John Taylor's introduction to Lee-on-Solent
There was an untidy start to this second phase of the Squadron's story, for we came together in bits and pieces. For instance, I had been ordered by Their Lordships (cancelling my appointment to HMS Merlin which I never received) to report to HMS Daedalus (Lee) preparatory to joining 700 squadron for Observer duties in HMS Berwick, a county class cruiser. It seemed I was Walrus bound until Commander (F) told me they'd removed the hangars and Walrus from the Berwick and that I'd be joining 836 which was at that moment on leave. He refused my request for leave- I'd had 14 days in 16 months and had missed embarkation and survivors' leave- and so I was left to kick my heels, a callow Midshipman among the ribbons and gold braid of F.A.A.H.Q.
 I have recollections of meeting others in the same boat, certainly Owen Johnstone, a tall, handsome New Zealander with an eye like a hawk, who had destroyed my bowling the previous year at HMS St. Vincent (Gosport) in a New Zealand versus the Rest match. I was not to know that I would fly as his Observer until we went our separate ways in December 1944 and that ours would be a lifelong friendship. Another recruit I remember was John Lisle. His noisy half-wellington boots and raucous laugh caused grey heads to turn in the wardroom especially at breakfast, which we discovered in naval tradition a silent meal. John's sister, Doreen, was in the WRNS at Lee, and in the nautical "know" and I suspect she told him about 836 and Biter and that we were the make-weights. John Cartwright also appeared; we had been together on the 47th Observer Course and had shared five days in Lady Drake's lifeboats when she went down. We had been at Greenwich, played cricket together out in Trinidad, and knew each other fairly well. There was even more noise on 4th July when the Biter crowd arrived full of their American and Atlantic stories. Inevitably there were strong bonds already forged, but in no time Jim Palmer, with his warm friendship, and Philip Blakey, with his breezy Yorkshire effervescence ,made contact and included us in. As we waited for the CO there were plenty of chores: stores, spares equipment and armament to be checked: maps and charts to be collected and corrected. James Turner organised us in business-like fashion.
On 7th July we collected our Swordfish for which, one midsummer afternoon during a make-and-mend, Midshipman Taylor innocently signed. As Duty Officer he was the only one around and in that capacity signed, so that when a few days later John Lisle crashed one of the aircraft, the bother and paperwork fell on the Squadron not workshops. Midshipman Taylor had been properly conned by the CPO workshops. The CO was very good about it, taking the point that C.P.O. Bailey did have six Swordfish in his care and no doubt reflecting that worse things happened at sea and had happened in Malta

Lt.Ransford Slater DSC-Background

Ransford Slater's log book records that at 0900 hrs on 9th July 1942 he joined 836 squadron as its Commanding Officer

 Ransford Slater had now taken up his first command of a squadron. He had been at Dartmouth 1927-31, where he was Chief Cadet Captain 1930-1 before serving as a Midshipman in HMS Nelson. At Greenwich in 1934 and Whale Island in 1935, he joined the Fishing Protection Ship HMS Foyle. In 1936 he trained as a pilot (Leuchars and Gosport ) serving in HMS Furious and Glorious till January 1940. He flew Swordfish over Dunkirk and Rotterdam, then went to Furious again. In late 1940 he went to Lee, working on torpedo trials,and thence to Crail as Instructor in pilot's bombing and torpedo courses.In December 1941 he joined 830 squadron in Malta, whose exploits are recorded in K.Poolman's "Night Strike over Malta", and by men who were there, such as P.O. A.G.Gold. On 15th December he flew on a general reconnaissance of Malta. At 0555 hours on the 16th he took off for a torpedo attack on enemy shipping, touching down at 0445. On the 18th he carried flares for another attack ($ hours 40 minutes) and on the 26th flew another 5 hour 5 minute night operation. by 2nd May he had flown 84 hours on night ops. He piloted his CO Lt. Cdr. (later Admiral) H.Hopkins through the dirtiest weather on 24th January for 5.5 hours to locate a convoy. On landing Hopkins ordered another strike, taking off with a fresh pilot half-an-hour later to press home the attack. Hopkins was given an immediate DSO for his outstanding determination, while Ransford's exploits in Malta earned him a DSC.
Before leaving Malta for Gibraltar and home in an S.B.20 Ransford had been almost buried alive in one of the incessant air raids which rained on Malta
at that time. An MB109 dropped an anti-personnel bomb only yards away from him, covering him with stones. I believe he still carried some of the scars on his face when he came to Lee in July. None of this was known at the time for neither Ransford nor James sought to impress us, rather they sought to teach us. The "griff" was that our new CO was RN, had been in Malta, and was due for a gong. The latter was confirmed when we celebrated on 18th September. Apart from his personal qualities- which will become apparent- Ransford Slater was a pilot of exceptional qualities and experience, having already piloted seventeen different aircraft, including Walrus and float-filled Swordfish.
7 July Lt Blacow became one of the Squadron immortala by his telling of the "no sugar" joke.
9 July One of the Observers newly attached to the Squadron was S/Lt Cartwright. He persistently tried to convince us that he was a sea-going type by referring to his experience of five days in an open boat.
14 July A Squadron insignia was devised and painted on one aircraft. It is based on the Highly Derogatory Order of the Irremovable Finger" (Tee Emm). With S/Lt Lisle as originator of the idea, and S/Lt Singleton as artist:

Faith et Blind Hope
So by mid-July the squadron was crewed as follows:
Pilots Observers Comments
Lt Slater
Lt Fox
S/Lt Barrett
S/Lt Blakey
S/Lt Lisle
S/Lt Johnstone
S/Lt Singleton
S/Lt Aggleton (Joined August)*
Lt Blacow (left July)
Lt Turner (Snr)
S/Lt Palmer
S/Lt Piercy
S/Lt Robertson
S/Lt Cartwright (vice-)
S/Lt Taylor
S/Lt Muir
S/Lt Allen (Joined 27July)*
S/Lt Macve (Joined 20 Sept)*
 * MJA note added: GMA was the last pilot to join according to his log book at Macrihanish not Lee although he was at Lee in another squadron in July 1942. GMA flew with both Allen and Macve sometimes with the two Observers. GMA was in a front line squadron -810 on HMS Illustrious- before joining 836-see text below.
John Taylor's Sketches of Pilots and Observers

For all the Observers except James Turner, 836 was their first squadron, and only the CO, Fox and Lisle had been in front line squadrons. Singleton had been training Observers, piloting pupils at Crail and Arbroath, Johnstone had been towing drogues for air-gunners at St. Merryn where, as will be seen, he had learned among other things how not to taxi Swordfish. With this sort of inexperience a good deal of training needed to be done and this was called "working up". As this phase began, unifying bonds, so important to morale and performance, were already apparent. Seven of the officers had shared the experiences of the previous months. Three of these Palmer, Piercy and Robertson, had also been members of the 46th Observers' course, and Jim and Nick, being keen mountaineers nipped up to North Wales for an assault. Johnstone and Singleton had been on the same pilots' course: Taylor and Cartwright had been on the 47th Observers' course over lapping with the 46th trio in Trinidad . Young Philip Blakey, an irrepressible, forthright Yorkshire man, as a recruit at HMS Vincent had sought refuge from the smoothing with public school accents and double-barrelled names which seemed to dominate his pilots' course, and found a bosom pal in Bob Barrett and the two had joined 836 in Jamaica . Only after the war did it become generally known that Lisle and Turner had flown together on anti-submarine patrols from Gibraltar . John Lisle was not the last to be impressed by James's general superiority and knowledge of just everything. When they sighted a submarine in Gibraltar straight, John's instinct was to make a surprise attack from the stern. His vision of glory and gongs were shattered by James's very deliberate exchange of recognition signals with the submarine, which turned out to be one of ours.

John never claimed to be God;s gift to the Fleet Air Arm; indeed he later wrote "I don't know why they didn't drop me from the pilots' course". But while he was around things were always lively. His father came to Lee to see him and arrived in a state of extreme shock and fury. He had been on the top deck of a bus driving along the promenade when a low-flying Swordfish approaching from dead ahead forced it off the road. The pilot? Who else, but his own son. And who else but John Lisle would have suggested for the Squadron's Crest the insignia of the R.A.F's P.O.Prune: the Highly Derogatory Order of the irremovable finger- a clenched hand with forefinger rampant and the motto "Blind Faith and Hope". Was if finger trouble that caused Johnny to crash spectacularly on his approach to Lee runway carrying a "runner" torpedo which had failed to drop on the torpedo range? Much drama preceded the exploit for his Observer fired off red Very Lights to warn of an emergency landing, and while the emergency services stood by the runway a different emergency evolved when Johnny's engine stalled and he dropped, literally, into an adjacent field. The torpedo was shaken free and carved its way through the topsoil of the meadow. Commander (F) rushed over with condolences, while an officer in HQ told Second Officer Doreen Lisle WRNS that some "clot" had pranged in an anti-invasion meadow. Johnny returned once more "their Lordships humble and obedient servant"- or so it said on his A25 (accident report).

Lt (A) Bertie Blacow had no sooner returned from leave then he left the squadron, I believe, to go into hospital: but not before giving a brilliant rendering of his "no sugar" hospital joke. For the rest of us, crewing arrangements were worked out as indicated in the list, and the pairings seeming to be compatible became more or less permanent. We began to work as a team, in the air and in the crew room. "Working up" meant refining and applying within the wider context of the squadron the individual skills we had learned under training. There was much tight formation flying at low level and high level, depth charge and torpedo dropping on targets near Nab Tower, the latter serving also as our target for practice work with S.E. (Special Equipment) later called ASV (anti-surface vessel) and later still, Radar. In these exercises we changed crews a good deal. My log book tells me I flew with nine different pilots and Observers in July- fourteen by the end of August. Thus cliques were avoided and a wider team spirit encouraged, and possible personnel changes through accident or sudden drafts could be made more smoothly. Most of us would fly with anyone without qualm (just as well when later there were more aircrew than planes) and after some of the pilots of Percival Proctors in Trinidad, John Lisle- with whom yours truly did his first flight in 836- was indeed a Master Pilot.

The Observers came into their own navigational exercises (Navex) either in the air or in foul weather, in the crew room (Plotex). These were "marked" by James Turner- always tolerant and helpful. For those (unlike James) trained in Trinidad there were new difficulties. There, 98% of our time had been spent over the sea but the Channel was out of bounds, so from Lee we were forced to navigate northwards where map reading would have been a more appropriate exercise.

In the Wardroom, with its bar "chits", bills and monthly accounts, "temporary Officers and Gentlemen" gradually adapted to life on the "Upper Deck". The newly-commissioned officers had at most a ten day "knife and fork" course atGreenwich before joining the elevated surroundings of an Officers' mess to which, but for the war, they would never have aspired. Most of them were Secondary or Grammar School boys- the Midshipmen barely out if school- who would normally not have such close contact with the products of Public Schools, Dartmouth and Oxbridge, with whom they now enjoyed equal status. The Hon. Nicholas Piercy- a Cambridge graduate- was the first Etonian I had ever met. But we didn't hold it against him. Rather, the provincial accents from North of Watford, especially North of Birmingham (Blakey, Singleton, Taylor, Cartwright, Muir) more than held their own. But all the RNVR men had a great respect beyond habitual deference for the "straight RN" officers who, like Ransford, had trained them and borne the brunt of the first years of hostilities as well. And though at the end of the war RNVR men said that now- numerically having swamped the regulars- they had won the war, the RN could have the FAA back, all realised their debt to the backbone and tradition they had inherited. Lee did not encourage rowdiness among its junior officers, so it was at Victoria,Lee Tower and Wrennery dances that we found our fun. On 20th July  S/Lt Taylor,now 20 and newly promoted, wet his stripe at Lee  in a fashion he regretted the next day on a fighter evasion exercise, in which his pilot gave the impression it was Seafires who were to take evasive action. It was not unusual to seek wider fields of action in Fareham, Gosport,or even Winchester .

20 July A new observer of the Squadron, Mids.Taylor this day efficiently  "wetted  his stripe" on promotion to S/Lt. Following the occasion, S/Lt Singleton returned to base with grass in his hair, while the next day more than one member of the party wanted to know which particular girl he had dated for the dance that evening.
22 July S/Lt Robertson put in several practices on the link trainer, and efficiently homed on the beacon, corrected a spin, steered a set of courses and times, and flew by instruments alone in bumpy conditions. During all these manoeuvres his enthusiastic instructor (Lt Fox) states that he was flying above ground level at least twice.
24 July Several bicycles were bought by members of the Squadron some of unusual size and design. It was generally regarded as essential to dismount from S/Lt Lisle's model when passing under Fareham railway bridge where the headroom was only 11ft 9 ins.
Lt v. S/Lt "Protocol"
It was at Lee that the Squadron's tone was set- happy and efficient. Characters emerged, and while there was much in the way of badinage about "putting up blacks" or "finger trouble" or who had been "poodle faxing" with whom the previous evening!- it was always good humoured. Though  we went ashore in groups of two or three, the group's personnel were not constant and there were no cliques. Much of the credit for the good morale in the crew room was due of course to the encouragement of the CO and his lieutenants and the success story in training, but some credit was due to Jim Palmer, whose patience, ready humour, advice and unfailing calm set a splendid example to his younger colleagues and helped them feel "included". Jim, at 28, had seen a bit of life, had worked in local government before the war and had taken a London External degree before joining us. He was a keen climber and cyclist- he was still cycling at the age of 70- a "great outdoors" man. But as the senior Sub/Lt his open friendliness, with an incredible repertoire of salty songs and poems, were an enormous influence on the tone and morale: while his age and integrity gave him a special relationship (and the rest of us "a friend at court") with our three full lieutenants from whom protocol, at least at Lee, separated us somewhat.
31 July Organisation of the Squadron resulted in the allocation of various jobs. "Torps" (S/Lt Blakey ) obtained a holiday to Crail with suspicious breakings of his journey at Dunstable. There is no truth in the rumour that the Maintenance Officer (S/Lt Singleton) was persuaded to search for a left-handed spanner. The Armament Officer (S/Lt Barrett) took a course which to unenlightened eyes of mornings spent toying  with a smoke float while a R.A.F. Sergeant spun low yarns, and afternoons spent at the swimming pool with a feminine acquaintance. S/Lt Piercy is to congratulated on becoming the Squadron black-coated worker. We hope the straw hat suits this costume (see 28. Mar 1942)
5 August

The fact of having pilots & observers in excess of the number of Squadron aircraft led to differing combinations of crews. We would rather like to be present when:

(a)   Lt Turner finds it necessary to wear S/Lt Muir's parachute harness

(b)   S/Lt Blakey ,S/Lt Allen & L/Air Slewey are speaking on the same intercom

(c)   The cotton-wool aircraft returns after being handed by our "fighter"pilot S/Lt Johnstone