By Bob Cavill
C Coy & Assault Pioneers
I had returned from the experience a 'flat
liner' neither train crash, car accident,
bushfire natural or man made event could
change my heartbeat an iota, or indeed,
elicit in my sole a sympathetic response. I
wasn't completely switched off though, as an
unexpected car backfire once put me flat to
ground on a pedestrian crossing in Bankstown
shopping centre, severely embarrassing
myself, and my wife.
I felt strangely detached for a long time,
small things would flash anger me, such as
my wife asking me what coloured shoes she
should wear, or our small daughter wanting
me to kiss her ... it was all so irrelevant
somehow. I would find my little daughter
silently weeping over something I had said
and I would feel the guilt; I seemed to be
riding waves alternating in anger and
remorse. I did not want to go back to 'that
place', but I was desperately unhappy and
could not fathom out why.
Sometime later a car accident happened in
front of me opposite Liverpool Railway
Station. A woman had turned right in front
of a bus and the car had been catapulted
down the road and come to rest upside down.
I walked calmly to the overturned car,
petrol was pouring out of the tank onto the
road. I tried to pull the driver out but
unusually for the time the car was fitted
with seat belts and I was not familiar with
them. After a time, I realised the weight of
the now unconscious elderly women driver
prevented the release of the seat belt lock.
I called out to some onlookers at the taxi
stand in front of the station to help me
undo the seatbelt! They yelled back "get out
of there it will blow up!" and refused to
approach. I got angry; called them all a
bunch of f***ing cowards. I eventually got
the seatbelt undone, placed the woman on the
road nearby and walked back to my own car,
and left. The whole incident reinforced the
contempt I already felt for these 'others'.
I had felt no fear only anger, it was anger
so intense on the way home I could hardly
speak ... my wife said nothing.
I was suffering from separation anxiety. I
didn't know it at the time, and I just
didn't care, nothing else mattered. I feared
the War but I wanted desperately to be back
with them —'The
Brothers', the men of The Regiment, the only
people in the world who meant anything to me
— the ones who 'would have been
there' beside me
— at that car.
I got drunk often. I woke one night yelling
that I couldn't see! ... My wife put the
light on ― and moved to another room.
I talked about returning to the Army,
perhaps I could corps enlist, and be back
with them in a fortnight.
My wife told me she was 'sick of it!' ... It
was going to have to be her or the Army. I
swallowed my tears, it had been hard to
march in ... but was harder to march away.
It had all started in 1964.
It was around twelve months before the
introduction of national service by lottery in1964-5. After
voluntary enlistment for 3 years near my 18th birthday, I
reported to Eastern Command. An Australian Army Depot at that
time beautifully situated on the south head of Sydney Harbour
near Watson's Bay. Having very long hair at the age of 18, on
arrival I was subjected to the usual standard Army joke of being
asked in a serious manner 'how would I like it!?' only to have
my hair immediately removed completely. Observing I was
completely bald in a mirror and having at this time in my life
developed many inhibitions, one of them being my appearance,
this close cropping of my hair had a depressing effect. It must
be remembered that this was the 'sixties' and long hair to both
sexes at this time was a defining characteristic of the teenage
scene. My fellow recruits and I had been lined up and shorn like
sheep; being thus crushed by my appearance I headed for a small
beach below the base on the shores of Sydney Harbour ― Lady Bay
Looking westwards, up the harbour, one could see the bridge
silhouetted by the setting sun, the light defining the bridge's
steel frame, and reflecting off the sides of the tall buildings.
It was one of those turning points in your life when you sense
that something is about to change and nothing will be the same
again. I was somewhat worried, and a little unhappy. I knew
that, what I was about to do was not going to be easy, my father
had said as much to me on signing the enlistment documents ― his
signature was necessary due to my age of 18.
In the gloomy orange light of late afternoon I could see there
was another figure standing on the beach. After a time he
approached me and I noticed he was in uniform. He asked me for a
smoke and I gave him one. We stood in silence facing each other
smoking. After a while I enquired of him his reason for being
there, he explained he was being discharged after completing six
years of service. I asked him of course "What was it like in the
Army?" He looked at me, probably realising for the first time
that I was a recruit, something he had perhaps only suspected up
to that point, I being in civilian clothes. He looked at me in
silence, then after a long pause said "just coming in are you?"
I said "yes," he shook his head. I now know there was no answer
to the question, one that could be delivered in less than three
hours at any rate. He said, "Have you been given a number yet?"
Looking down, I said "I think it's on a bit of paper that's been
given to me." He said make sure you learn it, "know it mate
before you get to Kapooka, know it when you get there." He
turned away and walked back up the hill toward the barracks. I
looked down in the fading light at the paper, service number 2 4
1, double 2, double 3 - 2412233. This was to be the very first
tiny piece of a mega download of information, that was about to
be driven into my brain over the next three years by the Army.
Within a day or two we were warned to prepare for transfer by
train to the Army's training centre at Kapooka near Wagga Wagga
in central New South Wales. I was still very self-conscious
regarding my appearance, in particular the loss of my hair, so I
asked my girlfriend Christine Long - later to become my wife,
not to come and see me off at Central station. This request made
by phone she promptly ignored!
It was a worrying and an emotional parting for her, given she
was pregnant at this time, as well as an intensely embarrassing
one for myself due to my appearance. This
self-image, along with my somewhat fragile ego was about to be
given an incredible work over.
On arrival at Wagga Wagga railway station we were ordered on to
buses where I was to have my first experience of an Army
Regimental Drill Instructor, an R D I. Over six feet tall he was
built like a pit-bull terrier, but we nicknamed him 'The Cattle
dog' on account of his friendliness. His uniform starched as
hard as cardboard, he looked every bit the professional soldier
and the Korean War Veteran he was. His boots and belt shone like
WE WERE SOLDIERS
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