Recollections of a Childhood in Aden

Once Dad (George Fletcher 1906 – 1998) had been employed by Msr. Besse, after his return to this country after being in Ceylon, he spent time in both the USA and Holland learning about the company’s products. We sailed on the Ormonde to Aden in Spring 1946. The Ship was carrying Italian prisoners of war back to Italy. We stopped in Naples where the ex-prisoners were met by hopeful families. There was much joy but also tears as a loved one was not on board. I remember being worried about Vesuvius as I was fearful it would erupt! No further stops until Aden, I remember viewing the shore and thinking how it was very dry and practically treeless, it was. The water tasted strange too, until we got used to it.

aden-10We lived on the top floor of a block of flats owned by the company. We were on the top floor, and there was a large open area that linked with a similar flat. At first we lived in the one that faced a camel compound. I used to like to watch the camels coming in early each day carrying foodstuffs from an oasis. Once the camels were settled on the ground after much grumbling they were fed and then unloaded. Camels were common in Aden and sometimes pulled wooden carts. I was fascinated by a camel’s beautiful eye lashes.

We later moved across to the other flat, this time away from the camels, but one that instead housed goats in the shade of the flats. There were Arab houses close by. Underneath the flats was a large garage area to accommodate cars and company fuel. Across the way was the Idris (?) mosque. At sunrise and sunset someone would call the faithful to prayers. The quality of the callers varied greatly, but I enjoyed the sound. There was also a cemetery nearby. If I remember correctly a white concrete “casket” covered each body.

We lived inside an extinct volcano in a district called “Crater”. The port and main trading and shipping area was “Steamer Point”. Ships of all types would call there for fuel and supplies on their way to India or Australia. The crater area was mainly Arab or Jewish. One part of Crater was open to the sea. As you moved down the street where we lived towards the sea, Dad’s office building was on the left. Apart from the open sea area, all around us was barren rock. To reach Steamer Point you had to drive through a narrow pass made through the rock.

Steamer Point, Aden
Steamer Point, Aden

Bill (her brother) was taught by monks, while I was taught in a convent, both of us in Steamer Point. We had to go in the early morning as it became very hot and we returned about 1 O’clock. Bill rode to school by bike while I was chauffeur driven each day. I was supposed to rest in the afternoons and do preparation for the next day.

I think Dad was a Sales Manager of some kind. He was also later involved with the planning of the company enterprise of the Crescent Hotel. It was not finished when we had to leave and arrive in the UK in January 1948. Dad stayed behind. The reason we had to leave was conflict between the Arabs and the Jews, which was also taking place in Palestine…. I don’t think Israel existed then.

One day, Dad collected me from school himself as the fighting had just started. I remember seeing on that drive, burning cars, etc. We had to stay indoors and not to be seen as we could have been mistaken as being Jewish. One day a band of Arabs marched to our building; they wanted a car which was inside, that they thought belonged to a Jew. Threats were made that they would burn the building. I suppose they must have been given the car was we were unharmed. I was playing with Bill one day and he made me scream; the cook thought I was hurt and came out of the kitchen with a knife … we had very loyal servants. A curfew was imposed once UK soldiers were landed to get control back, and they patrolled the streets to help restore peace. This happened again some years later when Major “Mad Mitch” had to do the same thing. The soldiers that came in our time “rubbed salt into the wound” by camping with their tents on the football pitch that the Arabs like to play football on with their bare feet.

We did do some lovely leisure things: visited and open air cinema; visited the beach club at Gold Mohur where we swam behind steel shark nets; I went to Brownies; I visited various friends. There was also a library down our road, and I think it was between the office and our block of flats. Dad used to at times get me to get books for him. Bill and I used to go to the Arab market occasionally; I used to get a lot of attention as I was very fair … a rarity. Another plus was the food … when we left the UK we were on rations, whilst in Aden our evening meal was of four courses (soup, fish, entree and dessert, ending with coffee). At times we would have lobster which I adored. I also got to drink the sweet, strong Arab coffee at an early age. We had a number of servants: a cook and his helper, a bearer (who served us). I don’t know if the bearer did the housework for  us or someone else did, my mother did not. We also had someone to sweep our floors and someone to do the laundry (the dhobi). I also know we were exposed to a lot of insect killer called “Flit, banned now, I think. Anyway, back in the UK we had to go back on rationing for food and also clothes. Any clothes that we needed were handmade by excellent Indian tailors. Incidentally, there was quite an Indian community.

As to the Besse family, I remember seeing Msr. Besse once; he was walking with and attendant group near our flats and seemed old to me as I was only eight or nine! One of the sons, I do not know now whether it was Peter or Tony, brought me some knitting wool and needles. This was a very thoughtful gift, which would help with any boredom. I remember various other gifts, but do not know who gave them to me. One was a gigantic bottle of Coty perfume (perhaps the company traded it?), and the other was jewellery. One is of an enamel elephant surrounded I think by elephant hair. The other two were a silver wire brooch of a flower, and the other is a circular gold wire brooch on which is a small depiction of an Egyptian God-like figure. I lost the silver brooch but not the other two. I have had the golden brooch made into a pendant.

(by Gina Harris, then Beryl Fletcher)



  1. ann atkinson

    You and I lived in Crater at the same time – 47-49, and went to the same school, the Franciscan Convent in Steamer Point, do you remember me?
    Ann Atkinson (Berryman)


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