Today. Dad describes H.M.S. Ocean history.


Thus I have outlined the general picture of the operation of a squadron and as I say I joined 805 when it was ashore at Hal Far.  After a few days we were to embark on HMS Ocean.

First, the ship came into Marsachlok Bay and half the ratings were transferred by boat to the ship.  Sam Turner went with them whilst I remained at Hal Far with the other half.  I had to see that the pilots were equipped with their parachutes.  Meanwhile Ocean had sailed.  The squadron aircraft took off from Hal Far and flew out to and landed on the ship.  The ship then returned to Marachlok and then the other half of the ratings and stores were transferred by boat to the ship.  This entire manoeuvre took place over a period of only a few hours.  When we were aboard, Ocean sailed.

HMS Ocean, a light fleet carrier, was laid down at Alexander Stephen’s yard Govan on the Clyde in November 1942.  Building took 2 years and she was launched in July 1944.  Then followed a fitting out period and sea trials until she was eventually commissioned in August 1945 just as World War 2 ended.

Her full weight was 18 400 tons with a length of 695 feet and a beam of 80 feet.  Her draught was 23 feet with a speed of 25 knots (some 29 mph)  Her main armament of anti aircraft guns was situated in sponsons, give on each side extending just below the level of the flight deck.

The Ocean carried two squadrons of aircraft and at the time of my joining her these consisted of:-

816 Squadron with 12 Fairey Firefly RR1 which is addition to 4 x 20mm cannon in the wings carried 2 x 10001b bombs or 16 x 3 rich rocket projectiles.  These aircraft had a maximum speed of 335 knots but with a cruising speed of 191 knots had an endurance of 6 hours.  The crew consisted of one pilot and one observer.

The other squadron 805 consisted of 12 Seafire FXV11 (the Naval equivalent of the Spitfire) with an all up weight of 3 and a half tons the weapons of which consisted of 2 x 20mm cannon and 4 x 303 Browning machine guns in the wings.  The length of a Seafire was 32 feet wing span 36 feet and height 10 feet.  Top speed 333 knots, cruising speed 290 knots.  Endurance depended on rate of speed but at best would be about 90 minutes.

816 Squadron’s purpose was reconnaissance and attack of sea on land targets.  805’s was air defence of the parent ship.

A few months after she was commissioned HMS Ocean was involved in a historic event when in December 1945 a Vampire Jet piloted by Lt Commander E Brown was the first true jet aircraft to be landed on a ship at sea.  Later in December the ship set sail for the Mediterranean and in the early months of 1946 did trials for night flying and became proficient as the only carrier in the Fleet able to operate around the clock night flying.  After a short period in the Mediterranean she returned to England 892 Hellcat Squadron was replaced by 805 Seafire Squadron under Lt Commander Peter Hutton and the ship set sail again for the Mediterranean.  The ship joined the Mediterranean Fleet in July 1946.

The Ocean with her sister carrier HMS Triumph formed the 20th Carrier Air Group and were the only two Royal Navy carriers in the Mediterranean Fleet in 1946 and 1947.  The Air Admiral was Rear Admiral Denis Boyd who had been skipper of the HMS Illustrious at the battle of Taranto.  He flew his flag in the Triumph and as a consequence it was felt by the crew of our ship that the Triumph got all the soft options.  However there was no animosity between the two and on the few occasions when we were in company there was just a friendly rivalry.  In the Royal Navy, not just in the Mediterranean Fleet, but in every fleet and indeed in every port there was rivalry between ships.  There was pride in one’s ship from the Captain down to the most junior crew member so that everyone strived to do better than any other ship.

Unfortunately when ships were in port and crews met in bars taunts would be exchanged and fortified with drinks, it was frequent for fights to result.  Then along would come a Naval Patrol and those arrested would be returned to the ship to receive the Captain’s punishment.

This did not occur with the two carriers because it was rare for us to work in company.  Often the Triumph was operating in the Western Med whilst we operated in the Eastern Med.

In October 1946 Ocean was in Greek waters when two British destroyers the Volege and the Saumarey were mined in the Corfu channel between Corfu and Albania.  Albania had illegally mined the Channel and Saumarey was struck first and then Volege was struck when going to her aid.  Between the two crews 44 were killed, 31 of whom were never recovered and many others from both crews suffered serious injuries.  Ocean was the nearest ship with substantial medical facilities including a hospital and several surgeons.  She hurried to the scene and took on board many of the injured.  After three days patrolling the area in anticipation of further incidents with the Albanians she was returned to Malta to transfer her casualties to hospital in Malta before resuming normal duties.

In January 1947 Ocean became flagship to Flag Officer Air Mediterranean Vice-Admiral Sir C J Harcourt and spent a further period cruising before returning once more to Malta where I joined her.




Today my Dad describes the pilots of 805 Squadron.

A typical working day meant a short parade and inspection by the duty officer namely one of the pilots and then we were transferred by lorry round the airfield about 2 miles to our dispersal site.  Here were three Nissan huts.  One housed the Engineering workshops under HO Air Engineering Officer Sub Lieutenant Asplin.  The second was part stores hut and part use of ratings.  The third was divided into two, the front half being a ready/rest room for the pilots and the rear a small store.Facilities were primitive but at lunch time we were transferred back to the main camp in relays for a quick lunch and return.

Flying continued all day sometimes with two or sometimes four aircraft up in relays.  Occasionally the whole squadron would be airborne and would practise formation flying which was quite spectacular.

The other Safety Equipment man in the squadron was Derek Turner universally known as Sam.  We became firm friends and in addition to working together we socialised together.  Sam was from Lynton in North Devon and was a laid back individual with a quiet sense of humour.

Our job was to see that each pilot’s parachute, dinghy, mae west jacket and all safety and survival equipment was fully maintained and was in place in his aircraft when he was due to fly.

In the main, pilots had their own individual aircraft but it did not always work that way and therefore Sam and I had to keep track of what times each pilot was flying and which aircraft and it was sometimes necessary to transfer his chute and dinghy from one to another.

In a Seafire the pilot sits on his packed parachute underneath of which his attached one man dinghy forms the cushion of the bucket seat.  The strappings of the chute and dinghy are tensioned to suit the build and required comfort of the pilot and so could not readily be interchanged amongst the pilots.

In any case there was the superstitious element of the pilot that his last lifesaver was the parachute and he needed to be sure that the one he was sitting on was his.

It was an unwritten law in the relationship between the pilot and his parachute packer that if ever the pilot had to bale out and came down safely he would reward his parachute packer.  The recognised reward was ten shillings (three days pay for the packer in those days).  If the parachute didn’t work not only did you not get the 10 s, you were prime suspect in a fatal accident enquiry with dire consequences!

During my time with the squadron only one pilot had to bale out of a Seafire and that was Lieutenant Phil Atherton.  He was a redhead and by virtue of it, of a headstrong nature.  He did a bale out three times and each time I got ten bob which took Sam and me out for a couple of good nights out each time.

I think after the loss of his third Seafire Phil Atherton must have got an almighty b******ing or maybe whoever serviced is aircraft did.  In any case, three must have been the limit for the powers that be.

Most of the pilots were characters in one way or another.

Lt David Crofts was supposedly responsible for safety equipment and theoretically Sam and I were answerable to him but he hadn’t a clue about parachute and dinghy packing so he never troubled us.  He landed his Seafire one day on the airstrip with only one undercarriage leg down.  The aircraft veered off the runway onto the grass and went clean through the goalposts of the airfield football pitch.  We all cheered. Any incident like that was a cause of hilarity to the ground crew providing it did not cause serious injury to the pilot.

Most of the pilots as were the ground crew were boozers but one of them was a boozer par excellence.  Lieutenant Dickie Turnbull was a Scot and he seemed to like his native brew.  I recall more than once when he was duty officer he would pass along our line as we stood to after breakfast inspection with his cap askew smelling of gin/whisky and obviously suffering from the previous night’s imbibing.  Within the half hour he would be taking off in his Seafire flying as if was stone cold sober.  He was, indeed, one of our finest pilots.

Some of the other pilots were a bit madcap.  One day I was asked to remove the dinghy and parachute from one of the Seafires.  Shortly after it took off with one of the pilots sat in the empty bucket seat and one of the others sat on his lap flying the plane which did a circuit of the airfield and landed perfectly.

As far as possible, the pilots flew in set flights and sub flights so that the most senior pilot led in each case.  Thus the squadron formation was as follows

A Flight

Lt. Commander Hutton, Lt J Ellis and Lt P Atherton and Lt N Hodgson

B Flight

Lt P Madden (senior pilot) Lt W Gunner and Lt P Hiles and Lt R Fowler

C Flight

Lt R Turnbull  Lt D Hook and Lt D Crofts and Lt N Pennington-Bird

The Squadron Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander P J Hutton was a good CO and a good pilot.  He was a bit aloof as his status reflected and any orders he gave came down through one or other of the other officers.

The Senior Pilot i.e. the second in command was Lieutenant Peter Madden, a Yorkshire man only about 5 feet 6 tall but an excellent pilot.

Another Yorkshire man was Jackie Ellis who was the CO’s wingman in the air.

The other pilots varied; two or three were public school types but friendly nevertheless.  On the other hand were Bill Gunner who looked and walked like a bluff farmer and Lt Fowler who did not say much but was the best shot with his aircraft machine guns than any of the others.




Dear you

You think you have changed.  You talk about getting lost somewhere and wanting yourself back.  You feel overwhelmed by motherhood and wifedom and hanker for carefree days.  You would like to be able to make choices freely without having to think what the husband or the children need.  You are selfish for sure.  I think your Mum was probably “selfish” in the same way which led to her rants and difficulties.  Please remember that she ended up carving out a niche for herself first at the squash club and then with her community work.  There were holidays and trips off and you can have these too.   The children are getting older and more independent – in a couple of years you can be as daft as you like.

Take a look.  Absolutely, you are older and certainly much fatter. Having said that, you always did think you were fat even when you were size 8.  You coloured your hair even then not knowing that one day you would have to do so to cover the grey.  When did you stop wearing jewellery?  What was that about?  Rings on your fingers and in your ears.  A bit of jazziness, a bit of fun – where has that gone?

There’s a drink in your hand and I think it is probably Rose d’Anjou.  You still like a drink but when was the last time you had rose?

Art on the walls.  Not yours but your room-mate’s choices.  Remember when you had someone to talk to all the time?  Remember how your insistence on things being just so led to her leaving?  There were others who wanted your company then but they too have disappeared.  And you miss them.  Did they leave you or did your choices in life really mean you left them?

There are photos on display too looking back to childhood days in London and teenage days at the Rose and Crown.  Even then you were looking back to halcyon days.  Although in those days you also looked forwards with belief of great things to come.

There’s a bloke next to you who looks uncomfortable.  And yes, you would still love people to feel comfy around you and you still don’t know where to start.  You know, although others wouldn’t, that your heart was breaking a little that night but there you are facing the camera and putting on a very convincing brave face.

Can you see the sign?  “Just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you”.

Darling, take a look.  Wear some rings and get your ears re-pierced.  Raise a glass of rose.

You have not changed one bit.  Not really.  You are a perfectionist and this makes life hard on you and those around you.  You are so very imperfect.  In 20 years time, there will be new glittering prizes on the list and it still won’t be good enough.

You are a hopeless case but one whose time will come and may well already be here.

You’ll be OK – you always are.



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 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.