Memories of Don Sutherland

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AACU Grange in November 1939 to June 1942

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It was while compiling photo's of Portsmouth & Southsea I decided to cross the harbour and visit Gosport. Low and behold! the first photo's I came across were of Fort Rowner and Fort Grange, 2 photo's of which I never thought existed. It so happened I was posted to AACU (Anti Aircraft Cooperation Unit) stationed at Grange in November 1939 and there until June 1942. Being a Flight Mechanic I was assigned to a Blackburn Shark - similar to that of a Swordfish - and used principaly for Target Towing over the Naval Gunnery School at Eastney. Our other duties included low-level attacks and high dive bombing. It was on Xmas Day 1939 we had been informed Winston Churchill would be present at the Gunnery School so were looking forward to the target-towing exercise. Being Xmas Day there were only a handful of us present in the hanger as the remainder were on leave. Some bright spark suggested we paint A MERRY XMAS on the target and almost immediately the 12 foot by 6 foot target was spread- eagled on the floor and 2 riggers went to town on it. The type of paint used dried fairly quickly so it wasn't long before it was rolled up a placed it it's compartment alongside the Shark. Such was the response when unfurling the target, it was obvious the gunners were not trainee's. It was at that moment in time it began to snow and we were concerned as to their safe return. By the time we had put the Shark to bed in the hanger, the snow was coming down fairly heavy and by mid-afternoon it was more than ankle deep. From all reports, it was the heaviest fall of snow the U.K. had experienced for years. As to be expected, I could write a book related to want went on during my stay but not wishing to bore you, will close now and send a photo of interest. Don Sutherland (Added 4th February 2008)

On parade by Don Sutherland

Another episode of interest while at Fort Grange. It  was the last week in may 1940 when assisting a fitter do a major overall of the  Skua to which I was the Flight Mech We had it stripped down to the last nut and  bolt - the Riggers also did their part. On the morning as to when it was near  completion, our C.O. accompanied by another senior officer paid us a visit and requested we have it ready for flying by mid-afternoon. It was  about 3-30 PM when we pushed it out onto the tarmac and as there was no time for  an air test I had the job of sitting in the cockpit and keep the engine running  - revving it up at intervals. A short time later, Trevor Verrier - the wireless  operator - was loading the rear cockpit with cartons, one I assumed was coffee  and sandwich's but no idea to what the others contained. Eventually they took  off about 4 PM and disappeared into the bright blue yonder. That evening I paid  my usual visit to Saint Judes church in Southsea - for a dancing session - and  during the conversation with my now wife, it was suspected something was amiss  for she was aware to all boats having been ordered out to sea. It was 2 days  later when my Skua returned and astounded by the situation as described by  Trevor. I was later to become informed that the Skua plus another one flown by  Nobby Clarke had been towing flares over Dunkirk. We were never told about it  officially. It was good to learn we had a hand in the rescue of those poor  souls. Don

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