Life On 8 Squadron In 1937
Below is the text of a letter written to the Squadron by Mr J Campbell who
worked in the office of the Engine Repair Shop at Khormaksar in 1937. He
paints a vivid picture of life and conditions at Khormaksar just before the start
Subject: No 8 Squadron, Khormaksar, Aden, 1937
I arrived at No 8 Squadron from Iraq in November 1937. The Squadron were
based at Khormaksar and were equipped with Vickers Vincents and the recognised tour
of duty there being two years. The camp was divided into two parts, with one
side the domestic side and across the road the working side containing the hangars
and workshops. The camp was guarded by Aden Levies and Native Labour mainly
We would go to work just after 6am, returning for breakfast around 8am, and on
returning to work, finish around noon. The temperature was usually around 98
with the humidity the same. Afternoons usually meant a couple of hours in bed,
after which we indulged in sport. My own speciality being football and water
polo, rugby was banned due to the hard baked grounds. Despite having arrived
at the Camp from Iraq, we were not allowed to compete in any sporting activity for
the period of one month.
Each hut had a native servant and boy to look after every need, such as cleaning
shoes or fetching tea in the morning, and if memory serves we each pay about 8 Annas
per week for this service. Laundry was collected each morning and returned
the same afternoon, immaculate.
Of the many memories during my stay at Khormaksar, I have to include the visit
of the German Battleship, the "Schleswig Holstein", which I do believe shelled
Danzig at the start of the war. The crew were obviously hand picked, all
six footers and physical specimens every one, very impressive to the Native
population. Games were arranged and in due course a football match played at
Steamer Point, where I believe they beat us by one goal to nil. Their
goalkeeper, the only dark haired man on the ship, kitted out in red jersey and
red shorts was inspired and we swore he was an International.
We also played them at water polo but I think we won that game. Swimming
was played in a wired off enclosure in the sea and had a platform on which a lookout
stayed watching for sharks or barracuda. Sometimes after a liner passed,
the rollers would sweep over the wire and bring in unwanted visitors. The
Royal Engineers then cleared the place before it was safe to swim again.
Another memory being the preparations made for the coming of Christmas.
Each hut was involved in a competition in which they had to decorate the hut,
the winner being awarded a prize of a barrel of beer by the commanding officer,
Sqn Ldr Barrett. For some time prior, each member of the hut paid in so many
Rupees so that all spirits, beers etc were paid for and everyone could have what
they liked when the time came. The winning hut having the extra barrel lasted
out the longest.
|The Troopship Model - 1939|
Campbell is second on the right.
Click Image to Enlarge
Last but not least was the Initiation Ceremony held on the Cinema square, in
which all new arrivals were initiated into the Squadron. It was much like a
concert to start with, plenty of drinking and singing, and mid-way through the roll
call came and the initiation began. The victim was led on to the stage, head
placed in a cradle and rear end walloped. He then had to smoke a pipe of the
most dubious tobacco, (or camel dung) before swigging from a large jug, I'm sure,
the Canteen slops. Finally he had to kneel and kiss the toes of the "Big
Cheese" and "Maggot" before he was released and was a member. Everyone
attending the ceremony being dressed in white shirt and shorts, the old hands in
their oldest clothes knowing what was to come. A troopship model especially
built for the occasion already primed to burst into flame was carried in, and at
midnight set alight. This was the signal for tearing the shirts off each
other and throwing on to the fire, every man returning to the UK obliged to jump
through the flames. To the best of my recollection only one accident,
who had to wait a further three months for the next ship. The model for the
ceremony was usually a troopship but on the last occasion it was decided to build
a sailing ship and thus this beautiful model was built. In fact there were
many offers to buy the ship and as much as £20 was offered for it by the various
messes but was turned down and burned.
Reverting to the Christmas Ceremonies and the designs, there was great rivalry
always and our hut won the competition with the building of an English pub.
The Pub was authentic even to the thatched roof, built I believe from a load of
bottle covers. It was built inside the hut and was rebuilt later for the
Officers' Mess when they had the AOC's Evening. There was also a fancy dress
football game with the Officers and NCOs and a great time was had by all.
Another of my memories being the sight of the Political Agent a Capt Sullivan
I believe, with his Red Coats awaiting a flight up country to settle some Tribal
dispute. The Red Coats, so called, as each man had a red blanket, were
rumoured to be the dregs of every tribe and each had a rifle lovingly oiled and
wrapped in cloth. They looked a tough bunch.
If a Chieftain or Tribe was in default or whatever, this merry lot would call
on them and that was usually enough, but if they failed, then they would be
bombed. Not that made much difference, for as soon as they heard the
aircraft, they skidaddled, and the mud huts soon rebuilt.
Most of my time at Khormaksar was enjoyable, I worked in the office of the
Engine Repair Shop, and sometimes the shop itself. I think the engines
were mostly Pegusas but I'm not too certain of that now. The most hateful
time being when I was a member of a Squad chosen for a gas mask drill. What
with the heat, and the sweat pouring inside the mask as though to drown. I
think everyone of us broke the rule and took the mask off before collapsing in the
Guard Room. This was around the time Mussolini was doing some awful tricks
This is a little bit of my time with the Squadron, which I left and was posted
Signed J Campbell