“What did you do in the war, daddy?”
How many children have asked their fathers this question for thousands of years? Most could answer truthfully. But because of the security blackout the government imposed on them, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) ghost warriors who fought a secret war in Thailand to support the troops in Viet Nam have had to be silent for 40 years.
Each airman served a minimum of 6 months in Ubon, Thailand, near the Laotian border. When they arrived back home it was to find that no one was interested in their war. Many Australians didn’t even believe our troops were in Thailand. Yet more than 2,400 personnel served there between May 1962 and August 1968.
The Australian Federal Government insisted until the Mohr Review in 1999 that the Ubon base was part of the Far East Strategic Reserve, which was active before 1963 in Malaya.
Because of this, the government claimed that the veterans were not entitled to Vietnam war support benefits. When the vets started submitting petitions to the government for recognition and benefits, they pointed out that Malaya was a long way from Ubon and in another country.
Malaya, or Malaysia as it has since been called, did not want anything to do with the Vietnam War either. It certainly didn’t want to have the Sabre fighters based in Butterworth involved in the war. For that reason, the Sabres flew on changeover from Butterworth to Ubon and back tucked under the wings of C-130 re-supply planes so that they could not be detected by radar. Deceit was a constant feature of the federal government’s policy throughout the Vietnam war years, and ever since.
RAAF vets who served in Ubon have suffered various disabilities since returning home. But the federal government refused to recognize for many years that these troops qualified for medical help. Some even died as a result, ignored, unacknowledged, and neglected.
Surviving veterans unearthed files to support petitions to the government for benefits and recognition when the statute of limitations ran out on the Freedom of Information Act. The vets claimed they had been denied equal recognition for their service in a war zone.
Mike Holt (A111874) was sitting up the back with the Aussies!
They were not the only ones who were ignored either. Australian Defense Force (ADF) troops who took part in Malayan Emergency operations, and others who were on active service during the Indonesian Confrontation, returned home to the same treatment from an ungrateful country.
In 1999 the Australian Federal Government commissioned an independent commission to review these petitions. The Mohr Review, headed by Judge Robert Mohr of South Australia, reviewed anomalies in the service entitlements for ADF troops who had served in Asian war zones. This was the 4th commission set up to review the vet’s petitions.
The 1992 CIDA report ruled that RAAF vets in Ubon qualified for warlike service benefits. The government refused to act on it.
Judge Mohr found ample evidence to support the vet’s claims and wrote a strong recommendation to the federal government. This finally convinced the Australian government to honor them with a package of benefits, including medals and pensions to the survivors.
Although the Australian government has awarded the Australian Active Service Medal to those who served after 1965, it seems the award may actually be invalid. The laws that govern who can be awarded that medal state that it is only awarded after receiving a campaign medal. The Ubon vets have not yet been awarded a campaign medal.
In addition, the vets are fighting to get the Vietnam Logistic & Support Medal. By awarding this medal, the federal government would at last acknowledge that the Ubon vets were supporting active service troops in Viet Nam.
Compare this to the attitude of the Thai people. Recently, His Majesty King Bumiphol Adulyadej heard about the plight of the RAAF vets who served bravely to protect Thailand during those dangerous years. To show the Thai nation’s gratitude, His Majesty gave permission to the Ubon veterans to cast a 40th Anniversary Medal. The medal is worn with pride by all those who served at Ubon Ratchathani between May 1962 and August 1968.
Despite the awards and benefits the Australian government has grudgingly given since the Mohr Review, the vets feel there is still much to be done. For years the Australian government was reluctant to acknowledge that their service in Ubon was in support of the Viet Nam war. And by ignoring our plight it was obvious the politicians hoped we would all die off before they were forced to act.
But was it just for the money involved, or does it go deeper?
WHAT WENT ON IN UBON
The Ubon base was there for 2 reasons: To gather SigInt (signals intelligence) and pass it to Canberra and to CIA communications centers in the Pacific and the USA, and to support USAF aircraft and the air and ground defense of Thailand. This support released more USAF aircraft for use in operations like “Rolling Thunder”, the massive, continuous bombing of North Vietnam during 1967.
This was not what the Australian federal government said officially, but that is certainly what the RAAF boys were doing there. Nor would the Thai government at the time admit that it gave support to US and RAAF forces based in Thailand for fear of reprisal from NVN and possibly China. Yet, there were several huge USAF bases dotted around the country, mostly in the north east. The CIA also maintained a base at U-Tapao on the Gulf of Siam. All were involved in supporting the war in Vietnam.
The RAAF base at Ubon was a tiny, but vital cog in the war machine.
Officially, the Australian government to this day insists that the RAAF was in Ubon only for the ‘Air Defense of Thailand’!
It seems that after all these years they are still afraid of having embarrassing secrets revealed about their involvement in the Vietnam war.
A DANGEROUS WAR
Life on the base was hell. The US Air Force was sending off several F4C Phantom fighter bombers to bomb Viet Nam at least every 20 minutes around the clock. The Australian base was about 200 meters from the runway, so all RAAF personnel were deafened by the roar of afterburners at full throttle every time a flight took off. Nervous disorders and hearing problems are common among the vets as a result.
These are not the most serious illnesses that can be attributed to serving in Ubon. Many Ubon vets have suffered slow chemical poisoning as a result of the poor controls on how chemicals were used around the base.
For example, one of the troops assigned to fill a water tanker with drinking water for the troops reported he was ordered to use the same tanker to transport insecticides. Even though the tanker was supposed to be cleaned out before changing cargos it was extremely difficult to remove all traces of the chemicals. Using the same tanker to transport drinking water was an irresponsible act, and a clear health hazard for the troops. But no one in the Australian government at the time cared.
Since then the vets have had a hard time persuading the federal government to accept that the disabilities some of them suffer today were caused by these dangerous chemicals. Some have even died as a result. Illnesses include cancers, palsy, diabetes, and abnormal births, to name a few.
A number of veterans, both US and Australian, are on record as having seen drums of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D in the distinctive banded drums that were used to store a rainbow of defoliants and herbicides. Subsequent scientific research has confirmed that these chemicals are responsible for deaths, deformities, and diseases in Vietnamese and among veterans, like the lady pictured on the left.
Add to this the living huts, or hooches as we called them, made of corrugated iron. WW II Japanese POW camps would have been more comfortable in comparison, as they were mostly made of bamboo.
We sweltered inside the tin ovens during the hot season, or we were kept awake during the wet season by the rain belting down on the bare tin roof.
The weather was typical of north eastern Thailand: A relentless hot sun that beat down on the tin roofs making it impossible for night shift personnel to sleep. There was no air conditioning, just a few feeble fans hanging from the ceiling. Add the torment of not being able to sleep because of the almost constant noise of flights of F4C planes taking off and landing, and life was hell.
The only people on the base who enjoyed any comfort were the guys in the communications hut, which was sandbagged and air-conditioned.
The hooches were regularly sprayed by fogging machines containing Dioxin and Dieldren diluted with diesoline to keep the mosquitoes down. The Thais doing this job thought it a great joke to fog unsuspecting sleepers. Some troops have suffered various disabilities as a result.
Sandbags were essential. The communist forces knew the RAAF boys were there and often tried to put them out of commission. One of their favorite tricks was to site half a dozen mortar tubes in the jungle near the base aimed at strategic areas. It was easy for them to wander by any time with a few shells and drop them in. They could disappear long before anyone got there to investigate.
All the RAAF troops were called to action stations whenever flights of communist helicopters approached the base. They were usually chased off by the US Air Force. But in 1969 when the RAAF had already evacuated their base, a communist attacking force actually made it through the air defenses and flew over the area where the Aussies had been to attack the US base.
In 1967 the communists set up an artillery gun a few miles away outside Ubon town in the jungle, ready to start pounding the bases. They never got to fire it because the USAF spotted it while they were setting up and bombed it out of existence. These were not isolated incidents, but part of an ongoing campaign to put the allies out of action. — AAT Riley, para 7
Damaged aircraft were a danger too. In 1967 during an F4C Phantom flamed out on takeoff and exploded at 3 a.m. A group of RAAF boys playing poker in their billet near the runway were knocked to the floor by the blast. Then the shrapnel started dropping on them. One piece about 2 feet square smashed through the roof of the base infirmary and buried itself in the wall just above the doctors head. If he had sat up suddenly he would have been decapitated. The piece of shrapnel was subsequently displayed above the bar for all to see.
In 1968 a USAF Cessna O-2 FAC aircraft had an engine cut out on take off and crashed into the ‘Fuel Farm’ fence about 10 meters from the Aussie base. RAAF air defense guards could not save the pilots befor the plane caught fire, trapping the crew inside. A few feet higher and the plane would have crashed into the fuel farm with disastrous results for those on the RASF base.
That same year another aircraft slewed sideways off the runway into the area where the RAAF boys played soccer. It was pure luck that the plane didn’t do any serious damage. The danger was always there and very real.
Another Phantom landed with one hung up undercarriage. The pilot lost control and the rear bombardier ejected sideways into a tree stump near the runway. The pilot ejected a moment later into the runway. He had to be scraped off the cement.
Despite the overwhelming evidence from a wide variety of veteran sources, the DVA continues to deny that any RAAF deaths occurred, or that many of the illnesses we suffer from were caused by our service in a war zone.
Secrecy was tight during those years. All the Allied governments involved tried to keep their activities secret, especially from their own troops. It was only when the veterans started meeting each other at reunions and through the internet that a larger picture emerged. It’s not a pretty one. No wonder our governments didn’t want anyone to know what they were up to.
Interestingly, the veterans searching through the mountain of documents for information on their service are finding that large chunks of it have disappeared. If you want to find the dental records of everyone who was posted to Ubon, no problem. But important information like commanding officers reports and messages handled by the communications center are missing. Other documents like medical bulletins sent to the doctors serving there appear to be lost as well. The vets find this not only very frustrating, but strange too. Why are documents suddenly disappearing like this so long after the event? Do they contain embarrassing information the government would like to suppress?
It appears that some identities have been erased as well. There is the case of one vet (the writer of this article) who had a top secret clearance for his work in the Ubon communications room. Years after his service he wrote to RAAF radio school to request a copy of his education records. They wrote back and said that all his documents had been destroyed when the school moved from Victoria to Wagga Wagga in New South Wales.
He thought it was strange that they could supply details of his examination results, but not his education records. Why would they destroy records just because they were moving locations?
When this same veteran left the RAAF a few years after serving in Ubon the Federal Police followed him everywhere he went.
About one year after he got out his girlfriend got a job in Darwin. They decided to hitchhike up there from Sydney. They used cash during the trip so there was no paper trail. This was not intentional. They just didn’t have credit cards.
The Feds lost the veteran and went frantic going to his friends, neighbors and family trying to find out where he was. When he returned to Sydney six months later his friends were not too happy with him. They were tired of being harassed by the Feds.
Shortly afterwards the couple went to New Zealand. When he returned four years later he realized that the Feds were still watching him. He was grilled at immigration control about what he had been doing in New Zealand. Was this security, paranoia, or harassment?
Veterans searching for information that could be used to bolster their claims cases often find it is doubly difficult, because there seems to be no standard search criteria they can use. Documents are stored under labels that don’t seem to bear any relation to their content. Files have been put in the wrong locations. Sifting through them is a nightmare.
Despite this, enough facts have emerged to force the Australian government to give the Ubon ghost warriors and other ADF members partial recognition and support. But the vets claim not enough has been done yet.
War is a serious business, especially when you are fighting a secret war. The Australian federal government denied its own veteran’s pleas for medical and financial support for much too long. During the war it authorized the use of toxic poisons without taking proper precautions. It also supported illegal operations inside the borders of countries Australia was not officially at war with. These are all shameful acts that must be rectified and paid for. It’s the least the brave men and women who served in Ubon deserve after all these years.
I was stationed at Ubon from June of 65 until June of 66. We set up a base radio station for the troops. Some of the Aussie troops were DJ’s in the station. Here’s a link to my webpage
This is dedicated for all those who served , both in Butterworth, Malaya, and also 79 sqdn at Ubon, Thailand.
It is quite a long and detailed story of my own time at both these bases, all fact and as it transpired, and for those who may be interested.
The National War Memorial heard of my journal, and requested a copy. I have since been to Canberra, have requested the journal at the info desk, and within a few moments, they produced it. So it does exist and you only have to ask to view it from their archives.
I have titled it,….A SHARPIES POINT OF VIEW. No 3and 77 Sqdn, Butterworth, Malaya. And 79 Sqdn Ubon
My service mustering was Aircraft Electrical Serviceman, and my 12 years of services the best years of my life.
Good morning Dave. My late uncle served in the RAAF in Malaya then Ubon with 79 squadron.
His name is Harry James Burke A23788 and he was a sgt and retired from the Airforce as a Warrant Officer in 1981.
I think it is a shame that Ubon and Malaya are not well known in the history books.
Thankyou for your service.
Could someone please help me with some information. My late uncle who I never got to meet in person but got the chance to talk to him by phone told me of his RAAF service.
He spent 36 years in the raaf and also served in Ubon 1960 till 1963.
Could someone please tell me what medals my late would have been awared for Ubon?
We need his name and service number if you have it.
Thankyou for replying. Sorry i do not have my late uncle service number and my late grandfather who was also in the RAAF 2 ACS 1951-1957. My late grandfather was Aircralfman Edumd Roy Burke A23726 told me very little about my uncle.
I could have the years wrong but it may have been 1962 till 1965 that my uncle was in Ubon.
The details i have of my late uncle is as followed. Jim Burke Enlisted 1951 and discharged as a Warrant Officer. Sorry the year he was discharged i do not know.
My late grandfather said to me he was a SGT in Ubon .
He was first posted to Malaya and then 79sqd made its way up to Ubon.
I was also told by late granddad my uncle had a long row of medals and inculding the Order of Australia medal.
My late uncle had a number of postings including the royal Australian navy.
Thankyou once again.
I just knew him as Uncle Jim so maybe Jim Burke or James Burke. My late grandfather said he was a sgt in ubon and his first posting with 79 squardon was in Malaya and they moved from there up to Ubon.
My late grandfather was in 2ACS RAAF from 1951 till 1957 and was posted to Momote Island.
Thankyou once again for helping me.
Sorry i do not know his service number but his name is Jim burke and sorry but I think his service in ubon was 1962 till 1965. He did 36 years in RAAF . He was a sgt in Ubon .thankyou
Good morning. Just a few weeks ago i did find my late Uncle rank and service number.
He was a sgt in Ubon and his service number is A23788. He was discharged in 1981 as Warrant Officer.
His name was Harry James Burke. Thankyou. Reguards James.
Hi, John Jeffreys reporting. I was on the 2nd load into Ubon in 1962, I cannot recall any trenches or SLR’s being handed out on arrival. Ubon was an Operational Base at this time. I was back in Ubon in 1966 , I was a CPL RAAF Police, without warning 12 CPL RAAFPOL and one Sgt were attached to Ubon as ADG’s. ADG’s did not come to Ubon till September 1966. We were responsible for the security of the Base until the ADG’s arrived in SEP 66. In 1965 Ubon became a War Zone, thus I have the RFAS Medal and the Ubon medal organized by Mal Barns @ Dr Knox. I went back in 1968 when the Base was closed, to do much vetting on airmen who wished to marry Thai girls. I will attemp to attach a photo of our living quaters in 1962, we had bamboo beds no mattress just a blanket. Came home to Australia with a black, and bruised back. Any questions, I have it on paper.
Hello Mr Jeffreys, I was looking for information on Ubon and found this site. I believe my father, Keith Howkins, may have served along side you at Ubon and other RAAF postings. Regards Jeff Howkins
I am a Ubon/Vung Tau/Phang Rang and Butterworth Vet was in Ubon Nov 67-May68, SVN Mar69-Mar70 and Butterworth 71-Dec72. I was an LAC and was posted from RAAF Darwin straight to Ubon via C130A via RAF Changi . I was employed in the Commcen and lived in the tin hut behind the Commcen, we had to start the generator each morning so we had power for our equipment, we took turns staying in the Commcen when we shut down the Comms at night so no aircon at all times (it was officially for the equipment) stinking hot with all the sandbags around us.. I was posted to Pearce in May 68 only lasted 9 months and was off to SVN 12 months there and then to HQOC Glenbrook 15 months later off to RAAF Butterworth. Ended up doing 20 years and retired as a FSGT CommsOp after being a Teleg.
Hi Terry. I was best man at your wedding , good to see your comments on Ubon I was posted there from may to later in 68 . I still remember the good times we had at laverton and pearce , lost contact with most of you guys when I was posted to Hong Kong 69 to 71. A lot of the comments and conditions at Ubon bring back a lot of memories , best wishes to you and yours. Peter Dinneen
Sorry Peter missed your reply from 2021, I hope you are still kicking, we are going well, only skin cancers and PTSD plus old age still married, Best wishes.
Hi Terry and Peter, my father James (Jim) Philip O’Brien aka Obie ((Service No A1848) posted to Ubon Nov 1966 to May 1967. He also posted to Hong Kong 1969 to 1971 or 1972 (I was 1 year old to 3 or 4 year old, both my sisters born in Hong Kong). Pearce base was home base for him. Dad been dead for over 15 years now, hope you have some stories about him. Thank you for your service. Janelle O’Brien.
You’ve used one of my personal photos on your site.It’s not a problem, however I would like to be credited with the photo or please remove it.It is the photo of Hootch T670
Hi, does anyone remember my father Kevin White who was in Ubon Thailand in 1967. He said he was guarding the Airstrip. He cancer March 2019. I have very little information about his service and are struggling to get info from DVA.
Do you know the dates he was there Donna? I was there from Jan to July 1967. Sorry to hear about your father’s cancer. It’s not uncommon for us vets because they were spraying Agent Orange around the US and RAAF bases then.
Donna, I was there from Jan to July 1967. Do you have a picture of Kev from around that time? It might job my memory. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org if you can.
Hi Donna, I replaced Kevin at Ubon in 1967. It was my second tour and I had worked with Kevin
at Fairbairn A.C.T. before our subsequent travels to Thailand. Kevin was a quiet fellow and most likeable. A bit of a larrikin at times but with a quick mind. Sorry to hear he has passed. I have returned to Thailand many times since those days, have coached English in a school at Ubon and raised money for the local Catholic orphanage. Very gratifying. I too have cancer now and it well may be from the Dreaded Agent Orange. However, I am still here and intend to be for some time yet. People write about the Phantom 4C that blew up on take off in the early hours of the morning April ’67. I was awake and heard small arms fire just prior to the explosion. I believe the aircraft was fired upon by culprits unknown. We were often awoken at odd hours, told to prepare for an attack but no weapons issued. Would have taken hours to issue anyway. The whole thing was a nonsense. Still, most such conflicts are. Conceived by fools, led by idiots and denied by those responsible.
I, too, was there at the time Donna and Jim, working in the Communications Center. I remember a Phantom blowing up in the early morning hours as we were playing cards and had shrapnel raining down on the roof. I also remember that the base Doctor was woken by the noise and sat up just before a large piece of the aircraft crashed through his roof into his pillow where he had been lying a moment before. Not sure if that is the incident you are referring to, but we had a few Phantoms crash while I was there. I also remember being called out when the base was supposed to have been attacked, but nothing happened. We just sat behing our sandbags wondering what was going on.
My father was at what he called Hush Hush , I am gathering it was to do with the Ubon and before Vietnam war was known from what I have read ? My parents had 3 children before he went , all healthy, and I was born after with a turned eye and bicuspid aortic valve He never would say what happened and he came home a very different person who drank heavily and was violent, he died of cancer
I served at Ubon from early Nov ’67 to mid may ’68 as an MTD working much of that time on refueling tankers and was speaking to PLTOFF Mark McGrath RAAF 79SQN at the revetments just prior to him departing on that fateful flight that resulted in his death on final approach to Ubon, a very sad occasion as I was also a responder to the crash site assisting the medics (Bob Sinclair and others) with the recovery of Mark McGrath and the recovery of the remains of the aircraft. also tolerating the conditions in the living huts was somewhat unpleasant a lot of the time. With regard to the 2,4,5-T it was sprayed along some fence lines as a defoliant, one of concern was the fence separating the fuel farm from our hut line just a metre and a half away from the huts. I hasten to add that I certainly enjoyed working with all my fellow airmen that I came in contact with over my tenure at Ubon.
On Tuesday 13 March 2018 at 0900 at Wing 21 HQ of the Royal Thai Air Force, RTAF Base Ubon Ratchathani, a memorial to PLTOFF Mark McGrath RAAF 79SQN will be unveiled by the Australian Defence Attache CAPT Smith RAN.
PLTOFF McGrath was killed 3 January 1968 when his Sabre suffered a major engine failure whilst on late finals to runway 05 at Ubon. PLTOFF McGrath`s aircraft was too low to effect a successful ejection and he died on impact.
LEST WE FORGET
RE. W/O D Hadfield’s post about P/O M McGrath’s Sabre crash 3.1.68 at Ubon!!!!!
Can W/O Hadfield please supply me with any more info…. i.e. who organised this?
Who paid for this? Did D^D help etc?
I presume that this memorial is placed opposite Wing HQ in the little ‘park’ area where the RAAF Contingent ‘plaque’ used to be before it was stolen!
Can W/O Hadfield pass any more light on this matter for me.
Hi Dave Looking for a way to contact you (Rtd Raaafie in Bangkok) would love to find out more about the memorial plaque Can you drop a line to email@example.com Cheers Chris
Good to hear comments on Ubon, it certainly didn’t get many, (publicly) at the time, I was in the first group to go to Ubon. We went via Bangkok – I wrote an article about our adventures in Bangkok and Ubon and it appeared in the RAAF Radschool Magazine. Click on the link or copy and paste it on a new page to read all about it. http://www.austradesecure.com/radschool/Vol24/Page14.htm
I bought a few years ago a collection of historic world photography and started today to catalogue the photos as I’ll show them in 2020 in an exhibition.
I just opened one pack and found a photograph of
005_PIC-N14 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | PTE Ray Mitchell
005_PIC-N15 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | PTE Leslie Taylor “Squizzy”
005_PIC-N16 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | PTE Graham Erickson (QLD), PTE John Thornycroft, Sydney,
SGT Phil Dixon, Sydney, L/C Merv Butler
005_PIC-N18 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | PTE Ray Mitchell, SGT Phil Dixon, Sydney, L/C Merv Butler
005_PIC-N19 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | CPL Freddie Morrison
005_PIC-N20 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | CPL Freddie Morrison, PTE Geo..??? Newman patrolling “The Rubber”
005_PIC-N21 | CAT-NO-5_Vietnam-1965 | CPL Freddie Morrison, Captain Peter Rothwell, Sydney
Can you please help to get a print to the soldiers if still alive or to their family?Thank you for your help!
would just like to say thank you for telling the mostly unknown and barely ack’ed story of the ADF in Ubon.
My uncle Gordon Hampson was posted to Butterworth in the early 60’s as a gunnie and subsequently deployed to the Ubon theatre from there. Sadly he passed in Sept 2015 with cancer – directly attributable to his service.
Would also like to give a huge shout out to all of the wonderful chaps who served with Gordon that he used to march with in Sydney on ANZAC Days till he passed. What an amazing bunch of chaps they are and I do hope someone is capturing their stories and recollections to share with more than their immediate families. Theirs is a history that must not be lost to future generations and we all need to ensure proper recognition by the Australian Government even if posthumously.
Cheers and thanks again,
Hi, my name is Robin Denman, I was one of the first of the 20 sent on the first Herc, from Butterworth to Ubon, on the 31MAY62.. Some may remember me as I was the CPL responsible for handing out the 303 Rifles, Ammunition, Shovels etc., on the night of our first scare and having to dig our “Fox Holes”. I was also responsible for setting up the showing of our first Movies screened onto the back of a Truck Canopy with a white sheet taped across it. I sure other early members would remember the Road Runner cartoon and his “Beep Beep”. Still have some very fond memories of those early days .
As an LAC Telegraphist, I served on RAAF Ubon Jan-Jun 1966. My work post was the Communications Centre, and I noticed among the stories and comments, a mention of how uncomfortable our living was in the corregated iron huts, but the communications staff had a sand-bagged and airconditioned building. For the record, we only enjoyed the aircomditioning during our duty stint, and lived in the same huts as everyone else. The only real perk we enjoyed was on our roster of duty switch operator, and there was a bed for us to sleep in during the night. However, a good nights sleep was rare, with all manner of phone calls to attend to during the night. My most memorable duty during my tour was when I was assiigned to guard duty on the parked Sabre Jets. On my arrival at the hard stand, where there was a small corregated iron hut, a corporal SP wasted no time in having me sign for a SLR rifle, a full magazine of live ammunition, and one blank cartridge, and left me to it, with the instruction that the rifle was loaded with the blank in the breech, safety catch on, and I was to keep watch on the jungle perimeter at the end of the runway, and to challenge anyone who approached. If anyone failed to stop and identify themselves I was to fire the blank at them, re-cock the weapon and prepare to engage them if necessary. A somewhat scary thought for a LAC Telegraphist.
Nothing had changed a year later….except I don’t recall if we had a blank to fire first.
You are correct, Bob. We only enjoyed the air-con during our duty hours.
Loading any rifle with a blank (or blanks) in a war situation is pure idiocy.
I am writing about my father ROBERT THOMAS LOWDEN whom served but oftern talked to me about how he waited for his pension and medals, I am proud of my fathers service LEST WE FORGET
I just stumbled on this site by accident…it’s actually the only thing I have ever seen written about Ubon.
I served two tours up there as an ADG in 1966 and 67. The second tour ended with us being posted directly to Vung Tau, with going home to Oz first.
The late Jan Kirkwood was a very good friend of mine and he lost his life when the house we shared burnt to the ground.
Living and working there certainly had its moments!
You always pop up somewhere brother, i was thinking of you as i read, eagerly looking for your name. As always, i found you again.
Keep well mate.
I am compiling a list of names to be recited at a Malaya-Borneo Veterans Day Service of Commemoration to be held in Adelaide on 25 August 2018. I note that John Kirkwood’s name is listed on the AWM Roll of Honour under the title ‘Thailand, 1965-1968’, however the AWM also lists his identity photograph under ‘Indonesian Confrontation, 1962-1966’. Would it be fair to say his service was related to Confrontation? Or more specifically in support of operations in Vietnam?
Do you know the location of his grave, or any memorial?
Paul A Rosenzweig, John Kirkwoods time at Ubon would more realistically be considered as in support of operations in Vietnam. (I was also an ADG and was at Ubon from March ‘to October ’67 and then went to Vung Tau, Vietnam.
Vic, I was at Ubon from Jan to July 1967. Perhaps you remember me? Mike Holt, telegraphist.
Barry Javens, long time no hear. I hope all is well. Regards, Vic Smith
Hello, my dad, Roy Borthwick was a flight sergeant who served his 6 months in Ubon in 1964. Would have been over the Aussie winter period. He was stationed at Regents Park in Sydney and returned there after his time in Thailand. He served for 20 years with the RAAF. Does anyone recall him? Thank you.
When In 64 was he there exactly. Secondly what was he mustering/job?
Hello Greg, sorry for the very late reply as I have not been back to this site since leaving my message. Roy would have been there around the Aussie winter period. I was only 8 years old at the time so exact dates I cannot give and my mum has since passed so I cannot get any further information. His job in Aus was Flight Sergeant and he was in stores and based at Regents Park. He was a bald man with moustache and a little portly 🙂
I have just come across this site as a result of searching for information and proof I was at Ubon in 1962. I wa a Royal New Zealand Provost,(Military Police) serving at Terendak Camp in Malaysia,our commanding Officer was Major Mick Gray (Australian Provost) Our unit was made up of RMP Royal Military Police, Australian Provost,New Zealand Provost. Under the command of Captain Collins (Aust) about 20 of the Terendak unit were sent to Bangkok where we became part of a large group of troops that went to Ubon on Seato Exercise Dhanarajata.
We travelled to Ubon in Convoy via a mud road cut through the jungle,known at the time as Friendship Highway.
This journey took 3 days in a Land Rover/jeep and we were in a terrible state when we arrived at Ubon Military Airfield.
AS Military Police we were assigned mainly traffic and aircraft (Taxiing) duties in and around the airfield. I have many memories of this period such as Thai Airforce aircraft (propeller) taxing in pairs down the runway prior to take off and on one occasion as two aircraft were turning for take off they collided and the leading aircraft was cut in two by the propellers of the following aircraft,fortunately for the pilot just behind his seat . I also have memories of a US F11 when I was on point duty at the end of a Runway. This aircraft came in at very low altitude and right above me accelerated into a vertical climb hitting all the afterburners, A very frightening experience that left me flat on the Ground for some time.
I am in the process of a claim with the NZ Veterans as I have health problems but no one believes or can confirm I was in Ubon. Can anyone help
Apologies it was 1963 not 1962 I was in Ubon ulp A.(memory lapse:)
Dave, that Friendship Highway is a sealed road all the way to Ubon and at least 50k further on. I married a girl from Trakarn Puedphon at the end of the road. Still married to her 20 years later. So we used to head out to her village at least once a year. It’s still an arduous trip, but nowhere near as bad as it must have been for you mate.
Ubon has grown from a single block beside the river to well over a million people today. It’s still a great place to visit though. The RAAF base is gone….almost impossible to find anything remaining.
The easiest way to get the medal is to go to the website. .. Thailand Ubon RAAF medals-
Heritage Medals , and buy it.
It was awarded by the King of Thailand. You won’t find it on the Australian Government site. Good luck
Fred Fortescue – a name from the past.
G’day Fred, I just received this article from an old mate, (Ed McEvoy) and recognized your name.
I was on the first flight, (by Dakota) from Butterworth to Ubon via Bangkok. We left Butterworth an members of 77 Sqn. and became 79 Sqn. while at Ubon.
We stayed several days in Bangkok, (as guests of the Thai Government), before servicing the Sabres (which had arrived via Singapore) and then flying on to Ubon, where you guys had set-up camp for us.
I have fond memories of Ubon and the wonderful Thai people and hope to visit there again sometime, (before I fall of the perch).
I well remember the emergency “issue of arms” and feverish, digging of holes, into which we hurriedly jumped, (to defend the base from incoming helicopters) and which, finally, (I believe) gained us the AASM and qualifying service.
My dad was posted to Ubon in 1964. I am wondering if anyone may remember him…..WOFF H.R (Pat) Grant, he was a Caterer. He had many short postings to Ubon after this 1st 6 month one.
Unfortunately dad passed away in 1987, much too young and never spoke to us about his posting there or about any of his subsequent short postings to Vietnam. Although having read your article about living conditions there, I do recall him saying that life was very tough
How is it possible to apply for the Thai medal on his behalf?
Thank you for such an interesting article.
Do any of the Ubon RAAF boys remember Flight Lieu. John Harry Robinson (Now Deceased). My children would love to know more about their father’s service.
I have forwarded your message to our President Annie. Can you tell us what year John served up there?
I stumbled on this website, and have read all the interesting posts. I was on the 1st C130 to land at Ubon on the
1/6/62. Transferred from 478 Sqdn. The guys from 3 or 77 Sqdn (forget which) went via Bangkok, together with the Sabres. Some sort of 7 to10 day quarantine period, as they could not fly direct to Ubon from Butterworth. We were kicked out the back of the Hurc about fairly early that morning and told that by days end we had to have somewhere to sleep, eat , some sort of ablutions and toilet. We made it, and even had a couple of VB s .
I hope there will be no more wars to come. I was born after world war II even in pictures i can see the difficult situation of the people and most of all the soldiers. That’s why i highly respect all the veterans.
You’ve done it again….good story…put together from a lot of work done by others (I,m talking about me).
Ubon Vets now have
ASM (early period)
AASM & VLSM RAS Badge (June 65 onwards)
AASM (May to July 1962 blokes)
Push from RVNC Medal is in progress….we wait again.
P/O M McGrath & LAC J Kirkwood both have their names engraved on the ‘Honour Roll’ in the War Memorial in Canberra (thanks to one Mick Morrissey….
Very true Mal. I couldn’t have written this article without the input from many people, yourself included. Thanks mate.
I am a RAAF FSGT Medic veteran of recent conflicts.
I am writing a history of RAAF Medics post WWII until Afghanistan.
Would you or any of your members have any info on any RAAF medics serving in Malayan Emergency, the Confrontation and Ubon.
Or point me in the right direction?
Notwithstanding the long overdue official recognition and approval to wear the RAAF Ubon 40th anniversary medal instituted and approved by His Majesty The King of Thailand, I am extremely disturbed to learn that Australia’s only operational casualty in Thailand, PLTOFF Mark McGrath RAAF has no memorial, plaque etc. in Thailand. Who in DVA wants to run with this? Lest we Forget.
Thank you David. As a Ubon veteran I applaud your idea. Please call DVA and talk to them about it. I think you will find a very sympathetic ear over there.
An interesting service of those who served at Ubon, there is currently a push for recognition for those who served at Butterwoth Air Base – Malaysia as Rifle Company Butterworth 1970 to 1989 during what is now known as the 2nd Malaysian Emergency. An interesting aspect of this service is that up until 1975 Butterworth Air Base was used as a transit base for vietnam in terms of troop movements and logistics.
The 2nd Emerergency was fuelled by both China and Nth Vietnam in their push for domination of SE Asia.
The vets of this service are facing the same hurdles in terms of recognition due to lack of government records.
more can be found at wwwrarassociation.com. Click on the SA Branch / advocacy tab/ rifle company butterworth.
My father Bob “Bodgie” Cross, served in Ubon Thailand but did not speak much of it. Would love to hear from anyone who may have known him there, and am interested to hear tales. Dad passed away in Feb 2000. Mum lives on the Gold Coast.
Hi There, Can’t recall ever working with “Bogie” during my 8 years as a fire fighter ,in the RAAF incl six mths in Ubon 25Jul 64 till 25th Jan 65. He was in Thailand later than I was. I have seen some mention of him on other sites but I can’t recall which ones. Pat Mildren may be of more assistance.
Interesting essay on Ubon. I was at Ubon in 1962 and again in 1967. The mention of tent accomodation in 1962 reminds me of the rain storms that used to sweep Ubon. You could hear it coming, then everything would go grey and a wall of water would fall. You would then be ankle deep in water. If you were at the outdoor movies you had to hang on to the marquee, else it would blow away. A couple of times the projector blew over. Luckily, we didn’t have to man the trenches, as they quickly filled with dirty yellow water. The place abounded with snakes. We had to shower in a cubicle with chest height hessian walls, near the edge of the passing road. We used to wave at the locals often as they passed by while we showered. The kids were great, they often met us as we walked up the road to our mess tent and gave us flowers they had picked.
1967 the accommodation had moved up the road to a new location. Well I remember the Phantoms taking off and landing, the heat of the huts and working places, and the change in the attitudes of the locals after the invasion of thousands of Americans. I always suspected Dioxin and Gamalean were used around the base. I am sure they used it in Butterworth too. They are a great Carcinogen.
Thanks for the memories.
In addition, The rifles were 303 lee enfields, 5 rounds in the magazine, bayonet and scabbard, and no other webbing. We signals staff also had colt 45’s which were to be used to destroy our crypto machines if under attack. And, Yes we were on active service. As a point of interest, we were never told where we were being deployed until we actually landed at Ubon, On arrival we then proceeded to our camp site where we were told to erect our own tents. Oddly enough Radio Peking broadcast a warm welcome to the Australian airmen in Ubon and wished us a pleasant stay, this was a few days after our arrival..SECRECY was supposed to be the key word………after 51 years, our active service has been recognised.
Thanks for that information Alan. By the time we arrived in 67 we were issued with SLR’s, with bayonets…and yes, I remember the 45’s although I wasn’t issued one. Same with the secrecy. We knew we were going somewhere north of Butterworth, but we didn’t find out where until we got off the plane.
We also played games with the ChinComs…recognizing their morse ‘hands’. I used to try and vary my hand as much as possible so as to make it hard for them to recognise who was on the key.
The persons in the photo outside the Communications tent in the early days of Ubon (June 1962) are from left to right……Jimmy Braybrook, Don Sewell…and my self Alan Johnson
Was at Ubon in 67-68 assigned to the crash fire crews next to the Aussie maint sheds. Had a ball with the Aussie fireman they were alot of fun to joke around with. Have some photos of your trucks and ours, was there when your 86 went down You guys are right, we went we served and now they try to deny benefits. Amazing how agent orange wasn’t there but nothing ever grew between the taxi ways and runway, remember the mosquito spraying….Still remember when you left, you guys painted a red Roo and RAFF on everything. My dad was in Australia before they went into New Guinea, it was the one place he always said he would have liked to gone back to.
Hi Jerry, Was a fireman at Ubon between Jul 64 and Jan 65. I served with a great bunch of USAF fireman during my time there. A Sgt McCoy was the NCO i/c at the time. Even though I was reasonably good mates with them the passage of 53years their names escape me. Could well be that you may be able to find out the names of them for me if you know where to look. Thanks heaps in advance.
To Greg Bland Re your message 23/12/17
Re USAF Firefighters Ubon aug 64 to feb 65 It was Tech Sgt USAF Bob Call [as per his name badge]
I have photo taken end jan 65 for farewell to Gordon Henerdine with USAF & Aust Firies .Sorry your not in it If you want a copy pls email me .
Thank you for pointing out the error of the medals. I have corrected it.
The error about the rear seat occupant is mine. I wasn’t paying attention to what I wrote. One of my friends was a bombadier flying in the rear seat of Ubon-based F4C’s. He never mentioned being an RIO, so before I correct it I’ll do some research to confirm one way or the other. But thanks for taking the time to point out these errors. As a writer, I do try to confirm everything, but occasionally it is easy to rely on memory and thus make mistakes.
In your illustration in the above text of the Australian Active Service Medal ,you are displaying the incorrect medal and riband,The one shown is only applicable for active service after 1975, also in your F4 crash description be informed that F4s didnt carry gunners in their rear seats,only RIOs (Radar intercept Officers) Whenever approaching the government, you need to supply facts without silly mistakes. Any how, good luck with your on going claims
Hi, I’m in a group on facebook called Ubon Vets. I was allowed to join because of my relationship to Denis Hardy who served there as an armourer. They are all Americans from the 8TFW. I’m not a vet but they ask lots of questions. One question is “are the Australians who served there being compensated for exposure to Agent Orange?” Can anyone tell me the answer? I know Denis ended up with a Ubon Service Medal issued to him not long before he passed away.
I am the daughter of Russell Abbey, known as ‘Hank’ who was in Ubon in 1967 as an Adgie. I was wondering if you knew him at all. He passed 5 years ago yesterday.
I came across your website while researching PTSD.
I hope all is well with you.
I look forward to your response, if you find it appropriate.
Hello Heidi, sorry to hear that Russell has passed. I’m not sure if I met him or not…it’s so long ago and I’m terrible with names. If he was there in the first 6 months of 67 I would have met him.
I remember Hank.67 or 68.