Warriors of Arabia: Memoirs of a Medical Officer in Aden and Beyond
by Franco Grima, privately published, Malta, 2009. Pp. 234. Illus. Maps. Glossary. Bibliog. Index. Pb. €30. ISBN 978-99932-0-684-2. (Obtainable from author: email address: email@example.com)
This enthralling memoir covers the period July 1962 – July 1965 and is written with clarity and immediacy. The author spent these three years as a Regimental Medical Officer with the Federal Regular Army (FRA) on secondment from the Royal Air Force. The FRA grew out of the Aden Protectorate Levies (APL), a force which was directly employed by the British Government. In 1961 the APL was handed over to the Federal Government, when it became the FRA and entered a period of rapid expansion with Arab officers replacing seconded British officers.
The author was present at all the major campaigns which took place during his three year tour: from the Radfan insurgency, which is commemorated by Yemen as the start of ‘The Armed Struggle for Liberation’, to the convoluted troubles on the Baihan frontier. In addition to the duties of a regimental medical officer, the author often found himself the only doctor in remote areas of the country where conditions were harsh and medical services non-existent. The demands of the civilian population were myriad, and the problems of a breech delivery and an outbreak of smallpox all came his way. His rapport with his brother officers and the respect in which he was held by the medical orderlies under his command is clear. He records, without being judgmental, the mounting pressures on the tribal and political loyalties of both officers and men, arising from the involvement of Egypt in Yemen, the activities of the two nationalist organisations in the Federation, and the increasing fragility of the Federal Government.
The author’s use of the term ‘Imam-King’ throughout the book seems likely to raise some eyebrows, although it is doubtless intended to encapsulate the Imam’s claims to spiritual and temporal authority. I have come across the term nowhere else. However, the German traveller Hans Helfritz used the cognate expression ‘Priest-King’ at least once in the English edition of his book, The Yemen: A Secret Journey (1958). The British normally referred to Yemen’s Hamid al-Din rulers as ‘Imam’. After the Treaty of Sana’a in 1934 they recognised Imam Yahya as ‘King of Yemen’ and addressed him in person and in correspondence as ‘Your Majesty’. On page 69 the author wrongly dates this treaty to 1950. On the same page he refers to Sultan Awadh’s two grandsons (Ahmad and Ibid); in fact, the Sultan had two other grandsons (Salih and Muhammad); all four were executed by the NLF after independence. On page 81 Sharif Hussain was Amir Saleh’s father, not uncle. The author’s transliteration of Arabic names is a trifle haphazard but achieving consistency in this field is a challenge which few of us are equal to.
The text is copiously illustrated with the author’s photographs which vividly evoke the people among whom he served and the harsh beauty of their landscape. His book is a valuable addition to the literature of this troubled period in the history of South Arabia.
Bill Heber Percy