YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 14. Preamble, Crew Commander’s Course and Hospital part one.

With Christmas behind me it was back to the Squadron, looking forward to the New Year ahead and the joys of army life. Well it sounds good. Now as a mature older soldier, the big eighteen had been reached over the festive season and I felt ready for the excesses of life, drinking, womanising and more drinking. Womanising has such a ring to it, sounds something like an Olympic sport.

‘Yes Andrew in today’s line-up for the, 100 metre going downhill quickly, junior Womanising free fall event, we have young Laurie. What do you think his chances are in this extremely tricky event?’ – ‘I’m not sure Bob, his previous form hasn’t attracted much attention of late. You must remember there is more to this classy event than form. Although he has mastered grooming, manners and cleanliness…….’ – ‘They’re important Andrew, very important.– ‘They are Bob, I’m concerned that he won’t be in the contention for any medals today.’ – ‘I don’t know Andrew, look at him standing there waiting his turn for this truly remarkable experience.’ – ‘Looks aren’t everything Bob, let’s cross over to our roving reporter, Tracy.’ – “Thanks Bob, Andrew… Yes this is sad actually, a young athlete with everything going for him has, I think, fallen at the starting blocks. As you both know I cover the contestants for this event and Laurie had shown remarkable promise until his major training gaffe late last year. It seems that his whole training regime fell badly when the committee found him guilty of lying…. (cross over to Bob and Andrew, shocked looks on faces)… ‘yes, lying. We had so much riding on him there. Beautiful red-haired nurse, all the attributes needed to make for a wonderful start, affection, compatibility, and wait until you here the clincher……they both liked Doctor Who, amazing. Sorry, look Bob, as you well know attributes aren’t everything but Laurie was scratched from the race due to the age factor.’  – ‘He didn’t?’ – ‘Yes Bob he told her he was twenty, she believed him and then as these things go one of the stewards informed on him.‘ – ‘Do you have anything else on this unfortunate contestant?’ – ‘Only one lame attempt with a terrible pickup line Bob, we can flip back to the studio, Andrew has the replay ready to go.’ – ‘Thanks Tracy, well viewers we’ve already watched this and other than feel sorry for this contender, we don’t really know what to say other than roll it Andrew.’

Trendy bar in downtown Sydney, frequented by office girls after work at Saturday lunch time. Our medallist hopeful, bottle of Johnny Walker Black on bar half of it gone, sits on barstool, emulating Sean Connery (without the obvious charm). Exquisitely beautiful young woman sits on stool next to him, he buys her a drink, engages in idle chat. Pan to face of YW, obviously confused and underpaid, accepts drink anyway, camera pans to face of hopeful contender, eyes glassy, moustache twitches stylishly. – ‘Here it is viewers, watch it, watch it.’ – ‘Shut up Bob.’  Laurie’s hand glides effortlessly across the now close gap between them. It lands expertly on her right knee, a gentle squeeze and he whispers, ‘So, what’s a nice joint like you doing in a girl like this?’ Back to studio, ‘Well Bob we had to cut it there, even a gold medallist in this event like myself weeps when he sees such a rejection.’ – ‘Tragic is the only word that describes this Andrew. I don’t see him recovering from this fall in the near future. I’m afraid a setback like this will see him return to less savoury training grounds in town….’ – ‘You, you don’t mean Kings Cross Bob?’ – ‘Sad to say Andrew, yes. We have lost a great contender here today and it could take years before he is ready to take part again. Thank you Bob, Tracy and the Olympic crew, we will now cross live to the US. Our reporter Chuck Fowler is covering a new candidate for the WOW event, yes Womanising over Winter, their contender is an up and coming young man, William Clinton. We must thank the sponsor for this event, a Dry Cleaning firm based in Georgetown. They boast that no stain, no matter how old will resist their expert removal techniques…… Transmission failed.

Back to the story, the army loves secrecy, it thrives on it. ‘What’s for lunch?’ – ‘Can’t tell ya.’ – ‘Where are we going?’ – ‘Can’t tell ya.’ – ‘You’re going back to Puckapunyal to take part in a Crew Commanders course.’ – ‘Why?’ – ‘Can’t tell ya.’ You get the drift. My nether regions twitched at the thought of a month or so in icy Puckapunyal. What they didn’t tell us was we were being trained up to head off to Vietnam the following year to take over from the Tank Regiment. I know we didn’t need to know everything but a little incentive would have helped. The only consolation, I had been promoted to the dizzying heights of Lance Corporal. (PFC for my USA readers) Didn’t that feel good, the CO attaches the brassard to your arm with its lonely little stripe. The Squadron Sergeant Major cautions you that it is only there under sufferance and can be taken back at any time if you play up. After completing a Corporal’s Course it was off to
Victoria. Ahh Pucka, it hadn’t changed a bit, we had and felt ten feet tall in the canteen as we checked out the new recruits on their way through.

A Crew Commander is the man in charge of the vehicle, and in this case the crew consisted of a driver, gunner/radio operator and the CC. I had no complaints about the course at all, we learned all about navigation over land, using terrain, armoured warfare, tactics, weaponry, working with infantry. Everything you need to know to effectively use your armoured fighting vehicle in battle. I loved it, the instructors were all veterans, sergeants and above who had served in Centurion tanks as crewmen in all positions. I enjoyed it that much I didn’t whinge about the cold. There weren’t any trips to Melbourne or to the barber shop in Seymour, this was serious stuff. I hadn’t come this far to fail. The Tank Regiment ran its course at the same time, so the range was a busy place to be.

Being an avid follower of war documentaries as a boy I always felt drawn to the imagery of men in armour, racing past in their metal mounts, pushing on no matter what the odds. Dust trails billowing behind them, these hardened men, successors to the noble brotherhood of armoured knights stood in their turrets, goggles on over berets, staring into the vast North African desert landscapes. (phew, that was a tad wordy) The whole crew put their lives in the hands of their commander; he ran the show in that vehicle. It didn’t deter me when I saw the imagery of burning tanks and crew members, the aftermath of the war of the machines. I was young and naïve and didn’t foresee anything harmful happening to me in a war. I hadn’t thought about training.

(Thanks to Wikipedia commons for the pictures)

220px-Tobruk_1941_-_British_Matilda_tanks 300px-Crusadertankandgermantank

A morning like any other, we mounted our vehicles and drove out to the range, a regular little convoy of Saladin’s, back up vehicles, ammunition truck and an ambulance. Reaching the range we started the day with shooting up to six hundred metres. The commander gave the order to shoot at the target and the gunner could adjust the fall of shot through his periscopic sight. Over that distance the commander would spot the fall of each shot and give distance and side to side adjustments as required. My turn came and I climbed into the turret. They don’t have a lot of room inside, the main armament is between you and the gunner, a ready round bin is situated between your seats at the back. A metal frame cage is fitted to the sides of the gun and extends backward to protect the gunner and commander from the recoiling breach. The breach comes back ten inches, dropping on the way and ejecting the empty casing. It stays back and you ram another round in, the breach flies up and it’s ready to fire again.

My moment arrived, sliding the jump seat down I stood on it, took up my binoculars, picked the target, loaded a high explosive round and gave the orders, ‘Shell, traverse left, one thousand eight hundred meters, bunker.’ Using my override lever I traversed the turret in the general direction and stopped, the gunner took over turned the elevation lever to set it on 1800metres and responded, ‘Shell, one thousand eight hundred metres, bunker – on.’ – ‘Loaded-fire.’ – ‘Firing now.’ Gripping my binoculars I squatted down to avoid the back blast. Boom! I screamed, the gunner thought I was having a go at him for missing. The Warrant Officer standing on the back of the vehicle tutoring us grabbed hold of me as I sagged forward. I thought somebody had smacked me in the left knee, with a huge bloody SLEDGEHAMMER. You guessed it – the bottom right corner of the breach block hit my kneecap at about two inches into the recoil. The force of it stood me upright. When someone says that the ‘pain was blinding’ I know exactly what they mean. Things were a little hazy, I remember sitting on the turret hatch and gazing down at my knee. The tank suit had a small rip, with blood slowly seeping into it. I remember seeing a tiny sliver of bone sticking out, white against the red and green. I had become a member of an elite club, those who suffered from, ‘Crew Commander’s Knee.’ The instructor had me lowered down onto a stretcher and they took me back to the base hospital in a Land Rover ambulance. Every bump, the driver hit every bump until the instructor, God bless him made him stop and he took over. That felt better.

Hospital. I had only experienced one stay in hospital prior to this and that was for an appendectomy at fifteen. The highlight was an obviously perverted Wardsman who, with cut throat razor in hand proceeded to shave my rapidly shrinking genitalia. Yep, them and everything from chest to knees, all the hairs that I had been waiting to appear on my chest – the whole six of them – gone. We all have ideas on what constitutes an emergency situation. I thought a sick and sorry soldier, me, would get a little attention from the medical staff. No. They put me up on a bed in a side ward and returned to what they were doing. A matron made a visual examination of the wound, without removing any tank suit material and declared, ‘You’ll be fine Trooper it’s only a cut. We’ll get you stitched up and back to work in no time.’ Hmm, gee thanks. An hour later they wheeled me into the small surgery cut a bigger hole in my uniform, swabbed out the cut and stitched up my manly wound. I remember waking up to loud snores, mine and seeing people staring at me. A doctor stood arguing with the matron, apparently my temperature had spiked and they took blood. I wanted to use the toilet so a nurse helped me out of bed and funnily enough – my leg wouldn’t work – strange that. I had a restless night and early the following morning I was transported to Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in Melbourne. Before I knew it they had me in surgery and I woke up in a six bed ward with an ankle to thigh plaster cast on. Oh the bliss, the joy the bloody inconvenience. The Doctor paid me a visit and wasn’t it great to talk to someone who knew what he was doing. I had a full body infection because the wound hadn’t been cleaned out properly. Fabric, gun grease and whatever had been absorbed by the wound and presto, I now had to have huge doses of penicillin three times a day, for two months. The joint had been dislocated and set itself comfortably in its new location, apparently it took the Doc and a nurse to pull the leg back into position. The patella had been shattered into a dozen little pieces. Back to work in no time indeed. They say that every cloud has a silver lining, this may be true. I had a six bed suite with a view of the outside world, when it wasn’t foggy. Three other blokes to talk to, hospital food and a never ending throng of lovely nurses to boss me around. The only downside, at least to me was the unnatural affinity that those living in Victoria have for Australian Rules Football.

To be continued. Will Laurie go crazy, become an Aussie Rules follower, find love, get visitors, get better? All these gripping questions and more will be answered next week.

Next week: Preamble and Still in Hospital part two, or not all erections are good for you.

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16 thoughts on “YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 14. Preamble, Crew Commander’s Course and Hospital part one.

  1. Owls and Orchids

    I don’t know how I missed this but father reading part 2 I had to find it….. I put it down to the damned meds, brain fog is the pits. I’d have to say I’d put up with that over a shattered knee though. Poor buggier ! I can imagine hat your army mates would have said though, memory tells me they went a forgiving lot in training. Great reselling tho Laurie, you certainly are a wsmith. (Wordsmith). Susan 😧❤😊

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Keep following the breadcrumbs Susan. I must say that medication can be bloody horrible at times, especially when it stuffs up your thought processes. You’re right there isn’t much in the way of sympathy in the forces. Thanks for the compliment, a wsmith and I am actually, an LW Smith. There’s something going on there. 🙂
      Laurie.

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      1. Owls and Orchids

        Ah, I see the delicate hand of fate here….. all those experiences awaiting the hand of a master story teller to let them see the light of day. And all with a twist of Laurie humour.
        My Dad did his National Service when we were in the UK (Ok it stands to reason he did it way before I put in an appearance), but some of the stories he told…. priceless. He spent most of his time in Egypt and a short stint in Switzerland, don’t ask me why or how, where they tried to teach them to ski.
        So many storied lost now…. such a shame.
        Ciao, Susan x

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      2. laurie27wsmith Post author

        Yes fate’s hand has been busy punching me in the back and chuffing me around the place. There had to have been a reason, so I write them down and as you say with a twist of humour. You have to laugh otherwise we’d cry most of the time. There are millions of stories out there waiting to be told, so I’m doing my bit. Switzerland, they were probably looking at setting up an alpine force. Who did your Dad serve with? I bumped into an old bloke here in Laidley who served in my old man’s regiment. Small world.
        Cheers
        Laurie.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      They’re not bad, a little light entertainment. The sad thing is none of them are made up, a bit like edgy slapstick comedy. keep reading there are more to come. 🙂
      Laurie.

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  2. Raani York

    Oh Laurie. All these things happening in your life – and your amazing descriptions… I feel like in a movie, reading your blog posts. It’s all so clear – and natural… and shocking and amazing too sometimes!!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Hi Raani, I kind of look at things in my life like a slapstick comedy routine. You know the type I mean, *clown walks along, stands on garden rake, it hits him the face-WHACK-he turns around twice and stands on it again* That’s me. I’m happy that you can ‘see’ my stories it makes for a better experience. Except maybe when you read next weeks. 🙂

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  3. Pagadan

    Another great chapter in your military history, whcih I enjoyed–as usual. However, your Olympic “sports” report was fantastically funny. You have got to share it with a wider audience!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Joy, I truly appreciate your comments. The Olympic sports came out of nowhere, it just appeared. You can help me find a wider audience by re-blogging the post. All you need to do is click the reblog on the top bar of the post and it will come up on your site. Then it will go out to your followers.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  4. hitandrun1964

    Interesting story. Medical incompetence of epic proportions but you were okay so that’s the main thing, I guess. And the Ladies Man…too funny:) Enjoyed it. Looking forward to the next installment. All wars are bad but Nam was so bad. So very, very bad.:( Waiting for you to find love and walk again. I’ve noticed the absence of chickens…I’m willing to let that go for now but I’m waiting for them. LOL

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Indeed it is, the army was renowned for its lack of empathy for sick people. As far as my knee goes I’m way overdue for a replacement joint, they’re waiting until I’m older to do the op, or until I can’t put up with it any longer. The next instalment and the following one is nestling in wordpress waiting to go, I was on a roll. Hmm chickens, well give me a character and I will put a poem to it. You are after all my *chicken poem muse*

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  5. mimerajver

    Laurie, I love the way you write. It’s so vivid that one can feel the atmosphere in one’s bones, smell the odors, share the sleepless pillow… I love war movies, and when I read this I felt I was watching one. Thank you!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Marta, I try to keep it light and informative and oh those lonely pillows. There is more to come, they are leading up to my time in Vietnam.
      Laurie.

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