SAC Ben Bennett

Ben was an Instrument Mechanic (Mech) and his two-year tour on 8 Squadron began in May 1960, having travelled out to Aden on one of the dwindling number of troopships, HMT Dilwara. Here, he is seen (second left) with some of the other unfortunates en-route to South Arabia.

An adrenaline charged adventure!

There I was, nothing on the clock, dressed in an over-sized flying suit (parachute dangling nonchalantly from my bottom) having just received a terrifying briefing on what to do in the event I had to abandon ship as there was no ‘bang seat’ in this kite! The ship, in this case was a venerable Meteor T.7 at Cranwell in 1959. So began my first jet air experience - what a trip to remember especially as you are on your own (so to speak) in the back seat and feeling all the world like Snoopy! I do recall the pilot saying to me at one stage “should you feel sick at any stage old boy, please switch off the R/T as I would prefer not to experience your efforts in my ears”!


Second trip was in a Vampire T.11 which was quite uncomfortable as I was strapped in so tight and visibility was not so good but hey, a good trip nevertheless.


Finally, and the ‘piece-de-resistance’. February 1962, Fg Off Brian Voller in the port seat telling me to lightly grip the top of the control column stick top. Brakes on - flaps set for take off - throttle forward - engine rpm winding up - nose leg oleo shortening like a compressed spring! Sitting there adrenaline pumping in a vibrating, tethered noise. Brakes off - WHAM! Rammed back into my ejection seat as the nose sprang up and we shot forward and upward the bloody thing taking itself off without any human intervention pulling back on the stick - what amazing aerodynamics! There followed a bit of general handling including loops and rolls which I seemed to manage ok followed by some very boring mountains and sand. Then we got to the good bit - a bit of rocket (simulated) firing practice on some rocks out at sea. On the pull out I was sure I was as heavy as Jabba the Hut! To finish off we completed a GCA approach which was a bit of monkey hear, monkey do but most useful in bad weather. Overall, an exhilarating experience and clearly one which has stayed with me. Although I was on the cusp of ‘chucking up’ towards the end because of the sweet smell of oxygen on rubber, I managed to keep it down. This might just be because I feared the wrath of the armourers having to clear-up the mess plus the obligatory donation of a case of ‘Slops’.

Keeping clean and tidy!

Ben remembers that, the dhobi wallahs were not very efficient at their task. Leave your soiled kit wrapped in a towel at the foot of ones bed as you left for the squadron in the morning and, hey presto, it would magically return that same afternoon - all starched, cleaned and pressed. Of course, each item had to be indelibly marked with one’s own hieroglyph - I can still remember mine. As if their task was not onerous enough, (many of the poor little blighters were bandy-legged from the great weights they had to carry from an early age) I don’t think we helped their situation any by paying the grinning wallahs 14 shillings every fortnight in the customary way; East African halfpennies strung in necklace fashion, each coin having a hole through the middle! Never had a complaint!!!

Antics at the Astra

There occasioned a bizarre event one evening outside the Astra cinema. It was published in Khormaksar Routine Orders that airmen were to wear KD trousers to the cinema lest they offend members of the opposite sex who might (very well) catch a glimpse of male genitalia! Naturally the lads did not take very kindly to this order as wearing long trousers made their nether regions even hotter and so they ignored the order. When the dogs were brought out to quell the ensuing riot’, a jolly time was had by all. It should be remembered that any behaviour was fair game to break the monotony!


As a prelude to the evening’s big film at the Astra, cartoons would be shown. Mickey Mouse featured every night. As the credits rolled and Fred Quimby’s name appeared, up would go a roar from the audience GOOD OLD FRED!’ - quite scary upon first experience! Another example of intuitive audience participation was in the form of a post script to an advert for Alsops lager where, in championing the lager’s attributes, the final voice-over would say................cools your blood’, the response to which was AND ROTS YOUR GUTS’! Oh what joy to be in the anonymity of the crowd!


Into Kuwait


With General Kassim poised to enter Kuwait, 8 Squadron was ordered up to Bahrain and from their on to the tiny oil rich state. Having just touched down at Kuwait New Airport, which was still under construction, in an 84 Squadron Beverley, we deplaned and prepared to unload our equipment and gear. I was convinced I was standing in the exhaust of a Houchin petrol/electric power generating set as the heat was so intense when compared to Aden! As the newly-laid tarmac had not fully set, the aircraft slowly began to sink into it and we actually cracked an egg on the wing of a Hunter and it fried quite quickly! With regards to our accommodation, it can be described as skeletal at best; no fans or air-conditioning and we had to sleep on spring-wire camp beds sharing each others warm, second-hand body odours - not very nice! I seem to recall that most of our time was spent in assembling HE rockets.


Brotherly Love.

It was mid 61 that my brother Mick was posted in to Khormaksar. In an attempt to get him on to the squadron, I paid a visit to the General Office and complete a form to claim him. Much to my surprise, my efforts were rewarded and Mick was duly posted on to 8 Sqn. Imagine his chagrin, however, when he discovered that he could have spent two blissful years in the Instrument Bay - AIR-CONDITIONED! He hasnt forgiven me to this day!!!


On our first detachment to Bahrein (that was the original spelling!) at the end of a busy days operations with the aircraft on the line chocked & locked’, I decided to show Mooneybrother one of the tricks of the trade, such as, how to gain entry into the cockpit when there was no access ladder available.

  • 1st Trick: Grab hold of the port wing extension, leg up onto the 230 gal drop tank, onto the wing, then the spine, slide back the hood and hey presto youre in!

  • 2nd Trick: Take a running jump, stick your left foot into the spring-loaded ladder flap whilst simultaneously sliding back the hood and hey presto you should have been in!!! Didnt quite make it, bounced off the fuselage, a bit winded and thought no more of it. Next morning, on attempting to rise from my bed, no way - result, three cracked ribs!!! Moral - dont show off when youre tired!

Common ailments that would make you crook in Aden were: sunburn, heatstroke, Montezumas revenge, Camel spider bites (very often in the nether regions) and Aden ear. Now this particular agony was caused by sea water entering the ear canal and not finding its way out - hence, severe pain. The cure, however, was far worse than the ailment itself, viz: a long thin bandage duly soaked in ascetic acid (vinegar) and then threaded into the raw ear canal - excruciating!!!

And finally

Some memories are unique to that place and that time. As a fresh-faced nineteen-year-old, they were mostly good ones, accepted in the true spirit of adventure and the fact that we were all in the same level of discomfort. The reader should bear in mind that political correctness had not raised its inane head at this time. As the locally employed labour was wont to steal water from the water coolers in our hangar, one wag hit upon a sure fire way to stop this dastardly habit - a rasher of bacon around the tap outlet!!! Another quirky habit of several airmen was to place each of their bed legs in an upturned, empty shoe polish tin filled with various liquid concoctions to stop the crawlies, bities and stingies from getting at them whilst asleep. Bearing in mind that up until 1962 there was no air-conditioning, we were sleeping under ceiling fans and when there was a power cut, we all (thousands) woke as one. It was common for numerous fires to be lit in protest in the airmens three-storey blocks, only to be rapidly extinguished just before the fire engine arrived. A jolly time was had by all and anything (once again) to break the boredom. Drinking beer naturally played a large part in our off-duty time (we worked 07:00 to 13:00) and games involving this thirst quenching activity we very popular, especially Cardinal Puff. This involved telling a story accompanied by a particular sequence of actions performed at a fast rate. When (as most did) the chosen victim failed, he had to buy the next round of beer. An amusing spectator sport!