A RAEME Soldier at the Battle of Long Tan

ED: Sadly Robert Service was buried today, see Last Past. Here is the story of his involvment at Long Tan.

By 41961 WO1 (Bob) R.C. Thompson (Ret)

Forty years ago, I heard a story about a RAEME soldier being at the Battle of Long Tan. I immediately dismissed it as bullshit. I heard it again in 1999, when I was applying to have the pilot, Flt Lt Cliff Dohle’s MID upgraded to a DSM. Flt Lt Cliff Dohle piloted the first helicopter that dropped ammunition which saved the lives of ‘D’ Company 6RAR. I was so focused on getting Cliff Dohle his DSM, which he eventually received, I forgot about the story.

Two years ago, I again heard there was a RAEME soldier at the Battle of Long Tan, this time I thought I would check it out, as the story had surfaced too many times not to have some validity. I knew the soldier wasn’t with the ground troops because I had researched 1APC Squadron, 3 Troop and ‘D’ company 6RAR.

Two of the people on helicopter A2-1020, were RSM WO1, George Chin and Major Owen O’Brien, flown by Flt Lt Francis (Frank) Riley. They’ve been well documented in books such as The Battle of Long Tan by Lex McAulay and many others. But nobody knew who the other two were on aircraft A2-1022 flown by Flt Lt Cliff Dohle. These people helped load the second chopper as well as wrap the ammo in blankets. They stayed on board to help push out the ammo when A/C hovered over ‘D’ company. This aircraft carried most of the ammunition and was first over ‘D’ company to drop the ammunition.

After two years of research, I eventually discovered who the RAEME soldier was. He was 1200605 Cfn Robert Service, Armourer, RAEME attached 6RAR. Most people have never heard of Cfn Service because he applied to Army Aviation after Vietnam. He later trained to become an Airframe Fitter and served out his six years and left Aviation and the army to work for Bell Helicopters at Brisbane Qld. I asked Robert Service now retired to tell me his story this is his response:

“On the afternoon of the 18 August 1966, I was enjoying a drink of beer with the Admin Company. A Sgt ran up to us and ordered the group to go over to the ‘Q’ store and collect ammunition boxes and load them into the two helicopters that were sitting on our pad. As the only RAEME person there, I thought it was my duty to volunteer to help out. We did this in a tropical monsoonal downpour. We loaded the two helicopters, and I noticed I had the last box of ammo to be loaded and as I did, I saw the ‘Q’ store Cpl McCutchen arrive with a bundle of blankets and he jumped on board with them. I could see he needed my help, so I climbed aboard the helicopter and help him wrap the ammo boxes.

While we were busy doing this, the pilot took off. (Picture Flt Lt Cliff Dohle DSM) The noise of the tropical downpour combined with the engine noise, plus the adrenalin rush, blocked out any communications with one another. After a short period of time, we arrived at our destination; we were at tree top height. Through the rain, you could see the trees. I helped push the ammo boxes as well as some ammo in sandbags right to the edge of the floor of the helicopter. The A/C rolled on its side and the load helped by the door gunner and us left the A/C and fell to the ground. After the drop we returned to Nui Dat.

Our helicopter was A2-1022; it was piloted by Flt Lt Cliff Dohle. I knew we were sitting ducks; we were at treetop about 20/30 feet above the ground, and you could see the rubber trees through the blinding rain. The helicopter had on all its navigation lights as well as the flashing strobe light on at the top of the A/C.”

Aircraft A2-1022 piloted by Flt Lt Cliff Dohle and Flt Lt Bruce Lane, door gunners, Cpl. Bill Harrington, LAC Brian Hill, ammo unloaders Cfn Robert Service and Cpl William McCutchen is now restored as a Memorial and sits on a stand out the front of Caloundra Qld RSL.

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