Don't Leave It Too Late

In recent months I've been researching the lives of some of my ancestors during the First World War. You can read about them at Writing a Family History First World War Stories if you follow this link.


When I was researching the background to I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II I learned how the Fleet Air Arm contributed to the First World War:

The Royal Navy had an air section from 1903 which was utilised during the First World War for spotting, signalling and reconnaissance. It was combined in 1918 with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force. By 1919, naval air power had been hugely reduced to a very small number of aircraft:  reconnaissance planes, torpedo bombers, fighter planes, sea planes and flying boats. 

And how it evolved in the years prior to WW2:

In 1924 there was a policy change at the Admiralty and it was decided that all observers and 70% of pilots of navy planes would be naval personnel. In February 1927 the name of Naval Air Branch was instituted and by July 1937 all aircraft in warships were back under the control of the Admiralty. By May 1939 the Admiralty had full and complete control of all naval flying and with its Headquarters at Lee-on-Solent, in Hampshire, the Fleet Air Arm was born.

My dad, Norman Buckle, kept this cutting with his diary and photographs. I think he expected to be on an aircraft carrier when he joined the Fleet Air Arm and was probably disappointed to be sent to a shore base in West Africa. Of course, I don't know because he never talked about his wartime experiences and as a young person I wasn't particularly bothered anyway. My interest only came much later when I started reading his diary by which time he had long since gone to meet his maker taking his memories with him.


A similar thing happened with my mother-in-law, Rose Murray. As I explained in the introduction to Writing a Family History On-Line:

Rose was full of joie de vivre throughout her sixties and at times it was difficult to keep up with her. She made her first plane trip when she was sixty eight years old to accompany her friend on a family visit to the U.S.A. She had a whale of a time visiting tourist destinations in Boston and New York; lounging at the side of the family's large outdoor swimming pool; getting food from a drive-thru; and smoking pot for the one and only time in her life.

In her seventies she started to slow down and her memories were of places and people from her recent past; in her eighties she started to go back in her reminiscences to the war years. Her tales of the London Blitz, evacuation as a munitions factory worker and make-do-and-mend were often full of humour, tragedy and fascinating information.

She lived until she was ninety eight and, as she aged, her memories and her demeanour became more childlike. We have one last impression of Rose: she was sitting on the side of her bed in the residential home where she passed her final years and singing, in the plaintive voice of a little Cockney sparrow, the songs she had learned in childhood. Although her grasp on reality had become extremely slender she was word-perfect in the songs.

We had encouraged her to write down her life's story and aged about ninety two she made a start. Too late! She couldn't sustain the interest or the concentration and so all we have is a short memoir about her schooldays. You can read it here if you wish.

It may be that you want to capture your own memories or you too have elderly relatives and friends with a story to tell before it's too late. You don't have to go for a full blown biography or autobiography: using social media and the Internet you can record and share with old and young anywhere in the world.




Lagoon, Coral and Wind Swept Palms

On 19th May 1945 Norman embarked on H.M.S. Arbiter, an escort carrier, to start the 2000 mile journey to Ponam.

On June 1st they arrived at the island of Manus, the main base, before going on to Ponam. The next day Norman wrote:

Yesterday we weighed anchor in the morning and a few hours sailing brought us to Ponam, a small island just off the main one, two miles long by six hundred yards wide. Highest point above sea level 6 ft. About 12.00 we came ashore in the cutter and surveyed our new home.

To look at it is a typical desert island complete with lagoon, coral and wind swept palm trees. Vegetation found growing naturally appears to be coconut palms, wild orange trees, bread fruit with a few tropical flowers and grasses. The seasons appear to be two – wet and dry. (Now we are at the end of the wet). Rainstorms are fairly common. The main island of Manus lies about a mile across the straits and is fairly large. I judged it at some ten miles long; the ground rises to a range of hills between 2,000ft and 3,000 ft and the whole is covered with vegetation. Sea life so far seen consists of small fish, coral snakes, small octopus and hermit crabs. The latter are small crabs which find an empty shell and carry it around with them, discarding them at successive intervals.

To read more of this blogpost click here to go to Writing a Family History website.

To read more about I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II by N. Buckle & C. Murray click here to go to Spurwing ebooks website.

To sample and download the book click here to go to the Amazon website in the U.K and here for Amazon.com.

It's true to say that not everyone who posted a review on Amazon liked the book. One reader said it was "about as exciting as opening a tin of sardines" which I thought was very funny; others enjoyed it. The truth is, however, that all fighting forces need their back up teams and the British Pacific Fleet was no exception. Earlier in his service, my dad was stationed near Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa, for over a year. Freetown was pivotal in the convoy routes throughout World War Two and its maintenance and defence was a necessary part of the war effort. My dad was a young man from a mining village in South Yorkshire. The contrast between his home area and the places he was stationed during war-time probably couldn't have been greater!

Six weeks in Sidney, Australia

I explained in this blogpost how my dad, Norman Buckle, came to be in Australia in April 1945.

He was waiting with his unit M.S.R.6 to be sent on to Ponam in the Admiralty Islands (present day Papua New Guinea) to join MONAB 4 (Mobile Operating Naval Air Base). An extract from his diary describes his first day in Sidney where he was to remain for almost six weeks.

On the morning of the 9th April we arrived at Sydney, largest city in Australia and second largest in British Empire. Before entering the great harbour the sea was very choppy but once inside became calm and we moved alongside without incident. The main impression I now recall is the first view of the magnificent bridge across the harbour.

About the middle of the afternoon we disembarked and travelled to a Naval Air Station a few miles outside the city which was to be our home for the next few weeks. We settled down and that same night caught the electric train back into the city. Our first call was an eating house (American style with little alcoves for couples) where we made up for the bad food on the ship with steak, eggs and chips. Sydney seems to be full of these houses and also milk bars. Its trams, trains, etc are very antiquated. It seems to be a city of ancient and modern all mixed up.

To read more of this blog post click here to go to Writing a Family History website.

To read more about I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II by N. Buckle & C. Murray click here to go to Spurwing ebooks website.


To sample and download the book click here to go to the Amazon website in the U.K and here for Amazon.com.

H.M.S. Nabaron

Earlier in the blog I wrote about my dad's war-time experiences when he was stationed at H.M.S. Nabaron http://tinned-variety.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/hms-nabaron-monab-4-msr6-1945.html on Ponam Island in the Pacific Ocean.

When I was researching the background for I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety I read several books and websites that had a few references to H.M.S. Nabaron - but not a lot (as someone famously once said).

Nevertheless, from time to time, I continue the search and yesterday stumbled upon this fantastic insignia which seems to really sum up the place and the situation.


You can read more of the story in I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II by N. Buckle & C. Murray at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009QXEUG2 and


1945 and off to join the British Pacific Fleet

When Norman arrived back in the UK, in December 1944, he was given a couple of weeks leave before he was sent for more training at H.M.S. Gosling at Warrington (Cheshire).

Norman's job in the Fleet Air Arm was that of a radio mechanic and the training at H.M.S. Gosling was for air fitters and air mechanics and for those working on electronics and radar.

On March 10th 1945, Norman was sent to Liverpool for embarkation on R.M.S. (Royal Merchant Ship) Empress of Scotland. He wrote in his diary:

Left England. A party of girls from the dockers' canteen sang songs as we left the dock trying to cheer us up. By Hell, but I felt terrible watching England slip away once again.

The Empress of Scotland was a beautiful liner built in 1929 by Fairfield Shipbuilding at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland. Originally known as The Empress of Japan, on conversion to a troop carrier her name had been changed on the special orders of Winston Churchill as it was against regulations to change a ship's name in war-time. However, the irony of the original name wasn't lost on anyone.


A high level of secrecy surrounded the embarkation and the personnel were not informed until they were on their way to Sidney, Australia that they were going to join the British Pacific Fleet which was already at war with the Japanese.

To read more of this blog post click here to go to Writing a Family History website.

To read more about I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II by N. Buckle & C. Murray click here to go to Spurwing ebooks website.

To sample and download the book click here to go to the Amazon website in the U.K and here for Amazon.com.


I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety Book Trailer



I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: 
The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm 
during World War II 
by N. Buckle & C. Murray