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Extract from Clouds Of War
by Mohamed Ameen (1910-1954)
first published in 1949
translated by Fareesha Abdulla


Maldives history and writings - Mohamed Ameen, first President of  Maldives
Energetic, reforming and controversial, Mohamed Ameen dominated Maldivian politics from 1944 until his mutilation and death in 1954. As a writer, Ameen pushed the national language Divehi into creative and innovative forms. The following translation from chapter eleven of his book Maldives under a Cloud of War, originally published in 1949, tells the story of Ameen's flight aboard a British bomber searching for enemy German submarines in July 1944 during World War Two. At this time, Addu atoll in the far south of the Maldives was the site of a top secret British naval base and airfield:

It is the third of July, and a very pleasant day is dawning for those fortunate enough to enjoy it. Across the beach of Maradhoo a gentle breeze blows. Directly in front of us is an oil tanker, recently torpedoed by the Germans as it lay at anchor in the lagoon. Sitting nearby is a warship, and north towards Hithadhoo are at least a dozen tethered seaplanes. The night's darkness dissolves as the brightness of the day drifts in, and on the horizon, clouds melt around a powerful rising sun. Soon the warm air will awaken the people and their day's work will begin.

By 8 a.m. Hussein Afeef and Loajehi Ibrahim Didi are with me in Gan to watch the arrival of four of the largest aircraft ever to land in the Maldives. The islands' roads are blocked with cars and lorries as a safety precaution. Waiting with us are captains from all the warships and planes in the lagoon. Dressed in his khaki uniform with a rather odd moustache is the Commander-in-Chief of the atoll's British military forces. His chest sparkles with medals - the symbols of his bravery. And who is that in a white outfit, sporting a neatly trimmed beard? None other than the Commander-in-Chief of the British naval contingent. Near him is Flight Lieutenant Gardiner, the Air Force Chief. He is a very handsome young man. There's... Boom! Boom! ... Suddenly the incoming aircraft interrupt our reverie. The great warplanes, praised on radio and in newspapers, have at last appeared. Such excitement! As these four-engine mammoths of war come into view, we are suddenly experiencing the undeniable reality of something we could only imagine!

Ahaa! Here they come, looming noisier and larger with each passing moment. The leading plane is only a tiny butterfly when we first see it. As it approaches, others appear, and suddenly all three are overhead. Then we lose sight of them completely until they descend gracefully onto the runway. Beautiful... Well done! In the garden of my imagination I long to be aboard one of these magnificent machines, flying through the open skies, bombing and duelling with an enemy submarine. Oh, to die in such an heroic situation!... No! It was not to be. But part of my wish is granted, and I later discover that taking off in one of these aeroplanes is like climbing up into the sun.

All last night the aircraft were searching for the submarines, and now they are waiting for a secret message that will reveal the enemy's position. They're specially designed, filled with machine guns and bombs, and manned only by military personnel. 'These planes certainly move,' comments Hussein Afeef, standing next to me. I agree, and tell him how I wish I could fly to Colombo in one of them. Hussein and Ibrahim Didi are horrified at the thought, and I burst into laughter. At this moment Commander Bowles emerges from his vehicle and reminds me about the lunch invitation at his house. Just before he gets into his car he turns and says,
'Powerful aeroplanes, aren't they? Perhaps you would like to take one of them to Colombo this time, Ameen? Or does the thought frighten you?'
'Fear! What is it?' I boast. 'I have never been afraid in my life.'
Commander Bowles slaps me hard on the shoulders and drives away.

I don't think much about his teasing questions until we are travelling back to Maradhoo, and I raise the subject with Hussein Afeef and the others just to enjoy their worried reaction. They hastily decide the commander was not really serious. After I've washed and changed, Colonel Jones arrives to take me to Commander Bowles' residence. All the Addu top brass are there, with the officers from the aeroplanes as well. Lunch is ready. This is my official introduction to the British military on Addu, and the main topic of conversation is the three bombers.

The planes' commanders are very young and excited. They are adamant that the submarines responsible for the attack on Addu will soon be just scattered pieces of metal on the bottom of the ocean. Their faces are full of youth's blood, and their eyes shine with intelligence and assurance. After lunch everybody returns to work...

The time is half past seven on the evening of the fourth of July. A beautiful full moon glows luxuriously in a cloudless sky adorned with twinkling stars. In Hithadhoo harbour, seaplanes sit gracefully in the moonlight, and my heart stirs as the silver light washes over the islanders' houses, and glimmers through the leaves and fronds. The graceful coconut groves remind me of Farukolhufushi...

'Great! Now, what's trumps?' It's Hussein Afeef's voice. 'Trump suit? Spades, No! Hearts, one.'
'Two diamonds,' says Vadi Dhon Manik.
'Two spades,' bids Ibrahim Didi.
'Pass.'
Playing cards becomes more interesting. Then Hussein sees the chance to have a little fun.
'Mohamed Ameen will be leaving in one of the planes that landed today.'
It is impossible not to share the disturbed reaction on the faces around the table. There are even tears in the eyes of Vadi Dhon Maniku.
'I'm shocked,' I say. 'Why should you all be so worried? I'm not afraid at all! I can't see any real danger.'

It is not easy to describe their responses, particularly those of Vadi Dhon Maniku and Hussein Afeef... but certainly that's the end of the card playing. Vadi Dhon Maniku doesn't recover his composure, and it seems none of us is going to sleep well tonight. For me it's the same as every other night - my body in Raiyvillage, Maradhoo, but my heart on an island 417 miles away, in ... aah!aah! On the fifth of July most of my companions, excepting myself, are in Hithadhoo. The malaria fever is at its peak, and after finishing my morning's work I stay in Maradhoo. But around midday I remember some unfinished business and Moosa Fulhu and I leave by dhoani for Hithadhoo. As we approach the RAF area on that island, an officer on shore beckons us and we land at the jetty. The commander informs me vaguely that an aeroplane will be leaving for Colombo shortly. Nothing definite, he says, but he is expecting confirmation very soon, so he thought it best to warn me. With the RAF telephone I send a message to Hussein Afeef and the others to meet me at Maradhoo immediately. Moosa and I head straight back in the dhoani.

Commander Bowles is already waiting in his car, and within five minutes we are roaring towards Gan.
'Do you know which aeroplane you'll be travelling in?' he shouts.
'Isn't it the Catalina?' I reply.
'No,' he chuckles. 'You're flying in one of those Liberators that landed yesterday. They're beginning a search for those two enemy submarines. Is that okay by you?'
You can imagine how I feel. My heart is racing, and blood swirls wildly through my body. Despite the conversations with my friends the previous night, it is hard to believe what I am hearing. My wish is coming true! This opportunity I'd been craving for is engulfing me like a school of hungry fish swarming a baited hook. Oh, Greatest Allah! Your humble servant prays for You to guard his life.

The car finally halts near the largest house in Gan, and the commander escorts me into the dining room. Gathered around the table are thirty young officers and crew from the Liberators. Their chief pilot, with two wings gilding his chest, is officially introduced to me as Squadron Leader Roberts.

'Shall we dine?' suggests Roberts. 'Who knows when we will eat again.' And they begin a hearty meal. However my fever prevents me from enjoying the food. Later my bags are loaded into the plane and I wander down to the jetty to see if my friends have arrived from Hithadhoo. Hussein and the others are just docking. They are sombre at the news of my imminent departure and refuse to be cajoled by my encouraging words. Their melancholy begins to affect me, so I bid them farewell, return to the airstrip and climb aboard.

Goodness! This is truly a bomber! With its four engines it is twice the size of the Catalinas we are familiar with in Male'. It isn't built for comfort. In the Catalinas there is seating for six people and a couple of sleeping bunks. The Liberators only have chairs for the pilots; everyone else sits on the floor. No bed of roses for the weary traveller here. You don't travel in these things for pleasure. The walls, ceiling and most of the floor are covered in bombs, and machine guns are mounted on both sides...

One by one the engines burst into life, and within seconds the plane is racing smoothly down the runway. Slowly but surely it lifts into the sky, and the green palms and trees of Addu spread like a green carpet beneath our feet. The speed of the plane is phenomenal! At this rate we'll be in Colombo in less than two hours! But we are making a slight detour, for our targets have been reported heading towards Rio de Janeiro, off the coast of Brazil. Is this really happening? It's hard to believe. Somehow I am involved in all this, and it's so exciting! My thanks to the Commander-in-Chief in Ceylon for such a wonderful experience. As the day gives way to dim evening light, the crew are on full alert. Two men scan the sea with binoculars for any sign of enemy activity. Another operates the wireless. The level of concentration is intense. Three or four hours from Addu, moonlight casts a silver radiance over the earth. Abruptly a warning whistle blows. The crew is tense and ready. Below is the blinking light of a submarine. What joy! What if it is one of the submarines we're looking for!
'Can you handle this gun?' an officer asks me.
'With pleasure. Are they friends or enemies?' ...
The wireless sends a coded message to the submarine and we hold our breath listening for the reply... It comes immediately. Damn! It's a British submarine. No chance of blasting it onto the ocean floor. Thwarted and disappointed, we continue our flight. Well, you never know your luck... and we are still ready to fight!

The Liberator carries virtually no food, but right in the middle of the plane is an enormous thermos flask of tea and a big tin of biscuits. But do we have time to be hungry? It is now after three o'clock in the morning and nobody has relaxed for a moment. A few minutes later we sight another submarine, and at five o'clock we run into a warship! But such infinite frustration! All are British. We search and search, finding no trace of the enemy, and with the rising sun we turn back towards Ceylon.




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