The Glorious 74th Entry RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentices (The Coronation Entry).

Stan Norris Remembers.

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5. British Joint Services Training Team - Zambia

Summer 1967 and I had no idea that RAF personnel were serving in Zambia. Another overseas tour wasn't expected yet as I had only been back from Cyprus for two years and in any case I was really enjoying my current posting at Acklington.

Special Duties List Posting.

It was a hot afternoon and I was outside the Station Commanders office waiting to be presented with an award for meritorious service. Suddenly the FS ic the General Office appeared beside me. "Records Office (PMC) is on the phone, there is a Special Duties list posting to be filled. Do you want it?" he whispered. I whispered back that I would see him after the presentation. "No", he said. "They want to know now". "Come in Sgt Norris" interrupted a disembodied voice. Nodding my assent to the FS I hurried into the presentation.

All Very Mysterious

The FS was waiting for me when I left the Station Commander. My mind was full of questions but before I could voice them he told me that I had been accepted. No, he couldn't tell me just then where I was going but he thought it was central Africa - somewhere! But he did think it was something to do with a training team and it was noted that I had experience on Beaver aircraft. Over the next few days the odd snippet of information trickled through. The first thing was that I was to be fully dentally fit as there was no dental treatment available where I was going. All very mysterious at first but eventually I heard it was Zambia.

The Zambian Air Force

It was an accompanied posting but our departure date, initially in October, then became November and finally we left the UK early in January 1968 in a BOAC VC10. Our first home was a transit bungalow complete with a houseboy on the military side of Lusaka International airport. The Zambian Air Force was a mixture of contracted people from just about anywhere, indigenous personnel, ex Rhodesian Air Force personnel and us - the BJSTT. The aircraft being operated by the ZAF was Caribou, Beaver, Dakotas, Chipmunks and the Presidential aircraft an HS748. The Chipmunks were based at Livingstone.

Petrol Was Rationed to Four Gallons a Month

The base was a good 15 miles from Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. We were given a setting up loan and a loan to buy a car. It sounds good but petrol was rationed to four gallons a month at the time because of Harold Wilson's sanctions against Rhodesia. My family of wife and three very young children settled in quite quickly although we were waiting for our own bungalow married quarter to be allocated. After about six weeks we were told we could move into one at Snake Corner! The last bungalow on that side of the track.

The Last Bungalow on That Side of the Track.

Dense elephant grass as high as the eaves and surrounding the bungalow was well populated with snakes. The accommodation itself had not been used for some time and when I gained entry I could see why! In the middle of the lounge/dining room was a large blackened circle on the red painted stone floor, the ceiling and walls were smoke blackened and the furniture in pieces. Chicken wire had been attached around the edge of the table. Inside the wire there was the evidence that chickens had occupied the space. Itinerant people had been using it as a mud hut. A look in the kitchen revealed that the cooker oven had been used as a pantry. Enough was enough. My family was not putting a foot inside that place and I made my feelings known. The SWO's gang descended on the place and for two weeks they cleared the elephant grass, they emptied the bungalow, scrubbed and painted it from top to bottom, refurnished it completely and we finally moved in. And on the first day Gideon arrived on the doorstep announcing that he was to be our 'houseboy' - at 40+ something years of age, he was blind in one eye and had come north from Rhodesia to make his fortune. In his own way he was to become important to us.

Promotion to Chief Technician

At work my first task was to resurrect a Beaver aircraft which had been unserviceable for nearly a year and inevitably was robbed of anything serviceable. Three weeks into that task I submitted the long list of spares required which was going to take a long time to come from Canada and I was moved to the flight line. Within days my promotion to Chief Technician came through but as we had to wear the Zambian Air Force uniform and insignias I had to wear their FS rank badges.

Our Proudest Achievement

My task was to reorganise the Ground Handling Flight on RAF lines. We were responsible for the flight servicing of two squadrons. No. 1 Sqn had four Caribou aircraft and two Dakotas and No. 2 Sqn had six Beaver aircraft. We also gave assistance with the ground handling of the HS748. The overall ground handling side was a shambles. Out went the single shift system of 07.00 to 13.00 and anything outside those hours being covered by a tiny duty crew from Eng. Wing. I replaced it with a two shift system which covered all flight line activities night and day. One of my priorities was to scrap the personal tool kits and introduce the composite tool kit, it wasn't popular at first, especially with some of the contract personnel but it was efficient, effective and safer. Our proudest achievement was the Zambian Independence Day anniversary. A flypast by the whole of the ZAF was decreed and this included the Chipmunks from Livingstone. It would all start and finish at Lusaka airport. The ground handling side was left to me to organise, OC Eng Wing gave me additional manpower and any technical backing I required to ensure that our part in the event would be beyond reproach. We didn't let him down, everything went as we had planned, the squadron commanders were very pleased and we had a great celebration afterwards.

All Ranks Theatre Group

Out of work was carefree and happy. Bye and large we had to make our own entertainment and whatever we did we had to start from scratch with basic raw materials - and it was basic and very raw. Our gardens started from bare earth after the scrub was cleared and we did this bit by bit and building dry stone walls as we went to keep the scrub and snakes at bay. The soil was very poor so we created raised beds which we enriched with animal dung. The Sgt's Mess and the Corporals Club became very social places and an all ranks theatre group was formed. The first production was a pantomime staged in a vacant half of the Beaver hangar. Next came a variety show which included an impressive line of chorus girls (some of our young wives) and a 'band' consisting of a tin whistle, guitar or two and a tea chest bass, they were called The Chelston Set. Chelston was borrowed from the name of an African compound a few miles away and not a very savoury place. Our final production was a three act farce entitled 'The Brides of March'. The stage was constructed from scaffolding and dismantled Beaver aircraft containers. To support the stage floor we used 44 gallon oil drums. The first rehearsal of the high kicking chorus line was hilarious because of the booming sounds imparted by the empty drums. This was cured by filling the drums with water.

The Steaks and Sausages Were Memorable.

Sundays were favourite days for group Braivlais aka BBQ's. The steaks and sausages were memorable for the size and quality. Sometimes we would drive about fifty miles to Kafue where there was a lovely large swimming pool where we could picnic and the children could play and swim safely. Sometimes it was a drive out into the bush and explore, one such day we stumbled upon a small tribal kraal and the lovely people who lived there immediately organised a welcoming choir and a dance team. They were so warm and welcoming it really made the day. In the evenings if it wasn't badminton, rehearsals, the Mess or Corporals Club, we still had one evening a week when my wife and I played Mah Jong with another couple until early in the morning. TV wasn't worth having. Announcements such as "The time is six o'clock Greenwich. Mean time, here is the news", is just one of the many examples.

Gideon the Houseboy!

Gideon the houseboy! By government decree we had to pay him eight Kwacha per month for his labours, a Kwacha was roughly ten shillings. I don't know if the government paid him any more or how much, but once a month the government would give him the money to buy a box of salted tiny little fish called kapenta. This was added to their staple diet of 'mealie meal'. Gideon often bemoaned that he had left a better life in Rhodesia. He liked to get involved in the cooking, his favourite dishes was curry and a stew. He never used any sort of spice in the curry and the only discernible difference between the curry and his stew was that the curry was served with boiled rice and the stew wasn't! Ironing was his favourite household chore. One day the fuse blew in the iron. Gideon didn't know about fuses so when I came back from work he met me to say dolefully "Iron broke bwana, you must get new iron" and left work for the day. I quickly found the fuse had blown, I changed it and it worked perfectly. Next day he asked me if I had got a new iron and I told him it was ok, it was fixed. He was adamant that he should have a new iron but I went off to work. After I had left he took the back off the iron and rewired the terminals. When he switched the iron on again there was quite a bang, a flash from the wall socket which tracked up the wiring to the ceiling and everything electrical in the place went dead. In no time at all I was phoned at work by my angry, demented spouse. When I got home again, Gideon was sitting outside the house suffering from shock and refusing to go in the house. I asked him what happened. He looked at me accusingly with his one good eye and said "Mak big bang bwana it not new iron". I prised the half melted back plate off the iron to reveal Gideon's patent wiring system - ensure the wires are anchored at their respective terminals but also interconnect the three terminals with each other! I will not relate the ensuing one sided conversation but I will tell you that it was in none of the African languages, it was almost exclusively blue Anglo Saxon, he got his new iron though. He liked to please us, he also liked the foaming maize beer they sold at the shebeen in their compound - too much, but he was a character and loyal.

The Storms Were Savage.

The months rolled by, very hot, dusty ones and very wet ones. The storms were savage, the lightning was spectacular, the thunder deafening and the rain could be so intense that there was no visibility. A bush fire started not far from the airport. It turned into a terrifying experience as it gathered in strength, height and speed and roared towards us, but a few hundred yards from the married quarters boundary there was a natural fire break and it petered out.

Labelled by the Local Press as "Playboys".

Rumours abounded that the Zambian government was going to terminate the RAF presence at short notice, the Italians were going to take over, the Indian Air Force would take over, ZAF were purchasing a squadron of east European jet fighters and so the rumours rumbled on. And then suddenly, it seemed, we were persona non grata labelled by the local press as 'playboys', we didn't integrate with the ZAF personnel etc etc. For the whole of the tour we had to be so very careful of what we said and where we said it. The lowliest indigenous airman would report their own interpretation of anything they overheard. Then it happened, about seventy or so ex-Indian Air Force personnel turned up. I was replaced on Ground Handling Flight by three Warrant Officers, one in charge of each shift and one overall i/c, I suppose I should have been flattered!

Back to the UK.

I am glad I went to Zambia, it was a good experience. I saw many things good and bad, I learnt a lot as well especially about politicians and their kind. Back to the UK then, to a posting that almost wrecked my career. Any confidence I had was shattered, and that's another story. But then I had an opportunity to change direction, it meant another posting which really did get me back on track and I never regretted it.


End of page.

Stan Norris. (74th).

February, 2010


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