Bill Kane (Royal Australian Navy), HMAS Sydney
Bill Kane served in Vietnam War with the Royal Australian Navy on HMAS Sydney. Bill had the experience of transporting troops both to Vietnam and home to Australia, noticing a pronounced change in the men.
Bill Kane had the navy in his sights from a young age.
"When I was going to technical high school we used to get a visit every six months from the navy bus and I was quite taken with the spiel and I've always been like a technical type person so I saw there was an advantage in me going into the navy."
Bill served on HMAS Sydney, an aircraft carrier brought from Great Britain. After service in Korea, it was held as a ‘ship in reserve.'
"When Vietnam came along they took her into Garden Island dockyard, gave her a quick refit and then she was set, ready then for the first trip. For all the troops and all the gear they could carry."
Sydney took on the role of troop transport. She carried men and materiel to Vietnam and brought them home again.
"They built a huge bridge, from the Garden Island wharves, up level with the deck of the Sydney. So all the trucks and stuff were driven up it, and they were loaded and the soldiers, they formed up on the wharf in their units, and then they ceremoniously marched on. It was actually pretty good, because a lot of the sailors on Sydney had to sleep in hammocks because of the soldiers coming on, and they chose to do that, purely because they wanted these guys to be as comfortable as they could ‘cos they're not going to get it real easy when they get to the other end.
Oh, they loved it. Well there was a movie every night for them; they got a beer issue, the PTIs got them up on the flight deck every morning and gave them their exercises, and then the gunnery people got them down the aft end for rifle practice or gunnery practice, yeah, they thought it was Christmas."
In Vietnam, the Sydney unloaded in the port of Vung Tau, though not without caution.
"Sydney would go in early in the morning and she used to leave by four o'clock, she never stayed in the harbour overnight, because it would be an easy job to lob a couple of rockets in and knock her off."
When homeward bound troops came aboard, Bill noticed the changes in them.
"They were very gaunt, very quiet. They'd do a lot of staring; didn't tend to join in, sort of kept to themselves a lot. That was my first experience of guys that had been in battle and how it really affected them – you can just tell it in their face, you know. Everything was sad about them, you know?"
HMAS Sydney made her last trip home from Vietnam in 1972, when the war ended for Australia. Bill was on board.
"It was quite an experience the last trip, because number one, our hospital on board got filled up with wounded and sick guys, more so than we'd ever seen. In fact, we had to finish up pinching a mess of the soldiers and using that to bed down these sick and injured. They got the military equipment on there that they had to bring back and I think a lot of the stuff that was still operational was given to the South Vietnamese. There was a lot of the stuff there, they just dug a big trench and they just pushed everything in there, put hand grenades in them and drums of diesel; let them off, exploded it all, and got the bulldozers just to cover it over."
Bill Kane became an advocate for veterans' welfare after he left the navy and continues in that role today.
"I actually loved my time in the navy, even though I came out a bit of a wounded warrior on the other end. But I was well looked after by the system. I sometimes get little twinges of being stupid but, I've got a shed and when I know that I'm getting a bit angry, or a bit of animosity towards my wife, I go up the shed.
And I know when it's all over ‘cos she comes up with a cup of tea; comes up and has a cup of tea with me and, ‘What would you like for dinner darling?' And it all goes."