1960 - 1962
CHIEF - MILITARY PLANNING OFFICE, S.E A.T.O. (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation)
After Duntroon my next appointment was as Chief of the S.E.A.T.O. Military Planning office for two years as from July 1960. During my time as DMO & P and later as B.G.S. at AHQ, I had had a great deal to do with S.E.A.T.O. matters so I was on familiar ground when I took up this appointment. However, this time I would not be wearing an Australian hat but a S.E.A.T.O. hat (i.e. International). By this time the S.E.A.T.O. member nations had decided that, if their collective efforts in pursuance of the Manila Treaty (S.E.A.T.O.) were to progress, they needed a HQ suitably located in the Treaty area. Bangkok was selected and the HQ consisted of a secretariat headed by a Secretary General to serve the Council and a Military Planning Office (MPO) to serve the Military Advisers' Group (representatives of Chiefs of Staff of Member Nations). The HQ was well established by July 1960 when I took up my position there. Prior to doing this I attended, as an observer, a Military Advisers Meeting which was held in Washington, D.C. in May 1960. This was very useful as I was able to meet each of the Military Advisers group for whom I would be working and also meet the senior National and S.E.A.T.O. (International) planners who were supporting the Military Advisers at their meeting.
From the family viewpoint this new posting was a considerable upheaval. Helen was to accompany me to Bangkok but Robert and John were at the stage of their education when they could not move with us. Robert therefore became a boarder at Canberra Grammar School and John remained at St Paul's College, Sydney University. Virginia accompanied us to Bangkok where we arrived at the end of June 1960, having travelled in a Dutch ship from Sydney to Singapore where we spent a few days shopping. We then transshipped to a smaller vessel for the journey from Singapore to Bangkok. We were very pleased -- we had chosen to arrive in Bangkok by sea. Bangkok is some 30 miles up river from the coast and sailing up the river gave us a good feel for the Thai atmosphere -- particularly in central Thailand where life centres on the rivers and canals which are the traditional transport routes.
We lived in the Erawan Hotel for about the first three weeks after arrival. After this we moved to a house in Bankapi which had been occupied by my predecessor -- a N.Z. officer who later became the N.Z. C.O.S. and subsequently C.D.S. (Lieut. General W. Thornton).
During this initial period we had the problem of Virginia's school. This was a small private school for English-speaking children -- but it was all so different in atmosphere and organisation from what V. was used to that she burst into tears every morning when Helen took her to school and refused to stay. So Helen had to take her back to the hotel again. This went on for about a week before V. eventually accepted her fate. She soon settled down and got to like the school and make friends. She stayed at that school until the end of 1961 and then went back, unaccompanied, by air to Canberra to be a boarder at Canberra Girls' Grammar School commencing lst Term 1962 (we were due to return to Canberra in July 1962). Robert visited us during the long Christmas holidays 1960-61, 1961-62. During each of these periods the whole family, except John who was at Darwin, made a major excursion out of Bangkok. The first, during Christmas 1960-61, was to Chieng Mai in Northern Thailand. The second was to Angkor Wat in Cambodia in 61-62. Both these journeys were by car over very poor roads. However, we did see quite a comprehensive cross-section of the very different types of terrain, people and living conditions which exist in the various parts of Thailand. The flat low central basin which is the rice bowl of the country -- the undulating hilly country ending in the mountains of North Thailand - the flat arid Rhviat plateau leading eastwards to Cambodia. We also used to make short day or weekend trips to places within a radius of about 100km from Bangkok. These included the more popular seaside resorts which we patronised as often as possible to escape the hot humid suffocating climate of Bangkok. For one of our "cool climate" vacations we travelled south from Bangkok to Northern Malaysia, spent a few days in Penang and then went up to the Cameron Highlands -- a welcome change of air and temperature for 10 days. On another occasion we spent some days in Hong Kong.
This is not the place to describe Thailand so it must suffice to write that it is a unique colourful and very interesting country. We would not have wished to miss our two years there but we were glad to leave and escape the rigours of the climate and other conditions of life in Bangkok.
In my S.E.A.T.O. work I got to know most of the leading personalities in the Thai government and particularly the top service people I knew the PM Thanom Kittikachorn (who went into exile in 1975 and later returned in 1977, became a monk and entered a monastery) -- a Colonel Kriangsak who in 1960 was Colonel in the S.E.A.T.O. office, is now a general and one of the "strong" men in Thai government. The Secretary-General of S.E.A.T.O. was Pote Sarasin who had previously been PM. He was one of the "establishment" and rich and influential. I worked very closely with him and any difficulties I had in dealing with the Thai government through "normal" channels could quickly be resolved through Pote Sarasin when he used his "connections" in the government.
We had the opportunity to meet King Phumiphol quite often. We had an informal channel to him also through my A.D.C. Colonel Lucky Thompson (an Australian who could speak Thai and also play the saxophone) who used to visit the palace informally and play in the King's jazz band -- the King was a keen musician and composer and one of his favourite hobbies and relaxations was to play an instrument in his own ad hoc band.
The monarchy in Thailand is a very important and influential establishment and the present king is very much respected by the population as a whole.
At this period of time S.E.A.T.O. carried out a necessary and worthwhile and popular function in relation to the unstable situation in S.E. Asia. The very brief outline of its organisation etc. which follows will help in understanding my role and activities.
The member nations of S.E.A.T.O. were Australia, France, Britain, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines. The top body of the organisation was the S.E.A.T.O. Council consisting of the Foreign Ministers of member nations. This Council met normally once annually. The ambassadors of each member nation located in Bangkok were called the Council Representatives and met weekly at S.E.A.T.O. HQ under arrangements made by the Secretary-General. As Chief of the M.P.O., I also attended these meetings in an observer/adviser/liaison capacity as the representative of the Military Advisers Group. The Council Representatives, in addition to dealing with routine and urgent business, also prepared papers on important policy and financial matters for consideration by the Council at their annual meeting. Paralleling the political/civil side of the S.E.A.T.O. organisation was the military side headed by the Military Advisers Group who reported collectively to their governments through the Council or separately through their Council member. The Military Advisers Group were always present at Council meetings and also met separately twice a year -- one of these meetings always being immediately prior to and in the same place as the annual Council meeting. I was present at all M.A.s meetings in fact I had to organise the meetings and present to the M.A.s the various planning papers which had been prepared in M.P.O.
Each M.A. had a representative in the M.P.O. who worked in a committee under my chairmanship to finalise M.P.O. papers before their presentation to the M.A.s.
Also in the M.P.O. and working under my direct control was an international planning staff consisting of officers from all three services - seconded from member nations. This staff did the research and prepared the first draft of papers and plans for consideration by the M.A.R.C. (Military Advisers Representatives Committee chaired by me). The first draft was a true planner's paper without any national slant or bias.
The final draft after it emerged from the M.A.R.C. took account of various National viewpoints and was then put on the agenda for the Military Advisers' semi-annual meeting. After a plan had been approved by the Military Advisers, it then became a S.E.A.T.O.* military plan to deal with one of a variety of contingency situations which might arise in the Treaty area. Political guidance relating to the military plans was provided to the military planners at both the M.A.R.C. level and the M.A. level. The M.A.s made a periodic report to the S.E.A.T.O. Council regarding the progress of planning, and other M.P.O. activities. Before any S.E.A.T.O. plan could have been put into effect, it would have required the unanimous approval of all S.E.A.T.O. nations. In the event, no S.E.A.T.O. plan was ever put into effect. However, various member nations did take unilateral action in some situations - e.g. Laos and Vietnam - and although acting in pursuance of S.E.A.T.O., they were implementing National plans NOT S.E.A.T.O. plans.
As Chief M.P.O., I travelled widely, not only throughout the treaty area, but also to the various locations where the S.E.A.T.O. Council had their meetings. So I attended S.E.A.T.O. Council and M.A.s meetings not only in Bangkok, Manila, Singapore and Canberra, but also Honolulu, Washington, Wellington (N.Z.), Karachi (Pakistan). On one occasion in 1961 I headed a group of planners who went to Pakistan at the invitation of the Pakistan M.A. to study their contingency plans to meet alleged threats of "communist" aggression to their Northern and N.W. frontiers. This was quite a nostalgic visit for me. To be back in what was formerly part of the old India where I had served for eight years in the thirties as a junior officer, living in a military environment with little opportunity (and I must confess, desire) to know and understand very much about the social and political life of the civilian population. On this twenty years later visit as a mature, experienced, senior officer, I was able to obtain a more comprehensive view of the nation. In 1961 the Pakistan government was virtually under a military government because the military leaders under Ayub Khan had taken over power when the previous elected civilian government, which was inefficient and corrupt, had virtually collapsed. This is not the place to discuss that political situation in any detail. I merely observe that the country and the people needed a strong, efficient and just government which also took strong measures against corruption. (They had been used to this when the British ruled India!)
The above is some background to the situation prevailing at the time of our visit and it is not surprising that we were welcomed and very efficient arrangements were made for our visit to the various frontier regions -- most of which I had not seen when I served in India during the thirties. We did not, of course, visit the frontiers with India nor Kashmir. The dispute between India and Pakistan did not come within the terms of the S.E.A.T.O. treaty which was limited to Communist aggression against the treaty area. As S.E.A.T.O. planners, we could therefore not look at that aspect of Pakistan's defence problems. Although it was never said openly, we all knew that Pakistan's main reason for being in S.E.A.T.O. was to strengthen her position vis-a-vis India. This was the background for the invitation for S.E.A.T.O. planners to visit Pakistan.
Nevertheless, our visit was a useful one and broadened our experience and professional knowledge. We gained a favourable impression of the standard of training of the Pakistan Army although much of its weapons and equipment was old and obsolescent.
Some of the highlights of our visit were: A drive up the Khyber Pass to the frontiers with Afghanistan. A flight into a remote frontier garrison north of Peshawar which was manned by a complete brigade group in a perimeter camp with strong defences. This was an area which had never been completely controlled, even under the British Raj. Another rather hazardous flight up a narrow valley north of into the heart of the Himalayas to visit a garrison guarding the approach into Pakistan from a northern pass over the Himalayas. As the aircraft flew northward, the valley became narrower and narrower until it seemed that our wing-tips would touch the mountain slopes on each side. We could see the mountain tops - including Nanga Parbat towering thousands of feet above us. Eventually we landed on the floor of the valley through which ran a fast narrow river (full of trout!). The total width of the flat ground in the valley would not have exceeded 400 yds at its widest. We slept there overnight. Late in the afternoon we witnessed a game of polo as it was originally played in Asia before the Europeans went to India. The polo field was about 200 yds long and 50 yds wide and completely enclosed by a rough stone wall 6 feet high. Although there were four players in each of the opposing sides, the game bore no resemblance to modern polo but was more like a hand to hand fight between opposing cavalry patrols. There were no rules and the ball was always in play because the wall kept it in the field. The locals asserted that modern polo originated from this valley but this is a dubious claim because there is stronger evidence to support the view that the game originated in Persia.
One amusing and interesting occurrence to me in Pakistan is worth recording as a final anecdote concerning the visit. On arrival we were leach allotted a "bearer" as a personal servant. (A bearer is a personal man-servant who looks after all his master's personal needs. In the days of the British Raj every officer had a bearer who accompanied him everywhere and looked after him). The bearer allocated to me was a good one and had, in the past, served many British masters. He knew a limited amount of English. He had no idea that I had lived in India previously and used to be able to speak Urdu fluently. (I had to pass the Indian Army Higher Standard Urdu exam before being eligible to serve with Indian Mountain Artillery). However, in the twenty years which had elapsed, since I left India in 1939, I had forgotten how to speak Urdu but could understand the gist of what was being said around me. So occasionally I heard my bearer talking to other bearers and his friends on the verandah outside my room. They used to discuss the group of visiting "Sahibs" in my party. After about 4 or 5 days I woke up one morning when my bearer brought me an early morning cup of tea and, without thinking, started to talk to him in fluent Urdu. I will never forget the look on his face -- surprise then dismay when he realised that I must have heard and understood what he had been saying about my party to his friends. However, I soon managed to convince him I was not offended by anything he had said, and soon I had him laughing about it. Subsequently we had a good friendly relationship -- I gained prestige, and so did he amongst his fellows because he was able to boast about having an Urdu-speaking master who was in India in the "good old days" of the British Raj! I was just as surprised as he was at hearing myself speak Urdu. The human brain is like a computer -- it stores up the information but you can't retrieve it unless you programme it correctly and turn on the appropriate switches!
I have always regarded Bangkok as the strategic heartland of S.E. Asia and very much hope it can retain its independence. Whilst I was in Bangkok the "Domino" theory was considered valid. (I still  consider it valid but the reasons for this have changed because of the changed situation which has developed in S.E. Asia in recent years). Anyway, in the 1960-1962 period Bangkok was a very interesting politico-military centre, not only for the members of the S.E.A.T.O. nations, but for other pro-S.E.A.T.O. countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Burma and from further afield, Korea and Japan. (Also I have no doubt that both Communist China and Russia had their agents operating there). Consequently, the representatives were always to be seen in most diplomatic, social and military gatherings which were not intended to be exclusively S.E.A.T.O. There were also many visitors and missions from these countries. All trying to exert influence and glean information.
A few months before my two year appointment in Bangkok concluded, I was notified that my next appointment would be Chief of the General Staff. So I then resolved that after handing over to my successor, I would pay a visit to Laos and Vietnam before returning to Australia. As Chief S.E.A.T.O. planner, I was forbidden to visit these countries -- for political reasons, it was considered such a visit would be misconstrued and used wrongly by both friends and enemies. This was probably correct. However, what could not be done as a planner responsible to S.E.A.T.O. nations collectively was, in fact, both necessary and desirable as an Australian officer who had ceased to be Chief of S.E.A.T.O. M.P.O. and was now Australian C.G.S. designate. Accordingly, I sought and received approval from Australia for the visits to Laos and Vietnam.
I arranged my visit to Laos through the Australian Ambassador in Vientiane and the details were worked out by the Military Attaché. In Vientiane arrangements were made for me to meet the Head of Government - a General Phoumi - and other military leaders (at this time, 1962, the right wing factions were in power). After discussions and briefings and visits to various military establishments, we flew down the Mekong valley to the border with Laos; landing and spending some time at all places of strategic and other interest and meeting and talking to local leaders and commanders.
A few days after my visit to Laos, I flew to Saigon where the procedure was much the same. The President at this time was Diem. Accompanied by the Australian Ambassador (Anderson), I had an incredible three hour interview with Diem which consisted mainly of a monologue in French by the President, giving his views on the situation in Vietnam and the strategy which should be pursued to defeat V.C. (and North Vietnam) and the additional resources -- troops, aircraft, weapons, equipment, infrastructure etc. needed to make his plans work. The interview was twice as long as it needed to be because of the need for an interpreter to translate what he had said into English for my benefit.
This was not really necessary because when Diem had visited Duntroon he had spoken to me in quite fluent English. However, Diem was a Mandarin of the old school in which French was the official language. (His attitude was the same as General de Lattre at Singapore some years earlier). I suspect that the monologue was one which he had delivered many times before to VIP's who visited Vietnam. It was only in the last few minutes we had any two-way discussion during which he expressed appreciation for the small Australian Army Training Team which had arrived in Vietnam a short period before. He was obviously hoping that Australia would provide a great deal more assistance in the future. It was obvious later that he gave instructions to his minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff of the Army that I was to be given maximum assistance and permitted to visit any place in Vietnam I wished. So, after the usual calls, discussions and briefings in Saigon, I set out on a 10-day tour mainly by air, accompanied by the Military Attaché (Col. Hoptono). I went to most of the provincial capitals and some villages and key military areas met province chiefs, mayors, and most of the corps and divisional commanders. The latter I was to meet many times again during my frequent visits to Vietnam. Included in the places I visited were -- Nha Trang, Cam Ran Bay, Qui Nhon, Quang Nhi, Danang, Hue, Quan Tri, Kantum, Pleeker, Ban Me Thuo and Tay Niuh -- and several places in the Delta in the South. In this way I gained a comprehensive overall view of the situation, the leaders, the terrain and the communication system and infrastructure generally.
All this plus the contacts I made were to be invaluable to me during the next eight years. The two key Americans in Vietnam at this time were the Ambassador and the Commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Group, General Harkins. I called on and had discussions with both of these men and was well received.
On conclusion of this visit to Vietnam I returned to Bangkok where Helen had waited for me. We then returned to Canberra together via Singapore.
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