Donald Richard Barnby, as a member of 2 Squadron Special Air Service (SAS), Vietnam, 1971 [recorded letter]

Accession Number S01770
Collection type Sound
Measurement 1 hr 4 min
Object type Recorded letter
Physical description audio cassette; BASF; mono
Maker Barnby, Donald Richard
Barnby, Donald Richard
Date made April 1971
Access Open
Conflict Vietnam, 1962-1975
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

Discusses Americans; Vietnamese currency; C-130 transport aircraft; New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS); camp conditions; tour of duty; weather; training; equipment; concert parties; No. 1 Australian Task Force (ATF); 2nd Battalion; No. 2 Squadron SAS; patrols; amoured personnel carriers (APCs); diversionary tactics; water problems; camp duties; food and supplies; parcels from Australia; slides and films of Vietnam; letter tapes; shopping; purchase restrictions; Australian import duty; rest and recreation; politics; jungle conditions; Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) working and living conditions; strip show; venereal disease; alcohol; rations; weapons and ammunition; health; personal hygiene; mines; relations with troops; stress; combat conditions; signals; encounters with Viet Cong; fears; B-52s; helicopters; No. 9 Squadron RAAF; massage. Mentions Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon, Vung Tau, Luscombe Bowl, Vietnam; Cobar, NSW; Bill Nisbitt; Wayne Scott; Dave Peek; Steve Banfield.

Rough timed summary for S01770-1

The first big tape that I'm going to send. Dunno how many I'll send over during the year. I'll just fill this tape and when I get another, just another four or five in the year, everything will be in there

00.33 well we got up here, at [Tonsid] [sic]... airbase, Saigon, about 11 o'clock, .. just general news.. we hung around there about 2 hours, there's millions of yanks there, they're everywhere, just chewing gum, and looking ridiculous. ..

We exchanged our currency... then we got shipped to a C130 .. flew us up to Nui Dat, about a 25 minute flight, got there all right, got two trucks.. the dust is unbelievable, just like out at Como. We got out here, got shown around, Kiwi SAS originally had (these lines), best lines of the whole hill cos its got mostly cement paths. There's only two blokes to a hoochie, I get on well with the guy in my patrol, Bill Nesbit.. can be mace quite comfortable, not as comfortable as home but it'll have to do

02.15 photos up everywhere, naturally.. of Carolyn, and others.. bout two weeks ago we pulled down the old tent, cos it was starting to perish, and put up a brand new one cos during the wet season the rain comes down pretty heavily.. i think the wet season is due in April so we got plenty of time yet.

2.50 for first two weeks all we did was in country training, range practices, firing weapons, getting webbing done, Q issues, tours round the area..normal army garbage that we do back in Australia, just training.

3.12 and we finished that and went down to a Tasmanian Concert Party, they have a concert up here average one a month, three singers, two girls, it was good stuff.

I saw Wayne Scott, who was on the course with me, who had that Falcon that drove me home that weekend.. well i saw him at the concert and I saw anther guy I know, and Dave Peek, that I went thru Kapooka with..every now and again going different places and that I see people I know.. if they know me we start talking.

04.15 but were' on the hill, when I say where on the hill up there Nui Dat's flat, Nui Dat means Hill of red Earth, stands out.. its dusty and dry and everything's brown. Over the back two battalions lines..lot of .. infested with monkeys, little devils they pinch things out of your tents.

5.05 Last Sunday we went out on patrol past this mountain range as a diversionary element to get the main interest off the patrol, set up an ambush, nothing happened.. no sign of any Viet Cong around,we went thru a few old camps but its pretty quite out there.

5.45 i'm on the stand by patrol. That means we're on standby, we have to get all dressed up, all our cam gear and all our packs and that just in case another patrol out there gets in trouble we're at 15 minutes notice to get on the choppers and go. So i fixed up all my webbing and that, that's what I've been doing.

06.03 we get mess duties about twice a week, which is a real drag..CAVE [Yay] [sic] generator runs all the power.. you hafta sit on that for about 8 hour shifts, get that about twice a week ; sector 9 patrol is a patrol that goes out just beyond the wire, as a listening post, every night, get that about once a fortnight

6.37 food up here is not bad, its 'bout same standard as Swanborne but it just gets boring, its all dehydrated stuff, pressed meat, tinned vegetables, but we get plenty of milk, pasteurised milk from America, it's all American stuff, oranges, apples. The mess is just a shack, you eat in it but at the moment there's only about 30 guys left in the squadron, the rest are all out in the scrub so there's not much of a rush in the mess at the moment.

7.30 thanks for the parcel, the soap came in handy thanks very much.

7.52 Films - I'm sending them home as I get them. should be paid for..try and get the negatives i want to put them in the album. Carolyn would probably like one or two. Tapes, I send home as soon as I finish them. I'll try best I can. I sent Helen's watch home today, hope she like it, is what she wants. there's not very much up here at the moment.
Divers watch only $34, Seiko... you're only allowed two watches, buy two watches up here.. other than that I'm going to buy a record player, a medium sized camera, a projector have to send that back home. I can only buy one small transistor but I can only buy another one so you'll have to divide that up. .. have to buy a good camera..

9.55 present restrictions on technological items, import tax on electrical items.. the system you have to go through to get them parcelled up and inspected, to send parcels home, its ridiculous. So all I'm gonna send home is the ones I already stated..

10.43 While I'm on R&R in Bangkok I'm going to try and buy a ring. Other than that that's all I'll end up buying up here, I was very surprised there's not much choice. When the ship comes in with stores it fills up the PX store and that and gets flooded with guys after stuff , if you're not in the first 100 you miss out

11.40 makes about five trips a year.. i want to get all this electrical stuff before July this year

11.58 we're getting all the garbage jobs with all the patrols out of camp. Just do all the job that need to be doing like toilets and flamin, cleaning out garbage bins, they reckon that's to keep us busy. I reckon I've used my shovel and my hammer more than my rifle..

12.45 ..its ridiculous. Once we start patrolling, it'll be better. We'll go out about for about 5 to 7 days, come back, night down at Vung Tau, have about 2 days of duties and ..preparing for next patrol. At the moment tho its shocking. Even the sergeant and corporal starting to wonder why we got sent up here.

13.32 rumour is we wont' see Christmas out here, and I don't mind if we don't. I wouldn't complain at all. Get me benefits, me ribbons, go on R&R. I don't mind if I do do 12 months but with all the political stuff going on its unlikely...

14.24 sky covered in big black clouds, wind is blowing.. wet season not that far away. Not going to be bad for patrolling, its better in the wet season cos of availability of water,whereas now we have to take water with us, they're not resupplying 'cos its too dangerous.

15.05 all the leaves are so brittle, you can't walk thru the jungle silently, it all dead grass. The disadvantage of the wet season is that its mouldy, you hootch gets wet you can't dry out.. sent to try you I presume so get on with it.. i always want to come, so just have to put up with it. Things could be easier, there's a lot of bitches we got about the whole system.

16.10...airbase, Dave Swan last week, you should see how the airbase live, they live in Saigon itself,they have Vietnamese girls to wash their rooms out, washing, clean their dishes, everything, all they do is go to work office hours whereas we have to do all our own mess duties. There's not one Vietnamese up here, too secret - Big laugh. Slops, everything, its just ridiculous - i joined the wrong part of the service.

16.53 but oh, I'm just thinking, twelve months isn't that long, it'll go soon, I only got 11 months to go, it doesn't sound too long if you say it fast enough..but..

17.09 Hello again. Tonight's Sunday the 14th, just come back from a fantastic concert, well actually it's a strip show, but sounds much better if you say concert. All the squadron there, sold out Luscombe Bowl..dusty bowl..everyone stacks in on top of tanks, trucks and jeeps, took me my own little chair..

17.51 Vietnamese singing group, about 5 guys.. singing lots of good songs then they had two Vietnamese go-go dancers which was crash hot specially after being cooped up here for four or five weeks, then a Vietnamese singer, she was great, then the last 15 minutes was devoted to a strip show. They're nothing like the strip shows in Australia, everything comes off. They had a few extra things in it, everyone was ogling everything, you should have seen the blokes with binoculars, get so frustrated sitting at the back you can't see a thing.

18.56 I took a fair few films but I've been asking around and if I sent them back home I don't think they'll get printed. So I'll send them to you , could you mind them and i'll find someone to print em. They're not that shocking, they're just the female body.. Dad, you'd like to see 'em!

19.51 I saw two guys I know, Steve Bentley , and Dave Peek..
20.48 saw Wayne he was perched right up on his chair, girl got her gear off.,..instead of the girls it was (sic) Provo (?) got up on the stage, he takes the girls bra and pants off, he did a good job of it- the girl gave him hell for it,not in an awful way..funny to see 2IC behind us with binoculars,taps us on the shoulder says do you want a loan of this, rings around his eyes you know !

22.10..back from patrol - people usually come back for one thing,you know, and drinking. I've only had one can of beer, since I've been there. You don't have to worry .. I think I've got a pretty good head on me shoulders, I've got confidence in myself.

23.05 We're going in on Tuesday, we're being inserted by APC,it's about a four hour trip in the tracks going to be hot dusty and tiring, and we'll be on 7 day patrol , if we don't complete our task we're going to we're taking lots of doubt after a day or so with the water drunk it 'll be much lighter.
23.56 we got our US ration packs today,long range packs they're not bad - chicken, rice

24.13 tomorrow we're test firing our weapons, tester set,walkie talkie sets, take about three hours, got most of tomorrow off just going to hang around..hope its late in the arvo, you just get off the tracks..half an hour make sure nobody's following, put a bit of plastic down and go to sleep.

25.13 it's another day, what're you doing.. first couple of days been going to the toilet a lot, I know why its cos I I'm a little bit nervous about it, a lot of the blokes are nervous about it but don't worry , I'll be all right... i reckon if I wasn't a little bit nervous there'd be something wrong. Next time I'll be less nervous cos I'll know what to expect.

26.12 starting to sprinkle a little bit first rain since we got here.. little bit miserable, bit of plastic you sleep under wake up a little bit wet... i dunno the wet's got its advantages and disadvantages.. put everything in plastic bags or something. It's cooled down a little bit but the rain - dust is powder - smells like- ?

1770-part 2
00.45 I just thought of something you could send up to me, in a parcel - Could you send me soap. soap up here's army soap doesn't do much for your skin or your hair so if you could send me a few cakes of that I'd really appreciate it. You're only allowed one shower a day here, that's between five and half past. Have to walk about half a mile to the shower, its stupid you have your shower, you feel nice and clean, it's cold water, you go back to your bed, by time you get up to tea line, the mess line, you're all hot and sweaty again, just as bad. The only time you really feel great, and fresh, is half an hour after your shower - after that you just have to move.

01.41 It's not like New Guinea, it's different, it's a dry heat, New Guinea was stifling, shocking I'm pretty well acclimatised here but it's still uncomfortable. When the wet season comes it's more humid but the actual fierceness of the sun will be less.

02.40 i don't care if we don't do 12 months, I'll be quite pleased. Funny feeling up here. Bit hard to believe you're in a war zone. You are busy but you get slack periods when you get a feeling of just..loneliness, you know. But that wears off when you're busy. Just do things. I've done a lot of sewing on my webbing, read books, write letters, make a few covers, paint a few things, make the time go.

Please don't worry about me on patrol, I'll be terrific, I'll be all right. That's all I can say. I could say have a good day sounds a bit awful but .. its pretty good up here now.

4.17 living together two guys you're bound to get a bit.. he bites a bit so naturally i take him on, we have a few arguments but he's a good bloke, a nice bloke, we get along well.. to live 12 months with a guy you get to know him well, if you don't get along.. you know. . sit next to him on the toilet, sleep next to him in the same tent - - you get a bit bigger, or you disappear... have a few words and forget about it.

5.21 making paths around the camp, helps the time go. .. bettered myself as a carpenter - done a fair bit of woodwork around the place which all helps give you a bit of confidence.

5.34 in our tent we got a gecko, a little gecko lizard, he's about 4 inches long. And he's on our board of pin up girls. He's there every night he comes down over the top. I'm watching him now. He's after the mosquito that just landed. He's real quick, just sidled up to him. And um, just pounces on them, starts gobbling away. He got a beetle the other night, was too big, just chewed the head, had to let him go. We're thinking about giving him rations. He's gorgeous.

6.18 Looking at him I start remembering Uncle Tony's story of being in the desert, with a lizard, used to make pets of em, well, apparently he's our lizard. We call him Giuseppe. Giuseppe the Lizard! At the moment he's crawling over this girls' breasts. Let's hope he's not hungry as he crosses over !

8.00 letters to and from Wendy, Carolyn, being chased by Robyn... good night all.

9.16 got back from patrol about 10.15 in the morning, got out at the chopper pad. I'll tell you a bit about the patrol now,fill in a bit of time. We got on the tracks. We had ordinary greens on .. its too hot inside them .. they wouldn't know there's a special foot patrol going into the area. Stopped had a drink of water, covered in red dust..get in back of APC all of us, proceeded to get changed you should have seen arms and legs and sweat, I was nearly car sick..aww hell.

10.38 report of six enemy ahead of us..we decided to ..ran off into the scrub. Early night that night,just walked around, the weight of me pack was shocking, 8 days of water plus rations, I've got scars in me back where it cut in. In the bush you don't sleep in anything you just clear the ground - need secateurs to clear the bush to sleep in. Wait till its dark put a sheet down, wait till 8 o'clock and think righto.. you don't go to sleep for about 2 hours after - just waiting, you know.

11.56 me being very bony, I can't sleep on my back, my hip bones dig in, about 2 in the morning you get pretty chilly. You wake up fitfully anyway.

12.21 next morning breakfast i had cocoa, you had to conserve water, only allowed 2 bottles a day, like walking on cornflakes.
12.44 just walking thru the "J", you look thru it - the strain, you wouldn't believe it, just looking at it, easy as anything but you realise you're looking at the jungle and you're not seeing anything. Half an hour,not seeing anything. You're sweating like anything. This goes on all day, just patrolling, very slow pace, vines, you step thru and get caught up, shocking.

13.36 went very well, Mr Russell's quite pleased it
on the 3rd day, enemy headquarters only xx away, .. check it out. We got within about 500 metres of where it was, the morning,.. got jamming Chinese type music came thru on the radio I couldn't get any messages out so apparently they are able to jam within 2000 metres of any signals going out so they must have been pretty close.

14.43 you wake up in the middle of the night and think you're dreaming, tracers in the air.. pretty fast
15.00 Saturday night we were in APP half past 7 and the 2IC, torch we all looked up, they must have known we were in the area looking for us, sort of hoping they wouldn't come, they use dogs too. Everyone got into a little circle. sort of passed around a ?'
in the morning - ?

on the Sunday at lunchtime.. long range patrol pack, consisting of chicken and rice , heat it with water its not bad, we heard a VC patrol gong thru the jungle. my heart started going.. i really know now what its like to be scared. You get scared over stupid little things but I just said to myself,you know... they just can't see us.

16.40 as it was nothing happened so it was pretty good.
we couldn't get comms last two days as I was saying .. they start to look for you. Extra morning they sent 5 helicopters over, B52 bomber branches, twigs everywhere there's no describing the noise, they're on your side they're coming to pick you up.

17.35 we had to cut a place for 'em to land. Me and 2IC first to go up and one guy man's machine gun while other lifts you up. Oh its just a terrific feeling, you're out of the jungle and you're out of that,back at mess, hungry - nothing happened, its just great.

18.23 Skip bought a carton of beer for the whole patrol. WE put the beer in a trunk full of ice and sat around discussing what went on, he was pretty pleased with how I sigg'ed and he's pleased with my performance and we got a good 2IC, gives you confidence, its real good.

19.10 you have a night at Vung Tau after every patrol just to rest. had a few beers in the boozer, got a Lambretto into town to the Jade Bar, had a legit massage, it was beautiful; she doesn't strip off or anything , puts you in the steam bath all your blackheads popping out and everything. Cold bath and a massage and they walk up and down your back and its just terrific

20.10 caught chopper back this morning. Wrote letters, cleaned my gear up, got a few cuts on me back and feet , thorns infected but got em fixed up, no worries.
The best thing is being aback,out of the jungle, pile of letters, getting cleaned up and just getting out of he tension you've been in last five seven days, its just great. But I look forward to my next patrol, I much rather be patrolling that's what we're here to do, the job we've been trained for, and I'd much rather be doing that than garbage duties. So I'm very much looking forward to my next patrol.

21.46 time up here doesn't mean anything, birthdays just another day you know. I'll have a few things to celebrate when I come home I think.

  • Listen to Donald Richard Barnby, as a member of 2 Squadron Special Air Service (SAS), Vietnam, 1971 [recorded letter]
  • Listen to Part 2 of Donald Richard Barnby, as a member of 2 Squadron Special Air Service (SAS), Vietnam, 1971 [recorded letter]