English weather got us down and after just over a year at Coastal Command
I was pleased to be told I was to be posted to the Aden Protectorate Levies
(one of two ‘native’ armies run by the RAF since the 1920s) - I had volunteered
and left for Aden at the end of January 1955. On arrival in Aden
I was posted to No.2 Wing of the APL, based at Lake Lines, some 10 miles
from Aden Harbour, ‘out in the bundoo’. On the same Wing I had colleagues
I had served with in Malaya, and others, mainly ex-Indian army officers,
whom I did not know.
My Commanding Officer was Wing Commander Martin Territt, a former Royal Army Tank Corps Major, with experience in North African and European theatres of war. His second-in-command was Squadron Leader Philip Carrington, another ex-Army man, both were first-class officers and extremely likeable characters. Martin was an Irishman, short in stature and temper like myself, and we got on famously together and we developed a friendship with him and his wife Sue which flourished till Martin’s death in 1992 and Sue’s in 1995.
The task of the Levies (British Officers and Arab troops), comprising three Wings, each of three Squadrons, was to maintain peace among the tribes of the Aden Protectorates, East and West, and also the security of up-country airstrips and the border areas of North Yemen and Saudi Arabia with the Aden Protectorate. A tall order as the tribes had a long record of disturbances, a euphemism for sporadic attacks on each other and whoever represented ‘central control from Aden in the Protectorates’.
Squadrons were formed on a tribal basis - Audhali, Yafai, Hassani-Maisari, Dhalai, Awlaqi. Recruiting was done up-country from time to time and recruits were brought to Aden and quartered at Levy Headquarters at Seedaseer Lines or Champion Lines, to undergo basic recruit training. First glance at the potential recruits brought doubts as to whether they could ever be turned into soldiers. Their dress was usually a loin-cloth, dyed dark blue, as was most of their body. This native dye, dark blue in colour, was reputed to have many attributes, including keeping out the cold. Their hair was inclined to be bushy, wavy and long, but often hidden under a ‘musheda’ or head cloth, and invariably they were bare-footed.
The changes in these ‘outback’ Arabs after two to three months of training was remarkable. They took very well to the military regime, including the wearing of boots for parade purposes only. In time, they became very good drivers and navigating the primitive up-country roads and tracks, when they existed, became second-nature to them, as did signalling, mortar drills and weapon training in general. On parade they looked very smart soldiers, resplendent in their distinctive pointed head-gear, with matching military carriage. Each Squadron of Levies had two European Officers, a commanding officer and second-in-command. Each Flight had a Native Officer and non-commissioned officers. European Officers were expected to learn Arabic, if only a minimum, at a level to enable them to pass understandable orders to the NCOs to carry out. Most NCOs, in time, understood some English. Each Wing had its own motor and radio mechanics, clerks and storemen, some Arabic and some European.
My duties at Lake Lines were many, Adjutant, and the Officer in charge of Signals, Motor Transport, Operations, Intelligence and Equipment and also Mess Secretary. When it came to major operations, two Wings at a time were stationed up-country, the whole Wing moved to relieve one of them, but also individual Squadrons were deployed for ‘garrison duties’ at places such as Dhala, Beihan, Ataq, Nisab, Mukeiras and Lodar. This involved a lot of work, getting stores ready, motor transport and a ‘fleet’ of camels for inaccessible places, and the usual rations (Officers provided their own and these were pooled at the Assembly point).
Security up-country was always a headache and it was not unusual to be ‘shot up’ at one’s base at night, as well as the usual firing on us on operations. One operation which was fraught with danger was our having to demolish some five houses of tribesmen who had not paid their fines imposed by the Aden Court for some transgressions. The houses were stronger than expected and heavy crowbars had to be air-dropped to us so we could make pockets in the stonework to insert the explosives. After demolishing the houses, under cover of darkness, we had to disguise our intentions and preparations for departure from our temporary encampment. At first light we got under way up a Wadi (dry-river course) where we expected to come under heavy fire but our preparations were so successful we caught the villagers by surprise and got away unscathed.
Other operations were not so successful and we had fatal casualties of European Officers including a Wing Commander, Squadron Leader and a Flight Lieutenant, and several Arab Officers and Levy soldiers. Some nine Military Crosses were awarded the RAF Regiment Levy Officers, and several Military Medals to Levy soldiers. These awards focused Army attention on RAF activities in Aden to such a jealous extent that much pressure was put on the Ministry of Defence by Army authorities for them to take over land operational control in Aden. Soon after a Brigadier took over command of the Levies from our Regiment Group Captain and by the late 1950s they had complete control.
I have some vivid memories of ‘operational’ Aden - the action up-country, the ‘crack and thump’ of bullets hitting the ground and rocks nearby. Our firing of 3” mortars when called for; the greeting (shots fired in the air) by friendly Bedouins on our approach to their villages; eating with local dignitaries like the Shariff of Beihan, on the floor of a room or tent where we were offered sheeps’ eyes as a delicacy by the local Sheikh; scouting on camels along the Yemeni border to pinpoint likely aircraft landing sites with friend, Flight Lieutenant Adrian McGuire (a Cranwell Cadet who later became Air Commodore of the Regiment), and the Tribal Executioner Habeili; dawn in Dhala with the sound of bagpipes wafting across the hills as the Piper of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders blew ‘Reveille’.
I also heard that Regiment friends in London had news that I had been killed in action but the unfortunate person was Jock Daly from a richocheting bullet off his armoured car. His burial took place in Aden and I was given the task by the Committee of Adjustment to go through Jock’s personal effects and make an inventory and had an uncanny experience doing so.
While reading his private correspondence (action necessary in RAF Regulations to ensure no embarrassing matters were remitted to next-of-kin) the electric light went off and on three times (other occupied rooms adjacent, the Officers’ Mess and our house were on the same line and their lights were not affected). I had to take over Jock’s squadron only a month before I was due to return to the U.K. and until a new commander could be appointed.
memories include the birth of my first son Mark in 1956, and friendships
made in Aden that have lasted a lifetime, but many friends are sadly, now
gone. I retain happy memories of our native Levy Officers and soldiers,
their humour and adaptability, their innocence and courage when required,
the rugged beauty of the Aden Protectorate, horse and camel rides, the
camaraderie of the British Officers of the APL, especially No.2 Wing, and
our free Sundays at the Officers’ Club at Goldmohur - swimming and enjoying
our curry lunch.