BLUE HAND BRAND, MADE IN JAPAN (or my time in the jungle)

By Tony WilliamsInstruments

In the summer of 1960 I was enjoying life on 57 Sqn at Honington, working on Victor B2s, when I was brought back to earth with a posting to 230 Sqn, Odiham. On arrival I found that there were about a hundred of us, all trades, going on detachment to the British Cameroons. Of course, none of us had any idea where that was and various suggestions were forwarded including Scotland and the Cameron Highlands in the Far East. It was in fact in West Africa, adjoining and being administered by Nigeria. Prior to WW1 the Cameroons was a German possession and after the war the League of Nations mandated part to the French and the rest to Britain, who included it within its administration of Nigeria. The French Cameroons became the Cameroon Republic - République du Cameroun - on independence and, when it was decided that Nigeria should become independent, the UN believed that the British Cameroons was too small to become independent themselves, so initiated a plebiscite for the country to decide whether to join with Nigeria or the Cameroon Republic. In order that the population should not be unduly influenced by the Nigerian administration the British Army was sent in to police the country in the run up to and over the plebiscite and the detachment from 230 Sqn was going there with three Twin Pioneers to support them.

In the next few weeks we were given all the injections thought necessary and issued with jungle green kit - which I seem to remember was made of an aertex type fabric - as well as attending lectures about the country and what was expected of us. At last we emplaned on a Blackburn Beverley which was an experience in itself, as my previous flights had all been as a civilian and climbing a ladder to the passenger seats was new to me. I had to be pretty desperate to use the toilet as it meant walking across the paratroop doors which rattled in flight. A refuelling stop at Orange, France was followed by a hop across the Mediterranean to Idris, Libya where we spent the night. Next day we headed south across the Sahara to Kano, Nigeria on an eventful flight as we lost the power of one engine and I believe another was playing up. The emergency services were obviously informed, as at one time we had an American Catalina amphibian flying alongside us. Not sure if it came all the way with us to Kano but we eventually arrived and were welcomed to the Airport Hotel by a group of vultures sitting on the roof. This was to be our home for the next week while we awaited a team from the UK with the necessary spares. There was a night club in town where we were mistaken for footballers from one of the top British teams who were on tour. Luckily it was soon patently obvious we were not sportsmen and didn't have to play a hard match the next day. We soon tired of the life of leisure and were pleased when we left for Mamfe and a whole nine months of new experiences.

The airfield consisted of two runways at right angles hacked out of the jungle, one much shorter than the other. From a distance they looked like grass but it was in fact perforated steel plate and covered in a small broad leaved weed. There were a few buildings before we arrived but these had been added to by an advance party of Royal Engineers who used corrugated iron on a timber frame and concrete base to make our domestic accommodation. There were eight huts with eight or ten beds for the bulk of us, with others for the Officers, SNCOs, SHQ, Medical Centre and cookhouse/canteen. Every sheet of corrugated iron had "Blue Hand Brand. Made in Japan" with a full size blue hand print stamped on it which was the first thing we saw in the morning when we awoke and the last thing at night. The beds all had mosquito nets which we always used. The hut side walls were netting and there was a good sized balcony at the front. The shower block was alongside the back of our huts and a little further away was a communal thunder box toilet built over a deep pit into which the medics regularly threw smoke bombs whether or not anyone was using it. We also had some "Desert Lily" urinals. The site wasn't large enough for a regular NAAFI but we ran our own canteen in the mess hall stocked with supplies from Port Harcourt. I remember Tennants and Allsopps Lager, Nigerian Rainbow beer and most of the common spirits being available. I think we bought the spirits by the bottle and left them behind the bar with our names on. If we needed lime in the lager or vodka we squeezed a fresh one. General toiletries were sold there and also some luxury goods could be ordered. In the rainy seasons huge golfing umbrellas were an essential and some of us sent them home in split and hollowed out bamboos. We also sent home coconuts with the address painted in the green husk. The mess hall was also our cinema with the aircraft bringing in the films as well as mail. Sometimes the cinemascope lens did not arrive with the film which made it virtually useless and in the rainy season the noise on the tin roof drowned out the sound. The Kings Own Border Regiment trooped through on their way up and down and spent a couple nights with us, as the single track mud road was open one day to go up and the next to go down. In the beginning we were quite hospitable but following incidents they were banned from using our canteen and any purchases had to be made by the convoy commander and taken back to the transit tents. I don't recall much about the food from the cookhouse but think it was pretty good considering the equipment and conditions they had to work in. I am sure hot stews featured regularly along with fresh fruit salads.

One Twin Pioneer aircraft was readied each day for a routine flight and returned a few hours later with the mail and film. Another was on readiness for emergencies while the third was generally used as a source of spares as we were only resupplied once a month. Two of the aircraft had been flown out from Odiham while the third came from Kenya where it had been on anti Mau Mau duties and still had bomb racks fitted. All of their flights to Mamfe must have been eventful with many refuelling stops due to their relatively short range. Once the aircraft had taken off we were left to our own devices and usually found something non technical to occupy ourselves. Our hut made a small flower bed in front and window boxes on the veranda but I can't remember which flowers we planted. In the rainy season mesembryanthemums appeared alongside the monsoon drains so I assume we had some of them. Hut 1 faced the entire veranda with split bamboo but I don't remember any other customisation. Perhaps the occupants didn't have as much leisure time as the technicians. Most of us were allocated secondary duties and mine was driving the ambulance but only involved manning it for the monthly visit of the Beverley. After take off I often gave it a run around the perimeter of the airfield, otherwise the engine got very little use. In the main, all driving was carried out by the RAF Regiment personnel. One of their duties was taking a tanker to fill up at the river well upstream from Mamfe Town and then, after the medics had thrown in sterilisation tablets, it was pumped up into a storage tank. Consequently, all of our water smelled and tasted of chlorine which, combined with sterilised or condensed milk, made the taste of the tea somewhat unusual. At mealtimes there were urns of orangeade or lemonade made from crystals but that tasted only marginally better than the tea.

We were scheduled to have a resupply flight every month but the Beverly didn't always arrive on time but when it did it always impressed the natives especially when it revved up and backed it's tail into the jungle at the end of the airstrip prior to take off.

There were only two instrument fitters - I was "pipes" and my oppo Jim was "wires" but the Twinpin was so simple that we soon adopted a routine where only one of us was on duty at a time. Very early on the autopilots which were air driven and very sensitive to the heat and humidity were disabled making the servicing even simpler. We were issued with prophylactics to cover the Pitot Heads to prevent insects crawling in.

Most afternoons were free except for aircraft movements so there was plenty of opportunity for leisure activities, although these were fairly limited. I do remember that some played football on a pitch marked out on the short runway but I didn't get involved as throughout my service I put more effort into avoiding sport than actually participating. There was a photographic club and we were able to develop and print our own photos although I think at the time I was using Gratispool so was unable to develop and print my own photos.

The village of Besongabang was immediately outside the camp gates and we went through it every time we went to Mamfe Town about 5 miles away. We occasionally went to the Government Rest House for a meal and I also remember visiting a missionary who had tanks of snakes in his lounge!

Another visit was to the nearby Catholic Girls School for a concert. Their Dutch priest used to enjoy visiting us (for the cheap drink I think!) and regaled us with tales of how it was when he first arrived decades ago. Another visit was to the village of Tiko where we were entertained by the local witch doctor and native dancing.

We had canoes and could sign out a 3 ton Bedford and take them to German Bridge over the Cross River where we could canoe and swim but I didn't realise just how dangerous it was sharing the river with the hippopotamus until watching wildlife programmes many years later!

Another site for swimming was a few hours away at Lake Ejaghem where there was a hut and canoes for an overnight stay. The roads were red clay with deep ruts up to the axles so you needed at least a Land Rover to get around. Once you were on the road and in the ruts it was difficult to get out except at junctions, hence the traffic went up or down on alternate days. It was very peaceful at the lake and we spent the time swimming, canoeing or just lazing. Once again it was only later I found out that it was a good site for water snakes.

The Grenadier Guards replaced the Kings Own Border Regiment shortly before we left but once again we did not have much dealing with them. The result of the plebiscite was that the south of the country joined the Cameroun Republic and the north stayed with Nigeria.

Our departure was relatively smooth but the following party had to find their own way home as something flared up and the Beverleys were all occupied. The trip home was without incident and after handing in our kit and clearing at Odiham I soon left on my way to 41 Sqn and Gloster Javelins, but that is another story.