Report by

Brian Etheridge Fred Allmond Orph Mable

         
           
           
 

14 Signal Regiment was possibly the first British army unit to deploy to The Gambia since the deployment of the Africa Rifles Regiment during World War 2. Officially, the exercise was to do flood relief contingency planning should the River Gambia flood, it appeared to us to be purely a public relations exercise to impress the local population and the aristocracy connected to the British High Commission. On visits up country, the local population thought we had come to put down an insurrection! We also attempted to boost the local economy by drinking as much beer as we could in as many bars and hotels as we could fit in between each shift.

Preparations for this exercise appeared very unusual as we were instructed to keep Cabin 4 as empty as possible until told otherwise. At the very last moment a delivery vehicle arrived at the Norton Barracks equipment garages. It was full of strange packages and cool boxes! “Items for The High Commission” we were told. We proceeded to pack Cabin 4 with such articles as Black Pudding, Ham, Honey, Jam and lots of other UK delicacies (including several crates of beer) that were apparently unavailable in The Gambia. Strange!

 

The E21and crew were loaded into three Hercules for the outward direct flights from Lyneham to Yundum Airfield (Now Banjul International Airport!) just outside the capital Bathurst (the name was changed to ‘Banjul’ later the same year). Local vehicles were used to move the cabins and gear to site.

The normal hectic rush to set-up and test the equipment followed. As usual the temperatures and terrain did not make for easy erecting of the 80ft masts and ‘Sloping-Vee’ antennas. Once the equipment was up and running, the off-shift crews went to find the accommodation. In this case it was to be in a police training camp on the outskirts of Bathurst. We were given some unfinished married quarters to live in, which were very basic (just somewhere to put our personal gear, sleeping bags and camp-beds really) but did the job.SNCO’s upstairs – OR’s downstairs! Thankfully there were showers and toilets in a nearby block which improved the situation a little. The camp itself was only 5 minutes’ walk from the coast where the local kids fished from the rocks.

 

 

 

The admin and logistics were left to Ray Heeley to sort out. He was just like a character out of The Great Escape. If Ray couldn’t get it then it wasn’t worth getting. He was the sort of person that you would want with you if you were ever in a tight corner but the chances were, he put you there in the first place! The Admin Team had set up the cookhouse and field kitchen in a disused building on the camp, close to the accommodation. A ‘refreshment area’ was soon in operation with the off-shift card school a daily feature. For those first-timers on exercise with Ray, playing in these games could prove expensive and old hands tended to give them a miss.

A Communication Centre, run by Sgt. Fred Almond, was set up in a classroom in the barracks. As the radio equipment site was a little distance away from the Comcen and accommodation area it was necessary to install lines between the site and camp. The ED team under Sgt Earl Ferguson took responsibility for laying these (over half a mile of D10 wire). Although Earl was of African ancestry, he misplaced his hat and suffered the embarrassment of sunburn on his balding head for several days after.

 

There were no major equipment problems and the exercise seemed to go well with the shift pattern quickly settling into a steady routine. The crews, although predominantly from D Troop, were augmented by some E Troop who were attached, and a smattering of ‘new faces’. Everyone fitted in well though, and off-duty time was enjoyed.The Gambian Government re-valued the currency by 25% just prior to our arrival (Was it to take advantage of the sudden increase in visitors?), which gave us a few monetary problems as the LOA had not been set to account for it. However this did not interfere too much with our time there.

 

 

One of the major exporting industries of The Gambia at that time was Peanuts (groundnuts)! We assumed small nuts for locals, medium nuts for Europeans and, of course, big nuts for the American market. A feature of this industry was the huge brown piles of the things drying and awaiting shelling and packaging. They seemed to be everywhere.

Tourism and package holidays to The Gambia were a very small industry in 1973. Most of the European tourists were Scandinavian and were accommodated in the two modern hotels in Banjul (Fujara and Sunwings Hotels). It was here, whilst getting refreshments in the poolside bars after a relaxing swim, that the off-duty crews could admire the blond, topless young ladies sunbathing. Watching the topless water polo matches was also a very rewarding pastime!

 

Not all off-duty was spent in Banjul, many of the team got involved with other things. Two of the crew, Chris Edler and Chic Moir, felt adventurous and thought it would be a good plan to canoe up The River Gambia to do some exploring and began to organise some boats and guides, unfortunately The British High Commission put a stop to it on ‘Health & Safety grounds. (Too much danger from the crocodiles was the reason given!)

Dave Poole and Brian (Ethers) Etheridge were tasked with putting up a copper wire antenna at the High Commission House to improve reception of the BBC World Service. The High Commissioner gave Ethers a packet of fags and both of them a Tenants beer, saying that our OC had got these for him. Surplus stock from Cabin 4, no doubt!

Tab Hunter, Chris Whitehead and Ethers walked into a local village trying to find a bar. They were greeted by several of the elder men. Chris noticed that a supposed poor country they all seemed to be dressed in designer jeans, Nike trainers and Manchester United football shirts. That should have been enough to scare them off. They were taken to the Chief of the village who introduced them to his 12 daughters and hinted that for a couple of Goats and a six pack of Herforder it would be our lucky day.

 

A full tour of the village followed, which included a trip down to the beach to meet the fishermen. The smell of rotting fish lying on the beach covered in flies made them feel like throwing up but to avoid insulting the Chief, managed to hold it back. Just when they were thinking that they could get away and get on with their search for a pub, the Chief decided he would invite them to dine with the elders of the village.

They were all sat down on the floor when the villages brought in a large bowl of rice. So far so good but then to accompany the rice in came a huge dish of the very same stinking fish r seen earlier on the beach. Finally they were given something to drink. Unfortunately it had no alcoholic content. It was warm curdled goat’s milk that was spiced up with fruit to take away the rancid taste. Chris made up some excuse that his religion forbade him to eat fish or drink milk but was allowed to eat some of the rice. Tab who had travelled the world, was quite at home and got stuck in with his hands just like the locals and Ethers would eat anything!

As the meal progressed you could see that Tab and Ethers were struggling to keep the food down. The crunch came when they both took a large swig of the curdled milk and the trio had to make a rapid exit. All that could be heard from the back of the building was Tab throwing up which set everybody else going. Ethers just licked his lips and wanted to go back for seconds.

 

Other Troop members had similar experiences. Having watched the local kids fishing off the rocks, using string with a hook and silver paper or feathers and catching small fish, Orph Mable joined them for an afternoon. An essential part of Orph’s exercise equipment was his beach caster rod and reel which made him a bit of a hero amongst the kids, who were great fun to be with. Eventually he did catch a fish of some size and decided to give it to the family who lived in the quarter opposite our accommodation. In return, the husband insisted that Orph join the family for dinner. Not knowing what to expect, Orph went, recalling other’s experience with curdled goat’s milk, taking a couple of bottles of beer for the bloke. The meal was excellent, a type of (fresh) fish curry. The family did not eat until Orph, as the guest, had eaten sufficient. After the meal, the bloke, a serving policeman, explained about his life in the police and showed pictures of his girlfriend (NOT his wife – very strange).

 

Fred Almond had a scary experience when he took photographs of a local group working in paddy fields. They thought he had captured their ‘spirit’ and would have been beaten up had he not taken out the film and destroyed it....advised to do so by one of the group who had worked in UK. Another time he went to visit a 'church' in the capital Banjul only to find it was a brothel....and got chased by a horde of women looking for his services (and money). Well, it did have a cross on the roof!

Fred and a small team of lads, went up country to the Senegal border and helped the locals dig a well. Fred was later invited by the local Imam to sit on the dais and take part in the birth of Mohammed celebrations. He didn't understand a word of what was going on but stayed there for 24 hours as he didn't wish to offend, but did give Batutes (loose change) ensuring that he didn’t part with any Dalasias (notes). Apparently he was only the second 'white' man to be invited to do so and the first was in the early 1900's and he was converted! Fred was later praised on Gambia Radio as 'the white man who comes from London and gives to the poor of The Gambia'.

As part of the public relations the British High Commission laid on a garden party. All off-duty personnel were expected to attend. The military were tasked with supplying the alcohol and the BHC would organize the buffet. Once again Ray Heeley somehow managed to arrange for numerous barrels of beer and lager to be delivered along with bottles of spirits. It was all funded by the MOD. I don’t think the Embassy had heard of the regiment’s reputation for enjoying their selves and we cleared the buffet and drank most of the alcohol.

The next morning, and very hung-over, we were all ordered with full kit to parade outside. Somebody had stolen the BHC Flag and the local police inspector who had been at the garden party had concluded the culprit must have been a member of the regiment. Ray Heeley had fiercely defended our reputation for honesty and to prove his point insisted that the police inspector searched every member of the regiment that had been at the party.

 

Stood out front with his familiar brown leather briefcase, he made us all empty the contents of our rucksacks out so that the police could walk round checking. Eventually the police inspector admitted that he could have been wrong and maybe one of the locals had taken the flag. Several weeks later after we had returned to the UK the BHC Flag appeared on the Crew Room wall next to a brown leather briefcase and Ray Heeley with a big smile.

At the end of the exercise, the equipment was packed up, and with all our accommodation stores, taken to the airfield to await the arrival of the three Herc’s. Everything was ready by mid-morning, but we were then informed that the planes had not yet set out from Lyneham. The OC, making an executive decision, took the troop to the beach to await a new arrival time. Unfortunately Orph, who was responsible for the crypto, and an ED had stay with the kit. Not best pleased, having to sit on the side of the runway through the heat of the day without shade, the two settled down for a long wait.

 

Waiting was soon over however, as planes came into view flying in formation and approaching the airfield. After landing and learning of the situation, the aircrews were far from chuffed! There was also ‘bad news’ for the OC, as there would not be enough room on the planes to take everyone and some would be going back on a later flight. While the loadmasters plus the two troop members loaded the equipment using our single landrover, accompanied by lots of huffing and puffing, the senior pilot went off to try to locate the Troop.

The aircrew insisted that we rush as they had to be back in UK that evening. The planes were fully loaded and fuelled when the beach party finally got back, so we set off immediately. Whilst the rest of the troop that had found room were confined to the noisy and uncomfortable hold of the aircraft, Orph and the ED were treated like royalty, with seats on the flight deck of the lead aircraft for the whole flight. Boxed sandwiches (death-packs) were given to the troops, but Orph and the ED were given spare flight crew cooked meals, with tea and coffee on-tap. Justice served!

On arrival in Lyneham, we went through an unusually rigorous customs check, despite the lateness of the hour. Unfortunately, Cabin 4 was not completely ‘empty’; much to the embarrassment and cost to the OC Squadron. Once back at Norton Barracks, the Crew Room had yet another trophy. It appeared that Ray Heeley had also ‘liberated’ a very rare (at that time) Gambian Flag from the flagpole at Yundum Airfield.

The single guys ‘volunteered to be the ones who would be on the later flight home and would stay in The Gambia. Not expecting to be out there any longer and Orph having won most of the remaining money we all had, including somebodies watch, none of us had any money left.

 

Back in the barracks, penny-less and playing cards for matches, somebody was having a moan and mentioned that Ray Heeley had even left a box of 12 bottles of Bacardi for us to take back for him. That was it - the party began and they soon polished off the lot. To avoid them arriving back to an immediate bollocking they filled all the bottles up with water.

When they did arrive back at Lyneham a couple of days later, Ray was waiting and wanted his box of Bacardi so that he could pay the customs duty on it. They didn’t have the heart to tell him he was paying for a box of water. At the next troop do, a smiling Ray announced that he had a surprise for us and produced a box of Bacardi. He said it just happened to be left over from the Gambia’s High Commission party and as a treat he had even paid the duty on it. We had to pretend all night it was really strong stuff, and all Ray kept saying was it was a bad batch and just tasted like water to him!

     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Gambia - Knowledge Base
     
 

The Gambia is a very small and narrow country whose borders mirror the meandering Gambia River, the nation's namesake, which flows through the country's centre and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It lies between latitudes 13° and 14°N, and longitudes 13° and 17°W. with a population of 1,882,450 at the 15 April 2013 Census (provisional). Banjul is the Gambian capital, but the largest cities are Serekunda and Brikama.

The country is less than 48.2 km (30.0 mi) wide at its widest point, with a total area of 11,295 km2 (4,361 sq mi). Approximately 1,300 km2 (500 sq mi) (11.5%) of the Gambia's area is covered by water. It is the smallest country on the continent of Africa. In comparative terms the Gambia has a total area which is slightly less than that of the island of Jamaica.

The Gambia is surrounded on three sides by Senegal, with 80 km (50 mi) of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean on its western side.

The climate of the Gambia is tropical. There is a hot and rainy season, normally from June until November, but from then until May there are cooler temperatures with less precipitation. The climate in the Gambia is about the same as that found in neighboring Senegal, southern Mali, and the northern part of Benin.

Its present boundaries were defined in 1889 after an agreement between the United Kingdom and France. During the negotiations between the French and the British in Paris, the French initially gave the British approximately 200 miles (320 km) of the Gambia River to control.

Starting with the placement of boundary markers in 1891, it took nearly fifteen years after the Paris meetings to determine the final borders of the Gambia. The resulting series of straight lines and arcs gave the British control of areas that are approximately 10 miles (16 km) north and south of the Gambia River.

The urbanization rate as of 2011 was 57.3%. Provisional figures from the 2003 census show that the gap between the urban and rural populations is narrowing as more areas are declared urban. While urban migration, development projects, and modernisation are bringing more Gambians into contact with Western habits and values, indigenous forms of dress and celebration and the traditional emphasis on the extended family remain integral parts of everyday life.

The UNDP's Human Development Report for 2010 ranks the Gambia 151st out of 169 countries on its Human Development Index, putting it in the 'Low Human Development' category. This index compares life expectancy, years of schooling, gross national income (GNI) per capita and some other factors.

The total fertility rate (TFR) was estimated at 3.98 children/woman in 2013.

 

The Gambia shares historical roots with many other West African nations in the slave trade, which was the key factor in the placing and keeping of a colony on the Gambia River, first by the Portuguese and later by the British.

On 18 February 1965, the Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom and joined the Commonwealth of Nations, from which it withdrew in October 2013. Since gaining independence, the Gambia has enjoyed relative political stability, with the exception of a brief period of military rule in 1994. Due to the fertile land of the country, the economy is dominated by farming, fishing, and tourism. About a third of the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.

History of The Gambia

Arab traders provided the first written accounts of the Gambia area in the ninth and tenth centuries. During the tenth century, Muslim merchants and scholars established communities in several West African commercial centres. Both groups established trans-Saharan trade routes, leading to a large trade in slaves, gold, ivory (exports) and manufactured goods (imports).

Serer civilisation The first picture is of the Senegambian stone circles (megaliths) which run from Senegal all the way to the Gambia and which are described by UNESCO as "the largest concentration of stone circles seen anywhere in the world". By the eleventh or twelfth century, the rulers of kingdoms such as Takrur (a monarchy centred on the Senegal River just to the north), ancient Ghana and Gao, had converted to Islam and had appointed Muslims who were literate in the Arabic language as courtiers.

At the beginning of the fourteenth century, most of what is today called Gambia was part of the Mali Empire. The Portuguese reached this area by sea in the mid-fifteenth century, and they began to dominate overseas trade.

In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, António, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive trade rights on the Gambia River to English merchants. Letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I confirmed the grant. In 1618, King James I of England granted a charter to an English company for trade with the Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Between 1651 and 1661 some parts of the Gambia were under Courland's rule, and had been bought by Prince Jacob Kettler, who was a Polish-Lithuanian vassal.

During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century, the British Empire and the French Empire struggled continually for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal River and the Gambia River. The British Empire occupied the Gambia when an expedition led by Augustus Keppel landed there—following the Capture of Senegal in 1758. The 1783 First Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of the Gambia River, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the river's north bank. This was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1856.

As many as three million slaves may have been taken from this general region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many slaves were taken by inter-tribal wars or Muslim traders before the transatlantic slave trade began. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans; others were prisoners of inter-tribal wars; some were victims sold because of unpaid debts; and others were simply victims of kidnapping.

Traders initially sent slaves to Europe to work as servants until the market for labour expanded in the West Indies and North America in the eighteenth century. In 1807, the United Kingdom abolished the slave trade throughout its empire. It also tried, unsuccessfully, to end the slave trade in the Gambia. Slave ships intercepted by the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron in the Atlantic were also returned to the Gambia, with liberated slaves released on MacCarthy Island far up the Gambia River where they were expected to establish new lives.

 

The British established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816. In the ensuing years, Banjul was at times under the jurisdiction of the British Governor General in Sierra Leone. In 1888, the Gambia became a separate colony.

An agreement with the French Republic in 1889 established the present boundaries. The Gambia became a British Crown colony called British Gambia, divided for administrative purposes into the colony (city of Banjul and the surrounding area) and the protectorate (remainder of the territory). The Gambia received its own executive and legislative councils in 1901, and it gradually progressed toward self-government. Slavery was finally abolished in 1906. During World War II, some soldiers fought with the Allies of World War II. Though these soldiers fought mostly in Burma, some died closer to home and there is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Fajara (close to Banjul).

Banjul contained an airstrip for the US Army Air Forces and a port of call for Allied naval convoys. President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt visited by air and stopped overnight in Banjul en route to and from the Casablanca Conference (1943) in Morocco, marking the first visit to the African continent by an American president.

 

After World War II, the pace of constitutional reform increased. Following general elections in 1962, the United Kingdom granted full internal self-governance in the following year. The Gambia achieved independence on 18 February 1965, as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth, with Elizabeth II as Queen of Gambia, represented by the Governor-General.

Shortly thereafter, the national government held a referendum proposing that the country become a republic. This referendum failed to receive the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, but the results won widespread attention abroad as testimony to the Gambia's observance of secret balloting, honest elections, civil rights, and liberties. On 24 April 1970, Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth, following a second referendum. Prime Minister Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara assumed the office of President, an executive post, combining the offices of head of state and head of government.

Sir Dawda Jawara, the first leader of the Gambia, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966.

The Gambia was led by President Dawda Jawara, who was re-elected five times. The relative stability of the Jawara era was first shattered by an attempted coup on 29 July 1981 which followed a weakening of the economy and allegations of corruption against leading politicians.

The coup attempt occurred while President Jawara was visiting London and was carried out by the leftist National Revolutionary Council, composed of Kukoi Samba Sanyang's Socialist and Revolutionary Labour Party (SRLP) and elements of the "Field Force" (a paramilitary force which constituted the bulk of the country's armed forces).

President Jawara immediately requested military aid from Senegal which deployed 400 troops to Gambia on 31 July. By 6 August, some 2,700 Senegalese troops had been deployed and they had defeated the rebel force. Between 500 and 800 people were killed during the coup and the resulting violence.

In 1982, in the aftermath of the 1981 attempted coup, Senegal and Gambia signed a treaty of confederation. The Senegambia Confederation aimed to combine the armed forces of the two states and to unify their economies and currencies.

After just seven years, Gambia permanently withdrew from the confederation in 1989. In 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) deposed the Jawara government and banned opposition political activity. Lieutenant Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state. The then 29-year-old dictator remains president to this day.

The AFPRC announced a transition plan for return to democratic civilian government. The Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) was established in 1996 to conduct national elections. The PIEC was transformed to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 1997 and became responsible for registration of voters and conduct of elections and referendums.

In late 2001 and early 2002, the Gambia completed a full cycle of presidential, legislative, and local elections, which foreign observers deemed free, fair, and transparent, albeit with some shortcomings. President Yahya Jammeh, who was elected to continue in the position he had assumed during the coup, took the oath of office again on 21 December 2001.

Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) maintained its strong majority in the National Assembly, particularly after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections, though it has participated in elections since.

On 2 October 2013, the Gambian interior minister announced that the Gambia would leave the Commonwealth of Nations with immediate effect. The Gambian Government said it "decided that The Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism".

Foreign relations of the Gambia and Military of the Gambia
 

The Gambia followed a formal policy of nonalignment throughout most of former President Jawara's tenure. It maintained close relations with the United Kingdom, Senegal, and other African countries. The July 1994 coup strained the Gambia's relationship with Western powers, particularly the United States, which until 2002 suspended most non-humanitarian assistance in accordance with Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act.

Since 1995, President Jammeh has established diplomatic relations with several additional countries, including Libya (suspended in 2010), Republic of China (Taiwan, terminated in Nov 2013), and Cuba. The People's Republic of China cut ties with the Gambia in 1995 after the latter established diplomatic links with Taiwan.

 
 

The Gambia plays an active role in international affairs, especially West African and Islamic affairs, although its representation abroad is limited. As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Gambia has played an active role in that organisation's efforts to resolve the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone and contributed troops to the community's ceasefire monitoring group (ECOMOG) in 1990 and (ECOMIL) in 2003.

It also has sought to mediate disputes in nearby Guinea-Bissau and the neighbouring Casamance region of Senegal. The Government of the Gambia believes Senegal was complicit in the March 2006 failed coup attempt. This has put increasing strains on relations between the Gambia and its neighbour. The subsequent worsening of the human rights situation has placed increasing strains of US–Gambian relations.

 
 

The Gambian Armed Forces consists of the Gambia National Army, Republican Guards comprising a well trained and equipped Presidential Guards and the Special Forces, and the Navy, all under the authority of the Ministry of Defence (a ministerial portfolio held by Jammeh). Prior to the 1994 coup, the Gambian Armed Forces received technical assistance and training from the United States, United Kingdom, People's Republic of China, Nigeria, and Turkey.

With the withdrawal of most of this aid, the Army has received renewed assistance from Turkey and others. A number of junior Gambian Army officers are regularly trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and sergeants from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment were observed training Gambian troops in Bakau in November 2010. The Gambia allowed its military training arrangement with Libya to expire in 2002.

 
 

Members of the Gambian military participated in ECOMOG, the West African force deployed during the Liberian Civil War beginning in 1990. Gambian forces have subsequently participated in several other peacekeeping operations, including Bosnia, Kosovo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea and East Timor.

The Gambia contributed 150 troops to Liberia in 2003 as part of the ECOMIL contingent. In 2004, the Gambia contributed a 196-man contingent to the African Union – United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur.[citation needed] Responsibilities for internal security and law enforcement rest with the Gambian police under the Inspector General of Police and the Secretary of State for the Interior.

The NYU Center on International Cooperation describe the Gambia as a regional leader in peacekeeping. Gambia left the Commonwealth of Nations on 3 October 2013.