After "square bashing" that I did my basic trade training at RAF Kirton in Lindsey in Lincolnshire, before being then posted to RAF Cosford, Staffs as permanent staff. After about a year at Cosford I was sent on an Air Movements course at RAF Abingdon in Oxfordshire, and soon after my return to Cosford I heard I was posted to RAF Khormaksar in Aden. This memoir is mostly about my time in Aden, and about my many sorties up country, along the Southern Arabian coastline, into Africa and elswhere.
The usual routine was that two or three of us, from the MAMS detachment, would go out on just about every air transport operation, or exercise that took place in that theatre of operations. i.e. all those sorties that involved the movement by air of troops, supplies, equipment, machines, arms, munitions and casualties, to anywhere and everywhere in the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa. Mostly on Beverleys, but occasionally on Argosies too, if the airstrip would take them.
About two thirds of our trips were up-county into the hinterland north and west of Aden, and along the Yemen border (from where the enemy were based) and the rest in the Gulf, Africa or along the Riyan, Salalah, Masirah route stations. 84 and 30 Squadrons were the Bevs, and 105 squadron (I think) the Argosies, known as "flying Pigs".
The MAMS role was always to go with the aircraft to ensure that it was loaded and unloaded, effectively and safely - i.e. with loads distributed safe to fly, and restrained against the right G factors, with any hazardous cargo properly secured or protected, so as not to shift in flight, and the entire cargo payload also positioned in the right place for rapid unloading, or a very quick turn round, often in hostile or primitive landing conditions. All whilst the Air Quartermasters (do they still have them?) served and made tea for the flying aircrew (joke, if any ex-AQMs read this!).
The great thing about the Bevs was their combination of payload, reliability, and ability to use the reverse pitch on their propellers to get down on relatively short runways.
I recall our teams had two quite long detachments to Embakasi (in Kenya) and in Ndola and Lusaka, in Zambia. This was whilst the oil-lift, following Rhodesia’s declaration of UDI, was ongoing. We were turning round Argosies, Britannias, C130s, assorted other aircraft (Like a Carvair, and others I now forget), all laden with either 45 gallon steel drums, or huge rubber drums of oil that had come overland to Nairobi from Dar-es-Salaam.
My usual ‘oppo’ on all these trips was Barry ‘Geordie’ Fisher, an ex-boy entrant to the RAF. Barry and I were never really close friends around the billets and at MAMS HQ, (I was a bit of loner anyway) - but we shared a lot of experiences together and came to rely on and trust each other on the job - and I think we worked well as a team. Other rankers on the teams were Rod Packman and Alan Howe, with both of whom I shared a room, a scotsman called Gordon Gourdie and Andy or Trevor Williams but my memory is getting a bit rusty for names and details that far back, it was over thirty years ago. I remember well a corporal John Morland, a very strong and assertive character with whom we flew on lots of trips. Sadly, l learned recently that John died last year at his home in Cyprus.
Each MAMS team also had two SNCOs, and a junior officer in charge, and on anything more than a ‘milk-run’ trip one at least one junior NCO would go also with us. The Senior NCOs, were no doubt also involved in planning and admin functions that we erks knew nothing about, and at least one of them would also come with us on anything out of the ordinary. But for the bread and butter milk-runs (such up country re-supplies, or FRA troop movements) it was usually just two of us, and a corporal at most, getting up in the very early hours for a pre-dawn take-off, and back before the heat got too much and affected the flying.
Other team member names I recall were: F/O Nigel Sanders (above) P/O Paul Stamp, and F/O Jock Drysdale, (all of whom who tended only to turn out only on the longer or more interesting trips!) and the O/ic. was a Flight Lieutenant known as ‘Black Mac’. One of the two Sergeants was Tony Lamb, the other was John Matthews. The two flight sergeants, I remember best were Paddy Guerrin and Chiefy Pollock. I think a later replacement for one of them was a Flt Sergeant Belcher. All of the above knew me then not as Chris or Christopher but as "Ned" Nethercoat or just "Neddy". I remember particularly that FS Pollock taught us the words of the songs ‘The West Claire Railway’ and the "Wild Rover’, which we would often belt after a few Tiger beers. My two special mates at Khormaksar (not on MAMS), were Corporal Dick Lynn (who I knew from my days at RAF Cosford) a big chap, whose hobby was football refereeing, and an SAC John Cosgrove.
I think the most satisfying thing for all of us, is that, after a short while, even though every task was a bit different, nobody ever had to tell us what to do. We knew from experience what needed to be done and how - and even though as lowly airmen and not much more than boys in years - we each became confident enough to organise ourselves and when away from station to manage teams of locals to do the back-breaking work - and those flight crews that knew us did not interfere. In Zambia, for example, there were some occasions when things were so busy, that I single-handedly marshalled in some of the arriving aircraft, managed the entire unloading of the oil, and back-loading of the empties, with only the help of a score of native labourers. Whilst another airman or corporal, would be doing the same elsewhere on the pan. On the oil-lift we took a competitive pride in turn-around times, including refuelling, that could sometimes be a quick twenty-five minutes. Although just lowly airmen we usually knew what to do without any supurvision, and in fact the further away from home station you got the less emphasis there was on rank or status, and the more there was on what you knew and were capable of doing.
Our teams regularly went to a lot of interesting and exciting places including scores of sorties and detachments up-country, to Wadhi Behan, Mukalla, Muqueiras, Dhala etc, that became almost everyday trips. 90% of the trip on Bevs - Dhala in particular was a very tricky place to get into with sheer, steep cliffs at the end of the runway - and only the Bevs with their reverse pitch thrust could do it. Very occasionally, we were turned back from a flight up country because the pilot got a radio report that there were armed ‘dizzies’ awaiting us in the hills. The intelligence came from SAS and ‘political officers’ who were dotted about the countryside around our bases.
Geordie and I, with John Moreland (later replaced by Frank ?), also went on many re-supply trips along the coast route to Riyan, Salalah, Masirah Island and to Sharjah - in what was then known as the Trucial Oman States. The other team’s members would have done very similar trips, but, of course, I only know about where we went and what we did, but Gordon, Rod and Alan’s stories would be just as varied.
At Riyan, where an old Dakota did get in every now and then, we once did a grain supply trip and I vividly remember about ten or twelve locals, led by an old chap whose knee joint was bent sideways, unloading the sacks on their bare shoulders and chanting ‘Al Hamdu Lilla’, incessantly as they worked. On this particular trip the Beverly captain had agreed to backload a huge volume of personal effects for the (British) Colonel of the Hadramat Bedouin Arab Legion, who was due to return to the UK after eight years in post. We loaded up his stuff and he thanked us all and gave everyone a Legion head-dress (kuffia and aqual) as a souvenir, and off we took. Two day later we learned he has been shot dead - by his own driver on the grounds that he was abandoning the men who need his continued leadership.
Up-country the local people still lived very much as their ancestors must have done in biblical times (apart from possession of guns) with life being dominated by tribal loyalties and scratching a living from the parched soil.
I did three quite long stints at Habilayn, where the enemy Blindicide rockets were coming in several times a week. There were about 300 or more army chaps there, including SAS, supported by just a BASO and 2 RAF erks at any one time, handling Bevs, Andovers (I think), Wessex, Scouts and Sioux helicopters, Twin Pioneers and Beavers, with occasional Dakota visits, and also the odd Hunter strikes ;called up when a gang of ‘dizzies’ had been spotted. Being on 24 hour call-out, we never did regular guard duties, or had to carry the old 303s, because whenever we were sent anywhere dodgy we strutted around with .38 S&W pistols, or Sterling SMGs much of the time, and felt we were really into something. With good reason sometimes, because at Habilayn we came under ‘dissident’ fire on many nights, mostly sporadic rifle fire, but also from rockets sometimes - which the British Army returned with mortars and GPMGs, and occasionally our 105s would open up, if they had a target, it could certainly get quite noisy, and a bit scary too. Especially if you were in the ‘shitehouse’ at the time which was on an exposed promontary jutting into a small whadi, quite vulnerable to sniperfire. This facility was mostly used after nightfall, as it was both very exposed, and rather too stinky during the day.
Once, when we were attacked really quite fiercely, I recall several of us were cowering in our dugouts, the tent shaking so much that one of our chaps shouted it was, “rubble falling on us, and we'll get a direct hit in minute”. But not so - it was just another chap who was so scared we couldn’t get him to move into the ‘sanger’ and so he was hiding under a bed, with his legs kicking against the walls of the tent! But they did kill some of us sometimes - The cookhouse got it once, which was just twenty yards from where we slept.
I also remember a couple of trips to a place called Assab, by the Red Sea, when we were picking up foodstuffs that had be dumped there to be collected, for some political reason because the Suez Canal was impassable (I think), but I forget the details. Another time, at short notice we had to take a squad of FRA (Federal Republican Army) soldiers, (our side) and some British soldiers, to bail out the local pro-British Sheik on the Island of Socotra, who was being got at by some ‘dizzies’ who had sailed out from the mainland. We landed and all spread with guns at the ready, to protect the aircraft, while some young gung ho officer, led his platoon and their FRA backup into the nearby township. An hour later, without a shot being fired, they emerged with prisoners in tow - the captives and the FRA seemingly on the best of terms, the prisoners made a pile of their weapons and we took them all back to the mainland. I heard later they'd been beheaded, but I don’t know if it was true.
Several times we got to fly and work on a giant Belfast, but in general most of the shorter sorties were in Beverley aircraft.