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.
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’.
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 one’s 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