On 19 January 1839, the British East India Company landed Royal Marines at Aden to occupy the territory and stop attacks by pirates against British shipping to India. The port lies about equidistant from the Suez Canal, Bombay (now Mumbai), and Zanzibar, which were all important British possessions. Aden had been an entrepôt and a way-station for seamen in the ancient world. There, supplies, particularly water, were replenished. So, in the mid-19th century, it became necessary to replenish coal and boiler water. Thus Aden acquired a coaling station at Steamer Point. Aden was to remain under British control until 1967.
In 1964, Britain announced its intention to grant independence to the FSA in 1968, but that the British military would remain in Aden. The security situation deteriorated as NLF and FLOSY (Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen) vied for the upper hand.
In January 1967, there were mass riots between the NLF and their rival FLOSY supporters in the old Arab quarter of Aden town. This conflict continued until mid-February, despite the intervention of British troops. During the period there were as many attacks on the British troops by both sides as against each other culminating in the destruction of an Aden Airlines DC3 plane in the air with no survivors.
On 30 November 1967 the British finally pulled out, leaving Aden and the rest of the FSA under NLF control. I left on the 30th November 1967, on a Hercules to Muharraq, 4 hours before the Royal Marines. They were the first British troops to occupy Aden in 1839 and were the last to leave.
The airfield at Khormaksar. In the background is Crater, no need to ask how it got its name. This picture was taken from a 78 Squadron Wessex helicopter.
As bunnies go, I was an unhappy one when at the end of the Senior Air Movements course in 1966, I was told I was being posted to Khormaksar in Feb 1967, and in the meantime I'd be going as supernumerary to Lyneham. Why not Changi? Or Kai Tak? There was a bit of a war on in Aden, no?
RAF Lyneham turned out to be a good experience, I hit it off with the 2 DAMOs I worked for - Flt Lts Pete Boggis and Harry Lawson. Harry was a fellow Fifer, a former Music Corps Major, who took time to educate me about classical music and in particular Mozart. He had a great sense of humour, being particularly fond of a practical joke. He ended his career at RAFSCC Hendon, where it is alleged that his parting gift was to plant many sunflowers round the huts, which sprang up long after his departure.
With 2 Squadrons of Britannias (99 & 511) and the Comet 2s & 4s of 216 Sqn, it meant that there was plenty of flying opportunities and I took the chance to get trips to Luqa, Akrotiri and Gibraltar, on my long off-shift weekends.
I also met a nice guy, Fg Off Dave Welch, who had just come back from Khormaksar - Dave was on a short service commission and retired from Lyneham, but we were to meet again when I was posted to Northolt. Dave said Khormaksar wasn't too bad, that he'd joined the Aden Forces Broadcasting Association (AFBA) & had a lot of fun there. So when the time came for me to go, I was less apprehensive. Also I knew that Martin Henderson was down at Steamer Point & Pete Kingwill was on AFME MAMS, so friends were there.
The Officers' Mess accommodation at Khormaksar was, for new arrivals, in a non-air-conditioned 2 storey block. Old stagers with brown knees eventually got accommodated in 'Shangri-La' - alleged to be air conditioned heaven. I shared a room with Flt Lt Brian ('Pricky') Price, who was a well-educated, but rather naive chap. Brian's idea of an exciting evening was a quiz using random pages of the dictionary to ask your opponent the meaning of obscure words.
Immediately below us lived an eccentric air trafficker, called Kiwi Francis, whose hobby was controlling the feral cat population by means of a powerful catapult. This catapult could punch a hole in a galvanised rubbish bin at 20 feet, so it was no mean weapon. Kiwi was very fussy about his appearance, washed and ironed his immaculate KD every day & hung it out to dry outside his room on the 'patio' fence.
One evening, when dictionary quizzing was palling, Brian decided to go to the bar & get slaughtered - nothing new there, but his tipple was not Tiger or Tennent's but crème de menthe! He was in a sorry state when came back to our room, and deposited recycled crème de menthe over our balcony onto Kiwi's uniform. Oh how we laughed, except Kiwi of course!
This is a picture of single officer‘s non air-conditioned accommodation. We were 2 to a room, with a big ceiling fan, and shower & toilet - never was cool.
John MacDonald and I enjoying a glass of lemonade. I think I had just arrived in Aden, though it must be said that I am a fair-skinned Scot, and John could get a tan under a 5-Watt lightbulb!
By now I had joined a shift, and had met up with a couple of Movers in the Mess, Dave Benson and John MacDonald who became good friends. I can't recall in what order these guys were my DAMOs, but I worked as Traffic Officer for Dave Edwards, for John Damment and finally for Dick Whitworth. I had a great bunch of guys, Sgt Tony Thompson, Cpl Jim Brett, and 3 SACs of whom I only recall Ken Feast's name (Ken & I served together later in SCAF at Gütersloh).
My shift. Such a good bunch of guys, nothing was too much trouble.
I, as the lowest form of officer life, got great support from them. L to R: Jim Brett, Tony Thompson, NN, NN, Ken Feast, NN
Other notable station movers were Terry Watson, Tony Coleman, Pete Plowman, and of course the rather scary Sqn Ldr E C (Nobby) Clark, the Sqn No 2. I can't remember the name of the SAMO - I think it was Fred something, but I was just a humble Pilot Officer. Nor can I remember the name of the ATLO, a really nice RCT Major - Ken someone. It is alleged that Major Ken told a stroppy civil servant who was complaining about his seat allocation on the aircraft and that his equivalent military rank was lieutenant colonel, to shut up, and that his (Ken's) equivalent civilian rank was brain surgeon.
In 1967, Khormaksar was the biggest RAF Station in the world. Commanded by Gp Capt Michael ('Barmy') Beetham, (later MRAF Sir Michael), we had:
84 Sqn Beverlys
105 Sqn Argosies
37 Sqn Shackletons
21 Sqn Twin Pioneers, an Andover & a Dakota
78 Sqn Wessex & an SAR Whirlwind
8 & 43 Sqn Hunters
1417 Flight Hunters
RAF Regiment Sqn (no 37)
I was told we numbered around 8,000 bods. Our shift pattern was great for a young man. An 11 hour day (0700 - 1800) followed by 24 hours off, then a 13 hour night (1800 - 0700) followed by 48 hours off. The days were usually followed by bar duty, and the nights quite often by an immediate transfer to the beach at Tarshyne.
Tarshyne Beach - a shark net protected us, and the swimming, both inside & outside the net was terrific. I learned to surf here, a skill which stood me in good stead 10 years later, when stationed in Bordeaux, with access to the mighty Atlantic.
21 Squadron Twin Pioneer. A great little aircraft, built by Scottish Aviation in Prestwick.
21 Squadron Dakota. I believe this was the second-last RAF Dakota in service. When I went to Northolt afterAden I recall handling the last one, which was the aircraft “owned” by the Air Attache in Norway.
All around the Station there were illicit bars, serving food and drink. Competition for trade was fierce. I seem to recall Jim Brett was involved in one of these, and of partaking of a very fine burger washed down with Stim.
Our AOC was Air Vice Marshal J E (Johnny) Johnson CB, CBE, DSO & Two Bars, DFC & Bar, the highest scoring RAF air ace of WW2. The AOC was known for, shall we say, his carefulness with money, like many a very senior officer before him and since. Apart from allegedly flying in 'Kenya Cold' i.e. prime beef in RAF aircraft, there's a widely-told story that many officers were invited to the Mess at Steamer Point for a reception given by the AOC. Everyone was looking forward to an evening boozing at the AVM's expense. Imagine their surprise when ordering a round, to find that their bar books had been shipped over from Khormaksar, and that they were funding this event themselves!
AVM Johnson was replaced by one of the finest senior officers I ever met, Andrew Humphrey, later Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew GCB, OBE, DFC, AFC, whom I had the pleasure of moving in and out of RAF Northolt on numerous occasions as a DAMO there. And our CinC was the charismatic and memorable Admiral Sir Michael LeFanu. Stories about him are legendary, in particular his hatred of ceremony, typified by swapping his place with his driver, or, the story goes, jumping out of a window to see what really happened on base as opposed to what he was supposed to see, on a CinC's inspection.' Both these remarkable men sadly died before their time.
After a while I joined AFBA (Aden Forces Broadcasting Association), and having passed the voice test, was assigned to Children's Programmes. My output was nothing special, but just OK. What all AFBA broadcasters wanted was to become a continuity announcer, regarded as the top job on the station.
While not putting together programmes very few people listened to, I was learning to swim, coached by Nobby Clark & ATLO Major Ken. Spending time at the swimming pool was also good in other ways as off-duty BUA stewardesses could sometimes be persuaded to the delights of the pool.
By now, Tony Thompson & I were in a sort of competition for flying hours, and lots more off-duty time was spent flying up country with 84 or 21, or up the Gulf with 105.
Personally, my favourite was helicopters, and I became friends with pilots Mike Tingle and Dave Ryall, and spent many happy hours in the Wessex.
I would serve with Mike again at Gütersloh, when he was on 18 Sqn. Sadly, Dave was subsequently killed in an HS748 civilian accident when a rear door detached & took the tail off. A highlight was a deck landing on HMS Bulwark.
I became acquainted for the first time with the legendary Al Mathie, 8 Sqn Hunter pilot - we were to meet again at Gütersloh, when he was flying with 2 Sqn, and again when I was Jaguar liaison officer in
Bordeaux in 1977, Al was flying Jaguars with l'Armée de l'Air Française. Al was killed in February 2012 by walking into a Piper Cub prop - he's hugely missed by very many.
HMS Bulwark - Mike Tingle in the right-hand seat, I was in the left!
Work became pretty routine; load up Beverlys & Argosies at night, plus the occasional Belfast, send FRA and FRG troops up country every morning, deal with incoming pax from BUA flights, handle visiting aircraft like 30 Sqn Beverlys from Muharraq. Load up Britannias with troops on rotation. Send people on R & R to Kenya. Have breakfast in the middle of the night at Britannia House (the Khormaksar "Route Hotel"). It was a pity that the Catering Officer who ran it was so unpopular with Movers that when the time came for him to be posted back to the UK, his baggage mysteriously went to Changi.
I learned to play squash, coached by the enigmatic chopper pilot Mike Williams, whose 6' 5" height, experience and sheer skill made learning a painful process. One day it rained, and since it never did, the squash court had no roof - oh dear!
Lots of time was spent in Tawahi, negotiating for that very particular Seiko watch, that one you didn't really need, or that Pentax SLR that you'd never really learn to use properly unless you were Martin Henderson!
Yes, that’s rain! I think the white car is ‘Pricky’ Price’s Fiat 500. The building on the right, with the sloping circular windows is the squash court.
Shops in Tawahi with a Northumberland Fusilier on guard. It was useful to get negotiating techniques from an “old hand”- always accept a glass of tea, never expect really good results in under 5 visits, and using a poker face were all helpful bits of advice I got.
In the middle of my tour, I returned home on leave for 3 weeks. Strangely, I couldn't wait to get back to Aden at the end of it. In early March 1967, the last 'lollipop special' arrived in Aden - ie school children visiting their parents from boarding school in UK. I happened to be on duty, and below you can see me at the bottom of the steps to a BUA VC10 as they arrived.
By now things were hotting up on the terrorist front - at that time it was all FLOSY (Front for the Liberation of South Yemen), and the NLF (National Liberation Front) were not really in it. There were daily rumours of massing troops coming to liberate Aden, there were acts of terrorism - blowing up the Pagoda Chinese Restaurant was both a crime and a non-crime, if you ever went there, you'd know why.
On a more serious note, I saw my first dead body, the German journalist Walther Mechtel, shot in Tawahi, when his body was being transferred at the Station main gate. Guard duty for someone like me was very scary. Armed with a Sterling with 2 magazines of ammo strapped to each other we had to visit various off-base locations. A combination of darkness & inexperience was an adrenaline-raiser, and not in a good way!
As time went on we had riots in Crater, subdued by the Argylls, under 'Mad Mitch' who became a client of ours when they shipped out of Aden. There were heroic, but unrecognised, acts of heroism by 78 Sqn helicopter pilots. The GOC, Maj Gen Philip Tower, was widely vilified. The politicians also. There was a great deal of uncertainty.
General Tower announced that we were on active service, and addressing the troops, said that they could now earn gallantry medals, he even suggested the VC. A wag shouted, 'the only VC we want is a VC10!'
One day I had to go and meet an RN chopper - I think a Wessex - could it have been a Sea King? Anyhow, once the pax had disembarked I waited for the crew to check on turnaround arrangements. The captain descended, and I saluted Lt Cdr Hornblower! Many people do not believe this entirely true story.
Opportunities to fly were pretty frequent, and the picture below (of Nisab) was taken on a Twin Pin flight, whose only real passenger was Sqn Ldr Alan D'Arcy, on his way to work political wonders with the local tribesmen.
I did a fair bit of flying with 21 Sqn - their trips were usually one-off, and interesting. I persuaded the irascible Dakota pilot Mike (Isherwood) Bennett to take me along to Kamaran Island, at the Southern end of the Red Sea. It was a fascinating trip, including the zero feet pass across the completely flat island. I spent the day snorkelling.
Nisab looks amazingly large for an up-country town, but it was important politically - read Charles Collier‘s material. It‘s 250 km from Aden.
All about Kamaran
I got a new SAC on pax handling duties - J T Whittle - real name Jude; as he explained it, when his father first saw him, he decided to call him Jude, after the patron saint of hopeless cases. J T hailed from Bolton, had a great sense of humour, & was a nice lad. Pax handling wasn't his thing, though & soon he was out on the pan loading Beverlys with the best of them. No-one ever discovered how a 40 gallon drum of aviation fuel, destined for Habilayn, came off the fork lift tines, but it did, and it killed J T.
Forty-five years on I remember him so well, and I remember his funeral in Silent Valley, the volley of shots over his grave, the utter silence and the searing heat, his grieving parents and the guys he worked with.
But there were lighter moments. John Damment was DAMO when a particularly difficult Belfast load happened during a night shift - a Beaver and a Scout come to mind? Anyway, after 13 hours of hard graft, the Loadmaster informed John 'It won't trim, sir!' John was furious, and standing next to the port sponson within which lay the APU, launched his hat at the aircraft, the while shouting one of his favourite phrases 'Oh my aching arse!' Hat enters APU intake - result - graunch, graunch & tech delay!
By now families had returned to the UK, and we single officers were moved into aircon OMQs just on the edge of the base. I shared with Jock Drysdale, Pete Kingwill & one other. We had our own bearer Mohammed, who looked after us well.
It was announced that we would leave Aden on the 30th November. Strange anti-shrapnel devices appeared on the pan. These were trollies, with walls of sand filled oil drums which greatly reduced aircraft handling capacity, but gave some protection from largely ill-aimed mortar fire.
You can see the anti-shrapnel trollies around the aircraft here. There was a plan, if things got
really bad, to fly out 1000 people to safety, seated on the Belfast floor. Zero baggage allowance!
At AFBA, we had always been in competition with BFBS, who broadcast from studios in Ma'alla. Their position became untenable for obvious security reasons, and they took over AFBA. It was fine, and I found myself (having graduated to continuity) broadcasting with a very pleasant guy called Peter Donaldson - together we broadcast a weekly review of the news as culled from newspapers grabbed off incoming flights by tame Movers. Peter would later become Chief Newsreader for Radio 4, and still reads the news from time to time.
I was still doing a bit of flying, and so was my friend Martin Henderson. One day an Army Scout helicopter landed, piloted by an AAC Captain. We got into conversation & he offered to fly me over Crater. I called Martin & soon we were both sitting in the space behind the pilot, Martin with his smart SLR at the ready. On the ground, the lack of doors and seat belts was no problem at all... at 1500 feet over Crater executing sharp turns left and right it was the original white-knuckle ride! No photographs were taken on that flight.
The food in the Officers' Mess was surprisingly good, and gave me a lifelong enjoyment of saltwater crayfish and barracuda. Towards the end, various pranks were played in the Mess to the annoyance of the PMC. The fountain which lay between the dining room and the outside bar was attacked with a large quantity of Teepol, the resulting foam was on a heroic scale. Sometime later an enormous dead fish was deposited in the fountain and a notice on the Mess board read 'The Phantom Fishmonger Strikes Again' - I can only think it was the heat and the stress that drove some young officer that far. It was all coming to an end in November 1967.
Nobby Clark grabbed me one day and asked if I'd like to be seconded to him for the final weeks before we went home. You didn't say 'no' to Nobby and stay alive, so I agreed.
We commandeered an office, and three walls out of four were covered with Perspex. Armed with the world's supply of china graph pencils, we proceeded to chart the exodus from Aden. Starting with, I think, 12,000 personnel and maybe 500,000 lbs of freight, we daily charted the reducing numbers, as Hercules after Hercules after Belfast was loaded up and dispatched.
In the last week, the battle between FLOSY and the NLF was won by the NLF & our bearer Mohammed turned up wearing their badge. The NLF flag flew over every building in sight. I left on the 30th November 1967, on a Hercules to Muharraq, 4 hours before the last Marine. The whole posting was a great experience, I learned a huge amount, and my Aden days have stayed with me vividly to this day.
The author in full regalia - 1967
Richard (Dick) Lloyd
I 'd really welcome your comments, especially to identify missing names, events & anything else. This article written September 2012. With massive thanks to Tom Iredale for layout, copy checking & being really interested!