Machrihanish again- HMS Landrail
"One Black Swordfish-Blackfish"
At Machrihanish 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 day 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 Thorney Island 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.
1 Nov

Following 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, on 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".

2 Nov A 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.
3 Nov In 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.
4 Nov L/Air. Fisher was seen being photographed while seated in a Spitfire.
5 Nov The 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.
10 Nov Crew-room 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.
3 Nov

S/Lt Aggleton's appreciation of Crail:- (see below- also given in full detail in Taylor’s Squadron history)

  Sadly depressing
Is the messing
At Machrihanish.
At Crail
I never fail
To eat my fill
Of jam
Or paste
To taste-
And cheeses
Are far fewer
For bill Muir.
Singleton should
Cut a dash
On mash and (T.A.T)
And Billy's bar
Is not too far
For those who would...
Bob Barrett's lamp
Should never cramp
His style.
And Paddy Allen
Will not grow thin
On violin.
The city's charms
Though free from harms
Would cloy
Without the joy
Of letching
In the kitchen
Without delusion
This conclusion
Cannot vanish-
That Macrihanish
Is P A P
The only thing is F.H.D
  GMA cannot remember (2011) what TAT, PAP and FHD meant. His best guesses are:
  TAT-The Alternative Type.  PAP- Pretty Awful Place. FHD- F***ing Head Down.
GMA suspects that the first two could have been stronger language!
21st Birthday Parties
As 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.
8 Nov  On 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 awakened.
15 Nov .S/Lt 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.
21 Nov The 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.
22 Nov

"From Air Gunnery Training Officer, Machrihanish

To Commanding Officer, 836 Squadron Dear 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.

H.E.PATTISSON Lt(A)DSC, R.N. Air Gunnery Training Officer

"Our Man from Illustrious"
Whether 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.
The "Blackfish" Squadron
We left Landrail on 26th November for air gunnery training at St.Merryn in Cornwall , 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 go to R.A.F. Thorney Island to begin night operations in the English Channel 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 Jamaica 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.
There 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.
25 Nov The land party travelling to St Merryn included S/Lt Taylor, who signified his opinion of Glasgow 's inhabitants by walking along the street rattling a handful of coins in his pocket.
25 Nov The 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.
26 Nov The 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.