Tue, 02 April 2019
Cdr Paul Windsar RN enlightens BTM about his role as British Defence Attaché and an important family connection to the island.
Please tell us a little about your background? You have built an excellent military career over 35 + years. Would you say the life in the military has benefitted you in both professional and personal aspects?
What has become the best thing or quality that you have gained from it?
I have enjoyed (and still enjoy each day) every aspect of being in the military; from an immediate sense of belonging at the age of 16 on the day I joined the Royal Navy, one cold October morning in 1980, through the training and experiences I have been fortunate to be a part of; seeing and sharing the ups and downs in the world that has, on occasions, required us to fight to protect all that, and those, we hold dear. As well of course celebrating momentous occasions – such as the end of the Berlin Wall, a number of Royal Weddings and births, military unions and unique periods in my 35 plus years. However shining bright as a beacon, in among all the positives of my career, and also during the unsettled times where we all have to dig that little bit deeper to come through to light of the other side; it is people and friends and family that matter the most and I would consider to be the best part.
What does your role as British Defence Attaché entail?
I am very privileged to work within a very close knit and friendly British Embassy with a great team who made me feel very welcome when I arrived 12 months ago. For us all, relationships and being one cohesive group is key to supporting His Excellency the Ambassador and ensuring our wider joined-up friendships with Bahrain.
In Bahrain I am fortunate to wear four hats: that of Naval Attaché, Military Attaché (land), Air Attaché and overall Defence Attaché. I have a small, focused and dedicated Defence Section consisting of an Army Staff Sergeant and a UK locally employed civilian. Between the 3 of us, we join with our Embassy colleagues to promote and achieve one-HMG policies, specifically my team build UK-Bahrain military relationships, security, capacity, capability and prosperity with a Defence focus but within a broader fusion of diplomatic, political and military engagements. Our UK-Bahrain relationship is over 200 years in the making, is strong and we positively seek ways to continue to work closely and achieve stronger bonds; all which are really only possible by working together and reaching out to provide and seek every opportunity we can. My father always taught me that it is important never to take a friendship for granted, and to continue to respect it and grow with it, no matter how close it is. As the British Defence Attaché, I am the Chief of Defence Staff’s personal representative in Bahrain. My working day, every day and evening, is extremely rewarding and varied in which I aim to deliver vital effect, influence and broader understanding as well. It requires me to mix diplomacy, intellect, tact, strategic thinking and decisiveness, initiative; have moral courage, independence, maturity and confidence. It can be challenging but is always enjoyable.
What does the Royal Navy do here and what do the new Naval Support Facilities (NSF) bring to Bahrain?
As the British Defence Attaché, one of my hats is also as the Naval Attaché; and the British Embassy has a very close relationship with the Royal Navy in Bahrain. The role in both Bahrain and the Middle East is very broad and can be best understood in the following activities in which it champions:
Preparedness for contingencies - the year-round presence of high-readiness Royal Navy assets provides the UK government with a choice of options in the event of a humanitarian crisis or a deterioration in regional security.
Disrupting piracy - Piracy threatens international shipping in the Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Horn of Africa and has a knock-on effect on the world economy. It has a human cost for merchant seafarers and their families. We realize that Navies cannot stop piracy alone, as it has its roots in political instability ashore, but they can deter and disrupt attacks, making it harder for pirates to operate. The Royal Navy deploys frigates and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships, together with maritime patrol helicopters and Royal Marine boarding teams with medical backup and Royal Navy personnel often lead or augment command teams directing multinational operations. At the height of piracy in 2013, a World Bank report suggested that piracy in this region was costing the global economy $18 Billion as shippers were forced to change trading routes and pay higher insurance premiums.
Preventing terrorism - Many of UK’s allies in this area face a threat from terrorists in the region. Royal Navy warships and helicopters continue to work alongside other nations to deter or disrupt terrorist attacks and prevent related illegal activities such as human trafficking, drug and charcoal smuggling. HMS Dragon has recently conducted 8 anti-narcotics operations where the total value of illegal drugs would fetch in the region of $50 Million locally. Much of this money is believed to fund terrorism.
Providing well developed mine hunting expertise - Mines are cheap, easy to use and have the potential to close important waterways. It is essential that the UK has the capability to undertake mine hunting operations wherever there are large concentrations of shipping or international trade routes. The Royal Navy permanently has four mine hunters in Bahrain (rotating personnel every 6 months) to develop and retain expertise and experience in warm water operations. A Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship is also here in Bahrain to serve as a floating headquarters for Commander UK Mine Countermeasures Force (COMUKMCMFOR) during large scale mine hunting exercises.
Supporting merchant shipping - The UK Maritime Trade Operation (UKMTO) is a small cell of Royal Navy personnel based in Dubai, which tracks shipping movements and runs a 24- hour reporting service to enable swift communication between merchant shipping and naval forces in the event of an attack or suspicious activity. They visit ships in the nearby ports of Jebel Ali and Fujairah to provide advice on maritime security.
The role of the UK NSF - The NSF has now been operational for 1 year. This first year of NSF operation has proven to be a success in supporting UK Naval presence in the region. The accommodation is clean, modern and comfortable; with a well-equipped gym, café, shop and recreational areas. The feeling of ‘all of one team’ emanates and is continuing to self-generate. The NSF is a corner stone of the UK’s ability to maintain a forward presence in the region, and is very important in our Defence cooperation programme. Bahrain remains critical to our plans for Gulf Security. The Bahrain owned, UK operated, NSF underlines the importance of our mutual relationship and permanent presence in Bahrain and the Gulf more widely. The Governments of UK and Kingdom of Bahrain recognize the strategic importance of moving forward together and the mutual benefits this brings. This includes nurturing a shared UK-Bahrain NSF vision that, if correctly developed and executed, will add much weight and longevity to our joint current strategic and maritime vision in the Gulf and the wider region. We will continue to work closely with our Bahraini friends and hosts to support our joint long term mutual goals.
You have a strong family connection with Bahrain of which you are immensely proud and fond. Would you mind telling us more about it?
My family started its warm and affectionate love affair with the Pearl of the Gulf in 1953 when my Royal Naval father first sailed into Bahrain. He was a ‘writer’ (or scribe) by trade in the Royal Navy Secretariat branch, and having written his memories and taken many photos, he was meticulous about inscribing where and when and what the pictures were of, to send home to my mother. After his first time here, he sailed from the island with his ship but soon returned, with my mother for a more permanent ‘posting’. So began our family history and firm footprints in the sand of the Island. He was based at HMS JUFAIR (as was) and they lived in the base and also moved to a small apartment behind Manama Suq, where my elder brother was born, in a small ‘yellow block bungalow’ along Shk Esa (Isa) Avenue. They returned to the UK in the early 60s and over the years between then and now, Bahrain was woven into my life as I grew up, with family stories, and cine films, of Bahraini friends, culture, sights that always came naturally into conversation and the delicious smells and spices from my parents kitchen. My father always taught me that - Personal relationships build Trust into Alliances – particularly here in Bahrain. He also said that ‘sometimes the meeting [with a person] happening is a most desired and rewarding outcome in itself’. My father unfortunately passed away this time last year, but knowing I had been appointed as the British Defence Attaché, he and mum managed to share some last stories with me, and send me out with a box of photographs, stories, smiles and my own memories to make. He asked that I bring his love and spirit back to Bahrain. Which I hope I am humbly doing.
If you could meet any person alive for a chat over a shared dinner, who would you pick and why?
This I have to ask for some forgiveness and cheat a little, I would dearly love one more chance to have dinner and speak with my dad. He was a gentle-man and always a family man first and foremost; he was selfless and generous with his time and love. He took pride in his family (extended throughout the years) and himself; he believed if it was worth doing it was worth giving it your best efforts; an attribute that he has passed on and instilled in my brother and I. He was the man we could turn to, who would go the extra mile; he would do his best to do right for everyone and everything whether it be a person, an animal or a spider. He was open and honest, unassuming, unpretentious and believed in fair play. Outside our family, he was a private man, he wasn’t swayed by other people’s opinions or thoughts if it went against his morals and standards; however he would give all a chance. I would like to tell him again, that he was our humble champion and hero, the go to man when we had a problem or needed sensible, thoughtful and impartial advice. He was a man who could laugh and cry, and taught us that it was natural and ok to do both, and that life was good and to cherish each day, no matter what.
What three things have you found most interesting or unusual when you have arrived here?
I find I can answer this straight away and it is difficult to keep it to only three things: The first is that the Kingdom of Bahrain and people, every day, combine modernity and antiquity - with Bahrain being a major trade route, with industry events such as Bahrain International Air Show and F1 Grand Prix; yet also able to have honoured links to the past with horse racing and ancient burial mounds, which we can visit daily. Secondly, it is culturally rich, not westernized but multi-faceted and friendly with abundance of nationalities, races and faiths. Lastly, I treasure the story of how Bahrain was named; the way pearl divers would dive to the floor of the sea bed and fill their goat skins from the ‘sweet pure waters that gushed from underground streams to then mingle with the salty water’, forming two seas and to which Bahrain is said to owe its name - Bahr (sea) and thnain (two).
Paul, you have been in Bahrain for almost 12 months now. Have you found your favourite places here yet?
My favourite places so far are the quietness found in Al Hamala and also the noise, abundance of colours, sights and smells of the Suq at Manama. Which remind me of growing up. I am very lucky that my appointment as British Defence Attaché takes me around the island, all year round and to some amazing spots and meeting with many people, so I am sure I will be able to find more favorite places… as yet undiscovered.
As I have heard you are an avid reader. What was the most recent book you have read? What did you like the most about it?
I adore reading and try and have at least one book on the go, at a time. I like a book to surprise me and also educate as well as entertain too – so this gives me a huge range to be able to choose from; fiction, faction or factual as well as biographical and geographical. I luckily belong to a local book club in Bahrain so we all have ideas and, between us, choose a book of the month (sometimes two) to read. One of my favorite books is ‘Erewhon’ and one of the most recent book I have read is ‘Pachinko’. Both cover a number of decades, look at social history and follow the interconnecting lives of families and the impact of their surrounding on them and the changes that they are able to make to their futures. I like these two books in particular because the characters were real to me, well developed through the story lines and also because I learned a lot about the societies and attitudes to the people and times that the books spanned.
If you had one - what would be your superpower?
I was a typical boy growing up; smiley, adventurous and fearless, quite oblivious to dangers – as I think most young people are – so I collected multi-scuffed knees and bruises along the way – and I know my super power when I was younger, as my parents and brother would have testified, was not as a listener. Now though, I would like to think if I was given a super power I could use it as a …relationship builder – if that would count as a super power?