Today we look at another of the series of RAF photographs taken in Nigeria in the Second World War. This image is a delightfully informal shot of an airmen walking towards the camera:The central figure is dressed, like the other airmen, in khaki drill uniform. He is clearly off duty as his shirt is open and he is without his cap:A second figure in the background is also in KD and you can just make out the stripes of an NCO on his sleeve:He is talking to a group of Africans, presumably traders looking to sell the airmen souvenirs or provisions:In the background an RAF ‘tilly’ truck is parked up by the roadside:The vegetation overhead is made up of lush palm trees:Presumably making this a shaded and pleasant place to spend time off duty. It is easy to forget the important role Africa had in training RAF pilots during the Second World War. It was far from the dangers of the Luftwaffe so pilots could learn their trade safe from being shot down. This training also employed many Other Airmen who supported the pilots and their aircraft. Robert Parkin was sent out to Africa with the RAF, first to Sierra Leone and then to Nigeria:
November 12th 1942 After 17 days at sea we awoke to see a dark line on the horizon. We stop engines in a big bay at the foot of the mountains. One or two small jetties, a few native huts and a number of larger stone buildings further back. This is Freetown the capital of Sierra Leone. Supposed to be the worst colony of the Empire and we picked it.
Slowly we steam between anchored ships, tankers, freighters, barges and native canoes until we anchor opposite a small bay where there a number of Naval and RAF launches and higher up 3 Catalinas are moored. Very interested as we think they will be part of our Squadron.
The native canoes come alongside with fruit – we throw money into the boat and they throw bananas and oranges back. They have picked up a number of foul expressions and gestures in English and use them freely. One falls overboard in rush for money.
The hills look interesting and wild and I make up my mind to climb them if we get the chance. 4 o’clock we are told to get ready for disembarking with usual RAF punctuality it is almost 6 before we get on board. What a relief to get our packs off. The engineer lathered in sweat tells us it is the coolest day.
JUI – NOVEMBER 1942
A crowd of Yanks helped us off the power boat. We tramped up the jetty to a flood lit hanger and got our first real view of Catalinas. From the hanger we are transported to the guards room in a lorry and there we meet “I am the Station Warrant Officer”. He gave us the gen on snakes, mosquitos, showed us the tents and the cookhouse where we had the best meal since getting on the boat.
By this time it was quite dark and when we got back we had to wrestle with beds and mosquito nets. With the aid of two boxes of matches we eventually got the nets up. In the distance you could hear the croak of bull frogs and the beat of tom toms. Examine all corners of the tent for snakes, scorpions, spiders etc. Smeared ourselves with mosquito ointment and crawled into bed with our clothes on.
Awoke at sunrise 6.45 to find Stan wrapped in his net like a shroud. Carefully examine our boots for spiders etc. and got dressed. Bought some bananas off some boys at two a penny. Gosh were they good. I ate about four straight off.
Paraded after breakfast and given more gen on what to do and what not to do. Handed in rifles and ammo and then moved into billets. Got a swell bed under the fan. Spent all day getting sorted and issued with some more clothes.
Dhobey Boys, Sorri Sissi, Sorri Komara and Bi Comara who all do our washing. Sorri Komara is cheerful and speaks fair English Bi Commra is just a piccan inclined to be cheeky but a good boy. They are paid by the RAF to keep the hut clean.
The food in the camp is fairly good with lots of fruit and a free issues of chocolate and 50 cigarettes each week. The natives wear the oddest assortment of hats and mostly belong to the Tenne and Mendis tribes and there is no love lost between them.