In December 1959, I had just marched into 2 RAR from 4 RAR as a very green, or should that be khaki, clad, young 17 year old soldier. The old 4 RAR was the corps training unit of the Australian Infantry where new soldiers like me underwent our Infantry corps training after completing recruit training. We were learning how to be basic infantrymen. The RSM of 4 RAR at the time was Warrant Officer Class 1 Ronald McDonald, better known behind his back, as “Ronnie the One”. We of course addressed him as Sir. Likewise all Officer and Warrant Officer instructors were called Sir and Lance Corporals and Corporals were called by their rank and when a Lance Corporal or Corporal spoke to us or yelled at us, we had to stand rigidly to attention and address them as Corporal.
During our time within 4 RAR learning to be infantrymen, Ronnie the One insisted that we were not soldiers yet as we had not yet earned the right to be called soldiers but we were referred to as “members”, that is, members of the Infantry corps but not yet soldiers. That title would be given to us on completion of corps training, hopefully.
On march-in to 2 RAR we were given the green lanyard of the battalion (later changed to black). Whilst in 4 RAR we were not permitted to wear a lanyard as we were not yet “soldiers”. We traded in our World War Two khaki drill uniforms and anklets web for the new jungle green uniform and black gaiters and traded in our old World War One .303 Lee Enfield rifles for the new 7.62 FN Self Loading Rifle. At last we had become “soldiers”.
A Corporal lined up all the new march-ins to A Company 2 RAR and asked our marital status. I was single so I was appointed as the section forward scout. Private Mick Carroll, later awarded an immediate Distinguished Conduct Medal in South Vietnam with 4 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) as a sergeant, was the section Bren gunner at the time. I had a little bit of concern before that though when the Corporal asked me my first name and having been caught out by this question in 4 RAR previously answered, “Private, Corporal” standing rigidly to attention as I had been taught to do. He then told us that his name was Norm Reed and that he was the platoon sergeant. I could not work this out; a Corporal who called me by my first name, who insisted that we call him by his first name and who then proceeded to shake my hand in welcome and then informed me that he was a Sergeant! Of course, he was acting Platoon Sergeant but my military career had not advanced enough for me to comprehend this.
On my first night in the battalion I was woken up about midnight by a Lance Corporal who asked who I was and would I like a beer. I did not know how to react to a Lance Corporal who again called me by my first name and who offered me a beer, at midnight! Attempting to adopt the position of attention whilst lying in my bed, I politely declined the offer of a beer but very quickly changed my mind when the barrel of a .38 pistol was rammed into my mouth and I was ordered to drink. I did and Lance Corporal Hank Snow and I became good friends after that.
This leads me to the point of the story. As a now junior soldier, I was attached to a work party two days later and was informed that the private soldier in charge of the work party was a senior soldier and he was to be afforded the same respect as an NCO. I thought to myself, this Digger has obviously just returned from active service in Malaya with the battalion, had a lot more soldiering experience including campaign service than I and deserved to be treated with that respect.
Some ten years later I discovered that this senior soldier had actually joined the Army some two months prior to me and that he was as green as I was, nearly! My number was 2411809 and his was 2411410. To this day I still continue to call Ken Cullen “Senior Soldier” and stand to attention before him when we meet. He refers to me as junior soldier and we enjoy each other’s company, and still have a laugh about the first time we met each other, some 51 years ago. Such is the warrior family of the RAR.