Chapter 6: Just Another days work
“RISE AND SHINE, you lazy shower, Torchy, Rasher, Woody and Sick Leave, your taking the lead vehicle out on base perimeter patrol today, with The Dog, Tiny, and Bing, covering your tail in ‘Popeye,’ so make sure your weapons are cleaned, oiled, and ready for use, which by now should go without saying, OK lads,” Shouted out Bomber who was striding up and down the billet clattering the end of each bedpost with his pace stick.
The Salalah Air Base was constructed in 1928 and had been in constant use ever since as a military and civilian staging post. During the 1950s it was used as a refuelling post for duty Valetta flights coming from Khormaksar to Mauripur, and also incoming flights from Muscat, but was then closed in mid -1956.
It was reopened again through the 1960s and provided refuelling and replenishment facilities for Valetta, Beverley, Argosy, Dakota and other aircraft operating on the Aden-Masirah-Sharjah-Bahrain route, and was also used to accommodate a limited number of personal for rest and overnight stops.
Due to the intermittent attacks from the Adoo rebels the base was now guarded day and night and it was the RMP job to patrol the barbed wire perimeter, inside and outside the base which was somewhat of a harassing but boring job which had to be done on a regular basis.
“Hope where back in time to say farewell to Fletch Sarg”, Shouted Torchy as he climbed out of his bunk bed whilst throwing back the only army cotton sheet that he possessed which covered his bed.
“Never mind that Torchy just concentrate on doing your job properly lad and keeping alert whilst you’re out there OK, you’ll be back in plenty of time to say your farewells to Fletch. Now the rest of you get your lazy butts out of bed and be on parade outside the billet at 0800 hrs, is that clear.” said Bomber as he slowly closed the billet door behind him.
After parade Red Troop climbed into the Land Rovers and drove passed the Guardroom turning left out of the base and following the barbed wire fencing which was strung out all around the perimeter of Salalah Air Base.
Woody stopped alongside one of the Hedgehogs which was one of the fortified positions situated between RAF Salalah and the Jebel. The idea was to intercept any Adoo who came onto the plane at night to bring the airfield into the range of their mortars. The 82mm mortars weighed over 60 kgs and often the base plate would be brought in one night, camouflaged and left in position with the tube being brought in the following night. The range was not far off 7 kms.
Armaments in the Hedgehogs comprised of the usual small arms plus GPMGs and 81 mm mortars which weighed in at 35kgs and had a range of 5.5km Illuminating rounds were fired at night to survey the surrounding plain also the rather primitive ZB298 radar system or the GS 14 which had been manufactured by Marconi Avionics and in theory had a range of over six miles, but interpretations of the surrounding plain which the Marconi picked up was difficult for the operator to pick up. Red Troop uneventfully patrolled the area for most of the morning seeing only a wild donkey and stopping only once more to talk to one of the base Saracen drivers before reporting back to camp for lunch.
Straight after lunch the lads walked over to the airfield where a troop plane had just landed to transport Corporal Fletcher, firstly to the field hospital at RAF Muharrag in Bahrain ,then onto Brize Norton in the UK and then to be transported by Army ambulance to the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot so that the surgeons there could perform their miracle surgery on Fletch’s right leg, and hopefully manage to save it.
The OC and Sgt Hill accompanied the medics who were carrying Corporal Fletcher out onto the runway and Red Troop all gathered round to say farewell.
“Take care pal, and have a good flight home ,we will meet up again at the end of the tour out here, were all routing for you Fletch, so hang on in their buddy,” said Bomber as the medics slid the stretcher onto the Beverley troop plane.
“Lucky Bastard,” said The Dog just as the plane’s wheels left the runnway and the Beverley troop plane cleared the surrounding hillside heading out into the clear blue sky towards RAF Muharrag in Bahrain.
“Sorry Sarg!” said Corporal Robert Lang ( The Dog) when he turned away from the runnway and noticed the grim black look on Bombers face whilst he was looking in his direction. “Think it goes without saying Dog,” said Bomber angrily, “I dont want to see any of my lads ever again, having to face the surgery that Fletch will have to endure over the next six months, OK !”
It was two weeks later that the Beverley supply plane arrived carrying the base mail which everyone always looked forward too. Bomber collected RedTroops mail from the base post office and headed for Red Troop billet.
“Hey up lads” cried Woody in his usual Yorkshire slang, “Bombers coming or we mail.”
“Mail’s here lads gather round,” said Sergent Hill as everyone clambered round waiting for Bomber to call out their name.“Torchy, theres three letters for you today lad”, “Great Stuff Sarg,” cried out Torchy in his excitment to get the letters from his girlfriend and family opened.
“Tiny, Bing, Woody, and Rasher, two letters each for you lot today you lucky sods, just a minute, what’s this, I don’t believe it! Sick Leave’s got five letters from home.” Typical MUMMY’S BOY! Sarg, who’s being missed from home then?” Shouted out The Dog looking in Sick Leave’s direction from the back of the room.
“Sorry Dog, no mail for you today,” cried out Bomber, and everyone burst out laughing.
“NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS!” shouted out The Dog angrily, but at the same time feeling rather hurt. “Near mind Dog I‘ll write thee a ten page love letter an post it in morning,” said Woody sarcastically, which didn’t go down too well with The Dog who just stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him in his temper.
“OK that’s enough of the sarcastic comments,” said Bomber, “just think on, and remember how you all felt when you didn’t receive any mail from home, which you were all looking forward to lads. Remember were all in a combat situation here, so I think now would be a good time to apologize to The Dog don’t you boys?”
Bomber took his own letters out of his top pocket, sat down at the billet table and started to read but was soon interrupted by Tiny. “Hey Sarg, how’s things going for Fletch, have you heard anything yet?”
“According to my letter from the wife Tiny, the operation on his right leg has been a complete success,” Said Bomber as he pointed to his letter which was now laying on the top of the billet room table.
“That’s great Sarg I’ll tell all the lads they’ll all be relieved to hear it, How’s the wife Sarg? I expect your really missing her now Bomb, it’s been at least five months since you’ve seen her.”
“I thought it would be a good idea to ask her to visit Fletch at the Cambridge Military Hospital Tiny and see if there anything he needs, she’s now living with her parents in an army married quarter in Aldershot which is not too far from the hospital. Her old man used to be my OC at 12 Brigade in Osnabruck in 1969, but he’s now commanding 160 Provost Company just off Queens Avenue Tiny.” “Good Idea Bomb, but watch out for that randy bastard Fletch you can’t trust him with anything in a skirt, ha ha” said Tiny Jokingly.
“He’s a good pal Tiny and I feel somewhat responsible for the situation he now finds himself in, so I would like to do everything I can to help him, remember he saved my life Tiny ! and it’s looking very much like he may have to leave the army now.”
“Let’s hope that’s not the case Bomb, cant they find him a nice cushy office job?” “That would be the case if he were some high ranking snooty officer Tiny, but a Corporal, I don’t think so some how do you?, holding the Military Medal might help but you know the ministry if they can save a few bob he’ll be put out to grass like the rest of the injured active service lads Tiny. Anyway I’ll still do all I can to help him. My old man owns a pub in Chester so if he gets the push Ill fix him up with a job if he wants it, anyway time I was off, got to liaise with the OC at 1100 hrs I’ll let you know what happens soon as I hear anything”, and with that said Sergeant Hill headed for the door.