The MONAB Story

A history of the mobile airfields of the Royal Navy


 

Mobile Naval Air Base No. VIII

 

Assembly and commissioning in the UK

Personnel and equipment for Mobile Naval Air Base VIII began to assemble on May 1st 1945 at RNAS Middle Wallop, Hampshire. It was to assemble as a Fighter Support MONAB, essentially no different from a standard MONAB which would support both fighters and torpedo bombers, its scale of issue excluded tools and spares for non-fighter aircraft types.

The unit was allocated the following components which were to cater for all fighter types in use by the RN in the Pacific theatre:

Mobile Maintenance unit (MM) No. 7 supporting Corsair Mk. II & IV, Firefly Mk. I, Seafire Mk. XV
Maintenance Servicing unit (MS) No. 13 supporting Corsair Mk. II & IV
Maintenance Servicing unit (MS) No. 14 supporting Seafire Mk. III & L.III
Maintenance, Storage & Reserve (MSR) No. 9 supporting Corsair Mk. II & IV, Firefly Mk. I, Seafire Mk. III & L.III

MONAB VIII was the first unit to be allowed to hold a trial run camp in order to help prepare the advance party for the initial tasks they would face in setting up the unit at its operational base. This trial camp took place at Cranford, not far from Middle Wallop between 8th - 11th June; the venture involved 12 Officers and 110 ratings. Whilst there, they erected Best Burkle Tents, Dorland Hangars and other equipment which required assembly before use. Opportunity was also taken to try to address some of the previously reported problems encountered by earlier MONABs.

Like the unit before it, MONAB VIII storing was done under the new system for the handling of unit stores; instead of all stores being delivered to the formation base to be checked, repacked and labelled ready for despatch overseas, everything was consigned directly to the port of embarkation from the store depots saving unnecessary transport and handling of store cases.

MONAB VIII Commissioned as an independent command bearing the ship's name HMS NABCATCHER on July 1st 1945. Captain V.N. Surtees DSO, in command.

 

Despatch overseas

By mid-July MONAB VIII and MSR 9 were ready for despatch to Australia; the unit’s motor transport and equipment had departed for Liverpool overnight on the 5th/ 6th of July, and the personnel travelled by train on the 23rd. On arrival the personnel embarked in the Troopship MALOJA, which sailed independently for Sydney on July 25th. The stores, equipment and vehicles were embarked in the Sea Transport EMPIRE CHIEFTAIN sailing on July 31st.

Both vessels were to make the passage via the Suez Canal, this was the first time a troopship had used this route, across the Indian Ocean to approach Australia from the west, all previous MONAB despatches had travelled via the Panama Canal. The MALOJA reached Colombo, Ceylon on August 14th, shortly after sailing the following day the Japanese surrender was announced; V-J Day was celebrated at sea. The MALOJA docked at Sydney on August 30th and the personnel disembarked to HMS GOLDEN HIND to await the allocation of an operational base, being accommodated under canvas at Warwick Racecourse during this period.

The decision was taken that as the war was now over MONAB VIII was not required for service in Australia; it had been planned that the MONAB should be installed at RAAF Amberley in Queensland but instead it would be sent to Hong Kong and be installed at Kai Tak to reopen the airfield and provide shore-based support for the elements of the British Pacific Fleet in the area.

After only five days at HMS GOLDEN HIND the advance party of MONAB VIII was embarked in the escort carrier HMS SLINGER, which departed for Hong Kong on September 5th, calling at Brisbane and the Philippines om passage. The EMPIRE CHIEFTAIN had arrived in Sydney two days earlier on September 3rd and she sailed for Hong Kong on the 15th. MSR 9 was embarked in the escort carrier HMS REAPER for passage to Hong Kong, sailing on September 28th.

 

Commissioned at RNAS Kai Tak, Hong Kong

Upon arriving in Hong Kong SLINGER was moored alongside at Kowloon and the advance party began unloading and transporting the MONAB personnel to Kai Tak to begin to set up the unit's temporary buildings. Kai Tak already had a naval presence before MONAB VIII arrived; the Avengers of 857 squadron had disembarked from the Fleet Carrier INDOMITABLE on august 30th during the liberation of the colony, they were joined by aircraft from two Light Fleet Carriers at the start of September. These were a detachment of 8 aircraft from 1851 (Corsair) squadron and 814 (Barracuda) squadron, part of the 15th Carrier Air Group (CAG) from VENERABLE on September 3rd, and 1850 (Corsair) and 812 (Barracuda) squadrons of the 13th CAG from VENGEANCE on the 8th.

MONAB VIII commissioned Kai Tak airfield as HMS NABCATCHER on September 26th. The EMPIRE CHIEFTAIN arrived at Hong Kong, on the 29th and work began to off load and transport all the unit’s stores, equipment and vehicles to Kia Tak. The Avengers of 857 squadron re-joined INDOMITABLE on the same day after a month ashore.

MONAB VII commissioning

The RN set up at Kai Tak, the MONAB occupied the western half of the airfield. There are four Dorland hangars on the site. 1701 squadrons Sea Otters are parked to the left of the upper pair of hangars. MSR 9 with its two hangars is installed in the centre of the area by the runway intersection.

 

An airfield divided

MONAB VIII was to be operated along the same lines as the units in Australia, providing shore facilities for disembarked Squadrons and, eventually, to operate a Fleet Requirements Unit. However, the airfield was also claimed by the Royal Air Force and they also began operations from the field claiming Kai Tak for themselves and proclaimed it RAF Station Kai Tak - a point of contention as the Royal Navy also had plans for the station. It was decided that the station would be jointly occupied, with two sets of camp and maintenance areas. The airfield was split in half, the RAF occupied the eastern side with the pre-war airfield buildings while the RN had the western, undeveloped side, where the MONAB equipment was setup. The main RN maintenance area with four Dorland Hangars was established on hardstandings near the centre of the airfield with the workshops to the north, the accommodation site on the western edge of the field, and a dispersal area in the southwest corner. After many, sometimes nearly disastrous experiments at dual air traffic control, it was decided that the RAF should have sole control over Air Traffic Control.

Typhoon “Louise” struck the colony in the first week of October and caused widespread damage to Kai Tak, winds were so severe that the canvas covers were ripped of a newly erected Dorland Hangar, they were never found. Partly erected buildings were completely flattened and work on establishing the MONAB was set back several weeks.

Japanese prisoners were employed as labour on the station for many months, they were marched onto the airfield from Stanley prison each day and mustered by the Quarterdeck, they were then ordered to bow to the White Ensign as a mark of respect. Prisoner working parties repaired fences, dug ditches, moved aircraft in and out of hangars etc. The former Japanese officers were allowed to administer discipline when necessary, in many cases such disciplinary action would be taken in front of the mustered POWs before work commenced.

A small stock of reserve aircraft had been delivered to the station with MONAB VIII and Work had commenced on aircraft maintenance as soon as the equipment was available: 4 Corsairs, 4 Hellcat and 1 Avenger had been tested by the end of September. A dedicated Fighter support MONAB was no longer needed and NABCATCHER received a small number of Avenger and Barracuda Torpedo Bombers, and Hellcat Fighter Bombers in addition to the Corsair, Firefly and Seafire Fighters that they were initially task with supporting. Throughput increased with the arrival of MSR 9 to include 2 Avengers and 6 Barracudas in October and 7 Avengers and 1 Corsair in November. Many of these aircraft were ex-Forward Aircraft Pool (FAP) machines and It appears that some former FAP personnel had also been allocated to work with MSR 9; Air Engineering Officer Lieutenant (E). M.A.J.M. Hayward was one, an engineer and qualified pilot he undertook maintenance check test flights from Kai Tak. While carrying out a test flight on Corsair KD721 on November 25th the engine failed and he made a forced landing on the airfield (the machine was issued to 721 FRU in June 1946).

The next squadron to arrive on the station was 837 (Firefly) squadron which disembarked from GLORY on October 1st. REAPER arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th to deliver NSR 9 and ‘B’ Flight of 1701 (Sea Otter ASR) squadron. Beginning on the 12th detachments from 1846 (Corsair) and 827 (Barracuda) squadrons were disembarked from COLOSSUS, all had re-embarked by the 18th. On the 19th the aircraft of 15 CAG departed, re-embarking in VENERABLE.

1701 Squadron Headquarters was established at RNAS Kai Tak on November 1st 1945 under the command of Lt. (A) P.H. Woodham DSC RNVR; the squadron was reclassified as a second-line unit on this date. They were joined by 'A' flight on November 16th, which was delivered by the escort carrier STRIKER. The squadron now had a strength of 8 Sae Otter amphibians for Air Sea Rescue and communications duties.

On December 20th VENGEANCE’s 13th CAG re-embarked ,1850 having been reduced from 18 to 12 aircraft. With their departure only 1701 remained in residence on the station.

721 Fleet Requirements Unit arrives: In the New Year the station’s second resident squadron, 721 FRU arrived on January 11th on board the escort carrier SPEAKER; equipped with mix of Vengeance Target Tugs, Corsairs, Avengers, Seafires, and 1 Harvard they were to provide aircraft for radar calibration and gunnery exercises carried out by ships in the area. Three of the Vengeance Target Tugs were specially modified aircraft transferred from the Royal Australian Air Force for DDT spraying; they were employed by RN Mobile Malaria Hygiene Unit No. 1 when work began to eradicate the mosquito infestation from the colony in February 1946. Spraying commenced on Friday, February 15th, 1946. each of these spraying aircraft carried 320 gallons of DDT solution.

On March 1st 721 squadron lost two aircrew when Vengeance HB363 crashed; the aircraft went out of control in cloud and crashed into Junk Bay, 5 miles southeast of the station, killing Sub-Lt A.M. Brodie RNVR and POAM E. J. Desborough. There were two further flying incidents In April, both involving 721 aircraft; Vengeance A27-545, flown by Sub-Lt N.C. Burrage RNVR lost power on take-off on the 4th and d to abort, four days later Vengeance HB305, flown by Sub-Lt I. Houghton RNVR crashed on landing when its undercarriage collapsed. Also, in April 1701 squadron received a twin-engine Oxford, presumably adding communications duties to the squadron’s tasking.

There were two further incidents in May; on the 3rd Vengeance HB439, flown by Sub-Lt G. R. Harrison RNVR, suffered engine failure at 1,000ft over the airfield, it restarted at 300ft and a successful emergency landing was made. On the 23rd Vengeance FD303, flown by Sub-Lt J. Payne RNVR, swung off the runway on take-off.

721 squadron received several additional aircraft beginning in May; one RAAF Tiger Moth (A17-526), followed by several Corsair IVs in June which were issued from the reserve stock held on the station; this suggests an element of refresher flying training being added to the squadron’s duties.

Another severe typhoon caused widespread havoc in July, the RAF suffered most damage this time with five Dakotas, one of which was blown twenty yards away, and two visiting Sunderland Flying Boats being battered. 1701 received another aircraft in July, this time one RAAF Tiger Moth (A17-84), presumably for refresher flying training.

Vist of Admiral Fraser

November 1945: Captain Surtees greets Admiral Fraser C-in-C BPF on his arrival at RNAS Kai Tak to inspect MONAB VIII.

 

Reduced to an R.N. Air Section

By the summer of 1946 the need for a full Naval Air Station at Kai Tak had ended and as part of the reduction in British forces in the area HMS NABCATCHER was to be downgraded to an R.N. Air Section. on August 27th 1946 MONAB VIII, HMS NABCATCHER ceased to be an independent command, it remained in place but its accounts were now held on the books of HMS TAMAR, the local naval base. On the same date 1701 squadron was disbanded at Kai Tak, it’s Sea Otters and one Tiger Moth were transferred to the strength of 721 FRU; the Sea otters forming 721 ASR flight.

Flying continued without incident into September when Vengeance A27-545, piloted by Sub-Lt G.R. Harrison RNVR, had a fire in the engine bay on the 24th (it is unclear if this was on the ground or in flight). On October 10th one of the FRUs Corsairs had an incident landing on, KD790 flown by Sub-Lt I. A. Hamilton RNVR stalled and a wing dropped striking the runway.

After nine months of second-line operations first -line disembarked squadrons returned on October 1st 1946 when the 16th CAG, 806 (Seafire F.XV) and 837 (Firefly F.I) Squadrons, disembarked from GLORY, they were to remain at Kai Tak until early November. 837 re-embarked their 12 Fireflies on the 4th, followed by the 12 Seafires of 806 on the 6th. While ashore one Seafire XV (SW786) flown by Lt, D.E.W. Aldous ran into the rudder of a parked Seafire while taxying to dispersal after landing on October 5th damaging the prop.

Command of NABCATCHER appears to have passed to Cdr (A) W.H.N. Martin on November 9th 1946. 721squadron received more new aircraft at the beginning of November, this time 2 Seafire XVs. Both of these had flying accidents within weeks of their arrival; SW854 flown by Sub-Lt M.H. Simpson RNVR made a heavy landing on November 11th and the undercarriage collapsed, on the 21st Sub-Lt N.G.B. Burrage RNVR in SW801 had his prop strike the runway on take-off. Sub-Lt Simpson had another incident on the 29th, this time in Vengeance A27-619 which suffered engine failure and he made a forced landing.

On November 27th the 24 aircraft of the 15th CAG arrived on the station, 802 (Seafire F.XV) and 814 (Firefly F.I) disembarking from VENERABLE. They were joined by GLORY’s 16th CAG on December 19th and all four squadrons were to remain ashore for Christmas and into the New Year.

By the end of the year 721 squadron had established three sub-flights; ‘A’ flight operating Vengeance and Seafire XVs and ‘B’ flight operating Corsair IVs, and an ASR flight operating Sea Otters. In December 1946 ‘B’ flight embarked its Corsairs in GLORY, possibly for Deck Landing Training (DLT).

The disembarked squadrons began to re-join their carriers in the New Year, first to leave was the 12 Fireflies of 814 on January 2nd, followed by the 12 Seafires of 802 on February 12th and finally 806 and 837 departed on February 14th; they were the last disembarked squadrons to be supported by HMS MABCATCHER. There was one recorded flying incident during this period; on January 25th; Firefly DK449 flown by LT. Cdr E.W. Pepper landed with the starboard undercarriage leg lock in the down position.
 

FRU flying continued in the spring of 1947; on March 11th Sub-Lt J.S. Kennedy failed to return from a local exercise north-east of Hong Kong in Seafire SW854, it is believed he baled out when the aircraft ran out of fuel off the China coast, but he was never found.

 

Paying Off

HMS NABCATCHER and MONAB VIII were paid off on April 1st 1947, the Royal Naval Air Section at Kai Tak re-commissioning the same day as HMS FLYCATCHER, the name formerly belonging to the MONAB formation station in the UK. The ship’s accounts remained with HMS TAMAR. This was the last of the 9 MONABs that were to see operational service overseas.


 

 

HMS 'NABCATCHER'

Blank ship’s badge
Motto: E PLURIBUS UNUM
(Out of Many, One)
Unofficial, no official design approved

 

 

Function

Fighter support MONAB providing support for disembarked front line Squadrons, Air Sea Rescue Squadron (o.1701 Squadron), Fleet Requirements Unit (No. 721 squadron).

Aviation support Components

Mobile Maintenance (MM) 7

Maintenance Servicing (MS) 13 & 14

Maintenance, Storage & Resave (MSR) 9

 

Aircraft type supported

Avenger Mk. I & II *

Barracuda Mk. II*
Corsair Mk. II & IV
Firefly Mk. FR.I
Hellcat Mk. I & II*
Seafire Mk. III, L.III & XV 
*Not planned support, included  in revised planning upon arrival in Sydney.
 

Commanding Officers

Captain V.N. Surtees D.S.O. 01 July 1945
Commander (A) W.H.N. Martin 09 November 1946 to 01 April 1947

 

 

 

 

Related items

R.N.A.S. Kai Tak History of the airfield and other information - part of the Fleet Air Arm Bases web site

 

 

 

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HM Ships COLOSSUS, GLORY, VENERABLE and VENGEANCE. GLORY did not arrive in Sydney until August 16th.

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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.

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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.

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The reminiscences of Commander A.W.F. Sutton, Executive officer of MONAB VIII at Kai Tak, Dec 1945 – May 1946

Commander Sutton's reminiscences were received in reply to a request for information, from officers who served in MONABs and related units, made through the Fleet Air Arm Officers Association in 1987.

Remembering Kai Tak

HMS Nabcatcher was a temporary airfield organisation established at Kai Tak airfield in Hong Kong about a month after the Japanese surrendered in 1945. Kai Tak had been on RAF landing ground pre-world war II, and was greatly developed by the Japanese, who demolished the Chinese houses on the landward side for this purpose. The airfield was situated on the seashore and about one third of its perimeter was shoreline and jetties.

The MONAB (Mobile Operational Naval Air Base) was set down between the two runways, as a deliberate attempt by the Commanding Officer, Captain V.N. Surtees, DSO, to annexe the airfield for the Fleet Air Arm. The RAF also claimed the airfield, and had a large tented camp and airfield works department on the eastern edge of the airfield.

It became the northern airfield for operating RAF Transport Command in the Pacific. Thus both the Navy and the RAF occupied the airfield, with two separate Commanding Officers, two separate airfield organisations, two separate guard-rooms and defence organisations. There was an uneasy joint organisation for Air Traffic Control.

I was appointed there as Executive Officer, in rank of Acting Commander, in November, joining on 10th December 1945, and relieving a reservist officer who was due for demobilisation. The whole organisation was designed to be mobile, and most of the buildings were canvas. After a short time, it became evident that we needed some more permanent infrastructure.

There were still large numbers of Japanese prisoners of war in Hong Kong, and we were allocated working parties as needed for road making (it was the rainy season, and we became bogged down in mud), and erecting stone buildings such as an armoury, guardroom, transport sections etc. Local buildings were requisitioned as NAAFI canteen. The amount of stores on the airfield was most attractive to Chinese who were trying to support families in destitute conditions. We wired in our part of the airfield with barbed wire, but the ends were open and the RAF did not wire their part at all.

So this led to gangs of armed Chinese broking in at night and battles taking place with our night guard of a double platoon. The Chinese retaliated by sniping at our sentries by day, and we had to use strong methods to make the airfield safe, including searching surrounding villages with armed parties.

Early in the New Year the demobilisation programme for the British Forces was published and it appeared that the RAF transport command was going to be last home after taking everybody else to the UK. So, all Transport Command units mutinied. (It was called a ‘strike’ by the Atlee government). RAF Kai Tak was in mutiny for three days. The Navy at Kai Tak pretended it wasn’t happening,; we held a sports meeting!

Demob eventually affected us. Captain Surtees was relieved by Commander Walters on 14th April, and I was relieved by a Lieutenant Commander on 16th May. I took passage home to the UK in a cruiser.

A.W.F. Sutton

 

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The reminiscences of Petty Officer Radio Mechanic Terry Rushton

Terry joined MSR 9 at Middle Wallop, he remained with MSR 9 as part of MONAB VIII, HMS Nabcatcher until returning home to the UK in June 1946

Joining MSR 9

I was drafted to Middle Wallop along with the remainder of MSR 9, and there we were issued with tropical kit and battledress etc.

During our short stay there we learnt that we were to become a component part of MONAB VIII, HMS Nabcatcher, and there were various "buzzes" going around about our ultimate role and destination in the Pacific. However, we duly sailed from Liverpool on July 7th 1945 bound for Sydney under the command of Captain Surtees DSO, aboard the P & O liner "Maloja", which had been serving as a troopship.

Off to Australia

Our first port of call was Port Said, Egypt where we were given a few hours shore leave. I wasn't very impressed with the place, and frankly after stretching my legs for a while, I was glad to get back on board. After going slowly through the Suez Canal and down the Red Sea we made for Colombo, Ceylon where we docked for a few hours whilst taking on supplies. Within a few days, I well remember, as we crossed the Indian Ocean, hearing of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed soon afterwards by the welcome news of the Japanese surrender.

Our next port of call was Fremantle, Australia and here once more we were allowed shore leave. This was more enjoyable, taking in a short visit to nearby Perth, where we were able to sample a few "schooners" of the local brew. Eventually we reached Sydney and disembarked on August 31st 1945, where we were transferred via HMS Golden Hind to Warwick Farm Racecourse, being accommodated under canvas awaiting allocation of an operational base.

Whilst in Sydney we saw all the sights including of course the magnificent natural harbour, its famous bridge and Bondi beach. We eventually learned that we were to be based at Kai Tak airfield, Hong Kong. MONAB VIII embarked on HMS Slinger September 5th 1945 and departed for Hong Kong, whilst M.S.R 9 embarked on HMS Reaper, another escort carrier, two to three weeks later also bound for Hong Kong. During this voyage one calm sunny day rope ladders were dropped over the side of the ship and we were allowed to clamber down and bathe in the sea.

Remembering Kai Tak

I remember Kai Tak as a wide-open airfield almost surrounded by mountains and stretching down to Causeway Bay. We were housed in long tents, with each camp bed protected by a mosquito net, and we also had to take mepacrine tablets daily as a precaution in case of mosquito bites. Once the rainy season was upon us, we became bogged down in mud and duck boards were used as flooring for the tents. Dorland Hangars had been erected to house the aircraft but the canvas covering was unable to withstand almost hurricane force winds which tore the covering from the metal frames.

Our section dealt with the RT sets inspecting and servicing them in the Corsair fighter planes. We had a 15cwt van, containing our equipment, for driving about the airfield, whilst each trade section had its own workshop on the edge of the airfield. On one occasion, I was lucky enough to go with one or two colleagues and an Officer on a trip by motor launch to Macau, then under Portuguese administration. The purpose of this trip was to see whether our aircraft sets would work effectively in their police cars. I don't know whose idea this was, but needless to say the experiment was less than successful although we had an interesting day out being driven around Macau and visiting the local radio station.

Large groups of Jap prisoners were marched into the airfield daily from Stanley prison camp and after bowing to the White Ensign on our quarter deck, they were kept hard at work on the airfield - pushing aircraft in and out of hangars, repairing and maintaining the perimeter fence and keeping everywhere clean and tidy.

Whilst at Kai Tak, the ship's company of HMS Nabcatcher were encouraged to take part in various sporting activities e.g. football and hockey, and a special treat was an occasional visit to Clearwater Bay, which was perfect for swimming and entailed a few miles journey on the back of a lorry. The proprietors of the Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon, allowed servicemen the use of their indoor swimming pool and once or twice this proved to be a pleasant change. During our free time we were entertained for short periods with popular records of the day played over the public address system, and occasionally we were treated to an open-air cinema show on a big screen erected in the middle of our camp. We had many interesting trips ashore in the New Territories and also across to Hong Kong by Star Ferry. A local building in Kowloon had been converted into a canteen - we had a beer ration (Australian) of one bottle per week (I think), so you can imagine non-drinkers were asked for their vouchers, so that more bottles could be bought at the canteen to share around.

Eventually, my number came up and I left Kai Tak in June 1946 on my way home for demobilisation. I sailed from Hong Kong on the light cruiser HMS Black Prince to Sydney and once again was stationed at HMS Golden Hind for a short time before boarding the troopship "Winchester Victory" homeward bound.

 

Terry Rushton

 

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The reminiscences of Petty Officer Radio Mechanic Charles Davidson, formerly of 812 Squadron, HMS Vengeance

Charles remembers his time ashore with the squadron at MONAB VIII at RNAS Kai Tak - 3rd September to 28th December 1945. He describes the duties he performed as a 'visiting' Petty Officer - MONAB complements were very compact so station duties and shore patrols fell to the men of disembarked squadrons. Remembering  RNAS Nowra

Remembering Kai Tak

We were posted ashore to Kai Tak Airfield where a MONAB had erected peculiar Nissen type plastic and canvas tents for messes and we had individual cot beds draped with mosquito netting. We had a good messman who spoke English. He was a young Medical Student whose studies had been interrupted by the Japanese Occupation and he was a fund of reliable information about conditions in Kowloon and the New Territory.

The Squadron resumed flying sorties over the frontier with China including observation of illegal immigrant movements, for the Chinese were flooding towards the Colony now that the British were back {812 was shore based at Kai Tak from October to January}. There were reports of instructions to machine gun near to such parties to drive them back and also of an air attack of a nearby Chinese Village which harboured Pirates who had boarded the Macao Ferry and butchered everyone and looted the ship. Following the air attack, we were told, Naval boats and Marines landed, found clear evidence of Piracy and rounded up every able bodied man and, it was said, carried out summary execution to spread the word that practises which had flourished during the chaos of the Japanese Chinese conflict would no longer be allowed.

Air sorties over the frontier with China where Chiang Kai chek was amassing strong forces of the Chinese Army, were carried out continuously. Later the Americans were sending Liberty ships as troop carriers to move the Chinese to occupy Shanghai and I was on shore leave in Kowloon but could not cross the street for trotting, not marching, Chinese Army Battalions eight abreast carrying all their gear and with their Officers running alongside. I stood watching and waiting for, unbelievably, over half an hour while the human flood flowed by without a break, like a river in spate. I have never forgotten that time which has left me with a healthy respect, and fear, of the balance of the “Yellow Hordes” in World Power.

We had no workshops and had only our tool boxes in the open air. With the usual Naval ability to adapt to shore landings, we procured a huge 2 metre square empty engine packing case and with the help of Jap POWs from the "Shooksemoose" [that is how the word sounded] Army Engineers we converted it to a small Radio shack. Every day we had a squad of Jap prisoners to work with us to get the airfield extended and working. I had the job of going to the POW camp to get suitably skilled POW's and came away after struggling with Jap Officers with only a few words of English with some skilled men. The best was a white skinned, black bearded Ainu from the early peoples of the Northern Mainland of Japan who had worked as Post Office Engineer in Tokyo before the Army. He helped us to comprehend Jap radios and circuits in the equipment that we took over.

The Japs had been used to rough conditions from their own officers and were terrified of us. When we gave some of them a cigarette at our “Up pipes break” they stood shaking until we offered a light and they slowly shrank back. We had vehement arguments amongst ourselves about how the Japs should be treated. Many said “look at our POW’s when they were liberated by us, one with a hole through his hand where he had been strung up with barbed wire for example, give the B****** the same treatment”.

Others took the view, as I did, that if we did, we were no better than the worst of the Japs. I was walking along the shoreline at Kai Tak when I came across several young ratings pushing and striking a poor cowering tiny Jap who was unable to lift a half empty 50-gallon oil drum. As I told them to stop, a young officer came along and told me off for interfering with his men and not to be soft on the B*******. He asked my name rank and ship and said he would report me. I gave him name and Squadron standing stiffly to attention but in a manner, I knew the Navy hated i.e. ‘The steely impassive face of dumb insolence’ and saluted “Sir” and walked off. On my return to the Mess I reported the incident directly to the Jaunty CPO who nodded without comment and said “OK Carry on Jock”. I waited days for word of the Charge but heard nothing more but, by coincidence, a message was posted around the Fleet that POWs had to be properly treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

Station Guard Duty

and looting by often Chinese in Sampans was rife. One afternoon when I was duty Squadron PO. I heard the Tannoy call out for “Duty PO 812 Squadron Report to the Jaunty’s office” which I did thinking the usual ‘What is it this time’?

“You’re in charge of Airfield Guard tonight - 12 hours - PO. You’ve got six Marines, six seaman and six Naval Airman” said the Jaunty looking at me and my youth and shaking his head “I don't want no bloody trouble“.

“Last night’s Duty PO is on a charge. The F****** chinks came in sampans and the Captain’s office was cleared this morning tables, chairs, typewriters, cupboards, carpets - the lot gone. No trouble -see. Pick up your men at 6 tonight. Oh, they came with carts past the planes last week” I looked at him blankly. The perimeter of the airfield was at a guess a mile and a half of shoreline and a couple of miles of land boundary.

A watch of 12 hours meant 4 hour shifts of 6 men on patrol at a time. I didn’t worry about the tent Messes but the Captains offices and stores were near the Guardhouse entrance and that hadn’t helped last night. Perhaps they were still empty. With 18 men lined up, issued with Sten guns and ammo, I marched them down to the Guard Mess nearer to the shore. The Aircraft were dispersed out on the airfield and it would be impossible to patrol them. So cross your fingers for them.

Sampans were the real danger so I decided to concentrate along the shore. The Naval Airmen were the weakest squad so I would put them on the first shift 6 to 12, then the marines over the next 4 bad hours and the seamen on the last morning watch. I’d get little if any ‘Shut eye’.

I prayed for a clear moonlit night with no sea mist. The gods smirked and the moon shone with occasional light clouds over its face. The dusk after 10 brought in a varying eddying sea mist which obscured at times the ships at anchor in the Bay and, just offshore, two or three American seaplanes had arrived that morning and swung in the tide with their mooring lights just visible. The marine corporal was a good steady chap and agreed with my deployment and, after I made a tour of inspection in the half light, I stretched out on a cot in the guard house, fully clothed with Sten gun alongside.

The quiet was broken by the rattle of a Sten gun and we all rushed out and raced along the shore towards the town side when through the mist came a stammering half hysterical NA waving his Sten at us and crying “ Oh God PO I’ve shot ‘im, I’ve shot ’im”. I told him curtly to calm down and gently pushed the nozzle of the Sten away from pointing to the corporal and myself, and we moved passed him and forward to search.

“ You Goddamn F****** Limeys. You‘ve F****** shot me” and a figure of what we later identified as a drunken US pilot from the anchored seaplanes wove his way out of the darkness and pushing one finger through a neat hole in the brim and crown of his hat.

“ My dinghy is here and that stupid B****** fired first when he saw me. You’re all crazy“.

We calmed him down quite relieved but a bit chastened although I pointed out to him, taking a positive line in what could be an inter Allied incident, that he had entered a Restricted RN area without permission, but as no harm was done ,we would not take him into custody! We helped him to float out his dinghy, and the night was quiet again with only the distant noises of the city. The naval airman was relieved of his Gun and sent off duty to the Guard hut. It was well past eleven thirty and I told the corporal to get his men to relieve the other 5 Naval Airmen and then take over this sector. He did and half an hour later I was back in the hut half dozing.

I was shaken awake by a marine who said “The corporal wants you but it’s OK” and I followed him down to the shore where the marine dropped to a crawl and slipped silently between rocks to the corporal crouched behind a boulder. The light cloud cleared from the face of the moon and I followed his pointed finger out to sea where two sampans were moving smoothly towards the nearby sandy beach. “Let’s discourage the B****** eh PO!” And he lifted the Sten gun took careful aim and put a burst of fire into the waterline of one of the sampans. The boats spun around rowing frantically away from the shore with one figure standing up shouting at us as he alternately held what looked like a bleeding arm with one hand, then letting go to shake his fist at us. I was awake until the watch changed having had a walk to check the silent parked aircraft. The rest of the night passed, to my nervous relief, without further incident.

I/C of a Liberty Boat

Another Tannoy announcement at Kai Tak and another order. This time it was to report to the CPO near the Star Ferry docks in Kowloon. I would get a lift on a Shore leave lorry from the camp to there. When I reported to the Chief I got the familiar faintly puzzled stare that I had grown accustomed to from RN personal which said "It's a No Badge PO?" [That is the arm badge of the crossed anchors on my sleeve had no 'Good Conduct' chevron underneath it. In short I had not yet served 3 years undetected crime in the Andrew as the Service was called by sailors] Therefore how could I be a PO, a rank which was only given to long service mature Regular Navy men or RNVR, seldom a Volunteer Hostilities Only Rating such as I myself". Also, I was too young, only 20 and a youngster in their eyes! "Follow me" he said, and we walked down to the nearby jetty where, tied up alongside, was a twin prowed converted Japanese Landing Craft about the size of a Seine Net Boat. "You're Fleet Liberty Boat to the Queens Pier. You know it, the Main landing quay for Hong Kong Island" I nodded and he continued, "You got four Chinks who don't speak no English. Here's a whistle, now listen, one blast - full ahead, two - full astern, three - cut engine, four - secure Got it ? Start round the Carriers first. “and he stared at me, sniffed and walked away, then stopped and turned saying. "Its twin bowed so, the tide flows strong either way past the pier. Head full speed at the gangplank until you're 1 1/2 boat lengths away, then hard over and blow three; OK".

I boarded the craft. The four Chinese stared at me. I called out to start the engines, pointing to them and indicated to cast off blowing one clear blast of the whistle. I swung the wheel tentatively to get the feel of the turn then rather excessively correcting back quickly to clear the boat into open water. I had that resigned feeling in my stomach that I had so often experienced in the Navy, a feeling that I first felt as a newly joined LRM when the radio in a Barracuda packed up just before take-off and when I scuttled out of the plane and raced to the duty PO panting " The set's U/S " i.e. Unfit for Service and was given an icy stare and a quiet "Don't panic, get back aboard and fix it". I had never handled even a dinghy before, although I had so called boat training i.e. rowing a cutter in a large pond.

I was worried most of all if I were to get in the path of some larger boat, naval, Junk or Sampan. I knew I would give way. I experimented with tidal and wind correction steering and, too soon the Queens Pier loomed up and I saw faces of Naval Officers and Ratings looking at the approaching boat waiting for transport back to their respective ships. Full speed ahead he said. The tide flowing out to sea was strong, the boats way was steady but slow -3 lengths, 2 lengths and the piles of the quay loomed over and my resolve faltered as I thought of the bows crashing into the seaweed covered wood and gangplank, and I spun the wheel over and gave 3 blasts. We cleared the quay by 6 feet and shot out to sea in the ebb tide with the engine stopped.

It seemed ages before I blew one whistle chugged back in a wide curve towards the quay and although almost too late this time, did tie up safely with the whistle for 'full astern' and 'cut' and the skill of the nimble adept Chinese crewmen. I avoided the glances of the embarking Officers and men and headed for the nearest Carrier and somehow, in a haze, got safely alongside and discharged the returning Liberty men and carried on to the next ship. Slowly the boat emptied until I was left with 2 or 3 sailors who, when I said ‘where to?' Pointed to a minesweeper. I headed back to the pier.

The tide race had eased off and the next boatload was embarked after a break alongside, without any problems. By the time we had dropped off the last passenger and returned to the now quiet dock I was cold and shivering with tension and handed over my 'command' to a relief PO who eventually dropped me off at Kowloon. After an hour or more I found a lorry going to Kai Tak and got under my Mosquito netting into my bed in the small hours of the morning thinking " God what next ?"

Shore Patrol

I seem to remember that I wore a Khaki belt and gaiters and a whistle on a lanyard, and that the seamen carried polished pick handles as I had first seen in Alexandria. I recall marching alongside the squad up a side street and a one badge seaman in the front row calling out in a low voice "Chink trouble up ahead PO" and as expected I sang out “about turn! and "left wheel " at the next intersection. We did check any sleeping bundles in the streets and door to be sure that they were not drunken or unconscious servicemen.

Starvation was widespread the patrols called on the Official Chinese with hand carts, if we could see them, to cart off the bodies for burial in lime strewn graves. The Navy had an arrangement with Rickshaw Coolies to pick up any drunken or unconscious sailors and run them down to the Queens Dock. There the Duty PO paid the driver with any money from the pocket of the sailor (or from his neighbour if 'skint' and the bodies were laid out in rows and returning sailors were asked if they could identify any 'bods' from their ship and they were carried aboard the next Liberty boat. If 'unclaimed' they were all carried aboard the last Liberty Boat and at each ship the Duty Officer picked out known faces for transfer to the Cells.

There was one humorous incident with such a drunken, comatose sailor at the Queens Dock or Quay. Liberty Men, that is Officers and Ratings on Shore Leave, were addressed while lined up aboard their ships prior to going ashore when they were warned that certain places were 'Out of Bounds'. These locations were carefully memorised by a certain minority of matelots who customarily murmured in the back row of the lined-up Liberty Men. “It’s good of the ‘Andrew’ to tell us where the Brothels are". In Hong Kong all were warned off drinking 'Red Dragon Brandy' which could be lethal and in the early stages caused the face to go red and puffed and the drinker passed out. Notwithstanding the warning there was usually a few of such experimenters laid out with the drunks.

The story went round the Fleet amid great amusement that the Rear Admiral and entourage were on the Pier about to go aboard the Admirals Barge with the Duty Pier PO and all ratings there at 'Attention' , when a Brandy drunken AB came to and staggered to his feet as all were at attention as the Admiral walked by. To everyone’s frozen disbelief, he stepped out in front of the Admiral [Harcourt?] and said " A F****** Admiral. I always wanted to sock a F****** Admiral, swung his fist out ineffectively and collapsed on the deck. “Put him on a Charge PO" said the Admiral's accompanying Officer.

One duty of the Shore Patrol was checking the known and not 'Off Bounds' Brothels where they were welcomed, for trouble cut into the profits of the 'Mother Superiors' or Madam who ran the establishment. There was one which might have been a converted Church or Chapel in that there was a Balcony fitted out in comfort by the Madam as a combined office and sitting area and where PO in charge was offered a glass of Chinese wine and looked down onto a hall divided up into cubicles by 6 foot high curtains. In that way the Mother Superior could see that all below was going on peacefully and profitably. So much for official activities.

Domestic Life in Hong Kong

As the weeks passed by and things became calmer, we had one or two afternoon Bathing Parties to a beach in the New Territory and, on one of these after a swim I had time to climb up from the shore and sit admiring the neatly terraced fields stretched out inland. As I watched Chinese peasants harvesting a rice crop with sickles, I noticed that one woman had stopped harvesting and walked to the shade of a tree just below me and sat down. One of the work party, a girl, set off running to a nearby building. The girl ran back to the woman with something like clothing in her hand and after perhaps 5 or 10 minutes as I watched unobserved the woman handed a bundle to the girl who carried it carefully and slowly back to the house. The woman sat for a little while longer, picked up her sickle and re-joined the workers who after some talk resumed the harvesting. I realised that what I had seen was a straight forward birth of a child in a Chinese Rural context.

Another experience I had a few weeks after going ashore to Kai Tak. I had heard that a Restaurant serving chicken was open in Kowloon... This in itself was remarkable in that famine was widespread and that, for example, when the ships messman threw the "Gash" or waste food over the side of the ship, the hovering sampans fought over the debris in the water. It was so bad that one sampan was made official gash collector to stop the fights and one woman and her 2 kids, who worked lived and slept aboard the 12 foot boat was allowed to be dhobi woman. To use the dhobi woman you lowered your laundry in a bucket on a rope with a full bar of coarse 'pussers ' soap and she washed everything in the sea water and the payment when you lowered your bucket to get your laundry back with what was left of the bar of soap.

We asked out Chinese Messman about the rumour and he came back and said that it was correct and gave us an address and a map to find the place. One afternoon we had our tot of rum and went ashore walking well into Kowloon from Kai Tak. Later I found that we must have skirted the 'Hidden City', a warren in the centre of old Kowloon said to be still Chinese territory and "Out Of Bounds" in no uncertain way. But Taffy and I found the 'restaurant' which turned out to be a room in a quiet tenement in a back street. We were the only clients that afternoon. We sat in a small room served by the waiter, who was the owner. In a little room leading off, was the kitchen with his wife as cook. We ordered chicken and he nodded, bowed and disappeared. The chicken came beautifully cooked, tender and fragrant served with the best lightest rice that I had ever tasted. It melted in my mouth. We also had a bottle of white Chinese wine. Portions were small by today's standards but very filling for, having been on small ships rations for so long, our stomachs had shrunk. I have been from 11 to 11 1/2 stone for the last 50 years and I can still get into my No 1 naval uniform but my official weight then was 7 stone 8lbs.

At the end of the meal we sat back and felt that we were completely satisfied after months, years of indifferent scarce rations. “That was superb Taffy, but it was not chicken. Maybe it was goat", I said to Taffy, "Get away that was the best chicken that I have ever tasted", replied Taff. And so we argued until I turned to the watchful attentive Chinamen and asked if our meal was chicken. He smiled and spoke in Cantonese and we realised that he did not understand English. His wife had come to the door of the kitchen and was smiling and bobbing. So I stood up and with a big smile pointed to the plate and said questioningly "Chicken? " and I put my hands on my hips, stuck my elbows out as I flapped them crowing " Kook-a-doodle doo".

They froze looking at each other, then they laughed and exchanged a burst of Chinese. The husband turned and copied me shaking his head, then went "Bow-wow, Bow-wow". Taff and I swallowed, then we thought of the jam at sea with more cockroaches than jam. Originally we had picked out the first cockroaches then found it impossible and if we happened to chew any we would pick them out of our mouths saying" It's good of the Navy to give us fresh meat this week" The chicken was Chow and we joined the Chinese laughter, paid up and left.

It was early evening and as we picked our way back to camp through the maze of back streets we were stopped by a bunch of young Chinese with knives obviously out to rob us. We turned tail and ran and ran until by luck we found ourselves out in a busy street which we knew led to Kai Tak and eventually, exhausted and sobered, we trailed into camp.

Rations

It might be interesting to know what an example of our average ration for a day was, and this was said to be about the same for officers and men:- 4 slices of white doughy bread [made onboard] per man per day - plenty of tea with sugar and condensed milk.

06:00 hrs - Breakfast -1st slice of bread and teaspoon of Oleo Margarine [liquid in the heat] with perhaps a Chinese egg [half the size of a European one] or a slice of dried highly spiced ham some days but not every day. 10:00 hrs - Up Pipes - mug of tea.

12:00 hrs - Up spirits - issue of tot of rum [ which helped you to eat the dinner] The PO's rum was undiluted and each man got a big tot, I think it was a third of half a pint served out in front of the Rum Bosun, a coveted post which each member of the Mess took in turn. Each man spilt a little back for the Bosun who was left with a pint or two of rum which, when I was Bosun, I as others, illegally kept for it was one of the most treasured currencies on board any ship.

12.30 hrs - Dinner- Issue of Lime juice - plate of thin watery soup with 2nd slice dry bread -then a slice of boiled chewy meat with spoonful of reconstituted starch 'potato' [tasteless I could seldom eat any of it] and a large tea spoon of mushy dried boiled green peas. Followed by say 2 small prunes covered with a small spoonful of gooey custard - finished with cup of tea.

16:00 hrs -3rd slice of bread with spoonful of oleomarge and tea. Every few days we got a 3 inches x 2 x 1 slice of plum duff or raisin cake [great it was well seasoned with spices and rum] or maybe a slice of pursers cheese the size of your thumb [which many of the others POs couldn't eat but I found it not too bad and ate any pieces left]

18:30 19:00 hrs - Supper 4th slice of dry bread per man per day perhaps so called fish which was often a piece of shark the size of a child’s palm with spoonful of beans and another mug of tea. I liked the shark which again was not popular so I often had an extra piece.

We were quite adjusted to the minute helpings and just accepted it, for our stomachs were permanently concave and few had any fat on their bodies. Smoking lessens the pangs of hunger and I was told that the Navy had the amounts of food per man at sea calculated to the minimum to keep him fit for war service. We were often at sea without fresh supplies for weeks. After a proper call at a port we would eat a little better for 3 to 4 days then we were back to old supplies. At sea the fresh water was condensed, which later caused us mouth and shrinking gum trouble with poor teeth. I cannot remember us ever getting fresh fruit or juice at sea other than Lime juice. On shore, other than Australia, the food had been monotonous and limited in quality but with relatively larger helpings. RAF stations were better than FAA airfields. Malta was bad as I said above in for the civilian population was on very poor rations compared to the UK, and that says a lot.

As POs we had 2 or 3 Messmen to look after us in our mess, dishing up the food, which had been carried in the Mess canteens from the ship’s galley to our own little one. The Messmen served through a hatchway and later they cleaned up for us. We did not have our own cutlery or crockery. These were held by the Messmen in the little galley and set out for our use.

In the Rating's Messes each Rating took turns to carry their Mess tins to the Ships galley where the requisite ration for the official number of the Mess was issued and carried back to the Mess for careful dishing out by the same duty ratings who cleaned the Mess tins and plates etc with each man responsible for his own 'irons' i.e. knife, fork and spoon. On shore establishments for ratings it was normally run like any canteen. With the POs there were usually Messmen.

The end of the War

Although the Vengeance lay mostly at anchor during the months we were at Hong Kong, she did sail to Japan and moor off I think it was Nagasaki and the near the ruins of the Atom Bomb. In the Post War years, I have heard many who did not live or fight through the last War condemn the dropping of these bombs. To them I say but for that weapon the Japs would have dragged on the fighting with horrific casualties of Allied and Japanese civilian personnel. I doubt if I would have lived to write this account.

Charles Davidson

X

Extract from the reminiscences of Leading Air Mechanic (Electrical) Leslie Dickinson.

Les served with MONAB VIII, HMS Nabcatcher, from the units’ early days at Middle Wallop until returning home to the UK in January 19

Joining MONAB VIII

I was drafted to Middle Wallop in Wiltshire to form up MONAB 8. Although only a humble Leading Air Mechanic (L) and not privy to any secret conversations that may have been carried on elsewhere. The rumour was that we were destined for a proposed invasion of Japan although whether there is any truth in that would have to come from some brain of Britain in the admiralty.

My main memory of Middle Wallop is of hangar building which was done by means of two sets of shear legs being erected the correct distance apart and the hangar being built from the roof down. Each piece was bolted on until then raised up by means of a block and tackle (actually a chain running through a metal block). When the edifice was completed with the walls etc bolted in place the whole lot was covered with large sheets of canvas. Incidentally soon after getting to Kai Tak we built one hangar but before we could cover it the whole of the canvas covering was stolen by, presumably, some Chinese villains. God knows how they carried it away but they did, as far as I know, it was never traced.

One silly piece of info occurs to me about our course at Middle Wallop when we were learning how to build hangars etc. and that is that there was someone in charge (and I can't remember what rank he was) but his name was Smith and he was connected in some way with the Smith Clock business. He was known to all as "Zoner Smith" because he had devised some quite complicated method of Zones and one had to remember to which zone you were in for divisions etc. I must admit I never did quite get the hang of it and just used to follow the majority hoping they knew where they were supposed to be at any given time. I do remember that each zone was given a colour from red through to black but what each colour represented I know not. Perhaps you will find someone who knows.

Off to Australia and Hong Kong

By far the most unpleasant time I ever spent in the Fleet Air Arm was the journey out to Australia on the SS Maloja. We were not allowed to keep our own hammocks and had to use those supplied by P&O; there were no mattresses so we slept on the bare canvas and were so close to each other that if someone coughed at one end of the deck everybody felt it. I was on, I think D deck and you can imagine how unpleasantly hot it was going through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

On reaching Sydney we went directly to a place called Warwick Farm where we lived under canvas. No definitely not a trip I would wish to repeat. After hanging about for six or seven weeks we were informed by the captain (Capt. Surtees) that although we could have gone to Brisbane and stayed there, he thought we would like it better in Hong Kong. So, the Jap war having just ended, that's where we went. We embarked on HMS Slinger, which just happened to be passing and went via Brisbane and the Philippines to Hong Kong.

Once there we disembarked stores, aircraft and vehicles at Kowloon Wharf and took them to Kai Tak airfield which was at that time a Jap airstrip. After the usual 'pusser' bull like putting whitewashed stones round the quarterdeck and putting up the ensign we then built tents to exist in. Although after so many years my memory is a bit hazy over specific events, I do remember getting aircraft ready to attack Communists over the border where we could see their campfires at night.

By the time I left Kai Tak in January ‘46 nothing much seemed to have been done although a few hundred Japs were marched daily from Stanley Prison when, after bowing to the flag, were "usefully" employed about the place, mainly pushing aircraft in and out of what hangars we had after the canvas had been stolen by the local populace.

I do remember that myself, and a friend of mine whose name I no longer remember, were detailed to wire up a laundry in Kowloon with a Jap as assistant. Rather than let him muck up what we were doing we got him to make us each a bedside cabinet from what scraps of wood he could find (and a good job he made of them) We were the only ratings to boast a hand-made cabinet by our beds.

One point of interest is that the captain told us as we were leaving for home that he thought of the place as Surtees Circus. Whether this was a reference to the fact that we were living in tents or whether the whole set up was a bit of a shambles I don't know. The whole place as far as I can recall was a bit of a quagmire with duckboards in the tents to use as a floor. We were all issued with a daily dose of mepacrine, which apart from having a tendency to turn us yellow probably did nothing at all for our health.

Les Dickinson

X

Extract from the reminiscences of DM/X720699 Writer E.C. 'Mac' McCarthy

'Mac' served with MONAB 8, HMS Nabcatcher, working in the Captain's Office. He was one of the first ratings to arrive at Middle Wallop for MONAB 8; He returned home to the U.K. in August 1946.

Joining MONAB VIII

HMS 'DRAKE' Devonport, April 1945: The war in Europe is over. Drafts leave daily for British Naval Parties in Germany. Two 18-year olds, straight from school into the Navy and newly trained as writers, decide to request a draft to a foreign-going ship. Three days later, request approved, they are handed a draft saying HMS 'FLYCATCHER' (for MONAB VIII) Middle Wallop, Hants. Querying this, they are assured that they will be in the Pacific 'long before you can draw your tot'.

My 'oppo' Denis Horgan from Killarney and I arrive at 'FLYCATCHER' to meet Lieutenant Mahoney. For two days we three Irishmen are the Ship's Company of MONAB VIII. After that, we receive a daily draft of ratings, nearly all H.O.'s with only the occasional regular. No-one knows what a MONAB is. The 'buzz' grows that we are to establish emergency landing grounds on islands in the Pacific. The issue of khaki battledress and talks on Sten guns and unarmed combat are quoted as proof but one look at the crew convinces us that we are no commandos.

Some of the older ratings who have served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean are not keen. They tell us that they have done their share and the Japanese should be left to the Americans. Tents and field equipment arrive. The Admiralty advise that sea transport is scheduled for July. Captain Surtees, ex-NAIRANA and Russian convoys, decides that there is time for a 'dry run'. Half the crew set off with tents and kit to set up camp a few miles away. Two days later we are back at 'FLYCATCHER' after the shortest working-up time ever. The Captain tells the Admiralty that training in the UK is complete and the Ship's Company is ready for despatch. Acknowledgement includes a firm sailing date in July.

The Captain clears lower deck and tells us we will soon be leaving for the Pacific where he intends that we will play an active part against the Japanese. He then says that we are all to be given 14 days embarkation leave and this is received with more enthusiasm.

Off to Australia and Hong Kong

At the end of June we are all back at 'FLYCATCHER' and left for Liverpool and our transport. Our troop ship is the RMS 'MALOJA', 22000 tons, she was once a luxury liner. Cabins for the officers and hammocks for everyone else. A small RAF contingent on board protest and is ignored. The Navy accept it as normal. We leave on July 7th. The voyage out is routine until after we leave Colombo. On August 15th we receive two signals (now held at the FAA Museum at RNAS Yeovilton).

The first read: 'HM Government has announced that the Japanese have surrendered. All offensive operations are therefore to cease forthwith. Attacks by individual enemy units may continue for some time to come and defences should be maintained.'

The second read: 'Splice the Mainbrace'.

The Captain decides to celebrate by firing, for the first time, the 6 inch gun mounted on a platform aft. The gun fires and the platform split from side to side. The next day at 86 degrees east, we hold a 'Crossing the Line' ceremony.

Morale is mixed. The older HO ratings think we should turn around and go home. The younger ones think it is still an adventure. The regulars are indifferent. On to Fremantle and our first proper run ashore. We find a pub with wooden swing doors and wooden floors like a Wild West saloon. We learn that beer comes in schooners, is very cold, is not very strong and that pubs open from 6am to 6pm. After two days we leave for Sydney.

Here we disembark and move a few miles out to Warwick Race Course. The highlight of Sydney is the Red Cross Club where steak and chips cost 4p and fresh pineapple and cream 2p. After five years of rationing this is the place to be. We have doubts after an invitation to stay on in the Club for a dance. We leave for our bus to meet a crowd of Australian solders who tell us loudly and physically to `leave our Sheila's alone'. No-one goes a second time.

Captain Surtees re-joins us. We are told that he has flown out from the UK in a stripped-down Lancaster bomber in the record time of 66 hours.

Leaving our tents at Warwick Race Course we board HMS 'SLINGER', an escort carrier, now part of the Fleet Train. We leave Sydney on September 9th. The `buzz' is that we are off to the Philippines where we are told that a Fleet is assembling for the invasion of Hong Kong on October 1st. This is the first time that we have been told of our destination and we are also told that the Japanese in Hong Kong have not yet surrendered.

We take on more stores at Brisbane and continue northwards. Shortly after we hear that the Japanese in Hong Kong surrendered on September 16th. In early October we arrive in Hong Kong after refuelling in Mindanao Bay in the Philippines. We start unloading in Kowloon but a few days later we are ordered to sea to avoid a typhoon. Only a skeleton crew is left ashore at Kai Tak airfield where the stores are being stacked. At sea we sail into the typhoon and have five very rough days at sea. A weary crew returns to Hong Kong and unloads the rest of the stores.

Remembering Kai Tak

The next inspection, at the request of the Administration, is by a party of Chinese Nationalist Generals. This is evidently a courtesy visit and they are polite and non-committal. We wonder if they regret not occupying the airfield themselves. In all of these inspections, the Marines and a few ratings parade whilst the rest of us are told to carry on as usual.

In December, Captain Surtees leaves and the Commander takes temporary charge. The camp is now well established. Chinese cooks and laundry men, claiming pre-war naval experience, are employed. The Navy reverts to the pre-war system of victualling through Chinese middlemen (Compradores) and the food starts to improve. There is little work for the Japanese prisoners and they spend most of their time in camp awaiting deportation.

At the end of December, instructions come from London to begin drafts for demobilisation. Priority is decided by age and length of service and the first party is soon away. From then on, every ship returning to the UK carries 10-20 men for demob. Few replacements arrive. Over the next few months the crew steadily decreases. The average age drops to between 20-21 with two years' service.

One officer, RNVR, due for repatriation in January, postpones his draft for three months after he hears that there is a shortage of gin in the UK.

An amateur artist in the crew produces a ship's badge. It shows a seagull hovering over the sea with a shore line (Kai Tak) in the background. One opinion is that it shows the Navy can s**t on you at any time. Another is that a 'shitehawk' is a fitting emblem for this Fred Karno outfit. I don't think it is officially adopted...

As 1946 gets under way most of the ship's company is concerned about the date of their demob and their future jobs. The airfield is not busy although visiting FAA aircraft arrive from time to time. The unit is obviously being run down. The majority of the crew are passing the time waiting to go home.

Commander Walters RN arrives in April to take over command. Most of our officers are now RN who talk about `pulling the Navy back into shape'. When my draft comes up in August, the ship's company has halved. We leave on an escort carrier 'STRIKER' (?) and the voyage home is uneventful. We stop in Colombo and load about 12 American lend-lease planes and their spare engines, all in wooden cases. Unwanted by the US, we stop about 20 miles out to sea and push them over board. I expect they are still there. The Captain announces that, as he hasn't seen his wife for two years, there will be no stops apart from refuelling and no shore leave.

My overall recollection of' ‘NABCATCHER' is that its start, coinciding with the end of the war in Europe, meant that many ratings with several years’ service had no desire to serve in the Pacific. The surrender of the Japanese before we arrived in the area added to their belief that the operation was pointless. I think for a short while we did serve a useful purpose at Kai Tak but the lack of information from the start and three captains in six months gave the air of a stop-gap outfit. Whilst everyone pulled together for the first three months in Hong Kong, the start of repatriation for demob meant that most of the crew was focused on life outside the Navy. However, for the younger ratings it was exciting and an adventure in parts of the world we would not see again. I enjoyed it.

HMS 'DRAKE' - January 7th 1947: I am told to report at 11am for transport to Portsmouth for demob. As I walk past the bus to hand in my station card at the Watch Office an officer says 'If you are going to Portsmouth, get on the bus.' I leave 'DRAKE' with my station card in my pocket. I wonder, if somewhere in the Devonport records, I am marked down as 'RUN'?

E.C. McCarthy