Liverpool-Halifax (Nova Scotia)-New York-Nassau-Jamaica-Cuba-New York-HMS Biter-Lee-on-Solent

The history of 836 divides naturally into three parts. The Squadron originated in the spring of 1942 under the command of Lt.Cdr. Crawford RN in HMS Buzzard, a shore station at Palisadoes, Jamaica. Training, begun in Jamaica,was continued in New York till the Squadron crossed the Atlantic in June in the new Escort (Woolworth) carrier HMS Biter (Capt. Abel Smith RN).In July 1942 at Lee-on-Solent, the Squadron reformed under the command of Lt. Ransford W.Slater DSC, RN and here began the second, central period-months of working up, followed by three months operations from Thorney Island- which ended in March 1943. The third period saw the departure of some of the former stalwarts as the Squadron became permanently and exclusively committed to the Battle of the Atlantic, providing and training Air Crews for the succession of MAC Ships (Merchant Aircraft Carriers) which followed the pioneering trials and Maiden Voyage of the first such ship-M.V.Macalpine. After the voyage the Squadron entered its final phase and lost the tight fellowship of earlier days as it expanded to 90 or so aircraft and crews in its permanent base at Maydown,Northern Ireland.Some men, like Nick Piercy and Philip Blakey, served in all three phases; some, like C.O., Reg Singleton and Owen Johnstone , knew only the two later stages; others were present only in the second phase, till March 1942. (This should be March 1943-MJA)

The first phase of the Squadron's life might be called the Homeric period, such were the myths and legends associated with it. In the months that followed in Wardroom and Pub, in cabin and crew room, the folklore was handed on. There were tales of languid afternoons and late nights at the Myrtle Bank Hotel in Kingston,of forced landings and horseback rescues in Cuba,of open-mouthed US mechanics watching Swordfish being wound up on the starter motor (are these the planes that did Taranto ?). These were tales of dancing with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Nassau, of shy Midshipmen running to escape the clutches of rich colonial ladies, of "Nightclubs" which turned out to be brothels, and dark hints of much "conduct unbecoming"! There were (successful) attempts to impress new members with the operations from HMS Biter and the "prangs" which left Blakey's depth charges rolling round the deck, or bob Barrett's Swordfish jammed against the bridge, barely missing the unsuspecting James Turner. No-one ever had time or opportunity to relate a coherent account of the pre-history. It was all anecdotal, or conveyed in mysterious phrases and slogans like "blood on the dance floor". The shout "Shaggers  Whitworth" was for the cognoscenti shorthand for some contretemps at Kingston with a rude Lieutenant RN as the Line Book records it, as almost certainly Lt.A.S.Whitworth, Second in Command of 829 Squadron at the battle of Matapan, and now forming a new squadron in Jamaica.

Liverpool to Halifax

A brief more coherent account of that first phase can now be written from the records and recollections of the participants. The squadron was indeed formed early in 1942 although it is impossible to say exactly when.Philip Blakey,then a Midshipman,recalled that he joined at the Liver Building in Liverpool on 1st February, though his first flight in a Squadron did not take place until 16th April.He sailed from Liverpool to Canada in the Jamaica Producer, an Elder and Fyffe banana boat,fast enough at 16 knots to sail unescorted. With him sailed Lt. Cdr. Crawford RN, Sub.Lt B.Blacow RN, Sub.Lts.(A) Barrett, Palmer, Piercy and Sandiford RNVR, and the other midshipman, Gordon Robertson RNZNVR. The Line Book recalls Hugo's party on the last night of the voyage at which a rendering of Salome brought the Captain from his bed, according to Blakey, in nightshirt and nightcap, to break up the party. In Halifax Lt F.Fox,RN (senior pilot) and LT (A) J.F.Turner (senior observer) and Sub Lt. Cross RNVR and Sub.Lt. Tucker RNZNVR joined the company. The wait in Halifax at HMCS Stadacone was long enough for the two groups to become acquainted and to allow some mild revelries ashore while beachcombing habits developed aboard when such instructions as "hands to zizzing stations", "wakey wakey","crack of dusk" were common.

(The full 836 Squadron Line Book, which was written before this history, has been added at the relevant points in the story-MJA)  

836 Squadron Line Book collated by Jim Palmer

Liverpool to Halifax (Nova Scotia)
22 Feb On board the "Jamaica Producer"sailing into St John harbour, New Brunswick,the drinking  affair known as  Hugo's Party took place. Members of the squadron  support S/Lt Piercy in denying that interference by the Captain, dressed in his pyjamas, was the result of the rendering of the song "Salome"
4 Mar Familiar pipes at H.M.S.Stadacone (by S/Lt Sandiford): “Hands to zizzing stations (to be called at the crack of dusk)” “Stand by wires and fenders to go alongside the Running Ban (H.M.S.Swift Current) for ginsesh”.  “Line me up a bit of flippit at the Green Lantern”  
8 Mar What was it caused: The regular trek on Saturdays from the Liquor Commission to the Nova Scotian Hotel, where the local people's  parties became depleted of some of their lady members? Lt Fox & S/Lt Robertson to be absent at similar times, and to give very unsatisfactory explanations of their outings? S/Lt Barrett to make a triumphal entry into Norman's and on the same evenings to christen Barrington Street with a full bottle of rye?
Halifax to Jamaica
By 19th March the Squadron was again at sea, on passage in the CNS Lady Rodney, one of four "Lady Boats" which in peacetime plied their trade between Halifax and the West Indies . The destination was Jamaica, where already their aircraft were being un-crated and assembled in anticipation of their arrival. On the voyage the officers at least enjoyed the luxury of first-class peacetime travel, a new experience for most of those involved. The choice and quantity of food offered by "Lady Rodney's" menus was most welcome to men from Britain (under siege) even if some of the items recorded in the line book like "Roast Baby" and "Lady Rodney's Head Cheese" caused as much head scratching then as they do to the modern reader. There was a brief pause at Bermuda , island of crystal-clear seas, incredibly beautiful coral, and in 1942 home of the censorettes. At this point Sandy Sandiford left the Squadron to join 816 Squadron, now moving northwards, to replace one of her pilots who had, in Blakey's delicate phrase "caught a social disease" on his way to Jamaica .The departure of Sandiford was something of a landmark for Blakey and Bob Barrett, for the three of them had been friends since they began training in HMS Vincent in December 1940 and had stayed together through all stages of their training in the following months.
19 Mar

S.S.Lady Rodney indubitably had the dish "Roast Baby" on the menu, but what was the much discussed item "Lady Rodney Head Cheese"?

20 Mar

Judging by overheard conversations, acquaintance with a novelist named Alberger produced in Lt Turner the capacity at frequent intervals to become puce and speechless.

Nassau provided some compensations. Gordon Robertson joined the local "high society" and found himself being called over to join a young lady called Maxine at a dance attended by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. At the same time the appealing youth and innocence of Midshipman Blakey seems to have attracted the interest of Mrs. Chips, the Duke's secretary, who introduced him to "Cuba libres" (rum and coke). Legend has it that "young Blakey" fled back to the ship pursued by Mrs.C who was left creating on the quayside. Meanwhile, Bob Barrett and Nick Piercy were off exploring other areas, Nick later appearing at the Jockey Club wearing a sombrero and "jitterbugging with a missionary woman". Nothing is reported of the activities of the more senior officers on these occasions.
28 Mar

At a dance (attended by the Duke & Duchess of Windsor, S/Lt Robertson joined high society and says he managed to find a place at the table of a young lady named Maxine by being "called over".

28 Mar

In search of the real jitter-bug, S/Lt Barrett & S/Lt Piercy was taken round the native joints by the Man with the Leer, S/Lt Piercy is reported to have been seen at the Jockey Club, jitter-bugging with a so-called missionary woman, and having added to his uniform a sweeping sombrero.

29 Mar

Ask S/Lt Blakey how "Chippy" was dancing at the Royal Nassau Yachting Club.

HMS Buzzard-Palisodoes-Jamaica

It was early April when "Lady Rodney" put in at Kingston and the Squadron took up quarters in HMS Buzzard at Palisadoes, where its aircraft were approaching completion. The sitting of HMS Buzzard in Jamaica served two purposes .It enabled the Royal Navy to train its aircrews on British territory in the western hemisphere so that they were on hand to bring across the new Escort Carriers which were being built in American shipyards to take their place against U-boats  in the Battle of the Atlantic and elsewhere. Like HMS Goshawk at Piarco, Trinidad, where three of the observers had done their six-month flying training, HMS Buzzard also serves to balance the increasing presence of US servicemen in British Colonies following the exchange by which Britain received one hundred 1914-1918 war "four stacker" destroyers and the USA was granted leases for bases in the Caribbean.

At all events the Squadron personnel and aircraft were at last in the same place, so April marks the formation of the Squadron as a functioning unit. Soon the Squadron was at work, formation flying, practising navigation, dive-bombing, making depth charge and torpedo attacks. Philip Blakey recalls being invited to "beat up" the defences of the local American base and obliging with relish. But the presence of U-boats in the Caribbean and the tremendous toil of shipping they were taking were a reminder of the sterner realities of the time. The squadron began with anti-submarine patrols and depth charges at the ready; provided escorts for ships leaving or approaching Jamaica.

7 Apr

Squadron recognition code for flashing between aircraft (restricted to Jamaica & vicinity)

Challenge "FMTH" (based on Lt Blacow's saying "F--- my tall hat")

Reply: "APOC" (based on S/Lt Tucker's saying "it's a piece of cake")

13 Apr

S/Lt Barrett said he would prepare a treatise on crew-room activities at H.M.S.Buzzard, but was unfortunately too busy to do so, finding need to hold a pilot-type parachute on the table with his head.

Styles of "OFDH" by the natives included squatting beneath the Signal Block , propping on the crossbar of a leaning bicycle, and lying on a step-ladder turned on its edge.

15 Apr

While sailing the station yacht "Cyrene", S/Lt Cross said he would demonstrate how to go alongside at the Myrtle Bank in true Naval style

18 Apr In view of the distance from Kingston to Palisadoes, discussion arose as to the best means of ensuring transport to camp late at night. Some held that patient waiting at the "Glass Bucket" or "Rushy Grey's" would usually produce a lift by car. Squadron ratings were compelled to resort to "Daily Gleaner Hotel"�; it is believed that in practice several Squadron Officers evolved a timetable giving them a few minutes to doze in the rocking chairs outside the Myrtle Bank Hotel before the passing of the station jitney at 6.30am
47th Observers Course members survive torpedoing
The men of the 47th Observers' Course at Piarco, Trinidad, would have wished them greater success that April. For the U-boat war had moved to the western Atlantic in December 1941, where ships on their way to join, or on their way to port from convoys, were picked off, silhouettes against the blazing lights of America's western seaboard. On 16th February the "American turkey shoot"- as the Germans called it- moved south to the Caribbean . On the same night as the sky off the Gulf of Paria was lit by the flames of the torpedoed ships, the 47th Course had been out celebrating the end of their training. The newly qualified observers were marooned in Trinidad till 27th April when they eventually got away, some in penny numbers in corvettes, some more comfortable but less fortunate perhaps, in the Lady Drake, sister ship to the other "Lady boats". It was her last voyage. At 9p.m. on Monday, 4th May, twelve hours out from Bermuda en route for Halifax she was torpedoed, joining the "Lady Nelson" and "Lady Hawkins" on the ocean bed. Happily all members of the 47th Course survived, including the writer and John Cartwright: they were sighted by the RNS Queen Mary in the dawn mists of Friday, 8th May, and were picked up on the Saturday in the USS Owl. On 13th May they safely resumed their homeward voyage as far as Halifax in the same "Lady Rodney" that carried 836 toJamaica only weeks before.
2 May

S/Lt Robertson & S/Lt Blakey say that when attempting to exchange messages by flash with a destroyer, their aircraft was not fast enough to keep up with the surface vessel

5 May The native sentries were notoriously "itchy-fingers" on the trigger, but sympathy is felt for the one who let fly on suddenly being confronted with S/Lt Piercy, whose story is that the shot came out of a brawl near the Air Watch Office.
7 May A big naval engagement was reported at night by local look-outs. A Squadron reconnaissance aircraft dropped a flare in the reported area, when immediately the original sources signalled a great intensification of the battle.
9 May

A Cocktail party was held in honour of the Squadron (together with 837). The Duty Officer  (S/Lt Palmer) was quickly off the scene, he having well pledged his sorrow not to be able to attend the later revels outside the camp. During these, a hiatus between occurred between the C.O. and the First Lieut. Of the station, while Lt Turner is known to have been involved in bad luck substantial at roulette. On the other hand, S/Lt Piercy won a bottle of rum at hoop-la.

Cuban landing en route to New York
On that same 13th May the idyllic days in HMS Buzzard came to an end as 836 moved northwards towards HMS Biter and home. It would be for Lt. Whitworth and his new squadron now time to end the warm lazy days at the Myrtle Bank Hotel pool, sailing or swimming in the sea and the round of late colonial nights and sleepy crew room days. There were broken hearts in the air and on the island as the squadron took off for Cuba:

Cuban forced landing, field & natives (Phil Blakey photo)

Soon James Taylor and Crawford were trying out their Spanish :this, or more likely the bush telegraph produced the owner of the plantation, a Dutchman. We went off to his house and the American Army brought in a re-fuelling tractor and bowser. The Dutchman gave the CO a local railway guide which had a rough map on it. We were at Quatros Cominos. Taking off a bit later we were airborne for a few minutes before arriving at a tremendous airfield one could easily have landed across, never mind up and down. How we missed the airport Camaguay is a mystery known only to observers!
On such trips it was sensible custom to take one or two Observers for navigation, and perhaps one Telegraphist Air Gunner. The other seats would be occupied by key ground staff personnel to service the aircraft as required at the new base, till the rest of the "troops" under the control(?) of the non-flying Observers arrived. One such passenger in Blakey's plane-Air Fitter Marriott, not used to flying let alone forced landings in foreign fields- was heard to utter some suitable imprecation on the subject. So in this bizarre scenario, with the CO disappearing on horseback to fetch the Americans, Lt. Fox delivered young Midshipman Blakey a homily on the threat to good order and discipline of the use of Officers' Christian names by the "troops"- a homily that Philip thought inappropriate and undeserved. But worse dangers faced the bewildered Britons. James Turner recalls the American taking them, in their innocence, to a nearby brothel while the aircraft were refuelled. Next day, Barrett in the town of Camaguay and Blakey amongst others caused a furore in the town in their white shorts and long socks. Escaping at the sound of a Jazz band into a nearby dance hall, they found it was a brothel. They hurriedly declined the wares and left Madame explaining to the girls that the gentlemen had just had a heavy dinner. Entering what was clearly a cross between a milk bar and a public bar, they still received the attention of the local maidens who could not resist stroking the bare knees. The two policemen who came to disperse the crowd stayed to admire.  
13 May On the first hop of its flight to New York , the Squadron's four aircraft forced-landed in Cuba (Quatros).L/Cdr Crawford (the C.O.) distinguished himself by speaking fluent Spanish to the natives, then galloped across the mesquite on a borrowed horse. S/Lt Robertson & S/Lt Palmer are responsible for re-wording the "Hearts of Oak" song- they were not in the flying party. (see details below)
14 May

While doing the town at Camaguez ( Cuba ) S/Lt Blakey & S/Lt Barrett sat at a sidewalk table attached to a milk cumspirit bar. Such a crowd of local people collected to admire their shorts(and knees) that two policemen had to deal with the obstruction. It is understood that when the crowd had been dispersed, the police themselves seized the position of vantage.

Flight from Cuba to Miami and New York
The next day the crew took off for Miami and by a series of further hops via Jacksonville , Charleston , Raleigh and Richmond they reached Floyd Bennet Field , New York , on the 18th. 836’s four Swordfish  caused some astonishment at the airfield- it would have been even greater had not the earlier arrival of HMS Penelope's damaged Walrus prepared them for the antique bi-planes of the Fleet Air Arm. Used to more modern aircraft, the  Americans found it difficult to believe that these old-fashioned stringbags had carried out the devastating Taranto attack. Meanwhile, the land party from Jamaica had arrived and heard the tales of the Cuba saga. Palmer and Robertson, the land party Observers, composed an irreverent version of Hearts of Oak, which began:
"Come cheer up my lads, 'tis for Cuba we steer, / The wind's all to hell and the course blooming queer"/
"Campaguay was their aim, but to Quatros they came,/ They're strewn over Cuba , Havana to Aruba,/ And they're rescued by the Yankees again and again". 
Jamaica to New York (sea-and-land)
16 May The Squadron sea-and-land party embarked aboard U.S. Army Transport  "Florida"   a smaller draft plus bombs going on board "Panama City" S/LPiercy, in charge of the latter portion, gave no explanation of his special request that the draft list should be changed to include in his party Ord.Sea.Rowley
23 May On board USAT  "Florida" S/Lt Robertson was heard repeatedly to assert his high opinion of US Army Nurses. It is stated on good authority that he was an ardent student of the card game Casino under a Nurse Miller's instruction, but that this discovery of certain items of his clothing in her cabin was wrongly interpreted.
29 May New Orleans -the arrival of the Squadron personnel on Canal Street dressed in shorts caused much attention among young ladies and small black boys. S/Lt Palmer still maintains that this was the correct rig of the day for the vicinity.
New York
 In New York the Squadron's officers were billeted in the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, where the RN had taken a floor for the use of itinerant officers on passage or waiting for ships being built or repaired in American yards. HMS Biter was almost ready, and on 2nd July the Squadron flew on board and worked up Long Island Sound doing deck landings and testing communications before going off to sea.New York was an experience for everyone. As always, there were friendly and generous "locals" who went out of their way to help those from other lands who were at a loose end in their country. No doubt the fact that the United States now at war since the previous December, was sharing the succession of reverses in the Far East with her British Allies had something to do with it. Barrett and Blakey ,jazz enthusiasts both (as we have seen), took the opportunities offered in the bars of Greenwich Village to hear some of the "greats" at first hand, while Nick Piercy and Jim Palmer investigated some of the night clubs. Blakey writes that a book could be written on these days in New York alone, but not a great deal of evidence has survived outside the memory. One thing is worth observing, that a number of young men had visited and lived in places that but for the war would have been out of reach of their thoughts and pockets. For that experience alone, they could be grateful.
The officers so comfortably ensconced in the spacious room of the Barbizon Plaza with its continental breakfasts (re-christened following noises coming from Bertie Blacow's room, confidential breakfast), seem to have escaped the duties that other, later inhabitants had to perform. On passage to Trinidad in 1944 (December) yours truly found himself invited to a Carnegie tea (with thousands of others), to the Metropolitan Opera and Lohengrin and for Christmas itself, up country to New England with the Russell-Jones family. In contrast back in New York he had to be overnight Duty Officer at Brooklyn barracks. This was an experience for which his life on lower deck had not prepared him.
As he did "Rounds" he felt more like a prison superintendent than a naval officer, for there were never so many resentful faces in barrack room after barrack room. Perhaps because they were "birds of passage" like me, who saw a different face at Rounds" every night: nothing for it, but to stick the chin out, look serious, and play it in the best Whale Island fashion. Then to bed and hopefully a badly needed night's sleep. But this was to reckon without "defaulters" "deserters", who tended to be picked up by the naval patrols when they had drunk themselves nearly stupid in the early hours. The most hilarious and at the time, the saddest of these was a Canadian sailor who carried a typed statement certifying that he had sailed in umpteen ships under various captains and had been decorated for bravery in the face of the enemy. He claimed the statement was true- those in the guardroom thought it decidedly untrue, but couldn't disprove it without a Navy list with which to back up their case. At this point, yours truly was sent for, read through the rigmarole down to the last line,as this man has been wounded many times in battle, three times fatally!. That at least sounded like a false statement, so "Commander's report" and back to bed.
1 June

It is reported that S/Lt Barrett was first detail along with four college boys at a certain 7th Avenue flat.

Sounds coming from Lt Blacow's room at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel tended to justify S/Lt Piercy renaming their "continental" as a "confidential" breakfast.

At one of the less-known night clubs a Chinese fan-dancer appeared. S/Lt Piercy is understood to have pressed enquiries via waitress and barkeep even to the manager regarding her "eligibility".

2 June Steward Taylor has mixed feelings about the entertainment facilities of New York: "Why"   he said "at one bar they had the cheek to call time at 4.30 in the morning!"
836 squadron on board HMS Biter
HMS Biter put to sea to meet the great Atlantic in the middle of June 1942. She had difficulty in keeping up with the faster ship, which she was escorting. The Chief Engineer, a Welshman, Commander RNR, looking at the engines built in the States under licence would grumble "If  Boxford could see the way these have been built and fitted". The ship's cabins had steel furniture, each officer having a desk and a safe with a combination lock (much experimenting with safe-cracking). By the 15th, the old argument about the role of the Fleet Air Arm officer had raised its head. One ship's officer insisted that Squadron officers should do Officer of the Watch on the quarterdeck in harbour. Higher authority decreed that this was not appropriate for (A) Branch Officers. The secrets of boat manoeuvres and general ship's discipline were better left to the Executive branch. Nor did flying operations prove completely successful. Already, before getting into the Atlantic, the ship had taken on board a batch of RNVR fighter pilots fresh from their final training at Pensacola . They could not have been impressed when the first deck landings saw the loss of two tail wheels and the wrecking of two machines. They heard the flight deck  tannoy unmoved as it explained "for the information of spectators none of these pilots have landed on a carrier before". As for the Observers, perhaps the Senior Observer (James Turner) set a marvellous standard for the plain statement of truth, while out on a longer navigation exercise Biter signalled, "What has happened to the other Observers?" he replied, "Staying at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel"- a reply which had it not been for the Navy's insistence on economy of signals would surely have finished with "of course".
3 June

All Squadron personnel had not yet embarked in H.M.S Biter but Lt Turner considers the following signals, transmitted by wireless on a long navex, somewhat unconventional:

H.M.S.Biter "What has happened to the other Observers?"

Lt Turner:-- "Staying at Barbizan Plaza Hotel"

5 June In view of the eventual breaking of two tail wheels and the wrecking of two machines, the Squadron considers somewhat irrelevant the announcement on the flight deck loudspeaker at the time of their first landings  "for the information of spectators, none of these pilots has landed on a carrier before".
15 June After strenuous efforts on the part of the ship's Officer the Squadron was inveighed into keeping watches in harbour. It was rather disconcerting after we had all turned up Lt/Cdr "Bill Sykes" notes on the subject to find ourselves taken off the duty by a higher ship's officer because we were only branch.
 Trouble landing on HMS Biter (?)
Problems flying anti-submarine patrols
Out at sea, the Squadron kept up flying anti-submarine patrols when the weather was suitable. Observers took the opportunity of testing their dead/reckoning navigation from a moving base, their searches out of sight of the convoy. The ship's radar caught Jim cheating, coming back for a peep. But before the ship reached harbour, another two aircraft had been wrecked and Blakey and Barrett duly filled in Form A25 explaining their accidents and insisting that they had, inspite of all, "the honour to be their Lordships' obedient and humble servants". On 18th June, Philip returned from a Patrol, and his port wing collapse on landing. There was a general chase around the flight deck for depth charges that had become dislodged from the wings on impact .For his part , Bob Barrett's prang was perhaps more spectacular, certainly  more dangerous considering who was at risk! Bob's aircraft hit the deck and slewed into the island. The engine fell off on impact, nearly hitting James Turner who was standing in the entrance. The two wrecks were thrown over the side to add to the mounting pile of debris accumulating on the ocean bed. Thankfully, in this case there were no human casualties. Bob Barrett and Blakey, who had revelled so much in the flights which took the squadron from Jamaica to New York,would be part of the ground party on the last leg of the journey- to sunny Lee-on-Solent and leave. Captain Abel Smith was left to ruminate on Biter's maiden voyage. The following April he would meet up with the Squadron at Ballykelly and describe to the CO a perfect Spitfire touch-down on the flight deck. "A typical Blakey landing" he called it. No wonder that Philip Blakey should write almost forty years later that Captain Abel Smith was a very "understanding gentleman"
  At 4.15am on a raw morning S/Lt Palmer appeared in shorts and a well-worn white sweater "I don't notice the cold"� he said to the others dressed in teddy bears etc. Whether the "warmth"� affected him or not, he was impervious to the kindly-put suggestion by Lt Cdr (Flying) that the same outfit should not be worn in the wardroom.
22 June An anti-submarine sweep was arranged to give S/Lt Robertson and S/Lt Palmer opportunity of navigating at sea out of sight of the convoy. Both aircraft for a period met conditions of poor visibility and owing to efficient use by the ship of her radiolocation gear, S/Lt Palmer was unable to deny he had during his flight returned for a "peep"
28 June On seeing S/Lt Palmer writing fifty envelopes for a circular to his observer course colleagues, Lt Turner was led to believe the whole affair was a revival of the old superstitious "chain Letters".

Good Landing (Photo from Phil Blakey)