Celtic Illumination, part 191, Cheese!!
I’m sure that some of you might be thinking that Cyprus was just one six week long drinking binge. We actually worked quite hard while we were there and we really did make the most of the good weather. Apart from the gunnery practise most of the aircrew would be taken out on a boat and thrown overboard. It was all part of their survival training. They would be booted off and the boat would zoom away, then the rescue helicopter would come in, pick them up and take them back to base. Much better than going in to the North Atlantic in Winter. We all were aware of the Canberra and the banner it towed. After every mission the banner would be brought back to us for inspection.
We were all aware of the Phantom and the Gatling gun it carried. We were even aware of the long belts of ammunition, with freshly painted tips, that were wound in to the gun, as they would be stretched out in long lines drying in the sun. What we were not au fait with was the Canberra and banner coming together with the Phantom and the gun. George Lee had an idea. George got the marine unit guys to float a weighted dingy off the coast, by the cliffs. He then got the squadron to stand on top of the cliffs and came in to destroy the dingy. It was a superb example of not just his flying skill but his accuracy with the gun. Everyone was impressed although if the authorities ever found out George, as they say, would have been for the high jump.
George wasn’t the only one who broke the rules now and again. The Phantom had a hook which dropped down at the rear of the aircraft. It was a pretty solid lump of metal and was used to catch the arrester gear, mainly on ships, but we also used it on airfields to stop the aircraft. If you can imagine the Phantom aircraft flying straight and level, then the two engines at the rear have a slight downward angle. So at about ten feet above the surface of the sea you would kick up a huge wake. When one-upmanship came into play the more daring would drop the hook and fly low enough for the hook to trail in the water.
With permission the guys would beat up the airfield coming in fast and low giving us all a thrill and scaring the crap out of anyone else on camp who wasn’t aware of what was happening. Around the midpoint of the detachment the SENGO came in and announced that he wanted to arrange a squadron photograph, but he needed my help. I hadn’t really done any photography since Locking but agreed that I would help where I could. I then discovered that it wasn’t my photographic skills he was interested in. He had heard that I had served on mountain rescue. Around our dispersal were huge lighting gantries, like you would see at football stadiums.
The SENGO showed me the plan he wanted to mark out on the dispersal and gave me a copy of the plan and a radio. I wasn’t impressed because I was a good sixty meters in the air and unlike mountains these gantries swayed in the wind. Luckily I wasn’t scared of heights and was able to co-ordinate quite well with SENGO and his team, far below me, marking the ground with chalk. I should have had a camera with me because The Bear, Squadron Leader Keith MacRobb was coming in to beat the airfield up and although sometimes in North Welsh Wales when you were up in the mountains you could look down on low flying aircraft. At least the mountains were solid and you felt safe whereas standing on a fecking gantry with a Phantom hurtling past beneath my feet scared, as the Irish would say, the bejesus out of me.
Luckily the station photographer was to take the official photograph and the poor fellow looked a little green around the gills as he was informed where he was taking the photograph from. Most of the guys stood in a pattern that represented the figures nine and two in front of three phantom aircraft and we all shouted cheese at the appropriate moment. It’s quite a sad photograph really because some of the guys in it are not with us anymore. Normally people would be moving from one squadron or station to another so there was always a constant flow of personnel but with the Falkland’s war more people were being moved about. We learned that John Gostick, a pilot and Jeff Bell a navigator had lost their lives in the Falkland’s.
John Gostick was a lovely fellow. The moment he started speaking you knew that he was from London. He always had a smile and a joke and his wife, who was an ex Royal Naval officer spoke with Received Pronunciation. The first time we met she told me she had married him for a bet. Jeff Bell too was a lovely soft spoken fellow who had a very dry sense of humour and was always willing to help and get stuck in. It was such a sad loss. John and I were still trying to stay away from all the madness, and sometimes we succeeded. At the weekends many of the guys would hire jeeps or vans and set out to explore the island. John and I discovered that the bread delivery man would leave camp at seven in the morning so we would scrounge a lift with him.
When he came to the main turn for Limassol John and I would get out and head for the hills, well; the Troodos mountains to be more precise. We thumbed lifts, caught buses and even travelled in the back of lorries. We felt it was much more of an adventure and I actually think it was. I can remember getting on one bus which really did have sheep on board. John thought along the same lines as myself and believed that you should get in among the locals, eat what they ate and sample the local hooch. We ended up one day in the village of Kolossi. If memory serves me right we went into a restaurant called the Kolossi Castle. It was quite basic, with the usual style of furniture for Cyprus, as in nothing matched. I looked at all the courses available.
It was so exciting to find so many foodstuffs that I had never eaten before but alas I only had one stomach. The lady who was serving us was very helpful and I couldn’t make my mind up as to what I would like to eat. It ended up that she provided half a dozen side dishes with a small portion of each choice from the menu. I was invited to taste everything and then I could make a decision as to what I wanted to eat. I ended up having shark steak which I now love. I was so pleased to find the real Cyprus away from the tourist traps and the squadron madness. Although I have to say that sometimes the madness followed us. John and I were sitting on the promenade in Limassol after one of our away days, enjoying a beer. It was quite a warm evening and there was little wind. With no warning at all John stood up, took one step forward and dived into the ocean, fully clothed. He swam around for a little while and then hoisted himself out. It certainly surprised and amused the tourists around us as for me, I think you know by now, I had seen and done much worse myself.