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The Boy and the Battleship: The Navy Cadets

The Boy and the Battleship: The Navy Cadets

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The Boy and the Battleship: The Navy Cadets

578 pagine
9 ore
Feb 5, 2014


For twelve-year-old battleship hobbyist, Graham Kirk, opportunities like this don’t come along every day. He jumps at the chance to fulfil his dream of becoming a sailor like his father and enlists as a navy cadet. But he has discovered girls and is torn between doing what’s right and doing what’s forbidden.

When at a party, Graham overhears a terrorist plot to sink a US navy destroyer as it sails into Cairns harbour. But who should he tell when his superiors don’t trust him? And what role does his new girlfriend, Thelma, have to play? Is she just an innocent anti-war protestor, or has his desire for her blinded him to the awful truth?

His initiation into the navy cadets comes with some unexpected—and dangerous—complications… and Graham quickly learns that there’s no substitute for self-respect and being true to yourself.
Feb 5, 2014

Informazioni sull'autore

Christopher Cummings is a Vietnam veteran, teacher, parent, traveller, Officer of Cadets, and author of 35 books. Bushwalking, history and travel have added depth to his experiences. He grew up in Cairns and Cape York Peninsula, experiencing many adventures in the North Queensland bush and at sea in his father’s ships, adventures he has woven into his books.

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The Boy and the Battleship - Christopher Cummings


Chapter 1


It was a perfect North Queensland winter day: clear blue skies, a crisp fresh breeze, and a sun just warm enough to be pleasant. Twelve-year-old Graham Kirk breathed deeply and looked out over the ruffled chop the wind had churned up on Trinity Inlet. He felt wonderfully alive and excited. Sniffing the sea smells with a mixture of pleasure and nostalgia he turned his gaze back to study the ship.

Graham was standing on the bow of HMAS Hobart, a guided missile air defence destroyer. The ship was visiting Cairns after exercises in South East Asian waters and, unusually in these times of heightened security after the ‘War on Terror’, was open to the public. Graham and his friends had leapt at the opportunity and they had just spent an hour climbing everywhere they were allowed to climb.

Graham’s gaze moved intently back along the anchor chains on the focsle, over the steel breakwater to the forward 125mm gun turret, before travelling up the front of the superstructure to the bridge windows; and on up to the lattice work of the mast, with its array of radar scanners and aerials. What an impressive sight, he thought. I wish I was old enough to join the navy now.

He sighed wistfully. Ever since he could remember his one ambition had been to become a naval officer. Earlier that morning he had watched the destroyer sail in from the Coral Sea. As it came into port if had looked most impressive: long, sleek and deadly; the grey and black ship sliding silently over the grey-green waters of Trinity Inlet against a backdrop of dark green, jungle-covered mountains. The memory sparked one of his favourite day-dreams. In it he was the captain of the destroyer. The ship would make a majestic entrance after some heroic deed—with all the people down on the Cairns Esplanade watching. Before the admiring eyes of his schoolmates the suitably modest captain steps ashore to a hero’s welcome—a welcome in which Cindy would play a suitably romantic part.

Perhaps I have just rescued her? Graham pondered. Maybe from a cruise liner which had been taken over by terrorists or pirates? He liked that idea and smiled.

And there was Cindy!

She had just hurried into sight. Seeing her sent a sharp stab of guilt and anxiety through Graham. The day before he had made a naughty suggestion to Cindy and now he was concerned that his bad behaviour might get him into trouble. Cindy was a Year 10, three years older than him, and was a very attractive brunette with a shapely body that her school uniform did little to conceal.

Scorching fantasies about her burned through Graham’s mind and he squirmed with a mixture of arousal and anxiety. A few weeks before he had reached puberty and that ecstatic experience was seared into his brain. Since then Graham had found his whole being stirred into seemingly continual arousal. His interest in girls was now firmly alive. And Cindy had not responded negatively to his hints and innuendos. But now he worried that he had gone too far.

Suddenly she saw him. To his intense relief she smiled. Hi Graham! What ya doin’? she called.

Just studying the ship, Graham answered, his heart beginning to hammer with the instant excitement he now experienced when he was in her presence. What are you doing?

Cindy glanced behind her. Trying to avoid my little brother, she replied.

Her little brother Max was a class mate of Graham’s. He shrugged. I haven’t seen him. He might be with Pete and Steve. Emboldened by her friendly greeting and by being alone with her he said, Are we going to meet again?

Only in secret, Cindy replied. I don’t want to have any trouble.


Cindy again looked behind her. Her eyes were alight with mischief. I don’t know. I will see when we can organize something. I will see you later. With that she hurried off around the other side of the superstructure. Graham was left aroused and hopeful. Maybe? he wondered. He stood there in a state of euphoria, amazed that an older girl had even spoken to him. She is really attractive, he thought, knowing that he did not really like her and sensing that what he was experiencing was just pure lust.

That notion sent several waves of guilt through him; firstly for doing such things at all and secondly for being disloyal to Thelma, the latest object of his adoration.

And there was Thelma.

At that moment she and her black-haired friend Janet Ozgood appeared out of a doorway behind the gun turret. Thelma was in the same class at school and Graham had only recently noticed her. Now he thought the sun rose just because of her. Actually she was a fairly plain looking girl with a straight nose, hazel eyes and hair the same colour as his, mousy fair. But she was nicely shaped for her age with quite a big bosom and she always looked happy.

For a moment Graham admired her, and unconsciously compared her with her friend. Janet is prettier, he decided. And she’s got bigger boobs and better legs. At that he felt a twinge of disloyalty and rationalized. Anyway, what can you expect? Thelma is only in Year 8. She will develop as she gets older. And besides; Janet is a…

Graham struggled to form an opinion but failed. He was a bit in awe of Janet. She always looked and acted so cool and grown up. Instinctively Graham sensed that she would never be the girl for him, however beautiful she was.

The two girls turned to talk to a young man Graham had never seen before; a man of about twenty with long blond hair tied in a pigtail. He’s a scruffy looking jerk! Graham thought, resentment fuelling his uneasy jealousy. The man said something and both the girls laughed. Then they moved out of sight along the starboard side.

Hello Graham. Having a good day? asked a girl’s voice.

Joany! Graham recognized the girl who had appeared beside him. Joan was another Year 10 girl. She was a pretty blonde with shoulder length hair and ruddy cheeks. Hi Joany. Yes thanks, he replied.

Joany nodded. Good. See ya, she said. She wandered on across the deck and for a moment Graham admired her nice curves and good legs. The fact that another Year 10 girl had bothered to speak to him got him all flustered and set his fantasies working.

From the port side appeared Graham’s friends: Max, Peter and Stephen. Behind them was Kylie, Graham’s little sister. Last in the line was Margaret, Kylie’s best friend, and Graham’s devoted admirer!

Peter waved and moved to join him. We wondered where you were, he said. We went looking for you down at the blunt end. Have you seen all you want to see yet?

Graham smiled. No, but they won’t let me look in lots of the places I’d like to go. I wish they’d let us look down inside, in the engine room and places like that.

Stephen shook his head. I can’t see them allowing that, he put in. They’d be too worried about things getting broken or pinched I reckon.

Or sabotage, Max suggested.

Sabotage! Graham scoffed. What rot! Who would do any thing like that? And what could a person do that would matter anyway? We were all searched before we were allowed on board.

Kylie joined them. Some of those Peace Protesters perhaps? she said.

Peace Protesters! Fair go Sis. This is Cairns, not Sydney. Where would you find a demonstrator here? Graham scoffed.

Kylie pointed over the side. There are some on the wharf right now, she replied.

Where? Graham was astounded, and annoyed. He resented any criticism of the navy, or its role. To check he walked to the port rail and looked down at the wharf.

To his astonishment he saw that his sister was right. Half way along the wharf, near the gangway leading onto the quarterdeck, were a small group of people with placards. They were just standing talking to the navy people there. Graham felt a rush of indignation. He counted the demonstrators.

Oh, there are only seven of them.

It’s been enough to attract the TV people, Peter said, indicating a TV news crew heading along the wharf.

On seeing the media crew Graham felt another surge of anger. Mob of bloody vultures! he thought. They just exaggerate and make things worse, he said. What also annoyed him was that the media seemed to be grossly ignorant of even basic knowledge about the navy and often made the most elementary errors in fact. He watched them with sour distaste.

Stephen leaned on the rail next to him. The TV station probably paid the demonstrators to turn up, he offered cynically.

Margaret was shocked. Her usually cheerful, freckled face wrinkled in a frown of distaste and disbelief. Oh Stephen! That’s a horrible thing to say, she cried.

Stephen shrugged. It’s been known to happen before, he replied.

It has not! You are just making it up, Margaret said.

Sorry Marg, Peter put in. But it has happened.

Kylie stepped in. Where? When? she questioned angrily.

Peter shrugged and looked embarrassed. I can’t think of a specific example, but I have read about it.

Kylie sniffed in disbelief. Margaret looked worried. Graham felt annoyed that it was all spoiling their visit to the warship. Never mind them. Let’s go and visit the bridge again, he suggested.

No. I want to go home, Kylie replied. She was a pretty eleven-year-old, in the same class at school as Margaret. She loved her brother but enough was enough.

Max chipped in. I agree. I’m thirsty and my feet are killing me. Let’s go home.

Reluctantly Graham agreed. The group made its way along the port side in single file. Graham went last. He looked around him continually, noting details and absorbing the atmosphere: the smell of paint, oil, saltwater and machinery; and the naval personnel in their various uniforms.

Even though he was only 12 Graham was already very familiar with ships, mainly because his father was not only a Master Mariner but also owned several. With his older brother Alex and, to a lesser extent Kylie, Graham had grown up with, and on, ships. Captain Kirk operated two tugs, a large barge (a converted Landing Craft Tank) and a 250 ton freighter. His business took him all over northern Australia and the South Pacific. Sometimes the children did not see their father for weeks on end. At other times they went with him as unpaid crew, particularly during school holidays.

To Graham merchant ships were all very well but they lacked the glamour and excitement of warships. His heart was set on the sea as a career—like his dad in the Merchant Marine if he had to; but for first preference as a naval officer. As he followed the others along the narrow strip of deck between the railings and the superstructure he studied all the details such as fire fighting equipment, pipes, bollards and cleats and various boxes and doors.

At the stern they found a helicopter had been rolled out of the hanger onto the small flight deck. This was sufficiently interesting to distract the others and they joined the queue to have a look inside the machine. Graham wasn’t particularly interested in aircraft but he knew they were important in naval warfare so he studied the helicopter and then looked around to take in the details of the flight deck.

As he did he found himself looking at Cindy. She was standing over near the starboard side and was chatting to a young sailor. To Graham she looked very attractive. She looks older than she is, he thought. Then he frowned at the way Cindy giggled at something the sailor said. She rolled her eyes and put her hand on the sailor’s forearm. She is flirting, he thought. The sight somehow disturbed him but he could not account for it, not wanting to admit that he might be jealous. She is too young to be behaving like that, he told himself. Anyway, it isn’t Cindy I like, it is Thelma.

Graham looked around and noted that Thelma and Janet were also studying the helicopter. To Graham’s annoyance he saw that Thelma was talking to another youth. It is that Edmonson jerk from Year 10, he thought resentfully. This time he did admit to jealousy. Edmonson was another of the type Graham considered to be ‘long haired gits’ and he could not imagine what Thelma saw in him. But he did realize that Thelma was not really aware that he existed. I must get her to notice me and then I will ask her for a date, Graham decided.

At that moment he was bumped and glanced to see that it was Margaret. She gave him a smile. Your turn in the helicopter, she said.

Graham felt a spurt of anxiety. I hope Thelma doesn’t see Margaret with me. That might wreck my chances, he thought. In fact Margaret was starting to annoy him. For several years she had been Kylie’s best friend but had also made no secret of her admiration for him. At first it had been very nice and flattering but now he found it cloying and irritating. Twice in the recent past mates of his had teased him over being friends with Margaret, calling him a cradle snatcher who was interested in young girls. The fact that Margaret was only in Year 6 at primary school did not help.

It will be a real shame job if Max or his mates notice. I wish she’d go away, Graham thought. But thinking that made him feel ashamed and guilty as he was very aware that Margaret was a very nice person and he really did like her.

Graham gestured to the open doorway. You go first, he said.

You are sure? Margaret asked, her plain, freckled face crinkling into a smile.

Yes. Up you go. I will follow, Graham replied. Unable to help himself he smiled back and her soft brown eyes danced. She nodded and climbed up into the helicopter. As she did Graham noted her tubby bum and freckled legs. She is nice but she can’t compare with Thelma—or Cindy.

As he stood waiting Graham again looked at Cindy. She is really very curvy for her age, he decided. Then Graham felt another spurt of jealous annoyance as Cindy shrilled with laughter at a joke the young sailor told her. Once again she very obviously flirted with him.

Cindy suddenly looked towards Graham and their eyes met. A flush of guilty shame made Graham look away and he pretended he hadn’t been looking. To add to the appearance that he hadn’t been he climbed up to look in at where Margaret was sitting in the pilot’s seat. She was asking questions of a young man in a flying suit. Kylie sat in the other seat and was also flashing smiles at the young man and that also irritated Graham. She shouldn’t behave like that either, he told himself.

Margaret and Kylie both moved back through a doorway into the fuselage of the helicopter and Graham was next to climb in and take a seat. Another youth followed him and the young pilot quickly explained what various controls and gauges were for. Graham nodded politely and then moved back to check out the interior. Then he climbed out a side door and joined the others on the flight deck near the tail of the helicopter.

For a few minutes Graham just watched what was going on around him, his interest divided between the girls and the naval activity. He surreptitiously observed a lieutenant giving instructions to two Petty Officers. Graham took in all the details: the white, open-necked shirt with the black epaulets and their double gold rings; the white shorts, socks and shoes; the peaked cap with its glossy black brim and gold badge. He tried to imagine himself as such an officer, only to have his day-dream disturbed by chanting and yelling from down on the wharf.

Graham hurried over to the rail and saw that some of the demonstrators on the wharf were trying to force their way up the gangway. The lieutenant came hurrying past asking people to move back. A group of ratings in grey and black camouflage overalls appeared through a watertight door. Several police came out of a building onto the wharf. There were more shouts from the demonstrators and the chant, No more war. Make peace. Build schools, not battleships, could be heard.

This was orchestrated by a thin man with black hair and a pointed beard. The man stood to one side and shouted into a megaphone; Make love, not war! Make love, not war! Turn the swords into ploughshares! Turn the battleships into scrap!

This isn’t a battleship, muttered Graham in annoyance. It’s only a destroyer. He’s just ignorant.

You are the one who is being ignorant! cried a girl’s voice beside him. Graham looked and then felt a stab of anxiety. It was Thelma’s friend, Janet. And Thelma was with her. Both girls pushed through on Graham’s left to look over the rail.

He should get his facts right before making a fuss, Graham grumbled, aware that he was scared of antagonizing Thelma.

Janet snorted. I’m sure he knows what type of ship this is, she insisted. He is speaking metaphorically—warship, battleship—who cares about the difference. They are all designed to kill people!

Graham was astonished at Janet’s vehemence and did not know what to say. Luckily for him they were distracted by a scuffle which broke out at the gangway as half a dozen police tried to move the demonstrators back. A girl’s shrill scream cut over the hubbub. There were shouted obscenities and loud yells. The bearded man with the megaphone took up his chant again, Make love, not war! Make love, not war!

I like that love idea, Stephen chuckled. He leaned over the rail just beyond Thelma and pointed. It looks like Mister Rabble-rouser has already been practicing what he preaches if that girl beside him is his girlfriend.

Standing beside the bearded man was a tall, blonde girl clad in a sarong and white cotton cheesecloth top. She had very large breasts and obviously wore no bra.

Janet bristled. He’s not a rabble-rouser—and don’t be crude around me Stephen Bell!

Stephen turned to Graham and smirked, which annoyed Janet even more; and embarrassed Graham.

Thelma now weighed in: That’s right! It’s a free country. People can demonstrate if they like!

Graham didn’t argue. He was now acutely conscious that Margaret was pressing against his right side, though whether from accident or design he could not tell. I don’t want Thelma to think I have a girlfriend! he thought in near panic, hoping Thelma would not notice. Then he felt guilty and ashamed of such thoughts. Poor little Margaret; she is nice kid, he thought. But she can be a pain! Once again he wished she would go away. Besides, she was not only too young, she was very plain: brown hair and brown eyes, freckles; still in the puppy-fat stage with no figure—no waist and breasts that resembled mosquito bites.

Not like… well, like Thelma’s, he thought. Hers were quite big and nicely rounded. But not as big as that blonde’s in the cheesecloth top, he noted with fascinated interest. She was jumping up and down so that her large breasts quivered and bounced. Or like the black-haired girl the police are dragging down the gangway. She was also wearing a cheesecloth top, sarong and sandals. From her mouth poured a flood of obscenities and insults directed at the police.

Janet gasped and pointed at the black haired girl. That’s my sister! Hey, let her go you pigs! Let me through! she screamed. She began pushing through the crowd towards the gangway. Thelma followed. Graham stared open-mouthed. Her sister! No wonder Janet was so touchy about the demonstrators! It made him feel like a real drip.

I didn’t know Janet had a sister, Peter said.

Pretty good figure too, Stephen added.

Kylie snorted. Pretty common! Listen to the gutter language! she snapped.

You’d scream too if the cops dragged you off like that, Stephen replied.

Peter shook his head. She should practice what she preaches and protest peacefully, he commented.

Their attention was taken up by the protest. The demonstrators began to give the navy sentry at the bottom of the aft gangway a hard time, taunting and pushing at him. He called on a small radio which the demonstrators tried to snatch from his grasp. Then he was jostled, his cap snatched off his head and the information pamphlets he was holding were grabbed and flung into the air. He was abused and called insulting and hurtful names. Seeing that made Graham feel both angry and resentful.

Four more police, including a senior officer, arrived in two paddy wagons. Arrests began. There was a lot of shouting and running around and a couple of minor scuffles. The TV crew was joined by a second one from a rival network. A crowd gathered at the entrance to the wharf. Then the demonstration just seemed to fizzle. The demonstrators appeared to just disperse, as though on cue.

It was then that Graham noted the youths at the ensign staff at the stern of the destroyer. For a moment he could not make out what they were doing and then he saw it was Edmonson and the scruffy youth who had been talking to Thelma and Janet. Edmonson was untying the halliards.

Graham was puzzled and stood back from the rail. What are they up to? he wondered. Even as he thought this Edmonson looked around in such a furtive and guilty way that Graham was sure they were up to mischief. Then he saw the scruffy youth pull the halliards loose and tug at them, obviously trying to work out which was the downhaul.

They are trying to pull down the flag, Graham cried. Even as he said it he knew he was wrong. It was actually the naval white ensign so to him all the more precious.

They are going to desecrate the flag. I must stop them! he thought.

Chapter 2


As he started walking towards the two youths Graham saw that the scruffy looking one was pulling coloured cloth from under his shirt. What on earth is that? Graham wondered. And then he saw what it was as the youth shook the cloth free. It was a peace flag with the peace symbol on a white background and with a rainbow curving across the flag above the black peace symbol. He is going to put up the demonstrator’s flag, Graham thought.

Seeing Edmonson start pulling down the white ensign caused Graham a spurt of anger and he broke into a run. I must stop him, he thought. Seeing that he would probably be too late to prevent the white ensign being lowered Graham let out a bellow. Oy! Hey! Stop that! Stop! Help me! he shouted.

The yell alerted the two demonstrators and both their heads jerked around to look. Graham shouted again and dashed over to grab the halliards. He was just in time to stop the white ensign touching the deck. Stop! Stop that! he shouted. Don’t you dare desecrate the flag.

Graham’s actions had been so fast that the pair were caught by surprise. For a few seconds they stared and made no move. It gave Graham time to get a firm grip on the halliards. He began to try to sort them out to re-hoist the ensign.

The scruffy youth reacted first. He lunged at Graham and grabbed his arm and the halliards. What the bloody hell? he cried. Then he tried to pull the halliards from Graham’s grasp. Let go, toad face! he yelled.

Edmonson now recovered and also tried to pull the halliards away. Graham clung on grimly, just managing to keep the ensign off the deck. He had the satisfaction of noting that the scruffy youth had let go of the peace flag which now hung down so that it was being tangled around his legs and trampled on. Good! Graham thought.

The scruffy youth tightened his grip and then began to punch at him. Let go you little turd! Let go! he snarled. The punches weren’t well directed but still hurt. They struck Graham on the shoulder and side of his head and he felt sharp stabs of pain and what felt like hammer blows which caused him to partially black out. His response was to hang on even tighter, despite being aware that he was in danger of blacking out.

Half stunned Graham fell to his knees, landing painfully on the steel deck. More punches hit him and he felt Edmonson clawing at his fingers, trying to prise them loose from the ropes. Hang on! he told himself.

Suddenly Graham’s head was whacked against a steel projection. Bollard or fairlead, his reeling mind told him, even as he saw stars and slid in and out of consciousness. His fingers weakened but then he stubbornly tightened his grip. Hands grabbed him and he felt himself being dragged.

Toss the little mongrel over the side, snarled a voice.

That did get Graham struggling. He had no desire to end up in the water. He had often seen very large fish there and had heard numerous stories about sharks or crocodiles lurking in the murky water of the Cairns Inlet. In his semi-conscious state he was aware that hands were pushing and dragging at him and that he could feel the bottom wire of the guardrail.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw water. My head is over the edge! he thought. And the water looked a long way down, at the bottom of a grey steel cliff, deep and dark green. Fear galvanized him into a bout of furious struggling while he grimly maintained his grip on the halliards. Fingers tried to break his grip and there punches and kicks.

But there were other voices too, shouts and yells to stop. Boots pounded on the steel deck and Graham heard Margaret screaming. Let him go! Let him go!

He opened an eye and saw her then. She was pummelling the back of the scruffy youth. He angrily tried to fend her off while still hitting at Graham’s hands and wrists. Then Peter and Kylie arrived and grabbed at the youth and Edmondson. More angry shouts and loud cries sounded and more people appeared. Graham saw Cindy and Stephen and then navy uniforms.

Strong hands held him. The youth was hauled away and stood up, held by Peter and a sailor. Then more navy people arrived and Edmondson and Margaret were separated and held firmly. Another sailor knelt and took hold of the halliards. Let go! the sailor snapped.

Graham noted leading seaman badges as he obeyed. To his satisfaction the leading seaman quickly re-hoisted the ensign and belayed it, then stepped back and saluted.

Good! Graham thought. I saved the flag.

The officer in whites appeared. What the devil is going on here? he demanded to know.

Graham found he was unable to speak. He was so upset and numb that all he could do was sigh and lie back. Then more strong hands seized him and he was hauled to his feet. It was just as well they were strong as his muscles felt very weak and his knees buckled.

A sun-browned, middle-aged face swam into Graham’s focus. Are you all right boy? it asked.

A Chief Petty Officer, Graham thought as his eyes focused on the man’s rank slides. He managed a nod but still felt too dizzy to stand unaided. Another sailor grabbed his other arm.

More people arrived. A crowd began to form and the officer ordered some of the sailors to hold them back. Then he turned to the group again. So, what is going on? he snapped.

The scruffy youth answered first. This kid started pulling down the flag so we tried to stop him, he said.

Graham was stunned. For a moment he was speechless. Then indignation flared and he cried, I did not! They were pulling down the ensign and were going to put up that peace flag. I tried to stop them, he said.

Liar! Edmonson shouted.

The lieutenant gestured and Edmonson was held back by two sailors. That will do! What peace flag? he asked.

Graham steadied himself and looked down. There was no sign of the flag. He shook his head and looked around. There was one. They must have hidden it, he said.

The scruffy youth glared at him. There never was one! he snapped.

Margaret spoke next. Oh you liar! There was! I saw it. You pushed it over the side when we arrived, she cried.

The scruffy youth gave her a hateful glare and denied this. The lieutenant was joined by a lieutenant commander in work camouflage. The lieutenant commander finished speaking into a mobile phone and then pointed forward. We will sort this out without any more name-calling thank you. Please move with these men. Buffer, take them to the hangar and separate them, he instructed.

Aye, aye sir, replied a burly Warrant Officer. He gestured to his men to move their prisoners.

As the seamen tried to move the scruffy youth he began to resist. Let me go! You have no right to touch me! Let me go or I will take you to court for assault, he shouted.

The lieutenant commander just shook his head. Move them Buffer, he commanded.

Once again the scruffy youth yelled loudly. This is illegal! You have no right to arrest me! Let me go, I know my rights. This is Queensland, not some police state. I will have the police onto you.

The lieutenant commander faced him. It isn’t Queensland. You are on a vessel of the Royal Australian Navy so Commonwealth law prevails. Now, go quietly so we can sort this out or I will have you arrested and charged under the Anti-terrorist legislation.

Graham saw a look of shock cross the scruffy youth’s face and he went pale. I’m not a terrorist! I was only demonstrating, he muttered.

Edmonson looked scared and blurted out, We were only trying to make a point. We just wanted to put up our peace flag to show that we don’t approve of war or warships.

The lieutenant commander nodded. Good. We will just get some facts and then you can go. Ah! Here are the people we wanted. You wanted the police young man? Well, here they are, Federal Police.

Graham looked around and saw two uniformed Federal Police walking quickly towards them. Under the urging of the senior policemen he and the others were led forward past the helicopter and into the hanger. Here they were separated and seated, each one guarded by a sailor. By then Graham was feeling very anxious. Are we in trouble? he worried.

But he was pleased to see that Margaret, Kylie and Peter were with him. There was no sign of Stephen or Thelma or Janet. Nor were Max and Cindy present. The fact that some of his friends had apparently chosen to slip away upset Graham a bit as he was concerned that he might need them as witnesses. I can always tell the police to ask them if I have to, he thought.

Once they were all seated under guard and their names and addresses written down the senior Federal Police officer asked their ages. As all but the scruffy youth were under eighteen, he said, Because you are minors you are entitled to have a parent or other responsible adult present when we question you. Who would like that?

Parents! Graham thought with a gulp of anxiety. He did not want that. I’ve been in enough trouble at school and at home recently, he thought. When asked he vigorously shook his head and then fixed Kylie with an intense stare. She met his eye and gave a wry smile. We had better have our mum here, she replied.

Kylie! Graham cried. I don’t want mum and dad to know I’ve been in trouble.

Kylie shook her head. We’ll have to, she replied.


Because mum has a right to know; and it will slip out anyway. Alex will hear about it. Then mum will feel hurt that we have kept it from her. Besides, she will be able to tell, Kylie replied.

How? Graham asked, even though he had a pretty good idea.

Kylie confirmed this. Because you are developing a beaut black eye and there are a couple of bruises on your face, she said.

Drat! Graham thought. He shrugged. OK, I suppose you are right. So both he and Kylie asked for their mother to be phoned.

Both Margaret and Peter declined. A solid, middle-aged civilian in a grey suit was shown in by a rating. The man nodded to the senior police officer and showed an ID card to the naval officer. From the officer’s reaction and deferential respect he was shown Graham made the assumption that the man was important. I’ll bet he is a secret service agent, ASIO or something, he thought. That thought got him even more anxious and he felt his stomach turn over. The man was taken forward through a door.

Then questioning began. For the next hour Graham sat in the hangar, anxiously preparing to be questioned. The scruffy youth was taken away first, leaving a worried looking Edmonson who kept darting Graham resentful glances. To Graham’s surprise the scruffy youth did not return and nor did Edmonson after he was taken away.

Why are they taking so long? Why don’t they ask me first? he wondered as Peter was led out through a door at the forward end of the hanger. Margaret and Kylie both gave sympathetic smiles before a guard shook his head and said, No communication.

Kylie huffed. We were only smiling, she said. Not communicating.

The rating gave a shake of the head. I don’t care whether it is smoke signals, flashing lights, waving flags or Morse Code. No communicating.

Silence returned. Graham sat and brooded, worrying about what their parents would say when they got home. By this time his bumps and bruises were beginning to throb and he also worried that his mother would make a fuss over them.

Then, to Graham’s mingled relief and regret, his mother appeared. She came in with another officer and when she saw him and Kylie she shook her head and looked anxious. She was not allowed to speak to them and was also led forward. Then it was Kylie’s turn to be questioned. She stood up and gave Graham a very definite smile and then poked her tongue at the guard before scuttling through the doorway. The guard started to look annoyed but then grinned. That set Margaret smiling and Graham smiled back. The moment the guard looked away Margaret lowered her left eyelid in a definite wink. That made Graham feel even better and he smiled some more, only having to wipe it off his face as the sailor turned back.

He was last to be questioned and was led forward to a cabin where a lieutenant commander and two policeman sat on one side of a table and his mother on the other. Behind the two uniformed policemen sat another naval officer and the middle-aged civilian in the grey suit. Graham met the man’s eye and felt his stomach churn with anxiety again. I might be in real trouble, he thought.

As Graham seated himself beside his mother she gave him a sympathetic but worried smile and squeezed his hand. Then the interrogation began and the questions instantly took the smile off his face. To his amazement the police seemed to think he had started the incident.

Those youths said that you began pulling down the flag and they moved to stop them, one policeman said.

That isn’t true! Graham cried.

He looked at the row of faces—two police, two navy officers and the stony-faced middle-aged civilian and felt his stomach tighten then churn with queasiness. He then described exactly what he had done. He was very glad his mother was there.

The lieutenant commander looked up from the notes he had been taking. You have used a lot of nautical and naval jargon in your description. You seem to know a bit about ships. Why is that?

Hearing that made Graham feel better. Because I am very interested in the navy, he replied, adding, And I want to join when I am older.

The lieutenant commander nodded and wrote this down. All right, good. Thank you. That will be all. If you gentlemen are finished we can send him on his way?

The senior policeman nodded. Yes. We have his name and address if we need to follow up. OK lad, off you go. Take him out please. Thank you Mrs Kirk.

An Able Seaman who had been standing behind Graham touched his arm and pointed to a side door. This way please.

For a moment Graham stood there with his mind racing. Is that all? he wondered. Then he nodded and went through the now open door. His mother followed after a few quiet words from the lieutenant commander. Graham and his mother were led along a passageway to another cabin where he found Margaret, Kylie and Peter waiting.

The Chief Petty Officer guarding them spoke briefly to Graham’s guard and then said, You kids can all go now. You will leave the ship and not return.

That hurt. Graham felt a spurt of irrational resentment. I have tried to do the right thing and help the navy and now I am being banned from visiting the ship! He knew that the ship was only open for visitors that day and would leaving the next day but it still rankled.

The friends were led out on deck and disembarked via the aft gangway. As they stepped off the gangway and began walking towards the exit another group of demonstrators appeared from the shops across the wharf. These had placards and were chanting slogans. Graham noted the long-haired youth with the pony tail and his blonde girlfriend and also Janet’s sister.

The sailor guarding the gangway moved to stop them and Graham felt a strong urge to turn back and help him but was stopped by his mother. Stay out of it Graham, she said. You are already in enough trouble.

So Graham could only stand and watch and that made him both upset and angry as the demonstrators shouted and jostled the sailor. His cap was snatched off and thrown into the sea and he was abused and spat on. More sailors appeared at the top of the gangway and began hurrying down to help the sentry. At that the demonstrators turned and quickly walked away, dispersing and melting into the crowd that had gathered.

What unpleasant cowards! Graham thought. He felt very sorry for the sailors, especially the one who’d been standing at the bottom of the stern gangway handing out information pamphlets. As the children watched another sailor took his place and began welcoming the people who were waiting on the wharf but were now plainly unsure whether to come on board or not.

Mrs Kirk shook her head. Come on children. Let’s go home. This is no place to be, she said.

As the friends made their way across the wharf Graham looked around to see if he could see the scruffy youth and Edmonson. There was no sign of them. The demonstration appears to be over, Graham thought, noting several uniformed police moving onto the space between the ship and the buildings.

Then Graham looked around for Thelma and Janet. He saw that they were on the wharf down past the stern of the ship—and they were talking to some of the demonstrators. These included Janet’s sister, the bearded man and the big-breasted blonde. It was obvious that the girls knew the people. With a sharp pang of jealousy Graham noted that Thelma was talking earnestly to a youth. With dismay Graham realized he knew the youth.

That is Jerry Denham from Year 12! he thought. The sight cast him into even deeper gloom. Oh, how can I compete with a Year 12? he thought. Worse still he had defended the navy. What will Thelma think of me now? he worried.

Feeling distinctly dejected Graham followed his mother and friends across the wharf. After a few paces he stopped and looked back up at the destroyer, savouring the sight of the grey mass of steel with its clutter of aerials, boats, pipes, signal lamps, boxes and other fittings. To his mild annoyance Margaret stopped beside him.

They were joined by Stephen and Max. Max raised an eyebrow. What happened? he asked.

What happened to you more like! Graham retorted.

Max shrugged. There were so many sailors rushing to the fight that I didn’t think you needed me, he explained.

Graham glanced at Stephen who adjusted his glasses as though they were sufficient excuse for not joining in. Peter then described the interviews.

Did they believe you? Max asked.

Graham shrugged. I don’t know. They didn’t say.

Peter nodded. I think they believed our version of events. Anyway, it was four against two in the story telling, he commented.

Stephen again adjusted his glasses. What did Edmonson and that other jerk say?

Peter shook his head. No idea. They questioned us one at a time in another room. Where are they anyway?

Stephen pointed along the wharf. Over there with Janet and Thelma and that mob, he said.

Once again Graham glanced towards Thelma and saw that she was looking at him. So were most of those with her. I hope she doesn’t notice Margaret, he thought. A feeling of mild discomfort swept through him as the demonstrators returned the scrutiny.

Graham looked away and as he did he noticed Cindy talking to two sailors over near the entrance to the wharf. She is a real flirt! he thought. He felt relief when Max called her to join him. Time to go home, he said.

Cindy nodded and pouted but then said goodbye to the sailors and walked over to join them. As she did her eyes briefly met Graham’s but she gave no hint of any secret between them.

Mrs Kirk stopped at the exit and looked back. Come on you children. We are going home.

Good idea, Peter agreed. I think we have seen enough today.

Graham didn’t agree and as the others began walking away he turned to have one last look at the destroyer. Kylie looked back and called in an exasperated tone: Come on Graham, you’ve seen enough of the battleship!

It’s not a battleship! Graham responded testily. Battleships are much bigger; ten times as big—no more!

Max stopped and called back, How would you know? You’ve never seen one!

I’ve seen pictures of them, Graham replied defensively. He was a little hurt by Max’s thrust. If there was one thing on earth Graham wished to see it was a battleship. He had read dozens of books about them and was fascinated by the steel monsters. I’d really like to see one, he added.

Fat chance of that, Peter observed. There aren’t any anymore.

Yes there are! Graham cried. The Americans still have some.

Peter shook his head. Not in service. They have all been decommissioned and are museums, he replied.

Not all. I think some are still in mothballs, Graham answered.

Mothballs! Kylie tittered. Do they have a problem with silverfish and cockroaches?

Graham was not amused. He sniffed and said, Probably. And rats. They seal the ships up to preserve them in case they need them again. The US Navy has still got one or two of its four Iowa-class battleships in their Reserve Fleet, I think.

Peter nodded. "The last I read was that they have only two still in reserve: the Wisconsin and Iowa. The Missouri and New Jersey have been sold and turned into museums or memorials," he said.

Didn’t the British have a lot? Margaret asked. We saw that in a video in History the other day.

Graham nodded. Yes, they did but they’ve all been scrapped for half a century or more now, he replied. He almost sighed aloud with regret at the thought. Into his mind came a film he had seen, an old black and white Newsreel, which showed a line of British battleships in line astern. He had found the sheer majesty and power of that scene awe-inspiring.

As they began to move Max said, "The last British battleship was the Vanguard. It was scrapped way back in the 1960s," he said.

Graham looked at him in mild surprise. He hadn’t expected Max to know something like that.

Come on, Kylie said. Let’s go home. I’m hungry.

They resumed walking along the wharf towards the entrance. Graham came last, his eyes still feasting on the ship; with glances to see where Thelma was. To his disappointment he could no longer see her. The demonstrators all seemed to have vanished too. He shrugged and turned his attention back to the destroyer. Margaret walked beside him but said nothing. As they reached the entrance they had to wait while a group of people in navy uniforms came through the doors from the other direction.

Navy Cadets!

Graham stared at them in envy. That was his immediate ambition. As soon as he was thirteen he was going to join the Navy Cadets—and his birthday was only six weeks away!

G’day gang! called a voice. It was a boy from their class: Andrew Collins. Graham managed a reply but his voice was choked up by surprise and envy. Andrew was already a cadet. Graham ran his eyes down from the grey sailor’s baseball cap, over the grey and black mottled camouflage uniform to the black leather boots. How he longed to wear that uniform! Or, better still, one of the Petty Officer’s or officer’s uniforms with the peaked cap.

Thelma would be impressed then, he thought. Graham imagined himself dressed that way. Into his mind came a photo on the side table at home of his father in a naval uniform. I’ll look good, he told himself with pleasant conceit.

Stephen eyed the navy cadets and nodded with approval. There are a couple of good lookers in that mob! he commented, indicating several girls in uniform. I might join.

Graham looked and saw that Stephen was right. Some of the

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