Within the Australian Army, strict discipline was essential in order to get the job done, without constraints arising from troops questioning decisions that might require immediate action. To achieve this essential goal, a strict code of Military Law was applied and a hierarchy of signified rank was established, to ensure that the code was administered and enforced.
Commissioned officers from Lieutenant General down through Major General, Brigadier, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, Major, Captain and Lieutenant formed the upper echelon of the hierarchy. They formulated strategy and policy in accordance with the wishes of the current government and carried out executive duties as well as having a judicial role. The next tier in the hierarchy included all the Non-Commissioned Officers (N.C.Os) from Warrant Officer down through Staff Sergeant, Sergeant, Corporal and Lance Corporal. It was their job to ensure that the orders of the Commissioned Officers were carried out to the letter and also to institute proceedings against any recalcitrant. In the army, approximately 72% of the members were without hierarchical rank.
The army of course is part of the Public Service and like all Public Service departments, reward via promotion is closely tied to compliance with the values and wishes of immediate superiors. ‘Rock the boaters’ are left languishing at the bottom of the ladder. This time-‘honoured’ system unfortunately does little to encourage innovative behaviour and thought, and thus, evolution towards improvement. As is the case in all groups of employment, there were many with and a few without the talent necessary to carry out their particular assigned role. Abuse of power was rare (from my limited experience and anecdotal evidence) but nevertheless did occur. This, coupled with occasional instances of incompetence and the adherence to a supplicatory system of salute and address ensured that a blend of wariness and resentment was a constant state that prevailed in the minds of the average Australian ‘Digger’. This attitude towards authority was compounded due to the latter’s intrinsic egalitarian nature.
“There are no bad troops; only bad officers!”
- Duke of Wellington, 1814.
“A problem for the Army was that I wanted to think too much!”
- Captain Norm Freewheel, in The Long Gray Line by Rick Aitkinson.
Intrinsic in all our animal worlds,
There are queens, kings, slaves and warders;
Peasants and knights, barons, dukes and earls,
All involved in ‘pecking orders’.
In army life, ’tis a similar scene,
With each rank, a particular role;
Power plays supreme, it would seem,
’Tis a form of social control.
Starting as young as seventeen,
’Twas a chance to begin a career;
Brainwashing ‘boys’, how it was seen,
Receiving regular ‘kicks in the rear’.
And yet, an age of 20 selected,
For naïve new ‘Nashos’ sent,
Away to obey, what was expected,
Too young then, to know what it meant.
Teens each wrapped, in a ‘cottonwool coat’,
Certain backlash if any killed;
Yet, older ones would’ve had ‘The Vote’ ,
And then maybe, too self-willed.
’Twas a clever choice, by men who ‘knew’,
Protesters dismissed as ‘loonies’ ;
Most ‘pollies’ sons and the wealthy few,
Able to hide in the ‘Unies’.
Freedom first lost, mid ’65,
For young faces, last time in ‘civvies’;
No Mum nor Dad to help survive,
Dressed in jeans and T-shirts or ‘skivvies’.
White belts and gaiters on Provo guards,
An arrogant ilk, ’twas well ingrained;
M.P. armbands, as I.D. cards,
Now on our way to be retrained.
And so, lowest in this pyramid,
’Twas a Private, polishing boots;
Unless you count 3 months we did,
Just starting as Army Recruits.
Our Instructors were all N.C.Os,
Non-commissioned, each seemed a ‘crank’;
Kicking our arse, ‘getting up our nose’,
Unwritten code, for those with rank.
* * *
A ‘Lance Jack’ wore one chevron stripe,
Stepping on the promotional rung;
Usually of an ambitious type,
Yet, still close to that bottom ‘dung’.
Section Commander, came next in line,
A leader of nine ’twas his lot;
‘Spun warries’ at home, most of the time,
Some absent, when the action got ‘hot’.
Aussie sergeants, t’were hard to like,
With different roles to their ‘Yank’ namesakes;
‘Charge-happy’ it seemed, ready to strike,
And so aptly we called them ‘snakes’.
Restricted to camp, a ‘base wallah’s’ fate,
Preferring life’s slower pace,
3 stripes with a crown, sluggish, overweight,
Staff sergeants ruled Q-Stores at base.
Rewards for bullies who bellowed,
‘At home’ on parade during ‘drill’ ;
Most Sergeant Majors rarely mellowed,
Even in camp ‘round that hill.
End of advance, for all N.C.Os,
Couldn’t step up any further in ‘class’;
‘Gold’ shoulder ‘pips’ were worn by those,
Collectively referred to as ‘brass’.
A ‘special breed’, so some thought indeed,
All others of inferior ‘race’,
A salute as homage they seemed to need,
When both groups came face to face.
‘Empire relics’, strutting ‘round most days,
Acknowledged only their peers;
Lower ranks bemused, by such displays,
Since something seemed ‘stuck up their rears’.
And out on patrol, out from that knoll,
Young ‘Louies’ controlled our lives;
Just one mistake could raise the toll,
Chaplains visiting mothers or wives.
Yet, above that level, facts can’t hide,
Memories and sorrow, mixed with angst;
Chiefs bathed in glory, as Indians died,
A driving force for higher ranks.