© By Bob Cavill
C Company &
During operations and patrols there was
a requirement for the section machine
guns' to be manned from sunset to
sunrise. Infantry sections were rarely
at full strength, some a little more
than half strength (five or six
Diggers). With the requirement for two
men to man the gun at one time meant,
that for most, sleep would be no more
than 4 or 5 hours duration. Over time,
exhaustion and fatigue suffered at the
end of the day coupled with sleep
deprivation at night created a dangerous
situation. Wakened by the sentry he is
to relieve, the mind numb through
exhaustion and lack of sleep,
disorientated, in pitch black, one ran
the risk of wandering away from the gun
to somewhere out front and the
possibility of being fired on by your
mates..... It sometimes happened.
cautiously, under a moon-lit forest canopy, a sentry approaches
his two hour companion. Something sinister, it pervades the air
about with a hint of gun oil on damp cold steel. It draws
moisture from the dark tropical night. Familiar to his hand, and
yet like some ancient primitive reptile, it is still but does
not sleep. Cocked, pregnant, with lethal intent it lies prone,
silent, waiting for its chance to speak. Dull black and
indifferent, it kills all without conscience, and obeys without
question; with no appeal. There it stands as if 'at ease' on its
two stubby front feet It casts a ghostly shadow. Betrayed by a
tropical forest moon caressing the links on its left feed
serpentine belt. It is known simply as, 'The Gun'.
As if from the
earth itself a shadow rises beside him and passes into the
darkness behind. There was no need to speak. Alone with the gun,
he feels its familiar shape. How shall he pass these long still
hours.....shall he reflect on why he is here? Why is it he?
Alone in this place shall he contemplate the 'If Onlys' of his
life? The face of his wife. The smell of her hair.....no! best
not go there. Then what should he listen for, the crack of a
stick or a metallic click. He cannot smoke, he cannot speak, a
little anxious he looks behind, but there is nothing there.
Lying prone looking forward is hard on the neck. Carefully, he
rolls quietly onto his side to better see behind. Still nothing
Slowly a moon
shadow passes, and he becomes aware the darkness is complete.
Like a man suddenly plunged into a dark room, the senses are
confused. Only 'The Gun' can now orientate him. He reaches for
its familiar touch. Other senses must serve him now. He becomes
aware of the musky smell of rotting leaves and the sound of
insects moving about. Who was it that said, "one fears what one
cannot see." Once again he strains to see behind him; only an
inky black stillness. It brings on a momentary attack of
vertigo, and he reaches once again for 'The Gun' to steady
(11 p.m.) to 0100hours (1 a.m.). This is the worst shift for it
divides the night, and means less than a straight five hours
sleep. Still wet from an afternoon storm, the cool of the late
night and physical exhaustion makes him shiver, he eventually
breaks into a mild imperceptible trembling.
Slowly the grey
light of a bright quarter moon returns, it peers through the
sparse rubber tree canopy. He becomes conscious of the 'tap,
tap' of dew drops on fallen leaves, and realises he had not been
aware of this before. Only the desert can be truly silent. Low
mist hangs suspended; drifting through and around the pale grey
trunks that march away in perfect rows; disappearing into the
distance as if he were in the centre of a spoked wheel. As if by
design 'The Gun' owns those spaces between. The moonlit mist
breaks and distorts their shape; it gives the scene an eerie
He brings the
faint hands of his watch up to his eye.....only five minutes
have passed. Once again he turns to peer intently behind,
worried, into the misty moonlit silence. A sound.....
faint.....not identifiable, but? Yes! Something is moving behind
him. He strains his eyes and ears, and.....now a movement, yes!
A sudden stab of fear grips him. He flashes a look at 'The Gun'
to ensure the movement 'is' behind him; that tricks of night and
time have not conspired to deceive him. He can see a figure now,
moving towards him ... closer ... slowly it closes on him.
Annoyed but relieved, he whispers though clenched teeth "where
the F**k! have you been?" The figure whispers ... sorry mate,
the moon went out I couldn't see." Still angry he answers, "but
what if you had wandered out in front!"