It was January 1969 and I was a 21-year-old infantry soldier in a holding unit at Ingleburn, NSW, awaiting my turn to fly to war-torn South Vietnam. The holding unit was the Australian Reinforcement Unit (ARU).
I’d returned to infantry training in September ’68 after having suffered a broken femur and then completed the arduous Canungra Jungle Training Centre course, I was a super-fit young man busting to put all the training into practice.
There were quite a few of us who’d been through training together, both regular soldiers and National Servicemen and we didn’t care which was which, we were all mates looking forward to serving together.
The odd thing was, while waiting to go overseas, ARU had nothing for us to do. We could have been out at the rifle range honing our skills. We could have been doing physical exercise to help maintain our fitness, we could have been assisting with training new recruits but what did they have us doing? Painting rocks beside the roads in camp and gardening.
One soon becomes tired of those activities.
Our supervisor was an older corporal who obviously didn’t want to be where he was and saw very little of us however, came the day when he sent us off gardening and wanted us back on parade after lunch at 1400 hours ( 2pm).
We lined up in our work gear waiting to be given perhaps a more exiting job like raking leaves or picking up rubbish when the corporal returned but he was in a rather odd mood. He said he had told us to return in parade dress and instead, we had turned up in grubby uniform.
Of the nine of us, he charged seven with being filthily dressed and the other two were to be our escorts when we were paraded before the Commanding Officer. Escorts can’t give evidence.
Now I’d been in the Army a little longer than the rest of the boys due to my broken femur and 15 months of rehabilitation in which time I’d worked in various sedentary position around the base and I wasn’t going to cop this sort of treatment. It was unfair. At no time were we told to be in parade dress and if we had been told it would have been an easy change.
I decided to plead not guilty.
The others were a bit surprised because in the Army, you try not to make waves, be as invisible as possible and my action was going to bring us all into the ‘light.’
It turned out the Commanding Officer was a decent bloke. He took the corporal’s evidence first which we all knew was untrue and then he heard my plea, he listened to a witness I’d called and then found me not guilty and the same applied to the other six.
Well, the cat was now among the pigeons and we were in the sights of every other supervisor in the unit but fortunately for us, we were on a plane out of Australia just a few days later.
The Company Clerk
Fast forward almost two years and I’m now the Corporal Clerk of Support Company, 5RAR at Holsworthy. I’d completed a three-month clerical course and all three promotion courses and had now reached the dizzying heights of what the Army termed a ‘substantive’ corporal.
The company clerk is a busy person but can always find time to attend to the needs of his officers and senior NCOs (non-commissioned officers). This was just part of the job for me but to them, I was something special. I was able to do in minutes what would take them hours and they all called me by my first name in a sort of gratitudinal (wow, is this even a word?) way.
One morning I’m doing the usual company clerk’s job when who should walk into the foyer but the very same corporal who had charged us at ARU. He didn’t immediately recognise me but I knew him the instance I saw him – and, when I looked at the transfer documents he handed me, I saw immediately he had not completed his promotion courses and was still a ‘temporary’ corporal which mean I was his superior.
I took some joy out of letting him know I hadn’t forgotten and intimated I was an unforgiving type who loved to take revenge on those who had wronged me. I then called his sergeant, using the sergeant’s first name which rather inflated my position of authority to the new man.
Did I get my revenge? Did I make life difficult for him? Did I make sure he received the ‘dirty end of the stick’?
Well, right from the start it was never my intention to do so. I’d already won and enjoyed the moment but revenge was never on my mind. Just by reminding him of the old saying, ‘what comes around goes around’ was more than enough.
Was it my Christian faith? I’m not sure now but I’d like to think it was because I’m a better person than to follow the line of revenge, after all, our Lord said “Revenge is mine.”
John Skinner served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam then the Tasmanian Police before taking up the position of CEO of the Australian Rough Riders Association (professional rodeo based in Warwick Qld). Before retirement to his small farm, he was a photo-journalist for 25 years. He is married with 3 children and 6 grandchildren.
John Skinner's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-skinner.html