Masirah – Desert Rescue memories .

Base Camp

I was posted to Masirah after a tour at RAF Kinloss. I was devastated at the time as I was really happy at Kinloss with the Mountain Rescue Team and it was the beginning of another winter. Masirah was a staging post for aircraft mainly for refuelling. The camp was about 600 strong all male a very strange environment at that time. I flew out just as the Cyprus war was starting in July 74. We should have night stopped on the Island but the did a “hot refuel” our plane the old Britannia that refuelled and had to leave with a fighter escort out of Cyprus. It was a scary time and you felt so vulnerable in the Britannia the passenger jet.

Masirah Football Team me with my Station Colours for playing against Gan.

Arriving in Masirah you felt the oppressive heat even at night. They thought I was someone else and I had to play in the 5 a side match that night. I was very fit then and did not let them down. The whole station was there in the 5 a side court the football was live for those working over the radio. I played for Masirah against Gan and Cyprus I was a full back. Though I saw myself I could handle myself on the pitch and feared no one. The crowd in the Stadium made by Workshops was a hostile place. Playing in my specs and being so small I was always given a hard time by the crowd. I loved the 5 a side and the many other sports we played there like hockey. 11 a side football was played on an ash pitch that hurt if you tackled. Because you were pure white no sun you were called a “Moony” which meant you were new to the Island. Masirah is just off Oman in the Arabian Gulf is the Island Of Masirah it is a small Island about as big as Arran in Scotland and is where I was posted to in 1974 for 9 months during my service in the RAF. It also had a Desert Rescue Team and the photo above is a camp site in the desert, where we slept out under the stars at night, an incredible time in my life. The only cover we had was old parachutes that gave you much needed shade.

No sunscreen or cover?

We never used sunscreen and had no clue the damage we were doing to our skin. We had various Base Camps around the island it was great to get away. We had a fire each night and a lacon of beer. The late Jim Craig was the Team Leader a great troop and we got on well and he quickly made me a party leader. Jim was already a legend before my time at Kinloss and he looked after me he tried to nickname me “Foddy” but it never stuck. It was pretty serious out most of the day in such heat. We often trained at night the views of the stars were incredible as were the shooting stars . At that time we were taught to navigate by the stars .

We trained every weekend on the small hills all under I think they were about 1000 feet but tough rocky, scrambly hills where the big problem was the heat at times regularly over 120 degrees. You could lose over a stone in weight due to dehydration over the weekend so you had to take care with water intake. It was some life! I worked in the Ration Supply depot in the Cold Store (the Freezers a haven to be in) Work was hard as every month supplies came by ship and when the ships were in you were out on the pontoons unloading the food for the station, really hard graft as much in these days was done manually. When the meat came off frozen usually in the night it was all hands to the pumps as you had to get it all sorted and in the Freezers before the sun came up, hard physical work. We worked 24 hours with no breaks it was all manually handled and done mostly at night when it was cooler. After the meat and frozen was off it was all the dry good for 3 months for 500 – 600 people. The sugar and flour was in 112 lbs bags about 50 kilos I only weighed just over 75 kilos so it was some training? The photo above shows a thin author with the half-gallon of water we carried on the hills , magic small hills very like Skye in Scotland with incredible wild life about.

Moving by Andover on Exercise.

The Sport on the Station was wonderful and we employed many of the local Arabs to help on the Station. I had a team of locals working with me and we had some incredible days and got on very well. As a young man it was my first time working with a group under me and we got on well. After work it was sport when the sun went down, football, hockey and lots of incredible fun in the sun. I also went shark fishing many times with my Foreman “Abbs” in a small boat for Barracuda sharks for the station, that was exciting and fairly serious in those non – Health and Safety days. I learnt a lot about people and cultures on that tour which stood me in great stead for the future on many expeditions, great days. We also went to Dubia every week on a meat and fresh fruit and veg run. It was a great day out but again hard work while everyone else had a day in Dubia and I went round the markets buying fresh food with Abbs. This was at the time that planes were getting hijacked me and Abbs were the only ones allowed out of the airport it was a scary experience as the local guards were very trigger happy. We also practised deployment with the Andover aircraft that was stationed there and it was always a laugh getting the wagons on with the big wide sand wheels. The reason the team was there was for aircraft crashes in the desert as the Island was a staging post for the RAF at the time. • The Island is famous for the Turtles that breed thousands come ashore on the beaches and lay their  eggs! It is a wonderful sight and the locals take a few of them for food in these days! Masirah Island is home to four distinct species of sea turtle. Oman has recognised the importance of preserving these beautiful creatures, as it is home to a large portion of their nesting grounds. On Masirah Island you can find the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the olive ridley turtle and the loggerhead turtle. • All four species nest and their eggs hatch at different times throughout the year. I was very lucky to visit the shanty town with Abbs where the locals lived many in houses built from fuel drums recycled from the RAF base during the war. Little was wasted and everything  was re used even in 1974. They treated me so well I learned so much from them especially during Ramadan. Abbs taught me a lot about his religion and was a wonderful person. Family was so important to them and though they had little they shared everything. The station had a swimming pool that was so well used especially when the stewardess arrived overnight on the Island. They caused quite a stir.

These were incredible days and I learned a lot it was the hardest work I ever did heavy manual work in extreme heat! The hills though small were incredible and I learned to cope and look after myself in a wild extreme climate! I was so pleased when I heard I was posted back to Kinloss. I learned a lot on that tour and could not wait to get back to the Scottish hills. It would still be winter.

Masirah Hills

You learned lots that stood you in good stead about climbing in oppressive heat and looking after yourself, I wish I had known about sun screen then?

Jim Craig Team Leader RAF Kinloss MRT.

Dedicated to Jim Craig Ex Team Leader Masirah Desert Rescue.

Christmas Day – poor photo .

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Islands, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Weather, Well being, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

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