Back to the U.K. - 1952

Towards the end of February 1952 I was detailed together with a U.K based ferry pilot and a signaller to take Brigand RH832 ’A’ back to the U.K. for testing at Farnborough.  I understand that this Brigand was never put back into service  (See Photo of A & J at the Breakers yard in 1958).

Brigands A and J in the breakers yard

The ferry Pilot had not flown a Brigand previously and had an open copy of ‘Pilots Notes’ in his hand whilst taking off with me calling out the speed as we hurtled down the runway. Now there’s a thing to inspire confidence!

At Changi a centre belly drop tank was fitted increasing our fuel load from 1066 imperial gallons by 200 gallons. This additional fuel may be required when we leave R.A.F. Butterworth to cross the Indian Ocean to (Ceylon) Sri Lanka and then from Sri Lanka to Karachi in Pakistan – each leg taking in excess of 6.1/2 hours flying time. This initial flight from Tengah to R.A.F. Changi on Friday 29th February   1952 (leap year day) to have the central drop tanks fitted and for me to organise and collect a set of navigation charts for the trip to the U.K. included a couple of hours local flying for the pilot and signaller to get used to the plane and the equipment.

During the weekend I plotted my flight plans for the daily legs of the trip and diversions airfields. Had an early breakfast (0515hrs) on the 3rd March ( Monday) and got airborne on our first leg., Tengah to Butterworth which is opposite Penang Island in Northern Malaya   (1hr 50 mins). Refuelling there and then flying out to Negombo in Western Sri Lanka a six and a half hour flight over the Indian Ocean with no land marks all the way – All by ‘dead reckoning’ navigation - in this instance, Radio bearings and drifts taken on the ‘white caps’ over the sea.

After almost 6 hours over the ocean we encountered a row of cumulo nimbus (thunder storm clouds) across our track with a vertical height of at least 20,000ft. We decided to transfer the fuel from the drop tank to the main tank since we were getting low on fuel and guess what? It would not pump it across. (Brigands and pumps don’t go together). By now we were very close to our ETA (estimated time of arrival) for Negombo and decided to fly as near as possible between two clouds – you don’t fly through a Cumulo Nimbus if it can be avoided due to the possible up draughts and icing that occurs. Even so we encountered severe hail stones and we went up a 1000ft in a few seconds, being severely buffeted and when I looked at the airspeed it read ‘zero’. Must have had severe icing of the pitot head, for a while, quite a scary experience.

Eventually we came out of the cloud and there, a couple of miles to our starboard side was the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka.   The radio station on Sri Lanka at Trincomalee was not working on full power and although a bearing from there was satisfactory you only had a line across your track without any means of checking how far you were from the station. (No G.P.S.). To miss Sri Lanka meant you would continue across the Indian Ocean until you ran out of fuel or reached Somali in Africa (2700 miles away). We landed at Negombo, had tea in the aircrew mess and got a taxi into Colombo that evening to shop for articles of silver, rings, bracelets etc., before returning to base for a good nights sleep beneath our mosquito nets.

Second Leg:   Early morning take-off from Negumbo to Mauripur in Pakistan via Pidgeon Island. We had in those days to fly sea ward around the southern tip of India and keep out to sea all the way up the West Coast until we arrived in the air traffic control area of Karachi. Total flying time 6hr 35 mins.

The maximum tour time in Pakistan was 18 months for the R.A.F and the Army personnel since the climate was 100% humid, your clothes and bedding were always damp and there was a misty haze 24 hours a day.

Third Leg:   This flight was from Mauripur to Bahrain in the Gulf via Sharjah, Dubai. Total flying time 5 hrs 40 mins.

4th Leg: From Bahrain, flying up the Gulf past Kuwait to R.A.F. Habbaniya not far from Baghdad. Iraq via Shiabah. Total flying time 3 hours.

5th Leg: Habbaniya to Fayid (El Ismalia) Egypt, just to the left (port) of the Suez Canal. Flying time 3 hrs 30 mins.

6th Leg: From Fayid to R.A.F. Luqa near Valletta. Malta, via El Adem (Libya). Flying time 5hrs 45 mins.

Back in Britain at this time food rationing was rather severe and yet in Malta you could purchase most goods, Cadbury’s chocolate, fruit including raisins, currants etc, even luxury goods such as German Camera’s, and watches all at reasonable prices. In those days people were expected to smoke cigarettes , Customs were very strict on the quantity of tobacco you were allowed to bring into this country.  During our overnight stay in Malta we went into Valletta in a horse and carriage ( this being the usual way to travel) We did a little shopping and paid a visit to the local bars in an area known locally as ‘The Gut’.

7th Leg (On Monday March 10th 1952) From Malta we flew to a French Airforce base in Southern France ‘Istres’ still being used as a fighter base in 2011 . Flying time 3hrs 35 mins. Here we had lunch and took off again at 1330hrs en-route to R.A.F. Abingdon in England, arriving safely at 1650hrs after a flight of 3 hrs 20 mins. Crossing the coast near Brighton. The sky over the south coast was blue with light amounts of fluffy cumulos cloud. I noted in my diary later that I really hadn’t expected to see ‘Blighty’ again whilst back there in Malaya. 

When we landed at Abingdon we had to pass through H.M. Customs. The ‘ferry crews’ had organised this  procedure. To the left of and outside the custom hall – which I believe was in the arrival Hanger – were a row of coat hangers on which we all hung our ‘great coats’ beneath which we placed our haversacks containing any cigarettes and other forbidden articles. Next we went through Customs coming out at the other end and collecting our gear – simple and very efficient -. I slept overnight in the mess at R.A.F. Abingdon and after a rather hearty and ‘Full English Breakfast’ collected travel documents and went to the Air Ministry in London to arrange pay and two weeks home leave. Got home at 9.30pm on Tuesday 11th March (full moon that day) finding that nothing seems to have changed during my absence.

My elder sister was due to be married on March 29th but as I was only on leave until the 24th she arranged to bring the wedding forward to the 22nd in order that I could join in the celebrations for this special occasion.

On Wednesday March 26th I travelled down to R.A.F. Lyneham and afterwards to R.AF. Clyffe Pypard to have a smallpox vaccination top up, didn’t know I needed one since I had recently had one together with one against yellow fever. The M.O. was a young Pilot Officer who knew a little about the Brigand troubles and must have felt sympathy for me so he organised another weeks leave. I went back to the Air Ministry in London the following day to arrange a pay day then returned home.

On April 2nd I repacked and reported once more to R.A.F, Clyffe Pypard and was informed I needed a cholera jab and another vaccination and my leave was again extended by a further two weeks, so it was back down to the Air Ministry to arrange yet another ‘pay day’’. Prior to this was I was due to leave Lyneham by Hastings Aircraft the following day en-route for Singapore.  I therefore had an Easter break in the U.K. and on the Tuesday, one day before I was due to ‘enplane I received a telegraph from the C.O. of 84 Sqdn asking me – and I quote –‘to report, I repeat report back to Tengah immediately’. It was finally arranged that I would fly out from R.A.F. Lyneham on Saturday 19th April.

During my stay I had experienced fog, frost and heavy snow, my expected 14 days leave had become 36 days and I expected to have my ‘backside’ flown off me on my return to 84 Sqdn. in the Far East.