Crail- HMS Jackdaw
When in 1980 Johnstone and Taylor and their wives drove round the airfield at Crail, there was little to "nostalge" about. The residential quarters and the Assembly Hall/Cinema on the hill looked anonymous - deadly so; but on the south side of the road the workshops, hangars and single-storey office blocks had been well and truly vandalised; everywhere were weeds, and wild flowers struggled through the broken glass. HMS Jackdaw had become a pig farm, the only human activity we saw was a go-kart track in the middle of the camp. In 2006 MJA went passed the airfield which was in even worse condition.
Crail Tower and runway (now a go-cart track) in 2006
Crail hangers- now part of a pig farm.
Description of Crail
It is not easy to recall what Crail looked like in the late autumn of 1942; it was certainly much less isolated than Machrihanish. There was Crail itself, a fishing village like Pittenweem and Anstruther to the east, and St.Andrews a dozen or so miles north up the coast. Fife compared with Argyll seemed at least to be populated. There were other RAF and Naval Air Stations near at hand - Leuchars, Donibristle, Arbroath, Dunino - and we often flew there for short courses or spares. Our navigation exercises were done from Arbroath using areas assigned to the Observers' school there, which reduced the use of airspace over the more vulnerable Firth of Forth.
Crail hangers (foreground left) with Crail village (top right)
Our major difference was the weather: here on the eastern side of the landmass the air was cooler and much drier the north and east wind more biting. Log books record bad weather aborting some activities, but memory recalls icy mornings and the first snows of winter. Fog was not uncommon and the Line Book records Bob Barrett attempting to form up on a lighthouse. But our pilots had been to Crail for torpedo training as part of their qualification, so they knew their way around. As indicated, Ransford had been an Instructor there the previous year. He knew the Station staff and they knew him and his qualities and it was soon clear that HMS Jackdaw was a pretty professional outfit. We flew morning, afternoon and night, some days all three, but usually when flying was 'on' twice a day and Swordfish cockpits could be cold!
We were much happier at Crail though we were not free from brushes with the Establishment. The Lieutenants were not pleased at having to share a dormitory with the Subs, and successfully appealed. Paddy Allen, in defiance of a rule forbidding flying jackets or polo neck sweaters in the mess, stretched himself out on a settee in jacket and fly­ing boots and blew raspberries at all and sundry. Gordon Robertson failed to accompany the Commander on his rounds; Jim Palmer inquired in the hearing of the Commander, "Are there any such thing as Station Standing Orders?". Never­theless, Nick Piercy, the Squadron Adjutant, felt that in view of Station relations we'd scored a victory when Commander (F) apologised over some reports he said he'd not received.
Low Flying & Rugby
The Line Book records more goings-on at Crail than previously. Paddy Allen seemed destined to make his mark by word and deed. He was flying with Geoff Aggleton when Elie bombing range reported his aircraft dropping smoke bombs from 15 feet. As the aircraft returned home with the bird's nest evidence on its wings Paddy complained from the rear cockpit that his life jacket had become inadvertently inflated and he felt he was having a baby by Mae West. On another occasion after a chaotic night formation exercise, Aggleton talked anxiously about changing sub flights, but Paddy observed that this meant merely "taking his right forefinger out and putting his left fore­finger in". Paddy also got a rugger team together and showed his speed and skill as a centre (he was a county player) while his Kiwi partner, Gordon Robertson, tackled and felled everything that moved with the ferocity of an All Black. Meanwhile, Phil Blakey hung on his two props A/M Pardey and cook Jones like a good hooker should, and 836 beat the station team 11-10
It was at Crail that someone produced a gramophone and Phil Blakey, an enthusiastic jazz man, introduced us to the assorted delights of South Rampart Street, a String of Pearls, and Woodshedding with Woody; Reg Singleton shared his love affair with the seductive Dinah Shore with us, while John Taylor contributed a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan discs from the Pirates of Penzance. Perhaps the compact layout of accommodation was more conducive to playing records than playing poker.
"Shooting a Line"
There was also a good deal of line-shooting. Geoff Aggleton often advised us on how things were done in HMS Illustrious. Macve told how at Greenwich the Commander, entering the Guardroom, deftly kicked his beer over; when Macve exclaimed "That was a b... silly thing to do" the Commander apologised profusely. Frank Fox claimed to have been so near to the drogue target that he identified the holes in it where his bullets had gone home, and the same day Bob Barrett said that after each burst of fire the aircraft was so close that his air- gunner had to pull the Lewis gun free from the drogue. Later, nothing daunted, at Machrihanish Reg Singleton firing his front gun recorded 127 hits in the drogue from A more 120 rounds of ammunition. Ransford told of an impersonation of a Guide Commissioner when he capped his performance by presenting the right trophy to the wrong Girl Guide Company. Owen Johnstone who told jokes (as he drank) in leisurely fashion, after many attempts finally came to the end of a shaggy dog story about a horse which wouldn't go through a door. Reg Singleton at this time - with the encouragement of the Ministry of Food - began to extol the health-giving qualities of mashed potatoes to an extent which moved Nick Piercy to amend a line of 'Henry Morgan' to read, 'And I'm for mashed potatoes till I roll beneath the bench'. Geoff Aggleton was later moved to write verse in praise of Crail..
23 Sept

When S/Lt Palmer was sought in the crew-room, S/Lt Piercy said "you'll find him in the store, misleading Dermody."

25 Sept

The C.O.(Lt Slater) gave an interesting description how he once maintained undetected his impersonation of a Girl Guide Commissioner at a Rally. He capped the occasion by presenting the cup to the wrong troop.

27 Sept During a compass-swing, a re-start had to be made because of use of the wrong corrector key. S/Lt Lisle then took over handling the tail arm, and while making somewhat peculiar manipulations was heard to remark, "Well we're getting done by degrees."
29 Sept  Lt Turner was giving evidence at the Court of Enquiry regarding the forced landing of three aircraft on 31st August -      
 Q. Are you aware of the signal arrangements at the Machrihanish Air Watch Office?                                                       
 A. I am aware that they are chaotic.
30 Sept

S/Lt Robertson says that he caught his cold from S/Lt Aggleton due to the very close formation flying.

30 Sept Certain members flew to Donibristle for adjustment of A.S.V. equipment. The trip culminated in arrival of the personnel (now augmented) at an Edinburgh flat. File "pairing off" led to peculiar antics by S/Lt Barrett in the kitchen
1 Oct A telephone message was received from Elie bombing range that Squadron pilots had been doing drops from about 15 feet. Confirmation was apparent when S/Lt Aggleton returned with trophies, collected on his struts, of the local bird life. On the same flight he says he heard the agitated voice of S/Lt Allen over the voice-pipe (with life-jacket inadvertently inflated) saying he had suddenly had a baby by Mae West.
5 Oct S/Lt Blakey took off with eight practice bombs but on arrival at the range found none left. Later a householder at Elie reported one through the roof of his home, and anxiety is still felt over the untraced remainder. Some point is thus given to the remark on the Wardroom map that tin hats are to be worn in the vicinity of Crail while Squadrons are dive-bombing at Leuchara Ref. page 11.
5 Oct  S/Lt Singleton explains his partiality for potatoes by saying they keep colds at bay. Spending the day in bed with a chill, it is understood his stomach revolted at all but this form of nourishment
8 Oct Night formation took place, but much confusion exists as to the actual manoeuvres carried out. S/Lt Palmer says that from the leader aircraft the remainder of the Squadron dropped away like the ten little nigger boys. Flashing by LT Turner with a red Aldis lamp almost X-rayed one aircraft in its intensity, but the observer of that machine (S/Lt Allen) says he didn't notice any signalling. The sorting out of sub-flights led to S/Lt Aggleton saying "he decided to change over". S/Lt Allen reckons this means he extracted his left forefinger and inserted his right
9 Oct Which was the S/Lt who was lured by the Hall Porteress into an unlighted room in circumstances he states to be connected only with a telephone call?  (S/Lt Macve)
10 Oct

The following appeared on the crewroom blackboard:-

Dog House Finger Trouble
  Blakey xxx Aggleton x  
  Robertson xx    
  Palmer x    
   Blakey 1.Misdemeanours in connection with bomb (see previous) 2.Losing a runner torpedo. 3.Apparently one of those official secrets.   
  Robertson. 1.Failing to attend the Commander on his rounds. 2.A tactless remark about a squadron member in his presence who overheard the remark "are there any such things as Station Standing Orders?".
  Palmer 1.Various brushes with Commander,
  Aggleton 1.Leading Nick Piercy up the Creak, and landing at Errol.
11 Oct In view of the general relations existing between the Squadron and Commander(F), S/Lt Piercy considers it a telling victory to have obtained an apology regarding progress reports.
13 Oct For several days S/Lt Johnstone had been narked at the irreverent treatment afforded to a joke he tried to tell - it always broke down at the point where the horse wouldn't go through the gate. At last the whole tale was told, however, with laughs all round and general surprise that the joke was clean.
18 Oct The Storms Officer received from the Adjutant (S/Lt Piercy) a "signal" calling his attention to NASD° 2009, referring to the transport of corpses. S/Lt Palmer wishes he had had the information during  his job as O.C. Draft from Jamaica to New York - especially at Mobile .
19 Oct On the Torpedo Attack Teacher, S/Lt Singleton was carrying out an after-dark exercise, and having made a good approach asked if he should attack amidships. The Wren Officer in charge managed an adequate reply by saying "Be careful, you can't do everything by moonlight", and in view of her sang-froid we wonder how S/Lt Muir must have acted on a previous occasion to make her confess he made her nervous.
20 Oct

S/Lt Barrett made several dummy runs before landing during ADDL's at night. S/Lt Taylor, the enthusiastic keeper of the Authorisation Book, confesses great anxiety during the pilot's gyrations as in case of a prang no signature had been obtained.

20 Oct

It is recalled how during an air-firing exercise Lt  Fox said "look at those holes the drogue" over the voice-pipe. S/Lt Barrett says that after each burst of firing during his exercise the aircraft was so close the air-gunner had to pull back the gun out of a hole in the drogue.

"Trips Ashore"
Our trips ashore took us to Crail and to St. Andrews and for one or two to a very cosy pub in Kingbarns. St.Andrews' folk seemed to have gone out of their way to make servicemen welcome in the town, on the golf course and even near the defence-strewn dunes. Taylor and Johnstone found the town little changed when they revisited it in 1980, and Owen and Prue played a round of golf at the Royal and Ancient. The Line book records a boisterous evening in Crail for L/A (Tag) Fisher's party after a rugger match when eight officers, P/O Dash, A/M Riley and others cele­brated in the Golf hotel. The proprietress, fearing for her licence, requested 'gentler' singing and though Jim Palmer’s usual contribution to affairs was inhibited by the presence of females in the company, Nick Piercy had no trouble in assuring us in song that 'country girls are pretty'
"Air raid on Elie"
Then there was the 'air raid on Elie, as Phil Blakey's accidental bomb attack came to be called. Forty years after the event it is only fair that Philip's account should be handed on to posterity.” In October '42, still at Crail I went A/S bombing with eight only 11 1/2 lb practice bombs. The target was just off the coast. I selected two bombs and went in to drop a straddle, but none came off. We got some off on one run, but what exactly the sequence of events was, I'm not sure now. When we got back to base I was up before Commander Saunt for bombing houses in the village near the range, and I was sent to apologise to the householders. One bomb had penetrated a pantry and des­troyed their butter ration. Actually the people were very good about it and said that they were more sorry for me than themselves! Of course I was given the order of the 'finger in’ but later on a trip to dive-bomb near Arbroath I was alongside Owen who had the aircraft I had used and watched the bombs falling off it. So my reputation was saved and PO Penn the armourer and the electricians had to apologise."
"Attack on Ansthruther"
On one of the trips to Donibristle for ASV adjustments Blakey and Barrett, with time on their hands, took the opportunity to visit Edinburgh and taste the waters. The benefits Of Youngers' Ale or whatever, had scarcely had time to evaporate as they took off full of the joys for Crail. Bob, leading, climbed to 10,000 feet in exhilaration, then dropped in torpedo attack fashion through the harbour entrance at Anstruther.
Return to Machrihanish
 Perhaps the inhabitants of Last Fife were relieved when we returned to Machrihanish for a spell in October. As usual the aircraft were manned by a mixture of aircrew and maintenance men. As usual Jim Palmer's bicycle was secured above the undercarriage of one of the aircraft and as usual, but this time recorded, Leading Dog Tinker. Ransford's wire-haired terrier, shared the back cockpit with James Turner. The irreverent often had a chuckle at the seeming incompatibility behind the CO's head, and Tinker either in James's arms or at his feet. Others, my log tells me, rode in the comparative comfort of a Hawker Harrow.
23 Oct

S/Lt Macve tells a story of his life at Greenwich . Sitting in the Gunroom, he had on the floor beside him a glass of beer, which was deftly kicked over by the Commander when he entered. Speaking to himself, but somewhat louder than he intended, Mac said "That was a b--- silly thing to do". Immediately the Commander turned round and apologised profusely.

23 Oct With some trepidation, the station rugby team was challenged by a Squadron team organised by S/Lt Allen. Several members had not played before but despite some peculiar play (particularly by S/Lt Barrett) the Squadron won 11-10. Remembering the savage look in the faces of A/M Pardey and Cook Johns (front-row forwards) one is inclined to corroborate the subsequent opinion of the "troops" that success was the result of a distribution of M.K.II Energy Tablets at half-time by S/Lt Palmer.
24 Oct Following another Squadron rugby match, which finished at 1645, one player (S/Lt Robertson) worked so swiftly that he had bathed and changed in time to catch the 1700 bus. It is difficult to reconcile-this performance with his later remark that "he never chases women, he always lets them come after him "
26 Oct After the rugger match, "Fisher's Party" took place at the Golf Hotel, Crail, with attendance by 8 officers, P.O.Dash, A/M Riley, and a few gash personnel, one (a P.O.) of whom related with startling candour a story relating to paternity under French law. S/Lt Palmer was held to have let "F for Freddie" down when despite L/A Fisher's encouragement his smutiferous tongue was silent in the presence of two females. An array of about 60 pints of beer rather nullified the Scottish licensing regulations; their steady demolition led to a request by the proprietress for gentler singing, while S/Lt Piercy intoned to a delighted audience his pseudo-respectable ditty "Country girls are pretty ......"