10th November 2005: "Out and About with the Military in Saudi Arabia" – Lecture given to the Saudi–British Society by Brig. Nicholas Cocking.
Brigadier Nick Cocking spoke about his time in Arabia between 1960 and 1991. It all started with his volunteering to join the now defunct Trucial Oman Scouts, following a colloquial course in Arabic at the Army Language School in Aden. Life in those days in the Arabian Peninsula was very basic and in many parts medieval. There were, for instance, no tarmac or blacktop roads in the Trucial States for roads or airstrips. Abu Dhabi ‘town’ was little more than a fishing village and the causeway linking it to the mainland was submerged whenever the Shemal blew. The Scouts kept the Pax Britannica in the region and settled minor territorial disputes among neighbours. There we camel patrols into the Liwa Sands to check for any incursions from Saudi Arabia and also garrison duties in Buraimi Oasis. Nick reminded us of the first Iraqi threat against Kuwait in 1961.
18 months later he was back in the Arabian Peninsula with the British Army and his own 4th Royal Tank Regiment, who were in fact mounted in armoured cars in the armoured reconnaissance role. The Regiment was intially deployed with one squadron in Sharjah, one up country in the Aden Protectorate and one with the Regimental Headquarters in Little Aden. This was the time of Nasserite subversion, through principally the NLF, and the announcement of the forthcoming British withdrawal. THe Regiment was closely involved in the Radfan campaign, winning one MC, one MM and several mentions in despatches.
In 1964 the Regiment moved on to the Far East where they were immediately deployed in the Indonesian Confrontation Campaign. Nick Cocking remained as Adjutant and went with them.
Arabia was not to see Nick again until 1970 when he returned as the Staff Intelligence Officer at HQ British Forces Gulf. This was again a time of much activity as Nick not only had responsibility for the lower Gulf including his old stamping ground but was also required to keep an overview on the growing number of Palestinian terror groups. HMG was by this time set on withdrawal from the Gulf and the clock was ticking. Nick spoke of Op Breakfast which received virtually no press coverage in those days, but involved a Frigate, two mine sweepers, a Special Boat Section RM, one infantry battalion, two squadrons of TOS, elements of the SAS, the whole with support from the RAF. No embedded reporters and the better for it!
It was to be 12 years before NIck returned to Arabia, this time as Commander of the British Military Mission to the Saudi Arabian National Guard. He remained with the Guard for seven years before finally retiring from the Army in 1992. He spoke fondly of his time in Saudi Arabia and of developments in the Guard including their decisive action during the Iranian inspired riot during the Haj. He concluded with tales of the Kuwait Liberation War and the part played by the Guard in the defeat of the Iraqis at Khafji.
In summary he reflected that the changes that had taken place within Arabia during his lifetime and the remarkable developments that the society had experienced and absorbed. He felt that in so many ways the Arab peoples of the Peninsula had managed to cover the equivalent of 400 years of European progress in 50. Something to ponder in these troubled times.
Nick Cocking still retains his links with Saudi Arabia and travels there several times a year to consult with his Saudi partners.
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