A Near Miss

Brian's picture

The Super Connie slammed down onto Christmas Island's runway, completing our long haul out from the UK back in December of '56. Out trudged its weary cargo of erks, nco's and officers-the RAF's finest, there to do our bit for Queen and Country by helping explode a few heavy calibre squibs. After several days of exposure to a wide range of temperatures, from a drizzly Heathrow to a freezing Goose Bay (-17C and blowing a gale) and on to the balmy delights of California and Hawaii, a dip in the inviting blue Pacific waters seemed like a 'good idea'. Pausing only to dump our kit in the allotted bed-spaces, we almost leaped out of sticky uniform into Tarzan gear and galloped toward the ocean .Shortly after that the 'good idea' seemed perhaps not so. Despite having had a briefing from a passing Flt.Sgt. as to the perils presented by strong currents around the island, the prospect of taking a bath in such a pleasant environment was overwhelming. Anyway, I needed a leak and had not yet learned where the Elsans were parked. It so happened that the Yanks had, in the aftermath of WW2, left behind them several tons of junk in the form of rusting jeeps, wagons and so on. Some of these formed a convoy out into the water-an ideal platform from which to take the plunge. Downwards I fell, a mere fifty yards from the beach bordering main camp. Rising to the surface just seconds later, I was gob-smacked to see that the diving platform was now well off to starboard and some hundred yards landward. The lads on the beach looked like tiny ants from my perspective, up to the eyeballs in salt water, crashing waves, and well out of my depth. The situation was not improved by my memories of reading about a shark's ability to detect a decent meal from some miles away. Though the waves were probably only 10feet high, they seemed more like 50 to me, and any attempts to ride over them were totally defeated by the curling action caused by their crashing across the nearby reef. In the far distance, I got brief glimpses of frantic beach activity as some of the lads grabbed a nearby lifebuoy and attempted to form a human chain out to where all the action was. Unfortunately, the mastermind who'd planted the thing must have thought that mooney-dippers would settle for a paddle, the rope attached to the buoy was only a few yards long. Since this was long before any helicopter beach patrol was established, the situation looked a bit iffy. Being buried every few seconds under tons of ocean, most of which seemed to be finding its way direct to my stomach, was rapidly draining any strength I had left. I think the only thing keeping tired limbs flailing about was the rage I felt in being such an ignorant clown and treating this vast ocean like the local swimming pool. Since hot air rises, it still surprises me that the language issuing forth didn't in itself generate enough lift to get me out of the mire. I do not know to this day what saved my bacon-it certainly wasn't any swimming prowess .One last despairing stretch for a solid surface at the very limit of my remaining energy, resulted in the magic feel of a sandy bottom right at the very tips of my toes. Being a 'long sod' was a benefit for once! Had I been a mere 6 inches shorter I'd probably have resigned myself to a watery grave and entered Grapple history as the first casualty-and all that within an hour of arriving at the place. Anyhow, after being dragged onto dry land, I downed the remainder of some whisky (duty-free from our fuel-stop in Ireland), chain smoked a load of fags, and resolved to confine any future watery ventures to the island lagoons-the ocean proper would be reserved for its natural denizens, to be admired from the safety of a nice sandy beach.