Extract from the reminiscences of Writer E.C. 'Mac' McCarthy -
'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
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
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
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'?