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  We Capture a Couple of Oxen
by Ross Himona
     
     
    Our platoon was on TAOR patrol, as we always were between major operations.

The TAOR was the Tactical Area of Responsibility of 1 ATF - the 1st Australian Task Force. That area surrounding the Nui Dat base which the Australians were wholly and solely responsible for. Our patrol was to the North West of the base I think, in the Free Fire Zone where no Vietnamese were allowed.

Anyway, towards the end of the patrol we came across this old Vietnamese guy driving his ox cart. An old guy, two oxen and a cart. So we didn't free fire, but sort of captured the lot (it was not difficult or dangerous stuff you understand), and then radioed back to Battalion HQ to report all these exciting goings-on.

We had no idea what they were doing out there in the Free Fire Zone. We didn't speak Vietnamese, and neither the man nor his oxen spoke English.

Now, the Australian 2RAR Battalion Operations Officer was well known to me. Major K E Newman had been an officer instructor at Royal Military College, Duntroon, where we affectionately nicknamed him "Ollie the Grub" (Ollie later went on to become a federal MP). He was a somewhat pedantic officer, given to explaining in great detail how to carry out his orders and instructions, and given to checking up on people with great regularity.

Well Ollie happened to be on duty in the Battalion Command Post, and happened to take a close interest in this little operation involving Scoff and Ross' platoon, an old man, two oxen and an ox cart. He personally got on the blower to direct the rest of our patrol.

In Victor Company we were not used to being told how to suck eggs. Red Beatson can attest to that.

The first thing Ollie wanted to know was what they were doing out there. I mean what do oxen and ox carts do? I resisted the strong temptation to tell Ollie that I'd ask the ox. So Ollie told me to keep the man, his cart and oxen in custody, and to bring the whole lot back to base. This was a slow mode of transport you know. Can you imagine a platoon on foot in a slow moving defensive posture around a slow moving ox cart in the middle of the jungle (well there were a few tracks around, but not in our direction).

Every few minutes, or so it seemed, we'd get an order from the command post to send our latest location report, followed by a question about why we were going so slow. This could get aggravating you understand.

After a series of these radio exchanges I decided to relieve the boredom of it all, so I got Ollie on the blower and asked him if we could load our packs onto the cart. They were already there of course. In return I got a lengthy lecture on the tactical insecurity of surrendering our packs to the care of an old man and two oxen. The packs stayed on the cart.

Then he started to tell me, about every five minutes or so, to let him know when we were nearly in sight of the base. Some time later, after many of these reminders, we finally came near to base, so I let him know that.

Then he told me to blindfold the old man, so he couldn't see the approaches to the base, or anything on base. Can you imagine it. Scoff and Ross' platoon nonchalantly sauntering into Nui Dat in charge of an ox cart with a blindfolded driver!

So I got Ollie on the blower again, told him we'd blindfolded the driver, and asked him did he think we should blindfold the oxen as well.

Didn't hear any more from the Ops Officer. But guess who got fronted to the Commanding Officer when we got back. Fortunately Lt Col Chick Charlesworth had a good sense of humour, and he liked Victor Company.

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