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Dr Mark Littlewood (1930–2004)

Shelagh Weir writes:

Mark Littlewood, who died on 17 December 2004, worked as Medical Officer at the BP Oil Refinery in Aden between 1961 and 1973. During his years in Aden he pursued his two great hobbies of photography and collecting pottery, and in the late 1960s he offered his pottery collection to the then Ethnography Department of the British Museum, where I was a new Curator. Soon after, crates of carefully-labelled pots began arriving thanks to BP’s generous sea freight allowances. In 1994 my colleague, Sarah Posey, arranged an exhibition of this material at the Museum of Mankind, and published an accompanying catalogue, for which Mark wrote a charming introduction explaining how his interest in pottery had developed.

Mark was a kind and generous man who made many friends in Yemen, the Gulf, and in Kent where he worked at the end of his career and remained after his retirement. Below are extracts from a memoir of Mark by his great friend Omar Bamatraf, the former Finance Officer at the Aden Refinery, which was read out at Mark’s Memorial Service in Gillingham on 29 January 2005:

‘The first time I met Mark away from the Refinery Hospital was in Crater [on the occasion of] the annual festival of Sayyid al-Aidrous, a well-known Adeni Saint. Mark was pushing his way through the big crowds walking towards the [Aidrous] Mosque. He was smiling and happily keeping his camera busy. He was a very good photographer. From that day in 1961 Mark encouraged me to join the Little Aden Photographic Society, and taught me how to develop, print and enlarge my films. Mark loved people to share with him what he thought good and enjoyable. One night in Ramadhan he talked to [a group of us from the Refinery with some other friends] about the Little Aden Horticultural Society, and proposed that we should join the Society to decorate our houses and have a new hobby. Mark was a very active member of the management. Three [of us joined] and then the number of nationals increased. We became enthusiastic, working for hours in our gardens, and were then able to participate in the two yearly gardening competitions.

‘Pottery was another of Mark’s hobbies. He became familiar with expert potters in Aden, Sheikh Othman, Lahej, Dhala, Taiz, Mukha and in surrounding villages. I accompanied Mark on some of his trips to the pottery kilns. The potters and their families liked to sit with him. He talked to them with respect, asking them about their life and health. They were keen for him to visit them whenever they had a new lot of clay pots.

‘Mark was respected, honoured and admired by all those who knew him. His knowledge of spoken Arabic helped him to make good relations with the people. Some of the Refinery workers who knew that Mark admired domestic pottery, would, on their return from leave, bring him one or two small pieces as an expression of gratitude for his goodness and friendship.

‘One day in March 1962 Mark came to my house and saw me with my books, preparing to sit for the Royal Society of Arts exams. He asked me if I needed help. I told him I wanted someone to help me improve my English. Next day he told me that Rachel [his wife] had agreed to help. So I went to her twice a week; I sat for the exams in the summer of 1962, passing in English and four other subjects.

‘On his departure from Aden, Mark gave his Land Rover to a poor young fellow, a relative of Umm, the woman servant who had helped the Littlewoods for many years; he used it as a taxi and was [therefore] able to provide for his family. Mark sold me his other car, a Volkswagen, on an instalment basis, and from that money he arranged with the National Bank to pay a monthly sum to Umm.

‘Whenever I visited London and Mark heard from me, he would drive his car from Kent to see me, wherever I was, and take me out. [Sometimes] he would take me to spend the day with his family who always received me with open hearts…’