As a telegraphist at Ceylon West (Welisara Radio) HMS Highflyer, we had just come off all night watch and were given 12 hours’ notice that we were going back to HMS Mercury. Knowing and working all the merchant ships coming and going through Colombo, our first question was “which ship” as we knew none going north were due in for another 5 days!
My mate and i , Tel Johnny Tibbles were told , that along with Charlie “Duce” Clayton that we were to fly out of RAF Negombo, some new idea concerning all further movements to be by air. Incidentally and sadly Duce Clayton was later lost when SIDON blew up in Portland, something which i witnessed.
On arrival at Negombo, expecting to see a beautiful big Super Constellation we were met by the sight of a sorry looking old AVRO YORK with Skyways of London painted on the fuselage.
The RN must have been doing it on the ‘cheap’ as we flew all over India delivering cargo before we eventually got on the way north. There were 26 passengers 2 hosties and flight deck crew of 5. Capt.,Co Pilot, Navigator, Engineer and Radio officer.
We stopped every night at a 5 star hotel, the first night being at the “Taj Mahal Hotel , Bombay, probably one of the best in Asia at the time.
Out early on the tarmac next morning, taxi up ready to take off, then half way down the runway when the capt cut back the engines…………problems, so we all went back to the hotel for another night! The next night we stopped at another 5 star in Delhi, with more engine problems eventually got away the next day and made it to Musquat in the Trucial Omans on the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Another problem at take-off so all into the terminal which was just a big tin shed minus air con., after about 3 hours and the aircraft being test flown, we all got aboard and took off for Beirut in the Lebanon however we flew into a strong headwind and had to make an emergency stop at Damascus to top up with fuel as we did not have enough to reach Beirut. On arrival at Beirut we went to another 5 star hotel ” The Hotel Continental”.
As we walked into the dining room that evening we were confronted by a big red rope and instructed by hotel staff that we were not allowed to go to the right side of it. We noticed a large group of men over on the right, but payed no attention, had our dinner and then a few drinks, the rest of our party decided to go out on the town, but Tibbles and i were a bit ‘low on cash’ so stayed in. Suddenly whilst sitting and chatting a short dumpy looking guy ducked under the red rope and with 2 bottled of Vodka in his hands said drink boys ! it was non other than Nikita Khrushchev apparently on a mid-east tour with Marshall Bulganin. It appears that Khrushchev was a complete and utter ‘pisshead’ and the other members of his group would not drink with him, so he saw these two thirsty looking matelot’s and decided to become mates with us. Well we did get pissed as neither of us was used to his Vodka, conversation was quite hilarious between the three of us and the others just stayed away and watched! Then with a smiling and bowing Au Revoir away he went. We couldn’t believe our luck.
Next morning engines fired up for Rome she ‘conked out’ again so back to the Continental for another night, but sadly our little, new found mate was gone. Incidentally , we did go on the town that day and found Beirut to be one of the most beautiful cities we had ever visited.( But that was before their war)
Safely on our way to Rome the next day it started to become cold in the cabin, unlike today it was not pressurised and the portholes were actually drafty, so the hosties came round with blankets. WE flew at a mere 8000 ft all the way so could actually see people walking around down below and the continuous drone of the 4 RR Merlin engines were quite deafening. As we got nearer to Rome the countryside became covered with snow which we were not prepared for having just left tropical Ceylon. When we arrived in Rome, some embassy guy met us and we were all payed…………….fantastic, so we had a great ‘run ashore’ in Rome. We didn’t leave Rome untill about midday the next day as the crew were working on the aircraft. We arrived at London just on dark right into a howling gale. On board we had 2 Somali side boys who were joining a ship in Pompey, they were afraid to get off. lololol.
That flight took us about 5 days in all, We flew at 8000 ft all the way with a crew of 7, with 26 passengers (full complement) in an unpressurised aircraft. My next flight with “Pusser Air” was a few years later to join HMS Newcastle in Singapore (1956) a completely different “kettle of fish” In 1989 I flew Brisbane to London in 21 hours, but now I think it is even faster.
Times do change.