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Army apprentices to lead Anzac march

More than 600 former army apprentices will march in one of the biggest Anzac contingents this year.Nine years is a long commitment for a 15-year-old to make to the Army, but for thousands of apprentices it was one they made to serve their country.
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This year marks 70 years since the n Army Apprentices School was formed and to mark the event they’re leading this year’s Anzac Day march from the n War Memorial in Canberra.

More than 600 former apprentices, retired and still serving army members, will march in one of the biggest leading contingents in recent years.

Tim Wilde was one of those who made the lengthy commitment.

For 15, 16 and 17-year-olds, the apprenticeship scheme was their way into the army while they were still officially too young to join.

He signed up as a gas fitter and turner and after two to three years learning the trade he and other apprentices went into the regular army to learn the practical side of things.

“It was a way to build a trade base for the army and also for the building of the nation, so to speak,” he told AAP.

“Once we were qualified if we decided to leave and go out into the workforce we were well trained, well disciplined, young ex-soldiers that were good tradesmen.”

The scheme began in 1948 and, beginning with Vietnam, apprentices have served in every conflict since.

More than 1000 served in Vietnam, 678 in East Timor, 288 in Afghanistan and 227 in Iraq.

With an air of disappointment, Mr Wilde revealed he continued beyond the nine-year commitment, moving through the ranks, but left the army the year before Timor.

“You train for that sort of thing and not being able to put it into use is a bit of a downside but the era I was in there wasn’t that deployment, there wasn’t that activity in the world at that stage,” he said.

Those who did deploy overseas weren’t out of harm’s way. While in Canberra for Anzac Day, members will gather for a Last Post Ceremony to remember their fallen colleagues.

Mr Wilde now works as a senior project manager.

Other apprentices are spread far and wide across the globe in a range of industries, but still share a lot in common.

“When we get together with apprentice mates we joke about who still polishes their shoes, irons their own clothes,” he said.

The training college closed in 1995 but more than 400 former apprentices remain in the army.

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