YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 39. Not Hospital again.

Going Home. My mum always drove the family car, and she didn’t seem too happy when I asked her to pull over at a pub so I could buy a carton of beer. I was hanging out for a cold, cold can of Fourex, a hasty run into the bottle shop and I stopped in my tracks, wondering why people were staring at me. I ran a mental check list: fly zip fastened securely, shoes were clean, medal ribbons straight, beret on properly. That’s it, I still wore my dress uniform, and people stared at me as if I were an alien being. My interest stirred in the beer again and I paid the exorbitant price and returned to the car. Let’s face it, anything more than .25 cents a can was way too much. Back in the car I cracked two cans and handed one to the old man, much to mum’s disgust. I really didn’t care. They’d shifted further into the country, again, since my R & R. Away from everything. All I wanted to do was get into a real house, change clothes and relax. They’d organised a welcome home party and had invited the landlord/farmer, his wife, son and daughter-in-law. I guess I shouldn’t complain but all I wanted was a real bed and somewhere quiet and relatively safe. Instead I showered, changed into civvies and hit the settee. I’d drunk four cans and felt very relaxed. I drifted off but not all the way, my little sentry stayed on duty and alerted me to a threat. A shadowy form hovered over me, a hand reached out and touched me. Before my eyes opened fully I came up off the settee, left fist cocked and I drove it straight into mum’s chin. I can still see here flying backwards, hitting the wall and sliding to the floor unconscious. I stared around, everything seemed strange, foreign. Oh, it wasn’t Vietnam.

We sat around the dining table for a while waiting for our guests to arrive, having a general chat about the voyage home. I then began recounting a few stories about my time overseas. Mum must have still been a little annoyed, she piped up and said, “I don’t know what you’re on about, you weren’t in a real war. Your dad fought in a real war, Vietnam was just a police action.” I definitely wasn’t feeling the love here people, I stood up, slammed a fist into the table and roared, “Police action, bloody police action. What did you think we were doing, handing out fucking traffic tickets?” Taking a couple of cans I retired to the back steps and fumed until the visitors arrived. They lived in the main house a couple of hundred yards away and turned up right on time. They were all nice people, especially the daughter-in-law. I can only describe her as a woman who knew what she wanted, wasn’t backwards in coming forward and darn cute. Thick dark hair, high cheekbones, dark eyes and one of those knowing smiles. What we need to remember here is, ’round eyes’ the term given to white women in Vietnam were very few and far between there.  Plus I had been on rations as it were since mid February. You may also have guessed by now that I was something of a tart too. Back to the party, the night went off as only a night can where your old man is trying to put you down. Where the need to run screaming into the bush to get away from people threatened to overwhelm me. The visitors were nice but I couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

I’ll call the farmer’s son, Don and his nubile wife Carrie. They turned up the following afternoon in their Land Rover and invited me to go deer hunting with them, hmm, did he detect the glances? Grabbing my rifle, a .243 Parker Hale, I leaped into the front passenger seat and off we went. Don was one of the nicest blokes I’d met and we talked back and forth, Carrie would ask questions and the trip into the pine forest flew. I have to say that Carrie had a fine figure. Every bump we hit her left breast pushed up against my arm, or she made sure her thigh touched mine. Followed by a sly, knowing grin. Rutting season had started, and the forest rang to the call of hormone soaked stags, eager to fight each other and steal females. No, the irony isn’t lost on me either. About six miles from home on the steepest, muddiest track in the forest, Don’s Land Rover broke down. He sat for a moment gripping the steering wheel and muttered a few curses, looked at us and said, “I’ll have to walk out and get the tractor from home, you two stay here. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” I could feel Carrie’s body tense and my heart hit the back of my throat. Don climbed out of the vehicle, picked up his rifle and walked up the track a little ways. He must have sensed our beaming grins, my straining jeans and Carrie’s heavy breathing, because he stopped and turned around. “Come on, we’ll all walk out together.” A heavy shower of rain dampened our ardour and we arrived home about nine at night. Don and Carrie to their love nest and me to a bollocking from my parents for making them worry. Obviously my time in Vietnam didn’t mean much to them. The only dangers I faced that night were A; If it had gone right, being ravished in the front of a Land Rover. or B: If it had gone right being shot by a jealous husband.

Don turned up the following afternoon, he’d returned to his vehicle and found a stag standing near it, hmm, it must have chanced on the smell of lingering hormones. He shot it and brought me a hind leg. Oh yes, fresh venison. I hung it under the house and consumed it over the next four days. Strangely enough I only ever saw Carrie from a distance after that. Don’s old man let me have one of his stock horses to ride, if I helped with the cattle work. He called his own two horses, Mandy and Christine after Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler, two women involved in a sex scandal in the UK, involving the then War Minister John Profumo. When I asked why those names he said, “Well, Lad they’re both pretty ladies and a great ride.” The only downfall with Mandy, the horse was she had one eye. My first ride ended badly, I hopped on bareback, she took off, galloped up to our house and stopped suddenly. I kept going gracefully through the air, performed a somersault and a twist with four degrees of difficulty, hit a barbed wire fence, slid down it and slashed a perfectly good camo jacket to shreds. Hmm, I thought, the real Mandy Rice-Davies might have been the better option.
Moi, about as well mounted as I could get, on Christine.
Laurie on Horse

Moi on Mandy, sister Donna and brother Dallas.
Horse and riders

For those who may have forgotten what a Hereford bull looks like. Pic courtesy of Wikipedia.
images[5]

We came to an understanding and I rode her everyday. Don and his Dad press ganged myself and two younger brothers into helping muster and dip their herd of Herefords. Piece of cake. We dipped them, and when they’d all been through and stood wet and dripping in the yard Don asked if we could herd them back over the river. Another piece of cake, “Oh yeah, we have a new bull.” He pointed to about a ton of brown and white muscle standing alone, “That bloke there is a little toey. Now I want you to keep him at the rear of the herd and let the old bull lead off. Once he’s over the river you should be okay. When the whole herd is over you can let ’em at it. They’ll sort out their differences then.” In the finest traditions of every western ever made, we headed ’em up and moved ’em out. Don even left me with his stockwhip, at least he trusted me with that. My next brother down, Gary rode up to the front, Dallas, the youngest moved to the flank and I brought up the rear. A few ye hah’s, I cracked the whip a couple of times, without hitting myself, and we were on our way. There’s something restful about riding along after cattle, a slow walk, the soft lowing with an occasional bellow from the old bull up front. The new bull at the dusty end with me stopped, raised his head and let out a huge bellow. You know when something has gone to crap, you can feel it and in this case I could see and hear it all descending on me.

Gary, about a hundred cows away let out a, “The bull’s coming.” I saw Dallas try to cut him off, his horse, obviously smarter than all of us decided to get out of the way. The herd shied and that bull, old or not answered the challenge. You’ve seen those cartoons where the bull charges, dirt flying everywhere, horns glinting in the sunlight, red eyes slitted. He wanted blood. New bull was now on my left, Mandy’s blind side. I moved her up against him to push him away. Ha. Old bull came in on my right, lowered his head, dropped to his knees and went for new bull under my horse. New bull thought, What a great idea, and they went at it. Mandy and myself  were now in for the ride of our lives. Still holding the whip in my right hand I reversed it and began whacking old bull on the head with the knobby end whenever it came out from underneath the horse. I think that pissed him off because he stood up, well they both stood up and there we were, off the ground at head height. Horns clashing, Mandy squealing with all four hooves flailing mid-air, bulls roaring and fighting, and I increased my flailing with the whip handle. I could feel saddle leather up in my bum crack as my cheeks clamped to the seat. Tiring a little, the bulls dropped their heads again and I kicked Mandy’s flanks. She didn’t need telling twice, finding her feet she hit the ground and we spun around. I think by this time the bulls were looking for an excuse to finish the fight for control of the herd. My brothers turned up and between us we separated the now tiring fighters.

So much excitement indeed. Two days later I woke up and couldn’t see. My head throbbed severely with a hundred drummers inside hard at work. My skin burned and when I went to the toilet I passed blood. Hmm, this isn’t good. My skin turned clammy, the whites of my eyes yellowed and I felt, well, terrible, “You’ll be fine,” said my old man, “I’ve had Malaria, it was far worse than what you may have.” Right, thanks Dad, this is now and you know, I don’t feel too well at all. They took me to the nearest hospital, about an hours drive away and the doctor checked me over and said, “Well, I don’t know.” They put me on the hospital veranda as far away as possible from nearly everybody else, in a bed next to a WW1 veteran. The old soldier would’ve been in his eighties and was suffering from the effects of tertiary syphilis. This made for a charming combination, I lay there alternately shaking and shivering and he spent his time screaming and ranting. The parents popped in once to say goodbye from the safety of the corridor, and I found myself in the back of an army ambulance the next morning.

The 1st Military Hospital was situated in the grounds of a National Trust estate at Yeronga, called Rhyndarra. On the banks of the Brisbane River. The hospital started life as a Salvation army home for girls and eventually became a military hospital. I didn’t know this at the time, my only concern was if someone would be able to stop the band playing in my head. After being signed in, a wardsman wheeled me down to my bed. I looked around and thought, This is great, plenty of people to talk to. Not to be, after climbing into bed a rather large mosquito net was placed around it and tucked in. I said, “What?” The ward sister came up and said, “It’s for our protection, we don’t know what you have.”

Next week: Your going to shove that where?

36 thoughts on “YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 39. Not Hospital again.

  1. bgbowers

    Not a real war?! That would have pissed me off to no end. It’s a classic story about leaving-changing-returning to the old place where everyone’s still the same – oblivious to what you’ve been through and how much you’ve changed.

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  2. kelihasablog

    Laurie, Your writings/posts as well as your pictures are always so much fun to read (okay, yes, sometimes sad or unusual..LOL :D) but SO inspiring. The Honesty flows through so that many can experience through you, things they never would have been able to otherwise. I’ve missed your post… (((Hugs)))

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Keli, yes I do sad and unusual well.🙂 I like to be honest with what I write, calling a spade a spade is the way to go. That’s the good thing about writing, you can take people to so many places. I’ve actually missed seeing your posts too, it’s good to have you back. xx
      Laurie.

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  3. thisisnotbangkok

    Another beautifully written, authentic piece, ripe with emotion and that sens of being there. I was reading some of the comments as well. Here, in the US, our soldiers were basically dumped on as well, with the public not really understanding what they went through. I have a cousin who was in battle in Vietnam and it took him years to recover after returning. Now he has a PhD and is a clinical psychologist.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Michael, I like to get right into it. Yes it wasn’t a happy time for Vietnam veterans. Let’s face it, the world hadn’t been saved from a megalomaniac, so no outward signs of public welcome was bestowed on the troops. It sounds like your cousin has made the best of a bad situation. I’ll be making mention in a future blog of the fact that I didn’t get the help I needed until it was far too late.

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  4. lifechange90

    Hey Laurie,
    Glad to see you’re back on deck, sense of humour intact! That’s the one thing we can’t do without!

    Susan mentioned my fun with the one eyed horse… We had a ripper little storm, a tornado run through my place at Kingaroy back in 1983 and every fence was down, trees scattered everywhere. Lost a third of the standing timber. I had over 200 cows and their young calves and a very large Braford bull – over 7 feet tall at the shoulder, not a big Brahamn hump, just a lump… A few inches higher than the rest of his back. Massive.

    That’s relevant because the only horse to muster with at that time, my then wife having taken the other horses to her parents farm 35 miles away, the remaining horse was 12.5 hands and blind in the right eye. When I sat on him, trying (rather futile) to get these cattle rounded up, the bull was taller than me on horseback!

    Well, he was a bit upset and got into that Brahman trot and set out across the paddock, naturally on the blind side of the horse. (Why do they do that?) When he got to where I was, he kept going, put his head down, then up and I was launched! I hit the ground some time later and some distance away and rolled under a fallen tree out of the way. Just in case. Last I saw, the horse and bull were heading for the horizon side by side – mind you, it was the horses blind side still!

    For my troubles, I got a broken wrist. The bonus was that we branded the calves the following week – the plaster cast was like a battering ram! Except I was in the hospital each night, getting it recast! After 3 days, they told me no more. Fortunately we had finished the calves that day…

    Great storey, brings back great memories… Thank you.

    Look after yourself, take time to recover mate…
    Ray

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Oh dear, Ray the cattle would have looked at you and the horse and laughed. Those bulls, man they just look and feel like a besser block wall. No sense of fair play and determined. Sounds like your luck wasn’t running real well at the time. The only thing missing was a locust plague. You were lucky to get out with a broken wrist mate. Typical farmer though, just keep on going with broken bones. I guess nobody else would have done it for you. Great story Ray. Ye hah!

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  5. Patricia Salamone

    Hi Fratello, Boy you hit the road running don’t you. I can only imagine what happens next.
    I hope your few days off went well, and that you got some R&R :o)….Keep well while I wait
    for the next adventure?

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Hi Sorella, plenty of rest, little recreation. I feel better today in my mind ( a dangerous creepy place ) so that has to be good.🙂 The next adventure will be up on Monday my time.

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  6. Merlin Fraser

    Crocodile Dundee is a Pussy Cat compared to you ! Although I can understand your anger at the comments of “Police Action.” This is where politicians can’t make a decent decision to declare War. Of course there are also such things as unpopular wars, Korea and Vietnam are two great examples, I think it is where an ignorant population have no idea why their politicians involve our country in someone else’s fight.

    In the years to come I can see Iraq and Afghanistan falling into this category, most American’s don’t even know where these places are not alone why they should fight over them.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Hi Merlin, great to see you. I haven’t upset a crocodile yet, give me time. You’re right, the politicians think only of the next election and don’t have the fortitude to stand up and make a decent decision. There are usually reasons for involvement in these post colonial wars, mainly trade related and I’ll scratch your back. After WW2 Britain pulled out from south east Asia, this left a gap in Oz defences, so we turned to the Yanks. When you have billions of people looking down your way it makes governments twitch a little. So the yanks set up a few covert bases and away we went. So we have the ANZUS treaty but I guess it will only stand as long as it suits the yanks.
      There’s certainly a dearth of knowledge in the US amongst the population about foreign affairs. I think they’ve always been insular, it took them a few years before they became involved in WW1, and only then after the sinking of the Lusitania off Ireland. They didn’t want a bar of WW2 until Pearl Harbour. Now it’s just one long, drawn out series of wars and disruptions.

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  7. Owls and Orchids

    Please – tell me you met then”cold spoon’? It’s right up your alley for experiences. If not – let me know and I’ll tell Rel what to do (evil grin). Your one eyed horse trick reminds me of the Tonto story – with Ray and the Mickey Bull. What is it about one eyed horses that get you in strife?
    I keep imagining that mosquito net and so close to the river… the darned noise would have driven me insane with the band playing in your head.
    You don’t do anything by halves do you?
    Susan x

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Ah, I’d been threatened with the cold spoon down in Heidelberg Hospital. Rel used to be a nurse and she reckons she can still wield a cold spoon.🙂 It’s either one-eyed horses or women that get me into trouble. I think the horse expects you to see for it, like a seeing eye rider.🙂 If you left the ward and walked 50 feet you’d be in the mighty Brisbane River. I had a little more than an Excedrin headache,😦 with the noise. I don’t believe in anything other than the full monty Susan, nothing by halves. Wait until you see what they tested me for.
      Laurie. xoxo

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  8. nataliescarberry

    Man oh man, you have been beat up by some strange occurrences, mister. If you’re like a cat and have 9 lives, I’d say you’ve used up quitea few already. As always an interesting tale with its fair share of laughable moments. I’m impressed that you felt well enough to spin this much of a tale this week. Hang in there. Things will get better. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Beaten up is only half of it Natalie. I’ve put six guardian angels off on workers compensation. Thanks Natalie, I had it three quarters written for last Monday, so it didn’t take much work. They do, sort of.🙂
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  9. hitandrun1964

    I would say, never a dull moment, but that would be too obvious. Your parents were…uh…um…let’s say, not very supportive. The bull fight was interesting (I’ve never seen anything like that in Chicago…LOL) and naughty boy with the guy’s wife. You’ve been through a lot, that’s for sure. It almost sounds as if you were better off in Nam, at least you were with people who could understand you. Sigh. I can’t believe you are in the hospital…want to know what was wrong and why anyone thought a net would stop others from getting whatever you had. Life is so strange. Well, at least you can’t say that you were ever bored. So…what happened next? You lived on a ranch? Brothers? Cattle drives? Guns and whips? My, my Laurie. My, my. More, please.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      They weren’t supportive at all Gigi. That bull fight caused the biggest wedgie I’ve ever had. Man, it was primal. Talk about a rush. Now in the mid 1800’s Chicago was the terminus for a huge majority of cattle from the west. The city would have been wild and woolly. I would have been better off in Vietnam, at least I had someone there who wanted me. Yep, back in hospital, it must be the nurse attraction. They thought I had a mosquito borne ailment, and seeing the hospital languished next to a river there were millions of mozzies. Nope, never bored. What happened next? *Deep voice of announcer* “Tune in next week and see what our hero has to contend with. Nubile nurses, blood sucking technicians, angry Matrons, strange objects and puzzled doctors. Will he survive? Too bloody right he will.”

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  10. Raani York

    Holy Macro, Laurie… that’s bad… hitting your Mom, breaking a fight with a bull, throwing an eye on the neighbors’ girl. *grin*
    Never lost your charming self, didn’t ya?
    I’m sorry to hear you had to go to the hospital again!! Now I’m curious until next week. Thanks!!😛 LOL

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      True, she just happened to be the one who woke me up. I’m glad it wasn’t my little sister. There’s never a dull moment you know, I mentioned to Olga that the adrenalin still flowed and needed an outlet. The neighbour’s wife, dangerous waters indeed but oh what a swim it would have been.😉 You’re going to love the hospital, it has sex, drama, pain, humiliation. Be there next week.🙂

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      1. Raani York

        Okay, Laurie – fine – I’ll wait for next week. (since there’s nothing else I can do! LOL)🙂

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  11. davidprosser

    You must have been Mr Popular after whacking your mother on the chin. I dare say she didn’t suggest you hadn’t been to war from too close after that. You don’t sound as though you’re joking but I’m shocked your folks didn’t think you’d been to war. Did they not hear of the death and destruction over there? Maybe your Dad fought in WWII in Europe but would they have suggested those who fought in Burma hadn’t been in areal war?
    Just as well you behaved with Don’s wife since he was a nice bloke and his parents were your family’s Landlords.No doubt you made up for it later on, but that’s still to come I guess after you get out of hospital.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      I certainly dropped on the popularity stakes David, mum was extremely lucky indeed. I wasn’t joking when I related the anecdote about a police action. Funnily enough my parent’s reaction didn’t differ much from the feelings of the general Australian population at the time. For quite a while the Returned Serviceman’s League ( Legion in the UK) wouldn’t accept Vietnam war veterans into the ranks because Australia hadn’t declared war on North Vietnam. The labour government at the time, in opposition until 1971 was a supporter of North Vietnam. It took a welcome home parade in 1988 for people to realise that, hang on, these blokes have done something. The inquiry into the effects of agent orange on servicemen and their children caused an uproar. The increased rate of suicide amongst veterans and a huge rise in PTSD finally made people think that our blokes weren’t handing out traffic tickets after all. Ah yes, Don’s wife. I think he hid her away in the barn until I left. You’ll be surprised with what happens in hospital and my life afterwards.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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