We were standing in the drill hall at HMAS Leeuwin for Passing Out Parade practice in the Winter of 1981. We were the 73rd intake through the JRTE (Junior Recruit Training Establishment) program. Nine months at Freemantle’s (now notorious) JRTE establishment had come to a close.
I heard my name. I said “What?” I mean, who the hell was I to win an award at that place? Mr Average. Often late. Trying to be invisible had become my full time occupation.
So there I was a few weeks later at our Passing Out Parade in front of that Drill Hall. We were graduating from our recruit training in blue serge, white webbing and beautifully spit polished parade boots. Each of us brandished an L1A1 SLR (Self-Loading Rifle) in the guard. Although, some of our ranks graduated as members of the Band.
My family never attended this parade. Sometimes it feels like I’d invented the story and came to believe it was true. But on a sunny morning under the West Australian sunshine my name was called out. I was in the front rank. I laid my rifle on the ground and stepped up to the dais where Vice Admiral someone-or-other presented me with my name on a plaque and a pewter mug engraved with the award.
The award was presented on behalf of the Fleet Air Arm Association for the Most Improved Junior Recruit in the 73rd Intake. It was the first year it had been awarded.
I tried to track down where that plaque ended up. At what is now Leeuwin Barracks in Fremantle they said it might have gone off to HMAS Sterling. Then I heard a whisper that it ended up in storage on a naval base in Sydney. And it seems somewhere in my life we’ve mislaid that pewter mug.
So I guess this is the only remaining evidence that I was ever handed anything other than a pay check and some punishment by the Royal Australian Navy. Which is a shame. The older I get, the more I appreciate those memories.