Ubon by 717 - 3 Telecommunications

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Ubon by 717



On the 9 th January 1966, I departed on a QANTAS flight for an overnight stop as the first step in my posting to RAAF Base Ubon in Thailand. At the time, I had very mixed feelings about this, my first overseas trip, since I was newly married, (just 9 weeks) and had requested not to go on an unaccompanied posting, and had been assured by WOFF in charge of Ops Control, that they only preferred to send single men to Ubon. Nevertheless, the day I returned back to work off leave on the honeymoon, that they had no single men trained to go, so I was it, and that was that.

So there I was, together with another 21 year old airman, named Ric Govan, a RadTech, also on first overseas posting, booked into a hotel in Singapore, and both of us with zero experience of foreign lands. We started with a curry chicken lunch in the cleanest looking restaurant we could spot, and sat in awe of the very different eating customs of the various  Malay and Indian type locals, eating from communal food bowls with their fingers. The following evening, on recommendation of the hotel concierge, we went to a dance hall, where you started by buying a string of tickets, and the idea was that you picked out the best looking girl in the line, tore off a ticket for her, for one dance.  The two girls Ric and I had chosen immediately took charge, and told us to hand over all our tickets to them, and then not bother with any more dancing, just head off to our hotel, and they were ours for the night. They were fast movers, they told us to go outside and get a taxi, and they would grab their hand bags and join us out there. Taking that as our cue, Ric and I jumped into the nearest taxi and did a runner on them, they arrived with their handbags just in time to see us go roaring off. And so ended my first night of overseas experience.

Next stop was RAAF Base Butterworth, where we had some time on our hands. The day we departed on 9 th Jan, was by the way, a Sunday, and we arrived at Butterworth on the Monday, to be told to just do nothing, until Thursday when the next Hercules would take us up to Ubon.  Tourists for three more days, with no duties, amazing! The resident single lads made us welcome, but being working days, could only show us around after stand down, so once again Ric and I were adrift in a strange sea of Asian culture, finding ourselves around the various sights of Penang, and at the mercy of all the enterprising taxi and pedi-shaw drivers who wanted to take us on a visit to the local houses of ill-repute, where they expected a commission from the house owners of course.  Needless to say, we ended up doing several more runners, both of us being very green, and fearful of the consequences of contracting one or more of the wide variety of social diseases no doubt prevalent in the area
Thursday morning saw us off early in the Hercules for the shortish trip to Ubon. Tourists no longer, greeted as we climbed down from the truck which had picked us up from the Herc. was a loud, keen WOD who ordered us "regardless of rank, you will all assemble at the Base Cinema (Pictured) immediately for briefing". At this briefing we copped a number of lectures from the Defence Officer, AdminO, and senior Medical officer, all of them welcoming us to our new home for the next 6 months by attempting to scare the hell out of us, regarding the threat of terrorist attacks, and more scary of all, the dire consequences of contracting more of those social diseases afore mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Next thing, the WOD was loudly ordering us to "clear in" and draw our bedding etc, grab lunch, and be back on the truck at 1300 hours for the firing range. Again with the added words  "regardless of rank, and no exceptions".  
The firing range turned out to be a low key affair, and fun for me, since I had already fired these types in the Army Cadets.  No one expected us to be good shots, all we had to do was fire the SLR, the Owen Light Machine Gun, and the L1A2 "light"machine gun, at full size figure cutouts, all from the lying, the standing, and from the hip positions. All great fun, blazing away at those full size body cutouts.

During the following 6 months we were to man our rifles etc a number of times, as the Intell Officers found reason to assume a threat, and all members on or off duty drew our weapons, hard hats and various webbing (see pictures) from the Armoury and manned our assigned posts. (one of them pictured) Us Telegs etc were assigned to our own Comcen, which was completely fortified with sandbags. (pictured) Throughout it all, the Yanks across the other side of the strip from us kept up a round the clock 24/7 flying program with their Phantoms, Skyhawks and various gunships.  It was a very noisy environment, especially with the Phantoms taking off fully loaded with bombs etc with full afterburners which made an unbelievable noise, especially when they woke one up at 2am.  The strip was only a matter of a few hundred meters from our back perimeter fence. We were also on a roster to stand daytime guard on our Sabre Jets, armed with a fully loaded SLR.

The rest of the 6 months were spent shift working in the Comcen, working as commsops most of the time, including shifts on the manual telephone switchboard, but there had to always be at least one Teleg on duty on standby to man the Morse key to send out messages to Butterworth of Priority and above when tropical storms caused too much QRN for the Teletype circuit. I once had to send out by morse, using "words thrice" an Ops Immediate message during some severe storms between us and Butterworth.

Also during the 6 months, we kept special calendars on which we daily crossed out a day, counting down the number of days we had left to serve in the often boring routine, and always hot and dusty. Of course we always found during our stand down days the places to go for cold beers and local entertainment. Such as the Happy Club, (pictured) which was off limits to the Yanks, something which caused a measure of resentment from our otherwise very friendly neighbors. We often had visiting Yanks to our NAAFI Club. This was to them a form of slumming, which we found out when we were invited over to their base to their clubs.  Theirs were all shiny chrome and glass and airconditioned, whereas our NAAFI was bamboo, and semi open air, with a tin roof.  The only time we got to sleep in airconditioned comfort was approximately every three weeks when we did overnight switchboard duty. Our huts were open-slatted wooden floored, with galvanised iron walls and roofs, and the windows were galvanised shutters, hinged at the top, and held open by a length of timber. Each hut had two local "hut boys" who we paid to look after all our washing and ironing.  We slept as best we could, in the noise and hot conditions, under stuffy moscuito nets, which were a must, even though the camp was fogged out completely each evening while we were usually at the mess for dinner, the mozzies were always a problem. We had to sign for and take a weekly anti-malaria pill. That hot fogging machine remains a bone of contention to us to this day, with the government stance that the mixture of diesel, deldrin and DDT used to smoke out our sleeping huts could not have been harmful to our health.

Well, without getting too long winded, that was basically my Ubon story.  In the pictures, you will see the late Bob Chappel peering over the sandbags with me, also you may pick out the late Pat Dewar posing with the weaponry. And you will see I took the time to build a model glider.  That kept me out of mischief for a while, but sadly, it didn’t survive its maiden test flight. The aerial photo of the camp shows our camp to bear something of a similarity to Stalag Luft 14. One can pick out the Comcen almost in the centre of the picture,  as the only sand bagged hut, which was of very little comfort to us, since it clearly marked us as the number one target for a mortar attack. (Tin roof – great!)  The bare patch of ground to the centre left of the picture is the parade ground, but I never saw a parade the whole time I was there. Further to the left was the ever popular cinema, and a little further from that was the airfield fence where we often found it entertaining to get a close up look at the fireworks spouting from the tailpipes of the Phantoms just after sundown, as they took off for Vietnam.  All us guys who served in Ubon during the Vietnam war, have now been awarded the VLSM, a medal in recognition of the fact that while we were stationed there, we were acting in direct support of the war in Vietnam.  By the way, Ric, my original travelling mate and I remain good mates to this day, with both of us having retired in Mandurah.
That’s it fellow members, I hope you have found my story of interest to you.

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