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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,

I had a crowded day yesterday! The Kuwait Oil Co. here have laid on 3 cars for the officers, so a group of us decided to go back to Kuwait by road to look round the bazaars again, 21 miles away across the everlasting desert. So we set off immediately after lunch (oh incidentally we moved alongside the jetty during the morning which made going ashore easier) and had a good trip driven by an Arab who could talk no English, and spent a couple of hours pottering around there, and got back just in time to shower and change before our official cocktail party on board. There I got talking with Schoolie to a pleasant young couple until someone came to say two guests were asking for me, and it was the Heisers. They were very pleased to see me, to hear how Pat and Steve and the boys were getting on. We had a long chat in which I asked them to out film show tonight, and they asked me to spend Monday afternoon and evening at their house.

After I’d seen them off the original people I was talking to said, “Come on hurry up and change and come ashore with us now (half past eight!) and we’ll drive out and see "Big Bertha" by night. That’s what they call the biggest of the burners of the waste gas. So I did a very quick change and left with them and Schoolie in their enormous car to drive out to the centre of the oil field (about 20 miles). They were very pleased with their car, and said they could do 100 mph very easily, and so we crashed off and only managed to get 80 mph out of it until he found he’d still got the handbrake on! After that he really showed us it speed, quite eerie in the dark along a road with sand stretching off on both sides.

The burners were really worth seeing, we stopped on the sand 100 yards away and the heat was terrific from a row of 20 steel pipes each six inches across with flames 25 feet high belching out of them. They burn off as much gas as would supply the whole of London, and the burners are on all of the time day and night. From the centre of the oil field we could see a dozen such burners, lighting up the desert and the sky for miles. From there we went back to the club ashore which was just shutting, so we went on to some friends of theirs and then in two cars went to an all-night restaurant and had an enormous steak each with two eggs, and chips. It was half past twelve by then and we hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch, so we were really ready for it. From there we went to their house, and when we admired some small hand-carved and painted wooden camels they said they’d get some and send them to us. I asked them to the cinema show. Sand eventually they ran us back to the ship by half past one in the morning, A hectic day!

Natural gas flaring
Natural gas flaring - waste gas is burned off in oilfields around the world
Photo: This photo has been used on various sites but I cannot find any attribution for it.

This afternoon after a hard morning examining one of my lads for Petty Officer I went to the Club bath with my water polo team, and found the water quite cold though it was 73 degrees, I’m getting soft! Afterwards I met Schoolie and went to the people’s house he was with to see over it and we got back to the ship in time to change for the cinema show. It was "The Maggie", a jolly good film, one laugh from beginning to end, and the visitors thoroughly enjoyed it, and their supper on board. Now they’ve gone, it’s very late, and we’re tired but pleased with our weekend activities. I love you, and wish you could share all this, it seems such a shame you can’t. I’d love you to see the way these people live, they’re all paid enormous salaries, £1500 to £2000 a year, with cost of living bonus of £50 to £75 a month, free first class air passages home for the family, two months leave a year, beautiful air-conditioned houses provided, fully furnished. An absolute dream world! Above all, though they’re perfectly natural and friendly and not a bit peculiar with all this wealth.

You’ll have to remind me when I get home about these things because I can’t possibly put it all in a letter, I only hope I remember it all when I get back. Now my love I must leave you, hoping you’re all well, and not catching cold.

As Ever, Your Own Loving Ken xxxxxx

PS Another photo for your collection. I’m looking serious I don’t know why.

Basra - Tuesday, November 15.

Hello Darling,

A good day today, on arrival here this evening, two letters from you, and one of them dated 13th, only two days away, jolly good. And one from G&G too, telling me how good Susan is, and that they’ve brought her home. Well yesterday it blew up and we left the jetty at Mena and lay off in rough water, and I had quite a hilarious trip inshore in the motor boat in the afternoon, the roughest I had, I thoroughly enjoyed it! I went up to the club first where I met Leslie Heiser, and then we went around to their house, where, as she said I had an evening with the family. Their four year old girl was very interested in me, and showed me her "Jack and Jill" comic (just arrived by airmail) and said thank you for the Cheetah I brought her, and I saw the 5 month old Philippa again, when the Ayah brought her in for half an hour before going to bed after the evening feed (perhaps that’s the way to enjoy your children, see them for odd half hours during the day, with the Ayah standing by to take them away if they cry!). They looked through your snaps, and think Andrew looks wonderful and the others so brown and healthy. A quiet pleasant evening sitting by the air-conditioning (not the fire!) talking. They’re awfully nice, so anxious for me to call on them the next time I come up the Gulf (which will probably be never – I hope!) and anxious for me to tell the Bullen’s how they’re getting on.

Apparently the two cousins were always very friendly when they were young and in their teens. They said after the show on Sunday they lay awake for ages talking about me and the Gambia and the Navy generally. All these outcasts are always pleased to see new faces from England. We has a wonderful dinner, and afterwards he ran me down to the jetty (7miles) in their big MG, very fast and very smooth, and gave me their Xmas presents for the Bullen’s to take back with me.

What a scene of chaos on the jetty! Drunken sailors everywhere, and while I was waiting in the background for them to clear for them to clear before I caught the last boat off, they were collapsing and being sick. One fell in the harbour, about 12 feet to the water, and had to be hauled out. It was so rough outside, one boat’s crews all had oilskins and life belts on, and we did everything but turn over going out, and as it was too rough to have gangways down, had to jump at the right moment and go straight up the ship’s side on a jumping ladder (and my bag of presents didn’t make it any easier!)

There was chaos on board, a drunken sailor was washed off the launch 100yds from the ship and an officer jumped in after him, another fell down between the launch and the ship trying to get on board, and had to be fished out, a soaked drunken sailor was being chased around the quarter deck by angry patrolmen, and there were eight drunks spewing all over the place. Absolute chaos. We don’t know how no-one was killed, although some are in the sick bay with minor injuries and the cells were full! By that time it wasn’t worth going to bed, we sailed a two o’ clock and I finally got to bed just after 3. Another full day.

A Sailor's Observation on the Lamented Death of Lord Nelson, December 3, 1805
A Sailor's Observation on the Lamented Death of Lord Nelson, December 3, 1805
Illustration: George Murgatroyd Woodward (artist); Thomas Rowlandson, (engraver); Rudolph Ackermann (publisher).

We’ve been most of today coming up the Shatt-el-Arab, a twisty river, past Abadan, and beautiful to see again after so much sand, date palms stretching off in all directions. It’s the first time a big ship has been right up here, and we’ve anchored now at Basra, in the river, where we stay for three days. The Admiral is going to Baghdad, about 200 miles inland, we’re in Persia now, with reis and dinars for money, and tomorrow I shall be off exploring with Schoolie. It’s cooler tonight, and quite pleasant, but I shall be so glad to get into bed as soon as I’ve finished this! This naval flag-showing life is quite arduous "you know" (the people who took me to see "Big Bertha" were from Birmingham and she spoke just like the Sergeant’s wife at Malvern), not like Devonport or Anthorn!

I nearly bought myself a gold wristwatch in Kuwait as an Xmas present from you, but don’t worry, I may get one yet! Now my love I’ll leave you, I’ve marked the 12th on my calendar, you’re speeding up, it will be OK. Good night Honey.

Your Own Ken xxxxx

Basra - Thursday, November 17

Hello My Lover,

What a hectic life this is! An absolutely mad rush all the mornings trying to get my work done, and a rush in the afternoons and evenings trying to keep up with my tourist and social programmes. Harold Wright (Schoolie) and I spent all the afternoon yesterday in the bazaars, and what a crowded enormous and scruffy bazaar it is too! The Arabs here look poorer and dirtier than any others we’ve seen, and the narrow, crowded streets are a mass of rubbish and smells! We enjoyed ourselves though in a quiet way watching the silversmiths and goldsmiths at work and haggling with them all, so that today we could go back with some idea of what we ought to buy and what we should pay. We watched the furniture makers too, making ghastly furniture from rough unplanned wood, and painting it in bright colours, and I think we saw most of the other local craftsmen at work, on pottery, shoes, clothes, all sorts of things, most interesting.

In the evening we attended an official reception at the British Club, and learnt a lot more about the place generally. The most amazing thing though was meeting Gordon Carver, who used to be at Burscough, do you remember he came out to the Persian Gulf? He’s an inspector in the British Bank of the Middle East, and happens to be visiting Basra for 10 days. We had a long yarn and I invited him off to the ship today for lunch, and funnily enough he used to go to school with the Commander, so he had quite an “old home” session on board. Uncle Fred Bowley (Merchant Sea Captain) is well-known up here, he is friends with the “Striks” who are the Kingpin Merchant Marine firm here, and unfortunately, he isn’t here now but is on his way back to the UK. They seem to think quite well of him too! You know they think it is marvellous on board because I seem to have relations and friends wherever we stop this cruise, they think I’m a cosmopolitan codger!

Today we’ve been into the bazaars again, buying this time, after a certain amount of argument, you’ll have to wait to see what I’ve got, I’m not going to tell you (I’m having an awful time with this camel in my cabin though!) This evening we’ve had our official cocktail party on board, what a collection of people too, people from the consulate here and the business firms plus the leading Arabs!

I’m exhausted now and will be glad to get to bed. I’m putting a shower of stamps in for Penny, though they’re not very interesting, but they entailed a lot of sign language with the clerks who didn’t speak English. There’s not nearly so much spoken here, and although a policeman shook us by the hand, all smiles and gabbled away we’d no idea what it was all about, but he was friendly. They all wear guns though! Now my love I must leave you, loving you as ever.

Your Own Loving Ken xxxxx

Abadan - Saturday, 19th November 19

Hello Darling,

Well we’re halfway through this cruise and the time is really flying! It’s been a terrible day today, we’ve come down from Basra in Iraq to Abadan in Iran (change of money again), down the river that is, with ceremonial all the way, firing gun salutes and generally messing about. I’m exhausted again (four hours sleep last night!) after starting at five thirty this morning and arriving here at seven this evening. I find we’ve a swimming gala for tomorrow afternoon that I’m expected to organise, although the water will be cold; I shan’t go in. I believe I’ve forgotten to tell you that we’re in full blues all the time now since Wednesday, and at night it’s quite cold, I’m back to sleeping in blankets, and people on watch at night are wearing overcoats, although the day temperatures are still in the eighties. Typical Arab desert weather, warm days, cold nights. Yesterday afternoon I took my water polo team to the bath intending to return on board for tea, but I met the Manager of the Bank Gordon Carver is inspecting and he insisted that I join him for the evening, which I was eventually persuaded to do, although I really wanted to go to bed, and we went out to the RAF station, for the ride, and had tea there, coming back to his flat for dinner and gramophone playing and talking about the place, and before I knew it, it was Quarter past midnight! By the time I got back on board and into bed it was half-past one.

It was a quiet pleasant evening though, he’s got a pleasant modern flat, with every comfort, Arab house-boy included, a luxury life these British abroad lead, In the meantime, I’ve been so busy in the mornings that I’ve missed some good excursions, organised by the Padre. One to the Garden of Eden, at least it’s supposed to be the site of the Original Garden of Eden complete with the tree, about 4 hours launch trip up the river from Basra, and he even came back with a chunk he’d carved off the tree. I wouldn’t qualify to go on his trip, he hates the officers, and only took his favourite church going ratings. They’ve also been to Ur of the Chaldees, the ancient cities of the Bible before the flood, he’s in his element in this part of the world, of course.

Now we’ve reached Abadan, so much in the news a few years ago, do you remember that man on TV, the last engineers to leave? I expect I’ll see him, because most of them have come back again and they’re laying on an enormous week of entertainment for us, we’re staying a week, a we’re even getting our concert party out of mothballs and giving a show on Tuesday in a cinema that seats 1,100! I shall be glad when it’s over! There’s an official reception dinner and dance tonight for us at the Iranian Naval Base, I’m not off though, I must retire early, it’s nine o’clock now, and save my strength to go to the Consulate tomorrow night. It’s OK for Harold, he doesn’t have any ratings to look after, nor and departmental technical duties. I’m not going to be an Electrical Officer the next time I join the Navy. I’m just going to be a passenger.

I’m hoping to have some letters from you now we’ve arrived here, the mail seems to have gone wrong this week, if we stay put for a week now it will have a chance to catch up. It’s very uncomfortable wearing blue uniform again, I’m quite happy in shirt and shorts you know. I must write to the infants soon, I hope they’re all well, and “fighting” fit. It won’t be long now my love, the time is going very quickly at this end. Now I must draw up my swimming team, bath and go to bed.

As ever, your own Ken xxxxxx

Abadan - Monday, November 21

Hello My Lover,

I hope my letters are reaching you more successfully than yours are reaching me. For the first time since we’ve been away the mail has fallen over and we’ve been a week now without any. It’s all gone to Basra and hasn’t been sent on to us, but we’re hoping to get it tomorrow. Everyone is complaining of course.

I spent yesterday evening at the Consulate at Khorramshahr, a very high-level evening indeed, very pleasant though, very formal, with all the leading Iranian Naval Officers and local residents. A long ride there and back and boat trip across the river. I’ve been to Khorramshahr again this evening, this time to a reception at the Governor’s house, even more formal, unfortunately very few of them there speak English, it’s mostly French, again enjoyable though. It’s strange here. It’s all under martial law still, our ship is heavily guarded by their navy and army, plus police (there are men in 6 different types of uniform on the jetty) with bayonets fixed, revolvers and steel helmets. All very warlike, patrols in the streets, and soldiers bivouacked in tents, and a curfew, no-one is allowed on the streets after midnight. And at the party tonight there was even a civilian from the Secret Police. It’s laughable really, especially when we’re in uniform, they all salute, and keep us very busy saluting back.

Yesterday afternoon I took a team to a swimming gala, where we were soundly beaten, but by a magnificent crowd of swimmers, (their National Champions actually) all of whom looked like weight lifters, and we were watched by an enormous crowd of excited Iranians, there was only one other white man there, we felt quite lost. The island of Abadan is an immense concern, with two hundred thousand inhabitants (and about three hundred white folks, British, American and Dutch. I went on a tour of the refinery by bus yesterday morning and it’s enormous, it took an hour and a half! We have an enormous programme to fill, tomorrow I’m concert partying, Wednesday going to visit the Governor of Abadan, Thursday going to the Consulate again and Friday we have our party on board.

They’re laying on an enormous programme for the lads too. At the dance for 250 sailors on Saturday they were given as much beer, vodka, (which is drunk a lot here) and whisky as they could drink, and we had absolute chaos on board afterwards! Apart from the official parties for the sailors every night, we received 1,400 private invitations yesterday morning alone for them. The people here seem genuinely glad to have the Navy here, and all say that they only want peace, and want no trouble between our countries. I suppose they’re very sorry how they kicked us out four years ago. What a shower! It’s a nice town though, all built by British enterprise in the first place, with pleasant houses, lawns and trees blossoming in the sand. Their Naval and Air Force Officers seem very pleasant though, mostly trained in England, and very friendly, but the average man in the street is dirty and murderous looking.

The bazaar area is a shambles, with very poor quality goods. Persian markets I should call them really, I suppose, I keep thinking of the tune! The Iranian women are all very dark, and wide-eyed, and the higher class (the ones we see at the Consulate and the Governor’s House that is) are beautifully dressed in the latest Paris fashions, and all look really like the Queen, their Queen Soraya, I mean, who caused such a sensation when she came to England with the Shah. Very few of them speak English which is just as well I think or some of our brighter sparks would be inviting them on board. It’s most interesting here really, quite unlike anywhere we’ve visited. Of course, we don’t feel really relaxed here, with their martial law and constant watchfulness, but it’s not really their fault, they’re doing their best to make us welcome. I think we shall all be glad of a rest when we leave here early on Saturday morning.

The time is still passing quickly, 99 days to go now my love, it won’t be long. Now I’ll leave you, loving you as ever, hoping you are all super-fit, I love you.

Your Own Ken xxxxxxxx

P.S. Still using my "Silli-shave"

Rear Admiral Rassai and Vice Admiral C F W Norris, CB, DSO
Rear Admiral Rassai, Commander First Naval Base, Khorramshar, with the C in C East Indies, Vice Admiral C F W Norris, CB, DSO, during HMS GAMBIA's visit to Iran on November 22, 1955. Photo: Imperial War Museums A33383

Shatt-el-Arab - Saturday, November 26, 0600

Hello My Lover,

I’m writing early this morning, I had to be up at 4.30 to leave Abadan, and what a good thing it is we’ve left! One week of hectic excitement, formal receptions and functions every day and a welcome by the people privately too. It’s no doubt that Abadan is the high spot in our Persian Gulf cruise. Our one big grumble though was the mail routine, it all went wrong, none out and only one lot in, that went to Basra and had to be brought downriver by launch. The mails are so uncertain that we’re putting into Bahrein late tonight to get mail off to the UK, that will be there on Monday, so I’m writing you a big budget letter to catch that. First of all though I did get one letter from you, and you seem to be the worst for wear with your cold, I hope you’re better now, and that all the family don’t get it again.

I’m sorry I looked miserable in the other photo, I wasn’t really well then, but to reassure you I’m putting one in that was taken on Wednesday which shows me smiling furiously and looking a bit chubbier, so perhaps you’ll be happier to see that I’m much better now, back to normal in fact. We don’t know who the chap on the left is, but the one in the middle is a very pleasant, smooth young Harvard man, the American Vice-Consul at Khorramshar. On the wall is a Persian carpet with the design of the coat of arms worked on it, and above it hangs a photo of the Shah, in fact it is the main decoration in that hall, it’s a pity it’s not all shown in the photo.

On Tuesday afternoon we went to the bazaar, which is enormous here, but not very attractive. In fact it’s not a very good place for whites to go, and the traffic patrol at the ship warned us very solemnly to be careful, and insisted that the car we went in stayed with us while we walked around, in case of any trouble, to get us out quick. But I think they were making too much fuss, no one attacked us (which is just as well) although one of ‘em tried to sell me a knuckle-duster! This is the land of Omar Khayyam and paintings, silverware and carpets, and Schoolie and I have examined plenty of examples now, but you need an awful lot of money, the carpets work out at £9 a square yard, and are in fact as dear to buy here as in England. We had an interesting couple of hours, but the people were unwashed and unfriendly, and in general it was pretty filthy and smelly.

In the evening we put on our concert party, which went down well, to the largest audience we’ve ever played, and the Governor of Abadan came backstage after and made a speech in Persian which one of his bodyguard interpreted. It was so funny, just like a Hollywood gangster film, the Governor is a really tough looking specimen and he came in surrounded by half a dozen equally tough-looking swarthy characters, all dressed in drape sort of zoot suits, with flash ties, just like a big-time crook! That’s all he is really, if the local reports can be believed. On Wednesday evening we went to his official reception in the town hall (in the middle of the bazaar). The place was littered with armed guards, and it’s the first reception I’ve been to where two soldiers with sub-machine guns stood at the doors of the room we were in, and plus there were plenty of these zoot suited, tough looking gentlemen just standing around the walls doing nothing. I suppose you have to realise that the place is under martial law, but it’s quite funny really, although the curfew clears the streets wonderfully at night, except for the patrols.

Afterwards Harold and I were invited to supper by the Butlers and were joined by the Consul. Ewan Butler is the Public Relations Officer here and is appointed by the Foreign Office. He’s quite well-known, has been a special correspondent for the Times, written six books, one of them very well-known about the occupation of Berlin, was a colonel in the Army, Military Attache in Sweden and so on! But very interesting when you get him talking, particularly about Germany and the Germans. The Consul, Bennett, is a live wire, a middle-aged man who’s been in most parts of the world, and is doing much to keep this place together, which must be very difficult. A very instructive evening and back to the ship at half past one!

On Thursday afternoon we went to the bazaar again, more confident this time, and even sent our car away (five taxis were provided here free of charge, all day long for the use of officers!) and delved deep into the smelly alleys, looked at lots of curios and eventually picked up a ramshackle taxi to get us back to the ship in time to change and attend yet another reception given by the Consul, followed by our band beating retreat. These receptions have been very cleverly arrayed so that we meet different types of people, and at this particular one we got talking to a very nice American couple who ended up by taking us off in their car to steak, eggs and chips at a club, and afterwards to their home where their three kids, 9, 6 and 2 were still up playing, and they showed us the curios they’ve collected here, and we encouraged them to talk about America. They were oil people from Texas (a lovely slow deep drawl) although she was from California. Once again a very pleasant evening, and back to the ship at half past one!

I asked them off to the ship for lunchtime on Thursday to have a look round, they hadn’t been on a battleship, and Harold asked a Dutch couple off too, so from 12 to 1.30 yesterday afternoon we gave them some drinks in the wardroom and then a conducted tour, which delighted them, and it ended with the Dutch couple inviting us all home to lunch! The Americans couldn’t make it, so Schoolie and I went along, and what a talented pair they were! They speak Dutch of course, and are very good English (with an American accent), and Persian, and he can even read the language! He escaped from Berlin during the war by riding on the axles under a train and stayed free for a year in Holland in the resistance. He’s and engineer and very interested on archaeology and was very interested to hear about the ruins we’ve studied in Ceylon. Once again a very pleasant incident and we left them at four. This place is run now by a combine of Americans, English and Dutch, and in addition there is a very cosmopolitan crowd here, Swiss, Greek, Venezuelan, practically everything. Schoolie even recognised a Persian he’d last seen at Manchester University, a fellow student, they were quite bucked. French is spoken generally, although with so many English and Americans, it is becoming replaced by English, although few of the older Persians speak English.

Last night we gave an official farewell party on board, by which time we knew most of the people there, and it was a great success; it gives the white community a great moral boost to have a RN ship up here, we’re the first since 1951 when the Mauritius stood by with his guns loaded and trained on the refinery, and evacuated the last of the British before Old Mossadegh got them. Now we’ve resumed diplomatic relations here, although it’s still a trouble spot, and our visit has been more of a diplomatic move, and as such has been a great success. It’s been a very exhausting week, but a satisfactory one altogether. Now we’re off to Muscat, but no more mail until we get to Karachi on the 3rd December! So I’ll leave you dear, and this afternoon I must write to G&G and the kids, to catch this Bahrein mail. Cheerio my love. I love you, and it’s only 94 days to go now.

Your ever loving Ken xxxxxxxx

Persian Gulf - Monday, November 28

Hello My Lover,

We’re back in the heat again, and I realise now that I don’t really like it. It’s funny, I was quite used to it, and believed I liked it before the two weeks at Basra and Abadan, but after being up there in the cool, wearing blue uniform and sleeping under blankets and now we’re back in the 90,s again, I find I prefer the cool!

It’s surprising how quickly It warmed up too, in the first 3 hours after leaving the river the sea temperature had gone up 12 degrees! We had a rough day yesterday, very pleasant, rolling and plenty of spray, rather nice after a couple of weeks in a river. We anchored this morning for 6 hours at Khor Kuwai at the entrance (exit really for us) to the Gulf, and it’s been beautifully calm since. I’ve been feeling worn out this weekend, up early for 3 mornings in a row, to bed late, and I suppose coming back into the heat again. I dropped off to sleep yesterday afternoon and has a most vivid dream which woke me up! I know that as I was lying on my bunk you came in and bent over me and I pulled you down and buried my face in your neck, and it was so real I could feel your hair tickling my face in your neck, and it was so real I could even smell it, and as I kissed your neck and shoulder I woke up, so distressed too, it was so real! Never mind, it won’t be long now. It’s our anniversary the day after tomorrow I hope you get your greetings.

We had our usual cinema on the quarter deck last night, in a noisy rough sea, which lent reality to the film, "The day my number came up", all about an aircraft crash in a storm over the sea off Japan, very tense and exciting. I’ve written my Xmas cards this evening, Harold Wright and I have been very clever, since we’ve been ashore everywhere together from the start, we’ve made a list of all the people who’ve entertained us in different places, and divided it in half and sent 8 cards each from "Ken & Harold", so we’ve economised! There’s something else I mean to tell you, but I can’t think what it is. Goodnight my lover. Xx

Here’s a stroke of luck, merchant ship has just come in and anchored near us (we’re at Muscat now) and will leave this evening for Karachi and take some mail for us, so I’ll finish this off for the 3 o’clock collection. This morning we came to Muscat, with much gun firing of salutes, and as soon as we anchored we were surrounded by native dug-out canoes with the most wonderful coloured shells and enormous fish for sale. It’s quite an impressive place here (and I saw the sun rise on the coast here this morning). High barren mountain ridges right down to the sea, not a trace of greenery, and a white stone village right at the foot on the water’s edge. Rugged grandeur! Harold and I are going to look round the village this afternoon, just to see what curios there are.

I’m not quite so tired today, I had most of 8 hours sleep last night, fairly disturbed though. Did I tell you I’ve got a lad cited as co-respondent in a divorce case? I’ve had quite a business sorting out his legal aid and defence problems. What a shower! I hope Susan gets her birthday card in time, I nearly forgot it, which would be a pity since I’ve had it since the beginning of September. There haven’t been any suitable post cards for the kids up the Gulf I’m afraid.

Now my lover I’ll leave you, I’m looking forward to getting to Karachi on Saturday, I hope there’ll be a lot of letters for me there.

Cheerio dear,

From Your ever loving Ken xxxxxxxxx

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