Aden 1906: A Suffolk Regiment's Perspective

This account of Aden was published for the benefit of all ranks of 2nd Battalion the Suffolk Regiment who were serving in the unpleasant climate of Madras. A posting to Aden that November for one year was to be the final year of a full 8-year Indian tour. The information in the first part was provided by an officer of the King's Own Scottish Borderers already in Aden, whilst the remainder was taken more or less verbatim from a booklet entitled “Three Hours in Aden” – the 3 presumably the time ashore that the passenger on a mail steamer had, bearing in mind that the P&O contract only allowed for a 4-hour stay at Aden. I have omitted a little over a sixth of the original account – that dealing with the geography of the settlement and information about flora and fauna.

“Our Next Station”: from The Suffolk Gazette, May 1906

To say that the whole Battalion is going to Aden is incorrect. Headquarters are to be there, but Aden pukka, that is the well known Crater, only locates two companies, while two other companies are stationed at Steamer Point some five miles distant. Four companies are at Dthala (pronounced Dala) which we understand is a charming spot and compares favourably with the best hill stations of India. Round Dthala the country is very fertile, and thickly wooded [sic!] and game is plentiful [sic!]. The ninety miles to this place can be covered only by camel caravan or march route, and is at all times dangerous to small parties; only recently the post peon was brutally murdered and the letters and parcels strewn around his dead body. A light railway has been under consideration for some time, but is not likely to be in readiness during our stay there. The latest rumour is that the two companies at the Crater are to be moved up to Dthala during the autumn; if so we shall have headquarters comprising six companies there, and a detachment of the other two companies at Steamer Point. Should this alteration come about, we shall be considerably better off than we have been for the last seven years. [This did not come about, and I am not sure that the Suffolks ever got up to Dthala during their year in Aden. Because the barracks in Aden had a limited capacity the battalion had to leave two companies behind in India to provide the permanent staff of the transit camp at Dohali.]

There are English churches both at the Crater and Steamer Point, and a good soldiers’ home administered by the Church of England clergy at the latter place, which is rather a long walk from our barracks. Gharries [horse-drawn carriages] are expensive, while a bicycle is practically useless owing to the roads being hilly and very sandy. Aden itself is not half so bad as it is painted and compares very favourably as regards health with most places in India, an absence of vegetation, the dryness of the soil, and the purity of the drinking water which for all Europeans is condensed, constitute sufficient safeguards against a host of maladies common to tropical countries.

Persons suffering from lung disease find a winter residence beneficial, although, unless great care is taken, especially after exercise, the cold, dry north­east wind that prevails is apt to cause a chill and is particularly trying for rheumatic or neuralgia subjects. The ills to be apprehended are malarial, and sun fevers, dysentery, neuralgia and heatstroke, all of which, except of course the latter, are, curious to say, more prevalent in the cold than in the hot season. This is accounted for by chills after exercise. A quick change of clothing when warm, avoiding the chilly north-east wind, and other precautions we are accustomed to here in Madras are very necessary.

The temperature never rises so high as it does in Madras; the cool season registers 72 degrees in the shade, while the hottest months do not exceed 102 degrees and here at Madras we sometimes breathe hard at 110 degrees. Rain is not limited to any particular time of the year. Slight falls may occur at any time, but the heaviest take place about March and April. Aden is considered one of the healthiest Military Stations in the East, a considerable fall in sick lists invariably attending the sojourn of corps in the peninsula, and many Europeans have been known to live continuously and enjoy good health in the settlement for many years. Long residence, however, is said to impair the faculties.

The settlement is exceptionally free from infectious diseases and epidemics. Enteric is very rare, but there is a severe form of rock fever prevalent in the hot weather for which, however, a trip to the sea provides an unfailing remedy. Only two epidemics are on record as having visited the settlement, one of cholera in 1881, and plague from February to July 1900. In the cool season Aden might be described as a gay place. From the beginning of November to the end of March the climate is temperate and permits of outdoor recreation at all hours of the day. The garrison being of considerable strength there is always present a large number of military and naval officers, besides the civil officials and merchants.

The European staff of the Eastern Telegraph Company contribute a welcome addition of over thirty members to the local society, and do a great deal to keep up interest in all kinds of sports. With the facilities that now exist for performing the journey between England and Aden, the higher degree of comfort attainable, and the greater attractions in the way of amusement and sport, many ladies pass the winter in the settlements, and find the change a novel and pleasant experience.

There is an excellent club, the ‘Union’, to which ladies are admitted. Concerts and private theatricals are given in the Garrison Theatre, as well as occasional performances by travelling companies. There is a Gymkhana Club, comprising golf (with a special club-house), cricket, lawn-tennis, football and hockey, boating, sailing, racing and polo, the subscription for all being only Rs8 per month.

There are besides a sailing association which holds matches nearly every Saturday, a ladies’ rifle club, a gun club for clay pigeon shooting and first-class racquet and tennis courts. Tournaments of all sorts are frequently held. There are some pretty drives skirting the sea to Goldmohur Valley, the Isthmus and Crater; and an excellent riding ground at the Isthmus and on the racecourse near Maala village. There is an excellent polo ground at Khormaksor, where the game is played usually twice a week. Bathing is good but dangerous, owing to the presence of sharks which have carried off their victims out of less than three feet of water. The authorities have constructed a very large swimming bath near Ras Tarshyne where bathing is quite safe. Two race meetings come off in the cold season, and on alternate Saturdays gymkhana sports are held at Steamer Point at which prizes are given to the victors in various amusing competitions mounted and dismounted. There are always two military bands present in the station. They play in the Jopp Gardens near the Prince of Wales’ Pier on alternate Saturday evenings.