Confrontation with Indonesia - Supplementary information and anecdotes

Peter Schuman on leading his four man SAS patrol in Borneo

It was absolutely horrendous. ... The maps were absolutely atrocious. Sometimes half the maps you had were just white with ‘No reliable data because of cloud cover all year round’. ... I travelled through moss forests, saw packs of orang-outangs in the wild and wild deer. It was just hard slogging - day after day of patrolling. That was what I called the ‘loneliness time’. That was the first time that I was a million miles away from home, all by myself, in command - it was bloody lonely, it really was.

Winning hearts and minds Initially we did ‘hearts and minds’ where we were located in small areas that included one or two kampongs (villages) and our medics looked after their health. We tried to get information out of them, learnt their language, and learnt their customs. We lived away from them but each day we would go in. We gave them kerosene, and caught food with them using explosives. We played cricket ... and footy with them. We learnt more about living in the jungle ourselves, learnt more about them and gained a lot of information on the areas.

(Peter Schuman in Gary McKay, Sleeping with your ears open. On patrol with the Australian SAS. Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1999, p53,55)

Ian Conaghan remembers his service

Leeches were horrendous, unbelievable. I remember getting one in the groin, because with leeches you don't know you've had them and the stinging only starts at the very end before they drop off. ... My daks were not only soaking wet with water, but were soaking wet with blood ... My patrol commander ... was bitten on the arm by a scorpion, and honestly within a few hours you would swear that someone had slipped a football under his skin. It was huge!

There were lots and lots of snakes, orang-outangs, lots of monkeys. Once I came across tiger spoor and you could actually smell the tiger, but we never actually saw one. ... The animals were a problem but not because of any physical threat to us, but because if we encroached on their territory they would make a lot of noise and it was just like having a jungle warning system. Anybody in the area would know that something had disturbed these guys.

(Ian Conaghan in Gary McKay, Sleeping with your ears open. On patrol with the Australian SAS. Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1999, p71-2)

Max Cannon remembers his service

I was a rifleman with 3RAR 1965 in Borneo.

Our main role on patrols was ambushing, and keeping the enemy on the move. Most ambushes didn't catch anyone. It was a very long and tedious process. We knew that we were going into Indonesian territory, but had to keep it hush hush.

Conditions were very hilly, very hot and humid. Conditions differed. If we went through a recovering rice paddy, there would be thick growth underfoot, that you would have to hack through foot by foot, under a boiling sun. At other times you would be going through this clear area or even moss ground, while above would be this unbroken jungle canopy. When it rained, you would hear the rain hitting the canopy, but it took a long time to come dripping through. In other areas it might be swampy, up to your chest in water, and slipping on the slimy bottom.

We carried 5 days rations and ammo, easy 75-85 pound loads.

We had dehydrated ration packs - but it was often hard to get the water to add to them to cook. Clothes didn't last long - canvas boots with rubber soles were quiet, but would wear out very quickly.

Few combat situations, and few combat casualties. The most damage was done by diseases - some got malaria, but that was pretty much under control. The worst was scrub typhus, passed on by a bite from a mite. It brought you out in a terrible, delirious fever, that burned you up, caused terrible cramps and such. It took several weeks to get over it. The other great problem was water - it was usually contaminated, and you would get leptospirosis. To kill the germs you had to add chlorine tablets - well that did wonders for the taste. We'd try to find fast running water and drink that, and take the risk.

Some of the enemy were regulars, and they were well-trained troops. Some were irregulars, and were not well equipped and not great soldiers.

We also did a lot of observing over the border by large telescope, and a lot of ‘hearts and minds’ stuff. The locals were always friendly. You would provide them with escorts, medical help, building a school house, playing with the kids - that sort of thing.

We got a few weeks off occasionally, and that was good. But most of the time it was out on patrol, no contacts or anything, back to camp for a few days, then out on patrol again, over and over.

We were a very professional lot - good, experienced men. You felt safe and at home with them.