Square peg in uniform


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Square peg in uniform

  This story is about 26 years in the armed services of a member with 'Asperger’s syndrome' (self-diagnosed).

It all started when I was 17 walking home from the train after attending Ultimo Technical College during the day, as I passed the local army reserve compound, on impulse I called in and inquired.

 As luck would have it, they were looking for recruits and gave me some forms, being 17 years old, I had to get Dad to sign. With a doctors' certificate saying I had the required number of arms legs etc. I joined 4 Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers.

When I had informed the Apprentice Master that I wanted to join, he was enthusiastic and took me to his assistant, who was an officer in the CMF. At that time, the quasi-government companies were subsidised to allow this.

One of the side benefits of working for QANTAS treated the annual camps as paid leave. This policy meant that I was paid 38 pounds (untaxed) by the army and about 46 (QANTAS) with the average expense totally about 10 shillings for a can of soft drink and other stuff.

After the usual bureaucratic nonsense and uniform issue, I became known at least for a couple of hours a week, Sapper Kev.

 During this time, one of the officers organised a weekend camp to at least give a bit of a taste of chocolate soldier life taking our troop for a camp at the national park near the Woranora Dam, south-west of Sydney. We had a two-day camp doing bushwalking, which I quite enjoyed. Too bad this was nothing like a normal bivouac which we were to experience.

 Operating out of Arncliffe barracks (shared with infantry), we were doing contact drills in local parks, hiding in bushes, having a great time, going bang-bang to simulate having a gun.

  The life of a field engineer is full as I found at the first annual camp, held during the autumn school break so that it wouldn't interfere with the Ultimo TAFE troop apprentices. The time of the year is wet and cold. Therefore, the CMF had no competition to use Camp GanGan (probably means cold and miserable place).

 The squadron filled the daylight hours with training on road and bridge building and the nights with infantry minor tactics and route marches. If I have forgotten to mention sleep, well it didn't seem to happen too often.

 The second Sunday rolled arrived, I had the bright idea to stay after compulsory church parade, to take commune. Well, it was a novelty as I didn't usually go to any church, let alone the latter. Oops that backfired, as I still had the pack up work to do only less time to do my share, did I mention how much I loved hard work, watch I am quite fond of, volunteer to do it, not particularly keen.

 Shaving at this time was also not a favourite chore; I thought it was smart to shave the night before. Unfortunately, the combination of blunt razor and an eagle-eyed serjeant the next morning meant back to the washroom for another scrape. Normally I shaved twice a week whether I needed it or not.

After truck and train back to Sydney, all the gear had to be cleaned and packed away then the walk home. Straight into the bath, after about half an hour, Mum had noticed that I hadn't come out for tea, she had to wake me by knocking on the door. Straight after tea jumped into bed, dead to the world, I did manage to get to work in the morning.

 On another camp we had a midnight navigation march this being a figure 8 course; at the crossover point, our mob being on the shorter leg had to wait until the others arrived from the opposite direction. Having been told to relax, I settled down in the middle of the road to rest. For some strange reason, I became an object of annoyance; perhaps my snoring was keeping everyone else awake; lying on the rocks and gravel having no effect on my sleeping abilities.

 Meals, well most of the time it was bulk meals provided by the cook; the worst was when someone hadn’t done their sums, and we were short rationed.  The cooks served up baked beans and porridge made of ration biscuits (actually not bad as these biscuits are compressed oats).

 Bully beef is a can of cooked stringy beef, tasty and good for the jaw muscles; rumour was that the manufacturers made this from old bulls, not young heifers. Surprisingly it was much sought after by the Yanks in Vietnam who perhaps thought their rations were too fancy.

 The ration biscuits are excellent for the jaw muscles as some of the older items are particularly hard and reserved for extra ammunition to throw at your opponents or perhaps in pockets as bulletproof vests.

 The other issued rations were ten-man packs which were meant to sustain ten men for 24 hours, very reassuring to see your birth year marked on the outside; usually contained three cans bully beef, three of potatoes, a block of chocolate (white from age) and two tins of date pudding. The calorie count included jam, tinned butter, condensed milk and biscuits.

 They came in 4 varieties with B and D sought after, A was Okay, but C was the last preference, consisting of very basic and the least favourite menu; naturally, half the boxes were C as everyone left them to the last. B and D had Irish stew for the meat meal; this was quite tasty.

 As an incentive to look after your mates each person carried a part of the pack which was useless for the individual; especially if you have the odd bits like the curry powder, matches and hexamine stove. The indispensable man was the one with the can opener; all seasoned soldiers usually made sure they had one. The store issued a multi-knife to the Engineers, which included a can opener.

 You can eat the canned food unheated; though heating the contents and adding the pepper and curry made it more palatable.

 An Engineer section consisted of twelve men against nine for an infantry section; this problem usually met by throwing in another can of the bully and another of potatoes.

 The old hands usually had extra rations sourced from the shops before the exercise. If you were a transport driver, everyone used to place orders to get extra stuff delivered, especially toilet paper as the ration allowance was three squares per man per day perhaps. Lovely stuff, closer to greaseproof than soft and absorbent.

 For those into toilet humour, the latrines were a trench (15 feet long x 2-foot wide x 6 foot deep) usually with 8 ‘thunder boxes’ with the gaps covered with boards. Until my time in the REAME, there were no screens as the army at the time was strictly male. They are usually placed in a clearing so that you could contemplate the bush scenery instead of a wall, at the time the Army didn’t enlist women for the field.

 Because of limited water and hygiene being imperative, it was necessary to provide an antiseptic solution for our hands. If the medic suspected that someone was not using this, ‘cascara’ was added to the solution which turns the hands orange then after a couple of days, a hand inspection was carried out. Those with non-orange hands were then given ‘cascara’ internally as a laxative because constipation is a serious problem.

 It was always threatened but never actually carried out; the dye effect being spectacular the first to suffer, would warn the rest. The trench and contents were usually kept somewhat non-odorous by adding kerosene then dropping a lit paper to light it.  Precaution, ventilate first, warn everyone that this was to happen, don’t wait too long before igniting and for god’s sake no smoking in the meantime.

 Stories about the Squadron Sergeant Major are widespread, these relating that the SSM arrives for quiet contemplation after ordering everyone away and then ignoring the NO Smoking edict with spectacular results. Ensuring that all involved were subject to long and bitter retribution from said SSM; the mind boggles. This tale is a standard joke since the said SSM usually supervises this program and hears all the jokes, this would never happen. Though not opening all the lids, does give a spectacular effect as the lids lifted into the air accompanied by any loose paper.

Training went on sporadically; since recruits are always joining, this meant rehashing the old lessons. Still, even these were interesting. Learning how to lay and defuse mines, the construction of improvised explosive devices and the theory on demolition explosives. (I wouldn't let me loose with big bangers and had little confidence in my fellow sappers).

 One course we did was at Marrickville which was the headquarters of the reserve RAE; located there was a fuselage of a Caribou aircraft while interested as I was an apprentice aircraft tech, but as it was to me ‘old technology’ not too interested. Later I was to find that the aircraft had been involved in an incident at my future home in the Navy where it had short landed, ‘very’ as the pilots hadn’t known that there was a down draught over the hill at the end. The result is that it landed very short on the ‘piano keys’ which give a sighting of the runway end to the pilot. The wings folded down and collapsed the undercarriage.

 By this time, we had shifted to Kogarah to use as our drill hall, smaller with no parks within marching distance, night cowboys and Indians were out. Of course, I didn't miss that as I had reached the venerable age of 18 and was too old for kid’s games.  However, the lack of space meant that we drilled in the hall, and I provided much entertainment and hilarity as the grip of hobnail boots and floorboards leave a lot to be desired.

 Another trap for unwary is that the first person to spot the officers entering the hall was to call "Officer on parade". Sounds good if you are correct, the downside the only regular soldier is the Squadron Sergeant Major, who in the dark has the same hat and is not impressed with the attention. I found out why the doorway was usually empty.

 One of the most moving experiences was when we had practical explosive lessons. So we went out to the Holsworthy explosives range, the target was an old crane base weighing approximately 10 tonnes and made of cast iron; the range limit is 50 lbs or approx. Twenty-two kilos made up of a combination of TNT, PE3 plastic explosive and detcord. Before setting it all out (only the experienced need to apply); the supervisors demonstrated party tricks like lighting TNT and Gelignite with a match, such a lovely green some people turn. It is relatively safe; the biggest hazard is if you wipe your forehead after handling the Gelignite; the nitroglycerine it contains, gives intense headaches. Gelignite and dynamite are Nitroglycerine and Fuller's earth wrapped in greaseproof paper; the pink fluid that is called sweat is the nitroglycerine.

 As all safety things must happen before the interesting part, that is inserting detonators and connecting wire leads, safety first, so we were all marched off into the range bunker.

 All the safety codes being satisfied, and everyone sitting, whistles and warning horns blow. After a suitable time to allow the tension to build, a surge wave lifted us what seemed to be a couple of feet, then the boom came. This effect despite being about 100 yards away and sitting behind several feet of reinforced concrete covered by yards of packed soil, this allows you to get an idea of the power of a relatively small amount that one person could carry in a suitcase. The crane base very satisfactorily destroyed by the explosives.

 Years later, when they demolished Canberra Hospital, and the mayor turned this into a media circus for TV. I was able to see that a disaster was about to happen, as the amount (too much and incorrect explosive), the positioning of the explosive and ballast was wrong. TNT and PE3 are high explosives for shearing/cutting; gelignite and fuel fertiliser mix is labelled 'low' explosives for pushing/lifting.

 The Mayor had invited most of Canberra to be part of the audience, crowding the lake and foreshores of Lake Burley Griffin. Sadly one child was killed; that she was the only fatality was a miracle, as debris rained all around the boating spectators on the lake and whistled past spectators on the shoreline over a mile away. When the dust settled the result was the majority of the building was still standing and required piecemeal dismantling.

Being an 'Asper' unknowing at the time, the biggest problem that I ran into was deciphering body language (this is one identifying trait). I would miss the emphasis on orders as I would tend to take them literally or miss some critical point altogether. I tended to unhook my ears when I repeated some of the order to myself.

 About this time, I had nearly turned 20, which meant that I was now eligible to receive an extra birthday present from the Government, a ticket in the call-up lottery. My unit advised me that if I signed up to complete another three years, they would remove my marble from the hat. Great idea I thought; looking back I found that my birth date didn’t go in either, and this combined with another year of the exemption because I was an apprentice at TAFE, this would have meant that I was in no danger of winning that lottery.

Normie Rowe, rumour has it, had his marble added on a bit of string and ended up going to Vietnam. No danger for me as I wasn’t famous.

 My ex-brother-in-law decided that a way out was to marry my sister. Later, when he divorced, I confirmed the thought that he was an idiot, as he had left Duntroon Officer College because of an injury.

 1. If they decided he was now fit, he would have become an officer automatically with a year’s credit and the option of resuming his career.

 2. If not fit or number not chosen, that would have been the end of it and no need to get married.

 When having risen to the exalted rank of lance bombardier (one chevron), one night I did the job of Watch NCO, unfortunately, I must have missed the bit where I was to inspect personally, every hour, the big raft that we had assembled the previous day. Come the morning I was in the gun because the tide had gone out and stranded it high and dry.

 The strange thing to me was that the punishment was not to help refloat the ferry by standing in knee-deep mud. I would feel guilty, and others would blame me. Since everyone thought I was weird, I couldn’t see the point.

 Another time was running the night picket; I came up with the ‘brilliant idea’ of letting everyone sleep in and didn’t wake my relief. Now if an ordinary person were to think this through; I had already missed my sleep and therefore wouldn’t benefit. My relief woke up, then panicked, got up, then went to sleep. Okay, it wasn’t a full-on exercise so no harm, except for the exasperated head shake of the Staff SGT.

 At range practice, the associated ability to concentrate by cutting out the rest of the world was some compensation. This ability allowed me to impress the sergeants for once. The exception was the qualifying with the Owen sub-machine carbine. Warm-up shots danced a rock up the stop butts no problem. Off the hip at 10 yards again no problem until we get to deliberate aiming at 25 yards.

 During a reloading break, the sergeant asked, "What target are you shooting?". As I was the fifth shooter, I pointed at the fifth target. The sergeant then said, “Well six has 60 hits out of 30 shots.” My front sight was about 1/2 inch offline, which translated hitting about a yard to the right of where I was aiming, giving my neighbour such an incredible score. Levering the sight to about the right spot with my trusty spoon, I completed the practice only just qualifying.

With the SLR and other rifles, I was able to qualify easily and if time allowed to 'zero' the sights allowing the instructor to rate me as a marksman. Later on, when in the regular army, I did pistol shooting as 'sport'.

 One interlude was an attempt to transfer to the CAF (citizens air force), had to go to the recruiting office in Sydney. Did well except that I failed the medical because I had a WART on my knuckle. Later despite sending a medical certificate saying it was burnt off was still unsuccessful.

 After becoming unemployed, I saw an ad for the Army looking for pilots, off to the recruiting department I went, being one of about 3000 applications, should be in with a good chance.

 Arrived with about 50 others, then we were guided into the first exam, with the direction that those successful would be called back for the next test.

 Flew through it and as most of the others looked like office types, I was surprised when the group had been cut by half for the next test, as it had been what I thought was an easy English test, and that not being my best subject. The next two tests (Maths and Physics) reduced the group to about 15.

 Then we started the physical tests, keeping a light dot in a circle with rudder pedals and joystick. As I had done a bit of 'hangar flying' as an aircraft apprentice, I found this an easy exercise.

 The remaining applicants underwent the medical examination; the best bit was putting drops in the eye, which expanded the pupil, true to Army tradition this was in a different building returning through the bright sun afterwards. Guess who had the only sunglasses, if I had several I could have made a fortune; still damn bright with them on. By this time we were down to about a dozen hopefuls.

The last hurdle was the interview board. Perhaps I didn't have the right school tie on or one at all; the Colonel suggested that if I went into RAEME as an Aircraft Maintainer, I would be welcome. I didn't think much of that idea so demurred. NOTE for future reference.


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The Royal Australian Navy

Next phase The Royal Australian Navy

 After about another six months when other job applications were unsuccessful, one was working on blue and white helicopters for Hawkers.

 I spotted an advertisement; The Navy was looking for tradesmen for direct entry. Seeing that it included the status of Petty Officer (EM8 for Yanks) after recruit school, I thought why not? Shows how desperate they were.

 I went to the Recruiting Office again, where I did nearly the same exams and medicals. Showing that practice helps, I shone.

 The next step was to travel out to the Naval Apprentice School (HMAS Nirimba), where I completed a trade test, this coincided with a graduation parade and to top it off Armstrong landed on the moon. These situations cut my time down, but I managed to qualify. If I signed on the dotted line before two weeks were up, they would pay me for this (still waiting).

 As a prospective senior sailor, I stayed in the Petty Officer’s mess; one of the strange sights was a PO Stoker, who had a shaved head and a full beard.

 I stood out as being in winter; I was wearing my favourite green jumper with grey work trousers though acceptable as it was common for civvies to waft through for a fortnight at a time.

The trade test consisted of an aluminium wing nose piece with fabricated steel assembly welded and brazed (which was interesting as I hadn’t welded or brazed only watched). Inside the steel box, a cubed brass block had to be fitted, filed to shape. The combination of steel and brass are never used in aircraft.  

 After giving my resignation into the CMF, they told me that I was still in it until I handed back all my uniform and gear. Missing a couple of bits, and the quarter-master rang up Mum to see if I could find these items. Grumpily saying that I would have plenty of gear, after being informed that I had joined the Navy, as this consisted on one beret and one pack strap which I hadn’t seen for years; I was somewhat bemused at the comment.

 I was called back to Recruiting, retook the oath to Queen and Country, being mid intake I went with the re-entry men, escorted to the train overnight to Melbourne in the old rattlers. Swapping trains a couple of times we arrived by bus into HMAS Cerberus.

 Between intakes, I was a problem. They assigned me to the previous house named Rankin. The other privilege was that I got a decent haircut instead of the all-over short a recruit gets and to emphasise that I was different, the storeman issued me a Petty officers uniform sans rank badges. For two weeks, I joined their classes, including year six in English and mathematics.

  To cut a long story short, the intake I was supposed to be in, caught up with me. I had to start again as the requirement was to do a full three months recruit school possibly for insurance etc., not pure bloody-mindedness as I thought at the time. I felt I had caught up and passed the initial intake already.

 My new house was Moran named after another old admiral. To allow us to settle in properly, the previous occupants had a mattress fire and blackened most of the lower floor. Left heavenly smells as well, did I tell you that that sensitivity to smell, light and noise is all symptoms of Asperger's syndrome, Wonderful?

 To top things off, we had two late joiners another direct entry tradesman and a boxer. They got to stay with our intake Grrr.

  Usual progress, medicals in case someone had died and hadn't told anyone. Arms filled with needles. Did I ever tell you how much I like doctors poking me with sharp things? Don't you believe it.

 The best was the TAB (tetanus antibacterial); first, they stick your right arm about mid-forearm and then hit the left the next day. This injection, of course, sets off the first one. Next lesson is rifle drill; want to guess where the rifle and tender swollen arm meet. The next day we practice the butt (rifle) salute which coincided with left arm swelling, and of course, now the left inner forearm is slapping the chest.

 The highlight of the week is to go down to academic instruction where Chief Petty Officer Academic Instructor Mules (real name) officiated. His biggest complaint in life, apart from wasting his time teaching village idiots, was that as a teacher before entering the Navy, he should have gone directly to that rank, instead of being an ordinary sailor (dib-dab). While ingrates like me were in PO's rig and on airforce corporal's pay from day one, actually as it was only $10 a fortnight more than a regular recruit, not that big deal. In reality, a leading seaman with two Good Conduct increments received a higher wage as petty officers weren’t entitled to the extra allowance.

After a couple of lessons on how to do school work we had a preET1 exam, I had attended the classes for the last three weeks and passing the entry test (1st-year high school, year 7), at the recruiting centre, of course, I aced it. This result meant no 'Mulsie' or classes; we filled in polishing brass on the 'Castlemaine', a decommissioned minesweeper. Included was instruction on how to splice cordage (fibre rope), a very handy skill.

 And better yet we went for a row in whalers, something my Dad had talked about from his time in the Navy, though I didn't emulate his trick with the oar. What he did was deliberately 'catch a crab' (dig the oar blade too deep) thereby breaking the oar. This tactic had backfired for him because the spare was a steering sweep (twice as heavy and long).

 While I hadn't rowed much myself, I had read about it; I thought I did Okay. I then swapped with the coxswain to bring everyone to the same stroke and revved them on to beat the other crew back to the wharf, that one being coxed by one of the instructors, did my ego no harm.  

 Oh, there is another problem since I am unfortunate that one eye is lower than the other I was often told to straighten my cap, the POGI (petty officer gunnery instructor) and 'Mulsie', having the most angst.

 We had rifle lessons on how to strip and clean. We each found a rifle in front of us and before our instructor could tell us not to, clatter, clatter, the three ex-army boys had safety checked as this action was our training. We were off to a great start.

 Not to worry all the ex-army reserve and ex-conscripts did it automatically because the Army had drilled safety checks into us. The instructor was more annoyed that he had forgotten to warn us. Otherwise, we got on well together as he was a leading seaman aircraft mechanic. That is a 'birdie' as I would become after recruit school. Junior n.c.o.s are often sent to recruit training if they are a bit of a rebel, they could advise us not to be.

 Oh and my first salute, not as yet having been trained in the Navy way. The 'Goffa' I threw was a perfect army 'palm out' one, lucky it was an Admin Commander and not some 'Gunny'(gunnery officer). He went off, shaking his head as it came from someone dressed as a Petty Officer.

 Another gem was when I was double marching the class, this before ‘blue cardholders ' were named, as we were a bit slack our double was closer to a stroll. What I didn't know was the car with an Indian Admiral was being held up behind us.

 As we passed the headquarters, I threw an 'Eyes Left' to a Lieutenant. Then someone with a bugle stepped to the kerb and let off a blast, which since we hadn't that lesson yet, I didn't have a clue.

The Lieutenant screamed at me to halt, about turn and salute. When the Admiral had gone into the headquarters, I was to find out why.

 Said Lieutenant called me over, found out I was a recruit of a few weeks standing, roasted my socks off and told me to double the class off at full speed; though he should have known as the course designates recruits by them wearing white web belt and gaiters.

 This particular Lieutenant was the gymnasium boss having attained the rank by being the heavyweight champion boxer of the Navy, renowned for giving recruits a hard time.  

 After this, I let someone else do the ‘student in charge’.  

 While the Indian Admiral was there, we were to do the open water swimming safety test usually held in the outdoor pool, this being the tail end of winter and southern Victoria is just a wee chilly. I forgave the Admiral when he watched us do it in the indoor pool.

The test involved three lengths of the pool in overalls, tread water while removing same, then doing another three lengths. Oh and tying the trouser ends then inflating them by swinging the overalls overhead to create water wings. Duck diving followed this task then swimming the width of the pool underwater, simulating ducking under an oil slick.

After the first month had passed, the admin chose 'Blue cardholders'. The privilege that goes with the honour is that only one duty every third night/weekend, being a special case already I had been doing the laundry duty, which was also one in three.

As the 'Chosen' might go on to be leaders. I was surprised that they didn't give me the experience as I was within two months of being a senior NCO, though I suppose I shouldn't have grumbled, refer to the previous story, besides which the duty was manning the office all night.

 This duty contrasts with sitting down and recording fellow recruit’s wet clothing in and dry out. The side benefit is that I was able to do my washing, drying and ironing while I did the duty.

 The new 90-day wonder had bounced one of the laundry room sentries, and he wasn't happy; the subject was a typical 17-year-old country boy, 6 foot + tall, all shoulders and a foot thick between the ears. As my inspection station was outside the laundry he took the opportunity to loom over me, all that came to mind was if he tried that trick with his friend (A short streetwise tough nut) he wouldn’t forget it for a long time. Especially if he only realised what part of his anatomy was level with a jab; a hint I am much shorter than him.

 As the old intakes get fitter and become bored, they decided let's pick on the newbies; I had an invasion of one, I showed my prowess in pillow fighting. Kapok pillows are somewhat harder than feather ones he got a real drubbing and ended back out the door.

 Another entertaining subject was NBCD, (nuclear, biological, chemical and damage control). The nuclear and biological were only class subjects, but the chemical control had a practical application in that we had to walk through a dark chamber, wearing gas masks, filled with tear gas (CS).

Not too hard except at the end we had to remove the masks to prove that it was tear gas and not just smoke. Yep tear gas, very sad story.

 As a warning, the instructor, who had a generous beard, announced that if anyone laughed at his teary eyes, they would redo the chamber without the benefit of the mask. In the time of war, men have to shave as the gas masks don’t seal well enough to keep the nasty gases out.

 Damage control consisted of learning how to keep the ship afloat if holed and extinguishing fires. Floating on the water in a steel ship, one would think that fires shouldn’t be a problem.

 There are two problems, Problem number one being you have many small connected compartments which are difficult to get access. Furniture and clothing are flammable, and nearly every compartment has flammable liquid of some sort or other in pipes which can be ruptured if a weapon hits the compartment.

 Problem number two is that having poured heaps of water on the fire, you now have a ship full of water to be removed, if the ship is to stay afloat.  

  Another useful subject was the battle first aid, went through the standard type first aid, we watched a heap of movies of varying quality. The best was the Korean War ones which included such gems proving that we are all alike under the skin, this demonstrated by ripping the burnt skin off an Afro-American soldier and finding white skin underneath.

The piece de résistance was surgery to remove a rifle round, as the projectile was lifted out; and the eyelashes came into view, it then became apparent the surgeon had removed a bullet from alongside the eye. The few who had not left to call for Herb now made a bolt for the door. Not ‘old’ hands like me, of course.    

  H.M.A.S. Cerberus is in the south-east of Victoria; the weather is so 'wonderful' that all the metrological people are trained there because you get all sorts of weather every day to the point if you miss a weather pattern, wait a minute it will change again. This morning we all thought it was a bit cold, we wore 'burberrys' (overcoats) to morning parade.

 The short time between breakfast and parade it had warmed up. We were ordered to get rid of the overcoats, running flat out to achieve the task and being late carried emu patrol in the ‘dogs’ as punishment. This job involved picking up cigarette butts and other rubbish between 5 and 6 pm and having cold tea afterwards.

The troops completed the round trip in time for the temperature to drop again and kept reducing. It snowed in Dandenong and being too cold where we were, it just sleeted.

 The only time I had been colder is when trying to return to my frozen blankets after morning picket when at camp behind Liverpool (Sydney western suburb), but that was midwinter, not mid-spring.

 Another problem while the junior sailors had nice woolly jumpers suitable for watch keeping, being in PO rig I was issued a cute sleeveless vest, designed to be worn under the suit coat about as useful as wearing another singlet.  

One highlight of the weekly routine is kit inspection where you lay out all your uniform to ensure it is clean and ironed. Part of which is the “Bombay bloomer” underpants made of high-quality linen, lovely to look at, impossible to wear. For this routine, I dutifully ironed two pair and binned the rest. One punishment was a running kit inspection where you paraded all of your kits by wearing it and then had to wash and iron ready for the weekly kit inspection.

 The course boss gave us the privilege of having a weekend visit home; this was to allow us to take our civvies to leave at home as they were considered contraband at recruit school.

  By regulations full number 1 uniform had to be worn, this without any embellishments (bare sleeves) looked just like a pilot’s uniform, apart from anchors on the cap and buttons, so had to answer a few queries as to when aircraft was leaving, etc.

 Apart from Mum thinking the Navy had scalped me, as my hair still short, everything went well enough. I had lost about seven pounds of fat and replaced it with 14 pounds of muscle (am andromorph). I still couldn't run worth a damn as I was heavier. It didn't help that you could go around the buoy (refill plate at meals) as often as you like.

 The rest of the recruiting process went mostly without drama, as being the oldest, I had an edge.

  Finally, the exams started happening, the Maths and English. I did well in especially in Maths after one of the other chief academic instructors pointed out that if I wrote the working out in the border; the fact that I had made a silly mistake would show up like the proverbial dog appendages. Had a light bulb moment as I did this and found a couple of clangers; the result was 100%.

 Pity that my High school Maths teacher hadn’t pointed this out eight years before; instead he embarrassed me in front of the class because I had only written the answers down for homework and this being all correct; therefore accused me of copying from the back. Testing me by reading the problem was no good for me as I am a visual, not an audio person. Otherwise, I may have taken notice of him instead of ignoring his lessons from then on.  

 Because I had done so well in the continuous psych exams and others, I received no Kudos. The instructors expected that I would do well at any exam; therefore, no prizes, etcetera for good work.

 Having learnt to keep a low profile, all went well. Graduation parade finished, back to the tailor to have my petty officer’s crown and crossed anchors fitted.

 I had the only meal at the HMAS Cerberus Senior Sailors Mess. I tried to make the POGI’s day by noting that “I had made it after all”.  Strangely he wasn’t in the slightest bit impressed, must have been the glare off my brand new rank sitting over NO Good Conduct and Service badges, this compared with his three G.C. badges suitably dull from long service. Did I mention that 90-day wonders aren’t held in high esteem by anyone with at least one badge?

 The navy gave the aircraft maintainers going to Nowra (HMAS Albatross) the dubious privilege of going in a bus along the Prince’s Highway. Want to guess who was told, “Take charge of your men, P.O.”

 The Princes Highway from Melbourne up the coast is what is called scenic by the tourists but a very long and tortuous grind for everyone else. The bus seemed to be a constant bang turn one way then bang, turn the opposite most noticeable as I was seated in the rear.

 Well, we eventually were dropped off in Nowra. Typically nothing was waiting for us. But telephones and the now ex-instructor Leading Seaman won the day, and we were transported out to the base.

 When waiting for the bus to take us to the base, this bloke spoke to me, I at first didn’t recognise being from the previous intake; he went off about me being a snob now that I was a PO. He wouldn’t accept an apology as if I could change in less than 24 hours. Later on, he was to threaten me, possibly because he was trying for a discharge.

 I handed my orders in and was assigned quarters in the senior sailor's area. A bus transported the ordinary seamen to their blocks. Since my room was closer, they just pointed at the senior sailor's area, and I was left to drag my gear over by myself. Ah, the privileges of rank, great as I had twice the clothing and other gear as the ordinary seamen. Together with a massive ‘steam and dry ‘iron which had doubled in weight.

 That was Friday, and I was stuck on the base; because I hadn’t marched into a department, no one could give me leave to retrieve my car and civilian clothes.

  Monday morning rolled around; I walked down to the Aircraft Training School. Written up as being a member, as the next course started in late January, I was instructed to find something to do for the instructors. I was filling my day sectioning an Iroquois Helicopter engine.

 This particular aircraft had come to a sticky end because the pilot decided to do a ‘torque turn’ at the top of a cliff. This action caused a stall and crash bang ended in the ocean at the bottom. By cutting out the corrosion resulting from the contact with salt water, it was easy to get a good look at the inside of the engine to see how it worked. The result mounted on stands, constructed by yours truly. Well, it beats painting rocks that my erstwhile classmates were doing. I, at least, had some skills to use.

 Still turn-about, they were sent on Christmas holidays with the rest of the base being given extra days because they had only just joined, (to be paid back of course). Funny, I wasn’t taken pity on, as my leave pass was marked PM Monday 24 December to AM Monday 9 January, thus comprising Eleven days plus Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I was left to go home at 1230 Friday, returning at 0840 Monday, then go on leave at 1630. Darn, I am afraid I slept in Monday, my luck was in, and only the instructor I was working with had noticed I was absent without leave for that day.

 One of the privileges of being a senior sailor is that you don’t have to parade and have your name marked off. I did have my pay and leave pass, the latter I didn’t have to show as I left the base. Mind you; the instructor did have more than a few words to say about the matter when I arrived back in the workshop in the New Year but luckily didn’t take it any further.

Referring to Dad’s experience in the Navy; having been told that as he would be promoted to ordinary seaman gunner when he returned from annual leave. Now as his ambition had been a torpedo rating, who also did the ship electrical work, he wasn’t happy with that; Dad had worked hard on that part of the exams and just scraped through the other subjects to ensure that selection.

 As this was the lead up to the great depression, when he didn’t bother returning from leave, nothing was said. Later, when he accompanied Uncle Arthur to the Police station. Dad somehow failed to mention his status then or again when he signed up as a driver in the Army Transport Corps.

Time passed, and January came around. Did I mention the blue and white helicopters I had passed up earlier? They are of course the Westland Wessex helicopters that I would now be learning to fix.

 What we would be doing would be line maintenance and minor repairs; not the strip down to every nut and bolt that the Hawker De Haviland job would have entailed.

 The class consisted of 12 Aircraft Artificer class 3 sailors, these having just been promoted to the rank of leading seamen. Therefore, they were junior sailors and still required to parade each morning, I, on the other hand, walked to the classroom with the instructor.

 Another difference that with their single anchors, they previously received the magic GC badge. Of course, my shiny twin anchors were otherwise lonely. No parade and no GC badges didn’t create too many friends among them. But I evened things up a little by doing the duty student job of sweeping.

 This concession was a very large dispensation on my part, as I was a tradesman on top of the fact of higher rank and they were but lowly apprentices. Another point also was that I had worn a uniform for six years, albeit reserve, this didn’t count towards those magic GC badges.

 While I didn’t top the course, I did quite well despite having a three-year break from the last technical school work, the other advantage I had was that I had worked on aircraft in service and done the courses involved with those aircraft.

The courses finished;  then posted to 725 Squadron which was the training unit for both pilots and maintainers, where I settled into the routine of basic maintenance while convincing the engineer officers that I could do limited supervision. Having been granted this status; this allowed me to do basic repairs under supervision, as well that I could now supervise junior sailors in minor repairs and service; it also being the first step in the process to remove the appellation of Acting from the rank of AA2.

 During this training phase, one of my instructors was Aircraft Mechanician 1 ‘Blue’ Edgar who demonstrated putting the variable guide vane connecting pin, by standing in front wiggling and grunting then turning and saying “There that’s how it’s done.” Very helpful, it took me several goes before I managed. When it came to my turn to teach someone, I did a better job by allowing the student actually to see what I was doing.

 To be confirmed as AA2, I also had to pass my Petty Officer’s tests which by now the fellow students were also doing. I had to do written and practical exams. Failed the first marching drills, as I now had to do it from the front, as what little I had done was in the ranks with Army and recruit school.  Passed the required standard the second time Okay, practice does help.

 One of the courses that I had to pass was the Advanced NBCD course held at HMAS Watson situated on Middle Head in the middle of Sydney. The course took two weeks during which we covered the same subjects but in greater depth as we would be leading the junior sailors. They held this course at Middle Head in beautiful Sydney Harbour; HMAS Watson is probably one of the most exclusive and desirable properties in Australia.

  Along with the extra NBCD lessons taught to a greater depth, there is practical running of the damage control room as well as fitting the timber supports to plug the holes. The water came from the water mains when they decided to give us an abandon ship experience, all they had to do was open the pipes carrying the ‘leaks’ and give full pressure which naturally blew all the plugs and supports off the leaks, therefore rapidly filled the deck space. We exited via the escape hatch, though we landed on dry land instead of into the ocean.  

The Navy almost gave me an SNLR (services no longer required) because my divisional officer hadn’t given me my full supervisor status within two years. I was supposed to annoy him until he noticed. He did have the results that indicated that I had passed all the necessary exams to qualify.

 But being a typical ‘Asper’, I had been keeping a low profile, and therefore, I hadn’t demonstrated sufficient initiative or ambition to be noticed by my boss.

After the panic had settled, he granted the full supervisor status; this, in turn, made me confirmed as an AA2. As this process had taken two years, the then AA3s were now Full AA2 themselves. No change in pay for me just had the Sword of Damocles removed from over my head.

Usually, at this time, AA2s are dispersed to the ‘front line’ squadrons, one such was 817 Squadron, these were the units sent to the aircraft carriers.

 Being, as normal, a problem, I was sent to a workshop, Wow as Brer Rabbit said ‘don’t throw me into the briar patch’. It is where I was meant to be; it is ‘Asper’ heaven, the hydraulic workshop is where I am best suited, well any workshop.

As the workshop boffin, doing the higher-tech work, training junior sailors who looked up to me, really suited my personality. My Boss was Barry ‘Rags’ Ridler, a career AA1, later I found out that the appellation ‘rags’ referred to an incident involving losing a rag into the intake of a running Wessex. Naturally, there was a bang, flames and smoke, and as Barry scrambled from under, the pilot overtook him by flying over him. Said engine was destroyed and resulted in his relegation to the workshop.  Perhaps my problems such as dropping a dolly, which unfortunately bounced down the skin of the aircraft I was working on, I had tried to finish the job by myself when they took away my offsider, had the same result.    

 I mentioned it was a perfect work environment for me; the duty for this job was aircraft recovery when there was weekend or night flying. This task involved inspecting the arrester wires, replacing broken rubber doughnuts (these hold the wire off the ground), and otherwise maintaining the recovery gear. No problem as the junior sailors knew what they were doing, and I only had to point to the job.

Initially, we were in a small workshop with just one test rig, a couple of benches and two clean air cabinets. The workshop was ‘air-conditioned’, with three household standard units, whenever the Station Commodore’s unit broke down, one of ours was borrowed to replace it. Very high tech, I don’t think; as the missing unit left a hole in the wall, this covered with a plywood sheet.

 Settled into the routine fairly well, then the new ASU (aircraft support unit) was built, this had proper filtered and soundproofed Hydraulics Workshop. With two big test rigs, I was in my element.

My favourite job was testing the Skyhawk buddy tank hydraulic pumps. These were driven by a small propeller in action so to test it had to be driven by the rig motor; in turn, was powered by a 50 horsepower 3 phase electric motor. Now when I had the pump on full flow, it was very noisy (ear muffs mandatory), but when I choked it off to get maximum pressure, it would just hit 3700 pounds per square inch at which time the rig hydraulic motor, pump and electric motor would stall. BANG, CRASH, this was followed by dead silence. Every time I would have a rush of people to see what happened, really satisfying when I had a Singapore apprentice as a spectator. Did you know they turn quite pale if scared enough? And you thought I was a nice bloke, eh?  

 I became the Iroquois flying component Guru, and at one stage all the Iroquois helicopters the Navy-owned plus I am sure some of the Air Force ones were flying with my repaired units. Of course, the Wessex helicopter, Tracker and Skyhawk fixed-wing aircraft had plenty of hydraulic components as well.

 I left the dirty stuff like paint stripping and the hose kits for the Tracker engines to the junior sailors. The hoses after cleaned were then pressure tested on the hand pumps of the rigs. The team then replaced any hoses that failed the test with new hoses assembled and tested at the workshop.

 The Malaysian apprentices added to the entertainment by blowing the hose-ends off.  Because they took the pressure up to burst level instead of only to test pressure, that took us a couple of head-scratching sessions to work the problem out.

 Occasionally I would throw my expertise into special jobs like a Triumph fuel injection hose, this had split and had to be repaired; this for a visitor when we on show on an open day.

 I had another stint back on Wessex helicopters with the 725 Squadron. Did my job no problem not outstanding being neither good or bad, passed the drill for Chief petty officer and had a couple of goes at the written only just failing. I did pass the final subjects for my civil aircraft maintainer’s license; not that I could hold it while I was in the services.

 After a time, I was sent back to the Hydraulics workshop, this time, because I was needed there. Soon settled back into the routine; and stayed there until I had completed my six years engagement. Not having any particular reason to stay or go. The fact that my father was not well, tilted the scales enough. My Father passed away after I married my first wife, and before I found out that my firstborn was on the way. In the New Year, my brother was killed in a car accident, leaving his new wife a widow and his brand new daughter without a father.

 Eighteen months from when I had left, having been newly married with two children, and one of my own on the way; the job that I had been doing near Taree was drying up and being the last hired, I was among the first off. Applied for a teaching job at Ultimo tech, Sydney, then as a last-ditch idea, applied to rejoin the Navy.

While I was waiting for the Navy to get back to me the agriculture machinery job ended, I had a couple of casual jobs, and life was looking a bit grim.

 When the appointment for the medicals eventually came up; we headed south to Sydney again. My new wife decided to go with me and shop while I did the medicals etc. One little detail, I missed the due time to start the routine. I had arrived about 2 hours late, talk about off to a good start. With a bit of fast-talking, I was able to convince them to allow me to join on the tail end of the tests, lucky it was a slow day with no big mob coming through the routine. It only took about 30 minutes to catch up with the tail end; from then on smooth sailing (pun).

 At least until I hit the ‘trick cyclist’ (psychologist), where I had to explain that I was a nice person despite leaving my Mum alone. I said that I needed the job as I had left the Navy single and I was married with kids. Barely returned home when I received the go-ahead to return to Sydney with my gear and head off to HMAS Cerberus. Took the oath again to Crown and Country and they started to call me Petty Officer again.

 With the other re-entries, we were piled in the Rattler (train) to Melbourne and while the CPO in charge retired to the sleeper car, with the familiar “Take charge of your men PO.” This time, I had some experience for this task.

 Arriving back at HMAS Cerberus, I was directed off to the Senior Sailors accommodation. Settling in there was a rattle at the door, being a good boy I had locked it. Lucky that I had because 2 WRANs (girl sailors) had entered the wrong building tried what they thought was their door. When the key didn’t fit, they realised that they were in the wrong building, my virtue was safe.

I had been issued a whole new set of uniform, delivered the coats and shirts to the tailor for the embellishments, including that magic Good Conduct Badge. Another item that I was advised was to undertake was to buy back my first six years’ service for superannuation purposes. I thought no harm was done: later the first indication that it had taken effect, was that my pay was raised to PO over six years, together with the back pay to my re-entry date. The re-entry course lasted one month, retesting in swimming, basic NBCD just in case I had forgotten, updating inoculations (luckily only a couple of small ones) otherwise just marking time until all the paperwork etcetera; caught up with me.

 Returning to HMAS Albatross guess what they had waiting for me, my old job in the Hydraulic Workshop. Yippee!

The next thing was organising my family’s home and travel, but everyone was helpful, including my wife’s ex-husband, Barry was still my boss at the workshop.

Almost immediately I was told that I would be joining the ship’s company of HMAS Melbourne. I was deferred to allow my knee to be fixed and again so that I could have some training in Nondestructive testing (NDI). Part of the training was oil analysis I; I think the training took a whole day with a little extra at Garden Island after I was on the ship.  

 Sitting the exam for Chief, I passed this time, and it is normally an automatic promotion. But while on the ship, my PP1 (personal performance report) had an (i) for poor performance for communication which effectively prevented my promotion. The upshot was I was also warned by the Commodore and was at risk of being discharged as they couldn’t demote me.  Great as we were at sea and they still wanted me to do my job; when it came time to end my posting, they extended it for six months for the full training of the new man like I wasn’t.

 One night’s duty, I inspected the C Hanger where our gear and the Wessex helicopters were stored. All secure so back to the workshop to standby to await calls, apparently, as soon as my back was turned the ‘bears’ (aircraft handlers) moved the Wessex unhooking everything. Next thing I know, I am in the ‘gun’ for not tying things down properly. Run a replay of every time something goes wrong, I get blamed and then made to stand back while everyone else fixes the problem.  

 Another time all flying had ceased, I was on my bunk catching up on my reading, and in walks Skyhawk chief (once my junior) and demands that I instantly carry out crack inspection, the squadron’s man usually does this job. After opening up the workshop, collecting ‘eddy current detector’ and finding the subject area. Not being supplied with the schematic or drawings I was running blind, when I found an indication consistent with a crack, I reported the find. That meant the aircraft wasn't allowed to retract the undercarriage and had to be flown directly from ship to the airfield. Guess who gets the blame when more experienced heads pointed out that there was a corner on the upper side of the forging giving a false reading; hence, the need to give extra training to my replacement.

Almost was the hero, the helicopter squadron brought in a sample from a Seaking helicopters’ gearbox. As it came to the last process instead of a transparent purple tint, it was nearly black, and the spectrographic reading was off the scale. I immediately rang the squadron only to be told to hang on as there was an emergency landing happening. Want to guess which aircraft; that’s right the subject Seaking with graunchy sounds, and then the gearbox seized when the aircraft settled on the deck. Damn if I had been five or ten minutes earlier, I would have been the HERO, and all is forgiven instead of  'better luck next time'.  

The mixture for the analysis had very interesting ingredients; one is a two-pack which freezes up and has to be thawed to mix, but the piece de resistance is the ten drops of isoamyl alcohol; when opening the little bottle, I suddenly had the workshop to myself; oh my god it was powerful.

The process was to absorb the iron and copper then wash the oil away, leaving a clear to a purple solution. This solution is then spectrographically analysed then compared to an oil can from the same batch, calculated with the amount of oil added and then put on a trend graph to warn if a bearing or gear failure was imminent. The extreme result for the failing gearbox had the line go vertical.  

There is another thing to make me even more popular; all the glassware was washed in 99.97% ethanol BP; taking the lid off sucks in the water. Putting 100 millilitres in a 250 millilitres glass then topping up with water is equivalent to vodka.

 The next time we were alongside at dock in Sydney, it was decided that we had to prove we were fit and had to do a 5-kilometre run. I had been training on a stationary bike doing 20 minutes a day; I had no problem. One old (to us) Commander ran down the hill from the Fleet Headquarters joined in, finished first then ran back up the hill, b.. Showoff was a regular senior competitor. The program only lasted another week before some unfit clerk in Canberra had a heart attack. Until then the only fitness test was if you could fit through the escape hatch you are Okay. This requirement was based on the Voyager collision when a chief petty officer became a hero by throwing all the others out through the hatch when he couldn’t fit through himself.

 When we were in Pearl Harbour, then after a reception returning to the ship. It started to rain; we had barely run 20 metres before my companions started to drop off to a walk. Until there was only one with me puffing. Still feeling Okay, I increased the pace and was back on the ship, still dry while all the others trudged in wet. Mind you with the bike positioned outside the barbershop/cell flat, and since it was an air resistance type and blew hair everywhere, I wasn’t too popular at times.

When the new Air Tech officer joined, he was ‘Blue’ Edgar now a lieutenant, my old nemesis on his first walk round was shown the Rabbits (personal projects). He seemed impressed with my replica samurai sword, but next thing we knew there was a ban on private jobs if there was work to do. We decided that our habit of hanging around the workshop in our own time would finish which is why I had to be fetched from my bunk to do that crack detection, which the squadron should have scheduled during working hours.

It was his brilliant idea that I would be given the (i) in the report to prevent my promotion and stand by as the tie-downs were reset. Later in his career, he was often in the gun for forgetting that he was an officer and doing the work himself. Last time I ran into him was when I transferred to the Army, and the Navy gave him the job of talking us out of it. Perhaps if it had been someone else, I might have changed my mind

 My term on the Melbourne came to an end, and I returned to Nowra. By now, my wife had become used to me being absent; she decided that I should continue by living on the base. I commuted from the base to home via pushbike when required for babysitting.

  The powers that be decided that either I return home or move separated wife; as this coincided with her wanting to go to Tassie. I used up my final removal to send her down there.

 I remained on living on base for a time until I obtained custody of my two children; when she found herself on the move again to live in a caravan in Hobart.  

Moved in with another petty officer in his rental, and then Mum came down and for a while, we were in Navy accommodation. This while Mum’s new house was being built, the old house was draughty to the point that Mum’s new house was warmer without walls.

I had also been returned to the Hydraulic workshop and soon settled into the routine,

 One big job was repairing two secondary servo assemblies for the Seaking. By the manual, there was too much leakage in the final tests; I had to send both to India for an overhaul. One had been salvaged from a downed Seaking.  

 Before sending them, I tested a ‘serviceable’ assembly from the store, which leaked at a greater rate but because it had been on the shelf, it had an extra allowance and was still serviceable.

Years later, I had a conversation with the resident civvy who had visited the Westland Factory in England. He asked about the test, and the resident boffin who made the units said, “Of course they leak, which is why there is a catch tray and a drainpipe overboard. This boffin came up from London wrote all sorts of notes and the next thing I knew there was the manual complete with those leak rates.”

Disappointing as the overhaul bill was $100,000 each in India and I had only spent about $20,000 in time plus parts for both to bring them to the ex-factory standard. Another missed an opportunity for being the hero.

As an interlude, the admin sent me to HS723 where I thought I would be trained on Iroquois and Kiowa helicopters. I marched in did the paperwork introduced myself to everyone then settled into the brew room to wait for my assignment, but they talked the one I was replacing into staying; with a very red face, I returned to the workshop.

The Wessex helicopter had been mothballed, and this was expected to be permanent, the Navy then decided that they needed the aircraft as a utility helicopter assigned to 723, back I went to bring the service manuals up to scratch, I somewhat more cautious this time but it was only a short term job.

 Then my PP1 came up suitable for promotion, it was supposed to be automatic, but instead, I was sent to 723 again to prove that I could handle the job of watch chief. I believe I did the job despite the handicap of not being able to sign the serviceable to fly authorisation. Despite organising replacement aircraft and crew when several aircraft were U/S on startup, I was deemed unsuccessful.

The stress that I was put under ended with me having a severe head cold, and the duty-watch Chief resumed the counter work.

 I felt that I was going to be failed no matter what, and they ignored the rule on conducting an evolution (hands-on test) with aircraft is strictly forbidden.

 Still, I was posted once more to 723 to act as maintenance crew artificer on the Wessex which had been reactivated.    

 The Navy had contracted to buy HMS Invincible to replace HMAS Melbourne, but then the Falklands war broke out, and the Poms decided to keep it, there was an offer to sell its sister ship, but Labour had been voted into office in the interim, and the new government cancelled the purchase. A Labour government has short arms and long pockets when it comes to the military, no replacement was ordered, and therefore the fixed-wing aircraft part of the Navy was paid off. In 2014 they purchased two amphibious support ships which fill the same task.

 The Government gave the Skyhawks to the Kiwis who were on the doorstep to fly them out before the ink dried; only to return them the next month for the upgrades to be done in Sydney.

The Trackers were mothballed, and then the entire fleet air arm was offered redundancy, transfer to Army or Airforce.

As it was rumoured that rotary-wing staff would be sent to crew the gates all over the country, I decided to accept a transfer to the Army Air at Oakey. I was married to my second wife at this time, and she was happy to move away from her ex-husband.

At the presentation by the Airforce, they became very interested in the fact that I had Boeing 707 experience, but that would have meant Western Sydney and too close to Wendy’s ex. Pity I would have got my promotion to flight serjeant as I had been a petty officer equivalent to sergeant for nearly 14 years, with a chance at warrant officer before I retired

As it turned out, too many wanted to go, and they were left short; therefore, the interview with ‘Blue’ Edgar.




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Going Green again

  Leaving the Navy, we had a reluctant farewell from the Petty officers’ mess; the manager wasn’t over keen to give us anything and handed over the six glasses with the query, “How long have you been in the Petty officer's mess?” He asked as he hadn’t recognised me.

“Oh nearly 14 years,” I answered with his jaw nearly hitting the floor.

Lack of space and no compulsion to attend meant that as a non-drinker, I rarely showed my face in the mess except at morning tea and meals when on duty.

In the Army, I was to find out that everything was compulsory, including mess fees and turning up to mess dinners, etcetera.

 I headed to Sydney and transferred to Army. When I had entered the Administration Building, I had been handed my file with Warrant officer second class marked on it and welcomed as “Sir”. The other four were ex-Mechanicians they promptly entered the officer’s room and asked, “Was it true?” The officer checked, and of course, it wasn’t true.

 Idiots!! I wasn’t going to ask and if they had sewed the crowns on they would have had Buckley’s chance getting them off again.

 I was off to a great start on the first night there, I entered the Sergeant’s mess and was accosted by the RSM asking who I was. First, I said, "Petty Officer," then amended it to sergeant.

 He then informed me that the wearing of jeans was not allowed. Not possessing dress pants, I was in a bind as I didn’t own a pair. I then had to buy a pair to cross the mess to get a meal.

 Being a member of the Senior NCO mess meant turning up at morning tea and attending all functions unless on duty or be awarded extra duties. The functions required purchasing a mess jacket, cummerbund and bow tie.

 One of the first tasks on reaching Oakey was to go to Brisbane for my ‘salvation army’ uniform, actually called Full Dress blues. With a big red stripe down the leg, the dark blue jacket which had a high collar; complete with a dark blue peak cap.

 Only wore it once at the final fit except for the pants which completed the mess undress outfit.

 Only one problem, I was measured for these while I was still fit and skinny having a 29-inch waist. As I returned to my regular 32-inch waist measurement, the rest of my visits to the mess dinners, I needed the cummerbund to cover the gap.

All the new transferees commenced a three aircraft course, GAC Nomad, Pilatus Porter and Bell Kiowa, where I found doing my favourite task learning new aircraft, this was great fun.

On completion of this training, the Navy intake was assigned to sections within the battalion to become authorised in maintaining the three types. Once qualified, I returned to the status of a senior supervisor.

While I enjoyed the new areas, I found that as a Sergeant I was expected to only supervise and not get my hands dirty. Boring. The idea of being restricted to paperwork wasn't too appealing. Though when on evening watch instead of waiting for the crew to complete their after flight inspections, I stepped in and did a few to speed things up.

When transferred to other sections I was limited to supervising first in major maintenance then in component repair.

For a break from supervising I was appointed as Canteen Manager for the Junior ranks club. A real change as a non-drinker my job included handling and stock checking alcohol and cigarettes.






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