28 October -26 November 1942
At Macrihanish for a
second time, our 'working up' was
nearing completion and all our training seemed to be achieving its peak.
We flew, we dive bombed, navigated in snow storms, did dummy
anti-submarine exercises and torpedo attacks by (thy and night, did radar
exercises to locate submarines and to aid navigation. In the middle of the
month we collected a new aircraft. Johnstone's new aircraft DK754 stayed
with us till we left
in March 1943 and I think that from the first day they were painted black,
a feature which perhaps presaged a change in function for us. By November
1943 Rommel was being driven back to Tunisia and the need for pressure
from Malta on his communications receded as his convoys no longer
crossed the Mediterranean; nor at that time were there sufficient carriers
available for squadrons forming up. But the skills we had developed could
be used against any seaborne target. It
was to be early December before we knew what our operational role was to
be. Meanwhile we felt a bit special in our black stringbags and their
exhaust cowlings to hide the flames rushing from the Pegasus engines. We
looked - and felt - pretty operational.
a visit to the film "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" a pair of
incidents seem to indicate a dual Squadron personality, On one day
S/Lt Palmer entered the Wardroom saying he had just been mistaken
for Commander Flying. The following day S/Lts Taylor and Johnstone
had been walking over the hills dressed in civilian clothes,
return to the camp the sentry told them "Your workmen's passes
will not admit you on Sundays". After establishing their
identity, he added some workmen seem to think they can walk through
the camp on Sundays when dressed in their best clothes".
front-gun firing exercise was carried out by pilot of the Squadron,
two hits being scored between the first three details out of about
120 rounds apiece. When S/Lt Singleton returned later from his
efforts, the drogue recorded 127 hits.
efforts made by various Squadron members to prove themselves
"operational types" S/Lt Aggleton’s descriptions of life
in H.M.S. Illustrious had been outstanding for several weeks. His
latest addition to the series tells how while carrying out A.S.V.
tests in the mid-Channel
area it was necessary for him to have fighter escort.
Fisher was seen being photographed while seated in a Spitfire.
C.O.(Lt Slater) regretted he had been unable to arrange boarding-out
for Tinker, his wire‑haired terrier, as he wouldn't like to
think the Squadron mascot was eating the food of the Officers' Mess.
games again became prominent, and several ideas were tried. An
aircraft recognition competition was fairly high-brow, and even
word-squares required some intelligence. Competitive patience led to
much barracking by onlookers, and the battle fleet-squares game was
reckoned more of a success than the pukka War game carried out at
the Torpedo Section.
Aggleton's appreciation of Crail:- (see
below- also given in full detail in Taylor’s Squadron history)
eat my fill
far fewer/ For
mash (and T.A.T.)
not too far
those who would ..
not grow thin
free from harms
only thing is F.H.D
|GMA cannot remember what TAT, PAP and FHD
stood for but best guess is: The Alternative type; Pretty Awful Place and
F***ing Head Down. He suspects that the first two were somewhat stronger
Aggleton's verse suggested, we found life at HMS Landrail less pleasant
than at Crail. The squadron/ station strife re-emerged, the food (not even
the mashed potatoes) was as good and Ransford was anxious to find
accommodation ashore to save Tinker from food from the Officers' mess.
Things were enlivened by a couple of twenty-first birthdays celebrated in
the mess. Reg Singleton's it seemed comprised a swift drinking pre-dinner
session whose pace forced a number of equally early withdrawals after
dinner, including the celebrant. Contemporary records tell us that Nick
and Bob did a mutual christening act before leading the unnamed remnants
of the party in musical birthday greetings in Reg's cabin. Our birthday
boy, alone among the occupants of his cabin block, slept blissfully
through the serenade. A week later, 15th November, the Line Book records
Bob Barrett’s twenty- first and another party. The CO in due time
provided song sheets and the choir chorused to his verses. James, as
always in tune of imperfection, deplored these low songs for their
'anatomical and physiological inexactitudes'. No sooner had the bar closed
than a Piercy-led 'Salome' of great volume announced that the Squadron was
taking over the mess. There followed a 'Muffin Man' which 'swamped' James
Turner and Nick, Bob and Nat Macve drank glass for glass, the first two on
whisky, the latter on beer. The CO retired to a corner to check his
balance by doing what P.T. instructors called 'cockstands', then
disappeared. Barrett, after responding to a toast in words worthy of
Casanova or Don Juan, was debagged,—then with a seraphic smile he
slipped quietly to the floor. No-one recalled putting him to bed. But
there were witnesses to the finale when Ransford, now resplendent in green
stockings and Glengarry cap, roared into the wardroom on his motorbike and
rode dirt-track style round the room. Despite the balancing practice, the
bike repeatedly rejected him. No-one remembers how it all ended or whether
there were repercussions.
the occasion of S/Lt Singleton's birthday, a swift-drinking session
took place before dinner, and after the meal several participants
found it necessary to cease operations, including thecentral figure
of the party. It is understood that later in the evening S/Lts
Piercy and Barrett did a mutual christening act. The final episode
was a rousing serenade in S/Lt Singleton’s cabin, but of all
persons within about a quarter mile radius he was the only one not
Barrett's 21st birthday party proved an enormous success. The
C.O(Lt.Slater) produced a song-sheet from which we enthusiastically
plied the choruses, the bit about the air-gunner and the flares
being much approved. Lt Turner criticised
the usual low songs by saying they were full of "physiological
and anatomical inexactitudes". Nevertheless, S/Lt Piercy's war
cry rang out as the bar crashed down, and by mutual consent we
struck up with a terrific"Salome". S/Lt Barrett
distinguished himself by drinking tumblers
of whisky faster than S/Lt Piercy and S/Lt Macve could sink
beer; Bob's speech, too, was a masterpiece, paraphrased, it
indicated his intention to maintain his appreciation of the fair
sex. The C.O. told how the station Stores Officer (with double-barrelled
name) questioned the signing of stores chits "Jim Palmer"
- "quite right replied the C.O., double-barrelled name, Jim
hyphen Palmer". A round of "muffin an saw the swamping of
a broadly-beaming Lt Turner, while the C.O. was noticed practising
his balance in a quiet corner. On the now rather wet floor S/Lt
Barrett was swiftly de-bagged. As the time for turning-in
approached, our motor-cycling C.O. appeared in very long green
stockings and Glengarry cap – he proceeded to dirt-track round the
Wardroom on his machine, and complained he fell off three times
without the bike telling him to. S/Lt Barrett finished the day in
blissful silence,vbut somehow nobody remembers putting him to bed.
presence of two Spitfires outside the Squadron offices was thought
to be a mistake by the Stores Officer (S/Lt Palmer) in exchange of
aircraft, or at any rate the arrival of S/Lt Aggleton's fighter
escort (see earlier). The impression was enhanced when "L.A.C's"
Turner and Palmer assisted at warming up and take-off by fixing
pilots' harnesses and clearing away chocks.
Air Gunnery Training Officer, Machrihanish
Commanding Officer, 836 Squadron
Slater, Here is a brief summary of the training carried out by your
Squadron whilst at Machrihanish. Your record of 21 yards for A/S
Para.5 still stands.
Lt(A)DSC, R.N. Air Gunnery Training Officer
these parties were to blame for further 'finger trouble' is not disclosed,
but in the next few days Bob took off with starting handle still in
position and Geoff Aggleton landed with his arrester hook down. However,
our man from Illustrious shrugged it off and 'Force of habit, old boy'. We
were to leave Landrail on the 26th, but on the 22nd November the Training
Officer congratulated us on our work, noting that our record for accuracy
for anti-submarine attacks still held. We would later be told that our
'working up' had been satisfactory except for 'free gun firing by the
Observers' - but to be honest they got little practice.
left Landrail on 26th November for air gunnery training at St.Merryn in
, the final stage of our 'working up'. It was at this stage that the
Squadron received the black painted Swordfish which we were to fly
operationally. By now we knew that after St.Merryn - and leave - we would
to begin night operations in the
and on the French coast. We felt confident enough: we trained hard and
played hard and become a capable and well-knit bunch in the process. The
various bonds which had begun their work in
now enveloped all. The Observers were well aware of their good fortune in
having capable pilots, who in their turn could trust their Observers'
navigation and competence. Maintenance of aircraft and equipment was high,
unserviceability in either was rare. Relations between aircrew and
groundcrew were excellent, helped not a little by the excellent group of
T.A.G's who had a foot in both camps as it were. Above all we had an
exceptional CO with that rare blend of utter reliability, quiet authority,
readiness to set the standard and ability to 'mix' without losing respect.
His kind of leadership was exactly right if a comparatively small group of
men was to function effectively through teamwork. One of Ransford's
constant questions was, "Who's looking after the troops?" and
his officers very soon got the message.
were of course minor irritations inevitable among men thrown together for
any length of time, but there were no schisms or cliques. And there were
incidents that, small and silly from this distance, raised morale sky
high; as when a Stores Commander buttonholed the CO and complained
about our Stores Officer signing himself Jim Palmer.
"Yes", said Ransford, "that's right, Jim Palmer with a
hyphen". Thenceforward Jim was known as 'hyphen'. Again, Jim 'the
unflappable was a marvellous cushion for absorbing these minor
irritations. Phil Blakey and John Lisle would be heard laughing most of
the time, and the former could change James Turner's anger (when it was
said his face turned puce) into an
infectious laugh. James, looking back, was extremely tolerant of his
younger charges. They in turn would not want to let him down. James had
been christened 'Tailpiece' by Blakey, after he had taken up flying
(taught by Ransford in Tiger Moth and Link Trainer). He would later
qualify as a Pilot. So we had a collection of nicknames: Hyphen Palmer,
Crash Lisle (who else?), Dryboots Johnstone, Snake Walsh, Tats Singleton,
The Little Man (Muir), Pint Pot Piercy, The Wild Irishman (Allen). But not
all characters had nicknames, and while Mace, the original male
chauvinist. ale expert and eternal pipe smoker, remained unchristened, Ken
Tyrell almost deserved the name Bowser King! Owen Johnstone was sometimes
referred to as arse-end Charley, as junior crew he brought up the rear In
H for Harry.
land party travelling to St Merryn included S/Lt Taylor, who
signified his opinion of
inhabitants by walking along the street rattling a handful of coins
in his pocket.
flying party landed at Ronaldsway (
Isle of Man
) for lunch, and partly on account of thick weather. Continuing the
trip in the afternoon, the thickness was apparently more than the
met. report said, though it is also notable that many flame-float
tins sprinkled the southward route.
R.A.F hotel at which the flying party stayed the night Carew
Cheriton, Tenby, S.Wales) included many works of art. As a result of
a late-night party, the C.O. awoke in the morning to find his
bedroom door arranged with a guard of honour of statues of every
shape and material.