As any English/British ‘Bingo’ player worth their salt; or Ozzie / Kiwi come to that, will tell you, ‘Clickety click- is six times ‘legs eleven’. Therefore, never having played the game, I’m not worth my salt; a pinch of which, is usually taken with the codswallop I throw at you from time to time.
And if you can make sense of that “you’re a better man than I …..”
On this date, in 1953, I celebrated the 18th anniversary of my birth, and being a good, proud, sort of lad, I did my duty and registered for National Service. Actually I had no choice; register or else!
Naturally, I put my name down, and selected the Royal Australian Navy as the service of choice; fully expecting to be accepted; just as my brother had, two years earlier, just after our arrival in Australia.
For some reason/s the powers that be, decided that the navy was not for me.; was it because of my colour blindness? Did they remember that?
The Army was to be my calling; so they shoved me into khaki battledress!
The perverse sadists gave me, and hundreds/thousands like me, instructions to report at some ridiculous time, and place for our induction into Her Majesty Army.
I was instructed to report to Royal Park, north of Melbourne one morning in August, let me remind my devoted few, that here in Australia, August is at the tail end of winter, and winter in Melbourne is not the warmest place to be in Australia, in fact it’s damnably cold, which really was quite appropriate, for here I was to lose all identity, and became a number and rank.
3/718724. Trooper Smith B.E. “Three oblique Seven One Eight Seven Two Four, Trooper Smith. Sir”; chuck a salute! A number never to be forgotten, it’s even engraved on the box with the medals that they gave me, and if I knew where they were, I’d certainly have taken a picture, and included it in the post!
And it was to get worse.
The hundreds of shivering ‘nasho’s as we were known, shivering as it was cold, were then ‘marched, after a fashion, to Army trucks that transported us to Spencer Street, Railway Station, (Note I say RAILWAY Station, not train station! And I ain’t going into why now, it’s a sore point with me) where we boarded a train for Dysart, just outside Seymour.
Dysart consisted of three very large barn type structures, which are still there, which at the time was used solely by the military. There were canvas awnings, stretched across / between the three buildings, to give some cover from the elements.
On arrival at the desolation that was Dysart, we were bundled out, lined up and and prepared for our medical. This consisted of stripping stark naked, IN THE BUSH! IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER, FOR GOD’s SAKE! and the railway line, was just a few yards away. Fortunately, for we naked troops, there was not much traffic on the main Melbourne /Sydney route back in ’53. Just a couple of trains steamed on through.
Told you it’d get worse.
After this indignity, we were treated to our first meal in the Army; after 66 years I’m still not sure if it was what it was purported to be. Curried sausages. The most revolting food I’d ever laid eyes upon.
There were these very large, grey looking things, bearing a slight resemblance to sausage shape floating/drowning or swimming in a fluid of off yellow, with what appeared to be some type of vegetable that had lost all shape and meaning.
I took one mouthful and decided to go hungry. I have never liked or enjoyed curry for some reason or other.
Again we were bundled onto trucks, for transportation to the Puckapunyal Military Base; where we were to be imprisoned for 3 months. Imprisoned is the word. There was no weekend leave, no breaks, and no alcohol; 18 year olds were allowed to go into hotels and bars for a drink, we weren’t allowed to vote, but drinking and smoking was encouraged. But we’d been given the kyber for the next 3 months when it came to drinking.
As far as I can recall I was assigned to C. Company 21st Platoon, can’t recall the Regiment, was part of the First Armoured Corps, along with 20 other blokes of my age. I was the only Pom recruit, in the whole of C Company.
We had a corporal, who had his own room in our barrack, who was a Pom, and WWII returned soldier, we didn’t refer to them as Vets back then, who had transferred from the British to the Australian Army. A lot of servicemen did that!
When we’d dumped the little personal gear that we’d all brought, we were marched along to the “Quartermasters Store” where we got our uniforms, and all the equipment that soldiers supposedly need; like a Lee Enfield 303 rifle.
These rifles had probably all seen a fair bit of use, and in all probability had shot/killed or maimed, somebody over time. Mine had a date of manufacture 1917; so it may have had a go in the Great War, was in WWII for sure and now it had got stuck with me.
The boot department was a bit of a worry for me; I have very, very small feet, in civilian life when I bought shoes, I was usually fitted with something like size 5 EE; I can actually buy shoes that fit quite comfortably, from the children’s shoe departments.
Unfortunately the Army doesn’t go to such lengths, well it didn’t then perhaps things have changed; and when the bloke asked what size, I naturally said size 5 EE whatever, he kind of looked at me, and said “Size 7” and so it was. I was issued boots size 7. And how I suffered!
An army marches on it’s feet didn’t seem to apply to National Servicemen in 1953!
And so ended day one of my service to Queen and Country.
Perhaps I’ll write a couple more tales of 3/718724 Trooper Smith; Sir!
I’ve scheduled this post to be published at 09.04 AEST which equates to 00.04 hours GMT on the 17th April. I was cut free from my mother at that time on this date in 1935
For those not familiar with the British Bingo language pop along to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_bingo_nicknames