THE RHYME OF THE ANCIENT BOMBARDIER
Come gather round ‘me hearties’,
I’ve a salty tale to tell,
of Gunners sailin’ dinghies,
thru’ foaming, surging, hell.
Of ‘Ahab’ Mac, and Maori Joe,
old bos’n Bev Culhane,
and Matt Tepou was there as well,
four boats and gentle rain.
“So it’s paddle down the river
and don’t be slow,
we’re gonna take the boats
where a duck won’t go…
Flotsam! Jetsam! Gunners in the tide;
the Whakatane river, is deep and fast, and wide.”
The river flows, the wind it blows,
the rain comes fast and thunder,
White capped rocks and waterfalls,
the first boat goes asunder.
There’s four men in the river,
“I’m drownin’!” what they yell,
then Snow he pulls the others out,
the waters cold as hell.
We can’t give up, we just won’t stop,
for it’s nay been done a’fore,
the first boat she’s a’floundered,
but we’ve still got three boats more.
So on we sail, past Ahab’s boat,
just twelve men left are we,
there’s ‘Radar’ eating chocolate,
his paddle on his knee.
Young Maori Joe, his boat is next;
it’s sinking by the stern.
Was it the rocks that claimed his craft?
I guess we’ll never learn.
There’s ‘water water everywhere’,
and not a drop to succour,
into the tide went all their gear,
followed by their tucker.
The river rushes onward,
there’s cliffs on either side,
a log, it blocks the way ‘me lads’,
the gorge is ten foot wide.
‘Hey Mita!’ push the bow down,
and Wally raise the stern,
we’ve got to fit her thru’ the gap,
there’s death at every turn.
Well it’s eight bells ringin’,
and it’s two boats still afloat…
Is that a banjo playin’
or do I hear a goat?
A tearing sound, a boats gone down,
it’s hull is torn wide open,
old bosun Bev, his one boat left,
he’ll sail on I’m a’hopin.
There’s Bev and ‘Radar’, Pete and Wally;
in the last canoe.
There’s a waterfall that’s comin’ up…
‘Ye Gods!’ what should I do???
So: Leave the sailin’ to the Navy,
the walking to the Grunts,
get back to Papakura…
and clean those bloody guns!
©Copyright circa 1976 by Mike Subritzky
Author’s Note: In the early 1970’s the New Zealand Army invented ‘Adventure Training’. Nowadays it is an extremely safe project, with all of the traps and snares worked out beforehand by professional Directing Staff. However back in the 70’s, during ‘our’ period of Gunner history, Adventure Training was exactly what the name implied; serious adventure. And a successful adventure was considered to be any activity where most of the participants (us) survived.
This wee poem was written against that original adventure training concept. In fact our much beloved officers and more than a few senior NCO’s considered ‘Adventure Training’ a license to create life threatening situations as close to actually being killed in combat as possible.
Now, in 1975, the CP (Command Post) Section/Troop of 161 Battery was deployed in rubber ‘assault craft’ down the flooded Whakatane River in an adventure training programme. The events that followed have since become part of the folklore of 161 Battery; however one cannot let the heroes of this unfortunate incident remain unknown to history (16 men and 4 boats).
Unfortunately at the time it was written I failed to record their names, but the officer-in-charge was Lieutenant MacLeod, a Second Lieutenant we nicknamed ‘Maori Joe’, and the Senior NCO’s were Bevan ‘Glunk’ Culhane and Matt Tepou BEM, MBE… this then is their story.