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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories




Wing Commander Andrew Bell is a member of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, transferring from the Royal Air Force (Regiment) after 20 years service. He emigrated to New Zealand with his family in March 1997, was born and grew up in Doncaster Road, Ferrybridge, where his Mother (Joyce Bell) still lives, attended Knottingley High School and attained his Queen's Scout Award with the 1st Knottingley Troop. His story centers around a UN Mission, where he served with the New Zealand Defence Force, alongside other nations including Australia, Fiji, Nepal and Singapore; to name but a few. The story does not in anyway reflect the views of the New Zealand Government or the Defence Force and is given as a personal, somewhat irreverent, but amusing account of life in the Forces.

Greetings from Sunny Suai, East Timor. Where?, I hear you say. 125deg 17min 72sec South - 09deg 18min 16sec West, on the end of the Indonesian Archipelago, slightly North West of Darwin, Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere.

Holiday is probably what you are thinking, but, "hell no!", I am here as part of the United Nations Transitional Authority East Timor (UNTAET), which actually changed to United Nations Missions in Support of East Timor (UNMSET) on Monday 22nd May 2002 when the country gained its independence from Indonesia. The original mission was International Force East Timor (INTEFET) that came in during the worst of the trouble when pro/anti Indonesian supporters ran riot, including the wanton destruction of property and the slaughter of innocent people.

Once again though, the motive for mobilisation of the original Australian detachment was not humanitarian I fear, but vast amounts of oil in the Timor Sea, which would have gone to Indonesia or have been destroyed if they had not have intervened. Once again it seems that lives are measured in commodities that far outweigh the wages troops are paid. But less of the dark thoughts, and as my old Sergeant always said, “If you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined up.” It follows then that New Zealand committed forces to INTERFET to assist with stopping the crimes against humanity and allow the Timorese people to regain some semblance of normality. Yes we were the good guys in the 'white hats' riding the 'white horse'. Alas, both the hats and the steeds these days are painted camouflage and the horse is more than likely to be a helicopter or an armoured personnel carrier.

"What's happening?", I hear you say, "Will there be medals?". Certainly! Three in fact, but for now the trip…

“Bon Dia one and all”, which is the local lingo for 'narthen-lad' or as we in New Zealand say, “Ki Ora”. Greetings from the Suai escape committee where the temperature gauge reads higher than a Lancastrians IQ. I was going to write this letter back home weeks ago, but events overcame me, like the heat, mosquitoes and reality. As usual in the military, the previous lot we relieved left us in the lurch, no that's unfair, confused would be more appropriate. Well maybe that's the heat as well. However, I thought for this thrilling instalment I would highlight a typical day here on the front line of humanity, (if one exists) serving with such a fine body of troops from 'Godzown'.

Theoretically the day starts at about 0600hrs, but that is the first lie. In reality most normal people start the day about three or four hours before that. Were we in New Zealand, daily ablutions would commence with the 'light relief', the need heightened here by the vast intake of water we drink to ward off dehydration. I will really miss these early morning, half-awake conversations in the toilet when I get back!

Anyway back to 0600hrs. The morning Alarm is given; not a bugle but two ruddy great gas-turbine engines turning the rotors of the Kiwi Helicopters. We live so close to the heli-pad that your teeth vibrate. So after a quick wash of the hands and clean of the teeth, it’s off to the kitchen area for a continental breakfast. Lie number two. I suspect the continental breakfast referred to is from the Continent of Europe. Let me assure you that I have had many a continental breakfast, and none included cornflakes, weetabix, UHT milk, ants, sandflies and geckos. Call me picky, but …... The continental breakfasts I am used to, have chocolate filled buns, savoury bread, selections of cold meats and cheeses, fresh fruit salads and percolated coffee.

Now if you are young, daft and stupid, and have a waist line to match your age, you get up and go running at 0600hrs. "Why?" I ask myself... But the other day I found myself jogging round the airfield in the pre-dawn light, so either senility has set in or the boredom has got to me.

Once the physical jerks are over, the day starts with a vengeance. There is a constant round of jobs to do, and we have more building projects here than McAlpine. I actually thought it was 'mad dogs and Englishmen' that went out in the midday sun, but here it's Kiwis. Late afternoons are the best times I find, when you have completed your jobs for the day, and attended the Government sponsored torture session with the Physical Training Instructor, where he always wants one last push-up, or five more sit-ups, and the final minute of the session seems as long as the other twenty nine. You can now sit down, take in the cool afternoon breeze in some locally manufactured (but really horrendous) broken seats, last used by the Spanish Inquisition to extract confessions from Heretics, and have a relaxing coffee (with UHT milk), wishing it were beer.

We do, however, have good after hours entertainment. There are videos most nights, and occasional sponsored lunacy (known as the Concert Party), and a special treat, every other Saturday: big screen entertainment. This is where the latest movies acquired on "legitimate" DVD's from Dili are smuggled into camp (don't tell Hollywood!) and we sit on the makeshift volleyball court (in the aforementioned chairs) in front of a large screen and make inane comments whilst criticising the film. Popcorn is provided, flavoured by moths attracted to the lights, or droppings from bats attracted by the moths, and the Junior members of the military show how macho they are by smoking large imported cigars without turning green and throwing up (which is entertainment in itself).

However the daily highlight is the 'Fogging'. This is a large machine that pushes out a pressurised stream of pesticide to kill the mosquitoes. The machine is carried over the shoulder and is a bit like a flamethrower and sometimes as hot. It disgorges a cloud of chemicals some six metres and is incredibly noisy and smells foul; everyone hates it, but as it is an absolute necessity to keep the mosquitoes down and prevent malarial infection, they have to tolerate it. I love volunteering to "Fog' as you can legally upset everyone on camp, and those that have really pissed you off throughout the week get an extra dose, especially if they are sat on the toilet at the time.

Then all too quickly bedtime comes around and you get clean and feel nice in your two-minute rationed shower. Then unfortunately you start to sweat buckets as you prepare your bed space against the night-time invasion of the mosquitoes that you missed during fogging and have found the one and only gap in your net, or the spiders that are out after the mosquitoes. You then lie there for hours being dived bombed by the little buggers, slowly drowning in your own body fluids until sleep mercifully takes you away.

However, there is a good point to the sleep, the lucid and quite extraordinary dreams brought about by the temperature are something else and cannot be repeated on these pages without subject to major censorship. I kid you not, everyone has them, but few are prepared to disclose the contents. Mine only involved multi-coloured clouds and water. I definitely feel like I'm missing out!

Once again the world has turned full circle and the promise of a new dawn lightens our lives, filling us with a feeling of trepidation, now, do I go for that run? GROUNDHOG DAY!

Andrew Bell

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