Mateship renewed on return to Vietnam

FOR 46 years Lyn Giles didn’t want to return to Vietnam.

“I don’t think I would have handled it,” the Jeeralang veteran said.

“In the back of your mind you wonder and are always unsure about it.”

But that uncertainty faded at a reunion of the Royal Australian Regiment 6th Battalion, when nine of Mr Giles’ former C Company mates put their hands up to return together.

In March, the contingent, including Mr Giles, made the journey to Vietnam, just as they had in 1966.

“You weren’t sure what you were going to feel like, but being with that group, we were all in the same boat, it didn’t really matter,” he said.

“You’re going back with the same guys you were over there with.”

As the group visited historic war sites across the country, emotions were stirred.

“A couple of the guys felt it more than I did,” Mr Giles said.

“When you go into a war zone, your stress levels go up and when you come home from a conflict, your stress levels go down.

“But they never go down to where you were as a young man, so it only takes a little bit to make you go stupid.”

For Mr Giles, no site was more significant than the jungle in which he lost his mate, Morwell’s Adrian Rich, during the first stages of Operation Bribie on 17 February 1967.

The pair had joined the armed forces and completed their training together, after which they were stationed in the same Battalion, with Rich in B company.

“That was a bit sad, a bit emotional,” Mr Giles said.

“You knew him. He was your mate.”

In North Vietnam, the returning contingent visited the gate house of a former prisoner of war camp known sarcastically as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ where American pilots were held.

“A lot of torture and inhumane treatment was handed out in that prison and today, like everything else, it’s a tourist attraction,” Mr Giles said.

“Some of the torture-type implements were pretty horrific and you felt a bit iffy when you went through there.”

Other areas carried little evidence of war, like the spot in Nui Dat the 6th Battalion had helped transform into a thriving base camp, which has now been returned to rubber plantation.

The faces of the new generation of Vietnamese who now know peace, is what Mr Giles said would  stay with him forever.

“Everywhere there’s school kids and they’re all smiling and happy and all say hello and G’day,” he said.

“It just makes you feel good to see a country that’s been through everything and after 40 years of peace, hopefully it’ll stay that way.”

Mr Giles said the renewed mateship was what got him through the trip.

“There was a lot of typical Aussie humour and laughter to keep everyone going,” he said.

“It was the best way to go back there that you could imagine, that’s for sure.

“I feel it’s done and we can all move on. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”