While we are still trying to rediscover our own forgotten lighthouse history, we know even less about the lighthouses in many other parts of the world, especially those in such places as Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen.
You would assume that in this day and age of the Internet that information would be flowing forth from all over the world about lighthouses. However, such is not the case, unless, of course, someone like Larry Gill comes forward and shares some information or photographs with us, as has recently occurred.
Gill, who now resides in Australia, was, from 1964 to 1971, a lighthouse keeper at two different lighthouses in Yemen, a nation that has been in the news in recent weeks after the attempted terrorist airplane bombing on Christmas Day.
The Republic of Yemen, in itself is young, having been established in 1990, but it has a volatile history that goes back for many years. North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and Great Britain controlled South Yemen until 1967. The two countries unified as one nation in 1990.
Most of Yemen’s Red Sea lighthouses were built by the French under an agreement with the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed during World War I. They were then taken over by the British who operated them for many years until they left the area in the late 1960s.
Gill applied for the job as a lighthouse keeper in Malta and was employed by the British Board of Trade. His first assignment was at the Abu Ail Lighthouse located on Quoin Island on the east side of the Red Sea. The lighthouse was a large station with a short lantern protruding from the top of the main structure. At that time the lighthouse was operated by batteries.
Gill’s first stint at Abu-Ail Lighthouse was three months long, but then he received four months off. He then returned for nine months and received three months off.
After Abu Ail Lighthouse, Gill was transferred to Yemen’s Jabel al-Tayr Lighthouse, which is about 40 miles west of Kamaran Island on the Red Sea. When Gill first arrived at Jabel-Tier Lighthouse the lantern was still powered by Kerosene but was later changed to an electric light powered by batteries.
In some ways, life at Jabel al-Tayr Lighthouse in the late 60s was similar to many early American lighthouses stations where the keepers raised animals for food. At the Jabel
al-Tayr the keepers had sheep, goats and chickens.
Additionally they always had fresh fish that they caught themselves. They also made their own bread. The supply ship M.V. Seyun made a monthly stop with supplies, including fresh vegetables and water, which had to be hauled up to the lighthouse by the four lighthouse donkeys.
The two other lighthouse keepers stationed with Gill, like him, were also from Australia. They were assisted by four local men. Unlike at American lighthouses, the keepers never had uniforms. In fact there was no dress code, and the keepers were very casual and most of the time wore shorts. When the lighthouse was automated in 1971, the keepers were removed.
This story appeared in the
March 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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