During a reunion visit to the UAE, a group of retired veteran British officers, who served in the 1960s in Abu Dhabi and the coast of Oman, are amazed at the developments in the region
Endless sand had stretched before them where they now find glass-panelled buildings reaching for the sky. The terrain of oases islands in a sea of dunes has been transformed into a land of plenty, where the monotony of high tech construction is broken by state-of-the-art golf courses. Camel caravans winding their way through vast empty stretches have been replaced by the most modern cars on the best modern highways. Yet, a few vestiges of the past remain. And so does history. The mix thus served can only be called nostalgia.
During a reunion visit to the UAE, a group of retired veteran British officers, who served in the 1960s in Abu Dhabi and Coast of Oman, were amazed at the developments the region had made.
The British Embassy in Dubai held a reception in celebration of this reunion between the British officers and Men of the Trucial Oman Scouts (TOS) and Union Defence Force Association, following the 50th Anniversary of the Trucial Oman Levies. The delegation is visiting the UAE in response to an invitation by Lt. General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chief of Staff of the UAE Armed Forces.
Colonel (retd) Jeremy Rawlins and Lt-Colonel (retd) David Sievwright, played a very major role in reuniting the group of veteran officers.
In an interview at the reception Rawlins told Gulf News about the TOS. He said: "In 1952 the British Government was in charge of internal security of Trucial Oman. They raised an army of British officers commanding Arab soldiers and lieutenants, called Trucial Oman Levies (TOL). Most of the trainees were Jordanian soldiers. Two or three years later, the TOL became Trucial Oman Scouts (Light Infantry Army).
"That force protected the Trucial States until 1970, when the UAE was federated. Again the force changed its name to the Union Defence Force, which continued and was funded by the Federal Government of the UAE. On May 6, 1976, all the armed forces of the UAE became the Federal Army. Once more the name changed to Al Yarmouk Brigade and later on it changed to Sheikh Zayed Brigade."
He said: "We are thankful to the General Headquarters that invited all the founders of this force. The aim behind establishing this group and this reunion was to give an opportunity to all retired officers to meet each other again and also the people they served and trained with. We were so delighted to see the magnificent changes and advancements in the infrastructure all around in the seven emirates that we visited."
Col. Rawlins said further that most of the veteran comrades were able to establish some new relations and renew old ones.
In his own words, the great development of the UAE was: "A transformation of a country with no roads and buildings to a place were you can't believe the changes and infrastructure."
Nikki Sievwright, Lt-Col. David Sievwright's wife, expressed her astonishment about the sophistication in UAE. She said: "It is like being on a different planet. Last time I came here was in 1974 when I spent five days and met David on the Sharjah shoreline. Now we are married."
In his turn, the retired Lt-Col. Sievwright told Gulf News: "We established the group last year. I visit the UAE frequently and each time I notice some marvellous changes. Even the old cultural heritage is respected and preserved."
However, he regretted not being able to see some of his old comrades who didn't have the chance to hear about the group. "Yet I am happy to see the rest. I would love to extend my appreciation for Lt. General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the General Headquarters."
He wished that the Armed Forces would always be abreast of international developments in all fields. He also urged the national cadres to continue to strive hard for more educational achievements and professional excellence and expertise.
Simon Collis, the British Consul General in Dubai, explained: "We are gathered here today with the retired British officers who have been friends of the UAE since a time when the world wasn't knocking at its door. They came here when life was difficult. The UAE is developing enormously, just like Britain. Yet, old friendships always last. It has been a lovely reunion, especially since they have visited all seven emirates and were welcomed by people who love them."
Retired Major John Pott, who served between 1957 and 1967, said: "The region has become unrecognisable. Essentially, our main goal was to preserve the peace until the frontiers were agreed upon, before the oil came in, in a big way."
Having served between 1964 and 1966, retired Colonel John Collins, said: "It's been a wonderful opportunity to see old comrades whom we had served with 40 years ago. During our visit everybody was kind. I feel very proud seeing all the advancement and development. We had a beautiful chance to see some of the old camps where we trained and served such as Masafi, Ras Al Khaimah, and Sharjah."
Retired Captain Leslie McLaughlin, who served in 1964 and 1965, said he was astonished by the changes and rapid development.
"The spirit of imagination has turned the UAE from a poor country to an international resort."
It's the story of a happy reunion. A retired Captain of the former Trucial Oman Scouts, who is part of a group of veteran British officers currently visiting the UAE, waited 40 years to see his old student and comrade who had retired as a senior Dubai Police officer.
Between 1961 and 1964, retired Captain Stephen Pembroke served in the area which now forms the UAE. Back then he trained some local soldiers and officials of the Trucial Oman Levies (TOL). Among the trainee officers was Saeed Abdulla, a 20-year-old UAE national Lieutenant.
Pembroke recalled to Gulf News: "In those days we became close friends, Saeed and I. I eventually returned to Britain, and later Saeed also came to the UK to study English and attend the Officers Training School.
"Saeed used to visit me at my house in London and we had a