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....
 
 

Uganda - The Road to Kampala, by Peter Liver (1972)

"Liver, you’re off to Uganda." Where? Actually after a shaky pass in the BOAC geography test (Osaka confused with Lusaka) my grasp of location had improved. Fare calculation courses had done that. Wasn’t it the place up-country from Kenya, over the Rift Valley, where any stick placed in the ground would grow?

The king had been called “Freddie” but now the President, a big man with a big hat, who had been a sergeant major in the King’s African Rifles, was Idi Amin Dada.

Five of our class of BOAC senior trainees were being despatched to help with a little local difficulty. This was caused by the plan to expel all the Ugandan Asians with British passports and seize their property. Looking back, it was a brave decision of the Heath government to accept all those who wanted to come to the UK and accord them refugee status.

Of 50 countries asked to help, only Canada responded positively. An airlift to the UK was in the works. The VC10 touched down at Entebbe with beautiful Lake Victoria lapping at both ends of the runway. Before long we were installed 40 kilometres up the road in the Kampala International Hotel. This had been until very recently the Apollo, named after the now exiled president Apollo Milton Obote. There we awaited developments as the UK government negotiated and sought to get Idi Amin to see reason. Geoffrey Rippon had the hard task of coming to Uganda to talk to “Big Daddy”.

The foreign press corps soon arrived, Sandy Gall and the war photographer Don McCullin among them. The bar became much busier. After Biafra and Vietnam, Don McCullin was only too happy to photograph the attractive Canadian immigration girls who had taken up residence around the pool.

In the event the correspondents were rounded up and expelled before the Asians. The British High Commissioner soon followed, accused of masterminding anti Amin ‘propaganda’.

As preparations for an airlift of some 30,000 Asians got under way, BOAC joined forces with British Caledonian, Donaldson International, Dan Air, and East African Airways to arrange the formidable task of bringing them all to Stansted.

My colleagues found themselves selling tickets on the roof of the Bank of Uganda where the passengers were allowed just enough Ugandan shillings to make the purchase, the rest of their money being confiscated before they received their exit permit. The cash was stuffed in a BOAC cabin bag and seat control maintained on a blackboard.

I found myself back at Entebbe airport, living in a bachelor bungalow with a houseboy and an old VW Beetle. The operations office was a garden shed shipped out from home and erected in the car park. At night its one strip light was a magnet for thousands of lake flies.

One particular night the passengers on the scheduled VC10 were stranded when the captain in Nairobi decided not to land in the tense country and overflew us. Many could not leave the airport as their exit permits had been stamped. George, our catering man, rose to the occasion and took over the departure lounge restaurant, sending staff weaving away through the villages to obtain eggs, and made omelettes for the hungry refugees throughout most of the night.

That same lounge was to be the unhappy place of detention for the Israeli hostages taken by the PLO from an Air France flight in 1976. I returned in equally tense times in May 2003 to see the blackened ruin of this old terminal building standing just as the Israeli troops left it after their famous raid.

After another night duty I decided to take the faithful VW to have lunch with my colleagues at Kampala’s Speke hotel. By this time the army was jumpy about a Tanzanian invasion and there were roadblocks of sullen soldiery.

We were urged always to wear uniform and carry passports. I was soon flagged down by one group gathered at a banana leaf hut checkpoint and was told to get out of the car. “Open the bonnet!” I was instructed. The catch on a VW Beetle is in the glove compartment and took me a while to find. Much irritation and fingering of new Russian supplied, Libyan funded, Kalashnikovs.

“Where’s the engine?” the sergeant grunted as he gazed at the empty luggage compartment, worried that his troops had been quicker than usual and stolen it already. “Round the back, I think”, I croaked.

Satisfied that the VW did have an engine, they frisked me and curtly told me to go. But the car would not start. A sweat on the brow moment. There was nothing for it but to grab my BOAC hat from the back seat, assume a confidence I did not feel and call “Right lads, four of you, quickly now, round the back and PUSH!”

It worked. Soon I was puttering away with half the unit 500 yards from their post standing absently in the dust. I came back home by another route.


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