Macrihanish (HMS Landrail)
Flying from Lee-on-Solent to Macrihanish

So on 9th August the Squadron left Lee for Machrihanish. The buzz was that this station on the Mull of Kintyre was a training ground for the kind of work Ransford and company had been doing in Malta- all-weather night strikes .As always there were two parties, the air party and the land party, the latter in the capable hands of Lt. Palmer and S/Lt Paddy Allen, our ‘mad’ Irishman who had joined us on 27th July. They accompanied our 40 ‘troops’ to Waterloo-Euston-Glasgow by rail and then by bus to HMS Landrail. The air trip north was memorable for its stop for lunch at Ternhill, a stone’s throw away from James Turner’s home at Wem. Before landing James and Ransford  in ‘A’ flight flew low in greeting over the Rectory to greet the Rector, James’s father. This was not the first or last visitation and when James was showing Owen Johnstone and John Taylor round the grounds in 1980, he remarked that on one visitation when Ransford ‘shot the place up’ Jim Palmer had omitted to reel in his trailing aerial and “had left it in that tree and I suppose it’s still there”.

After lunch at Ternhill we took our leave in spectacular fashion. Ransford ordered a formation take-off and two flights of Swordfish roared down the runway , executed what was known as a split-arsed climbing turn off the deck. We thought it very impressive. The Commander of the station did not. His was a  training station where such antics were seen as breaches of flying discipline, so a signal was sent to Lee complaining about the offence and about a Lt. Slater who appeared to be in charge. Lee, in the person of Commander (A) (vice the Commodore, on leave) forwarded the signal to Macrihanish ‘for such action as seemed desirable’. None was.

From Chief Instructor No.3. (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit                    To Officer Commanding, Royal Naval Barracks, Lee-on-Solent, Nr Portsmouth

11 Aug

Breach of Flying Disciplines

At approximately 14.30 hours on Tuesday 11th August 1942, six Swordfish took off from this Unit’s aerodrome, and the first three executed a most dangerous climbing turn at low speed immediately after take off

2. As this is a Flying Training School the need for flying discipline is apparent. It is therefore requested that you should take suitable action to prevent recurrence of the breach of discipline referred to.

3. The only Pilot’s name known is that of LT. SLATER who appeared to be in command of the flight.

Signed D.C. Allison  W/Cdr    

Chief Instructor

16 Aug

I-Lee No.28

The Commanding Officer R.N. Air Station Machrihanish

Referred for such action as is considered desirable

Signed……………. Commander, for Commodore (on leave) 16 August 1942

Description of HMS Landrail
It was clear that one was not expected to enjoy HMS Landrail. A peace-time airfield had been expanded with the usual haste that threw up RAF and Naval Air stations in the early part of the war. The airfield itself was in a valley which cut the mountains of the Mull of Kintyre from east to west. The hutted camp containing admin. buildings, messes, wardroom and living quarters stood on the northern slopes. It was cold, wet and windy- the howl of the strong westerlies or the rear of the surf on the forsaken beach formed an almost permanent background, and in the high winds it could be a perilous journey from the cabin blocks to the wardroom. The general air reflected a rather isolated and Spartan existence, though the Wrennery at Ugadale (MJA) or the night life of Campbeltown might beckon for an evening ashore. There were station dances where cooks  and ‘bowser queens’ might astonish us with unsuspected feminine charms, and where First Lieutenant acted as chaperone and keeper of the peace. There were walks on the hills where ‘townies’ among us limped behind the loping stride of Owen Johnstone, at home among the highlands so reminiscent of South Island in New Zealand . It was one of these walks that Owen earned the title of  ‘Dry Boots’ for not a drop of water from the pools underfoot (or the falls from above during leg-cocking exercises), touched the uppers of his shoes . There was ample space on the camp for sport, and our lads played 816 at soccer to a draw only days after arriving.

Aerial view of HMS Landrail-Machrihanish

"War" between HMS Landrail permanent staff and 836 Squadron

It was our misfortune to fall out with the station establishment from the first. Problems over the location of the Squadron’s dispersal point- the farthest from ‘main camp’- and the quality and quantity of Squadron transport provision in comparison with that allotted to ‘resident’ squadrons soon emerged. Anyone with business at the main camp, for instance with the Paymaster, faced a two-mile walk around the perimeter, for buses were laid on only at the beginning and end of working hours. Soon, we had enraged torpedo workshops, or at least its Chief Commander Dimsdale, who waxed furious that Nick Piercy had had the effrontery to use his personal loo when he himself was in dire need. Hence the verb ‘to Dimsdale’ entered the squadron vocabulary.

  In the wardroom another 'war' was in progress; the result of the clash of interest and temperament between the permanent station establishment and the transitory squadrons. To the Establishment, many of them retired Naval Officers recalled to duty, Machrihanish was home, a cold, miserable and isolated place, but home. These station officers resented having the peace of their home disturbed by the 'here today - gone tomorrow' squadrons and their noisy boisterous parties, when groups of young flyers seemingly unable to hold their liquor would sing and swear and wreck the mess to demonstrate their dash and vigour. To the residents it must have been at worst boring and depressing. To the aircrew it was a way of letting off steam. Fighter squadrons, all macho and mono­planes, were the worst culprits; 836, though it had its moments, did not often break out into such behaviour. We did, however, fall out over the limitation of supplies of spirits in the J.C.R. and the restriction of its sale to one hour only in the early evening while supplies in the S.C.H. were unlimited. We - and Ransford - thought this grossly unfair. Ransford's reaction as typical: he invited his junior colleagues into the S.C.R. as his guests and bought then drinks, or came and drank beer with them in the J.C.R.

What to do on wet days?
There's no more forlorn sight than a Swordfish biplane in thick, wet Scotch mist and pools of water, its engine and cockpit covers soaked and dripping end its wings sagging more than usual. On such days we did not fly; we did Aircraft or Ship recognition lists, the Observers did plotting exercises to keep their navigation skills sharp while the Pilots took a turn on the link Trainer. James Turner, after marking and publishing the results of one Plotex wrote on the bottom of his findings 'A little more Plotex and a little less pontoon in the crew room was more desirable'. To be fair, we rarely played cards except in the evenings when after dinner WO played poker in our cabins and the greenhorns were grateful for James Turner's fatherly touch ensured that stakes and tempers were kept in reasonable bounds.
14 Aug The C.O. (Lt. Slater) says that when Wellingtons are flown from Gibraltar to Malta , so elementary are the navigating checks that even naval pilots travelling as passengers consider it necessary to give practical help in order to find the destination. This is of particular interest as it is understood the C.O. on one occasion steered for an hour a course reciprocal that by required by his navigator.
14 Aug

Extract from S/Lt Singleton’s flying log (for a date during training):- “Complimented by Commander Flying & Bats on excellent show—record for D.L.T. courses. (5 deck landings and one dummy in 11 minutes)

21 Aug

A shortage of maps & charts was encountered. S/Lt Palmer wanted to know how we found our way around it if we go to Twatt.

25 Aug

Following a navex, Lt. Turner analysed results which showed calculation errors up to 3%. His report , pinned on the notice board, concluded with the footnote : “The results indicate that a little more plotex and a little less pontoon in the crew-room are desirable”

27 Aug

After a day off duty, S/Lt Piercy visited the sick bay and was told  his symptoms showed presence of an obscure fever, but that strangely enough similar symptoms had been experienced by a Wren on the station.

28 Aug

Machines B,C & G went to Skipness for dive-bombing, and on return the recorders at the range reported a mysterious machine A. it transpires that during painting operations the panels became transposed so that G had an “A” on one side.

30 Aug

On a navex S/Lt Turner returned very close to his finishing point. He says on one outward course a fix showed him to be flying parallel, but 12 miles from his correct track. However on the final leg he says he allowed the wind to blow him back to his correct position.

31 August-The Campeltown "ditching"
The 31st August was a pig of a day on which no-one was expected to fly - low cloud with damp, dense mist. But the Control Tower said flying was on, so the. CO and three other aircraft duly took off for A/S bombing at Skipness.  As the fifth aircraft prepared to take off, red Very lights and a red Aldis signal prevented him and he taxied back to dis­persal. Johnstone was not alone in wondering how his colleagues would fare. Meanwhile, Ransford, Blakey and Barrett flew in ever-thickening fog over Campbeltown. The CO ordered line astern and as Blakey and Barrett throttled back to change stations, Ransford, barely above mast height, suddenly found himself flying into the hillside at the harbour and turned to starboard. His colleagues, already reducing speed, took evasive action and stalled into the harbour. Phil Blakey recalls, "Robbie called to me that Bob had gone in. I had no time to tell him that a similar fate was on hand; as I levelled the wings the undercarriage hit the water and we somersaulted head over heels. On such occasions one's past life is supposed to pass before your eyes. I cannot substantiate this claim as on this and another occasion when a booster malfunctioned in India in 1953 and the water entered in a like fashion.

Arrow on the ground showing the correct direction for bombing at Skipness

4 Sept S/Lt Piercy compliments parachute packer Medlyn by saying he is the one in the Squadron (besides Lt Turner) who considers parachutes & rubber dinghies important.
4 Sept In a Tarbert inn while preceeding on leave Lt Turner gave a very picturesque description of a dinner-table episode arising out of a transgression of the correct channels through which a “bottle” should be passed. The C.O. (Lt  Slater) gave a frank & protracted opinion of the culprit (Captain’s secretary) only to find the latter had been sitting next to him at the time.
17 Sept S/Lt Walsh was a member of the squadron for three days. A good proportion of his time was spent in protracted telephone calls of a personal nature with Skipness. At this range he spent dropping a message bag after bombing that other pilots were unable  to make their usual acknowledgement of completion of exercise.
17 Sept S/Lt Singleton held he was carrying out the exhortation of the Minister of Food in the size of his helpings of potatoes at the Machrihanish mess. (See also cartoon in Punch, 19th August 1942.) Adapting a rhyme of S/Lt Palmer's, S/Lt Blakey gives as motto "'I'm for mashed potatoes till I roll beneath the bench".
18 Sept

At a celebration of announcement of a D.S.C. awarded to our C.O. (Lt Slater) the “Wild Irishman” (S/Lt Allen) came in for a lot of ragging about his detention at a London Labour Exchange. The C.O. presented several ditties composed in Malta , a verse from a printable one being as follows:-

“When we leave and go to Blighty, / Halfar Bis- / We’ll ne’er forget the mighty / Halfar Bis. / How proud we are we served it. Malta's George Cross who deserved it? / Halfar Bis!"

18 Sept An overheard whisper indicates that Lt. Turner found it necessary to bribe his air-gunner (S/Lt Turner on this occasion) not to tell the results of a certain navex.
19 Sept It transpired (on the last day of the Squadron’s visit to Machrihanish) that Lt Fox had organised a most attractive system of being called in the morning. Some amusement was aroused was aroused by the efforts of S/Lt Barrett & S/Lt Singleton to make berated use of the facilities.
21 Sept At a club in Glasgow , S/Lt Robertson was heard to assert that on some anti-submarine flights in Jamaica , squadron machines occasionally returned with more fuel than on take off.
22 Sept S/Lt Allen claims to be the only Squadron member to have done his courting in the shade of the Unknown Warrior’s Statue (Campbeltown)
And so to leave: a marvellous stroke of luck enhanced for me by a route which took us by bus up the western side of Mull to Tarbert, and thence after lunch, on a beautiful still day through the Kyles of Bute to Rothesay and Largs. Then round the coast to Glasgow and home, through the clatter of the descent of Shap, from which no sailor going south from the Clyde could ever escape. On the 16th September we were back at Landrail and a week later left for Crail (HMS Jackdaw) on the Firth of Forth. In that week S/Lt.Macve joined the Squadron........
S/L Walsh
 ......and so did S/Lt. Dave Walsh. But an over supply of pilots made his stay with us very short – a mere  three days -during which time it was clear he had contacts among the assessors at the bombing range at Skipness. Dave would join - and leave - us again at Thorney, and sadly lose his life flying off HMS Vindex on Russian convoys as Jim Palmer, the Ship's Assistant Commander WI looked on helplessly. (GMA also in 811 squadron -but photo of squadron does not show Dave Walsh-MJA)
Lt Slater's DSC
On the 18th September Ransford's DSC was officially announced and inevitably there vas a party in celebration at which the CO sang us songs of Malta days, of Halfar Bis - a romantic name for greenhorns - for him a place of vivid and unromantic experiences with guts and determination the chief resources.