Some background information on the island of Gan,
with anecdotes of life there in 1959.
Ian (Jock) Morrison, 8RFP, Gan, March 1959 - January 1960.

The Maldive Islands, collectively one of the most desirable holiday destinations in the world, were virtually unknown in the West up until the 1950s. Not one of the twelve hundred islands was a holiday resort then, and it is unlikely that any of them would be even now had it not been for events occurring beyond the shores and influence of the Maldives themselves.

In the 1950s, the Maldivian people were living in a time warp, scraping a living from fishing and coir production as they had done for centuries. They were, if not entirely happy, settled in their ways and not seeking to change anything. And despite their remoteness and apparent vulnerability, they lived in relative security as a British Protectorate.

Then, in 1956, two events occurred which signalled a complete change in lifestyle for many Maldivians. The first was the election of Colonel Nasser as President of Egypt; the second, and by far the more significant, was the election of Solomon Bandaranaike as Prime Minister of Ceylon. Both men were staunch nationalists, and both were opposed to the idea of any foreign military presence in their respective countries.

Nasser stirred up hornets' nest when he nationalised the Suez Canal. The Suez Crisis, as it came to be known, led to the banning of British aircraft from over-flying Egypt and Syria, thus cutting off a major east-west route.

Up until then, Bandaranaike had been amenable to Britain retaining military bases in Ceylon, but after an Anglo-French attack on Egypt, he became fearful that bases in his country might be used to launch other military attacks. He therefore exercised his rights under a treaty of 1947 to demand that Britain relinquish all her bases in Ceylon, including the airfield at Katunayake. This demand, when met, would effectively cut off all routes across the Indian Ocean for British aircraft.

Britain had a major problem. No aircraft could fly non-stop over the Indian Ocean, so it was essential to find a re-fuelling station, or staging post, to replace Katunayake. Britain's attention turned immediately to the island of Gan in Addu Atoll, the most southerly island in the Maldives. It had been a naval base during the Second World War, and was considered to be available because a 1953 treaty gave the British Government the option to re-activate Gan in case of emergency. This they decided to do. But the obscene haste with which they sought to do it led to a debacle out of which neither the British nor the Maldivian governments emerged with any credit.

The British Government was well aware that if the Maldivian Government adopted the same neutralist stand intimated by India and now demonstrated by Ceylon, they would have no hope of being permitted to set up a staging post on Gan. They had to act fast, before India and Ceylon became aware of their intentions and lodged protests with the United Nations. So, in mid-December, 1956, the British Deputy High Commissioner in Ceylon flew to Male, capital of the Maldives, to negotiate terms for the lease of Gan with the Maldivian Prime Minister, Ibrahim Ali Didi.

Fortunately for Britain, Mr. Didi was pro-British and saw British occupation of Gan as a good economic proposition for the Maldives. But he could have capitalised on Britain's urgency, had he been aware of it, and negotiated much better terms. The annual rental agreed for the island for example was a derisory £2000. But Didi gave his blessing without putting the proposition to his own government, an error of judgement that the British seized upon without delay and sent in a works party to Gan.


When the Maldivian Government learned of Didi's deal and Britain's fait accompli they were outraged. They began to plot against Didi and, early in 1958, when Didi returned from a meeting with the RAF on Gan he was summarily dismissed. The new Prime Minister, Ibrahim Nasir, immediately declared the treaty agreed by Didi invalid as it had not been ratified by the Maldivian Parliament. He demanded that Britain withdraw from Gan. Britain refused, declaring that the treaty with Didi was legal.

Throughout 1958, while the two governments argued over the terms of the agreement, the people of Addu Atoll revelled in their good fortune. They abandoned their traditional trades to earn much more by working for the RAF. The money to pay them was passed by Britain to the Maldivian Government, who, at their office on Gan, paid the men on presentation of a chitty recording what was due to them. But, as negotiations were getting nowhere, the Maldivian Government decided to put pressure on the British Government by withdrawing local labour. Towards the end of 1958, they sent their representative in Ceylon, Ahmed Zaki, to speak to the Adduan workers on Gan.

On January 2nd, 1959, Zaki addressed the Adduans. He announced substantial tax increases and ordered them to cease working for the RAF. The Adduans immediately rioted. The government office was ransacked and burned to the ground. Zaki had to be rescued by the RAF and flown to Ceylon.

The next day, the people of Addu unanimously voted to break away from their Male masters and form their own republic. It would be called The Adduan People's Republic. Their new president was atoll headman, Abdulla Afif Didi. On 19th January 1959, Afif wrote to Queen Elizabeth asking her to recognise the new republic.

Afif, who was a hero in Addu, was quite the opposite in Male, where he had been convicted for plotting to overthrow the Maldivian Government during the Second World War. His punishment for this had been seven years in isolation on a small island, during which time he saw only the people who brought him food by boat.

It soon became clear that it was not just Addu Atoll's present grievances that brought about the rebellion, because almost immediately the rebel republic was formed, the neighbouring island of Fua Mulaku and the nearest atoll Suvadiva, joined forces with Addu. Neither of them had anything to do with the RAF or Gan. The enhanced republic was re-named The United Suvadiva Islands. All three communities claimed to have suffered from neglect and ill treatment at the hands of the Maldivian Government for many years. Unfortunately, it was the presence of the RAF on Gan that gave them the courage to rebel, and the Maldivian Government accused the RAF of fomenting the rebellion.

The Maldivian Government's first act of retaliation was to stop shipments of food to the rebel islands. But when 33 deaths from starvation in Suvadiva Atoll were reported in March 1959, the British Government sent a shipment of rice to the starving atoll, and built up stocks of food in Addu. This was considered by the British as a humanitarian act, but by the Maldivian Government as interference in their internal affairs.


It was at this stage in the political quagmire that I arrived in Addu Atoll. I was a member of a party of around eighty, detailed to install wireless and radar equipment for the new transit station. We touched down on Gan at 10.30am, 10th March 1959. At that time, we were blissfully unaware of any problems.

When I arrived, the island was just one big construction site. It had been stripped of vegetation, apart from some palms and bougainvillaea along the beachheads and of course in the area of the still inhabited Gan village. The partly built runway extended from the eastern end of the island to a point some yards west of the apron. It was just long enough to cater for twin-engined aircraft such as the Dakota and the Valetta, typical RAF workhorses of that era. My party arrived aboard Valettas, popularly known as 'pigs' because of their dumpy profile.

Apart from us, the island was the temporary home for a group from the Signals Regiment, a number of European tradesmen and around 1200 Pakistani workers employed by the main contractor, Costain. There were also representatives of the Ministry of Public Works and a small group of specialists from Marconi. Unskilled labour was provided by around 500 Adduan men, most of who sailed in from the other islands every day.

The runway was the only part of the island with a finished surface. The main road was crushed coral and very bumpy, as we discovered when our steel-canopied truck carried us from the apron to Station Headquarters to register. In the heat of the day it was like travelling in an oven. By the time we had collected our bedding and mosquito nets from the store we were lathered in sweat and desperate for a shower. It was a relief to learn that our next and final stop for the day would be our living quarters.

We thought it was a joke at first when the truck drew up outside a series of long huts, built of interwoven palm fronds and roofed with rusty corrugated iron. But we were home. Basic as some of the RAF accommodation we'd experienced so far had been, nothing could compare with this. The huts, we were told, were called kadjans.

Inside, each kadjan was partitioned into about six rooms, each containing four bunks. There were no doors or windows, just gaps in the walls. The partitions themselves were about two metres high, as were the outside walls. This of course was good for air circulation, as there were no fans. A single electricity bulb hung from the rafters in the middle of each room, and one power socket was fixed to the 'window' wall. The floor was rough, unsealed concrete.

When we'd made our beds and slung up our individual mosquito nets, we realised that there was no other furniture - no lockers; no tables; no chairs. We asked where they were and were told either on a ship on the high seas or still in the UK. In the meantime, we had to make our own from discarded crates available from the stores compound.


So began out stay in the kadjans. We borrowed a truck and collected a series of plywood and plain wood crates from the stores, booked out saws, hammers, jemmies and screwdrivers, and set to work. Soon we had a crude table, stools and lockers of sorts in each room. It was several weeks before we got proper furniture.

Our wash room was in a prefabricated building at the top of the beach behind the kadjans. It contained along one wall six showerheads, and along the opposite wall about ten wash-hand basins. It was very basic. Water from the wash-hand basins and showers was channelled through holes in the wall to soak away on the beach. There was no hot water. With eighty of us trying to use it first thing in the morning it could be very crowded.

But the best was yet to come - the toilet blocks. There were three of them, on the opposite side of the road from the kadjans. They were built of concrete. Openings at each end were linked by a narrow corridor, which passed a series of doorless cubicles each containing a chemical toilet. Lying on the floor was a large pump action spray containing DDT. We soon learned what that was for. Before using one of the cubicles, it was advisable to spray it liberally with DDT to combat bluebottles during the day and mosquitoes at night. You can be sure that no one spent longer in there than was absolutely necessary.

Periodically, full toilet buckets were picked up by a squad of Pakistani labourers and emptied into a container lorry. The lip of the container was above head height, and it was quite a feat to lift a heavy bucket and empty it cleanly. One of the Pakistani labourers, full of fun and quite athletic, used to empty each bucket, then, if there was an audience, turn cartwheels back to the toilet block, still carrying the dripping bucket. I wouldn't have relished sharing accommodation with him!

In the kadjans, we soon got weary of the rough concrete floor, mainly because grit was carried on bare feet into bed. The only time this didn't happen was during spring tides, when we waded to bed through a couple of inches of water. We asked at the store for bed mats and were told that the only bed mats on the island were in the Senior NCO's quarters. We stole them that night while all the Senior NCOs were at their mess. It says a lot for them that they did not chase us to get them back.


The airmen's mess had seen better days. The mosquito netting was metal and much of it had rotted away, so dining meant competing with flies for the contents of your plate. At breakfast we were a bit wary of funny little brown things in the corn flakes. At first we carefully spooned them out, but as time went by, we just ate them along with the flakes. I still don't know what they were.

The NAAFI was a quaint kadjan building with a thatched roof. It contained an assortment of rickety tables and chairs, including a table made from a barrel bearing the legend, 'Malcolm Club, Singapore.' The bar was a simple plywood counter, and an out-of-tune piano graced one of the corners. I played it occasionally when we had 'skiffle' nights. The other instruments would be a guitar, and a double base made from a wooden crate, a broom handle and a piece of string. There were no glasses in the NAAFI, so one drank straight from the bottle or can, much as the trendy set do now - only we were first!

We had no imported soft drinks, so the NAAFI made lemonade and sold it in small bottles. They never really mastered the quantity of fizz to put in it, however, and there were many instances of bottles exploding. The situation was considered serious enough to prompt an instruction in Station Standing Orders, to the effect that these bottles must not be carried in pockets!

The NAAFI also ran a shop on Gan. It sold mainly cameras, books, shirts, sweets, cigarettes and toiletries. No item could be removed from the shop until fully paid for. Despite this, I had a nasty letter from the NAAFI in London demanding that I pay an outstanding debt on my camera. As far as I was concerned, there was no outstanding debt. I had paid a deposit, then, thanks to a loan from a colleague, paid the remainder the following day and collected the camera.

Quite annoyed by the letter, I went to the shop and showed the manager, a particularly nasty, arrogant little man, my receipts. He pointed out that the statement for the deposit was an invoice, not a receipt, and was no proof of payment. He was adamant that I return the camera or pay up. I refused, and reported the matter to my Flight Sergeant.

Within an hour, my Flight Sergeant came to me and said that the matter was cleared up, and to forget it. I later heard that the NAAFI manager had been told that if he bothered me again, he would be shipped back to the UK on the first cargo boat. Shortly afterwards, a Sinhalese member of staff was sacked for fraud.

The only other place of entertainment was the 'Astra.' The Astra, as on every RAF station throughout the world, was of course, the cinema. The Astra on Gan had the distinction of sharing a roof with the large electricity generators that powered the island. It was partitioned off from the generators by a concrete block wall with the projector house built in. The outside wall opposite supported the screen on a frame. The wall was around three metres high, so in addition to watching a film, one could see the stars. When it was windy, the screen wobbled, and when it rained, waterproof clothing was essential.


The most picturesque building on Gan at the time was the Post Office. It was a busy little place, handling the constant stream of letters to and from the UK. One common gift sent home was a coconut, straight from the palm. The home address was usually painted on and the awkwardly shaped 'parcel' sent off, no doubt to be cursed by the poor postman delivering it in the UK.

Sick Quarters was situated just east of the kadjans, on the other side of a monsoon ditch designed to drain water from the apron. It was a dark green prefabricated building, and was run by two young medical officers, assisted by two medical orderlies. Because of the nature of life on Gan, being unable to work because of a hangover was not treated as a crime. Anyone with a hangover need only report to sick quarters, where a thick white mixture made by the medics would be offered in a small glass. It worked splendidly.

The main ailments on Gan were tinea, athletes' foot and prickly heat. Practically everybody had a tin of Mycota powder and a tube of Aureomycin by their bed. When it rained, a favourite activity of prickly heat sufferers was to lie in the nearby monsoon ditch and let the rain water wash over them. It helped. Less common, but the reason for some lads being repatriated, was an affliction known as Gan ear. It was a very painful condition and common all over Southeast Asia and the Far East, being named according to the geographical location it was contracted.

As a precaution against malaria, which was common in the Maldives at the time, we were encouraged to take a paladrin tablet every day. Salt tablets were also freely available, but as we all spent a lot of time in the lagoon, they were considered unnecessary and largely ignored.


During our first couple of weeks on the island, we picked up various tit-bits of information about the political situation. But it didn't effect us directly until 31st March, when at 3.15 am we were rudely awakened by banging on the kadjan walls and yells of 'Everybody up!' Assuming the racket to be caused by drunken colleagues, the language from the body of the kadjan was choice, until it was realised that the commotion was being caused by our senior NCOs.

We were ordered to get dressed and board a truck, which whisked us off to the guardroom. There we were given a short briefing about the proximity of raiders from Male, issued with rifles and ammunition and told to load the magazine, and, most alarming of all, to 'put one up the spout!' This meant of course that there was a bullet in the breech and the weapon dangerous. This was a mite perturbing, as we all knew that on Cyprus at the time, where EOKA terrorists were active, the men guarding RAF stations carried unloaded sten guns. It made us wonder what we were going to be up against. I remember asking the warrant officer issuing the rifles if my safety catch was on or off and he was quite perturbed. But we were, after all, technicians, not soldiers, and had only fired a few rounds at basic training several months before.

With orders to protect only RAF property, and to ignore skirmishes between locals and Male invaders, we spent the next few hours strolling round the island in little groups. Nothing happened, and we were given the rest of the day off. We were later addressed by our CO, who put us in the picture regarding the situation. Well aware of our non-military background, he said of our overnight adventure that we were more of a danger to ourselves than to anyone else, and that we would all be given some training in weaponry as a matter of urgency. True to his word, within a couple of days we were taken to the south side of Gan, taught how to use a rifle, and given 25 rounds each to fire at a target.

But there was no immediate need to employ our newly acquired shooting skills. Work went on as normal. In the control tower we ran miles of cable, installed tons of equipment, and sweated gallons of liquid. There was no air conditioning in the tower, and soldering thousands of connections in the control room consuls was an onerous job, mostly down to me. I would work for about ten minutes, then step out on to the roof to cool down in the breeze which mercifully seemed to be a permanent feature there.

It was while on the roof one morning in July that I watched a Hastings approach from the east. While still a few metres above the runway, the starboard wing dipped and the aircraft dropped suddenly. The starboard wheel hit the ground hard and, as the aircraft bounced, the undercarriage collapsed. The Hastings hit the ground again, and slithered along the runway on one wheel and a wing tip before slewing off into the rough coral and disappearing in a cloud of coral dust. The dust hadn't settled when the passengers and crew leapt out and ran. But it didn't catch fire and nobody was hurt. The Hastings, however, was a write-off. The starboard wing tip was twisted, as were the propellers. After useful parts were removed, it was blown up and dropped over the reef.

The accident brought to light a phenomenon regarding the runway. It was almost pure white, and shimmered in the heat. Anyone looking along it at ground level and seeing anyone else crossing it further along, would have the impression that the other person was walking about five metres above the ground. To combat this impression, a broken black line was drawn down the middle of the runway from end to end.


Off duty, time did drag a bit at times, so I was delighted to be invited to sick quarters on the occasion of one of the orderly's birthdays. The bloke himself went off to collect roast chicken etc. prepared by the mess, while we sat in the moonlight, supping cans of lager. Unfortunately, he was very popular, and was waylaid and plied with drink in the NAAFI before being carried back to sick quarters and put to bed. We had a good time without him, the party degenerating into a fire-extinguisher battle between two factions, each headed by a Medical Officer. In the morning, the dark green of the sick quarter's walls was splattered with white streaks of foam, and empty extinguishers lay all over the place.

The main contractor, Costain, had its own club, called the 'Legs of Gan.' Above the door was a replica of the three-legged symbol of the Isle of Man. The club had a bar and a casino and entry was by invitation only. One night, I was invited there along with the medics. Before going, I was asked by one of our corporals to bring back a glass of sherry, as this was not available anywhere else. I agreed. I had a great night out, then, just before leaving, I ordered a glass of sherry. As I left, the bartender told me that I had to drink it or pour it out, as nobody was allowed to remove glasses from the club. As I pleaded with him, promising to return the glass in the morning, one of the MOs drove up behind me in his Landrover, skidded to a halt and yelled for me to jump in. I did, of course, and we sped off, complete with the glass of sherry. This was about 3am, and, strangely enough, the corporal who had asked for it did not show much enthusiasm for it when I wakened him!

The only other visit I had to the Legs of Gan, was when Marconi invited eighty of us to free drinks from 8pm to midnight. Many of the lads didn't make it back to the kadjans, and were found in the morning sleeping on the beach, on the oil pipes and even in the toilet blocks. Some hangovers lasted for two days.


Next to snorkelling, my main leisure pursuit was sailing. The RAF had two fourteen-foot dinghies, which I sailed regularly, but many of the lads built their own boats and canoes. These were crude affairs made from the ubiquitous crates. Many of the lovingly assembled craft never reached the water. Many of those that did were found to be unstable. At least one of them came to grief on the reef in Gan channel, prompting action stations for the rescue boat.

One Sunday morning, I turned up at the sailing club to find my Pilot Officer and six other officers standing on the shore. The Pilot Officer was the only one of them who could helm. As I also was a helmsman, he asked if I would take three of his friends out. Of course I agreed. He pointed out to the officers that while in the boat, I was in charge, so off we went. When out on the lagoon, one of the officers, a medic, said that it would be great to land on Wilingili. One of the other officers reminded him that it was out of bounds, so I said that the shrouds were a bit slack, and suggested we put into Wilingili as an emergency to tighten them. This could easily have been done at sea had it actually been necessary, but they didn't know that. As we approached the reef, the medic leant over the bows to warn of hazards and we landed.

At that time, Wilingili was a prison island. Everyone on it was a convicted criminal, working on the coconut plantation there. They had no means whatever of getting off. As soon as we hit the shoreline, a crowd of them emerged from the trees to greet us, delighted to have friendly visitors. They asked for cigarettes, which my colleagues gave them. I didn't smoke. Young men shinned up palm trees and threw down coconuts, cutting the tops off some of them for us to drink, and throwing the rest in the boat. We spent a few minutes there, then sailed off again.

On occasions when there were supply ships in the lagoon, my mates and I would take a dinghy out and sail the length of the vessel, yelling, "Go home, Eengleesh peegs!" The response was usually a shower of potatoes, which we usually managed to dodge. On one of these occasions, I got too close to the ship and was becalmed in its lee. As the current swept us along, the dinghy came so dangerously close to the massive steel hull that all three of us aboard had to sit on the port gunwale and lean outwards to prevent our mast coming into contact with the overhanging bows of the ship. On this occasion, we were not showered with potatoes, but got a cheer from the crew as we sailed into safety.

Despite having access to the dinghies, I eventually teamed up with one of the medical orderlies and set out to build a catamaran. But after finishing one hull, we became bored with it and decided a second hull would be too much work and substituted an out-rigger. To seal all the joints, we helped ourselves to a partly used barrel of bitumen and melted it over a fire behind sick quarters. Paint was obtained in the same way, and all the boats ended up being the same colour as the oil pipes, which ran past the kadjans on route from the jetty to the fuel storage tanks.

When the boat was finished, we looked around for a mast and sails. An old flagpole seemed suitable, so after dark, we cut it down. Unfortunately, it proved to be too short. In the end, the sails and mast were made from a tent and its pole liberated one night from the stores compound. The heat of the sun caused the hull to develop a warp, so we named her 'Twisted Liz.' We had one short trip aboard 'Twisted Liz,' then she was washed away in an overnight gale.


Life in the kadjans was noisy, but generally good-natured and a lot of fun. We would play cards, the favourite game being canasta, put on slide-shows of our latest pictures, and have the occasional party. One of our sergeants started to teach some of us to play drums. We had drumsticks sent out from home, and practised on a piece of polythene stretched over a small wooden box. This was less than popular with our colleagues, and we knew it was time to stop when occupants of neighbouring kadjans hurled rocks on to our roof.

One of the lads started to teach others the art of ju-jitsu in the square of ground bounded by the kadjans. A practise mat was made from mattresses laid on the ground and a tent flysheet stretched over the top. It was soft to fall on, but there was always creases, which resulted in injuries such as broken toes and fingers. It was decided that self-defence was too dangerous and the mat was dismantled.

There was no place one could have a snack or a coffee at night, so we made our own 'immersion heaters.' These consisted of a couple of six-inch nails driven about 50mm apart through a short piece of wood. Electricity cable was then fixed to the nail heads. The nails would be immersed in a mug of water, a tin of soup, frankfurter sausages or whatever was available, so that the wood rested on the top. The loose ends of the cable would then be eased into a power socket and wedged with matches. Everybody would keep clear, and the electricity would be switched on. Within seconds, the contents of the tin would be hot and ready for consumption. The electricity would then be switched off and the contraption removed.

Some of the electricians took this arrangement a bit further. As an experiment, they filled an oil drum with water, made a large-scale replica of our heater, using two thick copper rods and a plank of timber, and connected the heater to a large fuse in the generator shed. It took a couple of minutes to get the water hot, during which time all the lights on Gan dimmed!

As you will no doubt be aware, there is a great variety of insects to be found on Gan - most of them find you first! It was quite common of an evening for huge coconut beetles to fly into the kadjans, attracted by the light. Some were so large and noisy that we likened them to wartime bombers.

One of my roommates started a collection of these and other large insects. He made a shallow box for them and pinned them neatly inside. On the lid was printed, 'Paul's Bug Box,' and he kept it on the locker by his bed. We were due a CO's inspection one morning, so, for a bit of fun, we decided to give the CO or any of his entourage who touched the box a fright.

We took a round piece of ply, about 40 mm in diameter, and drilled two holes through it so that it resembled a button, a piece of wire and a rubber band. The band was threaded through the holes in the ply and attached to the ends of the wire, which had been bent into a U shape. The ply was then turned several times so that if released it would spin back to its rest position. The contraption was put into the bug box, held down with a ruler until the lid was down, and left to await results.

As anticipated, the CO was curious about what might be in the box, so lifted the lid. He let it drop sharply at the loud rattle as the button was released. Fortunately, he had a good sense of humour. Our new Station Warrant Officer didn't however. The day before the CO's inspection, he had visited the kadjans and ordered us to remove all our girlie pin-up pictures before the CO's visit. We were annoyed about this, but complied. The first thing the CO asked on entering the kadjan was where the pin-ups had gone. When we told him, he immediately told us to get them back up again, remarking that they were the only things worth looking at in the kadjans.


In addition to pin-up pictures, the wall of almost every bed space sported a 'chuff chart.' The chuff chart took various forms, but in every case had a small square representing each day of the year we expected to be on Gan. As each day passed, the corresponding square was crossed out, the idea being that when all the squares had been crossed out, we would be on our way home and 'chuffed.'

Crates of equipment kept arriving by the shipload. It was our job to unpack them and install the contents in the various communications establishments. One afternoon, while we were off duty and relaxing in our kadjan in civilian clothes, a fresh young sergeant, recently out from the UK, stormed into our kadjan and ordered us to board a truck. When we objected, he became even more officious and said that a delivery of crates was lying out in the open and had to be covered with tarpaulins as a squall was imminent. Despite our efforts to convince him that the crates were all well protected against dampness, we ended up at the three-meter high pile of crates.

As we struggled in the rising wind to throw the tarpaulins over the crates, the sergeant climbed to the top of the heap and pulled them into position. He then told us to throw stones up to anchor the tarpaulins. We couldn't believe our luck. This naïve individual was effectively offering a bunch of angry and disgruntled young men a means of revenge. With sudden enthusiasm we started lobbing rocks up to him. Well, at him, actually. Hits, of course, were always followed by apologies. He must have been covered with bruises at the end of it, and he never bothered us again. In fact as time went by he became a very popular bloke.


For a few months we heard little or nothing about the political situation. Then on 5th August, this time at 5am, we again found ourselves down at the guardroom collecting rifles and ammunition. Apparently, a Maldivian Government buggalo had been spotted off Hitaddu. This time, some of our lads had to board the LCM (landing craft marine) which was normally used to transport equipment and men to and from the transmitter station on Hitaddu. They were taken to Hitaddu, where, in true marine style, the front of the craft dropped in the shallows and the men were ordered to wade ashore.

One of my mates, a bit wiser than the rest, anticipated this, so stripped naked, wrapped his clothes round his rifle and held the lot above his head as he waded ashore. Once high and dry, he rubbed most of the water off himself and put his clothes on again. For the rest of the night, while the rest suffered the discomfort of wet clothes, he stayed warm and comfortable.

Two dhonies and 60 Male men were captured that night on Hitaddu. They admitted to being a sort of fifth column, and were armed with nothing more sinister than limes, which, we were told, were to be cut open and squirted in to the eyes of sleeping Adduans in a sort of terror campaign.

We later learned that this had been part of an offensive that had seen the recapture of Suvadiva and Fua Mulaku. Some of the rebels had been killed, others flogged, some 500 deported and the ringleaders captured and jailed in Male. In order to weaken Suvadiva Atoll, it was divided into two administration districts and remains so today. Addu now stood alone, and The United Suvadiva Islands reverted to its original status as the Adduan People's Republic.

Tackling Suvadiva and Fua Mulaku was one thing, but Addu quite another. The Male 'heavies' would be no match for the RAF, which, although forbidden to side with the rebels against a government which by treaty was under British protection, could not be expected to stand idly by if RAF property was endangered. The Maldivian Government announced that it would charter three armed steamboats.

Britain responded to this threat by sending the famous Royal Naval destroyer HMS Cavalier, two armed Shackletons and a Dakota to Addu. Also drafted in was a 90 strong detachment of the Cheshire Regiment. They arrived in the middle of the night, and dossed down in the mess. It was something of a surprise turning up for breakfast to find squaddies sleeping on the tables and the floor. Their weapons, everything from rifles to bazookas, were stacked against the walls.

Their stay was short, however, as the Maldivian Government objected to foreign troops 'invading' the Maldives. The Cheshires were replaced by the RAF Regiment. Still troops, of course, but evidently more acceptable because of their RAF uniforms. All civilian and RAF personnel on Gan were given blood tests.


Work continued apace. All over the island, things were taking shape - new accommodation blocks, a new NAAFI, a new mess, a hospital to cater for Adduans as well as RAF personnel, and the runway completed. Sadly, the Gan village was destroyed and the locals transferred to brand new houses on the neighbouring island of Fedu.

The arrival of the Cheshires, RAF Regiment and the Royal Navy, surprisingly enough, caused no friction whatsoever. We all got on very well. The NAAFI, already stretched regarding accommodation, was often bursting at the seams. On occasion, sailors would miss their liberty boat and spend the night in the kadjans. They could sleep anywhere, those lads. One spent the night on our table, legs hanging off one end, head lolling back off the other. Others slumped in chairs, others on the floor.

Once, in the middle of the night, the navy came ashore and painted in large, black letters on the white runway, 'RAF GAN. UNDER CARE AND PROTECTION OF HM ROYAL NAVY.' The insult must have been visible from the moon! My colleagues decided to retaliate by borrowing dhonies and sneaking out in the dark to paint funny faces along the side of the ship. I tried to talk them out of it, as I felt sure the navy would be prepared. But they insisted. I stayed on shore. They rowed out to the ship, armed with cans of paint and brushes, but, just as they were closing in, the ship's floodlights came on, searchlights combed the water, and my colleagues were treated to buckets of slops and well-aimed water sprays. They returned to Gan soaked and defeated. I didn't dare say, 'I told you so.'

On another occasion, sailors came to the kadjans with an open invitation to go aboard HMS Cavalier and see the 'crossing of the line ceremony.' Everybody declined except one, who went like a lamb to slaughter. As everybody else had suspected, he wasn't invited aboard the ship to see the ceremony, but to be the victim of it.


We had no resident padre on Gan, so it fell to the Singapore based cleric to visit Gan periodically. A colleague and I used to go for a chat with him, which led to us being invited to attend a moral leadership course on the island of Blakang Mati (now Sentosa) off Singapore.

We jumped at the chance and a week before the start of the course took off for Singapore, with strict instructions to report to Air Movements at Changi on arrival in order to book a return flight.

On arrival in Changi, we decided to 'forget' to report to Air Movements. (Moral leaders?) We enjoyed a week in Singapore, then a week attending the course on Blakang Mati. Only then did we report to Air Movements. When told that we should have booked in when we arrived in Singapore, we simply stated that we hadn't been aware of that. So we spent another week in Singapore awaiting our flight.


On 15th August, the first ever jet airliner landed on Gan. It was the same Comet that had taken us from the UK to Ceylon earlier in the year.

On 26th September, we moved from the kadjans to newly built accommodation blocks. The airmen's blocks were not ready, so we were given temporary use of accommodation intended for Senior NCOs. We were allocated two to a room, myself sharing room 2, block 23. Even these rooms were not finished. We had a cooling fan and a wash-hand basin, but there was no mosquito netting on the windows or doors. Still, it was much better than the kadjans. Individual showers with hot water, and flush toilets, were situated in the centre of each block. Sheer luxury. On 8th December, we moved to the new airmen's blocks, six to a room, in block 53.


As a rebel republic, Addu had severed its trading links with Male and set out to trade directly with Ceylon. Their efforts were thwarted, however, when Male blockaded the route north. Adduan ships were attacked, and all efforts to trade had to be abandoned. This lead to the mothballing of their buggalos. These fine ships were drawn out of the water and stored under cover.

With no outlet for their dried fish, at the time a delicacy in Ceylon, it had to be stored. There was of course no refrigeration and the stored fish began to rot. Soon there was an infestation of rats, followed by an epidemic of dysentery. Many RAF lads ended up in sick quarters and at least one of them had no need to be there. He was perfectly healthy and only went to visit a colleague, but, despite his protests, he was kept in overnight. Sick Quarters had never been built to hold many patients, so the nearby kadjans, recently vacated by us, were turned into hospital wards.

The toilet blocks mentioned earlier could not cope, so rows of chemical toilets were lined along the beachhead beside sick quarters. It was quite funny really. There would be lads sitting on the toilets wishing they could get off, and lads sitting on the ground beside them, wishing they could get on. In the end, the stocks of dried fish had to be burned.


During this period, the RAF Police did a tremendous job. They patrolled the accommodation blocks through the night, and if they saw a light on, checked to see why. If it was because someone was ill, they would immediately run them to sick quarters. The police were, in fact, very popular on Gan. One of the songs, or chants, voiced in the NAAFI when the police called at closing time, was, 'I'll sing you a song and it wont take long - all coppers are bastards!' Invariably the duty cop would join in the song.

When we were still staying in the kadjans, there was an occasion when an airman punched a corporal. Those who witnessed the event reckoned the corporal deserved it, but the airman was charged and taken before the CO. The punishment handed down was fourteen days confined to camp. Well, we were on an island. Everybody was confined to camp. But, as in the UK, when one was confined to camp, one had to report morning and evening to the guardroom. The guardroom was at the opposite end of the island from the kadjans, so to save the miscreant a walk, the police picked him up in the morning, took him to the guardroom, then dropped him off at the mess for breakfast. In the evening, they would again pick him up at the kadjan, take him to the guardroom, then drop him off at the NAAFI, cinema, or wherever he wanted to go. It was obvious where everybody's sympathies lay.

The Police Commanding Officer was a Flight Lieutenant. He was a tall, well built man and while friendly, not the man to mess about. One night, the NAAFI barman, called Mary, had closed the bar early in a fit of pique. This caused an uproar, which was heard by the Lieutenant as he was passing in his Landrover. He came in, asked what was wrong and checked his watch. He hammered on the plywood panel put up to close the bar and yelled for Mary to open up or he'd smash it down. Mary opened it immediately. The officer then told him to put a crate of beer on the bar, paid for it, told us to drink up and left.


Our hierarchy on Gan was well aware of the lack of facilities available, and at one point, our corporals approached the CO and said that they wanted to complain. The CO explained that a group complaint might be construed as mutiny, so advised the corporals to elect one of their number to write a letter. This was done, and the CO forwarded the letter to the Air Ministry in London. Back came a very indignant reply, castigating the corporal for his unjustified complaint and pointing out that we had a swimming pool, tennis courts, a squash court, football pitch etc. Of course we had none of these things. They appeared on the plans for the future, but were still a long way off. Such was the ignorance of our Air Ministry.

In an effort to make life a bit more interesting, our Flight Sergeant posted lists on the wall of our local store in the control tower. We were asked to add our names to lists of those interested in going for a flight in one of the Shackletons, the Dakota, or for a trip on HMS Cavalier. The idea was that names would be taken in order and the pilots or ship's captains involved be approached officially. Personally, I had no faith in this proposal. I shunned the lists and successfully scrounged flights in a Shackleton, twice in a Dakota, and cruises aboard both HMS Cavalier and its replacement ship, the frigate HMS Crane. All I did was approach the pilots, or in the case of the Royal Navy, watch out for a naval officer, and ask. I reckon I had more outings than anyone else did and as far as I know, nobody on any of the lists had any trips at all.


When the new mess opened it was a tremendous improvement. It was light and airy and sparklingly clean. Everybody was happy, except one corporal. Up until then, corporals had mixed quite happily with airmen at mealtimes, but this particular corporal felt that part of the mess should be cordoned off for corporals only. He put his complaint to the Catering Officer, and that evening, at dinner, part of the mess was cordoned off with a rope. A notice on a post by the entrance to this area bore the legend, 'Corporals Only.' Everyone was taken aback, especially the corporals, who ignored the area and sat with the airmen as usual. Except, of course, the one who wanted to be exclusive. He was, that night. He sat alone in his little corner. The cordon never appeared again.

Early in December, the new NAAFI opened. Its opening was delayed for a day because on the night before its scheduled opening, a group of the lads decided to hold a party to celebrate the closing down of the old one. They finished up wrecking the place, so the NAAFI manager refused to open the new place until the old one was tidied up again. This was done, and there were no recriminations. The new premises were a vast improvement. Clean, spacious, well furnished, and best of all served good meals.


Rumours abounded on Gan. Most of them turned out to be rubbish. One of my mates and I decided to start one and see how far it got. Some time during November we put out the story that we would all be going home for Christmas. It was even more successful than we could have imagined. A week or so after we started the rumour, our CO gathered us together in the control tower. He told us he had heard from a reliable source that we would all be going home for Christmas. We didn't.

As Christmas approached, we started collecting cans of beer etc. and decorating our rooms. A couple of rooms were converted into bars, their occupants crushing into neighbouring rooms for the duration. On one occasion, some sailors were on shore celebrating the season with us. For a bit of fun, they swapped uniforms with RAF lads. This was all right until their ship received an SOS signal from north of Addu. The liberty boat was sent to collect the drunken sailors and get them back to the ship. Unfortunately, they collected anyone in naval uniform, putting any protest down to the effects of alcohol. The error wasn't noticed until, well out to sea, the command, 'Action Stations!' was given. Of course every station wasn't manned, and there was a handful of sheepish 'sailors' completely baffled. A signal to the police on Gan resulted in a similar number of bearded men in RAF uniform being picked up there. The SOS turned out to be a false alarm, and, as it was Christmas, the whole affair went unpunished.

Christmas Dinner was, traditionally, served by the officers and NCOs. It was a good meal, although on the menu, the printers had managed to spell Gan as Gam!

One of the highlights of the Christmas celebrations was a dhoni race between the different RAF and Signals units and the Adduans on Boxing Day. The Adduans won by several lengths. This was despite the fact that they were physically much smaller and not so muscular as the competition. They were much more experienced oarsmen, of course, but they had an even bigger advantage. When challenged a few weeks earlier, they had secretly taken a dhoni out of the water, let it dry out, then greased it. This meant that on the race day, it was a great deal lighter than the dhonis hired out to the competition.

My own team dressed up as Vikings. They were so far down the field that they abandoned the race and instead rammed and boarded the Senior NCOs' dhoni. I wasn't with them. They had delegated me to take pictures because I had access to a dinghy. Unfortunately, on the day, the dinghies were not allowed out.


In December, 1959, the Maldivian Government offered Britain Gan free of all charges for 15 years, on condition they were allowed to enter Addu and arrest Afif Didi and end the rebellion. Britain declined to accept the offer. At the same time, Afif Didi announced that Britain should no longer be negotiating with the Male Government, but with the Adduan People's Republic. Britain refused to recognise the rebel republic.

I left Gan for home on 7th January 1960, aboard a Bristol Freighter.

Early in 1960, Britain agreed to a down payment of £100,000 followed by £150,000 per annum for five years, and offered to attempt to bring about some reconciliation between the rival Maldivian factions. But the reconciliation failed because the Maldivian Government would not provide safe conduct for a delegation from the rebel islands. In the end, despite being guaranteed freedom from prosecution, Afif Didi left Addu for the Seychelles with his family in October 1963. He made a short return visit to Addu in 1989, after suffering a stroke.

In 1968, following a public referendum, the sultanate was abolished and the Maldives was declared a republic. Ibrahim Nasir, who had been Prime Minister since 1959, was elected president.


The RAF remained on Gan until 1976. By then, aircraft with the capacity to overfly the Indian Ocean had been developed and there was no further need for the Gan staging post. Sadly, when the RAF pulled out, the people of Addu lost their main source of income. Young men, who in the past would have learned traditional skills, had during the RAF presence been employed on a variety of duties no longer available to them. The RAF hospital, whose facilities and medical skills had been freely given, had also gone. It was a disaster.

One thing learned by the young Adduans, however, turned out to be a lifeline. They had learned English. In North Male Atoll, where revenue from the lease of Gan led to the opening of the first of the island holiday resorts in the early 1970s, there was a shortage of English speaking people to work in the resort hotels. This problem was solved by the recruitment of English speaking Adduans. These Adduans continue to work in the northern resorts, and have undoubtedly played a large part in building the tourist industry.

When the RAF left Gan, they left behind a viable airfield, a hospital, restaurants and adaptable living accommodation, to say nothing of an English speaking population. It would have been a logical step to develop the area as a holiday resort right away. Unfortunately, logic did not enter the equation. Revenge certainly did. President Ibrahim Nasir had never forgiven the Adduans for their rebellion in 1959 and he had sworn vengeance. He had the island stripped of all useful items such as generators and hospital equipment.

It is doubtful if Nasir gave a thought to the fact that if he had been able to oust the RAF in 1959 as he wished, it is unlikely that the Maldivian economy would have been as buoyant as it is today. Perhaps his predecessor as Prime Minister, Ibrahim Ali Didi, could see further ahead than he could.

But it was not only the Adduans who suffered as a result of Nasir's despotism. When it became clear that profits from the holiday industry inaugurated in the North Male Atoll were not benefiting the population at large, there were several revolts and demonstrations against Nasir's rule. These came to a climax in 1974, when he ordered the police to open fire on a large crowd of protesters in Male. His position became untenable, and in 1978, fearing for his life, he fled to Singapore, taking with him a substantial amount of public money.

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom succeeded him as President, and is still in office. Under his leadership the holiday industry has prospered enormously, and, most importantly from the Adduan point of view, old rivalries appear to have been set aside. The people of Addu are at last being given the opportunity to benefit directly from the tourist industry. It has taken time, but Nasir's vandalism could not be repaired overnight. And it is good to see that the descendants of those who suffered as a result of the 1959 rebellion have a bright future.

Ian Morrison,
October 2002.

My e-mail address is - imorrisonkirriemuir@btinternet.com


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