Most of the time down the Red Sea we were within sight of what appeared a most inhospitable land of sand and rock; Saudi Arabia to port, the Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia to starboard. Rounding the point and the island of Perim, we made for Aden, our next port of call. Here we arrived about mid-day on Wednesday, February 8 after four days in the Red Sea. Aden sits among all this sand and rock in great heat in the middle of a vast volcanic crater, and here we moored in blazing sun to a buoy out in the harbor. The sea, being a deep blue color, was in sharp contrast to the stark yellow of the rock.
We saw a lot of native craft and other shipping. One ship leaving was a trooper, the Empire Halladale, heading for the UK with a load of troops going home. Our thoughts followed her.
Here shore leave was granted for a few hours and we used boats to get to and from the ship, clambering up and down the side. This gave us the opportunity to look at the ship. She appeared top heavy, which perhaps accounted for her persistent rolling. The port was too a hive of activity with persons coming and going. We also saw some very impressive fast and smart motor launches manned by the RAF.
Ashore it was very hot with many flies and smells. Many wogs tried to entice us to many pleasures-illicit or otherwise. Here we first met the constant cry of ‘Johnny, (all British soldiers were addressed in this way)…you want to buy…you want to see…’
Our find of a cafe were we enjoyed a full English ‘fry up’ was wonderful compared to the after the Devonshire fare. Our entertainment consisted of a walk around the lower town, and a mad taxi ride in and around the town in a large American car driven by a lunatic Arab.
We built on the experience of the old soldiers and bought a supply of tinned fruit and other goodies to eat back on board. We were also surprised at the great array of ‘luxury’ goods available in the shops and native bazaars at what seemed reasonable prices. We had not seen them in Britain since before the War.
It was a remarkable sensation when we first ashore, everything still seemed to be moving about. We had become accustomed to the constant movement of the ship. We needed to get our ‘land legs’. It took some little adjustment. We had little proper exercise, and what with the heat and conditions on board we often felt jaded and out of sorts, despite all the sea air we were getting. And despite the cruise through tropic seas that people paid good money to enjoy. To try and keep us in some shape, we did have regular PT but it did not do much to enliven us.
So ended our first foray on foreign soil. I was excited at the prospect. But I did not gain a favorable impression. The Arabs we met were not a likeable lot. Nor is Aden a hospitable place. Even so here and even more so as we traveled eastward, I sensed some romance and adventure in all the places I saw. I had read many books about the early English adventurers and their exploits, and in my own way I was vicariously living them myself in the real surroundings. Many of my companions could sense none of that romance mystery and adventure.