Page 7

Going Home

The Buzz was that we were definitely going directly home and not to South Africa, for the ships water condensers were bad. The personnel of 812 had changed almost completely since forming up in Lancashire two years before and it was decided we would have a full squadron evening do at the Planters Club at Bentota, the Club members kindly giving us a clear run of their premises for that night. It was a memorable do with Smoking Concert sea songs and choruses and acts. We all had saved up tots of rum and by midnight I was one of the half dozen who were sober enough to be in control and we carried the passed out bodies to three or four lorries that we had for transport. There was a problem that the Naval Airmen drivers were incapable of movement and the Lieutenant Commander C O, who had been swinging in drunks with me into the back of a lorry volunteered to drive, as did a Pilot and an Observer. One driver reckoned he was OK and , After a last check of the premises we set off at a slow pace.

I was sitting on the tailboard of the second lorry Nick the Electrical PO and another bod with whom I was having a rather vague conversation. I turned round and Nick was no longer perched on the tailboard. I called out for him and felt amongst and examined he faces of the sleeping ratings below my feet thinking that he had slid down to the floor. No Nick.

By this time I was shouting "where 's Nick - has he fallen out the back" until the din caused the pilot to slow down and stop, as did the two trucks following and we all piled out, sobered, to search back along the road for what we expected would be Nick's body. I had made a point of learning to drive on a big heavy RT lorry that we used at Katkarunda. It was good training, for the roads were high and very narrow running often along embankments six feet or more above flooded rice paddy fields and through twisting villages where cattle or carts would suddenly drive out in your path without warning.

Apart for those who were 'out for the count', the search was continued not only on the steep roadsides but into the water covered paddy fields, but without success we were becoming very depressed at the tragic end to a great evening. Dawn was breaking and we gathered under a spreading tree, debating whether we would all head back to camp with the sleeping men and return with reinforcements to probe the muddy waters of the paddy fields or leave some men here to continue the hunt, when a voice from on high said, "Are you silly buggers looking for me".

It was Nick who had fallen out backwards from a moving truck and had rolled to the verge as the following trucks drove by. Somehow he had climbed the tree, curled up in the wide cradle of branches and gone to sleep. Back at the camp he was checked by the doctor and had found to be completely unharmed except for a small bruise on the side of his bottom. Babies and drunks fall naturally it is said.

By truck and by air 812 Firefly Squadron rejoined the Vengeance and sailed west into the Indian Ocean and worsening weather condition .I was sick for a couple of days. All the aircraft were stacked close and tied down in the Hangar deck and I recall venturing up to the Flight deck and putting my head out the main deck door for fresh air and changed my mind when I looked with unbelief at the towering sea looming high above the bows and crashing over and down on to the flight deck and swirling against the island and the storm door which I closed and cleated frantically. During the night all squadron hands, officers and men were turned out to secure the aircraft which were breaking loose. Stripped to the waist with sandals or gym shoes we wrestled with the slipping, swinging fuselages clipping bolts, straining at ropes all reacting to the shouted orders of the equally straining CO which he gave to coincide with the terrible rolling and shuddering of the ship. The aircraft were stacked so close together that there was only a few inches between them, so we had little leeway for safety. One new rating was crushed, not at all seriously, and a pilot had a wheel over his toe. My hands, as were the others, red and raw with the metal cables and the hemp ropes and the bare skin of our heaving shoulders chaffed and tender. Some of the fuselages were dented but all were repairable. After two or three hours all aircraft were double lashed and we were stood down to get a few hours sleep before dawn.

The weather slowly moderated and we all relaxed as we entered the Arabian Ocean and the hot hot winds from the deserts.

We dropped anchor at Port Said for provisions and Shore leave was piped. I was glad to get the opportunity to see another part of Egypt but I was left with the strong feeling that, as I walked down a native street under the stony stares of the 'Gyppos', that someone was about to sneak up behind me and stick a knife in my back.

Again the Med and sailing near Cyprus was stormy. We sailed past Malta and anchored in Gibraltar Bay. We had been steaming slowly since Ceylon and still regularly flying but when we were in Australia our old Flight Sergeant was posted home and we had a new Chief Petty Officer RN. Despite the end of Hostilities, the new man felt we were poorly disciplined and set up a new routine where the whole Squadron paraded at 6 am on the flight deck prior to Flying. By this time I was the Senior [surviving] Air Radio Petty Officer and, like all the other older established POs, detailed a new Acting Petty Officer or Leading Hand and to deputise so that we could sleep on as was our due. The CPO did not think so, and four of us were on a charge before the Duty Squadron Officer, an older pilot with whom we had served and occasionally flown for two years.

The Duty Officer was neither comfortable nor amused at the new peace time discipline, Hitherto there had been no trouble in war time service. In defence I pleaded with some truth, that I had been up during the night repeatedly, with Dysentery from Hong Kong [The CPO had served the last 3 years on land in the UK] and my case was dismissed with a Warning. The other POs had likewise treatment -Warning!

We decided that life had changed from "Yours is not to reason why - yours is but to do or die!" and there being 16 possible airworthy planes of which 3 were in the process of major 24 hour routine major overhaul, one had a damaged wing, one engine was running rough [true] two had worn cables to the flaps two had electrical faults easy to arrange but difficult to prove negligence [the chief had been an Electrical Artificer], one had a jammed gun breech and two had Radio faults at the last minute [only a Air Radioman could repair that and we had one man sick!].and at the last moment a tyre was thought dangerous and had to be replaced.

So the CO had only three aircraft signed and cleared for flying. The Captain of the Carrier was not amused, the CO was furious at the stupidity of the new CPO for the Fleet Air Arm were highly trained personnel whose expertise could not be questioned even by a Ships Captain. Every Officer, Commissioned and Non Commissioned in the Service never forgot their basic dictum.

" Never give an Order that you know may not be obeyed".

We all turned out for the 6am parade next morning and were told by the CPO to arrange representation as required for the following days. Gibraltar came and we had a ‘run ashore ‘as thousands of sailors had done since Nelson. It was little more than a walk around the town with its "Anglicised North Africa" appearance stamped by generations of Army and Naval postings. We had a cup of tea in a teashop and my messmates set off to find a good Pub that they had heard of with the usual genial address to me, "See that we get back on board tonight, Jock, if we are half seas over OK!".

I might not have remembered that well known Navy Pub but for the fact that, years later in a Hogmanay night in the North of Scotland where we had, as normal, an open house, I handed a whisky to the son in law of a neighbour a chap called Gunn. We chatted and in the conversation we learned we had both served in the Navy and he spoke of ending the war in Gib. But to go back to 1946 I had decided to see this traditional naval pub with its 12 or 14 foot marble table set in a big bow window and sat in the circular, as I remember it, seat and joined the half dozen sailors siting drinking a beer. In a short time the large room filled up and we were crammed up round the table with more and more entrants crowding through the door at the far end away from the marble table. Then an argument broke out and the scuffling spread. I wanted out but the exit was blocked.

At the head of the table sat a laughing seaman highly amused at the fracas when a bottle landed on the table bounced along the polished marble and struck the poor seaman in the mouth knocking out two teeth.

The Naval Patrol came in and somewhat roughly restored order. I recounted the story and he listened with a solemn expression and there was silence when I finished and he opened his mouth and loosened a small plate and said "It was me".

It was Hogmanay and I gave him another whisky.

On the way back to the Jetty I ended up escorting Nick, of Ceylon fame, and two rather inebriated shipmates. When we came to the water we had to down a swaying gangplank and on to the liberty boat which would then motor around all the ships in the Bay dropping off the returning Navymen. There was a Shore Patrol, of a seaman PO and four I think, ratings at the head of the gangplank and we stopped to allow a crowd of unsteady sailors ahead to negotiate down the swaying plank. Nick knocked my arm and said "Look" and we saw the PO slyly stick his foot out and tripped up a drunk who staggered on the head of the plank and fell back into the sea where he was deftly fished out by one of the Shore Patrol with a big hooked pole.

Nick was pretty sober and he winked at me and stepped ahead to the PO, staggering and swaying. I followed steering the other two and watched the PO start to stick his foot out to trip Nick who 'drunkenly' twisted catching his foot under the PO who flailed backwards into the water. "Quick the PO's tripped" said Nick and we quickly boarded the Liberty Boat while the sniggering Patrol pulled the PO on shore.

By morning we were well out into the Atlantic with the weather overcast and getting colder and closed in as we wallowed in heavy seas northwards. It the Bay of Biscay I was exercising on the flight deck - I could walk back and forward for half an hour without stopping- and suddenly the fog cleared from the port bow and we could see the clear horizon. In the distance out of the fog slowly appeared a four masted sailing ship and we stared and stared for perhaps two minutes when the fog rolled back and the ship disappeared. It was then that I understood the tale of the Flying Dutchman.


We sailed into Portsmouth Harbour in a dull morning with our long white Decommissioning Pennant at the masthead. We had been up since 4 o’clock and had all our gear hammocks, kitbags, steamer bags and small chests on to a converted Fishing Boat and left HMS Vengeance after over a year and a half, and half way round the world and back, to sit on a Quay waiting for clearance through Customs [a British welcome home! ]and on in lorries to Lee-on-Solent Naval Barracks. Our gear was all checked in store and we, spick and span in No 1s were issued with train tickets and given three weeks Foreign Service Leave and on to the London train.

I was lucky in that I got from Euston to Kings Cross, I think it may have been, in time to get the 6pm train north and alighted before 10 am next morning very hungry in Aberdeen Station .I had not seen my home town for over two years since my last short leave. I didn't take a Taxi but walked to Union Street and boarded a tramcar taking everything in, and entered Great Western Place. No one knew I was coming. No one knew the Vengeance was home and I walked into the house and Aunt Polly and my demobbed sister stared at me, and for a moment, the tears came to my eyes, for I could see how they looked at me. I was changed, almost a stranger. I left a nineteen year old boy and I know I looked much older than my twenty one years.

The city I grew up in was the same but it was I who had changed and I looked at it with different eyes.

Too soon the Leave finished and I was back at Lee-on-Solent, the Home Port for Naval Air Service Personnel. I was hoping to return to be demobilised in time to start the Academic Year in October 1946. Every man had a demob number based on date of call up and age and it was a promise by the new Labour Government that every Serviceman would be home and discharged by the date dictated by his demob number.

But I received a Posting - to a Pilot Training Squadron in Lee-on- Solent. A fellow PO of similiar age and experience got a posting to Crimond 40 miles north of Aberdeen and he came from Hampshire 30 miles from Lee! We asked if we got swop and the Jaunty said no despite support from the Padre. I pointed out to the same CPO that my demob number was 45 and I should be discharged as decreed by Parliament in 4 to 6 weeks; his answer was a classic naval one "You are not getting demobbed for some months yet Jock. We don't have any Air Radio PO's who are RN. As for Parliament f*** them. This is the Navy".

He was right and it was the end of the year before I got home for Demob Leave.

I was PO in charge of the Air Radio in the Training Squadron and it was an easy number. The equipment was simple and I had 2 or 3 Regular Navy youngsters straight out of training. I had to fly with one of the Pilot Instructors who was an experienced man, a warrant Lieutenant, with a good war service record. The planes were 2 seater dual control aircraft, I think they were Yankee Piper models, and he insisted I take over the controls. I was not enthusiastic for I had the firm philosophy that "Birds fly, fish go to sea and sensible men stay on Terra Firma", I had no problem even landing with a slight adjustment and he insisted that I learn to fly for, he said "The Navy needs you, young men who are up with all this new equipment. It's the future" Experience had taught me never to argue with an Officer but to be noncommittal and keep out of the way.

Flying wasn't so difficult except when the visibility was bad, then I did get worried.

London wasn't far away and I spent every weekend there staying at the Chevrons Club which was open to Non Commissioned Officers and I enjoyed Ballet, Opera, the Museums, Cinemas and the Dance Halls. I would come back on a Sunday night in time to catch the last Ferry to Lee and there was always a wait of up to two hours between train and Ferry. One miserable stormy night as there was no shelter at the Quay for the Ferry it was customary for waiting sailors to sit in the warm of the back rows of a nearby Methodist Chapel and I decided it would be sensible to follow suit.

The Preacher was going full blast finishing with a ringing repetitive phrase "Join me. Who will fight for Jesus. Stand up. Who will fight for Jesus ?" As the rows of sailors listened impassively from the back row with its line of sleeping drunks walked an awakened sailor with his fists at the ready and shouting " I'll fight for f****** Jesus, Come on you bloody cowards.” On returning from Leave on the same Ferry I met the TAG CPO from my old squadron 812. He was not a man that I admired, for his escapades in foreign ports with women were spoken of with interest in the Mess. We had never been friendly and we never really talked in the two years that I knew him.

I nodded to him as I boarded the ferry and carried on to the bows. He followed me and stood staring across the water and suddenly said "He's a redhead Jock. Fancy. My wife's left me for a red haired bloke. ----- Yea Ginger " He never turned and looked at me. There was nothing I could say. We walked ashore together in silence, and I never saw him again.

I reported as Duty PO for the ratings rum issue. There were well over a thousand ratings drawing their tot but I did not expect what I found. The barrel was about 6 to 8 feet across and about 3 and 1/2 feet deep. There were two Wren Writers each with booklets of names, two seamen to carry out the mixing of rum and water, four Marine guards - one guarding the drain outlet and another standing over main sewer grating and myself - all under the command of a Warrant Gunner Lieutenant.

The seamen carried in several small barrels of rum emptying them under the eagle eye of the Warrant Officer and checked, size and number of the kegs, by the Wrens. Then the correct amount of water was added all carefully measured. It was a very serious affair watched in silence by an ever lengthening line of ratings and a hush fell on everyone as all was ready for the Issue to start. The WO lifted a pannikin the size of a small saucepan, dipped it into the grog and looked at me and said,

"We must check to be sure that seawater has not been used in error Petty Officer".

I looked at him and said. "Yes sir". We were about a mile from the sea and using tap water!   

The old Gunner lifted the pannikin to his lips and watched in utter quiet by Wrens, Marines and Ratings he drained the grog like beer to the last drop, "No I think it is all right PO. What do you think?", as he dipped the pannikin back into the barrel and handed it to me spilling over into the rum barrel.

I took it and drank and drank but could not finish it, managing under all the stares to drop the pannikin low and empty some back. For two hours the ratings snaked by, getting their names ticked off. The Marines stood at the ready, the WO stood at ease and I stood hear to the line of ratings looking at them with a fixed cold stare as I tried not to sway in a drunken manner.

After a couple of months I was well settled. I should have been out of the Navy but what could I do. I had organised the new young LRMs that I had and they were on duty one afternoon and I was clear to have a quiet afternoon and was stretched out on my bunk reading. The Tannoy in the corner of the sleeping quarters whistled for attention and announced,

"Petty Officers Simpson and Davidson report to the Captain".

I leapt out of bed, the Captain of the Fleet Air Arm's main Shore Station wanted to see me, “Oh God [and he was as remote as that to us] what trouble am I in.” We all have minor transgressions, my mind scanned through them but they were all minor and long past. In a panic I got myself kited out quickly cleaning my shoes and I ran to the Jaunty's Office bumping a strange reddish haired PO who looked equally worried. He was a stranger to me.

The Jaunty had the door open waiting for us. He glowered at us and said " What you been up to. What's this all about ?" "Nothing Chief " we said in unison I was thinking if he doesn't know it must be very bad. He marched us to the Captains Office and was told by the ADC "Take them in Chief".

Prisoners are marched in before a Senior Officer, halted at attention, and the order "Off Caps" is barked out, and the Navyman stands stiffly upright with a bare head staring straight in front of him avoiding eye contact. The CPO likewise stands rigidly to attention, one step behind the prisoner who may or may not have a naval guard. This is how the Chief brought us before the Captain who would only be involved in the most serious cases.

"Sit down Gentlemen" said the Captain " Carry on Chief" and the CPO about turned and left in complete bewilderment. We had an order, however incredible so we backed blindly to two chairs set out and stiffly perched on the seat. "I have a very pleasant duty to perform today. I have received a signal from the Admiralty instructing me to over you Royal Naval Commissions, subject of course to your completion of the necessary training at Dartmouth, ranking as Sub. Lieutenant. At the end of a satisfactory period of a year you will be put forward for the rank of Lieutenant. You will be expected to additionally qualify in Electrics and in addition such Executive Officer Training as may be required".

He stopped and looked at us quizzically. He had not asked a question, therefore there was no answer and we continued to look over his head. "Well " he said a bit testily " what is your answer" and he looked at Simpson.

"Thank you sir. No Sir".

"Well Davidson?”

"Thank you Sir No Sir", I said,

"What are you going to do after your Naval Service. Davidson?"

"Aberdeen University to study Agriculture. Sir".

"And you Simpson ?"

"Organic Chemistry at Glasgow University Sir".

The Captain was quiet for a moment. He was a pre-war Elite Royal Navy Officer, the product of a closed shop. He had offered us the Promised Land, the Kingdom of Heaven and we had said No. He just did not understand.

"I suggest that you think about the offer and let me know if you reconsider."

I don't think that he quite understood the changing world where the elite Gunnery Officers were the Bows and Arrows Boys and the rickety planes were the new arquebuses. The Navy had no Nerds of their own and the Nerds were the future.


The end came suddenly and unexpectedly. I had planned a weekend in London and had tickets for a Concert but I was called for demob not the next day but the day after - it may have been a Thursday. With all gear and kit a group of us were bussed very early in the morning deep into the Hampshire countryside to a huge hangar filled clothes like a Department Store lit by the most unnatural neon lighting suitable for a road intersection. But first we were stripped of all our Naval issue and clothing [even although we had paid for replacements], leaving us with our purchased No 1uniform and our toiletries. Then we were asked about wounds and injuries for possible pension for we had to sign to accept a Healthy discharge. I said that I had crashed and had a damaged knee not to speak of missing teeth. The Writer looked solemn and said “OK but you must go back to Camp and wait for a Special Medical. In that case we can't demob you today!”.

That was too much. I signed and was allowed into the hangar to pick civilian clothes. Apart from buying boots and trousers in Sydney I had bought no clothes since I was a boy assisted by my Aunt and I hadn't been in the UK for nearly two years. I got a good tweed jacket and light trousers, a dark herringbone tweed overcoat, a ridiculous felt hat and a horrific tie[which I never wore] all finished with a pair of light brown shoes and socks. I could have done worse and I it all lasted me through my student years.

Then we rushed off with Travel Pass and bus and train to London and north. I was home for Christmas and was on extended foreign and demob leave until my final discharge in March 1947, about my 22nd. Birthday. I was two to three months short of four years of Naval Life. It was inevitable that my Naval Service, which trained and conditioned me in my late teens and after would influence my character and subsequent life. In writing about these early days I have invoked as much mental recall as possible, a faculty which I developed in later reporting of earlier Land Inspections, to give as accurate an account as possible.

I well realise that, during my early years, I lived for the day without the thought of a diary, for the past and future were of little accord in a world where all efforts were needed to survive the present.