Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Flying from Singapore to the UK – in three days! (Brian Mitchell)

Good Morning Yesterday has brought together people across great distances and also across many years. Some time ago GMY published my blog about plane spotting in the 1960s and recently an old friend from 47 years ago, David Taylor, saw himself in one of the blog photos and added a comment. David (who I misnamed Malcolm on the blog) and I have not been in touch for nearly five decades but I am now looking forward to chatting to him and perhaps meeting sometime soon.

David immediately sent me a rather poignant photograph which I had no idea existed and which my brother, sister and I are absolutely delighted to see. It is from August 1962 and shows the Mitchell family, my younger brother Ian, my father John, myself, my mother Emily and my sister Carol. We are boarding a Comet 2 at RAF Changi to return to the UK – this is our final moment in Singapore after living there for two and a half years.

David, who lived nearby in what is now the Changi West SAF airbase, was on hand to record the moment, he emailed me; “I recall that not many families were flown by Transport Command. Most of us came and went by BUA Britannias from Paya Lebar...I was very envious that you flew in a Comet!”

So GMY has enabled my family to see this photograph and I have the opportunity to renew a friendship from long ago. David has other photographs and I may be able to share some of these with you in the future. Perhaps David can be persuaded to blog as well?

But I want to tell you about that flight home from Singapore because it was rather extraordinary – the Comet flew only by day and it took us three days to reach the UK. This was also the last passenger flight on this route by a Comet 2 – we were told that as we boarded that ramp our footsteps were being recorded for a film record of the flight (which I have never seen).

We left Changi in the afternoon, flew over Sumatra and as evening fell reached a tiny atoll called Gan in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I can still see the intense blue green sea and white beaches of Gan and my brother remembers walking on the beach with my father. I recall very little of Gan except that we spent the night in wooden huts and that there was raucous singing and shouting outside the women’s accommodation by airmen as a very attractive young lady was on board our flight!

The next morning we set off across the Indian Ocean and reached Aden in the Middle East for a refuelling stop. There was civil unrest in Aden and (perhaps I am imagining this) but I recall hearing gunfire as we left the plane. In the afternoon we set off across the African continent. This was a journey I saw little of – for some reason there was a shortage of seats and I was volunteered to travel this leg with the baggage! No - not in the hold underneath the passenger compartment – most of the baggage in the Comet was held in rope cages immediately behind the flight deck. I made myself as comfortable as I could on the bags just behind the navigator’s seat! For a while it was interesting to watch the flight crew but I eventually settled down with my book – a bank heist thriller called ‘The League of Gentlemen’. I recall leaving the baggage area just once – to look down from a cabin window as we crossed the River Nile.

By late afternoon we reached Libya, this was in the pre Gaddafi days and the RAF had an airbase in the desert about 20 miles south of Tripoli. It was a desolate spot. Both my brother and I recall swimming in a pool, surrounded by a high wall to stop it filling with sand. I also walked to the main entrance looking down an endless straight road leading eventually to the sea and at the enormous dunes piled up around the base. So a second nights rest on our journey from Singapore – this time in the North African desert.

On the third day we flew north across Europe, as we did so we lost the sunshine we had become so used to as a thick bank of cloud covered Northern France and England. We landed at RAF Lyneham in south west England on a damp, dull and cold day – it was the English summer! None of our family had any warm clothing and I remember that we gathered in the only warm place we could find, a clothes drying area with hot water pipes! So we were finally home after our three day journey – was I glad? Not at all, I wanted only to return immediately to Singapore!


Lam Chun See said...

"Good Morning Yesterday has brought together people across great distances and also across many years."

That is one of the great sources of satisfaction of running this blog. Getting to know new "old friends" like Brian is another.

Unk Dicko said...

GMY has served as a meeting hub of sorts through the blogposts about yesteryears,about the people who once lived on our island and many still here.A touching story Brian!
Do update us through Chun See when you have met your old friend.

Tom said...

Tom said...
Hi Brian I never ever got the chance to go on a Comet, it must have been a good feeling to fly on a plane with jet engines at that time, it was a Britannia that I was on , the flying time was 32 hours from Singapore to England.

Brian and Tess said...

Tom,yes our flight out to Singapore was on a Britannia from Heathrow to Paya Lebar and whilst I am not sure how long it took we had stops in Istanbul and then a longer stop in Bombay. We left in the evening and arrived late at night but with the time difference I have really no idea the whole flight took.

Tom said...

Tom said...
Brian and Tess.the route we had taken to go home ,was from Paya Lebar to Calcutta, stoped for a few hours to refuel, and then on to Bombay, stoped again to refuel, and the on to Istanbul Turkey, did the same routine, and then to Manchester airport in England and from there we had to go by train to Edinburgh, it was a very long journey.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

With permission from Lam Chun See:
To Brian, Tess and Tom,
Anyone familiar with the chaps in the Forces who played pop music during their days in Singapore 60s?
I'd be glad for some articles since the ones we have are few and impersonal.

Zen said...

Good memories of former years are reflected in photos taken. Whenever I am with chun see, I can see him taking pictures with great passion. The saying 'a picture worth a thousand words' is more meaningful to me now.

Anonymous said...

About Gan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Gan