History of 55 (1965 - 1966) as told by Wally Marquet
The unit was raised in Penrith in 1958 and commanded by Maj Maurie Berg. It was the only Field Force Engineer Stores unit and elements were deployed from time to time in support of major field exercises.
The story of Engineer Stores in Vietnam had very humble beginnings. In 1965 some 20 Engineers were posted to 1 Australian Logistic Support Company (1 ALSC). These Engineers were commanded by Capt Maurie King and formed part of the 1 RAR group. At this time the Australians formed part of the United States Army 173rd Airborne Brigade located at Bien Hoa. WO2 Wally Marquet, Cpl Owen Pitts and two Sappers set up the first Engineer Stores unit in Vietnam. Some other names from these early days were Lt Col Green (a civilian paymaster with honorary rank) and S/Sgt John Leane who organised the construction activities.
The Stores unit was allocated an area of 150m by 50m next to the runway at the Bien Hoa base. Air traffic in and out made the work just that much more demanding. There were no fork-lifts so all stores had to be man handled. Because of the concern with security, there were no 'local' labour employed so all hands had to pitch in when it came to making life a little more comfortable. As an indication of how tough it was, Wally lost 13 kg during his tour.
Over the next 3 months the Engineer element grew to a full Troop - designated 3 Troop 1 Field Squadron, under Sandy McGregor.
Most of the 'stores' were construction items purchased from local contractors. Mainly sand, gravel, cement and timber. The timber came from a local mill, but the area around the mill was considered a security risk, so the timber was brought out to a 'safe' place where it was handed over to the sappers. Timber, then as latter, was in strong demand for duck boards in the tents. This demand grew with the onset of the 'wet'.
Back in Australia, planners had devised a scheme code named 'Ambrose'. 'Ambrose' consisted of 'bundles' of stores, sufficient to build an ablution block, a food prep room or a kitchen. With the arrival of these kits the pressure on 'Local Purchase' was reduced. The handling of these 'bundles' was also made easier with the arrival of a Michigan fork-lift. Despite this mechanical aid, life was pretty tough in those early days.
During these early stages the welfare of the troops was not forgotten. Capt King arranged the rental of a small building on Vung Tau beach. This became the 'in country' R&R center for the Australians. The Engineers providing the plumbing and electrical wiring. Most of the soldiers were given 3 days R&R on a rostered basis.
Wally left Vietnam after 10 months. This was just before the Mayor of Vung Tau offered his sand dunes to the Australians. This became the new home for the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group (1 ALSG).
Wally served from 1943 to 1967. In addition to his Vietnam tour, Wally served in Aitape (WWII) Japan and Korea. He and his wife Valerie live in Penrith.
Maurie King, Wally Marquet and John Leane were all awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation (MUC). Members of 55 who were awarded the MUC were Ray Sims, Ross McKenzie, Taffy Eagleton and John McCauley. These men went from 1 ALSC to 55 AESS (apologies for any omissions).