'A country the size of Wales with a population the size of Swansea', as a particularly good looking SO3 G2 used to say whilst giving the new arrivals brief on a Wednesday afternoon in the force conference room. Belize is a former British colony situated on the Eastern seaboard of the Central American isthmus that's the bit that joins North and South America. This tropical idyll is the only English-speaking country in the region and is bordered by Mexico in the North and Guatemala in the South and West.
Formerly known as British Honduras, it changed its name in 1973. As there is another country called Honduras, it was deemed prudent to adopt another name rather than simply dropping the British prefix, and Belize was chosen after the river that runs through the main city' the imaginatively titled Belize City. The river is also known as the Sweetwater Canal, though it technically isn't a canal, and for water read sewer.
|British Forces Belize|
Belize finally cast off its colonial shackles from the filthy imperialist British pigdogs in 1981, and that's when things got a bit scary for its inhabitants. Neighbouring Guatemala began to cast covetous eyes over this Caribbean jewel, and the government went cap-in-hand back to its former colonial masters for assistance. Always quick to lend a helping hand to fledgling nations, especially ones that used to be ours, Her Majesty's Government dispatched a flight of Harrier ground attack jets and Puma helicopters to the country, along with a sizeable number of troops. The country was duly garrisoned and protected from the threat of invasion by the Hispanic hoards. Rule Britannia!
And that's the way it stayed until the mid-1990s. It was the sunshine posting to end all sunshine postings, and one that didn't involve too much in the way of danger (unlike today's sunshine postings). It was the closest thing one could get to a recruiting brochure, and most got a slice of paradise whether they were based at the rather prosaically named Airport Camp, or at the outlying camps at Holdfast, Rideau Camp or Salamanca.
Tours tended to last six months and the resident roulement battalion was supplemented by various support arms and the Belize Defence Force. And it was possible to cram an awful lot in to six months! Life for the Army was generally good, but not as good as it was for the boys of Auntie Betty's Flying Club, the RAF. Resident 25 Flight AAC didn't have too rough a time either.
What a posting! Where else could one spend one's weekends diving in the limpid blue waters of the Caribbean? The RAF even laid on a Puma for the weekend haul to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. You were spoilt for choice. The various outlying Cayes were a tropical dream come true. Goffs, English, Caulker, all were worth the boat ride, especially in a RPL-full of BBQ kit! The delights of Cancun and Chetumal in adjoining Mexico awaited the more adventurous, and the town of San Ignacio near the Guatemalan border offered sundry opportunities for getting laid, pissed or (usually) both.
Ah, the fairer sex! If one was inclined such, then there was no better venue for sampling the questionable delights of a bought & paid for jump than the legendary Raoul's Rose Garden. $30 for a hump and $40 for the All Night Special, and when one considers the exchange rate (BZ$3-£1) it was a blimmin' bargain guv! One would never look at a post-pubescent Guatemalan prostitute quite the same way ever again.
Ah, happy times. An endless roller coaster ride of barbecues and getting pissed on Belikin in the various unit bars. Off camp there was JB's on the Holdfast road. In Belize City there was the Upstairs Cafe, the Hotel Chateau Caribbean (featured in the movie The Dogs of War with Christopher Walken) and the Fort George, a renowned eatery. All in all quite an experience for a mere strip of a lad.
But the dream was to end. The defence cuts of the mid-1990s dictated that such a desirable posting had to end and British Forces Belize was withdrawn. All was not lost however. A small cadre remained behind for jungle training, and 25 Flight stayed too, its crews getting some of the most spectacular flying available anywhere. 25 Flight also provides SAR coverage.
The days of the British Empire are long gone, but at Airport Camp the Union flag still proudly flutters amongst the palms, framed by a beautiful, cloudless blue tropical sky. A far flung outpost. A relic of our imperial past. Bloody marvellous!
Currently the home of the latest scam attempting to separate Brits from their meager disposable incomes. A card is posted through your door from a company called PDS (Parcel Delivery Service). It suggests they were unable to deliver a parcel and that you need to contact them on 0906 6611911. This is a premium rate number that will stiff you £15 for the call. May or may not be another stealth tax from Gordon Brown.