British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Bill Wickham
The Royal Visit - Aden 1954
HM Queen Arrives in Aden
For some time before 27 April 1954, no one thought of anything else. It is no exaggeration to say that the Secretariat became paralysed. For a week before the 27th, the circulation of files on all subjects other than the visit actually ceased. The Police thought of nothing else and could be persuaded to take no interest at all in any of their cases. Many were dismissed. There were several dress rehearsals. Sometimes the entire police force was on a rehearsal. The Courts were not informed that police would not attend court because it was assumed that everyone knew that preparations for the visit took precedence overall else.

Whenever there was a rehearsal, all roads were closed and you just could not get about. The Public Works Department was putting up flags for a whole month before the 27th. All 'minor works' in the Colony ceased.

The CID decided that they wanted to arrest 24 people and lock them up on the 27th. They were believed to hold subversive views. The police met the Attorney General and it was agreed that this should be done. Unfortunately the plans went astray. The idea was to arrest them on the morning of the 27th and keep them inside until HM's return to the Royal Yacht HMS Gothic in the evening. The police would then say "Oh! I'm frightfully sorry - this is all a ghastly mistake - you can go now". The police, however, wanting to make doubly sure, arrested them on the 26th. Within two hours the Attorney General, the Chief Secretary and the Governor were besieged by various members of the Legislative Council demanding their release. Had the arrests taken place on the 27th, such people would have been far too busy attending on the Queen to deal with such matters. The Commissioner of Police was instructed to interview each man who had been arrested, and so with other things on his mind, he spent six hours doing so. At the end of this he had to release the whole lot except two. Some days later it was discovered that another man had been arrested in Little Aden and not interviewed by the Commissioner. He was held inside until the 28th. The police thought it was not necessary to bring him before a magistrate on a public holiday so did not release him on the evening of the 27th.

On the morning of the 27th, I woke up and felt mysteriously excited to see the Gothic sitting in the harbour flying the Royal Standard and dressed overall. Stands had been erected in front of the Crescent Gardens.

The Royal Visit - Aden 1954
Levies at Crescent Gardens
Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils sat on a special dais. I had a seat in the stands. There was no great honour in this. I sat in the back row next to my grocer. Magistrates are not encouraged to have high opinions of themselves - not even the Acting Chief Magistrate. The scene was rather splendid. Flags and gaily coloured clothes. It was cool in the stands. The parade marched on. The RAF did their best. The band of the Aden Protectorate Levies had turned out in green and white (no one seemed to know why) and looked fine. There was a motley collection of other troops - Levies, Armed Police, Somaliland Scouts, Government Guards and Ingrams' Hadrami Legion wearing white frocks and, for the first time in their lives, sandals. And then the Governor arrived. A moment later guns began to fire. A royal salute takes time in Aden; there are so many pauses due to misfires. Then the Queen arrived. It was a considerable moment after so many months of expectation. She was greeted with a little applause, but it was a formal occasion so there was no cheering. She looked perfectly delightful. She and the Duke of Edinburgh were taken round the parade in a landrover. They looked as if they were gong to fall off. Then the parade marched off in columns.

The Royal Visit - Aden 1954
Knighting Sayyid Abubakr Al Kaff
The Queen then listened to some boring speeches which were badly read. My friend McIntosh half carried the aged Sultan of Mukalla to the microphone and half carried him back again. The Queen's reply was no less platitudinous and dull, but it was audible and her voice is beautiful. HM then knighted Sir Seyid Abubakr A1 Kaff, who helped Ingrams bring peace to the Hadramaut. His family owns property in Singapore. Being a Seyid, he was not very keen about kneeling before HM but McIntosh told him that all sorts had knelt to Queen Victoria and there was no way out of it - he knelt.

And then the Queen left for Government House. Later she went up to the RAF hospital. I got there before her and photographed her as she came up the hill. She spoke to all the patients at the hospital. Her questions were conventional, but Prince Philip's less so. He fell behind to admire the view and startled the matron by asking a patient "What's up with you?" On being told 'a cold' he roared with laughter and spoke so quickly to the sister who received him that she had not time to curtsey. This was not regarded as an excuse by the matron. I understand the cold was an administrative error. Somebody got a rocket.

Then a small lunch at Government House. I heard about this from HE's housekeeper - an ex-WRNS officer. "They were so easy, but then people of that sort always are. It is only the upstarts who are difficult."

The Royal Visit - Aden 1954
Guest List
After lunch, HM retired to the Gothic to rest. In the afternoon she was received with tremendous enthusiasm in Crater. People ran beside her car, cheering, and the Commissioner had some anxious moments. Nevertheless the Queen slowed down so that the people could see her and she arrived at the garden party twenty minutes late. Prince Philip had arrived on time from Little Aden, flying his personal standard and he was getting a little bit bored. "Where on earth have you been?" he said as the Queen arrived. She spoke to the Protectorate chiefs. Carpets had been provided for the gentlemen to sit on. They never sit on anything else, but nevertheless they did not like sitting on carpets while The gentry' sat on chairs at tables. But this was minor crumple in the rose leaf. The Queen then advanced to her seat. All the guests were standing now and we lined her approach. This was the closest yet. She was looking particularly beautiful, obviously very happy after the great reception she had had in Crater, not only from the schoolchildren she had gone to see but also from the crowds along the route. As in the morning, she looked completely in control - assured. In the background there was always someone in a slight flap - she, however, was not only composed but obviously in command. She was followed by the usual retinue. Prince Philip by her side, the two women who had attended her throughout the tour, and two enormous broad-shouldered toughs. One of them told the housekeeper that they had had a wonderful time in New Zealand where the people were very considerate. In Australia they hadn't had a moment's peace. The people were merciless.

The Royal Visit - Aden 1954
The Review
What was left of the party was short. I gazed in admiration. She is beautiful beyond description. It is not all put on in the morning either. You can't put eyes or a genuine smile or alter the shape of your face. Then she went.

I only Just got back to the harbour in time for the fireworks. The police wouldn't free the road until six miles were clear behind the Queen. On board the Gothic she was giving out her Royal Victorian Order awards for people who had performed services in Aden. The Queen's mail was put in the Secretariat overnight. The next morning it had been consumed by rats.

HM left by air in the small hours. The visit was a great success. She gave my friend McIntosh an OBE with the words "I am so glad to be able to give you this". At the garden party she gave him a special smile. At the lunch she spoke about normal things and asked people if they had seen the latest photographs of her children. I don't know why one is surprised to hear that 'royalty' talk about ordinary things like their children. One would be more surprised if they talked about governing all the time.

Aden Map
1948 Map of Aden
Colony Profile
Aden Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 97: April 2009


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