British Honduras / Belize – April 1972

Ex. Chapelgate

D Troop E21/R241 (rotating 6 month tours)

Establish a rear link from Airport Camp, British Honduras to H.M.S. Forest Moor, UK

Note – Initially D Troop went on Exercise Chapelgate in April 1972, the exercise was extended to enable direct secure telegraph back to the UK without going through intermediate relay sites. The exercise ‘extension’ became more or less permanent with other troops supplying detachment crews on a six month rotation. The D Troop E21 station was never returned to 14 Signal Regiment

Memories of John Mugford

The Belize years

Of the two and a half years at Worcester I spent two 6 month tours in Belize in addition after leaving 14 and completing my T1 I was posted to 633 and spent a further 9 months there. This time has generated many memories that I find impossible to file chronologically so I will take a more ‘scattered ‘ and some would say chaotic way of recording my memories.

The Journey there and back.

In a strange quirk of my memory I find that for all my trips with 14 I have much better recall of the RAF staged phases than of anything else. Well in February 1973 we embarked on a Britannia from Brize Norton to Gander in Newfoundland where we were to overnight. I recall that a group of four of us started a game of cards I think it was ‘Chase the lady’ anyway it involved keeping score and we decided that we would keep the game going through the journey and run the score on. I cannot remember who the other players were but they might recall and confirm the ‘tale’ anyway more of that later. We duly took off and landed at Gander safely and were taken to our Hotel, being adventurous young soldiers we went out to discover the local brew (Buffalo/Bison beer) and the night life. I have a vague memory that Roger Treverton was involved but that could from another time. Anyway we returned to the hotel at 4AM and just as I dozed off the phone rang for our early call at 4:30! We trudged down to breakfast and hence on to the airport to find that the plane’s wings were frozen and were taking time to defrost – just about all day – so we continued the card school. By now I/we were feeling distinctly queasy and were relieved to finally take off – then as we gained height I found that my internal gas was at a much higher pressure than that of the cabin – unfortunately I wasn’t the only one – it turned out that there was a problem with maintaining the cabin pressure and the results were obvious and odorous. Off course the recirculating air system didn’t help and we were all relieved when we stopped in Bermuda to refuel. The rest of the journey was largely uneventful though we did post some of the highest card scores in history!

Arriving in Belize

I recall coming into land and looking out of the window at vast tracts of vegetation with a single runway gashing the greenery. Then landing and feeling/smelling the heat and humidity and realising that this was to be my home for the next 6 months. When we arrived at Airport Camp we were greeted by a group of very brown natives who turned out to be our 14 Sigs colleagues and were of course christened as ‘Whitey’s from Blighty’. Thus the adventure began.

My introduction to Belize City and Libby’s

This is fairly hazy – what I do recall is that there were 4 of us (that fits with my mind picture of sitting on the back of benches around a table with a bottle (of one barrel) and four (cokes) in front of us. I am pretty sure that Pete Bradley was one of the miscreants and FUB and Bones come to mind as well. I also recall going to a Belizean ‘Restaurant’ across the road and eating cow’s foot soup which my body rejected immediately we left the establishment.

Work

On my first tour Cabin three was parked alongside Cabins 2 and 4 at the bottom of the airfield where our only neighbours were an RAF detachment.

Receiver Site Airport Camp_edited

The schedules were notionally 2 hours (we set up did tests and closed down usually) starting at 11:00AM I think (they certainly were when I left in Feb 73-Orph) – though that could be wrong. (For Christmas 1972 – the Regt had cajoled DCN to allow a voice link back to the Families club in Norton Barracks to allow the Pads to speak to wives & family – For this we used the newly installed Lincompex (spelled correctly) Frank Rogers having had little practice with setting it up did get some good quality voice time but I think we only got 2 mins each! – Orph). This left us with a lot of free time which we generally used in Cay’s trips and other frivolous activities. At some stage Cabin 3 was taken out of the equation and I recall working from the 633 Commcen and working on the EDC in the Receiver Cabin which was near the Sgt’s Mess but that could be because I was now in 633.

Mugford & Phillips_editedWith John Phillips – Receiver site on back road to airfield 1973

I also recall having to dig up the Cricket pitch to lay a cable from the 633 radio site to the commcen as it was too short to go around, the GSM was apoplectic. I also recall Paul Mercer being blown across the radio room when he was fixing the transmitter – sobered us both up.

Cay trips

As I recall we had cay trips most Sunday’s and a smaller one during the week for the shift personnel  who couldn’t make the weekends – I have multiple memories of these wonderful day’s out – but they all started with a visit to the cookhouse to pick up rations which were loaded along with empty Hay boxes and crates of beer onto a 3 tonner (they were still 3 tonners in those days) and we were whisked to the jetty via the ice factory – where we  purchased huge blocks of ice which we broke down into chunks to join the beer in the hay boxes. The day had begun, we then boarded the boat – not always the most elegant and efficient process – and set off for the cays. That was when the real drinking began and the sports fishermen amongst us set out to catch lunch. The gear was quite simple – a 200lb land line with a steel trace and some sort of lure – the fish were hooked then dragged through the water till they effectively drowned and then landed. The dragging was under advice of the Captain of the boat – though one time I recall that we did not heed the advice and the Barracuda we landed took charge of the boat and we had to sit on the side till it expired! We then set up on the chosen cay and built a barbecue cooked the fish and whatever else we had and generally chillaxed. Some just drank and relaxed while others went snorkelling in the warm fish infested seas – it was like swimming in an aquarium.

Belmopan

Belmopan was the capital of Belize and situated  some 50 miles inland from Belize City – it was built as a direct result of Hurricane Hattie which devastated the then Capital of Belize City. It was the centre for Government and we serviced the comms requirements of the Governor and we were required to make fairly regular visits to maintain the equipment. The staff there were always glad to see us as there was a much closed community and any fresh blood was welcome so these visits were seldom a chore.

Pine Tree ridge

Pine tree ridge was up country and at an elevation that meant it was much cooler than Airport Camp so a visit here was always welcome there was a lodge there with a stream where you could swim in the cold water – I recall the small fish there nibbling away at my feet a not unpleasant feeling and sitting below a waterfall getting a thorough massage.

British Honduras becomes Belize

In June 1973 British Honduras officially became Belize – I have very little recollection of this event and it may well have been that we were confined to barracks over that period.

Guatemalan sabre rattling

The whole reason we were all in Belize was to protect the country from claims from Mexico and Guatemala (– I have lifted the following off the internet –)

1975 saw the Guatemalans actually move troops to the border. A second battalion was immediately dispatched to Belize, supported by a close reconnaissance troop of Scimitar and Scorpion armoured vehicles, one field battery of 105mm Light Guns, several Blowpipe SAM detachments, a squadron of engineers and six Harrier VSTOL fighters, which were accompanied by an RAF regiment Rapier battery. A Royal Navy frigate on the Caribbean Station moved in close to the coast to provide cover against air attack near Stann Creek for the Battalion Group stationed in the South. When the Harriers landed, the Guatemalans ceased their warlike noises.

 I recall the situation because (As Max Boyce would say) ‘I was there’ – that was the nearest I got to real action in my entire army career. I recall one day we lost a Harrier, it went down somewhere off shore and this resulted in a busy few days in the Commcen I seem to remember that the garrison Doctor broke his back in a car accident around the same time.

Parties

To parody Frank Sinatra ‘Parties we had a few’ but one I recall in particular was on my second tour when we decided to have fruit themed night. Brian Etheridge shared his bunk with a medic and they came up with the idea of mainlining melons – we did a few experiments and it seemed to work fine – though you had to be careful how much you pumped in as it squirted out of adjacent holes. We experimented with other fruit though with segmented fruit such as oranges it was a bit like Russian roulette as you couldn’t forecast which segments had been doctored till you ate them!! We also decided real coconuts filled with rum was a good idea. So come the day there was a lot of activity on the medical front and we employed a couple of the local boys to climb the coconut trees in camp and send down the coconuts to counterpanes we held below in fireman style to prevent damage. Th centrepiece was a large cook house ‘billy’ full of fruit and spirits and everyone seemed to have a good time – reason for the celebration is unclear to me but I believe Ethers and a couple of others were leaving.

BH Fruit Party_edited

Sport

There was a lot of opportunity for sport in Belize and we took advantage of it – some of my memories below-

Rugby

On my first tour I recall we played the Irish Guards and I believe we beat them photo of me with John Phillips and others is a witness to this.

On my second tour it was more difficult as the resident battalion was the Welsh Fusiliers – it was a bit like Rourke’s Drift as they used numbers to communicate and differentiate between Jones’s – anyway they were far too good for us and the locals (We played the local Belize side on several occasions) so they played against each other ie Sgts versus Cpls now at the time I had quite a repertoire of bawdy rugby songs and they were keen to learn them so I agreed to sing if they let me play for the Cpl’s team – this caused a deal of procrastination until eventually agreed on two conditions first I couldn’t play prop as I would ruin their scrum so the proposal was I played scrum half and the final stipulation was that I should under no circumstance try to run but simply learn how to do a spin pass and give the ball immediately to the standoff who was particularly good. Consequently the day came and I was the only non-fusilier in the Cpls team – however the Sgt’s team had Ian Brydon at scrum half and Nobby Clarke in the centre (both merited), anyway the game was going well and I believe we were in front – I had even got around to doing the odd diving pass but of course the opposition became wise to this and I was seeing everyone going for the standoff – anyway towards the end of the first half we were close to their line and seeing everyone ignoring me and the way clear in front I decided to run – straight into Ian who floored me – that was that – I was replaced and still had to sing!!

Incidentally I would lose up to 10lb of weight during a match – then put 12lb back on in the bar.

Cricket

I am to cricket what ashtrays are to motor bikes but I recall on one occasion JP hitting 5 consecutive 6’s all to the same segment of the pitch – this resulted in most of the field being deployed to this area where he was caught off the next ball – not sure if this is correct in all detail but it is how I recall it.

Tennis

I recall spending long hours on the court trying to beat Roger Treverton – he was basically a base line player and very difficult to pass he would just wear me out – good exercise though. Roger reminded me that we were often thrown off for not wearing whites.

Golf

The RAF detachment next to Cabin 3 had built a Golf Course using sunken compo tins as holes – tennis balls instead of golf balls and hockey sticks to hit them – it was a bit surreal but lots of fun – you had to pick the ball up when a plane landed or took off as it moved around in the wind.

Squash

The squash court was open air which caused a huge problem in the day as it was like a Sauna which was good for losing weight but meant that the surface became wet and then you were playing on ice!! The perceived wisdom was to play at night (it was floodlit) but this meant braving all the insects that the light attracted and the bats that followed them.

Running

Though not an official sport as in races there were lots who ran to get fit – Chris Whitehead took it to extremes and could seldom be seen not running and I recall Ken Brown used to run around the perimeter of the airfield through the swamp (dry season – no water) I went with him one day and he was good enough to wait for me but it was interesting running along paths through reeds way above you head – and of course no breeze.

Bridge

When I first got to Belize (or BH as it was then) there was a very serious Bridge school headed by FUB and Pete Bradley – I spent many happy hours being told that my ‘bidding’ was incorrect (or words to that effect) You may recall that Pete & FUB’s pet patsy was Tom Sharpe who used to get into a real strop because he couldn’t follow their ‘strange’ bidding pattern (They didn’t really use anything fancy– they used Length & Strength coupled with finger patterns on the cards) – Orph

Romance in the Tropics

Around July 1975 I went to a party given by Jim Williams girlfriend Laura and met the lady who was later to become my wife she was visiting from Honduras – I was coming to the end of my tour so we had little time together at that time though we took in a couple of Cay’s trips. Anyway we kept in touch while I was on my T1 and when I was posted to Krefeld I believed that was the end of it. However fate had a card to play and during my embarkation leave for Germany I received a Telegram informing me that I was now posted to 633 Signal Troop in Belize and that my MFO box had been rerouted (complete with wooly pulley). I informed Paula and when I finally arrived back in Belize I managed to visit her back in Honduras. To cut a long story short I arranged a very small house on Princess Margaret Drive – literally on the Ocean and surrounded by Land Crab holes. I then arranged for her to come over. Of course no sooner than I had arranged all this, the Guatemalan’s interfered and we were confined to camp. The only people allowed out were the ones who needed to do trade in Belize City – this included the Post Master General who had scheduled runs – I came to an arrangement with him where he dropped me off one day and picked me up the next while I was off shift of course – this went on for weeks with no incidents. However the full curfew was lifted and we were allowed evening passes but had to be back at a certain time which moved on to overnight passes but limited to one a week – I decided this wasn’t enough so I started sneaking out on the bus with no pass and then doing the reverse on the way back in. Inevitably I was caught and fined a week’s wages for busting curfew,. This was particularly tough as we had by now decided to marry and needed as much money as we could get. Despite all this on the 31st January 1976 we were married at St Andrews church on the harbour front in Belize, we had the ceremony in English and Spanish with 2 priests – so we were effectively married twice my best man was Jim Leggate and Pete Towns kindly gave Paula away. The reception was held at John Frampton’s house and thanks to the QM and Cook SQMS of the Gloucester’s there was plenty to eat and thanks to all the 633 boy’s there was plenty to drink. John and Helen were excellent hosts and made us all very welcome.

Belize 1974. The CO of the resident infantry unit, the Green Jackets, was getting married using the large newly built Atap Hut, opposite the accommodation block of the Royal Signals staff. The intention was that the whole event would be filmed and sent back to his relatives in the UK. The Royal Green Jackets provost Sgt spent some time threatening the Royal Signal guys to hide the pet parrots away, as all of them could swear like troopers so their squawks would not be picked up by the film makers of the wedding. Come the day of the wedding, sadly one of the parrots “Hawkeye” who had not had his wings clipped and therefore could fly, was sat right on top of the roof singing “F-OFF, F-OFF” at the top of his voice. Needless to say WE thought it was very funny as they had made us tidy up the outside of the accommodation block (removal of washing etc.) as it was in view of the wedding guests. There is justice sometimes!

Edited and additions (in red) Orph Mable

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