Fury of Adens forgotten soldiers


Fury of Aden's 'forgotten' soldiers


BRITISH veterans of a vicious colonial war have condemned the Government for ignoring their sacrifice as the 40th anniversary of the end of the conflict approaches.

As many as 200 British troops died in the 'Aden Emergency' but the Government has not organised any official events to mark the withdrawal of UK forces on November 27, 1967.

A group of former servicemen who battled insurgents in the colony - now part of Yemen - have organised their own commemoration on Tuesday and last night described the lack of Government involvement as a "disgrace".

A battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders made national headlines as they battled to restore order in Aden. The unit's gung-ho commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Mitchell - dubbed Mad Mitch by the media - became a national hero.

Many veterans believe they and their late commander have been ignored because of widespread claims - rejected by an army board of inquiry - that British forces committed atrocities, as well as concern in Government circles about the parallels between Aden and recent operations in Iraq.

The row over the Aden anniversary comes at a particularly bad time for relations between ministers and the military.

Last week, five former military chiefs attacked the Government for "neglecting" today's troops.

Britain established a colony in the Arabian Sea port of Aden in 1838. The UK had a long-term plan to pull out in 1968, handing over power to a newly created Federation of South Arabia. But in 1963, Egyptian-backed Marxists began a battle for the territory.

Brian Bryson, the Scottish representative of the Aden Veterans' Association, said: "What we're looking for is recognition; that people should know what we did and the fact that we lost guys there.

"Everyone knows about the Great War and the Second World War, as they should, and the Falklands. But people forget the small wars. Those who fought in Korea, Malaysia, Kenya, they all went through a lot. It's wrong - a disgrace."

Richard Waddell, who was in Aden with 45 Commando, the Royal Marines, said: "You say you were in Aden and people ask you where that is. But at the time it was very important. We were trying to keep the Russians out."

When Mitchell and his battalion returned from the Middle East, he was conspicuously not awarded an OBE or a Distinguished Service Order.

Malcolm McVittie, who was then a second lieutenant, said: "The lack of an award was rather petty. There are many Arab people alive today in Crater who wouldn't have been but for us being tough."

Former MP Tam Dalyell criticised the Aden operation in the Commons at the time. He said last night: "This idea that going in and killing people would be effective, it was just recruiting more for the insurgents. What would we do if our kith and kin were being arrested or killed by a foreign army?"

Khaled Alyemany, the deputy Yemeni ambassador, told Scotland on Sunday: "What happened is a part of our history and we do not forget how people suffered on all sides. But we are now focusing on the future in our relations with the United Kingdom, and we value the relationship very much.

"We should be careful about judging history. The imperial time was a part of our past, but the suffering of the British veterans is also a part of the collateral damage of that time."

A MoD spokeswoman said: "We don't do 40th anniversaries. We do 25th and 50th and 60th, but not the 40th."

In the firing line: the life of maverick 'Mad Mitch'
Colin Campbell Mitchell, right, was born in London to Scottish parents and rose through the ranks to become an officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1944.

After being wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino, Mitchell went on to serve in Palestine, Korea, Cyprus and Borneo, and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in the run-up to deployment in Aden. It was there he found

fame when, in July 1967, he and his men marched into the Crater sector of Aden with pipes playing to occupy a town that had fallen to rebels. He had his unit's Land Rovers' roofs removed and replaced with large machine guns to give the impression that his men were "looking for trouble".

The move worked, the town was taken with one alleged terrorist killed and no British lives lost. But the strong-arm "Argyll Law" tactics caused controversy and led to claims that the soldiers were out of control amid allegations of arbitrary arrest and torture. Questions were asked in the House of Commons. Mitchell, in turn, dubbed the approach of his senior commanders "wet hen tactics".

The near-fluent Arabic-speaker was dubbed "Mad Mitch" for his high-profile actions, but many in the UK regarded him as the "Hero of Aden". After returning, he was conspicuously not given an honour, and left the army to move into politics as a Tory MP.

In 1989, Mitchell helped found the Halo Trust, which still works on mine clearing across the world. He died in 1996.

This article: http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=1849802007

Last updated: 25-Nov-07 00:26 GMT

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