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Tunnel Rats

Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2013 in Books

Tunnel RatsAllen & Unwin published  Tunnel Rats at the beginning of July 2011.  It’s a major rewrite of ‘No Need For Heroes’ the first-person memoir I wrote for Sandy MacGregor about 15 years before, but updated and re-tooled as a full-blown military history rather than a personal memoir. It’s a real “Boys’ Own” adventure – only for grown-up boys – telling the story of the young Australian Army engineers who, when they weren’t having a whale of a time, often at their own officers’ expense, were the first Allied troops to go down the Vietcong tunnels and discovered their underground city.

What I love about this story – and what made me want to go back and rework it after all this time – is that these guys were not only genuinely courageous and endlessly resourceful, they had a spirit of adventure and mischief that sustained them through what was a pretty horrific time.  There are plenty of outrageous stories like the time they booby-trapped their own shower block – which they had built with money from their own little casino – rather than let it fall into the hands of recently arrived officers; then there was the ‘car chase’ through the streets of Saigon in which two sappers evaded the combined might of the US, Australian and South Vietnamese military police by commandeering a tuk-tuk and, ultimately, driving it under the barrier gate of their camp.

There was the investigation of the Tunnels, of course and the discovery of the underground city – they were the first Allied troops to venture down there, regardless of who lays claim to that honour.  And then there was the day-to-day engineering tasks that varied from building bridges to “de-lousing” booby-trapped rice caches, embodying their unofficial motto Facimus et Frangimus – we make and we break.

Tunnel Rats went into reprint in only its first week on sale and has been selling well in various formats since. The follow-up book A Sappers War was published in 2012. It traces the involvement of Australian Army engineers in Vietnam from the start of the “American War’ – before Australia’s official involvement – to the very last convoy out of the country.

Meanwhile, you can listen to an interview with Sandy and me on Radio National, with Geraldine Doogue, HERE,  read an extract (as a PDF)  HERE, or buy the book, either as a paperback or an eBook HERE.

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