My name is Steve Davies and I served in the Royal Air Force Police for 25 years between 1975 and 2000, mainly with the SIB. For the past 23 years, I have been researching and writing up the history of the RAF Police, and have, to date, published a number of books on the subject.
Please check out my website http://rafpolicehistory.blogspot.pt/ During my tour of duty on Ascension Island in early 1983, when the surrounding seas were extremely rough, a call for RAF Police assistance was received from the captain of a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship that was passing Ascension on route to Portsmouth from the Falkland Islands.
Someone had broken in to the store room
The ship was carrying soldiers directly home and at some point during the voyage someone had broken into the store room containing their duty-free liquor and cigarettes and had stolen a considerable amount. Because the ship was on a tight schedule the captain did not want to put into Ascension but asked if an investigator could be sent out to the vessel.
Consequently, the senior naval officer on Ascension passed on the details and told me that a Wessex from 845 Naval Air Squadron would be available in 30 minutes to take me out there. I quickly assembled my rucksack and reported to the operations building where I donned a pair of flying overalls before being taken out to the waiting helicopter.
Conditions at sea were very bad indeed
The journey out to the ship was brief but as we approached and circled we could see, that because of the rough swell, the vessel was literally bobbing about like a cork. In fact, conditions were so bad that the pilot decided that it was impossible to land safely on the ship’s helipad. Instead, he decided to hover above it and winch me down.
Within minutes I was placed into the winch harness and despatched out of the door to begin my descent. It was quite windy and as I got closer to the helipad I could see the ship rising and falling considerably beneath me. I knew that I would have to get my timing right to land safely before releasing the harness. Furthermore, I had been briefed beforehand to ensure that the cable below me touched the deck first to isolate the build-up of static electricity.
I was beginning to feel extremely ill
As I closed in on the deck the winch slowed to compensate for the moving ship and a couple of sailors moved in ready to assist me. Just at the right moment, the deck started to rise and my feet touched down as I quickly released the harness and crumpled into a heap on the deck. By the time I was helped to my feet the helicopter was returning to Ascension.
I had been told that I had one hour to do what I needed to do before it returned to collect me. Because the sea was so rough, I suddenly found that I was quite unable to walk without being aided and literally had to be helped off the helipad, along the deck and up to the bridge by two burly sailors. I have never enjoyed boats, or indeed the sea, and I immediately felt ill and very dizzy.
What had happened?
When I reached the bridge I apologised to the captain, who just smiled, and quickly offered me a chair next to the wall. Once seated, I braced myself and felt a little better as I asked the captain to tell me what had happened. At that point, an Army major appeared and explained that it was his unit who were the victims and told me the story.
Given that I only had an hour on board there really wasn’t an awful lot I could do except take the details and offer advice. I suggested that the ship’s captain and the Army officer in charge of the troops should arrange to have the ship completely searched for the stolen items and that photographs should be taken of the storeroom. I informed them that I would contact the Military Police in the UK, who would meet the ship when it docked in Portsmouth, to continue the investigation.
I do NOT like boats and the sea!!
The hour passed quickly, but not quickly enough for me I’m afraid; I was feeling dreadfully seasick and just wanted to get off that large aquatic roller-coaster as fast as I could. The helicopter was approaching and again I was helped up to the helipad by the two sailors to meet it. After being hooked up to the winch I was airborne and back on the aircraft soon after.
After circling once we left the ship and returned to Ascension where I had never been so happy to be back on terra-firma. For the rest of the day I continued to feel dizzy and the ground beneath me felt as if it was moving about; boats and the sea are definitely not my favourite things which is probably why I decided to join the RAF.....!!