Crumbling Ascension Island Runway Closed to Big Aircraft
British Antarctic scientists are among dozens stranded on the Falkland Islands by the closure of the “potholed” runway at the crucial Atlantic mid-point of Ascension Island. The deterioration of the surface has forced the MoD to urgently re-route its strategic “air bridge” with the southern archipelago via West Africa.
As well as disrupting military and civilian access to the Falklands, the closure of the stop-off runway to long-range aircraft further isolates Ascension islanders and those on the dependent island of St Helena, both British overseas territories, from the outside world. Confirmation of its dilapidated state comes the year after UK Government officials admitted that large aircraft could not land at a newly-built £250,000,000 airstrip at St Helena because it was too windy.
An ageing cargo ship, RMS St Helena, was brought back from retirement to service the two mid-Atlantic islands, but the vessel is currently out of action in South Africa having started to leak. Last night the former international development minister, Lord Foulkes, said the plight of the islanders had become a “farce, bordering on tragedy”.
A spokesman for the Falkland Islands Government said the military air bridge was “essential” for the security of the islands, revealing that the MoD was rerouting it’s Wednesday flight from RAF Brize Norton, one of roughly two flights a week, via Senegal.
The state of the runway at Ascension, which played a crucial role in retaking the Falklands from Argentina in 1982, forced Sunday’s flight to be cancelled. Ascension Island accommodates only a few hundred people, all of whom are employed on the Island and there is no automatic right to live there. A statement on the RAF Brize Norton website said officials would be limiting the number of non-essential population there due to “capacity issues”.
St Helena, by contrast has a population of around 4,500, whose leaders have been desperately trying to boost the island’s economy by improving transport links. Because its airstrip can only accommodate short-haul aircraft, islanders rely on flights to RAF Ascension in order to reach the UK, a link which has now been severed. For this to happen on the back of the situation with the St Helena runway is a farce, bordering on tragedy,” said Lord Foulkes. “The problems with RMS St Helena make it even worse.”
An MOD spokesman said: “As part of on-going monitoring of the state of repair of the Ascension Island runway, we have made the decision to not fly the Voyager aircraft to Ascension for our routine flight from 14 Apr 2017 for safety reasons. “We will ensure the continuation of military support to the Falkland Islands through an alternative hub, and are working with the Foreign Office to put temporary measures in place to support the people who live and work on Ascension Island and the Falkland Islands.”
From: Gordon Gray, Allestree, Derby
Browsing through my occasionally purchased but recent 'Aeroplane' magazine, I came across an answer to a question as to why when lifting or shifting something heavy it was customary for us Movers to utter, shout or yell, 'Two, Six'!
I was first indoctrinated to that by one Sgt Brain at Abingdon in 1964 on No 2 Junior Movements course; even nowadays I've used it and it attracts some strange expressions from other parties involved!
I wonder how many others, like me, really never questioned where that saying originated? Discretion being the better part of valor I'll keep 'schtum' for the time being but I don't mind being derided or pilloried!
At our Armed Forces & Veterans Breakfast Club yesterday a lovely ex WRAF officer recounted this story from her time in Hong Kong:
The RAF Station Commander in HK had a large house with wrought iron fencing surrounding the property. The large, heavy gates proudly bore the RAF Crest.
Next door to the Station Commander lived a Chinese millionaire, who had never met the CO. Now the Station Commander had a beautiful cherry tree in his garden with branches that overhung into his millionaire neighbour's garden.
Wanting to prune the branches back, but not wishing to disturb the Station Commander, the Chinese man decided to write him a letter. It went like this:
Dear Mr. Ad Astra, or may I call you Per Ardva?
From: Victor Smith, Brassall, QLD
Subject: That's a Croc!
"Sweetheart" was a large crocodile which hated small boats with outboard motors aka "tinnies".
It created quite a deal of strife in Darwin Harbour by attacking fishermen's tinnies.
NT Rangers tried to catch it for relocation but it was accidentally drowned in the process. It was subsequently stuffed and displayed at Darwin Museum and sent on an around Australia tour courtesy of the RAAF.
Picture at left: Our "Mother of all Bombs" at Darwin AMS.
From: Clive Hall, Swindon, Wilts
Subject: Swan Song
Way back in '88 I was blessed with a Fat Albert trip to Thailand - Korat - to recover Ghurkas to Hong Kong after their live training exercise. The recovery took 6 days followed by 4 days "resting" in HKG then returning to Gatwick on the last British Caledonian charter.
Very sad of course and I was full of remorse for having to accept this third rate swansong!
Regards to all,
Last of the E's Departs Trenton
One of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s most recognizable transport planes made it’s final flight out of CFB Trenton on 7th April, 2017. The last CC-130 Hercules E Legacy series has been taken out of service and flew off to its new home at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.
The two-hour flight put an end to nearly 50 years of services for the gigantic aircraft, which was used to move people and cargo, search and rescue and navigational training.
The RCAF recieved 24 of the planes between 1964 and 1968 and officials call it a true workhorse.
From: Bill Girdwood, Ealing, London W5
Subject: Re: UKMAMS OBA OBB #033117
Many, many thanks for this month's memorable edition of the newsletter largely taken up by memories of Gan. Like many others I transitted Gan on a few occasions whilst in FEAF 1964-1967. It all came back to me with a huge wave of nostalgia! We were such a lucky generation and I hope everyone from that era is immensely grateful for what they were lucky enough to receive.
Very best regards,
From: Thomas Iredale, Heidelburg
cc: Allan Henchoz, Llanfair Waterdine, Salop
Subject: AW: UKMAMS OBA OBB #033117
Tony - simply brilliant! I was never there [Gan], but thanks to you (and Allan Henchoz), now have been!
From: Allan Henchoz, Llanfair Waterdine, Salop
To: Thomas Iredale, Heidelburg
Subject: Re: AW: UKMAMS OBA OBB #033117
Thank you for your compliment but I have to say the other contributors were far more interesting. Above all, I must congratulate Tony for finding and including the historical videos. It really does make the Memories of Gan a thoroughly enjoyable and informative edition.
Just for the record the Anglian TV documentary could not have been made in 1970. I left there in Sep 70 and I did not recognise a soul, not even the Vicar! And the RFA vessel in the lagoon was the Wave Ruler, not the Wave Victor, so I reckon the film must have been made in '68 ish.
From: Thomas Geoghegan, Folkestone, Kent
Subject: Re: UKMAMS OBA OBB #033117
I have to reply to the article in your latest, referring to the Royal Air Force ladies in the future compelled to wear trousers when on parade. Not often do I agree with the Sun newspaper, but this is an exception, and in their words, "...the world's gone mad!" and the comments regarding the top brass are also relevant. Where, oh where, have the likes of Paddy Bandon (Earl of Bandon) gone? I can just imagine the great man's comments.
For myself, I would prefer the ladies to parade in the usual skirts as they look much smarter than wearing trousers and that is not just a male thing as, alas, the females in my family are rarely in skirts or dresses unless for special occasions and you can imagine the replies should I ever comment. Seems minorities take preference is the rule, and encouraging diversity is the new direction.
RAAF receives first 3 of 100 new-generation refuelling vehicles
The first 3 of 100 new aviation refuelling vehicles have been delivered to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Amberley.
Australian minister for defence industry Christopher Pyne said in a statement on 13 April that the vehicles were provided by Refuel International, the company that was awarded a AUD47 million (USD35 million) contract in October 2016 to deliver a new generation of aviation refuelling vehicles under Joint Project 157 Phase 1.
"The three vehicles have been delivered on schedule and will be used to support the delivery of familiarisation training for defence personnel preparing for the transition of new vehicles into service in mid-2017," said Pyne.
IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
From: Norman Stamper, Torrevieja
Subject: Memories of RAF Gan 1969-70
The article by Allan Henchoz brought back a few memories for me. I too was in Gan, arriving in February '69 for one Year and a day (VC-10 went u/s in Changi!). Gan was to be my first of many overseas tours followed by Cyprus, Gatow, Wildenrath and Hannover, plus three detachments to Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands.
I can remember Christmas 1969 - one of the rooms in the block that we shared with the Suppliers was converted into a Wild West themed bar. On judging day, the CO and party, which included our residend WRVS lady on the island came and inspected. We were duly awarded first prize, a case of beer! As the attached photo's demonstrate, the Sheriff (Allan) was hung but lived to tell the tale!
I think it was Boxing Day when the Round Island Cycle Race took place, in the attached photo, this was a Mover - can't remember his name, if he was first, last or the only survivor of the race as it passed our block opposite the 180 Club.
Reg Tudor arrived several weeks after me from Lyneham Tac Air Movs. The next time we met was in Cyprus during 1972-4. Our paths would never cross again during my time in the RAF, but I do have some happy memories of our times together.
In amongst all the the things that you collect and stash away in a box or draw, I found an old postcard of the island, an original baggage label, don't know how or why that got saved, a photo of the Movs Office by the a/c pan and a very young me leaning against the DAMO's Land Rover, must be the same one as in Allan's Photo.
The only souvenir I have left is a large shell which I purchased from the Station Library, cost me £1 and now sits on my window sill, a bit faded, but always reminds me of my first overseas tour.
All the best, Norman
Memories of RAF Muharraq
The Royal Air Force's history with Bahrain can be traced back to 1924, with flights originating from Shaibah Air Base in Iraq. The perceived strategic importance of Bahrain by the British led to the signing of a civil air agreement with the King of Bahrain in 1934.
The Royal Air Force established a base there in the area as RAF Bahrain on 22 May 1943, as part of RAF Iraq Command. It formed part of 83 Expeditionary Air Group in the Middle East.
It was later renamed RAF Muharraq in 1963. The base was formally shut down on 15 December 1971.
The base was used by a detachment of Vickers VC10 tankers from No. 101 Squadron RAF during the Gulf War training with Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR1's.
From May 1997 a detachment of VC10's returned supporting Operation Jural and later Operation Bolton over Iraq.
From: Colin Easdon-Smith, Ingham, QLD
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
The following story is about my 2½ years spent in Bahrain, between 1958 and 1961. Now a bit of a thumbnail sketch on the personal side. I was born in India 6-5-1934, my father was an officer in the Army and my mother also served in the Khaki.
I travelled extensively for a tractor company in India before departing on the Polish boat, M/S Batory, for England widening my mental outlook. I lodged with my maternal grandparents in their small council flat in Putney, next door to Wimbledon, where I got my first job on British soil as a waiter at the Centre Court for the two weeks of the tennis championships.
In 1958 I was working for Lufthansa German Airlines, first as a company driver, then progressing to Traffic and Operations at London Airport. I was called up for National Service. I chose to do my time signing up for three years, which classified me as a Regular. My tenure with Lufthansa assisted me in making a decision as to how to spend my time. I chose the Air Movements section of Transport Command, which operated along similar lines as their commercial counterparts. Britain, in those days, was referred to as the Empire or Raj, with bases on a global scale, serviced by the RAF.
Square bashing was done at RAF Bridgenorth. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge competing against the Drill Corporals. I was used to discipline having spent some time in an Army run boarding school. My sporting abilities had not gone unnoticed and, much to the annoyance of the drill or education sections, I was called on to represent Bridgenorth, whether it be hockey, tennis, table tennis, squash or badminton while in class. I won the white belt for the best all-round recruit, and led the passing out parade.
On to Kidbrooke for trade training and finally, after nearly six months, we got our postings. I got a base in Germany; I was hoping for a posting to either the Middle East or Far East. I had a quiet word with the course Sergeant who was most accommodating, and phoned RAF Records, who advised that there was a spot in the Middle East theatre. I got it. After a series of injections, precautionary measures, I would be in areas affected by a number of contagious diseases. I felt like a pin cushion.
Along with other RAF personnel, we shipped out in an Army troop carrier, and copped the brunt of Army harassment. Our first stop was El Adam in Libya for a brief two-week stay, then onto Mombasa, another brief stopover, then onto Aden, and finally ending up in Bahrain, where I served out the remaining 2½ years.
Our camp at the commercial airport was shared with the Army, those poor bastards lived in tents, and it was hot and humid. We at least had air-conditioned barracks. I soon settled into work and the life style. Manama, the business hub of the Island, was a few kilometers away and was reachable by taxis, which parked outside the main entrance of the Airport.
I had heard on the grapevine that there was a fairly large Anglo-Indian community in Manama, It didn't take me long to contact them and made welcome. My sporting prowess Hockey Tennis and Table tennis, opened many doors, including membership at the Bahrain Sports Club. A Taxi driver that I had used a few times, became quite friendly, and for a six pack of beer, I would get a lift to Manama, and thumb a lift back to the camp. His name was Mohammed.
All this changed with the arrival of my wife Shirley, and I was able to rent suitable accommodation. We were able to buy a good second hand Mini Minor, which opened more doors. Life was good. Of course, the locals were not supposed to drink alcohol, The ruler Sheik Isa Bin Sulman was fully aware of what went on and as long there was no trouble, visitors, expat workers and the Forces were issued liquor permits which in a number of cases was bought by local Arabs on the quiet.
Our son, Ashley, was born in Bahrain in 1959, which makes him a Bahraini. He now lives in the USA. I had to do a couple of guard duties when the major flying machines (Vulcans) night stopped. Britain had a series of treaties with what was know then as the Trucial States, now known as The Emirates. The Army was frequently involved in desert skirmishes with the marauding Bedouin. All supplies were flown in, our job was to make sure the soldiers got all the essential supplies to make life bearable in the desert.
The Gulf Daily Times, the local paper, asked me to write the sports column. With the blessing of my Squadron Leader I was given the green light. Good PR. This opened more doors, making life very interesting, doing feature writing.
Bahrain is know also for it's natural pearls and I wrote an article on the local pearling fleet, spending 4 days out at sea, witnessing the demanding physical and mental input. The diet on board was usually fish cooked like a stew, Nan's flat bread, or boiled rice, fresh dates and black tea. There was no diving equipment, the men wore white clothing as protection against the jelly fish, a huge rock tied to their waist and a net bag to put the oysters in. Each diver had two deck hands controlling the two ropes that were tied around his waist, and over he went into the sea. When his bag was full, he would tug his ropes, and the deck hands would bring him to the surface. When he broke surface, he had no oxygen left in his body, his eyes protruded from their sockets and his face was wrinkled. He was grabbed and brought onto the deck, where his body was massaged, while he recovered, and was made ready for another dive. Pearl divers did not have a very long working life span.
Having made quite a few Arab male friends (the women were not permitted to bare their faces in front of strange men). I was invited a couple of times to a feast in the desert. Sitting round a fire, drinking Scotch or Beer, while the food was being cooked. Baby camel stuffed with spiced chicken, rice and potatoes. Mohammed's uncle was a known Arab guitar player and singer. As the night wore on, men got up and danced, the hips moved in a very sexual manner. Mohamed always carried a long white Arab shirt and head scarf in his Taxi, and once dressed I looked like all the other men. We ate with our hands, choice bits being passed to me. Years later when I saw Lawrence of Arabia, memories of my night adventures came flooding back. Of course Shirley was not aware of my night movements. Always said I had to be on guard duty.
My 2½ years disappeared in the twinkling of an eye, and it it was not long before we were boarding an RAF flight back to good old Blighty. The Gulf Daily Times approached me to return and take up the position of full time journalist and I accepted the offer. My demob took place at Lyneham and I made arrangements for Shirley and Ashley to lodge with her parents (who lived in Swindon), then once I was settled in Bahrain I would fly them out. Unfortunately it never happened, A coupe of months after my arrival, the newspaper offices were burnt to the ground. The ugly head of religious politics made its presence felt. To calm matters, His Highness said the news paper would not re-open. I was repatriated back to the UK and re joined Lufthansa. It was not long after that, I applied to immigrate to Australia in 1962 on the £10 scheme. I've never regretted the move.
From: Gerry Davis, Bedminster, Somerset
Subject: Memories of RAF Bahrain, later known as RAF Muharraq
My arrival at RAF Bahrain (the name was changed to RAF Muharraq in my second year) was somewhat of a shock to my young years; the heat for a start was indescribable and took some getting used to. At this time there were about 400 RAF personnel stationed there
Going around the station with my blue arrivals chitty, I found out that I was not going to the stores, but to the Air Movements Section. So starts my eleven years as a ‘Humper and Dumper’ in a totally different trade to which I had been apprenticed to as a ‘Store Bashing Blanket Stacker'. I had quite a lot to learn, I found it interesting and I felt that working on transport aircraft was at the forefront of the RAF.
I was allocated a billet and to my surprise I noted that I was sharing a large room which contained 90 beds. Two rows in the middle of the room and beds along both sides and both ends. There was a large air conditioner affixed to a wall in the centre of the room, which was constantly on 24 hours of the day. Just outside the entrance door stank to high heaven of urine - the ablutions were some distance away. Power cuts happened quite frequqently, especially at night when all of us would awaken when the constant hum of the air conditioner stopped and the resultant heat instantly struck each one of us with a vengeance.
Every couple of months a spraying of DDT took place in the blocks, as bed bugs, rats and flies were rife. With the doors locked and entrance forbidden it was really hard for those of us who had just come off night shift, knackered and wanting sleep. Laying on a concrete patio for fly feeding opportunities was not my idea of rest. During these times the shower blocks were full of lads sleeping with the water on full blast, to give some form of relief from the flies, the heat and that curse of deserts ‘Prickly Heat,’ a condition contracted in very hot climates, causing an itchy rash all over the body. Some relief could be obtained with calamine lotion. If not treated, it can result in open sores. Some of the rats that were in the billet were huge. Seeing their footprints on your pillow in the morning when you woke was quite disturbing!
During my second year there, we were surprised to watch a chilled water supply being installed on the outside of every other billet wall. This had to be topped up daily with 20 gallons of fresh drinking water. This of course did not always happen, as it was the responsibility of the Arab employees of the Barrack Warden. I should imagine that the powers that be were getting fed up with the cookhouse doors being bashed in at nighttimes so that raging thirsts could be sated. The problem was that there was an Arab village just on the other side of the fence about 100 metres away from the billets. They would, under normal circumstances, have to buy their drinking water. Would you be surprised to learn that a large hole was cut into the metal fence so that the ‘Bintas’ could walk through and help themselves to our water? They carried it away in large pots balanced on their heads. No wonder the tank was always empty. Eventually measures were taken to stop this from happening.
Time off from work was spent in the pool, at the camp ‘Astra’ cinema or wandering round the beaches, which stank of sewage and dead fish. The tide on the Island of Muharraq came in and out very quickly, which resulted in several Arab-driven lorries getting stuck on the beaches whilst collecting coral for building.
Mail was very important, I wrote a lot of letters, as did most airmen. There happened to be a postal strike in the UK at one point. The postal service at overseas stations was organised by the Army Postal Corps. During this strike one of their lads had a mental breakdown due to the incessant personal calls to his depot and the phone calls from frustrated airmen, all blaming him for their lack of mail and the incessant questions as to when the next batch of mail would be received.
Occasional trips to the capital city of Manama, for fact finding purposes were made. I used to accompany several of the lads who would ask me to look after their coats whilst they visited some house or other. I don’t know what for, but they always seemed to be smiling when they came out! There was one occasion when I witnessed a party of Arab prisoners, shackled at the neck, presumably on route to Devil's Island, just off the coast.
I managed to wrangle a fortnight’s leave down to Mombasa, in Kenya. I was amazed at what I witnessed of the goings on at this busy African port. I accompanied an MT driver, from Bahrain, who worked with us, we had a whale of a time! We went via a Beverley to Khormaksar and stayed in the Red Sea House - the RAF transit accommodations. I was placed on guard on the front door all night with a rifle and 15 rounds of .303 ammunition in a sealed box with instructions from the guard commander that the seal on the box should not be broken without his permission.
We flew to Kenya in an Argonaut of Aden Airways. On landing at the local airport of Kilindini, I was amazed to see this green stuff at both sides of the runway. I was later told that it was something called grass! We booked into the New Bristol Hotel. What an experience that was in staying there! I witnessed many unmentionable things whilst in Mombasa especially what soldiers and airmen on leave from desert outposts got up to. It was a real treat, especially eating fresh food and eggs, which actually did not taste of fish, as they did back at base. The Indian owner of the hotel used to moan like hell when we demanded our breakfasts with chips at 2 in the afternoons. The two weeks was soon over and then it was back to our desert Island, which took two days travelling via 4 other desert outposts.
A Beverley, tail number XM110, arrived one day from Kuwait loaded with several tons of 105mm howitzer cannon shells. It was nearly lunch time; we wanted to get off so as to avoid the mess queues. The boss decided otherwise, because it was ammunition. So we offloaded it rather sharpish. As we were ambling back to the section there was an almighty explosion and the aircraft blew up. It later transpired that a bomb was placed on the aircraft, at Kuwait with a timer. Wasn’t it fortunate that it did not go off when the aircraft was airborne, or when we were on it? From then onwards all of the Arab workers were excluded from the camp and our work became that much harder.
When I got promoted to Corporal my Mum and Dad were very pleased. Our boss at that time was somewhat of a tyrant. On my promotion he instructed me to organise an inventory for a toilet, which was constantly being vandalised by inebriated, fed up, lonely, disgruntled, women-less airmen who wanted to take their frustration out on an inanimate object. I had also to see that all necessary repairs were carried out.
On entering my second year there, it was decided by the powers that be, to change the length of time at Bahrain from two years to one year. That made me feel good, I think not! So many lads were suffering from lack of sex and liver problems from too much alcohol consumption, together with other ailments. Also so many seemed to be 'going round the bend.’ Well, before my two years were up they changed it again to a 9 month posting, that did my moral a lot of good, I can tell you
One of our Duty Air Movements Officers (DAMO) was a Warrant Officer. He also had a secondary duty of looking after the Astra, the camp cinema . When it was quiet at work, off he would go and do his bit at the cinema. Well, we would get our special 3-ton lift vehicle. It was called a ‘Scissors truck’ Load a couple of nice comfy chairs in the back, drive quietly up to the cinema wall, elevate the back of the vehicle and have a free show. Yes, he did know about it.
Across the water from Bahrain, a short flight away on the Saudi Arabian mainland, was a large American airbase called Dhahran. We used to listen to their music broadcasts, well sometimes we did. There were occasions when their automatic record changing machine got stuck and it would go on and on repeating itself, sometimes for hours. Because it was in Saudi Arabia, no alcohol was allowed on the American airbase. Once a week a Dakota DC3 would fly over and disgorge 30 or so American airmen who would be bent on consuming as large amounts of alcohol as they could in their short stay. Very often we would help in throwing them totally incapacitated with drink back on board their airplane.
I had an incident with an American sailor in our NAAFI one Christmas. He, unbeknownst to me, was very drunk with his head resting in his arms on a table. As everyone was wishing each other well and shaking hands, I shook him to wish him a Happy Christmas. He stood up, looked at me, and knocked me out!
Several of the residents in our large block kept dogs. At night time they were tied to their owner's beds. At mealtimes the dog owners used to go around the mess hall asking for bones and other food suitable for their dogs. I remember this one time, a cook who should have been on duty early one morning, but he was so drunk no one could wake him. His dog, a vicious thing, would not let anyone near him. So he was left alone. He of course got into trouble, and a new ruling about not keeping dogs in the billets came about as a result. He then got a hiding from some of the other dog owners.
From: Murdo Macleod, Newport-on-Tay, Fife
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
What a place that was! I arrived there in January '67 on a TWA charter, stepped out into a wall of heat, and our transport from the civil airport was a Bedford RL - very classy.
I was billeted in a Twynham a couple of hundred yards from our open air cinema, and behind us was a compound where the Sheikh's sister lived. Bloody cold at night in the winter months, hot during the day and getting hotter, not a hell of a lot to do on days off, shift work 2 and a half on 2 and a half off, we used to go for long treks out over the mud flats or around the airfield perimeter just to relieve the boredom.
When you went out on the mud flats, you had to ensure that you got back before the tide came in, or you would get attacked by the spider crabs, big vicious bastards. There was one guy who used to go around the airfield everyday and was the colour of burnt copper always wondered how he got on with skin cancer in later life.
Me, so far so good, we were moved to another set of Twynhams near to the Malcolm Club later on, and were also closer to the mess and the NAAFI. When the NAAFI bar shut at night we used to get a carry out, and go and sit outside and watch the antics of squaddies, pissed out of their skulls, knee deep in water, in amongst the power pylons, trying to catch sea snakes. One bite from one of those was game over, not mention death by electrocution if you touch a pylon bamsticks the lot of them, and we were no better shouting encouragement to them!
I remember Geoff Portlock and a couple of his mates one night climbed up to the top of the water tower, next to the tailors shop, and taunted the cops who were trying to get them to come down, by pelting them with their empty beer cans.
The cops wouldn't go up the tower as there was only a narrow ledge running around the top. Fifty feet up and what a wonderful place to spend an evening after the bars closed, one false step and that was your lot.
We must have all been certifiable, and we had all sorts of kooks, one guy used to tow a piece of aircraft roller conveyer around everywhere he went, tied it up outside the mess or the bars as if it was his pet dog, the ploy didn't work, if he was trying to work his ticket, as there were loads of guys trying that on.
Once a fortnight our billet would go out together for a meal either to the airport, the barge in the creek or the Britannia Hotel in Manama. The first time I saw the barge in the creek, I said we 'ain't going to eat here are we? The food was really good though.
One of our lads tried to get home by becoming an alcoholic, he succeeded but instead of being sent home he was put in the hospital in Bahrain for 3 or 4 months before being sent back to Wroughton Hospital. He was in Bahrain well past his time followed by 3 months in Wroughton before getting punted out. Very clever - not!
Going to the cinema was an experience; cushions, umbrella, and blankets in the winter and just cushions in the summer. It was quite hilarious to sit in an open air cinema on cushions on concrete seats, under an umbrella, while it was pissing down with rain and especially in heavy rain, where you are trying to see the movie through it. If all that isn't insanity then it has to be very close. Still all in all it wasn't a bad tour, just one you wouldn't want to repeat.
I remember Taff Bloor planting a few weeds outside his billet to try and create a garden which very quickly became a jungle and one to be avoided on the way to the bogs, you just never knew what was lurking in there, and its growth was helped along by Phil ward and a couple of others pissing on it every night after the bars closed and it also didn't half pong. Taff used to water it as well, and some of those weeds were taller than the block. I'm surprised that it was allowed to flourish at all.
Some billets had their own little eccentric features, one of the squadrons built their own mini rocket outside, some placed a ring of white painted rocks around their billets with pathways and woe betide anyone not using the paths to get past.
Work was also quite interesting, you would work all night loading a Bev only to watch it trying to take off and fail, and come trundling back in to be offloaded and the load transferred to another aircraft and handed over to the oncoming shift like that.
Eventually the mystery of the aborted take offs was solved by an engine change on one aircraft, the wings were full of sand, and someone had a bright idea, and lifted up some floor panels and yep there was sand there as well, after that the Bevs used to get to carry full payloads, we weren't too chuffed as we had to load them, and most of the time we were cooking in the heat. The Yanks have the place now and they are welcome to it.
Murdo Macleod, living in a cooler climate, Bonnie Scotland!
From: Graham Lockwood, Leyland, Lancs
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
I was in Muharraq in 1967/8 and the memory that comes to mind is trivial nonsense. Our twynham was divided into two halves split by a row of tall wardrobes. When there was no one in the other half we would sneak in and liberally pile talcum powder on the upper surfaces of the blades of their ceiling fans.
On their return they would turn the fans on and as they began to get up to speed centrifugal force would create snow storm of talcum paper which deposited itself on all the occupants and every surface. Lots of stiffled giggles accompanied by abuse from the other side of the "wall". Got to amuse yourself somehow!
I well remember the night that the six day war kicked off and as I had only joined up for the sport and travel a bit of conflict was definitely not on my agenda!
From: Ian Place, Meanwood, West Yorks
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
I remember serving as an SAC in RAF Muharraq Air Movements September 1968 to September 1969. It was where I suffered a broken right big toe when a pallet fell on it off a Condec in the early hours one morning. I was put in the sick quarters which was next to the road where my shift shouted abuse at me every time they passed sick bay on the way to work at the terminal.
The cardboard KD uniforms the heat and the lack of any air conditioning and the hard work are memories. Also no women and open air cinema where if the film were rubbish you could gaze at the stars in the moonlight.
p.s. My big toe reminds me every now and again of that painful moment!
From: John Guy, Northampton
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
How on earth did RAF Records Office come to post a Sgt first tour Mover to an elite Gulf MAMS unit? What a way to spend a 13 month unaccompanied tour! My roommate never knew where I was going to be from one day to another!
I was with the unit from Jul 69-Aug 70. My team leader was the late Barry Belton. I was completely taken by surprise as we had previously served together at RAF Eastleigh, when he was a Sgt & me a Cpl. Apart from the more usual mundane tasks we took part in Exercise Bersatu Padu. Whilst on route to Singapore we spent 7-10 days at RAF Gan supporting the resident Movements Flight.
On arrival in Singapore we went up-country and found ourselves doing engines-running offloads. On return to Muharraq we had a refuelling stop at Gan prior to diverting to Nairobi to pick up a casevac.
From: David King, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
In August 1969 I had my first shift, a night shift, at Muharraq as Pax SNCO; I was taking over from a corporal who had been running the shift for some time, and he was showing me the ropes.
Our first aircraft was the daily Changi slip VC-10 en route to the Far East. All the passengers were settled into the transit lounge enjoying coffee etc., and the corporal was explaining what we had to do. "What's that for?" I asked, pointing at a cane with a burnt end sitting on the desk. "We'll probably need that later." was all he said.
Shortly afterwards there was a strong smell of something burning. "Bring the cane," said the corporal as he dashed off towards the ladies loo which, by this time, was full of smoke.
It seems that all-in-one tights with panties attached were the current fashion in the UK, and while they're comfortable in a temperate zone, they are really, really uncomfortable in a hot and sticky climate such as Bahrain. An attempt at destroying the evidence after removal by placing them in the sanitary napkin incinerator was a disaster as nylon doesn't burn, it only smoulders, hence the need for the cane! This meant on boarding the very high VC-10 steps there would be a bare bottom on show. I had six during my tour!
Fast forward to December and myself and one airman were on the Pax shift handling the first aircraft from the UK following the Christmas break. There was a Comet and a VC-10 with some families but mostly consisting of slip crews being dropped off along the Far East route. As the aircraft were having to night-stop, all plans for hotels and transit accommodations were in place. At 2300 hrs the VC-10 arrived followed 15 minutes later by the Comet; all passengers were transferred to the transit lounge prior to their onmove to their nightstop accommodation.
The families were called forward first and sent on their way. At this point a VC-10 captain approached me and said, "Does this mean we are night-stopping? We haven't got any night-stop gear!" Realisation set in, I cracked, then made an announcement so that all could hear, "Just who do you think is here to take your aircraft on the next leg?"
Representatives from all the crews then came forward with the same query. The upshot was that we then would have to offload all of the baggage onto the pan so that these people could get their night gear. It was obvious no one had read their flight instructions!
As it turned out, everyone including all of the crews mucked in to offload and then reload all of the baggage. The last coach left at 0330 hrs and a very pee'd off SNCO went around the back and kicked the cat!
From: Keri Eynon, Thatcham, Berks
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
Muharraq was my first overseas tour from August 1969 to September 1970 and my first taste of Movements as at that time we were a dual trade and I had been at 32 MU, RAF St Athan, for my posting after training.
My first vivid memory of Muharraq was stepping out of the VC10 onto the top of the steps and being blasted by the heat. When we left Brize at 09.30 the temperature was 58ºF at Muharraq at 20.00 their time it was 96ºF. As we had to travel in those days wearing a jacket and tie, I was soon bathed in sweat!
I was met by Paul Hind and others from the shift I was going on and after collecting my luggage was transported to the accommodation. The next morning, waking up at 06.00 the shock of blazing sunshine and heat was something else. However, it did not take long, thanks to the others in the squadron to settle in.
The working environment was excellent with everyone "mucking in". While on shift I worked on the pan and then in the passenger section. My one lasting memory from that time being in December, we were still in KD (normally for the few months round the end of the year Muharraq went into blues but the CO decided we could stay in KD). Just before Christmas on the 22nd December, the flight from the UK to Singapore landed for refueling and the Pax came into the lounge to wait. The temperature was about 65ºF, a bit chilly to us in our KD, when a few Pax came and asked could we put the air conditioning on as it was so hot! The result was one group of shivering movers waiting for them to depart!
I was lucky enough to play rugby out there and we won the Gulf Cup and as a reward the team was sent to play in India against the Embassy people there. There was a regular run from Muharraq to India to bring back perishable supplies.
From: Charles Gibson, Monifieth, Angus
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
The only time I was in Muharraq was when I had been in Sharjah on a low level drops exercise and our Herc had a split windshield so we went to Muharraq and flew back on a VC10 to Brize.
From: Arthur Taylor, Newcastle under Lyme, Staffs
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
It was 1970 and I was stationed at RAF Brize Norton happily in charge of the Clothing Store as a Supplier. I got selected for Movements training, did the course at RAF Abingdon, following which I got a posting to HQBFG (Headquarters British Forces Gulf). Initially this was situated at HMS Jufair on the south side of the main island, but I only spent a couple of nights there, then moved across to RAF Muharraq, where we had offices in the old Control Tower, above us we had Gulf MAMS.
My previous visits to RAF Muharraq had just been nightstops in 1956/9, when I was an AQM, now, I am on a 13 month unaccompanied tour. I was in the Booking Centre, and had the task of looking after flights down the Gulf to Sharjah, Masirah and Salalah. It was a noisy little office, but I had a couple of good bosses.
There was the time in the Booking Centre, a young airman came in and asked me if he could take his budgerigar on the Moon Rocket that night (the VC10 ) to Brize. I of course said no! Just then the boss came in, the airman saluted and the boss asked what was the prooblem. The airman replied that I had said he couldn't take his budgie on the aircraft. My dear boss replied, no problem son, take it over to In-Flight Catering, get it plucked and curried, and it can travel with you. I had to leave the office laughing. However, I did catch up with the airman, and thankfully he was able to take the bird to the aviary at Air Movements. I sometimes wonder what happened to that aviary when we left.
During my tour, I did manage to get a trip down the Gulf to Sharjah, Masirah, and Salalah. This brought back the memory of my AQM days when I did the trips in a Beverley from Aden, but this time it was by Argosy and an Andover from Muharraq.
Many of the afternoons were spent having a walk round the airfield which did pass some of the time. Socially, there was a good crowd in the Sgt's Mess and we did have many functions other than the Tombola. Some of the film shows were hilarious, but all in all, I did enjoy the tour, and we only look back on the good times of any tour eh?
From: David Forsyth, 85370 Le Langon
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
A Less than Elegant Tale
Chairman Gale’s calling note for contributions of Memories of RAF Muharraq struck a chord. Like him, I only staged through Muharraq. On the way down onboard a Britannia to my stint running the Supply and Movements Flight at the RAF Detachment, Majunga in Madagascar and on the way home, this time on a Hercules - a 14 hour flight. The return flight is the subject of this tale.
There were but 2 passengers on the Hercules: an SAC MT Driver who was being sent home in disgrace for various reasons one of which was that he had caught one of those social diseases for which Madagascar was known, and yours truly.
As an aside, this airman had come to my attention twice before. It transpired that we had arrived on the same Britannia Flight in January 1971. How had I noticed him particularly amongst the 80 or so arriving passengers? The Detachment Commander, Wing Commander Doug Cook, had given himself a mission to hold an arrival briefing for all incoming personnel within one hour of arrival - one key theme of which was to keep it in your trousers as VD was rife. The combination of Doug’s boring delivery, the unaccustomed heat and the fatigue of the 36 hour trip from the UK had combined to make my eye-lids very heavy. Suddenly Doug’s monotone delivery changed gear “That man there - wake up!” came his piercing shout, accompanied by a finger pointing in my direction. With immeasurable relief I quickly realised I was not the offending person - it was the airman sitting immediately in front of me. His card was marked.
Next occasion; as a “Permanent” member of staff on call 24/7, I was not required to be Station Duty Officer, a pleasure reserved for the 2 Shackleton crews who did only 8 weeks on rotation in Majunga. Just prior to departure of one set of crews back to Ballykelly, I generously agreed to be SDO so that all of the crew could enjoy their farewell thrash. Not so generous really as SDOs never had anything to do. Wrong!
It was monsoon. At about 2 am I took a phone call: the Detachment Minibus had been in a road accident. You could not make it up. The Minibus with local girls onboard and the Land Rover of Joe the Doe (the DoE representative) had collided. Fortunately no one was hurt but there were questions around authorisation, drivers who had been drinking, passengers and so on - all in the monsoon deluge. You have guessed it. It was “that” MT Driver again. I submitted verbal evidence that whilst the driver had clearly had a drink, he was not drunk. The DOE man could scarcely stand having had so much. However, our man’s card having been marked, it was easier for justice to find him guilty than the DOE man who belonged to another Ministry and over whom the CO had no jurisdiction. And of course our man had committed other “crimes”. The Unit Inquiry took a few weeks to reach its conclusions and our marked man was to be repatriated. In the meantime it also became clear that he had caught a disease of which I dare not speak its name.
On arrival at Muharraq for a short stop where a slip crew was to take the aircraft on to Akrotiri and Lyneham, the Duty Movements Officer was my great chum, Flying Officer Rich Bolt. Rich took me to a Bar for a refreshment or two. Who should be at the Bar but the crew who had just brought me in? Clearly unrecognised by the disinterested crew, I took great delight in asking innocently “Did you guys just come in from Majunga?” “Yes” came the reply. “I was down the back. Did you know that airman on board was being casevac’d home because of VD and he used the Elsan you all sat on quite a few times”?
The anxious huddle which formed, the anguished discussions and the looks of concern almost made up for my 14 hours of purgatory.
Roll forward to that return flight. A Herc took about 14 hours to reach Muharraq. My co-passenger was poured onto the aircraft by his mates much the worse for wear at 5 am. Such was his state that he should probably not have flown - but Doug Cook wanted him out of his hair.
As said earlier, he was my only fellow-passenger. Within minutes of take-off, our hero was using the Elsan, curtain-less, on the ramp - both ends at once it seemed, creating an unbelievably bad odour. He was to repeat these performances, albeit with reducing frequency and volume, several times during the 14 hours each time he awoke and with unerring accuracy propelled himself to the ramp. That was to be the only aspect of his performance with which he demonstrated accuracy - you catch my meaning. I quickly made a mental note on no account to use that Elsan - irrational perhaps but you never knew what you might catch.
I was somewhat miffed that apart from the Loadie checking the cargo restraints periodically and, after a few hours, each crew-member using the Elsan at least once during the interminable, noisy and uncomfortable 14 hours, the crew paid no attention to us. I had thought they would invite me to the Flight Deck and that comfortable couch - but no.
From: Duncan Grant, Trentham, Staffs
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
Many of those of a certain age will remember that RAF Muharraq was not the jewel in the crown. Rather it was the cross roads between the Middle East and Far East. For transit passengers on a night stop Britannia House offered a 5 Star (or was it 5- Star?! ) facility. Of course its centre of entertainment was the bar!
I learned about Indulgence management from my stopover at Muharraq en route to Sharjah after a longish weekend in the U.K. Would I make the last leg via the sparrowfart Argosy? Would I be AWOL? However, help, in the guise of a very senior aviator was at hand! The pilot of the 216 Sqn Comet looked kindly on this poor mover and offered a drink or two to try and improve his morale!
Little did he know that I had a cunning plan! Yes, he confirmed he was airborne to Sharjah ETD 1000 ish the following day (5 hours after the Argosy schedule). Yes, he had a VIP pax (CAS on his round the world trip - after all we are talking about the late 1960s). Yes he had plenty of seats in his gift! Would I prefer to fly with him? The only down side was there would not be any G&Ts on offer to a lowly Flying Officer! However, the lovely red leather seats and silver service breakfast offered some compensation! The whole experience introduced me to VIP travel. I put it to good use in later years! So, Muharraq offers happy memories for DG!
Probably the most enjoyable element of the journey was the look on the face of my colleagues as I disembarked!
From: David Powell, Princes Risborough
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
I am looking forward to reading other inputs on this one as my spell as OC Gulf MAMF in 1971 at RAF Muharraq is, especially after 47 years, a bit of a blur, punctuated with a few snapshots of happenings! I arrived at RAF Murharraq on 15 March and it was to be my home until we moved the Flight to RAF Sharjah on 1st October for the final run-down there.
Operationally we were an independent unit tasked by the Headquarters at Jufair while administratively we came under OC Ops Wg. Our main area of operations was all the Gulf states and occasional runs further airfield which for me included India, Pakistan, Kenya, Singapore and Hong Kong. Although I have been up in the loft to see what the cardboard boxes would yield - not a lot I am afraid, apart from a couple of photos.
Gulf MAMF, comprised myself, two Fg Off Team Leaders, the studious John Hutchins and Tony Walker (who lived off base with his gorgeous wife Judy and commuted to work in a huge red American Mustang) each with plus 5 team members. I also inherited an excellent Warrant Officer, WO Sanderson, who actually ran the show, and we all lived in the old Air Traffic Tower overlooking the ramp. We had the usual collection of kit and a couple of Landrovers.
Tony asked for memories, so here are a few. First, ‘the box’. One day, we were asked to go down to the docks where a box, a somewhat large box containing minesweeper gear, was needed yesterday in Singapore. It weighed about 12,000 lb and measured some 10’ x 12’ x 12’. After a bit of teeth sucking and scribbles on the back of a Belfast trim sheet we reckoned it would go. While we were pretty sure it would fit in the aircraft, the challenge would be squeezing it in. And it did, just, involving some quite tricky laying out of dunnage and roller. Anyway that was our excuse to send Sgt Pat Garrity with the box to Changi to supervise the off load and ensure that they didn't send it back still on board. Only later did we discover that it had been shut out in the UK as oversize for air and sent to the Gulf by sea. Photo enclosed.
The Spitfire. Not a Mk9, but the open-top white (sort of) Triumph version, in this case a bit knackered but it went and was great fun in Bahrain. Top speed was about 40 mph (sounded like 70) but such were the roads on the island that was more than enough. Bought for peanuts (probably overpriced) from a returning engineer. At least I was able to tick the ‘have owned a sports car’ box.
Block 28B. I was fortunate to be allowed to join the crew who were billeted in Block 28B. This comprised 6 single bedrooms (each with individual clattering units laughingly described as air conditioning), our sitting room and a guest room for a regular procession of visitors. The basic criteria was only one of any discipline. This meant no shop talk or only to explain a problem in simple terms - which normally resulted in realising an obvious solution. The Block ring leader was one of the dentists, Max Pierce, then we had one from stores, a PJI, an adminner, etc. you get the drift?
Rations from Cyprus. Life was enhanced by the weekly ‘milk run’ by Britannia which picked up demi-johns of wine for us from RAF Akrotiri on Thursday and returned the empties on Tuesday. Also on the Thursday, sometimes, would be a rack of real fresh eggs, from UK to be distributed and carried individually and lovingly for breakfast on Friday.
Muharraq Young Farmers Association (MYFA), established some years before I turned up, to provide a cohesive social balance for the stations odds and ends (movers, ops, ATC, medical, admin etc.) to provide our own ‘thing’ compared with the very strong Officers Mess social bonds enjoyed and exploited by the operational squadrons and detachments. Basically, MYFA organised a major party in the back-room of the Officers Mess once every 5 weeks (this ensured the occasional lower than average mess bill}.
Key elements included the MYFA punch, a mysterious and potent brew which would be blended and tasted during the afternoon, in a dedicated red dustbin. Real straw bales (of historic ex-UK vintage) and the MYFA kit comprising yokel smocks. Apart from the Squire who had the beer stained squire’s one size has to fit all suit. When I arrived Max was the Squire and I took over when he left to see out his time at Sharjah. And we had our last ploughman’s supper shortly before I left for Sharjah with the MAMS Flight at the end of September. I still have the Squire’s Suit, perhaps I should offer it to the RAF Museum. The main role of the Squire was to round up as many secretaries from the Embassy, Nurses, and School Teachers etc. of the fair sex to ensure a good party.
My Annual Confidential Report. At Muharraq this was memorable, if unusual. OC Ops, my line boss was excellent. He understood MAMS, left us alone and was there when needed. One morning walking out to a job on the ramp (MAMS would often do the unusual loads, like the box, leaving the station movers to handle the schedules) when Wg Cdr Fowler spotted me, ‘David - I am up to my eyes, here is your F1369 ACR will you fill it in including the first reporting officer’s comments and let me have it back tomorrow?’ Which was an interesting challenge. Job done, I didn’t see the Wg Cdr for two or three weeks. When I did, again in passing out on the ramp, I tentively asked ‘Was the report OK?’ I was then given my formal debrief - ‘Not bad. It was half right!’ And we went our separate ways! I suppose I should exercise my freedom of information personal documents rights, or whatever they are, and shell out (anybody know how much it costs?} to get hold of my personal documents to find out what happened?
As a final ‘memory’ I enclose a photo reflecting a bit of ‘social life’ at RAF Muharraq.
Apart from myself on the right, Douggie Barr (who went on to become a serious wheel in the RAF transport world) and Carol Gray on the far left, I have no absolutely idea who the others are or what was the occasion? But we are obviously having fun, and this photo appears to encapsulate my very happy if very hazy memories of seven months in Muharraq.
F Team UK MAMS Abingdon 1967-69
OC Gulf MAMF 1971
Half way through my tour I was moved on to day shift working mainly in the cargo shed.
There was one day that I had a terrifying experience; on returning from the Bomb Dump on the Boss Forklift the steering suddenly went very stiff right at the end of the runway! I managed to clear the runway and discovered the hydraulic steering had fractured and therefore no power steering.
All in all I had a great time at Muharraq and in some ways was sorry to return to the UK.
I found going into Manama and buying things in the souq fascinating. I am certain that my experience there helped me to choose Movements as the trade to follow when Supply and Movements split.
I could go on and on but these are just a few of my memories of Muharraq or "Mucky Rack" as we called it! Just one thing more it saddens me to see what is happening now in Bahrain a vastly different place to the one I knew!
Best wishes and I hope this will stir other chap's memories of their time there.
Keri (Taff) Eynon
From: David Stevens, Bangor
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
Muharraq: Likewise, I was never stationed there but I did stage through on my way to RAF Sharjah in September 1962; my first posting. The fierce heat that hit me as I got to the top of the steps to disembark has stayed with me ever since. I had never known such heat and I was totally unprepared.
Then there is that infamous quote which (that) you will not be able to print; "Muharraq is the armpit of the world and Sharjah is very firmly lodged in it." And I surely was for a year! [Edited for content]
From: Peter Orton, Camberley, Surrey
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
After my initiation on the pan, I was adopted by Pete Cowan and was instructed in the smooth world of pax handling for the remaining 8 months of a 13 month tour. Memories were hazed by a diet of Carlsberg, Amstel, and Tennents, but I did find time to have a 21st birthday and come home on leave to get married which is another book in it's own right.
Muharraq was being built up to handle the Aden withdrawal and most of us were young first movements tourists; we were all learning on the job, and learned fast. The operation to leave the Yemen was a pretty amazing bit of joint services logistics, and gave me the chance to work at the Army forward trooping centre.
Away from work, when not "tired and emotional" the open-air Astra, with mandatory audience participation, was the primary entertainment. Erotic demos by the feral dogs, Sid and Bondhu, provided live "interludes" to the cinematic delights. Wednesday nights were avoided due to the inconsiderate VC-10 Moon Rocket with the quintet of Conways plus APU upsetting the acoustic balance.
It was July 1967, as a very immature LAC, I started my first movements, overseas, hot and sandy posting to Muharraq. I quickly found the ramp a fascinating and rewarding environment. We had resident Beverleys of 30 Squadron and Argosys of 205 Squadron supplemented by Britannias, Comets and shiny VC-10s of the then Transport Command. The first of the Hercs to come through were too posh for us as they were originally OCU trainers; that soon changed! The experience of all types was invaluable, even if the AFME 8 Beverley invariably involved at least 2 frame changes and 12-24 hour delays!
The vision of scores of airmen fantasising as Clint Eastwood, wrapped in blanket Ponchos, exiting the camp stack after "A fist full of Dinars" will be my abiding memory, along with an unrequited lust for the lady who ran the Malcolm Club. My apprenticeship in Bahrain set me up for a 50 year career in aviation. It was my defining period.
Were we ever that young?
From: Barry Tappenden, Shortstown, Beds
Subject: Memories of RAF Muharraq
Went to RAF Muharraq in 1970, sadly I was put into Supply Sqn. Looked after the fuel on the station and Island.
From: John Furney, Al Manama
In 1965 I was posted to the Movements Squadron at El Adem but within two weeks before leaving the UK it all changed and I found myself aboard a Britannia about to land at RAF Muharraq in Bahrain instead. No, the navigator had not got it wrong, merely the Egyptians had suddenly decided to shut Nasser's Corner, which was the route all RAF transport aircraft took around Egypt between El Adem and Khormaksar on the way to the Far East. Rapid changes to the Far East route had to be made and aircraft leaving the UK would now have to transit Akrotiri, Muharraq, Gan and then on to Changi and Kai Tak. So the Movements Squadron had to be boosted and I was the first reinforcement DAMO to arrive.
On arrival at Muharraq, the aircraft door was opened and once the initial intake of hot stifling breath was taken, an Arab gentleman, dressed in typical robe and headress, came through the door and called my name. My immediate reaction was that I had been deported before I had even arrived, however, a little hesitantly I followed this Arab only to find that in the light of day it actually was a dressed-up Dave Stevens who had thrown caution to the wind as it was him that I had come to take over from, and he was on the next plane home. The new officer compliment of the Movements Squadron turned out to be three Pilot Officers, one Flying Officer and the boss, Sqn Ldr Arthur Willshaw. We made up a four shift pattern and Arthur didn't. We soon found that in addition to the transiting Far East Britannias, Comets and civilian chartered freighter aircraft we also had to deal with a resident Beverley Sqn (30 Sqn), Twin Pioneers and VIP Pembrokes (152 Sqn) and visiting Gulf Argosys and more Beverleys from Khormaksar.
Of course the heart of a successful movements squadron are the airmen and NCOs who have the skills, knowledge and strength to undertake all the manual loading, unloading, cargo preparation, trimsheets, manifests etc., and I think it was because at the start when we were short staffed and we had all got thrown into a pattern of either sleeping or working in a very makeshift environment in a very unfriendly climate up to 120ºF with 90% humidity, that the moral was always high, people just got on and did a great job, sometimes achieving miracles when the pan was full of aircraft.
Just out of No. 5 Movements course and on my first full RAF posting, I found that as a shift DAMO not only was I responsible for all the movements aspects of working with transport aircraft as I had just been taught, but in addition I also found that I had to organise transiting crews and passenger transport and accommodation. The RAF had established a hotel in Manama, Britannia House, especially for transiting crew and passengers because there were no other hotels in Bahrain at that time. I also arranged for catering and almost everything else other than actual operations as the existing station was not geared up, nor established, for the handling of all the extra throughput of aircraft.
On reflection it was probably one of the best jobs I have ever had as, whilst on shift, we had total control and responsibility for many different aspects for a successful turnaround of transiting aircraft. We quickly learned that team work was everything if deadlines were to be achieved successfully. Of course, after numerous establishment reviews, further personnel were posted in for all the supporting trades but it wasn't until after I left in 1966 that shifts got extra officers, NCOs and airmen. Life life must have got a little dull without the adrenalin running as high as it did and each individual getting such a feeling of achievement when trusted to their own devices.
But of course all was far from being always serious and, as a DAMO, I am sure that a few bells will ring with others when I relate that on one occasion I had just waved goodbye to a Britannia full of passengers on their way to a holiday in Mombasa, walked around the corner of the squadron building only to find the locally employed labourers sitting on a full luggage train of suitcases belonging to the very people I had just seen off! Luckily a visiting Argosy rushed to my aid and I think the passengers and their luggage were reunited at Mombasa.
For those who have worked in hot climates, there always seems to be a custom where filtered water is kept cold in the fridge, usually in empty gin bottles. No guessing what I had given a glass full of to the teenage son of an transiting Admiral in the VIP lounge! I bet he slept soundly on the next leg, and we had no requests for a bit of tonic the next time.
Being so small, the arrivals, departures and transit lounges were all in the same room. This also included a NAAFI bar. Transit passenger confidence was at its lowest when the crew that brought them in made straight for the bar and spent the next hour quenching their thirsts, so that when the passengers were called to rejoin their aircraft there were many a hesitant glance, not belayed until it was explained a fresh crew was flying the next leg!
A regular USAF C-147 (Dakota) came from its base across the water in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to denude the liquid stocks of our NAAFI transit bar, filling up numerous diplomatic bags for their poor starved troops. I recall that one morning a diverted USAF KC135 (Stratotanker) appeared out of the gloom and in my usual manner I made my way up the aircraft steps, met the Loadmaster, chatted for a little while, gave them the layout and retreated. About 30 minutes later the Loadmaster came to ask me what I wanted to do with all the passengers! The KC135, a military version of the Boeing 707, has no windows and on my first boarding the whole of the aircraft was in darkness with no signs of anyone in the back. I had only left 80 passengers, including a 2-Star Admiral, cooped up in a dark and stuffy aircraft!
Other red-letter days included watching a baggage cart career unattended across the pan heading for a parked aircraft, the tipping up of a front undercarriage aircraft and pranging a forklift truck into the back of the aircraft we were loading. I don't think many have rescued a Russian Tu104 that has fallen off the shared civilian runway (mind you, the reward was great as they always had Red Barrel on tap which fostered a lasting relationship whenever they flew in). Lastly, I met and handled a Lancaster bomber transiting from Australia to the UK which flew in on three engines. It had been diverted to us out of Saudi Arabia while they tried to work out what sort of aeroplane a Lancaster was flying over their country. Unfortunately the UK Civil Aviation Authority grounded it as soon as it arrived in the U.K. as being unairworthy even although it had just flown from Australia.
In this snapshot of a DAMO's life in Muharraq, I hope that I have conveyed the typical situations that most Movers find themselves in at one time or another; being thrown in at the deep end, having to rescue the situation, resolve the problems and establish procedures as soon as possible in order to turn another aircraft around on time. Then there is the camaraderie afterwards; relaxing, having a laugh and perhaps sharing a glass or three!
p.s. The story does not end just then as from Muharraq they thought that I was an obvious candidate for UKMAMS - so, along with Echo Team, off we went - where to? Muharraq of course! We were to reinforce base Movements for the withdrawal from Khormaksar where tactical aircraft bought up the troops and equipment from Aden and we transshipped everything back to the UK. One of the included pictures shows the number of aircraft involved minus the VC-10s which were just coming into service. Of course, UKMAMS got delegated with the night shifts, but I have not worked so hard for over a week as it was continuous, non-stop graft.
p.p.s. No guessing where I live now for six months of the year, yes Bahrain, within a stone's throw of the old RAF Muharraq, now mostly commercial aircraft with numerous visiting USAF resupply aircraft. What is left of the RAF presence is very little, except for a couple of buildings which are now a geriatric hospital - how appropriate!
RAF Muharraq 1965/66
New members who have joined us recently are:
Norman Stamper, Torrevieja
Warren Heffernan, Burpengary, QLD
Welcome to the OBA!
Roundup of Relevant Stuff
This newsletter is dedicated
to the memories of:
Ian "Dinger" Bell (RAF)
Ken McKinstry (RAF)