A GLORIOUS ADVENTURE - Vietnam 1967-1968

glorious adventure

An easy-to-read absorbing tale of the adventures of Vicki Sale, a middle-aged housewife who went to war in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 with her husband, Tom, the leader of the surgical team to Bien Hoa.

She cared for the daily needs of the surgical team members in Bien Hoa so that they could concentrate their energies into caring for the civilian population.

This story is a unique view of the Vietnam War which has been under exposed. A sense of humour helps to deal with the interesting characters and impossible situations.  

In Store Price: $AU21.95 
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ISBN:   978-1-922229-05-2
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 130
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Vicki R.H. Holman
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2013
Language: English

Author Bio.  

Born in Liverpool, England in 1946, elder daughter of Vicki and Tom Sale. Tom was a surgeon. She spent her childhood in England and Singapore. The family flew around the world in 1957. Vicki came to Australia, alone, to boarding school in 1958 at Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School. Later that year, the family joined her and they all settled in Rockhampton, where her father was the Medical Superintendent at the hospital. She finished her schooling at the Rockhampton Girls’ Grammar School.  

After completing a course in Biological Laboratory Techniques at Queensland Institute of Technology, she took up a position in Cytology and the Royal Women’s hospital in Brisbane. This career lasted for over twenty-nine years during which time she also worked at Drs Sullivan and Nicolaides and Queensland Medical Laboratory. In her spare time, she completed, by correspondence, a diploma in comprehensive writing and a diploma of professional scriptwriting run by the Australian School of Journalism. 

Vicki has married twice*. She has three children and twenty-nine grand and step-grandchildren. Her interest in writing started at age eleven, writing letters to her mother when at boarding school. She has won a couple of highly-commended awards for short stories and presented scientific papers at cytology meetings.  

She lives alone in an over-fifties resort with her King Charles Cavalier spaniel, Penny, spending her time writing, painting and gardening.  

For your interest

*Her first husband committed suicide on Mother’s Day, 1995 by shooting himself with a .303 rifle, five years after their divorce. She discovered his body because he rang her before he did it. Her second, husband, Kevin passed away on 31 August, 2012 after ten very happy years together.



September 21st 1969 

I came home from Vietnam on September 28th last year, after spending one year at Bien Hoa with the Australian Surgical Team. This book is dedicated to the relatives of personnel who have served, are serving, or will serve in that country.

Reporters from various countries would always ask the question ‘What made you come to Vietnam?’ As far as the Surgical Team was concerned, it was to look after the civilians, wounded and sick. No matter whether they agreed with the way the war was being handled, their job was to cope with the thousands of civilians who were suffering under a very dilapidated medical service. Their efforts were superb, far beyond the call of duty.

We arrived in Saigon in September 1968. I can’t describe the airport for obvious reasons of security, but the turmoil, noise and crowds were overwhelming. After waiting for a considerable time, we were allowed to leave the airport and our journey to Bien Hoa (pronounced byen whar) commenced.

Out on the road, the traffic seemed to be at a standstill. It turned out that it was moving at about 5–20mph, and our journey to Bien Hoa took us nearly three hours for about twenty-five miles of distance. It amazed me that so many vehicles would pass so many other vehicles and obstacles. There was heavy, noisy traffic, Lambrettas, bicycles, carts and horses, taxis, pedestrians, semi-trailers, tanks, buses and private cars. Our progress was so slow that it was usual to see pedestrians nipping in and out of the traffic.

The Vietnamese police (who are called ‘the white mice’) controlled the traffic by blowing a whistle, and if there wasn’t an instant reaction, then they would fire a shot. When I returned to Australia, even a postman’s whistle would make me reach for the brake. It was unusual to take any long trip without seeing an accident.

Our building in Bien Hoa had three floors: ground, middle floor for dormitories, and roof, which carried the administration office, lounge, dining room, kitchen and eight more rooms for dormitories.

The front of the building looked out to Long Binh. The back of the building looked out to the Bien Hoa Airbase runway. Round towards the west stretched the rest of the air base and the residential part of Bien Hoa. The easterly side overlooked the Dong Nai River and an island in the centre. This had a bridge to each bank of the river. They were one-lane, traffic-clogged bridges and were manned day and night by Army patrols. The Army of Vietnam had its headquarters on the opposite side of the road to us …           


So began my mother’s story of her twelve months that she spent in Vietnam accompanying Dad, who was the leader of the Surgical Team from Queensland.

Vicki and Tom Sale left Rockhampton in September 1967 to help the Vietnamese civilians. She wrote regularly to her family, and it is from those letters, and the newsletters that Dad sent back to Australia, that I have written this book.

READ A SAMPLE:                                          




Tom and Vicki Sale arrived in Saigon three hours late, missing out on lunch. They were met by the Third Secretary from the Australian Embassy. After being refreshed with a cup of coffee and a brief meeting with the Ambassador for External Affairs, Mr Corkery, they set off on the road to Bien Hoa, minus some of their luggage.  

They travelled in an old VW van with windows which wouldn’t work, whilst adjusting to driving on the right side of the road in amongst the American convoys of heavy transport vehicles. After a brief lunch, they went to see the hospital and the patients. The place was packed with wounded of all ages. The most heart-breaking sight was three young boys all injured by a mine lying in the theatre block on stretchers. In the wards, some of the patients had to share beds. They were told that the rule was no more than two to a bed.

The tour of inspection and assessment completed, it was back to the residence to sort themselves out. It had been a long, tiring and hot day. The residence was a three-storey building assigned to the team, who had not arrived yet. There was much to be done: bedrooms to be organised, wardrobes to find and place. A lot of them had to be cleaned out as they were mouldy from the tropical humidity. Floors were scrubbed under Vicki’s supervision by the Vietnamese servants. If visitors got caught by the curfew, mattresses had to be put on to the floor to accommodate the extras.

The building was surrounded by machine-gun posts, both on their building and in the street below. You could see them from the lounge on the roof. The constant noise from the airbase of helicopters, jets and every kind of aircraft invaded every minute. They were like a swarm of mosquitoes. The fact that there were no collisions was amazing.

There was a curfew from sunset – 6.30pm – till 4.00am.

The Army/Air Force medicos gave Vicki and Tom a welcoming party in the roof-top lounge and when the lights failed, they continued by the glow of the searchlights which had their own generators. It was an opportunity for them to get some firsthand knowledge of the situation and make some contacts.

While Tom was involved in getting things organised at the hospital, Vicki was just as busy sorting out the living quarters. A trip into Saigon to track down their missing luggage proved almost indescribable. The highway was packed with all types of vehicles from bikes to Lambrettas, trucks loaded with sandbags and food, tankers full of water or petrol, and heavy armoured personnel carriers. Vicki couldn’t see any of the scenery because of the dust and the dense traffic. There were hold-ups at three bridges because of one-way traffic, for forty-five minutes. At least she was spared the stress of driving as they had a Vietnamese driver called Ling who seemed to know the system. To Vicki there didn’t seem to be any road rules.

The basics of life were provided by the Americans. A water tanker came every day to fill the water tank with a large hose and a pump. The water to the residence was dependent on the power supply, which to say the least was unreliable. Vicki always had water in her hand basin to wash and to flush the toilet. The plumbing wasn’t always reliable, a legacy from the French.

Her biggest challenge would be to arrange the food supply and menu for the nineteen people in the Queensland Surgical Team. The departing team from Adelaide were able to show her where the PX store was at the air base. They were also able to include a tour around it. The PX was incredibly crowded as it was the end of the month and the Americans’ monthly payday.                                                                   

The time of hand over, with people from Adelaide leaving and people from Queensland arriving, plus often having people caught by the curfew at sunset, meant life was a bit chaotic. But Vicki coped in difficult circumstances. She never knew how many would be there for dinner or would stay for the night. The staff who had been at the hospital all day came back tired and hungry. If she had not accompanied Tom and volunteered to take on the task of running the residence for the team, the nursing staff would have had to do it all, with some help from the Administration Officer.




Vicki Sale left to go to Vietnam for twelve months with only a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs about the conditions she could expect. She had to take goods and chattels to service their needs for the duration with no idea of what was available on a daily basis. Linen, clothes, toiletries, medicines and bits and pieces chosen to make their life more comfortable, found their way into their luggage.

She took her favourite records, some pictures, calendars of Australian scenes, birds and animals, and some books. As an avid letter writer she also included writing materials. All these things were to be used to make wherever they stayed seem more like home.

Both Vicki and Tom had firsthand experience of living in a war zone, both having lived through World War II in England, serving in the Royal Navy. But settling in to organise a home in a war zone was a challenge. Vietnam had been at war for many years. Firstly the invasion by the Japanese in World War II followed by the struggle for independence from the French and then the civil war between the Communist North Vietnam and South Vietnam. It was during this conflict that Australia had become involved.                                  

The Queensland Surgical Team was one of several sent to South Vietnam to help the civilian population. The war had used most of the health resources and many doctors were serving in the armed forces. The civilian population not only suffered from the usual health problems that living in the tropics entailed, but road accidents because of the increased traffic from the war, and injuries suffered from the fighting. Mines in the paddy fields caused casualties both of stock and people. The Australian teams were there to take up the local shortfall and treat these people as best they could with the limited resources at their disposal. They also needed to understand local culture and customs and not upset their patients.  


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