34 Intake Eels 1980
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34 Intake (EELS) 1980-1982
Throughout 1979, young boys across Australia and New Zealand were consumed with completing year 10 or 11 while negotiating the extensive recruitment and testing required for admission as an RAAF trade apprentice. For the capital city recruits this meant being dropped off by family or friends, a day of testing, then home again before repeating this again over the next few days. For the regional or rural boys, it was a different story. It almost defies belief, by current standards, that boys aged as young as 14 were loaded onto trains or buses, shipped to their respective capital cities and put up in accommodations near the recruitment centre. For Queenslanders, this meant a trip to ‘the big smoke’ and a few nights in either the People’s Palace or the Canberra Hotel, both Salvation Army Temperance hotels located on opposite corners of Ann Street and Edward Street in Brisbane. Many recall the apprehension felt staying alone in their room with the city noise, echoing voices and sirens that seemed to roll through the night, not too dissimilar to the scene in the Tom Hanks movie ‘Big’.
During this time, we meet new people, some would go on to be roommates at Wagga, some would be mates for life, and some we would never see again. The testing rolled on over several days, interspersed with table tennis matches as we waited to hear names called out and the numbers thinned. Many recall losing a couple of boys after each test; the mathematics tests; the mechanical aptitude tests with all those gears and levers; the English tests; and the Psychological tests where the greatest number disappeared. Some had just the one interview with the psychologists, others as many as three. Then the dreaded NCO recruiter called out names, this time the bulk of the boys that were not named were the ones to miss out and we never saw them again.
With testing successfully negotiated, our next visit to recruitment was for enlistment. We stood shoulder to shoulder, some with their parents watching on, some with news crews filming, and in unison we took the oath to defend our nation.
I, (name), swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors according to law, as a member of the Royal Australian Air Force and that I will resist her enemies and faithfully discharge my duty according to law. SO HELP ME GOD!
Then, on 15 January 1980, a succession of planes trains & automobiles carried the bulk of the boys destined to be 34 Intake to RAAFSTT Wagga Wagga, where they began their training as Technical Trade Apprentices. They came from every Australian state and territory and a duo from New Zealand. As had been the case for a number of previous intakes, Queenslanders dominated the numbers and, at 173 strong, 34 Intake was the largest intake since the 1960s. Initially, this necessitated forming eight Flights, with 1FLT through 6FLT roomed in Block 375 and 7FLT and 8FLT taking up the top floor of the adjacent Block 376. Within a few weeks of arrival, the natural attrition, as some found the life was not for them, saw the intake numbers and flights reduced. Members of 8 Flight were incorporated into the other 7 flights and life went on.
The first week saw us introduced to drill, vaccine parades, mess meal, rumbles, and the endless joy of having our fire alarm set off at night by 33 Intakes only to have the attending fire crews drill us for hours for inconveniencing them. Buying ‘adgie manuals’ became a necessity if we wanted to limit our exposure to the harsh environment of the parade ground.
We were treated to flavoured milk and fruit cake rations handed out at the Apprentice Club and devoured it with gusto as the workload and fitness regime increased our appetites to extraordinary levels. The mess was not the greatest food, but there was a lot of it and being asked every meal by the mess staff, ‘does your mother know you are here’, added light relief. The mess staff ultimately poked the bear once too often and 34 Intake had their fun ‘playing’ with ‘scabhead’ and ‘moon eyes’.
Keeping with tradition, 33 Intake christened us as EELS, However, not long after our arrival at Wagga, certain members of 34 Intake became involved in a procurement and pilfering program involving motor vehicles from the civilian airport. These nefarious nocturnal activities by a select few soon had the entire 34 Intake re-labelled as the ‘CRIMS’. The name stuck and like other names intended as a slur such as the Rats of Tobruk or 450SQN Desert Harassers, CRIMS is now embraced by 34 intake and worn as a badge of pride in defiance of those who tried to break us. Most can recall the accusations, the insistence to inform, the punishment parades, forced marches and the threats by the Commanding Officer RAAFSTT to cancel the intake and start again next year. Somehow though, we endured. Our first six weeks were done, trade training began in earnest and we were allowed into town, albeit in full blues uniform.
The rest of the first year involved school classes and general engineering. We continued to march and do parades, but now filing seemed to dominate our waking hours. The bane of many an apprentice was the aluminium dovetail, and if you needed the metal disintegrator, life was about to get tough. How many recall the long post lunch school lessons in the stifling Wagga heat with our heads rocking back and forth as we tried desperately not to nod off to the drone of the monotone instructor.
We discovered some short cuts like burning Kiwi Parade Gloss for an easier spit polish; that Brasso on our belt buckles worked well, but 50 cents invested at the key cutting shop in Wagga got the same result; and we learned to short sheet our beds so we could keep a full bed roll prepared. Some celebrated our first payday by pooling all the $50 notes for a photo of more money than we had ever seen, and though it seemed like a fortune, it barely covered a hamburger at AAFCANS, a ride to town and a skating or bowling session. The year culminated in the allocation of trades, some were pleased, others not… then we were on our way home for Christmas.
The next 15, or 18 months, depending on whether you were mechanical or electrical trades, flew by in a haze of practical and theory subjects followed by endless exams and the dreaded block exam where any previous topic could by tested. Failure had harsh consequences with discharge an ever-present threat, and success had its pitfalls as well, with a fire hydrant the usual consequence of topping a test. A trade visit to Amberley gave an insight into what was so tantalisingly close and then it was graduation time and off to our postings. Some of our brothers followed us, or crossed our paths throughout the years, others we never saw again, but they are never forgotten and reunions are rekindling old friendships.
Not everything we did was strictly legitimate We had our bouts, earned some bruises and formed our bonds. From nudie‑runs ruining the CO’s morning jog — enterprising apprentice brickies blocking access to the mess — pilfering Service Police lights and patrol cars — Vampires on parade — taxing the sanity of a tree-climbing WOD — ordered ‘No More Da Da Da Das” — the Eunony rope swing and bridge (especially at night) — the milk truck — hitchhiking EVERYWHERE — sneaking into the Drive-in (through holes in the fence or in the boot a car) — long waits at Sprogs Corner — and having access to more alcohol and weapons than any 15 to 16-year-old ever should. Few can attest to, or comprehend, a similar upbringing and this is what bonds as brothers.
Since graduating, we have spread to the far-reaches of the Antipodes, and for some, the world. In stark contrast to the estimations of many of our 1980s instructors and commanders, a number of our intake have had long and esteemed careers within the RAAF, both in military or civilian guise. Others influenced in significantly different ways, with contributions in mining, business, science, agriculture, and education. Sadly, not all of our brothers have lasted the journey and we will always remember their impact on our lives, their friendship, and their contribution in making us who we are.
Rest in Peace, Mark Bonney, Stephen Gum, Alexander Reeve, Peter Bell, Paul Moore, Gary Ecker, Andrew Cork, Kari Partenen & Ian Burgess. We will remember you.
We marched and marched
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