Aden: The Curtain Falls: The Memoirs of Dick Eberlie: Part 4, 1965 to 1967

I dedicate this book to four good friends who were murdered by terrorists in Aden in the final months before the British withdrawal in 1967.

Captain Jeff Jefferson
Mr Derek Rose
Mrs Judy Stuart
Mrs Ruth Wilkes

The Crescent Shopping Centre, with Steamer Point beyond and SS Canberra in
The Crescent Shopping Centre
This is the fourth part of my Memoirs and relates to my two years in Aden between May 1965 and June 1967. This was the time when the British Government’s efforts to create a peaceful independent democracy in South Arabia collapsed, and, as Private Secretary to the High Commissioner, I watched from a seat in the stalls the tragedy as it unfolded. The final act that occurred soon after my departure was our ignominious evacuation in the midst of a civil war. The curtain fell on chaos: it was a wretched, unhappy affair when many British lives were lost, including those of some of my friends.

Having previously worked in East Africa, I spoke no Arabic and knew little about South Arabia before my arrival, but my job enabled me to hear the views of many experienced officials working there at that time. So, although my story must contain many gaps and errors, I hope I understood enough to be able to offer here a reasonably accurate account of this disaster to British policy.

The first three chapters of this Memoir describe the situation in Aden State and the surrounding Protectorates when I first went there. The next three chapters record the political developments of those two years of which I was to a greater or lesser extent a witness.

These years not only provided me with a fascinating job, but were the period in which I met and married Joan, and we enjoyed some months of married life together before we had to come home unexpectedly early. Those happy times, our leisure and social life in Aden, and holidays in Kenya are reported in the following two chapters.

Crater looking up the Main Pass
In the final chapter I bring the sad story to a close. Only at this stage do I allow myself to look back with the benefit of hindsight to offer a few comments about the events of which I had been an observer.

My memory of those days has faded badly, and in writing this account I have relied almost entirely on diaries, letters and reports written on the spot. I have been fortunate in being able to check a few key facts by reference to books already published about this period. Their titles appear in the short bibliography at the end of this memoir and I gladly acknowledge my debt to their authors whose works I have much enjoyed reading again.

Aden had its own jargon, and inevitably my writing is peppered with the abbreviations, acronyms and so on that we used all the time there. The reader is referred to the glossary along the side for their explanation.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the help and encouragement I have received in writing these Memoirs from my dear Joan who has once more patiently read every word, from Sue Key who has continued to be a great help in correcting my grammar and making sense of the writing, and from my godson, Michael March who has given me much good advice on the presentation. I am also grateful once again to Ben for the first class artwork and, most of all, to Matthew for overseeing the whole project with cheerful forbearance and great efficiency. The errors and solecisms that remain despite all this help are of course my responsibility.

Dick Eberlie
Tavistock, May 2016

Chapter 1: Steamer Point
‘Cold voices whisper and say
“He is crazed with the spell of far Arabia,
They have stolen his wits away.”’

From the poem, Arabia by Walter de la Mare.

The High Commissioner

Was Sir Richard Turnbull the man to bring Aden and South Arabia to peaceful independence? Not long after his appointment as High Commissioner for Aden and South Arabia in January 1965, he wrote to me from his Henley home:

Thank you for the Aden congratulations. The job does, I confess, look a shade rough from this end, but things are never quite so daunting when one gets close to them.

Friends in Dar es Salaam, where I was then working, commented that this was one of his customary gross understatements. The term ‘poisoned chalice’ was much on their lips, but we all hoped that he would succeed in this fresh challenge as he had done so successfully in Tanganyika.

I had been his ADC there two years previously, but it was a surprise to be invited to join him in the new enterprise. He appointed me his Private Secretary, and on Monday, 10th May, I enjoyed a happy send-off from all the family at Heathrow and flew out to Aden overnight, nervous about what awaited me on arrival.

My plane touched down at six forty-five in the morning at the big air base at Khormaksar. Even at that early hour, long before the sun had risen, Aden was very warm. I stumbled on to the tarmac to be met at the foot of the plane’s steps by a smart young man in his mid-twenties in slacks and shirt-sleeves. He cheerfully introduced himself as Jeremy Rawlins, the ADC, and after brief formalities he ushered me into an official car. We sped through lines of high-rise flats in Ma’alla and on, through rows of shops and offices round the Crescent and down the peninsula of Steamer Point where we climbed the hill to Government House (GH). I was shown into a large, airy, luxurious bedroom in the guest wing, given breakfast on my balcony, and left to unpack.

Everything in Aden was new to me and everyone was a new face, save only Sir Richard and Lady Turnbull. They greeted me kindly that first morning when I joined them for lunch in a small dining room in their private first-floor flat in the far corner of GH. Sir Richard (whom we always knew simply as HE) was as tall, lean and gaunt as I remembered him, and his towering personality and sharp intelligence were as evident as ever. He still managed to combine a love of conversation with an innate shyness and an austere, reserved manner. He remained an entertaining talker, eager to display the breadth and brilliance of his knowledge, with more than a touch of intellectual arrogance. He had of course retained his rugged sense of humour and his caustic outlook, still relishing a few choice swear words and taking pleasure in shocking his audience with exaggerated language. In Aden he seemed at times to cultivate a veneer of cynicism which may have given the impression of indifference, but I had discovered that below the surface he was always intensely interested in his work and had a deep sense of duty.

Beatrice Turnbull (Lady T), whom I had first met in the Dar es Salaam hospital, seemed fully recovered from her back troubles. A large lady of generous proportions, she shared something of Sir Richard’s reserve and dry humour but always treated us on the GH staff with easy civility and a kindly twinkle in her eye. She undoubtedly hated the searing Aden heat but was once more to earn my respect for the manner in which she tactfully eased the burden on her husband while quietly overseeing the management of GH and at the same time performing the duties of First Lady in the colony with authority and much good sense.

When I was shown round, I was delighted to find HE was fostering his reputation for eccentricity. The antique horn gramophone that had graced Dar es Salaam Government House had been left at their Henley home, but he was still passionate about Scottish dancing despite the stifling hot evenings, and even more enthusiastic about early morning hill climbing. Better still, the Turnbulls had brought out from home the fat Bengal Grey parrot called Kisuku whom I had met when visiting there. It had a huge, wire mesh cage on the GH balcony overlooking the Purdah Garden, and HE told his guests proudly that he was teaching the bird the Lord’s Prayer and the General Confession - Almighty and most merciful Father; we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost parrots - as well as a couple of obscenities to frighten the ladies.

The Crescent Shopping Centre, with Steamer Point beyond and SS Canberra in
The Turnbulls
I was utterly bewildered on arriving at the Aden GH and went about those first few days in a complete daze, but HE broke me in slowly, explaining things patiently, making things easy in the office, introducing me to masses of people — whose names I promptly forgot — and helping me understand the papers and files which became my charge as the High Commissioner’s Private Secretary.

Before my arrival I had known little about Aden and still less about my work. I had been ADC in the next-door office to Dick Clifford when he had done the job in the Dar es Salaam Government House, but he had never shared his work with me and I had seldom seen what he did. When appointing me, the Ministry of Overseas Development had sent me eleven pages of Conditions of Service and several more pages of a contract (basic salary £1,875 per annum), but told me nothing about the place or the work I was to do. The Colonial Office had merely advised me to learn Arabic. My only other briefing had been in HE’s letters. For example, in March on inviting me to serve him as Private Secretary, he had written:

The staff consists of an ADC (efficient), a personal secretary (good) and a second ADC (a wee boy straight from school). I have to write every single letter myself, and as most of my time is spent wooing the Ministers of the two thoroughly antagonistic governments that function in Aden, not much gets done.

The weather here is most agreeable, but there are signs of a change and they say that by May the heat will be on.

We suffer a couple of grenades a night and once or twice a month a small bazooka bombardment of one of the offices. Not many people get hurt and the Arabs remain apathetic.

As for Aden, my 1957 East Africa Guidebook had told me it was an important trade and bunkering station visited by over 5,000 vessels a year with an annual turnover of £100 million; BP had a big oil terminal there - the largest oilbunkering port in the world at that time - and commerce prospered in the duty-free port. I had visited the place a couple of times when my ship had anchored in the harbour for a few hours on the way to or from the Far East or East Africa, but nothing I had seen on those brief calls had attracted me to the place. As a tourist I had cordially loathed the crowded shops along the Crescent. I had thought Crater was a dirty, shabby town without attraction of any sort – such a disappointing contrast to the romantic and exotic Zanzibar. Indeed I was ready to share the opinion of Vita Sackville West when she wrote of Aden as an arid salty hell…. precisely the most repulsive corner of the world, and I readily recognised the view of James Morris that at first sight Aden strikes most newcomers as unmistakably the most repellent city they have ever set eyes on.

At Cambridge my course on The Expansion of Europe had covered the Nineteenth Century history of the place. I had read how, on behalf of the Bombay Presidency of the East India Company, Commander Stafford Haines had purchased the little fishing village of Aden from Sultan Marsan of Lahej for an annual stipend of 8,700 dollars. It had been a matter of mutual convenience: the Sultan had preferred the British to the Egyptians, and the East India Company had needed a coaling station on the route from the Cape of Good Hope. I knew that Haines had then to fight the Sultan’s son for possession of the peninsula, and had gone on to sign treaties of protection with the tribal rulers who occupied the untamed interior beyond Lahej. The opening of the Suez Canal had greatly enhanced Aden’s importance as a coaling station on the way to the East, but Haines’ successors had always had problems in protecting the harbour and keeping peace with the tribes.

The only books I had read about the area had been Melchior and The Uneven Road by Lord Belhaven, a fine writer and a gallant adventurer. Between the wars he had attempted to bring peace and security to the remote, scattered tribes in the mountains that had known only tyranny, banditry and blood feuds. He wrote of the wildness of the country, the belligerence of the tribes and the poverty of the people, but not a great deal about the urbanised inhabitants of the port itself.

More recently I had read in the papers how our troops had fought the tough Radfan Campaign against a barbaric enemy in order to keep open the road to the mountainous hinterland; and I was acutely aware that Sir Kennedy Trevaskis, the previous High Commissioner, had only just escaped with his life when a grenade had been thrown at him at the airport in October 1963. A senior official had been killed in the tragic incident that had marked the start of a terrorist campaign against troops and civilians alike.

A description of the job of Private Secretary that I found myself doing in Aden appears in Appendix 1 A brief explanation of the geography of Government House, as I knew it, appears in the following paragraph, but may be skipped by readers who find that sort of thing boring.

Government House

The entrance to the purdah garden in GH
GH Purdah Garden
Built in the early 1950s, GH sat on the hilltop above Steamer Point and commanded the entrance to the harbour. The imposing, white-painted mansion had been constructed on the rocky promontory in a shallow V pointing out to sea. Every window of the two long wings commanded wide views over the shimmering Indian Ocean and across the bay to the jagged volcanic skyline of the Little Aden Peninsula. On the landward side, at the point of the V, tall wrought iron and glass doors led into an impressive, high entrance hall with a broad winding staircase. From the hall, wide doors opened on the right into a spacious reception room and beyond into a big dining room designed for entertainment on a grand scale. Above this wing was a set of luxurious bedrooms, including the recently-decorated Princess Alexandra Suite, all with delightful, airy balconies looking over the sea.

The pergola on the Aden GH terrace looking out to sea
GH Pergola
Doors on the left of the entrance hall led into a long verandah running along beside the High Commissioner’s office. This was a big room with a goodsized desk and a conference table, which could seat twelve or more, while the secretarial staff worked in adjacent offices behind the hall. Above them was the High Commissioner’s private flat with the open balcony that housed Kisuku, a convenient kitchen, and comfortable dining and sitting rooms opening on to another long balcony overlooking the bay. Outside the offices was the Purdah Garden, a very private and well-watered garden of shrubbery and fountains. A couple of decorative peacocks strutted and squawked there, and the Turnbulls enjoyed it for a stroll from time to time away from the hustle and the heat.

The old cannon on the GH terrace
GH Terrace
On the seaward side of the house, a long line of French windows opened on to a broad terrace. Along its length the arches of a pergola were decorated with scarlet and yellow bougainvillaea and a rambling sky-blue morning glory. Below them steps led down to massed clumps of white oleander which fluttered in the sea breezes and hid the bare cliff-tops that faced the sea.
The imposing front doors of GH
GH Front Doors
The channel into Aden harbour was only a few hundred yards away, where liners and freighters sailed serenely past on their way in and out of the anchorage. On the landward side of GH, opposite the mighty front doors and across a wide courtyard, lay a line of offices and staff flats. On the extreme left, as one stood with one’s back to the front door, was the housekeeper’s flat and office, while the ADC’s quarters were on the right, next to the GH telephone exchange. Beyond were the office in which excellent staff looked after our finances and several rooms for our drivers.

To the right of the front doors, past the Purdah Garden, a short drive led to our main gates. Beside them, within our compound, was a set of temporary wooden offices occupied by two separate teams. One was the Security Secretariat, and the other was the slightly mysterious Foreign Office public relations unit.

GH Security

The main gates of Government House
GH Main Gates
The whole garden and grounds were enclosed by a high wire fence topped with vicious barbed wire, with sentry boxes at the gates and look-out posts at strategic points, even down on the rocks covering the sea approaches to the house. For the High Commissioner’s safety, the army provided a platoon of footsoldiers to man our front gates and look-out posts day and night throughout the time I was there. The Army looked after the High Commissioner without complaint and with very few hiccups.

GH Perimeter Patrol
GH Perimeter Patrol
As time went by, however, and as the risk seemed to increase, I took it upon myself to try and improve the protection of all of us in GH. On my first flight up-country with HE, the London papers reported that our plane had been blown up. In fact it was too well guarded by the RAF for anyone to get near it, but a Dakota which carried mail had been parked unguarded all morning near by and was damaged by a hand grenade thrown over the barbed wire.

Reporting in to HQ from the GH perimeter
GH Perimeter
It was then I made up my mind to make a fuss. I spoke in turn to the Police Commissioner, senior army men and contacts in Whitehall and got them all to think more practically about the High Commissioner’s personal safety. With much help from my colleagues, the number of guards at Steamer Point was increased, security lights were checked, barbed wire round our compound improved, and precautions were reviewed and redoubled for HE’s trips outside the wire. Still not satisfied, I asked London to provide a personal bodyguard, and agitated for an armour-plated car because of the terrorists’ habit of mining the roads and shooting at passing traffic. Happily everyone at home agreed the need for a bodyguard and Scotland Yard was duly approached, while a Colonial Office official scoured England for a suitable bulletproof vehicle for us. None could be found at that time, but fortunately the search became redundant when the RAF agreed to make a helicopter available for HE’s use for local journeys, which was both a quicker and safer mode of travel.

The Aide de Camp

Let me here introduce the men and women working at GH on my arrival, my colleagues who soon became my friends.

Captain Jeremy Rawlins
Captain Jeremy Rawlins
A few years out of Sandhurst, commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment, Captain Jeremy Rawlins was the ADC. He was slim with an athlete’s build, always pleasant and cheerful, willing to try his hand at anything, and efficient in a military way. A handsome saluki dog shared his office, and seemed happy enough even though it had lost a leg in some accident. Jeremy was seldom there, however. If not accompanying HE on an outside trip, he was out and about the house, grounds and garages; and he enjoyed a hectic social life although I have no idea how he fitted it in with his GH duties. His office was a mess, as mine had been in Dar es Salaam, full of lists, scribbled phone numbers, diaries, dates and memos, with drivers and other staff constantly in and out.

At first I relied heavily on Jeremy for help with everything I did, and he looked after me in my early days while also looking after HE. He never grumbled that I took some of the more interesting parts of the job away from him, or that I became his boss for certain purposes. Perhaps our relations were occasionally a little tense, but for the most part we got on very well together and formed a strong team in support of the Turnbulls.

One reason for Jeremy’s pleasure at my coming was of course that it enabled him to take a break and some leave in the UK. That June, he flew back in an RAF plane for two weeks’ leave and to collect the Turnbull’s heavy baggage. I found myself working closely with HE then, doing the ADC’s work as well as my own at a time when there was still much to learn.

The Housekeeper

Eliane Stefanides was a Greek lady of middle age and much charm with a sweet and gentle nature. She had been born and brought up in the cosmopolitan community of Alexandria, and married Takis, a ginning engineer of the Abyan Cotton Scheme - a big development project some way up the coast eastwards from Aden. When he had died suddenly and sadly and left her at a loose end, Lady Trevaskis, wife of the previous High Commissioner, had engaged Eliane to run GH. Her fluent Arabic enabled her to organise the house and kitchens with ability and much practical sense. She was expert with the needle, and the sitting room upstairs above her office was a pretty and peaceful haven. I used to seek refuge there from the bustle of my office for a few minutes’ quiet conversation or a cool refreshing drink, and I like to think we became good friends.

Despite all the efforts of Eliane and Lady Turnbull, however, the local staff of the Aden GH were never as good as those whom I had known in Dar es Salaam. The standard of their service in Aden was lower, and we were all obliged to watch their work carefully and constantly check their performance.

The Personal Secretaries

In the early days I was given a desk in the same office as HE’s two first-class secretaries and the filing clerk – a key role when HE frequently and urgently wanted last week’s telegrams or last month’s reports. I benefited hugely from the opportunity to see and learn the way in which this experienced team worked, how letters and papers were prepared from HE’s drafts, how the mail came in and went out, and how the records were kept.

Kathleen Poole was the elder of the PAs and a neat, put-together person of some seniority in her profession. She had a formidable reputation for efficiency - her previous service in 10 Downing Street during the war was whispered with awe – she knew it all, but, though quiet and reserved by nature, she was always friendly and easy with me, even when we were under extreme pressure.

Soon after I arrived, Kathleen disappeared for a few weeks on home leave, and I found myself working with Barbara Garrett who was a different sort of person, but just as helpful and good to me. Barbara was almost as experienced as Kathleen, and quite as competent and effective in her secretarial duties, but a little younger, friendlier and warmer, and a great talker when time allowed.

The Switchboard Operators

Another important team at GH comprised the ladies in our telephone exchange that was situated next door to the ADC’s office, across the courtyard. Half a dozen married women took it in turns to run the switchboard on which we relied for all our contacts with the rest of Aden and beyond. The team was often obliged to work hard and for long hours when other folk were enjoying the beach or an evening meal. Ruth Wilkes, Judy Stuart and Betty Ellis were the three ladies I knew best, but they were all invariably cheerful and game for a friendly cup of tea and a chat when they had a spare moment.

Chapter 2: The Crown Colony
‘Be’old a cloud upon the beam,
An’ umped above the sea appears
Old Aden, like a barrick-stove
That no one’s lit for years an’ years.’

From For to Admire: by Rudyard Kipling.

Aden State comprised the peninsula towns of Aden and Crater, the suburban district to the north called Sheikh Othman, and Little Aden across the bay where the BP Oil Refinery lay. This area was a Crown Colony but had achieved self-determination in earlier years and had its own elected government with full powers to regulate its internal affairs. It could therefore claim to be a ‘State’ in it’s own right, although the High Commissioner was the Queen’s representative and had the last word on matters of security and external affairs.

An army patrol at Ras Boradli
Ras Boradli Patrol
Here, on the side of the angels, as it were, working under and in support of HE to bring peaceful independence to the little colony were five elements: the High Commission, the Foreign Office, the Police, the armed services, and business. On the other side, creating the problems that required resolution were the people of Aden and their leaders, the indigenous authorities in Aden State, the Aden Trade Union Congress (ATUC), the political parties, and the terrorists, notably the National Liberation Front (NLF). Let me look at each in turn.

The High Commission

In Aden, GH’s most important links were with the High Commission. During my first week in the office, I went down to their offices on a day when HE happened to be away, and spent the morning meeting his closest advisers and staff there. They worked in the old Secretariat buildings that had been built many years earlier in the colonial style, with deep verandahs and cool internal courtyards, situated on the sea front in Tawahi between Steamer Point and the shopping district.

I paid my respects to Tom Oates, the Deputy High Commissioner - a huge, shy man with a face like an owl, often to be found poring over papers at his desk. Everybody liked Tom and he was held to be an excellent, totally dependable deputy who ensured things ran smoothly and the necessary paperwork was dealt with expeditiously and correctly. He was, however, by nature a quiet man who preferred an evening at home with his opera records to a GH dinner party - and who’s to blame him?

At Tom’s request, I agreed to take my turn among High Commission members as the ‘Duty Officer’. This meant being on the end of the phone for one twenty-four hour period every fortnight or so, to relay urgent messages and reports from the police or military to officials concerned, including HE and Tom himself.

Next door to Tom’s office, I was delighted to find a face I recognised from Tanganyika. Tony Lee had been DC, Morogoro only a couple of years earlier where I had also been stationed for a while. He was a giant of a man, with a cheerful, laid-back outlook and a wry grin. I had always admired his lovely wife, Thelma, always laughing, and a generous and cheery hostess, and was delighted to be invited meet her again a few days later at their big, comfortable flat in Ma’alla, sometimes laughingly called the ‘Garden City’, where they lived with their grown-up daughter, Jane, who was going out with a police inspector.

Tony was responsible at the High Commission for security matters among other things, and I was to see a great deal of him later in his official capacity as well as socially. Meanwhile he showed me round the High Commission’s half dozen offices and introduced me to his immediate colleagues. Hugh Hickling was their erudite and affable Legal Adviser. Austen Jackson did their finances, married to Cecilia living in a big flat opposite mine with two grown-up children who came out to stay during the university vacations. Leslie Wink was another member of the High Commission senior team who was a warm-hearted and affable fellow to whom I took immediately. He enjoyed masses of outside interests, and was married to the equally warm and capable Pam.

After much friendly chat, I was passed on to a man called Sandy Stuart, styled the Security Liaison Officer (SLO), in a suite of offices tucked away behind locked doors with files and safes full of secrets. Sandy was another easy, friendly fellow, married to Judy whom I already knew at the GH telephone exchange. I decided it would be easy to get on with the High Commission officers who were all likeable and competent operators.

I was later to meet three other senior men with their own areas of responsibility, whose views and advice HE had always to take into account in his calculations. Most significant in his independent role was the Chief Justice, Sir Richard Le Gallais. He lived in style on the Tarshyne hill next to Tom Oates, and fought strenuously to keep the Judiciary independent of the Executive and the courts free of political interference. Another key man was Alan Macdonald, the Head of the Public Services Commission, and the third was Nigel Pusinelli, the Director of Establishments, responsible for European staff matters. Nigel and his deputy dealt with all the personal problems of the High Commission staff, handled negotiations with the Aden Civil Servants Trade Association, and played a major role in preserving staff morale despite the often depressing and dangerous life led by many of my colleagues.

The Foreign Office

I rapidly discovered that although the High Commissioner reported to the Colonial Secretary in London, the Foreign Office was strongly represented in Aden. Their key man was Donal Macarthy, to whom I had been commended by Robert Fowler his opposite number in Dar es Salaam. Don was sometimes simply described as ‘Political Adviser to the C-in-C’, and, at other times, shown as a member of the High Commission staff, and throughout wielded considerable authority as the Foreign Secretary’s man in South Arabia with a network of diplomatic links across the Arab-speaking world. Don’s delightful wife, Rosanna, entertained frequently; and they made a friendly and hospitable couple.

Later on, another senior diplomat, John Wilton, joined the team. He was of ambassador status, was made a Deputy High Commissioner and became a valued adviser of HE. John had been Director of the influential Arabiclanguage school in Beirut known as MECAS, and had even wider experience of the Middle East, with contacts far beyond our frontiers.

John Da Silva was another old hand and highly experienced diplomat who seemed to know everyone and operated at the heart of a spider’s web that reached into every nook and cranny of South Arabia - and indeed of the Yemen, on which he was particularly knowledgeable. He spent a great deal of time briefing HE and the military chiefs together, and often slipped in to our offices quietly in the evenings. A member of his office whom I got to know well was Tony Ingledow, who was a tall nervy chap with great guts living a dangerous life in the shadows.

Another FO operation was run from one of the wooden huts within our compound. In charge was Tony Ashworth who, with masses of varied experience, headed their Research Centre in an ill-defined role for under-cover contacts and public relations; he, too, spent a good deal of time with HE. We saw a lot of Tony and his wife, Margaret who were another delightful and hospitable pair.

Tony was supported by two young men of my age: David Ledger was easygoing, out-going and very perceptive, and Derek Rose was tall, slim, mildly ascetic and scholarly. Both were thoroughly nice men who worked hard, beavered away in their huts, liaised closely with the broadcasting service and Arabic press, and knew a great deal about the place and the local people among whom they had many contacts. Though I never fully understood what they were doing with their time, I always enjoyed a social chat and a drink with them after hours.

The Aden Police Force

At much the same time as I came on the scene, an experienced colonial policeman named Peter Owen arrived to take up the post of Commissioner of Police. The Deputy Commissioner was Hamid Khan, and together they led a small team of well-trained Colonial Police, with barracks, police stations and posts in the populated areas of Crater and Aden town itself. An excellent man named Hilary Colville-Stewart had charge of the police force in the town, and his men on the beat seemed to do their job of traffic control and the like with reasonable efficiency. The Special Branch was run by a man called Bob Waggitt, with Harry Barrie as his Deputy, who had together created a good but highly vulnerable intelligence network. With strong leadership the police seemed to do their normal job well, but they were all targets for the terrorists to intimidate, threaten and cow, and the police force was becoming by the time of my arrival increasingly unreliable in controlling violence on the streets.

At times, every other person I met seemed to be ‘in intelligence’, and to have their own ‘source’ of information about the ‘opposition’. Yet, sadly, all too often these sources dried up, and nothing that the numerous intelligence agencies could do seemed able to prevent the steady escalation of violence, terrorism and murder on the streets of Aden.

The Armed Services

Aden was the home of Middle East Command (MEC), and the CinC at HQMEC with oversight of the three arms was Lieutenant General Sir Charles Harington. His key man, the Chief of Staff, was a tall gangling Brigadier named ‘Roly’ Gibbs who had won both an MC and a DSO.

The army was in the charge of the GOC, Major General John Willoughby. He too had much experience of fighting, and was much decorated. He had fought in the retreat to Dunkirk, had served with the Middlesex Regiment in the some of the toughest battles in Korea, and was widely respected for his leadership in the difficult counter-insurgency fighting in Aden. He was well supported by Brigadier Charles Dunbar as his Chief of Staff.

The RAF was led by the AOC, Air Vice Marshal ‘Johnny’ Johnson, a wellknown Battle of Britain ace, who was succeeded not longer after my arrival by Air Vice Marshal Humphreys, with Air Commodore Sowrey as the Senior Air Staff Officer. The Royal Navy in Aden was headed by an Admiral known as Flag Officer Middle East (FOME). All these gentlemen and their immediate supporters and advisors were constantly in and out of HE’s office, and I was privileged to get to know them well as the months passed.

The RAF was responsible for the administration of all the armed services’ facilities throughout Aden. They ran the big military and civilian airport at Khormaksar in the neck of our peninsula, with its Hawker Hunters and Wessex helicopters, and the adjacent base, which included a medical centre, cinema, NAAFI, offices and shops as well as single and married service quarters.

The RAF also ran the whole MEC headquarters that lay in the foothills of Jebel Shamsan, lying across the valley from us in GH and sprawling over the lower slopes of the mountain. The most prominent building there was the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which lay at the heart of a complex of offices and other amenities. Behind and above them on a high spur known as Flagstaff Hill lived the CinC and his family in a comfortable, old-fashioned, colonial bungalow. Higher up still were the homes of the GOC and the AOC in similar style, and below near the beach was a rather odd circular house occupied by the FOME. I rather think the Navy had built it for him out of an old gun emplacement.

Another of the RAF’s charges was the big compound we called Steamer Point. It embraced a collection of military offices and quarters running from the main road along the valley up the hill to Government House. Steamer Point had its own parade ground on the level (known as the Maidan) and enclosed the Officers’ Club down by the beach. The Club provided not only a pleasant bar and refreshments for those swimming off their sands, but also showed new films in the open air after dark - an escape that the Turnbulls frequently enjoyed. The whole area was surrounded by barbed wire, and army sentinels stood at the bottom gates. Group Captain Ness was in charge of the base and I had a certain amount to do with him as his men effectively controlled access to Government House.

Many of HE’s contacts with the military were channelled through the Security Secretariat that was housed in a wooden shack within the GH gates. While its official function was to administer the top-level Security Policy Committee chaired by HE, the Secretariat had an important broader purpose. This was to bring together all the scattered departments and senior people in the armed services in Aden and provide them with a direct link to the High Commissioner. Thus my job brought me into frequent contact with the army officer who ran this little Secretariat. On my arrival he was Julian Paget, a colonel in the Coldstream Guards, succeeded later in the year by Jim Trousdell from an Irish regiment. Both men were immensely competent and good company who made our contacts a pleasure, and we became good friends as we worked together to provide effective communication between our masters.

Business Interests

The two biggest employers in Aden were BP and the Port Authority. BP ran the oil refinery and terminal at Little Aden across the bay and the Aden Port Authority managed the port and employed the strongly unionised dock labour force. In addition to these giant operators, British banks and trading companies were strongly represented in this important tax-free entrepot; and Aden Airways, a subsidiary of BOAC, was influential because it ran the sole local airline upon which commercial contact with the up-country and eastern states depended.

Indian and European merchants and traders were well established in Aden, having accumulated wealth over generations. One of the most respected was Besse and Co directed by Tony Besse, son of Sir Anton Besse, founder of an Oxford College, and pre-war friend of the great explorer, Freya Stark. Of him she wrote in the early 1930s; He is a Merchant in the style of the Arabian Nights or the Renaissance; all day long telegrams come to him from India, America, China, Yemen, Africa, Europe. His own ships go steaming about these coasts and his agents are everywhere… At the crossroads of East and West, North and South, Aden in its heyday must have been a flourishing and prosperous port and centre of international trade.

In the 1960s, all Aden’s commercial and business concerns were represented by the Confederation of Aden Employers, which vainly sought economic stability and peaceful relations with their labour force. The High Commission had an effective Labour Department under Max Sutton to support commerce and industry in the town and provide a link between HE and the Confederation’s members. Business leaders, notably from the Port and BP, were frequently in touch, seeking reassurance that the High Commission was doing all it could to provide a friendly business environment.

Aden State

Aden was a cosmopolitan and urban society with an educated elite and politically alert middle class. Below them was a large, restless impoverished population. The oldest inhabitants were fishermen and small-time traders, and many newer residents were immigrants from the Yemen working at the docks and the refinery.

Although still a Crown Colony for which HE was ultimately responsible, his predecessors had given Aden self-government and a great deal of autonomy. Six thousand of the better-off permanent residents elected members of a Legislative Assembly that chose its own Council of Ministers with powers to regulate all internal affairs. Sir Arthur Charles was the eminent Speaker of this Assembly, and the key figure was its Chief Minister selected from within the Assembly membership. The highly-respected Hassan Bayoomi had held the position for some time and died a couple of years before my arrival. His successor had been another moderate and constructive Adeni politician named Zein Baharoon, but he had resigned in a tiff three months before my arrival.

HE had accepted his resignation and in accordance with the constitution had appointed in his place as Chief Minister the person having the most support among the Council. One possibility had been Hussein Ali Bayoomi, brother of the former Chief Minister, but apparently the Council’s preference had been for Abdul Qawi Mackawee. He was frequently at GH in my early days, and I found him to be an affable and courteous man with a quiet manner when I used to welcome him to our offices. He was, however, totally, rigidly and fiercely opposed to the continuance of British rule. He would not condemn terrorism, and saw no purpose in any link between his urban electorate and the inland tribal peoples. He was thus permanently at loggerheads with HE and must have hated his frequent summons to GH as he dodged and evaded all HE’s vain efforts to find common ground and agree a way forward.

Mackawee behaved perfectly correctly with me, but he did not get on with the sentries at the gates to Steamer Point. I regret I heard that on one occasion he had been required at gun point by the Geordie soldiers guarding the compound to leave his official car in the road and have his brief-case checked with the admonition, Coom oop! Ali Baba!

The Aden Council of Ministers was fortunate to have a small, well-run and effective Secretariat. The Chief Secretary was a former Tanganyika District Commissioner named Robin Thorne, a modest and gentle man who had served in Masailand for some years before transferring to Aden. Robin handled the little state’s affairs with cool efficiency. I had never met him in East Africa, but grew to admire him immensely in Aden. He worked with a good finance team, was supported by a well-qualified legal adviser in Michael Maloney, and had competent Deputies in Jock Snell and Mr Luqman.

The Aden Trades Union Congress (ATUC)

Aden had an active and strong trade union movement, which organised the workers at the oil refinery, in the docks and among the public services of the town. Its leader was Al Asnag who had spent some time in England, and was believed by members of the Labour Government to be a conciliatory and moderate politician.

He was thus seen by the Cabinet at home as an essential element in the future constitutional settlement, capable of mobilising the town’s workforce in favour of a democratic settlement. The High Commission was obliged to keep in touch with him and bring him into constitutional discussions, therefore, even though his Union was an unrepresentative and undemocratic organisation, and he showed in Aden his true colours as an old-style revolutionary firebrand.

Political Parties

In the 1950s the South Arabian League (SAL) had been active as a nationalist political party with the support of some of the Sultans and the Saudi Arabians. It faded in the mid 1960s and presented no problems to the High Commission. With Al Asnag, however, it spawned a body called the Organisation for the Liberation of the Occupied South (OLOS) for a few further years.

Al Asnag and his union movement were also understood to be behind the foundation of the People’s Socialist Party (PSP) that was publicly committed to achieve the unity of all parts of the Yemen, the early expulsion of the British from South Arabia and self-determination on socialist lines. PSP candidates had fought the elections to the Aden National Assembly on a platform of confrontation with the colonial power, and party members seemed to have formed most of the Council of Ministers, including the Chief Minister.

It had been the PSP that had lobbied the UN Committee on Decolonisation and had secured a General Assembly Resolution in 1963 reflecting the party’s objectives of immediate independence for ‘South Yemen’. Among other things, the UN Committee had declared the Federal Government to be unrepresentative and said that the UK’s responsibilities as administering power could not be shifted or circumvented through action by an ‘unrepresentative regime’.

To HE’s irritation, Al Asnag and Mackawee constantly quoted this Resolution to him, publically as well as privately, in order to reinforce their demands for immediate independence and their refusal to negotiate with HMG or deal with the Federation.

During my time in Aden, while the propaganda of the parties undoubtedly fired the mob, as a political force they were out-manoeuvred and overshadowed by the more radical and belligerent NLF.

The National Liberation Front (NLF)

Formed as just one more nationalist political party only a year or two before my arrival, the NLF shared the same policy objectives as the PSP, but swiftly discarded any pretence of peaceful lobbying and turned itself into a military organisation. It operated secretly, was very difficult to penetrate, and kept its leadership hidden. Qahtan Al Shaabi was reported to lead it for a time but he disappeared and later ended up in Cairo.

The NLF was in fact believed to have closer links with the Yemen than Egypt, although the leaders of both countries did all they could to hasten the British departure from the Middle East. Nasser had played an evil and dangerous game in the Yemen through three years of civil war in order to replace the Imam Yahya with an unstable regime under President Sallal. Nasser had then stationed his troops on Yemen’s border with South Arabia, with the express purpose of financing and training Yemeni guerrilla fighters to stir up trouble in Aden.

Thus the NLF became committed to unremitting violence against the colonial power. Under its banner, terrorists planned and ran a campaign of violence, intimidation, mayhem and murder of their Arab political opponents, the white population of the city, its police and our soldiers seeking to keep the peace. The terrorists used increasingly sophisticated weapons including bazookas, anti-tank guns, mines, drain-pipe mortars and modern rifles, though mostly they preferred the hand grenade to scatter death in crowded places and the pistol for their assassinations.

Despite the assurances HE had given me in his letters, grenade attacks and shooting in the streets were commonplace by the time of my arrival. Murders were occurring with increasing frequency in the town. The schoolgirl daughter of a senior RAF officer had been killed by a hand-grenade thrown into the midst of a children’s party in Khormaksar. Not long afterwards, a senior policeman had been machine-gunned in the street. More significantly, the NLF had begun a deliberate policy of murdering members of the Special Branch and police informants in order to cut off the supply of information to the police about their doings. Then, around the time of my arrival they started to instigate wild-cat strikes and localised riots to disrupt normal life and business in the town. They were a dangerous menace that steadily expanded its evil influence and came to dominate – and distract - all the Government’s thinking and planning for the handover of power.

Chapter 3: The Protectorates
‘Until the day breathes
And the shadows flee,
I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh
And the hill of frankincense.’

From The Song of Solomon.

I grew to know and admire the Political Officers who worked up country often in difficult and dangerous circumstances and I became friends with many of those who served at their headquarters at Al Ittihad just outside Aden. The senior men were frequently called to GH for discussions and we often met socially among mutual friends in Aden.

To my great regret, however, I had little opportunity to travel outside Aden. A few short safaris were possible in my first months; thereafter, as problems compounded and work grew increasingly hectic, I was tied to my desk. On some of those early trips my grasp of what was going on must have been superficial. Generally, however, I think I saw and learned enough about the country to be able to understand the way of life and the people’s outlook on the world in the wild and rugged environment in which they lived.

The Western Aden Protectorate (WAP)

Twenty small states, ruled by sultans, emirs, sheikhs and sharifs, comprised the inland and mostly mountainous western half of South Arabia and the hinterland behind and beyond Aden port. I was never clear of the pecking order among these rulers, although the Sultans generally purported to be richer in land and people than the others self-styled rulers. Over the years they had all signed solemn treaties with Queen Victoria’s representatives. The British Government had renewed its undertakings in 1959, and reaffirmed its commitments to the South Arabian rulers in a 1964 White Paper. By these treaties, the rulers retained autonomy as regards the internal affairs of their small realms, while HMG undertook to provide friendship and protection from outside incursion and rewards for their cooperation.

Only in Lahej, on the plain close to Aden, was there any sort of administration through an advisory council, state secretariat and law courts. Elsewhere the tribal rulers did much as they liked, governing through extended family ties and widespread clans. They reigned as feudal autocrats enforcing a rough justice and measure of discipline with their private armies. They ruled tribes where every able-bodied man shouldered a gun of some sort, slung a cartridge belt across his chest and displayed a flashing, silver jambiya on his belt. My own experience of the peoples of the interior was slight but I had the impression little had changed since Harold Ingrams, the great pre-war administrator in South Arabia wrote in Arabia and the Isles that, Among these Arabs human life is cheap; the people have not yet developed the consciousness of being shocked by murder… Many of the tribes live in a state of savagery. …The surprise comes that in the Twentieth Century there remains a place where man in his code has progressed so little and is at least a thousand years in time behind ourselves.

Another writer with wide experience of the inland tribes (Ralph Hamilton in The Kingdom of Melchior) reported, The bearing of arms is essential to the traveller in Arabia. They give him status as a fighting man. They have ceremonial uses which further the contact of the stranger with the people of the country. The Arab is a land or flock owner. Those who in Arabia own neither land nor flocks are of low estate and serve those who do. The land or flock owner is an armed man who takes pride in his ownership and his use of arms. His oath by his dagger is as binding – and often more binding – than his oath by God. Only the Jews, the very poor and the very holy walk unarmed in uncivilized Arabia.

Under the agreements made in the Nineteenth Century, every ruler paid an annual official visit to the Queen’s representative in Aden to express appreciation of her protection and to receive gifts of money and rifles - and perhaps more powerful armaments. One by one they trooped up to GH once a year to be greeted by me and ushered formally before HE. For his part he thought the whole process anachronistic, and made no secret of his dislike of such blatant bribery encouraging venality among the tribal leaders, and he thought it foolish to make frequent gifts of arms, for they often made their way into Yemeni and terrorist hands. He found it, nevertheless, useful to have a personal contact with all the rulers, and be able to measure the extent of their grasp of the problems of the future.

The British presence

The WAP Office brought together a team of fluent Arabic-speakers recruited by the Crown Agents and employed by the Colonial Service to advise and support the rulers within the limits prescribed by the old treaties. Several had transferred from the elite political service of the Sudan after its independence soon after the war. To a man they were energetic and enthusiastic in their job, and fully committed to South Arabia. At the top of the tree was Ian Baillie, a quiet and reserved fellow with a wise judgement. He was called the ‘Agent’, and had the status of Deputy High Commissioner. Robin Young, next in line, was the Senior Adviser; a pipe-smoking and personable bachelor, and another big man with a cheerful, bluff manner and strong opinions. He had charge of the fifteen or so Political Officers, known as ‘Assistant Advisers’ (AA) several of my age, who were scattered in the mountains and valleys in close contact with the rulers. The AAs often had a tough job, but displayed flair, skill and courage in their efforts to keep the peace and improve the lives of the men and women of the interior.

The political staff were ably served both by a good secretarial team headed by the tall and cheerful Jean Randall, and by an Intelligence Department run by two fluent Arabic–speakers seconded from the British army. Major Desmond Cosgrove, a cheerful, lean-faced fellow of wide experience was in charge of this small office while Captain Jeff Jefferson had been lent by the Royal Artillery to do the administration of the office, an easy-going, well-organised, tubby young chap.

Robin Young and his team of AAs had no executive authority of the kind exercised by District Commissioners in East Africa. Their role was confined to providing advice, support and funds to the rulers. Their principal objective was to preserve law and order, both in keeping the tribesmen happy and peaceful and in countering Yemeni incursions in what was sometimes a military role, working with local troops as well as the British army and air force where necessary.

The second function of the WAP Office was to persuade the rulers to accept development funds to encourage improvements in roads, schools, hospitals, farming, and fishing on the coast; and this was a constructive and positive task which most of the AAs pursued with energy and commitment although with little government money. They were eager, too, in promoting the rulers’ interests; they saw their leadership as the only hope of progress in their wild and unstable world, and they argued fiercely against any policy of forcing democracy on them or tying them to the urban rabble in Aden. They had their own network and contacts at home, often through the previous High Commissioner and with the Conservative Opposition in London that had been far more understanding of the rulers’ demands than was the Labour government.

The Federation of South Arabia

In the earlier 1960s, the rulers had, one by one, been persuaded and seduced into working together in a loose structure called the Federation of South Arabia - we called them the ‘Federalis’ - and during the year before my arrival a secretariat with modern offices, meeting rooms and facilities had been built for them at Al Ittihad (which means ‘Unity’), a few miles outside Aden just off the road to Little Aden. The WAP Office under Ian Baillie and Robin Young had been located next door, and the planners seemed to envisage this as the beginning of a capital city for the Federation.

It had been given all the trappings of a modern autonomous state in embryo. Every ruler of any significance was made a member of the Federation’s Supreme Council and given a Ministry to run; and, because they had no trust in each other, they took it in turns to be Chairman of the Council. Three among these Federalis were the most effective and influential within the Federation and spent a good deal of time at GH in discussion with HE on behalf of all their colleagues. The Minister of Defence was His Highness, the wealthy Sultan Fadhl bin Ali of Lahej, the premier state in the WAP. The key Ministry of Internal Security was then in the hands of Sultan Saleh bin Husein, the Audhali ruler; and Minister for External Affairs was Sultan Mohammed Farid, a senior member of the Aulaqi clan, the youngest of the three, with the widest education and best command of English.

One of the other influential Ministries was that of National Guidance and Information, which controlled the South Arabian Broadcasting Service, and other publicity organs. Tony Ashworth and his team sought keep in touch with the senior figures there, notably when Abdul Rahman Girgirah became the Minister.

The Ministers were supported by Permanent Secretaries who formed a cadre of experienced Arabic-speaking colonial officers that enabled the Federation to give at least the appearance of managing its own affairs. The Supreme Council was served by ‘Bill’ Gunn who with his wife Peggy were one of the most hospitable couples in Aden until they left on retirement. The Finance Ministry was in the charge of David Treffry; and the important Defence Ministry was managed by seconded British army officers, Colonel Chaplin and later Major Peter Boileau. The Federation’s highly-qualified Legal Adviser was Dick Holmes, a QC and a Muslim; while the key Ministry of Internal Security was in the charge of Ralph Daly, another experienced ex-Sudan hand, a lean and immensely knowledgeable man with all the threads and paperwork at his fingertips.

Additionally, the Federation was equipped with all the usual development ministries with keen officers at their heads making bricks with very little straw. I was told of a handful of big agricultural projects that had made progress, notably in Lahej and at the Abyan Cotton Scheme, and every AA had his own pet scheme slowly moving forward – a school here, a clinic there, a new road somewhere else - but money was tight and the local people often seemed indifferent to new ideas.

The Federation had its own army under the guidance of its Defence Ministry in the Federal Regular Army (FRA) under Brigadier Viner. There was also a mobile police force, the Federal Guard (FG); and every ruler seemed to have his own well-armed private army as well.

Two years before my arrival, Aden State, under the leadership of Hassan Bayoomi, had been induced to join the Federation and nominate members to its Supreme Council alongside the rulers of the WAP states. For the democratic representatives of Aden State to sit round a table with the sultans, emirs and sheikhs had always been an uneasy arrangement. I believe it never worked properly despite the best efforts of officials at every level.


One hot and dusty morning in May, an RAF helicopter carried HE and me north from Aden over the sands. We flew low over Lahej, the capital of the pocket state which looked like a busy town surrounded by cultivation that showed up as a grey-green smear in the midst of the vast yellow desert. Soon afterwards, our helicopter landed near the northern limits of the state on a plain where the mountains rose from the desert and where the Royal Engineers were building a road and laying down tarmac for a route through a long wadi into the jebel on the way to Dhala. We were on the edge of the area where the Radfan Campaign had been fought the previous year, and the British army was commendably trying to open up the country and improve communications for the benefit of the inhabitants.

HE with the Commander, Royal Engineers discussing the sappers’
work on the Dhala road.
Dhala Road
The heat was over-powering when we were put down in a region of rock, shale and shingle, with a few little scrubby bushes struggling to survive in the dry earth, and an endless expanse of sand. The Sapper Commander (Commander Royal Engineers, CRE) was an enthusiastic fellow and showed us with pride his detailed plans, his heavy earth-moving bulldozers, tarmac-laying machinery, and his soldiers who were labouring to lay the new track. Their efforts were impressive and the plan was admirable, but I did not envy the tough young sappers who were working in full sun manipulating the big machines to take the road into the hills. There was neither shade nor breeze; the men wore boots, shorts and floppy hats, and their bare backs were brick-red as they struggled to do their job. The glare was debilitating and stifling. It must have been like working in a steamship’s boiler room.

HE with the Commander, Royal Engineers discussing the sappers’
work on the Dhala road.
Dhala Road
For myself, after a very few minutes I was only too pleased to be taken into a tent for army rations and refreshments – a good long cool beer straight from their portable fridge. That first trip was an eye-opener both of the roughness of the terrain and of the commendable efforts of the British army to master it for the use of the local people.

A typical small emirate

A week later, over my birthday, I accompanied HE up country on a two-day state visit to an emir and his tribe on the frontier with the Yemen – regrettably I have no record which state it was; and the reason for the visit entirely escapes me.

We set off early one morning in a Twin Pioneer, flew low over a jumble of mountain ranges, and landed in rugged desert country. Greeted formally by the emir’s officials, we were bundled into the back of an ancient open Land- Rover and driven five hundred yards from the air-strip into the entrance of a long dried up wadi bed between high hills. Two lines of tribesmen astride their camels and in colourful costume waited for us there. They wore flat turbans on their heads, brightly coloured cloths on their backs, and kilts wrapped around their waist and hanging below their knees. Many were painted and striped in a deep blue paste of the local indigo that we called ‘woad’, and all had rifles of various sorts in their hands, bandoliers over their shoulders and curved jambiya in their belts.

The High Commissioner stood up precariously in the back of the Land Rover, hanging on to the rail over the driver’s head for dear life while I sat beside the driver, and we were driven slowly over the bumpy rock-strewn road between the two long lines of men on camel-back and on rocks beside the path. They shouted their heads off, cheered wildly, and fired their guns. The noise was tremendous; one could only hope all the rifles were pointed up in the air and not at our heads. It was an exhilarating, if slightly nerve-wracking, journey.

At the end of the line deafened but relieved, we were received by the emir in front of an old fort with much ceremony. We then set off with him at a fast pace on a short tour in a convoy of Land Rovers - no other vehicle would cope with their rough tracks – bouncing about up and over high mounds and down deep hillsides with steep cliffs and rocky crags on either side, careering around boulders as big as houses and hurtling across wastes of dry sand. The emir took us to greet the elders and people of two Arab villages of tall mud-walled houses with narrow windows. We got out, exchanged greetings and stretched our legs at each place. We saw the miserable conditions in which the women and children lived, we admired the toughness and agility of the simple tribesmen, and we were shown something of their subsistence farming methods. Despite their poverty and the poor quality of the land, the people were immensely hospitable and friendly and made us welcome wherever we went.

That evening, we were entertained to a feast by the emir with his elders and advisers and a motley escort. As the sun went down we found ourselves squatting cross-legged on the floor of a big, bare room on colourful well-worn woven carpets. A mighty spread of flavoured rice, mutton, vegetables and sugared cakes was laid before us. We plunged our right hands into the swimming fat and meat in the steaming bowls and helped ourselves until we could eat no more. Conversation through interpreters was stilted, and everybody was too busy eating for small talk. When the meal came to an end, a few effusive speeches followed in English and Arabic, and we were shown to simple accommodation in another battered, old fort to pass the night as guests of the local army.

This was my introduction to the interior, and later I was given to understand it was one of the poorest and least developed areas in the inland mountains. I longed to stay and see much much more, but it was not to be.


An unexpected visit to Aden by Duncan Sandys and Lady Diana Sandys enabled me to see something of the little border state of Beihan. While Jeremy Rawlins was on leave in June that first year I was doing his job as well as my own, and it fell to me to welcome the Sandys off the London plane very early on the morning of The Queen’s Official Birthday. I brought them back from the airport to GH in style, and was much impressed with them. Duncan Sandys struck me as a fine man, with strength of character combined with all the usual Old Etonian smoothness and self-assurance, making nothing of his heavy limp. He was effortlessly patrician, and can only be described as a typical Tory grandee of the old school. I was swept off my feet too by his wife, Winston Churchill’s daughter, who was charming to us all as well as being strikingly beautiful. As Colonial Secretary in the Conservative Government that had recently lost power, Sandys had directed the party’s policy in developing the Federation of South Arabia, and came to visit us, we suspected, to stir up trouble for his successors in office. He could readily do so by reaffirming his party’s support for the Federalis.

The Sandys were special guests at HE’s reception to celebrate The Queen’s Birthday on the morning of their arrival, and at a big dinner party that evening to which everyone who was anyone in Aden was invited.

The following morning the GOC provided the visitors with a plane to fly with the Turnbulls and a large party, to meet Duncan’s ‘old friend’, Sharif Husain of Beihan. One of the most notorious of the rulers, the Sharif was an elderly and dignified man, with a long, grey beard and the reputation of an untrustworthy but a generous and likeable old rogue. The Beihan emirate marched along the frontier with the Yemen, and the Sharif held the paths along which supplies and arms were smuggled to the struggling anti-Sallal and royalist forces there. It was amusing to watch the Sharif and Duncan Sandys together. In many ways they were as conservative and feudal in their outlook as each other, but otherwise they were a strange contrast. The former Minister was dapper and smooth, volatile, quick thinking and diplomatic in his smart Burberry jerkin. The elderly Arab was totally inscrutable behind his heavy beard, and somewhat pedantic and slow moving, in brown and grey robes and glittering jewels.

From the airstrip we were driven in Land Rovers over the usual bumpy tracks with an armed escort of fierce local warriors, to the Sharif’s ‘palace’ where we were offered a feast. The Sharif was unrivalled in his hospitality, and seated us among his many retainers in long lines around richly-coloured finely-woven, old Afghan rugs. Dishes piled high with cuts of oily mutton (and probably goat) were placed in front of us, and we ate with our fingers while exchanging pleasantries with our Beihani neighbours. The Sharif squatted between HE and Duncan Sandys who, in animated conversation, gave every appearance of enjoying himself hugely.

Lady T, on her first escape from Aden since arriving to join her husband, accompanied Diana Sandys on the flight with us. The two of them were whisked away at the airstrip for a private tour to visit the ladies in the Sharif’s harem. I think they enjoyed themselves too, but we all had a heavy meal and were hot, dusty and tired on our return.


On a fourth trip in early July I accompanied HE on an exciting and refreshing ride along the shore of the Indian Ocean sixty miles to the east of Aden. This was in total contrast to the trips up to mountainous states bordering the Yemen and Saudi Arabia. In a convoy of GH open-topped Land Rovers, with the Indian Ocean lapping the wheels of our vehicles on our right hand, and the sea breezes blowing through our hair, we drove at speed over the firm sands mile after mile after mile.

We turned a few miles inland only once in order to call at the little town of Zingibar. This was the capital of the Fadhli State where we paid our respects to the Sultan and the Assistant Adviser in residence there.

Back on the sea-shore, we sped on to Abyan to call at the offices of the Abyan Irrigation Scheme, and learn a little about the Cotton Development Project and the cotton flourishing in the valley. The Project’s offices had been built on the top of a broad rock above the little town of Ja’ar, and there we received refreshment and a briefing from the Manager and AA about plans for improving and expanding the cotton-growing. This was viewed as one of the most important developments in the South Arabia. Much money had been poured into it and much effort had been made by a number of dedicated Europeans to give the farmers a cash crop – with the chance of transforming the lives of those working the valleys where the cotton could grow if carefully irrigated and tended.

The final leg of our journey along the beach was to the fishing village of Shuqra. Known as ‘the Gateway to old Arabia’, it was the starting point of one of the few good routes north up a long wadi and into the hills of the interior. Sadly we did not take the road inland. It was time to go home; and a helicopter was waiting for HE for the return journey.


When HE had to go to London that first winter, Tom Oates was acting High Commissioner but not a demanding master. So I was able to accept an invitation to spend a weekend in the interior with Bryan Somerfield and his family. Bryan was then the Political Officer in the state of Dhala, which was about a hundred miles due north of Aden and, like Beihan, on the borders with the Yemen. His two children had stayed with my sister two or three years earlier as members of her children’s Christmas house-party and enjoyed themselves immensely. I had bumped into Bryan when he had happened to be down at Al Ittihad for a briefing; he had generously invited me to stay with the family up-country, and I seized the chance while HE was away.

I took an Aden Airways plane for the forty-minute flight across two ranges of high, barren mountains before we touched down on a gravel airstrip in the midst of mountainous country that extended far into the Yemen. I was collected by my charming host in an old Land Rover, and taken to meet Mrs Somerfield and their son and daughter. Robin Somerfield was fourteen years old, with dark hair over his forehead, long, dark eyelashes and big eyes. He had just started at Blundells School; and his sister, Isobel, was short, pudgy and happy and went to a boarding school at Paddock Wood in Kent.

Jebel Jihaf that dominates Dhala and offers views far into the Yemen
Jebel Jehaf
The pocket state of Dhala extended across a beautiful plateau at about 5,000 feet and was overshadowed by a massif known as the Jebel Jehaf. The town was spread over a long, low hill dominated by the Amir’s tall, white ‘palace’, with military camps close by. Although a bit dusty, everything was remarkably green and fresh during my visit - not in the least like the desert. The district was much cooler than Aden, and I gathered that rain fell for six months in the mountains each year. While the midday sun was hot, a fresh wind cooled the air at night and we wore pullovers in the early mornings and evenings, and put two or three blankets on our beds.

Dhala Political Officer's House
Political Officer's House
Although it was the last week of the school holidays before Robin and Isobel had to fly back to England, the family made me very welcome. They lived in a huge, old, square blockhouse with thick stone walls, pitted with bullet holes, and surrounded by a defensive sangar of sandbags. On the ground floor of the fort was a large, empty room in which lounged a couple of toughs who were Bryan’s bodyguard. From this bare hallway, stairs wound up to their living quarters amid lots of dark rooms with narrow windows, all of which were pretty uncomfortable with very few mod cons. The family tended to eat and live on the roof where one could sit in the open air protected by a high parapet, reinforced by more sandbags. Robin must have been one of very few English boys who went to bed on many evenings on his holidays to the sound of gun fire, and could expect to be shot at from time to time by dissidents armed with rifles, Bren guns and even bazookas.

The town of Dhala with the Amir’s palace, viewed from 45 Commando’s defensive
Dhala from 45 Compound
The rebels were apparently gathered just across the border in a big camp for training as terrorists by Egyptian military personnel and Yemeni republicans. From this base, well-armed men infiltrated South Arabian territory through the hills around Dhala, and on their way frequently took a few pot shots at the Amir’s well-defended residence and the political officer’s fortress house. The local people were an unstable lot with a bad reputation, having murdered at least one of Bryan’s predecessors. So Dhala was an army camp where a company of the ubiquitous 45 Royal Marine Commandos (known simply as ‘45’) and an FRA battalion were stationed with all their equipment and amenities. I was told to carry my revolver all the time and not to go out without an armed escort. Nevertheless a very pleasant social life existed and I enjoyed meeting the cheerful 45 officers at a big lunch party they gave us on the Friday. They lived in big tents and the officers’ mess was a sturdy brown marquee well protected behind barbed wire and sandbags; and I met many of them a second time when they invited us down next day for drinks in the cool of the evening.

Like Beihan and the other upland territories, Dhala was a tiny independent state bound by an ancient treaty to accept British protection and advice, which my friend Bryan was there to offer. The ruler was Amir Sha’fal, very proud of his independent status, though not as wealthy as some of the sultans, and I guessed with a correspondingly weaker hold over his people. He lived in his six-storey, stone-built skyscraper on its hill, defended with guns and guards and battlements like a mediaeval castle. He was a young man, a complete autocrat, with masses of family retainers and hangers-on descended from slaves. Most of his country was mountainous, but farmers grew vegetables and cereals in the fertile plateau, on terraces on the lower slopes of the surrounding mountains, and in the shadow of the Jebel Jihaf that towered over the valley. Their biggest crop was, I believe, the qat weed – a soporific chewed by almost every adult male in Aden and the hills.

The Amir received me together with Bryan on the first afternoon of my visit, and we had a long chat in his fortress. He appeared to be a quiet, dignified and studious man. His talk was easy and sensible: we discussed constructively local politics and a recent local murder, and touched on two major building projects in the state, a small hospital and a secondary school, both to be funded by HMG. At the end of the session the Amir gave me a most welcome present, a can that had once contained oil but was filled with rich red local honey.

On my second morning as Bryan’s guest I set out with my bodyguard into the well-ploughed, terraced fields with oil paints and easel. The bodyguard snoozed in the shade of an old tree while under another near by I started to paint. I tried to portray the local landscape and the nearest village of tall houses painted a rich yellow stone with slit windows. Beyond them a collection of white tombs marked a graveyard, and in the background were the pink and mauve hills of the Yemen. There was nobody about except a few farmers in the distance working their fields. I was fascinated by the way in which the local people stored kindling and twigs high off the ground in the forks of the occasional trees that lined their fields – we called them ‘camel’s nests’. It was quiet and peaceful and it was difficult to believe this was such a violent and lawless country. I passed a pleasant morning very much on my own, relishing the cool but sunny weather. To my great annoyance, my picture fell in the dust just as I had completed it and was ruined, but the morning had been great fun.

Even in the dust and for all its notoriety as a dangerous place, Dhala seemed to me to be a beautiful spot, and I was sad to have to leave my kind hosts, the green valley and the blue mountainous horizons. I came away reluctantly, but was fortunate to hitch a lift with some of the 45 men, part of the way in a helicopter, and then in a little RAF aircraft.

The Eastern Aden Protectorate

The vast eastern part of South Arabia comprised a group of autonomous states ruled by their Sultans - Qu’aiti, Kathiri, Mahra, and Wahidi. The scattered peoples of the EAP had apparently suffered severely during the war from famine, but had subsequently benefitted from relative peace and prosperity and paternal government. In contrast to the WAP, the work of the British staff in Qu’aiti and Kathiri was far more about development than about law and order.

The British Presence

The British Government was represented in the Protectorate by the Resident who, at the time of my arrival in Aden, was Ted Eyre. He worked with an experienced deputy, Jim Ellis, and a small, tough and dedicated team of Assistant Advisers and Departmental officers to advise the EAP Sultans on good government and improving the lot of their subjects. Ted lacked the glamour of some of his predecessors, and was a fairly conventional bachelor, but his experience was wide, having started in the Sudan and at one time run the Abyan Cotton Board. He had succeeded a huge, enthusiastic chap named Arthur Watts, who always sported a bow tie and was a great Arabist. Arthur had the title of Protectorate Secretary, was a sort of roving ambassador for the EAP based in the High Commission offices, and was able to give HE the benefit of his wide experience in the early days.

To guard the borders with the Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion (HBL) had been created. It was commanded by the Qaid or Colonel, an experienced officer named Pat Gray formerly of the Arab legion. Soon after my arrival, his popular Second in Command, Major David Eales, was murdered in the desert, but such tragedies seemed to be rare occurrences in the EAP at that time. Security was reputed to be good – for example, I was told British personnel saw no need to carry arms in the towns - and the political officers’ relations with the Sultans appeared to be generally relaxed and easy.

Mahra and Socotra

With only vaguely defined boundaries, the Sultanate of Mahra covered a vast desert area which stretched from the shores of the Indian Ocean to the mountains of Oman and Dhofar in the east, and ran up to the Empty Quarter in the north. Mahra’s nomad tribes came under the rule of Sultan Isa, but he seemed to have little interest in them and preferred to live on the island of Socotra.

HE needed to meet the Sultan so we never went into Mahra itself, but had to go to Socotra to see him. It was decided we should make the journey during a general strike in October 1965. Following meetings of the Security Policy Committee, HE felt he could do no more in Aden and concluded he would be better out of it. So he took me with him on a couple of days off from local problems, and flew by Dakota along the coast to Mukalla, and thence, courtesy of the RAF, in a two and a half hours’ flight to Socotra, far out in the Indian Ocean, nearer Cape Guardafui than South Arabia.

We landed on a bare level strip on the island’s foreshore. The climate was not oppressive, and as we stepped out of the plane in the cool air, the Sultan came to greet us. He was shy and wizened and made it clear he was not particularly keen to see us, but after quiet greetings he led us three miles on foot across the plain to his ‘palace’ in the village of Hadibu. We were told he owned the island and most things on it, including the villages and all the goats, camels and date palms. He ruled over nine thousand islanders, including many Swahili slaves, who wore few clothes and had one tiny village school, doubtless a madrasa, to teach the Koran to the very young. I was told by our interpreter that a primitive tribe of black folk lived in caves in the wooded hilly interior and spoke their own tongue called Soqotriya. On the coast, the villagers lived off dates and fish, herded the camels and goats, and traded in exotic things like mother of pearl and frankincense. Their most profitable product was apparently the fine hair of their goats, which was taken to the mainland by dhow and woven into mats.

Sir Richard spent the day in the Sultan’s council chamber amid some incongruously heavy Victorian furniture that had, we understood, been salvaged from a long ago shipwreck. HE’s purpose was to persuade the Sultan to work with his mainland neighbours, be a bit less autocratic and accept the loss of British protection with the coming of independence to South Arabia. The Sultan was not interested. He made it clear that as soon as British control was withdrawn, he expected his mainland possessions to be seized by more powerful neighbouring states, and the tribes that presently acknowledged his suzerainty to throw off their subjection to him.

Our journey to Socotra thus achieved little other than to warn the Sultan of his impending problems. It was, however, an intensely interesting journey in giving me a glimpse of one of the most primitive and remote parts of the British Empire.

On the nights before and after the Socotra flight, HE and I stayed at Riyan, the small RAF base run by their RAF personnel in a stretch of barren desert some twenty miles inland from Mukalla. We were told the townspeople in the port were rioting ‘in sympathy’ with those in Aden, and we were advised not to attempt to make our way to the Residency. So we had two delightful evenings messing with our pilot and aircrew as guests of the pleasant RAF officer who ran the base. When Mukalla was calm in the evening, Ted Eyre, the Resident, drove out to see us with some of his colleagues and their wives, and we all sat round the bar, drinking and talking a lot of pretty good nonsense, and enjoying ourselves, a long way away from the troubled coastal towns.

On our return to Aden, HE and I were presented with ties on which a phoenix was picked out in gold thread on a green background. We were told this tie was worn only by those who had visited Socotra. I knew the phoenix was reputed to come from Arabia, but never discovered Socotra’s connection with the mythical bird. Was it, perhaps, believed to roost among the branches of the extraordinary Dragon Blood Tree that grew there? This was all a part of the mystery of that strange place.


The territory of Qu’aiti covered a stretch of the coast of the Indian Ocean and extended far inland. Its beautiful capital was Mukalla, which was a busy port where the elderly Sultan Awadh lived and ruled, advised by his Council and his Minister named Al Attas.

In the first half of 1966, HE found it necessary to talk to the EAP Sultans about HMG’s plans for withdrawal and independence and arranged to fly out for a series of meetings. With plenty of room in the RAF Dakota, he, Lady T, the bodyguard, the ADC, and I left Aden by air one morning and touched down early in the afternoon at the Riyan airstrip. Ted Eyre met us in a convoy of Land Rovers and took us straight to the Residency where we were to be his guests. On our arrival, tall HBL sentries with red cummerbunds stood smartly to attention in the grand white portico beside fine antique cannons. Flying the Union flag, the old building gleamed a shining white in the brilliant sunlight, with big black shutters to the windows. Ted showed us round and was a genial host as he took us through the handsome rambling mansion.

Across the road, overlooking the harbour, lived the Qu’aiti Sultan with his family, his retainers, and a collection of tame rabbits, in a vast ramshackle jumble of old buildings that was known as his palace. It was a massive wedding cake of a place, very brightly coloured with hundreds of latticed windows, balconies, turrets and minarets. The Sultan was elderly and in very poor health; and his ministers were said to be waiting for him to abdicate so that his son, Ghalib, could return from school in England to pull together the affairs of the state. In company with Ted, HE called on the old man, his younger son and senior advisers, to tell them about the British Government’s future intentions. In the course of long discussions with the ministers, HE found them a reasonable and responsible group though emphatic that they would never join the rulers of the WAP in the Federation which they were confident would not survive independence. The Sultan seemed convinced that oil would be found in his lands before long, and the Sultanate would have no difficulty in surviving on its own, even when cast adrift by HMG. This was not the message HE wanted to hear, but he could not shift the old man.

While the conference went on, Lady T set up her easel and took out her paints, and I too made a couple of sketches of the old town. The bodyguard and I then wandered down to the waterfront. We walked through narrow, twisty, muddy streets, lined with dark, pokey shops and tall, white-washed houses with narrow little windows. We found ourselves struggling through a confused mass of camels, donkeys, and men and barefoot runny-nosed children. Most shop-keepers looked well-to-do, but many of those in the streets were half-naked Bedouin from the desert selling their paltry wares. Others who must have been the descendants of black slaves, wearing only a grubby futa round their waists, thrust through the crowds carrying bulging sacks on their shoulders full of grain and other produce. The plumbing was primitive – mostly they used the streets. The harbour was full of creaky sambuqs, and sea-going dhows loaded with more sacks tossing in the tide, and rusty old freighters waiting to unload their cargoes.

Across the bay was a wide sandy beach in the shelter of distant hills. We saw wild-haired, ragged, dark-skinned men sitting patiently, probably masticating qat, beside their camels. The couched beasts were tethered to long ropes and contentedly chewed away at the cud, laden with bundles of firewood and bulky sacks, doubtless parked there while their up-country owners did their business in the port. The animals and their escorts had probably come down in long caravans from the hinterland with their goods for sale to the townspeople and traders on the cargo vessels. Mukalla gave every appearance of being a busy and successful trading port with a long history behind it and a profitable future before it – if all went well.


Inland was Kathiri in the charge of the eminent Sultan Hussein bin Ali. He ruled the long, green wadi in the deep rift in the sands known as the Hadhramaut, famed once for its incense and its scholarship, and still flourishing. A remarkable geographical feature, the valley bisects the desert for 350 miles. The land on top, known as the jol, is dry and barren, and its desert sands roll for endless miles to the north into Saudi Arabia. On the valley floor, three old towns, Shibam, Seiyun and Tarim, had prospered for many years, indeed for centuries, in an equable climate, where all was green and luscious with streams running through fertile fields under fruitful palms.

The Qua’ iti Sultan’s palace at Mukalla
Palace at Mukalla
After lunch at the Mukalla Residency on the day following HE’s consultations with the Qu’aiti Sultan, the High Commissioner’s party was driven back to Riyan and boarded the RAF plane to fly inland over the southern jol. Our destination was Seiyun, the town that was the home of the Kathiri Sultan in the depths of the Hadhramaut, where the valley is about five miles wide, with steep sides, 1,500 feet below the desert plateau. After landing in the valley bottom, we were driven through irrigated fields of barley and wheat into the town of high mud skyscrapers, many of six storeys. Some of these tall buildings were of great beauty and magnificence, belonging to wealthy merchants who had made their money trading in Bombay, Java, Singapore and elsewhere in the East and retired to this remote land. Around them were gardens of date palms, oleander and tall grasses that I had seen nowhere else in South Arabia. The Kathiri Sultan’s palace in their midst was a massive, white-washed and crenellated affair some seven or eight storeys high.

Arriving at the Government rest house in Seiyun
HE’s meeting with the Sultan was undoubtedly valuable, but it was no surprise that he and the Qua’iti Sultan and were consistent in their refusal to have anything to do with Aden and the Federation. Apart from the Sultan of Wahidi who ruled a small state adjacent to the WAP, the EAP rulers stubbornly refused to join the Federation, and were determined to continue their old ways without interference from the British Government, the Federalis or the Aden townspeople.

We were put up at the Residency Guest House and, while HE called on the Sultan, and Lady T went off to meet his wives, the bodyguard and I relaxed and enjoyed the cool air and the citrus trees and date palms in the flourishing Guest House garden. The dark flour ground from corn growing in the fields around the city produced a delicious sort of wholemeal bread, and we fed very well there that evening before a stroll in the town. Their plumbing was basic, but many of their houses, including our rest house, had deliciously cool indoor swimming pools dug out of the sand of the ground floor.

The town of Seiyun in the Hadhramaut – viewed from the desert above
Seiyun, Hadhramaut
Early the next morning, HE led a party of us on a climb from the bottom to the top of the steep side of the valley. He set a cracking pace up and up, clambering and scrambling on the rocky scree and among the boulders until we emerged on the bare plateau of the jol, high above the awakening town. It was warm on top in the bright sunlight, and, as usual, HE set a fast pace as we strode along the cliff edge looking down on the townspeople scuttling about like ants far below us. It was a fascinating experience as we marvelled at the depth of the canyon sliced through the desert that must be one of the wonders of the world.

Arriving at the Government rest house in Seiyun
RAF plane at Seiyun
I could have done with a swim after we descended from the plateau at eight that morning, but unfortunately we had to hurry through breakfast and jump into Land Rovers for the drive out to our waiting plane to return to Aden.

It was a delightful trip, but we paid the penalty. HE, the bodyguard and I had a sleepless night and struggled into the office the next morning, groaning with what was locally known as ‘Mukalla Tummy’. Government House was miserable all day with the three of us doubled up in agony and grumbling about our insides, and I took to my bed in the afternoon. Happily we were all better next morning, and celebrated by going on board one of the BI ships in the harbour for a cool, quiet drink at the bar. Lady T was not troubled, for she claimed to have eaten nothing while in Mukalla: she had been very wise.

Chapter 4: Casual Slaughters
‘So shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgements, casual slaughters,
Of deaths put on by cunning and force cause,
And, in this upshot, purposes mistook,
Fallen on the inventors’ heads.’

From Hamlet: Act V, scene ii.

The Labour Government

Harold Wilson had won the general election in October 1964. Anthony Greenwood had been appointed Colonial and Commonwealth Secretary, Michael Stewart was made Foreign Secretary, and Denis Healey was at the Ministry of Defence.

I arrived in Aden eight months after the new Government had taken office, and the first thing I learned was that appearances were deceptive. The High Commissioner’s role was not to make policy: he was closely and strictly controlled by the Cabinet with the Colonial Secretary in the lead. One of Greenwood’s first actions had been to sack the previous High Commissioner, Sir Kennedy Trevaskis, and thus bring Sir Richard into play while demonstrating the firm authority of the Cabinet over policy in South Arabia. They had made it clear they meant to govern from Whitehall rather than leave the management of affairs to the man on the spot. In sharp contrast to Sir Richard’s position when Governor in Dar es Salaam, he had little discretion in Aden, and his job was to do precisely what he was told by the London Government.

The professed aims of this Government on taking office were these: to maintain the military base; to achieve a rapprochement with Nasser, and, in particular, to dissuade him from trying to eject us from the Middle East, including Aden; and to turn South Arabia into a viable ‘unitary state’ to which the British could grant independence. Where the previous Conservative Government had financed and backed the rulers of the petty states in both the Western and Eastern Protectorates, Greenwood disliked and distrusted them. He intended to create one democratic structure embracing all the peoples of the WAP, the EAP and Aden town. He wanted the rulers to work within the system or leave the scene, and he expressed himself indifferent to their fate.

His first attempt to achieve his objectives had been to propose a Constitutional Conference bringing all the parties round the table to hammer out an agreed scheme for South Arabia as a whole. The Federalis saw this proposal as a threat to their positions, and refused to co-operate in it. They had no interest in democracy for they knew it would destroy their authority, and they had even less interest in co-operation with the nationalist politicians in Aden State who would sweep them aside if given half a chance. During the month before I arrived, every other party had also pulled out, seeing the status quo as preferable to any surrender of local autonomy.

With Greenwood’s consent, HE then put forward the idea of a Constitutional Commission, a group of expert outsiders to come in without preconditions and provide formal advice on the best way forward. Despite careful preparation by HE, this scheme, too, met with a sticky reception. The EAP sultans refused to consider it. Not only did the Federalis distrust it for the same reasons as before, Mackawee, the Aden Chief Minister, also disliked it because he feared Aden might be overwhelmed by the rulers. As a protest at the very idea, he arranged for the Adeni members of the Supreme Council of the Federation to resign en masse - thus effectively taking Aden out of the Federation.

The Adeni resignations reached Government House on the day I started work there and caused consternation when reported to the Colonial Office. I wrote home that telegrams were flying to and fro all day while both the Federalis and the Adeni politicians were publicly castigating the whole concept of a Commission, with, as I put it, every sign of a complete blow-up in public. It did not take me long to discover that this was a fairly normal situation – HE and the High Commission were living on the edge of a rumbling volcano likely to erupt at any moment.Despite this fierce local opposition, two eminent constitutional experts, Sir Evelyn Hone and Sir Gawain Bell, were engaged in London to recommend a suitable constitution for South Arabia. They were promptly banned from Aden by Mackawee as illegal immigrants, but put a great deal of effort into their work at home with Colonial and Foreign Office support; and HE kept them in play for many months until they were able to make a set of positive recommendations.

May 1965 - VIP visitors

A good deal of my work as Private Secretary was welcoming HE’s visitors and fitting interviews with them in between his frequent meetings with the Federal rulers and Adeni Ministers. The first who came when I was in post was General Sir Richard Hull, Chief of the General Staff (CIGS). Sir Richard knew HE from contacts in London and came, I am sure, to express concern for his very exposed soldiers on the ground, and to agree to reinforce pressure on the Cabinet at home to provide the armed services in Aden with adequate resources to control the growing terrorism. The CIGS was shown round Aden by the CinC and HE, and was taken to discuss the situation with the Federalis at Al Ittihad who doubtless echoed his worries about violence in the town.

Immediately after the CIGS’s departure, Air Marshal Sir John Grandy, the CinC of the Far East Command came from Singapore for a three-day visit as a guest at GH. He was another war hero of the RAF and former close colleague of our AOC, Johnnie Johnson. While Sir John could offer us little help from his Singapore headquarters, it was doubtless useful for our CinC and HE to be able to compare note with him.

Next, Ted Eyre, EAP Resident, came up from Mukalla to stay at GH for two days to update HE on the conditions in Qu’aiti and Kathiri. Ted was followed by one of his predecessors as Resident Adviser at Mukalla in the 1950s. Colonel Sir Hugh Boustead was one the great personalities of South Arabia, a cheerful eccentric who had successfully kept the peace in the Eastern Protectorate for a decade, having previously been an Olympic athlete and great mountaineer. Over retirement age, he was looking for a last job with us. We picked his brains, and HE gave him a big dinner party among his former colleagues, but between them I think they concluded he would have found working for the Labour Government even more difficult than did HE.

Our next guests at GH were Duncan Sandys and his wife - a breath of wonderfully fresh air. We all enjoyed their visit and the trip arranged for them and their party to Beihan described in an earlier chapter.

Soon after the departure of the Sandys, Denis Healey arrived. We understood his Ministry was conducting a major Defence Review and drafting a Defence White Paper, which would cover the future of the Aden base; so the CinC and HE were anxious to ensure he had a thorough briefing. The Secretary of State stayed with us while touring South Arabia for the best part of a week as the CinC’s guest. In addition Healey had a full day with HE at Al Ittihad to meet all the rulers at the Supreme Council of the Federation, and a couple of days in the EAP to talk to the Sultans at Mukalla and Seiyun. The Defence Secretary concluded his tour with another day with Adeni politicians and ATUC leaders. In between, the Turnbulls gave Mr Healey another of our big dinner parties to which all our VIPs were invited.

Relations between the HE and his visitor seemed easy and relaxed, for they had got to know each other when guests together during the Uganda Independence Celebrations, and on other occasions when HE was being briefed for his Aden job. Denis was cheerful and outgoing, and made a pleasant guest. With his left-wing upbringing and background, he had little time for the feudal sheikhs. He had even less time for Mackawee, the other Adeni politicians and the union leaders who were openly critical of our troops and encouraging the NLF to attack them.

It was from Healey that I first heard the story of the frog and the scorpion, which resonated with us in the High Commission at that time.

"On the banks of the river Nile a scorpion approached a frog and said, ‘I need to cross the river. Will you please let me climb on your back and carry me over to the far bank?’

‘No, I won’t take you across,’ replied the frog. ‘If I carry you on my back I know you will sting me in midstream, you will paralyse me and I will drown.’

‘Don’t be stupid!’ said the scorpion. ‘If I did that, I should drown too.’

‘Alright,’ said the frog, after much further persuasion. ‘Get on my back and I’ ll carry you across.’

So they set off together. The frog swam strongly towards the opposite side of the river with the scorpion on his back. Half way across, he felt the scorpion sting him; his limbs seized up, he felt acute pain and knew he was going to drown.

‘But why have you stung me like this?’ cried the frog. ‘Now I shall surely drown and you will drown with me.’

‘I couldn’t help myself,’ the other replied. ‘You see I’m an Arab scorpion.’

They drowned together and the great river Nile swept them both away."

Late one evening HE and Healey were exchanging fairly coarse comments about the legacy of British colonial policy, and HE remarked in an off-hand manner that the British Empire would leave only two monuments behind: "football and the expression ’F** off!" I was interested that neither man believed we would pass on the concept of constitutional democracy, and still less the Westminster Model that we had been taught at university had been our greatest gift to the Dominions and former colonies.

One Monday morning shortly after the Defence Secretary’s departure, the retiring Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), Earl Mountbatten paid us a farewell call. He was on a whistle-stop tour of military bases worldwide with a large staff around him, on his way back from the Far East and on to Nairobi the same afternoon.

The military did him proud. The CinC welcomed him at the airport with a nineteen-gun salute, a large guard of honour and a fly-past by the RAF. The retiring CDS was then brought up to GH in a noisy convoy of cars with motorcycle escort where HE arranged a grand formal lunch for him to meet all Aden’s senior military men. Mountbatten wasted no time in greetings or small talk, but strode through our halls and reception rooms, looking neither to right nor left, and shouting instructions to his staff scurrying along beside him. He spent little time talking to HE and the CinC and ignored most of us during his six hours in Aden, seeming in a great hurry to be elsewhere and press on to Kenya the same day. The visit was a waste of his and our time. He lowered rather than raised our morale.

His Press Secretary was however, a friendly Vice Admiral who came to stay in Aden a little later on. He seemed much more amenable and interesting when he paid a courtesy call on HE.

June – July 1965: Confronting terrorism

GH hospitality and HE’s political activity took place against a background of unremitting and deadly terrorism. The NLF pursued its campaign to assassinate police informants and members of the Special Branch, and violence was increasing all the time on the streets of Aden and Crater and in the villages around. By the time of my arrival, HE had appointing the GOC as the Security Commander, reporting directly to him, and felt obliged to introduce and invoke special Emergency Powers. He proscribed the NLF, imposed curfews at night, and gave the police and army the power to arrest and detain on suspicion. The police called in the army, and troops began foot-patrols and roadblocks on the busy street corners.

A carefully planned policy of the terrorists was to intimidate the populace with threats of death for those who aided the colonial power or cooperated with the police. It became impossible to put on trial miscreants who were arrested and charged with offences under the Emergency Regulations. No one dared to be seen to support the authorities or give evidence against a wrongdoer; and no jury dared to convict. The law courts were useless. The High Commissioner sought powers to suspend trial by jury, but the Chief Justice, supported by the Colonial Office, argued strongly against the idea. While this was understandable, it complicated HE’s strenuous efforts to control terrorism. He was obliged to use his emergency powers to permit detention without trial. All that could be done with suspected rabble-rousers and murderers was to keep them off the streets. A big Detention Centre was created at Al Mansoura, out beyond Sheikh Othman, to house those who were arrested and suspected of violent criminal activity, and it inevitably became the focus for protests and riots as the months passed.

At much the same time, as the supply of intelligence dried up when informants were killed or cowed into silence, an Interrogation Centre was created. It was located at Fort Morbut within the Steamer Point complex on the cliffs overlooking the entrance to the harbour. Tony Lee took charge and recruited some experienced policemen from home to man the centre and conduct interrogations among the detainees. The intensive questioning of suspects held there under the Emergency Powers soon became a key element in the efforts of the police and army to control the terrorism.

As soon as Fort Morbut opened its doors, however, the High Commission was plagued with allegations of torture from the radio stations under Egyptian and Yemeni control in Cairo, Sana’a and Taiz. Ministers at home became nervous, the UN exerted pressure on the British Government, and HE spent a great deal of his time in defending the use of interrogation as the only means of learning the terrorists’ plans. Simultaneously he was pressing London for permission and funds to strengthen the police force. To counter the accusations of torture, HE took legal advice and arranged for a senior police officer to receive and check all allegations made by detainees, and report his views to the Attorney General. It was soon clear, however, this measure was not enough for the Government at home, still less for Cairo and the UN.

In early July our troops faced infiltration across the Yemeni border, and were heavily occupied in ‘bandit country’ in the mountains of the WAP. At much the same time, the oil-workers at the BP depot at Little Aden went on strike, the town quickly ran out of petrol, and a general strike was threatened. The flap over the strike lasted all weekend, with meetings morning and evening and daily sessions of the Crisis Committee at GH. This small group of the top men received reports of the day’s violence and casualties, arranged the maintenance of essential services, and planned the following day’s efforts to control the situation. The long meetings at GH on ‘crisis nights’ would continue until around 9 p.m. when the Police Commissioner and senior military men would dash away to issue their orders for the following day, and I would struggle home exhausted.

That July the weather grew hotter still while HE resumed attempts to persuade the Federalis on the one hand, and Mackawee and his Ministers on of the month, however, all parties had rejected the scheme. The Adeni Ministers came out in open opposition to the Labour Government’s policies. All was set for a head-on collision, and HE told Greenwood it was no longer possible to work with Mackawee.

Throughout this period, HE remained determined to entertain in the evenings whenever the political situation allowed, and he kept us at it with a series of dinners for senior officials and the military commanders. One evening, for example, HE entertained one hundred and fifty army officers and their wives at a mammoth cocktail party on the terrace. On the following night he threw a big dinner party for their most senior officers.

The Proposed Constitutional Conference

On 23rd July, with deadlock in Aden, Mr Greenwood decided to come out to see for himself with two senior officials, Messrs Galworthy and Rushford. The Colonial Secretary made it clear he wanted to find out if he could make progress and rescue the dialogue with the Adenis where HE had failed. He was convinced the future lay in working closely with the nationalist parties and the trade union movement in Aden.

Out of the blue the Colonial Secretary and his team arrived secretly early one morning without bothering to tell us their time of arrival, and immediately demanded our services. We gave them the Princess Alexandra suite and a set of offices. Greenwood plunged into talks from the moment of his arrival, and was at it solidly for the two and a half days, working until after midnight each night. He used me to summon the politicians and arrange his meetings in addition to my normal work, and I sat outside the conference room at the end of the phone, ushering people in and out, arranging the next meeting and sorting out the papers.

I did not like the man. He was cold, negative and lacking in the most elementary courtesy to his subordinates. He made no secret of his distrust of the High Commission, which he decided had made a mess of the negotiations by being too friendly with the Federalis. He complained periodically that HE spent too much time talking to the Federalis and too little with the Adeni politicians. He went to sleep in the middle of a drinks party in his honour his first evening with us.

I had to admire him, nevertheless, for his negotiating skill in persuading the Adenis to come to the table and make a fresh start. He rapidly put aside HE’s idea of a Constitutional Commission. He was bound to accept that it was a non-starter with Mackawee, so long as he was totally opposed and refused even to allow the Commissioners to land in Aden State. Greenwood quickly changed tack and went back to his original plan for a Constitutional Conference. He did an admirable job in a very brisk round of weekend meetings. At their end he thought he had secured agreement from nearly all the players, not only to attend a round-table conference in London in December but also to travel to London the next week to join a working party to agree its agenda.

With reluctance HE followed him back to London to attend the working party meetings along with delegates from the various interest groups, including officials from the Eastern states and representatives of the Aden political parties. The working party lasted only three days, however. The Adenis pulled out, following the line urged on them by Nasser in Egypt and the NLF in Aden, expressing total opposition to all talks held at the initiative of the colonial power. Over the following two weeks the talks were suspended but HE stayed on with Greenwood in London in order to try and persuade the parties to return to the negotiating table. Their efforts were in vain, and this initiative foundered just as the others had done in the preceding months.

With HE detained in London in his futile efforts to bring the Adenis to the conference table, Tom Oates came up to GH as Acting High Commissioner. I worked as his Private Secretary and was busy in the office again because the Adeni trade unions started ‘go-slows’ at the airport and the docks. The workers took half an hour to wheel the steps up to a plane, and two hours for a tug to chug across the harbour. The docks were in chaos and the harbour was a mass of ships waiting to unload or load their passengers and cargo. They looked very beautiful, especially at night when they were all lit up, but the situation became serious for the shipping lines and tourist trade, and desperate for the airlines that could no longer function. The employers were in continual negotiations to persuade the labour to see sense, and the Deputy High Commissioner held long discussions with the army and police to keep the essential services going and restrain the rioting which generally followed a strike.

As soon as HE was back from London, he wanted to resume efforts to persuade the parties to the negotiation table, and planned another round of meetings with the rulers and Adeni politicians. His efforts were partly frustrated however because the Federalis lingered in Riyadh with their Saudi friends, while the Adenis went to Cairo to report to Nasser’s henchmen. Political pressures eased temporarily while I had the opportunity to sort out the paperwork and put in order the results of the London meetings.

We then received visits from a succession of Members of Parliament on ‘fact-finding missions’ during their summer recess. One delegation blundered on to the scene in the middle of the go-slows and strikes, which was a major distraction from the work in hand. Hard on their heels came a group of American Senators who included Aden in their Middle East itinerary. All of these visitors required detailed briefing and escorts about the town and up-country on their ‘swans’, taking up a great deal of everyone’s time for little purpose, and they all needed entertainment at cocktail and dinner parties at GH – which was hard work during the continued absence of Lady Turnbull who was wrestling with lawyers over the Henley house.

August – September 1965: A State of Siege

The number of terrorist attacks on our troops and civilians rose again in August, and three senior men were assassinated in one week. Sir Arthur Charles, the Speaker of the Aden Legislative Assembly, was shot dead as he finished a game of tennis in Crater one afternoon. He was a tall, soft-spoken man of total integrity; he was widely respected and a fine character: and his assassination both saddened and angered the European community. A day or two later Superintendent Harry Barrie of the Police was murdered in the streets, and then a senior Arab Police Inspector was killed. Dreadful things were constantly happening. Not long afterwards, schoolchildren were the target again. A grenade was thrown over the perimeter wire into a party of children boarding their plane at Khormaksar Airport as they were returning to school in the UK at the end of their summer holidays; and several youngsters were badly hurt.

The High Commissioner using his Emergency Powers imposed a dusk-todawn curfew to help the police in their search for the culprits, and thus brought most commercial and social life to a halt. The docks were still paralysed by the go-slow, and the banking trade union imposed its own go slow. The curfews were unpleasant. Every night I drove home through empty streets, where nothing stirred except for heavily armed troops at street corners, at roadblocks and in Land Rovers cruising up and down the main roads. I carried several identity cards and passes to go to GH in the evenings, but it was depressing to pass through the ghost town after dark. Aden was on a war footing, and we lived almost in a state of siege that was most unpleasant.

The police made numerous arrests connected with the killings, and discovered several caches of weapons, seditious literature and terrorist equipment, but the strikers were destroying the economy of the port. The civil service began a process of disintegration and the business community were making plans to escape from the strike-ridden and chaotic trading situation. The morale of expatriates was low; and in Government House we were thoroughly depressed by the situation. There was no conversation other than stories of bombs and curfews. We were all complaining, either because there was too much security and movement at night was forbidden, or because there was too little security and the terrorists threw grenades despite every effort to stop them. Those of us working in GH were well guarded, but we were fearful for the families living in flats in Crater and Ma’alla who had the most worrying time.

While I organised the memorial service for poor Arthur Charles, HE held fresh meetings with the Adenis and Federalis, still looking for some agreement on a way forward. Mackawee refused to condemn the terrorists or to cooperate with the Federalis, insisted on the UN Resolution on de-colonialisation, and demanded that the NLF should be recognised as a political party. The Federalis pressed that he be sacked; HE had certainly had enough of him and renewed pleas to London for agreement to dismiss him. Greenwood consulted Michael Stewart, Foreign Secretary, and they had two good arguments to preserve the status quo. The legal argument was that the Chief Minister could be discharged under Aden’s constitution only if he lost the support of the majority of members of the Legislative Council; there was no question but Mackawee still retained their confidence. Even more important, perhaps, was the Foreign Secretary’s case that Aden events should not jeopardise the long-planned visit by Lord Thomson, a Foreign Office Minister, to Cairo for talks with Nasser to try and settle our numerous differences with Egypt’s leader.

Suspending the Aden Constitution

After another bad week of terrorist attacks, HE lost his last shred of patience with Mackawee, and renewed his call to Greenwood to be allowed to remove the whole Aden Council of Ministers by scrapping the Aden Constitution. Greenwood responded by sending out two top Colonial Office officials to go through all our problems and report back to London quickly. We met them at the airport at 7 a.m. one Saturday morning, and HE and his senior staff spent the weekend rehearsing all the issues. The officials flew back home on the Monday and, in concert with Ministry of Defence people, put a paper of options to the Overseas Defence Committee of the Cabinet the same week.

Shortly after that meeting I received - from whom I forget - a fairly detailed report of the discussion. Greenwood pleaded for more time to enable him to soften the Adenis’ attitude. Healey reflected HE’s advice by demanding the suspension of the Aden Constitution, arguing that the expense of countering the terrorist campaign in blood and gold was intolerable, and the terrorists could never be defeated so long as they were supported by the local government. He suggested that Mackawee’s fierce criticisms of the Federation and the Federal forces might lead to their collapse, and this disastrous situation would expose British troops to the full brunt of the frontier war with the Yemen. Healey clinched his case by pointing to the effects of the mounting terrorism on the morale of British troops, their families and, through the press, on the public at home. This argument brought Brown and Wilson on Healey’s side. They all agreed that they could not afford a serious incident in Aden during the period of the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool. Greenwood was overruled; it was decided to suspend the constitution and to give HE the extra staff and additional powers he had requested to cope with the situation.

After the morning Cabinet meeting, we in Aden received news of the Government’s decisions by telegram in the early evening. Delay was caused by the fact that the Order at Council suspending the Aden constitution and restoring Direct Rule had to be approved by the Queen with the Privy Council, and she was in Balmoral.

We were then given thirty-six hours to make all arrangements and complete the sacking of the Aden Government before Lord Thomson’s scheduled meeting with Nasser in Cairo. After a rushed evening meal, HE summoned his advisers and sorted out the technical niceties while the long-suffering ladies typed out the legal papers and I tied up a detailed programme for action that Saturday. Then we had to prepare press releases and the like, and we were working with High Commission officials and legal advisers until after 1 o’clock in the morning. GH throbbed with life through the hours of darkness, secretaries scurried to and fro, meetings took place in every corner and at every hour, a mass of papers went through my hands, and all of us were exhausted by the time the plans were complete.

Thus Aden State in 1965 took a special place in the history of post-war decolonisation as the only British colony which, in the movement towards independence, had achieved self-government and then lost it.

On the Saturday HE summoned Mackawee and told him he and his fellow councillors were dismissed; the publicity went out, and a new curfew was imposed. In Cairo, Nasser, unsurprisingly, refused to see Lord Thomson, but in Aden the imposition of direct rule improved expatriate morale enormously, and was warmly welcomed by both the Federalis and the armed services. The Police made a number of arrests and were happy to know they were to be reinforced with twelve superintendents sent out from home, and the army were cheered to feel they were getting more support from the Government. Better still, HE was able to govern by decree, and promptly banned two inflammatory local newspapers, had some rabble-rousing ATUC leaders arrested, and sent the FRA and FG to deal with disturbances that were taking place in Crater in defiance of the curfew. The Federal forces had not been employed in this way before in Aden State, and on this occasion they dealt firmly with the rioters, making several hundred arrests. Acting on new information, twenty-five members of the NLF were caught and a month later several more were rounded up and put away in the Mansoura Detention Centre.

October – November 1965: Tightening Security

The lack of coordination of the police, army, security and intelligence staff in Aden and across South Arabia was one of HE’s biggest concerns. Brigadier Tony Cowper had the key post of Chief of Intelligence and did his best to persuade all the different offices to unite their efforts - but there were so many fingers in the pie and he was continually struggling to control operations and hold everyone together.

Some useful steps were being taken at this time. Another senior army man was added to the MEC strength to improve liaison with us - a big, bluff fellow named Brigadier Paul Crook with whom I was soon to work closely, and whose wife, Betty became a great asset in our small community.

Then Harry Nicholls arrived to become HE’s bodyguard. Harry was a Deputy Superintendent from Scotland Yard. I had been pressing for a trained and competent bodyguard ever since my arrival and met numerous senior people to make the case. I had reiterated the point that, while the ADC and I carried revolvers when out with HE and knew how to use them, we badly needed someone who could bring professional police knowledge to GH security. So I was delighted when Harry joined us. He was one of those heavy men who enjoyed his beer but could move fast when required, and had lots of common sense, bags of relevant experience and, above all, good humour. He was a huge asset to our small GH team, took a load off my shoulders and became a very good friend.

The first thing Harry did was to equip HE, me and the ADC with up-todate and effective revolvers and arrange for us to go on a small arms range on several evenings that October to practise with the hand-guns. I was content to find I had a steady wrist and could use my little Webley to good effect, if need be.

Harry also arranged for HE to use the GH cars less and less for outside trips and to rely on the RAF’s Wessex and Sioux helicopters. In early October HE and I made our first flight across the bay to the Federal State Capital at Al Ittihad by courtesy of the RAF. Not only was it safer, it was much quicker, being only a five-minute trip across the bay rather than a dusty half hour by car round the edge of the water, along the causeway and out into the desert.

Lord Beswick

That November, Sir Richard planned two weeks’ leave in Kenya, but had to abandon the idea when the Prime Minister decided to send out Lord Beswick and a team of advisers for a three-week tour of South Arabia. Frank Beswick was a Labour Life Peer, a prominent trade union leader, newly appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Commonwealth and Colonies, and the House of Lords spokesman on these matters. He was directed by the Prime Minister to look for ways of pushing forward the Government’s policy in South Arabia and of bridging the chasm between the Federalis and the Adenis.

I joined a High Commission team over several afternoons to work out a full programme for the visit in fulfilment of the Colonial Office’s directions. We arranged for our visitor to stay at GH for four or five days to get to know the Adeni politicians and leaders, fly with HE to Mukalla to meet the rulers of the EAP, have another week in Aden in a solid round of formal and social meetings, and conclude with a series of up-country trips to meet the Sultans and other key figures on their home ground in the mountains of the WAP.

When Lord Beswick arrived, however, he did not impress us. He behaved rather like an inspector on behalf of his master, sniffing and snooping around and asking questions he thought would embarrass us. He kept me running about, summoning people to meet him at GH and fixing his outside visits. I got home each evening after a twelve-hour day, and returned to GH in a black tie to help out at dinner parties to enable our visitor to meet informally yet more people. Doubtless briefed by Greenwood, Beswick never seemed to trust the High Commission and made it clear he did not like the programme we had arranged. He complained he had insufficient time in which to talk to the Adenis - even though we made every effort to ensure he had met everyone of interest and learned all the different angles on his tour. He flew home grumbling after exhausting us all at GH. We said goodbye to him with some relief that at last we were free of the constant nagging of a difficult Minister.

The new CinC

Lady Turnbull returned as winter approached and the temperature cooled in Aden, and took her place as hostess at GH, notably for a superb dinner party the Turnbulls gave for the departing CinC, Sir Richard Harington, perhaps the smartest occasion of the many I attended at the Aden GH.

The Turnbulls then celebrated Lord Beswick’s departure with a night of Scottish dancing before we were plunged into a round of receptions and dinners to welcome the new CinC. He was Admiral Sir Michael Le Fanu, and was accompanied by his two teenage children and his wife, Lady Prue, sadly tied to a wheel chair. Le Fanu had a massive personality, a powerful intelligence, bags of drive, a broad grin and a sense of humour to match. He was going bald with sparse ginger hair and freckles, and as CinC always wore tropical khaki in preference to naval uniform. He was given to practical jokes, but was one of those men who exerted total command over others quite effortlessly and with great charm. Very soon after his arrival he became a constant visitor to GH where he seemed to get on well with HE, and, in many respects, these two men together directed all our efforts to control the civil strife and violence in the ensuing months.

For the Turnbulls, Christmas was ruined by a reshuffle of the Cabinet at home. Greenwood disappeared and was replaced as Colonial Secretary by Lord Longford; and HE was immediately called home for consultations with the new Minister. Pleased to see the back of Greenwood, and exhausted by a big GH cocktail party on 23rd December, we were bored to have to spend the holiday preparing papers for these London meetings. We went straight from the office to the midnight service on Christmas Eve and held briefing meetings for HE until Christmas Day lunchtime. That evening we were all finally able to relax at a happy ‘family’ GH dinner party for the Turnbulls and their staff. We got to bed at 2.30 a.m. on Boxing Day, only to rise two hours later to see HE off to London. We understood he took with him fresh constitutional proposals to try out on the new Secretary of State, shifting the emphasis away from Greenwood’s concept of a ‘unitary state’, which was dead in the water, to a development of the existing federal structure.

Chapter 5: Rollercoaster To Disaster
‘May you live in interesting times’

Reputed to be an ancient Chinese curse.

January - February 1966: The Defence Review

For much of January HE was stuck in London. Sir Evelyn Hone and Sir Gawain Bell published their proposals for a constitution for South Arabia and HE attended talks between the new Secretary of State and the Federalis, who had also been summoned to the Colonial Office to begin discussions on the possible implementation of these recommendations.

One of the nastiest terrorist attacks among the many of those days then occurred. The victim was Robin Thorne, who lived with his wife Joan in a flat opposite mine and was Chief Secretary of the Aden State administration. He was in his office one January morning opening his mail when a parcel bomb exploded in his hands. He was rushed to hospital and suffered serious injuries to both hands as well as bad shock and damage to his chest, arms and hearing. After a short while, he was sent home for treatment and his deputies looked after Aden affairs in his absence. Three other parcels with booby traps were subsequently discovered in the post before being opened. Jeremy scurried round to make sure that all GH mail was properly checked before reaching the High Commissioner; and the RAF set up special screening arrangements thereafter, but of course the damage had been done.

While in London in talks with the Federalis, HE learned privately of the likely outcome of the Defence Review which included HMG’s plan for a total withdrawal from the Aden base. Under massive financial pressure, the Government had reached the conclusion the country could no longer afford HQMEC, but should fold it up, withdraw British troops from South Arabia, and terminate HMG’s treaties of protection with the rulers without offering financial support after independence. These decisions created a whole new raft of problems, and HE was obliged to spend a great deal of time with officials of the Colonial and Foreign Offices and Ministry of Defence considering ways of presenting them and making the best of them in Aden and South Arabia.

In London, as in telegrams from GH after his return to Aden, I am sure HE argued against the Government decision to refuse funds for the rulers after independence. He made no secret of his distaste for the venal, selfish and ineffective Sultans and sheikhs but felt strongly nothing should be done to undermine the legitimacy of the Federation or jeopardise its position. He saw the Government plan to be not only a dishonourable breach of our treaties of protection but also a serious political mistake in weakening the Federation shortly before giving it independence, and in encouraging Aden State to ignore the doomed rulers and turn to Cairo for their future security.

As a result HE came back from the January talks much later than expected, frustrated at the way things were going, but sworn to secrecy about the Defence Review while Ministers tied up the details at home. It was a busy ten days in GH after his return, full of meetings and long telephone calls. He attended the Supreme Council at Al Ittihad and formally presented the Hone/Bell recommendations for constitutional reform. He called in the leaders of the Adeni Arab business community and moderate figures to invite them to join an Advisory Council, which he could consult when acting in his capacity of Governor of the Colony following the suspension of its constitution. He chaired the Security Policy Committee to review the situation in the face of continued shooting and violence in the street, and he fitted in a visit to Kamaran Island, which, like Socotra, was one of his more remote responsibilities.

On 15th February Lord Beswick came back with Messrs. Marnham and Butler, on his second visit to Aden. Before his arrival, I had been given to understand he came to commend the Hone-Bell Report - the authors had arranged to fly out to Aden three days after Beswick to promote their proposals - but their work was totally overshadowed by the real reason for Beswick’s visit which was to report the outcome of the Defence Review to the Federalis and the Adenis.

He was just as disagreeable and unexciting a fellow as he had been on his first visit, but we did our best to make his stay comfortable and useful. My role was simply to arrange the meetings, call the right people up for conferences in HE’s office, and ensure transport and timings were right for outside visits, but I lived, ate and slept politics during the duration of the Minister’s visit.

Beswick’s announcement of the British withdrawal was greeted with delight by the Adeni politicians, with indifference by the EAP sultans, with consternation among the Federali rulers, and with hostility on the part of their Political Officers. It was a time of tension and strong feelings, and a major political row developed. Happily there was a brief cessation of terrorism because of confusion and inefficiency in the Yemen, but the Federalis were bitterly resentful and their advisers were simmering with fury. The rulers claimed they had agreed to form the Federation on the understanding that HMG would maintain its protective shield; its removal would leave them vulnerable to military attacks from the Yemen while making them a laughing stock in Cairo. The Aden police and the armed services were almost equally concerned that the announcement of the British intention to withdraw deprived them of any last chance of local support. The Labour Government was accused not only of breaking the promises made many years earlier and recently renewed, but also of handing South Arabia over to the Egyptians - and, as if to prove the point, we heard with concern that Nasser cancelled his plans to withdraw Egyptian troops from the Yemen.

All of us in the High Commission recognised HMG’s desperate financial straits but nevertheless believed their timing was wrong and the decision not to offer the Federalis support after the troops’ withdrawal was a fatal mistake. Despite his personal view of the Government’s decisions, HE was tarred with the same brush as Beswick, and required to reflect the Labour Government’s policies in public pronouncements and promote them in his discussions with the Federalis - he was bound to attract odium locally and life cannot have been easy for him. Meanwhile Beswick nipped back to London for further consultations, came back again ten days later, and stubbornly pursued the official line. He persuaded nobody in the Federation of the virtue or value of his Government’s policies.

March – April 1966 - FLOSY

Emboldened by the Defence Review and urged on by the vociferous anti-British radio stations of Cairo, Sanaa and Taiz, the terrorists redoubled their attacks on our military patrols and checkpoints. Rocket-launchers and drainpipe mortars extended the terrorists’ reach, although grenades and the pistol remained their preferred weapons for indiscriminate murder. The NLF appeared to be strengthened by the cooperation of a political group of Cairobacked dissidents calling itself by the absurd name of FLOSY (Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen), though I never understood how they related together and at least in its early days FLOSY publicly claimed not to favour violence. The police arrested twenty or more thugs to break up the gangs for a short while that April, but policemen were being heavily intimidated and becoming unreliable, and the army found itself responsible for nearly all aspects of our security.

As soon as the curfew was lifted after three trouble-free nights, the Aden trades union leaders promptly called a general strike. These strikes were invariably followed by riots and HE revived his daily ‘Crisis Meetings’ to ensure essential services, prepare for trouble in the docks, and control rioting on the streets of Crater. Once more the Security Policy Committee met regularly; and the senior police, security people and army chiefs gathered at GH each evening, before issuing instructions for managing the rioting and responding to the threats to public services. The riots were extensive, but on this occasion at least, the security authorities did a good job, for only one life was lost in three days of fierce violence and fracas in the streets.

Cairo and Taiz renewed their allegations of torture at the Fort Morbut Interrogation Centre and HE was put under more pressure, as much from London as from the Arab world, to allow outsiders to inspect the facilities and meet the detainees. The International Red Cross was brought in. A junior official of the highly respected IRC, a quiet, courteous but persistent Swiss named Rochat, was sent out to investigate. He called several times at GH, quickly obtained HE’s permission to visit the prisoners and kept HE in touch with his enquiries. Rochat was looked after by Don McCarthy, and given access to the prisoners and every facility by Tony Lee. After some days, Rochat reported back to the IRC in Switzerland and to London that he found rough treatment, but, I gathered, no evidence of systematic brutality.

The 1966 General Election

At the beginning of May, the heat intensified once again as the Aden summer approached, and air-conditioners were once more in use while our nerves grew a little strained, tempers frayed, and conversations turned to leave and holidays for those lucky enough to get away. Sadly for me, my new friend, Harry Nicholls, our staunch GH bodyguard, came to the end of his contract with us. We also said goodbye to a number of other key people, including some long-serving and popular officials, such as the Da Silvas of the Foreign Office, and the Suttons from the Labour Department, and we were entertained generously by the Coldstream Guards as their tour of duty also ended.

Meanwhile the terrorists refreshed their efforts to disrupt Aden’s commercial life by strikes and go-slows. The ATUC called another general strike, which led to another round of rioting and street fighting. Tension developed between the army and the police authorities. Commissioner Peter Owen was very much on the defensive because the troops on the ground knew that many police sympathised with the terrorists and could not be trusted in a tight situation. Brigadier Cowper was constantly with HE planning ways of containing the violence and improving our security, and HE was frequently in touch with the leading businessmen to coordinate their response to the industrial turmoil.

At home, policy-making was suspended during the General Election campaign. The Federalis took the opportunity to travel to Jeddah to seek help from the Saudi royal family – with, I think, HE’s active encouragement, for it seemed to some of us that the best hope of the rulers’ survival lay in Saudi support. Meanwhile HE kept talks going with the parties and developed a plan to persuade them all to meet on neutral ground in Beirut for discussions about a future constitution. In due course, however, this plan was rejected too.

Under pressure, the Federalis then accepted the UN Resolution about a democratic future for an independent South Yemen. It was hoped that such a major concession would receive a positive response from the nationalists. None was forthcoming. Lord Caradon, our man at the UN, reported to the General Assembly the Federalis’ new position. In consultation with the Foreign Office, he went on to invite the UN to send a Mission to South Arabia ‘to help effect the transition to independence’ and thus inadvertently brought the house down about our ears. Meanwhile everyone was waiting to see the colour of the new Government at home.

To the dismay of the Federalis, the Labour Party retained power at the Election. One of their first moves was to transfer responsibility for Aden affairs from the Colonial Office to the Foreign Office, and to initiate a fresh round of political talks. We lost Lord Beswick and found ourselves in the charge of a Mrs Eirene White, under Michael Stewart. As the talks developed some of the discussions seemed to me to be constructive, and I mistakenly saw a glimmer of hope of building up a unified state out of the former chaos. Sadly it quickly emerged the parties were still nowhere near agreement, even on starting talks about talks.

Helpfully, as a gesture to placate the Federalis, the Foreign Office offered them discussions in London about strengthening their armed forces after independence to replace the protection that HMG would be withdrawing. Nobody was under any illusions in thinking such talks would solve the Federalis’ problems or satisfy their demands, but it was the least the Labour Government could do on breaking their solemn treaty promises. Proposals were therefore made to bring the Federalis to London. Sir Richard made plans to attend the proposed talks in the middle of May and asked me to accompany him and perhaps have a little leave afterwards. In GH we were getting stale and welcomed the prospect of a trip home and a spot of leave after several months’ hard labour in the heat.

Lady T went home first, much relieved to escape the blazing sun, while HE fitted in several local trips, up to Habilayn and Dhala, and a day or two later across to the island of Perim, before he, too, flew home. I followed two days afterwards.

The Foreign Office

Thus it was that in the middle of May I found myself walking along Downing Street and passing through the hallowed doors of the Foreign Office. Inside it was fascinatingly ugly: all heavily Victorian with pokey corner offices next to grand swooping staircases, and stout, oak doors hiding rooms full of dusty files that the FO insisted on calling ‘dockets’. When I reported to HE, I found him already well-established with his own room and on good terms with the officials concerned with the Middle East, some of whom he had known when they had been in the Colonial Office in his East African days. I was given a desk in the ‘Aden Office’, a small corner room high up in the old building tucked away beyond the venerable India Library. With sash windows overlooking St James’s Park, our room was occupied by three friendly middle-ranking men squashed among bulging filing cabinets.

I accompanied HE that first day in meetings with Sir Roger Allen, the Deputy Under Secretary, and other officials; I particularly took to Alec Cumming- Bruce who had worked in Aden before moving to the Foreign Office. I caught up with Harry Nicholls who had a base in the FO, and with Ralph Daly and Dick Holmes, who had accompanied the Federal rulers on this London trip.

The Federalis were staying at the Mount Royal Hotel in Mayfair with their British advisors, and had their own office, an embryonic embassy, at 21 Park Lane, a small partly-converted private house with a Dickensian front and pretty bow windows, incongruously squeezed in among ultra-modern high-rise blocks of flats and hotels. Sir Richard and I called on them there, at the start of the second day of meetings. Later that morning we all trooped across in a fleet of taxis to 18 Carlton House Terrace above the Mall, all dark panelling, burgundy red hangings with gold trimmings and towering portraits of long-dead statesmen. Here Sir Roger Allen formally opened the conference with the Federal representatives, and Mr Brenchley, head of the Arabian Department, led for the Government. The dignified Arabs in their best tribal robes looked totally out of place round an enormous mahogany table among the be-suited officials. It was all formality - no constructive business was done in my hearing that day - and the next day was equally unproductive when the Federalis were received by the Foreign Secretary to be given further unwelcome confirmation of his Government’s plans for withdrawal and their abandonment. On leaving this meeting the rulers returned to Park Lane to lick their wounds and digest the meeting while HE took me back to his room and gave me a number of jobs to do over the following weeks.

Holiday Tasks

Perhaps the most important task I undertook was to select a replacement for Harry Nicholls as HE’s bodyguard. I set about it immediately and, at the FO’s request, Scotland Yard sent round for interview three single young men of some experience in personal protection who seemed willing to do the job. With help from my new colleagues in the Aden Office, I selected Stuart Myhan whom HE vetted and who, in due course, joined us at GH.

My second job was to arrange hospitality for HE to offer the Federalis while they were in London. He sent me to the Festival Hall to hire a room overlooking the Thames on the South Bank, and this proved a great success. We sat around a long table in a big, airy, modern room for a formal lunch one day, when, in addition to the rulers, HE invited the Dalys, Dick Holmes, Joan and Robin Thorne (recovering from his injuries caused by the parcel bomb that January), and Laurie Hobson and his wife who were old South Arabian hands. The food was good and our guests were impressed with the view of the broad river flowing below the picture windows.

I had also to arrange a reception for the Federalis at the top of the tall revolving Post Office Tower. As it circled slowly round, it gave our guests the chance to see most of north and central London spread out below them. The views were stunning and the place a great novelty, but the venue was less satisfactory because the party was scattered among lots of small separate tables with little room for movement around them.

The third task HE gave me was to talk to the senior people at the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane about the eventual storage of the Aden GH files and records following independence. I found this visit particularly interesting as I walked through the portals of this massive neo-Gothic structure and met the eminent experts on document storage. I covered many pages of a notebook with their directions about stacking and storing the GH archives in preparation for our departure on independence.

My final task was to fix a meeting between HE and Sir Barnett Janner, MP, on behalf of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The Board was understandably anxious about the future of the small Jewish community in Crater, under threat from the increasingly strident nationalist Muslims around them. Sir Barnett invited us to the House of Commons to seek reassurances from HE about the protection of this community after independence, but HE regretted he could offer no comfort and give no guarantees - a depressing session.

London Negotiations

Meanwhile the Federalis pressed FO officials about money to enable their armies to be reinforced after independence. The Government found five million pounds from somewhere; there was a formal exchange of letters, and HE shuttled between Park Lane and Downing Street in an effort to find common ground. Working parties met and talked about money and the post-independence military requirements of the Federation - the rulers wanted things like scout cars, aeroplanes and training for their pilots. FO and MOD officials were prepared to hear these demands without commitment. The Federalis ended the week with an interview with Denis Healey at the Defence Ministry before attending the Trooping of the Colour on Horseguards Parade that Saturday.

During the second week of talks, sessions continued with FO officials. Paul Crook was brought in to organise discussions at the MOD to assess and negotiate the Federalis’ demands for military hardware. He also arranged meetings between some of the rulers and the Boards of BP and British Aerospace at their prestigious offices in Pall Mall. A little later they all went down to Farnborough to see a demonstration of aircraft that they might ask HMG to buy for them, such as the tough, low-flying and versatile Hawker Hunters that were much in use for fighting in the mountains.

It was then that I learnt the first rule of Government negotiations. There must always be two distinct phases. Firstly the responsible Ministry had to be convinced of the validity of the demands put before them; secondly that Ministry had to convince the Treasury of the case. Treasury officials were in the background throughout the talks, but came formally on to the scene only in the final two or three days of this conference; at that stage they were very tough in analysing and checking the figures presented by the FO.

Government hospitality swung into action. The Crown Agents hosted a lunch for the rulers in their grand premises at No 1 Millbank. A couple of days later, following another session at Carlton House Gardens, the whole party moved down the Terrace to lunch at the Foreign Secretary’s official London residence. Next Sir Roger Allen held a reception in his rooms in the hallowed old Foreign Office itself. Finally, at the end of the formal conference at Whitsun on 2nd June, the Government gave a luncheon ‘in honour of the delegates from the Government of the Federation of South Arabia’ amid the somewhat faded but still impressive pomp and circumstance of Lancaster House at the bottom of St James’s Street.

Immediately after this party, the conference quietly folded up; the Federalis flew off to Jeddah and thence back to South Arabia whilst HE and I took ten days’ leave and went our various ways. At its end, much refreshed, the last thing I did before returning to Aden was to buy myself a Walther PPK revolver. Acting on Harry Nicholls’ advice, I went to Cogswell and Harrison, the gunsmiths in Piccadilly, and chose a good solid weapon, beautifully put together by German craftsmen. Thus armed I returned to the fray.

July – September 1966: The Aden Summer

Harry escorted me with the gun in my bag through the diplomats’ exit at Heathrow and on to the Aden plane early one morning, and I found myself back once more in that powerful, searing and relentless heat of Aden. Every exertion was a strain in the very hot weather, but there was plenty going on. My first few days back in the office at GH were spent in settling in Stuart Myhan, the new personal bodyguard, who required a good deal of help in adjusting to our way of life. He needed to understand the nature of the threat from which it was his duty to protect the Turnbulls, and I sent him off on a quick tour of both the WAP and the EAP in order to get the flavour of our life and meet the key personalities in the field.

HE rapidly got into his stride, resuming talks with all the parties to look again for a measure of agreement on the Hone/Bell proposals for a new constitution for South Arabia to which the British could hand over power. George Brown became Foreign Secretary that August and exerted pressure on HE to persuade the Federalis to allow the Adenis more say in the federal government and to accept an early date for independence. Brown thought that it would suffice to bribe the rulers with offers of more money for their budgets on top of the military aid already on the table. Understandably perhaps, the rulers refused to contemplate early independence and continued to resist every proposal that could weaken their hold on power.

At the end of July, Egyptian MIG fighter planes crossed the border from the Yemen and bombed and strafed villages in Beihan state. The old Sharif was hopping mad and demanded immediate retaliation by the RAF, to which he and his fellow rulers believed HMG was committed under their Treaty. HE sought the Foreign Office permission but George Brown hummed and hawed and then complained to the Security Council at the United Nations. Lord Caradon, our man at the UN, kicked up a tidy little stink but the all-powerful Committee on Decolonialisation ensured that the matter was soon forgotten and kicked into the long grass. The Sharif remained intensely angry and let the world know his view of the feebleness of the Labour Government. The London press was full of the story and every headline at home meant a hectic few days for us in GH, with delegations from Beihan and the Federalis, formal letters of complaint, responses, protests and frequent demands for interviews from journalists – a flap in the morning, a series of meetings, and telegrams all through the afternoon.

Public engagements continued despite the heat. August saw the annual visitations of a parliamentary delegation and the Imperial Defence College who required briefing, entertaining and escorting on their sight-seeing tours. The Royal Tank Regiment held a special parade, and a few days later gave us an impressive demonstration of the capabilities of the Chieftain Tank.

Rear Admiral Martin, the new FOME, called on HE, and, on Trafalgar Day in October, invited all of us in GH to a great party aboard HMS Fearless. This was an ‘amphibious assault ship’ that had recently arrived in the harbour. We were shown round it and saw the flight deck from which Sea King helicopters could fly to help troops on the ground tackling the rioters and gangs of gunmen. This was the Royal Navy’s useful contribution to anti-terrorist operations.

Of even more significance, Air Marshal Sir Charles Elworthy came out to Aden. He was the new Chief of the Defence Staff and a distinguished New Zealand airman. He spent a great deal of time at GH for he was to have ultimate responsibility for the withdrawal of our forces on independence and wished to acquaint himself fully with the situation of our armed services, the police and the High Commission.

At the same time, HE continued efforts to form an Advisory Council to give him advice in the execution of his role as Governor of Aden State. I called up more leading Adeni figures to see him, but, sadly, he found few men prepared to stick their necks out and work with him. Most of those he interviewed were either too antagonistic or too intimidated to join such a Council. Despite constant efforts he never got it off the ground and had to settle for a committee of officials instead.

The good news was that he had at last secured the funds, and found the man to control the whole security apparatus in South Arabia and Aden. He had long called for a single senior man to coordinate the work of the intelligence services of the police, High Commission, Foreign Office and military throughout the colony and protectorates. John Prendergast answered the call and arrived in Aden that June while we were away. I was introduced to him and his stylish wife, Dolly, by our charming housekeeper, Eliane, who held a cocktail party for them in her flat soon after my return. Dolly became a great friend of ours at GH and we were very pleased to see her there from time to time. John was a tall and upright Irishman who had made a name for himself in Cyprus and Hong Kong, and happened to be a very good chap whom we all liked.

Brigadier Tony Cowper left after two hard years to a series of warm farewell parties. John had a stronger personality and still fiercer determination than his predecessor, and quickly swung into action. At much the same time, HE formed what he called his ‘Ginger Group’, comprising himself, the CinC, the GOC, Tom Oates, Prendergast and McCarthy to give even closer and tighter coordination of the activities of the armed and intelligence services.

Prendergast’s coming was of course too late. Matters were getting out of hand. As relentless as the oppressive heat was the terrorism. The NLF stepped up another notch in its campaign of violence and was joined by FLOSY in attacks on our soldiers wherever they appeared, whether off or on duty in their constant efforts to keep the peace, in their scout cars, at their check-points, and on their foot patrols. Two young army sergeants were shot and killed while shopping in the Crescent. A month later, the terrorists assassinated a leading member on the Federal Council and, as a reprisal, the Federalis closed the border with the Yemen and deported a bunch of Yemeni undesirables. In early October, the security situation was such that all civilians were advised to keep off the streets on the increasingly frequent riot days and be home by 1800 hrs whenever a curfew was imposed.

In Mukalla the Colonel of the HBL, Pat Gray was fired at and mortally wounded by his own sentry as he was leaving his home. His wife was seriously injured in the Land Rover beside him, and he drove her down to the doors of the hospital before he died at the wheel of his vehicle. We were all horrified at the murder, and acutely worried lest this attack should lead to the collapse of the peace of the EAP. I supported HE at the Colonel’s funeral in Silent Valley with a large attendance of Mukalla people and an impressive presence of the officers of the HBL. Gray’s colleagues tried to obtain a posthumous award from the Queen to recognise his bravery in saving the life of his wife as his own ebbed away. I was privileged to forward the citation to the Foreign Office on HE’s behalf; but no award was approved - apparently because courage in the interests of one’s family was expected of everyone.

Other developments occurred in the EAP. The old Qu’aiti Sultan died and authority passed to his heir, Ghalib al Qu’aiti, a handsome fellow, reputed to be a keen squash player, just out of school, sensible and likeable but somewhat bewildered at the heavy responsibility that had passed to him. After consultation with Jim Ellis the acting Resident, HE returned to Mukalla for discussions about the future with the young man in early September and found him a great deal more alert and informed than had been his aged predecessor. Sultan Ghalib was, however, bound to accept the advice of his officials and still flatly opposed to association with Aden or the WAP rulers. HE went on to Seiyun to hear the same position reiterated by the Kathiri Sultan. Soon afterwards, HE was summoned to London for fresh talks with the Foreign Secretary - while I was much distracted by arrangements for my wedding and the honeymoon.

Winter 1966: Back to the Grindstone

On my return to work after the honeymoon, I learned that the NLF had split from FLOSY, but another terrorist group had emerged with Nasser’s money from the shadows. This new organisation went by the unattractive acronym, PORF, comprised the hard core of professional terrorists and was probably the nastiest of the lot. The terrorists were no longer rough country boys; they were skilled exponents of street fighting, using both small arms and weapons of heavy calibre. They seemed often to change their allegiance and alliances, but never relaxed their frenetic attacks on our troops and civilians in the town and the WAP. In late November a bomb was put on an Aden Airways Dakota on a regular route from Wahidi to Aden and blew the plane up in the air. Among the passengers was Tim Goschen, an Assistant Adviser; and I returned to the cemetery in Silent Valley for his sad funeral.

HE was persisting in talks at Al Ittihad about the constitutional proposals in the Hone-Bell report, and made yet another trip to Mukalla in the EAP on Ted Eyre’s return from leave. At the same time, the High Commission came under renewed pressure from those who chose to believe Cairo radio’s allegations that the detainees were being tortured. Mr Bowen, an eminent QC, was sent out by the worried Foreign Secretary to check the situation at Fort Morbut. He was given every facility, made thorough enquiries, and wrote a report that rejected most – though, it should be said, not all - of the detainees’ accusations. Even before Bowen’s work was complete, however, Rochat of the IRC came back to Aden and re-visited the Interrogation Centre. Once more Don McCarthy and Tony Lee looked after him, ensured he had such access to the detainees as he required, and brought him up to GH to discuss problems with HE on several occasions.

According to the IRC’s practice, their reports were confidential, but this was not good enough for Radio Cairo. So Rochat was followed by others less polite and even more persistent who wanted a public enquiry and report. Only a few days after his departure appeared Dr Rastgeldi, a Swede, an emissary of Amnesty International (AI) who in his turn demanded access to the prisoners. HE considered the investigations by the IRC and Mr Bowen were sufficient and refused the doctor’s demands. This brought out the chairman of AI, a certain Dr Peter Benenden, to whom HE gave half an hour before refusing his insistent clamour to meet the detainees – and it was inevitable that he should resort to the television on returning to the UK to reiterate his unsubstantiated allegations of torture on the part of our interrogators. The British Government was embarrassed and George Brown was not pleased.

An unusual distraction occurred at GH that winter. A bunch of drunken guardsmen beat up and killed a taxi driver taking them along the causeway on the way back to barracks in Little Aden late one September night. One at least of these soldiers was found guilty of wilful murder by a civil court. Now, unlike the UK and most of the Commonwealth, Aden had retained capital punishment for premeditated murder, so the case came to HE as final ‘court of appeal’ with the power to confirm the judge’s sentence of death by hanging. The possibility of such a thing excited the salacious British press and GH received letters from opponents of the death penalty and even from ordinary housewives at home pleading for the soldier’s life. It fell to me to answer these letters which I trust I did with proper sympathy and firmness. HE had to wait some time while he took advice from the Aden AG as he was required to do, but there can never have been any question in his mind of approving the capital sentence; he remitted it to ten years in jail by a stroke of the pen (to be served at home) and all the excitement immediately subsided.

In December, HE received firm directions from the Foreign Secretary to terminate the Treaties of Protection between HMG and the rulers of both the WAP and the EAP. Sir Richard, his advisers and the WAP Office objected that this action would make the situation still worse because it would further weakening the rulers on whom rested the only hopes for a peaceful solution; but all our arguments were over-ruled. It thus fell to me to call in the lawyers to prepare and process the legal documents addressed to each of the rulers. I hated doing it. I shared the opinion that we were breaking the most solemn promises and reneging on formal undertakings on which reliance had been placed over many years. I was told this was no more than HMG had done to the Maharajahs of the Indian states at India’s independence some years earlier, but this was no consolation. We were officially and formally throwing the rulers to the wolves.

The urgency thus increased tenfold with which HE pursued the will o’ the wisp of agreement on a constitutional settlement for a viable post-independence state in South Arabia. He was in endless discussions with his key advisers, and spent Christmas Eve closeted with the Federal Ministers, but made no progress. By the year end, every possible permutation of the Federal constitution had been explored and no agreement had been reached.

Christmas was a busy time in my office at GH. Not only was the future constitution under active and daily consideration, but letters had to be sent to those receiving honours, we entertained the foreign consuls and local dignitaries in a series of cocktail parties, and the flow of important visitors and journalists continued through the winter.

Jeremy Rawlins’ time as ADC was up, and I daresay he was glad to be returning to proper soldiering once more. HE happened to be away when Jeremy left but we gave him and his young wife, Annie-Paul, a good send-off and any number of farewell parties. It was then my task to welcome the new ADC, ‘Ra’ Wilson, seconded from the RAF, and to introduce him to his new duties and to the staff. He was a steady, competent and reliable fellow and he fitted easily in to our team. Stuart Myhan, the bodyguard left us and was replaced by Peter Riley, another staunch fellow from the Metropolitan Police.

Chapter 6: Farce and Tragedy
‘Across a world where all men grieve
And grieving strive for more,
The great days range like tides and leave
Our dead on every shore.
Heavy the load we undergo,
And our own hands prepare,
If we have parley with the foe
The load our sons must bear.’

From Justice by Rudyard Kipling

The New Year 1967

In the New Year we went to a beautifully-staged Beating the Retreat by the 1st Battalion of The Cameronians on the Steamer Point maidan; and a few days later we were entertained by the RAF at a grand ball at Khormaksar following HE’s presentation of a new standard to A Squadron. The retired General Sir Oliver Leese, President of the British Legion, came to stay at GH, and the intrepid Lady Listowel turned up (an old friend from Dar es Salaam days) but Aden had become too uncomfortable even for her. Not long afterwards, a roving Japanese ambassador called on HE and I found myself looking after a large delegation from Japan that required particular care for their safety.

The CDS, Sir Charles Elworthy returned to Aden in January and spent more time with HE. Subsequently HE received and entertained a long list of military VIPs; the CQMG, the Vice Chief of the General Staff, the CinC of UK Land Forces, the Head of Personnel at the MOD, the Controller General of Public Works, and finally Admiral Sir Charles Ponsonby when his flagship was in port.

Escalating violence

Fresh atrocities occurred and violence escalated in the first two months of 1967. The terrorist organisations were fighting each other as well as our police and army and an internecine war was developing. A grenade exploded in the garden of the home of the former Chief Minister, Abdul Mackawee, killing several members of his family and police who had been called to the scene. The funeral the next day was the occasion for more rioting when several moderate members of the established political party, the SAL, were lynched by the mob before troops could intervene. A little later a battalion commander of the FRA was assassinated, and his funeral was attended by NLF people as well as by his own men.

In mid January, Dr Cen Jones, a senior doctor in Aden and the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health, was shot and wounded in his car; a day or two later a Deputy Superintendent of Police was murdered; and a BBC engineer was attacked. A general strike was called by FLOSY and the NLF which resulted in mass rioting in Crater by their supporters and a serious incident at the Al Mansoura Detention Centre.

In early February the terrorists attempted to take control of Sheikh Othman; in the subsequent riots, a mob lynched an alleged Yemeni royalist whom the police refused to protect; and the NLF renewed their campaign of strikes and rioting that brought the troops on to the streets as targets for the bomb-throwers and assassins. Our men continued to receive casualties; on more than one occasion that month I found myself representing HE at sad funerals of young soldiers in Silent Valley.

The constant strikes and street demonstrations made it necessary for HE to revive arrangements for a daily ‘Ginger Group’ meeting at 6.30pm every evening, with his Deputy, the GOC and the heads of police and intelligence. Late every afternoon, the Chief of Staff, Brigadier Dunbar, brought to GH the statistics of the day’s incidents, dead and wounded, soldiers and Arabs, and the high level team planned control measures for the following day. HE had to weigh all the factors as each future step was discussed. He had to guide and direct the forces of law and order in exercising minimum force in controlling the violence, to consider his response to the constant pressure from the Federal rulers for tougher measures, to do what he could to reassure employers that everything possible was being done, and to meet the demands of the Chief Justice for correct procedures in handling prisoners and the use of the courts of law – habeas corpus and all that.

The army took over from the police and deployed in the known trouble spots before trouble broke out, thus limiting some of the worst violence and catching a number of terrorists in the act. The Police arrested several key FLOSY men whom the Federalis stridently demanded should be hanged. The rulers and their advisers were very angry when the Government at home, presumably still hoping to do a deal with the nationalists, decreed these FLOSY leaders should merely be deported.

11th February that year was the ninth anniversary of the founding of the Federation. The nationalists planned a general strike and all-out riot. The Federal Supreme Council wanted HE to impose a curfew, have the soldiers shoot anyone on the streets breaking it, and string up the leaders of the troubles. He and the GOC were bound to reject their demands, and day after day the troops were obliged to patrol the streets as sitting targets. HE was however keen that the planned celebrations of the anniversary at Al Ittihad should go ahead despite the rioting in Crater. He was preparing to set off in the helicopter to take the salute at the maidan there at the parade of the FRA Camel Corps and march past of the battalion of troops, when a grim-faced Peter Riley came in to his office to tell us of reports that the landing ground had been sown with anti-personnel mines. Soldiers were looking for them but could not find them. HE was advised not to fly there. As we on his staff stood around wondering about alternative arrangements, HE paused for only a second before deciding to go ahead with the flight. Happily, all went well, and the celebrations passed off without incident. But one shivered for a moment.

People at home were completely baffled to know the reason why the nationalist leaders encouraged and backed the mayhem and killing in the streets. It was hard to understand why, with early independence promised, it was still necessary for our soldiers to risk their lives daily patrolling the town to prevent rioting and bloodshed. In some other colonies, terrorism had been instigated by nationalists with the aim of forcing the colonial power to hasten the process to independence. In the case of South Arabia, HMG had already announced its intention to leave as soon as possible, and told everyone its plans and rough timetable. The imminence of our departure was already well-known; the terrible violence was not only unnecessary to persuade us to leave, it was delaying our departure because it immensely complicated efforts to form a government for the future independent state.

HE was among those who understood the continued useless killing was not normal nationalist activity. He had by then learned of the depth of the animosity of Nasser and his minions to our occupation of a corner of Arabian lands, as well as the intensity of the Muslim loathing of the infidel colonial authority. He and the experienced arabists among his advisers had come to realise that the violence was a carefully planned policy by the Egyptians and their local allies. They intended to make the voluntary British withdrawal look like a military victory – a triumph for Arab force of arms. The local nationalists wanted to appear to be throwing out the colonial power and be seeking blood to the very moment of withdrawal. The terrorists and their backers were not open to arguments of sweet reason. HE had by then, I think, reached the conclusion that we had to keep on trying, but we would never be able to negotiate a peaceful hand-over of sovereignty and indeed we would never find anybody prepared to negotiate with us. Force had to be met by force.

At home, the Labour Government did not appreciate this situation, nor did the Foreign Office grasp the futility of all efforts to accommodate the nationalists or meet the terrorists half way. Instructions continually flowed from London that showed how far out of touch with reality were Ministers and the mandarins of the Foreign Office. Pressure came that the High Commission should seek out the NLF and FLOSY leaders, and HE should try to do a deal with one or other or both gangs. Negotiating with terrorists had led to peaceful handovers of other colonies like Kenya, the Foreign Secretary asked, why should the same ploy not succeed in Aden? As much on practical as on moral grounds, HE resisted such demands from London.

Confrontation at the Foreign Office

In mid February HE was recalled for discussions as to the way ahead. Tom Oates took charge for a few days, while Lady T kept going and had us all working hard to arrange ‘purdah parties’ and painting groups at GH for senior Arab ladies. When HE got back, we heard that he and Don McCarthy, who had taken over the Aden Desk at the FO, had made some progress with officials, especially at the Ministry of Defence. HE’s meetings with George Brown had not been happy, however. The Minister had been unhelpful, rude, and highly critical of our handling of detainees, our inability to rebut the torture allegations, and our refusal to try and talk to the terrorists.

The next step, in the Foreign Secretary’s opinion, would be for the High Commissioner to make concessions to encourage the nationalist leaders to come forward, and the second step would be to engage them in constructive discussions about a constitution. Apparently at one stage, George Brown had floated the idea that HE should placate the NLF by lifting the state of emergency.

HE refused to contemplate the proposal on the grounds that it would lead to the surrender of control of the town to the terrorists. It would allow civil war to rage. HE was convinced that the police and army commanders whose men were at risk would share this view.

As for talking to the terrorists, HE argued against the idea both on moral grounds (shades of Mau Mau), and on the practical grounds that they had rejected all past approaches and made it clear they would never change their position. He may well have gone as far as accusing the Foreign Secretary of ignorance of the local situation, and of misunderstanding the nature of the terrorist threat.

The High Commissioner had not enjoyed this confrontation and came back fulminating about the Cabinet’s failure to grasp the realities of the position. He nevertheless plunged back into meetings to resume efforts to break the log jam; he held several sessions with the Federalis separately and together, and made no progress; and he sought to tackle the continuing violence through frequent sessions of his Security Policy Committee and regular evening reviews with the police and military of each day’s incidents and plans for the following days.

Aden became an uncomfortable place in which to live. Few tourists were coming ashore, and the duty-free shops in the Crescent were running down their stocks as the streets became unsafe in the winter sun. Life was thoroughly unpleasant even without George Brown’s intemperate language. Late one night, Peter Riley was told that one of the Northumberland Fusiliers sentries on the GH perimeter had glimpsed an intruder slipping into the grounds. Peter alerted me and, after consulting the military experts, we decided to persuade the Turnbulls to abandon GH quickly in the middle of the night and spend two hours as guests of the CinC at Flagstaff House while the Geordies searched the gardens and cliffs. Of course they found nothing; the sighting had been the mirage of a sleepy sentry, but it was an example of the stress and discomfort of those days.

The Ingledow’s party

One evening at the end of February, our friends Tony and Monica Ingledow held a party in their pleasant flat in Ma’alla. They and their guests were cheerfully drinking and chatting, with their children asleep in the next room, when a powerful ‘Jumping Jack’ mine exploded behind a bookcase in their living room.

Monica and Tony Ingledow with us at GH
The Ingledows
Ladies who worked on our GH telephone exchange happened to be gossiping together close to the explosion. When the dust cleared Judy Stuart and Ruth Wilkes were found to be bleeding severely from terrible wounds amid the burning carpet and shattered glass. Help came quickly and they were rushed to the RAF hospital for treatment, but both ladies died on the way. Betty Ellis had serious wounds in her jaw and spine. She reached hospital in time for the surgeons to save her life; but we later understood she was likely to be permanent disabled. Monica and Tony and most of their other guests were shocked and cut with shrapnel and glass. Just two of the party, Desmond Cosgrove and Derek Rose, were lucky to have been at the far end of the room from the explosion and were not hurt.

Judy Stuart and Desmond Cosgrove
The Cosgroves
We had great sympathy for the husbands of the three ladies who had been so close to the explosion. The Turnbulls and their staff all went down to the airport to see off Sandy Stuart who accompanied his wife’s body home by air. We attended en masse a Memorial Service for her at Christchurch, and we gave Len Ellis all the support we could while Betty slowly recovered in hospital. We all went out to Silent Valley for the funeral of Ruth Wilkes. I wrote at the time:

It was a hot and windy afternoon. The service was conducted by Padre Pellant of the RAF and there were fifty or sixty mourners led by Keith Wilkes and their daughter Lyn and her smart young fiancé. HE and Lady T were present, having flown over from Steamer Point by helicopter. Lady Willoughby (the GOC’s wife) attended as did some senior army officers and many young soldiers from Keith Wilkes’ company. His brother officers bore the coffin from the ambulance to the grave, where a great heap of flowers lay. Among the grey rocks and the bare desert sands round the cemetery, the poppies and posies fluttering in the wind were the only splash of colour in the whole scene. It was a quiet and quick burial but the air was highly charged with emotion, and the occasion was so pathetic that many of us wept and all of us were deeply moved.

Silent Valley, Little Aden. Laying a wreath at the funeral of Ruth Wilkes
Ruth Wilkes' Funeral
In GH we had been accustomed for many months to hear the voice one or other of these three ladies every time we had lifted the telephone receiver; and we were reminded of their absence at every turn in the office. Our sole remaining telephonist was summoned back from leave and I appealed to the RAF for help in manning the switchboard. In a prompt response, some welltrained WAAF ladies reported to me for immediate duty and were a huge help until we could recruit a new team, but it was a long time before we could forget the quiet and efficient tones of our former much-loved operators.

The NLF proudly claimed responsibility. Some of us used to think ourselves a little brave and were rather thrilled at living in the exciting atmosphere of Aden. On the days following this incident, the morale of all of us in GH was shot to bits – we thought we had been a cheerful and competent team running our organisation – and suddenly three members were lost in the most tragic circumstances.

One evening just one week later, I was Duty Officer at home when a phone call came through to me to pass on to HE and the GOC reporting another incident. A small gathering of our friends had been sitting on the verandah of a private house chatting in the cool evening air after dining together. I jotted down on a memo pad:

Grenade exploded on verandah.
Group drinking coffee after dinner.
In guarded compound at Khormaksar.
Bob – slightly hurt;
Bridges – badly hurt (not v.s.i.);
Daly – head slightly injured, shocked;
Elizabeth – shoulder scratched.
Browns - both hurt;
Mrs Brown – shocked; Jean Randall slightly hurt.

Fortunately this was nothing like as bad an affair as the Ingledow bomb, but it reminded us again of the seriousness of the threat, and that the terrorists had access to the supposedly protected areas within barbed wire. Nowhere was entirely safe, and evening social life was increasingly curtailed thereafter. In early March HE issued advice to civilians to take into account the background of violence as they planned their daily lives and especially when considering whether or not to bring their school children out to Aden for their Easter holidays. The CinC nevertheless decided to allow servicemen’s children to come out on their usual ‘Lollipop Specials’ trusting they would be staying with their parents in houses within the strongly-guarded perimeter fences.

March – April 1967: Futile Initiatives

The next political initiative came from the Cabinet at home, increasingly desperate to have a date agreed for independence in South Arabia, to close the base, and create some sort – any sort - of vaguely democratic state to which to grant independence. In mid March, instead of telling HE to approach the Federalis with a new date, George Brown sent out to talk to them Lord Thomson, Minister of State and roving ambassador. With no advance warning, he arrived early one Friday morning, and asked us to fix meetings for him immediately. He seemed to me to be a man of authority and a personable and pleasant fellow, not in the least relishing his mission. He made the fatal mistake, however, of interrupting the rulers’ weekly day of prayer and rest. He summoned all the Federalis from their far-flung states to Al Ittihad and held two long sessions with the Supreme Council on the Friday; and he demanded a further full morning with them the next day. As I am sure HE had explained in February, the Federalis were not prepared to agree the FO’s latest proposals, even though accompanied by bribes in the form of additional financial support after independence. They were in bad temper and the meetings were a flop, and probably worsened rather than improved the Government’s relations with the Federalis. Lord Thomson had a wasted trip.

Then Tom Driberg, journalist and spy, an unattractive and self-opinionated fellow, called on HE and boasted of his part in the drama. He claimed he had been commissioned to go to Taiz and Sana’a to approach the FLOSY leaders on behalf of the Foreign Office to see if talks could be arranged to bring them into the South Arabian Government. His mission too was a complete failure. However, the fact that George Brown did not trust HE to conduct such negotiations was ominous. Whilst nothing was said openly, it was becoming clear to me at least that relations between us in GH and the Foreign Office at home were breaking down.

The UN Mission

For a few days things quietened down, Lady T flew home once more to escape the intense oppressive the heat of the coming summer months, and HE found time to meet Wendell Phillips, the famous American archaeologist of the Yemen, still wanting to return to his digs at Qataban and Sheba.

By early March telegrams were pouring in from London and New York about a visit by selected UN diplomats to Aden. There was still thought to be a chance that a UN Mission might help in finding the elusive political solution to the South Arabian dilemma. Lord Caradon had been warned that the Mission would harm rather than help Aden unless it was composed of impartial members without pre-conceived views on, for example, the validity of the Federal Government. In Aden we were assured that a Resolution had been passed by the Assembly affirming the impartiality of the Mission, but at the same time endorsing the earlier Resolution of the Committee on Colonialism that had condemned the Federation of South Arabia as a catspaw of the colonial power.

Lord Caradon supported the despatch of the Mission on these terms, expressing the hope the Mission and the Federal Government would ignore the contradictions in the UN mandate and cooperate on a de facto basis to enable the Mission to make a constructive contribution to Aden’s peace and unity. HE cautiously welcomed the plan in principle, and through March put the High Commission to some trouble to prepare exhaustive briefings, extensive hospitality and a choice of tours to enable the visitors to see whatever they wanted of Aden and South Arabia. Two RAF planes were placed at their disposal to carry them wherever they wished to go, and the press corps in their wake.

The auguries were poor, however. The three men chosen by U Thant had all apparently been closely involved with the UN Committee for Decolonisation and came from Mali, Afghanistan and Venezuela. Their leader was the Latin American named Perrez-Guerrero. The man from Mali named Keita was accompanied by a friend who had no official position but considerable influence; and the UN should have realised that the presence of these two from sub-Sahara Africa risked serious problems. Not only were the coastal Arabs accustomed to treat and employ such Africans as slaves, but the Arab population of Zanzibar had been humiliated, massacred and expelled by the indigenous Africans and former slave population in the revolution only two years earlier.

On their way to Aden the UN team stopped off in Cairo to be briefed against the British by Nasser before going on to Jeddah for further unhelpful advice. The NLF and FLOSY shared the apparent aims of the UN Mission – to remove the British presence from South Arabia as fast as possible – but the terrorist organisations took the perverse view that the UN was a ‘Puppet of Western Imperialism’, and decided to boycott the Mission, prevent local people from working for it, declare a strike and instigate riots throughout its visit.

With the advance party came a diplomat named Peter Hope from the British Delegation to the UN to stay at GH, accompanied by Harry Nicholls, my good friend and HE’s former bodyguard who flew out from the Foreign Office to help us. No hotel would accept the UN team, so HE had requisitioned for them the bilious turquoise-painted Seaview Hotel on the Ma’alla beach. No Adeni would work for the Mission and the NLF threatened to evict them, so the RAF provided cooks, and the army surrounded the building with barbed wire and armed guards, equipped with a machine gun and searchlights to keep rioters at bay.


Then, totally unexpectedly, the Heavens opened. For the first time for twenty-five years, six inches of rain fell on Aden in seven hours overnight on April 1st. In the early morning I looked across from our verandah to Jebel Shamsan, and to my astonishment and delight saw the hillside was green. The rain had encouraged long-dormant seeds to spring into life and push bright young shoots through the sands – at least for a few hours until the clouds were swept away and the glaring sun burnt them off.

The rainstorm rapidly filled and overflowed the ancient tanks on the Jebel above Crater, and torrents of water pelted down the mountainside, sweeping away many mud shacks and slum homes in their path, making ten thousand people temporarily homeless, and flooding large areas of Crater and Ma’alla several feet deep. No one was prepared for such a storm; no monsoon ditches existed to carry the water away; no protection was available from such a downfall; most of the sandy roads were washed away, power supplies were cut and the telephone system failed; for the twenty-four hours before the crucial visit of the UN team, we were marooned. My diary recorded: Everything cancelled!

The armed services were magnificent. The troops put away their guns and brought out their powerful land-rovers, bull-dozers and lifting gear. For perhaps the only occasion in those years the young soldiers were welcomed in the shanty towns on the steep hillsides as they waded knee-deep through oozing mud to save many lives from the water, repair many damaged homes, rebuild the roads and restore communications.

The troops’ generous behaviour made no difference to the terrorists. Next day, when the UN Mission was expected, both NLF and FLOSY organised massive demonstrations in a town still in a fearful mess, without telephones, and slowly clearing up after the floods. HE banned all public meetings, imposed curfews, ordered all buses off the road, and urged civilians to stay at home.

Courting the Visitors

The Mission duly arrived from Jeddah in a UN aircraft and was conveyed by helicopter to their hotel where they were holed up with the shouts and screams of the mob beyond the barbed wire echoing in their ears. Peter Hope went down with HE, discarding normal protocol, to call on the newcomers at the Seaview. They found their visitors had no interest in any of the tours or visits that were offered them, and no wish for any briefing or information on the plans for independence in Aden and South Arabia.

The Mission grudgingly accepted HE’s invitation to travel up to GH for a continuation of their meeting and an informal lunch on their first day, but it was a short uneasy buffet affair. The team did not want to meet any one from the colonial power or the Federation. The Mission was not going to compromise and was not prepared to talk to the Federal Government or visit its territory - on the grounds that dealings with the Federalis were ruled out by their terms of reference. HE was ready for this, and simply explained that the existence of the Federation was a factor that had to be taken into account. He asked for a bit of flexibility and urged the search for a practical formula that would enable the Mission to co-operate without conferring recognition. The Mission members promised to consider the idea, while insisting they wanted to talk to the politicians and people of Aden. That was fine, except that it soon emerged no Adeni was willing to talk to the members of the Mission.

HE did his best to placate the visitors and courted them assiduously but to no effect. As the rioting raged outside the hotel, he had the RAF take in to them a wireless, a television, a hamper of food luxuries, a case of champagne and lots of cold drinks. The Mission steadfastly refused to receive the press, or petitioners, or visitors, and remained isolated from the outside world.

Next morning, the London newspaper, The Daily Sketch, reported that twelve hundred Arabs had ‘demonstrated’ in Crater while the Northumberland Fusiliers had engaged in a three hour battle with snipers on the rooftops of blocks of flats and mosques; sixty-nine separate attacks on British troops were logged, eight soldiers and ten Arabs were wounded, and three Arabs were killed that morning, one in the act of throwing a grenade.

On their second day, the Mission asked to visit Al Mansoura Detention Centre. HE had the trip speedily arranged and the civil police escorted them through jeering crowds. Then we heard that the detainees refused to see them and abused them from behind their barbed wire. When bazookas opened up in nearby Sheikh Othman, the UN delegation fled back to the hotel by helicopter.

We assumed they were somewhat chastened, but the following day they asked to visit the Fort Morbut Interrogation Centre. They doubtless hoped to witness torture and evil colonial prison warders. HE told Tony Lee to take them across by helicopter and show them round. Their tour was uneventful. Tony told us they found a well-run and peaceful facility. They invited complaints but none was made to them.

The Crunch

Then came the crunch. On the third day the UN Mission asked to record a message to the people of Aden to be broadcast over the local television station. HE had explained at his Seaview meeting with the UN members that Aden’s broadcasting facilities were under the control of the Federation’s government and expressed the hope that a modus vivendi could be found with give and take all round. The Mission’s message was put on a tape and passed, I later gathered, to Federal Ministers Girgirah and Bayoomi to arrange to broadcast. They were ready to do so, we were told, but when they listened to the message and heard the Mission condemn the Federation and deny its right to exist, the Ministers grew angry and refused to issue it. They said they found it insulting, provocative and destructive.

After waiting cosily in the hotel lounge to hear their recording, the delegates became angry in their turn on discovering that their broadcast had been replaced by a cowboy film on the television. The visitors packed their bags in what can only be described as high dudgeon, and demanded to be put on the next flight back to London unless HE was prepared to over-rule the Federal Ministers. HE declined to do so – he made it clear he saw no reason to contribute to undermining the only government in being to which the British could hand over power – while his staff desperately urged the Mission to stay and sort things out in the morning. Apparently U Thant sent telegrams ordering the Mission to stay and do their job, but he too was ignored.

The farce continued at Khormaksar airport. The departing delegates refused to let their hand baggage be searched, and, naturally, the BOAC pilot refused to allow their bags on board the plane until they had been checked. Mr Hope and other senior people began turgid negotiations and it was late before a compromise was reached and the plane left for the UK well behind schedule.

The Mission members were excessively rude to the press while impatiently waiting at the airport. Shalizi from Afghanistan shouted insults at the journalists crowding round them in the departure lounge with comments such as You British have caused more bloodshed in the world than anyone else! As a result the delegates lost the sympathy of the press for their predicament, and were heavily criticised for their behaviour in the following day’s London newspapers.

David Holden, a senior press correspondent well briefed by HE immediately after the event, wrote a full account of the whole drama on the day after the Mission’s departure from Aden and concluded with the following comment:

Not since the UN were in the Congo, perhaps, has there been such a determined effort by supposedly experienced and intelligent men to ignore reality in the interests of almost theological preconceptions to the extent that the Mission insisted that the British Government was to blame for everything, and the Federal government did not really exist. I can only say that if they believe that they will believe anything. Perhaps that is where madness lies.

The Mission flew to Geneva to lick their wounds, decided never to return to Aden and flew on to London. On arrival at Heathrow, the delegates were greeted by Foreign Office people and swept off to Dorney Wood, George Brown’s official residence, where he devoted a weekend in efforts to agree a joint press statement with them. He, too, found them impossible. Even he, with the whole Foreign Office at his disposal, failed miserably to secure their agreement to anything useful.

The whole affair would have been laughable, had not HE’s judgement been called into question and had we not been mocked in the press and Parliament for the fiasco. It seemed hard that HE was blamed for the Mission’s failure which he had clearly foreseen and forecast unless the UN provided an openminded group. Reports reached us that Duncan Sandys had enjoyed himself laughing at George Brown at Question Time in the House of Commons, and it was clear the Foreign Office was thoroughly fed up with us in Aden. The FO knew how contrary and difficult the Mission could be because its people had behaved just as badly at Dorney Wood as they had at the Seaview Hotel. Yet nobody dared criticise U Thant of the UN for sending into the political turmoil three incompetent junior diplomats who were heavily biased and out of their depth from first to last. They had come, not as we had fondly hoped, to help us find a key to the constitutional deadlock, but rather to make trouble and seek confirmation of their prejudices.

In refusing to do the Mission’s bidding by over-ruling the Federal Ministers’ decision not to broadcast the UN’s critical statement, HE upheld the authority of the Federation at a heavy cost to his own reputation as well as to our Government’s position at the UN. So it was that we realised in Aden that HE’s name had been damaged by the Mission’s visit. I knew enough about Westminster politics to be aware that when a British Government - of any political complexion - was mocked on the floor of the House of Commons, it sought a scapegoat, and on this occasion the High Commissioner was the obvious choice.

Lord Shackleton

The week following the departure of the Mission was hectically busy as we licked our wounds and cleared up after the floods and strikes – not helped by a further visit from the ubiquitous Tom Driberg.

I wrote numerous thank-you letters on HE’s behalf to those who had worked so hard after the floods. The Irish Guards held an impressive parade of some of the smartest soldiers I had ever seen, and we were grateful Aden came off the national newspapers’ headlines, the town quietened down, and the worst of the publicity was over.

As we were mopping up, we heard in telegrams that Lord Shackleton was coming out from London to stay at GH for an indefinite period. We were told the Prime Minister had appointed him as ‘Resident Minister for South Arabia’, and was sending him out with the vaguest terms of reference to help the High Commissioner and CinC. Eddie Shackleton bore a famous name and had earned a reputation as a sincere and sound man, having been Minister in charge of the RAF for several years in the Labour Government. In contrast to Lord Beswick, Shackleton was pleasant, modest and sensitive, if a little reserved. I liked what I saw of him on arrival; but his coming was both disturbing and confusing.

He came with a big Foreign Office team including an experienced Arabicspeaker, Sam Falle, and took over the whole of the GH guest wing. We had lots of furniture to move and rearrangements to make at short notice, and in a kind of a way it appeared to us on the staff he was setting up a rival establishment to the High Commissioner’s. The two men always observed the courtesies, and I never heard sharp words between them, but HE made it pretty plain he was aware that his authority was diminished by Shackleton’s coming and that it represented a further weakening of the trust of the Government in the High Commissioner’s ability to complete the job.

I wrote home to say I feared his sun had been eclipsed. Aden had ruined numerous reputations, and was doing no good to Turnbull’s. His strenuous efforts to bridge the gap between the Federalis and the Adenis by orthodox means had not succeeded – and his influence was waning. Yet he soldiered on in the belief that he had done all that any man in his position could have done to encourage constitutional development while confronting the terrorist threat. Equally he considered that the UN debacle had been none of his making. He might have been forgiven for thinking he had weathered the storm, but I have no doubt he was increasingly worried about his relations with the Foreign Secretary.

On Shackleton’s arrival, it was immediately clear that George Brown wanted him and Falle to make a direct approach to the nationalist and terrorist leaders, both FLOSY (whom Driberg was already chasing) and the elusive NLF – and thus we assumed the Foreign Secretary intended to test HE’s constant assertions that they were not prepared to negotiate. Shackleton wanted to try other methods, but we doubted if his backdoor approaches would cut the numerous Gordian knots that tied Aden up – and so it proved. Falle risked his life in seeking out untrustworthy terrorist spokesmen down the back streets of Crater and in the stews of Sheikh Othman. Shackleton travelled from end to end of South Arabia and gave a lot of time to the Federal rulers as well to hunting for the nationalist leaders. After two weeks of persistent efforts to set up talks, however, he and his team went home with nothing to show for their efforts.

The visits of peers and Members of Parliament resumed, while terrorist activity continued unabated. In addition to the customary grenade-throwing and sniping, murders continued with both British and Arab victims; a senior FLOSY man was shot in mid April, and a former Aden Minister machine-gunned the following day. Mr Horrocks, a civilian lawyer was wounded by a sniper a couple of days later, and a British school teacher was attacked the following week; and at the end of the month a bus carrying Arab schoolchildren was blown up on a terrorist mine in Sheikh Othman. The Irish Guards lost four men in an ambush up-country which saddened us all. There was no let up in my role of drafting letters of sympathy, arranging wreaths, and attending funerals. The belated exodus of service families began; and fewer and fewer Europeans were to be seen in the shops around Steamer Point and the Crescent.

Peremptory dismissal

Not long after Shackleton’s departure, HE sent me off with my new wife for a long weekend of relaxation away from Aden’s problems. We chose to fly to Hargeisa in Somaliland and had a restful few days, although, unfortunately, our return flight was delayed for twenty-four hours by a strike of Aden Airways people at Khormaksar. So it was not until the Tuesday morning that I could get back into the office to learn there had been a flood of Foreign Office telegrams over the weekend and HE had been summoned to London once more. I was very apologetic about my late return to work, but HE was more concerned about what they were up to in Whitehall. The telegrams had been maddeningly silent about the decisions reached by the Cabinet following Shackleton’s return to London.

We had a difficult week, kept in the dark, and wondering what was in the wind. HE nevertheless prepared himself carefully to meet officials to discuss the aftermath of the UN Mission visit and the next steps for constitutional development. He flew off very early on the Sunday, 7th May, to see George Brown again. Tom Oates was sworn in as Acting High Commissioner, and I looked forward to a few easy days in the office, but it was not to be.

HE was called to Downing Street to see the Foreign Secretary on the Monday morning and we received telegrams from Don McCarthy that afternoon to say the High Commissioner had been dismissed. HE took the first flight out he could find, changing in Beirut in order to get back as quickly as possible. We of the GH staff went down to the airport at one o’clock in the morning to greet him; and we were joined by Tom Oates, others from the High Commission, the CinC and other senior military men. Our small crowd gathered at the bottom of the plane’s steps to welcome him back quietly but warmly. We were told by Foreign Office friends that he was speechless and stunned when he heard he was sacked; he was equally tight-lipped when he landed at Khormaksar that night.

Our reaction in Aden was one of incomprehension and of bitterness; and yet none of us would have minded quite so much, had HE not himself appeared totally surprised, shocked and desperately hurt. He conducted himself when back in Aden with dignity and total discretion; he behaved impeccably on his return that night and through the following days, but I am sure, despite his stiff upper lip and his silence, he was most deeply distressed by George Brown’s action. With hindsight, friends of the Turnbulls said Sir Richard should not have taken the sacking as a personal affront; rather, he should have accepted it as a cheap gimmick of panicking second-rate politicians, and as a change of policy clumsily handled, but that was not the way he saw it.

Then of course we were swept up in hectic farewells. My immediate task was to oversee the despatch of all the letters of goodbye, and the winding up of the many plans that had been made for the future. Socially, life became chaotic; two cocktail parties and two dinner parties were arranged in four nights, and two big lunch parties took up a large slice of each day.

HE’s impending departure over-shadowed the end of General Sir John Willoughby’s tour of duty as GOC. HE missed the CinC’s grand dinner party to say goodbye to the General and decided not attend his farewells at the airport in order not to steal his thunder. All of us at GH respected and liked the General very much and considered him to be first class at his job, understanding the complexities of the Aden military situation as no one else, and knowing his soldiers well. We believed he was admired and highly respected by them, as he was by those of us who knew him in the High Commission. We thought his departure at the end of a normal tour, six months before independence was a mistake. In his place General Philip Tower arrived from a public relations job at the Ministry of Defence. He was a tall and powerful man who immediately impressed us at GH with his commanding presence as well as the speed with which he took over of his new duties. With a supremely difficult task ahead of him, he came up to GH to call on HE and pick his brains just before the latter’s departure.


Lady T flew back urgently to Aden to be with her husband at this critical moment, and to organise with her customary charm and efficiency their packing and goodbyes. She recruited Susan Trousdell, the bright and cheerful daughter of my GH colleague, Colonel Jim, to help her as a Lady in Waiting during the following difficult days. Meanwhile I found myself out at Silent Valley once more when I represented HE at the funerals of the Irish Guardsmen and of three other soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in the mountains.

The armed services demonstrated very publicly their respect and admiration for Sir Richard – and their regret and indignation at his peremptory dismissal. The CinC and his senior colleagues undoubtedly took the view that HE’s sacking was a monstrous act by the Foreign Secretary. HE was invited to say goodbye to the Aden Brigade and was invited down to the Maidan below GH to find a very large body of troops and their officers drawn up in ceremonial gear in a spontaneous demonstration of support and respect. With their bands thumping away and their colours on parade they marched past with masses of swank in HE’s honour.

The Turnbulls had their hands full with packing and farewells to both their official contacts and their numerous friends at all levels of Aden society. Of all the sad occasions, the most moving for my wife and me was a meal for the ‘family’ in the High Commissioner’s private dining room on their last evening in GH. The little room was lit by candles with silver on display; Eliane Stephanides, Ra Wilson, Peter Riley, Barbara Garrett, Joan and I, and one or two others were present. We tried hard to cheer ourselves up but were all shaken and profoundly sad at the parting. It was a bad dream from start to finish.

I was a member of a little group that met in the CinC’s War Room to plan the ceremonial for the Turnbulls’ departure from the airport. The CinC’s Secretariat put out six foolscap pages of minute by minute military procedure from the moment when HE and Lady T stepped out of GH through the tall glass doors for the last time at 0715 hrs to the closing of their plane’s doors at 0900 hrs. They were provided with no less than six royal salutes performed on each occasion by guards of honour of ninety-six men and three officers with their bands and regimental colours. First of all, the civil police paraded in the courtyard at GH alongside the Lancashire Regiment who were providing the guards at the gates at the time. The FRA Camel Corps escorted the cars carrying the Turnbulls and us on their staff from GH to the Maidan, where the FRA and FG were assembled to salute the Turnbulls as they stepped from their car and before they boarded a Wessex helicopter. Susan Trousdell, Ra Wilson and I accompanied them, escorted by six other Wessex on either flank across to the airport. On arrival at Khormaksar airport, the Turnbulls were greeted by a seventeen gun salute and a fly-past of sixteen Hunter aircraft. Lined up before them, 45 Commando did the honours proudly in full ceremonial dress, looking immensely smart and tough with bayonets fixed, colours flying and all the trimmings. They were magnificent.

Khormaksar Airport, Aden. The CinC and Lady Prue Le Fanu say goodbye to Sir
Richard and Lady Turnbull
Khormaksar Airport
A big crowd of friends had gathered despite the early hour and the goodbyes were painful as the Turnbulls went down the line of friends and close colleagues shaking hands and murmuring a few parting words. Last in the line were Lady Prue Le Fanu in her wheelchair and Sir Michael, the CinC. Ra Wilson and I followed the Turnbulls up the steps of the plane with some of their hand baggage and had a few moments on board for our rather nervous and stilted good wishes. Then they were gone. I could not help remembering the previous occasion five and a half years earlier when I had said goodbye to them on a frigate in Dar es Salaam harbour. Then they had been leaving triumphantly, full of honours at the close of a totally successful mission. The Khormaksar farewells were of a different nature.

Sir Humphrey Trevelyan

Ra and I returned to GH to oversee the final packing of their boxes and the like. It was a miserable business - the doctor put me on course of tranquillizers for the first time in my life - I was overwhelmed with work, trying to wind up the Turnbulls’ affairs and sort out a great deal of tedious paper-work in a matter of two or three days. Some of their bulkier possessions caused us all sorts of problems; the piano needed special care; a rowing machine presented difficulties; the telescope was passed to Eliane to keep until she got back to England; the wretched parrots were a worry – finally we persuaded a friend of my wife’s to look after them; and the noisy peacocks we were happy to bequeath to the future incumbents.

Two days after the Turnbulls’ departure, the new High Commissioner, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan arrived and moved straight into GH. It was immediately clear he wanted his Private Secretary to be a diplomatic service officer with Arabic and experience of the Arab world. He had appointed Oliver Miles of the Foreign Office who was already in the country and swiftly moved in and took over – I had a brief meeting with him on his arrival to hand over the keys, and it was obvious he was going to do things totally differently.

Sir Humphrey leapt into action on the day of his arrival and GH once more throbbed with hectic activity. I was invited to join Barbara, Eliane and the new GH staff for a lunch with him and found he had turned the old secretaries’ office into a small but comfortable dining room for no more than ten people. He was a small man with a big presence, friendly and hospitable, with a very easy and relaxed style, a great deal of charm and a winning courtesy. He was a pleasure to engage in conversation, and quietly dominated the discussion round the dining table drawing on his wide and varied experience of the Arab world. We celebrated together the good news that Barbara Garrett, the Government House personal secretary and my former colleague, had been awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. That apart, I regret I was so fascinated by the way the new High Commissioner wiggled his ears while talking and eating - not unlike an Irish leprechaun, I was warned - that I remember little of our conversation over that meal, but it was pleasing to be made welcome.

Ra Wilson rapidly handed over the ADC function to a newcomer from the RAF named Bob Morris who became very useful and I have no doubt helped look after GH in the following very difficult months. Peter Riley stayed on as bodyguard and had his hands full looking after a very active High Commissioner who wanted to be everywhere at once. It was my final duty to hand over to Oliver Miles my area of management of GH with its forty staff, valuable contents and complicated finances, but Trevelyan’s people were too busy to bother with domestic problems for some days. I had lost my office, but Eliane lent me a corner of her sitting room across the courtyard and the use of a desk and telephone, and gave me lots of good advice before she took some leave. I hung around there for several worrying and dreary days before Oliver could give me time to go through our organisation and review the numerous domestic problems that were handled by the Private Secretary. Our meetings were strictly business and I fear he looked down his long nose at a member of the defunct Colonial Service who was no Arabist, but I was delighted to be relieved of my responsibilities and escape GH for good.

Violence continued unabated up country, in Mukalla and in Aden town. There were battles in Sheikh Othman, and the tiny Jewish community in Crater was attacked and forced to evacuate. Troops were at every street corner, and all the squalid streets were dangerous for Europeans. The people of Aden were deliberately destroying themselves by continuous strikes and go-slows, but they were no longer my concern.

Chapter 7: At Leisure and in Love
‘What is love, ‘tis not hereafter,
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me sweet and twentie:
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.’

The Clown’s song from Twelfth Night.

May 1965: Ras Boradli

Let me go back to the early morning when I found myself on the tarmac of Aden airport and was met at the bottom of the plane’s steps by the ADC at Government House. He whisked me back there, deposited me in a bedroom in air-conditioned splendour in their guest wing of GH and left me to sort myself out.

Ras Boradli Flats
Ras Boradli Flats
My first concern, while learning my job and finding my way round GH and Aden, was to lay hands on my possessions, which were on their way by boat from Dar es Salaam, and to collect my car en route from the London docks. The beautiful Peugeot arrived first. She was brought in on the SS Rhodesia Castle in early June, but, maddeningly, was badly scratched while being unloaded by the Aden stevedores. She had to go straight into the agent’s garage for repairs, and it was some time before I was able to reclaim her and get about under my own steam.

In the last week of May, I took possession of a small, convenient flat at Ras Boradli. This was a rocky outcrop a mile along the coast overlooking the beach and the sea and five minutes by car from GH. The flat was on the fourth floor of an angular and ugly block round a central concrete stairwell that had been put up only the previous year by Aden Airways, originally for their own flight crews. A tiled entrance hall opened into a big living room, cut in half by a heavy old wooden PWD sofa, leading out to a little verandah overlooking the sea. The dining table was almost immediately inside the front door, with a small neat kitchen tucked away on the left hand side facing across the road to the rock face. Beyond a tiny bathroom was a neat air-conditioned bedroom with high windows, also looking over to the mountainside. The flat had no fitted cupboards, but a storeroom in the basement next to the garage held most of my trunks and boxes.

Gold Mohur Swimming Club
Gold Mohur Swimming Club
It was not easy to find a servant to look after the flat and cook my meals when at home, but GH contacts produced Abdallah who was a middle-aged chap with a leathery face and high beaked nose. He spoke sufficient English to get by, and seemed sensible and practical enough. He was able to cook Italian dishes with some skill, and came with good recommendations, vetted by Eliane, who, as GH Housekeeper, knew what to look for, advising me it would be appropriate to offer him a monthly wage of twenty-five pounds.

My baggage came up from Dar es Salaam on a ship of the British India line at the end of May, and GH staff collected the boxes from the customs shed to allow Abdallah to unpack them in the flat. Eliane provided well-made, plain, bright curtains from the GH store, and at last I had my own place in which to sleep and relax. My birthday came and went, marked by cheerful letters and parcels of goodies from home, but I had no time to unpack because of a constant stream of visitors at GH and frequent trips out with HE. It was not until the middle of June that I was able to spend a quiet evening on my own, and only when a big box arrived in late June from Bakers in London with my Poole pottery could I have a cup of tea, and at last hang pictures and put things straight. The flat then made a pleasant home for the following months.

The Telephone Department was slow to install a phone in the flat and callers wishing to contact me had to ring my neighbour in the flat below, occupied by Halcyon Mount who ran the High Commission Filing Registry, and was a straight-laced and slightly forbidding single lady, with fair hair piled on the top of her head. One evening, a few days after moving in, I was unpacking feverishly when she knocked on my door to say rather grudgingly I was wanted on her line. So I dashed downstairs and into her living room to answer the call. A stranger was chatting with Halcyon over coffee after their supper. A strikingly beautiful girl with a fascinating face looked up at me from her chair with a gentle quizzical smile. I was introduced to her when I put the phone down; she launched at once into a series of personal questions and seemed genuinely interested in my responses. I found her hugely attractive and was flattered and excited before excusing myself to nip back upstairs to continue unpacking – and that was the first time I met Joan.

Visits from Friends and Relations

One of the pleasantest things about Aden was the frequent visits from distant family and old acquaintances on ships that called in the port during voyages between the UK and Africa or the Far East. In late May, my sister Liz’s great friend, Wendy Glover, stopped off at Aden. She had entertained me wonderfully in Malta in 1954, and was on her way home to join her children at school in the UK having left behind her husband, then a senior army officer in Singapore. Wendy knew the Haringtons well and stayed with them in Flagstaff House for a day or two. I was invited to a drinks party there to say hello to her, and was delighted also to meet the CinC and his family informally.

A few weeks later, Patsy O’Hagan, the Turnbull’s Kenya friend, called at Aden on the way to the UK on the SS Braemar Castle with several other old Kenya hands. Having stayed with the O’Hagans in Dar es Salaam two years previously, I was very pleased to be able to collect her party off the ship and support HE in entertaining them at GH, and subsequently dining with them on board as their guests.

By a strange turn of the wheel, the first GH visitor that June was a man whom I had met and hosted on his visit to Dar es Salaam only a few months earlier. This was John Wilson, Director of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind, who was touring schools for blind children in Commonwealth countries. His Aden programme had been arranged by David Treffry, who was not only a senior official at Al Ittihad but also the Honorary Chairman of the Aden Society for the Blind. In the light of my experience in Dar es Salaam, David asked me to join his Committee, and together we met John Wilson at the airport off the London plane early one morning and whisked him away to GH. I found for him there a comfortable room and an office for his discussions with members of the Aden Society and the staff of the blind schools.

On Mr Wilson’s second day, the army lent him a small plane to fly to Beihan to inspect an Agricultural Training Centre for blind Arab farmers. Next day he was back in GH for more meetings before being taken out to the Reilly Centre for the Blind in Ma’alla where the Aden Society held its AGM with HE in the chair. After one final day of meetings and press conferences at GH, the Director took the plane to Nairobi in continuation of his tour. It was gratifying to learn of his well-deserved award of the OBE in the Birthday Honours later that month.

In late June my former employers and their spouses turned up on the SS Kenya on their way home on retirement from their jobs in tea in East Africa. John and Elinor Walsh had come up from Dar es Salaam, while Richard Magor, his wife and family had travelled from Nairobi to join the ship as it passed through Mombasa. I boarded their liner as it dropped anchor in our harbour, brought them ashore in HE’s launch and carried them back to GH in style where they spent the afternoon with the Turnbulls. I did some shopping for Elinor, and sorted out various bills with John. We then went back on board together and had a jolly time at the bar – a thoroughly different atmosphere to that ashore which I was already finding depressing.

HE then formally gave Richard Magor the engraved antique flask I had brought as the farewell present from the Tanganyika Tea Growers Association to their retiring Chairman. This is John’s account of the occasion:

RBM (Richard Magor) was presented with a silver half-flask by Sir Richard Turnbull in Aden on Monday, 21st June. Present were Lady Turnbull, Dick Eberlie, Mrs Magor, Elinor and self. HE, I think, greatly appreciated being asked to make this presentation, which he did with his customary grace on behalf of the members and staff of the TTGA. RBM was most appreciative of, and touched by, the gift, which he had quite obviously not expected. We were all entertained royally at Government House before the ceremony and then came aboard in the Governor’s launch. It was a worthy finale to RBM’s service on behalf of the TTGA.

Another pleasant occasion was the appearance of my cousin Caryl, her husband Dick Woof, and their children, Peter and Virginia, when the SS Orcades docked at Aden that summer. They were travelling back as a family from England to Tasmania where Dick worked as a naval architect and Caryl had made her home. The ship docked late one Friday afternoon with time for Caryl to come ashore and inspect my flat, and for me to go on board to join them for a delightful dinner. I enjoyed meeting the children, found Dick most friendly and hospitable, and we had a very happy evening party before they continued on their way to the Antipodes.

Leisure that Summer: July – October 1965

The July weather was not only relentlessly hot but the wind blew ferociously, and scattered sand and grit through the flat. Despite the terrorist threat and the heat and dust, my social life looked up; kind people started to put me on their guest lists, and I made friends among the expatriate community, particularly among those living in the Ras Boradli flats where we could move around freely on the increasingly frequent curfew nights. Robin Thorne and Michael Maloney who worked in the Aden State Secretariat, and Austen Jackson of the High Commission, lived with their wives in the big flats on the other side of our block, while below me were the flats of Barbara Garrett, Personal Secretary at GH, and Halcyon Mount who had taken my phone calls in the early days. Tony and Thelma Lee, and Pam and Leslie Wink were rather less accessible as they lived out at Ma’alla, but they were good enough to invite me over for drinks or supper from time to time.

The Army was very kind too. Some of the senior men with whom I was in daily contact at work were most hospitable, and lived within easy reach of GH on the hills across the valley. A number of delightful girls came to stay with their parents working in Aden over the summer holidays, so there were new faces and numerous cheerful evening parties despite all the problems. I gave my first sundowner in Ras Boradli in mid-July to get to know my neighbours better – a very mixed bag of about fifteen very nice and friendly people, to most of whom I owed hospitality.

On 1st August I enjoyed my first day off since starting work on 12th May. The High Commissioner had been called to London to pursue the plan for a constitutional conference, and Tom Oates, acting in his place, had little need of my services at GH. Three hours each afternoon were sufficient for me to keep an eye on the office, and I joined an Arabic language course for the mornings. I even went round the shops in the Crescent for the first time and bought a few electrical items and cooking utensils needed for the flat. I set up my easel on my balcony looking across the bay to the flanks of Jebel Shamsan and started an oil painting. I went to see the doctor in the big, modern RAF hospital where I was checked out and passed fit. I became a member of the Aden Yacht Club hoping to have the chance for an occasional sail.

It was then we brought in the joiners and decorators and carved a slice off HE’s big conference room in order to make a separate little office for the Private Secretary. Plenty of space remained for the High Commissioner’s massive desk and long conference table, while I acquired a narrow cell, no wider than the double French windows that framed it at one end, with one door into the secretaries’ room and another into HE’s office. My desk fitted neatly across the new room whilst there was just enough space for me to squeeze behind it with my files around me, and a view out to sea through the open windows. We thought this arrangement would make things rather more efficient, and, as I sat at my desk, I was able to enjoy a beautiful outlook over the sparkling Indian Ocean.

Joan Noble

On 31st July, David Ledger and Derek Rose, the two fellows who worked for the Foreign Office in the huts across the GH courtyard, threw an evening buffet party in their old house on the beach below Ma’alla; and it was there I bumped into Joan again. We went off together into a quiet corner of their upstairs verandah and we started talking. Joan asked me about books. Had I read this? What did I think of that author? And about me - where was my home? Where had I been to school? What had I done in the army? and much, much more. Here was someone who wanted to know all about me as a person. We were oblivious of everyone else at the party, and we started a conversation that has never really ended.

Joan Noble
Joan Noble
I soon found myself calling frequently at Joan’s flat. She lived on the first floor of an old, thoroughly dilapidated block on the open ground at Steamer Point opposite the Union Club, known as the Secretariat Flats. There I met her affectionate collie dog, Wonky, her ginger cat with a limp, Sidney, and her African Grey parrot – indistinguishable from the Turnbulls’, also called Suku (is it the Malay word for ‘parrot’?). Slightly quirky and totally bewitching, Joan and I began to meet in the evenings whenever I could escape GH, at her flat or mine, at the Rock or the Crescent Hotels, and at the homes of mutual friends. On Sundays Joan introduced me to the swimming at the Gold Mohur Club, situated within sight of my flat at the end of the beach below the Elephant Rock. A shark net protected us in the water, and snacks were provided at a shady bar on the sands. The crows were a nuisance, but the place was never crowded and there was time for a quiet chat about this and that.

Suku and Sidney
Suku and Sidney
At Gold Mohur or in the flat, I told Joan about myself and gradually pieced together her background. Her father had been a regular soldier, a Captain Quartermaster in the Sherwood Foresters, who had fought in the trenches in the Great War. He had contracted TB as a result of his war service and died when she was about five, and she could not remember him at all. Joan had two older brothers. Bob had married an American and emigrated with three daughters to Auckland in New Zealand. John was married to Olive, with one son, David, living with Joan’s mother in Tavistock while preparing to emigrate to Australia.

Joan’s sister, Jean, was a few years younger than her, married to a German with two daughters, Claire and Gillyan, living in Hartley in north Kent. Joan and Jean had been brought up by their mother in Weymouth during and after the war, and had spent many of their school holidays at the home of her great-uncle John in Tavistock – a little market town in the shadow of Dartmoor I remembered from the time when I had been stationed in the army at Crownhill Barracks, Plymouth. Joan had a special feeling for the place, and often spoke lovingly of her kindly greatuncle with his strong Devonshire accent, his habit of calling her his ‘little maid’, and his ability to recite chapters of Dickens’ novels to her while was working in his big kitchen garden and greenhouses fully of lilies destined for Covent Garden.

Joan seemed to have had a happy childhood; but it was clear to me she also had a restless and adventurous spirit that I hugely admired. She had trained as a librarian, but had wanted to go abroad and had looked for the chance to travel. For a while she had been a junior secretary at the Foreign Office German section at Wilton Park, near Beaconsfield, but she had seen an advertisement for a job that would take her overseas with the War Office - as it was then called. This had been her first introduction to the tropics and had been something of a disaster. She had been housed in an almost empty block of flats outside Lagos in Nigeria without electricity and with few amenities, where she had caught malaria badly, which had obliged the Office to bring her home quickly.

Nothing daunted, and after a period in headquarters in London, she had applied to go out to Singapore, and, after two years, transferred to the Royal Federation of Malay Police at Kuala Lumpur where she became PA to the Head of the Special Branch during the Emergency there. This seemed to have been her happiest posting; she had many amusing stories of KL and made many friends there. Her next posting had been with the Colonial Police in Zanzibar - yet another hot spot. She had enjoyed the social life and made more friends there, too. Happily her tour of duty had ended a couple of months before violent revolution turned that island into first a bloodbath and, then, a communist outpost. She was on her second tour in Aden when I had the greatest good fortune to meet her, working for the police at their headquarters off the Crescent, and well dug in socially.

Jebel Shamsan

On the Friday following HE’s return from the London talks in August, he decided to go for one of his regular early-morning mountain scrambles. As was our custom, at about five in the morning, HE, the ADC Jeremy Rawlins, and I set off incognito in my car, and motored past Ras Boradli and Gold Mohur into Conquest Bay to the foot of one of the tracks leading up Shamsan. At the bottom of the mountain we put our revolvers into the pockets of our shorts, and carrying nothing else set off fast on a steep climb up loose lava and shale.

On reaching the rim of the ancient volcanic crater, we took a narrow track, probably used only by goats, running to the right below the crest of the mountain. It was a new route to us and rougher and slower than expected. At times the path climbed steeply upwards; at other times it dropped sharply down. The views were superb; to the south we could look many miles out to sea, and below our feet we could see all of Steamer Point and the harbour full of ships. To the north we found ourselves high above Crater where smoke was drifting up from the courtyards of the little houses as fires were lit for breakfast.

Jebel Shamsan
Jebel Shamsan
Sir Richard held a steady pace, slowing down for the difficult bits, while Jeremy raced ahead of us like a mountain goat. Where HE and I would carefully go round an obstacle, Jeremy would carelessly bound over it. So on we went from peak to peak until we came to the end of the track at about half-past seven. Normally we reckoned to be back home by eight or so for a bath before breakfast. But that day we went much farther than usual, as Jeremy persuaded us to have a look round the next corner, and then go along the next ridge, until, finally, even HE decided to turn back.

Jeremy was determined to find a route down the north side of the jebel into Crater and left us to make his way home on his own. Sir Richard and I turned round and began the long trek back along the path to the ridge and then down to the bottom. It was at this point that I found to my horror I could not go on. I simply could not persuade my limbs to respond to the usual instructions I gave them. I was stuck.

The sun was still below the horizon and much of our walk had been in the cool early morning air with a refreshing breeze blowing in from the sea. Despite the pleasant freshness, I found I could not move. So HE took my car key, in order to drive himself home in my car, and ask the RAF Mountain Rescue Team to collect me while I rested in the shade. Off he went, and I found myself alone on the huge mountain with legs that would not respond, with the sun slowly rising.

For an hour the sun was still weak, and I rested, hoping to gather strength, but I still could not get my body to work properly. I could do no more than edge and shuffle towards a flat space where I reckoned a helicopter could land. I slithered, slid and scraped over the loose rocks with frequent rests wherever shade from a vertical rock offered relief. All too soon, the sun was a blazing circle of intense heat high in the sky above me. I missed the path twice, and on the second occasion scrambled on to a rocky outcrop to find it thirty feet below. Instead of retracing my steps, I tried a short cut and ended up twelve feet vertically above the rough trail with no way down and no strength to go back up and round again. After long deliberation, I slithered slowly and painfully down the jagged rock-face to regain it.

Two hours later a Land Rover appeared at the bottom of the valley where we had started our climb, and I thought my rescuers had arrived. With dismay I observed the vehicle’s occupants made no attempt to climb the hill, but soon drove back out of sight. Deciding then that rescue would come up the path and not from the air, I pressed on beyond the southern peak of Shamsan on the second half of the goat track along the mountain top. I was in the glare of the sun all the way, but I pushed slowly forward until I reached the ridge at the head of a steep descent that I reckoned was beyond me. There I lay in a tiny patch of shadow waiting for rescue - tired, thirsty and hating the sun.

Soon after noon, a helicopter flew over. I struggled to my feet, and waved. Making a fearful noise, the machine hovered twenty feet above the ground, and a burly crewman appeared out of the open door and came down slowly in a sling on a wire and stood beside me. Without saying a word, he put another sling round my waist, gestured to me to grasp the rope above my head, clamped his legs round mine and gave a signal for us both to be hauled aboard. After what seemed hours of hanging in space, miles above Aden, they winched us through the door. Jeremy gave me a cheerful wave from the co-pilot’s seat, and so started my first flight in a helicopter.

In five minutes they touched down to offload Jeremy at Government House, but insisted on taking me to the airport sick bay. Suffering from dehydration, sunburnt in the face and scratched on my knees and hands, I was otherwise unscathed. There the young doctors were very stern with me, and gave me a long lecture on the need to take lots of liquid and salt in the heat. I tried to explain we were usually back home before the sun rose, but I don’t think they believed me. I had a bath, drank a couple of pints of salt solution in water and dozed until mid afternoon, when a GH car arrived for me with clean clothes. At GH I found both Sir Richard and Jeremy in fine form. They looked on my escapade as a grand prank, were very solicitous and packed me off home to drink pints of lime juice.

On the wireless the seven o’clock local news announced that a whirlybird helicopter of the RAF Mountain Rescue Team went to the top of Shamsan this morning to rescue an army officer suffering from heat exhaustion. I was no army officer, but they must have meant me. I was relieved they had not brought the High Commissioner into the report, for I must have cost the taxpayer a packet that morning.

My new flat

In September I had to move out of my fourth floor flat because its permanent occupant returned from long leave in the UK, and I was given another flat in the same block on the ground floor. With a little terrace, a private entrance and direct access to my garage, my new home was just as comfortable and clean as the other, but rather more convenient, and perhaps a little cooler and smarter. The paved terrace, dropping down to the road (through coils of barbed wire), gave the place an air of space and size - though still lacking storage and spare rooms.

Once sorted out, the new flat looked quite pleasant, and all my neighbours came round for a drink on the terrace after sundown one evening. People had been very kind in entertaining me and I had much hospitality to repay. I relished the social life in the evenings and at weekends, despite the security threat which obliged us to keep our gatherings small.

The climate changed for the better as the year rolled on; the temperature dropped ten degrees in October, and the early mornings and evenings were gloriously refreshing and stimulating. Air-conditioning was no longer needed at night. At least one blanket was essential on the bed, and one could leave the windows wide open and revel in the refreshing night air. Only in the middle of the day was it still fearfully hot at 90 degrees. At the Officers’ Club below GH, at six o’clock in the morning the sea was warm and peaceful, the sand was cold under one’s bare feet, and all was cool and quiet until it was time to change for the office.

My new flat

In September I had to move out of my fourth floor flat because its permanent occupant returned from long leave in the UK, and I was given another flat in the same block on the ground floor. With a little terrace, a private entrance and direct access to my garage, my new home was just as comfortable and clean as the other, but rather more convenient, and perhaps a little cooler and smarter. The paved terrace, dropping down to the road (through coils of barbed wire), gave the place an air of space and size - though still lacking storage and spare rooms.

Once sorted out, the new flat looked quite pleasant, and all my neighbours came round for a drink on the terrace after sundown one evening. People had been very kind in entertaining me and I had much hospitality to repay. I relished the social life in the evenings and at weekends, despite the security threat which obliged us to keep our gatherings small.

The climate changed for the better as the year rolled on; the temperature dropped ten degrees in October, and the early mornings and evenings were gloriously refreshing and stimulating. Air-conditioning was no longer needed at night. At least one blanket was essential on the bed, and one could leave the windows wide open and revel in the refreshing night air. Only in the middle of the day was it still fearfully hot at 90 degrees. At the Officers’ Club below GH, at six o’clock in the morning the sea was warm and peaceful, the sand was cold under one’s bare feet, and all was cool and quiet until it was time to change for the office.

December 1965: Nairobi, Kenya

While my parents were moving into Little Bricklehurst at the end of November, I was arranging ten days’ leave in Kenya. HE and I planned to get away for a few days in November, for we needed a break after Aden’s long and exhausting hot season. I was very unfit, had put on an absurd amount of weight and was more than ready for a short holiday. Sir Richard had to cancel his leave because of Lord Beswick’s visit and its aftermath, but he insisted I went away as originally planned. The airfare from Aden to Nairobi cost £60 for a return flight, which was heavy on my salary, but not out of the question, and Kenya friends pressed me to fly over and offered me generous hospitality.

Thus it was that on 3rd December, Charles and Annette Gardner met me, tired, fat and pasty-faced, off the plane in Nairobi at about five o’clock on a Friday afternoon, and took me to their beautiful home at Karen, which lay amid forest and farms beyond the Nairobi Game Park. They had a spacious, comfortable house in a garden of green lawns and exotic flowers, and gave me a quiet evening catching up on Nairobi news.

My first full day in Nairobi was spent shopping energetically for Lady Turnbull. While it was not very exciting, it was a delightful contrast to the dusty, hot and ugly shopping centre in Aden, and I took great pleasure in seeing good shops again, new fashions worn by smart, well-dressed people, and well-run restaurants. That afternoon, Charles and Annette took me into the Game Park for a picnic tea with the children. We watched monkeys and antelopes and saw masses of ostrich, zebra, wildebeest and giraffe, sights that never fail to thrill me. In the evening, Charles took me to a dinner at the Norfolk Hotel of the Kenya Oxford and Cambridge Society. We dressed smartly and had an excellent meal, everyone was very friendly and civilized, and I found I knew several men from my Cambridge days.

On the Sunday, we drove out in the morning about 100 miles to Nakuru to attend a motor racing event. Charles lent me a little, old Volkswagen, rather slow but very reliable and sturdy, and not uncomfortable, and I revelled in the chance to drive through the superbly beautiful country. There was so much space, and the land was all luxuriant and fertile, fresh and green with recent rain. The magnificent forests and huge, endless rolling plains took one’s breath away after barren, claustrophobic Aden; as did the gorgeous country gardens and wealth of lovely flowers – gladioli, carnations, delphiniums, dahlias, agapanthus, arums, and many more that formed a long and lovely list. After Arabia, anything green and colourful was heartening, and a few days in the Kenya Highlands were hugely refreshing.

Nakuru is in the Rift Valley, low-lying and dry and good farming land. The racing was informal and friendly; the meeting was not particularly well organised, but had all the proper pits, flags and track events, and the excitement of the circuit interested and amused me. We had a picnic lunch on the grass and strolled among the cheerful crowd of prosperous Kenya farmers and settlers there.

The Nandi Hills

When the races ended I said goodbye to Charles and his family. They went back to Nairobi while I motored another 100 miles in the late afternoon into the Nandi Hills. I was invited for a couple of days as guest of Peter Mence with whom I had worked in Dar es Salaam and stayed before at Kericho. Nandi Hills was a small village serving the tea estates on a beautiful plateau amid lush forests on the edge of an escarpment thirty miles off the road to Uganda. Dirt tracks weaved in and around the dozen or so estates that were scattered over a wide area of the hills. Peter had become the Secretary of the Nandi Hills Branch of the Kenya Tea Growers Association, which handled the administration of the estates and negotiated with the trade unions on behalf of the planters. He had an interesting and fairly easy job, was well looked after and had been given a pretty little house in a valley on the edge of the village.

He gave me a warm welcome and made me comfortable, and I spent three lazy days as his guest. He was a kind host as well as an interesting talker, and played the piano and organ to professional standards. I was invited to a cocktail party where I met all the tea planters and their wives and picked up the local gossip. I accompanied Peter on a shopping expedition to Eldoret, and found it little more than a village, though an important source of supplies for the estates, popular with the old-time farmer settlers who abounded thereabouts.

That apart, I happily devoted two full days to painting. Using the easel and paints I had brought on the plane. I painted two pictures; one of a view over thorn trees and forest from Peter’s verandah, which was a success and offered to Peter as a thank-you present, and the other of a well-cultivated tea garden with the deep golden and lime green of newly plucked tea bushes - but that picture was more difficult and much less successful.

Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya, viewed from our base camp
Mount Kenya
I left Nandi Hills reluctantly on the Thursday of my holiday, to drive in the aged Volkswagen across Kenya to Nanyuki, which lay astride the road north from Nairobi and nestled at the foot of Mount Kenya. I was to be the guest of Fiona Alexander with whom I had worked closely when she had been Social Secretary at the Dar es Salaam Government House, and I had been the ADC. Fiona was a hearty, cheery girl, mad keen on animals and wild things, always dashing off on some crazy safari, but with a kind and generous heart. She had married John Alexander, who described himself as a ‘white hunter and Alpine guide’, and whom I was to meet for the first time on arrival at Nanyuki.

When I had spoken to them on the phone from Nairobi, they had asked me if I wanted to climb Mount Kenya. I had demurred, on grounds of expense - the official price was £40 a head; time - I had to be back in Nairobi by Sunday evening; lack of equipment - I had nothing in the way of climbing gear with me; disinclination - I was feeling in need of an idle holiday rather than an energetic mountain climb.

I was horror-struck, therefore, when at the end of five hours’ driving I reached Nanyuki on Thursday evening, ready for a quiet supper and talk over old times, only to be told:

By the way, we’ve decided to go up the mountain after all. The organisers have agreed to reduce the charge, so we are going up for three days, and we leave in half an hour’s time. You’ll need lots of warm clothes. Hurry up, and get your things ready!

I had to borrow everything - climbing boots, thick woolly socks, sweaters, wind-cheaters, a balaclava helmet, ice-axe, goggles, and all the usual cold-weather high-altitude equipment. We left by Land Rover soon after dark to join a party bivouacked on the moorland slopes of the mountain. We climbed for an hour through forests and wild jungle, spotting many creatures in the headlights of the Land Rover including one large buffalo who stood a few feet from our vehicle and was reluctant to get off the road to allow us to pass. Emerging at last from the forest, we had a bumpy ride through marshes and over moorland to reach the camp in time for an alfresco supper round a campfire, where we met our companions on the climb.

I was provided with a minute tent, camp bed, sleeping bag and pillow for myself, and found it strange to crawl into the bag – under canvas for the first time for some years. I slept well, however, and woke in the morning to find the ground covered in frost and the temperature well below freezing point. We enjoyed a warming breakfast and were told we had fifteen miles to walk that day to reach the top camp in a place called Hinde’s Valley.

Our route lay up a long valley into the heart of the mountain
Route Up
It was a vast, lovely country, as we plodded across the slopes towards the high peaks. At first, our path lay over fairly open country with giant heather and tufted grass. Then, as the vegetation grew sparser and the path much steeper, we entered an area of the strange, giant lobelias, giant groundsel and pale everlasting flowers. Birds were everywhere and innumerable, pretty streams coursed down the mountain slopes, but it was too cold for any normal flora - just these exotic and slightly sinister plants. This was the same ‘Afro-alpine’ microclimate and ecology that I had met on my climbs on Mounts Elgon and Kilimanjaro.

Among the giant groundsel
After walking all morning on these rough open slopes, my legs were doing well, but I was growing weary. Happily, ponies were at hand to carry the laggards and lazy, while mules bore our kit and the camp clobber. So I mounted a pony and rode for the rest of the day. Hinde’s Valley lay in a charming little basin in the hills encircled by giant groundsel. The ground was churned up and very rocky and the snow-covered mountain tops towered over us, silhouetted at the head of the valley. We arrived in a bitterly cold snowstorm, staggering into camp in swirling mist. Already at 12,000 feet, the air was rare, and we were short of breath. Every movement was difficult and we were liable to head and tummy aches. I was particularly afraid of disgracing myself as I had before in Aden on Shamsan, so I swallowed masses of aspirin to control my altitude headaches and took things very carefully.

John Alexander with the ponies
John Alexander
Mount Kenya has three peaks, two of which, at about 17,500 feet, can be reached only by skilled climbers over steep rock, ice, and snow glaciers, for professionals only. The third peak is called Lenana, lying at the head of a steep glacier, and can be won by a scramble along the rocks at its side and does not require much skill or equipment. The storm had ceased by the morning and we set out in sunshine on Saturday towards Lenana. Several of us rode most of the way up the mountainside on the sturdy ponies. Progress was slow because the altitude affected us all. We struggled up through very picturesque mountain scenery, scrambled over rocks, shingle and shale, and rode through mushy snow and slippery ice as we climbed higher. The sun went in at about nine in the morning and we entered freezing mist and cloud. Two hours later we made a long traverse on foot across scree, and came to a remote mountain rescue hut at about 15,000 feet. The hut was full of safety and emergency medical equipment, and lay in a hollow by a frozen pond where there was very little air.

Fiona Alexander at the mountain rescue hut
Fiona Alexander
I decided to sleep. So, while the toughest of our party including Fiona and John went on to the summit of Lenana, I curled up on a stretcher and fell asleep, huddled under sweaters and waterproofs. It was eerie and lonely whilst the others were gone, with no sounds but the snorting and champing of the mules at their traces outside and a chill wind growling round the hut. I was content at having come so high on the mountain, even though I had had no chance to acclimatize myself. The others reached Lenana’s top, and I heard their disembodied voices in the cloud high above me at noon.

The mountain peaks from the top hut
Mountain Peaks
When they returned, weary and chilled to the bone, we harnessed the mules again and set off back the way we had come in another snowstorm that continued all the way back to Hinde Valley. The trek was long and tiring, as we struggled up, down, and round the bleak, stony mountainside. We reached the camp as darkness fell, tired and stiff and thoroughly exhausted. That evening we assembled in a big tent for a magnificent supper of steaming hot soup, warmed-up pie and coffee to recover strength and thaw out. We were then very weary and quite ready to burrow into our sleeping bags for our last night on the mountain.

We came down the mountain on the Sunday morning leaving the camp at about 8 a.m. The fifteen-mile trek was by no means all downhill. We were each given a pony to help us over the difficult terrain as we struggled over a series of high ridges and climbed up and down their steep sides on our way out. Moving slowly, but steadily, our party reached the lower camp and the waiting vehicles after about six hours.

Fiona, John and I piled into their Land Rover, had a picnic lunch as we drove down through the thick forests clothing the mountain’s lower slopes and rushed back to the Alexanders’ home in Nanyuki. I came away with the smell in my nostrils of dirty, wet clothes and the steamy canvas of my tiny tent. I had neither shaved nor washed for four days, had had no clean clothes, still less seen a newspaper or heard a wireless, and I had totally forgotten about my office. I had done nothing but walk and eat and sleep, surrounded by the awesome and forbidding mountain scenery around me. It had been a great escape and hugely satisfying, even though I had failed to reach the mountain peak.

All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi

Once off the mountain I found myself in a fearful hurry, for I wanted to be in Nairobi by 8.30 p.m. and faced a three and a half hour journey by car from Nanyuki before I could clean up to appear in polite society again. I was invited that evening to attend a Christmas concert in All Saints’ Cathedral in Nairobi. Handel’s Messiah was being sung with a big choir and the full orchestra of the Kericho Music Ensemble; and friends were taking part.

The drive down the main road was hectic, fast and dangerous, but I made good time until lost in the outskirts of Nairobi where I had to ask the way. At last I found Karen, and was able to wash at the Gardners, put on a suit, drive back into town and park at the cathedral just in time to hear the opening solos.

It was a superb performance in a lovely setting. The cathedral had been built sixty years earlier in heavy, grey stone. It held one thousand people, and was packed for the occasion. The altar and choir were beautifully lit in dark blue and silver; the flowers were magnificent including tall gladioli, arums, agapanthus, white dahlia and huge carnations. The congregation was welldressed and absorbed in the performance. Among the musicians, Peter Mence was at the organ; Annette Gardner played the violin in the orchestra; two of the Nandi Hills people sang solos, and Patricia le Breton (travelling up from Zambia where her husband David was in the Diplomatic Service) sang the contralto solos. The organist, string players and vocalists performed movingly to a very high standard. Somehow it was all quite magical, particularly, perhaps, so soon after the rigours on the cold bare mountain. It was the climax of my holiday.

The rest of the story is soon told. We got home to Karen late, and had some supper at the Gardners’ at about midnight. Monday was a day of rest when I took a few photographs of the garden and joined them all in a picnic in the afternoon. I took Charles and Annette out in the evening and joined Peter Mence at the New Stanley Grill Room, but it was not much of a night out. While the band and dancing were pleasant, the food was mediocre, and the décor and atmosphere were dull.

Early on Tuesday I left Karen for the airport. The plane had to turn back shortly after take-off because it had punctured a tyre when leaving the runway, and was stuck on the tarmac for two hours while the wheel was replaced. Then we flew home via Mogadishu in Somalia and reached Aden in the early afternoon. After the fresh highland air and battling through snow-storms on Mount Kenya, I had lost weight and felt remarkably healthy.

December 1965 – January 1966

Soon after my return from Kenya, Christmas was upon us and, to my delight, my family drowned me in gifts and the children’s letters gave me special pleasure. Joan and I were seeing a good deal of each other and spending as much time together as we could – and I enjoyed every minute. Our evenings that December were full; my neighbours entertained us generously - Robin and Joan Thorne threw a big cocktail party in their flat opposite mine, which we especially enjoyed; and I was able to repay their hospitality with drinks among friends in my flat only a day or two before Robin was seriously injured by the parcel bomb.

On one memorable night Harry Nicholls, my good friend HE’s bodyguard, and I took Joan and a friend of hers to Aden’s only respectable nightclub where we danced until two in the morning. It was great relaxation and grand fun for a change.

Aden was at its best in January: it was cool in the mornings and afternoons, and the sunsets were magnificent. Better still, when HE was summoned to London to meet the new Secretary of State and plan the way ahead, my work eased off once again. Tom Oates was in charge and gave me leave to stay with the Somerfields at Dhala (as reported in an earlier chapter) and my working life was comparatively easy while, happily, Aden was reasonably peaceful. Lady T had remained behind in Aden when HE had gone to London, and I accompanied her on several trips, including an interesting journey out along the seashore to Abyan and back through Zingibar, and I supported her at several small GH dinner parties at which she was hostess.

I started another painting of the mountainside behind the flats and threw a cheerful cocktail party for a number of friends. I was inveigled in a plot hatched between Lady T and Joan to transport her parrot from the Steamer Point flat to Government House to join the Turnbulls’ talkative bird. Manoeuvring the huge wire cage out of Joan’s flat and down her narrow twisting staircase to the street was a messy business. The parrot disapproved as I struggled with the big angular cage and we cursed in unison all the way until my mission was complete and I delivered the bird to its new friend.

I got to know Jim Trousdell much better, met his wife and daughter, Susan, and found them a delightful family and Jim a very pleasant colleague. I spent several afternoons and evenings with acquaintances from East Africa who were passing through Aden by boat. Better still, my old and dear friend from Nzega days, Rummy, arrived on the SS Kenya Castle from Tanzania while I was in Dhala. Rummy had taken on the job of Health Visitor at the Aden Clinic in the depths of Crater – tough, dirty and rough work for a middle-aged lady, but I think she relished the challenge. I was delighted to see her again when I looked her up at the hotel, spent some time helping her find somewhere to live and buy a car, and introduced her to Joan and my friends at GH.

Another old friend who turned up in Aden was Christine Bratt. Her elderly mother, had lived in an old house by the bridge at Monkey Island, and used to call on us frequently when I had worked for my sister, Liz, as barman at the hotel there. Chris had qualified as a doctor, was great fun with a cheerful disposition and a very hearty laugh, although I never quite understood what she was doing in Aden.

Early in the year the news came through that all Aden civil servants were to receive a pay rise in April - an extra £18 a month for me, backdated to the date of my appointment - and our gratuity on termination of contract was increased to twenty-five per cent of salary. I paid off my debts and bought a smart carpet for the flat and the automatic Omega Seamaster watch that I wear today.

March – April 1966: Falling in Love

March was a busy time socially. Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the distinguished archaeologist, stayed a fortnight at GH. He used us as his base for travelling around South Arabia, inspecting our ruins and archaeological remains. He was a most entertaining guest, but a bit of a bore if one let him go on too long. He was looked after by Brian Doe, the eager Director of Antiquities in Aden, who shared his enthusiasms and was in his element. Brian lived out at Ras Marshag and one evening when we were visiting friends near by he showed us with pride the ‘mermaid’ he kept in a glass case on the verandah of his house. It was in fact a stuffed dugong and one of the strangest–looking creatures you could imagine. Sir Mortimer laid the foundation stone for a new museum for Aden and threw himself into an evening of Scottish dancing organised by Lady T. It was a highly technical affair, starting with eight-some reels before going on to much more complicated exercises.

At the end of the month the Aden Arts Society arranged an exhibition in the Union Club in Steamer Point. I framed several of my oils and hung six. One of my paintings was bought within an hour of the opening of the exhibition, and two others were sold for a few pounds during its course.

I gave occasional sundowners at Ras Boradli, and Joan entertained frequently in her old Steamer Point flat. Here I was welcomed by Joan’s pleasant circle of girl friends and a selection of her boy friends among the young officers of 45 Royal Marine Commando, the SAS and infantry regiments. They were all good sports and sometimes very entertaining. I enjoyed their company immensely, and Joan’s even more. The only one of the army officers whom I had met previously was John Slim who had been ADC to his father, the Field Marshal, when they had paid a visit to Dar es Salaam GH. Joan had known John and several of his fellow officers from Malaya days and he had received rapid promotion to become CO of the SAS Unit in Aden.

I was much preoccupied with the long tour made by Lord Beswick to Aden, and I escaped from him only once in order to accompany Joan to The Yellow Rolls Royce with Rex Harrison and Ingrid Bergman, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. After Beswick’s departure, we went to a performance of The Mikado put on by an RAF Amateur Dramatic Company at the beginning of April, and together we attended our local amateur theatrical show Simon and Laura one night soon afterwards. By then I was seeing Joan every other evening, talking to her most mornings on the phone, and enjoying her company hugely.

Her office, at that time, was in the vulnerable police headquarters in Tawahi behind the Crescent, and we were greatly relieved when she changed jobs and moved out to work at Al Ittihad. She was given charge of the secretarial side of the Federal Intelligence Office run by Desmond Cosgrove and Jeff Jefferson. It was slightly worrying that Joan’s journey to and from work involved a twenty minute or so drive out of Aden, across the causeway and a stretch of the desert, but happily her office was in a well-guarded location at the other end.

An Enchanted Evening

On 8th April, it so happened we were both invited to a drinks party in Eliane’s flat above her office in the GH courtyard, and it was one of those happy parties where everyone was friends, our elegant hostess made sure the food and drink flowed, the evening was cool and we all chatted cheerfully. Joan was at the other end of the room when, by chance, I caught her eye. She smiled; I grinned back and discovered, to my delight, I was in love. I knew then I wanted her to be my wife.

We came away quickly to be together, holding hands, saying silly things, laughing at nonsenses and suddenly feeling very, very happy. I loved the girl for her quietly humorous individuality, her sense of ease in her own space, the way she seemed to carry the light with her, and, above all, that irresistible smile.

The next event was the ADC’s wedding and reception at GH. Jeremy Rawlins chose Annie-Paul Roux, the daughter of the French Consul in Aden, a sweet, bubbling and laughing young lady, and they seemed very pleased with each other’s company. They were married at Christchurch, our Anglican church down at Steamer Point, and the reception took place in the drawing-room at Government House. Then they left on honeymoon and I found myself acting as ADC for a spell once again.

The new Labour Adviser to the High Commissioner turned out to be my former boss, John Walsh, who had accepted the job at HE’s pressing invitation. I met John and Elinor on their arrival from England on the SS Iberia and took them back to GH where they stayed their first few days as the Turnbulls’ guests. Sir Richard gave them a very friendly dinner party to meet all the right people for John’s new job, and we looked after them carefully at the start of their tour. Unfortunately there was a problem over their accommodation: life was not as comfortable for them as they might have hoped; their standards were high and they rejected the house they were offered at first. Fortunately I was able to let them use my flat and car while I was away that May.

May – July 1966: Little Bricklehurst

When HE went back to London for the conference with the Federal rulers that May, I followed him home. On flying back from Aden, my parents met me at the much-enlarged London airport and drove me to their newly completed house in the garden of Liz’s school at Bricklehurst Manor outside Wadhurst. They called it ‘Little Bricklehurst’. My father described it thus,

Little Bricklehurst is a good looking small house, built East Sussex style, with white brick walls, old tiles above, and a slate roof. It has white painted casement dormer windows, and the glass is square latticed. Its appearance blends well with the manor house sixty yards away, of which it was called the annexe for rating and tax purposes. There are three bedrooms, two leading off the big square hall with a cloakroom between them, and two commodious garages on either side. As the roof had been lowered to save expense, the staircase is shallow. It leads to the main living room, which is an L-shaped drawing and dining room, lit on three sides by windows and with a door on to a balcony and oak stairway leading into the garden. The only fireplace in the building is on the fourth side of this room, which is big enough for a twenty-person cocktail party. The kitchen leads off the dining area and on this floor are the main bedroom, bathroom, lavatory and hot cupboard with an immersion electric boiler. The expensive, but labour-saving, heating is electric throughout. Altogether it is a very comfortable dwelling, suited much more for two old people with the minimum of help than was our fascinating and lovely Island Cottage.

My parents had been in occupation for less than a month when I returned from Aden, and were working hard to make the house comfortable and lay out the garden. My mother was proud of her new kitchen on the first floor, with windows overlooking the sunken lawn, and they were building a wooden balcony outside the glass door in the upstairs drawing room with broad steps running down to the grass below. I thought it was a delightful house and greatly enjoyed my weekend there, catching up with family news.

Early on the Monday, however, I was obliged to go up to London by train to start work at the Foreign Office in Downing Street. My sister, Margaret, was kind enough to give me a bed at their Willow Road home, and for a few weeks I found myself a daily commuter between Hampstead and Whitehall.


Each weekend I returned to Little Bricklehurst to see my parents and help my father work outside. He was engaged in a heavy job laying crazy paving along the side of the new house, and I gave him a hand with it. I attended a cheerful cocktail party given by Liz for her friends in Bricklehurst Manor across the garden, and a well-organised dinner party given by parents; and I managed a series of short visits to catch up with my relations at home as well as old friends.

I sent off a fresh set of application forms for entry into the Diplomatic Service. The High Commissioner agreed to be my character referee, and I had great hopes. When my forms reached the Foreign Office Personnel Department, however, I was turned down flat – they gave me an interview only to say they had nothing to add to earlier assessments of my unsuitability for the job of a diplomat.

I was, however, able to look forward to a proper break. At Whitsun the London conference folded up quietly, most of the participants flew back to the Middle East, while I hired a car and started a long trip round the country visiting friends and relations. First I went down to see my eldest nephew, Peter, at Sherborne, my old school; I then drove back across the country to Norwich to stay with Peter’s father and my brother, John, Doreen and their two younger children, full of plans for their move to Canada where John was to join a GP’s practice in a small town near Toronto. From there I went up to Scotland to visit various Cambridge friends and the Macleods in Edinburgh. I bought some pretty things for Joan in the smart shops in George Street, took a great liking to Edinburgh and was sad to have to move on. On the way south I called on my Cambridge friend, Roger Moat, and his bride, Rhona, in their very pretty, new house in Horsforth near Leeds.

On the last day of my expedition I looked in on Repton School and took my godson, Michael March out to lunch before the long drive back to my parents’ home in Stonegate. All too soon I was back on the BOAC plane on my way out to Joan and the job in Aden.

Chapter 8: Married and Sacked
‘Let us roll all our Strength, and all
Our Sweetness up into one Ball;
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Through the Iron gates of Life.
Thus, though we can not make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run’

From To his Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Domestic affairs: July – August 1966

On my return to Aden after leave in the UK, Joan met me at Khormaskar airport in the early morning. It lifted my heart to see her again despite the heavy heat.

I had written regularly while in England and Scotland, but my letters had been boring, and we had much news to exchange as she drove me back to Ras Boradli. The Walshes, to whom I had lent my little flat, had found a place of their own while I had been away, and I was able to move straight back, but even on the flat’s lovely open verandah overlooking the sea, there was no breeze in July, and I lived in my air-conditioned bedroom. Social life was flagging because of both the increasing violence on the streets and the fierce heat. Places like the open-air bar at the Officers’ Mess were too warm for comfort. Only in the sea off their beach and at Gold Mohur could one refresh oneself.

At home my parents were saddened at the departure of my brother John and his family to start their new life in Canada, but were greatly cheered when my sister Margaret gave birth to David a few days after my return to Aden. Then I threw in my tupp'orth to add to the family excitement. I sent a cable home on 8th August as follows:


I had gently cast a fly a week earlier, and had more formally proposed the preceding evening. One night after supper together, we were sitting on the terrace outside my flat, having a late drink, looking over a silver sea shining in the light of the nearly full moon, and I proposed to her again. Joan said Yes, and the balloon went up.

Next day we announced our engagement. For me the world seemed to explode and began to revolve a great pace. Supremely happy, I went about in a daze, unable to believe my great good fortune. The first step was to choose a ring. We went to Bhicajee’s, and selected a cluster of nine sparkling, little diamonds with a big one in the middle, which looked very well on Joan’s elegant hand. We went on to the grillroom of the Aden Rock Hotel for a celebration lunch with a couple of friends, and enjoyed our first bottle of champagne together – it cost two pounds, ten shillings.

A cheerful moment during our engagement party.
Engagement Party
The next step was to have a party. Sir Richard got the ADC to call together our friends for an impromptu gathering at GH; fifty or so guests assembled four days later. Lady T was still in Henley sorting out their new house, but we were joined by Alison Weller whose husband Paul was serving in the army in Aden, by old friends like the Walshes, Rummy and Christine Bratt and by many of our new friends. We drank lots more champagne, HE proposed our health in a charming, little speech, and I replied briefly. It was a very happy occasion.

Then we started planning the wedding. It was sad that we could not afford to marry at home in the presence of Joan’s mother and my parents. I know my mother was much distressed, but Joan would have lost her gratuity and the expense of the fares would have been prohibitive. I wrote home as often as I could, describing our plans as they developed week by week, explaining the gradual development of the arrangements for an Aden wedding in the cooler weather of late October when many of our friends could be present.

As soon as we received confirmation that we could have a cabin on the SS Africa, sailing from Aden to Mombasa on 28th October, we booked it and spoke to the senior RAF chaplain, Padre Pellant. I knew him because he had officiated at many of the funerals in Silent Valley that I had attended. In his quiet easy way, he readily agreed to conduct our marriage service. We wanted to hold the ceremony at Christchurch, the little stone church in Tawahi, and we arranged it for the early morning, when it would be cool and the roads would be quiet. The solemnities were to be followed by a mid morning reception at GH, with HE’s warm agreement. Invitations went out and acceptances and presents flooded back. Joan became one of the GH ‘family’ and a frequent guest at evening parties and dinners; I moved into her circle of friends and I was able to introduce her to mine, and the pleasant High Commission folk like the Stuarts, the Winks, the Lees and my army contacts like the Trousdells.

In the weeks that followed, HE was away a good deal, travelling in the EAP and later back home working at the Foreign Office in London, thus allowing me time to make the complicated arrangements for our wedding and honeymoon. Sadly the Walshes decided not to stay in Aden. Though they enjoyed the company of the Turnbulls, John found the job of Labour Adviser, dealing with the recalcitrant trade unions unsatisfactory – and, indeed, impossible, while Elinor was unable to find a house and staff to suit their style of life. We were sorry to see them go, but gave them a big farewell drinks party and a very grand dinner at GH, and saw them off in fine style by air early one morning.

More Job Hunting

The prospect of marriage made it all the more urgent for me to fix myself up with a permanent job to follow the end of my Aden contract. My second attempt to obtain entry into the Diplomatic Service had been firmly squashed while in London in July. Then before John Walsh left Aden, I sought his help once more about opportunities in the tea industry. Just before he left he offered to write on my behalf to his senior contacts in the tea world of Mincing Lane; and he encouraged me to write, too, to ask about openings in the business of tea-estate management in both London and East Africa.

Accordingly I wrote to George Williamson’s in Nairobi, and was invited to call on them while on honeymoon there. I also wrote to their head office in London and was told to make an appointment when I was there the following summer; they hinted they might then have an opening at their offices in Calcutta. I considered the opportunity with care. I would have much rather preferred working for them in Nairobi or London, but concluded Calcutta could be a useful stepping stone as the base from which GW managed their major tea-growing operations in Assam. So I let GW know I would be prepared to work for a few years in India, on the understanding that they would give me a permanent job with good prospects and a reasonable salary. The matter rested there until I could see them on return home.


Sir Richard returned from London to Aden at much the same time as Lady T flew in, having completed the purchase of their new house. Robin Thorne was still in England on leave, recuperating at their house in Old Heathfield in East Sussex not far from my parents’ new home. By post he generously promised to act as my Best Man on his return to Aden, having made a strong recovery from his injuries from the parcel-bomb. The warm-hearted Leslie Wink readily agreed to give Joan away at the altar, while her close friend from Malaya days, Anthea Hay undertook to come out from London to be matron of honour. She flew out ten days before the wedding, bearing my morning dress suit on hire from Weekes of Tenterden. She was an inspired choice for the role, for she turned out to be just the right sort of person to help Joan and steady us both through the following hectic days.

An investiture took place at GH on the day of Anthea’s arrival. All the great and the good of Aden were assembled in lines of chairs in the big reception room, and it was my task to announce the names of those to be honoured and call them forward to receive their awards from HE. The first in line was General John Willoughby who was made a CB – an honour that gave much satisfaction to those of us who knew him well. Others among our friends to be honoured were James Bridges with the MBE, and Brian Doe the Director of Antiquities with the OBE for his efforts to preserve the region’s heritage and build a museum to hold its ancient artifacts. Near the end of the line, Rummy received the BEM as token recognition of her wonderful work as Health Visitor among the young mothers in the Western Province of Tanzania. She invited Joan and Anthea to be her ‘supporters’. We met Anthea off her plane early that morning and made her put on a hat almost at once and join Joan in her glad rags at the ceremony up at GH. I then took them all to a slap-up lunch at the Aden Rock which had the best restaurant in Aden, and escorted them both in the evening to see La Belle Helene performed by the local amateur dramatic society.

Our Wedding

I moved into GH for a couple of nights before the wedding to allow workmen to clean up and redecorate my flat. We said goodbye amicably to Abdallah, who had looked after me loyally since my arrival at Ras Boradli, and we took on a cheery, younger chap named Abdu who was quiet, neat and biddable, and had been Joan’s servant in the Steamer Point flats. Abdu knew Joan’s ways, was rather more suitable for a married couple, and served us faithfully and sensibly for the remainder of our time at Ras Boradli.

I picked up more furniture from the Government PWD stores including a double bed so that the place was fresh for us both to move into on return from the honeymoon. Two evenings before the wedding, my Best Man gave me a quiet drinks party. On the day before the ceremony I was rushing around all day, in the morning collecting tickets, travellers’ cheques, passports and other documents, and in the afternoon helping to set out the presents and flowers. I nipped out to the Cable and Wireless office and sent the following telegram home to my parents.


Then I drove out to the Winks’ where Joan and Anthea were staying and we had scrambled eggs for supper together. The two girls had packed up Joan’s flat and were even more exhausted than I. Then, for the very last time a bachelor on my own, I went back to Ras Boradli for an early night.

Next morning I was given breakfast by kind neighbours. Robin Thorne was present and opened thirty-two telegrams between the cereal and the marmalade. All was bustle, people looking in and going off on some errand, everyone helping to dress me and pack a bag for the cruise and Kenya honeymoon.

There were several last minute unexpected guests. Alison Weller was able to attend; Sheilagh Bailey, my close Dar es Salaam friend, had got a job as a personal secretary in the High Commission and happened to fly in from London early on the morning of the wedding. She must have come straight from the airport to the church, donning a hat on the way. She looked as if her outfit had come out of a bandbox, and she was kind enough to enjoy our happiness. Then there was the cuckoo in the nest. Mr Bowen, an eminent QC, had been sent out by the Foreign Secretary to investigate the condition of our detainees, and, as he was staying at GH which had been turned upside down for the wedding reception, we thought it churlish to omit him from the party. In the event he rallied well, seemed to enjoy himself, was very pleasant to us and gave us a generous present.

The tough Northumberland Fusiliers guarding the church
Guarding the Wedding
Padre Pellant’s only fault was in calling me ‘Dickie’ which I have always loathed, but he prepared and rehearsed us well. Security was assured by a platoon of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers who acted as sentries and guards around the church. Then, as happened all too often in those days, a general strike was promised for later in the morning, and a curfew was imposed to limit the rioting. Fortunately it transpired that our guests could enjoy the party and reach their homes safely before the curfew hour.

Christchurch was a small, intimate church with a cool peaceful interior with lots of polished wooden pews within stone walls. It had a calm and friendly atmosphere and was just the right place in which to be married, and it was full to overflowing when Robin escorted me to the front pew at half past eight that morning. Flowers that had been carefully selected by kind friends from the New Stanley Florists in Nairobi were flown in by the RAF on a ‘training’ flight, and arranged in the church by Dolly Prendergast and Judy Stuart. Huge vases were massed everywhere adding to the beauty and cheerful colours around us. The smiling choristers were dressed in sparkling white surplices – and their singing of The Lord’s my shepherd was beautifully done - and our hundred guests wore a colourful selection of hats and outfits. Everyone we knew and liked in Aden was there, and we said a very special prayer for absent family and friends.

Eliane Stefanides had made Joan’s wedding dress. It was a plain, long, pure white shark-skin design, which made her look tall and very smart, and had a seam at the back with thirty-six buttons in the same material. In this lovely dress she arrived in a GH car, decked with ribbons, after a long drive from the Winks’ house in Ma’alla at the other end of town. She and Leslie were on time at the church, but spent five minutes outside arranging the veil. We all stood to sing, Lead us, Heavenly Father, Lead us, and, when I looked round there she was – the most moving moment of my life – in a very, very, lovely dress with slim elegant lines, shrouded by a feather-light veil, a cloud of white net, and crowned with a little pillbox hat. Beneath it, the prettiest face imaginable smiled at me, blinking a little because she had decided not to wear glasses. On Leslie’s arm, she was bearing a bouquet of stephanotis and white roses, and Anthea was in close support.

It was a wonderful ceremony. The RAF padre was gentle with us and yet very correct. He did it all with efficiency and great propriety, and led us through the service stage by stage, easily and quietly, giving us no chance to make any mistake. We soon lost the worst of our nervousness, and were both composed and confident when we had to make our vows, sign the register in the vestry and lead the way out of the church down the central aisle. For security reasons only a couple of photographs were taken at the church door before we were driven up to GH for the reception.

Under the GH pergola with Anthea Hay, Robin Thorne, and Pam Wink
GH Pergola
My bride, the Turnbulls and I stood at its imposing entrance shaking hands with our guests as they streamed in and filled the big drawing room. Yet more flowers from Nairobi had been arranged by our telephone ladies to decorate the room beautifully; lots of agapanthus, carnations, roses, giant blue delphiniums and plenty of greenery - the colour and the beauty of the flowers were a feature of the wedding. The presents were displayed in the dining room and looked very good. On my behalf Jeremy had bought sixty bottles of champagne from the NAAFI, at one guinea each; the Rock Hotel provided a quantity of petit fours, and a friend of Joan’s made a very grand cake, which the NAAFI iced for us.

We allowed an hour for drinking before the speeches and the cake. In proposing the toast HE was devastatingly quick, clever, and very funny. He began with the usual introduction and then, recalling that Joan had once worked for MI5, recited the following verse that he claimed to have composed before breakfast that morning.

Arise, my Muse and show how apt your nerve is,
To sing the glories of the Foreign Service
But tune thy lyre with tact and with composure,
And shun, ah shun, the ill-advised disclosure.
Let wisdom and discretion be thy guide
To see that all that’s writ’s UNCLASSIFIED.
Calliope herself might well be interdicted
For making free with matter that’s RESTRICTED.
And great Zeus rot, in durance penitential,
For failing to identify what’s really CONFIDENTIAL.
And pray you clothe, as Muses should,
in decent Greek obscurity,
All reference you chance to make to
And jargon is as jargon does with staidness and civility –
The essence of intelligence is its unintelligibility.

Robin followed HE with a few kind and quiet words, said how he had recently seen my parents, and read out a few of the telegrams from family and closest friends. I gave our thanks in what, I hope, was a suitable reply before we cut the cake together with Jeremy’s sword, and were whisked away by our ushers to circulate among our guests as the cake was handed out.

It was all a whirl and a bustle as we went round the room, saying a few simple words to everyone; I think we covered most of the ground, and found people universally saying very nice things, but it was hard work. We slipped away from the party at eleven o’clock for more photographs in the garden, in which Joan looked every inch the stunning bride. Then we changed and left GH by car fifteen minutes later. Our guests gathered in the hall waiting to see us off, and sent us away in the finest possible style in a blaze of triumph to shouts of goodbye – doubtless relieved to be able to dash back home before the curfew.

At the Post Office Pier, the Harbourmaster’s launch was waiting. The Winks, Anthea, the ushers and one or two other good friends jumped aboard with us, escorted us to the SS Africa waiting in the harbour, and came down to our cabin with a couple of bottles of bubbly so that we were able to continue the party happily and in a more relaxed atmosphere. The ship’s Captain and the Company Agent introduced themselves and joined us and we had a merry half hour before the big ship prepared to cast its moorings. Then we hurriedly bundled our special guests on to the launch and the liner steamed out of the harbour bound for Mombasa.

Robin Thorne was kind enough to write a full report to my parents:

I would like you to know what an outstandingly beautiful wedding it was, how well Dick came through it, and how charming was the bride... You will probably have received full accounts of the wedding, but I will give you my own version nevertheless.

The day started with the minor crises, which seem to be inevitable on such occasions. As I sipped my morning cup of tea, out of the window of my bedroom I saw Dick’s car dashing down the road and out he leapt. I found myself imagining all sorts of disasters, but it was only a cufflink crisis remedied by collecting cufflinks from the luggage already at GH. Next came a button crisis as the laundry had laundered off one or two buttons of the wedding shirt. That too was quickly resolved by the good offices of Cecilia Jackson. And from then things never looked back.

Dick, whatever may have been going on inside, was splendidly calm and self-possessed, less nervous apparently than his best man. Everything in the church and to do with the service was beautiful. Joan’s wedding dress was a masterpiece and fitted her to perfection. The floral arrangements would have done justice to any church anywhere. The congregation was full of people all very much wishing well to the bride and bridegroom; and Dick and Joan went through their paces with quiet dignity and without a hitch.

Joan’s face during the service was so full of sweetness and tenderness that I found myself an intruder on something very private. You need not worry about your daughter-in-law.

Then the reception, and that was a very happy occasion. After HE’s brilliantly witty speech, it must have been testing for Dick; but he couldn’t have done better. He gave pleasure to all with his gratefulness and sincerity, and there was just the right number of flashes of wit and humour, which came out without any self-consciousness. My experience of weddings is limited, but I have never known a bridegroom do better. In fact the whole occasion, from the service on, was just what a wedding should be. So there are the best of auspices for the years ahead.

It was sad that you could not be there, and the absence of parents was the one big thing missing; but I am certain that if you had been there you would have wholly approved…

Leslie Wink wrote a similarly flattering letter home, adding,

We got Dick and Joan on the Africa well in time, and the Captain who joined in the revelry in their cabin, managed a kiss for all, except one of the camp followers present, and this default was merely from exhaustion. Anthea leaves here tomorrow – she has been a positive tower of strength.

The Honeymoon.

Like most successful honeymoons, I am sure, the adventure was probably less in the exotic places we visited than in getting to know each other. Sharing life together was a completely new experience for both of us; we had to make adjustments to our outlook and attitudes; the excitement of those two weeks was in our learning how to live and enjoy the world around us as a married couple, and at the same time we managed to have the greatest fun.

Aboard the ‘Africa’ on our wedding night
Aboard the ‘Africa’
Our ship sailed at noon. We were in the First Class of an Italian cruise liner of the Lloyd Trestino line, with well-trained staff and comfortable public rooms. Our cabin had two narrow berths at right angles to each other - which was inconvenient to put it mildly - but we had plenty of room, were well looked after and enjoyed our four days aboard as the boat cruised southwards round the Horn of Africa and down the east coast of the continent. Each morning we lazed on long deck-chairs in the sun by the swimming pool on the promenade deck, read a little, swam a little and sunbathed from time to time. Each evening we dined well, danced to the orchestra and were entertained with film shows. Much of the time we leant lazily against the rail and stared across at the distant African coastline shimmering in the heat haze on the starboard beam. We watched passengers disembark at Mogadishu in Somalia by clambering into the great net slung overboard from davits into the waiting flat-bottomed barge, which took them onto the beach. The following morning our boat crossed the Equator and we witnessed the crossing-the-line party as the great ship steamed cheerfully southwards, with all the usual noisy festivities. The next afternoon the liner sailed proudly and smoothly into Kilindini, the wide Mombasa harbour, and there we disembarked into the hot and dusty huggermugger of the dirty old island port.

The Mombasa shops were not great, but sold all sorts of things unobtainable in Aden, and we had an hour or so in which to buy Joan a swimming costume and a few other necessaries. With reluctance we tore ourselves away from the supremely comfortable ship, and took a cab from the boat to the Jadini Hotel, which lay about twenty miles south of Mombasa and was a quiet, relaxing, easy-going sort of spot. We stayed in half a bungalow opening immediately on to a beach of sparkling white sand above gentle waves and translucent emerald green sea. At low tide we could explore the coral reef with its shells, sea urchins, gently floating weed and masses of silly, multi-coloured fish darting about under one’s goggles. In the lazy evenings we enjoyed lobster in the hotel’s little outdoor restaurant on a deck by the sands. We had a lot of fun there, relished the beach and sunshine for two days, and wished it could be ten.

The hotel car took us back to Mombasa railway station where we caught the Nairobi train. We boarded at 8 p.m. one evening, had a good dinner (reputed to be the best coffee in East Africa) and a long sleep in their cosy bunks in a private compartment. Next morning we woke as the sun was rising to see antelopes and other wild game on both sides of the railway line as the train trundled through the open bush-land beside the Athi River. Watching the animals with our early morning tea and over breakfast in our compartment was a magical experience. We turned back without much enthusiasm to face the day and disembark at Nairobi’s bustling station at 8 in the morning.

We did more shopping in the first class shops in the big city – I was beginning to learn about the importance of shopping in the new scheme of things – and my good friends the Gardners once more lent me their old Volkswagen that I had borrowed on my Kenya holiday the previous year. Having sorted ourselves out in the little car, Joan and I set off from Nairobi on the road north for the trip past Lake Naivasha to Nanyuki. The weather could not have been more different from that we had enjoyed in Mombasa; on the slopes of Mount Kenya, rain poured down under black clouds, the forest dripped with water all about us, the rivers were everywhere in muddy spate and the roads were awash – and ours was only a little bouncy Volkswagen.

We paused briefly on the line of the Equator and drove on to the home of my friends, Fiona and John Alexander, who had taken me up Mount Kenya on my previous trip. It was a delight to see them again, to introduce Joan to them, and over a pleasant meal for us to hear about John’s work as a white hunter and the many game safaris he made with foreign clients. Fiona had always wanted to work with animals in the wild and had evidently found the right man as companion in her enterprise.

Mount Kenya Safari Club
Mount Kenya Safari Club
Pam and Leslie Wink had given us a wedding present of two nights at the Mount Kenya Safari Club. Built and owned by American film-stars, the hotel lay in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. It was on a slight rise in the foothills of Mount Kenya with snow-covered peaks behind it and endless empty plains in front of it – a panorama that can seldom be equalled. Around the hotel stretched extensive gardens of smooth green lawns, with a heated outdoor swimming pool, a golf links, big ponds and exotic flowers. The water gardens were the home of swans, storks, geese, a pelican or two, and masses of wildfowl. Elegant crowned cranes stalked through the grass and were a special delight. Guest bungalows were scattered across the lawns, and the main hotel building was set back into the hillside, with well laid out and luxurious public rooms - not necessarily in the best of taste – the bar was done in bamboo and zebra skin in what you might call American big game-hunters’ kitsch.

Our first night was spent in William Holden’s personal bungalow situated several hundred yards from the restaurant along a slippery muddy path. The bedroom was unheated and uncomfortable. One went down several steps to a sunken bath done in an absurd pink mosaic with gold dolphins for taps in a sort of basement; the water was never hot and we wallowed around like a couple of hippos. Despite all the luxury offered to us, we did not think much of the Hollywood design. So when we went down to see the Alexanders on our first morning, we asked John’s advice about negotiating a move to a more comfortable room. He had a word with the management and arranged for us to be transferred to the Bridal Suite in the main building – which seemed absolutely right and proper.

So we were given a vast bedroom on the first floor of the hotel with its own anteroom, thick pile carpets, an open wood fire burning all night, and a magnificent view from our panoramic windows over the gardens to the plains beyond. The log fire turned out to be a mixed blessing; while it warmed the room all night, it gave Joan nightmares, but in every other respect the Bridal Suite was a delight. The other snag was the rain, which poured down for a day and a half of our short visit. When the weather cleared John took us out in the Land Rover to look for game in the wilderness of a ranch belonging to friends beyond the township, and later we enjoyed a quiet evening as their guests.

We had two days of holiday left and on Fiona’s recommendation drove out to a place called Secret Valley to see leopards. We met the Indian owner of the enterprise at the Sportsman’s Arms, an old hotel a few miles outside Nanyuki. He bundled us into his battered old Land Rover and took us up a rough road through twelve miles of jungle, to his elaborate hide in the forest high up the mountain slopes. We found ourselves in a small version of the famous Treetops. It was a tree house built thirty or forty feet up on huge bamboo stilts. Half a dozen little cabins with simple beds encircled a big central sitting and dining room. Outside the cabins a balcony ran almost all the way round the building; and it was here we were able to stand and observe the game under discreet floodlights as they came for refreshment at the waterhole and salt-lick across the clearing below us.

We had been told leopards came regularly for an evening meal near by, and a haunch of raw meat had been tied to the branches of a tree only some thirtyfive feet away from the open balcony - it seemed to be almost within touching distance. As we held our breath in silence, three powerful and muscular leopards leapt into the tree one after the other, slipped through the branches to where the meat was hung and tore at it. They were the most lovely and frightening of beasts; they were quite impervious of the flood-lights and the awestruck watchers in the hide. At the other side of the clearing a succession of buffalo and bushbuck came to the water, and paddled and splashed around as they drank their fill.

After viewing the fascinating scene around the hide for a while, we shared with another English couple a cool beer and evening meal sitting round a brazier burning in the middle of the central room. The owner and his small staff looked after us very well and took us back after supper onto the balcony. After a while I left Joan and the other woman waiting for the animals to return to their prey. Joan leant over the balustrade to see if anything interesting was happening under our tree, and her glasses slipped off her nose into the undergrowth thirty feet below her. She could see little in the half-light without her glasses, and could not even find the bamboo door into the inner room to tell me of the catastrophe. At last she found the door handle and entered the room where she vaguely saw two men sitting at the brazier in sweaters. To my astonishment she approached the other chap – a big burly Yorkshireman – leant over his shoulder and kissed him lightly on his forehead. He was surprised - but very pleased. Very short-sighted, in the gloom, she had thought she was kissing me. It took time to sort out the muddle, but Joan’s glasses had to remain where they had fallen all night, as it was considered too dangerous for any of the staff to retrieve them until daylight came. As a result, she missed the second visits of the leopards and buffalos later in the evening before we went to rest in our little cabin.

Having retrieved Joan’s glasses next morning, we were taken back down the mountainside to our waiting Volkswagen and drove on to Nairobi for our last two days of holiday. We took a room in the courtyard at the back of the Norfolk Hotel, which was comfortable and convenient for our shopping to try to buy some clothes for Joan and a few things for the flat. We did quite well and enjoyed strolling the streets, seeing the latest fashions and newest things. We returned the borrowed VW to the Gardners and set off on our homeward journey in good order, only to lose a big parcel of shopping out of the back of the taxi that took us to the airport. We flew by Air India in an insalubrious, uncomfortable, smelly and much delayed plane. But even this rather wretched end of the holiday could not detract from the tremendous excitement and supremely happy honeymoon – the two of us together.

December 1966: Starting life together

Back at Khormaksar airport in Aden Joan and I stepped off the Nairobi plane, man and wife, into the sultry atmosphere. We were much later than expected because of the miserable delays, but a GH car was waiting for us, and whisked us straight back to our Ras Boradli flat. There we found chaos. Kind friends had put up the curtains and made the bed into which we fell, but we had to spend the whole weekend sorting out Joan’s possessions and unpacking wedding presents in a flat that was waist-high in boxes, crates and suitcases. Our problems were exacerbated by an electricity failure over the weekend, and a fever I collected in Kenya. We struggled to church for the Remembrance Sunday service, and Joan sent me to see the consultant at the RAF hospital who eventually solved my problem.

Having hurriedly straightened out the flat, I spent my evenings writing endless thank-you letters, sending out bits of the wedding cake, and sorting out the wedding photographs. Then, we were saddened and shocked to hear in early December that Joan’s mother had suffered a severe coronary thrombosis and was promised a long spell in bed. John and Olive, Joan’s brother and sisterin- law, were looking after Mrs Noble, but anxious to hand over her care to others in the family and fulfil their plan to migrate to Australia.

Elephant Rock and the lighthouse, in oils, seen from Ras Boradli.
Elephant Rock
We collected Joan’s animals from the friends who had been looking after them and settled them in their new surroundings. We took Wonky out every evening after work generally on the beach below the house, and occasionally at weekends much farther afield; he fell in the salt-pans on one memorable occasion, and I had to fish him out covered in the revolting salty crust and foam. Sidney, the cat, soon adjusted himself to his new home, although he too caused problems when he disappeared one day, having fallen over the cliff below the flats and spending several days among the inaccessible rocks on the shoreline.

Tidying-up after the wedding merged into preparations for Christmas. Despite the periodic strikes and rioting, Joan and I led a busy social life, and enjoyed going out together as the air cooled down in Aden’s winter months. We frequented the open-air cinema in the Port Authority compound in the evenings, slowly adjusting our lives to each other, were much involved in GH entertainment and sometimes received guests ourselves in our pleasant flat. Charles and Annette Gardner came through Aden one evening with their children aboard the SS Uganda on their way back from Kenya to the UK on leave. We met them off the boat and were pleased to be able to repay just a little of the hospitality we had received from them at their lovely Karen home.

We gave a party at Ras Boradli for our friends on Christmas Eve, lunched out on Christmas Day, and attended a family dinner as guests of the Turnbulls at GH that evening Day with crackers, charades and party games ad nauseam. The following week we had more friends in and were invited to GH for a big, noisy party on New Year’s Eve. The Turnbulls were very generous, although Joan cordially disliked their Scottish dancing. On the following day we all went to a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in Christchurch led by Padre Pellant who had become our friend. It was a moment of peaceful reflection amid the bloody violence of the place.

January – March 1967

The New Year started with a happy occasion - the wedding of Jane Lee, the daughter of Thelma and Tony, to her police officer fiancé named Irving. I attended his stag party, and we both went to their reception at the Officers’ Club on Tarshyne beach, which proved a happy diversion from work.

Joan continued to drive out each morning in her sporty little Triumph Herald to her office at Al Ittihad, but the threat was such that we borrowed a reliable man from the Federal Army to act as her bodyguard and accompany her in the car on her journeys out of the town. I was as busy as ever at Government House, and we were still called to dinners and parties at GH from time to time, but, perhaps, less frequently than in earlier days. In return we invited Lady T over to have a look at our flat one evening in February when HE was in London.

Strikes and riots in Tawahi were frequent, but we managed to avoid problems during our periodic visits to the two or three acceptable grocery and general food shops – Blue Bay Stores and the Cold Store. We were also able to make occasional visits to Bhicajee Cowasjee’s general stores that stocked everything you could possibly want, and we went out from time to time to dine at the Crescent or the Aden Rock Hotel and at the nightclub on the road out of town.

We were fortunate that we liked the company of those with whom we worked, and were happy to see them socially in the evenings and at weekends. Frequently we enjoyed supper with Eliane, the GH housekeeper, and Kathleen Poole and Barbara Garrett, the two senior secretaries. We saw a good deal, too, of Joan’s colleagues, notably Desmond Cosgrove who was always good value, the easy-going Jeff Jefferson, and Joan’s young clerical assistants. We kept in touch with Rummy, my friend from far off Nzega days, and Sheilagh who had come back into my life after our Dar es Salaam friendship. We attended Christchurch from time to time, having much affection for the church in which we had been married, and we often met the kind and gentle Padre Pellant socially - until mid March when he left to take up the post of vicar of London’s famous RAF church, St Clement Danes in the Strand.

Our friends in official jobs began to slip away without replacement; we went to numerous farewell parties, and I was particularly sorry when Don McCarthy was recalled to London to take up the job of Head of the Aden Department in the Foreign Office, but it so happened that he and Rosanna had a house in Frognal, not far from my sister, Margaret’s Hampstead home, and she made contact with them when they had settled back in London. We also said goodbye to Stuart Myhan, whom I had recruited as HE’s bodyguard when I was at the Foreign Office the previous summer, and welcomed his successor, Peter Riley, whom Joan and I introduced to our friends and seemed to fit in very well.

I enjoyed the company of many of Joan’s friends. Sibyl Ross lived in a flat in a block on the beach below Crater. She had asked Joan to join her on a sea trip to Singapore and I had been very relieved when they had decided not to go. Pat Catchpole lived in the middle of the busy shopping centre, and became engaged to a man who worked for Unilever - I never took to him. Halcyon Mount lived in the same block of flats as we did, and insisted we teach her to drive her tiny Fiat car. This was a tedious business because she could never grasp the difference between clutch and accelerator, and despite all our efforts she never got her licence.

Some of Joan’s friends were mildly eccentric. Mark de Spon kept a parrot and was reputed to drive in his open car with the bird on his steering wheel. Mark came to one of our noisier parties and when drunk tumbled over the metal banisters down the concrete stair-well outside our flat, fortunately with no lasting ill effects. James Bridges was another odd fellow who gave large dinner parties and tended to go to sleep with the coffee to the consternation of his guests. He lived on the second floor of the Secretariat Flats where he had been Joan’s neighbour. He was reported to have leant out of his bedroom window late one night and fired his revolver at another tenant, a Fisheries Officer, who was banging on the old wooden door that served their flats. The poor man had been locked out by mistake, was knocking on the door to be let in, and had not expected to be under fire from an irritable Bridges, annoyed at being woken up so late.

Above all, Joan and I liked each other’s company and took particular pleasure in doing things together - sometimes doing nothing or very little - walking the dog on the beach as the sun went down over the mountain or lazing on Sunday mornings in the sea behind the shark nets at Gold Mohur.

By April, the threat from terrorists in the town was such that we sharply reduced the frequency of our shopping trips. I avoided going into town even to have a hair cut, and went to the RAF barber in the Steamer Point Compound rather than go to the Crescent. I was asked to persuade Lady Turnbull and Eliane, the Housekeeper, to carry pistols in their handbags for their self-defence. I was not surprised when they both firmly refused the army’s offer, but the request was an indication of the worrying and dangerous times in which we were living.

Lord Shackleton came and went. At GH we celebrated his departure by going one evening in a big party to see the film My Fair Lady. We were blown away by the glamour and gorgeousness of the music, costumes and lyrics. We were content with our life and my job remained intensely interesting; so at the end of March I wrote to the Director of Establishments requesting an extension of my contract until, I cheerfully suggested, independence comes to South Arabia. I then put in for one month’s home leave from 20th June in order to be able to go home with Joan to attend my parents’ Golden Wedding in mid July. A big party was planned when many of my relations and my parents’ old friends were invited to celebrations at Bricklehurst Manor. When I spoke to HE about my idea, he responded by suggesting I would be wise to keep my leave plans flexible. Only then did I realise that he felt his own position as High Commissioner to be insecure, and that, as my future depended on his, my employment was equally precarious. I started to worry once more that I had no job waiting for me at home.


Early that May HE gave me a weekend break, which coincided with the conclusion of Joan’s contract with the Federal Government. We wanted to get well away from the heat and the violence, and found that the quickest escape and closest place for a short holiday was Hargeisa in the newly independent Republic of Somalia, just across the Gulf of Aden. Joan knew that the old colonial club there was still open and had beds and a bar. So we took a small, uncomfortable plane bound for Nairobi on the short journey south over the sea and the French colony of Djibouti on the African coast. We flew across in the company of the jolly Bishop of Somaliland and Joan’s large stuffed and wellworn monkey who kept each other amused.

We landed at Hargeisa’s small airport where, at over 4,000 feet above sea level, we revelled in the cool in striking contrast to Aden. We piled into a taxi on the short drive out to the club. We saw nothing of the town, which had once been the capital of old British Somaliland, and little of the countryside, other than that it was green and fertile with abundant tall grasses and leafy trees.

The club was basic, but perfectly adequate for our needs for the weekend, though fairly expensive - a small bottle of beer cost £1. The bar and restaurant were almost empty; few expatriates had remained behind on independence and very few frequented the once popular club. Those whom we met in the clubhouse were friendly and relaxed and we found the whole place to be blessedly peaceful and quiet. The trip enabled us to unwind after the intense pressure at work. Joan and I did little, and left the clubhouse only to stroll through the scrubland round about.

Early one morning as we wandered along a track not far from the club-house we heard a hearty grunting coming from a dry wadi bed. Peering through the bushes we were delighted to see one giant tortoise on the back of another, doubtless busily fornicating with all his might. Their shells must have been the size of soup tureens and the male on top was a strong muscular creature for all his ungainly shape. We christened them Albert and Victoria, and watched them happily enjoying themselves for much of a cheerful morning.

Most unfortunately we were unable to return to Aden on the Monday morning as I had promised HE. Our plane was grounded because of a wild-cat strike at Khormaksar airport, which had temporarily closed down. On return to work a day late I heard that HE had been summoned to London. Off he flew. Then soon after his arrival there, the news reached us of his summary dismissal by the Foreign Secretary.

Extricating ourselves

Following this unhappy turn of events, my first task was to help in organising as big and heart-warming a send-off for the Turnbulls as Aden could manage. I worked hard with the C-in-C’s team on arrangements for their departure.

As soon as they had gone I was told that the new High Commissioner, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, did not need me as his Private Secretary. I had lost my job. I was half-heartedly offered a transfer to the Secretariat of the High Commission working in Steamer Point under Tom Oates, but I had had enough. Accordingly I wrote to the Aden Establishments Department on 11th May withdrawing my letter of 30th March about staying on. Instead I expressed the firm intention of terminating my contract on the due date two years after my arrival (after taking into account the previous summer’s UK trip), which happened to be 10th June. At the same time I cabled Don McCarthy at the Foreign Office in the hope that he could iron things out at his end, and he responded with sympathy for my predicament and offers of assistance.

In early May I was offered a job at £2,400 as Assistant Secretary to the Uganda Federation of Employers in Kampala. I was tempted, but felt the need to get back to London to have a look at the labour market and try other possibilities. All my thoughts were directed towards making a clean exit so that we could start again at home. Lord Shackleton reappeared, doubtless to advise Sir Humphrey at the start of his mission, and off his own bat offered to help me look for work in London. As he was on the management boards of several big companies like John Lewis, I was hopeful he could be of use to me. I gave him a copy of my curriculum vitae and arranged to call on him at the House of Lords as soon as I was home.

My birthday at the end of May was quiet and relaxed, with lots of presents from Joan and a delightful dinner party in the evening, but it was also a sad occasion. It was the last day before we started to strip our flat and pack up our belongings. Kind friends rallied round; our neighbours in Ras Boradli fed us, and good friends like the Winks, Rummy, Halcyon and Sheilagh, looked after us in the evenings, while we lived out of packing cases and were up to our eyes in tin trunks, wooden tea chests, cardboard boxes, sacks, straw and old newspapers for wrapping things.

We had had great hopes of being able to return by boat – I reckoned we need a break before starting again at home - but messages reached us that Joan’s mother was still seriously ill at her home in Tavistock, and we were terribly afraid she might be failing. So there could be no question of a holiday and we had to rush home by air as soon as we could.

Then the Egyptians decided to invade Israel and the Seven-Day War broke out. In Aden, ostensibly in sympathy with the Arabs under attack, a general strike was declared. The port, airport and town shut down conclusively. Aden became a prison. Most of the shops were closed, and we had difficulty in settling our household accounts at the grocers in town. The Treasury and the banks did their best to fix my gratuity, extract the income tax I owed and repatriate my slender funds, but one of the GH accountants was badly hurt in a terrorist incident in Crater and the bank’s clerical staff were marooned there under curfew. The Government would pay for the repatriation of our car, but first an international driving licence had to be obtained, then seat belts had to be fitted and the garage was shut most of the time. Worse still, no petrol or oil was available, nothing moved in the port, and the shipping agents refused to take the Peugeot to arrange its despatch by sea. Eventually the army stepped in to take over the port facilities in place of the striking stevedores, but despite the help of the military we did not see the car again for five months.

Joan’s animals were one of the biggest worries; special airy crates had to be made for their flight back to the UK, quarantine kennels had to be booked for them at home and their flights arranged. We packed them off from the airport by BOAC a few days before the war started and some time before we left ourselves, and it was a tearful time knowing we should be parted from them for a long while.

For some days I could get no flight. All the fights schedules had to be changed because commercial airlines were unable to fly across the area of the fighting. We were wait-listed on two or three indirect BOAC flights and enquired with increasing desperation for connections through Addis Ababa or Nairobi. I spent half of each morning on the phone, reviewing our plans, examining the options and planning our escape. At last confirmation came through of a BOAC flight via Nairobi and over the Libyan desert in order to avoid the conflict.

Then suddenly our turn came to say goodbye, knowing we should never see many of our friends again. My former GH colleagues kindly gave us two big, cheerful, bittersweet farewell parties; they also put us up with a bed in the GH guest suite on our final nights in Aden. Suddenly we were off.

It was a ghastly flight: Joan was unwell from worry and nervous exhaustion, and the stewardesses were harassed and unhelpful. We were seventeen hours in the air before the weary travellers struggled out of the plane at about one in the morning on a miserable night at Heathrow airport.

We were met by my equally tired sister, Margaret, and her exhausted children who had been obliged to wait for us most of the day and half the night in a dreary airport lounge. Dear Margaret hustled us away in her little car, only for it to break down on a flyover on the Great West Road into London. It was a disaster at that awful hour of the night, and I have no recollection how we eventually reached the Little’s home in Hampstead and fell into bed.

Aden was already a distant memory.

Chapter 9: The Curtain falls
‘Let us admit it fairly,
As business people should.
We have had no end of a lesson.
It will do us no end of good.

We have had a
jolly good lesson
And it serves us jolly well right!’

From The Lesson by Rudyard Kipling

Aden after we left

Joan and I were lucky. Many people we knew well in Aden had been victims of the terrorism and had had horrifying experiences, but we came home happily married, with pleasant memories, having made many friends. Leaving early in June, we avoided the fierce intensification of the street battles, the rows among the army top brass, the disintegration of the Federation, the evacuation from the EAP, and the collapse of government that occurred in the following months, until the withdrawal under fire that November.

After our abrupt departure we received little news of those we had left behind or subsequent political developments. The papers told us that the FNG and Armed Police mutinied in June, causing more casualties among our troops and enabling the NLF to take over Crater for two weeks to the humiliation of the British army. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, under Col Colin Mitchell, dubbed ‘Mad Mitch’ by the press, roared back in and somewhat redeemed our name, but nothing done by the new GOC or High Commissioner seemed able to stem the inexorable descent of South Arabia into chaos.

We read that the streets of Aden were unsafe for all Europeans, day and night. Strikes and riots took place every week; labour disputes proliferated; public buildings were burnt; and the oil tanks were blown up. The NLF and FLOSY engaged in a civil war. They were still killing as many European soldiers and civilians as they could, but at the same time they were fighting each other for dominance and the kudos of kicking out the hated colonial authority.

One of the first things I did on return home was to write a letter to the Times. I wanted to put on the record the gratitude felt by us civilians for the young soldiers who daily patrolled the town and put their lives on the line to protect us throughout the very tough Emergency. My letter was not published but a copy may be found in the second Appendix.
Jeff Jefferson at our wedding
Jeff Jefferson

Jeff Jefferson

In the middle of August, we heard the tragic news that Captain Jeff Jefferson had been murdered. He had been Joan’s office colleague in the Intelligence Section of the Federation at Al Ittihad, where they had worked together for many months. During his leisure, he had been a keen potter and used to give us the pots and bowls he made on the wheel during his weekends. He had been a solid and dependable friend to us both, usher at our wedding and a great help during the reception that happy morning. We were deeply saddened by his tragic and needless death.

Jeff had been machine-gunned from a passing vehicle while driving his car on the desert road past the salt-pans between his office and his home in Ma’alla. The car had spun off the road into a ditch where his body had been left to be found only much later. He lies now among so many others in the graveyard of Silent Valley in the hills behind Little Aden.

Eliane Stefanides

Our good friend, Eliane, wrote to us with the latest news and stories about Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, the new High Commissioner, whom she found kind and thoughtful. She told us in early August:

The evacuation of all wives caused trouble but at heart half of them wanted to go, a quarter wanted someone to decide for them, and the other quarter were rather upset or annoyed because they had to go. Dolly (Prendergast), Margaret (Ashworth) and Betty Crook stayed because they are considered essential. Thank God for that.

Last week the H.C. (or ‘big ears’ as the French press call him) asked me whether I would like to go to see Tony Hancock and his show on the Maidan. We went. Not very good really. He is too old and although he was not drunk one could see he was soaked with years of gin. Anyhow the troops seemed to like it. Just before the end it started to rain and then poured, but poured. I had just had my hair done, had a nice dress on, and in British phlegm pretended it was not happening, although we were wet through.

I never go out alone in the evening now. When I first arrived I went to Khormaksar to dinner but never again. It is too weird and I was rather frightened.

That September and October, the newspapers recorded more murders of civilians in the Crescent and the Tawahi shopping centre. The Danish captain of a merchant ship was reported killed in the streets near the port. His assassination was followed by that of a German reporter and then a British accountant on the way to his office in the bank. Next we read that Alan Macdonald, Director of the Public Service Commission had been shot and severely injured outside the Crescent Hotel. Alan had been one of the High Commissioner’s key advisers throughout the Emergency whom we had all admired for his sound advice and his steady nerve.

Writing again in the middle of September, Eliane wrote:

Aden is horrid – eerie. I never go out, have even arranged for the hairdresser to come here. She does Dolly, Margaret and I, but she is also going – a problem. I dread the 3rd October when Dolly and Margaret leave. I do want to go, but I just can’t. I am not in danger and ‘the little man’ thinks I am essential. Pity. The Crooks leave on 22nd September for good. Everyone has left the EAP. The Ellises are in Aden and Joanna is on the switchboard but we don’t know for how long Jim will stay….

The staff situation is getting worse… My flat and veranda are as usual full of people - which is a blessing as it is the only thing to keep us sane…. Peter (the bodyguard) is not very happy. He and Bob (the ADC) do not get on….

Your luggage and car left on the 16th August to Le Havre and from there the Crown Agents will take over and deliver to UK.

It is hot and humid, a typical September. I find it too hot to go to the beach at lunchtime as I have been doing.

Happily, Eliane finally left war-torn Aden late that October. She set herself up in a charming flat in Pimlico with the help of her son, John, a well-known and successful interior designer. She was very hospitable; and Joan and I were in the habit for several years of calling on her every so often after our working day in the West End. We would enjoy her cooking and chat about old times before driving back late in the evening to our new home in the country at Ightham, near Sevenoaks.
Derek Rose at our engagement party
Derek Rose

Derek Rose

In late October, our sadness at the events in Aden was immeasurably increased when we heard that Derek Rose had been shot and killed by an assassin outside the camera shop in Tawahi. Derek was the young chap who had worked in the Foreign Office Information Department situated in the GH compound along with his colleague, David Ledger. The two men had always been cheerful, friendly and easy-going, and had a wide circle of contacts and many friends among both the Arab and European communities in the town. They had been hospitable too; Joan and I had been their guests on several occasions at evening sundowners in their flat on the harbour front in Ma’alla, and we owed them much.

I went to Derek’s memorial service at a London church in the late autumn. I was able to meet his family and express something of the sincere regret of Derek’s many friends and colleagues from Aden at their dreadful loss.

Sir Michael Le Fanu

Three years after the withdrawal from Aden, Sir Michael died. He had been immensely popular in Aden when CinC of Middle East Command, and much admired and liked by us in GH. Some time after his return to London he was designated Chief of the Defence Staff and made an Admiral of the Fleet – the highest honour in the Royal Navy - but then he was diagnosed with leukaemia, and with appalling suddenness he was gone. He had reached the pinnacle of his profession; he was on the brink of obtaining the highest position in the armed services of this country, and his sudden early death was a national tragedy.

In December 1970 I walked across the road from my office at the CBI in Tothill Street to attend his Memorial Service in a packed Westminster Abbey. It was full not only of the great and the good of the military and political establishment but also of many hundreds of others like me who had known a little of him and much admired him. In a fine eulogy, the First Sea Lord said of Sir Michael some words that echoed my own view of the remarkable man.

People saw that he had the happy knack of getting people to do better than they ever thought they could, and that, despite the unconventional style which was an essential part of him, he was a master of his own profession (and) as tough and forthright as he was an accomplished administrator and outstanding leader…

As Commander-in-Chief of all the British forces in the Arabian peninsula during our withdrawal, he was able to deploy all these qualities. With them and with his panache and his infectious sense of fun and gaiety, he inspired and encouraged everyone, Service and civilian, in their thankless daily round and did much to keep their spirits as buoyant as his own.

Over the ensuing years, the Reaper has taken many others whom we knew in Aden, with whom we worked and played, and we remember them with great pleasure, but I shall not mention them here. I do not want to end this story with a sad roll call of the departed. I should, however, like to close this Memoir with a few words about my boss at that time, Sir Richard Turnbull.

Sir Richard Turnbull

For some years, we kept in touch with the Turnbulls at their new home, ‘Wharf House’, next to Phyllis Court, in Henley and were able to call there once or twice. Their long lawn ran down from a wide terrace to the Thames. At the end of their garden, old willow trees bent over the water exactly opposite the winning post of the Henley Regatta. There we knew that Dick Turnbull was in his element among the rowing fraternity and busy with a job helping to resettle the unfortunate Asian community expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin.

While I was job-hunting, I was invited to meet him in London - although no longer at the Travellers Club from which he had resigned. After a pleasant meal on one occasion he put into my hands as a farewell gift the biggest book I had ever owned at that time, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. I still value it highly and use it frequently.

Dick Turnbull could have made himself a nuisance to the Government. He could have seriously embarrassed George Brown and his Cabinet colleagues by revealing some of their mischief and misconceptions. One word to the press or to Duncan Sandys, the Opposition spokesman, would have done it, but, as a man of honour, Turnbull kept his peace. So far as I am aware, he said not a word in public about Aden, and he behaved perfectly correctly despite the bitterness and disappointment of his dismissal. He kept to himself his personal opinion of the Labour Government’s management of South Arabian affairs.

I saw just one report of a conversation he had with a journalist after his return. About a year after coming home, he spoke to a man on the Daily Express some rather sad and pointed remarks, saying:

I think I’ve found the ideal spot to live. It does seem my days of being a High Commissioner are over. Which is sad after thirty-one years in the colonial service; but I’ ll find plenty to do pottering around here….

I suppose the usual thing for a retired Colonial Servant is to become either a bursar at a minor public school or secretary of a golf club. Would I do that? Not on your life. I would far rather have another overseas posting and I’ d be happy to go to another trouble spot. I always seem to be at trouble spots. It’s as if hand grenades follow me around.

When a year or two later, Dick and Beatrice Turnbull were interviewed by the BBC, they spoke only about their life in East Africa, the Mau Mau insurrection in Kenya, and their safaris in up-country Tanganyika. Some of their comments were subsequently recorded in a charming little book by Charles Allen entitled Tales from the Dark Continent – but there was no mention of Aden.

It was only years after his death that a few of Turnbull’s real views appeared in print. A ‘synopsis’ of a private letter containing his assessment of Aden’s political scene appeared in the book Without Glory in Arabia, written by Peter Hinchcliffe and others in 2006. Those few remarks apart, to my knowledge he took his views of the Aden debacle with him to the end. Though keenly interested in the Oxford University project for collecting personal papers of the colonial era, he neither recorded his own experiences nor wrote his memoirs.

The Impossible Task

Had Dick Turnbull felt inclined, he might reasonably have made public some damning criticisms of Government policy and conduct at that time. The first point he could have made was that he had been given an impossible job to do. He had been told to bring peace to the trouble-torn region of Aden and South Arabia; to unite them; and to make them into a viable democratic state to which the colonial power could grant early independence. These were laudable ambitions. They were entirely in tune with the rapid decolonisation process that successive Governments were then pursuing, but they never had the remotest chance of success.

In our former African and Pacific colonies, nationalist leaders had seen the virtue of paying lip-service to the concept of democracy as a route to independence. On this basis HMG had had some success in constitution-making, and could not see why the same formula would not work in Aden. Sadly, it never did. No one was able to persuade the South Arabian rulers or Aden’s nationalist leaders to sit round the negotiating table with a serious intent; no one could bring them to consider properly a plan for unity, independence and democracy. No one was even able to stop the terrorists from their murderous activity.

The Adeni leaders, encouraged by Nasser in Egypt, and Sallal in Sana’a, would not negotiate because they had decided that the best way to rid themselves of the colonial power was to refuse to talk to it. Their plan was simple and irrevocable; they would expel the infidel authority at gun-point. None of the blandishments of Government Ministers, nor yet the High Commissioner’s skills could persuade the Adenis to lay down their arms and accept the colonial power’s suggestions for a peaceful constitutional settlement.

The tribal rulers in the Protectorates stubbornly rejected all proposals to surrender their authority, to enfranchise their subjects, or to join in government with the Adenis. They were equally reluctant to negotiate because they were happy as they were; content to be the autocratic rulers of their petty fiefdoms. In the WAP, they feared they could not survive without British protection; and, if associated in government with Aden, they knew they would always be dominated by the educated urban elite. In the EAP, they just wanted to be left alone. For these reasons the rulers were just as determined as the Adenis to avoid commitment to the creation of a neat little democracy on the Westminster model.

Each of the last three Aden High Commissioners tried different approaches to bring peace and start constitutional talks, and none of them made much progress. Government Ministers like Anthony Greenwood, and their emissaries like Lords Beswick and Thomson and Tom Driberg, came out to Aden to try their luck, and one by one they failed too.

The most intensive effort was made by Lord Shackleton in early 1967. He arrived at Government House as Resident Minister with full powers and instructions to employ his own specialist diplomatic staff (specially summoned from the Far East for the purpose) to contact the NLF and FLOSY terrorist leaders and open negotiations with them. In their turn he and his experts failed too.

The reason for this failure must have been that the people of Aden and South Arabia had different values from us at home. Their character had been shaped over many generations by the Koran and the harsh environment in which they lived; and their nature was to despise and distrust concepts of individual rights, impartial law and democratic institutions. They preferred their time-honoured systems of power – to use force to dominate all opposition and fight their way to freedom from the occupying regime. Their mindset then was probably much the same as that of our ancestors in Western Europe five hundred years ago.

The High Commissioners in Aden in the 1960s, advised by Arabic-speaking political officers, understood the situation well enough, but public opinion and politicians in London failed to grasp the point. Dick Turnbull for his part could never convince the Government of the reasons for the stubborn resistance of nationalists and rulers alike to an orderly move to independence. Ministers misread the South Arabian scene and never accepted – until too late - the futility of their approach to the decolonisation of South Arabia and Aden.

The Poisoned Chalice

On arrival as High Commissioner, Dick Turnbull was quick to learn of the immense difficulties in the way of progress, but he never gave up. As the options for a constitutional settlement were rejected one by one, he worked on fresh proposals, fostered new initiatives with energy and persistence, and pursued negotiations with intellectual rigour, fertility of mind, and great skill. It was no fault of the High Commissioner that success eluded him as it did everyone else.

Anthony Greenwood had dismissed Sir Kennedy Trevaskis as High Commissioner for being in the pocket of the Federal rulers and became suspicious of Turnbull for the same offence. Greenwood and others in the Government who shared this view subjected the High Commissioner to a stream of criticism, while conveniently overlooking the fact that he was under an obligation to try to build on the Federation. He knew well enough it was a ramshackle affair but it was the only legitimate government in South Arabia to which the colonial power could hand over.

It is a sad irony that while Greenwood and friends condemned Turnbull for being too close to the Federalis, the rulers and their supporters, for their part, subjected him to equally virulent criticism for being too friendly with the Adeni nationalists. HE’s efforts to persuade the Adenis to abandon terrorism and work for peace and unity in South Arabia laid him open to the charge of being a poodle of the Labour Government; and the Federalis and their friends were quick to condemn him and charge him with ignoring the legitimate needs of the Protectorates.

Turnbull was obliged to plan and implement his policies while subject to this carping and sniping every step of the way. Like all senior men in the colonial service, he was accustomed to working in a controversial environment, but never before can he have been obliged to submit to continual interference from Ministers and constant recrimination from elements of both Government and Opposition in London. Nor, I think, had he ever before directed policy to meet the Government’s objectives without the whole-hearted support of colonial officials in the field. Nor could he ever have imagined that his efforts would lead to his summary dismissal.

George Brown said in the House of Commons immediately after he sacked Turnbull in May 1967 that he considered the post needed a diplomat rather than an administrator. The Foreign Secretary never elaborated on this cryptic statement, beyond a rambling and unhelpful comment in a Sunday newspaper a few weeks later. At the time, Brown’s action seemed to us in Aden to be not only hurtful and clumsy but wholly unnecessary. We saw it as especially foolish, changing horses in mid-stream with a dangerous current running and only a few months to go before Britain’s final withdrawal from South Arabia. It is recorded by Richard Baker in Dry Ginger that the CinC considered that Turnbull had been monstrously treated and many of us out there at that time shared this opinion. We considered his many qualities were still needed. His experience of the complex constitution making was invaluable; his excellent links with the armed services had been built up over many gruelling months. He should have been allowed to carry the work through. There was much to lose by replacing him at that critical moment.

Looking back over the record, it seems likely to me that the Foreign Secretary’s main concern was Turnbull’s refusal to treat with the terrorist leaders, and this was the trigger for his dismissal. George Brown is reported to have taken the first steps to look for a new High Commissioner immediately after their meeting in February 1967, and it was at that meeting that Dick Turnbull flatly refused to contemplate talking to the NLF or FLOSY. His successor, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan seems to have focussed on doing just that from the moment of his arrival. Apparently he handed over the administration of the colony to his Deputy in order to concentrate his efforts on tracking down the nationalist fighters in their lairs and persuading them to work jointly in planning the future of the territory. Despite his efforts I have the impression that he succeeded in meeting them only when their victory was assured, a very few weeks before the evacuation.

Be that as it may, I recall that when Dick Turnbull’s friends heard he had accepted the appointment of High Commissioner in South Arabia, they expressed the fear that Aden would be his poisoned chalice. If this means an assignment that looks interesting to the recipient but turns out to be full of insoluble problems and leads only to danger, embarrassment and humiliation, then, yes, Aden was Dick Turnbull’s poisoned chalice.


In due course the Turnbulls left their lovely Henley home to move to the Scottish Borders. All too soon, Beatrice died there and left Dick very much on his own. He returned south and died at Minchinhampton in the Cotswolds in December 1998 after living for a while near his daughter Alison.

A service of thanksgiving for his life was held in Holy Trinity Church there early the following year. The Reverend Canon Michael gave a moving address to an overflowing church, and numerous tributes were paid in recognition of his many achievements.

One of the most apt was that of Denis Healey who had of course been the Minister for Defence in the Labour Government that had dismissed Turnbull. Mr Healey as he revealed in his biography, understood his qualities far better than his colleagues when he wrote of him and his successor:

"Such men were the last of Britain’s proconsuls, a remarkable breed, who brought a degree of order and justice to millions of people who had known much less, but ultimately wanted much more. They do not deserve less respect because the tides of history have washed away so much of their achievements."

British Empire Book
Review of Aden: The Curtain Falls: The Memoirs of Dick Eberlie: Part 4, 1965 to 1967
Colonial Map
Aden State Map, 1965
Colonial Map
Aden & the Protectorates of South Arabia, 1965
map of Aden
Other Maps of Aden
Colony Profile
Books by Dick Eberlie
District Officer in Tanganyika: 1956 - 1960 Part 2: The Memoirs of Dick Eberlie
by Dick Eberlie

The Winds and Wounds of Change: 1961 to 1965 Part 3 (The Memoirs of Dick Eberlie)
by Dick Eberlie

Aden: The Curtain Falls: The Memoirs of Dick Eberlie: Part 4, 1965 to 1967 by Eberlie, Dick

My Job as a Private Secretary

Unpublished Letter to the Times of November 1967

Further Reading
Exit From Empire: A Biography of Sir Richard Turnbull
by Colin Baker

Dry Ginger: The Biography of Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Michael Le Fanu, G.C.B., D.S.C.
by Richard Baker

The Kingdom of Melchior
by Lord Belhaven

The Uneven Road
by Lord Belhaven

An Element of Luck: To South Arabia and Beyond
by Michael Crouch

Roads To Nowhere: A South Arabian Odyssey, 1960-1965
by John Harding

Last Sunset – What happened in Aden
by Stephen Harper

The Time of my Life
by Denis Healey

Without Glory in Arabia
by Peter Hinchcliffe

Arabia and the Isles
by Harold Ingrams

The View from Steamer Point
by Charles Johnston

Last Post: Aden
by Julian Paget

Coasts of Incense
by Freya Stark

The Southern Gates of Arabia
by Freya Stark

Sultans Of Aden
by Gordon Waterfield

Aden Insurgency
by Jonathan Walker

Glossary of Abbreviations
AA Assistant Adviser
ADC Aide de Camp
AG Attorney General
AGM Annual General Meeting
AI Amnesty International
ATUC Aden Trades Union Congress
BEM British Empire Medal
BOAC British Overseas Airways Corporation
BP British Petroleum Ltd
CB Companion of the Order of the Bath
CDS Chief of the Defence Staff
CIGS Chief of the Imperial General Staff
CinC Commander in Chief
CO The Colonial Office
CQMG Chief Quarter Master General
DHC Deputy High Commissioner
EAA East African Airways
EAP East Arabian Protectorate
FLOSY Front for the Liberation of the Occupied South Yemen
FO Foreign Office
FOME Flag Officer, Middle East
FNG Federal National Guard
FRA Federal Regular Army
futa An Arab kilt
GH Government House
GOC General Officer
GW George Williamsons, Managing Agents
HBL Hadhrami Bedouin Legion
HE His Excellency the High Commissioner
HMG Her Majesty’s Government
HQ Headquarters
HQMEC HQ Middle East Command
IRC International Red Cross
jambiya Curved dagger worn at the waist
jebel Mountain
jol The barren plateau of the EAP
madrasa Koranic school
maidan Parade ground or public square
LMG Bren light-machine gun
MBE Member of the Order of the British Empire
MEC Middle East Command
MECAS Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies in Beirut
MELF Middle East Land Forces
MO Medical Officer
NLF National Liberation Front
OBE Officer of the Order of the British Empire
OLOS Organisation for the Liberation of the Occupied South
OS Old Shirburnian
PA Personal Assistant
PORF Popular Organisation of Revolutionary Forces
PSP Peoples Socialist Party
PWD Public Works Department
Qaid Lieutenant Colonel
qat mild narcotic leaf chewed in South Arabia
QC Queen’s Counsel
RE The Royal Engineers, the ‘Sappers’
SAL South Arabian League
sambuq type of dhow
sangar sandbag or stone wall fortification
SAS The Special Air Service
SS Steam Ship - passenger liner
UK United Kingdom
UN United Nations Organisation
v.s.i. very seriously injured
wadi dried river bed
WAP Western Aden Protectorate


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