Maj Gen WB [Digger] James, AO, MBE, MC, OStJ
April 1968 .... I marched into 1 Australian Task Force, Nui Dat, South Vietnam as the Task Force Armourer and was allocated a tent just across the road from 8 Field Ambulance and alongside the Sgt’s and WO’s mess.
Day One .... About 1600hrs and I head off for a shower. The shower hut, next to my tent was well established, complete with concrete floor, roof and a bench and pegs on the wall.
From memory, it had 4 shower canvas bags with a metal rosette, the type that screw out to stop and of course when you screw them in they allow the water in the canvas bag to flow. All canvas bags were down, so I selected the first one, grabbed a fire bucket, went outside to the water tank and filled the bucket, that in turn I poured into the canvas shower.
I took hold of the rope and pulled it up to the rope loop to find the rosette came up to my shoulder. My first thought was "Don’t tell me we have dwarfs in the army?"
The shower was heavy so I lowered to the lower loop and started to fashion a loop further up the rope. I was muttering to myself about short arses, when in comes a big bloke about six feet, he tells me in a grieved voice, "What are you doing with my shower?"
As he is giving me the business, he sits down and takes off his shirt to reveal a harness, and then his pants. I see he has two artificial legs. My immediate reaction was to say, "Shit! I didn’t know you were here"
He said, "Is that water warm?"; took the rope off me and pulled it up which was a perfect height for him. This was my first meeting with the OC 8 Field Ambulance, the legendary Doctor Digger James.
I saw a fair bit of him after that. I used to kick a football with him occasionally on the road outside the mess and the Taskforce HQ. He could drop kick a football further than I could with two good legs and that didn’t please me.
Because of the very humid weather in SVN perspiration was a problem. It certainly effected Digger James’s leg leather harness’s which then needed repair from time to time. As I was the Task Force Armourer it naturally fell to me. I reattached leather straps to his metal legs on at least two occasions and I remember, he asked me to modify one of the attachments as it rubbed on his upper thigh.
If anyone lost a leg or a foot, Digger would get down to Vung Tau Hospital to see them, and reassure them that life would go on. He was living proof of that.
An all round good bloke.
MedEvac Huey on pad