TTGU, Ep. 2, Ch. 12 – Flying Away
Those of us who were going abroad were cheered off the Training Camp by our fellow squaddies. We were in a couple of 3-ton lorries with all our kit crammed into our kit-bags, our packs Large and Small, and my trumpet in its case.
As we left that hallowed Camp, some of the lads gave the traditional two-finger salute to the RPs at the gate – and to the place in general. I just got myself as comfy as I could and started to think about the Mystic East and if they liked jazz out there.
We were to fly out, courtesy the RAF, from Stanstead. It was just a big field back then with a couple of runways and some corrugated-iron sheds, one of which was a cookhouse where we had cups of tea and one of which was the Office. In the Office, we proved who we were and were assigned our flights and told their times.
As the evening came on, our plane arrived. It was a Comet – a much admired jet transporter of its day. All our gear had been stored in its hold, and we were ushered aboard by the RAF pilot, told to find a seat and to settle down. I was fortunate enough to grab a window-seat so I’d have a good view of the journey.
Next to me sat “Lanc” Artinstall, who was heading for Malaya with me and who had trained in E5 Squad, so I’d got to know him quite well. He was a chirpy, chatty Lancastrian and was really pleased to be taking his first ever flight on his first ever journey abroad.
The third member of the trio who’d volunteered for Hong Kong and ended up heading for Malaya was Peter Hitchen. Pete sat somewhere behind us and we could hear him expressing his fears about flying, being on active-service in the jungle and having to end up so far from home.
The two lads who volunteered for Malaya and had been assigned to Hong Kong sat nearby. They would fly on to Hong Kong when we left the plane in Singapore. I think their names were Barry Something-or-other and “Pompey” Vernon. We were never again to meet up with them after they left Singapore.
I remember the doors of the plane closing and someone saying it was like being locked in a flying coffin – to which we all laughed (except Peter Hitchen). A young RAF lad passed along the walkway ensuring that we all had our seat-belts fastened, and telling us that officers travelled civvie and would have had pretty girls as air-hostesses.
Then we heard the engines revving up (or whatever jet engines do) and we felt the push of their terrific force as the plane moved forward on its take-off. It was an odd experience: it didn’t rise in a smooth climb as we’d expected. It climbed up for a short while, then seemed to drop a few feet – a thing repeated several times until the pilot’s voice assured us that we had reached the required height.
The young RAF lad stood up and told us what to do in an emergency. We could hear whimpers from Hitchen.
We were outward bound into the darkening night. It was a 10, 000 mile flight and would take about twenty-seven hours. There would be stops on the way.
As we flew over Italy, the pilot mentioned over the speakers that, if we looked out to our left, we would see the volcano, Stromboli. I was on the left of the plane and had a superb view. I will never forget seeing that volcano as the night came on: a mountain which glowed red at its summit. If this was what foreign service meant, give me more of it!
The only stop I actually remember – though there must have been more – was at Ceylon. We left the plane and were taken, in a proper bus, to Speedbird House where a posh breakfast was served. Palm trees lined the roads and the morning sun was lovely. And all those people in their local dress.
Then, back on the Comet for the last leg of our journey. We would next land at RAF Singapore.
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