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
 
 

Introduction

This is a collection of reminiscences, some of my own, but the majority written by my former colleagues. We all worked in the civil aviation business, most of us overseas, with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), British European Airways (BEA), and after the two Corporations were merged, British Airways. I have also been happy to be able to include several stories which have been contributed by flying staff, one of whom started his career with BSAA (British South American Airways) before it was absorbed into BOAC.

Our timescale is from the late forties to the early nineties, and in addition to some of the more lighthearted incidents described, we were inevitably involved in some of the wars, political events and natural disasters which occurred during that time, several of which are reflected in the stories.

PEOPLE

I joined BOAC as a Trainee Station Officer in 1961. Alongside me was an intake of 16 other trainees – 13 of them British, one Uruguayan, one Ghanaian, one Indian, one South African. Together we underwent a series of training courses in the varied skill sets that we would need overseas. These included meteorology and 'form of the earth,' flight planning, aircraft load planning and load sheet preparation, cargo and airmail, passenger reservations, sales, and a general business course. After each of these training modules we were sent to an overseas station to gain practical experience in the particular skills.

Generally the training stations most favoured were those located in some of the hotter parts of the world where the training was felt to be of most practical use – the 'three Ks' -Khartoum, Karachi and Kuwait were among the more popular! The technical training was of a very high standard and stood us in very good stead in difficult situations. Sales training, as measured from the present, was quite rudimentary – I can remember a senior manager who had recently returned from a posting in the USA introducing us all to the new American concept of - ‘Marketing!’.

I was in the ninth annual intake of station officer trainees, which meant that there were already airport managers, sales managers, country managers, area managers and even more exalted folk who had undergone similar training. Subsequently there were other parallel training schemes, some with a more commercial and less technical orientation producing overseas managers.

BEA had its own training scheme suited to the coverage of its busy shorthaul network within Europe.

Station Engineers had their own regime of training and postings to provide technical cover on the ground, in parallel to that of station officers.

On most airports we worked in shifts to cover the airline schedule. Our primary function was to manage the arrival and turnaround of aircraft without undue incident and within the scheduled time for the stop.

After several postings in different stations around the world, some reached the exalted status of airport manager, country manager, or even regional manager. Depending on the size or orientation of the station, we were required to be all things to all people - administrators, liaison officers, trainers, property specialists, human resource managers, accountants, marketeers, technical specialists in almost every field related to civil aviation, customer service specialists - and, of course, always - diplomats.

In the early days such staff were mainly British expatriates, with a sprinkling of locally engaged staff who received the same training and returned to grow into senior management positions. Over the course of time, more locally engaged staff have taken over most of the functions of management that were once the preserve of expatriates.

HISTORY

Most of these recollections go back to the period between the late 1940s and the early 1990s, and are the work of the staff both of BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) and BEA (British European Airways). From 1975 staff of both of these State-owned Corporations found themselves working for a merged organisation, British Airways, which was privatised nine years later.

BOAC emerged from two pre-Second World War private airlines, Imperial Airways and British Airways, and maintained a separate identity throughout the war, although it operated to fulfil national needs, primarily the continuation of air links between Britain, its Empire and the world beyond the war zones. Its air and ground staff were supplemented by some ex-RAF personnel after the war. BEA started life as 110 Wing of RAF Transport Command, and many of its staff in the early post war years came into the airline from the RAF.

Although they worked in many different parts of the world, many of these early BOAC/BEA overseas staff maintain regular contact with their former colleagues and meet from time to time over a drink, dinner or golf to exchange memories and reminisce over shared experiences. None of us are in the first flush of youth. However, memories of earlier days are long, and the stories they have to tell, colourful. Some recollections are improbable but funny to look back on, but we also endured some less pleasant experiences – wars, coups, and hurricanes, among others.

I remember several times, when listening to my colleagues recounting their adventures, wishing that I had a tape recorder and could recall some of these reminiscences for posterity. In the end I did the next best thing. I asked those who were prepared to delve into their memories to share them with me so that I could try to record them. Many were happy to oblige, and this collection of stories is the result.

ENVIRONMENT

The aviation environment in the forties and fifties, when this story really begins, was very different from the present day. Aircraft were smaller, much smaller. So were airports, the technical facilities of which were often, by today’s standards, very rudimentary. So, of course were the facilities for passengers. Again, by comparison with today’s crowded timetables between major cities, route networks were sparse and sketchy, and operations infrequent.

Early telecommunications were distinctly unreliable, as is evident from several of the stories; planning and control of passenger numbers and cargo load between stations only gradually became a more exact science following the introduction of reliable computers. Air travel was still something of an adventure, a novelty for most people, and travellers regarded themselves as pioneers. Anything could happen - and occasionally did!

However, the vast majority of aircraft operations are, and were then, in accordance with the flight plan and free of unexpected incident. While mechanical reliability and the mechanization of processing passengers and freight have radically improved since those early days, life overseas was always full of adventure and occasional incident - no two days were ever the same.

At the beginning of the fifties, post-war austerity measures were still a most uncomfortable reality. Food and clothing rationing only ceased in the 1950s; currency restrictions, which severely limited the amount of sterling that people could take out of the UK, lasted in various forms until the mid 1960s.

Those who travelled by air regularly were something of an elite. There was a hard core of expatriates working overseas, most of them for banks, oil companies or other major multinationals, who travelled home on annual leave. For some of them, their children were at school in the UK and came out for the holidays. Business travel was confined to a few major decision makers. Holiday travel to long haul destinations was, for the majority of the population, still a distant dream. Emigration by air was still on a relatively small scale and was in competition with sea travel; friends and relatives overseas were visited only on special occasions, if at all.

AIRCRAFT

The fifties and sixties were a period of transition from piston engined aircraft to faster, and eventually much more reliable, turboprop and jet aircraft. Early post - Second World War passenger aircraft were mainly derived from wartime transports; they shared many of their limitations and faults. Pressurisation was a major step forward as it allowed aircraft to climb to 6-8,000 metres (20-25,000 feet) and avoid the worst of low level turbulence.

The latest of the propeller aircraft, like the Douglas DC-6/7 family, Boeing Stratocruiser and the Lockheed Constellation, offered a pressurized cabin, much improved performance and greater comfort than their predecessors. However, by today’s standards, they were severely limited by speed, range and altitude. This meant frequent stops for refuelling and crew change, and therefore an airline company presence at out-of-the-way airports that modern aircraft can easily overfly.

With the advent of the jet engine, air transport gradually became much more reliable than before. Airlines were able to operate fairly close to a published timetable on a regular basis. Jet and turboprop aircraft were usually able to fly above or around the worst of the weather, giving passengers a much smoother flying experience than before. Aircraft increased in size and capacity exponentially –the DC-6 seated about 55, the DC-7C stretched the number to 80-95. The turbo-prop Bristol Britannia could accommodate between 95 and 120. Among the jets, the Comet IV carried about 100, the Boeing 707 and DC-8 from 130 to 180. The Boeing 747, first introduced in 1969, is able to carry over 400 passengers, while the two-deck Airbus A-380, which entered commercial service in 2007, can carry well over half as many again.

GEOGRAPHICAL PLAN AND SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

I have taken a geographical rather than historical view, dividing the world first into continents and then alphabetically into countries, putting the recollections as far as possible into historical sequence in each country. Occasionally a reminiscence spills over from one country to another, in which case I have usually placed it where the story commences, unless the important part of the story is in a later posting.

The ‘world coverage’ of the stories may appear at first sight to be somewhat uneven, with few stories from countries that were important on BOAC, BEA and British Airways routes, and many from out of the way places with infrequent schedules, now distant memories on the BA route network, like Rangoon and Gander. The origin of the reminiscences depended not so much on the importance of the station to the airline, as on how unusual or interesting the place was to work in - and indeed, where my willing contributors were located at the time!

Lockheed Constellation

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