I served in SVN with W3 Coy (6 & 2RAR ANZAC BN). Our tour of duty was from November 1969 to November 1970. I had originally been a member of 1RNZIR but after numerous medical courses I transferred to the RNZAMC. I stayed attached to 1RNZIR and wore the green beret of 1RNZIR with a medical Corps badge. I also wore a Medical Corps stable belt that had 3 horizontal stripes of colour blue, red and yellow. Some wit had composed a ditty about these Corp colours. It was:

Blue for the seas we never crossed, red for the blood we never lost, and yellow the reason why.

 

This always started a punch up when recited in front of a group of medics.

Company medic

I was the Company medic for W3 and on operations travelled with Company HQ. We received magnificent training in NZ that included working at Christchurch Hospital A&E. We got good practice in suturing, minor surgery and dealing with trauma - though nothing prepared me for the trauma caused by the 7.62 rounds fired from SLRs , or the devastation that a claymore could inflict on the human body. Trying to treat these wounds was daunting and thank God we all carried morphine syrettes. All you could do was put up an IV, bandage the wounds to try and prevent bleeding and give pain relief and hope that the dustoff chopper would arrive quickly.

Mike Morrison who was the intelligence NCO and I had the responsibility of searching the dead VC. This was an unpleasant task that was made even worse when we had to disinter an enemy body which had been buried for some time in the hope that it would have documents on it. The VC were tough fighters and the contents of their packs showed how they improvised with whatever materials they could find. I remember a notebook that had been used as a text book on first aid. It was illustrated with pen drawings that had been coloured with watercolours and the text was written in pencil in a miniature script that had obviously been a labour of love.

Ambush on Long Son Island

In May 1969 Company HQ and the mortar section led by Mark Binning were on Long Son Island in the Rung Sat Special Zone. One day around lunchtime a group of VC attacked us from behind a bund in an overgrown orchard on the other side of a dry paddy field. A RPG round hit the crown of a palm tree above my head and showered me with shredded foliage. Meanwhile the VC had opened up with an M16 and I think an AK47. Just like in the movies bullets were kicking up sand and cracking overhead. I heard someone calling for a medic and realised it was coming from a gun pit on the edge of the paddy nearest the enemy. What disconcerted me was the fact I would have to cover 25 metres or so ground that had no cover. Oh well, I ran down to the gun pit and saw as I dived into it that it was packed with tangled bodies on the top of which I dived. Charlie had made his point and left, and the gunfire died down and stopped.

Mike Morrison was at the bottom of the pit giggling like a schoolgirl and this started the rest of us laughing as we untangled ourselves and stood up. None of us were wearing shirts and two of the guys had bullet creases on their arms. Mike Morrison though had his hand against his chest and had stopped laughing. I asked him if he was alright and he took his hand away revealing a wound that had obliterated his left nipple. After looking at his chest I told him he was very lucky as he and the others had been clipped by the bullets fired at them.

Little did I know that a M16 bullet had punched through Mike's chest and the bullet was sitting in his pericardial sac behind his heart. We heard the dustoff chopper approaching and just before he flew out to the 1st Australian Field Hospital Mike complained of feeling breathless and I saw he was getting paler and paler. On the way to hospital his condition deteriorated and he was very sick by the time he was taken to theatre. I visited him in the ICU a week or so later but he was unconscious. I didn't see him again for another 30 years.

Reference: 

James Mitchell

How to cite this page: 'Morphine syrettes and dustoffs', URL: http://www.vietnamwar.govt.nz/memory/morphine-syrettes-and-dustoffs, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Sep-2013