Dear Dad

It is your birthday today.  87 years since you came along to Harriet and Charlie.

I thought I would check in with you.  Can we take it as read that you have port, mustard, honey and a good book to read?  I may well have cake with the children tonight to honour you and let’s face it, it is always any excuse for a tea party here.  Perhaps we should go to the sea this evening.

So we have moved and keep passing places that you were in when serving in the Royal Navy in the forties.  I feel certain that you have brought me here for a reason but am not yet clear on what that is.  I like the countryside down here and the sea of course.

It feels that I am getting a little more freedom as the children get older.  I still rail against how all the drudgery type stuff seems to fall on women.  I understand mum more and more every day.  I hope it all changes before my daughter grows up but I fear it won’t.

I am going to do some voluntary work in the local town after the school holidays.  I wish that opportunities had an aura round them so you knew which choices are the right ones. I wish people were the same so you could identify potential friends easily.

Him Indoors is doing OK.  Still has a more than a touch of the Victor Meldrews but you know what he is like.

Luke is doing well in his new school, one of the very best parts of us moving.  I think he can thrive here.  It is a bit of a shock that he is nearly 14 and has chosen his options.  It all suddenly seems very grown-up stuff and I don’t even feel grown up myself yet half the time.  He is turning into a man with all that entails and frankly it terrifies me.  How can I hold onto that sweet natured boy we know and love?

Laura is having a difficult time.  She is so very unhappy at her new school and wants to leave.  I certainly don’t want her to stay there is it is going to make her miserable every day.  That is no way to live a life.  I have had a meeting at school today and have asked for another.  She is shy and sensitive but also bolshy like me and Mum so is having her say in perhaps less than ideal ways which is not going down at all well.  I wish you were here so we could talk it through. You always had wise words and made me think there was a way forward whatever the challenges.

Louis is his usual self, taking things in his stride, trying new things and seizing every day.  He made me laugh today when Laura was refusing to go to school saying that you would say it was “not on”.  He remembers you so well.  As I write your memoirs, I see similarities in your natures, that ability to take on the world and to get on with things.

I am feeling a bit old.  I think some of that comes when you lose your parents.  I guess I am next!  I am not sleeping well at all waking up every hour most nights.  I need to get healthy eating and exercise in place and stop messing about.  I have the usual ambitions and still procrastinate way too much.  I annoy myself so much.  Always talking, never doing.  Still trying to get things right, be vaguely good at something and so on.

News you will love is I am going on holiday with our Charles to France.  I asked him as I felt it was about time he got back to holidaying.  He misses you Dad. Obviously I love the idea of getting away too.  Nobody gets the missing you as much as he does.  We are going for just a few days and if that works, perhaps we can look at a longer break in the future.  We are taking our Luke and I am going to try to get him to use his French.

Oh, here I go, getting all tearful imagining us going out for lunch today and then returning with treats of eclairs or scones.  And then the children would sing to you and we would eat the cake.  Happy days – much missed.

Happy Birthday Dad.

Even if I cannot hear your voice and all that.

Make what comes next a bit clearer to me please.

Cath x

 

 

 

Today Dad describes the history of 805 Squadron which he joined in 1947.

805

805 Squadron consisted of 12 Seafire 17 fighters.  The Commanding Officer was a Lieutenant Commander (Peter Hutton) under whose command were twelve pilots, all Lieutenants or Sub-Lieutenants and one Sub-Lieutenant Air Engineer Officer.

Some half dozen Petty Officers were in charge of ratings who were trained in the various trades necessary for maintenance of the aircraft.  Airframe Fitters, Engine Fitters, Armourers, Electricians and Radio Mechanics.  These totalled about 40 men.

There was also a miscellaneous group of which I was one who were responsible for a variety of duties apart from the above trades.  A writer, two storemen, a petrol tanker driver, two safety equipment men (myself and Derek (Sam) Turner and various other odd bodies.  Altogether the Squadron was a self-supporting composite unit of about 75 officers and men.

The other squadron No. 816 was a similar self contained group with slightly more personnel because their aircraft were Fairy Firefly reconnaissance that carried a crew of two.

I can’t say that there was a great deal of any fraternisation between the two Squadrons certainly among ratings because each squadron has a different role.  816 had a reconnaissance role which meant it extended some distance from ship or base whilst 805 in it’s fighter role was concerned mainly with ship defence.  At Hal Far the two squadrons were operating from different dispersals and there was no daily contact.

On board ship the ratings of the two Squadrons were berthed adjacent to each other the separate.

No doubt the Officers of the two Squadrons mingled socially and of course they had to liaise closely with each other in their operational roles,

There was no animosity here.  I am simply pointing out that each Squadron was a self-contained, cohesive, efficient unit trained and capable of maintaining itself and operating effectively not only from the ship, it’s real home, but also at some isolated airfield anywhere in the Mediterranean.

Indeed at one stage in 1947, 816 Squadron spent two weeks flying from an airfield in Palestine whilst the ship operated at sea using only our fighter squadrons.

We didn’t know much about the history of 805 Squadron at that time save that it was known as a desert Squadron (because at some stage during the war it had worked from desert airstrips in support of the African campaign) and also because of the Squadron crest which strangely for a Navy unit was two crossed palm trees.

Since then I have researched the Squadron history.  805 was raised at Takoradi in the Gold Coast, West Africa in late 1940 flying Fairly Fulmers which had only just come into production as a naval fighter aircraft.  The new squadron then flew the full breadth of Africa to Mombasa on the Red Sea then moved up to Egypt.  From there the squadron transferred to HMS Eagle operating from her in the protection of two Malta convoys.  When the Eagle left the Mediterranean for a time, 805 squadron transferred to the airfield at Maleme in Crete and from there gave protection to convoys taking troops to (and subsequently from) beleaguered Greece.  This was in March 1941.

Shortly after this, when Greece fell, Crete became the next target for the Germans who commenced with a bombing blitz.  805 squadron lost all their flights in this blitz and in a step back in aircraft generation were provided with one ancient Brewster Buffalo and three Gloster Gladiators dual winged aircraft.  These were no match at all against the modern German aircraft and were quickly lost.

At that time there was a Maleme an RAF 33 Squadron of Hurricane fighters having arrived there from Greece.  After one sortie against the Germans the RAF pilots abandoned their machines which the 805 squadron pilots then took over and continued the fight against the Luftwaffe but with the odds against them 805 was soon again decimated.

When German paratroopers landed in Crete, the remaining personnel of 805 were evacuated to Egypt.  At that time only two 805 squadron pilots had survived.  The squadron reformed in the Canal Zone in Egypt once again with the antiquated Brewster Buffalo shortly to be replaced with the American Grummman Martlet a much more effective modern day fighter.  This was about June 1941 before the US had been brought into the war.  From then until the battle of El Alamein in November 1942 805 squadron operated as a desert squadron a period of nearly 18 months.

The squadron then moved to Nairobi in Kenya and subsequently disbanded.

In the absence of any further information (and all records of the squadron went with it when the squadron was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy after operating from the Australian carrier HMAS Sydney off Korea in February 1952. The squadron was then disbanded finally in 1960) I can only assume that after disbandment in early 1943 the squadron was re-activated in 1946.

At that time July 1946 805 with 816 embarked in HMS Ocean to sail for the Mediterranean in July 1946.  When HMS Ocean left England 805 squadron were flying Seafire 15s (XV) but these proved unsuitable for carrier work and were replaced by Fairy Fireflies which were not fighters at all but were the same type of aircraft flown by 816 Sqdn, which were two seater fighter/reconnaissance aircraft.

Again in early 1947, 805 fireflies were replaced with Seafire 17s (XV11).  This was the aircraft in use when I joined the Squadron  The Squadron had the same role ashore as it did afloat i.e. as a fighter defence provision.

Today Dad describes his time at Hal Far Malta and joining 805 squadron.  He also describes a break and the purchase of a green suit which was very much against Navy rules.

About a couple of weeks late and I am one of my colleagues in the section Neville Booth were required to attend the Admin Office to see Lieutenant Holland.  We saw him separately and he gave each of us a draft chit.

Back in the section I looked at mine.  I had to report to the store ship Fort Colville some three days hence.  Fort Colville a store ship went to sea occasionally but spent most of it’s time alongside the jetty in Grand Harbour.   I conferred with Neville.  Where was he going?  HMS Ocean!

Now Neville was a conscript into the Navy and whilst he was content to serve his time he had no ambitions other than to become a Methodist Minister when discharged.  I pointed out that For Colville  was just the cushy number he needed and so he agreed if we could arrange a swap drafts he would let me go to Ocean.  Back we went to Dutchy Holland who as I said before was quite easy-going.  He said that he would see what he could do and he must have spoken to the Drafting Officer up at Hal Far for within a day or two Neville was away to Fort Colville and I was packing not to go there and then to Ocean but to transfer up to Hal Far and to join 805 squadron of Seafire Fighters who had been flown off Ocean to locate at Hal Far.

This was something that happened if Ocean had to go to the dockyard for some maintenance or for replenishment of stores  The Squadron were flown off to Hal Far so that flying could continue and then they would fly back on board when the ship was ready for a major exercise as I later found out and will describe later.

At Hal Far I joined the squadron personnel and was billeted in Nissan huts a semi-circular,  a semi-circular corrugated iron structure both ends of which were finished off with concrete or timber.  In England they were like ice boxes in winter and greenhouses in Summer.  In Malta they were like greenhouses all the time but that didn’t bother us much because when we were free in the evenings we spent time until “light’s out”  sitting outside smoking and yarning.

hal-far1940-1945

A couple of times per week  young Maltese girl would come round and she would take any laundry one had and her family would wash and iron it and return it next day for a charge of only a few coppers.  This, to me, was novel because like most Navy men in my previous 2 years’ service I had always had to wash, dry and iron my own clothes.  There was an acute shortage of water in Malta and therefore it was rationed simply by turning it off.  Thus the water was turned on at 7am until 8.30am.  Then back on at 12 noon until 1pm.  On again at 5pm until 7pm then off until 7am the next morning.  It was a system you got used to.  This was continuous at Hal Far Winter and Summer and was the same in all military establishments on the island.

Meals were god at Hal Far.  In fact, throughout my service in the Navy food was always good.  There was also a decent NAAFI canteen.

I had hardly got settled in when I was told that I was entitled to four days in a rest camp.  I didn’t know that I needed a rest but wasn’t going to pass up the chance of something different.  The first thing I did on my next visit to Valetta was to buy a civilian suit, a green silk suit, for a few shillings.  The readers will not understand what an adventure this was.  Naval personnel were forbidden to have any clothing other than what could be obtained through the Naval stores.    Certainly it was a crime to own much less wear any item of civilian clothing.

And so I went a few miles up the road to the village of Sezzuwi where about 20 matelots all complete strangers to one another were billeted in a Nissan hut (!) and left to their own devices for a few days.

It was a change rather than a rest.  There were no officers or Petty Officers on our tails.  We could do as we liked which meant we patronised the couple of bars in the village but generally just lazed about.  The evenings were the best because when it dropped dark we could don our civilian suits and daringly go into the village and pretend we weren’t sailors but obviously all the village knew we were.  One night there was fiesta with a procession through the village accompanied by a band and with the letting off of fireworks.

Returned to Hal Far on the fourth day the same man as when I left, put my green suit in the bottom of my kitbag and never wore it again till I left the Navy,

How do we ensure we have happy days or at least happier than not?  It is often as simple as looking at the positives in our worlds.

What are my reasons to be cheerful this week?

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1.  Have you seen it?  I am over the moon to have a fancy pants (literally!) header five years after I started my blogging journey.  I would love to know what you think of it.  We all see these things differently so all feedback is welcome.  It was produced by the incredibly talented and extremely patient Helen.  If you are looking for a blog design doing, head her way.

2. We have had some lovely meals this week mainly prepared by Chef Him Indoors.

3. My youngest son got Star of the Week at school for managing to write more than usual.  He is like my other son in having a brain full of ideas but not always the speed and capacity to get those thoughts down on paper.

4. My daughter is developing a very feisty spirit.  This can be challenging but on the positive side will probably serve her well in the future.

5. My oldest son keeps treating me to cuppas, drinks or goodies from the shops.  I think this is pretty good for a teenager.

6. My holiday in France is confirmed for the end of the month in a lovely cottage in the countryside.  I am so looking forward to getting away from it all for a few days.

7. I am really enjoying playing around with Instagram and seeing the images pop up on my blog sidebar, Facebook and Twitter.

Now about that header design? Do you like it?  What does it represent to you?  Do you like the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson?  Did you spot the quotes from my late Mum and Dad?

Yes, dear readers, today I am totally obsessed with how I look or how the blog does anyway.

Have yourself a great weekend.

Today my Dad remembers life at Kalafrana and how he wanted to join HMS Ocean.

oceanrp_IMG_1483-e1404054219292-225x300.jpgLife went on at Kalafrana.  We repaired and packed a few parachutes and dinghies, we swam and we sailed.  By now we had coaxed Bill Cant to let us take out a Navy whaler a rowing/cum sailing boat that we could on a free afternoon take sailing miles off Malta.

We had some chores to do but even these did not prove irksome.  We seaman of the SE branch had done a fire fighting course at Portsmouth.  I did mine in 1945.   Eight of us were required to exercise once a week with the only piece of fire fighting equipment Kalafrana had, a two wheeled trailer onto the square and practised fighting an imaginary fire in various buildings.

Another duty allocated to us seamen was a nightly guard duty along the slipway and the jetties.  Two of us would be joined by two Maltese sailors for the night on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.  At that time there was a bit of a Nationalist movement in Malta and there was just the cautionary thought that they might vandalise the Kalafrana base.  I don’t think we in Kalafrana took it too seriously but we had to do the guard bit.

We also did a 4 hour guard during the day time on the only gate leading out of Kalafrana which meant donning white belt and gaiters and presenting arms with rifle and bayonet when any officer passed which was rare because hardly any officer bothered visiting us.

Evenings were left to our own devices.  Perhaps a game of cards or Ping-Pong in the NAAFI.  Even a pint or two if cash resources ran to it.  Otherwise time would be spent smoking, yarning or reading in the dormitory.  Lights out was at 10pm when you got into your bed under the compulsory mosquito net.

Reveille next morning over the tannoy would be at 7am.  The first thing I did then was turn my boots upside down because it was not unknown for scorpions to get into them.  Scorpions (and lizards) were quite prevalent.  Because of the heat we left the dormitory door open at night and from time to time the odd scorpion came in. I could put up with most livestock but I hated scorpions.

During this period at Hal Far I was issued with further items of kit.  Coming out from England I was already formally issued:- one working blue serge suit with red badges, two pairs of white shorts and white shirts , one Duck suit with blue badges and one non-issue Duck suit in white cotton.  Whilst up to now a blue serge suit with red badges had been a sailors everyday working rig it had now been decided that whilst this suit would be retained we would use a more practical outfit for work wear and so we were now issued with two pair of a navy blue gabardine trousers and two lighter blue cotton shirts with open neck collars.

A few weeks later probably with the thought in mind of the forthcoming very hot weather of the Summer we were issued with two pairs of khaki shorts and two khaki shirts.

I now had a variety of 10 different suits; I will not say at my disposal because I could not dispose of any of them (apart from the non-issue Duck suit) because the dress to be worn for the day was announced over the tannoy at Reveille and that was the outfit to be worn.

Thus wherever you went in the Navy, shore establishment or ship reveille would be followed by the announcement “Dress of the Day No ….”  Each suit would have a number and you wore the suit applicable to that number when instructed.

One day in March I was working in the section building packing a parachute.  The window was open and the shutters back for coolness and looking out of the window I saw anchored in the middle of the bay the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean.  How I wished that I was on that ship instead of where I was. Little did I know my wish was to be fulfilled.