Navigator



RAF Mauripur, in Pakistan, was virtually at the crossroads to and from the Far East – to the north lay Habbaniya and the Gulf stations; to the west Aden and the southern Arabian staging posts; to the east, Palam and Dum-Dum, and to the south Negombo and Changi

My journey to Mauripur started at RAF Lyneham on a Hastings flight in mid November 1954. The ground crew had to clear the snow off of the wings before we took off for Fayid. We were to have spent a night at Luqa, but that became two nights due to the aircraft needing an engine change. I arrived in the Canal Zone, spent a week at El Hamra then on to Habbaniya via Mafraq on a Valetta. I spent another week here lounging around before moving on to Mauripur.

I arrived at Mauripur in mid December 1954 along with a character named ‘Busty’ James and the returning rugby team on the duty Valetta from Habbaniya. It was on this flight that we learned the words to the infamous middle-eastern songs “Aiwa Shuft Sai-Ida” and “Leaving Khartoum.”

When I arrived the CO was Wing Commander Garbett, and in charge of Air Movements where I was to work was Flight Lieutenant Brown . I was allotted a space in billet 41B and donut remember seeing much of ‘Busty’ from then on as he was in a billet situated on the other side of the parade ground.

The main function of Mauripur – where about 40 of us were stationed (just a half dozen of us in Air Movements – 3 per shift, 24 hours on and 24 hours off) – was to accommodate aircraft on overnight stops to and from the Far East and Australia. The main workhorse was the Hastings and the scheduled flight numbers were prefixed with AUH to Australia, USH to Changi and UKH to Kai Tak. The busiest were the UAH’s as the Woomera Rocket Range was in full swing at the time. Most of the aircraft hauled freight but some carried just a few passengers. Their flights were given top priority and if ever one aircraft went unserviceable then any other Hastings unlucky enough to be parked nearby was robbed of the required parts and forced to wait for fresh ones to be shipped out from the UK. Other regular visitors included duty flights of Valetta's from Habbaniya and Aden, as well as numerous Canberra's, Vampires and Venoms.

As Mauripur was in a fairly strict Muslim country, pig products were banned, but each Thursday the duty Valetta (Duty Pig) would leave Habbaniya – where amongst other things they had a pig farm – with a 30lb piece of bacon on board for our Sunday breakfast!  The coolies (all Muslims) would not go near the aircraft until they knew that the sweeper (a Christian) had removed the offending cargo.

Though ostensibly a military airfield, we did have a customs officer, as well as immigration and health people.  The Health Officer, Ali, was a small bloke, 5’6” in his Jinnah hat; his main item of equipment being a trolley, on which carried a can of obnoxious eye-watering DDT, a two-stroke motor and a hose.  His duty was to spray the interior of every aircraft arriving from the west!

We normally avoided boarding the aircraft because of Ali – we left it to the duty officer to ‘welcome’ any passengers, but there was this one time I couldn't resist it.  Air Traffic Control would advise us of any VIPs or high-ranking officers arriving, and we had a UAH coming in full of Colonels and Wing Commanders upwards.  Once on board with the door shut behind us, old Ali gave them all a full dose of his evil liquid – I cried, they cried, but what a laugh!

The Americans were frequent visitors, and, although they had no service people stationed at Mauripur, they used some of our facilities. Each Sunday morning a MATS flight arrived from Palam, stopped for an hour or two and then flew on to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The passengers used our lounge and I had many a conversation with a General or a doctor or entertainer; they were all fascinated that there was still a British unit on the sub-continent. Their aircraft were mainly Skymasters, Globemasters, B-29’s and of course DC-3’s.

The French occasionally had flights passing through. Once a month a lone DC-4 would arrive from Saigon, usually landing in the early hours of the morning when we should have all been fast asleep – so they were very unpopular. We also had a flight of Privateers arrive and the odd Nordatlas. They were on their way home as the days of the French in Indo China were rapidly coming to an end. Dutch, Greek and Indian aircraft passed through, and lets not forget the dozen or so Spitfires sold by Israel to Burma.  All in all we had a lot of movements every day.

As Mauripur was in a fairly strict Muslim country, pig products were banned, but each Thursday the duty Valetta (Duty Pig) would leave Habbaniya – where amongst other things they had a pig farm – with a 30lb piece of bacon on board for our Sunday breakfast!  The coolies (all Muslims) would not go near the aircraft until they knew that the sweeper (a Christian) had removed the offending cargo.

Though ostensibly a military airfield, we did have a customs officer, as well as immigration and health people.  The Health Officer, Ali, was a small bloke, 5’6” in his Jinnah hat; his main item of equipment being a trolley, on which carried a can of obnoxious eye-watering DDT, a two-stroke motor and a hose.  His duty was to spray the interior of every aircraft arriving from the west! We normally avoided boarding the aircraft because of Ali – we left it to the duty officer to ‘welcome’ any passengers, but there was this one time I couldn't resist it.  Air Traffic Control would advise us of any VIPs or high-ranking officers arriving, and we had a UAH coming in full of Colonels and Wing Commanders upwards.  Once on board with the door shut behind us, old Ali gave them all a full dose of his evil liquid – I cried, they cried, but what a laugh!

The Americans were frequent visitors, and, although they had no service people stationed at Mauripur, they used some of our facilities. Each Sunday morning a MATS flight arrived from Palam, stopped for an hour or two and then flew on to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The passengers used our lounge and I had many a conversation with a General or a doctor or entertainer; they were all fascinated that there was still a British unit on the sub-continent. Their aircraft were mainly Skymasters, Globemasters, B-29’s and of course DC-3’s.

The French occasionally had flights passing through. Once a month a lone DC-4 would arrive from Saigon, usually landing in the early hours of the morning when we should have all been fast asleep – so they were very unpopular. We also had a flight of Privateers arrive and the odd Nordatlas. They were on their way home as the days of the French in Indo China were rapidly coming to an end. Dutch, Greek and Indian aircraft passed through, and lets not forget the dozen or so Spitfires sold by Israel to Burma.  All in all we had a lot of movements every day.

At that time in Malaya the Vampires were being changed for Venoms, so a flight of Vampires would be shepherded in from Palam by a Canberra and their Venom replacements would be waiting at Mauripur, ready to be guided back across India. I also recall four Canberra's of 617 Squadron, with a back-up Hastings, making an overnight stop at Mauripur on their way from Malaya to Cyprus.

The next morning, within half an hour after taking off, they returned – three of them landed OK but the fourth was only operating on one engine and the pilot rather bent it when he put down. It ended up as scrap metal at Mauripur.

My main function was the preparation of weight and balance trim sheets. The Hastings was relatively easy as most of the cargo was through traffic (stayed on the aircraft). The only hassle was when a u/s engine had to be returned to the UK.

The Australian UAH aircraft had priority. If one went u/s then the load, usually rocket parts going to Woomera, would be transferred to another Hastings, which created a delay for another service.

The Kai Tak UKH flights were once a month and would return to the UK as Casevac (casualty evacuation). We would have some fun manoeuvring the ramp (4-coolie power) to the entrance of the aircraft to get the stretcher cases off.


At that time in Malaya the Vampires were being changed for Venoms, so a flight of Vampires would be shepherded in from Palam by a Canberra and their Venom replacements would be waiting at Mauripur, ready to be guided back across India. I also recall four Canberra's of 617 Squadron, with a back-up Hastings, making an overnight stop at Mauripur on their way from Malaya to Cyprus.

The next morning, within half an hour after taking off, they returned – three of them landed OK but the fourth was only operating on one engine and the pilot rather bent it when he put down. It ended up as scrap metal at Mauripur.

My main function was the preparation of weight and balance trim sheets. The Hastings was relatively easy as most of the cargo was through traffic (stayed on the aircraft). The only hassle was when a u/s engine had to be returned to the UK.

The Australian UAH aircraft had priority. If one went u/s then the load, usually rocket parts going to Woomera, would be transferred to another Hastings, which created a delay for another service.

The Kai Tak UKH flights were once a month and would return to the UK as Casevac (casualty evacuation). We would have some fun manoeuvring the ramp (4-coolie power) to the entrance of the aircraft to get the stretcher cases off.

The Valetta was a pig to balance, and of course there were no computers or calculators in those days, so it was all done in long hand. While we did the paperwork the coolies did the humping.

Korangi Creek was just down the coast from Mauripur and we had, on three occasions, met and serviced NZ Sunderlands in transit home. Korangi was the old Imperial Airways base but all the refueling equipment had long since gone and so the Sunderlands had to be refuelled by hand. They would arrive in the last light of day and would be serviced, then refuelled from a pier full of hundreds of petrol cans. A team of coolies transported the cans by launch and then passed them up through the aircraft to one of our fitters, who was pouring the fuel into the tanks by hand – it took all night! We then had to be up at 03:30 to transport the crew (who had slept at Mauripur) back to Korangi for first light take off to Ceylon. Sometimes it would take two or three goes before they managed to get off the water; it was all very interesting.


Air Movements 1955. Geordie Knight, John Holloway,
Sgt Stan Hibberty, Lennon , Flt Lt Brown,Tony Nicholas,
PO Campbell Miller, Bert Draper

Derek Riley and I took a fortnights leave up in Muree, travelling up by rail on the ‘Khyber Mail’; 9:30 p.m. out of Karachi for 2 days and 2 nights journey. It seemed that all of the train crew came to talk to us, and they all had relatives in Southall!

We stayed with Major and Mrs. Potts whom almost everyone stayed with at that time when spending their leave up in the hills. It was very pleasant after the rotten humidity that we had to suffer with at Mauripur. Talking about humidity; there was a Chief Tech in charge of the Aircraft Servicing Flight, a little fat guy who used to walk about in nothing but his shorts. He was covered in ‘prickly heat’ and carried around an 18” ruler continually scratching himself to ease the irritation.

I seem to recall that the first trips I made into Karachi were usually with half a dozen of us, and we always seemed to end up in a Chinese restaurant. In fact I became hooked on Chinese food. There were three good places – The ABC, The Café Canton and The South China. There was also a good restaurant for English food; steak (camel, horse or water buffalo) called The Gaylords. For a really posh night out we would go to the Metropole Hotel. We also used to visit the airport, watch the aircraft for a while and then go to the Speedbird Hotel for a meal. In fact I used to eat out quite a lot so I suppose the food on the camp must have been pretty bad.

Sometimes, when we had nothing better to do, we used to walk across the muttee down to the salt flats where we used to take great delight in chucking stones at the mud-flappers. Along the way was a small clump of trees, amongst which was a banana tree which bore just one stem of fruit. Also in that area was a small cultivated plot where I thought marrows were growing, but when you shook them the seeds inside rattled – it was the first time I had seen loofahs, perhaps the first time I’d heard of them.

We shared the camp cinema with the Pakistani Officers. I recall one night the projectionist put the film reels on in the wrong order; the cowboys we had seen being shot dead were alive and kicking half an hour later! It could only happen at Mauripur.

One event I can’t really believe happened had I not seen it with my own eyes; a visiting American Admiral arrived one day, his Super Constellation pulled up on the VIP pad where awaiting him was an RPAF guard of Honour and band. As he stepped out of the aircraft the band struck up with what must have been the only Navy tune they knew – Rule Britannia!

Charlie, the blind bookseller, used to roam the billets and we would try and swap books already read for fresh ones without him knowing. Then there was the ‘char wallah’ with his foul smelling charcoals keeping the equally foul tasting tea warm. We also used to get the ‘wood wallah’ around the billet selling an array of different items, coffee tables, fruit bowls on elephant heads, and on the intertwined legs carved out of one piece of wood. We had a bit of a chess league in the billet and I can remember Martin Large and myself had him make us a folding chessboard each. I’ve still got mine.

After the Spitfires had come and gone, having been sold by Israel to Burma, a lone Spitfire came in. It had got left behind at Sharjah waiting for spares, so it was a couple of days behind the main flight. As it taxied in to park I went out to meet it along with Health Officer Ali and his trolley of DDT. He climbed up on the wing and asked the pilot to ’close the window’, but the canopy was missing and the pilot, a woman, was in desperate need to relieve herself. She jumped out of the cockpit and ran to the Section with him chasing after her. As I entered the lounge she was disappearing into the Ladies room, leaving him to ponder his next move. Many years later I found out that the pilot was Jackie Muggeredge, a renowned wartime ATA ferry pilot who had recounted in a book that she had written the situation very close to the one I had remembered.

I decided to take some leave in, of all places, Aden. I’d seen a camera I fancied in an American magazine. As we had just come under the Aden Command, and being a duty free port, I took the duty pig down there. When quite a few of the lads heard I was going to Aden, I became loaded down with orders for a host of different items. The various monies that were gathered for me to spend were Sterling, blank cheques, postal orders and of course Pakistani Rupees. Most I managed to get rid of easily, except for the Rupees. Not even the moneychangers sitting on the pavement wanted to know. I went to the RAF Accounts office on Sheba* camp, told them I was on leave, and they gave me full value for them. I’d obtained so much loot that I had to buy a suitcase to put it all in.

I missed the duty pig back to Mauripur, as, for some reason, it flew a day earlier than scheduled. I had to come out of the luxurious Crescent Hotel and into a crap transit billet and reported for duty at Khormaksar, as officially I was AWOL. I worked in Air Movements for a week, and did the paperwork for the next duty pig to make sure I was on it.

The flight was quite normal, stop at Riyan, lunch at Salalah, then late afternoon into Masirah. This meant landing at Mauripur late in the evening and in the dark, so I would be able to smuggle the loot past the customs officer. But no! About half an hour after take off from Masirah, somewhere over the Indian Ocean, the fire klaxon started to scream, a most frightening sound. I looked out of the window and saw smoke pouring out from one of the engines. We turned back to Masirah and landed with all the lads manning the Landrover fire wagon tearing alongside the aircraft. On investigation the problem wasn’t as serious as first thought – an exhaust had come away from the engine. It did mean a night stop and then fly on to Mauripur, landing in broad daylight and me with all the loot!

When we landed at Mauripur the customs officer, along with a lot of other uniformed locals, watched us as we taxied in, so I had to leave everything on the kite whilst the anxious lads waiting for their goodies had to sweat it out. Later in the day I sent a coolie out to the aircraft to get it all off. Everyone was happy!

On one of our early morning trips out to Korangi Creek, taking crews of RNZAF Sunderlands for first light take off, we passed convoys of camels and carts making their way into the city. The drivers could be seen in the beam of the old Bedford coach’s headlights – they were fast asleep and the camels were just plodding along in their own way, as they must have done for years past. The Pakistan Government was going to change the driving to the right hand side of the road, but had to scrap the idea because no way would the camels that made up the bulk of the traffic be made to walk on the ‘wrong’ side of the road!

In my billet (41B) I used to sleep with my head under the fan and feet under the window. One night I felt something drop on the bed from the window ledge and saw a rat scurrying along the billet floor. So the next night we prepared for it. We locked Queenie, the billet dog, in a locker and waited. Eventually I saw the silhouette of the monster in the window, and after it had dropped into the billet I shouted “Rat!” Everybody leaped out of their beds, shut the door and all of the windows and let the dog loose. The rat literally ran up the walls and windows until we caught it and Queenie got her first blood.

Pakistan became a republic in 1956, and so we had to leave. Most of us relocated to Aden – a most picturesque part of the world!

Headquarters British Forces Aden was quite a different situation. My job each day was to call forward passengers from the various orderly rooms scattered around Aden for the flights out of Khormaksar the following day. These passengers would be going to many different destinations such as Eastleigh, Riyan, Salalah, Masirah, Sharjah, Muharraq and of course the lucky ones returning to the UK.

When the Suez crisis came to a head I was posted to Khormaksar. We handled all kinds of freighter aircraft there including Avro Tudors, Yorks, Hermes and Hastings. On the passenger side we had the BOAC Britannia's even before BOAC managed to get them into service. It was extremely hectic.

I returned to the UK in January of 1957 aboard one of the very first flights of the RAF Comet 2’s. Our routing to RAF Lyneham was via Entebbe, Kano and Idris.

After disembarkation leave I was posted to Lyneham until my demob in September. My job at Lyneham was working with a couple of other lads with HM Customs. We would pry through unaccompanied baggage where we would find thousands of cigarettes stashed away along with pornographic photos and films as well as liquor of every description. Unfortunately these goods had to be confiscated; a rotten job, but we had a flight sergeant who was a bit of a bastard keeping his eye on us.


* Sheba Camp, for those who do not remember it in Aden - you are forgiven. According to John it was an absolute tip of a place and was torn down in 1956