When my father was posted from Britain to Kingston, Jamaica in 1951, my parents took my two younger siblings with them. I was by this time at an English boarding school and it was thought I would be better off staying there, and staying with relatives for the holidays. BOAC had recently taken over the Caribbean route from British South American Airways and offered a deal for unaccompanied minors, and my parents booked me a return flight to Jamaica later that year.
At the time I had only flown a few hours on local flights, but this was 24 hours or so aboard a Lockheed Constellation, and I was thrilled. My London-based aunt collected me off the school train and took me to the Airways Terminal early that morning. This was before the Central Area of the airport was built, and the airlines operated from huts and tents along the Bath Road, later termed the North Side. Checking-in was performed in town at the Terminal – specially built by Imperial Airways before the war by the railway linking to Southampton for flying-boats – no longer in use by this time – and we were loaded in an airline bus to go to the airport. No duty-free shops were in evidence, and we walked out to the steps – they seemed very high to me – up into the beautiful Connie, with two reclining seats on each side of the aisle and big round windows giving an excellent view.
Piston powered planes took a long time to warm up, one engine at a time, but eventually we were taxying out to the runway for takeoff. It seemed to me to take a long time before we left the ground for the four-hour first hop to Lisbon, and the climb would not now be thought of as steep, but we – I think around 40 passengers – had pleasant time looking at land and sea, and having lunch, before landing at the Portuguese capital. The airport was only slightly less shambolic than Heathrow, and we were held in a small waiting-room while the aircraft was refuelled. I remember little of the view taking off as we turned West for the island of Santa Maria in the Azores, where it was evening by the time we landed. I do remember the unusual food served at the airport – a sort of cold porridge.
Then came the longest hop, to Bermuda. Kindley Field was an American base about an eleven-hour flight from the Azores. At times, these flights diverted to Gander or other airports if the headwinds restricted payload, but this was unnecessary on my flight. It was the middle of the night and no other activity was to be seen. Soon enough we were off again for Nassau on the island of Grand Bahama. As this is only a short distance from Florida, many private aircraft could be seen on the tarmac, still early in the morning. Soon we were off again, flying south over Cuba to Kingston, on the south coast of Jamaica. I remember being a little startled on the approach: we had overflown the city and out to sea, getting very close to the water. Suddenly the runway appeared beneath us, and we were down. The airstrip is built across the Palisadoes, a silted-up breakwater enclosing Kingston Harbour. This was a busy airport in 1951: KLM and Pan American Convair 240s, as well as Vickers Vikings of British West Indian Airways, and another Constellation of Chicago and Southern, later part of Delta Airlines.