1 Recruit Training Battalion, Kapooka, is where I did my army basic training. It’s just out of Wagga Wagga in southern NSW. 1 RTB is where all regular non-officer soldiers do their basic training. Between 1965 and 1972 it also trained National Service conscripts from Queensland, NSW, ACT and PNG. Conscripts from the other states and NT went to Puckapunyal in central Victoria.

The Department of Labour and National Service organised transport arrangements for all new recruits. On our conscription day we were all delivered into the care of our new master. It took some hours for us all to arrive. Eventually we were all present. We formed a platoon of 48 men which would occupy one floor of Kapooka’s eight three-storey barracks. We were every conceivable shape and size of young men; mostly long haired and looking very dazed. There was a lot of standing around until it was finally decided that the show would get under way.

First up was a medical. Totally unclothed, no privacy. Groups of ten at a time. Bend over, cough while I hold your testicles, waddle like a duck (to see if you have piles), piss in this bottle etc, etc. One of the blokes was having his heart checked, when the doctor yelled out to a colleague “Hey, come and listen to this!” “I’ve never heard anything like it!”. Welcome to the army bedside manner, boyo. The poor bloke was ashen faced. He was taken off and never seen by us again. I heard they repaired a faulty heart valve and discharged him. Probably saved his life.

Next, on to our barracks. Four to a room. The screaming of orders, sarcasm, and abuse, we all eventually learned to live with, began, and would last for another ten weeks. “March along the hallway and keep going until you find the first room with three or less men in it” “If there are already four or more men in a room, don’t go in””. “What part of four don’t you f…ing understand?” Stand in front of the bed. Take off all your civilian clothing”. “What part of ALL don’t you understand, D…head?!!!” “Put on the bits of uniform you find on the bed”. These were all very second hand and all different sizes, no doubt left by recruits who had passed away in training, we surmised.

We would not get new kit until week 4, when most of us had changed shape somewhat. After attempting to clothe ourselves, it was out into the hallway. We were ordered to shout out the number of our room, so we wouldn’t forget it, and then given ten minutes to try and find someone who was wearing uniform more our size, to swap with. Much hilarity ensued, quickly reined in, by even more abuse. We were then ordered to shout out our room number again. One poor man had forgotten it. The angry man with a clipboard and three stripes on his shirt sleeve was not impressed. “What’s your name son?” “Peter Brown, sir” “I don’t want to know your f….ing first name, Brown” “To the army you are Brown, and you are a f…. wit!!” “What are you?” “A F…. Wit, sir”, he whimpered. “Very good, Brown, but never call me sir. I am sergeant. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Yes sir!!”. None of us wanted to look.

“Return to your new room and put all your civilian clothes into the bag on your bed”, our sergeant bellowed.  “Appoint a man to take them to the storeroom and they will be locked away until your first leave in five weeks. We don’t want any of you getting homesick and trying to piss off tonight. We know you will all be missing your mummies. Is anyone going to need a teddy bear?”

We were then marched to the mess for dinner. After that it was back into our barracks hallway for two hours of instructions about what our next ten weeks would entail. Tomorrow, we had to be up, showered, shaved and on the parade ground by 0600 hours, or else. We did not want to find out what “else” was, Finally, we were dismissed, and it was off to bed. It had been a long day. “Oh God!, 729 days of this to go”, the bloke in the next bed said, as we turned off the lights. “Wrong” another voice said. “730 days. 1972 is a f….ing Leap Year”.

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