THE GREEN MACHINE. Nothing of consequence happened at Pucka after the last instalment, we were given paperwork to fill out and asked to nominate where we wanted to be posted. It all sounded very easy, however we are talking about The Green Machine here, a slang term for the army at the time. Not that there was anything wrong with it but systems are the same the world over, they are run by people. With my trade as gunner/radio operator or – nearly trained jungle killer – I had two choices for a posting. The cavalry regiment in Brisbane or A Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Sydney. This was a no brainer, I wanted Brisbane and another trainee wanted Sydney where his family lived. Naturally the Green Machine in its infinite wisdom sent us where we didn’t want to be. Why wasn’t I surprised? Retrospect is a great place to come from, being a long way from home one would be more likely to settle into the unit, and I’m very glad I went there. It appears that the Machine knows these things. I don’t remember the name of my fellow trainee. Sadly he was killed in a training accident a few months later when the Saladin he was travelling in rolled over and crushed him. Life is fickle but it goes on. I could waffle here about inconsistencies, food, pay, accommodation – hang on I might have a word about that but not now. The Green Machine was now my home and family, surely they couldn’t treat me any worse?
THE SECOND CAVALRY REGIMENT
To me nine o ‘clock on a Monday morning seemed like a civilised time of day to turn up at my new posting. I had left Pucka on the Friday afternoon and travelled by bus to Sydney where my brother-in-law John picked me up. It was great to see my sister Noreen again and her new baby. I stayed with them until early Monday and John, a Corporal in the Air Force drove me to my Squadron. I can still see the Squadron Sergeant Major striding towards us, pace stick stuck under his arm, steam percolating out of his ears and I swear I could hear his teeth grinding together. John had parked in an officer’s parking spot; I stood there in my winter battledress uniform. Polished, primped and gleaming I thought, This bloke want’s to charge me with something.
You’ve seen enough army movies to get the picture: a man in a position of power controlling the lives of others, sullen, angry, pedantic and not very fond of young, gormless looking Troopers. Dropping my duffel bag to the ground I snapped to attention and he came to a stop about an inch from my nose. His eyes took on a manic gleam as he checked me out, I could almost hear his mind tick over: he’s clean shaven, beret’s right, uniforms clean, belt’s polished, brass clean, aarrgh, his boots aren’t issue and he’s late.
“Name?”—“Trooper Smith, L W. Sir.” He pointed his pace stick at my now trembling boots, “And just what are these—boots—that you’re wearing?” I explained the predicament I had found myself in at Pucka with them not having my size, “Well Lad we have plenty here, now why weren’t you here for parade at 0700 hours?”
John, bless him stepped forward and identified himself as a Corporal and that I had been under his direction and bullshitted on for a while. The realisation came to me that the Machine can be lubricated with anything and the more outlandish the grease the better. I could tell the SSM wanted a piece of me, his face twitched a little when he ordered me off to the HQ. He must have had his own tally of people to make miserable for the day, luckily I never fell afoul of him again.
The Squadron had been established in the mid sixties and moved into their present location, a part of Holsworthy Barracks that had been there since WW2. It consisted of wooden huts, little gardens, white-painted rocks, a well-used parade ground and a huge vehicle compound. Before I knew it I had a bed in a long wooden hut with eleven other troopers, gear stowed away then I did the rounds: bedding issue, more uniforms, pack and webbing, steel helmet, (more about that later) and new boots, two pair, Laurie for the use of, *emits tiny girly squeal.* One pair for parades and guard duty, the other for work. Unpacked, dressed in a brand new tank suit I marched off to 1 troop HQ, yep, another little hut. For the life of me I can’t remember the names of the other troops, perhaps it’s just as well with the stories to follow. I had arrived in time for morning tea, which was served from the back of the kitchen and consisted of an urn of tea and coffee and a couple of trays of cake or slice for each troop, *bliss.* After morning tea a Corporal took me to the compound and I was shown to my vehicle and became the Troop leader’s gunner. It might sound funny but now I belonged and had become part of a team.
Amazingly enough I didn’t get to do kitchen duties for a little while, there were manoeuvres to take part in. These were held at Singleton army camp north of Sydney. Our armoured vehicles were sent by train and the crews travelled up by truck. It would never happen now, a dozen men and their gear per truck, jammed in the back with no seating or safety equipment. Cattle travelled better but it was an adventure. I learned a few things: 1. After all the abuse the driver received I’m glad I didn’t sign up to be one. 2. Never follow your Corporal’s lead and drink green ginger wine straight from the bottle. Yes, apparently it wasn’t a manoeuvre without taking a bottle or two of your favourite tipple along. 3. Never, ever, ever assume that when you throw your empty bottle out the back of the truck it won’t bounce off the windscreen of the car following. Not me, the Corporal. 4. No matter how short a skirt the young lady is wearing in the car behind you, it doesn’t show the squadron in a good light when someone hangs out of the back of said truck to ‘get a better look.’ The road to Singleton, ‘The Putty Road,’ barely two lanes wide swerved and wound up through the ranges. The trucks were barely crawling along, so cars when they couldn’t pass were right behind you. With a little help our stalwart and fearless leader stood on the tailgate, then with a man on each side holding onto his tank suits internal shoulder straps (crisscrossed braces designed so as an injured crewman could be pulled from his vehicle) he leant out as far as he could. Nobody expected her to ‘flash’ him, and he became that excited we thought he was going to fall out, silly bugger. I love a good joke along with the best of them but this bloke took it too far.
HOLY EXPLODING CRAP BATMAN! The manoeuvres went over a period of about three weeks and are memorable for two reasons: 1. Some bloke called Armstrong, after some deft aeronautics ended up kicking the Moon. 2. Some Corporal who shall remain nameless, and should never have been allowed to play with matches very nearly sent me there. Our Commanding Officer, a man with a sense of history and compassion stopped the manoeuvres and had everybody trucked in to the Canteen at the base to watch the landing. It would have been okay if the TV had a bigger screen. I mustn’t complain though it enabled us to witness a major event in world history, plus they opened the canteen and we stocked up on chockies and chips. It did get me thinking though and the thoughts ran along the lines of, Hmm, man is presently on the moon. We must be an advanced civilisation to be part of this, so why, why were we crapping into a big hole in the ground? I know it isn’t a subject for polite conversation but it is something everybody does. Not into big holes in the ground though. Today when the Green Machine goes out to play along come an array of multi coloured porta-potties that stand out like dogs testicles on a canary. The Squadron is camouflaged, netting everywhere and there they stand, monuments to man’s ingenuity.
Then, a site was picked by the Squadron’s equivalent of a health and safety officer, or Blow Fly, a tasking job which involved everything to do with the sanitary state of the camp. Several pits for latrines would be dug, about ten feet long, by three feet wide and six feet deep. Sturdy saplings were cut to lay across this ditch, with a gap to place the pressed tin ‘thrones’ on, about four of them. Leaves and twigs would then be laid around the thrones to cover any gaps in the saplings. A green (naturally) nylon screen was erected around the pit to give some privacy from passers-by. None inside mind you, the whole process of elimination was a group effort. This screen would be about five feet high and steel pickets would be driven in to support it. Too bad if it rained, they didn’t have a roof. Then a couple of cans with toilet rolls in them, a camping sink, soap and Viola a Green Machine Crapper.
They weren’t for those of genteel breeding or the faint of heart, they were for hardy souls who, with comic book or Playboy magazine in hand would venture behind the screen. Once there you would make a quick check of the lid for spiders and anything else that sought shelter from the weather, struggle out of your tank suit and hope that the seat was warm. Men will understand this. I know women see this as something to be done with quickly. For us it was a place of solitude, bonding and the swapping of Phantom comics. Let’s face it you need something to hide behind when the bloke next to you has finished his business. There is an etiquette involved here, besides it’s a great social leveller. The officer’s and senior NCO’s had their own, however when you’re caught short you take the first available seat. When the C O walks in it’s hard not to leap to attention, then when he asks you to leave your comic behind, well they are human after all.
All good things must end and the war games were over. Pack up: take the vehicles back to the railway, clean the camp, sanitise and fill in the pits. Never volunteer my father said to me, he said a lot of things and looking back I should have listened to this one. For those who stayed behind to clean up they were granted an extra days leave. You little beauty, have a guess who the Corporal in charge was? You guessed it, ‘little ole wine drinker’. There were six of us and we worked hard to put things back to normal. Now some people should never be allowed to have combustible fluids, this bloke was one of them. “Trooper Smith, take this drum of range fuel, (mixture of old oil and petrol) tear down the crapper over there pour all of this into the hole and light it.” Sounded simple to me.
The day turned out to be cold and overcast, I trudged over to the pit, the thrones had already gone, poured the fuel down into the pit and took the drum away. My intention was to then go back, take down the screen before lighting a brand and throwing it into the pit from a safe distance. Standing about twenty feet away I fumbled in my jacket pocket for the box of matches. Something caught my attention, our fearless leader popped up behind the rear of the screen, hurled a burning branch in the air and ran.
The ensuing explosion, majestic in appearance consisted of black smoke and a flash of red, sent a mass of burning lumps of faeces flying through the air with great speed and no sense of fair play. He missed out, I on the other hand was hit between the eyes with a burning lump, and other stinking missiles hit my jacket. I stood and stared (mouth thankfully shut) as holes magically appeared in the nylon screen and listened to the plopping as more lumps hit the ground around me. He thought it to be the funniest thing; I didn’t quite feel the same way. Moments later with one of his cronies at his side he took off after another unfortunate soul, chased him up a tree and set light to the base of it. Some people will always be bullies and our Corporal was a prime example of someone who hadn’t grown up.
That’s it for this weeks episode, next week we’ll meet more characters and find out where a few of my ideas and locations for Mountain of Death came from when I sample the delights of Kings Cross.
Next week: Sydney, where my books were born. Don’t stand on my head and the Hong Kong Flu.