In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Wealth, sudden or otherwise, can often arrive in different guises, but is usually welcomed in whatever clothing it may choose. Subsequent events may demonstrate that it may not be quite the blessing it seemed at first.
In my case, sudden wealth visited itself on me in March 1969, and it came as a double dose. I was, at the time, a Flying Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, and serving as the Adjutant of my unit in Melbourne. I thought of myself as able and self-confidant. Others may have expressed it in a different way. I was married with a boy aged nearly six and a baby girl of some nine months. I wasn’t impecunious, though my wife held different views, but I readily admitted to running out of money at the end of week three just about every month.
The summer was coming to an end, in the brilliant blue skies and warm weather common to Victoria as I walked to the Railway Station. I was dressed in uniform ‘drabs’, khaki shirt and trousers and my blue ‘cap service dress.’ Next month we would change back into blues, and I would once again look like a member of the RAAF and not the bloody Army.
The train was on time and I walked up Bourke Street to the office, to exchange greetings with superiors, subordinates and equals, in a manner appropriate to their status and mine.
I checked my mail, which contained little of major interest. There were two sealed envelopes, one for the CO, the other ‘to be opened only by the Unit Admin Officer’. I went into Wing Commander Hollie’s office, and managed to locate him through the blue haze of cigarette smoke, as, in those pre PC days, one could smoke their lungs out if they wanted, and everyone else’s as well.
“Morning, Ben, good weekend?”
“Not bad, sir. This is for you.”
He removed the cigarette from his mouth, adjusted his glasses, and, dribbling ash on to the desk, peered at the envelope. “OK, I’ll deal with it later.”
I opened my own missive from the Department of Air, and had to read it three times before it dawned on me. I was shortly to become very wealthy. All officer appointments in my Branch were established at least at the rank of flight lieutenant. All pilot officers and flying officers filled positions which should have been occupied by flight lieutenants. The RAAF had always denied the junior officers HDA, higher duty allowance, on the grounds that they were ‘under training.’
This Air Force Order changed all that, and further more, backdated the change for three years. I was like a dog with two tails. I quickly worked out that I would clear about 1200 dollars in back pay, equivalent to three months wages. I showed the Order to the CO, who, between clouds of smoke and bouts of coughing, agreed with my summary of the situation.
“You’d better get on with it, then, if you want everyone to be paid next pay day. By the way, the letter you gave me was to say the Department has upheld Corporal Leaton’s Redress of Grievance. Well done, I thought you were backing a loser.”
He gave me the letter. “I’ll let you tell him. You’re his Section Commander”
Corporal Frankie Leaton worked for me in the Orderly Room. He had applied for re-engagement, and had been refused on the grounds that he was close to being an alcoholic. Frankie sought my advice which was to apply for a redress. I supported him, as an ‘Airman’s friend’, and gave evidence at the hearing.
I gave him the letter. “You won, Frankie, you beat the bastards. Don’t let either of us down.”
Corporal Leaton broke down in tears, and hugged me, which was a little embarrassing in the middle of the Orderly Room. We had a beer at lunchtime, and I left for home that evening, pretty dammed pleased with myself. What had my last APR said? “A confident officer who shows exemplary leadership. Has a bright future in the Service.
Well, wealth, like everything else, is relative. The three months back pay was quickly spent. Corporal Leaton slipped over the abyss into alcoholism and was dismissed from the Service. Dan Hollie died from lung cancer twelve months after retirement. And me, the officer with the bright future? I made it to Flight Lieutenant and for three dizzy months acting Squadron Leader before my wife’s supposed illness made me resign. To say she was leaning towards hypochondria would have been an understatement; she was bent double in that direction. When Rock Hudson died from Aids, she gave me back his treasured autograph which I had obtained for her one evening in a London theatre.
“Burn it,” she said, “I don’t want to catch Aids from it.”
So it is with all sudden wealth. Sooner or later it goes up in smoke.
Written by my Father B.M