Two years as a Nasho

DAVID BUTTERFIELD was conscripted as an infantry gunner when he was called up for National Service in 1966. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED he recalls what that time was like, and why today Nasho’s who trained up for combat, but never went overseas, believe their medical needs have been ignored too long. This is part 1.

WHEN my birthdate marble was drawn out of the barrel to go into the army for two years, it didn’t really come as a shock – there was no why me? It was just bad luck.

It seemed that around every 20 years or so there was a war, and it was now my turn to serve in one.

It didn’t really dawn on me at the time that I was one of only 7 per cent of eligible 20-year-old men (1 in 14) conscripted for army service with a big chance of going off to fight a war in South East Asia.

Looking back, I can’t recall any of my mates being called up – just me.

I knew training would be tough but other than discipline I didn’t know much else about what was in store for me. 

My father was strong on discipline so I didn’t think that part of the game would be a problem. 

I’d be in the army to help protect Australia from being invaded by communists.

Girls, cars, going to the footy and ballroom dancing were all I ever thought about as a skinny, pimple faced 20 year old. 

2 RTB Puckapunyal (Recruit Training Battalion)

ONE day I was behind the counter selling postage stamps as a postal officer in the Postmaster General’s Department, the next day at dawn, along with a plane load of other guys I was in Puckapunyal and about to learn to become a soldier.

Once I was attached to a platoon with another 40 guys, given my serial number 5714464 and a hut to live in, training got underway at 0600 Mon to Sat, (0700 Sundays) marching, marching and more marching (drill work), salute training, lot’s of PT training, spit polishing boots, dress/hut/rifle inspections, learning how to strip and fire weapons, bayonet practice, forced marching (running/marching fully kitted out), throwing hand grenades, picket duty, mess duty, a 20 mile march, (I nearly froze to death) and so on.

That’s what you did in recruit training. 

During that time our training NCOs would constantly verbally abuse us for being the worst platoon they’d ever had.

One event I’ll never forget was a fellow recruit, being forced to dry shave on parade in front of the rest of the platoon because the corporal wasn’t satisfied with his morning shave. 

Another time the company (about 200 of us) was on parade, our company sergeant major felt the need to remind us that unless otherwise directed, only two people were allowed on his parade ground – himself and Jesus, and that Jesus had to get permission from him to use it.

From memory I think he got into trouble for that one. 

Once three of us off duty, in civilian clothes on a Sunday, came out of the dry canteen having a bit of a laugh about something or other and were set up upon by a big beefy major who abused the shit out of us for nothing at all – just a great big bully that could say what he liked to three recruits who could do nothing but just cop it .

At times you felt that you were in gaol and being punished for a crime you hadn’t committed.

I was always homesick and longing to see my girlfriend family, and friends – I missed everything about my now former life. 

Ten weeks’ training and despite being the worst platoon of all time, we graduated. We then moved off to corps training, with the majority going into infantry (not necessarily by choice).

Artillery

Corps Training (four weeks)

My corps was artillery, and I was sent to the School of Artillery at North Head near Manly. 

In the dim light of morning when the train arrived in Sydney and we bussed out to the School, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. 

The location was superb. 

Beautiful red-brick buildings overlooking Sydney and the harbour. 

Everything was immaculate because us gunners, (equivalent to private) had to keep it that way.

Its nickname was Bullshit Castle – if it didn’t move, you polished it, if it did you saluted it. 

More and more drill marching, inspections, polishing your room floor twice daily and so on. 

Intermingled with training on the 105mm field gun (howitzer).

• Continued next week

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