Interview with war correspondent Neil Davis

Running time
2 min 44 sec
Date made
Place made
Australia: New South Wales, Sydney
Australian War Memorial
This excerpt of an interview with cameraman Neil Davis, features the legendary war correspondent speaking about his first experience of armed conflict; the Confrontation with Indonesia in Borneo. Here he speaks about the Ghurkhas and the high regard in which he holds them. [AWM F10571]

Text description

[Neil Davis sits facing the camera in relaxed pose with hand on knee in front of a the wall of a building inscribed with the names 'Malaysia 1964-65' and 'Vietnam 1965-72'. Davis is informally dressed in an open neck light shirt with brown pants. His head is turned toward the interviewer whose arm can just be seen on the right. Another incribed title on the wall is shown 'Borneo 1963 65' and semi abstract relief sculptures line the wall, while to the left of Davis a sculpture of an advancing Australian soldier in floppy hat holding a machine gun appears to come out of the wall, his front leg partially submerged in a shallow pond.]

Interviewer: So you left the ABC in Hobart, went to work for Visnews the international film organisation in Singapore.

Neil Davis: Yes, well even though I was based in Singapore I spent very little time there. In fact the first story I covered was in Borneo - Malaysian Borneo - where the newly formed state of Malaysia was being confronted by Indonesia under President Sukarno. It was called Confrontation but of course it was a war, a mini war and I went with British and Malaysian troops - there were a few Australians there too and Gurkha troops who were attached to the British of course.

Interviewer: The Gurkhas had a rather good reputation didn't they?

Neil Davis: A very good reputation, well deserved reputation. Maybe they are the best in retrospect. I think they are probably the best soldiers I was ever with, with some reservations that is they were very very efficient, very very professional, [and] carried out orders. They were the complete hundred percent professionals. The only reservations I had was that they were rather inflexible and that I saw happen once where they went into action and carried out the orders of their commander but the commander was killed. And before his successor in the battlefield could countermand his order to carry out the attack in different way, several of the Gurkhas had been killed. So there is that inflexibility but they were very fine soldiers.

Interviewer:There was an incident where they, Indonesian soldiers had a machine gun post.

Neil Davis: Well, right they a machine gun post rocky hilly country, very well protected. The only way was to climb around. They had to be somewhat rock climbers. Some were quite good rock climbers and the Gurkhas can do just about anything that's called on them to do and they did this and that was an occasion where I think they lost five dead simply because the Indonesians were picking them off the rock face.

Interviewer: When they actually stormed the [rockface]?

Neil Davis: Well eventually they actually stormed the place and killed them without firing a shot if I remember rightly. They killed them with their Kukri. That's this wide bladed knife about that long which is an inverted sort of knife, its concave and they can do a lot of damage with it. [Davis uses his hand to describe the curved shape and large size of a kukri]. It's razor sharp and they can hook a man's head off or his arm.

Interviewer: I believe that they can't, there is something attached to them too.

Neil Davis: Well there is the tradition you don't draw the Kukri unless you draw blood. So that is if you ask a Gurkha to show you his Kukri, he will do it willingly and pull it straight out but then it startles you a little because before he will put it back he will nick his thumb or nick his arm somewhere and draw blood.

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