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55 History (1967 - 1968) as told by Maj Eddie Albrecht

As Wally Marquet has started the ball rolling with his account of the "humble" beginnings leading up to the establishment of 55 AESS in the "sand dunes" on the back beach of Vung Tau, I feel I should give a resume of my time in country.

My understanding is that prior to Steve Abrahamffy taking over in 1966 the Unit was commanded by Ross McKenzie (perhaps Steve could confirm this in an account of his tour)

However, I took over as OC on the 5th December 1967 with an increased establishment and walked into a going concern as Steve and his charges had done all the hard yakka in erecting the storehouses, workshop and control office (mostly Lysaght steel buildings). The only blight in the "dunes" was the tented sleeping accommodation. Being the only Unit in 1 ALSG living in tents, plus the fact that the depot supplied all the construction stores (including the task force), I could see no reason why 55 should be treated any different. Had some resistance at first but with the support of the Force Commander things soon happened. The hutted lines were sited on the highest vulnerable point in the area and adjacent to the depot - fortunately "Charlie" didn't have a go at us.

During my time, the stores procedure was rather complex in that the Americans provided the bulk of construction stores by a monitored allocation of funds to the Force Engineer with which the depot drew requirements from the American depot which was a contracted civilian organisation called Pacific Architects and Engineers (PA & E). By no means was the use of this system an "open go". At one stage the Americans got very upset when they learnt that the Australians had practically re-built a local village using American supplied construction stores. The Force Engineer had a lot of explaining to do.

The American stores were classified into three categories

  • Cantonment construction of accommodation
  • Operation Maintenance Army (OMA) maintenance of the above
  • Aid-in-Kind (AIK) limited rehabilitation of local village damage carried out by the Yanks and restricted to not much more than timber and CGI
  • The depot was the sole Australian unit authorised to draw stores for Category 1 & 2 works.

    The Australian source of supply was per medium of a stocking list prepared by the Directorate of Engineer Stores (DES) at AHQ which was replenished from machine accounting print-outs sent by air to Australia. Most Defence stores (barbed wire and dannert wire, pickets and sand bags etc.) were provided by Australia. So were most electrical fittings as the Yank counterpart was not to the Aussie standards and the "sparks" were not keen to use them. Similarly, all stores required by the Civil Affairs Unit for restoration of local village damage were funded and supplied by Australia. Other than a 'gravel' contract local purchase was negligible [a change from Wally's era].

    All supplies from Australia were either by air (priorities 1, 2 & 3) or by the monthly re-supply ship 'Jeparit'. The foregoing may be "old hat" to those who followed after 1968 but at least they can reminisce.

    Incidentally, mid way through 1968 the name of the detachment was changed to Det 55 EWPS. This caused a problem in finding a sign-writer but we were able to cultivate one in 2AOD.

    I passed the reins to my successor Keith Tomkinson on the 25th November 1968. Perhaps Keith would care to continue the saga.

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