The Elusive Pusser's Drivers License

 

The Elusive Pusser's Drivers License

 

When a Pussers Warship is in port - any port, it needs transport. That is why a motor vehicle is always provided for a warship's use.

 

When alongside on the Australian Station vehicles are provided from the Government Fleet of Naval Vehicles. When overseas these vehicles would be provided by the local military authorities, Australian Embassies or even hire companies.

 

Up until the early seventies Australian warships would even carry their own Diesel powered landrover with them, chained to the quarterdeck or somewhere else on the upperdeck that was handy.

 

These 'ship's cars' were used for a myriad of purposes, Captain's Official Car, Emergency Medivac Transport, Fetching Stores, conveying officers and sailors to various official functions, mail runs, and even the nightly 'Pizza Run!'.

 

However, there was one small one catch, and that was that not everyone was allowed to drive them, for it didn't matter whether you held a Driver's License for every state and territory in Australia or whether your name was Stirling Moss or A.J. Foyt the only way you could get to take the wheel of a 'Pusser's Vehicle' was to possess an up to date 'Pusser's License". Even an International Driver's License was not good enough for the RAN. You had to have an official Navy License. (pictured below).

 

An Official Pussers (RAN) Drivers LicenseBeing a 'Ship's Driver' or 'Captain's Driver' when in harbour was regarded as somewhat of a perk. For Ship's Drivers, or those fortunate souls who had obtained an elusive 'Pusser's License' were not likely to be selected for Café Party or Messman or even Gunner's Yeoman duties.

 

They, the Duty Drivers, sat on their arses in a motor car whilst the rest of the Duty Watch scrubbed down, rigged awnings, painted the side, covered guns, washed dishes and mopped decks. Ahhhh… what a life it was to have a 'Pusser's License'.

 

Even when serving ashore it had its perks, for getting a driver's job, like that of 'Security Driver' was much preferred than to be pressed into service as a Gangway Watchkeeper or rock and gutter painter.

 

Having a Pusser's License meant status and most of the recipients were generally 'Old Hands' and at least 'Badgemen' (sailors serving over 4 years and wearing at least one long service and good conduct badge on the upper right sleeve of their dress uniform).

 

Now why was it so difficult to get this coveted piece of cardboard? Natty Brooker had one and even kept it after filling the Ships Diesel landrover with super grade petrol and blowing it up. Another kept his after running the thing off the end of Nelson Pier in Dogtown Dockyard.

 

In the fleet during this era (when the RAN actually had an Aircraft Carrier) the people who controlled the testing and issuing of Pusser's Licenses were the members of the Birdy Branch. . 'Birdies" are what are colloquially referred to as members of the Naval Air Branch and were considered to be the Experts and Driving Elite in the RAN and thus regarded us General Service Seamen as little less than human.

 

 

 

I was given my first crack at a Pusser's License at the 8 year mark of my RAN Career - I was thrilled, excited and psyched up! I was to be tested then trusted to drive 'The Ship's Car! I had held an unblemished Victorian State License since I was 18 and was pretty confident I could qualify and measure up to the task of holding the precious Pusser's License.

 

I was a Kellick Seaman, the Armaments Office and XO's Writer on Derwent at the time. We were on Far East Deployment early in the new year and consequently the XO had sent a lot of the troops on leave which had left us a bit short in the Duty Watch over Xmas.

 

The XO asked me If I would do the lads a favour and slip on over to the Flagship (Aircraft Carrier HMAS Melbourne) and sit for a Pusser's License exam. He had stitched up a deal with the Warrant Officer Birdie over in the Carrier Airgroup's Reg Office. They had reluctantly agreed to accomodate him by officially testing us..

 

This the XO hoped would relieve the pressure on Duty Watch personnel. Would I volunteer for backing up the duty watch personnel over the leave period by filling a gap in the Duty Watchbill here and there as a Driver? Of course I would!

 

An XO and his writer share a unique bond - He calls me Stones and I call him Sir! You get the picture. How could I refuse this gentle request. And at last anyway I would get my hands on the coveted and elusive Pusser's License.

 

The big day came and after signing the Duty Ashore Book four of us Derwent Dibbies proceeded on over to the Fitting Out Wharf in GI to find the Air Regulating Office onboard Aircraft Carrier, HMAS Melbourne. The Naval Air branch were the driving elite in the RAN at this time in history, carrying themselves with the air of Formula One Aces.

 

There we were 4 budding, potential ship's drivers, all General Service 'Dib Dabs' from HMAS Derwent waiting in the Birdies Reg Office feeling quite privileged to do so mind you, when the Warrant Officer Birdie walked in.

 

He was one of the rudest and most obnoxious men I had met to date in the RAN and regarded us with the utmost contempt, obviously we were keeping him from giving someone more important the shits.

 

He had no time for us at all and reluctantly, with that, "I am wasting my time here" attitude issued out a rather large document to each of us - it was the Test Paper and contained somewhere around ninety seven questions.

 

Keeping in mind that the issued, normal everyday ship's vehicles are 5 seater sedans or station wagons the first two sets of questions on the exam paper dealt with Articulated Vehicles and Driving in on and around airfields and Flight Tarmacs. We looked at each other blankly - Who knows how far Semi Trailers are to keep from each other when travelling in convoy? Or what you do if you spot 3 Yellow lights on the Control Tower when you are about to cross a Tarmac with aircraft upon it?

 

We courageously informed the Warrant Officer that we didn't believe these questions were relevant to our area of operations and mode of transport - namely Kings Cross and a 3 speed column shift Holden Premier.

 

Suffering a tirade of abuse and sarcastic remarks about our intelligence we handed our papers in. We all to a man missed out on obtaining our Pusser's Licenses by the narrowest of margins having failed just enough questions to do so. The Warrant Officer knew before handing us the exam that it was futile, perhaps the reason he was so annoyed from the outset. Chuckling with glee that he did not have to issue out any of his beloved Pussers Licenses to mere General Service Dibbies he requested we stop bothering him and leave his domain. Feeling cheated and humiliated we headed back to Derwent to break the news to a disappointed XO.

 

It was to be another couple of years before I was at last allowed to try again. This time with a more reasonable Docky Copper (if there is such a thing).

 

 

Some years later as the Chief Petty Officer Regulator in HMAS Brisbane.......

 

I approached the XO (now RADL Geoff Smith) as to his thoughts on making one of my problem AB's the Captain's Driver in Harbour. In the hope I could raise this blokes self esteem and get him on the straight and narrow by giving him this job with 'status' amongst his peers.

 

The XO reluctantly agreed although felt I was taking unnecessary risks with the Captain's life. On his first job of transporting the Captain to an official function, 'Franko', the driver, took the wrong route and was corrected in his erring navigation by the Captain who was sitting in the back fully booted and spurred in his Ceremonial Uniform with Medals and Sword. Franko instantly and violently wheeled the car around in busy traffic and carried out a smoking, snaking U Turn bumping and grinding over and across the deep median strip and in to the path of the, ducking and weaving horn blaring oncoming traffic.

 

On completion of gaining some control of the wildly fishtailing vehicle he glanced over the back and calmly and pleasantly informed the witless skipper that he would have him there in no time as he planted his foot hard on the accelerator, pressing the petrified, embarrassed, Captain Doolan into the back seat as the vehicles 'G' Forces took control of him.

 

Upon the Captain's return to the ship I noticed that the XO was immediately piped to the Captain's cabin. A few minutes later I was piped to the XO's Cabin. Grinning with that 'I told you so look' he informed me that my attempted assasination of the Skipper had failed and that 'Franko' be relieved of his duties as Captain's Driver. Forever.

 

Obviously by this time in the RAN, after HMAS Melbourne had been paid off, not replaced and the Fleet Air Arm, as we knew it, disbanded, they were obviously handing out Pusser's Licenses to anyone!