Personnel and equipment for Mobile Naval Air Base No. II began to assemble during early October 1944 at Royal Naval Air Station Ludham, Norfolk, the headquarters of the Mobile Naval Airfields Organisation (MNAO). The formation of MONAB II was to prove to be exceptionally difficult due to the fact that the duties of this unit were changed from that of a normal type A MONAB to that of a Receipt and Dispatch Unit shortly after formation began. This was a unit for which there was no scheme of complement laid down. The unit was to assemble with the standard MONAB elements, but the Maintenance and repair (Air) element received no Maintenance Servicing or Mobile Maintenance units, instead entirely new, and untested, components were substituted.
The following components were added to cater for all aircraft types in use by the RN in the Pacific theatre:
Aircraft Erection Unit
Aircraft Equipping & Modification Unit
Aircraft Storage Unit
The confusion caused by this role change was to be felt both at the formation station and in the operational area; the drafting office, based at R.N. Barracks, Lee-on-Solent, was not informed of the revised complement in sufficient time so the initial draft arrived at Ludham to find themselves surplus to requirements. A complement of 997 technical ratings for Maintenance, erecting and Equipping was finally decided upon by the planning staff and a new draft if replacement ratings was raised.
Split formation: A second immediate effect of the role change came with the increased size of the complement; a standard MONAB had an average complement of 550 personnel including officers, so MONAB II was nearly doubled in size. The formation station, Royal Naval Air Station, Ludham, could not accommodate such a large number as MONAB I was also present on the station and MONAB III was due to begin formation shortly. The solution was to accommodate some 600 ratings at HMS GOSLING R.N. Air Establishment Risley, over 100 miles away at Warrington, Lancashire.
This division of the complement made kitting up, checking of lists, and arranging short maintenance courses, and ultimately embarkation, unnecessarily complicated. To further compound an already complicated restructuring of the unit's assembly and formation period it was found that many of the ratings drafted were unfamiliar with the several types of aircraft which it was intended that MONAB II should handle; the formation time table made no allowance for rating familiarisation, unit sailing dates were pre-set so training outside of that set out in the formation programme was sacrificed. In addition to unprepared technical ratings, no adequate writer staff were drafted, ratings received were inexperienced; of three supplied for the workshop element, only one could type with any speed or accuracy.
Despite these problems MONAB II commissioned as an independent command on November 18th 1944, bearing the ship's name HMS 'NABBERLEY', Commander E.P.F. Atkinson in command.
By late-November the unit was ready for despatch overseas; all of the mobile units planned had been allocated to the support of the new British Pacific Fleet which was to begin operations in the South Western Pacific in early 1945. Australia was to be the rear echelon area for the fleet and a number of the MONABs were to be installed there.
The unit's stores & equipment were transported, overnight, to Gladstone Dock, Liverpool for embarkation on November. 20th; this operation was carried out by the unit’s own transport. However, the loading, of stores & equipment in the SS PERTHSHIRE, (LS 1974) did not occur until early December, she sailed On December 8th. The personnel of MONAB II did not embark for passage until December 22nd in company with elements from MONAB III and other units being shipped to Australia in the Troopship ATHLONE CASTLE, sailing from Liverpool on December 24th 1944.
An advance party of MONAB II had been despatched to Australia and was in Sydney at the beginning of December. The party arrived at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Station Bankstown, Sydney, early in the month to set up shop. Unloaded with the advance party were 16 crated aircraft, 8 Corsair IIs & 8 Martinet TT.Is collected from the RN Aircraft Depot at Cochin, S. India. These aircraft were to be assembled by the advance party, with RAAF assistance, and were to have been test flown by the time the main party arrived in the New Year. The first aircraft assembled, Corsair II JT537, was test flown on January 18th 1945.
The SS PERTHSHIRE arrived in Sydney on January 24th 1945 while the ATHLONE CASTLE arrived the following day; part of the ship's company proceeded directly to RAAF Bankstown, the remainder were temporarily accommodated under canvas at Warwick Farm, HMS GOLDEN HIND, while stores and equipment were unloaded and accommodation was sorted out.
Royal Australian Air Force Station Bankstown was transferred on loan to the RN on January 27th 1945; MONAB II began transporting stores & equipment to the station on this date. MONAB II commissioned Bankstown, as Royal Naval Air Station Bankstown, HMS NABBERLEY on January 29th 1945. Work began almost immediately, continuing assembling crated aircraft and carrying out pre-issue test flights.
RNAS Bankstown from 10.000 feet, taken on September 12th 1945..
The Receipt of Airframes: One of the most important departments on MONAB II was the Salvage Section. Under the charge of Lt. Cdr (A) P. E. Hind RNVR and Lt. (A) G. A. Pursall RNVR, grew into a team of four Chief Petty Officers, twenty Royal Marine drivers and about thirty naval airmen as mechanics come drivers. Originally tasked with the recovery of crashed aircraft, the occasional crashed aircraft was collected, but they became responsible for the movement of all aircraft and stores by road between the dockside and Bankstown.
Incoming airframes arrived at Pyrmont Dock in Sydney Harbour; this had been designated as a Fleet Air Arm dock and was run by the Australian Port Authorities in conjunction with the Royal Navy. Airframes and aeroengines arrived by sea via several means, crated airframes and engines were delivered in the holds of transport ships or arrived as deck cargo on RN aircraft carriers. Preserved airframes were delivered by Escort Carriers, and, occasionally Fleet Carriers. Some of the Escort Carriers allocated to the BPF arrived on station with a full load of up to 70 aircraft plus crated engines and stores collected from RN Air Yards in the UK or India. Once off loaded all had to be transported to Bankstown by road convoy.
State law prohibited the towing of these aircraft through the city on their own wheels so special trailers known as ‘Spiders’ were employed to carry individual airframes in convoys of eight. Aero engines were loaded onto other flatbed trailers for transport. All were difficult loads which had to negotiate Sydney tram cables and tracks, these convoys were assisted by the New South Wales Police as they made their way across the city. When a carrier made a delivery there could be up to 70 airframes to move, this meant working night and day for about three days.
Once the replenishment and ferry carriers of the ‘Air train’ – the aviation support element of the Fleet Train , began operations Escort Carriers arrived about every ten days from the forward operating base in the Admiralty Islands to off load unserviceable aircraft and embark as many replacements as available for ferrying to the BPF Carriers engaged in operations against the Japanese.
Storage Unit surplus to requirements: By late February it became apparent that unexpected shortfalls in the aircraft production targets meant that the Mobile Storage element was redundant, all available replacement airframes were needed by the ‘Air Train’ so there were no reserve aircraft to process into storage. The situation was not seen as improving for the foreseeable future so the decision was taken to break up the Mobile Storage unit, sub dividing it to equip four new Maintenance Storage & Reserve units, MSR 3, 4, 7, & 8. Of these, MSR 3 & 4 were already assembling at Bankstown work having begun in early February. MSR 4 was allocated to operate with MONAB IV and an advance party was dispatched to its operational base, on Ponam Island, in the Admiralty Islands, on board the maintenance carrier HMS UNICORN; the second echelon of MSR 4 was embarked in HMS SPEAKER, arriving at Ponam Island on March 13th. MSR 3 had a different role to fulfil, it was divided into A & B sub units and embarked in the escort carrier STRIKER and UNICORN to support a Forward Aircraft Pool which was initially held onboard these carriers. MSR 7 & 8 were transferred to TAMY I upon its arrival in Brisbane in late March.
The first two replenishment carriers were prepared in early March; STRIKER (Flagship of 30th aircraft carrier squadron) spent the first week of March loading equipment, spares, airframes and passengers; on March 4th she embarked elements of MSR 3 from RNAS Bankstown, to provide additional capabilities and maintain a reserve pool of ready to issue airframes afloat. She sailed with a full ferry load of replacement aircraft, embarking as many as could be supplied from RNAS Bankstown for delivery to the forward base at Manus. After unloading she retained a replenishment load similar to that carried in SLINGER, but carried no operational squadron. She sailed for Manus on March 7th. SLINGER arrived off Sydney Feb 26th and flew her squadron, 1845 NAS, ashore to RNAS Schofields, 3 unserviceable Corsairs were off loaded once alongside at Pyrmont Dock for repair at Bankstown. she sailed for the forward operating area on March 11th having embarked a replenishment load of 25 airframes from RNAS Bankstown; this load was made up of 10 Corsairs, 7 Hellcats, 3 Seafires, 1 Avenger and 4 Fireflies for issue to the fleet during replenishment periods; this load was carried in addition to her squadron which re-embarked once at sea.
Manpower shortages and other difficulties: After only a month of operating it had become apparent that the complement of non-technical ratings borne proved to be totally inadequate to meet demands of station duties; these elements had received no manpower increase in the revised complement. The shortfalls made it impossible to supply the necessary guards, working parties, galley hands etcetera without drawing on the technical personnel or loaning ratings, when available, from the R.N. Barracks, Sydney. Shortages in manpower also applied to Cooks and Stewards; in MONAB II the average number of officers permanently borne was 85, as opposed to 36 for a standard MONAB. The already stretched drafting pool would be further strained after the war in Europe ended; plans to demobilise those who qualified by either age or length of service were eligible for release beginning on June 18th 1945 and meant that many experienced personnel could be lost and less experienced reliefs would be appointed or drafted to maintain manning level.
Being installed at an operational aerodrome none of the mobile Flying Control equipment supplied for MONAB II was used, however HF/DF, YG and JG Beacons and ground W/T installations were installed. MONAB II suffered from a serious shortage of M/T spares, spare parts issued in England were in the majority not required and those needed had to be purchased where possible from local sources.
Streamlined aircraft production: Once sufficient aircraft became available to permit a steady flow through the hangar’s attempts were made by the air engineering team to adopt industrial trade methods, namely to break down the jobs into small units so that a team could be trained very quickly to do a small job on each aircraft. This practice paid off, allowing for rapid gains in skill which enabled the process time of an aircraft on the hangar floor to be reduced considerably.
Co-operation between the Air engineering, Air Gunnery, Air Radio, and Air Electrical Officers had enabled work on an aircraft to be planned as a whole, enabling an aircraft to come out of a crate, enter one hangar and leave that hangar complete in all respects and ready for butt testing, compass swinging and test flight. However, plans to operate this scheme to its full extent were negated by ratings being drafted and by the intermittent arrival of aircraft resulting in varying output figures. The practice of sending secret equipment separate from the aircraft also caused considerable delay in bringing aircraft forward for service.
Over a period of several months’ aircraft production was refined into a 10-stage procedure;
(1) Aircraft arrives on station.
(2) To receipt park - loose equipment removed except when aircraft arc in sealed crates or Eronell (protective covering which embalmed aircraft for open storage or transport as deck cargo).
(3) Preparation of Servicing and Inspection Forms by the Inspection Section.
(4) Aircraft is allotted to a hangar for production - entry to the hanger was staggered in order to avoid having two aircraft reach the sane stage at the same time. A system approach ensured that Gunnery, Radio and Electrical sections worked on each aircraft in turn, and at stages where this work would not interfere with the Airframes and Engine ratings. Available modifications were incorporated during erection or inspection.
(5) Aircraft arrives at the end of hangar line for gun alignment, and final check by inspection team; during this final check an aircraft moves out of the hanger engine running.
(6) Move to Stop butts for gun firing and harmonisation.
(7) Move to Compass base - if an aircraft carries Radar it goes to Radar Base before the Stop butts, (Avengers were not Butt tested).
(8) Check Test Flight.
(9) To Storage - Category "B".
(10) Transferred to Storage - Category ''A" when loose equipment is available and the aircraft has been doped.
The output levels achieved fell well short of the production programme, partly due to a lack of airframes being delivered, and partly by the state in which crated or preserved airframes arrived on the station. Aircraft were received in varying states of equipment installation, some arriving completely installed, others partially installed and, in many instances, completely void of all equipment, in these cases equipment had been despatched separately and was unlikely to arrive with the airframe.
In the case of aircraft arriving with equipment installed, it was found that in the majority of cases all the equipment was in first class condition, requiring only a minimum of work to complete the testing and final installation of the aircraft. Any aircraft which were only partly installed (and in some cases only partly modified) caused serious delays owing to a lack of spare equipment. Considerable delay was also experienced due to aircraft arriving minus their entire radio equipment.
Test flying: The unit’s test flight was responsible for all ground and airborne testing of aircraft on leaving the production hangar. Ground crews conducted engine, electrical, radio and armament checks on aircraft in the storage park prior to the start of the test flight. There were up to 18 aircrew on the strength of the Test Flight, however there were more RAF pilot’s than RN, all under the command of Flight Lieutenant. Geoff Schaeffer RAF; he in turn reported to Commander (Flying), Lt. Cdr (P) G. R. Dence, RNVR who made the decisions about whether flights could be undertaken or cancelled based on local weather conditions. Flights were conducted every day, and only cancelled when cloud cover was too low. Once airborne every piece of equipment in the aircraft was checked - radio, guns, hydraulics, engine performance, and handling characteristics; depending on the type an observer and air gunner would be onboard. On completing a successful check test flight an aircraft was returned to the park for category B storage.
Squadron equipment issues: The personnel of 723 Squadron arrived from RNAS Nowra, MONAB I, on February 28th to commission as a Fleet Requirements Unit and receive their initial equipment issue of 8 Martinet TT.I and 8 Corsair II aircraft (the aircraft assembled by the advance party). The squadron was also temporarily issued with 2 Expediter Mk. I passenger aircraft in order to initiate communications flights in advance of the formation of 724 communications squadron which would begin operation in April. 723 carried out a short workup at RNAS Bankstown during March in preparation for beginning active duties, making regular flights to RNAS Nowra and its satellite at Jervis Bay.
724 Squadron commissioned at Bankstown on April 10th, their Initial equipment was 2 Expediter Is (passed on from 723 Squadron) and 2 Anson Mk.I. 724 operated out of the civil airport at Mascot as the grass surface at Bankstown was unsuitable for the heavy twin engine aircraft. On completion of their formation and familiarisation at Bankstown 723 Squadron moved to RNAS Jervis Bay on May 1st to begin operations as a Fleet Requirements Unit.
First aircraft withdrawn from squadron service: On May 14th 1830 & 1833 (Corsair) squadrons disembarked from HMS ILLUSTRIOUS; both squadrons had their Corsair Mk. IIs withdrawn at Bankstown (her other squadron, 854 (Avenger) went to RNAS Nowra where their aircraft were retained). The carrier had been badly damaged by kamikaze planes on April 7th and had returned to Australia after receiving battle repairs in the forward area. 1833's personnel re-embarked in the carrier the same day; 1830 personnel joined them on May 24th when ILLUSTRIOUS sailed for passage to the UK.
A royal visit: On June 1st Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the Governor-General of Australia, toured the station. Whilst there he test fired a Browning 50 calibre aircraft machine gun at the test butts. The prince signed the gun's log book 'Henry' [but signed in the wrong place] the log was later raffled and was won by AM(O) 'Jimmy' Dixey.
The aircraft parking area at RNAS Bankstown 1945; three rows of new airframes, (minus wings, tail planes and engines) are lined up along the access road. Lines of packing crates containing the parts for the new airframes are arrange at right angles to these. Limes of ready for issue reserve aircraft are arranged in front of these.
Victory over Japan and the rundown to closure On August 15th the Japanese surrendered and VJ Day was celebrated at Bankstown. The men of HMS NABBERLEY marched in the Victory parade in Sydney, to mark VP Day on the 17th (In Australia the war's end was termed 'Victory in the Pacific' or VP day as opposed to Victory over Japan as it was known in Europe).
Work continued through August and September as the emphasis changed from assembling and issuing new aircraft to receiving and preparing surplus airframes for disposal. Aircraft withdrawn from disbanding squadrons at other RN air stations in Australia were gradually ferried to Bankstown , this vastly increased the numbers held in the aircraft park while their fate was decided. Some of the first to arrive were the Corsair Mk.IVs of 1834 & 1836 squadrons which began to arrive on the station from August 23rd for disposal; they had disembarked from the Fleet Carrier VICTORIOUS to RNAS Maryborough, MONAB VI where their aircraft had been withdrawn before the aircrew re-joined the ship.
By September, when aircraft production had `ceased, 2,500 test flights had been made with only four major accidents (one complete loss and three major damages), three other accidents were due to the soft state of the airfield resulting in aircraft nosing up either after landing or whilst taxyiing.
The Salvage/Movements section were busy at the end of August and early September as they moved large quantities of food, medical sand other essential supplies to Pyrmont Dock for loading onto ships preparing to sail for Hong Kong and Singapore to help re-establish the former British Colonies and repatriate POWs recently liberated from Japanese camps. Once this task was completed the section resumed aircraft movement duties, however they were now loading airframes for disposal at sea.
With the war now over the terms of the Lend-Lease agreement between Britain and the US required that remaining equipment should be returned or paid for, equipment that was destroyed however was written off. The Admiralty had been regularly disposing of severely damaged aircraft at sea during Pacific operations so the mass dumping of surplus airframes would see them ‘written off’. Once the carriers had completed their repatriation duties, many were tasked with ferrying deck loads out beyond the Great Barrier Reef and pushing them overboard.
Re-organisation: As part of a review of the naval air support in the Pacific theatre the Admiralty announced in October that four Mobile Units were to be disbanded in early November 1945, these were to be MONAB I, III, IV and VII; MONAB II, V & VI plus TAMY I would continue operations in support of fleet operations and the reception and disposal of aircraft arising from the disbandment of squadrons as the BPF began to reduce its size. As part of this downsizing operation MONAB V was to replace MONAB I at Nowra and MONAB VI would replace MONAB III at Schofields. MONAB VII personnel were to be redistributed to other units, many joining TAMY I.
'A' Flight of 1701 squadron arrived from RNAS Maryborough for a second, short period of detached duties on October 15th, returning to Maryborough on the 21st.
After months of processing the aircraft from the rapidly shrinking Fleet Air Arm in Australia and the South West Pacific the work of MONAB II was finally completed in March 1946. Her only squadron, 724 Communications squadron was relocated to RNAS Schofields to continue operations. MONAB II and HMS NABBERLEY paid off at Bankstown on March 31st 1946, and the station returned to RAAF control.
Receipt & Despatch Unit.
Communications Squadron (No. 724 squadron)
Aircraft Erection Unit
Aircraft Equipping & Modification Unit
Aircraft Storage Unit
Avenger Mk. I & II
Corsair Mk. II & IV
Hellcat Mk. I & II
Martinet TT. I
Seafire III & L.III
Sea Otter I
Tiger Moth I
Commander E.. P. F. Atkinson 18 Nov 1944 to 31 March 1946
Memories of those who served with MONAB II
Lieutenant Gordon Pursall
Sub-Lieutenant Michael Price
Aircraft Artificer 4th Class (Electrical) Laurence Russell
Leading Air Fitter (Engines) Bruce Robinson
Air Mechanic(Engines) Douglas Hooper
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My father, Henry Anderson served with MONABII, sailing out on the Athlone Castle from Liverpool. He was a technician, fitting and servicing radios and radars on the aircraft. He fell sick with TB while in Australia and spent some time in hospital and recuperating on Bondi Beach. He returned to UK in 1946, reaching the rank of PO2.
HM Ships COLOSSUS, GLORY, VENERABLE and VENGEANCE. GLORY did not arrive in Sydney until August 16th.
At the end of June 1945, the Admiralty implemented a new system of classification for carrier air wings, adopting the American practice one carrier would embark a single Carrier Air Group (CAG) which would encompass all the ships squadrons.
Sturtivant, R & Balance, T. (1994) 'Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm’ list 899 squadron as conducting DLT on the Escort Carrier ARBITER on August 15th. It is possible that the usual three-day evolution was cancelled due to the announcement of the Japanese surrender on this date and was postponed for a month.
This work, originally written for the Fleet Air Arm Officer’s Association entitled ‘Three Years of Interest 1943 – 1946’ is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.
Having qualified as an Air Engineering Officer at RNAS St Merryn in Cornwall… After a short leave I was appointed to RNAS Donibristle as a salvage officer (under training). The Fleet Air Arm expansion meant that the one or two land-based salvage officers were not sufficient and much work had to be done by the, RAF, who I believe suggested the FAA should look after their own.
A salvage officer's duty was to control some fifty men whose task was to collect crashed aircraft and undertake the movement of aircraft by road where this was required. The section had its own cranes and lorries usually driven by Royal Marines. The officer to whom I was attached, and two other AEOs for similar training, was a Lt Cdr Hind RN. This gentleman had ideas which did not conform to accepted conventions, for instance the furniture of the mess at Donibristle had been augmented with furniture being unloaded at Glasgow from liners which were being converted to troop ships. These articles, armchairs, sofas etc, were 'mistakenly' put on some salvage lorries which had mysteriously found their way to the liner's side during the unloading. They were relieved of their cargo at the wardroom. No one seemed to ask any questions. After two months on this salvage training Hind and the trainee salvage officers were given a lecture by the Engineering Commander of the station, about a new organisation called a MONAB, or Mobile Operation Naval Air Base. The result of this lecture was to alter the path of my naval career.
After nearly fifty years my knowledge of the MONABs is somewhat vague but my understanding was as follows: - The Americans had effectively crippled the Japanese carrier force and the Japanese Navy was in retreat. The overall allied plan was to invade Japan by getting nearer to the mainland by "island hopping". Each stepping stone was to be a base particularly for aircraft, hence MONAB. There were MONABs in other theatres I believe, but I am particularly concerned with MONAB II based in Sydney, which is where Lt Cdr Hind and myself were appointed as salvage officers. Some rudimentary jungle training was given presumably if we got cut off in a jungle. One thing I remember was being lectured by an MO and told that you could drink your own urine if necessary, but after two or three days it tended to get "brackish". This advice aroused some concern at the time.
Lt. Cdr Hind cleverly arranged for the bulk of the Donibristle salvage section to volunteer for service with MONAB II and sailing instructions were received. These were to board the R.M.S ATHLONE CASTLE at No 2 Gladstone Dock in Liverpool. The ship, a Union Castle liner full up with food from South Africa, was bound for Sydney via Panama. We sailed in December 1944. The ship carried the bulk of the personnel to form the headquarters staff for the British Pacific Fleet as well as MONAB II personnel. She had aboard some four hundred naval officers, seven hundred ladies (Wrens, VADs and nurses) and eight thousand non - commissioned officers and ratings.
By a curious coincidence welcoming me as I stepped on board the ATHLONE CASTLE was my brother, Commander (A) David Pursall DSC R.N.V.R, (He had won the DSC off Malta picking up a shot down RAF pilot whilst being attacked by a German plane. He said the air sea rescue Walrus was too slow for the hostile fighter to hit). Because of his press qualifications he was transferred after three years flying (still being alive which was unusual) to the Admiralty Press Division. He was to be stationed in Sydney to initiate a press division attached to the BPF and the US Fleet for Captain Anthony Kimmins to take over when he arrived in Sydney from Manus. Captain Kimmins was a well-known broadcaster on naval affairs.
Certain memories of this epic voyage remain in my head after all these years, for instance, the address by the OC troops given to the officers just after sailing was to remember that the recreation deck, Deck F, was limited to use by the Wrens and officers. He instructed; we were to remember that "F was for Freddie gentlemen". The second memory was sentries were placed at each end of the corridor to which the WRNS cabins had access. One sentry was reported missing one night, he was found in a Wren's cabin. His defence was he had been asked to free a sticking wardrobe door. I believe the unofficial rate to become a sentry was two shillings per night.
At Colon, Panama where we were for five days awaiting passage through the Canal the American Navy kindly invited the Wrens to a grand lunch in their Officers Mess situated at the end of a palm tree lined avenue about three quarters of a mile from the dock. The Wrens decided to march formally from the ship to the Mess. Great preparations of white uniforms took place and they fell in on the dockside at the bottom of the gangway to the Athlone Castle. They marched to the Mess in a manner the Guards would have envied, they were cheered all the way by US personnel who lined the route, - a treasured memory. One reason why the journey took so long was that the ship broke down in Mid Pacific (engine timing chain). This took two days to repair and as we wallowed about, stopped, one could imagine Jap submarines on every quarter. The feeling of insecurity was heightened as rough calculations had been made which showed there were insufficient life boats.
Even a ships concert failed to raise morale. Some New Zealand soldiers returning to New Zealand after release from German POW camps sang as their turn "Now is the Hour", this did not help, as they reduced some of the audience, particularly the ladies, to tears. The tears failed to alleviate the ensuing water shortage caused by the breakdown. Home seemed very far away.
On arrival in Sydney in February 1945, MONAB II was sent to Bankstown a RAAF aerodrome about fourteen miles out of Sydney so replacing the RAAF personnel. It became an FAA station with the task of repairing and preparing machines for transfer to the Fleet as replacements and also forming a reserve for the eventual invasion of Japan. This meant that MONAB II lost its purpose as a mobile base and became a static one.
The salvage section consisted of Lt. Cdr Hind and myself (promoted to Lieutenant (A) RNVR shortly after arrival in Australia) four Chief Petty Officers, twenty Royal Marine drivers and about thirty naval airmen as mechanics come drivers etc. Their original task, as mentioned, was to collect crashed aircraft and the movement of aircraft and stores by road. Bankstown had by now become a service aerodrome. The aircraft to be serviced came from the US or UK either as deck cargo on escort carriers or in some instances fleet carriers or in crates in ship's holds. The vessels arrived at Pyrmont Dock in Sydney Harbour, which had been designated an FAA dock and was run by the Australian Port Authorities in conjunction with the Royal Navy.
It was more convenient for the Salvage Section to be based in Sydney rather than Bankstown and we were moved to Woollamaloo. At the same time my unit was transferred to, and came under the control of, Flag Officer Naval Air Pacific (FONAP) who was at the time Rear Admiral Portal. Because FONAP had more important tasks the section was given considerable licence on the running of its affairs. Lt. Cdr Hind after about five months sought discharge from the Service due to alleged bad health. He made no mention of an Australian widow who owned a boarding house between Melbourne and Sydney on the coast. I was then put in command of the section with the promise of promotion (which did not materialise).
At this stage it may be helpful to mention the situation of the war in the Pacific, particularly that of the British Pacific Fleet. The war in Europe was coming to a close and Churchill and Roosevelt decided that Britain should take a more active part in the Pacific War. Churchill had, it is believed, two reasons for this. One was to show Australia that they had not been forgotten and the other to wean them away from American dominance (not that they needed any weaning as they had outstayed their welcome; I saw the US Officers mess in flames in Brisbane with the fire brigade delayed). The other was to avenge Singapore. As an aside; Churchill, after Singapore fell was asked by a Member of Parliament why he had not checked the 360-degree traverse of the defending guns so they could defend if a landward attack took place. Churchill replied by saying, he had not checked this any more than if he saw a battleship being launched, he would check whether they had put a bottom on it So the BPF was decreed with Admiral Bruce Fraser in command. It was to be based in Australia and work as part of the American fifth Fleet (Admiral Nimitz). It was very much the junior partner (we had about ten carriers and the fifth Fleet had over forty), but never-the-less it was the largest Fleet the UK had ever formed, "The forgotten fleet". It was also dependent on the US for many supplies particularly aircraft. The British FAA aircraft were unsuitable for the prevailing conditions and were now flying almost entirely US machines. A story is told of Admiral Fraser asking Admiral Nimitz for three Avengers for training purposes. He was refused and on asking the reason why, was informed they only let them out in groups of six. But if a bottle of Scotch could be found they might increase this quota to twelve.
But returning to the Salvage Section now in Sydney. The duties were as mentioned before principally the organising of motor vehicle convoys to and from the docks at Pyrmont and Bankstown. These convoys of about eight aircraft carrying vehicles plus attendant NSW Police escorts and a FAA officer drove through the city. As the officer in charge dealing with irate Australian drivers, NSW Police, not noted for their tact, and Royal Marine drivers, frequently raised problems I did not associate with FAA duties. The lorries were supplied by US or RAAF and were specially constructed to take aircraft. They were known as Spiders. They carried various types; Seafires, Fireflies, Hellcats, Avengers and Corsairs. All were difficult loads when negotiating Sydney tram cables and lines. Our relations with the NSW Police were cordial. How this was achieved it is perhaps best not to enquire, but petrol and whisky were scarce. It was said that a former Governor General when inspecting the motor cycle police remarked, "when I saw their uniforms, I thought they had been cleaning their motor cycles with them, until I saw their machines". In spite of this their control of traffic was ruthless and efficient.
The occasional crashed aircraft was collected but flying conditions were much superior to those in the UK so the frequency of crashes was not great. When a carrier arrived by the dock the aircraft, possibly up to seventy, were taken to Bankstown, serviced and returned to the carrier for transfer to the Island aircraft parks north of Australia. It usually meant working night and day for about three days as when the last load was delivered the first load was ready for return to the carrier. The ships arrived about every ten days. One Sunday morning much to their displeasure the Section had to report to the aerodrome. All available personnel had to paint out with green paint any red on the aircraft, roundels, stripes, warning notices etc. This was because the Fleet when attacked by Kamikazes tended to fire on any plane showing any red, Japanese planes had a rising sun insignia. At this time the threat of Kamikazes was growing. The sight of HMAS Australia coming crippled into Garden Island was not pleasant, she having been hit by a suicide pilot.
About the middle of 1945 another unit for moving aircraft was set up in Brisbane. This was a much smaller affair in charge of a CPO with frequent supporting visits by the writer. The job in Brisbane was much simpler because the aircraft could be towed on their own undercarriages, not possible in NSW because of State Regulations. The aerodrome in Brisbane was Rocklea.
It was interesting that from our flat window, overlooking the harbour and Garden Island, to see the various warships flying the Union Flag a few days after their return to Australia from extensive periods at sea when they had been supported by the 'Fleet Train' This indicated a court martial was being held usually misdemeanours caused by drink. I had once to appear before Sydney magistrates defending a member of the Salvage Section. In a fit of zeal he had driven a milk float through a shop window. His reasons for doing this were not at all clear. His defence, which I supported, was that his judgement had been affected by Dunkirk and every other naval action since Trafalgar. His bravery under fire was unsurpassed. He was let off with a caution. This defence plea was instigated by an Australian lawyer who said this was the standard procedure for Australian and British military personnel under similar circumstances. It seemed to be accepted by NSW's courts.
As I write, further memories return, for instance; I was responsible for losing a Seafire, I had the bright idea of unloading the newly arrived carriers from both sides. The dock side using the ships own derricks and the open side by lowering the aircraft onto a lighter by a small floating crane, then bringing the lighter to the dock for unloading. Unfortunately, I had overlooked that passing harbour ferries caused considerable wash. On the first occasion this method was employed a ferry passed just as the derrick had lowered the machine onto the lighter, the sudden rise and fall of the lighter caused the plane to fall off the crane hook and after bouncing on the deck fell into the harbour. Horrified, I saw a great big oily bubble rise to the surface. The mishap was duly reported. After submitting the report expecting to be court-martialled or at least shot, I never heard anything else, curious, because if the Section lost a bucket all hell was let loose.
It was difficult to stop various petrol fiddles, as all aircraft when moved by road had to have their tanks drained. Crashed aircraft removed from carriers at Garden Island were usually drained in a hurry and not always completely. When they arrived at Bankstown for breaking up or repair, they were then completely drained. The residue which might be up to twenty gallons was unaccountable. Australian farmers would pay up to five shillings per gallon for aircraft fuel to augment their rationed poor-quality petrol. This practice when discovered was forbidden, at least orders were issued to stop it, but…
My most unpleasant period in the war occurred after the Japanese surrender. After this event the section's main activity ceased and its attention was turned to loading carriers with medical supplies, ambulances etc, for the relief of prisoners in Singapore and Hong Kong. The unloading of the ships on their return to Sydney with ex POW's, internees etc, most of whom were in a very distressed condition, did not endear the writer to the Japanese. The dock was besieged by anxious Australians who were searching for any surviving relations as there had been no knowledge of whether they were dead or alive during their captivity. The survivors were hurried away in closed buses to various local hospitals. I was of the opinion at the time when seeing these poor men, women and children, that two atom bombs had not been enough.
After the Japanese surrender, I can vaguely remember VJ night at Kings Cross (the so-called artist's quarter in Sydney). This was very much an occasion and fully made up for missing the VE celebrations in the UK, Australians can be very cheerful at times. I took part in the VJ Victory March in Sydney carrying for the first time a Naval sword which got heavier as the March progressed. The warmth of the reception given to the RN contingent aroused considerable emotion as we marched.
The departure of Captain Kimmins and my brother who went to Tokyo to witness the signing of the Japanese surrender meant clearly the war was at an end. I was recalled to the UK on a Class B release to return to Rolls Royce.
My last duty was to supervise the loading of a carrier with about seventy aircraft for dumping into the Pacific Ocean as an agreement under the lease lend arrangement.
I finally obtained a passage to the UK in R.M.S ANDES via Suez arriving home just in time for Christmas. I brought with me a crate full of canned food. The NAAFI in Sydney had warned those personnel returning to the UK that people back home were starving. They would not tell us this was the situation because they did not want to worry us, fighting the war as we were. So, it was recommended we took home as much food as possible, Camp Pie being particularly recommended. It was a tissue of lies of course, they were getting rid of their stores.
Finally, it was said that a signal was issued to the effect that any Japanese aircraft attacking allied shipping, either because they had not heard of the armistice or because they refused to accept it "were to be shot down in a friendly fashion".
As for the Camp Pie, even our dog would not eat it.
My war was over.
Michael joined the test flight of MONAB II at Bankstown after a brief spell with 706 Squadron at RBAS Jervis Bay. He became the first RN pilot to fly an Avenger Mk III when they arrived at Bankstown in June 1945. After his spell at Bankstown Michael moved to RNAS Nowra to join 854 Avenger squadron, a unit with which he had previously served.
The MONAB with which I was primarily concerned was HMS NABBERLEY situated at Bankstown. I had previously been part of 854 Squadron which at that time was attached to HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, but due to a couple of unfortunate incidents I had managed to accumulate two log book endorsements and two 'Loggings' and it was decided to dispense with my services when ILLUSTRIOUS arrived in Sydney in February ‘45.
I was posted firstly to a temporary camp at Warwick farm racecourse in Sydney, where we were accommodated in tents in the centre of the racecourse, and used the grandstand bar as the wardroom. After several days there I was packed off to the 'bad boys' squadron, 706 at Jervis Bay, which was under the command of the biggest (and baddest) of them all, Lt. Cdr. Bobby Bradshaw. After two weeks of idleness and still accommodated in tents, the C.O. asked us one day to add up the hours we had flown in Avengers, and since it transpired that I had the greatest number I was posted to Bankstown for test flying duties. .
The purpose of RNAS Bankstown was to repair unserviceable or damaged aircraft, and assemble new ones. Once they were deemed serviceable by the engineering section, they were then test flown by members of test flight who pointed out any unserviceabillties still remaining or passed them as being fit to go into front-line service.
The composition of test flight at Bankstown was I believe, quite unique, since it consisted of about one third of its number being Royal Navy pilots and observers with about a couple of TAGs [Telegraphist Air Gunners], and the remaining two thirds were RAAF pilots seconded to the Navy for test flying duties.
Our immediate C.O. was Flight Lieutenant Geoff Schaeffer, he was killed under the most tragic circumstances. His wife had just given birth to their firstborn in Melbourne, and our Cdr. Flying, Lt. Cdr. Roy Dence suggested that Geoff had better take a Seafire down to Melbourne for a fuel consumption check. After spending a day with his wife and new daughter he took off for Sydney and within a few minutes had flown into the Dandenongs, a mountain range to the south east of Melbourne. The Dandenong range would not be more than 2500 ft. at its highest point, yet it seems to attract certain cloud formations and has claimed the lives of many (admittedly Inexperienced) pilots.
The harmony between the two services in test flight was quite outstanding. Many close friendships were formed and one of the RAAF pilots, FIt. .Lt. Ron Rae became one of my firmest friends and remained so until his death in 1986. His youngest daughter is, in fact, my God daughter.
It was understood that the pilots of test flight would have no scheduled days off, and would work every day that weather permitted. When the cloud base fell below around 3000 ft. a decision would be made by Cdr. (Flying) and Geoff Schaeffer as to whether flying would be cancelled for the day and test flight given a day off. When this decision was given in the affirmative test flight would, amidst loud cheers, move into Sydney as a body and do the rounds of the pubs and bars, which seemed to be the obligatory way of enjoying oneself during free time in the services. I found the work in test flight most interesting. I think I was hooked on flying from the moment I went solo in 1942 and was quite happy to fly seven days a week. (Which explains why I decided to make flying my career and flew for the next forty years).
As you might expect, every piece of equipment in the aircraft was checked - radio, guns, hydraulics, engine performance, and handling characteristics. I normally took my observer and air gunner with me on all test flights, even when I was doing stalls with and without flaps, and diving to maximum permissible speed. It was during the last manoeuvre that a couple of incidents occurred that made me change my normal procedure.
If my memory is correct, the maximum permissible diving speed (as per the handbook) was 320 knots. The maximum speed we were obliged to attain during test flight was 310k. However, since I was fully aware that front line squadrons frequently achieved speeds of up to 350k I saw no reason why I should pass an aircraft as being fit for operational service unless I had also flown It to this speed. The first two months passed uneventfully, but one afternoon, just as I was approaching 350k in a dive, part of the skin on the upper surface of the wing started to fold back, creating some minor turbulence. From then on, I took off by myself to do the stalls and dive to maximum speed, after which I landed again to take on my crew to complete the rest of the test schedule.
It was just as well that I did, for on one occasion, just as I was approaching 350k in a dive the aircraft went completely out of control with my body being thrown around the cockpit and the control column belting me in the knees. At first, I thought it was about time I baled out, but then I grabbed the violently oscillating control column and found that I could get the aircraft more or less under control. The elevator control seemed rather sluggish but the other controls were fairly normal so I decided to come in for a landing. This was achieved without too much difficulty and after taxying to the tarmac and getting out of the aircraft I saw only too plainly what had happened. Most of my starboard elevator had broken away during the dive. This incident did not change my determination to push the aircraft up to 350k - the only difference being that I now started the dive from 12000 ft instead of 10000.
The really exciting moment occurred, however, when Cdr (E) came up to me one day and said ~ Price, have you ever flown an Avenger 3? At this time, I had never even heard of an Avenger 3 and was quite excited when he told me that Bankstown had Just taken delivery of a number of them still In packing cases, and that after assembly I would be flying them. For the next two weeks I made an earnest study of the handbook, and finally the great day arrived when the first one was rolled out on to the tarmac.
After a fairly lengthy cockpit check I took off, and was amazed at the improved performance of this later model. Viewed from the outside it did not appear to be much different from the Marks I and 2, apart from the colour scheme which was all over navy blue. However, it had several refinements that the others did not have, including a very good autopilot. Also, its 2000 HP engine gave it a top speed of 25 knots above the earlier Avengers.
It was about this time that I learned that the ILLUSTRIOUS had been withdrawn from the Pacific, as she was well overdue for a re-fit. Consequently, my old squadron, 854, had been disembarked and sent to RNAS Nowra. I also learned that 854 were to be re-equipped with Avenger 3s, and this finally convinced me that, as much as I enjoyed my time with Test Flight It was time to return to squadron life, which, to me, was what being a Fleet Air Arm pilot was all about.
I therefore requested, and received, a transfer back to 854 Squadron in July, where I was received with open arms by the CO, Lt. Cdr Freddie Nottingham, as I was the only person who knew anything about the Avenger 3. So, for the first week I found myself acting as instructor to my old squadron mates, after which we spent the next two months working up as a night intruder squadron to be embarked on the "Formidable" and operate against Japan. Fortunately for us the atom bomb was dropped ten days before we were due to embark. As far as I know, 854 Squadron was the only one to be equipped with the Avenger 3, and in all probability, I was the first person in the RN to fly it.
Laurence joined MONAB II while it was forming up at R.N.A.E. Risley. When MONAB II closed at the end of March 1946 Laurence was drafted to MONAB VI at Schofields, also soon to close down. Laurence returned home to the UK on the same vessel which carried him out to Australia, the troop ship ATHLONE CASTLE.
Leaving RNAS Arbroath I went on leave, before the end of the leave I received a letter and a rail warrant with instructions to report to an RAF station, the Technical Research Establishment at Defford in Worcestershire. This was a very secret place; it had high twin barbed wire fences with Alsatian dogs running loose between them. I was there to learn how to install two types of radio equipment in Firefly aircraft. One was called Rebecca; I cannot recall the name of the other. Because of the need to know protocol, I had no idea what this equipment was. I was never called upon to install it; it was not until in 2003, while listening to someone reminiscing, that I ever heard of it again.
From Defford I went to HMS GOSLING at Risley between Warrington and Leigh in Lancashire. By either chance or design there was a flock of aggressive geese inhabiting the playing field. There was a sad incident when a perimeter sentry shot dead a rating coming in through the fence.
We were there to kit up for the next job in the Pacific. Tropical uniforms including a pith helmet were issued, the pith helmet was taken back soon after. We were also issued with khaki battle dress, for we were to be a MONAB (Mobile Operational Naval Air Base.) These were intended for island hopping through the Pacific. Eleven MONABS were formed, but only one fulfilled its intended role. It went to the Admiralty Islands. I was in MONAB II also known as HMS NABBERLEY.
Before we embarked we were addressed by the First Lord of the Admiralty, (The Minister in charge of the Navy, the senior Naval officers are called Sea Lords) He said you are going to the Pacific to fight the Japanese, but you have another duty, to counter the growing American influence in Australia.
We sailed from Gladstone dock in Liverpool on 22 December 1944 aboard a Union Castle Line ship R.M.S. ATHLONE CASTLE, arriving in Sydney on 25 January 1945. All we carried on board was a very small steaming bag, so I had no spare cap. While I was leaning over the side a rope dropped from the deck above and knocked my cap into the water. I spent a lot of the trip explaining why I had no cap. The ATHLONE CASTLE had aboard some four hundred naval officers, seven hundred ladies (Wrens, VADs and nurses) and eight thousand non - commissioned officers and ratings, many times the peacetime number of passengers.
Toilets were seats over a galvanised iron channel continually flushed with seawater from one end. Occasionally someone would float a piece of burning paper down the channel causing a ripple effect on the customers. A great deal of time was spent queuing for the canteen. The ship was supposed to have been cleaned but there was accumulated dirt under the bottom rail of the mess tables. We managed to get hold of tools, moved the tables and scrubbed them, this reduced the number of unwanted passengers somewhat.
The ship sailed in a North American bound convoy about half way across the Atlantic before turning south for Panama. We were allowed ashore in the dockyard at Christobal, The dock was swarming with the biggest cockroaches we had ever seen, though they were no larger than you find in Australia. The American USO a services welfare organisation put on a concert on the dock, which we thoroughly enjoyed. The next day the ship entered the canal and for a few days, we had the pleasure of fresh water showers. Parts of the canal and the locks are very narrow. You had to select a side of the ship to sit or stand and face dire consequences if you crossed to the other. Sailing through the lakes is like being on top of the world the horizon is so sharp.d.
The US military establishments along the Canal had large “Shame Boards” proclaiming the number and last occurrence of everything from road and industrial accidents to venereal disease. The voyage across the Pacific was not without incident. A timing chain on one of the engines broke and we drifted for about two days until it was fixed. There was a possibility of Japanese submarines, so everybody had to stay below deck to avoid the appearance of a troopship. I do not know why appearing as troopship did not matter while we were under way. Perhaps our 21-knot speed would outpace submarines. The ship carried a gun, perhaps a 4.5 inch, but the gun crew had only had one practice while we were aboard which was not very encouraging. Pitcairn Island was on our course, and we hove-to while a surfboat came out to exchange mail.
The food was reasonable but included an inordinate amount of rice, which I imagine had been picked up on an earlier voyage. This led to a slight embarrassment when at dinner in Australia our host proudly presented a rice pudding. Proudly because rice was very difficult to get, it was mainly reserved for the Chinese community.
There was not much entertainment, the traditional crossing the line ceremony and a race day. I have a picture of the race day, but I do not remember it. I lost my twentieth birthday to the International Date Line.
The first sign of approach to Australia was somewhere to the north of New Zealand the ship’s radio picked up a Sydney commercial station with the exciting message “Ding Dong. Start the day well with Kinkara Tea and remember Mothers Choice Flour in every home.” The ship berthed in Woolloomooloo, and was greeted by a pipe band that I was convinced had followed me all the way from Arbroath.
MONAB II was based at Bankstown Airport, part of which was RAAF No 2 Aircraft Park. It also housed a De Haviland factory. The bus trip to Bankstown showed us unfamiliar housing styles and livestock grazing at the side of the road
We moved into unfinished and unfurnished timber framed corrugated iron clad huts. This being the day before the ‘Australia Day’ long week-end nothing was done for some time to improve this situation. For some days, we slept on sacks of straw. Hardwood was a new experience; attempts to drive nails into it with a ball Paine hammer were generally unsuccessful.
At first, the food was not up to scratch, tinned meat and vegetable stew followed by prunes and custard, and such fare; disappointing in a country so rich in food. It became good quite rapidly though. After four years without them, the great joy was bananas, the first stop in town was the fruit store, before going into Sydney on the train or to the swimming pool. Transport into Bankstown was by ancient busses, one did not have a battery cut out, the driver held a piece of wire on the steering wheel whenever the engine revs were high enough. They often had to be push started, and if heavily loaded some passengers had to get off when going uphill. .
Criminal activity was not uncommon. The sewage system sometimes failed because pumps were stolen from the treatment plant. A number (six if I remember correctly) of .45 Webley pistols were stolen from the armoury. One of them turned up in the 70’s under the car seat of a man that I knew, the Secretary Manager of the Returned Servicemen’s Club in Engadine N.S.W. On tobacco issue day, two civilians walked through all the ratings huts with sugar bags and handfuls of notes buying duty free tobacco. When the MONAB was closing down a truck containing an ice making plant was driven through the gate and as far as I know, has not been seen since. When I had to return to the store a number of battery charging petrol electric sets many of them were missing, a problem that I found it expedient to solve by partly disassembling the remainder and distributing the parts into the appropriate number of boxes. A criminal activity in itself I suppose. Ah well, there is a statute of limitations.
Armed sentries were posted in some spots, their rifles loaded with blanks for fear of the repercussions if one of the locals were shot. One incident in which a weapon was involved concerned a Marine who went berserk, held up the Guardroom, and tried to let the prisoners out. They would not go, saying we are in enough trouble already.
The Major in charge of the Royal Marines died when the bonnet of the jeep he was driving flew open, totally blocking his vision. He drove into a power pole. In another incident, a civilian who ignored instructions from the escort of an aircraft convoy lost an arm to the wing root of an aircraft on a low loader. He was probably driving gripping the gutter, a common practice before it was made illegal.
There were many dogs loose around the site. Divisions one day were made entertaining by all of them in pursuit of a bitch on heat running across in front of the assembled ships company. Nothing was done about them until one tried to jump through the propeller of an aircraft that was being run up. While here I became a Petty officer, first as an Air Artificer (L) 4th Class then as a result of changes to the engineering structure an Electric Artificer (Air) 4th Class.
The local power supply was overloaded and there were many power outages. There was a large diesel generator near the main gate, which we had to supplement with transportable generators. The large generator was manned twenty-four hours a day. The people on the night watches used to cook fried snacks of chips and the like. The place stunk of diesel fuel, when people coming off shore tried to scrounge chips they were told “OK but you know we cook them in diesel oil, you get used to it quite rapidly”. Many doubted the truth of this but very few were game to try. One of the transportable generators was for the wardroom. I selected what I thought was the best site spent all morning connecting it up, and after lunch tested it. A window opened and a very irate captain’s voice said, “What the hell is that?” I replied “The Wardroom generator sir” He replied “Take it away and put it outside a bloody Sub Lieutenant’s cabin” This generator figured in another incident. The Electrical P.O.s were on both a duty electricians’ roster and the general duty rosters; complaints about this fell on deaf ears until one night the Wardroom generator broke down when the duty electrician was on the other side of the airfield.
Another generator had to be wired into the workshop area sub-station. Being a cautious person, I opened the switch supplying the substation and padlocked it open. I was bolting conductors onto the bus bars when I got a jolt on my elbow. I checked the switch, it was open, said to myself “must have imagined it” a few minutes later it happened again. A check of the drawings showed that there was a relay on the other side of the switchboard with a stud sticking through to the side on which I was working. This was the street light relay. There were no streetlights; all the lamps had been removed. The relay was controlled by a switch in the telephone exchange, which happened to be turned on. It was fed from another substation.
There was no NAAFI wagon, mid-morning the local milk truck drove round selling ice-cold bottles of milk. An enterprising pair fitted out an unused aircraft crate with milk shake machines and for a small fee turned your bottle of milk into a milk shake. I assume this was a legitimate “firm”; its operation was quite open.
Railway stations had large posters warning of poisonous spiders. On night, I was working alone, dressed only in shorts and sandals, standing on a stepladder with my arm right up to the elbow in a wing inspection panel when an extremely large spider ran down my arm, the side of my body and my leg then scuttled across the hanger floor. It was not one of the poisonous varieties; I didn’t immediately identify it and felt quite stressed.
The First Lord may have been concerned with the American influence, but there was no doubting the welcome given to The British Pacific Fleet and its offshoots. A huge building in the middle of Hyde Park near the centre of Sydney was the British Centre. It was built by public subscription.
“A British Naval Force is coming, £200,000 is needed for The British Centre to provide meals, accommodation, recreation. They did not fail us, we must not fail them.”
There were dances here every night, it was crowded with girls many of whom seemed to be under instructions from their parents to bring a sailor home to visit. At Bankstown policy was that no offers of hospitality were to be refused, on occasions men on stoppage of leave were told to change into number-ones and go to a dance at a local hall. The NSW Government Railways provided passes to travel anywhere on the metropolitan network which extended about 50 kilometres round Sydney, for a few shillings a month
One day I was on Central station, a troop train was standing at the next platform. A soldier got off the train and crossed the line to where I was standing just as a train came in. I tried to pull him up, but the train hit him before I got him onto the platform. He was killed instantly
The job at Bankstown was to unpack aircraft from crates or remove their protective coatings and assemble them. The aircraft were Grumman Hellcats and Avengers, Supermarine Seafires, Fairey Fireflies and Vought Corsairs; also a few Vultee Vengeance which we modified for aerial insecticide spraying. After inspection and fixing faults, they were test flown and any further problems were corrected. They were then delivered to aircraft carriers or transport ships at Garden Island.
Most of the time the weather was hot and dry, with tremendous dust storms, for this was at the end of an eight-year La Nina drought, in which major rivers such as the Hawkesbury and the Hunter virtually ceased to flow. When the drought broke the grass airfield became unusable. Aircraft were flown off from a hard standing in front of the hangers and landed at MONAB 6, HMS NABSTOCK, located at Schofields about 40 kilometres to the west of Sydney, and delivered from there.
I made acquaintance with a new device, a petrol blowlamp, I have never seen one since. This one had a built-in jet pricker which broke off and blocked the jet while I was preheating it. This had the effect of over pressurising the tank and forcing more petrol into the preheating tray. I tried to put it out with a handful of wet cotton waste. A whoosh of flame escaped and caught me on the face, removing my eyebrows and melting the fat on the end of my nose!
When the announcement of the Japanese surrender was broadcast over the PA there was a Hellcat suspended from the crane. The crane driver said “They won’t be needing this now” and let it down with a run.
There were about 700 American aircraft there at the end of the war. These were what were called Lend Lease equipment. The U.S. provided them without charge, or sometimes in exchange for other goods or services. These aircraft evidently had not been exchanged in this manner so they still belonged to the U.S. The war being over there was no immediate use for them. To prevent them finding their way onto the second hand arms market the U.S. required them to be dumped at sea. This meant the use of aircraft carriers that could otherwise be sent home and “paid off”.
Therefore, there was some urgency in all this; working round the clock the aircraft were loaded onto semi-trailers, taken to Garden Island Dockyard, transferred to aircraft carriers and taken several kilometres offshore. The fuselage was split open with axes to ensure that they sank rapidly, and then they were pushed off the flight deck. You would think that they would never be seen or heard of again. However, many years’ later newspapers were reporting bits being caught in trawl nets.
There was no lighting where the aircraft were parked. My contribution was to fit out a 5-ton Bedford truck containing a diesel generator with a large number of hanger pedestal lights lashed to the frame, it also carried a quantity of extension leads and more pedestal lights to illuminate the current loading area.
Payment was monthly, and only in notes. It was very difficult to pay a bus fare with a fairly high value note, and equally difficult to keep enough change to start the next pay period. Several ratings had bought horses. It was an unconventional sight to see Liberty-men falling in with saddles over their left arm.
I spent a few days leave with a friend on a half cabin boat exploring Sydney harbour. The dinghy broke loose while we were going across the Heads. I swam to recover it. When I got back to the boat, I thought of sharks and decided that I wouldn’t do it again. I got stung on the hand by a fish though. A visit to a local doctor resulted in a referral to the Naval Hospital at Herne Bay, now known as Riverwood though we called it Hernia Bay. I was surprised that it took an operation under general anaesthetic to remove it. Because I had had an operation, I was given a week’s convalescent leave and a rail warrant to anywhere in New South Wales. With my eyes closed, I threw at dart at a map in the canteen, it landed on Wingham near Taree. I stayed there for a few days and travelled back to Sydney by road with an insurance salesman who was selling to country school teachers. A totally new look in Australia, one teacher schools with hitching rails for the children’s horses, corrugated dirt roads and paddocks full of ring barked trees.
It is March 1946, and the MONAB at Bankstown was closing down. I am drafted to the Royal Navy Barracks was HMS GOLDEN HIND at Warwick Farm. It had been a tented camp on the racecourse, but when I went there in March 1946 it had moved into a complex of wooden huts that for many years after the war served as a migrant hostel.
The first night that the cells were occupied several prisoners escaped. A contractor had “forgotten” to remove some hacksaw blades. The main reason for being in the cells was desertion. With the war over, some sailors were looking to a new life in Australia and went to live with girls, who when the money ran out, turned them in. The Provost Marshall had a waiting list for the cells and arrested candidates as vacancies occurred.
I was only at GOLDEN HIND for twelve days, but I got lumbered one Saturday with the job of Petty Officer in charge of the Shore Patrol in Parramatta. There are two sorts of Naval Shore Patrols. The first is a properly trained full-time patrol. These mainly operate in major ports. Ships visiting small ports and establishments remote from major ports provide their own patrols. The patrol was randomly selected for a one-day duty. There was no training, experience of observing other patrols was the only guide. A webbing belt with a bayonet, gaiters, and an armband are the only equipment, no baton, no handcuffs and certainly no pistol. Reliance is placed on superior numbers (hopefully) and respect for authority. There is another factor, next week you might be the enforcer.
Parramatta is a few kilometres west of Sydney, there were very few sailors there, but two of them gave problems. The first a cook was lying unconscious in the churchyard with half a bottle of rum beside him. I called the local police paddy wagon, put him in a cell, had his property listed except of course for the half bottle of rum. The patrol enjoyed that! When I released him some hours later and escorted him to the railway station, he spent a great deal of time bemoaning the loss of the rum. We were called to a cafe to find a quietly drunk Chief Petty Officer, he posed two problems first if I were not in charge of the patrol he outranked me, the second was that he was a very strong man. He was sitting waiting for his meal and passing the time twisting the admittedly rather flimsy forks and spoons into fancy shapes. Fortunately, he cooperated and I took him to the Railway Station and not the Police Station.
After GOLDEN HIND, I went to HMS NABSTOCK, MONAB VI at Schofields, I was in charge of the Instrument Workshop here. One day a F24 Aerial reconnaissance camera came in. I tested it could not find anything wrong with it and sent it back noted as “unable to fault”. It was not long after that an irate squadron commander appeared, saying “What do you mean there is nothing wrong with it”, and flourishing a handful of very peculiar looking prints. I then got the story; a Seafire had been modified for this photographic role, these prints were the results from the first use. A study of the peculiarities showed that the shutter was opening while the film was being wound on. I checked the controller, it was OK. There was only one thing left, the wiring between the controller and the camera.
I examined the wiring harness from a system that had not yet been installed. Part of it was a cable with a 7-pin plug at one end and a 7-pin socket at the other. They had been wired from opposite ends. Pin 1 was connected to 7, 2 to 6, 3 to 5 and so on, only pin 4 was correctly wired! It was only luck that this set of misconnections did not result in a fuse blowing.
Schofields is about 30 kilometres from Sydney harbour bridge. I had a girlfriend that lived at Lindfield well up the North Shore. An evening out involved taking the train into Sydney, out to Lindfield, going back to Sydney for entertainment, see her back home to Lindfield, then back to Sydney. The last train to Schofields left fairly early, but I got the first morning train, I spent the night at Central Station. A blanket deposited in a left luggage locker ensured a comfortable nights sleep. I really got value from that railway pass. The drought had now broken; the road to the station from the airfield was sometimes flooded, so it was trousers rolled up, shoes, and socks in hand.
My next move was back to England, once again in the ATHLONE CASTLE. After a 12-hour delay due to mechanical problems we sailed round the south side of Australia to Fremantle, Western Australia. Due to further engine problems we had two days leave to visit Perth. A run ashore in Perth saw a group of us having lunch at a hotel with a few beers. When lunch was over we asked where we could go to drink. The answer was “Take a train to Mount Helena” which was the nearest country hotel to Perth. This was a wood fired train; occasionally a lump of wood that was too big to fit the firebox would fly past the window. In Sydney there had been a complete dearth of bottled beer, when we pleaded for some bottles to take away we were astounded to be asked “Yes how many”. While buying this beer we heard a loud whistle. It was the train signalling patrons to leave. As we walked down the platform the driver leaned from the engine and said “are you the last”. Once we were settled the train took off. There were four other people in the carriage who came from a railway town and knew the train crew. When they invited the guard to have drink he declined because there was a station master at the next station. He joined us later however. These were the type of carriages that did not have toilets, at one point the guard flashed his lantern to the driver, the train stopped, and it was ladies to the left gentlemen to the right. I blotted my copy book here coming off shore two hours late.
At Singapore we picked up soldiers going home for "demob". Their complimentary comments on the troopship food which we thought not to up to Navy standard made us feel that we had in the past been too harsh on our cooks. We made one more stop; a few days in Aden to restock supplies before continuing on through the Suez Canal and the Med to Southampton. Travelling up the Red Sea we saw many overcrowded pilgrim ships heading for Medina, the port for Mecca. One of our group commented “This is where the next World War will start” There is still time for him to be proved right. The Bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation. The weather was awful.
Bruce was drafted to R.N.A.E Risley to join MONAB II. He remained with this unit until its closure when he joined MONAB VI during its run down to paying off at RNAS Schofields.
On Completion of my Technical Training at R.A.F. Hednesford, I was with a group of F.A.A. ratings loaned to the R.A.F. We started at R.A.F. Kenley, Surrey. (by luck a modest cycle ride to my father's house in Epsom, a pilot in one of the Canadian Squadrons gave me an aerial view of Epsom & home. From there we were posted to Warmwell in Dorset, our first meeting with U.S.A.A.F. flying P.58s, following on to Ford, Sussex, dealing with visiting aircraft.
Having returned to Lee-on-Solent I was posted to a unit forming at R.N.A.E. Risley; this unit was MONAB II, HMS NABBERLEY. After sitting out and training we had a final full parade, we were inspected by and briefed by the first sea Lord. Then we joined the R.M.S. ATHLONE CASTLE at Liverpool.
We church goers, in discussion with two Salvation Army lads, decided that the Free Church members should have our own service. The Padre (from HMS ANSON) arranged for us to have the first-class saloon for 10 a.m. service, after which, as a token of appreciation we went down one deck and became the choir for the C of E service.
After crossing the Atlantic we tied up in Colon, Panama, where a local group entertained us. The Panama Canal was very impressive, especially the contrast between the giant locks and nearby jungle. Mid Pacific, we suffered a 3-day breakdown on one engine; all the usual rumours were circulated as to what had happened. Then at 5 a.m. one morning we were awakened by a chorus of Kookaburras; we had arrived in Sydney.
We disembarked to be detailed to quarters at R.A.A.F Bankstown. The Station was taken over by MONAB II as a centre for the reception & inspection of aircraft, crated engines etc. I was part of the Test flight line crew, inspecting aircraft before they were check test flown. We made our inspection reports to our officer; he then issued them to the appropriate departments for the aircraft to either be test flown before being returned to service or returned to the hanger with faults. I also did some of the ground testing; this testing was done in the parking areas, the starting up of the engines raised clouds of dust so we were completing our work in semi-gloom.
I volunteered for town patrols; these were to check on the behaviour of ratings ashore and traffic direction. Good relations were established locally, but this was sometimes spoilt by new arrivals. When activities eased 10 days leave was granted, the first part I spent in Melbourne and then went on to Temora, some 300 miles from the sea. In both places we were treated very well with special outings in the mountains and hunting in the bush.
We had a celebration to mark VE Day and then it was back to business as usual. We also had a party after VJ Day.
I left HMS NABBERLEY on March 21st 1946; I had a short stay at HMS GOLDEN HIND (a week) where some of us went back to school. I was then posted to HMS NABSTOCK, arriving March 29th.
There we spent a short period servicing usable aircraft in preparation for them flying off onto the carriers; we then turned our attention to collecting scrap. Wreckage of trucks and aircraft was collected into enormous heaps in the middle of the airfield. The C.O., after a short speech, fired his signal pistol into a trench of petrol, supposedly to deter dubious local scrap dealers coming onto the station. Several truckloads of scrap were dumped two miles out in the Bush.
At the start of trucking the first load into bush one of the team used an "X" word and a LAF/E (a fan of pre-war radio entertainment) told him “do not swear in front of the children”, a well-known catch phrase from one his favourite shows. The result was not one swear word for whole of that week
My next move was being detailed to join a unit returning to Sydney. Upon arrival we were put on a ship that was to take us home, much to my surprise, it was the ATHLONE CASTLE. After a 12-hour delay due to mechanical problems we sailed round the south side of Australia to Fremantle, Western Australia. There a funny incident happened; a Mother met us with a pushchair rounding the dock buildings, this sight was to be greeted by loud chorus of “She’s come for you Jack!!"
Due to further engine problems we had two days leave to visit Perth. Being a member of the Rotary club I Presented my Rotary “intro” card at the Perth branch and I met the branch president who gave me a tour of the city.
The ocean on route to the East Indies was like a sheet of glass; the opposite was the case between Singapore and Aden with us running into a typhoon. Local fighting was still going on around the islands, were told that it was Indonesians against the Dutch.
We collected army personnel at Singapore, going home for "demob". We made one more stop; a few days stop in Aden to restock supplies before continuing on thought the Suez Canal and the Med. The Bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation, weather wise it was awful.
The R.N. were on manoeuvres as we came through to dock at Southampton, where a big N.A.A.F.I. welcome was received when finally, our turn came to disembark.
Douglas joined the RN in May 1943 and after spending time at RNAE Risley and RAF Hednesford he completed his technical training at RNAS Yeovilton. He was drafted to MONAB II and served with the unit until its closure at the end of March 1946.
I was born and lived in Nottingham and was 13 years old when the war started. This marked the end of my schooling as there was a restriction placed on the number of children who could assemble in any place, for fear of a bombing raid. Before I started work I spent 2 years in the Air Training Corps and visited several RAF stations and watched Lancaster bombers take off for raids over Germany. I quickly made up my mind that I wanted to be in the Fleet Air Arm as soon as I was able to.
In May 1943 when I was 17, I volunteered for the Royal Navy and was immediately sent to HMS ROYAL ARTHUR which, in peace time, was Butlin's holiday camp, near Skegness in Lincolnshire. I was kitted out with a uniform, hammock etc and despatched to HMS GOSLING, near Warrington, one of 4 units, to do basic square bashing and generally to learn the dos and don'ts of naval discipline. Unfortunately, my overall training took longer than most, as I had an unexpected serious medical condition that required surgery, which delayed the completion of my training.
I then went to RAF Hednesford to undergo the training that I would need in the Fleet Air Arm. I undertook 18 weeks of training as an engine mechanic. Following that, I spent about 12 months at the Royal Naval Air Station, Yeovilton. Whilst there, the situation changed rapidly and, in addition to the technical training we undertook, we were all trained to use a bayonet, throw a grenade and to fire both a Lewis machine gun and a Sten automatic machine gun.
We were then sent on 10 days overseas leave. Where to? This was top secret - nobody knew! Following that, I returned home to Nottingham for a short stay with my family before I boarded the train for Portsmouth at Nottingham's Victoria Station, where my dad, along with my tearful mum and sister, waved me off.
The train was packed for the journey to the Portsmouth camp, where we watched a film about a new aircraft - the Firefly. We were only there one night and were subjected to a German bombing raid - the bombs dropped so close that our billet (along with its drowsy occupants) was moved off its foundations! The next day we boarded another train...destination unknown. After a long journey in the blackout, we got off the train at Liverpool and got onto a bus that took us to the docks. The board outside the docks which read 'Mersey Docks and Harbour Board' raised a laugh from all on the bus, as some wag had written 'and little lambs eat ivy' underneath - a line taken from a very popular nonsense song at the time called 'Mairzy Doats'.
We boarded a ship called the ATHLONE CASTLE and sailed well before dawn, as previously, no-one knew where we were heading. When the ship left Liverpool, it headed north into the Irish Sea and then West along the north coast of Ireland. The ship stopped there for several hours whilst a convoy assembled. It was a large convoy and was escorted by destroyers and corvettes which stayed with us for about 12 days into the journey, then they left us to head north to North America, whilst we continued on a heading for the Panama Canal, with occasional support from US Catalina flying boats.
I must say at this point that from leaving Liverpool and arriving at the Panama Canal, where we were allowed 2 hours shore leave, we had no idea whatsoever where we were or where our final destination was to be, but we pieced the journey together either as it happened or by later reflection on the journey. We were permitted the shore leave at the Panama Canal as there was a queue to sail through the canal. The canal was fresh water and, as the ship had been drawing water for washing and showering direct from the sea, immediately the ship entered the canal, the crew and passengers made a dash for the baths and showers, as soap would not lather in sea water - having fresh water was a real luxury!
A day after leaving the canal and entering the Pacific, one of the ship's engines broke down, which left us drifting for a couple of days. Everyone onboard had to wear life jackets day and night. After the repair we seemed to be moving faster than ever. We still didn't know exactly where we were going for what so often, seemed like forever. However, one morning I woke early and realised that the ship was no longer moving, so I slipped out of my hammock and went up on deck. I just couldn't take in what I was looking at - it was Sydney Harbour Bridge. I recognised it only because I had been shown a picture of the bridge during a geography lesson at school a few years earlier. I reflected on the words of my geography teacher who had told the class that we would never have the opportunity to see it in our lifetime!
We eventually docked and quickly disembarked onto the double-decker buses that were waiting for us. We were driven through the centre of Sydney and out into the country. All the way along our route people in the streets were waving to us.
Before long. we got to our destination, which was at Bankstown airfield - MONAB II, also known as HMS NABBERLEY. On arriving, we were shown to our billets and told to get some sleep as we were due to start work that night on the night shift, assembling and ground testing British and American aircraft, which were then flight tested by brave pilots from the Fleet Air Arm and the RAAF. I lost count of how many aircraft were built and tested there, but I recall that there was only one flying fatality, that of an RAAF pilot who flew a Firefly which crashed into the sea and was never recovered.
At the start, things didn't work too well. As the aircraft went out on the airfield, daily inspections of all the aircraft were introduced, where snags were identified and these had to be put right before any flights were authorised. Slowly things became more orderly. As previously mentioned, one aircraft that we worked on was the Firefly, which we had not had the benefit of working on before and had only seen once, on film, on the overnight trip to Portsmouth that I mentioned earlier. It's Griffon engine was much more powerful than the more familiar Merlin engine, but we all took it in our stride. I spent most of my time at MONABII actually on the airfield carrying out the final daily inspections and making the final preparations readying the aircraft for flight. Our routine continued until the sudden end to the war was brought about by the bombing of Japanese cities with atom bombs.
My stay with NABBERLEY was a mixture of very hard work, but also lots of fun and happiness. I'm sorry to say that I can now only recall one name from the crew of NABBERLEY, he was Arthur Bailey and is in the photographs I am sending. He originally came from Sheffield, but chose not to return to the UK and married a local girl.
HMS NABBERLEY, like all shore-based naval establishments, was run as a 'ship' and all ratings belonged to either the 'Starboard' or 'Port' Watch. Only members of one watch were allowed 'ashore' at a time. We had a daily rum ration and a NAAFI canteen. The big lecture room doubled as a cinema. As I recall, the NAAFI was well supplied with the local brews and it was cheaper to have a drink there, rather than pay travel expenses out of our pay, (which was around £2.10 shillings (Australian currency) per fortnight), to either Sydney or Bankstown, where minis and schooners were served, whilst the NAAFI managed half pints and pints, which were bigger! We had more duty-free cigarettes than we needed, we also had the naval tobacco allowance of 8oz of cigarette tobacco (roll your own) or pipe tobacco per month. I recall that a local trader was allowed to bring in a van full of meat and fruit pies for our mid-morning break on workdays. The ratings were marched to work and marched to the galley for meals, but we were left to our own skills when we were working on the aircraft!
Whilst I'm reminiscing, I must pass on some of my thoughts about the air station - sorry, I should say 'the ship'! The accommodation for 'other ranks' was brand new corrugated huts, probably about 30 feet long and about 14 feet wide, they had good wooden floors, well above the ground. I was accommodated in hut no. 205. The toilets were housed in a similar building, the toilet 'bowls' were holes in wooden panels, which were over a trough of flowing water and were in a row about 3 feet apart, with no seat and no partitions, so we just sat there talking to each other! The showers were in the same type of building. Each shower was about 3 feet apart, again no partitions! We all knew each other quite well! We almost always slept under mosquito nets and, on waking each morning, we had to shake out our boots to get rid of some quite big spiders and on one occasion, a very small snake!. Each weekend every hut was inspected for cleanliness by the ship's captain and the 'star' hut earned the occupants a days leave. Another prize, if you were lucky, was to be taken for a flight in a high wing mono plane out over the sea and back.
We had a surprise royal visitor, the Duke of Gloucester, whilst I was at Bankstown. We had to turn out in full battle gear, with white knee length gaiters and belt and a rifle with a brightly polished bayonet. We had spent all of the previous day polishing bayonets, whitening our belts and blacking our boots! The Duke was dressed in full army uniform, probably rank of General. His khaki uniform was adorned with scarlet flashes on the lapels, cuffs and trousers. I was sure he was wearing make-up, as his cheeks were the same colour as the scarlet on his uniform!
On one occasion in late 1945 or early 1946, an Avenger aircraft had to make a forced landing at Mascot airport in Sydney, due to a problem. I was sent along with an electrician to attend to it. Whilst we were there, one of the first civil flights from the UK landed. It was a civil version of the Lancaster bomber, called the Lancastrian. I was told that the flight had taken over 3 days!
On another occasion I, along with another rating, was sent to an aircraft carrier, HMS INDOMITABLE, which was docked in Sydney. There was a fault on one of the aircraft onboard, which we had to fix. Whilst we were onboard, the carrier set sail, those in command apparently not aware that we were still there working. Unable to turn back, my workmate and I had 3 weeks unscheduled 'leave' whilst HMS INDOMITABLE sailed to the Solomon Islands, where we were put ashore to wait for another ship heading for Sydney to take us on the return journey!
The people of Sydney were very friendly and a building was erected in the city and called the 'British Centre', where we could go and have a meal and a drink. We could also get advice about leave accommodation. Many local people, who were delighted to have us in their country, opened their homes up to us to stay and they arranged for me to have a weeks' leave in Katoomba in the blue mountains, which reminded me of Devon in the UK.
Over the months after the war came to end, MONAB II was decommissioned and on or around 2 March 1946, a call came over the tannoy to all ratings to pack up their belongings and report ready for repatriation! 1,400 of us boarded the SS GEORGETOWN VICTORY, a US victory ship, to be transported home to the UK. Our journey home was via the ports Freemantle, Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Aden, where we took on supplies and fuel. Our next stop was the UK. The last leg of our journey was via the Red Sea, the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean and then into the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay, heading for the Irish Sea and onto Glasgow. As we got close to the UK, I recall us all listening to the FA cup final on board the ship. It was on 27 April 1946, Charlton v Derby County. Derby won 4-1.
Just before midnight, on 29 April 1946, as the GEORGETOWN VICTORY sailed north up the Irish Sea heading for Glasgow, the ship hit rocks and broke its back just off the coast of Ballyhornan, County Down, Northern Ireland. The shipwreck was close to the coast and some of those on board were taken to the shore by boat, but as the tide turned and started to go out, some of us were able to wade to the shore. Unbelievably, everyone survived, although I understand that a couple of those on board were injured and were kept in Belfast hospital.
We were all transported to RAF Bishops Court, an airfield which was on the coast close to the shipwreck. We only had what we stood up in and, as the disaster had happened just before midnight, the majority of us were in our underwear. Most of us lost everything. We were given breakfast at the airfield and allowed to go to the local Post Office to send a 5-word telegram to our families. Mine read 'Am safe in Ireland, Doug'. When my parents received it, it read 'Safe on an island, Dog'!
As an aside, I will mention here a quite incredible coincidence that occurred just over a year later. In1947, I met my future wife Eleanor, who was visiting Nottingham to see her sister, who had married an acquaintance of mine. Whilst telling Eleanor about my time in the Fleet Air Arm, I told her about the shipwreck off the Irish coast. To my amazement, she said 'I was there'. She was in the WAAF and at that time was stationed at RAF Bishops Court. She clearly recalled the morning that the sailors from the GEORGETOWN VICTORY sat on the grass in their underwear, after eating the camp's entire breakfast supplies!
We were given some basic clothing then transferred to Belfast for a crossing to Glasgow, where we were fed again and put on a train to Edinburgh. We were then taken north to an old Fleet Air Arm station where we were given some pay and a travel pass home for four days leave.
I boarded a train and eventually arrived at the Victoria Station Nottingham, where I had started the journey (in which I completed a total circumnavigation of the world), at midnight on 4th May 1946. The blackout was still in force at this time and the station and its surroundings were in complete darkness. There were no buses or taxis, so I set off on foot for my parents’ home, which was about 2 miles from the station, still wearing the same clothing that I had been issued with at Bishops Court.
When I arrived home, I found that my cousin Joan was to be married the next day. I had no clothes except those I stood up in, but my resourceful mother visited a neighbour across the street and asked to borrow her son's naval uniform - he was an old school friend of mine, my age and height and had been demobbed a few months earlier. My recollection is that in those days, you had to pay for your naval uniform and therefore, kept it when you left the service. I had lost mine when the ship was wrecked, so it was a godsend to me to be able to borrow his uniform and I was able to attend the family wedding looking respectable and was given a round of applause at the reception when Joan announced that I had just arrived back from Australia a few hour earlier, having been shipwrecked on the way home - a real embarrassment for a 20 year old!
Once the 4 days leave was over, I took the long journey back to Scotland to a run-down old Fleet Air Arm base known as HMS WAXWING, near Townhill, Dunfermline. There we went through the official de-mob routine and were all told that should any further war problems occur anywhere in the world, we could be called up again.
We were given rail tickets back home via York, where we were to pick up our choice of civilian clothing. We were told that we then had 6 weeks de-mob leave followed by a further 6 weeks survivors leave, so I had to start looking for a job - and there were plenty of them!!