Having said that I didn’t want to go, we actually enjoyed Saignon. (Now Ho Chi Minh City). The atmosphere at night was very tense with the occasional rocket fire on the edge of the city, but during the day it was ok. Again we had to look for somewhere to live, but there was a couple who were going on leave who offered us their apartment for six weeks.
We took on the two women house girls, who had been working at the apartment, ‘Chi-Hi’ and ‘Chi-Bar’. They were a dead loss really. They used to make terrible tea, and I discovered that they would make a pot of tea and anything that was left they would put in a bottle and store in the fridge. When we next asked for tea, they would simply reheat the contents. Not only that but they used to hang the tea bags out to dry on the washing line, and then use them again at some other point!
Then we found two single bedroom flats, which were situated next to each other in a block, so Lawrence asked the landlord if they could be knocked into one. It was so hot and humid; it was a very uncomfortable climate. However the flat was on the top floor and there was a flat room above, so in the evenings we used to have meals or entertain on the roof.
When you are on a duty station that is difficult there is usually a good community, so people used to pull together and help each other. Donna went to the International School, which was run by the Americans, although most Americans had left by this time. The school was on the other side of the town and she was picked up every day on a ‘tri-shaw’, a bit like a motorised rickshaw. It was quite a trek. She educated the English teacher there who insisted on trying to correct Donna’s English by using American spelling, but Donna wasn’t having any of it! In the end Donna won!
Lawrence was quite happy at the college there, which was good, but he felt he wasn’t there long enough to make a difference. It could be a difficult environment, as sometime the students would get shot at. One of Lawrence’s students had stepped on a mine and lost both his legs.
Many of the Americans who were still there after the mass exodus were bachelors. They were all accommodated in a hotel in the town, and on a Sunday we were allowed to go to the restaurant. It was really difficult to get food in Saigon at this point, and so to go to the American Hotel was great, the pizza’s and steaks were huge as they were all flown in for the troops. The British Embassy allowed us to some supplies that were also flown in, so we could get the occasional slab of cheese or bacon but nothing very much, so we often relied on the black market in town. However, fish and particular lobster and shrimps were plentiful being by the sea, but meat was in short supply. Half the population travelled on little scooters. At rush hour they would turn off the traffic lights! It was much more orderly! We didn’t usually go out before 10am as the Americans would sweep the roads for mines and let us know when it was safe to travel.
We made up our own entertainment by forming a darts team, as at that point the curfew wasn’t until about 11 at night. Some of the Americans wouldn’t have you back to their homes, as either they didn’t want anyone to know where they lived, as that might put them in danger as they weren’t liked, although they were doing a tremendous job bringing supplies in and out. Alternatively they had a Vietnamese girlfriend and didn’t want anyone back at home to know.
It became more restricting as the curfew was brought forward to 8pm, but we didn’t feel in any danger. But not everyone felt the same way. We were invited to a coffee morning at one the American Embassies and Hazel Hutchins and I were talking to this American lady and in she opened her handbag and we saw she kept a gun in it. We asked her why she had it and she said. “I wouldn’t go out at home without it, let alone here!”
It started getting difficult quite quickly and suddenly.
The UN were completely clueless when it came to evacuation. We went to the British Embassy to ask what the situation was, and they said it was time to go. The planes by this time were quite full, and we waited for hours and hours to see if we could get on a plane.
In April 1975 when Donna had just turned 13, we were told Air France had a regular flight leaving Saigon. It was women and children first, so Donna and I were anticipating just going to Bangkok and then were likely to be on our own from there on as Lawrence was going to stay. We got on this plane, but there was another plane ahead behind us, which was taking orphans to the States, some of whom had American fathers. The mixed race children were not accepted in Saigon, and the mother often forced to live on the street. When we were boarding the plane with the wife of a Norwegian friend they asked us if we were prepared to look after a couple of children on the flight. Lawrence was on the way back to Saigon from the airport when he saw the flight after us crash in a plume of smoke. We think they didn’t close the back door properly and everyone was killed including some friends of ours from the church. Of course Lawrence didn’t know if it was our plane or not. Our Air France plane was the last flight out of the country, although later some people were evacuated by helicopter.
We got to Bangkok and from there got a flight to London. We left in such a hurry when we left we didn’t pack much. It was April and London was wet and cold. None of us had a coat and we were wearing shorts and sandals. When we arrived we intended to look for a hotel, but at Heathrow a chap came up to us and said “Are you looking for accommodation” We were exhausted and must have looked a sight. He gave us an address and said “When you get there, tell them Mr Brown sent you”. It wasn’t far from the terminal, so the taxi driver wouldn’t take us there, and we had to walk in the pouring rain and we were freezing cold. Fortunately we didn’t’ have too much baggage except a suitcase. We arrived at the address and rang the bell. A voice said “who is it?” so we said “Mr Brown sent us!” and he let us in. It was warm and lovely! A lady met us and brought us dressing gowns and showed us the bathroom whilst she made us some sandwiches and showed us to a comfortable room.
Chris was in London on a German course, I don’t know how we contacted her but she came to the hotel and knew the way to the station so we made our way to Leeds and stayed with Pat and Geoff LeGalley.
Lawrence stayed on in Vietnam for nine more months before the project was forced to close down. Lawrence didn’t know at this point whether he was going to get another job, or what was going to happen, so Donna being 13, couldn’t stay out of school forever and so she joined Christine at the convent in Richmond. Eileen went to Canada for a while. In the end we were in Saigon for just over a year.