By Les hooper
In January 1839 Captain S.B. Haines of the Indian Marine, the East India Company’s Navy, occupied Aden. Possessing a magnificent natural harbour at the junction of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, Britain recognised its strategic importance and thus began a period of British rule which lasted until 29th November 1967
Thursday, June 10, 1965
The day dawned clear and bright. Like every other day in Aden. I crawled out of bed, hot and sticky. The damned air conditioner was on the blink – again! I rubbed my weary eyes. Didn’t get to bed till after two o’clock. Last night a silly squaddy on guard duty over at Little Aden shot himself in the hand. Deliberate? Who knows? His story was he was cocking his Sten gun when it went off. In a panic he stuck his hand over the end of the muzzle to stop the rounds firing. Yes, it’s true.
By the time I reached the office just after seven o’clock, the sun was already scorching. You could wring the sweat out of my shirt. I had a chat with the lads, discussed a few cases and what should be done then settled down to check a couple of reports and brief the RAF OC on what had happened in the past 24 hours. Not that he was agog with excitement.
An hour later the first call of the day came in. There were two more bodies lying in the mortuary at the RAF hospital, soldiers from the infantry brigade. Both had been shot in the head. I dragged myself along to the hospital. The oppressive heat sucked all the energy from your body. The report was dead accurate. Two bodies. Both with fatal head wounds. One of them had an entry wound at the back of the skull and an exit wound at the front. The other had only an entry wound at the back of the skull. The bullet was still in his brain. They had been travelling in a Landrover at the time of death.
It didn’t take long to discover what had happened. A security patrol was travelling along the main drag, Maalla, in a Landrover. The occupants were the driver, a soldier in the passenger seat and three more in the rear. All carried Sten guns. Suddenly the Landrover hit a pothole. The Sten gun of the rear-most soldier was not on safety and the jolt caused the weapon to fire. The round entered the head of the man next to him, came out at the front and lodged in the head of the man in the front passenger seat. Sten guns had a nasty habit of firing without due cause. There was no reason to suspect the story and the rest of the enquiry was the usual routine.
At lunchtime the bodies began to pile up. This time it was two SACs from RAF Khormaksar. All units in Aden were plastered with warning notices to be extra alert when wandering the city streets. The local struggle for independence was running at full throttle and the alleyways were clogged with Arabs with concealed grenades or guns under their robes ready to chuck or shoot at unwary Brits. Perhaps the two SACs thought they were immune from assassination. The RAF never did seem to have the same awareness of danger as the army. Probably something to do with being molly-coddled. Anyway the two men who were about to die decided to go souvenir hunting in a crowded and smelly back warren behind Maalla. They were bending over a stall of goodies in front of a shop when an Arab picked them as a prime and easy target. He pulled out a .38 and put a bullet in each of their heads before making his escape. He was never caught.
Another one in the bag. But they didn’t always succeed. Later an Arab produced a grenade, tugged out the pin and just as he was raising his arm to lob the missile at a squaddy, the intended victim spun round and saw him. The Arab quickly hid the grenade back under his robe. Five seconds later he was enjoying the pleasure of his 72 virgins. Expendable killers were paid around ten bob for each attack but sadly for them, the training wasn’t up to scratch. His leader had failed to tell him that when a pin was removed from a grenade the thing would explode.
An hour after the two RAF lads were shot, a civilian car blew up near Steamer Point. This time three martyrs lost their lives. No one knew where they were taking the bomb but no one cared anyway. They were history.
Later in the afternoon came a little light relief. An army wife living in a second floor flat on Maalla, a street lined with army hirings, complained that an Ordnance Corps warrant officer who lived on the same level across the street had been indecently exposing himself to her. I popped along to have a word with her. An armed guard stood at every block entrance. As I entered a rifle shot startled me. I turned. The corporal on guard had a SLR up to his shoulder.
‘What’s happened?’ I asked him.
‘There was an Arab with a pistol in the alley over the road,’ he said.
‘And. . .?’
‘He scarpered. I missed the bastard.’
I shrugged and climbed the stairs to the second floor. The wife was small with frizzy hair and bright eyes. In the heat she wore a light cotton dress that exposed more than it covered. She explained that she was out on her balcony when the warrant officer came on to his balcony opposite completely nude and flashed her his equipment. I stood on her balcony and thought she must have bloody good eyesight. The man’s flat was quite a distance across the thoroughfare, plus he would have to jump up above the parapet for her to have a clear view. I asked how she knew the man was completely naked that far away.
‘Easy,’ she said, ‘I fetched my binoculars to make sure.’ I resisted an impulse to laugh in her face. She gave me a knowing look and asked if I’d like to stay, for a cold drink. I got out quick. She was more dangerous than the gunman in the alley.
Death was a familiar spectre in Aden. Around five o’clock the Arab workers at RAF Khormaksar were pouring out of the main gate on finishing for the day. At the same time a RAF lorry was entering the gate. Unfortunately one of the workers got his head caught between the lorry and the gatepost. It didn’t do him a lot of good. From our side of the fence it raised some black humour about squashed Arab for dinner. From his point of view it must have been a vast disappointment: you don’t get 72 virgins for dying in a traffic accident.
After dark a British civil servant was travelling alone from Little Aden to Aden city when he was ambushed and shot to death in his private car. I went to the scene but there was little one could do under the circumstances. Everyone knew that a Brit driving alone after dark was asking for trouble and he got a great big final dose of it, in lead. I tumbled into bed just after midnight. Christ, it was hot! The air-conditioning was still playing up.
And there’s another day tomorrow.
RAF men shot here
|“Old Bill” was King William IV, whose constables were an early type of copper. Some say he was on the throne when the police were formed, but he didn’t succeed George IV until 1830.|