A BLAST FROM THE PAST
A223174 - D.F. (FRED) NEVILLE
Originally Posted in Gunnies News 2001
I enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 4 January 1966 at the age of nineteen and went to 1RTU, Edinburgh for recruit training. Next I was posted to RSTT Wagga (RAAF Forest Hills) and joined 50 ARMMECH. On completion I was posted to 11 Sqn, Richmond, working on Neptune P2Vs and everything that went “Bang or Fizz!” which could be dropped, thrown, or shot backwards from them. That was with ARMO FLTLT “Smoky” Graham (whom the troops hardly ever saw), FSGT (then WOFF, then FLGOFF) Des Pope, SGTs “Black Wal” Thomas and“Buck” Burkett, sundry CPLs (Chapman, Tolhurst, Mazzaire) and LACs (Jim Greenlees, John Saunders, Wayne Gaine, “Randy” Stone, “Irish” Ireland; and a couple of others whose faces but not names I remember. Then, back to RSTT for 32 ARMFIT, where the instructors who taught under FLTLT “Jumpin’ Jack” Jarrett, were: WOFF Macintosh, FSGTs Reg Manners - (the tough one) and “Gundy” Evans - (the soft one), SGT Frank Cox, CPLs Dick De Bomforte Bernie De Friskbom (whom I’d been to high school with) and CPL (then still LAC) “Scruffy” Bennett. Huge fun, gunning, rocketing and bombing up dead Vampires and Sabres after we had been taught the intricacies of all of the Gunnies’ trade. After becoming a fully fledged Armament Fitter I was posted to 481 (M) Sqn with most of my fitter’s course. On the way there in my ‘55 Morris Minor a mate and I turned onto the road to Williamtown just as FLTLT Alan Karpys bounced his Mirage off the roadway, upside down, and disappeared into the scrub in a ball of flames and black smoke!! Another of my arriving course members also saw this and turned around and headed for the pub, vowing that if this was Williamtown, he wasn’t having any!
I worked in the “Top Hangar” at “Billsville” with Jack Grayson, “Boorie” Manning, CPL Dave Etheridge - who took months to find the sleeping quarters built up on the top of the pile of gun barrel boxes; and never found the other one which was a hammock slung under the Aden gun rack - until the occupant started to snore one day - there was a punishment by fire hosing in situ! Who, from the top hangar in those days remembers the engine fitter, Morrie Merritt going up in a ball of flames when he lit up a smoke after cleaning the disk brakes of his Holden in the gun bay’s range-fuel bath? Or when, whilst juggling a new puppy he was showing off, and a one gallon tin of ‘Paints Golden Yellow” The same Morrie and the whole thing tripped, hit the deck, and couldn’t stop a very painted puppy putting yellow painted paw tracks all over the top hangar’s floor?
At Willytown, in my typical “Barrack Room Lawyer’s” fashion I helped to get another gunny, Norm Andrews off a charge of speeding on the unit, by proving that one could squeal one’s wheels at the L/H 90 degree turn near 76 Sqn and Parachute Training Flight at less that 15 mph?
What about the cook-off in Summer ‘68 when a super heated Mirage gunpack waiting re-fitting on the flight line sent a live one bouncing off the taxiway and off into the scrub of Ammo Prep, nearly killing a slow-moving framie passing by in front of the barrel - and the cigarette tins full of propellant that used to be sent spiralling and smoking up into the sky from the same Ammo Prep? Those which used to cause WOFF Bill “The Jaw” Lugg to race for the Dodge “Power Wagon” to not be able to identify any culprits. And the shoebox full of SR87 smoke ’n flash powder out of 11 ½ or 25 pound practice bombs that Peter “Roscoe” Ross and I ignited in the Nth Entrance lovers lane car park one dark and instantly daylit night - so many revving motors all at once!!!!
The A4 bombcarrier on a Mirage with four ‘praccy bombs hung on backwards and the pilot (“Jughead”) standing there scratching his large chin and wondering just exactly what was it that was different about this aircraft that he desperately needed to fly??
An exchange posting in March 1968 to what was then KWD, later 1CAMD Kingswood - seen as the Armourer’s graveyard (until you got there and into the swing of things) to meet up with and marry the girl who had followed me from Adelaide, and who is still my wife and the mother of my children.
There, stencilling boxes of 100 Series bomb tails for Mk 10 bombs for Vietnam until a vacancy came up at ADF (Ammunition Demolition Flight) the fore- runner to the Americanisation of EOD. FLTLT Sam (The Seal) Reynolds, WOFF Dick Sharpe, SGT Bill Brooker - he wore the largest hat size in the RAAF!!! CPLs Bill Alltman, then Les Hill, and Ted Lange (just back from 2 SQN) and many LACs of all sizes. We blew up hundreds of 60 lb rocket heads, 500 and 1000 lb bombs. I remember Bill Brooker not breaking up a cracked Sidewinder motor in the burn-pit full of ejection seat cartridges and smoke flares one day. Spectacular fireworks as the half inch by four foot square steel lids went flying off and the screaming cordite motor’s core went whizzing around the Proof Yard chasing all and sundry who ventured near. Also remember him setting light to a pyramidical stack of 4.5 inch recce flare candles - from the bottom!!! That was even more spectacular, even in the middle of the day. And, he and “Seafouse” Comber had a perpetual wrangle going on over the many years. Bill, when Seafouse was at Bomb Maintenance, and he at ADF, had a set line for eels in the firefighting dam nearby. The lunchtime bus used to be forced to stop while Bill ran the line. One day there was a terrible hullabaloo as Bill fought something extremely vigorous for about fifteen minutes until he discovered that Seafouse had got to his set line and had tied the lid of a bomb tail canister to the business end - this caused the line to whiz backwards and forwards through the water as it was pulled upon. The look of rage on Bill’s face was enough for Seafouse to evacuate the bus and scarper for Orchard Hills through the scrub with Bill in hot pursuit raging and ranting (he was ever the calm and composed type, Bill - not!).
Another Seafouse incident, which again broke up the troops, was his appearance one morning on WOFF Joe Mezina’s morning parade nursing both a monstrous hangover and an equally monstrous hare which he had trapped. (All I ever trapped was the Proof Yard’s Equipment Assistant, Barry Ward by one leg in a
sapling spring trap at a hole in the ADF fence which we used to disappear through to hunt for aboriginal axes and old WWII bombs in the swampy ground!!) “What the bloody hell is that, SGT Comber?” raged Joe. “What does it bloody look like? A f*&$#@ rabbit?” responded Seafouse, weaving unsteadily.
“Well both you and it can f!#$*-off my hopping parade!!” roared Joe. The day turned into a complete shambles after that.
Another hugely humorous incident up in the Proof Yard/ADF area was when WOFF Bob Hinds returned from leave one time and went to do one of his favourite tasks - that of testing Yellow Sump Cord. Bob liked to dispose of the scrag end of the test sample by poking it down one of the many holes of a rather large meat ants’ nest which was situated next to the proof building and the smoko hut and then setting it alight with a fuse igniter. He liked to see the angry ants running around as the smoke puffed up out of the holes and stirred them up. Little did he know that plotting had been done in his absence.
At the same time there was a continual “drop testing” program on for 30 mm DEFA gun canon shells and the troops’ job was to wrench the projectiles out of the steel cases in a holed piece of timber, tip the propellant out of the case and into a drum of water, then lathe off the butts of the cases and prepare them for a drop test which simulated the ramming-home by the gun’s loader. Whilst Bob had been away, a vast quantity of the propellant, which consisted of five-hole-perforated pellets about a centimetre long and half as wide (for fast burning) had been “liberated” and had been poured through a funnel into the ants’ nest. The ants, finding their tunnels blocked, and probably thinking that the pellets were the same as their pupating larvae’s capsules (which were about the same size), had happily spread the propellant widely throughout the nest. There must have been several pounds in weight of this material given to the ants who joyfully carried it off.
All of the ADF and Proof Yard troops (plus the dear old chap who was the gardener and nemesis of any hare caught ringbarking the hibiscus) were up in the smoko shed when Bob wandered out of his corner office to do a fuse test - he didn’t smoke or drink coffee! The card game halted and with bated breath about
eight of us sat there open mouthed in anticipation (excuse the pun). With a smile, Bob hunkered down into a squatting position, inserted a couple of feet of yellow fuse and pulled the pin on the igniter. Before he could even unwind the test sample, or prepare his stopwatch, the whole ants’ nest rose in the air and with a roar, expanded and showered him with pebbles, pellets of burning propellant, and extremely angry, biting and stinking meat ants!! Out from the cloud of dust and smoke raced Bob, with ants still burning and biting furiously. How the troops giggled!!!! As all were in on the deed it was difficult to remain impassive and amazed when much later, Bob related the tale and postulated as to how the ants had managed to transport the propellant. If Bob didn’t have the nickname “The Angry Ant” before that day, he certainly did from that day on!!
Range clearing at Dutson (East Sale) and Evans Head ranges - staying at the still existent Pacific Motel where for evening meals, imprest allowed lobster and wine - but not oysters!! And that trip made with Use of Own Conveyance!! Sam “The Seal” sitting on an excavated thousand pounder and declaring it to be a smoking zone!! Sand, sand, and deeper sand.
Then, another exchange posting, with Peter Lamprey who didn’t want to go to Amberley to play with Canberras at 1 (B) OCU. Too many gunnies to name at Amberfield and too short a time before off to 2 SQN at Phan Rang for the year of getting rocketed and mortared and shot at. Good memories of that time and it is true to say that Armourers are most respected when they have a real job to do. Which WWII Pommie Air Marshal once said “Without Armourers you have a transport (unscheduled) airline!!” He knew his stuff!!!!! Gunnies at war are a special bunch; Gunnies’ Corner is a special place at any bar and woe betide any queer-trades who take up position or intrude without permission. What about “Alex” Alexander’s “ASGRO Games” eh? Weren’t the yanks flummoxed at our antics, the billycart derby down General’s Hill was a ripper, as was the claiming of Sovereign Territory over all roads through the Aussie domestic area on Anzac Day - defaulters were stopped at gunpoint and given the business by our SPs, plus a can of Aussie beer to “Skaal”. The Christmas Eve “Carols by Can” parade of Clarktor-pulled bomb-
loading trolleys loaded with singing troops and gubbo-bins of beer was another huge success in international relations - even if sundry Yanks were dis-invited (sic) to hop on and join in! And of course “ASCO” the faithful kampong-terrier (he too put the bite on everyone!) who only woke up to chase black Americans on motorbikes. He met his match one night when investigating the cookhouse’s garbage bins and a leopard cat invited him to waltz!
Two fun incidents when I was the Small Arms Armoury kingpin at Phan Rang: Being caught outside the wire with all but the emergency stock of ammo used...... and something loudly went “BANG!!!” causing the bases automatic alarms to go off and the base perimeter to be immediately and totally sealed up. My truckload of new arrivals sat out an interesting fifteen minutes, not being able to move towards the wire and the gate to get back in. The next was when a very young cook’s assistant picked up an F1 and couldn’t fire it. He turned towards the WOD and I and the rest of the group who were all down and prone on the firing line. Then, in the middle of his question as to why it wouldn’t go “bang” managed to knock the safety off!!!! Big string of 9mm bullets stitching along towards the now-active and definitely not prone firing line - until the WOD “Black Jack????” took one pace forward and booted the still chattering gun out of his hands. The next several kicks were even more strategically placed. I too joined in for revenge and gave him a double barrelled BSA (leftovers from WWII for ossiffers (sic) to practise the gentle art of bird shooting and to train them to “lead off” for air to air gunnery). This I loaded with a pair of double-charged “mankiller” riot gun cartridges which the miscreant managed to fire simultaneously!!! Arse over tit!
Lots of other memories of the year in Viet Nam with 2 SQN, but I don’t want to take up all of your time here. Just ask me one day to show you where I got hit by a piece of M56 grenade! In fact, if you’re ever in Canberra, give me a call. There’s always a beer somewhere!!
366 days later and finally off to 2FTS at Pearce, where two years later I came to the realisation that if I retired after 20 years, at the ripe old age of 39 and wanted to stay around aeroplanes, no civvy airline would want me to hang bombs off them! No other civvy jobs for a gunny and no close diversification except to do a Quarry Shotfirer's course, or specialise in small arms! What to do? Re-muster was the only answer. And, due to the better pay scale and promotion prospects I quickly impregnated my wife and fled to East Sale to become a RAAF photographer. After graduation and after the birth of a daughter less than a month later, I was largely kept busy for the next 5 to 6 years snapping and clicking all over WA and then Edinburgh in SA. Totally different, but equally as enjoyable.
Darkrooms never quite took the place of lying in the sun after a bombing-up sortie; or of being twenty feet down a hole when the clay "squeaked" and collapsed around one's thrashing ankles. The power of the threat of "pulling the pin" on some recalcitrant Sir Pompous Pilot was never quite matched by saying, "Smile please." But I don't regret the moving on.
Since electing discharge after twelve years, in 1978, I spent eleven and a half years with ASIO in Canberra and, coincidentally, the same period of time within the intelligence and border-protection area of the Department of Immigration which allowed me to travel extensively overseas. I also spent three months working with the UN in Cambodia in 1993. I actually was posted to a thatched hut right on the Cambodian/Vietnam border in an area which 2 SQN used to bomb the crap out of!! The craters are still there and now serve useful purposes as water storage areas and fish farming ponds.
After many years of putting up with the Gunnies' typical problem of haemorrhoids caused by sitting on hard/hot/cold tarmacs jacking bombs, I had a brand new second hand arsehole grafted on in 1991 and immediately took it for a seven thousand kilometre 4WD trek across ten Australian deserts, including the Simpson desert, crossing the two thousand or so sand dunes from West to East. I have been an avid family 4WDer since 1983 and every second year or so my family and I head off, usually with others on an extended run to somewhere - where I often meet up with other Gunnies from my past. Last major trip was up to The Gulf and Cape York in 1998. Next in line after I canoed most of the Murrumbidgee is to buy a heavy-duty caravan and do the "round the block" tour of this wonderful and vast land.
I am also a keen fly fisher and I founded the ACT Fly Fishers in 1979. I represented Australia in the World, and Commonwealth, Fly Fishing Championships in Tasmania in 1988. Living in Canberra, I get to go fishing whenever I want and most weekends will see me out somewhere in boat, canoe, tent, or camper trailer and 4WD pursuing trout - which I write about and make a small profit in the doing. My daughter, born in WA in 1972 is married, and I and my wife and son, born in Canberra in 1984 remain happy here in Canberra. I retired from full-time work in February 2001 and am pursuing other things.
By Fred Neville