Anecdotes

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Getting There

My first knowledge of Operation Grapple, and it's proposed venue at Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, came in the early months of 1956. At this time, I was halfway through the RAF radio operator's course based at Compton Bassett in Wiltshire. One day, my mate 'Paddy' Matthews, turned up with the news that Britain was about to carry out testing of it's first nuclear weapon, and that these tests would involve a 'cushy' posting to an exotic island 1200 miles South of Hawaii.

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Events Until Christmas

Life under canvas had its ups and downs. We quickly found out that the Island's crabs, of which there was a vast multitude, were in the habit of taking a nightly dip in the ocean. After dark, the air was filled with a kind of clicking noise as these things scuttled down to the waters from nearby coconut plantations. Apparently they preferred the direct approach, since no attempt was made to divert around the various tents.

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A Near Miss

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'.

The Cold War

One day before the 15th May news came in that Russian submarines were in the area which caused some concern and the New Zealand navy sent three destroyers to help us. The next night a foxhole was dug just above the beach and the radio operator and his equipment were installed. Guess who was ordered to keep guard through the night with him, yours truly. I could see armed men on the HMS Narvik and a lot of activity. The night passed away peacefully and all was well in the morning. After that we never heard anything else about the Russian’s.

Things I Remember about Christmas Island Life

Sgt Goodchild. Officer Mess. Flt Lt Conche. I think he was a doctor. Reg Sewell. A great mate & Cpl Tasker our NCO. Barry. I think he came from Southampton. Robert Lacy, from the north of Manchester. There were many more lads that I had good memories of but I cannot remember their names. Memories: Land crabs that tried to get into your tent in the night. Rats running around the roof of the tent between the inner and outer canvas. Falling down into the big pit one night, that engineers had made for all the bad beer. The tidal wave warning. Seeing a TM Avenger aircraft go into the sea.

ITINERARY

Mid January 1957, RAF Lyneham AIRCRAFT: Handley Page Hastings REG: WJ 327 CAPTAIN: Flt. Lt. Hayley 1st Hop: Lyneham to Malta 2nd Hop: Malta to North Africa El Adam 3rd Hop: North Africa to Habanya, Iraq 4th Hop: Habanya to Karachi, Pakistan 5th Hop: Karachi to Colombo, Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka) 6th Hop: Colombo to Changi, Singapore. 7th Hop: Changi to Darwin, Australia 8th Hop: Darwin to Amberley, Australia 9th Hop: Amberley to Fiji. Had full days rest from flying 10th Hop: Fiji to Canton Island. This day we crossed the international date line.

Around The World In 253 Days

L.A.C. WALKER, that was me. I was at last kitted out for my overseas posting and ready to go, but I was told that the ship HMS Warrior wasn’t ready and I would be allowed to go home on a 48hr Pass. That made my day, because it would be better than hanging around RAF Innesworth. So, off early to bed and then away home to Manchester…. or so I thought ! Just after 10:00pm that night, an NCO came charging in and called out about seven names, mine included. “Get dressed, pack your kit and get on the lorry outside” he bawled.

The Beer Tent

The centre of activities for the S.N.C.O's at Port camp was the beer tent, a large khaki army job with a bar at one end and easy chairs around the sides and cocoanut matting covering the sand floor. Games, such as wrestling and other macho items took place on this matting with the resultant scrapes and cuts quickly turning septic unless protected from the coral sand.

The M.F.V.

Motor Fishing Vessels have long been a part of Naval life, the smaller wooden boats being used as tenders to Capital ships and the larger steel boats as Port Auxiliary vessels. The Christmas Island M.F.V.

Whispering Smith.

The workshops in the port area consisted of the Shipwright's department and the Engineer's department. The Shipwright's who did most of the welding had a four wheeled Petbow single operator machine powered by a two cylinder Armstrong Sidley diesel engine which could be started by one man using a length of string on the decompression lever while cranking the starting handle with the other.