Withdrawal from Empire – Aden and Bahrein

In early 1956, after a very enjoyable and successful tour in Kenya, the Glosters were put on standby to go to Aden.

In the period which led up to what became known as the Suez Crisis, anti-British feeling in the Middle East was running high. The Republic of Yemen was fomenting trouble among the tribal areas inland from the coastal strip around Aden. British involvement in internal Adeni affairs was limited by the terms of the Protectorate status, and military forces were only called on when the threat of insurrection was high.

The Battalion flew to RAF Khormakser, with “B” Company deployed immediately up country to the Yemeni border at Mukeiras. “D” Company flew to Bahrein, where there was unrest and the Iraqis were threatening to invade Kuwait.

Meanwhile “C” and Support Companies were sent to guard the new British Petroleum refinery at Little Aden, with the remaining Headquarters elements staying in Aden itself. No sooner had unpacking started than a further company was needed in Bahrein and “C” Company was duly dispatched.

In the event, there was no enemy action in Aden and the companies were occupied with guarding Vulnerable Points, securing defences and training.

In late August, after 36 hours notice, elements of the Battalion were moved to Sharja in the Arabian Gulf by the Cruiser, HMS Kenya, which later returned to Aden to collect the rest of the Battalion whom she then transported to Bahrein. The Suez Crisis of autumn 1956 prompted a series of riots which the Glosters were called upon to deal with. After the B.O.A.C. flats were set alight by rioters, D Company embarked upon Operation Grand National on 3rd November, as recalled by Captain A.D. Lennard:-

“Our task was to occupy and control from Muharraq Square to Windy Corner, thus dominating the Muharraq-Manama causeway and the road to the airport. We had been in Bahrain since early May and, despite a number of P.G.F.s (Persian Gulf flaps), which never amounted to anything, few in the Company expected that the box drills which the three platoons had been practicing ad nauseam, would be put into practice.

“The first sight that met our eyes as we left the airport dead on time was a large crowd milling around the edge of Muharraq. But at the sight of the advancing boxes of soldiers the crowd moved away and dispersed. The Company reached Windy Corner without incident. In fact, throughout Grand National the Company were never threatened with hand-to-hand contact with any of the crowds. The nearest anyone dared to approach the troops was just within stone-throwing range.

“. . . small groups of people attempted to bar the way by laying stones across the road, but the platoon moved steadily down the road and the groups fell back, moved, it would seem, by the walking stick of the Company Commander and the personality behind it as by the sight of the advancing troops. The first 300 yards of the road were thus cleared and the side roads wired up. However, a large crowd now assembled to the left of No. 11 platoon and started throwing stones. The platoon had to be split up to protect the flanks of the advance and the bulldozer at work on the obstructions. . . .

“The first real obstacle to be reached, about 250 yards from Muharraq Square, was a deep ditch that had been cut clean across the road, but No. 12 Platoon crossed it, leaving it filling in to the bulldozer, which swiftly completed the job, much to the chagrin of the stone-throwing crowd. The last 100 yards to the Square were the stickiest, for there was a high barricade to cross and a veritable hail of stones and bottles met No. 12 Platoon; but the months of I.S. training proved their worth. The platoon pushed on, using tear-gas grenades, with Sergeant Boulton well in the lead, making very pretty practice with tear-gas shells from his riot gun. By 16.30 hours the Square was ours. Then only did the police, stationed in the Square itself, move out from their quarters and, with newly-acquired confidence, proved of great assistance in bringing the situation back to normal and securing the Square. For a time groups of youths threw stones and screamed insults at the soldiers in the Square. Just before dusk they were cleared by a section brought in from No. 10 Platoon, assisted by the police. This section cleared the main street and the whole length of the seafront methodically, and by dark all was quiet. “D” Company’s task was completed and the road to the airport was open.”

Until January 1957 the Battalion fulfilled their task of keeping the peace and protecting British interests in the Gulf before transferring to Cyprus.

Picture: Sergeant Boulton firing a tear-gas round to disperse rioters, Bahrein 1956.