The Royal Air Force as seen by John Cooper

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RAF Negombo/Katunayake

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RAF Negombo/Katunayake 1956-1960 Personnel Names

Bob Aspey 1959-1960 Communications Centre

Dave Austin 1956-1958 Air Movements Section

David Bloomfield 1957-1960 MT Section/Driver

Russell 'Brock' Brockbank SASF


Kevin Brown Air Traffic Control Billet 240 Neg/Kat 1957-60


Tony Burslem 1960-1960 Communications Centre


Dave Buxton  (03/02/03)  1958-1959  MT Mechanical Section  + Gan


John Spike Castle   1959-1960   SASF Aircraft Engine Fitter


Alec Chisholm  (16/09/03)  1954-1956  Seconded to RCyAF as Instrument Fitter


Archie Cooper (03/12/03) 1957-1960 SASF Air Electrical 


John 'Gary' Cooper  1958-1960 SASF Aircraft Engine Mechanic


Neville Cooper   1957-1960   205 Sqn Master Signaller  Aircrew


Edgar Cooray   Resident  Royal Ceylon Air Force OC 2 Squadron


Brian Crank (31/12/02)  1958-1960  Instrument Fitter SASF


Colin Cullis (11/05/04)  1957-1959 Air Signaller 52 Sqn detachment   

Dave Davies 1954-55 Airframes SASF and Station Flight


Ken Denman  1957-1960 F/Sgt Aircrew Signaller 52 Sqn Valettas


Keith Chick Denson (04/10/03) 1957-1959  Signals Section

John Duffy. Served November 1952 to November 1954. First at Gangodawila and then on the transfer of the main signals centre to Negombo. 

Jim/Jamie Duncan  1956-1959  SASF at Kat and Gan Airframe Mechanic

 Dickie Duncan 1957 to 1960 Jungle Rescue, Station Signals and Commcen Ceylon.

John  Benny Fenton  1957-1959   SASF/ARSS Air Wireless Mechanic


Bill Fraser  (25/03/2004) 1955-1956   Fire Section  


Jim Garrod  1957-1958  Gen Fitter Mobile Oxygen Production Unit


Alan Giles (04/04/03)  1958-1960  Signals Section

Tony Goodyear, Instrument Fitter SASF.  May 1956-May 1957


Tony Green   1958-1960   SASF/ASF Airframe Mechanic

Cpl Bill (Paddy) Grundie, Fire Section 1957-1960

Eddie Guinea, Hospital 1958-60


Steve Guy (15/01/2003)  1957-1958  Son of RAF Sgt. A. Guy


Sylvia Hambidge  1957-1959 Wife of MT Fitter


Chris Hacker  1958-1960 Son of  Major A Hacker R.E. (RcyAF)


Ray [Henry] Hall 1956 - 59 Station Signals Hut 227


Terrance Harvey  1958-1960  Fireman and MT Driver


Tony (Vic) Hawes  1958  Signals (also at China Bay)


Gordon Hird (27/02/04) 1954-1956 Fitter MT Section


Nick Hodshon Aug 1958-Nov 1959 Ground Wireless


Bob Howe  (29/01/2003) 1959-1960 RNZAF Br. Freighter/Hastings Navigator


James Johnston Served from Oct 1957 to June 1960 SSQ and Hospital


Geoff Kimberley (October 2006) 1956-59 Air Radar SASF


Ted Kingwell 1955-1958 fire section also at Colpetty& China Bay [December 2011]


Colin Kitchen  1958 (+Gan) Station Sick Quarters


Jack Lake  1958-1959 SASF Kat/Gan        


Reg Lambourne   1955-1958  Fireman (Also at EKLA)


John 'Dupont' Lamont  1955-1957   SASF Air Radar


Bob Lennon  1958?  Son of Sgt Peter Lennon


Don Lovegrove   1958  Armourer at Station Armoury


Tricia Mason  (21/01/03) 1951-1952  Daughter  of  Dave Neale


Keith Morris (12/02/03) 1957-1958  Fire Section


'Skid' Morris (29/01/05) 1956-1959 Pilot of 52 Squadron Valettas 


Rob Moore  (01/06/03) 1958-1959 Air Movements Section 


Terry Norman  (04/12/02)  1957-1959 Ground Wireless


Mike Plummer (31/08/04) 1957  52/110 Squadron Signaller on Valetta Detachment


Mike Povey 1956-59 Station Signals [Deceased]


Michael (Mike) Prince Ground Wireless Mechanic Hut 225, Signals Section 03/1953-03/1955 


Len Pritchard Navigator 52/110 Squadron Valettas (02/03/07)


David [Chips] Rafferty Air Radar SASF 1958-60 Hut 232

Richard ( Dick) Richardson Wireless Op 1959 to 61


Jeff [Robbie] Robinson RAF Police Dog Handler 1955/58 


Donald Robson 1957-1958 Wireless Operator Kat/Gan


Simon (Fred) Rogers

   (05/01/03)  1958-1959  Signals Section


Fred Rogers PXI Section Signals Centre 1958-59


Russ Sharples 1956-1957  Air Electrical Fitter SASF


Arthur Donald Shaw 1952-53 Cook Airmans Mess


Eric Shepherd  1957-1959 Instruments SASF [Deceased]


Terry (Smudge) Smith 1958-1960  41 Movements Unit Colombo


Tony Swanton (11/03/05) Fire Section 1957-1959


Roger Thiedeman RCyAF Historian and Airways Magazine Editor 


Rex Thompson 1958-1959 Ground Wireless Mechanic


Ginge/Ron Tucker  (21/04/04) 1959-1960  Airframe Mechanic SASF [Deceased] 


Stewart Tucker  1959-1960  Air Radar Mechanic SASF


Bill Upton (23/03/04) 1958-1959  SASF Airframes


Bill Vaughan (23/03/04) 1955-57  Main Stores

Pat Walsh RAFP/D 1956-1958


William Webb 1957-1960  Son of Sen. Tech Bill Webb MT section


Ray Webster  1959-1960 Dental Technician 


Andy Wijesuriya  Currently at SLAF Katunayake, uncle prev in RCyAF 1956


Stuart Wittering 08/06/03 1959-1961 until closure Fire section


Johnnie Wilson  1958-1960   Fire Section


Mike Yeomans  1950-1952  Signals Section



John (Johnny) Watts 1957‐1959 Station Signals Billet 227

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RAF Negombo was developed as a major Staging Post for aircraft in transit to and from the Far East in 1945. Situated in a plantation of coconut trees Negombo was selected as the proposed airfield being positioned 19 miles North of the Ceylon (Sri Lanka) capital Colombo and just a handful of miles East of Negombo with the main Negombo Rail and Road network running immediately to the West of the RAF Station. Although built as a single runway a further runway was planned in 1945 running parallel to the East-West runway along what was the 9 hole golf course but was never added. 
On 1st February 1960, RAF Katunayake started its rundown as a Staging Post (so says my RAF service history) as RAF Gan had by now become fully operational, I in fact had my overseas tour shortened by some 5 months, some would say a Cook's Tour as a result of this closure!     

To those who served at the former RAF station of Katunayake/Negombo perhaps you recall the following sung to the tune of Galway Bay:-

If you ever go across the sea to Changi
They will tell you of a little emerald isle
Where the coconuts are always ten a penny
And the men of Lanka Luft all make a pile

When they tell you this my friend then don't believe them
Or they'll post you to Negombo straight away
Where you'll find yourself a job on jungle rescue
Or doing G.C.T. at D.L.A.

You must keep a wary eye for TicPalongas
Another one for nuts upon the brain
And there's just another trap for the unwary
And it revels in the name of Monsoon Drain!

Now its not the sight of snakes alone that get you
Or the amount of elbow bending that you do
That gets you home on a CaseVac Hastings
Its just a combination of the two

When the time has come for you to leave this island
And you sail out from Colombo one fine day
Spare a thought for those that you have left behind
Who dream of home 6000 miles away!

(Kindly supplied by Sylvia Hambidge)




Flight Lieutenant Keith Murphy DFC 511 Squadron RAF Lyneham
TG552 12th March 1951, some four months after Keith Murphy's first accident described above on the Hastings Bangs and Prangs page, he was involved in a second accident fortunately without loss of life this time. This second accident happened at Negombo where the co-pilot was flying the aircraft (Keith was Navigator on this trip), the co-pilot was not authorised to fly passengers and there were passengers on board, his landing was a disaster and the aircraft crashed. One of the wings broke off and in the excitement of vacating the aircraft the engines were left running and the propellers were a threat to decapitate anyone heading in that direction! This is one story that no one seems to know about as the Form A1180 (Aircraft Accident Report) is one that went missing, one wonders why! A photo exists of this accident and I believe it is on the sleeve of Colin Cummings book "To Fly No More/Last Take-Off", I will confirm this in the near future as I have read this book. To read Keith's other terrible ordeal please click on to the following link:

Wing Commander Geoffrey Charles Atherton OBE DFC and Bar
Station Commander Katunayake 1959-1960
Click below for a profile of Geoff Atherton 

Service Personnel Names


To add, delete or amend your name/details to above CLICK HERE

Aircraft passing through from 1958-1960.
Handley Page Hastings
24 Squadron
36 Squadron
48 Squadron
70 Squadron
99 Squadron
114 squadron
242 (O.C.U.)
40 Squadron RNZAF
English Electric Canberra
45 Squadron
50 Squadron
58 Squadron
75 Squadron
76 Squadron
78 Squadron
Chief of Air Staff
WH723 (on loan)/A84-237/A84-238/A84-239/
RAF de Havilland Comet
216 Squadron 
XK669/XK670 (Corvus)/XK671 (Aquila)/XK691/
XK695 (Perseus)/XK696 (Orion)/XK697 (Cygnus)/
XK698 (Pegasus)/XK699/XK715 (Cepheus)/XK716 (Orpheseus)
RAF Bristol Britannia
99/511 Squadron
BOAC de Havilland Comet
BOAC Bristol Britannia
Avro Shackleton
203 Squadron
205 Squadron
Air-Charter Douglas DC-4
Eagle Airways Douglas DC-6
Vickers Valiant
RNZAF Bristol Freighter
41 Squadron
Q.A.N.T.A.S. Lockheed Constellation
Southern Breeze/Southern Constellation/
Southern Dawn/Southern Mist/Southern Moon/
Southern Sky/Southern Star/Southern Sun
Percival Pembroke (Station Flight)
Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer (Station Flight)
Sokol (Ceylon Flying Club)
Douglas Dakota (Air Ceylon)
de Havilland Tiger Moth (Ceylon Flying Club)
Douglas Dakota
RAF 1325 Flight
KJ945 (Island Paradise)/KN424 (Polynesian Princess)
Avro York
Handley Page Hermes
Airwork Services
Blackburn Beverley
Royal Dutch Navy (Kon Marine) Martin Mariner
Vickers Varsity
We want to hear your stories:-
I would also like more stories to add to the Kat page. For example one chap jumped a Hastings bound for Changi and when discovered was held under 'close arrest', released, then had a couple of weeks 'holiday' before being returned to Kat and for his efforts received the GSM! If you are this person, how about sharing this one with all the others? Another got involved in the riots and was shot at by machine gun fire, only to escape with his life! These stories are not to be found in the National Archives at Kew as generally they were hushed up at the time and officially do not exist. So the 30 year rule has passed so come on lets here these bazaar stories.
There was also a story about the floods in 1956/57 and the station flight hack was sent up to drop essential supplies to those that were marooned, such items as large cans of jam were discharged from the aircraft and people could be seen running with arms outstretched trying to catch them, but tin openers was not an optional extra. Don't let these stories disappear, they may be unique to us, if you do not want your name added as your contribution that is OK by me. 
Vickers Valetta 52 Squadron January 1958 by DA
The Flights "Neg F" and "Neg P" were the two flights from Changi and as far as I can remember the Neg F came in on Tuesday and returned on the Thursday. The day off on the weds. was usually a flight up to China Bay or a day off if nothing to go there for.(When they started building Gan then it used to go down there taking Pakistani Labourers with one of the Movers as AQM sitting in the Co-pilots seat-I did several flights down there) When the floods were on in 1958 the Wednesday lay over was used to drop the tins of Jam and bread in large hessian bags. There was only one set of despatcher harness available and when I went up to help just had lashing tape tied round my waist-rather hairy to put it mildly especially looking back on it now but its surprising what you'll do when you're in your twenties (early) and think nothing of it!! The only dodgy bit was after the board of bags had been despatched and the Valetta was banking round hard to go in again-it paid to hang on especially as you were crawling back up the fuselage to drag some more of these large bags down aft to the despatching board!
Yes, the local population did run after the bags as they came down but it was more a case of whoever got to them first had first pickings and I gather several did get hit by the bags. As far as I can recall there was only bread and tinned jam in the bags and nothing to open the tins with.
We had a load of them stacked up in the freight shed in between drops and they nearly caught fire due to the heat they generated, the fire section were quite disappointed that it didn't really catch fire!! (We had to get them all out onto the triangle of grass that was in front of the Movements building.-d'you remember that?)
When Ratmalana Airport closed for repairs after the proving flight of the BOAC Britannia had cracked the runways/taxiways all the civil flights used to come through Negombo which was great seeing all those stewardesses wandering around Air Movs!!! The downside was that the Singalhese Customs took up residence which caused a problem especially when the Neg P flight came back from Changi. Everyone used to try and get a weeks leave or so at Changi before being Tour Ex to load up with goodies to take home.So all the passengers had an awful lot of duty free goods from Changi but which were ultimately destined for the UK, but you try explaining that to the Singalhese Customs!! The first flight in got clobbered unfortunately and had to pay an a lot of import duty or lost the goods. The next week we were a bit more organised and when we went out to meet the Hastings told everyone to just bring off their hand luggage with nothing dutiable in it and take that through and admit to no other luggage.
Then we offloaded all the remaining bags onto a couple of SASF trolleys and took them over to SASF where the passengers collected them after having gone through Customs! It only happened a couple of times as the customs presence was only there for the civil aircraft so if none were coming in then all was OK.
Some of the 52/110 Squadron Valetta crews that flew the Changi/Butterworth/Car Nicobar/Negombo/Gan 'Air Bridge' and reverse and often to be referred to as Gan Air or Gan Pig Run.
The crews on 52/110 Squadron Valettas
'Skid' Morris, Les Sands & Arthur Dodkin (Pilots)
Bernie Aslett, Jack Trainer & Len Pritchard (Navigators)
Ken Denman, Colin Cullis & Terry Hines (Signallers)
Thanks to Ken Denman for this information.

Ben Fenton, an Air Wireless Mechanic often flew in the Station Flight Pembroke (WV750) with POV Green, when he was CO. Ben recalls 'I heard that he had a bit of a fright when some of the circuit breakers kept popping out, these were positioned within the tail section so he would have had a hairy time getting these reset. As a result he never flew alone after that and since I was handy ( I was also able to tune the HF radio to get the cricket commentaries!) he would often ask me if I fancied a trip. Of course I always did.  When POV Green left and was replaced by W/C Atherton, I can only imagine that my name was passed on to him as a useful companion when flying hours were put in!'
Ben continues 'The first time I flew with him (Geoff), shortly after his arrival as CO, he said that he wanted to see wild elephants and, handing me a map of Ceylon, asked where we could go. Somehow I got him over thick jungle and after a while we spotted a herd of elephants making for a water hole in a clearing. Geoff Atherton executed a smart 180 degree turn and flying over the beasts for the second time, smartly whipped out his camera, stood the Pembroke on its wing tip (well it felt like that!) and proceeded to rattle off a series of photos with the kite barely above the trees (again it felt like that!)'   

From Gary (John) Cooper
Some of my own brief experiences.
The day a mongoose got into the Airmens Mess and caused panic, me falling off a Comet wing and breaking my wrist but the physiotherapy was put to good use in the bar later that night. SASF playing soccer, our shirts were sky blue pyjama tops.
Learning to play golf when the crows would pinch the golf balls and take them as trophies to the nests in the coconut trees, talking of which there were 40000 of 'em!
The confined to camp situation when Prime Minister Bandaranaike was assassinated, the train rides from Katanayaka station to Colombo, watch out for the beetel nut stains, the even hairier taxi ride through the streets of Colombo.
The sing songs in the NAAFI and the boardwalk over the monsoon drains which always seemed as narrow as a tight rope, the Astra Cinema and 'Good ole Fred' often interpreted to 'Good ole Tom' (Hobbs) and Doug the cinema manager sitting in the third row of seats from the front trying to keep us reprobates in order. The chanting of  'UNCLEAN' for those that had caught a packet and 'You can't help falling on your balls' substituting  'You can't help falling for a Walls'
The rocket attacks between billets, the sergeants mess and the Astra from illegal rockets bought from Kurana village, the Chinese restaurant in the village which laid me up in the hospital for three days after a meal.
The Christmas Dinners where everyone who wanted to eat had to be dressed in uniform, we sure did,  prison uniforms, Army uniforms in fact just about everything that didn't look like a Number 6 dress KD uniform!
The boat parties, the orange distress flare let off in the swimming pool, riding your bike to work in the middle of the road in order that you didn't get hit by a faling Kadjan leaf.
The Dhobi that sometimes got mixed up, the drinking sessions at Christmas from Dawn to Dawn..............

From Colin Cullis, an Air Signaller on 52 Squadron Valettas:
I too took part in the Flood relief sorties in Dec 57/Jan 58.  We left Changi on 31 Dec staging through Butterworth and Carnicobar en-route to Katunayake.  We did 3 sorties on 31 Dec in the Jaffna/Trincomalee area.  The last of these 3 sorties was memorable in that we landed with a large sack of bread and tinned jam "hung-up" on the tailplane.  I believe it eventually dropped off on the runway.  We then flew to Gan and back on the 1 Jan.  On 2 Jan we flew 4 Flood sorties (Trincomalee, Madhu Church & Padawiya, & China Bay.  We did 2 more Flood sorties on 3 Jan, went to Gan and back on 4 Jan, 4 more Flood relief sorties on 5 Jan, a Kat-Gan run on 6 Jan and a sortie to China Bay rtn on 9 Jan.  My pilots on these sorties were F.Sgt Whitehead and F.Sgt  F.Sgt Payne, and the Valettas were VX 558, VX 495 and VX 523. At this time everyone at Gan lived in  tents.  The first people to get decent accommodation were the Costain's "foremen" who were there to organise the Pakistani labourers.  We  returned to Changi by Hastings on 13 Jan. I returned to Katunayake on 28 Jan to start my tour on the 52 sqn detachment which came to an end when the Hastings were first able to land on the "not yet completed" concrete runway at Gan.   My actual date of departure from Katunayake was 24 April 1959. All our Valetta sorties used the short, rolled coral runway.  Its just as well I've got a log-book to recount the above details, and  I can remember all the crews who were on the det at Kat.  However, the only person I can remember (without prompting) of the people who did all the work on the a/c was Sgt "Ginge" Pearson who was, I believe, an engine man.


Copyright John Cooper