St Merryn
Travelling from Macrihanish to St Merryn

So for the moment we said goodbye to Macrihanish, though for most home based crews' farewell to that forsaken. place was merely au revoir! For the land party it was a straightforward journey: By bus all round the coast through Tarbert and Inveraray, along the shore of Loch Lomond to Glasgow . I can still conjure up in my mind's eye odd scenes of lochs and saw mills and the shore of Loch Lomond ; this was new country and for me such journeys by road were a novel experience. Then by clattering train from Glasgow over Shap and through his own patch to London . Crossing from Euston to Waterloo , Reg, myself and I think by proxy, Phil, bought a second-hand portable gramophone for £10 which served us (and Macalpine) very well in the following months. Then from Waterloo to Padstow and thence to St.Merryn  (past a burnt out Stringbag by the perimeter fence) by Navy lorry.

Meanwhile the air party with motorcycle and cycle tied on, and Tinker accommodated, travelled by Ronaldsway, I.O.M. (lunch) and Carew Cheriton in South Wales (overnight). Each of the trips took twenty hours, and Phil Blakey's account of the need for empty sea-marker tins en route for Carew suggests that the lunch stopover had been put to good use. Overnight the party stayed in a private hotel, well equipped with vases and sculptures. As evening wore on theme objets d'art were the subject of ribald comment and a contest developed to create the most amusing ensemble. A copy of 'The Boy David' and a number of empty vases provided much scope. When the CO retired for the night his colleagues collected these objects and a 'brass dog/ Buddha' as Blakey recalls, intending to place them at the bedside of reclining Ransford. 'The Boy David' requiring four men to lift it miraculously survived its ascent upstairs, but all their endeavours, accompanied by much giggling hilarity, lost much of their point when it was discovered that Ransford - wise old bird that he was - had looked his door. The assorted treasures were solemnly arranged on the landing, and there they stood precariously overnight.

Avoiding pre-breakfast PE!
Our three weeks at St.Merryn in midwinter 1942 remain something of a blur. Owen Johnstone had happy memories of the place for he had towed drogues for air gunners there before coming to 836. He knew the Captain personally, socially and professionally. For one evening after a continuous series of air firing exercises, he was taxi-ing dog-tired, back to dispersal, his thoughts no doubt on a shower and a quick gin, when he became aware of a terrified figure fleeing from his path. The figure had been driving his tractor with a Swordfish in tow. Owen's Swordfish had caught it up and his propeller was making its devouring progress from rudder along the fuselage before he knew what was happening. Captain Farquhar 'a very nice chap' had given him the politest of 'interviews' and bought him a drink. The place lived up to his recommendation. Padstow with its narrow streets, small pubs, steep hills and miniature church halls was crowded out every night. The WRNS officers threw a welcome party for us and with leave in view ahead of us all seemed well. We flew, taking off downhill and shooting at drogues. We defeated the station rugger team but our victory owed nothing to the compulsory pre-breakfast P.E. which the Commander, emulating General Montgomery, had laid on for officers. Ransford wasn't keen and ignored it;one or two staggered out the first morning, and after it rained on the second morning no-one turned up
Preparation for Thorney Island
Ransford was probably more involved in the preparatory arrangements for our next destination, Thorney Island , of which we were now told. As we were to go on operations in Europe we were given a series of lectures on 'security and evasion' by Naval Intelligence in the person of Lt. Cdr. Lemon He was always later referred to as 'Jungle Lemon' after one of his stories about himself retailed in lecture or wardroom bars "Lemon, clear me a jungle" the Admiral had said to him, "So I cleared it", said he. But Lemon, for all we pulled his leg, had a serious message. We must not go on operations with any personal effects other than identity discs. If captured we must give only our name, rank and number, and it was our duty if brought down to evade capture; if captured, to attempt to escape. It was all getting a bit sombre, and so we were introduced to the paraphernalia of escaping. Compasses were fitted into pipes or buttons or collar studs (I still have mine); maps printed on the backs of scarves, handkerchiefs, socks; German marks and French francs, and so on. When Lisle was later captured he said they looked at his buttons to see if they unscrewed. They offered him a cigarette, to which he replied, "I don't 'smoke", after which his interrogator said, "You won't need your pipe then" and took it and its hidden compass away
1 Dec At dinner, S/Lt Allen mentioned that he was a medical student before joining the service. Lt Turner sagely observed that the only difference between Irish doctors and Irish veterinary surgeons is that the vets, are more versatile
2 Dec On viewing the Wren steward, S/Lt Taylor decided that St Merryn and Machrihanish should have tossed up for the name "H.M.S. Vulture”.
2 Dec The C.O. remarked that after taking some of Tinker's powders he no longer scratches - "since when I've used no other".
4 Dec Aircraft A had so much engine trouble that the Maintenance Officer (S/Lt Singleton) said "I'm thinking of turning my aircraft in."
12 Dec During a dance at Padstow S/Lt Barrett appeared after a short absence at about 9 p.m. and said he had already had what he came for. The following night at a session in the Cornish Arms, S/Lt Johnstone told a lady that Poo-King was a Fleet Air Arm base in China .
13 Dec S/Lts Barrett and Johnstone became very unpopular with the Air Control Officer. Returning from the bomb-range, they dived in formation on a gun post, then pulled out at about 300 feet, peeling off in a terrific"fleur-de-lis".
14 Dec S/Lt Allen introduced his fire-dancing in the crew-room, using as fuel a dissected recognition cartridge. The main results were complete elimination of the local visibility and a pair of singed eye-brows
My log book tells me we Observers did little air to air fixing, in fact we spent more time on dive bombing and on fighter evasion - the latter no doubt with an eye to meeting ME109s in the Channel come the New Year.

St Merryn airfield is unusual because it has four runways to be able to take off into the wind: reproducing what happens on an aircraft carrier

The near by bombing range at Treligga  has air-to-air, air-to-sea and air-to-land bombing  facilities. The concentric circles are on the cliff edge

From Machrihanish came a signal to Ransford to the effect that the Squadron had set a record, standard in anti-submarine attacks - honour indeed after our departure. There were some high jinks; Johnstone and Barrett displeased Air Control with a formation dive with fleur de lys to follow. Paddy Allen revealed he was training to be a doctor in civvy street, which drew from James Turner the observation that the main difference between doctors and vets in Ireland was that the vet had to be more versatile. . Paddy later did a fire dance in the crew room using a dissective (defective? –mja) Very recognition signal - much smoke, coughing, singed hair. Tinker was with us and Ransford borrowed some of his powder to treat his itching. "Since when" he announced "I have used no other".
15 Dec Following a party at the Wren Officers' Mess, a return function was arranged at the Wardroom. R.N.Air Station, St Merryn. (followed by Geoff Aggleton’s verse below)
  The 1/0 and 2/0 and many a Third
Were simply tickled to death when they heard
That Tinker’s blown in

And bade them to gin
For the wren is a cheery and bibulous bird.

( The 1/0, 2/0 and third refer to the ranks within the Wrens- GMA August 2010)

The party coincided with the return of Percy and Palmer from a signals course at Arbroath, and with the announcement of Jim's promotion to Lieutenant.
The Maintenance Team
At this stage it might not be a bad idea to recall some of the stalwarts who maintained our aircraft. They were a happy and keen lot and though there might be some minor disciplinary problems like being late back off leave, there were no big issues. Most of the 'troops' as Ransford called them had joined the Squadron in Jamaica and had travelled up to the Biter in New York with the likes of Jim Palmer and Robbie and the happy relations between officers and men had their foundations in that remarkable experience in the Americas. C.P.O. Bailey had a marvellous touch. P.O. Penn was a straight-backed R.N. regular, an armourer who despite Phil Blake’s experience over Ely usually got things right first time with never a hint of resentment at having to change armaments twice a day. There were other stalwarts who contributed much to the Squadron rugby as well as their special skills, Marriott and Glenco for instance. Steward Taylor was an accomplished soccer player, reminiscent in build and skill of his namesake Ernie Taylor who partnered the great Stanley Matthews at Blackpool . Officers and men welcomed and enjoyed their collaboration on the sports field. And there was P.O. Dermody, our 'Stores man, quick (sharp!) witted in all things with great powers of undetected acquisition, even of high-lift jacks from Naval Air stations. Equally his magic wand seemed able to write off mountains of 'personal' equipment like watches and binoculars with equal skill. A welsh wizard indeed. Though for obvious reasons we knew little enough of each other's lives we were and are very conscious of their contribution to this story. Many of them thought us mad to be flying our flimsy machines. Perhaps that explains why they looked after them, and us, so very well.
Christmas Leave
So on 17th December we went off for Christmas leave, and welcome it was too. I had now had six weeks' leave since my return from Trinidad in May - some compensation for the two miserly weekends which had been all I could get from March 1941 to May 1942. For once, Owen Johnstone, whose sister lived in Okehampton, didn't have to cope with crowded trains from Scotland or Euston. We left camp in lorries almost before dawn, singing like schoolboys at the end of term. Reserved seats to Exeter and then we went our several ways. I travelled north with Ransford, he for Alderley Edge, me for Manchester . I was still a  bit diffident in his company for I was of very low seniority in the Squadron with no experience of operations, while for me he had not only the aura that goes with command in the Royal Navy but was the epitome of a seasoned Warrior. We chatted cheerfully for a while and then as the excitement or leaving our comrades wore off and we mingled with the workaday world, as befits mortals up late after party we slept. Ransford catnapped, with one eye on the turkey he'd won in a wardroom raffle which now lay in the luggage rack above.It had caused much hilarity as we carried it through crowded platforms to change trains. Katharine recalls that it cooked and carved well.