We were enjoying happy days. We had time to relax and enjoy our surroundings, yes, Dubai was now very much home and surprise, surprise, couldn’t really imagine living anywhere else. Do I need a doctor urgently, maybe I’m suffering from a severe attack of the noonday sun? Surely, it’s anybody’s guess!
Without registering what was happening, we were morphing into little Arabs, or put in a different parlance, seasoned Ex-pats. There was one thing we had failed to take into account, it just might be extremely difficult for us to happily step back into our old Surrey boots! What to do?
Actually, that was possibly a good thing because we then wouldn’t have known whether we were coming or going. I’m sure we would have been so fussed about all the ‘what ifs’ that, no doubt, we would not have enjoyed the moment, let alone being in awe of the gentle unfolding of our magical mystery journey.
Whatever next! Out of the blue astonishing news was received from London. Harold Wilson, the then British Labour Prime Minister had decided, with a grand flourish no less, to withdraw all British troops East of Suez, in fact, actually the funding there of.
As any sane person would understand, this edict threw the entire region into a collective tizz wass “How do we overcome this?” was the cry. It was of particular concern as the area had, for so many years, been a British Protectorate. Effectively, Wilson was pulling the plug
seemingly not giving thought to the long standing relationship which the British Government and the Gulf States enjoyed. At the stroke of a pen the security of the entire region was put into jeopardy. It was blindingly obvious that a solution had to be found rather smartly. I will attempt to explain how the problem was overcome; it’s an interesting little meander into the history books.
As can only be expected after such an edict difficult times were experienced by some and there were opportunities for others. The Trucial Oman Scouts would need to be re-orientated and would be renamed the Union Defense Force. RAF Sharjah would be taking its leave, after many, many years of swooping over this territory, checking for marauders and pirates on the high seas.
When they were not flying and had some free time they occasionally joined us for picnics at Hamrya or Ajman and always took great delight in frightening the living daylights out of those of us who loved to swim and ski in the balmy waters of Gulf.
They would tell us, with huge grins on their faces, that there were always big mouthed sharks basking in the shallow waters, waiting patiently for an opportunity to get their giant teeth into a tasty bit of flesh, our flesh. Mostly, we chose not to listen, it sure was an incentive, though, to stay up right, whilst water skiing! We must have been mad!
If we weren’t side stepping sharks in the Gulf, we could possibly be found sipping cocktails at the British Consulate. Part of their brief was to give parties, to introduce visiting businessmen and any other official Wallahs who may be in town to the local community. We were obviously invited along for our scintillating wit!!!
These were heady days, particularly when in return we were scooped up and invited to reciprocal bashes maybe on board visiting Royal Navy Vessels or up to Sharjah, either with the RAF or at small Military units around and about. These soirees were sometimes held at desert encampments, not sophisticated venues and, on occasions, we felt as if we were following in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia, all rather jolly really!
I digress; I’m wandering around the desert in a day-dream when I’m really heading for Port Rashid as we have been invited to a Cocktail party on board a visiting Navel vessel. These were always sought after invitations, there is something very romantic about being piped on board a ship, which is dressed overall, to be greeted by the Captain, accompanied by a young Officer, both dressed in tropical whites.
This kit could transform even the dullest of chaps, making them look dashing and handsome. Our men would be attired in Gulf Rig, which consisted of dress trousers, white open-necked short sleeved shirt and cummerbund. As usual, us girls, were usually wearing long evening dresses, nothing new there!
These little soirees were so very enjoyable, as they were obviously not the norm, and our hosts were naturally attentive and charming. Gentle flirting was the order of the day and if by chance there was a lone wife floating around, she would be very much in demand, quite amazing what that did for the jolly old ego!
It wasn’t, “Would you like to see my etchings?” Oh no, but “I would love to show you around the Ward Room”. Still brings a smile, how innocent we all were but, what fun it all was!
Normally, we girls were given the wink that if the ship was in dock for a few days it was up to us to reciprocate and invite one or two of these chaps to dinner. Now if you have never, as a hostess, had the pleasure of opening your door to receive your dinner guests, who just might happen to be two or three young navel Officers, once again dressed in their tropical kit, I would say you have definitely been missing a trick or two. I will now change the subject!
And then there were the cocktail parties given by the Military, who at that stage were mostly stationed in Sharjah, these were the new boys, who were going to fill the gap or gaps that would appear when the masses were repatriated.
I would mention that most of the new contingent was being funded, well, in Dubai, by Sheik Rashid. The very last thing he wanted was for the British to withdraw, thus creating a very unhealthy vacuum in this neck of the woods, or I should say sand dunes!!
One such party was given by a delightful Scottish Colonel and his wife, and if my memory serves me correctly was held in a large tent somewhere off the beaten track in Sharjah Yes, in amongst the sand dunes, what a surprise!
We were once again dressed up to the nines; we learnt at a very early stage that one must never let the side down! Looking back it now seems quite bizarre that it should have been the norm to be so formally attired, whilst trotting round the bloody desert.
This party was being held in order for the Colonel, of this particular Advisory Team, to become acquainted with us, the local movers and shakers, otherwise known as rent-a-crowd!
Word had obviously got about that no party would be complete without our presence also for the new Military arrivals to be reassured that there was more to the desert than camels! I’m sure once orientated they would do their level best to keep this part of the World on an even keel, whilst lending a helping hand, to make subsequent parties go with an even bigger swing!!
That particular evening we were introduced to yet another half Colonel, as they were affectionately nicknamed, and his wife, who were quite delightful. They had just been parachuted in from God knows where and were wondering what the lie of the land was. It was not surprising that they were somewhat apprehensive, as since their arrival, they had been knee deep in sand and more bloody sand.
They were frightfully formal and I think, the wife was wearing a white mink coat, in the middle of the desert, yes, in the middle of the desert, now that’s how to cut a dash! Even if you might have been fainting with the heat! I was mesmerized!
Suffice to say, we decided that they needed to be introduced to the local nightlife, so we guided them down the subka track to Dubai, and the famous Bustan Hotel!
It didn’t take long to discover that these two were party goers ‘par excellence’ and that one should not be fooled when meeting Military for the first time because they will surely be on their guard. After downing a few Gin and Tonics, though, caution was usually thrown to the wind, and the cry was usually, “Let the party begin”. Tonight there was another cry, “What on earth possessed me to wear this bloody mink coat!” Guess what? It was never seen again!
I hope you have enjoyed this little tale.
My next Essay will be posted in a fortnight’s time. until then wishing you Happy Days Jan x