I volunteered for UKMAMS whilst serving in Nicosia in mid 1970. The fact that I was in a position to do so was probably largely thanks to an old friend called Colonel "barking mad" Gaddafi. This widely misunderstood latter day saint was renowned for his sensitivity and insecurity and on sensing a threat to his personal harem had ejected the British (myself included) from his country (Libya) sometime earlier.
I was at the time quite happy in Libya and now found myself in the unfortunate position of being ousted having left behind a pair of fairly good shoes in a Libyan cobblers. Now UKMAMS were well known for their globetrotting activities and I saw the chance of worldwide travel as an opportunity to get my shoes back at some stage.
My posting to UKMAMS happened in May 1972 and I had it on good authority that the resoling of my still absent shoes would be complete within the year. My arrival at Abingdon was like coming home as UKMAMS was largely staffed by my old friends and colleagues. My first few weeks were a hectic round of collecting extra kit, and being inoculated on a daily basis against diseases that were as exotic as the jabs were painful. I felt sure that I would soon be travelling the world to the places where these diseases were rife, as the RAF would certainly wish to get their monies worth for the injections that I had been given free of charge. I was also required to fill out a mass of paperwork to obtain a second passport. All UKMAMS personnel are required to have two of these documents as the variety of work takes us to a great many countries, and some do not readily appreciate your having visited some of the others. For instance it could cause the British Government a momentary pang of regret and considerable embarrassment to have its movers publicly decapitated in an Arab state for displaying a Star of David added to their passports from a previous trip.
Assured of retaining my head in all countries I joined my team. I started with Echo team, and soon went on my first task to Calgary. The task was to be of two days duration with a VC10 load, but as luck would have it we discovered that a Hercules was due through the airport within a couple of days carrying a full load but no movements support. Always anxious to please we waved our VC-lO goodbye, and with only our not ungenerous allowances for company waited for the C-130. Two days became five and our sense of achievement increased roughly proportionally to the size of our wallets. Once I had completed my first trip I was released to my initial training course to become a mover. This policy of being trained after the event is common in military circles, and there is a bloody good reason for it unfortunately I cannot for the life of me remember why.
Those days under training were very educational; well they certainly taught me a lesson! Suitably and expensively trained I was able to rejoin my team towards the end of July. On rejoining my team I found we were destined for another overseas job.
Returning to Abingdon was like entering a ghost town. The squadron was almost empty as the rest of the teams were all involved in Operation Motorman. The UKMAMS involvement in Motorman centered on the out load of troops and Royal Engineers to Northern Ireland to clear the no-go areas that the IRA terrorists and their sympathizers had set up. Incidentally the Operation qualified the task that was under way in Washington, and its reason became clear. The MAMS disposition in Operation Motorman was four teams unloading the soldiers and equipment in Aldergrove, with five teams loading it all in Gutersloh and three teams in Wildenrath. The Operation from UKMAMS point of view was quite intensive yet relatively short, and all teams managed to get back in time for the Friday beer call. The beer call was spurred on by eight teams worth of duty free beer allowances and proved to be definitely memorable. So memorable in fact that afterwards many of the movers present could not remember a thing about it.
My team at the time was led by Flight Lieutenant Gus Hatter, with one of my past colleagues, Flight Sergeant Ken Browne as his number 2 i/c and the Sgt was Ross McKerron. We also had one J/T Gordon Gourdie, and an SAC Bob Tring. Some of us were to spend a happy period in Scotland running Operation Delivery Boy. The Operation has its own chapter, but one particular memory of the Op was when our aircraft suffered a rapid decompression on the way home after an escape hatch in the aircraft buckled. I was fortunate to get away with suffering little more than a rather loud bi-directional belch, but Sgt Bob Turner who was with us suffered pressure damage to his ears.
The next month was exceptionally busy with large exercises taking place in Norway. The exercise "Strong Express" was one of the largest NATO exercises of all time which could only have been bettered by the third world war (for which it appeared to be a full dress rehearsal). It was during this time that one of our Hercules XV 194 crashed on landing at Tromso. This caused considerable alarm to the detachment on the airfield, (it also had a mildly upsetting effect on the crew). Luckily no one was hurt, but the aircraft was a write off, having been broken open on impact. Despite the carnage however the load was intact and still firmly restrained to the aircraft floor, standing as a tribute to the team that loaded it.
In December we deployed to Grazzinese air force base in Italy, to collect 43 Squadron (Phantoms) and transport them to Cyprus. 43 Squadron mince around under the "awe" inspiring name of the "Fighting Cocks", this title was chosen to very nearly correspond to the Squadron badge, which incidentally depicts an unplucked chicken frozen with fear, and gazing nervously into the middle distance. During his stay in Italy the commanding Officer of 43 Sqn had been presented with a cockerel, and persuaded our boss, Gus Hatter (against everyone else's better judgement), to transport it to the UK to await their return. The transportation of livestock on RAF aircraft is completely and utterly expressly forbidden, with only two exceptions, one is if the livestock is a ground engineer, number two is if the cargo is a very senior officer's polo ponies. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are similar in their outlook to the RAF on this matter and get understandably unhappy with the unauthorized import of violently disposed chickens. Loyal to the last we let the boss get on with it. and having treated him to our misgivings bore to witness the transaction without getting further involved. On the flight home the team managed to relax its policy of non involvement just long enough to slip a hard-boiled egg into the cage. Predictably, Lyneham customs went into a near hysterical orbit. They refused to recognize the rather unique talents and merits of a fighting cock that lays eggs, and threatened the bird with extinction. Luckily customs were sufficiently intrigued by this egg laying male and after considerable discussion there was a stay of execution. Following six months quarantine in the imports security cage at Lyneham, the proud bird was customs cleared to travel to its new unit. The whole episode made the RAF News. Not so well publicised was its untimely demise at the talons of the original squadron mascot one week later. It transpired that in a flash of inspired husbandry 43 Squadron decided to keep the birds in the same cage for company. Pilots, being of a more practical than cerebral persuasion, fell for the egg trick and believed the bird to be female. They kept this quiet from the RAF News not wishing to appear daft, but reasoned that a whole new brood of the birds would surely follow from this enforced liaison. The presence of unattached feathers in the cage every morning might have deterred a group of lesser talents, but not 43 Squadron. The chicken committee persisted in their fowl mating scheme despite their prodigy becoming more bald and battered daily. Eventually the inevitability of the intended homosexual liaison became too much for the poor Italian cockerel who died very unpeacefully rather than sleep (or suffer a fate worse than death). In so doing this birds noble sacrifice proved beyond reasonable doubt that you cannot expect people to fly aircraft and think.
As 1972 drew to a close I was put on standby for the Christmas period. I was allowed home to Sunderland on the understanding that I would be able to return within six hours of recall. On the afternoon of Christmas Day, came the news that an earthquake had struck Nicaragua, and the British Government would be sending aid. I was just packing my bags when the phone rang to inform me that I was indeed part of the aid that the British would be deploying to the area. I made it to Abingdon in five hours forty-five minutes, a full seventy-five minutes faster than my previous best. At 0200 hours on Boxing Day I took off for Managua with Flt Lt Bill Wellman, and Sergeant Dave Barton. The whole operation passed without incident or indeed interest to other than those involved, and I made it back to Abingdon on 30th of December. The fast journey down must have upset the fine race tuning of my car's engine, and it officially recorded its protest by exploding on the way back home.
Following a slow start to 1973, I was detached to Hong Kong for two months to reinforce the existing movements staff. I was there for all of February and March and thoroughly enjoyed it. The rest of the Squadron were also keeping busy with the relief operations Khana Cascade and Sahel Cascade. The first of these involved flying grain into the inaccessible valleys of Nepal, whilst the second required 2,500 tons of grain to be flown from Dakar to Timbuktu. From Hong Kong I went straight to Sharjah where I remained until mid May. During this era and despite the exotic locations visited our greatest source of work and more importantly duty free goods came from the constant turnaround of Bloodhound air defence missiles. These were always being exchanged between the UK and Germany to ensure that the front line missiles were always fully serviceable. This operation required two trips every week of the year, and one could have been forgiven for suggesting that a better policy might have been to have sent the missile engineers over to Germany for two months a year instead. It must have been very comforting however for the British taxpayer to sleep in the knowledge that vast sums of money were being used to ensure that they were protected with unreliable missiles, whilst the continent got the good ones.
With many and often highly varied types of task undertaken the whole Squadron was kept very busy. Teams were often deployed away for two or three weeks at a time, and Friday nights became something of a weekly reunion with the teams all getting together to consume vast quantities of beer, and catch up on stories. Following beer calls on the Squadron the teams would invariably continue the happy gathering in the local NAAFI. One member of UKMAMS who was always popular in such situations was Flight Sergeant Taff Thomas, who became something of a legend on the piano. His musical ability was greatly appreciated by all, despite the strangely nullifying effect of twelve pints of bitter on one's artistic ability. UKMAMS were definitely flavour of the month at RAF Abingdon. It has always been an essential attribute in the nature of MAMS personnel to remain flexible, and not to expect anything.
In October of 1973, I deployed to Goa in India for a night stop and return the following day. The aim of the task was to deliver a Sea King helicopter, in a Belfast aircraft. The task duly complete, we took the ferry to Punaji where we were to stay the night. The following morning back at the Goa airstrip we were mildly amused to find that the Belfast was unable to start its auxiliary power unit (APU). The APU is a small turbine that is attached to the aircraft, and supplies electrical power rather like an alternator in a car. This power is then used to power a powerful fan that turns the main engines, thus starting them. The absence of the APU would normally be overcome by plugging in a ground power generator, thus providing the necessary electricity to start the engines. Against all the odds the Indian Navy were fresh out of the type of generator required to start a Belfast, which left one option, being the use of the aircraft batteries. The crew quickly drained the batteries attempting this and without the benefit of AA relay homestart decided to wait twenty-four hours for them to recharge. For the next three days we all commuted between Goa and Punaji to witness the daily spectacle of the crew repeating this process with the same inevitable battery draining result. Finally the white flag was raised, and after a further two days wait (for delivery) a power set duly arrived by Hercules. Also with the power set came the message to wait where we were as a second Belfast was arriving in two days time, with yet another Sea King on board. And so a one day trip quickly became an eight-day detachment without really trying.
The rest of my team at this time were also on the Indian sub continent just north of us. They had the hard and rather sad task of relocating refugees between Karachi in Pakistan, and Dacca in Bangladesh. The two team members involved were Bob Turner, and Hughie Curran, and between them they processed and flew 210,000 refugees between the two towns. Not surprisingly they were not back until December.
In November we were allocated the job of deploying 203 Sqn (Nimrods) to Australia. The first part of the task was to fly Rapier anti-aircraft missiles to Woomera, where it seemed they were to be used to hunt Dingo's and bouncing marsupials. On the way past we were to call in at Luqa (Malta) and collect the ground equipment required to support the Nimrods, then deliver the whole lot to the land down under. Various overnight stops had been planned to break up the journey, including Akrotiri, Gan, Singapore and Darwin. In Singapore we chanced upon Ben Johnson, Dinger Bell, and Gerry Phelan of Charlie team, who were flying Scorpion armoured cars to Indonesia as part of a sales drive for the British arms industry. This process is rather like a car boot sale in principle, and sales teams fly around potential customers until they have sold the lot or run out of money. It isn't uncommon on UKMAMS to bump into friends and colleagues in the most exotic and diverse of locations, the chances of which are greatly improved if you spend your down route evenings in the most exotic of establishments boozing. Once we finally reached Edinburgh Field Australia via Woomera, and had unloaded the Nimrod detachment we had three days off. The Nimrods were taking part in the Fincastle trophy competition, which is a sort of "Bisley" for anti-submarine aircraft, and whilst they got on with it we were invited by the locals to the Barossa wine valley. The Australians were marvellous hosts and made us welcome in their homes for our stay. When it was time to leave we were given a going away present of 8 Ikara missiles, 3 Sea Dart missiles, and a Jindivik pilotless aircraft (actually it was called a Jindivik pilotless aircraft but either description is accurate enough to suffice). Staging back through Singapore we selflessly kicked ourselves off the Belfast to make payload available for fuel, as the aircraft was too heavy to cross the Indian Ocean. We waited for the VC-IO and by coincidence bumped into Charlie team again who had left their aircraft for the same reason (obviously the Scorpions didn't sell well). This trip was to be the swan song for many of my original friends, as many were posted or leaving the Air Force. The ever-changing situation of losing friends and making new ones is one of the known and accepted hazards of service life but is hard not to feel sad when you lose so many friends at once.
The Friday beer call was obviously a poignant affair, during which I was for the second time in my career on MAMS called in to see the boss. After the first interview I was awarded a two months task in Northern Ireland as part of a hitherto untested behavioural correction technique, this time it was to be promoted. It was to my pecuniary disadvantage that news of my promotion was disclosed to the Squadron at the same time as it was disclosed (most confidentially) to me, inevitably a second barrel of beer was expected to be laid on to celebrate and equally inevitably I paid for it. Shortly after returning from Singapore, Charlie team were despatched to the South Pole, ferrying supplies to the British Antarctic survey team down there. The USAF were also operating in the area using C130 aircraft fitted with special skis for landing on ice. This modification is considered essential by the Americans, but was unavailable to the British. However despite not having the luxury of travelling in what appeared to be an airborne toboggan all team members managed to return in one piece.
During this period dark clouds and rumours had been gathering on the UKMAMS horizon, and to set our minds at rest the then Director of Movements came down to Abingdon. He opened his address requesting our views on a proposed move to RAF Lyneham. The unanimous feeling of the Squadron was volunteered as an emphatic note of disapproval. Somewhat taken aback by this less than enthusiastic response D Mov changed tactics and announced that the move to RAF Lyneham would not take place. One man booed the news, the rest cheered. Director of Movements had heard enough with one man showing
disappointment at not going to Lyneham, and the rest cheering his point of view it was obvious that the consensus was for a move. Wheels were duly set in motion. From this point on the Squadron started to lose personnel, as the administrators
reduced the manning levels to ease the rehousing burden that would inevitably follow. The move was set for January 1974, and the Christmas party was a huge affair. This was to be the last time that the squadron would be together in its original format, and for many this marked the end of an era. I was not to travel across with the rest of the Squadron, as I was to be away on a
As a newly promoted sergeant I moved my belongings into the mess at Lyneham, and on 10th Jan departed from Thorney Island in an Andover of 46 Sqn. The task was to support a detachment of Royal Engineers who were building bridges and roads in Southern Sudan as part of the UK overseas aid programme. What the good inhabitants of Sudan had ever done to warrant being inflicted with roads and bridges one can only guess at. It is thought that the British Government of the day were testing the feasibility of civil engineering as the ultimate deterrent. Should the threat of global Nuclear war fail to deter the uncharitable intent of an aggressive nation, then we would build a full scale replica M25 built around its capital. This would almost certainly result in the enemies capitulation. The journey to Khartoum was an epic in itself, calling at Istres, Naples, Souda Bay, Cyprus, Luxor, Port Sudan, and finally Khartoum. After a short period recovering from the weeklong journey we flew south to a dirt strip at a place called Wau. There we were met by the army representatives who had flown 60 miles by helicopter to the strip from their base at Tonj. The plan was for the Army to drive the sixty miles each day over the non-existent roads, collect the provisions brought in by the Air Force, and return with them to Tonj. Not surprisingly the Army personnel very quickly tired of this particular form of entertainment, as driving 120 miles across rough terrain is roughly equivalent to driving 10 miles on the M25 on a Monday morning.
As part of our never ending quest to provide the best possible service we did over fly Tonj to inspect the airstrip already there, with a view to landing. Whilst it was suitable for light aircraft, the way it had been built made it impossible for the Andover. We continued to use Wau for the next week bringing in fresh food and building materials, whilst flying out soldiers on five days "rest and recuperation" back to Khartoum. Eventually we received word that the Royal Engineers had in fact managed to construct an airstrip, suitable for our Andover at Tonj. From the air it seemed to fulfil the criteria required of an airstrip, although bulldozed elephant grass is not likely to be adopted by the British Airports Authority as a suitable replacement for Tarmac. The landing was a mite bumpy, but the real fun started as the pilot selected reverse thrust to slow the aircraft down. Several tons of dust and topsoil exposed by the bulldozer parted company with the ground and totally blacked out the sky. We then had to wait ten minutes for the sky to clear before we could venture outside. Although the aircraft was covered in two inches of dust the strip was usable, and from then on the airlift continued flying into "Tonj Heathrow" as it became known to separate it from "Tonj Gatwick" being the area that the Army Air Corps used as a light landing strip. Back in Khartoum I once again bumped into Dinger Bell, Syd Avery and the rest of Charlie team who were transiting through in a Belfast and had dropped off a consignment of timber for Tonj. The timber had fitted on the ramp of the Belfast, and yet took four Andover sorties to shift it to Tonj. In late February I was recalled to Lyneham having completed the task.
Lyneham was certainly a culture shock, and one that nineteen years later I am still getting over. My new team leader was a Flying Officer Jeremy Hidden whom I had first met in Aldergrove whilst on my punishment posting. We also had a new Corporal, Steve Broadhurst and an SAC, Lionel Earndon. One of my last original team members was shortly to leave the service and become Mr Gordon Gourdie. In such circumstances it is traditional to send persons so placed on a "swan song" trip where the work involved is heavily outweighed by the pecuniary and social advantages to be gained. All went well until we arrived in Calgary where we were unable to leave the aircraft owing to a freak blizzard. The next snag occurred when it was discovered that the aircraft had insufficient role equipment to collect the load (of two helicopters) waiting our arrival in Ottawa. Despite this we proceeded to Ottawa where we waited patiently for a few days until sufficient role equipment could be delivered, this time by a second aircraft put on solely for the purpose. In June I was sent to Switzerland carrying a sales team and Rapier equipment to Zurich, where it was hoped the Swiss would buy it. It was a good trip made all the more unusual by the Swiss insisting that no uniform was to be worn on their soil. And so with only a three-piece suit, a dinner jacket and a leaflet entitled "Congratulations on purchasing the new Rapier air defence system" neutrality was maintained.
The move to Lyneham had amalgamated the resident air movements squadron with the original (Abingdon) United Kingdom Mobile Air Movements Squadron to form the all new UKMAMS, still a squadron in name, but now with Wing status insomuch as it had a Wing Commander as the boss. The policy of the day in UKMAMS encompassed the theory that it would be a good idea for all mobile teams to do four months working on the Shift. Virtually everybody was right behind this idea except that is for the mobile teams (who were reluctant to give up the globe trotting lifestyle that they had volunteered for) and the shifts who were equally content to work in their more settled atmosphere, and resented a new officer and set of senior NCOs three times a year trying to muscle in on the running of their airport. Despite universal rejection of this new policy, it soon became my team's turn to do our four month sabbatical on shift, but first we had a four-day task. The task was also to be the swan song for Corporal Jim Marchant, and Junior Technician (the last technical tradesman to be a mover) Ted Moore. The job entailed flying to Calgary, dropping a load, then on to New Hampshire to collect a consignment of missiles. On the way the Belfast lost two engines (one could be considered unlucky - two is down right careless) and was unable to make Calgary, diverting instead to Duluth, Minnesota. It took eight days to receive the new engines and a team to replace them, and it wasn't until day thirteen that we finally got back to Lyneham.
Being stuck in overseas locations is not without its compensations. RAF personnel abroad are invariably accommodated in 4 star or better hotels, and receive a not ungenerous allowance with which to buy meals. The Ministry of Defence seems to harbour the notion that its employees could be corrupted by any standards less than luxurious. In order that we are not to be embarrassed by or seen to associate with the low life of another country the MoD ensure that there is no financial reason for its representatives to eat at any establishment below the standard of the hotel in which they stay. This normally sets the Government back approximately the price of thirty pints of beer per man per day. Boys of course will be boys and MAMS teams will regularly fill themselves with cheap bulk-out food from the most lugubrious of emporiums, in order that they may spend the balance on beer, or other of life’s little necessities.
All good things come to an end and in the twilight of June we took over the reins of D shift. Nothing ever happens on shift. but on completing four-twelve hour stints you do get four days off, and so we settled down to a quiet four months of long weekends and British beer. This worked for a full two weeks when the Turkish Army invaded Cyprus and all hell broke loose at Lyneham. The mobile teams were all called in and the shifts were doubled up to cope with the inevitable increase in workload. It was now twelve-on and twelve-off for the foreseeable future and no weekends. Within no time at all every conceivable piece of military hardware was turning up at RAF Lyneham, for on-move to Cyprus. Red Cross and welfare goods were also pouring in and were being flown out on a fill up basis. By day two the Hercules were returning to Lyneham filled with refugees and tourists of every nationality a lot wearing just the clothes that they left the beach in. Lyneham was the reception centre for all of the people fleeing the fighting, and most sections had a hand in processing them through. UKMAMS had one of the most major roles in both the despatch of the refugees from Cyprus and their arrival and reception in the UK. The work continued unabated for four weeks with no member of the squadron on leave, and each getting very little rest. The long cycle of work-eat-sleep-work again had a very beneficial effect on morale, and the whole squadron was for the first time since its amalgamation able to work together and appreciate its other half.
In October following the "rest" on shift, my team returned to the mobile duties we so missed. We had gained a new Flight Sergeant, Terry Hoy, and a new SAC, Alan Webb. Just to break us back in to the mobile role again we were detached to RAF Wittering to assist in the deployment of its resident squadrons. In this exercise the speed of the deployment was being evaluated to see how good we were, and the aircraft flow pattern was particularly fierce. We worked solidly without a break for thirty six hours, the only light moment coming when Corporal Steve Broadhurst fell though the roof of one of the Wittering engineering flights' buildings while fixing our base set radio aerial to the corrugated asbestos (we found out asbestos was dangerous even then). Our next trip was completely the opposite. We were sent to Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral in Florida to bring back the test equipment from our Skynet 4B satellite that NASA were putting into orbit for the British Government. We arrived before the scheduled launch date knowing that we would be unable to collect the load until after the launch. It was of course with great disappointment that we received the news that the launch was delayed, and consoled ourselves in Disneyworld and the local Florida countryside for four days. We were eventually privileged to witness the launch close up from Cape Canaveral before loading the two Belfast's and coming home.
The next task took us to Calgary on a three-day task that once again fell foul of technical snags that saw us grounded for two weeks there. During this fourteen day sojourn we were able to visit Vancouver, the Rockies, Victoria, and I even managed to fit in a four-day visit to my relatives. Such are the rigours of mobile duties. It was great to be back.
I got back to RAF Lyneham on 19th December just in time to get in some Christmas leave (time spent stuck down route is strictly work), noticing as I left that my first task in the New Year was to be to Perth in Western Australia - it's a tough life. The journey out to Australia was anything but easy. Our first outbound night stop in Cyprus coincided with a Sergeant's Mess night at RAF Akrotiri. Mess members will be aware that messes are intended to be non-profit making organisations, very much like British Steel. However as a loss would be even more unwelcome mess managers tend to err on the side of caution, and aim for a small profit Inevitably over a period of time this small profit begins to mount up, and mess members must decide on novel ways to restore the status-quo. As is often the case in a democracy novel ways of losing the profit tend to attract less votes than the simple expedient of drinking it, and it was to a night of this purpose that we found ourselves exposed. On arrival at Singapore we were invited to a night of liquid recreation at HMS Terror, as a thank you for delivering a parcel to one of the staff. Perth was a nice trip, and on the way back our team brought a full churn of milk for Hughie Curran who had been on UKMAMS shortly before, and was now resident in Tengah, and anxious to get stuck into his war reserve cornflakes. After another night that was to benefit world beer sales more than our livers, we left on a VCI0 for UK, vowing to never drink or visit Singapore ever again.
On arrival back at Lyneham I was immediately informed that I was posted from UKMAMS to Singapore. It was of course my turn for a swan song. The purpose of my testimonial task was to deliver pallets of ammunition by Belfast to Belize via Lajes and Bermuda. Accompanying me on the trip were Flt Lt Chaz Collier, F/Sgt Baz Shatford (being promoted to warrant officer and therefore off mobile duties) and corporals Keith Simmonds, Geoff Simpson and Lionel Earndon. The trip was doomed from the start. The crew arrived for the flight in their arctic kit whilst we were quite brilliantly clad only in our tropical uniforms. Unfortunately we had not been appraised of the fact that we were now following a revised itinerary and stopping over in Iceland for the night. Climatologists will support the observation that during February Iceland is not particularly noted for its warm sunny days and hot subtropical climate. I can now from particularly bitter experience concur this fact.
After one night in Keflavik we set off for the Newfoundland territory of Gander just a refuelling stop this time. It was minus seventeen in Gander and we were glad to get airborne again. Having just got warm the aircraft captain announced that we would have to return to Gander as the aircraft had developed a fault. It transpired that the wheels were not retracting as per the manufacturers recommendation and after "blowing them down" we once again landed in frozen wastes. This time we were in bloody freezing Gander in our tropical kit for two days, while we waited until a second Belfast could be sent to us to continue the task. The Air Canada staff at Gander took sympathy with us and whilst we changed the load from the unserviceable to new frame, they lent us Parkas and gloves, and followed that with a liberal rum ration. We finally arrived in Bermuda three days late but had a tremendous time owing to the fact that the resident movements SNCO was a chap called Arthur Taylor who was well known to Baz and made sure that we were all very well looked after. Following a final job in Northern Ireland, I departed for Singapore to be told that we would be pulling out a year later. My colleagues in Singapore Flt Sgt Norman Maxwell, Sgts Al Roper, Terry Titterington, Joe Faulkner, Al .'Speedy" Soane, Derek Burrows, and George Lynes were all to do a tour on UKMAMS on return to UK. It was easy to keep in touch with UKMAMS as teams were frequently staging through, and we would meet them and catch up on the gossip.
To explain the link that ex MAMS feel with the squadron it should be considered that UKMAMS is very much the hub of the movements world. It is numerically by far the greatest employer of movers in the RAF, which makes it highly likely that a mover will continue to return to UKMAMS after tours away. It is therefore not surprising that UKMAMS is often considered as the parent organisation, and that tours away are regarded as elongated detachments. This situation is probably unique in the whole of the Royal Air Force. In February 1976 I was returned to UKMAMS as we (UK) began to pull out of Singapore, I was even lucky enough to be posted on to Echo team again. Before I could join my team I had to spend a months quarantine on shift, and so it wasn't until April that I went on my first task. With a new boss Flt Lt Dick Finch, and a Sgt Jack Douglas serving out his last tour in the Air Force, we set off to recover what appeared to be the Harrier force and most of RAF Wittering from Belize. The recovery was to last three weeks, when last out as always we also returned. In June I found myself as part of a team that was cobbled together to try and fit a Puma into a Hercules without occasioning damage to either. This trial was done at Odiham, and we later discovered that it was necessary because the Labour Government of the day had decided to sell the Belfast to a firm called Heavy Lift in order to save money (since then the RAF has hired them back from the company that brought them at many times the original selling price)... jolly well done!
It was in July that I did my last task with the Belfast aircraft. We were required to run three shuttles from Sardinia to Wildenrath (Germany) carrying members of the Royal Engineers to carry out runway repairs. Along with their hand baggage they had a hard-core gravel grader, a Blaw Knox tarmac layer, and a twenty-five ton steamroller. Whilst in Sardinia we once again were looked after by two ex-MAMS, Jim Marchant and Syd Avery. Arriving back in UK we found out that having just recently nearly cleared Belize of the Harrier force we were to a large extent to return them all again in order that they might intimidate the Guatemalans. On top of this we were flying out a daily schedule of supplies. To cope with the extra workload, UKMAMS was tasked to provide a detachment to remain in theatre to assist the local movers. In early August myself and Dinger Bell were detached with a new officer Flt Lt Chris Hicks. Chris following that old doctrine that power is knowledge and knowledge is power used to hoard information. It got to such a state that one day to avoid delaying an aircraft we were forced to break into his nav bag "with extreme prejudice" to acquire the information we desperately required. Thereafter the flow of information became much easier, partly due to the fact that he was no longer able to close his bag. Belize certainly wasn't blessed with the luxury that UKMAMS like to try and get used to. Our office was a tent, and the "hotel" was a corrugated iron hut. This of course was particularly welcome as in Belize corrugated iron is not easy to come by, and when bent into a graceful arc approaching the: shape of a hut looks both inviting and comfortable. The day before we were due to rotate with the next batch from Lyneham we were treated to a tour of the military sites of Belize. This was put on courtesy of the resident Puma detachment who were flying supplies to the outlying army units.
As we flew out of Belize to go home the next day, the crew who had entertained us on the daily Puma resupply run the previous day took off on what was to be their final sortie. Sadly their helicopter crashed into the jungle killing everyone on board. By the time we got back to Lyneham UKMAMS had a new ommanding Officer, Wg Cdr David Gamble. More importantly my wife was about to give birth to our first child and so I volunteered for a spell in load control. This would mean working on base regular hours, and leave nights and weekends free to help around the house. I was working with Flt It Dick Finch, and Cpl Ian Williams and for the next two months everything was reasonably quiet. Things changed Rapidly when a severe earthquake hit Northern Turkey in early December. Within a short space of time the government had initiated an airlift of relief supplies that was to continue for the whole of the month, and by the end of the effort virtually every member of the Squadron both base and mobile had flown at least one mission into the stricken area.
After this brief spell of frenetic activity things settled down to routine once again, until in May 1977 a general strike was called in Northern Ireland. Once again the Government called in a relief operation aimed at maintaining stability in the province. Over 80 sorties were flown over the next few days, lifting in food as well as military assets. In June I was reattached to mobile again when a call was made to send a Puma from Odiham to Belize, and I was the only man available who had "done one" before. There are times when being a mover makes one prey to all sorts of strange requests. One of these came when I was called to see the Station Commander who wished to ascertain that his boat was air-portable. After measuring the damn thing I was able to inform him that it was, although it would need the use of special ramps (previously locally made in order to ensure airportabilily of the Air Officer Commanding's caravan) in order to load it. This mental exercise was put to the test when two days later an aircrew training flight was put on to Kinloss in Scotland complete with the CO's boat! In September I was awarded a no-notice posting to RAF Akrotiri, and in the traditions of the squadron I was given a final trip to Egypt going via Akrotiri which of course proved useful for prepositioning some of my personal effects. Accompanying me on the trip was Cpl Hughie Curran and SAC Chris Dalton. My time in Cyprus was to pass quite quickly. As Christmas 1977 approached it seemed that I would not be spending it with my family who were unable to join me in Cyprus as the RAF had recently and graciously given sixty percent of their married quarters over to the army creating a huge waiting list.
It was the military gift for chaos that was to change all this. Shortly before Christmas, among much publicity and ceremony, I was sent on a task to accompany the last Hercules flight into Salalah in the Oman. No sooner had this milestone flight in aviation history landed did it become evident that it would not be taking off again and I was stranded due to an unserviceabilily. This generated the need for a second last flight into Salalah to bring spares to recover the first last flight. This duly occurred and having become serviceable again the "last flight" into Salalah got airborne once again. The return journey was not to go at all smoothly. On the way back we managed to miss Cyprus altogether and landed at Athens instead. By this time it was getting late, and following a night stop we departed Athens the next morning, and having still not managed to find Cyprus gave up and returned to Lyneham. It was not too upsetting as I was unable to get back to Cyprus until after Christmas. Even while I was keeping the world safe for democracy in Cyprus I still got involved in MAMS tasks. The first of these came about after an Egyptian Air force C130 had been largely destroyed during an abortive Egyptian military attempt to rescue hostages held by terrorists at Lanarca Airport in a hijacked Egyptian airliner. Using a British C130 we ran a shuttle service ferrying the salvaged remains back to Cairo on behalf of the Egyptians who were understandably fed up with the whole affair. Later I was also used to help a MAMS team pick up a Whirlwind helicopter from RAF Finningley, and take it back to RAF Akrotiri with me.
At the start of 1979 world events saw the Islamic revolution in Iran (Persia) well under-way and approaching its bloody climax. As a result of this in February a MAMS team was positioned in Akrotiri, and another in Bahrain. Their task was to prepare to pull out ex patriot Britons, and RAF equipment still in the country (we used to enjoy a little military latitude with the Shah). Throughout February several sorties were flown into Iran, rescuing both people and military stores from the destruction of the revolution.
1979 was destined to be politically interesting, and during July of that year UKMAMS were kept busy ferrying relief supplies into Nicaragua to help with their civil war (civil wars are notoriously hard to keep going sometimes). It was during this relief effort that a hijack attempt was made on a British Hercules. It was probably fortunate for the crew that the MAMS team on board boasted a Cpl named Gus Cobb. Built like the proverbial outside non-wooden latrine Gus was without breaking into a sweat able to bodily hurl the armed hijackers from the aircraft and prevent their reboarding with a few well-placed kicks. During this melee the aircraft captain initiated take off with the back door and ramp still open, scattering would be hijackers along the runway as they went. For their joint efforts the whole crew were honoured by the RAF Escaping Society who awarded them their coveted badge at the end of the year.
In December the handover of power in Rhodesia gave rise to operation Agila, another heavy involvement for UKMAMS. Good news was in the offing and at the end of the year I was notified that I was to be posted back to UKMAMS and simultaneously promoted to Flt Sgt The following May I was once again posted back to Lyneham, and after a months leave joined my new team this time Foxtrot The team consisted of Flt Lt Pete King, Sgt Trev Edwards, Cpl John Purkis, and SAC Keith Jevons. My first task was geographically varied, and took me to Germany, Italy, Norway and the Western Isles of Scotland and all on one trip. The exact nature of the task still cannot be revealed, but suffice to say it was Government work of national importance. In September the huge NATO training exercise "Crusader 80" started, and teams were deployed to all the major British civil airports to send the flower of the Nation's manhood to the continent. The perception of the exercise's value changed depending on who you spoke to. Politicians and the more ambitious senior officers saw it as a valuable contribution to the defence of Europe. Not so ambitious officers regarded the whole exercise as an imposition, forcing them to "dust off' plans that had been conceived ages before when pike drill was the in thing, and which would have been considered brilliant had they stood the ghost of a chance of working. Civil airlines praised the strategic foresight of the planners, basked in their opportunity to do their bit for the country, and coincidentally managed to make a huge profit at the same time. UKMAMS participants saw it as a chance to cast covetous glances up the skirts of air stewardesses as they directed soldiers up the aircraft steps, whilst the soldiers themselves saw the whole scenario purely as an ideal chance to obtain one litre of spirits, and two hundred cigarettes at concessionary rates.
At the end of this highly expensive wargame, the British Government feeling a little overdrawn at the chancellery called a moratorium on fuel. No fuel meant no flying, which in turn meant no work for the UKMAMS teams. To prevent us becoming bored we were all sent up to Grantown on Spey to indulge in what was termed a "Fitness for Survival" course. The rationale behind this rather peculiar form of entertainment seemed to be that if you could climb rocks and canoe, you would be less susceptible to the effects of war. In practical terms this meant that with the current state of the nuclear overkill employed by the superpowers you would stand a better chance. In the event of global nuclear holocaust with the Grantown course behind you, instead of being killed twenty three times over you were now likely to cop it only nine or ten times. This of course was a great source of comfort to all concerned. The course involved lots of hiking up incredibly steep hills both by day and night. Rock climbing was also on the agenda as was rushing down extremely cold streams in flimsy fibreglass constructions. We were also told that at some stage of the proceedings that we were to stay out over night. This was probably less of a hardship than the staff realized as most of us had been doing this albeit against our parents wishes since we were sixteen. Surprisingly we all had a most enjoyable time thanks mainly to the spirit and character of the teams taking part. The staff were also extremely surprised that the team members worked so well together and for each other, not at first realising that the team spirit of UKMAMS was forged over a long period of time in a whole variety of situations and conflicts.
At the end of the month it was back to normal when I was tasked to support Exercise Red Flag in the Nevada dessert. The nearest and only town was of course Las Vegas where we were accommodated. During our stay I awakened one morning to the sight of fire engines and helicopters assisting the rescue of people from the hotel opposite. It was the MGM Grand hotel, and during the night it had caught fire. As a result eighty-four people lost their lives. The fire was still raging when we left later on in the day.
From Las Vegas we went on to Louisiana to recover a detachment of Vulcan bombers from what was to be their last participation in the exercise "Giant Voice". Already there with the Vulcans was another half team consisting of Fit Lt Al Ovens, Sgt Curran and Cpl Stu Whitton.
At the beginning of 1981, I was detached to Norway as the RAF Liaison Officer for exercise Hardfall. I was to be stationed in Voss which was designated as the exercise headquarters. Not only was I expected to ensure that some semblance of dignity was maintained amongst the Royal Corps of Transport detachment there, but I was also expected to travel the sixty miles to Bergen whenever one of our aircraft landed. in order to offload it. To assist me in these endeavours, were an enthusiastic group of RCT "movers" who I am sure were all excellent truck drivers, and probably highly accomplished at filling four ton trucks with all sorts of military objects. Sadly they were mis-employed and out of their depth working on aircraft and after one or two fraught incidents, our controlling authority finally relented and in the interests of humanity started sending out a half MAMS team on each aircraft. Since then the Hardfall detachment has been increased to a full MAMS team who remain in theatre for the duration of the exercise.
After the exercise in late March I recovered back to Lyneham with six stitches in my ear, the result of an unfortunate accident. On the same flight was a colleague Flt Sgt Ian Thompson who bore six stitches in his head. Despite rumours of an inter movements grudge match, I can confirm my wound as the result of a shortcut (a very appropriate name as it turned out) down a snow covered slope rather than use the road. Alternatively Ian Thompson's wound was a salutary lesson on why it is inadvisable to load vehicles onto aircraft with your head. Back at Lyneham two new members had joined the team, Sgt 'General' George Elliot and SAC Jim Rice (often confused with the lyricist Tim Rice, especially by hard up close relatives hoping for a handout). In April I went with Jim on a very pleasant trip to Sicily stopping in Palermo and Sigonella. After this we started practising for the coming seasons 'Tac Demos' (short for tactical demonstrations). These are done at air shows and are designed to impress the public with how fast a Hercules can be unloaded, and how much can emerge from it. Previously this had been the domain of the 47 Air Despatch Squadron RCT who were never terribly efficient at it. They were however natural showmen, (although discretion forbids me from suggesting that this is the result of already belonging to a circus) and the crowds seemed to love them.
UKMAMS would never have regained the upper hand in tactical offloads (for real as well as shows) had it not been for the tenacity and vision of the previous Squadron OC, Wing Commander Swaithes, who insisted quite rightly and most vociferously that these were the domain of UKMAMS. The first month of Tac Demos were held at Staverton, and we shared the aircraft with the RAF parachute display team the Falcons. First the Falcons would leap out at height and once on the ground the Hercules would land and we would go into our routine. This would involve some very dodgy flying as the crowds oohed and aahed at the aircraft as it twisted and turned at very low altitudes. Next would come a very short landing, a Scorpion armoured car would emerge, and the aircraft would once again get airborne, leaving the Scorpion to drive about the airfield letting off smoke grenades and thunder-flashes to impress the crowds and cover the sight and sound of the Scorpion driver retching uncontrollably into an RAF issue sick bag.
In July I was sent on a Helicopter Handling Instructors course at the Joint Air Transport Establishment. This turned out to be a precursor to a few weeks in Odiham load trialing the newly arrived Chinook helicopters. This came as a surprise as military efficiency normally only conspires to send personnel on helicopter courses if they are about to do a tour at a sea port and work exclusively on boats. Following this introduction to the helicopter world I went on a few trips to Canada, and Texas before being allocated to Operation Filibuster. A departure from the normal run of the mill 'States' trips operation Filibuster (who thinks of these names?) was to be held in Scotland. For ten days I resided at RAF Leuchars, commuting to the Gleneagles Hotel to receive delegates attending the annual meeting of the Nuclear Committee. The delegates arrived in a whole variety of aircraft, and depending on their status they were then flown in a civilian or US Army helicopter on to Gleneagles. The really unimportant delegates were taken to the hotel by car or failing that the RAF station's clapped out Mini Metro. Following a five day conference the whole process was reversed, and the delegates all departed the way they had come. Twenty MAMS were involved in all, including Flight Sergeants Dave Wright, and Ian Thompson, Sergeants Faddy Newlands, Ray Noble and Pete Johnson, plus a desperate bunch of individuals with Paddy Power, Tim Pyne, and Chris Thistle.
The next two months were spent commuting between the Middle East and Canada, and then in early December I got the call to attend a meeting at Manston. I had absolutely no idea what the meeting was about, and nobody who sent me seemed to know either. It soon became clear that the Syrians had purchased from British industry several Giant Viper launchers. These delectable pieces of highly ornamental military hardware are used to fire a rocket trailing an explosive filled hose pipe. For what obscure purpose these were designed remains a mystery, but from blast cleaning your car on a Sunday morning during a hose pipe ban, they have also seen some success at blowing pathways through mine fields. However having bought these items the Syrians were anxious to take delivery before they became obsolete. To do this two Soviet built Ilyushin 11- 76 (code name Candid) aircraft were to be flown into Manston to collect them. The IL-76 had previously not set foot outside of the Iron Curtain, NATO intelligence on the beast was a little thin; the arrival of this aircraft was too good an intelligence opportunity to miss. Without wishing to compromise the Official Secret's Act and jeopardize my pension, the meeting at Manston saw the hatching of a plot that was to ensure that everyone with a vested interest in looking at the IL-76 would be suitably accommodated. One week later I went with Flt It Ian Russell's team to load the aircraft. The task was successful and to this day a soviet chain tensioner hangs on the wall of the UKMAMS crew room.
Following yet another trip to Las Vegas at the beginning of 1982 I was deployed to a backwater called RAF Sculthorpe. This base was at the time operated by the USAF, and my presence there was required for participation in Exercise Green Lanyard. The plot of this exercise was based on a hostile evacuation scenario and involved the capture of RAF Watton and its subsequent use as a forward airhead to rescue British nationals (incidentally quite plentiful in Watton). From the airhead the nationals would then be returned to safety. The exercise was extremely busy for MAMS as 14 Hercules were used making it the biggest Air Transport detachment since the Berlin Airlift. The exercise comprised tactical landings, and the rapid offload of troops and hardware in order to seize and secure the airhead. Inevitably this involved a lot of movements activity. UKMAMS were deployed to the front line with the very first aircraft in to unload the attacking force. During the evacuation phase the movers were busy loading the 'refugees' to the airframes. Once the mission was complete the recovery of the holding force started, with the UKMAMS team leaving on the last aircraft out. Significantly this exercise became the forerunner of the 5 airmobile brigade concept of operations, its success depending in no small part to the skill and speed of the MAMS teams involved. By another twist of fate the units that took part in this exercise were to all fight alongside each other two months later in the Falkland Islands.
I was on leave to attend the funeral of my Grandmother on the first of April when I heard that the Argentineans had invaded the Falkland Islands. I rang UKMAMS operations at Lyneham and was told to report back as soon as was expedient. The funeral was on 2nd April and at the same time three UKMAMS teams led by Flt Lt Jimmy Stewart were aboard the first Hercules and headed for Ascension Island. The workload was to be enormous from the outset. In a very short time the British had assembled a task force that quickly departed for the South Atlantic. Having left in something of a hurry, anything that the task force were unable to sail with was flown to Ascension to be collected as they staged through. I was detached to reinforce the resident movements set up at RAF Gibraltar as all the Hercules were staging through there to refuel before heading for Dakar and Ascension. This use of frequent refuelling stops was planned in order to maximise the payload that could be carried by each aircraft. A lot of the freight coming through was for the Navy as the dockyards there were busy converting the SS Uganda into a hospital ship, and refurbishing several other warships assigned to South Atlantic duties. It was clear that everyone was putting in enormous amounts of overtime, yet the spirit was good and morale high. It seems that people are able to step up a gear in times of strife.
At Ascension the incoming loads were broken down by the three MAMS teams positioned there, and flown by helicopter to the ship to which they were allocated. Once the task force had sailed from Ascension the task became even more urgent as the supplies needed to be airlifted to the ships before they sailed out of helicopter range. To achieve this whole pallets of freight were netted for carriage slung under a helicopter. The Navy were undoubtedly grateful for this swift service, so much so that having removed their freight from the air cargo pallets, they promptly tipped the pallets over the side. This typically Naval answer to a space problem was later to lead to a great shortage of pallet equipment. My team were gathered together and warned that we were next on the list for deployment to Ascension, but until then we were obliged to carry on with our normal tasking. I was in Calgary when the Belgrano went down, and in Gutersloh when the Sheffield was hit. On May l3th we were briefed to fly to the United States Air Force base at Pope.
We flew by VClO to collect the biggest load of ammunition I have ever loaded to an aircraft. My team consisted of all corporals: Dinger Bell, Paddy Power, Steve Williams, Hammy Thompson, and Smudge Smith. At Pope we collected twenty tons of ammunition, and then flew to Washington to collect just over a ton of Chaff. To get the whole consignment to fit the aircraft, we had to remove some of the packaging, and fill the baggage compartments. On May l8th I was finally called to Ascension with a scratch team comprising Sgt Derek Barron, Cpl Dinger Bell, SAC Paul Newman, and Dave Brown. We arrived on the island early in the morning yet it was still swelteringly hot. We were allocated a tent which made a refreshing change from the various International Hiltons that we normally occupied on our more mundane jobs. The food in the camp was superb even by Hilton standards and was provided by the Mobile Catering Support Unit from RAF Hullavington. The UKMAMS representation was kept to 22, as the island's water supply could only support so many people, and 22 was our quota. We quickly fell into a routine as only habitual itinerants like UKMAMS can, and while the workload was heavy the biggest problem was overcoming the sunburn.
On 2lst May two VClOs appeared to recover the survivors of the Sheffield and as a 'nice gesture' some well meaning organisation in UK sent out to Ascension a punnet of strawberries and cream for each of the sailors. Unloading these flimsy articles was no easy task bearing in mind the delicate nature of the contents. These were transferred to the galleys in the VClOs under the watchful gaze of some quite senior officers. It seems strange that we can be trusted to move from the most valuable of consignments (like Tutankahmun's treasure), to the most sensitive (like nuclear warheads), and receive no outside interference. Yet faced with seventy pounds of strawberries our ability and integrity seems so doubtful that we require to be overseen by persons who wouldn't have the first idea how to do our job anyway.
Ascension became almost a floating resupply dump. The freight arriving was either to support the detachments on the island or was destined for the task force. The latter was stacked alongside the aircraft handling area, and when a south bound ship got within range of the island the transfer of stores could begin. First the long range Chinook would commence flying stores across, followed by the resident search and rescue Sea King. As the distance decreased finally the Royal Navy's two Wessex helicopters would join in. This process would be reversed as the ship passed the island and sailed away. All helicopter loads were prepared and loaded by an ex UKMAMS team leader Flt Lt Neil Cromarty who for an outstanding personal contribution was awarded the Gill Sword in recognition. In mid May a new team appeared on Ascension to relieve Gordon Gray's team. Ian Thompson led the team with Cpl Nigel Robinson and SACs Pete Jones and Sully Sullivan. They arrived with a full set of combat equipment and had obviously been south, although where they were will remain a mystery. However they all received the Falklands medal with rosette. During the time spent on Ascension, many significant events occurred, which whilst not all gratifying were nevertheless interesting. We took delivery of and then helped arm the Vulcan bomber with the l000 lb bombs used to attack Port Stanley (although the result of the sortie would never be classed as an outstanding military success).
A MAMS team went and collected a consignment of Shrike missiles, which were used to attack Argentinean radar sites. Again we helped fit them to the aircraft which in the event unfortunately failed to release one of its missiles. To compound matters the aircraft then somewhat carelessly broke its refuelling probe attempting to refuel, and now short on "gas" had to divert into Montevideo. So as not to alarm the Uruguay government (who were anxious not to get too politically involved with the war) it was designated a self-defence sidewinder. We saw through the first Nimrods equipped with sidewinder. We also felt some of the political heat when a Red Cross marked VClO landed in Montevideo and some missile test equipment was found among the medical supplies very naughty. The survivors of the Sir Galahad came through on a VClO, and made a quite sad and horrifying sight Throughout my time we were working with a detachment of troops from a unit whose name I "cannot" recall. We developed an excellent working relationship, and the movers on the island were terribly impressed with the way these soldiers would pitch in and help with the business of turning aircraft round even when they had no direct interest in it.
At the start of June many of the team personnel were once again rotating (or was it revolting it is hard to recall after all this time). Flt Sgt Charlie Grant's team were off for a well earned rest, having worked themselves to a virtual standstill. Charlie himself stayed with his team despite developing and aggravating several ailments. His condition was quite serious but he covered it well, but in the end he was hospitalised for the last two weeks of his tour. Despite this he still managed to return home with his team. Sadly, shortly after his return to the UK, Charlie collapsed and died.
Twenty four hours after the ceasefire was announced we were to load the first long range Hercules into Port Stanley, with of course the first MAMS team the first of many. My team and I returned to UK on June 28th and in recognition of our extended period of hard work we were given the weekend off. This was followed by the resumption of the normal routine: Florida, Dakar, Crete, The Bahamas, and Oman all received my personal attention for varying periods. Then in October it all stopped, when I was posted. This time there would be no escape as I was despatched to the RAF Movements School at RAF Brize Norton.