HW ‘NAT’ GOLD WAS A TELEGRAPHIST AIR GUNNER IN 830 FLEET AIR ARM SQUADRON.
J: How you came to join Fleet Air Arm and how you ended up in Malta, go back a bit of your background, where you were brought up and that sort of thing?
N: Yes. I’ve written out recently how we volunteered. Because I used to work in I lived in Wembley and I worked at the General Electric Company in North Wembley and I think it was on an advert – a picture of the Ark Royal and the Swordfish which said â€œthe thrill of the Air plus the life of the sea and this was in sort of August/September 1939 and one of the other chaps in the office, he decided to join the Fleet Air Arm and another friend of mine decided. So I eventually got called up around about 26 September 1939 so I did my I was posted to Worthy Down to do my basic flying there, to learn to use of radio and fire a gun and that sort of thing and when we finished the course I was sent to, with about six others to Eastliegh to do a fighter course. But we were supposed to be there 14 days but the end of the 10th day we were told we were on draft and we were going to do a test and we were moved to Lee on Solent. We’d been there about an hour and that was bombed. Go to ++. And we, there was four of us. We suddenly got a draft to 830 Squadron, which was ++ in Reading. And went to — that was a foreign draft — but nobody had heard of it and no idea where it was until, well we eventually moved up to Glasgow to board a ship there and I suppose to cut a long story short we went all the way round the Cape and up to Port Suez and boarded a train there up to Port Said and from Port Said we went to Alex and there somebody knew something about us and we were told we were going to Malta. We actually got transport to Malta on a cruiser and the Officer of the Watch when we were put on board, he said you’re not staying on board, the bows are falling off. We thought he was joking. But apparently what had happened, two Italian torpedo carrying aircraft attacked this cruiser and blew its bows off. They shot both the aircraft down and they kept quiet about it. But the day before we went on board they fixed temporary bows on it and went out for sea trials. And again that fell off. It came back. And we went off to barracks again to Razaltin[?] and I think it was the next day, we went aboard the destroyer â€œDiamond, HMS Diamond, which was in convoy, there was one cruiser, two destroyers, two merchant ships.
J: HMS Diamond?
N: Yes. And the first night the panic stations. The torpedo just missed one of the cargo ships and just missed our stern. We were rock and dip. That was the only excitement on the journey to Malta. But when we arrived there we got to Hal Far and we could see the HMS Illustrious limping back to Grand Harbour, which had been bombed that particular day, which was 10 January 1941.
J: So you arrived literally the day before?
N: Well, the same day really. Should have been on board that.
N: Yes. Whilst we were waiting at — just outside Alex at a place called Tequila — our CO said Oh I’m sending two of you, drafting two of you to HMS Illustrious to HQ, so you get more experience. And we weren’t very keen on that. We were on sentry duty that night. I was at one end of the camp and the other chap was at the other end and we both went down with what they called gippo tummy which was terrible, you’re vomiting and diarrohea, and we ended up in sick bay with high temperatures, so we couldn’t go on draft. So they sent two others. Unfortunately the one who took my place, he was put on duty in the foredeck and coming up from the afterdeck a bomb got on top of him. So he was killed. And 830 Squadron was formed by a training squadron that was originally in the south of France. Then some came back home, some went via Tunisia to fly to Malta. And they joined up with an RAF [interrupted by wife] they joined up with what was then an RAF reconnaisance squadron flying sortie. They then called it 830 Squadron. There were six RAF
J: So 830 was formed on Malta was it?
N: Yes. And there were six RAF Air Gunners and pilots. Yes, that was the name of the Squadron for about nine months. We understood that when we first went that we were there for an unlimited time. After we’d been there six months they announced all the air crews would only do nine months on the island. So I thought well I’ll only have three more months to do and we’ll be home again. But when I got to nine months there was another order came out, all aircrews would only do six months on the island. So I thought I was going to get another draft. But no, because I’d got experience there they kept me on and I was there just over a year.
J: So when was it decided that you would be because you were a Navigator, is that right?
N: I was a Telegraphist Air Gunner.
J: When did that training happen? When was it decided that that would be your role?
N: No there was a new branch of the Fleet Air Arm really. The volunteers then were ex-telegraphists from the fleet, then they brought us in being the first direct entries of that branch. Although there was another course, was it RNVR, RNSR, they were being trained as telegraphists. But we were the sort of first from outside. And when we first joined up went to St Vincent at Gosport, they didn’t know what to do with us. But eventually we were transferred from there to Worthy Down and we did a course there. The other course was at Eastleigh near Southampton, so there were two places.
J: What was the telegraphist role?
N: Operating the radio.
J: The first time you got into Swordfish, was that on Malta?
N: We were in different aircraft, training in Proctors, that’s a single, that’s 3 seater rig. Low wing monoplanes. And a Shark, Blackburn Shark and Swordfish on the course. And to do our air gunnery part, we had a fortnight in Antrim, Northern Ireland. And there we were firing from the rock. Very lethal. And I think then that — I don’t know quite when it happened — but later on, as the war volunteers were coming in, they set up another air gunnery school in Canada, so a lot went there for their training. But their job was in our Squadron because we were flying over sea for long distances, we had a petrol tank in the observer’s cockpit so when we were flying just the pilot and what we called the TAG (Telegraphist Air Gunner). The CO — that was a three seater — he had a drop tank slung under the aircraft in the torpedo rack. It varied and sometimes we flew the CO.
J: So you didn’t always fly with the same pilot every time?
N: No. Not like other squadrons on carriers, they had a set crew all the time. But we just flew anyways sort of thing. And as we got experience they seemed to put people out, two of us, to fly the most junior pilot to give him confidence. Which didn’t give us much confidence! I always remember one case, brand new pilot came and I had to fly with this fellow we had to attack a cruiser, it was leaving Tripoli, well she left Tripoli for Sicily and there was an RAF Wellington shadowing this cruiser and they sent out a signal to say that the cruiser had turned round going back to port again. So we set off to Tripoli and when we got there, there were searchlights everywhere and heavy ack-ack guns, small ack-ack. But we couldn’t find the cruiser. And when we were flying, we had when we finished the attack, the CO would drop a flare from a certain position, and so the aircraft would congregate on that flare, and fly around in circles at different heights and when the CO had seen everybody was there, there was nobody else coming, he would flash his navigation lights and we’d set off back to Malta. On this occasion our pilot he said there’s the flame over there. So we started heading towards it. It went out. Another one appeared in a different position. So he got a bit confused then, we started going towards the other one, and that went out. We were on our own. And I didn’t know quite what to do. As I say, this was his first operational flight. And I said well I was on one trip flying along the south coast of Sicily and I noticed there were two lighthouses and I said we actually turned right and headed for Malta and we picked up Malta. So I said do you want to chance that. So he said fair enough. So we set off and we spotted a lighthouse and in the distance there was another one, and in the distance there was another one, and in the distance there was another one and then there was another one. So there were four of these things. So I said I think we ought to change course and head south which he agreed and so we did that and I was trying to pick up Malta in my ++ coded message, seeing what course to steer but I couldn’t pick up Malta. And the RAF boys were cracking up the air space with their signals and I realised then that we were on a very bad frequency which is what they call ++ space. And so finally I thought well there’s only one thing for it, I’ll send out an SOS. And nothing happened, so I sent out another one. And all of a sudden I got a terrific powerful signal from Bombay and he virtually told all the others he was telling Malta to listen out and all the others to belt up and listen out for my signal. And that did happen and I could just hear very very faintly them reading out this course to steer. We were only 2 degrees out from Malta. It was half an hour flying from Sicily to Malta. We landed all right and the pilot, he couldn’t believe it. I thought he was going to kiss me. He was so overjoyed. He wrapped his arms round me. He said I’m going to ask the CO if you’ll fly with me again.
J: Must have been quite scary.
N: It was. When this Bombay signal came I nearly fell off my seat because it was so loud. But they helped us quite a lot and on other occasions. Also Chatham used to pick us up.
J: What sort of radio did you have? Just have a helmet on and a headpiece?
N: Yes. Yes, just in the helmet. I can’t remember now.
J: When was the experience of nearly losing yourself and Bombay coming on? Presumably some time after you had arrived?
N: Yes it was several months after I arrived. I can’t quite remember when now.
J: Tell me about the day-to-day operations and how it worked on standby and when you were sent off? How many operations you went on? Was there a typical daily routine?
N: Well yes and no. One period no and one period yes. When we first went there, we used to operate according to the moon, when the moon was out.
J: Did you always operate at night?
N: Oh yes. There were odd occasions when we went daylight but very rarely. It was too dangerous for the Messerschmitts and no, I think later on we got a ASV gear (Anti-Service Vessel I think it’s called) that was television screens.
J: So to start off with you relied entirely on the light of the moon?
N: That’s right, yes.
J: What about taking off and landing in the middle of the night?
N: Quite often we landed with no lights at all.
J: How did you do that?
N: You start blinking your eyes, hitting the deck and you bounce several twenty or thirty feet up in the air, not knowing if there are any bomb craters.
J: Which presumably there were plenty of.
N: Yes well Jerry used to come over and hover around and try and catch us. They used to drop anti-personnel bombs which were only small bombs – nasty little things, but there wouldn’t be a big crater.
J: But enough to break a wheel and turn you over presumably?
N: Oh yes. Later on this ASV gear, you could set it and it’s like a little – so big — square screen, with two green lines came out of the bottom corners and joined in the centre and went up a nautical scale. And if your beam struck a ship you’d get a pip across the screen, you could tell how far away you were from it. So we could get there in sort of ++ and we’d come out right on top of the convoy and they couldn’t make out how we did it. Later on towards the end we were.
J: So that was introduced roughly halfway through your time there?
N: Something like that, yes. And they had towards the end if you were flying for example, you might be flying for several hours and come back about seven in the morning and quite often we got invited into the wardroom for breakfast with the officers. And then we’d have a wash and a shave and we had until two then. And get our aircraft ready for the following night. Get it sorted. We were stood down about midday. We had the afternoon off but we couldn’t go ashore or anything like that, couldn’t go out. And quite often we were being bombed so you couldn’t get to sleep and then you might be flying again the next night. And that went on for about two months. We didn’t sleep an awful lot.
J: So where were you actually living? You had breakfast in the wardroom. Did you wash and shave at Hal Far or would you go back?
N: There were barrack blocks at we lived in. But then we were bombed so badly we were evacuated to a village called Zurrieq and that was a terrible place. Rats and mice running about.
J: Was it an old empty house?
N: Yes. If you can call it a house really. We were covered in fleas.
J: Where was Zurrieq in relation to Hal Far?
N: I suppose two or three miles away. And then eventually we were brought back to Hal Far again. But we had no windows, they were blown out. Holes in the walls. Shrapnel had pierced it and I thought I was being very clever. When it was cold I thought I’d make an electric fire. That was the worst thing I ever did I think. I had it beside my bed and the other lads realised they’d got a nice little fire there and they used to bring back chunks of bread to toast it by the fire. I could hardly get on my bed because everybody else was sitting on it to do their toast. I made it out of I got a side of a 100 octane petrol tank which was highly polished, in a sort of half moon shape and used some asbestos ++ and I used aerial wire for the firmament. But it worked.
J: Must have been cold at night.
N: The wind used to blow through. You couldn’t do anything much.
J: Were you conscious of thinking this is a miserable existence. Or did you enjoy the flying, or was it too terrifying and nerve-wracking?
N: At one stage, it was after Crete, when Crete was taken. There were rumours that Malta was going to be attacked by gliders and there were guns being stored at Sicily and they had gas cylinders being stored there as well in Sicily. And we had a week’s intensive course by the army sergeants in bayonet fighting and how to kill somebody without using a weapon. It was really blood-thirsty and about a whole week of that. And fortunately it never happened so
J: Were you expecting it?
N: Oh yes, definitely. Sometimes it was I suppose your thoughts, they run riot at times, for example they used to arm up the aircraft late afternoon and everybody was dead keen to see what they were arming up with, whether it was bombs, torpedoes or mines. And we might be briefed at 8 O’clock in the evening and you’d go to the briefing room and the chat in there was so loud, and it was very nervous chatter. You could feel it in the air there. And when the CO came in it went deathly quiet because he would start off telling what the target was going to be. We weren’t so much interested in what the target was, it was what the escort was. And of-course quite often it was a couple of merchant ships surrounded by two or three destroyers and a cruiser. And you had to get inside there to attack the merchant ships.
J: Presumably during the attack you’ve got all amount of flak going off and guns firing at you.
N: It varied. I suppose I was fortunate. But my first one was with, I was flying with a midi-pilot, midshipman. He was 19 and I was 19. And of-course he was last in, last to attack, and you’re sitting
J: You were attacking a merchant vessel were you?
N: Yes. And we were sitting up top watching the others go in. And then it was our turn. And I had to sort of warn the pilot, so many minutes from the last ++ and we started dropping down and we approached we were approaching a destroyer putting up a smoke screen and the last flare went out and we were in darkness, and we went straight at this destroyer and flew very low over it, and I was looking down the funnel watching the smoke coming out. But they didn’t attempt to fire at us. It was all quiet which is a bit nerve-wracking. And my pilot, he had seen her turning to port, he might come across one of the merchant ships. And when he did that, one of the guns in the destroyer opened up. And it was the only gun being fired but he sort of started off near the tail of the aircraft and it went away. It swung the gun away from us, and it came back again. It sort of stopped by our tail. He did this six times, and I nearly had a heart attack every time it happened. And the last time it happened, another gun opened up ahead of us and some of the tracer was going through the main plane but didn’t actually touch the aircraft. And all of a sudden the stern of this ship loomed up and we were too close to them, so pull up and we sort of pull over the stern, I think we frightened the life out of the gunner and he started firing
J: This was the actual target rather than the destroyer?
N: Yes. And we were too close. He dropped his torpedo but it had gone under and out the other side. And we lost two aircraft that day. They were interned in Tunisia.
What I was saying before, when we were being briefed at 8 O’clock, we were then told that take-off would be about midnight. So you’ve got from 8 O’clock to midnight to think about it. And it all depends on where you’re going. For example form Malta to Tripoli was two hours twenty minutes, so if you were flying there you’ve got another two hours twenty minutes to think about it, which is rather a long time. As I say, your thoughts sort of run riot and then when you actually get the target you seem to forget all those things and you’ve got a job to do, you’ve got to knuckle down and get on with it. And you can’t think about other things. One of my first dive bombing, we dive bombed we were I think five aircraft in the squadron dropping mines and I was in one of three aircraft we were dive bombing in the ack-ack positions. And normally they lost we generally lost one of the dive bombers on that sort of trip. And the pilot, he was a Petty Officer, he was a very good bombing pilot. He spotted a big ship in the middle of the harbour. And he said I’m going after that, which I’m not very pleased about.
J: Where was that?
N: Tripoli. And we went in and he started to dive-bomb this ship, he started to dive at 4,000 feet and he pulled up at 800 and once we got rid of our bombs he threw the aircraft all over the place avoiding searchlights and flak. And it was what we called ++ onions flying up at us. Bangs going off all over the place.
J: That must shake the airframe doesn’t it?
N: Yes. Particularly the heavy stuff, not so much the tracers.
J: What always amazes me is open cockpit in Swordfish. It must have been so hairy?
N: Yes. I don’t know. Sometimes. As long as you cover your head up. No, we had a little bit of metal round us but that was useless. One thing with a Swordfish, you could stand up and look all around you. But it was draughty.
J: Did you have big Irvines on?
N: Not down in Malta. Sometimes we used to fly in shorts. Until the doctors stepped in and told us we had to cover ourselves up in case there was a fire.
J: This big ship in the harbour, did you hit it?
N: Yes. Right across the fo’c’sle.
J: Did it go down?
N: I don’t know. We didn’t stay to find out.
J: That was a bomb rather than a torpedo was it?
N: Yes. They were unfortunately we were using — I think the term was 50 pound bombs — and they had what I called a blast rod on the front and the idea was that when the bomb hit the ground it would hit the ground and the blast rod first and that would explode the bomb above ground level so you’d get greater going that way instead of forming a crater. I don’t really know what damage it caused to this ship. We must have done some damage.
J: Whether it’s a bomb, torpedo, mine, each involves a completely different approach and tactic? If you had bombs beneath you, was it always a case of dive bombing?
J: So a torpedo is a slow get low, drop the torpedo into the
N: Yes you go down to a certain height, round about 100 feet, till you drop the torpedo at the correct angle because it goes down and it comes up to its
J: It curves?
N: That’s right, yes. Mine laying was different again. They were terrible things. They could be set to delay up to eleven ships. Say it was set to six, when the sixth ship went over it, it would explode, so that if Jerry was sweeping the area after we’d been there it might blow up two and left the other three there. And so what happened again with the mines, they were bigger than torpedoes
J: What did they look like?
T: They were cylindrical things. And we used to hate taking off with them in case ++ hit the thing and blow it up.
J: did that ever happen?
N: No but we did have one that the Chief Petty was explaining to RAF armourers how to arm these things up and he did something wrong and it blew up. It killed all seven or eight of them.
J: So he was just demonstrating how they operated?
N: Yes, he was in the pen. Fortunately the blast went upwards, it was near the Naafi so it would have killed quite a lot. When we were flying, we used to go in at 4,000, cut the engine and then glide down to 100 feet, just by the entrance to the harbour and we’d try to keep the exhaust away from the shoreline, on our starboard side because quite often we used to see a lot of ++ still coming out and sparks quite bad and so you’d drop it as close as you can at the entrance of the harbour and then start to glide away and then you cross your fingers, hope the engine’s going to start again.
J: That must have been an anxious moment.
N: Yes. Then the searchlights would come down and the tracers would be all over the place.
J: They would spot you eventually.
N: Oh yes.
J: Did you ever hear of a time when the engine didn’t start?
N: No. No. The old Pegasus engine, we always maintained if the engine stopped, cut out, the wings would flap.
J: What was it that would attract the searchlights and the tracers, was it the noise of the mines dropping?
N: They would have searchlights anyway, but I suppose the gunners nearest to where we were dropping them might pick up some sound or something.
J: People I’ve talked to have all done frightening things, but this sounds terrifyingIt must have been scary wasn’t it? You were so defenceless, you’ve got a gun but what were they?
N: Yes. Well we had one gun: Vickers Flying Forward, that was operated by the pilot and we had a rear gun aft which was either a Vicars or a Lewis.
J: Presumably, this dead period between 8 O’clock and reaching target, spending a year doing this is a long time. Did you manage to keep on top of the anxiety?
N: It’s difficult to say. I think in the end that you sort of got a bit blasÃ© really, that you’d never come back again. We used to take off, sometimes there were a long stream of lights and a sort of flare path. You could only take off or land on Hal Far either up the drome or down the drome. It was too narrow going across the drome. And the flare paths would probably flash on and the pilot would have to sort of memorize where it was and then he opened up the engine and fired her up
J: So it wouldn’t stay on because of threat of bombers?
N: That’s right, yes. You’d start roaring down and sort of take off. But of-course you had a terrible weight because of the full petrol tanks and the bomb load or torpedoes. Then coming back, you just hope for the best again. But we had it always amazed me that the ground crews, they would always worry about when the Squadron was out, if their aircraft were going to come back again. They were so pleased when we leant out of the cockpit. There was one, he always used to have a bottle of beer, so when you got out of the aircraft he gave you a bottle of beer. That went down well.
J: So what was your view of the Swordfish as a flyer? Compared to most of the other aeroplanes it must have seemed out of date.
N: I think in the enclosed cockpits, I always felt more trapped in there than in the open cockpit. But the Swordfish, when we were flying about 4000 feet the heavy ack-ack firing out us, could get our height but they couldn’t make out our speed, quite often the heavy ack-ack exploded way ahead of us because we were so slow. But when we got near we used to rock the aircraft and stuff like that.
J: If there was a big shell exploding near you, what would happen? Would it lurch or swivel to one side?
N: It could do. It all depends on how close it was. There was one occasion, there were five or six of us, on the twilight attack, destroying a merchant ship, and again I was with a junior pilot and we were last in. As I say, I was astern. And the aircraft in front of us, he did something wrong, he let go his torpedo and he accidentally dropped it but he still went into his attack but he had no torpedo. And the one in front of him was aiming at the merchant ship and missed it but the I think the destroyer decided to turn and turned into the torpedo. Our turn came, we went in and we actually hit this merchant ship and it was really frightening, it disintegrated, it just blew up, must have hit a magazine or something. Unfortunately the blast, when caught us, it blew us upwards. We were out of control, being pushed upwards. It would make you feel sick to watch it.
J: Was it just a huge fireball?
N: That’s right, yes. Fortunately, as I say, we’d got over the ship, we were going away from it, climbing.
J: The Swordfish did lose control at that point did it?
N: Oh yes, yes.
J: How did you regain control?
N: I don’t know, he was an experienced pilot. He managed to, I don’t know how he controlled it he was just lucky.
J: I guess you are thinking about people on the ship but it’s not something you want to dwell on particularly.
N: Mmm. There was always a great feeling when you were turning back for home as we called it sort of thing. The pressure’s off. It’s a great feeling when you’re flying back.
J: What were your impressions of Malta itself? Early 1941, Germans have started to make their mark with the Illustrious blitz and so on. There were shortages at that stage but, you had enough to live off?
N: Well, we were being fed. Sort of. We had tinned bully beef, that they could dish up in different ways and then the other thing was that being navy we were entitled to four meals a day and the army had three meals a day. We had a bit of a moan on because we were getting the RAF rations. They brought in another thing later on and the RAF got it as well: soup and a hunk of bread. And we used to have for tea, which was about four O’clock, it could be a salad which was quite nice what was there, but we used to get a little crumble of cheese, but the main thing was a bar of chocolate in a white wrapper, no writing at all. It was as hard as anything to break and once you’d eaten that, it would have kept you going for hours afterwards.
J: You got that at tea time did you?
J: Was that there even at the end of your trip, you still got that every day?
J: Can you remember what it was like being bombed in Malta? Did you get used to it?
N: Not really. I think I was what I call a bit bomb-happy. In other words what I meant by that was if somebody slammed the door, I would sort of hit the ceiling and came down again. But Jerry was using what we call screamers on the bombs so when they were coming down they were screaming and that was really frightening. It felt like it was right on top of you. And then we used to put screamers in our bombs. It was like a cardboard thing or whatever, bit of wood, a bit of metal. We used to put two on and they used to scream as they went down.
J: You started doing that once you were out there as a conscious decision?
N: Yes, that’s right. We also used to take up empty beer bottles, tie a heavy stone round its neck and throw those over.
N: Well when they were going down, the wind going into the neck of the bottle used to make a lot of noise. It was just the noise that frightens people.
J: How would you do it? You’d tie the stone round the neck?
N: That’s right, so it went down neck first. And the air in there used to make a terrible noise. And instead of getting a loud explosion at the end of it, you’d get a tinkling of broken glass. At least I assume that’s what must have happened. And whilst I was there, I only did one anti-submarine patrol. There was four of us, four aircraft. First two went off to do their bit trying to find the convoy, they couldn’t find it, they came back. Then the next two and I was in one of them, we took off. And then we hit daylight and we saw the convoy. There was one merchant ship with damage to the bows. It was followed by a cruiser and destroyer, and then further down we could see the rest of the convoy with a ++. And the pilot said to me, he gave me a signal to send to the cruiser, and just as we got down there, about 12 Stukas suddenly appeared. And the pilot – doing all this rehearsal stuff, if anything like that happened, he would go disappear, there was going to be enough staying around here, so he flew us all over the place and up and down. It was a really rough ride. But these 12, they attacked the ship again, but I couldn’t make how. It wasn’t the usual dive-bombing it was low-level, and every one missed. And then both of them ++ we were worried in case there were 109s up in the sun, because you couldn’t hear them, couldn’t see them, and our job was to look for submarines and there you were looking up in the sky and looking down in the sea to see if we could see any submarines down there. And the other aircraft, we spotted it in the water. We thought it had been shot up, but it turned out they had run out of fuel. Anyway, they were picked up by the destroyer. And then the pilot he spotted a floating mine. So he said lets go down and shoot it up. So we went down and I started firing at this mine and I could see some of the tracers pinging off it but I couldn’t make it explode and I thought I don’t want to waste too much ammunition on this, but the rest of the convoy could see what we were doing and we left it for them to deal with it. But so you’ve got one part over there and we were sort of up near the when there was damage. Anyway, we got near Malta, we were running out of fuel so we had to go back into Valetta, they got in, but the convoy got into the Grand Harbour and we got down alright.
J: Can you remember getting time off? Did you go to Valetta, any of the bars?
N: Oh we used to go down the old Duck. Den of iniquity! Then often there would be several of us going together and our leading writer[?] asked if he could come with us. He was a tee-totaller. So we used to have a kitty, and he would insist that we would give our money to him. He bought our beer, we’d pay for it. So we could just enjoy ourselves and needn’t worry about the money side of it. He quite enjoyed doing that.
J: Can you remember any specific bars?
N: Well I think there was one called the Cinema Halls. Which was known as the â€œGalvanized Donkey. I can’t remember
J: Did you ever get much chance to look around the island or was it basically stay at Hal Far, go into Valetta. I know there was very little transport wasn’t there?
N: We couldn’t go anywhere else, no.
J: If you were going into Valetta, would you get a bus in or walk?
N: A bus. There was old Jo sitting up there at the front there talking to his pals at the back of the bus shouting at one another. But at one stage we were doing quite a lot of flying and the doctor insisted that we went to a rest camp for three or four days.
J: Can you remember when that was roughly?
N: It must have been about the middle of the time I was there. Around the bay, we used to go swimming there. All we could do was drink. There was nothing else to do there.
J: You were there for a week were you?
N: Just under. About four days.
J: Where was that?
N: Pintafea[?] they called it. There was a bay. One thing I didn’t like about the Maltese. If you were in Valetta, during an air raid in daylight, you had to make up your mind whether to go down in the shelter or not. Some of these shelters were quite deep, full of Maltese, all be eating garlic, and the heat down there was unbelievable and the smell of garlic. And ++ we thought where shall we meet, so it was a toss up whether you went down or stayed up top. I hate garlic.
J: Did they all used to chant and pray as well?
N: Yes. On one occasion I was the only TAG flying, I can’t remember much about the operation but I was taken back to Zurrieq and I could hear Jerries over somewhere near us and I had a feeling they would come and bomb Zurrieq, I don’t know why
J: Sorry, why were you going back to Zurrieq?
N: I had been flying and we were returning back to Zurrieq. I knew there was a shelter had been formed a little way up the road from where we were billeted and I sort of hovered outside and thought, are they going to drop a bomb here? I had this feeling. And then sure enough he released his bomb and it’s screaming away coming down and I belted up this shelter, almost fell down the stairs and something hit me across the head and I saw stars and I staggered about, heard a woman screaming. When I came to, my eyes were adjusted to the light, it was a Maltese man and his wife. They were both tall people, quite well built. I frightened the life out of her and she hit me with a handbag! Right across the head. That’s when I saw stars. She was crying and screaming. I said sorry and I left and got back to the billet.
J: Had it been bombed?
N: Yes, it took a bomb. Round about that period of time there were some rumours that he was dropping bombs, he was dropping bars of chocolate, impregnated with bacteria. So the idea was the children would pick it up and start eating it. That was only a rumour, at least I think. But it was very frightening.
J: I suppose you’ve only got to start talking about that amongst yourselves, imaginations go wild?
J: When did you go back to Hal Far after Zurrieq?
N: We were there for about two or three months I’d say it was.
J: Why was it you came back. Was it because the bombing got less?
N: Not so much that. I think it they needed to sort of tidy things up a bit and really we only had one tap at Zurrieq and we had no hot water, can’t shave with that, because it’s like using a blunt razor. So we were pleased to get back to some sort of normality at Hal Far. At least they had a Naafi there.
J: When you were at Zurrieq, no chance of getting a shower?
N: No, oh no.
J: What did you do to?
N: We had a bucket, have a slew down, by using a bucket.
J: Things a bit better at Hal Far?
N: Oh yes, we got the ablutions there, where you could sort of, again quite primitive, a bucket again because you couldn’t use too much water. But you felt a bit cleaner at Hal Far I suppose. According to my diary at Zurrieq I made myself a camp bed so I was off the floor.
J: You kept a diary while you were there did you?
N: A small one, yes.
J: I was going to ask you if it would be possible to work out when each of your missions was.
N: I can with one or two of them. It means going through the diary. I can send it on to you. I can’t get everything but I can get some.
J: That would be very helpful so you made a camp bed did you?
N: Yes. I don’t know how I did it. I just made a camp bed so I was off the floor.
J: What do you think was the worst aspect of being in Malta for you? Was it the constant bombing or was it the conditions?
N: Well it was both really. Because the food wasn’t that good and fortunately I left there before it got really bad but Jerry, he’s very methodical. Quite often he’d bomb Grand Harbour, the next time he came over he’d bomb Luqa. The next time it would be Kalafrana. The next time it would be Takali. And then he’d start all over again: Grand Harbour so that you knew who was going to be next. And we had no action stations in the camp so we used to go out in the fields there ++ to get away from it.
J: What would you do then?
N: We’d just hang around till it was over sort of thing. On one occasion we got a flock come in, over 100 aircraft coming in and were out in the fields and sheltering in a little gatehouse and the, there was a Ju 87, his bombs hung out, then suddenly they were released and they exploded about 20 odd feet away from us I suppose. This shelter had a door but the blast came in there and we were laying down on the floor. The blast lifted me up and pushed me sideways and I landed on an RAF chap next to me. He screamed out we’ve been hit and it was me landing on top of him. And then the 109s came out, they spotted us sheltering outside and started firing. There were bullets pinging off the shelter. But no, we got away with it.
J: Did you have any particularly close friends out there or because you were moving around so much you were friends with everyone?
N: Actually, when we went out there was four of us. We’d all been in the same squadron. But then two of those were shot down and ended up in Tunisia. They were interned there; had a terrible time there apparently.
J: Were casualty figures quite high for the squadron?
N: I don’t think they were that high. What we did lose, were mostly as I say ended up interned in Tunisia.
J: Is that because presumably you were operating close to where they were?
N: That’s right, yes. They were treated worse than prisoners of war there.
J: What were the circumstances in which you left? What happened to you after Malta?
N: Well we left we lost several COs, some went back
J: Is that just because they were moved or?
N: Their time was up sort of thing. And some were lost in operations. But one officer there, a lieutenant RNVR, he was flying home in a Lincoln. He said I’ll ask the acting temporary CO if you can come as well because I think there’s a spare seat there. But the CO wouldn’t let me go which was rather anyway we eventually got a new CO for the squadron: Lieutenant Commander Frank Hopkins and he called myself and another TAG in who went out to Malta with me and he said you’ve been out here far too long, I’m sending you home, without a relief. And that was really music to our ears.
J: You’d had enough by then?
N: More than enough. He called us in another two days afterwards and said look there are two ships going back to Gib, they’re merchant ships, they’re carrying high ++. He said they’re full up, there’s no room on there for you. Whether this is true or not I don’t know but we heard later that both ships had been sunk. Whether they were or not I don’t know. Then he called us in again another day later and said I’ve got a transport for you if you want it. He said it’s a submarine, on board a submarine. He said I warn you its going to be month’s patrol on its way home. So we told him to keep that one. And lastly there was a convoy, there was HMS Bengal, a merchant ship, RN Crew, used to bring supplies in from Alex and we got on board that. And the remains of the Eastern Med fleet were with us and eight destroyers and two cruisers and we there were quite a lot of our ground crews also being returned and as we were on action stations we were told to keep below the whole way. But there was so much noise going on that I couldn’t stand it any longer and I cracked up, can’t see what was going on. And when I got on deck, the first thing I saw was the destroyer nearest to us was hit by two bombs and the stern had come right out the water and so I disappeared down below again. We were chased for about two and a half days, the whole trip from Malta to Alex. But not one ship was hit as far as I know.
J: So you got to Alex?
N: Got to Alex and we were taken to a tented camp there called Sidi Bishr. And there was an alert sound during the night and we had a turn to we had a parade we had a parade on the parade down there. There were 750 naval ratings going back home and they announced what was going to happen. And there was a lot of moaning and god knows what was going on there. The idea was that we were going up, back up to D[?] because their army was in full retreat there, to act as a naval expeditionary force to stem the retreat from wherever it was at the D[?]. And we were going to be issued with Italian rifles. And the next two days we were taken down to the firing range getting used to these rifles. But you couldn’t, they were terrible things. When you fired it, it just about blew your shoulder off. Fortunately after two days somebody had the bright idea that was too much and we returned our rifles and that was it, we didn’t go up there in the end. The thought of what we’d done, that we were going up there as an expeditionary force wasn’t on. But from there we moved on to the [?] lakes, to another camp there. From there we went down to Port Suez and we picked up a troop ship there ++. And we had 1200 Africa Corp and Panzer boys, prisoners on board. And we were 750 naval ratings and a few officers on board and a few Belgian troops acting as interpreters. And then we were told ++ by our officer who was had had too much ++ I think. I had come down to report that through the Belgian soldiers that had picked up some of the conversation, ++ that they were going to attempt a mutiny on board. So he wanted volunteers to go down below and sort out their kit. And I think everyone would have volunteered, what they called the ++ jacket, slicing them and finishing the Germans off. And they found four home-made bombs they had made up. They were all on display afterwards. They got forks where they sharpened the handle to use them as daggers, and various other things. They took off axes and big spanners out of the fire boxes, ++ boxes, and when we got down to D[?] they were taken off the ship and we were there for about a week and a day before we arrived at D[?] the German officers they tried to set fire to the ship, they wanted to take it back to the Fatherland. And then when we left D[?] we took on board 2,200 Italian prisoners and they thought they were going to Australia. They were very scared of the Australians. Again, we came round the cape up to Glasgow[?] and finishing off finally, I was sent my leave at Cape Town. It turned out there was thirty of us ++ there and I got two days leave, two days pay stopped. And when we arrived in Glasgow
J: When you say you extended your leave by two days, did that mean the ship went without you?
N: No, it was only a few hours really. It was leaving during the night some time but we had to be on board at a certain time. At Glasgow, there was two naval friends. I was on ++ on duty. He was carrying a rifle bayonet and they had an argument and this one stuck his bayonet into his pal and killed him. So the officer in charge, he had to stay behind for a court martial. And there was a petty officer in charge of our little lot ++ come down from the ++. He called me into his compartment and he says I understand you’ve been a naughty boy. He said you’ve got two days pay stopped for two days leave. And he got the papers out and he just tore them out and chucked them out of the window. Nobody will know about that. So nothing happened.
J: So then what? You had a bit of leave and you went down to Wembley did you?
N: No, let’s see. I was there, a Lieutenant Commander, he was rather a portly gentleman, he was suddenly brought back into service with the war. He ++ and he said I’m sending you up to Arbroath in Scotland. And I didn’t enjoy it ++ I was with my parents then, all my pals were all called up, there was barely anyone at home I knew at all. I had a fortnight’s leave and didn’t know what to do with it. And when I was up in Arbroath, I met Dom Munce who was on the ++ raid. He got the CBM for that. And I was called into the CO’s office and he chucked an awful lot of questions at me and he said â€œ++, so I said no. It was the way he threw it across the desk. I was surprised really.
J: Didn’t they give you a DSO or something for your work in Malta?
N: No. I think the main reason was that we had so many different COs that nobody really had to worry about you really until we did this ++. And I think, I’ve got it up there, I think it was through Hopkins that we got something. One or two of them in Romania they did get the DSN but when he was there. It’s quite interesting that proves that what you did was recognized.
J: I’m amazed you didn’t get more.
N: There was one lad on our squadron, he got the DSN. What for I don’t know. His name was Nelson. And that was in the early stages of the squadron. And the CO then, he was his blue eyed boy sort of thing. As far as I can make out he only went on two , they weren’t operations, they were sort of reconnaissance efforts. And the CO got him the DSN for it.
J: So what happened in the rest of the war to you?
N: I was in what they called the TAGs Corp in Arbroath, that was those who were waiting to go to squadrons and those who were unfit or something like that. And then I was posted to — further up the coast from there – to Peacehaven. The ++ naval air station there. And I had to go up there to install the radio side of it because it was a number two observers training school. And then there was a notice on the board, they wanted volunteers to become air gunner instructors. But the minimum requirement was at least a year’s operational flying. And there was two of us who had that time. But we didn’t volunteer so we were shanghaied into it. We didn’t like it. But the other chap he came from the London area, and he said well if we’re going down there, lets try and get a long weekend out of it, so we put a request in, it was the skipper’s request actually. It was Captain Warburton Lee[?], he got a VC on the destroyer, he got a patch over one eye. There were all these young lads there, putting requests in, but he turned everyone down. Except the other chap ++ and myself went before him. He said you two have served your king and country: request granted. So down we came and we did a three month course at Whale Island[?] and we eventually passed out and we were made Chief Petty Officers then. And from there I went my first posting was instructor was at ++ near Blackpool and I was there about six months. Then I got drafted to Scotland where I had to take a party of nearly 100 out to New York. And from there we were going down to the West Indies to Trinidad. So I had when we got to Liverpool, the Petty Officer there, he said â€œoh you’ve gone up in the ranks, you get a different cabin. So he called the steward over and ++ It was the Ruritania. I had a nice cabin, first class cabin, and its own bathroom. Living like a lord. And we got to New York and we ++ at Brookham[?] naval barracks for about a week and a half and then we got the train and went down to Cincinati and Ohio and away down to New Orleans. And we had about a whole week there. And then we were waiting for transport to Trinidad. We had enough kit for ten days sailing and we were taken down to some dock somewhere, saw a troop ship there. Actually an old banana boat. And we had to practice going on board. We couldn’t make this out. Practice going on board? Of-course the crowd I had, there was 90-odd ratings there they were all meant to train as reserves and they were all meant to be made officers afterwards. So the following day, we were going on board officially and the ++ there said let’s do it properly chief. So they had an American band there and there was the American Red Cross or something, they were dishing out cookies and the American band was playing â€œI’ll be seeing you. We went slowly aboard and went up the gangplank and saluted the Quarterdeck. And we set sail down the old Mississipi. Dirty old river. And we got down to near Cuba and there was hurricanes out at sea so we called in at Quantanamo, where they’re talking about now. We had about four days waiting for this hurricane [end of tape side A]
J: What did you do after the war?
N: I was, I got on a course to train for study for a building surveyor, because I had been a builder right before the war. And went to college of estate management[?] to this course and then my first job was with the – what became the ++ brewery up in ++ — and what annoyed me was that my wage was only about £5 a week which was about the same as I used to get in the Navy but with the Navy I got free meals and that sort of thing. And with my £5 I had train fares, pocket money and all that sort of thing. And then I left there because they didn’t have an awful lot of work. It was mostly bomb damage they were dealing with. And then I had a job with an architect in Regents Street.
J: So was Watneys a brewer was it?
N: Yes. Then I got another job with more money doing ++.
J: Still doing surveying work?
J: Did you stay with surveying for the rest of your professional career?
J: Do you mind me asking how did you end up in this part of the world?
N: Well, before we came here we were at ++ in ++. And my young son was in Wantage and my wife was trying to get her mother into a retirement home. She got into one at Farringdon. But the condition was that you had to have a relative in the area. So we used our young son. And we decided that we’d move in this area to be nearer to her mother. And this place didn’t have a roof on or anything. We bought it and had one or two extras done When I was made redundant from the Gas Board, and I always wanted a pub and we found a house near W+ington[?] and that had been a pub. And we made an offer and it was accepted and to cut a long story short we did the alterations and turned it into a pub.
J: Where was that?
N: That was ++ near Wa+ington.
J: Did you enjoy doing that?
N: No, no. My wife hated it. It was 24 hours a day sort of thing. Particularly in the summer. That was called the Lord Nelson.
J: As a boy you were living in Wembley, but what did your father do?
N: He was an inspector of postmen[?].
J: Presumably before the war you hadn’t been much further afield than London.
N: I’d been a bit further than that. I went on the first schoolboy cruise to Norway and Denmark. There was 800 of us on board, from all over the country. That was the first time. Then later on, when I was a bit older, two of my friends, we went for a week or ten days to Belgium. It cost us £5 I think. And the following year we were going to try to get to Nice and that was about six ++, for a week. But then war was imminent so we scrubbed out that. And we had already joined the ATC, or Air Defence Cadet Corp it was in those days. And we were selected to go on the first ++ courses on ++ near Shrewsbury. I think two or three of us from that squadron, including me, we were selected to take an A-licence pilot’s licence, but unfortunately the weather came down so bad, we were in cloud, and it had to be cancelled. No time left.
J: Sounds like you were quite adventurous as a teenager.
N: Oh yes. There was a another friend of mine, he did all the booking. He was dead keen on that sort of thing. We just followed along with him. We enjoyed ourselves. We were at ++ polytechnic which is at ++ poly ++.
J: What was your date of birth?
N: 23 August 1921.