National Service Experience 1967-1968

Terry Edwinsmith

The dreaded marble in the first call up came to me in 1965 whilst I was at college but I deferred to 7th intake after completing KGTT College and 12 months teacher placement (at Milton SS). This new found fame did not endear me to many classroom colleagues and a certain leper syndrome attached itself to me whilst I remained at college. The 7th intake comprised many deferrers. Singleton was full of uni students, teachers and college students who were caught in the net and were deferred for a short time. Indeed 9 Platoon was full of Brisbane boys who were last on the plane (DC3) to Williamstown Air Force Base after saying goodbye to loved ones. The country boys were loaded up first from Enoggera Barracks as they were without friends or relatives to see them go. Later in my training when the selection for Scheyville was made for officer training the platoons were evened up and I was transferred to 5 Platoon with the country boys leaving Kevin Smith, Norm Hunter and Frank Cordingley back in 9 Platoon. Using my guitar I managed to play for many a sing along early in the night and so I missed the late night picket duty, as my duty was to entertain.

Pluses and minuses at Singleton, it was interesting but I was glad to leave. I was given the Corps posting of Artillery since I had expressed a desire to be a PT instructor (all PT instructors were from Artillery) and also I thought being an army pilot in Army aviation was a good idea until I found out that I had to sign up for five years.

North Head in Sydney up from the Manly ferry was my home for at least eight weeks. Four weeks were spent becoming a Gun Number (seven were needed to man a 105 mm Howitzer). This I found to be most enjoyable and my favourite job was sighting the gun and placing in the co-ordinate numbers to position the gun before firing. Next a course to assist in operating a radio was my next assignment. Again this was interesting and I worked hard to top the course so that I could stay longer at North Head with my mates Graeme Burton and Ross Burns also former teachers who were on the gun survey course at the same time as my signals course. Alas the army did not keep their word regarding remaining at North Head and I was next sent to Wacol to join 105 Holding Battery prior to my Vietnam departure.

North Head Artillery School was a home away from home. We slept in very agreeable accommodation with six per room. The courses were interesting and enjoyable. Mateship was great. We went on the harbour regularly and visited the sights from Manly. The King’s Cross area was interesting for young Queensland lads – we looked but didn’t partake. Weekend day trips were many and varied. I vividly remember being taken to Luna Park by one of the local trainees and he managed to lock us up side down on an encaged ferris wheel whilst it rotated. One of our room mates who was from Victoria looked like the original Clark Kent and one day this lad jumped off the second floor balcony of our barracks trying to emulate Superman. He succeeded and he was referred to as Superman after that. He did body building to enhance his Superman features and looks. It was here that I was asked to apply for the education corps and as the panel of three were coming to our barracks then it was easy to request an interview. North Head was a Gentlemen’s Club. This helped to give dignity to any applications submitted by North Head personnel.

Graeme Burton had a married cousin (who lived at Dee Why) so each Friday night (or so) we would go to her place for a talk or go with her husband to the Dee Why pub where there was entertainment. Near the end of our stay she was admitted to hospital for a small operation. Whilst we visited her she introduced us to the young nurses, who we all managed to take out in the next week or so in a group. Alas my posting to Wacol put an end to further outings. (I believe some of the others who stayed for a longer time did manage a few more dates.)

Graeme and I were guitarists and folk singers who managed to enter several pub talent quests. At the Manly Pacific just down the road from our barracks, we came first or second with great support from our barrack’s mates. They drank the prizes. The Mamas and the Papas were big on the charts at that time and Big Pretzel (a Sydney Go-Go dancer) was doing her go-go dancing. (Later she toured Vietnam.) Alan Keeble a primary school mate was posted to North Head from Holsworthy to provide a guard for a Nato Conference held in Sydney at that time.

One weekend we returned to the barracks to learn that a man who was fishing from the rocks at North Head was shot and he became a paraplegic as the bullet lodged in his spine. Guard duty all of a sudden became a very serious affair when we eventually went out during the next week. Police were interviewing soldiers who were at the barracks during the time of the shooting. I regret to say that our friend Superman who was one of our six bunk mates was arrested for the offence and eventually charged. I recall that he did buy a 0.22 rifle for sporting use. Another course colleague who was an archer from SA (and the muscles on his back to prove it) surrendered his bow and arrows to the armourer for safe keeping after this incident.

John Dalton (who owned a mini car) and I drove up to Brisbane to start life as Gunners at Wacol Army Reserve. We all lived at home (for me it was Kelvin Grove) and we drove in to work by 7 am each day. If we were required to do guard duty or stay in at the CO’s request then we had our own bed in one of the igloo huts. Guard duty consisted of keeping the hot water boilers filled up with coal during the night. (This was July – Singleton was February/March – Sydney North Head was April and some May – Wacol was June/July some of August and September) Life was easy. Our sergeant was a great humanitarian (Sgt. Don Dixon). Those who did not wish to go to Vietnam could request that they not be sent. (From 48 soldiers only 32 eventually were sent). One such candidate was a talented Aussie Rules player from Sandgate called John Stackpole. Another talented gunner was Rex Ward from Sydney who played rugby union. We watched him play in a combined services team at Ballymore against Queensland. Rex went to Vietnam but the officers wanted him to stay in Australia and play rugby. John eventually went into the commercial world after returning to teach at Scott’s College.

One lad from Sydney who was in our hut received a “Dear John” letter from his girlfriend who was then going to marry his best mate. We spent a long time over several days calming him down.

During three weeks of August we all went to Canungra Army Jungle Training Centre. This was a tough time with daily exercises using our weapons, night hikes and a flying fox across a creek. (I received a knee injury on this flying fox and I was taken to the RAP – all was well after a tight bandage, but I saw an x-ray of a man’s finger which was torn off his hand after his wedding ring caught on the rear hinge of a truck’s tail gate. You will notice that I have never worn a wedding ring.)

The regular army sergeants who were running the courses at Canungra were very good and they were even handed with officers and privates alike if you did not follow their instructions. On my day off I read ¾ of Dr. Zhivago. A tent mate lent it to me.

Following this course we returned to Wacol as supermen. During the months of August and September our 105 Holding Battery went to Tin Can Bay for a live firing exercise. This was probably the last field exercise that our group undertook together. I worked the radios near the command post. All I can recall was the live firing and the fired shot whistling overhead as it hit a nearby hill. Our transport was both long based land rovers and trucks hauling the howitzers.

During September the final preparations were made for our departure for Vietnam. Thirty three of us had trained for 4 Field Regiment as replacements. (The remaining Queenslanders from North Head had also joined us.) The thought of the war service home scheme and repatriation benefits were foremost in our mind.

We were given a week’s pre embarkation leave. I vividly remember watching TV at home in the evening with my mother when the front door bell rang and the Wacol Duty Sergeant appeared with movement papers for me to fly out next day to Papua New Guinea. This was 7 pm Wednesday evening. I protested that I was off to Vietnam on Saturday morning but he assured me that TPNG it was. So after some hurried calls to mates, I packed and on Thursday morning joined an Ansett plane (or it may have been TAA) to go to Port Moresby. I believe that I wore the formal army outfit with tie and blue beret. No one was waiting for me when I arrived, so I managed to hitch a lift to Murray Barracks with a European transport corporal or sergeant who promptly left me at the Education Centre Murray Barracks. I was not expected. My group which I was to join was due in November but I was sent north as my 105 Holding Battery was going to Vietnam. Here I was. A bed was found for me in the Corporals’ quarters. I was due to go to Goldie River but after a few days the OIC (Capt John Rawson) in education at Taurama Barracks, a great humanitarian, was in need of a librarian. As I had read a book once (Dr. Zhivago you might remember) I spent several weeks cataloguing and placing books on a shelf. This was the life for me! Norm Hunter shared his tent with me and the chalkies that we were replacing were in party mode. I did not move from Taurama Barracks until my eventual discharge. I began instructing in the usual subjects with Civics (Social Studies – History) being my favourite, but Maths, English and Science were also undertaken. Platoon duties also came my way regularly. I travelled throughout the country on W.O. Dan Winkel’s tours and became pay sergeant for two periods in my fifteen months there but that is another story. A patrol through the Milne Bay District (Wanigela to Gurney) in 1968 is also the subject of another story.

To refresh my memory regarding some of the events I have described, I had occasion to contact several of my North Head colleagues. What is clear is that many have not travelled well since our happy corps training days. When I left for TPNG the others were sent from Wacol to Middle Bay Sydney by train from South Brisbane Station. People waited almost two months for movement to Vietnam after leaving Wacol. Their Vietnam experiences varied.

4 Field Regiment had six months to serve before being located to Townsville to be replaced by 12 Field Regiment from Holsworthy. My Wacol colleagues had the option of completing the six months tour (then relocating to Townsville) or staying on for a further six months in the new NSW Regiment. Many stayed on to save money for homes and marriage on their return. In spite of ‘safe’ postings in Vietnam, many servicemen were psychologically affected by this tour. Many are now suffering post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and in some cases have had to retire from work early. This is assuming that they have sought counselling on the insistence of their families. I hope to contact others over the next year or so to see how they are travelling and if nothing else revive the good memories of our time at “Her Majesty’s Pleasure”.

Terry Edwinsmith

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  1. Great reflections Terry . My memory has faded and I have forgotten many of the experiences, but I do remember we were on the parade ground in Singleton preparing for embarkation to Canungra and then Vietnam when they read out a list of around 20 privates who were to go to New Guinea. I remember the mixed feelings I had. I felt I was deserting my mates who had shared a lot of experiences with me and we had become a team. On the other hand I felt some relief. Like you I was called up in the first intake but was deferred until 1970-71. In that time I had experienced the effect Vietnam had on a mate of mine who shared the same birth date. It was hard to comprehend how it messed up his life.

  2. Great reflections. Brought back many memories. I was at Wacol in 67 with 105 Bty. and enjoyed my time. Also played footy with Coorparoo and managed Qld state selection.About mid year I was transferred back to The School of Arty. to take up an instructor position. Two names I remember ,Stackpoole and Sgt Dixon, who I remember not only for his humble ,humanitarian nature but his diminutive stature. ( is this tne same man ? )
    Thanks for your recollections.Like you I think it was a time that helped shape us and better equip us for the life to follow.

    • Bill,
      I was with John Stackpoole, who played AFL for Sandgate. Sgt Don ? Dixon was indeed a gentleman. I am intouch with John Dalton also from 105 Holding Bty,who lives nearby. I am presently researching the shooting incident on North Head on 7th May 1967. So far no leads.

  3. Terry,
    Even though you say you don’t recall any of the names I provided I must correct one thing I said. I was wrong in saying A G White was killed while in Nam with the “team”. So embarrassing for me! I was recently speaking to a guy who knew AG who told me he was with him only a short while ago.
    My humble apologies to any who read my first comment.

  4. Terry,

    I was a sergeant instructor on the Battle Efficiency Course at the time you say you were there. Do you remember the names of any of your instructors? As instructors we worked three weeks (the length of the course) and had six days off in between courses. Do the names Dan Kelly, Gunner Cunneen, Alan Grice ring any bells. There was AG White for a time until he joined AATTV ( he was killed when with the team) Cheers

    • Ron,
      Thanks for the e-mail! After so many years absence from those days, I am afraid that I cannot recall any names other than those resident in Queensland. Our main instructor on the 105 Howitzer was a very pleasant young Bombardier, quietly spoken. I then moved to the radio/wireless course with a variety of instructors of a more senior age.
      North Head was a wonderful place to receive instruction. I enjoyed all aspects of the gunnery and radio course in very pleasant surroundings with excellent instructors. I was almost tempted to sign up.
      Thanks again for your interest,

  5. Wonderful story, Terry. (I have just read it). Expect the un-expected in The Army! You had a day’s notice before flying out to TPNG; I had seven, and that was when we were both preparing for a stint in Vietnam. Army life may not have been our choice then, but in hind-sight, one cannot help but be grateful for such a rich and challenging experience, which set us up with significant life-lessons, at a relatively young age. Thanks for sharing a great story. Russell Jenkin (formerly Sergeant R.T.Jenkin, Education Section, 2 PIR, Wewak, 1967/1968)

  6. Hi Terry,

    I’m just following up on some information that was given out, I’m told, by Macca on Australia All Over on the ABC last weekend, about a possible Chalkies reunion. I was with the RAAEC at Taurama Barracks from late 1970 to late 1971, with 7 other guys from everywhere except Tasmania. There were 3 Queenslanders, including Neville Corrie and Russell Bates. I wonder if they’ve crossed your path. Could you give me some details about the reunion?

    Ray Bassett

    • Hi Ray, sorry for late reply. Please look on Home Page and contact Terry directly about Reunion details.
      You are welcome to Email me (see Contacts page) about other Chalkie matters.

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