Bernie Folkes

I am a true “child” of the Sydney Inner West. I was born in Haberfield in 1948, the family moved to Strathfield in 1954. Dale and I were married in 1972 and unfortunately were unable to afford a house in the Inner West, we lived in Greenacre for 17 years. In 1989, we bought a house in Concord and have lived there ever since. Two years ago, we downsized from a 2 storey house into a single level one. We have 2 married sons and 2 grandsons.

A number of my relatives served in WW11, unfortunately I know little about their service as that generation didn’t like to talk about the subject. Sad really. In late 1967/early 1968, I received a letter advising I had been called up for 2 years National Service (NS)/Conscripted in the 13 th NS Intake. My parents especially my mother were horrified. My mother bought a $2 lottery ticket weekly, 104 weeks actually, one ticket for each week I was in the Army. Sadly she never won a cent.

In mid July 1968, I was advised to report to an old WW11 barracks in Addison Road Marrickville at 9 am. The barracks complex is still in Addison Road as a community complex. My parents were stopped at the gates and told the Army would return me “as a man” in 2 years time. Save Our Sons were demonstrating as usual outside the gates. We were bused to Kapooka near Wagga Wagga for Recruit Training. I was then assigned to Infantry and did my Corps Training at Singleton. During this time, we were sent somewhere in the Hunter region fighting fires. In early 1969, I was posted to 7 Battalion/7 RAR (Royal Australian Regiment) who were stationed at Holsworthy near Liverpool. We were initially told we would be leaving for Vietnam in mid 1969. The Battalion was busy busy preparing for our departure. Numerous exercises, weapon training, tactics etc. For some reason, our departure was delayed until February 1970 when we replaced 5 RAR. I flew to Vietnam, as part of 7 RAR’s Advance Party, on a “Skippy” flight via Singapore. We then flew, via Saigon, to Nui Dat which was to be the Battalion’s home for the next 12 months. The rest of the Battalion arrived via ship a few weeks later. Our time before the Battalion’s arrival was very busy as we were trained in the “field” by 5 RAR via numerous patrols. Upon the Battalion’s arrival, we were then their instructors. I would like to say my time in Vietnam was a fabulous period of my life, however, being in a war zone is a very sobering experience.

My 2 years NS were due to expire in July 1970, I was asked by my Commanding Officer to extend my service by another approx 6 months and return with the Battalion. He also advised, if I signed up as a regular soldier, he would recommend, on my return to Australia, that I be sent to Officer Training at Point Cook in Victoria. I decided the regular Army was not for me. Plus my mother wouldn’t have been too impressed. I returned to Australia, again via a “Skippy” flight and was discharged from Ingleburn in mid July 1969.

Thankfully I wasn’t wounded whilst in Vietnam. However, amongst other things I contracted dysentery which has caused continual health challenges since. My nerves, amongst other things, still aren’t the best. At least I am still alive, unfortunately a number of my Army acquaintances didn’t return form Vietnam and a significant number have passed away since.

Returning to “civvy” life wasn’t easy. Amongst other things, I still have frequent disturbed sleeps. I am proud to have served my country. Should we have been in Vietnam, that is a question to be answered by other people than myself. I am also very proud being a member of Five Dock RSL Sub-Branch. It is also a very “warming experience” seeing so many, especially the next generation/s, involvement with Anzac Day etc.