacked him fair and square on his nose. Dutchie Holland was bloody livid. Dutchie was not only the platoon sergeant but the platoon commander as well. He immediately banished me to FSB (fire support base) Le Loi, situated on the other side of Bin Ba Rubber Plantation along Route 2. It was bloody enormous compared to our standards. We took over from 4-9 Battalion 85th Division. Its perimeter defence was made up of 24 bunkers, plus a battery from the 2-8 US Battalion with their mobile 8” guns that were loaded with a hydraulic fork. The 8-inch shells were massive. There were 155 mm guns of C Battery 2-35th Battalion US, also a section from 161 RNZA Battery with their guns. So you can imagine when a fire mission was called and all guns fired, it felt as though you were in an earthquake.
My job was as a driver. As such I was required to drive into Nui Dat each day to pick up the mail, stores and anything else. I got used to running the gauntlet of Route 2. I organised a system. I could acquire alcohol from different units and these came in mainly 40 oz bottles – Chivas Regal, Bacardi, Scotch, Vodka and whatever else I could get my hands on. What I could not get legally I stole from Sgts’ and Officers’ Messes. The bottles I accumulated were all 40 oz and in the end I had at any given time 20 to 30 bottles in hidey-holes all over the FSB. This was a very lucrative and profitable little scam.
I had been at the FSB for just over two months, with no sign of an R&C (rest and recreation) down at Vung Tau coming from Dutchy. I worked out. I was missing out on my allocation of piss (alcohol) and some arsehole was drinking it. I realised I was the forgotten soldier. It was then that I hatched a plan of doing things my way. As the people in power at the FSB were used to seeing me driving a Rover, I had no trouble in stealing one. Once I acquired a vehicle, I headed off to Vung Tau for a fuck and a gutful of piss. Vung Tau had two areas where a soldier could stay – the Peter Badcoe Club or the R&C Centre. I knew the Badcoe Club would be too busy and too many questions would be asked, so that was out. The R&C Centre was situated in the middle of town, so that’s where I headed. I parked the Rover out the front; it had served its purpose. I booked myself in for two nights and then headed to the nearest bar. I was still wearing my basic webbing and carrying my RSL (self-loading rifle). There must have been 20 drinkers in the bar, all dressed in civvies and there I was standing in the bar in greens, webbing and rifle. Funny thing, not one of them challenged me. I just stood there at the bar, woofing down rums. I knew it wouldn’t be long before Dutchy had worked out what I’d done. I’d say I had three hours before Dutchy and the battalion’s RPs (Regimental Police) descended on me like a plague of rats. I was still drinking at the bar when in burst Dutchy and his henchmen. He laid down the law, informing me what happened to soldiers who went AWOL (absent without leave) whilst on active service. As I was already caught and knew I would be heading for the hill (gaol), I kept telling him to get fucked, which wasn’t going to make it any better. I had to sit in Dutchy’s Rover on the trip back to Nui Dat, with the RPs behind in the Rover I’d stolen. As we passed through Baria, I told Dutchy that I knew of a couple of scams he was running. I also told him I would be informing the commanding officer of his scams and how he treated the soldiers under his command. While I was on a roll, I informed him that Dan Casey would back me all the way. On arriving at Nui Dat, he told me to go to my tent and he would see me shortly. Within 15 minutes, Dutchy was in my tent telling me to get dressed in civvies, as a Land Rover was waiting to take me to Vung Tau. I was on a 39-hr leave.
WHO SAYS CRIME DOESN’T PAY?
As I’d already booked into the R&C Centre, there was need to worry
about that. I headed back to the bar. A few of the drinkers were still in there; they came over to slap me on the back, asking what the story was. They roared with laughter, with one of them saying it was good to see a soldier using his initiative. I was to find out later that he was a major. After my R&C, where I fucked myself silly, I was sent back to the bush.
Note! Somewhere in Vietnam, there are between 20-30 x 40-oz bottles of the world’s finest still buried there – nearly worth a return trip…