An Element of Luck: To South Arabia and Return
by Michael Crouch, with a foreword by General Sir Charles Guthrie
Revised second edition. Rawlhouse Publishing Ltd, Western Australia, 2000. Pp. 281. Illus. Appendix. Index. Pb. ISBN 0 95874064 X.
This is a revised and updated edition of his book first published by the Radcliffe Press in 1993 and briefly reviewed in the November 1994 issue of this Journal. I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading what is basically an autobiography heavily weighted towards the author’s time in South Arabia from 1958 until just before British withdrawal in 1967.
It is clear that Michael Crouch disagreed strongly with British policy towards the ill-fated South Arabian Federation and has strong views as to why it was such a spectacular failure. He also felt (and expresses) a lack of empathy towards a number of his erstwhile colleagues - especially some of those in senior positions within the establishment primarily concerned with managing the affairs of the Western Aden Protectorate (WAP). I could take issue with some of his sentiments, but I prefer to see the book as a highly readable account of an adventurous life in a service struggling to do its best in very trying circumstances. The atmospherics are authentic, and he records the minutiae of daily life in both Protectorates and in Aden colony, where he had a brief sojourn in the Secretariat. Often exciting and frequently dangerous, life for the up-country political officer was always challenging against the background of a deteriorating situation as the Federation lurched towards inevitable extinction. Down country was exciting enough too. There is a vivid account of a bazooka attack on the Crouches’ house (with his wife Lynette and baby Charles in residence) in Al-Ittihad, the Federal capital, now Madinat al-Sha’ab; they escaped with their lives but it must have been a horrific experience.
The last chapter brings his story up to date with accounts of his return toYemen in 1993 and of his visits since, including an (amiable) encounter with a former would-be assassin. An appendix contains a suggested itinerary for the modern traveller toYemen. There are many interesting illustrations with personal snapshots from the Crouch family album. A rattling good yarn and a book which stands on its own account while meriting the particular attention of anyone interested in the region during the last years of British involvement. The book is not widely available in UK but can easily be obtained from Amazon, the on-line book shop.