In 1966 I was conscripted for 2 years full time service in the Australian Army

This was deferred until 1968 for me to finish my training as a Butcher. In February 1968 I was admitted to the Australian Army although my papers say I enlisted -this I never did.

At the time, I was 22 years old, had just become a qualified Butcher, full time tradesman wages after a 5-year apprenticeship – barely surviving wages.  I had a car, an old second hand one, but a car, a girlfriend who is now my wife of 52 years, why would I want to join the Australian Army

My tradesman wage in 1968 was $70 per week.  Upon conscription I was paid $68 per fortnight. Once again, why would I want to join the Army.

Australia was not in any threat whatsoever. We were merely being used to build depleted Battalion and feed the Vietnam War. Living in Broken Hill NSW, in the extreme west from Sydney.  Sydney was our Capital over 1,000 kms away.

I was sent a train ticket to sit up for a 14-hour journey. Upon arrival in Sydney, I reported to the Army Station at Central Station, was then put on a bus and sent out to an Amy Depot at Marrickville.   Upon arrival there was a protest – mainly women with signs saying SOS, Save our Sons.  At the time I did not know what this was about.  Then I was clerically processed and had a medical exam – no food provided yet.  This took quite some time and when it was finally over, a group of us was loaded into a bus and bussed out to Wagga Wagga – Blamey Barracks, 1st Recruit Training Battalion.  By this time as I recall, it was about 9.00pm at night.  We were given a meal, then taken to the Barracks where our kit was laid out on the bed, with diagrams, measurements to fold and store in a locker.
When this was all done, we were allowed to go to bed. During this time, our suitcase, clothes and all civilian possessions were taken from us.  Next day, on parade in the dark in pyjamas, then dressed, and marched to the Mess for breakfast, returned to the Barracks, paraded down to the Latrines, where there were 2 men with hair clippers, and 2 chairs.  We were given a choice, crew cut or college cut, then the so-called Barbers proceeded to cut all the hair from our head, as far as the clippers would let them, then marched us to another building where I was given a Smallpox (I think) injection.  When I asked what it was for, I was told I did not need to know.  Then we were issued with a Pay Book with $6 deducted from our first pay.  I thought this was alright, then they gave us a bag with an exercise book, pencils, ruler, boot and brass cleaning equipment, then took $5 back – not only that, but they also took another 50 cents for the haircut.  I had an arm full of needle holes, no hair and 50 cents in my pocket, and this was only day 1. I thought another 2 years of this to go, but then it it got worse.

1st Recruit Training Battalion was a Regimental Training Battalion, and bastardry was the order of the day.  We had 1 chap who suicided – could not take it.  I had 6 weeks of this basic training.  I applied myself to the best that I could manage.  Only weighing in at 9 stone 1 lb, I was nicknamed “The Whippet”, but I could beat all of the big blokes in climbing up the rope and push-ups and what have you.

If we couldn’t do a physical exercise in a given time, our pay would be reduced – effectively a fine.

The sad thing about this, if you was a Government employee upon conscription, whatever the Army  paid you, the Government of the day built up your pay to your civilian wage.  Those men had no incentive to exercises in a given time, and just took their time – unfair – so was life.

After 3 weeks of basic training an influx of Regular Recruits arrived at Blamey Barracks and 200 of us National Service recruits, were put on a train and were sent to the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at Singleton NSW. The only food we had on the journey was from a railway canteen where 200 men tried to buy a pie and sauce.  A lot of us missed out as the train stop was very short and service was ludicrous.

Singleton 3rd Training battalion was a holiday camp in comparison with the 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Wagga Wagga.

The Army promised us that 50% of us would get our choice of Corp.  We were brainwashed continually into choosing Infantry, which was very successful as I chose Rifleman-Infantry.  They got their 50% easily and put the other 50% where the Army wanted them.  When the Corp allocations came out, I received Australian Army Catering Corp.  I found out after that it was because of my civilian trade as a Butcher. Lots of the exam was on cuts of meat.  All civilian butchers, bakers, chefs, and pastry cooks were sent to the Catering Corp.  To do this training, I was sent for 3 months to Wacol Army Camp out of Brisbane. This was an old WW2 type Army camp.  This was my first move north 1600 kms plus the 1000 kms from Broken Hill, means I was now 2600 kms from home.  Once again, I applied myself and did very well.  On completion of training, I received my Unit allocation, which was 9 Company, 29 Platoon RAR Service Corp based at the newly constructed Lavarack Barracks1600 kms in another northerly direction, and now I am 3200 kms from home.  These distances are from memory only.  Not much chance of getting home for a long weekend. Once again, I applied myself to the situation I was in.

The big mistake on my part (maybe) after a small stint in the OR’S Mess, I was allocated as the Officers Mess cook, with a day cook under me. The day cook worked from 8.00am to 4.00pm and then went down to the boozer.  I started at 5.00am to do breakfast, and was still there some nights until after midnight, when Formal Regimental Dinners were held, remembering we were paid 24/7.

I spent 17 months in Townsville.  I managed to get home twice in my 2 years, as being a 4 day journey either way. I was allocated a couple of days each way, which did not compensate. On the other hand, I could have been posted to Adelaide SA, and got home on a long weekend – too hard!

9 Company Royal Australian Service Corp had a sister Company serving in Vietnam called 10 Company.  9 Company was to rotate with 10 Company then becoming 10 Company in Vietnam.  Then this procedure was changed where small groups were sent over. Every so often an Officer would come into the Barracks and read a list of names, and tell them to pack their kit, as they were going down to Counungra Jungle Training Camp.  My name never came out, and after I had served more than 12 months, they would not send you to Vietnam for a lesser time. I often wondered that why I was not picked was maybe the Officers did not want to lose their cook.

Time to go home.

First, they must start shipping me south back down to Brisbane, a short stint at Enoggera Army Barracks, then to Sydney, Holdsworth Army Camp where my unit was Royal Australiana Armoured Corp, 2nd Cavalry, A Squadron.

Almost home, only 1000 kms to go. Still too far from home for a weekend visit. On discharge, had to get a Taxi to the Railway Station, no transport provided.  Didn’t want to know me now. I received a payment from my Defence Force Retirement Benefit Fund for $80, paid tax on the way in and again on the way out.  This is all of the money I had after 2 years.  My cook’s wage was then $74 per fortnight, nothing in that for savings.  We were issued with 2 sets of boots, 2 sets of Uniform, 2 sets of undies and 2 sets of socks, an after that, we had to buy everything out of our pay, also boots, haircuts Uniforms and toiletries, with a couple of Bob for a beer, and that was it.

At 24 years old, $80 in my pocket, 2 years of my youth gone, and now I am old and sick, I want those 2 years back, or make the rest of my years a little bit more comfortable – recognise my service and give me whatever medical attention and services that I now need – YOU OWE ME BIG TIME.  I paid for it 50 years ago.

Those friends of my age group who were not conscripted into Armed Forces were now married, buying a home, some with children, to make a comparison.  We were all equal, how come I was the one with $80 in my pocket and nothing else.

Reg P, Service no 2789059. RACC, 1968-1970.

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