The Formation and Legacy of the Aden Protectorate Levies

The Aden Protectorate Levies were formed on April 1st 1928 primarily as a unit to protect airfields following the change of status of Aden to an Air Command in April 1927. Their secondary role was to be that of assisting the civil police. Later the APL Camel Troop were to become a familiar sight as ceremonial guards.

Although a comparatively young Regiment, the APL claimed a record of commendable service which it would be hard for any other locally raised force to equal. The Regiment may have had a short history but it was nevertheless a colourful and impressive one of which the men were justly proud.

Colonel M.C. Lake of the Indian Army was the first Commanding Officer of the unit which comprised 2 British officers and 6 platoons of Arabs recruited from tribes in the Western Protectorate states. They had 48 camels and 8 mules. Col. Lake commanded the unit till 1929 when Lt. Col. J.C. (Robby) Robinson took over command and remained as C.O. for the next 10 years.

The APL recruited from the various tribes which lived in the foothills or the higher mountainous regions. The men were proud, of independent stock, with a deep loyalty to their own Sheikhs or junior tribal representatives, but they were straightforward mercenaries who gave their hearts and loyalty to the British Officers, who, in understanding them, commanded their respect and admiration. Discipline was generally good but as would often happen the Arab troops would go AWOL if they could not get permission for leave to sort out personal matters, or for harvesting, as their first loyalty was to their own tribe, village or family.

As APL soldiers the tribesmen found romance in the wearing of uniform and prestige in possessing a rifle. It was a fact that the over-riding ambition of all tribesmen, rich or poor, young or old, was to own a rifle. Thus it was an honour to serve with the Aden Protectorate Levies. In becoming a recruit the tribesman left his community probably for the first time in his life. His life was thus transformed for him, he was educated, he was taught to accept a much higher standard of living and was paid for his services. "From rags to riches" was quite an acceptable way of describing the change.

Based in Aden Colony was the Levies Base and Training Organisation, called the Depot Battalion. The Depot included married quarters, a pre-natal clinic, a children's school, the Force Band and the Camel Troop as well as air supply and other repair and supply units.

Lord Belhaven (Hamilton) arrived in Aden in 1931, posted to the Aden Protectorate Levies. His duties, thrust on him by Col. Robinson were to manage the polo stables, command the Camel Troop, and act as veterinary surgeon. Robinson said, "I shall want you to carry out minor operations on the horses so you had better look up your books; we do almost all operations on the camels ourselves here, in the lines, castrations and so on and you'll have to find out all about it."

Arab Officers (Bimbashis), one of whom in each Battalion was responsible to the Commanding Officer for Arab Administration, held Governor's Commissions and bore ranks of 2nd Lieutenant (MulazimIth Thani); Lieutenant (Mulazim Al Awal); Captain (Rais); and Major (Wakil Qaid Ith Thani). The senior Arab serving with the Aden Protectorate Levies was a Lieutanant Colonel (Qaid Al Awal).

By the time Hamilton arrived in 1931 the Camel Troop now comprised some fifty men and sixty camels, and Hamilton was in charge of them. He met the Troop's Arab officer, who was to become a long-time friend. His name was Ahmad bin Salih Maqtari, a man of Yemeni origin, who had sought a more peaceful life under the British flag to raise his 14 children.

By 1939 there was an anti-aircraft wing which succeeded in shooting down an enemy Italian plane. During the war the APL comprised 1,600 men engaged not only in their duties in Aden and the Western Aden Protectorate but in providing garrisons at Socotra Island and Sharjah. In 1942 a policy change saw army personnel being replaced over a period of 6 years so that by 1948 the Aden Protectorate Levies were commanded by RAF Regiment officers and airmen.

By 1960 the Force consisted of 4 rifle battalions. Each had the normal complement of 3" mortars, medium machine guns and signallers as well as the administrative element, including a Mechanical Transport Platoon. With certain additions, such as air supply and air liaison officers and the Senior Arab Officer, the Headquarters of the force was a brigade-type one. There was also an Armoured Car Squadron, a signal squadron, a band and a colourful ceremonial Camel Troop which often appeared before the public and was always a target for photographers.

On 30th November 1961, following the creation of the Federation, the APL changed name to the Federal Regular Army and their allegiance passed to the Federation rather than Queen Elizabeth. The Levies are justly proud in the knowledge they were awarded, over a mere 2-year period, one D.S.O., seven M.C.s, two M.M.s, one O.B.E., three M.B.E.s and one B.E.M. - an enviable reputation.

Aden Protectorate Levies
Aden Protectorate Levies