As we proceeded
on our journey south, the temperature started to drop and we changed out of our
tropical whites into blue uniform. Everyone found the change from the heat of
the tropics very pleasant. We also saw our first whales, and albatross. High
winds and a sea swell prevented flying for a few days, which gave us a bit of a
rest. The Admiral, of whom we normally saw very little, decided to address the
ship’s company. His subject was a general run over the present naval policy and
what was expected of us during the forthcoming tour. He wound up with a few
words of warning, particularly about desertion, and marrying Australian girls.
As there were to be many ceremonies and marches through the towns and cities of Australia, we got down to some serious drill on the flight deck. Practice makes perfect they say, and it wasn’t long before we were looking very impressive and raring to go.
About 300 miles from Hobart, ‘Radio Australia’ greeted the squadron over the air as we arrived in Australian waters. Messages from the Lord Mayors of Adelaide (for Glory), Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney (for us), were relayed to us over the ‘Tannoy’ our P.A. system. It all sounded very good, and it was obvious that we were due for a great welcome.
We arrived at Hobart. Tasmania on Sunday 6th July and berthed alongside Ocean Pier at 0830 hrs. It was raining at the time, so not a lot of people were on the jetty to see us arrive. However, the skies cleared and by the time the ship was open for visitors there was a very long queue on the dock wall waiting to come aboard. All duty personnel acted as guides for our guests, and non-duty personnel were allowed ashore. The tremendous welcome we received was unbelievable. We were mobbed in the streets with people wanting our autographs and all public transport was free to us. Trips around Cadbury’s, Fry’s, and Pascal’s’ factory were organised with plenty of free chocolate.
Tasmania is the apple growing State of Australia, so we ate free apples ‘til we looked like them’. I hadn’t seen an apple since leaving the UK. There was such abundance that the Government provided every school child with a free apple, every day of the year. Fresh milk was another luxury that we hadn’t seen since leaving home. Local milkmen were allowed on board each day, and there was always a long queue when they arrived. We would get whatever containers were at hand and have them filled, then go to the back of the queue, drinking the delicious ice cold milk whilst we waited in the queue for a second lot.
The first thing we had to get accustomed to was the different licensing hours in Australia, 6am to 6pm. It seemed very strange to see workmen calling for a beer on their way to work in a morning. It was a case of drinking all through the day, and we soon found that we could carry on behind locked doors after 6pm if we wished. To go into a bar meant that we were likely to come out the worse for wear. All drinks were free; bartenders and customers alike wouldn’t allow us to put our hands in our pockets. If this was a sample of things to come, then we were going to have a truly remarkable tour.
The very first time I went ashore I was stopped in the street by an elderly lady who asked if I would give her my name and home address. She wished to send food parcels to my parents back home, as she knew that food rationing was still in operation in the UK. I gave her my address and didn’t think any more of it but, true to her word, she sent regular food parcels to my mother for many years after I was de-mobbed.
We left Hobart on the morning of 9th July, and said our thanks with a full formation flight over the city. Despite a heavy swell, the ‘land on’ was without incident and we set sail for our next port of call, Melbourne, Victoria. The next day the wind had reached gale force so flying was cancelled. In fact all aircraft had to be double-lashed down for safety; an uncomfortable 24 hours.
The storm eventually subsided, and on Friday 11th July, six Fireflies and seven Seafires took off at 0730 hrs and gave Melbourne and District their first glimpse of the 14th C.A.G. operating in close formation. They then flew on to the RAAF Station, Port Cook, to enable flying practice to continue from there whilst Theseus was berthed in Melbourne.
The ship berthed alongside Station Pier, Port Melbourne, at 0830 hrs to a huge crowd and a terrific flag-waving welcome. Also waiting on the dockside handcuffed to Naval Police was our first sprinkling of deserters. The welcome we had received in Hobart had been so tremendous that they hadn’t heeded the Admiral’s warning, and had foolishly decided that they wanted to stay. The Naval Police had obviously picked them up after the ship had sailed, so that was the end of the tour for them. They were put in the ship’s cells until such time as they could be sent back home for Court-Martial on the Navy’s most serious charge, desertion. They would be looking at a dishonourable discharge and several years in prison. In years gone by, desertion carried the death penalty.