Reflections From The Latrine At Phu My 5
During a C Squadron 1st Armoured Regiment operation in late 1968, C Sqn Section 1 Armd Regt LAD Forward HQ was located about 38 Km by road to the North West of Nui Dat on Route 15 at the South Vietnamese Regional Force (RF) post of Phu My 5. A lingering memory from this experience relates to the toilet facilities at the post. First, let me describe the facilities and the method of utilizing these.
The RF Post was surrounded by a moat. This contained a concoction of putrid water, sewerage, garbage, and barbed wire. It also seethed with wild life, in the form of rats and other vermin that thrived in raw sewage. Today, this moat would have been classified as the ultimate biological defensive weapon. The loo consisted of two 200mm wide planks cantilevered out from the bank about two metres into the moat, and about one metre above the surface. These planks were about 200mm apart. The idea was to proceed to the end of the planks, about turn to face the RF Post and then squat down to attend to the business at hand. This meant that your back was facing the enemy. A very unnatural and worrying position for any trained soldier!!
Whenever I used this loo, I couldn’t help remembering a story an instructor at Canunga used to tell when teaching minor infantry tactics related to fire orders and target identification and acquisition. His anecdote, to illustrate the importance of allocating precise targets to individuals, related to an Australian patrol that came upon a group of about ten enemy soldiers taking a swim break in a river. The unsuspecting enemy had all shed their clothes. Some were enjoying a splash in the water, a few were relaxing on the bank, and others were brewing up something to drink. However, one stark naked fellow was bending over washing his socks with his back to our patrol. The patrol commander whispered the order, “Select a target, and when I say fire, let them have it.”. After a pause, he gave the order, “Fire”. You guessed it. Only one of the enemy was shot dead in the first volley. The one bending over washing his socks. All had aimed at the same very obvious target. Remembering this story, my thoughts were always, “If the VC opens up on this post in the next few minutes, I know what their bull’s eye will be.”
Actually, we were not all that vulnerable when using the loo because all the foliage had been cleared out to about 200 metres surrounding the post. Still, I used to also think about how in our early days of Range Practise using the 303 rifle there was a shoot from the 300 yard mound. This memory also made me hope that there was no one lurking beyond the land cleared area with a 303 equipped with a telescopic sight.
A final interesting aside from my toilet experiences of Phu My 5.
Most of us enjoy a read of the paper during the quiet moments of solitude in the littlest room in the house. However, this was not possible at Phu My 5. Firstly, there was no little room. Just a hessian screen between the squatter and the RF Post. And secondly, both hands were used to firmly grip the vertical poles at each side of the planks to reduce the risk of toppling backwards into a fate unimaginable. This part of the procedure was more important than reading any newspaper, even if one had been available.
Even so, the mind was still allowed to be distracted from the worries of the day for a few private minutes by watching the rats gliding like seals through the effluent of the moat. The joy of having this playground to themselves being obvious by their playful activities that reminded me of platypus that I had seen cavorting in the upper reaches of the Murray River.
However, unlike the platypus, these rats were not a protected species. The soldiers and families living in the RF Post considered them to be a delicacy, and showed me how they prepared and cooked them for eating, but having observed first hand how the rats were fattened up, I politely declined the offer of a taste.
I hope that this short insight into the daily life in an LAD on operations serves to illustrate that the concerns of being a “regular” soldier sometimes included more than the usual technical worries that normally come to mind when thinking about LAD problems.