Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Monday, 20 July 2009


It's 40 years since the first lunar landing.

Most of us who are old enough to have lived through it remember where we were and what we were doing on 20th July 1969. I remember it vividly.

I'd joined 7th Battalion about a month earlier, and was posted to a platoon. We were training in the Putty State forest area. It was bloody cold - we saw sleet occasionally. Training for tropical warfare in the middle of winter in the highlands is not necessarily logical, but this was the army, after all.

I remember one digger getting into hot water for wearing a balaclava. After a while, your ears got so cold that they went numb and lost all feeling, which was OK until you brushed against a tree or something - and they then hurt like hell. Because it was a tactical exercise, we weren't allowed fires or hootchies, so we were a bunch of miserable diggers.

The 20th, from memory, was the day the exercise ended, so we harboured as a company about lunchtime, and as the official exercise was over, were allowed to light fires and put up groundsheets to provide some sort of cover from the rain/sleet.

I remember putting my boots on the coals of a fire to warm them up whilst I dried my socks (and feet). I neglected the fact that the GP boots had a metal plate under the sole designed, I think, to protect feet from Panji spikes. When I put my boots back on, this plate was hot, and I had to unlace them and take them off again, to avoid burnt feet.The fact that I'd left putting the warmed-up boots on until the last minute, before we had to march off for some de-briefing or other was a problem.

I was abused by my platoon Sergeant because I broke ranks to take my boots off. This was a better option than burnt feet.

We were due to be flown back to Liverpool next day on board a Caribou, and were organised into "sticks" for this purpose. My mate and I got organised, built a carefully engineered hootchie, and put one of the blankets from our sleeping kit across the end of the hootchie to keep the wind out. Next morning, when we let the shelter down, the blanket eerily stayed up. It had frozen in place.

By the time we were due to em plane, a howling Westerly had developed, although the rain/sleet had stopped. The Caribou has a large vertical stabiliser, and as the motors were gunned for the take-off from the short dirt strip, the wind threatened to push it off the strip. We could see both pilots fighting with the control column to hold the ship straight. It wasn't reassuring.

We made it, but were the last flight out as the rest were cancelled that day. The best part of this was the fact that the platoon sergeant was on the next flight, and we had about twenty-fours hours of bliss when we did our own thing until he returned. We also spent the night in warm beds - more than could be said for those left out in the donga.

Somebody told us when we got back to Sydney that the moon landing had happened the day before. So it happened when I was freezing my tail off training for tropical warfare in sleet. Somehow the significance of the event was lost in the absurdity of my own situation.

Yep - I remember.

(The second picture is from the 7RAR publication " Seven in Seventy").

Update -In response to Wilbo43's comment, here's a pic of a "Hootchie".


Boy on a bike said...

In this age of instant comms, we forget what things were like 40 years ago. Snail mail. Expensive phone calls. Telegrams. People didn't expect to recieve news the instant something happened.

On a side note, I did simulated jungle training at Bindoon, and had to chip ice off my hootchie in the morning. I'm surprised the Army didn't take us up to Thredbo in winter for our jungle training.

wilbo43 said...

I remember the moon landing as well, although only the sound. I was in Papua New Guinea with my head stuck in an electrical switchboard, listening to the radio. It was years later when I finally saw it on TV.
By the way, I give in. What's a hoochie?

1735099 said...

A "Hootchie" is a shelter/groundsheet. The term is out of use now, but back then we knew what it meant. Each man had one, so if clipped together they could make a two-man shelter.
We never used them in operations, as they were shiny and could be easily seen.

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