Bear with me whilst I set the background. It must have been 1957 or perhaps
'58., I was a SAC sprog Aerial Erector (the only Rigger on RRS, Seletar
MU, at that time, so I was in at the deep end a bit).
I went to Gan, via Negombo, (later Katunayake), with a radio
maintenance party. I had a look at their 8 wire cage dipoles (or quadrants),
on type 23 masts. The main job was to straighten up the masts with the famous
'vices-draw', pulling things tight, for the use of...
I gave a hand to erect a Ham rig. Little ali. tubes and flimsy
stays that swayed away in the breeze. One of the 'fairies' (anyone Radio/Radar
trained), from Seletar was operating the first Expeditionary Ham rig on
the Maldives. Apparently it was a huge success in Ham terms, they received
over a thousand contact confirmations from other fairies around the world,
in something like 48 hours. (There are apparently some rules to this expeditionary
We might well scoff at the fairies, nerds in today's parlance I suppose.
But Barry Bonser, the main man, who used the call sign VS 1BB (in Singapore),
managed to get himself a trip home when he left Singapig to the Philippines,
Hong Kong, Hawaii and San Francisco. Then all the way across the States,
on to UK courtesy of his Ham rig contacts and the USAF, I don't think he
had to put his hand in his pocket once. To rub it in he sent a postcard
of Alcatraz, over printed, 'Wishing you were here', to the squadron CO and
However back to Gan. Conditions at that time were grim, it
was pioneering days. We were in tents on Safari beds. We looked on in green
envy at the bashers that were being built (by Wimpey, the site contractor,
using Pakistani labour, We Import More Pakistanis Every Year). Some of the
bashers were starting to be occupied, knowing that for our short trip we'd
never get into them. The song at the time was 'Oh island in the sun, built
for me by a Pakistan'.
The showers were canvas walled, no roof , with duck boards on the sand.
Of course you always dropped the soap! Between the boards into the sand.
The biggest problem was that the place was running (pun intended), with
the squitters. The bogs were thunder boxes, with only hessian partition.
In those temperatures it was absolutely foul. Rather than use the bogs most
guys slunk off down the beach. They were filling most kites for Singapore
or Negombo with dysentery casivac cases.
.We used to swop stuff for Cowries (nice shiny shells)
with the local kids, the going rate for a good shell, as the kids would
have it was 'Sicus bocus matches', or 'one bar Lucus soap' (Lux). Suppose
the poor little buggers had nothing.
For some reason the NAAFI was only open for an hour or so
each evening, then they put on a film, in the open air. At weekends it was
open longer. One Saturday night after a few bottles of Tiger had been emptied
a sing song started. A table of Snowdrops were given a chorus of 'I'll sing
you a song and it wont take long, All coppers are bastards'. They were not
amused, so they charged two of the ringleaders. They received some silly
punishment. But what did it matter everyone was already in a sort of prison.
For the want of putting anything in Station Routine Orders they reported
the evidence verbatim, which read as funny as it sounded when it was sung.
After that during any sing song you were bound to hear the refrain, 'I'll
sing you a song and it wont take long, All coppers are policemen'. But I
think the message still managed to get across.
Guys were so desperate to get off the island one of the stations
biggest piss heads managed to convince someone that he had seen the light
and got himself on a Bible study course in Singapore. Of course once there
he disappeared into the night. Was quite happy to do jankers back on Gan
for the price of a week around Bugis street.
My detachment only lasted a few weeks, then back to Singapore
for me I wasn't sad to leave, but glad of the experience. I don't know if
it was true but I think we heard rumours of a bit of a revolt over the conditions.
There's an anecdote to my Gan experience. In 1981 I was working for Cable
& Wireless. They sent me to Male the capital of the Maldives. The government
wanted to develop tourism on the islands, we were to install the comms.
Our hotel food was poor, we mentioned it to our manager It transpired that
he was something of old Colonial, it appeared that he visited the Maldivian
hotel Manager and tore him off a strip. That evening at the hotel the manager
told us about it and said 'Oh yes, everything will be ok now, I needed a
good bolloking' He explained that he was from Gan and had worked in the
Sergeants Mess. Hence he was used to direct conversations with Brits.