Anyway from that moment on our social lives took a turn for the better and it wasn't long before our group became regulars at the Officers' Club which had been established on an upper floor of the Gloucester Hotel on Hong Kong Island. The main attraction there was our ship's dance band who were a permanent fixture! Most of the band had been professional musicians in peace time and they were excellent. The lead tenor sax had played in Henry Hall's B.B.C. Dance Orchestra - star turns in the 1930's. The band was so good it was in great demand as the social life of the Colony got back on its feet and they even played at receptions in Government House. I remember that the personnel of this excellent band were virtually all Marines from our ship and they were happy to play our particular requests.
Closing time meant negotiating with a sampan owner to ferry us back across the harbour to Don's mess in Kowloon. Although the Star ferry was soon back in business it could only operate a reduced timetable with no late night sailings. One morning, at first light, I was awakened by some of Don's soldiery asking me to vacate my bed as the mess was relocating to bigger and better requisitioned premises and they needed to secure occupation quickly in case another body of troops got there first! It must have been a heavy night as Bill could not (or would not) be roused. We carefully folded his uniform, tied his shoes to the bed frame, placed his cap on his chest and the soldiers carried him complete with bed out into the street and into a waiting lorry. He eventually came to in a very up-market house about a mile away, but it never registered that this wasn't where he had gone to sleep!.
Captain Tilly arrived on the 27th September, but it took us a while to locate him. He seemed in no hurry to take command of his warehouse preferring to look up old acquaintances first. We were all shipshape when he finally showed up and Bill and I were highly commended for our hard work! It was all really down to 'Number One Boy' and his relatives who received our appreciation. We made sure the signed chits were handed over and I was able to keep a pair of Japanese aviator's goggles (complete in natty little box) as a souvenir. My guess is that they would have been issued to a kamikaze pilot so they would have been struck off charge anyway!. It was to be another week before Bill and I could return to live on board so we continued to work at the warehouse until we were required to fly again.
The rickshaw boys were soon back in business although it seemed unfair to expect such thin and undernourished fellows to run us around the streets. I got a ride out to Kai-Tak airfield and was amazed to see a few Japanese aircraft left about the place. I remember a Mitsubishi G4M (code named 'Betty') reasonably intact and a sinister BAKA which was a piloted flying bomb with stubby wings and tail unit. This machine would have been slung beneath a larger aircraft (the 'Betty' perhaps) and then released close to a target. I think there was a small rocket motor which the pilot would ignite to enable him to steer his one-way journey to the target. I believe it had a 2000lb. warhead. The tiny cockpit had basic flying controls but no instruments. Round the corner in a small bay were half-a-dozen suicide speed boats whose solitary mission would have been a night attack on an enemy fleet close inshore.
As recorded elsewhere, we flew our aircraft ashore to Kai-Tak on the 8th October and once again we became aviators. A few trips from all the flying we did over the next 10 weeks linger in the memory. PN 120, which was a late model Barracuda, became 'my' aircraft and down over Macao (still a Portuguese colony) I put it throught its paces to the extent of loops and spins! I passengered a couple of U.S. Navy ratings on a tour of the New Territories and the next day with another passenger on board I proceeded to get lost! The homing beacon was out of action and we had been sightseeing over all the beautiful little bays and inlets which lie North of the Eastern entrance to the harbour. The maps in those days were sketchy to say the least. Anyway there was a sigh of relief when we made it back just as the bar was opening. The flight home into the most spectacular sunset remains a vivid memory.
On the 16th November I was briefed to fly 2 V.I.P.'s to 'White Cloud' airfield in Canton, in that part of China ruled bt the Nationalists. Although they were supposedly our allies there was severe political tension and it seemed that my Barracuda intruding into their air space might have been interpreted as a sign of colonial expansion by the Imperialist Brits! Anyway I was warned to be careful and just to be safe I was given an escort of two Corsairs.
The two passengers turned out to be a Bishop and his Chaplain. Neither were very sensibly dressed for riding in the back seats of a Barracuda and they seemed very tight lipped when I went through the emergency procedures and showed them how to communicate. In the event I don't think we exchanged one word from beginning to end and I assumed that they would rely on Divine Intervention should we experience a problem. 'White Cloud' airport was basic to say the least. No runways and precious little grass on a dry dusty field. The Corsairs circled overhead while I landed and sure enough I was confronted by several troops waving and pointing sub-machine guns in my direction. They signalled that I should not switch off so the two reverend gentlemen had to disembark in the slipstream with the dust blowing up their garments. All most undignified.
I was airborne again as quickly as possible, the Corsairs decided to fly back down the Pearl River at low level to the consternation of numerous junks who surely had the right-of-way. I followed meekly in their wake.
Reg Parton also took a couple of V.I.P.'s to White Cloud but in his case the reception was quite friendly. His passengers were the Swiss ambassador and his aide. Reg was asked to stay overnight so that he could attend the requisite cocktail reception as the ambassador's guest. All went well although Reg confessed to feeling somewhat underdresssed in his old khaki shirt and shorts and no cap. To save embarrassment he spent most of the evening lurking behind a pillar!.
Don Cawley loved flying so whenever his army duties allowed he would scrounge a ride in any back seat that was unoccupied. On the 15th October I was guilty of bad judgement and poor discipline. Don and Bill were in the back seat and our brief was border patrol and mine search. I thought it would be a good opportunity to say 'good morning' to Olga and another of our lady friends who were employed as stenographers in Government departments occupying part of the Peninsula Hotel. I knew one of the ladies worked in an office on the fourth floor overlooking the harbour so we flew past her window waving like mad! Sadly we must have badly frightened the passers-by on the Strand and many more waiting to board the Star Ferry at the nearby jetty. On reflection it was a stupid thing to do and youthful high spirits could be no excuse.
Retribution came in the form of a Canadian Colonel who I was told was shaving in his room on the fifth floor when an aircraft flew by beneath him. It could be that he cut himself, be that as it may, but he was quick enough to spot my aircraft's number which was duly reported to the Captain at Kai-Tak with his recommendation that the stupid pilot be court martialled. On landing I was told to present myself to Captain Surtees DSO. RN. who warned me that a court-martial could be set up once the Canadian Colonel had presented details of what he had seen. However I was not put under any sort of arrest, I was not stopped from flying neither was I 'confined to barracks'. Even more humiliating was the reaction of the ladies who far from being impressed, thought the whole episode stupid, frightening and childish. The threat of a court-martial dampened my spirits for a couple of weeks and then Captain Surtees told me that my misdemeanor had been referred to Captain Neame, our ship's captain, who would deal with me once we re-embarked. The final outcome was a dressing down by Captain Neame who had all sorts of reports in front of him. I believe they were from the Colonel, from Captain Surtees and character references from Captain Tilly and from Cedric Coxon our C.O. Captain Neame endorsed my log book in red ink and pointed out that a court-martial would have meant me staying behind in Hong Kong while the paperwork was sifted but he had more need of me back on board! My log book remains quite colourful RED then GREEN and finally RED.
Despite the makers claim's I could only persuade my Barracuda to climb to 18,000 feet. At that altitude it was barely flying and any attempt to gain a few more feet only resulted in a flat waffle down again. A couple of months later I got a Firefly, which was equipped with a two stage supercharger, up to 20,000 feet although the maker's claimed a service ceiling of 29,000 feet.
A few R.A.F. Sunderland four engined flying boats started operating in the bay. I remember one chap taxying across the water but failing to stop when he met the harbour wall. It seemed a very expensive way of getting a huge flying boat on to dry land. The Navy just stood by and smiled!.
At the end of November I was able to 'borrow' one of 1850 Squadron's Corsairs and after some concerned tuition from the ground crew, managed to get safely airborne. This particular aeroplane was made by the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation in the U.S.A. It was the FG-1D Corsair Mk.IV version with a 2,250h.p. Pratt and Whitney Double Wasp radial engine, Mk. R-2800-8. The nose of the aeroplane stuck out some 18 feet in front of the cockpit so with limited forward vision taxying and landing needed careful attention. Being used to a more laboured progress to operational height I was a bit taken aback to find I was already at 10,000 feet and nudging 300 knots before I had comfortably settled down. After a few gentle manoeuvres and carefully examining all the clocks, levers and switches I was beginning to wonder how to get this handful back on the ground when I became aware of an R.A.F. Spitfire (a Mk. XIV) formating on my starboard wingtip. The pilot gave some signals indicating that he 'wanted to play' and presumably a friendly 'dogfight' would have ensued. I managed to convince him that there would be 'no play today' and he left me to sort out my own problems. After a few deep breaths I remembered the landing drill I'd been told, carried out a curving approach to keep the runway in sight and delivered the Corsair back to 1850 in one piece. I had two more Corsair rides in December, but on the second occasion I thought discretion the better part of valour and returned after only 20 minutes as it seemed that the engine wasn't making the right sort of noise.
I met the R.A.F. pilot a few days after our meeting over the harbour and he was at pains to point out that a particular Navy pilot showed no stomach for a fight when challenged. I explained that I was his man and far from letting the Navy down I was still trying to find my way round the cockpit and had my hands full. We shook hands and I felt much better when he said nothing would have persuaded him to do a first trip on a strange type, on such a restricted airfield! There is a mountain range close in on the downwind leg when flying a left handed circuit on to the South runway so a tight turning approach was the only way in!.
My 21st birthday was fast approaching so our lady friends were briefed to provide dancing partners for all the lads attending the party. I explained that our C.O., Cedric was a good bit over 6 feet very lean and handsome so special care should be taken when making a choice for him. The party was to start in the main bar of the Peninsula Hotel and when the ladies joined us great gasps of amazement went up from all around. Marie was at least as tall as Cedric with everything in the right place. From memory Raquel Welch would have come a very poor second had she been in competition! Cedric had organised a ship's boat to ferry us across to the Gloucester Hotel for dancing. The poor sailors could barely keep 'their eyes on the road' so it was a most hilarious journey. Poor Cedric was anxiously trying to protect his status as a recently married man and seemed to have great difficulty in deciding where to put his hands when dancing!.
Yes there really were two birthday cakes - one came courtesy of W/O 'Cooky' Thullier, officer in charge of the ship's wardroom catering department and the other was cooked and decorated by the sisters' widowed mum. Everything got a bit hazy towards the end of the party but everyone reported fit for duty the next day.
The first Christmas after the restitution of the Colony to the British Crown was quietly celebrated but with obvious thanksgiving.
The sisters prevailed upon me to attend midnight mass with them. Having been strictly brought up in the "other faith" I was convinced that fire and brimstone would descend on my head if I so much as set foot in their church. All was peace and serenity however, the singing and music were wonderful and the rickshaw ride home with the ships in the harbour ablaze with light were a sufficient reward.
Our stay in Hong Kong was now nearly over. The essential services were all back in business. Telephones were working, the South China Times(?) was printing, the Star Ferry was back on schedule, trams were running and the harbour was alive with merchant shipping from around the world. The public buildings and streets still needed major repairs but when we sailed out on the 28th December it was with the satisfaction of a job well done.