In 1960 I was stationed at RAF Medmenham (HQ Signals Command) when I received notification of my posting to 249 Sqn. RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus. The journey turned out to be very interesting and exciting. I reported to Southampton in late September to board HMT Nevasa. It was to be her final trip as a troop Ship! The journey to Cyprus included stopovers at Gibraltar and Malta where we were allowed ashore for a few hours. The bars and clubs we visited proved to be quite an experience for a young at heart and inexperienced lad like me!! On board we were given jobs to complete each day. I was really lucky. My job was to replenish the ingredients required by the ship’s bakery. It only took about two hours, and I got to sample the products produced! HMT Nevasa was made redundant and laid up in the river Fal in 1962, before being converted into an Educational cruise ship based in Falmouth in 1964/5.
It was early October when we disembarked at Famagusta. The transport to Akrotiri was in the back of an open topped truck. On the way we stopped off for a break at the ‘half-way’ house situated at the road junction to Nicosia, a place I was to visit on many occasions during my tour. On arrival I was allocated to the 249 squadron ‘Caywood’, a large T-shaped bungalow type building. Being a Corporal I had my own room consisting of one iron-framed bed, one bedside locker, a tall locker, a small table and a chair. The overhead fan was a blessing! Amazingly two school friends of my brother, who I knew very well, where there – Brian DeVonald (J/T Radar Tech on 249 Sqn) was a member of the Water Ski Club and it is thanks to him that I also became a member.
The make-up of the station at the time included: 4 Canberra Bomber Sqns (6, 13, 73 and 249), 2 Canberra Photo. Reconnaissance Sqns, 280 Signals Unit (based at Cape Gata with a detachment based on Troodos), 3 Wing RAF Regiment, 5001 Airfield Construction Sqn, No 2 Anti-Mosquito Unit, 103 MU (Ray Burrow’s place of work), 70 Sqn (Hastings) – a detachment from UK I think? There was also a Search and Rescue Helicopter Sqn, but I cannot remember the number. In addition the usual support units (SHQ, Tech Wing HQ, Flying Wind HQ, Medical Centre/Hospital, Local Police Unit, Bomb-dump, Air traffic control, Armoury etc. were well established. There was also No. 1153 Marine Craft Unit based in Limassol Harbour. The total number of personnel exceeded 4000!
There were quite a large number of organisations/clubs catering for such a large number of personnel and their families: NAAFI shops and Married Families Club – out of bounds to us single types! – YWCA Lady Lampson Club and the Base Broadcasting Service. There were a fantastic number of sports to play and clubs to join including: soccer, rugby, gliding, sailing, water skiing, sub-aqua club, saddle club, go-karting, judo club, scouting, swimming and water-polo, mountaineering and potholing club and the NEAF Cruising Association. Other sports which were available included: Volleyball, basketball, hockey, golf (at Tunnel-end Episkopi), badminton, boxing, fencing and squash.
Whilst working at 249 Sqn, and being single, I enjoyed having the opportunity to babysit for the Sqn CO and Flt Lt Tug (Navigator) and Dorothy Wilson who like me were members of the water-ski club. It was enjoyable because I had good home cooked meals and a more comfortable bed to sleep in! Their children were great to look after and we got on very well – possibly sowing the seed for me to eventually become a teacher? The CO had a married quarter on the station, but Tug’s accommodation was a hiring in Limassol. Because of the shortage of accommodation on the station many families were housed at Berengaria Village just outside Limassol. It was self-contained and included: Shops, medical centre, church, social club, school, swimming pool and other sporting
facilities. Personnel were bused to Akrotiri and Episkopi as and when required. I believe the village was handed back to the Cypriots in December, 2011.
A typical working day for me involved a 6am alarm, so that I had time for breakfast before starting work at 7am. Once at work most of us looked forward to the arrival of the mid-morning NAAFI wagon. Depending of operational requirements we finished work at 1pm. My main duties included the collection on the operational status of the aircraft from the chief engineer each morning and submitting the details (SOR) to HQ Flying Wing asp. I remember that there was a very good relationship between the ground and aircrew, which made working with them a real pleasure. Other duties that I had to carry out included Duty Corporal and Bomb Dump Guard (usually at weekends). I was given a 303 rifle and a cartridge of six bullets! During our Ground Defence Training at Hereford I qualified as a marksman (303, Sten, and Bren gun) and was therefore quite relaxed about having a loaded weapon!! However, on most days I dashed down to the Water-ski Club in my VW Beetle (I obtained my UK driving licence courtesy of the Army vehicles/drivers testing unit based in Limassol – 23 October, 1961). This was during the summer months only. From October to March it was playing rugby (along with Ray Burrow and Felix Booth) and other winter sports which took up most of my free time. It was also a good time, weather wise, to go exploring the many historic sites/places. I remember on New Year’s Eve day 1962 driving up to the Troodos Ski Club for a morning ski and driving back down to a beach near to Episkopi for an afternoon swim with a couple of other ‘mad’ friends. When I say swim, what I actually mean is a quick dash into the sea and a quicker dash out of the very cold water!! We did it just for the ‘hell of it’.
At Christmas time most of the Squadrons/Units built homemade ‘themed’ bars in part of the airmen’s accommodation buildings. Some were really professional. I remember one bar had a small mountain built on to it which you had to climb before you could enter the bar. Other bars I remember were based on the wild-west, the jungle, London clubs etc. The Station Commander and his wife went to all of the bars to decide which one was the best. For me it helped to take my mind off home and family at Christmas time. Later, following an internal posting to SHQ, I linked up with Dickie Dynes (29th). We regularly went into Limassol to the Metropol Hotel (used for accommodating families in transit) for a decent meal and a better quality bottle of wine. It was around this time that we travelled across to the Famagusta area to see Jock Oliver and Tony Gulvin who were stationed there. I still have a postcard sent to me by Dickie when he and a friend were on holiday in Israel. It may be of interest to know that in addition to Israel being open for tourists from Cyprus at that time, Lebanon (Beirut) was also a popular place to visit. How things have changed now!!
There was one event which even today makes me sad to think about. The crew of a visiting Victor (XA929) from Cottesmore joined us at the Water Ski club for a few hours relaxation. My first posting after passing out from training was RAF Gaydon (Vulcans, Valliant and Victor bombers) which enabled me to have an enjoyable and interesting chat with two of the crew. The following day (16 Jun 62) the Victor crashed on take-off, killing all six members of the crew.
On a happier note I will tell you about the Akrotiri rugby team trip to Aden. Flt Lt Mike Knight (now Sir Michael Knight) was the team captain and had obtained appropriate authority for us to be passengers on the regular Hastings flight to Aden. The bucket seats were very uncomfortable! The journey involved an overnight stay in Bahrain. We arrived at RAF Khormaskar and settled in before
playing two games during the five days we were there. We played against the host station and a mixed Army/RAF team at Steamer Point. Whilst there we visited a nearby oasis/small zoo with a resident snake charmer. We also spent an enjoyable evening at the Steamer Point social club where we chatted to a few members of the WRAF who were stationed there. I later discovered that one of girls was in fact Pam Ayers!! Due to problems with not being able to fly through Egyptian air space we had to return via Khartoum. At the time we were not aware that the aircraft was having one or two technical problems! It was only when I looked out of the window a couple of hours after leaving Khartoum and noticed that one of the engines had been ‘feathered’ that I realized that we had a problem. We diverted to El Adem where we spent a few hours waiting for the engineers to do their job. We were glad to eventually arrive back at Akrotiri.
There was a scheme in place which allowed service personnel and UK based civilians to apply to have their car repatriated to UK by air – provided that they had owned it for more than a year. This is what I hoped to do, but with only 11 months left of my tour I had a bad accident on my way back from Nicosia. Thankfully no one was badly hurt, though I had a bad cut on top on my head and was briefly knocked unconscious. After one night recovering in the Army Hospital (Dhekelia) we were allowed to return to Akrotiri.
Finally just one or two notes about rugby in Cyprus at that time. Ray and I were very lucky in that we had opportunities to travel to play other teams around the Island, Malta and Kuwait. During my first rugby season I played for the Middle East Air Force command team. Later in the year MEAF became NEAF (Near East Air Force) so I got two caps for the price of one!! The Cyprus inter-service games were always a highlight of the season. I am pleased to say that I was on the winning side each year. I was posted back to UK in March, 1963 (RAF Innsworth of course?) In 1971/4 I was lucky to be posted back to Cyprus – HQ this time. But that is another story!