Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Western Sydney veterans share stories for Remembrance Day

Tales of conscription, rations and grenade throwing have been shared by Western Sydney veterans in an interview series to mark Remembrance Day.

The series ‘In their own words stories of service from Pinegrove Memorial Park,’ shares candid memories about time in the armed services from members of the Rooty Hill RSL sub-branch.

The interviews were recorded at Pinegrove Memorial Park, Minchinbury, and will air on SWR FM for Remembrance Day.

SWR FM presenter Wayne ‘Busco’ Buscombe asks the veterans about why they joined the armed services, how the experience affected them, their fondest memories and what Remembrance Day means to them.

Rooty Hill RSL sub-branch President Alf Davey, and Secretary Alex Mangion, didn’t join the
armed services voluntarily – both were conscripted.

Mr Davey recalled how he was called up via the ‘Birthday Ballot’ when he was 19 but got a
deferment while completing his apprenticeship. Afterwards, he got another call-up but did his best to avoid going.

“One day I went to the service station next door and got myself a little bottle of Coke,” he recalled.

“I’m coming back, and these two suits walked towards me. They said, ‘excuse me, do you know where Alfred Davey is?’… One of them said ‘are you Alfred John Davey?’ I said, ‘yep,’. Two Commonwealth dudes grabbed me on the shoulders – I was in the army.

“You can’t hide forever, so they just shipped me off down to Watsons Bay, cut me (sic) hair and that was it.”

Mr Davey also recalled the time that he “nearly blew himself up” with a grenade during a training exercise.

“You pull the grenade off the pin, hold it out… and you have to look through the eye of it to make sure it’s clear. Keep in mind you have got to throw this at somebody, hopefully to kill them. So, you have got to sing out ‘clear’, I’ve gone ‘oh (expletive)’, I dropped it. The instructor came up, grabbed the grenade, threw it over the pit …I was shaking like anything.

“I failed the grenade range.”

Unlike Mr Davey, Mr Mangion was okay with the fact he had been conscripted as he knew going to Vietnam wasn’t a possibility.

“I was happy to do it. The troops had come home in the middle of ’72 so as far as Australia was concerned, the Vietnam War was over for us.”

Mr Mangion, an electrician by trade, found the training at Kapooka (near Wagga Wagga)

“They got my weight down, they got me moving better… I failed in the swimming side of it because I was not a good swimmer. One Corporal wanted to fail me, another one told him to get lost and let me float around… he passed me,” he recalled.

Rooty Hill RSL sub-branch Vice President Pete Hamrol couldn’t wait to join the Navy after expressing his desire to “be a sailor” around 10 years of age.

Mr Hamrol enlisted at 15-and-a-half years of age in Adelaide and trained in Perth before going to sea with HMAS Duchess.

“I asked to be in the electrical division but after that I wasn’t really that interested, I was more interested in machinery, so I switched over to the marine engineering or mechanical engineering side of things, that’s how I ended up in the Navy,” he said.

Mr Hamrol travelled around Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

He helped provide logistical support in Vietnam, where he spent 24 hours in a harbour that was in the war zone.

“The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army was that close… it was a bit frightening too
because all the old, experienced sailors said you’ve got floating mines and all that coming down from the harbour.”

Rooty Hill RSL sub-branch member and former army private Norm Finch also served in Vietnam – and he served food.

Mr Finch, who enlisted for the army, was a cook, a creative job where he got to make different types of fare.

“We had pretty good rations to use – a lot of it was fresh, a lot of it wasn’t,” he said.

“The worst part was the ration packs… there were basics in the ration packs but once you were in camp the food was pretty good.”

For all four men, Remembrance Day is a time to reflect on the past and acknowledge those who have served.

Asked what November 11 means to him, Mr Finch said: “Remembrance Day means that you remember the people that have served and who were lost overseas, normally mates and the friends you made that never came back, not only from Vietnam but from all wars and places that the Australian armed forces have served.”

SWR FM has been airing the interviews with the men this week, while Pinegrove Memorial Park is sharing video footage of the interviews on its social channels.

Pinegrove Memorial Park is also holding a wreath laying service for Remembrance Day, beginning at 9.30am.

Click on this link to view the video interviews.

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