Today my Dad remembers a visit to Nazareth and describes Palestine unrest.

In short the whole of the Mediterranean area was volatile and only Britain had a strong naval and military presence.  The most volatile of the lot was Palestine an Arab country ruled by the British with a minority Jewish population who up to the end of the war had lived more or less peaceably with Arabs until now.

But the Jews had been promised a homeland of their own by Britain at the end of the first world war and now wanted that promise honoured.  There were Jews who were trying to obtain this peaceably but there were factions within Palestine who were wanting to see a country of their own created and were using terrorism to bring it about.  As a humble sailor I did not know the ins and outs of the Jewish movement only that there were three main groups the Haganah, the Irgunzweileumi and the Stern Gang.  All three were well armed and well supplied with arms and took every opportunity of attacking the Arabs.  Both sides at the same time took every opportunity to shoot at the British.

There was a major pipeline from the airfields in Iraq above ground passing through Jordan and Palestine to the oil installations at Haifa and this pipeline was subject to regularly being fractured by explosives.  Thus there was a strong British Naval presence in and around Haifa.

At any one time there were a number of British warships anchored in Haifa harbour.  They did not moor alongside as it was too risky and therefore all contact with the shore was by ship’s boat.

Our carrier came into Haifa and moored mainly to take on supplies but did not stay overnight as we were a prime target for an attack by the Jews.  The would swim out to an anchored ship and attach limpet mines to the bottom.  We had to maintain a motorboat continuously circling the ship to guard against this.

Collecting stores from the rock side was a hazard in itself.  For instance on one occasion we had to collect a supply of eggs several thousand of them.  They were delivered to the dockside by the Arab supplier in huge boxes.  A detail from our ship was put ashore and every egg had to be transferred to our own containers to ensure there were no bombs in the consignment whilst just beyond the fence there was a skirmish going on between Arabs and Jews with bullets flying.

On one visit to Haifa we were asked if we would like to go on a visit to Nazareth.  About a dozen of us were interested and we were given advice about defending ourselves by one of the officers. We were then issued with a rifle each and rounds of ammunition before setting off in a 3 ton lorry on the drive to Nazareth which took about one hour and was without incident.

Nazareth was an Arab town more of an overgrown village with just a few of the population sat about smoking and drinking coffee.  There were no amenities and the only place of any interest was the house which was said to be where Jesus lived as a child.  We were allowed to enter four at a time and descended some well worn steps into a cave like chamber not a bit commercialised as it probably is today.  The one incongruous thing in going into such  holy place was the fact that we each carried a loaded rifle for protection.

From there we were taken to the Sea of Galilee and to the town of Tiberias at the south end of the lake.  There were stationed a battalion of the 17/21 Lancers the Death and Glory Boys and given a meal.  The meal was served by black African servants in white robes and wearing red fezzes – a novel experience.

We returned to the ship at the end of the day handing in rifles and ammunition unused.

Today my Dad talks about aircraft carrier landing of planes aboard HMS Ocean.  It seems it was quite a dangerous activity.

batsman

Flying from a carrier at sea was a hazardous task for the pilot.  I have mentioned the take off but the riskier process was the return.  At the end of the flight the two (or more as the case might be) planes would descend to about 200 feet above sea level and fly up the starboard side in the same direction as the ship was travelling, proceed some 3-4 miles ahead and turn to the left until they were going in the opposite direction of the ship some 3-4 miles off the port side and almost disappear into the far distance beyond the ship which was now turning into the wind and increasing to maximum speed.

The flight deck was now completely clear of crew apart the Landing Control Officer or batsman who stood on the edge of the flight deck on the port side where he could be seen by the incoming pilot.  The batsman held in each hand a bat not unlike a ping pong bat which he used to signal the pilot.

The snag here was that the pilot who had to bring in and land with the nose up could not see over the engine and propeller.  The pilot had to look out of the cockpit sideways to the left to keep the batsman in view and yet in the last few yards of his approach to the flight deck the plane had to be flying straight towards the centre of the flight deck and to be at the right height above it.  He relied completely on the signals of the batsman to know the aircraft altitude.  The landing speed at this point meant that the Seafire was travelling at 80 mph.

The trick was to land nose up so that a hook below the tail wheel picked up on one of three cables stretched 6 inches high above the deck and one of which would operate hydraulically to stop the plane in 20 yards.  Various things could happen here.

Firstly if the pilot’s approach was wrong the batsman would wave the pilot off to do another circuit.  The plane would then be screaming down the length of the flight deck at zero feet on full throttle.

Alternatively if the hook caught one of the wires it could be torn out of the plane if the landing was too fast or was bouncing and the plane would got at a fast speed into a safety net across the flight deck.  This would have the same effect as the hook missing the arrestor wire completely.  Hitting the safety net could land the plane on its nose.

Sometimes I’ve seen the batsman jump for his life backwards off the flight deck when  a plane comes too near the edge.  Fortunately there was a safety net behind the batsman to stop him falling overboard.

Sometimes a plane’s wheel may collapse and the plane does a swift left or right turn and finish up over the edge of the flight deck and part way into the gun sponson just below.  Failing that the next stop is the sea.

Collapse of the right undercarriage leg would take the plane nose first into the ship’s island.  Either alternative (or collapse of both legs) could have serious consequences for the pilot.

Accidents like these were not infrequent.

Once the plane was down in one piece the pilot jumps out of the cockpit and goes straight into the island to report his presence.  Meanwhile the aircraft has to be manhandled by the flight deck handlers to the forward part of the flight deck where it is parked with wings folded to allow room for the next plane to touch down.

As this point I have to make a swift dash to retrieve the pilot’s chute and dinghy because at the earliest opportunity the plane ill be put on the forward lift in the middle of the flight deck and lowered into the hangar two decks down.  It is an awkward journey if the chute and dinghy has gone into the hangar to get it back up to the flight deck level through watertight doors and stairs and hatches.

 

 

What is causing smiley faces for me and my family?

Well not much as it is one of those days where my sons have squabbled incessantly.  However, I have reasons to be cheerful to share with you.

1. I travelled to France with my brother and teenage son.  We had a very lovely time with great weather, fine wines, tasty food and conversation.  There was laughter, the sharing of memories and the making of some new ones too.  I will be posting more about this once I have got my photographs sorted out. If you follow me on Instagram you will already be getting a sneak preview.

2.  My brother has booked a holiday.  Part of my reason for the trip to France was to encourage him back into holidaying following the death of my Dad as they used to go together.  Mission accomplished.

3. Him Indoors not only remembered to feed the other two children but also took them out and about including to Hayling Island.  They went in the sea and clearly had lots of fun.

4. I have enjoyed getting back to things here although admit to sulking for a full two days after getting back.  I look forward to returning for more of the delights of France and hopefully in the not too distant future.

5. I have had such support from friends online about my daughter’s struggles with her new school.  It has given me the strength to move forwards positively.  I think going down the home education route may help both her and also have a good effect on me too.  I do love throwing myself into something and there will be a lot to learn.

6. We have got to the weekend and I am looking forward to relaxing with the family and a little trip to the charity shop.

 

The work of a sailor.

Today my Dad describes a typical working week in safety equipment on HMS Ocean.

Reveille was at 6.30am, breakfast at 7am.  Straight after breakfast one made a quick dash up onto the flight deck for a glance up at the flagstaff on the island.  If the white flag with black crosses on it was flying you gave a little cheer.  This was the negative flag which meant there was no flying.  No reason would be given.  It could be the weather which would be obvious.  There could be other reasons not obvious to us.  However it meant Sam and I could spend a day in the Safety Equipment Section either working or skiving.

On the other hand if there was flying it would be the usual busy day.  Check the flying times.  First flight off would be a pair or our Seafires (in effect a Naval Spitfire) and would maybe be off at 8am.  Therefore each pilot’s chute and dinghy had to be in his plane already on (or due on) the after end of the flight deck.

Sam and I had already spent the previous half hour lugging six sets of chutes and dinghies from our section three decks down to either the hangar or the open gun sponsors just below the flight deck to put in the planes.

Flights generally went off in twos at hourly intervals.  If the first flight went off at 8am the next pair of Seafires had to be ranged ready to take off at 9am.  As soon as they went off, the first pair landed on.  At this point the ship was steaming at full speed 30 mph into the wind and the sea was causing the flight deck to rise and fall several feet.

Taking off needed both planes to be as far back along the flight deck as possible, shocks under the wheels, engines revved up to full power and at the batsman’s signal “chocks away”, brakes off and the first plane went hell for leather down the flight deck  (690 feet long) and off at the bow.  In every case the plane dropped height as it left the deck and disappeared.  You held your breath until the plane appeared some half a mile ahead and climbing.

On rare occasions the plane did not appear and then us on deck rushed to the port side as the ship went still steaming full speed past a Seafire in the sea, gradually sinking and the pilot trying to scramble out of it.  More of that later.

As soon as the first pair of planes landed on they were pushed to the hydraulic lift to be taken down into the hangar, one by one.  Here we had to be quick to dash and jump on the plane wing and heave the chute and dinghy out of the cockpit before the lift went down.

Half hour’s respite before the next pair were ranged ready for take-off.  And so it went on until the flying programme for the day was completed usually daylight hours until 7pm.

Amidst all this flying by 805 Seafires the other squadron 816 flew off and landed their Fireflies fighter torpedo bombers but they had longer intervals as they had 6 hours endurance.  At the end of 805 squadron flying all the chutes had to be stored.  Sometimes if we had a late finish and an early start next day we would store the chutes in the gangway next to the anti-aircraft gun sponsor ready for the following morning.

Flying took place every day, weather permitting, except Sunday which was a rest day and Wednesday afternoon which was called a make and mend a time when the crew could carry out personal tasks like washing clothes, doing any sewing etc.

Most lower deck (i.e. non-officer crew) took Wednesday afternoon to be leisure time.  Some would play deck hockey, tennis or badminton.  The less energetic could simply lie in the sun on the flight deck.

When the ship was at flying stations and from time to time the planes were taking off and landing in the intervals between deck hockey was played.

There was a flight deck crew of about 30 plane handlers whose duty it was to manhandle aircraft before and after landing.   Between times they would form teams to play hockey and there was a keen rivalry between the teams.