A Random Thought from Thursday

I thought I should launch into a description of Australians in general. Now don’t get me wrong, there are Aussies of many types, and some will disagree with what I say here. We have our uptight few, we have our tree huggers, corporatists, and everything in between.

But in my experience, if you want to understand Aussies, portray them successfully, or get along with them, you need to understand one thing. At the core, we can’t take anything too seriously. We need to find a funny side or do something to break overwrought tension.

Not to the point where it becomes dangerous, at least usually. (There is always that one guy who takes it too far, am I right?) But to the point where people can relax.

There is a part of us that revels in irreverence and what we call ‘Shit-stirring.’ This is not bullying in most cases. (See the comment above.) It is something we do to raise everyone on our side’s spirits.

An excellent example of this can be found in two stories from World War Two. They are probably apocryphal, but they speak to Aussies. Note – some people may not want to read either of these stories, especially the second one. The first one is more on the line of a practical joke mixed with psychological warfare. The second is more bloody and bloodthirsty. This was war, after all.

Both start with Aussie units at Tobruk. It sometimes starts or ends with, ‘the patrol leaders would go on to help form the Australian SAS.’

On deep patrol, within enemy siege line, the unit encountered an Italian Army camp. Slipping past the guards, they found no one else in the camp awake. Rather than cause chaos by attacking the supply dump, they did something more subtle. One of the soldiers spoke, read, and wrote Italian.

The CO knew eliminating a single company or battalion would do little to relieve the siege. He took out a field notebook and pencil and told the trooper to write ‘You’re dead’ on the top and bottom of the page for the back half of the notebook.

After tearing them out carefully, he distributed them to his men and had them sneak into each tent. The men were to leave them on every second Italian trooper. Then they were to steal the left boot from the foot of the camp bed of every Italian soldier who did not receive a note.

The patrol retreated before dawn and waited, hidden, but close enough to the Italian camp to observe it through binoculars. Pandemonium erupted from within when the soldiers awoke and discovered the notes, accusations thrown at soldiers who seemed to think it was a prank from one of the guards. Then they found the missing left boots…

The next one, also at Tobruk, is about a unit of Australian Combat Engineers, and may actually be true. Shifting enemy mines was a priority for the commander at Tobruk, an Australian, Leslie Morehead, then a Brigadier. The Germans in WW2 were well known for laying out mines in a set pattern. This was so they could raid across their own minefields and retreat safely behind them.

The Australians had captured a German officer who had on him a copy of the standard mine layout. The CO of this unit had memorized it, and when his unit discovered a German minefield, he decided to do something about it. He and his men lifted all but four mines – the ones at the edges of the fields. Rearranging them randomly, they then pulled back and waited.

That night, a German unit moved through the minefield. Several of their men were blown up by mines where they should not have been. Trying to retreat, they encountered more mines.

One German soldier, perhaps a bit smarter than the others, saw a rock nearby. Jumping onto it, he found safety. Seeing another rock he could leap to that was close to the German side of the minefield, he jumped for it.

The rock and the man who landed on it were blown up by a booby trap. In addition to shifting the mines, the combat engineers had rigged several rocks in the minefield with explosive booby traps.

The Aussie units in Tobruk were given the nickname ‘The Rats of Tobruk.’ To have been a Rat became, and still is, in my opinion, a badge of honor. They even have a Veteran’s Association, complete with commemorative insignia.

Perhaps a more modern and less military example will be helpful.

Let us take ARSE. This is a parody space agency. The initials stand for Australian Research and Space Exploration. Yet a part of me, and of many Australians, I am sure, sorta wish our government had the balls to name the space agency this.

(They went with the boring, and often lost in the noise, ASA, ‘Australian Space Agency.’ It sounds disappointingly like a sub-section of NASA.)

While ARSE would not have been respected as a name outside the country, I reckon many locals would have been getting behind it and pushing hard. It would also be a reminder that in any serious project, you need to have a little fun. You need to enjoy the work you are doing, no matter how serious. Laughter and humor are always important.

Even with a name like that, it would have attracted people with talent. Maybe some of them would be a little off the wall. Who cares? Another word for people who are a bit unusual is innovators.

A bit of larrikinism that doesn’t hurt anyone should always be enjoyed.

If you enjoyed the military stories in this post, you may well enjoy The Pandora Solution HERE

If you enjoy both you may also enjoy Mage and Mate, co-written with Taki Drake, HERE

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