Gibraltar Nov/Dec 1972

Exercise Iambus

A Troop – D13/R234

A Short while after arriving at 14 after AAC Harrogate, about 2 months or slightly less, found myself on the parade ground at Norton Barracks, in front of HQ, dismantling a demonstration setup. I was approached by either Lt Thomas or more likely FofS Hoe with Glenn Platten alongside. It was explained to us both, that due to unforeseen circumstances, a technician replacement was needed for the upcoming exercise to Gibraltar. As it was such short notice, we were both asked which of us would prefer to go. Myself only being there for a short while and being a new Dad, as it were, declined. As did Glenn Platten! It was decided that we would have a toss of the coin. I lost! More on this later.

Arriving at Lyneham and before embarking, I was a little apprehensive never having flown before. I remember the webbing seats and taxiing down the runway, not knowing if we were up in the air or not. The best part of the flight (being a smoker) was being invited upon the flight deck in turn to light up.


I recall at the time, because of the tension with Spain over Gibraltar, all British Military transport had to make a detour around the Iberian Peninsula. There we were descending into Gibraltar with the Rock on the left side and with the runway extending into the sea, it looked like we were landing on the water!

After offloading and boarding the transport, made our way via the football ground and HMS Rook, to Lathbury Barracks.

The following day we began to set up locations on Windmill (‘Windy’) Hill Flats when we came face to face with our first problems. Due to the nature of the Rock, it wasn’t easy erecting the 80ft masts and also 48ft ones. Attached to us on this exercise were 3 Operators from 3 Div. I believe, (but it may have been 30 Sigs) one of these was to prove a star. When erecting the masts you had to decide, depending on the nature of the ground, where you used the normal stakes, or using the Kangol hammer with rawl-bolts or indeed a Molex.

Tirfor Winch
Tirfor Winch

It was when erecting one such 80’ft mast that one of the Operators, a big lad, was using the Tirfor winch to haul the mast up when what we thought was well anchored into solid ground proved not to be the case. All of a sudden the mast started to collapse when the anchor came out of the ground. There we were for what seemed like an age watching this Operator hanging on to the Tirfor for grim death, before we all managed to rush and help and eventually positioning the mast intact.

First day in the cookhouse came across a face from Harrogate, Goode I think his name was, I remember him being the fastest 100 Metres runner at AAC at the time and there he was in 2RRF.

Shortly after arriving, I remember Lt Thomas appearing on Gibraltar TV, which obviously could be received across the border, to reassure the Spanish that could see our landing and offloading of equipment, that this was only an exercise and not an escalation in military presence.

Having set up, now came my introduction to Main Street in Gibraltar. I couldn’t believe the number of pubs although we mainly kept to three; the Horseshoe, Fox and Hounds and the Bat and Ball – coincidentally all Courage brewery pubs. After a good night out, the place to call at for some supper was the Potato Tree. It was while enjoying a pint at the Horseshoe I think, when my thoughts went back to the loss of the toss of the coin (did I really lose!). I would never again say no to seeing the world. It was on one of the trips down to Main Street for a night out when we heard of an impending visit by HMS Bulwark! Oh happy days we thought- an extra 2000 Matelots and Marines having a night out on the Rock! However, to our relief we learned that the Bulwark was no longer calling in at Gib! This was soon overturned by the news that HMS Ark Royal was calling instead, just add an extra 1000 to the crew list! I can’t recall too many incidents though.

Back to work though, and on night shift being educated by an ED (Pete Plews) on how to check and change the POL for the 3 ½ KVA Generator. Somehow, he forgot to warn me about the jerry can being left out in the sun all day and the expansion of the POL inside. Imagine me covered in the spray on opening the lid. I could have throttled him!

One of the Operators was a Mick Keenan ex BAOR Heavyweight boxing champion who seemed to take me under his wing, as it were, for a while. Took us out one night to the Capri Bar. It looked like it was frequented by a number of good looking “Ladies” until Mick pointed out to me the Adams apple on ‘em, wouldn’t have known the difference being a sprog!

Some R&R was afforded us by a visit to the Upper and Lower St Michaels Caves which at that time were controlled by the Army (Engineers I think) as was the welfare of the Rock Apes (Barbary Apes – NOT RAF Regiment ).

We had the mother of all storms halfway through the exercise It ripped off the roof from one of the accommodation blocks and when turning up for shift on the morning after, found the masts flattened with the 48ft ones irreparable. One of the 80ft masts looked like it had been sheared off with a stump of about 10ft remaining but to our relief, on closer examination, the mast had just collapsed and it was the erection boom still in place that was now standing up.

The Receiver Site was set up at the bottom end of the Flats where there was a mock Urban Area set up. This was used by the Infantry as a training area before leaving Gibraltar and usually returning to do yet another tour of Northern Ireland. We also had a visit by the US Navy and the USMC took advantage of this training facility by conducting a night exercise. All you could hear all night long were these American accents (“Hey Hyman where are you?” always in my memory).

After a month we started looking forward to going home in time for Christmas. With that in mind came the thoughts of Duty Free. Gibraltar had an unusual system in place at that time, although there was a shop on Main Street we were not allowed to buy from there. Orders had to be placed on a list with the unusual part was that Fags had to be in minimum quantities of 1000 and Spirits of 3 Bottles. Remember Dave Butler being the only one to order Peach Brandy, I can’t remember if he got the 3 and paid duty on 2 or accepted  a fait accompli as it were. The next irritation was that until we were on the Plane none of us knew if we got all or any of our order as the whole Duty Free consignment had to be delivered to the aircraft direct.

Having finally checked our Duty Free orders, we were all now ready to return home.

Memories – John Bainbridge – July 2018


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