Unit History: RAF Masirah

RAF Masirah

Added on 08/02/2010

RAF Masirah existed before the second world war.  It had a flying boat slip and servicing facility, located on the western side of the island.  It is believed that Sunderland flying boats used to stage there on flights to Singapore.
The RAF airfield and camp occupied the northern tip of the island.

Memories of RAF Masirah

(Memories written by members of Forces Reunited)

RAF Masirah in 1975

Written by Timothy Dews

Monday was the most eagerly awaited day of the week as far as the incumbents of RAF Masirah were concerned. For Monday was VC10 day. This meant a fresh intake of unfortunates,(or 'Moonies' as they were known due to the palour of their complextion) mail from home and, more importantly for the lucky few, the flight home they had been dreaming about for the previous nine months tour of duty. It was also the main day for sending mail out of the island. The VC10 was on a quick turn round, landing at approximately 8:00pm and departing an hour and a half later. This meant that as soon as it landed a whole army (or should that be Airforce) of men swung into action to ensure that it was in no way delayed. Petrol tanks were refilled and toilets were emptied. Food was replaced and luggage and mail were loaded into the hold. I can't remeber a time when the VC10 was held up for any reason. I do remember, however, a time when the announcement of its arrival caused mass panic on the island. I was a lowley sac cook in the inflight catering section and in my spare time I worked on the local forces radio station, broadcasting to the lads.
In order that the post was sorted and ready to be loaded onto the VC10 by 8:00pm, the post boxes were all emptied by 5:45, and we on the radio would make regular anouncements to remind every one on the day. It was a Sunday evening and the World Service news was just about to finnish. As duty announcer, it was my job to fill in the small gap between the programmes and to give out any annoucements that needed to be made. As I rushed into the small continuety studio a voice behind me shouted "Don't forget VC10 in and out by 9:30 so mail boxes emptied at 5:45" I sat in front of the microphone and waited for the red light to come on. "That was the World Service news and coming up we have Alistaire Cooks Letters From America. Just time for me to remind you that the VC10 is in and out so all mail boxes will be emptied by 5:45." Had I left it at that then the listeners would have assumed I meant Monday night and wouldn't have bothered. However, I added " That gives you about half an hour to get your letters in the box."
As I came out of the studio, one of my colleagues pointed out that I was twenty four hours early. I shrugged and said "Oh well, the postie will just have a few extra letters to deal with." Minutes later the phone rang. "This is Movements here" said an angry voice. "What the hell are you doing announcing the planes arrival twenty four hours early. I've got blokes banging on my door worried that they haven't had their bags checked in." "Don't worry Sargent, it was just a slip of the tounge. I'll go on air and explain it was a mistake. No harm done"
I put the phone down only to have it ring almost immediatly. "This is the Tower" said another angry voice. "Are you the stupid *********** who announced that the plane was coming in today.?" Once again I made a grovelling apology and assured the officer that I would put everything right. The phone rang again. "This is the Station Warrent Officer" said a calm but menacingly annoyed voice. "If it was you that just made the stupid announcement that has caused mass panic on the island, I suggest you ring the Commanding Officer and apologise." With a heavy heart I rang the CO's no. "This is the radio station here." I said after he had answered. "I believe that an announcement I made in error has caused a little bit of confussion." "That." replied the CO," is somewhat of an understatement. I suggest you get yourself back on the air and put the confusion right." As soon as Alistaire Cook had finnished, I raced back into the studio. Trying desperatly to make light of things I laughed and said that I understood that there may have been some misunderstanding after my last announcement and that ofcourse there was 24 hours to got letters in the boxes befoe they were emptied. It was only afterwards that I learned of the full impact of my 'slip of the tounge'. I was told that, as a result of my announcement, a message had been flashed across the screen in the cinema warning of the arrival of the VC10. This had caused a mass exidus with blokes emptying wardrobes and lockers and stuffing clothes into bags and cases so that they could get their basgs checked in.
The mood, when the truth came out, was pretty mean amongst the lads and I wisely kept out of the mess and bars until the plane had well and truly left the island. Even after that I was never allowed to forget the day I caused a mass panic on an island camp.

RAF Masirah in 1951

Written by george tinsley

1951 on island Masirah there was 9 or 12 service men F/L Tucker nearly shot my dads nose off or summat like that as when they were ask what they wanted they said can of peaches he used shoot them of the shelf

RAF Masirah, in 1975

Written by Colin Rhodes

I was a cook working in the JR Mess during ’75’. The catering flight had to supply ’Halal’ meat for the Muslim workforce on the island. This had to be picked up from Dubai.not the glamorous place we see on TV today. But a very different era, It was still an old city. We had to fly there in an Andover, with the head Omani worker from catering stores he was called ’Abbs’. He used to do this job every time the meat was collected. I can’t remember whether it was weekly or fortnightly. But one airman had to accompany him. There had to be RAF personnel with him, but basically it was a chance to get of the island for the day. And to be able to do a bit of shopping!
When we landed, we had to go to the depot to collect the meat items. Which was put into ’Polar Packs’ taken back to the aircraft and loaded. We Both then had plenty of time to do some shopping. ’Abbs’ took me to a Souk so I could pick up some souvenirs. He was obviously very well known, having done this trip whenever it was required for the last number of years. Eventually after collecting various bits and pieces for myself and Abbs. We ended up in a little shop. As soon as the owner saw Abbs, who he obviously knew well from the greeting he gave him. The shop owner pulled a chair for me to sit on and made me very welcome!
They went into a conversation with each other by a cabinet. The shop owner then picked out this block of a ’tar’ like substance, he scraped of a little which ’Abbs’ smelt. He then bought it over to me for a smell! He then asked me if I thought it was ’ok’ which I nodded yes. He grinned at me and said something I wasn’t expecting "Hashish". It seemed that one of ’Abbs’ other jobs he had was the local dealer for ’friends and family’ in the ’Wali’ camp!
I don’t know of anyone else who had this experience. I just didn’t know what to do. So I didn’t say a word! In case I’d drop myself right in the smelly stuff! I do wonder if the hierarchy actually knew that RAF aircraft where being used for ’Drug Smuggling’ for years. Or whether they did, and chose not to ’mention’ it. Just to allow a quaint local custom carry on for peace and quiet. And not to upset the local’s!!!!!

, , RAF Masirah, Restoration of The Masirah State Railway in 1968

Written by Dave Logan

I was one of the guys involved in the restoration of what we named The Masirah State Railway" during the 1968/9 period. As most who were there might remember, there was not much to keep yourself amused on Masirah. Out of boredom, it was decided a project was needed and so the restoration work began. At the time there were two Ruston 0-4-0 diesel engines looking sad for themselves.
We had them signed over to us by MPBW and got to work. This involved two tasks, getting one of the engines going again and relaying track from the camp from behind the MT hanger to the jetty, with the intention of running a daily service after lunch, which was the time most guys finished work. Luckily MPBW also gave us a set of keys to one of the biscuit tin buildings which contained some spares and also sleepers, tracks, track joiners, nuts and bolts and other useful odds and sods. For tools, well they were sort of "borrowed" from MT, also some were found with the spares. For diesel the CO came to the rescue, arranging with OC Supply to have a certain amount of fuel lost to spillage. Strangely enough it spilt into 45 gallon drums close to the engine.
Getting the engine going was supported by DWS (Diplomatic Wireless Service) who were also based on the Island. Their engineers sorted out the injectors for us and helped fitting an electric starter/flywheel. At first we had to start the engine by large hand cranks. The engine itself was very heavy due to it exhaust system which caused derailment at times. As it had been used to move munitions from the jetty to the bomb dump in the past, the exhaust was routed through heavy water tanks to ensure no sparks. This was all stripped off leaving just an upright pipe
We converted three flatbed freight wagons to carry passengers by adding seating along both sides. We were allowed to carry passengers free but not allowed to charge a small fare due to insurance liability (nanny state even existed then). The intention was to build funds for further restoration.
The track was relayed over the next months, some times pulling old track out of the sand with a Land Rover and sledge hammering it straight again and rebuilding small bridges. The engine was quite happy to pull but not so happy to push, which also occasionally resulted in derailments. This was solved by finding and reconditioning 4 sets of points. This allowed us to put a turning loop at either end so we could move the engine to the front of the trains direction of travel. The last bit of track we laid was from behind the MT hanger across the road to the side of the biscuit tin building, our so called Engine Shed. The work was carried out after lunch and you could always see the crew heading towards the engine carrying their Tea Urn full of cold water and that dubious squash we were issued with - "Use by Dates" how are you!!
I am not good at remembering names, however, I can remember one other Rail Nut, Pat Wire who also worked in ATC with me (Dave Logan). For info, I also helped out on Radio Masirah and stacking beer cans in the evening when we were not shouting out "Good Old Fred" at the cinema.

, , , RAF Masirah, 1968/9 - Masirah State Railway Continued in 2012

Written by Dave Logan

Since posting the story of the Re-construction of the Masirah State Railway in 1968/9, I have since found the Ruston Engine we worked on, which is now back in the UK. Having just received a message from George Richmond advising me he had posted a picture of the engine at work carrying out its original function back in 1958/9, I thought it time to update the storey with a happy ending, so here goes.
I have since found out that the Masirah State Railway’s Ruston Engine was sent back to the UK when RAF Masirah closed in 1977 and placed under the care of the RAF Museum at Hendon. The museum’s literature currently states, “The Royal Air Forces connection with railways is not just confined to locomotive nameplates. It once operated extensive narrow and standard gauge railway systems.
The Royal Air Force Museum’s collection reflects this long-standing connection and includes a Ruston and Hornsby built 48DL two foot gauge diesel Yimkin& from the Gulf staging post at Royal Air Force Masirah (on loan to the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society since 1987)”. I have recently contacted the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society to find out the current status of the Masirah engine and have received a reply from Tim Ratcliffe.
Tim is their society officer for what is known as the ‘Museum’ fleet of diesel and petrol locomotives. Essentially this means any loco not fitted with air brakes and used for their passenger services. Yimkin has been in his care for many years and that they have recently returned the engine to a working condition. The locomotive was first run at Leighton Buzzard back in 1994, however very shortly afterwards it suffered a severe gearbox failure which put it out of action.
Two of the concentric shafts for each of the speeds managed to get jammed together with debris. It was as if the loco was trying to run in 2nd and 3rd gear at the same time. The gearbox was rebuilt but other projects and priorities over the years meant that Yimkin was never completed. Tim wanted to put that right this year and his deadline was their recent gala event at the end of September 2012. It took a lot of effort, but by mid afternoon the engine was tow started and fired up on the first attempt in 18 years.
There is still quite a bit of work to finish it off. At the stage when the photo which I have uploaded into the Gallery was taken the loco had no brakes and could only be driven slowly and on level track. One of the 4 injectors didn’t appear to be working properly and will need removal and inspection. The paintwork (RAF ground equipment blue you will note) also needs to be completed. Despite these problems the engine seems to run well and Tim is confident for the future.
It’s nice to know our work lives on although renamed Yimkin from its former name Kingfisher. Yimkin is Arabic for maybe and a favorite saying of the local Arabs was “yimkin barden”, meaning maybe later. The restoration of the railway in 1968/9 was never yimkin, it was always a positive, “it will be done”.

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