Just prior to Anzac Day last year I bought a red poppy from a RSL veteran who had set up his little table outside the Yarrawonga Newsagency.
We got to talking and it turns out this gentleman, Ted Snodgrass, had an amazing story to tell.
Appearances can be deceiving and while Ted looked like a someone’s beloved grandfather in a knitted jumper (which he most likely is) it turns out he is also an explosives technician who worked on redeveloping the Matra air to air missile and trialled ejection seats in the Mirage aircraft.
As if that wasn’t exciting enough, he has also completed an IED (improvised explosive device) course, learning how to build and diffuse bombs of all descriptions.
So of course the first thing I asked him was “do you cut the red or the green wire?”
To which he replied “well cutting any wire, no matter the colour, sometimes isn’t a good idea, the device could have a collapsing circuit which, if a wire was cut, would trigger an explosion”.
The romantic, Hollywood perception of a bomb disposal expert is of a big burly man with nerves of steel, strapping on a myriad of protective clothing and striding unerringly into battle.
The reality however is a little different and altogether more dangerous, although according to Ted working in the civilian field was far more dangerous than his time in the military.
“The safety aspects were more relaxed in a civilian company than in the military, where everything had to be done to the letter,” he said.
“In Australia today there are still unexploded bombs lying in military ranges, mostly when there were trials occurring and some of the devices just didn’t explode, which sometimes happens.
“We had to do a clearance at the Morna Point Range when two young boys entered the area, which is extremely dangerous and illegal, and they stepped on an unexploded bomb and blew themselves up – it was horrific.
“One other time, an unexploded bomb was uncovered during a normal operation and the flight sergeant at the time attempted to dismantle it.
“Myself and a couple of others went behind some sand dunes for safety and all of a sudden there was a massive explosion with shrapnel going everywhere.
“The flight sergeant appeared and said ‘I think that was a live bomb’ and we didn’t see him again for about three days, he definitely needed some time to recover.”
Trialling ejection seats for the Mirage aircraft was one experience Ted remembers fondly.
“We would have to strap bits of steak to the dummies to see if their legs cleared the cockpit,” he said.
“It really was a shame to see those good bits of steak go to waste like that and we had to go back to the mess at the end of the day and eat the normal muck.”
The new technology today of drones and robots fascinates Ted.
“I have actually worked with the robots, they are great but a bugger of a thing to control,” he said.
“I don’t really like watching the news and the footage shows bomb disposal experts wearing their protective suits.
“It gives others perhaps an idea of how the protective clothing works and where the weaknesses are on them, that really worries me.
“Some movies now which are about conflict and war have, I believe, clever pieces of misinformation in them possibly to get ‘the other side’ to think we actually have those weapons or bits of technology.”
Ted retired from the armed services as a Flight Sergeant with Engineer Authority as the Promulgated Base Armament Officer, he was also Head of Armament Procurement for the RAAF.
Today Ted enjoys hand feeding a family of magpies which have taken up residence in his backyard as well as tinkering on his vintage vehicles, the latest one being a 1936 Riley Merlin; he is a long time and active member of the RSL.
Lest we forget.