Extract from interview with Claire Hall, 23 January 2013
Reproduced with permission of Terry Culley
Inaugural troop commander Terry Culley recalls setting up NZSAS lines at Nui Dat.
What were your first impressions of the area that you had been given?
I just about spewed and fainted actually because the area we’d been given was all overgrown for a start and when started pulling aside the undergrowth there was all this rubbish. There was drums, rubbish, and old vehicles, and old pieces of iron and stuff. It was like it had all been dumped – a dump area. In fact the key when we found out was some of the rubbish was – it was really scary because some of drums held a toxic substance called CS gas powder, which was a chemical weapon [commonly used for riot control]. And what happened? We said, ‘What are we going to do with this?’ [The Australians said] ‘We’ll give you a bulldozer’.
One of the Australian engineer units sent up a bulldozer for us to clear the area. Not take all the trees out but to dig areas clear so that we could have somewhere to put our tents. But we also had to be able to defend the area because it was an area that was part of their responsibility for ground defence from ground attack. Just beyond us was the wire – a second lot of internal wire structures; this is concertina wire in star pickets like the old war scenario that you see. So we said, ‘OK. Well this what we’ve got to do we got to do’. So we got this bulldozer up there and the first time he put his blade down and went charging in to this pile of rubbish, he pierced a hole in one of the drums of CS gas. And instead of stopping there, he pulled the drum clear of the stack and spread powder all over the bloody ground. Now that powder just caused basically an itch to your skin. If it got into your airways, it’d cause you to cry and if you rubbed your eyes you were definitely history.
Vietnam War Oral History Project, Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage