My army basic training was
at Kapooka, near Wagga Wagga. In the picture at the top of this page, I am accepting a prize from Colonel Donald Dunstan for
being the top soldier in 4 Platoon, A Company, at our passing out parade. Colonel Dunstan later became Governor of South Australia.
By sheer coincidence he just happens to have the same name as a famous premier of the same state. Colonel Dunstan would later
play another part in my life when, as acting Task Force Commander, he ordered 3RAR to move from FSB Coogee to FSB Balmoral
in May 1968. Later that same year he was also on the selection board in Singapore which selected me for the Officer Cadet
School. But that is a later chapter in this story.
I actually came away from Kapooka
with two trophies. In addition to top soldier in my platoon, I was part of a team that lost a tenpin bowling match against
the Air Force. My trophy was for getting the highest score for the Army.
On the day that I joined the
army, I walked into the recruiting office alongside another long-haired country boy by the name of Terry O'Farrell. We sat
together in the waiting roon, took the oath together, and became roommates at Kapooka. Terry later joined the SAS, where he
rose to the rank of RSM of the SAS Regiment, before doing the "knife and fork" course, and retiring as a Major with an Order
of Australia Medal. His autobiography, Behind Enemy Lines, has been published by Allen and Unwin. In the book there
is a picture of Terry and me, taken at Kapooka.
My other roommates at Kapooka
were Ray Todd, whose army career would closely follow mine with postings to 8RAR and 3RAR, and Morrie Callaghan. Terry, Toddie
and I were all teenagers, but Morrie was quite a few years older. From Kapooka he went to Army Aviation, serving in Vietnam
with 161 Squadron. I noticed in the obituary column of a veterans' journal that he has recently died.
The army gave me an early lesson
at Kapooka. It was high summer, and most of the members of my platoon were taken to a classroom, where they were given
indoor lessons to qualify for the army's equivalent of the Intermediate Certificate. Now, most of the training at Kapooka
was outdoors and physically demanding, so a classroom was considered blessed relief. Only two members of the platoon missed
out on that relief. They were Clive Taylor and myself. Because we had both finished high school with the Leaving Certificate,
while the rest of the platoon sat comfortably indoors, Clive and I were sent out in the blazing sun to dig post holes! It
doesn't pay to be too smart in the army.
Coincidentally, I would later
become National Secretary of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, and Clive, who changed his name to Mitchell-Taylor,
would become National President of the same organisation.
After Kapooka I made what some
people might regard as a strange decision. Having done so well in recruit training, I was well placed to get a posting to
the corps of my choice. So how did I end up in infantry? The answer is that I still thought I might make it to Officer Cadet
School, and I thought infantry would offer the best training for a potential officer. So I chose infantry, and was posted
to the infantry training centre at Ingleburn, which happened to be my home town.
I have been keeping track of
the number of jobs I have had in my life, and also the number of changes of address. That will become significant later. I
have thought a lot about whether to count all of the changes of address while I was in the army. I have decided that I will
count them, because they must have had some influence on building a habit of moving around. Most people would think twice
about moving interstate for example, because it is a difficult thing to do. But if it is something you have already done several
times, it does not seem quite so daunting.
4 jobs, 5 changes of address.
The (Brand New) Grey Eight
most of my platoon and one other platoon that marched out at the same time were posted to Enoggera barracks in Brisbane, to
form a brand new battalion, 8RAR.
I arrived in Brisbane in the winter of 1966, as a founding member of the 8th
battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (8RAR). The photo below was taken on our first day at Enoggera barracks, by one of my
roommates. I think my first roommates were Clive Taylor, Hans Vanzwol and Zac Sady, but I may be wrong. My memory of those
days is not particularly sharp. I certainly roomed with those three at some stage while I was at Enoggera. The move to Brisbane
makes 4 jobs, 6 home addresses.
On our second night in Brisbane, one of my mates told me he had been out the night
before and had met some army women from the WRAC barracks at Chelmer. He had made arrangements for a group date that night
for some 8RAR boys, including myself, and some Chelmer girls. I can't remember anything about that night, but it must
have been pretty special, because no fewer than three of my mates, Barry Canton, Clive Taylor and Ty Braham, later married Chelmer
girls they met that night! Laun (Jack) Hammer and myself were the only ones on that group date who managed to evade Cupid's
When we arrived at Enoggera, we were all there was of 8RAR. Just a bunch of rookies,
most of us teenagers. Soon after, our Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Langtry would arrive to take over, and we would
soon gain a platoon commander, Lieutenant Blackman. But for a short time, we had the place to ourselves. I am certain that
every soldier who was part of that initial contingent of 8RAR members has fond memories of that time. It felt like Brisbane
belonged to us.
We were only in the old barracks for a short time before we moved to Greenbank,
where we lived in tents. I don't remember why we did that, but from what little I can remember of Greenbank, the good times
The pictures below are of the old barracks at Enoggera and of the tents at Greenbank.
The next adventure for me was Exercise Barra Winga, at Shoalwater Bay,
north of Rockhampton in Queensland.
The two Australian battalions in Vietnam at this time were 5RAR and
6RAR. They were due to come home in April or May 1967. They were to be replaced by 2RAR and 7RAR. Barra Winga was a huge exercise,
designed to prepare those battalions, under the next task force commander, Brigadier Hughes, for service in Vietnam.
One day Clive Taylor came to see me after he had spent a night on orderly
room duty. He told me he had seen some paperwork on a desk in the orderly room. It looked like some kind of special platoon
was being put together from 8RAR soldiers, to be led by Lieutenant Blackman. Most of our mates were on the list, but Clive
and I were not. The reason for our absence seemed to be that this platoon was being put together for Vietnam service,
and Clive and I were still only 18. You had to be 19 to go to Vietnam.
Now, this is the story Clive told me, and I have no reason not to believe
it. There were two vacant slots in the platoon headquarters group for this mysterious new platoon, so Clive wrote in his own
name as batman, and mine as platoon sig (radio operator). That is how I became a member of what turned out to be the Defence
and Employment (D & E) Platoon for Exercise Barra Winga.
Barra Winga was one of the high points of my short army career. The new D & E Platoon became
a really tight unit through its work on this exercise. Unfortunately I don't have many detailed memories of what we did, I
just remember what a pleasure it was to serve with this group of blokes.
One strong memory I do have is of the day we were sent to fight a bushfire that
was encroaching into the training area at Shoalwater Bay. Our job was to prevent the fire from reaching a nearby homestead. The
homestead was at the top of a hill, and I was with my platoon commander, fighting a small fire front down near the bottom
of the hill, when suddenly the wind changed. The flames whipped up and started coming towards us at a rapid rate. I jumped
into a creek bed and watched the fire leap over me from one bank of the creek to the other. I noticed that I was on my own,
so I looked up to see what had happened to my Platoon Commander. I saw him running up the hill towards the homestead, with
the fire chasing him, like a cattle dog nipping at his heels. It was quite an amusing sight, although I doubt that he saw
the humour of it.
This page is under construction. I will have more to say about my time in 8RAR.