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Confessions of an Aussie Dukie

Brian Marley, who served his sentence at the School from 1949 to 1953 with no remittance for good behaviour, sensibly ventured out to civvy street fully qualified for a career as a manual labourer. Fortune, however, favoured the bold. Through the local labour exchange, he obtained a position in the Holloware Factory of Curran Engineering in the Cardiff Docks. During the war, this factory had two divisions employed in the manufacture of munitions: 'A' Division as it was designated made shell casings for the Army. 'N' Division specialized in the manufacture of naval shells. With the cessation of hostilities, the Holloware Factory returned to its peacetime production, manufacturing enamel mugs, jugs, plates and pudding dishes. Older readers will recall that enamel jugs fitted with lids that served as cups were exceedingly popular among navvies and watchmen who kept watch over road works during hours of darkness for which their employers provided coke braziers to keep them warm during their graveyard shift.
       Marley described his fascinating work at Curran Engineering when he said, 'My job in the packing shed hall was to take the paper-wrapped products (plates, mugs, jugs etc.) from the girl who did the wrapping, pack them in a straw-filled packing box and nail it down. As in many Welsh factories (only the ones above ground) we had a canteen in which, because factories were still operating from the after effects of wartime Workers' Playtime daily sang in lusty voice during the noon hour. The girl who did my paper wrapping loved to sing and would belt out the hit of the day. We all said that she should go far if she sang for a living. Shirley Bassey was her name. I wonder whatever happened to her. He sister Barbara also has a magnificent voice, but more operatic than Shirley. When I told her that me and my family were emigrating to Australia, Shirley kissed me and as I'd never been kissed by a girl before - as I tell my grandchildren about it fifty-five years later again and again - I still haven't washed that cheek.
     When we landed in Fremantle in Western Australia in January 1955 I was almost 16 years old, and on my way to 17. My nostalgia for the khaki of my Dukie days was so great that I figured the best life for me was the Australian Army, which always gave better than it got. To enlist in the Australian Army 17 was the minimum age, so I had to kick my heels for three months, but came the day, came the uniform with the slouch hat turned up on the left brim.
     Then there was the four-day train ride from Perth, Western Australia to Kapooka (some funny names they have here) in New South Wales and the Recruit Training Battalion (RTB). It takes three months of basic training to become a 'Digger', which is a private solider in the Australian Army, but I did it, no sweat. First posting was to the Royal Australian Army Service Corps (the RAASC) to be a driver. Never having driven a thing in my life it took six weeks after which I could pilot this truck around the curves of Monaco. Still, being an ambitious ex-Dukie, I yearned for a superior qualification to make something of my life, so I transferred to the Australian Army Catering Corps (or AACC), that could mean the Australian Army Chunder Corps).


At the Maralinga Atomic Test Range, members of 2 Field Ambluance
with Cook Cl 2 Marley standing in the centre of the rear row

So it was that I took another training course to become a Class 2 Cook, which got me a posting to 2 Field Ambulance in Puckapunyal, Victoria, yet another place with a funny name. Personally, I believe the clerks who did the postings thought 2 Fd Amb should be matched with a Class 2 Cook, which is why they posted me to that unit. You have to agree that these admin posting clerks have a weird sense of humour in matching numbers.
    This came back to me last week when reading the daily news of doom and gloom, I came across a column Where are they? with a small note asking for current and ex-members of 2 Field Ambulance to join an existing association of said unit. So I submitted my enquiry and became a member. If I may make a comparison, the No. 2 Fd Amb unit's existence was a bit like the sex life of the female of the species, 'ready for business, but frequently closed down.' I know I'm preaching to the converted, but in times of conflict, a field ambulance is required to retrieve the wounded and keep them alive with first aid until Alan Alder can crack a few jokes. [Not having forwarded anything for quite some time, I couldn't at first remember how to do it as with other things at this stage of my life; as it is, you have the story straight from the horse's mouth and it's a good example of what the DYRMS can produce after four years of scholostick endevior (sic).]
In fact, 2 Fd Amb. was formed in the First World War - 'the war to end all ways' on which premise, after 1918, the unit was disbanded, but it was not to last. Twenty-one years later, we had the same enemy, but with a change of 'players on the bench'. The Turks went off and the Japanese came on. 2 Fd Amb formed up once again although with a slight change of designation it became 2/2 Fd Amb. If ever there's another war, it might become 2/3 Fd Amb? No matter, we will still be 2 Fd Amb at heart.
     In 1950 it was the turn of Korea to invite some countries to engage in the sounds of war. The USA having only taken a fairly short part in the previous war of five years earlier, decided to be both the umpire and the player and in turn, called on some of their 'allies' whom they'd recently met to join in the 'War/Police Action'.
     Australia at that time was discussing with Britain as to which of the islands off the coast of Western Australia did they want to blow up with their new tins of mushrooms. They then headed off up to Maralinga where there was more room than enough. While all this was happening, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment went off to war in Korea. 2 Fd Amb was NOT there. The unit had once again been disbanded in the late 1940s. Anyway 'MASH 4077' was there, so 2 Fd Amb was not needed,
     In 1957, it was decided that because there were still stroppy countries willing to fight with others, Australia needed a force that would be battle ready to 'sort the buggers out'. Hence the formation of - The Field Force (what an exciting name!) consisting of Infantry, Engineers, Ordnance, Service Corps and, of course, Medical Corps and 2nd Fd Amb. reformed or was that resurrected? And where else? Puckapunyal, Victoria.
     From my memory in the mists of time (this may be refuted, so be it), the very first 'march ins' were one Sergeant, one Corporal and two or three privates (I'm not sure of the number). We were housed at 3 Camp Hospital for about three months until a site that held 14th National Service Battalion was made ready to accept 2 Fd Amb. National Service then being repealed, the four or five original members of the newly-vamped 2 Fd Amb, were not wearing the maroon shoulder flash of RAAMC! They wore a grey and yellow flash and a cap badge showing steam rising from a cooking pot! Yes, the AACC cadre opened the innings for the RAMC. Our first Medical Corps person was the RSM, WO1, Stan Rofe, a total gentleman. From then on the unit gained strength as more and more people arrived.
     Next came the unit transport, Jeeps - later to be replaced by Austin Champs. The trucks, GMC, left hand drive, 'Jimmys'. One truck had mounted a huge water tank! Why was the obvious question. That wasn't answered until the following year 1958. Then arrived the pride of the fleet: two Ford Blitz Buggies, both emblazoned with the huge Red Cross: on the back, on the front, on both sides and on the roof. These were our ambulances! Ready to transport the sick and injured of the Field Force! The equation was about right, just under almost a brigade of troops serviced by two 'Blood Boxes'. It may have been asked, 'Do we load as the Indians load in Calcutta, - anywhere they would fit?' But I digress. 2 Fd.Amb hung around Pucka for quite a while, then the whole box and dice went off for a long drive to South Australia to arrive at Woodside, our new home, about 25 Miles (that's 40 kms from Adelaide). To be quite honest and again from my dim memory, very little was achieved Army wise in regard to 'full on training'. Of course, the cooks continued to present 'gourmet' meals three times a day. You may remember: Steamed Golden Pudding, Bread and Butter Custard, Mashed potatoes and Beef stew. All steamed and boiled to be almost edible. and not forgetting the 'soldiers own' Mulligatawny Soup!
     The idyllic life could not continue. Head Office in Melbourne (or were they in Canberra?) decided that because the Second World War & Korea had gone quiet; we needed a 'Combat Ready Force' to be on stand-by against all who didn't like us. Not that there were many waiting to charge up the beaches. (They came later in boats). Anyway, an exercise was conceived to be fought against the 'dastardly foe' in North Queensland. We spent a month to six weeks around the Sarina and McKay area and in all that time we never saw a single sighting of 'the enemy'. Back to Woodside earlier in our tale, our Adjutant a Capt Randall, was tasked with the charge of moving 2 Fd Amb, complete with Blitz Buggies et al. Plotting the route through the hinterland on roads that no man has gone before (in an Austin Champ Jeep). Plotting as a navigator on board a frigate -a word some of us of us were heard to say many times - on our way to war! You persons of the younger generation may never have heard of the 'Wiles' cooker. This was a four-wheeled trailer that contained a steam generator fired by wood. A field kitchen, where steam cooks everything. We fed our '4077 MASH' all the way from Woodside to Sarina, around 4,000 kms (my guess on distance, could be wrong). We, meaning me, had one problem. How do I make a fried egg out of this powdery stuff in the box labeled 'powdered egg'. As I scooped it out, I thought, that's the yellow yolk, where's the bloody white stuff that goes around it? Now I think back, I feel that I should apologise for the not so great meals we slapped on your plates. Then again, it's been 53 years since then, surely you would have forgiven or forgotten? NO! Oh well.
     Anyway, the Queensland war ended and we drove ourselves in our trucks, jeeps, cookers and blood boxes back to South Australia. Never found out the winner, them or us! Must have been us, because we didn't become POW's. From Woodside, the Army foolishly thought that I would prefer the godforsaken climes of Puckapunyal. Given a choice of either Pucka' or put against a wall and shot! I requested time to decide. And so leaving 2 Fd Amb with my box of powdered egg I joined 1st Armoured Regiment at Pucka'. In the remaining years of my army career, I was surprised that no one ever asked for an omelette off the menu; disappointed because by then I had learned the art of the use of powdered eggs.
     Reading our own newsletter Vampire 2 Fd Amb has remained an integral part of this Australian Army for almost 100 years. I congratulate those who WERE, and those who ARE, in 2 Fd Amb.
For those who don't know, RAAMC means Royal Australian Army Medical Corps and
AACC is for Australian Army Catering Corps.


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