HORRIE looked very miserable in his bath; he'd long since forgotten what bath-water was. But he suffered the indignity in disdain at our astonishment at the army of fleas a small pup can harbour. We dried him on Fitz's towel, which pleased him more than it would Fitz. Happy as Larry, he scampered in and out of the tent and up and down upon the bunks making himself at home.
"'He'll stay," declared Don.
"He's joined up with the 2nd A.I.F. for the duration," I replied, and felt really pleased.
"Better not make too sure," warned Don. And I knew he was thinking of the day when we must get our marching orders.
In time for the sundown meal the absconding Rebels came innocently strolling back to camp. It gives a soldier a glow to dodge a fatigue.
Horrie the Wog-dog enjoyed his evening meal then waddled thoughtfully to my bunk, his bingy almost touching the ground. He let himself flop to the sandy floor then gazed at us with one ear cocked, saying plainly as words "Thanks, boys. I've had a great day."
Don and I scrounged a few boards and some straw from the quartermaster's store. We rigged Horrie's bunk comfortably in the middle of the tent while the boys stripped off and sprawled at ease in their bunks, lazily smoking as they watched the show. The Wog-dog heaved himself up and waddled across to see what was doing. Sitting back comically he watched proceedings with keen interest, his head cocked to listen as the lads passed some remarks.
"That pot-bellied, shrewd little desert rat knows every word we're saying."
And the Wog-dog glanced cunningly at the speaker.
"He knows the bunk is being built for him," declared Fitz.
Don and I tried to induce him to enter the bunk, but he developed another interest in life and sidled towards Gordie's bunk with speculative expression. Gordie snatched down his socks as the pup sprang to grab them. With an excited yelp he wheeled around and charged Fitz's bunk, but Fitz was just in time. Feathers was a second too slow, for with a delighted yelp the Wog-dog ripped the socks from his hand and made straight out the tent door.
At last we coaxed him into his bunk from which his little head gazed at us saying: "Very well, now you've got me in the box! What's the fun now?"
He answered his own question by leaping out of the box and diving under Murchie's bunk. In an instant pandemonium broke out, frantic yelping of the Wog-dog, showers of sand.
"Your wretched snakes!" yelled Don and dived under to rescue the Wog-dog while Feathers laughed delightedly. Feathers could see fun in the most serious situation.
By the time Don dragged the excited pup away inquisitive heads were poking in through the door of the tent.
"Take your wretched snakes to the devil out of this!" Shouted Poppa.
"Go fry your face," snapped Murchie. "I'm going to try an experiment first; see if I can get any life out of them."
"Your beastly snakes will kill a man one of these days," roared Poppa. "If ever you bring another pet snake into my sight, I'll dong it and you too!"
"Go and bag your head," growled Murchie as he dragged the box from under the bed. Lifting the heavy stone from the lid he gazed fondly down upon his pets. And a nasty lot of wrigglers they looked.
"Get your experiment over," demanded Don as he clung to the Wog-dog.
With a fanatical gleam in his eye Murchie thoughtfully began preparing some apparatus consisting of several copper wires, a gadget or two, and a car battery. We watched while the struggling Wog-dog barked himself nearly into hysterics.
"Quieten that pup," commanded Murchie as he fondled an asp, "so that I can explain the experiment. It's this way," he went on and slowly connected a terminal to the battery. "Cleopatra died by clutching an asp to her breast after learning that Mark Antony had been killed. Now, Cleo had it and plus — no man was safe within a hundred miles of her. I've often wondered what this fatal attraction of hers was — whether it had something material in it, something like magnetic waves or personal electricity or something like that. If I could find out what these 'Come-hither' waves were, then extract 'em from the air or corpses or something, if only I could bottle up this 'Come-hither elixir' I'd make a fortune after the war. Pondering over this and trying to analyse Cleo's feelings I've come to the conclusion that the secret lies in her vibrations at the time. She must have been all keyed up. So I wondered how did she grasp that asp. Did she fold it to her breast with gently trembling hand, or did she crush it to her like a centurion in a death grip? I'm going to find out."
He picked up the other lead from the battery and stabbed an asp with a charge of electricity.
Murchie went sprawling, Rebels leapt up to bunks and a frantic Wog-dog was chasing agitated snakes all across the floor. From outside the tent a scurry of sounds told of a lively stampede.
When it was all over Murchie proceeded to crawl under bunks, searching for snakes. Every now and then from a tent outside would come a yell followed by sounds of evacuation. Sounds arose of an angry Protest Committee approaching the tent.
Thus passed the Wog-dog's first night in camp; it was hopeless to try and hide him now.
Well, you've met Horrie the Wog-dog, so I'll introduce you to ourselves.
Officially, we were the Signal Platoon of the 2/1 M/G. Battalion. But to the camp we were "The Rebels". Always one, and usually two or three were in trouble, through no fault of our own.
"Who's for the 'mat' today?" would generally be Feathers's lazy salute to the dawn. And sure as fate some gloomy soul would have to toe the mat, or otherwise dodge retribution. On many a morning the sergeant's report of our particular Section on Parade would read:
"On parade, 10. Duties, 5. Sick, 2. A.W.L. 2." We would try all we knew by innocence and bland subterfuge to camouflage the misdeeds of our mates away without leave, and often managed to lay a smoke-screen between them and wrathful authority. You see, there was the fascinating Lost City not so very far away to explore, a dead city of ancient times, while not so many miles away rose the eastern spires of a very attractive, very wicked live city — Alexandria.
George Murchison was "Murchie" to us, a venturesome young Aussie with a ready grin. Mischief and he were cobbers; he was our Signal Officer's No. 1 "Problem Child". His sandy hair was seldom brushed, his boots were dusty, his smiling cheeks decorated with patches of stubble. His manner of shaving was to "get the jolly thing over." He'd tear the razor once down each cheek, then down the chin and uppercut the neck. He'd murmur "Thank goodness that's done!" and wipe the soap off on anybody's towel. An absolute menace with firearms, he had pock-marked the tent roof with bullet holes. To our startled yell he would grin "Sorry! Didn't know she was loaded." We were suspicious of these "accidental" shootings for Murchie was a crack shot and an expert with rifle mechanism. He would clean the lethal weapon with a care ludicrously at variance with his care of his own person. Absorbed in his task when we were immersed in our own, suddenly "Bang!" and another bullet sped through the roof.
"You flaming coot!" Poppa would roar, "you did that on purpose!"
"Sorry," Murchie would grin. "She just went off!"
"And so will you one of these days, you grinning hyena," Poppa would declare.
Fate had burdened Murchie with an insatiable love of adventure and two nerve-racking kinks of humour — his joy at frightening six month's growth out of us with an unexpected rifle shot, and his mania for collecting snakes. He would wander for hours in the desert, overturning stones and collecting asps and other poisonous crawlers. These he secreted in a box under his bunk and waited quietly smoking in the evening for the unearthly yell when some unlucky wight trod on a reptile surreptitiously released from the box. Murchie really was trying at times, but a better mate never wore boot-leather. As to soldiering on, he was always hungry for action and was an excellent signaller; this helped our officer, who was keen on efficiency, to overlook Murchie's shortcomings. You see, there were no snakes in the officer's tent.
George Harlor was "Gordie" to us — a lean, dark, brown-eyed quiet chap not so quiet under the surface. His particular hobby was making wireless sets from bits of wires and gadgets he'd souvenired here and there. At most inopportune moments our conversation would be interrupted by ear-splitting shrieks and whistles as Gordie tried out some new machine. Sometimes the shrieking gadget would "run away from him", as Poppa expressed it, while we held our hands to our ears and yelled in angry opposition, which did not seem to worry Gordie in the least. He was to develop into a wizard in wireless but his experiments certainly frayed our nerves. Very popular with the Rebels, he'd be in on anything and could always be relied upon to think of a quick way out when we got into a scrape.
Bert Fitzsimmons "Fitz" to us, was a six footer. Blessed by a pair of laughing blue eyes he was wonderfully quick-witted, a master at repartee; whether resting in the tent or on the march he could keep us alive with his sparkling wit. He and Gordie were nearly inseparable. Fitz loved a joke and was a dinkum soldier too. His pastime when nothing was doing was the great national game, "Two-up". In leisure hours Fitz could generally be found at a two-up game. When the officers declared a blitz against two-up, Fitz's quick wit countered by organizing "Marbles". The ring was drawn as close as possible to the officers' mess, and these gentlemen stared in puzzled amazement at their harum-scarum lads deeply immersed in the game of marbles. The marbles were a camouflage for pennies.
Brian Featherstone was "Feathers" to the Rebels. The baby of the section, he was a tall lad with twinkling blue eyes, a mop of sandy hair and a fresh, boyish complexion. The direct opposite to Murchie in general appearance, he was always smart in attire and on parade. An excellent signaller, he earned stripes but his irrepressible spirits made the holding of them highly problematical.
Delighting in a joke, he saw fun in everything and was the bane of Poppa's life; he was in his element when slyly teasing Poppa. That grizzled old warrior darkly hinted at the dire happenings Fate held in store for the larrikin. A lot of Poppa's time and persuasive language were spent in getting that same larrikin out of innumerable scrapes.
Bill Shegog was "The Gogg". The Gogg was a tall chap with medium-coloured hair and somewhat sallow complexion, a signaller as good as the best of us and with a dry wit of his own. He was a "hard doer" and one of the "characters" of the section. Among his other worthy attributes the Gogg was blessed with that priceless gift of "smelling out" beer, should any of that delectable fluid be secreted within miles of the camp. A keen sportsman, he was also an artist with brush and pencil; he brightened us up with sketches of dusky and unclothed damsels. The Gogg was also in on anything that was doing, and did not mind mixing it in a brawl when any of the section got into trouble.
My particular cobber Was Don Gill, my dispatch-rider mate. A rather quiet chap with very dark hair and brown eyes, Don was destined with me to run the gauntlet in many a breathless ride in the grim days swiftly coming. A good soldier, though a bit of a wag, he would stick like glue and was very popular with the section.
And now we come to "Poppa", grizzled old veteran Roy Brooker, the section's signal-sergeant. We were very lucky; Poppa was a real gem even though a rough diamond.
He had apparently been somewhat absent-minded when giving his age on enlistment. This was a so-called "young man's war", but Poppa must have seen at least fifty summers and winters go by. "Mostly winters," declared Fitz, "judging by that weather-beaten countenance."
"It is a face that can withstand the ravages of time," Poppa would reply, "not like some faded roses I could name."
Poppa's mousey hair was not too plentiful, but service with the 1st A.I.F. at Gallipoli and in the Desert had not cured his appetite for adventure nor slowed him up at all. He often set a pace that made us younger fellows sit up and take notice. A Dinkum Aussie was Sergeant Poppa — one of the best. Secretly, the Rebel section was the pride of his life, though he'd never admit it. The old tyrant would roar threats of a certain court martial at us each time we were caught in another wild escapade. Still rumbling threats he'd stride out of the tent en route to headquarters, and when he got there he'd work every old-soldier trick he knew to get us out of the trouble.
Yes, Poppa was the strict disciplinarian with the heart of a lion, a kindly old lion. It took us a very long time to realize that he possessed that priceless knack of understanding and sympathising with anyone's hidden human complexes, without the man concerned having the faintest idea. With this priceless instinct in his make-up it is easy to understand that Poppa was able to get the very best out of any man, and that best was given willingly.
And now, our officer. Last maybe, but no one would have said he was the least. Lieutenant Jim Hewitt, "Big Jim" to us. A wonderful physical specimen of over six feet, with shoulders like a working bullock, and a capacity for work that would have made a draught horse appear like a sissy. A keen and efficient soldier, his sense of duty we secretly guessed sometimes clashed with his sense of the human. He would do anything for us but he demanded and got the best from every man. With an officer like him and a sergeant like Poppa, the Australian private is unbeatable by any troops in the world, no matter how harum-scarum, irresponsible headaches those same privates may be when there "isn't any war on". Big Jim was a great sportsman also, and particularly keen on anything he tackled, whether military matters, sport, or anything else. There were times, indeed, when we strained his patience and it would have gone hard with us were not each man thoroughly efficient at his job. Even when we broke over the traces though, we had his complete confidence and in return would have backed him up to the last. This mutual wariness but confidence was to stand the Wog-dog in good stead for we suspected Big Jim turned the "blind eye" on various coming occasions when it was touch and go as to whether the Rebels were to lose the Wog-dog or not.
And so you know all of us of the Rebels. And history tells you all about our battalion. Now to the adventures of Horrie the Wog-dog.
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