Posted by: eppingstrider | 19/03/2011

5e: … and back again

After our five days honeymooning we had to get back, well I had to get back because I’d only allowed myself three days to get from Kampala back up to Cairo otherwise I’d be overstaying my leave, so we went back to Kampala and it was then that I got the message that the skipper who had kindly said he would make an experimental landing at Lirope in order to check the facilities said he wouldn’t be on the service, so it wouldn’t be happening.  So when I got back to Kampala after the honeymoon I had to scratch my head to work out how to get back up to Cairo now that my original plan had failed.  It was impossible me staying in Kampala because I knew there was a shortage of frequency and there were already passengers on the Imperial Airways queuing, priority ones that had been offloaded were sitting in Kampala waiting to get up. 

Incidentally one of the people who was waiting to carry on going northbound was Maxwell’s wife!  I met her before I got married when I was in the Hotel Imperiale and she was there, and she had been there a couple of days when I arrived southbound. And she was still waiting when I got back after the honeymoon and she still hadn’t got away, so that my chances would be impossible out of Kampala so I decided that the best thing was to get up to Juba where I knew there were much more aircraft around and moving through so a much better chance of being able to do something.  So I then had to find out if there was a taxi that could take me up to Juba.  Now the air distance from Kampala to Juba is around 300 miles, and of course the road journey on the tracks one had to use would be, I don’t know, more like 450 miles I suppose, so trying to get a taxi to do the journey was a little bit difficult.  Anyway I did eventually I did get a taxi fellow who was willing to take me through, and we knew it would take us two days to make the journey, so I then had to pack up and kiss my wife goodbye after having been married for five or six days, not know when I would see her again.

We shared the driving, the taxi man and myself on this journey; you couldn’t expect one man to drive all by himself. As you know, well, you don’t know, it was very difficult driving roads or as I say it was a track not a road.  It was a beaten track, an earth road, it wasn’t even gravel, but it was earth solidly packed down by the heavy lorries that the Uganda railways transport lorries used to travel on.  But there of course were also ferries that you had to cross, and these ferries they were just a barge with ropes attached that you had to pull yourself across.  If it was over the other side when you got there you had to pull it back to your side, drive onto the ferry and then with the pulley ropes you had to pull yourself across and then drive away.  I don’t know how many times this happened now, oh, four or five times before we got to a night stop.  Now, [chuckles] there were no hotels on the road, there were no towns on the journey at all, but there was this Government rest-house and I think I mentioned early on in my chatter what a Government rest-house was [in entry 3b: Have station will travel], so we stayed in this Government rest-house for the night, and the next day we drove on, each taking turns to drive, until we eventually arrived in Juba.

It was rather interesting that when I came to pay the taxi driver the money that he’d told me it would cost, I said “You’ll take a cheque will you?” and he said “Oh no, no, no.” No, he wouldn’t take a cheque, he was going into Juba and he knew I was going from Juba up to Cairo as quick as I could get away and the idea of taking a cheque from somebody (a) he didn’t know and (b) was dashing out of civilisation almost, so he wouldn’t accept a cheque, so I said all right, drive me down to the Indian dooka. Well, he wasn’t an Indian dooka he was Greek actually, so he drove me down to the shop, I’ll call it the shop as it was about the only reasonable shop there was in Juba, and I went in there with him and the boss bloke there, Crassus, Panioti Crassus his name was, and it was “oh, Mr Pett, fancy seeing you, where have you been…” and la-di-da-di-da, and I told him I’d just come up from Kampala by taxi and I’d got to pay the taxi but I hadn’t got any cash and I wondered if he’d cash a cheque for me.  And he said “Oh yes” and I forget now what the sum was, but it was quite a large sum, and I wrote out the cheque and gave it to him and he counted out the money and gave it to me, and I handed it over to this English man [the driver] who wouldn’t trust another English man because I was leaving the country!  So, ah well, it only goes to show, doesn’t it, who trusts who where?  Panioti Crassus, he trusted me all right, no trouble at all, but the driver that I’d been with a couple of days, no he wouldn’t trust me at all.

Now I don’t remember who was in charge of Juba at the time, it was either Alan Watts or Oliver Hove, one or the other, but in any case, they made no bones about the fact it was going to be ‘a bit difficult’ to get me away.  Anyway the next day a Sabena flight came in and I knew the Sabena pilot of course and he was terminating at Khartoum and he took me as supernumerary crew up to Khartoum.  But having arrived at Khartoum my friend George Boughton was in charge there and when I told him [about getting back] well, he knew of course, everybody knew about me and Maxwell and trying to get married.

Anyway when I arrived back I said “I’ve got two days to get back to Cairo or I’ll have overstayed my leave”.

And he said “You haven’t got a hope in hell, we’ve got a whole list of people priority people waiting here for transport to Cairo, by the train too.” Because there was a train service up to Cairo, by train and boat, up through the river north of Sudan and into Egypt.  “The train service also has got a week’s backlog of traffic, you haven’t got a hope.”

So I thought, oh well, “I’ll tell you what, will you get one of the lads to run me out to Wadi Saidna, I’ll see what I can do out there.”

He said, “Well, you’ll have the same trouble out there.  Why not stay here comfortably?”

But I said I’d try Wadi Saidna and so he let me have one of his vans and a driver, and he drove me out to Wadi Saidna where I saw their local transport officer, air transport officer, and told him my problem, and he said well, he’d got three fellows that wanted to get up, and he’d see what he could do for me, but he  didn’t see much hope, but if I’d take short notice then that would be fine.  And I said provided I could get away then I’d get away.  But he was a fellow that remembered me from when I was working at Wadi Saidna so I got a bed in one of the messes and tucked myself down to go to sleep, and was roughly awakened at three o’clock in the morning by one of the airman, saying “Can you come now, because the duty officer says we can get you away if you can come in the next half hour”.

So I said “Right!” and I was up and dressed and out.

And the duty officer said “It’s the only thing we can do, it’s in a Boston, a flight of Bostons going through, delivering up to the Western Desert, we’ve got one seat that’s available in the Boston.”

“I don’t mind, thank you very much!”

It was a flight of three, and I was allowed on one of them which happened fortunately to be the flight leader’s aircraft. But I had to go on as crew of course because there were no passenger seats in the Boston bomber, but the position I had to take was the bomb aimer’s!  Consequently I slid into the belly of this aircraft lying on my tummy all the way up to Cairo!  Now this was rather fun because there was no oxygen and no heating but there was an intercom point so at least I was able to put on the headphones and try and listen to what was going on.  But I didn’t realise of course and I only had my tropical uniform and flying up at about 10,000 feet, we didn’t go higher than that thank goodness, but going along at 10,000 feet it was very very cold indeed!  But anyway,  I was safely going ahead.  And then I heard that one of the aircraft was in trouble and he was going to have to land at the next emergency landing place.  So the three of us circled round and this one landed down at this emergency landing base and then the skipper, Myercroft who was the leader, radioed off indicating to the control centre that this fellow had landed safely and what his position was.  And then we went off again and we landed at Luxor and refuelled, and then took off again, well, we started circling again and I listened on the intercom and heard the second aircraft was in trouble and he was going to land at an emergency place; so we circled round while he landed and he landed safely, and I thought oh, no, no please!  Because this was the last day you see, I had to get up to Cairo so that I could report tomorrow!  And fortunately we did get through.  We landed at Heliopolis and I was able to hitch a lift with Imperial Airways transport into Cairo.

Much to the amazement of the people there on the following morning you see I turned up ready for duty as, what was I then, oh yes I was the Assistant Traffic Superintendent, Near East Region.  That was my official position at the time,  and I got back you see and the first thing I did was to go up to Maxwell’s office and see his secretary, and she said “Oh I heard you were back!”

And I said, “How did you hear I was back?”

And she said, “Oh so-and-so told me they saw you” or something like that, so I said, “well, is he in?” and she said, “no he’s not in yet.”

And this was about nine so I waited for him and he came in about half past nine, and his secretary said there’s someone to see you.  And I went in.

Poor old Maxwell, he was absolutely shattered that I was there reporting on time, but I made it even worse by saying, “Oh by the way, your wife asked me to give you her best wishes and to say she’s still on her way.”

So he said, “Well, where did you see her then?”

“Well, she was down in Kampala when I was down there.”

“But that was … three days ago!”

I said, “Yes, she’s been down there for weeks but she hasn’t been able to get away.”

“But you got away?”

“Yes. I told you a long time ago, if I couldn’t get up and down Africa where I’ve travelled before, why did you employ me as a man in the airlines? So, no, she couldn’t make it, but I made it all right.”

There was quite a bit of amusement among the staff that (a) I’d got down to Kampala (b) I’d got myself married and (c) most importantly I’d got back on time to report to Maxwell right on the dot.  Most people didn’t think I’d make it and Maxwell didn’t think I’d possibly make it, particularly when he found how his wife got stuck anyway.  All right I stuck my neck out saying I’d had the experience up and down the routes and if I couldn’t make it nobody could, but fortunately I proved myself right.  Mind you I only made it by buying the taxi ride from Kampala up to Juba.  If I hadn’t been able to get that taxi ride, I don’t know how I’d have made it, but still!  I made it, and that’s the end of it.

[Tape 5 side B continues]

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