Gail Darnley
Memories and Enquiries [Chief Technician Joe Darnley]

I have looked at your website, on and off, for several months but have not felt up to asking about my Dad until now. This is because I have always dreamed of visiting Addu Atoll and seeing where he was all those years ago. Now, thanks to my wonderful partner, Alex, I will be able to fulfil that dream as we are going to spend Christmas in the old Sergeants' Mess (aka Equator Village) on Gan. It would be wonderful to go knowing a little more about his time there. I haven't seen him in any of the photographs on your website but, as many of them revolve around Gan, golf or water sports, I am not unduly surprised. He never played golf and, having suffered partial hearing loss following a water-borne infection picked up in Aden, never went swimming or into the sea again so he would have missed out on quite a few of the most popular social activities.
 
I do hope you or your contributors might be able to recall my Dad but, if not, thank you anyway for reading my e-mail and for creating a great website where I can, at least, get an idea of what his time there must have been like.
 
As I said, we will be going there for Christmas (20th - 27th December then north to Haa Aliff Atoll for New Year) so if anyone would like me to take any messages for any Adduans I would be delighted to do so. Just send me an e-mail with the relevant name and contact details and I will happily pass them on. I should say we are planning to take a laptop with us so who knows... it may be possible for us to help your old friends e-mail back to you and/or the website. I would love to be able to help keep up the contacts if you would like that. I do realise that Addu Atoll is not exactly third world and that internet access is available - I was thinking of those people who would not normally have access to a computer/e-mail facility.
 
I would also be grateful if you could possibly put me in touch with any Adduans who might remember my father although I understand that would be a longshot. You must have realised from the tenor of my e-mail that my Dad is no longer with us. He left the RAF in 1982 after 35 years service and went into civvy street as a technical author for Thorn-EMI in Feltham. A combination of corporate re-structuring and ill-health led to his early retirement in the early 1990s. To our great sorrow he died, in May 2001, aged 74. We miss him very much.
 
Sorry, I know you can't see it on an e-mail but I had to take a pause there. I really do miss him and I wish I'd asked him more about Addu Atoll when I had the chance. The trouble is, you never know that you should have asked until it's too late, do you? (Sorry if I seem a bit maudlin - I'm not, honestly, just regretful).
 
Only a completely different but also slightly co-incidental note - I am a Vice-President of Faversham R.U.F.C.; our nick-name is 'The Castaways' and our official logo is a small island containing two coconut palms (representing the uprights) with a bamboo crossbar and a lookalike coconut for a ball. Our club was formed in 1992 and got its name for the following reason:
 
Faversham is surrounded by other larger towns (Ashford, Canterbury, Sittingbourne and Whitstable) all with long-established and much older rugby clubs. Prior to 1992 all our founder members belonged to these other clubs and would get together once a year, on Boxing Day, as an 'exiles' team to play our near neighbour Sittingbourne in aid of charity. One year the penny dropped - i.e. if we can get a team together for this match why don't we get a team together permanently? The charity team called itself 'The Castaways' as, for the rest of the season, all players were 'cast away' to other clubs so when they came together to form Faversham R.U.F.C. the nick-name was permanently adopted and the logo devised to explain the origin of the club.
 
I love rugby and know that the truly beautiful game was played at RAF Gan. What I don't know is whether the local populace was ever initiated so I was thinking of taking at least one, maybe more, rugby balls with me to give to the local community. I'd take a ball pump and a copy of the rules and laws of the game as well. Alex thinks I'm bonkers. I should say he is our 1st XV hooker and Chairman of the Club so he really ought to be pro spreading the word, so to speak, but he still thinks I'm bonkers. Anyway, as well as some playing equipment, I had thought to take one of our Club shirts - partly because of the logo (a tenuous connection, I know) but also because I thought it might be possible to establish some kind of very informal 'twinning' arrangement. That's probably pie in the sky but it would be nice to at least be able to supply the means to give the game a go, if only for fun. Alex is a level one qualified coach and I have assisted at Junior rugby training so we could help get things started. Could I ask... do you think this idea is:
 
a) patronising and insensitive, bordering on colonialist condescension? Don't do it.
or
b) a nice thought but misguided - offer the equipment and let the locals decide?
or
c) potentially a good thing - make local contacts and take it from there?
 
I wonder if you or your contributors might be able to help me, please?
 
I am hoping to find out more about my father's time in Addu Atoll. He was Chief Technician Joe Darnley and was stationed on Hittadu from January to October 1975. His fellow 'Hermits' nick-named him 'Joe 90', apparently because he was the oldest of the bunch; I now proudly possess his pewter tankard which bears that name and the obligatory map of the atoll. I stared at that tankard for years, committing the map to memory, and dreaming of what it must have been like to be there.
 
I have various memories of his time away from us (we were stationed at R.A.F. Pitreavie Castle at the time of his detachment) and I offer these, in no particular order, in the hope that some of them may ring a bell.
 
Dad sent my brother and I whole coconuts for our respective birthdays - our postman was utterly bemused - and I remember our neighbour using a carpet knife to cut off the husk with the intention of thatching his bird table! I contented myself with an attempt at amputating my left leg as I took an axe to the nut itself (fortunately the axe was blunt however it was a long time before I told my mother what I'd been up to).
 
He also sent us all (I have two sisters) a box of shells each - mine contained 7 cowrie shells and one 'spider' shell. The cowrie shells have been absorbed into my mother's collection and, as I cannot tell which were mine, have remained there. The 'spider' shell has travelled with me around Britain (Scotland, England, Wales and England again) ever since and is still perfectly intact. I see it every day and think of him - it is, and always has been, precious to me.
 
When Dad went to the Maldives he took an acoustic guitar with him having, as he said, romantic notions of strumming away in the tropical evening. The reality of "short, stubby fingers" put paid to that and it came home, unused until I had a brief period of playing it not very well. Funnily enough, I think it's still in a cupboard at Mum's house.
 
I don't have any written letters or photographs from Dad's time on Hittadu - he mostly recorded audio letters on to cassette tapes - always eagerly anticipated. I remember him telling us that he had been on a night-fishing trip in the atoll and also talking of a sponsored walk around Addu Atoll. I don't remember the cause but recall him saying they (the walkers) were transferred from island to island by dhoni. He said it was either 17 islands or 17 miles, I can't recall accurately. He also mentioned Bushy Island but I don't know whether that had any special significance.
 
This last recollection might spark someone's memory:
 
He was supposed to be on Addu Atoll for 9 months but was gone for nearly 10 as, at some point during his tour, he managed to run over his own foot with a fork-lift truck (or so he told me) and was medevac-ed to Cyprus for treatment. I don't know any more about that but I don't suppose it was a common occurrence so, hopefully, someone will remember!