In late 1990 and early 1991, Royal Air Force Music Services were called to active service as part of Operation Granby. Musicians from the four UK bands along with the Salon orchestra were deployed to various parts of Saudi Arabia as part of a multi-national task force whose mission was to liberate Kuwait from the invading forces of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The four Royal Air Force bands involved were: The Central Band of the Royal Air Force along with the Salon Orchestra, The Western Band of the Royal Air Force, the Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment and the Band of the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell.
Towards the later part of 1990 saw the first deployment of musicians from Royal Air Force Music Services. Shortly after this, the Royal Air Force Squadronaires, who consisted of members of the Central Band were tasked with travelling straight to Saudi Arabia at the end of the Central Band’s Hong Kong trip in November 1990 in order to perform to the many troops already in place for Operation Granby.
In late December 1990 and over the Christmas and New Year period, musicians being deployed undertook intensive training in advanced First Aid at Royal Air Force Halton. Prior to this, musicians attended Royal Air Force Honnington where they were instructed by the Royal Air Force Regiment on the safe handling of weapons so that they would be familiar with the making safe of different weapons procedures should they need to remove these from casualties. The Royal Air Force Regiment Band was the first of the four RAF Bands to be deployed on “Operation Granby” and by the 30th November all musicians had been kitted, documented and fully vaccinated.
The 12th of January 1991 arrived and the majority of musicians being deployed on Operation Granby boarded a Kuwait Airways 747 at Royal Air Force Brize Norton, Oxfordshire bound for Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia. Everyone was apprehensive about what they were potentially facing once the war had begun.
On arrival at Al Jubail, all musicians were processed by an administrative team who recorded details such as next of kin, blood group etc. The accommodation was in four- or five-man tents of which there were many and this accommodation was classed as field conditions. This was our home for the first few days until we were assigned and deployed to various locations.
After processing, all Royal Air Force Musicians were deployed to different regions in Saudi Arabia in preparation for the commencement of the war.
On the evening of the 17th of January 1991, Operation Granby began and we witnessed Royal Air Force Tornado aircraft taking off from Muharraq in Bahrain as well as other coalition force bases around Saudi Arabia. This was the beginning of the multi-national campaign to re-take Kuwait back from Saddam Hussain’s invading forces. That same evening, Muharraq and other bases came under attack from Saddam’s SCUD missiles which were in retaliation for the coalition force air strikes.
Before taking cover in our designated air raid shelters, all personnel donned their NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare) suits and respirators for protection. After a number of SCUD missile attacks in the days that followed, it became apparent that these missiles were unreliable and thankfully missed many of their targets. We were also very grateful to the United States Army’s Patriot anti-missile system which destroyed many of the incoming SCUD missiles well before they became a danger to us.
Operations in the Gulf
Before the war commenced, there was an aeromedical deployment at Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia which was situated at the heart of a medical evacuation chain. This chain began at the battlefield of operations and would end in casualties being returned to the UK. The main British aeromedical facilities were located in Bahrain where the Royal Air Force War Hospital was set up and Royal Air Force Musicians were also deployed to similar facilities in Dharan, Riyadh and Al Qaysumah in the Gulf. Casualties could also be flown for medical treatment to Royal Air Force Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Musicians had to learn how to carry and secure casualties on board different types of aircraft such as a C130 (Hercules) or a Royal Air Force VC10 which were also in service in the Royal Air Force at that time.
The plan for dealing with casualties was to take them from the front-line stations to field hospitals near the forward air head at Al Qaysumah, which was about 75 km south of the Iraq/Saudi border. Living conditions at Al Qaysumah were not the best and most musicians who were deployed at this facility endured field conditions for most of their deployment.
From Al Qaysumah, they were flown either direct to Riyadh or to Al Jubail where they would receive further treatment if urgently needed and before transfer to a surgical unit. The Western Band of the Royal Air Force were deployed at Al Qaysumah under the command of their new Director of Music, Flying Officer Duncan Stubbs.
The duties of musicians who were deployed on Operation Granby also included the guarding of hospitals and air heads as well as other key point facilities.
The deployment of Royal Air Force Musicians on Operation Granby highlighted the versatility of all personnel who were on active service in the Gulf. Their ability to adapt well to unfamiliar and non-musical tasks in order to carry out their duties is testimony to this.
This same versatility can be seen today from our current serving musicians as they support the Government’s response to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Written by Cpl James Simpson, Central Band of the Royal Air Force.