For All Nails #65: Southern Cross

by Henrik Kiertzner

Hue, Annam, Indo-China
14 January 1973

Serjeant Major Liam Molloy, First (The Prince's Own) Australian Dragoons, was not, all things considered, one of his Royal Australian Majesty's better bargains while in barracks. Successive Commanding Officers had made it their business to ensure that Molloy spent as much time as possible dragging his aging frame through the jungles of South-East Asia and the minimum amount of time being bored in the neat, white-washed, tidy, military quadrangles of Silver Mountain Camp or Fort New Liverpool. Molloy, when bored, was fearsome, a one-man wave of drunkenness, misbehaviour and cavalier flouting of vital military regulations. In the field, Molloy was equally fearsome, but a somewhat greater threat to the enemy of the day than to the Corps of Military Constables.

Molloy's chest, on the rare occasions he wore a dress uniform, was a blaze of colour, attesting to the countless campaigns he had taken part in since his first enlistment in the fading days of the Global War, with, at the very top of the triple row of ribbons, the discreet scarlet-and-blue of the Bronze Cross, the ultimate decoration for valour, still awarded by the King-Emperor in Britain, through his nephew in New Liverpool, to gallant soldiers of the armies of what had once been the United Empire.

Over the years, a crust of equally problematic old soldiers had accumulated around Molloy. Of similar character to him, they had melded into the Reconnaissance Troop of the First Dragoons and had marched from end to end of the jungles of Burma, Malaya, Java and now Indo-China, spitting, farting, moaning and killing their way through the wreckage left behind when the Germans had withdrawn and the Siamese had made their brief bid for empire. Molloy had killed Shan tribesmen, Siamese Regulars, Javanese Muslims, Siamese mercenary-service Laotian irregulars, Hmong villagers, Japanese and German regulars and Vietnamese insurgents with indifference and loathing.

Molloy's Regiment, formed part of the Australian Security Force, either a large brigade or a small division, based in the Annamese capital of Hue. Molloy and his men had, characteristically, sorted themselves out a billet in a godown on the Perfume River and made themselves comfortable in between long patrols in the hinterland.

The troop had just returned from a two-week patrol which had taken it in a large circle inland into the Highlands and back to the comparative delights of Hue. A period of intensive relaxation had ensued and the more enthusiastic members of the troop, notably Lance Corporal "Bowler" Higgins, had been retrieved from the loving custody of the Provost Marshal's Office after their attempt to bridge the Perfume River, using only the naked and trussed bodies of Military Constables as caissons. Once fully recovered from their refreshments, Molloy and his men had been despatched to Princess Victoria Aeropark for fallscreen refresher training and to the ranges to re-zero their Krag-Metford rifles. Molloy was becoming bored and his troops were becoming restive. It was obviously time for another patrol.

Colonel the Honourable Bruce Matuchewski, the Chief of Intelligence of the Annam Field Force, was the fortunate individual who had overall responsibility for all "scouts, observing officers and Secret Service matters" -- which number included Molloy's troop, which had not served as conventional armoured cavalry for a number of years. Molloy's skills and aptitudes ran in other fields than vehicle maintenance and machine cannon operation. A request from the Royal Australian Military Mission in Madras for a liaison and security team to assist the Political Department at the High Commission FN1 -- essentially the seat of Australian political and military influence in the former nation of India -- provided him with an opportunity both to find entertainment and distraction for Molloy's troop and make the Problem of Molloy someone else's. The fit was optimal and within 48 hours, the Reconnaissance Troop was en route in a heavy cargo dirigible on the long dogleg flight south to Port Cook FN2 and then west to Madras.

Molloy and his troops were greeted on their arrival at Madras Aeropark some days later by a stocky figure in dark green, who introduced himself in a strong Australian accent as Havildar-Major Lalbahadur Pun of the Free Indian Army.

Pun and Molloy regarded each other warily. Molloy, from his six feet four inches, regarded the barely five foot six inch-tall Goorkha and saw something he recognised. Pun was obviously into his mid-forties -- and therefore a veteran of the original Free Indian Army, which had withdrawn to Australia with the government in exile after the crushing defeat by the Germans -- and had equally obviously kept busy about the business of discomfiting the King's enemies in the mean time. The kukri on his hip was not scabbarded -- the much-honed blade was naked, indicating that Pun had yet to sheathe it, having probably drawn it in 1941 -- and thus that he considered himself still to be at war -- and the cheerful grin under the cold eyes suggested that this was a kindred spirit.

"We're going to be working together, Serjeant Major. There are a number of research projects my team and I have been involved in which we're going to be taking forward together. I think you'll enjoy them".

Molloy smiled. This showed all the signs of being an entertaining and instructive tour.

Forward to FAN #66A: In the Muck.

Forward to 15 January 1973: That All the World Should be Counted.

Forward to Australia: The Dingoes of War.

Return to For All Nails.