Flying from London to Hong Kong 3 January 1952
Here are the details of my father’s flight out to HK in January 1952. I have taken the content straight from his letters.
Journey by Peter Halliwell from London to Hong Kong 3 January 1952, travelling in the BOAC Argonaut Amazon.
He went to the Air Terminal on Buckingham Palace Road at 8.15 pm on Wednesday 3 January 1952. He along with other passengers caught a bus at 8.30 for the airport. He had to surrender his Ration Book and Identity Card – but no mention of sweet coupons!
The plane was quite comfortable, though it was very noisy. Talking above it was practically impossible. He slept the Wednesday night on the plane and was woken up at 2 am with a cup of tea and biscuits.
They arrived at Rome Airport 15 minutes early. He commented that upon landing, he could see all the lights of the city below and how pretty it looked, and it made English cities look very dull in comparison. In the airport café they had more light refreshments and were meant to re-board the plane an hour later but there was a problem with one of the engines. His comment was that he was not worried as there were 4 engines and the plane could fly quite well without one. After 2 hours, they took off again and it was still dark, and he stayed awake to watch the sun rise. He thought it was incredibly beautiful with the first rays of the sum catching the clouds and turning them all colours. He watched the coast of Italy go by beneath the plane. He picked out Mt Etna in Sicily and saw stretched below him the toe of Italy.
Then they crossed the Mediterranean to Egypt. He found it quite startling to see Egypt from the air, one-minute yellow sand, and the next green crops in little rectangular patches with the silvery streak of the irrigation ditch around. Here and there you could see how the desert had won back a patch of land and covered it with sand again. At Cairo, they had more light refreshments and after an hour, got back on board, the plane taxied onto the runway, but the captain wasn’t satisfied so they came back and got out again and had lunch at the airport. They were still there by 3 pm (GMT) and had more refreshments. He commented – the BOAC policy is, when in doubt, give light refreshments! After tea, they were taken by bus into Cairo to the Heliopolis Palace Hotel where he had a wash and a few hours of sleep. They finally took off from Cairo at 9 pm GMT.
The next stop is Bahrain at 6am and again light refreshments. He observed that the airfield occupies nearly all of one island and that the town of Bahrain is on an adjoining island, the two being linked by a causeway. After an hour in Bahrain, they leave for Karachi. Almost the whole journey was over the sea and not that interesting as they were too high to see any ships.
They reached Karachi at about 1 pm and had lunch at the airport restaurant and stayed two hours. A magician entertained them with some very interesting and clever tricks but was rather annoyed when he discovered that they had no Pakistani money to pay him. After leaving Karachi, they flew over land to Calcutta. Afternoon tea and dinner were served on the plane and they reached Calcutta at about 7 pm. Most of the passengers left there and a new set joined.
As they left Karachi, the plane passed over the dried-up courses of the Indus river and its tributaries and he says “plenty of good geography” to be seen. He had to fill in three forms before they could land at Karachi and two at Calcutta. Flying over India, he could see the tiny green patches of growing crops together with the bare brown of the uncultivated scrub land. He thought that Calcutta at night looked even better than Rome.
They landed at Rangoon at about 1 am and were taken by bus to the Strand Hotel where he slept for the first time under a mosquito net. Only about 2 ½ hours in bed as they were late in arriving in Rangoon. They took off from Rangoon at 7 am and flew over mile after mile of rice fields. He thought it looked very pleasant especially after the hot looking plains of India the day before. Now another different set of passengers. There are only about 6 of them left out of the original 40 who left London.
The coastline here was very flat and shallow with acres and acres of green coloured mud – not very pleasant looking. He commented that the noise the plane was making was worse than a few dozen pneumatic hammers going all at once. It took 1 ¾ hours from Rangoon to Bangkok.
They then crossed the coast of Lower Burma and crossed the high mountains into Siam. He could see the hills ahead rising straight up black and clear. They were flying at 11,000 feet. The mountains now changed to dark green of jungle and forest. He could see in places where little rice fields had been carved out of the side of the hills. The rice fields have all petered out now.
All the letters were written on BOAC airletter paper and he said that the letters would be taken back to the UK on the next plane.
He commented that the mountain country between Rangoon and Bangkok was wild, beautiful but no place for man. Quite a few of the valleys were covered with white mist as it was early in the morning. They landed at Bangkok at 8.45 local time. There they had light refreshments and took off an hour later. Looking down from the air at Bangkok one could see the whole countryside was perfectly flat with canals at regular intervals to make a sort of checkboard effect. The canals were tree lined and all the houses were along the banks of the canals. Then came a group of fields surrounded by ditches and then another canal – the effect from the air was quite pleasing.
The last leg was to Hong Kong, but the plane was due to carry on to Tokyo. The plane left Bangkok at 10 am and he said there was little to see except over French Indochina where there were straight military roads made by the French in their war against the communists. They passed the island of Hainan on their port side.
The run in to Hong Kong airport was most difficult and you could only use it in daytime as no night flying was allowed for large aircraft. Instead of a straight approach, halfway down the glide, the aircraft had to bank sharply to port and the port wing was almost touching the waves, he said. They landed dead on time at 4.15 despite all the earlier mishaps. He was met at the airport by a Mr Sargison and his wife who was the headmaster of King’s College.
He then goes on to describe settling in in Hong Kong, staying at the YMCA where he had a large room where he can lie in bed and see the ships entering and leaving the harbour. Across from the YMCA he can see a little motor train at the railway station. It has been made by cutting the ends of two buses and welding them together and attaching railway wheels!
He was the first British assistant appointed to King’s College which has only been going a short time and then only the lower part of the school was functioning. The senior classes would only begin as the children work through the school. He is the Senior Geography master. He described his first visit to King’s College. Apparently, it was a new building and parts still to be added as the old school buildings were destroyed by the Japanese during the war They took out the steel framework for the metal and the Chinese, so short of firewood, then used the boards for fuel with the result that the walls fell out and the building had to be completely rebuilt. He said it was all very pleasant with a sunken garden and swimming pool.