"Dear Mum" Chapter 14
4th May 1962 RAF Gan.
Dear Mum, We are having an annual inspection soon (7th.) usually there is a huge to do about it with a parade and weeks of rehearsing, but here there is nothing. The big Chief is just coming round to look in each Section and that’s it. There are definite advantages to being here, getting back to “civilisation” is going to kill me, that’s if the climate doesn’t get me first.
12th. May 1962. RAF Gan.
Dear Mum, Just lately it has been just like home, with howling rain and temperatures dropping to the low 80’s. Ugh.
Gan, as anyone who has read the holiday brochures about the Maldives, must know, is a diver's paradise. The water in the Lagoon, was sometimes so clear that one could lay on the surface with a mask and schnorkle tube and see every detail at the bottom of the reef some hundred feet below. I had never done any diving before Gan and I finally passed my second class divers (British Sub Aqua Club) certificate. We were an affiliated club, but if the BSAC had known that we were patching demand valve diaphragms with bicycle inner tube repair patches, I doubt if we would have kept the affiliation for long. There were magnificent Coral Reefs and the fish had to be seen to be believed. I once stood up in a small boat in the channel between Gan and Wilingili, and saw what I thought was a sheet floating in the water some fifteen feet under the boat. I had a mask so I took a look and was amazed to see a gigantic Manta Ray. It was gracefully flying along and was big enough to have upturned me and my little boat without even knowing it, - had it come up under it.
One night a friend and I took a case of beer and a fishing line that I had made out of a trailing LORAN (LOng RAnge Navigation) aerial, to the beach next to the Wilingili Gap. This aerial used to dangle out of the back of a Shackleton to receive the LORAN signals. The Navigators were always forgetting to wind them in after use - they had a sort of reel and were let out about a hundred feet during flight. The ends of the runway were always draped by these long lengths of wire, which also had lead weights on the end, so making ideal fishing lines. They were about three or four millimetres thick, so they were quite strong.
We were well into our case of beer and had forgotten that we were actually fishing, when something pulled the line that I had wrapped around a piece of wood. There was the head of another fish that I had speared that afternoon on a huge hook at the end of this wire cable. It was not a normal bite, when the line jerks a bit and one is tempted to pull it back to set the hook. This was more like being firmly tied to the Titanic. We both grabbed the wooden handle, but by the time we had been pulled relentlessly into waist deep water, without even slowing down whatever had taken the bait, we were unable to do anything but let it go. There were, and I am sure still are, a lot of BIG fish around in the Indian Ocean.
Thinking it was the head of a quite reasonable sized fish, sticking out from some coral, one day I shot a Moray Eel (we used to take fish back to the Mess and the cooks there used to cook them for us). As soon as the spear embedded itself in the flesh just behind the head, the head suddenly started to emerge from the coral. It was just like watching a huge tube of toothpaste being squeezed and it just kept coming and coming. All the time I was backing off as quick as I could and soon realised that I had a Tiger by the Tail. It must have been some 7 feet long and had rows of needle like teeth. As it came out it started rotating around the spear in an effort to get free. In the end it managed to unscrew the end of the spear and we both left the scene rapidly in opposite directions, leaving me with a useless, headless, spear
We also used to go spear fishing for the two hundred-pound groupers, which lived in the huge brain coral mounds at the bottom of the reef. These were so big that we went two or more together, with long lines, attached to our spears, going up to the surface and tied to twenty gallon drums which we used as floats. Then we would try and shoot at the same time to get the grouper on at least two lines. It was always a battle to get one of these monsters back. I nearly drowned myself going after one of the smaller ones I chased back down the reef one day, when I was on my own. It was just out of range but I followed and followed it deeper and deeper to the bottom. This was almost 70 or 80 feet down, so I turned round to go up again. Against all the rules, I used to hyperventilate, which is breathing very deeply and quickly before I held my breath for every try at a big fish. This time I felt a lovely warm drunken feeling on the way up and everything went black. I had passed out through anoxia. The next thing I realised was that I was gasping on the surface and I must have catapulted myself to the surface through convulsions. That really scared me and I didn’t do it again, - that day.
I nearly drowned my instructor on two occasions too. Part of the training program was an assisted ascent. That is where one person pretends that he has run out of air and so they both must use the air from one bottle. Sharing the mouthpiece on the way up. I was OK with this, but when I handed the air back to him on the third go he must have got some water in with it and choked. He left me and rocketed to the surface leaving me, - the novice, to find my own mouthpiece and I came up to find him in dire straits on the top. The same chap was having a dive and I was doing surface cover about 70 feet above and, - as I was very proud of how long I could hold my breath, I went down and tapped him on the shoulder. Of course, he was not ever expecting anything to be down there at that depth, especially something which would tap him on the shoulder. He almost had kittens in his panic to turn and see what it was. It took him a good twenty seconds to regain control, which he managed to do, which was lucky, as I would hate to have seen him try and do a crash ascent from there. In spite of the laid back attitude to diving, we never actually lost anyone.
I was very interested in the underwater world and I made a box out of Perspex to house my camera. After many attempts I finally got a workable version which was a square box with lead weights bolted to the bottom. It had a rubber glove clamped to the side, to operate the controls and a small cylinder of air which pumped air in as one descended and a release valve which allowed the excess air to bubble out on the way up. In spite of it's Heath Robinson design and appearance, it did work and I still have a number of underwater shots of extremely boring things happening. Nothing ever happens that is worth taking a picture of when one has a camera available. This is one of life's little truisms. I think I shall assemble them all one day, publish them and make a fortune. Another, even better known one is that it only rains when you leave the umbrella behind and have your best clothes on. Bread and jam always falls jam side down. I wonder why this is?
3rd. June 1962. RAF Gan.
Dear Mum, As usual I am broke, the NAAFI has birthday cards for sending to young horses and maiden aunts but the only one that I could possibly send to you costs about 3/- and is an absolute waste of money, so I thought, well, it was about 3 or 4 months late last year, perhaps if I can improve on that, it would be O.K. Anyway it’s the thought that counts. 13 weeks to go and 21 days before I go to Singapore on leave. I am certainly looking forward to a change. - 15 days living on Chicken Curry, my mouth waters, just thinking about it. And huge prawns.
Another pastime was Go Karting. When the Aircraft parking area was not completely full, (which never happened,) we used to lay out a track with oil drums and scorch round it. It seemed a lot quicker than it was as the carts were so low with only a couple of inches from one’s bottom and the concrete. We had a rule whereby the last user of a cart had to fill it up again with petrol. I was leading in the final of the "Gan Stakes" when my cart suddenly stopped. I was incensed when I found out that someone had not done it and I had run out.
The Cinema, or the Astra, - as every airman knows it, on Gan had a show every night and a corrugated iron roof. Consequently, when it rained, which it often used to, we could not hear a thing except the rain on the roof. Films were often hideously damaged, shortened, out of order, or just plain bad films. However. Everyone loved the cartoons. There was this guy Fred Quimby who must have his name on millions of cartoons. I think he produced or directed them all. He took the credit anyway, as every time his name appeared at the start of one of the Walt Disney productions that we enjoyed so much, a terrific hoot used to go up from the audience - "Good Old Fred! " Prices were pretty cheap but there were always two rows at the front at even cheaper prices. These were called the POSBY seats. Anything of very low value was called POSBY, it came from the Post Office Savings Bank accounts that most people had, but never had any money in.