John Morrison McLeod
Shortly after VE day I was posted to 216 Squadron, Heliopolis. Sir Brian Baker, who was Depute AOC RAF MED/ME, himself a keen cricketer decided to take a combined squadron cricket team on the Dakota in which we flew. Our itinerary was Heliopolis — Port Sudan — Aben — Mogadishu — Eastleigh — Entebbe in Uganda. I believe that Entebbe is now an international airport but then in was merely a grass air strip. We refuelled at Mogadishu and I was in charge of the operation.
The book said that when this had been done the draining taps on the tank should be opened to drain off any condensation that could have accumulated in the tanks. On a Dakota there were four tanks, total capacity 802 gallons and the draining taps were locked with copper wire. Normally so little condensation formed that many mechanics and engineers just ignored this chore — but fortunately I did not in Mogadishu. Having opened the four taps I found that water flowed from them. During training we had been taught how to differentiate water from petrol by means of the palm test; where water blobbed but petrol did not. I sent for the station engineering officer and he confirmed it was water, after letting the tap flow for about ten minutes. An empty bomber was ordered to draw the tanks and then they were refilled from a different storage tank — and the content were checked!
I felt somewhat concerned because should we have set off for Eastleigh with a load of water in our tanks we would never have arrived. When we got back to Heliopolis I made enquiries and after a while during which investigations were carried out it transpired that Italian POWs engaged in transporting petrol in 50 gallon drums from a port further south were guilty of a scam where en route drums were tapped, petrol sold and the drums replenished with water. I was never thanked for going “by the book”, but after all I was only doing my duty. However, should I have been negligent I would not be writing this memoir nor would any of the other twenty people on board have been likely to survive because the terrain between Mogadishu and Eastleigh is not conducive to forced landings. I left afterwards that the revelation of the facts could possibly have been embarrassing for those organising the transportation of fuel to Mogadishu. The dictum of “by the book” is still a firm must in my mind.
We stayed for a couple of days in Entebbe and as there was no RAF station there we were staying in pairs with officials in the colonial service. The Navigator and I stayed with a most hospitable barrister a Mr Drechfield who owned a yacht. One day he took us out on Lake Victoria and when we were miles from shore he asked the navigator who had his bubble sextant with him to find the equator. The navigator took readings and having given Mr Drechfield steering guidance soon announced “we are smack on it”. We took in turns to swim — one staying on board in case the rudder jammed and another “Marie Celeste” would have been created! The skipper item took us to the north of the Lake where we saw crocodiles lying on islands with their mouths wide open while white birds gave them dental treatment by pecking away at fragments of the crocs last meal. How this rapport between the birds and the crocs came about is another mystery of nature.
The navigator and I surveyed the scene. Looked at each other and as neither of us was a white bird we both shuddered! Years afterwards I read in a Readers Digest article that it was impossible to swim in Lake Victoria because of the crocodiles. I smiled. My wife spotted me and asked what was so funny — I did not tell her!
© Copyright John McLeod 2005