Directorate of Telecommunications PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS Qatar - Two Years in Doha and a week in London By: Roy Tichelli IEng MIET
This account of a two year secondment from the then HO Directorate of Telecommunications to the Qatar State Police is intended to be historically accurate. Views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Home Office, Foreign Office, Qatar Government Agencies, commercial companies mentioned, or individuals named in the article:- Roy Tichelli
In 1975 Qatar didn’t enjoy the international prominence that it does today despite sitting on vast oil and gas reserves. The Emirate had only recently achieved statehood following British withdrawal from the Arabian Gulf. Qatar assumed the status of a sovereign state on 3rd September 1971. It had yet to develop its capital city Doha as host to International events & tourists. It was unfamiliar territory to Directorate personal. Though many had served with RAF or Army in the Gulf region in Bahrain, Sharjah or Masirah Island I only met one person in the wider Directorate community who had actually been there. One of the stores supervisors had refuelled in Doha as an RAF crew member. At CCE the Emirate was referred to as qwatar. There was a perception that a HO depot existed in Doha. The commitment was variously described as “The Qatar project “, “Qatar Depot.” or “Sub Depot “. There was a curiosity about the commitment but little known about it to the wider community. The official status was that Directorate personnel were seconded to the Qatar Police in a role originally intended to be advisory.
In March 1975 I was at home sick. My wife Anne took a call from Muriel Monroe Robin Hughes p.a asking me to call Robin as soon as I could. Minutes later he told me that I was the selected candidate to replace Richard Sanders & was required in Doha within three weeks. The excitement was such that my health improved immensely. The departure date was clearly a challenge domestically but we accepted it. I promptly accepted the offer & Robin referred me to Ray Heath who initiated the departure process. I spent a day at the Passport Office getting the children onto our passports. Ray Heath quickly expedited the appropriate allowances. Anne took time off from packing & working part time to go to London to buy tropical clothing for all the family. We all had several inoculations, & fortunately no one h d a bad reaction. We made farewell visits to our families in Norfolk and Northern Ireland. A lot happened quickly and we met the time line. We left more equipped for two week’s holiday than two years residence in a country we knew little about. On arrival our cases were taken from Richard’s car at the hotel & he said “Mustapha can collect your excess baggage. “ He looked puzzled by my reply. “There is no more luggage.” We have never regretted setting off on a journey that was to alter the course of our lives. It was a valuable lesson on planning for future overseas contracts.
Photo: Anne with Kerry & Royston at Al Khor
Just before departure I was invited to a briefing by the Director Bill Nicol. He was unable to keep the appointment due to more pressing issues. I was briefed by the Deputy Director Administration. When I posed the question “Who do I report to? “ He produced a document entitled Memorandum of Understanding and elaborated that the assignment was a secondment to the Qatar State Police and that no one in the DoT would be “ telling me what to “, ( as he phrased it.) He smiled and added “However it would be a good idea to send regular reports to the Director. It might otherwise jeopardise your future in the Directorate.” Looking back this was sound advice as I did need of Directorate help and advice during my first year in Qatar.
There was vagueness about the mission. He told me that the role was to “advise and assist” adding that I would be responsible to the Commandant of Police , as H.E Brig .Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani was titled. Sheik Hamad was a member of the ruling Royal Family the Al Thanis. I left Rochester Row feeling enthusiastic & excited but rather concerned about the lack of clarity concerning both work and domestic matters. Ron Barrell had been involved in setting up the project & was quite helpful. Fortunately I had spoken informally to Richard Sanders during his visits to U.K and had a vision of the role and knew something of living conditions and the house in which he lived. I knew that a work shop to support maintenance of both legacy and new project equipment had been set up. I understood that Richard and Philip Archer were focussed on building a force wide VHF high band area coverage scheme and divisional channels with the associated control room equipment. Philip had already been succeeded by Gerry Moy. I had never worked with Gerry before & did not know him or have the opportunity to meet him before his departure... He left for Doha with his family a week or two before I set off with my wife Anne and two children, Kerry aged 5 Royston aged 2.
My first day in Doha marked the beginning of a steep learning curve. The job was clearly very different to anything experienced in the Home Office. One fundamental difference being that Telecommunications Section was a uniformed division of the Police force so the service provider/customer relationship between us & the operational police differed. There was a planned organisation chart but the key Qatari staff were away on long term training courses and by default the advisors had assumed more of a management role than intended. Also the Police, Fire and Prison Service were under a unified command. The police force shared more synergy with the British Army than the UK Police. There was a Police Advisor Mr Ron Lock who had previously commanded the Qatar Force as well as serving in Cyprus & Nigeria. Heads of specialist Divisions were direct contract British Senior Officers who had served in various Colonial Police forces such as Kenya, Malaya, Brunei and the Palestine Mandate. All these officers spoke Arabic. The Marine Police Commander a Scotsman also completed his daily log in Arabic. There was also a fluent Arabic speaking British Special Branch advisor. Though we got to know him socially I never established whether he was seconded or contract, police or other back ground. Such was the nature of his role The Fire Brigade was commanded a seconded British MOD Fire Service *1 Officer. All these people provided invaluable assistance in helping me to find my feet in respect of who did what in the complex organisation. Soon after our arrival the whole family spent a very enjoyable Friday as guests of Ron Lock at the Shell Lodge Club.
When I met Gerry Moy it was evident that he also viewed the core task as completing the high Band VHF scheme and had a clear picture of what needed to be done. It was a long way off completion. The capital area & the oil town of Dukan on the west coast were covered. A site in the North of the country had been identified and a mast erected but it remained for the building to be erected and power to be routed to the site & connected. Diesel standby power was also essential.
At this point I rather left Gerry to the High Band and the workshop to continue taking over from Richard. I had to grasp the bigger picture quickly as the hand over had to be dovetailed with opening a bank account , obtaining a driving licence, a residence permit , buying a car and getting our daughter into the Doha English Speaking School. While this was happening Anne was left at The Doha Palace Hotel, despite its name wasn’t palatial, with the two children. Though it was only April it was already very hot and she struggled to push our two year old over broken pavements in a McLaren stroller attracting bemused stares from locals and Indian shopkeepers alike. Gerry’s wife Jenny visited the hotel. In conversation Anne said “I will be ok when I find the centre of town “. Jenny explained that we were actually in the centre of the town. I worked from 6am to 1pm 6 days a week so we were able to explore the city in the afternoons but we all looked forward to moving into the house & getting settled. Setting up home in any Middle Eastern country can be initially tough & bewildering for wives suddenly having to navigate round an unfamiliar city in a different car on the opposite side of the road through rather chaotic traffic conditions to get children to school. The lack of western style supermarkets made shopping more difficult. There were Cold Stores that sold western type groceries but items such as fresh meat were not readily available. The word would be passed on at the school gates or the club “Ali bin Ali‘s have fresh meat in.” “Al Sai has ice cream. …….” There was no one stop shop for groceries and brands were often unfamiliar with such exotic names as Captain Oates Porridge from Malaysia , Tang Orange from USA now readily available here & Nido dried milk powder. Children’s Buster Brown clothes imported from USA were available from a shop called National. It sold electrical goods and Calor gas cookers down stairs & clothing upstairs. A broom handle had to cut size to create a rolling pin because it seemed that rolling pins were not sold anywhere. Yet a brand new American car could rolled out the show room same day if the process started early enough in the day.
During the next few days Richard produced many files leading me to the conclusion that I was having greatness thrust upon me. In addition to the High Band VHF project and supporting maintenance of existing communications there were an astonishing number of projects in the pipe line. It appeared that any police input to National planning resulted in a Police communications project being defined. Richard emphasised that the Commandant required that the projects to be implemented would subsequently be maintained by the communications section.
Amongst the more ambitious plans were an off shore radar system, CCTV traffic surveillance system for the capital area, and two power station & desalination plant perimeter security systems. Though it was not for me to suggest that custody of these assets belonged with other agencies I thought it appropriate to produce a report defining the training and manpower needs. The report would be my first task on completion of the handover. During the handover Burndept were commissioning the integrated control system. This was a one of the few turn key projects. Supt. Noel Morris of the Gwent Force *5 was scheduled to arrive to train the operators who at this stage were still in UK under training.
I personally had no practical experience of the Burndept Integrated Control System but had limited experience of a similar concept the Pye MASCOT. Gerry was not familiar with the system either. We agreed that I should request someone from Burndept be seconded to maintain the system and provide on job training to local staff for 6 months to a year. I knew that the company wanted to position some one in the Gulf which might enable us to get a better deal. In view that training was due to start my proposal was accepted and a Burndept engineer became based in Doha. In retrospect this was a wise decision. We soon hit a problem with cross talk on the audio channels which necessitated another Burndept Engineer coming out to devise a modification which was later universally embodied across their customer base.
Following my initial meeting with Sheik Hamad he went on official business abroad for an extended period. I presented my report to his Deputy stating that the Division was over committed and required an increase in manpower. The Deputy was a lawyer by training & considered it better to refer the matter to the Police advisor. I am sure the report was not what either wanted to read. How ever the advisor was a man of extensive Police and management experience & though not technical was quite adept at grasping new concepts and understanding technology at system level. To convince him of requirements went a long way to obtaining absolute approval particularly since funding was not the usual obstacle. I was more likely to be asked “What does it do for us? “rather than “How much does it cost? “
The main out come of the report was that the advisor had a good idea of which projects were on a wish list and which were firm. We were permitted to recruit additional trained staff from the Indian sub continent pending the training and development of local Qatari staff. In addition an additional Home Office secondment was agreed and the H.O quickly informed me that John Alexander from Billinge would join us soon.
We got through our first summer in Doha spending a lot of our free time at the beach club and venturing further out to local beaches at week ends. The beach club was situated in the grounds of the Oasis Hotel. No sooner than the weather turned cooler Christmas was with us. It would be a Christmas with a difference. Being in a Muslim country Christmas does not have the in your face commercialisation we experience at home. Our patio windows were transformed into lattice windows with the help of black masking tape and snow in the form cotton wool coated the corners of the lattice. Christmas music was played on our newly acquired stereo. One the most enduring memories of our first Christmas were carol singing by members of the seconded community. Two Naval officers borrowed the piano from the English Speaking school and mounted it on the back of a Navy pick up truck and slowly drove around the Rumalliah area close to the Fort where many British employees of the Qatar Government lived. The rest of us followed with wives and children. We managed to persuade the police guard at the British Embassy to let us in. As we gave a rendering of Hark the Herald Angel David & Nancy Crawford emerged and invited the whole party into their residence.
In contrast to Christmas, Ramadan & the Eid holiday were big events for the local & Islamic population. Despite the serious period of fasting the town took on a carnival atmosphere in the evenings during Ramadan. At sunset the end of fasting was officially marked by the military firing a canon which could be heard all over the town. In the evening the town burst into life with people dining at out door food stalls set up for Ramadan. The smell of charcoal and Kebabs cooking drifted across the streets. At the end of Ramadan approached the evening bustle intensified as locals shopped for Eid presents. At the end of Ramadan there was a public holiday which was extended to all expatriates irrespective of religion.
Though we were not executing a Directorate project I always got a positive response from anyone that I contacted back in London. I was thankful for this connection when Gerry hit a problem with the High Band. Ducting was common during the summer months to the extent that English speaking expatriates were able to watch English language TV from the ARAMCO oil company in Dhahran Saudi Arabia & from Dubai. Against this back ground it was not surprising that we experienced problems with interaction between two of our high band sites. I was aware of a signal selector unit that was in an advanced state of development at CCE by John Stokes. I had a somewhat peripheral involvement with the project while at CCE & judged that the unit could solve our problem. We bought one from the HO and received the required remote technical assistance. Gerry did the detailed engineering required to integrate it into our scheme to great effect. The project appeared to be back on track but I was about to be hit with a lot of organisational changes.
Major. Fuad Abdul Rahman had been identified as the Commander Designate of the Communications Division but was still abroad, when I started my secondment, doing a hybrid training covering both the engineering and police operations function. He had spent time with the Gwent Force with Noel Morris and time at both the Directorate and manufacturers. I was given a date as to when to expect him. At the same time a Qatari off market qualified recruit Salem Ajab joined us. Salem’s UK training in broadcast engineering leading to a Full Tech City and Guilds had been sponsored by State owned Qatar TV. However he was allowed to join the Police as a 2nd Lieut. on his return home.
The retirement of the Police advisor had a major impact on the way that I worked. It was as though a layer of management had been removed as I now always dealt directly with the Commandant of Police who wasn’t so readily accessible. The Commandant adopted the tile Chief of Police. This change seemed unimportant to me but was seen by some observers as a symbolic shedding of the last vestiges of the Protectorate days while others viewed it as a precursor to growing American influence as the Chief had been in USA for some time. I had no real view as I had a more pressing problem. Gerry Moy advised me that he wanted to return to UK after one year and not complete his full secondment due to unsuitable educational facilities for his son. Gerry’ decision was a loss to me. We had defined our roles and working relationship. Gerry was exercising good technical leadership & getting good results from the workshop team. I understood his problem & after some discussion we agreed that I would inform the Chief, The British Ambassador & the Directorate. The embassy was not concerned with day to day activity but I was expected to attend regular staff meetings in common with military seconded officers and the British Council *2 Management. We in turn were invited to Embassy functions to meet members of the British business community passing through the Gulf on business development missions. On one occasion we met the Foreign Secretary James Callaghan. Again the HO reacted quickly & was informed that Alan Taylor from CCE would be the replacement. I had known Alan at Harrow but not actually worked with him.