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 1946.



I was drafted to Middle Wallop in Wiltshire to form up MONAB 8 which was, I believe, one of the last MONABs to be formed.

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 some one who knows.


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.


We then went directly to a place called Warwick Farm (Sydney) 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.


One point of interest is that the captain, (Capt. Surtees) 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.


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.


Les Dickinson


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