During Viet Nam service there were rare occasions when Riflemen were allowed back into the Australian Task Force Base at Nui Dat. Rare because we were dreadfully smelly creatures – ask any Helicopter Pilot. It wasn't for tactical reasons that the UH1D was flown with its doors opened.
Riflemen were also prone to excessive consumption of alcohol. Three or four cans of beer a night was not uncommon! So time on Operations in the jungle was maximised – over 300 days out of 365 for V3 and V4 Coys and time in base was further minimised with plenty of extra ‘entertainment' organised so as to stop the grubby soldiery from getting into trouble. This ‘entertainment' consisted of things like Road Patrols in APC's, Tactical Area Of Responsibility [TAOR] patrols which were designed to give our Cook and Stores Corporals some combat experience and ‘Ready Reaction Company' rosters so as to support the Company Sergeant Major's submissions to the Officer Commanding on keeping the bar closed.
However, this was often not enough. The soldiers still managed to find opportunities to lie around untidily. Worse than that, the bloody Rubber trees dropped their leaves in a militarily untidy fashion.
Solution; send the soldiers out to rake up the leaves.
Now I know young readers that this sounds strange. In the present enlightened world, we know that leaves on the forest floor should not be disturbed because that would interfere with nature. You know the story, leave nothing but your footprints, and take nothing but photographs. But, higher military needs prevailed.
THE SOLDIERS SHALL NOT BE ALLOWED TO BE IDLE.
Rakes were indented for and issued. Section Commanders were ‘O' grouped. Privates Learoyd, Mulvaney and Ortheris were roused from their disgusting slumbers.
Expended rubber tree leaves were to be raked up, in a military fashion, brought into tidy piles and burned to oblivion.
Soldiers had lived in this area for quite some time. Ammunition was often replaced after each [extended] operation. For some un-military reason this had often occurred carelessly. Old ammunition littered the ground beneath the leaves of the disobedient rubber trees.
The soldiers raked up the leaves. The piles of leaves were uniformly, military, dressed by the right. Fire was set to the piles and leaves were raked in to be consumed by the cleansing flames.
There came some small explosions. Similar to gunfire but not enough to cause alarm to our combat veterans - more like the explosion of fire crackers, nothing to worry about. Rakes continued to be wielded. Leaves were raked into the consuming fire.
Then, "Oh s**t", from Corporal Sam Christie. He held up a bleeding finger. A shard of metal from an exploding 7.62mm rifle round had found its mark. A Band-Aid was applied.
And then the military system kicked in. Prior to this an ambush had occurred where a couple of soldiers had incurred minor wounds from an exploding grenade. One, a Sergeant whom I shall not name, had asked the Platoon Signaller not to report it as he was concerned that his wife would be unduly worried – it was only a scratch after all.
When it was subsequently discovered that Sergeant S******d had been wounded, military instructions were issued that all wounds were to be reported and the Platoon Sig was sentenced to extra sentry duties.
Corporal Sam Christie's wound was therefore formally reported.
Headlines in the news media: NEW ZEALAND SOLDIER WOUNDED BY A RAKE WHILE IN DESPERATE BATTLE WITH VIETNAMESE TREE LEAVES.
LEST WE FORGET