For­ever Kuwait

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE - Anne Al Bas­sam

Au­thor Anne Al Bas­sam, in to­day’s Af­ter If­tar, writes about Dame Vi­o­let Dick­son. Dame Vi­o­let was built on for­mi­da­ble lines and had a per­son­al­ity to

match.

Names can be de­cep­tive. When I first heard Vi­o­let Dick­son’s name men­tioned in con­ver­sa­tion, I en­vis­aged some­one small and slight. Noth­ing, how­ever, could have been fur­ther from the truth. She was built on for­mi­da­ble lines and had a per­son­al­ity to match.

Her hus­band, Harold, had been the Bri­tish Agent in Kuwait for many years. A flu­ent Ara­bist, it was part of his job, not only to visit the tribes of the desert but also to lis­ten to their wor­ries, re­solve dis­putes over tra­di­tional graz­ing rights and en­sure ac­cess to wa­ter wells for their flocks of sheep, goats and camels. His wife often ac­com­pa­nied him, tak­ing with her gifts of Ara­bic cof­fee, which was al­ways wel­come, as well as dress lengths of brightly pat­terned In­dian cot­ton for the ladies of the tribes. In 1934, the Dick­sons were the first oc­cu­pants of the present Bri­tish Em­bassy, then known as the Bri­tish Agency. They were only to live there for a year, how­ever, as Colonel Dick­son was due to re­tire from the Po­lit­i­cal Ser­vice in 1935.

The Dick­sons had lived in Kuwait for so long that re­turn­ing to Eng­land at their age was a some­what alarm­ing prospect. Events in Kuwait, how­ever, were to re­lieve them of their wor­ries. Seep­ages of crude oil in the south­ern desert had at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Bri­tish Petroleum. With his knowl­edge of Ara­bic and his con­tact with Sheikh Ahmed, Colonel Dick­son was promptly of­fered a post as Li­ai­son Of­fi­cer be­tween the newly es­tab­lished Kuwait Oil Com­pany and the Bri­tish Agency. Need­less to say, he jumped at the chance and, once more, he and his wife, Vi­o­let, re­turned to the old Agency build­ing on the sea front that held so many fond mem­o­ries.

By that time, trial wells were al­ready dug in North Kuwait in the search for oil. The re­sults, how­ever, were un­pro­duc­tive and dis­heart­en­ing. It was in 1937 that Colonel Dick­son had a vivid dream. In it, he saw a young girl ris­ing from a stone tomb in the desert be­side a lone Sidr tree. When a crowd of men ap­peared, Colonel Dick­son beat them off and he and his wife took her into their care.

It so hap­pened that a lone Sidr tree grew in South Kuwait in an area called Bur­gan. It was a fa­mous land­mark and it was there that oil was found in vast quan­ti­ties.

With the dis­cov­ery of oil, Kuwait changed al­most overnight. The old or­der slipped, al­most un­no­ticed, into the back­ground as wave upon wave of for­eign­ers ar­rived to ben­e­fit from Kuwait’s wealth and pros­per­ity.

Sadly, Colonel Dick­son died of throm­bo­sis in 1959. Vis­i­tors to the Dick­son House will no­tice the slop­ing ramp in the back yard that was built to al­low his wheel­chair ac­cess to the ve­ran­dah. He was buried in the Chris­tian ceme­tery in Ah­madi but now lies in the grounds of the Bri­tish Em­bassy that was once his home.

Vi­o­let Dick­son, how­ever, lived on in the old house on the sea front and, in Septem­ber 1976, was awarded the D.B.E. As time passed, many of her friends left Kuwait to the ex­tent that by the 1980s she was old and very much alone. I was one of a group of Bri­tish ladies, or­ga­nized by Mrs Archie Hinch­cliffe, the wife of the then Bri­tish Am­bas­sador, H.E. Peter Hinch­cliffe, who took it in turns to sit with Dame Vi­o­let in the morn­ing.

In March 1990, I had a tele­phone call from Dame Vi­o­let’s but­ler. He was ex­tremely up­set. Could I come quickly as Madame was very ill. I ar­rived at the house in a mat­ter of min­utes and found Dame Vi­o­let slumped in her chair. She was con­scious but un­able to speak prop­erly, hav­ing suf­fered a stroke. That af­ter­noon, she was trans­ferred to the Ah­madi Hospi­tal and, sadly, was never to re­turn to the old house on the sea front.

Af­ter con­sul­ta­tions with her son and daugh­ter in Eng­land, it had been de­cided that, when she died, her body would be buried in the grounds of the Bri­tish Em­bassy. She was very ill and still hos­pi­talised when Iraq in­vaded Kuwait on Aug 2, 1990.

Dame Vi­o­let was a pas­sen­ger on the last flight out of Kuwait on Sept 22, 1990. On her ar­rival, she was ad­mit­ted to a nurs­ing home in Gor­ing-on-Thames where she died, with her fam­ily around her. She is buried in the ceme­tery of the vil­lage church at South Stoke near Read­ing.

Her tomb­stone marks a lit­tle piece of Eng­land that will for­ever be Kuwait.

Dame Vi­o­let Dick­son at home in Kuwait

Anne Al Bas­sam

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