Vic joined the RAF in June 1958 as a Boy Entrant Airframes, 34th entry. His initial training took place at RAF Cosford, due to the Empire Games being held at Cardiff and their entry’s intended accommodation at RAF St Athan being used by athletes. After eleven weeks they moved to St Athan. Vic passed out in December 1959 and was posted to RAF Honington on V-Bombers; Valiants and Victors.
“Being quite small I spent most of my time there in the tank bay as a ‘tank rat’. After two years I received the dreaded news that I was being posted to Aden, a location that didn’t have a good reputation in those days. So, in March 1962, off I went to RAF Innsworth for a couple of days to get kitted out with KD. It was bitterly cold then and as there was not enough fuel for the pot-bellied stove, the only form of heating in the room, several bits of furniture, etc., found their way into it (pity the poor inventory holder!). I was luckier than those who travelled out by troopship, as after a few hours by coach to Stansted we flew in a Britannia (Whispering Giant) to Aden, stopping at Khartoum en-route to refuel.
I arrived at RAF Khormaksar on 6 March 1962 and was sent to 8 Squadron; known as ‘hate eight’ I was informed. But I found it to be anything but, it was a great Squadron. Good bunch of lads, always something going on, never time to get bored, lots of detachments to exotic places such as; Bahrain, Sharjah, Masirah!! Alright maybe they were not exotic but we enjoyed life to the full whilst there and we did get to Embakasi in July 1963, what a fantastic detachment that was.
I was billeted in Hunter block, one of the new more luxurious blocks compared to the older ones. There were four men to a room and each room had air conditioning. There was also a ceiling fan, which had its down side when someone got bored! They would throw a flip flop or something into the blades causing everyone to duck or get dinged by a flying object. The other good thing about Hunter block was that it was right next door to the Camel Club, so not too far to stagger back after a night on the ‘pop’.
Time on the flight line passed very quickly as it was always busy. I can vividly remember one day, three weeks after I arrived, the Station held an open day. After launching three Hunters we sat outside the line hut to watch the flying display when one of the three, XE607 ‘Echo’, failed to pull out of its dive and crashed on the opposite side of the airfield, killing the pilot instantly. What made things worse was that the pilot’s girlfriend had been watching the display from outside the aircrew hut and saw it happen. The full account of this incident is recorded in the accident section of this site.
At the end of the day on the line, blanks and control locks fitted had to be fitted to the aircraft. Our unofficial method of fitting the elevator and rudder locks was to stand on the seat of our old trusty Davy Brown tractor and slide them in place, instead of dragging steps out. I did not have a driving licence then but had had a few lessons. One day I was driving the tractor, locks at the ready, when someone yelled “look out, here comes Chiefy!”. I slammed the tractor in gear and took off at top speed around the end of the line of aircraft and headed for the line tent and safety. However, the dispersal pan was a bit higher than the bondu where the line tent was located and the tractor dropped into the soft sand making it extremely difficult to control. I found myself heading straight for the tent at what felt like 100mph but was probably only 15mph. The lads in the tent saw me coming and with smoke and sand flying everywhere, they made a rapid evacuation via all available openings. Luckily I stopped with inches to spare and legged it away from the steaming tractor; phew, a close escape.
Although we worked fairly hard in hot difficult conditions we did have time for rest and relaxation. Often a bunch of us would go to Conquest bay to swim, as the NAAFI Club beach at Steamer Point was usually crowded. The taxi ride to Conquest bay was not for the faint hearted as the road ran along the edge of a cliff at one point with a drop into the sea on the other. However, the beach was great, a major downside being the lack of shark netting and one kept constant vigilance for ‘snappers’ (anything that could bite). One day we were swimming and messing about when the shout went up, “Stingray”, to which everyone performed their walking-on-water act. Once safely on the beach one of our group grabbed a spear gun, intent on bagging this denizen of the deep. Inching into the water he fired and hit it, to great aplomb, but as he lifted the spear out of the water the Stingray turned out to be a pair of coloured underpants!! Never did find out whose they were.
On another day at the beach, we were throwing a ball around and some Lebanese guys joined in. As we packed up to return to base, they invited us over to Little Aden where they worked in the oil terminal. They had an excellent social club there which we visited several times and we invited them to the Camel Club in return. At times it was hard to understand each other’s language but “cheers” is much the same the world over.
After I had been on the squadron a few months, Chalky ‘Belcher’ White arrived. Having been my Sergeant at Honington, he and his lovely wife Vi more or less ‘adopted’ me. So once they settled in I received lots of invites to visit them in their married quarter at Maalla Straight and enjoy family life. I recall lots of parties which involved filling the bath with beer and ice and having a good time. Our noisy goings on were often drowned out by the din of car horns, marking a wedding when everyone drove up and down the straight hooting like mad.
There was one guy on the squadron who I will call Fred to protect his identity. Now Fred had a habit of taking pictures of well endowed donkeys wherever we went. One day Chalky came into the crew room and bellowed out, “Fred there’s a donkey outside with a camera: it wants to take your picture”. The crew room erupted with laughter. Sadly Chalky passed away a few years ago but all those who knew him will remember his immortal words, “Rot me Yogger”.
After a few months at Khormaksar I went on my first squadron detachment to Bahrain. On exiting the aircraft, a Britannia, I thought the heat that hit me was the exhaust from the turbo-props, but oh no, this was the norm there and quite different to that in Aden. So as well as acclimatizing once again, we had to get used to the everyday smell that hung in the Bahraini air.
A popular trip when up at Bahrain was to take a taxi to the Oil Refinery, followed by refreshments in the bar. They were very generous with their beer! I also remember as we passed through the workers housing area, seeing a large open square with a huge TV set in the corner, still quite a rarity in those days. The workers would bring chairs out at night to watch the programmes.
On my last trip to Bahrain at the end of 1963, we should have returned to Aden for Christmas but had to extend the detachment and spend Christmas up there. In those days every section built a billet bar for the festive season, so we set to work and produced ‘The Wet Start Inn’ which wasn’t bad considering the short notice we had. The mural behind the bar depicted the squadron emblem a ‘Gambia’ beheading the 208 Squadron Sphinx and the 43 Squadron Cockerel (The Fighting Cocks). Some of the other billet bars were real works of art and a prize was given for the best one. It was a great shame when they had to be dismantled. Whilst the bar was being built, the T.7 was dispatched to get more drinks as there was not enough locally and on its return, the crew (bless ‘em) unloaded an RAF hold-all filled with bottles of Gin. Now I know why I don’t like the stuff. The ritual was to go from bar to bar and once you had drunk enough, collapse on the nearest bed. On waking up, you’d start all over again.
On Christmas day a group of us went into Manama town, woke up a restaurant owner and asked would he knock up Christmas lunch for us. Well, he produced a curry so hot it sobered most of us up. I don’t think I have ever had a hotter dish and to this day am not over fond of hot curries.
During the Bahrain detachment we would move down to Sharjah for a couple of weeks for weapons practice on the local range. There was nothing to keep us entertained at Sharjah apart from a few section clubs and the NAAFI. As each had a bar, we used to have some great times there. On my first visit we drank all of the clubs out of beer. One of the squadron pastimes when on detachments was to collect objects as trophies and on this trip signs were the in thing and every sign that could be removed was removed. The station, however, took exception to this, especially on finding the station headquarters sign missing, so we were called together and told to put them back or else. We did escape with a special brick at the airfield entrance with the number of miles to England and Aden embossed on it. Someone had lent out over the cab of the 3-tonner whilst the guards attention was diverted and snaffled it.
On one trip to Sharjah I was carrying out an after flight inspection (A/F) on one of the Hunters. The drill was that once you had climbed into the cockpit the aircraft steps would be removed and taken to the next kite in line, leaving you to exit the cockpit by straddling the canopy and shutting it as you slid back on to the fuselage. Access to the ground from there it was via the wing and the drop tank. I had just completed this manoeuvre and was opening the Sabrina panels underneath to check the nitrogen pressures when there was an almighty bang followed by the sound of breaking Perspex. On looking up I noticed the ejection seat drogue-chute swinging in the breeze. It had inadvertently fired off and pierced the canopy. I broke the 100 metres record as I dashed to the Engineering Officer (Owen Truelove) to report this, but I couldn’t speak, only stammer and point, for the thought of how lucky I had been. A minute earlier I had been sitting astride that canopy. Phew, another lucky escape!
On another trip to Sharjah a group of us volunteered to be taken several miles by truck into the desert, the objective being to test our map and compass reading skills by hiking back to base. Needless to say we had food and drink (Tenants lager) a plenty. By luck or good judgement, we found our way to the coast and started on the trip back along the shoreline. After a few miles a stop for lunch was made and some cans opened. Someone suggested burying the beer at the waters edge would keep it cool and although the sea looked mighty tempting, the sight of dorsal fins bobbing up deterred everyone from jumping in. Everything was going great until we decided to dig up some cans of beer and to our horror, discovered that the whole cache was sinking in the soft sand. A vision of panic stations springs to mind as everyone fell down on their knees in an attempt to rescue the golden liquid. Fortunately, a number of Arabs were digging sand nearby so we borrowed their shovels and managed to rescue a most of the beer. We lost a few cans, but as we left we spotted the Arabs digging a huge hole in the spot we had vacated, in the hope of finding a beer mine perhaps! A few miles further on we reached Sharjah Creek but we had to get across. A couple of the lads attempted to wade it but it was too deep so we talked one of the locals into sending a boat across for us. Great fun!
One of best detachments I ever went on was to Kenya in October 1963. Our Hunters operated from Nairobi Airport at Embakasi but were billeted some ten miles away at RAF Eastliegh. A new experience was sleeping under mosquito nets, something which we didn’t need to do in Aden. Pinewood was the main fuel for the heating our billets and I still think of Eastliegh whenever I smell pinewood smoke. Naturally, there were lots of parties and late nights and we would often not get back to camp until the early hours, just enough time to get changed and catch the transport to Embakasi. Once the aircraft were prepped and airborne, it was time to grab a nap before their return.
SAC Merv Patterson had a contact there (he had contacts everywhere) who lent him a car, a huge Humber Hawk. This was put to good use touring round the area although it was a tight squeeze with eight or nine of us in it.
Who can forget sitting outside the ‘Thorn Tree’ side walk cafe at the New Stanley Hotel, supping a Tusker beer, watching the world go by and wannabe big game hunters arriving. All life passed by there. On the subject of game, a couple of lads brought their Chameleon mascots back to Aden and would walk around with them on their shoulders, great for zapping flies.
Interestingly, a report recently appeared in the ‘Phoenix’ (Ornithological Newsletter for the Middle East) that Herons had been feeding on Chameleons on Masirah Island, the origins of which are uncertain. Could these be descendants of those brought back from Kenya!!
On trips to and from Aden and Bahrain we flew in either; Britannias, Beverleys (joy of joys) or Argosys. On one occasion our groundcrew departed Bahrain in a Beverley just as 43 Squadron’s groundcrew were leaving Aden in an Argosy, both aircraft destined for Masirah where each units Hunters were scheduled to land for refuelling. However, as the Beverley was required for another tasking back at Bahrain as quickly as possible, the 43 guys jumped into the Bev and flew off, leaving us to refuel and turn round two squadrons of Hunters. I often thought of the lads based at Masirah, a normally sleepy route station when suddenly, two heavy transport aircraft and two squadrons of Hunters arrive, men and machines everywhere. Station resources were stretched to the limit that day and I’m sure that once we had departed and the dust had settled, they collapsed in a heap!
About once every two months each airman would have to do overnight guard duty, both in Aden and at Bahrain. It was quite spooky being out on the airfield sometimes on your own on a pitch black night, walking around parked aircraft with only a .303 rifle as company. As the aircraft cooled down they would emit weird creaking and clicking sounds and you’d imagine all sorts of things. With your rifle came a belt containing 50 rounds (five rounds only in Bahrain) of ammo. You were very relieved when the second of your 2-hour stints was up.
No sooner had our new Boss, Sqn Ldr Tammy Syme, arrived than the number of beer calls/parties seemed to increase. I think it was Tam who introduced a party game called ‘Everybody Rumble’ which involved making lots of noise, making signs and drinking lots of beer if you got it wrong. At one do it was suggested to him that we rename his aircraft; quick as a flash he replied that you are not calling my aircraft B for Bol****s and that’s that.
In those days, when we still had a Navy, we were invited to visit aircraft carriers moored in Aden Harbour and I recall making trips to HMS Centaur and HMS Victorious. I thought some of our aircraft showed signs of wear and tear, but they were in pristine condition when compared to the Fleet Air Arm aircraft, especially the Scimitars which had multiple metal repairs, skin patches and cracks that had been stopped drilled. The Buccaneers and Sea Vixens were little better. Working and living conditions on board a carrier were certainly hard; our line seemed positively luxurious by comparison, which of course it wasn’t. Whilst the carriers were in harbour, some of their aircraft operated from Khormaksar and would often beat up the airfield before landing, very impressive.
If you look at the picture of Merv Patterson in the 8 Squadron picture gallery, wearing long shorts, it looks as though he has lost his front teeth. Not so, he placed Mars bar wrapping paper over his teeth as one of his party tricks which he used to raise a few laughs at dances. He loved to watch the reactions of girls when he asked them to dance and gave them a big cheesy grin.
We often used to go to the pictures and apart from the Astra Cinema on camp there was the Shenaz cinema at Maalla. The evening would be rounded off with a meal of shark or barracuda and chips at the kiosk outside - lovely.
It may sound like we drank a lot – but isn’t that what is advised in a hot climate! Finally, if the legend is to believed, I should at sometime get a recall to Aden as I never did climb Shamsan!!”