More than 40 years have passed since Britain fought a secret war in Oman. Former Major Nicholas Ofield has returned for the first time since the conflict to retread his battlegrounds with his son, filmmaker Tristan Ofield. This blog contains excerpts from the production diary Tristan kept during filming.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Looking For Nick

Who IS Nick Downie? More to the point WHERE is Nick Downie? I never thought I would make a very good private dectetive. When we have to find someone we never normally have to look beyond the hozizon of Facebook or Twitter.

Nick Downie, former SAS trooper turned war cameraman. Some of the nastiest fighting was documented by this chap throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's. His training allowed him to get closer than most would dare.

During the Dhofar War there were only two ways into the country. Both were tightly controlled.
If a journalist got off a plane they were simply put back on and sent home. Therefore, pictures and footage are prised! For the whole conflict (approx 1964-76) there is only 1 news article, to my knowledge in existence. A Sunday supplement in the Telegraph. 

Now if anyone reading this knows any better - then please point me in the right direction.

Mr Downie, supposedly smuggled an 8mm camera into the country with him. There is other 8mm footage from the Oman conflict, but very little of it is frontline stuff, and that's what I'm hoping for. Nick has made a few documentaries on the conflict in Rhodesia, the northern part of later became Zambia, where I lived in for several years as a boy. There are many accounts of him over the web but, for now, his whereabouts remain a mystery.  

With the help of Twitter a chap by the name of Nick Long, a Producer at Turtle Canyon Media has joined in the search, and I'd like to thank him publicly for all his help so far.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

SAF Meal

Spent Friday evening at the Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces Association Dinner. A very enjoyable event at the Army and Navy Club in London. The average age was about 80, and it was funny to look at my Dad and see him feeling young in the company.

Managed to set up the next round of interview for Jan/Feb and have come away with loads of extra research, contacts to make, and books to read. 

My heart sunk when talking to chaps, who even at their age are still involved in places like Afghanistan, telling me that when troops are killed they cannot look the family in the eye because they don't believe the sons/daughters/husbands/wives are dying for anything.  

One of the most interesting conversations came later in the evening. When Dad remarked [persons name] now that's a killer! Blew my mind. I mean what characteristics are required to be singled out as "the killer" in a room full of killers. How do you look a a room full of soldiers - all of whom kill for a living and say "him, he's a real killer." What trait singles that person out? Never really did get a satisfactory answer. 

The total delight of the evening came when somebody turned to the old man and said "Nick do you remember when....[details omitted] and proceeded to tell a story I had heard many, many times.  Growing up with Oman stories have been a constant delight and I have never tired of hearing them, but over the years you do begin to wonder how true all the elements are. Did it happen exactly that way etc... Not through any form of lying. But perhaps an enthusiastic embellishment or a fading recollection. Memory can change the shape of a room, the colour of a car, the order of events. To hear someone, unprompted,  and without realising, confirm what you had always believed is a truly wonderful thing. 

I am making this documentary because there are stories to tell, and those stories are true.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Phase 2

Phase two of filming started today with a visit to the National Memorial Centre near Litchfield. A vast area of ground set aside to remember people who have given their lives in service; be that in the forces the Police, Fire Service, etc.

Tucked away towards the outskirts is a small little memorial to those who fell during the Dhofar Campaign. We laid a wreath from us and a Poppy for the relative of a Flight Lieutenant  who was unable to make it to the memorial herself.

The spectacle, if spectacle is the right word, is the hugh memorial erected for all those who have fallen in combat since the end of World War Two. It was shocking to me how many people have been killed since then. More haunting however is the outer side of the walls are left blank...for those who have yet to be killed. That thought left me with a chill.

Together we found several names of British soldiers, and pilots who died in the Dhofar Campaign.

Campbell MRA
Taylor TEF
Ramsden DER
Labalabat BEM
Tobin TPA
Wright PR
Drybanski MJ
Handyside BG
Loid C 

The site is beautiful, and a tribute worthy to those who gave their lives in service. 

If you haven't already donated - please buy a Poppy. It helps not only service men and women who are injured but also their families. 

You can donate quickly and easily by following this link.

"When You Go Home,
 Tell Them Of Us And Say,
 For Their Tomorrow,
 We Gave Our Today"

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Last Day

Been treated like Royalty at SAF TR (Sultan's Armed Forces Training Regiment)Dad very happy. Got introduced to the General in charge of the base. Had coffee and dates. Then got taken on a leisurely tour around by the 2IC Colonol Kalid a Jobali. Very nice chap, has 10 children. Went to his house for lunch and tea. Kept saying he wasn't prepared for us because he thought we were coming tomorrow. Christ thank god we caught him unaware otherwise we'd have been even more stuffed. They gave Dad a glass plack of the regimental crest. He was touched. While walking round the base dad commented on the place settings in the officer's mess. Knowing that the old man wanted one but wouldnt asked - I did (counting on Arab/Omani hospitality). The Colonel sorted me out a coaster and a table mat. Result. 

This is to be the last day of shooting. For me this trip marks the end of an era. It took me a long time to realise that the adventures I'd been having all my life weren't mine. Not truly. I was a passenger in my father's adventures. Things have come full circle. In away Oman is where it all started for both of us. Now I have to go out and make my own adventure. Although I guess one of the great things about being a documentary film maker is you get to piggyback on other people's adventures.

Over the coming year I will be interviewing more veterans. Dealing  with story threads as they twist and pull on one another, writing and recording narration, shooting re-enactments,discussing title changes, picking music, and finding out more about the war in Dhofar. I can't think of anything more perfect.

*****Captain's announcement while on the flight home*****
Excuse me ladies and gentlemen but we may experience some minor turbulence over Iran" (is that supposed to be a f***ing joke)

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Day 15

Ran out of gas last night. Milk off. That was the last night outside. It's all hotel sleeping from here! Had a good night sleeping out despite the lack of a decent cup of tea. Only needed to get half way into my sleeping it was so warm. Woke with a start and just in time to see Dad roll out of bed towards me. Laughed my arse off. Seemed little point in going back to sleep so used the early morning sunlight to shoot cutaways of all the old rounds of ammo and shrapnel we've collected. 

Heading back to Muscat. Walking through a shopping centre covered in dust, dirt and smelling f***ing awful hardly seems right. Tis amusing though. Keep getting very odd looks. Got out the desert without a map but can't find my way out of this bloody shopping centre. 

Sharing taxis is an odd experience. Not as in we're going the same way - would you like to share a taxi? You order a taxi somewhere, it arrives you open the door and there's already someone else in there and it's like - who the f*** is this? Oh we're sharing? Yes are we going the same way? No. Oh okay then.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Day 14

After deciding to hire a 4x4 to go up the Jebel Akdar (green mountain) with a driver because it's cheaper we have lucked out. Arrived and there is no driver to take us. So 4x4, no driver 30 reals. Result. Drove past a pile of hexagonal bricks used for paving. Reminded me of Big Buddha Island in ThaiLand where I wrote a message for Ian. The monks were reflooring the temple and you paid to write a message on a brick that would be used. Remember being struck by all the messages of peace and love written by well wishers that would be used to pave the floor of the temple. A reminder of the good nature of so many people from all over the world.

As we get to the plateau. What used be a small village next to an army base and air strip leftover from the Jebal Aktar war has become a sprawling town. Complete with kids play parks and hotels. A sign of 40 years of progress greeted by my father with mixed emotions. Is there nowhere left untouched? 

Dad was an unintentional explorer. Stationed in one of the last unreached places. One of their tasks was to make sure the villages knew there was a new Sultan to ensure the news got through. Today I can feel a sense of completion. A full circle. The end of Dad's adventure and my free ride. I will now have to find my own. Where is there left to explore besides Antarctica? 

The village of Wadi Beni Habib - a working example of why the old Sooks should be saved. People come from miles around, hire a 4x4 to drive up a massive mountain to see an old village they have to walk a long way to. The Sooqs are beautiful. With a bit of work can be restored and could have people living and working in them.

Been treated to some real Oman hospitality. Went into a shop trying find someone who knew people in Dad's pictures. The lad in the shop took us to meet his grandfather. Got taken into a traditional Omani room. I accidentally sat at the head of the room but the old man corrected me, also reminding me to take everything offered to me with the right hand. I had actually forgotten. Dad spoke to the Grandfather while the grandson fetched coffee, dates, cut fruit, halwa (like Turkish delight but better), and placed it all before us. A few other men arrived from the village. Dad was in his element explaining about the war and discussing changes to the region. We were invited for lunch but declined saying we had to get off. The house was wonderful. The main room opened out onto a roof terrace covered by a marquee. Very breezy and the sort of place I would be happy to stay for longer.

Looking at mirages on the road - I get that the hot air bends the light but how it creates reflections I don't know.

Wahiba sands! Could easily spend 6 days there with no probs. Group of people, jeep, sleeping bags. Do all the sports, sand boarding, quad biking, 4x4 driving and the all time fav extreme running! Sand is everywhere but it's less corse than beach sand so it doesn't matter.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Day 13

Got stuck. Proper stuck. Wheels sunk so low the car engine was being supported by the sand. 

I've learned not to panic from an early age with Dad. An infinitely resourceful man with little limit to his practical imagination. After digging for half an hour to free the engine. We opened up the camp beds and dug them under the wheels in the hope the friction would give us just enough grip to get out. Down side was it would certainly f*** the camp beds for the rest of the trip. Considered using the deck chairs instead as they we're stronger but the canvas on the camp beds was longer. 6 and 2 3s
Sarcastically I was wondering where's all the locals now (just when we could actually use help. I looked up and there was a pickup truck coming towards us... 

I walked over and in my best Arabic told the driver we had a problem. He smiled and started letting down his tyres and attaching a rope to the car. Dad was still instistant on trying the camp bed technique first. I told him it was guareteed to work but why mangle the camp beds unnecessarily? 

Explored an old house. It was like being in Prince of Persia! Shame it's been used as a dumping ground. Beautiful rotten doors. A painted ceiling, palm tree roof and cool. Remember being told that the old Arab building designs are far more efficient than now with regard to keeping cool. Thick walls, high ceilings, narrow shaded streets. Here was a society evolved to live in the blazing heat now neutered by air con. 

Found the pages of an old book I've picked up for Jem. Very frail I hope they survive the journey.

Driving to Nizwa the mountain range on the left is shrouded in heat haze. It looks like the colour has been bleached. Stunning. Wish I could recreate it in Photoshop! 

Got a free walk round the Fort at Nizwa. Old man started jabbering with the attendant. As he was previously a soldier the guy let us in for free. The old man's approach to Arabic has changed from reluctance to free flowing enthusiasm.  This is the dialect he's most familiar with. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy watching him speak it. It's such a mystical sounding language. He's not bilingual he's translating in his head as he goes along. I remember asking a bilingual friend what language she thought in. She replied it depends what I'm thinking.

The Nizwa fort (even though restored) was like walking into a dream. Imagining ancient merchants gathers to trade dates, materials and chatties. Narrow streets lit by lamps, people pushing past each other some covering their faces for god others to hide. Funny last time he was here this was a working Fort. Now its a tourist attraction.

Explored an old Sooq in Birkat Al Mawz (Pool of Bananas). That was fun! Got some great pictures and a short Glidetrack video for Youtube.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Days 09 - 12

Trying to find our way out of Salalah... Proving very difficult. Got a series of great interviews with Dad by the side of the hotel room.  Shot using my old 85m. Love it. It meant I could get the  camera a little further away but still keep the picture very shallow. Certainly going to have to get the 35 and 28 off the chap in Ashbourne.

On the final interview it was getting a little dark. Had to push the iso to 2000 and open to 1.8 cut short because it was getting too dark. Later found I had my ND filter set to full. Stupid mistake! Dad remarked that I need to get some laminated procedure cards made ... I think he's right I've been putting it off to long.

Day 12
Sleeping off the road somewhere near Ibri. Had terrible s***s from an ice cream I had on the way. We got up at 7am and drove 1000km.

Finished watching the Lovely Bones not as good as the book but not as bad as everybody said. Had some great moments. Amazing sound track. Thought Wahlberg would have me clawing at the screen but was ok. Now laying out under the Milky Way. Haven't seen it for ages. The locals call it. Terik La Gabriel. "Gabriel's Road" left behind when Allah sent the Arc Angel Gabriel to stop Aberham sacrificing Ishmael. He didn't have time to go round the stars so he smashed through them leaving a trail behind him.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Day 08

Spent an exhausting and somber afternoon in Sherishitty searching for the spot where Officer Paul Wright fell. This was a large enemy stores area which SAF had come to take after they received intelligence that the area would be very poorly guarded for 48 hours. 

After walking 10km over night to get into position overlooking the caves; at first light the attacking section found themselves in the wrong location. A platoon was sent forward to clear the ridge in front so the section could advance. On moving forward a member of the platoon triggered an anti personnel mine. As it transpires the enemy were at full strength - The firefight and eventual extraction lasted until dark. Both sides took heavy casualties.

There are a mixture of Sangers scattered here which means that the position may have been used since. Dad doesn't remember having the time to build them. Some of the shrapnel and cases we have found point to Iranians. We don't know if we're in the right place.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Day 07

First night in a real hotel. When first driving off the Jebal saw flowers. As I've been starved of strong colour for a few days they seemed so vibrant.

Back out on the road now. The odd thing is it's 12:39 the sun is high in the sky, but it's so windy I'm freezing. My skin will be burning but I can't feel it. I'll have to put a shirt on soon to keep warm in the desert during mid day!
In the distance a caravan of camels walked towards me. Surrounded.  They stopped just looking at me for 5 mins. Then ALL took a piss in turn.... and left !?! 

The sun has just vanished behind the ridge and the temperature has plummeted. It's windy I think we're gonna be in for a cold one. Wind blowing from N to S. Had an hour after the sun set before the moon rose. Beautiful stars. The sort I remember from the desert. Didn't see the Milky Way though. Did a time laps of the moon rise but f***ed up the exposure. Went from pitch black to a moon so bright I have a shadow. Sleeping in a crater like Wadi. In this light I could be on Mars.

This is night

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Day 06

Woke up crying in my sleeping bag. Well unusual. Can't remember what I was dreaming about but it wasn't good. Woke up still pulling crying faces and with tears down my face. Took me a while to realise I was awake. Wish I could see what it looked like - coz my guess is the answer is S.T.U.P.I.D

Amusing myself with the fact that I'm walking round in 30 degree heat wearing a scarf.

Gone back to the ambush site to try a different approach. I hope we find something to get Dad's spirits up. This was the site of an ambush in which they lost a man. At the base of this tree one of the Adoo (enemy) was cut in half by the return fire from the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun).

Where is all the gold? Just found a huge piece of shrapnel. Result! 

Followed by 2 303 carts, a 7.62 and possibly the core of an AK47 round. 

Massive avenue of coconut palms and grass lining tue approach to Salalah. The lamp posts are so ostentatious it's as if someone said "I don't want them just to light the way, I want them to say something more like - we have more money than you.

Down on the Salalah plains this is more of the type of heat I'm used to/was expecting. Baking. Ate bread fresh from the bakery. Smells great, tastes better! The beach opposite The Wadi Mugsail is beautiful. Mugsail itself epic fail. The whole mountain has been bulldozed to make the beach road. 

Old man very annoyed/upset/disillusioned. This was the site of a major operation. Now it's just flat.

What should the focus of the poster be? The diary? Dad? An old picture in Oman? Poster - could have a hand holding out a round with my secret war stamped round the rim.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Day 05

Got up while it was still cold to film the sunrise over the Wadi Darbat. 

Heard so many stories of this place over the years. Its less menacing than I expected... but then again I'm not being shot at while walking over it. Imagine incoming fire (which always has the right of way) would cause me to reconsider my feelings towards the place.  Today will be walking over the Darbat trying to find an old machine gun nest. Found a mortar round so far. 
11am. Sun now very hot - getting closer to finding what we're looking for. Spent 40 mins walking over the same ground because I lost my glasses.
Rules learned so far.
Rule no. 1 check shoes for Scorpians. 
Rule no. 2 don't p*** into the wind. 
Rule no. 3 don't sneeze into shermalk.
Rule no. 4 don't "put down sun glasses for just a minute." 
Noticed Dad is always very aware of where the sun is. Any direction he knows exactly where the sun will be.  Here now I can see why so many people before failed to cross the Wadi. Its totally open and whoever holds the high ground can see for miles to dominate the ground. Some Jordanian special forces tried but lost a lot of men. 
Found machine gun position!



Walked through a position where Dad was ambushed. Didn't find anything but an old Sanga. Met a man with camels who insisted in us helping to pull down branches to feed his hurd. Now I see why there is so little vegetation. Snapping branches off trees is hardly sustainable. The dude and his son had bare feet. Must have been hard as rock!! Got a great interview out of Dad last night. Had to adjust a stop after each question as the light was fading quickly. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Day 04

Hit gold! We pulled up outside the first house where we saw a person. He knew everybody we had talked to during the past few days and in what order. Small village. Amazing coincidence - Musalim Masud's (the lad I went to drink Camel milk with yesterday turns our to be the son of the  Firqa Captain we are looking for... These villages in the middle of nowhere have roads and good roads at that. Its odd looking at things thinking the Sultan paid for that. Not a government but an individual.
Drove down onto the Salalah plain to find the Wadi Darbat. Stopped in an old camel shed to camp. Convinced the old man to see if we could find a better place. Now camped out on a beautiful secluded spot overlooking the Darbat. Brought some white Stilton with cranberry cheese. Forgot about it for a few days. It's gone very soft in the heat and it gave me an idea... Now sitting eating Stilton smeared over ready salted Pringels. Bliss. 

Personal note: Slightly worried that I can smell my feet, through my socks, in my sleeping bag, surrounded by camel s***... I probably should have a wash.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Day 03

Traveled to Jib Jat in search of a few blankets. Last night was f***ing freezing. Jib Jat is like a town in a spaghetti western. Actually saw a tumble weed fly across the road. Stood in a store plagued with flies and was lucky enough to hit the jack pot. A  synthetic sleeping bag. No more itchy eyes! Wasn’t looking for one because I wouldn’t have dreamed in a million years I’d find one. Paid through the nose for it - It obviously made up his sales for the last few weeks. Left the town lost in time on the arse end of nowhere.
Randomly went to a camel farm because a passer by insisted. Got some great pics. Just drank fresh camel milk. It was warm, fresh from the nipple...Don’t know why I didn’t see that coming. Of course its warm - its body temperature. Thought I was going to gag when it touched my lips. Obviously didn’t want to be rude so shot for the other side but politely refused a refill. Nothing against camel milk - just not a milk fan. 

No need for a torch tonight. Moon is so bright it's like day. So much for timelapses of the stars - can't see them.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Day 02

The first part of filming has been a f***ing disaster. My fault - should have laid down the ground rules. Not having a 4x4 is beginning to cause problems. Tight conditions are making it difficult to get to kit and off roading is near impossible. Wouldn't be such a problem if we didn't have so much kit and everywhere we need to get to is off road. 

Worries about Dad talking to camera have totally gone. Shame it's so bloody windy - recording sound is difficult. We had a brief walk to find Dad’s old bunker. Will go to it again when I have found a way to combat the wind. Bizarre feeling of being cold from the wind but knowing that the sun is cooking you.
A man called Yassa came to sit with us. Offered us everything from a warm bed to baby tomatoes. Talked about the war when he was 8... Wasn't recording! Missed some great stuff about the old Sultan who wouldn’t even let the people wear shoes. Apparently there is an old Firqa Captain (the locals who fought with the British during the war)living somewhere near. Would be amazing if its somebody Dad knows. 

Yassa had never seen sugar cubes before. He can’t believe (and neither can anybody else for that matter) that we have driven all the way from Salalah to sleep at the base of a water tank. Very windy and cold night. P.S. Donkeys sound like Tusken Raiders. 

                                        1972                                  2011

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Day 01

Straight out of the airport and drove across the empty quarter towards Salalah (870 km). Pulled over half way to sleep in a deserted hanger in the middle of nowhere. Felt like Area 51. Kept expecting to wake up and see bright lights hovering in the sky. 

Woke up before sunrise. Freezing. Waiting for that odd moment in the desert morning where you suddenly change from being too cold to being too hot. It always catches you off guard.

Need to reorganise my gear and get my game face on. Haven’t managed to get a 4x4. This may cause problems. Not worried about Dad’s driving but the low chassis is going to cause a problem at some point. The car also makes an annoying warning beep when travelling over 100kph. That rules out in car interviews. Recording audio while driving will have to be limited to note taking.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Post 01

That's me standing on the wing of our ride home from an African game reserve. Now when I say "home" I don't mean to England. At this point in my life Africa is home. 
We, that's my father and I, have chosen to walk to our plane, rather than drive. We left the reserve with an armed escort charged with getting us safely to the plane. About a mile into the walk our guide decided it was too dangerous, and taking his elephant gun with him, headed back leaving us to continue unarmed and alone. Now I say unarmed. Note I'm carrying a 6" blade strapped to the right side of my camouflaged belt. My father is carrying a .22 pistol with a busted firing pin. Between the two of us we have enough weapons to piss off a lion but not enough to make it think twice!
Safely at the plane we now wait a further two hours for the pilot to show up; he is not only drunk, but also proceeds to mix up the key for the luggage compartment with the key for the ignition. With one twist it snaps in half, leaving him to have to hot-wire the plane. "Don't worry," he winks reassuringly at me, "I've done this before." 
I'd say situations like this weren't typical of Africa but it would be a lie. I'm eight years old and for me this sort of thing is normal.
21 years later...
For those of you as bad at maths as me - I'm 29. This weekend I'll be prepping my gear for one last adventure. The count down begins.