He recalled stories from his father, who would reminisce on his own experiences in the different theatres of operations he had served in during his own time in the services. These were almost invariably carried out after he had consumed large amounts of brandy and coke. They became known as ‘Tommy’s tours’ throughout the family, and became the highlight of many a Friday night. Richard called to mind his father’s story of serving in Aden in the 1960s and the hardships and adventures that went along with it.
The Aden Emergency was an insurgency against British Crown forces in what is now the Yemen. It lasted from 10 December 1963,when a ‘State of Emergency’ was declared until 30 November 1967, when British forces left. The emergency began when members of the National Liberation Front (NLF) carried out a grenade attack against the British High Commission. This attack killed one person, injured fifty, and caused the British Government to declare a State of Emergency. In January 1964, the British moved into the Radfan hills in the border region, to confront Egyptian-backed guerrillas, later reinforced by the NLF. This operation was code-named ‘Nutcracker.’ In April, a second operation called ‘Cap Badge’ had the overall political objective of reasserting Federal Authority and making the Dhala Road safe for traffic. By October the insurgents had largely been suppressed, and the NLF switched to grenade attacks against off-duty military personnel and police officers elsewhere in the Aden Colony. Amongst the forces sent there were Squadrons from the Yorkshire Dragoon Guards, including a certain Trooper Tommy Hunter. Although he came from a pit village in the mining area of the North East of England, he had chosen to join this Regiment, rather than a local one. The Squadrons quickly established bases in the Radfan, and proceeded to take the fight to the guerrillas. Living conditions were basic, to say the least, with most of the Troops living in makeshift tents. It was not all bombs and bullets, but often included long periods of inactivity. Richard would later find this to be the case in many hostile Theatres of Operations. To pass the time the Troops would do anything from carrying out scorpion fights to donkey racing. Tommy had even taken up learning the guitar to pass the time. It was on a day such as this, his father sat on a wall of sandbags and strummed his guitar. He had been playing for about five minutes when he heard a popping sound. Looking around, he thought it may have been someone trying to provide some percussion to his playing. There was no one in sight but he heard it again, this time like a muffled pop.
‘Incoming !’ came the cry, away to his left.
Tommy immediately flung himself to the ground behind the sandbag wall. He hastily donned his webbing pouches and grabbed his submachine gun (SMG), which was to hand at all times. Looking over the parapet, he observed a puff of smoke halfway up a mountain to the North East of their position. He quickly deduced that it was a mortar firing point and the crump of the explosions had begun to fall within the compound. Over to his immediate right from one of the makeshift tents, sprinted the hunched form of a man. Tommy immediately recognised him as Ray Blenkinsopp, Corporal of one of the Troops. He cut a path across the compound floor, varying his direction as he went. His goal, Tommy could see, was one of the Squadron’s ‘Saladin’ armoured cars, parked 100 metres in front of him. The mortar rounds continued to rain down and Tommy was transfixed at the sight of Ray, who had made it to the Saladin and had climbed inside the turret. This was his first real engagement and he had little idea of what he could do to assist. Within seconds, the 76mm gun of the Saladin was belching flame and rounds were being put down in the direction of the mortar firing point. It was not until afterwards, it came to light that Ray had been alone and had both loaded and fired the gun. This action was later recognised and Ray was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for his actions on that day. ‘When you join the Regiment, pick a person you consider to be the perfect soldier and try to be that man’ were the words his father told him after he had finished relating the story. With these words ringing in his ears, he heard the screech of the brakes as the car ground to a halt.