25 Apr 17

Life on 8 Sqn – 1937

Life On 8 Squadron In 1937

Below is the text of a letter written to the Squadron by Mr J Campbell who worked in the office of the Engine Repair Shop at Khormaksar in 1937.  He paints a vivid picture of life and conditions at Khormaksar just before the start of WWII.

Subject: No 8 Squadron, Khormaksar, Aden, 1937

I arrived at No 8 Squadron from Iraq in November 1937.  The Squadron were based at Khormaksar and were equipped with Vickers Vincents and the recognised tour of duty there being two years.  The camp was divided into two parts, with one side the domestic side and across the road the working side containing the hangars and workshops.  The camp was guarded by Aden Levies and Native Labour mainly Somalis.

We would go to work just after 6am, returning for breakfast around 8am, and on returning to work, finish around noon.  The temperature was usually around 98 with the humidity the same.  Afternoons usually meant a couple of hours in bed, after which we indulged in sport.  My own speciality being football and water polo, rugby was banned due to the hard baked grounds.  Despite having arrived at the Camp from Iraq, we were not allowed to compete in any sporting activity for the period of one month.

Each hut had a native servant and boy to look after every need, such as cleaning shoes or fetching tea in the morning, and if memory serves we each pay about 8 Annas per week for this service.  Laundry was collected each morning and returned the same afternoon, immaculate.

Of the many memories during my stay at Khormaksar, I have to include the visit of the German Battleship, the “Schleswig Holstein”, which I do believe shelled Danzig at the start of the war.  The crew were obviously hand picked, all six footers and physical specimens every one, very impressive to the Native population.  Games were arranged and in due course a football match played at Steamer Point, where I believe they beat us by one goal to nil.  Their goalkeeper, the only dark haired man on the ship, kitted out in red jersey and red shorts was inspired and we swore he was an International.

We also played them at water polo but I think we won that game.  Swimming was played in a wired off enclosure in the sea and had a platform on which a lookout stayed watching for sharks or barracuda.  Sometimes after a liner passed, the rollers would sweep over the wire and bring in unwanted visitors.  The Royal Engineers then cleared the place before it was safe to swim again.

Another memory being the preparations made for the coming of Christmas.  Each hut was involved in a competition in which they had to decorate the hut, the winner being awarded a prize of a barrel of beer by the commanding officer, Sqn Ldr Barrett.  For some time prior, each member of the hut paid in so many Rupees so that all spirits, beers etc were paid for and everyone could have what they liked when the time came.  The winning hut having the extra barrel lasted out the longest.

The Troopship Model – 1939
Mr Campbell is second on the right.

Last but not least was the Initiation Ceremony held on the Cinema square, in which all new arrivals were initiated into the Squadron.  It was much like a concert to start with, plenty of drinking and singing, and mid-way through the roll call came and the initiation began.  The victim was led on to the stage, head placed in a cradle and rear end walloped.  He then had to smoke a pipe of the most dubious tobacco, (or camel dung) before swigging from a large jug, I’m sure, the Canteen slops.  Finally he had to kneel and kiss the toes of the “Big Cheese” and “Maggot” before he was released and was a member.  Everyone attending the ceremony being dressed in white shirt and shorts, the old hands in their oldest clothes knowing what was to come.  A troopship model especially built for the occasion already primed to burst into flame was carried in, and at midnight set alight.  This was the signal for tearing the shirts off each other and throwing on to the fire, every man returning to the UK obliged to jump through the flames.  To the best of my recollection only one accident, who had to wait a further three months for the next ship.  The model for the ceremony was usually a troopship but on the last occasion it was decided to build a sailing ship and thus this beautiful model was built.  In fact there were many offers to buy the ship and as much as �20 was offered for it by the various messes but was turned down and burned.

Reverting to the Christmas Ceremonies and the designs, there was great rivalry always and our hut won the competition with the building of an English pub.  The Pub was authentic even to the thatched roof, built I believe from a load of bottle covers.  It was built inside the hut and was rebuilt later for the Officers’ Mess when they had the AOC’s Evening.  There was also a fancy dress football game with the Officers and NCOs and a great time was had by all.

Another of my memories being the sight of the Political Agent a Capt Sullivan I believe, with his Red Coats awaiting a flight up country to settle some Tribal dispute.  The Red Coats, so called, as each man had a red blanket, were rumoured to be the dregs of every tribe and each had a rifle lovingly oiled and wrapped in cloth.  They looked a tough bunch.

If a Chieftain or Tribe was in default or whatever, this merry lot would call on them and that was usually enough, but if they failed, then they would be bombed.  Not that made much difference, for as soon as they heard the aircraft, they skidaddled, and the mud huts soon rebuilt.

Most of my time at Khormaksar was enjoyable, I worked in the office of the Engine Repair Shop, and sometimes the shop itself.  I think the engines were mostly Pegusas but I’m not too certain of that now.  The most hateful time being when I was a member of a Squad chosen for a gas mask drill.  What with the heat, and the sweat pouring inside the mask as though to drown.  I think everyone of us broke the rule and took the mask off before collapsing in the Guard Room.  This was around the time Mussolini was doing some awful tricks in Abyssinia.

This is a little bit of my time with the Squadron, which I left and was posted to Montrose.

Signed J Campbell