Anthony W. Pahl

THE PEWTER RACE

All booze does for me is to send me to sleep; I never used it for that purpose or I may not be here today and I never even touched the stuff until the evening before I left ‘Nam when I left the field behind in the traditional pewter race.

This tradition was enforced on all “pole-vault-under-the-belly-of-a-snake” short-timers on the eve of their departure from in-country. A pint pewter mug was obtained from Butterworth (Malaysia, where we had an Air Force Base) for each bloke who was going home. The pewter race was held on the stage adjoining the Ettamogah Club in the RAAF Cantonment in Vungers. It was an open slather bookie betting free for all beer drinking race. I bet my last MPC on myself (hell, I was going home and didn’t need it) and because I was a known “goffer” (non-drinker) I was able to back myself at 40 to 1.

I’d often smelled the re-cycled lumps of booze on the barracks floor and just about every step leading from the boozer to the barracks (and probably back again) and I shit-hated the smell of it. So I just took a deep breath and when the whistle went, upended the pint mug and just poured it down my throat without swallowing or breathing. About 2.85 seconds later, (they were timing), I plonked the empty mug on my head and looked around while the rest of blokes finished. Well, I got my 40MPC, strode off the stage and promptly proceeded to add to the re-cycled beer that was strewn about the track back to my hooch.

I wasn’t real popular with the bookies that night – some Yanks had walked in the bar just behind me and saw me betting on myself. Being their pay-night (they got paid every 2 months) they backed me at 40 to 1 too, and by the time the race started I was unequal favourite. Later, the bookies politely advised me that I was an ass-hole and had cost them over 2000MPC. I was just shit-glad I was going home the next morning – though I don’t remember much about getting to Saigon except that just before getting on the caribou at Vung Tau, I acquired the Aussie Flag that had waved out the front of the RAAF Air Movements Hangar all the time I’d been in country… but that’s another story.