God Bless The Aussies

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Lads in the undersea forces seem to gravitate to the same watering holes in the various ports of the world. In every submarine anchorage around the globe there is a dive… Some rat hole with beer and barmaids where lads who ride diving iron, drop anchor.

They had great names…'The Blind Parrot', 'The Rusty Bucket', 'Pete's', 'The Slop Scupper', 'Ginzo's', 'Mikes' Skull and Bones', 'Sally's Bar and Girlie Show'… And of course the queen of them all, 'Bells Bar and Naval Tailors'.

They were some of the worst dumps in the world but they were home to every subsurface bluejacket on the planet. The hull numbers of hundreds of submarines could be found carved into tabletops and the yellowed photos, ship's insignias, identification pennants, and ensigns of boats long gone, decked the bulkheads.

In these pits of depravity, boat sailors of the maritime nations of the world rubbed shoulders, laughed, tossed down combustible liquids, lied to each other, shared what little money they had, and at times busted each other's noses.

My favorite allies were the lads who rode, Her Majesty The Queens boats… Since they spoke a mostly decipherable facsimile of my own native tongue and my grasp of foreign languages was confined to Canada, England and small sections of Australia.

I loved The Canadians and Aussies. The Dutch and The Brits were great too… The damn Krauts always seemed to have a desire to make a down payment on the next World War… And the Frogs were worthless… Wore hats that looked like they had stolen them from organ grinders monkeys and smelled like the inside of a stripper's bra.

There were things you learned from painful experience. First, going into a gin mill with Brits and Aussies was the same as playing with matches in a fireworks factory. At some point, the words 'fornication' and 'Queen' would be used in the same sentence and carnal liberties with kangaroos would be mentioned… Followed by fists and furniture.

The Aussies don't take prisoners. Their idea of how to end an enjoyable evening was a free ride back to their boat in a shore patrol wagon.

They ragged our beer. Years later I was introduced to Fosters and understood why.

"Hey mate… Youse bloody idiots hev lousy be-e-er… In South Aus-tral-ia, leetle kiddies sell limmonate stronger than this… Hell, virgins piss is better than this poor excuse for be-e-er."

All of them had hollow legs and a camel's thirst.

Every Aussie boat had at least one circus-size giant. There couldn't have been a height restriction in the Aussie Navy. Jeezus, they had animals the cooks had to feed with a pitchfork and lead around on the end of a logging chain.

I remember this one monster from 'down under'. The sonuvabitch had to duck, coming through the door at Bells. He had a full red beard and a mustache to match the wingspan of a small plane… Had his hat cocked down over one eye with a hat ribbon that read… 'HMA Submarines'. We had liberty launches smaller than that bastard's shoes.

Thelma took one look at him and whispered to me and Stuke…

"For crissakes, I hope nobody pisses that ox off."

And I whispered back,

"If that monster hit you, they would be pulling molars out of your rectum for the better part of a week."

God he was big. He took a table, tossed his hat on it and had Dixie bring him a pitcher.

"Here's to bett'r days, mates", and he tossed down a glass.

"What are you lads drinkin'? I'm buyin… A round for all around."

We laughed… Learned about billabongs, jumbucks, Sheila's… That Waltzin' Matilda was going on the bum… And that a jolly swagman was a hobo. We found that the big Aussie was okay…. More than okay… He was one helluva boatsailor. The snorkelin' sonuvabitches from down under had it rougher than we did. But, they were a tough bunch and never complained. Great guys.

We were joined by four or five other kangaroo cowboys… And we closed Bells and wound up at the Jolly Roger… And then ended up shaking hands on the pier.

Those were the best Aussies I ever met. That night U.S. currency was no good… Couldn't spend a damn dime. They were the most generous bastards we ever ran into. They drank like they had hollow legs. They treated barmaids like royalty… And they had a million songs… Most of which would be inappropriate at a church picnic.

"She wore red feathers and a hooley-hooley skirt…"

That's all I remember. That and …

"Our first coxuns' a silly, silly fool… He's only got a teenie-weenie tool…"

Based on that night, thanks to that giant Aussie and his wonderful mates, I have carried a wonderful picture of Australia in my memory.

One night at sea, we showed the film The Sundowners. When we were changing reels, Stuke was telling about the night we got loaded with the Aussies.

"Jeezus… They had this giant rascal who tossed down beer by the barrel load and the sonuvabitch could have thrown an elephant through a cinderblock wall… Robert Mitchum is no damn Australian… That big ape could have thrown Mitchum through the side of a gahdam heavy cruiser."

Buzz, we actually met Australia's secret weapon… We are still wondering how you got him in and out of a submarine and if your cooks had to use a coal shovel to feed him. The man had a skull like a tank turret and fists like Fairbanks pistons and fortunately for us, and the Norfolk shore patrol, it was packaged in one of the most generous, happy-go-lucky rascals I ever met.

I would have loved to have had one of his Aussie hat ribbons for my submarine wall because he represented the best I ever ran into and we were damn proud that we were allied with those guys. I never met any U.S. boat sailor who operated out of Australia in the Pacific War who ever had anything but praise for Australia and her people.

An old Machinist Mate who operated out of Australia once told me that his boat once sunk a well-known Japanese heavy cruiser. The news of their victory reached Australia before they came in and that they were overwhelmed with the reception that they got when their boat pulled into Freemantle. That Jap cruiser had been high on the Aussie hit list and the folks wanted to thank the boys who had put her on the ocean floor. Beer was free…They got kissed by girls from nine to ninety but in the words of our old 6 combat patrol shipmate, they were accorded the honor of (his words) "A free one, on the house, at a local knock shop". The madam of a prominent house of carnal pleasure met them on the pier and declared that the entire crew had a free pass for one visit to her establishment.

He said he stood in line for over an hour but that when at a ships' reunion several years after the war that was attended by the crew and many of their new brides, the subject of that high honor came up in conversation but no one remembered… Everyone told their wives they had no idea what I was talking about… They all remembered blasting the bottom out of the cruiser but had no recollection of the well-received honor bestowed on the crew.

They had blank stares and turned to their darlings and said…

"Wasn't me, Sweetheart, must have been some of the other guys."

"Hell Dex, I once stood in line at a cathouse in Freemantle that nobody was in. I stood there for an hour with nobody in front of me… Strange, I remember all of them in line."

Australia…must be a great place to be a bluejacket. Pretty ladies, hard men and a proud history.

Now I think I'll boil a billy of After Battery, mid watch, iguana plasma coffee and shuffle through a few more memories.