There are two main concentrations of RAF units in Aden Colony – at Steamer Point, where the original garrison was set up and where Headquarters, Middle East (Aden) Command are situated, and Khormaksar, where the airport is the natural centre for operational units. RAF Khormaksar and RAF Steamer Point are run as two separate stations, self-accounting for cash and equipment.
RAF Steamer Point provides the administrative services for most of the units in the base area – roughly, in the “boot” of the peninsula. Its Commanding Officer is, therefore, responsible for a diverse group of units – the RAF Aden Communications Centre, No. 114 Maintenance Unit, the Aden Supplies Depot, 50 Movement Unit, the HQ Provost and Security Services (which are responsible for enforcing service discipline and keeping down crime throughout the Colony), the staff at Command HQ, the RAF Hospital, the Aden Protectorate Levies Hospital, No. 7 Anti-Malarial Unit (which is responsible for anti-mosquito operations throughout the Command) and one Army unit, No. 222 Signals Squadron, which mans the telephone exchange and maintains landlines up-country.
Administrative responsibility for all these involves dealing with their accommodation, messing, welfare, pay and supplies, education, clerical services, personnel, medical treatment, motor transport, ground defence, fire and police, maintenance and repairs to buildings. The administration of all “hirings” – the houses and flats rented by the Air Ministry to supplement married quarters – occupied by both RAF and Army, in the Colony, is another Steamer Point responsibility.
Big building programme
With almost every unit developing and expanding, Steamer Point has a big programme of building and modernisation on its hands. To the 20 or so married quarters of the old type, new blocks giving 48 more flats have recently been added. Four modern air-conditioned barrack blocks, each accommodating 150 airmen in cubicles, have been completed on the Maidan, next to the sports fields. They supplement the old, but well-provisioned, blocks built high on Chapel Hill to catch every pleasant cooling breeze from the sea. The Airmen’s Mess on the hill is due to be replaced by a new air-conditioned building near the new barracks.
The Sergeants’ Mess on Barrack Hill is again an old type building, but its site, beside giving fine views across the harbour, ensures some breezes to relieve the trying hot weather conditions, and this is helped by airy construction and plenty of fans.
The Officers’ Mess occupies one of the finest positions in the Colony, overlooking Telegraph Bay at Tarshyne. An attractive feature is its large patio for sitting out of doors – also providing a ready-made dance floor.
Serving the unified HQ of Middle East (Aden) Command, the RAF Communications Centre provides the communications for all three Services – to-date the only example of one service doing this for all. Until recently the Centre was quite a small affair, but is undergoing a face-lift and re-equipment that will make it the most modern of its kind under the British flag. On its radio teleprinters come and go messages from Cyprus, Bahrein, the UK, East Africa and, until recently, the Sudan and Somalia. No longer are outgoing messages typed by operators – they are transcribed on to punched tapes and fed into the automatic teleprinters which transmit them faster than any operator. Transmissions to certain other areas are in hand-speed morse.
The transmitting and receiving stations are both remote from the Centre and each other, though controlled from the centre. This is to prevent the transmitters “deafening”, so to speak, their own receivers – and also to protect the latter from interference from mere domestic appliances, which could happen if they were near the Centre in a built-up area like Steamer Point.
A busy telephone exchange – for the whole of the headquarters and Steamer Point – handles 350 calls an hour for each operator’s position, so that no operator stays on duty for more than an hour without a break.
No. 114 MU
If you hear the cry “Up the MOO!” on Aden sports fields, do not fear an encounter with a sacred cow – this is simply a shout of support for No. 114 Maintenance Unit teams. Seriously, wherever you are or whatever your connection with the Services in Aden, you are bound to hear of the MU and benefit from its work. No. 114 Maintenance Unit is an RAF Equipment Depot, supplying all manner of equipment to RAF and, to a limited extent, Army and Navy units in the Command. “Equipment” means everything from a pound of nails to a radio vehicle, from curtains to coffins. Spares and tools for planes, motor vehicles and motor launches, tyres and radio transmitters, films and paint – and also cots and cushions, crockery and plastic basins – have their place in its storehouses.
Making more space for more goods is the continual problem, so the storekeepers are continually re-arranging and re-packing, like tidy housewives. And lettering and numbering on racks and bins, and a card index system, ensures that a small item, like half a dozen paintbrushes, can be quickly found in a hangar piled 20 feet high. Sub-sites at Isthmus (near Khormaksar) and Cemetery Valley ease the congestion at the small main depot at Steamer Point – site, incidentally, of the original Aden Stores Depot in the 1920s.
Quite a lot of the equipment 114 MU makes – it has blacksmiths, sheet metalworkers, carpenters and a fabric shop, which makes curtains (26,287 of them in the last year) and cushion covers. In one as yet unmechanised department half a dozen cobblers sit crosslegged repairing 700 pairs of boots and shoes a month. Most interesting to service families, perhaps, would be the stores which house furniture – beds, chairs, tables, bookcases, desks, cupboards, dressing tables, crockery, cutlery, bedding, plastic bowls and buckets, vacuum cleaners and scrubbing brushes – in fact, all the domestic equipment for barracks, messes, schools, married quarters and hirings.
One of the oldest buildings in Aden is the RAF Hospital, perched high on the hill above Steamer Point. In fact, its origins are lost in history – there is a story that it was built by the Turks – but it was an Indian Medical Service Hospital before the RAF took over in 1922 and must be nearly 100 years old. Its age, and the fact that it is a collection of buildings on different levels, make it very difficult to run as an efficient modern hospital, yet help to give it a charm and a friendliness that few antiseptically modern buildings can match. Its builders understood how to achieve coolness in a hot climate, with high ceilings and deep, shaded verandahs on every side, and its high position ensures that it feels every sea breeze.
This 180-bed hospital serves all British Forces in the Aden Protectorate, and their families, and also merchant seamen of all nationalities. It is a staging post for the aero-medical service (Casevac) from the Far East, so that twice a month a plane-load of casualties spends a night there before going on to the UK, while casualties for the twice- or thrice-monthly Aden-UK-direct Casevac are collected there. Usually there are 120-130 patients in the hospital, rarely less than 100.
The expansion programme involves the hospital, too, and a new 40-bed block is being built. The idea is that this will mean it is no longer necessary for patients to have their beds on the verandahs – but, in fact, most patients on approaching convalescence prefer to be outside where they can watch the superb view of the harbour. At any rate, the additional beds should help to ease the strain on the present 50 available for women and children. This includes a 12-bed maternity unit – a pleasant bungalow on the highest level of the hospital – where about 15 babies are born each month. Another bungalow on the same level is an isolation wing for women and children, the majority of patients being dysentery sufferers.
Next come the kitchen block, another women’s ward – whose staff, with their offices in another wing a few feet lower down the hill where they have other patients, lead an energetic life on the stairs – and a “bridge” to the upper floor of the main hospital. Surgical patients and operating theatres have the first floor, outpatients, and stores the ground level, then administrative offices and the laboratory are separate buildings below again.
The hospital is manned by RAF Medical Service doctors and orderlies, Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service sisters and WRAF orderlies.
Imagine a thousand had of cattle, 4,100 sheep, 2,772 pigs, 48,000 rabbits and 40,000 chickens – that is the amount of meat eaten by British Forces in Aden in the course of a year. And sausages – a year’s supply would make a string 120 miles long, from London to Nottingham. The RAF Aden Supply Depot, which is responsible for the feeding of all the RAF and Army units in the Colony and Protectorate, plus visiting Royal Navy ships and the Aden Protectorate Levies is used to dealing with food and marketing in astronomical quantities.
In a single month they provide 4,500 gallons of ice-cream, 14,000 pounds of apples, 7,000 lb. bananas, 12,000 lb. oranges, 10,000 lb. carrots, 10,000 lb. cabbage and 12,000 lb. tomatoes. These fresh fruits and vegetables come in from Italy, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and also from the Protectorate, but in a climate where a lettuce wilts in three hours storage is a king-sized nightmare. In fact, the depot has 50,000 cubic feet of refrigerated space, only a small part of the total it uses for food stocks, and the ice plant which it controls produces 160 50-lb. blocks of ice every day – 2,920,000 lb. in a year, or enough to make a fair-sized skating rink!
The Supply Depot was taken over by the RAF from the Royal Indian Army Corps in the latter part of 1946 and, with the growth of the three services in this area, has naturally mushroomed until it is now the largest RAF Supply Depot in the world.
Once the depot had its own dairy farm, at Isthmus, where there grazed a herd of Friesian cows, first brought in by the Indian Army. The herd provided milk for all service families and units and some civilians, and it was with some feeling that it closed down in 1955 owing to a continued financial loss. Today, fresh milk is flown in daily by air services from Kenya and is available at shops and NAAFI, while the RAF provides fresh milk for school children and hospital patients.
The depot has its own bakery, and 2,500 loaves leave its ovens daily – but extensive modernisation is planned for it, so it will soon provide sliced and wrapped loaves. Much of the food served in the messes is undoubtedly British in origin – helping to make the menus familiar, “just like home”.
But one of the Supply Depot’s little problems is feeding the Aden Protectorate Levies. Their meat – 2,232 sheep and 2,540 goats – have to be supplied alive, so that they can be killed halal fashion according to the tenets of the Muslim religion. The Arab troops also require native-type vegetables with such exotic names as kulfa, kohl rabi and brinjals – and one which is known, even on official order forms, as “ladies fingers.”
The depot deals in astronomical quantities, but they are perhaps proudest of one very small figure – that of dehydrated vegetables. The measure of their success in providing fresh vegetables, in the face of considerable difficulty, is that only 2½ oz. of the dried commodity are supplied per man per week in the Command.
50 Movement Unit
For every RAF man, especially if he has a family, the work of 50 Movement Unit has real personal importance. This unit is responsible for baggage – unloading the heavier items brought with you by sea and delivering them to a man’s unit, forwarding baggage to stations outside the Colony, dealing with unaccompanied baggage that follows families travelling by air. And, of course, shipping the whole lot back again at the end of your tour. The Unit is responsible for every Service item that enters and leaves Aden by sea – Servicemen, their families and domestic goods, and cargo of all kinds. It is the largest organisation of its kind run by the RAF. In the course of a year it works on nearly 600 cargo ships and more than 150 passenger ships, and for the loading and unloading of passengers and cargo has on call a fleet of Arab ferry-boats and lighters.
Aden being an area where there are many young, single men and few unattached girls, the small complement of WRAF are in great demand for social functions and can lead a very gay social life if they wish. Their own regular dances, to which each girl can ask two guests, have a certain exclusiveness.
There are about 50 girls, but their trades and work are very varied. They include clerks, typists and shorthand typists, telephonists and skilled telegraphists working at HQ MEC, RAF Steamer Point and the Communications Centre, storewomen working with 114 Maintenance Unit, nursing orderlies at the hospital, a dental hygienist and a dental surgery attendant, and a PT instructor. The half-dozen officers belong to equally varied departments – intelligence, signals, personnel and accounts, at present. One airwoman is a hairdresser by trade and plies her trade three mornings and three afternoons a week at the WRAF quarters for the benefit of her colleagues, RAF wives and civilian employees.
The girls have their quarters in a self-contained enclosure on sloping ground above Telegraph Bay, not far from the Officers’ Mess, and the officers’ bungalow is just up the hill.
The long, low buildings, bright with paint, surround a circular shrubbery and fountain pool set below the wide patio in front of the big dining and sitting rooms. Airwomen sleep in dormitories with up to nine beds, junior and senior NCOs have single cubicles. All rooms have ceiling fans, and there are plans for increased air-conditioning – already rooms used by girls who have to work night shifts have it. Senior NCOs have a pleasant small mess of their own, and both this and the Airwomen’s Mess have refrigerators for personal belongings that need to be kept cool.