THE TULLY SERPENT By John Murray, C Coy 6 RAR – 2003
Tully was home of the Army’s jungle warfare training school. For a young soldier, it was a place name you’d hear thrown around the boozer, usually in connection with stories of rain, prickly “wait-a-while” vines, mosquitoes, snakes and the general discomfort of heavy packs, damp clothing and a chafed groin. It was staffed by wizened old Vietnam veterans, who espoused silence and camouflage above all other things, yet took great delight in detonating slabs of high explosive in close proximity to your person. This was done to simulate the initiation of an ambush, and you would then be urged to crawl forward “on your guts” through the thorns, nettles, mud and vines to retaliate with your own simulated fire. A set of dry clothes had to be preserved for sleeping in, because whatever you wore on patrol or piquet was invariably going to be saturated within minutes of throwing it on. Mosquito nets were erected at night and sleeping bags were carefully packed away when not in use so as to prevent them from being occupied by any of the region’s venomous snakes. In the morning everything went back in your pack and you set off in damp clothing on the day’s patrolling. It was often said by the senior soldiers in the boozer that you weren’t a real soldier until you’d been through Tully. But then again, many things were said in the boozer.
When I eventually found myself lying behind a gun at 0530h in the Tully jungle, I remember thinking that the old boozer stories held a fair amount of truth to them, which is quite remarkable for boozer stories. There were some occasions in Tully when I even think that they’d not talked it up enough. My clothes were damp, cam paint clung uncomfortably to my freshly shaved face, and several nerve endings around my waist were loudly announcing to my brain that some skin had worn off from the rubbing of my ammunition pouches. The only sound was the patter of rain on the leaves, as the sunlight slid through the glossy greenery that encompassed our perimeter. All this was quite serene in its own way and I tried to enjoy the relative tranquillity of the moment as I knew the rest of the day would involve much shouting, firing, crawling, firing and more crawling. As a gunner, accustomed to carrying a heavier load than the rest of the section on patrol, to lie in the mud facing out was as good as life got on an exercise.
The morning calm was to end sooner than I expected. From behind me, through the heavy jungle air, came a loud crash and a piercing scream of “SNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE”. From the corner of my eye, I spied Private Walker from my neighbouring pit come crashing through the foliage with his face contorted in fear. Limbs flailing, and with occasional glances over his shoulder, he bounded gracelessly over mossy logs, through the vines, and somewhat parallel to the track plan, before announcing to the entire platoon, “It’s chasing meeeeeeee.” He took several more steps, only to halt and stare sheepishly at the trail of broken vegetation in his wake. All around him, camouflaged faces popped up and turned inwards to see the commotion. With great indignity, and to the amusement of the platoon, he then confessed what he had now only just realised in the early morning light – that the seven-foot green serpent that had pursued him was none other than his own mosquito net, entangled in his boot.
PS – If he had not been caught sleeping on piquet while his pit mate was masturbating one night, this would be the thing he would be most remembered for.
When you have secured the area, make sure the enemy knows it too.