The title stretches the truth, for I wasn't actually an 'AFME' Hunter pilot. Air Forces Middle East had ruled RAF operations on the Arabian Peninsula until a couple of years before my arrival. The withdrawal from Aden had prompted reorganisation, following which squadrons operated under HQ British Forces Gulf. But the older hands brought with them songs we used to perform in the bar late at night, amongst them the ditty whose first two lines went as follows:
"I'm an AFME 'Unter pilot and me name is Joseph Soap,
I left the shores of UK and me 'eart was full of 'ope ..."
We roared away the evenings at Muharraq and Sharjah with a repertoire of similar classics, keeping ourselves endlessly amused. Although, I fear, probably not amusing the other residents of those messes.
There was a custom on Hunter squadrons that no two pilots could have the same first name. Therefore, if a second Pete, for example, was posted in, he would be given an alternative name. 'Sid' was the favourite substitute, with 'Bert' following close behind. One of these (I think his real name was Dave) became immortalised in the Middle Eastern Hunter world by virtue of 'Bert's Boat' being named after him. It was common, when trying to rejoin a split formation, to nominate a geographical location over which to RV. This particular Bert was, one day, trying to find his leader.
"I'm over the big boat half way down the west coast of Qatar," he said.
The other guy searched but was unable to find any such boat. Eventually, they gave up and returned independently to Muharraq. Naturally, the debrief was interesting, especially when they were forced to agree after much map study that the 'big boat' had most probably been the quite substantial island which lay more or less where they both thought they'd been. Ever afterwards, that lump of rock was known to successive generations of Hunter pilots as 'Bert's Boat' — and a very good RV it always proved to be. Certainly, its new name sounded better than 'Dave's Boat'.
To return to the beginning, I was thrilled to be posted for my first tour to 208 Sqn at Muharraq. But I still vividly recall my meeting with my new boss. I was wheeled into his office and saluted smartly.