Report by

Taff Mugford Orph Mable

         
           
           

The exercise began as usual and all went to plan until we came into RAF Akrotiri at the end of the first leg of the journey – we had a very heavy landing and as a result the RAF pilots decided that they could not continue with the Hercules that we were in. As a result we had a couple of days in Cyprus while they arranged a replacement a very nice holiday! When the replacement landed we got involved with the transfer of the load.

We then took off for Masirah – shortly after take-off the pilot turned off and feathered one of the engines so we landed on three. The crew were happy that the problem was resolved so we took off for Gan again soon after take-off the same engine was taken out of service and once again we landed on three engines. In a repeat of the situation at Masirah we again took off on schedule for our flight to Singapore. Once again the same engine failed and we landed on three engines in Singapore where amazingly the crew decided that the engine needed replacing!! This involved sourcing a new engine and flying it from the UK, this resulted in a stay of 5 days in Singapore which made us all very sad!!

 
 

The pilots went off to their 5 star hotel and we were despatched to SAF Tengah (ex RAF) where we were lodged in some old barracks. Under the leadership of FUB Williams and Fred ? Who had spent some time in Singapore in the past we were introduced to the concept of Char Wallahs and Room Wallahs. It was like going home and having your Mum doing everything for you and all at a very low cost thanks to FUB and Fred negotiating the rate.

FUB then introduced us to the joys of down-town Singapore from the Tangle Inn in Tang Lin on to Boogis Street and the delightful toilets in the lake of urine with the sailors performing the dance of the flaming a***holes on the roof. He also introduced us to the Kai Tai's who were apparent because they were better looking. We also 'dined' at Abduls sampling his famous curry with the questionable meat.

In the day we were taken to Change Alley and tutored in the art of bartering – quite an eye opener for me but I came back with many souvenirs. I remember Fred bartering for some fishing kit taking each individual piece and getting the lowest price then when the addition had been made he started again to barter on the whole kit –

I was amazed but the store holder was not phased and the negotiation continued in a friendly atmosphere. The big fly in the ointment was that we were never prepared for the financial outlay that these activities incurred – but someone (Think it was the RAF) arranged for us to have an impromptu pay day which saved the day.

After 5 days the holiday came to an end and we took off for Darwin and then onto Townsville where the pilots needed a break (poor souls), so we stayed in the Townsville Travel Lodge Hotel (as seen in the photo). As we had to leave the airfield Australian Customs required a full baggage inspection of personal luggage. They made a point of confiscating any of the Mayfair and Penthouse magazines found, much to the disgust of the owners!

We stayed overnight and went to look for some life in the town – we found that the licensing hours in Queensland at that time meant that pubs were only open for 1 hour a day (This seems so ludicrous that I challenge my memory) – the result was a huge scrum at the bar and the buying of multiple rounds – absolute chaos. We were glad to realise that these rules did not apply to the hotel where as guests we could drink when we liked.

Incidentally this was where I first encountered Reef and Beef which has remained a favourite of mine. The hotel also did very nice bright orange bath towels which seemed to fit suitcases rather well. I recall we couldn't swim in the sea as the box jellyfish were around so we had to use the Hotel pool (picture witnesses).

Finally we took off and landed uneventfully at Henderson Field, Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. The rest of the exercise was pretty much an anti-climax!! As an historical reference – during the Second World War, Guadalcanal marked the final extent of Japanese incursion in the Pacific and Henderson Field became a huge prize which was fought over in a long and bloody battle. The evidence of this struggle was apparent all over the island in the many military objects abandoned and rusting.

I recall walking out on the reef at low tide and seeing a Japanese Submarine just below the waterline off the reef (Subs were used to bring supplies in during the final days of the conflict) The names of the places were evocative of this struggle – Red Beach, Bloody Ridge and the waters off the coast were known as Iron Bottom Sound due to the sheer amount of shipping sunk there.

As a personal aside one of the first ships to be sunk in the area was the USS Mugford – which was named for an Admiral Mugford who served on the Union side in the American Civil war.

We pitched the tents that we borrowed, on Signal Hill, Suva Ridge overlooking Honiara – looking back inland there were multiple jungle covered ridges, which emphasised the problems of invasion. The toilets were simply a ditch covered with wooden boxes with toilet seats on top.

This was OK initially, but as time went on the ditches became inundated with flies which meant that when you lifted the toilet seat you were engulfed in a cloud of flies and more importantly when you sat down there were still flies trying to escape. I recall That Ray Heeley decided to sort the problem by dropping thunder flashes in the ditch – the result was not what he expected – but made an awful odorous mess!!

I recall drinking at the bar below the main house (old disused met office) and ducking and diving to avoid the huge beetles that came to visit the lights. One night after a particularly heavy session, I was awoken by Ian Lennard rushing out of our tent with his sleeping bag burning on his back! The tent was on fire which was a little sobering; our other tent mate was Jim McCabe and he was fast asleep – I rushed over to wake him – he came awake and instead of scrambling out of the tent he sat up and started shouting “Fire Fire and keep on shouting”, then promptly went back to sleep – I had to drag him, camp bed Sleeping bag and all out of the tent.

Luckily we put the fire out and there was only minimal damage though Ian suffered some burns. I also recall going on trips along the coast – going through numerous fords and seeing some pretty primitive villages but the people appeared very happy – we came to a war memorial constructed by the Japanese to commemorate their dead – a sobering thought.

 

I recall swimming in the local river with the local kids – swinging on ropes and dropping into the river. Paddy Keay and Orph Mable hired a mini-moke and spent a full day driving through the centre of the island on very poor dirt roads. They came across a school and medical centre run by a few nuns in one village. It was like something out of a 1950’s Humphrey Bogart film set. Unfortunately the mini-moke didn’t have any shade, and both Paddy and Orph ended up with rather red legs from the sun!

I also recall the YOS (the same YOS who insisted on putting padlocks on the ‘Secure’ TENT), who was on a fitness campaign challenging anyone to a race down off the ridge and back. Unbeknown to him, Orph was an accomplished runner and was happy to take up the challenge – The YOS was well beaten and last seen wandering off muttering about 'ringers' having first handed over the liquid prize.

We even managed to get in some work and I believe that the exercise was a success – or maybe not as the Regiment was to return again. Finally the exercise finished and we were informed that the Crypto flight would be part of an RAF exercise to see how quickly they could get a Hercules back to the UK.

Consequently the route home was seeded with replacement RAF crews at each stop, so that only refuelling would be required. It all started with a tactical take off from Henderson Field (take off in as short a space as possible, followed by steeply banking at what seemed like palm tree height) which was pretty frightening especially when you are sat sideways, strapped into a canvas seat!

The actual journey took 72 hours of which 56 were in the air – by the time we got to RAF Lyneham I was deaf and needed to lose my 'sea legs'. There were compensations; we were well looked after along the route – at each stop we were well fed – mainly breakfasts so Orph tells me – and the bar was always open, the RAF having suspended their rules on drinking and flying!

Now for the REAL Solomons Exercise 2 Years later
Short rest in the Airport lounge on Gan Island, John Lewis and Mick Busby
Which way is Worcester then boys, John Phillips, Mick Busby and Brian Etheridge
Hercules Parked on the runway with the light aircraft impounded by the Honiara Police for drug running. The pilot in custody for the last 4 years, held in isolation and taken to the Honiara Yacht Club each night for his meals.
Remember Dawn over Droitwich, this is Dawn over Honiara, a little different.
It was decided to move the Transmitter to a new location so off we went with Alan Falconer (FofS) leading the way. Then it was brute force to get the stakes into the ground. If felt like we were hammering into solid rock then suddenly it shot straight in, we had hammered it through a coral base into the aquaflow.
Set-up and ready to go again!
 

Myself, Brian Etheridge and Derek Trimble had arranged a shark fishing trip with the local government fisheries officer, over a pint or two. A Fantastic day out and quite successful.

Here he is the monster (the shark).

A Magnificent animal but all sharks caught have to be killed and brought ashore, the seas are absolutely infested with them.

 
 
The force commander and his aide getting quite friendly with the Australian Teachers and Nurses
Some of these girls were absolutely stunning, however lowly signalmen were definately off the menu!
 
The Chimps Tea party with Johhny Gorst, Mick Busby, Nigel..... from Harrogate and Brian Etheridge. Don't worry Brian that was not a green-un!!
The more gentile group. Mick Busby, John Phillips and Brain Etheridge
 
A game of rugby against the Islanders and I can tell you they hit hard and half of them played in bare feet, apart from the two All Black ringers they brought into the forwards.
Here we go again! I can spot Stevie Firth but can't name many of the others.
 
 

The game moved on at pace with 11 of us in Hockey shirts (the forwards) to protect their delicate skin and the good looking ones in the backs in their red Army PT vests. I lost 7lbs in weight during the game and there wasn't that much fat on me in the first place.

Here we have John Phillips, Nigel..... and an RAF Officer

                                         
 
Here we go on our hike into the interior, Mick Busby, John Spooner, Brain Etheridge and John Phillips. We were warned to stay clear of the villages and not to venture too deep into the interior. Yeah Right!! We found a wild young parrot squaking in a small bush, as you can see he was quite approachable.
Well the two bravest, Brain and John decided to walk down into a remote village we had come across to meet the local people.
 
ick Busby and myself had to stay back to get the photo's. HONEST!! Here they are in the village with some of the kids and teenagers of the village.
The Ladies were quite seperate and all really quite friendly.
 
The blonde hair is caused by the use of lime to keep the head lice down.
 
 
We were completely flooded out and moved into the local police Barracks.
A bit of fun on the beach and one for the girls back home.
 
Brian Etheridge feeling agressive.
John Phillips feeling stupid.
 
We walked around Honiara in the footsteps of the American Marines.
So many lives lost for so little gain. The futility of war.
 
A massive massive Toad, these little beauties used to come out in the 100's at night and as we drove to site they were amalgamated into the tyres
An equally massive Crab, no problem to take a finger off or any other appendage that may be hanging around
 
As the sign says, The Duchy Hotel. We knew how to live.
It rained a monsoon for 3 days and nights and just washed the camp away.
 
An American Tour group were given national Dance Show.
Needless to say a few of us snoook in.
 
A Local guy and his house.
This was BBC World Service Transmitter Station.
 
Part of a village and a river ferry. A Raft and a rope??
A bit further upstream.
 
Grade 1 Listed building houseing 4 families, we were told,
Transmitters!
 
Hugh Allison gives us a fantastic redintion on the Drums. Star Turn!!
Farewell Drinks at the Yach Club. Mick Busby, Dave Andrews, Dave Poole, Frank Rofgers, Des Ackers, Taff Perrott, Jim Knight.
 

Another group, Steve Firth, Brian Etheridge, John Phillips Dave Poole, Dave Andrews, I have a feeling the man stood up was Ian Lennard.

A mention must be made of probably the best FofS ever, Alan Faulconer. He avoided the drink for most of the exercise making sure everything worked and we were well looked after. Until it came to the flight back where he needed some support from other human bodies to krrp him upright or the RAF would not have let him on the flight.

A game of football was organised against the police and half of their team had no shoes on , needless to say the result was a bit one sided. A penalty was awarded against them and they didn’t protest at all , they were really very gentle mannered people .

Stevie Firth said, “I remember landing in the Herc, with all the locals waiting at Henderson airfield to greet us. The pilots did a beat-up of the runway before landing to put on a bit of a show for them. The pilots also did a very low fly across the town in departure . For the passengers in the back its a very bumpy ride. To the locals this was world class news.”

 
 
Getting well into the night here, Taff Perrott looking really worse for wear. We have John Phillips, Dave Pool, Des Ackers, Brian Etheridge, Jim Knight, Taff Perrot and The Monk himself Steve Firth!!