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
 
 

Cyprus - The Turkish Invasion, by Taff Lark (1974)

In 1974, during the final months of the Greek military junta, a coup d’etat was staged in Cyprus against Archbishop Makarios by a group consisting of Greek army officers and a secretive Cypriot organisation called EOKA-B, whose aim was to make Cyprus a part of Greece. On 15th July a detachment of the national guard, led by Greek officers, overthrew the government.

It had all started for us when the Greek junta leader George Papadopoulos was overthrown by Brigadier Ioannides, an even more uncompromising leader, earlier in 1974. Ioannides had always been a supporter of EOKA. Our family were put under house arrest in Athens for three days because our house was rented from General Tzanetos, a senior officer in the Papadopoulos regime who lived in the upper apartment.

My involvement in Cyprus started when air services to the island were resumed after Makarios had narrowly escaped assassination and had been whisked away by the British in an RAF jet. The airport staff had left to join their National Guard units; female staff had gone home to see that their families were safe, as for 48 hours the situation had been very tense with pitched battles taking place between supporters of the two sides.

As the newly appointed operations control superintendent for the eastern Mediterranean I found myself on the jump seat of the first Cyprus Airways BAC 111 back into Nicosia after the fall of Makarios. There were no customs or immigration staff on arrival and only minimal ATC staff. There were no facilities for food and drink. Relative calm prevailed, but there were no phones. However to my surprise the telex continued to work all the time we were at the airport and I was able to maintain contact with colleagues in London and Athens.

The terminal was rapidly filling up with delayed passengers and others hoping to get off the island. The plan was to operate a shuttle service between Nicosia and Athens as aircraft and crews became available, to uplift as many passengers as possible in the shortest time. There had been a Trident on the ground when the coup started, with a crew stuck in the Hilton; another Trident was on its way from Athens with an engineer on board.

All was going well, with crews and passengers and some elderly airport staff helping with baggage. On the Wednesday morning the night stopping crew were held at gunpoint outside the airport terminal. They had already witnessed the troubles in town and were ready to leave. Some fast talking and help from the captain eventually got them on their way.

Later that day a British crew with Cyprus Airways arrived from Kyrenia – one crew member, who had served in World War II, had seen Turkish citizens clearing large areas of land and was convinced they were preparing for a parachute drop. On Wednesday night aircraft of Lufthansa and Hapag Lloyd uplifted as many German citizens as wished to leave - but would not take anybody else.

Wednesday afternoon saw the arrival of the BEA marketing director Charles Stuart. We were so shorthanded that he was asked to lend a hand – and did, for 18 hours. The following morning he and I went to the high commission to try to get an assessment of the situation. The advice given was that the new provisional president, Nikos Sampson (a senior EOKA-B member who was subsequently convicted of murder) appeared to have the situation under control and we should advise our passengers to carry on with their holidays and enjoy the sunshine, as it was not felt there would be any worsening of the situation. Subsequent events disproved this diagnosis comprehensively…

We continued to operate the shuttle while trying to obtain further information from all sources. A long-haul Boeing 707 joined the shuttle fleet and Cyprus Airways continued to operate when crews and aircraft were available. On the Friday afternoon a Cyprus Airways Trident was inbound from Rome with only crew on board. As we were awaiting a possible VC-10 arrival from Khartoum on diversion to pick up passengers we were listening to the air traffic control channel.

At approximately 1600 the captain of the CY Trident called up and urgently requested clearance to divert to Beirut. When questioned as to the reason, he said that he was descending through 12,000 feet and had just passed over a large fleet of warships and landing craft. He had made a circuit of these ships and seen to his alarm that they were flying the Turkish flag. He was advised to break his transmission and land at Nicosia as planned...his was the last aircraft to land at the airport; it was damaged beyond repair during the invasion.

After discussion with the airport manager I advised London and Athens that the staff were exhausted and we would be unable to handle any more flights until the situation became clearer. I was driven to the Nicosia Hilton where my first night’s sleep since Tuesday was interrupted at 0530 by yelling and shouting and the sound of distant explosions. The Turks had arrived.

I rang the office of the manager whom I knew well. “Taff, the Turks have invaded and are bombing the island.” I thanked him and went to the window, which faced north. The morning was a beautifully clear one, and at that moment I saw a Turkish Hercules, silhouetted against the mountains in the background, dropping parachutes. Still groggy from lack of sleep, I mouthed a suitable expletive, drew the heavy curtains, pulled the mattress into the bathroom (as explosions might shatter the window) and promptly went back to sleep.

Waking at around 1000 I had a shower and decided to seek more information. In the breakfast room I met the BA engineer who had come to check the damaged Trident and was now stranded. We could hear the thump of anti-aircraft fire and other explosions. A Cypriot National Guard base some 1500 metres from the hotel was under attack from Turkish F100 fighter-bombers. Together we tried to find out how many BA passengers were in the hotel – not that we could achieve much but it gave us something to do.

The hotel was a shambles with a lot of people milling around and news coming over the tannoy from the BBC overseas service every half hour. Many people had come to the hotel as a rallying point for some reason, including a large number of Americans who acted as if the Hilton was diplomatic territory.

During the day things calmed down a bit; the hotel announced that it had no incoming supplies of food and guests would be rationed at mealtimes. At about 1400 it was announced that all American citizens were to assemble in the ballroom. We pointed out that this was highly dangerous to life and limb as two walls were of glass and the pressure from any nearby explosion could cause shattering. This was ignored and it was announced that all US citizens would leave within the hour. Those in charge refused point blank to take any other nationals, not even women and children.

Disgusted, I retreated upstairs where a plan was being made to bring women and children to the Hilton from a hotel close to the airport, where a heavy concentration of units from both sides were still fighting. After a lot of trouble getting across the city this was eventually achieved. Apart from the occasional gunfire, Saturday night passed uneventfully.

The following morning, food supplies were down to bread and jam. The men agreed to let women and children go first. While we were waiting our turn a group of Cypriot national guard turned up, demanding to be fed. The men formed a barrier to stop them entering the dining room and the young lieutenant in charge was told he would have to wait. Two of the guards pointed their weapons at the barrier. At this a rather large person stepped forward and told the young guardsman that if he didn’t put the weapon down he would do something rather nasty with it. The guards left hastily.

At lunchtime on Sunday we were advised that the British commander near east forces had negotiated a ceasefire with the Turkish Authorities to allow evacuation of civilians from Nicosia to the safety of a military base in the south of the island. Promptly at 1500 four armoured vehicles of the Finnish UN troops arrived with buses and lorries. Anyone who wished to leave was to be taken to Dahkalia. The convoy was so long that as I left on the last Finnish vehicle, the first was already arriving at the base.

When I arrived at the base after some minor stops for national guard to check that there were no Turks among us, I encountered a situation that was just about controllable. The colonel had been told to expect about 200 cars and 8-900 people; instead there were some 1500 cars and well over 3000 people. I made my way to the command HQ, told them who I was and asked if there was anything I could do to help. Hearing that I was familiar with aircraft manifests and loading, they asked me to report to the HQ first thing in the morning.

On Monday I started making lists of passengers in co-operation with the military. The RAF were using Hercules aircraft from a deserted old strip, picking up the passengers 100 at a time and taking them to Akrotire where they were transferred to Transport Command Comets, VC-10s and Britannias for the flight to the UK. I continued working through the Tuesday, when I was told that BA London Operations wanted me home. On Wednesday morning I flew to Akrotire; unfortunately the RAF had run out of aircraft so used the Hercules for the complete trip – six hours on a noisy, cramped aircraft to RAF Lyneham. Fortunately though, I knew a crew member from my service days, so I had one of the crew bunks up front all the way.








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