1800. Army training

Today is ANZAC Day in New Zealand and Australia. It’s the day when we remember those fallen in wars. Ironically, the date is on the day of the greatest failure and loss of life in our common history: Gallipoli. Since I’m writing this reflection a good three and a half weeks before the posting date, goodness knows whether the pandemic will allow any public commemoration of the day. The day usually starts with Dawn Services at various cenotaphs.

Also, the number of this posting is Story 1800, and as with most “round numbers”, I usually relate something more personal – if I can think of something (which I just have!)

When I started high school (it was a boys’ boarding school because we lived too far in the countryside to travel daily to a high school) it was not that long since the end of World War II. Hence, as part of the school curriculum, there was military training. We called it “Barracks”. Every Wednesday there would be “Barracks”. And then, twice a year there would be “Barracks Week”.

I hated it.

We were issued with “Sandpaper Suits”, i.e. shorts, jacket, and beret, made of rough fabric, which with all the marching simply sandpapered your groin into oblivion. Every night the dormitories reeked of “Brasso” as everyone polished the brass buttons on their uniform.

I hated it.

My paternal grandfather (Boer War)

We would march and march and march. It was drill drill drill. The high school was just down the road from the country’s largest military camp, and army personnel would come to drill us and shout at us and order us hither and yon. Sometimes we seemed to stand still in the hot sun for hours. I learnt to obey everything with half an ear but my mind retreated into a world of make-believe. If I spied a lone distant house on a hill I would invent its rooms, its view, its story. Or if I saw a bird I would fly to its nest and concoct its life.

My maternal grandfather (World War I)

During Barracks Week we were given guns and had to ponce around with them in various positions. Then we were taken “down to the river bed” where we shot at targets all afternoon and (I would imagine) I mainly missed.

I hated it.

Occasionally we would decorate ourselves with flora and crawl through muddy creeks and prickly hedgerows to fire blanks at opposing army personnel. It was to turn boys into men.

I hated it.

My mother’s brother (World War II) – he didn’t come back

Once a year we would go on “Bivouac”. We were herded into army trucks and transported deep into the mountains where we would set up camp in the middle of the forest, sharing with another the single canvas ground sheet (one sheet on the ground and one above). From there we would eat our rations and set a watch all night because the army was going to attack. And attack they always did, usually around 3 in the morning.

I hated it.

A school photo but I’m not in it! – shows building, rifles, uniform

Barracks continued for all five years of high school (in New Zealand high school roughly goes from age 13 to 17). It was discipline without mercy. I guess if I had been called up for war I would have gone, but the military experience taught me one thing:

to hate myself.

Today as we remember the “fallen heroes of the past” no doubt some liked the compulsory military experience and some did not. Personally I feel most for those who died fighting for our freedom…

… and hating every minute of it.

Some graves at Gallipoli

57 thoughts on “1800. Army training

    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      Gosh Herb – you comment went undeservedly into the Trash and I had to approve it. Don’t now why it did that. Thanks for the comment. I think probably that most hated war with a vengeance – some more than others.

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  1. dumbestblogger

    Thanks for this. I had an amazing conversation a couple days ago with a Vietnam vet that I have been chewing over quite a bit. The idea that some things are worth dying for is almost impossible to comprehend these days. It’s important to remember those who have acted on the conviction that those things do exist. The picture of your uncle reminded me of the story Herb shared about his uncle a couple weeks back.

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    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      Yes – Herb’s uncle story was a great posting. A number from my year at school went to Vietnam and came back “changed”. And my neighbor when I was in North Carolina was a Vietnam vet who told the most terrifying stories once we’d plied a few drinks into him. (On a lighter note – I am rather enjoying Wisconsin’s Roger Roth’s stand on China and the Wuhan virus!)

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      1. dumbestblogger

        Believe it or not I actually hadn’t heard about that whole situation. But after digging into it a little it’s pretty fantastic. The political cost of keeping the bars closed in Wisconsin has been grossly underestimated up to this point. Watch out, the pitchforks are coming!

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        1. Bruce Goodman Post author

          I haven’t had a drink since mid-February! My tongue is not exactly hanging out but I always enjoyed a wine while getting dinner ready. Pitchforks, Amish, cows, stories – you’ve got it made to be a writer!

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  2. arlingwoman

    This reminded me of the song Mothers, Daughters, Wives, by one of your countrywomen, I think (Judy…something???). Also all the stories from veterans I’ve heard, from WWII to Korea, Vietnam, various Gulf incursions. It’s interesting that some people remember it as a time of great unity, when they felt part of a band where they had each other’s backs, and others were just glad to get out of it alive. Most people I’ve known are in the second group, even if they came out with lifelong friends.

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  3. badfinger20

    So don’t sugarcoat it Bruce…tell us how you really felt about your school military experience.

    I’ve been around WW2 veterans and talked to them…Vietnam vets act differently…at least the ones I met. They won’t talk as much as the WW2 vets. Maybe it was the age they were at the time. I never pushed because it’s their business.
    I admire them all greatly but you are right…they hated it. If some liked it…I don’t know if I would want to be around them.

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      1. badfinger20

        When I was a senior I was called by a Marine recruiter every weekend. I politely said no…I mean very politely said no…hey he was a Marine. Finally after 3 months I was done. I told him I would sign on 2 conditions…I could grow my hair as long as I wanted…and I didn’t have to get up til 10 am every morning…all that in writing.

        That put an end to the calls. It wasn’t my finest moment but they guy would not take no.

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          1. badfinger20

            My hair grew fuzzy at that age…more thick than long…like Bob Dylan’s…just above the shoulder is as long as I had it.
            Bruce I’m not military material.

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  4. araneus1

    Lost three relatives in WW1. Two great uncles, one of them was in the second landing at Gallipoli. So today is poignant for me as well. My dad fought in WW2 and survived — DCM in New Guinea, Desert Rat in North Africa. Hated every minute of it. Never marched on Anzac Day, never talked about his war experiences. He was a genuine hero and the experience destroyed his young life. I marched against the Vietnam war and I’m proud of that. I was very lucky not to get dragged into that conflict. My sons are now too old to be drafted if a war rolled in, but I have four grandsons so the old fear of sending my descendants off to fight somebody else’s war, reemerges. My country (and yours) is famous for joining in on other people’s wars.
    Loved your personal post. Beautifully written from the heart.
    Terry

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    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      Thanks Terry. I lost just the one great uncle in WW1 but two others got injured (and maternal grandfather). Grandfather (Dad’s side) in the Boer War got malaria upon arrival in Sth Africa and wasn’t sent home but dragged around the whole country. When he got home he had no compensation and couldn’t work because malaria was not a war injury!

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  5. umashankar

    It is a beautiful piece which is a tribute to those who fought and those who laid down their lives. The autobiographical element is riveting, underscoring the tragic wastefulness of wars and the associated machinery. The bit about your mind wandering off is refreshing and hilarious at the same time.

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      1. umashankar

        That is a time honoured technic. When I was young I would fantasise and none of it to the benefit of my enemies like the mathematics teacher and the bullies in school and neighbourhood. Sometimes, I still do that!

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  6. observationblogger

    This was a wonderful post Bruce and I just finished my own post on ANZAC day. Also we just watched the commemoration activities on TV.
    Your family history with the wars is extensive and your hating of military service not out of the ordinary lol.
    Thinking of you and your family at this time. cheers

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. noelleg44

    Since I am a military Mom, I HATE wars. My son, when I asked the eternal question, “Do you have to go?” (Afghanistan two years, Iraq two years), answered, “It’s what I trained to do and what I want to do.” The worry was enormous. He’s still in, serving as a ROTC instructor at the U of Utah.
    I saw the movie Gallipoli – had no idea of what it was before that – and it left me stunned and moved and angry.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      Thanks Noelle – yes, we so often forget the stress and the part that parents play when sons and daughters (and siblings for that matter) go to war. There was a woman south of where I live, in World War I, who saw 19 grandsons serve overseas in battles. It’s a shame that the sacrifice of such people is so often overlooked.

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I delight in having my dull life coloured by your intelligent perceptions, your wit, and your vivacity.

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