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 Liver (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
 
 
UK - 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
 
 

Canada - Gander, Crossroads of the World, by Gerry Catling (1956)

Stratocruiser Monarch Service

Stratocruiser Monarch sleeper service




Temporary postings as a trainee, or junior station officer, were a lucky dip, with fortune or favour that appeared to be distributed from traffic branch with a capricious unpredictability worthy of the whims of the ancient Greek gods. However, in BOAC, Mercury the winged messenger usually appeared not in person to us lowly mortals, but in the guise of a SITA telex from London ordering re-location to another station, usually within 72 hours.

Having been warmed up and thoroughly ‘tropicalised’ during 1955 in Karachi, Rangoon and Calcutta and having become used to eastern ways of living, with sunlit beaches, warm seas, swimming pools, servants and luxury hotels, I was rather shocked in January 1956 to be summoned to London to do a 48-hour Atlantic pressure pattern flight planning course and proceed immediately to Gander, Newfoundland.

The aircraft involved on those days were Boeing Stratocruisers and when westerly winds were strong it was not unusual for them to be routed, for refuelling purposes, from London via Prestwick, Keflavik in Iceland, and one of the Canadian maritime stations Gander or Goose Bay, on route to New York, Boston or Montreal.

Weather in winter could be extreme with blizzards, freezing rain, fog and low cloud often closing airports unpredictably for days on end.

We embarked from the bleak huts at Heathrow North Side, which then served as the only terminal buildings, and the Stratocruiser struggled through Prestwick, Keflavik, then overflew Gander and deposited me, a hothouse creature, in a snowy Montreal with a bitter wind beside the solid ice of the St. Lawrence River.

Montreal is some 700 miles west of Gander and the final part of the journey proved particularly troublesome. During the following days I went frequently to Montreal’s Dorval Airport to try to get on a Trans Canada Airlines (predecessor of Air Canada) flight to Gander, but with no success, so was eventually advised to fly to Stephenville, Newfoundland and ‘take the train if it was running.’

When we arrived overhead Stephenville, the runway was blocked by snow and happily for me, we diverted into Gander, where the weather had cleared sufficiently to land. My journey from London had taken 13 days, but I was not too downhearted as I had spent a fairly comfortable 12 days in a good hotel and my allowances had enabled me to buy the first record player I ever owned.

The Gander passenger terminal was a converted hangar and collection of ex air force wooden huts and I can still smell the very strong, not unpleasant aroma of freshly cut pine resin mixed with Dettol, which greeted disembarking passengers. The airfield scenery was a bleak expanse of driven snow surrounded by pine forest, but the terminal was warm and cosy and I encountered steam-heated buildings for the first time. I found that, unlike England, however cold it is outside, it is rarely cold inside - and people dressed accordingly.

In the arrivals hall, covering one wall, was a vast map of the world with the projection showing Gander at the centre and all the transatlantic and North American air routes passing through. Emblazoned on it in large letters were the words ‘GANDER - CROSSROADS OF THE WORLD.’ From their perspective, in those days it was true, because before the Boeing 707 era every international airline had to route its services via Gander, as it was the nearest airport in North America to Europe.

Having run the gauntlet of two grim female health nurses who vaccinated on the spot anyone who could not produce a valid certificate, I looked for a porter to take my heavy suitcase to the wooden boarding house to which I had been directed about 400 yards away. There was none in sight and baggage trolleys, as I recall, had yet to be invented.

I asked a very large Canadian Mountie in a red tunic and he growled: “Around here Bud, you carry it yourself”. So I dragged my suitcase through the snow to a two storey wooden building called appropriately ‘Saturn’. This was the only hotel accommodation in Gander available for night-stopping crews and other travellers who had no fixed abode in the area. The rooms were just big enough for a single bed, a small chair and table and steam heated to temperature of over 80 degrees F. No meals were provided and one had to eat in the airport coffee shop across the snow, which was called the ‘Greasy Spoon’ - accurately named, as there was only one spoon on a long chain attached to the counter for stirring one’s coffee.

New arrivals at the boarding house were admitted by an ancient fierce Scots Canadian landlady of Presbyterian demeanour with the welcoming words: “No drinking, no singing, no women here - or you are out.” Opportunity would have been a fine thing, as officially Gander was ‘dry’, and there appeared to be very few young women in the vicinity, so there was not much to sing about and thus cause offence.

To drink legally, only in your own home, it was necessary to visit the post office three miles away, fill in a two page form with the amount of beer and spirits required, and pay at the counter. The form was then despatched to the liquor store in the capital, St. John’s, about 150 miles away and then in about 14 days the order would arrive by train, snowdrifts permitting, at the rail depot.

The train always sounded its whistle frequently from about five miles outside Gander onwards and it was a heartening sight to see the local population leap into their cars and make a dash to the train depot immediately, whatever they were doing at the time.

However, I soon found out that there was an alternative supply of beer provided by an unofficially tolerated character called 'Hot Shot' Maloney, who drove a large gangster style Buick car and dropped off supplies at back doors, including the mounted police post. It was a beer called 'Bud of the North’ was emerald green if supplied on St. Patrick’s Day and tasted like nectar in this wilderness.

To obtain a beer of the right temperature, as it was well below zero outside the bedroom window and 80 degrees plus inside, it was necessary to raise the window sash and place the bottle carefully half way across the windowsill to achieve the desired amount of cooling - this required considerable practice. The snowdrifts over the winter built up an inclined plane, almost to the first floor of the building and the empty bottles were thrown out the window to conceal the evidence of illegal drinking. This was fine until the spring thaw, which revealed a large pile of beer bottles in place of the snow, but by this time the criminals had usually departed.

Newfoundland then consisted, apart from a few small towns, mostly of small isolated fishing communities whose only contact with the outside world and each other was by boat. Roads were few and unpaved and generally impassable - in winter with deep snowdrifts, and during the rapid spring thaw by floods, which turned the area into a sea of mud.

Gander Airport and small village were an ‘island’, only connected to other places by air or by an infrequent train service, so life was very parochial. It was noticeable that this isolation bred eccentricity among the BOAC station staff, some of who had been there on permanent postings for three or four years, leading to one or two petty animosities. If you had happened to be a sociologist, it would have been a fertile field for study.

In such isolation, it was necessary to make your own amusement. Almost all Stratocruiser transits were westbound to USA and Canada, three or four coming through in the night between 0200 and 0600, often landing in appalling weather conditions with freezing high winds.

The Stratocruisers all had bunk beds for passengers to don night attire and stretch out in comfort, and were particularly popular with young female aspiring film starlets heading to Broadway or on their way to Hollywood to try to further their careers. We always pushed the engineering steps up and opened the forward door first, taking the flight plan on board, and then opened the passenger door at the rear. The freezing gale then swept through the passenger cabin blowing all the bed curtains horizontal and causing the scantily dressed starlets to leap from their beds desperately trying to find some warm clothing to put on, and providing some much needed light entertainment for the night shift.

Gander had a small local radio station, which was desperate for any news or item to broadcast to its listeners to insert between the seemingly endless reading of the latest onshore and offshore cod market prices. The station only had one announcer/broadcaster and he asked us to try to persuade any notable passenger on board in transit to disembark and give a short radio interview, for which he would offer a clandestine bottle of spirits as a reward.

People from the entertainment world were surprisingly eager to be interviewed on first touching down in North America, and the more obscure they were, the quicker they got off the aircraft, thinking that their arrival would be beamed across the continent, little knowing that their words would probably be heard by only a few hundred people in the immediate vicinity. Still, it was our contribution to the ‘community spirit’.

Another incident I remember which I thought for a few minutes would abruptly terminate my BOAC career occurred at about 0400 in a small bleak room, illuminated by a single bare light bulb, where at a small wooden table, sitting on a hard chair, muffled in a greatcoat and scarf, I was struggling to finish the loadsheet and get the aircraft away without a delay that I would have to explain.

A voice behind my back said: “Can I speak to you for a little while”. Without looking round, I said in a fury: “For God's sake bugger off until I have finished this load sheet and got rid of the aircraft, then I'll talk to you.” “That will be too late,” he said, and I turned and to my horror recognised Sir Miles Thomas, then Chairman of BOAC. I apologised and he laughed and we had an amiable chat for about 15 minutes until he re-boarded the flight. It gave me great pleasure on sending the departure signal to add ‘delay due Chairman.’

After five months in Gander, I returned to London, glad to leave, but having enjoyed a wonderful experience in so many ways and one that would be impossible for anyone to repeat today. I walked into the BOAC traffic branch in London and said to the superintendent: “Have you got anywhere warm for a change?” He said “If you leave tomorrow, you can have six months in Bermuda”.

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