We docked at Colombo in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and we were granted a shore run with it Equatorial heat, its swarming native streets, shops and bazaars - and all the strange spicy and malodorous surroundings of an equatorial city in India. I loved it having been brought up on stories of India. You must remember this was still the time of the British Raj when the scattered sparse British still governed this huge continent and the Tea Plantations of Ceylon were managed often by Scots, I had known a few as a boy. At the harbour I watched for a long time an Indian Lanteen rigged sailing ship tied up with a gang plank, along which coolies with bags of rice on their backs loaded the vessel before it sailed off on the Monsoon winds to West Africa as had been done over many centuries.
We sailed again round the south of the Island to Trincomalee the land locked bay which was the main Naval Base and again we were allowed an afternoon ashore. It was a desolate place with little more than a NAFFI Canteen for visiting matelots. There was one funny incident there which has left me rather uneasy when I recollect what took place, and I still cannot be sure what happened. The Liberty Boat discharged us at a jetty less than a mile away from the Canteen and, as we straggled along the shore road, I stopped at a crowd of sailors and marines watching a cross legged native playing a pipe and charming a swaying snake from a basket.
This was not very exciting and some of the small crowd of onlookers who started to move away. They were called back by the native who promised A very great show, Sahibs. He scratched a shallow hole in the powder dry sand at his feet and with much flourishing placed a bean like seed into the hole covered it up and poured some water over the depression. He then played his waving pipe and everyone stared at the drying area as the reedy notes blended in with the splash of the nearby waves on the Beach. Minutes passed and then a tiny green sprout appeared and grew and grew until it was several inches then a foot then two feet or more high. I was at the back of the thin crowd of onlookers and I looked away at my `neighbours, at the sea and the ships at anchor and back at the growth and the swaying pipe playing native, and I pinched the side of my neck and my arm and looked again thinking was I mesmerised ?
But no, there was no mistake but growth appeared to slowly flop and wither until it was a darkened frond on the ground. He got some coins from the onlookers who were impressed. To this day I wonder if there is some seed that reacts quickly to water and dies as quickly when the water is used up. I dont know and am still puzzled when I think about it. I went back on board with a pineapple that I had bought ashore. In the Mess with great excitement and anticipation, for we had never seen other than tinned pineapples ,we cut slices and bit into the juicy fruit. We were so disappointed for it was acidic. In my ignorance what I had bought was barely ripe and our mouths were burnt.
We sailed from Trinco to Madras where we anchored off the city and harbour. The bum boats were the most primitive I had seen, being only dugout crude canoes or rafts of logs roughly lashed together and awash most of the time.
I was Duty Squadron PO and, of all the many tasks that I was ordered to undertake during my years in the Navy, many of which I had no training or guidance at all, this was one of the strangest. I had to take overall charge of loading on to the ship replacement aircraft. They came alongside, tied down to the flat deck of a small barge or motorised pontoon which had only a foot or less of sea room. Abaft the Carriers Island, that is the superstructure with the bridge etc on the starboard side of the flight deck, there was a large crane and the operators cabin high above the flight deck where I stood. My duty was the direction of the crew on the pontoon to make the lowered hook of the ships crane catch the gathered single top of the belting and harnesses slung round fuselage of the aircraft which arrived minus wings. In naval aircraft these could be hinged back for storage in the hangar deck and were also removable.
The swell in the open roads was slow but high, and the barge rose up and down alongside the Carrier, which rolled slowly from side to side. I had to judge the varying movements of the barge and the Carrier directing the craneman when and how much to lower the purchase so that the heavy hook would not drop or swing and damage the plane. I would then calculate when the operator could slow the cable descent so that the hook could be fixed keeping the lines taut. Then I shouted and signalled Up Purchase to the crane man, judging that the suspended plane could be swung up without crashing into the side of the Carrier, yet clear the deck and superstructure. Thereafter I would direct the slow lowering of the fuselage on to the flight deck and the waiting crew of Naval Airmen would unhook it and wheel it away to the lift and down into the hangar deck.
By this time the next barge or landing craft was alongside with the next aircraft or wing section and I had to go through the nerve racking series of calculations again and again. When I reported for duty it was a seaman PO who looked at me and my barely twenty year old competence with squinted eyes and cold smile, showed me one operation and said Dont scratch the ships paintwork or bash the fuselage or the Jaunty will have your guts for garters. Carry on ! - and I did. There was no excuse or need to say anything. I had been given an order, and you just carried it out.
Probably I was lucky or perhaps my farming days stood me in good stead for only once did the Carrier list to port unexpectantly but the aircraft had been rising to deck level and the Killick Naval Airman and his crew fended it of until it cleared the deck. There were no rails or stanchions along the flight deck, only some fore and aft of the Island.
We had no shore leave and sailed that night for Colombo and the Barracuda and Corsair Squadrons flew ashore to a Naval Air Station at Katakarunda. I cannot recall flying from the Carrier to the airfield and must have gone ashore with the rest of 812 by liberty boat to Colombo and south by Naval lorry to the Camp. But I do remember stepping out of a Barracuda in a Parking Bay camouflaged in a clearing in the jungle and being greeted by an acquaintance I knew from UK airfield days who asked me Its Jock ! What are you doing here in those aircraft and he pointed to an older version of the Barracuda at the edge of the jungle and overgrown by creepers. I think we had the Mark IV version?.
I loved Ceylon, the tropical heat, the lush luxuriant growth, the dark skinned natives, the rather decrepit temples in the jungle, the spicy breeze and the airy roomy open POs sleeping quarters with our beds draped with mosquito netting. They were cleaned by the ever present boys who were in attendance to our needs in the POs sleeping huts. The POs Mess was a different life after the crowded noisy steamy ships quarters. The architecture was, to my young eyes, Moorish or Eastern with open arched walls, high thatched roofs and cool tiled floors. We had a spacious dining room with cane furniture and a cool roomy lounge with a bar, and everywhere we were served strange Indian meals, as well as more normal grub, by barefooted waiters who anticipated our every needs.
As I said, this was still the time of the British Raj.
The nights were incredible soft and warm, and with the bright star or moonlit nights. It was such a contrast to the memories of the heaving cold thrashing gale torn ships motion of the Atlantic and the crowded pungent Messes.
I recall going to a music evening in the open night sky and hearing Tchaikowskis Scherezade which was, of course, the story of Sinbad and Ceylon, and it stays with me to this day. Again that Music Circle was attended by a few odd bod officers and men and was a promise, or a memory, of a different world away from the discomfort and fear of Paraffin stinking planes and crashes and missing faces in the mess.
The first Music Circle that I attended on the Vengeance was run by a fat Observer who I think was lost in the sea when his plane ditched. It was in a locker room in the deep bowels of the ship as we lay at night anchor in Lamlash Bay, just over half a dozen strangers listening to old pre-war scratchy records and dreaming of a softer unobtainable life that was gone perhaps forever. We could see no future or expectation of the end of war and Naval Service. Perhaps we were too young to hope.
We had an afternoons leave in Colombo getting to and fro by Naval lorry and the Bazaars and the haggling were exotic. I bought 2 small carved Ivory elephants and paid for and sent home to Aunt Polly a small wooden box of tea, which was a bit of luxury in the severely pinched rationed life in Aberdeen. After a week or so when I understood that the Vengeance was having modifications and provisioning Colombo, we were told that 812 was to form into 2 squadrons and Lofty Lock and I, and the Senior PO Merrit, would stay with 812, while Baumber and another 2 Air Radio PO, Bulky Banks from Newcastle and Jock Main from Airdrie who had joined us before embarking went off. We didnt see them again but this happened all the time and today I cant remember when well known oppos or shipmates or friends came or went.
Our last night before split up and rejoining the ship was spent in a long drunken party where we had all [illegally] kept and bottled rum which we drank with local Beer, after dinner, in the soft tropical night until after midnight. By then a few of the company had staggered off to bed and I can clearly remember a couple of others and myself sitting in cane loungers round a cane table, arguing that we had lost one of mates; who we thought had gone to relieve himself in the jungle. He hadnt I learned later. He was asleep under the table.
We went to look for him and all I know that I passed out and came to lying in the jungle at the edge of the camp. I could hear the crunching boots of a patrolling Native Guard- and I couldn't move but I could see the huge moon in the sky. As I lay I felt something sliding over my bare leg and even drunk, I knew it was the feared Tic Polonga which if it bit you was quick burning death. I had read all of this in the Jungle crash survival book we were issued with. I tried to move but was so bad that I was literally paralysed, understandable after the best part of half a bottle of Navy Rum. The snake moved against my shorts and I tried to call out without a sound. I concentrated and rolled my open eyes, then twitched my toe and, suddenly I sprang up and lurched away in a cold sweat back to the Mess.
Everyone had gone to bed and I found my quarters and fell into bed out for the count.
I was shaken awake by Merrit at 5 am to say I was flying back to the Vengeance and I told him to B***** OFF - You can fly for a change, Youre on a charge He said and I repeated myself. He flew back and I, and the rest of the squadron, had a miserable journey in a lorry to Colombo and out to sea in a converted fishing boat to the Vengeance steaming slowly off shore. I had learned my lesson and was thereafter known as Jock the sober one who will see you back on board safely if you are half seas over after a run ashore!!! I was not charged but was given a severe bollocking by Merrit and the Flight Sergeant.
Within a short time we were underway sailing east, our next stop was the Cocos Islands but no shore leave and on to Perth Australia. We did stop in mid ocean, for the danger of enemy action was remote, to allow swimming off the side of the Carrier climbing down netting to the slow swell of the ocean. I still could not swim ,and was told that we were over a area of mid ocean a mile deep. There was a cutter rowing around the side of the ship so I decided to chance it with my lifebelt slightly inflated -for I could drown in 6 feet deep water just as well as one mile - and climbed down and let go off the netting and struck out, and for the first time swam in the warm salty sea, panicking a bit as I fought back through the crowded swimming sailors to grab at the netting at the top of the swell. It was said by sailors that it was stupid to be able to swim in the Murmansk and North Atlantic for it only spun out the horror before inevitable death. I thought that in the warm seas of the East it would be an advantage to be able to swim.
I think it was about this time that we had abandon ship exercises where we half inflated our waist tied air belts and lined up on the flight deck and stepped off one after the other from the 40 foot high ships side, adopting, as we had been trained in Skegness, the correct drill, right arm along the front of the half inflated belt, left arm elbow lodged tight against, it with the nose clasped shut between the first and second fingers [to keep out water from being forced up the nose], and legs tight together with toes pointed down [to deflect any debris in the water on entry from passing up between the legs with damaging effect].
I was more afraid of landing on the chap before me or being struck by the lad behind. I thought I was going down for ever and my lungs were bursting when I eventually surfaced and thrashed in fear away from the jumping crowded sailors until I remembered that I had the nozzle of the in take valve in my mouth. As per drill and blew into it to fully inflate the lifebelt. I floated until I was picked up by the cutter and climbed back up the netting to relief and safety.
We crossed the Equator North to South with the usual Neptunes Court where the Officers had a hard time and where, by naval tradition, which I did not follow, I was entitled to have the left ear pierced and fitted with a thin gold ear ring.
One afternoon we dropped anchor off Perth but were not allowed ashore. We picked up supplies and mail and within half a day we were steaming south with the skies bright and strange with different star clusters then east through the Australian Bight. The weather was rough but by this time I had my sea legs. One morning I awoke after a nights shuddering staggering sailing. I recall I was sleeping in the covered deck open to the port side and right up forrard over the cable locker. Scurrying seamen carrying bolsters and timber ran past me when I gathered up my bedding. I saw a PO Chippie who told me to look over the side of the bows and see what last nights sea had done. One of the riveted plates perhaps 4 feet by 6 or 8 feet had been torn off at the fore end of the bows and was folded back on itself and the plate was the best part of 1/2 inch thick!
Then from the sun we knew we were travelling north and were steaming off NSW and were on Flying Stations and the Barras and Corsairs flew off to an airfield ashore. We disembarked at Jervis Bay south of Sydney and had our first sight of Australia other than from the sea. We looked with interest at the scattered village we passed through going from the shore to the camp. When nightfall came we stared at street and house lighting amongst strange vegetation of gum and eucalyptus trees, where the leaves stayed on and the bark came off. The bush crowded around the airfield where we checked in the aircraft. There were lights everywhere. We had had years of blackout.
The sleeping quarters were simple corrugated iron huts after the relative comfort of Ceylon, but the food, in freshness and quantity, was unbelievable after rationed Britain and the iron tight rations in the Navy. I could not get over the fruit juices and fruit which were available as and when wanted. By night the warm day was replaced by clear star bright nights which, as time passed the air cooled and became frosty. We felt that this is what peacetime, with no blackout and food galore, must be like. We felt we were in an American Californian film especially when we heard the distant Yankee like wail of a train passing Jervis Bay.
One incident sums up Australia to me and it is a warm recollection.
After the afternoon tea break at the POs Mess on the day we landed I was walking past the Guardhouse to pick up my gear landed from ship when a voice of an old acquaintance from my UK RAF Airfield days called out Hey Jock What are you doing here? Just landed from the Carrier this afternoon I replied with a grin to which he said Cant stop' Want to go to a dance tonight. Be here 6oclock and well swop news OK?. He was attached to a MONAB, that is Mobile Operational Naval Air Base.
MONABS were landed from ships onto newly captured islands to make an air base for Squadrons landed from Carriers. There was a tale which circulated the 14th Carrier Fleet that one MONAB was dropped off on a newly cleared Island and the Carrier sailed away. It returned after three days to land a Squadron and found the island deserted. The Japs had come back and scooped up the whole MONAB.
I was there at the guardhouse, for the last dance I had been at was Greens Playhouse in Glasgow. I was climbed into, with perhaps 8 or 10 ratings, a lorry driven by a marine private. As we drove and chatted I looked out of the back of the lorry to the strange new countryside of dry dusty roads, dark green pasture with timber and wire fencing and corrugated and wood homesteads and I jumped as we clattered across a loosely timbered wooden bridge over a dry creek.
"Youll get used to these Jock - weve plenty to cross How far away is the dance I asked Sixty miles was the reply to which I began to realise the size and distances of settlement in NSW. We eventually pulled up on the Main Street of a dusty straggling township, well inland from the sea and got out and stood in No 1 Naval uniform to the puzzled stares of some local townsfolk.
Wheres the dance said a seaman to the nearest local. Your a week out. Theres no dance until next week We stared at each other in dismay, then sighed - or in the Navy you counted on nothing, unless it had happened.
Hey, theres a dance at------ and he named another town. I cant remember the name of the place but it sounded something like Woolumba gee!
Lets go, its only 40 or so miles away said a matelot. Wait a minute said the marine driver My Sheilas here. Im not going there Theres a train through here stopping there in 20 minutes commented our Aussie friend and the marine agreed to pick us up there at 4am! A group of locals led us to the station and explained to the train driver and guard of our situation. They refused to take money from poor Pommy sailors and we boarded the train which stopped at W where an incredulous population looked at this strange invasion of sailors in the depth of the NSW bush but welcomed us with open arms.
We had a whale of a night and I danced with ages from 8 to 80. The second dance they told us would not be known to us for this area had had an influx of immigrants from Northern Ireland and they announced a Gypsy Tap Step to which we grinned and said no bother, we learned it at Donagadee in County Down when we were waiting to join the Vengeance. At the end of the dance the whole town/ village waited with us at the crossroads under the clear brilliant cold southern sky until the marine picked us up and we drove the 70-80 miles back to Jervis Bay in time for breakfast and a day of flying exercises.
We were granted a weeks leave in Sydney and boarded the train decked out in our No 1s with a hand held steamer bag with clean clothes etc. At sea you were not given your full pay when you marched forward to the desk with the Writer with his Squadron Paybook and the officiating Paymaster. You held your hat with your open Identity/Paybook on top and the cash was counted out onto the hat and your Paybook marked. None of us ever worked out how much we should have got with basic pay, acting rating, clothes allowance, sea and Hard Lying Allowance for eastern service etc. less money paid home to dependants. We just took what was set in the hat, saluted and pocketed the cash. There was little to spend money on aboard for we had our rum ration our tickler [tobacco] allowance in either 1/2 lb. tins of shag to roll for a cigarette, or whole leaves to soak in rum and lashup with fine cord in linen to make what was called Pursers Prick for pipe smoking.
There was a NAAFI but there was precious little to buy other than tea and stale biscuits unless we had been into port for fresh supplies. So I was taken aback when we were issued with back pay and I had the unbelievable sum of over £20 Aussie before boarding the train. A seaman was paid 2/6 [12 new pence]. On the train the some of the matelots started to play cards and as I watched in a few minutes one of them gambled all his back pay. I got such a shock that I never played cards again for years.
Sydney was like a dream. It was like life in an American film, which was the 'wider world' of young people known only through the cinema. It was the "Bright Lights", plenty of food, fresh fruits, girls in light dresses in the sun, swimming in Bondi Beach. The Aussies were marvellous and very welcoming with Servicemen's clubs with free grub and invitations to spend our few days leave with local families or on outback farms and so on.
I felt that I should see the city with its parks Zoo, Botanical gardens and the night life at the dance halls where we met, unbelievable to us after the Med. and India, white girls to dance with and talk and forget the bleak sea days. I spent some of my pay on smart untanned boots and light cotton trousers and enjoyed Sydney and the taste of forgotten peace time. Too soon we were back to Jervis Bay, for a week or so while the Vengeance was fitted out in Sydney.
I do recall wakening up in the corrugated iron huts in the camp, bewildered that I thought I heard a drunken woman cackling outside, until I realised it was a Kookaburra Bird. That morning the 'buzz' [rumour] that an atom bomb had been dropped in Japan. We didn't pay much attention for flying went on and we re-embarked soon after and sailed north.
For a few days we still enjoyed some fresh food, then we were back to old style rations - and it got hotter again and we were in the South Seas. We were days at sea and I will never forget that we came in sight of, and sailed very close inshore, a tropical island sitting high out of the sea. It was evening and after weeks of the clean salty smell of the ocean, we lined the edge of the flight deck and sniffed and savoured the smell of land, and growth, and spices and wet earth, scents that tore our hearts and left us silent for luxuries that we couldn't know, nor get. Our smells were oil and diesel fuel and paraffin and hot metal and blistering paint, and heated re-circulated air from fans and vents deep in what was in reality a floating metal prison.
Later that night we dropped anchor in the Manus Isles being met by a minor flotilla of mostly home made crafts manned by British sailors stationed there. There was the odd ships dinghy but mostly they were rafts with sails made from the debris of war , or from oil drums and metal cases. The strangest to us were those canoes or catamarans fitted up from jettisoned long range aircraft tanks. It was our first experience of the incredible wastefulness of the American war effort with, to us , its wealth of equipment. The British Navy was the very opposite in that nothing was wasted, everything recycled, for when we set sail every corner of the ship was crammed with replacements and spares. The ceilings of the Hangar deck were packed with strapped up replacement wings, the corners with shackled down crated engines. A crashed aircraft was stripped down and parts salvaged for reuse. The RN had a long tradition of long distant cruising, carrying as much as possible to keep in fighting condition without the need for stores replacement and the need to worry about long lines of supply. Fuel was the limiting factor not men nor food, a little went a long way.
We anchored at another American held island where we were allowed an afternoon ashore on a beach with an Yankee built hut, called "Duffy's Tavern", cleared of Yanks for the day - for they were dry - and filled with excellent Aussie beer for us Limeys. It was the stuff of Boyhood stories, lying on a sandy beach in the blazing sun of a South Island and swimming in the clear buoyant salt water in a shallow lagoon in a calm sea cut off from the South Pacific rollers by a coral reefs. There had been fighting there not so long before and the seas and beach were still littered with the floating debris of war, broken boat wood, planks, plastic and other parts of crashed boats and planes, and rags of clothes that could have been uniforms or equipment. I floated, relaxed with my tot of rum and a couple of bottles of beer, on wooden debris staring into the clear clear water at the shoals of brilliantly coloured fish that reminded me of football jerseys. Again it was natural beauty far away from the metal fume laden world of Carrier life.
The eternal 'wide boy' Jack Tar was active as ever in that we were slyly approached by Yankee sailors asking if we had any Navy rum to sell or barter. Somehow they were ready for the scam, ready with over a tot of grog spliced with pepper and topped up with cold tea, all in a screw top lemonade bottle. The line went something like this.
"Got any rum Limey ?"
" Yeah, but we took it ashore to drink it".
" We'll swop for cartons of (American) cigarettes !"
" Mmm- well ....... You got to try it out first. We dont want no comeback !" Holding out reluctantly the opened bottle.
And the Yankee sailor swigged back from the bottle. The Navy rum smelled strong and the spicy pepper caught the back of his throat and he coughed and spluttered for he had not tasted alcohol for some time in the strictly dry US Navy ships.
" Gee OK - a carton"
"No" said the 'Limey' "Two"
Eventually they agreed and the British sailor checked that the two cartoons were full of cigarettes, for trust was in short supply in those circles, and they slipped away with their trade. One of these chaps, I heard later, sold a carton on the Chinese Black market; and bought looted jewellery, sold that in Sydney for UK pounds, bought semiprecious stones in Ceylon on the way home and smuggled them piecemeal out of Naval Barracks in cotton wool in his ears selling well in the London War time Black markets. He said he wanted to buy his own place in London! He probably became a property Tycoon.
I was too young, innocent and naive, and unsophisticated to profit from the war - at least that way. About this time we were all vaccinated for Bubonic Plague, the Mediaeval Black Death, for, not only was it still to be found in China, but the Japs were believed to have Germ Warfare plans when the Allies invaded Japan proper. We were soon under way again to Leyte in the Philippines, where we lay for more than a day in a huge anchorage surrounded on all sides by numerous ships, mainly American but I was told of all nationalities gathered for the attack on Japan itself and its outlying islands. We were originally destined to relieve, followed by the Venerable, also a sister Light Fleet Carrier with squadrons that we had trained alongside in UK airfields, elements of the British Pacific Fleet which had moved north from the Sakashima Gunto attacks to air sorties on ports in the Japanese Mainland.
Strange although it may seem in todays "know whats going on life" society, we had little idea of where we were, what we had or were about to do, for the powers that be aboard RN ships did not think it was necessary to tell the Ships Company what was in store for them. We did have a very active, and inaccurate Ships Gossip or "Buzz" as it was known. The Pilots and Observers were briefed before flying and, very occasionally we had a' Captains Announcement' by some Officer on the Ships Tannoy but I cannot remember any Official announcement that the second atom bomb had been dropped or that Japan was prepared to surrender.
Years later my son told me that we diverted from joining the Fleet off Japan to lie at Leyte where, it was planned we would sail back to Singapore to take the surrender there, but that the Americans were prepared to let General Khang Chi Check and the Chinese take over British Hong Kong and the British Command said No and ordered most of the British Pacific Fleet to take the surrender of Hong Kong. We set out to rendezvous with them there.
Again we only knew we were near the surrendering Japs when the ships Bofors Gunners told us that their guns were disconnected from Radar control and back to manual to allow the guns to be deflected low enough to fire at Kamikaze planes which came in very low at sea level. We did know that the British carriers with their metal decks had fared well from Kamikaze attacks whilst the Yankee ships with their wooden decks were very vulnerable to fire and damage.
We had US Navy sailors aboard as Liaison and all our radio frequencies and IFFY sets [Identification of Friend or Foe] were American and common to the Allied ships British, Aussie, New Zealand, Indian and Dutch etc etc. I recall one of the very few times I thought I would have to fly , [the less the better for me] when the increasing load of temperamental electronic equipment called for Air Radio Mechs involvement rather than Air Gunners. We were on the deck, engine revving, and the pilot shouted to me over the intercom to " get the bloody IFFY going or the F****** Yanks will shoot us down". As the IFFY set was located well aft of the fuselage near to the tail, I hurried to get into it and serviceable before take off.
I can see quite clearly in my mind an early sunny morning and a calm sea when I first saw the coast of China. We were at Action Stations. The aircraft flew overhead as we steamed very slowly between the rocky islands off Hong Kong, slowly for fear of mines. The Bofors guns were manned and depressed. and I remember they opened up when I was below decks and I was told that some Japs had loaded a little boat with dynamite, darted out from the lee of an isle , then lashed the wheel and set it at full throttle to collide with the ship and jumped into the sea. They sunk the boat well away from the Vengeance. No one paid much attention to the incident. Later, in the Hong Kong dockyard several of these home made craft were found powered by engines taken from the old British built Leyland (?) buses that ran in the Crown Colony before the war.
By midday the Vengeance had dropped anchor along with other British Navy ships that had arrived just before us and our cutters were ferrying Marines and armed seaman ashore to join in the take over of the Colony.
The Yellow Seas Patrol
Afternoon was spent in securing ship the flight deck was clear when I was off duty and wanted to look ashore at the city. There was not a soul with me as I stood on the bows gazing at the sun and clouds behind the Peak, the top of the mountain island that was the oldest part of the Crown Colony, and I heard a distant sound again and again and then a whistling sound and someone shouted to me from the shelter of the carriers island. Then it came home to me why the flight deck was deserted. Someone was firing at the ship and me from the shore and I scuttled for shelter.
Next morning the Technical Air POs were called for shore duties and they called out for anyone with experience with Power Generators and Nick the Electrical P0 of 812 whose face was permanently scarred with a long white streak from a "Piss Spider" as it was called when we were at Katakarunda in Ceylon , peeled off. The next call was for anyone with telephone experience and Cattanach a Air Radio PO in his mid 20s, who had joined us in Ceylon or Jervis Bay spoke up that he was a Post Office Engineer in Aviemore before the Navy and off he went . I found myself allocated for Hong Kong Radio which had been run by the Japs and was shut down, partly from the fact that, by 1945 what had been a British equipped Radio Transmitter, had, as time passed been modified and repaired with some US but mainly Japanese components, all wired together in abnormal circuits and possibly sabotaged or it might have been the Japanese signs.
It was soon on the Air.
I missed the Formal Surrender of the Japanese Generals and was told that the Jap Top Brass had their braces taken away from them so that they had to march with their hands in their pockets to keep up their trousers. They 'Lost Face' with the watching Chinese civilians as was planned. We were back on board each night and things were quieter in the streets after a few days and we were granted shore leave from midday to midnight.
Each time we scrambled ashore up the floating gangway we were met by emaciated Chinese women holding up stick like babies and begging for food. There was a famine in Mainland China and the peasants were trying to get into Hong Kong when they heard the British were back. There was no food in the Colony so bundles of rags lay in odd corners. To begin with we gave them money but after a few times stopped. We realised that we were only dragging out a painful doomed existence for the starving and pushing up the price of scarce rice.
I went on the first Shore Leave with a few of the squadron POs including an Engineer called Holm. The Jaunty, (the ship's disciplinary CPO), had given all Liberty men the usual warning of areas and houses out of bounds including Wanchai, the Red light district near the main wharves. That's where we will go said my companions. It was a warm afternoon and soon they were being invited upstairs by Chinese girls while I futilely kept saying " Have you no sense. The Japs were there over a week ago!" to no avail. I did not wish to be left standing by myself in a back street so I tailed along uncomfortably sitting in the hall of the house repeating "No thanks No No !!" to constant invitations.
Eventually they all came out of the rooms and we left together. When we got back aboard the ship and Holm had sobered up he became very worried about what he might have contacted and said, " Oh my God, Jock, You were right I should have listened to you" .and took drastic action with antiseptic.
It cured him of philandering in that fashion.
A month or so later I was told by a Sick Berth Tiffy (Naval male nurse) that 40 % of the ships crew had been diagnosed with VD. There were Heads(toilets) up forward in the bows for infected ratings but I could not see how that was practical and I looked at our heads with distrust. The name Heads' was a carry over from sailing days when the only way for the crew to relieve themselves was to sit out on the boom hanging on to rigging in the head of the ship.
I was at a loose end when I came back on board having no duties. I was quite skilled at the old naval custom of' keeping my head down' and giving the impression of attending to duties to avoid being 'volunteered' for some useless activity'. My old friend Riddington told me that he was in a squad overhauling and converting Japanese twin bowed Landing Craft to be used as Liberty ships which were tied alongside the main Jap Warehouse. He said was crammed with gear but guarded by a few Marines.
So I emptied my tool bag except for a few tools, rolled up a steamer canvas bag ( sown up aboard from sailcloth) and stuffed it into the bag, put on a pair of overalls over my normal kit, and joined Rid and the other squad aboard the naval cutter which made its way to the quay with the Landing Craft tied alongside. We marched along the quay a few bods peeling off at every boat and, as we got to the end, I saw an huge sliding door slightly ajar and had a quick look around to see if there was anyone in sight -no- and I slipped into an Aladdins Cave.
I wandered down aisles between racks of uniforms, green jungle shirts , caps with neck capes, slipper like shoes with a sleeve for the large toe, tins of what I thought were food (identified by Japanese characters) cigarettes, which I recognised, what looked like machinery and military spares for goodness knows what all. I spent a busy morning rummaging amongst the shelves and had a sheaf of papers which I picked up to look official if anyone turned up. I slipped over to the nearest boat at midday, walked down with the others to the end of the pier where sandwiches and tea were being dished out.
By mid afternoon I had a silk kimono with a dragon down the back, a few Jap flags, cartons of cigarettes (which were so bad that we could not smoke them and we gave them to the Chinese Messmen when we went to Kai Tak Airfield), green army jungle shirts (the last of which wore out after the war when I was working as an exchange student in Denmark) , 78 size gramophone records etc. One of these records I later learned was "The Marching Song of the North Pacific Fleet" or something like that according to a Jap POW with some English.
Watching out of a crack in the door to avoid the random sentry who paid little attention to the seaward side of the Stores, I slipped out with my booty and joined the other ratings as they gathered to go back to their ships and went back aboard the Vengeance. The Mess was half deserted with so many of the POs on other duties, but we all gathered to examine my collection and I distributed most of it amongst those present keeping the Kimono, a flag, a couple of shirts and a Army Walkie Talkie etc. Unfortunately months later when we were ashore and the Air PO's mess was being used by Aussie Dock Workers, our lockers were all forced and the souvenirs that I left stored there disappeared.
Imsh Allah !
We were posted ashore to Kai Tak Airfield where a MONAB [Mobile Operational Naval Air Base] had erected peculiar Nissen type plastic and canvas tents for messes and we had individual cot beds draped with mosquito netting . We had a good messman who spoke English. He was a young Medical Student whose studies had been interrupted by the Japanese Occupation and he was a fund of reliable information about conditions in Kowloon and the New Territory.
The Squadron resumed flying sorties over the frontier with China including observation of illegal immigrant movements, for the Chinese were flooding towards the Colony now that the British were back. There were reports of instructions to machine gun near to such parties to drive them back and also of an air attack of a nearby Chinese Village which harboured Pirates who had boarded the Macao Ferry and butchered everyone and looted the ship. Following the air attack, we were told, Naval boats and Marines landed, found clear evidence of Piracy and rounded up every able bodied man and, it was said, carried out summary execution. to spread the word that practises which had flourished during the chaos of the Japanese Chinese conflict would no longer be allowed.
Air sorties over the frontier with China where Chiang Kai chek was amassing strong forces of the Chinese Army, were carried out continuously. Later the Americans were sending Liberty ships as troop carriers to move the Chinese to occupy Shanghai and I was on shore leave in Kowlooon but could not cross the street for trotting, not marching, Chinese Army Battalions eight abreast carrying all their gear and with their Officers running alongside. I stood watching and waiting for, unbelievably, over half an hour while the human flood flowed by without a break, like a river in spate. I have never forgotten that time which has left me with a healthy respect, and fear, of the balance of the Yellow Hordes in World Power.
We had no workshops and had only our tool boxes in the open air. With the usual Naval ability to adapt to shore landings, we procured a huge 2 metre square empty engine packing case and with the help of Jap POWs from the "Shooksemoose" [that is how the word sounded] Army Engineers we converted it to a small Radio shack. Every day we had a squad of Jap prisoners to work with us to get the airfield extended and working. I had the job of going to the POW camp to get suitably skilled POW's and came away after struggling with Jap Officers with only a few words of English with some skilled men. The best was a white skinned, black bearded Ainu from the early peoples of the Northern Mainland of Japan who had worked as Post Office Engineer in Tokyo before the Army. He helped us to comprehend Jap radios and circuits in the equipment that we took over.
The Japs had been used to rough conditions from their own officers and were terrified of us. When we gave some of them a cigarette at our Up pipes break. They stood shaking until we offered a light and they slowly shrank back. We had vehement arguments amongst ourselves about how the Japs should be treated. Many said look at our POWs when they were liberated by us , one with a hole through his hand where he had been strung up with barbed wire for example, give the B****** the same treatment. Others took the view, as I did, that if we did we were no better than the worst of the Japs. I was walking along the shoreline at Kai Tak when I came across several young ratings pushing and striking a poor cowering tiny Jap who was unable to lift a half empty 50 gallon oil drum. As I told them to stop , a young officer came along and told me off for interfering with his men and not to be soft on the B*******.
He asked my name rank and ship and said he would report me. I gave him name and Squadron standing stiffly to attention but in a manner I knew the Navy hated i.e. The steely impassive face of Dumb Insolence and saluted Sir and walked off. On my return to the Mess I reported the incident directly to the Jaunty CPO who nodded without comment and said OK Carry on Jock. I waited days for word of the Charge but heard nothing more but, by coincidence, a message was posted around the Fleet that POWs had to be properly treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.