x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Pictures of UAE's past found lying in an attic

Neville Ryton, a corporal who served the British Army in Trucial States, has uncovered a series of slides showing the emirates as they were in the 60s.

Abu Dhabi beach, 1968, showing the highway that ended abruptly in the desert, top centre, and Qasr Al Hosn, middle right. Courtesy of Neville Ryton
Abu Dhabi beach, 1968, showing the highway that ended abruptly in the desert, top centre, and Qasr Al Hosn, middle right. Courtesy of Neville Ryton

DUBAI // A collection of colour photos showing the emirates in the mid-1960s has emerged after lying forgotten in an attic for decades.

The previously unpublished pictures were taken by Neville Ryton, 67, who served with the British Army Air Corps in Sharjah in 1967 and 1968.

The 35mm transparencies were taken a few years before the formation of the UAE and just prior to the start of the oil-fuelled development boom that transformed them beyond all recognition.

They include rare shots of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah taken from the air.

"Looking at Google Earth recently, I was amazed at the difference," Mr Ryton said from his home in the UK.

It was a story in The National, illustrated by a photo of the approach to Sharjah's pier, that prompted him to retrieve the images from his attic.

"On the web, quite by chance, I found an article in The National about archaeological interest in Sharjah with a photo," he said. "I thought, 'I've got a picture somewhere of almost the same spot, taken 40-odd years ago'.

"There wasn't a lot to Sharjah then, a small town, a long jetty with a small oil terminal and a Royal Air Force base. We used to spend a lot of off-duty hours wandering around, enjoying cups of local tea and cakes. We used to go fishing from the jetty ... magic place.

"Dubai was our nearest, and only, local town, in the relaxation sense. It was only a relatively short taxi ride away. Once there, we had the choice of exploring the town or going to the British Club."

Mr Ryton recalls travelling to Abu Dhabi for a Christmas rest-and-recreation break in 1967.

"A party of us - including an officer, to keep an eye on us - piled into a Land Rover and drove over what was then desert for R and R," he said. "We slept under the stars, including Sir, eating army compo rations on the beach, spending Christmas and Boxing Day just swimming.

"There were miles of unspoilt beach, populated only by four soldiers and a Land Rover."

The dozens of photos include shots of dhows moored at Dubai Creek, offshore oil platforms, souqs, mosques, aircraft, date farms shot from the air and coastal and mountain views. One shows guards outside a bank in Dubai.

"They invited us to have some tea with them, which we gratefully accepted," said Mr Ryton. "We spent ages with them.

"They didn't speak any English and we only knew a couple of words in Arabic - and that was to make a camel move and ask for tea.

"It didn't matter, we got on without problems."

The colours of some of the slides have faded because of the instability of the film dyes used, making the images appear blue.

Mr Ryton, who served in Aden as well as the emirates, was a corporal who worked as an air observer, aircraft handler, radio operator and air gunner. One of the photos shows him in his airman's overalls standing in front of a De Havilland Beaver aircraft on the Sharjah airstrip before the start of a mission.

"I flew all over the Emirates, from Ras Al Khaimah in the north, Fujairah in the east to Liwa in the south - and most of the bits in between - during my 12 months in the Gulf," he said.

He returned home to the UK in August 1968 and, after leaving the army in 1972, became first a policeman and then a paramedic.

He never lost his interest in the region, despite the many years that have passed since he left. "One day, oh one day, I'll get back to the part of the world I really love," he said.