Following a week or two of leave after graduation from my Apprentice course in June 1969 I began life in the real Air Force with 77 Squadron, Williamtown. 77 had recently returned from Butterworth to be re-equipped with the Mirage, the last squadron to do so. From memory, there were three clean skin (unpainted) Mirages in the hangar when I arrived.
My first job was six months as Times Clerk in Maintenance Control Section (MCS). This meant keeping tab of flying hours for each aircraft and, as each Mirage came due for a scheduled servicing determining what engine and airframe components were due for service.
Most components had a servicing history card, probably a little smaller than the tablet I am using to write this. All cards were kept in trays. For each aircraft there was one tray containing cards for the engine components and three or four trays for the other components.
Sergeant Rusty Sproule, a fellow Sumpy, was my boss. He lived on the Base in what must have been an old farmhouse. It stood on its own, not far from the Nelson Bay end of the runway. He kept a few chooks, and, from memory a dog or two and one or two other animals. More than once he invited his green and naive young charge home for a meal.
Rusty preceded me to Butterworth and must have been with 75 Sqn. It was here I last saw him. The day he was due to return home my mate Zeke and I determined to drop in and bid him farewell. However, as anyone who has been to Butterworth knows only too well, one tends to dehydrate quite rapidly in all the heat and humidity. Hence Zeke and I felt the need to rehydrate before we went around to Rusty’s place. We must have been particularly dehydrated on that day because by the time we had rectified the situation and made it to Rusty’s place he had departed on the bus to catch the Qantas flight home.
I had not been at Williamtown long before a sumpy from 20 intake came into MCS with a requisition for K9P - if you don’t get it, think about it. Now, in my defence, I did not read what was on the form, I simply headed off to have the order filled - and returned some time later. It is not my intention here to name and shame, but I will give a clue. It was rumoured that the member who passed me the form had been too old to enlist as an apprentice so had got in on the basis of his sister’s birth certificate.Rusty was not impressed and let his view be known to the LAC concerned.
The other members of MCS were two framies. I will call one Corporal Dagg and that will suffice to describe the man. The other, LAC Smart - again, to disguise the guilty. So far as dress and deportment went they were chalk and cheese. LAC Smart turned up every morning with freshly polished boots and ironed overalls. He is the only bloke I can recall that ever had creases in his overalls. Cpl Dagg referred to him as Shiny Arse.
Smart was the Component History Recording System (CHRS) Clerk. Whenever a component on an aircraft was changed it was his job to remove the old component history card from the tray so it could be sent with the component wherever it was off to. Then he was to file the new card, first working out at what hours specific to the aircraft it was now fitted to, it was due for its next service.
Now Shiny Arse kept his desk as neat as his personal appearance. It was meticulously clean, everything on it was carefully arranged, and the only paperwork on the desk was that which he was working on. After his turn in MCS ended and he had returned to the hanger, Dagg opened his draw only to find a pile of cards that Smart obviously had no idea what to do with. Didn’t Dagg take great delight in letting the rest of us know what he thought of Shiny Arse.
Ever since then I have been suspicious of the tidy desk syndrome. Since leaving the Service I have worked with one or two that have shared Smart’s obsession with both personal appearance and that of their desks. My experience of these types has left a rather similar and lasting impression.
In later life I have also had cause to reflect on my MCS experience. I was 18 when I first started at 77 Sqn. While I gave it little thought at the time the job involved a great deal of responsibility. One mistake and Australia could have lost a rather costly fighter jet, people could have been killed, and my career could have been finished. At the time others of my age and older were still at school or university, protesting against the Vietnam war, smoking pot or doing things that had no where near the responsibility that a lot of young people have in the military. There is a sharp contrast between the responsibility and accountability we had in the Service and that of the organisation I worked with almost exclusively following discharge where even those in relatively senior management roles seemed to avoid responsibility as much as they could.