Two experiences of Recruit Training
by WO2 Dan Winkel
I became aware of the RAAEC during my 3 months NS Training. Three years later almost to the day, I found myself in the Office of Capt. George Shannon, the Northern Command District Education officer. During my N.S. Training, I had succeeded in getting an interview with him. Capt. Shannon looked favourably on my application for enlistment and eventually I was offered a position as a Warrant Officer, Education Instructor, upon the satisfactory completion of Recruit Training. I accepted the offer and was advised that the actual enlistment would take place 6 weeks later. That gave me time to resign my position with the Qld Dept. of Education and possibly a week or so in which to enjoy some leisure time. The initial interview had occurred during the May school holidays and the offer from AHQ came about 3 weeks after school resumed. Consequently my actual enlistment took place on 19 July, right in the middle of winter. I was to learn that winter in Wagga Wagga and southern Qld were very, very different. When the actual day of enlistment came around, I was required to be at the Recruiting Office in Mary St in Brisbane at 9 am. A week or so before this date a letter arrived with a rail warrant for the train trip from Gympie (my home) to Roma St Station. I was advised to travel the day before and accommodation would be available for me at N.C.P.D.( Northern Command Personnel Depot). That was done and on the eve of my enlistment I found myself among a group of approx 50 other enlistees, some of whom were women (girls) most of whom were enlisting to be trained as either nurses or clerical assistants (typists). It was quite a party atmosphere and we all enjoyed a few drinks, some a few too many. I retired around 9 pm and after “hitting the sack” lay quietly contemplating the drastic change of career path I had undertaken. I was not able to fully comprehend just what my future would be in the RAAEC. Three months recruit training held no fears for me whatsoever. I had done it before and felt I could cope with whatever the next 3 months held as I had with the 3 months N.S. But what came after that was the great unknown. I didn’t sleep well and was up and dressed well before 7 am breakfast. By 6.30 am I made certain all the male recruits were up and at least in the process of shaving, showering and dressing. I had knocked rather loudly on the door of the women’s barracks earlier and was satisfied they too were on the way to being prepared for breakfast. When the mess doors opened at 7 am at least half the recruits, including myself were waiting. The rest dribbled in from then on until almost 8 am when breakfast was concluded. At least three were sufficiently close to closing time that they received only a slice of toast and a cup of tea. Several men and at least one girl didn’t make it to breakfast and I was told made no attempt to get out of bed before 8 am. None the less, by 8.30am, we were all on the bus and heading for the Recruiting Office in the City. It took the rest of the day for us all to be enlisted and complete the necessary documentation. When we returned to NCPD around 5.30 pm the rest were dropped off at the O. R.s mess and I was taken to the Sergeants Mess. I was now a temp sergeant in the RAAEC. I walked into the foyer and a steward looked at me and said that dinner had started and that I had better go straight in and apologise to the RSM for being late. I marched in, stood before the RSM and told him I was new and had been the DCO (Draft Conducting Office) on the bus with the new recruits. He just nodded and I knew I was dismissed. So I found a seat and ordered a meal from the selection offered on the menu.
After breakfast next morning the RSM called me over and told me it would be over a week before the recruits, including me, were to travel to Wagga Wagga by train. Apparently the train for Sydney left at 4 pm each afternoon. He suggested that rather than hang around the Depot, he’d give me local leave and I would be free to go home or to go and “hang out” on the coast. However since it was only local leave, he couldn’t issue a travel warrant. That was fine with me. I caught a tram to Chermside and hitch hiked home to Gympie where I spent the week cleaning up and modifying the garden to give my father a bit of a break. The evening before I was due to leave for Kapooka, I had a friend drive me to Brisbane where I bought him a meal and he drove my FJ Holden back to Gympie. I slept at NCPD that night and after lunch the next day, together with the other recruits, we travelled to the South Brisbane rail terminal to catch our train to Sydney. As DCO I had a Travel Warrant for us all so we didn’t have to bother with tickets or seating allocations. As we had our own special carriage, we sat around yarning and smoking.
About 3.30pm a Military Police vehicle pulled in. A Provost Corporal alighted, walked over to us and asked for the DCO. I stood up and he said that he had two prisoners for me. They were handcuffed. He suggested that you keep them handcuffed until you hand them over to the Military Police in Sydney. Both prisoners were released from the rear of the vehicle and I was asked to sign an acknowledgement of receipt.. The Provo Corporal used a 3rd pair of handcuffs to attach the prisoners to a steel seat. I was in civilian clothes so the Provo had no indication of my rank and apparently assumed I was a commissioned officer. The prisoners sat quietly shackled to the seat until we were summoned to board our special carriage. The Provo Corporal had given me a key and asked me to sign for 3 sets of handcuffs. When we were seated in the train, I unlocked one handcuff on each prisoner and relocked it onto the steel frame of a seat. Once the train was well under way one of the prisoners asked if he could be escorted to the toilet. I said “No” but I unlocked his handcuff and told him to go himself. The other said, “me too”. I responded O.K. and unlocked him also. By that time some of the others were inquiring about going to the bar for a pre- dinner drink. I called the two prisoners over and asked them why they were under close arrest. They told me they had gone AWOL from Holdsworthy (I Field Regiment) during an exercise in the Singleton area. They had “nicked off” and hitch-hiked home to Brisbane. A few days later the Military Police had arrived at their homes and placed them under close arrest. Subsequently they were tried and sentenced to 6 weeks at the Holsworthy Military Corrective Establishment (1 MCE). They both had behaved perfectly while in my custody and to me appeared to be normal young men. I said to them, “Do you two want a beer?” They both said yes but they didn’t have any money. I looked to the group of men who suggested a pre-dinner drink and asked, “Are any of you fellows prepared to buy these two a beer?” Without hesitation several replied “Yes”. I handed the leader of the group who were out of work coal miners from Collinsville in North Qld, a 10 shilling note and said it’s your responsibility to get them back here in time for dinner, sober, vertical and alert. I was aware they hadn’t had a beer since they were taken into custody and wouldn’t have another until they were released from 1 MCE. They all returned in time to use the toilet and wash their face before we all went to the dining car. It was a set menu. The food didn’t measure up to the food I had been enjoying at NCPD. Perhaps an hour or more after dinner, I stood up and said in a voice loud enough to be heard all over the carriage, “I am going to the bar for a drink, anybody else is free to join me??” We all traipsed to the bar and occupied not only all the seats but also all the standing room. Most of the girls, as well as the two prisoners were there. One of the girls made their presence known to me and asked, “Can we buy these two a drink?” nodding in the direction of the two prisoners. I responded, “It’s your money lady, do what you like with it”. About that time one of the girls/ladies came over to me and said, ” Sergeant, I am impressed with the way you have treated us and especially the way you have accepted the responsibility for those two unfortunate fellows. Can I buy you a drink? “ I accepted and requested she buy a bottle of Reishes Dinner Ale and get two glasses so we could both enjoy it. Apparently she was a fully qualified Nursing Sister from Gladstone who after Recruit Training would be commissioned as a Lieutenant. When her bottle was empty I felt it only reasonable that I bought another. The bar was crowded and busy so it was much easier to buy bottles than glasses. At some point I became aware that someone had bought bottles of whisky, gin or rum. It became quite a party. I recall waking up to the sound of the train rumbling over what seemed to be a very long bridge. It was the rail bridge over the Hawksbury River. Slowly I became aware that my companion from the previous night was still alongside me with her head lolling on my shoulder, snoring quietly. Suddenly I was startled to hear loud crackling on the Public Address system followed by a voice saying we were approaching Hornsby and breakfast would be served in the dining car in 10 minutes.
I had to stand in a queue to get to the toilet and again to get to wash my face. People seemed to be moving up and down the train in preparation for arrival in Sydney. I made my way to the dining carriage. The sausages in gravy I saw being served on a white plate reminded me of the contents of a bed pan after it had been used. Hence I declined breakfast and returned to my seat. My companion from the night before had gone, presumably to breakfast or to prepare for our arrival in Central Station. About the time I arrived back at my seat, my two SUDs (Soldiers Under Detention) arrived dressed only in their underpants. They were unable to offer any explanation as to what happened to their clothes. Handcuffs were still attached to each SUD’s right hand. I reattached them to their seats. We were at Central Station much quicker than I had anticipated. Once the train stopped, I delayed getting my troops out of the train until passengers had moved on to allow me to have the recruits form 3 ranks on the platform. I had just began to call the Roll when a Warrant Officer walked up to me and greeted me, “Is this the contingent from Northern Command?” to which I responded in the positive and went on calling and marking the Roll. The W.O and I had just began a conversation when two ‘meat heads’ (Military Police) arrived and inquired about the SUDs. I handed over the keys to the handcuffs and indicated that the prisoners were still handcuffed to the seats as they had been by the M. P.s in Brisbane. It drew quite a bit of attention from bystanders when the two SUDs were dragged out of the carriage, both handcuffed and dressed only in their underpants. The crowd began booing when the Proves began to manhandle the two prisoners to load them into the back of a waiting paddy-wagon. One of the prisoners began to vomit all over one of the Provos. The crowd began to shout. “Leave them alone, you bullies. Can’t you see they are sick? Take them to hospital.” The W.O. turned to me and said, ” Sergeant, let’s get out of here before this crowd get out of hand.” With that we (the W.O. and I) loaded the rest into a waiting bus and we drove to E.C.P.D. at Watson’s Bay. I was able to get breakfast in the Sergeants Mess and spent most of the day sleeping in a rest room. Around 3 pm, a Steward arrived and told me I was wanted in the foyer. It was a Major who was part of the Training Staff from 1 R.T.B. He told me he had brought a detail of Recruits up from 1 R.T.B. the week before and as from then on, he would be the Draft Conducting Officer for the recruits from Eastern Command as well as the contingent I had brought from Northern Command. I was very happy to be relieved of the responsibility. I went to the dining room of the mess for an early dinner as had been ordered for me at 5 pm. I was delighted to be served a T bone steak, together with onion, gravy and 2 fried eggs. When I was about half way through the steak, the Sergeant cook came out of the kitchen and apologised for not being able to offer me a choice of meals. Sherry trifle and ice-cream, followed the steak. For me it was a grand meal. Shortly after the meal, I reported to the Major and we departed with two busloads of recruits for Central Station. Special carriages were reserved for our contingent. I was surprised at the number of girls who turned up to see the recruits off.
Once we were well under way, the Major invited me to join him in the bar for a drink. Before we had finished our first “middy” he was asking me about the wild party coming down from Brisbane. Apparently the word had spread throughout the Sydney Military population of how the recruits had taken over the Bar and drank the train dry before Muswellbrook. Then there was the story about the two SUDs handcuffed to the seat and dressed ONLY in their underpants. All I could tell him was that since all the recruits were about to undertake Recruit Training, I felt it was reasonable for them to enjoy a few drinks. Even more so the SUDs who were heading to 6 weeks in 1 MCE. I told him I had initially unlocked their handcuffs to allow them to go to the dining car to eat and to go to the toilet. Since the train was moving, I couldn’t see any possibility of them escaping. I allowed them to accompany the rest to the bar in the knowledge that neither had any money and I assumed were unable to buy any drinks. I had no idea what happened to their clothes or how they both managed to get rotten drunk. I saw my duty was to get them all to Sydney safely and hand them over to the appropriate authority at the end of the journey. That I had done. I was never a good drinker and after a couple of rounds of middies, I returned to my seat to sleep the journey off. I had woken the night before every time the train pulled in to a station and I carried the burden of being responsible for the detachment of recruits as well as the two SUDs. After two middies with the Major, I excused myself and returned to my seat. After what seemed a short time, I became aware the train had stopped and I could hear shouting. Outside the window I could see a station under full lights and the recruits were streaming out. The Major was prominent in his overcoat and cap. I gathered my few possessions and found my way to the platform. Outside the warmth of the carriage, the cold hit me, especially to my lungs. The air was so cold, every breath was painful. I was wearing only slacks, a white shirt and a cardigan. It was July in Wagga Wagga and I was dressed for Brisbane. By the time I reported to the Major, I had begun to shiver quite violently. Fortunately he had a staff car waiting and invited me to get in the back seat. The driver, a Corporal, had the engine running and the heater turned up. By the time the Major had loaded his charges onto the waiting buses and arrived at the car, I was no longer shivering and was able to make conversation as we drove the few miles to 1 R.T.B. We arrived before the buses and he dropped me off at the Sergeants Mess with the advice to ask the duty cooks for tea and toast and wait for breakfast which he said would be served at 7 am. When I stepped out of the cold, it was pitch dark and the intense cold hit me again. Fortunately, it was only a few steps and I was inside the lobby of the mess and a cosy wood fire was adding to the comfort of the room. As well as the fire the lights were on. I went to the nearest chair and in a short time I was sound asleep. Sometime later I awoke to become aware I wasn’t alone. I suddenly became aware a W.O. 1 was standing looking at me.
As I rubbed my eyes and looked up he said softly, “Please identify yourself. You are not a member of this Mess.” I stood to attention (almost falling over doing so) and blurted. “Sgt. Winkel, Sir from Northern Command Education Corps, Sir.” Again he spoke quietly. “Sit down Sergeant. Did you arrive with the recruits?” He sat in the chair next to me and told me he knew I was to arrive and that the following Monday I was to move to the recruit lines and complete Recruit Training. At this time, men began to dribble into the foyer of the mess apparently in anticipation of breakfast. Just as I began to “nod off ” again, the RSM called another Sergeant over. ” Taffy,” he said, “Here is your undercover Sergeant.” I was introduced to “Taffy” Humphries who was to be my Platoon Commander for the next 12 weeks. Taffy also happened to be a Temporary Sergeant. He lacked the necessary ACE 11 Education Certificate to get his rank confirmed. Before I had time to comment, the bell rang and we all moved into the dining hall for breakfast. The RSM invited Taffy and me to eat with him. Over breakfast, the RSM let it be known he didn’t have any Education qualifications but had obtained his substantive W.O. rank before Education qualifications became necessary. Over breakfast, Taffy let it be known that just about all his Platoon Staff held temporary rank and needed Education qualifications to advance. Some wanted ACE 11 and a couple of Corporals needed ACE 111. Over coffee, Taffy asked, “Are you willing to help us get our Education Certificates?” I couldn’t give him a direct ‘Yes or No’. I needed to know more about the Army Education system and if possible, get a copy of the ACE 11& 111 Syllabuses. I pointed that out to Taffy and his response surprised me. He said with quite an edge on his voice, “That means you will have to see Capt. ‘bloody’ O’Neil or ‘ Leaflet’ Paige. They are the problem.”
Around 9 am, I received a message to report to the Unit Education Officer, Capt. Barry O’Neil at his Office. It was only a few minutes walk from the Sergeants Mess. For me, the interview didn’t go well. All O’Neil wanted to do was to reiterate that for the next 3 months, I was to be a recruit. I would live with them, sleep and eat with them and hopefully be able to maintain good progress. I immediately got the impression that this man was either hostile or uneasy about my presence. Before I could respond, he threw at (or to) me, 3 textbooks and a bundle of typed (duplicated) foolscap pages, with the not too civil remarks, “These are the ACE 11 &111 Text and here are some recent past papers. Familiarise yourself with them and return them to me before you leave 1 RTB.” With that he stared at me and said, “Dismissed Recruit Winkel, SALUTE.” I stood to attention, saluted, turned and marched out. The three books were Pendelberry’s “Shilling Arithmetic”,” Australian Social Studies”, an RAAEC publication and a book on English expression. I strolled back to the mess and spent the rest of the morning pa-rousing the examples of past papers. By lunch time, I had a good idea of the standard or the ACE 11&111 standards, somewhat lower than I had anticipated. Lunch time came around and Taffy greeted me and invited me to join him in a pre lunch drink. I was to find out later that Taffy’s pre-lunch drink frequently evolved into a “liquid lunch”. I accepted the offer of a beer although I actually didn’t feel like drinking beer or any other alcoholic drink. I was much more interested in finding out just which part of the ACE11 he couldn’t cope with. Once we were well into our first beer (a pint for Taffy, a middie for me), I became aware that Taffy had a very narrow view of the political systems both in Australia and the U.K. Most of the ACE 11 Social Studies was about the social and political history of Australia and how the country had shed its colonial past, especially since WW1. Just about the time Taffy was finishing his second pint, I looked up to see the RSM (WO1 Bradley) approaching. It was a cold wet day outside.(It usually was in July in Kapooka.) When Taffy had completed his main meal, he excused himself and returned to the bar. I waited for sweets which gave the RSM an opportunity to caution me about how easy it was to become a heavy drinker if you lived in the mess. When the RSM and I had finished our cup of tea in the foyer, he introduced me to Staff Sgt. Reg Fooks who was the RQMS (Quartermaster). Reg and I walked to the Q Store where I was issued with battle dress, long underwear and winter shirts. Back to my room at the mess, I collapsed onto the bed.
When I woke, it was dark and after a quick trip to the bathroom I went to the dining room for the evening meal. I was only just in time. After the meal, I walked through the bar and saw Taffy who seemed to be enjoying a liquid dinner. In the following weeks, I found that Taffy frequently took liquid lunches and dinners. After the evening meal, it was great to have a hot shower and slip in between clean sheets. I slept soundly until breakfast on the Saturday. Copies of the Sydney Morning Herald were available in the foyer of the mess and I was enjoying reading the first newspaper I had seen since leaving Brisbane when a steward approached me to tell me somebody wanted to see me at the door. It was Corporal Brian Foster who was Taffy’s temporary platoon sergeant. He had been sent by Taffy to collect me and take me to the Platoon Office in “C” Coy lines. Apparently Taffy, as Platoon Commander had gathered the Platoon Staff together with the intention of me ascertaining what help each person needed to gain the Education Certificates then needed for substantive promotion. By lunch time I was aware that Taffy’s problem was Australian Social Studies, Cpl Foster’s problem was Class 11 Arithmetic and the other two Corporals had not attempted any of the various Army Education Certificates. As I saw it, their problems were essentially quite similar to those I had encountered in One Teacher Schools.
The following Monday morning, I joined the rest of the recruits from that Intake and promptly became Recruit Winkel D.D. I received the same injections, ate with the rest of the recruits in the mess hall and was allocated a bed in a barrack room together with another 10 men from all states including several who had come down from Brisbane to Sydney when I was their Sgt. Drafting Conducting Officer. One day when we had a few quiet moments to ourselves, one of the Qld recruits asked me if I could tell him what happened to the two SUDs. He was able to tell me they sold their clothes to the girls to get money to buy booze.
During the first 2 weeks of my Recruit Training at Kapooka, I spent time in the Platoon Office teaching basic Arithmetic and English comprehension to the various members of the ARA Platoon Staff. I was competent at foot drill so lost nothing by spending time instructing the Platoon Staff in Education. The only part of my ARA Recruit Training that was new to me involving a little learning and practice was the drills with the 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle. Once training with the SLR rifle commenced on about the 5th week, I began attending all lessons. When the Platoon Commander (Sgt. “Taffy” Humphries) felt I had mastered all the drill movements with the SLR, it was back to the Platoon Office and more lessons in Arithmetic, English and Social Studies. Class 111 & 11 Education exams were held at the end of the 6th week. For the remainder of my Recruit Training, I attended normal training sessions but spent 3 evenings a week instructing ARA Staff wishing to gain the ACE 2 or 3 Certificates for substantive promotion. I was happy to do so and it helped pass the time. The alternative was to go to the ‘wet’ canteen and that held no appeal for me. All the ARA Staff I had been coaching passed their exams.
Following the Education exams, the ARA Staff, the RSM and Major Sullivan (D.C.O. from Sydney to Wagga) and myself, met in the Wagga Wagga R.S.L. for a Sunday lunch and a few drinks to celebrate the A.R.A. Staff’s success. It was then that I learned the final chapter of the military police episode at the Sydney station. Apparently the crowd became quite hostile to the two Provos. The nursing sister of my acquaintance, identified herself as a Lieutenant in the Medical Corps and insisted an ambulance be called. When the civilian ambulance arrived, she insisted on travelling with the SUDs to a civilian hospital. She told the treating doctor they had acute motion sickness and had probably been suffering from motion sickness all the train trip and she estimated they were severely dehydrated. Apparently the SUDs were rehydrated and treated for acute motion sickness for 24 hours and then collected by the Military Police. Apparently the Nursing Sister said she had noticed me unlock the handcuffs early in the journey to allow them to go to the toilet. She indicated as a professional nurse, she suspected the two SUDs were apparently suffering from motion sickness from that time onwards and the symptoms had become acute when they were roughly treated by the Provos bringing them from being handcuffed at their seat to the “paddy wagon”. Apparently a Captain and W.O. were appointed to carry out an investigation into the incident. The inquiry found that they accepted the judgement of the trained Nurse that the SUDs were probably suffering motion sickness for the entire journey. That I as the DCO (Temp Sgt.) could not have recognised the symptoms. That while the men were under my command as DCO, the nurse was powerless to do anything and was only able to commence treatment at the end of the journey. It was impossible for the two to have bought alcohol because they had no money. They probably became disoriented due to dehydration and motion sickness and consequently lost their outer garments.
As the only part of my ARA Recruit Training that was new to me and involved a little learning and practice was the drills with the 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle. By the time our Platoon Graduation Parade came around after a 12 week course, I already had a battle dress with 3 stripes on the sleeve stored in the Platoon Office. There were a lot of surprised faces when I appeared on the Passing Out Parade wearing my 3 stripes. By that time both Taffy and Brian Foster had their rank confirmed thanks to having achieved their ACE 11 levels. I marched out of 1 R.T.B. the following day to 1 Education Unit at Holsworthy. Within 6 months I was back at 1 R.T.B. as part of the Education team under Capt. Henry Dachs.
As was the case with most of my male contemporaries, I turned eighteen while a student at Queensland Teachers College at Kelvin Grove. At that time (1950s), all 18 year olds were required to register for 3 months Army Training for National Service. Many received deferment until we had completed our studies. On the 2nd January after graduating as teachers, we reported to the Kelvin Grove Military Barracks. Morning tea (a rock cake and a cup of tea) was served at around 10am. Shortly after there was a roll call. From there we were loaded into Army buses and transported to the Wacol Barracks. The instructions which came with our “call up” notice stated we should report to Kelvin Grove with nothing but a small suitcase to use to store our civilian clothes. No wallets, money, jewellery or anything else. When the buses arrived at Wacol Barracks there was another roll call and we were divided into 3 Companies. (A, B, and C) As we were grouped alphabetically, I found myself in C Coy. Once allocated to a Company, we were assembled in 3 ranks and marched to our respective Company lines (Nissan Huts). After hut and platoon allocation, we broke for lunch, our first Army meal. Since it was 2nd January, some of us were surprised to find that we received a 3 course hot meal. Due to the heat of the day we were expecting a cold salad. This was definitely far better food than many of us had been led to believe from former WW2 soldiers.
After lunch we just sat around until a Corporal arrived and told us to go with him to the Q Store to be issued with our bedding, clothing and equipment etc. Apparently there were about a dozen more bus loads due to arrive late that afternoon from south of the border. Meanwhile we were told to change into the uniforms (Protective Dress PDs) we had been issued and to return to the Coy Q Store with our civilian clothes in the suitcases we had provided. Our suitcases with clothes included, would be returned to us on the day we were discharged. The rest of the afternoon was spent just walking about and meeting up with other people we knew. The buses from the south didn’t arrive until close to dark and suddenly there was a hell of a flurry with people scurrying in all directions and corporals shouting unintelligible instructions. All of us from the earlier buses wandered up to the mess hall to see if we could find out about the evening meal. A Sergeant with a serious look on his face pushed the swing doors into the kitchen and we heard him say, “Corporal, you will have to add at least 4 buckets of water to your soup as there are 50 extra recruits from Grafton.” We heard the corporal cook respond, “No way Sergeant, it’s already as weak as piss!”. We all resolved to give the soup a miss that night. At least half decided to go to the canteen to buy a pie or roll and a few beers. We had already found the “wet canteen”. It was a novelty for us to be able to openly buy beer. At that time the minimum age to buy alcohol in Queensland was 21. While lots of people more or less ignored the age limit, most of us as educated young men had not drunk beer or spirits before. I certainly hadn’t and didn’t do so on that night. When we returned from the canteen around 8pm, there were still people scurrying around with bedding, mattresses and webbing. The corporals still seemed to be yelling with ever increasing irritation. It certainly was not what I had imagined the Army to be!!
All from my hut went and had a hot shower and were soon sound asleep either in or on the beds. The next day we were accused of using up all the hot water. Apparently the blokes from ‘south of the border’ had to do with a cold shower. It was a typical Queensland January, hot, humid and sweaty evening and the 2 or 3 beers we had consumed were enough to ensure we were soon sound asleep. After what seemed like no more than 10 minutes sleep there was one hell of a roar. The double doors at each end of the hut flew open and two corporals (one from each end) were stomping and screaming, “Hands off of c–ks and onto socks!!!” That was to be the morning greeting for the next 6 weeks. Every bed still occupied as a corporal stomped past it was upended, occupant and all. Hence we were all acquainted with “the real Army”. No more of the relaxed hospitality we had experienced the previous day. Next, grab a towel (we had been issued with towels the afternoon before) and marched to the shower in 3 ranks. Perhaps 10% or more were quite phased at public nakedness and the crude attitude of the corporals who cracked jokes at the expense of those who used their hands to cover their crutch. Then we marched back to our huts, past columns of other semi-naked men to our hut. Once dressed in PDs, we were set to work sweeping the hut, making beds Army style, polishing shoes, boots, brass buckles and ‘blancoing’ webbing. Very few of us had any previous experience with these soon to become routine tasks. All the while the corporals were roaring profanities and instructions at us so rapidly that utter confusion reigned.
Quite suddenly, or at least what seemed quite suddenly it was 7am and breakfast time. We were marched to the mess hall and the order, “Fall Out”, was given. The smells issuing from the mess hall were delicious. A corporal sauntered up to the door, held it open and invited us in. There were trestle tables and stools for us to sit at. You passed along a line of trestle tables. On the first one were knives, forks and spoons as well as 3 sizes of plates. One each for serial, bread/toast and a bigger one for the main meal. We were instructed to walk past the first table, select what we needed in accordance to what we intended to eat. Then in strong and unmistakable terms, the Sergeant Cook made it known that if you selected an item of food YOU ATE IT! He roared ‘I DONT COOK F–KING FOOD TO HAVE IT THROWN IN THE BIN’. The array of food was quite surprising. Bacon aplenty, eggs fried, scrambled or poached, 3 varieties of sausage, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, devilled kidneys, lambs fry, white and wholemeal bread or toast and last of all “bubble and squeak”. Very mindful of what the sergeant cook had said, I limited my choice to 2 fried eggs, 2 slices of bacon, 1/2 a grilled tomato, onion, gravy and a round of toasted white bread, with a cup of tea. Both tea and coffee were available. After 2 years of very light breakfasts while I had been at college, it was an enormous pile of delicious food. And yes, I did eat every scrap. Not everybody did and YES those who left food uneaten were charged and awarded extra duty. I soon settled down to a breakfast of devilled kidneys on toast or bacon, a fried egg, 1/2 a grilled tomato with wholemeal toast. I was surprised at how many opted for bubble and squeak. To me it looked like a mess that at the end of a meal would be thrown to the dogs at our home.
Now came the first hint of discrimination/victimisation that was to emerge. Our corporal marched us back to our hut where he called out. “Fall out the conscientious objectors.” Three men fell out. The venom with which the next instruction was issued surprised me. He continued,” You gutless trash! Report to the Hygiene Corporal and he will keep you occupied cleaning up shit all day while the honourable men learn to fight.” With that, the rest of my platoon was marched off to a Parade Ground where our instruction in foot drill was commenced and continued all day with breaks for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. After dinner that night there were lectures which continued every night except at weekends. After all those years, I have no recollection of what the lectures were about.
After the first two days, my recollection of the general routine of our training is all a jumbled blur after 60 years. For the first few weeks we seemed to do endless foot drill. Endless weeks seemed to be spent on the parade ground. The trainers (mostly corporals and a few sergeants) never seemed to speak in conversational tones. It was always a shout or snarl with great emphasis on belittling and downgrading us trainees. After about 4 weeks, we were issued with rifles (SMLE Mk1 No3 .303 Cal) Foot drill was replaced with rifle drill, all day every day. It wasn’t until the end of the 6th week that we were allowed a Saturday afternoon and night leave. Leave was from 1300 hours to 2359 hours. During the week preceding that first leave we had several night lectures from the RMO and Padres re sex and V.D. and that anyone who contracted an STD (None of us had the faintest idea what an S.T.D. was) would be charged with a “Self-Inflicted Wound”. When we asked a corporal he said ‘pox and clap’. Most of us were still none the wiser. However as the Saturday night leave drew closer, the corporals began to quietly let us know where the brothels were and how much we should pay. (At that time in Queensland, all brothels were subject to inspection by Govt. Medical Officers.) It was said if you went to the “Cracker” it was unlikely you would contract an STD, however if you were picked up by a woman at various well known spots around the City your chances of an STD were much higher. I have no recollection of anybody contracting an STD. From then on we were granted regular Saturday afternoon/night leave just about every week unless you happened to be “on duty”.
My recollections of the first few weeks of NS Recruit Training is what seemed like endless days of foot drill and marching. I was usually too tired to recall what the night lectures were about. I do recall the sheer joy of getting under the blanket and feeling sleep creep over my body. In what seemed like only a few minutes of deep, deep sleep the corporals were soon yelling at us and the endless repetition of the previous days recommenced. We weren’t given the opportunity to just walk anywhere. Corporals seemed to be there every waking minute ordering our every move. We even marched to the showers in 3 ranks. Once rifles were issued (about the 4th week) the endless foot drill was replaced by endless rifle and bayonet drill. Some weeks later, instructions began on “Aiming and firing a shot”. I was quite surprised at just how “gun shy” some of the N.S Trainees were. Many of us had either been in school cadets or members of Military Rifle Clubs and consequently were quite familiar with the standard military rifle (SMLE Mk1 No111). It has been said that the SMLE/.303 was the best Infantry soldiers’ rifle ever made. Its advantages were a 10 shot detachable magazine which allowed soldiers to carry several spare fully loaded magazines. Very rapid fire while the soldier was able to keep his point of aim. A loose fitting bolt allowed the weapon to continue to function in extreme conditions. Perhaps close to half of the trainees had never seen or handled one. There were a few who found it quite disturbing to actually be near a “gun” let alone touch one. I was quite familiar with the SMLE since I first fired one around at age 13 and I had been a member of a military rifle club while still at High School. To me and many others the SMLE was like an “old friend”. Before NS was completed we all had to qualify with the SMLE over 200, 300 and 500 yards. No problem for those like me who were familiar with it but an almost insurmountable hurdle for the few who were “gun shy”.
After endless sessions on your feet, on your guts, load, unload all with dummy rounds, we eventually were told that on Monday morning there would be an early breakfast and a march of 8 miles to the Redbank Rifle range where you would commence training with live ammo. For those of us familiar with the SMLE we felt a sigh of relief! At bloody last! For some others who were ‘gun shy’ the dreaded moment of sheer terror was upon them. There must have been a dozen or so, probably more, who had extensive experience of target shooting with the SMLE as members of various Military Rifle Clubs. We arrived at the Redbank Rifle range after a 2 hour route march. To our surprise when we were dismissed at the rifle range, “Everyman” was waiting for us with what seemed to be an endless supply of cold drinks. The back of his van seemed to contain dozens of 10 gallon kegs of cold water topped with ice cubes and flavoured with several different fruit cordials. Our corporals seemed to disappear. After about 15 or 20 minutes they all strolled back in a group. There was a sergeant whom we had not seen before with them. A list of names was called out and those men were sent to the Butts to act as Markers. Their assigned task was to pull the target frames up and down and place a red marker disc to mark the fall of shot. The remainder of us were divided into groups of 10 because there were 10 shooting positions. Until lunch time, we stood behind the firing line while those on the actual firing line fired their 5 shots, picked up their 5 fired cartridges and moved to the rear. Before we left our barracks at Wacol, we were all issued with a tin of “bully beef” (canned corned beef) and a pack of hard biscuits. That was our lunch. Again it was “Everyman” who was there with many gallons of hot tea, milk and sugar. We had been told to pack our ‘Mugs Enamel’ and our knife, fork and spoon sets in our haversacks with our food. Those who could find shade sat in the shade, the rest of us sat where we could and ate our bully-beef warm and greasy, slice by slice with our hard tack biscuits. Fortunately the hot sweet tea washed it down and afterwards we felt the better for it. Not the most appetising meal but it filled the need. By 1pm we were shooting again. Around 4pm we could see a storm was brewing. I fired my five shots around 2.30 pm and had already qualified. Qualification was 50 out of a possible 100. A bullseye was worth 20 points down to a complete miss was No Score. Only around 15 out of the 150 Trainees had qualified by the time we stopped shooting at 4pm. At least 20 or 30 men had not at this time reached the firing line after standing all day in the January sun. Very quickly everything was packed away and we began our march back to the barracks. We were only about half way there when the storm descended on us. It passed almost as quickly as it had descended. By the time we were back at the barracks we were almost dry. After another very adequate and delicious evening meal, it was back to our barracks to clean all our equipment and polish our boots webbing before 7.30 lectures. Most of us were asleep before the lecture had progressed 5 minutes. Afterwards it was a shower and bed.
Again at 5am, breakfast, then we drew our lunch rations and commenced the 8 mile march to the range. That went on for at least a week. One morning just after we had arrived at Redbank and were enjoying our cold drinks provided by ‘Everyman’, my name, together with at least ten others was called out by a corporal whom I and others in my Platoon detested. He was known as “Gimpy”. Gimpy was smaller than the average man, he had a big mouth and was seen frequently screaming curses. Cpl Gimpy took us well out of hearing of the rest of the platoon and to our surprise began a conversation in normal pleasant terms about nothing in particular. After a few minutes of general conversation he remarked, “I have been watching you blokes. You all qualified on the first day and some of you can shoot like hell. You all seem to be bored silly. You will have noticed the Army continues to put you all through the hoops until everybody is proficient. In other words the pace is always that of the slowest in the group. You will have noticed there are some blokes here who without a bit of help will never qualify with the rifle shoot. They are terrified of the bloody rifle. We need your help. This is what we want you to do.” He went on to explain he wanted us all to occupy a position on the shooting mound next to a hopeless shot. We were to shoot at his target and he at ours. We were NOT to try to put every shot in the bull. We were to put out shots around the outer edge so the man we were shooting for would qualify BUT not be seen to have gone from continual wipe-outs to top score. He then went on to emphatically explain. “You are not CHEATING. You are helping out a fellow soldier who is in trouble. That’s what mateship is all about.” We all left the range that afternoon qualified. Back at the barracks the platoon sergeant had this to say, “Magnificent result!! Some of you are aware you owe your mate a beer or 3. Have your dinner and then off to the wet canteen. NO lectures tonight. ENJOY!!!” Most of the next two weeks were spent training on the LMG and OMC (Light machine gun, Owen machine carbine). Two weeks later a passing out parade was held and our 3 month National Service training was over.
At the time most of us, if not all, very much resented spending 3 months of our time on compulsory military training. Was it the complete waste of time we imagined it to be? I think we would all agree, it did not prepare us for combat. Undoubtedly it did prepare us for the rest of our obligation to be served over the following 3 years in the CMF (Citizen Military Forces). Unintentionally I think it broadened our opportunities for alternative occupations. At the time we all felt we were underpaid and had lost a lot of money. Now on reflection I am certain we were probably at a financial advantage. Our pay was approx. half the basic wage. However add to that full board, clothing, no fares to get to and from work and considerable tax concessions, we paid no income tax. (Nor did any other servicemen at that time.) Phone calls from the concession boxes in the camp could be made to anywhere in Australia for 1d (One Penny). Telegrams of any length, often several foolscap pages long, could be sent to anywhere in Australia for 6d (Sixpence). Parcels of any size could be sent to any address in Australia for 1s (One shilling= 10c). Hence many NS Trainees were able to send their laundry home for mum to do their washing and ironing. Food was of the highest standard and as much as you could eat. The wet canteen offered unlimited amounts of tax free grog. (It had to be drunk on the premises.) Almost anything else could be bought either from or through the Canteen tax free. Lots of NS Trainees bought lots of very cheap electrical goods like electric irons, radios and heaters etc. well below retail. It was also possible to buy a tax free car via the Canteen but there were a few ‘ifs and buts’ on that one. I was unaware of any NS Trainee ever buying a car via Canteens. I believe very few if any knew the concession existed. Relatively few regular servicemen ever used it. One of the conditions was it had to be fully paid for before you got possession. (Some of those “in the know” were able to organise a Personal Bank loan to do that.)
Our next parade in the CMF was 2 weeks later. In his address the O.C. made it clear that our long weekend training exercise was just that. He emphasised if or when we were confronted by an enemy, the enemy would not be marching in 3 ranks. The targets we shot at with our SMLE.303s represented the “front on” view of a column of marching men. Nor was it possible/practical to be shooing with 0.303 ball ammo around farms, farm livestock, or homes. Shotguns were the only practical solution. Indeed the RAAF regularly used clay targets and shotguns for aircrew to practice real shooting. Instead of clay targets which cost money and needed a special machine to throw the target, we would be shooting at wild ducks which he said were free and a more challenging target. We were to camp in the CWA Hall and the local Branch of the CWA would do our cooking for us. The Unit’s Supplementary Ration Allowance would be used to purchase all food locally and so put a little additional money into the impoverished economy of the district. Any/all ducks killed would be recovered, plucked and dressed. Apparently there was a farmer in the area who raised geese and ducks and sold their feathers and down to the RAAF to use for flying jackets. He was to attend at the end of each day and would de-feather any ducks we had and add the feathers to those he sold to the RAAF. Any ducks not claimed by those who shot them would be donated to the local Hospital to be used as food for the inmates/staff. Put that way it all sounded quite reasonable and quite beneficial to the local economy. After all, feeding approx. 150 men for four days required quite an amount of food and as well the men would spend something on additional requirements at the local store as well as the bar of the local Bowls Club. I was to find out this type of weekend exercise was not unusual. C.M.F. Units in Rockhampton helped reduce the problem of feral pigeons at the local railway yards. In Roma and Charleville, it was cockatoos and galahs destroying grain stored in bags. There were undoubtedly other Units in other Towns/ States who carried out similar training exercises. The stated function of the C.M.F. was to “Protect their Community” apparently that was what we were doing.