Thursday 3 April 2014 by Alison Wishart. No comments
Opinion, views and commentary, Personal Stories, Bahrain, forts, battle watch, surveillance

Day 26 - Battle watch

We had a few spare hours before our flight departed Bahrain today, so G3 and I went to an old fort.  I was particularly pleased to get away from our accommodation, as I felt like I was under house-arrest. Not being able to leave the house without a male escort was stifling (see day 24).

Archways in the fort leading to the inner courtyard.
Archways in the fort leading to the inner courtyard.

The Qal’at Al Bahrain dates to around 2250 BCE. It is on a man-made hill at a natural harbour. It was at the centre of a commercial five-ways – archaeological finds show evidence of trade with China, the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, Persia and eastern Arabia. The site is so rich in history that it is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Coastal Fortress which dates to about 250BCE
Coastal Fortress which dates to about 2250BCE

Over the past 4000 years, five small cities and three forts have been built there. Up to 1000 soldiers lived inside the fort at one time, guarding it from Portuguese and Ottoman attacks. Ships bombarded the fort with wooden and then iron cannonballs.  The Persian soldiers on battle watch were expert archers and picked off their opponents with bows and arrows.

Remains of the main fortress which was first built in 15th C and enlarged in 1561.
Remains of the main fortress which was first built in 15th C and enlarged in 1561.

In 2013, Leading Seaman Rhys Edwards keeps watch in a very different kind of fort. He sits in front of a computer screen in a US Naval Base in downtown Bahrain. It is fortified by about ten heavily armed US military at the gate and constant patrols. Rhys is a Battle Watch Assistant. His “weapons” are a sophisticated communications system that allows him to keep in touch with ships in the CMF (Combined Maritime Forces) using a secret form of online chat or telephone. Ships contact him for intelligence information about other vessels they encounter. He patiently tries to understand their broken English, accents and requests.  Rhys works a 12 hour shift, which can be eventful or awfully boring. On this deployment, he has learnt to make a mean espresso.

G3 and I planned to catch a taxi from the fort back to our accommodation in time to leave for the airport.  But the taxi did not come, and we were lucky to make it to the airport and catch the flight. I managed to spend all my remaining Bahraini Dinar in the duty free shops, but now I need some of that funny money!  The plane only made it to “the top of the drop” outside Dubai when it encountered cyclonic winds and had to turn around and come back to Bahrain. We have been stuck in the Bahrain transit lounge for 6 hours waiting for the weather to clear. I am about to face one of my fears: running out of things to read.

Twelve months ago I went to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) with the Australian War Memorial. I was working on an oral history-photographic project. The core part of the project was interviewing and photographing 19 currently serving members of the ADF - from the army, navy and airforce - before, during and after their deployment in 2013 to the MEAO.  In another 12 months time, you should be able to see the results of this work in an exhibition which will travel around Australia.

These blog posts were written while I was in the MEAO but were not uploaded to the AWM website at that time.

I am planning to upload one blog post each day, exactly 12 months on from the actual day I was on deployment. We left Canberra on 12 March 2013.