This was the decade which was the most memorable for me as so many events took place.
Moving to Libya
In 1960, my father got a job teaching the children of British soldiers stationed in Benghazi, Libya at the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation School. He left to take up this new role in December and we communicated with him either by letter or he would dictate onto a ‘reel to reel’ tape recorder and then post that. At the time, like many people, we did not have a telephone or for that matter, a tape recorder. So to listen to one of Dad’s tapes, we went into Gillingham to a family friend’s house to listen to it. At the same time we would record a message to Dad that was then posted back to Libya.
In late Spring 1961, April I think, we were on our way abroad. Our first stop was to be Nicosia in Cyprus for a holiday and then onto Benghazi a week or so later. We left Heathrow on a Bristol Brittania (the ‘Whispering Giant’ as it was called) and travelled through to Cyprus arriving in the morning. Both my brother and I had slept most of the way as it was such as smooth flight. The flight took about 6 hours unlike the 4 hours it takes today. The trip to Benghazi, however, was the worst plane trip I have had in my life. It was on a Vickers Viking that was constantly pointing towards the sky as it kept dropping into air pockets going over the Mediterranean – from the best to the worst! I heard much later that it was also unreliable as “the rubber band kept breaking”!
Being only just 11, I settled into the new life very quickly and made a lot of friends. My father, being a teacher with the army, did have its benefits. My father was given the courtesy rank of Captain and consequently we lived at Incis House in the capital (actually at that time it was the joint capital with Tripoli). This was two blocks of apartments that faced each other with a small garden in between for officers only. There was a high wall at the back of that garden so the only way in was from the road. During the day (and possibly the evening), a gaffir was on site to look after the garden and also keep unwanted strangers from entering. I remember him sharing his mint tea with me, very sweet (the tea that is!)!
Having officers’ privileges also extended to the beach. There were 3 separate beaches allotted to the army, the officers’ beach, the sergeants’ beach and the OR’s (Other Ranks) beach. As you can imagine, the facilities varied according to the status. As school started early in the day, we spent a lot of time at the beach in the afternoon – there wasn’t much else to do. I did join the Desert Scouts and actually camped at the edge of Sahara Desert in the back of a 10 ton army truck at the Blue Lagoon.
In the early 1960s, communcation was a lot more difficult. On the radio, we could only listen to local radio stations, all in Arabic, with the exception of occasional BBC world service broadcasts. We did not have easy access to a telephone and corresponded mainly by air mail. We did get newspapers but as they came by sea, they were a couple of days out of date. These were purchased from a Salvation Army shop near the Christmas Tree in the centre of Benghazi. This was a large fir tree in a central plaza.
There are a lot of memories, some of which I will add from time to time such as how easy it was to pick up live mortar shells, live bullets, pieces of other ordnance left over from WWII, seeing the flowers in the desert, seeing the edge of the desert in flood and other bits and pieces. I will put some of the photos in the gallery from this time.
My next adventure was leaving Libya to go to boarding school. I won’t say I totally enjoyed the experience of being almost 3,000 miles away from my family but I fairly quickly adapted to it. The school I went to was Adam’s Gramamar School, Newport in Shropshire, a good school I have since found out. In 2018, it changed its name to Haberdashers’ Adams Grammar School as William Adams who founded the school in 1656, was a wealthy member of London society and a haberdasher.
I don’t know how boarding schools run today but then it was pretty full on. A typical school day started with a walk from Aston Hall (where the first and second years lived) to the school. This was probably about a mile or a little more and it was in all weathers. Bearing in mind that first and second years could only wear short trousers, the walk in the winter could be a little chilly. We had some free time when we first got back from school but after our evening meal, we had ‘prep’. This was a time when we had to sit in the dining room once it was cleared, and do our homework. Even if you finished early, you still had to sit there in silence until the end of the ‘prep’ period. I can’t remember how long it lasted but it was probably an hour.
Weekends were pretty well laid out too. Some Saturday mornings, on a rota basis, we had to do ‘spud bashing’. This took place fairly early in the morning when 2 or 3 of us spent an hour or so preparing all the potatoes that would be needed for the weekend for the boarders at Aston Hall. One of us did the washing, another had to turn the handle on a machine that took the skins off and the other one removed the eyes. After breakfast on Saturdays, we either had rugby practice or cross country running (cricket in the summer) and in the afternooon, if we were not playing, we watched the school rugby teams playing other schools. Saturday evenings were ours and sometmes we went to the pictures in Newport. Sunday mornings was pretty straightforward, cleaning and polishing shoes ready for inspection, then off to church for the Sunday service. Sunday afternoons we were left to our own devices. Sometimes, there were organised events, like orienteering.
Punishments – yes, I got a few. I only got the cane once and that was from the geography teacher who caught me, and some others, firing pieces of rice through a ‘biro’ (ball point pen) with the ink tube removed. They make excellent pea shooters. I also did get whacked by two prefects using plimsols, once for being late for assembly and once for taking a shortcut during cross country. We had to do cross country every Thursday after school and I hated that! The gym master also had the ‘chump’ club. If you were the last one to get changed for gym, you were a ‘chump’ and you got a whack. There were concrete steps outside the toilet and anyone who got whacked sat down on these as they were always cool and soothing.
Of course, at the end of every term, I went back to Benghazi. This was an experience in itself. I was collected from school either by my grandmother, Nanna Mullett, and taken by train to her house in Wigmore. A day or so later she took me up to the BOAC coach terminal which I seem to remember was near Victoria station. Here I was left in the company of other children to be transported to Heathrow airport for the flight to Libya. We did have a stewardess to look after us all though. During one of these trips I became a member of the Junior Jet Club and still have the log book that was signed by the flight captain with all the flight details. My last flight was on a DeHavilland Comet 4B which was amazing after only travelling on planes that were turbo props.
Back to Kent
During the summer of 1962, Mum and Dad decided they were come back to England at the end of that year. Dad brought me at the end of the summer holiday to live with Nanna Mullett and attend Gillingham Grammar School. After I was settled in, he returned to Benghazi. Dad, Mum and Mike joined me at Nanna Mullett’s during December.
The Big Freeze
As many people wll remember, the winter of 1962/63 was a particularly hard one. It started snowing on Boxing Day and there was still some of the snowman we made left at Easter (beginning of April). I had started my morning paper round in November and I kept it up until after the snow had all gone. I had a bike but only used it to carry the bag that held my stack of papers – it was much too icy to actually ride it!
Nan’s bungalow did not have central heating, in fact all we had was a paraffin stove (a Sankey Senator) and used the oven in the kitchen to keep us warm. Of course, in the 1960s there wasn’t a wide range of outdoor clothing like there is today and I did my paper round wearing several layers of clothing, including a hand knitted jumper and a wind cheater ( a zipped jacket made of rubber).