The reminiscences of Aircraft Mechanic (L) Sydney J Smith L/FX 586531.

Syd joined HMS Nabthorpe at Ludham and remained with the unit until he joined the carrier HMS Implacable before she sailed from Sydney to repatriate former POWs to Vancouver, Canada.

 

 

After volunteering earlier in the war, I was finally drafted to HMS Gosling Warrington on July 12th 1943: as a very innocent eighteen year old! This consisted of the basics of arms drill marching etc, in which former home guard training came in very handy. My foremost memory was the struggle to tie a decent hat ribbon bow & getting a right rollicking & showing up for struggling to climb the ropes in the gym! “You’d climb the f****ing rope quick enough if the ship was sinking” was the encouragement I got. “So f***ing well climb it now” from a purple faced P T instructor. Suffice to say I can still shin up a rope today at 80 yrs old!

 

During Sept1943 -Feb 1944 I was sent to HMS ‘Daedalus’, RAF Henlow 14SoT (School of Technical Training). It was mid winter and we were billeted in nisson huts in a muddy field about 1 mile from the main camp, with no hot water & primitive toilets. Every dark morning we had to form up into a single file column to trek to the main camp, the front man carrying a white storm lantern,& the rear one carrying a red one - generally to the strains of Hi ‘Ho off to work we go’. Down the country lane, past the Airman pub (which I believe is still there) to the main camp for breakfast, while carrying all our books, eating irons, shaving tackle etc. And the performance repeated when we returned after the day’s instructions & tea. For recreation, there was a camp cinema down in Henlow, a long walk after a busy day, also outings to Hitchin & Shefford by local bus services on a weekend.

 

After passing out as AM(L)2 I was posted to 776 Naval Air Squadron at Speke, Liverpool, part of HMS Blackcap, this was luxury after Henlow, with meals in the main terminal building. I was later seconded to the C-in-C Western Approaches Flight, a De Havilland Dominie aircraft in which I had my first ever flight, followed by various trips to the Isle of Man & to Belfast. However it was too good to last!


 

On October 22nd 1944 I was posted to Ludham, HMS Flycatcher, for MONAB 3. What a dump. We were billeted in tents, in the flat, bare and desolate countryside, enduring snow, rain, and hail. We were miles from anywhere except for vast hangers stacked with MONAB stores labelled SYDNEY; it was the only posting where I never went 'ashore!. Finally one cold wet night in December we were roused and told to pack our kit before we were taken to join a train.

 

Myself and a few others ended up in a bare cattle truck, but eventually some caring officer took pity on us and we got moved to a carriage compartment. It was a long weary journey that finally ended at Lime St station Liverpool, from where we were then taken by lorry to the docks and our first sight of the Troop Ship MV Athlone Castle.

 

On boarding we were allocated hammocks deep below decks; however when a PO came around asking for volunteers for guns crew yours truly jumped at the offer, and what a good move it turned out to be. I was assigned to an Oerlikon gun in a raised rotunda beside the funnel starboard side, rather noisy with the fans going, but what a great place for a viewpoint of everything, including the Wrens on board.

Although we had to work watches of course, this was a pleasure rather than a chore, both during the day & through the warm tropical nights. Being guns crew we were allocated a large cabin on the top deck with an open deck on its roof, again an ideal viewpoint & lounging area when off duty.

 

I vaguely remember travelling in convoy as far as Freetown then left on our own to Panama & Sydney, having a slight breakdown which made for an exciting practice session for training all guns on board. We arrived in Sydney Feb '44. What a lovely sight, blue skies, blue sea. I remember the brightly coloured cars after the dull black & grey ones back home.

 

 

Then on to Schofields, HMS Nabthorpe, others have had far more interesting things than I can add, but I fully endorse the huts with no doors, and the mosquito nets, plus I recall the panic stations when we awoke one morning to find a large green praying mantis sat at the foot of the bed of a non to happy rating!

 

However things improved as time went on, the local people were very kind & hospitable; I spent many a leave with a local family in Bankstown, (a Mrs Carney, 30 Market St.). The British Centre in Sydney was great for short breaks, and I saw Gracie Fields when she came to entertain. My time at Nabthorpe can only be described as rather mundane, aircraft servicing, hangar erection etc, although I did learn how to mend watches through working with & watching our instrument man 'Doc' Watson.

 

As I was a former cinema projectionist, I was posted on a refresher course at one of the large cinemas in Sydney (I can't recall the name only that it had a roof that opened to the stars on the warm southern nights After a week of being almost a civilian I joined HMS Implacable, which was then being fitted out with bunks throughout the hangars in preparation to bring home ex prisoners of the Japanese.

Along with an AM (Doug} and a leading hand we brought into operation a mobile projection room,(a large metal box) with a large stock of years gone by newsreels to give the ex POWs a little idea of what had been happening in the outside world. This mobile cinema can just be seen in the forward lift in the picture of Implacable entering Vancouver, and was lifted on deck in the evenings with the screen fixed on the island.

 

Leaving Sydney we travelled up the Australian coast, inside the barrier reef, with the linesman 'swinging the lead' & presenting me with a piece of the bottom of the Torres Strait! Then it was on to Wewak (Papia New Guinea), Balikpapan (Borneo), Manila (Philippines), and Hong Kong to pick up the recently liberated ex POWs. What is there to say? Knowing the barbaric way they had been treated, then seeing them come aboard on the first step of their journey home. Many friendships were made, and I'm sure with the aid of the crew and the nurses on board, they were helped on their way back to a normal life.

 

At first we thought we were taking them home to UK but instead ended up in Vancouver for them to complete their journey by train & ship. We certainly created a lot of interest in Vancouver as you can see from the news paper clippings, there was a little 'souvenir' nicking but I don't think it was as bad as the newspapers made out

 

Then it was back to Sydney via Pearl Harbour & Honolulu; one of my memories of Hawaii involved me starting to cross the main street in Honolulu and being grabbed from behind by a massive 6-foot -6 cop with a gun like Dirty Harry who told me “hey bud, we cross at the intersections here!”

On arriving back at Sydney I was posted to Golden Hind and then to HMS Nabberley before joining the troop ship MV Stirling Castle for the journey home via Perth, Aden, and Suez, to Southampton, & then on to HMS Daedalus at Lee-On-Solent, with final discharge in July '46.

 

What memories, good & bad for an eighteen year old, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! And all done without Health & Safety, Human Rights, & Counselling jobsworths. However did we manage !!!!

 

Sydney Smith

 

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