In 1839, a party of Royal Marines landed in Aden to put an end to the pirates who were harassing British ships. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Aden became the main bunkering station for ships sailing to and from India.
A sizeable British garrison was created to protect the southern end of the Canal. For the next 95 years an Aden posting was to be a bleak prospect for any British servicemen sent there. After the loss of the Canal in 1956, Aden became the main British base for both the Far and Middle Eastern interests.
By 1961 the Arabs in the Aden Protectorate and the Aden Colony believed that British rule would soon be over in Southern Arabia. President Nasser of Egypt encouraged the Arab peoples of South Arabia to cast out the British Colonial rulers. Aden consisted of two areas: firstly the Aden Colony - 70 square miles of rock and sand. In this area was the port of Aden, RAF Khormaksar, the BP oil refinery, Little Aden and the infamous Crater District accommodating seven hundred thousand Arabs These areas surrounded a deep water harbour set in an extinct volcano.
The second area was called the Aden Protectorate, about the size of England and split into two parts, the Eastern and the Western Protectorates. These Protectorates were crossed by two major roads. One road headed towards the British base at Dhala while the other ran into Yemen. The Dhala road was fiercely contested between local warring Arabs, British troops and the NLF who used the road to smuggle arms into Aden. When the Aden Protectorate was established in the 19th century, the British government had quite successfully banded together the various Sheikhs of the area. The hope was a united Arab force that would protect Aden from the neighbouring countries of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. This small army was made up of Arabs commanded by British officers mostly from the RAF regiment.
In 1958 Nasser formed the United Arab Republic with Syria and Yemen. The Imam of Yemen claimed that Aden belonged to Yemen and Nasser backed a Yemeni campaign of turning Arabs in the Protectorate against their Sheikhs. The British countered this by convincing the Sheikhs to make an alliance and join together to form the South Arabian Federation which would govern Aden once the British left.
The BP refinery in Aden had been built in 1954 and after the loss of the Suez Canal was heavily expanded. The new larger labour force for the refinery came mostly from Yemen. These workers soon outnumbered the local Adeni workers and formed a trade union under the leadership of Abdullah Asnag from Yemen who was an extreme left wing socialist. Asnag claimed he wanted to expel the British from Aden and make it a part of Yemen. This new country would be called The Democratic People's Republic of Yemen. Asnag organized strikes and demonstrations that were eventually to lead to the violence.
In September 1962 the Imam of Yemen died, and his son, Albadr, became the new ruler of Yemen. One week later, the leader of the Yemen army, General Sallal, overthrew Albadr in a coup. Nasser, who sent two Egyptian divisions totalling 20,000 troops to Yemen to help the "Peoples struggle in Southern Arabia", backed this coup. In Aden Asnag and his followers greeted news of the coup with much happiness and demanded the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Aden so that the country could join the new Yemeni Republic.
The ousted Albadr fled to Saudi Arabia where he gained support from the Saudi King who was very alarmed by the socialist outbreaks along his borders. With money from the Saudi King, Albadr bought weapons and started a guerrilla campaign against the forces of General Sallal and his Egyptian forces. As well as weapons, Albadr was offered the services of one Major John Copper (formerly 22 Sqn SAS) to help train his guerrilla bands. Copper was one of the original members of David Sterling's L Detachment in 1942, which later became the SAS. Copper and other former members of the SAS made the Yemeni mountains a very unpleasant place for Egyptians soldiers.
While this guerrilla war was taking place in Yemen, the "Voice of Arab Radio " was broadcasting anti-British propaganda to the people of Aden. The British government started to draw up plans for the withdrawal from Aden, setting the date for January 1968. The government also started to organize the still loyal Sheikhs to form a Federation to run the country after the British withdrew. Asnag, on the other hand, had other ideas for the country after the British left. He wanted to form a Socialist Republic. His group was called People's Socialist Party ( PSP ), later turned into the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen or FLOSY for short . Members of FLOSY were made up of Aden townspeople. The National Liberation Front (NLF), the other organization seeking power, was made up of Yemeni tribesmen from the hills. Both FLOSY and the NLF wanted the British out and their party to take over Aden. Thus the battle lines were drawn.
These leaflets, produced by either FLOSY or the NLF, were often left in conspicuous places, possibly by Arab batmen.
Rough translation "Lightning will break the chains of British oppression. The filthy British are squeezing the blood out of our Arab brothers and then feeding, jackal-like, on their blood."
(Leaflet from the private collection of Jack Riley)
Memories of Aden Air Movements in 1956
By John Holloway
My time at Mauripur [Pakistan] came to an end late March 1956 when my posting came through to go to HQBF Aden.
I tried my damnedest to get out of it as I had spent a leave in Aden which was a duty free port just to get a camera and some goodies for the lads; so I knew what a rotten, stinking hole Aden was.
Eventually I had to leave Mauripur a few weeks late and arrived at the same time as some others from the Canal Zone which was gradually closing down. I teamed up with a chap named Mick Murcott .We spent the first night in a grotty transit billet at Khormaksar and next day we were both transported to Steamer Point Sheba Camp which was in a state of total disrepair as people were gradually being moved up to Chapel Hill. We had to sign in at the Orderly Room and then sign in various sections around Sheba and HQBF up the hill. It took us a couple of days of quite leisurely walking around as it was far too hot to rush. We were told to find our own bed spaces as the place was so full and we eventually settled for a couple of beds on the balcony of a Chapel Hill building .
The Chapel Hill billets were quite nice looking buildings with high ceilings, long wide rooms, the legs of the beds were placed in old cigarette tins filled with paraffin and each had a balcony. As I said the only space Mike and I could find was on a balcony with a panoramic view across the harbour over to Little Aden so we could sit and watch the ships going to and fro, tankers, warships, passenger liners and cargo ships, which was all quite interesting to a newcomer. The only problem with the billets was that they were bug infested. You could lie on your pit and watch them having a parade along the wall above your head.
There were many different characters in the billets, many were 2-year national servicemen, while some should have never been in the RAF. One came to light when we had an AOC inspection and we had to lay all our kit out on our pits. When they arrived at his bed most of his kit was missing and it appeared that he would parcel up his dirty clothes and post them home for his mother to wash so he had two or three parcels in transit to and from home; he was of course sent home and discharged; I often wonder if he was mad or just crafty!!.
On the first day looking around for a bed space I was amazed to come across a locker with a photo of a girl on it from back in Shrewsbury that I knew quite well. I remarked this to one of the lads nearby and he told me it was Jim Taylor's bed space and that it was a photo of his wife. I didn't know Jim and when we met later we had quite a laugh. Much later after demob I found out Jim and his wife lived just around the corner from me. When Jim and I would occasionally meet in a local pub he would take great delight in telling the whole bar how we were first met.
Our billet overlooked the WRAF compound. Their shower room was within walking distance from their quarters and they would walk to and fro from it in various states of undress and the lads used to take advantage of this 'perving' at them through binoculars. Then one day one of the 'pervs' said, "The cheeky bitch; there's one of them women looking up here through binoculars" and as we used to walk around much the same as them there was a big rush to cover up. The girls sent us a message on the local radio with a record, "Jeepers Creepers where did you get those Peepers." One of our wits sent a response with, "A Kiss for every Candle," as if!
After a couple of days I duly reported to the Movements Office and was immediately on the mat before the Flt/Lt I/C for being so late and also being an LAC as he was expecting an SAC.
The Movements Office was a small wooden hut overlooking the harbour. It was quite a view, actually, as my desk and window looked out straight over the harbour across to Little Aden and I had a panoramic view of the ships going in and out of the huge anchorage. The staff consisted of Squadron Leader Wright who had his own air conditioned office. In the second office was the Flt Lt ,a couple of RAF NCOs and an army captain.
I shared my office with a Flt/Lt and an RAF W/O who were responsible for the armoury stored in various locations around Aden. It was a bit weird that the Flt/Lt and myself never mentioned what part of the UK we came from and a couple of years after demob I met him pushing a pram in Shrewsbury and after that we used to bump into each other on a number of occasions
My daily duty was spent mostly on the phone ringing around the various Orderly Rooms RAF, Army and Navy calling forward personnel that were due to fly out of Khormaksar to the various bases, Ryan, Salalah, Masirah, Bahrain and Eastleigh in Kenya and just a few went to Mauripur, which was to close in a few months time so not many went there. The real lucky ones were the ones going home to the UK. Some mornings my job got a bit hectic when there were a large number people to call forward for the next day flights and I used to get quite irritated with the WRAF on the telephone exchange if she didn't answer me straight away so on one occasion I said something like, "Hurry up you cow!" and she reported me to the movements officer. He just reprimanded me and told me, "Don't do it again even if she is". The section had a direct line to Air Movements at Khormaksar and it was a shared line for me and the movements officer. On one occasion, whilst talking to Sgt. Hibbert who had not long arrived from Mauripur, he was asking me various questions about HQ and one of the questions being what was Flt/Lt Felstead, the movements officer like and I replied quite favorably not knowing that he was also on the line listening in. I could do no wrong after that in fact and it was he who later got me a seat that was spare on a VIP Comet returning to the UK when my tour was up.
Whilst at HQBF a leave scheme was started in September to Mombassa so being on air movements I got on one of the first flights. It was for two weeks and along with a mate from Chapel Hill boarded an Eagle Airways Viking with a real dolly bird hostess on board. The flight was via Hargeisha in British Somaliland where we landed for fuel. The leave centre was at Nyalli Golden Sands and it was sheer heaven after Aden with cooling sea breezes flowing through the centre, decent food and bottles of chilled milk, the first I'd seen for two years! Mombassa had some super bars and restaurants and other 'entertainments' and the two weeks went all too quickly. We were billeted in native type hut, 6 to a hut ,with all the amenities we needed which was all very civilized except for the giant spiders and other creepy crawlies including millipedes about a foot long. There was a nice a nice bar and games room just a few yards away and a glorious white sandy beach near to us.
Whilst we were there we had a Royal visit with Princess Margaret and Prince Philip. The streets were decorated with flags and buntings and a huge pair of tusks arched over the main street with a crown hanging from them. The streets were crowded with onlookers and we had a good view as the Royals passed by in their open car. There were quite a few Kenyan police officers mingling amongst the crowd, all armed, as we were to find out that night. They were billeted at our leave centre and on the last bus back to Nyalli there was a rather drunk African who the young police officers took exception to so they kicked him off the bus and one of them brandishing a revolver got off as well and escorted him away; to where we never knew. His mates tried to dissuade him but he was very angry and they both disappeared into the dark.
As I said time went far too quickly and we were soon back at Killindini Airport to catch the Viking back to Aden. After a very small time out the hostess informed us that there was a problem and we were returning to Killindini. On landing we were met by a host of police, military and civilians and were herded into the lounge and then interviewed individually by a police officer. It appeared that the night before some 'pratts' returning from Mombassa to the leave centre, which was about 5 miles away, had ripped up every sign post and damaged lots of house gates. Because we were returning to Aden the next day our flight was under suspicion but after a bit of a grilling we were let go and the flight left 24 hrs late.
On arriving back at Chapel Hill I'd got a load of dirty washing for the dhobi wallah and on pulling a shirt out of the bag there was something wriggling in it so I threw it away as quickly as I could and a foot long millipede fell out .It had obviously crawled into the bag in the hut at Nyalli where there were all sorts of creepy crawlies around. I felt sorry for it as I wouldn't wish it's fate on the barren rocks of Aden (famous song).
A troopship arrived in Steamer with the Camerons on board on their way to Malaya. It stayed just to refuel and then next day continued it's voyage. However, it returned a couple of days later and brought them back to Aden because the Suez invasion was due to start, something then that we knew nothing about. The locals were getting a bit 'bolshie' with Nasser screaming over the radio to rise up against us, Anyway the Scots, all their gear being jungle green. shirts, pants, towels, etc. stood out like sore thumbs against the shale sand colour of Aden. We used to get up pretty early each morning to go on duty but the Camerons got us up even earlier with a lone piper wailing away at the top of Chapel Hill.
Some of the locals used to come up to HQ selling various items; Ghaleb, who had a shop in No 1 street in Steamer, would be there each morning with soaps, shaving creams, etc that he used to sell far cheaper than NAAFI prices so he was very popular. Also a fisherman would come into the office to sell his lobsters, crabs, etc to the lads who were in married quarters with their families. We would cut the string holding the lobster and crabs claws and they would race across the office floor with the fisherman cursing us and chasing his escapees.
We had a local work with us in the office named Anwar. He was of a Pakistani family and on occasions when off duty he would take us fishing off the breakwater in the main harbour and through Crater to Ras Marshag where we catch some real exotic sea life including snakes. We would also watch the locals shark fishing from long narrow boats a little way off in the bay, and some catches measured 15-20 feet long. When a member of his family got married he invited us to the wedding in Crater .
I remember an open air cinema at Steamer right on the harbour edge and sitting there on one occasion when a dust storm enveloped us. You couldn't see the screen so we just had to sit there and listen and use our imagination as to what was going on the screen.
Facilities started to improve after an outbreak of dysentery, which was traced to a cook in the filthy airmen's mess in Sheba Camp, who was a carrier of the bug but was not suffering from it. A new mess was opened on Chapel Hill as well as we had a brand new NAAFI open up. In October I was posted to Khormaksar as things were beginning to get a bit hectic while the invasion of Suez was coming and Aden was getting very busy. The billets in Khormaksar were bad. I was in a corner room of one of the main blocks along with three other lads, John Scott (Scotty), Norrie McCathie (Mac), and another.
My duties were in the passenger handling section and also organizing the flight rations which in those days were put up by the NAAFI for the communication flights (Valetta's) and also the patrol aircraft, which was an old Lincoln that used to take off fairly early in the mornings . I arrived one morning and the whole area was swimming in fuel. The aircraft had shed most of its fuel load so that was the finish of the kite and it was replaced by a Mk2 Shackleton. One morning there was a bit of a panic with tribesmen coming over the border and the 'Shack' was already taxiing to the takeoff runway as we arrived so the driver steered between the wing and tail plane whilst the kite was moving and I had to chuck the rations to one of the crew standing in the open door; so at least they wouldn't starve, as their patrols usually lasted eight hours.
The air movements officer was a bit of a loss. One morning I had to stop him from putting the Salalah and Masirah passengers on the duty flight to Eastleigh and, in fact, most of the officers hadn't got a clue and relied on the OR's completely.
On one occasion an Air India Constellation arrived with Emperor Haile Sellasie on board. The Camerons were the guard of honour whilst the Governor General, in all his finery, greeted the Emperor as he came down the steps from the aircraft and the R.A. gave a multi-gun salute from a couple of bulled up field guns.
On another occasion a DC-6 freighter aircraft arrived and it was parked way out on the airfield with doors left open. Of course we had to have a look see and drove our to see why it had been parked so far away. As we got nearer we could hear a hell of a noise and closer still a terrible smell! It was jammed full of cages of monkeys probably on their way to a doomed fate.
I was looking forward to packing my bags for home but no, we invaded the Suez and so all normal duties and flights ceased. We had all sorts of aircraft arriving all loaded up to the gills with freight, Avro Tudors and Yorks, and Hastings with freight and passengers and the BOAC Bristol Britannias put into service even before BOAC got them into service. The first two Brits arrived one night with a forward party of KSLI and air traffic control would advise us of any officers on board so I made a point of meeting the first one in and as we put the steps up to the open door out stepped John McKeirnan ex-school mate now in the uniform of an army 2nd Lt. I don't think he had a clue where he was or where he was going next day.There were also quite a few of the lads I knew from school and their next stop was Bahrain.
Whilst all the activity was on there were a couple of warships stuck in the harbour HMS Kenya and HMS Diana. A few of us had an invite to go aboard the ships and after I saw their living conditions and the food that they had to eat I was glad to be in the RAF, as our food was a bit grim but a lot better than theirs. HMS Diana was making her way back to the UK from the atom bomb tests on the Monte Bello Islands off the west coast of Australia.
By now Mauripur had closed and Dickie Dowel, Bert Brazier, Sgt Hibbert and Flt/Llt Blackwell joined me at Khormaksar. I should have left Aden at the end of November but I was still there for Christmas, in fact Christmas day. I had to go on duty in the morning as the AOC had decided to fly down to the staging posts Ryan, Salalah and Masirah to wish them all a Merry Christmas. I guess they wouldn't have minded had he not bothered. We set up a Christmas bar in the billet and we moved the refrigerator from the section, stocked it up with booze and invited the movements officers and NCOs in for drinks.
One day at the end of January 57, I had come off night duty and asleep when I was woken up by Scotty and Mac informing me that I had got a seat on a VIP Comet leaving next day so I was up, dressed and out doing my clearance from the various sections and that evening had a a last tour along the Crescent in Steamer and quite, by coincidence, (I don't think) bumped into Flt Felstead and Sgt. Hibbert so there was a bit of a celebration.
Early next morning I reported to the departure lounge and waiting there was Busty James a lad that I had actually arrived at Mauripur with way back in December 54 which was quite a coincidence. We boarded the Comet, took off, and circled Aden and I'm sure that Shamshan was looking up and saying, You'll be back.* (Aden Legend).
The Comet flew at 500 miles an hour at 40,000 ft and our route was via Entebbe, in Uganda, for lunch, night stop at Kano, in Nigeria, where we caught up a Britavia Hermes trooper that had left the day before us, Next day it was lunch at Idri's in Libya. The final bit of the flight was over France when I saw vapour trails approaching us, which turned out to be six French Air Force fighters that peeled off three aside and escorted us for a time and it was quite impressive.
We landed at Lyneham on a dark, cold, and damp afternoon and the next hurdle was HM Customs; I declared my camera, which was quite an expensive one in the UK due to the luxury tax that was in existence in those days. I'd got a year-old receipt for it but the customs officer seemed to think it was pre-dated and took me into a back room and we sat facing each other, he quizzing me whether the receipt was genuine or not and me sticking to my guns that it was. Eventually it was his tea break so he gave up, if he'd have known I'd got a couple of wrist watches wrapped up in socks, nylons and a host of other things in my case he would have had a field day.
After my disembarkation leave was over I was posted to Lyneham where I spent my last six months working with an HM Customs officer .We would be searching unaccompanied baggage coming in from the Middle and Far East for spirits, cigarettes, porn and other undeclared goodies.
*Aden Legend. Shamshan was a rocky mountain in the centre of Aden and legend had it that if you didn't climb it on your first visit you would return to the stinking dump. Of course I didn't climb it so I returned three times during my time in the RAF and I also returned eight years later as a civilian on my way to Australia on the P & O Liner Orcades.
The Early 1960's
by Fred Martin
I arrived at Khormaksar in August 1961, straight from Movements school at Kidbrooke, as an 18 year old AC1. We were immediately put on 12-on, 12-off, shifts as the Kuwait/Iraq problem (1961 version), was ongoing. .
In1962 there was lots of “up country” activity on the Yemen border and we were often detailed to accompany loads up country to assist in the unloading of the Beverleys. MAMS was not in existence then but I suppose we were some of the forerunners of that organisation. I well remember unloading a Bev at Beihan where an air raid had taken the day before. Suddenly an aircraft came screaming in along the runway at a height of about 30 feet. Fortunately it was an 8 Sqn Hunter, and the only casualty was my underpants!
The confrontation between India and China took place in October 1962 .We were kept busy dealing with through-flights from Lyneham to Calcutta that were full of supplies for India.
At the same time the Cuban Missile Crisis took place. Parked just a few hundred yards away from us as we worked away on the Bevs and the Britannias were about 6 V-Bombers that had been specially deployed into Aden. They were under heavy RAF Regiment guard so no one could get near them. Their tail fins were silhouetted against the setting sun. This was no exercise, this was for real!
They were on a moment’s notice to carry their cargoes to secret destinations. I remember remarking to a colleague that we might not have even have a country to go home to, let alone a home. Those few days of the Crisis were big time scary. Thank goodness it ended safely.
The Brunei emergency began in December 1962 and we again handling all the staging flights Lyneham to Far East. I was detailed to join one such flight to assist the AQM with the load to Labuan. The last of the old type GSMs were issued to participants in the1962 action.
I didn’t know Jack Riley. I think he must have arrived in Aden about the time I left and he mentions being at HQMEC, which was at Steamer Point, whereas I was at Air Movs Khormaksar. Our SAMO was Sqn Ldr Charles Delaney who I feel Jack must have met.
Geordie Daverson did his basic Movements training with me at Kidbrooke and we served 2 years in Aden together. One nightshift some crates needed offloading urgently from an Aden Airways DC3. The MT driver was skiving off somewhere, so Geordie took it upon himself to drive the forklift truck. Two problems: (1) He did not have a driving licence (2) He was rather short sighted. Result - he crashed the forklift into the DC3! He was in big trouble but got away with only 14 days jankers, mainly because it was not an RAF aircraft, and loads of apologies and excuses had to be made to Aden Airways. Geordie was told he would probably have been court-martialled if it had been an RAF aircraft.
While on Airfield Guard Duty, a member of the Guard managed to shoot up a Beverley! We were frequently made to do guard duties in between our shifts. This meant patrolling the airfield armed with an obsolete Lee-Enfield .303, a torch, whistle and a bandolier of 50 rounds of ammo. MT drivers, for some reason, were given Sten Guns instead of rifles to patrol with. Sten Guns were totally unpredictable and this poor MT driver managed to drop his on the concrete causing it to go off. A nearby Beverley was riddled along the boom by 5 rounds! I don’t know what happened to the poor chap, but it did seem that we managed to damage more aircraft than the terrorists!
More of The Early 60's
By Sqn Ldr Jack Riley RAF (Retd)
It was, I suppose, early in 1963 that I found myself clambering aboard a troopship (I think it was the "Nevasa“), as OC RAF en-route for Aden with a party of green young airmen. I use the term advisedly because the Army, always kind to its sister Service, had decided to stow them in the pointy bit. Their reasoning became clear as we ploughed through a stormy Bay of Biscay !
Our first view of Aden did not altogether fill us with joy, a first impression which was to prove only too accurate in the years ahead. I booked into the HQ MEC Mess and was duly allocated my cell. As a form of greeting I found myself sandblasted by a sandstorm which, on later inspection, proved to have found its way even into my drawers, of both varieties!
The working day on the Joint Movements Planning Staff, which had special responsibility for the MAMS Teams, started at seven and ended at one (or thereabouts) whereafter the sensible ones made their way to the Club and bathed both insides and out with suitable liquid.
In due course I was joined by my family and we found ourselves in a hot-box flatlet on Murder Mile, alias the Maalla Strait. Our near neighbours were the medicos in their block, quickly named Bedside Manor. Meanwhile the locals proved rather less than welcoming with such outrages as dragging a Warrant Officer from a bus and setting fire to him in front of his wife and family, or lobbing a hand grenade over the verandah of the PMO's house where his daughter was celebrating her 21st birthday.
Driving towards Khormaksar one passed the only piece of green - a grassed and well-watered roundabout. Later we moved to Khormaksar into the top flat of a block of Married Quarters inside the barbed wire compound. Although fairly new, this too was warmish. Rumour had it that the Arabs who erected it thought that the insulation, designed to go under the corrugated iron roof was packing material and destroyed it.
Despite everything we managed to make our own amusement. I had had some experience in Singapore running the Changi Theatre Club and had been headhunted to stage shows in Aden, this we did in the Khormaksar School. With a company about sixty strong, service, civilian, wives and camp followers we managed to stage three productions in the next three years. All Gilbert and Sullivan, the first was "The Sorcerer" which ran for six nights in November 63. This was followed in '64 by “Ruddigore" (or “The Witch’s Curse”) and, by courtesy of Bridgit D'Oyly Carte, presented the operetta in its original form using the old F Copy musical scores which she loaned me. Then, in February 1965, came "The Pirates of Penzance." For all these the original costumes were researched, designed and made under the supervision of Maisie Jones, wife of Flt Lt Dave Jones, an Air Mover there.
During all this time movements experience was at a premium as the Movers, and particularly the MAMS Teams, coped with such things as operations in the Radfan and the deployment of the UK Stategic Reserve and the Beverleys from Bahrain into places such as Kenya, and down into Swaziland and the then Southern Rhodesia.
Don't ask who had the whole of the Reserve chalked up on Nairobi Airport only to be told the winds and thus the fuel loads had changed. And don't ask who stripped the seats out and fitted floor chains. And don't ask who despatched the brutal and licentious sitting on the floors clutching them. Stick us at the pointy end indeed! And don't ask who was met by his Wing Commander late at night on return to Khormaksar after a week without sleep worth talking about with the greeting "Report to my office at seven tomorrow morning to brief me!" Movers were ever resourceful!
by Tony Gale
June 6, 1966 will always be burned into my memory, as it was the day I arrived at Khormaksar en route to Salalah, some 700 miles "up country." I was a fresh-faced kid of 19 when I got off of the Caledonian Airways 707 at 10:30 that night. When I stood in the doorway of the aircraft the sensations I experienced were overwhelming. The heat and smells of Aden hit me in the face like a brick wall - it was so overpowering. Having never left the temperate shores of the UK before, and certainly never having experienced anything quite so foreign, it literally took my breath away. I recall that I was wearing a wool suit, most inappropriate for these climes, but I was very, very green and hadn't a clue what would be facing me.
I suppose I went through some formal arrival procedures, but I cannot recall what they involved. I was put on a bus - something strange here, all of the windows had meshed metal screens on them. I was pleasantly surprised by the transit accommodations of the Red Sea Hotel - not a bit like the usual RAF home-away-from-home. This was run by the locals and operated just like a regular hotel - with a check-in desk, dining room, lounge and bar. The only major difference, and this did stick out like a sore thumb, was that the entrance-way was piled high with sandbags, and fierce-looking British Army soldiers were standing guard.
The hotel was a three-story-walk-up affair, and I was assigned a room on the top floor. It took all of my effort to make it up those stairs, carrying all of my baggage, being encumbered by the wool suit, which by now was fairly damp with perspiration. The room was small; just a bed, with a bedside table, a wardrobe and a single chair. The one very familiar thing about the room was the bedspread - typical RAF issue of the day. Fortunately there was a ceiling fan, and I turned it on fully. The rush of air was somewhat of a relief, but I did learn that it was more effective at about mid-speed.
There was an awful smell about the place - and I soon discovered what that was. Looking out of the window I noticed that there were countless goats in pens immediately below. This apparently was a market of sorts, and daylight hours would bring about all of the associated activities - including the arrival of more smelly livestock and very loud Arab traders.
It all started at about 6 am - the car horns - if you were a driver of a vehicle you had a horn, and it seemed that it was absolutely necessary to remind everyone of this fact constantly.
I had two days in Aden before continuing my journey, and I spent the time exploring the streets. It being a duty-free port, there was an abundance of every imaginable type of consumer luxury item available for sale. Electronics, cameras, jewellery, perfumes and watches seemed to be everywhere. There were mini-markets with the smells of spices and foreign produce hitherto unbeknown to me.
The heat was unbearable - it must have been over 100 º F, and it was amplified by all the white-washed concrete of the buildings. The thing I noticed most were all of the armed British troops patrolling the streets, either in armour-plated vehicles, or standing in groups of three at every street corner. I was unaware of the political situation here - and even if I had been informed I don't know if I would have appreciated it fully - I was very naive. I was taken aback at the sight of Arab men walking hand in hand and even kissing in public.
Back in the hotel I was introduced to "Jungle Juice." This awful concoction of who knows what was supposed to be orange juice - but further from fresh squeezed you couldn't get. The redeeming features of this swill is that it was wet and cold. I learned to acquire a taste for it during my tour, and there were times when I wish I had a couple of pints to guzzle. There was a rumour that the tea was laced with bromide - which apparently had the opposite effect of Spanish Fly. Talking of flies - they were everywhere - I have never seen so many of those insects all in one place before. Back in the UK we would have a fit if just one fly was in the house, all being employed to chase the intruder with rolled-up newspapers, swiping at it with all of our efforts - not so here - there were just too many.
Apart from the fact that it was all very different and foreign to every one of my senses, I did not care for Aden. I pitied those people who had to stay in this arid and inhospitable place for a whole year or more; there would be many who would never return to the cool green shores of Great Britain...
It was a great relief when it was time for me to depart - I was delivered to the Air Movements departure lounge at Khormaksar before boarding the Argosy that would take me to Salalah in Oman. A surprise awaited me in the lounge - there was an associate from my high school days (in Caldicot, Wales), helping to process the outbound passengers. Corporal Gillian Dodd, RAF Police, was searching all of the baggage prior to it being loaded. Her khaki uniform was soaking wet with perspiration and it was only 6:30 in the morning.
The Maalla Strait Apartments
by John Middleton
The Maalla Strait was a dual-carriageway joining the Crater and Steamer Point districts of Aden. It was bordered by 4 and 5-storey blocks of flats taken over as ‘hirings’ and occupied by hundreds of servicemen and civilians.
Due to the deteriorating security situation at that time, all off-duty personnel were required to carry out armed block patrols between 2pm and 10pm, to assist the resident British Army infantry regiment in maintaining street security.
One Sunday morning, in the latter half of 1966, everything seemed peaceful enough. The two-man patrols, armed with Smith & Wesson pistols for Sergeants and above, Enfield 303’s for Corporals and below and batons and baseball bats for MOD civilians, were out on the streets. Suddenly a grenade was lobbed over the breeze block wall that was used to seal off the side road and bounced towards a British family on their way to church. The grenade exploded in the middle of them. The loudspeaker of a passing Landover cracked out, “Throw some sheets down!” Over the balconies of the married quarters came the sheets. The wounds were quickly dressed and the ambulance rushed the family to Steamer Point British Military Hospital. The young daughter in the family, about 11 years old, was very seriously injured.
As the day wore on, the tension increased. At about 6pm, another grenade exploded in the street, this time thrown at a passing military Landover. The Landover loudspeaker screamed out, “Stop that white Opel, registration number xxxxx!” That was the trigger everyone needed, all hell broke loose, never mind the number plate, get the white car!
From the balcony of my apartment, I fired directly at what I thought was possibly a white Opel and discharged my six rounds into it. Up and down the street everyone with a gun was firing. I suddenly realised that some bullets, being fired by the servicemen further up the Maalla Strait, were ricocheting off the road and whistling past the window of my apartment. Time to take cover! At the end of the “action” seven white cars were shot up, most of them crashed and many Arabs were injured. It was fortunate that no Brits had been driving along the Maalla Strait at that time.
The following morning, we were told to report at 9am to the Khormaksar Armoury. When I arrived, the queue was 100 yards long, two deep! By then the British High Commission had slapped a ‘D Notice” on the British Press in residence, but they were outside of the armoury in force, attempting to quiz the troops. When questioned by the Press, the most common answer was, “I know nothing!”
At the Armoury hatch, the conversation was short and sweet. “What weapon?” “How many rounds?” “Sign here, and don’t stop to talk on your way out!” Needless to say, from that point in time, moral rocketed; we had done our bit!
A few days later a one-inch column appeared in the British newspapers, “An outbreak of shooting took place in the Maalla district of Aden between Security Forces and dissident members of the Aden Militia. No serious injuries were reported.”
It wasn’t too many months later that the terrorists had gained the upper hand. Inertia grenades were being fired with increasing accuracy over the breeze block walls which closed off the side streets. The apartment blocks became a very dangerous place to be, and the evacuation of the families began.
White Knees From Oakington
By James Gallagher
It was 1967, I was eighteen and had been posted to Oakington straight from the 305th Entry at Hereford. Oakington, situated close to Cambridge, was a flying training station then, operating the Varsity aircraft (the Flying Pigs). My days there were spent in the Supply Squadron learning the ropes, and later in the evenings in the "Fort St. George" in Cambridge also learning the ropes! Weekends were spent at RAF Marham gliding.
The imminent withdrawal of British troops from Aden had meant the secondment of a steady stream of Suppliers and Movers from stations around the country to the southern tip of Arabia. One pleasant summer's afternoon, not to be outdone by the other stations, my Squadron Leader invited me to take part in this adventure; and, within a matter of days, I was boarding a British Eagle Britannia from Gatwick to Aden via Istanbul and Bahrain (these exotic places had been but strange names from old Air Force lags before this). The six-day war between Israel and Egypt had just ended, and Istanbul airport was a hive of military activity. The airport, which was in blackout, hummed with strange sounds, and there seemed to be silhouettes of military aircraft everywhere. Soldiers with hooded eyes, seemingly impassive, stood around guarding our aircraft; they looked pretty sinister to us. Were they friends or foe? I remember the atmosphere was tense, and it suddenly dawned on me what being in the "mob" was all about! Needless to say, we were not allowed off the aircraft and, after refuelling, some two hours later we rolled down the runway with a certain amount of relief etched in all our faces.
Our next stop, the island of Bahrain, smelt of a mixture of fish and Avtur, the heat was intense and the landscape seemed utterly alien. A squadron of Hunter fighter/bomber aircraft squatted on the tarmac next to us, they looked as if they meant business; another reminder that Oakington was another world away. Locals in white dishdasha's and ghutra's seemed to glide around in the heat-haze, their flashing smiles were the first signs of welcome we had experienced since leaving Gatwick. After some pleasantries from a Movements Officer like, "get fell in", we were put up in a small transit room consisting of about thirty bare bunk beds. We collected our sheets and pillow cases, which were of that air force grey-hue colour, and made up our beds. Air conditioning was not for the likes of us and so I spent a hot and sticky evening lying in my y-fronts, on my bed, listening to the swish-swish of the ceiling fans, and wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. Needless to say, when sleep came it was a welcome relief.
The following morning saw us emplaning for the last leg of our journey to Aden. As the now familiar engines pulled us clear of the runway over the deep blue sea and Bahrain slid away behind us, what I didn't realise then was that a year to the day I would be back on the island transiting through to Sharjah to begin another adventure.
It was mid day when we taxied to a halt, looking out of the porthole windows of the aircraft, the glare was intense. Fitters and loaders, bodies nut-brown with the sun, buzzed around the bellies and undercarriage doing their thing. They wore nothing but desert boots and shorts. I remember noticing their waistbands were dark with perspiration, and their knees were definitely brown! I felt strange, very, very white and not at all part of this particular Air Force. This truly was another life. There was a thump as the steps bumped alongside the aircraft. Nothing had prepared me for the few next seconds when the passenger door opened and a rush of suffocating heat gushed into the fuselage which was like a furnace in seconds. My own body immediately seemed to sprout liquid, and trickles of sweat ran down my back. I was wearing a Harris tweed jacket, just the sort of apparrel for this environment! Within minutes I was a wreck, and with the dreaded jacket clinging to my soggy frame, I limped off the aircraft tired and nervous, to what was for me a scene of desolation and despair.
The jagged red mountains beyond the airfield seem to crowd the scene and the wetbulb air sucked the breath out of us. There was a hive of professional yet relaxed activity on the ground, but I didn't feel I was part of it, after all I was only eighteen and had come for the sun, oh, and the medal of course!
"So you've come for a spot of sun have you?" were the opening words of welcome the following morning when we trooped into the briefing room. A ramrod straight Warrant Officer from the RAF Regiment glared at us. "Well let me show you a few snaps of holiday makers like yourselves - only they are not going home." With these words he proceeded to turn over pictures that had been face down on the walls of the room. The scenes in the pictures were awful, one was of a body lying close to a car, "Ian here was getting fuel down the Mallaa road when he was shot in the back," "Mike, or what is left of him, was standing next to a booby-trapped milk churn." The officer's voice droned on an on as we took in the awful scenes of fellow visitors; they, like us had been in this room.
The next four months were a mixture of comfort and discomfort; as the families had all gone back to the UK we lived in former married quarters, there were eight of us to a house. These houses did not have air-conditioning and the water was rationed from 07:00 hrs until sometime the next morning. We used fill the bath before we left for our shift so we had the opportunity of a wash after work. New words were introduced to us; "Stims" (ice cold drinks), "Banjos"(cobs), and "Irons" (knife, fork and spoon). Arabic of sorts was spoken, "Shufti", "Bint", "Baksheesh", "Salaam" and "Insh'Allah" were all words and phrases that became part of our daily culture. We had great experiences; I scrounged trips up-country in the Agrosy and Beverley aircraft. I sat in the mess listening to the Special Forces guys who had just returned from Operations; as they drank their beers they built empty beer-tin mountains on the tables. We watched nightly firework displays when either the NLF or FLOSY decided to lob mortar shells over the perimeter fence. I was on guard duty out by the standby powerhouse one night (miles from anywhere), when they hit an Air India DC-6. Alan Bully and I nearly bricked ourselves as we were convinced this was a pre-emptive strike before coming for us! I was introduced to the Sterling machine gun, and when travelling between RAF Khormaksar and Steamer Point, used to cradle this dangerous toy in my arms, wondering if this was the trip that would test my mettle!
Finally, when the time came for me to return to Oakington, I boarded the aircraft happy to leave in the knowledge that I had made some great friends and had a unique adventure.
A Memory Best Forgotten
By Andrew M Ockenden
I seem to remember about a dozen chaps being killed in a bomb attack at the open air cinema in Salalah. I think it was early 1967 but may have been late '66. We had to send an 84 Squadron Beverley (Scorpiones Pungunt) up country with some of the "local police", I can't remember what their official title was.
They were going to bring some prisoners back who were believed to be the terrorists responsible for the outrage. When the aircraft landed on its return to Khormaksar the crew were visibly shaken, and there were no prisoners. The crew had heard a noise like the boom exit door for paratroopers being slammed closed, and the prisoners had apparently been tossed out over the coast from a height of about 9,000 feet. Apparently the AQM had been the first to hear a noise up the back and had been shooed away by the "police" when he went to investigate.
The Captain may have been a Flt. Lt. Stephens; the AQM may have been Brian Hughes, who was killed by terrorists the day after we left Aden. I think his wife and baby were on the same flight home as us. We were shocked to see reports of the shooting on the news just after we arrived home
I never saw an official report or even a mention in the local Aden newspaper called The Dhow. You probably know that execution by throwing the convicted one from the highest point of the local Sheikh's "palace", was the next best thing to the sword and beheading. I have seen reports in The Dhow that would beggar belief in western society, about executions and amputations throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
Extracts from "The Dhow" British Forces Newspaper - 1967
(Courtesy of Alan Liptrot)
29 MAR 18.45 hrs: A Somali Police Officer was shot 3 times in the back, and fatally wounded in Manzilla.
1 APR 19.30 hrs: A grenade was thrown at a party of British visitors from SS Rosehank in Tawahi. There were 10 casualties one British woman killed, one British woman and three men wounded, and five local nationals injured, one seriously.
2 APR 19.30 hrs: A grenade thrown in Crater. No apparent target, and no casualties. A civilian car was slightly damaged.
6 APR 18.25 hrs: A grenade was thrown at a Security Patrol vehicle. A local national was injured in the head. There were no service casualties or damage.
7 MAR 11.00 hrs: A European, an employee of Limmer and Trinidad Asphalt Company, was shot a dead near Shuqra.
9 APR 21.25 hrs: A grenade thrown in Tawahi. Four local nationals injured; one seriously.
11 APR 16.50 hrs: Two grenades were thrown at a 3 tons truck outside Al Mansoura detention centre. There were no casualties, and no damage was done.
17 APR. 08.50 hrs: Grenade thrown at passing car in Sheikh Othman. Local national boy injured.
23.00 hrs: Body of bearer employed at Police Officers mess Crater was found by local national. The body had three bullet wounds.
19 APR. 19.10 hrs: Grenade thrown at vehicle of a Security Patrol from bushes at side of road. No casualties, no damage
20 APL. 23.05 hrs: Two brothers travelling in Aden Airways van held up and shot in Sheikh Othman. The van was set on fire. One man died, the second critically ill.
21 APR. 20.40 hrs: Grenade thrown at mobile patrol in Sheikh Othman. No casualties, no damage.
22 APR. 20.33 hrs: Grenade thrown at mobile patrol in Crater. Two members of patrol received minor injuries. An Arab girl was slightly injured.
23 APR. 20.25 hrs: Grenade thrown outside Bank of India, Crater. No apparent target. No casualties, no damage.
24 APR. 09.21 hrs: Grenade thrown in Little Aden outside British school teacher’s house. No casualties, some damage to outside of house.
26 APR. 1215 h rs: Grenade thrown at 3 ton vehicle iun Sheikh Othman. No casualties
2010 hrs: Grenade thrown at Mobile Patrol in Sheikh Othman. No casualties.
27 APR 1930 hrs: Grerade was thrown and shots fired at Mobile Patrol in Sheikh Othman. No casualties
1950 hrs Grenade thrown into Sheikh Othman Police Station. No casualties
2005 hrs. Grenade thrown at Mobile Patrol in Sheikh Othman. Five local nationals injured
28 APR. 0745 hrs: The Secretary of the Banks Local Unions was shot and killed. His companion was also shot and seriouly injured.
1315 hrs: An explosion in private house in Sheikh Othman killed one Arab, seriously injured another and injured an Arab woman.
1855 hrs: Grenade thrown at three members of the forces who were off duty in Tawahi. The men were injured.
29 APR. 2330 hrs: Monks Field. In a dissident's attack 3 soldiers were killed and three others wounded. None of the wounded were placed on the seriously ill list.
1 May 1955 hrs: Grenade thrown at Mobile Patrol in Sheikh Othman No casualties
2315 hrs: Grenade thrown at mobile patrol in Sheik Othman. No casualties.
3 MAY 2005 hrs: Grenade thrown at 4 off-duty sailors from HMS Sheba near the Victoria Hotel in Tawahi. It failed to explode.
6 MAY 0630 hrs: Grenade thrown at RCT landrover between Main Pass Roundabout and traffic lights Ma’alla no casualties, no damage.
9 MAY 2002 hrs: Grenade thrown at two vehicles of 1 PWO in Crater. No Service casualties, one local national slightly injured
Aden Then and Now
Reproduced with permission from
BBC News On Line,
December 3, 1997
Thirty years ago this week , the last British forces in Aden abandoned Britain's Middle East headquarters, and the territory became independent as South Yemen.
The two-year independence struggle in Britain's only Arabian colony cost hundreds of British and Arab lives. But many more people were to meet a violent end in the years which lay ahead.
Brian Barron, who was the BBC's last correspondent in Aden, has just been back, and says the British withdrawal was one of the country's shabbiest retreats from colonialism.
"There can be few more evocative names than Steamer Point. Here for well over a hundred years the world's shipping - from rusting old tubs to the sleekest liners afloat - put in for fuel. Aden is just four miles off the busiest east-west trade route. Once it welcomed more ships than Singapore or Rotterdam. Generations of sailors, among them Joseph Conrad, have come ashore at Prince of Wales pier in the shadow of Little Ben, a colonial clock tower that today has fallen on hard times. Beside the tower and its clock-face without hands is a ruined house, pockmarked with bullet and shell holes, a reminder of the half a dozen civil wars that have punctuated thirty violent years of independence.
The back streets of Steamer Point are choked with hundreds of tons of uncollected rubbish - for Aden's goats, it is paradise. The souvenir shops that once prospered from steamship passengers are barred and shuttered. Only the Aziz bookshop is open. Mr Aziz, calm and collected in late middle age, sits in the doorway clutching a large radio tuned to BBC World Service. "All the other shopkeepers have gone," says Mr Aziz. "They left because of the troubles. Because very few ships come here. They've gone back to India and Pakistan and the Gulf."
A mile away is Mallaa Main Street, dubbed by Fleet Street headline writers in the 60s as Murder Mile. Often the Arab nationalists in the independence struggle didn't differentiate between soldiers and civilians. One of my friends, a young English civil servant at the start of his career was shot in the back getting into his car. What a waste. What a pointless action. To be fair, the British forces were not paragons either.
One steamy morning in the Crater district I arrived to find Colonel Colin Mitchell - known to the media as Mad Mitch because of his gungho style - directing a group of squaddies who were stacking, like a butcher's delivery, the corpses of six Arabs on the pavement. They'd been shot as they tried to ambush a patrol. "It was like shooting grouse," said the Colonel. "A brace here and a brace there. It was over in seconds."
A totally different version of such tragedies is displayed in Aden's Military Museum. Scattered throughout the dusty rooms are clapped out bits of military hardware from the independence struggle and oil paintings depicting British brutality. The faded black-and-white photos of the stalwarts of the uprising, all in their twenties, all members of the NLF, the National Liberation Front, are the images of dead men.
Thirty years ago I watched them disembark at Khormaksar air base just hours after the last British forces had left by helicopter. The NLF leadership had flown in to inherit their kingdom. Little was known about them except that they were Arabs from outlying provinces who'd been trained by George Habash and other Palestinian radicals in Lebanon.
Within minutes the new regime was talking about scientific socialism. Soon we realized that Britain's blunders had ushered in the Arab world's first Marxist state named the People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen. For a while the comrades were hailed as liberators. In fact, they'd liquidated the only other Arab faction which posed a threat. In the two decades that followed they fell out and murdered each other one by one - a classic example of a revolution devouring its children.
With such a burden of recent history you might think that Aden would have had enough. A new course would be in order. In fact they have tried but with only mixed results.
The opportunity came when the Soviet Union collapsed. Moscow had turned South Yemen into a client state. When the roubles ran out the handful of surviving Aden revolutionaries were bankrupt and friendless. They sold their country's independence to their cousins across the border in North Yemen; the two countries were united as the Yemen Republic. It was an unequal alliance because there are six times more northerners than southerners. Three years ago the unhappy south tried to secede and civil war was the result. After besieging Aden the northerners finally won.
Today Adenis seem sullen. One Arab journalist told me: "This is not unity it's occupation. There is an incredible amount of resentment against northerners who've come down here and bought up prime buildings and commandeered what they want." He finished with a warning: "If nothing is done there's going to be an explosion." And explosions there have been in recent weeks: a series of bomb blasts blamed on southern dissidents. The secret police have rounded up scores of suspects.
Beneath the towering dark red walls of an extinct volcano nestles the Crater district. Bored men sit and squat in doorways. Women swaddled in black veils hurry past. Islam is ascendant, Marxism reviled. Apart from the soaring chorus of the calls to prayers five times a day, not much is going on here. Unemployment could be 70%. For decades the communist authorities bought the acquiescence of the people by employing them in a vast, Soviet-style bureaucracy. Private enterprise was banned. Now work is hard to find.
The one glimmer of hope is a major project to redevelop Aden Port with international help. It has become the forgotten destination of the seven seas.
Today, older Adenis look back on British rule with affection. The failure to provide durable institutions, the ugliness of the last two years of Pax Britannica, the indecent haste of the evacuation, all are excused or forgotten. No doubt 23 years of murder and tyranny, followed by seven years of tension and another civil war, are enough to gild the colonial era. But of all our Imperial farewells, this still seems the shabbiest by far."