Chapter 14: Crown Prince Saud Pays a Long Visit to Dhahran, A Passenger Plane Crash-Lands Outside the Camp, American and Foreign Dignitaries Come to Call, and the Aramco Success Story Continues – Despite a Strike by Arab Workers, the New Alcohol Ban and the Death of King Ibn Saud.
Aerial view of a residential section of Dhahran, 1950s.
(From Ken Slavin’s copy of an early Aramco
1953 is a memorable year in the history books. Most notably for Aramcons, it is the year when King Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, dies in the fall at the age of 73. His son, Crown Prince Saud, is named the new king by the royal family and another son, Faisal, is named crown prince. It is also the year that alcohol is officially banned by the Saudi Government after many years of allowing Americans to drink inside their camps. (Of course, as all Aramcons know, this only led to the creation of home stills – rather like the ill-fated Prohibition days in America.)
Other highlights of the year: Dwight D. Eisenhower is inaugurated for his first term as president of the United States, ending two decades of Democratic control of the White House; The Korean War officially ends with an armistice on July 27, after three years, two months and two days of fighting that resulted in more than 33,000 American deaths and more than 102,000 wounded. Josef Stalin, bloodthirsty leader of the Soviet Union, dies of a stroke at the age of 73 and is succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev. Uprisings in communist-controlled East Germany and elsewhere signal growing discontent with the communist system of government – decades before the end of the Cold War. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed after being convicted of selling atomic bomb secrets to the Soviets. Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden is elected the second secretary general of the United Nations. Queen Elizabeth II is crowned in England. Douglas Aircraft introduces the DC-7 (the “C” version of this airplane was the first to be able to fly non-stop across the Atlantic without difficulty.) And the New York Yankees win the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
An Aramco drilling rig, right, atop a crescent-shaped
sand dune near Abqaiq, circa 1950.
(From Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster papers.)
Far away in eastern Saudi Arabia, Aramcons seem removed from it all. 1953 is another hugely successful year of oil production, international relations and overall growth and development. Aramco families – especially those of executives – enjoy the many privileges and benefits of “expatriate” life. And the Aramco operations and advancements are showcased for visiting dignitaries ranging from ambassadors and presidents to military leaders and royalty.
For the Websters, it is a year of both achievement and change: older daughter Judy embarks on her first full year away at the American Community School in Beirut, excelling in all her classes and activities, but leaving her parents with their first taste of “Empty Nest Syndrome”; younger daughter Susan is presented with the most wonderful birthday present of her life, her beloved Arabian horse, Nejma, and begins to make the transition from girl to teenager; Mildred remodels the house and runs a busy household while juggling multiple volunteer activities and social events that both expand her horizons and support her husband’s Aramco career; and Ken continues to thrive and grow in his job as Dhahran District Manager, supervising such major undertakings as an airplane rescue mission in the desert, Royal visits to the camp (including arrangements for 6,000 extra meals per day when Crown Prince Saud stays for several weeks!) tours for visiting diplomats and military brass, ceremonial activities, and being responsible for overall day-to-day operations for what has become a thriving American town of 4,000 in the middle of the Arabian desert.
Aramco projections in the New York Times, June 11, 1953.
(From the New York Times’ free online archives.)
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
January 4, 1953
Edackum Mubarack, Inshallah, Senna Jadidah. Happy New Year!
We certainly had a busy week to say the least. It was wonderful having Judy home for two weeks, but all too short. . . She did have a grand time. So many parties and several dances, so they were on the go all the time. When they [the Aramco students] all gather in from far places it is a grand reunion. She looked very well and had her hair fixed up there and it looked prettier than ever before – she is quite the young lady now. Hate to see them go, but guess that is in the due course of events and you have to make the break sometime. I guess this will lead us up to when she goes off to college. I felt awfully sorry for the ones who had children in the States and I am glad we decided to send her to Beirut.
What with all her activities and all of ours, the days flew by. Her roommate lives in Abqaiq, consequently they felt they had to go to all the things each had to do. They did have a grand time, though. The house was full of people of both ages – Susan’s gang and Judy’s.
New Year’s Eve we had a bunch in – sort of hodge-podge as I didn’t get around to doing much about it – but there were 18 of us here for dinner, then the kids went on to the dance for the younger group – and we went to another house for drinks. Yes, there was a little still floating around that had been carefully hoarded for the Season – then on out to [Fred] Davies’ [Aramco chairman] for seeing in the New Year.
Judy’s bunch left the younger group dance and went up to the Patio to dance and on to one of the gang’s house to finish up the time. We had to get up early, as there was a Gymkhana at the Hobby Farm . . . Susan made us very proud of her riding – she came in first in one event where she was competing with all the grownups in the group and with some very expert riders – making a record of 25.5 seconds to set a record. . .
That afternoon we went to the Waajid Bowl Game which Dhahran won from Abqaiq – then Ken had to go to Saudi Camp to a Sudanese Tea – then we went to the Consulate for Open House – dinner and fell into bed. Next morning we all – Renfers, Shultzes, Daisy Cooper, plus four girls, went up to [Don] Wasson’s in Ras Tanura for the day – a family reunion – except Bill Cooper was in London. Diane Renfer, Anna [Shultz], Judy and Donald Wasson, all from Beirut – then Susan, Diana Wasson and David Wasson, too. Had to come back early as the older ones had to pack and get ready to go back to school. Judy was still working on a medical paper, too. Two plane loads of them left yesterday morning.
Saudi Arab guards near the KLM passenger plane that
crash-landed in the desert near Dhahran on January 2,
1953. There were 56 passengers and 10 crew on
board – all unhurt. As Dhahran District Manager, Ken
Webster had a hand in the rescue operation, providing
food, ambulances and shelter for the passengers and
crew. (Saudi Aramco photo courtesy the Internet.)
I guess you have read of the KLM [Dutch Airlines] plane which came down 20 miles out of Dhahran the other night. Ken was the first one out with his men and they had everything set up medically, etc. It was simply a miracle, for no one had even a scratch – 56 passengers and 9 crew. They ran out of gasoline on a charter flight from London to Karachi. Couldn’t make their landing in Basra nor Baghdad because of weather and was trying to make our field. He [the pilot] just slid in between two sand dunes and the plane has very little damage. Half of them [the passengers] were Pakistanis and the rest British. KLM has a wonderful record and makes regular flights into here. They had a wonderful pilot and crew – Ken said everyone was as calm as could be when they got out there. It was across the desert and a very rough, blind trip. The Navy and Army Sea and Land rescue plane was out, too, and the military from the Base. Came down at 2:59 A.M. Ken left the house at 3 and got back at 7. Lots of excitement and everyone is so thankful [that nobody was hurt].
The whole Camp is in a flurry as His Highness the Crown Prince [Saud] comes in either tomorrow or next day. We have arches all over the place, flags and general decorations. There are groups of soldiers’ tents everyplace, even out on the golf course. They expect at least a thousand entourage and no one could possibly realize what a lot of work and confusion it all makes. We are not set up for so many extra people to house and feed but somehow we always manage, but work as a functioning oil company is virtually at a standstill. The [Crown Prince] is very popular . . . It means keeping a close rein on all the girls and women and not being out after dark alone – and dark comes at 6:30. We will have to take Susan everyplace and bring her home. The soldiers mill around all over the place and some are a little fresh. The movie will be jammed, too. It is colorful, though, and interesting.
Susan went back to school yesterday, too, after [a] month’s holiday — much to her disgust. She went to two of the Jr. dances this year and feels very much grown up. My problem with her will be holding her down as she is so impatient to do the things Judy does. She wept this morning when she [Judy] left and wouldn’t let Judy out of her sight, hardly.
Sam Shultz had a bad fall coming out of an office building Thursday afternoon and has a broken arm.
Guess we settle down now to a routine again. Judy will be back for Easter. Allyn and Lynn are fine and we were with them several times during the holidays. They have Christmas dinner with us each year.
Our love and best wishes for all good things in the New Year. Bye now.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
January 9, 1953
Mildred told you brief details of the rescue mission I was on last Friday, but I’ll repeat some.
I received a call at 3:00 A.M. from the Main Gate that a KLM plane with 56 passengers and 10 crew was about to land in the desert some 20 miles north of here. I dressed and hurried to the gate to line up all facilities possible, visualizing deaths, injuries, etc. Awoke the Medical Director and alerted both main hospitals here, checked gas and tires on all ambulances, assigned Superintendent of Communications to Radio Center, prepared three radio cars for desert operation, called various assistants to join me, made up convoy of ambulances, tire truck, wrecker, two 37-passenger buses, two larger truck tractors, took doctor and First Aid men along, ordered sandwiches and coffee, and as we headed out, were joined by the Airbase Rescue Battalion with fire engines, ambulances, about thirty men, etc.
Three Aramco cranes lift the giant KLM DC-4 onto a
truck bed on the morning of January 2, 1953. From
left, Herman Westerhuis, KLM section chief; Chuck
Mead (Aramco crane and rigging); Dexter Carpenter,
Douglas Aircraft representative; Ken Webster, Dhahran
District Manager; Bob Lugten, KLM technician.
(Saudi Aramco photo courtesy the Internet.)
Drove north for ten miles until we saw a plane circling and made radio contact with it. It led us north and west until we had to leave the highway and wind through the dunes in the general direction of the plane. The moon was up but cast shadows from the dunes, some of which were thirty to forty feet high, which confused us as to the places to pass. Some very soft spots were encountered, many vehicles were stuck, but I was lucky until 1,000 feet from the plane, when my assistant passed me with one Aramco ambulance. Flares dropped by the rescue plane were final guide and some help came from blankets burned by the crew.
We arrived at the site about 4:40 A.M. after the wildest ride since I arrived here. The passengers were okay, not even scratched or badly shaken up, and by 6 A.M. we had them all at the airport in cars and ambulances. There were 56 British and Pakistanis, including 16 women and five children, the Pakistanis being Moslem gave credit to Allah, but the British gave credit to the pilot!
They were coming from Rome to Beirut enroute Pakistan in a C-54 Skymaster, and when Beirut field was shut in, went on the Basra. This was shut in so they tried Kuwait, Aramco and Tapline airstrips, but could not find one big enough to set down. Three minutes more and they would have made the Dhahran Airport, but ran out of gas. Our Lord certainly was showing them the way, for they landed in pancake fashion with wheels up, skidded 250 feet and stopped.
The downed KLM DC-4 airliner as it began its journey
over the dunes. Ken Webster reported, “Probably
nowhere else in the world is there the right kind of
equipment to do what we did, and it sure was a sight to
see this large plane going down the road on the trailer.
The Douglas [Aircraft] representative said his company
made hundreds of these planes, but never before had
one ever been carried on a truck.”
(Saudi Aramco photo courtesy the Internet.)
First we had to await Government and Dutch officials’ inspection and then proceed to recover the plane. Tried bellows type canvas and rubber six-foot square air jacks, and as soon as lifting bars arrived from Holland, took three mobile cranes to the site and picked the plane up. After close inspection, found wheel assemblies okay, locked them in the down position, and loaded the plane on one of our house moving trailers. With the truck tractor, there were 26 1400-by-20 tires, and as the plane only weighed about 42,000 pounds, there was only 2,000 pounds per tire, including truck and trailer weight. Seven miles of desert and 24 on the highway were easy to navigate, but had a time getting under our 66,000-volt high line, one overhead telephone cable, and a 2,400 volt line.
Arrived at the airport at 11 A.M. today and in thirty minutes had lifted the plane off the trailer and set it on its own wheels. Probably nowhere else in the world is there the right kind of equipment to do what we did, and it sure was a sight to see this large plane going down the road on the trailer. The Douglas [Aircraft] representative said his company made hundreds of these planes, but never before had one ever been carried on a truck. Obviously KLM is very pleased with Aramco. It was a nightmare starting out, but turned out okay and we are happy to so report…
The Honorable Jefferson Caffery of
Louisiana. He was the U.S.
ambassador to Egypt from 1949 to
1955. Ken Webster escorted him on a
tour of Dhahran and Aramco
operations in January 1953. During his
long diplomatic career, Caffery was
also ambassador to El Salvador,
Colombia, Cuba, Brazil and France
and was a respected Middle East
expert. He retired in Rome where he
became honorary private chamberlain
to Pope Pius XXII, Pope John XXIII
and Pope Paul VI. (Source: Wikipedia.)
Last week I had the pleasure of escorting the American Ambassador to Egypt around our domain here. He is the Honorable Jefferson Caffery and well known in Middle East diplomatic affairs for years.
Our football season ended in a blaze of glory for the Dhahran Bears, who not only won all eight games, but also the Waajid Bowl Game on January first. It is touch football, of course, but wonderfully interesting to watch, and the passes tried and made were a joy.
Been chilly this week, high of 71 and low of 49, and humid with some rainy days or parts of days.
Enjoying our garden with beets, carrots, radishes, lettuce, etc., and have about 50 tomato plants and a dozen or so potatoes. Not much effort, as Louis [the houseboy] and Hashim bin Ali [the gardener] take care of it. Just found out after almost three years that the gardener’s name is not Ebrahim but Hashim, and asked him why we didn’t know it before. He said Memsahib (Mildred) mistook the name the first day, so it was kullawahed (made no difference) to him. We pay him 27 riyals ($6.72) each two weeks to clean up, rake up, water, etc. I mow the lawn and cut the hedge.
Received more cards than any previous year and sent almost none. About 30 came from Harvard classmates, and I think all the foreign ones went a message. Cards are too expensive to send from here to the States, so we shall have to get by with occasional letters and seeing the people when we are home.
132 babies born here in 1952, 67 girls and 65 boys, and this year has a flying start already to exceed these figures. Other statistics will be written next letter.
A very Happy and Safe New Year to all of you.
Love, Ken et al.
BANQUET HONORING H.R.H. THE CROWN PRINCE – His Royal Highness Amir Saud ibn Abdul Aziz, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, shown at a reception prior to a special dinner held in his honor at the Dhahran Dining Hall. From left, H.H. Amir Saud ibn Jiluwi, H.E. Jamal Al Hussaini; Aramco Board Chairman F.A. Davies, H.R.H. The Crown Prince, Mr. Max Bishop, American Consul General, Brigadier General Orin Grover, USAF. (Photo from The Arabian Sun & Flare, from Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster papers. The undated clip is from the time of the 1953 visit described in the Webster letters.)
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
January 15, 1953
This past week has been hectic as the Royal Family moved in on us for sure. We had more than usual warning and erected the stands for the main reviewing as the Crown Prince came from the Railroad Budd cars. There were over eight thousand people to see him and the entrance to our main camp or village was blocked to traffic for three hours. After the main greeting and speeches, I personally took over the direction of traffic and after 45 minutes the situation eased. I am sure there must have been over 5,000 vehicles, cars and trucks and personnel carriers, and some estimates are in excess of 8,000 people. We transported the children from all outlying villages, the local soldiers, the airbase guard, the regular soldiers, and then had a trainload of 140 soldiers from the capital city who had to be housed and fed. I saw more guns of all sizes than we have for any occasion in the States, and the large guns gave an 11-gun salutes at he Crown Prince was seated in the reviewing stand.
His Royal Highness Crown Prince Saud, who
visited Dhahran for several weeks in January and
February 1953 – bringing an entourage of
approximately 1,000 people, including hundreds
of soldiers and 22 sons. Part of Ken Webster’s
assignment was to coordinate construction of a
500-seat dining hall, a
500-seat reception hall, a school for the sons, tours for the Royal family, and
6,000 extra meals a day. (Photo from Ken Slavin’s
collection of Webster papers.)
All week we had planned on dinners and talks, and built a 500-person reception hall plus a 500-seat dining hall. This sounds easy but when you consider we have to supply lights, water, chairs, building, etc., it is not so simple. The Crown Prince had a special train bring 88 cars here, and all we had to do was build a grease rack, gasoline station, and wash rack for them, and he sent the drivers in. We erected 68 tents for all personnel, provided feeding facilities for 450, assigned eleven houses, made arrangements for one radio station, and have set up the whole party for a two-to three-weeks’ stay. The problems connected with this are manifold, but so far we have been able to provide what they requested. Special places for killing sheep were needed, special food for the group was required, and as the Crown Prince brought 22 sons with him, we made arrangements for a school.
When I met the train with the cars, I also met the Director of Transportation for the Crown Prince. All cars had no gasoline, so I had a tanker of gasoline fill all. The director was quite interested in safe driving, and after I gave my usual safety talk, he warned all the drivers they must not exceed 12 miles per hour or would be discharged. So far we have fired six. I asked him what the time was, a check against my watch, and saw what a fine watch he had. The face had a map of Saudi Arabia, and various pictures on it such as a castle, a palm tree, a camel, etc. he passed the watch to me to examine closely, and refused to take it back. He said it was for me. I offered my watch to him, and he said no, mine was for work and his for evenings, so I have a fine Swiss thin Omega, with maps and other pictures, and a gold flex band with four diamonds. Reportedly it is “only” costing 1,600 Swiss Francs or a little in excess of $400. Don’t know yet what the Crown Prince will give me during his visit, but it is all part of the business.
Spent the morning at the Hobby Farm watching Susan ride Neji as that is her whole life now. . .
No other news today, so will close, as we must get ready to attend the special opening of new Saudi Camp Recreational Facilities. The Crown Prince will attend soccer game at 4 [o’clock] while we have new facilities opening, and then we’ll all attend soccer game, etc. It is only for three weeks or so, and never before was it over five days. If we last that long, we’ll write about it.
Love, Ken et al.
Clipping from the Arabian Sun & Flare, showing Crown
Prince Saud visiting with U.S. Consul-General Max
Bishop and Aramco President R. L. Keyes. (From Ken
Slavin’s collection of Webster papers.)
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
January 24, 1953
Not much excitement this week, but definitely more of the Royal Family visit. A few more Princes arrived and required more houses and tents, and we are concerned where to assign our families due this month and first part of next. Although the official group are less than 1,000, we are feeding almost 2,000, as their friends visit daily and until far into the night. One day they drank 490 gallons of tomato juice, and have really made a dent into our coffee, Crisco, rice, canned fruits, etc., and we have several special planes a week bring in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Wednesday I was invited to take the Crown Prince on a tour of our new Intermediate Camp and General Camp. He had to personally issue orders to the main bodyguard that my car would lead the parade as normally no one EVER precedes him but the soldiers. I started off, two jeeps with soldiers with machine guns came next, then the Crown Prince in his new Cadillac with our Vice President Floyd Ohliger and close friends, then two more jeeps with soldiers, then 20 cars and buses with members of his party. We toured the new construction and went into the main points of interest, including the recreation buildings. We watched a game of pool, then Mohammed Cabir showed us how to play, and the Crown Prince was very pleased that we provided his people with libraries, cafeterias, swimming pools, canteens, game rooms, snack bars, etc. We were only gone one and one-half hours and arrived back just as the muezzin was calling all people to evening prayer at sundown. Everyone set their watch at twelve o’clock, and we infidels hurried home for dinner.
An Arab feast with Aramco executives, early 1950s.
Ken Webster is seated, fourth from left. He attended
many of these dinners throughout his Aramco career,
describing them in detail in several of his letters.
(Photo from the Mulligan Papers, courtesy
That night there was a dinner, Arab style, in honor of the Sheik of Bahrain, but I begged off and went to the annual dinner for the members of the Persian Gulf Football Society. Since we won all games this year and were winners for three years, ’49, ’50 and ’52, we won the Cundall Trophy to keep. Also the annual trophy, and a special while stenciled football. As district manager, I accepted for the team. A fine meal, speeches – and fun was had by all.
Thursday morning the airbase put on a paratroop jump for His Royal Highness and six of us [had to] go as guests of the Air Force. Two Saudi Arabs and two Americans jumped, and no one was badly hurt, although should have been the way they landed! It was a gala day, just like going to the races, or to Army-Navy game, colorful soldiers everywhere, armed guard surrounded the Prince, he gave each jumper a prize of a gold watch with his picture on the face, and we all were hot and dusty – but happy. . .
Today I took U.S. Ambassador [Harold B.] Minor, assigned to Lebanon, all around the area and was pleased at the comments of my “town.” (Editor’s note: Harold B. Minor was the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from October 1952 to August 1953 and also was chief of the Division of Middle Eastern Affairs at the U.S. State Department during World War II. He later worked as a government affairs consultant for Aramco. He died in 1984. Source: New York Times online. Minor was instrumental in carrying out “Operation Hajji Baba” in the summer of 1952 when, according to Wikipedia, “Several thousand Muslim pilgrims making the annual Hajj to the Muslim holy city of Mecca became stranded in Beirut, Lebanon when they arrived to find their flights to Saudi Arabia had been grossly overbooked. Saeb Salaam, a member of the Parliament of Lebanon and future prime minister . . . quickly formed an idea to have the pilgrims airlifted out of Beirut and into Saudi Arabia. However, with all of the airlines serving Beirut overbooked, he had to look elsewhere. He settled on the US Air Force and, putting aside the fact that the US had supported Israel during the Mideast War of 1948, Salaam reached out to the US ambassador in Beirut, Harold B. Minor, on 21 August for help. Minor quickly realized the positive diplomatic benefits this assistance could have and he promptly forwarded the request to his superiors. . . Beyond the initial publicity and news coverage of the event, Operation Hajji Baba has faded into the history books and remains only a minor footnote in the history of the humanitarian operations conducted by the US Air Force.”)
A view of the Aramco Administration Building in
Dhahran, with its fleet of bright red cars and buses,
mid-1950s. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
Last Thursday we had 12 to dinner, the Al Websters [Ken’s brother and sister-in-law], Renfers, Shultzes, American Consul Hacklers, Deputy [Commanding Officer] McClendens from the airbase, and the Clausens who go on long leave via South Pacific next Thursday. Nice ham dinner, pie by Mildred, and all were full and happy. Looked bad for a while as Francis was sick, but we borrowed a cook and butler and make out okay with our own treasure Louis. I don’t think Mildred will ever come home to live if Louis will stay here with us.
No other news, our Judy writes but not often, Susan has made us both “stableboys,” the weather is unseasonably warm, the garden and lawn are fine, the new baby chicks (now fifteen) are cheeping away, and we are dreaming of our vacation.
The Shultzes have decided to again travel with us, and we want to leave about June 28 and travel up to Oslo. No firm plans yet as my prime assistant has been transferred to another district and I am worried about relief for me on my vacation. It will work out somehow, and we shall soon have our plans. If we can get a house in Connecticut it will be fine, and we can then see all the folks most of the time.
Love, Ken et al.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
February 6, 1953
Looks now that we shall go to Rome, company plane, then Germany and down the Rhine, then London (if the Coronation permits us to have a place to stay), then Copenhagen, Oslo and Holland – and a trip from London to Shannon, Ireland where we expect to pick up Company plane. This two weeks’ trip should bring us home about July 15th and we’ll then have seven weeks in one place or divided. We hope we can find a place in Greenwich and have all meet us there.
The swimming pool in Dhahran, 1950s.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
Joined Crown Prince party and saw Charley Johnson’s pictures of his trip in Africa two years ago, showing wild animals as lions, zebras, giraffes, elephants, etc., very close to his car. Africa is the newest last frontier, and we would like to homestead there – but guess Arabia is our best bet at this time.
The news about Holland and the storms is very bad, that country must be having the worst time since the 14th Century, and our 150 Hollanders are very upset. The Marshall Plan or similar will have to continue, and they have just stopped all aid. We shall see only a part of Holland on the trip, due to the trouble they have just had in the southern part. (Editor’s note: According to several Internet sources, the greatest storm surge ever recorded in the North Sea occurred on January 31 and February 1, 1953, brought on by torrential rains and storm-force winds. More than 1,800 people died in the Netherlands and more than 300 in southeast England, with more than half a million acres of land flooded.)
No real news from here, we are well and happy, and look forward to our vacation starting about June 28th. Judy likes her Beirut experience, Susan lives only for horse Neji, and we live well from day to day.
Love from all, Ken
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
February 13, 1953
H.R.H. [His Royal Highness] is still with us – we are all hoping he will go soon. Not that he isn’t liked – he is – but it throws the machinery of the whole community into a fizz. Most of the departments which do all the extra work of everything concerned come under Ken and he is completely pooped. He is at the office now and has spent about one hour of each day there – only – so you can see how much he has to catch up on. There have been lots of nice dinners and such, but the women are not invited. President Cha’moun of Lebanon has been here for a visit to the Crown Prince – left today – and there were added entertainments – Ken took him on a $75 tour of the Camp one afternoon. (Editor’s note: Camille Chamoun was president of Lebanon from September 1952 to September 1958. A major player in the fight for the country’s independence from France, he also served as Lebanon’s ambassador to the United Kingdom and the United Nations. Source: Wikipedia.org.)
Former Lebanese President
Camille Chamoun. Ken Webster,
as Dhahran district manager,
conducted an Aramco tour for him
during his visit to Dhahran in
February 1953 to pay a call on
Crown Prince Saud, who was also
visiting at the time.
(Photo from the Internet.)
Louis, Francis and I – in that order – hustled our bustles this last week and got some entertaining done for the Websters. We had 35 for tea Sunday afternoon – 36 for coffee on Tuesday – dinner one night and have dinner coming up Saturday night. Went out to dinner twice, two coffees and played Canasta one afternoon. Daisy [Cooper] and I went on a tour of the Arab hospital – for the Woman’s Club to decide what we would do on our committee this year for them. I am going to run the library in the Senior Staff Hospital up here. This afternoon late we have a patio Tea Dance to attend but feel sure the shamaal will call that off. Then on to a dinner party later. . .
Had a note from Judy today. She is still delighted with everything. They go up to the Cedars [of Lebanon] skiing again next weekend. The boy she likes the most and who has asked her out several times has asked her to the Valentine Formal – so life is rosy! She spent this weekend with the Moores [former president of Aramco] and Friday night Ginger [Moore’s daughter] had two other girls and three boys in for dinner. This will be [Judy’s] first time away on a birthday – I hope to get a cake up to her somehow.
Isn’t it terrible about the storms in Holland, England and Belgium?
Guess I have covered the week’s news – enjoyed letters from all of you. Bye now.
Love, Mimi et al.
February 20, 1953
Everyone has been busy this morning. Ken is weekend man so can’t get far away – even though he has a radio phone in his car if he has to go out anywhere. He has been cutting the hedge all morning. I have been fooling about with the chicken pen – moved the latest batch of small ones into a new spot and put the ones born Christmas Day in with the grown ones. We are getting more eggs than we can eat per day. . .
Crown Prince Saud with one of his daughters,
early 1950s. (Uncredited photo from Ken Slavin’s
collection of Webster papers.)
This past week has been full – don’t [know] what gets into everyone to do things at the same time, but they do . . . Some of this stuff is because of Ken’s job – testimonial farewell dinners, etc. . .
The Crown Prince is supposed to leave tomorrow or Sunday. Ken has a very fine Mido date watch from him – besides the one he wrote you about a while ago.
Tomorrow is Judy’s fifteenth birthday – how the years do fly. I sent her a birthday cake but have no idea of the condition when it arrives.
I have several sewing projects set aside for myself this next week – lots of mending has stacked up. I have to make a little formal for Susan for the Spring school dance, too. I sew in Judy’s room and so can stack it up, also leave it out and go to it whenever I have time.
I started attending a Gorin system bridge class this past week. Will see if my tired old brain can learn anything. I play Canasta every once in a while, but would like to know how to play bridge also for just once in a while. You have to watch it here or you find yourself tied up in too many set days of this and that – which I do not like.
Love to all, Mildred et al.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
February 28, 1953
Now that the Crown Prince and party have gone as Mildred told you last week, we can get back into the swing of normal work again. We have taken down the large banquet halls we erected, the 76 tents for his soldiers and bodyguards, the special radio station, the wash and grease rack, and are treating the lawns the tenters were on so they will be green again with Spring arrives. Families and bachelors are moving back into the vacated houses and dormitories, and we shall soon forget the many problems of caring for the large group and the 6,000 meals per day we had to serve over and above the regular ones.
Upon departure, the Crown Prince gave 62,700 Saudi Riyals and 174 Swiss watches, total cost in excess of $35,000, so that those who worked on his visit directly or did more than the usual duties of each job, received a present of $30 to $90 if non-American and a watch if American. Some received special gifts of 20 or more gold sovereigns worth $10 to $12 each. My watch is a Mido Multifort, Datometer, Super Automatic, worth in the States about $150, which with my $400 Omega from the Director of Transportation and the Rolex what Mildred gave me a year or so ago, makes me well supplied. The gold hunting case watch from the Railroad completion ceremony is among my other gifts.
Friday we started for the Hobby Farm and saw a plane landing, so stopped to see a French admiral and 30 aides come for a visit. Today we took the admiral around the area, but had no social obligation, as he is visiting the Saudi Government. Had a couple of dinners this week, one with the Ford Foundation Near East Representative and his wife. They have two children with Judy so we had talk about schools.
No firm dope on vacation yet, but plan to leave here end of June. Judy due march 28th for Spring vacation and reports having a fine time at school, parties and dances, and skiing in the Cedars.
Neji looks daily more like delivery day is nearer, and has a fine sleek coat from innumerable brushing and loving by Susan. Needless to say, we are at the Hobby Farm nightly . . .
Love, Ken et al.
March 6, 1953
I am off to an early start today and have several things on my mind that I would like to accomplish. It is a beautiful day. We had quite a rain the other night – have had a lot of moisture since Christmas and so the yard and things in general are growing like weeds. We have lovely glads this year and I am hoping some will be at the right stage for the flower show this Sunday. Right now I have lots in the house and the others are creeping open – have about 100 bulbs.
The most interesting thing we did this week was to have dinner and spend the evening with Dr. Ernest Lawrence and his wife and daughter. They were here for three days. He is one of the world’s top-rank[ed] atomic physicists. He built the world’s first cyclotron – Nobel Prize, Constock Prize, etc., etc. They were very interesting and good company. Her father was Medical Dean at Yale and she did her post-graduate work in Medicine at Harvard – via Vassar. They have six children.
Dr. Ernest O. Lawrence,
atomic physicist, visited
Dhahran in 1953 with his
wife and daughter. Ken
and Mildred Webster were
invited to a special formal
dinner with them and
enjoyed a long
conversation. (Photo from
Outside of that, we had a couple of dinners and a few daytime stuff for me. I did do quite a lot of sewing – I have been getting the Boys [Francis and Louis] outfitted in new uniforms – so I have shortened numerous pairs of pants and made several aprons for Francis. Louis is going home for leave the first of June so he will be back shortly after we are – we hope. He is such a treasure [that] I tremble to think how I would ever manage without him. The cook will stay with Lynn and Allyn in the house and go [on leave] when we get back.
I guess the whole world is all concerned about the illness and probable death of Stalin – general opinion here is that he is already dead. Maybe this is a turning point. (Editor’s note: Joseph Stalin, general secretary/first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, died March 5, 1953. Source: Wikipedia.)
Had a very enthusiastic letter from Judy with pictures of her and her boyfriend – really cute. They were up at the Cedars on the last ski trip which was over her birthday weekend. . . She is still on the Honor Roll even with the advent of a “steady” – but her grades have slipped a bit. I am not worried, for she was much too tense about her grades and as we have told her – do your best under the circumstances, but there are other things to going to school as well as grades. She has entered into school affairs and is really having a wonderful time – and so far has been able to maintain an honor roll rating. They will be down the 28th for Easter vacation – 16 days.
Lynn and Allyn will be on their way in a couple of weeks – have a wonderful trip planned.
Guess this covers the news for the time. We are all well. Ken running on a steady treadmill trying to cover everything – Susan growing up with leaps and bounds.
Love to all, Mildred, et al
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
March 13, 1953
Happy birthday anniversary, Mother, hope you have better weather for it than we have today. It is really blowing outside and the san-laden winds are hard to face. It isn’t too warm but as we must keep the doors and windows closed, it is quite stuffy.
Not many people are working and those that have to be out in the storm are not doing much except keep backs to wind. Lately the weather has not been too bad, but too warm for this time of year – 88 maximum this week and low of 57. Hope we have some coolish weather in Holland, Germany, England, Sweden, Norway and Ireland. Our plane schedules change soon and won’t go through Paris, but instead will fly via Rome, Amsterdam, Shannon, Gander and New York. Many trips will be skipping Shannon, and possibly Gander, the DC-6’s being able to make longer hops.
Read a report this morning of last year’s [Aramco/Dhahran] medical department. Outpatients American 48,000 and Arabs 268,000, and when the new section is completed in August at cost [of] $1,800,000, we’ll really have a Health Center to be proud of. Next year will be another $2,000,000 addition, as we never seem to have sufficient facilities for this area.
Some Arab contractors are building five-story apartment structures in nearby Al Khobar, and air conditioning is wanted more all the time by the local people. The impact of Western civilization is really being felt now.
Had a visit from the Pakistan Governor General, but only had minor needs for him and the 59 people with him, as the local airbase was able to take care of meals and housing. We furnished tables and chairs, etc., only.
Mildred Webster grew many kinds of flowers in her yard
in Dhahran and loved to cut them for arrangements.
Here are some red gladiolas she planted in the back.
Seen just above the fence is her sister-in-law,
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
Had a wonderful flower show last Wednesday, and you would not believe we could produce flowers and vegetables here in the kinds and sizes shown. Susan received honorable mention for one arrangement.
Due to the storm Susan couldn’t go see Neji today, but missed only because the roads are closed. She just left for the show with a huge bag of popcorn. Hope they don’t throw her out!
Judy’s letters are very interesting and show she is having a fine time. Their life in Beirut seems full of all things, and her skiing trips are grand. She will be home March 28th and then we will get up to date verbally.
Sam [Shultz] and I shall go to American Express at five P.M. to start arranging for the trip, and I’ll list the details when they are firm. Looks like we should arrive New York in mid-July, but date not yet firm. Allyn and Lynn leave on the 24th and should arrive back here just before we go. They will stay in our house while we are going to take care of chickens, cat, etc. Now getting eight eggs per day and the new bran feed has made most eggs stateside size and taste. It costs about $13 per month for feed and we get about 20 dozen eggs, which is not only cheaper than Australian or local eggs, but the taste is far different. Now Mildred and Susan can eat fresh eggs daily, as I do.
Had Lynn and Allyn to dinner Tuesday, for her birthday, and we had Long Island pheasant brought by a friend from the New York office. Have been very lucky lately with gifts of gazelle, fish, and some beef from stateside, which with our own vegetables makes life a little better than before.
No other news, love to all, Ken.
April 10, 1953
We never did get the last week’s letter written – the time just took off and was gone before we knew it. Judy had a guest from school for several days and there always seemed to be something cooking. Including the typewriter from the way it is acting. (Editor’s note: This letter showed smeared ink and unclear letters – ribbon trouble!)
I finished Susan’s little ‘formal’ and it is really very sweet and pretty. It is yellow taffeta with small rosebud print over a full pale green taffeta slip. She likes it.
We are off to Ras Tanura for the day and will leave right after breakfast. We want to see friends and Judy is spending the day with the boy she goes with. They had hoped to spend much of the day at the beach, but it is quite cool this morning after being unseasonably warm for several days.
I have devoted most of my time to the children so haven’t done much socially. Played cards one afternoon and last night we had dinner with the Italian Ambassador to Arabia – Duke and Duchess Capece. They are very charming and as it was a small dinner party, we had a chance to really talk to them. They have their 17-year-old son with them. He is home from Switzerland for Spring holidays. They live in Jedda. I enjoyed them very much. We go to a Company dinner for them tonight so will have to get back from Ras Tanura in good time.
Our baby Nura [the name settled on for Nejma’s foal] is growing like a weed and is getting so tame – she is almost a month old. The pictures are at one week old and I hope to have some better ones soon. . . Judy, Susan and I have gone down most mornings to give them their workout. It is quite an undertaking in that it involves a lot of my time, but I really enjoy it.
Had a card from Allyn and Lynn and they seemed to be having a grand time. Judy had permission to go to the plane in Beirut and the school called for plane time, but were given the wrong Aramco flight – so she got there two hours after the plane had gone.
Must go wake my sleeping family so we can get going. No letters from any of you this past week. Trust all is well. Bye now.
Love, Mildred, et al.
April 17, 1953
Stopped by the Mail Center on our way home just now and found letters from Conn[ecticut] plus a note from Judy. We went to the Farm to see the animals but was too windy and much sand in the air, so didn’t even take Nejma and Nura out of the stall. I’ll go down tomorrow for a while.
Judy left with all the kids last Sunday morning – always hate to see them go but really feel very pleased that she is so happy and doing so well. She was elected to the 2nd stage of Alpha Chi Sigma, the Good Citizenship organization – now only has one more stage to go for her gold pin. She was fine and we had kids in and out most of the time. Met her “friend”, Conrad Smith, and we liked him very much. She also had a girl from school as a houseguest for a few days, so there weren’t many dull moments!
Susan went out on the Girl Scout Camporee Wednesday afternoon late and will be back today – sure seemed lonesome around here with both of them gone. I suppose they will be in early since it is a blowing day.
The horses are fine and Nura grows like a weed . . .
We went to a final dinner for the Duke and Duchess last Sunday night and had friends for dinner here last night – including our friends the George Rays from Wilton, Conn. He is Chief Legal Advisor for Aramco. Tonight we go to the Officer’s Club at the Base as guests for buffet dinner. No liquor served at the parties now. If anyone has any left they are keeping it for their own consumption. Aramco has issued a letter to the effect that anyone caught distilling any kind of alcoholic beverages will be immediately dismissed. The Arab government means business.
Maybe you have read that our friends, the [James} McPhersons, up in Kuwait, finally struck oil. He went with a company four years ago to wildcat for oil in the Independent Zone – Mr. Mac had retired from Standard of California after 30 years and just went into this adventure on the gravy train. Now they have struck oil – but remains to be seen how much of a field. The Company is Aminol. (Editor’s note: James McPherson was senior vice president/general manager of Aramco in Dhahran in the late 1940s before retiring and going to Kuwait. He is written about in earlier chapters of “Dear Folks.”)
It is getting pretty warm now and we have the AC on for the season. I have to go to the Farm early in the morning as it gets much too warm to fuss around down there – or late in the evening . . .
Everyone is fine and on the last lap of school so will be home before we know it. Bye now. Love to all.
Ken and Mildred Webster celebrated their 16th
wedding anniversary in Dhahran on May 1, 1953.
Here they are on their wedding day in Helena,
Montana, on May 1, 1937. Ken was working for
the Texas Company at the time.
(Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)
Mildred, et al.
May 1, 1953
Today Ken and I have been married 16 years! I don’t know where the years have gone. Of course, practically half of them have been spent out here – but they have been good years, taking them by and large.
Ken gave me a lovely intricately designed silver necklace…one I have wanted for a long time.
Vacation is over and Susan goes back to school tomorrow for the home stretch. It has been a busy one for her with so much activity with the Youth Recreational Program plus the horses, and the Scout Camporee. There have been few days she has missed going to the Farm. Nura is a big girl now -- the tops of her ears are level with Neji’s shoulders. She is as tame as a puppy. . .
One night we had dinner at Keyes’ [Aramco president and his wife] for the Egyptian Ambassador and the Iranian Minister – both very pleasant. The Woman’s Group Spring Tea was Sunday and a huge success – by far the nicest we have had – French sidewalk café theme. Ken had two business dinners out. I had a lovely luncheon and card party to attend and tea at General Grover’s house at the Air Base yesterday. We ate lunch and dinners out for three days till the painting [of the house] was finished – so went the week.
One of the Dhahran softball teams, 1950s.
(Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.)
We have been attending the softball games and enjoying them a lot. Mim [Shultz] is a great ball fan. Usually they have the games later in the season and I didn’t go because it was too hot to sit out. Now the evenings are still very nice so it has been fun. However, there is no use fooling ourselves – summer is here!
I made myself a cotton dress early this week. I like it, but haven’t worn it yet.
We have had a scourge of locusts all week and really a terrific one. I have never seen it like that before. In some part of Camp the ground was covered. They have done a lot of damage, but it will all grow back. They practically shredded the Acacia trees and like the Tamarisk, too – also any nice new grass. They are huge things – and a delicacy for the Arabs. They roast them and some eat them raw. Seems terrible, but we eat seafood raw, so I guess there isn’t too much difference. They are about 3 inches long and whir as they fly. Don’t see any about this morning, but it is early.
Susan left at 8 to go to the Farm with friends – they are going to ride the horses up into Camp – about four miles . . .
Love to all, Mildred et al.
May 15, 1953
We came in not too long ago from a weekend in Ras Tanura – and feeling pretty pooped. It was a reunion of a sort. Coopers, Renfers, Shultzes and us to the Wassons. We went up yesterday afternoon – it being pay day afternoon. They had arranged housing for us in a couple of empty apartments. We really had a wonderful time. Spent a lot of it on the beach and returned with a bit of sunburn – had wonderful food and Don [Wasson] has saved enough of his store of liquor for us to have a drink or two. They boys talked far into the night about old days in Port Arthur [with Texaco]. It is good to get away even just for that short time.
Missed getting our weekly letter off last week – too many interruptions. We kept pretty busy with this and that. Went to the Dramaramco play – Don Juan in Hell, by George B. Shaw. It was excellent for its type and Bob Underwood played the Devil. We have a very active troupe here and they do some very good things. (Editor’s note: Dramaramco was the Aramco theater “troupe” – made up of company employees and their spouses – that staged plays, musicals and variety shows throughout the year.)
Went to dinner at [Fred] Davies’ (chairman of the board of Aramco) for David Rockefeller and his group – a Mr. Mason from Chase National Bank for one – this was a very nice affair. . .
Susan stayed with friends while we went to RT as she had a big party last night. She is very fast growing up – but not quite as fast as she thinks she is. You will see a big change in both of them.
Ken has been asleep since 9 o’clock. It does him so much good to get away from the grind – and I am going to follow him very shortly. I’m sleepy, too. Excuse the short letter and write us soon – all of you.
Love, Mildred et al.
Friday, May 22, 1953
My lazy family is still asleep, but we were up late last night and so was Susan – so will let the usual pattern of Sunday School go by the board.
John Foster Dulles, U.S.
Secretary of State during the
Eisenhower Administration. He
visited Dhahran in May 1953
on his way to confer with King
Ibn Saud in Riyadh.
(Photo from the Internet.)
Had letters from all of you this last week, which is very nice – even though we realize you are all busy. Had a note from Allyn and Lynn yesterday and they are apparently OK and having a good time. They leave the 24th of June to return [here] and that is the day Mim and I leave here for Beirut. They come in on the 27th to Dhahran and Ken and Sam go out on the same plane the next morning – so I won’t see them.
We are keeping our fingers crossed about the house in Riverside [for our home leave] – surely would be a wonderful break for us to have it while there. . .
We have had a very busy week and an interesting one. Had fun one night with a group from the Farm for one of our best “horsemen” who is going to Al Kharj to work and will be taking over on the Royal Family’s horses. He is a marvel with them.
The highlight, of course, was the reception for [John Foster] Dulles and [Harold] Stassen. (Editor’s note: Dulles had just been named U.S. Secretary of State by President Eisenhower. According to Wikipedia, “He was a significant figure in the early Cold War era, advocating an aggressive stance against communism around the world. He advocated support of the French in their war against the Viet Minh in Indochina and famously refused to shake the hand of Zhou Enlai at the Geneva Conference in 1954.” Also according to Wikipedia, Stassen was a delegate to the San Francisco conference that created the United Nations, a frequent presidential candidate and former president of the University of Pennsylvania, Ken Webster’s alma mater. At the time of the Dhahran visit, he was director of President Eisenhower’s newly formed – but short-lived – Foreign Operations Administration.)
Harold Stassen, director of President
Eisenhower’s Foreign Operations
Administration from 1953-55. He visited
Dhahran with John Foster Dulles in
May 1953. (Photo from the Internet.)
They weren’t here very long, but we did attend the deal at the Consulate for them – not a very big one, so [we] had an opportunity to talk to them. Ken was in the same class with Jack Dulles at Harvard. They went through so fast, don’t see how they could have found out very much about the place or country, except they did spend most of the time in Riyadh with the King.
Last night was the Woman’s Club Spring Formal and it was one of the nicest we have had. They used a Hawaiian theme and it was very effective. We were all talking about how you could have such a good time without any liquor – which was very good we thought. It was also Gladys and Vic Stapelton’s 30th wedding anniversary, so had to celebrate that, too. In the afternoon our little Canasta group – Mim, Gladys, Verdel, Daisy, Lynn and I – had a surprise party for Mim for her birthday.
Tomorrow we are going to luncheon at Davies’ for Admiral Towner who is leaving. He is admiral of the Persian Gulf fleet. They only assign them here for a year. This one is a very nice and handsome man.
I am beginning to get excited now about leaving. Have been trying to get a lot done in the house because Louis leaves the first for his home leave and he is certainly my right arm – bless his heart. Francis will stay with Lynn and Allyn while we are gone and go home in October. We are sort of half way considering moving to a smaller house this fall, not that Judy is gone.
Love, Mildred et al.
May 28, 1953
One month [from] today we take off on the home stretch, again – and that time will fly. The parties are beginning to start now.
Adlai Stevenson visited Dhahran in
1953. Ken and Mildred Webster met
him at a VIP reception at the
American Consul General’s
residence. (Photo from the Internet.)
I have tried to get things cleared away in the house. It is so grand having Allyn and Lynn stay here –won’t have to put things away. There is the usual going through things, though, such as trunks and boxes to see just what we do have left and has to be replaced while home. Susan has taken a shot upwards so that I just about exhausted the last of the smaller clothes put away. Guess from now on there won’t be much putting away of Judy’s things for her. Judy stays a size 11 – and Susan is in the teen sizes now, even though still very thin.
The only out of usual thing we did this week was to meet Adlai Stevenson at a reception at the Consulate. He is very pleasant and looked just like his pictures. (Editor’s note: Stevenson was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for U.S. President in the 1952 campaign against Eisenhower. He ran again, unsuccessfully, in 1956 and eventually became U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1961 to 1965. Source: Wikipedia.)
We have started our Long Leave physicals and shots. You will see a big change in the girls – especially Susan. One minute she is a true teenager with all the stops pulled out and you could shake her – the next a sweet little girl. But she sure is growing up and hasn’t the patience to wait for anything. It is interesting if a little tough at times.
June 5, 1953
Just three weeks and a few days and I will be off to Beirut with Susan – to get Judy ready to go on the 28th. She probably could do it herself, but I want to be sure the winter woolens and blankets, coats, etc., are put away in mothballs, or flakes, so we won’t have a tragedy and a long way from the source of supply.
We haven’t done much this week but work. Went to two dinners – both very nice and one a Chinese one – we have several Chinese cooks in the Dining Hall and you can book them up long ahead to come to your house and put on a wonderful spread. They do it on their off time and spend the day cooking all the wonderful tasty things so popular with them. Yesterday, Gladys [Stapelton] and Daisy [Cooper] and a Canasta party for Mim and me – very nice.
The weather is still nice enough most nights to go to the ball games and we have followed pretty closely. We have several good teams which play the other districts and Air Base – Flour, Bechtel, etc. The cutest is our Small Fry team of 4th, 5th and 6th grade boys. They are really darned good! The Bachelorettes have a team, too.
I am trying to tie up the loose ends and it is surprising how much there is to do even with Allyn and Lynn coming to stay in the house . . . It is mostly getting clothes put away and ready for the trip. Susan took a sudden spurt upwards and so many things I had planned to use this summer are too short – and to wear them that way is a fate worse than death!
We will have to cut off our Scandinavian trip. It will take too long and cost too much as would have to fly to get it in at all. The 5 days would cost as much as the other 18 days – almost. I just feel we will probably never get up that far again, but then we have seen so much and wouldn’t have seen any of it if we hadn’t come out here. So guess we should be satisfied. We were hoping to get Judy around to it as her last traveling home leave, but one – when we would like to go South Pacific. There is so much we haven’t seen but can’t do everything.
Judy has maintained her Honor Roll for the full year and her grades have been fine so we are very proud of her . . .
Louis left Wednesday, beaming with happiness. He hasn’t been home for 29 months – has a young wife and two small girls. He will be back in Sept. and Francis will leave in October. We are managing very well with just Francis. He is a nice old soul.
Guess that is the sum total of the week’s events. The livestock flourishes. (Editor’s note: this is presumably a reference to Susan’s two horses AND the chickens and other pets of the Webster home.)
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
June 14, 1953
Put Sam Shultz on the plane this morning for Amsterdam, which he will reach tomorrow noon after an overnight stop at Rome. He will meet us in Rome the 28th or Innsbruck the 29th, all things being equal. He had some urgent company business for ten or more days in connection with paint purchasing, and as he is the “Paint Specialist” for Aramco, after 25 years of same for Texas Co. and others, he had to go.
Mim leaves Tuesday or Wednesday next for Beirut to see her married daughter and pick up Anna Mary. She can guide Judy if necessary, and therefore Mildred won’t go as planned, but will go when I do on 28th.
Here is our firm itinerary, which maybe you’re tired of hearing about:
Depart Co. DC-6 June 28th nine A.M. Arrive Beirut for lunch and pick up Judy, Mim and Anna. Arrive Rome about 6 local time and after dinner get train about midnight for Innsbruck, Austria. We’ll see how these foreign sleepers [sleeper trains] are. Arrive Innsbruck one P.M. 29th, meet Sam, stay at Maria Theresia Hotel. This is lovely country they say, with average temperature about 71 this time of year. Stay overnight and leave for Munich, Germany about 4 PM., arriving Munich 8:30 PM. Will stay at Hotel Baerischer Hof for four nights, shipping is good, will buy luggage, expect to see many historic sites, then leave for Heidelberg by train ten AM, arriving 3:37 PM and going to Hotel Reichspost where will stay two nights. [Then to] Frankfurt…Mainz…trip down the Rhine to Cologne…Düsseldorf…Amsterdam…the Hague…across Channel to London…boat train to Dublin…Lakes of Kilarney…Shannon…Should arrive New York [at] Idlewilde [Airport] about seven AM on July 16th.
Will only be in USA six weeks, and will make plans to stay where summer clothes shopping is best accomplished. Desirable familes visit us in Riverside, if [rental] house obtained, would desire stay most of time there. Will know for sure when we arrive USA.
No news from here except we are ready, it is windy and hot today, Rhamadhan is over, have had past three days as holiday to end the thirty day daylight fast and spent two of them cleaning up last minute meetings, packing, cutting grass for last time, stocking up on chicken feed, making arrangements for horses, fish, cat, etc. Will meet Allyn and Lynn June 27th and take their plane out next day.
See you all soon.
Love to all, Ken et al.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
June 26, 1953
I am ready to leave, have almost all items turned over to my relief, and shall pick up health certificates tomorrow, check passport office, take some luggage down to customs for ahead-of-time check, shake a few hands, and in general grin like a cat as I let people who are staying here know how nice it is to be leaving.
…Have talked to military authorities about visiting their places in Germany, have a list of Harvard classmates to see enroute in Belgium, Holland, London, and really am ready. Mildred was so tired from getting ready that I sent her to the movies at 3:30 to see Charlie Chaplin’s new show or last show, and of course, Susan is there, then we go to Hobby Farm to give next to last-time kisses to Nura and Neji, then return to pack and sleep.
No real news for any of you, but will make contact upon arrival [in] New York, and we’ll make our stateside plans then.
Love to all, Ken
(Editor’s note: The letters from Arabia stop at this point and resume after the Websters return to Dhahran from their vacation in September 1953.)
September 25, 1953
At last I have caught my breath long enough to settle down. The first week was very upset, as usual, with getting adjusted to the time change. Took us several nights to get around to sleeping at the right time. One top of that, we have been out almost every night since we arrived. Surely will slow down now.
It is really nice to get back and partly settled. No matter how good a time we have, one begins to want to get home and all unpacked in one place. I am trying to get Judy off on Tuesday – still haven’t finished hems and such. Couldn’t hold on to her long enough to fit things. They have been very busy getting their orientation schedule done and their booklets printed. She has had kids from the other two districts in here and been up there, too. She is in Abqaiq now, but should be home by noon.
Susan has been very busy catching up on school work and taking some tests. Glad she didn’t miss anymore than she did, as they surely started off with a bang this year and seem to have covered a lot of work in the 8 days she missed, of the new year. She has had a time with her foot – is better now, but still under medication and will have to see the doctor one more time. It was a very bad bout with athlete’s foot. . .’
We went to the Hobby Farm early this morning – is still pretty hot to go in the day time. Nura is beautiful and growing like a weed. The experts tell us we have a very good horse in her. Susan has had so much work [that she] hasn’t had a chance to ride very much since our return. I am going to start in another month.
We enjoyed our vacation so very much and it was wonderful seeing everyone. Haven’t been back two weeks yet and seems it was months ago. That is the way with this place. We fared pretty well through customs . . . They kept several things for the day and we will have to pay some duty, no doubt, but did get everything back intact.
Louis came back this week – looking fine but very thin. Think they starve nearly to death in India. We expected Francis to leave for his vacation in October, but he wants to go in Jan. now. Will be nice to have him over Christmas. We are working up our Thanksgiving list. Louise brought me a very pretty, intricate necklace and two simpler ones for the girls – also a beautiful, huge seashell from the beach where he lives. Is a lovely pink.
Love to all, Mildred
October 2, 1953
Susan has sort of caught up on all her work. They are really pouring it on this year and believe it is to get them ready for A.C.S. [American Community School in Beirut] So many of the youngsters had a terrible time making all the heavy homework and this will sort of condition them. A.C.S. is really tough!
I am back in the Scout business again. I’ve been asked to take the Chairmanship of the Adult Council but haven’t decided yet if I want to. Already have taken over as Treasurer again of Troop 1, which was Judy’s and is Susan’s group. I’ve been active in that Troop Committee ever since it was organized in ’46 – but the other entails a lot of work – for all Troops. . .
Guess we will move Nura away from her mother today. Neji doesn’t seem too inclined to have her nurse – and Nura has bitten her several times . . .
It is interesting to see what the no liquor has done to the activities of the Camp. The movies are jammed, the library can’t keep up with the customers, the Hobby Farm has expanded to many more riders, sports were always active but more people turn out for the games, and groups are “bridging” or “canastaing” all over the place. Seems they CAN get along without it after all!
Ken is running around as busy as can be – just like he had never been away. Everyone seems very happy to have him back – very gratifying.
Guess that covers the news. I must get a letter off to Judy so someone of the gang can take it up Sunday. Glad things are going well at home. Hope to have letters this next week. Bye now.
Love to all, Mildred
October 15, 1953
I am sorry I slipped up on my letter writing this past Friday, but things seem to have ganged up on me this past two weeks. I’ll never learn, I guess, not to get myself involved in too many things at one time.
Florence Chadwick, the
former Aramco secretary
who became World
famous for her swims
across the English
Channel. She visited old
friends in Dhahran in
October 1953. Mildred
Webster attended a
luncheon in her honor.
(Photo from the Internet.)
I just came in from a luncheon for our friend Florence Chadwick. We were all so glad to see her. (Editor’s note: Chadwick was the former Aramco steno who made worldwide headlines when she broke the speed record for swimming the English Channel in the late 1940s – described at length in Chapter 10 of “Dear Folks.”)
She came down from Istanbul, via Beirut, yesterday and will have to leave tomorrow. She looks wonderful and certainly doesn’t look as if she had just broken all the records for the three major swims she made this summer. There is a big reception on the Club patio tonight for the folks to visit with her, then she is off for a year of all sorts of contracts – television, sports, etc. She says she is through swimming channels now!
The weather is getting wonderful and everyone is filled with renewed energy. All the club activities have started up again. . .
Judy is all set at school and bubbling with enthusiasm. Her schedule is Algebra II, English, French III, Biology and German, P.E. and Health. They are off to a good start and seem very happy.
Susan Webster, circa mid-1950s, at the Hobby Farm
with “Buttons,” her pet Saluki – a wild Arabian dog that
she took under her wing and cared for
at the farm for several years. (Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)
We are glad to see Susan interested in more outside things this year. She is singing in the choir and is a reporter on the school paper. Which with Scouts, doesn’t leave her too much free time to ride, but we get it all in. They are setting up a “broom pole” team and she wants to play that, too.
There has been quite an epidemic of a type of stomach flu here and folks have been very sick with it – constant vomiting and diarrhea. WE have escaped and are all fine.
Ken has been so busy since we returned, [he] hasn’t had a minute to call his own. Of course, he loves to be busy and really likes his work – petty irritations and all. And believe me, there can be a lot of those. It is amazing how childish some people can get over little things.
I’m in the midst of re-doing Susan’s room so that if we move everything will be ready and if we don’t, it will be ready to paint. The boat with our effects is in, but may take weeks to get it through customs. The stuff backs up down there and they take each boat in order to clear – naturally.
We haven’t been out so many nights, but I have been gadding in the daytime.
Must go. Bye now.
October 21, 1953
New York Times report on strike, October 21, 1953.
(From the New York Times’ free online archives.)
This has been a very upset week…and despite anything you might have read about conditions out here, everything is under control. I am sure there must have been some garbled reports of all sorts of things, but the sum and substance of it is that the Arabs went on strike but actually against the Arab government – and not Aramco. There were some agitators among the Arabs and the funny thing is that they were the men that the Company sent to America to conduct the Indoctrination Center on Long Island some time ago. The Center is now in Sidon, Lebanon.
The stay in the States seems to have given them some advanced ideas and they were stirring the [lower] class to rebel. The Government arrested the men and threw them into jail over in Hofuf – taking them from here by plane. The others went on strike in objection. Consequently, they have not been to work this past week and they brought in soldiers and we have had practically martial law in that we have all stayed inside our own fence just to keep out of the way. There have been some rough treatments by the soldiers – they aren’t very gentle – but aside from a few cars that were stoned because they just happened to be passing the Saudi Camp during the time, there has been no trouble with the Americans.
It did cause confusion in camp and a general rallying round of all Senior Staff to run the dining halls, hospital kitchens, different Co. equipment, etc. The women have helped and we’ve had some high c lass help waiting on tables, etc. Taking out thousands of Arab workmen really changed the face of the camp.
Ken hasn’t had a minute all week and has been on the go morning and night. So have the others, but his job entails contact with all departments and a lot to do with the Arabs. He has been constantly with the “Royal Committee” the last few days who are investigating everything – and they had set up yesterday as “D” day to return to work – most of them did not and this morning they had called sunrise prayers.
I do not know what the outcome will be, but it does not concern us personally. Of course, we haven’t been able to go to the Hobby Farm or anywhere else, but Ken has checked every day. All Airbase is confined to area – they just do not want any incident that might cause trouble. The Government and the Arabs will just have to fight it out between themselves. The [Royal] Committee has been very favorably impressed by living conditions, etc., of the Company facilities for Arabs and is really annoyed by them. Of course, the poor ignorant [Arab workers don’t] even know what is what about anything, so [are] very easily led by things – it is mostly the Bedus from the desert.
The least said about all this the better, as rumors are very prone to spread and reflect on the Company and conditions here. Anyway, we are all fine and there is no danger as far as we are concerned. The operations have not shut down – we just have people hopping more than usual to cover it all. Don’t worry. And I am sure it will be settled to all.
Love to all, Mildred
October 30, 1953
Well, our Hallowe’en has officially come and gone. There was a big dance on the Club Patio and the usual trick or treat business. Susan had 14 kids in for a cookout on our patio and then they took off for parts unknown. She was in by 11 and said it was a very mild evening. I was surprised because of all the talk among the crowd here.
We are still confined to our area inside the fence but it may be lifted tomorrow. Everything is as quiet as a mouse, but not all by quite a bit have come back to work. Funny thing is that most of the departments are running very smoothly. We have always known that it would be more economical to run without Bedu help, but of rouse, have to hire native help – which is only right. Ken is about to drop as he has been on the run for a long time now and just about 20 hours out of each 24. We hope this week will finish up on it all.
The opening of the Officers’ new Club at the Base was to be tonight and 20 couples of us were invited, but had to decline. So they postponed it. They are all confined to [their] area, too. Only ones who have been running around all over the place are the Consulate people – including wives. Seems awfully stupid to us, for an incident there would surely bring down the roof on us all. You certainly couldn’t overlook an insult or incident of any kind with the representative of the U.S. government!
Judy is fine. She probably hasn’t written anyone and we have only had a couple of notes. She [has] gotten herself elected to several things and is as busy as a bee – but happy. I always feel sorry for the new group going up as it is such a tough school they all get scared to death – and sure enough, quite a few are trembling in their boots over grades. They really mow them down, and if you aren’t a pretty good student it is too bad.
We are seriously thinking of sending Susan up to Switzerland for school – and maybe in January. I am in correspondence with Mlle. Heubi now [of Brilliantmont – a private girls’ school in Lausanne, Switzerland.] There are two girls from here [up] there now and both friends of Susan’s. We aren’t too happy over conditions in her group this year. She is doing very well in class work, but it is the outside stuff. The only drawback to Brilliantmont is that all classes are in French, which in itself is wonderful, but she has had none. They make allowances for that and help them along until they pick up enough to do class work. You learn very fast, though, when everyone speaks the same language. She is simply about two years behind this bunch, physically, and striving to bridge the gap – which we aren’t keen on having her do. She isn’t very happy about it all and neither are we. A girl’s school in such a climate with all the sports, etc., would be wonderful for her. Judy never seemed to be concerned about all this.
The horses are fine even though I haven’t seen them for two weeks today. Ken has checked, though, and we have had the boys exercise them every day.
We hope to work in the yard today so must get my family up. Susan will be late for Sunday School. Did I tell you she sings in the choir now?
Guess that is that.
Love to all, Mildred et al.
November 6, 1953
We have so much to be done on the place as we have let it all go with the exception of keeping the grass cut and hedge trimmed until we decided whether we would move or not. Now we have decided we will just stay here at least for this contract. Will certainly be nicer as long as the girls will be around. We just could not find anything we really wanted and even though we could save considerable, we decided not.
The carpenters finished the new chicken coop yesterday and it really is a dilly. Now, we start rearranging the whole north side of the house. Also finished some shelving inside . . . and they will be laying linoleum this week and then [we] will have painting done inside. Dread it, but will be so nice to have it all nice and clean. . .
It has been a busy week. I have finished getting all the new nominees for Woman’s Club election of officers: Pres., 2nd V-P, Bus. Sec., Soc. Sec., Treas. And Two Directors at Large. Had a good committee helping me. I’m trying to decide whether to accept the Chairmanship of the Scout Adult Association. I do and I don’t and Ken doesn’t want me to, especially as it will be a headache in many respects. I must make up my mind before Tuesday. I am still Treasurer of Susan’s Troop. I am taking a bridge class now and what with Nura on my hands, keep busy. We had a very sad tragedy this week – one of our best and most beautiful horses died at the Farm after being very sick for two days. She belongs to a good friend of ours who is on Long Leave in the States. She loved Lahla [the name of the horse] and we don’t know what it was, but they have performed an autopsy. Hope it is nothing contagious.
Susan is happy that she can ride again since the trouble has cleared up. She has been down every night. Have only had two letters from Judy since school started, so assume she is fine. I know she is busy.
Susan has had quite an adjustment to make this time and I can’t account for it unless it is just one of those things that come with this age. She was very unhappy [in school] for a while, but believe it is smoothing out. Her schoolwork is good, so don’t have that problem. The main thing is that she has to compete socially with a group which is much older mentally and physically. There are few girls in the 8th and 9th grades and hordes of boys so they are all thrown together socially. Her best friend is in the States and that doesn’t help – but she has made a new one this last week.
Hope all is well with all of you. Ken is on the run from early till very late.
Love, M – et al.
November 13, 1953
Many things have happened this past week. You have read about the death of the King. Of course, we have been expecting it for some time, as he had been very ill. Mostly a heart condition. He had a long and very eventful life – one that could never happen again in this advanced age. It is the end of an era and so we start again with a new King. I’m glad I was here during his life and even met him in ’46. To me he has always been a character out of a storybook. The new King is well liked and is a fine man.
King Ibn Saud, left, with his son, Crown Prince Saud.
In this photo they are looking at the golden spike that
was used at the royal inauguration of the new Saudi
Government railroad in 1951. (Uncredited photo from
Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster papers.)
Our native troubles have settled down. They never were fussing with us, but we were caught in between their argument with the [Saudi] government. The only way they could protest was to not go to work. We were all surprised how well we could get along without most of them – but, unfortunately, that can’t be done.
We are all feeling sad over the sudden death of one of our friends. He died of a heart attack while on local leave. They brought his body back yesterday and we are going to the funeral this morning. His wife and one son are in the field, but the older boy and girl are in school in the States. The girl was a good friend of Judy’s. He had been here for many years and the family almost as long as I have been. (Editor’s note: Unfortunately, Mildred doesn’t name the person in this letter, so I have no idea whom she is describing.)
I have the house full of workmen – not today, but last week and this coming one. The linoleum is all laid. It is the kind that looks just like a wood floor. Very nice and we are so glad to get it done. They started to paint, but just did one room, so far. Also have men in the yard. Have a new Italian gardener who will come every Friday. They come sort of high – for here – and are hard to get. But they are so good. He is putting in the new garden plot today. We are moving several shrubs and changing the yard about – but Housing Dept. of Landscaping does that. With this man to work 8 hours every Friday, we can carry the rest during the week. Louis is very good to water and likes to do some yard work if he has time.
Had a letter from Judy last night and she is fine and getting along very well. Everything is still “neat.”
The school for Susan is out for now as they teach all subjects in French. So we may do something about that and send her next year. She is doing well in her work and still having a wonderful time with the horse. I’m attempting to teach Nura some discipline with her on the lunge rope. But sometimes I wonder which one of us is doing the teaching! She is so strong and big now and also is spoiled with a mind of her own. She is a beauty.
Love to all, Mimi
Finale of the first act of the annual junior high production. The “minstrel show” was put on by the Dhahran Senior Staff School to raise money to publish the school’s yearbook, The Scimitar. Ninth grader Mike Henry, center, in white dinner jacket, was the master of ceremonies. (Photo from The Scimitar, courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)
Craig Miller plays a TV cameraman
during the annual “minstrel show.” (Photo
from The Scimitar, courtesy Susan
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
November 22, 1953
Just came in from seeing a two-act minstrel show put on by the junior high kids to raise money for their yearbook. It was a huge success attended by some 600 spectators and our Susan was in it, of course. It took less than one and one-half hours to get her ready and all week she has been mumbling songs and sayings. She was in the Dog Patch group.
Last week we saw “Harvey,” played by Dramaramco and very good. We have more talent than any small town of 4,000 should have at home.
Dhahran Senior Staff School’s 1954 yearbook
and Susan Webster in the “Dogpatch Crashes
TV” program. (Photos from The Scimitar,
courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)
I have been very busy with problems of the day and night, and then to top it off the King died and his oldest living son [Crown Prince Saud] was crowned or chosen by the Royal Family to be the new King. His oldest brother [Faisal] was made Crown Prince. All appears serene and possibly we’ll have a Coronation holiday before long. We all took a day off for “Mourning” then a few days later took a day while the Saudi Arabs swore allegiance to the new King, and we await further days of celebration…
(Editor’s note: His Majesty King ‘Abd al ‘Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al Faisal al Sa’ud, King of Saudi Arabia, died on November 9, 1953, after a long decline in health. According to the Arabian Sun & Flare, “Aramco immediately joined the rest of the nation in mourning the King, and suspended all but the most essential operations…the High Royal Cabinet proclaimed H.R.H. Amir Sa’ud ibn ‘Abd al ‘Aziz as King. Following this proclamation, the new King designated his brother, H.R.H. Amir Faisal ibn ‘Abd al ‘Aziz, Crown Prince and heir to the throne.”)
The Junior High’s “Dogpatch Orchestra”, November 1953.
(Photo from The Scimitar, courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)
We will have 10 for [Thanksgiving] dinner Thursday, have the turkey in our new International upright deep freeze, a promise of many fresh tings from Beirut, and should have a good time. We hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. . .
No other news and will write again soon.
Love to all, Ken
Article that appeared in the Arabian Sun & Flare on November 11, 1953, announcing King Ibn Saud’s death. (Clipping from Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster papers.)
Editor’s note: Following are portions of a November 10, 1953 New York Times feature article on the death of King Ibn Saud (from the New York Times free online archives):
His Majesty King ‘Abd al ‘Aziz ibn ‘Abd
al-Rahman al Faisal al Sa’ud, King of Saudi
Arabia, who died on November 9, 1953. (Photo
from Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster papers.)
“IBN SAUD AS EXILE RE-CREATED REALM; His Deeds as a Warrior Made Him Absolute Monarch of Saudi Arabia; A Wily Diplomat and Shrewd Business Man – Oil Discovery Gave Him Great Wealth…[King Saud} was a seventh-century feudal conqueror and a twentieth-century absolute monarch at the same time. . . To the central Arabian Peninsula territory inhabited mostly by nomad Bedouin tribes, he brought the Puritanism of the Wahabi sect of the Islamic faith. But he tempered it by the introduction of the telephone, the radio, the motor vehicle and other modern innovations, and by tolerance for other Islamic sects.
A wily diplomat, Ibn Saud played one great power off against another to refill his coffers…Equally shrewd was he at bargaining with the great oil companies when oil was discovered in his domains. Where once the pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina, holy cities of Islam, were his principal sources of revenue, the oil income of his kingdom increased to $60,000,000 in 1950 and to $200,000,000 in 1952.
With these funds, the King replaced his four-room silk-lined tent, complete with bathroom, which was his palace during his constant travels over the desert, with a United States-built $20,000 automobile trailer. It had a special elevator to lift him inside. Invalided by wounds received in the wars of his younger days, he had acquired from President Franklin D. Roosevelt his spare wheel chair. Thereafter, as he said, the wheel chair “saved many steps.”
His Royal Highness
Crown Prince Faisal.
(Photo from Ken Slavin’s
collection of Webster papers.)
[W]hen the time came to develop the country’s oil resources, he granted a sixty-year concession on a third of the country to two United States concerns, the Standard Oil Company of California and the Texas Company. Later other American oil interests were admitted to what became the Arabian American Oil Company, Aramco, the largest private foreign investment of the United States…the companies invested more than $700,000,000.
While much of his royalties went for personal expenditure and personal distribution, he also called in expert commissions to plan the country’s development…for a railway, two airfields, 1,200 miles of road, the enlargement of two ports…to bring electricity and water to his capital and to Mecca and Medina, and to go ahead with irrigation projects, experiment stations, hospitals and schools…
Believed to have been born in 1880, King Ibn Saud, who was more familiarly known as Abdul-Aziz in his kingdom, was reported in 1953 to be in ill health. On October 10 he issued a decree establishing the first Cabinet in his realm and named his eldest son, Prince Saud, Premier with extensive powers . . .
The King had three or four wives at a time, divorcing them frequently. It was believed that he had had 100 to 200 in all and in 1952, when he was about 72 years old, the Cairo newspapers reported that he had become the father of another son.”
King Ibn Saud, seated in the center, surrounded by his sons, circa 1950. (Photo from Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster papers.)
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
December 4, 1953
The temperatures run from 85 high to 51 low and the air conditioning is off, being replaced with warm air. We have the windows open most of the time, and find this the best time of year. The garden is in, thanks to an Italian gardener, the new side lawn is complete, three or four new trees are planted, and all is fine, except we lost mot of our nicest tree, an Acadia, in a windy night this week. It is a fast-growing tree we planted four years ago, but susceptible to splitting. The hedges are not growing much, and the lawn is covered with new dirt and fertilizer we produced at our own Hobby Farm – guess the horses are paying off as well as being a pleasure to the girls.
[We were] visited by Admiral Wright and party, he is Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. Also had dinner with the Wolverton party of Senators checking on U.S. business outside the USA. (Editor’s note: This is a reference to U.S. Congressman Charles A. Wolverton, who at the time of his visit to Dhahran was the chairman of the powerful Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.)
School is out for December and soon Judy will be home for Christmas vacation. . . She is on [the] Honor Roll again, but we are more interested in knowing she is participating in activities than being head of the class scholastically. . .
Day after tomorrow I leave my normal work and report to the Field Management Committee for ninety days. Dan Sullivan will take my place as District Manager and Larry Cramton will take his. It will make me more a member of the family for three months, only working 7:30 to 5, no night calls, no Fridays, no phone calls, but just daily meetings of all field vice presidents and department heads to form company policy and do broad overall planning. It will be a change I can enjoy, but will miss the daily life of being mayor just the same. I can be home before noon each day, have all meals on time, and with all the family. It will be a new experience being on the planning and thinking side, instead of on the doing side, of our operations.
Love to all, Ken et al
Judy Webster’s Arab jewelry chest,
opened up to reveal the hidden drawers
and intricately inlaid wood and velvet
lining. Displayed is some of her Arab
jewelry. Judy’s mother and sister had
similar chests with slightly different inlays
and exterior designs. (Photo courtesy
Judy Webster Bauer.)
December 11, 1953
I haven’t written for two weeks or more – but have been up to my ears. Ken filled in for me.
The house is all back in order and everything is so clean and nice. We had linoleum [laid] all over the house – the kind that looks like grained wood. It is light beige and when waxed looks very nice. Surely beats the cement floors. We picked up the dark beige in the background of the Persian rugs for the walls and woodwork – and it turned out very pretty. The rose chairs are covered and blue one waiting – the couch is here but not out of customs. Surely hope it gets here before Christmas. The porch den is done in the same color with the same furniture, which is covered in red leather. All lampshades are white – also picture frames, flower pots, etc.
Our bedroom is still the same color – aqua – with floral drapes, cream white furniture. Susan’s room is pale lime green with the burgundy shag run – white furniture and spreads also dressing table skirt. This was all done with two pictures of horses and striped zebras in mind. Quite pretty and she likes it better than the blue room before – feels it is more grown up.
Susan Webster’s Arab jewelry chest, similar to
her sister’s and mother’s, showing the intricate
brass work on the outside. This chest now
belongs to Ken Slavin. (Photo by Ken Slavin.)
Judy’s room I have done as a semi-den – bed is pushed up against the wall like a couch – has big bolsters covered in a village scene of beige, brown, greens and several shades of red roofs. Touch of green gold, too…white picture frames and her Arab chest…brass lamps and a large brass and copper tray on the wall behind the couch. Both of their rooms have café curtains – Susan’s in white and Judy’s in unbleached muslin, which blends perfectly with it all.
I had thirty women to tea last Sunday for Pat Singelyn and her mother…this Sunday I am having thirty more women for coffee – all wives of men in Ken’s District setup. This is only about ¼ of them, but can’t seat many more comfortably. [I’m] having it for the wife of the Asst. District Manager…
The Hobby Farm had a Fun Rodeo this morning…Susan held her own with all the grownups…
Bye now. Love to all, Mildred.
The kids came in yesterday afternoon and believe me, there is nothing more exciting than to see the two plane loads of 65 returnees getting in. Such commotion and fun! They won’t let anyone inside the customs except the people arriving (Ken gets in) so, there are the fond parents chatting through the wire mesh and the excited kids on the other side – plus all the piles of luggage – baskets of fruit and flowers brought down. It’s lots of fun.
Judy Webster, circa mid-1950s.
(Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)
Judy looks wonderful and has a very swish new hairdo. She loves everything in the house and especially her room. I really worked on it – was making small pillows for her couch Friday. She seems happy as a lark and full of plans and stuff. She is still going with Connie, but not quite as interested as before. There is a Return From School formal Wednesday night put on by the Youth Recreation Group and kids from here. Connie stayed in Beirut with his roommate (son of Ambassador Hare) as his folks are in the States on leave.
It has rained for 11 straight days – and really poured most of the time. Everything is soaked and many places washed out. We have already had the equivalent of about three years’ rain – lots of sickness in the Arab villages. Their palm straw barrasties aren’t built for this sort of stuff. The poor horses at the Farm are swamped in mud – we haven’t been able to even take them out of their stalls. They have some shelter, but not for this heavy mud.
Of course, it is good for the area in general and it is said that Allah is blessing the new regime – a close secret, but the King is coming over for a visit right after Christmas. What a commotion he makes. Just housing the retinue is a headache. Thank goodness Ken is up at the Ad[ministration] building now on the Field Management Committee. Let someone else handle this job for a change. It is interesting to see, but a terrible job to take care of all the unseen work.
There have been lots of parties and gadding. The lack of liquor hasn’t curtailed the social life – just changed the type of things. We may have Open House for New Year’s – haven’t decided yet. Francis leaves the first week in Jan., so should get all my major stuff off my hands. His second daughter is getting married – she is Judy’s age.
Both girls are snoozing – a good morning for it with the rain on the roof. Judy is tired anyway so will just let her rest. I must go – there is shopping to do. Hope Christmas is a wonderful one for all of you. We will be thinking of you and sending our love across the miles.
All the best, Mildred
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
December 25, 1953
Merry Christmas to all of you and I hope the weather there is as nice as ours. We do not have snow in this part of Arabia, but it is found on the other side and way north of us. For almost two weeks we had daily rains for a total of 4.1 inches, an unheard-of amount for here and almost double the average yearly rainfall. Ras Tanura had 5.88 inches. Then the temperature dropped to low forties at night up to almost 70 in the daytime. The cold didn’t bother us any, but the rain gave real trouble in washing out the streets between here and other districts and villages and causing major discomfort to the Arabs living in non-rainproof houses without heat except cook stove.
A view of the Webster living room at 1423 Kings Road,
Dhahran, late 1950s. Decorations included an
extensive collection of brass Arab coffeepots (above
the window), matched Kerman rugs bought in Beirut,
Mildred’s prized carved screen from Bombay and her
collection of Oriental ivory figurines displayed on the
wall near the sofa. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
Last Saturday and Sunday the Dhahran Choral Group and Junior Choir presented Christmas programs “Christmas in Song” and the entire town turned out and enjoyed the music. The Junior Choir also had a program in the Dining Hall last Friday, which was enjoyed by all the diners and friends who came just to hear the songs. Our two are too old for the last group, were in it for some years. Susan sings in the church choir much of the time, though.
Tuesday was the Nativity and it was good except that the night was so cold even the singers had a hard time, and we spectators were frozen. The camels, sheep, stars overhead, still had a real appeal, as the Manger scene appeared in the spotlight . . . Friday, today, was our Christmas tree at home, the entire police department came to visit, then two from Indian laundry, then a cocktail party, then cold turkey dinner at Sam and Mim’s. Tomorrow is a day off, too, and we have a cocktail party housewarming at a friend’s house.
Ken Webster serves the traditional standing rib roast at
the Webster family’s annual Christmas Eve dinner in
Dhahran, early 1950s. (Photo from Ken Slavin’s
Everybody received gifts that were fun and useful. The girls made up a stocking for Mildred and me, as we have done for them since they can remember. Judy gave me a camel saddle seat from Beirut, can be used as a hassock or stool . . . Mildred received bracelet and earrings from Toledo, Spain … and all kinds of things from the girls, one being a hand-painted jewel box from Susan. (Painted herself.)
The Indian laundry gave us a six-piece set of stainless steel knives, forks and spoons with an animal horn carved handle, a large bottle of Shalimar French perfume, and a serving tray, ash trays to match, and a cigarette dispenser. A Palestinian friend gave us a set of candle sticks and nut tray from Italy, with candles, and then an Arab merchant gave us an old Tibetan jewel-studded tray about nine inches around. The jewels may be glass, but it is old and beautiful. Shultzes gave us a large bean pot from Germany. All in all, it was a fine Christmas.
Our divan came just before Christmas, and the Sudanese upholsterer finished the covers for the chairs Mildred bought last spring from a family leaving while we were gone. Our living room is now furnished by all our things except the bridge and table lamps and one company chair – and the old chair from Sister is my pride and joy. The room has a new look and is very nice. We think now we have a very nice home just the way Mildred wanted it.
Love, Ken, Mildred and Girls.
Camels grazing on the Arabian desert. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
This is a dramatized narrative based on actual events and characters. The last line is a verbatim quote from my dad Tom Barger who was there.
Until 1953 it was legal for Americans to drink alcohol within their compounds. HM King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud granted this privilege to the oilmen in appreciation of their heroic efforts to extinguish the runaway oil fire at Dammam #12 in the summer of 1939.
So Aramco operated a liquor store based on a monthly ration coupon basis and served beer in the Stag Club where the guys gathered to relax, play cards, shoot billiards or the breeze. It was a men’s club, not entirely by choice; for most of its history there were fewer than a dozen single women in the whole camp.
So it’s a late Thursday afternoon in 1952, and two of the foremen in charge of building Dhahran’s air conditioning network are playing cribbage in the club, enjoying their day off. I’ll call them Don and Paul. Don is a stout, brash plumber who is sensitive about the bulging spare tire saddled around his waist. Paul is a tall, slouching electrician with a hangdog expression like Walter Matthau. They’re both from New Jersey, having a few cans of Iron City beer — the only brand that Aramco served — talking about baseball, minding their own business, when Burt Simmons, the crusty, old-timer camp foreman appears at their table.
“Do you want the bad news first?”
“What’s the good news?” asks Paul.
“Well, from what I could patch together, I think the AC unit has probably blown a fuse. It should be easy to fix.”
Don says, “The bad news…”
Apologetically Burt says, “It’s in Dammam.”
“Dammam!” they blurt out together.
“Yes Dammam. At bin Jiluwi’s palace. Quint says to get it done.”
The son of Abdullah, one of the most famous warriors in Saudi history, Emir Saud bin Jiluwi is the governor of al Hasa, the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. He holds absolute dominion over the desert east of Riyadh, from Kuwait in the north to the boundless dunes of the Rub’ al-Khali.
Quint is a grasping, always-well-dressed assistant to the district manager who is on short leave in Beirut. As the acting district manager, there isn’t a thing in this world that he won’t do for Emir Saud bin Jiluwi.
Quint calls Burt, “Bin Jiluwi’s palace has gone down. There is no air conditioning. Get someone to fix it.”
“Wait a minute. What are you talking about? Why should I care?”
“Because. Because it’s bin Jiluwi.”
“Do you have a number that I can call back and figure out what’s exactly wrong?”
“Never mind. He said that the motor stopped. It’s probably a blown fuse. Get going. I promised him that we’d have some guys there in an hour.”
“His name is Selim. He’s the emir’s top guy. Ask at the palace when you get there.”
“No, them. Find some guys. Gotta go.”
Burt buys another round of Iron City, convinces Don and Paul that it will be a snap and offers to authorize two additional vacation days. This plan probably isn’t Burt’s best idea, but he is low on options and has other things to do.
Paul hops into Don’s completely fitted out Dodge Power Wagon, and they depart the Stag Club on the way north about 20 miles to Dammam. In 1952 there is nothing between Dhahran and Dammam except a few rocky ridges, a lot of flat desert and a lonely, two-lane asphalt road, barely populated by cabs, pick-up trucks, jitney buses and Kenworths. The Dodge doesn’t have AC, so the windows are down as they drive on.
Twice Don has to stop to let herds of camels cross the blacktop. In town, he is stalled on a narrow street behind a donkey cart heavily laden with sacks of dates. It has a flat tire.
Finally they pull up in front of the palace gate. There is an older, stone-faced guard in a khaki uniform holding a rifle with a fixed bayonet. Paul walks up to him and asks for Selim.
He glowers at the electrician and says, “Selim?”
“I don’t know. Selim. Selim!” Paul says loudly as he waves his hands in frustration.
As the alarmed guard raises his rifle and bayonet, Paul blurts out, “Selim. AC. Fix AC.”
It’s a funny thing, but almost immediately after the Americans arrived, AC became an Arabic word. The sentry relaxes and says, “Selim. Condition?” (the Arabic synonym for AC)
“Yes. Condition. Selim.”
The guard is all smiles as he whistles up his youngest, scrawniest recruit to guide the guys, not to the palace, but to a low-lying building next to it. It’s the barracks of the palace guard. Before they can get out of the truck, a thin, middle-aged Kenyan with a sunken chest and thick, slicked-back, black hair, wearing a white polyester short-sleeve shirt and a ready grin, greets them in a broken English accent.
“Sahib. So good to see you. I knew you’d help.”
Don says, “Selim?”
“At your service. Yes sir, Selim. I’m company clerk for Abu Jumbia,”
“Yes sahib, Abu Jumbia – it means father of the dagger. He’s the governor’s chief body guard and commander of the company.”
Don thought he was driving out to fix the governor’s AC, but he is suddenly eager to please the Father of the Dagger.
Paul interjects, “How come you speak such good English?”
“Yes, sahib, I was a hotel clerk in Nairobi for many years. But then I came here.”
Don wants to know why, of all places, Selim came to Dammam, but he doesn’t have the heart to ask. Instead he asks where the AC unit is located. He and Paul quickly figure out the problem. A rodent has chewed into the mains power cable and shorted out both himself and the AC. It’s easy to repair, and less than an hour later they are driving back to Dhahran as dusk descends over the desert.
For some reason, almost lost to posterity, Don and Paul start bickering, then arguing with each other. Maybe it was the special bottle of Swedish Solvent in Paul’s toolbox that was talking. The two men start screaming at each other, louder and louder. Bubbling with anger, Don steers off the road, across the gravel shoulder and screeches to a halt ten yards away in the hard, packed desert sand.
The truck is still running as both men burst out the cab and attack each other before they even clear the hood. They grapple and fall to the ground. Paul gets stabbed in the side by a sturdy, desiccated twig half-buried in the sand. His distress allows Don to stand up and call him out. Paul staggers to his feet and says, “Give me your best shot, Doughnut Man.”
It’s on. They exchange wide, slow punches, charge and curse at each other in front of the Power Wagon’s headlights, which act as a stage-right, directional spotlight on a desert stage amidst the blackness of night. From the road, Don and Paul appear as silhouetted stick figures engaged in a stroboscopic, slow-motion Punch and Judy act.
This is a strange story based on actual events, but it becomes even stranger when a Saudi I’ll call Adnan comes driving by in his uncle’s ’49 Chrysler on an errand to Dhahran. Most every large family has an Adnan. Unmarried, late-twenties, he wants so many things but hasn’t the ambition to earn them. Plus, even his cousins find him a bit unreliable.
Inexplicably, Adnan screeches to a halt and launches himself into the fight. Nobody will ever know why he did this, but from the road now it looks like three stick figures grappling like Kabuki wrestlers in the desert.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Corporal Aziz has checked out early from his post at the Dhahran police station and hitched a ride to Qatif in the cab of a dump truck filled with scrap metal bought surplus from Aramco. He is dreaming of a quiet Friday with his wife and kids when he arrives at the scene. As if you could miss it. Three guys panting and stumbling in the headlights of the idling Dodge truck.
Still in his uniform, Aziz wades into the exhausted scrum of three men, separates and talks to each one of them. Neither Don nor Paul nor Aziz understand a word spoken between themselves. Adnan is aggrieved. He tells Aziz that the two Americans robbed him of two hundred riyals.
The beauty of a dump truck is that it can always accommodate three prisoners in its bed and quite elegantly deposit them in front of the Dammam jail if necessary.
Friday morning, my dad Tom Barger, who works in Aramco’s government relations, drives to the Dammam jail. He brings the guys bottled water and rations of sardines, oranges, cheese and bread. Don and Paul, beat-up and hung over as they are, won’t say what the fight was about and neither of them had the slightest idea how Adnan appeared. All of the sudden he was brawling with them. They certainly didn’t rob him of 200 riyals.
Two days later, with his witty, well-traveled translator Suliman, Tom drives back to the courthouse in Dammam. It’s a wide room with a tall plaster ceiling and two languid fans barely rotating from above. The perimeter is lined with sturdy, upholstered bolsters to accommodate a crowd that isn’t there today. In the middle of the room are more than a dozen folding chairs in front of a battered teak desk that was probably new when T. E. Lawrence led the raid on Aqaba.
Behind the desk is the qadhi or judge. I’ll call him Shaikh Hassan. Close to 70 years old, he’s a small man with narrow shoulders, a long head, close-cropped grey hair, and four-day stubble. He’s wearing a white knit qaffieyh, skull cap, and a high collared, white thobe with a Mont Blanc pen in his front pocket. As the courtroom settles, his light grey eyes sweep the room like a magnet picking up iron fillings.
Shaikh Hassan states that there are two charges against Don and Paul: public disturbance and robbery for 200 riyals. Through Suliman, my dad, acting as a sort of defense attorney, explains that the fight was purely a matter of honor. Only between them, at night, in the middle of the desert halfway to Dhahran – as far away from the public as possible. As to the second count, they each made almost 200 riyals a day, so why would they rob Adnan?
Shaikh Hassan listens impassively, only his silver hawk eyes scanning my dad and Suliman, as they talk back and forth to make their case. Next, the plaintiff is called to testify.
Lean and handsome, wearing an immaculate, brilliant white thobe, ironed to perfection by his maiden aunt, and his red-and-white-checked ghutrah folded just right, Adnan states his case. After a few questions from the qadhi, he launches into a diatribe about Don and Paul that Suliman can barely translate fast enough. He rattles on until Hassan cuts him off with a nod of his chin.
Adnan’s story is that he was driving along, saw two Americans fighting each other, thought it was his civic duty to break up the brawl, intervened, and they robbed him of 200 riyals. Hassan asks him a few more questions and then calls on the first defendant.
Suliman beckons to Don who approaches the judge. The shaikh asks if he will testify under oath. “Oath?” thinks Don. He really wants to get out of the Dammam jail. So, sure, “I’ll swear an oath.”
The judge stares at Don for a long moment, rolls his chair back, reaches into his worn, wooden desk and brings out a thick, faded blue cotton bag. He lays it on the desktop, pulls out a large black book and motions to his bailiff who picks it up and delivers it to Don. My dad can’t believe what he is seeing. It’s a Bible.
Qadhi Hassan asks for the plumber’s oath on the Book of the Christians. With his hand on the Bible, Don pledges that he will only tell the truth. The bailiff retrieves the good book, and Hassan quizzes Don about the circumstances that night.
As he relates the events of that evening in a soft, hoarse voice, Don is downcast, haggard and weary. The shiner on his left eye is starting to mend – it looks much better than it did Thursday night. Whether it’s in Arabic or English, his body language speaks for a humbled, contrite man – who will certainly never do that again.
At the end of his testimony, Don states that neither he nor Paul in any way robbed Adnan. Shaikh Hassan silently considers his statement and then asks, “After this fight, is Paul still your friend?”
“Oh yes,” says Don, “He’s my best friend here in Arabia. We just had an argument about the Yankees and Dodgers.”
Suliman, the wiley and worldly translator, stumbles and falls at that last remark. Tom interjects in Arabic, “My honor, it’s called baseball, a game sort of like cricket for Americans. Professional players can make more than 50,000 riyals a year. The Yankees and the Dodgers are two famous teams who are angry with each other and bitter rivals.”
“And apparently their fans are hotheads, too,” Hassan thinks as he stares back at my dad. His youngest grandson Saif plays for a neighborhood soccer team in Dammam. He’s a bit of a soccer granddad and has a very low opinion of the team from Saihat.
The shaikh ends the proceedings without calling Paul. The three defendants are lined up in front of him as he announces that the count of public disturbance is dismissed. It was a private dispute until Adnan, who should have been minding his own business, jumped in.
On the second count the Americans are not guilty. He has asked around and discovered that Adnan rarely has more than 50 riyals to his name.
Hassan calmly looks at Adnan and says, “You have brought false charges against these men. Back to your cell for now.”
The hapless Adnan is dragged away by two guards. Don and Paul thank the shaikh before quickly retreating with Suliman to the company car. My dad lingers for a moment and approaches Hassan at his desk to thank him for his generosity to the AC men. They talk in Arabic for a few minutes before Tom asks the question he has been dying to ask – but probably shouldn’t, “Your honor, I was surprised that you have a Bible. Where did that come from?”
For the first time all day, the judge breaks character. Hassan’s face relaxes, a soft grin is almost a smile, those light grey eyes have a new liveliness. Looking up from his desk, he says, “Mr. Barger, you must know that we have been doing this for a very long time. We are all people of the Book.”
Earlier stories by Tim Barger are included in his collection Arabian Son.