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
 
 
Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)
a visit to Mandalay and the temples of Pagan
 
 
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
 
 
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
 
 
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
 
 
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
 
 
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....
 
 

Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)

Winter can come early in Moscow and in October 1976 I was part of a flight crew who had to position on BEA to Sheremetyevo airport in order to be available to operate the Boeing 707-336B G-AXXZ from Moscow to Tokyo the following day. As we arrived, blizzard conditions were passing through,we landed safely and after tortuous exchanges with the Border Control, finally got on to the coach for the long trip into Moscow city and the Ukraine Hotel. There was nothing worth reporting about our night stop this time, but the next day we were told that the flight from London would be delayed due to bad weather. This trip was a 707 crew plum fixture as it went from Japan to Hong Kong, then to Thailand, on through India to Dubai and then home some 10 days later.

We were eventually told we could go out to the airport and the timing for this was critical on crew duty hours. Putting us on duty too early meant that for the long sector east we would not have much spare time for handling any contingency that might arise. In the briefing room, we heard the dulcet tones of our incoming captain calling up to give his arrival time and then adding the cryptic comment ‘Oh and we’ve lost the captain's external glass from the number 1 window’.

This was an immediate ‘stopper’. He was in the latter part of the descent when he called and the glass had shattered as they flew through hail. Our engineering cover at Moscow was handled by Air India and the mechanics went into a huddle and then emerged with beaming faces. ‘We have captain’s #1 window spare in our stores. We can change this here and then you can go, but not today, maybe tomorrow’. I was a bit dubious about this and asked if I could come and check the part numbers and also the condition of the window; so I was taken to the stores and there, sure enough the numbers matched the requirement. But looking at the window, I was a bit bemused by the fact that the glass was a sort of yellow colour. ‘Is this colour all right? I asked. ‘How long have you had this here?’ ‘This is standard spare from Boeing’ came the swift reply, so I called the outgoing captain and asked him if he would come and have a look too. He duly looked at the window and the mechanics held it up to the light so that he could look through it. ’Oh, I can use that’ shrugged the laid-back captain and we went back to the office. Given the length of the delay, we had to return to the hotel and as there were now two crews there, a wonderful social occasion.

The Air India guys got stuck in and then disaster struck, as, with the old window removed and the flight deck open to the elements, more blizzard snow fell. They had to abandon the aircraft until this stopped and then dig their way on to the flight deck to start work again. The old Boeing 707 was a wonderfully forgiving aircraft and with suitable heaters and blowers running they soon had the job done and the pressurisation check too. Thinking we would be going soon, they fully re-fuelled the aircraft. We were then called and told the bad news that as most of the remaining passengers had managed to get away to Tokyo on JAL or SAS, the eastbound flight had been cancelled. So now we had the task of flying an over-weight aircraft a relatively short sector to London at way over the maximum landing weight.

I began to do my external check of the aircraft and was accompanied by an AK47 wielding youth of pustulous countenance who slavishly followed my every move. One of the checks I had to perform was to check that the aircraft battery, located in the nose landing gear bay, was both present and secure. There were two ways of doing this check. The quickest way was to turn on the electrically driven hydraulic pump switch on the flight deck and thus have the power to close the doors of the bay when the check was done. This saved a double trip up and down the access stairs and was a ‘common practice’. The doors were opened and closed by a handle stowed in an access panel by the external power receptacle and had a cunning safety device included in it. To open the doors, you pulled the handle down and then slid it into a ‘bayonet socket detent’ guarded by a spring-loaded locking plate. So two hands were needed to ‘unlock’ the handle from the down position. All the time the doors were open, you could hear the hydraulic pump groaning to pressurise the system.

The blizzard had covered the tarmac area with a thick covering of hard packed icy snow, that an army of ladies in the most appalling clothing were vainly trying to shift by hand tools. The guard is on my heels and I open the nose landing gear doors, struggling to keep my balance on the uneven snowy surface. The guard dives past me into the now open wheel well and in so doing knocks my right arm and thus dislodging my hand from the control lever not yet in the locking detent and so spring loaded to the ‘Up’ position

Simultaneously three things happen. I fall and in so doing cannon into him, flattening him - the hydraulic pump senses the drop in pressure and goes into hyper drive and the doors close with a thump above our heads. He picks himself up and cocks his AK47. I shake my head and go back up to the flight deck and turn the pump switch off, the correct way to do this check. I am shaking like a leaf and the captain asks me what's wrong, so I tell him. Then there is an interruption as an officer walks on to the flight deck. ‘Your engineer has assaulted my soldier’ he says. ‘No’ says the captain ‘He actually saved his life. If my engineer hadn’t done what he did, you would have had a decapitated guard. Peter will show you what happened. Peter, I will be on the intercom, so go and put the headset on by the nose wheel and when safe to do so I will switch on the pump’

So I take the officer along with me and the guard trundles along behind him. I go through the same drill with the handle and this time, as there is no hydraulic pressure to deal with, the doors slowly open and as a safety precaution I disconnect the door actuator arms too. I show the officer the witness marks on the snow of scuffed feet and prone bodies and also the battery in its small stowage on the front right hand side of the bay. I mime the way I fell. Then I put the headset on, reconnect the door actuator pins and tell the captain all is OK to pressurise. Using two hands, I release the handle from the lock and close the doors and the officer jumps out of his skin as the doors slam shut in a second with a very audible ‘whump’. ’OK English. I see the problem’ and turning to the guard he lets out string of Russian that makes the poor boy's ears burn I guess, as he slowly wanders away. ‘You can go’.

With a ‘phew’ in my heart, we do our checks and get under way. Somehow we manage to burn enough fuel to keep the landing weight within maximum and arrive at Heathrow at dusk. There we find a signal waiting for us. We are to take minimum rest in an airport hotel, already organised, and then catch a 747 passenger flight direct to Bangkok and pick up the rest of our trip from there. I turn to the co-pilot and he grins. ’My girlfriend works in crew scheduling’ he chortles.

© Peter G Richards FRAeS

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