The MONAB Story

A history of the mobile airfields of the Royal Navy


 

Mobile Naval Air Base No. III

 

Assembly and commissioning in the UK

Personnel and equipment for Mobile Naval Air Base III began to assemble at Royal Naval Air Station Ludham, Norfolk the headquarters of the Mobile Naval Airfields Organisation (MNAO) from October 18th 1944. The unit was to form as a type A (Small) MONAB tasked with supporting up to 50 aircraft and was allocated the following maintenance components:

Mobile Maintenance (MM) unit No. 2 supporting Corsair Mk.II & IV, Hellcat Mk.I & II, Seafire Mk.III
Maintenance Servicing (MS) unit No. 3 supporting Firefly Mk.I
Maintenance Servicing (MS) unit No. 4 supporting Seafire Mk.III
(see MONAB components page for further details)

There were already two other MONABs on the station, MONAB I had begun forming in early September and MONAB II in early October; space was at a premium with over 1500 men, not counting the ship’s company of the forming station, on the site. Vehicles, equipment and stores for all three units had to be assembled, unpacked, checked, labelled and packed in preparation for despatch by sea. Personal kit issues had to made for each unit including Battle dress and 1937 Pattern Webbing for all personnel along with weapon training on the Sten gun. Additionally, all personnel were entitled to right days embarkation leave; this ideally should have been taken before reporting to RNAS Ludham but rarely was, so this leave had to be included in the very short assembly timescale

MONAB IV personnel began arriving at the start of November to begin assembly on the 15th but the overcrowding eased for a while when MONAB I departed for Liverpool few weeks later; stores and equipment first, by road, followed by the personnel a few days later by train. The stores and equipment of MONAB II were also despatched to Liverpool in mid-November, but the personnel would ail later. Although not yet commissioned, MONAB III had sufficiently assembled its equipment and stores for despatch to the port of embarkation in early December. The vehicles and equipment were transported by the unit’s motor transport overnight on Saturday December 2nd to Gladstone Dock, Liverpool for embarkation in the S.S. ESSEX, L.S. 1979. A total of 89 prime movers and 25 trailers were involved in the move, which was made under the direction of the Air Engineering Officer, sadly an accident occurred which killed Marine Joseph McShane, PLY/X 103941, and serious injured two others.

 

Despatch overseas

MONAB III commissioned at RNAS Ludham as an independent command on December 4th 1944, bearing the ship's name HMS 'NABTHORPE', Commander (A) E.W. Kenton in command. The unit's stores and equipment sailed onboard the S.S. ESSEX on December 16th. The personnel of MONAB III, in company with those of MONAB II, embarked in the Troopship. ATHLONE CASTLE for passage to Australia, sailing from Liverpool on December 22nd. 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 ATHLONE CASTLE transited the Panama Canal to enter the Pacific, and arrived in Sydney on January 25th 1945. The personnel were disembarked to HMS GOLDEN HIND and accommodated under canvas at Warwick Race course whilst awaiting allocation of an operating base and the arrival of the S.S. ESSEX, which arrived at Sydney on February 4th.  

 

Commissioned at RNAS Schofields, New South Wales

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Station Schofields was chosen for transfer to the Admiralty on loan for occupation by MONAB III and the advance party arrived on the site on February 5th to find the station was still under construction. The following day the station readiness was reported as: one operational runway and one Dorland transportable Hanger erected by MONAB staff. The first week on the station was spent preparing the airfield for the arrival of squadron personnel and aircraft which were due with the arrival of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) later that month.

RNAS Schofields aerial photo

RNAS Schofields from 10.000 feet. C. late 1945.

Disembarked squadrons arrive: The first Squadrons to disembark from the BPF carriers arrived at Schofields only four days later on the February 10th, these being 887 and 894 (Seafire) Squadrons and 1770 (Firefly) Squadron from HMS INDEFATIGABLE. All squadron personnel were accommodated under canvas, the station still having no permanent buildings. ON the 14th the first flying accident occurred; Lt. F.C. Hurlock RNVR of 887 squadron ground looped on landing, in Safire PP928 and the undercarriage collapsed. The remaining elements of MONAB III arrived at Schofields on February 18th, and the station was commissioned as HMS NABTHORPE, RNAS Schofields on that date.

 A second Dorland hanger was completed for workshop use on February 23rd when 1840 (Hellcat) Squadron arrived on the station, disembarking from the escort carrier HMS SPEAKER. Further aircraft arrived on the 26th when 1845 (Corsair) Squadron disembarked from the escort carrier HMS SLINGER. No's 887,894 & 1770 Squadrons re-embarked in INDEFATIGABLE on February 27th so relieving some of the overcrowding at the hastily prepared station.

During the first week of March the station’s first resident flying unit, 706 Squadron, moved from RNAS Jervis Bay arriving at Schofields on the 6th. Its task was to operate a Crew Pool & Refresher Flying School and was to be a large unit with a total strength of 36 aircraft, its equipment allocation was to be 6 each of Avenger, Barracuda, Corsair, Firefly, Hellcat & Seafire. 1840 squadron re-embarked their Hellcats in S SPEAKER on the 9th and the Corsairs of 1845 re-joined SLINGER on the 11th. These were soon to be replaced on the 18th by 1772 (Firefly) Squadron from the escort carrier HMS RULER and 885 (Hellcat) Squadron from RULER on the 20th; the latter was to stay until April 4th before re-embarking in RULER. There were four flying incidents during March: Seafire NF430 of the Station Flight, flown by Sub-Lt G.E. Scott RNVR burst a tyre landing, ran off the runway and nosed up on the 29th; another Station Flight aircraft, Reliant FB611 piloted by Lt H.G. Thom RANVR, taxied into an obstruction on the 21st; on the same day Hellcat JV277 of 885 squadron flown by Sub-Lt R.B. Tucker RNVR, braked hard, ans ended on its nose; on the 17th another 884 squadron Hellcat, JW740 flown by Sub-Lt W.G. Bowles RNZNVR had a repeat performance.

April was a quieter month, with the departures of 885 squadron the Fireflies of 1772 were the only one front-line squadron remaining, and after completing their workup, 706 squadron commissioned at Schofields on April 10th. Next to arrive was 899 (Seafire) Squadron which disembarked from HMS CHASER on the 23rd as a Seafire Pool Squadron. The first of May brought 1843 (Corsair) Squadron disembarking from HMS ARBITER.

On May 9th HMS NABTHORPE celebrated VE-Day (Victory in Europe was declared the day before), a specially prepared Victory menu was served for the ship's company covering Breakfast, Dinner, Tea, and Supper. Part of 1843 re-joined ARBITER on the 20th after nearly three weeks of flying training in which there were two incidents during this period: an explosion occurred on the 12th  after Corsair KD588 had been refuelled,  an overflow of petrol had lodged in the side flaps after refuelling and had ignited on start-up, the pilot Sub-Lt E. Barker RNVR was OK;  on the 14th Sub-Lt M.J. Rouse in Corsair KD601 selected dive brake instead of undercarriage, the rustling belly landing wrote off the aircraft.  of those remaining at Schofields Sub-Lt K.E. Vogan RNVR, was killed on May 30th when his (unidentified) Corsair failed to pull out of a vertical dive and crashed into a hillside near RAAF Menangle. The only other incident during May involved Seafire NF507 of 899 Squadron, flown by Lt I.L. Joly RNVR, which swerved off the runway landing, and ran into a drainage ditch on the 28th, (Lt I.L. Joly).

The BPF returns: At the start of June, the second large scale disembarkation of squadrons form the fleet began; 820 (Avenger), 887 & 894 (Seafire) and 1770 (Firefly) squadrons arriving at Schofields from INDEFATIGABLE on the 5th. 1834 & 1836 (Corsair) Squadrons also arrived on this date disembarking from VICTORIOUS. For the next twelve days MONAB III supported 9 squadrons (2 resident training squadrons and 7 front-line units), over 100 aircraft well in excess of its designed capacity of 50. Construction of the airfield and buildings was still not complete so many squadron personnel were still accommodated under canvas. The situation was to get worse when work came to a halt, due first to heavy rains bringing widespread flooding and then further delayed when the Civil Constructional Corps labourers engaged on airfield construction went on strike. The two Corsair squadrons re-joined VICTORIOUS on the 26th relieving some of the overcrowding.

At some stage in June 899 Squadron was re- tasked; it had been drastically reduced in both manpower and aircraft after arriving on the station. Only the C.O. and four experienced pilots remained when it became a Seafire Operational Training Unit (OTU) to train pilots for the newly formed Air branch of Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve. The trainees were all RAAF Spitfire pilots with 500 hours on the type who volunteered for transfer to the RAN, with a reduction of one grade in rank. Squadron strength was increased to 14 Seafires and No 1 RANVR conversion course got underway with instruction in naval flying and combat techniques building up to Deck Landing qualification. Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings (ADDLs) were carried out at Schofields but Shipboard Deck landing Training (DLT), the final stage of the course, was carried out off the coast of Queensland, the squadron flying up to RNAS Maryborough from where they flew out to make their landings.

There were six flying accidents during June: on the 8th Hellcat FN373 of 706 squadron, flown by Sub-Lt J.D. Pywell RNVR, braked and the prop pecked the ground; on the 16th another 706-squadron aircraft, Avenger FN870 suffered engine failure after take-off but manged to return to the airfield for a bad landing, the pilot Lt D.J. Holmes RNVR was OK; on the 19th Lt R. Ward RNVR damaged the port well of Corsair JT632 of 1834 squadron  while conducting ADDLs; there were two incidents involving trainees on the Seafire of 899 OUT, both on the 20th,  Sub-Lt  J.P. Crothers RANVR  in NN303 swung off the runway and nosed over, and Lt C.H. Gray RANVR in NF507 made a heavy landing which caused the port oleo to collapse. On the 29th Lt H.H. Salisbury RNVR in Seafire LR789 of 706 squadron made a crash landing when the starboard undercarriage leg stuck and would not lock fully down.

The squadron parking area at RNAS Schofields

Tented accommodation alongside a single Dorland hangar and some workshops form the disembarked squadron area on the far side of the airfield. A squadron of Seafires can be seen parked on the grass off the taxy track.

At the start of July 820 Squadron departed, re-embarking in INDEFATIGABLE on the 1st, and the remaining elements of 1843 squadron departed for RNAS Maryborough to await the return of ARBITER and the detachment on board. 887, 894 & 1772 Squadrons re-embarked in INDEFATIGABLE on the 7th. In mid-July three of the Royal Navy’s four new Light-Fleet Carriers arrived in Australia to join the BPF and Schofields was to receive No. 15 Carrier Air Group (CAG), 1851 (Corsair) & 814 (Barracuda) squadrons, which disembarked from HMS VENERABLE on July 21st. One-week later Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, the Commander-in-chief. British Pacific Fleet. visited Schofields on the 28th as part of his tour of the support facilities in Australia. The 12 pilots of No.1 RANVR conversion course carried out their DLT sessions in the Fleet Carrier INDOMITABLE between the 24th & 27th of July, all being certified for Deck Landing after completing 10 landings apiece. The successful pupils received RANVR(A) commissions and were to form the nucleus of the Australian Fleet Air Arm There were only two flying accidents during July both involving pilots from 899 OUT: on the 3rd Sub-Lt C.C. Bowly RANVR in Seafire NM998 swung to starboard landing, ground looped, causing the undercarriage to collapse and  damaged the prop; on the 28th Sub-Lt K.B.I. Smith RANVR in Seafire NF447  made a heavy landing with port drift causing the port undercarriage to collapse.

 

Victory over Japan and the rundown to closure

Flying training continued during August until the 15th CAG re-embarked in VENERABLE on August 13th and a new squadron flew in, 1790 (Firefly) Night-Fighter squadron disembarked from escort carrier HMS VINDEX. Two days later on August 15th the Japanese surrendered and VJ Day was celebrated at Schofields. The celebrations were only brief however as the fourth Light-fleet carrier HMS GLORY arrived at Sydney on August 16th and disembarked the 16th CAG, 1831 (Corsair) & 837 (Barracuda) squadrons; they were soon followed by 880 (Seafire) Squadron which disembarked from IMPLACABLE on August 25th.  There were two flying incidents in August: on the 9th Lt P.F. McClintock RNVR in Seafire LR789 of 706 squadron burst the starboard tyre on landing causing the aircraft to swing to starboard and nose over; on the 28th Mid J.D. Hobbs RNVR suffered engine failure on take-off and aborted the run.

 As part of a rationalization of training provision in Australia 706 squadron departed for RNAS Maryborough, MONAB VI on August 28th; 1770 Squadron's Fireflies also departed for Maryborough the next day. The latter move was a strange one - MONAB 6 was not equipped to handle Fireflies so a detachment of 13 men was assembled from the 4 Officers. 16 CPOs & POs and 10 ratings of Mobile Servicing unit No.3 to travel to RNAS Maryborough, the detachment comprised of Lieutenant Romanoff, 1 Chief Petty Officer, 8 Petty Officer s, 2 Leading Air Fitters and one steward. This party left for Maryborough by train, and was issued with equipment from MONAB 6 on reaching Maryborough.

 On the first of September 16 CAG re-embarked in GLORY; three days later 702 Instrument Flying Training & Checking Squadron arrived on the station as the new resident training uni. The squadron, equipped with Oxfords and Harvard IIbs, had formed and worked up in the UK at RNAS Hinstock, Shropshire, before its personnel were shipped out to Australia. MONAB III was already equipped with a mobile Beam Approach Beacon System (BABS) van but the squadron’s training equipment did not materialise so 702 focused on the instrument flying training. 801 (Seafire) Squadron disembarked from IMPLACABLE on September 9th; two days later tit absorbed the aircraft of 880 Squadron when they were disbanded at Schofields on the 11th.

 The pupils of the second RANVR conversion course flew up to RNAS Maryborough at the end of the first week of September to do their qualifying DLT in the escort carrier ARBITER, flying out to the ship in Hervey bay commencing on September 10th and finishing on the 13th. Again all 12 pilots completed 10 landings each to qualify and receive their RANVR(A) commissions. Its conversion work completed 899 Seafire OTU disbanded on September 18th after successfully passing 24 RAAF pilots as qualified to carry out deck landings at sea; none of them reached the forward area in time to join a front-line Seafire squadron before the end of hostilities, most of them saw service in either INDEFATIGABLE or IMPLACABLE after the War. On the same day the squadrons of the 11th CAG, (885 (Hellcat), 887 & 894 (Seafire) & 1772 (Firefly) disembarked from INDEFATIGABLE; 885 Squadron was disbanded on the 27th.

 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.

 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.

With the arrival of the 16th CAG at Nowra all flying units had been relocated from RNAS Jervis Bay as preparations were made for the change over which would result in Jervis Bay reverting to the status of a satellite of Nowra. Flying training continued in early November resulting in three recorded flying incidents:  On the 6th Corsair KD449 of 1831 Squadron nosed over landing and overturned pinning the pilot, Sub-Lt R.W.H. Boyns RNVR, underneath, he was safely recovered; also on the 5th Firefly MB549 f 706 Squadron landed with drift causing the starboard oleo to collapse, the aircraft nosed up and skidded on its starboard wing the crew, Sub-Lt L R. Roberts RNVR & Sub-Lt M.G. Henry RNVR, were OK; Seafire NN399 of 706 Squadron, flown by Sub-Lt G.R. Rodd RNVR, swung landing in a cross-wind and the undercarriage  collapsed on the 9th

 

Paying Off

HMS NABTHORPE & MONAB III paid off at Schofields on November 15th 1945. RNAS Schofields re-commissioned as HMS NABSTOCK, the same day, MONAB VI replacing MONAB III, taking over much of the stores and equipment in situ. MONAB III personnel were either drafted back to the UK or dispersed to other units in Australia. 887 squadron re-embarked in HMS INDOMITABLE on the same date.


 

 

HMS 'NABTHORPE'

Blank ship’s badge
No badge issued for this ship

 

 

Function

The support of disembarked Squadrons, the provision of a Crew Pool & Refresher Flying School (706 Naval Air Squadron).

Aviation support Components

Mobile Maintenance (MM) 2,

Maintenance Servicing (MS) 3 & 4

Aircraft type supported

Corsair Mk. II & IV

Hellcat Mk. I & II

Seafire Mk. II & L.III

Commanding Officers

Commander (A) E.W. Kenton 04 Dec 1944

Shipp paid off 15 November 1945

 

 

 

Related items

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

 

 

 

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X

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 Petty Officer Radio Mechanic Stan Spencer

Stan joined HMS NABTHORPE at Ludham and remained with the unit throughout its commission, returning home to the U.K. aboard the R.M.S. Andes. These remarks and recollections are not intended to be of historical value, rather they are some recollections after a 55 year period and the less than perfect recall of an ageing mind.

Drafted to MONAB III

My first draft on completing my training and qualifying as Leading Radio Mechanic at HMS Ariel was to RNAS Inskip in Lancashire and I'm afraid that my stay there was not of long duration. I was affronted by a remark made by the Air Radio Officer and had the temerity to open my mouth in protest. The next thing I knew was that I got a draft to RNAS Ludham. HMS Flycatcher. The proper recipient of that draft should have been Leading Radio Mechanic Eric Leck but he had been taken sick with appendicitis and the Air Radio Officer Lt. J.C.Brandt, I'm sure, saw this as a golden opportunity to rid himself of this turbulent Leading Radio Mechanic.

It was early November 1944 and at that time East Anglia, and in particular Norfolk, was rather like Siberia. You knew where it was but you certainly didn't want to go there. It was a particularly cold winter and in spite of Ludham having been a RAF station, it seemed that the facilities were significantly less than satisfactory. Anyway, we did our joining routine and waited while others destined for MONAB 3 arrived. The CO was Cdr E.W. (Ted) Kenton and the 1st. Lieutenant was Lt. Cdr. Parkinson. For us Radio types the important guy was the Air Radio Officer Lt. Robert Wales.

Once we were assembled, and to me it all seemed a bit haphazard, we started on the task of getting all the stores and equipment that we were to take to a destination as yet unknown. This exercise entailed going with a convoy of 3 Ton trucks to the railway sidings at Potter Heigham where we unloaded gear from the train and on to the trucks. This went on for days as train after train filled with stores arrived in the sidings.

One of the most amusing yet hazardous activities at this time involved erecting the Dorland Hangar. The concept was excellent and the erection went well until it came to installing the canvas roof and walls. This huge expanse of canvas acted just like a sail in the winds coming off the North Sea and to be atop the thing trying to get the canvas in place was an unnerving experience. However, we managed it without mishap although there were times when one felt about to be thrown off the top by the billowing canvas. Everything was checked off and repacked for transit; by then we knew, to Australia. For me this was just a great bonus as I knew that I had relatives Down Under and this would be the opportunity of a lifetime to make contact.

Preparations being completed we embarked on a train for a seemingly endless night journey to Liverpool where, at Gladstone Dock, we boarded the Athlone Castle.

Off to Australia

We departed on, I think, the 23rd of December and laid off Belfast on the 24th. setting sail on Christmas Day. The transatlantic crossing was uneventful, much to everyone’s surprise and our arrival in Colon at the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal was a revelation. Lights at night, no blackout was something that we had not seen for years, the scent of the trees and the all-pervasive sound of the Cicadas made the place seem magic.

We were allowed off the ship but only in the immediate dock area but in one of the dock buildings there was a wonderful USO show; USO being the American equivalent of ENSA. Who the artistes were I don't remember but it was lively and professional and a real treat. The transit of the Panama Canal was, for me, the highlight of the whole journey. The locks, the Gatun Locks and the Gatun lake, through the Gaillard Cut (Culebra), the Pedro Miguel Lock to the Miraflores Lake and Locks were breath-taking. The passage through the Gaillard cut with tropical birds flying from the heights on either side was magic. Finally, Balboa and the Pacific Ocean. I have wanted to transit the canal again ever since then and I hope to actually do it. It is the only piece of the world that I have seen but my wife has not and I'd like to correct that omission.

Leaving Panama, the Pacific Ocean was like a sheet of glass. I had never seen a sea so flat. Not that I had seen anything but the North Sea until then. All went uneventfully. We loafed on deck under strict orders as to the length of time that we were allowed to expose ourselves to the sun. Ten minutes on the first day, gradually increasing until our hides were safely tanned.

Then one day there was an almighty bang and the ship hove to. Rumours were rife as to what had happened and further rumours spread that there were Japanese submarines in the vicinity and here, we were sitting motionless on a calm sea, a sitting duck. It transpired that a drive chain in part of one of the ships engines had broken and had allegedly thrashed its was through the drive casing and so it was necessary to remain hove to while repairs were carried out. I think that it took about 24 hours before we were under way again.

We spent hours just standing on deck watching the Flying Fish as they broke the surface near the bow of the ship and the iridescence of the sun shining on their scales was just beautiful. We were certainly not thinking about what lay ahead. In January 1945 we arrived in Sydney and that first thrill of passing through Sydney Heads into that magnificent harbour and the first sight of the harbour bridge has never been equalled. We headed in to Woolloomooloo where we were docked and we prepared for disembarkation.

We were herded into trucks and we headed out of Sydney to Warwick Farm racecourse where we spent a short while under canvas. Australia Day came while we were at Warwick Farm and we tasted our first bit of Aussie hospitality when a family picked myself and a friend up and took us to Koala Park at Pennant Hills for the day.

From Warwick Farm we soon transferred to Schofields, which at that time was far from complete. The CCC "Civilian Construction Corps" was still very much in evidence and remained so for some while building living accommodation. The NAAFI was the envy of the CCC as we kept UK hours and they could only visit the local and enjoy the uncivilized Aussie hours including the six o'clock swill. However, they did run a good "Two Up" school after work.

Life on Schofields airfield

We soon settled into a routine, the first squadrons landed and work began in earnest. Our transportable Radio Workshops were situated at a remote part of the site and early on, torrential rains made the terrain into a quagmire. Much time was spent in digging drainage ditches to channel the water away from the workshops. The early morning duty was to ensure that the YG and YJ beacons were switched on and operational. The YG was a Morse radio beacon and the YJ a Radar beacon for navigation purposes. There were, of course, quiet periods but when squadrons landed on then it was concentrated effort. At this time the control tower was a mobile affair in a truck, as the permanent control tower had not been built.

I believe that we weren't intended to handle all types of aircraft originally but in the event anything that landed was coped with including Seafires, Barracudas, Fireflies, Hellcats, Avengers and Corsairs. There was also one Stinson Reliant communications aircraft. At one time there were even a couple of Commonwealth Wackett Boomerangs, an Australian built small fighter aircraft. There were great differences between British and American aircraft. Flush riveting on the American planes was immediately obvious and on the whole the accessibility of equipment was superior on the America machines. I can only speak from the point of view of radio installations.

All American aircraft used Radial engines, Wright Double Cyclone and Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp. I'm sure that engine, airframe and armourer trades also noticed great differences in their fields. We even had an open day when the local populace were invited to come aboard. That made for good relations with the locals. Schofields was located adjacent to the Sydney to Richmond railway line and virtually took up the ground between Quakers Hill and Schofields stations. On the other side of the territory was Eastern Creek a tributary of the Hawkesbury River.

Some of the facilities were to us a bit primitive especially the heads which consisted of a long hut in which were installed two rows of toilets, about ten a side facing each other with absolutely no privacy. Flushing consisted of two channels, one below each row of toilets, through which ran a continuous stream of water. It was the conversation centre of the site. Runs ashore consisted of taking the train from Quakers Hill to Sydney as there was nothing in the vicinity, except a small pub which I think was called the ROYAL in Riverstone, the station past Schofields.

I do remember that the publican had been the lightweight boxing champion of Australia. Our trips to Sydney were made possible by the issuing of a fortnightly season ticket which would take one over the whole range of the New South Wales Railways "Sydney and surrounding areas" system. This cost four shillings for a two-week ticket. It was very good value indeed. Of course, no one came back except on the last train out of Central Station.

Our presence brought out a couple of local entrepreneurs. One was a local milkman who would come onboard every day with his cart to sell us milk and fruit. He was always a welcome sight and I drank more milk during that period than at any other time of my life.

The other was a guy who would be at the entrance to Quakers Hill station when the train arrived from Sydney and he sold hot dogs. He seemed to do a roaring trade thought why anyone would want to eat hot-dogs late at night I can't imagine. I suppose we were always hungry. Not a vendor but a welcome sight on the place was the Australian Church Army representative who was allowed to operate on the station even though we had our own C of E Padre, The Rev. Lamb. I remember the Church Army man's surname only, it was Hoepper and he was known as "Hep". He was always ready to listen to any of our concerns or troubles and I'm sure that many MONAB 3'ers will recall his cheerful presence.

We were by now in a settled routine, and the facilities improved; permanent workshops and the control tower were built and thus it continued until VE Day. This was, of course a cause for great celebration for us but not so much for the local population. However, we had a day free and then back to the routine.

Life was always busy and interesting and the time came when MONAB 3 was to pack up and move on. We were told that the first stop was to be for some Jungle training at the Australian Army jungle school. However, came the fateful day when the dropping of the Atom bomb was announced on the radio with all the speculation as to what this would mean, then the second bomb and the end of the war in the Pacific. Then there was real celebration in Australia. Of course, we were freed to go to Sydney to join in the hi-jinks and the celebrations were really great, from Kings Cross to Martin Place

Here I recall a very sad event. When we returned late at night one of our group, Leading Radio Mechanic Findlay Gee was distinctly under the weather and during the night was taken worse. He was got to the sick bay but in spite of the attention of all concerned he died of heart failure during the night. His funeral was a very sombre affair and it was the first and last time that I have acted as a pallbearer.

It was not very long before we were instructed to pack up and prepare for our return to UK. There was an option to remain in Australia and transfer to the RAN and one of our number, John Dunford, who had married a girl from Riverstone opted to remain.

Coming home

We handed over Schofields to, I think MSR 2 who had come down from Queensland and we embarked on the RMS Andes at Woolloomooloo, where we had first set foot on Australian soil.

There were on board, many Australians who had been prisoners of the Japanese and who were returning to Perth, which was our first port of call and a jolly good run ashore. Bombay was next and once again a good run ashore. Just to prove that the world is a small place I met, in Crawford market an old English lady who had lived in India for years and who came from the same small Cheshire village that was my mother’s birthplace.

After a Suez Canal transit, it was home to Southampton from where we were taken to HMS Daedalus III, which was located in Havant, and with a draft to HMS Ariel my MONAB saga ended. It is a period long past and however my recall diminishes it will forever remain impressed on my memory After a Suez Canal transit, it was home to Southampton from where we were taken to HMS Daedalus III, which was located in Havant, and with a draft to HMS Ariel my MONAB saga ended. It is a period long past and however my recall diminishes it will forever remain impressed on my memory..

Some years later on a visit to family members who I had been able to meet in 1945 I returned to Schofields which was then HMAS NIRIMBA and while the airfield had been taken over for civilian use the site looked much as it did on the day we left and I have to say that memories flooded back at the entrance gatehouse.

Having put these reminiscences together I have now taken the time to look at those of Messrs Purcall, Sutton and Dickinson and I take pleasure in discovering that there are consistencies between their recollections and mine in various respects. It gives me satisfaction to learn that my memory is not as faulty as I had thought.

 

Stan Spencer

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The reminiscences of L/FX 586531 Naval Aircraft Mechanic (L) Sydney J Smith

Syd joined HMS NABTHORPE at Ludham and remained with the unit until he joined the carrier HMS IMPLACABLE before she sailed from Sydney to repatriate former POWs to Vancouver, Canada.

Early days in the FAA

After volunteering earlier in the war, I was finally drafted to HMS Gosling Warrington on July 12th 1943: as a very innocent eighteen-year-old! This consisted of the basics of arms drill marching etc, in which former home guard training came in very handy. My foremost memory was the struggle to tie a decent hat ribbon bow & getting a right rollicking & showing up for struggling to climb the ropes in the gym! “You’d climb the f****ing rope quick enough if the ship was sinking” was the encouragement I got. “So, f***ing well climb it now” from a purple faced P T instructor. Suffice to say I can still shin up a rope today at 80 years old!

During September 1943 -February 1944 I was sent to HMS ‘DAEDALUS’, RAF Henlow 14 SoT (School of Technical Training). It was mid-winter and we were billeted in nissen huts in a muddy field about 1 mile from the main camp, with no hot water & primitive toilets. Every dark morning, we had to form up into a single file column to trek to the main camp, the front man carrying a white storm lantern, & the rear one carrying a red one - generally to the strains of Hi ‘Ho off to work we go’. Down the country lane, past the Airman pub (which I believe is still there) to the main camp for breakfast, while carrying all our books, eating irons, shaving tackle etc. And the performance repeated when we returned after the day’s instructions & tea. For recreation, there was a camp cinema down in Henlow, a long walk after a busy day, also outings to Hitchin & Shefford by local bus services on a weekend.

After passing out as AM(L)2 I was posted to 776 Naval Air Squadron at Speke, Liverpool, part of HMS BLACKCAP, this was luxury after Henlow, with meals in the main terminal building. I was later seconded to the C-in-C Western Approaches Flight, a De Havilland Dominie aircraft in which I had my first ever flight, followed by various trips to the Isle of Man & to Belfast. However, it was too good to last!

Drafted to MONAB III

On October 22nd 1944 I was drafted to Ludham, HMS Flycatcher, for MONAB 3. What a dump. We were billeted in tents, in the flat, bare and desolate countryside, enduring snow, rain, and hail. We were miles from anywhere except for vast hangers stacked with MONAB stores labelled SYDNEY; it was the only posting where I never went 'ashore!. Finally, one cold wet night in December we were roused and told to pack our kit before we were taken to join a train.

Myself and a few others ended up in a bare cattle truck, but eventually some caring officer took pity on us and we got moved to a carriage compartment. It was a long weary journey that finally ended at Lime St station Liverpool, from where we were then taken by lorry to the docks and our first sight of the Troop Ship Athlone Castle.

Off to Australia

On boarding we were allocated hammocks deep below decks; however, when a PO came around asking for volunteers for guns crew yours truly jumped at the offer, and what a good move it turned out to be. I was assigned to an Oerlikon gun in a raised rotunda beside the funnel starboard side, rather noisy with the fans going, but what a great place for a viewpoint of everything, including the Wrens on board.

Although we had to work watches of course, this was a pleasure rather than a chore, both during the day & through the warm tropical nights. Being guns crew, we were allocated a large cabin on the top deck with an open deck on its roof, again an ideal viewpoint & lounging area when off duty.

I vaguely remember travelling in convoy as far as Freetown then left on our own to Panama & Sydney, having a slight breakdown which made for an exciting practice session for training all guns on board. We arrived in Sydney Feb 1945. What a lovely sight, blue skies, blue sea. I remember the brightly coloured cars after the dull black & grey ones back home.

Life on Schofields airfield

Then on to Schofields, HMS NABTHORPE, others have had far more interesting things than I can add, but I fully endorse the huts with no doors, and the mosquito nets, plus I recall the panic stations when we awoke one morning to find a large green praying mantis sat at the foot of the bed of a non to happy rating!

However, things improved as time went on, the local people were very kind & hospitable; I spent many a leave with a local family in Bankstown, (a Mrs Carney, 30 Market St.). The British Centre in Sydney was great for short breaks, and I saw Gracie Fields when she came to entertain. My time at NABTHORPE can only be described as rather mundane, aircraft servicing, hangar erection etc, although I did learn how to mend watches through working with & watching our instrument man 'Doc' Watson.

An interlude on HMS IMPLACABLE

As I was a former cinema projectionist, I was posted on a refresher course at one of the large cinemas in Sydney (I can't recall the name only that it had a roof that opened to the stars on the warm southern nights After a week of being almost a civilian I joined HMS IMPLACABLE, which was then being fitted out with bunks throughout the hangars in preparation to bring home ex-prisoners of the Japanese.

Along with an AM (Doug} and a leading hand we brought into operation a mobile projection room, (a large metal box) with a large stock of years gone by newsreels to give the ex POWs a little idea of what had been happening in the outside world. This mobile cinema can just be seen in the forward lift in the picture of Implacable entering Vancouver, and was lifted on deck in the evenings with the screen fixed on the island.

Leaving Sydney, we travelled up the Australian coast, inside the barrier reef, with the linesman 'swinging the lead' & presenting me with a piece of the bottom of the Torres Strait! Then it was on to Wewak (Papua New Guinea), Balikpapan (Borneo), Manila (Philippines), and Hong Kong to pick up the recently liberated ex POWs. What is there to say? Knowing the barbaric way, they had been treated, then seeing them come aboard on the first step of their journey home. Many friendships were made, and I'm sure with the aid of the crew and the nurses on board, they were helped on their way back to a normal life.

At first, we thought we were taking them home to UK but instead ended up in Vancouver for them to complete their journey by train & ship. We certainly created a lot of interest in Vancouver as you can see from the newspaper clippings, there was a little 'souvenir' nicking but I don't think it was as bad as the newspapers made out.

Then it was back to Sydney via Pearl Harbour & Honolulu; one of my memories of Hawaii involved me starting to cross the main street in Honolulu and being grabbed from behind by a massive 6-foot -6 cop with a gun like Dirty Harry who told me “hey bud, we cross at the intersections here!”

Joining MONAB II to await passage home

On arriving back at Sydney, I was posted to GOLDEN HIND and then to HMS NABBERLEY before joining the troop ship Stirling Castle for the journey home via Perth, Aden, and Suez, to Southampton, & then on to HMS DAEDALUS at Lee-On-Solent, with final discharge in July 1946.

What memories, good & bad for an eighteen-year-old, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! And all done without Health & Safety, Human Rights, & Counselling jobsworths. However did we manage !!!!

 

Sydney Smith

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The reminiscences of Aircraft Artificer 4th Class (Ordinance) Maurice Ayling

Extract from the reminiscences of Aircraft Artificer 4th Class (Ordinance) Maurice Ayling, formerly of 1843 Squadron, working up in Australia as a part of the reserve No. 3 Carrier Air Group. HMS NABTHORPE 3rd May - 3rd June 1945

Remembering Schofields airfield

The station was still under expansion construction when the squadron arrived. The first memories are of being billeted in wooden huts with no doors, windows, or fly screens. Each man was issued with a mosquito net for his bed space, but I do not remember how we rigged them. I do vividly recall the unique experience of awakening in the morning, under the net, with a white frost on the airfield on several occasions. The frost disappeared by 0830 and we were in khaki shirts and shorts. The weather was sunny and clear, and we were all fascinated by the deep blue colour of the Blue Mountains, about 30 miles up the road.

There were other aeroplanes on the station; one of the 1700 series squadrons of Fireflies was there as was a R.A.A.F squadron of Wirraways which, we believed, were a soaped up Harvard. One of 1843 pilots crashed a Wirraway on an illicit flight, I think being killed.

VE Day came after we had been at Schofields about a week. We had had a week or so alongside in Sydney for runs ashore. On VE Day, we were given leave, and went into Sydney expecting a bit of a rave up.

We were bitterly disappointed. Sydney was closed by 1700. The following day, the newspapers reported that some members of the BPF congregated in Martin Place to celebrate, but were moved on by Police. Everyone drifted back to Central station where it was found that there had been a sudden rail strike. We had all used the train from Blacktown station into the city.

A CPO rang the airfield to explain our predicament, and all manner of transport was sent to retrieve us. I returned on a 5 ton flat top truck, with no cover or sides or tailboard - on a night of frost. I was frozen stiff - so much for VE Day celebrations (Wait until VJ Day!). There were nevertheless some celebrations at NABTHORPE, with a day off and a special menu especially dinner. I still have the menu.

There was no shortage of milk as there had been on board. All these things were important to a bunch of late teenagers! The Aussie beer took a lot of getting used to, being all lager type (according to Jack, un-adulterated horse piss!). Our last beer venue had been Eglinton where there was no shortage of our favourite tipple, Guinness porter, so the change to Aussie beer - in ridiculously small glasses - was an awful contrast.

T After a month at Schofields, the Squadron again moved, this time to MONAB 6 at Maryborough in Queensland.

 

Maurice Ayling