95 Squadron, bathurst

Memoirs of Geoff Walker, G3ZDO (RAFVR 852)

"In due course, I was posted to 95 Squadron, located on the banks of a large creek at Jui, some miles from Freetown in Sierra Leone. Flying down the coast from Bathurst was very interesting, with the dense jungle spreading as far inland as far as could be seen."

The narrow strip of beach along the coast had small fishing villages dotted here and there, complete with outrigger canoes and a few natives splashing about in the white surf no sign of Tarzan and Jane, though!

The Sunderland was flying at 2,000 ft, as was normal, so details below were very clear. After landing in Freetown harbour, I was ferried by a pinnace to Fourah Bay College, which had been requisitioned as a transit camp. It was about twenty minutes walk into Freetown, along a lane lined with native huts and thickets of palm trees.

Outside one hut, but chained to a tree, was a "baby" twelve stone gorilla, treated as one of the family. It appeared to be happy and well fed, as the transit camp inhabitants provided it with bananas and light conversation in passing.

In Freetown, the focal point for Servicemen was the Wharf Bar on Kissy Street, with iced lager, chicken and chips and more lager as the standard menu. Recently, this year, I saw a newspaper photograph of the centre of Freetown and I was amazed to see the mass of skyscrapers symbolic of a modern city. I remembered Freetown as a rather sprawled out collection of insignificant buildings and native huts.

After a week at Fourah Bay, an MT Section truck took me to Jui. The journey was through lush vegetation and steamy heat, skirting native villages and passing alongside the famous waterway in the valley the source of many Service songs about the laundry maids and their gyrations!

I found the Radar Section to be staffed by friendly, laid back Canadian radar mechanics, who didn't seem to resent too much a "Limey" taking over, instead one of their own tribe. Normal routine work was carried out on the flying boats without any dramatic incidents.

We had a weekly liberty run to Lumley Beach, by courtesy of RAF transport, for a day at the seaside. It was quite a change from Blackpool, being a tropical paradise of white surf, golden sands, waving palm trees and a warm ocean, plus Service rations.

A string of shark nets kept us safe from "Jaws", but not the dreaded Portuguese Man O'War jellyfish. There were no problems diving down through the clear water to the coral and the shoals of friendly fish probably thought that we were vegetarians.

Occasionally, we had visits to the Aberdeen Point radar station, overlooking Freetown harbour. West Africa Group gave us permission to rig up a Mk 1 Radar Tx and Rx system, plus a much modified IFF unit (minus the detonator, of course) and the complete system used an old automobile differential assembly plus steering wheel and gearbox, a Yagi antenna on a rotatable mast, a perspex pointer coupled to the mast and rotating to give the antenna bearing on a board map of the area between Jui and Gibraltar.

The IFF was an airborne transponder ("Identification Friend or Foe") which gave a coded identity response when it received an interrogation signal from ground radar. The detonator was wired up to a Gravinette switch, which would, in theory, trigger the charge and thus destroy the IFF "innards" in the event of a crash landing it could also detonate under other circumstances of a mysterious nature! However, with this set up we could pick up and identify one of our aircraft taking off from Gibraltar. On the fourth or fifth vertical trace our coded IFF sending "JUI" would be picked up by the radar operator on the Sunderland.

A great time would be had by all, as the Heath Robinson (alias Fred Flintstone) system actually worked without any failures, the navigators had a fairly relaxed time on those runs and the enemy must have thought it was a hoax if he picked up the signals.

The daily routine of springing lightly from under the "mozzy" nets, having checked first for snakes, etc by leaning over one side of the bed and bashing a shoe on the floor before dashing to the showers and then a glass of water with a dash of Dettol in it, drunk to wash down the issue yellow Mepacrine tablets, kept most of us free from the dreaded "lurgi". Of course, the most potent remedy was the weekly bottle of Johnny Walker or Bourbon no germ could live in those concoctions!

I greatly regretted not having a camera, as there was so much West African wildlife to record.

Without photographic evidence, no one back in the UK would believe the descriptions of the varieties of snakes, giant ants, centipedes and double barrelled hornets "kipping down" in the radar equipment on the work bench if the covers were left off. For a down to earth and full description of Service life in Sierra Leone, the novel by John Harris, "A Funny Place to Hold a War" (ISBN 0 09 155030 0) is very readable and will doubtless rekindle various memories of the Coast for ex wearers of the pith helmet or "Bombay Bowler".

There were, of course, sadder moments. In January 1943, one of our Sunderlands took off from Jui on patrol, but crashed in the jungle. It took days to reach it and, unfortunately, there were no survivors."

WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.