Today my Dad talks about his work in the aircraft safety equipment branch and explains what happened when pilots needed to bail out.
When not working there was no inclination nor encouragement to walk about the ship. Every part of the ship was functional either as work space or a living space. You would be far from welcome if you attempted to explore either.
Consequently you did not meet or know any of the ship’s company; nor even did you know any members of the other squadron 816 except maybe your opposite number (in my case Safety Equipment rating) in that squadron.
Other working needs the only places I had to venture was the galley when it was my turn for cook of the mess and once to visit the dentist to have a tooth filled. The dentist had a separate little cubicle where he plied his trade but he was part of the medical staff. The ship has a large hospital somewhere in the bowels of the ship. A Surgeon Commander was in charge and he and he had a number of officers under him. So that the ship could cope with various injuries or diseases that might occur.
Working needs however meant that you became familiar with parts of the ship that related to flying. There were two large hangars which were large enough to accommodate the aircraft of each squadron. Aircraft were transferred from one hangar to flight deck and vice versa on a huge lift to each hangar and could be contained in the hangar only by folding the aircraft wings! All work on the aircraft was carried out in the hangar.
The Safety Equipment workshop was a long narrow room on the starboard side of the ship. This was used only by Sam and I of 805 squadron and by the two Safety Equipment ratings of 816 squadron. Here we inspected and repacked parachutes and rubber dinghies carrying out any repairs that we necessary.
When aircraft were ranged on the flight deck ready for flying it was our job to transfer the parachute and dinghy from the parachute room up two decks and out onto the after starboard gun platform. From there we identified which pilot was flying which plane ( a pilot would only fly with his own chute and dinghy) and to place both in the aircraft.
A Seafire had a bucket seat shaped to hold a parachute pack. The dinghy pack was placed on top of the chute the straps of which came through what I would describe as a letter box around which the dinghy was packed and then the straps were in place ready for the pilot. The pilot would sit on the dinghy and chute and then it was our job to ensure that his Mae West was properly fastened then that his parachute straps were fastened and finally a Sutton harness which was anchored to the aircraft was also fastened.
This strong harness held the pilot firmly in his seat so he was not thrown about the aircraft or out of it whatever the attitude of the aircraft. To bail out and I recall three or four occasions when 805 squadron pilots had to do, the pilot had to make sure he had sufficient height, slide back the canopy, unfasten the Sutton harness and then somersault the aircraft when he would simply fall out of the cockpit chute and all the pull the ripcord when clear, quick release button would discard the parachute and he would be left with the dinghy which he would inflate with a carbon dioxide gas cylinder and climb aboard wet through.
The dinghy had an assortment of aids attached – bailer, paddle, whistle, light, yellow flourescent powder when spread on the sea visible from the air, a bellows pump and a small tin of emergency rations. If the pilot had managed to get off a May Day signal the ship would know approximately where he was.
The ship carried a Sea Otter amphibious biplane and this would be despatched to pick up the pilot and return him to the ship or the nearest land whichever was nearest.
My Dad completed this part of his memoirs about 1990. He did not start writing again until a month before my mother’s death in 2009.