Grey nomad Phil Crockart recalls his early days in the RAAF, reflects on what his service meant to him, and discusses the bond he shares with all those who have served
My Dad (RIP) and I stood at the fence watching the gliders land at the RAAF base. I distinctly remember turning to Dad and telling him “I will be doing that one day”. Dad served in WW2 on the Kokoda track. He would never talk about that war. As an adult, I read books on Kokoda and understand why.
A young, excited, just turned 17 year old climbed aboard the Spirit of Progress at Central Station in Sydney 23rd January 1968. Thoughts of uniform, travel, weapons fire and drill, marching flooded my mind; the thought of war, killing and survival were never even thought about.
After “rookies” and training we joined the “real air force” actually working on aircraft.
When I was at Richmond (the same place Dad and I stood so many years before) I had a stark reminder of the reality of war. We had many US aircraft bringing wounded troops directly from the jungles of Vietnam. Some of these young men were pretty messed up with very obvious wounds and disabilities. The thought of war and heroism became less glossy for me. Luckily my trade (mustering) permitted me to choose mainland bases as well as overseas.
It was well after the end of my service to the air force that my wife and I travelled to Cowra in central NSW. We stood at the entrance of the POW camp and read the history of the Japanese breakout and the bloodshed that followed. We summoned up the courage and entered. This is a very “spooky” place. So many souls killed even during their internment, again the nasty reality of war came back to haunt me.
I am now 66 years old, have membership of our local RSL where I have met a number of chaps I served with, others who went to Vietnam and a few seriously messed up souls who can’t forget the war or the horrors they witnessed. Some folks think the RSL is for old fogies, tin hats and sandbags. I found it very refreshing to talk about old and now passed comrades. The camaraderie of these guys and ladies is outstanding, and irrespective of the service you served with (there is always great rivalry between the services).
In 2018 we are booked on a cruise to Alaska via Hawaii. During the two days at Honolulu I intend to visit and pay my respects at the USS Arizona memorial, tour the USS Missouri (mighty Mo) and the Pacific Air war museum. Why?
This is a question many will be asking. Personally, I visit these places to see, touch and relive the glory of older aircraft, ships and memorials. We often read accounts of the wars reasonably detached as they have not affected us on a personal level. For me, just thinking about the enormous sacrifice and desperate living conditions these poor sailors and soldiers had to put up with bring a tear of respect and admiration.
I have a wish list, it is visits to places like Auschwitz, the Dardanelles and Vietnam. I believe that most ex service people reading this will understand.
One day I will stand in the fields of Flanders and the sands of Gallipoli, not from any morbid perspective but to try and understand how these troops felt when they arrived so long ago.
My ancestors were warriors in many battles. The reason we do this is unknown to me, call it national pride, patriotism or just blind adventure seekers I will never know.
I became a servicemen for many reasons. I love this country. I had a huge plethora of excitement and adventure during my career as well as gaining a useful trade. I met many young men with similar spirit.
As a grey nomad I look out for other ex soldiers, sailors and airmen at happy hours, boy these guys know how to party. The stories we tell of adventure and just crazy antics is refreshing.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we Forget