The British presence in Aden and how it began

    The catalyst for Yemeni migration to South Shields: The British presence in Aden 1839 - 1967

    Interesting facts:

    * Aden was the 1st colonial territory acquired under the rule of Queen Victoria.
    * Aden was administered from Bombay and only became a Crown Colony in 1937.
    * The Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Company who were the first to establish a coal port in Aden are still around today under their sister company P&O cruises.
    * Aden became a British Protectorate through a series of treaties between 1888 and 1903.

    "Map of Aden Protectorate" (1)

    Why Aden?

    The influx of Yemeni migration to Britain was in no small part a consequence of British colonial policy. The British took the Yemeni port of Aden on the 19th of January in 1839, a strategic move to provide Britain with a base between the Suez Canal and British Occupied Bombay.

    Occupying Aden gave the British immediate access to African and Arabian coasts and a place to re-fuel ships mid-voyage. There are mixed accounts of the siege of the port. Some sources state that Staines set in place a decoy boat on the coast of Aden to tempt looters and thus provide the British with the excuse they needed to employ a presence.

    One narration states:
    To complete the takeover, "Haines bombarded Aden from his warship in 1839. The ruler of Lahej who was in Aden at the time, ordered his guards to defend the port, but they failed in the face of overwhelming military and naval power. The British managed to occupy Aden and agreed to compensate the sultan with an annual payment of 6000 riyals".(2) "In November 1839, 5000 tribesmen tried to retake the town but were repulsed and 200 were killed".(3)

    General Stafford Bettesworth Haines, was instrumental in the takeover of Aden (6)

    Steamer Point, Aden. All Yemenis leaving Yemen by ship sailed from here. - Image courtesy of and copyright 2015 (5)


    Challenges to a successful integration, back in South Shields.

    Before the first world war, Chinese seamen had been the main focus of hostility but after the war it was the Arabs who became the target of a rising ride of racial hysteria a number of government and non government agencies - the police, immigration officers, Board of Trade officials, the National Sailors' and Firemen's Union and the Shipping Federation representing the shipowners - responded to popular demands to control and regulate the Arab community.

    Mohamed Al-Sayyadi (Ahmed Hussein-s) Certificate of Nationality

    After the First World War an Arab seaman's status as either a *British subject, British Protected Person or an alien became increasingly important as the authorities in Britain sought to deny Arabs access to employment and to enforce repatriation".

    Restrictive legislation and its forceful implementation effectively reclassified most Arab seamen as 'coloured aliens' giving the authorities greater control over them, more extensive powers to restrict new arrivals and eventually the power to deny them employment.(4)

    Later years in Aden

    There remain many different perspectives on the British presence in Aden.

    Saeed Ghaleb came to live in England when British rule in Aden ended. He has happy memories of British colonial rule.

    There were more than 80,000 British troops in Aden, people were happy the British were there as they'd been there a long time. People didn't know any different"

    "I worked in the kitchen for the British army. My friend from Derby brought me here. We lived outside Aden together, I worked with him. I taught him and his wife Arabic, they could read and speak. Every Christmas I still go to stay with them, this is a postcard he just sent me"

    A young Saeed Ghalebs' Marine Discharge Book'

    letter by Godfrey Heynell (MBE)- formerly a politifcal officer in the Western Aden Protectorate talking about Saeed Ghaleb.

    Extract from Letter (above)

    "I obtained permission for him to work here because I feared that he would be victimised after independence because of his loyalty to the British"

    The 'Aden Colony, Servant's Employment Book of Saeed Ghaleb who enlisted to work for the British at just 14 years old'

    A closer view. Copyright Saeed Ghaleb


    An interesting account: The end of a colonial era for Britain and Yemen.

    My Experiences of Aden by British soldier Desmond Carrick (served in 1965 - 1967

    I was born and brought up in the Harton area of South Shields and educated at Cleadon Park Secondary School.

    I enlisted in the RAF at the beginning of 1965 at the age of 17. I completed my basic military training and also trained as a fireman.

    Within a year I received notification of being posted to Aden and arrived at RAF Khormaksar (now Aden International Airport) on 12 October 1966. I was part of the fire crew covering aircraft fire and crash rescue.

    At this time Aden was part of the Federation of South Arabia. Since the end of 1963 a state of emergency had been in place Anti-British and anti-colonial feelings were growing. There was anti-British guerrilla groups emerging "National Liberation Front"(NLF) and the "Front for the Liberation of South Yemen"(FLOSY). These two groups attacked each other as well as the British.

    Life on the Base was okay and the facilities were good, on our free days we sometimes went to another British Base at Tawahi which had a beach with facilities. The amount of places we could go to off base was very limited for security reasons.

    At the beginning of 1967 the violence escalated with street riots throughout Aden and fighting between NLF,FLOSY and British forces. I think at this time the British Government had already decided to leave Aden without political agreement and because of the increased violence decided to speed up the evacuation of families.

    In mid April 1967 I was sent to a forward operational airstrip in the Radfan Mountains at a place called Al-Habilayn next to the town of Thumier. I was part of an aircraft crash rescue crew.

    As part of the withdrawal plans we were due to leave here on the 20 June 1967 a date that I will remember forever.

    We were sat there with the aircraft on the ground and unable to leave because the Airport at Khormaksar was under fire. This was at the end of the 6 Day War 1967 and it was claimed that the British had helped Israel and this lead to a mutiny by soldiers of the South Arabian Army and spread to the police. This resulted in murder, arson, looting and gun battles between FLOSY,NLF and British troops throughout Aden. We dont know how many Adeni casualties there was,but the British Army had 22 killed.

    Like most service people I enjoyed my time in South Arabia and was looking forward to going home and leaving a stable independent country behind. Sadly the people who took over did not seem to care for the needs of the people and we can only hope that things get better for them.

    The British departed by 30 November 1967 leaving the NLF in control and Aden became the capital of the new peoples Republic of South Yemen.



    (1) - Aden Protectorate. 2016. Aden Protectorate. Available at:

    (2) - Caesar E. Farah (2002). The Sultan's Yemen: 19th-Century Challenges to Ottoman Rule. I.B.Tauris. p. 120. ISBN 1860647677
    (3) Caesar E. Farah (2002). The Sultan's Yemen: 19th-Century Challenges to Ottoman Rule. I.B.Tauris. p. 186. ISBN 1860647677.
    (4) Richard I. Lawless, 1995. From Ta'izz To Tyneside: An Arab Community In The North-East Of England During The Early Twentieth Century (ARABIC AND ISLAMIC STUDIES). P. 41 Edition. University of Exeter Press.
    (5) History of the Atlantic Cable & Submarine Telegraphy - CS Sherard Osborn . 2016. Available at:
    (6) British Empire: Asia: Aden: Images. 2016. British Empire: Asia: Aden: Images. Available at:

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