Investigation: Inside The Waiouru RF Cadet School
Investigation: Inside The Waiouru RF Cadet School
By Ian Fraser
Lauded as the prime source of the New Zealand Army's future Senior NCOs and Officers, for 50 years the Regular Force Cadet School has kept secret a far more sinister aspect to its existence.
It started as a night like any other for the cadets at the Army's Waiouru-based Regular Force Cadet School. At 9.10 pm on 13 Feb 1981, a teenage boy was confronted by a Corporal wielding an M16 rifle.
In full view of other cadets the Corporal chambered a live .223 bullet and switched the safety catch off, bragging "see it's on semi [automatic]" and aimed it directly at his victim's head.
The Corporal could detect the fear in his victim, see the confusion on his face, see the eyes darting around the room looking for way out of this terrifying confrontation. "Fuck off" his victim called out "I don't want to play your silly fucking game…."
With that the weapon fired! "Cadet Bain fell to the floor, fatally wounded" - The Court of Inquiry conducted to investigate the death by gunshot wound recorded. The bullet shattered his jaw and passed through his neck, severing the carotid artery. He died where he lay 5-10 minutes later.
With astounding speed, within three days, the cadet Corporal Read was tried in a civilian court for "reckless use of a firearm" and sentenced to a mere "$200 and 200 hours community service". The judge was not told that Read had done the same thing to another cadet only a few hours earlier, except that that time he'd removed the charge from the bullet and so produced alarm without the injury.
I knew this story, which was buried in the media, and many others from my own time as a cadet at the Waiouru Cadet School. I also know many ex-cadets who have never got over their experiences of violence at the school. Forty years later I've decided that the disturbing history of the cadet school should be told.
In the preparation of this article I have contacted numerous former cadets, asking them to recount their experiences and received information, including about Cadet Bain's shooting, from the Army under the Official Information Act.
Between 1948 and 1991, when it closed, an average of over 5000 young New Zealand boys vied for entry into the Army's elite RF Cadet School or the "Club" as it was colloquially known. Less than 3% of them made the grade. Generally from white middle class backgrounds the Army accepted them as young as 15 into its ranks with promises of continued education, trade training and apprenticeships. Most would go on to become the backbone of the Army - its Senior Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs). A few would earn commissions as officers. Almost all would either suffer or witness levels of abuse not tolerated in a modern society.
In the days following Cadet Bain's death, and Corporal Read's hurriedly arranged light sentence, the Army held its own Army Court of Inquiry into the death. It contains possibly the fullest record in existence of the violence at the school.
The Court of Inquiry recorded that on the night Cadet Bain died, his company commander - concerned about the levels of barrack room violence - "had organised an all-night supervisory programme in an endeavour to prevent or detect serious incidents of harassment."
"Ironically" the court found, the company commander "was absent from the barracks when the shooting occurred, because he was attending to a cadet [in the base hospital] who had been injured in an earlier serious incident of harassment."
"The Court is concerned that the School is unable to supervise the barracks properly, and thereby leaves this important responsibility largely in the hands of cadet NCOs, who are really only boys with little military or leadership experience"
"Cadet NCOs have received their licence to harass the junior cadets through the failure of the Army to staff the School adequately." Barrack room supervision by adult staff was "intermittent and inadequate."
But most significant admission in the Court of Inquiry report was that "All the cadets give evidence of a pervasive pattern of violence inflicted on junior cadets by cadet NCOs".
This culture of abuse permeated RF Cadet School right throughout its history and those in authority did little if anything to stamp it out. Brian Main, a Cadet in 1956, remembers "nightly barrack-room raids by senior Cadets terrorising the junior class. I don't know how a death was avoided, they were bad news. Rifles, brooms and other weapons were used in the dark so people did not know where they were hitting their victims."
The cadets were organised with their own parallel rank structure to that of the regular army (cadet sergeants, corporals etc). It was this mechanism that established and entrenched the abusive culture into the unit. Any transgression of the rules, and the rules appeared to be fluid, often being made up to fit the situation, was dealt with extremely harshly.
Although each barracks had an adult NCO, Cadet "discipline" was never meted out whilst anyone of any authority was around. Dobbing or actually telling the truth about the cause of injuries or who was responsible was considered the most heinous of crimes and recriminations would be considerably more severe than those originally suffered.
We all knew that there was nowhere to go report or even talk about any abuse we were subjected to. The Court of Inquiry acknowledged that "they were too frightened to report violence." Thus isolation was added to fear.
Reporting for sick parade would often find a beaten Cadet being checked over by another Cadet who was training as a medic. Cadets assisted admin clerks, manned switchboards and operated communications equipment. There was no such thing as "confidentiality" as somewhere in some critical point in the system was another Cadet. Complaining or seeking help about abuse was bound to lead to trouble.
Many former Cadets, while willing to share their experiences, are loath to be identified. This is especially true when you raise the subject of sexual abuse within the unit. One of my own classmates to this very day will not even acknowledge that he was sexually abused by another Cadet nearly 40 years ago. "it's gone, it's past, leave it alone" is about as vocal as I have ever heard him on the subject.
But sexual abuse did occur. There were cases of Cadets being held down and sodomised by other cadets or sexually assaulted with broom handles and that this led to more than one suicide. But, not surprisingly, none of the victims wanted to go on the record with their stories. But I can confirm that sexual abuse was a reality.
Talking to ex-cadets, what is consistent across the 50 years of the school's existence is a collective loathing of Sunday night inspections. By Sunday evening every Cadet was expected to have his own personal kit squared away. All washing and ironing completed. Shirts ironed and hung on the left hand side of his wardrobe, sleeves overlapping, trousers in the middle and jackets on the right hand side, again sleeves overlapping.
Footwear was expected to be highly spit shined so that you could see your reflection in them. A Cadets' own personal bed space had to be immaculate, not particle of dust to be found. Barrack room floors, covered in a red linoleum were waxed to an unimaginable shine. "The first night we spent scraping wax from the floors on our hands and knees with our eating utensils."
Sunday night was also retribution night. If anything was found to be out of order, a Cadets bedspace would be trashed. Clothing thrown on the floor and stomped, footwear scuffed, beds over turned. It was also the night when Cadets were informed they were in for a "barrelling" or beating which could occur at any time between then and the following Sunday inspection.
Mike (a Cadet in the early 1980's), said one of the lesser barrellings "…was to be tied to an Army bed without the mattress, taken outside and leaned up against a wall. Shaving cream, toothpaste, nugget and even shit would be rubbed all over you then you would be hosed off with a fire hose. Not the best way to spend a winter night in Waiouru."
Not all the ex-cadets found their time at the RF Cadet School difficult. One wrote to me: "I was a clubbie from 77-79. There weren't many serious incidents (depending on how you grade it) in my era. There was the rooms getting trashed at 3.00 am. They would come into our rooms tip us out of bed and throw all our clothes out of our lockers/drawers. This was done by Cadets a year ahead of us. There would have been individual hidings given for various things though. I do know we used to have to walk or run through the corridor with other Cadets lined up either side and used to get hit/kicked but I can't recall that being too bad."
The Army of course contained some senior staff who did care and made various attempts to stamp out the violence. For instance, one former cadet told me how "In 1957 we experienced most probably what was the only "drumming out" of a Cadet from the Army. Two or three Cadet NCOs dealt a new Cadet a hiding behind the barracks, and not being one on one, it just a turned out to be a gang beating. They were found out, and the whole of Army Schools and Cadet school was assembled on the then Army Schools parade ground."
"The NCO's ranks were ripped from their sleeves by the then CSM (Company Sergeant Major) of Cadet school, Harry Allen, and ground into the parade ground under his heel. With drums beating slowly they were then slow marched, under escort, from the Army Schools parade ground to the Camp Cells/guard hut where they were held until they were discharged. This was all after they had been court martialled .It was certainly a rude awakening for someone who had just joined the army…."
On another occasion, during my years at the school, there was a decision to remove all wardrobe doors from the barracks. The reason for this was that beaten cadets were repeatedly being left in the wardrobes, bleeding, unconscious and unattended to.
But the main attitude from the Army hierarchy was neglect - neglect of boys as young as 15 years old. It was as if the culture of violence and abuse was tacitly accepted as part of making tough men.
Not all the cadets managed to cope. Some, with the assistance of parents, obtained discharges from the Army. Others, tragically, took their own lives. But a more common form of coping with the harshness of life was the development of alcohol abuse amongst Cadets. More than one mother chided the Army "I gave you my son and you gave me back an alcoholic."
One incident, famous amongst Cadets, involved the building of a tunnel from the Cadet Barracks, under a road and up into the Sergeants Mess store room a distance of some 90m. The objective: obtaining a steady supply of beer and spirits. Cadet Legend has it that this system worked well for some considerable time "until some clown drove a tank down the road and the tunnel collapsed."
Whilst other children were enjoying their formative teenage years and new found freedoms, Cadets were isolated, denied the environment other adolescent boys were going through in the course of normal developmental, anti-establishment, defiant type phases. Cadets had to find other outlets and methods of coping.
Boyish inquisitiveness led Cadets to develop quite cavalier attitudes to handling the most lethal of army ordnance. Procedures on firing ranges to ensure no live ammunition was taken away were at best superficial. It wasn't uncommon to see an instructor secret away a canister of ammunition behind the drivers seat of a Landrover or RL Bedford, a scene I witnessed myself on at least two occasions. Cadets became quite adept and extremely creative in acquiring anything from 7.62mm rifle ammunition through to M-79 rifle launched grenades.
Over the years a number of Cadets lost their lives as a result. According to former Cadets the practice of dismantling 7.62mm SLR and 5.56mm M16 ammunition was well known and went back as far as the days of the .303 rifle. Bullets would be removed from shell casings and the firing charge removed, or the more adept would merely remove the primer from the end of the round with the intent of rendering it "inert."
In 1992, Reg Harris, Warrant Officer at the School of Signals witnessed the result of an "incident at the School of Signals where a Cadet found a M79 grenade or two and was showing his mates. He banged two together and of course they exploded killing himself and another plus severely injuring a couple more"
According to reports at the time, the district court judge (D. Lowe) in the Cadet Bain case clearly felt uncomfortable with the light penalties. He described the charge "as comparable to one of careless driving causing death, where an act not grossly culpable had serious consequences." He believed the incident giving rise to the charge before him was far more serious than that. However Detective Sergeant P.D. Hunt said "senior officers had instructed him to lay the charge". He agreed that it could well be a charge of manslaughter but he had been instructed to lay the lesser charge.
Had Judge Lowe been in possession of the Court of Inquiry findings, I suspect he would have upgraded the charge to manslaughter or even murder, especially given that Corporal Read had done exactly the same thing to another cadet only a few hours earlier.
The Defence record of that earlier incident records: "There was a sharp crack…. Witnesses recall that [the cadet] looked startled and rubbed his upper arm…. He says he felt bits of powder hit his arm. He adds that he was very upset for a while after the incident."
Upset? The boy was without question traumatised.
According to Dr Jessica Hamblen, of the American Centre for Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, there was no formal recognition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders until 1980 "At that time, little was known about what PTSD looked like in children and adolescents. Today, we know children and adolescents are susceptible to developing PTSD, and we know that PTSD has different age-specific features"
Dr Hamblem goes on: "children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic events often exhibit other types of problems…. often have problems with fear, anxiety, depression, anger and hostility, aggression, sexually inappropriate behaviour, self-destructive behaviour, feelings of isolation and stigma, poor self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, and substance abuse…. Children who have experienced traumas also often have relationship problems with peers and family members, problems with acting out, and problems with school performance."
"Along with associated symptoms, there are a number of psychiatric disorders that are commonly found in children and adolescents who have been traumatized. One commonly co-occurring disorder is major depression. Other disorders include substance abuse; other anxiety disorders such as separation anxiety, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder; and externalising disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder."
In mid-life, the ex-Cadets I have contacted have mixed memories of painful events and life benefits associated with their military experience. But many refuse to attend class reunions because 40 or 50 years later the memory of the violence inflicted upon them is still fresh in their memories.
As a result of talking to other ex-cadets, and thinking about my own experiences, I am convinced that large numbers of the young men entrusted to the Army RF Cadet School by their parents have, as a consequence, had to go through life with more or less serious effects of trauma.
POWs in Iraq will not doubt in time receive large compensation payments as a result of their ill treatment whilst in American custody. New Zealand's former Regular Army cadets, who were often violently treated and traumatised by the very Army they served, deserve official acknowledgement and compensation as well.
For most, an acknowledgement and apology from the Army for their brutal treatment would be sufficient. For others, there is an obligation on the NZ Army to provide medical treatment. Many of us showed great loyalty to the Army during our careers. Hopefully the Army will be willing to do the same in return.
Ian Fraser can be contacted by other ex-cadets at firstname.lastname@example.org - See also a related press release... Victims Of Army Cadet School Violence Sought