THE BIG ONE By Bob Meehan, 4 RAR/NZ
During this operation, an incident happened that has remained vivid in my memory to this day. We had patrolled all day; it was hard-going, hot and humid. I was absolutely knackered, very tense, stressed and exhausted from the thick jungle as every bloody vine wanted to hook up on my gun. The jungle was so dense that in some places you could not see the sky or the man in front of you five metres away. We harboured in the late afternoon in a very dense, vegetated area, with a closed canopy and poor visibility. The night was uneventful – just the usual gun piquet and jungle noises. I observed that if you heard insects after dark, no one was lurking nearby. If they were silent, that indicated something was amiss. First light saw the usual routine: while we were at 50% stand down, Ray Davis, the number two on my gun, was brewing up and preparing breakfast, talking away as usual. Ray liked to have a chat, when all of a sudden we heard noise to our front; it seemed a fair distance away. Nothing was said as the whole platoon had heard it. They were busy dousing hexie (Hexamine) stoves and downing what food and drink they had. Ray started to add an extra link to the gun as the rest of the blokes got down on the ground behind their weapons. I carried an empty sandbag to lie on the ground and the extra link was placed on top of it. This kept the link clear of any rubbish that may have fouled it. Ray had stuck a forked stick into the ground the night before and had his rifle resting on it. The noise increased and we could now make out screaming as well. I turned to Ray and said, “It sounds like half the fucking North Vietnamese Army’s coming.” Ray just gave me a nervous look. I tried not to give my feelings away but I was as nervous as a dog shitting razor blades. With the gun already linked up, there was nothing else to do but wait. Next bloody thing, I felt someone pulling the back of my leg. It was Bergie. He had decided to crawl over and inform me that this could be “THE BIG ONE”, which was the last thing I needed to hear. My mind had already gone back to all the movies I’d seen as a kid, with the hordes of Japs attacking during WWII.
Then all of a sudden they were on top of us – the biggest fucking mob of grey-coloured apes I’d ever seen. What really stood out were their enormous teeth. The noise they were making was horrendous. They came through the top of the trees like a tidal wave. When they saw us they stopped and screamed even louder. It was deafening. They then started to break branches off the trees and throw them at us. They began to piss and shit down on us. Jeff Croymans became a target and received a direct hit from one of the apes. It gave a new meaning to being shitted on. The apes stayed around for five or six minutes before they noisily moved on. After we’d all calmed down, Tassie informed us that apes, like humans, require water, so they roost in the trees at night and move to a water source in the cool of the morning for a drink. We just happened to be another group of apes in their territory. After all the noise from the apes, we became non-tactical for a while and I just sat there calming my nerves by having a cuppa and smoking – just your typical morning in a tropical paradise.