Sgt Chris Dance

Chris was an Engine Fitter who had only been back in the UK 18 months after a busy 2½-year tour at Nicosia in Cyprus, and was not best pleased when a posting came in for him to go to Aden.

But I’ve only just got back!

“We had several engine fitters on our Flying Training School Unit who had never been abroad so why me? I was informed it was a ‘Key Post’, which sounds very important but turned out to mean that you had to do two years and if you were fortunate your family might join you. With the terrorist troubles in Aden being very much in the news in the latter months of 1965, it was not a good place to be sent to.

I was informed by the Officer IC P3 at my UK unit that I would be most likely be assigned to one of the Hunter squadrons. I was due for promotion to Sergeant in the first week of January 1966, and I was informed that due to my good assessments and record it would come through on time.

On arrival in London I made my way to the Union Jack Club for an overnight stay. In the early hours of the following morning, I made my way to Gatwick and as I walked into the departure lounge at Gatwick, was astonished to see so many familiar faces from ASF Nicosia. None of us felt that we were due another overseas posting as we knew many tradesman who had never done an overseas tour. We were keyed up and ready to go but then we were informed that we would have to go to RAF Hendon as our trooping VC 10 was unserviceable.

Arrival at Khormaksar

Next day and another early morning start and a ride back to Gatwick in an RAF bone-shaker of a bus whose driver got lost. Eventually we boarded our VC10 and departed for Aden in a very tired state due to the poor accommodation of the previous two nights and the early morning starts. Many of us slept right through the flight all the way to Aden. It was dark when we landed at Khormaksar and as the aircraft doors opened the hot, humid, stinking air of Aden hit us. We were put on another, even worse, bone shaker of an RAF bus but this time we had an aspiring racing driver at the wheel. He skidded to a halt and informed us that this was Beverley Block; there were spare beds in there and some blankets were in the store rooms. Find a bed and get in it and report to P3 in the morning. Finding a bed proved very difficult in the dark, not helped by constant swearing from occupied beds. The only words of welcome were, “Not more bloody moonies”. I managed to find a bed but was politely informed next morning that I had slept in the bed of a guy who was on guard and he would probably sort me out for using it and his bedding!!!

None of us ate much for breakfast, it being the first time we had had encountered an Aden delicacy, the injected egg. We found P3 and were eventually allocated a permanent billet; we even got bedding, etc. We were also allocated our own Dhobi Wallah who would do anything for us as long as we paid him. Looking rather stupid in our new KD, we headed for one of the tailor shops just outside the camp where they could smarten-up a uniform in an afternoon. We had to pay for this transformation out of our own pockets but we couldn’t do anything about our ‘moonie’ legs.

I cannot recall if it was the first or second day of our arrival but we were soon placed in the care of the RAF Regiment and this fearless body of men took us to Steamer Point where we were told we were about to become marksmen. They also explained how easy it was for us to be killed or maimed. The Regiment SNCOs delighted in showing us the gory details. After that we were out on guard. The guard parade was enormous enough to feel that you were about to be presented to her HM the Queen and several airmen were charged for not being smart enough. That 24-hour guard was a killer and all of us were ‘fried’ under the hot sun. Welcome to Aden!

With our guard duty over, we finally got to Manning Control. I was wondering when I would get to work on those Hunters as, after all, I did have a ‘Key Post’. Instead, although I was informed that I going to Strike Wing, it would be to 37 SQUADRON SHACKLETONS and not the Hunters!! I could not believe it. I reported to Strike Wing HQ and was conducted into the Squadron Leader’s office where I was informed that 37 was very short of engine men and that I could expect lots of hard work with plenty of overtime.

It was a long trek from Strike Wing HQ to the 37 Squadron offices. As I walked in I was welcomed with open arms and told go to stores to get some working shorts before a grey haired Chief Tech presented me with a list of snags on an aircraft that had just returned from detachment. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a couple of smartly dressed Sergeants looking on with grins on there faces but it was left to another Sergeant, who was almost tour-ex,  to introduce me to my first Shackleton. The aircraft was in a filthy state, with black exhaust marks on the cowlings and oily sand adhering to the aircraft skin. The Sergeant explained that the aircraft hardly ever get washed as they are always in demand. I also learned that there were four of the beasts on 37 and as it was impossible to keep them flying in a fully serviceable condition, each aircraft F700 contain many redline entries.

I soon linked up with a couple of Corporals and together we managed to sort out some of the snags on the list. I learned quite a lot on that first day. The Griffon engines on the Shack were not too unfamiliar as I had worked on the Merlin engine during fitter training. There were many new features to learn about though, such as the pentagraph controls. These were a complicated series of rods and levers that controlled various functions of the engine. The Shack had two, contra-rotating props on each engine, operated by a translation unit. There was so much to learn and within a couple of weeks I would be a Sergeant!

On enquiring about the two grinning Sergeants I had earlier encountered, I found out that the smartly turned out one was very skilled at dodging doing any work on the aircraft as he hated getting dirty. The other was a Shift Boss who had been on the squadron over twelve months and, although he knew everything about the aircraft, he again did not do any work on them. A very strange situation indeed especially as the CO said that the Squadron was so short of engine fitters. I wondered what would happen when my promotion came through. I certainly did not want to work in the office.

Luckily, a skilled Shackleton Chief Tech was sent on his way out from St Mawgan to take up a ‘key post’ tour with 37 just as I got my promotion. We soon became good friends and soon discovered that we had the same work ethics. He soon sorted out the grinning Sergeants who they found themselves out on the pan with spanners in their hands. Who was grinning now!

Despite the Chief Tech insinuating that I was too young to be a SNCO, my promotion eventually came through. The Warrant Officer seemed pleased with me and gave me plenty of encouragement and congratulations on my promotion. Sadly, he left soon after having become tour-ex.

You had to learn quickly on a Shack squadron and for me, being a very new SNCO, I had lots to be concerned about. It was most important to get to know the men and which ones could be trusted to do a job correctly and those that needed a permanent kick up the backside. I was also worried about my family coming out, especially with 37 being sent on long-term detachments. They could be on their own in a hostile environment while you were elsewhere in the world. Sergeants and below were usually allocated married accommodation in the Maala district, a few miles from Khormaksar. Living there also meant more duties as a Warden on street patrol, although SNCOs usually had the job of organising the duty roster for wardens. In addition, we had camp guard duties which were the priority. SNCOs in 1966 were the guard commanders. It was common to come off a 24-hour guard duty and be called to the Squadron to get an aircraft ready for operations and there were plenty of those during my time on 37 Squadron.”