of the most active and least attractive places of the ancient Arabian
Empire, the port of Aden, is to-day, like many former sea ports, a
backwater in relation to its former glory.
Situated as it is, at the junction of the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, one
has only to glance at a map to understand its importance in controlling
sea traffic in that area.
It was annexed by Britain in 1839 and it had a large role in the creating
of, and the maintaining of, the British Empire of Queen Victoria’s day.
it reached its pinnacle of importance after the opening of the Suez Canal,
(1869) and the advent of steam ships, when its value as a coaling station
Relics of its past, (and present) usefulness were very much in evidence in
the early 1960s when I was stationed there. It was, even then, still one
of the chief ports of southern Arabia and I found it interesting to view
remnants of one of its earlier main cargoes which is commemorated in
‘Slave Island’ (shown on the right of the
photograph) where slaves were held prior to shipment to
The old salt pans that used windmills
to flood immense open ‘pans’ with sea water, which was then left to
evaporate and leave the salt behind, appeared to be derelict when I
visited, but must have been impressive when operating in the past.
Quarantine Island, another leftover from the past, was where sick people
arriving by ship were kept, to either die or recover, from the many, often
untreatable, diseases of the past.
In and around the town the old fortifications and
water tanks carved out of rock speak of the industry, (and desperation) of
the garrisons and population striving to survive in this inhospitable
The whole of the populated area is built on the residue of ancient
volcanic activity, indeed inland from the Harbour, (Steamer point) and on
through Maala there is a place named ‘Crater’ which one has but to
visit to understand the reason as to how it got the name.
Everything is dominated by volcanic action.
We were just
down the road and within walking distance of a shark protected swimming
To my surprise our camp was many miles out of the
town on the fringe of the great nothingness of the Yemeni desert and
consisted of huts with air conditioning units installed.
With year round temperatures around the high thirties and into the forties
Centigrade, I had not been looking forward to tented accommodation, so
this was greatly appreciated.
We were just down the road and within
walking distance of a shark protected swimming area, built out into the
sea by BP Petroleum Company who had a huge refinery in the area, and which
we were grateful to be allowed to use; at least no one threw me out when I
used it anyway! We settled
down and tried our best to cope with the situation and soon were making
the best of a bad job.
I was lucky; I still had a job in
administration, and so was able to travel around and into the Steamer
Point Ordnance Depot to do my small part in keeping the supplies flowing.
The tank crews were pretty much stuck
in camp out in the middle of nowhere with very little off duty
entertainment, we had the swimming and an open air cinema plus one could
climb one of the, (extinct) volcano’s behind the camp if you felt
particularly in need of doing something different. There was a canteen and
basic mess life of course, but it was all a trifle short of the vibrant
living we had enjoyed in Hong Kong.
Our role was different, it was not
intended we should be there to enjoy ourselves anyway. It never was,
wherever we went, come to think of it!
I did manage to
attend at least one horse race meeting, I remember being surprised to
discover it encompassed Camel races too...
was a race course, I cannot remember exactly where this was located, but I
have a feeling it was by Sheik Othman just outside Khormaksa, and I did
manage to attend at least one horse race meeting, I remember being
surprised to discover it encompassed Camel races too. These racing camels
seemed to be military animals for they were branded with numbers on their
hides; the riders appeared to be soldiers of the local forces. Both camels
and riders appeared to be in much better condition than the general
The camels were certainly superior to
the scraggy and apparently malnourished animals that I saw being used to
transport goods, both individually and in columns in a traditional
caravan, which, I was surprised to discover, were still setting off to
cross the barren wastes as they have done for many centuries, going back
to the Queen of Sheba and beyond.
The highlight of my stay was
undoubtedly an ‘R & R’ trip to a Christian retreat center; this was held at a
place called Limuru just outside of Nairobi, Kenya.
I think I have mentioned earlier, or
at least hinted, that although I believe fervently in a Creator, a ‘One
God’ I do not necessarily contribute to the generally accepted,
(religious) methods of finding or gaining knowledge of this ultimate
You can imagine how my friends pulled
my leg when they found out I had actually requested a spot on a three week
long Christian confirmation seminar. What
they failed to appreciate however was that I had found a way of escaping
the desert heat and dust for a few weeks.
The ‘plane was
noisy and uncomfortable and I began to see why it had the nickname of
‘the flying pig’.
We travelled in a small Royal Air
Force ‘plane with twin engines, I believe it was called an Avro Anson,
we had an interesting stop outside Mogadishu, (Somalia) for re-fuelling.
The airfield appeared to be totally isolated from all human habitation; it
was desolate. There were a couple of wind socks to show the wind
direction, the few buildings were of wooden frame and corrugated steel
construction, the method of re-fuelling was entirely by hand pump from a
‘Bowser’ that drove up close to the wing.
I saw a small pride of lions at the
end of the runway which surprised me quite a bit, they were, (praise be)
too far away for me to try for a photograph, although I did try, but you
cannot tell what the little dots are in the picture. Someone asked me why
I did not try a telephoto shot, I had to answer that it was a telephoto
shot; well, it was a 120mm lens and I was not keen to get closer.
The ‘plane was noisy and
uncomfortable and I began to see why it had the nickname of ‘the flying
Kenya, or at least the bit I saw of
it, lived up to all my expectations; on the other hand, by contrast,
anything is better than the Yemen! The climate, due to the height above
sea level was perfect, (the bit I was in anyway).
All went well
until we reached the second week... then my natural aptitude for seeking
knowledge and questioning the status quo led me to be expelled!
was a wonderful break in routine; we attended seminars in the morning and
had the rest of the day off, ‘for study’, there was not a lot of study
going on in the required subject that I was aware of!
All went well until we reached the
second week and the seminars opened up to general discussion of what we
had learned so far, it was then that my natural aptitude for seeking
knowledge and questioning the status quo led me to be expelled!
The problem centered on my making a
quotation attributed to Jesus, this had puzzled the instructor who had
spent the coffee break trying to run it down.
Being a bit narrow-minded he had
restricted his search to the bible and, upon his questioning me as to what
section of the good book he could find it, I had to admit that my
quotation, (it was about Jesus always being able to find something good in
any situation, even, as in this case, in the remains of a dead dog; “Its
teeth are like pearls”), was from the Koran,
I was asked to stay behind after this
very first, (to me exhilarating) session and was politely told that my
presence would no longer be required in the following meetings as, “We
are here to further the progress of the Christian faith, your questions
and ideas are disturbing both faculty and students and making some to
question what little faith they do have”.
I guess that spelled it out.
The happy result was that I got every
day to pursue my own interests and I spent some happy hours visiting the
Mosques, Temples and bars in Nairobi.
...all I had to
do, once every morning, was report to the orderly room of the Nairobi
military garrison, and have the rest of the day sightseeing...
the course came to an end I discovered there was no airplane available to
return me to Aden, “Oh woe” I thought! “I am being forced to stay
here against my will, compelled to enjoy myself when the rest of my pals
are out in the desert roughing it in the place that God forgot”. Will
they understand? Will they forgive me? Will my conscience ever recover? I
was happy to risk it all.
It was truly a very welcome bonus and
for another two weeks, all I had to do, once every morning, was report to
the orderly room of the Nairobi military garrison, and have the rest of
the day sightseeing, there was even a small boating and sailing area quite
close, it was bliss; it was like having a paid vacation with all
accommodation, including food, for free.
A small group of lads from other
units, who were also stationed in Aden, were stranded with me, and between
us we were able to arrange a joint safari style visit to the Masai
Amboseli game preserve; which is situated in the Nyiri desert south of
My ideas of African wild life were
confirmed by what I saw; nothing can compare, nor be more exciting than
the immense wide open spaces and the ability to observe African wildlife
in a natural habitat. It
was all I had ever expected it could be. My
only sorry moment came about when we arrived upon a pride of Lions and I
had run out of film! It
was the story of my life.
...it was whilst
I was balancing on an overhanging tree branch just immediately above a
lovely big crocodile...that one of the guys with me started throwing
stones at it.
will always have their little jokes and it was whilst I was balancing on
an overhanging tree branch just immediately above a lovely big crocodile,
(Alligator?) I was trying to get that elusive exact angle for a
photograph, that one of the guys with me started throwing stones at it;
this caused no end of amusement, (with the spectators) as you might
At the end of 1962 we were relieved
to find it was time to return to England and then, after disembarkation
leave, back to Germany. We
handed over our tanks and duties and were accommodated in a transit
facility in the RAF camp at Khormaksa. This
did not cheer us up, it was tented and the tents were full of vermin.
The day before we were due to board
our aircraft the ‘old soldiers’ stripped, and stayed, stark naked, we
washed every item of clothing, (which dried within the hour when laid on
the sand). We then carefully packed, checking every seam and crevice and
took every precaution to ensure we did not take any unfriendly little
visitors home with us.
It was a nuisance, but totally
looking out of the airplane window and picking out the most glamorous,
beautiful and exceptionally well dressed lady in the crowd...
In late September 1962 a group of us
boarded a ‘Britannia’ aircraft of RAF transport command and flew
direct to Stanstead airport where, for most of us, our loved ones were
waiting to make us welcome.
I remember looking out of the
airplane window and picking out the most glamorous, beautiful and
exceptionally well dressed lady in the crowd, she was dressed ‘up to the
minute’ in the latest fashionable clothing, (Jackie Kennedy being the
arbiter at that time) she wore an outstandingly co-ordinated pant suit,
the jacket being coloured a, (I am in deep water here) sort of
mustard/orange picked out with black trim, the pants were black, she was
wearing a ‘pill box’ black hat.
As we got closer I recognised this
person as being my Val.
I had mixed emotions. On the one hand
I was, (I am) so proud to be this beautiful woman’s husband, and on the
other hand I was wondering how much the outfit had cost us, and if we
could really afford it!
Bill would have been proud of me.
I obviously still had a lot of stuff
to learn about being married.
For perhaps the first time in my
life, I felt it was good to be home, and loved.
the next installment: Blackpool