Colonel Doug Gibbons AM
By 1st Platoon Commander:
When some time ago, I was invited by “Ravo” to write the foreword to his book, I gladly accepted. I reckon I knew roughly what might be in the book, it being a day by day diary of a soldier in my Platoon – 5 PLATOON, b Company, 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment- on its tour of duty in South Vietnam in 1970 -71. Mind you, knowing Ravo, I wondered what else might be in the book!
Sure enough, having now read the manuscript, there are matter I did not know of, or things which went on behind my back! There are also his recollections about incidents that are very different from my own – not only the incidents themselves, but also the reasons for some decisions and actions taken of which Ravo would not have known.
The manuscript was enjoyable reading. (Remember that the diary must be read taking into account the conditions and situations of the time.) It reminded me of some memorable moments, some funny and some absolutely terrifying ones too.
By far my best memories of my time as “the Skipper” or “Boss” are those which made me very proud to be a young officer leading young men – most of them were National Servicemen from all walks of life – who, apart from one notable exception, never shirked and always did their best.
And they did so even when the going was tough, or fighting, or both and when we had to “get mobile”! Ravo has related several incidents which showed their toughness, their desire to achieve and to do it well and the mateship amongst the members of the platoon.
I am reminded of what Field Marshal Lord Wavell said of the Infantryman: “…the Infantryman always bears the brunt. His casualties are heavier, he suffers greater extremes of discomfort and fatigue than the other Arms… the art of the Infantry is less stereotyped and far harder to acquire in modern war than that of any other Arm.”
We in C/S 22 agree with him!
In recent years I have kept in touch with many of the platoon members – via reunions, chance meetings and Christmas cards. I have also met families, generally being introduced as “This is Gibbo- remember me telling you about him… he was my Boss in Vietnam”. Most of these meetings were a humbling experience for me.
This book is different. It is one that many will be able to relate to very easily, especially any infantryman who served in South Vietnam.
Brigadier Mike O’Brien CSC
2nd Platoon Commander:
Five Platoon B Company 7 RAR was like all of the Infantry Platoons that fought in Vietnam.
It was an equal and almost indistinguishable mix of Regular and National Serviceman. Its soldiers were well-trained (in 7 RAR we considered we were the best-trained of all soldiers), well-motivated, young and fir. We had several very experienced soldiers that bought with them the knowledge of other small wars. There were people of all types.
They were all dedicated to the Battalion and few, if any, questioned Australian’s involvement in the war. And yet the platoon, while the same as those others, had its uniqueness. It had a personality, as each Australian platoon has. 5 Platoon was particularly good at the sorts of soldiering that were most demanding. It had a particularly well-honed skill in ambushing, a capability to move long distance noiselessly, and a determination to get the job done. It was a very close-knit group of soldiers. It was a privilege to be associated with them.
Bruce Ravenscroft’s diary is a valuable addition to the documents about the war from an Australian perspective. He tells the story directly from the “sharp” end where the scout always was. Bruce’s account makes a very important fact very clear; the average Infantryman’s war is, for the most of the time, repetitive and tedious, but few moments of action are so compressed that they will always remain etched in his memory. War is mainly inaction, punctuated by occasional feverish burst of contact with enemy.
Melbourne, March 1997
Brigadier O’Brien is still serving in the Australian Regular Army.
Mike O’Brien retired as a Major General.
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