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Does anyone remember Comex 2?

SPECIAL Announcement

There is to be a memorial service in Durham (Cathedral) at 5pm on the 30th Sept to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragic crash. There will also be a reception and then some form of informal gathering.

Sorry I have no formal contact details.

 

Comex Two

A cursory search (yes, jokes already!) on Google produces no reference to Comex 2 on the first five pages, which is about as far as I generally go. We find numerous commodity exchanges and obscure global corporations; even a young man, according to a report in Forbes Magazine, who has twice succeeded in hacking Apple’s supposedly unhackable iPhone operating system, and goes by the name of Comex, which I guess stands modestly for ‘computer expert’? They are not the Comex I am looking for.

Forty-five years ago this month*, nine coaches were racing miles apart through southern Europe near the end of a three-months-long expedition overland to India. “Comex” was an acronym of Commonwealth Youth Expedition, a project run virtually singlehandedly by a former colonel in the Gurkhas’ regiment, Lionel Gregory. Though he gave off an air of soldierly distinction, Gregory had merely been in charge of a transport division, hence in retirement his dedication to the pursuit and logistics of large-scale adventuring.

As you might guess, Comex II was the second such expedition, larger and more ambitious than the previous year’s. Each of the nine coaches was allocated to a British university, thence to be driven over vertiginous mountain passes on twisting and unguarded rubble roads littered with the upturned skeletons of burned-out vehicles, by newly licensed undergraduate students. Each carried up to forty young people, who organised themselves into performing groups and put on shows of British culture and displays of friendly solidarity at other universities along the 4,164-mile route between London and New Delhi. I know this because, aged 17, a seat had been wangled for me on the Oxford coach by my step-aunt, Jeannine Scott, who rented office space to Col Gregory and was a patron of his charity. Having just left school without confirmation of a university place, I was being packed off ready to see the world.

It was not entirely a happy expedition. We set off in July, at a time when the government was enduring one of its perennial financial crises and had limited every British traveller abroad to just £25 spending money. Mine lasted all the way to Germany, about four days, after which I was forced to sponge off students who had been more careful with theirs. Living mostly on yoghurt, chapattis and cucumbers, sleeping rough in the desert, we wound our way across the Bosphorus, over terrible mountain roads through Anatolia and into Iran, Afghanistan (between wars), through the infamous Khyber Pass and, under sheets of monsoon rain, into Pakistan. By the time we reached Delhi I had contracted amoebic dysentery and spent ten days in the university there, unable to afford medicine, shaking with fever, drizzling blood into a grimy toilet. The back of the door was the most I saw of India, until we drove up to the former British hill station of Simla, where in the cool mountain air and with cleaner water I soon recovered.

Our return was rushed, as we were far behind schedule. In Bulgaria, we were bombing along a dual carriageway when, with a terrible crash, we hit a cart driven by an elderly farmer who had pulled out onto the road without looking. Shattered glass and timber and dying horses lay everywhere amid scattered corncobs — I don’t know how our driver survived. The farmer himself stood in the midst of it, stunned and babbling, but otherwise miraculously unscathed. In local law, it had been his right of way. After the various police formalities had been completed we were allowed to carry on our way, now two days late, in a vehicle crippled by the loss of most of its front-end — only to learn, as we entered then-Yugoslavia, of a far worse event that had occurred while we were perhaps fortunately detained.

The party from Durham university had been travelling at speed along a perfectly straight stretch of road, when the unsecured jib of a mobile crane mounted on a lorry heading the other way swung out across their path, slicing the top off the coach. Fourteen students were decapitated. The student driver was arrested, put on trial and automatically sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, although the accident had not been his fault. Limping on through Austria and southern Germany, we shivered in silence as the snowflakes blew in through the missing windshield. Somewhere along the autobahn, we naughty boys at the back were persuaded by the coach captain, Vipin Suri (how funny that we recall so many names from the past, yet none from five minutes ago)  to ditch the kilo cake of Afghan black hash we’d been hoping to smuggle back to Britain. To a casual passer-by, it must have looked like a cowpat. Indeed, it probably was.

***

The media nowadays goes into paroxysms of intrusive, speculative reporting for days and weeks over such incidents. Police, social workers, counsellors, coroners, politicians are involved, public enquiries demanded… . In 1967, however, we lived in a less emotive age. I returned from Dover to my home in London, gaunt and two stone lighter than when I had left, was passed fit by our elderly, no-nonsense GP, and nothing more was ever said or heard about it.

Somewhere surely are survivors, the elderly parents, sisters and brothers of the dead, the driver (who, I seem to remember, was released on appeal); but we do not hear a word from them. The incident slipped rapidly out of public notice into history, significant anniversaries ignored. The mark it has left on me, assuming that my long cycles of depression and digestive sensitivities have nothing to do with it, is that I still sink gibbering to my knees, or have to slow the car to a terrified crawl, at the prospect of a sheer drop of more than a few feet. I didn’t manage to get a place at university, that year or any other. Instead I was sent to film school, before drunk-walking into a decade of improbable jobs in the media for which I had not the slightest qualification.

Within days of our return, the bluff and soldierly Col Gregory, seemingly untouched by any responsibility, was already planning Comex III.

Note: I have Posted a later article reflecting on this topic, if it is of interest. Comex Two: of Time and Memory (July 2014).

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41 thoughts on “Does anyone remember Comex 2?

  1. I stumbled across your message while Googling Comex. I’d just heard that Lionel Gregory had recently passed away. I was a member of Comex 10, and yes, I don’t think that there was any information about Comex 2. Times do change from the emotive age that you describe and in fairness to Greg many thousands of people did have their minds and hearts opened by the efforts of the organisers of Comex throughout the years. I will you well.

      • Dear Dud,

        Clearing out some memorabilia, I came across some verses you wrote during the Comex Two trip about an idiot who filled a primus stove with detergent. I, of course, was that idiot. That discovery prompted a limited amount of internet searching, but I have come across only a few names that I recognise. Pete and Niva still live in South Wales, doing I know not what; Alan Hildrew is/was the editor of a biology periodical; Roger Bilham is a geology professor somewhere in the mid-west, and appears occasionally on British TV, as enthusiastic as ever; Inman Harvey, whom we picked up on the way back, along with Stewart Lang, set up a business importing clothes/carpets/jewellery from Afghanistan, and, later, China; Robin Dunbar, from the Oxford coach, became an anthropologist. I became a psychologist, but was restless after Comex. I set up a small business in Canterbury selling “ethnic goods”, which was how I met Inman again, then moved to France, then back to Kent to end my days as a Maths teacher (now retired, of course). Since retirement, I have done two more overlanders. I understood the bitterness surrounding the Durham accident, but not the rest. We knew what we were doing, and took our chances. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever done.

        Best wishes, Toby.

      • Hi Toby
        Good to hear from you. And about the others you mention. The only people I stayed in contact with for a while were Mike and Mimi who lived in Preston, 40 miles away from me. But even that was a lot of years ago and we have lost contact. I agree : we had a great trip. Maybe we could make contact for a chat.

  2. Thanks for posting this- I came here via Google after seeing a mention of Comex 2 on the gravestone of Colin Marshall in Brancepeth, Co. Durham. I’ve put a photo of the grave here:

  3. Thanks, Caleb. I posted this piece to Pages a couple of years ago and so hadn’t realised you’d kindly sent this touching photographic reminder. I notice from it that my recollection of eleven deaths was an under-count, there were actually 14. This Post and another from ages ago about my life in a ‘Stately home’ (that was supposed to be a wry joke, it was a ruin) seem to be the most viewed Pages on this blog, I don’t know why, there are over 365 Posts on more current obsessions to be found under Home. I expect I have got a lot more of the Comex story wrong, it was long ago and far away. If so, perhaps the many others who catch up with the story here might feel welcome to contribute their reflections and recollections too.

  4. My then girlfriend, Susan Mary Smeddle, was one of the 14 unfortunates who were killed in that terrible accident in Yugoslavia. I remember the whole incident in 1967 very well. The television and newspapers showed very vivid and gruesome images of the crash site and although the victims bodies were covered up, some of the covers had come away. I was convinced, at the time, that one of the only partially covered bodies was that of Susan. These graphically gruesome images gave me nightmares afterwards. The disaster happened on a Saturday; the details coming out on the evening news and the following Sunday papers. She was not named as one of the survivors. To rub the disaster in deeper for me, I received a post card from her on the following Tuesday saying how much she was looking forward to seeing me and telling me all about it. A memorial service was held about three weeks later in the crypt of St Paul’s cathedral, to which I went, followed by a reception in the English Speaking Union (wherever that was) Col. Gregory gave,what i thought at the time, a rather patronising address. The story was resurrected soon afterwards when the Durham coach driver, one Philip Dobson, was jailed in his absence. Criticisms were levelled at the organisation of the whole Comex expedition: timings and poor financial arrangements and that most of the student coach drivers had only just acquired their PSVs Susan’s letters to me from various places en-route reported that many of the so-called cultural events had not taken place. The whole thing drifted away into people’s memories to be replaced, in the media, by what ever came along next to make a better sell. At the time that Susan related that she was going on this expedition, I felt rather envious. Maybe I could have worked a place on it: I could have been one of the victims or it might not have happened; I might have held the coach up from leaving for a minute or two or had to stop on the way for a ‘natural function’. It was very much a case of precise timing; the coach being in the very wrong place at the very wrong time. We’ll never know.

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to fill-in the yawning gaps in my account, Graham. I had not realised how much media attention the story was getting on the home front while we were still battling to get back in time for the start of the university term. But it seems to have been pretty vivid, if short-lived. I had forgotten too that Dobson never actually went to gaol, nor should he have. I wonder if he is still with us? Nor was I invited to the English Speaking Union, thank heavens. I don’t know what it was, either. It sounds like an MI6 front.

    I do know that my step-aunt Jeannine Scott MBE, to whom I referred and who died a few years ago, leaving property worth over a million pounds to her cleaner, was patron of the Capricorn Trust, which ran a hostel in London for African students, Zebra House. Apart from Greg, two other eccentric characters in orbit around her Knightsbridge home were Col David Stirling, founder of the SAS, and the travel writer and proven liar, Sir Laurens van der Post. There was something rather rackety about the whole lot of them, quite honestly.
    PI

    • Following on from my last post, memories were stirred up and I thought I’d enlarge a bit on my original thoughts. At the time I scoured the newspaper reports for as long as it was newsworthy particularly the criticisms that were levelled at the coach driver and at the Comex organization; none of which in my opinion contributed to the disaster. It was noted that many of the young coach drivers had only a week before acquired their PSV licenses and that their coach driving experience was limited. The fact that ten coaches did arrive back in UK more or less intact having traversed thousands of miles of abominable roads is sufficient testimony to their diving skill. I know what road conditions are like in those parts of the world. I wouldn’t contemplate driving anything less fragile than a Chieftain Tank, in India at least. Next it was questioned why the bus was on the stretch of road that it was. The disaster happened near the town of Sisak, some 50 Km south of Zagreb, now in present day Croatia They were heading for Zagreb and although the road leads from Sisak to Zagreb it is not the most logical or direct route. there is a main road directly to Zagreb from Belgrade. (Look at it on Google maps and you’ll see what I mean)
      We don’t know why that route was taken; were they/ had they picked up supplies, fuel in the town? Again we don’t know.It was also commented that the bus was travelling at speed which contributed to the impact. Bedford Duple coaches were not exactly the Jaguars of the bus world; you would be lucky if you could get 60 out of them. I have, out of curiosity, travelled the road from Sisak to Zagreb (via Google Earth) and it is more or less a straight one. No blame can be levelled at any of the Comex organizational team; it was a pure chance happening: wrong place, wrong time.. It must have been a logistical nightmare getting 11 coaches with 300 or so occupants through all those countries planning supply points accommodation etc to say nothing of the fact that visas were required for many more countries then than now. They weren’t always graciously given and then some only on the basis of not having a visa for an adjacent county Jordan and Syria come to mind. I don’t know how many more Comexes there were afterwards or how many more Col Gregory was involved with. That there was no further newsworthy problems speaks some thing.
      Blame must however be laid at some one’s door, given what happened. Surely it must have been the crane driver/owner/manufacturer. Did he not secure the crane jib properly? Was it a result of poor maintenance, poor systems of working? Was there a design fault that allowed it to happen easily?.(wouldn’t mind betting it was of Soviet manufacture) There are bound to be reports of the inquests, inquiries into it all, tucked away in some archive somewhere. I don’t intend to pursue to; Some of which undoubtedly we’ll never know.

      There you have it; that’s the sum total of my knowledge and reactions to it all.
      Most years, particularly in the 60’s and 70’s, have left some imprint on me of various depth; The year I qualified, the year I moved to London and started work, the year I met Susan on an overland trip to Russia, the year I went there or did this or that. Mostly memorable and pleasurable of my youth. 1967 should have been in that category: it was the year I travelled down overland to Istanbul with all the adventures and experiences attached to that. Instead 1967 left a deeper imprint by evoking the memories of what I’ve recently written about.
      That together with 5th Dimension’s “Up Up and away……….in my beautiful machine” Played a lot at the time.

      I’ve never written any of this down before much less confided it to a complete stranger. I’ve no idea who or where you are. You are totally anonymous.
      I must myself “Up up and away….” I’m off to South Africa in a couple of days for the rest of the winter and there’s one or two things left to do. .

  6. Graham, thanks once again. The loss of your friend certainly affected you deeply.
    The Cambridge bus ran off the road in Afghanistan on the way out, and someone broke their wrist. It was at the time when the Soviets and the Americans were vying for influence, before the Soviets were invited to invade, and rival teams were building along the Karakoram Highway. At one point, the roads simply didn’t connect, and the bus drove into the gap!
    As I wrote in my Post, the Oxford bus was seriously damaged in a crash in Bulgaria and we drove back through the early winter snow with no windscreen. Somehow, Greg got us out of that one. We didn’t do Jordan and Syria, we went further north, but some of the border posts were a bit sticky all the same. Duples were not only slow, they were bloody uncomfortable. But it was, as you say, a bit miraculous that we didn’t end up upside-down and burned-out below some of those awful corniches in southern Turkey.
    Your memory is of ‘Up and Away’. Mine is of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, as we took with us the first copy to arrive in India.What they would have made of it, God alone knows. I spent most of the time in India in a toilet, but did manage to get out long enough to have a suit made by a tailor in Connaught Square. In white silk, with a fashionable Nehru-collar, it was made in one day and cost £8! (I had to borrow the money.)
    It wasn’t all awful, though. I haven’t really travelled anywhere for decades, so that opportunity to see so much of the world, much of it still pristine and almost prehistoric, tribal societies on the cusp of the modern horror, was a formative experience – for those who lived through it.

    • Thanks for the contact, Vipin, but I maintain this blog on a semi-private basis – no SEO – and prefer not to be ‘outed’, if you don’t mind. Maybe you have more to contribute and I will be happy to have you add your experience to the other Comments.
      Since you remember him, I can tell you that after being sent down from Oxford Terry Milewski fled to Canada in 1969 and went on to become senior foreign correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, with postings in Washington and Moscow. I on the other hand have become an elderly recluse, living on the State pension.
      Best wishes.

  7. I was on the Cardiff coach. Aside from the events you describe, there were plenty of events going on in Comex 2 such as the concerts. I played clarinet in a small jazz band that featured on some of them. Do you know of any social media site where others who were on Comex 2 might exchange thoughts and memories? Dudley Clark.

  8. I was on the Durham coach and was the navigator on that tragic day 48 years ago. We had only just set off from a crew change stop and were certainly not speeding when the crane hit us. I was looking at a map so didn’t see it coming. I was incredibly lucky as I went through the coach windscreen, lost an ear and a lot of blood but survived. Everyone else on the left side perished including my girlfriend. Those of us who got out alive were in deep shock and wandered about this scene from hell with the horn from the upturned coach blaring away. Graham, I clearly remember seeing Sue on the road. She seemed to me totally unmarked, as if she’d fallen asleep but couldn’t be awakened. A year or so later after moving to Lancaster University (where I launched the Comex 3 contingent) I met her parents at their lovely home. They impressed me a lot by their stalwart spirit in the face of their terrible loss. Sue was a live wire and great fun to be around.
    I don’t know of any Comex social media site but three of us from the Durham coach (all David’s as it happens) met up a few years ago in Shanghai where I live. This was after a chance remark from one of their wives to an old friend of mine who put two and two together. I learnt that Colin Marshall’s sister had married Phil Dobbs (our driver who was given a free pardon by Tito). So some happiness came out of it. Here is the first time I’ve seen a photo of Colin’s grave. I missed all the funerals as I was still in hospital in Zagreb, but my parents attended them.
    Themindbogis….. I’m curious to know which of the Durham girls attracted you??
    Every so often I think back to those times and like some of you on what might have been had not a random event intervened.
    Also like you I can find almost nothing online yet there were many Comex’s involving thousands of young people. Maybe Dudley might like to initiate a Facebook page. I cannot as it’s blocked by the Great Fire Wall of China!
    Lastly I’m sorry to hear of Greg’s death. He was inspirational and gave so many of us a chance to travel to distant lands, encounter different cultures and learn about ourselves in the process. This at a time when few travelled much beyond Europe.

    David Bowman

    • David, it was interesting to read your post. I’m not sure why I decided to resurrect the Comex tragedy earlier this year and 48 years after the event, although I have usually, in the intervening years, kept the anniversary quietly and privately to myself. It is coming up soon on Wednesday week. I think it was (to mix the metaphor) a case of the devil finding work for idle fingers on a PC keyboard on a dreary wet January afternoon. I googled Comex 2 and eventually alighted on The Boglington Post, which was the only one where anyone had a memory of it. I carried on with my google and tracked down the newspaper headlines of the next few days and the news film footage. I got a list of the film clips: the girl collecting the passports, footage of the bodies by the side of the road. I was sure that one of the not too well covered ones was Susan’s; that cracked me up as much as any thing. Other footage was of the wrecked coach and all the debris strewn around. There was one of a policeman casually waving the traffic on. I remembered the content of these news-film clips vividly as they were listed. I did not however view them; you had to sign up, say why you wanted them and pay for them. There was no mileage in re-torturing my self for no end. Whoever was responsible for portraying the gruesome and graphic footage did come under criticism.
      My viewing it on television and reading about it in the papers must pale into nothingness compared with what you actually experienced. “Deep shock and wandering about this scene from hell” You said that you remember seeing Sue on the road unmarked and appearing to be asleep. Interesting, in that her mother, in her first letter to me, said that she was lying peacefully as if asleep and unmarked. You said that you girlfriend also perished. What was her name and how did you cope with it afterwards, particularly as you were there?
      Sue’s mother wrote to me some time afterwards (I had never met them or knew much about them; my address was in Sue’s book) to invite me to a memorial service that was being held in the crypt of St Paul’s end of October. I went along not knowing anyone and I don’t remember much about the service. Despite never having met her parents or seen photographs of them, we gravitated towards one another. Mrs Smeddle was accompanied by Sue’s cousin who bore an uncanny and, in view of the situation, eerie resemblance to Sue. I don’t know why Mr Smeddle was not there. You said that you lost an ear in the crash. I do remember seeing someone there with a large head bandage during the service. Were you there by any chance?
      We progressed to a reception in the English Speaking Union; in Mayfair I think.
      Col. Gregory gave an address, after which the three of us went to dinner on the King’s road.
      We drifted off back home to deal with our grief in our own way. I was living in London at the time. I did however keep in touch with Mrs Smeddle for the following seven years by letter; the old days when you charged your Parker pen with Quink and got out your pad of Basildon Bond, Dear……put it in an envelope, stamped it and took it to the post box. I can’t remember when I last did that. – I digress. Mrs Smeddle, I think, although I never actually met her again or spoke to her on the phone, sort of adopted me; kept me up to date with family news. She was one of those people who collected people and added them to her family; treating all alike. She would express concern that some thing had happened to me if there was some delay in replying to her letters, particularly as, during that period, I was travelling again and went to Germany to live and work for a while. She would express great relief that I was safe and alive (her words) when I did write. My letters she said, were a great comfort to her.
      I moved out of London, initially to Cornwall. She expressed even greater relief at me now being away from the “Dangers and temptations of the big city.” The inevitable happened: I met a girl: twelve months later, to the day, we were married. 40 years later we still are, two daughters and two grandsons. We have lived in rural Devon where I grew up, for all that time. Now in my eighth decade: Sue would have been 68. I wonder: what if that crane driver had stopped for a pee on the road or hadn’t stopped for a pee. How would 14 other lives and their friends and families have been different in the following 48 years. We had no future plans. She came down from Durham to stay with me as often as she could. Our feet never touched the real earth. We had met the year before (1966) on an overland trip across and around Europe including East Germany, Poland, Russia. You can imagine the experiences we shared in that part of the world at that time. We enjoyed each other and got on very well with all that London had to offer. I still have all her letters and those from her mother. I get them out and re-read them every 8-10 years or so. It is easy to put constructions on what might have been, had we met up on the following Thursday, as the post card that I received on the Tuesday following that fateful Saturday, said she was looking forward to.
      Following me telling Mrs Smeddle that I was to be married 1975, she expressed her delight and wished me all the best, saying that believed Sue would be my guardian angel for the rest of my life. To some extent she has fulfilled that role.
      Mrs Smeddle died about ten years ago aged 91. I learned of this, via the internet, and that she had been living in Devon, near Okehampton. I think that the wife of her son, Robert, had farming family connections there.
      Well there you have it; together with by two previous posts that is the total of my experience of this whole sad affair.
      I have done things today and used language that the fourteen others would have had no understanding of in 1967. namely: I have texted, googled, emailed, surfed the net, put on a DVD. What things, what language will my grand children be doing / using in 48 years time when they are in their 50’s?

    • I am amazed that you went on Comex 3 after surviving that ordeal.I have often thought of those that did not return, but have not considered the horrific experience of those that survived.The aftermath of the accident must have been truly horrendous .Were there many of you in hospital? Did Greg arrange for people to stay with you to look after you?When did you go back to university?

      • Hi Sally, I didn’t go on Comex 3, I just kicked off the formation of the Lancaster University contingent (during my masters degree) as I felt strongly I should do something to keep Comex alive.
        Only I and Dave Richardson were injured and stayed in separate hospitals in Zagreb. I was well looked after by the nurses. Greg told me who had died including Diana and kept me briefed on developments over the 2-3 weeks I was there. I was the navigator at the time of the accident but was checking my map so didn’t see the crane swerve into us which was very unfortunate as otherwise my witness statement would have been crucial. My parents were able to phone me after a couple of days and were relieved to hear that I was on the mend. They had been worried sick. Someone called Mark from the Glasgow contingent very kindly visited and flew with me back home.
        I missed a few weeks of the first term of my third year but that was nothing compared with what others and their parents lost.
        I am now liaising with other survivors of the Durham coach to see if a reunion is appropriate this year or not. We have never held one in the past. A remembrance church service might be more fitting.
        Thank you for your interest
        David

  9. Graham, another interesting posting from you! Yes it was indeed me with the head bandage at the memorial service and later at the ESU. It was good of you to stay in touch with Mrs Smeddle for so long and must have helped both of you. You were certainly hit hard by Sue’s death.
    Diana Keyes was my girlfriend. I went to see her parents and her young brother at their home in Corbridge soon after I got back from hospital in Yugoslavia. It was extremely sad. Her father blamed himself for letting her go on Comex as he thought it might be dangerous although Comex 1 went without incident. I had got to know Di at a Comex recruitment evening in Durham. She was at Newcastle University. I used all the charm I had at that time to persuade her to join Comex. By the time Comex set off we were in a relationship. However the relationship was not the smoothest during the expedition as she was a bit of a free spirit and very attractive to young men and sometimes changed coaches for a while. But she always returned to me and was by my side shortly before the accident.
    Somehow I got over her death eventually and moved on with my life. Her mother wrote some lovely letters to me but after a while I failed to keep in touch with her which I now regret. Her mother died three years ago, her father some years ago. They had to live with their daughters death for the rest of their lives. As for me, on 30th September every year I privately mourn. Despite wives, children and grandchildren this is a part of me that is between me and her only. I’m sure you will understand.
    David

  10. How interesting to see this thread. I haven’t read it all yet. I was on Comex 2 on the Sussex bus, as a driver. We trained at Sussex Uni, where we obtained our PSV licences. I contracted Infective Hepatitis in Kabul on the return, managed to get into Iran and had to leave the trip there being too ill to continue. However the Sussex bus waited around for me for a week or so, just in case. They were therefore a long way behind the others, and knew nothing of poor Dobsons tragedy. I flew home and went into Canterbury Hospital (I still live near Canterbury). As I left hospital, Greg asked me to go down to Dover docks to meet the Sussex bus, as they were about 10 days behind the main group, which had already arrived back in the UK.and tell everyone the bad news before the Press started on them. This I did, and naturally all were totally shocked, especially as I understood, a couple of the victims had at some stage been on the Sussex bus.
    There is another Comex 2 chap in Canterbury, he’s now on the City Council, but he was Mayor for a while. His name is: Nick Eden-Green.

    Best wishes to all.

    David Hodges.

    • David, on the way out through Afghanistan the road had been washed away at one point. We arrived just after another coach had plunged into the hole in the road. Amazingly the coach was OK and no one was injured. I think it was the Sussex coach. Am I right?

      • I seem to remember the incident, but it wasn’t Sussex. What an adventure we all had, before such travel became more usual. We were very lucky people.

  11. Hi David, and thanks for the contribution. I don’t promote the BogPo with hashtags and buzzwords and whatever, so it’s taking its time to filter out – I may have inadvertently started a ‘slow internet’ movement. But gradually the threads are being pulled together. I’d forgotten we were in Kabul, but I have a memory of the leafy suburban villas of the diplomatic quarter, and of fierce looking tribals with matchlock rifles… I may have made that last impression up. I expect it’s changed a bit now.

  12. No, but it’s good to laugh.
    (My gudfriend, Ms Vicky Pedia, has a rather dry account of trout fishing on the Kharga reservoir. I seem to recall a gently humorous recent movie about it. There is also a fascinating paper somewhere about clearing mines from the 9-hole golf course, using dogs.)

  13. I was a radio operator on the Glasgow coach although at Liverpool University (theirs was full up).
    Glasgow and Durham were “mates” and tried to set up camp together; we were, I think, the first coach on the scene after the crash and I can well remember seeing the line of bodies under a tarpaulin but being able to recognise the individuals from their shoes/clothes. It was the most awful experience just to see, let alone to have been part of it.
    We stayed behind to try to sort things out with the embassy/consulate and attended a service in Zagreb Cathedral which we had thought was just for the victims but in fact seemed to be the normal mass and rather impersonal.
    I have my (rather puerile) diary still of the trip and a lot of cuttings from newspapers at the time. I have not looked at it for ages but having seen this, may revisit it.
    I was interested that there is this open page. I think about the expedition as a whole a lot and the horrible event is still very live.
    Colin Mackey

    • Colin, your name seems familiar to me. As you say the Durham and Glasgow coaches were well connected and I was on the fated Durham coach so we must have met. Whilst I was in hospital in Zagreb and on the flight back to the UK someone called Mark helped me. I think he must have been from your coach. But cannot recollect his surname. Do you remember him? Have any contact with him?

  14. In the early hours of this morning I was having an insomniac rummage through the past and I suddenly realised that next year, 2017, is the 50th anniversary of Comex 2. I was, like David Hodges (see above), one of the four drivers on the Sussex coach (though I stayed on in India rather than returning to the UK with the Expedition). When I Googled Comex 2 to find out if any sort of Reunion was being planned, virtually the only thing I found was this wonderful memory-stirring blog. So what next? Is anyone else interested in having a COMEX 2 50th Anniversary Reunion? If so, email me and let’s get the ball rolling.
    Richard Oppenheimer

    • Hi Richard, I remember you well-with a name like that, how could I not?! I seem to remember we both got together in the City after the trip. I’m all for a reunion-bring it on! My email is: dandphodges@btopenworld.com I’m in Provence from 1st to 19th September but delighted to have a get together. Look forward to hearing from you. With very best wishes, David Hodges. (01227-721224).

  15. Hello everyone linked with Comex 2. I am Rob Smeddle, Sue’s younger brother. It is very moving to hear the kind words about my Mum, April Smeddle. She coped with her loss by keeping in touch with Sue’s friends, many of whom were incredibly supportive of her, in particular Nia Pryde, who showed her kindness and consideration right through to my Mum’s peaceful death of old age well into her ’90s. Sue’s Dad, my father, Hugh Smeddle very much retired into himself as his coping mechanism, while maintaining his dignity and sense of humour. He also died peacefully in his 80s but had a sadness in him to the end. As for me, I have missed her without ceasing for my whole life but very much with a smile. Sue and I hardly ever clashed as we grew up, being very different characters but very close in a content unit with our supportive and loving parents who wanted us to be free thinkers without prejudice: Judge everyone as equals without distinction by gender, background, race or creed. I have been blessed with a good life with four children Mary, Will, Sam and Lucy. Mary fulfilled the professional ambition that Sue held, by becoming a highly respected Clinical Psychologist practicing in SW Scotland. Sue would have been very proud. I have been happily married to Daryl for the past 27 years, still live in rural Devon which became my adopted home from the early 80s. I still enjoy full-time work at Clientbase Fulfilment Ltd, the business I have helped create and build with two colleagues: Trying to live up to my parent’s ethos, not always succeeding but hope we are providing a good place of work to our 100 + colleagues.
    I think of Sue virtually every day, more so as I get older and the thoughts always bring a smile: She had a quick sharp tongue: pretty cutting on occasions. My two girls, Mary and Lucy Susan have very similar mannerisms, which make me smile when unleashed.

    Best love to all who have had to cope with the loss of that fateful day. My Godfather gave me the very best advice when I was a stunned 18 year old, as if in a vacuum: walking, speaking but as if outside myself after hearing the fateful news “Remember her when you were laughing together at silly things and the pain will ease’. We did laugh together a lot, often at silly things. Th advice worked.
    God bless in a non-religious sign-off.
    Rob xxx

    • Hello Rob, how good to hear from you. You have no doubt gathered who I am and my involvement with Sue.
      We had got together the previous year [1966] on an overland trip from London to Moscow – Minitrek Expeditions “Minitrek to Moscow – £45 – 3 weeks” said the ad in whatever quality Sunday paper I saw it in. Paid my money, got a passport, got visas, got excited and 12 of us set off in a Comer minibus. It was my first trip abroad; it was Sue’s first I think. We got chatting on the cross-channel ferry; we got on really well. The group was all much the same age group [ I was 22 ] and were a lively bunch with one or two interesting and irritating individuals. The overland trip itself was not without its interesting moments: the crossings in and out of East and West Germany, East and West Berlin – Checkpoint Charlie where passports were vigorously scrutinised, (looking at these old blue hardback passports now, they would have been very easy to forge). And so it went on: officialdom, bureaucracy, checking and re-checking, delays. We weren’t particularly fazed by this; we were young, impressionable and regarded it as part of the experience and a very new experience it was for us too: Warsaw still trading on its horrific history 25 years previous. Moscow where we were surreptitiously followed and listened in to. One group from Wales foxed these listeners by speaking Welsh.
      And so it went on. We took it all in our stride, laughed at it, took the wee wee particularly at a guide we were, I think, obliged to have to show us the major sites: A severe plain dressed and looking, thick bespectacled, muscular calfed and humourless specimen of Russian womanhood. “ Und on zee left ve haf ze monument to ze glorious revolution und on ze rite ve haf ze university…” We parodied her when we got back and when I was showing Sue around near where I lived: “ Und on zee left ve haf ze dustbins and on zee right zee public lavatories…” ( it’s worth noting that the Russian language does not have definite or indefinite articles: “the” or “a”; often native Russians speaking English omit them or insert them not always correctly)
      There you have précis of our summer travelling together in strange places. We both came back different people. She stayed on with me for a few days. Her first letter to me ( I still have them all and those from your mother) spoke of the contrast between the excitement we shared with the depressing sight of Lancashire in the rain on returning home. Whenever she could she came down to London to stay with me for a few days. We explored the city, the markets, went to the cinema and generally enjoyed each other’s company.
      Maybe the inspiration for the India trip came from one of our fellow travellers, Geofrey, who had travelled overland to India using a company called Garrow Fischer Tours who specialized in that and similar trips. His regaling us with his experiences and tickled our fancy to do likewise the following summer.
      It was then with some envy that I learned from one of her letters that she was going on the Comex trip to India. The rest I have documented in my previous posts. But on that fateful Saturday, when I should have been looking forward to seeing her, I remember feeling strangely glum; couldn’t explain it; The dreadful news came out on the six o’clock news. What cracked me up as much as anything was the gruesome footage on television of the scene and the reporting and pictures in the papers. I received a postcard from her on the Tuesday saying to the effect that she couldn’t wait to see me on Thursday. Her death reported on the Monday; a postcard received on Tuesday. Looking at it in perspective now, my experience of it was from an armchair compared with David Bowman and no doubt others “… a scene from hell wondering around in deep shock…” Your mother, April, wrote to me inviting me to the memorial service that was to be held in St. Paul’s. We met up, went on to the English Speaking Union then on to a meal at a place called the Stock Pot on Kings Road. We were accompanied by your cousin Cherry. She bore an uncanny resemblance to Sue I thought at the time. (It’s amazing how in these highly emotionally charged situations you remember every minute detail).
      I kept in touch, by letter, with your mother for I think another seven years during which time you came into the reporting frame: she reported on your planned trip down through Africa and sent a newspaper cutting of you with another chap preparing a Land Rover for the journey. She reported on your marriage, subsequently on your first-born, and so on. She kept me up to date with other aspects of family news: your father’s redundancy, your move from Forge Bridge and subsequent moves again. I still have all Sue’s and your mother’s letters. Contact dried up in 1975 when (not because) I married Rosemary: A lovely girl; just the sort that I should have married. She provided the stability and level headedness that I needed. Forty two years on we have two grown-up daughters: Catherine, a vet, married with two boys, 4 and 6. she lives locally and we see them a lot. Eleanor 22 months younger, lives in London and teaches in the East End.
      Your mother did say that Sue would be my Guardian Angel and in that respect I think she has been. I myself am retired [I’m nearly 73] and enjoy a full life, being blessed with continuing good health. Your mother also said that she would send me a portrait photo of Sue that had been done soon after her return from Moscow. I am wondering if you are able to email me a copy and/or any other photos you have of her. The only ones that I have are rather grainy monochrome ones of her as part of a group using my old Kodak bellows camera – all I had then.
      I did not keep in touch with your mother after 1975. I have though kept in touch with Sue’s spirit in the intervening years; quietly and privately remembering her on the 30th September each year. A dreary cold January afternoon about three years ago. Idle fingers on a PC keyboard typed “c”-”o”-”m”-”e”-” x”-“2” and I alighted on Bodlington. The rest has already been documented in previous posts. Further typing revealed that your mother had not only died but had been living in Devon – Beaworthy I think. I live near Tavistock; not far away and, had I known earlier, I would have visited her; she said that Sue’s friends were dear to her.
      Do you know where Sue is buried, interred, or ashes scattered? I might just visit. I still have a corner for her.
      I guess you do not live too far away from me and I am wondering if it would be possible to meet up somewhere, the only qualification being that I am off to the Far East as of next Tuesday and anticipate being away for a couple of months. If you could manage whatever photos you have before then would be grateful.
      My email address is graham.clarke@anderton39.co.uk
      My mobile is 07802443285
      We have just entered 2017: Sue would have been 70 this year; an old age pensioner. Would she have had children, grandchildren? Another of the “What ifs” What if a certain crane driver had or had not had a skin-full the night before and dropped off over the wheel or had secured the jib properly or had or had not stopped for a pee on the way. (opinions, such as I have seen, vary as to exactly what happened) . An inconsequential act on a Friday night/Saturday morning has resonated around the country for the last 50 years and certainly in Devon.
      Graham

  16. Good to hear from you, Rob. I’m glad this Post has been so cathartic for so many people and I’m sorry I seem to have been so disengaged, forgetful or misremembering and lazy about my own experience. I was only 17! (And smoked rather a lot of Afghan Black.) This and a very slight piece about being a caretaker, How to Live in a Stately Home, are still after five years by far the most visited Posts on my blog, which has over 575 comment pieces – many of them in multiples – but is mainly now a long depression whinge about Brexit (which I predicted three years before) and a verbal assault on Trump. I never seem to get any older, or wiser. Happy days.

  17. Hi Guys. It was a bit overwhelming to re-visit old thoughts when I stumbled across your brilliant COMEX 2 blogs: Sue returned to my mind so vividly: I failed to voice my support to the tentative suggestion that there might be some sort of gathering to remember what happened nearly 50 years ago. I feel sure that my wife and two daughters would join us: Sue has become entwined in their lives although I hope I have never banged-on about her too much.
    I failed to mention is that my parents gave me their blessing to drive the old family Landrover overland throughout Africa within a year of Sue’s death. I was travelling for nearly five years without much contact. Must have been hell for them. The selfishness of youth!!. My e-mail is rob@cbfulfilment.co.uk and the one shared with Daryl my wife is drsmeddle@btinternet.com Best love. Rob

  18. There is a Friends of Comex web site.Exeter coach is having a reunion on July 14 th at Exeter University, if any one from the coach would like to come please contact me at sallyachard@gmail .com.(formerly Holbrook).

  19. Dear All,
    I have received this from Durham University about a memorial service on Sept 30th.
    David

    Comex II – A Memorial Service
    Saturday 30 September 2017

    This autumn marks the 50th anniversary of the Comex II tragedy in which 14 young people died in a coach crash in Yugoslavia, four of whom were students at Durham.
    The University has joined with Durham Cathedral to mark the anniversary of the tragedy, which took place while the participants were returning from the Comex II (Commonwealth) expedition to India. As we believe you were a student in Durham in 1967, we wanted to write to you to let you know the details of a service of memorial and to ask if you would like to attend.

    The service will take place on Saturday 30 September 2017 and will be preceded by refreshments in the Courtyard Café of Palace Green Library from 4.00pm, with the service itself commencing from 5.00pm. The memorial, which will be part of the Cathedral’s regular Evensong service, will be attended by senior representatives of the University and the alumni office. It should last around an hour.

    While the service is open to all, numbers are limited for Palace Green Library so you will need to register your and any guests’ attendance here.

    We hope that you will consider passing on this email if you are in touch with other alumni from this time, or others who may have been affected by the tragedy.

    Best wishes

    Your Alumni Relations Team

  20. Hi y’all
    Look, when I wrote this first piece nearly six years ago now I never intended it to become a forum.
    Once the 50th is over I have a mind to pop it all in the Trash bin because a) I had only a peripheral involvement, none at all with Durham and have not kept up with anyone, and b) I now have over 630 more up-to-date Posts no-one reads because they’re either focussed only on Comex or they want to find out How to Live in a Stately Home – the answer being, get a job as a caretaker on a pittance and put up with the terrible conditions.
    So if you don’t mind, this thread will be closing on or about 12 September. Feel free to cut-and-paste anything you want to keep.
    Thanks.

    Mysterious author.

  21. I’ve been asked to post the following notice, for information:
    …there is to be a memorial service in Durham (Cathedral) at 5pm on the 30th Sept to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragic crash. There will also be a reception and then some form of informal gathering.

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