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state library of queensland
John Oxley Library

A Navy Nasho: Alex Garlin Digital Story and Oral History

By India Dixon, Librarian, Queensland Memory | 18 October 2022

The National Service Scheme was a compulsory military service that was operational across two split decades following the conclusion of World War Two. During these two periods of service, approximately 290,000 Australian men served as part of the National Service schemes.

The first wave of national service, which operated between 1951-1959, required eligible Australian men aged over 18 to undertake 176 days of training in a branch of the military. For many, this service was an enriching and highly successful period of their lives in which they learnt discipline and the value of esprit-de-corps. 

For those involved in the 1950s period of National service, the most common means of call-up was via letter. This was no different for Alex Garlin, president of the National Servicemen's Association of Queensland.

I was living in 18 Dowar Street Coorparoo when the letter came to say that you were off to the navy...On our form there was a choice and I put navy, navy, navy. At an interview later on I was queried about that and I told the officer that interviewed us that if you put me in the Army I would become a leper in the family, because everyone in my family is Navy.
Alex Garlin
An aerial photograph of the HMAS Vengeance

An aerial photograph of the HMAS Vengeance. Navy personnel are arranged on deck to spell the aircraft carrier's name. Alex Garlin digital story and oral history, producer Jeremy Santolin, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Alex underwent his training on HMAS Penguin, a dry-land Navy base located in Sydney. Later, he was taken to Melbourne to complete training in the gunnery school.

During the first week of training, the youth of some of his fellow servicemen became apparent.

Just as I was about to swing into the hammock, I heard this sobbing. Two hammocks down from me was a young lad. He told me he'd never been away from his mother his whole life. His mother always tucked him in. I stayed with him and pacified him until he went to sleep, and I think I did that for three nights until he suddenly became one of us.
Alex Garlin

Australians recruited through National Service often served domestically, but many were also involved in active service overseas.

For Alex Garlin, overseas service came almost as an accident.

...almost at the completion of our gunnery course... We were approached by two officers that told us that we were selected to go overseas on a ship and we were going to Japan. So after that we packed up our kit bag, our hammock, and we were taken from there by bus into the city. We picked up the interstate train that was taking us up to Sydney to join the 'Vengeance'.
Alex Garlin

The Vengeance was a Colossus-class light aircraft carrier originally commissioned for the Royal Navy. Completed before the end of World War Two and commissioned in 1945, she served in three separate navies primarily as a training and aircraft transport ship before being decommissioned in 2001.

During Alex's time aboard the Vengeance he took part in a 'crossing the line' ceremony, which is an initiation rite performed to mark the crossing of the equator. This ceremony, which involved flooding an elevator shaft on the flight deck with seawater to create a makeshift pool and dressing up members of the ship's crew as Neptune and other oceanic gods, has been captured a number of times on camera and is a common occurrence in the Navy.

American servicemen performing the Crossing the Line ceremony during World War Two

American servicemen performing the Crossing the Line ceremony during World War Two. GS-44 Photograph Albums of Americans in Queensland During World War Two 1942-1945, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

National Servicemen taking part in a crossing of the line ceremony, 1956

National Servicemen taking part in a crossing of the line ceremony, 1956. You can clearly see the flooded elevator bay and Neptune's trident amidst the crowd of crewmembers. 32648 William Malcolm Parker collection, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

Upon arriving in Japan, Alex assisted with the loading of Meteor jets aboard the Vengeance. He discusses hiring scooters and motorcycles with some fellow crewmembers and making a day trip through Hiroshima. Alex recalled that it was a 'desolate place to visit' at the time. They were later asked to leave the area by American personnel, who told them that the area was still radioactive.

You can watch Alex Garlin's Digital Story and Oral History below. Mr Garlin's digital story and oral history interview is part of a suite of interviews with Australian National Servicemen (Nashos) about their experiences in the Australian Defence Force. Mr Garlin discusses his service in the Australian Navy (1954-1959), the impact of his experiences on his later life and his commemoration of Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.

Alex Garlin digital story (7mins 30 seconds). 

Alex Garlin oral history (43min 16 seconds)


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