Getting your knees brown – advice to the Probus Club

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Flying Wardrobe Beverly

John Grimwood, a freelance tour guide and military historian, gave an illustrated presentation to the Probus Club of Basingstoke about a period in his early life spent as a young airman in the Middle East. Readily admitting that he did not try hard at his grammar school he was disappointed that the RAF declined to accept him as a possible pilot but instead recruited him as an Administrative Assistant.

In 1965 John received a posting to a place called Salalah on the Arabian Peninsula, partway between Aden and Bahrain. After 12 hours on a nauseous flight in a packed propeller driven RAF Britannia trooping aircraft he arrived at RAF Khormaksar in the Aden protectorate. Then followed a 700 miles flight to Salalah in a Blackburn Beverley ‘flying wardrobe’, a huge four engine aircraft with a cavernous freight bay and ideally suited to short, rough, Arabian dirt airstrips.

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RAF Salalah Base

This period of the 1960s heralded the “dying days and end of Empire” and many of our bases were attracting the attention of anti-British guerilla groups or “freedom fighters.” Salalah was situated in an area of counter insurgency warfare but was crucial as an RAF support base during the Dhofar War.

John lived in quarters with anti grenade window shutters yet guarded the base with pick axe handles. While having the basic requirements for the 60 airmen on base it was extremely Spartan by modern standard and had no air conditioning. Uniform consisted of shorts, socks and suede desert boots with no hat or sun cream. There was ample time to get his knees brown as the work routine finished in the lunchtime peak heat of day and afternoons were spent relaxing, playing football or swimming, watching out for sharks on a secluded beach. At the end of the year 10 shillings financed a posting home party with barbecue and plentiful beer and everyone listened to England winning the World Cup.

John returned to service outside London in the ‘Swinging Sixties’. He applied for Aircrew duties spending the next 30 years flying as an Air Loadmaster, Helicopter Crewman, Aircrew Instructor and Technical Author. In all 12,000 flying hours which totals 16 months airborne and never suffered from air sickness again.