The reminiscences of Leading Air Fitter (Ordinance) Kenneth Lowe.

Kenneth served with MONAB V at Jervis Bay and later at Nowra.

 

 

My journey to the assembly point for MONAB V was imprinted on my memory due, in the main to the 550 mile journey I had to make entirely on my own with kitbag/suitcase, hammock/toolbox and gasmask! To appreciate this, you need to know what travelling around our country in WW2 time was like. Standing was the order of the day, even if you boarded a train at its starting point. The seats would invariably be full of Service personnel usually brought to the station in Lorries and may have been there an hour already.

Timetables? Don’t laugh! The only one I saw was on the desk in the RTO’s room (Rail Transport Office – I think) which could be found on every mainline station. There was no such thing as a through journey, and I had to get off where I was told to get off and report to the RTO for further orders. This happened on numerous occasions and each time, Catfield was the name on the orders I had to produce, this was a station near Ludham.

 

We met Cmdr Masterman (a three ringer, whether he was ‘acting’ or not) and that was on board the ‘Stirling Castle’ (once we got clear of the dreaded Bay of Biscay) He addressed us all on the top deck, spelling out what was in store for us in the next two and a half years, the scheduled length of our commission. We took it all in because he pulled no punches from the outset. “Some of you won’t come back” be said and that was due to the fact that according to the Master Plan for MONABS we were to follow in the wake of the US Marines, as they fought their way north, island by island, in the Pacific. These islands, for the most part, had airstrips, and a MONAB would take over the running of the strip, whilst the next captured island would be serviced by a follow up MONAB, then where and if necessary a ‘leap frogging’ routine, as battles were fought and won, on the way to Japan itself. We were told that 10 MONABs would, as planned, be in operation. This technique seemed practical and feasible to even the youngest amongst us (I was 21) as MONAB V was, in effect, an airbase ship’s company albeit a small one. Apart from the obvious aircraft maintenance crews, we had stokers, seaman branch sailors, cooks (obviously), bunting tossers, etc just as an established base would require.

 

Anyway, as I said, CDR Masterman was the only senior officer I ever saw during my MONAB service (it lasted incidentally approx 18 months). The day to day work for us, was under the control of a Lt (New Zealand Navy) out on the airfield, and there wasn’t much time for the kind of ceremonials when the Captain was expected to appear – thank goodness.

 

After HMS Nabswick was de-commissioned or ‘paid off’ which ever is right, we were all sent to ‘Warwick Farm’ a naval barracks in the suburbs of Sydney. It was previously a racecourse and next to a prison camp with its watchtowers, manned and very prominent. This protracted period added to my already waning desire for a service career and convinced me beyond doubt that a life in the navy was not for me. I regarded it, not without regret, but as valuable experience and more mundanely, to be able to say that I had travelled around the world (technically at least as it was a westward/south westward journey of 26.000 miles) before my 23rd birthday

30 years later, having long ago put all that behind me I worked in and around islands in the South Pacific and was there for some time before I was suddenly aware of the link between ‘then and now’ (1976). It was rather sobering and make me realise even more than in 1945 how truly luck I was back then.

 

There were abandoned American dock workings, ships and paraphernalia, rusty but easily recognisable, plus numerous enemy aircraft here and there;  most poignant of all, my colleagues and I walked into a small forest of trees.  Beneath these was not undergrowth, as one would expect, but cracked and crumbling concrete.  Whist everyone else was enjoying the experience of walking along a Japanese built airstrip, from WW2, my emotions were quite different. Had things not changed, this was the kind of place where I and the rest of the MONAB V would have been working with goodness knows who lurking nearby waiting for an opportunity to come out of hiding and strike a blow for the Emperor! I lived through those long-forgotten sighs of relief, all over again.


Kenneth Lowe

 

  1999 - 2011 www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk

 

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