by John Ford (1969-70)
In 1968/69 and 1969/70 the senior officer of the Education Corp at Taurama Barracks was Captain Wolfgang Flayden. The 1968/69 Chalkies had a troublesome relationship with Capt Flayden whom they referred to as “The Wolf”. Our intake of 1969/70 got on much better with him and I think I would be safe in saying that we found this very atypical regular soldier to be likeable.
Captain Flayden was a tall lean man about 40 years old, originally from Germany and still with a distinct German accent. He had a lovely gentle, friendly wife and a son about 10 years old. He was certainly a bit eccentric, being prone to spur of the moment decisions, unusual behaviour traits and a quirky turn of phrase. He drove a snappy little Honda sports car with 3 SU carburettors which were NEVER tuned in sychronisation.
Some years later, watching Hogan’s Heroes on TV, Colonel Klink’s German accent and to a lesser extent, his mannerisms, reminded me very much of Captain Flayden.
It has been said before that our workload in the Education Corps in TPNG was certainly not arduous. Except for the duty of Battalion Orderly Sergeant which we were occasionally landed with for 24 hours, we did Monday to Friday 8.30 to 5.00 pm with an hour break for lunch. We would dress in our tropical uniforms, washed and ironed by our houseboys, and walk the 150 metres from the Sergeant’s Mess to the Education Centre for a day of relatively stress free education work.
The anomaly was the Saturday morning requirement. It was deemed necessary that we attend the Education Centre, ostensibly from 8.30 to noon, but that on this day we could attend in “civies”. Under Captain Flayden this Saturday morning time was to be spent on non core matters. That is no teaching was done and syllabus and course preparation was not done during these attendances. It was difficult for Captain Flayden to fill this time with meaningful non core material. When we arrived at 8.30 we would assemble in the library and sit around chatting until the Captain made an appearance from his office round 9.00 to 9.30 am. The subject or subjects of the day would be discussed and attended to and then we would be dismissed, usually round 11.00 am but always well before noon. The single ones of us would head straight into Moresby to attend the South Pacific Bar at the Papuan Hotel until we adjourned for a late lunch nearby.
One particular Saturday morning we had what, even today, I regard as a bizarre meeting with Captain Flayden. To fully appreciate this situation you need to remember that Captain Flayden had a distinct German accent.
He came into the library at the usual time of 9.00 to 9.30 am and called us to order. He said “I have been thinking that it would be a good idea for us, the Education Corp, to establish a Boy Scouts Group at Taurama for the Soldiers sons.” He explained his rationale that this would bring a personal connection to our relationship with the TPNG Soldiers and so make it easier for us to present our material to them as friends as well as teachers. Also it would give the boys of Taurama some interaction with us as expatriate Australians and so expose them to more interracial aspects and different cultural behaviour which we displayed. This all sounded very well meaning.
“So,” he said “who is going to volunteer?” Everyone stayed silent and avoided even the most fleeting eye contact. “Nobody?” he said. “OK, who has had previous experience with youth groups?” Again deadly silence with everyone looking intently at their shoes. This silence went on for what seemed like minutes, probably only 15 or 20 seconds in fact.
“Well,” said the good Captain, “I was a member of the Hitler Youth Movement.” Immediately the silence changed to raucous laughter. Every one of us was in hysterics. There was no deference to the Captain’s seniority or rank or the hither to serious nature of the subject.
When the laughter subsided to some extent he said indignantly “What, not moral enough for you?” This immediately brought on a new round of hysterical laughter with an equal lack of deference.
Captain Flayden made these utterances without a smile on his face, even though we were “rolling in the aisles” with tears in our eyes. He made no mention of our “disrespect” and as things died down, simply said “Well give it some thought.”
Needless to say we did not establish a Boy Scouts Group.
Now it has puzzled me for well over 40 years, why did the good Captain say these things? He was no fool and in general he was a decent person who had a genuine interest in our well being. On the other hand he did not display an extraordinary or fiendish sense of humour. Did he say these things to amuse himself in a way with a well hidden sense of humour? Did he say them to amuse us? One thing I HAVE decided is that he would have said them knowing the reaction he was going to get. When the pandemonium erupted, he hardly reacted. I expect I will never get answers to these questions.