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A Biblical Stoning

As a chorister for many years during my boyhood I sat and listened to the lessons and sermons that spoke of stoning to death and I always thought that couldn't happen today, that was all in the past? I had not counted upon the Middle East with its twelfth century values and, to us, backward ways that still survived in the twentieth. This was especially so in the Aden Protectorates and the Yemen that even as I write, that area of South Arabia is still both tribal and feudal.

Two years after entering the RAF I was posted to Aden exactly and RAF station Khormaksar in particular. I was then aged 19, where I met up with a chap from my home town who previously was at Grammar school with my brother-in-law - one Michael Dawes who was undertaking his National Service as a Senior Aircraftsman, gunner/driver with 66 Field Squadron, RAF Regiment, before going on to study brewing (a good quantitative subject that) at Edinburgh University.  (Almost two thirds of other ranks then were either National Service or had extended to three year regulars service and in a matter of weeks after my story took place found themselves on active service doing a great job along side the regular airmen. A few have never left the Colony and are interned either in Maalla cemetery or Silent Valley under the shadow of the 
Little Aden's BP oil refinery).

During the Suez campaign of 1956, Gamal Abdul Nasser, President of Egypt had caused the blocking of the Suez Canal and as a result there were but few ships entering Aden harbour with fresh food supplies from the previous 40 ships a day in and out of this busy port. What fresh food was coming in was allocated to the civilian population whilst all service personnel were on emergency war reserve rations for the next few months. Rations were supplemented by locally caught shark and tiny hen's eggs that tasted of the fish on which they had been fed and whatever vegetables were locally available. Christmas 1956, the Station Commander sent the twin engine Valletta aircraft of 84 Squadron over to Kenya to provide us with fresh food for Christmas day that was most enjoyable to those still sober enough to remember anything of it. We knew we were hardly getting sufficient to eat as we started dreaming of food instead of girls that were few and far between, at Khormaksar anyway.

One Sunday morning Mike came over to my billet and asked me if I would go to Steamer Point (Tawahi) with him for a meal in the French restaurant situated in the Crescent, to which I readily agreed, after we had turned our pockets out to find that we had enough money between us for a main course only and bus fares there and back.

Off we went on the bus and enjoyed our food, a great luxury for us erks after the recent meals in the airmen's' mess but the meal took longer to be served than we anticipated and we therefore missed the bus back to camp some several miles away on the other side of the bay. This was after 1200hrs, when all the shops in town closed for the next four hours opening again about the time of the next bus to camp.

A taxi was completely out of the question as all we had was the price of the bus fare in our pockets and all we had until the Golden Eagle defecated for us again on the following Thursday (payday overseas was fortnightly).  "Anymore bright ideas Mike?" I asked him.
"We will walk" was his reply "there's bound to be a service gharry or a married family car that will take us back if they see us walking". So off we went in a temperature of around 100F in the shade, had there been any that is.

Two miles further on we were on the Maalla Straight, thirsty, tiring fast with the heat, wet through with sweat from the exertion and merely putting one foot in front of the other with the sun beating mercilessly down on our bare heads. Our eyes, hurting from the glare, reflected from the sand at the side of the road and still nothing had passed us by that would give us a lift.

There were blocks of flats, some still under construction on the land side of the port within the distance on the bay side, built on the land reclamation site with the still expanding wharfs and storage buildings of the dock areas. Between the docks and us was the former railway (Maalla to Lahej) station buildings then used as the Passport Office. Between, around and behind the flats were shanty dwellings of the poor made out of wood, cardboard and tin sheeting anything they could lay their hands on.

Whilst plodding along the side of the dusty, sand and rock strewn verge, Mike on the inside and I next to the, by now metalled, road having just passed the old railway station when from no where appeared a beggar who fell in step with us and began asking for money in a most pleading but aggressive manner. I told him in my best Arabic that I hadn't any to spare but he kept on demanding anyway. Mike said, "Tell him to "naff off" sharp'ish" which I had already done several times anyway. I then notice that he had a snake coiled under and over the scarf around his neck with the snake's head on his shoulder dangerously near to mine. Now, firstly, I hate the idea of snakes and secondly I had never in my life seen one especially so near to me other than a grass snake which I am reliably informed is not a snake at all but a slow worm. I kept on trying to tell Mike of this but all he kept saying was "take no notice, just tell him to combine sex and travel and naff off".

At this point I must remind the reader that we were about to be evicted from Suez by an American initiated UN resolution (and only because the USA were upset that we had not informed their then President of our intentions and received his approval) so as can be expected Cairo Radio made the most of it. The radio programmes being received by most Aden Arabs were from Cairo, which urged them with inflamed speeches by Nasser to throw out the imperial aggressors from occupied Yemen as they had done themselves with the French and British. The beggar started shouting his head off after being told he couldn't have any money, with the result that in no time a sizable crowd began to form around us as we continued our stroll back to camp. Then it happened! Some scruffy, dirty little urchin threw a stone at us and thinking it a good idea they all began to join in. The stones were really lava rocks that are all over the place and they hurt when they hit you and soon drew blood, in this case, ours.

Be it known that Rodger Bannister may have done the four-minute mile first but the unsubstantiated second place belongs rightly and properly to Mike and I dressed as we were in, by now stained, bloody and wet white shirts and shorts with locally made sling-back sandals. Had a picture been taken of us on that run our legs would have shown as just a blur with our mouths open shouting for our respective mothers?

Just as we were about at the end of our wind and with the stitch having set into our sides, our saviour, not on a white horse or in the armoured cars of the Aden Protectorate Levies, but in a white Jaguar motorcar came alongside us with the rear door already open and the driver shouting, "Jump in quick as you can!"

Not needing a second telling and being the nearest I dived onto the back seat full length not knowing the apparent Mediterranean gentleman driving and at that time not caring much just grateful to be out of the unpleasant situation. Mike jumped on the top of me and we were away at a great rate of speed.

At that time I weighed in at just 8stone 4lbs but Mike was over six feet tall and between 14-15 stone. I was winded again and crushed but I didn't care, as we were safe and on our way back to Khormaksar. After sorting ourselves out and regaining our wind, but now very smelly and still hot, our saviour dropped us at the camp main gates with our great full thanks.

It was at these same gates a few weeks later whilst on gate guard duty (then unarmed) sometime during the evening and of course after dark I was attacked and injured by a member of the fledgling Liberation Front, being the third guard to be so attacked during that week. Following that incident they decided would be the shape of things to come and so we were armed with a .303 Lee-Enfield rifle and a bandoleer of 50 rounds. They certainly did not mean us to harm anyone as the ammunition clips were wire locked into the pockets of the cotton ammunition belt. The orders for guard duties were obviously written by a music hall comedian making us wrong if we opened fire or wrong if we didn't. We would have been very dead anyway before we could load and in the event we did fire we were to wound below the knee only. Obviously someone had as a child seen far too many cowboy films and not used to real firearms.

Our saviour from the angry mob was a Greek gentleman who owned the Red Sea Garage and petrol pumps near to the roundabout at the bottom of the pass into Crater. I was to know this man better after my wife Edna joined me in the colony for he was the person in the flat above ours in Aden (the ancient Arab town, called Crater by the British as it was built inside an extinct volcano we hoped would remain so).

All's well that ends well as the bard of Stratford said but should I suffer in the future from incontinency it will be of little surprise to me because of the strain that has been placed upon the elastic of my rear end during my far from dull and uneventful years of my pensionable RAF service.

George Reeve

George Reeve

 

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