“Aramco operations are curtailed due to the Suez, and we average almost 700,000 barrels per day instead of the 1,100,000 expected. Too soon yet to tell how quickly the canal will be in operation again, but with present news that Britain and France will leave within two weeks, we look for a fast opening in four months maybe.” – Ken Webster
The waning months of 1956 are history-making for the Middle East. King Saud hosts a first-ever summit of Arab leaders with high hopes of healing ancient tensions and establishing new and mutually beneficial diplomatic and economic relations. At the same time, the Suez Canal crisis that began in July comes to a head, with Israel, Britain and France invading Egypt, causing a huge number of casualties and damage, straining international relations, and closing the canal all the way until March 1957. The closure disrupts Middle Eastern air travel and causes trouble for commercial shipping from around the world, including the transport of oil from Saudi Arabia.
Despite these major developments, life in the Aramco communities of the Eastern Province continues pretty much as usual. However, for the Websters, great excitement awaits.
This chapter covers late September through December 1956.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
September 21, 1956
Historic arrival in Saudi Arabia of Arab heads of state, 1956.
History was made here this week as you will all read about in Time, Newsweek and many newspapers.
The King of Iraq [Faisal II] did come to visit our King, after his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were lifelong enemies of our King’s antecedents. Whether or not they buried the hatchet is yet to be public. With Nehru, Prime Minister of India, and Nasser, President of Egypt, yet to appear for meetings in Saudi Arabia, nobody knows and all are guessing at the outcome of the Arab dealings with BIG OIL and the SUEZ QUESTION.
Thursday morning we six met at 6:45, went to King Saud’s palace at 7:20, and awaited His Majesty with the visiting King of Iraq Faisal and party. After many delays, some cigarettes and coffee, waiting in a nice air-conditioned room, the royal group arrived at 11:45. All the assembled group of some 200 shook King Faisal’s hand, had a cup of Arab coffee per custom, and we were on our way back here soon after 12. We met again at 6:45 p.m. and drove to the palace, waited almost one and a half hours, and then dined with the main group of 550 dignitaries on whole sheep (128), barbecued chicken, shrimp cocktail, salad, numerous Arab dishes, coffee, ice cream and cakes. Home at 10 p.m.
In the morning and afternoon, many film recordings were made and rushed to the USA for TV. Next Monday, Nehru arrives at Riyadh. Rumor has it that Nasser will, too, then Nehru comes here [to Dhahran] Thursday for a reception with all our Indian employees, some 800, plus many from nearby communities, and the world may have the answer to the Suez question, or at least the answer to the Western Conference, etc.
Mildred has been sewing most of the week, making last-minute purchases for Susan, and a week from tomorrow we will put her on a plane for Beirut. Had a note from Judy who soon will be embroiled again in Middlebury activities. It takes sometimes three weeks to get letters to and from Susan only 1,000 miles away – and Judy’s last letter came in four days.
We still plan on departing October 4th and will firm up plans this week.
Love to all,
P.S. from Mildred: Ken just came in from dinner in Dammam with the King,
Nasser [Gamal Abdel Nassar, president of Egypt] and Quwatli [Shukri al-Quwatli, president of Syria] – Said it was very nice – good food, but didn’t eat anything himself – Also very warm in the huge dining room. He just tore off to the office to finish up some papers, as he has to take some VIPs with the visitors around and show them Aramco tomorrow morning at the request of Fred Davies. Busy, busy, busy!
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
September 29, 1956
Ken and Mildred Webster’s younger daughter, Susan, at the Dhahran airport as she prepares to leave for the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon, September 1956.
Susan left today with 26 others via company Convair for school in Beirut, and with only two footlockers, two suitcases, a large zipper bag and a box of cookies. She looked very cute as she went aboard after the last goodbye to us and numerous of the local male contingent of the local AIR FIELD. She is quite G.I. minded and the house has been full of them for the past two months.
Nowhere else in the world does a company pamper their kids with special plane service like this one. They will arrive two days before school officially opens and have two days of special indoctrination, get settled in their rooms, etc., before school classes begin. Knowing we were coming to Beirut Thursday made tears unnecessary on the part of anyone, but we left behind, did feel this is now the time that starts [when there are] no more kids in the house from now on, even though vacations will see them here for a short time the next few summers. It is only 8 o’clock, we have already called on friends at the hospital, and are in p.j.’s, ready for the weekly letter.
All the heads of state have gone, King Faisal of Iraq, President Quwatli of Syria, President Nasser of Egypt, our own King Saud, and most recently Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India. The latter came last Monday, but only stopped here for refueling, as the big meeting was in Riyadh. He returned Thursday, September 27, mainly to meet with Indians living here, and also to see Aramco installations he had heard about.
Ken Webster, serving as acting director of local government relations, was chosen to conduct a tour of Aramco facilities for Indian Prime Minster Nehru in late September 1956. Here he is seen to Nehru’s left as he tours Dhahran’s new medical facility. (Photo from Sun and Flare.)
Ken Webster, center (wearing sunglasses), walks with Nehru at the Ras Tanura refinery. (Photo from Sun and Flare.)
The local government asked that I conduct a tour with him, and I’ll tell you briefly about it.
He was in Jeddah, on the Red Sea, approximately as far as Chicago to New York from here. All Wednesday we had schedules of his hour of departure Thursday, but as some of the times given were in Arabia Time, which is the time being 12 o’clock as sunset and/or sunrise, and as there is time change between here and there, we were, to say the least, confused. He was due here at 9 Arabic A.M., then 10, and finally 11:40.
After a short reception at the airport in one of the hangars, attended by many Arab dignitaries, local Airfield officers, Consulate persons, Aramco officials and Indians, Arabs, Sudanese, etc., I was to drive out in the lead car and after clearing the airport reservation, was to get in his car and describe all we saw as we passed. Finally, my assistant went in the lead car with Arab soldiers for escort and I entered the royal Cadillac sedan. It was a brand-new ’56, fully air-conditioned, seven-passenger with driver, Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and high military officer in front, and Nehru, a high Saudi official from the King and another the son of the local governor and me, in back.
We had eight other cars, five armed jeeps, and five motorcycles in front of us, and more than that behind, and it looked like Barnum and Bailey’s circus moving on to the location. Horns, whistles, etc., making noises, clearing the road ahead. Had numerous narrow escapes from collision as we went under many ceremonial arches too narrow for two cars. The escorting cars were two abreast and it was a picnic. We drove through all the Aramco areas, residential, industrial and oil handling, then over to the main Health Center. The $10 million institution impressed him, and we went all through it so he could see how we treat all nationalities. Then to Dammam for lunch, this time only 21 were so honored, me being the only American.
All the Indians in the party spoke excellent English, as well as Urdu, and then lunch was a real dinner served by Aramco personnel at the request of the governor of Al Hasa Province.
Indian Prime Minister Nehru, left, and Aramco Acting Director of Local Government Relations Ken Webster on their tour of Aramco facilities in September 1956.
Then to Ras Tanura, forty miles away, through part of the oil fields, stopping at the Ras Tanura emir’s house for coffee, tea and juice, then off to see the refinery, the loading piers, etc. All through this we had our pictures taken hundreds of times in movies, stills, etc., and then back to Dhahran for a 5:30 p.m. reception with the Indian employees and friends. We only have 1,100-plus Indians working for us, but with their friends and curiosity seekers, we had over 8,000 at the reception. Speeches, of course, and more pictures, and if I do not make the TV this time, I never will. It will be on TV before you get this, and many newsreels, but I’ll have copies of representative photos for my book and the Sun and Flare will have them, too. Time magazine was the only reporter allowed in – why I don’t know. [Editor’s note: Nehru had recently appeared on the cover of Time and the profile of the prime minister had been positive, so perhaps this is why the magazine was allowed to be there.]
Nehru was a fine person to talk to and I enjoyed every minute of the eight-hour day. He is a kindly man, looks like the Pope, dresses in white jacket and jodhpurs, and a little white cap. The Arab official with us had his two daughters in Switzerland in school with Susan, so we got along fine. I arrived home at almost 7 p.m., tired, but felt it was a very eventful day. History has been made here in the past two weeks and we hope for the good of the world. Only time will tell.
[Editor’s note: The historic 1956 summit in Saudi Arabia of King Saud, Quwatli, Faisal and Nasser and the visit by Nehru were part of a larger effort by these leaders to improve relations between the countries and to create more unity within the larger Arab world.]
I am getting into my new job, but won’t really feel “in” it until after my short vacation. This department [Local Government Relations] has the prime responsibility of all major contacts with the local government [Eastern Province] as they have to do with our operations throughout Arabia. It not only includes representatives of all three Districts, also Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, but also covers all Arabia research and translation, customs matters, traffic regulations, services to the Saudi government and personally to the King and royal family, and tries to be the HUMSA EL WUSSEL, or “go-between,” for all Aramco departments and the government. There are not many rules written as a guide, but rather you play it by ear in daily dealings with an increasingly centralized government that is just beginning to grow up. I like it, and will enjoy my 10 months or so in it, and do not know where it is leading me, but time will tell.
Have run out of time and thoughts of news, and will write from Istanbul, Beirut and Baghdad as we go and see new things.
Love to all,
Travel to Places Planned – and Unplanned
October 21, 1956
We should now be in Beirut, Lebanon, seeing our youngest, Susan, and making those last purchases before going back to Dhahran for another year before long vacation in the dear old USA. I am writing from here because of a miracle.
Let me tell you about it.
We left Dhahran on October 4th at 4 p.m. via a new Middle East Airlines [Vickers] Viscount en route for Beirut to stay one night and then go on to Istanbul. We enjoyed the hospitality of the MEA district manager, Mr. Sadrisi, as we had had a long dry spell in Arabia. [Editor’s note: presumably, this is a reference to the fact that alcohol was not permitted in the Kingdom.] It was a very nice four hours with numerous friends. We were met in Beirut by Hamad and Bob Anderson of the Tapline office, who rushed us by customs and immigration, leaving our passports with Surete [security] so as to not cancel the Lebanon visa, as we would not need then additional visas before returning from Istanbul.
Advertising poster for Middle East Airlines, 1950s.
The Websters stayed at the new Riviera Hotel in Beirut on the first leg of their journey to Istanbul in 1956.
A waiting car took us to the Riviera, a new hotel on and facing the Mediterranean, and our room had a balcony facing the water. It was a beautiful sight to us after the desert! We went to the American Community School to see Susan who had arrived there September 29, and after meeting the new faculty head, took Susan out to dinner. She seemed very pleased with the new school and happy as class secretary, but needed more money already, as most girls do. We told her we were leaving the next day at noon for Istanbul and would see her Friday the 19th. The next morning, we went to Amlevco [an American-Lebanese tourism agency], bought tickets for Istanbul via Lufthansa, the only flight that day. Of course, we also bought a hat for Momma, and a few other items in short supply, plus two bottles of whiskey as they said it was very expensive in Turkey. We were airborne at 12:30 again with the help of Hamad, our ever-faithful transportation aide.
Had an excellent German lunch with a few highballs first and Rhein wine from Germany. It was only a two-and-a-half hour flight to Istanbul and in no time we were over the Sea of Mamara and how beautiful Istanbul looked to us with so many mosques, the Bosphorus, and the Golden Horn. As we debarked, we saw a large group who turned out to be the Egyptian soccer team arriving to play Turkish teams.
The new Istanbul Hilton in the mid-1950s. Ken and Mildred Webster stayed here for several days on “short leave” from Aramco before their travel plans changed and they flew off to the United States. (Internet photo.)
We arrived at the Istanbul Hilton at 4 p.m. after a very interesting ride through part of the Old City. The Hilton cannot be described in a short note without pictures, but its large spacious lounge, shopping space, beauty shop, American snack bar, and two major dining rooms, plus the roof garden, swimming pool with cabanas, tennis courts, children’s playground and large lawns and gardens, make it a very pleasing place to stay for overnight or a month.
A view of the Bosphorus in Istanbul. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
Our room on the sixth floor was 30 by 12 feet, plus a 6-by-12-foot balcony facing the Bosphorus. Within the room space was a large bathtub, shower, a vanity 36 inches by 6 feet painted deep red and full room-width mirror from vanity to ceiling. The closet space with sliding doors was more than ample. There were twin studio beds, easy chair, desk, etc., fully air-conditioned (heat and cold), and the balcony furnished for meals and lounging. As we first looked down on the city, we felt we had been transported back into olden days. After vodka martinis in the lounge, we had a fine lobster dinner and soon to bed.
A Kodachrome slide of Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
A view of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, 1956. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
Mildred Webster while sightseeing in Istanbul. (Photo by Ken Webster.)
October 6 – We were up at seven, breakfast on the terrace and walked to Taksim Square, eight or ten blocks away. Saw grandstands and a parade forming, so asked the local police in charge if we could sit in the grandstands. He obviously didn’t understand English, took us for American Consulate people we think, and gave us a seat of honor! The parade was over in an hour with many old and colorful costumes and uniforms. It was celebrating the Evacuation of Istanbul in 1923 by the Allied troops.
[Editor’s note: My grandparents serendipitously witnessed the annual “Liberation of Constantinople” parade and festivities, celebrating the year when World War I allies, who had occupied the city since 1918, left in accordance with the Treaty of Lausanne. Source: multiple websites, including Wikipedia.]
In the afternoon, we just marinated, walking around the grounds, dinner, floor show, and to bed at midnight.
Following are excerpts from a rather long letter about the trip that took the Websters from a planned Turkish vacation to what Ken Webster described as a “miracle” of travel to Scandinavia, the U.S., Beirut and back to Dhahran:
October 7 – Up at nine, watched stadium filling up for the first game between the Turks and the Russians . . . was later told the Turks had queued up all night . . . American Express tour with fifteen others. Saw the Sultans jewels, thrones, and went through the Museum of Antiquities. On the tour were people from five countries, one an American girl just back from two weeks in Russia. She took all her leftover money and bought a suitcase of caviar, as she could not get her money changed from Russian back to any other. . . drove through much of the Old City . . .
Ken Webster at the Istanbul Hilton, 1956. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
A Turkish woman in traditional garb serves coffee at the Istanbul Hilton, 1956. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)
October 8 – After breakfast, took a long walk through nearby residential section and way down the hill to the Bosphorus to see the Naval Museum . . . swordfish for dinner with some excellent smoked sturgeon and eel. Early to bed after Turkish coffee in lobby, watching the people.
October 9 – Went to Asia for a few hours’ drive to high point where we could look down on the Bosphorus for most of its length . . .
October 10 – Twelve years since I left for Arabia – Taxied to Grand Bazaar and wandered through many of the 800 shops, some large, some small as a phone booth, all under one roof. Met friends of friends in Arabia and were promised proper treatment in the bazaar as Arabia friend is Turkish . . . Went to see shipping office of Hashim Nardin, as an acquaintance in Arabia had given us a letter to the company. The general manager was Mr. Yetish, who spoke no English, but one of his captains did, and he made a date for us the next day. Back to the Bazaar for some more shopping . . . bought knick-knacks for families . . . along the way, was intrigued with the many public stenos typing letters for people, their office being a small place on a sidewalk!
October 12 – Mr. Yetish and captain picked us up at 10 a.m. and drove us along the Bosphorus and up high in the hills. Then to Kilyos on the Black Sea for lunch. We could not see Russia, but it was 400 miles away with Bulgaria and Romania within sight about 100 miles away. A very fine day seeing the sights of the resort section.
This was one of the newest DC 7C airliners in the Scandinavian Airlines fleet in 1956. The Websters were among a group of guests invited to go on the inaugural flight from Copenhagen to New York City in October of that year, via Istanbul – an unexpected adventure that enabled them to visit their families in the States, surprising everyone. (Photo credit: Jon Proctor (GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons.)
October 13 – Again to Grand Bazaar and lunch with SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) general manager of Middle East, at Limon Turkish Restaurant on the main harbor. Had been told the day before, at night, by Willie Jaensen, SAS district manager of Beirut, that if we wanted to accept he would arrange a trip to the USA for us via Copenhagen for inauguration flight of SAS’s new DC-7C. We didn’t take too much stock in this, but at this lunch, the general manager said he thought it would be approved. We still doubted it would happen.
A front-page article in the Sun and Flare detailing Ken and Mildred Webster’s unexpected and very enjoyable trip to the United States via Istanbul. The surprise journey lasted eight days and the couple traveled 12,000 miles round trip by the time they landed back in Dhahran.
The “jump page” conclusion of the Sun and Flare article telling of the Websters’ trip to the U.S. via Istanbul and Copenhagen. Ken Webster called it a “miracle” and praised Scandinavian Airlines as “the best airline ever.”
October 14 – Willie Jaensen called at 9 a.m. to say trip OK and we would leave for Copenhagen Tuesday morning. We immediately wrote Susan in Beirut, canceled our flight back to Beirut, canceled our hotel in Beirut and flights and hotel [in] Beirut, Baghdad, Basra, Dhahran. Rushed my laundry and wrote to those concerned in Saudi Arabia. What excitement! In the afternoon and part of the morning, went on tour of mosques, museums, etc.
October 15 – Woke up to a slight fog and saw the American Fleet was in the Bosphorus – an aircraft carrier and five escorts, about 6,000 sailors and officers. After breakfast we took the name of a rug merchant from Mr. Serter and bought three small rugs . . . talked to some of the officers of the Fleet, one a friend of a friend, as usual, then to dinner with Willie and his girl acquaintance, secretary to a writer for a Belgian travel magazine . . . After dinner, to the roof for a late floor show and found it crowded with U.S. Navy personnel out on the town. To bed at one. EXCITED is not saying enough, as we were to take off the next day.
October 16 – Left hotel at nine for airport – took off at ten-thirty – stopped in beautiful Vienna, then Dusseldorf, and arrived Copenhagen at 7:20 p.m. after a fine lunch and the best coffee in the world – Danish. At Hotel Europa at 7:45 and told to come to room 1610 in ten minutes. Just a quick brush-up, no clothes changed, and started with cocktails while meeting the others for the trip. There were only 19 so far, plus numerous SAS personnel. We were given the initial program, dined too well, then out on the town until wee small hours.
October 17 – Up at 7 a.m., bus tour of city and Tuborg Brewery, and lunch along the shore almost to Elsinore [Kronborg] Castle. Had tried since night before to call the family in U.S., but for various reasons did not get through. After further tour of the countryside, went to hotel at five . . . Decided to send cable but asked the man to try once more [on the phone]. In two minutes talked to Sister and thought she was in the same room! What excitement when I told her we were coming to Greenwich for four days! On to airport for 10 p.m. departure, received new program of New York City events, and names of the group. There were 46 people from 19 countries, some as far away as Buenos Aires, Santiago, and the others from Middle East countries and Western and Northern Europe. There will be three more such flights, one over the Pole, bringing people from Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, etc. . . .
LATER: Arrived at Idlewild [Airport] at 10 a.m. We came on to Sister’s in Greenwich while the rest went to Roosevelt Hotel in NYC for a four-day sightseeing tour. We joined them at Sardi’s Friday, October 19, for lunch after I saw Bob Eeds [assistant general manager of Aramco oil operations] just returning to Arabia, and he said take an extra week and see the family . . . will go to Tulsa [to see Mildred’s father and stepmother] for two nights . . . then to Middlebury [College] to see Judy for two nights. One night here [Greenwich] and we are off to Copenhagen October 29 and on to Beirut October 30.
Niles G. Erickson, SAS party leader from Stockholm, and other SAS personnel have made our local vacation the grandest one yet, and from personal experience I can say that SAS is the finest airline ever. An all-expense tour for 12,000 miles over eight days and many countries is a wonderful way to travel every year! We cannot ever again expect such magic carpet treatment, but we are glad we made this one. We’ll be in Beirut and after two nights with Susan, we will be back home in Dhahran November 1, tired but happy. Thanks to SAS.
November 1, 1956
Hotel St. Georges
Dear Pop and Beverly:
I’m sure Alice let you know we arrived in fine shape except very tired – 25 hours flying time, plus 45 minutes in Turkey and two hours in Munich – it was snowing there! Also one hour in Copenhagen.
We had reservations here at the St. Georges, fortunately, as we heard the news about Egypt as we left Munich – and all flights south out of Beirut were stopped because Syria forbade any planes going over their country, just to avoid any trouble or incidents.
Beirut is full of evacuees from Jerusalem, Jordan and Damascus. Absolutely no trouble here.
Aramco told parents of American Community School students they would return any children to them. Parents said ask the children if they wanted to leave here. At a meeting today, all students elected to stay! The Company will take care of any eventuality of trouble here or in Saudi Arabia and we feel confident there will be no trouble as far as we are concerned.
It was a dreadful thing for Britain and France to do! And with no warning to the U.S.
[Editor’s note: The Suez conflict, which had been brewing since July when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal, erupted into a military crisis while the Websters were en route home to Dhahran from the unexpected trip to the United States. According to History.com, “The Suez Crisis began on October 29, 1956, when Israeli armed forces pushed into Egypt toward the Suez Canal, a valuable waterway that controlled two-thirds of the oil used by Europe. . . The Israelis were joined by French and British forces, which damaged their relationships with the United States and nearly brought the Soviet Union into the conflict. In the end, Egypt emerged victorious, and the British, French and Israeli governments withdrew their troops in late 1956 and early 1957. The event was a pivotal event among Cold War superpowers.”]
The Suez Canal crisis erupted into war while the Websters were en route to Saudi Arabia from the U.S. (Internet photo.)
Tapline sent a courier to Damascus today asking permission for Aramco planes to pass over. If not granted, we will probably go [back to Dhahran] via Istanbul, Tehran, or down through Basra. They sent over fresh vegetables and a fruit plane that way today – would take longer – 10 hours instead of 4 – but would go around Syria.
The papers must be full of blaring headlines, but we are as far away in Arabia from the trouble as we are in the war between Palestine and Jerusalem.
We have the greatest confidence in Aramco as to taking care of us and plans are all set up here to move our children to the States at the slightest trouble. There are several thousand Americans here.
Please don’t worry. If Ken thought there was the slightest danger he would pop us off to the States.
Among the visits the Websters made on their surprise visit to the States was to their older daughter, Judy, a sophomore at Middlebury College in Vermont. They were just in time for Parents’ Weekend. Here mother and daughter pose for a picture.
Ken Webster poses with his older daughter, Judy, at Middlebury College in Vermont. He and his wife, Mildred, were able to attend Parents’ Weekend because of the unexpected trip made possible by Scandinavian Airlines.
Ken and Mildred Webster were the parents who traveled the greatest distance to attend Parents’ Weekend at Middlebury College. (6,397 miles.)
We had a wonderful time seeing you and the kids [in Tulsa] – sorry we couldn’t stay longer. It was a wonderful weekend and at Middlebury, too. Did I tell you we were invited to stay with the president and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Stratton? They were ever so nice. They visited Saudi Arabia once while we were on home leave, so we hadn’t met them. We have mutual friends, though.
I hope all of you won’t be worrying. I know how the papers play everything up and so garbled at that. Air Mail goes via Beirut so if we get down there [Dhahran] may not be mail for a while till Syria lets up.
Best love to all,
Mimi and Ken
Hotel St. Georges
November 4, 1956
The Suez Canal crisis disrupted airline routes for thousands of travelers around the world. Ken and Mildred Webster stayed in Beirut for a week before taking a roundabout flight home to Dhahran. This is the first page of Mildred’s letter to her father and stepmother to assure them all was well.
Telegram to Mildred’s father and his wife from Ken’s sister to report that the Websters returned home safely during the time that the Suez fighting erupted.
Dear Pop and Nana:
Just said final goodbye to Susan at school and came here to pack as we leave via Company plane in the morning, flying over Turkey, Iran, Iraq to Dhahran as we cannot yet fly over Syria.
No trouble here and none expected as Lebanon is under military law for the duration. No trouble in Saudi Arabia nor on the pipeline, although rumors in New York papers to contrary.
The St. Georges Hotel in Beirut. Many Americans, including Aramcons, stayed here until they were able to return to their respective homes during the Suez crisis. (Internet photo.)
We sure had a fine vacation at all locations and five nice days here, but will be glad to get back to work after 30-plus days away. Now that we are about back home, the trip is almost like a dream – but we will not forget it ever!
Don’t worry if letters delayed as commercial lines may be restricted for a while. We’ll write, but won’t know if they reach you or not for a while.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
November 6, 1956
Dhahran mosque in the 1950s. (Public domain photo.)
Dear Families and Judy:
Here we are back in Saudi Arabia, at last, and all is serene here.
We left Beirut yesterday morning at 11:30 Dhahran time and arrived here last night at 10:45. We still couldn’t fly over Syria, so went all around Kelly’s barn to get here, but it was fine. We went to Ankara, Turkey – stopped there – then on across Turkey to the far side and made a right angle turn and down to Baghdad – stopped for 45 minutes and on to Dhahran. There was a plane load of us who had been waiting in Beirut. There will be one Convair a week now and maybe two. Also, the New York flight came in yesterday and will continue to do so. KLM will take mail out tomorrow so I will get these letters in the mail center this afternoon.
Our trip was simply wonderful, fabulous and grand, but after sitting six days in Beirut we are very glad to be home. The weather is lovely – everything is peaceful and the house looks good to us. Louis and Grey Boy seemed very happy to have us back. Allyn and Lynn met us and they are fine but have postponed their short leave now until spring.
Susan, along with all the other youngsters at school, seemed very calm, cool and undisturbed over everything in general. They were all asked if they wanted to return to Dhahran and they all elected to stay at school. We feel that it is a safe place to be next to here – unless there is a world war – heaven forbid – and then it wouldn’t be safe anyplace. There are very elaborate and concise plans made to evacuate them to the States in the event of the slightest indication of trouble. We felt it was all right to leave Sue there and we also know she will be taken care of.
It really is too bad that the news is so garbled that one doesn’t know what to believe. One broadcast, via India, said this morning that both the refineries here and on Bahrain had been bombed – which is totally untrue. Also, the Tapline being blown up is untrue. They are still pumping oil to Sidon! The general feeling here is untroubled. We all hope that the fighting on the other side will cease and some sort of peace can be made.
This is Election Day, but, as our news sheet said today, people are more interested in worldwide events. I surely hope Ike has no trouble getting in and don’t think he will.
It was wonderful seeing all of you and I do hope you won’t be too upset about us. We are not and have the utmost confidence in Aramco to take care of us. Actually, we are far removed from the scene of action.
Love to all and we hope the mail keeps going regularly so you will get our letters.
Love, Mildred (and Ken)
P.S. We brought scads of mail down from the kids in Beirut . . .
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
November 13, 1956
Fall is really with us now and the weather has been wonderful. Cool, clear as a bell, and all the flowering shrubs – such as bougainvillea, oleander, pomegranate, etc. – are just beautiful. Some have got flowers already, but ours were late getting in, so will be along later. We didn’t plant a vegetable garden, for where it has always been must be the spot for the garage – the only place that is accessible and available.
We have settled back to normal living and it is good, but we will never forget our wonderful luck in having such an opportunity happen to us. Everyone seems so happy for us, too. There is an article in the Sun and Flare about our trip this week, which you will all see eventually.
Next is Thanksgiving. The Consulate and Air Base are having it on the 22nd. The company dining hall is on the 29th. So we are trying to decide which for our own party.
We were out several times last week and Sunday was a holiday - the King’s Coronation Day. Saturday night we went to an Arab dinner and it was good. Took Mim Schultz and it was her first. Last night we all – the “bunch” – excepting the Coopers, were at [Aramco General Manager Carl] Renfers’ for dinner.
I went back to APAR [Aid to Palestinian Arab Refugees group organized by Aramco women in Dhahran] Monday for all day – next Sunday we hope to start our art class again – minus our teacher. Thursday we go to [Aramco Chairman of the Board and CEO Fred] Davies’ home for dinner.
Mail is going back and forth to Beirut and we know Sue is all right and hope for a letter this week. Never did receive the letter you sent, Judy, nor any since then. Had your letter, Alice, and yours, Beverly. So glad things out in the Egypt area seem to be settling down and looks like a solution to the problem might be attained. Things go along as per schedule here with no trouble . . .
The big Christmas sale is on. Toys for children, decorations and wrappings. It is by the Company, but [this is] the last year they will have one, as the merchants are doing so well with things to buy in Khobar, [which means] it isn’t necessary any more. We were down this week and there are some lovely things to buy from Sweden, Germany, States – cashmeres from Scotland – an endless array. Somewhat higher for some items, but the foreign ones are cheaper here than in the States.
Hope the letters keep coming along. Grey boy is on my feet and sends his salaams . . .
Best love to all and write soon,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
November 21, 1956
Today we have been busy getting the turkey ready – planning all the other things and I made four pies – two mincemeat and two pumpkin. There will be 12 of us tomorrow night for dinner. Our frozen turkeys are the most beautiful I have ever seen and arrive so clean and tidy. There was nothing to do to this one but just wash it off – just in case – otherwise we wouldn’t have had to do event that! I am making my usual cornbread, white bread and sausage dressing.
We have settled back down to regular life in Dhahran – and I have to pinch myself to realize it was ever so that we made the trip. Judy should be down in Connecticut by tonight or tomorrow morning – still no word from her since we returned – I only hope all of you are getting our letters. This week the regular flights are going back on schedule in many adjoining countries and ours will, too, I am sure. TWA is back on our mail schedule now. Still no flights over Syria so planes are going all around as we did coming down from Beirut.
Sue writes that she is fine and was looking forward to the Thanksgiving dance. She spent last weekend up in Tripoli with her roommate whose father is principal of the school up there. She had a wonderful time and enjoyed getting away from school routine for a bit.
Daisy and Bill Cooper returned this week so the “Old Guard” is intact again. I’ve been busy doing up the accounts for APAR this week and getting off our charity checks. We feel very proud that we were able to send a total of $2,200.00 in checks to 6 Palestinian Arab Refugee groups – all small groups who are doing tremendous work for the refugees.
We are both fine and right back on our usual routine of work and some social life. Everything goes on as usual here as if nothing had happened – I mean from the family angle. Louis is still our treasure and Grey Boy is fat and sassy. The weather is lovely. I really do enjoy the car so very much and get in a lot more ‘visiting’ which I should have been doing. Ken seems interested in his work and is studying Arabic with a teacher an hour every morning and does his homework at night. I haven’t really gone back to paining yet – the group is sort of scattered right now, but we hope to get going after Christmas.
Hope everyone is well and is looking forward to turkey tomorrow. Write soon.
Much love from us both,
Mildred and Ken
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
November 29, 1956
Well, I can feel Christmas creeping up on me and I haven’t begun to do a thing. Did enjoy Thanksgiving and we had a nice bunch in.
Had a long letter from Judy . . . and she had a very nice Thanksgiving at Greenwich . . .
Haven’t been doing much painting – Miss Zella and the regular classes. After Christmas we hope to meet every Sunday morning as we used to and get busy again. I ‘ve done one picture and part of another one.
The weather continues fine – sweater weather for us. Should begin to get colder around Christmas time. I’ve made arrangements for a Christmas present for Ken and collected a few things for Sue – mostly wearing apparel. It is always hard to think up something for Ken, but I am having a money clip made for a Saudi gold sovereign on it. They are out of circulation now and it is difficult to get one. I notice he uses a clip when we are traveling as most foreign money is of such sizes you can’t use a billfold. Anyway, I hope he likes it.
Sue is fine [at ACS] and likes it, but says she wants to go to the States next year. Of course, that doesn’t mean she won’t change her mind by the end of the year. She was invited out for Thanksgiving dinner and seems to get around a lot. She is working on her grades as they weren’t very good for the first marking. All of them [the Aramco kids] flopped mostly because it is quite a change from the school here and it takes a while to adjust to a new situation. All the kids were ‘crying’ about it while we were there.
Love to all,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
December 4, 1956
Back at the old stand writing the weekly letter, but no real news of consequence.
You know all the world news from your end and we only have it from radios and Newsweek. Our New York planes do not yet fly over Syria and Jordan, although we have permission to do so, but do stop in Beirut as before. From Beirut they fly over Cyprus, Ankara, Turkey, down Turkey to Iraq, over Iraq, Kuwait and to Dhahran. It makes the flights in the DC 6Bs about two and a half hours longer each way, and they leave Amsterdam four hours later in order to arrive over Cyprus in daylight, but no difficulty. It actually gives the passengers a view of Turkey, which is very rugged terrain. Most airlines are again operating to and from here, some going through Syria, and employees are again on their vacation schedules both short and long. Allyn and Lynn haven’t gone yet, as they feared the weather in Turkey would not be suitable in late November, but I think they plan on May, which should be fine.
Haven’t made definite plans yet for next summer, as to date or route, but think we would enjoy a week in Capri en route home. Soon as plans are firm for Susan, we will be able to start ours, and I hope my new work in present department will not disturb my desires. We have been lucky so far for twelve years to go when we wanted to in the summer and if Susan goes to Cushing or similar in Massachusetts, etc., we might be able to come home in late August and see both the girls at school and have a cool month with you all, and get back here after the hot weather is over.
Aramco operations are curtailed due to the Suez, and we average almost 700,000 barrels per day instead of the 1,100,000 expected. Too soon yet to tell how quickly the canal will be in operation again, but with present news that Britain and France will leave within two weeks, we look for a fast opening on four months maybe. If the Egyptians don’t settle down, it may be many more months for operations, but many Far Eastern countries are suffering due to the lack of business. This trouble has sure raised the devil with the tourist trade in many Middle East countries.
Looks like our income tax is going to go up quite high but we don’t have the complete answer yet. It will decrease the attraction of working here versus USA but we for one family will stay regardless. None have been scared off for any reason yet.
We collected $50,000 from employees for the Egyptian Red Cross, which is called Red Crescent, and the Company matched it. Now they are talking about a drive for the Hungarians. We just finished a drive for clothing for the Egyptians and Palestinian refugees and victims of the Suez trouble and will be flown to Cairo by Company plane to the Red Sea and Saudi government plane to Cairo. All is quiet here but we all read the news and listen to our radios, but not much talk any more about it.
We went to a local talent show at the theater the other night after church. It was really good and you’ll read about it in the Sun and Flare. If any of you do not get the S&F, let me know at once.
Had a birthday dinner with the Shultzes last night in Sam’s honor at the Officers Club. We will go out to dinner Wednesday and Thursday and have some here on Saturday. Social events are picking up, it seems. Willie Jaensen of SAS arrived and had dinner with us. He will go to Stockholm for Christmas and then be here for a year. Due to our [recent ] trip he is very well known in Aramco, not just here, but also in our other offices around the world. Must write Nils and tell him what a nice time we had on the trip. I already wrote the president of SAS.
Foster McEdwards just left after a short visit. His mother and sister live in Middlebury and we stopped to see them while with Judy last month. [Editor’s note: From 1953 - 1960 Foster “Mac” McEdwards flew for Aramco. He was based out of Dhahran flying missions to Europe and the United States, as well as missions to oil wells throughout the Arabian desert. Wherever he went, he shot movies and photos, which are archived at Getty Images. Source: Aramco ExPats.]
It is now 11 p.m. and I haven’t studied my Arabic lesson yet. I take conversational Arabic five days a week from 8:30 to 9:30 each morning. It is very interesting and I am enjoying it. Actually, it is mainly memorizing new words, then the “grammar” rules must be learned and used. It is good for me as I can use what I learn each day and hearing as well as reading. Of course, I don’t read the real Arabic, as that looks like Sanskrit, but read a transliteration. The Palestinian teaching me is very patient.
Guess I’ll close off, and just in case the mails go bad, will say Merry Christmas to all of you in this letter. I am sure you will get several letters yet, but just in case.
Love, Ken and Mildred
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
December 12, 1956
I am beginning to count the days now until Sue comes home. They will be down the evening of the 22nd. There are several nice things planned for them. The first is the annual “Return from School” dance. It is a good get-together after being apart in the various schools. She seems to like it up there in Beirut well enough, but still thinks she wants to go to the States for next year. That could change before the school year is over, however!
Yesterday we had our first rain of the season and it wasn’t much more than a heavy sprinkle. It was also coldish and still is cold and overcast today. I love the change. I have been predicting a cold winter for us as Grey Boy’s fur is very heavy and thick this year. Last year it stayed the same from the summer through the winter. He is enormous now. The Arabs are predicting the same, but not for the same reason.
I have been busy after my fashion. There have been several coffees for new women – dinners and such. Also, we have closed out our APAR for the rest of this year and had a big sale of things made by the women. I am secretary-treasurer. We cleared quite a lot and it is a constant amazement to me that we can produce so much out of so little. It is a worthwhile charity organization and our liberal checks are gratefully received. No one but someone who has been and seen can begin to conceive the sadness and destitution of the refugees - particularly the children. Most of our money goes to children’s homes. Someone told me the other day that until she came out here she didn’t even know there was such a thing as an Arab refugee. There are thousands and thousands from the partition of Israel alone.
Ken keeps busy and is enjoying his new sort of work. He is diligently studying his Arabic every day, too. A man comes to his office every morning for an hour to teach him.
I am working on some pictures. There is a sale of paintings the 13th and 14th for anyone who wishes to put their things in to sell. I am trying to decide what or if I want to enter. We have some very excellent artists here. I miss our classes and our teacher. It is harder for a beginner to work alone. She will be back in February and we plan to start up our group again after Christmas, every week.
Hope all is well with everyone at home. We hope to have letters this week. We haven’t heard from Judy since she returned to school She went back to Pre-A tests so probably was snowed under. We have mail coming in on Friday.
Must go do the weekend shopping. We had a largish dinner party Saturday night. The Davies are leaving for vacation and the Keyes just returned. We are so fortunate to have both the chairman of the board and the president and wives [to be] such delightful people. I am especially fond of Amy Davies.
Bye now, everybody write.
Love, Mimi and Ken
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
December 16, 1956
This will be the last letter from here before Christmas and I hope it reaches you in time. There is supposed to be a plane leaving tomorrow and if on schedule, it should bring this to you, even with the Christmas rush in USA post offices, by Christmas Eve.
It may seem strange to many that here in a Moslem country that Christmas means so much, at least in this side of Saudi Arabia, and it is probably the influence of the Americans and the fact that it is a paid holiday to thousands of our Arab employees. The Arab shops carry every kind of Christmas decoration, trees (artificial of course), decorations for tree and houses, Christmas cards, etc., and I get many Christmas cards from Moslems. We send them cards on their main holidays, Ed’l Fitter, and Ed’l Adha and they return gifts and cards and greetings on our day.
I had dinner with some Arab government officials last night, they being here in charge of the King’s wives and entourage (150 women and children and 100 drivers, servants, etc.) who are visiting us while the King is on a twenty-day hunting trip. During the three-hour talk, dinner and movies, I was asked why the Christmas tree and if it had mainly religious meaning. I looked it up in the Encyclopedia tonight and find that Christmas as a festival was celebrated many years before the birth of Christ, and the date was mainly on or near the shortest day of the year. The festival was to aid in bringing the Sun back again. This was truest in northern countries . . .
Laakin ‘Ala kull haal, meaning “but in any case,” we believe in celebrating Christmas on December 25th and wish we could be with all of you on that day . . .
Susan comes the 22nd. We don’t have the new Middlebury calendar but assume that Judy is in Greenwich now or will be soon. We shall have Lynn and Allyn for Christmas Eve dinner, as usual, and may add a few “strangers at the gate.” The Company plane will arrive Christmas Eve and leave Christmas Day and we may have one or more of the crew. There always seems to be an extra or so lonely one to invite.
Just came in from the Christmas party for and by the kids at church. To see those little tots recite and sing takes us back to Judy’s first such at the Swedish church in Lockport. It also makes us realize how grown up ours are now, when we were not allowed in the toy sale here as it was only for children up to twelve. Time marches on and we enjoy it this way, too. There are over a thousand children in our town, so we’ll not lack in their activities. There is a dance for the returning kids the night after they get in, and no question Sue will be “a-rockin’ and a-rollin’” with the other teens. Maybe we’ll be chaperones and maybe just sit home and wait for the after-midnight arrival of a tired but happy dancer. This will be repeated on New Year’s Eve.
Louis is baking cookies and planning all the foods Sue likes the most. During her vacation we will have the lovely roast that you sent us, Sister, and we’ll think of you twice that night. I suppose you will have some of Ted’s venison during Christmas. Wish we could join you and congrats on the kill, Uncle Ted. We knew you could do it!
Lots of love to all of you, and again, we wish you the very Happiest and Merriest Christmas ever.
All is well here, work goes on as usual, production and sales up a little as the tankers have begun to arrive from around the Cape, and we hope to average for this month about 60 percent of normal, meaning pre-Suez. Looks like they are really getting at the Canal clearance and in four to six months we hope to be back at full speed again. Hungary and some Middle East areas are not calm and peaceful, but Saudi Arabia and Lebanon are in excellent shape and normal.
Again, Merry Christmas to all.
Mildred and Ken
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
December 29, 1956
Four days after Christmas and soon we shall have the New Year with us, wondering where the old year has gone.
Susan arrived on schedule in late afternoon of December 22 via Aramco airlift with some 40 others from Beirut, while another 30 or so came in from Switzerland, Spain, Germany, and Italy. A dance for the junior high and the returning school kids made a group of some 150 on the 23rd while Mildred and I went to church to hear the Messiah by Handel sung by a combined choir from all three districts.
On Christmas Eve we had Lynn and Allyn in for dinner with us three and at the last minute we invited the crew of seven on the New York flight [of the Aramco plane] when it arrived at noon. Only Charley Fisher and Jim Corrigan accepted, and we seven had a fine turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Later on, Sam and Mim came over and we all talked until midnight when Susan went to church. To bed at one and up at eight for a quick Christmas breakfast so as to open the presents before the Arab officials came to call.
We certainly were lucky with all the things Santa brought, some from the Airlines and a wicker seat from Germany that apparently serves also for a sewing box, this from an Arab merchant. Main gift to Mildred were two silver candlesticks, apparently just the three-pronged kind she wanted, plus some perfume, Niello ware pin and earrings from Siam and a box of Stateside candy. Susan had clothes of many kinds, kerchiefs, sweaters, etc. Father has a nice gold sovereign money clip designed by Mildred and made here, which I wear at the moment as a tie pin – since no money. Jointly we have a few dishes, Rosenthal stuff, cut glass bowl and vase, etc. My shirts, shoe trees, etc., were most welcome.
Soon after we finished, the Arabs started to call, and by 1:15 p.m. we decided to go for a ride. Made a few calls, then had a big turkey snack with Sam and Mim. Drove around in the evening to see the Christmas lights, and some people had really gone all out to decorate their houses and lawns. AEA were giving $850 in prizes for best house decorations, etc., and the town was lit up like the Washington Bridge! Home at 10 to bed.
Susan has been on the go since she arrived, and the phone and doorbell haven’t stopped ringing. Other girls stay here at night or she at their houses. The Base Commander’s son is having a party tomorrow night and Sue helped him invite a dozen or so, as he didn’t know anyone here. Then on New Year’s Eve the big dance for the kids, but seems like Sue, et al, will to go a private party first or for the whole evening. She seems to have been taken up by the senior class girls and has more to do than should be. More fun, and the departure for school is only a week from tomorrow, January 6.
No other news, Happy New Year to all, planes and mail are again back to normal. Sam and Mim arrive NYC January 9th on business trip for one month.
Love from us all,
Ken, Mildred and Susan