Extract from 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 V, RNAS Jervis Bay.

 22nd July - 13th August 1845

 

 

...We disembarked at Jervis Bay south of Sydney and had our first sight of Australia other than from the sea. We looked with interest at the scattered village we passed through going from the shore to the camp. When nightfall came we stared at street and house lighting amongst strange vegetation of gum and eucalyptus trees, where the leaves stayed on and the bark came off. The bush crowded around the airfield where we checked in the aircraft. There were lights everywhere. We had had years of blackout.

 

The sleeping quarters were simple corrugated iron huts after the relative comfort of Ceylon, but the food, in freshness and quantity, was unbelievable after rationed Britain and the iron tight rations in the Navy. I could not get over the fruit juices and fruit which were available as and when wanted. By night the warm day was replaced by clear star bright nights which, as time passed the air cooled and became frosty. We felt that this is what peacetime, with no blackout and food galore, must be like. We felt we were in an American Californian film especially when we heard the distant Yankee like wail of a train passing Jervis Bay.

 

One incident sums up Australia to me and it is a warm recollection. After the afternoon tea break at the PO’s Mess on the day we landed I was walking past the Guardhouse to pick up my gear landed from ship when a voice of an old acquaintance from my UK RAF Airfield days called out “ Hey Jock What are you doing here?” “Just landed from the Carrier this afternoon” I replied with a grin to which he said “Can’t stop' Want to go to a dance tonight. Be here 6’oclock and we’ll swap news OK?”. He was attached to a MONAB that is Mobile Operational Naval Air Base.

 

I was there at the guardhouse, for the last dance I had been at was Greens Playhouse in Glasgow. I climbed into a lorry driven by a marine private with perhaps 8 or 10 other ratings. As we drove and chatted I looked out of the back of the lorry to the strange new countryside of dry dusty roads, dark green pasture with timber and wire fencing and corrugated and wood homesteads and I jumped as we clattered across a loosely timbered wooden bridge over a dry creek. "You’ll get used to these Jock - we’ve plenty to cross”. “How far away is the dance” I asked, “Sixty miles” was the reply to which I began to realise the size and distances of settlement in NSW. We eventually pulled up on the Main Street of a dusty straggling township, well inland from the sea and got out and stood in No 1 Naval uniform to the puzzled stares of some local townsfolk.

 

“Where’s the dance?” said a seaman to the nearest local. “You’re a week out. There’s no dance until next week” We stared at each other in dismay, then sighed - for in the Navy you counted on nothing, unless it had happened. “Hey, there’s a dance at------” and he named another town. I can’t remember the name of the place but it sounded something like ‘Woolumba gee’! “Lets go, its only 40 or so miles away” said a matelot. “Wait a minute” said the marine driver” My Sheila’s here. I’m not going there”. “There’s a train through here stopping there in 20 minutes” commented our Aussie friend and the marine agreed to pick us up there at 4am! A group of locals led us to the station and explained to the train driver and guard of our situation. They refused to take money from poor Pommy sailors and we boarded the train which stopped at “W” where an incredulous population looked at this strange invasion of sailors in the depth of the NSW bush but welcomed us with open arms.

 

We had a whale of a night and I danced with ages from 8 to 80. The second dance they told us would not be known to us for this area had had an influx of immigrants from Northern Ireland and they announced a “Gypsy Tap Step” to which we grinned and said no bother, we learned it at Donagadee in County Down when we were waiting to join the Vengeance. At the end of the dance the whole town/ village waited with us at the crossroads under the clear brilliant cold southern sky until the marine picked us up and we drove the 70-80 miles back to Jervis Bay in time for breakfast and a day of flying exercises.

 

We were granted a weeks leave in Sydney and boarded the train decked out in our No 1’s with a hand held steamer bag with clean clothes etc. At sea you were not given your full pay when you marched forward to the desk with the Writer with his Squadron Pay book and the officiating Paymaster. You held your hat with your open Identity/Pay book on top and the cash was counted out onto the hat and your Pay book marked. None of us ever worked out how much we should have got with basic pay, acting rating, clothes allowance, sea and ‘Hard Lying Allowance’ for eastern service etc. less money paid home to dependants. We just took what was set in the hat, saluted and pocketed the cash. There was little to spend money on aboard for we had our rum ration our ‘tickler’ [tobacco] allowance in either 1/2 lb. tins of shag to roll for a cigarette, or whole leaves to soak in rum and lashup with fine cord in linen to make what was called ‘Pursers Prick’ for pipe smoking.

 

There was a NAAFI but there was precious little to buy other than tea and stale biscuits unless we had been into port for fresh supplies. So I was taken aback when we were issued with back pay and I had the unbelievable sum of over 20 Aussie before boarding the train. A seaman was paid 2/6 [12 new pence]. On the train the some of the matelots started to play cards and as I watched in a few minutes one of them gambled all his back pay. I got such a shock that I never played cards again for years.

Sydney was like a dream. It was like life in an American film, which was the 'wider world' of young people known only through the cinema. It was the "Bright Lights", plenty of food, fresh fruits, girls in light dresses in the sun, swimming in Bondi Beach. The Aussies were marvellous and very welcoming with Servicemen's clubs with free grub and invitations to spend our few days leave with local families or on outback farms and so on.


I felt that I should see the city with its parks Zoo, Botanical gardens and the night life at the dance halls where we met, unbelievable to us after the Med. and India, white girls to dance with and talk and forget the bleak sea days. I spent some of my pay on smart untanned boots and light cotton trousers and enjoyed Sydney and the taste of forgotten peace time. Too soon we were back to Jervis Bay, for a week or so while the Vengeance was fitted out in Sydney.


I do recall wakening up in the corrugated iron huts in the camp, bewildered that I thought I heard a drunken woman cackling outside, until I realised it was a Kookaburra Bird. That morning the 'buzz' [rumour] that an atom bomb had been dropped in Japan. We didn't pay much attention for flying went on and we re-embarked soon after and sailed north.

 

Charles Davidson

 

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