About Geoffrey’s Box

Geoffrey Pett died in March 2005.  He left a box of memorabilia pertaining to his early career with Imperial Airways in Africa.  This included his photograph album and a set of tapes he dictated between December 1995 and autumn 2004.

This blog aims to transcribe his work onto the net as a reference source and matter of historical record.

The header photograph is one of Geoffrey’s taken at Lindi in 1938, probably of Calpurnia, G-AETW (although it could be Caledonia G-ADHM).  It is from a page in his album entitled GPEPO LINDI dated the day he left his posting there.  The one for the date he arrived is labelled GPARU LINDI.  I thought these might be the planes he travelled on, but I can’t find any record of any with such a registration.   My latest guess is that it is code for Geoffrey Pett ARrival and GP ExPOst or something like that.  There is nothing to help me in the tapes, so please leave a comment if you can shed light on this.

Using the site

The menu bars at the bottom of the picture of the flying boat take you to permanent pages which are mainly collections of original materials scanned or transcribed onto the site.

In the bar at the right “Despatches” are the latest posts, and contain the transcriptions from the tapes in date order.  There are also some ‘Comment’ posts from me from time to time. The intention is to link events in the despatches to audio files and photos in due course.

Below that section “Chapters” contain all the posts once more in order, so you can start at the beginning and work through or just skip to part of the journey that interests you.

Note that “Despatches” headed 6, transcripts from tape 6, refer to earlier tapes and are categorised under the appropriate chapter.  So the posts headed 6a-d refer to the group of transcriptions that start with 1 (A: Commercial trainee although it is actually a childhood memory), 2 & 3 (C: East Africa) and  5 (F: War Years).  I hope that makes sense.  Some cross-linking will be added to the posts in due course.

Below that are links to other websites that may be of interest.

Contents of the Box

(work in progress)

Notes and a full list of postings and transfers.  I imagine the original memos are in the box somewhere.

Micro-cassette tapes:

1: IAL to Brindisi 1935; Brindisi to Mbeya via Rochester and Nairobi

2: Mbeya & Lindi 1937/8

3: Nairobi 1938; Juba 1938/9

4: 1939 Home leave and return to Middle East; (??) 1941 Return to Juba

5: Cairo – Aqueba [Aqaba] up to March 1943 (tape in recorder poss. unfinished)

6: Editorial re tapes 1-5

Also: one empty cassette box; Cassette of Canadian Tour 1994 (holiday)

Bag of papers mainly relating to their wedding, his wife’s change of surname, her nursing certificates, and family letters including permission from his wife’s parents to the marriage.  A small photo album with photos mainly undated and un-named. [My brother tells me he added these to the box for safe keeping]

Presentation album of photos ‘now and then’ and signatures of his colleagues on his retirement from BEA (Cargo & Airmail) in 1969.

Photograph album dated from 1935 to 1939.  Includes photos of Lindi base, establishment of Juba station and the wreck of the Corsair G-ADVB

A small bag of photos in their paper folders, some with annotations on them, and some rolls of negatives.  Possibly for the period from 1939 to 1943.

Large numbers of formal photos and occasionally menus from the annual Imperial Airways dinners. Unfortunately the photos are undated and not labelled or annotated.



  1. Ooh, grandpa was such a handsome fellow!!!

  2. Completely blown away by this unique, invaluable historical resource! Can I correspond with the compiler off-blog?

    • All the information that is available is, or will be on this website. You are welcome to leave a specific question. I note you have published a book on Imperial Airways and will add it to the bibliography here when I get to that stage.

    • I just thought I’d mention that the 2009 BBC programme High Flyers which you contributed to was aired again last night. It was fascinating to see it again now I’ve done this blog as it has so much more meaning! Thank you for your contribution to it.

  3. My late father Keith Cockerell (mentioned in some staff transfer notes in your Egypt section, along with Roddy Barton and others) was with Imperial Airways in Alexandria, Khartoum and Cairo around 1939/40. He was then posted around 1944 to Lagos and Accra, where he met and married my mother (Elizabeth neé Sheldon) who had joined as a stenographer during the war and had travelled on the flying boats from South Africa to West Africa in 44. After the war he was in Chad and then they back to Cairo in 1948/9, where my eldest brother was born. He was involved with setting up the commercial airports. The family then were posted back to London Airport. I came along much later in 1956, but I have many other names and incidents from my family’s memories. My father died in 1959, but my mother, now 91, is still going strong with many memories. I wondered if there are any other mentions in the (as yet) unpublished tapes and records of my parents? Do let me know if I can add any relevance. Kind regards Tim Cockerell

    • There’s a brief mention of Keith in post 6d, about events when messing in Cairo.

  4. Me again. Just to recap. My parents were actually back in Cairo from at least 1946 with IA. Also, I wondered if you were aware of Alexander Frater’s book, ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon’ which chronicles the Australian IA route with experience on and around the flying boats from UK to Australia. Another good read….Tim

    • Yes Geoffrey and the family were back in the UK earlier than that. I read Beyond the Blue Horizon a long time ago and gave it to Geoffrey for a birthday present! I didnt keep it when we cleared the house as I knew it didn’t have anything on the Africa route to speak of but now of course I wish I had. I kept his copy of Phillip Sims’ Adventurous Empires and also the Wings Over the World history of BOAC as well (which covers IA too). Adventurous Empires is a much sought-after book!

  5. I’m writing up the story of BL Nelson who was stationed in Brindisi (1931 – 1934) as well as Cairo, Sharjah and Khartoum at various times from 1931 – 1951. Both were therefore on the Mediteranean route as well as the Hannibal route at around the same time so Geoffrey & BL must have known each other. Have you come across the name at all?

    • Hello Hilary, thanks for visiting. The name Brian Nelson rings a bell, but if he’s not mentioned somewhere on the site I don’t know why. It’s possible he and my dad met up again when I was young. I’ll see if I can find any other reference to him for you.
      What branch was he in and what was his career after IA?

    • Hilary – I did a quick check and he’s mentioned on tape 5b as S/S at Khartoum in 1941 – he’ll be on the ‘Postings’ section as well. If you click on F: War Years, you’ll find the 5b post.

      • Brilliant, thanks. I felt sure their paths must have crossed.

  6. He was a trainee 1929/30. First posting Brindisi 1931 – 1936, Cairo 1936/37, Basra 1937/38, 1940 Sharjah/Dubai, 1941- 1943 Khartoum (co-opted RAF), Shannon 43-44 (planes from US for D Day), 1945 – 49 Cairo, Khartoum 1949 – 56, ill health died 1959 aged 51.
    So Med Route for Brindisi,
    Hannibal Route : Khartoum & Cairo,
    Diana Route: Sharjah Dubai.


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