HMAS LEEUWIN - JRTE 1960-1986

 

Junior Recruit Training Establishment - JRTE

 

HMAS Leeuwin - Fremantle Western Australia.

 

leeuwin

 

HMAS LEEUWIN opened as a Junior Recruit Training Establishment on 13th July 1960.

 

The aim of the JRTE is to train young men so that :

(a) They will regard the Navy as their vocation

(b) They will develop a high standard of discipline, trustworthiness, initiative, courage and endurance

(c) Their educational standard will be such that they can assimilate their subsequent professional training

(d) In due course they will be and important source of supply of Petty Officers, Chief Petty Officer and Special Duties List Officers.

 

The Junior Recruits passing out today joined this Establishment on the 8th January, 1969, and are the twenty-sixth entry. The results of the Junior Recruits training in this Establishment cannot be judged for some years, as it is merely one stage in the comprehensive training they receive.

 

After leaving this Establishment they will carry out twelve months sea training to be followed by technical courses of from 8 to 44 weeks’ duration in one or other of the Naval Establishments in the Eastern States. On successful completion of their technical courses these sailors will return to sea as fully-trained and active members of the Royal Australian Navy.

 

In January, 1963 the role of J.R.T.E. was expanded by the introduction of the Top- man Scheme which provided a further year of intensive academic instruction leading to the W.A. Leaving Certificate and Matriculation Examination, successful completion of which qualified Topmen for selection as Cadet Midshipmen and entry to the Royal Australian Naval College.

 

This scheme has developed to the stage where now, selected Junior Recruits, Apprentices from H.M.A.S. NIRIMBA, and Upper Yardmen from the Fleet undergo this course of instruction before appearing before the R.A.N. College Selection Board. In 1969, a further Officer Candidate Training Course was introduced. This course is con ducted to qualify senior sailors educationally for commission on the Special Duties List and ex Junior Recruits and sailors from the Fleet for Supplementary List Commissions.

Passing Out Book

 

The text above is from the 26th Intake Passing Out Book, the cover of which is pictured left. (Special thanks to my mother who has hoarded this and other paranphenalia for so many years)

 

The original 'TINGIRA' was at one time the RAN Boys Training Ship (1920's) and all Leeuwin JRs wore a 'Tingira Flash' conspicuously sewn upon the upper right shoulder of their uniforms to let the local population know that we belonged to JRTE and JRs or boy sailors were below the legal drinking age, which at my time in Western Australia was 21. If you look at the photo below you will wonder really why I needed to.

 

 

 

 

 Not Just a Job - An Adventure

 

Since my retirement from the RAN I have encountered many people who find it rather incredible that up until as late as 1986 boys were voluntarily enlisted, as seamen, into full time, permanent service, in the R.A.N. at the age of 15. Recruiting continued unabated throughout the Indonesian Confrontation and the entire duration of the Vietnam War and it was not unusual for boys, not yet 17, to be sent to a war zone on completion of their 12 months in Leeuwin.

 

Like the OIC Recruiting, Melbourne (Lieutenant Commander Wilkinson) told my mother of my acceptance for the navy, in the latter part of 1968, he said "Mrs Graystone, look at it this way, you have not lost a son, you have gained a navy!".

 

The enlistment of 'Boys' or 'Boy Seamen' was a British, Royal Navy institution.(HMAS Leeuwin being the Royal Australian Navy equivalent of HMS Ganges). It must be stressed that at this time in history even though the US built DDGS were entering service in the Australian Navy, the RAN was virtually a British, Royal Navy Clone, and lets face it the Brits didn't mind putting kids to work, just ask Charles Dickens.

 

 

 

 

Enlisting boys at this highly impressionable age was a bonus for the RAN for, according to them, we had not been around long enough yet to learn any 'bad habits', or, learn about anything else for that matter. Had alot of the boys done so they would have certainly avoided this place.

 

We were moulded - as opposed to brainwashed - we didn't run about chanting Kill, Kill, Kill or singing songs about napalming babies but we did run about, quite alot, and we were trained to fear tardiness, slovenliness, laziness and disobedience. And to loathe thieves, malingerers, dobbers, the unwashed, civilians and naval discipline. Today I still suffer anxiety attacks if I am running late for ANYTHING! Be it work or even a social engagement. The Navy hated sailors being ADRIFT, or absent from their place of duty and punishment was as swift as it was harsh for habitual offenders. Skulking, (deliberately avoiding work) was worse though and punishments for this were always most severe. Leeuwin, like the rest of the Navy, ran by the clock and the iron fist..

 

What was formerly, HMAS Leeuwin, now Leeuwin Barracks, lies on the banks of the Swan River in Fremantle, Western Australia. It is a very picturesque piece of real estate; however despite its idyllic location, it was, to thousands of boys who voluntarily enlisted from just about every city, town and village in Australia a journey into the most physically and mentally demanding environment they were ever likely to encounter in any peacetime activity. A place where discipline was often swift, harsh and unforgiving and where three aspects remain forever fixed in my mind - Tiredness, Hunger and Fear. What made the situation worse was that this period of training was to last for 12 months not the universal period of three months as was the case with most service 'recruit' training. We were at the very bottom of the ladder both militarily and socially, lower than the basic wage, and that's a fact! The only way to go from here had to be up.

 

Apart from studying Naval Subjects such as, Seamanship and boatwork, Naval Indoctrination, ABCD/NBCD, Physical Training, Parade Ground Drill, Small Arms, and First Aid we also attended Academic Classes on a daily basis which included Maths, English, Navigation, Physics, Geography and History. When we weren't doing these things we were generally scrubbing or cleaning something, running somewhere, under punishment, playing compulsory sport, or performing some other physically demanding chore.

 

Joining the fold.....

 

leeuwin6.jpgSo it was at 1800 on the 8th January 1969 the Victorian contingent I was with was sworn in at HMAS Lonsdale, Port Melbourne. We were then spirited away to Essendon airport to board a TAA Vickers Viscount, chartered aircraft, bound for Perth.

 

Victorian Boys of the 26th Intake on the flight to Western Australia Jan 8th 1969 photo supplied by Bill Furey

 

The 6 hour flight to the west was uneventful as the boys weighed up one another and put on an air of confidence and false bravado as their destination to the unknown drew closer. Taking off at 2000 we arrived in Perth at Midnight - a carefully conceived navy plan no doubt designed to disorient us. The mood of the navy now changed. On alighting from the aircraft a squad of maniacal Chiefs, Petty Officers and Leading Hands met us upon stepping on to the tarmac and they were nothing like the nice chaps in the Recruiting Office back home. They formed us up into squads amid the screaming of abuse, threats and curses, a push here, a shove there. Once fallen in and silent, names are called and checked off. We are then marched (sort of) to an area where the pale blue and white 'pussers buses' are waiting for us.

 

 

You begin to learn about falling in, standing to attention, standing at ease, marching, halting etc., very, very early in your military career and it starts from your first step off the bus or plane and you also learn very early what a worthless heap of crap you really are and to be any good to anyone at all you will have to be 'made' into a sailor but they, the instructors, have grave doubts about that! These Recruit 'receptions' are universal and standard practice and has a purpose the civilian mind has trouble comprehending. It wasn't too bad for me being an ex-cadet but for the totally uninformed it must have been a bloody nightmare.

 

By the time we are herded aboard buses to make the trip to Fremantle we are confused and disoriented, the totally unfamiliar midnight bus ride is undertaken by all in silent darkness. Trepidation is evident upon many faces more so than looks of funfilled excitement. Most of these blokes have probably never been spoken to like that in their lives before. I know because I learnt some new words the minute I got off the plane.

 

On arrival at Leeuwin we are driven to, where else, the Parade Ground. Parade Grounds are sacred places and this one is to become the hub of our lives for the next 12 months. Off the buses, fall in, roll call! We are then marched off to the dining hall and given a cup of 'Kai' or cocoa whilst pretending to pay attention to the myriad of verbal instructions being delivered by an orchestra of instructors and Divisional Staff. Don't ask how we do it but we actually, by about 2am, find our Accommodation Blocks and in turn our stark, bare cubicles. The Bedding folded up and laid out upon the two double bunks. The four of us, unknown to each other at this point, immediately begin learning about teamwork because 4 blokes each can't make their bunk at the same time, not enough space, and we only have a few minutes before lights out and the threat of grievous bodily harm if we are not in them by that time..

 

In the darkness some sobbing is heard, someone whispers and the Duty Blocks Able Seaman threatens the offender with a crushed skull or to rip his limbs off and beat him over the head with the soggy ends. Believe me he sounded extremely genuine. He is still yelling abuse even after we have drifted off into an uneasy sleep. I will leave it to your own imagination to figure out what 'Wakey Wakey' was like at 0630 the next morning. Certainly a brand new experience for all and in a word - Traumatic.

 

Leeuwin at this time (January 1969) was admitting four intakes of JRs per year, January, April, July and September. January and July intakes consisted of approx. 200 boys each and April and September intakes were of approx. 100 boys each. Our Mothers and Fathers, rightly or wrongly, were informed by the navy that we were "The cream of Australian youth". These four intakes of boys soon found their own 'class system' and the four annual intakes were referred to, in order of seniority as, New Grubs, Grubs, Shit and Top Shit.

 

jrte1.jpgThe New Grub
 

The Author, a brand new JR, circa, February 1969. For the salty among you, you will notice the incorrect position of my Cap Tally Band. Typical of an OD, although I wasn't to be promoted to Ordinary Seamen for another 18 months. One had to be 17 years of age to be an Ordinary Seaman and to start on the bottom of the ladder. As yet we wern't on the ladder.

 

 

 

 

 

Upon arrival at Leeuwin we were informed by the Staff and higher intakes alike, in no uncertain terms, that we were indeed "the lowest form of human existence on the planet" absolutely there was nothing as low as a JR, especially one of the newest intake. This was reinforced by the local populations of Fremantle and Perth whose youth never missed an opportunity to give the 'Seaweed Suckers' a mouthful of abuse or even a belting if and when the opportunity arose. We had to swiftly become familiar with a whole new language, a language peculiar to the navy and even more so to JRTE itself.

 

The first week is used for intensive parade drill, kitting up (first 2 days), medical & dental checks,innoculations, indoctrination, learning jargon and routines, instruction in washing, ironing and general husbandy duties, learning how to scrub decks properly etc.

 

On our first day at JRTE we learnt the term and practice of 'Jacking' or 'Jacking In'. This system was complex and needed to be understood quickly or one could find oneself being 'filled in' (bashed) very early in his career, as with my old school mate Tony Newlands was to find out on his very first day. We were standing in line at the canteen, still in our civilian clothes, waiting to buy cigarettes, for we were all permitted to smoke, and this bloke dressed in navy working dress (No. 8's) with his name in block letters stamped over his left breast pocket, 'Lucas', calmly and boldly marched past us to the front of the queue, Tony grabbed him and said "Hey Mate, where the fuck do you reckon you're going!". Lucas looked at him in bewilderment shrugged him off and continued with his order. Then he turned to Tony and ordered him to be at the rear of 'C' Block at 1630, for one does not protest or 'mouth on' to a Senior Intake. Tony kept the rendezvous lest Lucas came searching for him and put up a bloody good fight but eventually lost as the bloke was a 'Top Shit' i.e the most senior intake and was bigger, heavier, wiser and older than him. So it was a lesson to all us New Grubs that any member of a senior intake was allowed by unwritten JRTE law to pass us in any queue or line we happened to be standing in, whether on board or ashore. This made life difficult for we had to queue for everything in JRTE and we had 400 other JR's in the same queue who were 'Senior' to us for the first three months, before we were elevated to the position of Grubs which allowed us to 'jack in' on the New Grubs but not the 'Shit' or 'Top Shit'. Confused?

 

I know this sounds trivial and childish to you reading this, but believe me it was a deadly serious game and little more than children ourselves. One could wait in line for a meal for over 20 minutes and when having reached the servery, all of a sudden find yourself back outside the door again. Not only could a senior intake push past you but if he didn't like you he could forcibly remove you from the queue and return you to the back of it. To protest, generally meant some form of grievous bodily harm. It became more distressing for one never had enough time to spare in JRTE and this was time consuming. I personally suffered from this regularly in my early days for I became a target for a group of mean bastards from a Senior Intake.

 

For the first 6 months we were ranked as JR Second Class and received the princely wage of $10.00 per fortnight. On completion of 6 months were were promoted en masse to JR 1st Class and received $12.00 per fortnight, a whopping 20% wage rise! Considering it wasn't uncommon for JRs to put in 110 hours or more in a week if they were under No 9's punishment it was not exactly lucrative,

 

JR's that came from more well-to-do families were able to make a considerable amount of money by loan sharking, for another JRTE unwritten law was that for every dollar borrowed it was to be paid back at 100% interest and although the act of lending or borrowing money was strictly prohibited by navy regulations loan sharking was rife. Woe betide any JR that did not repay his debts, in full, with interest and on time! It was not uncommon for JR's of a Senior Intake to demand a Junior lend them money. It would be paid back but left you short in the meantime.

 

Theft, although it rarely occurred was the most heinous and the most detested of all crimes and should a thief be caught then not only was Naval punishment harsh and unforgiving but when word spread amongst his JR peers he would wish he were dead. The navy treated thieves with the utmost contempt! You did not steal from your mates. It was the fastest ticket out of JRTE, perhaps the only charge where your 'dishonourable' discharge was more or less immediate.

 

We were also subject to compulsory banking for at that time a 15 year old was earning $17.00 per fortnight - gross, 16 year old $22.00 per fortnight - gross and a 17 year old around $54.00 per fortnight - gross. What was left over from our 'in the hand' or net wage of $10 or $12.00 was placed in a bank account without getting to see it or your bank book until the day you passed out of JRTE and went to the fleet. I passed out 12 months later and had the enormous sum of $75 saved.

 

Below: A Navy PR Movie shot in the late 60's about JRTE - Almost makes me want to Sign Up again! 

 

 

jrte13.jpg
Above: HMAS Leeuwin Today

1. Academic Block
2. 'C' Block
3. Dining Hall & Galley
4. Canteen & Amenities
5. Parade Ground
6. Drill Hall
7 Admin Wing CDRE's Office