Service Number: 1734695
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 9th Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment (9RAR)
Born: Brisbane, Queensland, 25 November 1945
Home Town: Not yet discovered
Schooling: Ipswich Grammar School
Occupation: Farm worker
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Vietnam War Service

22 Apr 1969: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, SN 1734695, 1 Australian Reinforcement Unit
22 Apr 1969: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, SN 1734695
28 May 1969: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, SN 1734695, 9th Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment (9RAR)
28 May 1969: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, SN 1734695

Finding Derek Nixon-Smith

(Derek Nixon-Smith) was wounded in action on July 19th 1969 along with eight others from 7 Platoon, 'C' Company 9RAR. I was one of those. We spent about a year together in Yeronga Military Hospital before he was discharged. I did not see him again for about 26 years until a chance meeting in Brisbane. This is an account of that meeting)

It's Anzac Day, 1995.

I’ve travelled to Brisbane to march. Don’t really know why. I guess it was an anniversary sort of thing. It was where I’d signed up for the Army all those years ago. And it was the twenty-fifth anniversary of my being wounded in the war.

I stand on a street corner like a shag on a rock, wondering who the hell I’ll march with. It was always a dilemma for me on the odd occasions I did march, which was pretty rare anyway. One of the unfortunate things about being a ‘reo’. Fact was, in Vietnam, because I’d served with four different units during my seven and a half months and subsequently didn’t really belong to any of them.

It’s a peculiar feeling. Hard to explain.

It’s been an aspect of my war service that’s caused me a lot of hurt. Simply, not ‘belonging’ meant I didn’t have that emotional or psychological support that comes from being able to identify with a unit- not being able to draw on the camaraderie that comes to those who can.

But that’s another story.

What’s important is that I’m standing there on this street corner, and spot this other guy standing there alone as well, like he to, is lost. So I go up to him and ask him if he knows where the 9th Battalion is forming up.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m a Nine Battalion man. I’m marching with them.”

“Fair dinkum?” I reply. Bloody coincidence, I think to myself. “What Company?”

It’s a fair question. There are a lot of bullshitters and impostors marching in Anzac Day parades these days. Men who didn’t have the guts to fight, but feel the need to pretend that they did.

“Charlie Company,” he says.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “You know, I’ve never met anyone from the 9th Battalion all the ears since I was wounded with them in 1969. Let alone someone from Charlie Company.”

“I was wounded with them too,” the man says, “in July, 1969. The 19th, in fact.” He speaks slowly, but it is the deliberate speech of an educated man.

I offer him my hand.

“Don Tate,” I introduce myself. “I was wounded in July as well. The same day, with 7 Platoon. We must have been wounded at the same time. Do you remember me?”

He shakes my hand, and his eyes search me quizzically. He’s trying to remember.

“Derek Nixon-Smith,” he says. “Yes,” I remember you Don. We were wounded in the same ambush.”

Then, on that street corner, we spoke together of that night so long ago. For me, it was the first time. Words tumbling out. Names of the other men. Who did what, and when. And how we felt. I told him I remembered his terrible head wound, and his cries of being blind. And you know, standing there in the middle of Brisbane, suddenly I relived that ambush through the eyes of someone else for the first time. Derek Nixon-Smith’s.

A large piece of shrapnel had looked like it had torn half his head off. He was blind, and lay squirming in the mud while the battle had raged around him. I could only imagine what terrors that poor man must have gone through that night. And it was good to talk about it with him.

“I had to rely on every survival instinct I had,” he said. “Although I knew I was badly wounded, I had enough brains left to know I had to keep as low as possible. That was the hardest thing to do, because I had no idea where the bullets were coming from. I could sense them hitting the ground all around me, and zinging past my ears, but I had no idea were I could get cover. I couldn’t see a thing. But as terrifying as it was, I just had this desire to want to survive.”

“Do you remember the bloke that dragged us out?” I asked eventually. It was something that had bothered me for many years. Never having had the chance to say thanks to the man.

“I’m not sure,” Nixon-Smith says. “I have been told he was killed in a car smash when he got back home.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was told too,” I said. “Bloody shame. I would have liked to have shaken his hand.

We spoke of a few other things, as well. He had never married, worked extra hours in his Public Service job to make up for the slowness brought about by the brain damage. A real decent man.

We were going to march together that day, Nixon-Smith and I, and planned to meet up later after the march, to talk some more. But we got separated as we formed up to march, and afterwards I ended up in a blue with a couple of no-hoper aborigines who tried to bum a few bucks off me outside a pub in Elizabeth Street.

I haven’t seen him since. But I’ll catch up with him again soon. No doubt about that.
(This extract was from a larger article titled, 'A Matter of Healing' by Don Tate)

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