THE CASTLE By Chris Laurenson, 8/9 RAR SGT (Pipe Major)
“Beating The Retreat”… The word was out!… 8/9 Battalion was going to have one of the most complicated parades to execute – Beating The Retreat. A feeling of dread swept over the battalion as the Old Soldiers remembered the many agonising hours involved in rehearsals on a stinking hot parade ground. Suddenly the sick queue at the RAP got longer in an attempt to escape the inevitable.
Yes, the RSM, WO1 Rod Slater had sent out the warning order and the first Co-ord conference date was established.
As Pipe Major of the battalion at the time, I of course had to attend the Co-ord Conference as the Pipes & Drums in conjunction with AABB (Australian Army Band Brisbane) played a major role in the parade.
So we all trundled up to the BHQ Conference Room where all the key participants assembled to make this whole thing work.
After a lengthy conference and all the key duties had been sorted, it got to the part where a backdrop castle of a temporary nature was being discussed. This task was usually allocated to SPT COY pioneers, and rightly so – a few star pickets – hessian and a bit of paint. Too easy; they could handle that!
But no! I had to put my two bobs’ worth in! Sir! I happen to know of a professionally, no-expenses-spared castle built by the RAAF, which is stored up in Toowoomba. I am sure they would loan it to us for our parade. Thinking I had scored my Brownie Points for making such a well-informed and timely suggestion, I sat back in my seat, a proud and well-meaning Pipe Major.
Then came those words which were to haunt me for many weeks to come… “That’s great, Pipes… Get it !”
I was stunned. Wasn’t that the QM’s job to requisition stores, supplies etc?
I had just been tasked to Get it! For God’s sake, I was the Pipe Major – Mr. Music! So as depression set in, I arranged to meet the keeper of The Castle and do all the necessary paperwork to borrow it.
I got approval from the RAAF to borrow The Castle. I did a Recce to see how big this thing was. Well, it filled a huge storeroom the size of a bloody wool shed.
“Mission accomplished, Sir,” I finally told the RSM, wiping my brow confidently!
Then those haunting words spewed out of Rod Slater’s mouth again… “Great, Pipes. Go and get it !”
I was stunned again. Go and get it??? Isn’t that the bloody TPT SGT’s job – to transport troops, stores, water… and CASTLES???
Head down and arse up, I got all the details from the RAAF as to what vehicles were required to move The Castle. Four Semis, six Unimogs, etc… Finally she was loaded and the massive convoy left Toowoomba, down the range, and finally arrived on 8/9 parade ground where forklifts worked to unload this massive load of aluminium frames, sheeted in aluminium and painted to look just like a real castle. It had ramparts, turret towers, massive double gates and filled the whole backstretch of the parade ground.
By then I’d been so busy that I hadn’t even been to the music rehearsals for the parade. I was finally able to catch up on my real job – Pipe Major!
I fronted the RSM, now exhausted after being wrongfully overtasked and looking for a break. “Sir, The Castle is here!”
“Yip!!! Those haunting words again!!! “Great, Pipes… Assemble it!”
I was by now too sick to even show my frustration. I staggered away, muttering incoherently. What did your last slave die of, you prick of an RSM???
Luckily, I was a carpenter prior to joining the Army so my knowledge of building processes held me in good stead. A couple of the guys from the RAAF, who’d previously assembled The Castle, gave me a soldiers’ five on where to start. I thanked these two guys down the Sgts’ Mess by getting them a few drinks on the PMC’s Card. I got in the shit for that too but it was great to get one back on the RSM.
The Castle looked absolutely incredible. I looked a mess and had to catch up on all the music bit. The parade was the best Beating The Retreat ever seen in Enoggera Barracks – soldiers up in the towers, patrolling the high ramparts, and soldiers in the two sentry boxes outside The Castle Gates – all floodlit and looking stunning!
To this day I wonder whether RSM Rod Slater gave me all those tasks to develop my problem-solving skills or was he just an absolute bastard.
I felt I made that parade the huge success that it was, but sometimes it pays to keep your bloody mouth shut!
If you are short of everything but the enemy, you are in the combat