Children's Session : HMS Indefatigable. [Children's session].
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‘Jumbo,’ an elephant-character children’s presenter for 2YA, delivers a commentary for the Children’s Session on the arrival of the HMS Indefatigable. He observes the ship coming into Pipitea Wharf, and then takes a tour on board.
Part 1: Jumbo describes the aircraft carrier itself as it comes into the wharf, from his vantage point on Aotea Quay. It is a beautiful day in Wellington. Unfortunately when the ship came around Point Halswell earlier that morning there was thick cloud, which stopped the planned flight over the city of some of the aircraft on board. They may fly later on. Two tugs of Wellington Harbour and the pilot ship Arahina guided her in. As Jumbo speaks, she is passing Point Jerningham. He can see the men in their blue and white uniforms lined up along the sides, and the band is playing on deck. He points out some of the planes on board; Seafires, Fireflies and Avengers. On the starboard side (which as the boys will know is the right-hand side as you look towards the bow) are small Nazi swastika flags and Japanese flags painted on the side, which indicate the number of enemy planes they have brought down. There are 15 Nazi flags and 34 Japanese flags; 49 in total.
There is an official Naval party waiting on the shore. The ship is coming in now; the tugs are gently helping her in. There is a lot of overhanging equipment on an aircraft carrier which would make it awkward to lie alongside the wharf; so they have put fenders to hold her out so she won’t do any damage.
They have fired a line from the ship to the shore, so the sailors on the shore can reel her in.
Jumbo now has a good view of the flight deck, where the planes are parked. He now gives some statistics about the Indefatigable. There are something like 1,893 men in the crew, of which 179 are officers and 1,714 are other ranks. The two destroyers of the escort are going to berth at Aotea Quay. They carry about 898 men each, which means about 3,000 British sailors will be in Wellington for the next week.
The Indefatigable is about 32,000 tonnes. To give the children an idea of what that means, Jumbo compares it to the large merchant ships which came in during the war; the Mauritania and the New Amsterdam. The Mauritania is about 35,000 tonnes, so just a little bigger. To compare with ships the children will know well, the Rangatira is only 6 or 7,000 tonnes, so the Indefatigable is much bigger than those you usually see.
She has on board a large equipment of guns; 4.5” guns, and anti-aircraft guns can be seen amidships in groups of eight. On the side of the vessel is the ship’s pinnace.
The Indefatigable took part in the surrender ceremony of Japan in Tokyo Bay.
The gangways are being hoisted aboard. There is a big crane on Aotea Quay which is being used to lift up the gangway, which has been specially constructed because of the great distance the ship has to lie out from the wharf. It is being manoeuvred into position and soon we will be able to go on board.
Part 2: Jumbo says the gangway is now in position so he will ‘struggle over. It’s rather a narrow gangway for a large elephant to cross” but he thinks he’ll manage. He manages to cross and arrives at the stern of HMS Indefatigable, where he meets Mr Harrison who takes them on a tour of the ship. He points out the quarter-deck, where the sailors salute as they come on. In the ‘olden days’ there used to be a crucifix which they would touch their caps to, but now officers and men alike salute as they come onto the quarter-deck. There are a lot of wires and a winch to draw them taut – Jumbo asks Mr Harrison to explain the word ‘taut’. They move towards the front of the ship and as they pass through a door, Mr Harrison says it is armoured and can be made watertight. They pass officers’ cabins and come to the shipwright’s workshop. He has a circular saw and lots of wood; he carries out lots of repair jobs to furniture. Next they come to the laundry, where all the washing and ironing is done; ‘dhobying’ as the sailors call it – Mr Harrison says that is a ‘Hindustani’ word they have picked up. Opposite the laundry is the bakery, where they bake bread for 2,000 men. He switches on the electric mixer they use to knead the dough. Before it is baked, they test a small amount so as not to waste the batch. Mr Harrison comments that it is very warm in the bakery, and they go into the ‘preparing room’ of the galley. Here the cooks cut up the meat, peel the vegetables and get everything ready for cooking. They then go through to the galley, which is where they cook. All the ovens are electric, there are fryers and a potato washing and peeling machine. From there, the potatoes are chipped by the chipping machine before being cooked in boiling oil. Jumbo comments that it must take quite a long time cooking for so many men. Mr Harrison says the meals are good and they prepare lots of the food the day before. They move for’ard towards the officers’ messes. The first is called the Ward Room, where all the officers eat. The second is the Ante Room, where they can sit, smoke and read. And next is the Commissioners’ and Warrant Officers’ Mess, and then the Mess Deck for the sailors. Overhead are iron bars and hooks for hammocks. In the corner some hammocks are stashed; at night the sailors hang them between the hooks and roll themselves up in their blankets. Harrison comments that they look like a lot of cocoons at nighttime. Harrison says the hammocks are very comfortable and swing together as the ship rolls. Next they come to the Sick Bay. Sick men are not kept there very long as it needs to be kept clear in case of casualties, so very sick men are sent to a hospital ship. In times of action when casualties come in it can be overwhelming, which keeps the doctors very busy. They move on and see three consulting rooms, a surgical dressing room, a dispensary, the large ward and an operating theatre. Harrison points out the x-ray machine and the lighting above the operating theatre. They can do any form of surgery here.
Part 3: As they move on, Mr Harrison points out the ‘dentist’s shop’ where the ‘tooth merchant will pull out your teeth,’ but he says the children listening have very fine teeth so won’t need to go there. Jumbo asks if they will pull out his tusks and Harrison replies that they are probably too big for the dentists to handle. Harrison then points out the mail office, where the sailors’ mail is sorted. They move outside and Jumbo notices something that looks like a torpedo. Mr Harrison says it is a paravane, or PV, and explains that it is towed from the front of the ship and used as a minesweeper. It cuts the tether of the mine, which then floats up. The crew then shoot at it and explode it to render it harmless.
They climb up a ladder and Jumbo comments that ladders are difficult for an elephant to navigate. They come up onto the flight deck and Jumbo observes that it is a big deck. Mr Harrison cautions Jumbo not to trip over the arrester wire. He points out the aircraft as they pass. The first are Avengers; three-seater bomber-reconnaissance aircraft. They can carry one torpedo or three 500lb bombs. The bomb doors are open on one and they have a look inside. The three men are the pilot, the observer and the rear gunner. The gunner has a turret and can swing his gun right around.
The next aircraft is a two-seater Firefly. It has two cannon projecting from the wings. The wheels retract and fit into the recesses under the wings.
The next are Seafires, which are similar to the famous Spitfires. They are Spitfires which have been modified for use with the fleet air arm. The wings fold up for storage, and they have hooks to attach to the arrester wires. Otherwise they are the same as Spitfires.
Arrester wires are stretched across the flight deck. They are held up a few inches from the deck. There are a number of them across the deck; landing aircraft hook on to them as they come in to land. If they miss all of the wires, there are two wires which can be raised at the end of the deck and the plan will crash into them. There are fire extinguishers and other firefighting apparatus close at hand and firefighting teams are ready whenever landings are taking place.
Harrison directs Jumbo to look at another ‘Jumbo’ – a mobile crane used in the event of a crash to move the aircraft out of the way. Jumbo reckons he could get a good job on the ship using his trunk as a crane or working as a bulldozer.
Part 4: They leave Jumbo, the mobile crane, and move on. Someone informs Mr Harrison that he is required on the Quarterdeck. He excuses himself and introduces Lt. Commander Catchpole instead. Jumbo introduces himself to Catchpole, and asks him to tell the children about the planes coming into land. Catchpole says the planes fly around the ship, and they can talk to them through the wireless. When everybody on the deck is ready for them to land they send a signal. The planes circle around the ship and come in one at a time. An officer stands at the aft end of the flight deck on the port side with two bats which he uses to give them signals to come in. Jumbo comments that they look like pingpong bats. They are used to signal to the plane to make adjustments, and if they are not coming in properly he signals them to come around again. The planes are unlikely to hit the batsman – only if they are damaged and not able to come in straight – but if he is in danger there is a net off the side of the ship that he can jump into, below the level of the deck. When the operations are over, the planes are not left on the flight deck. The wings can fold up so they don’t take up so much space, and they are pushed onto a lift which takes them down to the hangar, where they are stowed away.
Jumbo asks about use of the lift, and Catchpole says sometimes the aft lift is used as a cinema if the weather is not good enough to use the Flight Deck. They put the lift at the top which creates a roof, put seats in the bottom, and hang a screen. The lift can accommodate up to 300 men for a picture show. Jumbo comments that it’s a good crowd; Catchpole says it depends how good the film is. In good weather they put the picture shows up on the Flight Deck and can have about 1,000 people there. The Flight Deck is just over 760ft long and about 80ft wide.
There are about 60 planes on board presently, including one that Jumbo says looks like an amphibian. Catchpole says it is a Walrus, which has its propeller at the back instead of the front, and is used for air-sea rescue. Mr Catchpole explains that if a plane comes down in the water and there isn’t a nearby smaller ship to pick up the men, they can send the Walrus. Next Jumbo asks about a thing with six wheels, he wonders if it is called a Duck. Catchpole confirms that it is a Duck, a sort of motor boat that can go onto land; you can drive up the beach in it. Jumbo comments that there is quite a zoo on board.
Jumbo says it is time for them to go now. He thanks Mr Catchpole and Mr Harrison for showing him around and encourages the listening children to come and have a look at the ship when it is open to visitors in the next few days.
Reference number 5447
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Children's radio programs
2YA (Radio station : Wellington, N.Z.), Broadcaster
Date 29 Nov 1945