A journey to Paradise and back

13 F.S.S. detachment to the Seychelles (December 1957 to March 1958)

By Trevor ‘Bill’ Powell (then Cpl.) 

In December 1957, Sgt. Mick Dyall and myself were told that we should accompany the Sqn. OC, Major Covington, to the War Office (as the Ministry of Defence was then called). There we were informed that the Royal Navy oceanographic survey ship HMS Owen was to carry out charting work in the Indian Ocean around the Seychelle Islands and that we were to go with them and carry out field trials on a new distance-measuring instrument called the Tellurometer (after the Geodimeter, yet another name meaning ‘Earth measurer’), at the same time providing co-ordinates for the Owen’s radar shore slave stations. 

On boarding the Owen at Aden, we found seven other R.E.survey members, namely Captain Bob Mills, Sgt. Fred Grist, Cpl. Roy Isherwood, Spr. Mike Layland, Spr. Bud Moon, Spr. Geoff Dean and Spr. Mick Graham from various MELF units. They would go with us to the earthly paradise called The Seychelles. 

There are between 86 and 133 islands in the group (depending on which source you consult), spread over quite a large area of the Indian Ocean, and which have a total land area of about 156 square miles (404 sq.km). The population in 1958 was near to 42.000, the great majority living on the main island Mahé, with 15.000 to 20.000 of them in or around the capital Victoria. By the year 2000, the population had grown to 82.000, of whom 59.500 on Mahé and probably about 25.000 of them in Victoria. They are a wonderful mix of ethnic descent, African, Indian, British, French, Chinese, Arabic, with skin that ranges from white to black, through all the shades of brown, hair all shades from blond to black and eyes of blue, brown or green. The local language is Creole, a French patois, but English and French are widely spoken. 

Later in 1959, Mike Layland wrote an article about the trip which he kept. In 2005 I too wrote my memoirs of the trip and we exchanged versions. Although there were some differences (memory is what it is after 48 years), the basic elements tied up very well. Here are a few photos of our adventure and a couple of, hopefully, interesting extracts from my tale. 

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Map of the Indian Ocean showing the position of the Seychelles 

Map of the main group of islands 

Map of the main island Mahé 

Our first view of the Seychelles, Bird Island, the most-northerly of the group, and preparing for Tellurometer measurements 

The Tellurometer 

Our accomodation on Mahé, the Continental Hotel and the Pirates’ Arms

Views of the capital town, Victoria and a typical Seychelles beach 

Surveyors at work (climbing a hill on recce.) and at play (on the beach) 

Eureka! The amphibious E.D.M. 

Flora and fauna of particular interest


A local fisherman

The clock tower in Victoria

Return to the UK, an adventure within the adventure


A curious fact from the Seychelles

Whilst we were there, I think it was in February, a tropical storm hit the islands and an exceptional downpour occurred overnight with almost 20 inches (50 cm) of rain falling in eight hours. The event was even reported in the British newspapers, which otherwise had only written of the Seychelles because Archbishop Makarios was exiled there from Cyprus in 1956/1957. Manchester gets 40 to 50 inches per year!

With thanks to  Trevor "Bill" Powell for this contribution.