Part Eight - Bits and Pieces, some Lore of the Corps

 

 

Two Jeeps

1. Captain Bob Hagerty as Mailman.

Bob Hagerty, One of the early members of the AATTV, served for a time at a place called Hiep Khan, an outpost east of Hue. The infrequency of mail was disturbing, it having to pass through several sets of indifferent hands before reaching Hiep Khan. One time, a typhoon blew the camp down as well as cutting the road system down to Hue. Hagerty and a fellow adviser noted that, while the roads were impassable, the rail line was still extant.

So, they mounted their rattle bound Jeep and eased it onto the rail line, having the knowledge that a train was not scheduled for a few days. They drove along from sleeper to sleeper, the noise of the engine and the rattle of suspension drowning out all else until a roaring blast from a locomotive air horn made them turn around to see a train but twenty metres from their rear bumper. This service had been scheduled extra because of the flood. The driver and passengers thought this was a huge joke, waving and cheering the two Australians until they found a suitable spot to exit the rail line. 

 

Unbidden Memories.

Hoping you will never have to wear earphones again; ear fungus from them.

 

2. Major ‘Curley’ Templeton as Mechanic 

While operating in the Mekong Delta area of Vietnam at Can Tho, Major Templeton, too well aware of the fact that the Delta, at the time being considered ‘pacified’, was a very low priority in the Logistics chain, had to find his own transport. Finding a US Navy cast-off Jeep ‘Curley’ coaxed the thing back to life, painted over the U S NAVY sign and painted his own red kangaroo on it.

This relic used more oil than petrol and Templeton carried a set of fresh spark plugs with him to replace the oiled ones. It was a beast to drive, with heavily toed-in front wheels and a gearbox with an indeterminate number of gears, but it did the trick.

 

Unbidden Memories.

Forgetting the loud speaker and someone calling when it’s dead quiet.

 

Bill Bennett and Percy Piggott go Fishing

Bill and Percy were in the front bar of the Price of Wales Hotel in Seymour enjoying a quiet ale. A truck pulled up across the road (in those days the Hume highway passed right outside the front door) and the driver came in for an ale or two. Bill and his mate got to talking and it turned out that the load was crayfish destined for Melbourne fish market. As well, it was revealed that the driver’s wife was left in the cab of the truck.

Now, both Bill and Percy were fond of cray. Percy asked Bill for his car keys and with an excuse went off. Bill engaged the driver in conversation and after ten or fifteen minutes Percy returned. The truckie had one more and left. The two followed immediately after, Bill asking why the rush.

Percy said that he wanted to get away quick so as to enjoy the six crayfish he’d obtained. Bill asked how much. Percy said ‘nothing’, as he had told the wife that he’d paid her husband in the pub.

 

Unbidden Memories.

Working your way up and down the Centurion’s five speed gearbox at 60 pounds clutch pressure each change.

 

The Eagle Has Landed

Second Cavalry Regiment had (and still has, presumably) a wedge tailed eagle as its mascot. The bird has been changed over the years, but in the ’60s, Trooper Courage as she was known, had a penchant for escape. One time, she flew off after her chain broke, unfortunately leaving a length trailing. This caught on a fence line and the majestic mascot did a nosedive into the dirt, luckily with no damage.

 

Unbidden Memories.

Bloody dust! Bloody rain! Bloody mud! Bloody smell! Bloody Tank! Bloody APC! Bloody Crew/Section/Troop/Squadron/Task Force Commander/ Bloody Army!

 

Who’s That You Say You Are?   

Two of the great characters of the Corps are Robert Browning and Bill Shakespeare. On more than one occasion they were in strife because of their names. In Seymour one night, they had reason to clash with the local constabulary and when asked their names said, respectively, “I’m Robert Browning.” Cop: “Oh yeah? And you are William Shakespeare I suppose?”

Bill of course said, “Yes, I am, William Shakespeare!” Cop: “Into the wagon, both of you!”

A phone call to the barracks brought their officer, (then) Lieutenant Bruce Richards to bail them and to confirm their identities. On leaving, Richards said to the policeman, “Just don’t arrest my boss’s driver-he’s called Douglas MacArthur!”

 

Unbidden Memories.

Lifting the engine and transmission covers to form a pyramid.

 

Macho Me

Transport officer, First Armoured Regiment: “Sergeant, I understand the men have a nickname for me; Buck. Is that correct?”

Transport Troop Sergeant: “Yes sir, BUC Big Useless C***.”

 

Unbidden Memories.

Rest and Recreation in Vung Tau-steak, a swim, beer, sex, (about as impersonal as you can get) a decent sleep, do we have to go back?

 

Raindrops won’t ever fall on my head

Lieutenant Malcolm Count riding along in his Ferret Scout Car in the rain with an umbrella raised over his head.

 

Unbidden Memories.

Canvas tents, the shower bucket, boozer, how many and a wakey to go?

 

Batman San

The First Armoured Car Squadron was part of BCOF in Japan and frequently was found for the Imperial Palace Guard. One Trooper ‘Gussy’ Guisane was not over fond of this, so he volunteered for batman duty, which has nothing to do with Gotham City. In those days, officers were entitled to the use of a soldier as a body servant, usually only one who looked after a group of the commissioned men.

Gussy soon found out that even though this duty delivered him from all the other tiresome things like vehicle servicing and Guard duty, he thought that he ought to go back to these. The long hours and washing someone else’s undies, making beds and bringing cups of tea at 06:30 to sleepy offices was not his go! So, he started a guerilla campaign of improperly washed duds, poorly made beds and the like.

This earned him two things; a blast from his SSM because he, Gussy had asked for the duty and to get on with it and a blast from his OC, Major ‘Blinky’ Hill in the same vein. (Hill had an eye impediment which caused him to blink involuntarily, but only in one eye). Eventually, the situation became such that he was relieved, and a song was crafted about ‘Gussy’ Guisane, sung to the tune of the Marseillaise and here it is:

 

Throughout the whole of the BCOF area the officers all do complain,

About a hairy arsed young batman,

By the name of ‘Gussy’ Guisane!

Bat on, young Guisane!

And you can scorch all their undies,

Bat on, bat on,

Or guards you will do,

Blinky Hill depends on you!

 

Unbidden Memories.

Canvas tents, the shower bucket, boozer, how many and a wakey to go?

 

Numbers Game

The SSM of B Squadron of the 1st Armoured Regiment at one time was Warrant Officer Class Two Peter ‘Och Aye’ Roberts. On morning parade, when getting the soldiers to number, he would frequently tell them to number in a different language, for example, “As in Rome, number!” So, the next few seconds would sound like ‘I’, ‘II’ ‘III’ IV’, ‘V’, ‘VI’ pronounced by the Troopers in their turn as aye, aye aye, aye aye aye, aye v and so on or perhaps uno, dua, trei, quatro, or ein, swei, drei etc..

 

Unbidden Memories.

Noticing the sunsets have a distinct orange glow.

 

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoking on AFVs is verboten for obvious reasons.

Scene: Briefing by the Squadron Commander before an exercise-“Remember that smoking on the vehicles is not allowed.”

Interim: Troop Leader makes an acronym for returning to base; PUF-O, that is, Pack Up and Fuck Off!

Later: Squadron Commander radios “All stations, this is niner, exercise ends, return to base, out!”

Troop Leader on his troop net: “All stations One, PUF-O, out!”

Squadron Commander, listening in: “If I catch anyone, I say again anyone smoking on AFVs I will charge them myself!”

 

A Mexican Swordsman gets his Marching Orders

In days gone by, the Orderly Officer at the Armoured Regiment carried out his duties in full Service Dress and armed with a sword, Cavalry. One morning on his reveille rounds a particular officer came across a Trooper still in bed and asleep.

Now, he recognised the man as a fellow hockey player of some repute, so drawing his sword, Cavalry, he poked the other in the backside, not with force, but none too gently.

The Trooper pulled his head out of the blankets a smidgeon, recognised his fellow hockeyist and sleepily said, “Fuck off, Zorro!”

 

Unbidden Memories.

The smell of the place-mud, water buffalo.

 

The Name’s Triple O; One Six Nine Triple O.

AFVs are not supposed to be possessed. Army Registered Number 169000, Main Battle Tank, Centurion seemed to be! This, of all the 100 or so tanks in the Armoured Corps, seemed if not possessed, at least cursed. It spent more time in workshops than any other and caused more broken bones, skinned body parts, cracked heads and other injuries than all other AFVs combined.

Three examples will do.

Pokey Coughlin’s Crew Commander set him to drive double ‘000’ up a very steep hill, dangerous if not undertaken properly, but quite in the capability of vehicle and driver. Pokey set the tank at the hill, using the old driver’s maxim of ‘If you have to use gear X at any time to get up the hill, start in the same one’ which meant, in this case, first. Half way up, the connecting shaft between engine and gearbox shattered, leaving the Panzer in ‘angel gear’, or, more precisely, in no gear whatsoever!

The tank sped back down the hill at a pace which was never intended for it, the tracks and other running gear screaming and roaring, smashing into a tree, which fell onto the vehicle, splitting the hull, damaging the gunnery equipment and putting the entire crew into hospital. The cause of the shaft failure was never established.

The same tank, after a time in workshops for a complete rebuild, was released to a new crew who took it for a spin only to have the engine literally shatter to pieces a half mile from the workshop.

On another exercise, 000 was taken to Tin Can Bay training area with the rest of B Squadron of the First Armoured Regiment only to collapse in pieces yet again. The thing had to be towed from the beach landing to the exercise base where it was cannibalised. The horror provided spare parts for the exercise, but the harried crews and RAEME fitters had to put the thing back together at exercise end.

AFV crewmen are rarely superstitious, but 000 made some of them more than a little so!

 

Unbidden Memories.

Rocket Propelled Grenades.RPG2-Not so bad. RPG7- Christ! These can do all sorts of harm!

 

Flame On!

Centurion Gunnery was taught to a large extent on a Classroom Instructional Model. (CIM) This device consisted of a cut away Centurion turret with all the gunnery equipment in place and readily accessable for instruction. One feature was a hydraulic system where, as the gunner pressed the firing switch, the gun would recoil, ejecting the ‘spent’ cartridge case and depositing the dummy head of the round into a basket. A student would take this to the loader’s side of the CIM where it would be placed onto another case for further use. There was also a .22 rifle on a bracket which a student would operate; this gave a fall of shot for the gunner or commander to observe.

Now, one Warrant Officer Turton-Lane had the nick name ‘Spurtin’ Flame’, so volatile was his attitude during gunnery drills. One of the great sights of those days was to see ‘Spurtin’ Flame’ on his Instructors seat, roaring instructions, comments, abuse, directions and general mayhem while his ‘slaves’ fought and wrestled with the crashing, banging, whirring, spluttering machinery. The gunner and commander would be repeating fire orders and corrections, the hydraulic system recoiling the gun, the bracketeer loading and adjusting his .22, the proper loader ramming rounds into the breech and the ‘dead head’ man picking up the shell head and racing around to attach it to the next round to be loaded, all this shouted at a volume to put Pavarroti’s best to shame!

It only needed horns on Turto-Lane’s head to make it seem like something out of Dante’s Inferno!

 

When Passing a Commissioned Officer……..

After a particular exercise on the Puckapunyal range, Pokey Coughlin’s crew put the gun into the travelling crutch (which prevents damage when the gun is not on power) and headed for home. On the way, Pokey perceived some way ahead his Squadron Commander, Major Frank ‘Big Daddy’ Duncan and a clutch of high powered observers who had watched the last day’s activity.

Pokey, realising he would pass by them quite closely, set the tank’s throttle at cruising speed, climbed out of his driver’s hatch and stood on the track guard, supported by the basket at the rear of the turret. As he passed the group, he gave an immaculate salute. Major Duncan, completely unfazed, casually returned the salute and continued his conversation, as if self driven Centurion tanks passed by him on a daily basis with their driver’s saluting him.

 

Oversuits, Armoured Fighting Vehicle Crewmen for, improper use of.

The bitterly cold winters in Puckapunyal forced the AFV crewmen to wear many layers of clothing. Great demand and frozen Troopers forced the Ordnance system to groan into action and the Oversuit was duly produced. This was a bulky, almost canvas-heavy suit with many zips and a hood with drawstring so that one could be warm from head to toe.

However, when calls of nature came, getting the thing undone was quite a feat. One poor soul, who shall remain nameless, but is known to all the older Troopers, had to take a shovel for a walk. He did so, carefully drawing the Oversuit away from the danger area but forgetting the hood. He finished his job, drew the suit on and then the hood…….and we can draw a veil over any graphic descriptions, except to say that a trip into camp followed with many a shower.

 

Major Chesspiece gets the message

A certain officer was so despised by his Troopers that just before he was due home he returned to his tent one night to find a live Claymore mine in his bed. After the initial shock he realised that the thing was not connected.

 

Not quite Atlas, but lifts a Good Weight all the same.

A Centurion tank was protected (ha!) from energy weapons by a set of ‘bazooka’ plates on each side, a small, a not so small and a LARGE. These plates are supposed to dissipate the power of chemical energy weapons. One Trooper, ‘Tassie’, a big boof headed fellow was at times prone to rage against the iniquities of tank servicing and the need to remove these side plates at regular intervals. He was known, at times, to be so enraged as to lift a centre plate, yes, the LARGE one by himself and toss it onto the tank deck. They weigh about 80 kilos.

 

Kevin Rowe makes a Bikie’s day.

Sergeant Kevin Rowe was somewhat of a lad, and his lack of respect for Society in general was legendary at the time, although his antics were rarely, if ever, destructive.

On one exercise, Icebreaker, he and a few others were on leave in Sydney at Exercise end. Off to King’s Cross to see what adventures could be had. After a while, they stopped at an eatery nicknamed in those times as the ‘Chew-it-and-Spew-it’. Parked outside were a few motor cycles, one with the high rise handlebars and all the bells and whistles of the time.

Kevin circled this machine, admiring the thing. As he did so, a ‘Bikie’ erupted from the restaurant, full of tattoos, beer and bad manners. Harsh words were said until Kevin calmed the fellow by stating his interest in motorbikes and the genre in general.

The conversation continued, becoming quite friendly. Having calmed the beast, so to speak, Rowe asked, with a totally disarming attitude he could turn on at will, if he could, “Kick it over?”

Expecting Kevin to merely start the thing, the bikie agreed and beamed at Kevin knowing that the deep throaty roar of his Harley would impress all. Rowe went around the machine to the kick stand side, (on which the bike rested) with the machine between he and the other man and promptly, literally, kicked it over!

Rowe and his mates fled the scene, with the enraged bikie after them, but as they were much fitter, got away scot free!

 

Clarrie ‘Spider’ Webb and the ‘Shout-ometer’.

Warrant Officer Class One Clarrie Webb was the popular Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant of the Armoured Centre. However, he had a habit of entering a ‘shout’ at the Sergeants Mess bar and leaving it just before his turn to shout. His fellow Mess members decided to fix him.

Enlisting the talents of the RAEME men, a valve box from an old No 19 radio set was obtained. A battery was installed inside the thing and an ‘on-off ’ switch set on the outside. The main feature, however, was a set of labelled lights arranged around one face of the box with a pointer switch which could be turned to illuminate these lights in turn. Each light was labelled with a variant of Webb’s name and posting, eg. ‘Webby’, ‘RQMS’,

‘Clarry’, ‘Spider’ and so forth. The whole thing was named the ‘ Shout-ometer’.

The next time Clarry entered the Mess and immediately after his first beer, the Shout-ometer was produced and arced up, so as to prove conclusively that the next shout was his! He was less than impressed, but finally had to laugh at the joke! 

 

Finally!

When the Crew Commander has identified a target, the Gunner has been laid onto it and the Loader has loaded the first round, the Commander will give the order ‘Fire!’ To give the crew warning that the main gun is about to fire, the Gunner shouts ‘Firing Now!’ The ‘W’ is supposed to be drowned out by ‘the roar of gunfire.

One ‘Blue’ Melham had an unfortunate impediment brought on when under stress. On his very first shoot from a Centurion and after the above preliminary procedures had been carried out and the Commander ordered ‘Fire’, Blue shouted “F-F-F-F”-pressed the firing switch and finished with  “Fuck it, it’s gone!”

The commander and loader dissolved in tears of laughter. Blue was counseled and soon got the hang of shooting by order!

 

Not lost, just geographically embarrassed!    

Corporal ‘Wally’ Grieg was on an exercise on the Puckapunyal Range. He was asked by his Troop Leader as to his precise grid reference. Wally prevaricated by saying ‘wait out’ a few times over the radio, until his commander lost patience and said, “You’re lost!”

Wally replied that, “I know exactly where I am! I’m standing in the turret of my tank! It’s the tank that’s lost!”

 

This will make quite a difference…..

The Centurion Main Battle tank being a British piece of kit meant that as things were changed in the UK in regard to it, the amendments would be sent by means of what were called ‘Director Royal Armoured Corps Technical Instructions’. One which came to the Armoured Centre Gunnery Wing caused more than a little amusement. It was DRAC Tech Instr No 47, part of which said, ‘Reference DRAC Tech Instr No 46, page x line x-delete ‘shit’, insert ‘shot’. 

 

A Distinct Disadvantage if you’re Colourblind

When a helicopter approached a Landing Zone for whatever purpose, normal practice was for the controller of the LZ to throw a smoke grenade, report to the aircraft that it had been thrown and to ask what colour. The reason is obvious.

On one occasion, ‘Slim’ Kennard was expecting a helicopter resupply and the following conversation ensued. (The call signs are false, but likely.)

Pilot: “Niner Foxtrot, this is Playboy Two Three, I’m inbound your loc, three minutes, throw smoke, over.”

Slim: “This is Niner Foxtrot, smoke thrown, over.”

Pilot: “I see purple, over.”

Slim: “Negative, negative, I threw mauve, over.”

Pilot: “Ah, well, I still see purple, over.”

Slim: “ Roger, well that can’t be my loc, out!”