V.J. Day came on Wednesday 15th August 1945 and the World was at peace. Two days earlier I had flown back on board with 'Stormy' Fairweather as passenger and 'Kid' Attenburrow, one of the Corsair pilots clocked up the 1000th deck landing. On the 14th August we anchored in Sydney harbour and we enjoyed a run ashore that night.
On the historic day the skies were blue, the sun shone and there were puffy white clouds. We were anchored close enough in-shore to hear the bands playing and from the noise of the ships sirens there was obviously a huge party brewing. 'Clear lower deck' was piped and the whole ship's company in their smartest uniforms, fell in on the flight deck. Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, C-in-C British Pacific Fleet, came aboard and gave us a chat. We were expecting, "well done everyone, splice the mainbrace and take a couple of days leave". Instead we got, "well done everyone, you can splice the mainbrace in a couple of days when you get to Manus and you're sailing this afternoon". There could have been a riot and one or two suggested jumping overboard and swimming ashore but sanity prevailed and we slunk below to drown our sorrows.
In the afternoon we weighed anchor and sailed North in company with 'Colossus' and 'Bermuda' (cruiser) and three destroyers. Leaving the fireworks and fun behind we sailed at top speed (why?). The next day there was a concert in the hangar and on the 17th August we took off an did a dummy attack on the Fleet but we wondered for what purpose. Tom Stacey flew his Corsair through both barriers when landing-on and messed up a couple of others but no-one got hurt. We sailed on past New Guinea, New Britain and the Coral Islands finally dropping anchor off Manus Island, in the Admiralties, in the morning of 20th August. We spent the rest of the day fuelling. Colossus and Bermuda sailed away but we JUST SAT THERE! Manus seemed like hell on earth - HOT, STICKY, HUMID, NO BREEZE and very little to go ashore for. We did 'splice the mainbrace' but how much sweeter it would have tasted back in Sydney. The Americans had constructed the anchorage and port facilities and we did eventually go ashore to visit their officer's club where there were an unbelievable range of luxury goods for sale!. They were so well organised BUT their ships were 'DRY' and there was great competition among their officers to secure invitations to visit our ships! They were very, very thirsty!. In return we could go on board their ships where lashings of ice-cream would be served! I did not get aboard a Yankee ship but well remember a wild party on our quarter deck. Having slaked their thirsts several Americans staggered up to the flight deck whence they lept over 20 feet into the sea. They then swam round to our starboard-after gangway, climbed aboard, saluted and then proceeded to repeat the process. In the end the Commander stopped the fun but one character needed physical restraint!. The battleship ANSON came and went but we still sat there sweating.
On the 23rd August we put to sea for a day mainly to get some air through the ship. We flew off but my engine was rough so I landed back on after only 20 minutes. The next day I was ashore with 'Robbie' Burns but we were nearly drowned in a monsoon!. After a week which we think could have been better spent in Sydney, we flew off using R.A.T.O.G. loaded with 500lb. bombs which we proceeded to drop on some isolated rock. I think the Commander was trying to empty the ship's magazines so that the space could be otherwise used and this was one way of getting rid of the weapons! Ponam Island was just a large lump of coral where the Yanks had flattened a long strip into a runway. It now rejoiced in the name of H.M.S. Nabaron - otherwise MONAB 4. I remember there were some Vultee Vengeance dive bombers of 721 Squadron there. They had only ever been used for towing targets and now they were engaged in spraying D.D.T. on the mosquitoes! It struck me that the personnel who were permanently shore based in these sort of places were just about "round the twist".
We spent two days swimming in the lagoon and organised crab races on the beach! At last on the 30th August we sailed for Leyte in the Philippines, meanwhile 'Venerable' had got to Hong Kong and 'Glory' had reached Rabaul in New Guinea. We crossed the Equator on the 30th August and dropped anchor at Leyte on the 2nd September where we re-fuelled and re-provisioned and then sailed immediately. 'Colossus' and 'Bermuda' were also at Leyte prior to sailing for Shanghai.
After a pleasant two day cruise through the Philippines we arrived in Hong Kong harbour on the 5th September 1945. Already there were 'Indomitable', 'Venerable' and 'Vindex' (carriers) 'Anson' (battleship) 'Swiftsure' and 'Euryalus' (cruisers) 'Maidstone' (supply ship) 'Empress of Australia' (troop ship) and many more. Quite an indication that the BRITISH were back!
There now followed an interval of about five weeks when neither Squadron flew, until the beginning of October 1945. 'Vengeance' put to sea on the 1st October and two days later the Corsairs of 1850 Squadron flew ashore to Kai-Tak airfield which became H.M.S. Nabcatcher or MONAB 8. I seem to remember that the Corsairs were given a free reign to 'show the flag' and they had the time of their lives screaming around the Colony at low level. The ship returned to harbour on the 4th October when those of us who had been living ashore like gypsies 'walked' back on board. After not flying for six weeks the Squadron took off on the 8th October 1945 and flew in formation to Kai-Tak 'showing the flag' en route. My log book shows S/L. 'Bill' Williams as observer plus two passengers. They must have been very small and very uncomfortable!. The next day we took part in the 'Victory Fly Past over Hong Kong'. Included with the Corsairs and Barracudas were R.A.F. Spitfires that had recently flown in from Burma. It must have been quite impressive.
We were now to live under canvas in the middle of Kai-Tak airfield. Thinking 50 years ahead one marvels at the thought - imagine a tented camp in the middle of Heathrow! For nearly three months until we left Hong Kong at the end of December we flew very intensively. Border patrols, mine searches in the harbour entrances (where could they have come from?) anti-piracy patrols, close formation flying for photography and dive bombing with 250lb. on Table Island and on a rock known as Gau Tau cropped up very frequently. Commandos made an anti-piracy landing on Ping Chau Island and we gave low level support albeit without weapons! Ships arriving and leaving harbour were 'attacked' and then photographed from low altitude. 'Black Prince' (a new cruiser), 'Implacable', 'Glory' and 'Kempenfeld' (destroyer) all received our attention.
While the Squadrons were ashore the ship went about her business. I believe she went up to Japan and helped with repatriating the P.O.W.'s. She certainly brought back some thought provoking photographs of Hiroshima. Anyway she was back at the end of November and I flew back on board on the 29th November. There must have been rumours that we would soon discard our Barracudas because 'Mush' Taylor in an effort to pre-empt the situation crashed on deck the day before. No casualties but one less Barracuda. I got airborne off the accelerator loaded with 4 x 250lb. bombs and dive bombed a target towed by the ship (or one thrown over the side), anyway the 'audience' on board were pretty impressed. When I landed on it was to be the last time I flew a Barracuda on to the deck. After lunch we were airborne again and back to Kai-Tak. Quite a busy day.
For the next three weeks we continued flying from the shore base. There were some interesting trips and I recall no untoward incidents. The ship was loading prior to returning to Sydney and because of the deck cargo, we couldn't land on. Our aircraft were lightered out and then craned aboard on the 21st December.
We sailed for Sydney on the 28th December 1945. On board were many ex-internees and other civilians. We were very crowded and bunks and camp beds were set up in the hangar. On the way South we anchored at Labuan on the northern coast of Borneo and picked up many ex-P.O.W.'s, mainly Australians, anxious to get home. Whether we managed to off load some stores or not I don't know, but they made room on the flight deck for the Corsairs and Barracudas to fly off on the 12th January 1946. This was to be my last flight in a Barracuda and I had P.O. 'Pip' Piper and another passenger in the back seats.
We landed at Schofields not to far out of Sydney. This base, previously operated by the R.A.A.F. was now run by MONAB 6 and christened H.M.S. Nabstock. There was to be no flying for four weeks giving us time for some celebrations in the big City, albeit four months late. 812 Squadron's Ball took place at a splendid Roadhouse or Night Club called 'Oyster Bills' not far out of Town. The ship's dance band was in fine form and there was no lack of partners invited from the various Wrens quarters, local nurses etc. A crowd of us enjoyed a couple of weeks leave in the Blue Mountains at a place called Katoomba. We swam at Blackheath and spent many days on horse back in some lovely scenery.
On our return to Schofields at the beginning of February 1946 there had been many changes. The Barracudas had been spirited away to Bankstown where they were ditched or scrapped. In there place were several Fairey Fireflies all Mark 1 or FR.1's. These two seater Fleet fighters had Rolls Royce Griffon engines of 1735h.p. We had envied 1772 Squadron when they were working up back as Burscough in 1944 and now, with the War well and truly over, we were re-equipping with them!.
With the new aircraft came many new faces most notably, Lt. Cdr. R.A. Wynne-Roberts R.N. (otherwise known as 'Ropey') who took over as C.O. from Cedric Coxon. This was a hard act to follow and it took some of us 'old hands' a while to accept the change. I first flew a Firefly on the 7th February and after a couple of trips getting used to the 'tits and switches' found myself flying formation, indulging in tail chases and general aerobatics despite having never aspired to be a fighter pilot. 'Spike' Regan still our Senior Observer, elected to fly with me when I had just a couple of hours on type. I must say I felt rather honoured as 'Spike' normally showed no great inclination to fly just for the sake of it!.
The next six weeks was generally alot of fun with lots of formation practice some of it at night. We fired our four 20mm. cannon at targets in the sea, 'attacked' one another using camera guns and indulged in plenty of aerobatics. Some of the aircraft were fitted with A.S.H. (an up to the minute radar device) and the observers practised their skills at locating and directing us onto friendly targets. I imagine our future might have been as night fighter pilots although the back seat boys seemed to be having trouble with their new toys. In the middle of March we concentrated on deck landing practice ready for the 19th March when we re-joined the ship. My first deck-landing in a Firefly could have ended in disaster as, in my anxiety, I failed to select 'full flaps' for the final approach! I must have arrived in rather a hurry catching the seventh (last but one) wire and stopping just before hitting the barrier. On reflection I wondered why the batsman or his 'teller' failed to spot my error and give me a wave off. Never mind nothing got broken.
We left Australia about this time with some regrets but cheered by the knowledge that we were at least, on the way home. During the next couple of weeks we continued to fly from the ship and enjoyed some new games like skip bombing and R.P. (rocket projectiles) attacks albeit with dummy weapons. The observer flying with me Sid Johnson became very air sick during one rather violent session of aerobatics - the only time I ever made anyone sick and I felt sorry for him. We managed to attack towed targets with live 250lb. bombs and practised homing on the ship's radar beacon. It seems on reflection that the standard of maintenance was not up to our usual high standard. On one occasion I got airborne from the deck, the wheels would not retract and all the inter-com broke down so I was back aboard very quickly. On another occasion, it was nice to avoid a nasty accident when coolant leaking from the engine spread itself over the windscreen making the approach and landing a bit hazardous. If we'd been anywhere near land I would have certainly opted to put down ashore.
It could be that we were all in need of a rest because Reg Parton, 'Mush' Taylor and Johnny Cookson (twice) all had spectacular deck-landing accidents. Fortunately no one was hurt but the Fireflies looked very battered. One day the starboard side leads were secured, the ship came to a halt and "hands to bathing stations off the starboard side" was piped. Everyone swam around quite happily although whether anyone had considered the likelihood of sharks being present is not known! The swell was quite marked so climbing back up the ladders was quite exciting! We recorded that 812 Squadron had once swam half-way across the Indian Ocean.
On the 1st April 1946 we were back over the Cocos Islands 'attacking' shore targets with great gusto and a couple of days later a towed target was despatched with salvos of 8 x 60lb. rockets - only concrete heads mind you - fired by each aircraft. On the 5th April I flew ashore to our old base at Katukurunda in Ceylon and on 7th April the whole Squadron flew ashore having 'dusted up' the fleet en-route.