Yes folks - soon I would be old enough to legally drink in a New Zealand pub! In the mean time I just have to live long enough to achieve this milestone. We were slowly patrolling our way down to our firebase. Each platoon had once again been given an AO. Our AO was a mix of disused rice paddies, fenced farms and jungle. On this particular op regular force NVA had followed us. As I related in the Diver Dan incident, this particular group had made us somewhat nervous and we were determined to catch the tricky beggars.
So, we hatched a scheme where we would give the appearance that we were unaware of their presence. The rear section would stop and someone would casually tie their pack straps up or appear to be taking a break and have a smoke. This would give the front section time to put in an ambush. On a given signal the rear section would continue to patrol through our ambushing section and then, further down the AO, stop and carry out the same procedure. We would then wait for a period of time. The NVA would appear one at a time and I think they knew, we knew, they knew, if you get my drift. Apart from the lunchtime contact we were never able to nail these tricky b******s.
The big explosion
The day wore on and we were told to hurry up and catch up to the rest of the company. The cat and mouse game had caused us to get way out of line with the remaining platoons. Now, we had definite IA drills for every obstacle we had to cross. As we came up to this particular obstacle [this was a bun or mound with a fence line running over the mound and scrubby trees surrounding it] we went into our standard obstacle crossing drills, only this time things would move rather more rapidly and not in good order with military precision as would normally occur.
Now my section would be the last to cross. I would wait with my gunner until the last of my section had safely passed. Boom! Behind us, a ennormous huge explosion. I turned around to watch as this plume of white cloud with flashes of light throughout rise skyward. I have to say, I s**t myself. Now, even though we had this loud distraction one would have expected discipline and good order to prevail. No, as the light faded and the shock wave passed I turned back and looked around to see those of my section no longer where they should have been. In fact I was all alone! And on my 21st! "Where are you b******s?" I could hear a faint voice to my front, "Robby hurry up, we are all over the fence waiting for you". "Thanks, what if the enemy comes now?" "Don't worry just hurry up and climb over the fence!" I can do that; "How did you b******s manage to get over so quickly?" They had the same fearful reaction as I but immediately decided to forgo the remaining IA drills and hot foot it over the fence.
The cause of the explosion? Well, as usual no one told us the engineers were destroying an ammo dump. This explosion was miles away but in the moment and after a day of cat and mouse it got quite a reaction from us. And talking of ammo dumps our very own Abbo was to cause some derision when he blew up our ammo storage facility...Tell you about that one soon.
So, later that night as we slept not far from our firebase I hatched a plan to pay everyone back for leaving me on my own. At exactly 2400hrs under a clear evening starlit sky I began to sing to my own birthday, 'let’s all hear it... 21 today, 21 today...' Well loud shushing and shut the f**k up could be heard resounding throughout the night. Even the boss joined the ‘shut up’ chorus. There was no stopping me! I stopped when I had sung the full 21st song. Well that was my story of where I had my 21st.
Read more Lloyd Roberton memories here.