Daryl Bristowe - Being a mortarman

Running time
3 min 5 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


…when you do your reinforcement wing, everybody is rifleman. Then the word got out, the fourth battalion needed pioneers. The third battalion, three RAR, which was based in Woodside, were desperate for mortarmen because a lot of their troops, at that stage they brought in 18 months, you drop back from two years to 18 months, and they were desperate for mortarmen. I was a qualified mortarman. There was three of us that I'd gone through Puckapunyal with, or two. I met the third one at, met him when I went to Singleton 'cause he came from northern New South Wales.

So then I automatically was a mortarman assigned to the third battalion and seriously, I never fired a rifle round again. I did all my shooting with the reinforcement unit and I must've fired hundreds of rounds. But when I got to the mortars, we were so short of personnel, each mortar tube was supposed to have three men. We were so understaffed. We had to do with two and trying to prepare the mortars, because next thing you hear with being a mortarman 90% of the time you do nothing, then you have 10% full on, you do the fire mission.

Someone gets on the radio and says, "We need a 99 rounds down range now". So you have to prepare 33 rounds like that. And I don't know if you've ever seen a mortar. You've got these increment bags, which explode. You've got the main primary charge that like a big shotgun with their pellets, there's little holes, and the force goes when it goes off, when it drops down the barrel, the explosive comes out the little holes, which detonates, the little increment bags, which are full of gunpowder or whatever and the increment bags control the range. So if you're going to shoot at five kilometres, you have the barrel as low as you can have 10 increment bags.

But if you're, we could actually fire at 40 metres away taking all the increment bags off, just the main charge. If we're about to be overrun, which I was never over run. And the barrel's almost vertical almost, but two of us are trying to prepare the rounds and the last three rounds from each tube, and there was three tubes with white phos. Oh, white phos was a nasty thing. It just burnt and burnt. I didn't like white phos. That's why I never carried a white phosphorus grenade at all. I thought they were not nice at all, but we fired this, we called them smoke. But anyway, so that was that.

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