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I joined the RAF way back in 1964, as a Supplier Accounting, (essentially a stores clerk) and I was sent to do my basic square-bashing at RAF Innsworth in Gloucestershire. In this usual basic training pre-passing out parade picture I'm second row up, fourth from the right.

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.

After Movements training at Abingdon I found I had been selected for a Mobile Air Movements role and was sent to join "Charlie" team, one one of the threee 6-man, Mobile Air Movements Squadron teams based at Khormaksar. Over the next two years I flew so many hours (mostly on the Blackburn Beverly) as "supernumary" crew (not actual operating aircrew) that I gave up keeping a flying record, both because the novelty of it wore off and the hours were mounting up too fast. But in that time I got to be very attached to the Beverly aircraft that we mostly flew in, great lumbering beasts they were but despite their looks, and the sometimes "hairy" circumstances they operated in, we always felt perfectly safe in them, they were so just right for their roles, indeed I don’t think the Hercules C130s that replaced them were ever quite so versatile, or so well-fitted for tactical supply in difficult terrain, as were the Bevs.

Beverley on the pan at Riyan, one of the route stations.

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.

Me showing off with Sterling SMG at the ready...

A very young-looking me, shown here only to illustrate
the impressive height of the Beverly tail boom.

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.

FRA soldiers under closed clamshell doors.
View of opened clamshell doors and ramps.
Alan Howe is sitting on the sill and that's
Gordon Gourdie on the starboard door.

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.

Geordie Fisher and me at Ndola airport.
Relaxing inside the Movements Office.

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.

View of remote native village
Charlie Team. Geordie Fisher, John Matthews, "Chiefy"
Pollock and me outside of the squadron office in Aden.

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.

Enjoying a hand of pontoon in the Beverley boom
B Fisher, J Matthews F/S Pollock & FO Nigel Saunders
in Nairobi game park (I was the one taking the picture).

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.

That's me with a shark's mouth that
I found on a beach on Perim Island

Me on the beach at Elephant Bay in the
days when it was still safe to go there.
Me with John Cosgrove on the Coast Road.
 

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.

On the strip at Habilyn - the Beaver aircraft
that brought in the mail each day from Aden
Unloading a squad of FRA (Federal Republican Army)
British Army tents can be see in the background

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.

A local farmer with his son
Me outside the RAF Habilayn HQ tent - which housed the
Movements bods and the BASO, Brigade Air Support Officer.

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.

This is me with a "wog-dog" behing our sanger, which we dug
out for ourselves to a 3 foot depth and then surrounded
and overcovered it with sandbags, so we could stand up in it.
Inside a Bev freight bay with a group of tribal leaders en-route
to Khormaksar -all of whom refused to unload their weapons!

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.

Picture of the shitehouse on our side of the camp
( included for historic completeness!)
Another shot of me (posing, to look tough)
with someone else's .303 and cartridge belt.

Several times we got to fly and work on a giant Belfast, but in general most of the shorter sorties were in Beverley aircraft.
Of course whilst we ‘blue jobs’ were swanning around in aeroplanes, the real everyday action was in and around the strategic centres and townships, such as the notorious Crater District, where the army patrols would be getting shot at many times every day, especially in the last few months.

But it was not always like that. At the start of my tour at Aden we used to be able to go swimming in the sea to Elephant Bay, beyond Steamer Point. But later as things got tighter we were recommended not to go far at all. On one of my rare later recreational visits downtown, along the Maalla shopping strip (later known as the Murder Mile), on my 21st birthday, our own small group was sniped at from a nearby building - that made it memorable. I think, towards the end, we were supplemented by some UK MAMS chaps, the names escape me now, but I do remember, coming in from off a Beverley flight, and on opening the clamshells and lowering the ramps - seeing a gang of pasty-faced, white-kneed newcomers waiting there. On asking a rather plump chap there to put the pegs into the anti-tip strut for me, I was met with a torrent of, “who the f*** do you think you are” type abuse. That was my first meeting with Jimmy Hill, a very experienced air mover who did not take kindly to being told what to do - but we later became good mates later at Benson - especially down at the Farmer's Arms!

After the close-down of Khormaksar, when Aden became the Peoples Republic of South Yemen, I and Barry Fisher ended up spending a further six months in Bahrain. From there making two or three trips into Jeddah and Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, taking in radar cabins, and up to Kuwait a couple of times and into Teheran once, I forget why. And once we took part in a exercise on Yas Island in the Gulf, that was early-aborted, because the paratroopers and other soldiers taking part could not cope with the 140 degrees heat.

But by then I was ready to come home. It was not the same at Muharraq, it was more humid, there was less to do, and there was not the sense of purpose that we felt in Aden. Also whilst in Aden the MAMS teams were the envy of many on the camp, because of the variety in our duties, and because we were we excused parades and guard duties and worked unusual hours. Up at Muharraq we were just incomers - with no privileges, living in the transit billet, and resented a bit by some of the air movers already there - can’t blame them, we got all the interesting jobs and must have seemed a bit cocky. Khormaksar was for a while, the busiest airport in the world, because it was also a civil airport and a route station to the Far East for civil and military aircraft of several countries and governments.

I remember a few very tense hours once when an Air India passenger jet could not get its landing gear down, and so it stacked around for hours, to use up its fuel, before a crash-landing without wheels. It was smoky, but fairly quiet as it slid along on its belly, but it ran out of runway and went through the perimeter fence in the sea (maybe that was the plan) and came to rest twenty yards out into the shallow water. I was there with a fire crew, and, miraculously, nobody was hurt, except the pilot who was only bruised - but he did a terrific job to get them down so safely.
In the last few weeks of RAF Khormaksar we were all very busy bringing back stuff from up country for shipping anything worth taking, back to the UK or up to RAF Muharraq. But to see that great hive of activity being so rapidly run down and stripped of everything useful, first by us, and then by the locals, was more than a little sad. My understanding of the politics of it is still a bit hazy but, though an orderly one, it was still an ignominious withdrawal. We’d been forced out by sustained terrorist activity by FLOSY and the NLF, but as soon as the British did leave the place quickly descended into inter-factional fighting and chaos.

Despite that, such is the way of international politics, that I found myself, whilst then stationed up in Bahrain, going back to Aden again, in a C130, not long after we were kicked out, supplying the new government with boxed JP trainer aircraft! And perhaps my only personal small claim to a place in history derives from those few weeks, when as the very last RAF serviceman out of Aden - just one step ahead of a Major Gen Philip Tower, who was C. in C. Middle East, I was also the very first uniformed serviceman (as far as I know) to set foot in Aden again - on the first flight back. When we were not sure it if was safe to land or not, but as soon as we stopped moving, and the side doors opened, I jumped out - in order or to claim that dubious distinction before anyone else could do so.

And, after my tour I heard it said that there were many more incidents of bombs, explosive sabotage, snipings, etc in the Aden campaign, just like any other ‘peacetime’ engagement, including Northern Ireland. Though far fewer fatalities than N.I. So, having had all this excitement, (I was still only twenty one) it was bit of a come-down to to end up at RAF Benson, in the Ops Centre, doing Argosy Trim Sheets!

 
 
 
Me with my family, in 2001. I haven't changed much have I?