CLOSING 'THE MUSHROOM CLUB'
||© Roger Lambert
During our tour of South Vietnam (1969-70), each Company had its own 'wet canteen' or 'boozer' as we commonly called it. While we Rifle Company (and Support Company) blokes were on operations, there was no booze allowed to be served in these 'wet canteens'. Goffers (soft drinks) were OK but alcohol was strictly prohibited. This was with good reason of course as the LOBs (left out of battle or as some used to say, left on base) were required to defend the 'fort' while we bush-bashed our way around the Province.
Now as I recall, when we came in off operations, the boozer was open but only between 1630 hrs and 1730 hrs. Thereafter came dinner and the 'wet canteens' re-opened at 1930 hrs and traded to 2130 hrs. I can't recall whether there was any distinction between weekdays and weekends but I suspect not. Routine Orders stated that trading ceased at 2130 hrs (time, gentlemen please) and the boozer had to be cleared by 2145 hrs. Now if memory serves me correctly (and it quite often doesn't these days), all troops, irrespective of rank, had to be back in their lines by 2200 hrs (unless on duty manning the gun pits) and 'lights out' was at 2215 hrs. The exception to the rule was that if the movie was still going at 2200 hrs, you were allowed to stay to the end and then take your 'chair, folding, troops for the use of' and return to your lines.
Like all young subalterns, the platoon commanders were rostered at Company level as Duty Officers. Not only were we required inspecting the Company kitchen and checking with the diggers about the standard of the meals, we were also required to check the perimeter and its defensive GPMG bunkers. Less hazardous (or so I thought) was the requirement to close the Company boozer and to ensure that Routine Orders were upheld when it came to such closures, return to the lines and lights out.
On one particular evening, in the latter half of the tour, as Duty Officer, I arrived at the C Company 'wet canteen' at 2130 hrs and directed that trading cease and all troops finish their drinks prior to me closing the 'boozer'. I very quickly learnt why we were taught during officer training to keep all our buttons done up as, before I could say "last drinks", I was upside down, suspended from the rafter by toggle rope. While my Field Message Note Book and wallet stayed in place in my shirt pockets, and my trusty 9mm Browning pistol and spare magazine remained firmly in the holster and side pouch, I had absolutely no idea what was going on around me other than a sea of faces in JGs (Jungle Greens) raucously laughing and hurling good-humoured jibes.
To this day, I have no idea what additional, after-hours bar transactions may have taken place while I was upended but I suspect quite a few. After what seemed an eternity but in reality was but a few minutes, I was lowered to the ground. Regaining my composure and in my best parade ground voice, I ordered the assembled CHQ, 7 Platoon, 8 Platoon and 9 Platoon soldiers to clear the boozer and to return to their lines.
I could still hear the muffled laughter as the diggers trudged off to their respective tent lines, no doubt with pockets stuffed with their 'illegal' after-hours tinnies. (And in case you ask, yes we did know about your pseudo Eskies dug into the ground under the duck boards of your tents.) As I headed for my tent, I couldn't help but chuckle at the episode and the precision with which the plot to suspend the Duty Officer from the rafters was executed.
Does the incident appear in any official reports? No. Do the ringleaders know who they are? Yes, and do I know? I do now. The moral of the story? There are two really:
1. Never underestimate the ingenuity of the Aussie Digger; and
2. Always keep your buttons and holsters/pouches securely fastened. You simply never know when you may be seeing the world from a different perspective!