Story 87 - An Englishman at Nui Dat

By Anthony 'Tony' Sexton



At the age of 19 I became a ’10-pound Pom’ arriving in Melbourne in April 1961 to became a ‘Trammie’ taking fares on the Camberwell to Princess Bridge tram run.

Not enjoying the work or weather I left that job and headed to the sun in Queensland, unfortunately there was a recession on and I was unable to find employment.

Army Enlistment

There was nothing for it but to apply to join the Army.  I was accepted, did my basic training at Kapooka, Corp training at the School of Signals and not wanting to be an ‘Op Sig’ as offered I was posted as a storeman to 101 Wireless Regiment at Cabarlah near Toowoomba, Queensland.  The Regiment was renamed later 7 Signal Regiment.

After over four years at the Regiment, I was posted to 104 Signal Squadron in Wacol.  The Unit was raised to replace 103 Signal Squadron in South Vietnam in April 1967.   The posting was on promotion as the Technical Stores Sergeant.

In November 1966 I was very lucky to arrive safely at my new unit after hitching a ride with another soldier driving to Brisbane.  He drove in a very dangerous and reckless manner and we were lucky to arrive in one piece.   Sadly, he was killed a few weeks later in a car crash.

I settled in at the unit before taking annual leave, going by train to Perth.   As I didn’t have any relatives in Australia, I was able to nominate somebody in Australia as my next of kin (NOK).  I nominated Al Winter’s father my NOK, who had a dairy farm at Busselton, WA.  This gave me an additional 10 days leave each year plus travel allowance.

The trip turned out to be very eventful, as the train was held up by floods for four days at Rawlinna on the Nullarbor and then a fire in the buffet car on arrival in Kalgoorlie.

Training for War

In January 1967 back at Wacol, I was involved in moving stores and equipment to a Shoalwater Bay Training Area near Rockhampton where the unit was to take part in an exercise called Barra Winga to prepare units for service in South Vietnam.  Sleeping in a hole in the ground was not very comfortable but I did learn how to enjoy warm XXXX beer and tinned sausages. At the conclusion of the exercise, I was in charge of moving stores and equipment to Canungra. 

104 Sig Sqn   104 Sig Sqn
Photo (Left):  Tony Sexton on Ex Barra Winga.   Supplied by Tony Sexton.
Photo (Right):  Tony’s Stores Tent, Ex Barra Winga
Supplied by Tony Sexton.

The Jungle Training Centre at Canungra in Southern Queensland was formed in 1942 to train troops for jungle combat in the South West Pacific area during WW2.  In 1954 the facility was reopened in response to the Communist threat, the centre having been closed after the war.  Following the commitment of Australian personnel to South Vietnam, the Centre ramped up its programs as 10,000 soldiers rotated through Canungra.  It was now my turn and after spending most of my Army service at the ‘Country Club’ disguised as an army unit at 7 Signal Regiment, the experience proved very challenging!

The training at the Jungle Training Centre, supposedly the best in the world, lasted 4 weeks and consisted of training in all aspects of jungle warfare.  Map reading exercises up and down mountains, moving on our stomachs under the barbwire with live ammunition flying overhead, jumping from a great height in full kit and rifle into a deep waterhole, climbing trees and along a horizonal rope and other forms of torture, were all part of this wonderful experience!!

My first meeting with Major Lawrence, the OC of the Squadron, was when I was marched in on a charge of returning late from a day’s leave at Surfers Paradise.  I was admonished, marched out and then marched back in to be promoted to Sergeant. 

South Vietnam

I left Canungra early before the rest of the unit and was part of a small contingent sent to Vietnam to prepare for the units’ arrival about 10 days later.  My main task was to work alongside the Q personnel from 103 Signal Squadron that we were replacing and conducted stocktake of all stores and equipment’s.  My memory is that I had to then sign for the stores as the QM Officer for 104 Signal Squadron had not yet arrived in country.  With some trepidation I did this hoping that I would not have to pay for any discrepancies.

Flying by Ansett to Darwin and then into Saigon in a very noisy C130 Hercules and thence to Nui Dat by a DHC-4A Carabou aircraft - saw me safely at my destination in South Vietnam.

104 Sig Sqn
Photo:  Tony outside a Bar in Vung Tau.   Supplied by Tony Sexton.

I was to serve only 7 months in Vietnam as my discharge was due in December 1967 and I wished to return to the UK to catch up with family, friends and do some travelling.

My duties while at Nui Dat included care and maintenance of technical stores, keeping all items well stocked, guard duty and morning parade were also part of the routine.  A weekly trip to Baria to deliver and collect unit laundry and purchase Vietnamese rolls (I now buy them from a Vietnamese bakery in Dianella, Perth).  I often drove to Vung Tau to pick up stores and supplies.

104 Sig Sqn
Photo:  104 Sig Sqn vehicle at  the Baria Laundry.  Supplied by Tony Sexton.

I had access to American stores units where I could choose from a range of equipment’s, even clothing, to take back to Nui Dat.  The US Army PX was also available and I bought grog and cigarettes for the Sergeants Mess of which I was Bar Member.  The PX was a treasure trove of goodies such as vodka, rum and other spirits, flavoured cigars, chocolates, electrical goods, watches and playboy magazines, all at very low prices.

I received my Australian Citizenship just before leaving Vietnam hence the title of my story ‘An Englishman at Nui Dat’.

The Lighter Side of War

False Alarm:  I had been in Vietnam a few days and having a quiet beer in the Sergeants Mess when the siren sounded which I took to mean we were under attack.  I grabbed my weapon and raced over to the defensive weapon pit behind my tent and on the perimeter wire.  The pit was full of leaves and God knows how many snakes!  Throwing caution to the wind I jumped into the pit, cocked my M16 rifle and waited – Nothing.  I then heard voices and laughter coming from the mess, deciding to see what was happening, I went back to the mess.  Walking into the mess I was greeted with much merriment and told that the siren was only a practise to make sure that it worked.

Snake Story 1:   One day I was having an outside bucket shower (the water was kept in jerry cans and was boiling hot in the hot weather and cold in the cool weather) when somebody shouted from the top of a small mound that a large snake was heading my way.  I shouted back that the snake was heading back to him, but I still hurried back to my tent in case it returned.

Snake Story 2:   One day we had a visit from a civilian intelligence fellow who we entertained in the mess one evening.  After a few drinks he soon came back to his tent to turn in for the night. He soon back with a very large snake, he told us that on entering the tent he noticed a large mound on the stretcher which on closer inspection he realized was a snake.  Being an old bushy, he quickly killed the snake.  I’m glad it was not me!

Strine:  After 6 months in South Vietnam, I was eligible for R & R and I chose to go to Singapore.  I flew from Nui Dat to Saigon where with a few other Australians I joined US servicemen on an American troop aircraft to Singapore.  While waiting in Saigon we were able to convince our American cousins that we were interpreters for the Australian Army (Australians did not speak English!), John Zeller was the ringleader but we all joined in using ‘Strine’, Aussie colloquialisms and slang, we were very convincing (this was a couple of decades before the book ‘Lets Talk Strine’ was published)!

Singapore R & R

On arrival in Singapore Ken Trewartha was my guide to the sites, sights and delights of Singapore including Buqis Street (where I bought a beer for Singapore Annie or somebody claiming to be her) and the Kangaroo Club on Collyer Quay.  I also met up with a number of people from 121 Signal Squadron that I knew from Cabarlah.

Returning Home

On my return to Nui Dat I only had a few weeks to go before my six years’ service expired and I flew back to Australia.  This was to prove the most frighting experience in all my time in South Vietnam.

Arriving at the airfield, I was the last to climb aboard and had to sit in the rear next to the open rear door.  No worries – I’m sure they will close the door when we take off – wrong!  The plane taxied along the runway until it had enough speed to take off.  When this was achieved the plane lifted off – vertically, still with the door open.  I was only held by the seat strap and I drifted toward the open door – the most frightening event in my life (I’m 80 now so I suppose there is still time for something more frightening to happen)!

We landed at Tan Son Nhat Airport, at the time the busiest in the world, with my heart still thumping and my hands shaking.  Flying Qantas from Saigon and landing in Sydney in the early hours, going straight to an early opening pub to calm my still frayed nerves.

I complete my medical and administrative procedures at Wacol and pronounced fit to rejoin the civilian population.

Army Mates

Mates for Life 1:  In April 1968, I set sail for England on the ‘Ellinis’ via Wellington, Tahiti, Panama Canal and Curacao.  I was to spend 18 months in Europe working and touring Scandinavia, Russia and Eastern Europe before hitting the Hippie Trail. Starting in Norway a mate and I hitched and used public transport through Europe and Asia taking in Iran and Afghanistan along the way.  I flew from Calcutta to Bangkok where I ran out of money.  A loan from the Australian Embassy got me to Signgapore where I was taken into custody as I was penniless.  Bomber Brown and Jack Morgan from 121 Signal Squadron bailed me out by lending me the money to fly to Darwin.  As I was very sick John Melandri and his wife Anita very kindly put me up for two weeks until I was well enough to fly.  Hitching from Darwin to Adelaide ended my Hippie adventure.

104 Sig Sqn
Photo:  RHMS Ellinis, The ‘Greek Lady’.
  Internet Source.

Mates for Life 2:   On my return to Australia in 1972 (more on this later in the narrative) with my wife Rosalie we arrived in Sydney with me very sick with hepatitis and both of us without employment, my old mate George Pardon and his wife Ros very kindly welcomed us into their home until we were back on our feet.  Note.  Ros and George also welcomed me into their home all the time I was with 7 Signal Regiment in Toowoomba.

Mates for Life 3:   At the age of 80 and living in Perth does not give me much opportunity to catch up with old army mates but there are a few we visited and correspond with:  Bob and Dorn Lean – George and Ros Pardon – John and Anita Melandri – John and Dulcie Zeller – Roy and Annette Grace – All befriended this Pommy a long way from home. 

To Army mates past and present, thank you for your friendship.


The skills that I learnt in the Army set me up for future work and travel.

During the 18 months I was in England in 1968 I worked as an Aircraft Baggage Handler, Automotive Spares Delivery Driver and Program Co-ordinator for Plessey.

I have already told you about my return to Australia to as far as Adelaide where I stayed with an uncle.  It was then onto Sydney where I worked as a storeman at Ansett during the day and cleaning offices at night to repay my debt to Jack Morgan.  My next employment was Warehouse Manager for a large American construction company in PNG.  I spent 9 months on Bougainville and 9 months at Mt Hagen before with 3 others a trip was planned to travel overland through Africa from Cape Town to London.  We sailed from Sydney stopping at Perth on the way to Singapore and Cape Town.  In Perth, my future wife Rosalie boarded and after a shipboard romance we subsequently got engaged in Johannesburg and married soon after my arrival in London! (Rosalie worked as a Nursing Sister in Johannesburg).  The Trip up the east coast of Africa and across to Nigeria and up through the Sahara took about 4 months and we accomplished this in a VW Kombi Van.

After time in England with my family and a visit from Rosalie’s Mother and Father and a honeymoon on Corfu, it was time to head back to Australia to create a life together and raise a family.

Our first home together was at Manly with Rosalie working as a Theatre Sister at a private hospital and me as Warehouse Manager for Dymo Corporation.  After 9 months it was time to move to Perth to be near Rosalie’s family and luck would have it the WA State manager for Dymo gave his notice and I was offered the job, which I gratefully accepted, staying in that position for 18 years.  I then joined a friend as the Sales, Marketing and Administration manager for his small printing company that we built into one of the larger printing companies in Perth.  Rosalie continued a very successful career in nursing, mainly for the Cerebral Palsy Association.  We have two children, Nicola and Peter and three grandchildren, Julia, James and Amelia


Rosalie and I and sometimes with the children have travelled extensively to Europe, America and Asia including three trips to Vietnam that Rosalie and I thoroughly enjoyed.  The first trip was a tour from Ho Chi Min City (renamed Saigon) to Hanoi, the second was with friends hiring a Transit van with guide and driver travelling from Hanoi to the far north including Dien Bien Phu (location of a decisive Vietnamese military victory over the French) and the Chinese border and the third trip was a few days in Ho Chi Min City and longer in Hanoi, a city we really enjoy.

104 Sig Sqn
Photo:  Tony and Rosalie – 50
th Wedding Anniversary.

In retirement and because of COVID we enjoy travelling far and wide in our home state.

Tony Sexton,
Perth, Western Australia
June 2022

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