The Silent Generation’s Nashos 

Knackered after another forced march on Rottnest Island.

THE following describes some experiences of WA’s conscripted Nashos during the Korean War era.

Following receipt of call up papers the first step was a no-privacy ‘medical’ in the local Drill Hall where those deemed medically unfit were exempted from service.

Army-wise we Western Australians were the 17 National Service Battalion. 

Our basic training comprised the tough long-standing army format at Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne.

For foot sloggers like me, corps training at Kingston Barracks on Rottnest included forced route marches in full pack over sand hills. 

It was so physically demanding we took turns carrying the heavier weapons.

There was jungle-type training and obstacle courses, with the scariest being ‘the army crawl’ – on your belly, under low rows of barbed wire with regular army trainers live-firing machine guns overhead.

There was extensive weapons training; kitchen duty peeling spuds and washing pans; overnight guard duty; never-ending drill with a regimental sergeant major we feared but later admired; we were subjected to the lot. 

Regular hut inspections ensured our beds were made to army specifications and clothes clean, correctly folded and stored in our wardrobe and drawer – and no dust.

Apart from the standard spit-polishing boots we applied Khaki Blanco to our webbing and while it dried used Duraglit wadding to polish the brass parts. 

Our RSM was a master of verbal abuse on the parade ground, but we understood his bellowing and recall it as a memorable part of discipline training. I’m not aware of anyone taking offence.

Days began with reveille and a rushed stumble from bed to parade ground for raising the flag and roll call. 

Hygiene, discipline, fitness and many learned life experiences were of benefit in later years.

Some initially found the lack of privacy in dormitory style huts daunting but soon became accustomed. It was reminiscent of my boarding school days, with the bonus being hot showers.

Our trainers were mostly ex-Korean War veterans and exemplary men.

Experienced in live warfare, they also taught us discipline while melding us from diverse backgrounds into a cohesive team – lifelong mateships resulted. Our Nasho platoon leader was one of our intake’s loveable Kalgoorlie larrikins. 

He was a rough diamond but a true natural leader who you’d want beside you in a real firefight. 

We had a team-binding chant to the march tune Sussex by the Sea but our words are unprintable.

Saturday mornings at Swanbourne was being trucked to well-to-do homes where we dug up rose beds and lawns of buffalo grass then back to Barracks to transplant everything onto the banks and gardens. Apparently it was a free service popular with Perth home owners who wanted to redesign their own gardens.

Another duty was in the rifle range ‘butts’ hauling targets down, marking where the shot hit and hauling back up. 

This is where we learned to identify the sharp ‘crack’ of a bullet passing close by (safe in the Butts) or the ‘rushing’ sound when passing safely further away. An important skill in real warfare.

Meal times was another art. My best mates and I quickly learned to be near the head of the queue into the mess hall so we got to wash our enamelled eating kit in clean, steaming hot water.

The water was not changed until next meal, meaning stragglers had to wash their kit in a soup of food and greasy scraps.

On the floor at the end of each table was a large metal bucket of brew (tea) to scoop into your mug.

That was OK, but at Campbell Barracks the Salvation Army had what I think was called a ‘Red Shield Hop in Hut’. 

Once a week a mob of us would go there in the evening and for sixpence have a mug of hot cocoa and a large piece of Ritz fruit cake. It was bliss! 

Our crossing from Fremantle to Rottnest in WWII-era 40-foot army workboats was so rough we were instructed to loosen our boots in case we capsized. All aboard our boat recorded our names on a buoy so that if we went down, weighted by our hobnail boots, it would be known who was aboard. 

Custodian

I am custodian of the buoy which hopefully the Fremantle Army Museum will treasure.

A serious incident occurred at the Rottnest jungle training course where we went through live-fire machine guns or .303 rifles at tin outline enemies who suddenly popped out from behind trees.  

Waiting in line, one Nasho accidentally shot the man in front. 

Pilot Jimmy Woods was about to make his return flight to Guildford, and being “company runner” that day I had to run across the island to the airstrip and tell him to wait until the wounded man was transferred to his Avro Anson for transport to the mainland hospital. 

Other than rifle range shooting, Rottnest was where live fire training was done. 

Two and three inch mortars, Bangalore Torpedoes to pulverise barbed wire, hand grenades, and a variety of machine guns including an incredible firepower demonstration using the ocean as an eye-opening canvas.

I was one of two selected for “atomic training” and still have my final test paper.

Short back and sides was the compulsory army haircut – no exceptions which initially upset some of the fashion conscious with their 1950’s duck-tail hairdos.

The legal drinking age in WA at the time was 21 but regardless of age, we Nashos were forbidden to drink. On the rare Saturday night we were allowed out to dance at Canterbury Court there were always military police patrolling Perth streets, nightspots and pubs.

We had to be back at Barracks by 23:59 hours – if late it was a spell in the ‘Peter’ (jail). 

Our March Out was a spectacular display at Campbell Barracks with family and friends watching. The main event was a demonstration attack on a mock enemy with appropriate explosions to create reality. 

I drew the short straw to carry the brutishly heavy Browning automatic rifle in a flanking manoeuvre through sand dunes. 

I would have much preferred a lightweight Owen machine gun or trusty Lee Enfield .303. 

South West CMF weekend bivouacs were in winter at the rugged Collie army training area. 

Others were held at Lancelin. 

To keep us in readiness for wartime conditions we were made to endure rain, mud, and use WWI-style ponchos as a one-man tent on the side of a hill. 

Overnight rain flooded the ditch we had to dig around our poncho making it a cold, wet half-sleep.

The Lancelin lads spent their nights out in the bush sleeping in muddy fox holes created from firing their 3-inch mortars at an imaginary enemy.  

We also trained on a flying fox across the Collie or Avon Rivers and engaged in cross country orienteering. 

Long-distance transport to and from training areas was usually sitting on wooden benches bumping along in the back of a six-wheel-drive GMC Army truck.

We also had compulsory ‘parade’ nights and classes in drill halls around Perth and country towns.  These intruded into our social lives but we knew it was for the potential defence of Australia with patriotic family involvement in WWII still firmly in mind. 

Overwhelmingly the local population was proud of us.

Additionally, as CMF we marched on Anzac Days and carried out catafalque party duties.

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