Saturday, 24 August 2013

Nostalgia Trip

Last week I found myself working in the same western school where I started teaching as a new grad in 1968.

One of the staff is working on the school archive, and when I asked her if there were pics of my year, she turned this up.

To be precise, I wasn't there from the beginning of the year. I was initially appointed to a year three class of 23 in Inglewood, but lasted only three weeks in this cushy posting. The school lost numbers, so in his wisdom, the Regional Director transferred me to take a class of 43 year fives in this school on a weekend's notice.

I never did find out what happened to my predecessor. Perhaps three weeks was all it took to discover that 43 kids are too many.

I was young, keen and thought I was God's gift to the teaching profession, so I stuck it out. In fact, it was one of the most pleasant years I spent in the game, spoiled only by the Damocles sword of conscription which, at the time, was hanging over my head.

My marble had been drawn in my second year at Teachers' College, but the National Service Act allowed me to complete my course and teach for a year before I was enlisted.

They were wonderful kids, and they taught me much more than I ever taught them. I have forgotten all their names, but not their faces or their character.

At about this time in the school year, I was given a day's leave to drive to Warwick for my National Service medical. To be honest, I didn't believe that I'd pass, because I'd had polio when I was two, and one of my legs was slightly shorter than the other.

I was passed A1.

The memory of the good times I spent in this school with these kids was one of the things that sustained me in the following two years, especially during my time in Vietnam.

Teaching remains a noble profession, but it is not as easy now as it was back in 1968 - even with a class of 43.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Long Tan

Forty-seven years ago today at an abandoned village called Long Tan, D Coy 6 RAR fought off an estimated between 1,500 to 2,500 men from the Viet Cong 275 Regiment reinforced by at least one North Vietnamese battalion and D445 Provincial Mobile Battalion.

17 Australians died in the battle and one died of wounds later. 24 were wounded. 245 Vietnamese bodies were recovered, and as many as 350 are believed to have been removed from the battlefield.

Amongst those killed was Frank Topp, with whom I went to school at Downlands in Toowoomba. His mother, Brigid, died recently, so this will be the first anniversary of his death that his family will mourn without her.

I have been to Long Tan twice. The first time was in April 1970 as a soldier, when we staged there as a company on our way to an AO well to the North.

Later, in 2006, I visited the memorial with my two sons in the company of veterans from 8RAR.

On each occasion, I was struck by the stillness and peace of the place.

On 18th August 1966, it was not still and peaceful.

It’s been a good day, visiting my youngest daughter in Brisbane. The winter sun was warm, and the light clear and crisp as we drove East.

I couldn’t help think about Frank and the 17 others who never got to see their adult children, and whose families mourn them today.

May they rest in peace.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...