Governor, Leader, Visionary: Sir Bernard Reilly's Aden Era

Let's talk about Sir Bernard Rawdon Reilly, a name that holds a special place in Aden's history. Unlike any of the other Residents in Aden, Reilly's journey was quite unique.

Born in the year 1882, Reilly decided to join the Indian Army at the ripe age of 20. In 1908, he shifted gears, moving to the Political Department. Up to this point, his career path was pretty standard for the course. However, what set him apart was his extensive time spent in Aden, where he took on the role of an administrator rather than sticking strictly to military duties.

Sir Bernard Rawdon Reilly's story is a fascinating tapestry of military and administrative prowess, particularly in the context of Aden's rich history. Born into a military family on 25 March 1882 in Durrington, Wiltshire, Reilly was the son of Colonel Bradshaw Lewis Phillips Reilly of the Bombay staff corps. His formative years were shaped at Bedford School, laying the groundwork for his entry into the Indian Army in 1902. This marked the beginning of a career that would see him play pivotal roles in the governance and development of Aden.

In 1908, Reilly's career trajectory took a significant turn as he transitioned to the Political Department. His journey led him to Aden, under the Bombay presidency, where he served as a political officer in the Arab town of Shaykh 'Uthman within the Aden settlement. It was here that Reilly began to make his mark, not just in military affairs but also in administration and diplomacy.

By 1912, Reilly was already a well-known figure in Aden. His work in the region continued uninterrupted until at least July 1914. He briefly left during the Lahej incident in 1915 but was back in action by February 1917, demonstrating his commitment to Aden. His work didn't go unnoticed; in 1918, he was honoured with an OBE, and in 1926, he received a CIE for his significant contributions to the region.

One of the defining moments of his career occurred in 1919, as part of a delegation to Yemen led by Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Fenton Jacob. The delegation was intercepted and detained by hostile tribesmen for four months, an experience that undoubtedly deepened Reilly's understanding of the region's complex dynamics.

Reilly's role in Aden evolved remarkably over the years. In 1931, he ascended to the position of Resident of Aden. This role underwent further transformation in 1932 when Aden's administration shifted from Bombay to the government of India in Delhi, and Reilly became the Chief Commissioner. His leadership prowess was further recognized in 1937 when Aden became a British colony, and he was appointed its Governor.

Under Reilly's governance, the Aden settlement and the larger Aden protectorate, comprising twenty-five independent states, witnessed significant developments. He skillfully navigated the challenges of Yemeni raids and played a crucial role in negotiating the 1934 Treaty of San'a', a landmark peace agreement with Yemen. This treaty marked a new phase in the history of the Aden protectorate and was a testament to Reilly's diplomatic skills.

Reilly's approach to governance was comprehensive and multifaceted. He not only focused on external security but also diligently worked on internal affairs. This included forming tribal guards for road policing, training government guards, managing the Aden protectorate levies, and initiating social welfare programs. In 1935, he opened a college for the sons of chiefs and leading families in the protectorate, reflecting his commitment to education and development.

Even after leaving Aden in 1940 to join the Colonial Office in London, Reilly's influence and expertise continued to be sought after. He played a significant role in the Anglo-Yemeni conference in 1950 and the meetings about the future of the Aden protectorate in 1957. His insights and experiences were further shared in his book 'Britain and the Yemen,' published in 1960.

Reilly's career was not just a series of high-profile appointments; it was a journey marked by deep engagement with the people and the geopolitical nuances of South Arabia. His tenure in Aden, lasting until 24 October 1940, was marked by significant achievements and was second only in length to that of Commander Stafford Haines. Reilly's legacy in Aden and beyond is a testament to his ability to blend military discipline with administrative acumen, earning him respect and admiration from those who worked with him and the Arab population he served.