Bill Black - Musicians and medics

Running time
2 min 59 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


The colonel, Peter Scott, wanted a pipe band. Keeping in mind, 3 Battalion at that point was 80-something percent National Servicemen. It was the first almost top heavy battalion they'd sent over. So what he did, and I can almost assume, that when you put your papers in here in Melbourne, you're a musician, that's where you were going to end up. And he'd brought a couple of professional pipers into the military, and I remember one guy had come from Canada, and Des Ross from South Australia, who's still piping. And he came in as what they call a pipe sergeant.

Anyway I find myself in a pipe band, never played drums in a pipe band in my life. But I enjoyed it. But of course, and I'm surmising what they latched onto, was the stretcher-bearer thing from the First World War, and they termed us as stretcher-bearers. But all of us got trained as medics, and probably reasonably intensive training, but only for what we were going to encounter. One of the strange aspects was we were trained in childbirth. You would wonder why, going to war.

So yeah, anyway, and all the National Service medics in the Third Battalion bar the few regs were musicians. Well, you're thinking why? Yeah. Well , we've wondered why, the musicians. And we've often asked the question when we've got together over the years, and I think it was the last episode of Spicks and Specks which Karen and I watched, and Richard Gill's on it. And he makes a statement at the end, he said, "In my opinion, every secondary school student should do music as a compulsory subject." And I'm waiting, and one of them said "Why?" and he said, "Because musicians use both sides of their brain at the same time and they are incredible listeners."

And of course you do. If you're reading a chart, you're playing and you're listening. And one of the things they teach you being a medic was when you get to your wounded bloody soldier, get them talking. A, to find out where they're hurting, but to prevent shock setting in. So the major thing you treated first up was the shock because it would be the shock more often that would kill them. And as soon as he said that, I thought "Geez, you don't realize you've got that skill."

And we met Richard in France probably, might be six or seven years ago now, in a maze of all things. And we were talking to him and I mentioned that, and he said, "I'm amazed the army knew that at the time, that musicians had that skill." So you were the infantry soldier in a contact, you then had to become the medic, and then you had to get to your patient and get them talking as quick as possible. So you're under the pressure of a contact, but you're listening like anything.

Was this page helpful?
We can't respond to comments or queries via this form. Please contact us with your query instead.