THE thread that links Australian servicemen from the Gallipoli campaign of World War I to the present day campaigns in Afghanistan is called ingenuity.
Australians are noted for their ability to make do - to scrounge or invent whatever is necessary to overcome a problem.
At Gallipoli Australians tricked the Turkish defenders into believing they were still in the trenches by inventing a device which fired the rifles when the soldiers were safely aboard evacuation ships.
On the Thai Burma railway during the Second World War Australians made vital medical equipment from whatever was available including bamboo.
And thus it was for Bill Beggs when he served as an army mechanic in Vietnam.
Mr Beggs, a member of the Third Cavalry Regiment – B Squadron – light aid detachment said scrounging to make do with what was available was part and parcel of life in Vietnam.
He worked mainly on N114 personnel carrier and Centurion tanks during his time at the Australian base at Nui Dat.
“The carriers were working in real tough conditions and they required a great deal of work to keep them operational so we had to show some real ingenuity because the parts were not always readily available, “Mr Beggs said.
“We made great use of the United States – Long Bin base – it was a ten mile square equipment graveyard and we made regular trips there to get bits and pieces to keep our equipment working.
“The Americans were always better resourced than us and they had better access to parts so they didn’t really mind us scrounging around their base.”
Mr Beggs said the opposing Viet Cong were very much like the Aussies in having to show ingenuity.
“The Viet Cong would get unexploded bombs and recycle them into hand made bombs that they disguised which made them far more dangerous and much harder to find,” he said.
For Mr Beggs his trip to Vietnam in 1969 was his first overseas and he found the place interesting and, as he said, a great place to visit but one you wanted to come home from.
He says he witnessed some pretty awful stuff and had to repair equipment on which Australian servicemen had been killed a memory and experience he carries to this day.
But last year he returned to Vietnam as a tourist, an experience of which he enjoyed every moment.
“I went back last year and travelled throughout the country and thank goodness it has changed – it’s a wonderful place,” he said.
“It was one of the best things I have done in my life and I can’t recommend the country enough, for a would-be traveller it is just marvellous.”
Mr Beggs joined the army in 1950 straight from the Crows Nest Technical School in Sydney.
Aged just 15 years he was sent to the apprenticeship school in Victoria and thus started his career with the Royal Australian Mechanical Engineers.
He spent time in Moorebank, Sydney working on Matilda tanks and Blitz trucks before returning to Victoria where he conducted trials on new army equipment.
His career included time in Brisbane and touring New South Wales checking on the maintenance on all army equipment before working on the army’s newly acquired Cessna 180E aircraft and then he moved onto maintenance on Bell helicopters.
He enjoyed a very diverse and interesting career with the army rising to the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2. It was a career he thoroughly enjoyed before he was discharged in 1981 after spending the previous ten years based in Singleton.
Although he enjoyed his career and serving his country Mr Beggs acknowledged that his career was very hard on his family.
“You had to move around to gain promotions and I moved a great deal and my family eventually hated the word postings because that meant another move and losing friends and changing schools for my two children, “he said.
Mr Beggs met his wife Shirley Medhurst during one of his postings to Singleton in the early 1950s and they were married just after the 1955 flood.
“We had to clean All Saints Anglican Church after the flood so we could get married,” he said.
He will be ready to join his mates this Wednesday to commemorate Anzac day and remember his army mates.