Cpl Rodney Carter

Posted to 8 Squadron as an Airframe Fitter, Rod Carter arrived on Khormaksar by RAF Britannia in September 1965. For single personnel postings to Aden were usually of two years duration and for married personnel, one year. The latter was an unaccompanied tour unless a person was considered important for the continuity of the task, i.e., a ‘Key Post’, in which case they were afforded the privilege of an unaccompanied tour of two years. Rod was lucky enough to fill the latter and embarked on two years of what transpired to be the beginning of the decline of the British Empire in South Arabia.

Hello 8 Squadron

“When I arrived, 8 Squadron shared its Mark 9 Hunters with 43 Squadron (Fighting Cocks) with 1417 Flight operating the Mark 10s. Each squadron had ownership of the aircraft for a 24-hour period starting at 12:00 hrs each day. For the ground crews this meant that we had the responsibility of recovering aircraft from each days flying and prepare them for the first ops on the next day, often dawn strikes, necessitating late nights and very early mornings. I recall that we had to have a minimum number of serviceable aircraft before being allowed to ‘staircraftk’ for the night. Improved aircraft availability was, if I recall correctly, the reason for sharing aircraft and both 8 and 43 Squadron markings were applied on either side of the fuselage roundels.

Our regular routine was to take the hand-over from 43 Squadron between 12:00 and 12:30, with normal stack around about 19:00 hrs. This got progressively later as the time approached for the withdrawal in November 1967. Morning starts could be anytime from about 04:00 depending upon whether we were operational or range flying. Ops flying required the aircraft to be armed with 45 lb. HE rockets and HE rounds in the Aden gunpack whilst range practice needed 45 lb. concrete-headed rockets and ball ammunition. The highest number of gun packs I spotted being towed behind a tractor was eighteen, all clearly marked as to their contents.

Safety last!

Pressure of work, on at least one occasion, resulted in an aircraft being on the range inadvertently fitted with an HE round gunpack. Over enthusiastic use of the cannon, firing all four guns at once, could result in nose undercarriage door locks vibrating loose, resulting in a red light in the cockpit. When this occurred, the aircraft had to be disarmed and moved to the hangar for rectification, which involved retraction tests. I recall one occurrence when there but for the grace of god go I, springs to mind. An aircraft returned with a nosewheel red light illuminated plus an elevator run-away tail trim defect. As the NCO detailed to carryout the rectification I had the aircraft made safe and positioned it in the hangar, on jacks, and carried out the necessary work. This included work by the electricians combined with independent checks on both systems, carried out by six personnel. On completion of the work the aircraft was returned to the flight line and made ready for flight. This included replacing the safe ballast-laden gun pack with one loaded with HE. The armours were puzzled to find the gun pack electrically connected but were mortified to find it already fully loaded with HE rounds. Investigation revealed that although the F700 clearly certified that the aircraft was safe the armourers had made the wrong aircraft safe. The significance of this is that in order to retract the undercarriage in the hangar the aircraft safety break (ASB) plug needed to be connected; thus arming the gun circuit. And to check the elevator trim, the stick-top trim button was used and this was next to the gun firing switch. The aircraft was not, therefore, safe and any accidental discharge could have proved disastrous to my team and I. The old adage, don’t just assume, check, has lived with me from that day on.

Given that pressure and intensity of work it is not surprising that other incidents occurred, both minor and more serious, in which both aircrew and ground crew contravened one order or another. It was the norm, wherever possible, to keep justice informal and within the squadron, resulting in the offender being fined a number of beers depending on severity of the occurrence, and it made for great monthly parties. Working on the Flight Line under the control of a Chief Tech and supported by one other junior NCO, we had the responsibility of all flight servicing and aircraft handling, with the exception of the aircraft armaments. Our days were extremely busy and apart from the occasional sand storm, we never enjoyed weather-induced respites.

The temperature and humidity were regularly around the 100ºF+100% humidity mark at the height of summer although winter was a little cooler. Always shirtless with the infamous KD shorts rolled down at the waist and up at the legs, the bottom of the pockets dangled below while the ‘shreddies’ protruded from the top.

The dreaded guard duty

In addition to our normal work pattern we also had guard duty to contend with. In 1965 this came round approximately every two weeks but by 1967 it had reduced to every four days. Armed with the trusty Lee Enfield .303 and five rounds of ammunition, we either performed a 24-hour guard, comprising of two hours on and four off followed by a day’s rest, or a 12-hour guard of two hours on and two off with no rest day. As the pressure of work on the Hunter squadrons increased towards the end of 1967, we were detailed for the 12-hour duty only. Being assigned a duty at the 8 Squadron/Civil Airport piquet point was always appreciated as the lads would ensure you received a quota of Stims (a soft drink) to keep you going. Other piquet points of note were the Power House adjacent to the Causeway, a lonely spot at night or the Bomb Dump over by the Sheikh Othmann road at the far side of the airfield, a 20-minute drive round the perimeter track. When one of our senior Corporals was asked by the Guard Commander one night what he would do if the Bomb Dump came under attack, he quickly retorted by pointing in the direction of the darkened runway and stating that he would run that way as fast as possible Sir. Taken aback, the Guard Commander questioned the wisdom of deserting his post when his orders clearly stated that he must attempt to defend it while his unarmed Chowkidar called for re-enforcements, and noting that this action would make him liable to Court Marshal. My friend responded by explaining that given the length of time it would take for backup to reach him, five rounds were hardly sufficient and that his family would be better off with him under Court Marshal than dead. As a result, the number of rounds were increased to ten for guards assigned to the Bomb Dump at night. Hardly a solution! In addition to guarding the Station infrastructure, every vehicle being driven by someone not possessing a service ID card, had to be searched, including the refuse truck as it entered the station. (author’s note: it is an interesting comparison that when we did guard duty in the 1962-64 period, it was at a time of comparatively little trouble, yet we were issued with a bandolier holding fifty rounds. So why and when did this change as the situation got worse is a question that comes to mind).

Off duty

Off duty life was quite pleasant with two cinemas, one at Khormaksar and another at Steamer Point, an excellent amateur dramatic society that put on frequent productions, and of course the beaches at Steamer Point. Elephant Bay had a good restaurant and Conquest Bay was also worth a visit. When allocated to the afternoon shift, we would make the trip to Elephant bay in time for breakfast and have a couple of hours in the sunshine before going to work. Snorkelling was a favourite sport but sharks were a known hazard in the area. Shopping was always available with Steamer Point providing a mecca for tax-free purchases. Hi-Fi systems, cheap Japanese cameras and watches were all the vogue. Cheap bargain watches were subject to the Tiger Test: dropped in a glass of tiger beer as a quality check before being accepted as good value. My new and original Omega Seamaster succumbed to Hunter hydraulic oil within two weeks of purchase. I recall buying a demonstration stereo record to play on my new valve driven audio system and we had a record club with each member having a monthly choice of record. It was then passed on to other members for them to record on reel-to-reel systems. A visit to Steamer Point to see the large cruise ships was always worth while, many being en-route to Australia with cargos of emigrants and anchored in the harbour decked out in bright lights and flags. We often sat drinking freshly squeezed orange juice in a cafe on the Crescent looking over the gardens towards Queen Victoria’s statue (her head was a magnate for the sea gulls), watching them bartering with shopkeepers for duty free goods. Passenger ships ceased to visit Aden as the situation became more dangerous, preferring French port at Djibouti instead.

Keep your head down!

For those of us lucky enough to live off base in Maala Straight, we also had the additional duty of Married Quarters (MQ) guard from 16:00 to 22:00 hours once the curfew started. It was not unknown for terrorists to throw grenades from moving vehicles and I recall an exchange of gunfire late one afternoon when one of the wives was superficially wounded by friendly fire from a would be John Wayne. The rippling sound of a Lee Enfield being cocked, coming down the road, as a suspicious vehicle approached is as vivid today as it was then. When I did guard duty on consecutive days and was on shift, my weapon was safely stored in the standard RAF issue wooden wardrobe in the bedroom. My wife of course had the rudimentary skills as to how to use it if necessary. I remember watching the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), or the Cameron Highlanders, from my Married Quarter balcony, enter a Mosque opposite to flush out terrorists or chase them through the back streets of Maala, sometimes with a deadly conclusion, on several occasions. As the situation continued to deteriorate, stop and search went unnoticed and we gradually grew to accept it. In order to prevent terrorists from escaping through passageways leading from the Maala Straight to the shanty town area behind, the alleys were all bricked up. This proved extremely successful until the heavy rains of March 1967 when they acted as dams backing up deep water into the surrounding buildings.

Just how serious the trouble was became personal when at 22:00 on 20 March, 1967, my wife and I were woken by a loud explosion in our bedroom: it had been hit by an armour-piercing rocket fired from a drainpipe from across the road. Fortunately our flesh wounds were superficial and we were thankful of our luck. It was the second time No. 22 Felixstowe had been hit by a rocket and my wife and I had been the first tenants after rebuild. My wife was offered the opportunity of catching the first available trooper home but declined. Next day we moved into Walleed House (forget the number) round the corner on the back street next to the Medical Centre and behind the NAAFI shop. No big deal but on signing the inventory I discovered that the previous occupier had also occupied 22 Felixstowe when it was bombed before (how spooky was that). Then the rains came, every thing turned green, the next block of flats had to be evacuated because the water affected their foundations. On camp the Camel Club, Mess and accommodation (Hunter, Beverley and Wessex/Whirlwind(?) blocks) all lost power. Cold showers weren’t an issue; the water was hot anyway. Cold food was mildly irritating as was the lack of lights and air-conditioning but warm beer did not go down well. The situation lasted a few days and was made worse when the Officers’ Mess held a Formal Dinner Night complete with all the bells and whistles. To ease their situation and pass the time, many airmen took to occupying their respective balconies. This, fuelled by drink, lead to a great deal of inter squadron barracking which encouraged some fool to set his mattress fire while another felt their locker produced a better fire. As the bonfire spread and the situation escalated, armed RAF Police eventually moved in to quieten things down. It was never referred to as a mutiny but folk law and those involved could probably tell a different story.”