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Once we were soldiers

 

 

australian infantryman's combat badge
an open letter from a lucky digger

By Gregory Dick


As a wide eyed smooth faced kid of 18 years I joined up in the ARA (Australian Regular Army) for a period of not less than six years. I remember it well... Melbourne Cup day 1967 we arrived in Melbourne to find an almost deserted Angelsea Barracks. That resulted in a mandatory tour of the local hotel scene. Probably nothing new in that, but it somehow set a scene that was followed for many years to come.

A few days later we arrived at the rural settlement of Wagga Wagga to which was attached 1RTB Kapooka. I have no records of my service so for those more concerned with exact detail I would appreciate the corrections.

I seem to recall being in 6 Platoon A Company, that could be right, as it was a training battalion the structure was not the same as the exalted 5th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment I was later to join.

The next twelve weeks were to say the least the fastest paced learning curve I have ever, to this day attended. We learnt to shoot, shit, shower, shave, shampoo, salute, starch, march (nearly) sheet change, salvage, scavenge, and more new terminology than I thought existed.

We survived, all of us I think, I remember Bill Cameron, Mick Appleby, and Barry Baker all deciding if we were going to be in the Army we may as well be grunts.
In hindsight I would have to say it was probably one time when I was allocated my first choice.

Early February saw us march out and off to Ingleburn for another 12 week training stint, I saw my first of many new things here as well, remembering of course I had only turned 18 in September 67 and it was now February 1968.

I was lured by the bright lights, the girls of the night, and many other things that were far more exciting than our training staff could come up with. This of course led to the odd A4 (military offence). It is worth pointing out that at this point in time I had not heard of a far off country called Vietnam. I was also having trouble coming to terms with middies at 14 cents a hit, boy a two dollar note lasted a long time those days.

Once again we survived, but not all; I can’t remember who we lost at this point along the way, terrible thing that CRAFT. Anyway off to Holsworthy, what a sight new buildings brick and all, proper showers great canteen and a new badge for my hat, oops  hats. And of course WO2 Lake. We drilled, we marched, we trained and somewhere along the line I heard of this place called Vietnam.

The usual routine followed, training in exotic locations such as Rockhampton, Canungra then before you know it on the HMAS Sydney for a 19 day scenic cruise up the west coast of Australia over the dead calm of the China Sea and then our new home for 13 months.

Enough has been written I believe, about the traumas we all encountered in that country, I prefer to dwell on the characters I got to know from that part of my life, and how I still enjoy their friendship And trust that I will for years to come.

I started off by saying this was from a lucky digger.

I remained in the Army until late '78, my return to 'civie' street was a very difficult period, suffice to say that a couple of lost years found me in Whyalla South Australia where I got work for BHP, 21 years on I have secured my future with the help of a patient partner.

I am working on the development of an olive grove on my 25 acre retreat in the Southern Flinders Ranges about 2.5 hours north of Adelaide. This is my retirement plan and is well under way with 900 trees planted over the last couple of years.

We have lost too many too soon and I hope that my story will be seen as a positive one where for many years for all of us there has been too much sorrow.

Hickory. (61857 Pte  Gregory Charles Dick, formerly of Launceston, Tasmania)

 

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