An engine mechanic and former Boy Entrant, having completed his first posting on Valiants at Marham, Norris found himself on PWRs (Preliminary Warning Roster) on his 18th birthday in April 1965.
“When I checked in at the Admin office I was given a choice of postings, but as we all know that was purely academic, a month later I was given my 2-year posting to RAF Khormaksar, took some embarkation leave and was kitted out with my KD uniforms.
It was mid-August 1965 that my dad drove me, my mum and my fiancé to Gatwick to catch a chartered Britannia to Aden. My family saw me off with a few tears and I remember having my RAF holdall and a white kit bag with blue stripes as my luggage; in those days you took every bit of kit you could.
The flight was exciting with a mixture of people from all services and took about 17 hours. Part of the journey was over Egypt and the crew flew us over the pyramids, something I remember vividly today. As we neared Aden a rumour spread round the aircraft that someone on a previous flight was not able to sweat and was sent home on the next flight as a CASEVAC. So 20 or so of us at the back of the aircraft tried our best not to sweat as the temperature rose on the approach the Khormaksar as the air conditioning was not functioning properly. A sand storm had just cleared and when the doors opened the temperature rose sharply in the aircraft to well over 100º F with high humidity levels. In a few seconds, our efforts to try not to sweat failed and I was wringing wet by the time I reached arrivals, resigning myself that my tour in Aden would have to last a little longer.
The RAF contingent was taken by 3-toner to Transit Lines and a bed for the short period internal postings and permanent accommodation were allocated. That evening, to the persistent shouts of ‘mooney’, I paid my first visit to the Camel Club, one of many as it transpired. I sampled some local refreshment as, at 18 and not an experienced drinker, turned down the offer to try a can of Tiger or Tennants beer. As time drew on, however, the Tennants Anne and other girls illustrated on the cans made life worth living! Having drunk a couple of Bacardi and cokes without noticing that they weren't measured (there was more Bacardi than coke), I soon became ‘ratted’ but fortunately, a few kind souls took me back to the Transit Billet where I commenced a night of chucking up. What a way to start my tour in Aden.
The next morning, under a stinking hangover and dressed in my new KDs, I made my way to the General Office to start my arrivals procedure, the soaking sweat penetrating my uniform in dark patches. On entering the office, the impact of arctic-like air conditioning sent a shiver through my body and in contrast to me, the shinys (clerks) were smartly dressed in their starched, well creased uniforms. On receiving my blue arrival card I then had to trek round the camp gaining signature after signature in various departments and sections and on arrival at Engineering Wing HQ, was allocated my internal posting by an SAC Clerk. The conversation went as follows:
‘Where have you just come from?’
‘Marham’, I replied.
‘What did you work on?', came the next question.
‘V-bombers’, I said.
‘Better send you to Strike Wing then.’
‘Where’s that?’, I enquired.
‘The desk over there!’.
'Ah!', I gasped.
I walked over to the other Clerk who, in almost verbatim terms, asked the same questions again before uttering the words:
‘You are posted to 37 Squadron’. I asked him if that was a Hunter unit, as I had experience and qualifications from working on the Avon jet engine on the Valiant.
‘No not Hunters, as you have bomber experience you are on Shackletons’. And so I started my tour on Shacks, which was to help my RAF career no end regarding experience and promotions.
On continuing my ‘Bluie’ walk-about I then went to 37 Squadron to complete my arrival, and be greeted with the words, ‘you’re on A-shift starting at noon to morrow’. Basically, that was 24 hours on, 24 hours off for the next 2 years; no weekends, bank holidays or breaks other than a few weeks leave in the UK or detachments away from base. I was then taken, with all my kit, to Hunter block and room 8 on the top floor. This was a 5-man room and I was soon to learn that my room mates names were Eddie, Fergus, Spud and Sam and as I walked in they all looked up and cheered, ‘mooney, days to do’ and pointed to my bed.
The next few months were like groundhog day, interspersed with 24-hour stints of 2 hours on and 4 hours off on station guard duty; the Power House 3rd shift was the duty from hell. With just four aircraft on the Squadron, our role was bombing, staffing targets up country and maritime patrol, searching for eastern block ships and submarines although Search and Rescue cover remained our core responsibility. As ground crew, we often had the opportunity to fly as additional crew, all very exciting for an impressionable 18 year-old.
During this first few months I had a great boss, Chief Technician Danny Thomas, who mentored me through my trade exams, and guided me through life’s straight and narrow. My promotion to Junior Technician came through in April 66. I owe very much of the person I am today to Danny’s leadership and advice.
Early in 1966, Rhodesia declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) and 37 Squadron was given the task, along with a couple of other Shackleton squadrons detached from the UK and Malta, of patrolling the Beira Straight to enforce an oil embargo. We maintained a detachment in Madagascar and in July 1966 an oil specification change was the cause severe oil leaks on the engines on the four aircraft. I was sent down to Madagascar for a couple of days to assist with the additional workload and hitched a lift back on a Shack that was due a heavy maintenance in the UK. While flying somewhere over Africa in the middle of the night, the number 1 engine caught fire and seized. Due to the drag effect from the wind-milling propellers, the pilot managed to extinguish the fire and carried out an emergency landing at Nairobi; we sank a few ‘Tusker’ ales in the airport lounge over the next few hours. The very next day England won the World Cup and I got to stay in Nairobi with the aircraft for six weeks fitting a replacement engine. At least it kept me away from Aden and guard duty.
Back in Aden and ‘groundhog day’ with numerous ‘actions’ all over the State. I remember well the day I ‘encountered’ ‘Mad Mitch’. One of our guard duty responsibilities was to man an entrance into Waterloo lines, where the RAF and Army married quarters met. In the RAF, if you saw a senior officer who you knew and you did not challenge him and ask for his ID, you were placed on a charge. Assuming the same criteria applied when the Colonel accompanied by a group of well armed ‘action men’, arrived at my check point at a fair speed, I fearlessly stepped in front of the convoy, pointing my 1939 Lea Enfield and five rounds of old Indian ammunition towards them. Chaos ensued! After a lot of swerving, braking and action men falling all over the place, a lot of shouting and the Colonel demanding that I get out of his way. The last Land Rover was driven by an Argyle piper who vaguely knew me as Fergus, one of the guys in my billet, was also a piper. That didn't stop him pulling up and grabbing my shirt at the throat and used the strongest of military language to threaten to do my ‘heed in’ at the Camel Club later. On my arrival back at the Guard Room, I realised that I was the centre of conversation and instructions were issued to allow ‘Mad Mitch’ and other senior officers who appeared to be in a hurry, discretion with the ID checks.
I also undertook a number of detachments to Sharjah where we maintained Desert and Gulf patrols. These were particularly enjoyable as working in a small team suited me better. It was during my final visit in April 67 and after 20 months of my tour that my fiancé sent me ‘Dear John’ - we’ve now been married 43 years). Needless to say, it was pinned to the dart board for the rest of the shift, but my colleagues didn't have the heart to give me too much stick so I was grateful for that.
Back to Aden for the final few months and not a pleasant time. During the period of my tour, many of us were shot at, just missed being hit by a grenade or mortar, and have stories to tell. News of my tour-ex posting to St Athan (near my fiancé’s home town in South Wales) was gratefully received as we were able to sort the ‘Dear John’ out. Everyone was now counting their ‘days to do’ and sorting ‘chitty boxes’ out for their the final day before giving all that remained away. The flight back was another long one, via Bahrain, Istanbul and Rome. I arrived in the UK just 20 years old, with no heroes welcome for Aden Vets, no march pasts or parades, just get on with it, it was all part of a day’s work.”