Biography of Stanley Rawlings

Author: Paul Thompson
Date published:
© Paul Thompson

Stanley Rawlings was born on February 13th, 1924 in Newbury to Brice and Mabel Rawlings. He was the youngest of eight children.

He worked for a time at the Newbury Sewage pumping station on what is now Faraday road in Newbury, managed at the time by James “Jim” Cuddy, the husband of Stanley’s sister Dorothy.

On July 21st 1943, Stanley was called up to do his National Service and joined the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. His first posting was to HMS Gosling, an establishment for new recruits at Risley near Warrington.

After three months, Stanley served 2 months at HMS Daedalus, a Royal naval Air Station at Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire before moving temporarily to HMS Waxwing (an RN camp in Dunfermline, Scotland)

On December 23rd, 1943, he transferred to HMS Gannett (another RN air station in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland) where he joined the newly formed 1844 Squadron Feet Air Arm. 1844 Squadron was a fighter squadron with 10 Hellcat aircraft that was to be part of the 5th Naval Fighter Wing.

In February 1944, the squadron embarked on HMS Begum for the Far East. During this time, Stanley kept a journal of his travels and recorded details of their passage from Belfast to Madras in India.

Below is a transcript of the journal in full written exactly as Stanley himself wrote it:

We joined H.M.S Begum at Belfast, a carrier of about 18,000 tons. In the hanger was 20 hellcats, on the flight deck was 24 Barracudas.

The sea was ruff, when we got into the med it was terribly ruff. The paraveins were out for part of the way. We passed Portugal, just see a faint line of it, Gibralta.

The most interesting piece was when we came up the Suez. Hear and there were bright little sort of villages with palm trees, it looked almost like heaven, the camels were walking along the canal with loads of oranges. Women in gay coloured clothing with pitchers on their heads, the colours are just impossible to explain, it was just like one huge oil painting.

The natives are almost slaves, they stand over them with whips, just the same as in the old days.

There were a few natives aboard selling wallets and what-nots, I bought one.

We dropped anchor just in the bay of Port Teufic [Taufiq] we were here for four days. Only 75 were allowed a shore a time from our ship owing to the plague, which left only one or two streets in bounds even if we did go. It is very difficult to get used to the money they use, we could twist them with our money, but when we used theres I think they got there own back. Up to now we have done...*miles too the 19th.

*[The mileage was crossed out but said 12,500 miles. It probably seemed that to a young rating on his first voyage. They had actually done 3,900 miles]

21st March 1944

Nothing much happened today the weather is very hot, the ship moved a little further into port. We can see the Suez quite clear now, but still are not allowed to go a shore there.

22nd March 1944

Nothing much happened today. 100 ratings went ashore instead of 75. The ship is now under sailing orders, so where we shall go from hear I don’t know. The weather is still very hot. I had a nice box of Turkish delights today.

23rd March 1944

We have started off again today, we are now in the Red Sea, the weather is very hot and there mountains on both sides of us.

24th March 1944

Not much change today, land seems further off and the weather is practicaly unbearable. The smell of the sun scorching on the flight deck, and the steel decks are almost red at times. Tropical clothing is being worn now. No one can explain what the heat and conditions are like.

25th March 1944

Still getting warmer in fact most of the fellows are taking there beds and sleeping on the flight deck in the open. Today the Indian navy came alongside with a destroyer and past a message to our ship by means of a rope and bottle, there is a heavy heat hase all over it [the sea], with the sun blazing on it you have a job to look at it with your naked eye. They try to give us cooling food here. We had tomatoes corned beef lettuce for supper, all served with ice, but still it was warm.

26th March 1944

It is still getting warmer today I had to go to the sick bay with discentary, I get medicine 3 times a day. I feel rotten. This morning we could see land on the port side of the ship.

27th March 1944

We arrived in Port Avon a pretty place but not quite as picturesq as the others we had seen, none of us went ashore. The ship refuelled with oil and drinking water. We managed to get hold of some water melons and bananas, the ship was no more than 100 yards from the shore, we could see the camels in the streets. There was no black out there and all the coloured lights at night made it look like a circus. We could see garden parties going on with lights strung from tree to tree. The weather here is still very hot.

28th March 1944

Today everyone seemed to be in a flat spin. We have had a submarine warning; we left Avon at about 12 noon today. We are out of the Red sea now.

29th March 1944

Today the weather is very hot and the ship is rolling and piching quite a bit, the sea is very unsettled, we had action stn at quarter to five this morning, we had a cold dinner, beat root, onion salad, for sweet we had bananas.

30th March 1944

Today the sea is calm, weather just as hot, clear sailing today. There are several cases in the sick bay with sun burn. I have just finished attending sick bay myself. We got chocolate today from the canteen because it won’t keep in the hot weather. Its cept in the refrigerator.  We came into the Indian Ocean on the 29th.

31st March 1944

Today the sea was very calm and the weather very hot. We haven’t done much all day only lie around in the sun, there are some fellow attending sick bay with sun burn blisters. We should reach our destination on Tuesday. Today is Friday.

1st April 1944

Today the weather was very hot but the sea was calm. The clocks were put on an hour.

2nd April 1944

Today the weather is just as hot. The pitch on the flight deck is all running, the clocks have been put on another half an hour today.

3rd April 1944

Today at about 7 oclock in the morning we reached Celon [Ceylon, now Sri Lanka], we are in the harbour not very far from Columbo, we can see it quite clear. The weather is very hot. We went ashore in the afternoon and had a good time, we got pineapple bananas coconuts, but the heat on the streets made everything have such horrid smells hear and there.

4th April 1944

Today we did nothing much only roam about on the flight deck in the sun, it is very hot. We are still in the harbour at Celon.

5th April 1944

Today I went ashore again and had a most lovely time. We went right into the native quaters today, only the two of us. We went intot he area we are barred against, we were going into the temple, a magnificent building, but we thought some one would swipe our boots when we took them off to go in, we have all been warned about eating in native resturants and eating peald fruit for our own safety. I bought two black elephants.

6th April 1944

We couldn’t go out today so I done some washing. The weather is still very hot but the sky looks very uncertain.

7th April 1944

We went ashore today but know one could have all night leave. I bought a pair of elephants and a native necklace. We had a nice bowl of ice cream.

8th April 1944

The usual daily routine nothing much unusual happened only that it poured with rain.

9th April 1944

At six oclock we started on our way again. It is just pouring with rain one minute and it stops and dries up in no time.

10th April 1944

Today we had another storm but it certainly makes everything smell so sweet and nice.

11th April 1944

This morning we entered the harbour at Madraz [Madras, India] it looks like a beautiful place. We are getting off here. The squadron is going inland quite a bit. I expect I shall go ashore tomorrow. The orders? Are yards of them, by reading them it sounds as if it is hell of a place, there is no all night leave to anyone, it also says that all cases of theft and thieves are to be reported ashore. So until tomorrow?

12th April 1944

I went ashore today and had a marvellous time. There were three of us together. Its very nice to visit these places, but too hell with living in them permanent. We had a little dark boy to show us around naturally he took us right into the native parts, market, housing and so on. When it gets dark they just crash their swede* down anywhere in the streets on the pavements anywhere. The oxen is a holy animal to them, they are roaming about everywhere. Outside the temple there were natives banging drums and playing all kinds of Indian instruments, while the others prayed. But the beggars about is something wicked deformed, they should be destroyed for their own happiness, its terrible to look at them?

* This word is not swede but that is how it is spelt and I can not think what it should be.

13th April 1944

Today we done nothing much, stayed on the ship, the weather is very hot.

14th April 1944

Today we had a lot of ATS girls aboard too show them over the carrier, also the Indian army. They went up and down in the aircraft elevators like little kids, holding on to one another.

We left the ship tonight at 9’oclock and travelled all night until we reached our destination which was about 6.30 in the morning. We passed no end of dense forest and huge swamps.

15th April 1944

We just got into camp this morning. Our huts are made of bamboo, they are not half as bad as they were made out to be, in fact I like them. The natives will hang about around you though, on the other hand they will do anything for you. The village near this camp we are barred from owing to certain complaints and diseases.


The journal finishes at this point. According to the Fleet Air arm archive, 1844 squadron were disembarked for work-up at Ulunderpet in southern India, and then on July 13th 1944 joined the carrier HMS Indomitable where the squadron provided fighter cover and photographic duties during the attacks on Indaroeng and Emma Haven in Sumatra. In September 1944, similar duties were carried out during bombing attacks on Sigli, and fighter cover was provided during attacks on Car Nicobar.

In October 1944, the squadron was assigned to a shore base in China Bay, but according to Stanley’s service record, he did not remain with the squadron, but instead returned to HMS Daedalus in Lee-on-Solent. This may have been on medical grounds because he died on June 25th 1945 from a Cerebral Abscess at the Oxford Military Hospital.

Stanley is buried in Newtown Road Cemetery, Newbury in a war grave maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

In July 1974, his mother Mabel Rawlings was interred with him.

Recovering a Piece of History

Stanley’s diary turned up in 2002 in amongst a series of other papers. No one knew it even existed. However, it has proved to be a missing link in the story of HMS Begum.

It was known that the ship went from Belfast to Colombo in 1944, but there was no record of why it took so long.

The historical information on the internet says:


Embarked 24 BARRACUDA aircraft for transport to Ceylon destined for 815 and 817 Squadrons together with 20 HELLCAT aircraft destined for 1839 and 1844 Squadrons and four WILDCAT aircraft destined for 832 Squadron.

3rd          Took passage from Clyde with HM Escort Aircraft Carriers ATHELING and SHAH to     Trincomalee.

                              (Note : One source records that ATHELING and SHAH sailed with Convoy KMF29A)

               17th       KMF29A arrived at Port Said.


                2nd           Joined Eastern Fleet.

                26th         Disembarked aircraft in Colombo

                              (Note : Length of time on passage suggests ship may have exercised and worked-up in Mediterranean.)

In fact the Begum did not stay in the Mediterranean, but sailed through the Suez Canal and straight to Colombo, arriving on April 3rd. From there it sailed to Madras in India where Stanley Disembarked and the ship then returned to Colombo, arriving on April 26th as previously thought.


A copy of the diary has been sent to the webmaster of the site and the history of the Begum is now going to be updated thanks to Stanley’s diary.


Author: Paul Thompson (Great nephew of Stanley Rawlings)

Related information

HMS Begum

Royal Navy Fleet air arm Archive for 1844 Squadron


Sources:Personal research

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