Congratulations Daryl, on a great life and two very interesting, troubling, moving but enjoyable stories.
David Murphy (RN 1733914)
104 Signals Squadron (Vietnam, Jan – Dec 1969)
DARYL REX FARRY was a National Serviceman during the period 1967 to 1969. After recruit training with the 3rd Training Battalion Singleton, NSW, he attended the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps School of Army Health, and on completion was posted to the newly reformed 11 Field Ambulance at Wacol in Brisbane. He later worked as a medic at Greenbank Military Camp and 1 Military Hospital before being attached to C Coy, 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, participating in all of their pre-embarkation exercises and later accepting a posting to the battalion.
His work obligation was for the health and well-being of the company (approx 120 troops) and attached personnel, as well as supervision of a number of in-training and trained infantry (bandsmen) stretcher-bearers. Duties also consisted of compilation of medical records, relieving at the RAP, and training of infantrymen as hygiene inspectors and stretcher-bearers etc. Letters sent to his family during his two-year period of service were kept and presented back to him many years after his discharge from the army. These writings tell of humorous, serious, and other events that occurred during his childhood, army recruit and corps training, and his participation in the Vietnam War and beyond.
The account of his grandfather James (Dave) Ferguson McClelland’s service with the Australian 1st Field Ambulance during World War 1 which forms the first part of this book was pieced together from extracts from his war diary along with many months of research.
This book is dedicated to the memory of the glorious and heroic war dead of the Australian 1st Field Ambulance, 1st Division, Australian Army Corps, World War 1 and also of ‘C’ Company, 4th Battalion, The Royal Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, 4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Vietnam 1968-69.
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When writing I think back to my past and see things as clearly as though they happened yesterday, but when other events are told to me my memory is blank. This book has been written over several years by gathering information from people as well as from correspondence and letters written during wartime. Valuable information also has been deciphered from my grandfather’s war diary which described events that happened many years ago, and I have relied on my memory of other periods in time to add to the literary content to conclude this story.
My grandfather’s memoirs on his military excursions during World War 1 tell of a very difficult side to warfare. While the Vietnam War was chiefly fought as a guerilla war with the aid of modern sophisticated weapons and quick helicopter transport, grandfather’s war was very different in the extreme. After researching that era and deciphering his diary I came to realize the madness and futility of the Great War, an event which generated horrendous death and destruction and which caused casualties on a massive scale. Although the Vietnam War was fought for a much longer period than other wars, it certainly was no comparison to the ferocity of World War 1, and I cannot imagine how anyone survived those most trying and difficult conditions. Grandfather was always a very keen sportsman, and he and others had to try and block out the inescapable carnage and slaughter by playing as much sport as they could fit in between battles. This escape must have helped them to keep sane if only for brief periods, before being thrown back into the daily horrors of what we now know as one of the worst conflicts in the history of mankind.
We all view life from our different perspectives. People witness events and then describe them many years later in individual ways according to the pictures and details held in their memories. If people have any concerns or discomfort when reading this book, then please accept that it is how my grandfather and I, along with other people, saw things as they happened, and the way we expressed our feelings and emotions at the time.
READERS WOULD UNDERSTAND THAT MY GRANDFATHER AND I WERE YOUNG PEOPLE AT THE TIME THESE EVENTS OCCURRED, IN TOTALLY DIFFERENT ERAS WHEN LANGUAGE, MEANINGS AND SAYINGS WERE INTERPRETED IN VASTLY DIFFERENT WAYS.
Readers are warned that written details of some war wounds as well as some descriptive language and sexual references may offend. The title, ‘Starlight Minor’ in this instance refers to the radio call sign of an Australian Army infantry medic while in the field or during operational/combat level.
My name is James (Dave) Ferguson McClelland, and these writings are of my personal experiences that occurred when serving with the Australian Infantry Forces during the First World War. This story is not meant to be a history of the Great War or even of my unit, the 1st Field Ambulance, but only of the activities of the unit where I happened to be. I cannot report about certain events that occurred, (such as the number of wounded treated at Becourt Chateau, France, during August 1916), when I was in the front line. Nor can I tell of the many exciting incidents on the front line that our stretcher-bearers came across while I was on duty in the dressing rooms. Being in the front line as a stretcher-bearer was not a normal part of my duties, as my job was a ‘dresser’ assisting the doctors in the tent section of the field ambulance unit. Also as an ambulance soldier I see no use in giving details of the horrific wounds that were dressed, whether the patients had limbs torn off, were cut to pieces, or only slightly wounded, was all the same to us. Our only interest was to keep working non-stop to prioritize and to stabilize, dress their wounds and move them on. If they died they were put to one side to be buried by someone else; we did not care by whom, and as we were only concerned with the living, the dead were passed by. We became like all soldiers, more or less fatalists living each day to the full, our motto being, ‘eat, drink and be merry’, for by nightfall we may be dead. That was the nature of this war, and that is why we could bury our mates in the morning and play football or two-up in the afternoon within sight of their graves. The diggers who let the horrors of war play on their minds became nervous wrecks, or worse still, went totally insane.
When England entered the war in August 1914 I was working as an apprenticed fitter with the Mount Morgan Gold Mine, not far from the city of Rockhampton in Central Queensland, Australia. At the time I was twenty years of age and have often been asked, “Why did you enlist?”. I could never answer that question. Spirit of adventure combined with the chance of seeing a bit of the world is perhaps nearest to the mark. On August 10th 1914 when I enlisted for active service I was an NCO with the Citizens Military Forces, and at the time, all CMF personnel who were joining up were detained until our Home Defence (Ambulance Section) Mobilization Orders were finalized. These were completed in about a month, so on September 25th I left my hometown of Mt. Morgan and travelled by train to Rockhampton, where later in the day I boarded the mail train for Brisbane. On arrival in Brisbane the next morning I reported to Victoria Barracks and was drafted into No 1A General Hospital which was being formed at Bowen Park. I was now Private James (Dave) Ferguson McClelland, embarking on a new journey and excited to be finally commencing my ambulance training.
Nine weeks were spent in Brisbane, during which time we were put through our paces on the parade ground etc., with some humourous incidents occurring while training. On one particular afternoon the second-in-command was giving us squad drill while visitors looked on, some of which were mothers, sisters and sweethearts of the troops. Things were not progressing too well, for at the command right or left wheel, right or left turn, half of the squad would go the wrong way. The Captain stood this for a while, but in one very bad mix up he let loose, “For those who don’t know. On your left is the railway line and on your right is the bloody shithouse!” This brought about much laughter, but the officer was not amused, his face getting redder by the minute.
On another occasion a mate and I were out after hours when we met another bloke from our unit who was quite drunk. We brought him back to the camp with us, but as there was a piquet posted, we had to find a back way into the camp to by-pass the guard. We followed the fence around the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds for a time and decided to scale it, which we reckoned was about eight feet in height. This we managed successfully by climbing on each other’s shoulders and giving the last bloke a lift from the top. But when we got to the other side we found ourselves amongst what seemed to be thousands of sheep and hundreds of pens. Our mate was not wearing too well, and many a time he was on top of a sheep, but just as often the sheep were on top of him. Sheep, curses, and bad beer etc., became intermingled, and it was very near midnight when three smelly coves crawled into bed.
A very unfortunate accident happened with fatal results about the third week in camp. One of our cooks, who was a permanent soldier from Victoria Barracks, picked up a tin half full of what he thought was kerosene. He then poured the contents of the tin directly onto the fire which caused an immediate explosion, enveloping him in one roaring flame of burning petrol. Our O.C., Captain Foxton, happened to seize him and roll him in a blanket, doing everything possible for the poor chap, but regrettably he died in hospital early next morning. He was buried with full military honours the following day.
The most valuable time of our training was spent at the Brisbane General Hospital; here the whole staff was absolutely splendid. The nurses could not show us enough in the way of dressings and general nursing, and after a few days, we lads were doing most of the procedures with the nurses supervising. During the nine weeks of training I was posted on every male ward of the hospital with emphasis on casualty ward to special wards for various diseases.
In every walk of life one finds humour, and amongst sickness and death at the hospital it was no exception. Toby, one of the orderlies, was doing a ‘special’ on one of the enteric wards where he was to observe patients throughout the night and morning. Sitting by the patient’s bedside was tedious work, and in the early morning around 2am Toby nodded off to sleep. He awoke with a start when one of his patients, delirious and clad only in a sheet, was stalking down the aisle between the beds. Toby, who was only half awake, let out a yell, and took off for his life after seeing this ghostly figure flitting about the ward. The nursing sister-in-charge of the ward thought it was a huge joke, and had to get assistance other than from Toby to finally get the patient back to bed safely.
But all good things come to an end, and we were all very sad when the time for parting came. But the good side of it was that some of the doctors and sisters were joining us as part of the ever-expanding military hospital.
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