Story 14 - Sage of a Sig

By George Parker, 110 Signals Squadron (SVN 1968-69)

 Sage of a Sig
George Parker turning a WS62 Radio Set

On the 1st November 2003 I attended the “2003 OLDS and BOLDS Night” at Watsonia Barracks Sergeant’s Mess. I had retired on the 30th June 1980, after 21 years service and returned home to Queensland. This night was the first Corps reunion that I had attended since my discharge in 1980, except for the 40th Anniversary of the Logistics Support Force Signal Squadron (LSF Sig Sqn) 3rd Lines of Communications Regiment (3 L of C Sig Regt) held at the mess in 1999, which was a totally different type of reunion. The numbers were disappointing, but the company was great, and many thanks Jimmy Rouse and his staff!

Sage of a Sig   Sage of a Sig
Royal Australia Corps of Signals Sergeant's Mess
Simpson Barracks, Watsonia

After I returned to my mother-in-law’s home at Mornington from the OLDS and BOLDS night, all my thoughts of how mellow these gray-haired men and become, and all those other memories of young and mean men, who got into more trouble than Ned Kelly. In the days between 1960 to 1964 they weren’t so mellow then, particularly when they all participated in “carrying the mail or Moriarty” in the Mactier Club in those early days of 3 L of C. Through those hard times and frivolity, the history of the Corps and mateship was formed. Much of the comradeship was formed on those nights in the Corporal’s and diggers clubs, and the sergeant’s and officer’s mess at Balcombe, Watsonia and Vietnam, including the many exercises, such as Grand Slam, Icebreaker, Barrawinga and the never ending Kangaroos as the years passed by. Two great units formed all of this, and I assume that will continue on for many years after, forming great memories of other units to come. (Note 2015: As I look back now, and read the modern stories of units that stemmed from LSF Sig Sqn and 1 Sig Regt that were formed in 1959, I can see the comrade still exists!)

Sage of a Sig

As I flipped through the photographic history book that Jimmy Rouse had put together and the Signalman, Autumn/Winter 2003 edition, many memories began to flow back. It became a real test trying to put names to the many familiar faces in the photographs of the history book and after reading the Signalman I admired the professional, content and layout of the magazine. All I can say is, “Well done Podgy Rogers (Mess Historian), and the staff of the Signalman!”

After reading the Signalman and read some of the history of specific units, such as 145 Sig Sqn, which was originally formed from one of the greatest units that the Corps had ever raised up, the LSF Sig Sqn of 3 L of C Sig Regt. The LSF Sig Sqn was the Regular element of the Citizen Military Force signals unit, 3 L of C Regt, which was raised in 1959, and formerly the 3rd Army Signal Regiment, which was raised in 1954.

Sage of a Sig   Sage of a Sig
Photo (Left):  Operator Wireless and Line (OWL) in early 1960s
Photo (Right):  OWL Training early 1960s

Part of our basic operators course of 1960, the 6/60 OWL and OK course were the first operators posted to the LSF Sig Sqn, my course. We were then followed by the 7/60 OWL and OK course. The OWL and OK course were the forerunner of the OKR trade. When our course marched into the newly formed LSF Sig Sqn, the squadron consisted of approximately 15 men. As the squadron increased in numbers of ARA, it then became part of the “Ambrose Force” of the Pentropic Division and from this squadron came many great men of the Corps and units (145 Sig Sqn and 110 SIG SQN), who were either disliked or liked by our competitor 1 Sig Regt (103 Sig Sqn and 104 Sig Sqn). I personally held a high regard of many who served in these units with, whether they encouraged or discouraged or disparaged you. Those encouragers of 1960 to 1964 who come to mind were Lt. Bruce Evans, W02 Leslie Johnson (RIP), WO2 Marcus Irvine (RIP), Staff Sgt Rock-spider McHugh (RIP), Sgt Bert McSweeney (RIP), Sgt Charlie Hughes, Cpl Fred Gunning, Cpl Luke Cherry (RIP), Cpl Rex Wiggins, Cpl Andy Milton (Dvr)(RIP), Sig Mick O’Donnell (RIP), Sig Alfie Donnison (RIP), Sig Barry (Yarrab) Barclay, Sig Chris Morrow as the list goes on, and I do apologise to those who names that have faded from memory. Sgt Block Howe does come to mind, as he was a terror amongst most operators and loved marching us up and down the street at Westgarth, entertaining the local residents with the vulgarity of a Linie Sgt.

Sage of a Sig 
SIGCEN on back of a Studebaker (1961)

 Sage of a Sig
LSF Sig Sqn members playing cards in Patttern 37 webbing.

I marched into Balcombe in October 1959 and arrived in time for my initiation into the Corps, by spending most of my time Dixie-bashing in the Officer’s kitchen, and stewarding in the Officer’s Mess during the Corps Conference in November 1959. I shared many duties with one of our “colourful” characters and great man, Alan (Cutty) Cutmore (RIP), who was posted to 3 Battle Group Signals Troop with Doc Orchard and Tanker Hawkins. And after five days of 20 hour shift (0600-0200hrs), Dixie-bashing and stewarding, Cutty and I were getting bored with Army life.

On this 5th day, life began to change, as at the entrance of the Officers Mess kitchen there was a beer keg, which had been sitting there for days, we walked past it day after day, and thinking it was an empty keg. Then this morning, at 0200 hours, while leaving the kitchen, and we both had had enough, and I kicked the keg in frustration. The look on our face when we realised that the keg was full and a new lease of life came over us, we looked at each other and within a blink of an eyelid, not a word was spoken, we rolled the keg on its side, out of the door, and down the hill into a creek at the bottom of the hill on the Mt Martha/Balcombe Road.

Sage of a Sig
Officers Mess, Balcombe

For many years I heard this story being told by many, many various versions, but not quite the real story or the simplicity of how it was acquired. The rest of the real story and the after-events of the consumption of the contents of that keg are still locked away in the secrets of Corps history. I can still remember Capt Ned Kelly (RIP) and Lt Barry Hubble in fits of laughter as the story unfolded before them during the hearing of the charge. I believe that they were more concerned about the lost keg tap, which belonged to the Corporals Mess at the Apprentice School, than the empty keg and its contents.

I browsed through the photo album of the closing down of the School of Signals Sergeant’s Mess (early 70’s) with many thoughts of many stories that could be told of many colourful characters that were captured in those photos. Many of the unmentionables of the Corps, such as Linesmen, Technicians, and Operators were members of another great unit, such as 1 Signal Regiment and the dreaded Dixie Lee.

I read Ken Mackenzie’s and Stuart Dossetor’s stories in the 2003 Signalman with interest, and remembered many incidents of Army life with these two remarkable gentlemen, but more so with many of the OLDS and BOLDS in the photo prior to their entrance into the Army. A few stories follow, but no names attached.

In the early days of LSF SIG SQN many were posted or shadow posted into the unit under a trade of “POTENTIAL whatever”. We had a POTENTIAL Switchboard Operator/Driver Electrician/OWL or whatever trade they could fit him on our establishment, and during a hectic time on ICEBREAKER, he was training as a switchboard operator, and had lines connected in all directions and he was becoming extremely frustrated, so he pulled all the plugs out and said, “Okay, Start again you b------s!” The brigadier was one of the users at the time! Many years later this tall, respected and funny man from West Australia became a Supervisor Comcen (SCC).

We had a driver who at that time had a large family, and everybody use to give him a hard time about the size of his family. One day a bloke asked him, “Hey Ron, how do you keep your kids occupied?” And in a blink of an eyelid, he said, “O, I just throw a handful of hundreds-and-thousands in the woodheap!”

Finally in early-1961, our unit received brand new equipment, such as Studebakers (with 130 miles on the clock), Harley Davidson motorbikes and 303’s (still packed in grease), TG7B’s, and radio equipment.

Sage of a Sig   Sage of a Sig
Photo (Left): Studebaker 5x6   Photo (Right): 303 Rifle

One of the technicians spent hours installing the new radio equipment (TX and RX) into special frames on the back of a Studebaker. They were stacked three frames wide and six-foot high (1.8m). After completing the installation, he was so proud of his handiwork that he stepped back to admire it from a distance, when a driver came out of the transport office, jumped into the Studebaker and drove it forward. You wouldn’t guess what happened, the technician forgot to fix the equipment frames to the floor of the Studebaker, and a pile of brand new equipment lay at his feet totally wrecked.

We had a driver electrician who hated to wear his slouch hat, and he was always in trouble with our SSM (Mick Attrill). He was addicted to developing shortcuts in anything he did and loved charging large banks batteries, such as 24 batteries at a time. He would empty the electrolyte out of all batteries after each exercise and refill them with new electrolyte. One day as he was wandering around amongst his family of sizzling and bubbling batteries, checking their specific gravity with great delight, when he was in the middle of pack he bumped one of the leads, then there was a click, then a spark, then a stupid look on his face like the coyote in the Road Runner, and then a flash. He completely disappeared in a cloud of vapour and acid, and a pile of debris lay scattered around him, and his trouser legs began to slowly disintegrate and fall upon the floor.

He developed another shortcut for refuelling our large KVA while still running. He would stand on the top of the KVA, above the fuel tank, and dribble the fuel into the tank from fuel cans. One day, he was standing on top of a large KVA, when the SSM came along and caught him without his slouch hat on. He immediately placed his slouch hat on his head, and continued refuelling the KVA. As he was dribbling the fuel into the tank, there was a splash, then a gulp with a coyote look, then a flash, and then a roaring flame. He was completely engulfed and all you could see was his posterior sticking out of a ball of flame. He was lucky that day as he was wearing his slouch hat at the time, and after that incident he always wore his well burnt slouch hat.

There was an operator, detachment commander, who just received a brand new land rover, with brand new C11/R210, teleprinter equipment and a small generator power supply for the teleprinter. The power supply generator was stored under the front of the Land Rover for protection from the elements. To charge the batteries for the radio sets you would run the Land Rover engine until the batteries were fully charged. Land Rovers had a distinct habit of pre-ignition, and when the operator, detachment commander, turned the Land Rover engine OFF, the engine kept on running on pre-ignition and wouldn’t stop. So the operator, detachment commander, slammed the Land Rover into first gear and let the clutch out, believing that the engine would stop. The handbrake wasn’t ON, and the Land Rover kangaroo-hopped forward, over the generator power supply and spitting it out from the rear end of the Land Rover in a mangled mess. Guess what the 2IC said and thought of that operator, detachment commander?

When I think back over my time in the Corps there were a number of other events that could be mentioned-in-dispatches of 3 L of C. A radio detachment of able-bodied and honourable men, my lips are sealed, were sent to Tasmania and were escorted out of the state within a few days of arriving by the Military Police, and told to never return. It appears that these unsavoury signalmen desecrated the MP’s mascot, a goat by the name of “Chauncey”. They painted the goat in Collingwood colours and removed its beard. There is a poem written of this historical event, and only a few would understand the prose of the poem.

Sage of a Sig
LSF Sig Sqn, 3 L of C Sig Regt SIGCEN at Iron Knob on Operation Blowdown
during simulated effects of a nuclear weapon on tropocal rainforest.

There was also an incident were two visiting ladies were celebrating pre-exercise drinks with the members of LSF Sig Sqn, in the accommodation block. The pre-drinks went on into the early hours of the morning, and at 0500hrs, our Troop Commander (Lt Bruce Evans) arrived, as the departure time had been changed to 0600hrs for Sydney (Good Friday 1961) to attend many exercises prior to “Exercise Icebreaker”. The blokes grabbed the women and stuffed them into a wardrobe, which was then locked…. (Say no more!). (Our unit’s commitment to field exercises where intense, exercising nine months of the year and in this case we left at 0600 on Good Friday morning (April), and we returned to Melbourne on Melbourne Cup day of 1961.) Fortunately, when the convoy stopped at Albury on our way to Sydney, a frantic phone call was made to two members of our unit who had remained behind, and the ladies were released from the wardrobe, many hours later. (On our return from Icebreaker, we listened to the Melbourne Cup outside of Wangaratta.)

In those early days of the Pentropic Division scenario we had to dig our detachment (land rover and equipment), down below ground level and our accommodation under 26 inches of cover of logs and dirt, to protect us from an atomic blast. Anyway, we were digging in our land rover and the digging by hand was slow and hard, when one of our detachment members recognised his brother-in-law, an Engineer, driving a backhoe. The backhoe did a great job and was digging the last scoop when it hit a water main; you can guess the rest---back to the pick and shovels and we dug another hole nearby.

These are some of my fond memories of the LSF SIG SQN, 3 L of C Sig Regt, and there are many more stories that could be told! 


New Regiment and Vietnam War

RASigs Story 8

On the 11th March 1965, 2 Sig Regt was formed and replaced 3 L of C Regt with the structure of two ARA and one CMF Signal Squadron's.  The new Regt remained at Ivanhoe and Westgarth until the new compound was built and completed at Watsonia about 1967.

Between 1965 and 1966, 2 Sig Regt prepared 709 and 527 Signal Troops for service in South Vietnam and provided valuable service in Saigon and Bien Hoa.  In 1966, 527 and 709 Sig Tp were incorporated into the “145 Signal Squadron (145 Sig Sqn)”, which was replaced by “110 Signal Squadron (110 Sig Sqn) early in 1967. 

145 Sig Sqn returned to 2 Sig Regt and was used as a training unit for replacements to 110 Sig Sqn, instead of a complete replacement of unit.  They provided a flow of individual replacements to 110 Sig Sqn beginning in 1968.

110 Sig Sqn was operational and provided the rear HF link to Australian, tape relay centres and communication centres at Vung Tau and Saigon, a small communication security (COMSEC) detachment at Nui Dat and provided “Deployment Troop” for HQ TF rear link, during operations with 104 Sig Sqn.

In February 1972, with the withdrawal from Vietnam, the “Australian Advisory Assistance Group - Vietnam Signal Detachment” was formed and remained behind in Saigon until late 1972 before returning to Australia.

RASigs Story 8
Photo:  2 Sig Regt Elements, South Vietnam

In 1972, the CMF was restructured and the “Army Reserve Squadron” was disbanded and 2 Sig Regt became fully manned with ARA. 

2 Sig Regt was disbanded in 1993.

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