In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
The Drill Exam
Although already standing to attention, I straightened my shoulders. “Sir.”
“Come here please.”
“Sir.” I about turned smartly and faced the squad. There were twenty-six members in all, including three women. Peter McBright, a dentist, looking like a sack of potatoes, gazed abstractly at a point somewhere over my head; John Watchson, an education officer was grinning, as were several others. Beverly Pletchford had the facial expression of someone with a broom handle suddenly thrust into her rectum. Sally MacCarthy, blonde hair curling below her hat, blue eyes twinkling, whispered loudly enough for the entire twenty-six to hear, “I think you’re in trouble, mate.” She reminded me for all the world of Susannah York in ‘The Battle of Britain.’
“Squad”, they also straightened. “Squad, stand at ease! Stand easy.” Another inch perfect about turn and as well as I could manage, I marched off towards Flt Lt Brighton and Warrant Officer Nolman. I crashed to a halt in front of the pair and saluted the Flt Lt, but addressed the Warrant Officer. “Sir.” It was a quirk of the RAAF, perhaps the RAF also, that at Officers’ Training School, officers called warrant officers ‘Sir’ and the warrant officers addressed officers as ‘Mister’, a situation entirely reversed on completion of training.
It had been, I reflected, as I marched across that parade square in the fading light of a cold Victorian winter’s day, a long journey I had made in the last twelve months. One year previous I had been a police officer in the Metropolitan Police, serving the good people of Hackney in East London. Point Cook, Victoria, Australia was indeed a long way from London E8, and maybe a tad longer from E9.
A month at sea with my wife and baby son had been followed by a depressing nine months in the Victoria Police, an institution which reminded me of what England must have been like in the 1930’s. Going home from work one evening on the train, I read an advert in the newspaper offering commissions in the Royal Australian Air Force. Provost was the word that caught my eye. I had a vague feeling it had something to do with Military Police. And so it happened. Six months ago I couldn’t even spell ‘Officer’ and now I is one.
At Point Cook we trained. At Point Cook everyone trained; pilots, cooks, mechanics, bottle washers, the bloody lot. The officers’ course was thirteen weeks long. In that time we learned about Air Force law, the 1938 Air Force Act from UK, borrowed by the Australian Government at the outbreak of War and still in use in 1966.
We learned service writing, military theory and world politics, especially how the Soviet Union would sweep across the North German plain and throw NATO into the North Sea. Point Cook was a long way from the North Sea but just as cold. We learned how to use the SLR rifle and the 9mm Browning pistol. We went out on night exercises, ambushed each other and shot up innocent ‘cow cockies’, i.e. farmers, on tractors and Land Rovers. The Service did have the good sense not to issue live ammunition. We learned how to live in the Mess, how to get totally rat arsed, but still turn up for early morning parade. And we learned drill.
I cannot say that I ever really took to drill. It was after all, for soldiers, not Air Force officers. However in those dear former non-PC days, one did what one was bloody well told to do. And we had a drill exam. This consisted of everyone in my squad, twenty-seven strong, having the opportunity to drill the other twenty-six for about ten minutes. The damm thing lasted all day and fate decreed that I was last cab off the rank.
The instructors, Warrant Officer Nolman and Flt Lt Brighton had a selection of plastic coated cards which they shuffled and then invited the aspiring leader to pick one. The lucky chap, or chapess, then followed the instruction on the card and was judged accordingly; distinction, credit, pass or fail. When my turn came we were all cold and tired, in need of a drink a hot shower and a good dinner. We decided that after this missed day in the history of the world, we owed Paddy Nolman and Ian Brighton something. We decided that a silent halt was the appropriate riposte for their day of inhumane treatment.
My card was easy; no slow marching, no left or right wheeling and no moving from line into column. It went OK and when I had given my final order on the card all that remained was to stop the buggers before they marched into Port Phillip Bay. Now was the moment for the secret signal. Yes, all right, it couldn’t be too secret.
“Squad, squad” make sure you give the command on the right foot, you galah. “Squad, for the last time, Halt.” I could feel Paddy and Ian’s eyes boring into me. For the last time, what is he on about?
It worked, sweet Jesus, it worked. All fifty-two feet crashed without a single sound. A 100% silent halt. Not one foot twitched on the ground. Zero noise.
“Sir.” As I stood in front of the two instructors I expected a bolt of lightening to flash from the heavens and strike me dead. Instead Paddy spoke. “Mr Matier, I don’t mind a joke, but I detest fucking pantomime.”
He was grinning now and Ian Brighton had suddenly developed a cough that needed his hand to smother. Paddy spoke again. “By the way, you march like you were going for a stroll on a golf course. Now get the hell out of here.”
Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”
On this basis did one Pilot Officer Matier receive a Distinction for drill.
Written by BM