Recollections of Roger Williams
It all started with a phone call whilst I was TDO on lates in the sorting office at Mill Hill. I was speaking to the Secretary to the Under Secretary for the Secretary of State for Defence. He was asking why the mail to the gulf was being delayed! I knew of no delays and informed him that there was no delay as the mail was leaving the depot every morning and being taken to RAF Lyneham for the daily flight out. He then insisted on speaking to the duty officer. The Duty Officer that day was not a Postal Officer and I pointed out that I was the Technical Duty Officer. He spoke to the duty Officer who only told him what I had already said.
The following day I was called in to see the OIC sorting office, who informed me that I was to report to the Directorate where I was to be informed of my new job. (Imagine my thoughts – I’d only been back at the depot less than a week) – the entire shift thought I was in trouble.
I was to go to RAF Lyneham to act as a liaison between the RAF and PCS. To insure all the mail went out on the correct flights, on the correct day. The logistics of it at that time were not too bad but the likelihood was that they could be phenomenal. I went to Lyneham not knowing what to expect. When I got there I found that where mail was leaving the depot on time it was not being given due priority at Lyneham and the result was complete chaos, it only took a couple of days to realise what was going on. It had to be sorted and then it was arranged that Mill Hill rang me with the weight and number of bags in the despatches prior to leaving Mill Hill. Thus allowing time for the Mail to be booked to the flights. Due to timings the mail was loaded on to the ramp of the Hercules aircraft.
During this time I was collecting information on flights from the UK to the Gulf, and for flights in the Gulf Theatre. This information was passed back to the depot to help with the planning of mail despatches and I was requesting mail to be sent from the Depot to catch the most appropriate flights. Every flight that left with mail on board was signalled to PCD RE, Directorate of Postal, Strike Command and all postal units in the Gulf, 2 PC Regt RE and too many others to remember. No one complained they got a signal they didn’t want to know about but the Girls in the Comcen were sick of me.
There was a certain amount of mistrust and animosity in the beginning and it was hard going. I was working out of the mover’s offices, sharing a desk; the only equipment I had was what I could carry in my own car from Mill Hill. At first I was living in Transit accommodation at the Hostel with people coming and going at all times of the day and night this was due to no room in the Sgts Mess. Conditions in the Movers hangers were not the cleanest or the warmest. When I eventually moved into the Sgts Mess, for my Days off a relief would be sent from Mill Hill who would then use my bunk until I came back. I was having to beg and borrow every bit of equipment and was on my own when I could have done with half a dozen Sappers. I eventually got very good working relationships with the RAF.
After 2 months it was decided that Lyneham was not able to continue with the current workload and RAF Brize Norton’s Aircraft were to handle the daily supply flights. So the Detachment was moved. Again I was to work alongside the RAF Mover’s, I had an office in the mover’s hanger same as at Lyneham I was passing on information of flights to the Ops room at the depot. With flights leaving Germany, arriving at Brize, the mail was loaded onto the same pallet of mail which left Germany in the morning – due to turn around times this was often left to me to remove the cargo net and rebuild the pallet with the mails from the UK. Planes flew a route Germany to Brize to the Gulf once in the Gulf there were two routes they followed, on even dates they went in one direction and on odd dates they went in the other. So post would arrive out there at different times every other day but I needed to advise the different units of this so that the right size wagon would arrive at the right time to offload the post.
Due to the quantity of mail now being moved the detachment size was increased from 1 Sgt to 2 Sgt’s and 3 OR’s. All Postal, bar 1 who was Lance Corporal John Nash from the Blues and Royals as a driver. At this time the volume of surface parcels was increasing, with many anonymous goodie parcels being addressed to a Sailor, a Soldier, a Airman. 40ft containers where being brought to Brize where the Detachment was in touch with RAF at High Wycombe requesting space on aircraft. Surface mail still didn’t have any priority so space was begged. RAF staff were not happy because of the extra work involved with loading pallets. Sometimes the flight time would be rapidly approaching and pallets would be left behind because there wasn’t time to load. Again the Detachment was increased in size with the arrival of 17 members from the TA (PCS).
Due to quantity now arriving at the depot it was decided that the containers would be stored at South Cerney which was central between both Lyneham and Brize Norton. This could only be done, as both Sgts were HGV 1 drivers, so these trailers were taken to either Airfield as and when space was available. Meaning that not only was I responsible for Duty rostas and all that goes with being responsible for the care of 15-18 Sappers and Junior NCOs but I was also responsible for making the Detachment work and I was driving HGV lorries through the Oxfordshire and Wiltshire Countryside in the dead of night and in rush hour traffic in fact I seem to recall going to work at 3am one day and not seeing the Transit block until 11pm 2 days later.
The detachment took over a hanger next to the main cargo hanger where we spent many hours loading pallets for different types of aircraft that the mover’s requested for flights. We had to work to strict sizes and weights and different types of pallet. We even loaded an aircraft ourselves due to workload of flights leaving for the Gulf.
Mill Hill would inform the detachment of the quantity of mail being despatched so that we could inform the RAF of the Number of bags and weight so that the aircraft loading could be worked out. All paper work was completed by the Detachment.
We had visits from various Sqn OCs who were surprised at the amount of mail we were handling. They also went away with details of how the mail was moved around so that they could let the families officers of units in Gulf know what was happening.
Towards the end it got very confusing with OP BFPO’s closing and containers still arriving from the depot, the containers were emptied, mail for BFPO’s, still open was despatched. The mail for closed BFPO’s put back on the container and returned to the depot. Plus we had the mail that did not reach the BFPO’s before they closed being returned. Then there were items being returned through the post, which shouldn’t be e.g. Hand grenades and ammunition and police sniffer dogs checked the mail for contraband before it could be released into the UK mail service.
Sgt Roger Williams RE SNCO i/c
Sgt Eddie Rea RE 2i/c
Spr Jock Taylor
Pte Mandie Lynch WRAC
Lcpl John Nash Blues and Royals Driver
And 17 members TA PCS
The Det was slowly disbanded after a very heavy period of long hours and hard graft. Leaving me to behind to clear up.
I received the BEM in the Gulf Honours List.