William the Drill Instructor


William’s bellowing command spilled clouds of smoky breath into the cool morning air. He walked down the line of new recruits, checking that they have adhered to the details that single word implied.

“Men…your feet are to be at a 30 degree angle!” William’s voice echoes across the field as he further drills his subjects in military precision.

“Keep your arms straight,”

“Your hands are to be closed, not clenched.”

William wrestled with the winter cold as he stood facing his new recruits.  Summer’s stormy skies have long passed, blanketing the west with a sense of security as people prepared for winter’s welcomed relief from the heat.  Although he knew what a fickle friend the weather could be; that one must be prepared for change.

Feeling the early morning cold on his face and neck, like sharp needle stabs, his voice continues to project words, loud and crisp, whilst ignoring the icy jabs against his skin, the freezing breeze that cut his face.

‘Discipline,’ he recites to himself. ‘It is all about discipline.

He wonders how long it will take to transform these unruly assembly of bodies into well drilled soldiers, who will instinctively react to a single word command. He knows that it will happen.  He too was green and unco-ordinated at the age of 17 when he joined the Mackay Mounted Infantry.  It just takes time and practice.  He knows that he has time on his side as the War is over in South Africa and there are no conflicts in sight.

He can  recall a time, many years ago, when accusations of being ‘pretend soldiers’ were thrown at young soldiers like he.  He lost that title on the barren windswept plains of South Africa.  It was a death that he welcomed as it silenced the blind accusations, but the hero status that follows a war is no better.  Both are born out of ignorance, he thought.  Was my life any different to that before the war?  He believed not, except of course his memories are now stained with blood.

Upon his return to Brisbane from South Africa, he promptly wrote an application to the Commanding Officer of the 1st Queensland South African Contingent regarding a position of Second Class Instructor.  He knew then with a sense of unwavering certainty what he wanted to do with his life, especially now with the formation of the Permanent Armed Forces following the Federation of the States.

I have the honour to tender this my application for a position as a Second Class Instructor in the permanent Staff of the Queensland Mounted Infantry and in doing so beg to submit the following:
Previous to leaving for South Africa with the 1st Queensland Contingent, I held the rank of Sergeant in ‘M’ Coy QMI for six months, having been altogether about 9 years connected with the Queensland Mounted infantry, during which time I regularly attended.
During my connection with the 1st Queensland Contingent, I was in all engagements that the regiment took part in and on the 1st June was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
None else than the C/O 1st Queensland Contingent is more acquainted with my general character and behaviour and if more reference is required I would refer you to Captain Joseph, Commanding Officer of ‘M’ Coy, QMI, Mackay.
Trusting a favourable consideration.
I have the honour to be Sir,
Your Obedient Servant
W. Lyons Sergeant.

When notification arrived of the acceptance of his application, he was overjoyed.  He enthusiastically received Major Reickelmann’s letter dated 12th February 1901 instructing him to travel to Gatton by the next steamer.  His pending departure signified the beginning of his new life.  All the years of training and sobering experiences of the war somehow seemed to now make sense.  They were all part of his life’s journey.  Was that not a good thing?

William’s  commands echoed across the field, above the thumping and thudding of booted feet marching to their own continuous beat; stopping, turning amidst clouds of dust and flying clods of dirt and restarting in another direction, all directed by single words or silent signals given by fingers and hands.  This was all in a days work for William, training young men for war.

Glancing up at the clear blue sky, a cold shudder racks his body along with the realization that the storm clouds will once more cover the skies with doom.  They always do. He lives in readiness for that moment and Cis knows that.  Although she lives in hope that the weather will never turn.





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