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Ken Lobb - The Letters (8) - November 1955

Bahrein - Tuesday, November 1

Hello My Lover,

Pinch and punch day today, I'll have to save all these pinches and punches for the 1st March. A wonderful day yesterday, 5 letters from you (and one from Grandad, all about the new car again and how thrilled you were with it! It's funny when I read your letter that said you weren't very impressed, I had to read it twice, I thought you'd made a mistake.) You know one of your letters was posted on the 28th and I got it on the 31st, that's jolly good, as good as being in England really because there was a weekend in-between. I'm glad you got your £1, I've been rather worried about it because I'm sure it's quite illegal to put it in a letter like that, and I've been anxiously waiting to know that you got it safely.

You seem to be having fun with keeping the fire in, I hope the lid lasts the winter out. Yes, Mrs Captain has had her infant, some time ago now, I thought I'd told you about it, I can't remember now whether it's male or female. The winter weather is wonderful here, of course, cloudless skies all the time, warm sun (hot sun!) and yet pleasantly cool at night; although I'm writing this in my pants as usual, with my arms on blotting paper, comparatively cool by my standards, but it would be very hot for you.

I've so much to tell you I don't really know where to start, these last three days have been so full of activity, long days too, up at five, difficult problems, compassionate and domestic problems (I've one lad who has to fly home tomorrow, his mother is only expected to live 2 weeks intestine cancer) Oh, I've been so busy arranging things! There've been some pleasant things though. On Sunday afternoon we stopped for 4 hours at a barren rocky island, Halul, only a mile across with a lighthouse on the top, and we put a boat down for some of the lads to go ashore and have a swim, the usual business, get close enough and then jump over the side and swim in. I went too, as much for the walk on firm ground as anything, and with two of my Indian ratings climbed up to the lighthouse. On the way we met an Arab and his son, with their falcon and a sort of pigeon it had caught, very interesting, they seem to go in for this falconry out here. I had a good hour's walk around, just rocks and sand, and a wander along the beach, and actually found some sponge, so I believe now that it comes from the sea, just as the books say.

Yesterday we lay at Sitra, just off Bahrein Island, I didn't get ashore, I was required to stay on board on duty, but I did take my boats crew away for half an hour. The water is a very light blue green here, just like swimming-bath water, and of course full of fish, small and large, dolphins and sharks. Today I've had a good trip ashore, with the water polo team to Awali, about 15 miles inland. We came inshore by boat in a choppy sea, getting quite wet in the process, and then went in an open bus driven by an Arab.

We went through the town first, very picturesque, just like a film set, white walled houses, white robed Arabs, some on horses, little white donkeys with enormous loads, and dozens of enormous Yankee modern cars, looking so funny with Arabs in full robes driving with their women all heavily veiled, mostly in black, and those not veiled wearing black masks with holes for the eyes to see through. And then leaving the hot dusty town, the road petered out and we were driving on tracks straight across the sand! Just like a film, with wadi's and hilly ridges and strings of camels, Arabs on horseback, most interesting. We passed a wonderful white-walled fort (right out of a story book, I expected to see armed raiders come storming out) and the Shaikh's (pronounced "Shake") Summer and Winter palaces, and eventually came to Awali, a modern town built in the desert for the oil refinery workers, surrounded by barbed wire and with armed guards at the gates. And there we swam, and they played water polo beating us 9 to 1, and after some sandwiches came back to the ship by bus.

It's an unreal sort of place here, the Arabs in control are fabulously wealthy, because of the oil in their land and since Abadan was taken over by the Persians this place has been developed a lot more. Petrol here is only 10d a gallon. A real mixture of the old world and the new. I've put some stamps in for Penny, they only have one local stamp, with the Sultan's head on and you'll notice how much he's like the Sultan on the Zanzibar stamps, they're all related I believe. The other stamps are the same as the English ones, over printed with "Bahrein" and their value. There are 16 annas to a rupee, and a rupee is worth just over a penny. It's Indian money they use here. It's a bit of a job to keep track of these different coins and notes. I've all sorts of money now.

Wednesday, November 2

Hello dear, I've been round the bazaars today, but I'll have to tell you about it in my next letter, I'm too tired now, and it's very late. One thing though, I've had fresh dates tonight for the first time, straight from the palms, and they're not sticky, but smooth-skinned, green, something like large grapes to look at. Juicy and beautifully sweet, much nicer than the sticky things we get in England. What an interesting life it is, once you get out of the ship and get ashore! Goodnight now my lover, I love you and will write again tomorrow night.

Your Own Ever-loving Ken xxxxxxx

Bahrein - Friday, November 4

Hello My Lover,

What a hectic life this is, I don't seem to get a chance to do all the things I want to do. Still I've done something with Schoolie that no-one else in the ship has done, and that is to have a conducted tour of the Shaikh's new palace. He's not living in it at the moment, but we got to know the head of the public works department who was on board to our official cocktail party last night, he is responsible for its condition, and offered to show us around! So, of course we accepted promptly, and this afternoon he and his wife collected us in their enormous car and took us there, and we spent an hour examining it. What sumptuous luxury! All finished in modern style though, and complete with an electric lift. Which is ridiculous really compared with the primitive kitchens at the back where they cook sheep and camels whole! The dining room will seat 300 and the floor is carpeted and covered with stains and marks because when the Arabs feast in style they roll their sleeves up, use their fingers, and eat from enormous bowls, all dipping in together, and the bits they don't like they just throw over their shoulders onto the floor! And it is the custom to drink three cups of coffee and then empty the dregs on the floor! The serving hatch from the pantry is enormous, it has to be, because on important occasions they cook a camel whole and pass it through and it is normal to cook their sheep whole. Most interesting.

We examined all the bedrooms and bathrooms and so on, and even walked around the roof to get the view (the sea is behind.) In fact I expect we know our way around it all as well as the ruler himself. He is living out in the desert now in the palace. I saw it on Tuesday, with his official wife (and unofficial harem and also it is said 20 boys!) guarded by his Bedouins, because there are rumours of vague unrest and it is safer there.

From there they took us down to the Customs jetty to see the Dhows (the Arab boats) and again that was really interesting, these Arabs look really villainous and most dangerous even smoking their hubble-bubble pipes. It's most peculiar though, the mixture of ancient and modern, there they sit dressed the same as 2,000 years ago, in the same sort of boats, fishing with nylon lines and some of them with the Captain's modern streamlined Yankee car on deck covered with a sheet. It's a country of contrasts though, picturesque villains in the bazaar, some with rifles and cartridge belts (with beautifully polished bullets in them) and daggers, narrow streets, and yet most of them are very wealthy and the place is full of enormous streamlined cars.

In the bazaar we went to a carpet seller and the wife started off with "Salaam Alaikum" and then chattered away to them in Arabic, all about the Persian carpets on sale and eventually gathered a crowd around us, to whom she also chatted quite happily; it appears she mixes a lot with them and teaches English to the Arabian women. All very interesting and exciting, and at last I've heard the beggars whining for "Baksheesh."

Oh I forgot, at the jetty a boat had just come in with an American who'd been fishing, and he had an enormous bag of ugly-looking fish including a 6ft shark that took three of them to get it into the boat, and a beautiful turtle. A very successful afternoon, which they finished off by taking us to some tropical gardens where there were fresh water springs, and oasis really.

I've been on board the Flamingo today, a frigate which is leaving for home next week, she's been based here for two years, and arrives in Plymouth on 14th December. They are all very cheerful to be going home, they're sick of this place. Yesterday afternoon I went ashore for a swim, and to watch the water polo, but they were a man short and I ended up by playing (much against my will in view of my shaky back) and was exhausted at the end of it, largely I think because it was fresh water and harder to stay afloat in. After which I had to rush back and change for our official party, which was tiring, standing all the time, although there were lots of interesting people there. I was glad to get to bed afterwards.

HMS Flamingo
HMS Flamingo. Photo: Imperial War Museums, FL 4015

I'm hoping to hear from you again before we leave here on Sunday morning. It must be cold and miserable for you at home. I wish I could warm you up at nights. Tomorrow will be a bad day I'm afraid, we're going to move to the oiling jetty and fill up with fuel, and then move back into the bay again, so I expect it will take all day, which means I shan't be able to see any more of this place. Still I can't complain. Now my love I must leave you, it's eleven o'clock, and I must have a shower and retire. I hope you are well, and the infants too, give them my love, I love you, as ever.

Ken xxxxxx

Bahrein - Saturday, November 5

Hello Honey

I'm wondering if you're OK, although I had five letters on Monday I haven't heard since, but I expect your letters have gone on ahead to Kuwait which we leave for tomorrow and get there on Monday not very far away. So now I'm looking forward to Monday. I haven't been ashore today, as I expected I've been busy all day, and the ship has been taking in oil (including a large amount all over the deck outside my cabin where there's a sounding pipe) and moving about the harbour, so I've had a rest instead and caught up with my washing (undies and socks) and written to G&G.

Sunday Evening, November 6

Hello Dearest, I stopped last night having nothing to say, and bed was calling. I'm morbid tonight, we've just had our film show on the quarterdeck "The Bridges at Toko Ri," or how the American Navy won the Korean War. I like my heroes and heroines to live happily ever after, but I'm afraid it all ended sadly. So, I've got my usual after cinema blues. Today is Remembrance Sunday, so we've had our service this morning, after leaving Bahrein. This afternoon instead of my usual rest on deck I felt so tired I slept in my cabin, it was funny, I woke up suddenly and thought I'd overslept and that it was morning. I jumped out of bed, and then saw it was 10 past 3, and realised where I was and that it was Sunday afternoon, so I went back and slept until half past four. What an aimless life!

I used my "Sillishave" [Father's joke on Phillishave] this evening for the first time. Now we're in slightly cooler weather I think I'm going to give it a trial, although I really think its great advantage is shaving without undressing and when travelling, and for normal use a razor is just as good. Like everything else it takes a few days to get used to. Although I'm saving most of the stuff I've got until I come home, there are a few toys I might send off to reach you by Xmas, but in case I don't even get those away, I've ordered a family parcel of chocolate from Cadburys which you'll get before Xmas, to be shared out among you all. And of course, various other things will be reaching you soon, before Xmas.

Well we arrive at Kuwait in the morning, where we have to lie 41/2 miles offshore (which means an awful long trip ashore) and where the sailors aren't allowed ashore after sunset. I'll have to visit the bazaars there, and I have a letter of introduction to Pat Bullen's cousin who lives there, so I'll have to put up with the long boat trip. We've put the clocks back again tonight, which means we're only 3 hours different from you now, not very far away after all.

It's quite cool tonight, especially on deck, in fact the Admiral had his blue uniform on this evening. I'm not anxious to wear mine again, I like shorts and open-necked shirt, I never did like overdressing. Well my love, I hope you are well, and the infants too, I expect you'll get Susan back from G&G looking like a little dumpling. Is Andrew any fatter! It will be funny to come back and find him talking, although after a few days it will seem as though I've never been away I expect. And remember, no more babies! Not even boys!

Goodnight now Dear, I'll post this, then it will be landed as soon as we arrive in the morning.

As ever, Your Own Loving Ken xxxxxx

Kuwait - Tuesday, November 8

Hello my Lover,

I've just counted the days, the first time for a couple of weeks, and I find that we've done 2/3rds of the trip, so it won't be long now! Well the postman has been good to me, two letters from you yesterday and one today, jolly good, I was afraid something was wrong. I'll have to answer Penny later on, thank her for her letters and drawings. Thank you for your information on Kuwait, it's mainly right, I've been talking today to the chap who runs the power station and water works, he says it's costing a little more than 6d a gallon, and actually they haven't got very far with piping it around the town yet.

I don't know who's won your bet because you're both right. This place is the best developed we've seen, with enormous new buildings and undertakings and dual carriage-way roads with roundabouts and traffic lights running across the desert sands, full of super American cars, all driven by Arabs in their robes, a most peculiar sight. Very prosperous! And yet in the bazaars of course it's poor, with ragged, ugly murderous looking thugs everywhere. There is plenty of evidence though that the £60 million a year is being spent on modernisation. Unfortunately, the ship is 41/2 miles from the nearest jetty and after going ashore yesterday afternoon for a four hour exploration I resolved not to go again, the boat trip and the bus ride was too arduous. However, this afternoon I climbed into my long white uniform and with the Admiral and Captain and ten others went to a "tea party" at the Residency to meet the leading Arabs of Kuwait. It was very interesting. The Shaikh who is ruler here has installed his relatives in all the Government jobs (mostly with European advisors). As I said earlier I has a long talk with the Head of the Electricity Board, and with the army commander (very colourful in a red head cloth) and the Chief of Police, who has studied in Paris, Berlin, and in Uncle Reg's department at Scotland Yard! A most instructive hour and a half.

Although they look warlike and tough they are a good-humoured lot. I suppose they can afford to be, they have so much money. It seems to get cooler every day now, "winter" is nearly on us, if it goes on like this we shall be in blues in a week or so. Of course, we think it's wonderful, but the people ashore think it's quite cold, they're so used to the heat. On Thursday we move a little way up the coast to Mena al Ahmadi, and I find that the people I'm to visit actually live up there, so I shall wait until Friday before looking them up. Well my lover, I'll leave you, I've nothing more to say about Kuwait, it's full of Arabs in big cars.

I love you as ever, Your Own Ken xxxxxxxx

Mena-al-Ahmadi - Friday, November 11

Hello My Lover,

It's hot and sticky tonight, in fact it's been warmer today than for a long time. This is a queer place, sea on one side and sand the other, as far as you can see, with an enormous collection of tankers, oil storage, tanks, refineries and a living camp seven miles off. At night the sky is a rich red glow from the burners they use to burn all the gas that comes up when they tap the oil wells. All burning away and wasting, although there's nothing else they can do with it. It's peculiar to see this enormous man-made instillation sitting in the middle of a sandy wilderness.

We've anchored close to the shore, but there's a strong swell running and it's good fun in the boats going ashore, very rocky trips. I've been ashore this afternoon to visit the Heisers, Pat Bullen's cousin, but they were away for the day at Kuwait. Never-the-less their Indian nanny was at home with the younger child aged five months, and I went in and looked around, a large, very comfortable bungalow, air-conditioned with a garden and real grass and shrubs in it. Funny again because it's all sand outside their fence. So I shall see them tomorrow.

The people here are very hospitable, I landed on the jetty, and a civilian asked where I was going and insisted on taking me there (seven miles) in his car. Afterwards I walked to their club, a wonderful place, every facility (all laid on by the oil club company for their employers) including a large swimming pool and open-air cinema. There are three such clubs for the varying grades of employees. It's a suburb really laid out in American style, streets running one way (they live in 21st Street) and avenues the other, no pavements, just roads in the sand, with houses dotted alongside, all detached, surrounded by sand. It's all provided by the oil company. At the Club (of which all the Ship's Officers are honorary members) I met the Dentist who showed me around, and when I declined his offer of spending the rest of the evening at his house, insisted on running me back to the jetty in his Hillman Californian (very smooth); he drove it all the way out here from England, it took four weeks. An interesting chap, until his family came out he spent all his time in the desert with the Bedouins and now speaks fluent Arabic.

Tomorrow morning we're going alongside the oiling jetty, so it will be easier to get ashore. Last night a company of singers came on board, amateurs, and gave us a jolly good show on the quarterdeck, operatic and popular music, thoroughly enjoyable. They were a cosmopolitan crowd too, there are 23 different nationalities in this place, mainly in 8 different major groups. Also, they are all rolling in money, and have a very high standard of living. I envy them, especially at this time of the year, which they find quite cool and pleasant, although it's unbearable here in the summer, although everywhere is air-conditioned so they're not too badly off.

This morning there was a large sandstorm inland, the sky was black right across the horizon and down to the ground with swirling sand, very impressive. I've been very busy on board there last few days, I don't know why, either more things have needed doing or perhaps I've felt more energetic and done things I ought to have done before. I've used my Phillishave all this week and it's jolly good, I'm quite sold on it, it's so easy, and convenient, can be done any time, fully dressed, as long as it stays as sharp as it is now it will be OK. I have some Xmas cards of the ship, jolly good ones too, I'll send you one of course, but I was only going to send them to people I've met during the cruises. Otherwise, I expect you'll be sending some to the usual people. I have to prepare questions for a quiz again now, I run one something like "Top of the Form" on our internal broadcast system; but making out lots of questions (and answers) is a bit trying, still, the teams enjoy it. I had the last one recorded for "repeat" programmes. "Happy Days and Lonely Nights" is coming over it now. Now my love I'll leave you as ever, hoping you're all well.

Your Own Ken xxxxxxxx

Mena-al-Ahmadi - Sunday, November 13

Hello My Lover.

Ken Lobb: Introduction | April 1955 | May 1955 | June 1955 | July 1955 | August 1955 | September 1955 | October 1955 | November 1955