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.