C COY, PORTLAND REUNION - 2012
This year's Anzac Day Reunion at Portland holds very special memories for me. You see, in my youth, I spent nearly all my school holiday summers, since about the age of seven, on my uncle's farm not so far away, and at the least excuse we (the family) headed off for a day at the beach at Portland.
This is where I learnt to swim; where I got sunburnt, had plenty of ice cream and soft drinks from the then kiosk (which is now used as the HQ for the Portland Sea Cadets); dined on fish and chips on the beach in the evening before heading back home after a day packed with fun. Oh, and another memory, hiring a two-seater paddle boat for 2/6d for half-an-hour -- a 'nice little earner' run by Daryl McCombe's late Aunty-in-law.
That is a thumb-nail sketch of my memories between, say 1955 and 1964. In our youth we have no idea of what the future holds for us, and so it was with me. It was soon time for me to do some growing up. In late August 1965 I enrolled in the ARA for a six year term. Kapooka, then Infantry Centre Ingleburn, Reinforcement Wing before being posted to 1 ARU Vietnam thence to C Coy, 5 RAR in July 1966 having very recently turned 19.
I was posted to 8 Platoon, where a young Lt Roger Wainwright was my Platoon Commander; and where I was to spend the most of the tour just trying to get the hang of what my job was as a soldier on active service in a war zone.
For me, the happy memories of my youth juxtaposed with the biggest and most dangerous adventure of my life (i.e. active service in Vietnam with 5 RAR, 66-67); this incredible amalgam of memories left to ripen and mature for some 45 years, until Anzac Day 2012.
Selwyn Williams is a Vietnam veteran and a resident of Portland. For some years now he and his wife Dorothy (Dot) along with a host of volunteers have been responsible for the creation of a magnificent Anzac Day floral display, to the best of my knowledge, the only one in Australia, consisting of many hundreds of small floral wreaths with an accompanying white cross bearing the name of a local resident who has sacrificed his life at war. This year, in honour of Charlie Coy, 5 RAR's first tour's Anzac Day re-union in Portland they created a magnificent head of a tiger with a back-drop of the South Vietnamese flag, yellow with three thin red horizontal stripes. Unfortunately, at eye level it really did look like the three thin horizontal stripes did look like the tiger's whiskers, but when seen from a higher elevation things became much clearer.
To tell the truth? - well, Reveille has never been my strong suit, however exceptions have to be made on Anzac Day, even after trying, without success, to get off to sleep all night; and just as I do the bloody alarm goes off. We form up outside the Portland RSL then march down to the dawn service. It might have been cold and dark but at least the rain held off - for now. A beautiful sight to behold as the sun came up, the Norfolk pines silhouetted against a sparkling sea; the last post sounding; I'm surrounded by my friends, so happy to be alive; so grateful to be here.
Later in the morning, as we formed up again outside the RSL ready to march through the town, the heavens opened up, sparing no-one. We the marchers; they the spectators; and anybody else there were drenched as we made our way to the memorial by the foreshore, outside of the Council Chambers. An order rings out, "PARADE HALT! - - - No, not all of you; come on, close up a bit, yeah, that's better." Ah, they didn't have orders like that in my day, more is the pity.
They were tears, not raindrops that rolled down my cheeks as a local school boy recited a poem about wearing his late grand-father's medals as he conversed with an old soldier on Anzac Day, shortly followed by a beautifully crafted, stirring speech from the guest speaker, COL Roger Wainwright (Ret'd) that truly held the audience spellbound, notwithstanding the inclement weather.
It really is a credit that after such a long period of time we continue to accede to this sense of camaraderie where, as Alan McNulty DCM once said to me, "As veterans, we belong to a very special club where no amount of money can buy you in; and no amount of anti-social behaviour will permit you to leave." We brothers in arms have reunited from as far afield as Perth (WA), Darwin, South Australia, New South Wales and the ACT, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania; and I'm reliably informed from Bruny Island South - which is paradise South-East of Hobart. And it was not just the brothers who were there but the widows of brothers - I refer to Jan Smith, widow of SGT Bernie Smith (1st & 2nd 5 RAR tours) and mother of MAJGEN Stuart Smith; and Cheryl Heley, widow of Doug Heley. Both Bernie and Doug served with 9 Platoon.
Now, some 46 years on having survived our big adventure, and the vicissitudes that life tends to offer, we that are left, gather at our sub-unit reunion, in my good old Portland - these days, outwardly perhaps we more resemble our aged fathers than our more youthful inner-spirits, re-living our days past; getting in a round of drinks (or two), a plate of chips, back-slapping and yes, reminiscing. Gosh, isn't it a privilege; isn't it humbling to just be alive?