Colleen Mealy (Australian Army), Army Nurse

Running time
3 min 12 sec

Colleen Mealy worked as an Australian Army nurse in Vietnam. Conditions were basic, but they were dedicated to their patients.


Colleen Mealy discovered that she was being sent to Vietnam in a most unusual way.

"I found out on the ABC radio. They said four nurses were going. My name came up so I raced down to matron's quarters and said, 'I've just heard I'm going to Vietnam!' And she said, 'It's a secret.' I said, 'Well it's not anymore.' So I had to ring my parents then.

We flew into Saigon, got met, stayed there one night, nice hotel. Next day on a Wallaby flight into Vung Tau to the dirt and the dust and the mayhem."

Colleen was one of the first four Australian Army nurses in Vietnam, serving with 8th Field Ambulance In Vung Tau.

"It was tents and some Nissen huts. No air-conditioning, no running water. We managed to make it a home ourselves; we went out, we shopped in the village and we got some of the boys who weren't too sick to paint the walls for us. We made it our home, we made it feminine.

Usually dusk and dawn were the times when we got casualties. The siren would go, you'd quickly get dressed, race downhill. The boys would carry the stretchers from the chopper "" they would have had their weapons taken away from them before they got into the triage area unless they had a rifle strapped to their leg as a splint.

We'd then just cut off their clothes straightaway so we could look over them completely; meanwhile the medics were popping drips in both arms and an ankle if you could get it, and then the surgeon would come and do a quick look over and then we'd patch them up with dressings and things as much as we could. Gut wounds would go straight into theatre without any hesitation, and then we would just work until all the casualties were treated.

Seeing all these young boys, the ones who had been killed and the ones that we worked on, losing both legs and an arm, I mean, how can you see them going back into civilian life? And the number of boys that were crying, 'My girlfriend won't want me anymore.' It breaks your heart.

We could help the boys - when they'd come in and they'd see an Aussie nurse there they'd have a smile on their face. And no matter how bad they were they'd all have a little joke. They'd say, 'Oh Sister, my family jewels alright?' 'Yup', you know. Then they'd be happy.

Or if they'd come in with their leg off. 'Oh well, no more dancing for me.' It was just that Aussie attitude they had. You couldn't do enough for them. It changed my life completely. I don't know where I would be today if I hadn't gone."