Chapter 18: Who we are

5 Section, 2 Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment

Woo hoo, I am an Infantry soldier posted to an Infantry battalion.  I have earned the right to wear the Skippy badge.

I dunno what happened to the second lieutenant from the Cadre Company, maybe they sent him south to a retraining camp.  I never did see him again and he was probably glad to see the last of us Nashos.

Sum Wun said the mortar sergeant got married and none of us got an invitation.  He also said that he was still married to his other wife, but as I didn’t see him again I dunno if this was true.

The 100 guys from the Cadre Company were split up all through the Battalion. I would see them often, “Howsitgoin’ mate?”

“Good mate, yeah.  You?”

“Yeah, good.”

“OK, catch ya later mate.”

“Yeah, seeya mate.”

Now you know why they call us dumb grunts. This is about as serious a conversation you can have with a grunt.

Oh, I haven’t explained the grunt bit.  When carrying a heavy pack through the scrub you are continually ducking and weaving around bushes, trees and especially BLOODY VINES!!!  In addition, Infantry never moves on level ground, we are always going uphill.  As the pack shifts your body has to compensate, eliciting a ‘grunt’ from your body.  We were grunts.  We didn’t call ourselves grunts, others did.  We wore the name as a badge of honour.  Were we dumb?  A lot of people thought so.

We were standing around the A Company headquarters building.  The NCOs were there with lists calling out for us new guys to join their section.

I was expecting a tall bronzed Anzac to be our section commander, a corporal to lead us into battle.  I got Davo.

Davo was a veteran of the Vietnam war.  He had already served there for 12 months as an Infantry soldier.  I guess he knew his shit.  He was neither tall nor short, neither fat nor thin, neither brilliant nor stupid.

He had one distinguishing feature, he had snow white hair; and if you looked closely enough you could make out his snow white moustache.  His ears were quite big as well.  Maybe I should call him big ears when he calls out my name to see how he reacts.

I hear him call out “Kavanak.”

Silence.

“Kavanak?”

I step forward and announce myself, “It’s Cavanough, corporal.”

“You’ll do me Knackers.”

And so, henceforth, I will be known as Knackers (this is nearly as bad as my nickname at high school, there I was called Nutz!).

“You’ll be number two on the machine gun Knackers.”

Thank goodness for that.  The machine gun, I’ll be part of the machine gun group, the firepower of the section.  It could have been worse, nobody wants to be number three rifleman, you know, the last guy to get picked from a group when captains of a football team take turns in selecting a player.  They always pick the best ones first and leave some until last because they are, well, shitty.

We drew bedding from the Q store.  “Sign here,” said Boris.  I signed.  We were shown to our lines. We knew where they were because of all those early morning greetings we gave them.  It was exactly the same design as our previous accommodation.  I made the bed and realised I had no bed spread.  I reported it to our section 2IC, LCPL John S who seemed upset, like it was another problem, “Bloody Nashos!”

We confront Boris who also seemed upset, busy and annoyed.  He’s big, Russian I think, so I just stand there hiding behind John S.  “He didn’t get a bed spread,” said John S.

“Well did he sign for one?” Boris retorted.  His face gave the impression he was in pain.  He looked at his paperwork, “Cavanough, yes you signed for a bed spread.  Where is it?”

“I never got one.”

Silence.

I thought I should tell him a few facts.  Listen you big ugly cunt, you didn’t give me time to check the items, I trusted that they were all there, and besides, if 30 blokes checked everything before they signed you’d miss out on lunch, you dumb cunt.  But I said nothing.

“Here,” said Boris, throwing a bed spread at me.

Back at our lines most of the platoon was now milling about, helping us new guys make our beds and sort out our lockers and stuff.  We were a mixture of Nashos and Regs.  I was bunking with Digger, Killer and Ian C.  Digger was from WA. He was tall and lean.  Killer was from Brisbane but recently he was working at a bank on the Gold Coast.  For some reason his callup was deferred, so he was older than we were.  He was of solid build.  Davo told me later that’s why he made him the machine gunner.  As I was his number two it meant that Killer and I were together 24/7, we even slept together – but in different beds you understand.

The other guy in the room, Ian C, was also a Nasho but he was two callups before us so he would not serve a full tour of Vietnam because his two years would be up before our tour ended.  He lived not far from my home town of Cootamundra, at a little place called Rye Park.

Our platoon sergeant had a nickname – Tojo, but we never called him that.  He was a big guy with a big voice, not gruff like a lot of sergeants, but he possessed a very clear speaking voice.  He was a confident soldier.  He too had served in Vietnam and he was a strong disciplinarian.  He was hard but he was fair. I guess you can’t ask for more than that.

All us new guys were interviewed by the platoon commander.  I walked in and saluted.  He motioned to me to sit down.  He initially had me confused with Peter J, another West Australian, a Reg who had been in his platoon for some weeks now.  I didn’t think we looked alike, but others said there were some similarities.

“How do you feel about going to Vietnam?” he asked.

“Can’t wait to get amongst them, sir.”  What else could I say?

“That’s what I like to hear.  Are there any problems at home that I should be aware of?  Problems with wives, pregnant girlfriends, problems with the Police?”

“No sir.”

Pat, the platoon commander, was a man of few words, I don’t recall his giving me a pep talk about the upcoming training and how we must give 100% as would normally be the case.  That’s what I would have done, but then I failed officer selection.

He wasn’t much older than we were.  He was of slight build with ginger coloured hair.  He spoke quietly, he seemed very natural.  He was not the gung-ho type, but his steady manner gained our confidence even though he, like us, had never been tested in battle.

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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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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

2 thoughts on “Chapter 18: Who we are

  • 31/01/2017 at 9:28 pm
    Permalink

    Just a newsflash for you Craig seeing as you are very interested in my story.

    This photo was taken in 1969 in Townsville at Lavarack Barracks.

    The names are: Peter Kowalski (Killer), me, Ian Crisp and Maurice Dwyer (Digger)

    Unfortunately Peter was killed in action and Ian was very badly wounded in a couple of mine incidents in South Vietnam. I usually post this picture on Facebook on Anzac Day and Vietnam Veterans Day. Lest we Forget.

    Reply
  • 30/01/2017 at 11:13 am
    Permalink

    Another good read Ian. Thanks. I’m sure my Father must have gone through all this shit as well!

    Reply

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