My move from Mombasa to Diego Suarez was on the 7 of February 1944 and I was accompanied by Major Eaton, the head of 41 AA Workshop Coy. This trip – by BOAC Sunderland flying boat – was my first experience of air travel. I was to relieve Capt Bevan, in charge of a detachment providing EAEME workshop services to 15 (EA) Heavy Antiaircraft Regiment EAA. On account of possible problems with the army base censor I thought it prudent not to go into details of the flight in my letters at the time, but by a few weeks later had become emboldened:
(Letter of Saturday 26 February 1944) “We passed over many tropical islands, green with a billowy mass of tiny trees, each surrounded by yellow sandy beaches, shallow green water of the coral reefs, then deep blue sea. Most of them were rimmed with an area of brown water due to it being the rainy season in the West Indian Ocean. Some of the larger had patches of fresh green grass, quite a different colour to the darker forests. Here and there we saw a huddle of grass-roofed native huts, farming villages probably with little contact with the outer world. Once or twice we landed for refuelling” (at Dar Es Salaam and the Comores) and then the forests came closer and closer, until we saw palm trees and natives standing with upturned faces. The air in the plane became warmer and damper, and then for a few brief moments we were back in the tropics from the temperate zone.
“When I first saw our destination we were quite low down and banking steeply. Dirty brown streets and chicken-coop houses were pivoting round the wing tip in an apparently vertical direction. The wing tip appeared almost stationary and I wondered how it was possible for such a weight of metal to remain immobile at such an angle for so long. It seemed almost inevitable that we would slip sideways onto those streets. I had quite a job to prevent myself leaning in the necessary direction to assist in righting the plane.”
There were other memorable aspects to the journey. These included the increasing surge of solid water rushing past the portholes as the plane gathered speed for the take-off, and the fierce skimming followed by the subsiding hot damp slowness…