Story 55 - Recollection of FSPB Clare 1969


By Trevor Hopper

We started off in convoy from Nui Dat on Operation Hat Dich (July 1969).  Lined up at the side of Kangaroo Pad in front of 104 Signal Squadron lines.  I was the driver, Lt Peter Diddams, Corporal Brian O’Neill and Sig Ken Winsor were in the Landrover.  We had our gear stacked in the back but we had no spare tyre.  I was quietly excited about going on the first operation since coming into 104 Signal Squadron however I was a little scared as I really did not know much about being a radio operator in the bush at this stage.

The convoy set off in the sunshine and we ventured up route QL15 to somewhere near Phu My.  I remember we left the highway on the left side and set up our perimeter and we were left to set up our radios.

We had an Armoured Command Vehicle (ACV) in which to work and we set up our aerial farm near this vehicle.  A small dozer bunded earth around the mobile Command Post (CP) and we had a canvas annexe out the rear of the ACV.   It was quite sultry and after we set up the antennas, Ken Winsor went on radio watch while I was given the job of organising a scrape to sleep in.

Trevor Hopper at FSPB Clare
Trevor Hopper at FSPB Clare
(Photo supplied by Trevor Hopper)

I remember thinking about digging but decided to get the help of the back-hoe in the area with the Engineers.  The driver was obliging and dug me a scrape big enough to fit 2 of us in for the night.  We had some hutchies so I made a roof out of those and filled some sandbags to go around the edge of the scrape.  That was it for the day and then we settled in to work during the night.  I must have had some time in the CP because I remember leaving late at night and Ken Winsor taking over from me.

I ventured in to the dark and fell asleep in the scrape.  I was rudely awoken before dawn the next morning by an almighty explosion and a shuddering-tearing sound over my head.  A mortar had landed near the driver’s rear corner of the Landrover and not 6 feet from our scrape.  I can see clearly in my mind Ken Winsor venturing out from behind the bund around the CP moments after the mortar explosion to see what was happening.  Lucky for him all the shrapnel had gone into the bund except for a couple of pieces which went through the top of the annex on the ACV.

Our hutchies above our scrape were full of holes, reminded me of a pepper shaker there were so many.  It was still dark at this stage so we more or less stood to until it was lighter and then were able to see what had happened.  Evidently the VC had walked mortars across Fire Support Patrol Base (FSPB) Clare and there were some injured within the Infantry but I really do not remember how many or who.  Previously on the afternoon before dark I had met a distant cousin who was with the Infantry at the FSPB.  Whether he was injured or not I do not know to this day.

The Landrover had copped some shrapnel and the rear driver’s side tyre was flat and ripped (photos of which were lost in the following years).  As we did not have a spare tyre I borrowed one from the Artillery guys nearby so that we could move the Landrover.  I remember the Artillery officers flying in and digging up the tail of the mortar to work out where the mortar base plate had been.  I believe that Lt Peter Diddams was given the tail after they had finished with it.

Ken Winsor at FSPB Clare
Ken Winsor with the ACV and Detachment Landrover, with two shrapnel holes in the windscreen, from the motar attack on FSPB Clare  (Photo supplied by Trevor Hopper)

After some discussion that morning we moved to the other side of the road and set up a FSPB Clare in some rice paddies.  I always remember Colonel MacKenzie telling everybody to dig in after what had happened the night previous.  However we were too busy working to get communications going again to dig a scrape and the back-hoe had been taken out by Chinook because the hydraulic hoses had been shattered by shrapnel.  We received a resupply of some hutchies and spare tyre plus other stuff during the day.  I scrounged some sheets of galvanised iron and with the sand bags I had previously filled across the road and brought with me was able to build a small above ground bunker for Ken Winsor and myself. The weather was threatening as it was the rainy season and soon it was raining quite heavily. We worked our shifts on and off during this period and tried to keep dry and get some sleep when not on duty. When the sun was out it was quite hot and had a bite to it because I remember being sunburned on the face, arms and back during this period.

Rain was pretty constant and soon the rice paddy began to run water.  All the holes people had dug to sleep in filled up with water and stuff was floating away.  It was just luck and lack of time that had made Ken and me above ground dwellers that never got flooded however we did get wet quite often.

As far as I remember the rest of our stay at FSPB Clare was work, work and more work and quite uneventful.  On one occasion an Intelligence Officer Major arrived at the CP for some sort of conference and he was another cousin of mine Major Roger Wickham.  I met Roger Wickham again in the late nineties at the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club, Brisbane where he was a member and working behind the bar and so reacquainted myself with him and his part of our family.

At the end of whatever reason we had been at FSPB Clare, Lt  Peter Diddams and I packed up our gear and went back to Nui Dat in convoy.  Corporal O’Neill and Ken Winsor went off with the ACV to some other place further up the highway towards Saigon.

This had been my first job outside the wire of either Nui Dat or the Horseshoe and the first time that my life had been threatened that I knew of.

Trevor Hopper
12th  February 2012


I asked Trevor to write down his recollections for me after the 104 Reunion in 2011 where we had been discussing the Clare mortar incident, and he sent me the above story early in 2012.   I still have the said mortar tail that nearly got us;  It sits close by to remind me, as it has since then, about the fragility of life and how it can change in an instant.  The phone call we received four weeks ago today at 1040pm telling us our son Blaine had been killed in action was just such a moment. Life is very precious and death sits on our shoulder at all times watching on.  Mortars or not some of us are still around to tell the tale of FSPB Clare, and others are not.

RIP Trevor     RIP Blaine

Peter Diddams
30th July 2012

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