We are fairly well into the 10-week course to turn us into soldiers.
While there are lessons all day and some lectures into the night, 22 Platoon has settled into the routine and we are finally getting on top of this soldiering stuff.
Our hair is growing back and it is starting to look presentable; and our dress and bearing resemble that of a fully trained soldier.
The course is quite challenging both physically and mentally with no let up and no down time.
Although we were allowed up to the boozer in those first few frantic weeks, none of us went up there, we were too busy getting our gear ready for the next day’s activities.
This involves starching our uniforms and polishing our boots and brass attachments.
We also honed our skills in the fine art of spit polishing.
But lately we’ve been getting our jobs done with time to spare, so we had the odd beer. Odd is right – the only beer available at the boozer was Old Kent.
We are acclimatised to the cold, bracing weather and we can do PT, fire our weapons or carry out fieldcraft activities no matter what weather Huey decides to throw at us.
I quite like fieldcraft, where we learn to read maps and navigate by day and by night.
It is a very powerful thing to be able to navigate over close country at night and to know exactly where you are, after some initial teething problems of course.
“Where the fuck are we?”
“This map is fucked.”
Our platoon is growing in confidence. One morning we were having lessons in challenging procedure. Some of our guys were the demo squad and here was their big chance to star in front of another couple of platoons.
The challenging procedure is carried out in a set manner. The incoming patrol is stopped. One member is asked to step forward to be recognised. There is an exchange of passwords, and then the patrol is allowed to pass through.
Our guys were the demo patrol coming back to base.
“Halt. Hands up. Who’s there?”
“22 Platoon coming back from patrol.”
“Advance one and be recognised.”
This is all done in front of the platoons, which are seated on the grassy hill.
One of our guys moves up to the NCO and passwords are exchanged.
This is done quietly just in case Nigel the enemy is lurking about and we don’t want him to overhear our secret password.
The instructor is a vaudeville act, as most of them are. They are animated, excited and speak loudly with plenty of arm gestures. It keeps us awake.
“Now” said the NCO, “If you’re still not sure about these guys then ask them a question.”
I’ve seen American movies where they ask somebody’s batting average in baseball.
The NCO continues in a loud voice, “What has a pouch and jumps around on two legs?”
At the same time he mimics a kangaroo jumping up and down with his hands together at the front.
As quick as a flash, the lead guy in the patrol, one of our boys from Canberra says, “A sheila!”
The grassy hill erupts into raucous laughter with plenty of knee slapping and hooting. Even the instructor was lost for words.
And speaking of sheilas, we forget what they look like.
But things are looking up. We’ve just been informed that our first local leave will be on Saturday.
“I’m going to get a root.”
“What about the bromide?”
“Fuck the bromide, I won’t drink anything they supply us with at mealtime. No milk, no tea or coffee; and no jubie juice.”
Saturday arrives and we are standing on the company parade ground in our best battledress uniform. Our shoes are spit polished. The Wagga sheilas are really going to be impressed.
“Now men, a word of caution. You are no longer a civilian. Whilst you wear that uniform you are the Army on display. So don’t go silly in town. The MPs will be patrolling about to keep an eye on you. If you get pissed, get in a fight or make an arsehole of yourself, I’ll have you thrown in the slammer. Is that clear?”
“Your leave is restricted to the Wagga main street and the Wagga Leagues Club. Is that clear?”
“A bus will be waiting opposite the Astor pub. It will leave at 1530 hours. If you miss the bus you must present yourself back to the guardhouse no later than 1600 hours. If the MPs find you outside your restricted area they will bring you back here. They are not a taxi service, if they pick you up they will lock you up. If you are late you will be charged AWOL. Are there any questions?”
“Well there goes the root then.”
We went by bus into town and strolled around in small groups. We did a bit of shopping for personal supplies and visited a few of the pubs. The sheilas wouldn’t even look at us, let alone allow us to get close to them; we couldn’t even smell them. Maybe it was because we were looking at them with bulging eyes, gaping mouths and dribbling saliva. We hadn’t seen a civilian for a few weeks let alone talked to one.
We were soldiers now, we talked like soldiers.
Is this how we chat them up?
“What’s a nice fucking girl like you doing in a fucked out place like this?”
We ended up at the Wagga Leagues Club. They allow Army recruits from Kapooka into their public bar.
I ran into one of my cousins at the club. He said, “The Leagues Club put it to the vote of members, if you blokes were good enough to go to Vietnam and fight for the country then you were good enough to drink in our club.”
We were not allowed into the RSL Club.
What a pity that an organisation of returned servicemen, those who have experienced war, did not support the troops from their local Army training establishment, many of whom will be posted to Vietnam within a matter of months.
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.
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