The Military Legacy of Major John Forbes Ashton in Aden

During the turbulent years preceding World War II, Major John Forbes Ashton, a distinguished officer of The Border Regiment based in Carlisle, Cumberland, was officially sent on detached duty to the then British protectorate in the Middle East, now known as Yemen. His journey began in the mid-1930s, following his promotion to Major and subsequent posting to the Aden Protectorate Levies, an indigenous Arab military unit.

Commanding the Aden Protectorate Levies

From 1936 to 1941, Major Ashton served as the Adjutant and commanding officer of the Aden Protectorate Levies. His role involved not only military leadership but also intricate dealings within a complex chain of command. Officially, this chain went through the Station Commander of the RAF base at Khormaksar, theoretically the Levies' Commanding Officer. The RAF's presence, albeit with a limited fleet of fighter aircraft, was a crucial part of the region's defense strategy.

A Family's Life in Sheikh Othman

Major Ashton's family resided just outside Sheikh Othman, a village named after its local leader and located about ten miles from Aden. The community thrived around a natural oasis, a rare fertile spot in the midst of the desert. His wife, assisted by their chief servant Ali and other local staff, managed the household in this bustling oasis. The lifestyle in Sheikh Othman was characterized by its afternoon lull, owing to the intense heat, and evening resumptions of work or social engagements.

Cultural and Social Dynamics

The Ashton family's home, a two-storey structure with a spacious roof ideal for summer sleeping, was provided by Sheikh Othman in recognition of Major Ashton's role in what was essentially the Sheikh's private army. The house, replete with modern amenities for the time, stood in isolation in the desert, reflecting the unique cultural and social intersection of British military presence and local Arabian life.

Recollections of War and Departure

The onset of World War II brought changes to the Ashtons' life in Aden. Despite the relative remoteness, the effects of the war were felt with occasional air raids from Italian forces based in what was then known as 'Somaliland'. In late 1940, Major Ashton was recalled to active service in Europe, leading to the family's departure aboard the "Almanzora," a Royal Mail Line vessel.

Post-War Reflections

Years later, stories of the Ashton family's time in Aden resonate with the memories of those who experienced similar lives in the region, such as British pharmacist Ian Campbell Taylor, who served in Aden during the 1950s. These narratives provide a vivid window into a period marked by colonial influence, military strategy, and the day-to-day realities of life in a British protectorate.

The legacy of Major John Forbes Ashton and his family in Aden remains a poignant chapter in the history of British military involvement in the Middle East, encapsulating the complexities and nuances of a bygone era.