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Small Ships

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Armoured Vehicles

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Medical and Dental

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Equipment Monitoring


Repair Parts

Maj Gen WB [Digger] James, AO, MBE, MC, OStJ

WO Bob Thompson, Art Armt
Bob Thompson
Bob Thompson
Digger James
Lt Col WB James on the occasion of being invested as a Member of the British Empire for his service is South Vietnam
From the AWM Collection Database [Ref P01002.057] with permission

I had a distinct memory, having had that informal chat in the showers on that April afternoon, that Digger had lost both legs. When I was researching this article I found that records that said the right leg was saved. To clear this up, I wrote to the man himself and received the emailed reply below.

But some background first. Digger James graduated with the RMC Class of 51 into Infantry. As a 1 RAR Platoon Commander in Korea in Nov 52 he and his patrol moved into an unmarked minefield. One man was killed and four, including Lt W.B. James, were injured.

Lt James, having lost his left foot, and sustained a broken right leg and multiple abrasions, arranged for his patrol to be extracted. It was three hours before he himself was recovered. He was awarded an immediate Military Cross because of his actions that day.

Subsequently he became a doctor and took command of 8 Fd Amb,RAAMC, 1 ATF Nui Dat SVN in 1968

Dear Bob,

Yes there is confusion about my injuries due to various reports at the time of wounding. My family were advised at the time of wounding that my injuries included traumatic amputation of my left leg below the knee, and amputation to be carried out of my right leg due to serious multiple fractures and open wounds.

In the event, due to good surgery in Japan by the Brits, they saved my right leg and 1/2 the foot.

Net result Amputation L leg below knee, and R forefoot. I had plenty of other injuries to both hands, arms, thighs and right side of head.

No, you were quite correct, and you're not suffering dementia.

All the best, kind regards
Digger James

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.

8 Field Ambulance .. 1968
8 Field Ambulance RAAMC, Nui Dat .. 1968

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.

8 Field Ambulance .. 1968 medevac
8 Field Ambulance RAAMC, Nui Dat .. 1968
MedEvac Huey on pad

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