14 Signal Regiment
The aim of this instruction is to outline the major aspects of 14 Signal Regiment’s exercise to The Gambia, West Africa. Due to the majority of participants now advanced in years none of the information listed can be verified as true. Especially if recalled by Fred Almond who is considerably older than most of us.
A. Enemy Forces
- Any Germans who made a habit of ensuring that no sun loungers were available next to the swimming pool in the posh hotel just up the road from our base.
- The mega rich, blond haired super smooth Swedish guys who looked more German than the Germans.
- The blokes in the markets who would try to sell us various wooden carvings for hundreds of Dalasi and follow us everywhere we went.
B. Friendly Forces
- Anybody who wanted to buy us a beer
- The local kids who wanted to help us unload and carry all our kit when we were setting up.
- The villagers who made us welcome wherever we went and wanted us to marry their daughters for the price of 2 Goats and the Chicken curry from the ration packs.
14 Signal Regiment was to be the first British army unit to deploy to The Gambia since the deployment of the Africa Rifles Regiment during World War 2. It was purely a public relations exercise to impress the local aristocracy connected to the British High Commission. We were also tasked with boosting the local economy by drinking as much beer as we could in as many bars and hotels as we could fit in between each shift.
A. Carryout the usual loading trials down at RAF Lyneham. The same loading trials
most of us had done more times than the load master who always wanted it doing differently and was never happy until we had done it ten times.
B. Concept of the Operations. Set up a Communication Centre run by Fred Almond in a classroom in the local police barracks.
C. Tasks. Establish comms and set up Defence Communications Network working into RAF Stanbridge. Agree a schedule arrangement that would mean everybody got maximum time off to get out and meet the local population.
D. Coordinating Instructions. That was always left for the troop OC to sort out so at least the rest of us who knew what their roles were could get on with setting up.
The admin and logistics were left to Ray Heeley to sort out. He was just like a character out of The Great Escape. If Ray couldn’t get it then it wasn’t worth getting. He was the sort of person that you would want with you if you were ever in a tight corner but the chances were, he put you there in the first place!
6. Command/Signal. – Miscellaneous Events
A. Dinner with the locals. Tab Hunter, Brian Etheridge and Chris Whitehead walked into a local village trying to find a bar. We were greeted by several of the elder men. For a supposed poor country they were all dressed in designer jeans, Nike trainers and Manchester united football shirts. That should have been enough to scare us off. We were taken to the Chief of the village who introduced us to his 12 daughters and hinted that for a couple of Goats and a six pack of Herforder it would be our lucky day.
The Chief gave us a full tour of the village which included a trip down to the beach to meet the fishermen. The smell of rotting fish lying on the beach covered in flies made us feel like throwing up but to avoid insulting the Chief we managed to hold it back. Just as we thought we could get on with our search for a pub, the Chief decided he would invite us to dine with the elders of the village.
We were all sat down on the floor when they brought in a large bowl of rice. So far so good but then to accompany the rice in came a huge dish of the very same stinking fish we had earlier seen on the beach. Finally we got something to drink. Unfortunately it had no alcoholic content. It was warm curdled goat’s milk that was spiced up with fruit to take away the rancid taste.
I (Chris) made some excuse up that my religion forbid me to eat fish or drink milk but I was allowed to eat some of the rice. Tab who had travelled the world, was quite at home and got stuck in with his hands just like the locals and Ethers would eat anything.
As the meal progressed you could see that Tab and Ethers were struggling to keep the food down. The crunch came when they both took a large swig of the curdled milk and we all had to make a rapid exit. All you could hear round the back of the building was Tab throwing up which set everybody else going. Ethers just licked his lips and wanted to go back for seconds.
B. A date at the High Commission. As part of the public relations the British High Commission laid on a garden party. All off duty personnel were expected to attend. The military were tasked with supplying the alcohol and the BHC would organize the buffet. Once again Ray Heeley somehow managed to arrange for numerous barrels of beer and lager to be delivered along with bottles of spirits. It was all funded by the MOD. I don’t think the Embassy had heard of the regiment’s reputation for enjoying their selves and we cleared the buffet and drank most of the alcohol.
The next morning, and very hung-over, we were all ordered with full kit to parade outside. Somebody had stolen the BHC Flag and the local police inspector who had been at the garden party had concluded the culprit must have been a member of the regiment. Ray Heeley had fiercely defended our reputation for honesty and to prove his point insisted that the police inspector searched every member of the regiment that had been at the party.
Stood out front with his familiar brown leather briefcase, he made us all empty the contents of our rucksacks out so that the police could walk round checking. Eventually the police inspector admitted that he could have been wrong and maybe one of the locals had taken the flag.
Several weeks later after we had returned to the UK the BHC Flag appeared on the Crew Room wall next to a brown leather briefcase and Ray Heeley with a big smile.
C. Duty Free. At the end of the exercise we were told that not all the Hercules were available to get us back to the UK at the same time. It was decided that the married personnel would go on the first wave of transport and that the single guys would stay in the Gambia. Not expecting to be out there any longer and Orph having won most of the remaining money we all had including somebodies watch, none of us had any money left.
Back in the barracks, penny less and playing cards for matches, somebody was having a moan and mentioned that Ray Heeley had even left a box of 12 bottles of Bacardi for us to take back for him. That was it – the party began and we soon polished off the lot. To avoid us arriving back to an immediate bollocking we filled all the bottles up with water.
When we did arrived back at Lyneham a couple of days later, Ray was waiting and wanted his box of Bacardi so that he could pay the customs duty on it. We didn’t have the heart to tell him he was paying for a box of water. At the next troop, do a smiling Ray announced that he had a surprise for us and produced a box of Bacardi. He said it just happened to be left over from the Gambia’s High Commission party and as a treat he had even paid the duty on it. We had to pretend all night it was really strong stuff, and all Ray kept saying was it was a bad batch and just tasted like water to him!
Chris (Pimple) Whitehead (2014)