I read in Newsletter 53, with great interest, Frank Craig’s account of his journey to and from Christmas Island. I was on the same return flight that ended at Lyneham in the single-engined Hastings and the undignified final tow-in. I also went out by the MEAF/FEAF route at about the same time although my outbound trip took somewhat longer than Frank’s.
The Clyffe Pypard and Lyneham bits sound familiar but our Comet’s first stop was RAF El Adem where it went u/s and where we were stuck for a couple of days or so.
The entertainment was mainly focussed on a couple of local AMWD workers installing a pelmet over the window of our transit accommodation. They lined up the holes on the pelmet against the wall where it was going to fit by resting the pelmet on the inward-opening windows. Then they made holes in the walls with a blunt instrument and a large hammer, plugged them with wood and hammered the fixing screws into place. All this activity took most of the day. The pelmet duly fixed and curtains added, the workers stood back to admire their handiwork, shut the windows and the whole lot fell to the floor, accompanied by appreciative applause from us transients (remember when someone dropped a pile of plates in the canteen?).
The Comet fixed; our next stopover was Bahrain. I don’t think the RAF station was known as Muharraq at that time. We had no problems with windows here because the accommodation was under an extended roof outside a barrack block. Since the aircraft had broken down again, some of us took the opportunity to explore the town. Nothing stays in mind as being particularly spectacular, apart from the oppressive heat and humidity.
Off again to our next port of call, RAF Negombo in Ceylon. We stopped there for breakfast in what was a really exotic location, a far cry from the deserts of Libya and Bahrain. I really envied those who were posted there. This time the Comet remained serviceable – well, it would, wouldn’t it? – And we re-boarded for Karachi, stopping long enough for a meal at the civil airport, and moving on to RAF Changi.
I don’t recall Changi airfield being the amazing airport it is now. It now receives regular, and well-deserved, acclaim from the travel industry as the best international airport in the world. That said, our transit accommodation was pretty comfortable and in a large, airy colonial-type building. We were grateful for this since we were now nearly all suffering from an unpleasant tummy bug, presumably picked up at Karachi, and we were destined to stay here for several days. Once we were able to get out of bed, Changi village beckoned us to enjoy its delights. It seemed to comprise lots of little shops selling all manner of attractive goodies that had no comparison with mid 1950’s England trading. We were fairly quickly parted from our money for irresistible presents for our families in UK which, we were promised, would be wrapped and posted for us as we went on our way. Some of mine got home but a lot didn’t.
Healthy enough to travel again, we carried on to Darwin and Amberley where our experience was much like Frank’s. However, QANTAS Super Constellation didn’t take us the rest of the way; we embarked on a Hastings for the last leg of the trip. It was a bit of a comedown after the Comet, which was then the cutting edge of Transport Command technology. On the other hand, the Hastings didn’t break down. We landed at Fiji in the middle of quite a scary thunderstorm and stayed overnight in what I remember as a very comfortable hotel. Next day saw a short refuelling stop at Canton Island, a tiny atoll even smaller than Christmas Island. This had been a PanAm staging post for civil aircraft between the USA and New Zealand and was not much more than an airfield and a few buildings.
Some 12 days after leaving Lyneham, we arrived at Christmas Island and the prospect of a year under canvas and a number of loud bangs! Ah well, as they used to say if you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined.