By MATHEW DEARNALEY
Former Army major Kev Smith managed to "box off" bullies during his cadet training, but is prepared to return from Australia to testify for those left traumatised by brutality.
Mr Smith, who retired from the Army in the late 1980s after 20 years and is a civilian trainer for Queensland police, says he would be very happy to return to give evidence to a inquiry which Defence Minister Mark Burton is promising into the former Waiouru cadet school.
Mr Burton hopes to be ready today to seek Cabinet approval for some form of "appropriate independent process".
"I'm not into this for monetary gain," Mr Smith, 56, said of a decision to put aside natural feelings of loyalty to the Army and join former cadet Ian Fraser in speaking up for hundreds of men who claim to have been bullied and brutalised over three decades from the 1960s.
Two claim to have been pack-raped by senior cadets.
"I am doing it because there were people who were traumatised by this - it should not have happened. The Army had a responsibility and a duty of care, we would say today, to those cadets," Mr Smith said.
"They did not exercise that duty of care to those boys - and we were all boys when we were there."
He said he did not blame the senior cadets involved as the Army should have exercised more responsibility. "There was a whole atmosphere of intimidation and violence throughout."
Mr Smith recalls being summoned to a room one night in 1966 "on some trumped-up charge" and forced to fight a senior cadet or be bashed by 12 to 15 others there.
"They said, either fight fair dinkum and put on your best fight, otherwise we'll all bash you."
Having had boxing experience, he surprised them by winning the fight and escaped further victimisation, but says both he and his victim were the losers.
"You cannot do something like that and not be traumatised by it."
One of his best friends was hospitalised after a bashing, for which a senior cadet was sentenced to detention at the Ardmore military prison.
But Mr Smith recalled travelling home on leave with his friend on the same northbound train as the culprit, who was being escorted to prison in handcuffs until his regular-force guards started drinking and freed him to renew his assault.
"He gave my friend a hell of a flogging ... when we got off the train at Hamilton, my father came to meet us and didn't recognise [him]."
Mr Smith said it was common for seniors to inspect junior cadets' laundry bags "and if you had skid marks in your undies you were forced to wear them over your head and you'd cop a flogging - it was just vile".
One victim rose to become a senior Army officer, but Mr Smith said every time he came across him later in his career, all he could visualise was "this bloke when we were boys, with his Jockeys over his head, being paraded up and down and ridiculed and scrubbed".
Despite his institutional criticism of the Army, he said he had no problems with the behaviour of individual regular-force soldiers, including former All Black Stan "Tiny" Hill, who was regimental sergeant major in charge of drills at the cadet school from 1963 to 1966.
"He was the epitome of what an RSM should be - he was tough but fair."
But another former cadet also living in Queensland, John Garrity, recalls how a youth standing next to him on parade in front of Mr Hill fainted and dropped his rifle. "We got this huge lecture on how this rifle was worth more than we were."
Mr Hill was reported in the Herald on Sunday as saying complaints by former cadets were made in hope of compensation and that most of those claiming to have been picked on were weaklings who could not handle life at the school.
Herald Feature: Cadet school
By MATHEW DEARNALEY