The Story of the Formation of Defence Forces in the Trucial States

A Soldier in Arabia

A remarkable book that for the first time tells the story of the formation of defence forces in the Trucial States will be launched at the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah on Monday, November 2nd at 6 pm under the auspices of the Al Qasimi Foundation. The book will then be showcased at the Sharjah International Book Fair with author appearances from November 4th.

The author is retired Lt Colonel David Neild, a Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) resident, and a quiet, unassuming man whose passion for golf and simple lifestyle is, in the best traditions of British understatement, terribly deceptive. The British Officer was hired to form not one but two defence forces for the developing Trucial States on the cusp of their becoming the modern United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The request to form an army – the Ras Al Khaimah Mobile Force – came from the late H.H. Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed who, in 1967, was the Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah at a time when the British were planning to withdraw from their 150-year influence in the Trucial States.

The rest forms a key part of the recent histories of both of Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah Emirates as well as Neild’s own story.


HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah with David Neild.

“It’s not every day that you get asked to form a private army,” he says, reflecting on his eventful life. Fewer, as Neild was, have been asked to such a job twice. “It wasn’t the money,” he says. “It was the challenge. Very few people have ever had that opportunity.”

The story covers the historic first steps of the visionary Emirati leaders of the 1960s in establishing independent defence forces that came to form the basis for the current UAE’s Union Defence Force. The book’s foreword is written by HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah; and given today’s turbulent times and quest for regional security its publication is timely, instructive and relevant.


HH Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, with Lt Col David Neild, Commander of the Ras Al Khaimah Mobile Force, in 1971.

Neild wrote his story – which is richly illustrated with rare and hitherto unpublished photographs – with the encouragement of the current ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr, the son of Sheikh Saqr who originally asked him to establish the RAK Mobile Force. Appropriately the launch venue for the new book, the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, was developed in the early 19th century as the residence of the ruling family, and later became the HQ for the RAK Mobile Force before becoming the National Museum in 1987. A historic photograph of the fortified complex taken in 1968 forms the striking cover image of A Soldier in Arabia.

Written in the terse, clear style of a military historian, Neild draws on his experiences in a book which, though it reads like an adventure novel, tells truthfully and candidly of a time of crucial change in Middle East and world politics.

David Neild

David Neild

Neild arrived in Ras Al Khaimah after resigning from the Trucial Oman Scouts, the military force based in the Trucial States (to become the UAE in December 1971), after catching the attention of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed. As expected, Neild showed himself to be an outstanding young commander and diplomat in his dealings with local tribal leaders. It was a period when negotiations were in train for the formation of the union of the seven emirates. Some of Ras Al Khaimah’s borders were in contention and oil companies were optimistic about the discovery of oil. In the three years working with the local population he trained 300 RAK citizens and armed the Emirate with desert-hardened military vehicles, mortars and machine guns. During that time, the fledgling army saw brisk action, and acts of outstanding bravery and sacrifice from his raw tribal recruits as he trained them to become professional soldiers.

Over four decades later, Lt Col Neild, living in his beloved Ras Al Khaimah, is still known by the local tribesmen as Al Kayad, The Commander.

“Because he is a good leader, he controlled the situation,” explains Rashed Naghmoush who in 1969 aged 18 was a new recruit to RAK’s fledgling army. “He taught us how to adapt to situations and we learned to stop quarrelling and developed discipline and self-respect.”

Just weeks after completing three years of service, while relaxing in Lebanon, Neild received a telegram requesting his immediate return to the region. The Ruler of Sharjah, Dr Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed, had been assassinated. Neild returned, and during the ensuing year helped form the Sharjah National Guard. Eventually, the Sharjah and RAK units merged into the Union Defence Force.

David Neild 1971

David Neild 1971

The stability of the region, brought about by the vision of the statesmen and the military leadership is often ignored in British and Middle Eastern affairs, but it is catalogued in detail in A Soldier in Arabia. It is a remarkable window on the lives of the brave and determined men, from Rulers to dedicated tribal soldiers, who brought about and guaranteed the stability of a region that has grown to influence global energy, international politics, and regional and world trade.


A Soldier in Arabia by David Neild
ISBN 978-1-909339-63-7
240×165 mm Portrait
Hardback: 196 pp + 16 pp colour plates
Publication 2 November 2015 (UAE)
Published by Medina Publishing Ltd (UK and RAK)

Available from:
The University Bookshop Abu Dhabi:
Medina Publishing Ltd:
and on publication from all major retailers in UAE

Notes to Editors:

Located on the northeasternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula near the critical oil route through the Strait of Hormuz, Ras Al Khaimah has a history of trading extending back over 3,000 years.

The Trucial States were brought about following the establishment of an initial truce in 1820, and subsequent truces, between the Rulers of the Emirates and the British Government. All parties honoured it for a century and a half until it was succeeded by the formation the sovereign state of the UAE in December 1971.

For details of the book launch events, review copies, images and author interviews:

Roger Harrison. Creative Director, Medina Creative Consultancy FTZ (RAK)  Tel: +971 (0)559748894

Kitty Carruthers, Director, Medina Publishing, UK

Saleh Nabil, Director, University Bookshop, UAE