I first went to Qatar about the 3rd January 1950 starting at Blackbushe airport on a Dakota.
I went because my father had promised I could travel. I had been brought up with my parents always in Iraq, Palestine, China, Singapore, with me in England with my sister and grandparents. He told me it was probably not the best place to start, but I wanted to go, feeling I might not get another chance.
What a wonderful life it led me to.
He described Qatar as sand, sand and more sand! He had moved there in 1947 after living on Mount Carmel in what was then Palestine, having been moved to a lovely place because of living out the war in Iraq.
It took 3 days to get to Qatar. We first stopped in Malta overnight staying at the Phoenicia Hotel (still there); next day we flew on to Tripoli, Lebanon stayed overnight and meeting old friends of my father, then leaving the next day, joined by Donald and Diana Mckie with Amanda, their daughter. I played with Amanda and was known as ‘the Lady’ for many months afterwards. It was also the start of my friendship with them.
We came down in Kirkuk and I was taken off the plane for lunch. I was late back but the plane was held for “Mr Jolly’s daughter”. We continued to Basra and stayed overnight, leaving early for Bahrain where the Mckies left. He was to manage the QPC guest house there. We arrived in Dukhan where my father was waiting.
He took me to a large bungalow with 3 bedrooms where he lived with his 2nd wife Marie. He had married her about October 1949. He was 50 at the time.
The bungalow was one of 9 for management. Up on a hill were 10 small houses for other married staff, a large long building of single rooms and bathroom for bachelor staff with a large hall dining room. There were 2 tennis courts and a club house with a bar and billiard room. All houses etc. had individual air conditioners. There were about 150 – 200 bachelor staff – British and American – the latter drillers. In other parts of the camp were similar banks of bachelor quarters for Indian staff.
There was a large area with hard chairs and a large screen where about once a week films were shown. A commissariat to buy food and alcohol with whisky about 25p a bottle! Outside the camp was a 9 hole golf course lovingly organised by the golfers with oiled greens.
The roads were oil put on sand I learned to drive there – you learned to waltz a car!
About 2 – 3 miles down the road was Zekrit where a large boat was moored to go to and from Bahrain to pick up people and supplies. There was daily flight to and from Bahrain on Rapide aircraft and later Doves.
We (the women) were allowed a shopping trip once every month or 6 weeks, if you booked ahead and the planes were not in use for business. Otherwise we had what was known as the Darwish emporium, where anything and everything was brought over by dhow, by the Darwish family who owned it. The influential brother at that time was Abdullah Al Darwish Fakhroo; there was also a younger brother called Abdul Rahman who wanted to marry me and gave me the ruby and pearl heart which I wear.
There were about 15 married couples when I arrived, the bachelors and me.
I met Robert on the first night I was there. Part of his job was pay master and a great deal of cash had to be held for daily paid and monthly paid workers. He used to have to go to Bahrain every month to collect 30 lakhs of rupees which were piled in bags at the back of the Rapide and later the Dove. In the Rapide the heaviest passenger had to sit to keep the tail down!
Many times this was my father’s role which gave me the excuse to go to Bahrain. Being Robert’s boss, and the chief accountant at QPC, he could do almost anything he wished including keeping the tail of the aircraft down! After knowing him a while Robert asked my father’s permission to take me on one of his trips to Doha and the yet to be Umm Said (Mesaieed). This was part of his courtship although I was also playing the field with several other bachelors. He arranged for me to stay with the only married westerners in Doha – Philip and Zi Plant. He was British political agent in Doha and Ted Tirbutt the QPC rep was also there. That was it, no other westerners. Umm Said (Mesaieed) had about 20 bachelors in a bedroom block organising the building of housing and offices and the base to start building a deep water port. It took us about 2 – 3hours to get to Umm Said (Mesaieed) depending on the road and track which was sometimes just hard stony sand.
There was no road to Doha just tracks and sometimes Bedouin with camels. Doha was an Arab village with a souk the ruler’s palace and 2 or 3 larger houses made of mud / stones etc. The main source of income was pearl fishing and the dhows trading up and down the gulf.
The house I stayed in with the Plants had been made as comfortable as possible with mod cons arranged though how I have no idea! Ted’s small flat also. I think everything was courtesy of QPC and stuff flown in or brought by dhow from Bahrain which was very westernised.
Zi took me on my several visits to the palace to see the Sheikha Hassa the wife of the eldest son of the ruler. The palace is the Emiri which is now a museum, which I visited with Lizzie in 1989. The palace had a courtyard full of broken down cars, chickens and slaves. Later we went into a big room where a very plump lady in black abaya and batula greeted us – the Sheikha.
The batula is a leather mask across the eyes; the lower part of the face they drew the abaya across. She never took off the batula. We sat on the floor with a large brass tray of tinned peaches and pears and biscuits and small cups of very sweet tea. The Sheikha was about 23/4 and by then we were told she had had 10 children but 1 only lived.
She was very interested in talking and we managed to get by on broken Arabic and sign language the first time. The room had about 30 suitcases against one wall in which she had clothes and surprisingly some teaspoons which she got out for us. In the corner was a large Portuguese 4 poster bed, draped in purple hangings; the feet were in large fruit tins of oil and water to deter creepies.
On our 2nd or 3rd visit she became less shy and was very happy for me when several months later I told her I was to Robert. Her husband came in, he had some English, so we were able to gather that if strangers came to town they would watch them from the roof and she thought he looked nice. On this visit her husband went with us to the courtyard as we left. The ruler was there and when it was explained who I was he walked around me twice. When he was also told I was to marry your father whom he had met after circling me he said “zane, zane, zane” – good, good, good.
Another visit we noticed the bed had gone and the Sheika told us her husband had married again, so new wife got the bed. When we sympathised she waved it away, saying if he was in a bad mood she had someone else to send him to. When Liz and I visited the Emiri we went all through looking for the bed and it was in the last room we got to!
On another cold winter visit as I sat on the floor it was noticed I had on nylon stockings. The slaves pulled up my dress to see them and how they fitted and were fascinated, so next time I went I took the Sheika her first pair of nylons. The slaves were not freed in Qatar until about 1952 when the British government gave £4 million to free them. So the money was transferred and the slaves sent out of the houses and the palace and the doors locked for the night. When they were opened in the morning, they went right back in. Where were they to go? What were they going to do?
About the end of 1950, October maybe, the 3rd Brits arrived in Doha: Ron and Doreen Ross of the British Bank of the Middle East (BBME). They lived on the first floor of a 2 story house, the room like a railway carriage, about 20 feet long and 6 – 7 feet wide. They had 2 single iron beds, foot to foot, a small table facing them a small, an oil stove, fridge (gas?), 2 chairs, some lamps, an air conditioning unit in the wall and a couple of cupboards. The lower floor was to be the office. There were facilities for water and washing etc. somewhere but I cannot remember where, though I vividly remember the living quarters!
Ron and Doreen used to come over to Dukhan and use the showers, baths and commissariat for shopping until the first houses in Umm Said (Mesaieed) were built. I think they got one of those. Umm Said (Mesaieed) grew rapidly. The bank also grew and obviously a large client was QPC. I think Robert did not have so many journeys to Bahrain though he may mention this in his memoirs?
A word about the Darwish family then.
Abdullah was the merchant with great influence on the ruler. He spoke English and haggled money with the oil company about, among other things the daily paid local Arab workers living in barasti huts outside the main camp – several hundred across the peninsula. He also had the shop in Dukhan, a large house in Doha and dhows for pearling. He was even then a very wealthy man. He was also, according to my father, a consummate rogue!
His very good looking brother, Abdul Rahman, was being groomed for great things. Beautifully dressed with goodish English, he was as my father described, every girls dream of a romantic Arab sheikh; and he wanted an English wife!
I was shopping in the emporium, with a friend, and out came Abdullah who invited us for coffee. We refused saying my father needed me and my friend’s husband needed lunch. I reported this to my father who immediately told me never to accept and always say your father is strict and would not approve (very true and he knew the man). Abdullah knew who I was. Next time was similar, and, as I was with Diana Mckie we said hello and left to go to her house. We were obviously watched as shortly after a car came up with an invitation. Luckily Donald was at, home rang my father who said we could go if Donald came too and to be very tactful and cool.
We went down. Abdul Rahman was there. We had our coffee and left Abdullah’s face dropped when he saw Donald. The next time he was in the camp his car came to my father’s door with another invite. My father, by then, had given the instruction to the staff that that if the cars were to be seen visiting the camp he was to be informed and to me to always ring him if a car arrived at the door. The Cook was also told.
He then suggested Abdullah came to tea, but to tread carefully, as by that time Abdullah had been made prime minister. Abdullah arrived early and we phoned my father. He arrived in about 5 minutes from his office. Abdul Rahman also there. Abdullah was carrying a large rather grubby piece of cloth that they sat on the floor. We were on chairs – my father, Marie and me. After the tea drinking and biscuits he then opened the cloth and on it was a small mountain of pearls of all sizes and he ran his hands through them and down his arm. We admired them and, looking at my father and then me he said he also had diamonds and necklaces. We smiled. Then they left.
After this my father said that we were never to open the door or if caught to say we were in Bahrain.
Shortly after Robert proposed, visiting my father in the proper manner for permission to marry me. Otherwise I was to return to England, as my father swore there was no way he would countenance any Arab marriage, even if I had been interested, and, with me in England no diplomatic incident either!
Shortly after this a box was delivered from Abdul Rahman. In it was a pearl and sapphire bracelet which I still have. We saw Abdul Rahman only twice after that. When in Doha we were seen and went to dinner at the Darwish house. Robert was not with me but Bill and Mary, who I was visiting, were – they had the first house in Umm Said (Mesaieed). I told Bill to keep near me so he arranged that at dinner that I sat between him and Mary with Abdul Rahman on Bill’s left. As we ate delicious pieces were thrown on to my plate from Abdul Rahman’s. As we left, Bill behind me, I heard a sound. Apparently Abdul Rahman had pinched Bill’s bum!
The last time I saw him was in Umm Said (Mesaieed). We moved there and, shortly after Julie’s birth, a car swung into the drive. I rang your father and meantime let Abdul Rahman in. As your father walked in Abdul Rahman was putting a pearl and ruby heart around my neck. An Arab is insulted if you refuse his gift, but I always thought this was very personal. He never got his English wife though I understand he had other willing ladies.
When Tony and I were in Kuwait, we had friends from Qatar to stay and I was told he had asked about me and added that, if they told him I was in Kuwait he would probably come up in his private plane. By then he was going to London a lot and I picked up a copy of the Tatler once in a London hairdresser and there he was!
Your father told me he had died of cancer of the throat on one of your father’s later work contracts in Doha. The Darwish family are still in Doha, though I understand Abdullah got disgraced and left Qatar, or, maybe it was just a changing of the guard when another branch of the ruling family took over.