The fifty-foot dhow on which we embarked for Qatar with two boxes full of food and squash drinks was also being used as a water carrier. I learnt later, from the bills of account that the Company paid four annas a gallon for water, “sweet” water, much of which was scooped up from the “fresh” water pools at that time appearing in the sea just off the coast near Sitra.
The journey by dhow took about six hours. I was tense with excitement, yet trying so hard not to show it; no doubt Bartlett and Nobbs felt the same when we tied up at the Zekrit jetty.
My first impression was one of chaos. Oilfield material was piled high every-where. Cement, drill pipe, oil pipe, crates of machinery, crates of materials. Just everywhere. Or so it seemed. Later, when I visited it each month I had a more balanced view.
I stepped ashore over oil line pipes and thousands of bags of cement. We were to be greeted by the Head Accountant and driven back to camp in a Humber saloon. We scrambled over pipes and material and I found myself confronted by a fairly large, well-built man who mumbled, through his pipe stem: “Harold Jolly, chief accountant, I assume you’re Hill? – this is Tussler. Welcome to Qatar.”
I had to hang on to his every word, for he spoke, or rather mumbled in a quiet voice and as he had his pipe, in his mouth one had to give much attention to what he said. We shook hands and Harold Jolly said: “Collect your kit and get it on board”, pointing to a large Humber Snipe saloon, “then we can get back to Camp.”
I got in to the back of the Humber, Harold driving, and Tussler, invariably known as Tuss, who I learnt was his assistant and No. 2 sat in front. I glanced through the window as we swung away and noticed Bartlett the Camp Boss climbing into the passenger seat of a somewhat battered pick up truck. I thought that rather strange for a Camp Boss to travel like that and I was being met by the C. A. in his Humber Saloon.
After a few desultory words of further welcome and questions about the journey, much of which I had to guess, as Harold continued speaking in his quiet mumble, I drank in the scene on the way back to Camp. The accommodation was not dissimilar to an army camp. Barrack like blocks of which half were still under construction. We were offered either a bed in an E. P. I. P. tent or share with another staff member in a room.
I chose to stay in a room. I was billeted in an engineer’s room, one Nigel Charteris a very frustrated and bad tempered young civil engineer recruit who had been given the room as his own just three days before but who, under different circumstances, would have been a nice enough fellow, however and, needless to say, he resented my intrusion. The rooms were only fourteen feet square – with no air conditioner – and I lived out of a suitcase. I understood why he was bad tempered and gauche yet I needed to be housed and I was jolly put out when he would not share the one wardrobe and expected me to live out of my suitcases, which he cussed when he tripped over them. Charteris made no bones about not sharing the wardrobe and chest of drawers.
Even so, I was luckier than many others who were living in E. P. I. P tents pitched on the sand at the rear of the Commissariat building. The construction of five lines of twenty room blocks were partly finished and so soon as a block had been plastered expatriates were moved in as soon as the plaster had set (not fully dried out) set sufficiently to allow a person to move in. As the air conditioners had not been installed the plaster dried quickly with opened windows, which did not leave much chance of security during the day when one was at work. But this did not prove a hazard as the first few years in Qatar crime – stealing was no problem. It did arise later when the work force was expanded to include many foreign gulf “locals” – the early work force Qatari, Indian, Pakistani, Beluchi was honest and respectful and happy too.
The next morning Harold advised me to call at the Camp Boss’s office and get any kit I required.
“Go along and see Peter Brown-Greaves, he’ll fix you up, tell him who you are – but I’ll expect he’ll know, he has a list”.
So off I pop to the Camp Office and expect to meet the Camp Boss, Monty Bartlett. I did. But he was not the camp boss he was Brown-Greaves’ assistant, dishing out blankets linen etc, just like an Army corporal or sergeant. I then realised the Camp Boss was the equivalent of a Services Quartermaster and not the manager of the whole show.
Within a couple of weeks I was given a room of my own, I was offered a room in the first new block to be completed. The plaster was not dry but I moved in. In that climate, 800 in the shade even in March – it would dry almost overnight. It had an air conditioner yet the ablution arrangements where still barrack style – a centre block- one had to walk out and on to the desert sand thirty yards towards the ablution block. The loos did have short doors but the showers were in an open row. One revealed all. Just like the service.
Within a year I was promoted to the senior block, a similar sized room but with a connected bathroom. Much nicer and we had our own small dining room, I was able to eat demurely in comfort for the first few months until I found my feet and expanded into the conversation.
We fed in a large mess hall seating about a hundred staff employees aptly called the hundred-man mess. Three months later by popular vote I was made Mess President. Being appointed President of the hundred-man mess, which provided food for the hundred men in rooms of this barrack style area, was no joke. The Americans had their own mess tables at one end of the large hall. I had little in fact no trouble with them they treated with the cooks as and when they desired any changes…they were a law unto themselves and this was in place before I was appointed Mess President. I had trouble with jumped up mechanical digger drivers and the like who had never had it so good and lost their heads when dealing with Indian waiters who could not quickly respond to their bad tempered changes of mood or taste of food.
One bastard English driver from Lancashire sent over a plate of excellent curry telling the poor half scared waiter to ask me as the Mess President if I expected him to eat “this shit…. ” I told the waiter to reply (I rehearsed him three times to the amusement of my table): “Tell Mr. Bloggs he is not expected to eat shit, we don’t cook it, it is not on the menu, he can choose another dish of the many on the menu… if he can’t tell shit from good curry he should not order it.
One had to deal with all sorts in the early days of the oil company.
Back in the office on my second day I sat with Harold Jolly the Chief Accountant. He briefed me somewhat rapidly – in several phases in fact, because he kept being interrupted by the Fields Manager, ‘Boots’ Langham, the real boss of the camp, by title anyway, for I was soon to learn that all the interruptions by Boots were pleas for help.
Boots, (he wore cowboy boots), an American, knew a great deal about drilling for oil and managing men but he knew very little of the Company structure or methods and procedures. Harold being an old hand, he had been with Iraq Petroleum Company in Haifa and in Iraq since 1927 knew his way around the company procedures and counselled the Fields Manager when asked and sometimes when not. Later I was to see him fly across the narrow corridor and storm into the F. M’s office and advise him very strongly to retrieve, if it was not too late a certain cable, which was addressed to London. It was still lying in the Wireless Office being set up when stopped. Re-drafted by Harold signed and sent off by ‘Boots’ with sincere thanks to Harold for having saved him an embarrassing boob. They worked as a team in fact, the first few years were quietly overseen by the chief accountant acting as a procedures guru for the Fields Manager.
Before my arrival the work of paying the labour force had been done by Mr. Seth an elderly Indian, who was soon to retire and was eager to be on his way. Seth was Harold’s chief clerk and indeed his right hand – they had been together since they started in the Company in 1927. He had coped with the initial number of employees but now the company was expanding there would soon be thousands on the payroll and they had recruited me.
Tussler, I don’t think I ever heard his first name, he was invariably called “Tuss” showed me very briefly the Pay Accounts system, but it was Seth, Harold’s right hand man who showed me over the pay accounts section. Seth, Mr. Seth, we called him out of courtesy, an Indian who had been with I. P. C. in Iraq and Haifa was nearing the end of his career. He was ready and anxious to retire to India. A kindly man, yet from the clipped, precise English he spoke one may have misunderstood that he was perhaps being patronising. It was not so, he knew the whole of the accounting system so well he could have run the company himself. Yet, under the system still based on colonial style he was listed as “monthly rate staff”. The British, European and American staff were all listed as “covenanted” on yearly contracts.
A simple effective system when used in a small oil operation. It could be used with employees who could neither read nor write.I took over some eighteen clerks who were soon timekeeping and writing payrolls for more than three thousand employees. A basic system was in use as had been used for years in the Company in Iraq. Employees were paid monthly. They were checked on site or in the workshops. When first taken on each employee was issued with a heavy brass disc one inch and half in diameter inscribed with the legend P. D. Q. and a number. Each disc numbered from one to three thousand five hundred had duplicates that were kept in trays in a huge safe. When the timesheets had been calculated and agreed with the payrolls pay packets were written out and filled with the correct amount and the duplicate brass disc placed in the packet, sealed and only handed over upon presentation of the correctly numbered disc, and when checked by name and number with the employee to the satisfaction of the senior clerk paying out.
The second day that I was in the office Harold called by and said:
“I don’t want you to get lost in the office routine yet, Seth can manage on his own, you take a few days away from the office. Take ten if you need ’em, go round and meet all the heads of departments and find out how things work in the departments. I’ve told them you’re calling in to see them. Now off you go, I suggest you call on Bill Stiff first, see how you get on with him. He’s expecting you. I told him in the mess at breakfast.”
It should be mentioned here that the senior executives lived and messed in the old quarters, some fourteen rooms complete with attached bathrooms.
Brilliant! A most sensible boss. I had to meet introduce myself and discuss with complete strangers and get to know the rudimental working practices of their department. This meant they could assess me and I them, and I could learn much from their presentation and the amount of interest they showed in the timekeeping of their labour.
Bill Stiff the senior mechanical engineer was easy to get along with. We went through the workshops, met his staff and went back to his office. But Bill soon ran out of steam, he was not used to explaining his works practices to an accountant. I had the feeling that he likened it to a little inquisition that may have been the result of my intense interest and desire to learn. He called in his head foreman and asked him to talk to me. Ted Bartle was an easy and forthright Lancashire chap. He explained his costing system by showing me a scrapbook with the jobs written down against which time was allocated as and when he found time and thought fit to charge out a portion of the workshop hours.
There was obviously a need here for a workshop cost clerk with a proper costing system. I mentioned nothing at the time but made notes for the report I was to write. After my further meetings most of which were affable with only one departmental head abrasive and uncooperative I realised with the recommendations I was going to make, more clerks would be needed. Harold read my report without appearing to show any interest. I thought I had “blown it”. May be he thought I was being too clever by half; it was his system I was criticising. Three days later he congratulated me, in his own way, for he never was one to praise. He told me this was exactly what he wanted but had never had time or any one to do it. He liked my new drafts for timesheets and costing procedures and that he asked our recruiting office in Bahrain to send to B. P. India to engage four more clerks.
The next year was spent reorganising the timekeeping and payroll methods and putting in place checks and balances necessary when dealing with large sums of cash. One of the main problems was to persuade our London office that we really and most urgently needed at least ten adding and listing machines specially adapted for rupees and annas, the currency in which we had then to maintain the pay accounts. I could not expect the payroll clerks to work so late into the night especially as I was not allowed to pay them any overtime. After one years delay, during which time the clerks worked till midnight at the month end, the machines arrived. Even then I had to fight off other accounts sections that tried to muscle in on this special indent.
Whilst the drillers were feverishly busy spudding in wells and bringing them in at about six thousand feet the engineering department had been busy connecting up small bore collecting pipes from the well sites to the holding tanks and degassing station which was being built by contractors on a suitable jebal to the north of the camp in Dukhan.
Motherwell Bridge Company had formed a local partnership with Emile Bustani’s Contracting and Trading Company to build the tanks at Dukhan and pipelines across the peninsular to the tank farm at Umm Said, which was to be the terminal for loading oil on to tankers. This was a major undertaking and had to be completed on a tight schedule. “Tanky” Anderson the manager of MotherCat as the new company was called engaged eighteen Palestinian and Lebanese experienced welders who were flown down from Beirut.
Their arrival caused quite a stir. The plane in which they travelled landed on a rough patch of desert behind the industrial camp. The pilot was astounded he had missed the airstrip some three miles away to the south of the camp. He had to figure out exactly how he was going to take off on a patch of ground that was solid in parts and ten inches deep in fine sand in others. He walked the distance they had travelled coming in, made up his mind he could possibly take off in such a short run and having manoeuvred the plane around, set her on full throttle, and bounced the plane into the air and away to the proper landing strip. The welders knew or cared little about the drama; perhaps they thought it an every day occurrence in the desert. They were put to work almost at once. It was to be a very tight schedule to build the tanks and pipeline.
The arrival of the Lebanese and Palestinians who were on a high rate of pay caused me to review the payroll methods and practices. I spent some time on analysis and eventually presented a review to the Chief Accountant with my recommendations. These entailed suggestions for streamlining the numerous categories and ways of levelling out pay and allowances, the way some employees were charged for food, some who received it free, some who were given a food allowance, without losing sight of the special duties and need for overtime for some of the expatriate employees. I felt the need to bring to the notice of Personnel the pay differential between a local Qatari and an employee on similar duties brought from Bahrain or elsewhere and other such anomalies.
The Chief read the review, mumbled:
“Not bad, quite comprehensive but you shouldn’t be taking up your time doing this – it’s a personnel job, except there is no one in that department to do it.”
He said he would hand it to them to see what they made of it. Soon after a senior personnel officer was posted from London to take over. I don’t know what became of my review – but I do know some of the elements were brought into practice – particularly the food charges – but these had not been thought through. My review, based on facts, needed much discussion to see how those facts could best be brought into line without causing too much disruption. I don’t think this was done because within no time several disruptive strikes were caused.
About this time it was decided a new office block would be built. One end would contain the drawing office and the other half the Employment Office with a large office for the pay staff and the Pay Accountant. A large safe ordered from the U.K. had arrived. It weighed several tons.
The foundations of the office block were being started. I mentioned the matter of the safe to the clerk of works and suggested it be put on site and the office built round it. This was thought somewhat crazy so I kept my counsel. When the office block was completed they remembered the safe. A large part of the roof over my section of the pay office was removed and the only crane available, the rest being on urgent call building the tank farm, was brought along with the lorry that delivered the safe. The crane had coped with the lift on to the lorry but when they attempted to lift it as high as the roofline the safe and the crane crashed into the road. The right hand door handle was crushed to the door and had to be repaired in workshop. The braise weld was solid but imperfect and I had to look at a bent lever handle on an expensive safe for many years. The clever clerk of works then had a large part of the outer wall removed and the safe was slid into place, the resultant pile of rubble was rebuilt.
This safe held all the Company money. At the time there were no banking facilities in Qatar. The merchants and pearl dealers acted as the ‘money men’. Before the advent of the oil company there was little need for cash to be used by the average Qatari worker, for most of them were either labourers, seamen or divers likely to be in debt to their employer, or owner. Around 1950 the World Convention of anti-slavery caused the release of about one hundred slaves in Qatar, about half who at that time worked for the company, were paid the full rate, and unbeknown to us handed over the larger part of their wages to their masters. There was no Bank in Qatar until the Eastern Bank came in 1953, and even then it was operated on a simple scale by one man in a local Arab style house near the Company house in Doha. John Lawrence and his wife and tiny baby lived there and one room was used for what little business there was at that time. I was still obtaining money each month from the Eastern Bank in Bahrain. We considered it was simpler all round if the money was brought direct from Manama than it be sent to Doha and we collected it from Doha. My collection method was more secure and less hassle for Eastern Bank. I put a little business in John’s way by persuading a large percentage of the Qataris and other daily rate employees to switch their saving/deposit accounts from my care in the Company to the Eastern Bank. Not all would do so, they thought the Company safer than the bank.
All monies had to fetched from Bahrain. Near the end of each month a list of cash requirements was prepared, the larger part being for the monthly and daily rate payrolls. Until we were favoured with our own air-transport supplied by Airworks Ltd., the money had to be carried by sea.
The ‘money run’ usually took place on the last Thursday or Friday of each month. This worked out well, for after several runs I had made friends with expatriate staff members of the Bahrain Petroleum Company at Awali. Every Thursday evening winter and summer a dance was held on the terrace of the Awali Club to which all the female staff attended. As Friday was a holiday, the Moslem holy day, one was free until Saturday morning. The commissariat department laid on a lunch box and an icebox for the passengers, some months it may have been only me, for in those early days Bahrain had not become a weekend attraction it was later to be. The two company launches ‘Ghazal’ and ‘Shahin’ were usually out of commission (needed for a fishing trip by the F. M. or one of the senior staff) so one of the hired dhows on permanent contract and fitted with water tanks awaited at Zikrit. The sea voyage from Zikrit to Sitra in Bahrain took between six and eight hours depending on the weather. The communications department in P. C. L. Bahrain had word of our departure and the Office had a limousine waiting to take me to the Guest House. The first two months I was expected to stay in the barrack type accommodation on Murrahaq Airport until I revolted and then I was lodged at the General Manager’s large flat above the Offices, part of the buildings forming the Archway or “Bab Bahrain”.
The Chief Accountant had given me a note of introduction to the Manager of P. C. L. and warned that Basil Lermitte was an old hand and even by oil company standard considered to be a bit of an odd chap. He seldom spoke to one. In fact on several occasions I sat in his office without either of us speaking after the first few words of desultory greeting and waited to see which one of us broke the silence. Basil enjoyed his position as Manager P. C. L. and was all too aware the opening up of Qatar would overshadow his fiefdom in Bahrain. In the end it did, but this was to be several years hence.
Depending on my time of arrival on the Thursday I would drive to the Eastern Bank in Manama and arrange for the denomination make-up of the amount of cash to be drawn on the following Saturday. I had two large square sacks made of heavy sailcloth fitted with substantial brass eyelets. The sack measuring about two feet square and two feet high held the bundles of notes and the several bags of coins. I invariably took with me one of the accounts clerks to assist checking the cash collected and to place the rope placed through the eyelets after which a bank clerk sealed the rope ends and in various other places which took his fancy with whacking great blobs of red wax indented with the bank seal.
On return to the office, having had been assured by telephone that the nokhudah of the dhow was ready to sail, the money sack and I were transported to Sitra jetty in the office limousine. The sack never left my presence, sometimes I even sat on it as it made a comfortable seat. During my absence from Qatar the head clerk had been busy driving the overworked Indian timekeepers and particularly the pay clerks to a frenzy of activity, agreeing the timesheets and payrolls and writing out the pay packets.
Without the dedication and discipline of the Indian and Pakistani clerks the monthly pay out would never have been accomplished as it was. Having previously worked for three years in Bengal and Delhi with Indian clerks on similar work I was able to put my trust in them and let them get on with the job. During the middle of each month I would spend some time auditing random samples of the payrolls; the unclaimed wages list although written by the head clerk was kept under my control.
Of course being energetic, enthusiastic and eager to see as much as possible of the organisation I went on many of the trips to outlying locations in a large ex W. D. Humber Staff Wagon, complete with driver, sometime a Qatari, sometime a young Hadramauti, a Bedouin guard who brought along his locally made rifle the stock wrapped with silver wire anchoring a five foot length of pipe for a barrel which often ripped through the ceiling cloth of the wagon, a pay clerk or timekeeper according to the location, and the farrash to carry the box. The key to the heavy steel pay box pressed heavily in my shirt pocket. God knows how many times I checked to see if it was still there for the first few months until I gained a blasé attitude.
The monthly voyage by sailing dhow and the opportunity to explore Bahrain were a welcome break to the continued activity and application the job demanded. By 1949 the airstrip just south of Dukhan was brought up to serviceable use and a small hut and control tower erected. The first aircraft to be used was a De Havilland Rapide. A tight five-seater bi-plane, built on a wooden airframe covered in dope canvas and powered with twin radial engines. A gallant little plane that flew at a ceiling of just over four thousand feet, giving one a truly real sensation of flying. I flew in Rapides for several years until Airworks introduced a six seater De Havilland Dove a more modern aircraft and much faster.
The flights between Bahrain and Qatar were a delight and usually without incident except in December 1950 just before New Year. The Rapide arrived from Bahrain and I dashed out to the airstrip to find a patient on a stretcher being loaded on to the aircraft. It was a tight fit with the stretchered patient, a medical orderly and me. We took off and made poor height when taking off. The plane seemed to be straining to climb whilst flying over Zikrit. As we reached the coastline of Qatar the starboard engine blew up in pieces. The Rapide shuddered and the pilot made a wide detour on one engine and slowly, oh, so slowly using the one engine sparingly glided back in over the airstrip. As he gained control of the aircraft he opened a tiny connecting door between cockpit and cabin and told us to keep calm, make sure our seat belts were very tight and we would make a glide-in landing. Which we did, quite smoothly. It was afternoon before a launch was commissioned to take us and the pilot to Bahrain and nightfall when we arrived.
No matter how secret we tried to keep the “pay-run” into Qatar it was obvious to the lowest paid “coolie” – a word we were foresworn not to use yet it crept in, that the sack on which I sat either on the dhow or closely followed when coming off the airplane was full of money. Thus I was dubbed with the title “Abu Floos” – father of the money.
The weekends spent at Awali were possible only because a young English engineer I met in Jashanmals – the local Indian/Pakistani store of quality – who held a post in the communications department of the Bahrain Petroleum Company, offered me a free bed in his accommodation at Awali one weekend that we became friends and I stayed there almost all weekends for the first two years I went over on the cash run. Thus I was able to meet many of the nurses and thoroughly enjoy the Thursday night dances and the Friday carefree mornings roaming from bungalow to bungalow, meeting all manner of types of people. Peter married just before me and he and his wife visited us several times in Dukhan even though the arrangement were cumbersome, application for entry into Qatar and even into the camp area having to be made before each visit.
Sometimes I would spend the Fridays in Bahrain travelling around, managing to borrow the staff Humber and myself paying special overtime to the driver, Jaffar. One day Jaffar insisted on taking me to see the Portuguese Fort a fairly well preserved ruin. In one section we were ankle deep in shards of old Portuguese pottery. I rue the day I felt timid at picking up a few rare pieces. We continued on around the fort and out on to the Awali road weaving in and around many old kilns used for the manufacture of “juss” – lime. Hidden amongst the kilns were old ruins which Jaffa described at length – in a mixture of Bahrain Arabic/Farsi which I failed fully to appreciate until several years later when I read Jeffrey Bibby’s erudite book “Dilmun”, the history of the burial mounds of Bahrain.
I learnt a great deal of the life of Bahrain citizens by visits and calls on merchants and private houses. In the early years ’48 – ’51 there was only one hotel in Manama and nothing at Maharraq. Speedbird House built in the old Arab style was the only respectable hotel used by Europeans and most of them were the passengers or crew of B. O. A. C.
Manama town was limited to the few main streets of shops which were shuttered at dusk and then became deserted excepted for the watchmen patrolling with their primitive “bundhooks” or old rifles left over from World war one. Behind this facade deeper into the suq I was told by one old prosperous merchant that there were brothels of the worst type and down on the shore hidden in a maze of barasti huts were male brothels mixed in with the ordinary dwellings of fisher folk. I learnt also of wild parties given by Sheikhs and wealthy merchants, none of which I was privy to experience. A similar situation was said to exist in Doha but I was too busy with my social life to investigate or bother with looking into this except on one occasion when some junior members of the Darwish clan invited me to a party which revolved around booze and suggested sleazy sex, which I declined having the sense to make myself scarce when I realised the consequences that could arise. From all the stories I was told Doha and Bahrain had a hidden undercurrent of low life that only Burton could have given credence in describing.
By now the monthly pay parades held around the second and third of each month were becoming hectic. When the new office was built I had heavy mild steel barriers erected to control the crush of employees. To some it became a monthly fete. I would sit in my office and observe the head clerk check the brass tally handed in by the employee with the number on the sealed envelope containing his wages due and a twin brass tally of the number handed in. The clerk at the pay window would then ask the employee his name, which was written on the envelope to ensure the right man had the correct packet. Sometimes there would be a hiatus. The clerk would yell “isma kay?” in Indian Arabic.” What’s your name?” The old Qatari, for it was inevitably an older unsure labourer who had his head stuck inside the pay window muttering some odd name, changing it as he attempted to placate the yelling clerk. The head clerk would take charge, he took the envelope from the clerk and told the disgruntled labourer to come around to my office. After a short, though sometimes long, post mortem the matter would be resolved either by getting his record file to support his claim or finding he was the father or uncle of the employee who was not available having gone walkabout or for various reasons could not attend to collect his pay. If in any doubt my verdict was “Put it in Unclaimed Wages”.
As the workload began to extend to out lying locations the money was taken across the desert by car. The early days in P. D. Q. were somewhat unorganised; one could get away with much if one had the push to do so. That is how I first obtained my allocation of a Humber Snipe. I walked into the Traffic Office then run by a charming chap ex R. A. F. In my best service manner I announced my self the new Paymaster, it had more clout than accountant, and asked for a saloon car suitable for sustained desert trips. I got one until the Chief Engineer some months later took a fancy to it. I was allocated a large Humber Snipe saloon, but the Chief Engineer who had a large Humber Station Wagon, an ex W. D. (or Air Force) war surplus obtained from Basra at the end of the war, as was most of the transport, had the idea he would like the Snipe saloon, needless to say I was re-allocated the Station Wagon which was a little worse for wear but which actually suited the purpose better. When taking off on a desert ‘safari’ a driver was allocated, usually a young man from the Hadramout southern Arabia, a Yemeni guard complete with ‘bund-hook’, a local rifle with long pipe barrel decorated with silver wire similar to the Afghan style, which poked the roof lining from the wagon on the first journey. I sat next to the driver and invariably took over the wheel soon after leaving camp. A pay clerk, I took who ever was available or who volunteered, sat in the middle seat with the farrash (who insisted on coming) and sometimes the guard, although usually the clerk and the farrash colluded to get him to sit in the back with the steel pay chest.
Depending on the length of the journey we would stay over night either at Umm Said, when it had eventually been constructed sufficiently to accommodate odd callers like us or at the Company house in Doha where in the early days an ex R. A. F. mechanic presided, the idea being he would make sure the huge red and gold painted fly wheel of the Ruston diesel engine constantly turn, ensuring electricity for the Company house and the Palace and inevitably, by insinuation the Darwish brother’s compound. But he was somewhat superfluous as Abdullah Marafi a middle aged Qatari was devoted to keeping the engine in shape. It was his ‘baby’ for years until the retired as the oldest time serving employee. At the end of 1948 Edward Tirbutt an ex T. J. F. F. – Glubb’s Army officer was sent to take over. He arrived there with no title.
Ted Tirbutt took over the Doha house and soon became au fait with the dignitaries of Doha. One evening sharing a case of beer I had brought with me, he complained the head office in Dukhan addressed him as “I/C Company Rest House, Doha”. What sort of a title was that?” I commiserated, saying I would address my correspondence with him as “Company Representative, Doha.” and continue to use that title in conversation with H. Q. staff. Whether that helped I know not yet within weeks it took hold and was eventually published by company notice. Ted enjoyed his time in Doha and he soon rose in the Company in keeping with his abilities.
The pipeline was beginning to snake it’s way across the peninsular from the degassing station tanks on jebal Dukhan following the road to the airstrip on to Umm Bab turning south in the direction of Umm Said, where a camp and workshop area would be set up to service the Oil Terminal and eventually act as support for the new oilfield at Jebal Ali due south in the Sheikdom of Abu Dhabi.
These were pioneering days, each day offering at least a new adventure no matter how small. One day, having reached Doha, Saleh Mattar my farrash kept on nagging me to move on as he had a slight detour to make which he was sure I would approve as he wanted me to meet his family. I had a lot of time for Saleh for he could sort matters out at pay parades and was respected by all Qataris. We left Doha in early afternoon and continued north on the south coast of Qatar to the village of Khor, Saleh’s birthplace. Having been in Qatar for about a year I did not know any of that part of the peninsular. I had to trust Saleh to know where we were going. He did know but it was a heck of a long way.
There were no made up roads in Qatar other than the ones the Company had made by grading and oiling. Satisfactory in the short term, they extended only as far as the Company’s activities grew. Elsewhere only camel tracks – these worn down and often too rutted to use by the dozen or so vehicles owned by the Sheikhs and a few merchants. The track to Khor, the one followed by Saleh was awful. He expected the huge Humber saloon to travel over small sand dunes and tufted hillocks. The journey a distance if about thirteen miles took almost three hours, even Saleh grew apprehensive particularly as the latter half of the journey was made in the dark.
He wanted me to stay for a meal and I suppose, sleep overnight so that he could spend some time with his wife and family. Much as I would wished to have done I could not, as the Traffic Section in Dukhan would by now have reported us overdue and may already have sent out a search party. After taking light refreshment. I was hungry and enjoyed the custard and vermicelli that was rustled up at such short notice. We arrived in Dukhan just before midnight having followed the main track from Khor to the out skirts of Doha and taken the fairly well defined track from there to Dukhan. I implored all the passengers to keep quiet about our trip to Khor. Joe Halford was actually waiting for our arrival in the Traffic office and said his two rescue trucks had returned long ago reporting no trace. I am not so sure he believed my story of being bogged down in a sand drift half way across the desert.
Note on transport
Transport – what chance would I get to obtain or be allocated transport? In the first months I was given a Humber saloon for my journeys across the desert to the site of the new construction of the pipeline terminal and into Doha. As I carried cash, a Bedouin guard, a clerk, a farrash and a driver formed my circus party. It didn’t require much persuasion for the driver, usually one of the young Arabs from Salalah in the Hadraumat to hand over the wheel. The Humber saloon next changed to a Humber station wagon with huge balloon tyres, ex W. D. war surplus from Basra. When this wore out due to lack of replacement parts I was allocated a Jeep.
In 1948 there were only a few miles of “oiled” roads, made by levelling a track with a blade grader, pouring on tanker loads of crude oil, allowing it to soak in, then leaving the heavy lorries and traffic to squelch it into a semblance of a “tarred” road. The Oil Company made the only roads for some years until the State infrastructure developed and took over. Until this happened we travelled across unmade desert tracks and had much fun avoiding bog downs and much sweat when we didn’t.
The Morris 12 H. P. Coupe
Early in 1950 I returned to the U.K. on leave. We still called it leave. Conditions of service were civilian but very much in the Armed Forces pattern. Because I suppose most of the new comers were ex services personnel. I had three months leave and in my part of the country cars were not for hire so soon after the war. I went to a car auction and bought what, to me, seemed to be the most suitable and re-saleable car – a Morris 12 H.P. Coupe. It was mechanically imperfect. Not so bad that it wasn’t roadworthy, but not so good to give one great confidence in reaching one’s destination. This added to the fun and adventure that was part of the motoring scene in those times. The car was old and tired. I remember we had the habit, I say we, because reminiscing with my friends they can recall doing the same thing – we would ‘urge’ the engine along when it faltered on a steep hill by lunging backwards and forwards trying to press down and pull up the steering wheel. A carry-over habit from the old horse and carriage days no doubt!