The reminiscences of Leading Air Fitter (Engines) Geoff
Williams, formerly with M.R. 1 attached to MONAB I.
Geoff was drafted to R.N.A.E Risley to join the first Mobile
Repair unit to be assembled in February 1945. He remained with this
unit until returning to the UK in December 1945 after the unit was
disbanded at RNAS Nowra.
Early February 1945, at
H.M.S. Waxwmg, I was one of a group of some 20+ fitters and
mechanics who received a foreign draft to M.R.1, an unheard of unit.
We travelled to H.M.S. Gosling camp 3 and joined others to complete
the unit and to be instructed of our duties. We had the usual
medical, documentation, injections etc. and were then issued with
our new uniform, - khaki battledress.
Three weeks later we
were put on a train to Seaforth Station Liverpool, marched to
Gladstone Dock and joined the Canadian Pacific Liner "Empress of
Scotland" for a journey to Sydney, Australia.
My boarding card tells me I was on E
deck, no.2 section; I was no. 156 and 3rd sitting for meals. E deck
was below the waterline, illuminated by electric lights and
completely devoid of fresh air. Bunk beds 4 tiers high dominated the
deck with some 3ft between bunks, side by side, and 5ft, head to
feet, this being the main gangway to traverse the deck and get to
your bed space. We lived out of our steaming bags. Fresh and stale
cigarette smoke hung in a blue and yellow cloud polluting the
atmosphere, while the temperature soared into the 90s and, in the
tropics, into the 100s. Conditions, to say the least, could have
With having no duties to perform,
routine and boredom had to be battled against. A typical day's
routine would be; Reveille 6.30 a.m. Ablutions 7.00 a.m. - 7.30 a.m.
when we had a supply of fresh water, (and again from 4.00pm. -
4.30pm.). Queue for breakfast return to mess and prepare for daily
boat stations. Boat stations could last for anything up to 2 hours,
and then we would retire to the canteen for "stand easy". Find a
sheltered spot and play solo whist or nap until it was time to queue
During the afternoon, Tombola would be
played and there would be a film show in the cinema or we would
continue our card school. We may even take a salt-water shower with
the salt-water soap with which we were issued. Queue for supper and
then to the casino (sorry-canteen). The canteen was one great
gambling den. Everywhere were schools of poker, pontoon, banker and
crown and anchor, with money changing hands as if there were no
tomorrow. Gambling was completely "out of bounds" but who cared?
Then retire to your bunk and await a new day but the old routine.
Food was not of good quality or quantity with plenty of
reconstituted dried egg, dried meat and dried potatoes with little
variation. But we survived! Approaching the Panama Canal we met a
badly damaged American destroyer on its way home, with numerous
"rising suns" painted on the smokestack. We gave them a cheer and
they responded and we wished them "good luck".
Exiting the canal at Balboa, we gazed
at the illuminations along the coast, forgetting that Panama was
neutral, and failing to realize that we were silhouetted against
this backdrop and a sitting duck for any lurking submarine. At this
time I met LAF (E) Ron Collacott at the dinner table. 'We worked as
office boys in the same office at a chemical factory before the war,
and were good friends. During the whole of the voyage that was the
only time we met, an indication as to the number of troops on board.
After 2 more weeks we arrived at Sydney
on the 9th April, disembarked on the 10th April and headed to H.M.S.
Nabbington to begin our tasks.
Unfortunately H.M.S. Nabbington wasn't
ready for us.
Because of heavy rains and air traffic
the runways required re-laying and air activities were transferred
to the Jervis Bay airstrip, so there were no aircraft to service or
Living quarters were very basic. Long Nissen type blocks each
containing some 40 ratings and having 4 tables and 8 forms. Concrete
floors, which, when swept, deposited clouds of cement dust
everywhere, and that was it! We lived out of kitbags. One of the
first jobs we did was to make wooden shelves to fix over beds to put
photographs and small personal items on. We worked on the inside of
the cinema fixing a stage, put a fence around the football pitch, in
fact anything to keep idle hands busy until we could resume our
We began to receive aircraft in mid
April so we were back in the business for which we were trained. The
C.C.C. (civilian construction corps) was still erecting living
quarters, laying ditches for drainage and other construction work.
In the evenings they organised "two-up" schools which were ''out of
bounds" to us, but we would go across anyway. The "heads" and
ablution blocks were very primitive. Two lines of open plan toilets,
with only a newspaper to hide ones embarrassment, but modesty soon
disappeared. It was the same at the showers.
Considering the amount of air activity,
our safety record stood up well. We lost an Avenger, which turned
upside down on landing; a Corsair, which lost part of its
undercarriage on landing, and a Wildcat, which burst into flames on
take off. Fortunately not one crewmember was seriously injured. We
did suffer a fatality when a Corsair crashed in the bush and burst
into flames. When the rescue party arrived on the scene it had a
hopeless task. And this in the last week of the war.
The people of Nowra warmed to us and we
received invites to social events, dances and into their homes for
evenings, weekends or longer. Many friendships developed, Our V.E.
celebrations included inviting them to an “open house” and many
families and children, enjoyed our hospitality.
We were given 14 days leave and LAF (A)
Les Samson and I had a few days in Melbourne during the victory
celebrations, before visiting Canberra and returning to Sydney and
the wonderful beaches.
With the dropping of the atomic bombs
and subsequent cease-fire, we had the painful task of servicing
aircraft only for them to be flown to an aircraft carrier off Sydney
and pushed over the side into the Pacific Ocean . They were American
aircraft and "lease lend" was now over and they didn't want them
During October we were given the good
news that we would be leaving shortly and on the 4th November we
bearded the R.M.S. Andes for our journey home. Conditions were very
much better. We were above the waterline with portholes and much
more space, better food, constant fresh water, more entertainment,
far fewer restrictions and even duties to perform, mine being
corridor patrol on the civilian deck. Our voyage home took us to
Fremantle, where we had a day ashore, then to Bombay, where we had
two days ashore, through the Suez Canal with the bum boats offering
their wares of baubles' bangles and beads, before passing the Rock
of Gibraltar and on to Southampton where we arrived on 4th December.
In Bombay we called at a C of E Mission
that invited us in for tea, cakes and a chat. While talking to the
priest he posed the question as to where we lived in Britain . When
I replied Runcom, he asked if I knew Cannon Perrin, the senior
clergyman in Runcom. This was a remarkable coincidence. On my draft
leave my fiancé and I decided to be married, but as we were under
age needed a special licence and it was Cannon Perrin who supplied
and signed the licence for us. It's a small world!
From Southampton we went to Daedalus 3
at Bedhampton and on to enjoy 14 days leave. On return from leave I
was posted to HMS Blackcap at Stretton. I couldn't have chosen
better for I lived only 10 miles from camp. Eventually I was granted
permanent week-end leave and L & PA and commuted from home until my
demob on 16th May and final discharge in June, --- I'd survived! It
was a good feeling.
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