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.

 

 

 

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 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.

Today, Dad talks about sailing to Gibraltar and describes buying watches from the Spanish in exchange for cigarettes.

It was called the S S Mataroa which conjures up a picture of idyllic cruising in the South Seas. In actual fact it was a cargo ship with limited passenger accommodation which had been captured from the Japanese towards the end of the war. The holds had been cleared out and fitted out with bunks other ranks of all three services Navy, Army and RAF occupied. There were two of these holds forward and each hold must have held several hundred men all in close proximity. There were no toilets fitted and therefore there had been built platforms across the bows into which has been fitted washbasins in one row and opposite them a row of toilet bowls. Thus several hundred men were washing, urinating and defecating over the sea. Where the waste went can only be assumed – it went into the sea.

Exercise for the men could be taken on the forward deck above the holds. There was a smoking saloon cum games room just aft of the forward deck but beyond this were marine sentries who barred passage further aft. Beyond these sentries out of bounds to the rank and file the remainder of the ship was devoted to officers and to women personnel to whom the officers were no doubt devoted or so the lads in the holds thought.

Meals for the rank and file were taken in a large saloon served American style. That is you were given a tray with several indentations in it together with a soup bowl and a mug. You passed down the line when you were given a ladle of soup, a pint of tea of coffee in the mug and then each identation in the tray received a portion of meat, a portion of vegetables, a portion of potatoes, gravy if you wanted it and a portion of pudding and custard. Inevitably one portion flowed into the other particularly when going through the Bay of Biscay.

The Navy were issued with their tobacco ration in this case four tins each containing 50 Phiiip Morris cigarettes. In many cases, these were stakes in card games of brag or poker on the three day journey to Gibralter. There we anchored in the bay where a few troops were disembarked.

Here at Gibraltar we had our first experience of bun boats. These were locals (Spaniards) who rowed out to the ship to trade their wares in exchange for cigarettes. The rais were crowded with men as this was a new experience to most. Some of the men entered into the barter system which went like this. There were a dozen or so bunboats and at sea level they were some 20-30 feet below the ships rails. An occupant would hold up a watch (watches were a popular buy). He did not want cash; we only had English money not pesetas but in any case tobacco was the better currency. An interested party at the ship’s rail would ask how much and the vendor would say 200 cigarettes. A few calls of “bollocks” or similar expletive would end up with the vendor agreeing to accept 50 cigarettes. (They were wise to the fact that our cigarettes were in tins of 50)

A sale was agreed and then came the testing point. Did the vendor get the cigs before parting with the watch or vice versa. Again a haggle but the British sailor felt that Philip Morris cigs were rubbish and so he agreed to hand over cigs first. The bun boatmen expertly cast a string up to the rails and tied an empty tin can on the end. The buyer hauled up the can and put his 50 Philip Morris in it and lowered it back. At this stage the vendor should have sent up the watch but when he saw the tin of Philip Morris he gave a howl “No Philip Morris, only Camel or Lucky Strike which we didn’t have. Philip Morris lowered their currency value amongst the boatmean. Instead of 50 cigs, if they were Philip Morris they wanted 100 cigs. Some transactions were agreed and some of the lads got reasonably good watches for their cigs.The ship was about to raise anchor in the afternoon and orders came to get rid of the bun boats. However, the boatmen were not to be got rid of that easy and the ship’s crew on the Captain’s orders turned the hosepipes on the bun boats to disperse them. There was no love lost between the British and and the Spaniards at that time.