Burma - The Day of the Dear Departed (1954), by Gerry Catling
IT was 1954 and I was a 27 year old trainee station officer sitting outside my small office at Mingladon Airport, Rangoon. The BOAC flight was due in 90 minutes. The passengers and crew would nightstop amid the faded glory of the Strand Palace Hotel before proceeding on to Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo at a civilized hour the following morning.
There was not much to do in the afternoon check that the incoming flight was on time, the baggage porters had turned up, the passenger coach had not broken down, the hotel rooms had been booked and the aircraft meals had been ordered for the next days departure.
It was as well to keep an eye on the weather forecast, and compare it with what was actually happening. Although the afternoon was hot and humid, with thunderclouds on the horizon, the local meteorological coded message to the aircraft indicated that ice spicules in suspension were to be expected. This had to be amended before the captain started worrying that he might be heading for Labrador rather than southbound down the Arakan Coast.
Apart from this minor distraction, no activity was expected for the next hour or so. There was absolute silence no breeze, the leaves not stirring, and the flame of the forest trees brilliant red.
My tranquillity was then disturbed by the sound of distant music; it was coming nearer by the minute and I soon made out the sound of a military band accompanied by the tramp of marching feet. Round the corner and on to the ramp came what appeared to be half the Burmese army, led by the band and a Burmese general in full military regalia, with sword and gold braid. They halted near my reclining chair and I sat up to enjoy the military ceremony and display that seemed about to take place.
However, at this point the general advanced towards me. I wondered whether he wanted to pass the time of day, or perhaps join me for tea. No such luck. He saluted formally and asked if I were the officer in charge. I stood up hastily, returned his salute in well-remembered RAF fashion, and admitted that I was indeed the person in charge.
A feeling of apprehension started to come over me as I wondered whether I, or BOAC, had committed some diplomatic blunder that had offended the dignity of the newly independent Burmese state? The general then said in perfect English: I trust that suitable arrangements have been made to honour the arrival of the Dear Departed?"
At first, I thought that either he or I had been affected by the intensity of the sun, but luckily he explained himself in his next statement. What a tragedy it had been, he went on to say, that two senior officials of the Burmese government had been killed in a recent air crash in Ireland. His guard of honour was here to take over the remains, with due reverence, for a state funeral. A small voice within me said, dont panic but it was a very near thing. I managed to offer a few suitable words of condolence, offered him a cup of tea and requested to be excused to ensure that the suitable arrangements were complete.
The airlines routine is that the load message is sent by the previous port of call detailing the number of passengers disembarking, weight of cargo and mail, and any passengers requiring special treatment or any load requiring special handling. The load message sitting on my desk confirmed my reading of an hour before that that there was no mention of the dear departed on board or indeed of having missed the flight. By now the aircraft was only about 30 minutes away and was just about to start its descent into Rangoon.
In desperation I ran up the 50 steps to the control tower and asked the air traffic control officer if I could speak to the captain. This was a rare privilege, only usually granted in cases of emergency.
Are you carrying any human remains? I croaked, sweat soaking my shirt and gathering in my shoes. Ill get the chief steward to check the cargo manifest the captain replied. After an agonizing wait of five minutes he called back to say that there appeared to be two small boxes of human ashes in the forward hold with the rest of the cargo and what was the problem, as they were not causing any trouble? I told him of the reception committee and requested that when he landed, he should park the aircraft 100 yards away from the army with the cargo door facing away from the terminal. He should also keep the passengers on board and I would explain further when he arrived.
The aircraft landed and parked as I had asked; the passenger steps were rolled into position at the rear door and the steps used by the engineers were placed at the front door. Two loaders climbed into the hold out of sight of the army, rummaged through the cargo and soon found the two boxes of ashes. They brought them to me on the flight deck where I was explaining to the captain how I was trying to inject a little dignity in to the proceedings. Face was important; the honour of BOAC was at stake. The boxes could not be dragged across the ramp on a battered baggage trolley by two sweating loaders. Here the captain and I faced a dilemma. Should he or I appear out of the passenger door clutching two prosaic little wooden boxes and hand them over to the general like something that had fallen off the back of a lorry?
The chief steward, who had been listening to the exchange, was clearly a man of some resource, and solved our problem in a flash. With a rather world weary air, he produced his silver first class drinks tray, placed the two little boxes on it and covered them with his purple silver polishing cloth from the galley.
So it was that I walked down the aircraft aisle past rows of bemused passengers, carrying the purple covered silver tray, exited through the passenger door, down the steps and on to the ground in full view of the army. I marched slowly towards the general with a suitably mournful expression on my face; he rapped out a word of command; the band struck up a sort of funeral march and the detachment of soldiers presented arms. The general gravely accepted the bedecked drinks tray with its precious burden and placed it on the gun carriage. Shots were fired in salute and the procession proceeded out of the airport gate.
The passengers and crew disembarked looking somewhat stunned and some semblance of normal routine returned, although I felt as if I had lost a stone in weight and my mouth was very dry. Now tell me what all that was about, said the captain. Ill explain later in the hotel bar I replied weakly.
Afterwards, I heard that the Burmese minister of transport had told the British ambassador how impressed the government had been with the splendid formal arrangements made at the airport by BOAC to honour the sad occasion of the arrival in Burma of the dear departed. However, nobody in head office said anything to me about it, it was regarded as just part of the job. I did however get some fairly colourful language from the chief steward for not asking the general for the return of his drinks tray. How, he wondered, was he going to explain its loss when he got back to London? I expect youll think of something, I said.
BETTER ON A CAMEL
BOAC and BEA reminiscences, memorabilia and history
About the charity 'Practical Action'
Foreword by Sir Ross Stainton, former Chairman of BOAC
Review of background to airline experiences and recollections
CHAPTER ONE - THE FAR EAST AND INDIAN OCEAN
airport and airline memoirs about the far east - from India and the Seychelles to Japan
Bangladesh - All Together Now! by John Anderson (1973)
Bangladesh - Memories of Dhaka, by Simon Watts (1981-1985)
Life and Work in Bangladesh
Burma - Lighting Up Time, by Gerry Catling (1954)
an airport story - cigars as insect repellent
Burma - The Day of the Dear Departed (1954), by Gerry Catling
memories of a delicate diplomatic exercise with BOAC in Burma
Burma, etc. - Britannias, by Alan Douglas
recollections of the Bristol Britannia in service with BOAC
Burma -The Sound Barrier, by Tony Russell (1972)
Dealings with the civil aviation authorities in Rangoon
Burma - The Fertiliser Factory, by David McCormack (1972)
memoirs of an airline manager - going the extra mile in customer service...
Burma - Cigars, Religion and Superstition, by Peter Jones (1975)
Meeting the Burmese People
Burma - Special Adviser to the Manager, by Peter Jones (1975)
attending a funeral in Rangoon
Burma - Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)
a visit to Mandalay and the temples of Pagan
China - Learning Chinese by Ralph Glazer (1983)
China - Scotland the Brave by Ralph Glazer (1985)
India - Holy Cow, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Obstruction on the runway...
India - Delhi (Not) Singing in the Rain, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Monsoon (and its Cargo) Close airport
India - The Morning Commuter, by Peter Fieldhouse (1970)
Getting to the office in Calcutta
Japan - The Mount Fuji Disaster, by James Wilson (1966)
a retrospective view of the management of the aftermath of a major air crash
Pakistan - Yaqoob and Musaleem, by Peter Liver (1987)
fond memories of two aged retainers
Philippines - Cutting it Fine, by David Hogg (1970)
memoir of the chaos to civil aviation caused by a typhoon in Manila
Philippines - Being British, by David Hogg (1969)
reactions to an earthquake
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - The Day my Number (almost) Came up, by Gerry Catling (1960)
memories of a BOAC Comet 4 landing on a wet runway..
Seychelles Days, by Mike McDonald (1974-1977)
An island idyll..civil aviation (and British Airways) arrive in the Seychelles
CHAPTER TWO - THE MIDDLE EAST
airport and airline reminiscences and memorabilia in the Middle East
Abu Dhabi - Ice Cold in Abu Dhabi, by Graham Moss (1970)
keeping VC-10 passengers cool on the ground
Abu Dhabi - Sand Trap, by David Hogg (1972)
hazards of driving in the desert
Dubai - a Training Posting, by Peter Liver (1970)
Bahrain - The Traffic Manual Expert, by David Meyrick (1962)
an air cargo problem - loading a BOAC DC7F
Bahrain - The Thunderstorm, by Ron Colnbrook (1968)
a scary flying story
Iran - The Nosewheel Incident, by Alan Hillman (1965)
a problem on the runway in Tehran
Iran - Hold Five, by Brian Cannadine (1972)
Teheran Airport - animal alert!
Israel - Cultural Differences, Mike McDonald (1972)
airline tales from Tel Aviv
Kuwait in the Fifties by Jamil Wafa (1955)
Kuwait - a 'Fifth Pod' Operation, by Jack Wesson (1965)
a BOAC flight planner's nightmare
Kuwait - the Oil Drillers, by John Cogger (1970)
a BOAC Sales Manager at work - life in the fast lane
Kuwait - Out of the Fog, by Peter Richards (1991)
Return to Kuwait after the Gulf War
Yemen - Sana'a Memories, by David Hogg (1973)
a testimony of everyday life in the Yemen
Saudi Arabia - Abdul and the Bacon, by David Hogg (1973)
a treat goes missing
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia - Rats! An Unwelcome Customer, by John Anderson (1978)
An Unwelcome Passenger
CHAPTER THREE - AFRICA
recollections and tales of life with BOAC and British Airways in Africa
Ghana - the Watchman, by Anthony Farnfield (1966)
a letter in the files
Kano, Nigeria - Willie on the Rampage, by Pat Noujaim (1959)
The randiest dachshund in Northern Nigeria nearly causes a delay
Nigeria - Bush Telegraph, by David Hogg (1965)
bad news travels fast in West Africa
Nigeria - Things Other than the World Cup, by Don Ford (1966)
BOAC involved in events in Lagos before the Biafran War
Nigeria - Boom Times, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
the oil boom in Nigeria in the seventies
Nigeria - an Attempted Coup, by Peter Jones (1976)
violent regime change in Nigeria
Nigeria - Living and Working in Lagos, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
stories of expatriate life in Nigeria
Nigeria and Concorde, by Peter Jones (1976-1979)
How Nigerians took to Concorde
Nigeria - Never Knowingly Undersold, by Peter Jones (1979)
Travails with the Lagos Telephone Company
Nigeria - Student Travel, by Peter Jones (1981)
a student goes to the wrong destination
Nigeria - Lagos Airport Again! by Nick Robertson (1989-90)
Wild West (Africa)
Ethiopia - Petrol Rationing, by Doug Tester (1975)
Michael to the rescue
Uganda - The Road to Kampala, by Peter Liver (1972)
a moment in history - BOAC in Uganda in the days of Idi Amin
Uganda - Exodus of the Ugandan Asians, by Mike Wickings (1972)
Organising the departure of Asians from Uganda
Uganda - Kenneth's Mortars, by John Anderson (1972)
Diplomatic Incident in East Africa
Zambia - Jottings from the Copperbelt, by Peter Jones (1969-1972)
Malawi - The President's Plane, by Peter Woodrow (1977)
VIP Travel to the Commonwealth Conference...
Kenya - Nairobi 1956 etc., By Maurice Flanagan
early memories of BOAC in Nairobi
Kenya - The Frustrations of the Comet 4, by Don Ford (circa 1962)
recollections of ingenious improvisation to make best use of space in the BOAC Comet 4
Kenya - Customer Recovery, Kenya Style, By Simon Watts (1988)
Going the extra mile...
Kenya - Concorde and other big beasts, by Simon Watts (1986-90)
Concorde and other big beasts
Kenya - Nanyuki Wedding, by Steve Sturton-Davies (1992)
a wedding in the bush
Egypt - The Six Day War, By Ron Colnbrook (1967)
memories of a war zone
Libya, Sudan and Iraq - The Personal and Confidential File, by Roddy Wilson (1955-1960)
more camel stories...
Libya - Monkeys in a Hangar, by Ralph Glazer (1954)
Wildlife in Tripoli
Libya - The spirit of Christmas Past, by Gerry Catling (1958)
hijinks in the Tripoli transit lounge
Libya (and Ceylon) Unaccompanied Minors by Gerry Catling (1959)
The difficulties that younger passengers sometime cause...
CHAPTER FOUR - THE CARIBBEAN, AMERICAS AND ATLANTIC OCEAN
Jamaica - Dr No by Mike McDonald (1964/1974)
a James Bond memory
St. Lucia - Hurricane Allen, by Peter Jones (1980)
surviving a major hurricane
St.Lucia - The Wrong Taxiway, by Peter Jones (1983)
consequences of miscommunication
St. Lucia - The Red Lady, by Peter Jones (1983)
voodoo and the Boeing 747 - an unsolved mystery
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
St. Lucia - There's a Hole in the Runway, by Peter Jones (1984)
suspension of operations in St Lucia
Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)
learning the ropes, the hard way
Bahamas - Cabin bags and Elephants, by Tony Russell (1966)
Canada - Gander, Crossroads of the World, by Gerry Catling (1956)
Transatlantic travel as it used to be
Mexico - A Day in Mexico City, by Ralph Glazer (1975)
Concorde, a Road Accident and the Mexican Police
Panama - Don't Stop! by David Hogg (1975-1980)
what about the snakes?
Panama - Flying Positive, by David Hogg (1975-1980)
BAC-111 pilots in Central America
Chile - Chile-Chile-Bang-Bang, by Howell Green (1994)
Frustrations in the queue for take-off
Uruguay - Jet Flight Arrives in South America, by Alan Douglas (1959)
introducing the Comet 4 in South America
USA - I Was There That Day, by Jonathan Martin (1963)
Dallas 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination
USA - The Cricket Team, by Peter Jones (1964)
cricket in New York with BOAC?
USA - The New World, by Don Ford (1967-1969)
An expatriate airport manager comes to Chicago
Ascension and Falkland Islands - Encounters of the Third Kind, by Bruce Fry (1985-1987)
a BOAC station engineer goes on secondment to the RAF in the Falklands
CHAPTER FIVE - EUROPE
UK - A Shetland Story, by Anthony McLauchlan (1972)
Bulgaria - Fog in London, by Mike Lewin (1976)
BEA schedules affected by fog in London
Cyprus - Suez and the Rocky path of True Love, by Gerry Catling (1956-57)
effect of Suez on BA schedules and social life..
Cyprus - the Hijack, by Bruce Fry (1970)
when a hijacked BOAC VC-10 diverted all flights to Nicosia
Cyprus - The Turkish Invasion, by Taff Lark (1974)
Evacuation of tourists when Cyprus invaded by Turkish forces
Germany - from BSAA to the Berlin Airlift, by Charlie Item Smith (1948-49)
Following the BSAA disasters, the Avro Tudor fleet is assigned to the Berlin Airlift as fuel tankers
Germany - Learning German, by Larry Gorton (1966)
recollections of a BEA manager having problems learning German
Italy - The Secret of Fiumicino, by Bill Smith (1967)
airport customer service staff get a morale boost and valuable lessons for motivation are learned
Romania - Heidi's Haggis, by Mike Lewin (1971)
a bit of BEA memorabilia - ingenuity in the kitchen saves Burns Night in Bucharest
Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)
an encounter with American presidential security guards
Russia (USSR) Trans Siberian Start-up, by Brian Burgess (1969-1972)
planning for an historic moment - BOAC's trans Siberian route to Japan
Russia(USSR) - The Omelette Factory, by Peter Richards (1970s)
Navigating over Siberia
Russia (USSR) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)
Diplomatic Incident with Chandelier
Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)
How to scare a Russian Security Officer
Russia(USSR) the Golf Lesson, by Peter Richards (1976)
In a Moscow Hotel Room..
Russia (USSR) -The Stewardess, by Taff Lark (1980)
shades of 007
Russia (USSR) - Domodedovo Airport, 'the House of my Grandfather' by Mike McDonald (1989)
a memoir of early days at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport
Spain - Dictatorship and Honour, by Gerry Catling (1960)
a recollection of Franco's Spain - negotiating the 'personal honour' code at Madrid Airport
Spain - A Soft Touch, by Ralph Glazer (1971)
A Meeting with Franco
Switzerland - The Precision of the Swiss, by Gerry Catling (1968)
recollections of how we proved to the airport authority that the Super VC-10 was not a noisy aircraft
Further reading and watching for addicts....
Some miscellaneous photos that don't have a story to go with them
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