The duty scopey must have been half asleep on that balmy day in April of 2012. Though, to be fair, springtime is usually quiet on the walt front; far cry from the turmoil and tumult that is Waltvember, when the ARRSE radar screen looks like Heathrow on a bad day. At first the contact barely registered, but as the blip got closer, it got bigger. The klaxon sounded, red captions flashed on the console and cold realisation dawned. It was too late. It was already in the nationals! Nonetheless, the Waltenkommando QRA was scrambled. What on Earth was going on?
Meet Robert Mitchell – former Royal Navy Commando and secretary of the Dartmouth branch of the Royal Naval Association (for now at least). Mitchell came to prominence when he appeared in local rag the Dartmouth Chronicle after he had been admitted to Torbay Hospital for a routine hernia operation. Staggered theatre staff discovered a bullet wedged in Rob’s trouser department. Crikey. It transpired that Mitchell had been shot in Vietnam whilst huntin’ Charlie down on a search patrol back in 1970.
Being a tour-avoiding coward, the author of this article managed to forgo the experience of having a piece of high velocity metal bore through his flesh. But he does know one or two people who have experienced such, and the general consensus is that it ‘fucking hurts’; so one could be forgiven for thinking that having a chunk of metal tickling one’s spuds for forty years might - in the least - be rather uncomfortable somewhat. But stranger things happen at sea. No, they do... really. I knew a bloke who had a 20mm drill round stuck up his arse and never realised it until the following morning, so...? Anyhow, the stunned medics duly removed the offending piece – Rob’s bullet that is – and presented him with it, whereupon he had it mounted with his dog tags. Some story – and one that was eventually picked up by the Daily Mail. Rob’s tale went global – and rapidly downhill.
But what on Earth was a Brit 'fish head' doing stalking 'Mr Charles' back in those heady days of Hendrix and free love? Most people are aware that Uncle Sam bore the brunt of the fighting in the ‘nam - along with half a dozen half-cut Aussies and a Kiwi pay clerk. But less known is the part played by the Royal Navy’s elite Underwater Knife Fighting Cadre – an elite cadre of the Royal Navy who specialised in fighting with knives... underwater. All trained commandos, the knife men were also trained divers and wore enormous watches. Not only did this allow them to tell the time, it also got them laid in seedy bars with names like 'Lucy’s Tiger Den'.
Robert Mitchell was one such man. Whilst serving aboard the destroyer HMS Syphillis in 1970, Rob found himself in Singapore after his ship sailed without him – like they do. As a trained underwater knife-fighting commando, he was hot property and his skills were soon in demand by beleagured US and Commonwealth forces struggling against the encroaching Commies in the jungles of South East Asia. Rob was recruited into the murky (and even lesser-known) world of counter insurgency on the Thai-Malay border with that other elite force: the RAF Regiment. [No. Please. Stop it right now. Ed.]
Rob soon found himself in the thick of it and was promptly riddled with lead on a top secret mission in to Vietnam. He bravely fought on – rounds passing through him but never quite finishing him off. Back in Singers, Rob made a full recovery and went back ‘in country’ serving aboard Australian and Kiwi patrol boats up river in Cambodia and then spent the next six months brassing up the locals and generally blowing shit up.
An awfully strange marine
But it was all very, very secret. So secret that half of the elite troop of commandos didn’t even realise where they were, or what they were doing. It was also very dangerous. Yet again, Rob found himself on the receiving end of someone else’s ordnance – this time the spams’. [No change there then.] Blown up by a mortar round and severely wounded things looked grim. In his own words:
My weapon jammed and I got stuck - way out and all alone - and I could hear the enemy moving in close outside. I heard a twig snap and I grabbed my empty gun and I dug in scared and counted down my fate. Then a big marine - a giant with a pair of friendly eyes - appeared at my shoulder. We heard the bullets fly coming through the brush and all around our ears. It was strange but suddenly I forgot my fears.
We fought all night side by side and I wondered how the bullets missed this man because they seemed to go right through him as if he wasn't there. In the morning we both took a chance and ran. It was near the river bank when the ambush came on top of us and I'd thought it was the end. Then a bullet with my name on it came buzzing through a bush and this marine just swatted it with his hand - just like it was a fly.
Quite. Rob was flown back to the UK to recover from his injuries. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his heroism before being invalided out of the service. Forty years’ worth of bollock-pain later Rob’s world (and presumably arse) collapsed.
Things are never quite the way they seem
It was all totally and utterly believable – to a point. That point being the inclusion of the RAF Regiment in Rob’s exploits. Everyone knows that the mere mention of that esteemed body will instantly nullify any claims. Surely a branch secretary of the RNA wouldn’t be telling porkies?
The thing is, any expert in camouflage and concealment will testify that the best cover is sometimes right out in the open under the very noses of the enemy whilst wearing flashing Christmas lights and playing the trombone, so it’s easy to see how fellow branch members could have been hoodwinked.
Anyhow, the inevitable ARRSE thread was created and the usual mud slinging and inter-service willy waving ensued. The Gongpolizei confirmed what most had suspected and the Waltenkommando bubbled Rob back to the Daily Mail and the Dartmouth Chronicle - the very rags that had created the shit storm in the first place. Confronted by hardy newshounds Rob stood by his claims, though admitted that rats had eaten his records (makes a change from 'the dog'. Ed) – like they do. The hospital described the hernia op as 'routine for Liverpool'. They deny a bullet was even found...
Robert Mitchell’s service in the Andrew is without question - as he had the tour picky to prove it; but as we’ve seen before, custard is easily over-egged. All gallantry awards are gazetted and are checkable online – even the super-secret, sneaky-beaky ones. Guess who doesn’t show up? Rob was in direct contravention of Section 8 of Walting With Confidence. The UK involvement in Vietnam was minimal: one RAF Movements officer at Tan Son Nhut and a Gurkha guarding the drinks cabinet at the British Embassy in S-S-S-S-S-Saigon. All tinware is accounted for and Rob ain’t on the manifest, though one or two of his medals ‘might’ be legitimate.
I knew there was something weird about him
It is thus highly likely that Mitchell’s naval service was that of a lowly cook – the only underwater knife encountered being that of the steak variety in a sink in the galley. Cooks are notorious walts, though at least one of them is on record for being a highly decorated Special Forces slop jockey after he saved a battleship or something. But yet again we see creditable service sunk by an iceberg of tish and fipsy.
Learn more about underwater knife fighting