BETTER ON A CAMEL
BOAC and BEA reminiscences, memorabilia and history
 
 
Introduction
Review of background to airline experiences and recollections
 
 
Dedication
About the charity 'Practical Action'
 
 
Foreword
Foreword by Sir Ross Stainton, former Chairman of BOAC
 
 
CHAPTER ONE - THE FAR EAST AND INDIAN OCEAN
airport and airline memoirs about the far east - from India and the Seychelles to Japan
 
 
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
 
 
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
 
 
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 - 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
 
 
Saudi Arabia - Abdul and the Bacon, by David Hogg (1973)
a treat goes missing
 
 
Yemen - Sana'a Memories, by David Hogg (1973)
a testimony of everyday life in the Yemen
 
 
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 - Never Knowingly Undersold, by Peter Jones (1981)
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
 
 
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 - 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 - 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
 
 
Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)
learning the ropes, the hard way
 
 
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
 
 
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 New World, by Don Ford (1967-1969)
An expatriate airport manager comes to Chicago
 
 
USA - The Cricket Team, by Peter Jones (1964)
cricket in New York with BOAC?
 
 
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
 
 
Bulgaria - Fog in London, by Mike Lewin (19xx)
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
 
 
Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)
an encounter with American presidential security guards
 
 
Romania - Heidi's Haggis, by Mike Lewin (1971)
a bit of BEA memorabilia - ingenuity in the kitchen saves Burns Night in Bucharest
 
 
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) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)
Diplomatic Incident with Chandelier
 
 
Russia(USSR) - The Omelette Factory, by Peter Richards (1970s)
Navigating over Siberia
 
 
Russia(USSR) the Golf Lesson, by Peter Richards (1976)
In a Moscow Hotel Room..
 
 
Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)
How to scare a Russian Security Officer
 
 
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
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....
 
 

Cyprus - Suez and the Rocky path of True Love, by Gerry Catling (1956-57)

Having endured six months through a Gander winter, I was well compensated by six months in Bermuda, a paradise by comparison; it was there that I met my future wife. She was a refugee from the winter in Ottawa and had decided to take a hotel receptionist’s job in Bermuda; I was the first person she checked in. I taught her to play snooker, and life appeared to be progressing well with all the enjoyable pastimes available on this sub-tropical island.

We made plans to marry in Western Canada in January 1957. However, Sir Anthony Eden, France, Israel and BOAC conspired to throw a very large spanner in the works, although I managed to outwit them in the end, but it was a rather hard road.

Two days after my fiancée had returned to Vancouver Island to prepare for our wedding, the dreaded signal arrived from London saying, ‘Proceed to Gander immediately’! Gloomily, I auctioned my motorised bicycle, carefully packed my shark's oil barometer (essential for forecasting hurricanes), wrote a note to my fiancée and took the next flight to New York, where I had an overnight stop before flying to Montreal and on to Gander.

I decided to have a good night on the town in Greenwich Village before facing the austerities of Gander again, but returning to my hotel at a late hour, passing through Times Square, I noticed the rolling news display on the Times Building saying, ‘Britain and France invade Suez’. “The best of luck,” I thought, “I am far enough away, it won't affect me”, but experience of BOAC should have taught me to be more circumspect in making such rash assumptions; obviously the New York atmosphere had clouded my judgement.

The next morning I blearily turned up at the BOAC Ticket Office to collect my ticket to Gander, but saw that it was made out to London. When I queried this, the ticket agent said, “Haven't you seen this signal?” ‘Gander posting cancelled, return London first available’.

So, four hours later, I was sitting in the downstairs bar of the Stratocruiser passing Gander on the left-hand side with some relief, wondering what fate had in store for me this time.

I went directly to traffic branch to find out. The traffic manager said “Where the hell have you been, we have been trying to contact you for days? This Suez business, tomorrow we are starting a series of six Constellation flights to El Adem, Tobruk in Libya to evacuate British and French nationals. They will be coming overland from Cairo to be flown back to London and Paris. You will go on the first flight, help the RAF to check them in, do the loadsheets and come out on the last aircraft.

Although rather time lagged (there were no jets in those days), I was very interested in the opportunity of seeing Tobruk with its infamous history in World War Two. However, on arriving on a blazing hot day at El Adem, the only view in sight was a flat sandy rocky desert as far as the eye could see in all directions. The crew and I were given beds in some huts which didn’t appear to have been renovated since the Luftwaffe had departed, and I went up to the airfield control tower to find out what was going on, and when our passengers were likely to appear.

The only person present was a bored RAF officer gazing across the desert through binoculars. “Good to see a new face,” he said. “Nothing has happened around here for months. I just sit here day after day watching the locals with their donkeys out on the desert looking for scrap metal, making their wives walk well ahead of them to trip any landmines that may be in their way. Roll on a decent posting”. I sympathised.

Some hours later, coaches containing British and French passport holders started to arrive, but I was surprised to find that most were of a very mixed Middle Eastern appearance and few could speak English or French; a real mixed bag of folk with obviously interesting antecedents, but I had no time to find out more.

After 3 days, nobody else turned up, the RAF were bombing Cairo, so the last Connie brought me back to London before I had a chance to explore Tobruk.

My involuntary duty to the Empire accomplished, I thought I could get some leave and get married, but it was not to be. Two days later I was on a BEA flight to Nicosia, Cyprus, with a bag containing a Britannia 102 flight manual and loadsheets. The B102 was not yet in passenger service with BOAC, the first few had only just been delivered, but were being used to transport the army to Cyprus for the invasion of Port Said and the Canal. I had never seen a B102 before, but need not have worried as the flight plan was easy and the B102 loadsheet was probably the easiest one on which to achieve a trim that I had come across. After Comet 1s, almost anything was easier.

Nicosia was not only the assembly point for the invasion of Suez, it was also the centre for the Greek EOKA terrorists who were conducting a campaign for independence from Britain. They were killing the British on a regular basis on a street known locally as ‘Murder Mile’ whenever they got the chance.

On arrival, the Army had considerately booked me a hotel room at the Ledra Palace in central Nicosia not far away, and advised me not to go out and to travel to and from the airport in their truck with two armed guards. I reflected that I was really earning my salary of 1000 a year.

The hotel was full of British and French Foreign Legion parachute officers and it was instructive to note the difference in mess etiquette between the two nations in the dining room. Whereas the British very properly hung their belts and sidearm in the cloakroom before entering, the French placed their loaded sub-machine guns on the dining table beside their soup spoons. If you were sitting opposite one of them, it was a great incentive to finish your meal quickly and not linger for coffee and liqueurs. This armed camp existence went on for about a couple of weeks until President Eisenhower pulled the plug on the British and French and the operation went into reverse - and so did I.

Meanwhile, my fiancée had not received anything from me since I left Bermuda about a month before, thinking that I had deserted her in Gander. No post had reached her and at that time international telephone calls were almost impossible. My prospective Scots-Canadian mother in law had written me off as another deceitful Englishman who had ruined her daughter's prospects. However, I was grudgingly granted three weeks leave, escaped before the next crisis occurred, made my peace with Canada, got married, and we went to Rome for 5 months, then to Istanbul. Not many dull moments.

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