|THE FESTIVE SEASON -- KOREA -- 1951|
' A politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat, except a man.'
Edward E. Cummings 1894 - 1962
3 battalion The Royal Australian Regiment had been placed in reserve, and to a man were anticipating a pleasant interlude of wassail and frivolity, to celebrate Christmas. Our joy was somewhat diminished when we were warned of an impending visit by the Minister of the Army, the Honourable Josiah Francis. MP.
And so on Christmas Day the battalion was paraded as ceremonially as could be managed on a padi-field parade ground. Our first sighting of Mr. Francis revealed that the chilly Korean weather had caused him to modify his customary sartorial elegance: he was dressed in an odd mixture of army - issue winter wear and civilian clothing.
The Minister was a rather rotund man, about five feet eight or nine inches in height, substantially girthed and probably weighing in at around two hundred pounds plus. His borrowed army parka was probably pre-owned and certainly hadn't been selected with care, for it would have fitted a much taller and leaner person. But at least ,the incongruous mix with his snow-white shirt, tie and black Homberg hat insured that he would never be mistaken for a common soldier.
By some oversight the back-flap of the Minister's parka hadn't been passed between his legs to be secured to the press studs on the front of the garment. The sight of this 'tail' swinging to and fro as he arrived at the Reviewing Stand was entertaining , but this was quickly surpassed by Mr. Francis' drill movements when responding to the parades' 'General Salute'. The classical symmetry of the sweeping arc described by his Homberg hat in its travel from the Ministerial head to his left breast, was appreciated by those who felt that pantomine should play its part in the celebrations.
The pessimists among us had feared we would be fed the usual platitudes, and this certainly proved to be so.Mr. Francis was extremely impressed by his own boldness in venturing so far from the Australian Capitol Territory; and obviously thought that we should be informed of every fascinating detail of his travels.
In a long rambling speech he made mention of the personal discomfort he had willingly accepted "To be with you lads at the Front". He repeatedly solicited our appreciation of his fortitude by stressing the rigours of his arduous pilgrimage.
"I have come a long way to see you .." he announced. And "I left Australia quite some time ago to be here with you today.." and many more of the same, ad nauseum. At long last he became aware that the parade had become very restive; and so in the best parlimentary tradition he sought to close his address by vowing that our well being was of paramount importance to him personally .."and to our nation which I represent here today."
He further enthused that the prime purpose of his visit was to redress any grievances and to right all wrongs from which we may have been suffering. He then invited questions and/or suggestions from his captive audience.
Immediately a voice from the middle of Don company indicated lack of faith in matters political by shouting: "Sir! Before we left Australia you promised that we would lack for nothing... well, that's we bloody well got: Nothing."
After a moment of shocked silence, the Minister managed a short flustered reply. We became aware that 'Question time' had lapsed when the parade Commander immediatly commenced the succession of commands neccessary to allow our Guest of Honour to be led away.
The Minister and minders made their exit: the battalion stood fast.
Whilst Mr. Francis was taking the opportunity to reflect on the wisdom of casting pearls before swine, a rigorous search for the culprit was commenced, but a widespread lack of co-operation caused it to falter and finally to be abandoned. Despite all efforts to flush the offender from cover, a Mafia-like silence ensured that his identity was known only to a select few of those who were close to him on the parade ground.
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