As I have mentioned in previous posts 2 Cav was the go-to Regiment for any particular job where the army was needed. Don’t get me wrong there were other Corps that were utilised for various things, it’s just that we seemed to do more than our share. It did however save us from the boredom of hanging around and servicing vehicles. The 3rd Cavalry Regiment was the feeder regiment for the Squadron in Vietnam. They had the nice, new brick barracks and were always off somewhere training for war. We were like the poor relatives really, looked at as if we were somehow inferior and barely mentioned, yet many of us were posted there before heading for Vietnam. Enough whining.
Victoria Barracks Guard. The main barracks building was constructed by convicts in between 1841-1846 using Hawkesbury sandstone.
The Main Gate and Guard House.
The Officers Mess,
We were usually given a months warning beforehand and spent every working day practicing our drill movements. A squad was also picked for the Thursday morning Cenotaph Guard in Martin Place, Sydney. We would be trucked to Lady Macquarie’s Chair by the harbour then march around Macquarie Street and down to Martin Place. There we would stand guard for a while in honour of the fallen in the rest on your arms reversed position. A tricky manoeuvre and when done properly is a pleasure to watch. This was performed in front of at least a thousand people and I always looked upon it as an honour to partake in the ceremony.
None of these pictures are mine and I thank Wiki Commons for them.
If you can imagine changing the guard at Buckingham Palace then you are on the wrong blog. Similar, maybe but without the royalty, horses, tall guardsmen in busby’s, glamour, pomp, circumstance and finery. Well, we were sort of fine. Our dress uniforms were starched and ironed to the nth degree, boots shone like dark suns from a litre of spit and a kilo of polish. Our brass work, screaming eagle badges and anything else metallic looked like pure silver. Black berets brushed until the nap was plastered down with a little help from a touch of boot polish. We were bussed into Sydney and deposited at our lodgings in Moore Park near the Sydney cricket grounds. I forget what tiny army depot it was, though there were several barrack rooms and a cook house where we stayed in our off duty hours. The first morning was organised chaos as we debussed at Moore Park, get changed, primped, preened and gleamed. Then we were bussed up to Victoria Barracks. If I remember rightly there would have been over 30 of us. The departing unit would be there also and the army, doing what the army does best we changed the guard.
Victoria Barracks was used as a command centre, mainly staffed by the upper echelon and civilians. So we always had a mid morning crowd of spectators with nothing better to do, plus a smattering of tourists. We had a band and the handing over ceremony was performed on the grass parade ground. It looked great, a huge expanse of green sward, soft, bouncy and bloody useless to march on. Because? I hear you ask. You can’t keep step on it the band helps, a little. On asphalt and concrete you can easily pick up the beat of marching feet, After the flag waving and cheers, general salutes, a march past, retreat and so forth it’s time to take over.
Two men at the front gate while the barracks are open, one on the rear gate. At night, one on the front pedestrian gate and two on a roving patrol. Being Cavalry our personal weapon was a Browning 9mm pistol, this was worn in a WW2 pattern holster on our belt and attached by a lanyard. A small square ammunition pouch was also worn, this had a tin of army issue Tinea powder in it to bulk it out. So in khaki uniform, black boots, beret, belt and accoutrements we looked the part. I would like to say that the ladies in the audience threw themselves at us – they didn’t. As you can see in the above photo the guard-house is, well, bloody small. It looks good on the outside, inside back in the 60’s it was in great need of tarting up.
We worked a 12 hour rotational shift. So when you were relieved at 0600 you took off like a scalded cat back to the barracks, a quick change and off to either Kings Cross or the nearest early opening pub. Some of the more sober, responsible members waited until 1000 hours. It wasn’t all beer and skittles, after all we were guarding a military establishment and security was a priority. The roving patrol had an incident one night where they intercepted an intruder who had climbed over the wall (no mean feat) and headed for the HQ. Our hardy sons of the Cavalry gave chase, naturally it was no use drawing a weapon. So the Lance-Corporal took out his tin of foot powder and chucked it at said intruder, striking him in between the shoulder blades, this inspired him to run even faster and he got away. Under description in his incident report he put, *tall, with long hair and wearing a dark jumper with long streaks of white powder down the back.*
We spent our shift in the guard-house and at night-time if you weren’t out on piquet you slept in the office on camp stretchers. It wasn’t too bad in the late evening because the TV was usually on and you could see. In the wee hours when it was black as sin inside it resembled blind man’s bluff at change over. You entered the main door and I think there was a reception area, then it led into the main room. A door to your left took you out into a small, cobbled yard flush against the main wall. It had a toilet, sink and a cold water tap. The door to the right front led into the cells. They were no different to when they were built in 1842, cold, dark, damp and bloody spooky. I had learnt early in life that the living could do far more harm than the dead ever could. Except when someone is standing behind you, taps you on the shoulder, you turn and nobody is there. Then you may need to be wearing Depends.
Our fearless Guard Commander decided on the first night shift that he would be taking his camp bed down to one of the cells and sleeping there. Nobody argued with him, we had all taken a look at them, no thanks. Old stone buildings seem to embrace the emotions of people through the years, the good, the bad and the dead and this place was no different. Imagine a dark room littered with sleeping men, about 0400 hours, the death hour. It’s when your body is at its lowest ebb, people die more often around that time in hospitals. You are in the deepest of sleeps, then, “Arrggghhhh, get off me ya mongrel, get away, oh bloody hell, oh Jesus Christ.”
The place resembled a kicked over fire ant’s nest, camp beds collapsed, men leapt up reaching for gun belts, somebody farted and the light came on. Our Corporal no longer looked like the self-assured NCO we had last seen disappearing into the stygian bowels of the cell block. He stood there tall, trembling and stuttering. Looking wildly around he glared at one and all then pointed back through the door he had flown out of and panted, “Who, who came down and played stupid fucking games, who was it?” A choreographed shaking of heads in the negative his only reply. “Somebody did!” The Lance Corporal piped up, “Nobody moved, we’re all too tired for stupid games, what happened?” The gist of the story is this, he settled down after checking the guard outside and snuggled under his blanket. The cell grew colder and his blanket was pulled away. A figure wearing a shako (hat) and a red coat leant over and stared into his face and said, “C’mon, get up you can’t sleep in ‘ere.” That was enough for our Corporal and he fled, can’t say as I blame him. It appeared that sometime in the mid 1800’s a British soldier awaiting execution had been housed in the cell. Everybody seemed quite happy to bundle together on the floor after that.
There are some notable memories from that time, I met Phil Silvers, actor of TV’s Sgt Bilko fame. He came through the gate on his way to the Sergeant’s Mess when he was on tour here in Oz. A building of about seven stories nestled on the corner of Shadsforth Street, opposite the main gate. This residential block must have housed half of the prostitutes in the area. A lamp-post stood on the corner and lent its harsh glow to the scenes that unfolded there. The ‘girls’ would bring their clients home and more often than not leave their windows wide open. These kind-hearted souls would put on a free show for the frustrated troopers. You had to wander away from the gate and stand on the apron of the driveway to watch though. Oxford Street wasn’t too busy then, now it has all changed. The flats are gone, the street is a hive of activity, the lamp-post is still there though. Along with the *endearing* memory of one enthusiastic couple, who after falling out of a taxi couldn’t wait and did the deed up against said pole.
Up Oxford Street a little ways stood a fantastic pub, The Greenwood Tree, notable for two things: 1 it had the largest collection of Toby Jugs in the known universe. 2. The tallest, bustiest, sexiest, red-haired barmaid I have ever had the pleasure to be served by. The crass amongst us may make allusions to the connections between jugs and busty, I will refrain. Characterful is one word I might use to describe this quaint establishment. When you walked in she invariably stood where she could be seen, reminding me of some school boy fantasy of what Boadicea may have looked like. Flaming red hair, high breasted, strong and instead of a sword she dispensed schooners of ale with ease. The clientele were a mix of crims, coppers, transsexuals, tourists and troopers. Thirsty troopers who would sit next to the window and stare at this creature who, with a winning smile, and a kind thank you made their otherwise lonely day. Some churlish types hinted that she was in fact a he. A transsexual who just happened to be extremely womanly. I believe they were spiteful after they put the hard word on her and were knocked back – I could only stare.
The interior was fitted out in dark wood, brass fittings, bevelled glass. The Detectives stood out, either standing at the bar brazenly downing scotch or sitting at back tables with characters not out-of-place in a Mickey Spillane novel. Wearing dark coats these denizens of the underworld invariably spoke from behind a hand to the mouth, or leaning forward would look around guiltily before grassing someone up for a few quid under the table. The transsexuals tried not to look to out-of-place as they rubbed shoulders with dangerous men. Trying to fit in yet at the same time pick someone up without being to obvious. They must have been used to the squads of soldiers coming over to gawk and slip beneath the underbelly of Sydney, here on the outskirts of Kings Cross.
Nobody likes to be stabbed – in the arse – with a dart. At least not me. Our guard duties had come to an end and we all congregated in the guardroom after breakfast in readiness for the handover. We shall call this bloke Tweedle Dum, or TD for short. It was 0700 hours, I remember it vividly because the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon was on TV. Out of the whole guard one wanted to play darts, yep, TD. The rest of us were quite content to watch the Moose and Squirrel get one over on Boris and Natasha. I stood at the rear of the group and obviously in the way of TD’s dart board. It went like this, TD, “Get out of the bloody way, I’m playing.” Me, being diplomatic, “Fuck off.” OUCH! Yes folks he drove that dart straight into my right butt cheek and it hurt. I disarmed him and then, IT WAS ON for young and old. Boris and Natasha faded into the background as the crowd turned and watched. TD could fight and we both ended up with black eyes, split cheeks and lips, busted noses and blood everywhere. The Sarge stepped in and naturally wouldn’t listen to the extenuating circumstances.
We had no clean uniforms to change into, the gate had to be manned and the rest had to practice for the handover. So there we stood as the hundreds of military staff and office workers came in, had their ID’s checked and were waved through by what appeared to be a pair of tent boxers in uniform who had stuck their heads in a blender. Ah yes folks it was indeed the good ole days.
Next week: Working down on the docks me hearties, and The long and winding road.