Shields man shot at in Aden

British troops in Aden.
British troops in Aden.

Today ex-serviceman Les Crompton tells of being stoned, shot at and caught up in a monsoon-induced flood while serving with the British Army in Aden during the 1950s.

His service there came just six years before the outbreak of the Aden “emergency” – an insurgency against the British forces in the British-controlled territories of South Arabia.

Partly inspired by Nasser’s pan-Arab nationalism (as mentioned in Time Of Our Lives earlier this week), it began in December 1963 with the throwing of a grenade at a gathering of British officials at Aden Airport.

A state of emergency was declared, eventually resulting in the withdrawl of British troops from the area on November 30, 1967.

This is Mr Crompton’s experience of Aden just prior to those turbulent years.

“I was serving with “A” Squadron 15th/19th The King’s Royal Hussars, in Malaya in 1957, when we were informed we would be sent to Aden for operations in Arabia,” he explains.

“Only “A” Squadron was to deploy with 113 personnel, as the regiment was due to return to UK in June of that year.

“Our main vehicles used in Malaya were Daimler armoured cars, Saracen personnel carriers and Dingo scout cars.

“Only four scout car troops plus two Saracen command vehicles were required in Arabia.

“We changed to Ferret scout cars, in which a ‘crash’ course was held in Ipoh.

“The vehicles had to be shipped from Singapore to Aden, and all ranks travelled by air.

“All personnel and vehicles were established by mid-April 1957, the 3rd and 4th troops in the Eastern Protectorate, at Riyan, and 1st (my own troop) and 2nd troop in Khormaksar, Aden.”

Once in Aden, there was little time for the troops to get acclimatised, as Mr Crompton reveals.

“Our first operation was the protection of the Dhala Convoy.

“We started at midnight, from Khormaksar to Dhala, a village and camp approximately 100 miles north of Aden, close to the Yemen border.

“We passed through the narrow Arab streets of Ma’Ala, Shiekh Othman, then tracks through Lahej, Nobat Dakim to Fort Thumier for a breakfast halt.

“Then onward through Thumier Wadi Hills and over Khoraiba Pass, to finish at Dhala Camp.

“The Ferret armament consisted of a .300 Browning machine gun, in an all-round traverse turret.”

He goes on to say that contact, while on convoy, was maintained by radio to H.Q. at Seedaseer Lines Aden.

“Problems experienced while on convoy included being stoned by the Sheikh Othman population, shot at by dissidents on the Wadi sides and at the Khoraiba Pass – and also the midnight start!

“The convoy was accompanied by pickets of the Cameron Highlanders and Aden Protectorate Levies (local Arab troops) who were in turn protected and supported by firing of our Ferret Brownings. We continued on several Dhala convoys, all similar to the one described.

“North of Fort Thumier, the Wadi becomes much narrower, more stonier and rocky.

“On one of the convoys we experienced a flash flood, caused by a monsoon. “Instructed by radio to make for high ground we all managed to do so apart from Sergeant “Bomber” Harris and trooper Marshall’s Ferret.

“A wall of water swept through the Wadi and receded almost as quickly as it had risen. The Ferret was carried many meters along the Wadi bed, buried in sand, rocks and gravel.

“It was retrieved by a Scammel recovery vehicle from Aden. It was fully cleaned, serviced, fitted with a new radio fitted and returned to Aden.

“Moving from Khormaksar to Dhala Camp, we carried out south-bound convoys and protection duties at a small dirt track air strip close to the camp.

“The strip, with hills all around, was a difficult landing for the small Pembroke aircraft carrying supplies and ammunition etc..

“It was, however, an ideal position for dissidents – firing shots at the aircraft. “We attempted to cut them off, with very little success, owing to the terrain and the Ferrets’ driving problems–although they quickly dispersed with a few rounds of Browning fired in their direction.

“After spending 10 months in Arabia, “A” Squadron sailed back to the UK on the troopship Oxfordshire, and I, along with 1st Troop, rejoined the regiments in Northern Ireland.”