Ian (Jock) Morrison, 8RFP Gan, March 1959 - January 1960

(See bottom of the page for details of Ian's travel arrangements.)

.I remember sitting on the beach near the apron on Gan in 1960, waiting to be called to the Bristol Freighter which was to take me and a couple of colleagues to Ceylon. It was the first leg of our long awaited journey home. The chuff charts had been discarded, the kit bags packed and our RAF blue uniforms recovered from storage. It was January. The sun was high in a cloudless blue sky and the temperature was around 100 degrees F. Despite the contrast waiting for us in Blighty, we were anxious to be on our way.

At the same time, I was sorry to leave. Living on Gan had been a unique experience. I'd loved it. And like many others who served there, I was determined to return one day if the opportunity arose. My first opportunity came in 1990 when on holiday in North Male Atoll. On that occasion, Air Maldives offered to fly me down there, but as they could not guarantee a return flight within my holiday period I had to decline.

A few years on and the situation improved. Gan is much more accessible and in October 2002 I was able to fulfil my ambition. I was accompanied by my wife Isobel, who had been my fiancée during my first sojourn there. I had always wanted her to appreciate how much I must have suffered!

My first nostalgic visit was to the control tower, where I'd spent most of my working days, and I have to say that the welcome I received there was quite amazing. The Officer in Charge, Ahmed Rasheed, showed me round the tower, even pointing out the floor space that had been occupied by the consoles I'd worked on. They were long gone.

Downstairs, in the meteorological centre, I was introduced to Meteorological Forecaster Ali Wafir and Atoll Chief, Hamid Yoosuf, and spent some time chatting about 1959 and the future of Addu.

Things are looking good. Gan is about to be developed as an international airport. On 10th December 2002, President Gayoom will lay the foundation stone for a new airport terminal, to contain duty free shops etc. The existing tower is to be demolished and replaced by a new one, and the runway upgraded. Apparently, faulty drainage has resulted in parts of the runway lying on swamp, which is not ideal for landing Boeing 767s. A British company will start work on this in December.

The old fuel storage tanks were about to be examined as I left, prior to being cleaned and prepared for re-use. The fuel pumps will have to be replaced as will at least part of the pipeline.

When work is completed, Gan will be accessible directly from Britain, Germany etc., which will make the development of Wilingli and, it is hoped, islands in Suvadiva Atoll, economically viable. This will eliminate the need for holidaymakers taking expensive local flights from Male. These flights are not totally reliable and while I had no problem, one flight from Gan was cancelled while I was there and two Russians had to wait two days for another. They of course missed their connecting flight home. It is because of incidents like this that resort developers are not keen to commit themselves. Everything depends on the proposed new international airport.

How the new development will be administered I don't know. The Adduans would like some degree of autonomy, but would not go down the road of rebellion to achieve it as in 1959. They are more at ease with Male than in 1959 and, despite excellent educational facilities in Addu, many Addu children complete their education in Male. One thing in the Adduan's favour of course is that due to their long association with the RAF, they are more able to integrate and communicate with foreigners than their northern brothers.

Causeways linking Gan straight through to Hitaddu have been in place for many years. Now there is an asphalt road running from the Gan end of Fedu to the northern end of Hitaddu. Most of it is two-way, but there is a stretch of dual carriageway on Hitaddu. The Danish company who laid the new road was just putting the finishing touches to it while I was there. The causeways, and much of the road, are illuminated by electricity supplied by a brand new power station on Hitaddu. The old power station on Gan has closed down and the building now used for storage.

Another nostalgic trip was to the site of the kadjans my colleagues and I occupied in 1959. There had been four of them, but only three bases remained. The base of the one I lived in has either been lifted or covered by the road. It was disappointing, as I'd hoped to find the sixpence I lost there 42 years ago. The small building just west of the kadjans, which we referred to as the Eureka building, is still there.

The difference between Gan as it is now and as it was in 1959 is colossal. There were few trees in 1959, but now the island, with the exception of the area each side of the runway, is covered in rich vegetation. Many of the ex-RAF buildings still there had not been built in 1959, including the Sergeants' Mess, which now functions as the reception, bar and dining room for Equator Village.

There are three clothing manufacturers operating on Gan, with factories each side of the main road and on the south side of the island. They produce women's underwear, and most of the workers are women from Sri Lanka on a three-year contract. They occupy the old airmen's billets and the Pakistani camp.

Back in 1959, sarongs were the normal wear for men. Now you will be lucky if you see any, certainly on Gan. Most wear trousers and shirts. And while there are still many bicycles in use, there are also many motorbikes and cars. As yet, they all seem to travel at a sedate pace.

Another rarity is the dhoni. There is no dhoni park, and the only ones I saw on Gan were rotting hulks. I did see one or two moored off Fedu. But as one security man put it - "When work with RAF, one-and-half hour rowing Hitaddu - Gan. Now twenty minutes on road." Little need for dhonis. This man was one of many who approached me and asked if I'd been there before with the RAF.
There are still herons, terns and flying foxes galore, but thanks to a regular spraying programme and mosquito coils in the bar, I saw hardly any insects. Every stroll on the beach, however, produced a new crop of sand-fly bites on our ankles. These were relieved by cream obtained at the local shop.

Before going to Gan I put together a folder containing the write-up now on the rafgan site, and some photographs taken in 1959. I presented it to the manager of Equator Village when I arrived, but, as word went round, I had to keep picking it up to take to different people, such as those at the tower.

One of the photographs in the folder was of a young girl called Wasima. Wasima worked at Station Sick Quarters in 1959, and allowed me to take her photograph one morning as she passed our kadjan. Two young sisters working at the tower recognised her from the photo as their aunt. By the time I returned to the Village, one of Wasima's sons, Ahamed, had contacted my wife at the resort and invited us for a meal at the family restaurant.

The restaurant, 'Medhuvathi,' is directly across the road from the airport terminal building. It is owned by Wasima's husband Mohammed, and run by him and sons Ahamed and Abdulla. Mohammed worked at the officer's mess at the time of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip's visit in March 1972, and still has a copy of the menu. Our meal was splendid, and a few days later, we were invited to the family home on Fedu to meet Wasima. According to Mohammed, the building now housing his restaurant was once occupied by SAS Flight.

Equator Village embraces the Sergeants' Mess, Warrant Officers' and Senior NCO's quarters. It is fenced off and a security guard is always on duty by the gate. At first I wondered at the need for security, but I suppose it is deemed necessary because of the large number of workers from Sri Lanka on the island.

My wife and I were placed in room 101 (Were they trying to tell us something?) which was an end-terrace room a few yards from the beach. It was clean, air-conditioned and also had a fan. A partitioned-off section contained a wash-hand basin, w.c. and an electrically heated shower. All in all it was quite acceptable.

The dining room was spacious and pleasant, and the meals, as far as I was concerned, quite good. Service was very good. There were very few guests, October being a quiet time, and the staff was keen to have something to do. Soft drinks and beer were inclusive, but for accounting purposes had to be signed for.

There is a beautiful swimming pool, with ample sun beds, and although there were Germans at the resort I never saw any beds booked with a towel when I sneaked out at 5am to check.

Isobel and I had a trip up to Hitaddu in the hotel mini bus. Total cost $23US. The driver pointed out places of interest and made photo stops. The trip took about an hour and a half. You can cycle up there of course, bikes are included in the package, but it is a bit hot for that when you are not acclimatised. I did a fair amount of cycling on Gan, including a couple of laps of the perimeter track, and was particularly intrigued by notices each side of the runway stating, 'STOP. Give way to aircraft. Obey the traffic signals.' No chance! I was there first.

We also went on an island-hopping trip, which included a barbecue. This was also part of the package. The trip over the lagoon to Midu was very pleasant, but for some reason, one of the crew thought we would like a walk through Midu. The sun was directly overhead and there was no shade. I had to call a halt as Isobel was wilting noticeably.

Back on board and we had another pleasant cruise to Wilingili for a barbecue. My advice - give it a miss. The area selected for the barbecue was littered with plastic bottles and cans. Picture a picnic on a tip and you'll get the idea. One man, one hour and a couple of bin liners could work wonders. The barbecue consisted of fish and spaghetti. Not my idea of a barbecue but then coming from the frozen north I don't go in for them much. If you want to visit Wilingili, I suggest you do it on a snorkelling trip.

Isobel was ill when we first arrived on Gan, and collapsed in the reception area after leaving the dining room unable to eat. The staff could not have been more helpful. The girls on reception and the waiters all rallied round. They gave her fresh lime to settle her stomach and advised her to go to the doctor. She declined the visit to the doctor as she thought she'd sleep it off and besides, a heart condition means that she already swallows a bucketful of pills every day.

After three full days in bed, she gave in and agreed to see a doctor. The receptionists made an appointment and the mini bus took us to the surgery on Fedu. On arrival, the bus driver opened the surgery door and the young Indian doctor beckoned Isobel in. On his prompting I followed - as did the bus driver. No private medicine here then!

But he certainly knew his job. He diagnosed a urinary infection and de-hydration, prescribed some pills and advised her of what to do. The bill came to $8.50US - not bad for a consultation plus medicines. Isobel was up and about shortly after. When she told an Irishman at the resort that the doctor had prescribed three different medicines, he said that he must have been trained in Ireland, where they are taught to give three medicines - to be sure to be sure to be sure!

Was the trip worth it? As far as I am concerned, very much so. I think anyone who served there would enjoy a return visit. The development of the airport and Wilingili will make a visit to Addu an even more attractive proposition. There will be the advantage of staying on a dedicated holiday resort, with the bonus of being able to commute to Gan for nostalgia's sake.

For anyone contemplating a holiday on Gan, I'll give some details of our own arrangements.

We booked our holiday through Maldive Travel, which is run by a good friend of ours called Toni de Laroque, entitled Toni - The Maldive Lady, in recognition of some 20 years dedication to the Maldives. Toni produces a brochure covering the resorts she promotes, but travel arrangements are made on her behalf by Trailfinders in London.

Arrangements were easy to make. I gave Trailfinders my proposed holiday dates and asked them to put together an itinerary based on ten days on Gan and five in Dubai. Within a short time I had a provisional printout. Once my deposit was paid, the printout was updated and confirmed. The only delay was confirmation of the flights between Male and Gan, which were confirmed two weeks before we set off.

The journey from our home in Kirriemuir to Male via Glasgow, Heathrow and Dubai was uneventful but tiring, and when we arrived in Hulule we were none too pleased at being shipped over to a hotel in Male to spend several hours awaiting our Gan flight. There was nothing wrong with the hotel and of course it was much better than hanging around the airport. We had a perfectly adequate room with en-suite, but we would have been much happier if arrangements could have been made for us in the new hotel at the airport. Neither of us like Male and I have yet to meet anyone who does.

Our flight to Gan was aboard a Dash 8. It was only half full, but at least it wasn't cancelled and it was good to see Gan from the air once again. We were picked up at the air terminal by the resort minibus.

Our departure from Equator Village was well organised. Our luggage was taken to the airport in advance and processed for us. Then, about half-an-hour before take-off, we were taken along. This time, the Dash 8 was full. There was only a couple of hours to wait for our flight to Dubai from Male, so while by arrangement we could have gone to the Hulule hotel, we opted to stay at the airport.

Costs, omitting our Dubai stopover, were as follows: -

We had nine nights (ten days) on Gan, the total cost being £2,644. All costs were for two of us and comprised: -
Cost of flights from Glasgow to Male via Dubai, £1452
Cost of transfers to Gan from Male, £427. Expensive in my opinion and a cost which will be eliminated when Gan becomes international airport.
Accommodation in Equator Village, Gan, £765. This may appear to be expensive, but it is all-inclusive, and there is very little to spend money on in the local shops.
We left Glasgow at 1050am on Saturday 12th October, and arrived on Gan at
17.45 on 13th October. Gan was 4 hours behind the UK.

Ian Morrison

E-mail: imorrisonkirriemuir@btinternet.com

Holiday organisers:

Maldive Travel, 3 Esher House, 11 Edith Terrace, London SW10 0TH. Phone 020 7352 2246. Website: http://www.maldivetravel.com. E-mail: maldives@dircon.co.uk

Trailfinders, 194 Kensington High Street, London W8 7RG. Phone 020 7938 3939.


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