Thursday, May 26, 2011

Running and shooting in the Nashos

ANY of you bloke readers ever spend time in National Service back in the 1950s ... you remember, the Nashos?
I did, in the first intake at Wacol in 1954. At 6ft high I was taller than most blokes from my home town, Maryborough, so they stuck me in an A Company platoon with tall blokes, mostly from north Queensland.
My brother, Marty, who was two years older than me, was also in A Company because he had been an apprentice carpenter and they used to delay their National Service call-up until after they had finished their apprenticeship.
That didn't apply to cadet journalists, though, and I was only in my second year cadetship when I was called up. I was 18.
A lot of the blokes were pretty apprehensive about going into Nashos but not me, because I had been in the cadets at St Brendan's College, Yeppoon, and even been to an army cadet camp outside Townsville ... a place in the scrub called Selime, I think, although I can't find it on the map today.
I didn't mind the cadets because we got to handle rifles - the great old SMLE .303. You see I was brought up with rifles. My old man, Martin, was an excellent rifleman, brought up on Vandyke, a cattle station outside Springsure. He was badly injured in the First World War when a bomb exploded near his trench in northern France.
So Marty and I spent all our school holidays at Vandyke shooting wild pigs and roos, as well as putting in long hours doing cattle station work. As soon as we were old enough we joined the Maryborough Rifle Club, in which  Dad was one of the top marksmen.
That is what I wanted to be in Nasho - a Marksman, because the top shooters in Nasho were presented with two  brass badges  of crossed rifles, each rifle about 5cm long, which they wore  on the sleeves of their  khaki army shirts . That's what I wanted,  to show the world what a great shot I was.
But it didn't turn out all that well because when we were given our .303s they were brand new weapons straight from the Lithgow (NSW) arms factory and were so soaked in oil and grease you could hardly hold them. Naturally we had to clean them but most blokes simply wiped the grease off with rags and let it go at that.
Not me, because I knew when the  woodwork heated up from the projectiles blasting through the metal barrel you would not be able to hold the rifle steady, even halfway through the shoot, and that would  bring your score tumbling down.
So I pulled my .303 to pieces and poured  boiling water - lots of boiling water - over all the woodwork, melting most of the grease out. I must have poured boiling water over the woodwork a dozen times over a couple of days until the wood was  nice and dry and easy to hold without slipping.
Naturally  I wouldn't get all the grease out but I reckoned it wouldn't get slippery until the shoot was just about over. From memory that was about 36 to 40 shots.
A few blokes asked me what I was doing, including a north Queensland Nasho who had been promoted to corporal a few days earlier.
Come the  shooting day we were transported to Redbank Rifle Range for the shoot. It was over three ranges, 600 yards, 500 yards and 300 yards, I think.
You would start firing  lying down at 600,  then after about 10 or 14 shots, run down to 500 where you would shoot from a one knee position and then run to 300 where you would shoot standing up.
I was to shoot in the second division but something strange happened. As we got out of the truck at the range, that northern corporal I mentioned stopped me and told me to give him my rifle. Why, I asked? He just said he wanted to look at it. I gave it to him and he turned to walk to the firing mounds.
I yelled at him to give my rifle back. He yelled back that he needed it because he had forgotten to bring his rifle. The rotten bastard then proceeded to the 600 yard mound with the first group of shooters and started firing. I was in the second group and  when he handed my rifle back it was starting to get slippery.
I was pretty bloody angry because there was no way I would get a good score with that rifle, particularly after I had fired a few shots and brought more oil and grease seeping out.
There was only one way out. We had been told if  anyone turned in a very bad score that day he would have to come back tomorrow and do it all over again. That was my only hope. So I fired at  other people's targets, over the top of targets and everywhere. Immediately the scores came through I was told I had to come back tomorrow and try again because my score was as bad as they had ever seen.
Next day, after spending hours pouring more boiling water over the woodwork, I ended up with my Marksman's Crossed Rifles with one of the highest scores of the intake.
Not only were those badges good to look at but they saved me from a rather tough time.
A few weeks later I was hitch-hiking to Brisbane on the Ipswich road. We weren't supposed to hitch-hike close to camp but who would see me in the late afternoon. Suddenly a flash sports car  pulled up near me and I hopped in.
"Don't you know the rules, soldier?" the driver demanded.
I looked at him and almost wet my pants when I saw his formal army uniform and large row of medals, then to his face and found I was sitting beside the Wacol commanding officer.
"I'm taking you to the Provos, private. You could be in a cell tonight."
Then he look at me angrily before turning the vehicle back on the road. But before we moved a couple of yards he pulled up and looked back at me, shifting his eyes down to my Marksman's crossed rifles.
"You're a Marksman, soldier?" he said and we started talking about shooting. He was also a rifle-range shooter and it turned out that he knew my old man, Martin, from range shooting - and things suddenly changed.
"Where are you off to in Brisbane?" he asked.
I told him. He said he'd drop me off there, but for God's sake don't go hitch-hiking in the camp area again.
I didn't.
Another funny thing happened at Wacol. Big brother Marty was a professional sprinter, and a good one at that. The year before Wacol he won the Hanlon Gift over 130 yards at the Exhibition Ground, worth 130 quid, which was a lot of money in those days.
So naturally he was selected to represent A company in the 100 yard sprint at the Battalion sports day.
He started training on the Battalion oval - in running spikes - which was very unusual in those days. You couldn't buy them but had to get them made in Melbourne.
Some GPS blokes in other companies saw him in the spikes and  made a few inquiries, found out he was a professional champion and had him banned from the sports day. You see, army sports were strictly amateur.
And who did they get to replace him in the sprint. Me of course because I was a pretty good rugby league winger and played for Wide Bay against France and New Zealand.
And who do you think won the sprint final? You guest it, little old humble me. I've still got the winning pennant with my name on it.
"Pte Kavanagh. L.F."
Another very funny thing happened at Wacol in the hut next to mine in A Company.  It contained a very big bully boy who thought nothing of pushing people around,  as well as  drinking  their softdrinks, eating their fruit or their sandwiches - anything they left on their beds or bed-side benches.
One day he picked up a soft drink bottle on a bloke's bed-side table and gulped it down, but not for long because he spurted it out all over the hut.
Then he punched the bloke on the chin, knocking him out.
Why? Because the bottle was full of piss.
Well, the whole hut was waiting for this and they all rushed at him and belted the daylights out of him.
And guess what? The big idiot didn't step out of line again. In fact he hardly spoke for the remaining three months.
Ah! Were they the good old days, or what?


  1. Lawrie...your yarns as I'll always remember them! Greatly entertaining. A comment: Great pity that Nasho was over by the time I reached 18 (1962) I reckon it was the making of many a young man. My own 'initiations' were slightly different however. Air Corps cadets within school (after school actually), with an Amberley based week in August as I recall...and of course the rifle range too. And then of course, the lifesavers' initiations of the late fifties and early sixties were another thing altogether...enough said!!! Keep the stories coming mate...ok?