Margaret Neave arrived at Qui Nhon, Viet Nam in February 1969, a month before me.
Sundays at the beach
On Sunday afternoons, when work and weather permitted, some of the team would head for the leprosarium near Qui Nhon, sited on the beautiful but sometimes dangerous (undertows etc) Qui Hoa beach. Margaret would be first into the water and immediately head out through the surf doing breast stroke until she was hardly visible. On one occasion Jim Mann remarked to me, "At this rate Bac Si [Vietnamese for doctor] will be in the Philippines."
On another occasion, Margaret announced she had meet with some very nice Korean medical staff from the Southern Cross Division that were, "not at all like those rough Tiger Division people". She suggested we should take them to Qui Hoa for a picnic the following Sunday - we all agreed. Margaret made various arrangements with the Sisters running the Leprosarium as it was strictly off-limits to all military personnel.
Sunday came and we headed for Qui Hoa with the four Koreans - two male and two female doctors - in full-dress military uniform. We set up under the trees at Qui Hoa but the Koreans were not interested in swimming and remained in uniform. However, it didn't stop us. Doctor Kim, who was the spokesperson, asked Margaret about the size of New Zealand. "Oh approximately 2.8 million people, she replied. Kim's next question was, "How many sheep?" Margaret's response, "I think about 50 million." With a look of concern, Kim asked Margaret, "How do you get to sleep with all that bleating?" Margaret was left speechless and we all cracked up with laughter.
The egg beater
Some months later, just before I went to Hong Kong on R&R, I asked Margaret if there was anything she needed for herself, and in her quite and unassuming manner, she replied, "Oh I don't think so but if you happen by a hardware store could you pick up a hand egg beater please." I found said beater and duly brought it back. Margaret, who had taken charge of the kitchen months before, proceeded to show our cook, dear old Ba, how to use it. Ba used the beater when Margaret was around back but reverted back to chopsticks when Margaret was out of sight. I later destroyed the beater, while trying to dry the evening dishes. I popped it into the still-hot oven forgetting part of the beater was made out of plastic. Margaret never asked for a replacement.
Our breakfast at the Pink Palace [civilian surgical team accommodation] was always the same Monday to Saturday - two fried eggs skidding around a plate with a couple of the thinnest strips of American bacon and fresh sliced French bread sticks (the most appetising part of the breakfast). Sundays we fended for ourselves - C or LRP rations we had stashed under our beds. I wandered into the kitchen one day and Margaret was making porridge of all things! "Margaret, what are you up to?" I inquired. "Oh, I'm preparing porridge for our breakfast tomorrow." I responded with, "Porridge! In the tropics?" At which I got a cool look and decided to beat a hasty retreat. The porridge was great albeit a bit lumpy. To this day, I still don't know where she found it.
Margaret was running a class for the SCF nurses in the lounge at the Pink Palace and had left the diesel Landrover she used to ferry them to the house parked in the middle of the driveway. I arrived back, and finding her Rover parked so, decided to nudge it forward so I could park. Margaret had left it in gear and the vehicle started being a diesel and proceeded to trundle toward the wooden annex that our guards used for sleeping and eating. I leaped out and chased after the vehicle yelling to guards to get out of the way. Luckily there was a small tree in front of the annex and the Land Rover started beating it to death thus given me time to turn the engine off. Margaret and the nurses were at the window seeing what all the fuss was about. As I walked passed, I muttered to her, "You left it in gear." "Oh, did I?" was the response, at which point we all burst out laughing.
And so started a wonderful and enduring friendship.