MY LEAVE, MAY TO JUNE 1984
I booked myself on The England for my leave at the end of May 1984, realising that PSA would probably book me on the Hercules airbridge otherwise and I wanted to experience the trip. Needless to say, when I got to the UK they wanted me to return by airbridge to save time.
The England voyage was uneventful, just heavy seas and albatrosses to look at. I was surprised how foul-mouthed construction workers suddenly became civilised when in the civilised atmosphere of the ship with its clean white tablecloths and dressed in their clean clothes. They were called animals at site. The long-haired drunk who had to be helped down the metal steps onto the ship from the Merchant Providence was quiet and respectable.
Stephen Whitley, the Island vet, was also going to Cape Town for an african tour. He lost his wife in the war, she was one of only two people who were killed, I think. He was now with a nurse and they were engaged.
Alan C of LMA warned me not to go ashore alone, but I did. Cape Town docks were a bit scary, no one around as I took a walk into town and I felt at risk. Later I was told that a Wyseplan guy had been rolled by ten men about one hour after I returned. I didn't know anything about apartheid. I went into a shop and realised when I left that it was for whites only, luckily.
I had noticed some pretty dark girls hanging round the dock when I returned, they were waiting for the crew who had met them on previous trips. White men weren't supposed to screw black girls, but it seemed the rules weren't enforced in the docks. The next morning I realised that lots of girls had come aboard late at night and gone down to the lower decks where the workers were. I was on an upper deck for staff people and had heard nothing. Pity.
Cape Town docks on 25th June 1984
Outside Cape Town on 26th June 1984
We were supposed to be taken on a bus trip at 8.30 am but some guys were still busy with the girls, so we were late leaving. The driver kept fiddling with the tape recorder, continually putting a tape in then trying another. Robbie S, of C & W, had a bad head and charged up the isle swearing at the driver to turn it off, whereupon the driver turned the volume up! Eventually he stopped the bus and said "Yes? Yes?". Robbie swore at him to turn the f-----g thing off. The driver explained that he was in charge of the bus. We got the first tape again, a terrible one about "when are you going to take your clothes off" or something. Robbie luckily gave up.
The trip was obviously just to keep everyone out of trouble. We wandered around boring countryside along N1 and N2 and eventually stopped in a layby and ate our doggy-bags. We then went straight to the airport for a flight to Johannesburg and a flight to the UK.
Bunks at Ascension Island
The return trip was via Brize Norton, VC10 to Ascension Island and Hercules. We were woken at 3.30 am Saturday 30th June 1984 in the Ascension Island camp, although I had been woken at 12.30 am by some guys who had been drinking late. We got on the Hercules, then got off as a tyre needed pumping up. We left at 7.30 am eventually. After three hours one of the port engines kept revving up then slowing down. We were told that the metal cowling was loose and the pilot wasn't sure how firm it was, so we took four hours returning to Ascension Island with that engine turned off.
Wickham and Geoff E relax at Ascension Island on 30th June 1984
We had the rest of the day to ourselves and sunbathed and swam in a pool. We got invited to a barbecue in the evening, very pleasant with bougainvilleas all around. Tony D, Geoff E (an LMA QS) Brian S (a new PSA guy), Alan D (a new BDP architect), Gordon L and I decided to visit Georgetown. We hitched a lift with men who were organising our lunchboxes for the next flight. Georgetown was very quiet. We visited the C & W offices where some phoned UK. Troops were not allowed in the bars, they were all for members only. One had a long corridor inside and several burly islanders outside, it must have been a brothel.
We couldn't find transport, so we started walking in the dark. Later an islander picked us up and took us to Ocean View. We hadn't a clue where we were. Georgetown, the American camp, the British camp and Ocean View all seemed to be miles apart on a very hilly island. Ocean View seemed to be a previous camp with a seedy old NAAFI. It had bare walls, patchy floor, unshaded fluorescent tubes and was populated by spanish-looking men.
A torrential downpour started, but the same pick-up agreed to take us back to camp sitting in the open back. Luckily the rain stopped and the breeze was refreshing. We gave him £1 each.
Next morning, Sunday 1st July we met for the flight only to be told that a WREN had gone out in a boat but couldn't return because of heavy seas (there's no proper port at Ascension Island, lighters take loads off larger ships). She had to be fetched by helicopter which delayed everything. We got on board, only to be told that a fuseboard had packed up. After waiting in a sweaty Hercules we took off, but after an hour the captain said we wouldn't believe it but we were returning because the radar wasn't working so he wouldn't be able to find the tanker to refuel.
So we went back for more sunbathing and swimming. Tony and I found a gym and managed to get some squash rackets and had a game. As we walked around afterwards we found a cactus plant with some fruit. We both picked the fruit off and ate them, but both of us got spines in our mouths even though we had been careful. They made our tongues numb. We spent some time looking in a mirror picking them out one by one.
We got back to the camp and were charged 25 pence for the barbecue we had had the previous day. At 3.30 am on Monday 2nd July we assembled at the "Greasy Spoon" again for another flight. My bags had been loaded and unloaded so often one of them had been completely ripped on some sharp edge of the plane, as had bags of others, and we covered the tears with sticky tape provided. It must have been a common occurrence.
The trip was uneventful and I went up to the flight deck as the pilot was trying to fly into the trailing basket with the tanker's pipe inside it. He didn't connect for some time as even Geoff E who went up after me didn't see the final connection. The flight took twelve and a half hours.
A typical Stanley street on 3rd July 1984
After a night at Stanley I went for a walk in Stanley with the PSA guys. I looked in through the windows of The Upland Goose, the only hotel, and saw Maurice A, Bob D and Geoff E sitting comfortably reading papers and having coffee. More comfortable than than PSA's Lookout Camp.
We got on an Islander to Fitzroy where Frank S was waiting as the East Cove landing strip was closed, being too muddy. I sat in the front with him and Brian S sat right at the back. Frank drove fast off the grass strip and at the first ditch Brian's head went hard up into the roof. A fine welcome for him.