A few days later we rounded the southern tip of Ceylon but instead of putting into the main East Indies Fleet base of Trincomalee, continued to sail up the East coast of India. Soon both squadrons flew off and ultimately landed at RNAS. Tambaram near Madras.
I think all our squadron were keen to get amove on and join the British Pacific Fleet but it seemed that wheels were turning very slowly at the Admiralty or somewhere along the line, for we spent two weeks at Tambaram. The time was not completely wasted as the new Gyro Gun Sight (GGS) were fitted to our aircraft and then we had time to engage in mock combat and become familiar with the use of GGS. The other development at Tambaram came as a slight shock to us. Bomb racks were fitted and we began to practice dive-bombing techniques. All our recent training had been directed toward defence of the ship by combat air patrols against enemy intruders or fighter cover for our Torpedo Bomber friends. Now we were developing a strike role which could be adopted against both enemy shipping and shore installations.
On the 1st July 1945, we flew back aboard 'Vengeance' as she began the journey of several thousand miles South-East across the Indian Ocean to Sydney, Australia, HQ of the British Pacific Fleet. A day or so after leaving Ceylon the ship crossed the Equator and those of us not having done so before, had to endure the traditional 'Crossing the Line Ceremony', consisting in a ducking by 'King Neptune' in a canvas tank of sea-water rigged up on the flight deck.
The voyage to New South Wales took about two weeks, during which good weather conditions made it possible to continue to practice our flying skills with regular sorties of combat air patrol, GGS exercises and dive bombing practice upon targets towed by one of the destroyers.
With the ship approaching Sydney harbour, both squadrons were flown off and landed at a small Naval Air Station at Jervis Bay, about 50 miles South of Sydney. This was our first experience of a "MONAB" - Mobile Operational Naval Air Base. Facilities were very limited, a small landing field, refuelling tankers, portable flying control tower, temporary maintenence and repair sheds and portable squadron offices.
The village of Jervis Bay was by way of being a sailing and fishing holiday centre serving the citizens of nearby Sydney. One of it's few medium-sized hotels became our squadron mess, the Links Hotel. Here we were introduced to Australian beer, lighter and sweeter than English bitter, somewhere in between bitter and continental lager. We had no trouble getting used to it!. The hotel food made a welcome change from the staple diet aboard ship at sea and if the menu was dominated by Australian lamb, at least it was fresh succulent lamb of superb quality.
Our time at Jervis Bay was spent in more training exercises, with the emphasis upon dive bombing techniques. On the 6th August we heard news of the first Atomic Bomb, known as 'Little Boy', dropped on Hiroshima, followed three days later by 'Fat Man' dropped on Nagasaki. This was stunning news of momentous importance. Firstly it heralded the end of the War (the Japanese surrender was in fact announced on the 14th August). Secondly it added a hitherto unknown dimension to the conduct of war that we might be faced with in the future. This all led to vigourous debate in the wardroom for several days.
VJ-Day was to be celebrated on August 15th but we had to miss out on this one for on the 13th both squadrons were recalled to the ship which then set off with the remainder of out task force heading North for the Admiralty Islands. En route we still maintained combat air patrol over the fleet in case some mad Jap pilot should attempt a final kamikaze attack.
We knew by now that our first attack upon the enemy would have been a strike on the Jap held island of Truk and that but for the Jap surrender, this would have taken place the folowing week. The realisation that it was all over when we had been so close to fulfilling the purpose of our training was a great anti-climax and left us with very mixed emotions. There was certainly disappointment that after two and a half years of intensive training we were not to be put to the test, but there was also considerable relief that we were no longer faced with the task of mounting air strikes on the Japanese homeland with their murderous ack-ack defences. The ship too would have been constantly at risk of attack from the suicidal Jap pilots with their crazy kamikaze tactics.
After about ten day's sailing we reached Manus, one of the Admiralty Islands, some 2,000 miles from Sydney and about 200 miles North of the New Guinea coast. The group of islands lay only 2 degrees South of the equator and were therefore unbearably hot and humid with an annual rainfall of 150 inches. Our British ship's were ill equipped to cope with such conditions. A clean shirt was soaked in sweat in less than half an hour. Shoes and blue clothing turned green with mildew within 48 hours.
The islands were technically governed by Australia and had been occupied by Japanese forces in 1942 and then overtaken by American forces in March 1945. Their great value in the context of the Pacific war theatre was the enormous deep water harbour at Manus, some 15 miles long by 4 miles wide, well protected by a ring of islands and coral reefs. The US Navy construction units, known as the 'Seabees' had, with their customary vigour, demonstrated what can be achieved in terms of rapid deployment of resources when fuelled by determination allied to an extremely efficient organisation. Four or five airstrips were laid on Manus and it's neighbouring islands plus many miles of metalled roads. There was a church, a hospital, a recreation centre, cinema, accomodation and admin blocks galore, saw-mills and water pumping stations. In short, a major military base and all in 5 months!. One of the airstrips was on the island of Ponam which was generously allocated to British use. Our squadron was soon flown off and after a short exercise, landed at Ponam. The island was only one and a half miles wide and just long enough to accomodate the air strip. Nevertheless, there was a church, hospital, cinema, officer and ratings messes and several workshops. The small population of natives had been resettled on other neighbouring islands. I am not sure how they felt about this but I daresay after we had all cleared off they would have returned and taken advantage of some of what was left behind.
Ponam was exactly what one would have imagined, an idyillic pacific island to be. We were only there for a few day's and my abiding memories are of the joy of swimming naked in the clear blue water on one side of the island and using the loos on the other side!. These were jetties built out over the water with seating over holes which allowed one to watch the fish feeding. We made sure not to select fish if it appeared on the mess menu!.
After a few days the squadron returned to the ship and there was a short spell of kicking our heels in harbour at Manus while the powers that be, were sorting out which ship's were going where to do what. We were initially designated to be part of the force reclaiming the crown colony of Singapore. However this was changed by our being added to the task force reclaiming Hong Kong. Thus we became part of Task Group 111.2 headed by 'Indomitable' flying the flag of Admiral Harcourt and including the carriers 'Venerable' and 'Vengeance', the cruisers 'Swiftsure' and 'Euryalus', plus several destroyers and mine sweepers. Subsequently we were joined by the battleships 'Anson' and 'Duke of York'. I doubt whether Hong Kong has, before or since, seen such an impressive display of Naval might anchored within it's harbour.
The C in C British Pacific Fleet, Admiral Fraser had arrived in the 'Duke of York' and was present in Government House on September 16th when Major General Okada and Vice Admiral Fujita officially surrendered Hong Kong to Admiral Harcourt.
The surrender ceremony was followed by a Victory Parade when many of our ship's crew were designated to form a line-out of the route of the victory parade and we squadron pilots were each put in charge of a section of the route. It was a most impressive occasion and made us feel proud to be British.
During the next few weeks we had to forget about flying as we were allocated to various tasks involved in the restoration of normal facilities and services for the large civilian population. I was one of the group given the urgent task of preparing temporary accomodation for a stream of ex-prisoners of war and internees who were being assembled from the Hong Kong and Shanghai camps, before being shipped back to the UK.
There was no shortage of empty flats but they were ina disgusting state, having been used to house the Japanese Garrison. We were therefore given a labour force of Jap soldiers, together with naval escorts and set about cleaning the places up and 'borrowing' what we could find in the way of basic furniture and bedding.
Soon the first internees from Shanghai arrived and were a sobering sight. They were so emaciated that one could hardly imagine the privations they must have endured and it seemed a wonder that they had survived at all.
During the several weeks we had been engaged in 'civil duties' our own accomodation had been in large tents erected on spare land on Kai-Tak airfield. This proved to be quite good fun until one night there was a thunderstorm leading to a monumental downpour and by morning we found our campbeds sitting in several inchs of water. Shortly after this six of us who had been in the rehabilitation party 'acquired temporary use' of an empty villa we knew of, on nearby Prince of Wales Road, Kowloon. We managed to gather some simple furnishings and were soon offered the services of an amah, an elderly daily help who cleaned up for us. John Morris-Jones was one of our number and we therefore had the benefit of listening to his gramaphone and we soon began to feel that things were becoming more civilised.
In early October we returned to 'Vengeance' which put to sea. Both squadrons were flown off and then took up residence at Kai-Tak airfield. 'Vengeance' proceeded to Tokyo where I imagine she would have collected ex-POW's and Internees on the first stage of repatriation to the UK.
Kai-Tak then became our home for several weeks and we engaged in several exercises to 'keep our hand in'. There were patrols over the New Territories, tactical reconnaisance of a number of outlying islands, air support to Commando units making anti-piracy landings on some islands, photographic reconnaisance of some parts of the territory and simulated attacks upon HMS. Implacable, Glory and Adamant, the latter being a submarine depot ship.
While at Kai-Tak and in the daily company of our sister squadron 812, I took the opportunity to fly a Barracuda II. It was a large, ungainly, ugly aircraft with a Merlin engine of only 1600h.p. According to my log book I indulged in aerobatics, stalls and spins. I must have been mad to do so for I have since read of it's several vices and it's appalling record of fatal accidents. I was flying it solo and found it seriously under-powered. What it must have been like with the addition of an observer a rear gunner and a torpedo I dread to think. It seems a good example of what was produced by a bunch of Admirals who were blinkered, battleship oriented and devoid of any aviation experience.
In mid-December 1945 I fell victim to yellow jaundice and was smartly transferred to the sick-bay on 'Vengeance' followed by a period confined to cabin on a strictly controlled diet. I had more or less recovered by mid-January, by which time the ship had left Hong Kong en passage for New Guinea. There we collected several hundred Australian troops in need of repatriation. On the journey from Port Moresby to Sydney I became friendly with Colin Forrest, an Aussi Army Lieutenant. I was due to some sick leave once we reached Australia and Colin very kindly invited me to spend some time with him and his family at Orange, New South Wales. Orange is about 100 miles West of Sydney, beyond the Blue Mountains. A small town of around 10-15,000 population, it had a feel of the American wild west about it. Principally because it had covered weather-board sidewalks along some parts of the main street.
Colin's family were of Irish decent and were warm-hearted and generous in their welcome. His younger sister took charge of me some of the time and introduced me to the golf club (I couldn't play but managed to hack my way around) and to some of her friends, one of whom was Vivienne Kingston, an 18 year old blonde girl. Vivienne and I 'clicked' immediately and went on to develop a close relationship.
In mid-February I began an Instrument Flying course with 702 squadron at RNAS. Schofields, not far from Sydney. This was flown using twin-engined Airspeed Oxford aircraft which seemed huge compared with our Corsair's. Two weeks later it was back to 1850 squadron and the beloved Corsair. A few Navexs, a few interceptions using GGS, a simulated dive bombing attack on 'Implacable' and 'Glory' and some dummy deck landings and we were ready to rejoin 'Vengeance'. On the 20th March 1946 we took our leave of Australia and the British Pacific Fleet; not without some regret on the part of most pilot's, for there was much to be said for the Australian way of life, the friendly people and the glorious climate.
Now began the long haul across the Indian Ocean en route for UK via Ceylon. We managed to get in several hours flying by way of combat air patrols, interception exercises, a simulated strike on the ship and a simulated strike by both TBR (Torpedo Bomber Reconnaissance) and fighter aircraft on the Cocos Islands. In the latter, I was given the task of leading the fighter escort element.
Nearing Ceylon, both 1850 and 812 squadrons flew off and landed at RNAS. Katukurunda while the ship put into China Bay for refuelling. A few days later, 'Vengeance' was directed to Singapore to collect ex-POW's and Internees for repatriation and she left China Bay on April 10th, we gave her a good beat-up to send her on her way.
There followed about six weeks of very pleasant and relaxed living at Katukurunda. There was still plenty of flying, including strafing practice using live ammunition and dive bombing with real bombs but in the main it was fun-flying with plenty of aerobatics and mock combats. My speciality was an 'upward charlie', beginning with a dive, pulling up to a vertical climb, doing a complete roll and then over the top to complete the loop. One of my compatriates at our 1997 reunion said I was the only chap he had seen do a perfect 'upward charlie' in a Corsair, finishing on the same heading at which entered. The secret was to begin by lining up on something straight like a runway, a railway or a canal and once in the vertical climb watch the line in the rear-view mirror and then ensure that the roll finished on the same line started.
Our flying at Katukurunda was mostly confined to the mornings because of the intense heat and humidity which developed by mid-day. We then succumbed to the temptation of lunchtime drinks in the wardroom bar and crashing out on one's bunk bed for a few hours in the afternoon. The attraction of this routine diminished after a week or two and relief came in the form of Lt. Commander Cedric Coxon, C.O. of the Firefly squadron 812, who had access to a D.U.K.U. (like a large boat with wheels). A party of six or a dozen 'bods' would then be ferried by Cedric to one of the local beaches, all isolated, uninhabited, palm fringed with lovely golden sand and crystal clear water. Pure heaven!.
One day a party of us ventured into the capital city of Colombo and when taking tea in one of the large hotels, met an expatriot rubber planter who had charge of a large estate in the high country of the island's interior. He was an interesting sort of character and invited us to spend a week-end with him when he would show us the estate and it's rubber production process. It was a sweltering afternoon in downtown Colombo and when he said he had a large rocky swimming pool fed by a cool mountain stream we were hooked. He was as good as his word. He had a lovely large house, a well stocked bar, a good cook and this beautiful pool formed by damming up a mountain stream near the house.
He tried to spread the gospel by espousing the virtues of his industry, the authority an estate manager commanded, the good salary, the easy living with plentiful servants etc., etc. He was sure we were just the sort of chaps his company was looking for. Unfortunately for him, we already had the impression that the day's of the British Raj were numbered and he didn't get any takers.
Pilots in the various squadrons were now being returned to the UK in small groups for demobilisation, some by air others by sea. My turn came in late May 1946 together with fellow pilot's Tim Adkin and Sid Courtis. We had a good old party the night before leaving and then set off to join the 'County' class cruiser HMS. Cumberland for the passage home. The only duties we were given on board 'Cumberland' were occasional spells as assistant watch-keeping officers on the bridge, leaving plenty of off-duty time to devote to reading and sun-bathing. By the time we reached home we were deeply tanned if not particulary fit!. We had one break on the journey. A 24 hour stop over in harbour in Gibraltar which gave a good opportunity to stock up with a few presents for the family.
We disembarked at Pompey and handed in our various bits of regulation flying gear at Lee-on-Solent (FAA HQ). I was loathe to part with the very accurate Omega watch and the very useful sunglasses but could not find a good enough reason why I should be allowed to keep them!. It was then a matter of selecting a demob suit, collecting some back pay and a 1st class rail warrant and then off to mu mother's home at 47 Victoria Street, Newark.
On reflection, I feel that those of us who served in 1850 and 1851 squadrons were lucky. Those who were posted to 1849 squadron had mixed fortunes. Following four fatalities in 1849 during work up at Brunswick the squadron was disbanded on return to the UK. The Admiralty had recently adopted a policy of increasing the pilot complement of carrier based squadrons from 18 to 24. Six former 1849 pilots were then allocated to 1850 and 1851 squadrons.
I did not know at the time what happened to the remaining pilots, including our Canadian buddies at OTU Jacksonville, Gerry Anderson, Bill Asbridge and 'Shep' Sheppard. Many years after the war's end I learned that these three had been posted to 1841 squadron which already had several Canadian pilots including their renowned Senior Pilot 'Hammy' Gray, the only Fleet Air Arm VC. It was only reading a biography of Hammy Gray that, after years of wondering why the FAA Blue Book had no entry for Gerry, Bill or Shep, the tragic truth was revealed: they had each lost their lives in the final few months of the war.
Their squadron 1841 was part of the fighter complement of HMS. Formidable, a fleet carrier of the 'Illustrious' class, which was a unit of Task Force 37, engaged in subduing Japanese use of airfields in the Sakashima Gunto and finally on the Japanese mainland. 'Shep' lost his life when his Corsair plunged into the sea alongside 'Formidable', either in an aborted landing or take-off. Bill Asbridge was shot down while engaged in a ramrod strike against airfields and installations in the Tokyo area on the 18th April 1945. There is no record of whether he survived the ensuing crash. However it was well known that captured aircrew suffered immediate execution by a barbarous enemy. Gerry Anderson came to grief on the 9th August 1945 in a ramrod attack upon airfields in the Tokyo area. This was after the first Atomic Bomb had been dropped and when ramrods were still necessary to keep down the many would-be Kamikaze merchants. Gerry's Corsair sustained flak damage and although still flyable was steadily losing fuel. He made it back to 'Formidable' but his engine stopped at the most critical moment when he was just short of the after end of the flight deck. Another second or two of power and he would have made it. There is a gut-wrenching photo of his Corsair, back broken, perched for a few seconds half on and half off the roundown before sliding back into the sea.
This was upon the same day that the second Atomic Bomb was dropped and the following day, August 10th, saw the last operations of the war from 'Formidable'.