Internal posting to RAF Gangodawila - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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Internal posting to RAF Gangodawila

I don't know who owns the copyright of the pic above which is an aerial view of RAF Gangodawila at about the time I was there. It does show, however, that the station was in a clearing and surrounded by jungle.

Flight Sergeant Owen greeted me on arrival. He was a short, very plump man and he seemed to be the only person around apart from the gate guards. Owen told me that he was the Unit Commander and he personally walked me around his patch. I could see that the main buildings comprised just a small part of the whole. A very large fenced compound, which Owen told me was patrolled night and day by RAF Police dog handlers assisted by a small detachment of Royal Ceylon Auxiliary Air Force policemen, was occupied by what seemed like dozens of radio aerials (antennae) slung between a larger number of masts. Centrally placed within a square in the main compound were the operations and living accommodation. The operations room was on one side of the square; the living accommodation on a second side; washing facilities, a quiet reading room and Flight Sergeant Owen's quarters on the third side. Those three sides were joined externally by covered pathways and monsoon drains. The fourth side of the square was open.

Gangodawila, like many Sinhalese place names, was a bit of a mouthful so everyone, including the 'locals', usually abbreviated it to Gango. Owen told me that at any given time there were about 20 servicemen stationed at the station. I would be one of only three junior technician wireless fitters; he added that, apart from the small number of airmen currently on duty in the operations room, all the remainder would be either resting in the barrack room or out at one of the nearby beaches. There were, continued the flight sergeant, half a dozen wireless mechanics and another half dozen or so teleprinter operators. The rest of the unit complement comprised: a couple of soldiers of the Royal Signals who looked after the telephone and telegraph lines; three RAF Police dog handlers; and a lone RAF senior aircraftman aerial erector whose job was, with the help of a band of local men, to supervise the maintenance of the aerial farm. In addition there was a Tamil cook, one store-keeper, and Mr DeLile the gharry driver.

When FS Owen, who I discovered was usually referred to simply as Chiefy, walked me through the operations room (half of which is in the image above) I was surprised and frustrated to find that the vast majority of the equipment on which I would be expected to work was completely new to me. Teleprinters, Creed relays, single side band receivers, rhombic short wave antennae and the theory of short wave reception, were all a mystery to me. I also noticed that the Duty Watch that day seemed to consist solely of one senior aircraftman teleprinter operator; Chiefy merely nodded at him as we passed and made no attempt to introduce us to each other. From there we went through the bar, along an outside corridor and so to the barrack room. As we approached I noticed that Mr DeLile had already deposited my kitbag by the door and it was now being guarded by a beaming, teenage local lad.

"This is Sandy," said Chiefy. I shook hands with Sandy and Chiefy frowned. Was it not 'the done thing' to shake hands with one of the locals, I wondered. "I'll leave you now and Sandy will look after you," said Chiefy - and walked off making a noise that I could only describe as an 'harrumph'.

Sandy could speak really good English. Looking back from the 21st Century I must assume that he'd been given the name Sandy because of the colour of his skin - something that would definitely be considered racist these days. He told me that he was the 'Room Boy', responsible for keeping the barrack room clean and tidy, for gathering our clothes ready for collection by the visiting dhobi and for laying them out on the bed when they came back, and for generally providing cups of tea or cold drinks when asked. I found out a few weeks later that Sandy was not on the official payroll; we were all expected to give him a small cash gratuity every month in payment for his services. I never did learn his proper name.

Sandy led me to the far end of the barrack room to what was to be my bed space. Although it was the middle of a very hot afternoon, the room was in semi-darkness. As I recall, there were only a couple of airmen in the room and they came over to introduce themselves as I started unpacking. The first question one of them asked, and I soon learned that it was always the very first question that every new arrival was asked, was "What's your tourex date?". When I answered that it was the 10th of June 1957, he let out a "Wow - ten-six-fifty-seven". The other one explained that everyone had his own way of marking the passage of time until he was due to return to UK and, apparently, it always cheered everyone up when some new arrival turned up with a tourex date that was way beyond their own.

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