Royal Air Force
Administrative Apprentices Association

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Derek Gould (23rd Entry)

In March 1958,at the age of 20, I was posted to RAF Nicosia.
After about three weeks I was called to the admin office and told that because of my explosives qualifications I was being posted to RAF Habbaniyah. I said that I did not have x qualifications and had not been on the course. I was then told that it was on my file that I had qualified and that was the end of the matter.
After I had gone through the clearance procedure I had to wait three weeks before I could get a seat on an aircraft going to Hab. I eventually arrived in Iraq towards the end of May. The saga continued. Nobody knew why I was there. I spent a week in the transit hotel and then decided to report to the Supply Squadron The Squadron leader had no idea why I was there but put me to work in the clothing store.
A week later he called me into his office and told me that there had been some confusion over my posting and that I was to report to admin office. Here I was told that I was going to RAF Basra, as they needed someone with explosive qualifications to move a load of bombs that had been hanging about since 1940. Once again I protested but to no avail and soon found myself in the back of a truck heading for Baghdad. On arrival I found the two fellows that ran the movements unit, they were
situated in the YMCA.
Once again there was no information about me and so I spent two days being shown around Baghdad, including the fish market on the banks of the river. What a stench!!
On the third day orders were received to send me, by train, to Basra.
I left at around 1800, travelling in an air-conditioned compartment with three Iraqi gentlemen, one of whom spoke very good English and two who did not speak any. At 0200 we arrived at Uhr and my English speaking Iraqi friend said that he would show me the area as there would be a couple of hours before the train continued to Basra.
I had forgotten about the heat and as I stepped from the train it almost took my breath away. My guide took me some distance from the station and showed me a tree. He said that it was the tree from the garden of Adam and Eve. Well, I might have been new to the area but I was not falling for that one, especially when I saw that the palings, holding the tree upright, said, ’Made in Sheffield”!
At last we left Uhr and continued on our way to Basra, arriving at around 0730.
There was no sign of any RAF vehicle to pick me up so I found a taxi and duly arrived at RAF Basra. Suprise, surprise,’ who was I and why was I there.’
I was taken to meet the C.O, Flt Lt G.B. Pope. He welcomed me and said that he had been expecting me about a month before. I was to help in the checking of some ammunition and bombs that had been at lying out in the desert since about `1940.
I at last convinced him that I had not received any training in the handling of explosives. He was not too happy about this but told me that I would be working with the
movements personnel
The RAF camp was situated on the banks of the Shat-el- Arab waterway. It occupied a small part of an Iraqi army base. There were 22 British service personnel consisting of supply, signals, sea movements, a cook, a medical orderly, postman and two officers. There was a small jetty with enough room to moor one ship, plus another jetty with a couple of Iraqi gunboats moored to it.
During the next three weeks a couple of ships arrived with equipment destined for RAF Habbanyiah. We also loaded one and this left on the evening of 13th July 1958. We were allowed a ‘sleep in ‘ after a ship had left so I was not amused when Colin ‘Dumbendi’ Watts came into my room at around 0730 shouting that there had been a revolution and that we all had to get up.
Colin was noted for his practical jokes so no one took any notice at first but he persisted and we began to realise that something might have happened.
We got dressed and went outside to find a number of Arab soldiers running around with rifles. This in itself was strange as they very rarely ran anywhere.
We stood around not knowing what was happening .At last Sgt C.A. [Bert] Dixon [4th entry] came along and told us that there had been a revolution. We all gathered in the main office where the C.O. told us that we were to keep out of the way and not to draw attention to ourselves.
One of the wireless operators came in and told us that whilst he was in the middle of sending some messages a couple of Iraqi soldiers had entered the room and
told him to leave. He said that he had managed to spin the dials so that they could not see the frequencies that he had been using.
The C.O told us that we had to get rid of the cryptograph equipment that was in the radio room. I think that it was Bert Dixon who organised this [He along with Derek Pitman, of the 3rd Entry, can either verify these events or correct them. We were all at Basrah in 1958].
Some of the guys entered the radio room under the pretence of asking for some typewriters, dismantled the equipment and brought it out. We all took some of the items, went out to the jetty to sunbathe, and threw the bits into the Shatt-el Arab.
So began a period of about 11 months with virtually no contact with the outside world.
There was very little to do except drink, swim and drink. On one occasion the C.O of the camp told us that his men would be celebrating in the evening and that he could not foresee what would happen to us. Most of us remained in our rooms; I was sharing with Colin Watts at the time, and locked the doors.
Our room was on the end of a line of some 20 rooms. Around midnight we heard a lot of noise, some of the soldiers were near to our rooms and they were shouting something that sounded like,’ get out filthy ingles’.
At this point I have to admit, that I was not very comfortable, in fact I was scared stiff.
Colin then said that he was a bit apprehensive. If I remember it correctly the words were a little stronger than that!
After a while it went very quiet. We ventured to open the door and saw some of the fellows making for the bar, which was situated in the middle of the row of rooms.
We did the same. Nearly all of the 22 were there and for the next couple of days we got through more than a few bottles of an alcoholic nature.
To while away the time, we had no way of knowing how long we would be in this situation, some of us formed an entertainment group.
One item was the,
’Song of RAF Basrah’
Bert Dixon was due to go on leave and the third verse was dedicated to him.
Here it is, sung to the tune of, The bold gendarme ‘.
‘We were [are] the boys of the Basrah Garrison
We are the boys who are kept in
We don’t know what will be our future
Be our chances thick or thin.
They keep us in, we can’t get out
They keep us in we can’t get out
We’re in the Basrah garrison
Bom de bom bom de bom
bom de bom de bom bom bom bom bom
We used to get or mail quite regular
Although we used to moan sometimes
Friday was the postman’s day of rest
Now he rests the whole week through
They keep him in, he can’t get out
They keep him in he can’t get out
He’s in the Basrah garrison
Bom de bom bom de bom
Bom de bom de bom bom bom bom bom
A certain Sgt was to go on leave
A happier man you could not meet
He had packed and bought his ticket
For a month in civvy street
But now that Sgt still remains with us
Perhaps one day he’ll go on, leave
They keep Him in, he can’t get out
They keep him in he can’t get out
He’s in the Basrah Garrison
Bom de bom bom de bom
bom de bom de bom bom bom bom bom
The days following the revolution were, at least for me, very worrying. We had no idea what would happen to us. Our Iraqi Chefs did not turn up so we had to do our own cooking. Some of us volunteered to help out the only RAF Chef that we had. We ate very well until the C.O. told us that we had used over a week’s supply in just a couple of days. This was a not really a big problem, we had the bond store with enough food to feed a couple of thousand for a long period. We managed to get into
the store, Bert Dixon may know a bit more about this, and so we did very well.
One other form of amusement was the camp cinema. We had a few films and once a week one was shown. I seem to remember that Bert Dixon was the projectionist. At one stage, after seeing the films on numerous occasions he started to mix them up. We might see reel 1 from one film and reel 2 from another. September, although I did not know this at the time, my father rang Air Ministry and said that I was at RAF Basrah and that he was worried as there had been no word from me for a few months. He told me later that he was kept waiting for about ten minutes. Then, to use his words, a very polite voice told him that he must have made a mistake because RAF Basra had closed down over a year ago!!!
After a few months a couple of the fellows from Basra managed to leave and return to the UK. Among them was our postman. It was about November before we were allowed to send any mail. As our mailman had returned to UK by then we needed a new one. I was given his job. I had to take the mail to the Army Garrison that was about two kilometres from Basra. The mail was opened and checked by the Iraqi Army. On one occasion I was asked why, in one of the letters, there was a reference to the Persian Gulf. The new Iraqi regime had changed the name to the Arabian Gulf. There were several other instances and on a few occasions I had to take the letter back to the person who had written it and get it changed.
After having the letters checked I took them into the city of Basra to the Post Office.
This was an adventure in itself. I had to queue with several hundred Basra inhabitants and then it was a mad pushing and shoving match to get to the counter on one such trip I had noticed that there were posters displaying the head of Colonel Nasser on a donkey. The clerk at the counter asked me if I was a friend of Colonel Nasser’s. I had a knife pricking into my back and several people were pressing me from all sides. My response to this was to say, ‘You know me George, I am a friend to everyone’. By this time my clothes were sticking to me and I was parched. I hasten to add that this was not because of the weather. The clerk replied by saying.” Colonel Nasser very bad man you should not like him”. Then we got on with the business of getting stamps for the letters, much to my relief!! END PART 1