On the 26th October, 1949, I joined 208 Squadron, at Fayid in the Canal Zone. It was great to by flying Spitfires again and with an outfit, which I quickly learned, was a happy one and full of keen pilots. The blue skies and relatively flat desert was an excellent setting for low flying which could be done without risk of reporting, unless you flew over command or group headquarters. Also, it was not long after the end of the war and rules and regulations were different from today. I recall a detachment to Tripoli to support an army exercise when we took six or perhaps eight aircraft — all fully armed and which I doubt was cleared with HQ. Anyway when we reached the area of the desert, where the armies of Rommel and Montgomery had fought, there were remains of tanks, armoured vehicles and lorries everywhere. The formation leader called to say he was “going in” and we each picked our targets and fired away. There was no range safety officer and no one to record your hits (or misses). It was a very good feeling to carry out that live firing on real targets.
In mid-March 1950, I was pulled of the squadron and placed in the operations room at HQ 205 Group and on the 24th May the Squadron deployed to Khartoum as its main base. On the following day, eight or nine of the aircraft flew in to Asmara, Eritrea, where they supported the Royal Berkshire Regiment who were in action on the ground against the Shifta bandits. Hence the operation was known as Shufti Shifta. George Bush and Tony Blair would have classified the Shifta as international terrorists but I think they were doing what they had done for many years and are still probably doing on a minor scale: raiding the villages, stealing the cattle and raping the women.
There were Eritrean police posts throughout the country which were continuously manned, and some of them reinforced by patrols of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, who also scoured the countryside in pursuit of the Shifta. The Squadron would dispatch two aircraft to check the mobile patrols as and when required. The pilots would check a post, climb up to ensure R/T contact, and inform the police/army HQ of what they had observed and what that had seen from panels