I don’t know, if the attached article is of any use to your purpose or the RAF Gan Website.  If it can be published, I would feel honoured and it will satisfy my desire to contribute something to the Memory of this place, where I lived from February 1970 to November 1972, and had to leave reluctantly because I had something to attend to at my home in Pakistan.  If RAF continued to stay in Gan, I would still like to go there and work with the RAF

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By Sheikh Saadi

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On 31st of March, 1976 RAF was closing down its base on Gan in the Maldives, and I, who lived in this island for three years, was watching this sad scene on TV in Reading, United Kingdom while on a British Council educational course.  I was wondering why such a beautiful island that was once a center of attraction for RAF personnel, civilians who worked for RAF, and the natives – Maldivians – was being deserted.

About 600 miles south of Sri Lanka, 450 miles north of Diego Garcia, and only about 40 miles from the Equator, in the southern hemisphere, An aerial view of Gan Island.  White line in the middle of the island is the airstripthere lies a paradise in the Indian Ocean: Gan – a tiny spot on the Globe, a small island, once known as “Bachelor’s Paradise,” a “Tropical Summer Place,” a “Sunny Island,” etc.  These were names given by “Gannites” – as people of Gan were called – who lived from 1957 to 1976. 

“Tropical paradise are rarely heavenly, but the Maldive Islands come close,” (TIME, May 18, 1981).  Gan is one of the 200 inhabited islands of the Maldives.  Maldives is consists of a chain of about 2,000 coral islands, grouped in a number of atolls.  Malé is the capital of the Maldives and it is about 300 miles away to the north.  Gan was once covered in tropical growth like other islands of Addu Atoll.

When Gan was loaned to Britain in 1956, RAF cleaned the island and made a staging post between Britain and the Far East, with a wartime airfield, about 4 kilometers long re-established, and a well-built jetty, well-paved roads, very nicely built billet, hangars, and fuel storage tanks. Although all the islands of the Maldives are beautiful, Gan is unique in its attraction, with its beautiful palm trees, clean beaches, soccer and golf fields, and many other amenities that it offered.

There were about one thousand men stationed at Gan.  More than two-thirds were RAF personnel; and one-third comprised of a few British civilians working for the Department of Environment (DOE), and for the Meteorological section; about 30 Ceylonese (Sri Lankans) and 150 Pakistanis. Fuel Storage

Being almost on the equator, Gan has two seasons.  There is no winter.  It rains almost throughout the year, and the temperature varies between 70°F to 90°F all through the year.  Nights are more pleasant than days, especially when there is a downpour towards the evening, or if it rains the whole day.

About 400 Maldivians were working for DOE and RAF on Gan.  They all came to Gan from their nearby home islands, viz., Faidu, Maradu, Hittadu, and Hurmidu, and returned in the evening after the work.  These islands were situated from two to eight miles from Gan – Faidu being the nearest and Hurmidu being the farthest.  It was most eye-catching scene of Maldivians leaving Gan for their native islands every evening around 4:30 p.m. when they finished work.  Office Blocks

Most Maldivians live on fishing and renting Dhoni – a kind of sailing boat.  They use dhonis and also motorboats as means of conveyance between the islands.  The larger Dhonis are of 10 oars and can hold 30 to 40 persons; others with 6 oars can accommodate about 20 persons.  Most Maldivians live on fishing and renting Dhonis and motorboats. 

They live a simple life.  They wear “sarongs” and shirts, mostly half-sleeves. Some women and children wear necklace and other jewelry like bangles made of silver or gold coins. Most women wear long dress, which resembles to what we call a ‘Maxi’.

Maldives is a Muslim Republic and the whole of the population is Muslim.  They are very religious and they follow Arab customs.  Punishments for theft and treason are very severe.  Other offences are seldom committed.  Among the five surround islands of Gan, Hittadu is the largest in size and population, and is the seat of Atoll Chief.  The Atoll chief acts Commissioner, who is elected by free election and is paid for his services by the Government.

Gannites were not allowed to visit any of the nearby islands, except for reasons of work, and without prior permission from the Atoll Chief.A boat is being towed.  Gan Island can be seen far in the background.

However, on some occasions, like religious festivals of Eid, special permission to ‘Gannites’ to visit the islands were granted, and the RAF provided boats for transportation to these islands.  No visitors were allowed to stay on these islands overnight.

Maldivians eat all kinds of fish and are fond of crayfish and prawns.  Whether employed or not, most of the time the Maldivians like to do fishing.  Early in the morning, but normally late at night, they would go out far into the sea on boats or ‘dhonis’ in different groups fully equipped with fishing nets, gas-light and raincoats.  It rains all through the year with short intervals.  The rain is sometimes followed by lightning and thunder.  Instances were found when during fishing in such bad weather, boats including the occupants were reported missing or boats found floating in the high seas and the occupants drowned.  Many a times, RAF’s Search & Rescue planes spent whole night hunting for missing boats, and rescued occupants.

Crayfish is hunted by means of spear like weapon near the shore in knee-deep water.  There are sharks in the sea and sometimes baby sharks get trapped and caught with other fish.  Within the reef in almost knee-deep water, one can come across stonefish.  They are poisonous and attack with their spines only when trodden upon.  There are no animals in the island except cats and dogs, and some goats. 

Their houses look buried among the trees, with quite large courtyards; where they cultivate and grow plantain, coconut, mango and papayas, beatle leaves and beatle nuts, and vegetables.  There are two species of papayas grown in the islands, one of which s red inside with very few seeds in it.  Their meager exports are dried fish, copra, corals and hermit shells, and they mostly trade with Sri Lanka being the nearest country.

The Famous ‘180 Club’On Gan, the Gannites lived in complete isolation, a year at a stretch – nine moths for servicemen; no wives, no families.  They had a small world of their own.  The famous ‘180 Club’ and ‘Imperial Club’ (known as Imps) were regularly visited and usually crowded every Saturdays.  Although 180 Club was a club for airmen, the Bingo nights every week brought all Gannites close together.  Bingo was also played at Ceylonese and Pakistani camps. Bingo on Radio was also quite popular. 

Adjoining the 180 Club were tennis courts and the Corporals Club, which had a swimming pool where, on public holidays, swimming championship was held.  Most people went for swimming in the open sea near the jetty.  Sub Aqua Club provided opportunities to swimmers for underwater swimming and scuba diving in crystalline water.   The Sailing Club provided facilities for all sorts of water sports, like sailing, surfing, and water skiing.  Dinghy sailing was one of the most popular sports on Gan, and so was scuba diving.  Those interested in corals and reefs, Maldives is a heaven for them.

Over at the Pakistani Camp, there was a beautiful mosque large enough to accommodate all Pakistani community on Gan where ‘Azan’ – call for prayers – was heard five times a day even on rainy and storming nights.  The mosque was build by the RAF and they also appointed an Imam.  Pakistani mutton curry and Chapatti (bread) had been a very popular dish even among the British, Ceylonese and Maldivians. An Aerial View of Barrack Accomodation.

Almost all distinguished visitors like Queen Elizabeth and Lord Mount Batten visited the Tandoor (where Chapatti is cooked), where bread was cooked.

There were facilities for both indoor and outdoor games and sports.  League matches for cricket, hockey, soccer and volleyball were held between various sections of the RAF; also Maldivians, Pakistanis and Ceylonese.

Blue Lagoon Hotel, also known as ‘Transit Hotel’ was the only hotel on Gan where passengers of RAF flights, stopping over for fuel, stayed either overnight or for a couple of hours sometimes.

The only cinema house ‘Astra’ was small but beautiful where movies were shown and occasionally stage shows or plays were held.  There was an open screen cinema at the Pakistani camp where English as well as Indian films were shown free of charge every night, and was largely attended by Pakistanis and Ceylonese

The Gan Island Golf Club had a good number of members who enjoyed sunny afternoons golfing at the 18-hole golf course.  The Station Gymnasium was quite large and had four Badminton courts in it in addition to facilities for other sports.Golf Course

Dhoni racing was one of the most spectacular sports on Gan, which was held on special occasions.  The participants were RAF personnel and civilians from different sections.

During Christmas, the annual sports were held and besides the Dhoni race and fancy dress competition, bicycle race gathered a good crowd.  Prizes were awarded for Dhoni race, bicycle race and fancy dress competition.  It was generally believed that Christmas was celebrated most exuberantly and magnificently on Gas compared to other stations of RAF.  The use of wines and sprits was tremendous during Christmas.  Special permissions were given to airmen to open bars in the billet, and they were given prizes for the best decorated bars.

The Station Library, which was situated in the Education block, was air-conditioned.  It catered for all types of readers and was extensively used.  In the Education Section, films shows were held for Posbis (On Gan misers were known as POSBs).  It also published the RAF’s official weekly ‘Gan Island Post (GIP), and the Gannites, especially airmen, very eagerly waited on the afternoon of Friday to get an issue in their hands.Education & Training Centre.  Commending Officer’s block can be seen at the far end.

Gan had a Radio Station with modern equipment.  Radio Gan broadcast news, music etc. on FM in English.  Music programmes were also broadcast in Urdu for Pakistanis.

After the British left, many changes have since taken place but Gan still stands alone in the Indian Ocean looking sad and gloomy, wondering always why people come and go away after a very short stay when it was a paradise.  Yet people who have once been to Gan would never forget the peaceful, carefree and happy life on Gan.  The RAF personnel are the least of those who could ever forget Gan. 

“It was a sad day for us.  We had jobs and comfortable lifestyle.  We learnt many things from the British.  All changed when they evacuated their military base, recalled Hussein Zadi, one of the residents who worked for the British,” (Gulf Times, Nov. 1993).

Gan was an ideally strategic location.  When it was being closed on 31st of March 1976, I was in Reading, England.  Honestly speaking, it was painful for me to watch the closing of RAF base on Gan live on TV, because three years on Gan from 1970 to 1972 were the golden years of my life


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