Ken Morcom’s National Service Experience
Ken Morcom 1967-68
After 44 years the hardest part of this exercise is to remember details but here goes….
I turned 20 while attending Western Teachers’ College in Adelaide and my call-up was deferred until the February of the next year (1967). I was doing the then Boy’s Craft Course (later Technical Studies, then Technology Studies)
After reporting to Keswick Barracks we were flown from Adelaide to Mangalore then bussed to Puckapunyal for Recruit Training. Because all teachers’ college students had their call-ups deferred until the end of their final year there was a lot of “new” teachers in the February intake. The three of us that got called up from my college group were all in the same hut.
After recruit training I went into the RAASC (Service Corp) still based in Puckapunyal to do the Basic Clerical Course. The cold weather had set in and it was difficult trying to warm your fingers sufficiently to be able to type. One thing that sticks in my mind is the fact that we had to be trucked to the Artillery Corp mess hall for meals!!!
About half way through the course 3 or 4 of us were loaded onto a 3 ton truck and taken to Watsonia Barracks in Melbourne for an interview to transfer to the Education Corp. Did we fill in earlier paperwork indicating our interest or were we randomly selected for interview?
After waiting most of the day it was a very short interview and there was only one question I remember – How would you feel about working/living with natives?
We returned to our clerical course and I recall about a week later, Brian Davies and I were told to pack our gear – we were off to New Guinea! (I believe I was selected to replace Sgt. Don Benson doing trade training in Port Moresby.)
Of course we had to mark time (Greatcoats on- Greatcoats off) in Melbourne and because we had to wait a week for paper work and plane flights Brian Davies drove me to the outskirts of Melbourne and I hitch hiked back to Adelaide for a few days.
The weather was a real shock on landing in Port Moresby after coming from Melbourne’s winter!
Getting used to the army system however, it wasn’t a shock to find out that the organization had changed and I wouldn’t be working in the Trade School but teaching basic maths and social studies!!
Living conditions were pretty basic – tents with wooden flooring initially before we were placed in LEP units.(Locally Enlisted Personnel) I shared one with Sgts. Brian Davies, Frank Cordingley and Peter Darmody. We could see good progress being made on the new Sgt’s quarters and the Education Section but it was months before we moved in.
Once we moved into the new Sgt’s Quarters things improved immensely. Less marching from one place to another, more convenient for meals, overhead fans in individual rooms and decent ablutions. My room faced the Mess and I often wondered how many times we had to listen to Dean Martin sing “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me” and “Everybody Loves Somebody”.
Overcoming the prejudices of the enlisted Sgts. was gradually whittled down. Some of the regular Sgts. had been in the army for many years before they got promoted and were jealous of our rapid promotion. Some of them could finally see the value in education to improve promotion prospects.
We spent many hours recording LPs onto reel to reel tape decks and because Sgt. Brian Davies was in charge of the library we managed to get hold of the records before they went into the Mess to be scratched and mishandled.
I remember very little about the courses we held but I do remember very fondly the trips that WO2 Dan Winkel ran either on weekends or during the breaks we had every 6 weeks. I went to Mt. Hagen, Popendetta, Trobriand Islands, Tapini and Goroka. A fabulous experience.
My respect for WW2 soldiers grew immensely after we did a walk during one of our breaks down the first section of the Kokoda Track. I remember it was incredibly hot and we were dripping coming back up the first very steep hill-and we didn’t really go far!!
One official trip I went on was a Civil Action Patrol to Menyamya for 5 days. We flew there in a Caribou and stayed in a large open sided shed. The group did various projects to aid the community and I helped with building a toilet block and sports pavilion. The Engineers built a bridge. At night I was the Projectionist (I had a crash course in running the projector just before leaving Moresby) for the open air movies show. ie. I was inside a shelter with the projector facing out through the open window. The screen was a bed sheet strung up between trees. There appeared to be no-one there when the movie started but then I discovered all the natives were behind the sheet watching from the rear! The movies were things such as “The Redex Trial 1955”, “The Last Mailman” starring Tom Cruse and relatively recent “Newsreels”. The crowd was very quiet but there was a real reaction when I reversed the projector and everything went backwards!!! It was a fabulous experience.
Also, while on that Patrol, I went on a truck to pick up some timber for the sports pavilion. I was up front with the driver and there were 4 others on the back with the timber. Going up a particularly steep hill, precipice out my window, the driver “missed” a gear while changing down and we began going backwards, brakes not holding!!! The passengers on the back jumped off and we continued downhill rapidly until the driver backed across the road and dumped us into a ditch. That stopped everything! It was some time before another truck was summoned to pull us out!! Another great experience.
Being Orderly Sgt. was another experience to endure. Inspecting the piquet, raising and lowering the flag at the Brigadier’s house, visiting the sick in the local hospital, patrolling the Barracks by vehicle and trying to stay awake all night were some of the duties performed.
What did we do on weekends and nights to entertain ourselves?
I didn’t buy a motor bike like Sgts. Cordingley and Davies so I had to find other things to do on weekends while they went exploring.
A lot of my time was taken writing letters to my fiancé – generally 3 per week. I wish we had kept the letters as they would now make this task easier.
We had quite a few sessions with Dan Winkel and his wife (Edna) learning how to play Mah-jong. I’m currently teaching our grandsons how to play.
During the wet season Sgt. Brian Davies talked me into umpiring Aussie rules football. He was a VFA umpire. It was a good way to keep fit and something that I carried on with when I returned home. (I umpired in the SAAAFL for 22 years doing a number of games at the top level.)
In the dry season we played tennis with some success. Who else was on the team????
Captain Finn organized a few games of Water Polo once the swimming pool was finished and we played a fair bit of Squash.
As “young Sgts.” we were called upon to “babysit” the children of Officers when there was a special “do” on in their Mess.
One incident that stands out in my memory is the fact we all had “wash-iron boys”. They did a great job and were responsible for 3-4 Sgts. washing, starching and ironing uniforms. Someone reported that they had some money stolen from their room and it was suspected that a wash-iron boy was responsible. So an MP – WO2 (Burns??) I was friendly with placed some money in a wallet, with a dye on it, in the desk in my room. I had to check it every lunch and end of day. One lunch time the money was missing so on reporting it there was an investigation and everyone (all mess members, staff and wash-iron boys) was subjected to placing their hands under an ultraviolet lamp. One of the “boys” had lovely purple hands and was dealt with!!!
Some of us were given extra duties. (I’ve already mentioned Sgt. Davies was librarian) My task was to supervise the setting up of the garden around the Education Section and I had help from a native civilian – Jimmy.
I took some leave around Christmas 1967 and flew home to Adelaide. Army regulations allowed for 1 free return trip home for National Servicemen if serving outside Australia. New Guinea was classified as external for most things – annual leave reimbursement was not one! So I paid. I remember my father writing to the army protesting about this at the time to no effect.
I returned to Adelaide in November 1968 and was discharged from Keswick Barracks.
Within a month of my return I married Claire (we were engaged for all of my time in New Guinea) and we now have 2 happily married daughters and 4 grandsons.
In 1969 after a short in-service training course I finally began my teaching career for which I was trained and continued to teach in the areas of Woodwork, Metalwork, Photography, Graphics, Plastics and CAD for the following 36 years in and around Adelaide.
Since retiring I have been involved in Probus, U3A (University of the Third Age), Volunteer driver of the Red Cross corporate blood donor bus and the Prospect Men’s Shed. (Making and repairing wooden toys and articles for kindergartens, etc.)
Also to fill in the spare moments we go caravanning and I do a fair bit of walking, bike riding and the garden is always there!
Hi Ken, Just Googling some names from Nailsworth Tech back in the old days wondering what happened to these fellows. Came across your story and photos. I recognised you straight away. Great story about your army life. My marble didn’t come up. I remember our tennis games. I’m still playing but slowing down a bit 🙂 Best wishes for the future and a happy and healthy retirement. Regards, Geoff Johnston
Loved your article Ken. As soon as I saw the segment of the group photo with yourself and Brian Davies, I dug up the full photo to see that I was next along, on Brian’s right. In fact I think we all travelled together to Melbourne in Brian’s Falcon for the initial interview. I too remember the final question about being able to work with ‘the natives’. I went to Staff College Queenscliff as a clerk after the typing course, and was transferred to 1PIR later that year.
Two incidents at Corps training you may recall…the early morning fitness runs with the sergeant from the photo driving along behind us, and our whole group returning for the afternoon session of typing…all square-gaiting in step…when a tankie officer spotted us.
“Who’s in charge of that rabble?” he roared. From memory, he could see the funny side of it and sent us on our way.
National Service in TPNG was certainly a wonderful experience and one of the better ways to spend the two years.I think we were a very lucky and special group. Cheers. Phil Parker. (Chalkie posted at 1PIR in 1967-68)
Your story bought back many pleasant memories of my time in PNG. My experiences were similar and just as exciting!
Well done on your recollections!