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Ras Al Khaimah

British soldier who made UAE his home dies at 81

Filed on February 13, 2020 | Last updated on February 13, 2020 at 06.46 am
British soldier, serve, UAE, passes away, Ras Al Khaimah
Like Lawrence of Arabia, young David Neild was drawn to the desert sands of Ras Al Khaimah.-KT file photo

Neild was fighting a lung disease for the last two years and his condition worsened since last September.

David Neild, the youngest British soldier to serve in the Trucial Oman Scouts (TOS) and who led the Ras Al Khaimah Defence Force, passed away in the UAE on Tuesday, February 11, night after suffering from a lung disease. He was 81.

"It was his wish to live and die in Ras Al Khaimah. He loved the desert and would say he wanted his ashes to be spread in the UAE's desert. But we did not expect it to happen so suddenly," Neild's wife Eileen Neild told Khaleej Times.

"But I am happy that I lived here in the UAE and am still here to fulfill his dream."

The couple has one daughter named Michelle who is married to Sean, and they also live in Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah with their two daughters.

Eileen said Neild was fighting a lung disease for the last two years and his condition worsened since last September. "He was going down and down quickly. He was in hospital for six days in October and was mostly confined to bed and was on oxygen cylinders ever since."

"His condition deteriorated and he was admitted to the RAK hospital last Thursday. He passed away at 7.49pm on Tuesday. It was a bit of a struggle for him."

A long-term resident of UAE, Neild was 21 when he first arrived in the UAE to serve in the British Security Forces or Trucial Oman Scouts as they were called, from 1959 to1961.

"I was the youngest British officer ever to be seconded from the British Army to the Trucial Oman Scouts. I was looked on as a bit of an oddity. I was so young, and I didn't speak a word of Arabic," Neild had told Khaleej Times in an earlier interview.

Neild, who authored the book 'A solider in Arabia' in 2016, had the rare privilege of sharing a close relationship with the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan.  

"I used to go hunting with him. He was a wonderful person. With him, you realised immediately that you are in the presence of a very special person. He had a charisma about him, and he was interested in everything you had to say," Neild said in the interview.

Eileen told Khaleej Times that her late husband regarded Sheikh Zayed as a father figure and both men had a great level of affection for each other.

Neild was reassigned to serve in Kenya, Germany and Northern Ireland, before he reapplied to come back to Ras Al Khaimah. His application was initially turned down.

"The reason they gave was that I wasn't Lawrence of Arabia, and it was time I knuckled down and did some proper soldiering. Fortunately, I managed to persuade them to eventually come back."

"It's a corny saying, but the desert sand was in my blood and I wanted to come back," Neild said in his earlier interview.

In 1968, Neild - then a Major - was transferred to RAK, which for the first time was allowing the British to establish a military presence in the area.

Shaikh Saqr bin Mohammed was impressed by the young soldier's efficiency and acumen in disarming a tribal unrest in 1968, and he asked him to leave the British Army and command Ras Al Khaimah's own force.

"It was about this time that Britain announced that they were going to pull out. Shaikh Saqr called for me and said he was going to form a small mobile force. I was 29 years old, and there were a lot more experienced officers in the Scouts. I couldn't resist the thought of forming a private army," said Neild.

A Lieutenant Colonel by then, Neild headed the RAK Defence Force and was later assigned to set up the Sharjah National Guard as well.  After a small stint abroad, Neild permanently settled in Ras Al Khaimah with his wife in 2013.

"He always considered Ras Al Khaimah as his home and he had a genuine love for the people of UAE. Now, our whole family lives here and I would also like to continue living in the country," said Eileen.

Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a journalist by profession and a humanist by passion. Her cluttered desk is not indicative of her state of mind.

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