Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Carnarvon Western Australia 1965 – 1967

Entering the town of Carnarvon for the first time in early November 1965 was reminiscent of going into a film set of an early Western Movie, the red earth, the swing doors in the saloon and the verandas which adorned the Hotels and shops in the main street were redolent of that era, apart from the names over the shops like Wesfarmers, Dalgettys, Fitz’s Newsagents and Fongs. The main street was incredibly wide to accommodate bullock carts and camel trains turning round when the bales of wool were transported to Geraldton by this method. The mature lady librarian, whose mother had lived outside Carnarvon all her life said that when it was proposed to include her mother’s name in a list of pioneers in the North West she had declined the honour saying “We weren’t isolated here as the camel trains came through every few weeks”.

We had just driven the 300 hundred mile from Geraldton along a recently graded and surfaced road, this work was paid for by NASA to enable easier access to the Tracking Station then being built on Brown’s Range just outside Carnarvon, the road only had tarmac on a middle strip leaving sand and stones along the outer edges. These stones were an ever present danger when vehicles were passing as many a windshield was lost in that exercise, this gave rise to certain sections of the road being called the ‘Crystal Highway’. There was an eighty mile stretch of the highway which was perfectly straight and monotonous to drive along and one had to be very alert to the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel. The only petrol station, called the Billabong, was situated halfway between Geraldton and Carnarvon. Just after the Billabong was a small faded sign saying Shark Bay was to the left. Seventy miles to the south of Carnarvon we had crossed over the dry river bed of the Wooramel, the wooden structure of this bridge was later washed away when Cyclone Elsie struck in 1967.

What were we doing in what the Australians then called ‘beyond the black stump’? Well, in early 1965 I had answered an advert in the UK Electronics weekly asking for engineers and technicians to work at a NASA Tracking Station to be built in Carnarvon Western Australia. Being interested in the Space program and also having a very stressful job servicing the first generation of commercial computers to go on the market I decided to apply. I obtained a position as Digital Engineer working on the operation and maintenance of the tracking data processor and antenna positioning equipment on the newly designed Unified S Band equipment. This necessitated a trip to the States to attend a training course held at the Collins Radio factory in Dallas Texas. This was to be a three month course covering all aspects of the S Band system. At the end of the course we paid a visit to the Greenbelt Maryland centre to see the operations there. During the time I spent in Dallas my wife took driving lessons so that when we arrived in Carnarvon she could use the car freely, this turned out to be a wise decision. So having flown from UK to Perth (it took 37 hours flying time in those days) stopping at Kuwait, skirting the east coast of India – there was a war on at that time - and landing in Ceylon then on to Singapore. Going into Singapore we encountered a tropical thunderstorm, the plane was thrown around violently. I spotted that the door seal had gone and that water vapour was entering the cabin. I then called the stewardess – who went as white as a sheet – who then called the flight engineer; they then spent the rest of the flight jamming a cot mattress around the door. After landing it took around six hours to get ready for the next leg of the flight to Perth. This last leg was a perfect flight; we flew down the coast line of Western Australia and could even see the dust trails made by the Gascoigne Traders trucks going up the Coastal Highway. We stayed in Perth whilst furniture and household effects were purchased for our new home in Carnarvon.

We called in at the Tracking Station in order to find out where we were going to be billeted, 4a West Street we were told and off we went to locate the house. We had all the essentials already sent up from Perth, beds table and chairs and a large refrigerator, our furniture and other personal effects shipped from the UK had arrived in a large crate which was unpacked later, it did not take long to settle in, make beds and a quick shopping excursion then blessed sleep.

Next morning, after breakfast we went on the porch and discovered a young kangaroo hopping around in the ‘garden’. This interested and pleased the boys somewhat. We set out to explore the town and to walk along the fascine, I was interested as to why the fascine was so called but no one seemed to be able to tell me but later digging into the origin showed that fascines were originally bundles of sticks tied together, hence the symbol of Fascism used by Mussolini. I presumed that bundles of sticks were put together to build the sea wall. It was possible to occasionally see sea snakes here in the water.

Wesfarmers was the only food shop in the town and the range of goods was initially very limited and sometimes one had to wait for the frozen milk to come on the Gascoyne Traders truck on the next weekly delivery. We eventually found that the powdered full cream milk made up and put in the fridge overnight was much more satisfactory than the blue tinged frozen variety. The bread – which was excellent - was provided by the local bakery with the delightful name of Memory and Shugg.

One of the first trips we made was to an area 40 miles to the north of Carnarvon known as the Blows. This was an area of soft rock where the sea had worn holes into its structure and the resulting effect of the waves was to produce plumes of water spectacularly into the air. There was an area of water protected by a reef in which one could bathe in comparative safety from sharks etc. We also went on the ‘road’ to Gascoigne Junction; this road ran alongside the dry river bed and the plantations, past the ten mile bridge. After about 20 miles of track we came to a pool in the river named ‘Chinamans Pool’. It was possible to swim safely in the shallow water.

Christmas 1965 was nearly upon us and we went to Geraldton to see what we could get for the boys’ presents. Geraldton suddenly appeared to be a very large town; it even had a set of traffic lights which was civilisation indeed. I had purchased a Volkswagen Combi in Perth to cope with boys and luggage on the way to Carnarvon, this proved a very good purchase as we were able carry all sorts of things to do the journey in relative comfort. Even in the high temperatures experienced in that part of WA the vehicle seemed to keep cool mainly due, I think, to the fact that there were no sloping areas of glass on the vehicle.

Christmas shopping over the real work began at the Tracking Station; a commissioning crew came over from the States and work for me started in earnest. Meanwhile Jean (my wife) and the boys settled down to coping with their new environment. We invited two of the Americans to Christmas day dinner, cooking a turkey in temperatures of nearly 100 degrees was a bit exhausting but the meal was a success.

The house we were in suddenly turned into a disaster area. Firstly, there were pigeons nesting in the roof space, I dislodged three nests by the simple expedient of sweeping them off the roofing boards into the garden, I think that this rather surprised the pigeons but it got them moved out. Secondly when turning the light on in the middle of the night we found that the kitchen was swarming with cockroaches. These were much more difficult to remove and eventually we moved to newly built house on Babbage Island Road which was free of unwelcome guests. We had a large ‘huntsman’ spider which inhabited a space over the front door – I think he kept any insects away for a considerable time. This spider was not harmful, unlike the ‘redbacks’ which sometimes inhabited the mail box.

This house kept me busy in whatever spare time I had from the Tracking Station, the floors being made of Jarrah polished up wonderfully well. I had a load of clay soil dumped in the front of the house which we put over the sandy driveway in order to stabilise it. I borrowed an old roller made of an oil drum filled with concrete and together, myself and the boys with plenty of water sprinkled on the soil produced eventually a good solid surface. After this I got water on the knee which was pretty painful, the doctor wanted to give me drugs to reduce it but I refused and I eventually found a cure – not recommended to everyone but it worked in my case. We were invited to a party during which I consumed large quantities of Port, this dehydrated me so much that the next morning the water had dispersed from my knee and I was back to normal. The front and back areas of the house were nearly pure sand and to try and give some semblance of a garden I obtained some buffalo grass cuttings and some gum trees from the river bank. With frequent watering during the year we eventually had the sand covered with greenery. Returning to see Carnarvon some 30 years later we found the gum trees were shading the front of the house – as I intended - and the grass still green. The town had changed beyond belief, the verandas had gone and the main street had a central reservation, gone was the compacted red earth. The town had the appearance of a prosperous tourist location.

During this time work at the Tracking Station was proceeding and the systems were being put through their paces. When the night time winds were practically nonexistent then we would do ‘star tracks’ which consisted of pointing the antenna at known stars, passing the antenna positioning information to Houston enabling us to correct our angle displays and to verify our geographical location. Two films were made over this period, one by NASA and one by the Collins Radio personnel; we have only succeeded in locating excerpts from one of them.

The time came when the whole system needed to be tested. To do this NASA had several Super Constellation aircraft – known affectionately as ‘Connies’ – which were specially adapted to emulate the Apollo spacecraft. So our first task was to track the aircraft. We found that some information was not being downloaded correctly and I reversed a phase sensitive connection which cured the problem – silly me this action seemed to upset the engineer in charge and I had to explain – with drawings how a phase change occurred.

We were now ready to do some serious work, one of the first tracks we undertook was to monitor the Saturn V1b booster rocket in Earth orbit to ascertain the fuel movement when a small ‘ullage’ rocket was fired, and this had the effect of moving the fuel toward the base ready to be reignited. The video obtained and later shown to us was very psychedelic to look at as the fuel moved in a weird motion.

When I was working outside on the antenna, helping to install some cooled parametric amplifiers I was on the hydraulic lift platform chatting with the native Australian who was operating the lift. He had, as I remember a colourful background, being brought up on a Mission Station inland, in a place called Meekatharra, had worked on sheep stations in the vicinity and having learned to drive, obtained a job at the Tracking station. The day was hot, sunny and windy and I found out to my cost the penalty of not wearing sun glasses as the next morning I awoke with eyes on fire and light was painful. Going to the doctor I found that I had severe conjunctivitis caused by fine sand, it was a condition locally known as ‘sandy blight’. It took several years to really get over it and to this day I use an eye wash every morning.

On the 14th February 1966 we had the upheaval of the currency changeover from the Pound to the Dollar; sensibly the 10 shilling was chosen to be base unit. When some time later the UK changed over to decimal currency the Pound was chosen as the base unit and the subsequent chaos and inflation that followed would have been avoided – in my estimation – if the ten shilling had been the base unit. By this time Jean had obtained a job in the high school as a clerical assistant.

On April 8th 1966 a Surveyor Model 2 was launched with the objective of simulating a highly eccentric lunar orbit. This was our first real track and we eagerly awaited the outcome, our antenna pointing data came from the FPQ6 system at that time as we did not have any tapes to program the USB equipment. This caused some inter rivalry between us and the FPQ6 team however when at about 25,000 nautical miles they lost radar contact and we proudly boasted that we still had contact and remained so until the Earth’s rotation caused us to lose signal. The next day we tried to locate the spacecraft and discovered that without pointing data, locating the Moon was a long and tricky business. I obtained an Ephemeris in order to try and plot the Moon’s track, this worked alright when the Moon was just rising although I was always 4 minutes adrift. Afterwards I discovered that I had not compensated for the refraction of the Earth’s atmosphere. One of the team had a brilliant idea and constructed a device consisting of two school protractors and a pea shooter which gave the X and Y co-ordinates simply by looking at the Moon through the peashooter tube and taking the angles of the protractor. This earned us the jocular title of the ‘Moonrakers’.

We took a week’s leave and went to Perth, we put beds into the Combi and transferring the boys into them we were able to set out very early in the morning. As dawn was breaking we were greeted with the sight of a kangaroo hurtling its way on to the road at a great lick, I slowed down but the creature was still bounding along and just scraped the front bumper. We took many breaks on the way and nearing Perth we walked along the banks of the Murchison River – which still had water in it. Perth was and still is a very pleasant place to spend some time. King’s Park was an ideal place to wander around. My boys still remember the huge trunk of a Karri tree on display. Sadly this tree trunk deteriorated so much it was used as mulch.

Driving back to Carnarvon especially in the dark was fraught with problems of kangaroos and other nocturnal creatures crossing the road, there used to be a mob of kangaroos around the Wooramel and at other river crossings, sometimes I waited for a Gascoyne Trader truck to overtake and then follow as closely as I dared, keeping alert to dodge anything he struck – I should mention that the trucks had substantial ‘roo bars’ on the front.

In going to and from the Tracking Station we noticed that new houses were being built and a strange looking antenna was taking form, we later discovered that it was to do with satellite communication and was part of the Overseas Telecommunications Company (OTC). One day we had a visit from Kim Corcoran of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who interviewed me and my wife; we didn’t know until later that we had been picked to be part of the first live TV broadcast between us and our families in the UK. The other people chosen were the Vinton family and the Brightwells, the Brightwells – if I remember correctly – owned the petrol station in town, the Vintons were, like us, a tracking station family. The day of the transmission arrived (25th November 1966) and we assembled in the town centre waiting for the moment when contact was established. In the morning the town traffic was blocked off and the outside broadcast equipment was assembled and made ready, there was a temporary microwave link made between the town and the OTC Station and the Indian Ocean satellite. The first interviews between the Brightwell and Vinton families went off exceedingly well but when it came to our turn I could not hear any reply and we just stumbled our way through the exchange. It wasn’t until about 40 years later when I obtained a copy of the transmission that I realised the satellite had drifted out of position and contact was lost for the period of our interview.

Prior to the TV broadcast there was a tropical carnival and some of the station staff made up a mock flying saucer and Saturn Rocket, it was quite a big event and we won a prize cup.

By now, at the Tracking Station we were keeping occupied by monitoring and tracking quite a number of spacecraft which were being launched in order to survey the Moon. They were the precursors of the Manned Lunar vehicles. Namely they were the Surveyor and Lunar Orbiters which were to survey and plan the actual landing sites. There were seven launches in 1966, three Surveyors, two Lunar Orbiters, one Explorer and one Pioneer. The Lunar Orbiter 2 was memorable as we worked two full weeks from moonrise to moonset – an enormous amount of data was sent to Houston over this period.

In between our tracking commitments there was very little to do and I was asked to take some visitors around the station, this relieved the monotony and I became the unofficial tour guide for the Station. I remember taking the Chamber of Commerce people from Perth around the site as well as Miss Australia 1966 and various tour parties and members of the Press. I must have posed for and had many pictures taken. One recently came to light extracted from the Walkabout Magazine for August 1966. How many more are there hidden away I ask myself?

Another Christmas was upon us, the town was by now gearing up to the fact that it was growing rapidly and we found it could supply its expanding population and there was no need for us to drive to Geraldton. There was a party held at one of the ‘trackers’ houses where we counted out the number of different nationalities in the room - we were surprised that we counted 14.

1967 arrived and we experienced our first Cyclone in the days around 21st January. We battened down everything and waited for it to unfold. The rain came and we collected it from the down pipes and made tea with it, it tasted delightful – our town water was pumped up from the river bed and always had a sandy earthy taste. The word went round that the Gascoyne River was in flood inland and we went to the ten mile bridge to await its coming and what a sight it was. There was a tidal wave of debris at its head followed by sandy coloured water. The water level at the bridge rose to nearly 16 feet and the flow was tremendous, the causeway to Babbage Island was inundated and some boys had to be rescued from the water. After the water subsided we were able to swim by the pumping station for many weeks until the water eventually disappeared.

We were called to do a simulation and communication exercise on the 27th January for Apollo 1, we had just completed our preliminary tests when I was informed that there had been an accident. A little later we were told to stand down and go home. I learned later that the Apollo capsule had caught on fire and the astronauts had perished. This event saddened us all. All further astronaut and capsule tests were suspended until further notice. This event started me thinking about returning to UK as the future didn’t seem to hold its initial promise.

About this time I was asked to become the President of the local football federation, we had four football teams in the area mostly made up of people off the plantations. Keeping the peace between them was difficult because of the ingrained rivalries of the nationalities concerned. I held frequent meetings in the Gascoyne Hotel to help smooth things over.

There were several unmanned launches scheduled for 1967. The first being a Lunar Orbiter on the 5th February, there were no hitches on this track. When the next launch came along – a Surveyor on the 17th April there was a departure from routine when the rocket was suddenly put into a lunar phase without first coming over Carnarvon it being put into this phase when over Bermuda. There was an anxious wait and I calculated that we would see it over our Western horizon in about 10 – 15 minutes time, fortunately this turned out to be correct and I had a very relieved Station Director.

We took a two week break and went camping down in the South West, firstly staying in Perth for two or three nights. During that time I booked our passage back to the UK on the Canberra leaving in late October. For me, the Apollo 1 fire and the subsequent delays in a manned launch plus the fact that my boys needed a better education than that available in Carnarvon was the reason for this decision. I also purchased a new camera which I used later to do some internal pictures of the people in the USB area.

Then we went off down south passing through places with delightful names like Bunbury, Busselton, and Margaret River and down to the Diamond Tree forest where I climbed the 200 ft tree which had the fire look- out on top – I think that they called it the Gloucester Tree. We spent a night in the Porongorups near to Castle Rock which we climbed the next day. We looked in at Albany and then wended our way back to Perth and then the trek to Carnarvon. I should mention that to get from Perth to Carnarvon we had, in those days, to drive inland up the North West Highway through New Norcia, this was the only paved road at that time, then into Geraldton. Today there is the Brand Highway which runs up the Coast which makes it an easy drive.

Back at the Tracking Station there were a few more unmanned launches, a total of two more Lunar Orbiters, three Surveyors and a Mariner, the latter was for a Venus flyby. We began to prepare for our departure, when I spoke to the administration officer I found that they were prepared to give me some help with school fees if I wanted to send my boys to a boarding school in Perth – this was a very generous offer – but I had to decline it.

We packed, sold or gave away some of the things we had purchased whilst in WA and set off at the end of October 1967 back to UK. The journey to Perth was uneventful save when we had a ‘comfort stop’ and found two 6ft red kangaroos watching us with interest. We stayed in Perth for a couple of weeks to organise the finances – tax returns and such. In the bank we found an ex-Carnarvon manager who gave us some sound advice, delaying the money transfer to UK until devaluation had taken place in the UK. The journey on the Canberra was routine until we hit a Force 10 gale in the Southern Ocean. We called in at Durban and Cape Town spending enough time in them to take trips inland and see the sights, then it was Las Palmas and the UK and another period of upheaval till we finally settled down. I took a job as a system engineer, my wife (Jean) went into teaching and the boys both obtained Honours Degrees in mathematics at Emmanuel College Cambridge. This period spent in Australia has a special place in our memory.

Alan Gilham UK January 2008.

Friday, 31 August 2007

That bloody woman…

Ten years ago, I had just gone out for a curry, and on the drive home, turned on the radio to hear a solemn announcement about the Prince of Wales meeting a coffin.

"The Queen-Mum? The Queen?" I thought.

No, it turned out to be that woman. "A not-quite-accidental overdose of slimming pills?" I wondered, "But anyway, 'Ding dong! The bitch is dead!' -- and so that means that Charles should now be able to marry his first love."

The crazy disturbing emotional hoo-hah over the next days, made me ashamed to be British; and the shutdown for the funeral made it very difficult for me to get the provisions for my 40th birthday party on the Saturday following.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

What Tarot card...

You are The Hermit

Prudence, Caution, Deliberation.

The Hermit points to all things hidden, such as knowledge and inspiration,hidden enemies. The illumination is from within, and retirement from participation in current events.

The Hermit is a card of introspection, analysis and, well, virginity. You do not desire to socialize; the card indicates, instead, a desire for peace and solitude. You prefer to take the time to think, organize, ruminate, take stock. There may be feelings of frustration and discontent but these feelings eventually lead to enlightenment, illumination, clarity.

The Hermit represents a wise, inspirational person, friend, teacher, therapist. This a person who can shine a light on things that were previously mysterious and confusing.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Friday, 13 July 2007

HeroQuest Character Sheets

I put these together a while back and they are on the Issaries site. Word 97 and StarOffice/OpenOffice 1.0 format.



My branch of Gilham family originates from Dover, Kent. The name comes from the Norman French - Guillaume, or William. This is in contrast with the etymology offered by such sources as the Reader's Digest Condensed Encyclopedia, which offered the meaning of the name as "dweller by the head of the glen" - presumably ghyll-hame - which might explain the run of Gilhams along the Great Glen in the latter part of the 19th century, according to the recent trace-your-name display in the Science Museum, if the Auld Alliance does not.

The name is quite a common one (including the -ll and -llh variants) along the south-east coast, from Kent around to Sussex at least, but is otherwise quite rare in my experience. It's sufficiently rare that I've only encountered the name once in fiction (a Senator Gilham in a series of SF stories on the subject of head transplants written R.C. Fitzpatrick, and appearing in Analog in the mid 60's).


On the direct male line, he family can only be traced as far back to the Census of 1881 with any certainty, although the dates of birth can be taken further back as the ages are listed in the census.

Running back, the ancestry combines with the Walters family from North Staffordshire. Both of the early Walters family married Austins, so we suspect that they could have been cousins. From this marriage the progeny moved to London and the South East, and Australia respectively.

A branch of the Walters family strangely enough moved to Dover and created their own dynasty. Their maternal line is also named Austen (spelt with an E); another branch is now living in Norfolk.

So far we can only trace the maternal side of the Gilham family back to the Pett and Wallis family. Other families are noted as they interact with the main streams.

The Australian line needs to be expanded when information is available.

Unattributed ages are those of the 1881 census.

Outline Pedigree

The core of the genealogy I will take as my paternal grandfather Edward John, and his marriage to Alice Walters. His father married a Pett, while my grandmother came from two generations where a Walters married an Austin. Her siblings married a Kemsley (Dover) and a Mountford (East Anglia). Of his two sons, the elder emigrated to Australia, while my father Alan Edward stayed in England.

Kent Family Gilham

Henry Pett born 1838 at Leybourne Kent, Married Elizabeth Ann Wallis born 1841 at Wrotham Kent and married 15th November 1869. Children listed in 1881 Census were: Horace (15) Elizabeth Ann (12) Charlotte Emily (9) Florence (5) and Priscilla (10 months)

George & Julia Gillham née Ashman of Hougham Kent were the parents of Richard Edward, William John, and George (born 1870). Richard E Gillham was born 14th Feb 1862.

William John Gillham married Anne; their children were called Ethel and Jane.

Elizabeth Ann Pett married Richard Gillham (note the double-l in the name at the time) who was recorded as being 19 in 1881 (born in Dover) and a militiaman stationed in Canterbury at that time.

Richard E Gillham married Elizabeth Ann Pett on the 29th March 1887 and had twins Edward John - my grandfather - and a girl (Annie) who did not survive.

Later they had a daughter also called Elizabeth Ann, who was always known as Cissie, who married Walter Whiting.

Edward John was born in 1889 at 4 Prospect Cottages, Dover. In the 1891 census they were living at 35 Peter St., Dover. Richard is noted as being a Bricklayers labourer, in 1919 he was a builder and later became a member of the Dover Masonic Lodge.

Dover Masonic Lodge members, c 1920.

Edward John Gilham married Alice Maud Walters (Christmas Day 1919 in Fenton, Stoke on Trent) He had served in the Royal East Kent Regiment. (The Buffs) from Feb 1908 to July 1919. Returned from India Oct 1914.

Grandad in India

Promoted Sergeant Xmas 1914 then sent to “the Front” ie. France. He fought in the trenches at Ypres and was wounded. He spent the remainder of the war in charge of the Army Post Office in Marseilles. Alice was a nurse and served in the military hospital in Kent.

They had two sons.Eric John 12 May 1927 & Alan Edward 26 Sept 1929. Eric later married Muriel Shenton and they emigrated to Australia in 1951.

It is interesting to note that on my grandparents marriage certificate that Harold Mountford was a witness. He married Alice's sister Gladys.

North Staffordshire: Walters Family

Thomas Walters married Elizabeth Austin and had five children recorded in the 1881 census: Sarah (17) Elizabeth (15) Hannah (13), James(11) and Thomas (5).

James was born in Burton on Trent on the 21st October 1869 and is recorded in the 1881 census as living at 9 Gladstone Street, Stoke on Trent. There is only a picture of Hannah and her family with husband Charles who was an interpreter in the Army, branch unknown.

It seems (but not confirmed) that Thomas Walters married the sister of Charles Austin making James Walters and Harriet Ann Austin cousins

Harriet Ann Austin (12) was the daughter of Charles and Mary Ann Austin, both aged 40. In 1881 they lived at 36 Spring Road, Longton Stoke-on-Trent together with other siblings, Charles, (10) Thomas Henry, (8)Frederick W (5) and William Jas. (16 months)

James Walters married Harriet Ann Austin in Normacot, Longton, Stoke-on-Trent 27 Jan 1889, both aged 21years. In 1881 they lived at 33a GregoryStreet Longton with Alice Maud then aged 11 months, giving a birth date for her of 20th April 1880. They had two more children Gladys and Fred.

They eventually lived at 37 Holly Place, Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent.

Gladys married Harold Mountford (a miner) and had two daughters Freda Patricia and Christine, known as Chris. Gladys later remarried to a George Perry. There was no further issue.

Freda married Reginald Hunter and had a daughter, Patricia. Freda became a sergeant in the ATS during the war. Reg was a “Bevan Boy” and worked in the coal mines. Now (mid-2003) resides in East Anglia. Chris married Shearer Macintosh (known as Mac) in 1953 and died in Scotland (Burntisland) in 1998.

It is possible that the Salt family of Dilhorne, near Stoke, has some connections with this branch of the family.

Kent Walters Family

Fred Walters married Ada Kemsley, born circa 1900 in Gillingham and died aged 98. They lived in Dover at 2 Redvers Cottages, Kearsney They had one son and two daughters. Len, Gladys and Joan. By a strange coincidence the mother of Ada Kemsley was also an Austen but this time spelt with an E.

Fred was Company Sergeant Major in the 2nd Battalion on the Royal East Kents (The Buffs) during the war.

Gladys married a Mr Smithson and later they emigrated to South Africa and then Australia.

Joan married Joe Adkins; there was no issue.

They were both stationed in El Adem (Libya) when my father, Alan Gilham landed there in 1948 en route from Tripoli to El Fayid (Suez Canal Zone) as part of his National Service.

Len married Edie Dixon and had a daughter Carol and a son James.

Len served in the Royal Artillery and took part in the Burma campaign. Edie was a “clippie” on the buses during the war. The Dixon family took part in the Dunkirk evacuation using small fishing boats.

London Area Gilham Family

Alan Edward Gilham married my mother, Jean Louisa in 1952.

He was a wireman with London Transport and she was a secretary with the Ecclesiastical Insurance Office. He later became a Chartered Engineer (in electronics engineering), and finished his career in electronics sales, while my mother became maths teacher when her children were old enough for her to return to work.

Alan served in the Royal Signals (National Service) in the Middle East. Alan later spent two and half years working for NASA in Carnarvon W. Australia. They had two sons Steven (yours truly) and Andrew.

They both graduated with MA Cantab. in the Mathematical Tripos after reading maths at Emmanuel College Cambridge. Steven also gained an MSc in Astrophysics - like Trilian from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, really, only not so glamorous.

Steven Alan Gilham was born in Wimbledon (St. Teresa's Hospital) and educated at primary schools in Poplar Road, Morden (Surrey) Carnarvon (West Australia), King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford, won scholarship to Emmanuel College. My CV elsewhere on this site brings the story up to date.

Andrew John Gilham was born at home in 194 London Road Morden Surrey (my earliest memory is of that day), and followed the same course of schools and undergraduate degree. He now runs his own computer consultancy.

Steven Alan Gilham married Karen Alison Edwards in 1981. Karen is a King's alumna, with MA Cantab. in Classics, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Classical Archeology and is now an FCCA. Being childless by choice, this branch of the family leads no further.

Australia Gilham Family

Eric John Gilham married Muriel Shenton in 1948 in Stoke-on-Trent Staffs.

They emigrated to Australia in 1951 and became naturalised Australian citizens later on. Muriel already had one son Toniand later they had two sons and a daughter, Richard, Stephen and Susan, all born in Australia.

Eric later married Fay McGuiness and finally lived in Mt Gambier. South Australia. Eric died there on the 4th April 2003 aged 75.

Toni married Judy They reside in the Northern Territory.

Richard married and had two sons named Christopher and Rodney. Later he married Faye.

Christopher married Kath and have (at least) a daughter, Caitlyn.

Stephen married Margaret Hopley and they have two daughters Sandra and Kerin. They live in Traralgon, Victoria.

Susan married Philip Robertson. They have twin girls, Lee and Ellen. Susan is a nurse and has worked with the Flying Doctor service. Philip is now the Clinical Nursing Manager at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

This is just the start of an Australian dynasty, so the continuation of the name seems reasonably secure. It will be interesting to see how all the all relationships and families have grown by mid-century.

Maternal line

Recent data are redacted for obvious reasons. Research along this line has been more fruitful, reaching as far as my great4-grandparents in one place.

My maternal great2-grandparents and their antecedents

William H Moreton (~1835 - ~1897) born in Bucks. married Sarah Ann Martin (~1834-?), born Sussex, in ~1860.

Alfred Arnold (~1829 - 27-Dec-1888) born in W. London. married Emma Gisbey (~1829-?), born S. London, in ~1860. Alfred was the son of William (~1803-?), Emma the daughter of Jacob (~1798-?).

Joseph Butler (~1835 - 22-Dec-1900) born in N. England. married Elizabeth Miller (~1833-?), born London, in 1854. Joseph was the son of Joseph (~1800-?), and Elizabeth daughter of Abel (~1800-?).

Henry Beeden (~1836 - 5-Mar-1907) born in N. London. married Jane Tomkins (~1840-?), born N. London, in 1858. Henry was the son of Thomas (~1816-?), and Jane daughter of Henry T (~1816-~1863) and Louisa Harris (~1815-?), married ~1838. Louisa was the daughter of Henry R (~1790-?) and Sophia - surname unknown - (~1792-?).


The hard work that went into this was done by my parents for the Gilham line, and my aunt Joan on the maternal line. Thanks to them all.

My National Service by No.21067688 Signalman Gilham A E


It all started - as things usually do - with a letter addressed to me (Alan E Gilham) shortly after my eighteenth birthday. It contained an invitation from His Majesty's Government to attend at Whittington Barracks near Lichfield on the 1st January 1948, and asked "Did I have any objections?". As I was not in a reserved occupation how could I object? Later on, after a cursory medical with a local doctor, a travel document arrived with train details and a travel pass.

January 1st was a Thursday and I - as was normal in those days - had worked up to the end of December only having had Christmas and Boxing Day as holiday. Fortunately the day was mild and dry and I left home round about 9am, my mother went out to clean the front windows and I sneaked out round the back so that there would be no tearful goodbyes on her part. I walked to Stoke station and caught the specified train together with quite a number of other youths. On arrival at Lichfield station we were met by several NCOs from the South Staffordshire Regiment and two three-ton trucks into which we were bundled for the journey to the barracks. This was to be the first of many journeys like this either hanging on for grim death or slouching on the floor and sides.

On arrival we were stood in line and marched to our barrack room which was devoid of anything but empty frame beds with mess tins laid on them and wooden wall lockers, whatever we had brought with us in the way of toilet gear was put into the lockers and we then "stood by our beds" and waited till our troop sergeant appeared who duly took down our names, it turned out that his name was Bilham and we entered into a strained relationship from the first. We then had our first experience of foot drill as we were marched off to the cookhouse for a midday meal (dinner in those days). Foot drill was no problem to me and many of my compatriots as a lot of us had been in organisations like the Church Lads Brigade and similar, but many did not know their left from their right causing quite a few observations from our barrack room corporal. We learned about the cookhouse routine of having your mess tin being filled with food ladled in from a height of several inches causing the unsuspecting to lose their grip on the handle when such delights as a "dollop" of potato hit it with force. When the meal was over mess tins had to be rinsed in a communal bowl of lukewarm greasy water, cleaned and ready inspection. Later that same day we were taken to the Quartermaster's store and drew out three "biscuits" - these formed our mattress - and two blankets and two sheets. We also were fitted with uniforms and new boots; since the store personnel just gave you what size they thought would fit there was much swapping about of trousers etc. until most were reasonably dressed. That evening, after tea, we had to parcel up our civilian clothes and send them home and learn how to shine up your boots, blanco your belt and get a shine on your brass buckles.

The next day began in earnest, reveille at 6am, shave, perform your "ablutions", have breakfast and assemble on the parade ground at 8am ready for two hours of foot drill. Then there was a "NAAFI" break and continue till dinner time, and back on the parade ground for the rest of the afternoon. Evenings were always spent cleaning your kit or the barrack room or fatigues. Since I would not let Sergeant Bilham get at me I always got the worst fatigues such as polishing the brassware in the urinals and scrubbing the floor in the officers' mess. Later came the issuing of rifles, short magazine Lee Enfields, and rifle drill ad infinitum until that marvellous day when we were marched to the ranges and actually fired ten rounds each. I think I scored reasonably well although references to my pay book record of " tests of elementary training" dosn't substantiate this. Then we took our turn in the butts in order to signal where the shots landed in the target, there is always some clever person who uses your signalling stick as a target when you stick it up causing everybody to duck down and swear.

After rifle drill etc. came the Bren gun and we went through all the drills on changing barrels, stripping it down and reassembling until we could do it in the dark. I won a barrack room competition on how quickly I could load the magazine on the gun, fire, clear an imaginary jam and commence firing again. Going to the ranges with the Bren Gun gave Sergeant Bilham great delight as I had to put the gun on my shoulder, hold an ammunition box with the other hand another guy holding the other side of the box and in double time we went to our firing point. I found that firing the Bren was easy as there was hardly any recoil and I could obtain a good grouping on the target.

During the above activity there was a requirement to parade outside the medical block and receive the first of many "shots" for typhus A and B, cholera, smallpox and a Schick test, the latter was having the delight of having two needles stuck into your forearms, lack of reaction showed you were free from TB. Having all these vaccinations done in the space of about ten minutes caused several bodies to crash to the ground and I have to admit I was very nearly one of them, according to my old army pay book this was on the 2nd January.

There was also a lot of physical training during these six weeks of primary training, the usual 3 miles route march with full kit, but fortunately no extra weight in the form of ammunition, then immediately after that a half mile run without respite, all this was quite a stress on a lot of the men, some of them coming from very poor backgrounds.

A weekend leave at Easter was granted (25th March - 30th March) and I remember enjoying it, I could walk the dog and go out with some old school friends who were waiting to be called up. Then there was also a seven days mid training leave during which invites were given to families to attend a passing out parade at Lichfield.

This passing out parade date duly arrived. We spent a lot of time practising drills etc. until the NCOs were satisfied. The actual day was damp and was very nearly the cause of an accident, we had fixed bayonets and then the order to slope arms came and my hand slipped on the rifle which started to come up at an angle towards the back of the man in front of me, with my left hand I managed to stop this and performed the rest of the manoeuvre without incident. The rest of the parade was judged by all and sundry to be a success and my mother was very proud.

The highlight of this time was the fact that I refused to allow my sergeant to get the better of me and in one incident when we were having a silent battle of minds he actually called me a "moronic robot" a phrase I remember with pride as having caused him to resort to abuse. On reflection I think this antipathy was caused by me being highly indignant by having to run round a gas chamber without my mask for two turns instead of the one we were told about, the sergeant keeping his mask on all the while.

We were all called into the troop commander's office to be given a choice of Regiment or Corps to be posted to; I was given the choice of the Household Cavalry or the Royal Signals as a telephone lineman, thinking of all the ceremonies etc. I would have to do I chose the latter. I was given the shoulder flashes to sew on and a travel pass to Richmond (Yorkshire) for the next Monday. Another reason for choosing the Signals was that tradesmen earned at least another shilling a day, which would make it more than the basic three shillings a day which ordinary privates got.


Arriving at Catterick we were put into asbestos huts - like Nissen huts but not as substantial - and called Mons lines (all the lines were named after first world war battles) and told the course we were to attend would not begin until the next week so we were to get our fatigues unpacked and be general dogsbodies. I drew a session on the Catterick golf course, which was fun, playing with a tractor, very dangerously as I recall, and keeping the greens clean. We subsisted on "haversack rations" collected from the cookhouse every morning, together with whatever one could beg, borrow or steal in the way of extras, potatoes for putting on a bonfire and any leftovers from the day before, it was cold and we were very hungry.

The next week we started the course and I eventually became a D3 assistant lineman on the 1st May 1948 halfway to becoming a fully-fledged B3 lineman. During this time I was promoted to a lance corporal, this was not substantive and I lost it on leaving Catterick. We were also moved into new accommodation in Le Cateau lines.

My main duties were to march the squad to and from the parade ground and lecture rooms and to perform what was known as "canteen cowboy" i.e. keeping order in the NAAFI during break times, when I had to do full days I got plenty of undisturbed practise on the snooker table.

During May the weather turned abnormally cold, so much so, that yours boots literally stuck to the parade ground if you remained in one spot. Everybody went to sleep with vest and pants on and your greatcoat put on top of the blanket. There was a stove in the middle of the hut but no fuel until we managed to scrounge some coal, it didn't throw out much heat at all. There was a minimal amount of hot water for shaving in the morning, but no hot water for showers etc. I finally managed a very cold shower in desperation after about a month of skimpy washes.

Being an ever so junior NCO I had to have my back pack and ammunition pouches all square and symmetrical, luck favoured me here in that the carpenter was an old school friend of mine, by name Ernie Byatt, who said he could very easily put a thin plywood inner frame in them, if I provided the ply wood, which I did by visiting an empty hut one night and carrying away a wooden locker on my shoulder past the Orderly Officer, who took no notice of me, into the carpenters shop where good old Ernie carved it up exceptionally accurately for me and disposed of any incriminating evidence. I threw them all away when I left Catterick as not being necessary. I also used lead weights on a piece of string to pull my trousers down over the gaiters in a "regimental fashion"

There was a guard duty to do that was disliked by everyone; it was at the School of Signals. Being the HQ of the Corps it was a "regimental" guard; everything had to be just so, greatcoat pleated correctly, webbing and gaiters freshly "blancoed" and brasses polished and boots shone until they looked like mirrors. The rifles also had to have the treatment, the wood being highly polished so everything looked like new. You had to salute every officer by sloping arms and slapping the rifle butt smartly, when they were above the rank of major you had to present arms, fortunately this was a daytime guard only and I only did it once.

Tensions ran a little high as one might guess in this environment, one night someone fixed one of the guy's beds so that it collapsed when he got into it, and he tried to take it out on me with a rifle butt. Fortunately being used to wrestling with my schoolmates I managed to subdue him and put him in a headlock until he calmed down. I did not charge him for attacking an NCO. Things settled down after that. There was a chap who came into my section, whose name I can't remember but he was known as "Angel"

because he came from the Angel Islington. He was forever being slung into the guardhouse for being insubordinate. His demobilisation group was 108, mine was 125, so he should have left the army by that time, for some strange reason we took to each other and I persuaded him to be sensible about things and covered up for him in one of his escapades. He managed to steer clear of conflict until I left Catterick when I lost track of him. I often think of him and wonder what eventually became of him.

During this time (May) we went out on the Yorkshire Moors to set up some telegraph poles and connect them all up, one section had to have an overhead cable strung between the poles supported by a steel wire on which was put a small chair pulled along by a rope. The idea was to put clips on the wire to hold the cable; the problem was that this provided much "amusement" by the chair being pulled from pole to pole at a great rate of knots with its occupant having to hold on for grim death, this together with using climbing irons on poles which had had so much traffic up them they were like shredded wheat meant that many splinters and bruises were received during this exercise. These exercises made one exceptionally hungry and many raids were made on the cook house, returning to camp one night I remember finding some cold rice pudding with sultanas in it, filled two mess tins with it, took it back to the hut and several of us had really full stomachs that night. One day two of us were collecting items left behind from previous exercises when we stumbled across an old POW camp still being used for that purpose, mostly being occupied by Italians who wanted to stay in UK, the cook provide us each with two enormous slices of corned beef dipped in batter and placed between two slices of bread which was at that time a taste of sheer heaven.

After this we took a course in making cable joints, sweating joints with blowlamps and discovering that the Army fatigue dress was quite flameproof, people who were caught bending over sometimes had a blowlamp applied which soon straightened them up. Somehow we all managed to pass the course successfully.

I managed to get a pass for Whitsuntide Leave (14th to 18th June). I did not manage to get leave for Eric's wedding. The trains at this time were always unreliable and slow (what's new) and I could not get any further that day (14th) than Stafford so commenced to walk to Stone, it was about 8am after a few miles a kind motorist picked me up and dropped me off in Stoke. On returning to Catterick the train, as usual, was crowded but I managed to find a space on the corridor floor and sat down and nodded off I awoke when the train started to slow down to stop at York. When I woke I found that I was sitting by a very pretty girl and my head was on her shoulders, somewhat disconcerted by this I stumbled out an apology, she just smiled, got up, collected her case and got out of the train to be met by an Army Captain. I often wondered who she was. Train journeys were always a hazard in those days; you never knew what was going to happen or how long the journey was going to take.

On the 19th July 1948 I became a fully-fledged B3 lineman, moved to a transit camp in Ripon to await posting abroad somewhere then send on embarkation leave from the 23rd June to 8th July. Back to the camp in Ripon we had no real duties to perform so we swam in the river Ure, looked at the orders every day and hoped for a good posting. Some people were sent off to exotic places like Washington and other Embassies, but others less lucky were to go to Palestine, West Africa and other places like that. Five others and myself were to go to Benghazi and later, after a very long train journey ending up at the famous Lime Street Station; we dutifully embarked on the SS Staffordshire at Princes Wharf Liverpool.

At Sea

On board we were ushered to our mess deck, instructed on how to sling a hammock, where to stack our kit bags and where the galley was. The next day we cast off and sailed, there were no bands or waving crowds, it was just another troop ship sailing off.

There were daily drills on assembling at your lifeboat stations, putting on your life jackets and getting to know the ships layout. We sailed with a battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and they had a very callow 1st lieutenant who explained to his men that the bows were "the pointed end of the ship" causing us to have a little snigger

The food on board ship was very good, not only were there the usual three meals but an additional one, afternoon tea, which consisted of freshly baked bread and jam, we went through the Bay of Biscay without incident, the weather being clear and warm, apart from the routine drills we had no other duties so we could lounge about on deck, play cards and have games of tombola. I used to get out on deck as soon as I could so I could see the land we were passing with white painted houses just discernable in the far distance and the dolphins playing around the bows. One day we spotted a swarm of "flying fish" skimming over the water behaving just like small dolphins. The voyage was not without incident, suddenly when we were off the coast of Spain the ship's alarm bells began to ring and the ship veered round and the engines stopped, several men with rifles appeared on deck and aimed at an object in the sea which eventually turned out to be an old packing case in the water and not as was suspected an old floating mine.

I only remember one chap who was seasick, he was in a terrible state, he was found under a pile of spare hammocks nearly dead and was rushed of to the sick bay, he eventually got over it.

We passed the Rock of Gibraltar and in to the Mediterranean and on toward Malta, I tried one night to sleep out on deck to get away from the closely packed decks below, (two feet between hammocks), this was not a success as one blanket was not sufficient to keep the cold out and a steel deck is quite hard.


Entering the Grand Harbour Valetta in Malta was quite an impressive sight seeing what was left of the brickwork put up by the Knights Templar when they held the island in I think about the 1400AD mark. We, that is, all the Signals personnel, dutifully disembarked leaving the Fusiliers to go on to Egypt. The transit camp was about three miles out of Valetta through Silema Creek to a place we knew as St. Georges bay, looking at a modern map it now seems to be known as Soldiers bay. A Maltese driver, whose driving skills were reprehensible, conveyed us there in a three-ton truck; to put it mildly this woke us all up!!

This transit camp consisted of rows of scruffy huts on bare earth surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. The one entrance was tightly controlled by military police who logged you in and out as well as making sure you were properly dressed. We later found out that the CSM who ran the camp had been posted there from the Colchester glasshouse where he was reprimanded for cruelty to the prisoners.

This was the first time we put on our previously issued khaki drill shirts, shorts and hose tops, now hose tops were a remarkable invention consisting of a footless long sock which you put on your legs first, then you put on a normal short sock and then your boots, your gaiters then went on covering the gap between hose top and boot, the end result was that you appeared to be wearing long khaki socks!!

We had started to take of our shirts on board ship and by now we all had the start of an overall tan except one of the chaps, by name of Bernard Hartley who had very fair skin and was prone to sunburn. He came from St. Ives in Cornwall and years later we met there.

This camp was remarkable for two things, salty water and latrines which consisted of long bench with twelve holes and a semicircular trough running underneath with constant sea water flowing down it. During morning "ablutions" it was common practise to set fire to a paper boat and send it down the trough and watch everyone there suddenly jump up in sequence as the flame seared their backsides. I was only caught once. The salt in the drinking water was the biggest nuisance and we all volunteered for fatigues which took you to the other side on the island where you could get fresh water, you took as many canteens as you could with you to fill up. One chap thought that he could use Andrew's Liver Salts to disguise the taste and thought it was great until the combined effects caused great upheavals of his bowels!!

After two weeks we were given orders to be on parade at 4am to get a boat to go on to Tripoli in Libya, not Benghazi as our original destination was. A chap I had palled up with by name "Bomber" Bates - I don't recall his first name - and I decided to have the night out and explore the island prior to embarkation, so we sneaked out under the fence and went into Valletta.

We wandered around the streets of Valetta and outside a grand building - its name I never knew - there was parked a small car with its key in the ignition, my companion could drive - he was a vehicle mechanic - I walked down the street and kept a lookout and he released the hand brake and coasted down the hill and I got in, the motor was started and we went for a ride around all the places we had not been before. After two to three hours we decided to return to camp and got within half a mile or so, parked the car in a side track, as I got out I saw some paperwork in the side pocket and had a read, what we read made us replace everything and run like hell back under the wire and innocently to bed. The car belonged to the Provost Marshall of Malta!!!

Next day we passed the place where had parked the car the previous night round about 11pm and saw that it was gone, it was now 6 o'clock in the morning and we were heading to the harbour to embark on our boat to Tripoli. We made a pact that when we returned to Malta we would take a "dhyso" (water taxi) out of the harbour and see Malta by sea. I'm glad we split up later on; I could still be in jail!

At Sea

Our ship was an ex Air Sea rescue vessel, small and fast, with only sufficient accommodation for about 30 people, we took it in turns to get food from the galley and take it into the mess. It was my turn to get breakfast the next morning and I picked up a tray of sausages and tomatoes and a large container of porridge, placed the tray at the bottom of the stairway and took the porridge up, at the top of the stairs the boat suddenly lurched and I grabbed the handrail the container of porridge went flying, most of it over the sausages. I went to try and find something to clean up the mess and when I returned, a miracle had occurred, someone else had cleaned it up, I think that it was a crew member who did it as there was to be a ships inspection that morning. I was very careful with the replacements. Later when we were hanging over the bows I saw the cause of the problem, the bows were stove in and bent sideways and any side wave hitting it caused a sudden lurch. I later learned that the ship had hit a wreck in Benghazi harbour a few weeks before.


We disembarked and were taken about a mile and a half out of the main town to an elegant marble structure built by the Italians (pre-war) called Marina Barracks that was to be home for the next seven months.

Tripoli was a good posting, during the summer heat you were dismissed after the two o'clock works parade and unless anything else was scheduled you could go swimming in the beautiful clear sea water, that is unless you swam across to the wrecks in the harbour where you could easily get coated with fuel oil, only once did this happen, it took a long and painful session in the showers to get it off.

We were paid in Military Authority Lira, and to our joy we had a local overseas allowance of sixpence a day, later in Egypt it was ten pence a day.

The next thing we knew we were doing combined operations training spending some time with the Grenadier Guards at their camp scaling 20ft walls using nets to simulate a ships side. You had a full pack and a Sten gun - not loaded, thank goodness as they had a reputation for suddenly discharging after a knock. One chap dropped his Sten and I had to pause to listen to a Guards sergeant major describing this poor chaps ancestry, I don't think he repeated himself once in five minutes.

After this it was getting into a landing craft with fifty other men and many reels of cable, going out to sea and then running on to the beach gather up your Sten and one side of a reel of cable, run like blazes on to the beach and lay out the communications lines for the Beach master. I realized that this would be a dangerous activity if an enemy was firing at you at the time and learned later that during the war linemen in the Royal Signals had a large casualty rate!!!

They found out that I had had some typing training and I was asked to go into the troop office, this I did and found it to be a good move. I worked with a Captain Taylor who was seconded from the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry to the Signals and we got on famously.

One advantage working the troop office was that I did not do any other duties and went straight from the first works parade to the office to commence typing out orders for the next day. I was not scheduled to go on the combined operations exercise that we had trained for, as someone had to look after the troop office whilst Captain Taylor was away leading the troop, when they all returned several days later and I listened to some of the things that had transpired I was glad I had had a few really quiet and lazy days.

Among the Arabic words we learned was the word "ghibli". There was a forces newspaper called the Sunday Ghibli the word was roughly translated as wind. It wasn't until one arrived around about October time that we knew what it was. It was a wind from inland that brought dust storms that clogged your nose and stung your eyes, got into the food no matter what you did to avoid it and was generally an unpleasant experience.

With the advantage of extra pay, I managed to make two really worthwhile trips, one to see Leptis Magna, an old Roman city to the East of Tripoli, and was fortunate enough to have as a tour guide an Italian archaeologist who had taken part in the rebuilding of the site pre-war, the city having been subjected to an earthquake round about 600AD. The other trip was to a place called Garian, inland and up in the mountains. This was a remarkable trip, for the journey was across desert for the first part and then the road went up into the mountains, it was very narrow and had many hairpin bends but fortunately no one else seemed to be using it.

When we arrived at Garian we went to an Italian hotel and had a meal of spaghetti topped with Parmesan cheese, which because we were unwise in the ways of the world caused us great hilarity in trying to cope with removing it from plate to mouth. I remember the air was sparkling fresh and the starry night was exceptionally clear and bright. The next day we visited an underground village, well the houses were really caves built in great pits about 20 to 30 feet deep. The Emir came out and we were escorted down a long ramp to view one interior, I would imagine that the temperature would be pretty constant and comfortable all year round. Many years later in India at a neurology seminar I was talking to a neurologist and his wife who had done the trip when he was in the RAMC and she was a nurse, this gave us quite a good talking point.

Being in the troop office I had the task of writing up the orders for the sports day afternoon, by this time I had retired from playing cricket for the Signals because of receiving a cricket ball in the face whilst playing wicketkeeper. So I arranged to have driving lessons from my pal "Bomber" Bates and we spent several afternoons with me driving around Tripoli. One day, after nearly taking the gates of the sports field, we stopped and talked to one of the Arab ground staff in a mixture of Italian, Arabic and English. He was grateful to the British for looking after him when the Italians wounded him during the push from El Alamein.

There was an old seaplane base in the harbour where an occasional guard was required; this was an easy duty since all it required was someone to be there overnight and report in at occasional intervals. I did this only once, which was a great pity. When the ration truck pulled with my evening meal I had enough to feed several people, so I spoke to an Arab watchman who had a hut further down the jetty and gave him the remainder of the food. Later he invited me into his hut to partake of a few cups of strong, sweet tea and to meet his family who were devouring the now ex-army rations. Looking back I can't remember any of the Libyan people being hostile - quite a difference to the Egyptians!!

Around the end of September we had an influx of personnel who were moving out of Palestine, their tales of the atrocities committed by the Jewish terrorists were grim. Despatch riders had to watch out for wire strung between trees, several were apparently decapitated. The same applied to commanders of Dingo armoured cars who learned the hard way to keep their heads in the vehicle. As usual there was a reverse side of the coin inasmuch as that there were illegal transactions taking place with the military equipment that was to have been destroyed.

November the 11th 1948 and we had a grand parade and service with all the troops in the region, among them the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, we had lost to them in a tug-of-war match earlier and we were not going to be bettered at marching and foot drill, so we practised and practised until we were as near perfect as we could be. All our Khaki Drill was washed and scrubbed, carefully folded and placed on a towel under our "biscuits" and slept on. If all went well they would have good creases in them. The day of the parade arrived and all went well; we were complimented on our turn out by the Brigadier, we all felt very satisfied that day.

Christmas arrived and we had what the army calls "gunfire" brought round to us by the troop sergeant at six in the morning. Gunfire was tea with a liberal portion of whiskey mixed into it. I later walked into Tripoli and attended a communion service being held in a small chapel in the thick walls of the old fortress, it was an impressive service, with only about 8 participants and has stuck in my mind because of that. Later that day I disgraced myself by drinking too much of the local variety of Marsala, brewed from wood alcohol I think, getting into the back of a truck going into town getting out of the truck in the middle of a heaving mass of people struggling with a lot of drunken Grenadiers and disappearing for a few hours. I woke up on the beach in the out of bounds area completely intact with all my possessions and proceeded to walk back to the Barracks. I met a few of the troop walking into town to find out where I was. We then returned back, on the way I picked up a bottle on the promenade and threw it into - I think - some sort of receptacle, I did not realise that the bottle top was already broken and the bottle cut my hand. Being still somewhat under the weather I went to bed and woke up the next morning with a heavily bandaged hand, washed and shaved with difficulty and went to the MI room, when the bandage was removed I only had two nicks at the base of the index finger which was easily plastered up. I still bear the scars to this day. I found out later the lads had used up at least two bandages practising on me.

We had a raw lieutenant posted to us who thought he would catch the guard out one night. He dressed in an old sheet and waited by the trucks in the vehicle park to surprise the guard, well I happened to be the next sector guard and this is what transpired. I heard a challenge of "Come out of there you bastard or you will get a bullet up your backside" or something like that which I leave to the reader's imagination. A sheepish lieutenant went to the guard commander and complained that he was not correctly challenged. I think that the retort was "If you do stupid things like that you deserve all that you get". It never happened again!

In January 1949 came a request for volunteers to go to Egypt where the Signals needed reinforcing and what did I do but volunteer, I only had another year to go so I thought I would see some more of the Middle East - silly me.

Later in that week we were asked to pack our kitbags, one with immediate essentials and the other with our spare Khaki Drill etc. the latter would be forwarded on to us. We never saw the second kitbag again; this was a problem later on since we had to be reissued with things like battledress and denims and as the loss was not our fault the quartermaster had to stump up and smile.

My main memories of Tripoli are the walk along the sea front towards the town and seeing the ancient walled castle ahead of you and the sweat trickling down your back during first works parade and wondering if your clean Khaki Drill was getting soiled by it.

By Air

Now we normally had egg and beans as a breakfast dish but on this journey from Tripoli to Egypt we had five meals all the same in twenty-four hours starting from about 1900 hrs on one day to about 1800 hrs the next day.

We first went for breakfast No.1 at our barracks before getting in the trucks to go to the airfield. There we were given breakfast No.2 whilst our kit was loaded onto a Douglas DC3 (Dakota) then we got on board, the accommodation was as to be expected very crude, just bench seating along the fuselage and no seat belts as I recall. No one had warned us that it was going to be cold and we were still in Khaki Drill, after a while we managed to get a blanket apiece and wrap ourselves up in it and sleep somewhat fitfully. I watched the sun coming up over the desert and remember thinking hurry up over it so we can get warm. It was my first flight on a large aircraft - a flight on an old biplane over a seaside resort in Wales for a quarter of an hour didn't count - and I watched the wingtips shaking about with some sort of trepidation. We landed in the early morning at a staging post in the desert called El Adem and promptly went to the cookhouse for breakfast No.3. Now for a remote desert outpost it was surprising that as we went from the plane to the cookhouse an old "schoolie" I knew who went into the RAF waved and we had a short conversation. Later I learned that my cousin Joan and her husband had also been stationed there.

Why we landed at El Adem I don't know, maybe the pilot wanted a leak, I know we did. Anyway being now warm and fed we went on to the last leg of the journey getting a good aerial view of the sandy wastelands of the Western desert and eventually landing at Fayid in the southern part of the Suez Canal zone and guess what, breakfast No.4 awaited us. Shortly after landing we were packed into trucks and made our way north to Ismailia and into the tented camp of 3 Infantry Division Signals and you guessed it, breakfast No.5 awaited us.


Here, because it was classed as winter we had to go back into battledress, which meant getting re-kitted out. We thought that battledress was a bit odd until we experienced night time temperatures especially when doing the incessant guard duties demanded of us. On some of the early morning Signal Despatch runs in open top Jeeps we had a greatcoat on. Anyway it was back into Khaki Drill around the end of March.

Going into Ismailia one Saturday night we discovered that young lads would threaten to throw ink or some similar substance over your Khaki Drill unless you gave them money, the first time I encountered this I threw some lira I had left over from Tripoli into the far distance and got them out of the way. Later we usually went out in bigger groups and gave them as good as we got. This type of activity was a menace in Egypt not at all like Libya.

During the time here we had plenty of work to do, some of which was quite an experience, one time several of us were checking the lines going into and out of the Main HQ when the portable phone which we had connected for testing purposes rang and was answered by one of the chaps with "Chinese Laundry here". He was told off by the Colonel in no uncertain terms and was collected by the MP's in the space of about half an hour. Fortunately I was up a pole at the time and only knew about it when the Military Police arrived.

There was a village nearby called Arishia, which had to be gone through by truck to several destinations, one time I was standing up on the front seat with my head through the observation port when a large stone came over and just caught me on the nose. Being somewhat startled I raised my Sten gun up and turned toward the rear of the truck to see several of the chaps who were seated on the canopy diving like hell for cover. We kept our heads down after that.

One day we were called out because some of the main lines to Cairo were down and we were ordered out very quickly without any arms and proceeded to where we had located the break, which was caused by some enterprising Egyptian digging down into the sand and removing some twenty feet of cable. We commenced to dig down to expose the two ends of the cable ready to insert another length. The corporal and I went to see if we could trace the culprit and followed the marks made by someone dragging something heavy in to a small village. We were met by a very hostile crowd and we had to retreat because the only weapon we had was my pair of pliers in a belt holster.

After digging and toiling in the heat - this was summer time - for some six hours we were exceedingly parched. A ration truck should have arrived but was delayed due to a breakdown, I remember climbing in the back when it arrived and dipping a mug into some foul liquid that was supposed to be tea and drinking this down with relish closely followed by another one. I was glad to get back into camp that evening.

On the lighter side I was sent into the RAF camp in Ismailia to check the tension on the overhead lines, the copper got stretched when it was hot. I put on climbing irons and climbed the pole and was busily sorting out the lines to re-tension when I realised I was being waved at from down below. I was overlooking the WAAF compound and some of them were sunbathing in the nude, well after all I had my job to finish, which I did exceedingly quickly, climbed down and was off the site very quickly. I discovered later that the pole had been condemned because of termites.

During the early part of the year my spare time was taken up by sailing and swimming in Lake Timsah. Somehow I had made friends with one of the corporals who had managed to get into the local boating club and we often sailed a dinghy on and around the lake. The lake was connected to the Suez Canal and we sometimes had to manoeuvre very quickly out of the way of the shipping passing through. From the dinghy the size of even a twenty thousand ton vessel looked very large.

Passing through the Canal at this time were a lot of emigrant ships sailing to Australia and New Zealand and we always exchanged waves with the passengers.

One day we were called on to go on to the banks of the Canal and give rousing cheers to the destroyer "Amethyst" which was returning from China having had a brush with the then Communist rebels.

The guard duties were getting monotonous, sometimes once every seven days because we were short of personnel. These guards sometimes had their lighter side, I recall the clear starry nights, which made all things seem peaceful and unreal. Then there was the time we were called out to find a little figure running in the distance with a huge load on his head and the guard trying to take a pot-shot at him, we later found out it was a tent that had been stolen. We had to fix bayonets and turn out the "dhobi wallahs" who were resident in the camp and did all the laundry and remove them from the camp. There was always a lot of thieving going on by the locals and they were really ingenious at it and could carry items between their legs under their robes and not look as if they were doing so. The "dhobi wallahs" were replaced and life got back to normal but the searches on those entering and leaving the camp were intensified.

I was sitting in the NAAFI one evening and there was the sound of a shot and a hole appeared in the wall and roof, one of the guard had somehow put a round up the spout and fired during the guard mounting inspection process much to everyone's consternation.

On company orders one day it stated that a trip to Cairo and the Pyramids was being organised and would interested personnel put their name down. Having some back pay due I used it to finance the trip and having borrowed some civilian clothes, later found myself on a bus heading toward Cairo. According to a leave pass I still have it was 25th September 1949 [the day before his 20th birthday -- SG]. We arrived in Cairo and went to The National Hotel, which was an old fashioned place with marble interiors and plumbing that didn't function very well, but it was a change from living in a tent. The Pyramids were impressive, only spoilt by the antics of the boys who wanted to sell you "genuine souvenirs". Inside the Great Pyramid was impressive especially the huge blocks making up the passageway to the "Kings Chamber". I later stood by the sarcophagus and felt strangely disquieted standing right under all that mass of stone. Later we went into the Cairo Museum, the guards there were not particularly friendly. Overall the trip was enjoyable.

There was a great flap one day; we had to prepare for a large exercise, which was to take place in the Western Desert south of Suez. It was to a combined exercise with mobile artillery, armoured vehicles and the RAF, all utilising a few hundred acres of desert for bombing and shelling practice. There were to be landlines running all over the place, put there previously by another Signal Troop, we were to be just maintenance and support. We arrived two days before the start of the exercise, our truck was so full of equipment that there was no room to sleep there so I rolled myself in a blanket, dug a hole for my hip to rest, and went to sleep under the truck. The next day was uneventful, but at about 2am the next morning I was roused from a surprisingly deep sleep to be ordered to go with several others on a wire laying truck out into the middle of the range where some half tracks had chewed up some of the landlines and get them repaired before 8am - that being the time that the guns would open up. To cut a long story short we suddenly realised that time was ticking on very quickly, so we stopped what we were doing and the driver tried to break all land speed records. Now hanging on in the back of and old "Guy" one-ton truck with a large cable drum and trestle and other heavy items going like a veritable Jehu was to put it mildly, disconcerting. To make matters worse the truck went up a mound and suddenly swung round and back down. What we called the driver I can't remember, he then went round the mound and stopped so that we could disentangle ourselves and nurse our bruises.

We went to "question" the driver more closely when he pointed at the muzzle of a self propelled gun pointing over the mound and then at his watch. While we recovered the gun suddenly opened up and we reluctantly saw the reason for the driver's actions. We had nothing to do for the remainder of the exercise and later collected all our kit and returned to camp.

There used to be a regular run from all the camps in the area to the main stores in a place called Tel-el-Kebier, in Arabic the large mound or hill, it was just known as TEK. One day I was told to draw a Browning 38 pistol and five rounds of ammunition from the armoury and go on escort duty on the aforesaid truck. I was instructed to keep my back to the driving cabin and not sit on the sides as going through some of the crowded villages some of the Egyptians were prone to stick knives through the canvas. We passed through some very crowded places and I received quite a few hostile stares from the populace. I felt very much like John Wayne entering an Indian village except I couldn't draw as quickly as him, being hampered by a lanyard and a holster flap. Anyway the trip was without incident and we collected our stores and had lunch in the mess. TEK was staffed by the RASC and protected by the Royal Irish Fusiliers who did their guard duty racing round in a half-track at night and they claimed to bag at least one thief a night who was left to hang on the perimeter wire until collection the next morning. It is no wonder there were hostiles around the place! We returned to our camp without any incident.

At the end of October 1949 I was suddenly informed that my demobilization group (125) was being advanced, I presume that was in order to fill up a troopship. So we caught a train in Ismailia and went to Port Said. There we had the most remarkable medical I have ever had, it was called an FFI, meaning free from infection. It consisted of stripping down to our Khaki Drill shorts running past two medical orderlies with your arms held high, stopping at a table where a medical office sat, dropping your shorts and turning round, then running out and getting dressed ready for embarkation.

At Sea

Everything was uneventful, being an image of the trip out from Blighty, until we ran into a storm passing by Malta. Swinging in hammocks took the sting out of it - everybody swayed in unison, a few people were sick and in the crowded space this was a trifle unpleasant. I got up and stowed my hammock early and went on deck for some fresh air and as I passed the galley I had a whiff of kippers being cooked for breakfast, I very nearly succumbed there and then to being sick but struggled to the air in time and had a bracing walk around the deck which settled everything down. I think I managed a hearty breakfast after that, more so since the mess deck was comparatively empty. We were with a lot of infantry; I can't remember which regiment. One night there was some shouting and bawling; one of their sergeants was shouting at the lads, I think he must have been drunk or rather stupid, there was a thumping noise and peace and quiet reigned. I never bothered to find out what had happened but you don't mess about too much with troops returning home.

We arrived at Princes Wharf Liverpool early in the morning and commenced disembarking by sections, being one of the last sections to disembark we took a tour round the ship and found in the galley a lot of oranges some of which we stuffed into our battledress blouses for sustenance on the interminable train journey to Aldershot. How I got through customs without comment I don't know, but I did. Several chaps were stopped and searched, one I remember had a diamond ring in his field-dressing pocket, which the customs unearthed and he had to pay a lot of duty, and fined for saying he had nothing to declare.

On the train journey I had time to reflect on life in Egypt. The sight of the ordinary fellahin squatting on the banks of the Sweetwater canal doing their morning ablutions on the canal bank and washing their backsides with canal water was disconcerting at first as was the sight of mothers feeding their babies and afterwards expressing their milk in to a mug to be used in tea later on. Life there seemed very primitive at that time.

Of all the people I served with I remember Bomber Bates for our escapade in Malta, two Northern Irish signalmen Paddy Moreland and Paddy Morgan who became my firm friends in Egypt. There was a troop sergeant in Ismailia called Howard; I don't remember his first name, who had collected a Military Medal in Europe somewhere and for some reason he and I got on exceptionally well. We devised a method of reeling in cable over the front of the truck so that the driver could see what he was doing and we didn't need to continuously keep guiding it by hand. Once during a guard duty he called me into his tent and supplied me with hot tea and against regulations we chatted away for some while. The duty officer walked in saw us talking, ignored me and spoke to Sgt Howard, I sloped off out of the tent and there were no repercussions on me at all - such is the power of a Military Medal in the army.

We arrived at Aldershot and exchanged out kit for old battledresses dyed blue (no demob suits those days), paid up and given travel passes home. At Euston station waiting for the train with several other chaps one of the "ladies of the night" was highly indignant that the Army sent us home dressed like that. These uniforms later had to be returned or paid for: I returned mine!

Returning home was strange especially as my parents were moving from Stoke to Barking in Essex and I had to adjust to many things. One thing didn't change; I was still listed on Z reserve and was required to attend camp in June 1951 and duly went to Penhale camp near Newquay where I met my wife Jean, she had just joined the Territorial Army, later I joined the TA at the same place at Brompton Road London and officially discharged from the Army having served 1 year 330 days with the colours and 1 year 191 days with the reserve. In 1952 Jean and I got married and all service ceased on discharge from the TA. I had stopped being No.21067688 Signalman Gilham A E and was now a fully-fledged civilian.

Carnarvon Western Australia — 1965–1967 : Project Apollo in Australia

My father's recollections...

It was during the early sixties, after the Cuban missile crisis of late 1962 and the J. F. Kennedy speech about putting a man on the moon that I became interested in the space program. In particular listening to the broadcast of the first Gemini flight with John Glenn, it seemed to be the way to go. At that time I was working on some of the first main frame computers of the time and spending more time going out and repairing them than there were days in the week. In early 1965 I noted an advert in the “Electronics Weekly” from Amalgamated Wireless of Australia asking for people to go to Carnarvon, Western Australia to operate and maintain the electronic equipment to be installed in the ground station there for the Apollo project. I applied and was accepted.

In June 1965 together with several other people I attended a short course arranged by AWA in London’s Tavistock Hotel. This course was really “a get to know Carnarvon” and having obtained the appropriate visas and clearances I was bound for New York (first class) and thence on to Dallas for the inaugural course on the Unified ‘S’ Band system designed for the Apollo project. This course was given by Collins Radio at their factory in Arapaho Road in Richardson County, Dallas, Texas.

There were seven people on that course mainly Australians of English, Irish and Italian ancestry, a “true blue” Aussie and three Brits. At weekends we took the hire cars back to Hertz for cleaning and refuelling and occasionally went with the Hertz people to Love Field to collect the rental cars left by departing visitors. The Texans, being great jokers, once allocated me a huge vehicle to drive back; it was very fast and nearly got me into speed problems. Arriving back at Hertz they were all laughing over it, but at least they had a cold beer waiting for me. One weekend one of the instructors, me and two others went on a “self drive” flight to Fort Worth and surrounding areas. I actually “drove” the plane to Fort Worth under the eagle eye of the instructor. This was an enjoyable experience.

At the end of the course we went on to Washington for a few days to look around the Space Centre at Greenbelt Maryland, and then we split up returning to UK and Australia respectively. After the usual family visits and packing up ready for our new life in Australia we set off from Heathrow in a piston engine Bristol Britannia. This flight stopped at Kuwait airport, which was then just a shack guarded by a man on a camel, then following the coast of India to Ceylon. Back in the air to Singapore we ran into a tropical thunder storm. The plane was tossed about like a straw in the wind and I spotted water condensation coming in from the door, I called the stewardess who gave me great confidence by turning as white as a sheet and calling for the flight engineer. They then stood by the door jamming a cot mattress around it until the plane landed with some violent skidding before finally coming to a halt. We were delayed some six hours whilst the door seals were fixed and thence on to Perth. This last leg of the journey was perfect, we saw the North West coast of Australia very clearly and spotted a large dust cloud moving down the coast road obviously caused by a large vehicle, later we came to know and love the large Gascoigne Trader trucks which were the life line of Carnarvon.

Spending a few days in Perth we purchased a VW Kombi in which we explored Perth and the surrounding countryside, after this we headed north through places like Midland and New Norcia until we got to Geraldton some 300 miles from Perth, I used to joke that Geraldton, situated some 300 miles south of Carnarvon was where you had to go to get your hair cut, the haircut wasn’t bad but it was the tar they dabbed on if they nicked you with the shears that stung.

Heading north from Geraldton to Carnarvon was through a much more desolate landscape made memorable by having a petrol station called the Billabong some 150 miles along the way. There was a very small weather beaten sign a few miles from there indicating that Shark Bay was down the track to the left, if you cared to take it. There was also a sign at the 26th Parallel so that you knew where you were. We spotted the antennas of the tracking station on Brown’s Range from quite a distance away having crossed over the dry river bed of the Wooramel River. We called in at the tracking station to find where we were going to live and then on to 4 West Street which we were going to call home for at least a few weeks. At West Street we had pigeons nesting in the roof but with the aid of a broom I gently eased them over the edge and into free flight, nest and all. Later we were infested with cockroaches which caused us to move to a new house in Babbage Island Road.

The next few months were hectic, an American team had arrived to commission the equipment and we had problems on the angle sensors on the antenna and had to wait until there was very little wind at night whilst the antenna was pointing to set star positions, the angles were then set to correspond to the star positions. If I recall correctly at the end of that period the antenna was .0023 degrees out on the X axis and about .004 degrees on the Y axis, but to all intents and purposes it was “spot on” since any corrections were to be undertaken by Houston during actual missions. The memory of those clear star filled nights was brought to the fore when having a meal outdoors at Ayers Rock some 38 years later.

Christmas Day 1965 arrived and the American team were given invitations to meals and parties, we had two for dinner, Don Park and Bill Ross (whose daddy was a tail gunner on a beer truck during prohibition). We managed a traditional dinner, much to their delight, although the temperature was touching the hundred degree mark.

My job was to operate and maintain the Antenna Positioning Programmer and the Tracking Data Processor with some secondary responsibility for the pseudo random numbering range calculation system and an item of telemetry equipment which I can’t remember the name of but it was the source of some disagreement between myself and the supervising engineer when during a test flight I changed the phase in the input feed to correctly get the information in and processed. I justified this later by drawing innumerable phase diagrams to prove the point. We then had a slack period whilst we waited for an actual mission.

We then moved to Babbage Island Road and new neighbours with whom we are still in contact. My wife got herself a job at the local High School as school secretary which led to her becoming a maths teacher when we returned to UK.

I suddenly found myself giving guided tours of the Tracking Station to visiting dignitaries or tourists, most notably Miss Australia 1966, this exercise gave me a much needed break from doing very little during slack periods.

The American team left a large coffee machine and for some time I ran a coffee club which for two shillings a week provided unlimited coffee for the participants of the scheme until we had a fully operational canteen. When the club closed down the money in the kitty provided for a large barbecue. The wives provided salads and sweet dishes and it proved to be a big success.

Over the next two years, if my recollection is correct, there were 5 Lunar Orbiter missions, one Surveyor mission and several Saturn VIB test flights. The last Gemini flight was in 1966 but we were not used to track this. In those early days there was insufficient tracking data available for us to use and locating the moon’s position was quite a headache so I obtained a Nautical Almanac and used it to locate the moon’s position on the horizon, my positioning was correct but I was always 4 minutes adrift in time. I never really found out why but suspect it was the refraction caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. Locating the moon when it was away from the horizon and overhead was much more difficult to do “on the hoof” as it were, with a present day PC it would have been easy. One of the chaps came up with an ingenious device which simply consisted of two school protractors mounted in an X and Y plane with a peashooter as a sighting tube. This worked extremely well for the few weeks we were without pointing data. I laugh when I think that two protractors and a peashooter were used on a multi million dollar project to enable us to check out the equipment. After this we were called the “Moonrakers” by the rest of the Tracking Station. The device is shown on the console in the picture right.

One of the first missions we undertook was to gather information from a Saturn rocket on the behaviour of rocket fuel when in orbit. The TV pictures we obtained had a surreal quality about them especially when in free fall an ‘ullage’ rocket was fired to send the fuel to the rocket engines.

When we were given our first Lunar Orbiter mission it was quite a thrilling experience made more memorable when at a distance of 25,000 nautical miles the other radars on site lost contact and we announced that “USB was still in contact” and remained so until it passed round the other side of the moon. This more than made up for the Moonraker comments!!

At about this time I was asked to see if a device could be made to check for any discrepancies in the Pseudo Random Number ranging equipment when we had Lunar Missions. I thought about this and came up with some circuitry made of the standard logical circuits used. I never used it myself being on leave when it was used but apparently it functioned OK and did pick out generated errors successfully, which was a good job since I could not remember how I had worked it out!

We were allocated leave, expenses paid to Perth twice a year and a long distance trip once a year so we usually took ourselves off to Perth for a week staying in what was then The Terminal Motor Lodge and watching Star Trek on television, what luxury! There was no television reception in Carnarvon although I recall in Fong’s Chinese emporium there was one which showed mostly interference patterns although I gather occasionally they could actually see a program.

On one holiday we toured the South West as far as Albany and the karri forests, I actually climbed the 220ft “Gloucester Tree” which had a fire lookout post on the top, and how I managed to crawl into the hut on the top I don’t know but the view was worth it. We camped in the Porongorups near to Castle Rock; this photograph taken there still graces our sitting room.

Carnarvon was classed as a desert area since it had less than an inch of rain per year but in 1966 we had a cyclone whose centre passed some 80 miles north and brought with it torrential rain. We battened down the house and waited, when we discovered it was not going to be too traumatic we went out on to the verandah and watched the rain teeming down, I suddenly realised it was pure water cascading down the pipes and filled a kettle and some saucepans with it and made some tea, it tasted delicious. The tap water in Carnarvon was pumped up from the river bed and tasted of “red earth” the rain water by contrast was veritable nectar. When the rain ceased we went, in company with many other townspeople to ten–mile bridge to watch the river flood. The flood water carried a huge amount of debris with it consisting of all manner of trees and sundry small animals. The flood left enough water depth for us to use the river as a swimming area for quite a few weeks, and then it dwindled into a small pool by the pumping station.

In about June 1966 a strange looking antenna began to be built near the Tracking Station, it turned out to be a Cassegrainian Horn device being built by OTC (the Overseas Telephone Company). It was built to utilize the Early Bird satellite which was in place over the Indian Ocean. Little did I know then that my family and I would be asked to participate in a trans-world link up with UK. On 25th November 1966 this took place, from my point of view it was nearly a disaster since the satellite was drifting out of position and whilst the initial people could hold a conversation when it came to my turn I could not hear a thing and I had to keep starting my spiel, fortunately my wife managed to talk away without bothering about a response. However it was recorded and 38 years later I obtained a video copy.

A tropical festival was going to be held in the town and some of the USB personnel built a flying saucer which was a success winning a cup, the other station personnel built a Saturn VIB rocket which I thought was very good. The festival made a change from the daily routine.

We used to be picked up by mini bus and taken to the Tracking Station: one day I looked at the bus and it appeared to be weighted down on one side. Our lady driver (known as the local Stirling Moss) asked us to sit on the other side to balance out the weight of a huge man who was joining the tracking station staff, in later conversations with him I discovered he was the sub chief of a local Aborigine tribe. After a few weeks he disappeared and I found out later he was in jail in Geraldton having taken part in the ritual tribal killing of a young girl.

One of the local policemen came from Surrey and he was a big man, he had red hair which he said was strawberry blonde (and who was ever going to say he was wrong). At that time he used to go on horseback inland to visit the sheep stations and local tribes. I asked him if he could get me a genuine boomerang on his travels and I gave him, I think A$10 to get me one. I still have that boomerang which he assured me was carved especially for me by one of the tribal elders he contacted.

One other notable occurrence at this time was the changing over of the currency from Australian Pounds to Dollars. The new system was based on the 10 shilling as the base unit (Dollar), this to me was a sensible decision and took place on 14th February 1966.

At last a real mission, one of the Lunar Orbiters which we tracked from near launch to the Moon and for two weeks after. The equipment worked so well that a card school flourished, we had only one breakdown in the relaying of information to Houston and this was cured within twenty minutes. I think it was during the Surveyor 3 launch there was a sudden change of plan and the rocket instead of making a first pass over Carnarvon was sent directly into orbit over Bermuda, a slightly worried station director called me in to discuss when we could hope to acquire it, fortunately I had worked out the position on the horizon from Bermuda's geographical location and assured him it would in about 10–15 minutes. This turned out to be a very good estimate and we acquired to rocket in that time.

On the 27th January 1967 we were preparing for a real network simulation when we had the news that the capsule had caught fire and the astronauts had perished. I think we were all stunned by this event and the Apollo program was halted for an indefinite time. At that time it had become evident that both my sons needed to be in a good educational establishment, so I prepared myself and family to return to UK. In the event this turned out to be a good decision since both boys obtained degrees in Mathematics from Emmanuel College Cambridge, the elder boy also obtaining a Masters degree in Astrophysics.

In early November 1967 we made our last trip to Perth, this was not without incident as when we had a “comfort stop” we were confronted with two 6 foot kangaroos. We sold the car to our old bank manager who was now in Perth. There was another bank employee from Carnarvon in Perth who advised us on our money transactions to our advantage — Harold Wilson's famous “Pound in your pocket” speech happened just before we bought Sterling!

We shipped home on the Canberra, visiting South Africa and the Canary Islands on the way; it was a fitting end to what was really a unique experience.

Carnarvon Tracking station

The Honourable Allen Fairhall, M.P., Minister of State for Supply, opened this station on 25th June 1964 on behalf of the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States of America.

This fountain was presented to the station by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited to commemorate the occasion.