An Arab Jocks strap_
A revolutionary tale
Ice cold in Oman
Hopping mad kangaroos
Another fine mess
Misuse of firearms.
Ice cold in Oman.
In the early sixties the oil companies were still searching for significant amounts of oil in Oman, and their numerous temporary camps were often a source of hospitality for us with their cold beer and fresh supplies flown in almost daily. Their abandoned camps also served us well, as they would dump land-rovers with only slight faults, and we would make regular trips for spares, saving the military budget a fortune. One of these trips produced a bizarre sight - an abandoned fridge in the scorching desert, which when opened was full of ice! These fridges operated by a small paraffin burner acting on the tubes at the back, so the desert sun must have had the same effect. I often wonder what a passing Bedouin would have thought.
7.62 heaven.1 Troop arrived in Nizwa, the interior capital of Oman in May 1959. A few months earlier the SAS had made a spectacular assault on the mighty Jebel Akhdar and defeated the rebel army. The environment was hostile in many ways, and the maximum stay was supposedly 9 months before return to Bahrein for R&R. We hadn't been there long before someone 'discovered' a huge stack of 7.62 ammunition that the SAS had buried before leaving. This was sheer heaven, we could go off into the desert and fire away at whatever we fancied as a target. Some rounds split through corrosion but no damage occurred to men or rifles. The good bit was that we could pack up at the end of the day without the 'I have no live rounds, misfires or empty cases in my possession Sir', or as Len Wallis put it in his book 'Ivenolivroundsmisdor-empcarinmypossir'. Ernie James and I soon found a target to beat all - an abandoned Valetta aircraft by the village of Firq, and many a happy hour was spent shooting it up, and it took several sessions before we realised there was a large landing-light bulb in the nose. One day during shooting there was a huge whoosh and hundreds of gallons of avgas came out of a wing tank - what a waste. Rebel activity in the area never ceased and we became quite blase to the sound of yet another vehicle hitting a land-mine. An entry in my diary quite casually mentions 'our water truck mined in the morning, Bopper unhurt', but we did sadly, have a fatality in 1961. The village of Firq and another in the hills called Saiq gave, excuse the pun, plenty of ammunition for typical squaddie humour.
Hopping mad kangaroos.
Towards the end of 1962 1Troop returned to Sharjah from Tarif further along the coast. The base was visited by the Royal Australian Air Force and their Canberra aircraft. They were a good bunch, but very soon stencil-painted kangaroos were being plastered all over the camp.
One night our lads took revenge, and the following morning showed the glistening white Canberras with new insignia - "19 TOPO" in bright red !
A furore followed though, as the planes' nice white coating was in fact mega-expensive anti-nuclear flash/radiation paint.
Another fine mess .
In the early days at Sharjah the cook-house provided it's own entertainment. One day we sat and watched a team of ants drag a large dead cockroach up the wall. Presumably they had a nest in the roof somewhere. It was genuinely fascinating to watch the teamwork involved.
Most days a donkey would wander in and stroll amongst the tables looking for suitable scraps. One thing often taken to extremes was to hollow out your long bread roll from one end and then see if you could stuff in all of your lunch (tiffin), which would then be carted off to the NAAFI and washed down with beer. The air-conditioning was really cold, so going back out into the sun that was almost vertical overhead after a Carlsberg or three gave some massive headaches. For some strange reason we would still do it again the next day !
Early in 1958 I arrived at my first base-camp in Kurdistan to find that 'subject normal' was dysentery. Most of the lads had it to some degree, and some even kept charts depicting how many times they had 'been' , and it was quite common to see someone walk away from the latrine, go a few yards, turn round and go back in again !
I caught a couple of mild doses straight away, and then on my first mule trip out in the field I went down with a real cracker. My companion (Fred Houston I think) somehow managed to get me to Zacko, a town right on the Turkish border, where I was put into hospital and jabbed with penicillin for 'flu. Our medic (Clarke?) eventually collected me, but when you can't keep anything down I was not happy at being asked to swallow 16 very large sulpathiazole tablets, followed by a long winding drive through the mountains in a 1-ton truck.
Strangely, for the rest of that tour and two others I never had another attack. Partly some immunity I presume, but also knowing what to do if the need arose. Hard-boiled eggs and hard-tack biscuits were the first step, followed by that good old favourite kaolin and morphine, which you can still get now. ( in good old military fashion it was known as Mist Kaolin et Morph).
*We were always told that the last resort was chalk and opium, but I wonder if, like bromide in the tea, it really existed. One lad put forward the theory that all you had to do was grit your teeth and not go for another 5 minutes - keep repeating this every time and you were eventually cured by numbers alone !
Other names from that period :- Lt Liam McGuire, Sgt Pete Norris, medic Sgt Lawrence,
Klon Goldup, Sprs Lanham and Whitehurst (train enthusiasts known and Chuff and Puff), Sam Whitehead, Tom Wingfield.
Chalk & Opium tablet definitely existed, found in our medical packs issued in the jungles of Sarawak, what's more it definitely worked!!! Albie
Misuse of firearms.
In 1962 1 Troop were based at Tarif on the Persian Gulf. There were literally hundreds of miles of deserted sandy beaches, and looking at GoogleEarth it seems that some of it has escaped development. On one trip I looked over the top of a dune to the shore and found a large flock of flamingos, and decided to shoot one for the pot. (No comments please, I know it doesn't sound too good 40 years later!). Anyway, retribution was at hand as I must have got sand into the barrel. I squeezed the trigger and there was a huge bang and a cloud of debris, and the flash elimator had expanded like a concertina. Not sure how I explained it to the OC. One significant feature of those beaches was thousands of light-bulbs on the high water mark, presumably jetsam from all the shipping. At one deserted oil-company camp we realised that little creatures were flitting about in the twilight and getting closer until they took scraps from our fingers. They were jerboas and I remember thinking what great pets they would make. I've just looked on the internet and they are a lot prettier than jerbils and apparently a totally different species.
In April 1959 1 Troop moved inland from Sharjah to Ibri. Dave 'Klon' Goldup wrote to the Daily Mirror letters page saying 'we are a group of lonely soldiers surveying the Oman desert, and our need for female correspondents is great'. The result was amazing - sackload after sackload of letters. Klon went through them all quickly, then farmed them out to us, probably about 50 each. You can imagine how varied the contents were. I wrote to one lass for a while and sent her my photo, but despite repeated requests I never got one of her. I gently opted out of it all when she said her mum had my room ready for when I came home !
One unexpected outcome was a rocket from HQ. The letter had informed the world, including baddies like Russia, that BFPO 63 was for British soldiers mapping Arabia, but I don't think anyone was too bothered.
The main source of supplies for 1 Troop at Nizwa in 1959-61 was by aircraft to the nearby strip at Firq. The usual plane was a Pembroke, but we saw quite a variety.
On one 'fingers crossed' occasion I looked into the back of a Beverley, and there were dozens of paratroopers in the huge hold, facing backwards in rows of canvas seats. The Beverley trundled off down the rough gravel strip and eventually clawed it's way into the air. A great plane, dropped us supplies in Borneo as well, and depending on which numbers you use, was in fact bigger than a Hercules.
We'd also get a selection of DC3's, including Gulf Aviation and the Royal Rhodesian Air Force.
We would listen out for a plane's arrival (some, like Radar in M*A*S*H were better at it than others) and the trick was to get to the airstrip before it landed.
One day a DC3 came in with flames from one engine nearly touching the ground. As soon as the door opened and the steps were lowered I rushed aboard and told the pilot. He haughtily told me that DC3 engines always did that (yeah, right) and made me feel a right **** in front of the passengers.
I could be forgiven some smug satisfaction when I heard a bit later that when it landed at it's next stop at Muscat, the engine caught fire and the plane was severely damaged.
Misuse of firearms (2)
Sometime during our stay in Oman, our SLR's were replaced with Sterling SMG's. Perhaps it was considered that if we ever had a fire-fight with the local rebels it would be amongst the palm trees rather than on the gravel plains.
On one trip out I recalled a reading a novel, probably The Saint, in which our hero needed to take someone out with little noise but didn't have a silencer. He achieved this by opening a pistol round and emptying out about half the powder.
I did the same with a Sterling round, taking out a bit less than half. The result was a loud bang and the target was hit more or less as normal.
Next was to take out a bit more than half the powder - the result was another loud bang and the target untouched. The round had gone half way up the barrel and stopped.
Two things learned - the percussion cap makes almost as much noise as the propellant, and secondly the ideal way to remove a stuck round was with a rod from the good old Pit Safari.
Two grave errors.
We made camp just outside one village and found some handy flat stones which we used as a base and sides for a fire. A local elder came out and told us they were gravestones. Whoops! Relations were restored with a gift of some duty-free cigarettes.
Later on another trip we gave a passing Arab a tin of food for some reason. The gravel plains in Oman can stretch for ever, and I'd swear there was no-one around for miles. Yet that Arab was soon back with the tin, still unopened, and telling us in no uncertain terms that it contained pork luncheon meat. More fags to the rescue.
Working under pressure.
Height control in
Oman was mainly by altimetry, and it was necessary to calibrate all
the instruments together over the expected altitude range.
To save time and treks up the jebels, the REME boys came up with a sort of aquarium and a two-way pump. The altimeters were placed inside and the pump then duly sent them to the desired height. I can't remember how they devised the lid but it would bend alarmingly both ways and we had to shake the whole unit to unstick the needles.
Someone, not me for once I hasten to add, had the idea of putting an animal in the tank as well !
A frog or toad was acquired and in he went. The poor thing was sent to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean then the pressure was released and decreased and it was rapidly sent up into the mountains.
The result ? In a manner of speaking it didn't bat an eyelid, and when released went happily on it's way.
Perhaps scientists could make use of our findings to prevent divers from getting the bends!
A recent TV
advert showed two blokes in a boat when the accelerator sticks. ( the
power of advertising - I've no idea what the product was!). One of
them panics but Mr Cool calmly reaches over and switches off the fuel.
Whilst at Tarif in the Persian Gulf we used small boats with outboard engines to survey the offshore islands and also for some fishing trips.
On on of those trips the accelerator stuck when fully open, but I was Mr Cool and decided that the best action was to disconnect the clutch. There was a mighty explosion which could be heard back in camp and the piston tore through the casing.
Once again I'm not sure how I explained it away - perhaps my fading brain cells are saving me from embarrassing memories in later life!
Oil Change ?
With thanks to Dave 'Streak' Hobson for these contributions.