The reminiscences of FX587881 A.M. (A) George Pickering.

George served with Maintenance, Storage & Repair Unit No.4 (MSR 4) on Ponam.

 

 

After joining the Fleet Air Arm and completing my courses and training at HMS Gosling, myself and 30 ratings were posted on loan to RAF Coloerne (Nr Bath) in January 1944. This, we realised later, was to assist the RAF with operations for the D-Day landings.

 

In November of 1944 we returned to HMS Gosling, Warrington, for overseas postings. There were 90 of us ratings, each of us was issued with Army webbing and clothing for cold and wet situations. We were then sent on 14 days leave. Upon returning from leave we were confront with Admiral Fraser who informed us that our detonation had been changed and we were now going to the Aleutians, this news cheered us up a bit. Shortly after we went to Liverpool and boarded the S.S. Athelone Castle, the ship was full of New Zealand and Australian servicemen going home. We sailed from Liverpool on December 22nd 1944, heading for the Panama Canal, and then on to Australia, arriving in Sydney on January 25th.

 

Once off the ship we were sent straight to the airfield at Bankstown. This place was pretty empty and had little in the way of accommodation and facilities, but it began to fill up quickly as MONAB 2 began to move in. After about two weeks there a notice was posted on the camp notice board asking for 90 volunteers to form an advance party to go out to the Islands; nearer 200 names were supplied – my name was not included! The matter was eventually decided by outing three names from each letter of the alphabet into a hat, I came out as one of the ‘P’s.

 

 

The next day we boarded HMS Unicorn and sailed for the Islands, together with what seemed to be every British, American and Australian troop carrier and many other vessels of the fleet – I had never seen so many ships in my life! But by the next morning we were on our own, sailing up the east coast of Australia and on to the Island of Pityilu in the midst of a violent storm.  I don’t know what happened here; the Americans refused us permission to land. The captain of Unicorn had to contact Sydney for new instructions, we were to spend the night on board an old Chinese Junk style boat while Unicorn ailed off elsewhere; she returned the next morning and we were taken back on board for transport to Ponam. The captain of Unicorn addressed us and told us that we were to form the advance party of MONAB IV; and that from now on our address for post would be M.S.R. 4, HMS Nabaron.

 

Upon landing we were shown 8 Nissen style huts and told to ‘take our pick’, these had good bed spaces and wardrobes; these were to stop your clothes becoming mildewed.

We were met by four ‘top sergeants’ from the Seabees who had built the runway etc. After settling in and finding our whereabouts, which didn’t take long. We were given our duties – I was selected for Chief’s Messman, which was looking after our own Chief Petty Officers, 2 RAF sergeants and the 4 Americans, 13 SNCOs in all.

 

During this time Unicorn had been unloading stores and equipment, including 7 Corsairs and 6 Hellcats; I can’t remember if any of them were serviceable, besides, there was no petrol or ammunition on the station. We didn’t have any guns either; the duty guard had only a whistle in case of danger! During this period there was little to do, one aircraft was being striped by a crew of 8 men, whilst another 8 men put one back together.  

 

There was the occasional aircraft visit us but mainly because they had lost their bearings, one of these crashed, the pilot died from his injuries. Some of us were sent to remove oxygen bottles from aircraft because there was none in the stations sick bay. We sometimes sw the natives in side the coral reef for fishing, other times they were allowed ashore to bury their dead, we always had to stay clear from that end, and a guard was posted to make sure we did. We had a football pitch made from coral, there was a cinema, a church, and a proper sick bay. There were a few native huts but these were out of bounds.

 

I remember only seeing the Captain once, chiefs and petty officers very seldom; there was once chief who detailed the duty roster, he seemed to control the entire island, he was not a very nice man to get along with.

 

I had brought along a radio, one specially designed for the tropics, it was on almost all day listening to ‘the voice of the admiralties’ – it was through this that we heard about the atom bombs that were dropped on Japan. Just before this we were told all personnel would be allowed 10 days leave in Sydney, 30 at a time until all had been, flying there in a Dakota fitted out with seats.

 

I was on the first flight; first stop Port Moresby in New Guinea, fifteen minutes after leaving there the pilot came out and told us that the Japanese had surrendered. Next stop Townsville, Australia, we stayed overnight here, just the 30 of us in an old Australian Navy camp. The pubs appear to have been drunk dry, shops and cafes were closed so I went to the cinema. Off to Brisbane the next day, then on to Sydney. Not much of a leave, it took the Australians a week to open up again after VP day. We had a few good days, being shown around Manly, the Blue Mountains and Toranga Point etc

 

The flight back was nearly the same as that out; we arrived back at Ponam on September 1st to find that preparations were being made for some of us to leave. We (MSR 4) were picked up by Unicorn and taken to Brisbane, (MONAB VII); again the camp was nearly empty. Two or three days later, after Unicorn had left, we were told we were to be sent to join MONAB IX at Singapore, and we were to board the S.S. Stratheden for passage.

 

New orders came through whilst at sea, we were ordered home! First stop Bombay were I had my 21st Birthday, through the Suez Canal and on to Liverpool. We docked just in time for Christmas 1945. After Christmas it was back to HMS Gosling to await demob.

 

We went to Wellington (Shropshire) for demobilisation June 1st 1946 – due to be out by Nov-Dec 1946. My duties were in the guard room, this was where the sailors would queue everyday to be signed off. I happened to see someone I knew and went off to have a chat with him – he was in the queue for demob. I was ordered by the PO to stop chattering and get back in line. I tried to tell him that I was just off duty but he would not listen. I got closer to the door where the Captain was signing the demob papers. The PO just opened the door for me and pushed me in. Of course the Captain could not find my papers and ordered a Wren to go and get them. I tried explaining but he would not listen. The Wren came back with my papers and the Captain scribbled his signature right across them in red pencil DEMOBED 4TH JUNE 1946. So to all my friends who thought it was a joke I was on my way home! They eventually came out in November.

 

This is something that I have had a laugh about all these years.


George Pickering

 

 

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