Animal Cargo Stories
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Following on from last month's feature on transporting animals all around the world,
here we have some stories kindly sent in by Angela Waller.
Hunting-Clan started their cargo service to Africa on 23rd July 1955. An Avro York left Manchester, stopped in London, and then headed off to East Africa. The Africargo service had been born.
Here are some of Angela's stories from those days, many of which feature in her book,
Before There were Trolley Dollies and I have popped in a few Avro York photos too.
Quite often, the Hunting-Clan Yorks carried livestock among the freight and this could be anything from small birds to large animals. Sometimes the aircraft would be divided and would carry half passengers and half freight. On one flight, when I was working in one of these “divided” cabins, as I walked back through the freight area, I noticed that we were carrying several crates of day old chicks. Amazingly, their chirping and tweeting could be heard over the roar of those four huge (and noisy) engines.
On another part passenger, part freight, flight, I noticed that we were carrying crates of small monkeys – Rhesus monkeys being transported to England for use in medical research. They looked adorable and as I bent to look at them more closely, one of them put it’s ‘hand’ out through the bars. I took that hand and held it, then turning it over, I looked at the palm and saw that the lines and marks were identical to those on a human hand.
Frequently, on the Yorks, we carried large farm animals, being exported to what was then Northern and Southern Rhodesia for breeding purposes. We also carried racehorses whose racing days in Europe were over, but they would run again – often with success -- in various parts of Africa. Whenever we carried animals there would always be a trained “handler” on board.
All horses were always given a tranquillizer before the flight – a minimum dose – enough to keep the animal calm, but not so much that it would “go down" as a horse should always be kept on its feet. In 1958, “Diamond Slipper”, a horse that had won the Irish St. Leger and was therefore quite valuable, was put on board one of our Yorks, bound for East Africa. The flight would take many hours, and just before the aircraft reached Entebbe, the effects of the tranquillizer wore off ; the horse started to panic and kick out, damaging himself and the fuselage walls. Had the flight been any longer, the “handler” would have had to use the humane killer but the York landed at Entebbe with “Diamond Slipper” still alive but crazed beyond recall, and he had to be destroyed shortly after landing.
On a flight from East Africa to London, we had carried a cheetah in the hold. He was, I was told, about 4 months old and had been rescued by game wardens when his mother had died or been killed. This young cheetah was going on from London to a zoo in Europe. After landing at London, and after the passengers had disembarked, I came down the steps to see that the cheetah was sitting in his crate at the foot of the steps.
He looked … well, beautiful is the only word. Utterly beautiful. I went over and crouched beside his crate; he made a small noise, almost a cat-like ‘miaow’ so I took the risk that he wouldn’t bite and slipped my hand sideways through the bars of the crate so that I could stroke the side of his neck. He loved that… he leaned on my hand, twisting his head so that he nuzzled my hand with his ear, and made catlike purring noises. Catlike, but very much louder. What a beauty he was!
One day, as we were preparing the aircraft for departure from Entebbe, bound for London, I was told that we would be carrying a young chimpanzee in the hold. He was about eighteen months old -- as a very young orphaned animal he had been taken to a game park in Uganda, where the staff had hand-reared him. Now he, too, was bound for a zoo in Europe. The van carrying the young chimp arrived, and I went down the steps to talk to the game warden – a woman – who had taken care of him ever since he was rescued. She was holding him in her arms, and was clearly upset to have to let him go. When she set him down, ready to put him into his travelling crate, I held out my hand and he put his hand into mine and held it as trustingly as an eighteen months old human would do.
Then he was loaded into his crate, and put into a hold at the rear of the Viscount aircraft. When I went to give the rear lavatory a final check, I heard the chimp crying… sobbing… sounding just like a human infant. Just then the Captain came aboard. “Have you seen on the manifest that we are carrying a young chimp?” I asked him. “Yes,” he said, he’d seen that. So I went on, “Ted, come down to the back….. listen….” He found the sound of that chimp crying as distressing as I did. “Tell you what,” he said, “we’re not full…. we’ll bring the crate up to the passenger cabin and have it strapped into a row of three seats.”
It happened that there were a lot of young children on that flight to London – children of the age when they’d normally not want to sit still for very long and would quickly become fractious. I went around to each of them, told them that ‘we have a baby chimpanzee on board’ and that if they were very good, they could come up, two at a time, and sit next to the chimp’s crate. They were not allowed to touch the chimp and they had to be very good to be allowed to come and sit by him. As we approached London several parents told me: “The children have never been so well behaved on a flight!”
I also remember on a Hunting-ClanYork ... we had taken a passenger load out to what was then Southern Rhodesia, and the aircraft came back to England as a freighter, no passengers. Of course, in those days I was the only girl on the crew and came back on the freighter.
The York wasn't pressurised of course, and on board was a dog -- a pug -- that developed breathing problems, so I gave him oxygen using the passenger bottle and having to cup my hand around the 'mask' to cover his nose and mouth. He did just fine on several blasts of oxygen (each a few minutes long).
And finally, this isn't a story about animals carried on the aircraft but..... One evening we'd flown down to Gibraltar in a Viking, the passengers had disembarked, and we, the crew, had about a 3 to 4 hour wait for the northbound passengers to arrive. We were invited to go over to the RAF mess on the airfield to pass the hours while we waited. I was enjoying a cup of tea, when the door opened, and glancing round I saw a most handsome Alsatian dog walk in.
Being an animal lover (to an almost absurd degree!) I jumped to my feet to go over to stroke the dog, exclaiming "Oh what a BEAUTIFUL dog.... he's...." I was stopped in my tracks by the dog stopping in HIS tracks, looking straight at me, stiffening, his fur bristling all over, while he made a long low rumbling growl. I froze. I realised that he was of course a guard dog, who had just come in with his handler from a regular patrol, and I thought he might "go for" a stranger! The handler promptly told him that I was "all right" and the dog came over, sat in front of me, and held up one paw. As I "shook hands" the handler said "What he really wants is a cup of tea," so I poured some of mine into a saucer, gave it to him.... and the friendship was sealed.