Thursday, May 24, 2012

School of Artillery Manly, No more

Me in front of the "School"

Hi all,
I am back, like I am back.
I'll start my musings with my recent visit to the old School of Artillery Manly, Australia.

Gunners who were fortunate enough, including me, to have attended artillery courses in the  School of Artillery Manly, Australia would have fond memories of their courses in Manly. More so, we had fond memories and experiences of awesome and vibrant Sydney city and the beautiful Manly seaside town. 

We would remember the excitement after classes, at the officers mess bar, having fun at Manly beach eating fish and chips and the weekends in Sydney. Places like Kings Cross and Bondi beach comes to mind each time we  recall our courses at the the School. Most of us would have the urged to return to visit the School of Artillery Manly, one day. I had harboured that same passion to visit the School all these years. Though I had visited Melbourne several times over the years, I never had the opportunity to visit Sydney and Manly. 
Last April 2012, after about 40 years on, my wife and I decided to go down memory lane to visit Sydney and of course Manly to visit the School of Artillery Manly.  I was vaguely aware the the School of Ariliiery had shifted to Pukapunyal, Victoria, some years back, but I was still wishful that there would be some rear party/ memorial/ muzium  left behind in Manly. I was wishful for a nostalgic visit to the School, to have a cup of tea at the old officers mess, to have a tour of the gun parks, classess and training area. I was really really wishful.

The next day after arriving to Sydney, my wife and I and our gracious host drove up to North Head, where the School of Artillery was located. It was a clear road up to North Head as it is the only road up the hill. I could see the familiar guard house, red bricks and all. But there were no sentry posts at the arched tunnel into the School compound. No guards to stop us, to challenge us as we were accustomed to when attending the courses. Not to mention coming in past 2359 hrs on Sunday nights.

The signage in front of  the main entrance to the School broke my heart. It read " Formally the School of Artillery"

We parked our car and was politely greeted by a cililian serurity guard on his rounds. We were told that the whole School compound were now private offices and businesses complex. The class room and barracks were turned into office suites, the gun parks into gyms and warehouses. There was not a single Artillery artifact, not a piece of evidence that reminded us of our School. I felt deserted, my wish and my aspiration went down with my morale that morning.

The Parade square, with Hq building on the left

The main parade square of red earth is still intact, so are the HQ block, barracks and class rooms. All in good maintainance and freshly painted. All the Gun Park bays  were closed with big lorries parked nearby. They had made excellent warehouses for storage. No guns, no gun towers. No smell of gun oils too. I wasn't breathing easy as my heart acked at what had become of  the School of Artillery.

We went to the rear of the School, to the  bushland area, where we did quick deployment drills and the survey module training. We were pleasantly greeted with a new Memorial Walk, about half a kilometers track. The memorial walk was segmented into the monuments of the  various wars and conflicts participated by the RAA.  Plaques and name tags were embedded in the Memorial  Walk. Regiments and Batteries of the RAA were displayed alongside the names of  Gunners, officers and other ranks alike.
Several heavy pieces of coastal gun barrels were also displayed in their emplacements built during WW2.

Me at the entrance to the Memorial Walk

On another visit to Manly several days later, I managed to contact Colonel H'ng Hung Meng and  Commander Lam, and we had a good evening with our wives at the local waterhole by the whalfside. That is Manly for me for now.

Me, Hung Meng, Peggy, and the Lams

My visit to the School of Artillery Manly was a disappointment, not at anybody, but at myself for having such a high expectation after 40 years being away. I will now have a renewed desire to visit the School of Artillery again, now in Pukapunyal, for my future visits to Australia. but  Pukapunyal is no Manly, is no Sydney. It is infact in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere like Kem Gemas . I  was driving past Pukapunyal the other day and the only significant signage was " Slow down Heavy vehicles crossing" . I would pay more attention to Pukapunyal  if there were signs that reads " Beware of artillery shells flying overhead."

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