Abu Dhabi: Lieutenant Colonel David Neild - who was the youngest British officer in the Trucial Oman Scouts (TOS) - passed away on Tuesday night aged 81.
The long-time UAE resident, who first arrived in the country in 1959 aged 21, lived in Ras Al Khaimah’s Al Hamra neighbourhood with his wife Eileen and published his memoir, ‘A Soldier in Arabia’ in 2016.
Neild’s publisher’s Medina Publishing Middle East tweeted on Wednesday, “It is with deep regret and profound sadness that we announce the passing of Lt Col David Neild last night at 7.40pm. Details of the memorial service will be shared in due course. Rest in Peace Colonel. 01.12.1938 - 11.02.2020.”
John Dennehy, a Middle East-based writer who knew Neild, tweeted, “Desperately sad news from Ras Al Khaimah. I had the honour of meeting David a few years ago in Al Ain. A gentleman to the core and someone who had a front row seat to many key events in the country’s history. Rest in Peace Lt Col.”
Back in 1959 when he first arrived, Neild was stationed in Al Ain’s Al Jahili Fort - which was then the British paramilitary force’s headquarters - and was tasked with protecting mountain passes and keeping inter-tribal peace.
It was during this time that he met the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was then the Ruler’s Representative of Al Ain, and a future ruler in the making.
Between 1966 and 1972, Neild rose from Captain to Lt Colonel as the region witnessed several changes including the formation of the UAE as a federation on December 2, 1971.
“Shaikh Zayed commanded massive respect. He would mingle freely with people and would often drive up to Al Jahili Fort in his open Land Rover to enjoy traditional coffee with us,” said Neild in a 2018 interview with Gulf News. “Often he invited me to accompany him on hunting trips. It was evident that he was destined to lead the UAE and transform the country into a modern nation.”
In 1972, Neild left the UAE but returned shortly after to set up the Sharjah National Guard
“During those days, all the seven emirates lacked basic infrastructure. There was not a single asphalt road in the country and hardly any schools or hospitals. The once lucrative pearl fishing industry had collapsed with the introduction of cultured pearls from Japan. The states issued their own passports and stamps, and border and tribal disputes were common. The only airport was at the Royal Air Force base in Sharjah,” he added in an earlier interview with Gulf News.
“I am awestruck by the incredible transformation in the UAE that I have witnessed in the last 60 years. None of this would have been possible without the foresight of the country’s founding father,” he added.
In 2002, a TOS reunion was arranged by the UAE Ministry of Defence, and President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi at the time, addressed the officers.
“He singled out three reasons for the smooth transition from the seven independent states into the harmony that is enjoyed in the UAE today. The first was the will of Almighty Allah, the second the wisdom and vision of his father and the third, he said (pointing in our direction) was ‘those old gentlemen sitting over there’. There was a huge roar of agreement from all present,” Neild recalled.
Neild said he was in Mafraq on August 6, 1966, when Shaikh Zayed became the Ruler of Abu Dhabi.
“I remember the surge of pride I felt in knowing such an exceptional person. He realised the importance of the unity of the seven states and believed that the wealth of Abu Dhabi should be used to the benefit of all. His vision is instrumental in unifying the states into one country and its rise to the position it enjoys in the world today,” he said.
Asked for comment, the British Embassy in UAE said they would provide consular support if requested by the family.