Today my Dad remembers a visit to Rhodes, Greek hospitality and some strange drinks.

rhodes

Another occasion after a period of flying found us in Rhodes.

As usual the famous three went ashore – Sam, Daisy and Ken. Whenever we went ashore in any of these Mediterranean ports we determined if possible to get into the hinterland behind the port and away from the crowds of sailors who wanted to haunt the nearest bar. We were always curious to see the local people as they really were but on the other hand we always found a little bar somewhere devoid of other sailors.

This time in Rhodes we found ourselves walking in the hills behind the town. As ever it was hot and by mid-afternoon thoughts turned to something to eat and drink. No bar, no shop but we saw a Greek man outside his house and asked him where we could eat. He invited us into his home and introduced us to his wife and children. He had not English, we had no Greek but he had us sit down and brought us some Greek coffee and a plate filled with pieces of what at first looked like pink meat but what turned out to be lovely, cool and juicy. This food turned out to be melon but none of us had ever encountered it before. When that was eaten he then (or rather his wife did as she did all the serving) gave us some delicious cheese. All this was served on a stone step between what appeared to be the only two rooms in the house. They had no table or chairs, just a couple of low divans covered in cloth.

It was time for us to move on and we offered some Greek money but the man would take nothing for the simple meal and we could only thank him and indicate we were grateful for the experience.

We made our way back towards the town looking for a bar once again avoiding the madding crowds of sailors. We found a small bar with four or five locals in and sat down. Another little quirk that we three had was when we went ashore and found a bar like this, one of us would have been nominated (we took it in turns) to decide what drink we would have that night. Every bar had loads of bottles of spirits not all of them identifiable to the English eye so one just chose at random like “We’ll have some of that blue stuff in the bottle” and then we would stick to that same spirit all night. We drank some queer stuff that way but always made our merry way back to the ship.

  • Cyprus – a visit to Larnaca

    Message from my Dad dated 1st August 2009

    “I decided that if there was any purpose in this story then I should complete it”

    I hope my readers see the purpose in the story and welcome comments.

    Today my Dad talks about flying times from HMS Ocean.

    Derek “Sam” Turner and I worked together.  There was no one else in the squadron who was experienced in our particular trade and we worked well together.

    At the end of the flying each day whatever the time might be we had time to take our meal and then either Sam or I had to distribute the next day’s flying programme.  This was drawn up by the Commander Flying, typed up by a writer from whom one of us collected the flimsy putting in the duplicating machine and producing some 25 copies.  These I then had to distribute to a number of senior officers such as the ship’s Captain, various Commanders who were heads of departments down to our own squadron C.O. each of the squadron pilots and our Air Engineer Officer.  This took me to various parts of the ship’s “island” and also to other places within the ship.  Each officer on the list had to be found and personally given a copy.

    If I caught the right time of evening apart from the Captain who got his in his cabin, the other officers could be located in the wardroom anteroom or in the wardroom itself, a magnificent large room with the tables set out for dinner with silver service.  If the dinner was over my distribution was a longer job as I had to trace every officer in his cabin, in his workplace, whatever.

    Having said all this, if the ship was doing night flying I couldn’t give out the next day’s flying schedule until the last plane touched down.  Night flying, thank goodness, only took place from time to time.

    Normally after this duty it was time to relax  and go back to the mess, get out of full dress uniform (which I had to wear in Officer Country) and don a pair of shorts and enjoy a fag.  Meanwhile the ship was steaming along through calm or tempest.

    Today my Dad continues to describe life at sea including the drinks on offer, the sleeping arrangements and the operation of the anchor.

    There was no fresh water on board.  All water aboard a ship as large as ours was extracted from sea water by a salination point on board.  There was a constant exhortation from the ship’s engineer to cut down the use of water as demand could otherwise exceed the capacity of the plant.

    The water did not have a palatable taste.  Tea was the normal ship’s beverage but each mess tended to have a little stock of coffee grounds (instant coffee was unheard of) and coffee disguised the taste of the water.  We had no percolater and boiling water was poured on to the coffee and the grounds and the resultant coffee filtered through a silk (or nylon) stocking.

    The only other source of drinks was when a small kiosk was manned by a supply rating open only in the early evening for about an hour when for a few pence you could buy a jug full of lime juice or orange juice.  Lime juice especially was recommended to combat the sweat you suffered from below decks in the heat and humidity of an enclosed mess desk.  Hence the US nickname for the English as Limies.

    During the day you were required to wear normal Navy uniform or working dress at all times.  After 6pm unless you were on duty you could relax from this rule as a result o f which almost all lower deck men stripped to just a pair of shorts with maybe a cloth or a towel round the neck to soak up the sweat.

    At 10pm over the Tannoy would come the order to “pipe down” which would be followed by “lights out” at 10.30pm.  This meant that you could not sling your hammock until 10pm and theoretically at least you had to be in it by 10.30pm.

    hammocks

    Hammocks were slung between metal rails.  Each man’s hammock was only about a foot from the next.  The hammock had a wood lathe at the head and foot the width of a man’s shoulders; in the hammock was placed a mattress and there was a blanket to cover you (all part of your kit) There was no pillow and no sheets (those were for the softies in the RAF).

    To get in the hammock required an agile leap by holding onto the rail and swinging your body up and sideways into the hammock.  Once in the hammock, it was quite comfortable.  There you stayed until reveille the next morning.

    It was a regulation again that mean must sleep wearing vest and underpants in case of fire but this was mainly ignored.

    Lights out at 10.30pm meant that the main lights went out but there were pilot lights dotted around as of course men would be passing through the ship as part of their night duties and in harbour would be returning from evening leave.

    The hammock provided a counter against the rolling motion of the ship when at sea in that the hammock retained its centre of gravity whilst the ship was leaning first to the left and then to the right.  The hammock was no counter to the pitch and toss of the ship i.e. when it first buried its bows into a wave and then lifted up to the next wave.  Being quartered up in the bows on the ship this movement was felt at its greatest.  The ship’s bow would rise to whatever the height of the approaching wave (sometimes as much as 15-20 feet) but then would descend on the other side as if the ship’s bow was coming down giant staircases with a huge shudder down every step.  All loose items would rattle in unison.

    Another of the ship’s functions were apparent to us members of the 805 squadron mess deck were the raising and lowering of the anchor.  The ship’s anchor chains (there were two anchors in the bows) consisted of links maybe 18 inches x 12 inches and as thick as a man’s arm.  When the anchor was raised into its normal located position, the anchor chain was retained in the bowels of the ship.  Bear in mind that the anchor chain or cable to give it its proper title was several hundred feet in length.  When the ship dropped anchor the anchor cable paid out from below at a fast speed.  As it passed through our mess deck it was encased in a chamber on the bulkhead only a few feet from where we slept.  The noise was thunderous as the chain rocketed upwards.  Entry to this chamber was forbidden as the chain plunged from side to side as it paid out.

    The reverse process was only marginally quieter.  When this took place three seamen entered the chamber with long leather straps.  They stood round the aperture through which the descending chain links would go albeit that the capstan above raised the heavy weight of the paid out chain and anchor at a slower pace, and alternately by use of the straps guided the chain through the hole in the chamber.  This was a dangerous process as each link (shackle) weighed over a hundredweight.  At the same time the mean were being sprayed with water as the cable paid in.  Up on the cable deck other men would be washing the paying in chain to remove seaweed and other debris.

    Today my Dad describes life aboard HMS Ocean Royal Navy including cooking duties, lack of privacy and leisure activities.

    ocean

    The highest rank in a ratings mess was Leading SeamanPetty Officers and Officers were berthed in a different part of the ship.  A Leading Seaman was in charge of each mess and it was his responsibility to maintain discipline and see that the mess ran smoothly.  The Leading Seaman of our mess was a dour Scot with about 12 years service called Tom Baird.

    There was a large cook house further to the rear of the ship and a deck down.  The Leading Seaman of the mess would allocate two men each day to be responsible for fetching the meal.  The mess had two galvanised buckets and these were taken to the cookhouse and the men were allocated the correct amount of food for the number of men in each mess.  The food would be carried up one deck through several compartments to the starving men at the table.  Each man has his own knife and fork, plate and cup ad the two men on duty that day would apportion the food.  Woe betide them if any man got less than his neighbour, therefore the cooks of the day would be very careful to avoid any favouritism as another two men would have that duty the next dy.  The job was done on rotation.

    Breakfast, for example, was a bucket of porridge and the other bacon contained eggs, bacon, sausage and whatever else.  Bread was drawn from a storeroom beneath our mess deck, distribution supervised by a Stores Officer.  Tea was provided loose and could be mashed at a tap in the bulkhead with provided boiling water.

    When breakfast was finished the two cooks of the mess for the day would wash up, plates, cup, utensils and buckets with boiling water from the tap.  Then they would scrub down the table and benches and then the floor using the same buckets until they sparkled (and so did the buckets) until it passed the Leading Seaman’s scrutiny.

    The next thing the cooks would do was collect a bucket full of potatoes from a potato store sufficient for one meal for 12 men.  They would scrape and wash the potatoes and have them at the ship’s galley in time for them to be boiled or roasted/mashed along with potatoes from every mess in the ship ready for dinner to be served in the same way as breakfast.

    At 4pm the store on the deck below would be opened and each mess could draw a loaf of bread and a soup plate full of either treacle, jam or honey for tea but this could only be eaten as far as one’s duties would allow.  Either one slipped down to the mess for a quick bit or you waited until such time as your work schedule was completed.

    On squadron duties a man’s work time was governed by the flying schedule and sometimes this went on long into the evening or even involved night flying.  During all flying times either Sam or I had to be available at take-off and landing so we had to take it in turns to go below to our mess for a meal.  The same applied to all squadron ratings.

    Supper was another hot meal dealt with on the same basis as lunch and was had at 6.30pm.

    Thereafter subject to flying times and subject to other duties, was devoted to leisure.  There was no activity beyond the mess deck apart from walking along the exposed boat deck or on to the flight deck if there was no flying.

    Clothes could be washed in the shower room just beyond the after bulk head.  There were no drying facilities as such clothes could be hung on the boat deck when at sea.

    Toilets known as Heads were located in the 816 Squadron area.  A row of urinals and some wash basins formed one side and a row of about 10 toilet cubicles opposite.  Cubicles is a misnomer in that the dividing partitions and doors were only 3 feet high thus when you wanted to use the toilet you could see which ones were occupied by the row of heads along the line.  In ship board life privacy did not exist.

    Cards was a popular pastime but it was illegal to play for money or to gamble in any way.  We tended to play for matches as cigarettes the recognised trading currency were looked upon as money.  The result was that you played for matches so that if anyone in authority came through the mess it would appear innocuous. As the end of a card sessions, matches would be exchanged for cigarettes.

    Crown and Anchor was a Navy game and was strictly forbidden.  One or two men had a Crown and Anchor sheet (rather than a board) and there was always a lookout to give warning of approaching authority when the sheet and dice and money could be swiftly swept up and hidden until danger passed.  Crown and Anchor was not a game that interested me or for that matter any of the members of our particular mess.

    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.