below is an extract from “Men With a Mission” available from amazon
On Friday Morning, the regiment commenced boarding the HMAS Sydney for departure to Vietnam on the evening high tide. They were told to report to the flight deck where they were met by their unknown Seargent. He told them that they would not be allocated sleeping quarters on the ship and to leave all their gear in a specific place. At 21:00 they were to gather at the point where the gangplank had been located.
They were bewildered by these orders, but, followed them. All through the day they stayed together and mingled with the rest of the soldiers on board. Just after 20:00 the ship started to move away from the dock and into the centre of Sydney Harbour. The tugs dropped their tow lines, and the ship started streaming out through the harbour on her way to Vietnam. Just before 21:00 the ship passed through the heads and began heading north. The three of them gathered where they had been told to, and then they saw a rope ladder descending toward the ocean. As they were on the seaward side, they couldn’t see the land, so they didn’t know exactly where they were.
Bill was the first to see the brightly painted pilot boat approaching from the rear, and he at once knew that the civilian pilot was about to leave the ship. What they didn’t see initially, was a small inflatable naval dingy following the pilot vessel. The Sergeant appeared and told them to move into the shadows until the pilot left the ship. Then he told them that as the pilot vessel moved away, they were to descend the ladder and board the inflatable. Then to his surprise, he said. “It has been a pleasure spending time with you three soldiers, and I hope we catch up in Vietnam somewhere. By the way, your gear was unloaded back at the dock, and I believe it will be waiting for your next destination.”
With that, he disappeared into the darkness, and then they descended the rope ladder and boarded the inflatable.
To their surprise, on the inflatable was the short stocky major. The major then said to the three men, “I am sorry for all this cloak and dagger stuff, but I am sure you will understand when we reach our destination. In the meantime, my name is Major Jack Roberts, I will be your commander if you accept the job that I have to offer. We will be spending the next ten days together. After I have explained what the job entails, if any of you don’t want to accept the job, you will be able to rejoin your regiment on the dock in Vietnam.”
The inflatable headed, instead of going back to Sydney Harbour, to Broken Bay and on to the Hawkesbury River. It eventually turned into Rickaby’s Creek where they disembarked. A Land Rover was waiting beside the creek, to whisk them away to the nearby RAAF base at Richmond.
They immediately boarded a waiting RAAF C130 aircraft that was waiting on the tarmac.
Secrecy was obviously important, and anyone watching would have not seen one small group of men being separated from the rest of the regiment. Other than the Ship’s Captain, only the sergeant was aware of the inflatable, and the captain had ensured that no naval personnel were anywhere near the ladder when the men departed. The sergeant had signalled the ship’s captain when those on the inflatable were on their way.
Once in the air Major Roberts began to brief them on what was happening. They had been carefully chosen to form an exceptional small unit that was to undertake some extremely sensitive duties in Indo-China. Initially, they were to go under intensive training on an island off the Malaysian coast, before rejoining the rest of the regiment in Vietnam. Bill thought to himself “Why did he say Indo-China instead of Vietnam.”
He explained to them that they were among sixty recruits that he followed during their training. It had only taken a week for him to decide on the final five, but, because of the nature of his mission, he continued to observe the five men right through their basic training. It was on the train from Seymour where he made his final decision on the three. He observed an unusual comradeship between them although at that time they were virtual strangers from vastly different backgrounds. Yes, Bill’s suspicion had been correct. Someone had watched him during training and reviewed every assessment. He had also watched Joe and Emile.