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RAF Muharraq BahrainxLegless in Singapore

Legless flying high

The RAF and my f irst Venture into S E Asia

After returning from Bahrain, I spent the Christmas and New Year holidays at my parent's home in St Helens, Lancashire. They still had my room available for me and were pleased to see me after my year in Bahrain, so we went out to the local United Services Club each evening, my father was the chairman, and generally had a good time over the holidays. I was glad to be home, but some things were a little strange now, the UK had decimalised whilst I was away and the currency now was just pounds and pence rather than the pounds shillings and pence before I left and everything seemed to be a lot more expensive now. Before I went to Bahrain, a pint of draft beer used to cost me one shilling and ninepence, now a pint of draft bitter cost me 32p in the new currency and working it out, that was the equivalent of about six shillings and fourpence in the old money, so things had changed a lot whilst I had been away.

After New Year, I travelled down to my new base at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire and carried out the usual formalities of arriving at a new base. I was now to be employed on the VC10 and Belfast aircraft line, which were the transport operational units on the base, because it was a 24 hour operational unit, the work was split into two shifts of 12 hours each and the working system they had was 3 days of night shift 20:00 to 08:00 , then 3 days of day shift 08:00 to 20:00 then six days break. This seemed very good to me because it meant that you had half of the year as a holiday without taking any actual holidays, six days on and six days off continually.

The work seemed fairly easy to me after Bahrain, because now I was not the sole Flight Systems Engineer anymore, there were three others working on the same shift as me now. Then, even though I had experience of working on VC10 aircraft in Bahrain for the last year, the admin. office on the base decided that I needed a formal VC10 aircraft type-training course, so I was enrolled on a local course for four weeks, which I found very easy because I already knew the system by now anyway. When I started the normal shift work again after the training course, I fell into the routine of working my six days on and then I used to hitch-hike 180 miles back home to St Helens for my six days off and vice-versa.

After I had been doing this Brize Norton - St Helens routine for about six months I met a girl that I was attracted to, she working as a bartender in a local pub not far from my home in St Helens. So now I really looked forward to my six days off every other week. Then on one of my trips home one day, I had problems getting a lift and it was raining, so when I eventually got to St Helens, I was very tired and soaking-wet through. My girlfriend, Myra, then suggested that I buy a car for the journey back to base and to use it for the future trips backwards and forwards. So we spent a day going around the second-hand car outlets and eventually I found a one, a ten year old old Singer Vogue that was in fairly good condition and very cheap at just 20 pounds sterling including one year's road tax. So I bought the car and I drove us both to the pub where she worked, I was parking the car at the very back of the car park when Myra asked me what I was doing, because as she then pointed out, there were a lot of free parking spaces near the front. I then had to confess to her that although I had been driving in the RAF for two years by then, I had an RAF driving licence, but I didn't have a civilian driving licence and I did not want my parents to see the car, because they knew that I did not have a driving licence and my father being a lorry driver by trade would get very angry with me.

I left the car parked in the pub car park for the next few days and only used it again when I had to go back to Brize Norton, I left my home as usual that day carrying my bag, I said goodbye to my mother, who thought that I was going to start hitch-hiking again, then I walked quickly to the pub which was just about 400 yards away, opened the car, threw my bag on the back seat, started the car and then set off for Oxfordshire. Everything seemed to be fine and I was driving down the M6 motorway doing slightly above the speed limit when the engine started missing a little bit and then stopped completely, I didn't want to stop on the motorway, so I quickly put the gearlever in neutral and just coasted for a while, then luckily a slip-road exit appeared and I coasted up to the top of it. I put the hand brake on, opened the bonnet of the car and started to look around the engine, quite quickly I found the problem, an electrical connection had come loose on the distributor, so I went to my bag on the back seat of the car and got my knife and screwdriver that I always carry in there, being an engineer. I was just walking back to the front of the car to carry out the repairs when a police car stopped next to me, my heart skipped a beat and I thought that I was in a lot of trouble now, one of the officers wound his window down and then asked me if I had any problems. I brazenly just held up my screwdriver and then replied that I did have a problem, but I was just going to fix it, at which he said "good" he smiled at me waved and then they drove away. I was wearing my RAF uniform which may have helped with the police that day, I always wore it when I was hitch-hiking before because people stopped more easily for servicemen, so I wore it that day too to fool my mother into thinking that I was hitch-hiking back to base as usual.

I quickly repaired the car, got back to base about three hours later and got ready for my first nightshift, I went to work later and told all of my friends about my car and the incident with the police and then carried on with my work as normal. The car was much easier for me to travel on my six days off now and I never had problems with the engine again, it was quite a good old car really. Then about one month later on one of my trips home, I had parked my car in the pub carpark as usual and I walked to my mother's house carrying my bag. When I went in the house my mother's face was serious and she said to me "Leave your bag here and go and get the car, I know all about it now!" So I went and collected the car and brought it home, what had happened is that Myra had told my parents what I was doing and my mother had booked a driving test for me for the following day. I had to go out and buy some 'L' plates for the car and for the first time since I had had the car, I had to arrange for some car insurance that day too. The next day I went for my driving test and passed it quite easily, so I could drive legally now.

Anybody reading this story may be wondering at this point exactly what all of this has to do with Asia. Well please bear with me for now, all of this is background and Asia will be coming into the story very shortly.

In the August of that year (1972) I had my 21st birthday, Myra, my family and friends had all arranged a big party for me at the local pub where Myra worked. The landlord had put on a huge food buffet as a present for me and everybody had a wonderful time and they all wished me good luck. Myra and I had planned to use this occasion to announce our official engagement, which we did and the night developed into both a twenty first birthday party and an engagement party, many people got legless that evening and after drinking a full bottle of Southern Comfort, a birthday present, so did I. I continued with my usual working cycle of six days on in Oxford and six days off in St Helens for the rest of that year, it was much easier for me now with the car and on my six days off Myra and I would drive somewhere and stay in a hotel for a few days and try to make plans for our future wedding.

I returned to Brize Norton one time in mid-December that year and there was a strange atmosphere at work, the other people seemed to be a little upset with me and I couldn't figure out why. Then I found a message in my pigeon hole in the crewroom and it said that I had been called for a meeting with my Squadron Commander the next morning at 10:00. So I managed to get a little sleep at work that night and the next morning at 10:00 on the dot, I knocked on my Squadron Commander's office door and was told to enter. I entered the office saluted him and he asked me to take my hat off and take the seat opposite, he told me then that my promotion had come through and handed me my tapes, he then went on to tell me that special orders had come through from Command Headquarters and that I had been selected for duty in Singapore and that I had to board the aircraft leaving here for Singapore on 14th January, he then asked me for any comments or questions. This had all come as a shock to me, not the promotion that was expected, but the posting to Singapore, I had never applied for another overseas posting and now I had got the one that everybody wanted, Singapore was the prime overseas posting that everybody wanted to get and I had got it without even trying, now I knew why everybody at work was upset with me, the word had obviously drifted out that I had been posted to Singapore and everyone was envious of me.

After this had sunk in my brain properly, I did then have some questions for him, I asked my Commander if this posting was still available as an accompanied posting and not just a single posting, he then asked me why and I told him about my engagement to Myra, he went on to say to me that if I was married before the 14th of January, 1973 then this was not a problem for them. I then asked him why, with all of the people that had applied for duty in Singapore, why had I been chosen without even applying for it, when he told me the answer to that, then I understood that I was very unique, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was the only TASS qualified Flight Systems Engineer in the RAF that had qualified on not just two, but all of the transport aircraft in service at that tine and that was why I had been selected. I then stood up, thanked him and shook his hand, smiled at him and I said, I shall see you again in the New Year with my new marriage certificate, he smiled back and wished me good luck, I put on my hat, saluted him, did an about turn and left his office wearing a grin from ear to ear.

Back in the crewroom at the section, now that I knew what the problem was before with everyone and everybody else knew it too, everyone started smiling again and they started taunting me about my posting, making jokes about it and saying that the RAF must be stupid to choose the worst engineer in the Air Force to go there, so things lightened back up and we were all good friends again, I was so pleased, that I bought a round of drinks for all of my colleagues at the bar at break time that night. Six days later and I was packing my car to go home again for the holiday break, my mind was still mulling things over, 'Xmas, New Year, wedding, Singapore' and I had to tell Myra and my family about all of this, there were no mobile phones in those days and not everyone had a telephone in their house anyway.

When I arrived back in St Helens four days before Xmas, I picked Myra up from her home, we drove to a quiet pub in the countryside and I started to tell her everything that had happened at work and about my ideas for the future. Some things we had to do quickly, at my insistance she agreed to get married on New Year's Day 1973, so we had to start arranging that now, then I suggested the Lake District for a few days honeymoon, we had to book that too, Myra had to get a passport, but she couldn't do that until after we were married, so that it had her married name in it. That Xmas and New Year went very well for us, both of our families and friends were happy for us and the whole holiday went by very quickly, even the church wedding was well attended, many of them must have been well hungover from the New Year celebrations the night before, we had a very good reception in a large pub near the Saints Rugby Club and we had a very nice time in a hotel on Lake Windermere for our honeymoon.

All too soon, it was time for me to go back to work again and the first thing that I did at work was to give my squadron Commander a copy of my wedding certificate as promised, this he accepted then shook my hand and congratulated me and he reminded me that my salary would increase respectively too now. It was just one week before our flight now so I just buried myself in my work, socialised with my colleagues at that time and that week went by very quickly indeed. My father had volunteered to drive Myra down to Brize Norton and on the evening of 13 January they arrived and we stayed in the RAF pupose built 'Gateway hotel' on the base. The next morning the staff woke us and we made our final preparations for the flight, Myra had never been on an aircraft in her life before, so I just reassured her and told her that it was no different really than sitting on a coach or a train. When we boarded the VC10 we had seats mid-way down over the wing roots, so it wouldn't give us a very good view below when we are airborne. The door was closed, the engines started and soon we were taxying down to the end of the runway, I could see that Myra was still very nervous, so I just tried to prepare her and explain everything that was going to happen on take-off and the flight.

Then we turned onto the runway, the engines increased to maximum power, the brakes were released, we were pushed back in our seats and the VC10 surged off down the runway.

'South East Asia Here we come!'

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Legless world of words The Legless Blog


About Ian Reed

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Autobiograhy of a fool My first published book 'Legless in Thailand

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True short stories Some of my true short stories

Legless veteran Royal Air Force tribute page

the Saints St Helens: My home town

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Hat Yai Thailand Legless in Hat Yai: When I was stuck in Hat Yai unplanned

Lovely Laos Legless in Vientiane, Laos: My first trip to Laos very recently


I shall be adding to this site over time, so if anyone is interested then please have a little patience and call back here from time to time. One of my very few pleasures in life these days is beer so I shall be occasionally referring to beer, I just wish that beer was the only reason that I am legless all the time absolutely legless now

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