Chapter 11: Duties

It seems the Army has a system regarding recruit training at Kapooka.  The daily routine of room inspections, lectures, PT and soldier training includes a rotation of drill, fieldcraft, weapons and duties overlaid on top.  So for a week the concentration is in one of these areas.  What you don’t see in the ‘Join the Army’ brochures is duty week.

This is where we get a behind the scenes look at how things operate, essentially it’s all about working hard and getting no sleep.  Kitchen duty is probably the worst.  These kitchens are huge, they need to be.  How would you like to be feeding a frenzied mob of recruits?  So 22 was behind the scenes in the bowels of the kitchen.  We were split into teams to carry out certain tasks.

“I’m gunna check out that Bromide stuff and see how they put it in the food or the drink.”

“Don’t be silly, they are not going to leave the stuff lying around for us blokes to see, and besides they probably put it in everything.”

“This Bromide thing is just a joke, they wouldn’t be allowed to adulterate the food, it would be against the law.  Otherwise they would be giving it to prisoners in jail, wouldn’t they?”

I’ll pause here and bring you up to the present for a moment.  A mate of mine, Big Al, was in Catering Corps and he is adamant that Bromide was not used, that it was all a myth.  He told me that they were well aware of the rumours and they used to have a lot of fun with it.  He said one day they printed the word ‘Bromide’ on some boxes and then unloaded them in front of the kitchen when some soldiers were nearby.  We both had a hearty laugh.  What a bastard act that was.  I still chuckle to myself just thinking about it.

But back to 22 in 1969…

I got the job of peeling onions.  There were two big tubs full. The mess supervisor was telling us how to do stuff.  “Fill the tubs with water and peel the onions under water.  That way your eyes won’t water.”

Hey he was right.  My eyes hardly watered at all.  Wait until I tell my mother about this.  What the corporal didn’t tell me is that my hands would stink of onions for the next three days!

I also learned that the best way to clean hotplates is by using vinegar.  The Army must go through gallons of the stuff.

The rest of the boys were cutting up vegetables, washing dishes and mopping floors.  I dunno what time it was when we finished but it was late and we had to prepare our gear for guard duty the next day.

Guard duty?  Luckily we never got attacked.  It seemed an exercise in futility, something that the Army has honed down to a fine art.  The most important thing was our uniform, it had to be immaculate.  Spit polished boots, freshly starched greens and gleaming shiny brass.

We lined up for inspection.  The duty officer, a second lieutenant, was neatly turned out.  He marched along the line and halted in turn in front of each soldier.  When he halted in front of me he swivelled his head and eyes to the left.  You could hear his eyeballs click in their sockets.  His eyes were inches away from mine.  I knew to stare through him and focus into the distance.  He had nasal hairs protruding from his nostrils.  He was lucky I was not inspecting him.  He stared at my boots.  Surely he could see his protruding nasal hairs in my ultra shiny spit polished boots.  His eyes rose up along my trousers and lingered at the brass on my belt.  He then checked out how good I ironed my shirt as well as checking that the alignment was OK.  He checked out my sleeves and then he started to lean forward.  I thought he was trying to see the bloke behind me, but he was checking out my hat badge to see that it too was nice and shiny.  He paused and straightened up.  His head and eyes clicked to the front.   He took a couple of paces halted and checked out the bloke beside me in the same manner.

At the end of the inspection he marched to the front and turned to face us.  “You blokes are a bag of shit.”  And with that the inspection was over.

Later that night we got to sleep in our nicely starched number one greens.  We weren’t even allowed to take off our spit polished boots just in case Kapooka was attacked and they had to call out the guard you see.

But we had duties to perform before we could go to bed.

Most duties involved being a member of a squad who were rostered on a couple of times during the night.  I was on the main gate which didn’t involve any walking.  Some guys got to patrol the accommodation area and they practiced their lines a few times before they set out.  “Get dem fuckin’ lights out!”  After a couple of efforts to get the guttural tone just right they finally stopped yelling.  They were issued with axe handles, one each as they were required to patrol in pairs.  I dunno who briefed them but I wondered in what circumstances they would use them.

Another squad did the rounds of the transport compounds and a few others places.  They didn’t know about the extremely large ferocious German Sheppard in one of the compounds.  The dog would wait at the end of a building, just where the wire fence joined the wall.  Sure enough, as a sleepy digger walked along the building (there was a set route they had to follow) the dog lay in ambush.  As the digger passed the end of the building the dog opened up with a barrage of barking and gnashing teeth, which frightened the living daylights out of the soldier.  The dog was behind the fence mind you, but the digger leapt about 10 feet into the air; and it took a few minutes for the heart rate to settle down.  No one warned him about the dog.

At the end of his stint, he didn’t warn the next guy about the dog either.

Back at the main gate it was a bludge.  They gave us a clipboard and we had to write down the number plates of all cars that entered or left the base.  Ezy.  The only instruction I recall was “Make sure you salute the officers.”

On my first stint a car approached the main gate to leave the base.  I stood there in my best gatekeeper stance, resplendent in my number one greens with pen and clipboard in hand.  The car slowed as it approached me.  I wrote down the rego.  The car stopped, the driver gave his name and I wrote that down too, even though there was no column for it.  The driver gave me the Kapooka stare.  I haven’t mentioned it before but it is a bit like your mother’s stare when you know you are in big trouble, but this was ten times worse.  “Your fucking name tag is crooked Cavanough, fucking fix it!”

“Yesssir!”

He was not in uniform so I didn’t know if he was an officer or an NCO, but I quickly stood to attention and gave him a boxer (a salute) then choked on his dust as he drove away.

A couple more cars went through without any hassles.  I had this shit down pat.

My second stint was in the middle of the night.  It was bloody freezing and I had to sit in this little box thingy.  I grabbed a blanket and I had it wrapped around me.  Maybe those blokes that were patrolling around didn’t have it so bad after all.  At least they would be warmer than I was.

A car approached. I quickly threw off the blanket and went into gate keeper mode, gate keeper stance, gate keeper clip board, gate keeper pen and gate keeper scowl. I noted the rego details and as the driver eyeballed me with my straightened name tag I could see that the car was full of blokes and they were pissed.

“Did you see my mate in the back?” said the driver.

I moved forward and peered into the rear seat.  There were three blokes in there and one had his dick in his hand.  It was huge!  After what seemed an eternity, I closed my mouth, nodded and stood back.  I didn’t salute them but I think they were officers.  NCOs are not that crazy.  And besides they all have small dicks, so I’m told.  They drove away laughing hysterically.

About 10 minutes later another car approached.  The driver said “There’s a mate in the back”.  I wasn’t going to get caught again so I just nodded.  “That’s not fucking good enough lad!”  It was then I realised he said he had a Major in the back.  I jumped to attention and threw another boxer.

“Sorry sir!”

Will this shit never end?

At sunrise the ace guard team regrouped in their number one greens that were now creased and wrinkled.  Our spit polished boots were faded and scuffed.  We really did look like a bag of shit as we marched back to our lines, showered and changed into clean work clothes to begin another day.

I was well and truly rooted, it was 7.00am and I didn’t even know what day it was.

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Reproduced with permission from FUN, FEAR, FRIVOLITY – A tale by an Aussie infantry soldier in the VIETNAM WAR. If you can’t wait, read more of this story now – or wait out while we reproduce it on these pages.

ian_cavanoughHi guys. I am a good-looking, opinionated old fart who relishes a spirited debate on any topic regardless of how much I think I know about it.
Ian Cavanough,
Tumut, NSW

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