Vietnam Letters #1

Way back here I wrote about meeting a bunch of guys from the 8th Battalion; Vietnam Vets who were celebrating a 40th Reunion. What I neglected to say was that one of the Vets, Jock Jamieson, made me an interesting proposition. If I would come to his place in Boggabri, NSW, he would give me a box full of letters from his days in Vietnam, from him to his wife, and hers in return.

Some might think what would be the point? Others are wondering where the hell Boggabri is, as was I. And why, I wondered, would he want to give his letters away to some drunk guy he met in a pub?

I didn’t write anything about it at the time because I didn’t know if I would follow through with my side of the bargain but, as I told the story to a few friends around the traps, the idea of a convoy of cars heading out to the west of Tamworth took hold… for about a minute.

Map

Later, as I drove towards Coonabarabran, the only town in the region I’d heard of before, I reflected on the nature of solitude… and how bloody tedious it is compared to the company of all my good, but hardly intrepid, friends.

I’d already seen a small selection of the letters. Jock had sent me a sample and they made a tantalising read. Buried in the banality of daily missives between a man and his wife were some fascinating insights into life in the era. Jock never wrote about the details of fighting – a woman is too delicate for such things – but the war is ever-present: the privations of life as a soldier in the jungle, the boredom, the lack of sleep and the endless toil. There’s a picture of Jack cleaning a 50mm gun at Nui Dat which you see at the Australian War Memorial by searching for ‘Jock Jamieson’ here.

There’s also a bit of a love story in the letters, between a Scottish farmer’s son and a Lebanese immigrant’s daughter brought together by another war and the Snowy River project.

Sandra and her mother

There’s some good soil around Boggabri, good black alluvial soil suitable for growing all sorts of crops, but Jock Jamieson doesn’t own any of it. There’s also a new coal mine opening up nearby with contracts in Japan for a decade or two and a few new blokes in town giving the local bowlo a faintly twenty-first century feeling.

Ten k’s out of town, not far past the massive cotton gin, down straight and narrow roads lined with cotton fluff like spume and where the soil is suitable for growing woody weeds, there lies hopefully the last residence of Corporal Jock Jamieson, D Company, 8th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (8RAR).

Jock and Sandra

He’s had a few places, you see, and worked them hard, rather than smart, and has little to show for it. He has raised four kids and kept a wife (who he ‘affectionately’ calls ‘me old shit’) and occasionally made good money running cotton chipping crews when the season was good. But he also invested heavily into beef cattle just before the great beef crash a while back and he drinks like a man who needs to forget.

Jock Jamieson

It can be an uncomfortable experience watching an Australian man cry. One might think that 30 odd years would be enough to dim the memories, to heal the wounds, but the minute I asked if Jock would tell me some of the details of his time in ‘Nam, possibly in front of a camera, he was gone and could talk no more.

It’s possible, with a bit more time, that we could have made some progress. I was ready, and so was a part of Jock, the part that knew rationally that bottling up the fear and grief and anger at having been made to kill or be killed was killing him as surely, if not as quickly, as the Vietcong killed his mates who never made it back.

Jock and Sandra in the kitchen

We never got there and, as time wore on, the chances of us forming that sort of trusting relationship grew dimmer by the hour. There’s an enormous gulf between a man like me and one like Jock. Try as I might, there was no penetrating Jock’s legion defences. As the time to leave approached, Jock understandably became a little nervous, wondering who the hell was this guy about to take possession of his and his wife’s most intimate thoughts.

But he kept his side of the bargain, the box of letters is here in my loungeroom and now, some five months after my journey, I begin the task of transcribing them for your edification and hopefully enjoyment.

Letters

Postmark 18th Dec, 1969

218807 Pte Jamieson
R.A.R RFT Wing
Draft P.L.

Tues. Night.

To my dearest Sandra.

Well darling here I am feeling very lonely for you, it isn’t even 24 hours since I left and yet it feels like years, I love you very much Sandra, I am so sorry for the way I left you. I didn’t even get time to say goodbye to you as I wanted to. The damn train was moving before I could say anything or even kiss you which I wanted to so much.

I hope last night wasn’t too bad for you but I suppose if you were like me it was was bloody Hell, could not stop thinking of you and how lonely you are going to be. Darling I’m so sorry for the way I always make you so unhappy, but darling I promise you I will never make you go through what you are about to go through for the next few months or so again unless it is completely out of my control.

The trip down last night was long and cold and ever so lonely for you. I might have had two hours sleep if I was lucky. I got off the train at Liverpool Stn and had to wait half an hour or so for a bus to the camp. It must have been about 5.30 when I got here.

Today I have been busy going and coming from the Q store collecting the rest of my gear, and done my final medical. The Doctor thinks I’m as fit as any one could get. How did the boys get along last night? I hope they were good boys for you.

Any way darling it is getting along towards 6.30pm and I think I will go and have a shower and go out to Jims for a while then I may go to Cullens tomorrow night if I don’t get too tired. I feel quite tired just now but I don’t think I would sleep if I went to bed too early as I would think of you and get myself all upset again.

Hoping this short note finds as much love for me as it takes to you from me.

Yours forever loving husband.

Jock. XXXX

Postmark 22nd Dec, 1969

218807 PTE Jamieson
3PL 9SEC
1ARU AFV.
AFPO 4
GPO Sydney 2890

My Dearest Sandra

Well Darling here it is Saturday and the weather here is beaute, very much the same as in New Guinea. The trip up was very quick mainly because I slept most of the way. We had two stops on the way up, at Darwin and Singerpoor, then of course Saigon.

At the moment I am at NUI DAT where it is quite safe, we are living in tents in a bunker type system. Slept very well last night, you know it is quite hard to think that there is a war on here as its so quite and peacefully, except there are a few planes flying around during the day.

Sandra this will have to be short to-day as I have quite a few things to do yet but I thought you would like to hear from me. By the way, I love you very much dear and am busting to hear from you. I hope every thing is going OK for you, and don’t worry about me for every thing here is like a beach resort. Peter Cockeran is in this camp too, was talking to him last night.

Must close now love.

Loveing you always Sandra.

Jock. XXXX.

218807 PTE Jamieson
3PL 9SEC
1ARU AFV
AFPO 4
GPO Sydney 2890

My Dearest Sandra

Well Darling here it is Saturday night, have only been here a couple of days and it seems like years, very hard to keep track of the days up here as every day is the same. Next Wednesday we start another 2 weeks training here to get used to the country and cliamat.

On the whole it’s not too bad here, the weather is just fine here, I think you would like it too. The meals in this camp are as good as any meal I had back home, even better at times for you get plenty of it. Got a xmass box from the reel X to-day, lot of little extras in it should come in handy too, things like soap, tooth paste, tin boot pollish, paper back book, tin tom piper xmass pudding and so on.

Well my love its getting late and I’ll have to go to bed for a sleep.

Loveing you always Sandra.

Lots of love

Jock.

Postmark 23rd Dec, 1969

218807 Pte Jamieson
3PL 9 Sec
1ARU AFV
AFPO 4
GPO Sydney 2890

My Dearest Sandra,

Here it is Sunday night and I am feeling very lonely for you. Haven’t done much today, only worked half a day, this morning and then had all the afternoon off. Was going to do some washing then write to you but ended up laying on my bed and went to sleep for four hours, it was great for I was very tired mainly from the heat and humidity. At present we are just bumbling about doing general duties until next Wednesday when we start a training course to get us used to the country and so on. How are things going for you anyway? When are you going to go down to your mother’s place? I guess it will be very soon. How are the boys behaving for you? I hope they are good boys for you.

I shall have to finish up now dear as its time for lights out.

Hoping to hear from you soon,

Your ever loving husband,

Jock. xxxx.

Postmark 24th Dec, 1969

Monday Night

9:30

My dearest Sandra,

Just a few short lines to tell you I am still missing you very much and love you. Have not yet received a letter from you but am hoping to get one tomorrow. Today was quite warm, they kept us rather busy today cutting grass around the perimeter wire and around our tent lines, as there is an inspection on in the morning by the Major. I don’t know whether or not you are still at home or whether you are in Canberra, but if I get time I shall write to your Mum and Dad tomorrow night. I must also write to Mum and Dad too. Anyway darling I must close now for if I sit up thinking of you I think I would cry, for that is just the way I feel tonight, very lonely for you and very much in love with you. Please always love me as I will always be thinking of you and loving you.

Your ever loving husband,

Jock. xxx.

Darling if I were with you tonight I would like to make love and be comfort for me.
Sandra I need you so much and love you forever.
Lots of love,
Jock. xxx.

Postmark 24th Dec, 1969

James St
Berridale
NSW

19-12-69

My Darling Jock

Even though it is after 11 o’clock and I am very tired, I felt that I couldn’t go to sleep without writing to you a few lines. I have been trying to find the time to write for the last couple of days, and have been feeling awful because I haven’t even though I haven’t got your address yet.

Let’s hope it comes in tomorrows mail so that I can get this to you, as I am sure you will be looking forward to a letter. If it doesn’t come tomorrow, I will have to wait until it is readdressed and sent to Canberra.

I hope to leave for Canberra as soon as I can get ready after lunch tomorrow. I must admit I am feeling rather nervous at the thought of the trip, but I pray that I will manage alright. I have been thinking that if it doesn’t cost too much, I might take a couple of driving lessons while I am in Canberra.

I didn’t start any packing until about 9 o’clock tonight as I have not been able to do very much all this week as I have been feeling pretty sick, between the flu and the lump in my throat and stomach from missing you and on top of that I have been feeling a bit sick as if I could be pregnant, but gee I hope not. But I did forget to take the pill last Saturday night.

I didn’t get to bed until about 1.15am last night, as Margaret gave me a dress to let down for her. It is a uniform which they have just got up at the Snowy Valley. It was a pretty big job too as it was very short, you could see the tops of her stocking, and I had to let it down as far as possible and put a false hem in it. I think it will still be too short though. Can you imagine Margaret in a mini skirt?

It was wonderful to hear your voice on the phone last night Darling. I wanted to tell you how much I loved you and everything, but it was a bit hard with your mother there. I was shaking like a leaf all the time after I got your telegram as I was so excited about speaking to you.

It was also wonderful to receive your letter in the mail today Honey. I love you my dearest and always will, there will never be anyone else for me. You are all I want, and if anything ever happens to you, I will never marry again, as your memory is all I will need to keep me going.

Well I must finish up for now my Darling and try and get some sleep, if I can. I shall write some more tomorrow.

22-12-69. (Canberra)

Well here I am at last, it has taken me three days to get back to write again, I have either been pretty busy or sick.

I had a good trip down on Saturday, I even surprised myself, it was easier than I thought it would be, and when I got to Canberra I drove straight through to here without any trouble. I came around past the War Memorial way. I left Berridale at about twenty to 3 and arrived here at twenty past five. I stopped in Cooma at Marshall Mugridges for a while, as I had to pick up a parcel there that Jeanette had left, it was Mum & Dad’s Christmas presents.

Gee I hope I get your letter tomorrow, with your address in it, so that I can post this to you.

On Saturday night after I arrived here Bev & Dick came around & played cards, we played 31, but I wasn’t very lucky that night. I lost about 40 cents. Then on Sunday we went to 10 o’clock Mass and then went out to Bungendore & had lunch with Aunty Zerephy and stayed there till about 5.30pm. She is terribly lonely & upset and is working too hard and hardly getting any sleep. Then last night when we got back from there I was too tired & sick & my eyes were very sore, and so I didn’t get back to this letter.

The boys & I have all had sore eyes, but I have been very sick & weak with it too. When I got up this morning one eye was closed right up and I bathed it and eventually got it open but it has been half closed all day. I have been very weak all day but am feeling a bit better to-night. I went over the street this morning & bought your mother & father Christmas presents as Maggie is going to take them up, when she goes to-morrow. I brought your mother a set of doyleys & father a Christmas pudding.

I went to bed this afternoon, when the boys went. I hope I feel a bit better to-morrow, so that I can do a bit of work.

But anyway Darling how are you and how are things over there? I know that my troubles must be very small to what yours are. I have been saying a prayer for you as often as I can.

Well it is very late so I must finish up now and hope that I can post this to you to-morrow. You have all my love forever Darling.

(Tues) 23-12-69

I just received your letter Darling, so I will finish this off and post it straight away.

From your ever loving wife

Sandra XXXXXX

P.S. Mum and Dad have asked me to stay here while they go on their trip to Tasmania to look after their garden so I will probably be here until about the middle of January.

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