"Dear Mum" Chapter 18
Before 201 Squadron left, we all knew that the proposed trip to Nassau would be one for the history books. For a change everyone wanted to go. But, sure enough, my policy of volunteering for every trip, - even the lousy ones, paid off. It was supposed to be a “Show the Flag Goodwill Trip” to try and deter the anti Cuban rebels from using the Bahamian out islands as bases. That was what I was told, anyway. I did not give a Monkey’s of course. It was quite enough for me that I should be going and the conditions we found when we got there surpassed my widest dreams.
We came through the Azores again and stocked up on the cheapest Duty Free, we knew to be there from the previous visit on the way to Maine. Incidentally, there was an amusing incident that occurred when we landed. When we got to the parking area, the marshalling crew put us in a very strange position and then tried to persuade our Captain to back up! It took someone to climb down and tell him that our Shackletons were not equipped with the means of doing this and he would have to go and get a tractor to back us up, or we would have to go round again!
We put the 4 Shackletons to sleep at Nassau Airport, where they had allocated a corner for our aircraft and were taken to the Royal Victoria Hotel in the heart of Nassau. We all knew then that this was going to be The Big One, - The El Gorgo. And it was. The arrival of about 80 bachelors (and potential bachelors) in the middle of the “off” season created quite a stir in the Nassau social scene. We made all the newspapers and soon we had invites to go here and there, we had discounts at loads of restaurants, cinemas and night-clubs. We had everything.
7th October, Room 303 Royal Victoria Hotel, Nassau, Bahamas. 02.00. am.
Dear Mum, Well we have been here for 8 days now and are just about settled in. I have spent a lot of time on the beach and am getting really brown. At the moment I am on Guard Duty till 7. am.
Not long after we arrived, the Governor made his Residence available for a fancy dress party organised in our honour. It was called StarAcres, his residence, that is, and was a really plush place. The Royal Victoria did us proud too, with all sorts of parties, perks and discounts. They had a private beach and during the times that we were not putting in our every other morning, at work, it was a favourite place to go. There were a lot of young girls who lived with their families in Nassau. Bored to tears, for most of the off season. We were God’s Gift to them. I soon met up with a few of these girls on the beach. One in particular seemed very attractive. Her name, I found out was Gill Westcott. Her father was a Leftenant Colonel and she had a little Morris 1100. but no full license as yet, which meant she needed to be accompanied by a full license holder ! I asked her if she would care to go to the Squadron Party at the Royal Victoria, but she had already been asked by one of the Instrument Fitters called Mike. I was a bit put out by this, but had to admit that he had been quicker off the mark.
The night of the party was the next day and so I went down from the room suitably polished and smelling very nice. As it happened Mike and Gill were coming in at the same time. She said to join them, as did a few others and in spite of a very dirty look from Mike, I did so. He was on one side and I was on the other!
It was a good night, it was a wonderful night. Gill and I had a lot in common and got on like a house on fire. Mike was not a happy man, but she was still his date. I had to respect that, however something had to be done. We were all getting rounds from the bar, when it was our turn and soon it was mine again. I went and sidled up to the barman. He had been keeping an eye on the proceedings and I asked him if he could make up a drink that would very quickly put someone under the table. This fell on extremely fertile ground and he said that the drinks would be delivered to our table. We winked at each other and a bit more than the normal charge for the round changed hands.
I could not have wished for a better outcome. Mike slowly came apart. He started to slur his words and, although I could see that he was livid, he could not do anything about it. The potion had exceeded all my expectations and when I walked off with his girl, he could only glare balefully at me from out of one bloodshot eye. He had shut the other to try and balance in a world that was slowly revolving about him. I knew the symptoms well and must admit that I felt very sorry for him. However, all’s fair in love and war.
Gill and I went off to several of the Nassau night spots, ending up in the Big Bamboo down by the Straw Market. After which I dutifully delivered her home, just as the sun was coming up. She was a lovely girl and over the course of the next months we would go everywhere together. I proposed numerous times when I was a bit drunk, but, as she would not accept when I was drunk and I would not proposed when I was sober, nothing lasting came out of it. On the beach we met an American couple with a darling little girl called Penny, She was about 4 years old and we virtually adopted her. Many people who saw us out together thought that she was our daughter. It was a very romantic relationship. Her little Morris was a godsend, and she did become quite a good driver, although she had not passed her test when I left.
We went on a day trip to Paradise Island and almost missed the last boat back to Nassau. We would have had to spend the night there otherwise and that would have raised a few eyebrows.
I took her to the Governor’s Fancy Dress Party. We dressed up in a couple of old sacks and were chained together with a bit of chain that I still have among my souvenirs. We could not agree what we were supposed to be and I was telling everyone that we were a pair of escaped convicts, while she maintained that we were Christians about to be fed to the lions. The night was brilliant. The location, something out of a fairytale. We were awarded the first prize for the liveliest couple on the dance floor and when a crowd of my “friends” tried to push her in the pool, I defended her so courageously that I ended up being pushed in myself, cracking myself lightly on the head in the process. The sight of her hero, who had rescued her from a dunking, bounding back out of it himself, covered with blood from the effort, was almost too much for her. The tender way she put a plaster on it and cooed over me, made me think that this indeed was my finest hour. Yes it was a night to remember, was that one. I would like to be able to tell of rapturous lovemaking ending it, but I can’t, ‘cos it didn’t.
30th October, 1963. Royal Victoria, Nassau.
Dear Mum. I’m sorry I haven’t written before but life has been pretty hectic. I wonder how many of my letters have started like that.
As you see we are still here and I hope to stay for the next fortnight or so. It really is marvelous. Every other day off and not much work when we are on. I’m still going out with Gillian. I think she is the best girl I have ever been out with yet. On top of being very pretty, I can really talk to her about anything and we have been everywhere together. She has really “made” this detachment
During our stay at the Royal Victoria, the pool was cleaned out and a couple of the more public spirited ones from our ranks, painted the Squadron Emblem on the bottom. Nearly everything we did made the local papers. The staff of the hotel loved us and we loved them. As a PR exercise it was unparalleled.
This idyllic time went all to fast. The departure of the Squadron was marked by much wailing and gnashing of teeth, on both sides. Three permanent liaisons were formed, to my knowledge and after we had gone, the Transatlantic mail volume, must have peaked for a few weeks. On the way back through the Azores, we were all sitting in the bar when the news of J.F. Kennedy’s assassination, was announced. They did not even close the bar.