Tropical uniform and setting off to Malta

Today Dad remembers getting kitted out with tropical uniform ready to set sail for HMS Falcon in Malta.

I passed out if HMS Raven as an SEII. This was the highest grade in this particular trade that could be achieved. Because the first (and lowest) grade was an SEIII and the next grade an SE11 it would be logical that there was a further grade an SE1 i.e. a Safety Equipmnt Assistant Class 1 to give a full title but not so. I never heard of anyone in Safety Equipment Branch being an SE1. In fact the instructors at HMS Raven were SE11s. Likewise it was not a branch where there was scope for promotion. If an instructor reached Leading Seaman, that was as far as it went. Once again, this was a branch that was in the early stages of development. Until nearly the end of the war in 1945 all parachute and dinghy maintenance was carried out by RAF personnel even aboard carriers. Thus there was no structure for promotion for Navy men doing this work.

Thus after leave at Christmas 1946 I left Raven and back to Daedalus on 10th January 1947 and just as quickly to the Drafting Officer. My luck was in. Within a few days, I was told I was to go to HMS Falcon which I knew was the Navel Air Station at Malta. I was sent off on 14 days embarkation leave and then back to Daedalus for vaccinations, innoculations and a medical examination before being kitted out with tropical uniforms. These consisted of white shorts, extra white shirts and blue knee length stockings. In addition I was issued with one pair of white (or should I say off-white) trousers, bell bottomed and a matching jumper as we called it but better described as an over-the-head tunic. To go with this full dress uniform (called a Duck Suit or White Ducks) which would be required to be worn on certain ceremonial occasions was a white hat and a air of white calf skin shoes.
The white shorts were of good quality cotton, easily washed and comfortable to wear. However, the long trousered dress uniform was of a kind of stiff twill being most uncomfortable to wear and not easy to wash. Bear in mind that laundry facilities in the Navy were non-existent. All you had was a bar of hard soap, the loan of a bucket and hot water if you were lucky. In the few days I had left in Daedalus I was able to buy for a few shillings from a rating who had just returned from abroad a full dress suit in pure white cotton which looked more professional, felt comfortable and washed and ironed well. Thus armed, I was ready for the off. Along with motley squad from Daedalus we were were lorried across to Portsmouth and held in the Barracks there for two days. These barracks would have come way behind Dartmoor in any prize-giving for comfort. They were old, cold, damp and dark and certainly discouraged any sailor from staying there. Fortunately, we were moved out in a couple of days by which time there must have been several hundred sailors all of whom were entrained at Portmouth and transported to Tidbury on the Thames. We immediately embarked on a ship.

Today, my Dad’s memoirs show him leaving his firm friend and going to RAF Bassingbourn.

Early in January, we left Raven and returned to HMS Daedalus. Immediately Ginger and I were back on the guard under the selection process. Time spent in Daedalus was time spent in awaiting transit to somewhere else and we carried out frequent checks looking at the noticeboard outside the drafting office in the hope that your name appeared which signified a move.

Ginger Jackson and I had been together now for over a year and were firm friends but now our courses diverged. After only about 4 weeks in Daedalus this time we both got Draft Chits. Ginger ws to go out to Malta and my Draft Chit said RAF Bassingbourne. I left first with all my kit and a Travel Warrant to Royston. There were give other Safety Equipment ratings on the same draft and we were at a loss as to how Naval Ratings were to relate to the R.A.F. Nobody made us any the wiser. I had what I thought was one consolation. I was aware that Royston was just outside Barnsley and had visions of getting home in the evenings and certainly for weekends.

We made our way to London and reported to the Regional Transport Officer at Waterloo. He directed us to Liverpool Street and only then did I find out that there was a Royston in Cambridgeshire where we were bound. Transport was available here to take us out to the R.A.F. Station at Bassingbourne. This was huge airfield with over 1000 R.A.F. personnel. We six were the only Royal Navy ratings there.

My Dad continues his memoirs of the Navy moving from HMS Deadalus to HMS Raven for safety equipment training.

IMG_1398

HMS Raven – safety equipment training in World War 2

As explained before, Daedalus was the main Fleet Air Arm base depot and as the European war ended all manner of Naval categories drifted through. A familiar sight, particularly in the NAAFI which was open to all ratings and non-commissioned ranks were the large numbers of Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers who were qualified Pilots and Observers. It seemed strange to be rubbing shoulders with say a Chief Petty Officer Pilot who was hardly 20 years of age little older than myself.

There were many Officers too who were extraneous to service needs. Officers of all ranks. In fact, there was an RNVR Captain whose sole job was to supervise ratings who tended the potato fields. Due to shortage of food in war time the entire grassed area between the flight paths was cultivated and potatoes were grown there.

I spent most of the Summer of 1945 at Daedalus until on 14th August I moved to HMS Raven to undergo Trade Training. Raven was in fact Southampton Airport at Eastleigh but at that time remained as a Fleet Air Arm base as there was no civilian flying from the airfield at that stage.

We were accommodated here in wooden huts which were one stage better than the Nissan huts of Daedalus. Discipline also whilst still maintained was not as severe as Daedalus. The Commanding Officer was Commander Saint, a veteran of the defence of Crete and of the Mediterranean Campaign. He has the Naval aviator’s approach to relationships with his men i.e. a more relaxed attitude attitude to discipline than was met with in general in the Navy. Nevertheless that is not to say that you got away with any infringements of discipline. HMS Raven had a small and compact Ships Company and was a happy ship.

The training period was four months and during that time we were taught all about the safety of aircrew. This involved the composition and repair of parachutes, how to look after them and pack them.. How they were used in an emergency to abandon an aircraft and how they were used to supply by air stores, ammunition etc and also to drop lifeboats or dinghies to survivors in the water.

From there we moved onto dinghies of all descriptions once again repair, maintenance and use.

We were also instructed in the various items of survival gear and food rations, how they were to be stored and used.

Having learned all the technicalities we were then taken through the practical use of parachutes, dinghies and survival equipment in simulated conditions so that we understood the importance of doing the job right.

Dinghies were inflated and boarded in Southampton Baths before we graduated to spending several hours in 3 man dinghies in the sea off Southampton.