Tales From the Tiger

My Clasp Knife and Secateurs

While posted to the Battle School in Tully Queensland, I had the privilege of working with most of the battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment. One incident sticks in my mind; a scout had come across a large clump of Wait-a-While*, the section commander came forward and directed the scout to go through the Wait-a-While.

The scout proceeded to cut his way through with his secateurs, but about half way through he must have cut the wrong vine because he became hopelessly entangled and stood there not daring to move. I sat down and had a smoke while the section cut their scout out thinking of my early days as a young soldier.


One of the items I was issued with as a recruit was a clasp knife, no one showed me how or what to use it for so it stayed in the bottom of my trunk, dragged out occasionally for Kit or DP 1 (Draft Priority 1) checks, followed by boots up the bum for the rust covering it (unless you were lucky enough to be issued with a 'Pommy' stainless steel one) then back in the trunk it would go. No doubt our grandfathers and fathers made good use of the clasp knife for such things as opening ration tins, baring or cutting wire, cordage and steel wire rope, splicing and perhaps cutting the throats of Germans and Japanese soldiers.

My introduction to the deep, dark, dripping hell of the jungle was in Malaysia and Borneo. In the latter the jungle was indeed spelt with a capital 'J'. As lead section of the platoon on a patrol into Indon Borneo we froze at a swear word from up front, we'd been going for hours and made bugger all distance in the thick scrub.

The section commander, Jack Lake, allowed the section to come forward and we looked in wonder at the forward scout, it appears that a branch had swung back and smacked him on the face, he did his 'nana', fixed his bayonet on his Owen Machine Carbine and cleared a metre wide path about 100 metres through the scrub.

Covered in sweat he looked back at us, Jack checked his compass, shook his head and pointed in another direction. We all took turns at scouting and I have never been so buggered in my life, there had to be an easier way of getting through the scrub, the machetes we were issued with made too much noise .

No one knows who started it, or when, (I don't believe 1 RAR) but secateurs started appearing in the battalions, bought, borrowed or stolen from Mum's garden ... who cares. I like to think that one of those wonderful men called the Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant (RQMS) used the 'Old Boys' net to ensure that every soldier was issued with a set, and we were. All of a sudden we, the Infantryman, had a tool where we could get through the thickest of scrub and the second last sound many of the enemy may have heard was the soft 'Click' of the secateurs. The secateurs had many uses, opening ration boxes, ammo containers, cutting hootchie spots, tracks in harbours, fire positions in ambushes, positions and equipment. As I carried detonating cord and non-electric detonators (blasting caps) I used the secateurs for cutting and crimping (many years later, in the Peace Time Army, while doing a demolitions course my beloved secateurs were taken off me by the Ordnance Corps Chief Instructor (CI) Demolitions, because he saw me cutting Det Cord with the secateurs. (He gave them back at the end of the course) .

As a section commander I watched my forward scout's use of the secateurs and his M16 and found he had no problems mainly due to the light weight of the M16, the forward scout initiated contact or spotted the 'Nogs' (the Enemy) while using secateurs in many cases.

My platoon sergeant in 8RAR, Lofty Wendt, bought a 'Reo' (Reinforcement) to my section, as I went over the gear he was to carry he pointed to the secateurs and asked 'What are they for?' I decided to have a bit of fun, "You're our 'ear man';. His horrified look made me explain, "You cut the ears off the Nogs we kill for identification". That man would not carry secateurs while I was section commander and my arse still hurts from Lofty's boot.

I still have my issue secateurs from 5RAR, they are battered and in poor condition but still work, I have found a good home for them.

The clasp knife and the secateurs have passed into history, I very much doubt if they have any use in Iraq or Afghanistan. I would love to find out what tool the modern Aussie Infantryman has picked, but whatever it is you can bet the CQMS (Company Quarter Master Sergeant) will make you sign for it.

*Wait-A-While is a vine which grows profusely in the jungle. When a soldier becomes entangled in it, the only way out is to use a cutting implement, as the more the soldier turns, the more he becomes entangled. This causes great amusement to onlookers.


© Jack Bradd
C Company 2nd Tour

Scroll to Top