The Northumberland Fusiliers in Aden
The 1st Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers flew into Aden's Khormaksar airfield in September 1966. The Battalion was arriving in Aden to relieve the East Yorkshire Regiment, whose area of responsibility had been Crater. The Battalion landed at 3.00 AM and by 6.00 AM that same morning, X Company Northumberland Fusiliers moved into Crater to start their Internal Security operations. The Crater district was in the old part of Aden and was made up of a labyrinth of tiny streets with only two main roads leading in and out. About 70,000 Arabs lived in Crater. It was also here that the NLF and FOSY carried out their murderous campaign against each other and the British army. Most attacks on the British patrols were made by lone grenade-throwing terrorists.
During the first day of the Northumberland Fusiliers tour of Aden, a patrol in Crater shot and killed one terrorist and wounded another after a grenade was thrown at them. The grenade was later found to be a sardine can but the Northumberland Fusiliers CO Col. Dick Blenkinsop was quick to back up his men saying it was the correct action to take in the situation his men had faced. He also hoped that this action would send a message to the NLF and FLOSY that the Northumberland Fusiliers were not to be played with. No more attacks were made against British soldiers for the next few weeks.
On the 11th of November the Battalion took its first casualties. A patrol under the command of Company Sergeant Major Pringle was travelling up the Marine Drive in a Land Rover when a grenade was thrown at the vehicle. The explosion turned over the Land Rover, spilling its occupants into the road and wounding CSM Pringle in the shoulder, but the main force of the explosion landed in the middle of a group of Arabs, killing one woman and seriously wounding others. The Arab who threw the grenade ran off and tried to disappear in the roads that led into the Bazaar. Fusilier Reagan who was the Battalion's cross-country runner was not hurt in the explosion and ran after the terrorist. Reagan soon caught up with him and tackled him with his rifle. Reagan calmly returned his prisoner to the Land Rover were the rest of the patrol were tending to CSM Pringle and the wounded Arabs.
The grenade attacks continued throughout the rest of the Battalion's tour of Aden resulting in many deaths and injuries from grenade fragments. At the start of the tour some bright spark in the Battalion came up with the idea of an Aden Grenade tie which was awarded to any member of the Battalion who had a grenade thrown at them. By the end of the Northumberland Fusiliers' time in Aden every member of the Battalion had be given an Aden Grenade tie.
The Northumberland Fusiliers found themselves the object of much press attention. The British media were focusing on the Aden problem and were very critical of the Battalion's methods. Many pictures were taken of "Brutal British Soldiers " kicking and threatening Arabs. These pictures were always taken after a grenade had been thrown at a patrol, killing or wounding Fusiliers. Naturally the Fusiliers reacted fast and hard when these attacks happened. Most soldiers would try and capture the terrorist rather than start shooting and the best way of getting though a crowd of Arabs was by using the British Army boot and connecting the Arab rear ends.
The Press was always on hand to take pictures of British soldiers attacking defenceless Arabs. However, few took pictures on the British soldiers lying bleeding on the road as a result of a grenade attack. The Geordies quite correctly thought they were doing their job well until they saw pictures of themselves in British and international newspapers under the heading of " The brutality of Geordie troops in Aden ". Col Blenkinsop defended his men saying that they were reacting very calmly and professionally, considering that in most cases, Fusiliers had just witnessed their mates cut to ribbons by grenade fragments.
The lowest point of the Northumberland Fusiliers' tour of Aden came when Lt. Davis and 7 other members of the Battalion were murdered during the Police Mutiny in June 1967.
In July 1967 the Northumberland Fusiliers handed over control of Crater to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and withdrew back to the UK. They left behind many of their mates in Silent Valley Cemetery who would never return to Blighty. It had been a hard tour of duty for the Battalion who had performed extremely well under the circumstances and had been branded as thugs by the world's Press. They left behind many of their fallen comrades who were lade to rest at the Silent Valley Cemetery.