Part 2 - The Retreads.
A fair number of RAAC members of the Vietnam era were ‘retreads’, men who served in WW2, were discharged and later enlisted in the regular army, which did not exist before, at least not in its present form. A surprising number came from other Corps and indeed other Services.
2904 (NX92601) Warrant Officer Class One Allister John (Jock) Bowie. Member of the Order of the British Empire
Mentor, friend, drinking companion, Jock Bowie was once described as being the right sort of man to be a priest. If Jock had ever been told this, his hearty laugh would have been heard across the Sergeants Mess in which he was a most popular member.
Born a Scotsman on the 26th of August 1913, in Drumnadrochit, Scotland, he was also a quintessential example of that hardy race. Generous with his time and money, free with advice and help, knowledgeable, friendly to Colonel and Trooper alike, Jock was an example to everyone. He came to Australia in 1936, right in the depression years. He took to the roads and waltzed his ‘Matilda’ for some years. He was a gun chess player in his youth, and rumor has it that he won a junior chess championship in New South Wales.
Jock enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force on the 16th of March 1942 and was allotted to Infantry. He served in New Guinea; in particular the Ramu Valley and went to Japan to serve in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, (BCOF) finishing his WW2 service with the 65th Australian Infantry Battalion. (This was one of the Battalions which formed the Australian Regiment, later granted the Royal title.) Jock was discharged from the AIF on the 9th of December 1947.
Mister Bowie, as he was almost universally known, enlisted in the Australian Regular Army still in the infantry, and came to Armour by default, in that the depot to which he was posted was taken over by the Corps and as Jock refused to move from it, he changed to the RAAC.
Jock was never married, and from all knowledge available, was celibate. This is not to say that he disliked women, far from it. At his Citizen Military Forces (now called the Army Reserve) posting in Bathhurst he squired a lady by name of Jean Prentice. On the leap year of 1954 Jean advised Jock that, if she asked him to marry him and he refused, he would have to present her with a pair of white gloves, as the old tradition demanded.
She did so, Mr. Bowie refused her offer and the gloves were duly demanded. Jock asked his lady to wait for a short while, went off to the depot and returned with a pair of white Vickers Machine Gunners gloves which he duly presented. (In fact, they were of asbestos, today’s great no-no.)
Jock liked a light shanty on a hot day, and used the Prince of Wales hotel in Seymour as his waterhole, and many a riotous Saturday afternoon was spent there with his troop of friends, both military and civilian. So good was his patronage that he features in a mural of patrons on a wall of the public bar. It goes without saying that he liked a Drambuie after a good meal in the Sergeants Mess. Occasionally he would take Scotch whiskey, and when asked ‘what do you want with your Scotch, Jock?’ he would reply in his gruff way, “More Scotch!”
While certainly not a solitary person, Jock liked to take himself off into the back roads around Seymour, park his Peugeot and read a book for an hour or two before going to the Mess or hotel. A tale about Jock and one of his earlier cars is told by ‘Lee’ Bonser and it deals with a function in the Armoured Centre Sergeants Mess. Jock and a couple of cronies had been disporting themselves in The Prince of Wales and were returning to camp in Jock’s machine.
Now, in the almost supernatural way of these things at the time (long before mobile phones and the like were invented-those sorts of things were ‘Buck Rogers’ material) the word had found its way to the mess that Jock had ‘pranged’ his car. Shortly after, Jock appeared at the Mess door with his white shirt dirty, torn and hanging out of his pants, with a steering wheel draped about his neck. Everyone stood up with the natural concern on their faces for the welfare of this popular Mess member.
“Brppphh!”, (explained below) says Jock. “Don’t make these bloody cars like they used to!” And the mess dissolved into laughter. What Jock had done was to get the old replaced steering wheel from the boot of his wrecked car and decided to give the Mess a laugh.
Bowie spent most of his RAAC career in Quartermaster work. At the Armour School, (since renamed Armour Centre and now School of Armour) he was posted as Technical Quartermaster Sergeant, (TQMS) that is, he was responsible for all the equipment that was used in the operation of the armoured vehicles of the day held at the School. He knew every nut, bolt and screw in his store down to the last one.
The author, then a cocky sergeant gunnery instructor and good friend of the TQMS had an extremely obscure piece of his gunnery Classroom Instructional Model fail. With desire aforethought to get one up on his friend, he took the offending part to Jock’s office, knocked, (everyone did!) and upon receiving a gruff, “Come in” waltzed in, placed the part on his desk. He asked, with an innocent look on his face, if Jock could get one for him, fully expecting the older man, not being a crewman, wouldn’t know what the piece was.
Bowie, realizing that a rise was expected of him merely sighed, shook his head, opened his desk drawer, pulled out a brand new part, placed it on the desk and said, “Anything else I can do for you?” The now less than cocky gunnery man left with his tail well and truly between his legs!
Another occasion saw Jock come to the rescue. (Then) Sergeant Ian Goss was detailed to take a Centurion tank from the Armoured Centre to the 1st Armoured Regiment for whatever reason. This was then a trip of about a thousand metres. The tank was duly handed over, complete with all tools and accessories, unfortunately on trust, rather than a formal signing over.
The Panzer was returned somewhat less complete and after a sharp exchange of words, Goss was left holding the bag. However, an appeal to Jock resulted in some phone calls, an exchange of Technical Quartermaster type conversations and the deficiencies were made good, some from Jock’s private stash and some from that of his equivalent at the Armoured Regiment.
Jock Bowie had a unique method of communication. He used a sort of grunt, sounding (as near as can be put in print) ‘Brrppph!’ which he used as a verbal punctuation mark. With a rising inflection it was a question; with a straight, slightly extended sound it was a negative; with a much extended sound a definite disapproval of the last sentence uttered by whoever he was speaking to and, when accompanied by a frown and a shake of the head, a definite message to go away. There were several other subtleties which defy description, and which could convey any number of messages to those who knew him well.
For all that Jock was as Australian as ‘kangaroos, meat pies and Holden cars’ he was still at heart a Scotsman. At times, (he studied history) he would hold forth about the Battle of Bannockburn, which, as he would proudly say, “Started at eight O’Clock on the morning of the 24th of June 1314 and finished when the English ran away!” Inevitably, someone would ask, “What about Culloden, Jock?” Bowie would use his best go-away Brrpppph and reply, “We won’t bloodywell talk about Culloden!” (Where the Scots didn’t do so well!)
One of his best mates was one Warrant Officer Ted McMahon, a fellow Scot and Q ‘Wallah’. The two, while most generous men, kept up the fallacy of the tight fisted Scotsman by sending the same Christmas card back and forth to each other which went on for a number of years, with suitable inscriptions applicable to the year.
Jock’s loyalty was beyond question, even if some of the commissioned Quartermasters stretched that quality somewhat. His favorite method of easing his frustrations was to take himself off to the (then) Centurion high explosive ammunition store, lock himself in, and smoke a cigarette or two until his anger calmed. (Although quite outside regulations this was quite safe, as the ammo in question was fired only by an electrical impulse. Today, of course, that sort of thing would bring a heart attack to the first authority that discovered it.)
Each week the powers that be had a ‘spot’ check of a certain percentage of weapons and what were known as controlled stores (such as gun sights and instruments.) Every year, there would be a 100% stock take of every item in the Center. Invariably, Jock’s tallies would check out to the last item.
For his efforts, Jock was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire and no one deserved it more
Getting up at 0400 to prepare a tank for work in July on the Puckapunyal range, when it’s below zero and the thing looks and feels like a dead, frozen lump, rather like your feet, fingers and face.
Warrant Officer Class One Roy Frederick Hughes
Roy ‘Hugges’ Hughes’ character defined the man. He was a happy disciplinarian, if such a definition is valid. Not a man to be crossed, he lived life to the full and like most of his contemporaries liked his Mess life.
Roy Joined the BCOF in Japan whilst underage, using his brother’s name and identification. The Army found him out and sent him back to Australia with a flea in his ear. He joined legitimately in 1950 and was sent to the 1st Armoured Regiment, palling up with Bill Bennett. Roy, at the time, was somewhat shy, (which many of his contemporaries will find hard to believe) and as he was somewhat smitten by a Seymour girl, he asked Bennett to act the Cyrano de Bergerac for him, which proved successful. When the time came for parental approval, he persuaded Bill to approach the father!
Roy Hughes conducted drill parades well, it being his forte. Especially did he take to drilling Troopers who had been awarded confinement to barracks, not through any sadistic desires but to make it so hard that the miscreant would be persuaded that ‘crime’ wasn’t worth it. His method was to order a left turn at increasingly short intervals until the soldier would be turning 360 degrees on the spot. Few were recidivists!
(An entirely different military milieu existed then. Those confined to barracks, whilst never in the author’s knowledge abused either physically or mentally, were not treated with kid gloves! A favorite method of hammering home to soldiers that crime was not worth it was ‘jumps’, where a man would be told after drill to reappear 15 minutes later in his formal blue uniform, 15 after that in PT gear, 15 after that in his AFV suit and so forth. Of course, his mates all pitched in, and a succession of different sets of uniform would be ready for him as he returned to barracks, so he would waste no time. Harsh? Not really and it taught teamwork, if nothing else.)
Roy Hughes liking of beer was legendary. When in his cups, no dare was too hard or too dangerous. A favorite trick was to climb onto the Mess bar and do a spider crawl over the trellis which decorated it. Going home from the Mess as a mess, he would yet be on parade next morning as immaculate as ever, ready for the day.
Fire of the uncontrolled type is a bane of all armoured crewmen. With high octane petrol or diesel and all sorts of other combustibles scattered around the vehicle, if an AFV should catch fire and any of the crew be unable to escape, the consequences are too horrible to contemplate. Crewmen laconically call this ‘brewing up’. Hughes, as a tank commander, was well aware of this. He had also trained his gunner just as well. One day on the range his tank caught fire during a battle run whilst moving at speed. Roy triggered his intercommunication speaker and yelled, “Fire, fire,” to which his gunner replied, “Firing now!” and pressed his firing switch, sending a High Explosive round down range, which wasn’t exactly what was required. In any event, the fire was quickly put out.
Hughes served in Vietnam with the Cavalry Squadron as its SSM.
The blast from a service Armour piercing round, like the clap of doom.
Warrant Officer Class One Percy White. Order of Australia Medal, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Silver Star (US) Cross of Gallantry (SVN)
Percy White ranks in the forefront of personalities in the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. There would not be one of the more senior ex Troopers in the Corps who hasn’t his own Percy White story. White was a brash, positive person who believed in himself and in the Army. He could be said to personify the uneducated person (and that is written with the greatest of respect) who understands the requirements of soldiering without the necessity of formal schooling. He took three attempts to pass the Army First Class Certificate of Education, a necessary requirement for promotion to WO1. This episode clearly illustrates the foolishness of ‘education’ for soldiers. White as such could buy and sell almost all his peers, but knowing the value of pi is not of much use in a fire-fight.
He was loyal (up and down) almost to a fault, and while unforgiving to those who failed to live up to his standards, would back a Trooper to the hilt if he knew the man was a genuine trier. He was particular in the emphasis he placed on the person of his Commanding Officer at the relevant time. Criticism of other officers was allowed in his Mess (to a point), but the CO was sacrosanct.
Percy White (not Percival, and there is no other name recorded) was born on the 10th of March 1923 and enlisted in the Second AIF on the 11th of March 1944 at Camp 320 In Western Australia. He was allotted to Infantry and saw action with the 2nd/23rd Battalion at Tarakan with the 7th Division and later served with 66th Infantry Battalion in BCOF. He saw the light, and having seen the 1st Australian Armoured Car Squadron on parade in Tokyo, asked for, and was granted a transfer, albeit on a two week trial.
When he returned to Australia as a Corporal, Percy had an altercation with (then) Lance Corporal ‘Bill’ Bennett. Percy told Bill to do a thing one way and Bill took exception. A short scuffle ensued, blows were exchanged and Percy charged Bill. The matter came before Major Cecil Ives, the Officer Commanding the Squadron.
Now, Ives, who had invited Percy to change to Armour had become a little disillusioned with Percy, finding him a little too raucous for his liking and once had him charged for speeding on a bicycle. When the Bennett charge was heard, Major Ives, on advice from his SSM asked Bill, “Bennett, are you willing to fight White?” Bill agreed. “White, are you willing to fight Bennett?” Percy also agreed. Ives turned to his SSM and said, “Sergeant Major-fix the ring!”
Well, the news was all over the camp in a flash and if tickets had been sold a fortune would have been made. Alas, only members of the Armoured Car Squadron and Armoured School were allowed to attend and the patrons were under strict orders that no barracking was allowed, but ‘clapping may take place after each round.’
The two combatants went at it and Percy White won on points. Major Ives afterwards collared Bill Bennett and rather disgustedly told him, “Bennett, if you didn’t drink so much you’d be a better man!”
A simple listing of Percy’s postings and rises in rank does no justice to his ability as a soldier. He reached the rank of WO1 and had several RSM postings. White was dedicated to soldiering, and to soldiers. It was never (to the author’s knowledge) suggested he take a commission, and he would have been uncomfortable with that.
His high pitched voice earned him the nickname ‘Percy the Parrot’. Percy was definitely a straight line thinker, and his methods sometimes caused him embarrassment. He once had occasion to berate an NCO, one Alf Hunter, who had done some awfulness in Percy’s eyes. A believer in immediate ‘punishment’ and then forgetting the act, Percy told Hunter (words to the effect) “See that power pole there? I want you to run around it three times shouting ‘I’m a poofter’. Go!”
Alf, true to the command, but deliberately misinterpreting it so as to use the second person singular, did the run, shouting “Percy White’s a poofter” at the top of his lungs. Percy saw the funny side, and honour was kept on both sides.
When Trooper John Joseph O’Shea (he features later) was waiting for a course, Percy had reason to upbraid him for some act, which resulted in O’Shea asking for a transfer to Infantry. Percy, outraged by this act of disloyalty, ordered the Trooper to double every where, which he insisted was the ‘go’ in Infantry. O’Shea withdrew his application.
While SSM of the holding Troop at the Armoured Center, Percy had the habit of inspecting the lines each morning. A metre or so from the door of each room, he would shout at the top of his lungs, “Room ahtenshaa!” stride in as heels were clicked and commence his inspection. Always ready to score a point, the men in one room decided that they would be at attention before WO White entered just to see his reaction at the apparent non- movement to his command. This happened, and Percy stopped in his tracks seeming to think for a moment that disobedience was rife in the ranks. This immobility lasted but a moment, and the inspection went on. Later, they suffered, but not too much!
In the early 60s, the 1st Armoured Regiment put on a ball, complete with debutantes. Percy was detailed to control the entry of the debs, by having a group of Troopers on hand, done up to the nines in their Patrol Blues, who would escort each young lady into the hall. Detailed with this group was a Trooper John King (later Captain). When the introductions were over, they were told, they could leave. King, having a dinner suit, (an extreme rarity for the day!) went back to the barracks, changed into the said suit and went back to the hall. Brazen of face, (and fortified by several beers) he strode past the Warrant Officer, only to be called back by Percy as a suspected intruder, saying ‘Who are you?’
John chastised Percy, saying words to the effect (and relying on the dinner suit as camouflage) ‘who do you think you are? I’m an invitee!’ Percy, a little unsure (and perhaps thinking King was one of the junior officers) allowed him to proceed. Unfortunately, John couldn’t leave well enough alone and said ‘That’s OK Sir!’ Percy twigged at once and his wrath was severe indeed.
Some of Percy White’s detractors say that he had tunnel vision. Rather, he had a standard, his standard, the Army’s standard and it occasionally found him in hot water. In former days, the Regimental Sergeant Major’s office at the First Armoured Regiment was situated immediately inside the main entrance, so the RSM could cast his eagle eye over all and sundry who entered the Headquarters. A member of the local Womens Royal Australian Army Corps unit had occasion to visit the Regiment, and entered the HQ whistling and twirling her cap on one finger.
White took exception to this, calling “You!” in his stentorian voice, and proceeded to “tear a strip” from the unfortunate girl, who immediately broke down in tears and fled the scene. A while later, Percy was called to the CO’s office and asked to explain as to why he had terrorized the female soldier. Apparently, the local Madam WRAAC had complained as to why one of her girls had been given the business. Percy of course was absolved of any wrong, and the WRAAC officer reminded of the standards required when visiting 1st Armoured Regiment.
Some took exception to Percy’s straight up look at life. He was booked one Friday night whilst in his Chrysler Pacer (‘Percy’s Pacer’), in which he had the unfortunate habit of hammering on the road between the Puckapunyal Camp and Seymour. This, as the Mafia say, he wrote off to happenstance. The very next Friday he was booked again, same road, same stretch of road, same policeman. This one he decided was coincidence. And yes, the next Friday, same thing! It turned out that the policeman in question was an ex National Serviceman who Percy had had occasion to discipline in his own inimitable way. Unlike the Mafia, Percy could not decide that the third time was war, and decided to take it much easy on the accelerator pedal, at least on Fridays.
For all this, Percy’s way of doing things was the soldier’s way, and it saw him good in stead throughout his career.
With the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, Percy was attached to 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (colloquially known as ARVN) 2nd ARVN Division in the Tam Ky area of Quang Tin Province. In the September of ’67 he went to the 2nd Troop, 4th Armoured Cavalry Regiment, Army of the Republic of Vietnam. It was remarked (by more than one person) about White that he would either return from Vietnam ‘on his shield’ or with a medal. The latter was the case, and his citation of his actions can be read in the Annex.
For these actions, Percy was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The United States Army awarded him the Silver Star and the (then) Vietnamese Government bestowed the Cross of Gallantry on him. So taken with Percy was the US Army that in February 1968, it sponsored him on a tour of American bases.
As RSM of Northern Command, he showed his standard of bravery during cyclone Tracey, which devastated Darwin in 1974. Apocryphal stories have him repeatedly going outside during the height of the cyclone to rescue people and to direct activities. Apocryphal or no, it is always to be believed if it is said about Percy White. Percy never allowed anything to interfere with his love of Armour. After Tracey, he sent a flash signal to (then) Captain Angus McNeilage to say that “his pride has been lost, and would he (McNeilage) send a size 71/4 black beret up to Darwin at once.”
The day Percy was to leave the Corps for the discharge cell, he was farewelled at the Armoured Regiment other ranks mess, the Sergeants Mess being too small for the crowd. Around about dawn, the RSM, John King (who we met before as a Trooper) and Pokey Coughlin decided that Percy should be marched through the Regiment as a mark of respect from all the Warrant Officers and Sergeants.
Now, Percy had gone to bed some time before. Warrant Officer Rex Harris was detailed to rouse him. When Harris descended on Percy’s room, a little disheveled from the night’s revelry, he was amazed to see that Percy had discarded his mess dress but had a duplicate set hanging up, not necessarily for what was about to happen but ‘just in case’. So Percy, immaculate as always, was marched through the barracks with an escort of very senior men and the remainder of those on their feet continued the festivities in the Sergeants Mess. What the early rising soldiers thought on that Saturday morning is not recorded.
In retirement in Perth, White was quite active in the affairs of fellow veterans, and on Australia Day 2002 he was decorated with the Medal of the Order of Australia for his concern and actions on their behalf.
Diesel fumes when the wind is at the quarter.
Captain Arthur Frederick King (Maj)
The Royal Australian Armoured Corps in the 50s and 60s did not have a Corps RSM as it does today. If it had, the man for the job would surely have been Arthur King. This larger than life ex Warrant Officer had been RSM of the 1st Armoured Regiment. It might be fair to say that King dominated the Armoured Regiment by example and personality. A big man, immaculate in turn out, he was intolerant of inefficient and un-soldierly people. He was either wholly admired or wholly despised for his rather high handed, almost imperious manner.
Arthur King enlisted in the 2nd AIF on the 17th of March 1942 and was discharged on the 30th of September 1947 as a Warrant Officer Class Two. Arthur was parachute trained, serving with the First Australian Parachute Battalion. His last AIF posting was at Head Quarters New Guinea Force. He immediately enlisted in the Regular Army.
King served in Vietnam as Lieutenant Quartemaster/Liaison Officer for Major Bob Hagerty, who has nothing but praise for his efforts. His tenure as RSM of the First Armoured Regiment lasted five years and his reputation as a hard taskmaster was well known. He ran the Regiment, or at least the Non Commissioned side of it, with an iron fist inside an iron fist. But, for all this, he was a gentleman of the old school, mindful of military courtesy (as we’ve seen in the opening incident of Pokey Coughlin’s story) and a stickler for protocol.
On one occasion, he prepared the Regiment for a Guard of Honour for the incoming Governor General. After the parade, the Regimental Guidon was marched off with due ceremony and moved to a place where it would be cased, that is, folded about its supporting pike and covered with a case of waterproof material. The author, as Guidon Orderly, waited on this activity with the case.
Just before the casing ceremony commenced, the already high wind blew even harder. King gave the nessessary orders, handed his pace stick to the author, took the case and started to ‘Case the Guidon’.
The wind caused havoc, blowing the Guidon about and causing both the Guidon bearer and the two Sergeant escorts to sway and stagger. As the RSM struggled with the flapping Guidon, the author took a pace forward and asked if he might help. King gave him a ferocious look and said, “No, Corporal, this is my duty!” He then finished the task. Later, he said that the offer was appreciated, but that junior NCOs should know their place!
In a later episode, Arthur King had cause to be at the range camp after a Regimental shoot. During the BBQ, one of the soldiers was in a ‘blue’ with a man that RSM King despised, decking him. After the ruckus was sorted out, King saidto the striker, sotto voce, “You should have hit him harder!”
One of the sights at the Armoured Regiment in those days was that of RSM King striding about the Regimental area, tall, immaculate, with boots and Sam Browne belt glistening, regimental badge flashing in the sun light, creases in his battle dress with were sharp enougth to slice bread; and with the Regimental Police Sergeant trailing behind.
This individual, Sergeant ‘Paddy’ Warden, was much shorter than RSM King and had to step one and a half paces to his one, just to keep up. This meant he was almost always a half pace behind which attracted the nick-name ‘tail light.’
In those days, the Regiment mounted a Guard every night, consisting of a Corporal, Lance Corporal and nine Troopers. At about 0400 every morning, the Guard was turned to and cleaned the Guard Room from top to bottom, polishing brasses and so forth. One unfortunate Corporal, satisfied with the standard of cleanliness, was later sent to the RSM’s office and awarded two extra guards because, “There were two pieces of paper in the waste basket!”
Rattling tracks. Racing back to barracks at the end of the week. Cursing when you find your tank is ay the end of the queue at the tank wash.
Warrant Officer Class One Ronald Studley ‘Slim’ Kennard.
Anyone who served with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam, or indeed almost any one of the era 1950-1980 who served in the RAAC knows ‘Slim’ Kennard. Loud of voice, generous of heart, fiercely loyal to his Corps and soldiers, ‘Slim’ was also somewhat of an enigma. He could be almost seem brutal in his handling of soldiers, mainly through language, while at the same time being most considerate to their needs.
Kennard showed a gruff and hard exterior, but his loyalty can be illustrated by this next example. When he was an SSM in Second Cavalry Regiment, there was a woman of less than virtuous nature, described by one ex soldier as a ‘voluntary comfort woman’. The inevitable happened and the father complained to Slim, who put the entire Squadron onto the parade ground. When the pair appeared, the woman obviously pregnant, Slim in his usual manner asked who had had sexual relations with the woman. Almost the entire Squadron stepped forward.
Kennard snorted and said, “Well, get this fucking moll off my parade ground and off the base.” Crude, and perhaps not fair, but certainly effective.
Slim, like so many of his peers, was a WW2 ‘retread’. Born in Victoria on 20th August 1925, he enlisted in the RAAF on the 3rd of November 1943 and served with 33 Squadron, being discharged on the 14 of February. 1946. His Squadron flew Short Empire Flying Boats (amongst other types) but in Slim’s time, the unit was equipped with C47A Dakotas, the ‘Biscuit Bomber’ so admired by the troops on the ground to whom the aircraft dropped so many badly needed supplies. More than a few of Slim's men would have been happy if he had dropped with the supplies, sans parachute! He served at Port Moreseby, Milne Bay and Lae.
Kennard had a slight lisp, and (behind his back) was referred to as ‘Swim’. He couldn’t for the life of him say the word chimney, and it always came out ‘chimley’. We of his peers took every opportunity to try to get him to say that word which action would draw a stream of abuse.
His favorite expression for his soldiers was to call them ‘rabbits’, which of course came out as ‘wabbits’, and any Trooper of that era, when hearing Slim mentioned, will almost automatically come out with “Wightho you wabbits, three wanks on the woad”. (Rightho you rabbits, (form up in) three ranks on the road.
Slim’s main fault was that he was divisive. He had a love hate relationship with his men, and those who were on the ‘hate’ side he tended to ride, and ride hard. The night before Slim’s tour of Vietnam was to finish, a soldier, who was, shall we say, a little the worse for strong drink, threatened to ‘frag’ him. His comrades, although agreeing with the sentiment, dissuaded the ‘fragger’ that his actions were a little extreme although the use of a strategically placed smoke grenade might bring home the opinion of him held by the Troopers in the Squadron Headquarters Troop.
The smoke grenade was duly thrown, and the ‘pop’ of the fuse caused all in the area to ‘hit the deck’ just in case the thing had been mistaken for an M36. The only problem was that the SSM was in the Sergeants Mess getting well and truly drunk. A passing Senior NCO, seeing the billowing orange smoke, detailed one Trooper, Gavan Vigar to enter the tent to check for the occupant.
The wash up was that when Kennard entered his tent the next morning (still half drunk) he dressed himself in his ‘going home’ outfit, not realising it was a nice two tone grey and orange with a dash of mauve. He stayed ignorant of this until the Sergeant Cook tipped him off and, by now somewhat more sober, he returned to his tent to change, and could be heard cursing every yard from tent to Luscombe (air) Field.
Slim was always definite in his opinions. Gavan Vigar, the 'Blowfly' for the month of September 67, and while doing his morning rounds at one particular time, against his advice, was ordered by Slim to “keep on putting more fuel in the RAEME four seater (toilet) and throw a White Phosphorus grenade down there”. Vigar takes up the story. “I threw the grenade in as ordered, it did not go off. I threw in a second White Phosphorus grenade, this one failed to go off also. Slim wanted to see the ring and pins as he has indicated to me that I was a "Wabbit" and had not pulled them. The pins were produced much to his disgust. I then decided the safe way was to place a roll of toilet paper down the hole, like a long fuse and light it, this was done and as a I walked away to a safe distanced there was a all mighty bang which blew the four seater off the face of the earth with walls, roof and seats going in all directions and I with it. This large bang had me covered from head to toe in shit. They found me about 30 feet away from the hole and covered by the door and wall, and a bit messed up. The next week was a lonely one as no one would come near me because I could not get rid of the smell. I can laugh at it now, but at the time I was in that much trouble over it from the LAD blokes as it was a new setup from a two seater to a four ,and it was all because of Slim and his pig headiness”.
One the other side of the coin, one Trooper in discussion stated that Slim “was one of the best WO's that the Army had ever produced”, which defines the enigma which Slim presents. As Angus McNeilage recalls, Slim was most helpful to him as a brand new 2nd Lieutenant who, “Had no idea which way was up.” Later, as a newly promoted Captain, Angus was given the singular honour of being posted as the Aid de Camp to the (then) Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Daly. (The office is now known as Chief of Army) Along with the CGS, McNeilage had to escort five visiting officers, all Major-Generals from various countries who were in Canberra for an activity called the CGS’s Exercise.
As this high powered group approached the building where the exercise was to be held, McNeilage entered first, a few feet in advance of the covey of generals. Kennard, not seeing the generals, but noticing Angus with his brand new ‘pips’ denoting his captaincy, called out “Fuck! Look who’s made fuckin’ Captain!”
General Daly, who had had dealings with Slim before, recognized the voice and without missing a beat, called to McNeilage, “Angus, tell ‘woughy’(as in rough-head and reflecting Slim’s lisp) to keep quiet please!” Slim beat an immediate retreat, this group being far too high powered for him!
Illustrating the other side of Kennard’s gruff nature is this example. Trooper Greg Peake was involved in a rear end accident going to parade one morning. Having done all the accident procedures and arranged to have his vehicle towed, he was horrified to find that the tow truck driver would not let him open his boot to retrieve his kit for the day’s work. He rang his unit to tell them he would be late, only to find Slim on the other end. The SSM went off, threatening disciplinary action until Greg explained the circumstances.
Having said where his car was to be towed, Peake cabbed his way there to find not only the boot opened but also the Squadron duty vehicle there to take him back to the unit. Slim had given the tow truck people a serve and arranged for the vehicle and no charge was laid. The same soldier, on another occasion having had a serious operation for a ruptured bladder was addressed by Slim as ‘Plastic Guts.”
Another occasion saw the Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant as duty officer issue a set of rifles to the Squadron guard. Without giving the men a chance to clean the weapons, he drilled them for a while then ordered ‘inspect weapons’. He found them to be dirty and ordered Corporal Peake to charge them for dirty weapons. Bad enough, but the SQMS was also drunk.
Next morning, Slim Kennard asked what it was all about and hearing the circumstances, dismissed all action except to tear a strip a mile wide from the errant Staff Sergeant which officially no one was supposed to hear, but the dressing down could be heard for a hundred yards.
The inimitable ‘Pokey’ Coughlin relates that when he was sent to Vietnam, Slim came to the airport to see him off and spent twenty minutes or so holding Pokey’s daughter so that he and his wife Joan could have some last moments together.
Indicative of Kennard’s ambivalent attitude to junior soldiers was how he regarded those who had returned from Vietnam. He was much gentler with these men, realising what they had been through as opposed to those who hadn’t, calling them “wannabes”. The unfortunate aspect of Slim’s character was that he failed to realise that most of them being National Servicemen they were “haddabes” whether they wanted to or not. It’s a pity that he could not see the difference and it is also a pity that so many could not see past Slim Kennard’s gruff exterior and that Slim was so unsuccessful at showing his caring attitude to his soldiers.
Seeing the results of B52 strikes. The shock wave, still huge after some kilometers.
Warrant Officer Class One Lewis Henry ‘Logga’ Wood
‘Logga’ Wood can be classified as a true ‘character’. He joined the 2nd AIF on the 20th of March 1945 and was discharged from it on the 8th of December 1947, his last posting with the Australian Armoured Car Squadron, part of BCOF. He joined the Australian Regular Army in the same year.
Logga was a great Mess man. He reveled in male company, and often displayed his physical prowess by doing ‘para’ rolls over an increasing number of coffee tables until the inevitable happened and he would come to grief in a welter of legs and arms and on the odd occasion, blood and broken bones. He was fond of beer, perhaps to more than the proper amount and when he was ensconced in the Sergeants Mess bar with his coterie of senior soldiers it was hard for them to escape, being called to have ‘one more eh?’
The talk one night got around as to who in a household should be the boss. Logga expounded his theories, saying that he was chief in his and no mistake about that. On the way home, he mulled this over a little and decided that the theory ought be put into practice. On arrival home, he told his wife what he thought to be the facts of the matter and retired to bed.
Next morning he went to breakfast still a little worse for wear. His wife had been up for a while and as he sat down to breakfast, she placed a meal of steak, eggs, tomatoes, chips and bacon before him.
Logga said, “Now that’s what I call a breakfast.”
The wife said, “Yes? Well, that’s what I call last night’s dinner!”
The revolution was over.
One night, he and a coterie of 2nd Recruit Training Battalion senior NCOs went off to the Sergeants Mess at 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, recently raised for duty in Vietnam. Logga was in an aggressive mood and after an increasingly hostile discussion with an infantry sergeant, (a much younger man) he demanded satisfaction. The sergeant initially refused the challenge, Logga being a Warrant Officer Class One. Wood persisted, so the pair went outside the Mess precinct where the sergeant proceeded to beat, as the crude saying goes, ‘piss and pick-handles’ out of poor Logga. To his credit, Wood took no action about the fight, knowing full well that he was in the wrong. Hands were shaken and rights and wrongs acknowleged. He was ‘given’ a few days to repair the damage.
Logga was a good man manager. He had many tricks up his sleeve to keep Troopers on their toes. One was this: when speaking to someone of lesser rank, he would inspect them surreptitiously, noting any minor fault such as a button undone or the like. (As happened to the author) Later, he would seek out the miscreant and from a distance would call out “Trooper X! You have a button undone on your top left pocket! Do it up! I’ve never seen such sloppiness in my life!”
Wood was a brilliant instructor and was sent to the British Army on exchange, undoubtedly showing the ‘Poms’ a thing or two.
Watching the main gun recoil inside the tank and desperately hoping you remember to keep your hands out of the way.