Memories of Gan 1959
Brian Spurway

My name is Brian Spurway. In August of 1959 I was a corporal airframe fitter with 1325 Flight, a unit formed to assist Operation Grapple (the British atomic tests), which had been detached from Christmas Island (when the tests were "on hold") to Changi where it was to remain until disbanded in the summer of 1960. As a very small unit we belonged to RAF Transport Command and were the proud operators of three of the RAF's oldest (I am pretty certain) operational aircraft....Dakota Mk 1Vs KN434 (Polynesian Princess), KN598 (Coral Queen) and KJ945 (Island Romance) and with all these names painted on the airframes we called ourselves Christmas Airways.

On 14 August 1959 three of us, SACs George Hockley (engines) and Colin Joines (electrician) and myself, as NCO i/c, boarded a Comet CMk2 at Changi and set off for Katunyake. We had earlier been issued with rifles, nearly with live rounds too, then at the last minute minds were changed and we left with nothing, not even the slightest knowledge of why we were being sent off to some island in the Indian Ocean. A night stop luxuriating in Kat's transit block then the absolute luxury, courtesy of the Kiwis, of a Bristol Freighter (not surprisingly known as "The Vibrator") flight south across the Maldives and the Equator to Gan.

Gan was a scene of intense building activity with Costain's vehicles all over the place, equipment churning out masses of white cement, dust everywhere and Pakistani labourers all over the place. A Twin Pioneer (never got airborne whilst we were there) and a Shackleton Mk1 (ditto) were tucked away in a corner whilst taking pride of place, but looking extremely lonely, in the dead centre of the immense new virgin white dispersal area, simmering in the noon-day sun, sat our dearly beloved Dak (434). Alongside the shining white runway could be seen a 48 Sqn Hastings Mk1 (TG580) lying on its belly with engines and "bits" arranged haphazardly about it, having crashed whilst landing just over a month earlier.

Our Dak had been sent to Gan earlier but, not expecting to stay, had left Changi without its ground crew and hence our detachment. We were billeted in a kadjan which, I'm sure you're aware, was little short of a palm hut with only a corrugated-iron roof to show its modernity, partially occupied by members of an aerial erecting team that was completing the HF station on Hittadu. Memories flood back, the partially open-air cinema, combined messing (although Gan did boast a corporals' club), mosquitoes, mosquitoes and "Yes" more mosquitoes. How those little bastards got through my net every night I'll never know but I'm sure they thrived on the spray we used. Gan was the only place I ever had an accounts clerk actually asking me if I wanted to be paid regularly, or would rather draw cash only when needed...actually with little need to spend much his system worked out very well. Large non-smoking areas because of the fuel storage and the fuel pipes running past the domestic accommodation kadjans. Then there were the very, very pissed off married men on unaccompanied tours....this we were used to because 1325 Flight was also an unaccompanied unit and although we three were single many of our mates at Changi were affected; your situation at Gan was bad enough but imagine being at Changi for a year unaccompanied whilst thousands of others had their wives and kids with them. A big bonus was the weather (being a sun-worshipper), the beaches and the swimming/snorkelling etc. The days of no flying when we joined our new pals and hopped aboard the landing craft for Hittadu...packed lunches provided. The occasional trooper flight when it might just be possible to glimpse the odd female climb down and up the aircraft steps, that's if the VASF guys made room for us (they never did under the steps, that's for sure!).

Anyway, obvious to you now and made obvious to us as soon as we arrived, our aircraft was needed on the island because of the revolution that had recently occurred when UDI had been declared against the Male government. We were to fly regular reconnaissance flights and also to be ready to fly Addu and Suvadive Attoll "dignitaries" out of the area if the need became apparent.

The RN Far East Fleet made its presence felt and stationed the venerable (not so venerable as our Dak) destroyer HMS Cavalier in the lagoon...she was later replaced by HMS Caprice. Our three man aircrew and those out of we three who liked aviating (and I did) would get airborne and head north looking for warlike surface movement, you know.. a fleet of south moving buggaloes and dhonies, or even the one and only tramp steamer that it was alleged the Male men had. If such movement was seen, and on occasions it was, then a radio call to the RN and off would steam the destroyer to intercept. In the meantime, there being no low-flying regulations and certainly no other aircraft anywhere around, we could amuse ourselves by introducing our modern bit of aviating kit (i.e. the "big white bird") to the "enemy" much more closely...and this we did with a vengeance... after all, streaming "Bronco" paper (and here you have to be old to remember that wonderful stuff) from out of a low flying aircraft can be quite intimidating, especially when you add the odd very cartridge. THEN we were told that the harmless gentlemen we were intimidating could be armed with rifles (we thought they were just sticks!!) so common sense kicked in and we realised that a Dakota "Balls-out" at low level could be hit with a catapult, let alone a .303, so we stopped playing games; but by then it was nearly time for our replacement Dak with new air and ground crews to arrive. So a couple of months after arriving we left Gan for Katunayake, a night stop at Car Nicobar (where we met our replacements and were able to brief them on what to expect) and "home" to Changi.

I stayed on at Changi after 1325 Flight disbanded, joined ASF there and became the NCO i/c the Mod Bay, got myself married in Changi church and joined the great accompanied "scaleys". Returned to the UK and RAF Colerne in January 1962, got promoted and volunteered for aircrew. Eventually after a long flying career mostly, but not exclusively, on transport aircraft, with a commission in 1970, I left the RAF in 1989 and flew for five years with British Airways on their Tristar fleet. During the early years of my time on the Hercules fleet, starting in 1967, I re-visited Gan on numerous occasions, often spending the night there....the difference was immeasurable, the "Blue Lagoon" and air-conditioned rooms to start with, just mind-blowing how things had changed. In March of 1976 I was the Engineer Leader on 24 Sqn at Lyneham when I was asked to detail an Engineer for a trip to India that would take in a night stop at Gan before returning to the UK.; it was to be the last Hercules flight to the island!! Well what's the use of power if you don't use it? I detailed myself and so ended up as Flight Engineer on the last RAF Hercules flight to leave Gan. With my first visit there being on 15 August 1959 and my last on 25 March 1976, when we left for Masirah, can I claim some sort of record?

What a time we had at Gan on the night that was to be the last one there for the many who were leaving on the last VC10, or the Fleet Auxiliary, the next day. Bored to tears in the Officers' Mess a young Plt Off Navigator, who was with us for experience, and I accepted an invite to the SNCOs' Mess for a few!!!!! bevies. I had a friendly chat with the SWO and told him I'd like to take a few souvenirs home...a few hours later my room was full of them, "Blue Lagoon" signs, Station Commander's car pennant and his hat, plus loads of other stuff. Next morning quick dip in oggin to sober up young Nav and self but apprehended by two men in white capped hats...we were under arrest and were to return everything to an unforgiving CO. We complied, having no choice, but did manage to keep what was the SNCOs' Mess foyer painted map of the Attoll when the "Snowdrops" failed to see it up against the wall in my room. That found its way back to Lyneham and was proudly hung in 24 Sqn's HQ building. We got airborne and requested an overfly to set compasses, load of crap but good excuse for a "beat-up; permission given we proceeded to do just that and once again I was involved in the firing of Very cartridges out of a perfectly serviceable RAF aircraft. This time though we were over land and the cartridges started several fires on the airfield that quickly overcame the Fire Section's ability to deal with and we were ordered to depart forthwith...we did, but to this day I wonder what the Hell the locals did with all those souvenirs we returned.

Do you by chance have any photographs, sent in by ex-Gannites, showing our Dak on the island? If so, or if you know of anyone who might have any, I would very much appreciate your letting me know.

My best regards,
Brian Spurway, Squadron Leader (R'td)

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