Escaping from 1969

A former RAF officer from Emsworth has lifted the lid on what it was like to live in Libya when dictator Muammar Gaddafi first took control more than 40 years ago.

Tony Hazell was stationed at RAF El Adem, near Tobruk, when Gaddafi seized control in a military coup on September 1, 1969.

The 77-year-old, who lived there with his wife Pam and two young children, described the drawn-out evacuation process and the conditions of their final few months.

He said it took three days before they saw any visible signs of a coup – when a Libyan army tank stopped outside the gates of the base.

The first news he heard of Gaddafi’s actions was on the forces radio on the August bank holiday weekend when he and his family had gone away for the weekend.

Minutes later an army lorry stopped and told them to join its convoy back to El Adem.

He said: “We could hardly believe what the hell was going on, there was no problem as far as we were concerned.

“We kept coming across others, and this convoy got bigger and bigger.

“When we got back to Tobruk there was no gunfire, no nothing.”

They had the Monday off for bank holiday, and went back to work as normal on Tuesday.

“No Libyan army had turned up at all,” he said.

“One of the reasons why was that all the technical NCOs (non-commissioned officers) with the army were seconded British NCOs to train their technical men to run their tanks and officers.”

He added: “It took three days for the first tank to arrive at our base and this tank got up to the guard room, poked its gun at the guard room and nothing much happened.

“Eventually somebody went out with a white flag to see what had happened.

“They found the people inside were absolutely knackered, they had run out of water.

“They were in a hell of a state and we had to look after them.”

For the full interview with Tony see this week’s Observer, out now.