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 (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
 
 
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....
 
 

Japan - The Mount Fuji Disaster, by James Wilson (1966)

It was a Saturday in March 1966; a perfect late winter day in Tokyo; clear blue skies, bright sunshine, with a magnificent view of Mount Fuji from the city. The BOAC city office did not usually open on a Saturday, but as Manager Japan I had gone in that morning to write a letter of condolence to my counterpart at Canadian Pacific Airlines after one of their DC-8s had crashed the previous day on the seawall at Tokyo’s Haneda airport. By the afternoon, I was doing some carpentry on the patio of our house in Azabu; my wife Diana had gone to the hairdresser – it was a very ordinary Saturday afternoon.

Then, with a phone call from the BOAC operations office at Haneda, my world fell apart. A BOAC Boeing 707 which was late, for reasons which were going to be very significant, had failed to report after its initial departure message and now there were reports of an aircraft falling from the sky in the Mount Fuji area. At first it was believed that aircraft involved was a Japanese self-defence force fighter, then it seemed possible that it was our 707. That was the news on the radio at the hairdresser. I was already on my way to Haneda, not to be home for a week.

The 707 had arrived late after diverting to Fukuoka on the flight up from Hong Kong. Since it had only a few passengers booked from Tokyo, we had agreed to delay further the departure to Hong Kong so as to take a group of 75 American Thermo-King dealers who were on an incentive tour of the Orient. There were 124 people on the flight including the crew. The American group had made an immediate transfer from a Japanese domestic flight at Haneda.

During the night we began to piece together messages about wreckage on the mountainside in the area of Taboro. It became clear that it was our aircraft and that there were no survivors. Why a large jet airliner should fall out of the sky in apparently perfect weather was a mystery to which we could give no answer.

The whole weight of the overpowering Japanese media fell on us. We had no experience of an accident in Japan. I was to learn a lot, very quickly.

The first lesson was that Japanese newspapers had commandeered all the available helicopters, so that when I came to look for one to go up the mountain on the Sunday there was every problem. Eventually I found one at a heliport in the suburbs and chartered it to come to Haneda to pick me up.

One of our Japanese traffic clerks was detailed to come along as interpreter. Suzuki-san looked terrified. I cannot say I blame him but it was only later that I realised how terrified he was. The weather had changed completely. Sunday was wet and windy with mist swirling around Taboro. As I climbed into the helicopter the crew said in Japanese “where to?” “Taboro” I said. “But where in Taboro?” “Oh! I don’t know, perhaps the post office.” That must be easy to see, I thought. After forty minutes of nothing, the pilot suddenly said, “There is the post office. I cannot land there. I will put you down that schoolyard, and then I must go away to wait at a heliport further up the valley. OK?”

Suzuki-san and I jumped out into the deserted yard with a feeling of absolute abandonment, which was made much worse when we realised that we might be locked into a compound. Eventually, after half an hour of desperate searching through the empty school buildings, we found a fire exit leading to the street.

On later reflection, the whole trip took on a surreal quality. When we found some of the scattered remains it was necessary to keep telling oneself that this really was part of the complete destruction of an aircraft with everyone on board.

Much of the rest of that visit was spent reviewing arrangements at the temporary morgue to which bodies were starting to arrive. Now that a BOAC team had arrived by road from Tokyo, there was no excuse for not returning to face the outside world in Tokyo. I called for the helicopter to fetch us, but Suzuki-san had disappeared, not to return for a couple of days. He really had been badly shaken by the experience. I made the return trip alone.

As with all disasters, the organisation to deal with the consequences takes on a life of its own. Gradually it became apparent that there was a special dimension that follows from the Japanese belief in personal responsibility in such situations. We could not hide behind lawyers and insurance loss adjusters.

A committee was formed to represent the families of the dozen Japanese killed in the accident (including the Japanese stewardess) and I was expected to negotiate personally all claims with this committee. This process was to take more than a year. However, immediately there were extraordinary requirements. Every Japanese was to receive “condolence money”, about 400 for each victim, for which there was no precedent in our system. At first there were objections from head office that this could acknowledge responsibility yet to be established. I rather think that events overtook any objection. Payments were made within hours.

I also attended Shinto ceremonies all over the city. The Japanese press had surrounded our downtown offices, making entry and exit very difficult. A co-ordination centre took over our reservations area in the basement of the Sanshin Building.

As one might expect, there were bizarre overtones. One group on board had been the “Blue Boys” a transvestite cabaret act moving from Japan to Hong Kong as part of a world tour. The group presented particular problems in identification to the rescue teams. But nothing was to surpass the effrontery of the agent in Japan who called demanding a refund of the fares which he claimed to have paid for their journey to Hong Kong. In telling him to wait I think I may have been rather rude.

Later, from a rural corner of France came a communication from the aged mother of one of the “boys”. It was clear that she had lost contact with her son many years before, but we met her request to be taken up the mountain to see his grave. It seemed a particularly worthwhile task.

The presence of a large American group on the aircraft was a particular worry to our USA organization. With the complete mystery as to what had caused the accident – it was well before the days of terrorist attacks like the Lockerbie disaster – the scene could have been set for American lawyers to have a field day. We had people from the BOAC USA offices working in our Tokyo accident centre in an effort to meet the US requirements including briefing the US media. I received excellent advice from a US born Japanese lawyer working in Tokyo who understood some of the cultural differences in the approach to such matters.

An explosive decomposition at altitude makes for extreme difficulty in positive identification of the human remains scattered over a considerable area. After some days, the experts had accounted for every passenger and crew member so that the wishes of relatives could be met, with the exception of one English stewardess. We seemed to be close to declaring that no trace could be found of this young woman. However, there were some remains which had not been linked positively with any other and following what could perhaps be called a process of elimination it was possible for the experts to say that no one would have to be for ever in the missing category. The stewardess had only one relative, her aged mother, and I thought how terrible it would have been if that old lady alone were deprived of what comfort there might be in a funeral, a grave, those certainties that conclude a life.

The investigators ultimately concluded that the accident was caused by clear air turbulence associated with the wind shear that can occur over a high mountain when the jet stream is as strong as that reported on that day of clear blue skies. The strong metal fuselage had been torn apart after being subject to stresses that could not, at that time, ever have been envisaged. All the stories about the 707 flying into Mount Fuji were set on one side.

However, it is not surprising that I carry with me an intense dislike of all those images of the sacred mountain so popular in Japanese culture. Years before I had climbed to the top and believed in that guarantee of one’s return to Japan; now I saw it in an altogether different light.

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