Extract from the reminiscences of Writer E.C. 'Mac' McCarthy - DM/X 720699.

 

'Mac' served with MONAB 8, .HMS Nabcatcher, working in the Captain's Office. He was one of the first ratings to arrive at Middle Wallop for MONAB 8; He returned home to the U.K. in August 1946.

 

 

HMS 'DRAKE' Devonport, April 1945: The war in Europe is over. Drafts leave daily for British Naval Parties in Germany. Two 18 year olds, straight from school into the Navy and newly trained as writers, decide to request a draft to a foreign-going ship. Three days later, request approved, they are handed a draft saying HMS 'FLYCATCHER' (for MONAB VIII) Middle Wallop, Hants. Querying this, they are assured that they will be in the Pacific 'long before you can draw your tot'.


My 'oppo' Denis Horgan from Killarney and I arrive at 'FLYCATCHER' to meet Lieutenant Mahoney. For two days we three Irishmen are the Ship's Company of MONAB VIII. After that, we receive a daily draft of ratings, nearly all H.O.'s with only the occasional regular. No-one knows what a MONAB is. The 'buzz' grows that we are to establish emergency landing grounds on islands in the Pacific. The issue of khaki battledress and talks on Sten guns and unarmed combat are quoted as proof but one look at the crew convinces us that we are no commandos.


Some of the older ratings who have served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean are not keen. They tell us that they have done their share and the Japanese should be left to the Americans. Tents and field equipment arrive. The Admiralty advise that sea transport is scheduled for July. Captain Surtees, ex-NAIRANA and Russian convoys, decides that there is time for a 'dry run'. Half the crew set off with tents and kit to set up camp a few miles away. Two days later we are back at 'FLYCATCHER' after the shortest working-up time ever. The Captain tells the Admiralty that training in the UK is complete and the Ship's Company is ready for despatch. Acknowledgement includes a firm sailing date in July.
The Captain clears lower deck and tells us we will soon be leaving for the Pacific where he intends that we will play an active part against the Japanese. He then says that we are all to be given 14 days embarkation leave and this is received with more enthusiasm.

 

At the end of June we are all back at 'FLYCATCHER' and left for Liverpool and our transport.  Our troop ship is the RMS 'MALOJA', 22000 tons, she was once a luxury liner. Cabins for the officers and hammocks for everyone else. A small RAF contingent on board protest and is ignored. The Navy accept it as normal. We leave on July 7th. The voyage out is routine until after we leave Colombo. On August 15th we receive two signals (now held at the FAA Museum at RNAS Yeovilton).

The first read:
'HM Government has announced that the Japanese have surrendered. All offensive operations are therefore to cease forthwith. Attacks by individual enemy units may continue for some time to come and defences should be maintained.'
 

The second read:
'Splice the Mainbrace'.

 

The Captain decides to celebrate by firing, for the first time, the 6 inch gun mounted on a platform aft. The gun fires and the platform split from side to side. The next day at 86 degrees east, we hold a 'Crossing the Line' ceremony.

Morale is mixed. The older HO ratings think we should turn around and go home. The younger ones think it is still an adventure. The regulars are indifferent.
On to Fremantle and our first proper run ashore. We find a pub with wooden swing doors and wooden floors like a Wild West saloon. We learn that beer comes in schooners, is very cold, is not very strong and that pubs open from 6am to 6pm. After two days we leave for Sydney.

 

Here we disembark and move a few miles out to Warwick Race Course. The highlight of Sydney is the Red Cross Club where steak and chips cost 4p and fresh pineapple and cream 2p. After five years of rationing this is the place to be. We have doubts after an invitation to stay on in the Club for a dance. We leave for our bus to meet a crowd of Australian solders who tell us loudly and physically to `leave our Sheila's alone'. No-one goes a second time.

 

Captain Surtees re-joins us. We are told that he has flown out from the UK in a stripped-down Lancaster bomber in the record time of 66 hours.

 

Leaving our tents at Warwick Race Course we board HMS 'SLINGER', an escort carrier, now part of the Fleet Train. We leave Sydney on September 9th. The `buzz' is that we are off to the Philippines where we are told that a Fleet is assembling for the invasion of Hong Kong on October 1st. This is the first time that we have been told of our destination and we are also told that the Japanese in Hong Kong have not yet surrendered.

 

We take on more stores at Brisbane and continue northwards. Shortly after we hear that the Japanese in Hong Kong surrendered on September 16th. In early October we arrive in Hong Kong after refuelling in Mindanao Bay in the Philippines. We start unloading in Kowloon but a few days later we are ordered to sea to avoid a typhoon. Only a skeleton crew is left ashore at Kai Tak airfield where the stores are being stacked. At sea we sail into the typhoon and have five very rough days at sea. A weary crew returns to Hong Kong and unloads the rest of the stores.

 

The next inspection, at the request of the Administration, is by a party of Chinese Nationalist Generals. This is evidently a courtesy visit and they are polite and non-committal. We wonder if they regret not occupying the airfield themselves. In all of these inspections, the Marines and a few ratings parade whilst the rest of us are told to carry on as usual.

 

In December, Captain Surtees leaves and the Commander takes temporary charge. The camp is now well established. Chinese cooks and laundry men, claiming pre-war naval experience, are employed. The Navy reverts to the pre-war system of victualling through Chinese middlemen (Compradores) and the food starts to improve. There is little work for the Japanese prisoners and they spend most of their time in camp awaiting deportation.

 

At the end of December, instructions come from London to begin drafts for demobilisation. Priority is decided by age and length of service and the first party is soon away. From then on every ship returning to the UK carries 10-20 men for demob. Few replacements arrive. Over the next few months the crew steadily decreases. The average age drops to between 20-21 with two years' service.


One officer, RNVR, due for repatriation in January, postpones his draft for three months after he hears that there is a shortage of gin in the UK.
An amateur artist in the crew produces a ship's badge. It shows a seagull hovering over the sea with a shore line (Kai Tak) in the background. One opinion is that it shows the Navy can s**t on you at any time. Another is that a 'shitehawk' is a fitting emblem for this Fred Karno outfit. I don't think it is officially adopted...


As 1946 gets under way most of the ship's company is concerned about the date of their demob and their future jobs. The airfield is not busy although visiting FAA aircraft arrive from time to time. The unit is obviously being run down. The majority of the crew are passing the time waiting to go home.


Commander Walters RN arrives in April to take over command. Most of our officers are now RN who talk about `pulling the Navy back into shape'. When my draft comes up in August, the ship's company has halved. We leave on an escort carrier 'STRIKER' (?) and the voyage home is uneventful. We stop in Colombo and load about 12 American lend-lease planes and their spare engines, all in wooden cases. Unwanted by the US, we stop about 20 miles out to sea and push them over board. I expect they are still there. The Captain announces that, as he hasn't seen his wife for two years, there will be no stops apart from refueling and no shore leave.

 

My overall recollection of' ‘NABCATCHER' is that its start, coinciding with the end of the war in Europe, meant that many ratings with several years’ service had no desire to serve in the Pacific. The surrender of the Japanese before we arrived in the area added to their belief that the operation was pointless. I think for a short while we did serve a useful purpose at Kai Tak but the lack of information from the start and three captains in six months gave the air of a stop-gap outfit. Whilst everyone pulled together for the first three months in Hong Kong, the start of repatriation for demob meant that most of the crew was focused on life outside the Navy. However, for the younger ratings it was exciting and an adventure in parts of the world we would not see again. I enjoyed it.

 

HMS 'DRAKE' - January 7th 1947: I am told to report at 11am for transport to Portsmouth for demob. As I walk past the bus to hand in my station card at the Watch Office an officer says 'If you are going to Portsmouth, get on the bus.' I leave 'DRAKE' with my station card in my pocket. I wonder, if somewhere in the Devonport records, I am marked down as 'RUN'?



E.C. McCarthy

 

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