The Postie’s Tale by John Jackett
John was at RAF Salalah from the autumn of 1971 to the summer of 1972
Postal support within Oman, during the 1960s and up to 1977, was divided into two FPOs, Masirah was BFPO 65 and Salalah was BFPO 66. Mails would have circulated under the local Postal control, initially from the UK through Aden – which closed in November 1967, then Bahrain and finally Cyprus – I am grateful for help with FPO staffing information, not only from those listed as being stationed there, also from many of the “ Gulf Couriers ”, who followed the routes mentioned by Graham Warden below.
The closure in Bahrain / Sharjah of 261 PCCU RE in 1971 and to the conclusion of our BFPO service in 1977, via Cyprus – sometimes on the twice weekly “ Veg run ” but more often direct to Masirah and then local flights, probably by Andover aircraft, to Salalah. PCS control remained then with 275 PCCU RE in Cyprus. Posties going to Oman from 1976, had to report to South Cerney for briefing and the closure of both FPOs in 1977 also involved that location, control having now passed to: UK (Sp) PCCU RE. By mid 1975 Peter Redfern instigated the routing of airmails to be by Gulf Air via Muscat, the rundown of RAF Salalah together with the monsoon season offered a mere 3 / 4 weekly flights. Following the March 1977 official closure, RAF direct flights into Salalah became fortnightly, bringing in surface parcels, together with re-supplies of freight and of course medical needs up until the winter of 1978, when the last FST pulled out of the Dhofar region.
Masirah is an island approximately 40 miles long by 10 miles wide at its maximum point. On plan it is shaped like an hourglass, being five miles wide at its narrowest point. It lies approximately 15 miles off the Oman coast, to which it belongs politically. It is about 225 miles due south of Muscat and 400 miles southeast of Salalah. The RAF had a base on the island until March of 1977 when it was closed down. There were facilities for a sea plane base in a bay south of the present base.
A narrow guage railway existed on this little Island, with low gravel hills in the south, rocky hills up to 900 feet high in the centre, and a flat gravel plain at the northern tip. In order to handle the large quantities of supplies landed by ship a narrow gauge railway was built, serving dispersed fuel dumps and supply compounds. Resurrected by the British servicemen as a spare time activity in 1969, trains continued to run until 1977, when the airfield was handed over to the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force.
2011 – February / March Update. Harry and Eileen Eagle re-visited Masirah with a great deal of help from Pete Braithwaite, who was working at Muscat at the time. They were able to get onto the Island by ferry, staying in a very posh hotel for just one night, even with local contacts they were not able to visit the entire RAF site that Harry remembers, however they enjoyed a stroll around the old haunts.
RAF Salalah, was a staging post in the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman and lay in the fertile coastal plain of Dhofar, 650 miles from Aden. The climate could be said to have been generally good with the possible exception of the May – September period. During this time, the normally arid Arabian Waste was affected by the South-West monsoon and a strip of 100 miles either side of Salalah was subjected to periods of continual although light rain and complete cloud cover. There was an excellent rediffusion system “ Radio 219 “ and this is without doubt the piece de resistance of Salalah leisure-time enterprise, providing up to nine hours daily of entertainment from 14:30-23:30 hours. Posties rang extension 219 and the arrival / departure time of Mail planes was relayed to one-and-all, so that collection of inward mails was timed to be about an hour after the scheduled arrival, enabling the Posties to get the mail back to the FPO and get it all sorted – to the benefit of all concerned. In earlier years, outdoor sports centred mainly on football fixtures between the various sections on the station and matches against the Sultan’s local Army unit, the Dhofar Force. The Sultan, who lived in Salalah, was particularly keen on fostering a spirit of sporting competition between this Unit and those on the RAF station and contributed trophies for the various sporting activities.
“ Postie ” Memories –
Dave Gladwin recalls of his first tour: Let me try and bring you a few things that happened while I was there Feb 69 to Nov 69, I can`t remember the exact months. The 6 hole golf course was built by DOE and any other service man. First man to the moon: so in the hobbies club we built UK 69 rocket out of 50 gall drums and it was placed outside SHQ. The Firemans club was renamed the Wobbly Wheel and I think I`m right in saying the last LSL Sir Bedevere came in, which we unloaded on the maxi float. Medway the SOAF station some 30 miles away was renamed Thumrait, Jet Provost replaced the ageing prop Provost to SOAF. Giro in-paying from NAAFI was done with the BFPO. Later in the year RAF Regiment rock apes were deployed as trouble was brewing in the region, the lookout towers were built along with lots of other safety precautions. In november the Camp was hit by mortar fire. The WO i/c at Bahrain was Joe O`Toole I think he only visited once, that was only to do monthly FF26 check and to see if I had any stamps with no Queens head on. Monthly visit was made by RAF doctor, on his visit he would be taken to Sultan Said bin Taimur at his palace in Salalah, the Sultans son used the FPO quite regularly and I was also able to visit the Palace during this first tour and also when I came back in 1977. I think I was the first Postie to get the Dhofar GSM.
August 1977 when I came back again, to formalise the closure, we were initially going to do that as soon as the major celebrations of the birthday of Sultan Qaboos bin Said was over on 18th November. The Holiday Inn [ now The Crown Plaza ] was home to King Hussein of Jordan – guest of honour, plane loads of UK personnel were flown in, including The Red Arrows and The White Helmets display teams. However our leaving was all delayed to support BATT, the Captain RE was appointed OC and disappeared on a swanee. I retained the certificate, of formally transferring the FPO building and some postage stamps etc over to SOAF on 22nd December 1977. Dave Wrigglesworth, the Capt RE and myself flew up to Muscat and then by 1st class on British Airways, arriving Heathrow just before Christmas. Living close to South Cerney, a vehicle arrived over the next few working days and transfer of all FPO “remaining bits” was made.
Ron “Paddy” Hawthorne recalls that in 1971 on detachment from 275 PCCU RE in Cyprus I`ve got a short story of my time in Salalah I think I had been in camp for a couple of days when the attack alarm went off. I was in the FPO on my own, the Sapper had popped out. I had never been briefed, so did not know what to do to find a shelter. I locked up the FPO and ran blindly looking for somewhere to hide. I spotted what I thought was a shelter so ran towards it, only to find that it was locked. As this was the first attack on the camp since I had arrived, I did not want to run around too much looking for the proper thing, as I did not know ho bad it got. So I stayed put till the all-clear was given. On arriving back at the office, my Sapper – name forgotten but a good worker, was waiting to get in. He asked me where had I taken shelter during the attack, I replied that I had sat by a locked door to a shelter about fifty / sixty yards around the back of the office. He laughed his head off and told me that door I had taken shelter by, was the door to the ammunition bunker. I did laugh eventually and I did find out the proper procedures after that – just in case. Happy Days!
John Jackett remembers: from 1971 – 72 :– Lyneham to Akrotiri and then on to Masirah was a very long flight over 2 days in a Hercules! RAF Sgts Mess etiquette was no different from the Army, their SWO took precedence over the two WO 1s of the RE and RA. We enjoyed 3 or 4 film shows a week, The blue jobs took great pride in abusing the brown jobs for the screening of Zulu, we of course had our own back when Battle of Britain arrived. With one reel at a time, on only 1 projector, the more reel changes – the more trips to the bar. A 3 ton Bedford RL trundled down to the beach several afternoons a week – particularly on Fridays, complete with armed guard, it made a change from the camp pool. Cricket was played on a matted strip, 5 a-side soccer on the tennis courts, so we kept ourselves fit. By invitation of the RE / DOE, we could dine at the Indian Club, fantastic curries are well remembered as a large part of a well enjoyed brown-knees outpost. We were looking forward to the Mess Christmas Draw, the local prevailing winds got up that week and finally subsided that very morning, leaving the outer mess accommodation several inches deep in “Dust” – many hands made light work and a great night was enjoyed by all. Joe Brown and the bruvvers, complete with crumpet backing group, made a very welcome and brief appearance in May in the big hangar, no aircraft stayed on the ground for very long, between the rows of protective oil barrels. Lt Col [later Brigadier / Controller PCS], Don London flew in from Cyprus and carried out an FF 26 check of accounts, he had been my OC at Mill Hill for 3 years back in the 1960s. Being in a permanent black-out state, all roads and paths were lined by white-painted stones to help guide walkers at night, safe transfer from the Wobbly Wheel all ranks club, or in our case Sgts Mess over to the Officers Mess can be and was – quite tricky, even in the moonlight! Those departing “ next month ” were dined out “ Maas Salaam ” during the previous month, so (along with several others) 8th of June `72 was “ farewell ” for me. The “Green Archer ” warning siren of possible attack, had been sounding on and off all day, those in the open would find their nearest bunker, those in a brick building – down on the floor against a wall, until the all-clear sounded. Assuming planters order, starting traditionally with drinks at the bar, we had just finished our first course of soup – Green Archer! Second course – Green Archer! Sometime later three mortar rounds crashed very loudly onto the base, accompanied by violent blue / white flashes. As a result of some injured servicemen being reported by the Press upon their repatriation firstly to Cyprus and then UK, RAF Salalah in Dhofar province was admitted by the MOD as being a “military scene”. With the FST (all RAMC during my tour) occupying the buildings to the side of the Sgts Mess accommodation, the starting of the genny for the cold store, indicated a death in our midst. The Medic lads in the Mess were great company, when something happened – they were on call. “ Yimkin Airways” were subject to weather vagaries, “Any planes expected with mail today ? Yimkin (Maybe)”, off to the beach for a swim was cancelled when the aircraft was heard from wherever you were, back to work!
Graham Warden recalls Posties and Military Units present: firstly as a Gulf Courier in Bahrain (1970-71), then at Salalah in the summer of 1974 –
Three of us (myself, Tony James & Harry Wylie) flew out together to Bahrain for a 9 month tour and on arrival at 261 PCCU ( OC Maj Gratwicke and 2 i/c Capt St Ruth – who was stationed at Sharjah) Tony James learnt that he was going to Masirah and Harry Wylie to Salalah. I used to see them almost fortnightly – myself, Sgt Malcolm Hill and Sgt John Bailey used to share the routes which also included Majunga monthly and Kuwait frequently. Muscat town occasionally. The Bahrain – Sharjah – Masirah – Salalah – Masirah – Bahrain courier schedule was twice weekly, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The reason I recall travelling with Tony & Harry was that, although I was the senior Sgt by at least 10 months, Maj Dunkeld on our farewell interview (I staged at HPCCD from BAOR) took exception to the jacket I was wearing. A lightweight three colour (american brand) three quarter check jacket with a zip up the front. He said to me haven’t you got a proper jacket (the other two were dressed in suits!!) I replied I thought this was suitable for flying in and he replied, he decided what was suitable, looked at Tony James and said you are I/C Party. All of us had a good laugh about as we left the building!!!!!! I just about recall Sam McNally arriving in Bahrain as I was due to depart for BAOR where I met with Tony & Harry again. Sultan Said bin Taimur was exiled to BRIGHTON after the rebels came into Salalah town and captured the palace and he flew with his entourage on a RAF Britannia from Masirah to UK, after arriving at Masirah from Salalah on an Argosy. I was a courier at Masirah [ July 1970 ] when the incident took place (from Bahrain). There were often incidents at Salalah during 1970/71. His son Qaboos bin Said took over as Sultan, he had previously served as a Major in The Cameronians.
In 1974 the RE Det, was known as DOE Salalah with an RE Major (?), 2 Staff Sgts and five or six L/Cpls and Sprs. – the DOE also had a large Indian civilian artisan contingent of approx 100.
The RA unit was a Det of 94 Locating Regt RA (from Celle) with a Maj Det Cmdr, a WO2, four or five S/Sgts & Sgts etc. SOAF had increased its helicopter flight to include Bell Hueys; quite a number as I can recall; the jets were Hawk trainers converted to operational role. (Similar to those that the Red Arrows used then).The RAF Helicopter flight was there with 4 Sgts and a WO plus officer pilots.
Jack Griffiths reminisces – Salalah 1975:
I arrived in Salalah in mid Jan 1975 flying in via Cyprus and Masirah. At Masirah the usual RAF proficiency prevailed. Coach at bottom of exit steps organised and shepherded by a number of Snowdrops moved to movement control etc. On arrival at Salalah had to rummage round in the hold of the Hercules to find my case and then bum a lift off the aircraft pan to camp!! This was Salalah with a very much laid back attitude but still with the underlying self discipline which made it a different but enjoyable experience. At this time we were a Det of 275 PCCU RE at Cyprus and had a visit once a month or so from an officer of the unit to audit the books. I took over from Graham Warden and ‘inherited’ Clive Jones as my Cpl, a great character and a joy to serve with.
Every day life was very much dictated by incoming flights for mail etc, there seemed to be no formal pattern and when word went out, usually Radio 219 ‘flight incoming’ everybody required (including a postie) rounded up transport and went out to meet it and did what was necessary to sort and distribute the mail straight away, no matter what time!
The RAF was predominant on the base, the leader being a Wing Commander Gilliat who was my boss in Salalah and very much a gentleman. There was a Det of 94 Loc Regt RA commanded by a Major who also liked to think he was my boss! Also the RAF Regt who manned the Hedgehogs. A small group of RE’s led by a Clerk of Works WO2 and a few NCO’s acted as a DOE unit and employed quite a number of Indian civilian labour and looked after the infrastructure of the base and all the energy facilities etc (including the important swimming pool). Down the road in UAG (Camp) was based the SAS contingent; also before I forget one of the most important units 55 FST RAMC. This unit was positioned just behind my Twyneham living accommodation and could get very busy with helicopters if there was a push up in the Jebel.
There were also various civilian elements, Taylor Woodrow and Airworks who looked after the SOAF aircraft. Also down the road from the camp was the Dhofar Brigade with its Desert Regt etc who conducted the campaign against the Adoo (enemy)
During my time there 94 Loc Regt RA was withdrawn and went back to Celle in Germany. It was at this time that I procured a set of wheels for the postal unit. I was good friends with the QM of 94 Regt and as their vehicles were going to be desert dumped, I demanded a ‘Gizit’ a form of recognised trading of goods in Salalah. I got the Land Rover albeit a bit battered, the RE lads serviced it and supplied the fuel and the post office bike was redundant. No more waiting for a lift out to the aircraft pan!
The RAF Regt was also withdrawn. This was replaced (I say that loosely) by a contingent of the Iranian Army. At that time the Shah was in power and everything they had was of American military origin and we thought the yanks had invaded. Among other things they took over camp perimeter security and it was not healthy to be loitering near the perimeter fence after dark! The RA Regt procedure, after having a contact on the Thermal Radar system was to put up a Paralume and see what’s out there, normally a dog or camel. The Iranians would put out 2 or 3 mortar rounds and then see what they had got in the morning!!
I also saw the arrival of the first Hawker Hunter Jets given as a gift from the King of Jordan. I think these were initially flown by Jordanian pilots and then by SOAF. On the whole, camp life in Salalah was pretty good, a very good social life in the mess and Wobbly Wheel Club. As the only other REs on the base beside the DOE contingent, we were granted membership of the Indian Club. If you were into curry this membership was invaluable and a curry in their mess hall was a great way to start the weekend. If we had a visiting officer from 275, for the price of a bottle of whisky, a curry would be laid on for several people. My tour of duty was only for four months (the new period of a tour) but the RAF was still doing nine which didn’t go down too well when somebody already there, could still be there when I left!! Then again, Germany to the RAF was still an overseas tour so you cannot have it both ways. I left Salalah in May 75 and look back on this ‘experience’ as one not to be missed and still talk about it today.
Near closure – John Douglas was there as the RAF departed –
Having been a Gulf courier through Salalah weekly back in the 1960s from 261, then Chief Clerk of 275 at Cyprus earlier in the 70s, I finally arrived in January 1977 to actually do my tour.It was very evident that the RAF were soon to depart. The Mess dining out evening in March concluded with the erection of the Sgts Mess headstone, which Brian has a photo of.
An amusing moment occurred when some old rifles disappeared from the Mess walls, we were asked if any suspicious parcels had been handed in, we surrendered the same and they were once more put on display, all kept “within house” but an RAOC Sgt was never left alone again with brown paper and string! To keep the accommodation for a few more months, all the remaining Cpls were offered rooms, a most unusual event. Cash to bank became a chore, transfer now to the RE Field Sqn, thank goodness that we still had some independent transport.
I also recall a visit from a very large and hairy Camel Spider, somehow it got into my room, the FST captured and then preserved it. I always made sure I had something rolled up, to close the gap at the bottom of my door, after that little scare!!
Brian Felks also recalls : –
I still have my invitation dated 10th March 1977, to farewell drinks and buffet etc held at the Taylor-Woodrow recreation centre to formally declare the closure of RAF Salalah. The camp became a Sultan of Oman Air Force (SOAF) base.
It was a bit of a tear jerker watching the last RAF Personnel leaving and the Hercules doing a low level fly past. The only regulars left behind were 2 Posties, 2 RAOC Butchers and the RAF FST. There was also half a Sqn of REs a couple of miles down the road.
All the other non Omanis were either seconded on twice our pay, or contract soldiers (mercenaries) who were on four times our pay.
Although a ceasefire had been implemented, a couple of daily unclassified sitreps that I retained dated June 1977, indicate regular skirmishes. With a distribution to 35 addressees, amongst them: 11 Fd Sqn RE, Bde Wksp, UAG Hosp, 55 FST, BATT (SAS of course) – indicates that a wide military presence beyond SOAF, remained there. The second of these on the 9th June, noted 3 minor casualties and small arms damage of vehicles during the previous night.
“Posties” in Salalah – BFPO 66
Sgt Tommy MARTIN ’67 ’67
Sgt Gerry LEEKS Feb-69 one man office
Sgt Dave GLADWIN Feb-69 Nov-69 one man office
Sgt Terry BRUCE Nov-69 not long one man office
Sgt Tony BELCHER 1970 ? not long one man office
Sgt Harry WYLIE Jul-70 Feb-71 one man office
Sgt Jim BRADY Feb-71 1971 ? one man office
Sgt Sammy McNally ? Oct-71 one man office
Cpl Ron HAWTHORNE Oct-71 Nov-71 Spr ?
SSgt John JACKETT Nov-71 Aug-72 Cpl Mick HERRIEVEN 71? 72
SSgt John HARWOOD Aug-72 Apr-73
SSgt Jimmy CRAIG Apr-73 Jan-74 Cpl SPEIGHT
SSgt Don SCOTT Jan-74 Aug-74 Cpl Terry MARTIN ? Sept-74
SSgt Graham WARDEN Aug-74 Jan-75 Cpl Clive JONES Sept-74 Mar-75
SSgt Jack GRIFFITHS Jan-75 May-75 Cpl Roger BROWN Mar-75 ?
SSgt Peter REDFERN May-75 Sept-75 Cpl ?
SSgt Paul BROOKS Sept-75 Jan-76 Cpl Bill WINFIELD 75 76
SSgt Ted JENKINSON Jan-76 May-76 Cpl ?
SSgt Jim McNICHOLAS May-76 Dec-76 Cpl Bob BARR ? Feb-77
SSgt John DOUGLAS Dec-76 Mar-77 Cpl Brian FELKS Feb-77 Jun-77
SSgt “Yacker” YATES Mar-77 Jul-77 Cpl Les HUTCHINSON Jun-77 Sept-77
SSgt Dave GLADWIN Aug-77 Dec-77 Cpl Dave WRIGLESWORTH Sept-77 Dec-77
FPO Salalah closed – 22nd Dec 77 (Delayed from Nov to support BATT still on site)
“Posties” in Masirah – BFPO 65
NCO i/c From To Seconded by From To
Cpl Bob Meen 68 68 Det from Bahrain
Cpl Bob Short Aug-68 Dec-68 Det from Bahrain
Sgt Ken Batchelor ? ? (One man office)
Sgt Bill Skeel 69 69 Relief for 2 weeks
Sgt Brian Penny * Medevac short toured ( One man office )
Cpl / Sgt ? ? ** ? Jul-70 Det from Sharjah ?
Sgt Tony James Jul-70 Feb-71 ( One man office )
Sgt Joe Kelly Feb-71 1971 ? ( One man office )
SSgt Bruce Reiling 1971 ? Aug-72 Cpl Bob Moonie Jan-72 Sep-72
SSgt Brian Dobinson Aug-72 Apr-73 Cpl Ian Hayward Sep-72 Jun-73
SSgt Tony Milton Apr-73 Jan-74 Cpl Mick Lambert Jun-73 Mar-74
SSgt Dave Harmer Jan-74 Jul-74 Cpl Ron Davies Mar-74 Sep-74
SSgt Brian Marshman Jul-74 Jan-75 Cpl Andy Bruce Sep-74 Mar-75
SSgt Ken Batchelor Jan-75 Jul-75 Cpl “Taff” Behenna Mar-75 Sep-75
SSgt Mick Buckley Jul-75 Dec-75 Cpl TJ Evenson Sep-75 Mar-76
SSgt Peter O`Rourke Dec-75 Jun-76 Cpl Jim “Chippy” Pearce Mar-76 Sep-76
SSgt Harry Eagle Jun-76 Dec-76 Spr Eddie Rea Sep-76 Oct-76
SSgt Al Bendon Dec-76 Mar-77 Cpl Benny Hannan Oct-76 Mar-77
FPO Masirah Closed – 31 March 1977
* Brian died at the end of 1977.