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 Nabbington 16th July - 24th October 1945

 

 

We had been given to understand that the airfield at Nowra was near a town. By Australian standards of distance, it probably was, but it was nevertheless several miles, and not much of a town. The main attraction seemed to be "The Bridge" hotel, famous for its very accommodating barmaid, cum manageress, who was reputed to have entertained a whole platoon of Royal Marines one evening. We did not spend much time in the town as, when we had leave, we took the train to Sydney.

The facilities for both men and machines were the best we had yet encountered. Our huts were complete, and there were messes with the expected facilities. We had a hangar, and there was a building for the squadron Armoury, in which we had electric light but not power. 1843 was to re-equip with the latest FGA Corsair which had gyro gun sights as opposed to the reflector sights of previous marks.

 

here had been problems with the electrical unit which operated the firing pin sear of the 0.5" Browning guns. It was adjustable by turning a disc which governed the protrusion of the sear trigger. This unit vibrated out of adjustment when the gun fired, and I was given the task of soldering a tab on to the adjuster and drilling holes in the corners of the units so that they could be lock-wired. As there was no power in the armoury, I was given petrol driven generator by the MONAB to provide power for a hand held drill, which was a pretty elaborate way of drilling a 3/32" hole. The corners of the units were rounded, which made the use of a hand held drill very awkward and I am afraid I broke a lot of drills, there were four holes per unit, six units per aeroplane, and 24 aeroplanes.

 

There was a great amount of flying to work up the new equipment in the FGA role, although the pilots had been well used to FGA work hitherto. There was also ADDLs (Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings) morning and evenings. One of the hazards was the wallabies which warmed their bums on the tarmac after sundown on the ends of the runways near the bush in which they lived. They had to be chased off night after night.  Rabbits lived in the surrounding countryside in their thousands, especially on the hill behind the airfield. One of our recreations was to go rabbiting with a piece of wood to knock them over, which was quite easy to do. We supplemented our rations by making rabbit stew over a fire made in a 10 gallon oil drum outside the hut. Some chaps went into the pelt curing business, salting them and hanging them to dry in the sun. One P.O. took a couple of dozen pelts home with him. There was also a fruit vendor with a stall on the main camp road, but we were horrified to have to pay four Aussie pence for an apple.  The junior ratings huts had corrugated iron sides and the duty P.O. could encourage the morning turn out by running along the side of the hut with a stick along the corrugations. It sounded like a machine gun inside!

 

It was here that I met up with one Horace Faulkner, who had been in my form at Midhurst Grammar School, and who was now a P.O. Radio Mechanic - small world.  I do not remember if he was on a squadron or the MONAB, but from the rig he is wearing in my photo it was probably the latter.

 

Hitherto, there had been 'wings' of aeroplanes, but there was now the new concept of the Carrier Air Group (GAG). The first and second GAGs had already formed and gone to sea; participating in the final push on Japan, during which the MONABs were to progress through the islands.  Our former CO, Major Nelson-Gracie, had been promoted to Lt. Col. and had command of the 2nd GAG of two Corsair and one Avenger squadrons. 1843, 1845, Corsairs, and 854 Avenger squadrons were to form the 3rd CAG under Cdr. Luard.  Hardly had this taken place and the CAG stood by to re-embark, than the two atomic bombs were dropped, so that was the end of that little caper, and the pace of life slowed a little. When the Japanese surrender was announced, a chaotic period ensued. I can recall no official sanction of leave, but MONAB and Squadrons alike just disappeared to Sydney, 100 miles up the line.

 

Trains were crowded and the road was littered with hitch hikers. Unlike the miserable turn out for VE Day VJ (or VP as we called it) was a riot. The centre of the city was jammed with people like London on VE Day. The celebrations went on for several days in which the Nowra mob participated until their money ran out when they drifted back to base. Although most had been AWOL, there were no recriminations, and life gradually returned to normal, and a reduced flying programme resumed.  

 

During one FGA practice sortie 1843 suffered its final loss when Sub Lt. Kennett spread his aeroplane and himself over several acres of bush, leaving a young widow in the USA. This was all the more tragic because, shortly afterwards we had instructions to remove all the British gyro gunfights and G45 Camera guns from our aeroplanes, but otherwise make them all serviceable to fly. They were then flown onto carriers off the NSW coast, vacated by the pilots, and catapulted into the sea. Such was the fate of "Lease Lend" equipment. It was heartbreaking, as none of 1843's aeroplanes had more than ten hours flying time. All the ground equipment was left in a tidy heap in the hangar.

 

During the final week of October, the whole of the personnel of 1843 at least, embarked in the SS "Strathenden", a P&0 liner trooper on her first post war disarmed voyage, for the UK. There may well have been some of the other squadron chaps with us, and, perhaps, some of the MONAB, as that unit, I believe, disbanded in early November.


MONAB I was able to give us full support, probably because it was well established and kitted out to support Corsairs and Avengers well before we joined it, as was the air station itself.

It might be worth mentioning the feeling when the war ended. It was a curious mixture of relief and disappointment. Relief that we were not going to experience the Kamikaze attacks that were in vogue at the time, but disappointment that all our hard graft to work up a very good squadron had been for nothing. We really had been raring to go. It was a terrible let down.

As with all Nowra personnel, I had two seven day leaves while there. In Hyde Park in Sydney was a large temporary building called "The British Centre", which provided sleeping accommodation, canteen facilities, and Australian hospitality.

 

 There, I took the offer of a stay with a family in Goulbourn, NSW, a wool centre. The hospitality was overwhelming. During this leave, while the war was still on, I was taken to a wool grading centre and a demonstration in a warehouse, after which we were invited to 'have a go'. One thrust one's fingers into a bale of wool, extracted some fibres, and held them up to the light in extended fingers. The demonstrator told me that my hands were ideal for the job, and offered me one on the spot! When I explained that I would have to desert to take up his offer, he said "No problem, sport, we can fix that for you". He was quite miffed when I refused to even consider it!

 

The second leave was after VJ Day. The British centre found me a farming family at Gilmore, near Tumut in the Gilmore valley over the back of the Capital Territory, and about 12 hours by train over the Blue Mts. During this leave, the local postmaster, Mr. Brown, lent me and the chap with me, a fishing rod each for a day's fishing on the Tumut River. It was idyllic, just miles of countryside with only cattle here and there for company. (The reader must understand that I am a Sussex yokel from the back of beyond). Our only catch was my yabbie, a small fresh water cray, which I put back. However, we saw two platypuses, one diving into the river from the bank so that we had a perfect plan view of it, the other swimming up stream. On our return to Mr. Brown's post office, we expressed disappointment at catching nothing worth while, but casually mentioned the platypus. Mr. Brown, and Co. would not at first believe us, but' after a detailed description of what we had seen, Mr. Brown said 'Jeez! I have been living here for forty years and have never yet seen a bleedin' plat, but you two Pommie bastards come here once in a lifetime and see two in one bloody day!". Neighbours of his in the little village of Gilmore were equally astonished.

 

On my return to UK, my grandfather, a keen fisher of the Arun, said "That beats all the fishing stories I've ever heard!"

 


Maurice Ayling

 

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