Hours of work
Foreign and Colonial Office officials were at their desks in Whitehall until late
in the evenings on weekdays and often all morning and afternoon on Saturdays.
The time difference between Aden and London meant that we had to work even
later at night and all Saturdays in order to send our reports back to London by
telegram so they could be put in Ministers’ red boxes before they were driven
home for the weekend. Moreover, in Aden, Friday was the day of rest for the
Muslim community and Sunday was a full working day; while the military
worked through Fridays and took Saturdays and Sundays off. As a result HE and
his staff were on duty seven days a week - and it was sometimes a little wearing.
All through the summer months Aden was unpleasantly hot with a searing,
blistering, enervating heat. I was in the habit of swimming in the very early
mornings before breakfast when there was nobody about. Then, unless HE was
up-country or abroad, I used to drive up to GH and set to work in the coolest
hour at 7 o’clock. By that time he had already been at his desk for an hour
or more, reading or, more frequently, writing notes and ideas in fat foolscap
notebooks in his stylish hand in red ink. He would then work through his
meetings until round about 1.30 p.m. when I could nip home for a bite to eat.
European businesses and the armed services’ headquarter staff took the
afternoon off; most civilians spent it on the beach or relaxing in a shady spot,
but Government House was open to visitors at all hours. After lunch was a
good time for them to pay their calls, and in any free moment I needed time
to catch up on my reading and filing. I soon found more than enough to do
in my office until 6.30 p.m. or so each evening. On many evenings, I would
then go home and dress for an evening engagement back in GH. When not on
evening duty, my preference on reaching home after work was to collapse in an
air-conditioned room with a long, cool drink.
In essence, I suppose my job was to do everything HE asked me to do and
anything I could to ease the load on him. For the most part it boiled down to
The Red Boxes
Sir Richard’s in-trays and out-trays were large, red, tin boxes, which were
kept locked unless he was in the office working on their contents. Only he and
I had keys, and it was my role to ensure that incoming telegrams from London,
local correspondence, other documents and drafts for his approval were put in
the in-box as soon as they came in, and that the out-box was emptied several
times a day. I had to pass on its contents in HE’s red ink as fast as possible to
the right addresses, some coming to me to deal with, others going out to the
secretaries to type up to be signed, and many others going across to the staff of
the High Commission or elsewhere for action or disposal.
Our communications to the Colonial Office went by telegrams, often of some
length, reporting events up to the minute, and their replies and instructions
came into us at all hours of the day and often in the evenings. Sir Richard’s style
of writing was direct while also easy and, at times, chatty with those officials
in London whom he had known in previous jobs. His reports were clear and
straightforward, whereas some of the Colonial and Foreign Office messages
back were clothed in excessive diplomatic obscurity. In times of crisis – which
seemed to be most of the time in Aden - telegrams went to and from London
every hour of the day and sometimes until late at night. Some of them labelled
Flash demanded instant replies, while others had to be encoded before despatch
or decoded on their way to HE. The basic ciphers I could manage, but a few
documents were so secret they had to be taken by me personally to a military
cipher office some distance from us.
I was soon writing straightforward replies, acknowledgements, social chitchat
and holding letters on HE’s behalf, and it became my job to draft for his
signature a good deal of his routine correspondence in order to free his time to
work on policy matters.
All too frequently, he had to write to offer sympathy to those injured by
the terrorists and condolences to the relatives of those murdered by them, and
he used to ask me to draft what he called an ‘Eberlie Special’ on such sad
occasions. I picked up his style and believe I became fluent at expressing his
thoughts on paper, while always leaving him with the opportunity to add a few
words of his own for the personal touch.
The Engagement Diary
When HE needed to see someone it was my job to find the person, and on many mornings and evenings the flow of people in and out of his office lasted
all day. His life was one of constant meetings with political leaders, ministers,
sheikhs, emirs, sultans and other dignitaries, businessmen, officials, the press,
the police and the military. In addition Aden received a steady stream of VIPs
from London – Government Ministers, opposition leaders, MPs on a ‘swan’,
the top brass of the armed services and many others. All visitors to Aden who
believed themselves important insisted on calling at GH, while journalists from
all over the world were constantly pressing for interviews. It was my task to give
them appointments to suit HE’s convenience, and to fit them in between the
numerous business meetings and other engagements.
Every Wednesday morning HE set aside time to go over his diary, first with
his senior colleagues at the High Commission and elsewhere, and then for a
few minutes to check arrangements for the week ahead with the ADC, the
Housekeeper and me. One way and another, the foolscap diary was always
full to overflowing with names and times and data about our visitors. The
conflicting demands on HE’s time required a good deal of juggling, and it was
up to me to sort it all out.
One particular job had to be done with care. Sentries provided by an infantry
battalion were always on duty not only at the GH gates but also at the entrance
to the whole Steamer Point complex at the bottom of our hill, and they had
orders to search for suspicious objects in cars unless the visitors had passes or
were cleared in advance. Either the ADC or I had to be sure to warn the guard
commanders to alert their sentries whenever HE was expecting callers without
official passes, and such people called on us almost every day. Occasionally the
message did not get through, and we could be horribly embarrassed if a brash,
young soldier waving a rifle treated our guests with casual disrespect.
The Social Side
As a member of the ‘household’ I dined, probably once a week, informally
and quietly with the Turnbulls. In addition I was, along with Jeremy and
Eliane, required to be one of the hosts at the formal receptions and evening
functions at GH, and one or other of us had to accompany HE to outside
events. The Turnbulls saw it as their duty to entertain as often as they could
and as widely as they could among Colonial Service colleagues and their wives,
senior military men, visitors from home, and leading members of the Arab,
Indian and European communities in Aden. We also kept in regular touch with
the Consuls of foreign powers, notably the French, Americans, Italians and
Ethiopians who all wanted to know what we were doing up at GH.
Along with the ADC, I was called upon to don a black tie for at least one
official occasion a week, and to earn my keep by looking after GH evening
guests, shepherding them around, seating them where required, and ensuring
they were properly looked after by the local staff. The big dining room, with
French windows opening on to the terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean,
could seat thirty-six comfortably and was a superb venue for formal meals. The
Housekeeper had the task of finding the food and making most of the advance
arrangements for GH parties, and the ADC had to produce the right wines and
do most of the organisation of outside activities. I was frequently invited to join
the party, and for many months it was all new and exciting and I thoroughly
We had not only to arrange and implement HE’s varied programme, but
also support Lady T in her busy life. Without Arabic and with little knowledge
of local customs, it cannot have been easy to do her job; she persisted and made
it her business to get out and about, spending time at the hospitals and with the
Red Cross and other charities as well as the principal women’s organisations in
She had to fly to London in late June 1965 to complete the purchase of their
Henley home and tried to spend a part of each summer in England, but on her
return each autumn she resumed a full and varied life.
The Early Morning Walks
As before, in Dar es Salaam, HE relished his early morning walks to escape
briefly the problems of the day and get up a good sweat before breakfast. Jebel
Shamsan provided a suitable challenge on his doorstep and replaced the Pugu
Hills behind Dar es Salaam for his weekly exercise. It was very much the ADC’s
job to accompany HE on these scrambles, but I was invited to join them soon
after my arrival. While I disliked the early starts and violent exercise before
breakfast, I looked upon these walks as part of the job and enjoyed the cool air
high on the mountainside before the sun rose over the horizon.
Recent illness slowed me down, but I kept at it for several months. Later in
the year I disgraced myself by collapsing at the top of the mountain (a story that
appears in an early chapter), and it was some relief that HE never invited me to
join him after that.
While no precise pecking order existed among the GH staff, it fell to me to
make sure HE’s instructions were carried out and to keep an eye on every single thing in and around GH. I was constantly in and out of the offices of the ADC
and Housekeeper to have things done as the Turnbulls wanted.
All sorts of odd jobs came my way, too. For example, I found it was often my
lot to supervise the work of the young man who kept the Purdah Garden tidy,
and to order tools and plants for it from Mr Bhicajee’s shop in the Crescent.
HE spoke some Arabic on arrival in Aden doubtless gleaned when he had
been in Kenya’s Northern Frontier Province many years earlier. I had none
when I joined him. In Dar es Salaam he, as Governor, and I, as ADC, had both
spoken fluent Swahili and been aware of the value of conversation with local
leaders and officials in their own language, as only thus could one get to know
them personally and understand their thought processes. In Aden knowledge
of the language would have been a big advantage, but the opportunity to learn
it was denied us. The High Commissioner was able to rely on the help of the
Arabic speakers on the political staff as interpreters in his meetings with the
Adeni politicians and up-country rulers, but he must have found it frustrating,
as did I, to be unable to grasp the nuances of discussion on these occasions.
For myself, I bought the Teach Yourself Arabic book and mugged it up.
During HE’s first trip to London, I spent every free afternoon with a group of
young officers learning basic Arabic in a classroom on the military base. I was
instructed in the alphabet and the rudiments of the language, but to speak and
understand it needed a great deal of time which was not available to me. In
any event, I soon discovered that, however desirable, Arabic was not essential
for my work. The GH local staff knew enough English for me to get by, while
my day-to-day contacts at work were with my immediate colleagues, the High
Commission and resident officials and the political staff, the police, the armed
services and visitors from home.
I was at a disadvantage, however, with our frequent Arab callers at GH. Few
had any English, and my conversation with them was much inhibited as they
spent time with me on their way in and out of HE’s office.