Loaded Truths

Loaded Truths

They want his Foot in his Mouth

The report by the Commanding Officer, Captain O’Doherty, on the HMAS Mulga’s accident appeared innocent enough, but the Admiral knew there was more to it. It seemed odd that a Training Officer would load a gun, remove the safety and then play with it, resulting in a gunshot wound to his foot and arm. The Captain’s report and witness statements all had the same words misspelled. The Admiral didn’t know if that was the fault of the communications sailor who typed the signals or if the originals were like that. Each statement ended with the words ‘signed by,’ except for the Training Officer’s – it read ‘verbatim’. A submerged thought about a coverup tried to surface, but the Admiral kept pushing it down.

The Admiral planned to chat with the Training Officer once he arrived at the Balmoral navy hospital in Sydney. 

The wounded Training Officer on route from Port Headland to Perth.

The Training Officer and Doctor spent weeks in Western Australia at the Port Headland Hospital, after being evacuated from the ship. Then they embarked on a 1,600 kilometre drive, by army ambulance, to Perth and then by military plane from Perth to Sydney. The Doctor argued with the medical Admiral about the ludicrousness of travelling such a long distance by ambulance.

“There’s no budget,” was his response.

The Awakening

Sometimes life offers us another chance. Some see it, some don’t. But during the arduous ride down the coast of Western Australia, the Training Officer saw something he didn’t like – himself. During the road trip, he repeatedly apologised to the Doctor for his stupidity and for causing such grief to everyone on the ship. The Doctor likened his patient to a chrysalis – he was in the process of change. The Doctor had treated him twice, once for burns and now gunshots – a schoolteacher in a new and confusing world. His only crime was his gullibility and allowing himself to be used by a foolhardy captain. With nothing to do but talk, they talked. The Doctor listened. During those days, he learned the origin of his other wounds from the Zippo lighter. Whilst working undercover, his Zippo lighter burned more than the Captain’s list of suspected mutineers.

Don’t Trust the Captain

“Don’t fucking trust him,” the Doctor warned. “He will use you as a scapegoat. He doesn’t care about you. The Captain doesn’t care about anyone. Use this incident to your advantage – when they brought you to the sick bay, you were in a lot of pain. You told me the Captain had given you the gun with instructions to return it to the armoury. Did you load it with bullets and take the safety off?”

“I wouldn’t know how to do that?” Schools replied.

“I suspect the Captain handed you a loaded gun. If his superiors know this, it could be damaging. He is trying to escape responsibility. He has high ambitions, and he wants no hiccups along the way. I found it odd when you were on the operating table and he asked if someone had tried to murder you.”

“Murder? I don’t remember that. I don’t even remember him being there.”

“You were pretty drugged up at the time. My suggestion is don’t give any statements to anyone unless you get legal advice. Be careful of friendly smiles. And if they offer you something to sweeten you up, make sure it’s in writing.”

“I had a call from the Naval Police, and they want me to visit them in Sydney. What should I do?”

“They can come to you. And say nothing. Get a lawyer.”

Upon their arrival in Sydney via a Hercules Aircraft, they embarked on a few more hours of travel by ambulance to reach the Navy hospital, HMAS Penguin. Here the Training Officer would recuperate, while the Doctor would travel onwards to rejoin the Mulga in Darwin. 

Meanwhile, a confused Admiral made his way to the navy hospital. His mind created scenarios ahead of their meeting. Captain Doherty was a protected species, and he had to keep this quiet. The easy way out was for the Training Officer to take the accident on the chin like an officer and a gentleman. Even if it was not the truth, not the whole truth, and anything but the truth. 

But the Training Officer, now a bundle of nerves and anticipation, was creating his own scenarios.

* A scene from my unfinished and untitled book about the HMAS Mulga circumnavigating Australia in the 1970’s.