by Martin Forbes (1972-74)
I entered National Service (NS) at Kapooka in Jan72, was selected to go to PNG and didn’t leave until Dec74. I was also the sole didiman of the group so it was destination Moem Barracks at Wewak.
I was obviously enjoying it so much I decided to stay after the December 72 election. Truth was, I had just taken a bride and the jobs outlook in Australia at that time was rather bleak. In fact, I stayed in the Army for 21 years – 15 in RAAEC and six in RASigs.
The night of the election is still something I remember vividly. Being the only married Sergeant of our group, we hosted a late afternoon BBQ which deteriorated into a very noisy celebration as we listened on short-wave radio to the election results. Most of our lot were pretty quiet, but they made up for it that night! I distinctly remember one (though it was probably several) of us announcing to the whole MQ area “WE’RE GOING HOME”. We had even imported the famous “It’s Time” blue T shirts and some had been wearing them for a few weeks prior to the election.
The aftermath of the election was amazing. On the Sunday, everyone had to elect whether they were staying or going. Those going were told to pack their bags and on Monday a C130 arrived to take them all home. It picked up the others in Lae and Moresby and so most were back in Australia within 48hrs of the election. The one Chalkie doing penitence in Vanimo couldn’t get a flight back to Wewak and went home on the Tuesday by civil air. I may be wrong but I think I was the only one (out of about 50) who elected to stay.
Having stayed on, I got to know quite a few of the Officers who served in PNG. In subsequent years we were known collectively as “blackhanders”. I remember Barry Turner, Roy Davey, Peter Blackburn, Denis Riley, Jim Connolly and of course, Murray Gough. While there I worked with Ron Tranter (2PIR) and Henry Dachs (HQ PNGDF). Good old Trout – did the 71/72 group turn the fuel switch on his motorbike off, too?
The didman experience is another chapter within the whole story of the RAAEC National Service contribution to Papua New Guinea. The few of us that were honoured to serve in this role should ensure that the chapter is written!
PS. Upon further investigation I find Jim Connolly (initially a Sergeant in the last group, but took a direct entry commission) was at Igam in the late 70s. Maybe he was the last PNG chalkie?