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Shirley Akehurst

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

It is with considerable sadness that we report the death of Shirley, the widow of General Sir John Akehurst KCB CBE who commanded Dhofar Brigade 1974-77. Shirley had a fall in August 2020 from which she never fully recovered and died on 31 December 2020 in Salisbury District Hospital.

Everyone who served in Dhofar at that time knew Shirley and will remember her with both respect and admiration. Shirley visibly supported her husband in and around the Salalah community, and made a point of accompanying him to forward locations on Christmas Days during their tour – with consequences on one such occasion. The brigade commander's group had been visiting positions on the Jebel where there were British personnel to wish them a Happy Christmas and give them a mince pie which Shirley had cooked. The last stop was Tawi Atair. The low-level route back towards the plain and the sea unexpectedly passed a number of barrusti huts. Suddenly three adoo appeared clutching AK 47s, spraying our helicopter with very accurate fire, ricocheting inside the cabin, and it was a miracle that no-one was wounded. The engine cut out and the pilot managed an emergency landing safely onto the gravel plain near to the coast to inspect the seven holes in the helicopter. Within a few minutes two Strikemasters appeared overhead as top-cover. Throughout all this, Shirley remained calm and collected – concerned only that her husband who was in the front of the helicopter might have been hit. They were shortly after picked up by the standby heli. She showed amazing courage. That evening they both still came to a dinner in the mess at Salalah, as though nothing untoward had happened! As a direct result of this incident, Shirley was presented with a Dhofar Campaign medal, which she wore by popular request at the SAF Dinners she attended.

There are many other stories of her activities in Dhofar and tributes to her generosity, hospitality and humanity. It is clear that she was much loved by all who knew her.

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