It might be interesting to know what an example of our average ration for a day was, and this was said to be about the same for officers and men:-
· 4 slices of white doughy bread [made on board] per man per day - plenty of tea with sugar and condensed milk.
· Breakfast at 6am-1st slice of bread and teaspoon of oleomarge [liquid in the heat] with perhaps a Chinese egg [half the size of a European one] or a slice of dried highly spiced ham some days but not every day.
· 10am- Up Pipes - mug of tea.
· 12am- Up spirits - issue of tot of rum [ which helped you to eat the dinner] The PO's rum was undiluted and each man got a big tot, I think it was a third of half a pint served out in front of the Rum Bosun, a coveted post which each member of the Mess took in turn. Each man spilt a little back for the Bosun who was left with a pint or two of rum which, when I was Bosun, I as others, illegally kept for it was one of the most treasured currencies on board any ship.
· 12.30- Dinner- Issue of Lime juice - plate of thin watery soup with 2nd slice dry bread -then a slice of boiled chewy meat with spoonful of reconstituted starch 'potato' [tasteless I could seldom eat any of it] and a large tea spoon of mushy dried boiled green peas. Followed by say 2 small prunes covered with a small spoonful of gooey custard - finished with cup of tea.
· 4pm-3rd slice of bread with spoonful of oleomarge and tea. Every few days we got a 3 inches x 2 x 1 slice of plum duff or raisin cake [great it was well seasoned with spices and rum] or maybe a slice of pursers cheese the size of your thumb [which many of the others POs couldn't eat but I found it not too bad and ate any pieces left]
· 6.30-7 p.m.- Supper 4th slice of dry bread per man per day perhaps so called fish which was often a piece of shark the size of a childs palm with spoonful of beans and another mug of tea. I liked the shark which again was not popular so I often had an extra piece.
We were quite adjusted to the minute helpings and just accepted it, for our stomachs were permanently concave and few had any fat on their bodies. Smoking lessens the pangs of hunger and I was told that the Navy had the amounts of food per man at sea calculated to the minimum to keep him fit for war service. We were often at sea without fresh supplies for weeks. After a proper call at a port we would eat a little better for 3 to 4 days then we were back to old supplies. At sea the fresh water was condensed, which later caused us mouth and shrinking gum trouble with poor teeth. I cannot remember us ever getting fresh fruit or juice at sea other than Lime juice. On shore, other than Australia, the food had been monotonous and limited in quality but with relatively larger helpings. RAF stations were better than FAA airfields. Malta was bad as I said above in for the civilian population was on very poor rations compared to the UK, and that says a lot.
The POs had 2 or 3 Messman to look after us in our mess, dishing up the food, which had been carried in the Mess canteens from the ships galley to our own little one. The Messmen served through a hatchway and later they cleaned up for us. We did not have our own cutlery or crockery. These were held by the Messmen in the little galley and set out for our use. In the Rating's Messes each Rating took turns to carry their Mess tins to the Ships galley where the requisite ration for the official number of the Mess was issued and carried back to the Ness for careful dishing out by the same duty ratings who cleaned the Mess tins and plates etc with each man responsible for his own 'irons' i.e. knife, fork and spoon. On shore establishments for ratings it was normally run like any canteen. With the POs there were usually Messmen.
The end of the War
Although the Vengeance lay mostly at anchor during the months we were at Hong Kong, she did sail to Japan and moor off I think it was Nagasaki and the near the ruins of the Atom Bomb. In the Post War years I have heard many who did not live or fight through the last War condemn the dropping of these bombs. To them I say but for that weapon the Japs would have dragged on the fighting with horrific casualties of Allied and Japanese civilian personnel.
I doubt if I would have lived to write this account.
We rejoined the ship and put to sea and the Squadrons of Barracudas and Corsairs rejoined the ship and after patrols we tied up back in the Colony. Before that we spent Christmas on board and the Ships Company gave a party to Chinese and Eurasian children from an Orphanage fitting up the flight deck with swings and chutes and games of all kinds for sailors had a soft spot for children and enthusiastically made toys and bought small gifts from ashore for Father Christmas to give out. The galley had made Christmas Puddings for our small guests and we had a little present for each child.
I looked after a Chinese brother and sister feeding them in the Mess with biscuits and Lime Juice and later sweet cocoa and looked after them on the open Flight Deck on the swings etc and saw them safe on to the shore boats. We all enjoyed it, They were nice kids and had had a very difficult time.
Demobilisation was in the air and I applied for a course in Welding thinking that it would be useful in Agriculture. I was transferred for a short time to HMS Indomitable where I completed the training and returned to the Vengeance. I was ashore one afternoon in Hong Kong and was sitting near to the door having a beer in a open fronted bar. It had filled up with American sailors off a US Carrier that had tied up. At the bar an argument broke out between two US sailors, one white and the other coloured . A half drunk British sailor took side with the underdog, the Negro, and pushing and gesticulations were leading up , I could see, to an all out fight.
I wanted none of that, and stood up finishing my beer starting to the door when several British Naval Officers who were walking by stopped and examined the scene. The senior Officer, a Lieutenant Commander called out to me Petty Officer - Stop that fight. My conditioned reflex was "Yessir" and, turning to the struggling Yank and the matelot who was beginning to swing his fist, I shouted " Attention". Likewise the reflex conditioning of the British Stoker caused him to straighten up when he received a punch from the Yank and he fell. The Yank looked down at him and all the fighting stopped. There were whistles outside and an American Shore Patrol poured past me into the bar and took over. They had been called over by one of the officers.
"Very Good Petty Officer. Carry on " said the Commander and I walked away in the opposite direction from them tense at the narrow escape I had had, for I knew how I could have been badly injured in such a fight if chance circumstances had been different.
I was born a suspicious fellow but I was conned in Hong Kong . Yes with a watch, and it was worth the shilling or so that I paid for it. I still can't work out how it was done. I was waiting at a street corner in the city for I think it was Taff and I was early. I had been continually pestered by a man selling watches which were strapped up his arm. As my own watch, bought in Glasgow a year or two ago, had finally packed up, I decided to take a chance with a model whose price I had knocked down. I had checked the watch every time he came back to bargain, and he was never out of my sight, and, over the half hour or so, it kept good time.
So I said Ok. I paid and strapped the watch on. Taff came and we moved off and as I looked at the time the watch stopped and despite all trials and a puzzled inspection by an Instrument Tech who was a watchmaker in Civvy Street, it never went again.
It may be of interest that leather watch straps did not last long in the tropics rotting with the sweat and salt. Woven canvas web straps lasted longer but were difficult to get. Any strap round a wrist aboard a plane or ship could catch and be dangerous. Therefore we all made stainless steel straps cut from metal from the springs of the aircraft machine guns. These were bent to fit the wrist and were safe in that you could not be accidentally hooked by the many moving protuberances on board ships and planes. Few men wore rings for tales of fingers lost when the ring caught in moving parts were widely told. Our hair was cut very short so that if you ditched in the water with oil on the surface oily hair would not blind you.
As I said above for the last time we were recalled to the Vengeance prior to sailing. We had spent some months since the end of the war and many 'kent' faces had gone home by ship for demob. There were also many new faces and I was accepted as an old hand from the early 812 Sqd.
We were sailing next day. I had a tot of rum due to me and drank it and my own, and ate an unusually good Sunday dinner of roast pork and cabbage promising myself an afternoons sleep before sailing. Then the Tannoy called "Attention all Ships Company. An American Liberty Ship has broken in two in Monsoon weather less than a 100 miles east of here. Hands to sea stations. Prepare for sea".
Four hours later we were into the typhoon bound for the stricken ship. It was rough and we had been too long in port and had lost our sea legs. I felt terrible and went to the open side deck leaning over the railings thinking 'should I be sick?' when I was joined by a the Captains Steward. He looked at me and said " Cheer up, you're in good company. Look up, there's Captain Neame losing his dinner!" About half the Ships crew were sick and by the end of the next day we heard on the grapevine that we had turned South for the two halves of the Liberty Ship [Prefabricated in USA] had been taken in tow by other ships.
The storm abated slowly after a couple of days enough for an American Hollywood film to be shown to the ships company in the aircraft lift which conveyed planes to and fro the Flight Deck to the Hangar Deck. It was peace time now and we sat on anything we could find with the clear Pacific night above, and looked at the antics of a strange peace time world away from war and wartime films. We had begun to speak to each other with anticipation and hidden worry of demob and Civvy life. Hitherto such thoughts had been theoretical and unattainable for inside everyman had been the ever-present expectation of possible death or mutilation.
We were all lined up on the Flight Deck for Peace time Sunday Parade in the middle of the Pacific. The ship was slowly rolling from side to side in a long high swell. The Royal Marine band was playing " A life on the Ocean Wave" and the Ships Company swaying to balance in the swell kept perfect time with the Music. It was too much for the usual Seaman Humorist who called out from the back row of ratings "Can I have the next Dance Petty Officer ?"
We learnt that we were bound for Borneo to pick up Aussie troops due for demob after years fighting in the jungles and bound, like us, for Australia. The Squadrons had cleared the Hangar Deck of most Aircraft for accommodation for the troops, and some were lined up aft on the flight deck well tied down. Early one morning a Tannoy announced that a dark spot and a plume of smoke off the starboard bow was a Volcano over 22 miles away and, due to the curvature of the earth, it would be the furthest we would ever see at sea. A couple of hours later we dropped anchor in a wide bay at Labuine Borneo waiting for the quick embarkation of the Aussies and continuation of our voyage back to Sydney.
They were delayed. and when they climbed up the lowered gangplank, some were in an untidy state. The Air PO mess was 249 and we welcomed a party of Army sergeants to berth with us for the voyage for men were crammed into every Mess and Storeroom. We learned from the sergeants that the Aussie troops had been quartered in an American Army camp awaiting our arrival and a film had been laid on for them on their last night. It was that Arch Hollywood wartime misrepresentation of the truth with Errol Flynn and US troops "conquering Burma" where some of the troops had served for years and where the US presence on the ground was nil. It was too much for the Aussies who went on the rampage and smashed anything and everything American they could find including the American Army Police. Eventually the authorities had to call in other Aussies to subdue the rioters and after a night in cells for some, the Aussie Troops were shipped aboard HMS Vengeance.
We got on well with the sergeants and became very friendly with some. I got to know Jock Jump who had been born in Dundee and had come out to the Outback in NSW as a boy and had a sheep farm there, He invited me to join him farming and I wrote to him after demob from Scotland. The other chap I became friends with was Sergeant Burke, an Army photographer who was with the Sydney Sun ? before the war and later tried to convert me, unsuccessfully, to eating Oysters with brown bread and butter and Australian Beer. The beer was OK.
Recently, 54 years later, my son introduced me to Australian War Photographic Archives now available on the internet and there are photographs of PO's Mess 249, HMS Vengeance and our guests sitting at our mess tables.
It was a quiet run south to Sydney where we disembarked the troops for their demob in the early morning.
I was impatient to get ashore. We had not been discussing wine woman and song, or should I say, Schooners of excellent Aussie beer, Sheilas and Dance Hall Jitterbugging but FRESH FOOD, green salads, cold fresh pressed orange and pineapple juice, and steaks and fresh cold milk.
As we had disembarked the Aussie troops we were tied up near Sydney Bridge at a pier. I slipped ashore with the first shore party before midday and made a bee line to a very upmarket restaurant in the centre of the city. I was the first lunchtime customer and started to eat almost with reverence a large salad with a glass of fresh milk. As I ate I noticed a tiny slug curled up in a fold of the lettuce. I cut the corner of the lettuce and set it at the side of my plate quite undisturbed, for months we had cockroaches in almost all of our food on board. I had also eaten for example, sugared fried locusts as a delicacy in China.
When the waitress returned and I ordered fresh fruit and ice cream I dryly joked that "The slug was a bit too thin for me so please fatten it up a little more for my next visit". She almost screamed and scuttled off returning with the Head waiter who was full of apologies and did not give me much chance to point out about my familiarity with cockroaches etc. Later after coffee I asked for the bill and was told "Oh No Sir There is no charge and we do promise that the occurrence would never be repeated". I was tempted to carry my own slug with me for the next meal but no!.
That afternoon when I strolled in Hyde Park I met one of the Sergeants strolling in the sun with his head low and bare footed and wearing only a pair of shorts. I asked him where was his uniform and footwear and he told me in a resigned voice that he had collected all his back pay and demob gratuity and started to play One up with a gambling school in the corner of the Park. He had lost every penny and all his clothes but commented cheerfully "They were pretty decent blokes. They gave me back a pair of shorts!". Gambling is a stupid game and I was appalled.
Seven days shore leave was granted limited to a 200 mile radius of Sydney so I again slipped off sharp. I was one of the more senior serving POs by this time the others, Lofty Locke, Merrit and Bambour, with whom I had joined the reformed 812 so long ago it seemed to me, had gone home for demob. I determined to visit Melbourne and visit my father's cousin Bill Davidson whom I had met as a boy at a family wedding in pre-war Scotland. I made my way to the main Railway Station and, after checking that there were no Naval Police there joined the Melbourne overnight train which was crowded and found the last seat in a carriage next to an Australian Servicewoman. Opposite were four nuns who looked at my British Naval Uniform with suspicion. This was the opposite response to the average Aussie who were very welcoming.
It was a long slow journey and we changed trains to a different gauge track at the Melbourne State Border. There was no food nor refreshments on the train but when we changed railway lines there was beer for sale but there were too many thirsty travellers for the time available. As the hours passed my fellow travellers settled down to sleep if they could and, as any sailor inevitably got to know an adjoining female, she and I settled to sleep comfortably snuggled against each other. I woke up to the click-click of a rosary and to see the disapproving eyes of two of the nuns sitting upright in the opposite seat as they looked at our entwined comfort.
Early morning Melbourne and I explored the centre of the city and asked how to get to my cousins house on the banks of the Yarra River. I arrived there at a neat Bungalow by mid morning, unannounced and unexpected. The lady who answered my knock looked at me when I asked for Mr Bill Davidson and said "Yes but he's at work. With a nose and chin like you have you must be a Davidson. Come in" and I spent three happy days with Una and Bill. Una was Australian, the Tobias family had emigrated from rural England in the mid nineteenth century. They took me touring and I saw, along with Una's sister and her husband, much of the surrounding countryside including the lovely Dandenong Range. Wakening early the first morning I heard Bill going to work. He was the General Secretary of a Brown Coal Mining Company. I lay quiet not to intrude and sat up in bed when Una, to my surprise, brought in a huge breakfast of fruit, juice cereals, bacon egg and sausages and tea. Breakfast for months had been little more than a slice of bread and tea. I weighed well under 8 stone as thin as a rake but pretty fit.
I managed the juice and half of the bacon and the egg, but that was it . My shrunken stomach just could not take another bite. At first Una was disappointed then she recognised that this was a situation that was unknown to food plenty Australia. They would have to accept the condition with the return of some of its servicemen from the Prison Camps and Jungle Theatres of War. I felt that I would be better to be safely back within the prescribed Leave Radius for the last two days of my short leave and left with an invitation from Una and Bill to come and stay with them if I wished to take up the option, which was open to British servicemen in Australia, to be demobbed there.
Leave ending and back to the Vengeance in Sydney Harbour.
Next morning we were told to pack all our gear for the Squadrons were posted ashore at an airfield outside Sydney at Schofields and we were trucked to the station in full gear carying kitbags and hammocks and all our equipment. We took the train to Blacktown [I think it was] and again loaded all into trucks to a Compounded Camp because of our coveted rum ration issue and, I learnt later, held in a Naval Detention Block near to the manned guard house. I had been a year in the tropics and had a mahogany coloured tan perfect for Bondi Beach [to which I later went often] but the perspiration plus the chaffing of carrying kitbags etc lifted large areas of skin exposing tender pure white underskin. Others were the same and we were furious to lose that tropical service look.
Although Schofields was a good posting in so far that you could take the train in the afternoon into Sydney for a run ashore and get back by 8am next morning, I did not like it as much as Jervis Bay with it Eucalyptus and Gum forest with glimpses of wild Kangaroos, brilliant coloured birds and green and olive brown vegetation. We could not sunbathe in quiet moments stretched out on the ground because of the biting ants. We had to lie on the over hot aluminium wings of a plane. The sleeping quarters were corrugated iron huts which, in the midday sin and compounded because of the high humidity, became an inferno. On board ship there were at least fans blowing hot sea air. The humidity was very high and a ranging head cold ran through the Mess. It was strange coughing and sneezing in the sweating heat.
By this time we were changing over from 3 man Barracudas to 2 man Fairey Fireflies which were mainly crewed by a Pilot and Observer and we retained only the odd Telegraphist Air Gunners such as O'Reilly I think his name was, an older pre-war Chief Petty Officer. We flew early every morning. I received a letter in March a couple of years ago from an old 812 pilot who wrote that on the day he wrote he checked up with his old Air Log and saw that I had flown with him exactly 52 years before. I recall that flight because we flew over Sydney and low over the house of a girl that I had met and who lived on Bondi Beach. We then near to Sidney bridge where the pilot told me over the intercom that a FAA pilot had flown under the Bridge the day before and was on an official Charge. We had a dicey landing in that the flaps did not come down and the plane finally stopped off the runway nearly on our nose and about 10yards from the banks of the Hawkesburgh? River.
I can see to this day what was called the Midday Libertymen Parade in that Ratings going on shore leave paraded for inspection outside the Guardroom before walking through the gate and into town and the Railway Station for the train to Sidney. Everyone was smart and spruced up in their No 1 uniform, and the odd rating was body searched to the waist to prevent smuggling rum and duty free cigarettes out of the camp. However the racket was to wear long stockings which held packets of tobacco or small bottles of rum against the leg causing the rating to march stiffly and smartly until he got well down the road and into the bushes. There he rolled up his trousers and transferred the contents to the safety of his pockets.
I was transferred for two days to Guard room Cell duty and it was an experience. The Cells, a long secure corrugated iron hut with lines of iron beds held 12 to from 15 detained ratings awaiting to be shipped back to the UK to serve a prison sentence. Their crimes ranged from robbery, rape, assault, desertion and even one attempted murder. My shift was 6am when I lined up the prisoners for inspection by the Duty Officer to 6pm when there was another parade and inspection. These men had little to lose and they the roughest of the tough often with previous convictions. The Duty PO slept in the same room in one corner. I also had a couple of ratings as Jauntymen who changed at each watch as I remember. With the Officer of the Watch and the duty ratings I checked in and out any Libertymen. Incidentally I stood back from any searches, breaking rackets was not my responsibility as a two night Officer. Young Officers are taught in the Navy "Never give an order that you know will not be obeyed" and the art, or science of controlling reluctant men is something on which I would hesitate to comment.
The prisoners were a bunch of resentful dodgers who had dumb insolence down to a fine art and with any new Officer they were ready to see how far they could go. When I lined them up for inspection I picked out one small shifty sailor and barked out " Straighten your collar" which he did automatically and moved to a slow looking beetle browed stoker who could be a passive leader and said quietly to him "How long have you been here" gently but with indifference and a straight stare into his eyes. He thought slowly but could take no offence nor could do other than answer "Six weeks PO" to which I nodded slowly and thoughtfully, then stepped back and looked with a blank stare at a naval airman who fidgeted and barked out suddenly hearing the arrival of the Duty Officer and the duty ratings.
All went well and I got the receiving Carry on PO' order and dismissed the prisoners. So far so good. I had been on the side, and a student of, the methods of calculated control by Naval Disciplinarians and had had some experience in its application. but these prisoners were the worst by far. That night I slept literally with one eye open.
The second night about 10 oclock I was called out by the Guards that a "Civvy was looking for his dog".
Sailors are sentimental especially when drunk and were known to return to camp with a puppy hidden in the front of their tunics. So I escorted the Aussie all round the camp where he called out the name of his dog without success then I saw him passed through the guards and out of the camp. It was then he whispered to me " Have you any Duty free ciggies or rum". I shook my head saying " Why ask me now that we are out of the camp. Too late!" Even then I despaired at mankinds inability think ahead and anticipate difficulties.
The Aussies were very hospitable and we were often invited to parties. One of the new Air Radio POs who had joined us was Manwairing, an Oxford graduate whose father I was told was a Don. I met him by chance in Sydney and he asked me along to a party that evening. It was at Kings Cross a bit like Soho in London and at a flat owned by a White Russian Lady who had arrived in Sydney via China. One of the other guests was a nurse who, when I chatted with her, I noted a Scots accent and said "Where are you from ?" To which she replied "Perth" and I commented " It's a far cry from Scotland". She looked at me a bit puzzled and said "My parents are from Scotland but I'm from Perth -- Western Australia". I felt a real fool.
Later that evening we heard gunfire outside and rushed to the Balcony to look out along the street. Our hostess stopped us with outstretched hands " No No Boys. You don't see or hear anything here". After it had quietened down I thought I'd be better back catching the train to the camp.
At another party I had been asked to take any Jap souvenirs to interest the other guests and had a Jap army flag with me. It was greatly admired and a rather plump Aussie suddenly said to me "I'll give you three quid for it". I was completely taken aback. Three pounds was a lot of money and I gasped What ,"Four" he said I looked at him unbelievingly and said " Four pounds?" "Five and thats my final offer". "Done it's yours.
Today I wonder if I should have kept a rare Jap flag from the surrender of Hong Kong, but life was short then and the future debatable and such a large sum as that, at that time, was irresistible. Back on board the Vengeance we put to sea and, off lying well off Sydney. under the terms of Lease Lend, the Naval Airmen pushed airworthy Corsairs one after the other over the bows of the flight deck and watched the machines on which so many man-hours had been spent, and lives lost sink. Then because they were now obsolete, the Barracudas followed.
The Indian Ocean
I am not certain but I think we went back into Sydney and tied along side some cranes and wharves and had a last night ashore before sailing in the evening. The quay was crowded with returning matelots saying a tearful farewell to girls and the many Australians who had befriended them. Riddington and I had spent two or three weekends with an elderly couple who ran a duck farm on the outskirts of the city. The wife was a hospitable lady originally from Lancashire and we had already thanked them and I presented her with a woven Chinese basket from Hong Kong. As the cables were cast off an Australian girl stowaway was led ashore and the quay was noisy with shouts of 'cherio' and 'good sailing' and wailing girls 'you will come back' and the Ships Company lining the railings and the flight deck and waving and trying to pick out their particular friends.
It had been stormy when we sailed eastwards between Tasmania and Australia and it was the same going west. When any sailor gets a Tannoy to report to the Jaunty's Office he is filled with apprehension as I was when I made my way off the gale swept flight deck to find it was a telegram from Una and Bill wishing me a happy birthday and I remembered that it was my 21st birthday. It had gone out of my mind. As I climbed back up the open companionway, I took out my Pay Book, which was carried about especially ashore as much as possible for it was a sort of Identity Card, and, as I folded in the Greetings Telegram, the only one I had ever received, a slip of paper flew up in the wind and over the side. It was the address of an Australian girl to which I had sworn to write and to keep in touch. I did write later to what I thought was the address without success. Sailors are said to be like that but I felt bad about it after the welcome we had in Australia.
We were bound for Ceylon and berthed once again in Columbo, the Fireflies having flown off for Katakarunda and were given a weeks Compulsory Leave at a Hill Station Naval camp at Neuralia, the name Diatalawa comes to mind. The whole squadron boarded the narrow gauge train to Kandy and we puffed off climbing slowly at what seemed 20 miles an hour. We travelled all day stopping at only a few stations in the jungle perhaps to water or for coal. The carriages were not very comfortable being cramped with narrow slatted wooden seats and there was little ventilation and no refreshments other than that sold by natives at the few stations. No one was permitted to leave the train and at one stop a native was trying to sell lemonade from a crate and a sailor offered to barter a tin of loose Navy cigarette tobacco for the complete crate.
The bidding was slow and time was passing so each agreed to the swop subject to checking the goods, and as they exchanged the whistle for departure blew. As the train reluctantly jolted to a walking pace the native opened the tobacco tin and started to scream to the sailor that he was a bloody rogue-for the top layer of tobacco when pulled aside exposed crumpled newspaper. At the same time the sample bottle of lemonade which tasted good was passed back into the carriage and a second bottle was opened . It was water and all the others were as well. The sailor howled "F****** thieving bastard" to the departing platform and shaking his fist to the screaming native who was running alongside the carriage. They had each met their match.
The camp was set high in the mountains amongst tea plantations and the quarters comfortable in a colonial style with the food and service better than we had hitherto experienced. The loos were unique in that they were a row of cubicles with wooden holed seats near the edge of a sheer face into which there appeared to be caves .If you dropped a stone down the opening on which you sat it was a long time before there was even the suggestion of the stone striking anything. and a fairly fresh breeze blew up through the holes at most times of the day.
The joke in the Mess was that you had to be careful at night when the bats flew out of the seats.
I liked it, the cool hill temperature after the steaming equator and the burnt fuel smells of shipboard. The nights were marvellous and soft and heavens were sparkling bright. The air was clear with hints of soil, spicy vegetation and strong colours of land mountains and plants.
The ship had been on tropical routine since we approached the Equator and it was the same on Leave. Most of my messmates relaxed and slept in the afternoon after their tot issue, but I 'saved' some of mine for the evening and used the afternoons to explore the area around the camp including a run ashore to Neuaralia. The town was a product of the British Raj, a cooler holiday hill station for the planters, Army and businessmen from the UK It was partly a transplanted English town with parks trees, bandstands wide streets, Victorian architecture, golf courses and a Planters Club. Many years later my wife and I holidayed in Sri Lanka and stayed at the Club with its Dining room, lounges and bedrooms with log fires and I was struck how similar was to the many Highland Shooting Lodges that I knew from my work.
When we were on leave in the hills India, and Ceylon were in the process of gaining independence and, having been raised with discussion of and tales of my father's planter friends home on leave, I went one afternoon for a walk through the nearby tea plantations. I was examining a row of bushes when a voice said to me, "Good afternoon Sahib Are you interested in tea growing". I turned and saw an elderly Tamil and replied "Yes I am. I have heard a lot about tea and rubber plantations when I was young and I find it very interesting to be on one." He looked at me for a moment and said questioningly " If you will forgive me Sahib, what part of Aberdeenshire do you come from ?".
I gazed at him in wonder and said " What, how do you know? Aberdeen but Old Meldrum" Thinking What am I saying - this native doesn't know the name of a village back home" Then he said " Yes I thought so. You see that plantation was made by Mackenzie from Turriff nd the one round the hill was from Fyvie. This Plantation was run by Colquhon of course he was from Argyle but it was all Scotsmen mostly from the North East who made this place fertile. It was a desert when they came and now it is Paradise".
I was silenced then he talked on and explained the differing processes and we chatted for a long time.
His parting comment was" They want what they call freedom and independence. I don't agree with it. It will never be better just a lot worse. I limited myself to a noncommittal sound, thanked him, and returned to the camp and too soon the leave ended and we chugged down to see level and to Katakarunda.
I was glad to be back and much more relaxed for the war was over and surely we were on our way home. I was now the senior Air PO in 812 squadron and with no need for Telegraphist Airgunners for a two man Firefly they were replaced by Air Radio Mech POs and Killicks for, with Radar, Iffy; Beacons Navigation control more Radio and Radar men were needed. Radar was unknown on board aircraft when I trained and we now had a new breed of specialised Radar ARM's and I have a photograph at Katakarunda of the Air Radio POs of 812, eight in number compared to the three then four that the squadron started with. The pilots were changing. They no longer flew by the seat of their pants but depended more and more on electronics.
Life was less grim than on our outward visit to Ceylon in that we had swimming parties to Bentoto Beach many afternoons driving there in a borrowed Duck, motorised Landing Craft. We used to note that the local fishermen were pleased to see us and put to see when we came.
They were shark fisherman, we thought we were the bait.!
At the end of the beach was a Moslem Mosque. I had visited and explored quite a Buddhist Temples often half overgrown in the jungle, some in villages and all were open to anyone. I had never been inside a Mosque and I examined it from the outside feeling that it would be improper to go in but, as I examined the construction I was approached by a young man who, when he saw my interest, went away and returned with permission for me to see inside from the entrance.
Sailors when they land are ingenious in making or winning [purloining ] or acquiring objects for their creature comforts. This we did when we were out in the plane dispersal bays. For example ammunition crates were converted to chairs and tables, empty beer bottles had a circle of petrol soaked twine which was lit dangling over a pail of water then immersed producing in most cases a good glass for beer or juice or, with a lashed on tin handle, a cup for tea when the NAAFI native came around in the middle of the sweltering morning.
I have two bad memories of Ceylon in that those who had been at sea from the start of the Commission suffered from shrinking gums caused by distilled water and poor food and had to get special dental treatment. This entailed a lengthy session with the Dentist who drilled out the soft exposed dentine round the base of each tooth and to replace it with metal filling. In addition I had lost front teeth when I struck the machine gun in the Barracuda and had four replacements with wire clips which had worn into good teeth. We all had cavities with the poor food. I had no breakfast and nearly three hours work I returned with a sore mouth sore and famished to a Mess that was closing after lunch, I was greeted by the Head Boy who when I asked for something light said "Very sorry Master. We only have curry left. Very good but very hot". I was famished and it was very hot and I nearly broke into flames. I shudder at curry to this day as I do to coconut[Pacific] and ground nuts [Malta] having had, at different times, to eat such food morning noon and night.
So I ended up training Native recruits square bashing as punishment after a Charge in front of the Captain of the Station.We had been warned that he was 'Old RN' and that he thought the Hostilities Only Navymen, especially the Fleet Air Arm personnel, were a sloppy undisciplined lot. I played in the squadron Hockey team from the Med, at sea, and in Hong Kong and was returning along a rutted potholed road from a match wearing only shorts and sandals and we went to pass the Captain [God} walking the other way. My companion had his peaked hat on and saluted. Without a hat the proper procedure is to turn the head sharply towards the Senior Officer which I did, but as I turned my head I stepped into a pothole and the Captain receive a curt nod from me.
Needless to say I was ' On a Charge ' and the Navy does not recognise excuses such as explaining the pothole, so I found myself from midday to two oclock on the Equator drilling poor Indian ratings on a small Parade ground. It had been terraced out of the side of a steep hill so that there was an almost vertical drop on one edge. My About turn, Left Wheel ,Quick March etc had to be crisp, shouted out from a dry throat, watching through perspiration pouring down my face and soaking my already sweat black sodden khaki tropical shirt. I was more sorry for the poor Indians than I was for myself. I could stand still as long - as they did not get out of shouting distance.
The second was when I was called for evening watch as Duty PO. When I reported to the CPO he said, Duty PO Ratings Canteen. Theres a bad lot there just now Last nights PO is in hospital but hes OK.
Youve got two men but at the first sign of trouble Ill have the Marine guard down. Ill have them standing by. It was the only time I ever thought I detected sympathy in a Jauntys manner. Then I stopped and thought Oh Hell - its Pay-day!
I did have two, a runt of a seaman and a gangling naval airman . The first went to an open low window and the second was stationed outside the single entrance. We each had a whistle. They were told to run for help if I blew it. The centre of the canteen was filled with a huge long table with lined with sailors sitting on long forms and there were odd chairs at the walls which soon filled up as the evening progressed. I stood at one end of the long counter with the Native barmen behind. When I first entered I had unfriendly looks and whispers especially from a group of half a dozen or more pretty tough looking Seamen and Stokers.
Then he/she came in, an Officers Steward, wavy blond hair, white silk shirt, tight black naval trousers and made up like cast ewe dressed as lamb. S/he stopped at the door and waved to the Stoker group who shouted back Come and join us Sugar Then she saw me and walked towards me, stopped and looked me up and down. The room fell absolutely silent. The runt was half way out of the window and Lofty was well outside. Then s/he simpered and said,
Weve got a new PO tonight Boys. Isnt that nice. Have a drink with me PO Eh.
Have a drink with Sugar PO said a seaman, and the others shouted Yes, Go on
If I had agreed I would have lost any control, if I refused in a stiff manner there could be a riot. The native Messmen had disappeared leaving the Bar empty. I nodded my head to one side and smiled cheerfully at Sugar and replied Love to but--eh- You know the Jaunty would come down hard on me. But well have one another time, OK
The room was quiet and waited for Sugars reaction. He turned to the group at the table who are waiting expectantly and grinning and said The Petty Officer is nice. Hes OK; Boys!
I have few prejudices -- but!.