Chapter 16: Susan Webster Goes to Boarding School in Switzerland; Judy Webster Begins her Senior Year in Beirut; The ‘Nomad Websters’ Travel to Rome and Switzerland; Polio Scare in Dhahran; Ken and Mildred Visit Bahrain.
Dhahran District Manager Ken Webster with his
Aramco car, mid-1950s. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
The second half of 1954 is a time of great change for the Webster family as younger daughter Susan leaves Dhahran at the tender age of 13 to attend boarding school in Switzerland. With older daughter Judy still at the American Community School in Beirut, it is Ken and Mildred’s first taste of “empty nest syndrome” and they have decidedly mixed feelings about it. But the experience was common for Aramco parents, since the Company only provided schooling through ninth grade. Susan left a year early for a number of reasons, mostly because she was much younger than her classmates and her parents believed going abroad to a school with girls her own age would be good for her on many levels. For her, the experience was also a mixed bag, mostly not a happy one, as she has related many times in the subsequent years. (Editor’s note: Susan returned to Dhahran the following year, eventually graduating from the Senior Staff School in 1956.)
For Aramco, 1954 was another year of phenomenal growth. Dhahran saw visits by King Saud and Crown Prince Faisal, a polio scare in the camp, and many other interesting developments.
Aerial view of Dhahran, late 1950s.
(From Ken Slavin’s personal
copy of the Aramco Handbook.)
These letters cover July to December 1954.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
July 5, 1954
This is a bit late, but not because we weren’t thinking of you, but because I couldn’t get a letter off. I was going to write last week, but when we came back from Beirut on Saturday and Sunday I began to have a sore throat and by Monday I had a very severe one. That evening the doctor came to the house and packed me off to the hospital. I picked up some sort of a virus infection in Beirut, I guess, and believe me, it was a dilly!
Of course, going to the hospital doesn’t mean what it does at home – they put everyone in who needs attention because the doctors don’t make repeated house calls. Besides, I had to have penicillin shots. It wasn’t strep, but some other sort of thing. It settled in the epiglottis and the little trap door on the top of it that closes off the windpipe was swollen open so I couldn’t swallow anything without it going down my windpipe – not that I could swallow anyway – but it was the sorest thing I ever had in my life. However, they gave me 4 shots a day for 6 days and by Thursday I could eat cream of wheat, etc., and was up the next day, but had to stay until Sunday to finish the shots. I am fine and can eat anything now. Just one of those freakish things...
Mildred and Ken Webster, 1954.
[Now] I am fit as a fiddle. In fact, they cleared up my infection in three days. Only had to stay in the hospital to finish up the 24 shots! Oh, my aching seat!
Well, the family is all together again and it is certainly nice. The reason we didn’t let Judy go on the trip was because this is the last summer she will be home for a long time. After next year, we will pick her up and go on long leave and the next time here will be in ’56. She is still young enough that we felt she needed this home life for the summer. She is loving her work in the Lab and today the technician taught them how to do a urinalysis. We assured her we would all be happy to send any little specimens over!
Susan is so excited about going to Switzerland we can hardly hold her down! She will go the 29th of July and to 6 weeks [of] summer school at another small school for just French. They have classes two hours each morning and the rest of the day free. [She] goes to Brilliantmont [sic] Sept. 20th. We will be there by then. The address of the summer school is: Pensionnat Les Allieres, Ch. De Grand Vennes, Lausanne, Switzerland. Address of the other one is: Chateau Brilliantmont [sic], Avenue Charles Secretan, Lausanne, Switzerland. (Editor’s note: My grandparents consistently misspelled the name of Susan’s boarding school. The correct spelling, according to the school’s website, is “Brillantmont.” I have corrected it throughout this chapter from this point on.) We will send her up on the plane with someone. This is her choice and the summer French will help her very much as all her classes will be in French. There are five [girls] from here going to Brillantmont this year.
Susan Webster wearing a dance
costume in Dhahran, early 1950s.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
(Editor’s note: Brillantmont is a famous boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland, founded in 1882 by the Heubi family. At the time Susan Webster attended, it was an all-girls “finishing school.” It is now co-educational. Among its accomplished graduates was the legendary movie actress, Gene Tierney.)
We are having our July 4th celebration on Thursday [July 8] and the Hobby Farm will have two floats and many pairs of horses ridden in the parade. Of course, Susan will be right in there with bells on.
I’ve been sewing like mad getting things ready to send her off. Was able to buy her a lovely coat in Beirut and with things I have bought here and made, she will be fine, except for skiing and skating clothes, etc., which she would have to get there [in Switzerland] anyway.
Judy’s best beau is in Beirut – Paul Hare, son of U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon. We knew them (Mr. and Mrs. Hare) when he was ambassador here in Jeddah...
Love to all, Mimi
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
July 9, 1954
The Aramco Employees Association planned a gala day on our Thursday afternoon off [for the Fourth of July] and [we] were joined by Little League Baseball boys group, Hobby Farm, Women’s Group, Scouts, Golf Club, Youth Recreation, three airlines, and others.
The Midway had many booths including: Voice Recording, Turtle Races, Camel Rides and photos, Horse Races (Shipboard Type), Cotton Candy, Spill the Bottles, Fortune Teller, Pea Booth, Penny Pitch, Pleasure Time Miniature Railways, Photo Shop, Ice Cream Booth, Coney Island Hot Dogs, Pop Corn, Hamburgers, Dart Throw, Nail Driving, Ladies’ Bingo, Safety and Fire Prevention, three airline booths, Fish Pond, Donkey Rides, Golf Pitch, Cake Sale, Pie Eating Contest, Cracker Eating Contest, Rolling Pin Throwing, Egg Throwing, Baby Show, Free Watermelon, Monte Carlo, Dancing and a Chorale Singing period.
The Midway was opened at 1 p.m. and the main start was a parade of fire trucks, Air Force crash trucks, Girl Scout Float, and 45 horses from the Hobby Farm with riders as Indians, Cowboys and girls, etc. Our Susan, of course, was right there with Nejma after hours of washing and currying, her mane and tail shining with my Wildroot hair tonic, her hooves cleaned and shining, and the saddle, etc., sparkling...
The company chartered seven airplanes from KLM and Seaboard and Western to rush 109,336 pounds of furnace tubes and other material to Arabia. The airlift between Pittsburgh and Dhahran was completed in eight days. This is the second major airlift this year as the first was for two major Caterpillar units and pumps for rush increased pumping needs of our main pipeline to Mediterranean.
Susan leaves July 29th, Judy is working at Health Center lab, all are well and happy, we wish we could pop home for a few weeks, but can’t make it this year. If we are still here when the girls are both in college in USA, we’ll plan to come home once a year, taking our mid-tour local leave in USA. The round trip is only $1,021 now, each, and being home each year, Mildred staying a month or so, will make the times here shorter and the buying sprees less arduous for her.
No other news, will write again soon.
Love from all, Ken
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
July 23, 1954
This has been a full week, starting with a good steak dinner and bingo at the Officers Club at the Airbase Saturday. Didn’t win bingo prize, but Susan won jackpot of $6.00 in slot machines at $3.00 cost to me. Then on Sunday, we had ninth grade graduation and I gave out the diplomas. We had 25 graduates, Ras Tanura 13 and Abqaiq 10. Many of them will attend school with Judy in Beirut but others will go to USA and Europe. The new company rule to bring children back once each year through four years of college makes the parents happy, but many of these graduates will not come here again anyway, so it is a time of sadness for some...
Tuesday was dinner and farewell party for Phil and Gerty McConnell retiring after 16 years in the Persian Gulf of which 12 were spent in Arabia. 200 friends attended and it was a comedy from past incidents, songs made up for the occasion, and the final talk by Phil, who lampooned Aramco management and policies very effectively. Gerty said she is not retiring but just going home to work. This is too true for those who have several servants here for years, and then have to do for themselves. Oh, well, it’s fun while it lasts.
Wednesday to Saudi Government Hotel for dinner honoring return of Government Relations friend, put on by [a] Palestinian, and it was a typical Lebanese dinner. First there was a salad of cut-up lettuce, onions, etc., with oil and vinegar, all mixed with raw chopped wheat. Rather different, but not wanted every night. Then soup followed by shishkabob (small pieces of steak, onion, and potato roasted on a skewer) and a paste that tasted like cream cheese flavored heavily with onion. Then cake, coffee and fruit. The air conditioning was off, so we didn’t enjoy the dinner too well.
Last night to the show to see a German or Swiss picture, “Heidi,” the setting of which was Switzerland and the mountains were beautiful. The girls had parties, swim dates, etc., all week, and Susan passed into the ninth grade on Wednesday. She just can’t wait for next Thursday when she leaves for Switzerland. Mildred is busy daily on that last-minute sewing for her...
Looks like our plans are fairly firm now to leave late on September 6th, arriving Rome early the next morning. Spend Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, shopping etc. then leave Saturday or Sunday for Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland. This will give us 10 days in Switzerland to shop and arrange things for Susan for Brilliantmont starting Sept. 20, and maybe some side trips or just sitting in COOL weather in sight of the snow-topped mountains...
Love to all, Ken
July 31, 1954
Well, the big event of this week was Susan’s departure and all the activities leading up to it. She really was so excited it was hard to hold her down to the usual daily events. There were several parties for her and so many people came by to tell her goodbye that last day. Of course, I was getting butterflies in my tummy and my knees, but everything went off fine. She looked so grown up and complacent and managed to get away without crying. Stood at the top of the plane steps with a big smile and a big wave. She should have made the trip in fine fashion, for two of our secretaries were going to keep an eye on her. She got there yesterday morning. Now we can’t wait for her first letter...
We will certainly miss our little girl and then when Judy goes back to school, we will be all alone – but we feel that we owe it to them to give them these opportunities while we are out here. The girls who went to Brillantmont last year loved it and had such a wonderful time. Judy has always been happy at ACS and this will be her senior year. She is Vice President of Student Council next year as well as other active affairs.
Judy Webster, center, sunbathes with friends
during an ACS camping trip to Dog River in
(Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.)
The weather has been terrible. The humidity has been approximately the same as the temperature – and that has stayed around 118 to120…We do have the AC; however, it does not function as well when it is humid. It was off last Friday for 8 hours on a terrible day and we sure did appreciate it even more when they got it back on.
Judy enjoys her work – is in the Lab all morning and in the X-ray Lab in the afternoons. Also, the doctor who is the X-ray specialist has gone to great pains to give her practically a course in lectures and instructions about X-ray. She says, though, she doesn’t think she would like to be a Lab technician or X-ray technician, as you don’t see enough people! I believe she will still end up in nursing, but will go to college two years first and on to a medical school and maybe get into some specialized field – if she doesn’t get married first...
Love from us all, Mildred
August 6, 1954
A whole week has gone by since Susan left. We miss her so much, but from her letters, she is getting along fine. Have heard twice and each [letter is] full of enthusiasm for everything. There were 10 girls there and two more to arrive [for summer school]– and at first none could speak English! She said they were very nice to her and they had managed to bridge the language barrier. The next two who arrived could speak a little [English]. Of course, that is the way to learn to speak any language. The teachers speak English. She started classes Monday and we are anxious to hear how she is making out. It is cold up there and she has put her summer clothes away. They have had the same unseasonably cold summer the rest of Europe has had.
The [mail] service from Switzerland is very good – so far [we] have received Susan’s letters in two days. She has all your addresses, so maybe you might hear from her – but I wouldn’t depend on it! She can write, but is usually too busy. I hope they will be able to slow her down up there and so get some added pounds. (Editor’s note: Susan was always very slender and burned up calories easily. Her mother was constantly worried that she wasn’t gaining enough!)
I had a very nice birthday [August 4] – it is also Carl Renfer’s day, so there were 8 of us who went to the Officers Club at the Base for dinner. They have American beef and the steaks are very good. Ken is an honorary member. Also received some very nice gifts – played bridge twice – do most weeks – had people for dinner twice –and was on the run most of the time.
Judy went to Ras Tanura last evening for a beach party and to stay overnight – ACS kids from three districts. This is an active bunch and with the ones in from the States and other foreign schools, they have had a busy time. We are going to insist she stop her work before too long so she can get a good rest before we take off on our trip. She won’t have much time when we get back before going up to school and then will be busy with a million things.
Went to the Hobby Farm early this morning and the horses are fine. Judy Austin, Susan’s best friend, is taking care of Neji, which is of great help to us. Her mother rides, too, and they have two horses of their own, but Judy loves Neji. Nura keeps growing and is very handsome – I will be glad when it is cooler and we can go oftener.
Hope all is well with all of you and that it has cooled off in the South.
Best love to all, Mildred.
August 13, 1954
We just came back from Khobar. It was quite warm, but just have to go once in a while to pick up a few things we can’t get in camp.
We bought Susan a very nice coat in Beirut but decided it wouldn’t be quite warm [enough] for the very cold weather in Switzerland, so took it down to the tailor [in Al Khobar] this morning and he is going to line it with wool plaid – which should do the trick. We get beautiful English woolens here. It is more expensive than in the States perhaps, but nice to have it available. I have bought several pieces for skirts for her – and plan to make Judy a plaid wool dress before we take off on our local leave. She will need it up there.
Seems funny to be working on wool when it is so hot. Today it really is not too hot – the last three days have been dry. I can stand the hotness when it isn’t damp along with it...
No mail this week because of the holidays, so no news from Susan. Should be some [mail] in Sunday. She has been gone two weeks, but not long now until we go.
Judy is still working and likes it very much. She had a gang in last night which started at about 30 and at one time there were 47 here! They were the whole bunch from here from various schools and also the whole bunch of that type from Abqaiq. Their softball team played ours – the reason for the party. Turned into an Open House deal – but they seemed to have a wonderful time. They consumed 96 bottles of “pop” and three large sheet cakes. . .
Love from us all, Mildred
August 23, 1954
It is Monday already and we didn’t get our letters written. However, the mail doesn’t go out until today, anyway. Our mail system has been all fouled up for several weeks – don’t know why, but there has been a delay in deliveries and consequently in outgoing mail, too. Today it is supposed to be distributed and we are hoping to hear from everyone.
Fifteen more days and we take off – I’m very anxious to see Susan. Her letters seem as if she is fine.
Judy is off to Abqaiq for the day – her boyfriend lives out there and they have to travel to see each other. He goes to Notre Dame Boys School in Rome.
We had a very rare treat this past week. We were in a dinner group of six with Dr. Robert Hall from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. He is one of the several prominent professors who are conducting the Summer Institute here – primarily for teachers, but open to anyone. This man is perfectly marvelous – his list of accomplishments in “Who’s Who” takes 6 minutes to read. He has degrees from all over the world. I never spent a more fascinating 4 hours. Last night I went to his lecture for the public and to hear him talk is like having a fist hit a punching bag in the rapidity of his remarks and statistics. He certainly makes you open your eyes and ears and take notice of world events!
Anna Shultz will go out on the Company plane, along with several other returnees going to college in the States – they will be in Rome the night of the 7th [when we are on our way to see Susan] so Judy has a date with them to go out to dinner. Ken and I have a date to meet 3 couples and a man – all from here, but who are traveling in Italy now – at 7 o’clock at the Excelsior Hotel. Should be fun.
I’m still sewing – made a cute brown polished cotton trimmed in white ball fringe for Judy yesterday – had to be finished to take to Abqaiq today, of course! Can’t say I blame her – I think Marty is darling, too. He will be down again this weekend for a big beach party. Have a grey flannel dress and a brown wool skirt to make for her and several alterations on things. I don’t expect to even sew on a button after the 1st of October!
Want Francis to drop these letters in the mail before 9:15 so they will go out today, so had better get on my way...
Bye now – love to all – Mildred
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
September 5, 1954
Here we go again, the Nomad Websters leave tomorrow night at 10:15 P.M. on trip to Rome and Switzerland. Baghdad airport under repairs, so will fly direct to Cairo, stop 4 hours, and then arrive Rome about 10 A.M. A retired couple, Phil and Gertie McConnell, will meet us in second floor bar of Excelsior Hotel at 7:30 PM along with several couples from here enroute to New York or Europe. Numerous kids will be there that night enroute to school in the USA, including young Don Wasson and Anna Shultz, so Judy will have an evening out with the “gang”...after doing Rome will arrive Switzerland Sept. 12 via Geneva and train to Lausanne. Should see good country, have good climate and rest in sight of snow-covered mountains. Could ski a bit, but will only do it in the bar (whisky) after the long dry spell here. Supposed to get beer, etc., on board the plane as we take off – gulp, gulp.
Mildred Webster shot this view of the Swiss Alps from
the airplane enroute to visit her younger daughter,
Susan, in Lausanne in September 1954. Susan was
wrapping up a summer program to learn basic
French in order to enroll at Brillantmont in Lausanne.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
Susan doing fine, says French [is] hard as they don’t say it like they spell it, but she is having [a] fine time. She should enjoy the year in Switzerland, but it is hard to be away so young, and hard on us. Guess we’ll have to take in a couple of stenos as boarders to keep us from being lonesome. (So far Mildred hasn’t agreed.)
In past ten days we have been to seven dinner parties, played bridge, poker, etc. afterwards, and it was fun but too much for us old folks. Now that Mildred is about done sewing and having [some] sewing done by Indian tailors for the two girls, she can take a well-earned rest in cool weather. This vacation has come at a good time for her as well as me, and we’ll make the most of it. We’ll be back home and broke on September 23rd and no doubt glad to be home. Then the merry whirl getting Judy off on October 1st, then we rest or collapse.
View of Lausanne, Switzerland,
overlooking Lake Geneva.
No other news now, will write from Rome or Lausanne. Will stay at La Residenza Hotel in Rome and De La Paix in Lausanne.
Love to all, Ken
September 14, 1954
We arrived here Sunday after a wonderful time in Rome... [We arrived in] Geneva about 1:30 p.m., caught train and arrived here 45 minutes later – called Susan and went out to get her. We’ve had her out all afternoon and evening each day and tomorrow noon she moves into the hotel with us until the 19th (Sunday), when she goes out to Brillantmont.
Part of the Brillantmont campus, 1954.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
She loves it here – guess she had a rough first few days, but soon adjusted herself – has picked up some French and is ready now for school. She looks very well – not much gain in weight but her color is so good. Grown up in maturity a great deal.
Ken and I visited Brillantmont this morning and talked to Mlle. Heubi – will go again with the girls and go through the school. It is a lovely setting within walking distance of downtown Lausanne.
This afternoon we bought all her ski and skating equipment – no small amount – but that is one reason for sending her here. We feel she will benefit physically and in many other ways.
Today it is raining, but has been nice and we have a balcony from our room overlooking Lake Geneva and across the lake to the mountains of France. We plan a few short trips—nothing strenuous. Ken was really deadly tired and needed a good rest. We are just loafing. It is cold enough for wool suits and coats – very invigorating after Arabia. Food is good at this hotel and it is very comfortable and nice.
Ken Webster enjoys a cigarette while admiring
the gardens on the grounds of Brillantmont in
Lausanne. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
I bought one nice black dress in Rome – that basic “little black dress” – also a new leather traveling purse. That’s all. Several things for the girls. Judy has been very independent and insisted on spending her own money for her things!
Judy has been able to do all our talking in French –so we’re quite proud of her. Susan (“Suzy,” now!) should be more than able after one year here.
We’d better go down for dinner – must get Suzy back to school by 9:30.
We’ll be in Dhahran the afternoon of the 23rd – stopping one day and evening in Rome so Judy can see her boyfriend, Marty. He will get up there the 19th for school – from Arabia. He goes to Notre Dame for Boys.
Bye, now. Best love to all – Mimi
Right: Susan Webster on her parents’ hotel balcony in Lausanne, Switzerland,
September 1954; Left: Ken and Mildred Webster on their balcony in Lausanne.
(Webster family photos.)
September 24, 1954
Arrived back home yesterday afternoon early. We had such a wonderful trip I think it is the first time we weren’t too eager to return. Usually after a long vacation we are pretty tired out and glad to get settled back into routine. I guess part of it this time was leaving Susan. . .
The Hotel De La Paix in Lausanne, where the
Websters stayed while visiting daughter Susan
and enrolling her at Brillantmont. (Internet photo.)
Our trip to Rome was fine and as we always have loved Rome so much, we were happy to be there. Had a previous date for the first night to meet several couples from here at the Excelsior [Hotel] bar. We did and there were 15 of us for cocktails and on to dinner. . .
We took it all very leisurely for a change and just rested and moseyed around. The only thing in the nature of a tour we did was to drive out to Tivoli Garden with all the fantastic fountains. The McConnells went with us and as he is an expert photographer, he helped me with my lighting, etc. I am hoping the roll of color film we took there will turn out. The Tivoli palace and gardens were built by Lucresia Borgia for her son. Also saw them making a movie there.
Flew on to Geneva the 12th and took the train to Lausanne – about 40 minutes. We were so anxious to see Susan. Called her and she had dinner with us that evening. We went out to the school for her. It was really very nice and she loved it. She remained in school until Wed., having classes in the morning but free all afternoon and until 9:30 each night. On the 15th she moved into the hotel with us until the 20th. We had lots of fun buying all her skiing gear and things for skating, plus sundry other things. Lausanne is beautiful and we really loved it there.
Susan was a little dismayed with the new school, which was all new to her – much larger and organized – a real school. She wasn’t too sure she wanted to stay – mostly because we were there, we felt sure. Anyway, by the time we left she was better settled and thought it was going to be fine. Part of her trouble was that she thought she had to have all her subjects in French and, of course, she didn’t begin to know that much French – but after she found out differently, that put another face on the picture.
During their September 1954 visit, Ken and
Mildred Webster entertained several young
women studying in Lausanne, all daughters of
Aramco friends. This photo shows from left, an
unidentified girl, Susan Webster, Mary Pat
Singelyn and Judy Webster.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
We were very favorably impressed with the school, the accommodations and the teaching staff. Mlle. Heubi has been there for years and her family founded it before her. She is rated as one of the very best and the school rates tops. There are four girls from here. Susan’s roommate is Vicky Miller from New York City. There were many tears the night before we left, leaving us feeling very upset, but when we ran out to say a last goodbye at noon Wed., she was fine. We feel this will be wonderful for her and I am sure she will love it there.
We spent most of our time taking out the girls from two schools whom we knew – Ken and I felt like the Master and Mistress of a Girl’s Seminary. But it was fun – had them for shopping, for lunch, for dinner and for Tea! They are all lovely youngsters.
Ken (left), Judy and Susan Webster in
Lausanne, Switzerland, 1954.
(Photo by Mildred Webster)
Brillantmont has a separate school on the same grounds for older girls up to 21 who are preparing for College Boards, etc. Judy was so intrigued by the set up, [she] has decided she would like to go there for one year before going to college in the States. She is young enough to be able to do that and still go into college at 18, so I hope she keeps her interest in this idea. Would be so nice for us to have her closer for another year.
All the bedrooms, classrooms and dining hall in the school have large windows facing Lake Geneva and the view is simply beautiful. The trees and flowers are so lovely. They skate on a lake not too far from the school and go to the mountains to ski – up to their own chalet at Villars for part of the winter to ski. There are all sorts of sports and all must participate.
A picture of some of the famous Berne
bears frolicking for tourists.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
We made a short trip down to Geneva one day and one day took the train up to Berne to see the city and the Berne Bears for which the town is known. They speak German in that part of Suisse. We were quite proud of Judy’s ability to get along so well with her French and could even do some of the German. Susan had learned simple sentences and many words – could give directions and some of the shopping and ordering. So, of course, we were proud of her, too! We bought Judy a lovely winter coat. The clothes were simply beautiful – particularly the woolens – and the colors this year [are] heavenly...
Judy leaves a week from today and we will be rattling around in the house very lonely. Don’t know what I will do with myself, but can keep busy with many things. The time has to come to all families...
A classic Swiss view, taken by
Mildred Webster on the trip
to Lausanne in 1954.
Bye now – we will be waiting for letters.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
September 24, 1954
Your roving reporter finished roving yesterday and didn’t like the return to the salt mines, but no doubt after two days will feel as though [I] never left home and glad to be back in the old routine (not rut).
Left Dhahran at 10 P.M. September 6th via KLM, and as airstrip at Baghdad [was] being repaired, flew direct to Cairo in about five hours. After long dry spell here, the scotch and soda tasted good on the plane and I talked all the way with Cy Hardy, our Operations V.P. and my head man after two others. He was on [his] was to [the] Harvard Advanced Management Program.
At Cairo, we went to KLM Oasis, rightly named, and had a beer and then to bed for three hours. Total [hours] in Cairo five, and then five hours to Rome, arriving in the Eternal City at 10 A.M. local time. Stayed as usual at La Residenza, near excellent shopping center and handy to most places of interest. Had lunch, including vino [wine], and slept for two hours in preparation of cocktail party [at the Excelsior Hotel] at 7:30 P.M., mentioned by Mildred in her letter. I hope I don’t repeat her news too much.
King Farouk of Egypt,
who abdicated his
throne in 1952.
Ex-King Farouk [of Egypt] was at the bar and looked better than his pictures at the time he was dissipating so much and lost the Crown of Egypt. (Editor’s note: According to Wikipedia, Farouk “was overthrown in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, and was forced to abdicate in favor of his infant son Ahmed Fuad." He died in Italy in 1965 at the age of 45. Also according to Wikipedia, his full title was "His Majesty Farouk I, by the grace of God, King of Egypt and of Sudan, Sovereign of Nubia, of Kordofan and of Darfur.")
On to dinner at nearby Jardín and our guest of honor [Mr. McConnell] sang old Aramco songs with a little urging and mucho vino. Even the other patrons seemed to enjoy it, even though the Aramcon words meant nothing [to them]. Italians will always join in on any gay affair. Home to bed before midnight so [we] could be there by the time Judy came in from being on the town with a gang of Aramco kids enroute [to] the States to school. They had an Italian dinner at famous Alfredo’s, rode in horse carriages over the city, went to a nightclub for a while, and came home ready for bed.
Poster advertising a performance
by famous Latin bandleader Xavier
Cugat and his wife, Abbe Lane.
While in Rome in 1954, Ken and
Mildred Webster took friends to
see the show. According to
Wikipedia, Cugat “was a
bandleader whom many consider
to have had more to do with the
infusion of Latin music into United
States popular music than any
(Photo from the Internet.)
Took the retiring McConnells to see Xavier Cugat and his band the next night, after an Italian dinner, along with Jimmy McPherson, who used to live here. (Editor’s note: Jimmy was the son of James McPherson, the former number-one Aramco official in the field in the 1940s.) He was on a two and one-half month tour of Europe alone, traveling light (both baggage and money), and he made a good partner for Judy, as [he] is one year or so older. Then out to dinner with our old friends the [Phil] Greenes, whom we met in Genoa while on the boat trip, next in Rome in ’51, then in New York City in ’53, after they had been two years in England. Very nice evening at Chianti’s where a non-English- speaking guitar player accompanied Phil for an hour, phil humming a tune and the Italian then carrying the song with no difficulty. Then Phil took us all to Alfredo’s for dinner and I had the usual pasta plus my only lobster of the vacation. Then we toured Rome in a hired car, took pictures, saw the ruins, met a priest from New Orleans who raised one of my personnel people (boy, you meet mutual friends at every turn if you’ll talk!), and next day drove to Tivoli with the McConnells to see the wondrous gardens, 254 fountains and waterfalls run by diverting the river, then a quiet dinner and retired early for our next day trip.
Met [the Ned] Scardinos for a few minutes as they were enroute here after vacation and the Harvard course held in Honolulu this summer. Took the 10 A.M. plane, Swissair, for Geneva. Nice daytime flight, nice lunch, arriving at one P.M. and an hour later took train to Lausanne.
Called Susan and saw her, bringing her in for dinner. She was most glad to see us and so grown up. Talked to taxi driver as though she knew French, and was so proud to tell us about the school, how to ride a bus or a tram to get to town, etc. We saw her for dinner each night and Wednesday she came to stay in the hotel with us. We had a large suite, two bedrooms, kitchenette, ample room for meals in our bedroom or on large balcony overlooking the city and Lake Geneva, on fifth floor. All meals for $26 per day, plus extra for juice and eggs at breakfast time. Continental breakfasts are rolls, jam and coffee, and mid-day meal is main one. I guess they think all ours are main ones, from the way we ate steak, etc.
Susan Webster in Switzerland, 1954.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
Shopped every day for Susan’s gear: ski boots, après ski boots, skate boots and skates, ski suit, under-ski suit pants and sweater, ski hat, two pairs of ski gloves and mittens, ski cap, special underwear and sweaters, blouses, dress shoes (Bally), snow boots, etc. We brought the bedding, so we only needed a radio for her room. In between shopping, we had girls from three schools in to tea, dinner and visits, went to the three schools and liked Susan’s present one the best. Three other girls from here and three Arab girls from Jeddah.
One day went to golf club for lunch to meet a friend of a friend, one day to large exposition where they had hundreds of items made in Switzerland, one day trained up to Berne, and one evening took funicular down to Ouchy, the port of Lausanne. Guess we saw most, if not all, of the city. It is built on a hill, and we all learned we had new muscles in our legs!
Susan Webster, right, and her sister, Judy,
in Switzerland, 1954.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
Beautiful wool clothes to buy, Mildred drooled over them, but we have little need here. She and Judy did get shoes to fit, and Judy a new coat plus many earrings. One night [we] took Judy to a nightclub, which didn’t seem to bother her as did the Follies in Paris in 1951. The girls wore little more than stockings in the floorshow, and Judy said, “Look, Mother, that one had appendicitis!”
It was generally “glovely” weather, and no rainy days, although it was overcast much of the time and rained some nights. Lausanne is a lovely place and the green grass, trees, and flowers looked wonderful to us after the desert here. We sure hated to leave. . .
(Editor’s note: Here my grandfather expounds on all the facts and figures about Switzerland, including ethnic makeup, dialects spoken, exports, etc., going on for half a page, typed single-spaced. I chose to spare my readers the details!)
Said goodbye to Susan at 11:45 A.M. and she was in good spirits, but we hated to leave her. Took the 2 P.M. train to Geneva and plane at 4:30. Stopped at Nice, which was nice, then on to Rome, and after five hours there seeing Judy’s boyfriend, took KLM to Beirut and Dhahran, arriving here 2 P.M. It isn’t so hot now, and drier, with daytime temperatures about 108 and evening down to 93.
Guess that’s all from this station. Maybe it bores you, but we could talk more interestingly about it than write. Ten months to our next one. Bon Jour, all.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
October 3, 1954
Again our weekly letter, but with little to write of news as we are home and all is quiet – too quiet – with no young ones around.
We put Judy on the plane Friday at 8 A.M. after spending a nice last evening at home Thursday with her fried chicken dinner, per request, as they don’t have that in Beirut.
Guess we’ll get used to it, but the evenings seem longer. Mildred is out to a club meeting, “Great Books,” for first night of new group. We’ll both need some added activities – maybe bowling again.
Had my Indian barber today and missed my Swiss barber, as they are not the same. In Lausanne my first day, I had a haircut, massage and shampoo. The massage was given while I sat up straight in the chair, my first one that way, although he did use various hot and cold towels. Then when the hair was cut and combed, he sprayed Aprés la Barbe on it and dried it with a hot blower, and I felt like I’d been in a house I shouldn’t. They sure go in for scented tonics.
Was supposed to open the soccer season at the Dhahran Sport Center, but found it was last night. They had photographers, etc., ready by Public Relations, but I was at home watering the lawn. Guess I am getting old and forgetful. . .
Took Mildred to dinner Sunday night at newly decorated club Fiesta Room, and had grand steaks, french fries, asparagus, small salad, tea and peach sundae. Cost for two of us $2.30 and full-course meal at dining hall is $2.25 each. Looks like we’ll eat out numerous nights. Had good steaks at home tonight, and hope the Australian meat continues as good.
Spaded half the garden Friday, as Mohammed has gone on three months’ vacation. Have two barrels of expanded vermiculite to work into the soil for about two feet down, as it will keep the soil from getting hard. Guess I’ll have to use Vigaro for fertilizer, as that is all we have now. Hope to get garden planted by October 15th, to take advantage of the warm days so if cold or cool weather starts, the seeds will have sprouted. Temperatures for last week were 104 high and 75 low, and we have shut down two air conditioning units . . .Looks like fall has arrived. In another six weeks, we will only cut grass and hedge once each three weeks to a month, but it will stay nice and green all winter.
That’s all the news, not much, hope you are all well and happy, and next time we’ll have better.
Love to all, Ken
P.S. Susan’s address: Chateau Brillantmont, Avenue Secretan, Lausanne, Switzerland. Judy’s address: American Community School, Beirut, Lebanon.
October 9, 1954
Sure lonesome around here with both girls gone. Haven’t heard from Judy yet, but since she had the orientation group [at ACS in Beirut] to swing into action plus getting herself unpacked and settled, I know she has been busy. . .
Susan seems fine from her letters and has gotten over her little bit of lonesomeness. She is riding again now and that will keep her happy. They are pretty confined to school and its activities and she is used to being out and about and riding every day. She seems very pleased with her progress in French.
Our polio ban was lifted yesterday. We have had four cases this summer, which constitutes an epidemic here. One young wife – very good friends with Allyn and Lynn [Ken’s brother and sister-in-law] is home with one leg paralyzed and the other pretty bad, but they think she will recover almost 100 percent. One young boy with no paralysis – one little one pretty bad and one man in a[n iron] lung. He is being shipped out this week on a plane equipped with a lung – Air Force. All the school children were given Gamma shots and all the older ones returning to various schools were given it if wanted. Susan was gone, but Judy had it. We have been under quarantine as to travel between districts or to the Air Base or Khobar. Just for precaution for those people, as all cases were here in Dhahran.
I keep busy but do find time heavy on my hands sometimes [without the girls]– guess I’ll get used to it.
Love to all, Mildred
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
October 15, 1954
No news from Susan this week, so she must be settled and happy, but a nice letter from Judy, her first since she left Oct. 1. No letters from home this week, but it may be mail delays. . .
Just finished the lawn cutting and raking, after hedge cutting yesterday. With Mohammed [the gardener] on vacation thought I would take over for three months and enjoy it. Have an Italian lined up for garden initial planting and thought he would be here today, but he didn’t show. . . While cutting hedge yesterday a friend came by and brought me a bottle of Heineken beer, which tasted okay, although two years old. Sure wish we could get beer back.
Tuesday had dinner with Sam and Mim Shultz, and we talked the evening away. Also went to old movie with them last night, Danny Kaye in “Wonder Man.”
Wednesday I had a trip to Riyadh, capital of this country, as the King wanted Aramco to take over running of [the] power plant and much construction of his palace area. He has over 3,000 in his retinue and each of the 40-odd brothers and 20-odd sons have their own homes, compounds, garages, large servant areas, etc., and all want to be handled separately. I left at eight-thirty in a DC-3, flying over sand areas for one and one-half hours. A German construction firm [has] been handling the power plant and water distribution system, but for some reason, they are being sent out. The head German turned out to be a Swiss from German Switzerland (Zurich) and spoke perfect Arabic learned in Egypt.
We visited both main power plants and checked all housing, shops, offices, transportation facilities, etc. There certainly isn’t much to work with and we would have to set up a real camp in order for our Americans to be willing to take over and live so far from here. Inspected one hand-dug well, 38’ X 58’ by 165’ deep [in which] one Prince wanted us to install a pump and engine for his own house use. A cable tool drilled well would have been better, cheaper, etc., but that means nothing to many of them. We have drilled over 150 wells in this area, and others have drilled more than that, and the maintenance for us is terrific. The new power plants are 25 percent overloaded and no new units planned, but the additional loads being added are double the initial capacity. They all want air conditioning, gardens and extensive lighting, and expect that jut to tell us about it is enough to get it next day!
New asphalt roads are being constructed and lit up like the approach to a major bridge at home, and all their gardens are lit so that you could read a paper in them. It looks like a Rube Goldberg paradise, but someday will be straightened out, but probably not in my time. I hope we can convince the King that other arrangements can be made cheaper for him, but fear I shall have to do it. Dealing with the King is fine, but dealing with the whims of all his sons and brothers, with no planning, is out of this world.
Arrived back in time for dinner at the Davies’, for ex-chairman of the Texaco board, W.S.S. Rogers, Mrs. Rogers and brother, and Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell from Chicago, a director of Texas Co. Had a small group and excellent evening. I [will] take them around Dhahran tomorrow…
Love to all, Ken
October 23, 1954
Not too much to write about since last week – we are all fine and the days move by swiftly. Ken is always busy and loves it most of the time. There is always some crisis to handle. He is good at the sort of position he holds [Dhahran District Manager] and, I am sure, definitely appreciated.
Letters this week from both girls and all is well. Susan loves her school and the activities. It isn’t an easy school scholastically, but that is fine – she will develop good study habits to help her in the years to come. They had taken the girls – those who wanted to go – to a circus and Susan was very enthusiastic about all the animal acts. They [Brillantmont’s teachers, etc.] take them to the theater – no movies unless educational – to the opera, etc. Also on trips now and then. They will be skating by now and the skiing will be soon to follow. She rides twice a week and that, of course, is her best love.
Judy keeps happy as a lark and busy. She gets herself involved in so many things, but seems to be able to handle them and still keep up her grades. She loves that sort of thing. Of course, as seniors, they have extra privileges and this year can enjoy all those they have waited for. Sometimes I think she does too much but seems to have the energy and enthusiasm for it all. It is a grand group of students.
The [Don] Wassons were down from Ras Tanura yesterday for the afternoon. They are interested in Brillantmont for [their daughter] Diana next year and wanted literature on it. Daisy [Cooper] is back and now the only ones away from our little fold are the Renfers. Carl is doing the AMP [Advanced Management Program] course at University of Pittsburgh.
I had 28 District women in for a coffee for Mabel [Scardino] this last week. There are ONLY 425 wives of District men! So, I only scraped the surface, but that was my gesture to welcome Mabel into the group – since Ned [Scardino] is Ken’s assistant now. We go to Brig. General Grover’s tonight for dinner at the Base. I am having 12 for dinner this week also. Otherwise, it is the usual run of things.
Ken Webster, left, and daughter Judy pose
within a fountain at Tivoli, 1954.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)
We got the garden in yesterday and Louis and I planted flower seeds the day before. The weather is grand. Went to the movies after dinner last night with Mim and Sam, and saw “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” – it was really excellent.
The pictures I took on the trip returned from Paris this last week and almost all of them turned [out] very good. I was as excited as if I had invented the camera! They are all in color and are scenes of Rome, Tivoli, Lausanne and Berne. Have another one due any minute now. Allyn has a slide projector and screen so took them up there [to Ras Tanura] one night. Will bring them home with us next summer – only 8 or 9 months, believe it or not.
Must run – hope all is well...
Love to all of you, Ken and Mildred
Top: Tivoli Gardens, 1954. That’s Judy Bauer on the left. Bottom: Tivoli fountain, 1954.
(Photos by Mildred Webster.)
November 4, 1954
I am sorry I didn’t get your letter answered in time to go out today – but just didn’t. Our Stateside mail – and Susan’s – goes out on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday – if we get it in the mail center before 9:15. Judy’s goes on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday – and between writing all the various letters [to families and friends], I don’t always make the deadlines. Try to write each of the girls twice a week, but don’t always make it. . .
Both girls are fine – except Judy sprained her wrist – but not badly, though, and she seems OK. Haven’t heard from Susan this week but she is very busy and time goes by very fast for them. Maybe we will have a letter this weekend. She writes as if she is having fun and likes it up there. They have been ice skating.
We keep busy – had 11 for dinner last Saturday night – went to a coffee one day – played bridge one. Went to my Greater [Great] Books Foundation class on Sunday night. It is a wonderful course but sure is TOUGH. (Editor’s note: Mildred was taking part in a reading and study group focusing on the classic “Great Books of the Western World.” Ken bought the 1952 edition, published by Encyclopaedia Britannica, for his study and hers. When my grandparents died in 1971, the set went to my father. Now I own it. FROM WIKIPEDIA: “The Great Books of the Western World is a hardcover 60-volume collection (originally 54 volumes) of the books on the Great Books list. Many of the books in the collection were translated into English for the first time. A prominent feature of the collection is a two-volume "Syntopicon" that includes essays written by Mortimer Adler on 102 "great ideas." Following each essay is an extensive outline of the idea with page references to relevant passages throughout the collection. Familiar to many Americans, the collection is available from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., which owns the copyright.)
Went out to dinner last night and go again tonight.
Last Friday we went on an Arab picnic way out in a date garden. Left here at 10:30 a.m. and got back at 5 p.m. Drove quite a ways past several Arab villages and through date gardens, then parked the cars and walked the last half mile down a palm-lined road with a little stream on both sides that took you back to Biblical pictures. Our host had a palm branch roofing over rugs on the ground where we sat and ate. We were surrounded by towering palm trees and lemon and lime trees – really very pretty. However, the flies are always with us, especially the minute food appears, so we are always a little leery of these affairs. Was very nice otherwise and I took a few pictures – brought back limes and lemons.
The men only work half day on Thursdays, so we will work in the yard a while – our gardener is on vacation and Ken has been cutting the grass and hedge – no small job. Louis has taken over the watering. With just the two of us there isn’t much for the Boys to do. Our garden is coming along in fine fashion – flowers not so well. It is still warm in the day – nights are beautiful – very late to be so warm.
Bye now. Love to all, Mimi
November 13, 1954
This has been a dilly of a week. We have Shipping Company people in this week – American, German, English and Dutch. It is a very nice group – only two wives came – but there have been so many activities for them [that] we are pooped.
Last Sunday we had our Women’s Club Fall Tea, which was very nice and a pretty sight. Was around the swimming pool and under the shelter at the sides. In conjunction they had an outside art exhibit – all local talent and we were amazed at the really good pictures. Served about 300 women.
Monday night dinner at Hamilton House for the visitors. Tuesday a coffee for the two wives – that night another dinner. Next day bridge in the morning – tea in the afternoon for the same. Another dinner that night for just friends. Thursday night we had people here for dinner and yesterday we had a very enjoyable and pleasant trip to Hofuf on the railroad Budd car. This was arranged by the Americans in charge of the RR [railroad] and in honor of the Company. We left at 9 and were back at three – air-conditioned train – the same as we went to Riyadh on. Today we have lunch and dinner at the Air Base hotel given by Arabs in charge of shipping here.
Last night we had a freak storm. We are calling it “Hurricane Abdullah” – which came up very suddenly – blew very hard and spattered a bit of rain and was gone. Did a lot of damage in Camp and also the Saudi Arab camp, etc. We have over 50 big trees down in the streets besides the ones in yards. We were wishing for Jenner Tree Service. (Editor’s note: Ken Webster’s sister, Alice, and her husband, Ted, owned Jenner Expert Tree Service in Greenwich, Connecticut.) We were fortunate in having just one acacia blown over, but not out of the ground. Most of these trees were very large – at least for here – 35 ft. or so tall. And doubly precious, as most were planted by families here. It [the storm] wrecked the Dammam port, so it is out of use for several weeks. It also took roofs off in the camps – but not ours. Looks like it is getting ready to rain again.
Susan’s very best friend [Judy Austin] – the girl with diabetes – is leaving for good on the 2nd and they won’t see each other anymore, as the family is moving to Toronto. We are very good friends with the parents, too. She is the one who has been taking care of Susan’s horse.
Both girls are fine – as are we – counting the days until Christmas so they will both be here.
Guess that covers the week’s activities. Today is a holiday – or rather yesterday was, so they celebrate it today. It is the King’s Coronation Day. Tonight we go to bed and sleep, I hope.
Best love to all and hope everyone is well, Mildred
November 22, 1954
Thanksgiving is practically here and it sure crept up in a hurry this year. We invited people a long time ago, so you sort of forget it till the last minute. We will have bachelors and single girls again this year, as before. Allyn and Lynn do the same and then we have Christmas dinner here together. We have 12 coming and have a 23-pound turkey in the deep freeze.
We are beginning to count the days now until the girls will be home. Both will be in about the 18th. Susan will have been gone from Dhahran for almost 5 months. She writes with great enthusiasm about her school and we are so glad she is happy. It was quite a decision to make and would be so sad if she was unhappy. Mlle. Heubi writes that she is doing quite well. Judy, of course, is blissfully happy and floating on air. She is sending applications to 6 schools, so should get what she wants somehow. . .
I am enjoying my Great Books course very much but have to really apply myself. My poor old brain isn’t as keen as it might be. At any rate, I am reading many things I have wanted to, but just didn’t get around to it. So far we have done “The Federalist Papers” – Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” – Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” (I was amazed to find it was written in 1848) – had a wonderful discussion ‘fight’ about this one! – Homer’s “Odyssey” – and now on Herodotus’s “History of the Persian Wars”. Fortunately, it [the class] only meets every other week so I can have time to read it all. It is such a well-informed group we are in, I just sit quietly and hope he [the instructor] won’t call on me.
We had our Christmas sale this past week. The Company brought in over $150,000 worth of toys from the States and Europe. They do this every year and it goes out like a scourge of locusts – mostly things for younger children, but this time we had lots of lovely leather things from Italy, china from Holland, etc. Not too much for children the ages of ours. . .
The King will be here this next week for a stay of two months or more. This time he is going to stay in Dammam where they have built places for all the retinue and a palace for him. There is a terrific hustle and bustle always getting ready and practically disrupts the whole organization’s activities before, during and after.
Bye now – will trot these down to the mail center to go out tomorrow.
Best love to all, Mildred
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
November 28, 1954
Sunday 11 P.M.
Tomorrow the King arrives, ‘tis said for three months’ visit. It is planned that he will not stay with us this time, but instead will be the guest of the Governor of Al Hasa, our province, and the new guest palace [in Dammam] was finished today for him. I took Mildred and Mim [Shultz] through it today as they cannot visit there after he comes.
This is the coat of arms of the country of
Saudi Arabia. According to Wikipedia,
“The Saudi Arabian coat of arms was
adopted in 1950...it consists of two crossed
swords with a palm tree in the open upper
space between the blades. Each of the
swords represents the two houses which
founded modern- day Saudi Arabia, the
House of Saud, and the House of Wahab.
The date palm tree represents vitality and
growth. The crossed scimitars symbolize
justice and strength rooted in faith.”
(Photo from Wikipedia, the free
The entire enclosure, or compound, consists of a huge courtyard for the King’s main vehicles and we put up 25 tents for the drivers and mechanics; a second very large courtyard surrounded by quarters for the servants and armed guard, and here we added some 30 tents; a huge garden of lawns, shrubbery and sidewalks; and a main courtyard for the private special guards and soldiers and in the middle is the building for the King’s bedroom, sitting rooms, dining rooms, and Harem bedrooms, sitting rooms and dining rooms.
It is three storied and has 18 bedrooms, each of a different décor, and all furnished with new bedroom and sitting room furniture from France. Ornate is the word, and the rugs were something to see. Ten baths, if I counted correctly. Special screened balconies for the wives and ladies in waiting to get a breath of air and not be seen by the public. The King’s bedroom will have window air conditioning units, as it is reported he wants the rooms to be 65 temperature all the time. I thought he must wear heavy clothes all the time, but our guide said no, he sleeps nude between two ermine covers!
Next to the palace is the main building for main meeting place, called Mejlis, and seats over 300. Here there are 10 bedrooms for clerks, secretaries, assistants, etc., and a dining room seating 580 with very deep pile rugs, new mahogany tables, and plush chairs. The food preparation has in the past been done outside, but we took over a large storeroom and converted it into a kitchen about 40’ by 60’. There are also some offices for the clerks, etc., and large halls for the special guards.
The front of these buildings was low ground, and we moved in some 30,000 yards of fill, provided generators for electricity, make large electric signs of welcome greetings, and assigned cooks, houseboys and waiters to assist the two American cooks we have on loan to him on an annual basis.
The entire town of Dammam has all streets decorated with bunting, arches, Christmas tree lights, etc. The Railroad built a large reviewing stand opposite the station and erected a good-sized arch at the entrance.
Just outside the palace area, 52 houses were nearly finished by the Finance Minister. The King was given these houses, we finished them, furnished them with enough chairs, be3ds and tables to furnish 150 normal houses, erected a complete permanent power distribution system, connected nine large generators, rushed a sewer system, and graded the streets.
Clipping from the Arabian Sun & Flare, 1954,
showing King Saud and some of his sons
and entourage enjoying “the races” in Dammam.
(From Ken Slavin’s personal collection
of Webster papers.)
The Vice President of [Government] Relations asked us to build an arch at [the] main entrance to our camp [Dhahran] and said to spend up to $25,000. It looks like it will cost over $35,000, but it will be impressive. It is made of two large steel uprights, 80 feet apart, and an overhead span of 6 feet deep and 25 feet above the ground. We have covered it with plywood to make two 10X12 feet pillars and a six feet square overhead beam. It is covered with lights, painted white and Saudi green and gold, covered with crossed swords and palm trees, has painted across the two faces, “ARAMCO HEARTILY WELCOMES HIS MAJESTY THE KING” and the front face has neon lights shaped to the above words in Arabic. We flew a man 1,100 miles to get the neon sign made, and chartered a plane to bring it here. Our streets are all decorated with signs, bunting, etc. All is in honor of the King in celebration of this his first anniversary of being crowned. November 12 is the official day, and he has been traveling around the country having celebrations. More details in future news flashes . . .
Susan wrote she will arrive [Dec.] 23rd and Judy will be here the weekend before. We will sure be glad to have them home again … and will write you all about them.
Love to all, Ken & Mildred
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
December 5, 1954
Have had a busy week with the King here and our head man, Fred Davies, gave a dinner for him here in our dining hall. The menu was: usual olives, pickles, carrot sticks, salad, rolls and butter, nuts and candies, tea and coffee, fruit cup, roast beef, roast potatoes, green peas, roast lamb on Arab style rice, custard cup, cheeses. Most of the Arabs ate all of the above, although I could not [eat] the lamb course after roast beef. About 440 were served the first table, and 375 afterwards.
Crown Prince Faisal of Saudi
Arabia visited Dhahran in
Today the Crown Prince [Faisal] arrived and is our guest here for a few days. We are expecting Onassis here soon for discussions. (Editor’s note: This is probably a reference to Onassis’ controversial shipping contract with the Government of Saudi Arabia, announced earlier in the year.)
Late this afternoon the local air base put on a show outside camp in the desert for His Majesty, and we watched for two hours while American-trained Saudi soldiers fired .30 caliber Browning automatic rifles, .30 cal. light machine guns, 3.5-inch rocket launchers, 57 mm recoilless rifles, 75 mm recoilless rifles, 81 mm mortars, .50 cal. M-2 machine guns, and the 37 mm armored car guns. It was quite a sight and a lot of noise. Then two Saudis and two Americans jumped from a plane to show parachute operations. . .
The painters have been here all week and will finish tomorrow, outside only, and the house looks fine with marine green trim against the white walls. The garden is doing fine after a late start, but all we have to eat so far are radishes.
Sent Susan a box of brownies by a friend Thursday, and she should have them today. KLM [airline] friend called today and said he will arrange (to deliver) future packages the 2,500 miles to her. Sent Judy fried chicken and she reports it was fine. Both girls had American turkey Thanksgivings and can’t wait to get home for Christmas.
Sometimes I wonder if it is worth it to be here and the girls away at school so far from us. I have formally applied for a job in the New York office, to occur no later than three years hence, when both our girls will be home. Must wait and see, as that is far off.
Hope…everybody stays fine for a grand Christmas. We shall have our family together, plus Allyn and Lynn, and maybe two bachelors. May take a few days’ trip to Bahrain Island next week and complete purchases for Christmas as well as have a change.
Love to all, Ken & Mildred
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
December 12, 1954
Just thirteen more days to Christmas and it is too warm for Fall clothes. High this week 85 and low 62, which means the nights are lovely, but short sleeve shirts are still in vogue. . .
The King left yesterday and is stopping at all the villages enroute to this capital in Riyadh, but may make a hunting trip and then return here for another visit. He is reported to be 54 years old, and when we asked how many children he had, we were told that on his 52nd birthday his 52nd child was born, and no report on those born in past two years. He is accumulating quite a family to rear and feed and we struggle with several.
Thinking of children, we had seven babies born [here in Dhahran] last week, which totals 178 for the year so far, and over 500 Arab babies in our Arab hospital. The next to the last (we think) wing on Health Center is almost finished, which makes a total of almost $10,000,000 in hospital buildings and equipment. We can be very proud of our medical facilities here and shall miss the closeness and low prices when we need such facilities at home.
We are preparing for the Christmas rush of mail and packages, as we have to distribute mail for the 14 post offices operated by Aramco. Our airmail totals over 7,000,000 pieces per year and boat mail 4,000,000, plus parcel post and air freight that fills many trucks, and if you divide these figures by 365 you’ll see why we keep the mail centers open seven days per week. I sometimes think TWA [Trans World Airlines] gets operating expenses just bringing our mail from USA and back.
Went to dedication of second company-built school for sons of Arab employees Friday, but otherwise didn’t get involved with His Majesty since I last wrote. His visit was, as usual, a great burden on my district, but less than usually painful, as he and his 800-member party lived mostly in nearby village of Dammam. Hope he doesn’t come back until after Christmas anyway. It will be a dry one, but we’ll enjoy it with our chicks. (Editor’s note: This is a reference to the ban on alcohol in the Kingdom and the American oil camps.)
In case our next letter is late, this will bring our best wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New year to all, and the hope we shall have future ones with you before too long.
Love to all, Ken & Mildred
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
December 19, 1954
Last letter that will reach you before Christmas and we hope the mail service gets it there on time. We’ll write again Christmas Day as [it will be during] the usual weekend, but want to send all of you our Merriest Greetings from all of us for a good happy holiday season, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year ahead...
Mr. and Mrs. Max Weston Thornburg. Ken and
Mildred Webster met the couple during their
Aramco company trip to Bahrain Island
in December 1954.
(Photo from Pearl-Guide.com.)
Mildred and I went to Bahrain as planned, in special company plane at 7 PM Wednesday, with 20 others, to an annual Aramco Open House on the island, for our folks and the Americans, British and Bahrainis with whom we deal there in shipping, travel, purchases, etc. There were about 42 couples and we tried to drink the health of each in turn. Had a good dinner and danced until midnight when half the gang came back here to the mainland, and the rest of us stayed in various places, with friends, at hotels, etc. Along with other friends, met the Max Thornburgs, now retired to (their) private [Persian Gulf] island here, who lived in Greenwich many years. (Editor’s note: Max Weston Thornburg, former official with Standard Oil Company of California and its subsidiary, the Bahrain Petroleum Company, was an influential petroleum industry expert who helped negotiate the original oil concession with King Ibn Saud. For many years he worked as an overseas consultant, and as an oil industry advisor to the U.S. Department of State. He and his wife, Leila, lived on Umm a' Sabaan, their own island off the coast of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf – a gift, for services rendered, from Sheik Kalifa of Bahrain. Source: Books.Google.com, Pearl-Guide.com and other Internet sites.)
The next day we went shopping, had lunch at our hotel, the BOAC [British Overseas Airways Corporation] rest house, then visited with some Arab friends, the Kanoo families. Throughout our stay the Kanoos had one and sometimes two Cadillacs at our call, advanced local currency to the girls for shopping, told the hotel to send the bill to them, and in general rolled out the Red Carpet. (Editor’s note: According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, “Established in 1890, the Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Group of Companies, named after its founder, is among the oldest pan-Persian Gulf commercial enterprises with activities in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen and Qatar. Beginning as traders in Bahrain, which at the time was a British protectorate, the Kanoo family expanded into shipping, sending different branches of the family to establish themselves - eventually becoming citizens - in the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Today, the Kanoo Group activities in each of the countries is managed by the local family wing, though they all remain under the ultimate control, and ownership, of the Bahrain based Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Holdings.”)
The old Bahrein airport, early 1950s.
The second night we went to a dinner and a party at the Kanoo home, and Mildred and I with the others were invited to an Englishman’s home for a party that didn’t break up until after three. We were smart and went to bed, and therefore could enjoy shopping the next day. The third day we had lunch with Manager of BOAC, a lovely English couple, and met a girl raised in Greenwich, now married to an English naval or Foreign Service officer. Her mother is Mrs. Singleton, sells insurance in Greenwich.
Went home too soon for us, but special plane picked us up at 4 P.M. and thus ended a perfect weekend, and we knew Judy would be in between 7 and 8 P.M.
She arrived and looks fine and leaves Jan. 2. Susan is due December 23rd and stays until January 13. Already the phone rings continuously and when Susan is here, Mildred and I shall have to go to nearby houses to use the phone. Probably Susan will live at Hobby Farm with horses, but we’ll see.
Tonight Mildred and I are chaperones at a teenagers’ dance for the kids back from school, tomorrow go to the [Bill] Coopers’ for dinner celebrating the Renfers’ return and Shultzes’ leaving on vacation, Tuesday night the annual Nativity under the stars, Thursday home with our chicks (maybe), and Friday Christmas Eve dinner here with Lynn and Allyn, and one or two more. Last-minute shopping is getting us as always, and I am sure you all, too.
Again Merry Christmas to all, will be thinking of you throughout the holidays.
Love, Ken for all
Christmas time always meant an influx of
Aramco “brats” from their various schools in
the Middle East, Europe and the United States.
This is a clipping from the Arabian Sun & Flare
showing some of the students during a typical
1950s Holiday formal for the teenagers.
Judy Webster is pictured top left.
(Courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.)
December 26, 1954
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
The time finally arrived for the girls to get here and they arrived on schedule. We were a little bit worried because it looked like Susan might be late…it is wonderful having them both here. Of course, Judy came back on the 17th and goes back on the 2nd. Susan goes back on the 13th or soon after, depending on which plane we three families decide to send them up on. (Editor’s note: This is a reference to the fact that three girls from the Aramco camps, including Susan Webster, attended Brilantmont in Switzerland.)
We had a grand dinner and Santa was more than generous with us – so many lovely things – too numerous to tell, but among mine were three pieces of Swedish crystal which are simply lovely – also a projector and screen. The girls brought so many things and all in all it was a wonderful time.
There have been several parties but nothing like the old days. The girls are having fun seeing old friends and various dances and parties getting all the various home-from-school kids together. They always have a big reunion. Some even come out from the States, but not many. Mostly Beirut, Rome and Switzerland. These are grand days for them for most go off to colleges scattered all over next year and there will not be many times that they are all together again.
We see the most change in Susan. She has gained quite a bit and looks so well. Grew up in height, too, but not so much since we saw her in September. She loves the school and they certainly do have a wonderful time and the food sounds marvelous. Mainly she has matured a lot and is quite the young lady. Her French is excellent and she seems very interested in her studies. She couldn’t wait to see Neji and has been down twice to ride.
The Saudi Arabian flag. The Arabic words
translate to, "There is no god but Allah, and
Muhammad is his Messenger."
Judy is the same but gets older each time, of course. Right now she is busy getting applications filled out to send to the various colleges she is interested in – but doesn’t yet know just where she really wants to go. . . of course, she still is interested in nursing. She will probably get married and have a household of children and be perfectly happy.
Hope your Holidays were the best and all our wishes for everything good in the New Year – won’t be too long till we will be home again this next summer.
Love to all, Ken and Mildred and Girls