Early 1970’s Dhofar province, Oman…a secret war.
But for me though, an adventure of a lifetime, or at least the beginning of one.
Seventeen years young, looking about fourteen. Tiny, undernourished, spotty face, still going through puberty way late…but living, training, fighting and playing sport with potential mates for life…and mates they all became.
As a recent member of 2 Squadron, RAF Regiment, our task…to defend the airfield at RAF Salalah on the coastal plain of Southern Oman. We manned “Hedgehogs”… a defensive fortification constructed from the ground up, and made from oil drums, ammunition containers and sand bags all full of stones, rubble and sand…years before the HESCO baskets were even thought of…unfortunately, as everything was filled and back filled by hand.
The locations were in support of each other and faced towards the jebel (mountains) where the Special Air Service Regiment and local forces were fighting off the Communist insurgency patrolling in from Yemen.
My time there was a “golden moment” in learning as much as I could about weapons and small tactics from the lads and NCO’s that had the experience to teach me.
Time spent firing my personal weapon, and becoming at one and comfortable with it, to learning the GPMG SF, the 81mm mortar, anti tank weapons, foreign weapons, and as much live firing and hands on as I could get. Learning how to live together with just the basics, sleeping among the camel spiders, and other desert creepy crawlies that would become our buddy partners through the night. Learning to speak a few words of Arabic with the locals that would share our position, or come wandering through as they execute their piquet patrols from Hedgehog to Hedgehog, and along or across the dry wadis, and out towards the jebel.
The smells of the herbs growing wild on the landscape, the colours of the desert and the mountains would change depending on not just the seasons, but also the time of each and every day. The noise of the Hueys and Strikemasters flying low level over our position towards the mountains to resupply the SAS locations, or provide support in a firefight…and again on their return journey. The feeling of the extremely hot days yet bitter cold nights.
At one stage we had a cook called “Johnson”…a great individual with a big red henna beard, he came from Baluchistan, he spoke Baluch, Pashtun, Farsi, Arabic and English…and I’m yet to taste fresh bread as good as his. He would tell me about being up in the jebel based alongside the SAS, a great story teller for a young lad to listen to, and with a great sense of humour too.
Occasionally we’d be targeted by Adoo rocket fire from the mountains, or we’d detect movement to the front of our position at night, reminding us all just why we’re there.
Later, over a couple of days, a handful of SAS patrols came through our Hedgehog enroute to getting dropped off at the base of the jebel, then patrolling up into an area to set up newer defensive positions of their own. They arrived in a mix of transport from their base off to one side of Salalah camp…”Pink Panthers,” other stripped down Land Rovers, and a 4 tonner. As a young and pretty much brand new military man, it was jaw dropping to watch these mature but grounded and extremely humble individuals, stop off and chat with us. None were dressed alike, long hair, some with beards, different weapon systems, different belt kit and ops waistcoats, different clothing…laid back but still very professional. A few nights later, I’d watch them up in the mountains having a firefight with the adoo. Red tracer going out from their position in response to green tracer coming in…explosions, illuminations…OK, that’s where I want to be…I’m only seventeen, but how do I get there?
That’s what this single photo means to me…great, great memories of my humble military beginnings with a bunch of terrific lads, many of whom I’m still in touch with today…and in a couple of years time, this memory will have been from old times 50 years ago!