This site is dedicated to getting a single Constitutional change through Parliament to allow not only our politicians, but also we the people to initiate a referendum to change the Constitution. We are led by renowned Vietnam war hero, Lieutenant Colonel Charles S Mollison CG BA psc AFAI. So we have asked him for permission to tell his story….
A long-term ambition to be a soldier probably stemmed from the fact Charles Mollison’s father was an Army officer in both World Wars. Stanley Mollison arrived in Australia in 1910 straight from Edinburgh University to take up his first job as the Physical Training teacher at Scotch College in Melbourne. He joined the 1st AIF in 1914 and, after surviving Gallipoli, was sent to France where, as a Sergeant, he was awarded a Military Medal for outstanding bravery under fire at the battle for Pozieres, and recommended for another. Following WW 1, a “grateful” Government gave him the opportunity to take out a bank loan and purchase a Soldier Settlement farm. Charles Mollison was born on that farm, at Numurkah in Victoria, in 1934.
Charles started his soldiering in Melbourne in 1948 when he joined the School Cadet Corps at Williamstown High School. He eventually became the senior Cadet Lieutenant and virtually ran the unit in the absence of any suitable teacher.
When he left school, he wanted to apply for entry to the Royal Military College at Duntroon. However, his father advised against that on the grounds that, “They will discharge you at age 47 as a Major, son, and nobody has any use for a person who only knows how to fire guns.” Although based on first-hand knowledge, this was probably not the best advice, but it worked out perfectly in the end. Charles’ next period of Military service was as a National Serviceman in the scheme in which all fit 18 year olds were required to complete three months full-time training; and two years part-time training in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF). Because of his Cadet experience, most of his full time National Service was spent at NCO and Officer training courses. At the completion of this training at Puckapunyal, he was posted to the 58/32 Infantry Battalion at Moonee Ponds, to complete his part time training.
For the next twelve years, he spent nearly all his spare time and most of his holidays on voluntary CMF activities – two or three nights every week, every second weekend and two to four weeks each year on camps and courses.
Charles Mollison first came to the attention of the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Cliff Thompson (ex Adjutant of the 2/14th Infantry Battalion of Kokoda Track fame), when, as a Corporal, he topped a Platoon Weapons Course conducted at the School of Infantry for Regular and CMF officers and NCOs. The Commanding Officer was so impressed with that course report, he called Charles up and told him he wanted him to attend the Officer Training Course – he wanted Mollison as one of his officers.
Sister battalions in 4 Brigade were the 6th Battalion, Royal Melbourne Regiment and the 5th Battalion, Victorian Scottish Regiment. Both these battalions were full on pomp and ceremony and held themselves in very high regard. Officers in those battalions were people such as Andrew Peacock (later to become Australia’s Ambassador to the USA) and Rupert Hamer who become Premier of Victoria. In contrast, the 58/32 Battalion, under the guidance of Lt Col Thompson, was a very down-to-earth, hard working unit, dedicated to high levels of training and efficiency. Colonel Thompson’s “no nonsense” approach had a long lasting effect on Mollison’s subsequent service. One of his early Company Commanders was Kevin Cooke, later to become Major General K G Cooke, AO RFD ED, Chief of the Army Reserves and a Member of the Military Board.
Charles Mollison served in many postings in the 58/32 Bn and in the subsequent 1st Bn, Royal Victoria Regiment (Pentropic) (1RVR) when that change was made. These postings included Section Commander, Platoon Sergeant, Company Sergeant Major, Platoon Commander, Medium Machine Gun Platoon Commander, Transport Officer, Intelligence Officer and Company Commander. He also ran the unit Small Bore Rifle Club and regularly won the 4 Brigade individual marksmanship competitions. During this period, he studied for and passed a continuous stream of examinations and courses for promotion to all ranks from Private to Major.
At the same time, he was of course, also pursuing a civilian career. Having completed a five-year apprenticeship as a Photo-Lithographer, he then completed a three-year course at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology to gain a Certificate of Advanced Printing Technology. He became Production Manager of a printing firm for some years before entering into a partnership to launch a groundbreaking business in photo typesetting. His partner provided the finance and Charles was the Managing Director of that very successful venture until his partner got greedy and they parted company.
When the partnership folded in 1962, Charles was persuaded to take up Full Time Duty in the CMF while he set about re-establishing his own business. He was appointed as the Adjutant of 1 RVR and it was not long before he realised that he was enjoying more job satisfaction in the Army than he ever had in the printing industry. So, despite a considerable drop in salary, he applied for and was granted a Short Service Commission in the Regular Army. It was a proud moment six or seven months later when his Commanding Officer, Colonel George Warfe, DSO MC (of Z Force, WW2 fame), wrote in his Annual Confidential Report that “I would be happy to have Captain Mollison as my Adjutant in peace or war”.
Of course, while all this was happening on the work front and in the CMF, Charles had also married, built a house, had two children, and so on. In conjunction with his brother-in-law, Arthur Gillespie, he also built a Heron class sailing dinghy in order to further his interest in sailing, but this pursuit was to be curtailed until many years later.
Although fully qualified for Major with six years seniority as an officer in the CMF, Charles was happy to be accepted into the Regular Army as a Captain with no seniority. (He did not know then that he would be “behind the eight ball” in the promotion stakes forever thereafter.) He was also ill prepared when the Director of Infantry, Colonel Jim Ochiltree, asked him to which Regular Army battalion he would like to be posted. He made a quick mental calculation and guessed (wrongly) that 2 RAR would be the next battalion sent to Malaysia, and asked for that.
On 6 June 1965, 2 RAR was split in two to form the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR), and Mollison was appointed Officer Commanding Alpha Company. He trained the Company, took it to Vietnam, and was in command of the Company again when the need arose to rescue Delta Company from almost certain annihilation at the Battle of Long Tan.
In a series of postings that followed his tour of duty in Vietnam, he became the Officer Commanding Delta Company 6 RAR on promotion to Major and from Townsville he was posted to Melbourne to be the Training and Operations Major on HQ 3 Division. This was an interesting and demanding job and it allowed him to again pursue excellence in marksmanship: twice winning the annual Southern Command Championship, and being second in the Queen’s Medal Competition in 1970. He attended Staff College in 1971 and on graduation, was posted as a Tactics Instructor at the Jungle Training Centre, Canungra. He was then posted to Army Head Quarters.
Although promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Charles found serving six years in Army HQ and the Defence Department somewhat less than the challenge he sought so he attended Canberra University in his spare time, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Professional Writing and Public Administration in 1980.
Postings to Sydney then allowed Charles to resume his passion for sailing. He took Long-Service Leave in 1982 and cruised the South-West Pacific Ocean in his yacht “Dalliance ll” for six months. He was also heavily into ocean yacht racing and sailed in off-shore and on-shore races two or three times each week for several years including five Sydney-Hobart yacht races. The pinnacle of this endeavour was when, as Sail master on the yacht”Patrice lll” he won Division 1 of the 1984 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
Compulsory retirement age for a Lieutenant Colonel is 50 years, and when this happened in 1984 it gave Charles the opportunity to fulfil another long-term ambition – to sail around the world.
In January 1986 he departed Sydney in his 12 metre yacht “Dalliance ll”, picking up crew as and where he could. Ron Petty, his brother Ken, nephew Warren Gillespie and others sailed with him at different times to Melbourne and Adelaide and across the Great Australian Bight. In Fremantle, he gained qualification as a Master Mariner and skippered the charter yacht “Tequila” throughout the America’s Cup. In April ’87, he sailed up the coast of Western Australia, across to Bali, through Indonesia to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Then to Sri Lanka and India before crossing to Oman. Departing Djibouti, he single-handed up the Red Sea visiting Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. He experienced a great sense of achievement when, after traversing the Suez Canal, he sailed into the Mediterranean Sea. After visiting Israel and Cyprus, he cruised the coasts of Turkey and the Greek Islands and then, with his sister Pat as crew, he crossed the Black Sea to Odessa; to be the first private vessel to visit the Soviet Union. Charles organized a Russian entry in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race before departing for Romania and Bulgaria and visiting Istanbul and Gallipoli.
In Turkey he met Corrie. She became his wife and together they continued the sail around the world. After cruising the Mediterranean, they dropped the mast and motor-cruised the rivers and canals of France, Belgium and Holland before a transit of the Kiel Canal in Germany allowed them to sail the Baltic Sea and to visit St Petersburg (Leningrad), Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Norway.
Corrie and Charles then sailed around Scotland, Ireland and England before an old friend, Bob Harper, joined them for the passage down the coasts of Spain, Portugal and Morocco, out to the Canary and Cape Verde Islands and across the Atlantic Ocean. A record Atlantic-crossing time of 13 days was followed by a big fright after arriving in Brazil, when the anchor chain broke in the middle of the night and they drifted five miles up the Amazon River.
Corrie and Charles then had a glorious six-month cruise of the Caribbean, the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas before arriving in Florida. They enjoyed the USA so much they stayed a whole year; cruising the Intra-Coastal Waterway and going all the way to New York.
In 1994, they visited Cuba before passing through the Panama Canal. A 10-day visit to the Galapagos Islands was followed by two non-stop passages of 24 days across the Pacific Ocean. They visited the Marquesas, Samoa and Fiji before again cruising Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands where Charles’ sister Pat, brother Ken and his wife Judy, joined them. Charles’ nephew, Peter Gillespie, helped them sail back to Australia.
The circumnavigation was completed in Sydney Harbour in January 1996; ten years to the day from departure. This ten-year odyssey allowed Charles to visit over 70 countries and to stay long enough in each to gain some insight into many other cultures.
Now retired (for the third time) to a small property in the Queensland Sunshine Coast hinterland, Charles dabbles in Farm Forestry but spends most of his energy as the Founding Chairman of a nation-wide, voluntary organisation that is writing a whole new Constitution for Australia.
Comments or questions are welcome.