Peter Robert PERRY was interviewed by Margaret Tickle for the Busselton Oral History Group (Inc) in June 2014. It is one of a series of recorded interviews with ex-service personnel funded by Lotterywest to celebrate the Anzac Centenary.
Peter was born in 1944 in Victoria, at Leongatha. His father was a share farmer from Tasmania and his mother came from King Island. Peter was the eldest of eight.
In high school and at technical college in Warragul, Peter played a lot of sport.
When 15 he went to the Army Apprentices’ School in Balcombe. He learnt to box and look after himself.
At 19 Peter was selected for officer training with the army. He went to Portsea and, on completion of the training in late 1964, transferred to Sydney for an officers’ basic course for engineers. He left three months early to set up a training unit for the first intake of national service personnel.
Peter was deployed to Vietnam and arrived in May 1967. One of the first tasks was to put in roads and infrastructure in the Nui Dat Base for the addition of the 3rd Australian Battalion [3 RAR]. He became commander of 3 Field Troop.
Peter berates the ill-conceived decision made, against advice from senior engineers, to lay an 11 kilometre mine field as a barrier, which was systematically plundered by the enemy and used against allied forces. There was a great deal of disbelief when they were ordered – with politicians making the decision – to pull out when they felt they were near to finishing the task.
Peter discusses the work done by the engineers, including the tunnel work which was considered the most dangerous job in that war.
He discusses fear, fatigue and the horror of land mines. He lost nine of his men and two others he knew really well.
Peter married and had two sons.
His ‘melt down’, necessitating a TPI (Totally and Permanently Incapacitated) Pension, occurred 20 years after Vietnam. He drank a lot, but when he stopped drinking the problems didn’t stop.
Peter has been back to Vietnam and feels at peace there. He belongs to a group called MiVAC which works in the heavily bombed areas in the Plain of Jars, Laos, bringing water to villages.
A highlight post-war is his command of the On Standby Combat Engineer Squadron in Townsville. A low point was dealing with the ‘amorphous mass of inflexible minds’ in Canberra’s Defence Headquarters.
A successful career as a builder/developer followed, culminating in a two year part-time contract as a consultant to a major construction giant in China.