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the Foreign Service journal


july-august 2015


The End of the British Empire in Aden

By Kate Carr


Kate Carr was posted with her FSO husband David in Aden for two out of the 18

years they spent in the Middle East. The Carrs left Aden sailing through the Suez

Canal, which was closed five months later for eight years by the Six-Day War.

David Carr retired from the Foreign Service in 1993, and the couple live in Fort

Collins, Colorado.


oom! An explosion, then silence.

A bazooka shell struck the build-

ing next to the hospital in Aden

where I had just given birth tomy

second daughter, Elizabeth.

Now part of Yemen, the city was the

capital of a British colony known as the

Federation of South Arabia. InMarch 1965,

local militants were already competing

to take over after the Brits left, which they

did three years later. (Sadly, a half-century

later, violence is still Yemen’s best-known


To reach Aden, my Foreign Service

husband, David, our older daughter,

Cynthia, and I had puddle-jumped across

the Red Sea in the small plane of a local

airline. From its window, I had looked

down to see volcanic mountains—sharp,

rugged, intensely black and completely

bare—thrust directly from the sea around

an off-center crater.

On a small, sea-level strip on the north

side of the peninsula were the houses

and port facilities of this major refueling

stop on the lifeline to India. Surrounded

by water, Aden receives no cooling desert

breezes at night. Nine months of the year,

the city is a steambath at midnight, as well

as at high noon.

When we first arrived, the atmosphere

was relaxed and happy. Out walking at

night, you could see parties on the roofs

of all the buildings. It was a magical time

filled with tradition.

The beautiful white ships of the P&O

steamship company docked to refuel

below our dining roomwindow. They

were outlined from bow to stern with

strings of white lights. The ships, only

in port for four hours at a time, came

through the Suez Canal on their way to

India. Before drawing the drapes at a din-

ner party, I would look to see if a ship was

docked below.

The night before Christmas 1964, mili-

tants threw a grenade through a window

where a party was in progress, killing a

teenage girl home fromEngland. After

that, the sound of bombs exploding could

be heard each evening. Visiting newspa-

per correspondents were amazed that

we didn’t all run to the windows at each

explosion, but we soon knew by the sound

exactly where the bomb had gone off.

Although I continued shopping in the

port area, I no longer went to the Crater—

the center of Aden. In those narrow streets,

assassinations were becoming more fre-

quent. I worried about my husband who,

as an economic officer, made frequent

trips to businesses there.

Despite its troubles, Aden was still a

thriving city. One of the most interesting

aspects was the number of nationali-

ties that formed the local population. In

addition to Arabs, whomostly came from

Yemen, local residents included Indians

and Jews. Muslimwomen from Somalia

and Christians fromEritrea worked as

ayahs, taking care of children.

Shops were open according to the

religions of their owners. On Fridays, Arab

businesses were closed; on Saturdays, Jew-

ish establishments; and on Sundays, the

Indian stores.

During our two years there, we enjoyed

many British pastimes, living as normal a

life as we could. There were beaches with

wire netting to keep sharks out, and we

visited them frequently.

Shopping in the Crescent—an empo-

rium that boasted products from the whole

world—I often walked around a park with

a statue of Queen Victoria seated. I could

buy woolens from Scotland and silks from

India. I loved the bone china fromEngland

and the fascinating clocks. Tourists from

the refueling ships snapped up cameras

and hi-fis at greatly reduced prices.

Looking back, I feel privileged to

have witnessed the last days of the Brit-

ish Empire on that black rock. By the

time Aden received its independence in

1967, we had already left. But I read in

a magazine that the British moved the

statue of Queen Victoria onto a ship, and

the last troops marched aboard while the

Highland Guard piped the “Stony Shores

of Aden,” an old Scotch ballad.


In those

narrow streets,


were becoming

more frequent.