BETTER ON A CAMEL
BOAC and BEA reminiscences, memorabilia and history
 
 
Dedication
About the charity 'Practical Action'
 
 
Foreword
Foreword by Sir Ross Stainton, former Chairman of BOAC
 
 
Introduction
Review of background to airline experiences and recollections
 
 
CHAPTER ONE - THE FAR EAST AND INDIAN OCEAN
airport and airline memoirs about the far east - from India and the Seychelles to Japan
 
 
Bangladesh - All Together Now! by John Anderson (1973)
john anderson
 
 
Bangladesh - Memories of Dhaka, by Simon Watts (1981-1985)
Life and Work in Bangladesh
 
 
Burma - Lighting Up Time, by Gerry Catling (1954)
an airport story - cigars as insect repellent
 
 
Burma - The Day of the Dear Departed (1954), by Gerry Catling
memories of a delicate diplomatic exercise with BOAC in Burma
 
 
Burma, etc. - Britannias, by Alan Douglas
recollections of the Bristol Britannia in service with BOAC
 
 
Burma -The Sound Barrier, by Tony Russell (1972)
Dealings with the civil aviation authorities in Rangoon
 
 
Burma - The Fertiliser Factory, by David McCormack (1972)
memoirs of an airline manager - going the extra mile in customer service...
 
 
Burma - Cigars, Religion and Superstition, by Peter Jones (1975)
Meeting the Burmese People
 
 
Burma - Special Adviser to the Manager, by Peter Jones (1975)
attending a funeral in Rangoon
 
 
Burma - Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)
a visit to Mandalay and the temples of Pagan
 
 
China - Learning Chinese by Ralph Glazer (1983)
Meeting CAAC
 
 
China - Scotland the Brave by Ralph Glazer (1985)
burns night
 
 
India - Holy Cow, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Obstruction on the runway...
 
 
India - Delhi (Not) Singing in the Rain, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Monsoon (and its Cargo) Close airport
 
 
India - The Morning Commuter, by Peter Fieldhouse (1970)
Getting to the office in Calcutta
 
 
Japan - The Mount Fuji Disaster, by James Wilson (1966)
a retrospective view of the management of the aftermath of a major air crash
 
 
Pakistan - Yaqoob and Musaleem, by Peter Liver (1987)
fond memories of two aged retainers
 
 
Philippines - Cutting it Fine, by David Hogg (1970)
memoir of the chaos to civil aviation caused by a typhoon in Manila
 
 
Philippines - Being British, by David Hogg (1969)
reactions to an earthquake
 
 
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - The Day my Number (almost) Came up, by Gerry Catling (1960)
memories of a BOAC Comet 4 landing on a wet runway..
 
 
Seychelles Days, by Mike McDonald (1974-1977)
An island idyll..civil aviation (and British Airways) arrive in the Seychelles
 
 
CHAPTER TWO - THE MIDDLE EAST
airport and airline reminiscences and memorabilia in the Middle East
 
 
Abu Dhabi - Ice Cold in Abu Dhabi, by Graham Moss (1970)
keeping VC-10 passengers cool on the ground
 
 
Abu Dhabi - Sand Trap, by David Hogg (1972)
hazards of driving in the desert
 
 
Dubai - a Training Posting, by Peter Lever (1970)
 
 
Bahrain - The Traffic Manual Expert, by David Meyrick (1962)
an air cargo problem - loading a BOAC DC7F
 
 
Bahrain - The Thunderstorm, by Ron Colnbrook (1968)
a scary flying story
 
 
Iran - The Nosewheel Incident, by Alan Hillman (1965)
a problem on the runway in Tehran
 
 
Iran - Hold Five, by Brian Cannadine (1972)
Teheran Airport - animal alert!
 
 
Israel - Cultural Differences, Mike McDonald (1972)
airline tales from Tel Aviv
 
 
Kuwait in the Fifties by Jamil Wafa (1955)
Kuwait
 
 
Kuwait - a 'Fifth Pod' Operation, by Jack Wesson (1965)
a BOAC flight planner's nightmare
 
 
Kuwait - the Oil Drillers, by John Cogger (1970)
a BOAC Sales Manager at work - life in the fast lane
 
 
Kuwait - Out of the Fog, by Peter Richards (1991)
Return to Kuwait after the Gulf War
 
 
Yemen - Sana'a Memories, by David Hogg (1973)
a testimony of everyday life in the Yemen
 
 
Saudi Arabia - Abdul and the Bacon, by David Hogg (1973)
a treat goes missing
 
 
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia - Rats! An Unwelcome Customer, by John Anderson (1978)
An Unwelcome Passenger
 
 
CHAPTER THREE - AFRICA
recollections and tales of life with BOAC and British Airways in Africa
 
 
Ghana - the Watchman, by Anthony Farnfield (1966)
a letter in the files
 
 
Kano, Nigeria - Willie on the Rampage, by Pat Noujaim (1959)
The randiest dachshund in Northern Nigeria nearly causes a delay
 
 
Nigeria - Bush Telegraph, by David Hogg (1965)
bad news travels fast in West Africa
 
 
Nigeria - Things Other than the World Cup, by Don Ford (1966)
BOAC involved in events in Lagos before the Biafran War
 
 
Nigeria - Boom Times, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
the oil boom in Nigeria in the seventies
 
 
Nigeria - an Attempted Coup, by Peter Jones (1976)
violent regime change in Nigeria
 
 
Nigeria - Living and Working in Lagos, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
stories of expatriate life in Nigeria
 
 
Nigeria and Concorde, by Peter Jones (1976-1979)
How Nigerians took to Concorde
 
 
Nigeria - Never Knowingly Undersold, by Peter Jones (1979)
Travails with the Lagos Telephone Company
 
 
Nigeria - Student Travel, by Peter Jones (1981)
a student goes to the wrong destination
 
 
Nigeria - Lagos Airport Again! by Nick Robertson (1989-90)
Wild West (Africa)
 
 
Ethiopia - Petrol Rationing, by Doug Tester (1975)
Michael to the rescue
 
 
Uganda - The Road to Kampala, by Peter Liver (1972)
a moment in history - BOAC in Uganda in the days of Idi Amin
 
 
Uganda - Exodus of the Ugandan Asians, by Mike Wickings (1972)
Organising the departure of Asians from Uganda
 
 
Uganda - Kenneth's Mortars, by John Anderson (1972)
Diplomatic Incident in East Africa
 
 
Zambia - Jottings from the Copperbelt, by Peter Jones (1969-1972)
Ndola
 
 
Malawi - The President's Plane, by Peter Woodrow (1977)
VIP Travel to the Commonwealth Conference...
 
 
Kenya - Nairobi 1956 etc., By Maurice Flanagan
early memories of BOAC in Nairobi
 
 
Kenya - The Frustrations of the Comet 4, by Don Ford (circa 1962)
recollections of ingenious improvisation to make best use of space in the BOAC Comet 4
 
 
Kenya - Customer Recovery, Kenya Style, By Simon Watts (1988)
Going the extra mile...
 
 
Kenya - Concorde and other big beasts, by Simon Watts (1986-90)
Concorde and other big beasts
 
 
Kenya - Nanyuki Wedding, by Steve Sturton-Davies (1992)
a wedding in the bush
 
 
Egypt - The Six Day War, By Ron Colnbrook (1967)
memories of a war zone
 
 
Libya, Sudan and Iraq - The Personal and Confidential File, by Roddy Wilson (1955-1960)
more camel stories...
 
 
Libya - Monkeys in a Hangar, by Ralph Glazer (1954)
Wildlife in Tripoli
 
 
Libya - The spirit of Christmas Past, by Gerry Catling (1958)
hijinks in the Tripoli transit lounge
 
 
Libya (and Ceylon) Unaccompanied Minors by Gerry Catling (1959)
The difficulties that younger passengers sometime cause...
 
 
CHAPTER FOUR - THE CARIBBEAN, AMERICAS AND ATLANTIC OCEAN
WESTERN HEMISPHERE
 
 
Jamaica - Dr No by Mike McDonald (1964/1974)
a James Bond memory
 
 
St. Lucia - Hurricane Allen, by Peter Jones (1980)
surviving a major hurricane
 
 
St.Lucia - The Wrong Taxiway, by Peter Jones (1983)
consequences of miscommunication
 
 
St. Lucia - The Red Lady, by Peter Jones (1983)
voodoo and the Boeing 747 - an unsolved mystery
 
 
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
 
 
St. Lucia - There's a Hole in the Runway, by Peter Jones (1984)
suspension of operations in St Lucia
 
 
Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)
learning the ropes, the hard way
 
 
Bahamas - Cabin bags and Elephants, by Tony Russell (1966)
squashed baggage
 
 
Canada - Gander, Crossroads of the World, by Gerry Catling (1956)
Transatlantic travel as it used to be
 
 
Mexico - A Day in Mexico City, by Ralph Glazer (1975)
Concorde, a Road Accident and the Mexican Police
 
 
Panama - Don't Stop! by David Hogg (1975-1980)
what about the snakes?
 
 
Panama - Flying Positive, by David Hogg (1975-1980)
BAC-111 pilots in Central America
 
 
Chile - Chile-Chile-Bang-Bang, by Howell Green (1994)
Frustrations in the queue for take-off
 
 
Uruguay - Jet Flight Arrives in South America, by Alan Douglas (1959)
introducing the Comet 4 in South America
 
 
USA - I Was There That Day, by Jonathan Martin (1963)
Dallas 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination
 
 
USA - The Cricket Team, by Peter Jones (1964)
cricket in New York with BOAC?
 
 
USA - The New World, by Don Ford (1967-1969)
An expatriate airport manager comes to Chicago
 
 
Ascension and Falkland Islands - Encounters of the Third Kind, by Bruce Fry (1985-1987)
a BOAC station engineer goes on secondment to the RAF in the Falklands
 
 
CHAPTER FIVE - EUROPE
EUROPE
 
 
A Shetland Story, by Anthony McLauchlan (1972)
 
 
Bulgaria - Fog in London, by Mike Lewin (1976)
BEA schedules affected by fog in London
 
 
Cyprus - Suez and the Rocky path of True Love, by Gerry Catling (1956-57)
effect of Suez on BA schedules and social life..
 
 
Cyprus - the Hijack, by Bruce Fry (1970)
when a hijacked BOAC VC-10 diverted all flights to Nicosia
 
 
Cyprus - The Turkish Invasion, by Taff Lark (1974)
Evacuation of tourists when Cyprus invaded by Turkish forces
 
 
Germany - from BSAA to the Berlin Airlift, by Charlie Item Smith (1948-49)
Following the BSAA disasters, the Avro Tudor fleet is assigned to the Berlin Airlift as fuel tankers
 
 
Germany - Learning German, by Larry Gorton (1966)
recollections of a BEA manager having problems learning German
 
 
Italy - The Secret of Fiumicino, by Bill Smith (1967)
airport customer service staff get a morale boost and valuable lessons for motivation are learned
 
 
Romania - Heidi's Haggis, by Mike Lewin (1971)
a bit of BEA memorabilia - ingenuity in the kitchen saves Burns Night in Bucharest
 
 
Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)
an encounter with American presidential security guards
 
 
Russia (USSR) Trans Siberian Start-up, by Brian Burgess (1969-1972)
planning for an historic moment - BOAC's trans Siberian route to Japan
 
 
Russia(USSR) - The Omelette Factory, by Peter Richards (1970s)
Navigating over Siberia
 
 
Russia (USSR) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)
Diplomatic Incident with Chandelier
 
 
Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)
How to scare a Russian Security Officer
 
 
Russia(USSR) the Golf Lesson, by Peter Richards (1976)
In a Moscow Hotel Room..
 
 
Russia (USSR) -The Stewardess, by Taff Lark (1980)
shades of 007
 
 
Russia (USSR) - Domodedovo Airport, 'the House of my Grandfather' by Mike McDonald (1989)
a memoir of early days at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport
 
 
Spain - Dictatorship and Honour, by Gerry Catling (1960)
a recollection of Franco's Spain - negotiating the 'personal honour' code at Madrid Airport
 
 
Spain - A Soft Touch, by Ralph Glazer (1971)
A Meeting with Franco
 
 
Switzerland - The Precision of the Swiss, by Gerry Catling (1968)
recollections of how we proved to the airport authority that the Super VC-10 was not a noisy aircraft
 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Further reading and watching for addicts....
 
 
PICTORIAL APPENDIX
Some miscellaneous photos that don't have a story to go with them
 
 

Abu Dhabi - Ice Cold in Abu Dhabi, by Graham Moss (1970)



The late 1960’s and early 1970’s saw the majority of nationals of this small Gulf Emirate rapidly transformed from domestic nomadic goat herders into mega -rich international merchants and traders, based on the new commercial viability of their country’s natural petroleum resources.

For the few thousand local owners and larger hordes of internationally imported foreign guest workers, the resulting effect was like a 20th century “Klondike”; plenty of ongoing work at all levels, insufficient prefabricated temporary accommodation, too few women - but all in high demand - an acute shortage of machinery, equipment and physical materials, lack of supporting infrastructure, social boredom, over consumption of illicit alcohol and tobacco, gambling, cheating, corruption and lots of money being counted.

In addition to the onshore and offshore petroleum-related development activity itself, Abu Dhabi's small village with the Sheikh’s ancient fortress at its centre, was now “boom town”, involving the rapid construction of a much larger modern city around it with related infrastructure such as housing, hospitals, hotels, a new seaport, a new airport and road transport system. This small, now rich, country was one big, hot, dusty, noisy, rude and thirsty building site!

For a few hot summer months of 1970 I was seconded by British Overseas Airways Corporation to Omeir Travel Agency to run their aviation ground handling operation at the then small, already inadequate airport, designed for light aircraft, now being used for long haul narrow bodied jets, the facilities of which were about to be stretched yet further with the pending introduction of jumbo jets such as Tristar and Boeing 747.

The Omeir Travel Station Manager and his staff of some hundreds were responsible to contracting airlines for the efficient provision of aircraft maintenance, ramp handling, passenger process, baggage and cargo handling, weight and balance control and provision of flight operations information to the flight crews.

The weekly twenty four hour by seven day operation was scheduled to handle three hundred flight movements, using telex communications and manual working procedures; access to information via computer was some years away yet.

Slim line, vinyl covered, lockable metal briefcases were a must for young upwardly mobile Station Managers at that time and I was quietly proud to be the owner of a new slick black one when first descending to the tarmac from my air conditioned Vickers VC10.  In those days passengers were required to take a short walk across from the aircraft parking area to the terminal building, and I was halfway there when my right trouser leg started to saturate! Welcome to Abu Dhabi's summer: ninety degrees, both heat and humidity - condensation courtesy of “Samsonite“.

I enjoyed the somewhat Arabic looking architectural design of the passenger terminal, a single storey with small side windows and a smooth unusually steep sloping roof of multiple peaks, each with four sides, almost desert tent-like. An ugly extension with a flat roof had been added to provide more adequate facilities for Customs and Immigration in a newer International Arrivals section.
I settled in. Domestically I was comparatively lucky, I moved into a three year old high rise “Russian” cell block with both intermittent lifts and air conditioners and decomposing water piping in the process of being replaced throughout.

At work I leaned heavily on Gopinath, my shrewd assistant, who was long experienced in the management of common objectives to be achieved between our Abu Dhabi overlords and their corrupt sycophantic management, myself, my staff, and not least the timely movements of the travelling public and their goods and chattels.

The Engineering Manager was a solidly competent Scot, “Mac”  who usually did not need my direct help except to sign off the expenditure, including that of the booze up we both enjoyed with the mostly Indian engineering staff on Friday evenings, a regular event that I was kindly allowed to sponsor in lieu of my distinct absence of technical skills. However, one morning “Mac” came in early to solicit my help and possible advice!

These were the days when even the most modern passenger jets did not carry their own auxiliary power units and hence when their engines were shut down each one needed ground based power connected to keep their technical systems alive and an air
conditioning unit connected to blow in cold air in a never ending effort to keep the passenger cabin hospitable. In an Abu Dhabi summer the outside temperature on the tarmac could regularly be some one hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit and overly
sweaty punters ending or beginning a long flight were not readily amused.

We owned four air conditioning units, all of which needed to be serviceable if we were to avoid the additional expense of leaving deodorant and flannel on twenty five percent of seats, together with an individual note of apology stating that we had inadvertently overlooked the fact that it was summer time. Mac’s challenge was that one of the air conditioners had declared itself permanently unserviceable because its engine had finally given up the ghost mainly due to feeling generally knackered after too many years of lovingly applied vinegar and brown paper. What to do?

The required replacement engine was an FMC product and an enquiry of the local monopoly dealership revealed that they had a very sensible money spinning commercial policy; they imported complete vehicle units ready to drive away and as few spare
component parts as possible in order to maximize the vehicle sales units sold. So if your vehicle unfortunately went wrong you simply bought another one, didn’t you! As such a policy did not fall in line with our aspirations or budget, Mac and I reluctantly concluded that for the rest of this summer we should indeed stock up on deodorant and flannel, but we should be prudent enough to spend a considerable amount of time on the structure and precise wording of the notes of apology to be placed on seats!

As I was paying, it was my habit to invite a mystery guest or two to attend our Friday evening Engineering Department social, and that week it was the turn of the Airport Deputy Director, an Englishman struggling good-humouredly with a miniscule budget to make this airport last out until the new flashy one was completed in a few years' time.  As you do, we got mildly amiable as the evening went on, and a loosened tongue revealed our company's little secret about the inadequacy of future air conditioning in front of our influential guest.  My first reaction was to be a bit peeved by this unnecessary public revelation, but this negative response was quickly forgotten when, astonishingly and after so few drinks, the highly respected Deputy looked dreamily into the desert and said: "I think I know where you can find a suitable replacement engine; why don't you look in the snow ploughs?"  Quizzical looks were exchanged between us and sympathetic laughter followed too quickly;  we were used to far more subtle jokes, but did not want to offend our guest.  So the subject was then dropped by the introduction of some boring raunchy macho jokes which inevitably got tedious, the party ended, and we all went staggering home.

Next morning Mac was back!  He explained that his old retainer on the night shift had been subjected to a boring retelling of the Deputy's weak snow plough joke and much to everyone's surprise he had responded by actually confirming the existence  of two such machines about a mile into the desert adjacent to the airport.  To prove that the Director was was not totally 'doolally' he had dispatched two of his mechanics between flights to confirm the monsters were still there and advise as to their condition.   The resulting technical report confirmed two unused machines with keys in the ignition, containing FMC power units suitable as replacements for our sick air conditioner, very very sandy especially against the huge ploughs where snow should really have been, with large amounts of surface oxydization elsewhere.  Estimated working time to remove one engine, transport it, service it, fit it to the air conditioner and hence stop our daily production of cautiously worded notes of apology; five days. Wow!  Bingo!

Having so enjoyed his invititation the previous evening, the Deputy was surprised but happy to accept another one to join me for lunch, my objectives in order being a) to secure the release of a snow-plough engine, b) gratis and c) both engines, both gratis.  Indeed I almost succeeded in achieving all of the above by skilfully employing the nasty tactic of loosely implying that those un-airconditioned passengers who complained would not be aware which organization had failed to cool them down; most did not know the demarcation line between Agency and Airport Authority responsibility, and in their anger would not care anyway.  They would long remember and further relay that Abu Dhabi stank!  We concluded the deal by both signing a legal transfer of ownership document for the consideration of 100 US Dollars per engine, the value of which was to be delivered by our flight kitchen to Airport Authority Moslem employees in the form of sundown meal boxes during the upcoming Ramadhan.  So the investment by my employer in "Negotiating Skills" training for me had been worth it after all.

Of course, then I had to ask the inevitable question: "Why snow-ploughs at a desert airport with no previous record  of frost and extremely rare precipitation of any kind?"  A slow smile crossed the face of the Deputy and for a moment he considered whether I could be a confidant of his or not.  Clearly being of unsound judgment, he then told me the following tale.

During civil aviation's great leap forward in the 1960s, the French company Aeroports de Paris were designing and producing prefabricated terminals for small airports, capable of delivery to any airport authority worldwide, along with related user equipment.  A quirk of colonial history and closer relationships recently initiated by Charles de Gaulle resulted in anumber of these instant airports being in process of delivery to Quebec as a job lot in an effort to enhance the civil aviation facilities in the province, while also having the advantage of making the English-speaking part of Canada jealous and upset.

Simultaneously their expanding aviation needs pressed the government of Abu Dhabi to move forward from the dangers of operating out of tents with guy ropes and the lighting of oil drum flares for night landing; they needed sophistication, and quickly.

After not much of a haggle, to the disappointment of Quebec's desire to embarrass English-speaking Canada, and for twice the profit to Aeroports de Paris, the new order for Abu Dhabi was fulfilled by the purchase of a Bill of Lading with the description: 'Canadian Domestic Airport' and diverting one ship already at sea en route for Montreal to the Persian Gulf.

A few weeks later this new instant airport was delivered.  It was not capable of handling international passengers, hence the requirement for a flat roofed extension to house customs and immigration, but more than capable of withstanding the worst of a Canadian winter with a steeply sloping tent-like smooth roof so that snow would fall off it, and of course all manner of related equipment, including two nice big strong snow-ploughs in order to keep the runway and hard stand operational in all weathers.

So, will the small town Airport Manager in deepest Quebec, who never received his shipment from Aeroports de Paris, finally come clean and own up please?  I know where it is, it's a long time ago, and it wasn't your fault!



Editor's Note:  This is one of a series of reminiscences published by Graham Moss under the title "Plane Tales".  It is available for purchase on Amazon.







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