Galah (noun): 1. A cockatoo of the species Cacatua roseicapilla, a popular Australian pet. Noted for its antics and loud call. 2. A person who lacks common sense. Someone foolish. (Colloquial) 3. An infantryman of the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR). (Colloquial. Archaic?) - Hopefully not.
Don't let the title of this book throw you. Written by one of, if not the, leading Australian infantrymen this novel examines the psyche of an Australian soldier in a way very few authors can. The novel is not solely about Viet Nam. It follows a group of young infantryman through their careers, from 1952 until after Viet Nam (briefly). On the way the book examines in detail what it's like to face a Chicom wave attack or to probe into a minefield in Korea. A detailed account is given of platoon-level operations against Communist Terrorists (CT) in Malaya, including a detailed look at how scouts tracked a wounded CT and his companions. And then the book moves on to Viet Nam, looking at pre-embarkation training at Canungra, ambushes and cordon and search operations through the eyes of the soldiers and officers of the RAR.
Throughout the book the reader will either find himself chuckling (as when "Antonio" is relieved to see the MP's for once) or tensely reading through the details of a firefight or casevac. And, to tell the truth, there's a time or two when the throat gets a bit tight and the eyes a bit gritty. The book reeks of realism - it's obviously the work of someone who has "Been There, Done That". The story is not political and not intended to carry a message. It's a simple, clear story of Australian infantrymen and what makes them tick.
But there's also a second story in these pages. A story that traces the evolution of a young Viet Minh into a Viet Cong. The evolution is dramatic and the character is much more than "the bad guy" that appears in other books when they bother to look at "Nigel" (the Aussie name for "Charlie"- "Nigel van Nog") at all.
Brigadier Mansford has captured the mindset and manner of the Australian soldier perfectly. It's not hard to understand. "Warry George", as he is still known, is something of a legend to the soldiers - infantrymen in particular - of the period mid-'70s and through into the early '90s (the "Forgotten Army"), and probably before then, for all I know - the RAR was only two years old when he joined it. He joined the army in 1951 as a recruit and served in all three of the "war" battalions of the RAR that existed before the Viet Nam expansions. He reached the rank of SGT (E-7 equivalent for our US friends), serving in Korea, the Malay Emergency, on the Thai-Malay border and in Singapore in that time. He was commissioned in 1964 and became a platoon commander in 2 RAR. Later he served with the AATTV as a Captain in Viet Nam.
As a Lieutenant-Colonel he designed, raised and commanded the Land Command Battle School at Tully in 1980 to 1983. Brigadier Mansford retired in 1993, having raised 11 Brigade from 11 Field Force Group. From a recent message, I gather he's proud of never serving in too-political Canberra
Today he serves still as the Honorary Colonel, Far North Queensland Regiment and as an invited guest speaker at RMC, the Staff College, the Infantry Centre (ACTDC or whatever it's called this week) and various battalions of the regiment.
Like I said, he's "Been There, Done That". If you have any interest in infantry actions you'll do well in getting this book. It's not as polished as some novels written about this conflict, but the natural, gritty way it's written makes it read like a diary, not a novel. I got the last one that the Brigadier had from the first impression, but a second printing will be available in March, I believe. Serving members of the Australian Army may still turn a copy up in DPRI or regimental shops. For the rest of you, email Brigadier Mansford at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a copy and be quick - the USMC already has dibs in and if you wait too long.....
Reviewed by Dallas Gavan