RASC in Aden and the Radfan
By Richard Bullock - GSM. & Bar
I was posted to Aden from Aldershot in Feb 1964 after basic training as a driver in the RASC, at Yeovil, & Aldershot. I was so excited to be going to a place like Aden and not Germany, as all that we had heard of in the way of trouble in Aden was that it was trivial in 1964, so we only had duty free shopping, fishing, and great beaches with great bars, with the cheapest spirits and fags we had ever heard of, and this was on our mind oh yeh! Our predecessors had given very glowing and graphic reports on a two week R&R in Mombassa and as I was to be there for two years, I was looking forward to leave in Mombassa.
Fresh out from Blighty on a BOAC Britannia we landed at Khormaksar RAF Base. As we filed out of the aircraft door, the humidity and an unfamiliar smell hit us, now an unforgettable smell. Not a bad smell, just very different from Dorset country lanes.
Well, within a few days we were filling sand bags under the watchful eye of our Platoon officer, 2Lt. Golden. Not too long in the sun lads, as even an hour was to long for some, and we went from the Duty Ghost a common name for those whities from Blighty, to Duty Lobster in quick time.
Our barracks were at Seederseer Lines, a few miles further on from Khormaksar, and right on the edge of the beach. Our billets were used earlier by the FRA (Federal Regular Army) but now had fans, air conditioners, and a new coat of old green paint. There must have been 20 of us in this dorm style accommodation, and what was in our lockers you might ask? There were anti malaria pills, salt supplement pills, and a bottle of orange or lemon cordial, letters in, a photo of your girl or wife, letters out, Brasso, Blanco, POSB, and the usual military things and strange memories. We had our uniforms cleaned every night by the Dohby Wahl as, anything to be washed was rolled in a towel and put at the end of the bed and the next afternoon it was hanging on the end of one's bed cleaned, pressed, and starched. Yes, starched stiff as a board, and we all had a Dhobi mark. Mine was a triangle with a dot in the centre, which was as amazing system that nearly always worked. All for a few fills per week that was about five shillings. The camp had two strange things. One was a cage with a small monkey called Tina in it, and I think at one time there was another one, but the other name escapes me. Second was the biggy "PADDY". Paddy was a medium sized black dog with ginger eyebrows and a few other patches, that lived in and around the camp, should have had a service number, and should have been a full corporal, with attitude. When the moment was right he was like one of the guys. He had his favourite bed spaces to sleep in, and he seemed to be the fourth musketeer in a select group of Chick, Frank, Jordy, and of course Paddy. He even got his photo in the Wagoner and that's more than I did. Paddy was a morale booster, a sort of canine shrink and confidant in some ways, as you could sit outside with your foot on his tummy and talk to him about your girlfriend at home, and that you missed your own dog, or that 252 you had just got was so unjust. He just listened and never passed judgement.
Soon we were given a 3-ton RL Bedford or Land Rover, or for the less fortunate among us an old K9 Austin water bowser, and our most frequent points of call would be X group for ammo. X group was part of Mt. Shamsan, a hollow part quite a long drive up the hillside to a gate at the top where an MP took your matches, cigs, and lighter and gave you a numbered disc for retrieval of the same on your way out. We would pick up just about any ammo that you could name for distribution to various other units i.e. tank rounds HE, AP, mortar, 7.62, 9 mm, .4-inch shells, flares, etc.
Little Aden was a common place to deliver ammo to, as the camps there, Salerno and Falaise, had infantry and tank regiments and I think there was another camp but I have forgotten the name of the other place, while the other was the Mahlla Cold Store in the back streets of Mhalla where we would get fresh rations to be delivered to the same camps. When the trouble got worse we had IS patrols in the streets of Steamer, Maalla, Crater City, and out to the Shenaze Roundabout, and some time later all vehicles entering Aden were searched before the causeway, and we would be looking for ammunition of any sort, large amounts of money, any suspect paperwork, and we also had a few individuals to look out for. All security personnel were issued with a green card for instructions on opening fire, in the state of Aden and a pink one, which were Arabic phrases.
We had wood and barbed wire barricades at the side of the road at strategic points so that roads could be sealed off by the MPs quickly or what ever regiment was in Aden at the time assigned IS duties. Most did a 3 month tour, as I was RASC I was attached to many different regiments during my two years, i.e. Royal Anglians, 2 Para, 45 Marine Commando, KOSBs, Koyll, and 16/5 Lancers.
Whilst with a Para unit I was involved in street patrols at night gathering up stray Arabs (gollies) after curfew frisking them, asking a few questions if we thought they had large amounts of money or just not kosher we would stuff them in the back of the Land Rover and take them to HMS Sheeba, Naval Intelligence, for questioning, not always easy or fun. Our Land Rovers were a bit special as well. IS Land Rovers had a wire cage on the back and a round hole in the top for a gunner, usually armed with a Bren, or GPMG and no doors. The wire cage was to stop Arab thrown grenades getting in the back, and mounted on the front bumper was a long metal goose neck to snap wires that were stretched across the road at the same height as the gunners neck, popular in the back streets of Steamer Point or Maalla. During this time married families living in flats along the Maallah straight were asked to have night snipers in, and they would take a position on the balcony and wait for target vehicles to run the gauntlet. None made it out that we ever heard about and as far as I know four were stopped by being shot to bits.
During the day we would block off a whole street using the trucks with one at each end and the troops would start a systematic search of houses, flats, and businesses. Most of the streets were narrow and a truck was long enough to block it off completely , but one extra wide street left a gap that I had to stand in with my SLR and look tough and menacing. Well, I think I was not scary enough as a large arrogant Somali/Arab decided that he was exempt from the blockade and refused to remain within the designated area and decided to just walk right through the gap that I was blocking off. I called out, "Halt!" but he kept on coming , so to show that I was not to be trifled with I cocked the action of my SLR to show I was not going to let him through, and to my surprise as I did so, a live round sprang from the breach and landed on the floor. God, I already had one up the spout as they say, but the bloke kept going. By this time I was just a bit stressed, and no way could I have shot this guy. He didn't seem to be armed but he must not get out of the net. "Always use the minimum force at your disposal" the green card said so I stood aside and let him through. It must have been in his mind that I was weak and that he had got through, which would have been a nanno second before he blacked out from the blow I had delivered to the back of his head. He was found to have a large amount of money on him, and he was taken to the police station in the Crescent for interrogation, which was our base for most of the time. The police station in Steamer Point was a nice place from the front with board walks and verandas but the cells were at the rear and we were there for rest breaks and so on. I remember a small, raised garden bed with a wall round it between the cells where we would sit and eat our food whilst Arab prisoners watched us half starved, as the only food most got was rubbish, leftovers and the like. Their cell was a concrete cube, no water, no TV, no toilet, and was washed out every morning by an Arab policeman with a fire hose. It was a very bad place to end up.
The BP fuel refinery drivers went on strike so I found myself driving a petrol tanker delivering petrol to just about everyone in little Aden, but that's another story.
I remember trying out to be a radio announcer on the Aden Forces Radio, and muffed it. Perhaps it was the Dorset drawl that upset them.
I was friendly with a few Arabs at that time, as not all were anti British. One of them owned a cafe, The Candle Light Club, just south of Kohmaksar and I was lucky enough to be able to borrow from one of these Arabs either his 250 cc Honda Dream or on the other hand his pale blue Sunbeam Alpine, a sports soft top. It was always a help at the Steamer Point Lido to be able to tell a young nurse that you had just met that you would drive her home, or show her the sights, as so few service personnel had access to cars let alone a sports car.
At some point the Arabs got television, and they would have TV parties. I went to one I and decided it was not my scene drinking the tea from a saucer, drinking Coca-Cola, and eating a type of privet leaf and beetle nut, and was the first and last time. Also that music never seemed to end, and the face of President Nassa popped up all the time.
Around that time we started doing convoys to a place that was later to become Thumier, and then Habilain, where the Royal Engineers built an air strip, and we a fuel storage dump. Very soon a desolate dark brown rock-strewn plateau was to be a sort of city of canvas homes. The RAF had brought in Belvederes,(twin rotor helicopters), Beverly's, (for the heavy stuff) Twin Pioneers, and Beavers, and to supply and defend Thumier was RAF Reg. 2coy RASC and who ever happened to be using the place as a stepping off point at the time. Just about every unit you can imagine was there at one time or another, Royal Engineers, who made the air strip and kept the roads open for us, 45 Marine Commando, SAS, who suffered a terrible loss in the Radfan mountains, 2 Para, 16/5 Lancers, and a territorial regiment got in on the act but suffered some casualties and were withdrawn soon after. Even the BBC camera team went up in one of our convoys.
The goat track so generously called a road was frequently mined with some anti personnel mines and the big old Mk 7 anti tank mines where we lost a few good blokes to mines and trucks ("see photos") During my time I did countless convoys to Thumiere and was always glad to see a Saladin or Ferret scout car turn up as escort and it was even better if we got a low level passes by a couple of Hunters on the way to Radfan. Although not able to land there, they would strafe the hills and then return to Khormaksar.
I remember half way between Lahij and Thumier was a village were we would swap cans of orange/ lemon powder for bananas or watermelons. Some time later we formed 'D' Platoon, with long wheelbase Land Rovers cut down and mine plated. We were to tow field guns, ammo, and fresh rations up country through to places like the Dahla Pass up very steep and very rocky tracks with hairpin bends and steep cliffs rising up all round you and the odd Arab sniper making his point through your dash board and radiator with a lump of lead of some extraordinary calibre (very big).
At one point I was casavaced to Muckerious from Khormaksar in a Dakota for a week in Mukarious of peace and quiet to get myself better. Damn place turned out to be more dangerous than the Dhala Road, Crater City, or a sheik Otheman brothel on a Friday night, all rolled into one. Marauding Arabs, scorpions, and Shiite hawks that stole your meat rations when you walked from the kitchen to the mess hall were just some of the hazards there. I was quite glad to get back to my mates and the swimming pool, the walk in cinema in Waterloo Lines, not to mention the duty free shopping in Steamer, and arguing over the price of various treasures to be sent home to Mum and girl friends, as you don't get 200 king size Rothmans for 10 shillings now do you?
Soon some new very futuristic trucks appeared on the scene like Alvis Stalwarts. These were like space vehicles compared with the Bedford's we had at the time, as they were amphibious, fast over very rough terrain, armour plated, and well suited to fast convoy work on dirt rock-strewn roads.
On a trip back to UK last year from Australia I went to the Bovington tank museum and found that what had been experimental vehicles then, are now in the museum, and that made me feel OLD! A section was set aside for the Aden conflict, and I felt good about that.
I had the bad, the sad, and the good times in Aden. I could fill many more pages of incredible stories but maybe next time. I was an avid photographer at the time and have very many photos and slides that may bring Aden back to life for those who like to remember the good and the bad of that era and I also left a friend in Silent Valley.
I remember those days and my mates like yesterday, it's just the Arab/English spelling that's a bit off,, Sorry!