Forty unsupervised thirteen year olds on a road trip to a tropical island may sound like a license to unlimited fun (or a passport to disaster,depending on your point of view) but even in those circumstances, there were chores.
To save money, we cooked some of our meals at the old mansion where we were staying. Now we actually handled that very well without much problem. However, we were unsure of the quality of the tap water at the old building for drinking. As a precaution, we followed the standard practice of boiling the water and allowing it to cool before drinking.
Here lies the problem; it was a lot of work to provide drinking water for forty, active,sports-playing kids. Our daily drinking water requirement was at least 80 liters. We had two large kettles that could boil about 4 liters each. That allowed us to boil 8 liters of water at a time. The problem was that it took about 20 minutes to boil the water each time. That meant that we had to had someone on duty boiling water continuously for almost four hours each day. Also the water would be too hot to drink immediately and we had to wait at least two hours for it to cool down to room temperature. We tried this for the first two days but found it difficult since none of us wanted to waste so much time on water duty when there were places to go to and games to play.
We had a crisis meeting on the morning of the third day. The meeting was short but boisterous. However, we all agreed that we could not go on with our current water boiling schedules. We also agreed that there was a simple solution to this water crisis. We were aware that there was an abundant of water coolers within the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Centre and there never seemed to be anyone around most of the time. We also knew there was a no trespassing sign at their entrance at the base of the hill. However, we concluded that the simple solution would be to obtain water from the base and that the “no trespassing” order did not apply to thirteen year olds.
And so, we collected all the available water containers we had (fortunately most of us had water bottles that could hold at least 1.5 liters) and a raiding party of twenty of us boldly set off down the hill along the front road. We entered the base unchallenged and soon found that there was a water cooler providing sweet, cold water almost every 100m within the complex of buildings. It took less than 10 minutes for us to fill our containers and we retreated up the hill without any incident. We celebrated with a drink of icy cold water back at the old mansion.
We did this twice a day for the next few days. Not every expedition was without incident. On some occasions, we had encounters with some of the Australian soldiers. Mostly, we pretended not to understand English and boldly walked away but at least one pair was collared by a couple of military police and warned not to come back.
On the second last day of our stay, we found a notice had been delivered to us at the old mansion. It was a letter from the RAAF authorities informing us that the base was out of bounds and that stern action would be taken against us if we were caught in it again. This really shook us up and that night we made no raid.
However, on the last day, after we spent a whole day out, we came back in the early evening and were too tired and lazy to go through the water boiling process and so we ignored the danger and plotted our last raid on RAAF Georgetown.
We decided on some changes in our raiding plan. We split ourselves into the HQ Team, the Recon Team and the Raiding Party.
At 1900 hours, Recon Team consisting of four of our guys would walk down the road towards the main RAAF base entrance. On the way down, they would look for sign of activity in the building complexes as they past them on the right. If they see no threatening activity like secuirty patrols, they were to flash their torchlight three times. If they subsequently saw any activity that may jeapordise the operation, they were to flash the torchlight continuously and run back up the hill.
The HQ team would sit at the top of the hill and watch for the signal from the Recon Team. Upon seeing the signal, they would signal the message to the Raiding Party who were waiting at the other end of the hill top to begin the mission. Should the Recon Team signal danger, the HQ team was to alert the Raiding Party by means of ringing a bell we found at the old mansion and by dispatching two runners.
The signal was given to start and we proceeded down the dark covered staircase which would bring us to the back of the RAAF base. There were twenty of us in the Raiding Party and we each had at least two water containers and we were also equipped with about 8 torchlights. The covered staircase was very dark but we decided not to use the torchlights because that would make us more visible. Instead we went down using the side of the stairs to guide us and keeping a hand on the sholder of the one in front of us.
We suffered a few falls, missteps and also a few wounds from the thorns of the weeds growing at the side of the stairs but we made it to the highest level of the RAAF complex buildings. On the way down, we could hear what sounded like about 50 Australian soldiers practicing Tae Kwan Do. Even though we could not tell where they were exactly, it was clear that there were personnel active within the base and we had to be careful.
The next stage was for us to move out in teams of two and seek out 10 water coolers which are located every 100 meters along these rows of buildings. While the buildings were in darkness, the corridors were brightly lit with no cover whatsoever.
We fanned out to our objectives like a well trained commando troop with the exception of one team that dropped their metal pot with a loud clang! We all immediately retreated to the darkness of the staircase and waited there with pounding hearts. But there was no response from the enemy and after another 5 minutes, the operation resumed.
Four of us went for a pair of water coolers located about 200 meters from the staircase and began to fill up our containers. We were about 10 minutes into the operation when suddenly, the lights came on in the room behind the water coolers. We were startled, a quick look showed shadowy movement throught the louvered windows. We quickly collected our water containers and we scuttled away and just in time. Almost immediately after we left, we could see the louvered windows open as if someone was trying to see if anything was going on.
We fell back to another group further down the corridor to warn them but before we reached them, the lights in the room near them also came on. When we looked down to the next row of buildings, we saw lights coming on all over the place. Our boys began to scuttle back to the staircase. As we rushed silently along, we suddenly heard the bell ring from the top of the hill. With that all attempt at stealth was abandoned. All twenty of us ran as fast as we could back to the staircase, our feets pounding on the cement corridors.
We heard some shouting but did not look back. When we reached the staircase, we did a quick head count and when we were satisfied all were present, we started up the lightless staircase. Initially, we kept our torchlights off as according to plan and proceeded up the same way as we came down. I was quite proud at how cool all of us were.
That did not last, however. Suddenly we hear movement in front of us and that was scary in the pitch darkness. Our leader shone his torchlight ahead and to our collective horror, we saw the pack of wild dogs snarling at us and blocking our way. What followed next was pure pandemonium. Our leader bravely yelled, “Run! Everyone for himself!” and that is exactly what we did. There was a lot of noise. Dogs barking. Dogs growling. Boys yelling. The sound of running. Sound of falling. Some tripping over the dogs. Dogs yelping. Torchlight beams were swaying violently all over. Possibly if you had really good hearing, you could hear a few curses and a few prayers.
It seemed like an eternity but we were clear of the gauntlet of dogs within a franctic minute. We made it to the top of the stairs and back into the light. The HQ party was there with sticks to keep the dogs at bay. We quickly retreated to the downstairs kitchen where we finally were able to laugh away the adrenaline in our systems. Mission accomplished. We had forty water containers of cool water. Casualties were few; some with thorn injuries, others with bruises and one who had a bad scrape on his knee.
As a precaution against a counterstrike, we had an all-lights blackout for an hour to try to fool the Aussies into thinking we were not in or that we asleep. When the Aussies did not appear, we returned to our merry making with a great deal of boasting and teasing of our individual roles in the great last raid on RAAF Georgetown.