“I meant to find the place where all good things begin– Lord Huron
To smell her scent and watch her dancing in the wind
And I when I die I want her lying by my side
In my grave.”
I couldn’t have imagined a less likely series of events to have played out that winter in Queensland. So many things had to go just right at exactly the right time for everything to have worked out the way it did. To this day I have never experienced anything like it.
I’d been an Infantry officer for five years and the Army reserves for eight by the time I went to the Land Warfare Centre in Queensland in the winter of 1997. I say “winter”, but Queensland isn’t known for its skiing. The worst we could expect was an overnight temperature of 10° C. If we were really unlucky then we might see our breath one morning. Not quite the same as the sub-zero Canberra’s winter mornings that I was used to.
The camp was supposed to be an entire Rifle Company – about 100 men – deployed to the LWC on operational exercise. The company was made up of soldiers from the different corps throughout the Brigade and including, unusually for Rifle Company, three women. None of the women were assigned to my original platoon so I didn’t speak to or interact with any of them during the early parts of the camp.
As I also was their superior, I didn’t not look at them as anything more than soldiers to train and command. However, my counterpart, Scott Highman, had different ideas. He was very sure of himself and made it clear to me on the first night of the camp that Private Benaud, the 20-year-old student, would be his before we got back to Sydney.
I thought Scott was overly confident in his abilities, and a bit of a dick in general, but as I had no interest in a hook up, I really didn’t care what he got up to. They were both adults, but we were at a regular army base and fraternisation of any kind would not be tolerated. Fraternisation is an old timey army concept which can mean whatever the army wants at any given moment but basically means: hands off.
Pte Benaud superficially appeared to me to be “okay looking” but a bit of a tomboy. And even though her short blonde hair was kind of my thing; her having to wear a hat and shapeless cams everywhere, often smothered in cam cream and covered dirt didn’t do anything to enhance her femininity. Moreover, I never saw her smile and there was nothing there to pique my interest.
Pte Benaud was also one of the best soldiers in the Company. She was exceptionally diligent and keen to learn. The perfect solider to be honest. I got the feeling that no one would be able to meet her high standards long enough to take her mind off her duty. This feeling was further born out when one-night, mid-camp, we all had to stand in front of the Company and say something about ourselves. Pte Benaud said she was studying biology at university but as she walked away, she said loud enough for the assembly to hear that, “I also like blonde guys with big muscles!” I took it at face value, but I later wondered if someone(s) had already hit on her, and she trying to dissuade further suitors from cornering her.
At the time the camp began I had been in a relationship for almost five years. I had met Liz at officer training and a few years later we also began to work at the same office in Canberra. She had been my first girlfriend, so it took a long time for me to realise that we weren’t suited on many levels. If either of us had been brave enough it would have ended long ago or, if I had had my wits about me, it probably never would have started. Our relationship had been falling apart for a long time before I went away to Queensland. Mid-camp I rang home to say hello and she told me that she was breaking up and moving out. I was 1000 miles away and powerless to prevent it.
By the time the first week of build-up training had been completed we had had so many injuries that our two platoons were reduced to just the one. Scott and I had to decide between us who would take command of the combined platoon in the field. We literally tossed a coin and I lost. Scott took the platoon, and I was given pointless busy work for the week.
In the field I spent a lot of time in Company HQ and had not much to do at night other than talk to Greg, the medic, who paraded with all of the girls back in Sydney. One night he asked me about girlfriends, and I told him that I had in fact just broken up with mine. Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “I know someone who’d be very happy that you are single,” before he managed to bite his tongue. I asked him what he meant but he then swore that he had already said too much. I let it go because I wasn’t sure how truthful Greg was as he seemed to just like talking for the sake of it.
Eventually the LWC staff had had enough of two officers sitting around in the dirt doing nothing, so they grabbed myself and the Company Second-in-Command and dragged us away from the Company. They loaded us up with a radio each and gave us distant grid reference on our maps that we had to navigate to. They told us that we were now going to do and escape and evasion exercise. We had two days to make it to some far way mountain and back to CHQ. We were told that a crack infantry section would be in hot pursuit and that if we got caught multiple times that they would gradually strip away all our equipment till we were buck naked. With a five-minute lesson on E+E techniques they drove us a few kilometres down the road and kicked us out the truck telling us we had 20 minutes head start. But they had dropped us a field of mud and, weighed down by all the extra kit, we could barely stand up as we sank ankle deep into the quagmire. The chances of anyone not finding our sunken footprints was zero. We would be run down in less than an hour by an even slightly motivated pursuer.
Except that I didn’t believe for a moment that anyone was actually following us. The objective had been to get us out of CHQ, and I wasn’t prepared to break an ankle trying to outrun a ghost or stumble though the jungle trying to locate a distant rock. I put this to the 2IC and whether he concurred with my assessment of the situation or not he was more than happy to hide out in the bush for few days and gradually sneak back to CHQ under cover of darkness just before the appointed time.
If Greg’s revelation, my breakup or the fake E&E exercise weren’t enough strange occurrences for one camp to make this the most memorable week ever, then one final odd thing happened to seal the deal. On the last night in the field, the platoon had been out on an operation and was returning to camp. I was the designated guide to lead them back into our safe Company position. I rendezvoused with them and while Scott was briefing his section leaders for the final manoeuvre, I noticed the medical corps corporal looking straight past him and just staring at me. I stared back, not knowing what to make of it. She wasn’t paying anything he said the least attention. Unless I was mistaken, she was giving me the eye, as best she could in the circumstances, but why here and now?
8 thoughts on “Ch.1 The place where all good things begin – Pt 1”
You choose such great opening quotes! 👏🏻
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Thank you so much.
This is a really good read. My only wonder… Is there something you can do to help the reader know when you are in Jerry’s head and when you are in Ali’s head? Sometimes it’s a little hard to work out who’s perspective I’m following. 🙏
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Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’ve tried very hard in the web version to over come that problem with colours and spacing. The Reader version seems to filter both of those out. I will keep working on it.
I was wondering what was going on. I wonder if you could put a little icon/pattern before the paragraph where it switches (eg. ^=^ for Ali and for Jerry as an example. That would be a lot of reformatting though. 😦
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I think it gets much easier to follow from Ch.2 as Alison is now aware of her desire so she open’s her passages with references to him.
His references to her will start very soon – I assure you.
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I haven’t read chapter 2 yet! Almost there. I’m a slow reader. 😂
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